Monday, May 30, 2011

Scent in nail varnish

I had a note from someone at the New York Times asking me for comment. She wrote:“Wacky nail polish colors seemed to be just a passing trend a few years ago, but now it’s mainstream for non-fashionistas to wear neon green, blueberry or copper metallic, instead of one of the thousand shades of red and pink they preferred for generations. What has changed?” I was happy to comply, and gently to suggest that almost every premiss here is wrong, viz. “passing trend,” and “preferred for generations,” in other words, as far as I can see nothing much has changed since synthetic varnishes in strong colors arrived in the early 1920s. I doubt that my 300 words are quite what they had in mind. Anyhow, in gathering together my thoughts I came across a little scrap of advertorial, “Scent in Nail Varnish”—varnish; how I wish I had insisted upon using this neglected, once-omnipresent term in my book, so much more accurate than polish. This note (by Doreen B. Simpson) appeared in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Thursday, August 18, 1949, on page 8:

“Let me pass onto you a tip about adding scent to your nail varnish, (just a drop or two) to give a fascinating and almost undetectable fragrance. Remember the hands are always noticeable, for every woman uses them to emphasise a point in her conversation and the flutter of the hands can (if not overdone, of course) be an attractive feminine gesture. But it should be remembered that the very act of gesticulating will draw attention to the hands.”

It is not easy to follow Doreen B. Simpson’s reasoning. Her principal point about perfumed fingertips is well made, but she seems thereafter to be slightly undecided about how this elides with gesture. Being already noticeable and useful because expressive, feminine hand motions might yet benefit from the addition of subtle arcs of fragrance, but only if prevented from crashing through the barrier that separates flutter from heavy gesticulation, she seems to say. Perhaps this was simply a point about the overriding need for restraint: Depending upon the choice of fragrance, after all, one or two drops might easily pack a hefty olfactory punch—and Doreen B. Simpson is not at all clear about the dosage: Two drops of Mitsouko, say, added to the bottle of cutex, shaken well, that is one thing. But two judiciously dripped onto each tacky tip would almost certainly disrupt a rubber of bridge, or raise eyebrows at the Rockhampton Club. Especially at the height of the rainy season. Still, it is a splendid idea, lately revived by Revlon.

Borthwick Castle again

Aunt Jean’s clippings continue to yield treasure. Among them she preserved an article by H. Drummond Gauld in the Weekly Scotsman, Saturday, November 6, 1926, on page 10, entitled “Scotland’s Ancient Strongholds. VII.—Borthwick Castle.” It goes into considerable detail, and points toward numerous qualities obviously still encoded in the DNA—of which the most important I have noted with italics:

“The seeker after relics of the old feudal days finds much to entrance him in a journey from Edinburgh to Carlisle, for the train in its journey south speeds through scenes where some of the most thrilling episodes in Scottish history have been enacted. Long ere the indented crest-line of the Pentlands fades from view, from the moment, in fact, that Criagmillar’s donjon-keep dips down behind the trees, a land of hills and moors is entered upon, a land of brawling burns and mystic glens where peace holdeth an everlasting sway and the only sound that breaks the silence are the splash of brooks, the bleat of sheep, and the lowing of kine, the call of the plover and the wild scream of the curlew—soothing sounds one and all of the open, lonely spaces of Nature. There, from many a rocky knoll, battlements of towers and castles hoary raise their stately outlines to the soughing winds of heaven, lending an atmosphere of dignity and romance, as only an ancient stronghold can, to the wide-spreading prospect.

“Borthwick Castle stands upon a peninsular knoll anciently designated the Mote of Langwarret formed by a bend of the North Middleton Burn and the Gore Water, which latter gives name to the neighbouring town of Gorebridge. The Mote originally belonged to Sir Willian de Hay, and ancestor of the Marquis of Tweeddale, from whom it was purchased by the first Lord Borthwick, who founded the castle.

“Borthwick superseded a less pretentious edifice called Catcune, the ruins of which stood but a mile or two away upon the beautiful banks of the Gore. This was the residence of the Brothwick family before it rose to power and eminence in Scotland. During their term of comparative obscurity, and while resident in lone Catcune, they promiscuously bore the titles of Catcune, Legertwood, and Heriot-Muir before they assumed the title of Borthwick of that ilk. We have here, therefore, an illustration of an ancient feudal estate taking its name from its progenitor and not, as was more commonly the case, the lands giving a title or surname to the holder.

Massive Stronghold.

“About the end of the fourteenth century there lived in the castle of Catcune a knight named Sir William Borthwick, who is recorded as having been a person of great parts, distinguished as an ambassador on certain important negotiations and concerned in most of the public transactions of his day. Him King James I. created Lord Borthwick some time previous to 1430.

“On June 2 of that year my lord of Borthwick was empowered under the Great Seal to erect on the Mote of Lochwarret a castle or fortalice and to surround it with walls and ditches. Then, on this position of strength, uprose the massive walls of Borthwick Castle which became the chief seat and title of the family. Such was the origin of a stronghold that it is reputed to be one of the finest specimens extant of that once numerous class of Scottish feudal castles which consisted of a single donjon or keep.

“The castle rises from an embattled courtyard of irregular shape, fully eighty yards in length, with an average breadth of forty yards. The curtain-walls—especially on the west side—where the castle was without any natural barriers of defence—were of immense strength. The angles were defended by massive towers and bastions, that flanking the gateway being drum-shaped. It was thirty-five feet in diameter, and as twenty-five of these were taken up with solid masonry the central chamber measured only eleven feet in diameter. This tower had a basement and first and second floors, all of which were furnished with large horizontal portholes, evidently intended for musketoons. The same species of embrasure perforate the western curtain. The moat of Borthwick is gone, but the spot where it existed may yet be traced. Gone likewise are the drawbridge and the massive portcullis bars.

The Grand Hall

“The arrangement of the interior chambers of the cistle is very simple, as they are all rectangular and parallel with the outer walls. Five well-stairs, constructed in the thickness of the walls, lead to the different apartments. The walls themselves are from ten to fourteen thick, and this amazing mass of stone and mortar is maintained but with little diminution throughout their entire height. They raise from a plain plinth, and are terminated by strong corbels upon which rests a low parapet. Their height, from base to parapet, is ninety feet, but if the altitude of the roof be taken into account the entire perpendicular of the structure is fully one hundred and ten feet.

“The great outstanding internal feature of Borthwick Castle is the grand hall, every corner of which is replete with the remains of pristine splendour. This spacious apartment, which is situated on the first storey and occupies the entire area of the principal building, is fifty-one feet long and about twenty-four feet in breadth. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault nearly thirty feet above the level of the floor. Here, in very sooth, a knight on horseback erect upon his stirrups might turn a spear with all the ease imaginable.

“The whole splendid chamber is of the finest ashlar work. There is evidence of the roof having been painted with such devices as occur in old illuminations, as over one part of it are still legible in Gothic characters the legend, ‘Ye Temple of Honor.’

