WAYS AND LAYS – THE SPEECH OF BEGGARS

 

Begging Woodcut_Giving_Alms_to_a_Beggar - wiki

Beggars were a large and troublesome presence throughout Europe during and after the middle ages. The tolerance, even encouragement, of the church for mendicancy as an expression of piety ensured that roads were thronged with men, women and children bent on extracting money from better-off passers-by. Henry VIII’s seizing of the monasteries and the increasing enclosure of previously public lands inflamed the problem, as did the arrival of large numbers of impoverished Irish. By the reign of Elizabeth 1 begging might be punished by maiming and even death. As the problem was basically a consequence of economic forces, these harsh measures were ineffective, as were the Poor Laws and the parish relief system that were subsequently introduced.

The beggar remained a familiar, ever-inventive type often execrated in the cautionary writings of sixteenth and seventeenth-century authors like Dekker, Harman and other observers of the swarming ‘canting crews’. Such was the diversity of begging ploys that many felt it necessary to categorise and describe them for the benefit and protection of their fellow respectable citizens. In the earliest of what would become a number of beggar books, Fraternity of Vagabonds (1561) by John Awdeley, nineteen different types of vagabonds are named. These include a jackman, one who forges documents, or gibes with false seals known as jarks. In 1566 Thomas Harman described dommerars who:

‘… wyl never speake, unless they have extreme punishment, but wyll gape, and with a marvellous force wyll hold downe their toungs doubled, groning for your charyty, and holding up their handes full pitiously, so that with their deepe dissimulation they get very much.’

A later variation was for the dommerar to produce a piece of paper on which was written a note to the effect that his tongue had been cut out during a period of Turkish slavery because he had refused to convert to Islam.

Names of different kinds of beggars and beggaries across the centuries may vary, though their dodges were much the same. The early seventeenth century mason’s maund referred to a false injury above the elbow that made the arm appear broken as if by a fall from a builder’s scaffolding. Cadging was an eighteenth-century term for begging, also used to describe the lowest form of thief. It had numerous extensions, such as cadging ken, a public house frequented by cadgers. A cadger’s cove was a lodging house for beggars and the cadging-line, was the begging business. Durrynacking or durykin was to beg by telling fortunes in the early nineteenth century, usually practiced by women.

Beggars were also celebrated in songs that at once romanticised their lifestyle, revealed their tricks and some of their secret language. One very popular song of this type has its origins in Richard Broome’s play The Jovial Crew, originally produced in 1641. Although this song was probably added to it in the 1680s revival version, it preserves the use of pelf, meaning booty, which dates from at least the last part of the previous century. Among other things, the song highlights the apprenticeship system through which generations of beggars learned the trade, still operating in the nineteenth century in Britain and also among American hoboes until at least the early twentieth century:

There was a jovial beggar,

He had a wooden leg,

Lame from his cradle,

And forced for to beg.

And a begging we will go, we’ll go, we’ll go;

And a begging we will go!

 

A bag for his oatmeal,

Another for his salt;

And a pair of crutches,

To show that he can halt (limp).

And a begging, &c..

 

A bag for his wheat,

Another for his rye;

A little bottle by his side,

To drink when he’s a-dry.

And a begging, &c.

 

Seven years I begged

For my old Master Wild,

He taught me to beg

When I was but a child.

And a begging, &c.

 

I begged for my master,

And got him store of pelf;

But now, Jove be praised!

I’m begging for myself.

And a begging, &c.

 

In a hollow tree

I live, and pay no rent;

Providence provides for me,

And I am well content.

And a begging, &c.

 

Of all the occupations,

A beggar’s life’s the best;

For whene’er he’s weary,

He’ll lay him down and rest.

And a begging, &c.

 

I fear no plots against me,

I live in open cell;

Then who would be a king

When beggars live so well?

And a begging we will go, we’ll go, we’ll go;

And a begging we will go!

There were many other street ballads and stage songs on the theme of beggary, including ‘The Blind Beggar’s Daughter of Bethnal Green’, ‘Mad Tom of Bedlam’ and a Scots song from the late nineteenth century written by a hawker named Besom Jimmy. Scotland was particularly plagued by beggars and this song celebrates the open road and lifestyle of the tramp:

I’m happy in the summer time beneath the bright blue sky,
Nae thinkin’ in the mornin’ at nicht whaur I’ve tae lie,
Barns or buyres or anywhere or oot among the hay,
And if the weather does permit I’m happy every day.

Things were not much better by the time Henry Mayhew and others began investigating the lives of the London poor. Many tricks of the gegor’s trade had changed little over the centuries, though there were a few new dodges, such as smearing a limb with soap and adding vinegar to produce a realistic suppurating sore in the hope of eliciting the sympathies and the cash of the unwary.

One popular technique was the wounded war veteran, a variation on the merchant lay or the Royal Navy lay in which beggars impersonated ex-naval men, known generally as turnpike sailors. The wounded veteran described by Mayhew was:

a perfect impostor, who being endowed, either by accident or art, with a broken limb or damaged feature, puts on an old military coat, as he would assume the dress of a frozen-out gardener, distressed dock-yard labourer, burnt-out tradesman, or scalded mechanic. He is imitative, and in his time plays many parts. He “gets up” his costume with the same attention to detail as the turnpike sailor. In crowded busy streets he “stands pad,” that is, with a written statement of his hard case slung round his neck, like a label round a decanter. His bearing is most military; he keeps his neck straight, his chin in, and his thumbs to the outside seams of his trousers; he is stiff as an embalmed preparation, for which, but for the motion of his eyes, you might mistake him. In quiet streets and in the country he discards his “pad” and begs “on the blob,” that is, he “patters” to the passers-by, and invites their sympathy by word of mouth. He is an ingenious and fertile liar, and seizes occasions such as the late war in the Crimea and the mutiny in India as good distant grounds on which to build his fictions.

