Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More from Nick in Saigon

Inspecting the contents of the library in the old presidential palace in Saigon, this morning Nicko writes: “The palace was designed by a French trained Vietnamese architect Ngô Viet Thu, who somehow survived the war and its aftermath, and only died quite recently. It’s all very 1961, and untouched. Quite fashionable actually. It has a Monash University or Canberra feel. The evil President Diem was assassinated before it was finished, so I’m not sure whether these books were his, or those of his successor, but whoever it was was reading Airport, and had an interest in Henry James. I see a title by Graham Greene, but I don’t think it’s The Quiet American. The cafe in which some of the action takes place in that novel is now a Gloria Jeans coffee emporium. Depressing.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

GAY 900

In the 1950s and 1960s, indeed throughout the rest of his life, our father indulged an immoderate enthusiasm for French automobiles, many of them unreliable. At the funeral Hamish summoned an especially charming image of Dad’s Walter Mitty-like reverie behind the wheel of whichever Citroën was for the time being the object of his affection—“I hear the thrum of accordions, I savour the fragrance of Gauloises mingled with that of blanquette de veau or the bouquet of a good Côtes de Rhône, and, with my beret worn just comme ça, I coast along the grand corniche…” or something similar. In fact for many years, but long before I came along, the family vehicle was a model very similar if not identical to this one, and it provided excellent service on many long-haul family holidays, country picnics, skiing trips to the old Belmore Ski Club at Mount Buller, which Dad helped build with his own bare hands, etc. Its Victorian registration plate was the altogether delightful “GAY 900.” Indeed the vehicle continues to be fondly remembered by my brothers as “the GAY 900.” So imagine his surprise when last week in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, where he is currently on vacation with Lesley, Nicko was astounded to come face to face with this relic of the French colonial period—think of what it must have survived: blanket bombing, napalm, the chaos of insurgencies, the American evacuation, the arrival of the Viet Cong, and the rest. In other words, without actually saying so, I suspect this chance encounter, of which he immediately notified us by email, powerfully removed Nick to Australian places of childhood and adolescence that must be about as different as it is possible to be from any aspect of life in Vietnam, then or since. I have an idea that through the immense number of automobiles Nick owned as a young man he may well have bought himself one of these jaunty black traction avant Citroëns 11CV (1934–1957), though alas it did not last.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The hyacinthine colour of the distance

I am a sucker for Edwardian sentiment, and apparently so too was Margaret Wood, author of The English Mediaeval House (1964), which I have been re-reading lately. Something of her character is conveyed on the title page where, without false modesty but at the same time nodding toward old manners, she is “MARGARET WOOD, M.A., D.LIT., F.S.A. (MRS. E. G. KAINES-THOMAS),” while the hearty, public school-leaning dedication is simply “To K-T.” However, it was by the long epigraph that I was captivated in bed this morning—a passage from the novel Precious Bane (1924), by Mary Webb:

To conjure, even for a moment, the wistfulness which is the past is like trying to gather in one’s arms the hyacinthine colour of the distance. But if it is once achieved, what sweetness!—like the gentle, fugitive fragrance of spring flowers, dried with bergamot and bay. How the tears will spring in the reading of some old parchment—“to my dear child, my tablets and my ring”—or of yellow letters, with the love still fresh and fair in them though the ink is faded—“and so good night, my dearest heart, and God send you happy.” That vivid present of theirs, how faint it grows. The past is only the present become invisible and mute; and because it is invisible and mute, its memoried glances and its murmurs are infinitely precious. We are tomorrow’s past. Even now we slip away like those pictures painted on the moving dials of antique clocks—a ship, a cottage, sun and moon, a nosegay. The dial turns, the ship rides up and sinks again, the yellow painted sun has set, and we that were the new things, gather magic as we go.

