Japanese drawing of one of the Cyprus convicts

The stench from the ship was ‘unbearable’. But the Samurai disguised as a fisherman had no choice but to board the strange vessel that appeared near Mugi on Shikoku Island in January 1830. Japan was closed to foreign shipping and the local authorities were anxious to know what had just arrived on their shores.

The secret Samurai took careful note of what he saw and heard. The ship was crewed by a rag-tag bunch of foreigners with long noses, strange gaudy clothing and a small object they stuck in their mouths, lit and inhaled. They had a dog that the Samurai thought did not look like food and were clearly in some distress, pleading for water and firewood, though not food.[i] An alcoholic drink was offered, though the Samurai declined and went back to report to his commander. After considerable discussion, the Japanese decided that the men on the strange ship were pirates and should be destroyed.

In fact, the men were escaped convicts. They had mutinied aboard the brig Cyprus in Recherche Bay, Van Diemen’s Land, five months earlier. The overcrowded brig was carrying around thirty ironed prisoners to the dreaded Macquarie Harbour penal station but became storm bound for a week during which the convicts plotted a mutiny. Four were able to seize the ship. They unchained their fellow transports and then sent ashore any who did not want to join them, along with the soldiers, sailors and civilian passengers. Forty-four were cast away on the beach and later rescued through the bravery of one of the convicts marooned with them. One of them was a convict named William Pobjoy, who had deserted the mutineers in favour of the castaways. He would play a crucial role near the end of an epic tale.

The eighteen convicts still aboard the Cyprus sailed boldly into the Pacific Ocean for a life of piracy and plunder. Their only experienced sailor was a man who named himself for a free-flying bird, William Swallow. His real name was William Walker, though he had a long list of other criminal aliases and a colourful record. Born in 1792, Walker was transported for stealing, arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in 1829. The records describe him as nearing five foot nine inches in height with brown hair, blue eyes and a small scar across his nose and chin. He was married with three children.[ii] He escaped back to England, where he was eventually recaptured and tried under an alias, escaping a likely death sentence for returning from transportation. Back in Van Diemen’s Land, he again attempted to escape, for which crime he was being sent to Macquarie Harbour aboard the Cyprus.

Now William Swallow and his companions were praying for the Japanese to stop firing on their bedraggled vessel. They had been given a few days to leave but a lack of wind prevented their departure. This delay gave the Japanese time to confirm that the ship was British, and so, a legitimate target. Their warning ‘hail of cannon and musketoon balls’ became a fusillade of cannon balls aimed at the waterline. Two smashed into the ship. There was nothing for William Swallow and the other convicts to do but pray. Their prayers were answered when the Japanese decided to help them out with some advice about the weather and winds, allowing them to set sail and drift away to sea. After dusk the Japanese heard the strains of ‘a strange pipe and singing’ from the Cyprus as it floated away to China.[iii]

Without much experience as navigators they managed to reach China, losing only one man overboard. Three more departed the crew and in February 1830, the remaining mutineers scuttled the Cyprus and took to the ship’s boat with the aim of pretending they were shipwrecked sailors. The authorities in Canton believed their lies and the convicts scattered. Some headed for America never to be heard from again, but Swallow and three others sailed for England. 

While they were in transit, news of the mutiny on the Cyprus reached Canton and one of the convicts who had remained there confessed to the crime. A fast ship carried the news to England and when Swallow and his accomplices arrived there six days later the authorities were waiting. Swallow managed to escape but was later recaptured. Not only did Swallow tell convincing lies about how the other fugitives had forced him to sail the Cyprus, but Pobjoy was now in London and prepared to testify against them. Two of Swallow’s accomplices were hanged but he escaped the noose by convincing the court that he acted under intimidation and navigated the ship to save himself. He was found not guilty of piracy and sentenced to serve out the remainder of his sentence. For the third time, he sailed to Van Diemen’s Land and arrived at the destination of his original voyage – two years late. He died in 1834 at another notorious prison a few years after returning to penal servitude. William Walker alias, among other names, William Swallow, was laid to rest in an unmarked grave on the Isle of the Dead, the Port Arthur cemetery.

The sensational story of the mutiny and subsequent voyage of the Cyprus inspired a defiant ballad that vividly put the prisoner’s point of view and added another item to the clandestine traditions of convict underculture. 

