Saturday, May 30, 2015

The First Dismissal

In this essay by Luke Slattery he examines how political and social unrest in England affected events in New South Wales. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 many soldiers returned to England to discover the country in recession and jobs disappearing due to the industrial and agrarian revolutions.As unemployment rose, so did political unrest.

In New South Wales the colony was governed by Lachlan Macquarie who 'aimed to rule for all of New South Wales without favour or prejudice'. (p7) To the horror of some of the colonists, this applied to the convicts and emancipist as well as the exclusives. Luke Slattery provides the following example on pages 13 & 14:
Former convicts such as Simeon Lord, the town's richest merchant, and Andrew Thompson, a landowner and prominent figure along the Hawkesbury River, did not owe their wealth to Macquarie. But it was to him that they owed their rising social status. Macquarie appointed them magistrates of their districts and put them in charge of his first infrastructure project: the Sydney-Hawkesbury turnpike road. He befriended them, invited them to his table, and encouraged officers in the military to do the same. Men who would never have amounted to much at home - in separate incidents Lord and Thompson had been convicted of stealing small amounts of cloth- rose to the status of gentlemen in the colony.
Macquarie set out to build a civilised town and employed the services of the convict, Francis Greenway, as architect for his projects. Much of the essay concerns the relationship between Macquarie and Greenway in transforming the appearance of the colony. However New South Wales was meant primarily to be a penal colony and many people in the colony and in England disapproved of Macquarie's actions in turning the colony into a place where people might like to live. The result was the Bigge enquiry when John Thomas Bigge arrived in the colony to make an official report for the government in England.

After more than ten years as Governor, Lachlan Macquarie decided to resign his position and return to the United Kingdom leaving the colony, whether the authorities liked it or not, as a much more livable place. Although many saw Macquarie's departure as expulsion, he had decided to leave some years previously. However if he had not made that decision, no doubt he would have been asked to leave once Bigge's report reached England. Back in England in 1822 Macquarie had to justify his actions to Parliament.

[The author has also written the historical fiction novel, Mrs M, based on this period of Australian history.]

A Forgers Progress: the life of Francis Greenway

Francis Greenway was transported to the colony of New South Wales in 1814. Originally he had received the death penalty for forgery but this was changed to fourteen years transportation. Francis was fortunate as he arrived in the new colony when Lachlan Macquarie was Governor and was attempting to turn the prison settlement of Sydney Cove into a more civilised town. He also believed in trying to give the settlers, emancipists, convicts and exclusives a fair opportunity so when he saw some of the architectural drawings that Francis had brought with him Francis Greenway was chosen as architect for the colony building many fine buildings, some of which remain today.

Alasdair McGregor provides a chronicle of the life of Francis Greenway including his life in England, his trial and journey to Australia, a description of the colony ruled by Macquarie, the work of Greenway and the demise of his later years. He died in 1837, a forgotten man. A series of plates in the centre of the book show illustrations of some of the Greenway designed buildings.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

Ian Mortimer uses this book to take the reader into the world of Medieval England, a period of great change in English history. The reader is introduced to life in the cities and towns as well as the changing life of the countryside. We meet the people and learn about the different occupations. The medieval character is examined including sense of humour, education and knowledge of the wider world. Use of language, measuring time, units of measurement, manners and politeness including how to greet people, shopping and money are described. Clothes you might wear, types of transport available, housing, health and hygiene, legal system and the courts are other topics. The final chapter looks at things people in the Middle Ages could do for entertainment including music and dancing, attending plays, jousting, playing games, partaking in pilgrimages. There is also a section on the literature and poetry of the time. In short this book is a good introduction to how people lived in England, particularly during the fourteenth century.

Station X the codebreakers of Bletchley Park

Michael Smith, who has worked in the intelligence service, published this book in 1998 on the activities of Bletchley Park during the Second World War. A number of other books on this topic have been published recently but it is interesting to read this account of the contribution of the codebreakers to the British war effort. Like other books on Bletchley Park quotes from people who worked at this secret establishment are used to tell the story.

