RIVERS OF GOLD

el dorado raft

Ancient though their origins may be, the world’s many myths and legends have played an important role in history. Frightening fables of unknown southern lands, tales of lost cities and endless rumours of hidden hordes of gold motivated many of the world’s greatest explorations.

Five centuries before the common era, the Greeks knew the world was not flat. It was a globe and so, they reasoned, there must be a large landmass in the extreme south to balance the lands they knew in the northern hemisphere. The Romans embroidered the legend of a lost southern land by imagining it was peopled by strange beings who survived in great heat and necessarily walked upside down.  By the Second century AD it was widely accepted that there was a southern land, probably inhabited, and laying at the bottom of the world – somewhere. It featured on beautifully crafted European maps and charts complete with sea monsters and winged serpents. The Muslim world also produced maps that seem to represent some of Australia’s northern coastline in the Ninth century AD.

Mariners began searching for the southland from early times. It was frequently discovered, the news triumphantly announced, only to be disproved by later explorers. Many voyages undertaken by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British were inspired by the desire to solve the riddle of the mysterious continent. It would be centuries before anyone did, but these many efforts provided the world with knowledge of distant places, unknown seas, new flora and fauna and contact with indigenous peoples previously unknown to Europeans.

Other beliefs also fuelled world exploration. Stories about the ‘River of Gold’, now thought to be the Senegal River, reached southern Europe through contact with the Muslim world from perhaps as early as the Thirteenth century. But from ancient times there had been great interest in the rumoured river. Pliny the Elder and Claudius Ptolemy write about it and the Carthaginians sailed there more than four centuries BCE. A number of Arab expeditions were reported to have sought the river during the Twelfth century. Despite the unknown terrors of sea voyages in that era, people heard these yarns and went looking for the treasure. Most never returned. Or, if they did, we know nothing about it.

Despite – or perhaps because of – these uncertainties, the legend of the River of Gold grew on the tongues of traders, sailors and adventurers. An expansion of this tale based on ninth century Arab writings claimed that there was not just a river and an island but ‘Lands of Gold’ in the chief city of which gold ‘grew in the sand like carrots’ to be harvested at sunrise. Three centuries later writers were describing the magnificent gold clad horses and gold and silver-collared dogs of the king of this place (probably modern Ghana). His sons boasted gold-plaited hair and lowly pages who hefted swords mounted in gold.

Wild though these legends were, they spurred expansion into new lands, gradually filling the map of the world with facts rather than fictions. We will never know how many adventurers and treasure seekers set out to find the objects of their desire though we can be sure that most of them died in their quests. But in one case we do know the explorer’s fate.

The Spanish began their occupation of South America when Cortez conquered the Aztecs from 1519.  The astonishing amount of gold and other valuables the Spaniards found as they cut their way through the indigenous peoples rapidly established South America as a hot spot of fabled wealth. One of the most potent tales concerned an indigenous community whose kingship ritual involved covering the anointed man with gold dust – El Dorado, ‘the golden one’. Other items in the ceremony were also either made of gold or covered in the precious metal. Together with other valuables, the gold was thrown into Lake Guativita. The king went in as well, washing the gold dust from his body and adding to the riches carpeting the lake floor.

RALEIGH

By the time the Elizabethan adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh first heard about El Doradofrom a captured Spanish sailor it was no longer an individual but a place. A city of gold along an Amazonian river in the wilds of Guiana (Guyana). Slowly but steadily the lure of the golden city took hold of one of the greatest scholars and adventurers of the Elizabethan era. Raleigh had long been collecting relevant documents and maps and was well versed in the lore of the great treasure when he finally sailed to Trinidad and then to the mouth of the Orinoco River on his own quest for El Dorado in 1595. Previous unsuccessful attempts had been made from the east coast and Raleigh was not about to repeat the mistakes of others. Nor could he afford to fail.