Precious Bane is set in Shropshire shortly after the Napoleonic wars, and concerns two parallel love stories, that of Prue Sarn, the narrator, who because she has a disfiguring harelip cannot believe that she is worthy of the wholesome weaver Kester Woodseaves, who perceives the innate beauty of her character, and that of Prue’s brother Gideon whose determination to marry his sweetheart, Jancis, is fatally sabotaged by lust for money and power. The title comes from Milton: “... Let none admire / That riches grow in Hell; that Soyle may best / Deserve the pretious bane. ...” (Paradise Lost, I: 690–92, i.e. money is the root of all evil, viz. bane, or poison). Incidentally, “to my dear child, my tablets and my ring,” clearly evokes a mother’s last will and testament, but those tablets were old-fashioned items of jewellery, not medicine. Precious Bane earned Mary Webb the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse, and also the admiration of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, but it is also typical of the kind of post-War, primitive-England, “loam and lovechild” writing that Stella Gibbons parodied so brilliantly in her Cold Comfort Farm (1932)—I read that again too not long ago. But what about that passage to which Margaret Wood, a disciple of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, so extravagantly directed her readers at the beginning of The English Mediaeval House? Well, I think it’s rather simple. Surely you can only fully grasp what Mary Webb has to say about trying to gather in your arms the hyacinthine colour of the distance, or indeed measure the sweetness of the gentle fugitive fragrance of spring flowers dried with bergamot and bay, once you have arrived comfortably at middle age—or if, over the years, you have kept enough letters that were written in blue ink that is rapidly fading. And it all lines up perfectly with the Edwardian cult of paleness, which was surely what Yeats had in mind, or something very similar, when, in a review of the play Ubu Roi (1896) by Alfred Jarry, he remarked: “After Stéphane Mallarmé, after Paul Verlaine, after Gustave Moreau, after Puvis de Chavannes, after our own verse, after all our subtle colour and nervous rhythm, after the faint mixed tints of Conder, what more is possible? After us the Savage God.” In this world of unstoppable email and limitless terror, you can only conclude that he was onto something; Margaret Wood knew what Mary Webb was talking about, and for all their damaging imperial jingo the Edwardians had exactly the right idea about what really matters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The snuff-box

For as long as I can remember Mum used this kidney-shaped Georgian brass snuff-box to store pins inside her sewing basket. I am not quite sure where it came from, except I have an inkling that Uncle John may have given it to her—simply because it so exactly reflects the monkish side of his taste. He could easily have picked it up for no money at all in the Portobello Road, or else on one of his sweeps through the junk shops and country auctions.

It is brass, with a lovely soft patina, and the hinge is rather fine. I have lately seen several others like it. These days the type is generally referred to as a Welsh miners’ snuff-box, though obviously the inscription provides a completely different point of reference. I doubt if we shall ever identify E. L. Bull, but I presume he was a sailor aboard H.M.S. Terrible, and also responsible for turning down the nose of the lid, presumably with a hammer or mallet, to create a sort of clasp. It is pretty effective. Was he, I wonder, the ship’s carpenter?

H.M.S. Terrible was a 1,660-ton, 170-foot, 74-gun Culloden-class ship of the line. She was ordered by their lordships of the Admiralty in December 1781; her keel was laid down on January 7, 1783, and she was launched on March 28, 1785. During the 1790s, she saw action in the Mediterranean under the command of he who rejoiced in the name and rank of Captain (later Admiral) Skeffington Lutwidge. The Terrible joined squadrons harrying the French, at different times under the direction of Rear-Admiral George Hotham and Admiral Viscount Hood, and a little later she transferred to the Channel fleet, then finally via Plymouth, Madeira and the Canaries, to the West Indian station—for essentially the same purpose. On October 15, 1800, a court martial was held aboard the Gladiator at Portsmouth at which James Keating, a Royal Marine, of the Terrible, was found guilty of disobedience, and of striking a serjeant. He was sentenced to 200 lashes. E. L. Bull may well have known the man, however this wobbling, but nevertheless reasonably well-spaced and carefully punctuated, stamped inscription on Mum’s snuff-box is his only surviving private statement. I fancy E. L. Bull was proud of his ship, as literate as he needed to be, and far cleverer than to be insubordinate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thomas Cornelius Trumble

