Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yes We Did

Some weeks, propelled by routine, seem to fly past. Others are so packed with incident that the memory of seven days ago feels like a different era. This was one such week.

Last Saturday I took the train to Philadelphia, and stayed with my friends David and Doug in their charming house just off Rittenhouse Square. The train was packed with excited families heading to Washington for the Inauguration, and even Mayor DeStefano was there, with mountains of luggage, presumably proceeding to the capital in his official capacity.

The President-elect departed 30th Street Station about thirty minutes before we arrived, by which time the crowds had scattered and the surrounding streets were eerily vacant.

On Sunday morning I went with Doug to divine worship at the supremely dignified St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, rather “low,” where the custom is at first to face west, then half way through, after the intercessions, to turn and face in the other direction for the rest of the service. Enclosed pew stalls, arranged between three broad aisles, are appropriately furnished with carriage-car seating to facilitate this deft maneuver.

The two wedding-cake pulpits and the organ case opposite are as grand as can be, and interior so bracketed is the ne plus ultra of American colonial church architecture, plain and crisp and white, with exquisitely classical proportions.

In the detached Christ Church churchyard, hard by the mint, David took me to see the surprisingly modest grave of Benjamin Franklin, who founded pretty much everything in Philadelphia, and his “wife”—in fact they never formally married—and afterwards, as the temperature plummeted, I purchased an extremely becoming hat from a rug dealer in 2nd Street. I came back to New Haven through a sort of blizzard, very Anna Karenina.

After a brief pause for reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, then came the Inauguration.

I think I shall always remember that day. It was simply brilliant, a wonderful experience. We had the ceremony streaming live in our lecture theater, and it was packed with jubilant staff, students, and visitors, wild applause, never wilder than when they ran those hapless Bushes out of Dodge.

Vice-President Cheney’s Dr. Strangelove impersonation was too beautiful. Did he specifically request the creepy guy hat? Gone, gone, gone, and gone for good.

I have to say that the Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery upstaged everybody. You need to hear him right to the very end:

Another big highlight for me was Aretha Franklin’s enchanting hat, and grey knitted gloves. I am reliably informed that those are real diamonds:

C-minus to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., for bungling the presidential oath so badly that he had to administer it again the day before yesterday. Evidently he presumed he could dictate it from memory in front of at least two million people—wrong! It was an appalling error of judgment not to arm himself with a piece of paper upon which are written the correct words, and I doubt if his reputation will ever fully recover.

Afterwards a group of us went to have a celebratory lunch—the all new Obama chilli burgers at the Copper Kitchen—and we have vowed to make this an annual occurrence.

Left to right: self; Mark Aronson, Chief Conservator of Paintings at the Yale Center for British Art; Suzanne Boorsch, Robert L. Solley Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Yale University Art Gallery, and Helen A. Cooper, Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Mark, Helen, and I co-curated “Benjamin West and the Venetian Secret,” and Helen is patiently waiting to hear if she will continue to serve on the White House Preservation Committee. I hope they keep her.

No doubt we look a bit like the crowd before Jesus performed some type of miracle, but the mood was one of great elation, and high hopes. I challenge anyone to see the Obamas’ first dance at the Neighborhood ball, and not shed a tear:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trumbles in Fiction I

A cursory survey of Victorian and Edwardian short fiction yields many characters named Trumble.

Charles de Cresseron’s peculiar historical novel The House By the Church-Yard—A Souvenir of Chapelizod was serialized in the Dublin University Magazine in 1862. In the middle of chapter XLVIII (Vol. 59, No. 353, May, p. 572), after Captain Cluffe goes missing, presumed drowned whilst attempting to punt across the river, upstream from the salmon leap, under cover of darkness, his breathless, lisping companion Lieutenant Puddock raises the alarm, and bursts into the clubrooms of the Phoenix:

There were assembled old Arthur Slowe, Tom Trimmer from Lucan, old Trumble, Jack Collop, Colonel Stafford, and half-a-dozen more members, including some of the
officers—O’Flaherty among the number, a little “flashy with liquor,” as the phrase then was. Puddock stood in the wide opened door, with the handle in his hand. He was disheveled, soused with water, bespattered with mud, his round face very pale, and he fixed a wild stare on the company…

“Gentlemen, I’m thorry to tell you, Captain Cluffe ith, I fear, drowned!”

