The South China Sea and Freedom of the Seas

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has just reached a decision arbitrating the case brought by the Philippines against China in the South China Sea. The court has decided that the ‘9 Dash Line’ drafted by China back in 1947 is invalid. China has angrily rejected the ruling, and there’s really not a blind thing the Philippines can do

about it, no matter how gleeful they may be at present.

South China Sea 9 Dash Line

From US Central Intelligence Agency, would you believe, via Wikipedia

It’s appropriate that this decision as made in The Hague, because international maritime law as we know it began in the Netherlands, 400 years ago, when a Dutchman, Huig de Groot, wrote an unpublished treatise De Indis (On the Indies) in 1604/5, and followed up by publishing Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) in 1609. These laid down the concept of the freedom of the seas, on which the South China Sea decision is based.

Freedom of the Seas sounds both worthy and universal, but even apparently universal legal concepts occur in a particular context. Huig de Groot, better known by his Latinized name Hugo Grotius, was dealing with a very specific event that occurred not all that far from the South China Sea. In 1603, Dutch merchant adventurers seized a Portuguese caravel near Singapore, and subsequently hired a smart young lawyer – Grotius – to provide the legal backing for their action.

Hugo Grotius, legal theorist

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, Hugo Grotius (1631), from Wikipedia

To understand the background, we need to go back before Grotius’s birth to 1568, when the Dutch rose in rebellion against their Spanish rulers. The Netherlands had been incorporated in the Hapsburg Empire when the last Duke of Burgundy died on the battlefield, leaving his only daughter Mary the greatest heiress in Europe. After tense diplomatic negotiations, she was quickly married off to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Their son married the heiress of the Spanish kingdoms, so their grandson, Charles V, found himself ruling an empire that stretched from the Netherlands (i.e. Burgundy) to Austria to Spain to Spanish America.

The arrangement worked more or less under Charles V (1500-1558), who was brought up in the Netherlands, spoke Dutch, and spent most of his life racing from Kingdom to County to Duchy around his crazy empire, but his son, Philip II, settled down outside Madrid, a Spaniard through and through. Add in the complexities of the Protestant Reformation, and the whole tottering edifice began to crumble.

Then in 1580, the legitimate Portuguese royal line died out. Philip’s mother had been a Portuguese princess, so he claimed this throne as well. The Hispanic Peninsula was combined under a single ruler – and so were their trade and territories overseas.

During the 16th century, Europe slowly digested the amazing implications of Columbus’s discovery of a whole New World. In a supreme act of European hubris, in 1494 the Pope divided the globe between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

tordesillas map

Carved up like an orange – the Treaty of Tordesillas and later modifications. Note that the Portuguese managed to scrape in Brazil. From Wikipedia

Spain (actually Castile) took the Western Hemisphere, while Portugal – which had been expanding down the African coast and soon entered the Indian Ocean – took the Eastern Hemisphere. No one outside Europe, of course, knew that the carve up had taken place – and even within Europe, it took some time for other nations to pay attention. After 1580, the Hispanic domination of the world seemed complete – at least from the European perspective.

Except that, like mammals evolving during the age of the dinosaurs, smaller maritime powers were beginning to emerge.

The Dutch had nothing like the economic or military power of the Spanish/Portuguese Empire – but they were sailors and businessmen, and they knew how to use their maritime power to hurt. The Dutch – and the English under Elizabeth Tudor, who backed the Dutch Revolt – attacked Philip II’s combined empire through its shipping. Dutch and English privateers bled the Spanish state of its bullion, attacking the heavy galleons that brought the gold and silver back to Europe.

They also began to challenge the Hispanic monopoly, setting up trading posts in West Africa and the West Indies to draw trade (including the slave trade) away from the Spaniards. It was Portugal’s bad luck that, from 1580, another dynastic accident meant that its trade in the East Indies was also fair game.

In 1603, the newly created Dutch East India Company [Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC] seized the spice-laden Santa Catarina off Singapore and sailed it back to Amsterdam. The shareholders were delighted, but there were some uneasy consciences amongst them, and Grotius was given the task of demonstrating that the seizure had taken place in open waters and was therefore legal.

Grotius argued that the sea belongs to no one. Any state has the right to sail across it, and in the 1603 context, the Dutch were not trespassers on a ‘Spanish lake’. (As rebels, they were entitled to the seizure as an act of war). Of course, Grotius’s treatise, especially the published 1609 version, has a much wider context, but he was also dealing with a particular situation and its implications.

It was at every level a very Eurocentric perspective. No one in the Netherlands had a clue that Polynesians had sailed the Pacific – the so-called Spanish Lake – for centuries, or that Malays, Javanese, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Filipinos all shared the waterways of South East Asia, including the South China Sea.

This sharing was not, of course, necessarily good-natured. In the South China Sea, for instance, there was a very long history of Cantonese clans and families competing with each other, building levees and planting barriers strategically across the outlets of the Pearl River estuary so that they – and not their neighbours – could hold on to the precious silt that poured down the river. Ironically, perhaps, the Netherlands has a similar tradition of reshaping their estuarine landscape with canals and river mud. Such historic ‘terraforming’ is, of course, very different from the massive earthworks China is undertaking today.

