Gladstone in Love

Even Prime Ministers were young once – even Gladstone, the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Victorian politics.

In 1835, William Gladstone was 25 years old, and just starting his political career. That year he fell in love with Caroline Farquhar, the 19-year-old daughter of Sir Thomas Farquhar, 2nd Baronet (and a cousin of my Walter Davidson). I’ve recently been working my way through a collection of letters in the Gladstone Library that document Gladstone’s affair.

In mid-1835, Gladstone asked Caroline’s parents for permission to address her – that is, to propose marriage. He also let his father know his plans – he was a younger son, and would need his father’s financial support if he got married. Backbench MPs were not paid, and his career was unlikely to take off while the Tory Party (which he currently supported) was out of power.

His father, John Gladstone, was a wealthy businessman, who had been paid £106,769 in compensation when his slaves in the Caribbean were freed the previous year. (According to Wikipedia, this is equivalent to £83m.) So money was no object, and John Gladstone willingly agreed to support his son appropriately if he married.

Sir Thomas Farquhar talked over the matter with his wife Sybella, who in turn talked to Caroline. Lady Farquhar told Gladstone that

She expressed extreme surprise at the communication, not having the smallest idea you entertained any preference for her – She told me she considered the acquaintance of so short a duration, it was impossible to form any decision as to the future, or whether on more intimate acquaintance, a congeniality of tastes & opinions might lead to any warmer sentiment than at present exists. [Lady F to WEG, 27 August 1835]

At present, then, Caroline’s ‘affections at present are entirely free’, and she was happy to cultivate the acquaintance and see where it led, but Caroline’s relatives all seem to have been dubious about whether the two young ones were really all that compatible. Caroline’s brother Walter questioned how far your ideas on the subject of Religion might be of a stricter kind than she feels it right to embrace.’ [WRF to WEG, 31 August 1835]

It is impossible to know just what lies behind this implication. They shared a common religious background, for Walter Rockcliffe Farquhar and William Gladstone had been at Christ Church, Oxford together, where they were both deeply committed Christians who joined the Essay Club, the Oxford equivalent of the Cambridge Apostles. Another member of the group was Walter’s cousin, Walter Kerr Hamilton, who later became Bishop of Salisbury.

Caroline Farquhar was a lively girl, with a reputation as a beauty – tall, dark and with a fine figure, according to her cousin Patrick Leslie. She had enjoyed a very successful season, but she also was conventionally religious. Perhaps she and the family were hanging out for a title; perhaps Caroline found Gladstone’s intense religiosity a bit overwhelming – or perhaps she just found him a little dull.

Amongst the most fascinating letters in the Gladstone Library collection is the draft of a letter Gladstone sent to Sir Thomas Farquhar in August 1835. It’s fascinating, because all the changes, scratches, deletions and insertions, show Gladstone’s state of mind in all its raw intensity, even though all the re-workings make it almost impossible to transcribe accurately:

The blinding influence of self love is sufficiently known to me, to make me believe it quite possible that by this letter I may, unconsciously, but with [?], have rendered myself with justice liable to your displeasure: but it will be very painful to me if in forming such a conception as that which has now prompted me I shall seem to have abused a favour which I do not value the less highly from knowing that I had never any claim to it.

Although I have been led to write at so much length I am well aware that I much may have been left unexpressed stated much which ought to have been said: but I did do not feel that I have a right to indulge before you the strength of my feelings which it seems an imperative duty to restrain controul as long as it is possible or likely that their expression may give pain to those whom they refer who are the objects of them. [draft of WEG to Sir THF, 25 August 1835]

Some of Caroline’s relatives supported Gladstone’s suit, including her cousin Walter Kerr Hamilton, and her father’s cousin, my Walter Davidson, but the decision was up to Caroline – perhaps with a little nudging from her mother.

In any case, the romance – such as it was – soon fizzled out. Both parties were preoccupied by the death of parents – Gladstone’s mother died in late 1835, Caroline’s father the following January. Gladstone had another knockback, before he finally married Catherine Glynne in 1839. Meanwhile in July 1836, Caroline married Lord Charles Grey, another backbench MP and younger son, but a titled one, the son of the Whig Prime Minister Earl Grey. Both seem to have had successful marriages, so far as any outsider can judge.