“Cluffe?” “Drowned?” “By Jupiter!” “You don’t say so?” and a round of such ejaculations followed this announcement.

“He went over the thalmon weir—I thaw him—Coyle’s weir—headlong, poor fellow! I shouted after him, but could not anthwer, tho pray let’th be off, and—”

Old Trumble seems not to have risen above the picturesque cast of supernumerary Anglo-Irish clubmen extras in this admittedly exciting tale.

An extended advertisement placed by Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. in the Magazine of Art of January 1880, listing “Books for Children and Young People,” meanwhile, was led on page 484 by “Tim Trumble’s ‘Little Mother, A New and Original Story. By C. L. Matéaux, Author of Home Chat, &c. With 18 Illustrations by Giacomelli. Fcap, 4to, cloth, gilt edges, 5s.” According to the critic of the Academy (No. 18, July/December 1880, p. 421) this work
is an odd mixture, and is certainly above the comprehension of little folk, though perhaps tolerably big boys and girls may find amusement and pleasure in its pages. “Little Mother,” it would seem is a pet name for Tim Trumble’s motherly daughter, while Tim was a circus-man who revisits the country. Interwoven with the main story is a record of the family life and history of a nest of little finches, who have taken up their abode near Tim Trumble’s country home. A large portion of the book deals with bird-life generally, the views of birds with regard to mortals, &c.
And in “The Watermead Affair: The Story of a Chauffeur-Errant,” by the Scottish-Canadian adventure story writer and historical novelist Robert Barr, which appeared in October 1905 in his own journal The Idler (p. 434), co-edited with Jerome K. Jerome,

John Trumble, seventh Earl of Watermead [above], was notoriously the best driver of a motor in London. The police admitted that, even when giving testimony against him. Watermead Manor is not much more than sixty miles from London, but when the young man did the distance from his park gates to the Marble Arch in fifty-six minutes on his new Brusier-Grolier, a machine of the same make which, to the eternal glory of France, had won the Gordon-Bennett Cup that year, the bench of magistrates universally agreed that his lordship had not only gone too far, but too fast.

The excuse which he gave the bench on this occasion came near to augmenting his fine. He said that he had been a week at Watermead, and suddenly there occurred to him the thought of the dreamy beauty of the Marble Arch. England, he said, was deficient in the artistic sense, and in order that the impression might not pass away from him, and thus be lost for ever, he leaped upon his motor, and came as quickly as he could to view the Marble Arch by moonlight; and his lordship assured the bench, almost with tears in his eyes, that the sight of the grimy marble had filled his mind with poetic thought, which should be encouraged in these days of commercialism. The senior magistrate drily remarked that his position compelled to take the commercial, rather than the poetic, view of his lordship’s action, whereupon he fined him a sum about as near to the maximum as he could get without actually reaching it.

Yet it was but two days later that his lordship gave the Pullman express from Brighton three minutes’ start, overtook it, passed it, and would have beaten it into London had not the authorities, warned by telegraph, placed a barrier across the road south of Croydon, although they allowed the express to pass through, which Lord Watermead held was unfair treatment. He accused the express of furious loitering, to the exasperation of all passengers, and held that he should be commended for consenting to teach that train its duty. Instead of approval he received censure, and was mulcted a fine as heavy as the law allowed. He always referred to this race with the Brighton express as a delightful leisurely episode in an otherwise fast life, and claimed with pride that there had then been applied to him, for the first time in England, the term “Road-hog.”

The story is salutary, because through extravagance and financial prodigality John Trumble, seventh Earl of Watermead, loses everything, his London townhouse, his estate, his possessions, his servants, and his motors. People cut him at his club. Through an ingenious series of twists, however, he finds employment as a chauffeur, incognito; meets and falls in love with Miss Erroll, thrills his future father-in-law, a doctor, by contriving to acquire for and drive him with supreme caution in the finest of his lost Brusier-Grolier motors, and, finally, beats Sir William Dillow, baronet, in a crucial road race to save his Watermead estate.
Kate Erroll had raised her veil, and was looking intently at the chauffeur.