Some time ago in these columns I remarked that Thomas Cornelius Trumble, the brother of our pioneering Irish great-great-grandfather William Trumble, sometime superintendent of the Kew Lunatic Asylum, “decided to continue on to New Zealand, and was never heard of again.” This is only partly true. Thanks to the diligence of Simon Trumble, our second cousin once removed, my attention has now been directed to the following obituary which appeared in the Southland Times on May 27, 1889, p. 2: “One by one the old identities who did service in the early colonization of Otago are passing away. Few figures were better known to old settlers than that of Mr. Thos. Trumble, who has for many years made Invercargill his chief residence. The deceased arrived in Dunedin on the second trip of the ship Mariner in August, 1850, and as an original settler under the New Zealand Company was allotted town and suburban sections. He settled on the latter, situated at Kuri Bush, near Dunedin, until March, 1856, when he took up the Otaraia run between Clinton and Mataura, at that time the advanced outpost of the settlement. In time he made a considerable portion of the property freehold with which he never parted. In 1866 he removed permanently to Invercargill for the sake of the educational advantage it offered for his family. The date of his settlement on his Otaria property was well fixed in his memory from the fact that in March of the same year what was then considered an alarming earthquake was felt in Dunedin, which destroyed a few weak chimneys, but from all accounts was not anything like as severe as some that have since been experienced. The deceased leaves a widow and a grown up family of two sons and seven daughters. Two boys pre-deceased him, one [William Henry, the youngest son] having been drowned in the Oreti many years ago [on March 30, 1873] near his Winton estate. Mr. Trumble was what is termed a strong politician, and was a firm supporter of the late Mr. James Macandrew. He took some part in the management of some local matters, having been for a time a member of the Invercargill District Road Board. He was an enthusiastic Mason, and a score of years ago held the office of treasurer of the Southern Cross Lodge. He died on Saturday evening, having nearly attained the age of 79 years.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The token

Among the detritus floating at the bottom of an old deed box inscribed “Rutherford Trust,” that Dad kept for years in his study at home in Melbourne, I have this morning found an old copper coin, with the baffling inscription (obv.): “OIL & COLOR STORES • O. H. HEDBERG • ARGYLE ST. HOBART TO[W]N” (above) and (rev.) O. H. HEDBERG • HALF PENNY • SWEDISH HOUSE HOBART TO[W]N.” I have never before encountered artists’ colourmen who doubled as issuers of currency, let alone in Van Diemen’s Land, so in search of an answer to the vague question “huh?” I did some digging, and have just finished reading an entirely absorbing article in the Tasmanian Numismatist, vol. 9, no. 2 (2004), viz.: “Tasmanian Tradesmen’s Tokens Revisited,” by the estimable Graeme Petterwood.

It turns out that the explanation for the existence of this odd little private Tasmanian halfpenny is relatively simple, and what follows is merely a condensation or digest of Petterwood’s fuller, livelier, and more expert account.

Throughout the British Empire during the Regency period there was a persistent shortage of small change. Paper promissory notes and letters of credit were issued and circulated in many colonies, but there was also a host of different coins, not necessarily even British, that trickled in from passing ships, and circulated freely alongside them. When these coins grew scarce, a simple barter system evolved—often centering on rum and tobacco. In Australia rum, in particular, was controlled by the officers of the deeply corrupt New South Wales Corps until Governor William Bligh tried to put a stop to the nuisance, thereby precipitating the so-called “Rum Rebellion” of 1808, and his successor Governor Lachlan Macquarie finally disbanded the corps in the following year.

In September 1813, Macquarie ordered a large shipment of £10,000-worth of silver Spanish dollars from the East India Company in Madras, each valued at 5s, to be centre-punched to produce two coins from one, that is, a ring, and a smaller solid dump—this idea was not new; the same technique was earlier used to create small change at Prince Edward Island. The ring (thenceforth known as the “holey dollar”) would remain pegged at 5s, but the smaller dump would be re-struck, and circulated with a value of 15d. The colonial treasury obviously made a substantial profit, and, for a while, viable, small-denomination currency circulated in Sydney and elsewhere in the Australian colonies.

In 1824, the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land opened in Hobart, and issued sterling under licence from the London & Westminster Bank. Before this, Tasmania was awash with paper promissory notes of any and all values above 3d, and hardly any coins. The issuers of these notes—which could be purchased in bundles or booklets of 100 blank forms—promised to reimburse the bearer for the amount stated on the note. It was, in essence, a checking system unsupported by any bank, and therefore completely unreliable. Paper “money,” meanwhile, in the form of official commissariat bills of exchange, was not much better.