This beggar was unmasked as a fraud and asked to tell his story, recorded with the slang of the period and the calling intact:

I have been a beggar all my life, and begged in all-sorts o’ ways and all sorts o’ lays. I don‘t mean to say that if I see anything laying about handy that I don‘t mouch it (ie.steal it). Once a gentleman took me into his house as his servant. He was a very kind man; I had a good place, swell clothes, and beef and beer as much as I liked; but I couldn‘t stand the life, and I run away.

The loss o’ my arm, sir, was the best thing as ever happen‘d to me: it‘s been a living to me; I turn out with it on all sorts o’ lays, and it‘s as good as a pension. I lost it poaching; my mate‘s gun went off by accident, and the shot went into my arm, I neglected it, and at last was obliged to go to a orspital and have it off. The surgeon as amputated it said that a little longer and it would ha’ mortified.

The Crimea’s been a good dodge to a many, but it‘s getting stale; all dodges are getting stale; square coves (i e.honest folks) are so wide awake.

The unmasker of the beggar then asks him: ‘Don‘t you think you would have found it more profitable, had you taken to labour or some honester calling than your present one?’ The beggar replied: ‘Well, sir, p‘raps I might, but going on the square is so dreadfully confining’.

A powerful reason for this man’s preference for a life of beggary rather than employment was that beggars made a great deal more money than they might earn in gainful employment and enjoyed a much more lavish and roistering lifestyle. In 1816 it was reported that two houses in the notorious area of St Giles’s were home to between 200 and 300 beggars who averaged three to five shillings takings each day. It was said that ‘They had grand suppers at midnight, and drank and sang songs until day-break.’ A little earlier, a Negro beggar was reputed to have retired back to the West Indies with a substantial fortune of 1500 pounds earned from acting out roles in the street.

And how many there were. Mayhew describes dozens of different ways to separate the gullible and better-off from their pennies, perhaps even their pounds. There were sophisticated schemes involving begging letters of commendation, apparently endorsed or even written by nobles or other highly-placed and well-known persons of influence. In reality they were provided for a fee by screevers, usually comedown hacksand educated but dissolute wastrels not fussy how they earned a crust. Some lays were perpetrated mostly by women, involving children provided at a fee by establishments operating for just this purpose. And there were the maimed, the almost undressed who practiced the scaldrum dodge, the starving, the addled, the infirm and the displaced among many other forms of deception designed to wring hearts and purses. Broken-down tradesmen, scalded mechanics, decayed gentlemen, distressed scholars and clean families apparently down on their luck. It was an underworld industry on a grand scale that provided thousands, even tens of thousands with a living, if not a profit. Many of the poor worked their way through and up from beggary to something better, perhaps becoming a coster, as did at least one boy tracked over a ten-year period from street urchin to barrow boy.

In America a major form of beggary was associated with the down and out and the skid rows or skid roads of many cities and towns. While hoboes and many tramps may have prided themselves on their ability to support themselves by odd jobs and casual labour, other itinerants depended on the hand-out and various forms of mooching or being on the bum, almost as varied and elaborate as those practiced in England. There was an elaborate language evolved to describe the art of panhandling, also known as throwing your feet. To connect, or make a touch was the object of all panhandling, increasing the likelihood of the mark coming across. An eye doctor was someone skilled at this technique. A ghost story was a yarn told by a panhandler to gain sympathy and a handout, sometimes called a slob sister or a tear baby.

REFERENCES:

Awdeley, John, Fraternity of Vacabondes, 1575.

Beier, A.L, ‘Vagrants and the Social Order in Elizabethan England,’ Past and PresentLXIV (Aug. 1974).

Chesney, K., The Victorian Underworld, Temple Smith, London, 1970.

Dekker, Thomas, Lanthorne and Candle-light, London, 1609.

Hancock, I., ‘The Cryptolectal Speech of the American Roads: Traveller Cant and American Angloromani’, American Speech  61 (3), 1986, 206-220.

Harman, Thomas, Caveat or Warning, for Common Cursetors Vulgarly Called Vagabondes, or Notable Discovery of Coosenage,  London, 1566, 1591.

Matsell, G., Vocabulum, or, The Rogue’s Lexicon, compiled from the most authentic sources, New York, 1859.

Maurer, David W, Language of the Underworld, collected and edited by A Futrell and C Wordell, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1981.

Mayhew, Henry & Binny, John The Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life (The Great World of London), London, 1862.

Mayhew, Henry, London Labour and the London Poor, 4 vols, London, 1851.

Sorenson, J., ‘Vulgar Tongues: Canting Dictionaries and the Language of the People in Eighteenth Century Britain’, Eighteenth Century Studies37.3, 2004.

 

THE DEVIL RODE OUT – THE SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE (SRA) SCARE

640px-Albrecht_Dürer_-_Knight,_Death_and_Devil_(NGA_1943.3.3519)

Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death and the Devil (German: Ritter, Tod und Teufel), 1513.

