BANDIT LANDS 1 – CORTINAS

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Juan Nepomuceno (Cheno) Cortina (1824-1894), aka ‘Cortinas’

 

Bandit lands are places where outlaws can base themselves and their confederates, operate their criminal enterprises and also hide from the law or other antagonists. These secret spaces can be mountains, forests, river valleys, marshes, or along borderlands – wherever access is difficult and solitude assured. They have existed everywhere since ancient times. Some still do.
 
Quite a few of the outlaws who have inhabited these wild areas have become, rightly or wrongly, popular heroes, celebrated in rousing songs and fiery stories. Here’s the first of an occasional Gristly History series about them titled ‘Bandit Lands’.

 

CORTINAS – ALONG THE RIO GRANDE

The ‘Border’, being the contested land between America and Mexico, has a long, unsettled history. Incursions, lynchings, riots, wars, smuggling and ongoing antagonism between Anglos and Mexican-Americans have produced some celebrated outlaw heores. The earliest of these was a well-born man who became known as ‘Cortinas’.

Juan Nepomuceno (Cheno) Cortina (1824-1894) was known from the time of his outlawry as ‘Cortinas’. His family had aristocratic origins and a large landholding in the lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly around the south Texas city of Brownsville, across the border from Matamoros. After fighting in an irregular unit during the Mexican American War of 1846-1848, Cortinas returned to the family farm which he appears to have used as a base for rustling. He was twice indicted for these offences but was able to escape arrest through the family political connections.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially declared the border between Mexico and the United States in 1848, relations between the Anglos and Mexican Americans in the Brownsville area deteriorated. One of the major issues was the belief that Americans were using their superior knowledge of the legal system to enable them to procure ever-greater amounts of land at the expense of Mexican-Americans new to the country.

One day in July 1859 Cortinas witnessed the Brownsville Marshall, Bob Spears, arresting and pistol-whipping a man who had worked on his mother’s farm. There was a confrontation in which Cortinas shot and killed the Marshall and escaped with the prisoner. Cortinas was outlawed and from then on became a guerrilla, fighting the Americans and also operating in the politics and conflicts within Mexico itself. In September 1859 he and his men attacked and occupied Brownsville, shooting five locals. Cortinas eventually retreated to the family ranch from where he later issued a proclamation defending the rights of Mexican-Americans and demanding that any who infringed them be punished.

There was ongoing violence between Cortinas’ men and various groups of Texas Rangers sent against him. Cortinas issued a second proclamation, calling on Governor Sam Houston to recognise and protect the legal rights of Mexican-Americans. By this time the outlaw’s numbers had expanded to around 400-armed men. There was further fighting with Texas Rangers in December which resulted in Cortinas retreating to Mexico and finally to the Burgos Mountains where he holed up for a year.

He returned to the American side of the Border during the Civil War, fighting against the Confederates. He then became embroiled in the politics and turmoils of Mexico, returning again to the Border in 1870. Despite attempts to have him pardoned for his crimes, based on his support of the victorious Union during the Civil War, Cortinas was forced to return to Mexico in 1871.

In later years the cattle ranchers of the Nueces Strip accused him of being the ringleader of a large rustling operation and he was eventually removed to Mexico City through American diplomatic pressure. From this time Cortinas passes from the large events of his time. He spent the sixteen years between 1877 and his death from pneumonia in 1894 in prison and under house arrest.

Despite obscurity, neglect and vandalism of his grave, Cortinas’ legend among Mexican- Americans is firmly established.[i] He is the subject of a famous corrido, or ballad, that portrays him as a great hero and friend of the Mexican people, whose death caused the gringos to celebrate:

That famed General Cortinas
is quite sovereign and free,
the honor due him is greater
for he saved a Mexican’s life.
The Americans made merry,
they got drunk in the saloons,
out of joy over the death
of the famed General Cortinas.[ii]

Cortinas was, and still is, a hero of the Mexican-American people. Stories and songs of his real and fanciful actions remained strong in oral tradition and prepared the way for the greatest of all the Border outlaws, Gregorio Cortez.

NOTES

[i] Thompson, J. (ed), Juan Cortina and the Texas-Mexico Frontier 1859-1877, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, Southwestern Studies 99, 1994, pp. 93.

[ii] Hispanic American Almanac, Gale, 1997.

MYTH-MAKING IN THE TIME OF THE VIRUS

 

Virus ok

Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAMS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ID 23312, 2020

 

In general usage, a ‘myth’ is a statement or fact believed to be true, a falsehood. Myths are given credence and spread by rumours and, increasingly, as ‘fake news’ or ‘memes’.

They usually arise as misunderstandings of historical events, statements, and sometimes as deliberate lies invented and spread for political, commercial or religious purposes

A well-known example of a misunderstood statement is an observation once made by the eminent anthropologist, Franz Boas, about the Inuit words for snow. The myth is that the Inuit people of Southwestern Alaska have more words for snow than any other language.

What Boas actually observed, in relation to the linguistic complexities of Inuit and its dialects, was that there were four root words for snow that might be vastly expanded by their use in a variety of linguistic combinations, or lexemes, that might also include individual semantic flourishes.

This fundamental subtlety was subsequently misunderstood by many to mean that the Inuit did have one hundred distinct words for snow. In fact, they might have one hundred or more lexemes for snow but not one hundred individual words, as the myth has it.

A more significant issue than the number of Inuit words for snow is this: what was it about the Inuit people (then termed ‘Eskimo’), their language and its cultural meanings, that led to the spread of this misstatement and its perpetuation to the present day?

