Saturday, 26 April 2008

2/4th and The Battle of Cairns


Yesterday was ANZAC Day so forgive me briefly for jumping to the 20th century. I'm posting this a day late as I had no time yesterday, lunch being spent down at the memorial, and I don't have a computer at home. I left a ciggie for Pop, and had one myself. I didn't leave a poppy because he wasn't much of a "joiner" (runs in the family), and not much of one for organised authority. I reckon he'd take a dim view of the lot of it, especially the lauding of the heroism and the concept of the innate "rightness" of the allied soldier during war (see for example this little slice of life on Timor provided by one of the men who served in his company) .

However for me it's a time to put aside a day and remember the bloke who taught me to tie my shoelaces (one of the most enduring and useful life skills I have).

Pop was a signaller with the 4th Australian Independent Company, later renamed 2/4th Commando Squadron, and fought in Timor, New Guinea and Borneo against the Japanese (and maybe in Australia too, against the Americans). Here are a few exerpts from a history of the Company's activities in the war. (Lambert, George Arthur. "Commando: From Tidal River to Tarakan 1941-1945". Australian Military History Publications. 1997).

I love this story about Pop. The stories where he is involved reveal his subversive sense of humour and the importance of looking out for your mates. This took place shortly before the battle of Tarakan.

Battle of Cairns

The Battles of Brisbane in Australia and of Manners Street in New Zealand are well-known. I don't know why, but they tickle me. This is probably because I'm such a useless brawler myself, and am invariably among the first to get knocked out of it on the few occasions I've been in a stoush. I wish I was more like my mate Dave Rees, who just never seems to go down until three or four guys have had a go at him. If I was, maybe he'd still have all his real teeth!

These "battles" are usually put down to GIs taking out all the local women with their better pay, the general overbearing attitudes of the MPs, and that the US staff giving all the credit to the GIs (not that they don't deserve it - but a spare a thought for the Aussies wouldn't go astray). Anyway, here is a description of the lesser-known "Battle of Cairns":

Of course it wasn't all fun and games, as can be seen in one account of the landing at Lae, in New Guinea. As you can see, when it came down to the real business, Yanks and Aussies could look out for each other:

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Beer, Beef and Liberty

Beef and Liberty

I was once in the Brighton Pavillion museum and saw a lovely old nineteenth century mug with the words, "Beef and Liberty" emblazoned on it. I loved it. I covet it.
I have a good mate back in NZ who works for the Meat Board so I told him about it. "A noble sentiment" was his resonse. And indeed it is.
It turns out this is the motto of the Beefsteak Club, which is alive and well in London, and has a long and proud history of eating beef and getting drunk. Long may they prosper. I wonder if the Calcutta branch is still going?
Source: Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. Feb 1828. p 260

Instant Beer - Just add water
Witness its birth in this article. After a journey from England, which over six months entailed crossing the equator twice and walloping around the Cape of Good Hope with no refrigeration, the beer ended up pretty rubbish. But that was all that was available in the early days. No wonder the the toffs preferred gin, brandy and madeira, and left the beer to the sailors.
Lord knows what happened to the formula mentioned in this article, though I hope that at the end of the trial it was found guilty, taken from that place to a place of execution, and hanged until dead. dead. dead. I suspect it's still in use in those home brew kits.
Around this time, India Pale Ale (IPA) was developed. It had more hops and a higher alcohol content to help it on it's journey. My suspicion is that this was just so the people who drank it wouldn't mind it tasting like flat piss as it got them soused for cheap. Ships' masters would like it too as it would have extended the volume of small beer rations. During the 1830s I think, someone had the bright idea of brewing beer in India. It probably took an Indian to think of this.
It may well be that the writer of the article got the wrong end of the stick and this product is in fact IPA. Someone can go look it up no doubt.
Source: Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. May 1828. p 681.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Jenny and the Mutineers

Not Jenny really, but Teehuteatuaonoa. It's obvious the problems a British tongue is going to have with that name, so "Jenny" it was. Before we get all indignant of the British habit of doing this, the thing went both ways (as pointed out in this narrative - a name as simple to a anglophone as "Cook" was translated by many Islanders as "Tooti"). Names changed and indeed were swapped between friends from island to island. As time passed the various pidgins of the Pacific Islands developed as a boon to Europeans and Pacific Islanders of all cultures and languages. Helped get things done. And the people of the 19th century were very, very good at getting things done.
Peter Dillon, a trader with a keen sense of Pacific history and culture, and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, interviewed Teehuteatuaonoa and returned to Calcutta with this story.

