Thursday, May 24, 2012

The fairy ring

Mum again, at around the age of eight or nine:
We always went for a walk with the governess in the afternoon, usually along the railway line which ran in front of Raeshaw. There was only one train a day. Sometimes we would see some rail gangers on a push-me-pull-you trolley riding along the track to check the sleepers. In the spring it was a good place for wildflowers: bachelors’ buttons, egg and bacon, bluebells, etc. If we walked back towards Melbourne we would come to wattle and sheoak trees planted by Dad I think to where I was convinced there was a fairy ring. I was very fairy ring-minded right up to the time we left Gippsland and went to live in Geelong. I used to write letters to them and leave them at the ring and some kind person (probably Mongie) would leave replies written on gum leaves on the step outside the sleepout where we younger ones slept. David had his own room in a small hut outside the house, approached through the vegetable garden I think. The smell of Cootamundra wattle still takes me back to those walks. The ring was formed by toadstools spreading spoor ever outwards and had a mossy floor. Very authentic to my way of thinking!
And again:
I used to write letters to the fairies and leave them presents of cups made out of silver paper. They used to write back on gum leaves which was terribly exciting. I remember clearly finding one such note outside our sleepout door on the step one morning. It said that the fairies were going away for a holiday but would return some day. Funnily enough our dearest aunt (Mongie) who had been staying with us, left that day too, but I never twigged.
There is a reason for these two versions. Twice Mum went through the exercise of committing her childhood recollections to paper, beginning in the early 1990s. Because she mislaid the original notebook, with characteristic patience and determination she sat down not so long before she died and wrote it all again. The two books are remarkably alike, in both content and arrangement. She must have had a very clear memory of what she wrote the first time, or else she followed similar processes of retrieval that led her in essentially the same directions. Still, there are telling differences. The second book contains much that was prompted by conversations with Uncle John, who was by then living back in Melbourne and ailing. It is also more squarely addressed to Nick, who supplied the new notebook. And there are occasional hints that by then Mum was aware that she did not have much time left. The arthritis in her hands was giving her trouble, so the entries are briefer. When the family went for the interment of Uncle John’s ashes under a tree on the edge of the oval at Geelong College, Mum was reluctantly persuaded to take that opportunity to re-visit Raith and 188 Noble Street, the two Borthwick family homes in Geelong:
The day was very successful and I felt that John would have felt at home where he was buried. I hope so. On the whole, though, the hunt through what is now suburbia to find Raith confirmed my belief that, on the whole, it is better not to go back. 188 Noble Street was bad enough, but Raith was quite depressing. It looked so different to what I remember. It was no use asking me for street names as there were very few streets and our address was simply Raith, Herne Hill, Newtown, Geelong. The cypress hedge was intact to protect the house and garden from the tearing westerlies. The cement works at Fyansford was very much smaller and invisible from the garden.
Poor old Mum. She was quite right. It is better not to go back, yet despite her better judgment I usually do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I have been re-reading Mum’s reminiscences, written about twenty years ago in her neat, self-disciplined longhand. Mostly they concern her childhood in East Gippsland and Geelong, but make for pretty painful reading. This is not because the contents are other than delightful, though from time to time a measure of wistfulness and melancholy does creep in, but far more because they remind me how much I miss her, now more than ever. She’s funny, of course:
Much later during the war when Mongie lived with us for quite a while at 188 Noble St., Newtown, she organized John and me and our friends David Salmon and Janet Nicholson in a pretend radio show. We had hours of fun and it still makes me laugh to remember Janet, well padded with a half-full hot water bottle concealed on her knee being interviewed as a visiting European operatic star with a bad case of indigestion.
Mum was mighty tough also. At Raeshaw, when she was no more than nine years of age:
One of our great pleasures was to watch Matt the Italian handyman cut up a sheep. We never witnessed the killing but were allowed to watch once the animal was hung up to be skinned and gutted. I can still remember the colorful sight when all the innards gushed out, steaming in the cold air. It made Anne keen to be a doctor.
She was also very good at using plain objects to put her recollections in order:
Searching in a cupboard for a thermos I find an old green jug, decorated with the figures from a story by an American (I think), Florence K. Upton—The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a “Golliwogg.” The spout is broken but I have kept it because it is a link with my mother who first read to me the rhyming adventures of Mr. Golliwogg, etc. I experience a minor pang when I realize that there is no one, now that my sister is dead, who would experience the same affectionate reaction upon seeing the jug as I do.
Mum’s minor pang gives me a major pang, for I am quite certain that after she died the old green jug with the chipped spout must have gone to the Salvos, the Brotherhood, or the tip, unless Nick intervened. I remember the jug, and I also remember wondering why on earth she held onto it. Now I know. Having now tracked down the Upton book, I recognize the cover too, so her copy may still be at Metung. Or perhaps I saw it in Myamyn Street or even at Balmadies, though I recall absolutely nothing about the text or the plot. I presume it is now banned.