At the end of the 1970s and the start of the 80s, North American psychiatrists began reporting adult, mainly female, patients claiming ritual torture, sex abuse and Satanism in childhood. These people often exhibited Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), an ability to shift from one personality to another due to, some psychiatrists hypothesised, their need as victims to create ‘safe’ personalities without memory of the abuse. It was only when these memories were elicited through various forms of ‘therapy’, that the ‘facts’ came out. These ‘recovered memories’ were soon promoted to the status of ‘Repressed Memory Syndrome’.

In 1980 one of these women, a Canadian named Michelle Smith, published a book in conjunction with her therapist, a Dr Lawrence Padzer. Titled Michelle Remembers, the book documented Michelle Smith’s memories of childhood Satanic abuse, as ‘recovered’ through her therapy with Padzer. It became a best-seller in the United States and also in the United Kingdom, influencing police and social workers in both these countries, and elsewhere, including Australia. In 1981, Padzer, a fervent Christian, coined the term ‘ritual abuse’, by which time he had become a sought-after ‘authority’ and proselytiser of the subject.

In 1983, Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) allegations were first heard in the USA by Kenneth Lanning and others at the FBI Behavioural Science Unit, part of the FBI Academy in Virginia. At first, Lanning and officers involved in the investigation of child sexual abuse took these reports seriously. However, as he points out in his 1992 ‘Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of ‘Ritual’ Child Abuse’, while there were many claiming to be victims of SRA ‘there is little or no corroborative evidence’.

In North America there were many cases involving SRA, beginning in the early 1980s. One of the best-known and notorious of these was the McMartin Pre-School Case in which many allegations were made against staff of a Californian child-care facility. Between 1983-87, the subsequent legal proceedings found no evidence against the accused. It was said then to have been longest and most expensive legal debacle in US history.

A long-running ritual child abuse case in Saskatchewan, Canada, ended in 1996 with a mixed verdict that found some sexual abuse occurred. A professor of psychology called in to analyse the interviews with the child victims described the entire investigation as ‘a witch-hunt’. The judge pointed out that the prosecution had no physical evidence of the accused being involved with ‘the Devil’s Church’.

The absence of physical evidence for allegations of SRA is a constant thread in a number of official investigations carried out around the world.  In Lanning’s thorough analysis of the considerable number of cases already reported at that time, the author and other investigators were unable to substantiate even one verifiable claim of satanic murder.

Much the same results came from other studies, including one in 1994 by the United States National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect that surveyed nearly 7000 clinicians and therapists working in the field and almost 5000 agencies involved in relevant activities. In over 12000 cases of suspected SRA, only one was proven to have any organised satanic content, though some incidents involved secondary aspects of ritual abuse. Especially significant was the finding that most individual clinicians and most agencies reported only one or two alleged SRA cases, while a small percentage of individuals and agencies reported hundreds.

There was no correlation between stories told by children of alleged SRA experiences and the ‘suppressed memories’ of those who claimed SRA in their childhoods. The report speculated that therapists were creating childhood abuse memories by their therapy techniques. There was no evidence of child pornography with satanic themes in the United States, nor of other alleged satanic activities, such as generational Satanists.

The study did, however, uncover evidence of Christian ritual abuse of children, practised mainly by a few fundamentalist sects, including ‘beating the devil’ out of a child as part of an exorcism and resorting to prayer rather than seeking medical help.

In 1991 the Utah State Legislature instituted an Inquiry into allegations of SRA occurring in that state. This was in response to a newspaper’s poll finding that over 90% of Utah residents believed in SRA, allied with increasing allegations from within the Mormon Church that some of its most prominent members were involved in SRA. Two professional investigators interviewed hundreds of victims of alleged SRA, noting the details and following up all available leads. They found evidence for only one case of Satanic Ritual Abuse involving torture of children and simulated murder of infants. This case was not prosecuted because of the statute of limitations in the state of Utah.

Investigations elsewhere reached very similar conclusions. In Holland an inquiry found that there was no evidence for such activities and that they were largely in the minds of those who reported them. Whether widely promulgated or not, the findings of these professional investigations had little or no effect upon the allegations, the prosecutions and the occasional gaoling of individuals accused of such crimes.

British publication of Michelle Remembers began a gradual increase in allegations of SRA throughout the UK. These cases primarily involved social work agencies and police, many of whom were ‘trained’ by visiting American ‘experts’ in various forms of investigation methods and counselling of sexually abused children. American folklorist Bill Ellis conducted an important study of the processes by which the Satan scare reached Britain from the United States. He traced the origins of modern interest in, and influence of, satanism in the works of Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardiner and others and also notes the long, if usually submerged traditions of witchcraft and black magic in Britain. A fundamental element of Ellis’ study is the interaction between the folkloric beliefs and press, television, film and popular literature. Ellis draws a direct line between the histories, mythologies and incidents discussed in his article and the disastrous events that subsequently took place in Rochdale and the Orkney Islands.

The Orkney Islands SRA case was the best-known of the many such events. Beginning in early 1991, the Orkney’s affair involved early morning raids by social workers and the forced separation of parents and children. Medical examination of the children found no evidence of sexual abuse but this, together with widely-expressed doubts about the veracity of child testimonies, did not prevent some years of acrimonious legal and governmental debate. Although the prosecution case in this matter collapsed, the parents mounted a very large legal claim for damages against the British government.

