Saturday, December 27, 2008

Uncle David

Uncle David, on the verandah at Balmadies, Metung, teaching me all about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

David William Pearson Borthwick (1921-2000) was Mum, Uncle John and Aunt Anne’s eldest brother. He was a yachtsman, pilot, farmer, and great friend to many. A fourth generation Gippslander, he was born and spent his early years at Raeshaw, his parents’ sheep property at Fulham, near Sale.

On May 9, 1927, with his parents, David witnessed the opening of the Provisional Parliament building in Canberra by the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), an occasion upon which every aircraft in the fledgling R.A.A.F. was excitingly grounded, and all the pilots returned to Point Cook unhurt, but by train. Clearly, aged six, from that moment only the Air Force would do.

At nine, David went to Geelong College as a boarder. He was a prefect, and represented the school in rowing and athletics.

In 1940, David entered Ormond College to study engineering at the University of Melbourne. War had broken out in Europe, and he volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force as air crew. As a member of the Empire Air Training Scheme, he trained at Somers, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and in England. After six weeks’ operational training on Hurricanes, at Unsworth in Lancashire, he was posted to the Middle East.

Shortly after arriving in Cairo David contracted malaria, and went to the Sudan to recuperate. His host was Douglas Dodds-Parker,
governor of the Blue Nile province, not far from the Ethiopian border, such as it was, who gave David a lasting interest in the region.
Dodds-Parker was a veteran of the Sudanese Political Service in the Anglo-Egyptian administration, and closely involved in the Special Operations Executive push to restore the Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne, a goal that was attained rather easily in 1941, to the lasting humiliation of the approximately 20,000 Italian personnel who were captured by an allied force not much larger than 1,700 men.

When travelling by camel with His Excellency on imperial business, David celebrated his twenty-first birthday (August 8, 1942) in a mud hut in Khartoum.

He then joined 450 Squadron flying Kittyhawks, and took part in ground strafing, escorting light bombers and dive bombing operations before, during, and after the Battle of El Alamein (July 1942).

On November 9, 1942, David was shot down by a Messerschmidt Me109. It was reported that his aircraft had crashed in flames, and that there was no chance of survival. However, he had parachuted clear of the plane, an instant before it crashed behind enemy lines.

He was severely wounded in both legs, and was unable to walk. Knowing that the British forces were advancing, he bandaged his legs with pieces of his parachute and set out, crawling backwards for four days in a sitting position, using his hands for propulsion. He survived by eating beetles, and drinking dew. On the fifth day he was found by two Bedouin who helped him reach and cross the British lines.

David was in hospital in Cairo for six months before returning to Australia in a hospital ship.

After more rehabilitation, he was posted to various bases in Australia before returning to operational flying in 1944 with 78 Squadron on Noemfoor Island (in the Papua province of the Dutch East Indies’ western portion of New Guinea). He was mentioned in despatches for the second time after leading an attack on a heavily defended Japanese base.

In December, his legs were causing him difficulties, and he was sent down from the islands.

The R.A.A.F. offered him an intelligence job but, rejecting the idea of not flying, he resigned from the Air Force and joined Australian National Airways as a commercial pilot.

During the next four years, he flew DC2s, DC3s, and the very rare DC5 on the Sydney, Brisbane, Broken Hill, and Tasmanian routes. In 1949, he resigned from A.N.A., and bought a farm through the Soldier Settlement Scheme at Giffard, on the shore of Bass Strait, along a stretch of the Ninety Mile Beach in East Gippsland.

He developed a productive farm, rearing sheep and Hereford cattle. He was an early and vigorous experimenter with techniques of cultivating salt-tolerant plants for his livestock.

David was also one of the original members of what would eventually become the Metung Yacht Club.

In 1986, he bought Chindrina, a 26-foot yacht which he and his two sons, my Borthwick cousins Ian and Keith, sailed from Hobart, Tasmania, across Bass Strait to Metung.