To our eyes, Caroline Farquhar chose the titled nobody over one of the political giants of the Victorian age – but I suspect that from Caroline’s perspective, it was the right choice. Lord Charles Grey became an equerry to the new Queen, then Private Secretary to Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, and the couple joined the Royal Household. Caroline Grey became one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Queen Victoria’s court wasn’t a particularly lively affair, but it was a prestigious position, and a very different proposition from marriage to William Gladstone. There is absolutely no indication that at any stage, Charles Grey attempted to reform prostitutes.

Ref: The letters between William Gladstone and the Farquhar family appear in the Gladstone-Glynne Correspondence, GG/705-707, in the Gladstone Library. My thanks to the librarian Gary Butler for his help in finding and scanning them.
See also Anne Isba, Gladstone and Women (2006)
Gladstone in the 1830s, by William Henry Mote,

Educating the mob

Who pays for education? Private or public, secular or religious? Should it be funded by federal or state governments? We’ve been here many times before.

There are so many aspects to this debate, but one that gets forgotten now, when Australians are all – or are alleged to be – functionally literate, is the basic relationship between education and democracy. When everyone gets to vote, then everyone needs to be able to read and write, and compulsory education came close on the heels of manhood suffrage.

In small towns and tribes, people can choose their leaders by direct personal experience. It worked in Athens, or the Italian city-states, which is why rhetoric was once such an important university subject, and why I find the American process of town hall rallies and caucuses so fascinating, even though most of the candidates seem to have lost their voices by now.

Once the community grows too large for public speeches, though, we rely on gossip and hearsay – or on newspapers – to choose our politicians. This basic link isn’t as important these days, when radio and TV mean that voters can decide about their politicians by listening to or watching them. There is a functioning democracy in India, where illiteracy remains a problem, but radios and mobile phones are everywhere.

Once, though, literacy was essential if democracy was to work, so when most white working men got the vote (roughly from 1858 in New South Wales and Victoria, the 1860s in the United States, 1867 in Britain) it became important that they learned to make an educated decision on how to use it. Or, as one conservative politician put it at the time, ‘We must educate our masters’*.

Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke

Carlo Pellegrini, ‘Robert Lowe’, in Vanity Fair, 27 February 1869

Robert Lowe led opposition to the Second Reform Bill in the British Parliament. In 1866, Lowe and his associates defeated the bill, but the following year the Conservative Party led by Benjamin Disraeli passed a modified Reform Act that gave the vote to most male heads of households.

Once that battle was lost, though, Lowe threw himself into the business of bringing schooling to the masses. He wasn’t worried about an agile workforce, or training the rising generation to adapt to new technologies, or the economic advantages of more STEM-trained graduates. He just thought that voters needed sufficient education to make up their minds for themselves without being swayed by demagogues. By 1870, all children had to attend school until the age of 10.

Robert Lowe reached his conservative political position in reaction to his experiences as a young man in Australia during the 1840s. He arrived in New South Wales in 1842, planning to make money in the colony as a lawyer, so that he could later fund a comfortable retirement back in England. His need was more urgent than most, though, for his doctors had warned him (wrongly, as it turned out) that he might go blind within a few years.

Robert Lowe was an albino. Portraits show a very fair man, with pale eyes squinting in the light. After grey old England, the harsh bright light of Sydney must have been a misery to him. With the rough charm of people who wouldn’t know political correctness if they tripped over it, the colonists called him ‘Pink-eyed Bob’.

Lowe was well connected and well educated, at Winchester and Oxford, and he arrived in New South Wales with letters of introduction to Governor Gipps. The Governor quickly nominated him to the newly formed Legislative Council, expecting him to back him, but Lowe soon went feral. There was constant argument between Gipps and the squatters during the early 1840s, and Lowe took their side. He also started an opposition newspaper, The Atlas, to pursue his vendetta against the Governor.

Then, in 1848, after nearly 10 years without convicts being sent to New South Wales, the British government decided to send another boatload of convicts on the Hashemy to test the water. The pastoralists liked the idea of cheap labour, but everyone else was furious. The respectable middle class were appalled at the prospect, just when they were putting ‘the convict stain’ behind them, while the working class were horrified that they might have to compete for jobs with an unfree labour force.