Instead, the Spanish silver dollar became accepted as universal currency, and Van Diemen’s Land did not hesitate to use it alongside sterling at a rate of exchange that was sometimes more favorable than that of the Bank of England. Even promissory notes could be issued in Spanish dollars, but the bank cashiers routinely converted them back to sterling at a substantial discount. Even this did not discourage widespread speculation in private Spanish-dollar promissory notes, so in 1826 the colonial government pegged the dollar at 4s 4d, and prohibited the exchange of notes worth less than £1, and all such notes made out in Spanish dollars. This produced an instant and remarkable effect of deflation, in the absence of any viable colonial money at all, until private banks hurriedly opened for business and began issuing more sterling to fill the cash void. These included the Tasmania Bank (1826), the Derwent Bank (1827), the Launceston Savings Bank (1835), the Hobart Savings Bank (1845), and the deeply unpromising-sounding Convict Savings Bank (1829). None of this solved the problem of small change, so foreign coins continued to circulate freely, but not nearly enough to satisfy the need or demand.

In England, the practice of issuing copper and silver tradesmen’s tokens comparable in style and weight to minted coin was well established, most often as an ingenious form of novelty advertising. Many private manufacturers of such unofficial penny-tokens were thriving in England when the First Fleet reached Botany Bay in 1788, but few of the tokens themselves found their way to Sydney or Hobart Town, for the simple reason that there was at first nothing at all to buy, and convicts were not allowed to have money. The first tradesmen’s token prepared for exclusively Australian use was made in England in 1823 and introduced the following year to Van Diemen’s Land. It was a silver shilling piece, for Macintosh and Degraves, who then operated the Cascade Saw Mill near Hobart Town.

Gradually more tokens were privately produced for public circulation in Australia, of varying degrees of poor quality from the crude to the downright atrocious, but in the end British manufacturers produced quality pennies and halfpennies, even with Australian motifs such as the kangaroo that migrated via reproductive prints all the way down from George Stubbs’s 1771 treatment of the same subject. After the Macintosh and Degraves silver shilling there were eventually twenty more local issuers of copper or bronze tokens, among them Lewis Abrahams the draper; I. Friedman the pawnbroker; W. D. Wood the wine and spirit merchant; Alfred Nicholas’s tea warehouse; R. S. Waterhouse the draper; Joseph Moir the ironmonger; J. G. Fleming the grocer; R. Andrew Mather the draper; H. Lipscombe the seedsman; R. Josephs the customs agent; H. J. Marsh & Brother the ironmongers; William Andrew Jarvey the pawnbroker and general clothier; G. Hutton and R. Henry, both ironmongers
—and they’re only the ones in Hobart. Naturally there were vigorous competitors in Launceston. Some of their tokens were manufactured in England and shipped out in barrels, but others were made in the new die-sinking, token-making, and medal-casting establishment of Thomas Stokes in Melbourne, or by other reasonably competent metalsmiths and manufacturers who migrated to Australia and mostly set up shop in Port Phillip.

Olof Hilmer Hedberg was born in Sweden, and came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1844. At first he worked at the government’s bonded store, but soon started what rapidly grew into a successful whaling business. At its peak, Hedberg owned two large whalers, the
Victoria and the Maid of Erin. Tasmanian whaling was profitable until the mid-1850s, when the price of blubber and whale oil rapidly declined from £83 per ton, and whales themselves became scarce due to over-fishing. Compounding these losses, Hedberg’s flamboyant investment in a number of coal mines on the island’s east coast failed completely, and he was forced to open a much-reduced mixed business and commission agency in premises he named, rather grandly, “Swedish House” in Argyle Street, Hobart. It was for this business that this little copper token was issued. Perhaps it was the pleasure and satisfaction of issuing coins, in the manner of a bank, that partly distracted Mr. Hedberg from the sharp reality of his reduced circumstances, and his unobstructed view of mist hanging gloomily over the summit of Mt. Wellington.

Interestingly, Hedberg’s new business gradually moved towards a more or less exclusive dealership in artists’ materials. In early 1858 on the front page of the Hobart
Mercury he took out an advertisement for “Sperm Oil, Black Oil, Colza Oil, Paint Oils, Turpentine,” but in Walch’s 1866 Tasmanian Almanac a much wider range of paints, oils, and varnishes was offered, and there is no longer any mention of sperm oil, etc. It is not clear what, if anything specific, carried Mr. Hedberg commercially all the way from whale blubber to artists’ materials, but it may simply have been a natural affinity with oils—animal, mineral, and vegetable. It seems likely that this token was made in the early to mid-1860s.