Come all you sons of Freedom, a chorus join with me, 
I’ll sing a song of heroes, and glorious liberty. 
Some lads condemned from England sail’d to Van Diemen’s Shore, 
Their Country, friends and parents, perhaps never to see more.

Unlike the official view of the escape, the convicts knew Bill Swallow and his runaway mates had indeed made it to Japan:

… For Navigating smartly Bill Swallow was the man, 
Who laid a course out neatly to take us to Japan.

These triumphant verses of convict revenge concluded:

Then sound your golden trumpets, play on your tuneful notes, 
The Cyprus brig is sailing, how proudly now she floats. 
May fortune help the Noble lads, and keep them ever free 
From Gags, and Cats, and Chains, and Traps, and Cruel Tyranny.[iv]

Even as late as the 1960s an elderly Tasmanian could sing a version of this ballad to a visiting folklorist and it can still occasionally be heard today performed by revival folksingers. It was one of many similar ballads in the underground repertoire of convicts.

From Condemned: The Transported Men, Women and Children Who Built Britain’s Empire

Book Details

[i] They had plenty, as the Cyprus was provisioned to supply the penal station.

[ii] ‘William Swallow’, Convict records at, accessed April 2019, citing Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 89, Class and Piece Number HO11/6, Page Number 538.

[iii] Joshua Robertson, ‘Australian Convict Pirates in Japan: Evidence of 1830 Voyage Unearthed’, The Guardian, 28 May 2017 at, accessed August 2018.

[iv] John Mulvaney, The Axe had Never Sounded: Place, People and Heritage of Recherche BayTasmania, ANU E Press, c. 2007.


Jack was the last child born into a working-class family of Canterbury, England in 1929. There were two older brothers and three older sisters. According to family recollections, the boy was a bit of a handful for his ageing parents and seems to have been mostly reared by his sisters.

Jack playing at his flat in Bromley, c. 1980s.

The pivotal moment of his life came in late May and early June 1942, the Luftwaffe firebombed Canterbury Cathedral and parts of the ancient city. This brutally pointless act was one of the barbarisms known as the ‘Baedeker Raids’. The complete destruction of Coventry cathedral is nowadays the best-known consequence of these raids and was revenged several years later in equally brutal act of revenge by the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945.

In Canterbury, fortunately, the damage was much less severe, largely through the bravery of the volunteer firewatchers who waited on the roof of the great monument, picking up and throwing down to the ground enormously dangerous phosphorous firebombs, often as their fuses were burning. The night sky around the cathedral and the city was ablaze with bright chandelier flares and the incendiary bombs that followed them down. 

On every night of the raids, young Jack rushed to the bottom of the garden of the family terrace home, transfixed by the flames, the noise and the anti-aircraft fire. They said he was never quite the same again.

In August the following year, Jack was placed on probation for stealing money. He was subsequently referred to a child guidance clinic but by October 1944 he was held at the Philanthropic Society’s Approved School at Redhill, again for stealing money. After finishing school, he worked in various jobs as a labourer, errand boy and lift porter. 

In November 1946, he enlisted in the RAF as an Aircraftman, stationed at Cottesmore Royal Airforce Station, Rutland. Eighteen months later, while on leave, he was arraigned at the Kent Assizes. Jack had been arrested for setting fire to the Canterbury Probation Office and, in a separate incident, a motor car.

It turned out that Jack had already torched four other targets in Canterbury and another four at Cottesmore, including a Nissen hut used as a cinema and a firing range. He was pronounced insane and admitted to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in July 1948. Today, he would probably be diagnosed with autism. Jack was nineteen years old.

According to the sparse records released by Broadmoor, Jack weighed eight stone seven pounds and was five feet seven-and-a-half inches tall on admission. He had fair hair, hazel eyes and was described as ‘pale and thin.’ He went to Block 7 for patients under close supervision. Here, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, together with a ‘disordered personality’ and learning disabilities. Family members were allowed to write and visit and, from 1949, began regularly petitioning for a discharge, unsuccessfully. 

In 1951, Jack went to Block 5 for convalescing patients and by 1955 he was declared free of mental illness, though still suffering from an unspecified personality disorder, seemingly due to his occasionally disruptive behavior and a lack of insight into his crimes. Discharge requests continued to be denied as he was thought to be a high reoffending risk. 