In 1970, he sailed down to Hobart again (with Dad and their old friend Kenneth Aitken as crew), but most of his sailing was around the Gippsland Lakes, either solo, or with a crew of family, and friends. The occasionally shambolic Marley Point Overnight race became an annual event from its inception, with his children and grandchildren all assisting.

David Borthwick died on September 1, 2000, after having suffered a stroke, and was survived by his wife Jeanie, two sons, and six grandchildren.
Acknowledgment: This obituary was written by David’s son, Keith Borthwick, with the help of family and friends, and appeared in The Age newspaper (Melbourne) on November 17, 2000. It is here slightly augmented.
David and Jeanie also had a daughter, Janet, who was my godmother.

As a little girl she had been a bridesmaid at Mum and Dad’s wedding in 1949, and Mum was especially attached to her.

She grew up, followed both her parents to the University of Melbourne (and her mother to Women’s College, as it was then known), and afterwards worked for a time in counter-intelligence circles. The authorities were somewhat taken aback when Uncle David robustly sought assurances (in person) that Janet’s undercover activities would not put her in harm’s way.

On one occasion she tailed a visiting Soviet agricultural delegation to Wangaratta, and it would be amusing to know exactly what information the K.G.B. gleaned en route—interesting ways with manure, perhaps?—and what information Janet noted in the relevant file; I do not know if she spoke any Russian.

Janet got married at St. George
’s Church of England, Malvern, to which ceremony I was allowed to go, wearing an extremely fetching pair of bottle-green velvet shorts, smocked white shirt, and a pair of red patent-leather buckled shoes. I vividly recall Uncle David’s tail coat, and spectacular collapsible silk top hat.
Janet and her husband moved to a farm near Albany in Western Australia, but in 1969 was killed in a tragic car accident.

No parent recovers easily, or ever, from the death of a child, but I am sure David and Jeanie were long comforted by the knowledge that Janet’s infant son, Robert Campbell, who survived the crash, grew up, spent regular holidays with his grandparents, his uncles and cousins, then studied engineering, and prospered.

Robert now lives with his own family in New Zealand.

Granny Again

When Granny casually remarked in her brief handwritten memoir that she had flown in an aeroplane at Menton in the south of France early in 1914, well before the outbreak of World War I, I am sure it never occurred to her that this might eventually identify her as one of only a handful of adventurous young women who, at this early date, had ever flown at all.

She must have been aware of it at the time, but in the past forty years the history of aviation has come a long way, and now, of course, such early ascents have attracted the interest of many enthusiasts, historical societies, and scholars—never more so than since the centenary of the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight on December 17, 1903.

As far as I can tell, one of the only amphibious aircraft in which Granny could have flown at Menton in early 1914 was an adaptation of Gabriel Voisin’s famous, back-to-front “canard” biplane, which you see here at Monte Carlo equipped with customized floats, and, in the cockpit, Voisin’s collaborator and test pilot, the dashing Maurice Colliex. It may even have been Colliex, or one of the Voisins, who took Granny up.

In June 1972, when Concorde came to Melbourne on a series of globe-trotting demonstration flights, Granny and Mum took me out of Grimwade House to go out to Tullamarine for the day to see her from the observation deck on the roof of the old international terminal. She was sleek and tiny (Concorde, not Granny), and, I recall, parked some way distant, on the Ansett side. I was eight.

We watched her for hours, until she took off for a supersonic spin out over the Tasman Sea with a party of V.I.P. passengers including the Governor, Major-General Sir Rohan Delacombe, and Charlie Curwen.

I waved almost as frenetically as I remember waving from Station Pier to the R.Y. Britannia when in 1970 she weighed anchor in Hobson’s Bay, and the Queen and Prince Philip sailed away.

I remember it was a grey, blustery day out at Tullamarine, but I think Granny was almost as excited as I was.

Of course, it was not until lately, when, with the help of my friend Larry Manley, who is an aviator as well as a distinguished Shakespeare specialist, I looked into the matter of Granny’s pioneering flight at Menton, I had never imagined the awesome significance to her of that thrilling day, sixty-two years, two World Wars, numerous droughts, a Great Depression, four children, and seven grandchildren later.