By the time this story appeared in 1829, the mutiny of the Bounty had passed into folklore, and just about everybody involved, including Bligh; who had had a glittering naval career, were dead. It is valuable in that without this account, we wouldn't have all those lovely movies!

Poor old Bligh - Sailed with Cook (3rd voyage), fought with and was a close confidante of Nelson, friends with Joseph Banks, showed real concern for his crews (eg the three watch system and barely ever flogging anyone), an awesome navigator and draftsman, has been really hard done by - the victim of inexperienced sailing officers and monopolists soldiers in Sydney. Still, he lived a long and adventurous life, was recognised by those who mattered and made it to Vice Admiral of the Blue. And he's still famous. That's a lot better than his horny and selfish subordinates ever did (except Christian being famous). So he swore a lot - wouldn't you, having to deal with these dickheads?

Two sets of clippings again today Teehuteatuaonoa' story above, is taken from the United Service Journal and Military Magazine, 1829, part II. (Although I loathe most popular poetry after the romantics up until the modernists kick-started things again, I kind of like the sea bird poem. I once spent 15 days at sea on a 30 foot sailing yacht. Coincidentally we used a three watch system between the three of us crewing, which meant the only company was the birds. And they were there, day after day, every day).

The second clipping below is a reprint of Bligh's descriptions of the mutineers. Looks like in Tahiti they just hung out all day getting tattoos. I love his brevity, which at the same time creates a great picture of each man. The source for the transcription is from Paul Brunton (ed) "Awake bold Bligh! William Bligh's letters describing the mutiny on HMS Bounty". Allen and Unwin in partnership with the State Library of NSW. 1989. He wrote these descriptions as soon as he and his loyal crew made land after their epic journey in an open boat.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Cheese and Icebergs

These two clippings appear in the Asiatic Journal (December 1828). This journal was published around the first quarter of the 19th Century in Calcutta. It published stock market and exchange reports, news from other colonies and the region, local political debates, proceedings of the Asiatic Society and a selection of military proceedings. Lighter subjects were touched on also: literature, the arts and bits and pieces in a section called "Varieties". These two clippings come from the section on news from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). Traders would pick up the local newspapers wherever they went so news could be reprinted by the local press elsewhere, and the knowledge made general. The original publications are cited at the end of the articles.

High Icebergs in low latitudes
An interesting little report here. Obviously a huge shelf had broken off Antactica not long before. A similar event happened in 2006, with one or two large icebergs making it as far as the coast of New Zealand around Dunedin (around 45 degrees South). People paid a lot of money chartering helicopters to land them on the icebergs so they could have champagne lunches on top before it melted. If you believe in global warming, this behaviour is sort of like a cow driving itself to the abbatoir, because it wanted to try driving, if you know what I mean.

The second clipping today, which follows on from the above, is just plain weird. It would be interesting to trace this character when I have the time.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Naughty, naughty man

Click on the image at left to read it

I came across this while doing some research at work on another topic. It comes from the Indian Gazette (02 November 1826), a newspaper published in Calcutta. I haven't done a big search for it, but I think it likely it was written by a local resident. From what I can glean, this paper was something of a tabloid, reprinting the harder news of the Government Gazette, Bengal Hurkaru, and "Home news", and adding a bit of local gossip.

The poem refers to his second kidnapping of a teenage girl (Ellen Turner) from England and their marriage in Scotland where the rules on this sort of thing were a bit slacker. His first marriage (also in Scotland) to Eliza Pattle had stuck - probably the girl's family wanted to avoid a scandal - but she had died from complications resulting from the birth of the equally wayward son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield.

This second affair was closely monitored by the press wherever there was an interest in British society, and the family of the poor girl stood by her. The global British press closely reported on the court proceedings. The end result for EGW was a spell in prison and a subsequent career in the furthest colonies. He died in New Zealand.

EGW, as is well known, was a VERY dodgy character who, after some strange doings in Canada, a failed go at creating a colony in South Australia, went on to orchestrate the creation of the New Zealand Company, encouraging colonisation, and eventually became a Member of Parliament there. Go figure.

The poem is not a very good one, but you can't have everything. It follows an article reporting on Wakefield's confession, probably reprinted from a London newspaper.