Category Archives: european history

Digging up Matthew Flinders

There’s been a bit of noise about Matthew Flinders’ grave just recently. There are plans to extend the very fast train system from London to the north of England, and to do this, a lot of Euston Station and its surroundings will be dug up and redeveloped.

This includes the old graveyard of St James’ Church, where about 61,000 bodies were buried, Flinders included. Some of the graveyard was dug up during the 19th century during various expansions of the station, so many of these bodies have already disappeared. Apparently when his widow died in 1852, her sister looked for the grave but couldn’t find it. The first expansion of Euston Station was then underway.

Matthew Flinders portrait

Matthew Flinders watercolour miniature, c.1800, from State Library of New South Wales

The Victorians tended to take a brutally unsentimental attitude to such things, as the old music hall song suggests:

They’re moving grandpa’s grave to build a sewer,
They’re moving it regardless of expense.
They’re taking his remains, to put in 9-inch drains,
To irrigate some rich bloke’s residence.

In Australia, Flinders is one of the best-known naval explorers, so it’s a bit startling to find a 2014 article in the (English) Guardian announcing the erection of a statue at Australia House ‘to the most famous navigator you’ve probably never heard of’.

I don’t suppose many people these days read Ernestine Hill, My Love Must Wait (1941), a fictionalized life of Matthew Flinders, but when it was first published it was a bestseller, and it was commonly set as a text book in Australian schools. The Esplanade at the end of my street in Sandgate was renamed Flinders Parade at about this time, and Flinders became a common place name. He shares with only James Cook, John Monash, Charles Darwin and Charles Sturt, the honour of having a university named after him.

It helps to have a cat, too.

To the memory of Trim

One of my favourite Flinders stories comes from early in his exploring career. In 1798, he and Bass sailed south to circumnavigate Tasmania. This was an important matter: if the southernmost tip of the continent was a separate island, it wasn’t covered by Cook’s original claim of possession. On their way back, they stopped somewhere along the Ninety Mile Beach, where they came across a group of Aboriginal people feasting on a beached whale.

Soon afterward a man made his appearance. He was of middle age, unarmed, except for a whaddie, or wooden scimitar, and came up to us seemingly with careless confidence. We made much of him, and gave him some biscuit; and he in turn presented us with a piece of gristly fat, probably of whale. This I tasted; but watching an opportunity to spit it out when he should not be looking, I perceived him doing precisely the same thing with our biscuit. (Matthew Flinders, 7 October 1798)

I like the parallel revulsion of the two men towards each others’ gifts of food – whale blubber and ship’s biscuit – and their equal politeness in trying to spit them out discreetly.

Flinders married Ann Chappelle in 1801, intending to take her out to Australia with him on his next voyage of exploration. It was not uncommon for the captain’s wife to sail with her husband, though it was controversial. (Jane Austen covers the debate in Persuasion, set just a few years later.) In this case the Admiralty chastised Flinders for taking Ann aboard, and she was not allowed to go out with him. On his way home from New South Wales, the French Governor of Mauritius detained Flinders there, and it was 9 years before Ann saw her husband again.

By then she was 40. In 1812 she gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Anne. Flinders managed to get A voyage to Terra Australis published just before he died in 1814, but the book had less impact than he would have hoped, because the record of the Baudin expedition had already been published. (François Péron Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes (1807; English translation 1809).

Flinders’ widow and daughter lived on in genteel poverty. For years they pleaded with the British Government for a pension in acknowledgement of Flinders’ work and early death, but as the Guardian article suggests, Flinders was forgotten in his native land. It was only in 1853 that the two colonial governments of New South Wales and Victoria agreed to grant an annuity of £100 per year to the Flinders family.

Ann Flinders had died the year before. That same year, at the age of 40, her daughter Anne married an engineer, William Petrie. Like her mother, she had one child, a son, born at an age – 41 – when childbirth was very dangerous for older women. She named him William after his father, and Matthew Flinders after her own father.