She died peacefully three years after that.

Aunt Jean

Aunt Jean was a self-styled repository of dynastic knowledge, some of it bizarre, most of it true, all of it fascinating.

“Our immediate Borthwick ancestor,” she wrote gleefullynot the meat Borthwicks (no relation), but the other sort“fought a duel with one Pringle, over land or a woman, and killed his man. His property was seized, and he was outlawed and fled the country. When he thought the affair forgotten, he returned and became a Border sheep farmer. His descendants followed either that calling or joined the Indian Army.

Two [Lieutenant-Colonel William Borthwick, and his son, naturally also William] were both present at the Great Siege of Gibraltar [1782–83]. One General Borthwick [that same son] was wounded at Cuidad Rodrigo.”

Here he is, I like to think, presumably among the unidentified supernumeraries in John Singleton Copley’s epic rendition of Wellington’s famous action against the French in Salamanca during the Peninsular War.

Whether or not we see him here in action, it was certainly true that Major-General William Borthwick was present at Cuidad Rodrigo, though it was temporarily overlooked at the time.

According to Hansard, (House of Commons, April 8, 1812, vol. 22, cap. 239), The Chancellor of the Exchequer [Spencer Percival, who was in fact Prime Minister, speaking here less than a month before he was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons] said, that since the Vote of Thanks had been passed…to the officers and men who assisted at the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, he had learned that the names of Major-General Henry Frederick Campbell, Major-General the Hon. Charles William Stewart, Major-General Lord Low, Major-General James Kemmis, Major-General William Borthwick, and Colonel William Maundy Harvey, brigadier-general in the Portuguese service, were omitted in the said motion; he therefore moved the like thanks to them; which was agreed to.

And I should think so, too.

Building a head of steam, Aunt Jean resumed: “Another Borthwick helped to put down Thuggery in India. (The Thugs, from father to son, were a sect who traveled about, fraternizing with people, then throttling them by night with a yellow scarf.) He was rewarded by a Rajah of the district with the gift of an emerald ring valued at £1,000, and returned to Langham, Scotland [sic, it was probably Rutland], where he built a very nice home.”

This, too, was essentially true.

According to Major-General Sir William Sleeman, K.C.B., having caught wind of a party of thuggee at Dekhola, Captain William Borthwick—Borthwicks generally came only as William—“despatched a party of horsemen to apprehend them. The horsemen came upon the gangs unawares, while encamped outside a village, and accused them of stealing opium; they were glad to have an opportunity of clearing themselves of this unfounded accusation, so accompanied the horsemen to the village for the purpose of being examined; immediately on their arrival they were secured and taken to Captain Borthwick, of whom seventy-nine were made prisoners, viz:five made approvers [i.e. who confessed, and provided legally useful accusations against others], 74 tried by Colonel Stewart, Resident of Hyderabad, 39 condemned to death, 21 to imprisonment for life, 11 to limited imprisonment and 3 acquitted. These captures struck terror into the hearts of the whole fraternity of Thugs.”

I shudder to think what Aunt Jean would have made of the fashionable post-colonial view that the very concept of thuggee was simply a British invention, a cynical means to tighten their hold over the subcontinent. Certainly it has been given credence in India, France (where else?), and the United States of America.

Yet while there is a small grain of truth rattling around somewhere near the bottom of that theory, in fact the thuggee organized crime cult of ritualized theft and murder with a garotte was a real, pressing, and widespread problem, above all for the indigenous populations of colonial India, and no doubt brave Colonel Borthwick took as much pride in their suppression as Aunt Jean did, and, come to think of it, I do also.

Aunt Jean was equally interested in her mother’s family, not only the creole matriline (q.v.), but the Bells and Pethericks.