In a letter to his friend the novelist Miss [Rhoda] Broughton dated August 10, 1914, only six days after Britain declared war on Germany, Henry James wrote: 
Black and hideous to me is the tragedy that gathers, and I’m sick beyond cure to have lived to see it. You and I, the ornaments of our generation, should have been spared this wreck of our belief that through the long years we had seen civilization grow and the worst become impossible. The tide that bore us along was then all the while moving to this as its grand Niagara…It seems to me to undo everything, everything that was ours, in the most horrible retroactive way…(Percy Lubbock, ed., The Letters of Henry James, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920, vol. 2, p. 389.) 
The passage is interesting for several reasons. First, it seems to shed considerable light upon the superstructure of a distinctively Edwardian sense of time, which was rather different from older Victorian certainties, and cut short by the Great War. Second, tempting though it is to read Jamess analogy of a tide heading towards this grand Niagara as a nod to the land of his birth, Larry Manley, who led me to this fascinating passage in the first place, suggests, and I think he is absolutely right, that James was also alluding here to Thomas Carlyle’s late essay “Shooting Niagara—And After?” (Macmillans Magazine [Edinburgh], vol. 16, April 1867, pp. 673 ff.). His subject was that year’s momentous Reform Act (30 & 31 Vict. c. 102), which doubled the franchise, but Carlyle also referred explicitly to the growing power of Germany:
It was [not long ago] a clear prophecy, for instance, that Germany would either become honorably Prussian or go to gradual annihilation: but who of us expected that we ourselves, instead of our children’s children, should live to behold it; that a magnanimous and fortunate Herr von Bismarck, whose dispraise was in all the newspapers, would, to his own amazement, find the thing now double; and would do it, do the essential of it, in a few of the current weeks? That England would have to take the Niagara leap of completed Democracy one day, was also a plain prophecy, though uncertain as to time.
Not any more was Carlyle’s point: that time is now! And his skepticism and unease in respect of the “Niagara leap of completed Democracy” in Britain might well have struck Henry James forty-seven years later as a neat, even prescient figure for the approaching cataclysm of World War. Not everyone yet approved of democracy, even in 1918. In other words, the Edwardian moment was a retrospective creationJames would have said retroactive—that grew out of the trauma of the Great War. Yet shot through the fabric of the Edwardian decade there were stout weft strands of the awareness of its own inherent fragility, and perhaps even a premonition of brevity. Henry James definitely knew a Niagara when he saw one, and, besides, no reader in the decades leading up to 1914 could have failed to notice the sheer number of English spy novels that dealt specifically with wicked German invasion plots, at least 400 of them, including numerous bestsellers beginning with The Battle of Dorking (1871) by George Tomkyns Chesney.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The bag

I cannot now recall how I came into possession of an empty British diplomatic bag, but I fancy Charlie Curwen gave it to me more than twenty years ago. I must remember to ask him. It is a fine buff calico model, with four pairs of brass eyelets along the top for ease of fastening with a lead seal; the faded impresa HBM—Her Brittanic Majesty’s—DIPLOMATIC SERVICE, and the number 2 floating up at the top left-hand corner. Perhaps this indicates some second-class designation as might befit documents destined for a colonial outpost, but why then resort to the diplomatic pouch in the first place? Though scuffed in places—the evidence of rough handling at Cairo, Addis Ababa, or the Porte, or else a leaky corner of the freight depot at Croydonthe bag is perfectly intact and could easily resume service, such is the quality of the stitching—indestructible. Until I discover a secure method of restoring it to the Foreign Office, I shall continue to use my diplomatic bag for loose change, of which there is a surfeit in the United States. It is also a much cherished reminder that communications between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall and Government House, Melbourne, must once have been conducted through diplomatic channels, just as, even in 1986, my own late and much lamented Governor, Dr. J. Davis McCaughey, A.C., was appointed by letters patent from the Queen that were counter-signed by Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign (and Commonwealth) Secretary, a fact that would surprise most Australians. That my bag ended its last journey at Government House, Melbourne, suggests that the return communiqué was entrusted to more conventional post or telecommunications. I recall reading somewhere years ago that between the wars the diplomatic pouch was used by some officials to bypass H.M. customs and excise, and that a traffic in gowns and accessories from Paris couturiers, upon which duty was otherwise payable, provided much of the padding that surrounded official communications to the Foreign Office. I cannot imagine that this was true for more than a few second secretaries struggling with a flock of daughters, and therefore I suspect this was a figment of the imagination of Evelyn Waugh or Nancy Mitford, yet I suppose there existed the possibility of abuse. However, you would need to be confident that the bag would end up in the right hands, and that one’s motives for shuttling from a British legation to the Foreign Office pale pink tulle, the finest-quality lace smalls (hand-stitched by French nuns), or elegant high-heeled shoes were sufficiently innocuous, although I suppose there could be in this a rich seam of comedy.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


The cast of Bellbird

Last night I dreamed about Bellbird. There is a good reason for this, because when she and Ernie were staying with me some weeks ago, Nell and I reminisced about Australian television, and Bellbird cropped up. These days I suppose one would describe Bellbird as a soap, and although it had some of the qualities of a soap, there was an innocent Australian-ness about the rural locality, many of the characters, and the opening theme and credits, which you may sample here, that was anti-soap. I especially like that sprig of gum-leaves dangled in front of the camera in that closing view over the town. Unlike the soaps of today, Bellbird occupied a convenient position as an appealingly bite-sized, fifteen-minute chunk of advertisement-free television drama that went to air immediately before the seven o’clock ABC national news, each and every night from Monday to Thursday. (In this instance ABC stood for Australian Broadcasting Commission.) Alas, the ABC was so poor that they had to wipe and re-use most of the tapes, so future historians of Australian television will be hamstrung. Practically nothing of Bellbird survives. However, I was also reminded that everyone who ever pursued, or attempted to pursue, a career on stage or screen in Australia in the ten years from 1967 to 1977 had a walk-on role in Bellbird, including some who might not now include it in their curriculums vitae. I do not remember more than a few of the permanent fixtures, but of these Jim “The Colonel” Emerson (Carl Bleazby), of course, and his glamorous young wife Maggie (Gabrielle Hartley); the local motor mechanic Joe Turner (Terry Norris) and his wife Olive (Moira Charleton); police constable Des Davies (Dennis Miller) and his wife Fiona (Gerda Nicolson); the mean stock and station agent Mr. Quinney (Maurie Fields), and, towards the end of the run, that rather sinister, scowling ne’er-do-well Andy (Michael Carman). Jim Bacon (Peter Aanensen) started off as the town policeman, however when his wife Marge (Carmel Milhouse) won the lottery he retired from the force and they bought the local pub, and remained en poste until the very end. Much of the action took place in the front bar, under the watchful eyes of Marge and Jim. Anyhow, in my dream, which was as brief as it was vivid, Marge leaned over the counter and confided to me that she was terribly concerned about Aunt Anne’s chemo.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Schöner durch Streifen