In the wake of this and other similar debacles, including the Rochdale case (dismissed in 1991), came the findings of a report into satanic ritual abuse of children by emeritus Professor Jean La Fontaine, social anthropologist. La Fontaine was commissioned by the Department of Health and given access to the records of 84 British SRA cases going back to 1988. Her investigative team was formed at Manchester University and issued its report in 1994. In only three of these was evidence found of ritual activity combined with sexual abuse. Her conclusion regarding the remaining 81 cases was that satanic ritual abuse ‘was not happening and is not happening’.

Generally, the report observed that the interviews with children, upon which the legal cases were generally based, were poorly done, with frequent and aggressive questioning.  Rumours of SRA had been spread on the basis of dubious information and some Evangelical Christians, psychologists, child-care workers, and health-care professionals were responsible for the transmission of these delusions. The report concluded that there was no SRA in Britain and that the efforts and energy being put into attempting to prove that there was only had the unhappy effect of diverting attention and resources away from those children who were genuinely suffering at the hands of real – i.e., non-Satanist – abusers.

In 2019, a documentary on this topic, titled Demonic, was the only Australian film to feature at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Pia Borg gave her motivation for making the film as “I feel like the Satanic panic is something that people are a little bit ashamed of … something that was swept under the rug.”

REFERENCES:

Ellis, B. (1992). Satanic Ritual Abuse and Legend Ostension. Journal of Psychology and Theology20(3), 274–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/009164719202000324

Bill Ellis, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media, University of Kentucky Press, 2000.

La Fontaine, J S. The extent and nature of organised and ritual abuse: research findings.London: HMSO, 1994.

Wikipedia entry, ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’, accessed May 2019.

FLIGHT OF THE LOST DIAMONDS

smirnoff investigators

Investigators at the crash site; Jack Palmer second from right. NLA

 

It was March 1942. Japanese forces were three days away from taking Bandung on the island of Java. The predominantly Dutch European population was being evacuated to mainland north-western Australia as quickly as possible. Early in the afternoon of 3 March, a Netherlands East Indies KLM Dakota passenger plane prepared to take off with eleven anxious passengers. As the Dakota was about to taxi to the runway the airfield manager handed the pilot, Ivan Smirnoff, a sealed brown paper package, telling him to look after it. A bank would take delivery of the parcel on arrival in Australia, the airfield manager said. Ivan’s mind was on more pressing matters, so he dropped the parcel into the first-aid chest and took off straightaway for the safety of Broome. It was around 1.15 p.m.

As the plane climbed into the sky, Japanese aircraft were attacking Australian coastal communities far to the south. Unfortunately, three of the Japanese fighters returning from the raid spotted the Dakota and raked it with bullets. Passengers were wounded and Smirnoff was struck in the arms and hip. He desperately threw the plane into a steep spiralling descent, pursued closely by the fighters. As the port engine burst into flame he had to act quickly. Smirnoff turned the aircraft towards the beach, managing to bring it down more or less level and then to swing its front section into the sea, extinguishing the engine fire. One of the passengers, himself a pilot, would later recall the Russian national ‘put up the greatest show of flying anybody in the world will ever see’.

SMirnoff

Ivan Smirnoff

 

And so began one of the many enduring lost treasure mysteries. Smirnoff and his passengers were strafed by Zeroes and perishing for lack of fresh water. Survival was the priority, not packages. Four died, though the survivors were eventually rescued and Smirnoff returned to his usual flying. It was only some time later in Melbourne that he became aware of the contents of the package, when he was visited by a police detective and an official of the Commonwealth Bank. They had come to collect the mysterious brown paper parcel. Smirnoff told them that the parcel was lost. ‘What was in it’, he asked.

He was told that parcel contained a cigar box filled with thousands of high-quality diamonds rescued from Amsterdam before the invading German forces arrived. The gems had been on their way via the-then Dutch East Indies to safekeeping in the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank. They were valued at the time at half a million guilders, approximately twenty million dollars in today’s money.

The official wanted to know, quite urgently, where they were.

From this point, the story clouds over like every lost treasure tale. Although the brown paper package was – probably – lost in the sea, as Smirnoff said, it was rescued from the crash site shortly after the survivors had left. A local beachcomber and lugger master named Jack Palmer and others travelling with him came across the wreckage of the Dakota. They salvaged its remaining contents and Palmer found the package, either in the plane or in the surf, and quickly discovered its alluring contents. He divided the gems up, hiding most of them beneath the sand in an aluminium container and distributing the rest among his companions, telling them to keep quiet about the find.

Palmer was on his way to Perth to enlist in the army. When he arrived there, he went to the district military commandant and told the story of the crash and his discovery of the diamonds. To prove his point, he produced two salt cellars full of small stones for the astonished officer.

By now, though, diamonds were starting to turn up in unexpected places. One was found in the fireplace of a Broome home and another in a matchbox in a train carriage. Aboriginal people were seen with them and Chinese traders offered them for sale. Others would be found after the war, including one nestling in the fork of a tree.

An army investigation led to Palmer and two of his comrades being tried in 1943. All three accused were acquitted as they had—seemingly—handed in the diamonds to the authorities. Palmer then served out the war in the army. Afterwards, he tackled a number of business ventures and appeared to be living well through the few years that were left to him.