Her maternal grandfather was Edward Connor Bell. His father was a Scot, and practised for many years as a Writer to the Signet in Dublin. This Mr. Bell married a girl called Mary Petherick, and they therefore qualify for two berths in my exclusive club of thirty-two, thankfully unrelated great-great-great grandparents.

The Pethericks had for several generations been solicitors in Exeter. According to Aunt Jean, they were “a very musical and artistic family,” were proud of their strong cavalier credentials, and, perhaps because of this, sheltered a French countess during the Terror.

In 1925, when Aunt Jean visited her Petherick relations in Exeter they still owned an expensive chatelaine that the countess sent them after she returned to France.

Aunt Jean reported that in 1913 or shortly before, the Pethericks’ private chapel was burned down by the suffragettes. Either she was wrong, or it was an inside job, because satisfactorily the Misses Petherick, probably the daughters of John Petherick, solicitor, of 6, St. Leonard’s Street, Exeter, were in 1909 still registered members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

One of old Mrs. Bell’s Petherick sisters was an artist and printmaker. Another married the famous alpinist Albert Frederick Mummery. Though “very small and fragile-looking,” when she was not playing the piano, or accompanying their brothers on the harp, violin, and cello, Mrs. Mummery was climbing the Matterhorn with her husband.

According to Aunt Jean, Mr. Mummery was lost on Mont Blanc, but this is certainly not true. Instead on August 24, 1895, he perished in an avalanche with two Ghurkas, Ragobir Singh and Goman Singh, whilst reconnoitering the Rakhiot face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, which is even better. Their bodies were never recovered. In a not particularly unusual instance of table-rapping and spiritualist preoccupation in the 1920s, the Pethericks were somehow led to believe that the remains of Mr. Mummery would reappear exactly one hundred years hence. Much encouraged by her intimate friend, the eccentric Australian novelist Mary Grant Bruce, Aunt Jean noted this intriguing prediction for posterity, but I have checked and Mr. Mummery is still missing.

Even more respectable than the Pethericks of Exeter were Aunt Jean’s Wallen relations, the sisters of Francis Robertson Wallen (another member of the club of thirty-two). These Misses Wallen lived with a niece in a house on the walls of Londonderry in Northern Ireland, and were said to be constant attendants at the Cathedral.

This is bound to be true, because there was, is, and never will be any reason why you would even wish to make it up.

The same goes for the fact the Misses Wallen were intimate friends of Cecil Frances Alexander, who wrote “All Things Bright And Beautiful,” “There Is A Green Hill Far Away,” and other Victorian chart-busters.

According to Aunt Jean, “The Quality lived on the Walls in those days.”

Although their forebears developed the amusing knack of marrying into the Church of Ireland, the Misses Wallen resolutely remained spinster ladies and, writing in the front room at Flat 2, 2 Myamyn Street, Armadale, Aunt Jean noted with barely disguised contempt that, in a curious twist, that niece eloped with the Cathedral organist, and, recklessly, “went out to Australia.”

The Creole Connection

My grandfather, W. A. Borthwick, was an eccentric but by all accounts lovable man. Uncle John recalled that he used to torment his sisters, especially Aunt Jean (above), by ostentatiously examining the lunulae on their fingernails for evidence of creole ancestry or, as he put it in those bad old days, “a touch of the tar brush.”

So irritated by this slur upon the genetic inheritance of their mother, Ada Maud Mary (Bell), known affectionately to her grandchildren as “Da,” in old age Aunt Jean was careful to transcribe not her own recollections, which would have been equally fascinating, but those of her great-grandmother Wallen, which she wrote when, as an old lady, she lived in a large house in Hawthorn called Harlech that belonged to her son, the businessman and journalist Uncle Robert Elias Wallen, sometime chairman of the Melbourne Stock Exchange, and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.

Mr. and Mrs. Francis Robertson Wallen, my three times great-grandparents, and seven of their eight children sailed to Victoria during the Gold Rush aboard the famous Great Britain. Robert, probably their eldest son, who was born at Port of Spain in Trinidad on June 5, 1831, came slightly ahead of them on the Rip Van Winkle. The cargo was consigned to him; he was only twenty-one years old.

