Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Librarian

Recently I read a short review in The Age newspaper about this book so, as a librarian, I decided to reserve a copy of The Librarian by Sally Vickers from the library.

I worked as a children's librarian in the late 1960s so as the main character in this book, Sylvia Blackwell, began her career in a children's library in the late 1950s  I was immediately interested in the story. Fortunately the library service where I worked provided a very different service compared to the challenges faced by Sylvia, however I related to her desire to provide a friendly, welcoming space for children where they could choose the books they wanted to read. Unfortunately Sylvia's manager and some members of the library committee do not agree with her plans.

The book also provides a study of relationships and often prejudices in a small English community. Of course romance is a central theme for part of the novel but this is just part of the study of the relationships in this novel.

Throughout the novel the importance of the enjoyment of reading from a young age as well as the necessity of having libraries for all to enjoy is a major theme. This includes references to titles of children's books that I read and recommended to children all those years ago and hope that my grandchildren may also enjoy reading. A list of books mentioned is provided at the back of the book.
Part 2 of the book is short and is set in present times where the author provides an update on some of the characters we met in part one of the book. She also makes reference to the move in some areas of England to close libraries or, in some cases, staff libraries with volunteers instead of librarians.

Throughout the book the author has captured aspects of life in England during the 1950s. This is the second book that I have read by Sally Vickers and I will look for other books by her to read.

The local library helped me to become a novelist - letter to The Guardian by Sally Vickers (2 February 2017)
Why libraries matter - Irish Times (2 May 2018)
Libraries lose a quarter of staff as hundreds close - BBC News (29 March 2016)

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Tin Ticket

The subtitle of this book, written by Deborah J Swiss, is 'The heroic journey of Australia's convict women'. The Transportation Act, that allowed prisoners to be sent overseas to serve their term and in reality spend the rest of their life in a new country, was passed in 1718. In this book the author looks at how transportation affected the lives of four women who were transported to Tasmania.

The 'tin ticket' refers to the small piece of tin stamped with the number that was hung around the neck of a female convict transported to Tasmania. The convict women studied in this book are Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston from Glasgow who were transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1836, Ludlow Tedder transported, with her young daughter Arabella, in 1839 and Bridget Bailey, from Ireland, transported in 1851. As well as describing the conditions the women faced on arrival, especially life in the Cascades Female Factory, the life of the women when freed has been traced. Leaving their convict past behind, these women and their families helped build Australia.

This book is essential reading for anyone who has female convicts in their family who were sent to Van Diemen's Land. It would also be a useful book for anyone interested in the convict period in Australian history. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Botany Bay

Subtitle: The story of the convicts transported from Ireland to Australia 1791-1853. Author is Con Costello.

Two hundred and twelve convict ships sailed from Dublin or Cork to Australia between 1791 and 1853. Forty-five thousand Irish men and women were transported on these ships. One of these convicts was my great (x3) grandfather, John Pendergast (1769-1833) who was transported to Sydney Cove aboard The Minerva arriving in January 1800. John had been involved, possibly on the fringe, of the the Rising of the United Irishmen in May 1798.

Con Costello writes about the transportation of these convicts, social and political conditions at the time leading to imprisonment and eventual transportation to another country plus conditions encountered by Irish Catholics, particularly in the early years of the settlement.

Chapters include: First sailings, 1791-1797; United Irishmen, 1798-1799; Priests and rebels, 1800; A sherrif and a general, 1801-1802; Dr Trevor and Michael Dwyer, 1803-1812; Preparations and passage, 1813-1817; Gaelic speaking Rockchoppers, 1818-1820; Defenders and Whiteboys, 1821-1824; Bushrangers and Balladeers, 1825-1832; Nuns and other females, 1833-1838; The Famine victims, 1839-1848; Young Irelanders, 1849-1850; Fenians, 1851-1876.

The book therefore looks not just at political and social unrest in Ireland but also at the reception of these convicts in Australia. In some chapters the author concentrates on the experiences of one or two transportees while others are more general in nature.

The book does not have an index but there is a bibliography. There are also some illustrations from publications of the time.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Mrs M

In 2014 Luke Slattery wrote the book, The First Dismissal, a study of the final years of  the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie in New South Wales focusing on the criticism of his term as reported in The Bigge Report.

Slattery has now written a work of historical fiction with Elizabeth Macquarie, Lachlan Macquarie's wife, as the main character. The story in the novel fluctuates between Elizabeth's life on the Scottish island of Mull and her life in Sydney as the wife of the governor. In November 1807, Elizabeth was 29 when she married Lachlan who was 46 and widowed. Jane, his first wife, had died in India in 1796.

In the novel there is a three way partnership between Elizabeth, Lachlan and the convict Francis Greenway (referred to as The Architect) who was employed by the governor to design public buildings for the new colony. Elizabeth was known to be interested in gardening and in architecture, and supported her husband in his aim of improving the look of the new settlement. In the book she and The Architect work closely together, not always with her husband's approval.

Sydney was established as a prison settlement but as many of the convicts gained their freedom there was a new dimension to the needs of the colony. As governor, Macquarie used the talents of the emancipists, including Greenway, to carry out his vision antagonising many of the former military officers and other free settlers living in the colony. Factions developed in the colony culminating with the British government sending Commissioner Bigge to write a report on Macquarie's management style and spending. Tensions also developed regarding attitudes to the treatment of aboriginal people.