Last evening over an early dinner in New York a dear old friend visiting from Australia gave me this postcard which he found lately in a museum bookshop in Germany. The caption reads Schöner durch Streifen. Mitteleuropa um 1910. The first phrase is difficult to translate with equal concision, but surely means [men made more] beautiful by stripes, and presumably therefore drips with irony. This image of vital, vigorous, certainly self-styled manhood is made the more baffling by those frightful little shoes and, on the far left, the striped ankle socks as well. And surely the strangeness of the photograph arises from the total disjunction between the self-satisfaction, even pride, that these mixed-aged gentlemen swimmers obviously exhibit on the one hand, and, on the other, the almost inconceivable hideousness of the whole effect. One even wonders what occasion the photograph was specifically intended to mark. Mitteleuropa suggests that in the view of the publisher these gentlemen, so attired, were perhaps other than German nationals, but I am not so sure. Perhaps they could have been Austrian, or German-speaking subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for I fancy a Nachklang of this in certain of their Schnurrbärte, and a pleasing Sezession flavor in the Badebekleidung third from the right, but can there be any doubt as to the overriding impression that this weird image must belong to the Germanic Kulturbesitz, and to none other? One wonders, too, about the slightly wan Formalität of the Haltung: three and three facing inwards, Ja!, but the two on the right are looking in die falsche Richtung!!! The classicizing architektonischen Elementen which frame them seem congruent with a suite of Umkleiderräume in an Edwardian Turkish or electric bath establishment, though the absence of orientalisierenden Keramikfliesen suggests a more Spartan, almost preußischen Geschmack. This is to ignore the appalling cut of the garments themselves, and the total impracticality of the fabric, which, when fully immersed, must have assumed the character of so many portions of sodden blanket or bath mat. One shudders also at the mostly above-the-navel point of suspension, in other words what in couture circles one might describe as the Drapierung, to say nothing of the drawstrings, pert but limp, and inexplicably exposed; the slightly sinister bagginess of the nether portions, and the desperately ill effect of horizontal stripes upon the fuller figure. I cannot possibly accept that these were cavalry officers, railways officials, advanced psychiatric specialists, pupils, perhaps, of Dr. Freud, or civil engineers from Krupp or some other Konzern. Obviously they must have been senior executives of the Deutsch-Asiatische or one of other German banks. I am afraid there is no other possibility, and is it not curious to note how little bankers, in general, especially those with global reach, have evolved physically over the past 100 years? I fear that, were one to confiscate the drab, dark and unimaginative suitings from those bankers who currently inhabit certain boardrooms high above Wall Street, and substitute sensible German Badebekleidung, this is most probably what they would still look like. Hardly reassuring in these dark days of economic sluggishness but nevertheless, as the Hon. Paul Keating has remarked on more than one occasion lately, a vital key to understanding global finance is to grasp that most bankers are pretty ordinary.

