Tag Archives: joseph banks

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.

Whose heritage?

Many countries have laws to protect any heritage objects in private hands from being sold out of the country.  Recently the issue arose in Britain regarding a ring once owned by Jane Austen.  Last year it was bought at a London auction by the American pop singer Kelly Clarkson, who naturally planned to take it home with her to America.  The private owners have a right to sell their own property, but the British government stepped in to put a temporary export ban on the ring so that the British public would have time to raise the same amount of money (£152,450) to buy it for the Jane Austen Museum.

Now Austen is British to her bootstraps.  So British, in fact, that she has just become the new female face on the £10 note.

But what about a kangaroo?


Continue reading

William Paterson and the Battered Wife

It’s disconcerting to come across someone you know in an unfamiliar context.  You discover that your colleague in the bank is a part-time football hooligan (it happened to my sister’s friend), or the nice tenants in your rental property turn out to be members of Ananda Marga (it happened to me, at a time when the sect was allegedly responsible for various acts of political terrorism).

This happens with historical figures too.  One of the endless fascinations of biography is the way that people keep breaking out of the boxes we put them in.

Cover of "Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's...

Cover via Amazon

I’ve just been reading Wendy Moore’s biography of the Countess of Strathmore.  In the way of many books today, the long title – Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met his Match (2007) – gives you most of the plot.  Continue reading

Reading the Rum Rebellion

At about five o’clock on the afternoon of 26 January 1808, Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps led his men from the barracks in Bridge Street.  They marched in a line two or three deep along the streets of Sydney to Government House.  They carried the regimental flag, and played The British Grenadier.  They carried their weapons, with bayonets fixed.  Their plan was to arrest Governor Bligh.  Arriving at Government House, they found the governor’s daughter and a number of his supporters who had just finished dinner, but they spent some time hunting for her father, until he was found in an attic bedroom.  He would later say he was destroying documents there.  The soldiers insisted he was hiding under a bed.

Governor Bligh seized under the bed

One of the few contemporary images of the Rum Rebellion. Painted on thin paper, the illumination would have been placed in the window, with a lamp behind it. Needless to say it is propaganda rather than an accurate portrayal of the arrest

In the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting a long neglected project of mine, a biography of an early Australian settler called Walter Davidson who became an opium trader in China. Continue reading

Turtles (and tortoises) all the way

At Mon Repos, near Bundaberg, the giant turtles returned again to lay their eggs during the past summer.  The turtles have swum hundreds, perhaps thousands of kilometres across the South Pacific to get to their rookery – and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never made the journey of less than 5 hours it takes from Brisbane to Bundaberg.  So I’m grateful for Robert Ashdown’s terrific photos of the event instead.  And also for a splendid shot of a woman riding a turtle some time during the 1930s.

Humans have been doing dreadful things to giant turtles for hundreds of years.  And also to giant tortoises.

Mostly, they ate them.  Both tortoises and turtles were an important food source for sailors.  They were relatively slow and easy to catch, and because they breathed air, unlike fish, they could be kept alive until needed for food.  Penned on board ship, they were a living, breathing, and no doubt very miserable source of meat.  With a slow metabolism, they could live without food and sometimes without water for a long time, so they have been unwilling travellers across the globe.

This was particularly true of giant tortoises.  The Galapagos Islands get their name from the Spanish word for tortoise, galápagos, but there were also other species found in the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles.  Both areas were raided for supplies by visiting ships.  In 1925, the director of the New York Aquarium went through surviving American whaling records and estimated that American whalers between 1830 and the 1920s took perhaps 100,000 tortoises from the Galapagos, mostly female, since they were nearer the coast.

One of the oldest animals ever recorded was Tu’i Malila, a Seychelles tortoise who was allegedly given to a Tongan chief by Captain Cook in 1777.  He (or possibly she – nobody seems to mention this) died in 1965.  Another long-lived individual was Harriet (long known as Harry), a Galapagos specimen who was certainly living in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens by the 1870s, and died at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in 2006.

Charles Darwin spent 5 weeks at the Galapagos in 1835, on the Beagle.  The Beagle was there to collect fresh water and food for the crew, and left with more than 30 tortoises.  Their principal purpose was to supply meat for the crew, but several juveniles made it back to England.  Was one of these Harriet?  It’s a long shot, but John Wickham, who served on the Beagle until 1841, became Police Magistrate of Brisbane in 1842, and there’s a theory that Harry/Harriet came back to Australia with him.

Like tortoises, turtles were also an important source of food on long voyages – with the added advantage that the shells, confusingly known as ‘tortoiseshell’, was a valuable item of trade.  When the Endeavour was holed in the Great Barrier Reef, Cook had to beach the crippled ship on what is now the Endeavour River, in far north Queensland.  During the 6 weeks it took to repair the ship, the crew gathered water and vegetables, but also a number of turtles.  On 15 July 1770, Joseph Banks wrote in his diary:

In the evening the Boat return’d from the reef bringing 4 Turtles, so we may now be said to swim in Plenty. Our Turtles are certainly far preferable to any I have eat in England, which must proceed from their being eat fresh from the sea before they have either wasted away their fat, or by unnatural food which is given them in the tubs where they are kept given themselves a fat of not so delicious a flavour as it is in their wild state. Most of those we have caught have been green turtle from 2 to 300 lb weight: these when kill’d were always found to be full of Turtle Grass…; two only were Loggerheads which were but indifferent meat; in their stomachs were nothing but shells.

Four days later,

Ten Indians visited us today and brought with them a larger quantity of Lances than they had ever done before, these they laid up in a tree leaving a man and a boy to take care of them and came on board the ship. They soon let us know their errand which was by some means or other to get one of our Turtle of which we had 8 or 9 laying upon the decks.

In other words, the local Guugu Yimithirr people insisted on their right to a portion of the catch.  They were, after all, their turtles.

Banks was struck by how much better turtle tasted when fresh.  Nevertheless roast turtle meat and soup were highly regarded in Britain, where a ‘turtle dinner’ was a prestigious event. Like many expensive foods, the costliness of the dish was a large part of its appeal.

Eventually, however, the cost of buying a live turtle became prohibitive, and mock turtle soup replaced green turtle soup, using a calf’s head and feet.  Alice in Wonderland’s mock turtle, with his calf’s head and feet, describes a soup ‘so rich and green’ not because of its colour, but because it comes from the green turtle.


Charles Haskins Townsend, The Galapagos Tortoises in their Relation to the Whaling Industry (1925)

Wikipedia article on Galapagos Tortoise (which is excellent)

Paul Chambers, ‘The origin of Harriet’, in New Scientist, 11 September 2004.