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. 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.’

Friday, July 22, 2011

I got his reprieve

It is 390 years today since the birth of Anthony Ashley Cooper for whom the title Earl of Shaftesbury was created during the reign of Charles II. The title has survived and is currently held by Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury. The first Earl kept a diary, albeit with only very brief entries, largely recording his work as a justice of the peace. One longer entry, though, records the death of his wife.

Cooper was born on 22 July 1621 in the county of Dorset. He suffered from the death of both his parents at a young age, and was educated by Puritan tutors, before entering Exeter College, Oxford. He married Margaret, the daughter of Lord Coventry, when only 18, but she died young. Cooper was admitted into Lincoln’s Inn, and subsequently was elected to the Short Parliament for the borough of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, where his family owned land. When he was elected to the Long Parliament for Poole in his native Dorset, his appointment was blocked by Denzil Holles, an important politician at the time.

At the start of the Civil War, Cooper supported the King but then changed sides, and eventually joined Cromwell’s Council of State. He married for a second time in 1650, to Lady Francis Cecil. Falling out with Cromwell, he left the Council of State in 1655, and later returned to the royalist cause, supporting the Restoration of Charles II. Thereafter, he served on the commission that tried the Regicides, was created Baron Ashley, and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1663, he was one of eight Lords Proprietors given title to a huge tract of land in North America, which eventually became the Province of Carolina.

After the fall of Lord Clarendon in 1667, Cooper became a prominent member of the Cabal, a group of high councillors who held power under the rule of Charles II, and then, in 1672, was appointed Lord Chancellor. He was created Earl of Shaftesbury and Baron Cooper of Pawlett, and took on a further appointment as First Lord of Trade. Because of his opposition to the succession of the Duke of York, Shaftesbury fell from favour, and became a leader of the radical Whigs. He was charged with high treason, but then, when the charges were dismissed, he fled to the Netherlands, fearing he might be charged again, and died there in 1683.

Wikipedia has an extensive biography of Cooper, and even more details can be gleaned from A Life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, first Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683 by W D Christie published by Macmillan and Co in 1871 and freely available at Internet Archive.

For a few years, as a young man, Cooper kept a diary. Christie describes it as ‘the most meagre and prosaic of diaries’ but, nevertheless, refers to it in his biography, and even includes a full text in one of the appendices. It is worth noting that Cooper appears often in Samuel Pepys’s diary, and that on Phil Gyford’s website there is a list of all Pepys’s references to Cooper.

The following text is Christie’s narrative on Cooper’s diary, and includes many extracts.

‘Some passages of his Diary extending from January 1, 1646, to July 10, 1650, are here selected, which have interest in connexion with his life and character, or with the habits of the time.

On February 5, 1646, Cooper records a surgical operation: “I had a nerve and vein cut by Gell and two more, for which I was forced to keep my chamber twelve days.” On February 12, “I had another nerve and vein cut.”

On April 1, 1646, he mentions that two Dorsetshire boys of his neighbourhood, fifteen years old each, bound themselves to him for seven years for his plantation in Barbadoes, to receive 5l. each at the end of the time. The Dorsetshire quarter sessions were held on the seventh and eighth of April, “this time kept at Dorchester, and not at Sherborne, for security.” The magistrates did bloody work: “Nine hanged; only three burnt in the hand,” is Cooper’s summary of their deeds.

A few days after, the Dorsetshire Committee, of which Cooper was one, “sat in the Shire Hall, at Dorchester, by the ordinance for punishing pressed soldiers that ran away on the 15th of January last, when three were condemned to die, two to run the gantelope [guantlet], two to be tied neck and heels and one to stand with a rope about his neck.”

On July 27, there is an entry of a domestic incident: “My wife miscarried of a boy; she had gone twenty weeks. Her brother John in jest threw her against a bedstaff, which hurt her so that it caused this.”

In August he attended the assizes at Salisbury and Dorchester, being, he says, in the commission of oyer and terminer for the whole circuit. The judges were Mr Justice Kolle and Serjeant Godbolt. On August 10, the assizes began at Salisbury, and Cooper took the oaths as a justice of the peace for Wiltshire.