One noteworthy feature of the great Hall is its magnificent fire-place, a cavernous recess measuring nine feet wide by three deep. How merry were the fires that blazed there in the days of old, when the Gore was solid in the grip of the ice and wild winds raved adown the Vale of Loquhariot! Near the fireplace is a ‘sedile’ or seat of honour for the master of the castle, with an enriched canopy and shield bearing the arms of my lord of Borthwick.

“’Twould take long to relate of the splendours of this noble keep, of The Lady’s Bower and The Minstrels’ Gallery, of Earl Bothwell’s bedroom and the newel stairs to the towering battlements, of the chapel, the drawingroom, the garderobes and the garrison quarters, of the draw-wells, the corkscrew stairs and the dungeons.

Royal fugitives.

“There is scarce a castle in braid Scotland whose history we investigate but the name of that most hapless of all queens, Mary of the Scots, leaps into a prominent place. Her lot was a sad one, her end tragic, and yet after an imprisonment so close and fraught with danger as to have worn down the spirit of the most courageous men, she, a woman, fared forth to death at the end of it all with a calmness and serenity that merits the greatest admiration.

“You remember that after the murder of Darnley at Kirk o’ Field and the marriage of Earl Bothwell to the Queen, the confederate Lord Argyle, Morton Lindsay, Athol, Glencairn, and many others with their retainers marched to Stirling with the ostensible purpose of protecting the child Prince James, who was in ward in the castle there under the Earl of Mar. While they put that face upon their doings insurrection was really the work they contemplated. When all was in readiness they marched forth upon Edinburgh town hoping to swoop suddenly upon Holyrood and seize my lord of Bothwell in his lair. They were baulked by a traitor in their ranks, Argyle, whose hands, like Bothwell’s, were red with Darnley’s gore. The regicide, having been privately warned, fled in hot haste, and with him went the Queen.

“So at nightfall, when the wind howled around the Mote of Lochwarret and all was dark in the valley, came Bothwell and Mary spurring fast to the Castle of Borthwick. My lord, now fully alive to the intentions of his associates, saw that he must either fight or perish. Bracing himself to face the alternative, he left Mary under the charge of Lord Borthwick, and fared forth to Melrose to summon the Borderers to his standard. But even with his own vassals he was thoroughly out of favour, and found to his chagrin that Lord Home had forestalled him and had drawn the men of Liddesdale into the field against him. Soured and disappointed, he turned his weary steed northwards again, and rejoined the Queen at Borthwick.

The Queen’s Escape.

“Then on a warm night in June in the year 1567 there was the galloping of horses about stately Borthwick, the muffled tramp of infantry and the clash of steel; but, as his foes came surging on, Bothwell slipped out by a secret postern gate among the trees, and, with none to guide his footsteps across the Gore and through the woods save the Master of Crookston, fled away into the darkness.

“On the night following the escape of Bothwell a cavalier, booted and spurred, stole forth from his chamber unattended and, gliding stealthily down a turret staircase by a torch’s spluttering light let himself down from a window in the banqueting hall. You may see the place to this day. Though the height cannot be less than eighty and twenty feet the cavalier reached the ground in safety, and, passing through the same low postern by which Earl Bothwell had escaped, vanished into the gloom of the night-enshrouded wood. Thus escaped Queen Mary of Scots from foe-leaguered Borthwick.

Cromwell’s Assault.

“Nearly a hundred years passed away after that adventurous night of flight, and then once more the battlements of Borthwick looked down upon the hosts of a foe. As the fifth Lord Borthwick had been a faithful adherent of Queen Mary, his great grandson, John, the eighth lord of the line, was a supporter of King Charles during the Civil War. After the unfortunate battle of Dunbar in 1650, and while the troops of Oliver Cromwell were devastating the Lothians, Borthwick Castle held out right gallantly, and the garrison employed themselves to the last in annoying the enemy.

“And so the black muzzles of the cannon belched down destruction on the brave old pile, blowing in the wall and forcing the garrison to capitulate at last. Whether by fortune or by the advice of spies, Cromwell directed his artillery against the very part of the wall which was most likely soon to yield to his cannonade, there being a chimney at that place which renders the masonry less thick than it is throughout the rest of the building. Here is a copy of the summons which the stern Protector of the conquered land forwarded by a herald or trumpeter to the garrison of the castle:—‘For the Governor of Borthwick Castle, these:—Sir, I thought fitt to send this trumpett to you, to let you know, that if you please to walk away with your company, and deliver the house to such as I shall send to receive it, you shall have liberty to carry off your armes and goods, and such other necessaries as you have. You harboured such parties in your house as have basely and inhumanely murdered our men; if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you must expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with. I expect your answer and rest your servant. O. CROMWELL.’

“Notwithstanding this very characteristic and significant epistle, the Governor of Borthwick, supposed to have been Lord Borthwick himself, held out the stronghold until the cannon were opened upon it and then surrendered it upon honourable terms.

“‘The masons wha biggit yon auld grey wa’s haena sair heid the day.’ So spake an amiable ploughman as he and his team went jingling down the hill-road upon their homeward way. The homely phrase bore in upon my mind, and as the dusk deepened and the towering ramparts frowned ever darker upon the valley they had sentinelled for full five hundred years, my mind was filled with awe and veneration. The diligent hands that had fashioned that lofty keep, laboriously piling stone upon stone till the mighty battlements were attained at last and the task was done, were comingled with their native earth long centuries ago, and yet the inanimate structure they had reared, a structure more like a creation of Titans than of puny men, still stands upon the grassy Mote, macking their little lives in seeming imperviousness to the passage of the ages.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Late Mr. Thomas Chalmers Borthwick

Aunt Jean preserved an issue of the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser printed on Boxing Day 1888 (a Wednesday), in which the following long and affectionate obituary entitled “The Late Mr. Thomas Chalmers Borthwick” appeared on page three. This is our great-great-great-grandfather, and internal evidence—because I have in my possession the handwritten draft (a draft, that is, and not a copy made post hoc, because: “the following extract from a letter sent the writer of this...confirms...In this district there were Covenanters who bore your name’”)—shows that the author was none other than Thomas Chalmers Borthwick’s own son, our great-great-grandfather Alexander Hay Borthwick. It contains numerous intriguing flecks of detail, but as a sketch of character it is, I suppose, supremely partisan. The second half, which is more antiquarian in flavour than the first, does nevertheless hint towards certain aspects of the DNA, not merely the “schowting,” the sternness and firmness in the face of pronounced vice, but also the genial hospitality, and, above all, the curious circumstances in which, when they died, the exceedingly old bachelors John Scott and Walter Borthwick bequeathed to each other’s heirs the lease of their respective properties, which is how Hopsrig ultimately passed into the hands of Thomas Chalmers Borthwick, though not to his son. That the place was lost no more than a year before old Thomas’s death in 1888 clearly rankled.