A new Mental Health Act began in 1959, allowing for tribunals to assess discharge requests. Jack’s first two tribunals were unsuccessful, but in 1966 the third recommended a discharge to a local hospital. This was overruled by the Home Office, though he was moved to the ‘parole block’ that year, where he began to join in communal and constructive activities. He contributed to the hospital’s newspaper, the Broadmoor Chronicle, and took a very active and vocal role in the Broadmoor cricket team. 

Up to this point, Jack had worked mainly as a cleaner, now he was employed in the handicraft room and became a member of the block committee. He continued his interest in bowls, table tennis and gardening, as well as cricket, and was an excellent self-taught pianist. In the parole block he became known to his fellow inmates by the nickname ‘Rasher’, possibly because of his fondness for bacon.

After another tribunal, Jack was finally discharged – with conditions – into the care of family members in October 1968. Courtesy of the Home Office, he had done his twenty years. But Jack was still not completely free, there were five years of monitoring conditions attached to his liberty.

He was sent to a clerical position at the Southern Electricity Board but left after a few months to take up a succession of jobs as a labourer, car cleaner, then a short stint at Woolworths, all punctuated by periods of unemployment. In September 1971, Jack joined the Civil Service as a messenger. His discharge conditions ended in December 1974, and Broadmoor had no further hold on his life. He moved out from the family and lived independently from that time onwards, mostly in Bromley.

Despite the bonds of affection, Jack’s relationship with the family had been severed by prison and was strained in freedom. He rarely attended family gatherings, though he was a surprisingly cheery jokester. Slight, sharp and faintly bird-like, he chain-smoked – rollies, not tailor-mades – a habit he picked up in Broadmoor. Jack was a self-taught master of the piano keys and had an encyclopedic knowledge of his passion, the cricket. He dressed neatly, lived an austere life and died alone in 1993. 

Jack, probably in his back yard at Bromley. The upturned horseshoe on the brick wall is for luck.


Hokie Pokie Wankie Fum – The King of the Cannibal Islands by William Heath, published by Thomas McLean
hand-coloured etching, published 22 July 1830. 10 1/8 in. x 14 1/4 in. (256 mm x 362 mm) plate size; 11 in. x 16 5/8 in. (279 mm x 422 mm) paper size. Bequeathed by Sir Edward Dillon Lott du Cann, 2018. National Portrait Gallery. Used with permission Under CC Licence.


Oh, have you heard the news of late,

About a mighty king so great?

If you have not, ’tis in my pate?

        The King of the Cannibal Islands.

So began a broadside ballad of the early nineteenth century, a song that would live on in popular culture for generations. Herman Melville knew it, fragments ended up in a mid-twentieth century children’s rhyme and it became a popular folk dance tune. 

Who was the King of the Cannibal Islands’, and why was such an inane piece of doggerel so popular for so long?

According to the song, the King was  

‘… so tall, near six feet six.

He had a head like Mister Nick’s,

His palace was like Dirty Dick’s,

‘Twas built of mud for want of bricks,

And his name was Poonoowingkewang,

Flibeedee flobeedee-buskeebang;

And a lot of Indians swore they’d hang

The King of the Cannibal Islands.

Hokee pokee wonkee fum,.

Puttee po pee kaihula cum,

Tongaree, wougaree, chiug ring wum,.

The King of the Cannibal Islands.[iv]

The initial cause of the song’s composition was a grisly tale of shipwreck and mystery.

After transporting a cargo of convicts to Sydney Cove in 1809, the Boyd under Captain John Thompson sailed from Sydney in October that year. Aboard were around seventy passengers and crew, including a number of Maori, one a chief’s son named Te Ara. Thompson was keen to obtain some kauri spears to add to his cargo of seal skins, coal, lumber and whale oil. Te Ara recommended Whangaroa where his people lived and where he assured Thompson there were excellent stands of kauri.

The Boyd moored and Te Ara went to greet his kin after a long absence. The Maori came aboard the ship and relations were cordial at first, until Thompson took a small boat party ashore to search for spears. They never returned. The Whangaroa Maori clubbed and axed them all to death. The Maori then rowed out to the Boyd and began to massacre those aboard, dismembering the victims while a few survivors watched in horror from the rigging. 