The book looks at the attempts to break codes created by the many German devices used by different branches of the military. It also explores the relationship between those working at Bletchley Park and other sections of the intelligence service and particularly members of the military hierarchy, many of whom were reluctant to use the information gathered by the codebreakers. The way information gathered, when accepted, affected military battles is also described. It is stressed throughout the book the importance of ensuring that the Germans were never aware that their codes had been broken by the Allies.

Being interested in the Battle of Crete it was interesting to read how the British were able to warn the military leaders on the island of the coming invasion. Although the Allies were defeated they were able to able to delay their defeat and the number of paratrooper casualties dissuaded the Germans from repeating a similar operation elsewhere.

See also
Turing's Cathedral
Secret Life of Bletchley Park

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Return to Gallipoli: walking the battlefields of the Great War

This study by Bruce Scates investigates why so many Australians make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and the Western Front and what the experience of the journey means to them. From the 1920s and 1930s Australians and New Zealanders have made the pilgrimage to war cemeteries and battlefields. In some cases it is family members who want to see where their loved ones fought and possibly died. In some cases it was former soldiers who felt the need to return. The thoughts of these people about the long journey can only be gleaned from newspaper accounts or possibly diaries. As more people, especially young people, make the trip to these sites it was decided to survey a selection of these travellers about their experiences. Seven hundred surveys were collected to provide some of the responses for this book.

The book therefore is an investigation of the idea of commemoration, memorials, of mourning and of grief.  The first chapter also looks at the creation of the large cemeteries and memorials to the war dead. The other three chapters investigate family pilgrimages since the war, the return of service people to these sites and finally why so many young people today make the journey especially to attend the Dawn Service at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. To some these journeys are almost a right of passage. To others they are an exploration of the making of Australia and New Zealand as individual countries, weakening their dependency on Britain.

The conclusion with the subtitle Journey's end begins with the search by parents for information about the death of their son, George Roy Irwin. Twelve years after George was reported missing in 1915 his parents made the journey to the Lone Pine Cemetery where they had a brass rubbing taken of their missing son's  memorial plaque. The basis of this story (with a number of changes) was used by Bruce Scates as one of the threads in his novel, On dangerous ground.

Walking with the Anzacs: a guide to Australian battlefields of the Western Front

In this book Mat McLachlan looks at fourteen of the battlefields of the Western Front during World War I. These include Belgium (Ypres, Battle of Messines, Battle of Polygon Wood, Battle of Broodseide Ridge and Battle of Passchendale), French Flanders (Battle of Fromelles), The Somme (Battle of Pozieres, Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel, Village Battles of 1918, Battle of Mont St Quentin), Hindenburg Line (outpost villages, Battles of Bullecourt) and The Aisne (Battle of Montbrehain). The introduction provides an overview for planning a trip to this area including information about cemeteries and researching specific soldiers. There is also a map and time-line of the battles. An outline of the significance of the location during the war is provided, reconstruction undertaken and places of interest that you might investigate on a tour of the area. A good guide for anyone planning to tour the World War I battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

And the band played on: how music lifted the Anzac spirit in the battlefields of the First World War

Prior to the First World War making your own entertainment -singing, playing musical instruments, recitations, story telling - was an important part of home and community life which accompanied the Australian soldiers to the battle fields. Robert Holden looks at how many of the units established bands or had impromptu concerts, perhaps around a camp fire, to entertain fellow soldiers. Although there was no chance for the relief of music on the battlefield, there was plenty of opportunity for musical and general entertainment interludes in the camps in Egypt, for example. Recreation areas behind the lines in France, such as those run by the YMCA, also provided the opportunity for soldiers to relax and listen to music and / or poetry as a relief from the horrors of battle. Those who had the opportunity to go to London on leave also had the opportunity to attend concerts and dances.

In this book Robert Holden describes the opportunities for making music and other entertainments for the troops as well as looking at a selection of the songs and poems popular with the Anzacs at the time.