The answer is that it’s all about ‘us’, not ‘them’.

When Boas and others were studying the Inuit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a widespread fascination with these indigenous people and their inconceivably hard way of life. For a few decades, the Inuit, and other indigenous groups in polar regions, were the darlings of folklorists, anthropologists, filmmakers and journalists. In short, the Inuit were seen through western eyes as ‘exotic others’. ‘Their’ lives were so drastically different from the western norm that something that so clearly and conveniently represented that difference made sense to ‘us’. Of course, such different people somehow surviving in perpetual ice and snow would have lots of words to describe their situation. Makes sense. Mmm.

This small popular delusion is pretty harmless, unlike many other prejudiced and pernicious myths western culture has evolved about exotic others. Perceptions of black people as monkey-like have a long history and have not gone away, for the same reason the Inuit words for snow myth has not. ‘They’ are not like ‘us’ whites.

One popular perception of human evolution is that non-Europeans are further down the evolutionary scale and therefore closer to the apes. Obvious, isn’t it? That’s what Darwin said.

Of course, Darwin said no such thing, but his biological ideas were applied to culture in the perversion usually called ‘social Darwinism, and it was asserted by experts that just as the plant and animal kingdoms evolved through natural selection, popularly understood as ‘survival of the fittest’, so did people. Obviously western culture was the preeminent result of this process and any culture that didn’t have our technological, religious, organisational and (supposedly) moral attainments was obviously at a lower stage of evolution and, therefore, inferior. Closer to monkeys than clever us. Science proves it. Mmm.

Despite the overwhelming abundance of evidence to the contrary, this apparently authoritative explanation provided an expert validation of a prejudice that had existed in European society since at least the medieval era. *

As well as the story itself, mythmaking also depends on those who tell the tale. The role of the ‘expert’ in confirming and spreading myth has recently expanded. Unqualified celebrities, politicians and those with usually fringe political agendas have increasingly taken over from experts as arbiters of opinion, masquerading as ‘fact’. The reasons for this are complex and include the erosion of trust in civil institutions and traditionally prominent influencers since the 1960s. In this century, the internet has accelerated and amplified this trend to its currently dangerous levels.

Right now, we are seeing the influence of the new storytellers in the context of the Corona virus pandemic. Large numbers of people prefer to believe random commentators and opinionists in the mainstream and social media about medical and scientific matters, particularly those related to so-called ‘cures’.

Alongside this we have another example of negative perceptions of exotic others, in this case, the Chinese, who have been blamed for the outbreak due to their culinary habits, alleged poor hygiene, incompetence or, the conspiracy theory version, by deliberately manufacturing and spreading the virus.

There are many other prejudicial myths that originate, evolve, and proliferate through these complex processes of history, ignorance and delusion. They persist because they fill a cultural and psychological need to perceive otherness in usually negative terms.* The particular combination of the progressive erosion of trust, the proliferation and consequences of new communication technology, and the always existing compulsion for humans to see things in terms of ‘us and them’, has now reached a potentially disastrous moment for us all.

 

* For a useful overview of this process see https://theconversation.com/comparing-black-people-to-monkeys-has-a-long-dark-simian-history-55102

* For a more detailed look at the complex psychological and cultural processes involved in mythmaking, see David Robson’s The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes https://davidrobson.me/the-intelligence-trap/

 

CACKLING FARTS, TALLYWAGS AND OTHER GROSE WORDS

 

1920px-Captain_Francisa_Grose,_FSA

Captain Francis Grose, antiquarian, some-time soldier and all-round roisterer used his knowledge of lowlife to compile a dictionary of eighteenth-century slang. Assisted by Tom Cocking, Grose frequented and enjoyed the fleshpots of London, eating, drinking and taking notes of what was said and by whom. The fruits of this devoted study appeared only three decades after Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary but, unlike that great work, documented the unofficial, earthy and bawdy language spoken by the workers of the era.

Grose was so fat – a gundiguts, according to his own dictionary – that his assistant, Tom, had to strap him into bed each night to make sure he didn’t roll out. But he was an apparently amiable man who was able to move easily in different social circles, putting his inquiring mind to good use wherever he went and with whoever he met. His encounters included one with the Scots poet Robert Burns, who contributed prose and poetry to one of Grose’s many antiquarian works on castles and other ancient buildings.

Not only does A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) present a vast number of raffish and often amusing words and phrases, but it also gives some idea of those who spoke them. Many of these were criminals who, as in earlier and later periods, found considerable use for linguistic obfuscation. Others were those who followed more or less respectable trades and occupations. Grose’s dictionary is crammed with the speech of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, soldiers, sailors, gamblers, cockfighters, horse traders and a range of other dodgy operators.

Grose also includes terms related to trades, professions and callings, including:

Draper, an ale-housekeeper;

Duck fucker man in charge of poultry aboard a war ship

Fart catcher – a valet

Finger post – parson

Knight of the rainbow – a footman, from the gaudery of his apparel

A maggot-boiler was a tallow merchant

Monks and friars, printers’ terms describing blotted or dark printed sheets and faint sheets, respectively

Nimgimmer a doctor, especially one able to treat venereal diseases

Pontius Pilate  a pawnbroker

The dictionary includes multitudinous names for different kinds of alcohol, especially gin and is also good on insults, including Captain queernabs, a shabby ill-dressed fellow; Dicked in the nob meaning silly, crazed; a dog booby is an awkward lout and Just-ass was a punning name for a justice [judge], an official who many of Grose’s speakers often encountered.