At the end, only five of those aboard the ship escaped the butchery, aided by Te Pahi, a visiting Maori chief from the Bay of Islands apparently shocked at the scene.  One survivor was later killed, leaving Ann Morley and her baby, a two-year-old Betsey Boughton and cabin boy Thom Davies in dangerous captivity.

What caused such brutal events?

At some point before the Boyd reached Whangaroa, Te Ara was lashed to a capstan and either flogged or threatened this punishment by Captain Thompson for his refusal to work his passage. He protested that he was a chief’s son and should not be so basely punished but was mocked by the sailors and denied food. This was a loss of face among his people triggering an obligation to take revenge. [i] A dreadful vengeance it was.

According to the rescuers under Alexander Berry who arrived at the scene in December there was evidence of mass cannibalism. As Berry later wrote: ‘The horrid feasting on human flesh which followed would be too shocking for description’.[ii] They also found the charred remains of the Boyd, apparently blown up when the Maori tried unsuccessfully to make use of the muskets and gunpowder aboard. The flames ignited the whale oil and the ship quickly burned and sank, a number of Maori, including, including Te Ara’s father, dying in the conflagration. 

Assisted by Maori from the Bay of Islands, Berry secured the safe return of the four survivors as well as the government despatches and private letters carried by the Boyd. Betsey was in a poor condition, crying ‘Mamma, my mamma’.[iii]After threatening the killers with a murder trial in Europe Berry relented, avoiding further bloodletting, though so great were tensions in the region that a planned mission settlement was postponed for several years.

Berry took the remaining four survivors on his ship. They were bound for the Cape of Good Hope but suffered storm damage and eventually ended up in Lima, Peru. Here Mrs Morley died. Davies went to England aboard another ship and the two children went with Berry to Rio de Janeiro and then to Sydney.

Meanwhile, news of the massacre, cannibalism and capture of the survivors fuelled darker emotions. Men from a small fleet of whalers attacked Te Pahi and his people. This seems to have been a complete misunderstanding of the massacre as Te Pahi by most accounts tried to help the Europeans. Berry may have confused the similar names of the two chiefs in his account of what had happened. Up to 60 Maori and one whaler died in this misguided act of revenge. Te Pahi then attacked the Whangaroa Maori and died from wounds dealt in battle.

In later life, Thom Davies returned to New South Wales where he worked for Berry but was drowned on an expedition to the Shoalhaven River with Berry in 1822. Betsey Broughton married well, living until 1891. Mrs Morley’s daughter eventually ran a school in Sydney.

As the story of the Boyd massacre became more widely known in Britain and beyond, it encouraged both shock and humour. The grisly tale of blood, betrayal, cannibalism and survival fuelled the growth of a ‘savage natives’ stereotype that would become the stock in trade of rip-roaring adventures and south seas island concoctions for decades to come. Pamphlets appeared, warning people against migrating to such dangerous places. Popular comic songs like ‘The King of the Cannibal Islands’ were based on this and other colonial encounters, reflecting European attempts to process such dramatic cultural and social differences through absurdity.

By Louis John Steel (1842-1918) – Unknown source, Public Domain,

[i] New Zealand History, ‘A Frontier of Chaos? The Boyd Incident’,

[ii] Augustus Earle, A Narrative of Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand in 1827, Whitecombe & Tombs Limited, London, 1909, chpt 11 at, accessed November 2016.

[iii] Alexander Berry in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, volume 83, 1819, p. 313.

[iv] Eric Ramsden, ‘The Massacre of the Boyd’, The World’s News, 29 April 1939, p. 6,|||l-format=Article|||l-decade=193|||sortby=dateAsc|||l-year=1939|||l-category=Article , accessed February 2021.

[v] National Library of Scotland,, accessed November 2016.


Source: BBC History of the World at, accessed December 2020 (site no longer maintained), with this caption: ‘… This unique rolled painting with its carrying case, was used to initiate new members with illegal oaths administered with a Bible and pistol. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were prosecuted after asking a sign painter to make them a similar image. The skeleton, sun, moon, hour-glass and scythe were familiar to all working people as symbols of their hard lives and mortality. The painting is believed to originate in the West Midlands, but was discovered in 2004 in Colorado, USA…’

Secret societies of one kind or another have been around forever. Familiar examples are the various form of Freemasonry to which many people – mainly men – have belonged over many centuries. Although its origins lie in the trade secrets and self-protection needs of stone masons, the modern Freemason’s movement has long been a highly formalised and respectable organisation, with ‘temples’ in plain sight and making considerable contribution to the betterment of society.