Lady Anne Barnard

I have been reading The Cape Journals of Lady Anne Barnard, 1797–1798, edited and published in 1994 for the Van Riebeeck Society (second series, no. 24) by A. M. Lewin Robinson, assisted by Margaret Lenta and Dorothy Driver. Lady Anne comes across as a cheerful, intelligent, well-read, certainly fearless, and shrewd if decidedly condescending and above all loquacious observer of Dutch society at the Cape. Her arrival coincided with the moment when Britain had not yet resolved to hold onto it permanently. Instead, she appears to have been happy enough to remain for as long as was necessary to dissuade the French from helping themselves, and, as the events of the past 110 years amply demonstrate, paid little heed to the consequences of shutting out, or, at least, not accommodating the Boers. Acting as a quasi-official hostess to the new stop-gap governor, Lord Macartney (he of the famous embassy to China, 1792–1794)—her husband, Andrew Barnard, was Lord Macartney’s colonial secretary—Lady Anne moved with ease through Cape society. Certainly she and I are in perfect agreement about the impressiveness of the topography. “The Table Mountain in Africa,” she wrote, “is, as a mountain, what St. Peters is, as a Church, ...the King of Prussia as a General... or Pitt as a Statesman, with this difference only, that it will stand the test of time better than St. Peters...the King...or the Minister...They will all in its course prove themselves to be the ‘baseless fabric’ of visions which have left scarcely the wra[c]ks of their existence but the World must open its mouth in one great Yawn ere it can so swallow itself up as to leave ‘no part behind’ of the immense mass of stone which rises perpendicular here before our eyes, loading poor Mother Earth who groans, but bears it without floundering. [p. 218]It is impossible not to like a diarist who sews the seeds of perpetual confusion by deploying so many sets of her own, brightly sequential ellipses, and, also, incidentally, trusts her readers to pick up with ease the reference to Prospero’s marvelous baseless fabric speech in Act IV, sc. i of The Tempest. Lady Anne was inclined at first to regard the local Dutch population as a kind of interesting but very exotic zoological species. Perhaps the funniest passage concerns the ball given by the acting governor, General Sir James Craig, to Lord Macartney shortly after Lady Anne’s arrival at the Cape:
The Hall of reception here, which was decorated with Orange Trees on the plan of my little Vauxhall [Gardens] seemed to have devoured all the accommodations of the house, so that had Lord Macartney brought a Wife and Family with him he could not have known where to put them. The Ball room, generally used as an eating room was covered with paper a deep Orange colour, in compliment I suppose to their Prince [the Stadholder]—Indian flowers and Parrots covered it all over which no quantity of candles could have brightened. When we entered it we found it lined with two rows of Ladies, all tolerably well dressed and all “mad in white Muslin.”...
The reference this time is to The Critic, a play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1779) Act II, sc. i, where the heroine and her confidante appear respectively “mad in white satin” and “mad in white linen.” She resumed:
...I had expected to find them handsomer but here was no real beauty to be seen…no countenance…no manner…no graces…no charms…tho’ plenty of good looks & the freshness of health with a vulgar smartness accompanying it which spoke the torch of Prometheus which animated them to be made of mutton tail. They danced without halting a moment and in a sort of pit a pat tingling little Step which they have probably learnt from some beauty on her way to Bengal—upon the whole, they were such Women as were to be found in a Country Town at an assize Ball, a great way from the Capital, and saying so I do not think I disparage their appearance. What they want most is shoulders—and softness of manners—the term “a Dutch doll” was quite explained to me when I saw their make and recollected the dolls—but what is most exceptionable about them is their teeth—and the size of their feet. A Tradesman in London hearing they were very large sent a Box of Shoes on Speculation which almost put the colony in a blaze so angry were the fair ones—but day by day, a pair were sent for by a Slave in the dark till at last the shoes vanished. Mrs. Baungardt…tells this Story of the immense size of the Shoes whenever she can, her foot is pretty and her white Satin Slipper a handsome one—“Sure you do not think my voot so fery large do you Sur?” [p. 197]
It is also impossible not to be charmed by a diarist who urges upon her readers this curious line on no real beauty but plenty of good looks, to say nothing of those shoulders, the teeth, and, above all, the feet. Lady Anne has a tendency to keep coming back to the feet, right the way through her account. Upon bidding farewell to the Cape, for example, she arranged to dispense with various unnecessary belongings. “I had some neat Shoes tho’ large which I meant for Miss Slaber,” she writes, “[yet] they were too small, but her Sister in law said she was sure they would fit her. So on she forced them and I saw the Shoes were ‘lost muttons’... I like that choice of words: forced, which manages to indicate that, large as they were, the shoes were still too small for Miss Slaber’s sister-in-law, to which the only added thought is this: What, then, were they doing in Lady Anne’s wardrobe? As with the feet, from time to time Lady Anne returned to the issue of the teeth when she remarked about another “vrow” that she had “tolerable good teeth, a very rare thing to be seen as the women here as I have before mentioned lose the front ones entirely when they pass 30, and they have no idea of supplying them.” Bearing in mind that this is an eighteenth-century Englishwoman writing, the impression is a disturbing one, but I do not myself recall noticing when I was in Cape Town and Johannesburg last year whether Afrikaner ladies are challenged in the shoulder department or if they have especially large feetmodern dentistry has presumably fixed up the teeth—so I very much fear that on my next and subsequent visits to South Africa I may find it sorely tempting to look rather more closely.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Lately I have been thinking a lot about trains, and how ladies encumbered by them ever managed to back away from the royal presence after having been presented at court. Walking backwards with a train of between three and a half and four and a half yards in length surely amounts to a kind of dare that got out of hand, especially when the wearer carried the burden of sometimes mountainous quantities of jewels, including a tiara that could weigh almost as much as a motorcycle helmet, and was also obliged to hold in one gloved hand a large floral bouquet, and a fan in the other. Presumably the gloved fan hand was the one that doubled as a behind-the-back train manipulator when treading carefully backwards on high-ish heels. It seems remarkable that no account of any accident has survived, though it seems inconceivable that from time to time train-wearers did not topple backwards, or fall head over heels, with the consequent hazards associated with the regulation low bodice. Let us assume that the Lord Chamberlain’s department discreetly suppressed the news of any such incident, but it does remind me of that absurd anecdote about Queen Victoria in which on one occasion, before going in to dinner, Her Majesty urged one of her royal granddaughters: “A little rose in front, dear child, because of the footmen.” Another obstacle, especially when long trains were fashioned from velvet, was the unhelpful traction of the deep pile of silk carpets at the palace, especially heading up staircases. The physical effort alone must have been the equivalent of a jolly good work-out at Equinox or Crunch, which, I suppose, in our depressingly crude and metropolitan moment, strikes one as almost the social equivalent of being presented at court.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dad in Budapest

