Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Son eaten by sow

Today marks the 330th anniversary of the death of young Sir Thomas Isham, the third to hold the Isham Baronetcy title. As a teenager, his father, the second Isham Baronet, ordered Thomas to keep a diary in Latin, as an educational exercise. And it is thanks to this lively and colourful diary - said to be the only diary by a 15 year old boy in 17th century England - that the Third Baronet is remembered today.

Thomas was born at Lamport, Northamptonshire, in 1656, the eldest son of Sir Justinian Isham, himself the son of John Isham, High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, for whom the Isham Baronetcy was created in 1627. Thomas studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and soon after succeeded to the title on the death of his father, but he died, still a young man, on 27 July 1681 (see Wikipedia). Today the title is held by Sir Norman Isham, the 14th Baronet, who was born in 1930.

Sir Thomas is largely remembered today thanks to a diary he kept in Latin at his father’s behest from 1671 to 1673. It is made up of brief entries, sometimes only one sentence, and when the entries are longer this is usually because Isham is recording an anecdote - a local murder or other crime, for example - told by a visitor. Nevertheless, the diary does give a lively picture of the everyday country life of a gentry class boy in his teens.

The diary was first published in 1875 by Miller and Leavins of Norwich, but a more recent edition dates from 1971 when Gregg International published The Diary of Thomas Isham of Lamport (1658-81) kept by him in Latin from 1671 to 1673 at his Father’s command. This was based on a translation by Norman Marlow, and was annotated by Sir Gyles Isham. Here are a few extracts.

10 November 1671
‘. . . The carpenter made new shelves to put our public books on. A white cock of brother Justinian’s, named Taffy, which was at Thomas Pole’s, had one of his spurs violently wrenched off and died, from which it is clear that the people of Houghton are indeed rustic and altogether ignorant of learning, not to remember the trite saying, ‘Never lay hands on a white cock’.’

2 December 1671
‘A stranger died here while on a journey, and was buried in the churchyard.’

16 December 1671
‘Tom a’ Bedlam [local lunatic] paid us a visit, and said that his only son had been eaten by a sow, that his wife was home consumed with grief and that he had become melancholy.’

20 December 1671
‘Today we challenged the Maidwell men to a cock fight. Two oxen were killed for Christmas . . .’

8 January 1672
‘Mr Wikes came and promised to bring four cocks to help us . . .’

11 January 1672
Maidwell was beaten in the cock fight. . .’

27 January 1672
‘John Chapman told us that a woman convicted of clipping coin of the realm has been condemned and burned alive in the cattle market at Smithfield, London.’

29 January 1672
‘John Chapman came to dinner and said that a new telescope, far more perfect than previous ones, had been invented [probably Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope].’

8 April 1672
‘Father forbade us to keep cocks . . .’

30 April 1672
‘Michael Wright . . . while pulling and handling the largest church bell unskilfully, threw it over, which pulled him up to the ceiling and nearly knocked his brains out; I know for certain that his leg is broken . . .’

24 May 1672
‘Today my sister Vere’s bees swarmed.’

25 May 1672
‘They say we have taken a Dutch vessel which was full of riches, and that her captain died of grief. A French galley took a Dutch ship laden with salt, and other merchandise.’

4 June 1672
‘The bull was castrated today and grew so savage that he broke his rope that bound him and after the operation charged at everyone he met.’

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breathless Machu Picchu

Today marks the centenary of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, an Inca citadel in Peru, now one of the world’s most famous tourist sites. The anniversary gives me another chance to revisit my own diaries since, almost exactly 35 years ago, I was there, a youthful round-the-world traveller, ‘breathless’ but, nevertheless, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t really impressed.

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located, somewhat precariously, over 2,000 metres above sea level on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Most archaeologists believe it dates from the 15th century, but was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown in the West until ‘discovered’ on 24 July 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American academic, leading a Yale University expedition.

Bingham soon started archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area, calling the complex ‘The Lost City of the Incas’, which was also the title of his first book. He continued studying the site until 1915, collecting various artifacts - ceramic vessels, silver statues, jewellery, and human bones - which he took back to Yale. Recently, Yale and Peru have reached agreement for the artefacts to be returned to their original home. See Wikipedia for more.