But there are other types of secret society with similar origins yet much more covert and basic than the masons. These take the form of groups that started to form in the eighteenth century to protect occupational secrets, help each other out and generally protect their members from employers and others with more money and power than themselves. Possibly devolutions of medieval craft guilds, these societies operated covertly within the lower levels of rural and, to some extent, urban society, employing secret passwords, initiation rituals and oaths of loyalty unto death. The ‘Miller’s Word’ and, later, the ‘Horseman’s Word’, were among these folkloric keepers of secrets and traditional wisdom that gave them, it was believed by some, magical powers. 

“So help me Lord to keep my secrets and perform my duties as a horseman. If I break any of them – even the last of them – I wish no less than to be done to me than my heart be torn from my breast by two wild horses, and my body quartered in four and swung on chains, and the wild birds of the air left to pick my bones, and these then taken down and buried in the sands of the sea, where the tide ebbs and flows twice every twenty four hours – to show I am a deceiver of the faith. Amen.”[i]

Among their other useful purposes, these societies functioned as basic trade unions for their members, protecting their privileges and standing – and so their wages and conditions – within the rural occupational hierarchy and providing some group solidarity when required.

Interestingly, one of the famed early attempts to form a rural trade union at Tolpuddle in Dorset, also featured lurid initiation rites. These seem to have been similar to the secret oath taking of the Words, with the addition of some more theatrical elements, such as the display of a skeleton. Other early attempts to form a trade union, in this case by the bricklayers of Exeter, could involve ritualistic paraphernalia and covert as described by the police who arrested the men at the Sun Inn, Exeter in 1834:

Upon entering the room we found a great number of persons present, I believe about sixty. We found also in the room the articles now exhibited which consisted of a figure of death with the motto, ‘Remember thy latter end’, two wooden axes, two drawn swords, two scabbards, two masks, two white garments, a Bible, a book marked ‘A’ and diverse papers. “When I came into the room, several of the men – I saw three or four – appeared to have been blindfolded and I saw them pulling the handkerchiefs, with which they had been blinded, from their eyes.”

In another troubled context, convicts on Australia’s notoriously brutal Norfolk Island were said to have formed a secret fraternity known as ‘The Ring’, which policed relations between the gaolers and the gaoled and dealt out justice to any who broke the rules. They too were said to have colourful ceremonies and chilling oaths, including this one:

Its initiations involved drinking blood, accompanied by a dreadful oath of eternal loyalty. When the Ring decided to meet, word went through the prison that no non-member, including guards, should enter the prison yard. The leader, known as ‘the One’, entered the yard first and faced a corner of the wall. He was followed by the Threes, Fives, Sevens and Nines, each arrayed in a semi-circle behind him. All were masked. Satanic prayers were intoned:

Is God an officer of the establishment?

And the response came solemnly clear, thrice repeated:

No, God is not an officer of the establishment.

He passed to the next question:

Is the Devil an officer of the establishment?

And received the answer–thrice:

Yes, the Devil is an officer of the establishment.

He continued:

Then do we obey God?

With clear-cut resonance came the negative–

No, we do not obey God!

He propounded the problem framed by souls that are not necessarily corrupt:

Then whom do we obey?

And, thrice over, he received for reply the damning perjury which yet was so true an answer:

The Devil–we obey our Lord the Devil!

And the dreaded Convict Oath was taken. It had eight verses:

Hand to hand, 

On Earth, in Hell,  

Sick or Well,  

On Sea, on Land,   

On the Square, ever.”   

And ended — the intervening verses dare not be quoted —   

” Stiff or in Breath,  

Lag or Free,  

You and Me,  

In Life, in Death,   

On the Cross, never.”  [ii]

A cup of blood taken from the veins of each man was then drunk by all.

After these rites were performed, the Ring would conduct their business. Usually it was a trial and sentence of suspected collaborators among the convict population or of any of their gaolers who showed an inclination to be lenient to the prisoners.