It was a horror voyage. Raleigh’s passage through the “thick and troubled water” of the Orinoco and its endless tributaries was long, hot and arduous. Raleigh ended his account with a strong promise of untold riches. But the leaden truth was that “I gave among them [the Indians GS] many more pieces of gold than I received.” Raleigh’s quest had been a colossal failure – and he knew it. Although he did not find El Dorado, his The Discovery of Guiana (1596), provided valuable anthropological, ecological and geographic knowledge of the region. Through it he also wrote himself out of immediate trouble with his Queen, Elizabeth I.

Still a believer, Raleigh tried again in 1617. His attempt was another failure and sealed his fate with a new monarch, James I. Soon after his empty-handed return to England the great Elizabethan and earnest seeker of El Dorado was beheaded at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. In his dying speech he admitted to being “a man full of all vanity, and having lived a sinful life, in all sinful callings, having been a soldier, a captain, a sea captain, and a courtier, which are all places of wickedness and vice …”.

Misty and murky though they were, these and the many other legends of unknown lands and golden treasures had very real consequences for individuals and for the greater sweep of world exploration and discovery.

 

BRITAIN REVOKES USA INDEPENDENCE

art colors conceptual fingers

This spoof letter is a piece of modern folklore. It appeared in photocopied and early internet forms while George W Bush was POTUS (2001-2009) and purports to be the work of the famous English comedian, John Cleese. Unlikely though that is, the sentiments expressed were commonly heard at the time. Although it gives a clear view of British prejudices against America, it has an uncanny relevance to the situation from 2017 onwards. Read on, and see if you agree:

To the citizens of the United States of America:

In the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your Independence, effective today. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy.

Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint minister for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

  1. You should look up “revocation” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up “aluminium”. Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘favour’ and ‘neighbour’, skipping the letter ‘U’ is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters. You will end your love affair with the letter ‘Z’ (pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’) and the suffix “ize” will be replaced by the suffix “ise”.

You will learn that the suffix ‘burgh’ is pronounced ‘burra’ e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to respell Pittsburgh as ‘Pittsberg’ if you can’t cope with correct pronunciation. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary”. Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.Look up “interspersed”.

There will be no more ‘bleeps’ in the Jerry Springer show. If you’re Not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn’t have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary then you won’t have to use bad language as often.

  1. There is no such thing as “US English”. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of “-ize”.
  2. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn’t that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents – Scottish dramas such as “Taggart” will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. While we’re talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is “Devon”. If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become “shires” e.g. Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.
  3. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters. British sit-coms such as “Men Behaving Badly” or “Red Dwarf” will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can’t cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness.
  4. You should relearn your original national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to Get confused and give up half way through.
  5. You should stop playing American “football”. There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American “football” is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your Borders may have noticed that no one else plays “American” football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a Difficult game.

Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American “football”, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or  wearing full kevlar body armour like (nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US Rugby sevens side by 2005.

You should stop playing baseball.  It is not reasonable to host an event called the ‘World Series’ for a game which is not played outside Of America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you Will be allowed to play a girls’ game called “rounders” which is baseball Without fancy team strip, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.

  1. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don’t believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
  2. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called “Indecisive Day”.
  3. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will Start driving on the left with immediate effect.

At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

  1. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren’t even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called “crisps”. Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat. Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.
  2. As a sign of penance, 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.
  3. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all, it is lager. From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as “beer”, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as “Lager”. The substances formerly known as “American Beer” will henceforth be referred to as “Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine”, with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as “Weak Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine”. This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.
  4. From November 10th the UK will harmonise petrol (or “Gasoline” as you will be permitted to keep calling it until April 1st 2005) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US Gallon – get used to it).
  5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you’re not grown up enough to handle gun.
  6. Please tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us crazy.
  7. Tax collectors from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to1776).
  8. Last, but not the least, and for heaven’s sake…..it’s Nuclear as in “clear” NOT Nucular.

Thank you for your co-operation and have a great day

John Cleese

See previous posts on The Bullshit Detection Bureau and The Last Great Act of Defiance

 

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PARLARI – THE SPEECH OF FAIRGROUND FOLK

barth-fair

St Bartholomew’s Fair, George Cruikshank

 

The collection of sideshows, amusements and diversions that appear on parks, commons and other open areas from time to time are usually known as fairsin Britain and as carnivalsin America. Fairground folk in Britain have their own language, known as parlari(parleyaree, polari), probably spoken since the earliest formation of travelling fairs.