Both ships reached the total chaos of Hobson’s Bay and Sandridge (Port Melbourne) in November 1852.

Francis Wallen was an Irishman from Co. Donegal, who spent the early part of his life in Trinidad and St. Kitts, where the family had sugar plantations. His wife, Catherine Anne, was the daughter of a sugar planter called Charles Hobson, and was born on the island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles on May 6, 1812, during the eruption of Soufrière, the volcano on St. Vincent. Her mother’s Audibert family, which had Huguenot connections, actually fled France during the Terror, and sought refuge on their sugar plantations in the West Indies which by then were on islands controlled by Britain.

Not long before her birth, during the uprising of 1796, in a naval raid, French cannonballs destroyed Mr. Hobson’s house, and shortly afterwards enemy marines destroyed what remained, even his furniture. Between the hurricanes and this loss, the family’s circumstances were much reduced, and it became necessary to take Catherine, her brothers Charles and Edward, and her sister Eliza to England, together with a black nurse called Madelon.

The Hobson family sailed back and forth between England and the West Indies numerous times, so their fortunes cannot have been too badly damaged, and the purpose of these voyages was to place the children in an array of thoroughly ad hoc, presumably inadequate, and characteristically disorganized Regency educational establishments, such as the small private school run by the three unmarried Misses Babington in Chelsea, sisters of “the great Dr. Babington of London,” and to arrange for guardians and others, including Mrs. Aston and “Aunt John,” who from time to time stood in loco parentis while Mr. and Mrs. Hobson were in Dominica, gradually churning out more and more children.

Aunt Jean was careful to note that in the Caribbean the term creole was often used to describe anyone who was born and raised locally, regardless of ethnicity, or, as she put it, “everyone, of any race or color, human, animal, or feathered.”

Undeniably, the Wallens of Trinidad and St. Kitts owned slaves on their plantations, but when one of Mrs. Hobson’s Audibert cousins on St. Vincent, an eldest son no less, eloped with a colored girl, his French-speaking mother, Mrs. Hobson’s aunt, thought it such a disgrace that she could not bear to remain on the island.

Obviously desperate, she took the whole family to Canada, suffered immensely from the cold, lost everything, then came back again, this time to Martinique, where she set up a little mixed business eventually much patronized by “everyone,” including the Governor of St. Vincent, Admiral Sir Charles Brisbane (1808–29), “who always got his champagne by the dozen.”

Though perturbed by that bit about the mixed business, Aunt Jean seemed to think all this was reassuring.

And regardless of my grandfather’s imaginative insinuations in respect of the lunulae—he was certainly right about at least one collateral branch—our Borthwick–Bell–Wallen–Hobson–Audibert creole matriline threads its fertile way through the full extent of the nineteenth-century British Empire, from Scotland and Ireland to the Windward Islands, Canada, India, and Australia.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Mum and Dad took me on my first visit to Europe during the Christmas holidays of 1975–76. I was eleven years old. The rationale of the journey was to spend time with my brother Hamish, who was then an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Hamish met us in Rome, and the four of us traveled together by train to Florence, Venice, Basel, and Trier, where we spent the day with Mum and Dad’s old friend Dr. Andreas von Schubert, whose ancient vineyard called Maximin Grünhaus is close by, at Mertesdorf, on a steep bank of the Mosel (above).

Andreas von Schubert was a charming, enormous, and supremely generous man. He stayed with the Trumbles at 18 Denham Place when in November 1956 he came to Melbourne to attend the Olympic Games.

Beforehand, in an effort to “modernize,” the city fathers demolished most of the enormous, creaky but serviceable colonial-era hotels that were still left standing in the center of Melbourne. They were considered a national embarrassment, and only the old Windsor survived. This frenzy of destruction created the almighty problem of how to accommodate the tens of thousands of foreign visitors who, not for the first time in her history, converged on Melbourne from all corners of the globe.