“What does all this ‘my-lord-ing mean, Mr. Trumble?”

“It means, my dear, that John Trumble, Seventh Earl of Watermead, has still enough influence here to order tea for his friends. It means that to-day we are taking nobody’s dust. It means that Watermead House hopes to please the future Countess.”

Hugh Christian Trumble

Professor Hugh Christian Trumble was the son of my great-grandfather’s brother, the famous Test cricketer Hugh Trumble.

Professor Trumble was appointed to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute at the University of Adelaide in 1925, and became professorial head of the Department of Agronomy from 1941 to 1953.

His papers are still there, and include memoranda and reports which are numbered, some with index cards for ready reference. There is also a notebook of experiments for the season of 1933, two annual diaries, and a notebook of pasture and cereal experiments. There are also some handwritten lecture notes on agrostology,
i.e. the scientific study of grass.

Professor Trumble was the author and co-author of a number of learned papers, books, and reports about Australian agronomy.
The earliest of these was a brief tract he wrote with Arnold Edwin Victor Richardson and R. E. Shapter, which cheekily they entitled Factors Affecting the Mineral Content of Pastures, with Particular Reference to the Environmental Conditions Incidental to Southern Australia…Report on Co-Operative Investigations at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute (Melbourne: H. J. Green, government printer, 1931).

This was followed in 1932 by the same authors’
The Influence of Growth Stage and Frequency of Cutting on the Yield and Composition of Perennial Grass, Phalaris tuberose (Melbourne: H. J. Green, government printer, 1932).

Next came
The Establishment, Persistency, and Productivity of Selected Pasture Species on an Irrigated Reclaimed Swamp, by H. C. Trumble and J. Griffiths Davies (Melbourne: H. J. Green, government printer, 1934).

Investigations on the Associated Growth of Herbage Plants; Progress Report on Co-Operative Investigations at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute (Melbourne : H. J. Green, government printer), duly followed in 1937, and, in the following year, The Relation of Phosphate to the Development of Seeded Pasture on a Podsolised Sand, (Melbourne : H. J. Green, government printer, 1938).

(Podzolic soils, as they are now known, are grey, ashy, and although characteristically capped with an abundant surface accumulation of organic matter, are often severely leached, highly acid, and generally low in agricultural value.)

Also in 1938, Professor Trumble wrote for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
The Establishment of Pasture on Deep Sands in the Upper South-East of South Australia. A Report on Co-Operative Investigations at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute (Melbourne: H. J. Green, government printer, 1938).

Finally, the Waite Institute having in the meantime been much depleted by the demands of World War II, Trumble published with Robert Langdon Crocker,
Investigations of Guayule (Parthenium argentatum Gray) in South Australia (Melbourne: H. E. Daw, government printer, 1945).

Hugh Christian Trumble is not to be confused with my grandfather’s brother, also Hugh, the eminent brain specialist and neurosurgeon, whose 301-page volume of
Collected Papers was edited by his brother-in-law Leonard B. Cox, R. S. Lawson, and T. E. Lowe, and published with a foreword by W. G. D. Upjohn (Melbourne: The Alfred Hospital, 1957).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

William Borthwick of Sale

My great-great grandfather, William Borthwick, was born near Borthwick Castle in Midlothian, not far from Edinburgh, and was certainly a distant kinsman of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and, I suppose, on that principle, all subsequent Lords Borthwick in the peerage of Scotland, who are also chiefs of the Clan Borthwick, Barons of Heriotmuir, and Lairds of Crookston. His wife’s maiden name was Jane Murray.

Their son, my great-grandfather, also William Borthwick, was born on December 4, 1850, and emigrated on his own aboard the S.S. Ravenscraig, the ship which presently brought the first ukulele from Madeira to Honolulu in 1879. William Borthwick arrived at Port Melbourne in July 1870, aged nineteen and a half.

William joined the National Bank of Australasia Limited in Melbourne, and rose rapidly; in fact he did so well that before long he became the youngest man ever appointed manager, in this case the Bank’s branch at Maffra in East Gippsland (above).

