Tag Archives: Walter Stevenson Davidson

An 1840 Wedding at Parramatta

On 9 September 1840, Patrick Leslie married Kate McArthur in the Anglican church in Parramatta. Kate was 22, Patrick would be 25 in a few weeks, and they had been engaged for over 3 years. Their marriage had been delayed again and again because Patrick and his uncle, my Walter Davidson had quarreled. Davidson sacked Patrick as manager of his property, leaving his nephew without a suitable home to which he could bring his bride.

The details of the quarrel are too complicated to go into here – you’ll have to read the book! – but Davidson sold the property – Collaroy station, in the Upper Hunter – to a cousin, Edward Hamilton, who arrived in New South Wales in early 1840. Meanwhile Patrick set out to find a new squatting run for his younger brothers on the Darling Downs. Leaving Walter Leslie and some servants on their new station on the Condamine, Patrick rushed back to Sydney to register their squatting run, which he did in August.

Then he finally married Kate.

I’ve spent most of the last week struggling to read the 13-page account of her wedding written by her sister Libby to send to Patrick’s mother in Scotland. I suspect I may be the first person who has read the letter since it did the rounds of the Leslie family during 1841. Libby’s handwriting is dreadful, and most pages are crossed, a method of squeezing as much as possible onto the page to save on the cost of postage. ‘Are you tired of this scrawl,’ Libby asks at one point – and I most definitely was.

But Patrick’s wedding is a key set piece in my book, the final scene in in the second-last chapter, the point at which the two families I have been following – the Macarthur family in New South Wales, and Walter Davidson’s extended family in Britain – were united in marriage.

Kate’s parents were Hannibal McArthur (nephew of John Macarthur) and Anna Maria King (daughter of Governor King), so she belonged to the colonial elite, but the wedding was a surprisingly low-key event, probably because they had very little time to plan ahead for the big day. The wedding was held in the morning, followed by a big celebration at the Macarthur’s estate, Vineyard, a few miles out of Parramatta.

The Vineyard, Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur's estate at Parramatta

The Vineyard, Parramatta, by Conrad Martens, 1840, from Wikipedia

The bride and groom soon left, but the party continued, with many of the guests staying overnight. Patrick and Kate spent their first few nights at Hannibal’s holiday home at Clovelly before going to Dunheved, Uncle King’s estate, which Patrick had rented while King was the resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens.

Phillip Parker King's estate, Dunheved

View of Dunheved, New South Wales, by Conrad Martens, 1837, from Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences between this wedding in 1840 and a wedding celebration these days. In some ways they are quick alike. The toasts and speeches haven’t changed much, nor has the sense that the groom, with one best man, was outcompeted by the bride with her host of bridesmaids. The fashionable clothes are much the same, even to the mother-of-the-bride’s outfit in – yurk – violet. Kate didn’t throw a bouquet, but the business with ‘Papa’s wedding ring’ seems to follow the same rules of pre-planned prediction – everyone knew that Mary was going to marry Patrick’s friend Hugh Gordon as soon as he returned from China.

I think in the days of My Kitchen Rules, we are more preoccupied with food than Libby seems to have been, although I suspect their ‘cold collation’ was pretty similar to our rubber chicken – and prepared without refrigeration, too. Less similar is the sheer size of Kate’s family – she had 5 sisters and 5 brothers, most of whom were present.

There’s something about family celebrations that brings out the best and worst in the human condition. That’s why suicide rates go up around Christmas, people fall in love at their friends’ weddings, and fights break out after funerals. Libby’s letter is full of the joy of the big event – but below the surface were a seething mass of tensions, only some of which were evident at the time.

The most obvious tension was between the two branches of the Macarthur family. The ‘Camden Macarthurs’ and the ‘Vineyard McArthurs’ took opposing positions in the quarrel between Patrick Leslie and Walter Davidson, and the families were becoming estranged. They even used different spellings of their name! But Hannibal was John Macarthur’s nephew, so John’s children should have been at their cousin’s wedding. John Macarthur’s widow, Elizabeth, was a friend of ‘Grandmama’ – Anna Josepha King – but she was also an old lady, and could be excused attendance, and her eldest daughter was always treated as an invalid. James’s absence was another matter, and his wife Emily could surely have got there too, though her baby was only born the previous May.

There were other tensions too. The Leslie brothers, the McArthur brothers and Robert McKenzie were all beneficiaries of the squatting boom, but the economic situation was about to go very bad indeed. Their friend Stuart Donaldson was a businessman in Sydney, supplying their stations and selling their wool on consignment. This made him their creditor – and it would be many years before he ever got his money back.

Finally there were the absent brothers. Walter Leslie missed the wedding because he was holding the fort on the Darling Downs – pretty much literally. The first building they put up there was made of stone, the better to resist attack by Aborigines, with windows just large enough to fire a gun. ‘It is a lovely place & there have been no blacks seen on our run for 18 months’, wrote Patrick ominously less than 2 years later. Meanwhile the oldest brother, William Leslie, was in Macao where he was a partner in Dent & Co, one of the biggest opium traders in the business. News from China was scarce in September 1840 because of the First Opium War. Libby clearly thought this war with China would be good for trade.

For those who may be interested, I’ve attached the whole of Libby’s letter below – there are still a few words that defeat me, and I’d be grateful for any clues/guesses as to what they may be. Libby’s punctuation is erratic. I’ve adjusted accordingly, and added paragraphs to make it easier to read.