The solution was to create a billeting system, whereby carefully vetted families agreed to place at the disposal of the authorities a sufficiently comfortable spare bedroom or two in which weary travelers could be placed as paying guests.

In a no doubt hilarious sketch for a Melbourne University review, the undergraduate Barry Humphries lampooned the system by creating the character of Mrs. Edna Everage, whose offer to make available her lovely home in Moonee Ponds (and appurtenances in duck-egg blue, etc.) was bound to be rejected on the stuffy grounds of snobbisme, if not taste.

Fortunately Mum and Dad passed master, and in due course their enormous, friendly German house-guest took up residence, I think, in the front room. Hamish was a ten month-old baby, Simon four, and Nick was six years old.

That summer was unusually hot, even for Australia. At first, so the story goes, the family was intrigued, then fascinated, and finally maddened with curiosity as to how it was possible for Mr. Von Schubert to retire sweatily to his boiling hot, un-air-conditioned bedroom (without en suite), and presently emerge as fresh as a daisy.

Eventually, Mum could stand it no longer, and, presumably whilst Andreas was out for the day, attending the Marathon or some other Olympic event, she stole into his room, and naturally found on the dresser an enormous bottle of excellent, hi-octane eau de cologne, an accessory, a personal necessity, an item of toiletry which was still in Australia regarded as breathtakingly exotic.

Mum and Dad paid a return visit to Andreas in 1961, during which he drove them all over West Germany. That visit coincided with the sharp political tensions and the very real fear of nuclear war that arose after August 13, when the communists started putting up the Berlin wall.

Andreas changed his plans so as to steer clear of West Berlin, but the driving holiday went ahead as planned.

I think Mum and Dad were fairly happy to return to Melbourne in one piece, traveling, as was their custom, in separate aircraft (with innumerable stops), to insure that, if one went down, the other parent would hopefully survive to take care of the children.

By 1975, when I met him for the first time, Andreas von Schubert was aging, but still enormous, and firmly in charge of his family’s wine-making business at Grünhaus. In 1981 he passed the reins to one of his many children, Dr. Carl-Ferdinand von Schubert, and I confess I do not know if Andreas is still alive.

I remember being shown into the wonderful, musty barrel-vaulted stone cellar, which was underneath one of the outbuildings at Grünhaus. It was, in fact, an ancient Roman cellar. Predating the beautiful house by many centuries, the Grünhaus cellar has been in continuous use at least since the Ottonian period, and in Heidelberg earlier this year I was pleased to discover that their Bruderberg, Herrenberg, and Abtsberg vintages are all still wonderful.

Uncle Attie

Nan (q.v.) had two brothers, the younger of whom, Uncle Attie, as he was known, fought in World War I and, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, became involved with the New Guard, the rather hopeless Australian fascist-leaning paramilitary organization centered in Sydney.

The New Guard was led by a disgruntled veteran of the 15th Hussars, the marginally successful antique dealer and upholsterer Captain Francis de Groot. Uncle Attie rose to be one of his deputies.

Both men (and others) were arrested after the intervention of Captain de Groot at the ribbon-cutting ceremony when, on March 19, 1932, the socialist premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In an ostensibly harmless political gesture, De Groot upstaged the premier when, in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, he advanced on horseback, drew and brandished his saber, and used it to slash the ribbon, loudly declaring the bridge open “in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales.”

I am not sure that we can be comforted in any way by that form of words, because, of course, Nazi Germany demonstrated just how effective a shield the concepts of decency, even respectability, yield to a well-organized gang of vicious murderers.

