Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Empire Christmas Pudding

Princess Marie Louise was probably not aware that by so enthusiastically recommending the exciting concept of an “Empire” pudding at the Food and Cookery Fair at Olympia in November 1926, she was getting herself mixed up in a sticky political issue. The Fair was in any case a grand event, tied from the outset to imperial trade—in tough competition with California, Florida, Mexico, and Central and South America. According to a carefully worded advertorial placed in the Australian press, the fair also addressed (inter alia) “the Decline of Cookery”:

Master chefs from all parts of the world exhibited the products of their art at the cookery exhibition—the greatest ever held—opened at New Hall, Olympia, Kensington, W., last month. There were dishes by soldiers, sailors, artisans, hospital workers, domestic cooks, and Boy Scouts. An exact replica of the Prince of Wales’ dinner to V.C.’s in the House of Lords last November was one of the chief exhibits. Mr. R. C. Vaughan, caterer to the House of Lords, who arranged the original dinner, and Maître A. C. Juriens, who cooked it, made the preparations. Mr. Vaughan, interviewed by a “Daily Mail” reporter, said:—“Cookery has never reached a higher stage of artistry before—that is, professional cookery. The cooking of our housewives and young women, however, is of a very different order. There is hardly a girl to-day who knows how to fry a chop. They are too busy drinking cocktails, driving motor-cars, and playing golf to learn how to cook. So many young people live in service flats, dining in restaurants, that cookery in the home is a thing of the past. (Argus, March 8, 1930, p. 11 S[upplement].)

The aggressive marketing efforts of Australia House in respect of the dried fruit growers of the Riverina were occasionally at odds with the larger concerns of the Empire Marketing Board, however they converged on this occasion at Olympia, when the idea of an imperial pudding seemed to make good sense. At short notice the Board engaged the advertising firm of F. H. Benson, Ltd., to place the following advertisement for a fairly impressionistic “Empire” pudding in time for Christmas:

Take 1 breakfastcup full of each of the following eight ingredients: Canadian flour, Australian or South African raisins, Australian sultanas, Australian currants, chopped mixed peel, English or Scottish beef suet, breadcrumbs. Also 1 English cooking apple, 4 to 6 eggs (Home laid), 1 teaspoonful pudding spice (Indian), 1 wineglass Jamaica rum, sufficient milk to mix, grated rind and juice of one lemon. One English 3d bit for luck! Mix well. Place in greased basin. Cover with greaseproof paper: tie on cloth and steam or boil 6 to 8 hours. Here you have a quite simple recipe. It will make as delicious a plum pudding as you have ever tasted. And you will enjoy it all the more if you remember that by using Empire fruit to make it you will give a helping hand to the thousands of British Overseasmost of them ex-Service men and their familiesby whom that fruit is grown. Buy Empire Goods. Askis it British?

The problem was that the produce of New Zealand, and that of numerous crown colonies were missing from the recipe, and feelings were duly hurt. Therefore early in 1927 it became necessary for drastic remedial action, extending to the highest echelons of the government. This and various other aspects of the story have been taken up recently by Kaori O’Connor in her long article “The King’s Christmas Pudding: Globalization, Recipes, and the Commodities of Empire” (Journal of Global History, Vol. 4, 2009, pp. 127–155). 

Retrieving the matter from Bensons, and securing the co-operation of Buckingham Palace, towards the end of the summer the Empire Marketing Board was in the happy position of being able to issue the following, carefully revised edict:

The King’s Chef, Mr. [André] Cédard, with Their Majesties’ gracious consent, has supplied to the Empire Marketing Board the following recipe for An Empire Christmas Pudding:

5 lbs. of currantsAUSTRALIA5 lbs. of sultanasAUSTRALIA5 lbs. of stoned raisinsSOUTH AFRICA; 1½ lbs. of minced apple—CANADA; 5 lbs. of bread crumbs—UNITED KINGDOM; 5 lbs. of beef suet—NEW ZEALAND; 2 lbs. of cut candied peel—SOUTH AFRICA; 2½ lbs. of flour—UNITED KINGDOM; 2½ lbs. of demarara sugar—WEST INDIES; 20 eggs—IRISH FREE STATE; 2 ozs. ground cinnamon—CEYLON; 1½ ozs. ground cloves—ZANZIBAR; 1½ ozs. ground nutmegs—STRAITS SETTLEMENTS; 1 teaspoonful pudding spice—INDIA; 1 gill brandy—CYPRUS; 2 gills rum—JAMAICA; 2 quarts old beer—ENGLAND.