“August 11: Sir John Danvers came and sat with us. Seven condemned to die; four for horse-stealing, two for robbery, one for killing his wife, he broke her neck with his hands; it was proved that, he touching her body the day after, her nose bled fresh; four burnt in the hand, one for felony, three for manslaughter; the same sign followed one of them of the corpse bleeding.”

“August 12. I and the Sheriff of Wilts begged the life of one Prichett, one of those seven condemned, because he had been a Parliament soldier. I waited on the judges to Dorchester.”

At Dorchester the assizes terminated on the fourteenth: “Five condemned to die, two women for murdering their children, one of them a married woman; one for murder, one for robbery, one for horse-stealing: three burnt in the hand, one for manslaughter, two for felony. Chibbett condemned for horse-stealing. The Justices begged his reprieve, he having been a faithful soldier to the State.”

A few days after, on the seventeenth, he went Bryanston bowling-green, where he “bowled all day.”

On October 1 he mentions: “I went to Shaftesbury to the council of war for Massey’s brigade, and got them removed out of Dorset.” The Parliament had ordered that this brigade should be disbanded.

In December, he enters: “I was by both Houses of Parliament made High Sheriff of the county of Wilts. I was by ordinance of Parliament made one of the committee for Dorset and Wilts, for Sir Thomas Fairfax his army’s contribution.”

In March of next year, 1647, he attended the judges as sheriff, at the Wiltshire assizes: “March 13: The judges came into Salisbury, Justice Roles and Serjeant Godbolt. They went hence the 17th day. I had sixty men in liveries, and kept an ordinary for all gentlemen at Lawes his, four shillings and two shillings for blew men. I paid for all. There were sixteen condemned to die, whereof fourteen suffered. George Philips condemned for stealing a horse; I got his reprieve, and another for the like offence was reprieved by the judge. Three more were burnt in the hand, then condemned.”

On March 29, he and his wife had another disappointment: “My wife miscarried of a child she was eleven weeks gone with.”

During this month of March, Cooper adds, “ I raised the country twice, and beat out the soldiers designed for Ireland who quartered on the county without order, and committed many robberies.” These were very likely soldiers of the disbanded Massey’s brigade, of whom Ludlow says that many gave trouble in Wiltshire, and ultimately enlisted themselves to serve against the rebels in Ireland, the Parliament having sent instructions and officers for that purpose.

In June he took his wife to Bath, where she stayed five weeks. “June 15: We came to Bath, where my wife made use of the Cross bath, for to strengthen her against miscarriage.”

The August Wiltshire assizes began at Salisbury on the fourteenth and ended on the eighteenth. The judges this time were Godbolt, now a Judge of the Common Pleas, and Serjeant Wild, afterwards Chief Baron. “Four condemned to die: one for a robbery, two for horse-stealing, one for murder. Luke, that was for the robbery, I got his reprieve.” Cooper adds, “I kept my ordinary at the Angel, four shillings for the gentlemen, two for their men, and a cellar.”

On November 12, there is a curious entry of a speculation: “The little ship called the ‘Rose’ wherein I have a quarter part, which went to Guinea, came to town this term (blessed be God!). She has been out about a year, and we shall but make our money.”

On the twenty-ninth: “My wife was delivered at seven o’clock in the evening of a dead maid child; she was within a fortnight of her time.”

For the first half of the year 1648, Cooper had attacks of ague. On February 14 he enters in his Diary, “I fell sick of a tertian ague, whereof I had but five fits, through the mercy of the Lord.” This ague prevented his sitting with the judges at the assizes in March. He had ceased to be Sheriff of Wiltshire, having received his writ of discharge on February 11 from his uncle Tooker, who succeeded him. Again, on April 29, there is an entry: “I fell sick of a tertian ague, whereof I had but two fits, through the mercy of the Lord.”