The result was that when the Hashemy arrived at Circular Quay in early 1849, a demonstration – or a riot, depending on your point of view – was there to meet it. The Sydney Morning Herald says there were four or five thousand protestors there. The Hashemy was initially unable to unload its cargo of convicts, who were eventually re-directed to Moreton Bay instead. Robert Lowe addressed the crowd from the back of a horse-drawn omnibus:

Let them send across the Pacific their emphatic declaration that they would not be slaves – that they would be free. Let them exercise the right that every English subject had – to assert his freedom. (Cheers.) He could see from that meeting the time was not far distant when they would assert their freedom not by words alone. As in America, oppression was the parent of independence, so would it be in this colony. The tea which the Americans flung into the water rather than pay the tax upon it, was not the cause of the revolt of the American States; it was the unrighteousness of the tax – it was the degradation of submission to an unrighteous demand. And so sure as the seed will grow into the plant, and the plant to the tree, in all times, and in all nations, so will injustice and tyranny ripen into rebellion, and rebellion into independence. (Immense cheering.) [Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1849] 

It was stirring – and faintly seditious – stuff. Without a megaphone, most people probably couldn’t hear him anyway, but his distinctive appearance meant that he stood out, and the presence of Robert Lowe, MLC, was a bit of a coup for the organizers.

But Lowe seems to have panicked after his experience of getting up close and personal with the hoi polloi. Mobs aren’t rational, even (perhaps especially) when they think their cause is just. The reality of popular democracy unnerved him. A few months later, Lowe and his wife returned to England, with a comfortable fortune from his years as a colonial lawyer. He took a job as leader writer for The Times, and entered Parliament.

As he grew older, he grew more conservative, even reactionary, opposing any change that might give more political power to the working class – the same people who had cheered him on at Circular Quay, and had threatened violence to the convicts aboard the Hashemy. His suspicion of the mob must have been reinforced when he was stoned by drunken workers during a political rally in 1857, and ended up with a broken skull.

Robert Lowe was on the wrong side of history. During the 1850s, members of the Anti-Transportation League like Henry Parkes were elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and brought in universal male suffrage by 1858. In Britain, the Second Reform Act passed in 1867, and male householders gained the vote.

But Lowe was also on the right side of history when he threw his weight behind a universal system of compulsory education. As we again debate the costs and benefits of education, to the country and the individual, it’s worth remembering how basic it is to a functioning democracy. Otherwise decisions are made on the basis of emotion or brute force, and politics becomes the plaything of populists.

*According to Parry, Lowe’s exact words were: ‘I believe it will be absolutely necessary that you should prevail on our future masters to learn their letters’ (Hansard 3, 188, 15 July 1867, col. 1549)

References:
Ruth Knight, Illiberal Liberal: Robert Lowe in New South Wales, 1842-1850 (1966)
Jonathan Parry, ‘Lowe, Robert, Viscount Sherbrooke (1811–1892)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/view/article/17088, accessed 7 April 2016]
The Atlas has not yet been digitised on Trove, and unless the National Library of Australia receives more money, it may never be – #FundTrove

Correction: Lisa Hill’s comment below sent me back to look further at this event. The Hashemy convicts were sent on to Moreton Bay, not Port Phillip, as I initially had said. I’ve corrected the post accordingly. According to Douglas Wilkie, ‘The Convict ship Hashemy at Port Phillip: a Case Study in Historical Error’, Victorian Historical Journal,  2014 – here – historians have been getting muddled up about this affair ever since the 1850s.

The Leslie Papers transcribed

I’m currently reading my way through the Leslie Family papers at the John Oxley Library. The Leslie brothers – Patrick, Walter and George – were early settlers on the Darling Downs, with squatting runs at Canning Downs and later Goomburra. Patrick Leslie also built Newstead House in Brisbane. I’m interested in them because they are the nephews of  Walter Davidson.

The Leslie papers are a mixture of transcripts and original handwritten letters, all now photocopied and bound in 5 fat volumes. In total there are about 500 letters. They are a well known collection and have been well-thumbed by many historians over the years. Because the bound volumes consist of photocopies, I don’t need to use white gloves. This is a great advantage. I hate white gloves, though I realize they are necessary when handling fragile materials – but more to the point, my iPad doesn’t like white gloves and goes into a sulk if I try to swipe or type or scan while wearing them.

Over at Adventures in Biography, MST recently wrote about the joy that comes from finding transcriptions. It is a generous gift when someone in the past has gone through the document before and left the fruits of their labour for the benefit of later researchers. Who wouldn’t prefer to read this:

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rather than this:

An example of a crossed letter from the Leslie Papers, State Library of Queensland

But I find I’m becoming a bit obsessed by these Leslie transcriptions, and the typists who made them long ago.