Strolling players, mountebanks, mummers and other such entertainers, often referred to disapprovingly as knaves,were on the roads of Britain in medieval times. Sometimes difficult to distinguish from sundry beggars and other itinerants, these acrobats, jugglers, fire-eaters, rope walkers, actors and the like performed wherever and wherever they were likely to earn a crust, preferably before the local authorities moved them on. These venues might be in properly built or makeshift theatres, at fairs and festivals or just on a street corner.

The nefarious reputation of fairs continued over time. A report from eighteenth century Essex tells of performers being jailed for ‘dancing, conversation pieces, tumbling, and fiddling and, by means of a pretended lottery and other subtle craft, deceiving and imposing on many unwary subjects of his Majesty…’.

The most famous of the many fairs was Bartholomew’s Fair, held several times a year in London until 1855. Southwark Fair was another London favourite, especially popular with sailors. In the seventeenth century it featured monkeys, then very exotic animals, an ass that walked a suspended rope and an Italian dancing girl.

In 1800 a continental visitor described one Bartholomew’s Fair, claiming it was unique in Europe. The booths were many, all featuring a noisemaking crew referred to as a ‘band’. Strolling musicians from the streets added their skills to the din, which was further amplified by the shouting of those who pretended no musical abilities at all. There were menageries, roundabouts, open air shows and theatres, many of them converted local houses, where unusual plays were performed. The Punchy and Judy shows were there, of course, along with crowds of prostitutes. Bartholomew, and other fairs, were also frequented by men and women of the respectable classes looking for a little lowlife titillation. By most accounts, they usually found it. Many fairs of this kind were gradually shut down, or carefully regulated, by concerned local authorities and respectable citizens during the Victorian era.

But travelling fairs have a rich and continuing history in Britain, despite regular predictions of their demise. Writing on the history of fairs in 1874, Thomas Frost claimed that: ‘The Nation has outgrown them and the last showman will soon be as great a curiosity as the dodo’.

Frost did not take into account the ability of show people to adapt to change, a talent that saw them rapidly adopt moving pictures after their introduction in 1896, as well as other good ideas from abroad. The popular fair attraction known as the ‘Wall of Death’, in which motorbikes are ridden in perpendicular fashion around circular walls, derives from the United States where it seems to have originated early in the twentieth century. The close-knit character of the fairground community was expressed in their special language.

Sea-On-Land

In Britain, fairground language is often called parlari and has been spoken by show people for as long as anyone knows. In some versions it includes more than a smattering of Romany, Shelta and words borrowed from a variety of western European languages. The fairground itself is known as a gaff, cheap shows being known as penny gaffs. A gaffmay also be a game that is designed to cheat its players, a usage also found in American carny. The gafferis the boss of a fairground, a term that has passed into general English slang and used with the same meaning in American circus talk. A gaff ladis a male staff member resident at the fair and a skippyis a female staff member.

Erecting a tent is a buildup, accomplished with kingpoles, while the top or roof of a tent is a tilt. A paper houseis a performance where most of the audience have been given free entrance to fill otherwise empty seats. A spotis a particular performance or act. A Dobbyor Dobby Setis a merry-go-round with fixed seats, or a galloperif all theseats move up-and-down. Dukkeringis fortune-telling. The word slangmay be used as a verb meaning to perform, or as a noun, meaning a sideshow or circus tent. To spielis to introduce an act or to announce information to the audience. This word also turns up in American carnyspeak and in Australian show lingo.

The close connection between the rumbustious entertainment of the fair and various forms of chicanery was one continued until almost to the present day. Crowds attracted pickpockets, thimbleriggers and other tricksters anxious to separate dull yokels up from the country or unwary townsfolk from their possessions.

 

For more on the rich history and culture of fairs go to the National Fairground and Circus Archive.