Today Machu Picchu is one of the most famous tourist sites in the world. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and, in 2007, it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide internet poll. It was certainly a key destination for me on my travels around the world in the mid-1970s.

I had been held up in Lima for a month by a bout of hepatitis, but, by mid-July 1976, I was on my way again, with Cuzco and Machu Picchu waiting for me further south. I found three companions on the road: Didier, a delightfully gentle Frenchman; Jim, a bearded Canadian with spiritual tendencies and an empathy for nature; and Annabelle, a beautiful Englishwoman with long dark curls.

Here is an entry from my diary, almost exactly 35 years ago to the day - (taken from my journal entries on the Pikle website).

21 July 1976
The river fjords, peaks and pikes, moss-covered cliffs. A hawk glides a spiral upwards, upwards, 1,000ft above the meandering Urubamba. Once people lived here in the sky, carving building bricks, hiding from the ground, from the river. Once people toiled here in the sky and worshiped the sun. A sun that came sometimes to warm, to grow, to live. A sun that came through the mists. And a myth that grew with gold. A myth grew and crumbled. And now is grass. A pasture for hungry tourists, for ego-hunting travellers. A pasture for writers and artists to see the mountains, the river, the sky. Few walls of interlocking stone are left, few Inca building bricks, but more a crumbling cottage stone of a poor man built, the Inca slave, the Inca beggar. Some flowers grow, and Peruvian government llamas or alpacas graze. A yellow pipeline sprints upon another mountain. Specks of colour dawdle from wall to stone from hut to rock from step to step.

And I am unimpressed. I am here but I am unimpressed. Sitting on a rock, watching the play of every day: red-helmetted grass cutters, drifting wind-carried chatter, people strolling, like in a park. I was talking a while with Didier just now - as we watched the tourist train pull in - about the Buddhist ruins I investigated near Peshawar. It was a very hazy memory. Didier is not interested in the old stone but likes the green mountains and green river. Jim sits on the other side of the saddle meditating. Annabelle takes photographs for a granny. The wind is smiling. Machu Picchu.

Have you seen this old old city
Have you seen, have you seen
This old old city, have you seen


What is Cuzco? It is situated in a mild valley, a patchwork of red tiles, cobbled streets, hybrid Inca walls, churches, squares, parades of modern arches. It’s a cool city with beggars, ice-cream sellers and blind harp players. The Spanish added some churches to the place after removing the Inca civilisation. But giving the people Catholicism was sinful.

We arrived on the Saturday (in time to dress up for dinner and mingle with the swarms of French and German bees). Initial impressions were of bustling markets, lots of gringos and old churches. For two days we did a lot of sitting in cafes drinking teas and milk and leches, or eating doughnut and honey in the main market in San Francisco square. The cathedral (a hideous place with galleries of ancient Spanish bishop portraits and alcoves of broken christs in ghastly glitter) and museums were empty. Our hotel, Roma, had falling down shacks for toilets. Our room was large with four beds brightly coloured and patterned walls and a roof that sagged several feet in the middle.

One very amusing evening started with Jim painting and me being very speedy - lying on the floor breathing heavy to cool down. I noticed little beads in the cracks of the floorboards and started picking them out. Derek and Eric, the comic due, joined in the bead searching party. Didier was rolling joints, Annabelle wrote endless letters. Jim’s painting got progressively darker, and my bead chain got progressively longer, and more colourful. Finally, I’d made a whole bracelet from the beads in the floorboards of Hotel Roma.

Another evening we went to see Zardoz and then played blow football in a late night cafe (the Canadian Rollocks beat the English Whizzers by three goals to one).

There was a strange moment watching a very old lady standing in the doorway of a trinket shop, looking at a display case of cheap ear-rings. She pointed with her finger from one ring to another putting a whole lot of feeling into the pointing process. I stood watching her and felt almost impelled to buy her one pair. After an extra emphatic point at one particular pair, she walked away. I thought that she hadn’t noticed me watching her, but when she’d walked 100 metres or so up the road, she turned and looked straight at me. There was anger in her eyes which spoke saying: ‘Why haven’t you bought me those ear-rings?’ A very odd feeling.’

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dried bear’s meat

Today marks the 350th anniversary of the birth of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, one of Canada’s great soldiers and explorers, though at the time his homeland was still called New France - indeed he is dubbed Canada’s first hero. A few of his journals have been published, notably those recording voyages to the Mississippi to establish a colony in Louisiana. Other accounts of the same exploration also exist.