In July he was made a commissioner of the ordinance of Parliament for a rate for Ireland for Dorsetshire, and also, by ordinance of Parliament, was made one of the commissioners for the militia in Dorsetshire.

The ordinance for the trial of Charles the First was passed by the House of Commons on the sixth of January, 1649. The trial began on the twentieth; on the twenty-seventh sentence was passed, and on the thirtieth the King was executed. Even this great event elicits no mention in Cooper’s Diary. He was travelling at the time, and he merely notes his movements. On the twenty-ninth, the day before the execution, he left his house at Wimborne St Giles to go to London, and on the thirtieth he travelled from Andover to Bagshot. The entries in the Diary are these: “January 29: I began my journey to London, and went to Andover, 30: I went to Bagshot. 31: I came to London, and lodged at Mr Guidott’s, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.” This is all.

In the next month he records: “I was made by the States a justice of peace of quorum for the counties of Wilts and Dorset, and of oyer and terminer for the western circuit.”

In July 1649, a heavy domestic calamity befell him, the sudden death of his wife: “July 10: My wife, just as she was sitting down to supper, fell suddenly into an apoplectical convulsion fit. She recovered that fit after some time, and spoke and kissed me, and complained only in the head, but fell again in a quarter of an hour, and then never came to speak again, but continued in fits and slumbers until next day. At noon she died; she was with child the fourth time, and within six weeks of her time.”

She had had no child born alive. They had been married nine years and a half. Cooper’s glowing and touching eulogium of his wife, which here follows in the Diary, has been already quoted.

[The diary itself has a little more for this date, July 10, which has the longest in the entire diary: “She was a lovely, beautiful, fair woman, a religious, devout Christian, of admirable wit and wisdom, beyond any I ever knew, yet the most sweet, affectionate, and observant wife in the world. Chaste, without a suspicion of the most envious, to the highest assurance of her husband; of a most noble and bountiful mind, yet very provident in the least things; exceeding all in anything she undertook, housewifery, preserving, works with the needle, cookery, so that her WISH and judgment were expressed in all things; free from any pride or frowardness, she was in discourse and counsel far beyond any woman.”]

In little more than nine months Cooper was again married. One of the last entries in his Diary records his marriage, on April 25, 1650, with the Lady Frances Cecil, sister of the Earl of Exeter, a royalist nobleman.

A few days before this marriage, on April 19, Cooper entered in his Diary: “I laid the first stone of my house at St. Giles’s.”

After the execution of Charles the First, Cooper continued obedient to the existing supreme authority, acted as a magistrate, took the engagement to be faithful to the new Commonwealth without King or House of Lords, and acted as a commissioner to administer the engagement in Dorsetshire. He mentions in the Diary that he was sworn as a magistrate for the counties of Wilts and Dorset, and acted for the first time since the King’s death, on August 16, 1649, about a month after the loss of his first wife. He subscribed the engagement, with a number of his brother magistrates, at Salisbury quarter sessions, on January 17, 1650. On January 29 he sat at Blandford, on a commission from the Council of State, to give the engagement. On the thirty-first he started for London, where he arrived on the second of February, and he there received a new commission to himself and others for giving the engage- ment in Dorsetshire.

The Diary ends abruptly on July 10, 1650. In the following year Cooper’s wife bore him a son, who was christened Cecil, and who died in childhood. On the sixteenth of January, 1652, was born another son, Anthony Ashley, who lived to inherit his father’s possessions and titles, and transmitted them to a son of his own . . .’

And, in time, there would be a seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, another diarist - see The Diary Junction, and The Diary Review’s article, My birthday again - and a twelfth Earl, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper. The latter inherited the title in 2005 when his elder brother, the eleventh earl, died of a heart attack in New York, where Nicholas was then working as a disc jockey - see Wikipedia for more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Israel’s Joan of Arc

Hannah Senesh might have been 90 years old today, had she lived past the age of 23 when she was convicted of treason and executed by a German firing squad. Although a Hungarian Jew that had emigrated to Palestine, she returned to Europe to take part in a dangerous military plan to rescue Jews from Hungary. She kept a beautifully-written diary from the age of 13 until the day of her death, and, to this day, it is widely read in Israel, where she is a national heroine.