P. C. Trumble (front row, far right) attends a murder trial in Budapest.

Shortly before Hamish took up residence at Jesus College, Cambridge, Dad took him on the old Orient Express to Vienna and Budapest, where for some reason he had arranged to attend a law conference, along with several other Australian delegates, including, I fancy, Diane Baker. This must have been in the early fall of 1974. I must have inherited my interest in espionage from Dad, because on this brief excursion to the eastern bloc, he was thrilled by the prospect of being subject to covert surveillance, and certainly alert to the possibility that everyone from concierge to putzfrau was a covert Soviet functionary. I am sure he knew that this was almost certainly not true, but part of him would have regretted it. Some people are disturbed by the thought that all is not as it seems, but Dad was simply delighted, and I must admit that I usually am too. He loved the thought of hidden microphones, agents provocateuses lurking on every street corner, intrigue aboard the steamer on Lac Balaton or being followed across the Heroes’ Square. Certainly, part of the entertainment provided to the conference delegates was the opportunity to attend a public murder trial, of which this photograph is the slightly sinister record. There he is, seated in the front row on the far right, wearing headphones, and looking wholly absorbed. I suppose it is rather depressing to think that for some poor wretch in that court room the only thing worse than being tried for murder was being tried before an audience of well-fed lawyers mostly from the other side of the iron curtain. In any case, the more some foreign capital resembled the setting of a spy novel, the happier Dad was. He loved spy novels. And in his hotel room, late at night, he poured his delight into ridiculous verses, written in longhand with his fountain pen, and posted them home to us in envelopes decorated with cartoons, almost always harnessed to the PAR AVION portion at the top left hand corner of an airmail envelope. Incidentally, does anyone under 50 remember air-mail envelopes, or the frisson of pleasure caused by receiving one, and devouring the onion-skin contents? If the attention of the Hungarian authorities was ever drawn to these, one can only imagine what perplexity they must have caused. Such was the pointlessness of Cold War paranoia. Certainly Dad’s gleeful presumption that Budapest was a seething nest of Russian spies went hand in hand with the certain knowledge that there was nothing much that they could gain by ensnaring a Melbourne city solicitor who was also, at that time, director of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, honorary treasurer of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, and a member of the board of management of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, etc. etc., except general confusion, and a lot of wasted time and effort. Safely back in the free world, and coinciding there with Kenneth and Sylvia Aitken, of all people, Dad and Hamish attended the Staatsoper in Vienna. In the audience that night, in other words the night of Monday, September 16, 1974 (Parkett, Reihe 8, Sitzen 3 und 4), only a few places away and in the same Reihe, were seated Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. Was it The Tales of Hoffmann, I wonder? I must remember to ask Hamish.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The India List and India Office List

Naturally my copy of The Colonial Office List for 1911 is fairly useless without having close to hand that same year’s edition of The India List and India Office List. Many of the advertisements are identical, but with telling variations. It is not exactly clear to me why the Indian Civil Service was singled out by Swan Fountain Pens; Messrs. Silver & Co., of Cornhill, who knew exactly what is needed for every part of the globe,” or William Coles & Co., Inventors and Makers of the Spiral String Truss (est. 1819). However, there were evidently good reasons for targeting the markets in Calcutta, Madras, New Delhi, and Bombay for jodhpurs, polo mallets, pith helmets, specialist banking, insurance, and shipping services for India, as well as Callaghan’s Binoculars, Stalking, Yachting, and Astronomical Telescopes and Aneroid Barometers—according to the Oxford English Dictionary, an aneroid barometer measures air pressure, not by the height of a column of mercury or some other fluid which it sustains, but by its action on the elastic lid of a vacuum box or flask—and, of course, Dinneford’s Magnesia, “approved by the medical profession for over 60 years as the best remedy for acidity of the stomach, heartburn, headache, gout, and indigestion, and the safest aperient [laxative] for delicate constitutions, ladies, children, and infants.” I suppose it is hardly surprising that The Law List (which meticulously includes attorneys-general, puisne judges, among many other law officers, etc. etc., serving in the colonies), The Army List and The Navy List, meanwhile, shunned advertising, although The Foreign Office List and Diplomatic and Consular Yearbook did not. In the latter case, certain hints toward the carefully differentiated needs of a British legation, as distinct from a colonial outpost, are discernable, namely J. Schweppe & Co., manufacturers of mineral waters; Carson’s paint, which stands a tropical sun without blistering”; Thurston’s billiard tables; Allen’s portmanteaus, and Clark’s noiseless, self-coiling, revolving steel, iron and wood shutters (satisfactorily “fire and thief proof”). However, a full-page advertisement for Osler’s crystal glass chandeliers, wall lights and lustres for gas and candles, kerosene and moderator lamps for India and home use (my italics) certainly re-introduces a note of ambiguity.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Further Colonial Office List