There he met his future wife, Ada Maud Mary, the daughter of Edward Connor Bell and Katherine Anne Wallen.

According to Aunt Anne, on the first occasion upon which William set eyes on Ada, she was kicking a football in the grounds of the local branch of a rival bank, of which her uncle was manager.

Somewhat weakly, despite his middle name, E. C. Bell always insisted that his father, a Writer to the Signet in Dublin, was Scottish, not Irish, on the unfortunate, oft-repeated basis that “Had I been born in China, I would not have been Chinese.”

After ten years at the National Bank, William Borthwick bought into Mr. Little’s stock and station agency in Sale—which duly became known as Little and Borthwick.

According to a useful advertisement placed in The Gippsland Mercury (1898), Little and Borthwick (late English, Little, & Co.) were the local agents for the Land Mortgage Bank; the Curator of the Estates of Deceased Persons; the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P. & O.); Messrs. R. Goldsbrough, Woolbrokers, and the Liverpool and London and Globe Fire and Life Insurance Company, in other words practically everything.

They also conducted auctions and carried out valuations “in any part of Gippsland,” and lent “large and small sums of money” on mortgage or freehold estate, in effect behaving very much like a bank.

In 1885, with the proceeds of this rather successful business William purchased a property four miles west of Sale, across the road from the Pearsons’ Kilmany Park. William Borthwick named it Bald Hills, presumably after the eponymous Bolkonsky estate in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which first appeared in English translation in the same year. The land is west of Fulham, near where the Sale aerodrome now is.

As neighbors with strong Scottish connections, the Borthwick and Pearson families grew up in close proximity and while the Borthwicks were not nearly so rich as the Pearsons, they were evidently prosperous enough to enable Aunt Jean and Aunt Kath and possibly their mother also to travel to Europe for an extended holiday in the 1920s, presumably after great-grandfather William Borthwick died, and again in the mid-1930s.

On that later occasion they traveled aboard an Imperial Airways Short “C” Class flying boat, a 16-day journey which induced temporary deafness but offered by way of compensation nightly hotel accommodation somewhere pleasant, and conversation-free dinners.

MetroNorth Reverie

Seven years and four months on, I still get a shock when I look down 8th Avenue to where the World Trade Center used to be. Professor Brandt once told me that before it went up, the view of downtown Manhattan from her apartment on Washington Square was like the prow of a gigantic ship, and, before they started building the new Freedom Tower, for a while I suppose it must have looked like that again.

Heading north along Lower Fifth Avenue early this morning was magical: bright and frigid, so that last evening’s inch of snow has congealed in places into lethal floes of crackling ice.

The Empire State Building was trumpeting its silent metallic fanfare, as usual. What a stately old matron she is! I walked as far as Andrew’s rectory, then took a cab to Grand Central.

The MetroNorth Railroad is always entertaining, despite the hardship. The open carriages are colossally uncomfortable; the seats are far too close together, slippery, dirty, and saggy. Such privacy as is proffered to your average Connecticut commuter consists of reasonably high seat backs, though if you happen to be tall, as I am, you can almost always see the upper half of the other passengers’ faces, if they choose not to slump. There is an element of intrigue to this, as in libraries.

Loud public cell-phone conversations—too much information—have dampened the entertainment value of gradually assembling small but surprisingly elaborate portraits of certain passengers who for various reasons arouse your curiosity. Occasionally, however, one may still play that diverting game.

This morning, for example, a handsome young man—mid-twenties—got on my carriage, hauling a large backpack, and a suitcase with still-fresh “IST” airline luggage tags: Atatürk International Airport, in Istanbul.

He was wearing a dark green knitted woolly hat; neat spectacles; the suggestion of a youthful five oclock shadow; a dark red Boston College hoodie; and a navy blue pea jacket, which he carefully removed, folded, and stowed aloft. He immediately attended to his fine, blond hair, using the window as a mirror: a charming hint of fastidiousness, if not vanity.

Out of his backpack he took the current issue of the Economist, and an Arabic broadsheet newspaper, which he opened and read in the correct, back-to-front manner, with much absorption, between 125th Street and Stamford, Conn.—at least that was what he was doing when, at regular intervals, I awoke from my motion-induced coma.