Hannah Szenes, often anglicised to Senesh, was born in Budapest on 17 July 1921, the daughter of playwright Bela Senesh (who died when Hannah was about six) and his wife Katherine. She wrote plays for school productions, and developed a considerable talent for poetry. She attended a Protestant high school which accepted Jews, where one of her teachers was the Chief Rabbi of Budapest, an ardent Zionist. As a result of his influence, she joined a Zionist youth group, and then moved to study at an agricultural school in Palestine.

In 1942, however, with the war raging, Senesh was anxious to return to Europe and help her fellow Jews. She joined a group of volunteer parachutists who were part of a military plan to rescue remaining Jews in the Balkans and Hungary. They landed in Yugoslavia, and, with the aid of a partisan group, crossed the Hungarian border. There, however, she was captured by the Germans, imprisoned, and tortured. She was convicted of treason, and executed by a firing squad in November 1944 - at just 23 years of age. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, the Women in Judaism website and the Hannah Senesh Legacy Foundation.

Senesh started writing a diary aged 13, and continued, sometimes intermittently, until the day of her death. Her diary was first published in Hebrew in 1946; this, and her poems, are still widely read today in Israel, where she is something of a national heroine (and has been called Israel’s Joan of Arc). The diary was first translated and published in English by Vallentine Mitchell in 1971, but has since appeared in other editions and languages. In 2007, Jewish Lights published Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the First Complete Edition, as edited by Roberta Grossman. Some of this edition is freely available to read at Googlebooks.

Here are a few extracts.

7 September 1934
‘This morning we visited Daddy’s grave. How sad that we had to become acquainted with the cemetery so early in life. But I feel that even from beyond the grave Daddy is helping us, if in no other way than with his name. I don’t think he could have left us a greater legacy.’

4 October 1935
‘Horrible! Yesterday war broke out between Italy and Abyssinia. Almost everyone is frightened the British will intervene and that as a result there will be war in Europe. Just thinking about it is terrible. The papers are already listing the dead. I can’t understand people; how quickly they forget. Don’t they know that the whole world is still groaning from the curse of the last World War? Why this killing? Why must youth be sacrificed on a bloody scaffold when it could give so much that is good and beautiful to the world if it could just be allowed to tread peaceful roads?

Now there is nothing left to do but pray that this war will remain a local one, and end as quickly as possible. I can’t understand Mussolini wanting to acquire colonies for Italy, but, after all, the British ought to be satisfied with owning a third of the world - they don’t need all of it. It is said, however, that they are frightened of losing their route to India. Truly, politics is the ugliest thing in the world.

But to talk of more specific things. One of Gyuri’s friends [Gyuri - her brother] is courting me. He was bold enough to ask whether I would go walking with him next Sunday. I said I would, if Gyuri went along. If everything he told me is true, then I feel very sorry for him; evidently he doesn’t have a decent family life. There is something wrong there, that’s for sure.’

18 June 1936
‘. . . When I began keeping a diary I decided I would write only about beautiful and serious things, and under no circumstances constantly about boys, as most girls do. But it looks as if it’s not possible to exclude boys from the life of a fifteen-year-old girl, and for the sake of accuracy I must record the development of the G. matter.

He was not satisfied with my aforementioned answer, but put into a book I borrowed from him . . . a picture of himself autographed “With Love Forever, G.” I didn’t say a word about the picture. Ever since, whenever I see him (quite often) he showers me with compliments, which I try to brush off. . .’

14 June 1941
‘This week I leave for Egypt. I’m a soldier. Concerning the circumstances of my enlistment, and my feelings in connection with it, and with all that led up to it, I don’t want to write. I want to believe that what I’ve done, and will do, are right. Time will tell the rest.’