Until recently Mr. Hedberg’s tokens were thought to have been struck by W. J. Taylor of London, but later “mules,” that is, struck from dies that were originally made for two separate issuers, are not necessarily Taylor’s own work. These may have been made by and/or for the firm of Ralph Heaton & Sons in Icknield Street, Birmingham. At the very least their provenance is uncertain.

Despite his commercial failures, Mr. Hedberg achieved some popularity in Hobart and Tasmania. When he died on August 22, 1884, the Tasmanian reported that for two whole days most if not all the ships at anchor in the Derwent River flew their ensigns at half mast—more, and for longer, I daresay, than any banker or businessman in our present economy could ever possibly expect.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Praise for Desda

One of the only documented public performances by Desda, our great-great-grandmother, Jane Davies, took place on Friday evening, December 9, 1859. It was advertised on the front page of that day’s Sydney Morning Herald in the following terms:SCHOOL-ROOM, ADOLPHUS-STREET, BALMAIN. SPAGNOLETTI’S BENEFIT CONCERT. THIS EVENING, December 9, 1859. Artistes:—Madame Flora Harris, Nina Spagnoletti, Lady Amateur, Mr. Marmaduke H. Wilson, Spagnoletti, Gentleman Amateur. Conductor, Mr. E[rnesto]. Spagnoletti. To commence at eight o’clock. Tickets 3s 6d. each; children under twelve years, 2s. each.” It seems possible that Spagnoletti’s benefit concert was primarily for the benefit of Spagnoletti; the matter is left deliberately vague, and the ticket prices were comparatively high. However, on page three, the Herald’s music critic was careful to identify “Lady Amateur” as none other than Desda. It is possible, though by no means certain, that “Gentleman amateur” was Desda’s first husband, the still living Frederic Messiter, of Malmsbury, Wiltshire. This would have made it far easier for Desda to perform not only under the rubric of “lady” but also plausibly as “amateur”: “CONCERT.—Balmain seems quite a musical suburb. Only about a fortnight since we reported a successful and well attended concert in aid of the funds of the School of Arts, and our columns of to-day advertise another for this evening. Signor Spagnoletti intends favouring the residents of Balmain, and we trust that they in turn will patronize his efforts at once intellectual and entertaining. Four new songs appear in the program, two of which have not yet been sung in public, ‘Cooey,’ written by the Australian songstress ‘Desda,’ is one of them; the music of which, by Spagnoletti, we hear from private sources is extremely new and pretty.”

The Works of Desda

Our great-great-grandmother, Jane Davies, née Price, sometime Messiter, of Woodlands Cottage, St. Leonards, and, later, Leddicott, McMahon’s Point, North Sydney, published verses under the pseudonym “Desda,” and was also a semi-professional soprano. In 1859, following an engagement in Balmain, the music critic of the Sydney Morning Herald described Mrs. Messiter (as she was then) as “the Australian songstress.” Here, for the first time, are presented in full her surviving poetical works, with basic commentary. A work of fiction for children entitled The Rival Fairie ; or, Little Mamie’s Troubles, an Australian Story for Children followed, and was published in Sydney in 1871 by Edward Turner.

1. Australia

Land of beauty, love, and light,
Land of future power and might,
Boldly now assert their right,
Fair Australia!

Bid thy children guard thee well,
Make their hearts with pride to swell,
As of thee great deeds they tell,
Brave Australia!

Let thy foemen dare approach,
Let them on thy rights encroach,
None shall harm thee, none reproach,
Our Australia!

Maidens seek your sunny bowers,
Laurels bring, and twine ye flowers,
Chaplets for this shrine of ours,
Bright Australia!

Providence our country bless,
Guard her in her loveliness,
Make her fears grow daily less,
Aid Australia!

Heaven bless our Volunteers,
Mothers, weep ye joyous tears,
Brighter than all bright compeers,
Shine Australia!


First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, August 29, 1860, p. 5. “Let thy foemen…thy rights encroach”] The greatest source of unease in the Australian colonies in 1860 was the widespread fear of the eastward-looking Russian Empire in the aftermath of the Crimean War, while the signing of the Treaty of Peking between China and Russia also raised concerns about the possibility of a fifth column among Chinese coolies on the goldfields and elsewhere.