MetroNorth carriage windows are usually so maculated with filth on the outside, especially after a snow storm, that their only practical purpose is to provide many oblique reflections with which discreetly to observe passengers on the inside. In any event, that was when and, in due course how, our earnest young friend with the fine features and the Roman nose caught my eye.

A Yale graduate student perhaps? Should I in fact recognize him? But, no, probably not: He gets off at Stratford, deftly contriving to arrange the hoodie over the collar of his pea jacket—the kind of maneuver I can somehow never achieve in similar circumstances without getting hopelessly tied up in knots, or scattering the contents of my pockets on the floor.

Walking down the aisle, the scuffed but sturdy Timberland two-eyelet boat shoes with leather thongs instead of laces give him away: almost certainly rich, or preppy with a twist. Maybe heading back to the family home, somewhere leafy.

But, at the same time, largely in view of this accurate socio-economic data so freely displayed, he is, I imagine, impressively frugal, possibly independent-minded also—why else schlep from Terminal 1 at JFK (Turkish) to Grand Central and then take MetroNorth, and not be collected? No doubt he has learned from bitter experience how ghastly and interminable the so-called “Connecticut limo” service can be.

There’s also the issue of snarled traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway to consider, even your carbon footprint. These days young people can be quite serious about their carbon footprint.

Will he, or won’t he?

It’s very easy to miscontrue those moments when on a train you repeatedly, maybe inadvertently, meet the other person’s gaze, and earlier I am insisting to myself that he is merely wondering why the middle-aged homosexualist in the far corner is having such a lot of trouble staying awake.

But then, at Stratford, Conn., after the doors have closed, at the top of the steps down into the parking lot, he pauses to retract the handle of his suitcase on wheels, hoicks it off the ground, then looks over his shoulder, and flashes me a coy but winning smile. Not even a shadow of a doubt about it.

Love is quite definitely in the air.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Wombat

Australian gazetteers offer up dozens of topographical features that carry the name of the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus). There is the town called Wombat, the so-called Wombat Pinch, and the Wombat Range all of which are quite close to Canberra. There is Mt. Wombat (2,621 ft.), between Euroa and Strathbogie, and the Wombat Spur in the Great Dividing Range, both in Victoria.

Wombat Hill is in the Parish of Wombat, not far from the Wombat State Forest near Daylesford, which before 1854 was itself called Wombat.

There is Wombat Point on the north eastern coast of Tasmania.

Five Wombat Creeks flow in Victoria, three in New South Wales, and one in Tasmania, while South Australia has a Wombat Dam, a Wombat Homestead, and places called Wombat Tank, Wombat Flat, and Wombat Wallow.

While nineteenth-century settlers found plentiful opportunities to exploit the name and distinctive character of the dependable wombat, twentieth-century Australia paid far more attention to the kangaroo – which is better for airlines, and more in keeping with the general mood of a society increasingly enthralled with the idea of velocity.

From about 1803, a steady trickle of live wombats reached Europe. We know there was a wombat among the birds and animals that were delivered to the menagerie of the Empress Joséphine Bonaparte at Malmaison, near Paris. So from first decade of the nineteenth century the wombat was, though not particularly familiar, at least observable in Europe.

An early wombat owner was the naturalist Everard Home, whose paper on the subject, “An Account of Some Peculiarities in the Anatomical Structure of the Wombat,” appeared in March 1809 in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts.

Hume’s wombat, a male, was in fact caught by George Bass, probably on King Island, where we know Bass and his companions shot several other specimens.

Once provoked, this particular wombat put up a splendid struggle, tearing strips off Bass’s coat sleeves and making loud “whizzing” noises. Evidently he took ages to calm down. Bass kept him alive, evidently looked after him well, and sent him to England. There, in London, he lived in what Home described as “a domesticated state for two years.” The following description is no less charming today than it must have struck English scientific readers nearly two hundred years ago. The wombat

burrowed in the ground whenever it had an opportunity, and covered itself in the earth with surprising quickness. It was quiet during the day, but constantly in motion in the night: was very sensible to cold; ate all kinds of vegetables; but was particularly fond of new hay, which it ate stalk by stalk, taking it into its mouth like a beaver, by small bits at a time. It was not wanting in intelligence, and appeared attached to those to whom it was accustomed, and who were kind to it. When it saw them, it would put up its forepaws on the knee, and when taken up would sleep in the lap. It allowed children to pull and carry it about, and when it bit them did not appear to do it in anger or with violence.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Dean's House, Dunblane

This is the Dean’s House in the High Street in Dunblane, which was built in 1624 by my enterprising eight times great-grandfather, The Reverend James Pearson, M.A., who made quite a lot of money whilst enjoying his appointment as Dean of Dunblane Cathedral in the Church of Scotland.