A few of the words and terms immortalised by Grose and Cocking are still in use today, including screw, to copulate; bum fodder for toilet paper and to kick the bucket, meaning to die, which Captain Francis Grose did in 1791. His legacy is a magnificent compendium of everyday talk that people used as they went about their business, whether that was respectable or otherwise.

Oh, and a cackling fart is an egg and tallywags are testicles.

Enjoy more online at https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-classical-dictionary-of-the-vulgar-tongue-1788

A TIME FOR HEROES Anzac Day 2020

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This year, no public events will mark Anzac Day. The COVID-19 pandemic has done what only a world war has previously accomplished, when the event was cancelled in 1942.

These random coincidences remind us that today, as then, Australia has been fighting a war, in fact, several wars. The disastrous bushfires of 2019-20 and the Corona virus pandemic, have taken on some of the characteristics of mass conflict. They include the language of war, emergency coordination between the Commonwealth and the states, deployment of the defence forces and a range of restrictions on personal and civil liberties and activities.

Like all wars, these have produced heroes.

Over a summer of flame, ash and smoke, tens of thousands of firefighters, mostly volunteers, battled infernos in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, as well as in other states with fewer serious blazes. Some – ‘the fallen’ –  lost their lives. Many of the survivors will have ongoing health issues due to burns, smoke inhalation and trauma. Heroes.

These brave men and women were supported by emergency services of all kinds and by doctors, nurses, paramedics and all other hospital staff. Neighbors and strangers also performed acts of dangerous generosity, saving properties and people. Heroes

Then, just as the fire wars were easing, an insidious virus began felling people around the world and in our country. Once again, medical and hospital professionals, police and other services were called to the front line as infectious passengers were unfathomably allowed to depart cruise ships and others jetted in from foreign parts. As often happens in wars, there was a shortage of equipment – masks and gowns, as well as ventilators and beds – but they went to the fight, regardless. They are at the front as I write this. Heroes.

The mostly volunteer diggers of World War 1 and World War 2 were the founders and bearers of the Anzac tradition, subsequently carried by Australian soldiers up to the present. Whatever else Anzac might be about and whatever your personal views of it might be, there is no denying that it is the predominant bearer of Australian notions of heroism. It happens that these ideas were formed in war, but it now seems that the same ideals – glorified and mythologized though they often are – have become attached to ordinary men and women just doing their jobs, or as civilians volunteering.

So, let the ‘silent Anzac Day’ of 2020 be dedicated to the unique recognition and long remembrance of our new heroes.

Graham Seal

 

 

IN PRAISE OF SMALL THINGS

 

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Unidentified Artist
Luce Center Label
Farmers created whirligigs to entertain their children and decorate their gardens. These colorful, animated devices also added an element of fun to an otherwise demanding life in rural America. This piece shows the everyday activities of churning butter and sawing wood. When the wind blows, the lady’s arms move up and down and the man’s saw moves back and forth. The large painted arrow on the back of the whirligig suggests it was also used as a weather vane.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the folk art collection of David L. Davies
1920s

 

Consider the unremarked knowing and ways of doing and saying that lie beneath even the most trivial of everyday activities.

Plants in our gardens have their unofficial names that have nothing to do with their tin scientific labels. ‘Foxglove’s, ‘kangaroo paws’, ‘Christmas bush’, etc. The list is almost endless and often varies from place to place. What is known as a ‘diaper’ in America is a ‘nappy’ in Britain and Australia. The same goes for the folk names of fish and of different types of rain. You know about these things only if you are a gardener, fishing person and/or live in a particular place, usually from childhood, or at least over a long time.

Inhabitants of the English city of Canterbury and surrounds will be familiar with the local whimsy: ‘Why kill ‘em and cart ‘em to Canterbury?’ Understanding this fragment of apparent folk nonsense proves your indigenous credentials. The saying depends on knowing that the towns of Wye, Chilham and Chartham are all located in the countryside around the county town of Kent. What does it mean? Nothing. Except to identify belonging to a place and the people who do, and have, called it ‘home’.

Natives of Hamburg have a similar trick. When the words ‘Hummel, Hummel’ are spoken, those in the now must respond with ‘Mors, Mors’. This whimsy involves yarn about a man who moved into the home of a former soldier named Hummel and was made the butt of derision by local children calling out the former resident’s name. The squatter would retort ‘Mors, Mors’. This exchange became a form of greeting between Hamburgers.

These small wordplays are the trivial tips of extensive pyramids of knowledge, identity, sense of place and belonging. For those in the know, their significance is much deeper and more intense than their apparent superficiality suggests. And so it is with many small things. The taken-for-granted banalities of all our lives actually carry vast reservoirs of fundamental meaning that, if we lost, we would find ourselves bereft. Not to have the dandling songs and play rhymes of childhood to distract and amuse our children and grandchildren and the making of the whirligig pictured above would leave an interactive hole that it is hard to imagine being filled by anything else. The rituals of birth, anniversaries, coming-of-age, marriage and our inevitable endings, all subtly structure all our lives.

The small things are almost endless. The cooking and recipes, sewing, knitting and other domestic skills we perhaps picked up in childhood. Proverbs, sayings and superstitions are things we just ‘know’. Home remedies, some more folk belief than efficacious, but nonetheless known and practiced or recommend, as required by coughs, insect stings or warts. Ways to tend the garden, what tools to use for which chores and how to drive a nail or use a saw, what knots are best and how to tie them.