“On the 16th inst. At Milholm, there passed peacefully away from our midst a scion of a distinguished family in Eskdale in the person of Thomas Chalmers Borthwick, late of Hopsrig. Although little known by the younger generation, Mr. Borthwick occupied a very prominent position in the district until some years ago, when his failing health compelled him to relinquish all public and private business; consequently he was seldom seen, except by his more immediate friends, or when taking a quiet walk in the vicinity of his residence. Born at Sorbie in the parish of Ewes [Dumfries and Galloway] in 1813, where his father then resided, and who at one time farmed in addition to Sorbie, Meikledale, Mosspeeble, and Lodgegill, a few years subsequently acquiring Hopsrig, where he went to reside (or, as it was then called, Bombey Bush), and eventually the extensive farm of Langshawburn [above] and Aberlosk, which Mr. Borthwick succeeded to and occupied up to within a few years of his death. While yet of tender years the management of these fine pastoral farms came into his hands, and latterly Glendinning was taken for a long lease, and then began the tug of war between him and the late Mr. Brydon of Moodlaw (whom he has not survived) for supremacy in the breed of Cheviot sheep. Keenly contesting the honours in our national and local showyards with invariable success, they, along with the late Mr. Elliot of Hindhope, quite farmed the prizes; no other exhibitor in those days having the slightest chance when the stock of those famous breeders were on the field, the fruits of reward being pretty fairly divided amongst them. For many years Mr. Borthwick had the entire management and control of the extensive estates belonging to Sir Frederick Johnstone of Westerhall in Eskdale and Annandale, and throughout the long minority of the present [8th] Baronet [1841–1913, conservative M.P. for Weymouth and Melcome Regis], who was unborn on that April morn when his father, the late Sir Frederic, accompanied by Mr. Borthwick, undertook his fatal journey homewards on horseback to Westerhall from Falford Kennels, which, alas! Sir Frederic was never destined to reach, being found by Mr. Borthwick lying on the Wauchope road, opposite Bloughburnfoot, in an unconscious state, very shortly afterwards breathing his last. Mr. Borthwick now proved in reality a friend in need and in deed, greatly improving the estate by his judicious and prudent outlay (much of it, we believe, advanced out of his own pocket for the time being), and thus ever mindful of the beneficial interest to the proprietor and to the tenants, who had always a cheery, kindly word to speak of Mr. Borthwick, and now revere his memory, as do the shepherds and others who at any time served him, all having had reason to bless his kindly forethought and generosity as a master, and several for substantial support in their declining years when unfit for further service. As a J.P. for the county, throughout a long term of years, his kindly nature ever leaned to mercy when on the bench, yet stern and firm when pronounced vice was brought before him. A sterling friend, benevolent, amiable, and genially hospitable, Mr. Borthwick has passed away, leaving not an enemy behind him, but still many friends to recall his sterling worth. He is survived by his only son, Mr. Alex[ander]. H[ay]. Borthwick, now residing at Milnholm, near Langholm.

“Mr. Borthwick was descended from a family who farmed the pastoral lands on the Border for a long back period. William Borthwick, laird of Raschaw [sic. Raeshaw], Heriot Water, having killed one Pringle, with whom there was a dispute about marches, they fought with swords, and Pringle was killed on the spot. Mr. Borthwick fled to Eskdale, and concealed himself in the woods for a long time. In the meantime his property was seized and everything taken from him. He never returned to that part of the country, but when the duel was forgot, and he had reason to think he was safe from prosecution, he took the farm of Howpaslet, where he died and left two sons, William and Thomas. They kept that farm till the disturbances in Claverholm’s time, when they were advised not to sign [the covenant]. The consequence was that their farm and stock was taken from them, and they had only a few sheep left, which were at grass on the farm of Glendinning, belonging to the Westerhall family. Lady Johnstone had that farm in her own hands. She ordered all the sheep to be put into the fauld, that the sheep that belonged to them might be taken too, but a herd, called John Reive, slipped them over the fauld dyke, and they ran to the hill, and by that means were preserved. Soon after William Borthwick took the farm of Glendinning, and married Janet Scott, sister of David Scott of Merrylaw. In the parish register of Westerkirk for 1701 the marriage of William Borthwick in Glendinning, with Janet Scott is duly registered, his [Thomas’s] great-great-grandfather and mother. David Scott of Merrylaw was descended from Sir Walter Scot of Branxeholme, rescuer of Kinmont Will[ie] [i.e. William Armstrong, the Border reiver and outlaw] from Carlisle Castle with 70 men on the night of the 6th day of April, 1596—this he did with schowting and crying and sound of trumpet, and Sir Robert Scot in this way. Sir Walter’s daughter, Margaret Scot, married Sir Robert Scot of Thirlestane, and one of their sons got the lands of Merrylaw.

“As to legend about William and Thomas Borthwick losing their farm and sheep when Claverhouse visited Borthwick Water in 1685, the following extract from a letter sent the writer of this, by the Rev. D. S. Stewart, Hawick, confirms it. October 28, [18]’86—In this district there were Covenanters who bore your name. Thomas Borthwick in Howpasley and Isobel Laidlaw, spouse to James Borthwick, were names remitted to the Sheriff for adhering to the Covenanters. Seeing that old Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, called the Persecutor, died in 1699, the probability is that William Borthwick, who was settled down at Glendinning in 1701, may have been a tenant of his. His three sons were William, Thomas, and Walter. William and Walter lived at Enzieholm; the former had Glendinning, and as the tenour of the following advertisement shows that he quited it at Whitsunday, 1753:—ADVERTISEMENT. That there is to be sold by public Roup [auction] at Glendinning, in Eskdale, in the Parish of Westerkirk, and shire of Dumfries, on Tuesday, the 22d of May, 1753, William Borthwick’s Stock of Sheep, besides Black Cattle and Goats, upon the said Farm of Glendinning, &c.—the numbers will be as nearly as under— Ewes 820; Quinter Ewes 520; Gimmers 490; Dunmonts 60; Ewe Hogs 500; Wedder Hogs 480; Old tupps 50; Tupp Hogs 40 = 2,960. The Roup will begin at Nine o’clock in the Morning, and it is expected that those who incline to buy will attend punctually at that hour.

“Thomas, the second son of William and Janet Scott, was the great-grandfather of the late Mr. Borthwick. He in 1732 took the extensive farm of Shaws, in the parish of Yarrow, which he left in 1783; and for one year lived on his led farm at Langshawburn, but the farm of Sorbie in Ewes having become vacant in the meantime, His Grace Henry [i.e. 3rd Duke of Buccleuch and 5th of Queensberry {1746–1812}] gave it to him. There he lived till 1793, when he died. His only son William died in 1792, leaving a family, the eldest son of whom—Alexander Hay Borthwick—then 16, succeeded his grandfather, and was in Sorbie down to 1820, when he left it, going to Hopsrig, where he died in 1837. Beside Hopsrig at the time of his death he had Langshawburn, Mosspeeble, and Lodgegill. His son, Thomas Chalmers Borthwick, got Hopsrig, and Langshawburn. Besides these, he took the farm of Glendinning, which he farmed for one or two leases. Hopsrig and Langshawburn, which had been long in the family, he lost, and removed from at Whitsunday 1887. The way and manner in which the Borthwicks got Boykine and Calkine, now part and parcel of Hopsrig, and Hopsrig itself, is as follows:—Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, Baronet, principal tacksman of these lands of Calkine and Boykine, lets them to William and Walter Borthwick’s brothers, both in Enzieholm, for the space of ten years, if the said [2nd] Duke of Buccleugh [1695–1751] shall live so long, from the term of Whitsunday, 1736, and that for seven hundred and fiftie merks Scots money yearly.’ [1 merk, a silver coin, was worth 13s 4d, exactly of a Scottish pound, or about one English shilling.] In the year 1796 John Scott, tenant in Hopsrig, an old bachelor, dying, Walter Borthwick in Enzieholm, still alive, and also an old bachelor, got instruction to leave Enzieholm and go to Hopsrig, which he did, and died there in 1806, aged 96. Lieut. Scott, nephew of old John Scott, Hopsrig, got Enzieholm, and had Fingland, Eskdalemuir, as a led farm. At Whitsunday, 1887, when Mr. T. C. Borthwick lost Hopsrig, he and his progenitors had farmed it for 91 years, and the pertinents Boykine and Calkine for 151 years.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Aunt Maida