Jack Palmer died of stomach cancer in 1950. A priest attending his deathbed is said to have asked him what he had done with the rest of the diamonds. Palmer insisted that he handed them in. Then he smiled.

There are a number of other stories stemming from the medical staff who tended the dying man. They vary in detail but all end the same way. They all state that Palmer kept a mysterious bag under his bed which he hinted might contain riches—maybe cash, maybe diamonds. The day after he died, the bag disappeared.

Smirnoff returned to Holland after the war and continued his career as a KLM pilot. He seems never to have gone home to the USSR and died on the island of Majorca in 1956 after an adventurous life that even attracted the brief attention of Hollywood in 1944.

Stories still circulate about the ‘Smirnoff diamonds’. A number of books have been written about them. As recently as 2012 a claim was made by relatives of the man who drove Smirnoff and his surviving passengers to Broome that the pilot knew the package he was carrying contained the diamonds. Whether he knew or not, only a fraction of the hoard was ever recovered. It is thought that the bulk of the cache, perhaps twenty million dollars-worth, is still missing.

Are the Smirnoff diamonds still buried in the sand along with the remains of the ill-fated Dakota? Were they found by others? Or did Jack Palmer simply take them and spend up big for the rest of his life?

 

The full story is in my Great Australian Journeys though, like all good lost treasure yarns, this one is still being told…

 

 

 

 

 

A BUSHRANGER IN AMERICA

A version from the USA

‘The people round know me right well – they call me Johnny Troy’. The trouble was that no-one did know a bushranger hero named ‘Johnny Troy’, not in Australia, at least.  So, who was he, if he ever existed?

There were several incidental mentions of him and his deeds in historical documents and folklore. He featured briefly in a poem titled ‘The Convict’s Tour to Hell’, probably composed by ‘Frank the Poet’ (Francis McNamara), in or before 1839. The poem is a celebration of convicts and bushrangers, including the famous Jack Donohoe, shot dead in 1830. Troy is mentioned in the same breath as the now much better-known Donohoe. The poem is fantasy of a convict, Frank himself, visiting hell, where he finds all the despised overseers and gaolers writhing in eternal agony. When the devil hears that Frank was a convict in life he immediately says that he has come to the wrong place. Convicts should all go to heaven. When Frank reaches the Pearly Gates, he confronts St Peter who asks:

where’s your certificate

Or if you have not one to show 

Pray who in Heaven do you know? 

Frank answers;

Well I know Brave Donohue Young Troy and Jenkins too 

And many others whom floggers mangled 

And lastly were by Jack Ketch strangled.

Frank is allowed straight into heaven where he is made ‘a welcome guest’, along with his old convict mates.

But that was about all anyone knew of this Irish bushranger until the 1950s, when American folksong collectors began to hear a ‘Johnny Troy’ ballad – mainly among lumber jacks. It seems that while Johnny Troy’s vigorous song had faded away in Australia, it had been well received by the Americans, who often sang it together with a couple of other Australian bushranger ballads, ‘Jack Donohoe’ and ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’. It is likely that these songs reached America during the California gold rushes, which explains how they got there.[i]But there was still no news of the lost bushranger in Australia. Until some solid research by the late Stephan Williams turned up the whole true history of Johnny Troy.[ii]

John Troy, aged eighteen, was transported for burglary and felony from Dublin aboard the ship Asiain 1825. He was a weaver by trade and drew a seven-year sentence. Soon after arriving here, he was found guilty of robbery and served two years on the Phoenix‘hulk’, or prison ship. After completing this sentence, Troy’s record was one of continual ‘bolting’ from iron gangs and involvement in mutinies aboard convict ships, details of which appear in his ballad. He served time at Moreton Bay (Brisbane) and after being returned to Sydney in 1831, escaped again and took to bushranging. After a busy period of robbing travellers, in company with other fugitive convicts, Troy was betrayed and recaptured in 1832. 

He was tried with three others for highway robbery. The court heard from numerous witnesses and policemen and eventually the judge ‘summed up at considerable length’, sending the jury to consider their verdict at 7pm. No doubt anxious to be off home or to the pub, the jury came back a few minutes later with a guilty verdict for three of the defendants. John Troy, Tom Smith and Michael Anderson were, unusually, sentenced to hang immediately. The judge was clearly not in a good mood as the legislation for capital punishment clearly provided for a three-day break before execution.

In the event, there was a respite of a week but on August 18, 1832, Troy and Smith (Anderson was reprieved) were led out to be hanged in Sydney Gaol. ‘Great crowds assembled to view the awful termination of their lives’. Troy accepted his sentence saying, ‘he had committed many offences, and deserved to suffer death.’ He preferred death to a lifetime in a penal settlement. He also claimed, in proper outlaw hero style, that Smith was innocent. After some words from the clergy present, the executioners fiddled with the ropes ‘in their usual bungling manner’. The condemned men, both carrying red handkerchiefs, were finally put out of their misery and ‘after some convulsive struggling, were ushered into eternity.’[iii]

And Johnny Troy did, however undeservedly, achieve an immortality of sorts. Hanged criminals were usually thrown into cheap coffins and carted off for burial in the ‘Public Nuisance’ cart used to collect dead animals from the streets. But in this case the bodies of Troy and Smith were given into the care of a cousin of Troy’s. There was an Irish wake around the bodies that night and a subscription taken up for good quality coffins. Next day, the coffins were taken out and laid in front of the house of the bushrangers’ betrayer, a man named Donohoe. The red handkerchief Troy had been holding at his death was thrown ominously at the traitor’s door. The police had to break up the crowd, which gave ‘three groans’ for Donohoe and a long procession followed the dead men to their final burying place.