This is a work of fiction set in an historical setting which I enjoyed reading. As such it is a good story that also provides an understanding of some of the underlying tensions prevalent, as well as achievements, in the early days of colonial Australia. However in the postscript the author points out some of the historical events in the lives of the characters which were changed for the writing of the novel. Hopefully some readers of this book will decide to investigate the real stories of the the three main characters who contributed so much to the formation of Sydney.

[As a side note, one of my ancestors, Simeon Lord, also receives a couple of brief mentions in the book.]

Australian Dictionary of Biography - Elizabeth Macquarie
Australian Dictionary of Biography - Lachlan Macquarie
Australian Dictionary of Biography - Francis Greenway

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Jane Austen Book Club

Recently I completed the FutureLearn course - Jane Austen: Myth, Reality and Global Celebrity. In the discussion a book that was often mentioned in the discussion list was The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.

The plot involves a group of six people in California who decide to meet once a month to discuss one of Jane Austen's novels. The participants are a mixed group who we gradually meet and learn of their back stories. Bernadette is the oldest member of the group at 67, Jocelyn and Sylvia had met at a camp when they were 11, Allegra is Sylvia's daughter, Prudie is a 28 year old French teacher while the token male of the group is Grigg, aged about 40 who met Jocelyn at a hotel when she was attending a dog show and he was attending a science fiction convention.

Each month the meeting is held at the home of a book club member and although we learn of the opinions of individual members about about Jane Austen's writing, the plots of the books and the characters, much of this book is spent exploring the lives of the individual readers. Consequently, as the months go by, we learn of the complicated relationships of and between some of the book club members.

At the end of the book there is a brief summary of the plot of the six Jane Austen novels discussed at each meeting,  a collection of comments made by Jane Austen's family and friends about Mansfield Park and Emma, plus a list of chronological comments about Jane Austen's books made by critics and other writers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Quakers: a very short introduction

When researching family history recently I discovered that one line of my family became Quakers in northern England at the commencement of the Quaker movement in the seventeenth century. Consequently I looked for some books that may provide background information and also found a FutureLearn online course on the establishment of the Quaker movement in England - Radical Spirituality: the early history of the Quakers - which I have just completed.

The author of the book, The Quakers: a very short introduction is Pink Dandelion (a name he has chosen though during the online course he included Ben (his given name) in this name). As the title suggests this is a small book but it does provide a good introduction to the Quaker movement. The book is only 143 pages including index, a glossary of terms, references and further reading list. Topics include who are the Quakers, the history of Quakerism, worship, belief theology and language, ecumenism and the future of Quakerism.

George Fox was the founder of the Quaker movement in 1652 and the original stronghold for the new faith was northern England, particularly Yorkshire and Lancashire, where my ancestors lived. Living in small isolated communities many of the people in this area, including some members of my family, welcomed this new form of worship focusing on the individual's direct contact with God, with the emphasis on the 'inner voice', without the need for priests and sermons. Initially the Quakers met in the homes of fellow Quakers and later established meeting houses for worship.  Initially many of the Quakers were persecuted included being fined and or gaoled for not observing customs of the time, especially in relation to the established church. Life improved for the Quakers after the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 allowing freedom of worship for nonconformists.

Tracing your Nonconformist Ancestors: a guide for family and local historians by Stuart A Raymond includes a chapter on the Quakers as well sections on Presbyterians and Unitarians, Congregationalists / Independents, Baptists, Methodists, Calvinistic Methodists, Inghamites, Moravians and the Salvation Army. Other denominations and sects included are Catholic Apostolic Church, Christadelpians, Christian Brethren, Churches of Christ, Mormons, Church of the Nazarene, Family of Love, Glasites, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muggletonians, Pentecostalists, Sandemanians, Seventh Day Adventists and Swedenborgians. It also includes a short history of nonconformity plus sources for nonconformity.

The chapter on the Quakers provides a brief introduction followed by suggestions of resources useful when researching family members who were Quakers.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Cold War Games

On my Family Connections blog I have written a number of posts on the Olympic Games held in Melbourne 1956. This event played an important part in my childhood as my father was a sports journalist on the Argus newspaper and also a member of the Publicity Committee for the Games.

Cold War Games by Harry Blutstein provides background information about events that threatened the staging of the Olympic Games in 1956 as well as political incursions going on behind the scenes and in public during the Melbourne Games.

The water polo game between Hungary and Russia is the most notorious event  that occurred but it was one of many political instances that occurred before and during the Games. The year 1956 was during  the Cold War between the USSR and the USA and their allies and political tensions were rife.

In the weeks before the Games commenced the USSR had invaded Hungary to crush an uprising against Russian occupation of the country. The Hungarian team decided to compete in Melbourne however Holland, Spain and Switzerland boycotted the Games because of the Soviet invasion. But there were other political tensions too. Three other teams, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, boycotted the Games because of the Suez crisis. There were also stand-offs between the two Chinas, the two Koreas and two Germanys about who would, or would not, compete.

The author sets out to provide the background to some of these tensions, particularly between Hungary and the USSR as well as between the USSR and the USA. He describes the quest by the Russians in the 1950s to form competitive sports teams that would win more medals than any other team, especially American teams. They began to compete in the Olympic Games again at Helsinki in 1952 with some success. In 1956 they were ready to show their supremacy.

As well as the sport there were events occurring behind the scenes with members of some teams being closely monitored by their security agents. A number of competitors from communist countries defected after the Games.

The Olympic Games held in Melbourne were known as the Friendly Games. However there was another story and this book shows some of what was going on behind the scenes.