There may be family and community traditions of song, music, dance or other everyday arts and crafts, not to mention feasts and festivals, sacred and secular, such as Guy Fawkes Night, Blessing of the Fleet and the dozens of other saints’ days, commemorations and folk frolics that dot the calendars of every faith.

Now, in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, these and the many small things of life will come to mean a great deal.

 

THE WORLD FAIR IN THE DESERT

 

Camels Coolgardie

Three camels in front of commercial buildings in Coolgardie in the 1890s. (National Library of Australia)

 

It was nothing but desert in 1892. Seven years later Coolgardie was the third-largest town in Western Australia. Shops lined the extraordinarily wide main street, there were seven newspapers, six banks and two stock exchanges, schools, theatres, churches, a synagogue and a mosque for the ‘Afghan’[i] cameleers who kept the 5000-or-so inhabitants supplied with goods. And much of their water. Two cemeteries held over a thousand underground residents, while three breweries and twenty-six hotels slaked the prodigious thirst of the miners. In 1896 the railway arrived and just a few years later ‘the mother of the Western Australian goldfields’ hosted a World Fair.

The first of the grand celebrations of industry and technology that began the World’s Fair movement was held in Paris in 1844. Fifty years later they were an international fad and no self-respecting country or industry could not have one. The Coolgardie event was officially titled ‘The Western Australian International Mining and Industrial Exhibition’. Nothing like it had been seen in the west and there would never be anything quite like it again.

On 21 March, the special train from Perth arrived carrying one hundred and fifty VIPs, including the Governor and the Premier with their respective families and entourages. They were welcomed by the mayor and all the dignitaries that Coolgardie boasted, together with the Mayor of Melbourne, an Archdeacon and the vice-consul of Denmark. The triumphal arch of flowers on Bayley Street had only just been completed in the early hours of the morning and there were: ‘festoons at the end of the street facing the exhibition, and these, with profuse displays of bunting at the hotels and other establishments along Bayley Street, comprised the decorations with which the town had arrayed itself for the occasion. Interwoven with the arch were the words, ‘Welcome to Coolgardie’, while similarly hospitable greetings appeared on the walls of buildings along each side of Bayley Street.’

Anyone who was anyone was there, as well as many who were not. The speeches, toasts and backslapping were almost endless. The shortest was made by a colourful entrepreneur named Jules Joubert, manager of the event. Joubert was an early example of a global organiser that we have become familiar with through international sporting networks and affiliations. He had parlayed an earlier involvement with the World Fair movement into a position of control and influence. Not surprisingly, he was happy. He claimed to have ‘managed fifty exhibitions, and the present one was therefore his jubilee. He would have liked to have stopped the sun for a fortnight, for then they would have had one of the best exhibitions ever seen in Australasia.’

And everyone else was in good spirits, especially when the official opening of the grand Exhibition Building finally took place. There were more speeches, of course. Premier Forrest was overflowing with praise, emphasising that the government was in full support of the Exhibition and ‘were most anxious that the Exhibition should do all its promoters desired it should do. There had been a great many sceptics and unbelievers, and people who threw cold water on the project, and if it had not been for the people of Coolgardie – supported, he thought, by himself and he might say the Government – this Exhibition would not have been in the position it was now.’

And there was more, rather a lot. But the topic that every miner and business-owner in the goldfields finally came:

There was one thing he missed, which he had hoped to see, and that was a river of water coming into the town-(cheers)-a river he had promised he would do his best to bring. And they were bringing it. People might say what they liked, they might be sceptical or disbelievers, but he could tell them that the great water scheme was raising itself up like the Temple of Jerusalem was raised silently. (Cheers.) There was no great sound of hammers going on. These hammers were, however, being applied, and in a very short time, like that magnificent edifice, this great water scheme would rear itself up, and fresh water would flow into the town. (Cheers).

A strike of wharfies at Fremantle meant that loads of exhibits being waggoned from Perth were still wending their way towards the glittering event. Despite this, the show went on with balls, orchestras and entertainments of all kinds – ‘Dancing was indulged in till after midnight.’ Over five thousand people attended on the first day and more than 60 000 were estimated to have visited by the time it ended almost three and a half months later. The Exhibition was pronounced a great success, particularly in the circumstances, as the press pointed out:

it may be safely asserted that no event of this nature has been attempted under more discouraging circumstances than those which have attended the present undertaking in this remote portion of the Australian continent, where eight years ago there was not a vestige of civilisation, and when the aboriginal, like Robinson Crusoe, was monarch of all he surveyed, but which through the discovery of gold has become a great mining centre and a hive of industry. It was undoubtedly a bold undertaking to induce the manufacturers of the old world to unite in displaying their wares and products to the population of these fields. Coolgardie being in the heart of a wilderness, and at a distance of nearly 400 miles from the sea coast, presented almost an insurmountable difficulty in this respect alone.[ii]

The city in the desert was on its way to even greater things!

But it was not to be. Rich as Coolgardie’s lodes of gold might be, they were outdone by the even richer and more abundant ores of Kalgoorlie and Boulder, not much further down the track, now known as the ‘Super Pit.’ Combined with the slump in gold prices at this period, Coolgardie began a slow decline. A School of Mines was opened in 1902 but closed a year later, supplanted by Kalgoorlie’s own school. In the 1930s the Grand Exhibition Building burned down, by which time the town was in terminal decline. Not quite a ghost town, Coolgardie today has around 900 people living there, but its glory days have long faded and its mainstay, like many bush towns, is tourism.