Most of his comes from later fictioneers, such as ‘Price Warung’ (William Astley) and Marcus Clarke and is obviously gussied up to chill their readers. Historians have queried whether there ever was a ‘Ring’. Probably. Prison gangs are, and were, commonplace. Was it ever this gothic? Highly unlikely. But the documented existence of the secret societies of millers, horsemen and early trade unionists, with their traditional skills, self-protection and folk magic, suggest that the existence of such groups was possible.

The beliefs and the needs behind such organisations were powerful enough to create and maintain them, often over considerable periods of time, at least in the occupational if not the penal contexts. It is thought that the Horsemen’s Word was still well entrenched in parts of Scotland and East Anglia until the 1930s, by which time, of course, their competitive advantage had disappeared with the mechanisation of pretty well everything and the fading of the horse from serious work.

Printed in 1834 by E.C. Tufnell, one of the Factory Commissioners in Character, Object and Effects of Trade Unions. It is believed the Tolpuddle men used a similar form of initiation. Source: Graham Padden, Tolpuddle: An historical account through the eyes of Georges Loveless compiled for the Trades Union Congress, p. 11.

[i] Neat, Timothy (2002). The Horseman’s Word: Blacksmiths and Horsemanship in Twentieth-Century Scotland. Edinburgh: Birlinn.

[ii] Marcus Clarke For the Term of His Natural Life, first published in serial form in the Australian Journal between 1870-1872. ‘Price Warung’ (William Astley), wrote a number of related stories based on interviews with convicts, beginning with ‘The Liberation of the First Three’ in his Tales of the Convict System, Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1892.

The Big Book of Great Australian Bush Yarns

Who are these blokes and what are they talking about?

Just in time for Christmas, my new book is a repackaging of the original editions, unavailable for some years, but back by popular demand. As you can tell from the title, it is a collection of Aussie yarns, legends, lore and language aimed at the interested general reader.

The cover photograph, sourced by the publisher, was a mystery. It was ideal for the book, but where did it come from and who are the men in it? Turns out that they are the ancestors of reader Rhonda Orr, who writes:

… The chap on the right is my Great Grandfather, Mr David Hughes.  The chap to the left of him is Mick Ryan and the next one is Paddy Cullen. The younger male in the background near the horses (on back cover) is my Great Grandfather’s eldest son Roy Hughes (approx age 16). My grandfather was his younger son, Merlin Hughes (not pictured).

Roy Hughes went on to be the first ACT Police officer appointed as a mounted Constable in 1927 based at Duntroon.

The photo was taken around 1915-1917 (?) somewhere on the Jenolan Caves road around Rydal (NSW) area, which is where they lived around that time…

Thanks Rhonda!

If you fancy a good read, or know someone who would, you can buy the Big Book of Great Australian Bush Yarns here or anywhere online. (It has plenty of stories about the cities, outback and oceans, as well).

The Grace Darling of New Zealand

Hūria Mātenga

With a rope around his waist, Henry Squirrel clambered down the bow of the foundering Delawareand disappeared into the pounding waves. It was just before 9 0-clock on a Friday morning in September 1863. A gale had taken away the Delaware’s jib and main anchor, forcing Captain Baldwin to drive his 241-ton brigantine onto the rocky and desolate coast near Wakapuaka in an attempt to save the lives of his charges. 

Smashed insensible against the rocks, the valiant chief mate was only just hauled back onto the deck as the winds howled through what was left of the masts and rigging. They laid him on a bunk in the forecastle and tried to bring him round. He spoke briefly but then relapsed and they moved his body to the deckhouse. No one else volunteered to try to get a lifeline to the shore. Without it all eleven aboard the ship were doomed.

But just then five figures appeared on the empty beach. Four Maori men and a Maori woman. Led by the woman, they plunged straight into the dangerous surf, making for a rock near the stricken vessel. They reached it and scrambled onto its slippery surface. The crew of the Delaware managed to throw them the weighted lead line used for calculating the depth of water. 

The rescuers swam back to shore, dragging the line to which the sailors had attached a long cable. Two men remained on the beach to hold the lifeline while the woman and the other two men again swam to the ship. They held themselves steady in the pounding waves helping the shaken survivors haul themselves to safety. One by one they struggled to the sand, alternately jerked into the air, then dropped beneath the waves as the ship rolled towards the shore then back towards the crashing seas.