Anne was a scholar of sorts. In 1845, under the pseudonym Philomathes, she published a book, The Connexion between Revelation and Mythology Illustrated and Vindicated, which shows her fascination with Egyptian mythology. She also wrote essays for periodicals under the initials “X.Q.’ Her husband William Petrie was a scientist who took an early interest in electricity and magnetism, and is credited with inventing an early arc light. These two scholarly, aging parents taught their only son at home, using the colonial annuity of £100 per year to enhance his education. He was interested in science and mathematics, but also fascinated, as his parents were, by Egypt. He first went out there in 1880.

He didn’t use his first names, so few people know of the connection, but he eventually became a good deal more famous than his eminent grandfather, in Britain at least. Perhaps there’s an irony in the fact that if archaeologists dig up the graveyard in St James’s Gardens, they will do so according to scientific principles of archaeology that were first laid down by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in his ‘small but epoch-making book’, Methods and Aims in Archaeology (1904).

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.

Chin Chin!

Chin Chin and other cheerful toasts

Chin Chin: Anglo-Chinese. A phrase of salutation. Also used as a drinking toast Oxford English Dictionary

This is a time for feasting, whether it’s the traditional Christmas dinner that only makes sense in the wintry northern hemisphere at this time of year, or cherries, mango and prawns in our summer heat. Whatever our local traditions, eating together is a sign of friendship. The word ‘companion’, like the French copain, has at its root the word pain, bread, so companions were originally the people we broke bread with. Friendship through food – an excellent idea, but occasionally it involves difficulties when there are serious cultural misunderstandings.

On 2 November 1838 Captain Laplace and the officers of the French exploration frigate Artémise were invited to a grand banquet in Canton [now Guangdong], by Minqua, a senior member of the Hong, or merchant organisation, that controlled trade in Canton. Minqua dealt in particular with French traders, but the invitations went out more widely, and the trader and diarist William Prinsep has given a memorable account of what must have been a memorable occasion:

‘We assembled at about 4 P.M. – a large party. There were seven square tables placed in a semicircle fronting an arcade of three arches at the windowed end of the hall. On the first side of each table hung a crimson drapery embroidered with gold in a dragon pattern. On each of the other sides were two of the party seated, the master of the feast in the centre. In the centre of each table stood a pyramidal kind of dumb waiter turning on a pivot & bearing on shelves down each side small porcelain cups vases & other vessels with the required condiments for a good dinner with a cup of soy at the apex.

‘I kept my eye upon Minqua the host to know how to make the most of the good things before me. For instance, the first thing handed round to each person was a cup with a porcelain spoon of birds’ nest soup. It was pure gluten without any flavour whatever. I noticed that he first put in a little soy, then a little sugar, salt & chilli pepper & some spice. The tables were being constantly turned to supply the condiment required.

‘Now there were 60 different things served to each person ending with the never omitted cup of rice, water & all in most elegant porcelain cups, saucers, bowls, little platters, perfectly clean & brought in on pretty lacquered trays & all like clock work and without any noise or confusion, and some idea may be formed of what the kitchen & pantry must have been like & how organised.

‘I must add that every now & then were carried round Porcelain kettles of hot samshee [Shaoxing] the sour medicine kind of wine of the country. It was poured into little cups with deep rims underneath acting as handle. When challenged you drank it standing & with both hands presented the empty face of the cup to the party you drank with to show you had swallowed all, and with a Chin Chin [ts’ing ts’ing] sat down again. The host kept the kettle going in the liveliest manner among the sailors, & I confess it was lucky that it [i.e. the wine] was hot otherwise it would have been too sour to be palatable.

‘My impression is that as all the dishes seemed to have been prepared with a kind of oil, this hot sour wine seemed to neutralize the effect of the greasiness; – I tasted (for there were too many to eat) of as many as I could for curiosity sake, & I found many of them very nice, especially delicate little legs & wings of poultry & game in a kind of fritter – delicate little bones doubtless of rabbits and puppies, perhaps of frogs or rats were so tinted as to look tempting, and please the taste.

‘Everything except the liquids had of course to be eat[en] with chopsticks, but I had learnt to handle them exactly – Not so an unfortunate officer of the frigate in full uniform sitting near to me whose white trousers bore unmistakable marks of his want of experience in lifting the greasy morceaux to his lips. He swore heartily at the best bits always escaping him.