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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

John Gladstone Steele (1935-2016)

A friend has let me know that John Steele has just died. The funeral will be held next Monday, 1 February, at 10am in St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

John Gladstone Steele was a physicist and antiquarian (his word!) who worked for many years in the physics department at the University of Queensland. I know absolutely nothing about his scholarship as a physicist, but John worked across two disciplines, physics and history. That was unusual even thirty years ago. In our more specialist age it is practically unheard of.

I never knew John Steele particularly well, but I used to run into him occasionally when our research rummaging overlapped in UQ’s specialist Fryer Library. He gave me a copy of his family history, The Petersons and the Uhrs: An Australian Family since 1825, when he had it privately published in 2003. This book sits firmly on my desk as I write my book, because John’s Australian connections begin with the merchant Richard Jones, who arrived in Sydney in 1809, and was for many years my Walter Davidson’s business partner.

But on this Australia / Invasion Day, it seems appropriate to talk about John Steele’s most significant book, Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River (1984). In his younger days, John was an enthusiastic bushwalker, and this book was based on an earlier gestetnered and stapled pamphlet he produced for the University of Queensland Bushwalking Society. He wrote about Aboriginal pathways in the first instance so that his group of bushwalkers could follow them, but in doing so, he became increasingly curious about the people who had made them.

J.G.Steele Aboriginal Pathways

I once asked him where he got his information – and he said he just asked the local Aboriginal people he met while out walking. In the 1970s and 1980s, very few people did. About the same time he published Aboriginal legends of Stradbroke Island (1984).

Bushwalking gave John a sensibility to the Australian landscape that many of us lack. In Conrad Martens in Queensland: the frontier travels of a colonial artist (1978), John looked at the sketchbooks and paintings of Conrad Martens, who travelled to the Moreton Bay settlement (not yet Queensland) during 1851 and 1852, to drum up painting commissions amongst the squatters of the Darling Downs. John had the eye to identify the locations of many of Martens’ sketches, which now represent an important visual record of Aboriginal occupation. Because of John’s identification of the location of an Aboriginal camp in one of Martens’ drawings, for instance, the botanist Rod Fensham was able to show that this place marked the northern limit of the yam daisy, a native plant with a tuberous root that was an important food source for the Aborigines – and soon to be wiped out by hungry sheep.

John’s work dates from before Mabo, before Native Title, before current sensitivities about the European occupation of Australia. His books are resources for later researchers, rather than historical works in their own right, and he was surprisingly humble about his abilities as a historian. He once urged me to write a biography of his ancestor, Richard Jones. Jones certainly deserves a biography, and in many ways John Stone had much in common with his ancestor. Both were politically conservative high Anglicans, and thoughtful scholarly men. I told John that he should write the biography himself – but he demurred. As he admitted himself, he was an antiquarian, not a historian.

I have just looked at the UQ library catalogue to find that 8 – eight – copies of Aboriginal Pathways are held in the library, of which 2 are held in the specialist Fryer Library, and of the others, 4 are currently out on loan, including one that is overdue. Not bad for a book more than 30 years old.

John’s twin disciplines of physics and history seldom overlapped – but I do like his explanation, in Explorers of Moreton Bay (1972), of why Cook’s and Flinders’ charts of Moreton Bay diverge – John thinks (and at least to my uneducated eye proves) that the magnetic pole must have moved in the 30 years between their voyages. Not many historians could have figured that out.

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.

For once, a successful New Year’s Resolution

A year ago I sat down to write my New Year’s Resolution – as the blogosphere is my witness – to spend a minimum of 25 minutes every day working on my book, a biography of Walter Stevenson Davidson. According to the Pomodoro Technique,  25 minutes equals 1 pomodoro. As I explained a year ago, the aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, then to take a 5 minute break. Do it again, then after 4 bursts of work take a longer break. Repeat as necessary.

366 days later, I am delighted to say that the technique has worked for me. I don’t always stop after 25 minutes – in fact I often become so engrossed in my writing that I don’t stop for an hour or more – but give or take a bit, I have largely stuck to the plan. There have been some hiccups – illness, family crises or a scheduled holiday – but I am now on track to complete my book during 2015.

Better yet, I’ve discovered that self-discipline does – eventually – become a habit. Continue reading

Eliza, Elizabeth, Betsy and Bess

Riddle on the name Elizabeth

in Iona and Peter Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955)

I’m struggling with naming conventions at the moment – both the conventions of the late 18th / early 19th century when the characters in my book were alive, and the conventions I should use myself as a historian writing about them now.

The main character in my book is Walter Stevenson Davidson, whom I’ve discussed before (see tag). Walter was named after his mother’s brother, Walter (later Sir Walter) Farquhar, who was his godfather. Sir Walter’s wife Anne had the maiden name of Stevenson, so I’m assuming she was WSD’s godmother. I’ve come across this convention before, where godmothers’ godsons are given the woman’s surname as a middle name. So for instance Sir Walter’s daughter Eliza Farquhar was godmother to her cousin’s son, who was named George Farquhar Leslie.

Anne was a widow when she married Walter Farquhar in 1771, with 2 children, John and Elizabeth Harvie. John died young, but Elizabeth grew up and married Simon Halliday in 1787. As Elizabeth Halliday she features regularly in family correspondence and her husband went into partnership with one of Sir Walter’s sons. They were clearly well integrated into the Farquhar network.

So here’s the puzzle: Anne Farquhar went on to have 7 more children with her second husband, 3 boys and 4 girls, and the youngest girl, born in 1783, was named Eliza. I know that families used to recycle particular names, often reusing the baptismal name of a dead baby to ensure that a name survived if it had particular significance. And every genealogist knows, to their frustration, that a small set of first names are repeated endlessly within the family circle. But surely have 2 living daughters named Elizabeth and Eliza would be a touch confusing? Continue reading