Troy was a convict hero. The ballad that celebrated his real and imagined activities is much like those romanticising other bushranger heroes, real and mythic. Troy is born in Dublin, ‘brought up by honest parents’ but is transported to NSW after robbing a widow. He escapes and with three companions takes to the bush – ‘Four of the bravest heroes who ever handled gun.’ Robbing on the highway, they come across an old man and demand his gold watch and money – on pain of having his brains blown out. The man pleads that he has none of these and also has a wife and family ‘daily to provide.’ On hearing this, Troy refuses to rob the man, gets back on his horse and throws the man fifty pounds ‘to help you on your way.’ The song concludes in proper Robin Hood style with the verse:

The poor I’ll serve both night and day, 

The rich I will annoy; 

The people round know me right well; 

They call me Johnny Troy.

In another American version, the story includes Troy’s death ‘on his scaffold high’ as ‘a brave young hero.’

Why Troy was forgotten in the place where he committed his crimes and died for them is a mystery. Perhaps there were enough bushranger ballads and legends around to satisfy the demand. People are still singing many of these in Australia, where they are a strong element of folk tradition. Johnny Troy lives on only in America, though he is in good company, or bad, there. The tradition of the outlaw hero that runs from Robin Hood includes American badmen as well as our bushrangers. Jesse James and Billy the Kid, among many others, are celebrated in the same Robin Hood style, and just as controversially, as Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and Ned Kelly.[iv]

Page 2 of the USA version

[i]Porter, Kenneth W. ‘Johnny Troy’: A ‘Lost’ Australian Bushranger Ballad in the United States, Meanjin Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2, 1965: 227-238 at http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=965759253841134;res=IELLC, accessed August 2017 and Kenneth Goldstein, notes to LP by Ellen Stekert https://outlook.office.com/owa/redir.aspx?REF=uGDzIsjlRKV7AAi2uiMuTkjGP8W_Z1kfDm1FbqmyGwnbKgjVlN_UCAFodHRwczovL3Byb3RlY3QtYXUubWltZWNhc3QuY29tL3MvTTQxYUJ2VVZwcjVwdHI_ZG9tYWluPWZvbGt3YXlzLW1lZGlhLnNpLmVkdQ, accessed August 2017. See also Library of Congress for a version collected in California prior to World War 1 at https://www.loc.gov/item/2017701036/, accessed May 2019.

[ii]Stephan Williams, Johnny Troy, Popinjay Publications, Canberra 2001 (revised from original 1993 edition). It is fitting that Stephan Williams resurrected this story of the vanishing bushranger as he was himself an unsung hero of Australian folk history, mainly through his impeccably researched series of self-publications issued under his Popinjay imprint.

[iii]Stephan Williams, from the Sydney Gazette, 21 August 1832.

[iv]Graham Seal, Outlaw Heroes in Myth and History, Anthem Press, London, 2011.

This post is from my recent book, Great Bush Stories

See also Paul Slade’s essays on bushrangers and related matters at http://www.planetslade.com/bushranger-ballads.html

THE MOON-WOMAN – FROM MATRIARCHY TO PATRIARCHY


Selk’nam woman and child, carefully posed

In May 1966 the American anthropologist Anne MacKaye Chapman was living near the ‘Indian reservation’ of Lake Fagnano in Tierra del Fuego. She was researching the culture of some of the most southerly indigenous people on earth, the Selk’nam (also Ona, Onawo) and Haush societies of Patagonia. After a century or more of colonization, few of these people with their distinctive culture and unimaginably harsh lifestyle remained. Chapman was speaking with one who did. Her name was Lola Kiepja, the last of the Selk’nam who had lived that destroyed way of life and knew the foundation myths of her people, passed down for thousands of years as they struggled to survive in the toughest environment on the planet.

One day, Lola posed a rhetorical question to Chapman: ‘Where are the women who sang like the canaries? There were many women. Where are they now?’ The Selk’nam woman was speaking of the foundation myth of her people, revolving around Kreeh, the Moon-Woman.

In the mythic period of the hoowin, before the human Selk’nam, all the landforms, the animals, birds and some stars lived on the earth as great shamans, known as hoowins. At this time, women ruled over men who carried out the basic tasks of cooking, childcare and water carrying, in addition to their hunting and related male activities. When young hoowinwomen reached the right age, they were initiated into the secrets of the matriarchy in a ritual held in the Hainhut. Here, the sacred fire burned and the women disguised each other with masks and red, white and black paint representing the spirits. When the women appeared before the men in these disguises, they believed that the women had the power of the spirits of the skies and earth, validating the female dominion of the males.

But on one occasion, while the women were in the Hain preparing for the ritual, three hoowinmen spied on them and saw that the women were only dressing up as the spirits. One of the men whistled to the other males to let them know that they were being fooled. When the females in the hut heard the whistle, they realised the males had discovered the truth and put out the sacred fire in fear of violence. It came swiftly.