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

. . . and Campbell on the perils of diary writing - The Huffington Post

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

What Murdoch learned from the Hitler Diaries - The New Yorker

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In search of water

Allan Cunningham, a British botanist who spent many years exploring Australia’s outback, was born 220 years ago today. Very soon after arriving in Australia, he joined an early expedition across the Blue Mountains being led by John Oxley, one of the colony’s first explorers and surveyors. Despite following river beds, water supply was a daily problem at times, as were the natives whose presence in the landscape was felt more often than seen.

Cunningham was born in Wimbledon, near London, on 13 July 1791. His father was a head gardener at Wimbledon House. Allan studied at a private school in Putney before training for the law. But after doing some clerical work at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, he was chosen by Joseph Banks to travel abroad to collect plants for Kew. He was sent to Brazil between from 1814 until 1816, and then to New South Wales, Australia.

In 1817, Cunningham joined John Oxley’s expedition through the Blue Mountains along the Lachlan and Macquarie rivers; and then in the following years, until 1822, he sailed five times as botanist with Phillip Parker King’s hydrographical surveys of the north and north-western coasts of Australia. Thereafter, he undertook further inland explorations, such as those in Queensland where he determined Darling Downs, and Cunningham’s Gap.

Cunningham returned to England in 1831, but went back to Australia as a government botanist in 1837. Soon after he resigned to become superintendent of the Sydney Botanical Gardens. He died in 1839. Further information is available from Kew Gardens website, Wikipedia, or The Allan Cunningham Blog (hosted by Artuccino, an Australian eZine).

For some of his expeditions at least, Allan Cunningham kept journals and these appeared in print for the first time in Early Explorers in Australia. From the log-books and journals published by Lee Methuen & Co in 1925. Both The Allan Cunningham Project and Gutenberg of Australia have the full text freely available online. Here are a few extracts from Cunningham’s diary of his early expedition through the Blue Mountains.

5 May 1817
‘We departed from our last encampment about 9 o’clock, and having crossed a small creek which intersected our course, we ascended the gentle rising hill which I had visited yesterday. The view even on this eminence being much confined, Mr. Oxley took bearings of the most remarkable ranges of hills around it at a distance from the top of a lofty Callitris. Descending to the flats we were again deceived by a long chain of ponds or lagoons which we fell in with, but perceiving our mistake we crossed it in a dry situation and came to the banks of the Lachlan. Such was the confusion created by this mistake that we were all scattered and divided and taking different courses. Our people in the boats fired guns to inform us of their situation.

Calling to one another we were answered by strange voices, which left us in no doubt of natives being near us. It was a great point we should all join again, which at length we did, after some of us had passed over several miles on a cross-course, the labour of which might have been saved. Our people came up with seven or eight of the natives, who were clothed with mantles of skin reddened with a pigment from the river. There appeared not the most distant symptoms of hostility among them! They evidently had seen a horse before, and could pronounce some words of English, such as bread, and they had every appearance of having been with those at the Lachlan Depôt, from which we are now 54 miles west. From the columns of smoke ascending from the trees to which these harmless beings were advancing there is no doubt of their encampment being there situated, and it might be inferred that their gins or wives were there, from their evident objection to our people attempting to accompany them to their fires. The delay and loss of time occasioned by the above adventure had allowed our boatmen to work themselves through all the numerous windings of this intricate river and overtake us.

We all started again in a body, travelling immediately on the river bank about 4 miles, when we were stopped by a deep muddy creek connecting the river with the chain of ponds above alluded to. We passed this gully with considerable difficulty, being obliged to unload our horses. Accompanied by Mr. Oxley I went to an extensive open plain about half a mile N.W. of our course, which we found of very considerable extent. It is a flat that receives the inundations of the Lachlan; it is of a light loamy soil and at this time very damp and slimy, in consequence of the recent rain.

This plain, which is clear of timber and is skirted by Acacia pendula we have called Solway Flats, from its slight similarity to a place of that name in North Britain.’