 

CoolgardieSchoolOfMines_WEFretwellCollection

William E. Fretwell (1874 – 1958)W.E. Fretwell Collection Photographs of William Edward Fretwell (1874 – 1958). Burned down 1929.

NOTES:

[i] The cameleers also came from various regions of India and what is now Pakistan; ‘Afghan’ was a colloquial term.

[ii] Quotations from The West Australian 22 March 1899, p. 5; see also Lynne Stevenson, ‘The Coolgardie International Exhibition, 1899’ in: Lenore Layman and Tom Stannage (eds). Celebrations in Western Australia, Studies in Western Australian History, No. 10, April 1989, pp. 100-106.

THE RETURN OF TYPHOID MARY

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‘Typhoid Mary’

 

Now she is called ‘Public Harm Auntie’ – in South Korea. In the 1980s and 90s she was known in the western world as ‘AIDS Mary’, a virulent and reckless transmitter of the HIV virus. In the twentieth-century America she was known as ‘Typhoid Mary’.

These creatures of twisted history and folklore were – and are – said to be spreading deadly disease. In early 2020, Public Harm Auntie is wantonly infecting South Koreans with Corona virus, or COVID-19.

How durable are these mass delusions, the spawn of fear and misinformation? Mary Mallon, born in Ireland in 1869 migrated to the USA where she worked as a domestic and cook for wealthy households. In 1906, it was discovered that the families she worked for had developed typhoid. It turned out that Mary was a carrier of the disease, and immune to it herself. Authorities quarantined her and later let her free on condition she never worked as a cook again. Unfortunately, Mary did. When she was discovered, she was again quarantined – for twenty-three years until her death in 1938.

Over this period, a worldwide typhoid epidemic raged, killing one in ten victims. Assisted by the press, panic erupted in America centred on Mary’s grim reaper status. Hysteria, misinformation and prejudice did their usually dirty work and Mary became the cause of untold typhoid deaths across the country.

As always, the reality was much different. Mary was a carrier who never contracted the disease herself, as were about fifty others. Mary only infected 33 people, three of whom died of the disease.

AIDS Mary (sometimes ‘Harry’) was, according to popular belief, at least as lethal. But, unlike Mary Mallon, she never existed. And while Public Harm Auntie appears to be an actual person, the alleged number of her infections with COVID-19 is undoubtedly swelled through the transmission of rumour as much as the virus.

Typhoid May, AIDS Mary (Harry) and Public Harm Auntie were [products of the pre-digital era. Now we have the greatest transmitter of falsehood, ignorance and fake news ever invented. The World Wide Web will ensure that this information virus spreads much faster than the disease itself.

REFERENCE:

David Mikkelson, ‘Did Typhoid Mary Cause the Deaths of Thousands of People?’, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/typhoid-mary/. The Snopes investigative and fact checking site is highly recommended as a vaccination against bullshit.

FACT AND FAKE – THE FIRST ANZAC DAY

anzac pak high res

Photographs by JarrahTree…commons.wikimedia.org

 

Albany historian, Douglas Sellick, presents a myth-busting guest post on the real history of Australia’s most powerful tradition. He provides the real story and also a mystery…

*

In the Western Australian town of Albany from where many single voyage troopships and two great military convoys departed for the Great War there is a recently installed  municipal memorial plinth in front of the Anglican Church on which is reported a great deal of mis-information relevant to the Anglican parish church S. John the Evangelist, its Parish Priest and the civic happenings on Anzac Day in Albany between 1918 and 1938.

The main part of the text on the parish church plinth reads:

…on the morning of 24th February 1918, a very special service was held at St. John’s Church that would shape future ANZAC Day commemorations. A mass for the war dead of World War 1 was offered by visiting Reverend and army chaplain, Arthur Ernest White. Reverend White – or Padre White as he was known – followed the service with a pilgrimage to Mt. Clarence. Atop Mt. Clarence looking across King George’s Sound, memories were conjured of the great fleet which had departed only a few years earlier. To pay tribute to the troops, “the flower of Australian manhood”, Padre White arranged for a boatman to cast a wreath into its waters.

 Also inaccurate is a local newspaper article dated Friday, April 26, 2019 which begins:

Easter dawns with tradition. Worshippers packed into St. John’s Anglican Church in Albany on Sunday for the [9.30am.] Easter Eucharist. The service followed the traditional Easter Sunday dawn service honouring Padre Ernest White, who held Albany’s first Anzac Day dawn service in 1930 at the top of Mt. Clarence…

Both these careless items are perfect examples of local “made up” or “fake history” of very important Anzac Day events and people in 1916, 1918, 1930, 1931, 1937 and 1938.

New research, focusing on the important happenings on significant Anzac Days in Albany has revealed many myths which have gone uncorrected. It is obvious the above historical information has been compiled by researchers and writers without the benefit of primary research. Their findings have been copied and used by tour guides, municipal local histories, tourist brochures and scores of popular internet sites over many years. Also, there is the municipal claim that Albany is “where the great Anzac Legend had its beginning”, which completely ignores the first military embarkation ports of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Wellington, Lyttleton, Port Chalmers and Fremantle. Alas, all these mistakes have had the effect of perpetuating Albany’s famous history myths.

What then is the true Albany story?