‘Another man at my table lifted from his cup a thing prepared in sugar which created consternation all around “Mais Mon Dieu qu’est ce que c’est que ça?” [‘My God, what have we got here?’] exclaims the alarmed eater for there was no doubt of its being a preserved centipede. I thought this was carrying the joke against us too far, and I appealed to Dent who sat at the chief table. Up jumped Minqua himself who ran to our table to explain “But number one Good – number one!” meaning that nothing possibly could be better, but remarking nothing but disgust in each of our faces, he seized the chopsticks, balanced the sweet creature at least 4 inches in length & slowly swallowed it, patting his stomach with extreme satisfaction.

‘But the action had quite a different effect upon most of us. The Frenchman who had held it up & was nearest to the Mandarin was compelled to run to the open window when he poured forth his objections in a most undeniable manner – but he was not the only unfortunate at my table. The Doctor of the frigate turning to me to remark upon the peculiarity of the taste of the oil & in the cooking, and doubting what it could be, was quickly assured by me that I knew that which was much used was Castor oil which grew in all their gardens. He turned deadly pale declaring that all his life he had avoided this oil with a hatred never to be conquered. A minute after, his head was also out of the window with a piteous moan. The dinner was an uproarious one from the astonishment & laughter which these many little incidents caused.

‘While dinner was going on, there were jugglers & dancers of a mild kind alternatively exhibiting their performances in the vacant space of the hall between the tables & the three alcoves. When the coup de grace, alas, the rice water had gone round, Minqua rose with his guests & stretched themselves in this same vacant place calling for his pipe & inviting others to smoke. I remarked a peculiarity about his pipe which had a largish bowl of silver in which a servant placed some loose shreds of tobacco which on the light being applied to it was commenced with one long inhale. A quantity of fine scented smoke seemed to come out of the Mandarin’s mouth, nostrils, ears & eyes so completely was he surrounded with smoke.

‘It seemed quite to satisfy him for he handed his pipe to his servant & clapped his hands as the signal for us all to take our seats again, which we had no sooner done than enter the whole cortege of servants & the entire 60 dishes had to be handed round again. The Chinese Gentlemen began again seriously, but it was too much for the Europeans, and Minqua finding that no one partook of the dishes, clapped his hands again & in came 3 tables ornamented with embroidered draperies like our own. One was placed in each alcove & there followed immediately 3 large dishes carried by 2 men each in uniforms. Then entered a cook to each dish in a splendid costume armed with large knives & forks with which they at once attacked the three large joints of Beef, Mutton and Pork.

‘The sailors at one table exclaimed with an oath that now they saw something like a dinner & turned to with much vigour to satisfy appetites which had not been appeased by the many little entremets. But there were many like myself who after so many tastings were quite unable to partake of these grands pieces de resistance which were cooked to perfection.

‘In time however there was an end to this as well as to wine drinking – the evening had drawn on to dark. The whole side of the chamber behind us seemed to open by the removal of shutters & screens & we looked into a Court in the middle of which was exhibited a whole course of miniature fireworks of the most elegant kind, of many colours & contrivances quite Chinese which is as much as to say totally different from anything we had ever seen before.

‘The party broke up at their termination & we were saluted at the door by the most effective feu de joie it was possible to conceive. Conceive the whole Prussian army firing with exact precision one after the other, but this could only be accomplished by the Chinese method. At the door of the Hong two very high poles had been planted & to the very top of each had been hoisted a string of Chinese crackers which are small joints of Bamboo connected by a quick match & strung together by tens of thousands….

‘Every one suffered from the effects of the party and I never was so ill as I was all that night & next day.’

Chin chin, everyone. Enjoy the festive season – and keep clear of centipedes.

Reference: Memoir of William Prinsep, in Prinsep Papers, MSS Eur D1160/3, India Office Records. Transcribed from the original handwritten diary. I have adjusted the punctuation where needed for greater clarity.