To my astonishment—and this seems so right, so neat, and so symmetrical—Uncle Roy’s wedding in 1920 to Aunt Maida brought the surviving Pearsons of Kilmany Park into direct alliance with the remarkable Dowling family of Tasmania. As we have seen, Maida Frances Blood Dowling was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Aubin Dowling, formerly of Talgai West in the Darling Downs of southern Queensland. She was therefore the granddaughter of John Leonard Dowling, grazier of Ellerslie, Fairfield, and his wife, Cecilia Ann (1821–1905), the daughter of Major Thomas Daunt Lord (1783–1865). John Leonard Dowling was, in turn, the son of the Reverend Henry Dowling (1780–1869), and Elizabeth, née Drake (1782–1853), whose mother Susanna, Mrs. Drake of Gloucester was intimate with Selena, Countess of Huntingdon, the revivalist, Methodist luminary, confidante of John and Charles Wesley, and sex kitten. The Reverend Henry Dowling was not only a famous Vandiemonian divine, whose chapel stood for many years in York Street, Launceston, and who performed innumerable baptisms in freezing rivers all over Tasmania, but he was also the father of Robert Hawker Dowling (1827–1886), the distinguished Tasmanian portrait painter, whose wonderful 1856 Mrs. Adolphus Sceales with Black Jimmie on Merrang Station (above) now hangs prominently in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. In other words, the painter Robert Dowling was Aunt Maida’s great-uncle, though she never knew him. Her paternal grandmother, however, Cecilia Ann, Mrs. John Leonard Dowling, lived to the very great age of eighty-four, and died on October 19, 1905, at her residence St. Leonard’s (naturally) in Launceston. It is possible that Aunt Maida did meet Grannie Dowling once or twice, although the journey from Brisbane to Devonport (and vice versa) was long and difficult; indeed old Mrs. Dowling may well have been disinclined to attempt long sea voyages because in 1857 her sister-in-law (her husband’s sister) Hannah Maria Waller was, together with Mr. Waller and all six of their children, drowned horribly in the wreck of the Dunbar at Sydney Heads. Anyway, Grandmother Dowling’s connection to Van Diemen’s Land was almost as long as it was possible to be. She was the daughter of Major Thomas Daunt Lord, and his bride Susan Greenslade of the Bahamas. Major and Mrs. Lord were married in 1810 at Nassau, when Major Lord was serving in the second West India Regiment. In the early 1820s he became embroiled in the so-called Bradley–Arthur wrongful imprisonment affair in Honduras, and as a consequence decided to sell his commission and sail to Van Diemen’s Land. He arrived at Hobart Town aboard the Cumberland in January 1825, when Cecilia Ann was just three and a half. His main occupation through much of the next decade was serving as commandant of the severe and isolated Maria Island penal settlement, where he was regularly accused of misappropriating government stores and other forms of theft, but consistently avoided prosecution. Indeed following each indictment Major Lord visited terrible, terrible pain upon his accusers. After the closure of Maria Island in 1832, he was appointed to the police magistracy at Waterloo Point (Swansea) and in the two years following managed to get himself acquitted of stealing still more government property, although eventually he did forfeit his Commission of the Peace. Mrs. Lord died on September 7, 1849, at Okehampton, Spring Bay (Triabunna), and the Major followed suit on April 23, 1865. He was considered to be “as great a villain as any in Van Diemen’s Land,” but I assume marriage to John Leonard Dowling of Ellerslie, Fairfield, effectively removed Cecilia Ann from the unwholesome domestic criminal environment in which she spent her childhood—indeed it is quite possible that Aunt Maida was never made aware of those Regency peccadilloes, any more than Uncle Roy faced up to the shocking massacres through the 1840s of the Aboriginal men, women, and children of East Gippsland.

Borthwick Castle

Aunt Jean held onto an issue of The Border Magazine, An Illustrated Monthly Devoted to Border Biography, History, Literature, and Folklore, edited by William Sanderson, author of “Scottish Life and Character,” “The Soft Lowland Tongue o’ the Borders,” &c., Vol. XXIX, No. 345, September 1924. It has lately come to light among her many papers, and I see that she noted with two firm marginal crosses in pencil the following historical notes by Mr. George Hope Tait that concern Borthwick Castle, the family seat in Midlothian. No doubt they struck Aunt Jean, as indeed they strike me, as having powerful genetic resonance, especially that bit near the end about having an eye for ‘brizzen yont,’ and Lord Borthwick’s peremptory treatment of an official of the ecclesiastical court of the old unreformed Catholic see of St. Andrews.

“Borderers travelling to Edinburgh by train never fail in admiration of this wonderful Castle, and most of us have cherished the hope that some day or other we would get into closer touch with the romantic fabric, for its history and association are immediately connected with the Borderland.

Its aspect from the railway is very fine, and its situation as you may see, commands a very extensive view of the surrounding country. Its position on a peninsular knoll, known as the Mote of Lochwarrit, has been singularly well chosen and fitted for the purpose of defence and also defiance. We are told that Sir William de Borthwick, the founder of the Castle, built it on the verge of his property, for this first lord, like all the barons of his age, had an eye for ‘
brizzen yont’ [push across, encroach upon] on his neighbours’ ground whenever an opportunity offered.

Borthwick Castle is perhaps the most perfectly complete example of the great strongholds we have in Scotland. It was erected in the reign of James I., 1430, and possesses all the outstanding features of the ancient keep, being surrounded by walls and ditches, strong and formidable gates, characteristic turrets and powerful battlements.

The courtyard is 80 yards by 40 yards. The height of the Castle is 110 feet. The angles of the court were defended by massive towers and bastions, like the srum tower at the gateway, which had the usual portcullis, and was approached by a drawbridge spanning the most, which has now disappeared.

Borthwick castle, according to Sir Walter Scott, is by far the finest specimen of that very class of Scottish castles which consist of a single dungeon or keep.