No doubt Princess Marie Louise was among the forty or so guests who tucked in at Sandringham on December 25, but naturally the vast size of the royal pudding so configured in due course caused a headache for the Board, to whom tens of thousands of patriotic students of domestic economy applied for a more manageable, and incidentally less costly version of M. Cédard’s flamboyant recipe—which, after all, required a basin the size of a bathtub; semi-industrial equipment for mixing, a pudding cloth almost as big as a sail, and upwards of twenty-four hours of volcanic cooking. Meanwhile questions of taste (Cypriot brandy?) and sensitivities arising from disproportionate representation, such as for example only a teaspoonful of allspice sought from the Indian Empire, were thankfully offset by sectarian considerations and the tropical climate: Christmas puddings were at this date not high on the agenda of Gandhi, Nehru, or Congress.

In any event, the Australian recipe that appealed so much to Princess Marie Louise at Olympia in November 1926 remains fugitive, but I am—as always—optimistic.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Princess Marie Louise

Australian Dried Fruits.

Princess Marie Louise’s Praise. LONDON, Nov. 12.

“What wonderful fruit. How splendid if everybody made Christmas puddings this year of Empire ingredients,” said Princess Marie Louise, on viewing the Australian dried fruits exhibit at the Food Exhibition at Olympia. Princess Marie Louise, cousin of the King, who opened the exhibition, wrote her autograph on an Empire Christmas pudding recipe compiled by Australian food experts.

Argus (Melbourne), Monday, November 15, 1926, p. 11.

H.H. Princess Marie Louise was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the fourth child and younger daughter of Princess Helena—“Lenchen,” as she was known, the Queen’s slightly difficult third daughter—and of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. In old age Princess Marie Louise wrote an engaging but slightly wacky book entitled My Memories of Six Reigns (1956). It is well worth reading, as much for its frankness and sprightly charm, as for the table-rapping element. The princess was most unfortunate in having married (1891) Prince Aribert of Anhalt, the unsatisfactory third son of the reigning duke—a match engineered with unerring lack of judgment by Marie Louise’s first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II. The marriage was annulled late in 1900 after the prince was caught in flagrante delicto with an attractive young male servant.

In view of the ensuing scandal, Princess Marie Louise discreetly toured Canada and the United States.

Thenceforth she lived as a minor but active member of the extended British royal family based in London, and, with her Aunt, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, was instrumental in introducing the young photographer Cecil Beaton into the Court circle.

Here she is, wearing the spectacular “Indian” tiara by Cartier, perhaps also reflecting upon the superior quality of Australian dried fruits. This charming informal portrait photograph was taken near the end of her life by Cecil Beaton.

I have not yet located the Empire Christmas pudding recipe to which the Argus correspondent refers here, nor indeed those “Australian food experts” but I am working on it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I have spent a good deal of time and energy over the years attempting to explain to quizzical American citizens that the term governor-general has nothing to do with military rank, but now I find that the matter is not quite so simple. Already in early Medieval Latin we come across the ecclesiastical terms abbas generalis and magister generalis, whence the titles master-general, vicar-general, and superior-general evolved and still linger, at least in the modern Catholic church. The convention obtains also in diplomacy (secretary-general, consul-general); many branches of government (governor-general, receiver-general, postmaster-general, controller-general, procurator-general, registrar-general, and auditor-general); wider bureaucracies (director-general, but N.B. editor-in-chief); the law in various jurisdictions (attorney-general, solicitor-general, prosecutor-general, heirs general); various legislatures (the états généraux of France; the cortes generales of Spain and more broadly the concept of junta general in Spanish-speaking countries, and the staten-generaal of the Netherlands). According to the OED, this “-general” has sometimes been attached playfully to ordinary substantives, e.g. Mr. Chad, “lover general at The Hague”; and the “assumption that και in the N.T., as ו in Hebrew, was the conjunction-general,” etc. Now, the military rank and title of General (with special combinations, viz. quartermaster-general, adjutant-general, captain-general, brigadier-general, major-general, and even lieutenant-general, but N.B. commander-in-chief) have over the centuries congealed into freestanding forms, but, deriving from the concept of “general officer” or “general officer commanding” (cfr. General Post Office, general practitioner, general counsel, general election, general strike, General Theory of Relativity), their origins cleave somewhat narrowly to the non-military sense in which the suffix-like caboose of general originally developed from ecclesiastical Latin. So unfortunately we cannot absolutely assert that the civilian title of governor-general is entirely unrelated to that of major-general, and in this sense the last Governor-General, His Excellency Major-General Michael Jeffery, A.C., C.V.O., M.C., was something of a double-dipper in purely conceptual terms. Thus far nobody else has noticed this, so I doubt if any awkwardness will result. Meanwhile, there is nothing general about monarchs, presidents, prime ministers, secretaries of state, ministers, ambassadors, judges, bishops, or admirals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Letter from Hamish