Medieval Power at the Queensland Museum

The Queensland Museum has just opened a new exhibition on Medieval Power. It runs until 10 April 2016. As the museum trumpets in its promo, it will be ‘the first museum in the world and the only one in Australia and New Zealand to host this incredible new exhibition curated by the British Museum.’

So – is it incredible? I’m not so sure. The exhibition contains a great many wonderful pieces. Not surprisingly, given how far they have come from one side of the world to the other, most of them are small. That’s not in itself a problem, though it does mean that the exhibits need time – and in my case reading glasses – to absorb their detail properly.

Given the problems of transportation, it was generous of the British Museum to send some fragile items, such as embroidered cloth or leather. There’s a leather shoe dredged from the muddy Thames that looks as if it could have hidden in the back of my wardrobe until recently. The cuts along the toes are so fresh that I’m sure a leather worker could recreate the design without much difficulty.

The caption says it dated from 1400-1500, but was it dated on the basis of style or some sort of chemical analysis? Carbon dating or DNA analysis would have been impossible with all that mud. I wanted to know more about that shoe, but there’s no catalogue to satisfy my curiosity – and what does it have to do with Power, the alleged theme of the exhibition?

In this exhibition, Power covers the authority of the church (papal rings, objects of devotion), the state (numerous seals, the Lewis chess set king) and the military force of the knights behind that (helmets, horse gear). Beyond that, there’s a miscellany of the stuff of ordinary life – knives and spoons, a saltcellar, items of adornment. I fell deeply in love with a small bone pin with the head and horn of a unicorn.

Unicorn pin from Medieval Power exhibition

Unicorn pin from British Museum, Museum no 1932,0307.5

There’s also a rudimentary attempt to illustrate towns and trade, and one of the final cabinets contains a number of seals and other objects associated Jewish or Muslim minorities.

The objects are lovely, intriguing, engaging. Most of the people around me seemed perfectly happy with what was on display, though none of their comments seemed to go much beyond the ‘Wow, isn’t that old!’ school of history. It is the school holidays, after all.

So why did I come away from this exhibition feeling vaguely frustrated, and regretting that I had splashed out on a season ticket?

For a start, there’s no catalogue. I’m not sure who curated this exhibition, but my guess is that most of the decisions about selection were made in London, not Brisbane, especially as the exhibition is going on to other places after this. So why is there no catalogue to cover the entire tour? A search of ‘unicorn pin’ on the British Museum’s Collection online was easy – but I’ve got Buckley’s chance of finding the shoe. Similarly, there’s a nice quiet place within the exhibition where a lot of interesting books are laid out to read – but none of them are available at the bookshop.

According to the British Museum website, this travelling exhibition is called Medieval Europe: AD 400-1500 but somewhere between London and Brisbane, the title changed to Medieval Power: Symbols and Splendour. My hunch is that some publicist thought this title would appeal more to the Game of Thrones generation, but it’s a pity, because in the conversion, the chronology – and therefore causation – have been lost. A thousand years of the ebb and flow of European history have been mashed together into a largely undifferentiated ‘Middle Ages’, sometimes within the same display cabinet.

There’s another problem with the theme of Power. It leaves women out of the discussion, even when the objects themselves do not. The King in the Lewis chess set is described in terms of his sword and throne, the symbols of his royal power. But there is no comparable discussion of the Queen who sits beside him, from another walrus ivory chess set.

Chess queen from British Museum

Walrus ivory Queen chess piece, German, 14C-15C British Museum no. 1856,0612.3

In the end, I was glad to have the season ticket because I went back at the end of the week, just to check if my original impressions were unfair. I don’t think they are, although on a second viewing the logic of the themes became a bit clearer. But I’m still disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – the exhibition is definitely worth a visit, maybe more than one, but go on a day that won’t be crowded so that you can take you your time over the smaller exhibits – and reading glasses. And don’t, like me, walk out expecting to pick up that fascinating book on medieval jewelry when you reach the bookshop. It won’t be there.

Update: Here is a very different report on the exhibition, this time from a physicist.

In-laws and Out-laws

It’s probably not at the forefront of people’s minds, when the issue of legalizing same sex marriage comes up, but when it happens (and I assume that in Australia, sooner or later it will), we are going to have to do something about genealogical software packages.