The masonry of the Castle is very perfect, and the stone is of the finest quality. The restorations have been carried through with great architectural consideration, and the interior of the Grand Hall is well fitted to thrill any keen student of Scott, presenting, as it does, all the imposing features and furnishings, and recalling as perfectly as possible the surroundings and the very atmosphere of the great baronial age. Its chief historic interests relate to the hapless Mary Queen of Scots. In 1566 it is reported that the ‘Queen rode to Borthwick,’ and again in the following year, she accompanied Bothwell thither under strikingly tragic circumstances. This was after the murder of Darnley at Kirk o’ Field. The attachment and preference of Mary Scott for Bothwell, who was accused of the crime, led them to seek refuge here from the justly infuriated authorities (some of whom were his associates in his guilt), but who suspected Bothwell’s ambition to capture the throne. They came to Borthwick Castle, and were followed up by the appearance around the walls of an armed host, determined to capture the pair. Bothwell made his escape by the rear of the castle, and fled to Dunbar. On the evening following his precipitous flight, Mary Stuart, ‘arrayed in the dress of a cavalier, booted and spurred, stole from her chamber here, glided down a turret stair and let herself down from the window of the banqueting hall, where she mounted a nag, and rode out in the darkness, she knew not whither.’ Lost in the glens and swamps of the surrounding country, she found herself at dawn near Black Castle at Cakemuir—two miles from Borthwick. Here, under the direction of Bothwell, after changing her dress, she was taken, or rather chose to follow, her paramour to Dunbar Castle.

This romantic flight of Mary Queen of Scots from this, her last real home of freedom, links Borthwick Castle to one of the most pathetic tragedies in the history of Scotland. Her next appearance was on the ridge of Cousland, not many miles from this place—where, after Bothwell was challenged and fled, she surrendered herself, was taken to Lochleven Castle, passing from misery to misery, and ultimately from captivity to the scaffold. Bothwell fled to Norway, and although he defamed the house of Douglas and the Borders generally, it is to our credit that his attempt to raise his Border vassals to his assistance failed completely, and on his return to Borthwick Castle he must have sensed his failure and visualized his doom.

In the year 1650 Cromwell’s forces opened fire on Borthwick Castle, and compelled its surrender. From this period it passes out of history, and to new owners—Dalrymples and Michelsons, becoming a deserted ruin in 1760. Later, however, and happily, the Borthwicks secured and restored the stronghold of their ancestors, and I think the associations warranted the reverence they have thus bestowed on a building interesting to all lovers of history.

The Borthwicks are an old and notable family—some say they had a Continental origin—others claim that they came from Borthwick Water, but history follows them back to 1067, the time of Malcolm Canmore. Many of the family figured in the reign of James II., entrusted with the ratification of Treaties—some of them trusted councilors, ambassadors and soldiers. Baron Borthwick and his son fell at Flodden [Field], and another son, who survived the battle, commanded the artillery on that fateful day [September 9, 1513]. It was said that this young Borthwick wanted to cannonade Twizel Bridge to prevent the English army crossing it, but King James refused. It was this daring young gunner and military engineer, who under James V. was made Governor of Stirling Castle.

One of the most amazing episodes connected with Borthwick castle happened with John Renwick, the next baron, who was a staunch supporter, at the time of the Reformation, of the old Roman Faith, and who was a great friend of Queen Mary later. Notwithstanding his reverence for the Faith, he entered with great licence into a mock entertainment, known as the ‘Abbot of Unreason,’ whereby he not only suffered, but encouraged his servants to ridicule and abuse William Langlands, an officiate of the See of St. Andrews. This hilarious caricature of things sacred ended in ducking the priest in the mill dam. The mob, dressed and disguised as dragons, lions, wolves, asses, and swine, and playing outrageous music on unharmonious instruments, returned to the Church with the bound and dripping pastor, where, as a becoming refreshment, he was made to eat some letters of excommunication he had delivered against my Lord Borthwick, and drink the wine in which they had been steeped. When he was dismissed by the Abbot of Unreason (who, I presume, was the Laird himself), and who gave him the assurance that any more documents arriving from the head of the Church ‘
would a’ gang the same gait,’ he was allowed to participate, with the best grace he could, in the revelry and fun of the evening. Readers of Scott’s ‘The Abbot’ will recall how effectively Scott uses this strange and incongruous pantomime with the fall of Melrose Abbey, and as evidence of the warrant it had as a permissible institution. We have only to look up at the famous gargoyle on the Abbey of the swine playing the bagpipes.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Commotion" 2

“Commotion,” the 22-acre property where Uncle Roy and Aunt Maida lived for two or three years between their marriage and his death in 1923, was sold at auction at Scott’s Hotel, 444 Collins Street, Melbourne, on Thursday, September 4, 1924, at 2.30 p.m. According to an advertisement in the previous Saturday’s issue of the Argus, (August 30, p. 2), “the house is a spacious brick and W[eather]. B[oard]. structure, containing 12 rooms, wired-in verandahs, pantries, laundry, and conveniences, manager’s cottage, garage, stable, and farm outbuildings. In addition to the house orchard are 5 acres under full-bearing apples. Also beautiful flower gardens and lawns. Situated in an elevated position in the Kilsyth hills above Croydon, and commanding a beautiful outlook, Commotion is an ideal and complete gentleman’s country residence.” The terms were £500 deposit, the balance payable over 6 years with interest fixed at 6%. No doubt in due course somebody made a fortune by subdividing it, but my recollection is that Aunt Maida never needed to worry too much about money. Gran was still visiting her in Toowoomba in the late 1960s.

Talgai West

Uncle Roy and Aunt Maida were married in Toowoomba on Wednesday, September 1, 1920, and a full account of the event appeared in the social pages of the following morning’s Brisbane Courier (p. 11): “An interesting wedding was celebrated at St. James’ Church, Toowoomba, yesterday morning [September 1], the Rev. A. Davies officiating. The bride, Miss Maida Dowling, is the second daughter of the late Mr. Aubin Dowling (Talgai West) and Mrs. Dowling (Toowoomba)”. Talgai West (above), formerly Ellenthorpe, belonged to the Scottish Australian Investment Company, and Aubin Dowling was its manager. Maida and her sister were born there. In his The Garden of Queensland: Darling Downs (Toowoomba: J. H. Robertson & Co., 1899, p. 42) George Essex Evans described Mr. Dowling as “a prince of managers.” The run consisted of 22,000 acres, about half rolling downs, and the other half lightly timbered loamy ridges. It carried about 1,000 cattle, 70 horses, and 12,000 sheep, chiefly studs, and was purchased by the company for supplying their vast western stations with flock rams. Aubin Dowling originally brought the sheep from Tasmania, where on September 4, 1849, he was born at Campbelltown, the son of John Leonard Dowling, grazier of Ellerslie, Fairfield, and Cecilia Ann, the daughter of Major Thomas Daunt Lord. “The bridegroom, Lieut. Roy Pearson, M.C.,” continued the Brisbane Courier, is the only son by the late Hon. William Pearson and Mrs. Pearson (Kilmeny [sic] Park, Sale, Victoria). The church was decorated by the girl friends of the bride with a profusion of spring flowers. The bride, who was given away by Mr. Clarke (Talgai), wore a simply cut gown of ivory satin, with overdress of old Limerick lace. A bridal veil of Limerick, lent by Mrs. Tyrwhit, was also worn, and was held in place by a wreath of orange blossom. The bridal bouquet was set in an old-fashioned silver holder. Miss Marjorie Dowling (the bride’s sister, was bridesmaid, and wore a frock of lemon coloured georgette, and a hat of coarse straw in the same shade, set with French posies. Miss Dorothea Walker (the bride’s niece [presumably a daughter of Maida’s half-sister Dorothea; Mr. Dowling evidently married twice]) was also in attendance, wearing a frilled frock of lemon georgette, and small hat with ribbon streamers in a darker shade. They each carried a bouquet tied with the bridegroom’s regimental colours. The bridegroom, who was attended by Colonel Crowther, D.S.O., wore the uniform of the King’s Own Yorkshire Mounted [sic] Infantry, to which regiment he was attached during the war. After the ceremony, Mrs. Dowling entertained the wedding party, which was confined to relatives and a few intimate friends, at tea at the Western Hotel, Toowoomba, where bowls of stock and sweet peas decorated the tables. On leaving for the South, en route to Europe, Mrs. Pearson wore a coat and skirt of fine navy blue serge, and a toque of black straw touched with gold.” I wonder how Uncle Roy earned that Military Cross, to which I have never seen any other printed reference.