Dear Angus,

How are you? I am well. I have been doing some Research. I have been on the trail of Trumbles in literature, inspired by your blog. You know, Angus, I only recently discovered how immense your blog is. I was aware, of course, of the blog entries which you sent me links unto, but it was only a week or two ago that I realized there was more material there that I could access. Wow! I don’t know how you do it, and hold down a job, and write a book! Your blog, Angus, puts me in mind of Thomas de Quincey, who saw the totality of his work in the nature of a Gothic Cathedral, each tiny part a piece of an enormous, colossal, evolving whole, The English Mail Coach—the Nave, etc., anyway, I only saw your Virginia Woolf piece a few days ago, after quite a lot of reading. I had set myself the task of finding the Trumble reference I remembered, indistinctly, from my studies at Cambridge with my modernism tutor. I failed to impress him from an early date with my researches on T. S. Eliot, who, I discovered had exchanged several amiable and charming letters with Groucho Marx, which I drew his reluctant attention to, and later in an informal “symposium”-style tutorial at the pub, I had interjected a remark about April being truly-ruly the cruelest month where I come from (it was because I was fed up with seasonal references being northern-hemispheric-o-centric). Anyway, I decided to re-read V. Woolf. I had a stroke of luck—I quickly found a copy of To The Lighthouse in the op shop. I was sure this was the book—so sure that after I scanned it for Mr. Trumble in vain, I read it properly, to be sure, to no avail. My local library coughed up Mrs. Dalloway which was my next guess, but again, no dice. I had, however, read another of this lesbotic genius’ mistresspieces, and while I agree with your assessment of her Bloomsbury snobbisme, I was getting “into” them, as they say in the classics. But still Mr. Trumble eluded me—no matter, I was sure that The Waves would be the one. My local library network had exhausted itself giving up Mrs. Dalloway, but nowadays we library patrons can borrow from any library across Victoria, and Swan Hill had a copy of The Waves. However, after 2 weeks my library told me that the Swan Hill Waves was “missing”—imagine that, Angus!—but the kind and helpful librarian at Wonthaggi told me—not to worry—he would organise another copy—leave it to him. 2 weeks later I got an email that my “Waves” was ready to collect. Well, I was excited, then deflated because I realized you had found the reference by yourself, but when I collected the book, I got the scent of the chase again, because what I had got was the 1976 Hogarth Press edition of V. W.’s The Waves—the two holograph drafts transcribed and edited by J. W. Graham, who must have been ever so keen on V. W., because he has copied out her notebooks and added all her crossings out, etc. (as you can see). I realized that here was an opportunity for original Trumble research, so I commenced reading. Let me say that, while I cannot identify the Trumble episode in any form in the first draft, and there is a Turnbull/Trumble passage in the second draft (see over), the reading was not unprofitable. Oh no. The first draft contains dozens and dozens of references to Louis, the Australian, son of a banker and his Australian accent, boomerangs, colonial inferiority—that Virginia had a definite idea about Louis and his Australian origin and she made sure she didn’t forget it for subsequent drafts. I thought about that a lot, and it occurred to me that she probably didn’t know many Australians, but as she cast her mind back to the twilight years of Victoria, and the Golden Age of Cricket, in the nostalgic glow of her method, one name might have popped up in the stream of her consciousness—Hugh Trumble, Australian test cricket champion, and, let’s not forget, bank manager. Is it not possible, no no, almost certain, that when casting about for a name for her gentleman on a train, her mind free-associating behind the twin filters of her arch-lesbotic superciliousness, and her disappointing anti-Australian prejudices, her final choice is actually an unintended tribute to a great and noble Trumble,

A mighty tall trundler named Hugh,

Who oft saved the skin of the ’Roo,

The foe thought him dead,

But he popped up his head,

“If you want me, I’ll soon pull you through!”?

Keep up the good work Angus.

Lots of love from Hamish.

P.S. What about Trumbles in art? I think we can by now consider Trumble and Trumbull to be interchangeable, especially in the distant past. Have you considered the case of John Trumbull (1756-1843), the American artist who fought in the War of Independence, after which he traveled to London and paris (as many Trumbles before and since) and worked with West the Quaker neoclassicist; apparently Trumbull is well represented in your American museums and he wrote his “Autobiography” (1841, repr. 1953). I got this out of the
Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists—is there no field in which Penguins do not cover all aspects of life and learning? Must go now and scour the op shops of South Gippsland for hidden treasure.

x x x Hamish

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Léon Caron was born in January 1850, and studied the organ under Alexandre Guilmant in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and went on to the Conservatoire in Paris in the late 1860s. His studies were cut short by the traumatic events of the Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath, and he was one of the thousands of communard refugees who fled to London in 1871. There, he played violin in the orchestra of Jules-Prudence Rivière at the Alhambra Theatre, and shortly afterwards sailed to America, where he played briefly for the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in New York. Caron continued on to Australia, arriving at Port Melbourne in 1876. Soon afterwards he made his debut as a conductor in the Melbourne Opera House, and promptly accepted the position of conductor with the Lyster Grand Italian Opera Company.