11 May 1817
‘It is as large as the northwest river which we intend to continue upon, and which we are induced from appearances to conclude will not be of long existence as a river. We fathomed the deepest part and found it did not exceed 19 ft. It is evident that these plains are inundated by the river in great floods from the eastward, for in fact the highest land (the few rocky hills excepted) is on the immediate bank of the river, so that the floods rising over the banks descend down upon the plains on each side this channel. On the plains we observed two native companions (Grus australasiana), and our people shot two swans. From the circumstance of having seen two bark canoes moored among the reeds on the river’s left bank, and from the body of smoke ascending above the small trees at the base of Mount Melville on the opposite side of the plain, it is evident that there are some natives existing in these parts. We, however, saw none.

It was a matter of surprise that we fell in with so very few natives, whose marks are daily before our eyes, but it appears sufficiently obvious that experience has taught them to retire from a river where a supply of food is extremely precarious, and where a sudden inundation would in a moment sweep them away. Choosing rather to retire to the hilly country where they are enabled to obtain a daily subsistence with greater facility, and are not liable to be surprised and overtaken by floods.

N.B. It appears they only visit the river in great drought, when there is but little water in its channel, and are then able to procure the large horse mussel from its muddy bottom, which they cannot possibly obtain in floods and strong currents. They have no idea of angling or have any method to catch that we know of. The viviparous Pancratium purpureum] grows extremely luxuriant on these slimy plains. An unfortunate accident happened us this day. The horse that usually carried the barometer fell beneath his load and broke that valuable instrument.’

18 June 1817
‘At daybreak we sent two others to the range of hills near us in search of water, with directions to continue in the course of Mount Barrow should they not be so fortunate as to find any nearer on the range or in the gullies proceeding from it. They returned with a small quantity, enabling us to distribute to each a pint for our breakfast. Our people who had been sent to bring up the horses reported that there was some good grass a mile and a half distant in a valley between the hills. Anxious to remove to a more hospitable spot where water would in all probability be found, sufficient for ourselves and horses, we proceeded forward with the most necessary and the lightest of our provisions and luggage, leaving five casks of pork, which we could send back for in the course of the day. About 2½ miles N. easterly over some rocky hills we descended to a fine rich valley of good grass and some holes of rain water in the gullies, enough for ourselves and horses. We accordingly pitched our tents in the valley and turned our horses out to feed. Mr. Oxley sent the strongest of our animals for the casks of pork left at our last resting place.

As a proof of the badly watered condition of the country we discovered a hole that had been made with great labour by the natives very recently, and containing a little dirty water. It is obvious that the gullies were dry three days since, and that the late rains have supplied these cavities with the water we now enjoy!! Our dogs killed a native dog, which was devoured among us! The natives had not left the valley many days, because their huts of green branches and remains of fires were so fresh.

Upon taking a survey of our dry stock of provisions in hand there appeared a deficiency of a considerable quantity of flour, which at first view could by no means be accounted for. It appears, however, from a little investigation that took place this afternoon, that when on the river our boatmen hauled up one of the boats too short - by her painter - to a tree on the bank, and in the course of the night the water had fallen a foot, leaving the boat resting on her stern whereby many casks were rolled out into the river and 300 lbs. weight of flour totally lost. It was an accident they were fearful to communicate to any of us till now by dint of cross-examination. This is a severe loss to us and will oblige us to be content with a half ration.’

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

City of virtue and vice

Thomas Asline Ward, a man who devoted himself largely to serving the town of Sheffield, was born all of 230 years ago today. He may have well have been forgotten but for his diary, which was first published in instalments in a local paper. Ward visited London in the early part of the 19th century, and his diary provides an interesting and colourful account of the busy city.

Ward was born in Sheffield on 6 July 1781. He married Ann Lewin in 1814, though she died just 12 years later. He worked for the Cutlers’ Company being Master Cutler in 1816, and he served as Town Trustee from 1817 to 1863, including nearly two decades as Town Collector. He was also a magistrate from 1836. He seems to have become something of a local celebrity, but on trying for Parliament failed to be elected. He died in 1871. There is a very little information about Ward online, although a few details can be gleaned from a family tree web page, and from Sheffield History
Ward is largely remembered because of his diary. This was edited by Alexander B Bell and serialised in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1907-1908. A year later it was published as Peeps into the Past being passages from the Diary of Thomas Asline Ward by W C Leng & Co with an introduction and annotations by Robert Leader. In his introduction, Leader says: ‘The value of the diary is the insight it gives into the details of the singularly beautiful life of a citizen of high rectitude, endowed with fine mental gifts, cultivated by assiduous reading.’