I have lately finished a brief article about Richard Henry Horne, one of the battiest and most colourful Victorians who ever lived. His first poem was published in London when King George IV was still on the throne, and his last in New York when the future George V was a midshipman in the Royal Navy. Some time in the third quarter of 1867 Horne added the name “Hengist” to his existing ones, and on Tuesday, November 26, presented a card inscribed “R. H. Hengist Horne” at the enormous levee held at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne in honor of Queen Victoria’s second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who was just then visiting the colony aboard H.M.S. Galatea (see Argus, Wednesday, November 27, 1867, p. 5.) Nobody knows why Horne alighted upon the name of Hengist, although the hazy origins of Hengist and Horsa, the mythical Saxon invaders of Kent, were fodder for antiquarian Church of England clergymen with time on their hands, and therefore regularly cropped up in the columns of Notes and Queries (2nd series, No. 22, May 31, 1856, p. 439; No. 25, June 28, 1856, pp. 517518; No. 61, February 28, 1857, p. 170; Vol. 11, March 2, 1861, pp. 171172; 3rd series, Vol. 7, January 21, 1865, p. 64). Long ago, referring to Horne, W. M. Hurry of Sydney, N.S.W., explained: “In the Australian bush he had met a Mr. Hengist, whose name he took” (Notes and Queries, April 18, 1931, p. 286). In due course Horne made it known that that fugitive gentleman actually saved his life, but no specifics have ever come to light. It is safe to assume that this was one of Horne’s crazy inventions. Prompted in this direction by my excellent colleague Gerard Hayes, of the Australian Manuscripts department of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, I wondered if when Lewis Carroll has the Mad Hatter and the March Hare re-appear as Anglo-Saxon messengers named Hatta and Haigha (rhymes with mayor), this was in fact a joke at Horne’s expense, but the chronology does not work. Through the Looking Glass (1865) appeared at least two years before Horne alighted upon Hengist, but Carroll was evidently satirizing the same Victorian fascination with primitive Britain that Horne took almost as seriously as himself. Having added Hengist to his existing names, very soon Horne dropped the middle name of Henry, and thenceforth signed himself Richard Hengist Horne. Thus after seventeen years in Australia he reappeared in London, with an apparently serious proposal to represent H.M. government in some sort of consular capacity in Japan.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Uncle Roy Pearson, Gran’s brother, died on July 31, 1923, “at his residence ‘Commotion,’ Kilsyth,” near Croydon. The death notice, which appeared in The Gippsland Times (Thursday, August 2, p. 2) and elsewhere, laid emphasis on certain particulars, namely “William Roy, only son of the late William Pearson, Kilmany Park, Sale, aged 33 years.” Kilmany was sold to the government in 1921 for subdivision and “soldier settlement,” although it is not entirely clear why this occurred. At his death in 1893 Roy’s grandfather, who created Kilmany in the 1840s, left it to his eldest surviving son and namesake, our great-grandfather, and it seems to have been the younger William’s intention (insofar as it was stated in his will) that Kilmany should eventually pass to Roy, though perhaps not as soon as 1919, when Mr. Pearson died suddenly of a heart attack. Whether Roy tried his hand at running the place and failed, or else the debts accumulated during the First World War were simply too burdensome, the decision to give up Kilmany was obviously taken as a consequence of settling his father’s estate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Roy drank heavily, and it may have been that he died as a consequence of chronic alcoholism even though phthisis and myocarditis were the officially certified causes of death. Perhaps something traumatic happened to Roy during the war that marriage to Maida Frances Blood Dowling failed to heal, and the disappointment of losing Kilmany Park gravely exacerbated—we shall almost certainly never know for sure; certainly he served as an officer of the twelfth Reserve Regiment of Cavalry (13th Hussars) and the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and evidently suffered from sunstroke in Mesopotamia. But it is clear that in piecing together a sort of life for himself after the sale of Kilmany, Roy identified powerfully with his family’s Gippsland legacy. On his death certificate he is described as “Grazier,” with a capital G, as his late father is also. Either Roy chose to be buried in Sale (on August 2), or that exceedingly inconvenient choice was made for him. However that is not what concerns me here. “Commotion,” the odd name Roy chose for his house and grounds at Kilsyth, near Croydon on the outskirts of Melbourne, was borrowed from the most celebrated of his grandfather’s racehorses. According to the Argus (Wednesday, October 14, 1885, p. 5), “No racehorse has ever been so peculiarly identified with the Flemington racecourse as Commotion.” (The elder William was one of the founding members of the Victoria Racing Club.) “His retirement from the turf,” that is, Commotion’s, “just on the approach of the Melbourne Cup, affords an opportunity of recalling a few memories connected with this superb horse, whose record is second to none in Australia. Many years ago, Mr. G. A. Brown, of this city, who has for a long time been connected with the staff of the Argus and the Australasian, bought while in England a brown thoroughbred colt for a park hackney, giving 84 guineas for the animal. It was well bred, being by Alarm from Queen of Beauty. Alarm’s sire was the famous stayer Venison, Beauty was by Melbourne, and farther back it would be superfluous to go. Mr. Brown says, ‘The colt was a bag of bones, or I would never have got such aristocratic breeding for the money in England.’ He called his bargain St. George, and brought him to Australia, but a well-informed friend pointed out that the colt had a name when he bought him. He was called Panic—‘a very good name, too,’ it was remarked, ‘for a son of Alarm.’ Mr. Brown therefore adhered to that name. Panic found his way to Tasmania, and into the hands of Mr. Samuel Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell lived at Melton Mowbray, named after the famous English headquarters of hunting. Then Mr. Phillips trained and raced Panic. He ran second to grey Toryboy in the Melbourne Cup of 1865. He became the sire of many stout racers, including Wellington, Melbourne, Pell Mell, and, the greatest of all, Commotion—an excellent name for the son of Panic and grandson of Alarm. Commotion’s dam was Evening Star, by Lord Clifden, tracing back to Newminster, Voltigeur, and Melbourne. Commotion had Melbourne on both sides in his breeding, and in Melbourne only would he race to advantage, having a prejudice against Sydney, Adelaide, and even Geelong. At the V.R.C. Spring Meeting of 1881 he was found making his debut, as a three-year-old, in the Derby, under the pink jacket, blue sash, and black cap of Mr. Phillips. He excited no notice in the saddling paddock, and was not mentioned at all in the betting. Darebin won, with Commotion a bad third. The Railway Stakes, next day of the meeting, brought him out of his shell, for he won easily. At the V.R.C. Midsummer meeting, New Year’s Day, 1882, he ran Coriolanus to three-quarters of a length for the Champion Race, being ridden by [the famous Tom] Hales. His second win was scored at the V.R.C. autumn meeting, when he first showed his superlative form by carrying off the St. Leger, and turning the tables on Darebin, who was third. Mr. Phillips was first and second with two Panics—Commotion and Pell Mell. Commotion likewise won the Town Plate, weight for age, two miles, with the veteran Wellington, another Panic, second. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that both owner and public preferred Pell Mell to Commotion, for the former started first favourite, at even money on him, and was nowhere. Commotion won with the greatest ease by three lengths, beating not only Wellington and Pell Mell, but also Progress, Darebin, Sweet William, Coriolanus, Salisbury, and Santa Claus. This was one of his best races. Commotion’s records away from Melbourne may be omitted, because they are of much less importance than those of his doing at Flemington. As a four-year-old, he opened by winning the Veteran Stakes, at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, with The Assyrian second, and First water third, thus beating the Melbourne Cup winner The Assyrian, to whom he gave 5th. He also won the Canterbury Plate by over two lengths, beating Darebin, Sweet William, and The Assyrian. In the meantime, it should have been mentioned, he became the property of Mr. Pearson, who gave 1,400 guineas for him apparently at his zenith, and yet Commotion far outdid afterwards all he had accomplished before. Next he won the Champion Stakes on New Year’s Day, 1883, by a short half-head, beating Guesswork, Navigator, Calma, and Segenhoe. His five-year-old record opened with cutting down the field in the Melbourne Stakes at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Next came the first of his masterly performances under crushing weight in the Melbourne Cup, with Martini-Henry first, First Water second, Commotion third, carrying 10 st[one]. 1 lb.—a performance not beaten by very much in The Bath’s Sydney Cup. When the Melbourne Cup came around again in 1884, Commotion displayed the finest rush of his life in a desperate grapple with Malua, to whom he ran second, only beaten by half a length, and he soon after defeated Malua in the Canterbury Plate. His wins of the Midsummer Handicap and Champion Stakes, for the second time, finished up his brilliant chronicle. To this splendid horse all distances have been alike, and he has shown himself remarkable for dash, but his Midsummer Handicap victory; for pace, by his two achievements in the Melbourne Cup races; and for endurance by his two wins of the Champion Race. He is the most popular horse that ever galloped on the Melbourne racecourse.” Eight years later, shortly after the death of the Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C., of Kilmany Park, the Argus (Saturday, October 28, 1893, p. 6) reported: “DEATH OF COMMOTION. The old sire Commotion, belonging to the late Mr. Wm. Pearson, was shot on Thursday, having utterly broken down.” Roy was only three, so it is hardly surprising that for him, if not so much for his three sisters, “Commotion” remained the stuff of legend, the revered memory of what might have been. Perhaps wisely, Aunt Maida, his young widow, returned to Toowoomba in the hills of far-distant southern Queensland, where she married Uncle Roy in 1920.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who founded Seaspray?