In any case, some years ago, on a visit with my mother, my eldest brother Nick, and his younger son, my dear nephew Ned Trumble, to see the excellent historical display housed in the south pier of the bridge, whilst watching a public presentation of a documentary film about this infamous event in the nations interwar history; apparently disregarding the admirable tone of disapprobation with which the film was imbued, in the part where they showed the footage, accompanied by sinister, martial, rat-tat-tat sound effects, in which these notorious, Nazi-ish uniform-wearing Australian would-be fascists were hustled into the Sydney Magistrates’ Court (to be charged, first, with lunacy, and, when that charge was dismissed, with malicious damage to the ceremonial ribbon), Mum immediately recognized the compact, blond, Nan-shaped figure at Captain De Groot’s elbow, leaned across, and, unperturbed by the presence of a good number of other, somewhat startled members of the audience, piped up cheerfully:

“Dear, look, there’s Uncle Attie!”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Aunt Anne

Anne Pearson Hall (nee Borthwick) was Granny’s second child, and Mums older sister.

Anne was educated at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (The Hermitage) in Geelong, and served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service during World War II, stationed on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia.

There she learned and practiced modern naval semaphore.

After the war she got engaged to a man called John Kenny but, shortly before my parents got married in 1949, he broke the engagement for reasons that are not entirely clear. Certainly he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. Anne was evidently heart-broken.

She qualified as a physiotherapist, and practiced that art, latterly in the pretty small hospitals at Orbost and Bairnsdale, until shortly before she died of cancer in 1986. In common with the rest of her family, she had the gift of close, enduring friendships, particularly with old navy friends such as “Nipper” Strahan, Heather Wallace, and professional colleagues, mostly strong women.

In the early 1960s, my father was responsible for introducing Anne to the late Henry Hodges Hall, a divorced attorney and, somewhat inexplicably, a connoisseur of jazz, especially the late Louis Armstrong.

In due course Anne and Henry got married, and settled in Newtown, Geelong, where Henry’s not especially thriving legal practice, Hodges Hall & Co., was located.

At Metung, when I was a little boy, Anne volunteered to teach me how to swim. Those lessons took place in the weedy, shallow water in front of the old boat shed, using an inflatable black rubber cylinder for flotation.

Later, I used to go regularly to Geelong to stay with Anne and Henry, usually when Mum and Dad were traveling abroad. Anne had the knack of making those visits wholly thrilling; she was an aunt in a million.

We gradually worked our way through all of Kay Thompson’s Eloise books, with their marvelous illustrations by Hilary Knight, who, incredibly, is still going strong. We borrowed each and all from the Geelong City Library, and my favorite was Eloise in Moscow.

No doubt this predilection for the exciting K.G.B. and related espionage subplots of Eloise in Moscow was genetically encoded, or else “encultured,” as we say in America, because many years later I found out that upon leaving university my cousin and godmother Janet Borthwick, of whom Mum and Anne were hugely fond, had been a junior officer in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, in effect a minor branch office of the C.I.A.

In about 1970, Janet was killed in a car accident on a stretch of highway near the farm where she settled not far from Albany in Western Australia. Luckily her infant son, Robert Campbell, survived the crash, grew up, became an engineer, and settled in New Zealand, where I gather he is prospering.

I was devastated when Anne discovered that in their wisdom, and without prior authorization, Eloise in Moscow had been de-accessioned, a disgraceful lapse in judgment on the part of the Geelong City Librarian or, more probably, that of a woefully ignorant junior, or quite possibly even sub-professional member of staff.

Perhaps sensing that the manly sports were an avenue down which it was probably safest not to escort me, Anne did her best to elevate my basic childhood knitting skills instead.

Actually, we got quite a lot further with origami, and created together an entire crèche, according to complex instructions obtained from Japan.

After Henry sold his law practice in Geelong, he and Anne moved to the pretty small house they built at Metung, next door to Balmadies, and extended it.

Some years later, having experimented with a small but very beautiful farmlet on hills overlooking the right bank of the Tambo River, some miles upstream from Bairnsdale, Anne and Henry moved to a larger sheep property at Lindenow, on the Princes’ Highway, fifteen minutes’ drive west of Bairnsdale.

Uncle Henry, a wearer of cravats who subsisted on steak, whisky, and Mars bars, seemed to think of himself as a pastoralist, the steward of a vast and productive tract of East Gippsland, and not a retired country solicitor with an expensive hobby much subsidized by Anne, whose outlook tended to be far more realistic than his.