The Leslie papers came to Queensland in the 1940s from the Warthill estate in Aberdeenshire, which is still in the hands of Leslie relatives. (Trivial fact: Rose Leslie, who played the chamber maid Gwen in Downton Abbey, and Ygritte in Game of Thrones, grew up at Warthill) The Leslies of Warthill, bless them, never threw anything away, so the Leslie letters that reached the State Library of Queensland include – as far as we know – pretty nearly all the letters that reached the family from their sons, from the time they left for Australia, Patrick in 1834, Walter and George in 1838.

When they reached Sydney the young men stayed with Hannibal Macarthur and his family at Vineyard, Parramatta. Both Patrick and George later married two of Hannibal’s daughters, Kate and Emmeline Macarthur, so there are also letters from them as well as other members of the Macarthur family at Vineyard.

By the time the letters arrived in Queensland, Patrick Leslie already had a heroic, if undeserved*, status as ‘the first white man’ on the Darling Downs. Henry Stuart Russell used Patrick’s diary as one of the sources for his book The Genesis of Queensland (1888), but that diary had since disappeared. So when the Leslie letters reached Queensland, after years of negotiation and an inconvenient World War, they caused quite a stir. They were a valuable new resource – but they were also extremely difficult to read. So somebody decided to transcribe them.

In 1957, Kenelm Waller wrote an honours thesis based on these letters: The letters of the Leslie brothers, 1834-1854. The Waller thesis contains long quotes from the letters, typed in a similar layout to the transcriptions in the Oxley library. Both thesis and letters were typed on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, with the distinctive fuzziness that comes from making several carbon copies at once. Created in a time before computers, before electric typewriters, before liquid paper, it was hard and exacting work.

So was Waller responsible for these transcriptions? It seems likely, though whether he was the typist is more difficult to say for sure. Typing, in those pre-computer days, was a more gendered activity than it is today, so perhaps it was a loving mother, wife or sister who did the typing.

It’s all guesswork, I’m afraid, but in fact I think there were at least 2 typists involved. Even the most perfect transcription has idiosyncrasies, as the typist makes decisions: Do you scrupulously capitalize letters mid-sentence because the letter-writer uses an H or an S that looks like a capital letter? If the writer has scrawled a word that might be misspelt, are you picky or do you give them the benefit of the doubt? How do you deal with words that are totally illegible, or with tears in the paper? One of the Leslie typists uses ellipses – … –  the other uses square brackets – [blank] . Most intriguingly, Ellipse-Typist had more trouble with the handwriting, so some of his/her transcripts are full of mystery dots.

If Waller was the brain, if not the fingers, behind this huge transcription project, this helps to explain how the decision was made about which letters to transcribe. Nearly all the letters from the 3 Leslie brothers are transcribed, as are some from their wives. Even quite peripheral letters that relate to their activities on the Darling Downs are copied, so there is a long sequence dealing with the shipment of cattle from Scotland.

Other letter-writers have been ignored, most but not all of them women. Hannibal Macarthur’s wife and daughters kept up a regular correspondence with the Warthill family, especially Patrick’s mother Jane and his sister Mary Ann. These letters are delightful, full of details about Patrick and his friend dancing Scottish reels after dinner, and Mary Ann sewing doll’s clothes for the youngest Macarthur daughter. They also deal with more serious matters, such as the ‘Absyss’ on each of Kate Leslie’s breasts following the birth of her baby – which were opened and drained. Yikes.

To be fair, the letter that describes this event has been transcribed, but in general, nobody in the 1950s thought these domestic details were important. I’ve written about a similar instance from the 1950s here. So these letters have remained un-copied and therefore relatively inaccessible ever since. I am by no means the first person to look at these letters, but I do wonder how many people have overlooked them in favour of the ones that were easier to read.

Sixty years ago, someone decided that women’s words, and the domestic detail of women’s lives, didn’t matter. It’s a shame if as a result, every hasty researcher who chooses the transcripts over the scrawls is bound by a perspective that is now 60 years out of date.

* There were runaway convicts on the Darling Downs before him, and Patrick brought a servant with him anyway.

The Brisbane City Council elections

There are local council elections across Queensland today. Here in Brisbane, we are voting for Mayor as well as the local councilors. According to reports the election will be tight – and I can vouch for the fact during the last fortnight we have been drowned by a tidal wave of polls, robot-calls, letter drops, emails and – wonder of wonders! – one real live human doorknocker.