The males attacked, killing the women, except younger girls and babies. Their leader hit the female leader, who was his wife, with a burning log from the extinguished fire. The heavens trembled. He hit her again, but not a third time, in case all creation and the heavens might be destroyed. Badly burned and raging with unquenchable anger, his wife fled the earth and turned into the Moon, pursued by her husband in the form of the Sun. Ever since, he has chased her, but never caught her. Each month, shereappears as the full moon, when the scars on her face from the burning log are clearly visible. Her anger at men is especially intense at eclipses and this is a particularly dangerous time for the Selk’nam of both sexes, who gather to ward off her often-lethal anger.

After the massacre, the males and surviving females travelled to the East sky to mourn. Then they travelled to the North sky, to the West sky and, after a very great time, came back to earth from the South sky. The males established a new Hain through which they subject the females to the same domination the men experienced previously. 

Death came to the earth as the hoowinwere transformed into various heavenly bodies, wind, rain, snow, sea land and animals. At this time the first human Selk’nam were formed from two clods of dirt.[1]

Selk’nam group, 1930s

This is a condensed re-telling of a complex narrative cycle that includes other elements of Selk’nam mythology and cosmology. Like the creation stories of many cultures, this one includes the coming of death, as well as life, and provides an account of how the living world was formed from a preexistent epoch of spiritual beings. It explains the cycle of night and day and provides a validation of the patriarchal nature of human Selk’nam society, in contrast to the matriarchy that prevailed in the hoowin. In its depiction of male violence against women, it is a chilling tale with global resonance.

The Selk’nam are now usually said to be extinct, though their language is being preserved by at least one speaker. 

Selk’nam, 1938

[1]Anne MacKaye Chapman, ‘The Moon-Woman in Selk’nam Society’ at http://www.thereedfoundation.org/rism/chapman/moon-woman.htm#back1, accessed September 2018.

Moral Ecologies and Crimes Against Nature – just out

sketch-of-stringybark-creek-ambushSydney Mail, November 16, 1878.

 

Moral whats?

A term coined by American historian Karl Jacoby in his influential Crimes Against Nature. Jacoby used the term to indicate the usually unwritten attitudes and assumptions held by local people about their environment and how it should be managed and ‘that against elite, top-down conservation schemes that sought to criminalise customary and often sustainable practices such as the taking of wood and game, those already dwelling on the land resisted by continuing to live their lives as before.’ As described in the Introduction:

‘This book offers the first systematic study of how elite conservation schemes and policies define once customary and vernacular forms of managing common resources as banditry—and how the ‘bandits’ fight back. Drawing inspiration from Karl Jacoby’s seminal Crimes against Nature, this book takes Jacoby’s moral ecology and extends the concept beyond the founding of American national parks. From eighteenth-century Europe, through settler colonialism in Africa, Australia and the Americas, to postcolonial Asia and Australia, Moral Ecologies takes a global stance and a deep temporal perspective, examining how the language and practices of conservation often dispossess Indigenous peoples and settlers, and how those groups resist in everyday ways. Drawing together archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers and historians, this is a methodologically diverse and conceptually innovative study that will appeal to anyone interested in the politics of conservation, protest and environmental history.’

My chapter is on the relationship between the constituencies of northeastern Victoria before, during and after the Ned Kelly bushranging outbreak of the late 1870s, and their attitudes towards their environment, an embryonic form of moral ecology. Here is the full chapter list:

Moral Ecologies: Histories of Conservation, Dispossession and Resistance

Carl J. Griffin, Roy Jones, Iain J. M. Robertson

Pages 1-34

Conservation as Dispossession

Front Matter

Pages 35-35

PDF

Politics of Conservation, Moral Ecology and Resistance by the Sonaha Indigenous Minorities of Nepal

Sudeep Jana Thing

Pages 37-58

Global Ecologies and Local Moralities: Conservation and Contention on Western Australia’s Gascoyne Coast

Roy Jones, Joseph Christensen, Tod Jones

Pages 59-82

From Activists to Illegally Occupying Land: Aboriginal Resistance as Moral Ecology in Perth, Western Australia

Shaphan Cox, Christina Birdsall-Jones

Pages 83-97

Ghosts in the Forest: The Moral Ecology of Environmental Governance Toward Poor Farmers in the Brazilian and US Atlantic Forests

Scott William Hoefle

Pages 99-125

Conservation as Occupation

Front Matter

Pages 127-127

PDF

Crimes against Cultures: How Local Practices of Regulation Shape Archaeological Landscapes in Trowulan, East Java

Tod Jones, Adrian Perkasa

Pages 129-158

Of Necessary Work: The Longue Durée of the Moral Ecology of the Hebridean Gàidhealtachd

Iain J. M. Robertson, Mary MacLeod Rivett

Pages 159-187

Demographic Fluidity and Moral Ecology: Queenstown (Tasmania) and a Lesson in Precarious Process

Pete Hay

Pages 189-215

‘Fearless, Free and Bold’: The Moral Ecology of Kelly Country

Graham Seal

Pages 217-234

Squatting as Moral Ecology: Encroachment and ‘Abuse’ in the New Forest, England

Carl J. Griffin

Pages 235-263

A “Moral Ecology” of Afrikaner Settlement in German East Africa, 1902–1914

Thaddeus Sunseri

Pages 265-288

Afterword: On Moral Ecologies and Archival Absences

Karl Jacoby

Pages 289-297

 

Available from

A MAGICAL WAR

mascot copy

Mascot of Canadian troops

 

We like to think the modern era is a rational one in which superstition, or folk belief, has been relegated to the distant past. A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination and Faith in the First World War(Oxford University Press, 2018), a new book by Owen Davies shows that magic thinking was alive and well during, and after, World War 1. As anyone who takes the time to inquire into these matters will know, it still is.