Caron composed his original cantata, Victoria, in collaboration with the businessman, temperance advocate, and poet J. W. Meaden, who also wrote and published under the pseudonym “Eucalyptus.” According to the biographical sketch by John Vale that accompanied his edition of The Poetical Works of J. W. Meaden:

In 1854, before reaching the age of fourteen, Mr. Meaden left his native land, alone, and going first to the Brazils, visiting Monte Video and Rio de Janeiro, arrived eventually at Melbourne by way of the dreaded Cape Horn, on board the Twee Gezusfers…Mr. Meaden had a poet’s insight of the future. He realised that he was privileged to take part in the founding of an important community. He saw visions of a vast population, with lives brightened by the sunlight of material prosperity in larger measure than was the case in the old lands, and in more general enjoyment of the beneficent influences of education, and of leisure which could be the mother of culture; and he ardently desired that the greatness of the coming people should have as its crown the righteousness which exalteth a nation. He knew the widespread influence of strong drink in preventing the realisation of similar aspirations in other lands, and patriotically resolved to serve his adopted country by at once enlisting with the soldiers of abstinence.

With its text by Meaden, and Caron’s score, Victoria won the cantata competition to mark the opening on October 1, 1880, of the Melbourne International Exhibition. The prize was 100 guineas. This sprawling work, requiring an orchestra of 125 and a chorus of 1000, was conceived in two parts. Part I describes “Victoria sleeping amidst the primaeval solitudes and awakened by voices foretelling speedy discovery and development,” while Part II reveals Victoria, now “Queen of the South,” “engaged in various pursuits—pastoral, agricultural, and industrial”—and engaged in dialogue with a company of nymphs, each “representing the various nations of the earth.” The work was dedicated with permission to the Governor, the Marquis of Normanby.

Afterwards, Caron conducted many English-language performances of opera in Melbourne, including the local premieres of Thomas’s Mignon, Bizet’s Carmen, Massé’s Paul et Virginie, and Auber’s Fra Diavolo. In 1889 he joined J. C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company, giving the Australian premier of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard.

Caron published a substantial quantity of his own music, including an “Ave Maria” for soprano or tenor with piano or organ accompaniment and violin or violincello; “Love Is Gold” (a reverie and valse chantante); an operetta entitled Mam’zelle Nitouche, including the “Grand galop de bravoure” and the celebrated “Nautch Song”; Dick Whittington and His Cat, an Easter pantomime written by William Wade, with lyrics by Harry Taylor; a “stupendous spectacular extravaganza” entitled The Forty Thieves; the “First Kiss Valse”; salon works for piano, and numerous treacly songs, including “When Thou Art Near,” “It May Be Love,” and “I Love But Thee,” the latter with lyrics by his longstanding collaborator Bert Royle. Caron made an extensive number of other arrangements and compositions for the theater, including music for Turqoisette; or, A Study in Blue, a ballet which premiered in 1893; a “grand spectacular musical pantomime extravaganza” entitled Matsa, Queen of Fire; or, The Apples of Isis, The Dates of Osiris, and The Little People of the Mountains of the Moon, Onn and Oph, and, finally, for the bizarre Christmas pantomime Djin-Djin, the Japanese Bogie Man; or, The Great Shogun Who Lost His Sons and the Little Princess Who Found Him, A Fairy Tale of Old Japan, which called for some extremely unusual sound effects. Léon Caron died of a heart attack shortly after touring New Zealand for J. C. Williamson in 1905.

Fountains Flowing With Wine

At the opening by the Governor of Victoria, the Marquis of Normanby, of the Melbourne International Exhibition (October 1, 1880–April 30, 1881; 1.3 million visitors) the fountain outside the purpose-built Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens flowed with pink champagne. During the ceremonies, which included the performance of an interminable prize cantata entitled Victoria (music by Léon Caron, words by J. W. Meaden), everybody waiting outside got drunk, and rioting ensued. Buckets of Pink champagne were carried off to the suburbs. I do not think similar hospitalities have been attempted in Melbourne since then. As to how these fountains were operated, I am yet to track down the particulars. However, it must have required an enormous number of barrels, or an even far larger number of bottles.