 

THE LOST RED RUBY OF BURMA

RubyLandBurma-CrownRuby

Hmm …

 

It is as big as a duck egg, cures afflictions and brings luck to its owner. The priceless red ruby once belonged to Burma’s last king until it mysteriously disappeared in the process of the country’s colonization by Britain in 1885. It has not been sighted since. The story of the hunt for the jewel is a convolution of fact, inference, suspicion and rumour that well demonstrates the enduring power of missing treasures to compel us to find them.

It was November 1885 when the British, worried about the security of their prized Indian possession, brought the Third Anglo-Burmese War to an end by invading the country and deposing its monarch. The king and his family were unceremoniously bundled out of their country to exile on the west coast of India. The monarch never returned to the country we now know, on and off, as Myanmar. Amongst the usual looting of antiquities and treasures that were the customary spoils of colonisers, Colonel Edward Sladen was entrusted with the political smoothing of the monarch’s removal. According to legend, he asked the king if he could inspect the fabled jewel, known as the Nga Mauk, examined it for a while then casually put it in his pocket.

Some claim the 80 caret-plus jewel was returned or that Sladen was simply holding the jewel for safekeeping. Whatever the truth of the matter, the ruby has disappeared. Sladen was knighted several months later. Since then, the Burmese royal family and subsequent generations of concerned Burmese have been trying to trace and retrieve their gem through decades of official obfuscation and indifference.

So, whereabouts is this treasure?

According to some, it is now part of the Crown Jewels shining out from the Imperial State Crown worn by the British monarch on ceremonial occasions. Others point out that this jewel is not the Burmese ruby, but a stone that adorned Henry V’s helmet at Agincourt. Another suggestion is that the ruby was cut into four and then emblazoned the Imperial Crown of India, made in 1911 when George V and Queen Mary were proclaimed Emperor and Empress of British India.

Or there is the story that Sladen simply gave the prize to his Queen. This possibility has generated yet another enigmatic trail in the quest for the Nga Mauk. According to this story, Queen Victoria had the ruby in her personal collection in the form of a bracelet and willed it to one of her daughters, the Duchess of Argyll, Princess Louise. The current descendants of the Princess have no knowledge of the piece and Princess Louise’s will is sealed, as is the practice for deceased members of the reigning royals.

There are many with a deep interest in locating and, hopefully recovering the Nga Mauk. For Burmese it is a vital symbol of a lost past and a continuing identity, which many in modern Myanmar wish to preserve. Wherever the ruby may be, it does not belong there, but to the people of that still-troubled country.

REFERENCES:
Alex Bescoby, ‘Who Stole Burma’s Royal Ruby?’, 2 November 2017 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/who_stole_burmas_royal_ruby, accessed February 2018.

© Graham Seal 2018

WIVES FOR SALE


Thomas Rowlandson, Selling a Wife, 1812 – 1814 
 

Here’s an update on an intriguing folk custom I wrote about in Great Convict Stories.

 

*
A ‘disgraceful transaction’ took place at Windsor (New South Wales, Australia) in 1811. Ralph Malkin, transported in 1801, put a rope around his wife and led her down the street seeking a buyer. He found one. Thomas Quire stumped up 16 pounds on the spot, plus a few yards of cloth.
While the better classes of society were outraged at such a ‘gross violation of decency’, wife selling was a custom practiced throughout Britain since at least the 16th century. And not only by the common folk. The 2ndDuke of Chandos is said to have purchased his second wife around 1740 and many recorded cases of the custom involve tradesmen and skilled men as the purveyors of their spouses. While the practice was not legal, it was commonly believed to be so and there was often a reluctance by magistrates to prosecute cases, particularly as, it was claimed, the women involved were agreeable to being sold.
By the time Ralph Malkin decided to offer his wife to the highest bidder in Windsor, the custom was increasingly frowned on by public opinion. The writer of the letter in which the event is recorded used words like ‘shameful’ and ‘contemptible to describe the seller and the buyer of Mrs Malkin.
 