D’Iberville was born on 16 July 1661 one of many children fathered by Charles LeMoyne who had arrived in New France 20 years earlier as an indentured servant. When he died in 1685, he was considered one of the wealthiest and most powerful citizens in Montreal. Young Pierre, who had grown up in Montreal, sailed on his father’s boat and was sent to France on several occasions. In the 1680s and 1690s, he led expeditions against the British fur-trading posts on Hudson Bay. In 1690, he took part in a raid on Schenectady, and in 1692 he unsuccessfully attacked Fort Pemaquid, Maine. Later, he successfully attacked St John’s, Newfoundland, and temporarily ousted the British from the area.

In 1698, he set out from France with his younger brother Bienville and four ships full of colonists. They landed on the Gulf of Mexico and founded Old Biloxi. D’Ibberville is considered to be the first man to ascertain the mouth of the Mississippi from the Gulf approach and to explore its delta. Between 1700 and 1702, he kept the new colony supplied; and built additional forts. But then illness prevented him making further voyages.

After recovering his health, d’Iberville led a force which captured the British islands of Nevis and St Kitts in the West Indies. He was ready for further forays when he died at Havana, probably in 1706, having gone there to trade and collect supplies. Further information on d’Iberville is readily available at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (which names him as Canada’s first hero) or Wikipedia.

D’Iberville’s own French journals of three ‘voyages to the Mississippi’ were edited and translated by Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams and published by the University of Alabama Press in 1981 as Iberville’s Gulf Journals. Part of this book is viewable online at Googlebooks. However, a fuller (and richer) account of the same explorations is freely available (at Internet Archive) within the Historical Collections Louisiana and Florida published by Albert Mason (New York) 1875. The relevant section is entitled Historical Journal: or Narrative of the Expedition made by order of Louis XIV, King of France, under command of M. D’Iberville, to explore Colbert (Mississippi) river and establish a colony in Louisiana.

Here are two extracts, both about the same day: one from D’Ibberville’s own diary, and the other from the anonymous record of the expedition as contained in Historical Journey.

14 February 1699
‘I continue to follow the tracks of the Indians, having left at the place where I spent the night two axes, four knives, two packages of glass beads, a little vermillion; for I was sure that two Indians who came at sunrise to watch me from a distance of 300 yards would come there after we left. [. . .] I noticed a canoe crossing over to an island and several Indians waiting for it there. They joined five other canoes, which crossed over to the land to the north. As the land where I was was separated from them by a bay 1 league wide and 4 leagues long, I got into my canoe and pursued the canoes and overtook them as they were landing on the shore. All the Indians fled into the woods, leaving their canoes and baggage [. . .] I found an old man who was too sick to stand. We talked by means of signs. I gave him food and tobacco; he made me understand that I should build a fire for him. This I did and, besides, made a shelter, near which I placed him along with his baggage and a number of bags of Indian corn and beans that the Indians had in their canoes. I made him understand that I was going half a league from there to spend the night. My longboat joined me there. I sent my brother and two Canadians after the Indians who had fled, to try to make them come back or to capture one. Toward evening he brought a woman to me whom he had caught in the woods 3 leagues from there. I led her to the old man and left her, after giving her several presents and some tobacco to take to her men and have them smoke.’

14 February 1699
‘On Saturday, the 14th, having breakfasted, we marched along the shore. M D’Iberville and his Indian guide at the same time perceived the tracks of two savages who had come from their hiding-place. He returned to our fire, took two hatchets, four knives, some beads, vermilion, and two pipes filled with tobacco, as presents, and to show them that our intentions were peaceable. The shallops and bark kept along the shore, while M D’Iberville, his Indian guide, and Father Anastasius walked on foot. At some distance they saw three Indians who took flight in their canoes; seeing which M D’Iberville also took to his canoe and forced them on shore. Two made good their escape, but the third, who was old and sickly, fell into his hands. Presents were given to him, and he was made to understand that our mission was friendly and not warlike. The Indian appeared to comprehend and be well satisfied. M D’Iberville added that he was going to tent a short distance from this spot; he made a sign for us to go on shore and kindle a fire for him, which we did with pleasure. His thigh was badly diseased. Some of our men who had gone out to hunt, surprised an old woman who had concealed herself. They conducted her to the old man where we were. She was nearly frightened to death. We gave her some presents, and she saw how well we treated the old man, who promised that so soon as his people returned he would make them pull some Indian corn for us. We left them together and returned to our cabin. The old woman visited the Indians that same evening and told them all that had happened.’