Here are a few extracts from Ward’s diary, all but the first about a visit to London in 1804.

6 July 1802
‘I completed my 21st year. The workmen, to the number of 100, supped at Mr Bellamy’s, the sign of the Royal Oak, in New Street. Father, Brother Saml. and I staid till nearly 12 o’clock. We went at 7. Expense, £10 10s.’

16 August 1804
‘After a long and fatiguing day’s business I accompanied Mrs Dalby to Vauxhall Gardens, where a great number of people were assembled, it being a Gala Night on account of the Duke of York’s birthday. We first noticed the orchestra, which is erected amidst trees, and ornamented by coloured lamps in various forms and devices. A band of music and some of the first singers in town occupied it, and at the time we entered Mrs Bland was singing. In a short time they left the orchestra for a little repose, and it was occupied by the Duke of York’s military band which played several martial spirit-stirring airs. 10 o’clock arrived and suddenly a bell rang which announced an exhibition of waterworks, after which the restless auditors and spectators again flocked to the orchestra, which was again the theatre of singing til’ 12 o’clock, when they finally concluded, and the fireworks commenced. After this spectacle the gardens are generally a scene of merriment and jollity. The Pandeans, German, Turkish and military bands are stationed in various parts of the place, and some of them are continually playing, while parties of joyful visitors “trip it on the light fantastic toe.” Here might be seen fat clumsy boors dancing with the taper, light London Miss, a jumble of oddity and levity truly ridiculous. Long covered promenades (with little cells in which were spread a profusion of refreshments) served to protect the votary of pleasure from dire effects of the midnight air, which many, more ardent, braved in the dark green alleys, whose cool and kindly shade afforded a charming retreat to the lovers of darkness. Should the pitiless rain intrude its unwelcome patter, all take refuge in a large room which is elegantly fitted up with various patriotic and emblematic devices, where the walk, the dance, the music, and the supper, continually offer themselves to the senses. The lights, the transparencies, the trees, the magic-resembling, fairy-like whole, formed for me a truly new scene. Mrs D and I retired 2 hours before the usual time it closes, which is 4 o’clock.’

20 August 1804
‘Mr Dalby and I walked to Hungerford Stairs, where we took a boat, and landed near Billingsgate. Having inspected this famous fishmarket, we walked to the Tower, where we saw wild beasts kept there, the regalia and the armouries. The ancient armour is interesting, and the modern is beautiful; for the swords, pistols, musquets, etc. quite clean and ready for service, are ranged in the most perfect order, and with the nicest art are placed so as to imitate columns, stars, and other devices.

After seeing the curiosities of the Tower, we sailed to the new docks, appropriated for the vessels in the West India trade, of which 300 homeward bound may lie in the basin at one time, and a dock for those outward bound is making. The fleet was arrived only 2 or 3 days, and we saw an immense crowd of them pressing towards the yards to discharge their lading. The buildings are of stone, 7 stories high, built very strong to contain the heavy stores which are frequently put in them. A moat, wall, and palisade surround the whole, and sentinels are placed to prevent depredations. The circumference is great, but I cannot guess at it.’

21 August 1804
‘And now, London, I must bid thee “Farewell.” Thou art the centre of Good and Evil, of Virtue and Vice! How many and how various are the characters which inhabit they walls! How magnificent thy palaces! How mean they cottages! How miserable some, how happy others! Some fatten on the spoils of poverty, others starve in the midst of plenty. How many thousands are insufficient to supply the luxury of some, while others want a crust of bread to satiate the calls of hunger! . . .’

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?’