There has been a great deal of research into same sex relationships during the last 50 years. I wrote recently about one such study, Yorick Smaal’s study of homosexuality amongst Australian and American soldiers in the Pacific during World War I. But the problem with researching the history of sexuality – particularly, but not only homosexuality – is the dearth of sources. Sexual activity most often enters the historic record when it comes under scrutiny from bureaucratic structures like the military or the courts.

But what about people, men or women, who entered into discreet, long term, loving relationships that never encountered legal impediments? Most people don’t leave a documentary record of their sexual activities, so we rely on speculation – except in the case of fertile heterosexual couples whose children provide the most basic evidence that they were sexually active. Otherwise it’s often guesswork.

I’m currently dealing with such a case while finishing the last chapters of my book on Walter Davidson and the Macarthur family. Davidson’s extended family had close ties with John Macarthur and his family over a period of more than 60 years. Several of WSD’s nephews married into the Macarthur family, and John Macarthur’s son James married a woman whose family was friendly with WSD.

And then there’s John’s eldest son Edward. I am fairly certain that Edward Macarthur was in a discreet, long term, loving relationship with another man for more than 20 years – but it’s all speculation.

Edward’s partner – or so I think – was an aristocrat called George Horatio Cholmondesley. George’s father was George James Cholmondesley, from an old, aristocratic and very wealthy Cheshire family. The father doesn’t rate a mention on his own behalf in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but when I search on the word ‘Cholmondeley’, he pops up all over the place, as a co-lover with the Prince of Wales of various Regency courtesans. A number of their offspring were brought up in the Cholmondeley household.*

George James’s eldest son didn’t fit this mold. According to the diarist Joseph Faringdon, George Horatio was ‘a young man of effeminate manners, not promising much manliness of character’, and his libidinous father much preferred his younger son Henry.

Edward and George Cholmondesley met in 1812 in Sicily. Edward was a professional soldier, and his regiment was based in Malta. George Cholmondeley visited Sicily as part of the modified southern Grand Tour that was all that was available to young gentlemen during the Napoleonic War. Edward was 23, George 20.

George seems to have been going through a crisis at this time. Perhaps influenced by the Catholic lands he was visiting, he briefly converted to Catholicism, before swinging in the opposite direction towards Methodism. And his friendship with Edward perhaps provoked a sexual crisis as well, because in October 1812, on his way home to England, he married Caroline Campbell, the daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar. Caroline died 3 years later, and there were no children.

Edward and George went their separate ways for some years. George followed the path laid out for him by his status as the eldest son. In 1817 he was elected MP for Castle Rising, a rotten borough in his father’s gift, and in 1821 he moved to the House of Lords. He was one of the 8 sons of peers chosen to carry George IV’s cloak at the Coronation, and his portrait shows a youth with delicate, pretty features – although we can’t draw any conclusions from the pink robe, which is the uniform of the Order of the Bath.

George Cholmondeley From Nayler’s History of the Coronation 1821

One of the problems, for 21st century republican historians like me, is sorting out George Horatio’s various titles at different stages of his life. In 1812 he was Lord Malpas, while his father, George James, was the 4th Earl of Cholmondeley. In 1815, his father was promoted to become the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley. When George Horatio replaced his father in the House of Lords, he did so under the Marquess’s junior title of Baron Newburgh. He was normally known as Lord Rocksavage (another junior title) until his father’s death in 1827, when he became the 2nd Marquess of Cholmondeley. Hanging in there?

Meanwhile Edward served with the Army of Occupation in France, then went with his regiment to Ireland, before visiting his family in New South Wales in 1824, but he went back to England the following year. His father John offered him an annual income of £500 if he married, and in her will, his mother Elizabeth left him furnishings on condition that he came out to Australia – but he resisted these blandishments. His heart was in England.

The Cholmondeleys were equally concerned. According to the diarist Mrs Arbuthnot, the Cholmondeley family ‘despair of … Rocksavage’s ever marrying and are most anxious for an heir’. Harriet Arbuthnot’s stepdaughter married Henry Cholmondeley, George’s younger brother, so she knew all the gossip surrounding George.