And here are two more extracts from Historical Journey (i.e. about d’Iberville, not written by him).

7 March 1699
On Saturday, the 7th, we embarked, after having erected a cross, and marked some trees. Weather calm. At nine o’clock, in ranging along the river we saw three buffaloes lying down on the bank. We landed five men to go in pursuit of them, which they could not do, as they soon got lost in the thick forest and cane-brakes. A short time after, in turning a point, we saw a canoe manned by two Indians, who took to land the moment they saw us and concealed themselves in the woods. A little farther on we saw five more who executed the same manoeuvre, with the exception of one, who waited for us at the brink of the river. We made signs to him. M D’Iberville gave him a knife, some beads and other trinkets. In exchange he gave us some dried bear’s meat. M D’Iberville commanded all of our men to go on board the long-boats for fear of intimidating him, and made signs to him to recall his comrades. They came singing their song of peace, extending their hands towards the sun and rubbing their stomachs, as a sign of admiration and joy. After joining us they placed their hands upon their breasts, and extended their arms over our heads as a mark of friendship. M D’Iberville asked them by signs, if the Indians we had seen on the sea-shore, where the vessels were at anchor, had arrived. They gave us to understand the affirmative, and that they had gone up by a branch of the river, which empties into the sea, near the same place where he had crossed it. He then asked them if their village was far off. They told him it was five days journey hence.

What troubled us most, was, that we began to be wearied, and our provisions were falling short. M D’Iberville gave them some beads, knives and looking-glasses; in return they gave us dried bear’s meat, which they had in their canoes. Our men also trafficked with them for some trifling objects. One good old man extended his meat upon the ground, after the same manner our butchers do in our markets of Europe, and sat down beside it. Two of our men went to him, and each one gave him a knife and took the whole of the meat, consisting of at least one hundred pounds. All seemed satisfied with their bargain. M D’Iberville asked them if they would show him their village. They gave him to understand they were going on a hunt, and could not accompany him. But having offered a hatchet to one of them, who seemed very desirous to possess it, he agreed to go. We asked them if they had heard the sound of the swivel; they said they had heard it twice. We fired it again before them, at which they were greatly astonished, for it was the first time they had ever heard it so near them. We passed two hours among them. One of them came on board of our shallop. We made him a present of a shirt, the others did not appear jealous of the gift, so indifferent are they. The river at this place was NW by SW.

At one o’clock we dined. Our course was now SSW by S. With a half a league again tended NW by W. At six o’clock landed and encamped, our men standing guard as usual. This day we made five leagues, and were thirty-five leagues from the mouth.

8 March 1699
On Sunday, the 8th, after mass, we embarked at seven o’clock; river tending SW by NW and W. The current was stronger than ordinarily, which made it necessary for us to keep in the bends and cross the river from one point to the other, three or four times. The weather was very warm all day. Towards five o’clock a storm arose, which compelled us to land and encamp. Some of our men killed a crocodile (alligator), which they skinned and afterwards cooked the flesh to eat. They also killed a rattle-snake upwards of six feet in length, the bite of which is said to be mortal. The wind was from the north all night and very cold. We this day made four leagues.

Diary briefs

Armed robber nabbed by his own diary entry - The Mirror

More diaries from Alastair Campbell - The Guardian, Amazon

More of Mengele’s diaries to be auctioned (see Mengele’s vile ‘diary’) - US News. 

What Murdoch learned from the Hitler Diaries - The New Yorker

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A bath in Albert

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Robert Lindsay Mackay, an infantry soldier in the First World War, present at the famous battles of the Somme and Ypres. While in action, he managed to keep a near daily diary of his activities, and this, though not published in print, has been made available online by one of his grandchildren. Of particular note are entries about ‘MUD’ and visiting the town called Albert (in the Somme region) for a bath.

Mackay was born in 1896 in Glasgow and studied at the university there. During the war, he served with an infantry regiment, the 11th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, holding the posts of Signalling Officer, Assistant Adjutant, and Platoon Officer, eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant. He fought in the Battles of the Somme, Ypres and Arras, and was awarded a Military Cross and Bar.

