Monthly Archives: November 2011

Was this the real Stephen Maturin?

Dr Granville

Portrait of A.B.Granville, by Alexander Craig (c.1840), from Wellcome Library

Some years ago, I belonged to a History of Medicine online discussion group.  Every few months, a query would arrive from a newbie asking what was the disease once known as the marthambles – and the questioner would immediately be outed as a Patrick O’Brian tragic, for it is one of many ailments successfully treated by Stephen Maturin in O’Brian’s highly popular Aubrey/Maturin novels, set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War.  The problem is, marthambles doesn’t exist.  Sometimes a historical novelist is allowed – whisper it quietly – to make things up! Continue reading

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The President and the Barmaid

And I spent my soul in kisses, crushed upon your scarlet mouth,
Oh! My red-lipped, sun-browned sweetheart, dark-eyed daughter of the south.

With all the kissing and cuddling that’s been going on lately between Barack Obama and Julia Gillard, maybe it’s time to quote the words of another American President with a thing for Australian women.

I have heard several times in the last week that until LBJ came to Harold Holt’s funeral in 1967, no American President had visited Australia.  The truth is, Australia is a long way from the rest of the world.  Henry Kissinger is supposed to have said (though I can’t find hard evidence) that he had never visited Australia, because he had never been on the way to Antarctica.  So it is not surprising that world leaders didn’t visit Australia before the era of fast air travel.  Nowadays, of course, they all find an excuse to come, especially during the northern winter.

But in fact, one American President spent a considerable time in Australia and left his mark on it.

President Hoover stamp 1965

Hoover stamp, 1965, from Wikimedia

Herbert Hoover arrived in Kalgoorlie as a young geologist straight out of Stanford University, in 1897. Continue reading

Sea Dragons

I’ve only seen one once.  I was staying with friends on Vancouver Island.  They took me to a marina in Victoria, where you buy fish scraps to feed to the seals hanging round the jetties.  Then we saw him, hiding under the boardwalk, darting out to snatch bits of fish and retreating to his shelter.  A sea otter, faster than the seals, but much the same sleek, streamlined body shape, with a thick, glossy fur coat which very nearly led to their extinction.

Sea Otter in Alaskan bay

Sea otter off the Alaskan coast, photo by Jenni Metcalfe

Nobody really knows how many sea otters there originally were, but they stretched from Japan, via the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands across to Alaska, British Columbia and down the Californian coastline.  By 1911, when Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States, signed a treaty giving them protection, there were only about 1000 to 2000 left. Continue reading

Violators, Victims and Vigilantes

The Western Australian government is about to introduce controversial legislation to let parents know about convicted child sex offenders who may live nearby.  Queensland is struggling to a way to deal with offenders who have served their time, but can’t be reintegrated into the community.  We are all troubled, one way or another, by people who are sexually aroused by children.  And the state struggles to find ways to deal with such people, to appease community outrage while treating them appropriately within the law.

The problem isn’t new, but definitions of childhood have changed greatly since the days when midshipmen went into battle at 10 and girls routinely married as soon as they reached puberty. The age of consent in England was 12 until 1885, when it was raised to 16 because of public concern about young girls being sold into brothels.  [See W.T. Stead, ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’ from The Pall Mall Gazette]

Girl in a Pinafore

David Cox, Girl in a Pinafore, c. 1800. In Yale Center for British Art, Yale Digital Commons

The first recorded case in Australia of the sexual assault of the child came to court in Sydney in September 1789, when Henry Wright, a private in the Marines in his early 30s, was tried for the rape of Elizabeth Chapman, aged 8. Continue reading

Family Papers

The artist Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) had 3 sons, Jack, (1900-1990), Raymond (1903-1960) and Philip (1906-1958).  They were brought up in Brisbane by their mother, and went to the Brisbane Grammar School.  During 1920 and 1921, 14-year-old Philip produced a series of handmade, handwritten, illustrated magazines, which he called Artistic Temperament.

Philip Lindsay, Artistic Temperament
I’m not usually involved in what you might call the ‘front end’ of the historical process, the acquisition of the original manuscripts and documents on which our work as historians depends.  But last week I handed over a collection of Philip Lindsay’s manuscripts, the 5 volumes of Artistic Temperament, plus two other items, a school exercise book with his early stories and poems, and a 20 page hand bound play script, ‘Pierette: A Tragedy in 3 Acts’, illustrated by his brother Raymond.

These documents came into my family through my great aunt Emmie, and make me sad to think that I never really knew her.  She was my grandfather’s older sister, a tall, thin woman.  Her nose was partly burned away by radium as a result of the reckless treatment of doctors who used it to treat anything and everything during the 1920s.

As a child, I found her rather scary, but when she died, she left me her jewellery collection, a mixture of treasures and tourist souvenirs that don’t make much sense without the stories that should go with them.  Amongst the collection is a gold brooch, or badge, engraved AJA.  She received this to mark 50 years membership of the Australian Journalists Association.  She was clearly quite a woman.

Emma Powell was the first woman journalist in Brisbane.  She began work for the Brisbane Telegraph in 1907, where she met Firmin McKinnon, later editor of the Brisbane Courier.  They married in 1912 and became leading lights in the Brisbane literary world.  Somewhere in this cultural scene, Emmie must have befriended Philip Lindsay, who entrusted her with this collection of his work.  She had no children of her own, and Philip was a troubled boy.  His parents had long lived apart and in January 1920, Norman divorced his reluctant wife to marry his long time mistress, and artist’s model, Rose Soady.

Emmie McKinnon

Firmin McKinnon died in 1954 and Emmie in 1965.  At some point, she gave Philip Lindsay’s papers to my uncle Tony Powell.  He taught German at the University of Queensland, and when he and my aunt died, my cousins gave some of his books to the Languages School.  An eagle-eyed staff member there found these papers in a shoebox.

Tony offered the papers to various libraries and galleries during the 1990s, but no one was interested in ‘juvenilia’.  They are now.  The State Library of Queensland already has a Lindsay collection, so they will fit in well.

Pirate by Philip Lindsay

It is striking how much these youthful efforts reflect Philip’s later career as an historical novelist.  His first novel was about the pirate Henry Morgan, and the pirates are already here, as are Tudor kings and queens, and ideas of medieval chivalry and honour.  Norman’s influence is there in his interest in Norse mythology and Nietzsche, as well as in his misogyny (forgivable in a 14-year old boy, less so in the father).

Philip Lindsay Gods are not dead

I’m glad these stories and poems have been rediscovered.  I hope they reach a wider audience through the State Library of Queensland.  As always, the library has too much to do, and too little to do it with, but they hope to have the collection catalogued and available later next year.