On his father’s death, George inherited the title, Cholmondeley Castle, and 33,000 acres of land in Cheshire and Norfolk, but everything not covered by entail went to his younger brother Henry, his father’s favourite son. George also acquired the hereditary position of Lord Great Chamberlain of England, an arcane position associated with the Court, handling ceremonies such as the Coronation of the new king in 1830. George appointed Edward secretary in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s office, a position that came with a grace-and-favour apartment in the House of Lords.

Edward must have told his mother about his appointment, for Elizabeth wrote from New South Wales:

We congratulate you on your appointment. Your friend the Marquis certainly has shown you very marked attention. I should think him a kind and good man. In my early days, I have heard the beauty of his mother celebrated – if she was, as I believe – Lady Charlotte Bertie.’

Trust Elizabeth to remember the celebrities of her youth – though if she was suspicious of Cholmondeley’s ‘marked attention’ to her son, she said nothing.

George married again in 1830. According to gossipy Harriet Arbuthnot, Lady Susan Somerset was ‘arrogant’ and ‘very methodistical’, but ‘I don’t think he could do better, and as it is a very well behaved, good family, if he is as poor Ld. Choly. used to say, one has a good chance that a wife of that sort won’t introduce any left-handed child.’

Poor Lady Susan. There were no children, left-handed or otherwise. Instead, Edward continued to visit Cholmondeley Castle regularly. ‘Edward went out of Town on the last day of the old year [1830],’ his brother John reported, ‘to usher in the new year at Lord Cholmondeley’s in Cheshire,’ just one of many family letters that refer, quite casually, to Edward’s visits into Cheshire.

I have found almost no correspondence between Edward and George, but there is a brief undated note from George, inviting Edward to join him for a ride to Roehampton, now a suburb on the western edge of London. The note is entirely innocent, which may be why it survives. By then George and Edward had been together, off and on, for over 20 years.

The Mitchell catalogue entry for this note says ‘Rochampton’, and gives the date as ‘1835?’ Both are almost certainly wrong – and the reason behind my frustration with available genealogical software.

I’m writing about Walter Davidson and his cousins, and their ties to the Macarthur family. One of WSD’s cousins, Sir Walter Rockliffe Farquhar, owned Roehampton House, and in 1838 he married Lady Mary Somerset, Lady Susan’s younger sister. The Macarthurs and the Farquhars were already good friends, so this note from George to Edward was an invitation to join him for a sociable ride out to visit his sister-in-law and her husband.

Everyone knew their relationship, and it was all understood within the family. But how the hell do I put this mingling of in-laws and out-laws into a family tree?

Edward also eventually married in 1862, at the age of 73. There were no children.

References:
The quotes from Faringdon and Arbuthnot come from the biographical entries on George Horatio Cholmondeley in History of Parliament Online http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org
Hazel King covers the initial meeting with Lord Malpas in Sicily, and Edward’s appointment as Secretary in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s office, in Colonial Expatriates: Edward and John Macarthur Junior (1989)
Other quotes come from the Macarthur Papers in the Mitchell Library

Trivial fact: According to his Wikipedia entry, George’s father, George James Cholmondeley, may be the first member of the Mile High Club:

‘According to the betting book for Brooks, a London gentlemen’s club, Cholmondeley once wagered two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500 guineas upon having made love to a woman “in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth.” It is unknown whether the bet was ever finalized.’

Red Poppies, Blue Poppies

Nearly 3 years ago, the British Prime Minister David Cameron made his first official visit to China. It was early November, so like most British (or European) politicians, he was wearing a red poppy in his lapel to mark Remembrance Day.

The British Embassy staff in Beijing advised him not to wear it while he was in China. Poppies have a loaded message for Chinese, which has nothing to do with the bloodstains of Flanders fields. Poppies mean opium.

The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, has flowers that are usually blue, although they can also be red, white, or somewhere in between. After they finish flowering, the seedpods swell. Left alone, they will eventually dry and crack to release a mass of tiny poppy seeds, but to produce opium, the poppy farmer carefully slashes the green seedpods. Over a day or so these wounds bleed raw opium, which is collected daily.