Scarlet Heels

Why did men of rank in eighteenth-century Europe wear shoes with scarlet heels? To some extent the answer to that question is obvious, as this portrait of the Sun King by Hyacinthe Rigaud demonstrates. Fashions of this kind flowed from the French court, and Louis XIV liked wearing them—as did the Duc de Saint-Simon, among others. However, it is difficult to trace where the initial idea took hold. According to Jennifer M. Jones (Sexing La Mode: Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France, 2004) and Joan DeJean (The Essence of Style, 2006, pp. 9192), there is genuine disagreement among scholars of costume as to whether scarlet heels made their first walk-on appearance in sixteenth-century Venice, seventeenth-century England, or Sweden. Lucy Pratt, Curator in the Textiles and Dress Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London points out that red soles and heels became popular at the court of Louis XIII in the 1630s, and were imported from Versailles to England by Charles II in 1660—the King is shown wearing them in John Michael Wright’s coronation portrait. However, as early as 1614 there is a red heel clearly visible in the funerary monument to Sir John and Lady Doddridge in Exeter Cathedral. Certainly by the first quarter of the eighteenth century this fetching habit had jumped the boundaries imposed by conventions of court attire, and in Mist’s Journal of 1727 we find fashionable young men wearing red heels around town. We find them again, this time worn by a drunk, in William Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode (1743). And in 1771 a correspondent inquired of the London Magazine “whether your London ladies, like your London gentlemen, intend to wear red heels to their shoes.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mrs. Hume

The following advertisement appeared in the Hobart Courier on November 1, 1854, and reveals the extent to which Vandiemonian retailers quite effectively kept up with fashions at home in England:

SPRING AND SUMMER GOODS, / Ex “DERWENT.” / MRS. HUME / RESPECTFULLY intimates that she has just OPENED, expressly to order, an Extensive Assortment of Goods suitable for the season, consisting of—Bayadere Robes / Fancy Check Lustres / Brocaded and Striped Poplins in great variety / A Few Fashionable Barege and Printed Cambric London-made Dresses / Black and White Lace Jackets / Black Crape and other Mourning Mantles / French Cambric Embroidered and Lace-trimmed Handkerchiefs of a very superior description / Ladies and Gentlemen’s French Kid Gloves; Thread Lace Edgings, &c. &c. &c. / ALSO, A Choice Assortment of BABY LINEN and LADIES’ UNDER CLOTHING, to which Mrs. Hume would particularly invite attention. / Liverpool-street, 28th October, 1854.

Bayadere fabric is striped, indeed this term came to stand for the stripes themselves. Lustre was a thin, light material with a cotton warp (previously also either silk or linen) and a woolen weft, producing a highly lustrous surface. Originally made of silk and worsted, poplins were plain-woven, with a fine horizontal rib, produced by using a finer warp thread than the weft. Barege was a light, silky fabric, resembling gauze, originally made at Baréges. Cambric was a kind of fine white linen, originally made at Cambray in Flanders, though the name was occasionally also applied to an imitation made of hard-spun cotton. Crape was a thin transparent gauze-like plain woven fabric, without any twill, consisting of highly twisted raw silk, mechanically embossed with a minutely wrinkled surface. At this date the best kid gloves were still thought to be the product of Spanish skins, fine French cutting, and English sewing.


One of the curious aspects of regional variations in the English language is that some people who move from country to country evidently retain their original accent far more effectively than others. Certainly, more than six years since taking up residence in New England I seem to be speaking with a more or less unaltered Australian accent, at least in its comparatively soft Melbourne iteration. There have been some changes creeping in, however, mostly in the interests of basic comprehension. The “–ile” and “–ess” words are good examples. In America, agile and fragile are pronounced like Mr. Justice Tadgell; facile like vassal; missile like epistle; hostile exactly the same as hostel; docile like fossil; (in)fertile like hurdle; (im)mobile like (ig)noble; and futile like feudal. Textile, juvenile, reptile, and volatile follow suit. Meanwhile congress, duchess, heiress, hostessabscess, and so on, lean much farther towards mattress than undress. Unless you utter these words in the manner agreed locally you will not be understood any better than if you stubbornly persist with flat for apartment, boot for trunk, lift for elevator, trolley for hand truck, tram for trolley, cable car for tram, aluminium for aluminum, biscuit for cookie, a quarter to ten for a quarter of ten, ground floor for first floor, one hundred and three for one hundred three, roast chicken for roasted chicken, basil (like dazzle) for basil (like hazel), solicitor for attorney, grill for broil, patience for solitaire, take for bring, i.e. from here to the airport, and so on ad infinitum. The only problem with these slight adjustments, even if they do not really alter the way you pronounce vowels, consonants, and dipthongs, is that from time to time, upon going back to Australia, friends and relations tend to pounce with excessive vehemence upon the slightest verbal tics, form of words, even points of emphasis, as if these reflect some gradually deepening disloyalty to home and hearth—and are not the natural consequence of living and working abroad. Sorry, overseas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Last Friday morning I had a small but troublesome sebaceous cyst removed from my neck, by an extremely able surgeon here at Yale who has done a remarkably clean job of it. For reasons that he explained at the time but which I couldn’t really grasp or even hear because of the stout sheets of paper and plastic that were spread over my head—shades of those “conversations” you occasionally get into with the dentist—my surgeon’s incision had to be rather bigger than usual, and I ended up with three very neat sutures that create a pleasingly “Frankenstein’s monster” effect, obviously visible above the shirt collar. What is especially intriguing about these discreet stitches is that the threads my surgeon used are quite vividly blue, an almost peacocky shade that leans toward ultramarine (depending on the light)—and not the somber black that I recall from the last time I recall having needed stitches, which was when I experienced lawnmower misadventure on the farm at Upper Beaconsfield, circa 1984 or 1985, and got a nasty cut on my calf. I wonder how these things happen? By what meandering avenue or decision-making process did surgeons’ yarn go down the route of bright, not to say dazzling color? Has it got something to do with practicalities, I wonder? In other words, are bright blue sutures more easily visible than black when there is a bit of blood in the neighborhood? I must remember to ask him when I front up a week from Friday to get them taken out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More names