 
But all was not as it might seem to contemporary or modern sensibilities. For a wife selling to proceed, the woman had to agree to be sold. Research on this custom indicates that in quite a few cases the women were sold to men who were already their lovers. It seems that wife selling was a form of folk divorce at a time when the average person could not afford such proceedings, or even access the legal means to achieve that state.
Prices paid for wives exchanged by this custom varied from a high of 100 pounds down to three farthings. There are even cases where wives were given away free or for a glass of beer. The price was not as important as the fact that the sale took place in public, usually a market, fair or public house. This ensured the presence of plenty of witnesses to validate the transaction. Popular participation and approval was an important element of the custom and, in some incidents, magistrates seeking to stop a wife sale were driven away by the crowd and on others the crowd refused to allow a sale to proceed if the woman was not agreeable.
An occasional reason for sale was that the wife was simply fed up with the husband, as in the case of a wife sold in Wenlock Market, Shropshire in 1830. When her husband showed signs of cold feet at the last minute she reportedly flipped her apron in his face and said ‘Let be yer rogue. I wull be sold. I wants a change.’
Selling a Wife at Smithfield Market, 1816
 
In the case of the Windsor event, Mrs Malkin (who is never named) was thought to be: ‘… so devoid of the feelings which are so justly deemed the most valuable in her sex, agreed to the base traffic, and went off with the purchaser, significantly hinting that she had no doubt that her new possessor would make her a better husband than the wretch she thus parted from.’ Which was the long-winded nineteenth century way of saying that she not only agreed to be sold but that she thought the new husband was a whole lot better than the old one.
While everyone involved in this transaction was seemingly perfectly happy with it, the local bench of magistrates investigated and determined that a breach of some law had taken place. And in any case, the three ‘base wretches’ involved quite readily admitted to their crime, if it was one. Ralph Malkin received fifty lashes and three months hard labour in irons. His wife – or ex-wife – was transported to the Coal River (Newcastle) for an indefinite period. There seems to be no record of any proceedings against Mrs Malkin’s purchaser.
Wives continued to be sold in Australia. There was a case in the Swan River colony in 1839 and another on the Mount Alexander goldfield in 1861:
‘Last Saturday week a miner residing near Cockatoo discovered that his wife was untrue to him, the gay Lothario being a miner named Sam. The latter party, a cool sort of customer, informed the husband that a row would bring no gain to either party, and that perhaps an arrangement satisfactory to both parties might be effected. The husband offered to sell his wife, tent, cooking utensils for £5.- Sam agreed to the terms, paid the money, and the husband departed.’
But Sam soon tired of his new spouse, a woman of twenty-seven years and reportedly ‘not by any means destitute of personal attractions’. He went in search of another buyer and soon found a miner willing to pay two pounds for the lady.
The belief that wife selling was legal persisted for a long time. Nineteenth century newspapers frequently pointed out that it was a ‘popular error’ but there was a recorded sale in England as late as 1913.
 

 

SOURCES

The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 March 1862, p. 2, surveying wife selling in England from 1766 to the 1830s.

Geoffrey C Ingleton, True Patriots All, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1952, p. 58; Bruce Kercher, Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters: The Birth of Civil Law in Convict New South Wales, Federation Press, 1996 pp. 66-7; ‘Wife Selling’, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, A Dictionary if English Folklore, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 390. There is a treatment of wife selling in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge(1886) and an excellent article by Lauren Padgett, ‘Brutal exhibitions of depravity’: 19th Century Wife-selling in Literature, Illustrations and Practice’ at http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/blogs/leeds-centre-for-victorian-studies/19th-century-wife-selling-in-literature-illustrations-and-practice, accessed August 2018.

The Perth and Independent Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, 24 January 1862, p. 3 (in article on state of the colony in 1939).Mount Alexander Mail, 7 June, 1861, P. 5 (reprinted from the North West Chronicle).

Dance’s Historical  Miscellany at http://www.danceshistoricalmiscellany.com/id-sell-my-wife-if-anybody-would-buy-her-wife-sales-in-england/, accessed August 2018.

