Monthly Archives: July 2015

Copyright takes the Cake

Copyright is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to me – and yet I know I should try to understand it, because for any historian, access to sources – documents, pictures, other media generally – forms the basis of what we do.

I struggle constantly with the issue of copyright in my blog, since there is a question over any picture I pull from the web to put in a post. My personal compromise is to link the picture back to its original source on the web. That means – where I can – finding the library or art gallery it comes from, rather than just somebody else’s blog post. I’m not sure if this is an adequate safeguard, but since my blog only reaches a few hundred people, and makes no money, there’s probably no harm done. In a book, though, it’s not possible to salve a guilty conscience with a hyperlink.

Any author knows the nightmare of tracking down copyright owners to get their permission to publish images, or permission to use documents which are not in the public domain.

Many years ago, a friend of mine wrote a thesis on the history of a union. Both the friend and the union had better remain unnamed. He had the full cooperation of the union executive throughout his research – until shortly before he was due to submit his PhD, the executive of the union changed, and withdrew its permission. He spent a thoroughly miserable few months removing great chunks of quotations from his work. It was still a good thesis, but a shadow of its former self – as, indeed, was he for a while there.

The problem is worst with manuscripts, where copyright lasts forever. Now that digitization of printed sources has transformed so much research – Trove, I love you – libraries want to move on to digitize manuscript materials as well. There are already some wonderful digitized collections, often cooperative efforts such as the Darwin Correspondence Project and the Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, others more modest such as the University of Otago’s Samuel Marsden Online Archive. The Mitchell Library has just embarked on a project to digitize the Macarthur Papers.

googled images of handwritten recipes

I Googled ‘handwritten recipes’, planning to pull something suitable from the web – but then decided the whole page looks so pretty, I took a screenshot instead. This, I think, makes ME the copyright owner. The system’s crazy.

But the basic issue of manuscript copyright is holding others back. Under current legislation, even old recipe books are copyright. FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) has come up with a unique way to lobby for a change to copyright law. Next Friday, 31 July, is Copyright Day. Anyone concerned about copyright laws is encouraged to find a recipe, cook it, and post a photo of the dish and the manuscript recipe it is based on with the hashtag #cookingforcopyright on Twitter or on FaceBook here

Unfortunately most of my grandmother’s recipes are for cakes and puddings. This may be an unhealthy weekend coming up.

Christmas in July?

Colonists in 19th century Australia always found it difficult celebrating Christmas at midsummer. The strangeness of coping with the Christmas festivities in hot weather is a common theme in their letters home.

Today, most Australians have adjusted. Christmas food is usually cold and relies on such seasonal specialties as prawns and mangos. But that leaves a gap that gets filled, often enough, with ‘Christmas in July’ celebrations – an excuse to turn on the oven, cook a turkey, and binge on mince pies and Christmas puddings. It is now a binge that has totally broken its links with either the Christian religious festival or the winter solstice festivals of pre-Christian Europe.

advert for Christmas in July

For the colonists, though, Christmas still had important religious significance, but it was also a way of keeping in touch with the rituals they had left behind, so they grimly celebrated the feast day, cooking and eating the heavy roasts and puddings they remembered from their British childhoods.

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

I was intrigued, then, to discover an early colonist thinking about moving Christmas to mid-winter as far back as 1827. James Macarthur, son of the more famous John, visited the Australian Agricultural Company’s headquarters at Port Stephens in December 1827. The place was still very primitive, with most people living in bark huts or tents, but understandably the new settlers made a big deal of Christmas Day. In his journal of the visit, James recorded:

We dined today on the Verandah where we kept up the good old customs of our ancestors, by being very merry & by eating plentifully of roast Beef & plum pudding – notwithstanding the difference in temperature between mid winter in England & mid summer in Australia a trifling variation of some sixty degrees of Fahrenheit….

A Corroboree of the Natives close to the Verandah finished the amusements of the day.

James had lived in England as a boy, but he was Australian born, so perhaps that is why he considered the possibility of moving Christmas to mid-winter:

I have always thought it would be a publick benefit (if practicable without heterodoxy) to change the eating and drinking part of this festival to a more temperate season of the year – At present too the Xmas holidays happen just at the Farmers’ busiest moment in the midst of harvest wool packing &c – Nothing can be more ill timed – In the month of June there is no operation of importance going forward & besides John Bull might then indulge as freely as at home without endangering his health.

I suspect that James was more concerned with getting greater profit from the workers than with endangering their health, but it is true that in the northern hemisphere, Christmas came at the slowest point of the agricultural year. In the southern hemisphere, there was more to do in December.

James was only musing to himself about the possibility of making the change – but farmers did once petition the South Australian government to change the Christmas holiday to April, so that their children could help bring in the harvest.

Reference: Journal kept by James Macarthur of a visit to Port Stephens, December 1827, in Australian Agricultural Company (London Office), General Despatches, 78/1/6, in Noel Butlin Archives, ANU.

Intimate Nuggets

In December 1829 Sir Edward Parry arrived in Sydney to become the new manager of the Australian Agricultural Company, formed 5 years earlier. Sir Edward was a distinguished Arctic explorer, recently knighted for his efforts. His wife Isabella was the daughter of John Stanley, first Baron Stanley of Alderley. Naturally, when they arrived in Sydney, they stayed at Government House with Governor Darling and his wife, Eliza.

Parry soon left for the AAC headquarters at Port Stephens, but Isabella was heavily pregnant and stayed on with Sir Ralph and Eliza Darling. Eight days later, on 14 January 1830, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Estimating the time of arrival of babies was not – is not – an exact science, but these babies were probably very premature.

Eliza Darling had had a baby – her fifth – in July 1829, so now she came to the rescue, as Isabella reported to Edward:

The boy is smallest and has required great care…and indeed we owe its life, under Providence, to Mrs Darling suckling him herself for two days and nights, tho’ herself in bad health. I cannot express to you the affectionate attention we had received from these dear people.

I love discovering intimate nuggets like this! They raise such interesting questions.

How common were wet nurses in New South Wales? The colony was still disproportionately male, so the needs of women and their babies were not to the forefront. No doubt Isabella could have found a suitable convict woman in the Female Factory, but not necessarily at a moment’s notice, and the situation sounds urgent.

Eliza Darling

Eliza Darling and two of her children (1825) National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2256803

How unusual was it for a lady – the Governor’s wife, no less – to suckle a friend’s or a stranger’s baby? Eliza Darling has the reputation of being deeply religious, which may be a factor. If so, perhaps she would have been pleased to know that the boy she suckled survived to eventually become Suffragan Bishop of Dover.

Reference: This anecdote appears, virtually without comment, in Brian H. Fletcher, Ralph Darling: A Governor Maligned (Melbourne, 1984), p. 161.

Note: Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been silent for a couple of months. Apologies, it’s a long story.

In May I went overseas on holiday. Groggy with jetlag, on Day 2 I lost my iPad, together with my password. Note to WordPress: that clever security idea of sending a reference number to a mobile phone doesn’t work when the recipient is in Portugal with a different SIM card.

I came back in June to a series of domestic crises, followed by whatever this season’s viral illness is called. This has put a lot of deadlines in doubt. Normal transmission will be resumed shortly.