The true Albany Anzac Day story of 1930 must start with the 1912 arrival in Albany of the The Reverend Arthur White, BSB, London born and English trained priest-member of the Bush Brotherhood of S. Boniface in Western Australia whose Clergy House was at Williams,  a small town north on the old road to Perth. Fr. White visited Albany often in pre-war days and made a considerable number of friends. He delivered his first Albany sermon at Evensong in S. John’s Church on Sunday, 27th October 1912 and celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in Albany at the 8 a.m. in S. John’s Church on Christmas Day in 1913. The date of 24th February 1918 claiming to be the date the first Dawn Service in Albany celebrated by Fr. White is wrong. However, Fr. White was indeed in church that Sunday morning officiating at three morning services:  8am Holy Communion, 10am The Litany and 11am Matins, because the Rector, Archdeacon Thomas Louch was away from the parish. There is no record of an entry in S. John’s Service Register of any other regular Holy Communion service or Private Mass Fr. White may have celebrated during any of his recorded visits to Albany prior to 1929.

In 1930, Anglican Dawn Church Services were conducted in parish churches in Western Australia in Collie, Northam and Roebourne, and quite possibly elsewhere around Australia and New Zealand.  In 1930 Albany was just one of many places to hold an early morning Dawn Requiem service  on 25 April, which is also S. Mark’s Day in the church calendar. It is important to remember a service is a formal church ceremony of worship and cannot be applied to many of the very first informal silent gatherings of servicemen at dawn which occurred in some other places around Australia claiming to be the site of the Australia’s first dawn service.

The first Albany public Anzac Day Commemoration of the district war dead was during Matins at 11a.m. in 1916 in S. John’s Church, the names of known soldiers were first read out by the Church Warden, this event was followed by a civic service held in the Albany Town Hall organised by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, the Women’s Auxiliary and the Sons of Soldiers’ League. Later the returned Services League (RSL) organized a street parade to the Albany War Memorial on York Street. These rather clumsy parades were held in various forms for many years until the RSL officially re-organised their membership rules and parade procedures in 1925.

The Albany Anglican dawn service in 1930 was simply following a then Church of England custom of the daily early morning celebrating of the Eucharist, the tradition lasted at S. John’s for about fifty years and was never revived, being replaced on Anzac Day by the present day RSL type service and parade.

 

The Mystery of the 1930 Albany Dawn Service

In The Albany Advertiser’s first edition on 24th April 1930, under CHURCH NEWS and the heading  CHURCH OF ENGLAND appears the following announcement :

Saint John’s Church, Anzac Day.

6 a.m. Service at Dawn.  Holy Communion.

Recital of Names of the Fallen.

Procession to the War Memorial.

Laying of Wreaths.

 On Anzac Day directly after the Dawn Requiem Mass Fr. White, using a steel nib and black ink, filled in his Service Register as required by Canon Law and his Bishop. No other person is permitted to make any entry in this Register other than the parish priest. I have carefully examined Fr White’s entries, his handwriting in black ink appears hurried and spidery. However, in another hand alongside the main entry are the mysterious bracketed words ‘First Dawn Service held in Australia’ made by a wide fountain pen nib in blue ink by a person or persons unknown, it was certainly not made by Fr. White. This claim has been vigorously maintained by local parish and civic historians, they insist that this extra entry was categorically made by Father White.  If it was, how was he to know it was Australia’s first dawn service he had just celebrated?  Nor would he have added any additional entry in the Service Register.

The evidence of the extra entry suggests an un-authorised and illegal entry made in blue fountain pen ink by an ever-helpful parishioner or an interested local historian at a later date alongside the principal service entry of the day. Who made this entry? It has become one of the most poignant myths of the period. Unsuspecting local church and civic historians failed to pick up this strange discrepancy and its careless use has been accepted by many as fact and has become one of the many strange Albany historical myths, including the myth Fr White returned in 1923 for a holiday.  In 1923 he was hard at work in Broken Hill and the Riverina all that year and spending a few weeks holiday on Kangaroo Island.

 

The True  Story of the Anglican Parish Pilgrimage of 1931.

 The local tradition of an Anglican Parish Pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Clarence on Anzac Day began in 1931, not 1930, at a site now known as “Padre White’s Lookout” so named by a municipal worthy who had perhaps viewed a 1938 photograph of Fr White standing rock looking out to sea. Look-Outs are popular in scenic Albany.

The pilgrimage custom arose as follows: After the second Dawn Service Father White and some of the congregation reached the rocky summit of Mount Clarence well after dawn had passed. They gathered in silence there to remember those whose names were not recorded on parish or district war memorials but had passed by Albany throughout the war.The Albany Advertiser on Monday 27th April 1931 under its Church News column reported: ‘Following the Dawn Service at St. John’s a small party climbed Mount Clarence to over-look the anchorage where in 1914 the first convoy of transports assembled to carry the Anzacs to war’.

In the years following this simple pilgrimage initiated by Fr White, became part of the Dawn Service custom at S. John’s Church.  Many years later in Queensland he told one of the Sisters of Sacred Advent at St. Mary’s School in Herberton that he considered that climb to be his personal pilgrimage. This pilgrimage site and custom should not be confused with the present day RSL Dawn Service at the site of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial which is a short distance down from the summit of Mount Clarence. Today, a recently established RSL style service on Mount Clarence is held before a huge crowd at dawn on Anzac Day. This RSL gathering originated shortly after the relocation from Egypt of the famous Desert Mounted Corps Memorial at the head of Apex Drive just below the summit of Mount Clarence. This grand memorial, incorrectly called locally the Anzac Memorial was originally situated on the banks of the Suez Canal, was re-erected and dedicated at Albany on Sunday 11th October 1964.