 

BURYING THE DEAD HORSE

From Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas
In the days of sail, when sailors signed on to a voyage they were paid a month’s wages in advance. This was spent on clothing and equipment needed for the trip, as well as grog, women and the other necessities of a matelot’s life. Because they had to work this payment off before they were paid again, the first month of the voyage was known as ‘working off the dead horse.’ When the month was over and they began receiving their pay, they might perform a folk play known as ‘Burying the Dead Horse’
… The crew dress up a figure to represent a horse; its body is made out of a barrel, its extremities of hay or straw covered with canvas, the mane and tail of hemp, the eyes of two ginger beer bottles, sometimes filled with phosphorus.  When complete the noble steed is put on a box, covered with a rug, and on the evening of the last day of the month a man gets on to his back, and is drawn all round the ship by his shipmates, to the chanting of the following doggerel:—
BURYING THE DEAD HORSE.
You have come a long long way,
   And we say so, for we know so.
For to be sold upon this day,
   Poor old man.
You are goin’ now to say good-bye,
   And we say so, for we know so.
Poor old horse you’re a goin’ to die,
   Poor Old Man.
Having paraded the decks in order to get an audience, the sale of the horse by auction is announced, and a glib-mouthed man mounts the rostrum and begins to praise the noble animal, giving his pedigree, etc., saying it was a good one to go, for it had gone 6,000 miles in the past month!  The bidding then commences, each bidder being responsible only for the amount of his advance on the last bid.  After the sale the horse and its rider are run up to the yard-arm amidst loud cheers.  Fireworks are let off, the man gets off the horse’s back, and, cutting the rope, lets it fall into the water.  The Requiem is then sung to the same melody.
Now he is dead and will die no more,
   And we say so, for we know so.
Now he is gone and will go no more;
   Poor Old Man.
After this the auctioneer and his clerk proceed to collect the “bids,” and if in your ignorance of auction etiquette you should offer your’s [sic]to the auctioneer, he politely declines it, and refers you to his clerk!
This was how Richard (later Sir) Tangye, bound for Melbourne aboard the Parramattain 1879 recalled the ceremony aboard that ship. (Richard Tangye, Reminiscences of travel in Australia, America, and Egypt, London, 1884).
Amazingly, on the same ship and the same voyage a young man named George Haswell took the trouble to document the sailors’ work shanties. He was a skilled musician and transcribed the words and music of their songs, including the ‘Dead Horse’ ceremony described by Tangye (bottom of first page and top of second page, below, for melody).

(SLNSW)NB: Very early use of ‘folksong’ here, especially in its combined form – yes, you really wanted to know that!)
There are many other accounts of this maritime ceremony, which was extant before 1845. It must have been eerie in a probably empty sea at dusk, as well as enjoyable for crew and passengers. Certainly, all accounts involve alcohol. 
But what did it sound and look like as the crew advanced across the deck chanting and pushing or pulling a horse-shaped structure, sometimes with glowing and occasionally, if the captain allowed, with fireworks? We’ll never know. But we can hear the song in a very nice modern rendition by the Ian Campbell Folk Group.
The Dead Horse ceremony usually took place in one of the ocean regions known as ‘the horse latitudes’. Respectively, 30-35 degrees north of the equator and 30-35 degrees south of the equator, these were areas where the winds often died away, becalming sailing ships. As the legend goes, if a ship was becalmed long enough in one of these regions for the drinking water to run out, any horses (and presumably other livestock) might be thrown overboard to preserve water for the crew. A bit more folklore – might even be true!
Graham Seal