Can there possibly be anything new to say about the history of the bloody madness that engulfed much of Europe and elsewhere from 1914 to 1918? It seems so.

Owen Davies leaves no form of delusion and deception unexamined in his new book on magic, divination and faith in the First World War. A great number and variety of practices professed to offer supernatural insights into life and death. They included almanacs, charms, divination, fortune-telling in all its nuances, ghosts, luck, mascots, prophecy, spiritualism, talismans, visions, witchcraft and ‘zepp charms’, crafted from the aluminum skeleton of a downed German airship. These are only some of the topics excavated and investigated in this enlightening study of a little-researched aspect of the Great War.

Davies casts his glamour widely. His extensive research takes in not only British and Empire beliefs but also those of many European countries, including Germany, as well as the United States of America. While the broad contours of supernatural belief were much the same everywhere, there were national emphases. Visions of angels were largely a British preoccupation, and not only in relation to the well-known sightings associated with the Battle of Mons.  Marian visions were rare in Britain but, not surprisingly, frequent in Catholic countries, yet also experienced in Germany.

Another strength of the book is Davies’ dissection of the various intellectual approaches to the supernatural. He discusses psychology, sociology, folklore and anthropology and psychical research as well as history. While folklorists in Europe and, to some extent in the USA viewed the war as an ideal event through which to investigate supernatural beliefs and practices, their British counterparts were mostly missing in action. Only one individual appears to have bothered to conduct even casual fieldwork among acquaintances and the odd soldier he encountered. Consequently, we know much less about British folk belief on the ground at this time than in many other countries. Fortunately, Davies’ extensive archival research goes a long way to plugging this gap, allowing him to provide a convincing overall picture of faith in the war, both at home and at the front.

And faith, of one kind or another, is at the centre of this inquiry. Davies early on addresses the tricky definitional and conceptual issues associated with work of this kind. What term should be used to describe the subject of study? ‘Superstition’, the popular description – also still used by psychologists – is misleading. One person’s superstition may be another’s deeply-held belief, and who is to say which belief is valid and which is not? The word has been used as a bludgeon in the struggles between Catholics and Protestants (and, in another context, in the colonisation of indigenous peoples). Davies refuses to refer to his topic as ‘superstition’ and only uses the term between inverted commas. Following that wise observation, he further declares that: ‘I do not hold the view that the beliefs and practices explored in this book are in any way symptomatic of backwardness or credulity.’ (13)

While agreeing with this view, the numbers of those who succumbed to what seem to be blatant scams, does suggest a strong level of credulity, inflamed of course by the dreadful circumstances of loss and uncertainty that was the lot of almost everyone involved in those dreadful years of conflict. Nevertheless, people needed to find whatever consolations and hopes they could, regardless of their source. It is the willingness of some to take pecuniary advantage of those needs that is reprehensible, rather than the propensity of many to believe.

As a good historian should, Davies loses no opportunity to dissolve myths. In this area of research, there are many. A popular legend of the trenches among all the combatants was ‘the White Comrade’, a spectral figure seen tending to the dead and dying. The origins and identity of this folkloric phantasm were vague, even for legends, but the comrade was soon said by many to be Jesus Christ. Citing David Clarke’s earlier research on this topic, Davies provides an account of the origin of the belief in a short story published in early 1915 and spreading via republication in parish magazines and a variety of other print forms, as well as oral transmission: ‘Once again, fiction became fact…’ (68).

Through seven (lucky?) close-packed chapters on prophecy, spirits, fortune telling, soldiers’ folk beliefs and religious faith in the trenches, A Supernatural Warprovides a nuanced and learned exposition of the profound roles of belief in the supernatural during the Great War. Davies deals with various forms of ‘new thought’, including Christian Science and Pelmanism, the moral memory system that was a favourite butt of trench humour. He also looks at the role of the supernatural in some non-Christian faiths. Such a broad approach suggests that this book is likely to remain the definitive work for a long time to come.

A final chapter provides an overview of supernatural beliefs and practices since the First World War, into the second, and beyond. Witches, real and fictional; folk magic; spiritualism; psychic research; Theosophy; astrology; prophecy; lucky chain letters; mascots, amulets, bibles and the like all continued to appeal. Some practices thrived. Commercialised horoscopes, in particular, became a still-familiar staple of newspapers and magazines. There is also a brief mention of some fascinating uses of the supernatural as propaganda in the Second World War. A future research topic, perhaps?

While this book focusses on the First World War, the beliefs and practices it illuminates are as prevalent today as they were then. The supernatural was, and is, no different to other human activities: ‘Beliefs and practices constantly ebbed and flowed, disappeared and emerged, in response to broader trends in social, cultural and economic life.’ Owen Davies concludes his excellent book with the considered observation that, despite the long history of ‘superstition’, that ‘the First World War and its legacy confirmed that the supernatural was profoundly modern.’ (232)

Graham Seal (This review appears in a slightly different form as ‘Shamans at War’, in Literary Review, February 2019).