2. Cooey! An Australian Song

Roaming through the bush one day,
He saw a pretty maid.
Her eye was bright as sunshine,
Yet soft as evening shade.
Her look was sad, her gaze was wild, and often did she sigh,
And in a silv’ry, timid voice she uttered the wild cry;
And in a silv’ry, timid voice she uttered the wild cry:

Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—Echo caught the strain;
Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—it echoed back again.

Stealing from his hiding place,
He sought to know her fears,
And why she wandered lonely,
And shed those silent tears.
“Alas!” in sport the Nymph replied, “my friends I’ve left behind.
They’re Gipsying within this wood, but where I cannot find;
They’re Gipsying within this wood, but where I cannot find”:

Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—Echo hears the cry,
Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—its mocking tones reply.

Seeking then her missing friends,
They rambled as they could,
O’er flow’ry hill and valley,
Through tangled copse and wood.
And since that hour he’s blessed the star, that led the maid to rove.
A trusting heart, a loving wife, he found within the grove;
A trusting heart, a loving wife, he found within the grove:

Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—Love has caught the strain,
Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey, Coo-ey—it whispers back again.

By an Australian Lady, with music by Ernesto Spagnoletti,” c. 1859. “Cooey!” (also cooee, coo-ee)] According to the excellent Australian National Dictionary (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 166), coo-ee originated as an Aboriginal cry, first recorded in 1790, when it was heard among Dharuk speakers in the neighbourhood of Port Jackson (Sydney).

3. Your Willy Has Returned Dear

Yes, Annie, I am here, love,

Home, home at last.

Then dry that falling tear, love,

And let your grief be past.

For while I press your lips,

And hold you to my heart,

I promise you, my Annie dear

We’ll never, never part.

I have feared for many days

Our ship would ne’er reach shore,

But now I’m safe at home, dear,

To leave you never more.

How wearily the moon’s waned,

Time crept away.

Yet, now that I’ve my home gained,

It seems but yesterday

I left you lonely here,

My bonny, bonny wife,

To battle singlehanded, dear,

With worldly cares and strife.

I have pictured oft your form

Sad weeping at the door

Now Willie safe at home, dear,

To leave you never more.

I thought of you each night, love,

Far o’er the deep.

I saw by fancy’s light, love,

Our little ones asleep,

Their mother’s gentle form

Bent o’er each cherub fair,

And I breathed a husband blessing

And a father’s earnest prayer

And I prayed to him above

To grant the trip soon o’er

And guide me safely home, dear,

To leave you never more.

Lyrics by Desda, set to the music of Ernesto Spagnoletti, c. 1859. The scenario of an absent seafaring husband and father was, of course, a familiar one in Sydney, though it does not appear ever to have been experienced by Desda herself.

4. The Dog Nuisance

To the Editor of the Herald.

SIR,—Smarting under great vexation, caused by some prowling curs destroying a portion of my favourite poultry, and committing other depredations, the following lines suggested themselves to me, descriptive of the wrongs I have suffered through the abominable canine nuisance, which I trust some legislative enactment will soon eradicate.

I remain, yours obediently,


October 22nd.

The glory of the day hath fled,
The shades of night creep darkly on,
Hushed is the sound of nature’s voice,
To rest, the feathered world hath gone.
The moon, all stately, soars on high
And timid stars yet faintly peep;
The evening breezes whisper low,
And lull the little flowers to sleep.

Roosting in their rustic perch
Undisturbed by care or fear
Sleep six hens of varied hues,
And a bold young Chanticleeer,
Little kens that noble bird
What the fates have stored for him,
Thoughts of danger he has none,
No fore-warning shadows dim.
A gay and gallant bird is he;
See how proudly heaved his breast
As his blood-red comb he tucks
‘Neath his downy wing to rest.

Blushing and beautiful rose the bright morn,
Tipping with sunshine each hillock around
Drying the tear-drops let fall by the night,
And kissing to life the flowers on the ground
Wrapt in sweet slumber, dreaming, I lay,
Visions of gladness around me at play,
Visions of paradise, glimpses of earth,
Sunshine and fragrance, music and mirth.
But dark is the change that o’ershadows my dream,
Fleet as a thunderbolt veileth the light,
Gone are the sounds of enchantment and bliss,
Faded the hues, evanescent and bright.
Borne on the air comes a heart-rending scream—
‘Tis fancy no longer, no longer a dream;
‘Tis the cry of my “chuckies”—their voices I know,
And cold to my heart does the thrilling blood flow.
With tresses disshevelled, with garments awry,
To the scene of distress—to the hen-house I fly.
And ne’er from remembrance that hour can I blot,
For there stood the gallant, his hens “the were not.”