The Brisbane City Council is the largest local government authority in Australia – and one of the largest in the world. It dates from 1925, when 20 local shires and towns were consolidates into a single-mega-council. This size has given the BCC greater political heft than the local councils in other Australian capital cities, and the Mayors of Brisbane gain extra authority from the fact that they are popularly elected.

The creation of the Brisbane City Council came as part of a package of reforms introduced by the Queensland Government under the radical Premier Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Over a few years in the early 1920s, Queensland abolished the upper house of Parliament, abolished capital punishment (the first place in the British Empire to do so), introduced a compulsory age of retirement for judges – and converted local councils into the BCC.

The creation of a mega-council was controversial, as amalgamations always are. Where, for instance, was the appropriate boundary of Brisbane? I live in Sandgate, on the extreme northern edge of the city, and in 1925 Sandgate was a separate town, with a separate mayor and council. The locals didn’t want to join Brisbane, especially as they had just recently (1911) spent a small fortune building a brand new art deco town hall, designed by the local architect George Prentice.

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There are other, similar, late 19th and earch 20th century council chambers across Brisbane that became redundant as a result of amalgamation, such as South Brisbane Town Hall. It was okay for George Prentice though, whose firm Prentice and Hall went on to get the commission to build the new City Hall.

There are great advantages in having a larger council area. It is easier to design an integrated transport system, for instance, or to borrow library books across a wide network of council libraries. Other effects are more intangible. The Mayor of Brisbane – or Ipswich or Townsville or Toowoomba – has greater political clout in dealing with other levels of government, and the state government doesn’t carry the can alone for every urban misfortune. In New South Wales, state governments rise and fall trying to deal with Sydney’s transport problems. Here in South East Queensland, the problem of urban congestion is shared – not fixed, mind – but shared.

Everywhere, corruption flourishes at the local government level – all those zoning applications and tenders for supply of goods or services are a great temptation to small councils and smaller councilors. I suspect that the size of the Brisbane City Council has kept at bay the sort of small but profitable fiddles that occur in the suburban councils of Sydney or the other capitals. Though I’m not naïve – a larger government area sometimes just leads to the fiddles scaling up too.

Because voting is compulsory in Australia, the habit of voting is strong, even at this most humble level of government. So I’ll be fronting up at the polling booth this morning. Queuing to vote seems to me a mark of adulthood, and an act of community solidarity. It reminds me a little of that other habit of the good citizen: the ceremonial weekend visit to a Bunnings warehouse in search of hardware supplies. They both involve the whole community, people line up as couples or in family groups, they speak of respect for property and stability, and they both have sausage sizzles.

Political Partners

Niki Savva’s new book, The Road to Ruin, has just been released and is all over the news this morning. It deals with the close relationship between the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his chief of staff Peta Credlin. ‘Uniquely close’ is the term used – but was it? PM Chifley’s relationship with his personal assistant was pretty close too, while Elizabeth Chifley was sidelined in Bathurst.

Historians are Past Caring

In June 1951, Ben Chifley, the former Labor Prime Minister and now Leader of the Opposition, had a massive heart attack in his rooms at the Hotel Kurrajong.  The Hotel Kurrajong was essentially an up-market boarding house, built at a time when Canberra was still a country town without many places for its floating population of politicians and public servants to stay.  Chifley was moved to Canberra Hospital, but died later that night.  He was 65.

L. F. (Fin) Crisp was the professor of political science at Canberra University College.  He was working on The Australian Federal Labour Party, 1901-1951 (1955), and was fascinated by the story of Chifley, self-educated and rising from extreme poverty in the 1890s to become an engine driver, then a union leader, and finally Prime Minister.  Crisp was already gathering materials for Ben Chifley: a biography (1961).

Crisp knew that a lot of papers dealing…

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A Treasure Trove of Newspapers

When I was a child growing up during the 1950s and 60s, a stamp, a phone call, and a newspaper all cost about the same. A local letter was four pence for so many years that the stamp is very common, and despised by collectors accordingly.

1966_QEII_4c_Red

A local newspaper was about 6d, and a phone call much the same – though long distance calls cost much more. Then, during the inflation of the 1970s, these prices started to diverge. Phone calls got cheaper, thanks to new technology which cut out the cost of labour, while postage kept pace with inflation, thanks to innovations like post codes that made postal workers more efficient.