The 1911 Colonial Office List contains an immense volume of information relating to all aspects of the administration of every corner of the British Empire, but its arrangement is essentially logical, and indeed bears witness to the almost superhuman capacities of its three patient, not to say dogged, longhand editors, who doubled as clerks with many other responsibilities in the colonial office in Whitehall: W. H. Mercer, C.M.G., A. E. Collins, and R. E. Stubbs. To these hard-working men all scholars of British imperial affairs owe an immense debt of gratitude that will only grow in scale with the future passage of years. They were careful to state in their preface that all particulars were only as accurate as the data returned to Whitehall by colonial governments and crown agents scattered across the globe. They also thoughtfully supplied a complete chronological list of the editors of 49 previous annual editions, the better to account for any inaccuracies that might some day be traceable to any one of them. Without exception all were relatively junior clerks in the colonial office, and as far as I can tell none of them ever visited a colony, and many only rarely traveled outside London. Part I is a minutely detailed historical survey of the office of secretary of state for the colonies extending back to the seventeenth century, together with a tour d’horizon of all offices, institutions, and voluntary associations connected with colonial affairs. These included but were not restricted to the Imperial Institute of the United Kingdom, the Colonies, and India; various Colonial Government Emigration Agencies, with corresponding offices in many distant colonies; the Emigrants’ Information Office in London; the Malay States Development Office; the Imperial Department for Agriculture for the West Indies; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, interestingly; the London School of Tropical Medicine; the Incorporated Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (where most serious cases were first observed among landing passengers); the Colonial Nursing Association; the Sleeping Sickness Bureau; the Advisory Medical and Sanitary Committee for Tropical Africa; the Entomological Research Committee; the Colonial Veterinary Committee; the Colonial Survey Committee; the Royal Colonial Institute; the British West African Association; the Ceylon Association in London; the Straits Settlements Association; the West Africa Committee; the West Indian Club; and, most importantly, the Imperial Conference, with a summary of its most recent deliberations relating to matters of British foreign and colonial policy at the highest level. Part II consists of a brilliantly concise but exhaustive description of each colony, by region, together with a summary digest of the relevant statistics: the subtotal and total values of imports to and exports from Britain, the population of each colony, its public revenues, public expenditures, and public debt. The bulk of the volume then proceeds to provide a historical and statistical account of each and every inhabited colony in alphabetical order, with a comprehensive statement of all of its institutions of civil government, learning, and commerce, liberally accompanied with fold-out maps (of varying degrees of accuracy). A typical example of a single entry is the one for the Gold Coast (modern Ghana). This begins with an account of the diverse tribal distribution and location of the indigenous population; a history of the British colonial administration; a description of the colony’s written constitution; its legal system; its climate; the history of the abolition of slavery in the locality; an account of mail and steamship lines, railways, postal communication, telegraph and telephone services; a description of the local education system (which was, in this instance, in the hands of five missionary societies connected with different religious denominations); information about currency and banking, which at the Gold Coast was monstrously complex because although British sterling was the local currency, Spanish, American, and French gold coins circulated alongside British coin, and relative values were therefore dodgy; a granular breakdown of the population; a description of local trade and industries (mainly cocoa, raw cotton, gold, lumber, palm kernels, and rubber); and, in conclusion, a complete directory of local British personnel from the Governor at the top, all the way down through the executive branch, the native affairs, mines, treasury, customs and excise, postal and telegraphic, medical, sanitary, police, and judicial departments; the public works, survey, printing, prisons, ecclesiastical, education, audit, agricultural, forestry, and railway departments, together with a list at the end of the local consular representatives of Germany, Belgium, Spain, Norway (!), Liberia, and the Netherlands. Taking one of these departments as an example, that of the colonial secretary’s office, in other words the office of the Governor’s chief minister at the Gold Coast, we find that Brevet-Major H. Bryan, C.M.G., was serving as  colonial secretary, with a salary of £1,200 per annum and a duty allowance of £240; W. C. F. Robertson was his chief assistant (£650 and £130); A. A. C. Finlay and J. W. Church were assistants (£400 to £500 and £80); A. R. G. Wilberforce and H. P. Popham were junior assistants (£300 to £400 and £15); C. O. Hellis was European chief clerk (£350 to £400); S. H. Brew was “native chief clerk” (£200 to £250); P. Azu, C. Holm, and T. E. Hyde were second grade clerks (£100 to £150); A. S. Odonkor, C. C. Lokko, C. C. Lamptey, and J. M. Bartlett were third grade clerks (£80 to £100); W. S. Mettle, R. C. Annan, P. G. Vlerk, and H. H. Malm were fourth grade clerks (£60 to £80); S. A. Laryea, C. R. Adjaye, and A. A. Dua were fifth grade clerks (£40 to £60); and D. W. Abrahams, D. N. Fry, J. S. Akuerter, and E. C. Nmai were sixth grade clerks (£25 to £40 and, for some reason at this lowest eschelon, a duty allowance of £5). An appendix to this long middle section of The Colonial Office List covers all those possessions or protectorates that were not administered directly by staff reporting to the secretary of state. These included North Borneo, Sarawak, Zanzibar, Aden, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, and “miscellaneous islands.” The miscellaneous islands, mostly acquired by accident or for specific purposes such as laying telegraph cables or erecting a lighthouse, included the Ashmore Group in the Indian Ocean; Bird Island and Cato Island in the Norfolk Island Group, roughly near Australasia; Sombrero in the West Indies; Raine Island, Bell Cay and Bramble Cay, all near British New Guinea (Papua); Sydney Island in the Phoenix Group of atolls in the Central Pacific; the Caroline and Flint Islands, also in the Pacific; Malden Island (which was leased to the guano mining company of Messrs. Grice, Sumner & Co., and, far more recently, after the end of World War II, used for British H-bomb tests); Starbuck Island, Vostoc, Gough, Nightingale, and the so-called Inaccessible Islands, all in the South Atlantic; “and there are many others.” Part III consists of “miscellaneous lists,” viz. (1) a list of honours lately conferred for services in and for the colonies; (2) a comprehensive list of all papers on colonial affairs that were presented to both houses of Parliament since 1877; and (3) a detailed memorandum setting out the procedures associated with making all colonial appointments from governors to commissioners of public works and all other minor officials in the field. Part IV is a biographical register of all members of the colonial service, either currently en poste or else retired, and is exceedingly useful because it mentions not only the sequence of posts occupied by each, but their educational background, and many ancillary facts about appointments, service on various charitable and other committees, etc. Thus, to return for a moment to the case of the Gold Coast, when we look up Brevet-Major Herbert Bryan, C.M.G., the colonial secretary, we find that he was born in 1865, took his commission as second lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment in June 1892, and was promoted lieutenant in 1894, then captain in the Manchester Regiment in 1899, and finally brevet major in 1900. He served in West Africa in 1897 and 1898, specifically in the hinterland of Lagos and also in operations on the Niger, including the expedition to Bassema, when he was mentioned in dispatches (medal with two clasps). He served in Northern Nigeria in 1900, and was slightly wounded (again mentioned in dispatches, another clasp). He served in operations in Ashanti; joined the staff of the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, and was two more times mentioned in dispatches (another medal). He was chief staff officer on the Gambia expedition in 1901 (more dispatches, yet another medal); served as staff officer in the West African Frontier Forces from October 1901; was attached to the colonial office in London in 1902 and 1903; served briefly as acting governor in 1904, before assuming the permanent post of colonial secretary later that year. In other words, as second highest ranking British official in the Gold Coast, Bryan had accumulated considerable experience of the Gold Coast that went far beyond that of the governor whom he served, J. Jamieson Thorburn, C.M.G., who began his career in Ceylon, and served in various capacities there (acting assistant postmaster-general, acting secretary of the irrigation control board, etc.) and in Southern Nigeria (senior provincial commissioner “in anticipation of proposed amalgamation of the administrations of Lagos and Southern Nigeria,” before finally assuming the government of the Gold Coast in 1910. Part V of The Colonial Office List is perhaps the most extraordinarily useful, because it sets out “Colonial Regulations,” which governed every aspect of administration in the field, including constitutions, councils and assemblies, guidelines for governors and lieutenant-governors; appointments, salaries, discipline, leave of absence; ceremonies, precedence, medals and decorations, salutes, flags (above), uniforms, and so on; the correct mode and frequency of official correspondence back and forth to the colonial office in Whitehall; and, finally, rules about colonial finances, accounts, bookkeeping, audits, returns, supplies and stores. The tone is starchy, but clear: “Presents from kings, chiefs, or other members of the native population in or neighboring to the Colony, which cannot be refused without giving offence, will be handed over to the Government.” Certainly.