James Pearson’s coat of arms was carved on an oak plaque that is still affixed to one of the stalls in the Cathedral, among the only remnants of ancient ecclesiastical furniture that survived the Reformation in Scotland. The Dean’s arms are also carved on the outside of the Dean’s House.

Dean Pearson brought a successful civil suit against James Kinross of Kippenross for arrears of the vicarage dues, and, with the proceeds, in 1646, built a comfortable house over the ancient tower of Kippenross, which was gradually extended until our ancestor William Pearson lost the freehold in a game of dice or cards.

The Dean came by the land, and the barony, because Helen, “Ladie Kippenross,” the sole surviving daughter and heir of the previous laird, Sir James Cheisholme of Cromlix, was the childless wife of Mrs. Pearson’s brother David.

This cosy arrangement was formalized by a charter signed by King Charles I at Edinburgh on November 9, 1633.

Pearson of Kippenross

I possess a photocopy of an old off-print of a lengthy article in Burke’s Colonial Gentry entitled “Pearson of Kippenross,” that was carefully inscribed by our great-grandmother, “E[mily]. S[ophie]. Pearson, Kilmany Park, at ‘Craigends,’ Ayrshire, 1912,” shortly after she and her family arrived for an extended stay in Britain before World War I.

According to the preamble, “The old Scottish family of Person of Lochlands, Pierson of the barony of Balmadies, Forfarshire, and Pearson of the barony of Kippenross, Dunblane, Perthshire, of which the Hon. William Pearson [my great-grandfather] is head, appears under various spellings, in some of the earliest official records of Scotland.
This family is described as then “ancient,” in 1684, by John Ochterlony of The Guynd, in his Account of the Shire of Forfar” [a manuscript in the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh that was eventually published by the antiquarian James Maidment in his The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland (Edinburgh: Printed for the Spottiswoode Society, 1844), Vol. I, pp. 311-350].

The unbroken descent of Pearsons appears to commence with Thomas Pierson, who died before 1524, and his first and, unfortunately, anonymous wife.
Of Thomas Pierson’s five sons, John the eldest, was a monk; Thomas, the third, became the ancestor of the Pearsons of Clow, and of Lady Paton, wife of the artist Sir J. Noel Paton, specifically a painter of fairy subject-matter; David, the fourth, obtained in 1576 the monastery charter of Nether Baith, thenceforth known as Peirson’s Baith; and Adam, the youngest, inherited abbey lands of Kepty, Smiddie Croft, and Lamblaw Croft, including Lochlands, a portion of Cairny.

It is the second son of Thomas Peirson’s sketchy first marriage, however, who concerns us here. His name was Walter Peirson. Having witnessed a charter by Alesone Charteris, relict of one “Fotheringham of Powrie,” which granted the lands of Forgandenny to one Cristopher Seton of Meldrum—an arrangement confirmed by Mary, Queen of Scots, on April 30, 1556—Walter Peirson expediently married Seton’s daughter, Isobel, a rare instance of shrewd financial management in the Pearson line.

Walter and Isobel Peirson had four sons and two daughters: (1) James, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Carnegy of that ilk; (2) John, who married another daughter, Margaret, of the same Carnegy of that ilk; (3) Alexander, of whom more presently; (4) Thomas, whose doughty child and heiress, Elspet, in 1645 subscribed “600 merks” to the defence of Dundee by Major Mungo Murray against the Marquis of Montrose.