But the price of newspapers went through the roof. Newspapers depend on labour at every stage of production, and the arrival of a new, quality newspaper, The Australian, [ha!] in 1964, raised the bar for good, and therefore well-paid, journalists. Besides, newspapers rely on a non-renewable resource – wood pulp – which until appallingly recently was sourced from old growth forests.

Since then, of course, the internet has come along to change our ways of communicating, but the relative prices of phone calls, postage and newspapers were already diverging long before. I first used email in 1988, and surfed my first web in 1993 – but only because I had access to these systems through the university. It took another decade before these activities were commonplace in the wider community.

A hundred years of habit meant that most middle class suburban households still had a paper delivered until relatively recently, but not now, and people seem to have stopped writing letters altogether. Meanwhile the mobile phone is ubiquitous – and cheaper still, there’s Skype. What will we historians be doing in a hundred years?

Letters and newspapers were never cheap. We rarely think about the cost or means of distribution of private letters, concentrating on their content instead, but of course posting a letter always involved a cost, both in time and money. Jane Austen’s heroines are always absenting themselves from the action because they ‘have some letters to write’, and the physical effort of writing long, newsy letters must have consumed a good deal of time. Writing paper was expensive, quill pens needed constant mending, and then there was the cost of postage. Before the penny post (1840) postage was calculated on distance, so Emma Woodhouse’s letters from Highbury to London cost much less than my Walter Davidson’s letters from London to his brother-in-law William Leslie outside Aberdeen. That, in turn, was a trivial cost compared with the letters his nephew Patrick Leslie sent them from New South Wales.

Newspapers were expensive too. The first Australian newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, began in 1803 on a hand press brought out from England. It came out once a week, occasionally vanishing for months at a time when the supply of newsprint ran out. When the editor, ex-convict George Howe, was supplied with poor quality paper, the ink ran, and for weeks or months the print would be blurred.

First edition of the Sydney Gazette

By the 1830s, newspapers were proliferating. They seem to have reached a peak about 1843, around the time of the first election for the Legislative Council, when I once counted about a dozen papers in Sydney. Each of these papers had private backers and a political agenda – narrowcasting is not new – and most were ephemeral.

It’s often hard to work out how much these newspapers cost, because they were sold on subscription, usually 3 months ahead, rather than over the counter. It’s hard to know how widely they were read, because then as now, newspapers had a vested interest in exaggerating their circulation figures so they could charge more for advertising. On the other hand, many readers often seized a chance to read them for free in pubs and clubs, just as today we check out the papers at a coffee shop. They weren’t cheap, and only rarely made a profit. Shadowy proprietors lurked in the background, propping them up for political purposes, while the editor made his money from advertising and other printing jobs.

As a historian, the public newspaper and the private letter are my bread and butter. Which brings me to Trove Newspapers, the jewel in the crown – jam in the sandwich? – for all Australian researchers.

Trove runs out of the National Library of Australia. For years now, it has been digitizing Australian newspapers and making them freely available in searchable form online. Many countries are similarly digitizing newspapers, but not many are free. Trove has also introduced a unique feature that makes researching with Trove a cooperative effort. Anyone can register with Trove, and once registered we can contribute by correcting text, and leaving searchable hashtags – for personal use, or for others who come along later. It is a system based on trust and cooperation, and the sense of shared community, and it has worked very well. (For those who haven’t tried it, correcting text is also a strangely soothing addiction.)

Newspapers today may be entering a death spiral of rising prices and falling circulation, but we rely on newspapers from the past all the time. Now Trove is under threat, because the Federal Government has cut the National Library’s funding. In response a Twitter campaign began last week, under the hashtag #fundTrove, and directed at the Minister responsible, Senator Mitch Fifield. In 140 words or less, people told their stories about the ways in which they use Trove, and the stories they have found. The campaign has flushed out so many researchers, from family historians to PhD students to best selling writers. Some of my favourite stories come from people who are using Trove in innovative ways, such as Jodi Frawley’s investigation of Aboriginal fish traps, and the former range of endangered animals like the Murray perch.tweets about fundTrove

Then there is the story of how a boy in South Africa received a 3D-printed prosthetic hand based on a design mentioned in an Adelaide newspaper in 1844. My own example was a tiny advertisement I found in the pages of the Sydney Gazette from 1808, from the important early colonial artist John Lewin, seeking carmine paint.

sydney gazette 11-9-1808 advert

Digital projects are taking place all over the world, transforming the way we do history – but only a few of them are free. Trove and New Zealand’s Papers Past are amongst those that are – for now. Yes, there is a cost in making this material available, but the benefits are huge, not just for Australians, but for our place in the world. Whatever happened to soft diplomacy?