The Colonial Office List again

The cost of publishing The Colonial Office List was partly offset by advertising, and many of the ads were geared towards the exigencies of colonial life. In 1911 they included half- or full-page ads for Hickie, Borman, Grant & Co. Ltd., general shipping and forwarding agents (“passages booked and baggage shipped by all lines”); Henry Sotheran & Co., agents for all book-buyers in India, the colonies, and abroad; Ede, Son & Ravenscroft, colonial and civil uniforms (“the firm has been the recognised authority on court dress and robes for 200 years”); The Hardy Patent Pick Co. Ltd., hammer and rock drills; The Westminster Palace Hotel in London (for a little home leave: “Unrivalled position, overlooking Trafalgar Square, facing new entrance to the Mall, close to Houses of Parliament, Government Offices, theatres, and other places of interest and entertainment in the West End”); B. Drew & Co., hosiers, shirtmakers and general outfitters for W.A.F.F. khaki field service kit (“for officers serving with the West African Frontier Force and West African Regiment”); Army, Navy, and General Assurance Association Ltd., for accident and disease insurance (“double the usual compensations in the event of death, loss of eyes or limbs, or temporary disablement, total or partial, when arising from accident to a railway train”); The Legal and General Life Assurance Society; The Hunslett Engine Co., Ltd., manufacturers of locomotive, tender and tank engines to suit any gauge of railway; Cammell, Laird & Co. Ltd., axles, springs, buffers, files, and rasps; Wm. Potts & Sons, Ltd., cathedral, church, and turret clock manufacturers (“watchmakers to the Admiralty, first on list for 1905 and 1906”); Lambert, goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewelers to His Majesty the King; Whitfield’s Safes (“makers to H.M. the King, the Admiralty, the Agent-General for Natal, the Home Office, and the War Office”); Newton & Cook, painting, household, toilet, table, and general brush manufacturers; John K. King & Sons, the premier house for high-class seeds; Teofani’s cigarettes (“They possess an aroma peculiarly their own”); Alldays & Onions Pneumatic Engineering Co., Ltd., for cars, perfect examples of British workmanship (i.e. “standard cars suitable for colonial use”); The Civil Service Musical Instrument Association, Ltd. (“Pianos specially constructed for extreme and trying climates”); Osram lamps from General Electric; The Colonial Bank; The London City & Midland Bank; Bank of Australasia; Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China; Waterlow and Sons Ltd., engravers and manufacturers of bank notes, postage stamps, share warrants, and bonds (“The artistic nature of this engraving and the use of special geometric designs in white line has, combined with anti-photographic colours in the printing, successfully resisted all attempts at fraudulent imitation”); Jones, Chalk & Dawson, diplomatic uniforms of all countries; Nevill’s Charing Cross Turkish Baths (Hmmm: “Gentlemen’s entrance...pronounced to be the finest electric baths in Europe”); Szerelmey Stone Liquid, the remedy for damp, decay, scaling, chipping and discoloration; Aquascutum Ltd, overcoat specialists. One gradually forms a picture here of a pretty Government House somewhere exotic surrounded by beds of azaleas and hollyhocks grown from King’s seeds, with a clock in the turret from the house of Potts. Dressed by Ede & Ravenscroft and smoking Teofani’s cigarettes, the governor dictates instructions to Hickie, Borman & Grant relative to the imminent transfer to his next post, even while the civil engineers in town grapple with a big order for Hunslett locomotives, and the mines department is in touch with Hardy’s of Sheffield to see about getting in more hammer drills. Splendid.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Colonial Office List