 

The True  Story The Sound  Wreath and Boatman of 1937.

Early in 1937 Fr White made a suggestion to the local RSL and TocH that they might like to make arrangements for a boatman to drop a wreath into the narrow entrance of The Princess Royal Harbour. It was thought the wreath would float out into King George Sound on the early tide.  The first occasion the custom was successfully carried out by a member of the Harbour Master’s staff, standing on the end of the Harbour Master’s jetty was on Anzac Day, Sunday 25th April 1937. On the day it had been decided a boat was not necessary.

This event could not have seen from the summit of Mount Clarence as claimed by many town witnesses between 1930 and 1936 due to the fact the shoreline of King George Sound is obscured by Mount Adelaide. The tiny wreath even if it had been carried far out into King   George Sound would have been difficult to see even with powerful binoculars.  The telling of this event has confused many, lasting only a few years and declined shortly after the start of Second World War in 1940.

 

The True Story of the Famous Summit Photograph of 1938

The most frequently used black and white photograph of Father White depicting him on the summit of Mount Clarence was taken as a young girl by Mrs. Patricia Davies, the widow of an Anglican priest, a close friend of the Rector. The 1938 photograph depicts Father White standing on a large rock in silhouette in street clothes looking out to sea. This subject must be one of the more bizarre myths associated with Albany’s history. Many years later when reproduced for the first time the caption stated it depicts ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Service, 25 April 1930’.  A weirder mistake which has become a myth cannot be imagined. Father White is doing no such thing, in fact, he was enjoying a last visit to Mt. Clarence on the very day – Friday 20th May 1938 – he sailed away to become the Parish Priest at Forbes in New South Wales.

This information was given to me by Mrs Davies because I had asked her to confirm the circumstances of the photograph and sort her opinion relevant to its incorrect use. It was her opinion the photograph had fallen in the hands of an unknown amateur parish historian who misunderstood its real significance and captioned it with “made up” details. Regrettably, this photograph has been used incorrectly in many publications. This I fear is because of the surprising prominence given in the official exhibition and guide to the Albany National Anzac Centre. The official, though false, caption reads ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Dawn Service, 25 April 1930. Courtesy of St. John’s Anglican Church, Albany’.  This incorrect and absurd caption, accompanied by a very poor, disjoined biography of Father White’s priestly life, must surely rank as the source of the most ludicrous myth relating to the true site of Albany’s first Anzac Day Dawn Service in St. John’s Church. More the pity it is part of the Official Exhibition and Guide to The National Anzac Centre at The Princess Royal Fortress in Albany

 

Sources

The Albany Advertiser various editions 1914-1939, Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, Cairns Post, The Church Chronicle, The Western Australian Church News, Bunbury Diocesan Year Book, Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1953 Edition. The Anglican Religious Communities Year Book various and current issues. The RSL Listening Post, The Western Mail, Perth various editions 1911-1948. Albany Parish Service Registers 1901-1948, Batty Library of Western Australian History. The Albany Wizbang. Official Organ of the Albany Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League 1936-1941. The Link (TocH) 1926-1973 all found in the National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia and the State Library of Western Australia.

Conversations with a retired Sister of the Sacred Advent in Brisbane, a Sister of the Community of  Holy Name, Melbourne. The late Reverend Father Tony Bolt of Albany who was taught Greek and Latin by Father White, Brigadier John White, son. Father John A. Moses & George F. Davis, Anzac Day Origins: Canon D.J. Garland and Trans-Tasman Commemoration, Canberra; Barton Books, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

HOW DID LINNAEUS KNOW THAT?

Andromeda drawing by Linnaeus

Sketch by Carl Linnaeus 1734. The drawings clearly reference the Andromeda story in which the heroine is chained to a rock and in danger of being killed by a sea monster

 

Around 1444, Queen Maria of Castile had a manuscript made for her by an unknown author. The document was a collection of plants drawings, together with their medical and culinary uses. The modern system of naming and categorising plants invented by Carl Linnaeus, would not be in existence for centuries and so the plants are identified according to their folk names. One plant was named Andromeda, after the Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus.

There are many versions of most Greek myths, but the basic story of Andromeda is reasonably stable. She was the beautiful daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, rulers of an upper Nile region. Cassiopeia’s boasting of Andromeda’s great beauty offended the Nereids and as a result of this hubris, Poseidon had Cepheus and Cassiopeia’s lands ravaged by a sea monster. Cepheus and Cassiopeia chained Andromeda to a rock as a propitiatory sacrifice to the monster. Luckily, the travelling hero Perseus was in the neighbourhood and slew the monster just in time. Andromeda and Perseus were married and lived happily with many children in Greece. When Andromeda died, Athena had her whisked up to the night sky as the constellation named after her, near those of Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Ahh. Great story, no wonder people remembered it, including Linnaeus.

In the fifteenth century, and probably long before, it was believed that the Rosemary-heather was good for preserving womanly beauty, an early anti-ageing potion. Mixed with holy water into bread dough, and with the uttering of certain magical words, Rosemary-heather was believed to reverse the ravages of ageing. It seems that this knowledge, or belief, was subsequently lost.