A RHYMING SLANG LETTER FROM THE IRON WRENCHES OF WORLD WAR ONE

The following rhyming slang letter appeared in a World War 1 British ‘trench journal’, or soldiers’ newspaper known as The Direct Hit of July, 1917. Apparently penned by Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF, it provides an insight into the popularity of rhyming slang among World War 1 troops. It is couched in the form of a letter to the writer’s sister, providing some news of training camp activity and expected departure to the front and of a planned visit home during an upcoming period of leave. It is unlikely that this letter was ever sent, or that it was ever meant to be; it seems more likely to have been a manifestation of the fascination for rhyming slang at the time and place, something the editor of the Direct Hit also mentions in introducing the letter. Many of the terms are not recorded in the usual compilations and dictionaries of rhyming slang, or have other meanings, and so can either be considered personal inventions of the writer and/or terms that had a brief and perhaps restricted currency among those with whom he socialised.
MY DEAR JUST-MISSED-‘ER,
Many thanks for the all-the-better and the Windsor Castle received the last pip-squeak. I am glad to hear mother and the old pot-and-pan are still keeping fit, and that the Giddy-Gaby is doing well. The contents of the parcel were highly appreciated by the Sain-Foys in my water-butt; the piper’s knees went down well for supper with a piece of mine-host made in front of the old-cove, and a drop of pig’s ear. The you-can-bets smoked like small American bars. Keep on sending the bones-and-rags. The give-and-take was one of the best, whilst the small-kits came in very handy on the stiff-as-starch.

We are all still hiding in the rob-and-pillage and expect to be here until the lager beer. I suppose we shall be going on-our-knees early in the wedding ring; it is quite time we put some of the Germans’ Hampstead Heath down their ugly nanny-goats. I am fed-up with cleaning my small-trifle to satisfy the Sergeant’s mince pie, and with firing nothing but muddy-banks.
I went sick the other day with a saucy-goat, but the oh-dear-oh! only gave me a darling-mine with Sleeping Beauty, so I went on first-aid the following day. I am pleased to say I am quite William-Tell again now, although the tough-as-leather has left me off with a bit of a up-the-hill and a slight old-toff.
I had a double-mine from Jimmy last week. He has been in the iron-wrenches for three weeks now, and so far has come through all John-Bright. He says he is going back to the fried-fillets in a day or two for a give-and-be-blest. I am glad he is safe and baker’s-round, for Jimmy was always a good world’s-endt o me.
Now I must hurry up with my you-and-me, get a wave-after-wave and a shine up just call in the always-man to light me to my white-and-red tonight, and then I’m off to the knock-me-down to see the pictures at the new near-and-far.

I am hoping to see you shortly, for I believe we are to get four day’s Adam-and-Eve. So keep you’re eye on six o’ clock, and be sure to meet me at the Birth-of-a-Nation when I let you know the only-way I am coming, and the time the might-and-main will arrive.
Write soon, and don’t forget the old-nags.
Your loving Brother, SAM.
Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF.
The rhyming slang terms used in this letter translate as:
just-missed-her  sister
all-the-better  letter
Windsor-Castle  parcel
last pip-squeak  last week
old pot-and-pan  old man (father)
Giddy-Gaby  baby
the Sain-Foys  the boys
water-butt  hut
piper’s knees  cheese?
mine-host  toast
old-cove  stove
pig’s ear  beer
you-can-bets  cigarettes
American bars  cigars
give-and-take  cake
small-kits  biscuits
stiff-as-starch  march
rob-and-pillage  village
lager-beer  new year
on-our-knees – overseas
wedding-ring  spring
Hampstead Heath  teeth
nanny-goats  throats
small-trifle  rifle
mince-pie  eye
muddy-banks  blanks
saucy-goatsore throat
oh-dear-oh!  MO – Medical Officer
darling-mine  number nine pill ( a laxative)
Sleeping Beauty  duty
first-aid  parade
William Tell  well
tough-as-leather  weather
up-the-hill  chill
old-toff  cough
double-mine  line (letter)
iron-wrenches  trenches
all John-Bright  alright
fried-fillets  billets
give-and-be-blest  rest
safe and baker’s-round  safe and sound
world’s-end  friend
you-and-me  tea
wave-after-wave  shave
always-man  batman
broom-handle  candle
white-and-red  bed
knock-me-down  town
near-and-far  cinema
Adam-and-Eve  leave
[the] six o’ clock  clock
Birth-of-a-Nation– station (from the title of D W Griffith’s movie just released at this time)
only-way  day
might-and-main  train
old-nags  fags (cigarettes)