A delightful controversy ignited in the pages of The Gippsland Times in February and March 1921 over the question as to who founded Prospect (Seaspray) on the Ninety Mile Beach, where for many years Uncle David Borthwick had his farm. Satisfactorily, the answer appears to be great-great-grandfather William Pearson of Kilmany Park, among several other gentlemen including his crony and brother-in-law Lemuel Bolden of Strathfieldsaye. In a letter to the editor (“Who Founded Seaspray?” Thursday, March 3, 1921, p. 3) an anonymous correspondent set the record straight: “Sir,—Fifty years ago [c. 1871] Mr. W. F. Foster, our then Police Magistrate, the original Mr. Wm. Pearson, of Kilmany, Mr. L[emuel]. Bolden [his brother-in-law], of the Aurora Flour Mills, with their wives and children, and their nurses, and numerous other people, were in the habit of camping for weeks in the summer in tilted wagons, tents, &c., on the beach at Prospect, which has recently been called Seaspray. It was realized from the first that the place would always be a valuable seaside resort in summer, not only for Sale, but for all the surrounding districts; the one great drawback was the difficulty in getting there in the absence of anything like a passable road leading to it. And Mr. [James] McLachlan is fully entitled to the gratitude of the whole community for his unselfishness and untiring exertions for many years in providing a road for the benefit of the public; and if he were presented with a comfortable residence at Seaspray he would not be overpaid for the trouble he has taken for a long time past to provide that place with its first and most essential need. Many old residents were flabbergasted on reading Cr. A. G. Futcher’s letter in Monday’s ‘Times,’ [February 28] to find that gentleman claiming to be the founder of Seaspray! He says: ‘Twenty years ago, when I founded Seaspray—’ Really his modesty is delightful! Cr. A. G. Futcher has always been known to look after No. 1, and he has done very well. But honour to whom honour is due; and old residents know that Seaspray would be what it is today if Cr. A. G. Futcher had never existed. But Seaspray would have been many years behind what it is today if Mr. McLachlan had not given his services without any remuneration. And while some are striving to have a part of Seaspray cut up and sold, which would offer a safe speculation in which to invest their capital, let us at least be fair to Mr. McLachlan, and give him, and not Cr. Futcher, the credit for making Seaspray what it is.— Yours, &c., A 50 YEARS AGO CAMPAIGNER.”