Mute and alone stood the pride of his house,
All ruffled his plumage, dejected his mien;
He listens in vain for the voice of his mate,
“The light of his harem” no longer is seen,
Scattered and gone are those beautiful hens.
Princess, and Phillipet, Blind-eye, and Speck,
My poor gentle Gold-wing no more I behold,
And Spit-fire no longer her sister can peck,
Frantic and fuming I rush from the spot,
With vengeance and fury I burn—
Gone! gone are my “chuckies,” but where are the foes!
I seek them at every turn,
Over the green sward, into the bush,
Through highways and byeways I frantically rush,
I search every corner, I search but in vain,
And weeping and weary I seek them again.
And now does a scene meet my wondering sight,
And all that was mystery turneth to light,
For “Dogs” of all colours, of every size,
Before me all snarling and growling arise.
There were dogs that were yellow, and dogs that were white,
Grey dogs, and brown dogs, and dogs black as night,
Dogs that had great ears, dogs that had small,
Some dogs had long tails, and some none at all.
At the sound of the whip to their kennels they fly,
And o’er a few feathers I sit down and cry.


October 22

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, October 25, 1861, p. 2. “Dog Nuisance”] A bill for more effectually abating the Nuisance occasioned by Dogs” was introduced into the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in September 1863, but the whole issue of savage and/or wild dogs was debated ad nauseam in the colonial press throughout the 1850s and 1860s. Desda’s was therefore merely one of hundreds of voices raised against the outrage. “chuckies”] from chucky, n., and chuck, n. 1 “A familiar term of endearment, applied to husbands, wives, children, close companions,” and/or 2. “Chick, chicken, fowl,” somewhat curiously in northern English dialect (OED). “Phillipet”] the origins and/or meaning of this name are obscure, although it may be related to philip, meaning sparrow, and conceivably to Catullus’s dirge over a dead sparrow, though Desda does not seem to have bothered much with Classical allusion. Alternatively it could be a cheerful attempt at Phillibhit or Philibhit, the city in modern Uttar Pradesh where Sir Colin Campbell crushed part of the Indian Mutiny in 1858. “Spit-fire”] The term is recorded in the early seventeenth century, and means, of course, hot-tempered. “whip”] Though her tresses were disshevelled and her garments awry, Desda nevertheless took the trouble to arm herself, as much to assert her presence to the owners of the offending kennels as to keep the dogs themselves at bay. Splendid. Well done.

5. The Relief of the Distressed

Arouse! Australia’s daughters!

Let us strive with heart and hand

To cheer the weeping, weary hearts

Now sobbing through the land.

We’ll waft them messages of hope,

And bid them not despair,

And send them help substantial

To mitigate their care.

Oh! list not to the craven cry

That charity at home begins.

Remember that her cloak is large,

And all need shelter from their sins.

Let each give cheerfully her mite,

And though the mite be small

‘Twill help to warm the cheerless hearth

And swell the gathering ball.

Mountains are formed of atoms;

The floods of drops of rain;

And if we work together,

And work with might and main.

We’ll lighten the burden of many a heart,

And help the yoke to bear.

And send the quickening flush of hope

To drive out pale despair.

Who would not wear a shabby glove?

Or a luxury forego,

When the price of superfluity

Would lessen another’s woe;

Would help to raise some drooping form

Or hush an infant’s wail,

Or call the rosy hue of health

To cheeks now wan and pale.

Oh! women of Australia

Your hearts are warm and brave;

Then weary not in doing well,

Stretch forth a hand to save.

And ye, dear little children

Come forth a mighty throng,

And wake to life our sympathy

With heart uplifting song;

Sing, for the poor and homeless,

Sing, for the young and old,

Sing, for a meal for the supperless,

For little ones blue and cold.

And surely we shall reap reward,

When many a prayerful one

Shall bless Australia’s daughters

For the good that they have done.