In almost every respect, the names gradually accumulated by pioneering colonists, explorers, and the founding fathers of the fifty states and their capital cities in the United States put we Australians to shame, because apart from Canberra, our federal capital, not one of the seven Australian states, nor any state capital, pays any sort of tribute to, or even acknowledges an indigenous word, people, or person. 

New South Wales was named after the principality by Captain James Cook. Actually he began by jotting “New Wales” in his log, but inserted the “South” slightly later on, for clarity. Australia (from Terra Australis) was in due course coined by Matthew Flinders. The old formulations “New Holland” and Van Diemen’s Land then Tasmania, honored early Dutch seafarers (specifically Anthonie van Diemen and Abel Tasman). 

Both Victoria and Queensland bowed respectfully to the eponymous Queen-Empress, while the remainder were and remain drearily compass-driven, viz. the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. 

Sydney got its name in 1788, an obsequious gesture to Thomas Townshend, first Viscount Sydney, Home Secretary in the administration of Pitt the Younger. Hobart Town was for Robert, Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for the Colonies, heir to the Earl of Buckinghamshire (so I suppose it might have been worse). Adelaide was for Queen Adelaide, consort to King William IV. Perth was a cheerful but improbable reference from the vantage point of the Swan River Settlement to the birthplace in Scotland of Sir George Murray, another Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bearbrass was hastily renamed Melbourne for William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister. Brisbane was for Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales, and Darwin for Charles the naturalist and author of The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species, presumably the only Englishman ever to set foot upon the ground that was ultimately named in his honor.

Let us assume we are stuck with these, because I very much doubt whether dear Daniel Thomas’s proposal to replace South Australia with the extraordinary name of “Skangaroovia” is ever likely to take hold.


American political geography is endlessly fascinating to me, as much for what it teaches us about the history of the continent as for what it does not.

Of the fifty states, for example, the majority, twenty-seven, take their names (a) from those of the First Nations peoples they supplanted; (b) from terms borrowed from certain of their languages; (c) concepts approximately formed out of either one, or (d) topographical features similarly concocted much earlier by non-English speaking European pioneers and explorers.

The peoples are represented by Alabama (the Muskogean); Arkansas and Kansas (the Kansas, closely related to the Sioux); Iowa (the Ioway); Massachusetts (the Massachusett), and Utah (Ute, broadly meaning people of the mountains).

The indigenous words are Alaska (Aleut, meaning the object toward which the action of the sea is directed, i.e. coast); Arizona (obscure, possibly O’odham for small spring); Kentucky (Iroquoi, meaning prairie); Connecticut (Mohegan, meaning place of long tidal river); the Dakotas, North and South (the name of the language spoken by the Santee-Sioux peoples); Hawaii (Hawai’ian, meaning homeland); Illinois (from Algonquin via French, meaning he or she speaks normally); Michigan (Ojibwe, meaning large water); Minnesota (Dakota, meaning sky-tinted water); Nebraska (Otoe or Omaha, meaning flat water); Ohio (Seneca, meaning large creek); Oklahoma (Choctaw, meaning land of the red people), and Texas (Caddoan language of the Hasinai, meaning friends).

The broad concept is Indiana (actually derived from the unabashedly commercial eighteenth-century Indiana Land Company), while the topographical features are Mississippi (River); Missouri (River); New Mexico (obviously); Tennessee (River); Wisconsin (River), and Wyoming (Valley, which was named after actually an altogether different spot in northeastern Pennsylvania).