The Gippsland Times has lately been added to the vast resources of the National Library of Australia’s trove of digitized colonial newspapers, and will no doubt yield much treasure, especially in connection with great-great-grandfather William Pearson of Kilmany Park. For example, I knew that for decades the Pearsons had an old retainer called “Sock.” Aunt Anne once told me that Sock drove for the family the first motor car that was ever seen in Gippsland, but today to my astonishment I stumbled across Sock’s death notice (Thursday, September 8, 1927, p. 7): “CARMODY.—William Carmody (‘Sock’); for 63 years faithful friend and servant of the late William Pearson and family, of Kilmany Park.” Four days later the following “personal” notice (Monday, September 12, 1927, p. 5) fleshed out the story a little: “The death took place at the Gippsland Hospital on Tuesday last [September 6] of William Carmody, (‘Sock’), at the age of 73 years. Deceased was the faithful servant of the late Hon. William Pearson, of Kilmany Park, and covered a period of 63 years with the Pearson family. He was the son of a British soldier, and came out to Australia at the age of 9 years. He was a very old and valued member of the old Sale Borough Band [so constituted at a public meeting in June 1876, but actually founded in 1871], when the late Mr. Jas Coverdale was the secretary and was rarely absent from the band turnouts. The late Mr. Carmody helped in many charitable objects and was a most obliging man. He is survived by his wife and son and daughter.” Sock must be somewhere in this photograph (from 1906, when he was 52 or 53) He must have been born in about 1854, and presumably arrived in the colony in about 1863, and at Kilmany within a year. Happily the band is still going strong—it is now known as the Sale City Band, and will shortly celebrate its 140th anniversary.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Town Abbottabad" 2

Here is the full text of Major Abbott’s valedictory effusion, exactly as it appears on the marble plaque in Lady Garden Park, Abbottabad (above):


I Remember the day when I first came here
And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air

The trees and ground covered with snow
Gave us indeed a brilliant show

To me the place seemed like a dream
And far ran a lonesome stream

The wind hissed as if welcoming us
The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss

And the tiny cuckoo sang it away
A song very melodious and gay

I adored the place from the first sight
And was happy that my coming here was right

And eight good years here passed very soon
And we leave you perhaps on a sunny noon

Oh Abbottabad we are leaving you now
To your natural beauty do I bow

Perhaps your winds sound will never reach my ear
My gift for you is a few sad tears

I bid you farewell with a heavy heart
Never from my mind will your memories thwart

I strongly suspect that “Town Abbottabad” is either a plain misattribution, an extraordinarily inept translation from the Urdu, or an expediently touristic fake. The Major’s published poems were at least drafted with reasonably competent versification, punctuation, and rhyme schemes, but these couplets are best described as deficient hendecasyllables with heroic aspirations sadly unfulfilled, in other words not worthy of “the Nestor of the Indian Army,” as one critic described him in the Academy in 1893. “Here / air” and “ear / tears” simply would not cut the mustard, not even at Addiscombe, and “heart / thwart” is certainly plucky, but it makes for a terrible ending. I also wonder about that clumsy, not to say anti-literary title. Notice the lurching from colloquialism (“a brilliant show,” “a lot of fuss”) back to quaint poetic contrivance (“far ran a lonesome stream,” “the tiny cuckoo sang it away”) after the manner of a wrecker’s ball. Let us then agree that “Town Abbottabad” is poem dreadful. Notice also that the plaque is housed in a suspiciously modern brick edifice (although this may be due to recurring earthquakes), but if the original lines were ever chiseled into the marble, lately they have been helped along with the careful application of black paint. If I were a gambler I would bet that “Abbottabad” was written by someone other than Major Abbott, but who, when, and why?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Town Abbottabad"

The pretty town of Abbottabad in what was once known as the Hazara district of the Peshawar division of the North-West Frontier Province (i.e. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in modern Pakistan) was named after Major (later General Sir) James Abbott, (K.C.B., 1807–1896), who served as first deputy commissioner from 1849 to 1853. The name was bestowed on or soon after the date of Abbott’s departure.

Earlier, the Major was one of “Henry Lawrence’s Young Men,” that is, officers of the Bengal Artillery who were posted as “advisers” following the so-called First Sikh War of 1845–46. Their commanding officer, Sir Henry Lawrence, K.C.B. (1806–1857), Resident at Lahore, reported directly to the Governor-General, and was largely responsible for coordinating British operations on the Northwest Frontier.

This week, therefore, as Abbottabad exchanges the covert, transatlantic gaze of a very few for the public glare of millions, the name of Major Abbott is also in the news.

His bizarre valedictory poem entitled “Town Abbottabad” certainly appears to exist in situ as a public inscription, and also appears on the relevant wiki page. Major Abbott wrote several other poetical works, of which the most ambitious was The t’Hakoorine: A Tale of Maandoo (London: James Madden, 1841). A second edition, The Legend of Maundoo, was published in London in 1893 by Kegan, Paul, more than fifty years later, and according to the title page by that time Abbott was also “the author of ‘Prometheus’ Daughter [A Poem, London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1861],’ ‘Constance [A Tale, London: Smith, Elder, 1877],’ ‘Allaooddeen [A Tragedy, and Other Poems, London: Smith & Elder, 1880],’ &c.” As well, he wrote Tales of the Forest: containing The Lotus-Walker, and The Spoiler’s Doom (London: James Madden, 1853). It is not clear why on that occasion the Major sheltered behind the pseudonym of “Snellius Schickhardus.” This mouthful seems to be a fusion of the Latinised surnames of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century astronomer–mathematicians Willebrord Snellius (1580–1626) and Wilhelm Schickard (1592–1635). Was this perhaps a nod, however distant, to the clunky mathematical curriculum prescribed years earlier at the Hon. East India Company’s Seminary (Addiscombe) near Croydon in South London, or was there another reason? Meanwhile, Legends, Ballads, &c. (Calcutta: Sanders, Cones & Co.) followed in 1854, but these carried the author’s real name.

At first The t’Hakoorine was damned with faint praise in the Athenæum (No. 699, March 20, 1841, p. 220), but much later, writing in the Academy (No. 1276, October 17, 1896, p. 284), Abbott’s obituarist, “J. S. C.,” viewed it more kindly, indeed as “quite readable, being after Byron’s early manner [sic],” though he added that “of the occasional verses the less said the better.” Presumably one would include his “Town Abbottabad” in this category, but I can find no trace of the original poem in any nineteenth-century printed source. Assuming it is genuine, I suppose Stephen Moss’s similarly bracing critique in the Guardian on Monday is justified, but it is also worth underlining that the Major’s contemporaries saw him in a very different light.

According to Colonel Henry Vibart (Addiscombe: Its Heroes and Men of Note, with an introduction by Lord Roberts of Kandahar [Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co., 1894, p. 372]): “Sir Henry Lawrence described Major Abbott as ‘of the stuff of the true knight-errant, gentle as a girl in thought, word or deed, overflowing with warm affection, and ready at all times to sacrifice himself for his country or his friend. He is at the same time a brave, scientific, and energetic soldier with peculiar powers of attracting others, especially Asiatics, to his person.’... In ‘The Gossip of the Century[: Personal and Traditional Memories—Social, Literary, Artistic, &c.]’ [London: Ward & Downey, 1892–98] it is remarked: ‘He had poetical tastes and literary ability of no mean order, and he published several works. His verse is powerfully imaginative, and exhibits great play of fancy, while in his picturesque description we trace the inspiration of a poetical mind.’”

When this was written, the Major was an 88 year-old widowed general living in quiet retirement at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, so considerations of deference and tact may have colored the literary assessment. Indeed he was then described as “the Nestor of the Indian Army.” How very remarkable, therefore, that the events of recent days should have conspired to redirect a strong beam of light upon the effusions of the Major’s pen, and that, inevitably I suppose, this should prove far, far less forgiving. After all, one could well argue that the current Taliban and al-Qaeda mess goes all the way back to the Great Game, the first Afghan War of 1839–42, the complete destruction of Elphinstone’s army, and all subsequent attempts to establish any sort of control of what lies beyond the Khyber Pass.