Woodlands, North Shore, July 4th, 1867.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, July 6, 1867, p. 5. “Now sobbing through the land”] On June 1, 1867, the Hawkesbury River broke its banks and unleashed an enormously destructive flood. In a matter of days the river rose 21 yards above its normal level. This was the worst natural disaster yet to afflict the colony.

6. Fairy-Brisk’s Song

Wake, little Mamie! the sun shines bright,
And the bees are abroad in its golden light;
The birds are beginning to build in their bowers,
And the breath of the morning is scented with flowers.

Wake! for the voice of the rivulet calls,
As it wendeth its way to the waterfalls.
We’ll gather the ferns from its moss-covered sides,
And drink a cool draught as onward it glides.

Wake! for there’s joy in the brisk morning air,
Brightness and gladness and love everywhere;
In the song of the birds, in the sun’s cheerful beam,
In the sigh of the breeze, in the murmuring stream.

We’ll seek the lone haunts where the Waratah grows,
And the woodlands are gay with the bright native rose;
All nature is stirring with life and with glee,
Then wake, little Mamie, and wander with me.

The Rival Fairies; or, Little Mamie’s Troubles: An Australian Story for Children, by Desda. Sydney: Edward Turner, Publisher, Hunter Street [1871], p. 23. “Mamie”] Desda’s second marriage to John Davies produced two daughters, (1) Susan Compson, our great-grandmother, b. June 25, 1863, and (2) Mabel Annie Mason, b. October 10, 1864. Although the character of Mamie was a composite of both, the name far more closely resembles that of her youngest child. “Waratah”] “A name for Australian shrubs of the genus Telopea (N.O. Proteaceæ), esp. T. speciosissima and T. oreades, which bear crimson or scarlet flowers in terminal clusters” (OED). “native rose”] i.e. Boronia serrulata.

7. Drowsy-Wing’s Lullaby

Sleep, Mamie, sleep!
While softly I sing to thee.
Sleep, and bright fairyland visions
I’ll bring to thee.
Day hath scarce shaken the dew from her wing;
Sleep, till she’s rosy and bright,
Till the sun hath crept up from behind the tall trees,
And the orchard grows warm in his light.
Sleep, Mamie, sleep.

Sleep, Mamie, sleep!
Naught shall molest thee, love;
Sweet be thy slumber, and safe
Thous shall rest thee, love.
Wet hangs the dew on the bushes and ferns,
And coldly the morning wind blows.
Sleep till the birds and the bees are about,
And the butterfly kisses the rose.
Sleep, Mamie, sleep.

The Rival Fairies, p. 24.

Robert Trumble

In my slightly callow way I have occasionally referred in these pages to our cousin Robert Trumble, and his dotty historical works The Golden Age of Cricket and The Trumble Family in Australia. Alas, Robert Trumble died recently, and, as his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald makes clear, he was a remarkable man. I only met him once or twice, but most recently he paid me the compliment of coming along to hear a talk I gave a few years ago at the National Gallery of Victoria. Due to a process of generational slippage that has played havoc with the relevant chronologies, Robert was actually the first cousin of our late grandfather, T. C. Trumble, though Cousin Robert was many years younger than Pa, in fact almost an exact contemporary of our beloved father Peter. Robert Trumble was therefore our first cousin twice removed. However, we Trumbles are clannish and comparatively insular as regards our extraordinary shared heritage. Robert’s son, Simon, with whom I have been in touch lately, recalls a moment in the early 1970s when Simon proudly showed his father a brand new electric guitar. He suspects Robert had no idea what it was. In comformity with traditional Trumble parenting techniques, Robert was also given to thrashing his son on the tennis court, impeccably attired in long white trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, looking rather like those Wimbledon gents of the 1920s. Robert was very tall, lean, physically strong, gentle, kind, and, yes, undeniably eccentric—a true Trumble. Most importantly, Robert’s dogged work in connection with resuscitating the reputation of the French composer Vincent d’Indy was conspicuously unacknowledged at home in Australia where cultural matters are shamefully undervalued. In this sense, at least as a musicologist and composer, Robert came unto his own, but his own received him not. The French knew better. In 2003, the Republic of France conferred upon Robert Trumble the rank of chevalier dans l’ordre des arts et des lettres. May light perpetual shine upon him.