Traditionally the sticky resin was dried into cakes of opium, which could be used in many ways. It could be chewed or smoked – there’s an excellent description of the process of preparing an opium pipe in Graham Green’s The Quiet American. Dissolved in alcohol, opium became laudanum, which was used widely as a painkiller or soporific in the 18th and 19th centuries.

1024px-Illustration_Papaver_somniferum0

Purified into heroin, it was used by doctors well into the 20th century. I once gave a talk on the history of opium to a group of elderly women. Most of them had had their babies during the 1950s. One woman told me afterwards that the births she experienced using heroin were much less painful than the ones after it became illegal in 1952.

The Chinese prohibited opium much earlier than the rest of the world – but without success. There were edicts against it during the 18th century, and in 1799 the Chinese government banned its importation in any form. The British East India Company was the main supplier, and while the EIC officially withdrew from the opium trade in 1809, a mere 10 years after they were asked to do so, they didn’t stop making the stuff. Most of the illegal opium produced today comes from the same Golden Triangle first set up by EIC traders in the 18th century.

The trade really took off in the 19th century. Free traders, mainly British but also some Americans, smuggled it into Canton/Guangzhou, where it had a devastating effect – not just on individual users, but on the economy as well. One of the key figures in the trade was my old friend Walter S Davidson, who went to China as an opium trader in 1812. By the time he left in 1822, two firms dominated the smuggling trade, Jardine, Matheson & Co (still alive and kicking in 2015) and Dent & Co, WSD’s old firm.

In 1839 the Chinese renewed their efforts to keep out the opium traders. The Emperor sent his own picked official, Commissioner Lin, to Canton to crack down on the trade. In a grand public gesture, he seized the stockpiles of opium from the British merchants and destroyed the ‘foreign mud’ by mixing it with salt and lime and throwing it into the sea.

It was a grand public gesture, but it failed completely. Britain declared war, and China was defeated in the First Opium War (1839-42). In a humiliating peace treaty, the Chinese were forced to hand over Hong Kong Island, and open 5 Treaty Ports to foreign trade. When land sales opened on Hong Kong, Dent & Co bought the first block of land. They were also among the first to open in Shanghai.

The opium trade continued to flourish and foreign trade and foreign ideas steadily weakened in Chinese Imperial Court’s grip on authority. A second Anglo-Chinese War (1858-60) saw British and French forces reach Beijing, where amongst other things, they looted and destroyed the Summer Palace. Amongst the many items looted was a Pekingese dog that was given to Queen Victoria. Without so much as a blush, she named him Looty. There’s a good account of the affair here.

China is very much in the news at the moment. The Australian Government is passing a China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. An American warship has deliberately sailed within 12 nautical miles – the distance that marks the extent of territorial waters – of the Spratly Islands.

And President Xi Jinping has just been on a state visit to Britain. This has inevitably led to talk about human rights in China. Reporters at the BBC in particular have been effortlessly sanctimonious, and there is no doubt that in some matters, China’s record is dodgy – but then, as our ex-PM Tony Abbott so effortlessly demonstrated yesterday, nobody is perfect.

Wearing poppies, David Cameron, George Osborne, Vince Cable and Michael Gove drink a toast at a contract signing in China, The Guardian, 10 November 2012

Wearing poppies, David Cameron, George Osborne, Vince Cable and Michael Gove drink a toast at a contract signing in China, The Guardian, 10 November 2012

On his 2012 visit to China, David Cameron didn’t take his embassy’s advice, and wore his red poppy regardless, because he refused to kowtow to Chinese sensibilities. The word kowtow is Cantonese. It refers to a stylized prostration before the Emperor, where the subject kneeled, then knocked his head on the ground a specified number of times. It came into English usage following Lord Macartney’s 1793 Embassy to China. Britain wanted trade concessions, but Macartney failed to get them – allegedly because he refused to perform the kowtow.

Personally I think it might be a good idea to cut China some slack. In a culture that famously thinks that it is still ‘too early to tell’ what will be the impact of the French Revolution of 1789, the humiliations of the 19th century are still quite raw.