Remaining aboard until the end of the rescue, Captain Baldwin was finally brought to the shore. Just as he was landed, the cable that had miraculously held as the crew and only passenger and crew were helped to safety, parted. But all was well. An amazing rescue had been carried out with the loss of only one life.

But an hour or so later, to the horror of everyone on the beach, they spotted the mate on the deck of the Delaware calling for help. He had recovered consciousness and was searching desperately for a way to escape the foundering ship. But no one could help him:

‘Those who had been saved frequently went down to the water’s edge, and gave him cheering words; telling him to hold on until the tide should turn, and that then he certainly would be rescued.’

Henry Squirrell managed to make his way along the deck and catch hold of the rigging. He held on but ‘At length fatigue, and, no doubt, the injuries received when in the water, caused him to loose his hold, he was washed overboard …’ [i]

As these grim events took place, the Maori rescuers warmed, fed and sheltered the lucky ten on the beach and in their pah. Next day the storm had blown itself out. Broken crates, torn blankets, shawls, saddlery and clothing strewed the sand for two miles. The battered remains of Henry Squirrel, the bravest man on the Delaware, were washed ashore as well. Captain Baldwin went to the beach: 

‘I went down and saw a dead body, and after cutting away his clothes which were then lying over his face, I was that it was the body of my chief mate. I assisted to carry his body up out of reach of the tide, where it now lies.’

The bravery of the Maori rescuers was highlighted at the inquest, especially that of the woman. Her name was Hūria Mātenga – Julia to the British settlers. She was given fifty pounds, as were her husband Hemi (Martin) and Rotate (Robert). The other two men received ten pounds each, considerable sums in that time. Each of the rescuers also received a gold watch and the deserved acclamation of the settlers. 

Inevitably, Julia was hailed as the ‘Grace Darling of New Zealand’, after the Longstone Lighthouse Keeper’s daughter who played a major role in rescuing survivors of the Forfarshire, wrecked off the Northumberland coast in 1838. Grace Darling was known throughout the British empire as a great heroine:

And like her, Julia, your name and deed will find a place in local history. Your brave act is one of which a queen might be proud. We present you with a watch whereon your children and their successors may read with pleasure an inscription which testifies to the esteem in which you are held by the settlers of Nelson.

Hemi responded in his own language, saying that the Maori wished only to save the lives of their shipwrecked European friends and had no thought of receiving any reward.[ii]

[i] Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxii, issue 86, 8 September 1863, an eyewitness account.

[ii] Alfred Sanders, History of New Zealand, 1642–1893, 2 vols, 1896-1899


Talmey list

The language of romantic love was once said to consist of ‘sweet nothings’ meant to be whispered softly into the ears of the beloved. But on the wilder shores of human sexuality is an extensive glossary of words and phrases generally considered rather too rude for polite society. An American sexologist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bernard Simon Talmey, made an intensive study of sexual practices and wrote several books about his findings. To conform to the proprieties of the era, he used Latin to describe what was going on. Rather a lot, in fact.

But readers complained that they couldn’t understand these terms and so, in the subsequent editions of his Love: A Treatise on the Science of Sex-attraction (1919) he provided translations of the Latin. Few of these terms, or the situations they describe, would raise an eyebrow today. Some are completely banal, such as Pernoctare, to ‘spend the night’ and conjux meaning a ‘husband’. Others are suggestive of more adventurous behaviours, mainly referring to male and female genitalia and their excitation, such as cunnilingus and fellatio, defined as ‘sucking (obscene)’. Here’s a sample of Talmey’s code in action.

The girl, a domestic servant, was always moral before her illness. When she began suffering from hysterical attacks, amato liberos in fidem suam commissos exhibebat ad constuprandum et noctu pectators rerum turpium eos faciebat, while the whole household was asleep under the influence of narcotics. When she was discovered and driven out of the house, the formerly modest girl became shameless and finally meretricium fecit.

It basically means that the girl engaged in self-masturbation and ended up as a prostitute, a typically Victorian moral consequence.

However, the range and variety of human sexual activities covered in this book might occasionally challenge even modern readers.

Rosse reports the case of a young white, unmarried woman in Washington who was surprised in flagrante delicto with a large English mastiff, who in his efforts se solvere a puella caused an injury of such a nature that she died from hemorrhage within an hour.

If you’re game, you can read all about it here.

A TIME FOR HEROES Anzac Day 2020


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






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


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.