One of my favourite books is the 1911 edition of The Colonial Office List, that annual compendium of useful information pertaining to the administration of the British Empire. At this date, the Empire spread across five continents, namely (1. Europe): Gibraltar; Malta; and Cyprus; (2. Asia): the Indian Empire (which, though administered separately through the India Office, consisted of territories approximately corresponding with modern India, Pakistan, the Northwest Frontier with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Burma); Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which was never part of the Indian Empire; Hong Kong and Weihaiwei (in other words Weihai in the Shandong Province of modern China); the Straits Settlements (Singapore); the Federated Malay States, North Borneo, and Sarawak (most of modern Malaysia and Brunei); (3. Africa): Ascension Island; the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Transvaal, Swaziland, and the Orange River Colony (most of modern South Africa); Basutoland (Lesotho); the Bechuanaland protectorate (Botswana); Mauritius; the Seychelles; St. Helena; Sierra Leone; Gambia and the Rio Pongas; the Gold Coast (Ghana); Southern Nigeria; Northern Nigeria; Nyasaland (comprising parts of modern Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi); British East Africa (essentially Kenya); Somaliland (Somalia); the Uganda protectorate; Tanganyika and Zanzibar (Tanzania); (4. Americas): Bermuda; Canada; Newfoundland and Labrador, which were not yet part of Canada; British Guiana; British Honduras; the Bahamas; Barbados; Jamaica; Turks and Caicos; Trinidad and Tobago; Grenada; St. Lucia; St. Vincent; Antigua; Dominica; Montserrat; St. Kitts and Nevis; the Virgin Islands; the Falkland Islands and South Georgia; (5. Australasia): Australia (comprising New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland); New Zealand; Fiji; Papua; the New Hebrides (Vanuatu); the Pitcairn and Solomon Islands; Norfolk Island; Lord Howe Island; Tuvalu; the Union Islands; the British Antarctic Territory, and various other small Pacific territories—with a total population (not including indigenous peoples) of slightly more than 55.6 million Anglo-Celtic settlers. The minister of the crown responsible for running this vast accumulation, upon which the sun never set, was the secretary of state for the colonies, a comparatively junior cabinet minister, who was assisted in this awesome task by four private secretaries (three of them assistants) who reported directly, and a department of state consisting of two permanent under-secretaries; four permanent assistant under-secretaries; a chief clerk; a “legal assistant,” seven “principal clerks,” nine “first class clerks,” and sixteen “second class clerks,” a librarian, two accountants, a chief registrar, his deputy, and two assistants; two copyists; two printers; two office keepers; seventeen messengers (six of them pensioners), and a porter. This tallies at forty-one staff, and eighteen domestics—who kept fires lit, ran errands, and made the tea. The office structure was geographical, and divided into (1) the dominions division (in which only eight staff looked after Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand); (2) the crown colonies division, a much larger group of more junior clerks; (3) the so-called general department, a kind of odd-bins; (4) the accounts department; and (5) the legal department. In each case, the oversight of multiple territories and colonial possessions in each region was allotted to small teams of responsible clerks who, it was hoped, developed specialist knowledge of the relevant files for each place. The colonial office was assisted in its economic remit by a separate colonial audit department that was in turn supplied with reports furnished by single auditors posted in the more prosperous colonies. In most cases these solitary watchers over each colonial ledger were regarded with suspicion by men in the field, who resented the inference that they required supervision, checks and balances. The whole system appears to have been based on the presumption that under normal circumstances the Empire would take care of itself, and any emergencies could be handled locally by the small army of colonial governors and crown agents administering each colony with the support of imperial forces either already present in the region, or else dispatchable at relatively short notice by order of the Admiralty. Even so, the legal department of the colonial office (consisting of only two hard-working clerks) was expected to peruse all legislation enacted by colonial parliaments, as well as to monitor the proper constitutional conduct of governors and executive councils in crown colonies that did not yet possess legislatures. The system was further complicated from time to time by the direct involvement in colonial affairs of up to four other cabinet ministers: the foreign secretary, when colonial affairs collided with British foreign relations, as in the 1898 Fashoda crisis, or else when British diplomatic representatives exercised what amounted to the political control of countries that were not technically colonies, e.g. Lord Cromer, who though merely British consul-general effectively ran Egypt as a sort of appendage to the Suez Canal; the secretary of state for India; the secretary of state for war (when the British army regularly interacted with colonial defense arrangements), and the First Sea Lord (the Royal Navy). As well, the dominions adopted the habit of posting agents-general to London, whose task was to represent the colonial interest in Whitehall when, in the view of the settlers, that interest was not always set in a satisfactory order of priority by or within the colonial office itself. In other words, there existed at least six completely separate and not always harmonious avenues of communication back and forth between the imperial capital and the colonial outpost. That the Empire managed to function at all with such a tiny staff, such immense problems of communication, and so many day-to-day conundrums, issues, and concerns all regularly flowing inwards by confidential dispatch from governors to the desk of the secretary of state himself is something of a major miracle. Yet The Colonial Office List goes a little way towards telling you how they did it.