Eight states derive their names from other geographical features or turns of phrase which were, in turn, applied much earlier by the French or Spanish or Dutch, namely California; Colorado (River); Florida (an abbreviation of Pascua Florida, meaning flowery Easter, i.e. that of 1513); Montana (from the Spanish, meaning mountain); Nevada (from the Sierra Nevada meaning snow-covered); Oregon (obscure, possibly Spanish for big ear, the term they applied indiscriminately to native peoples in the region, or else from the French-Canadian fur-trapping patois for storm or hurricane); Rhode Island (possibly from the Dutch Roodt Eylandt, meaning red island—even though it is quite clearly not an island) and Vermont (Acadian French, evidently meaning green mountains in general). 

Of these, California first appeared in an early sixteenth-century Spanish romance novel as a purely mythical land, apparently inhabited by Amazon-like women, and ruled over by an imaginary black Queen Califia.

No fewer than six states are named after Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian sovereigns, namely the Carolinas, North and South (King Charles I); Georgia (King George II); New York (Duke of York, later King James II); Virginia and faute de mieux West Virginia (Queen Elizabeth).

Three states regurgitate the names for Anglo-French places, namely New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Maine (probably the old county of Maine, bordering Anjou and Normandy), none of which they even vaguely resemble.

The name of Idaho was spuriously ascribed to the Shoshone language, meaning, it was claimed, the sun comes from the mountains. Maryland, meanwhile, commemorates the Virgin Mother of God. Louisiana was named in honor of King Louis XIV. Delaware still bears the name of Thomas West, third Baron De La Warr, sometime British colonial Governor of Virginia; Pennsylvania commemorates the grant of land by King Charles II to William Penn in settlement of enormous debts owed by the crown to his father Admiral Sir William Penn, while only one state, as distinct from the federal capital, commemorates a President of the United States, viz. the first, George Washington.

The state capitals observe quite different patterns of distribution. 

Sixteen of these are named after a mixed bag of persons, namely Augusta, Maine (Pamela Augusta Dearborn, daughter of Henry Dearborn, Secretary for War under President Thomas Jefferson); Austin, Tex. (Stephen F. Austin, pioneer settler); Bismarck, N.D. (Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of the united German Empire); Carson City, Nev. (Christopher “Kit” Carson, scout); Charleston, W.Va. (possibly Charles Clendenin, father of Colonel George Clendenin, settler); Columbia, S.C., and Columbus, Ohio (together with the District of Columbia, all named after Christopher Columbus, discoverer of the New World); Denver, Colo. (James W. Denver, Governor of the Kansas Territory); Frankfort, Ky. (Stephen Frank, pioneer and victim of an early Indian raid); Harriburg, Pa. (John Harris, Sr., trader); Juneau, Alaska (Joe Juneau, gold prospector); Montgomery, Ala. (General Richard Montgomery, a hero of the Revolutionary War); Nashville, Tenn. (formerly Fort Nashborough, after Francis Nash, another hero of the Revolutionary War); Pierre, S.D. (Pierre Chouteau, fur trader); Raleigh, N.C. (Sir Walter Raleigh, seafarer, explorer, courtier, Member of Parliament, Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and Governor of the Island of Jersey); Trenton, N.J. (William Trent, landowner).

Five are recycled English or French place names: Boston, Mass. (Lincolnshire); Dover, Del. (Kent); Hartford, Conn. (Hertfordshire); Montpelier, Vt. (Montpellier, the Mediterranean port in the region of Languedoc), and Richmond, Va. (Surrey, now forming part of Greater London).

Another five are abstract concepts: Sacramento, Calif.; Atlanta, Ga. (actually a contraction of Altantica-Pacifica, a clunky name coined by the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad); Concord, N.H.; Santa Fe, N.M., and Providence, R.I.

Thus far four state capitals commemorate Presidents of the United States, namely Jackson, Miss. (Andrew Jackson, seventh President); Jefferson City, Mo. (Thomas Jefferson, third President); Lincoln, Neb. (Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President), and Madison, Wis. (James Madison, fourth President), while only two are named after Stuart sovereigns, viz. Annapolis, Md. (Queen Anne, hurriedly upgraded post hoc from Anne, Lady Baltimore) and Albany, N.Y. (Duke of York and Albany, later King James II).

Another four are derived from First Nations names or terminology: Tallahassee, Fla. (Muskogean, meaning old fields or old town); Honolulu, Hawaii (meaning sheltered harbor); Topeka, Kans. (Kansa, Ioway, meaning to dig good potatoes); Cheyenne, Wyo. (the Cheyenne people).

A further four preserve the memory of topographical features, two of them big (Salt Lake City, Utah, and Olympia, Wash., after the Olympic Mountains nearby), and two very small, viz. Baton Rouge, La., (a signpost) and Little Rock, Ark., (a stone marker).