The third son of Walter and Isobel Peirson, Alexander Peirson, represented Edinburgh in the Convention of Estates at Holyrood House, in 1602, and in the Scottish Parliament of 1608, having been since 1586 a merchant burgess of Edinburgh. From his first marriage to Bessie, the daughter of one Jhone Eistoun, he had five sons and two daughters: (1) Alexander, a brilliant advocate, who in 1634 distinguished himself in the defense of Lord Balmerino, and in 1649 rose to the bench as Lord Southall; (2) Adam, who succeeded his father as merchant burgess of Edinburgh; (3) James, of whom more presently; (4) John, who in 1646 served on the Committee of War, and in 1655 became Commissioner for the Shire of Edinburgh; (5) Thomas, a “bachelor”; (6) Elspeth, who married Thomas Cleghorn, a goldsmith, and (7) Margaret, who married Edward Edger of Wedderly, Co. Berwick.

The third of these—and a curious pattern of descent from second or third son to second or third son is here beginning to emerge, and lasted as far as our great-grandfather, William Pearson, who was also a third son, as is my elder brother Hamish—was James Pearson, of Kippenross in Perthshire, who was born in 1594; took his M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1615, was ordained in the Church of Scotland, and was eventually appointed by King James to be Dean of Dunblane Cathedral.

Dean Pearson used this benefice extremely effectively (after the example of his shrewd grandfather) to enrich himself and his family, before coming under the notice of the authorities in 1649, who forced him by Act of Parliament to lend his money to the public purse. Nevertheless Dean Pearson survived more or less intact until he died in 1658.

Dean Pearson, James, married Jean, the second daughter of David Drummond of Innermay, and had three sons and a daughter, viz.: (1) James, the eldest son and namesake, who was born in 1637, was in 1678 appointed one of the Commissioners of Supply for Perthshire, having in 1661 married Helline, daughter of Sir John Rollo of Bannockburn, who was, in turn, the second son of the first Lord Rollo; (2) David, a bachelor; (3) Alexander, another bachelor, and (4) Jean, who married into the family of James Belshes of Tofts.

James and Helline (Helen) Pearson had an enormous family of two sons and seven daughters who survived infancy: (1) James, of whom a little more presently; (2) John Pearson of Kippenross, our ancestor; (3) Janet, who in 1691 injudiciously married Patrick Graeme of Inchbraikie, soon after he was outlawed for having fought and won a fatal duel with the Master of Rollo; (4) Isabelle, a spinster; (5) Elizabeth, who married Walter Buchanan of Wester Spittlehau; (6) Annabella, another spinster; (7) Anna (the name seems unoriginal, poor girl), who evidently remained yet another spinster.
Now, John Pearson, the second son of James and Helen Pearson, was born in 1667, and eventually married Jean, daughter of the first Sir Patrick Threipland, baronet, a noted Royalist during the Argyll Rebellion of 1685, and Lady Threipland, whose first husband, Linton of Pittendreich, was a victim with John Pearson’s older bachelor brother, James Pearson, of what is remembered as “Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiell’s very sad and unwarrantable Mistakes.”

According to Burke, this surviving John Pearson and his wife Jean were wise enough to keep their heads down.
John Pearson “became noted throughout his part of Scotland for his gigantic size, and for his hospitality and good-fellowship according to the customs of the day. They had two sons and two daughters, of whom the eldest son died young, and the second son, Hugh Pearson, inherited Kippenross, as well as several useful legacies from his spinster aunts.

Hugh Pearson of Kippenross took the Grand Tour in the late 1730s, and on a visit to the Lake of Albano somehow thought that the evergreen oak trees in the vicinity were rather similar in shape and as large as the Kippenross Tree, a huge sycamore, which makes you wonder how much he really benefited from the experience.

Upon returning to Scotland, Hugh Pearson took great interest in the improvement of his property, and in 1742 laid out the Beech Walk, along the banks of Allen Water. He married Agnes, the daughter and co-heir of William Gibb, a surgeon of Edinburgh.

Their second and youngest son, William Pearson of Kippenross, who was born on January 27, 1750, married Jane, the only daughter of Sir James Campbell of Aberuchill and Kilbride, fourth baronet.

He actually lost the freehold of Kippenross to one John Stirling of Kippendavie “at dice or cards,” so recalled Aunt Anne, “on the night of the worst storm in years, which was nothing compared with the one he encountered when he got home, and told Jane wot ’e dun.”