After the war, Mackay trained as a doctor. He married Margaret McLellan, and they had four children. In 1941, he rejoined the army and, with a neurosurgical unit, was posted to the Middle East. Before the end of the war, he was also posted to Normandy and Northern Norway, to treat Russians who had fallen sick while prisoners of the Germans. He retired in 1961, and died on 2 July 1981. Further biographical information is available on the University of Glasgow website and some Mackay family tree web pages.

Mackay only kept a diary during the First World War, and later on wasn’t even sure why he had done that. In 1972 he wrote the following note to his children: ‘I am not quite clear why I wrote this diary, day by day, a scrappy record of a scrappy period. I had no literary or military ambitions. My parents did not read it. Perhaps it was to provide a kind of continuous alibi, to remind me where I had been, perhaps an interesting memorial if I failed to return. Like cakes off a hot griddle, it was written as events occurred, or immediately thereafter, in four little brown leather-covered notebooks, and when the war ended these were in no state to last long for they were soiled and grubby, and, where written in pencil, the writing was fading. So, in 1919, I copied their contents, straight off, without editing, into two larger note-books, and destroyed the four little ones.’

The text has been made available online by one of Mackay’s grandchildren, Bob Mackay, at, and on his own web pages. Here are a few entries.

12 September 1916
‘Ordered up to the 11th. Service Battalion Argylls - the one to which I most of all wanted to go. Train due to leave at 2 p.m. Left punctually at 4.30 p.m., which is not bad for a French train. Reached Albert on the Somme Front about 6.30 p.m. on the 13th. - a distance of some 70 - 80 miles in 28 hours - not bad going for a French train either! Albert is where the battle now going on began, so I hope to see something decent. Reported to the Details Orderly Room of the 11th. Bn. who heard next day that we were coming. Went along to a park after tea to see our latest form of frightfulness about which mystery hangs, namely, the tanks. They have not been used against the enemy yet. Heyworth (who joined with me) and I then went along to the Divisional Reinforcement Camp at Mericourt.’

14 September 1916
‘Loafed around.’

15 October 1916
‘Had a bath.’

16-17 October 1916
‘16th, 17th, and so on till the end - MUD, MUD, MUD!’

18 October 1916
‘Our ‘rest’ is now finished - when did it begin? Left Lozenge Wood, for Martinpuich.’

18 October 1916
‘Rotten ration party to take up to the Royal Scots. Bed 3 a.m. Half a bed is better than no bed at all!’

20 October 1916
‘Round the companies. The C.O. (MacNeil of Oban) got a mouldy haggis, which he ate all by himself. It came in a parcel labelled ‘CAKE’. He had kept it for three weeks!’

21 October 1916
‘Canadians on our left attack the ‘Quadrilateral’ and village of Pys. Partial success. Bombardment all night.’ Back to Martinpuich from the line. Frost came on us suddenly and played the mischief with the mens’ feet. Had to send a number to hospital.’

24 October 1916
‘Relieved by 7/8th. K.O.S.B. Back to Lozenge Wood. Roads heavy on way back. Got stuck in the mud.’

30 October 1916
‘Still at Bécourt, ‘X 27’ district, as bleak and as barren a place as the Western Hebrides. It is said that grass once grew here!’

31 October 1916
‘Front line again.’

2 November 1916
‘Chased by snipers. Relieved by 5th. Bn. Gloucesters, of 48th. Division.’

3 November 1916
‘Left Bécourt Dell for Albert and a bath.’

4 November 1916
‘Albert is knocked about in the most up-to-date fashion, in accordance with the most advanced ideas. There is not a pane of unbroken glass in the place. Every house, if not entirely demolished or with a gable or two missing, has a few holes in the roof, which help the ventilation and also assist materially in the disposal of surplus rain. Ye Gods! It is a funny life!

Albert Cathedral has been very badly smashed but the tower still remains with the figure of the Virgin and Child held out at right angles to it at the top and threatening to fall at any moment on the heads of countless people who pass below. It is commonly said that the War will not end until the Virgin falls. As the French don’t want it to fall (preferring to keep it as a monument of the Huns’ occupation of the place), what can we do?’