In any case, there is no question: Yallart, as Henry named it, was definitely smallish, and did not perhaps justify the construction of the enormously over-equipped shearing shed in which he took particular pride. Such was the forthright opinion of his far more experienced farming brother-in-law, Anne’s elder brother Uncle David, never a man to mince words.

Having Anne close by made our summer holidays at Metung the more enjoyable, though poor Nick was forced to join the crew of Henry’s absurdly complicated diamond-class yacht, Barega, in ever more uncomfortable, aggressively contested, and, above all, interminable races organized by the Metung Yacht Club. Henry was an exacting and, at times, intolerant skipper, along the lines of Lieutenant-Commander Philip Francis Queeg.

When I was about fourteen, I (but not Anne) tired of attempting to solve The Times crossword puzzle, so, at her supremely generous suggestion, and without the aid of computer technology, we simply created our own cryptic crosswords, with enormously devious and attenuated clues. These aroused some interest in the local community, and were eventually published in the Metung Pelican. As far as I am aware nobody ever managed to solve them, not even Mrs. Mayhew, the editor.

Anne’s superb strength of character is perhaps best illustrated by the following historical memorandum which she copied out and sent to me in Rome, knowing that she only had a very few weeks to live. The covering note was melancholy. Part of it read:

Dear Angus,
I had terrific plans about how I’d have a letter waiting for you when you arrived—well, you know what happened to THAT. Nothing. It is, regretfully, the story of my life. Great ideas, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10; execution: 0. Oh well...The sheep have just been crutched, and it’s a pleasure to look out at them pottering about with their nice clean faces and bottoms...

Although death was evidently much on her mind, Anne’s indefatigable sense of the ridiculous (and an amply justifiable sense of dynastic pride) shone through the enclosure:

“Rec. of Just. 18th May 1588: Alison Pearson in Byre-Hills, Fifeshire, was convicted of practicing sorcery and of invoking the devil. She confessed that she had associated with the Queen of Elfland for many years, and that she had friends in the Court of Elfland who were of her own bood [sic]. She said that William Simpson, late the King’s Smith, was in the eighth year of his age carried off by an Egyptian to Egypt, where he remained twelve years, and that this Egyptian was a giant; that the devil appeared to her in the form of this William Simpson, who was a great scholar and a doctor of medicine, who cured her diseases; that he appeared to her accompanied with many men and women who made merry with bagpipes, good cheer, and wine; and the good neighbors (witches—not mentioned by name for fear of “provoking their resentment”) attended and prepared their charms in pans over the fire; that the herbs of which they composed their charms were gathered before sunrise, and that with these they cured the Bishop of St. Andrews of a fever and Flux. She underwent all the legal forms customary in cases of witchcraft, i.e. she was convicted, condemned, strangled, and burned.” I don’t know what ‘Rec. of Just.’ is, but it apparently appears in an account of criminal trials in Scotland from 1536–1784, printed by A. Napier, Glasgow [43, Trongate], in 1812. Edited by Hugo Ainsh, or Anish, or something.

In fact it is “Hugo Arnot, Esq., Advocate,” and the full title is A Collection and Abridgement of Celebrated Criminal Trials in Scotland, from A.D. 1536 to 1784, with Historical and Critical Remarks. Inevitably, like everything else, its here at Yale. Actually, there are two copies, both in that vast Alladin’s Cave, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. She concluded, and these are the last words my beautiful aunt ever communicated to me before she died:

I’m glad they strangled her first. I wonder what poor old Willie Simpson brought [from Egypt?]. And what was the Bishop complaining about if it cured his Flux, for heaven’s sake?

To which I think the only suitable answer is contained in the incomparably beautiful words of the old Aaronic blessing:

May the Lord bless her, and keep her; may the Lord make his face shine upon her, and be gracious unto her; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon her, and give her peace.

Uncle Henry died in 1999.