China’s ambit claim to control of everything within the ‘9-dash line’ has now been rejected, but perhaps it is time to abandon Grotius’s doctrine of Liberum Mare. According to Grotius, and by implication in the recent decision in The Hague, nobody owns the open sea, and freedom of navigation should be protected at all costs.

What needs protecting today, though, is not just freedom of the seas, but the seas themselves. The oceans are dying – from overfishing, pollution, acidification and rising temperatures. What belongs to no one is cared for by no one. We need to move on to a new way of sharing a precious common resource.

Note: I’m sorry I’ve been silent for so long. My excuse is a bad reaction to a yellow fever shot, and a broken rib. Normal transmission is now resumed.

One degree of separation: Roger Rogerson and me

Rogerson was finally found guilty today, so I’m reblogging this from 2014 (even though nobody will remember the significance of the last line, which refers to Frances Abbott’s scholarship).

Historians are Past Caring

Yesterday, a 73-year-old former policeman with a bad hip was arrested and charged with the murder of a young drug dealer. Roger Rogerson has a long history of brushes with the law, and he has spent some years in prison, but the New South Wales courts have never yet succeeded in nailing him for murder.

The Sydney Morning Herald this morning describes Roger Rogerson as ‘the state’s most notorious former cop’. Perhaps a part of his notoriety always lay in his memorable name. A dodgy cop with an unmemorable moniker like – say – Terry Lewis might not enter the popular consciousness in the same way.

I know nothing personally about Roger Rogerson’s career, but in a funny sort of way, I’ve known about him for much of my life, because he and my husband went to school together, first at Bankstown Primary School, and later at Homebush Boys High.

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Money Matters

The other day I saw one of Australia’s most famous coins for the first time, Governor Macquarie’s Holey Dollar, on display at a Brisbane Money Expo for numismatists.

The story is well known. In 1813, faced with a serious shortage of circulating coins, Governor Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish silver dollars, which were then a common currency across the Pacific and East Asia. When they arrived, Macquarie oversaw their conversion into 2 coins, by punching out the centre, and gave them the arbitrary value of 5 shillings for the large outer ring, and 1 shilling and 3 pence (1/3d, or one-and-threepence) for the central ‘dump’.

I know all that already – I’ve written about the holey dollar before, here – but as I don’t approach these things from the perspective of a numismatist, there’s a lot I didn’t know.

For a start, Macquarie was a godsend to later collectors, because he didn’t care where his 40,000 coins came from, so there are holey dollars based on Spanish dollars from mints in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Guatemala, Chile and Colombia. Nor did he care about how old they were, so there are coins with dates ranging from the 1750s (Ferdinand VI) to the recent past (1810, from the Lima Mint).

Holey_dollar

Some coins are much rarer than others, and the Dump is rarer than the Holey Dollar. That’s not really surprising. Large denomination coins tend to be hoarded, while small denominations are more likely to stay in circulation, get more worn as a result, and are lost more easily.

Two of the specimens on display at the Expo had the name T KNIGHT stamped across the surface. Apparently this name pops up from time to time on colonial coinage – and nobody has discovered who he was. I made a brief search of Trove in search of him, but it yielded nothing – the name is too common, and the word ‘Knight’ appears in too many other contexts.

My guess is that T Knight used the coins as tokens of some kind, perhaps a pastoralist who paid his workers in tokens for the company store, though why he would use real coins in this way is puzzling, especially since defacing coinage was a serious crime – treason.

I am not now, nor ever have been, a collector. I have no desire to own these coins, or any of the other objects that were on display, I just love them for the stories they tell. Apart from Macquarie’s defaced currency (it’s not treason if you do it to your enemy’s currency) there were plenty of other stories too.

Coins have often been used for propaganda purposes, and there was a coin struck by Charles I during the siege of Newark in the English Civil War in 1646. There were even older Dutch coins found on the Abrolhos Islands off the West Australian coast that come from the Batavia shipwreck.

My favourite was a Spanish silver dollar with a faint etching of Chinese characters – the chop mark of the official at Canton [Guangzhou] who checked that the coin contained the full weight of silver before it was accepted, probably in payment for tea. This practice was known to Europeans by its Indian term, ‘shroffing’, and a neighbouring coin bore a shroff mark. I’ve written about the practice here.

While I am not a collector, I’m always fascinated by collectors’ deep knowledge of their subject. Philatelists have helped me several times over the years, and perhaps we historians need to talk to numismatists more often as well. One of the bit-players in my biography of Walter Davidson, his brother-in-law, Gilbert Farquhar Mathison, worked at the Royal Mint during the 1840s. He seems to have been quite senior, and was involved in the developing science of metallurgy. He travelled to France at one stage to study new methods of assaying gold coins.

After writing a travel book as a young man, he slips off the radar, and I can find almost nothing about his years at the Royal Mint. He’s not in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for instance. After visiting the Money Expo, however, it occurs to me that I may be looking for knowledge of him in the wrong places.

Gilbert Farquhar Mathison, Narrative of a visit to Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the Sandwich Islands during the years 1821 and 1822 (1825) is online here

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:

FullSizeRender

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.