William and Jane Pearson are fortunate to have qualified for inclusion in our select club of sixty-four, mercifully (as far as I know) unrelated great-great-great-great grandparents.

The rest of this curious story is told here.

The Bush

At this time of year I get very sentimental about the Australian bush, not so much because I have ever thrown myself headlong into the thick of it, but because a little goes a long way, and amid the snow and ice of New England I hear those unique noises, the indigenous birdsong, and I smell those rich sweet smells of wattle, and eucalyptus, and fibrous lumps of wombat dung, which everyone should know is square, distinctly square, and I visualize all the other Australian fauna—the dependable echidna, the comical emu, the furry koala in his tree, and the kangaroos.

Above all, I think of the lofty gum forests, and the shapely mountains of the Great Dividing Range in East Gippsland, which, as a child, Granny thought were made of blue glass. Once or twice, years ago, I drove up to Canberra from Melbourne, choosing to go via Metung.

From there you follow the Princes’ Highway east—a small prize to anyone who can correctly identify the princes, I can—through Lakes Entrance, and on through wilder country to the pretty town of Orbost, on the left bank of what remains of the once-mighty Snowy River, and thence to Cann River.

There you turn left, leave the Highway, and drive north into the heart of hillbilly high country: Norinbee, Norinbee North, Chandler’s Creek, Buldah, and over the top into New South Wales.

Paddy’s Flat comes next, then Bombala, Cooma, Bumbalong, and finally, approaching from the south side, the Australian Capital Territory, which if there weren’t a big sign announcing it, you would never notice until suddenly you cross a rise, and almost run straight into the back of Parliament House, Canberra.

The last time I drove to Canberra was in early January 2003, when I took Mum up for a few days, and, following the coastal route, through Genoa, Eden, Merimbula, and Bega—Better Buy Bega—Bermagui, Moruya, to Bateman’s Bay, we turned west, and approached Canberra via Braidwood, Bungendore, and Queanbeyan.

It was the day of the colossal Canberra bushfires, and although we stopped regularly to check with the local emergency services, and the police, to see about any road closures, it was quite obvious by the time we reached Quaenbeyan that we were driving right into the teeth of the fires, and the sky over Canberra was slate grey, and thick with smoke.

Why I didn’t turn around and drive as fast as possible in the opposite direction, I shall never know, because all of us had seen at first hand the devastation and, indeed, peril, of a mighty forest fire when on Ash Wednesday, 1983, Mum and Dad’s little farm at Upper Beaconsfield was almost completely obliterated.

Notwithstanding the sizeable flakes of ash that were raining down over Braidwood, we pressed ahead through thick smoke, and, as it turned out, the Brassey Hotel in Barton was, weirdly, still open for business, as if nothing were happening.

Ultimately the fires never got past Red Hill, but I cannot imagine why anyone could have felt confident about that.

At length, we checked in, washed, changed, had a drink in the lobby, and afterwards dined at the restaurant in the National Portrait Gallery’s snappy new pavilion on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin.

It was there that I caught sight of the pale, apricot-colored sun, doing its best to penetrate the blanket of smoke over the lake, which was calm, and realized that the effect was so nearly identical to that of Claude Monet’s defining Impression, soleil levant (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) that one should assume that what the great man saw in 1872–73 was the comparable product of sooty coal fires and industrial pollution enshrouding the port of Le Havre.

Talk about the pioneering spirit, though I suppose it might have turned out very differently.

On that visit, I stayed on in Canberra, spending four happy months as a Harold White Fellow at the National Library, and Mum flew home.

During that time I shared a small house in Ainslie with dear Erica Seccombe, and Robyn Van Dyk. Nat Williams lent me his lovely old green Peugeot, and each morning when I turned out of the drive into Duffy Street, a small but plucky mob of grey kangaroos hopped along beside the car.

Melburnians spend some energy dispelling for the benefit of foreign visitors this myth of the Australian suburbs, but ironically, on the eve of my departure for the United States I found to my astonishment that it could actually be true. Here they are, just up the hill, hard by Duffy Street, Ainslie.