Three co-opted the names of other places in North America: Helena, Mont. (after Helena, Arkansas, which in turn was named after St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great); Lansing, Mich. (after Lansing, New York, which in turn was named after John Ten Eyck Lansing, Jr., sometime Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court), and Salem, Ore. (after Salem, Massachusetts, which in turn was derived from the O.T. Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace).

Two are French in derivation, i.e. Boise, Idaho (after the eponymous river, originally referred to by Canadian fur-trappers as the rivière boisée, or wooded river), and Des Moines, Iowa (another river, originally referred to by Canadian fur-trappers as the rivière des moines, or river of monks).

One capital stands in for an apostle (St. Paul, Minn.), and another for a mythical bird (Phoenix, Ariz.). Springfield, Ill., was highly optimistic, especially in the winter months, while, as far as I can see, Indianapolis, Ind., and Oklahoma City, Okla., exhibited a breathtaking lack of imagination.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bits and Bobs

Perhaps I should not have gone quite so far into the question of manavalums, manavilins, etc., as I did last weekend, because seven days on I suddenly find myself wondering also about bits and bobs.

To some extent, any search for the meaning of this appealing phrase is redundant because it is amply self-explanatory. However, locating its origin is quite another matter.

Bits and bobs makes it into the Oxford English Dictionary under the second entry for bit, n., 3. b., viz. “bits and bats (or bobs, pieces),” meaning “fragments, oddments, odds and ends; small articles, personal belongings, bric-à-brac,” which, when you think about it, doesn’t exclude very much at all.

Bat, here, seems to be used in its second, separately documented sense (II. 7), i.e. “lump, piece, or bit,” though this is carefully described as obsolete—and I have never myself heard anyone talking about bits and bats lying around the house.

According to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, bits and bobs is English Midlands dialect, while Partridge defines it as “miscellaneous small articles” (U.K., 1896), both of which appear to be drawing upon A Warwickshire Word-Book, which was compiled by G. F. Northall and published for the English Dialect Society in 1896. Perhaps they might have acknowledged their source in the conventional manner, but I am glad to do so here on their behalf.

Interestingly, bits and bobs now crops up in the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary under bit as “bits and pieces (or bobs), an assortment of small items,” though it does not yet make any kind of walk-on appearance in the Australian National Dictionary.

I doubt if bits and bobs relates in any way to bobsy-die, n., a New Zealand colloquialism that means “a fuss” (i.e. to kick up bobsy-die), and in any case this seems to come directly from the late Regency formation Bob’s-a-dying, meaning a drunken revel (among sailors, as usual), which prompted two forlorn requests for information addressed to Notes and Queries in 1885 (from a correspondent who heard it often used in Kent) and 1910 (from another in East Cornwall), but only one answer (March 26, 1910), viz. that the expression was to be found in the English Dialect Dictionary, together with the variants bob’s-a-dial and bob’s-a-dilo; that these were recorded in Northumberland, Yorkshire, Dorset, and Devon, and that while they all meant “a great row or racket; boisterous merriment,” their origins were sadly obscure.

Turning back to the relevant articles about bit and bat in the same English Dialect Dictionary, intriguingly we find under bit, 1., “a morsel of food,” the variant phrases “bit and baid,” (1768); “bits and brats,” (i.e. food and clothing) (1843); “bit and buffet,” (i.e. food and blows) (1811); “bit and crimp [crumb],” (1863); “bit and drop or drap,” (1821), and “bit and sup,” (1863). Only under bit, 8., meanwhile, do we eventually come kicking and screaming via bits and bats to the playfully hyphenated bits-and-bobs.

In any case, there are plentiful instances of stray and unhyphenated bits and bobs throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, though very few before 1840 and as far as I can see none at all before 1813, when the phrase elbows its cheerful way into a letter addressed by a bucolic manservant to the Reverend Mr. William Mendall in The Miser Married: A Novel, by Catherine Hutton. This concludes:

I has bin a riteing this pissel at bits and bobs, jest has I cud gitt time; for the minnitt I has anserred mastrs bell, in coms missis stable, or som otther o the ladys, to hacks me to quord a bocks, or tigh up a bundhill; for yo nos I be jack of all treads. And so, as mississ horton do sy, ovur her drinck, my the singhell be morrid, and the morrid be hapy; wich is hall at prisont frum

Yors to com and


It helps to read this aloud, but I am not sure that it offers much hope of recovering any kind of viable etymology, since the phrase bits and bobs here seems to be used more squarely as an adverbial qualifier than as a descriptor of small-scale stuff. However, let us be patient, vigilant, and not give up hope of finding a plausible, even satisfactory answer.