But it was known to Linnaeus. When he came to name Rosemary-heather, he drew on this ancient knowledge to call it Andromeda polifolia, his use of that term based on the connection between the Greek myth of the beautiful Andromeda and the alleged ant-ageing properties of the plant. It used to be thought that Linnaeus had simply made up the name based on the general popularity of Greek myths, but we now know that he was making use of a traditional connection between the two.

But how did Linnaeus know that? No-one else seems to have had the knowledge. Was he heir to some informally transmitted repertoire of ancient magic and medicine? He was a man of science, but at that period the modern rational character of scientific inquiry was not fully established and scientists, including the great Isaac Newton, among others, frequently delved into or were influenced by all sorts of esoteric traditions. Alchemy, magic and mysticism often coexisted with rational inquiry and experimentation. Linnaeus’s notes on his drawing of Andromeda show that he was familiar with the esoteric tradition associated with the plant. The Latin translates as ‘fiction that is true’, ‘mysticism that is genuine’ and ‘forms that are depicted’. He happily adapted that connection to give the Rosemary-heather the scientific name it has had ever since.

We’ll probably never know the answer to this intriguing mystery. But what it does highlight is the survival of venerable knowledge and ideas over considerable periods and the transmission of that knowledge independent of formal channels. A great deal of serious scientific and medical interest is now being taken in traditional medicines of indigenous peoples around the world, as modern science re-discovers the efficaciousness of natural treatments previously ignored and refuted. This is beyond quackery and a reminder that, despite the technological and other wonders of our modern world, we don’t know everything and it pays to keep an open – and always critical – mind.

 

rosemary from ms

The Rosemary-heather as drawn in the original manuscript.

 

SOURCE:

The information and images in this post are drawn from Gerard E Cheshire, Plant Series, No. 6. Manuscript MS408. Andromeda polifolia at https://www.academia.edu/41594847/Plant_Series_No._6._Manuscript_MS408._Andromeda_polifolia, Jan 2020.

KITTY GRAVY WORKS THE SYSTEM, 1825

Mrs Gravy

Mrs Gravy

 

In the English city of Chester one day in September 1825 ‘an elderly-looking woman’ was brought before a local magistrate and the town clerk to answer a few questions. She had arrived back in London from Australia two years earlier, where she had ‘promptly been robbed of 170 pounds’.

In those days there were no social security welfare payments and those without other means of support had to apply to the parish for relief.

The interview began with the woman being asked her name:

‘Well my name, your Honour’s, a very ugly name – it’s Kitty Gravy, (dropping a curtsey) I come from the Vale of Clwyd.’

Next, they wanted to know if the woman was married;

‘Married! O yes; I are be married very often; I have had four husbands, and the last he is in Liverpool Infirmary with a broken leg, and his name’s John Joachim Gravy; a very ugly name, isn’t it your Worship?’

What His Worship replied, if anything, was not recorded but Mrs Gravy went on to tell the panel that she had been married at Botany Bay. They thought she meant a place in Chester near the canal, opposite Queen Street.

‘Pooh, no: I mean Botany Bay – the real Botany Bay, 30 000 miles off, your Honour.’

‘And what took you there?’

‘ ‘Pon my word, they transported me for seven years for doing nothing – nothing at all; God knows what for, I can’t tell. I never stole anything in my life.’

Kitty then put her hand into her ‘sinister pocket’ and drew out some papers. They turned out to include what purported to be a certificate from the Governor General of New South Wales dated twenty years earlier. On the back was a description of the ‘fair complexion’ of a much younger Kitty. When the clerk read it out ‘Mrs Kitty, looking very knowing, and with a shrug of her shoulders, exclaimed, “Aye, but it’s withered now”.’

Kitty went on to explain that Mr Gravy, a German, had been a free settler in New South Wales, living at Woolloomooloo. It was there that she had, presumably, met and married him.

All this time, Kitty ‘appeared to be in high glee’. So much so that she was rebuked for her levity by one of the Aldermen. She replied:

‘Thank your Honour, (curtseying), I’m much obliged: I paid 100 pounds for my passage home, and everyone loves poor Kitty. I’m all fair yea and nay, your Honours.’

It was then suggested by one of the interviewers that Kitty was in fact living with a Frenchman in Brighton ‘but she repelled the charge indignantly’ and went on to catalogue the history of her various husbands.

‘My first husband was James Miller, and he was a Scotchman; Thomas Wilson was my next, and he was a Hollander in the Navy; my third husband John Grace, an Irishman, from the County of Wicklow; and my fourth was John Gravy, a German. So you see (said Mrs Kitty with all the naivety of an accomplished punster) that for my last two husbands I had Grease and Gravy!’ Of the four, Kitty reckoned the first had been ‘worth them all.’

When asked when she had first married, Kitty replied:

‘Eh! The Lord knows, it’s a long while ago.’ She told the panel that she had a daughter aged 46 with six children and it was eventually decided that Kitty Gravy must have been seventy-six years of age.

Although she was asking for financial help, her fingers were decked with rings, some silver, and the papers in her ‘sinister pocket’ included a number of receipts for relief she had already received from other parishes. Whether the interviewers decided that Kitty was a deserving case for the Poor Books we do not know. But her practiced arts of flattering and cajoling the system to satisfy her needs, real or contrived, were certainly on display that day in Chester and they would also have served her well in the penal system of New South Wales.[i]

 

NOTES

[i] A broadside from The Australian of 1826, reproduced in Geoffrey Ingleton, True Patriots All, p. 104. A version of this story appeared in my Great Convict Stories.