#fundTrove

Update: In the comments, someone asked the following:

‘In the novels I read rich men are always offering to ‘frank’ the letters of their impoverished wards. Do you think the frank-er was running an account with the mail service, or he’d prepaid?’

There may be examples of pre-paid postage (there are a couple of philatelists who follow this blog who will know much more than I do), but before the penny post, it was one of the perks of being in Parliament. Members of both House of Lords and House of Commons had the privilege of free postage – and it had become a convention that they would also frank the letters of their friends and relatives (as well as impoverished wards).

It seems to have been an absolute rort. WSD used to get his cousin, an MP, to frank blank sheets of paper to lay in a supply of free letters for future use, and MPs made useful company directors because they cut down the cost of postage.

John Gladstone Steele (1935-2016)

A friend has let me know that John Steele has just died. The funeral will be held next Monday, 1 February, at 10am in St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

John Gladstone Steele was a physicist and antiquarian (his word!) who worked for many years in the physics department at the University of Queensland. I know absolutely nothing about his scholarship as a physicist, but John worked across two disciplines, physics and history. That was unusual even thirty years ago. In our more specialist age it is practically unheard of.

I never knew John Steele particularly well, but I used to run into him occasionally when our research rummaging overlapped in UQ’s specialist Fryer Library. He gave me a copy of his family history, The Petersons and the Uhrs: An Australian Family since 1825, when he had it privately published in 2003. This book sits firmly on my desk as I write my book, because John’s Australian connections begin with the merchant Richard Jones, who arrived in Sydney in 1809, and was for many years my Walter Davidson’s business partner.

But on this Australia / Invasion Day, it seems appropriate to talk about John Steele’s most significant book, Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River (1984). In his younger days, John was an enthusiastic bushwalker, and this book was based on an earlier gestetnered and stapled pamphlet he produced for the University of Queensland Bushwalking Society. He wrote about Aboriginal pathways in the first instance so that his group of bushwalkers could follow them, but in doing so, he became increasingly curious about the people who had made them.

J.G.Steele Aboriginal Pathways

I once asked him where he got his information – and he said he just asked the local Aboriginal people he met while out walking. In the 1970s and 1980s, very few people did. About the same time he published Aboriginal legends of Stradbroke Island (1984).

Bushwalking gave John a sensibility to the Australian landscape that many of us lack. In Conrad Martens in Queensland: the frontier travels of a colonial artist (1978), John looked at the sketchbooks and paintings of Conrad Martens, who travelled to the Moreton Bay settlement (not yet Queensland) during 1851 and 1852, to drum up painting commissions amongst the squatters of the Darling Downs. John had the eye to identify the locations of many of Martens’ sketches, which now represent an important visual record of Aboriginal occupation. Because of John’s identification of the location of an Aboriginal camp in one of Martens’ drawings, for instance, the botanist Rod Fensham was able to show that this place marked the northern limit of the yam daisy, a native plant with a tuberous root that was an important food source for the Aborigines – and soon to be wiped out by hungry sheep.

John’s work dates from before Mabo, before Native Title, before current sensitivities about the European occupation of Australia. His books are resources for later researchers, rather than historical works in their own right, and he was surprisingly humble about his abilities as a historian. He once urged me to write a biography of his ancestor, Richard Jones. Jones certainly deserves a biography, and in many ways John Stone had much in common with his ancestor. Both were politically conservative high Anglicans, and thoughtful scholarly men. I told John that he should write the biography himself – but he demurred. As he admitted himself, he was an antiquarian, not a historian.

I have just looked at the UQ library catalogue to find that 8 – eight – copies of Aboriginal Pathways are held in the library, of which 2 are held in the specialist Fryer Library, and of the others, 4 are currently out on loan, including one that is overdue. Not bad for a book more than 30 years old.

John’s twin disciplines of physics and history seldom overlapped – but I do like his explanation, in Explorers of Moreton Bay (1972), of why Cook’s and Flinders’ charts of Moreton Bay diverge – John thinks (and at least to my uneducated eye proves) that the magnetic pole must have moved in the 30 years between their voyages. Not many historians could have figured that out.