Anzac Treasures: the Gallipoli collection of the Australian War Memorial

The story of Gallipoli is shown using photographs, documents and artefacts from the collection of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. The material is divided into the following chapters: Collecting the record, Off to war, Plans, The landing, Holding on, Krithia, Life at Anzac, The August offensive, At home, Evacuation and Aftermath.  Dr Peter Pederson tells the Anzac story in his substantial volume (421 pages), often referring to the diaries of the official historian of the war, Charles Bean, as well as other diaries and correspondence. Photographs are a amjor feature but there are also paintings by artists including George Lambert, Charles Wheeler and Sidney Nolan. This work is an accessible introduction to Australia's role in the Gallipoli story.

On dangerous ground: a Gallipoli story

Gallipoli 1915 at Lone Pine Lieutenant Roy Irwin disappears and Elsie, the nurse who loves him, is determined to discover his fate. This is just one of three threads used by historian, Bruce Scates, to tell the story of Anzac and its affect on Australians.The novel begins when Charles Bean and George Lambert with soldier, Harry Vickers, return to the Dardenelles in 1919 to ascertain what has happened to the graves of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died at Gallipoli. The third thread of the story takes place early in 2015 when two historians are invited to submit information to a government enquiry on whether a proposed new road would impact on possible bodies remaining at battle sites.

Each chapter of the novel contains sections that further develop each of the story threads. The novel also reveals issues affecting the interpretation of events that occur in the different time frames. Bruce Scates combines fiction and fictional characters with historical events and people to tell the story. In the Reflections section at the end of the book he describes where he altered historical events to tell his story. Scates is particularly interested in memory of historical events and also in mourning and grief and these themes reoccur throughout the novel.  These were themes that made up part of the online course, One Hundred Stories project. The individual stories can be viewed online. Another theme explored in the book is the Turkish viewpoint of the battles at Gallipoli and the aftermath of these battles in the creation of a place of commemoration, not only for Australians and New Zealanders but also British, Canadian and Indian families as well as the families of Turkish forces who fought and died in this region.

For those interested in this period of history, On dangerous ground, challenges the way we we look at the Anzac story.
Book Club notes

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Sweetland Project: remembering Gallipoli in the Shire of Nunawading

Twenty-seven men from the Shire of Nunawading died at Gallipoli in 1915. Although this book by Steven Cooke records information about what is known of the military experience of these men, the book is largely about the effect of the war on the Shire of Nunawading. The book also looks at the way memorials have been used in the region to remember those who served, and sometimes died, not only in the First and Second World Wars but also in other military operations. Along with Shirley Devery's book, For God, King and Country, this is a useful contribution to the history of the former Shire of Nunawading as well as being another chapter in the history of World War I.

Summer of blood - the Peasants' Revolt of 1381

Dan Jones has written an account of life in England during the latter part of the fourteenth century, particularly during the reign of Richard II. This was the time where wars with France were costing the country huge sums of money and, in order to pay for the shortfall, new poll taxes were imposed on the populace. Richard II inherited the throne when  his grandfather, Edward III, died. As he was only nine when he became king, several of his uncles, including John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, helped him rule the country.

The fourteenth century saw the increase in the power of the Parliament in England resulting in rowdy discussion and complaints from the populace. After the plague had killed a large proportion of the population earlier in the century the power of peasants in regard to employment had increased. This was demonstrated when groups of peasants in parts of England began protesting about the new poll tax. Buildings and properties were destroyed and murders committed as groups of peasants marched towards London. One of the leaders of the peasants was a man named Wat Tyler while another was a preacher, John Ball.

In this book Dan Jones presents an account of the events leading up to to the peasant march on London in June 1381 when many major buildings were destroyed including the Savoy Palace, the London home of John of Gaunt. He describes the events leading to the revolt as well as the actions of the peasants and the reprisals when the revolt was over. This was a brief turbulent time in the history of England.

The making of the British landscape

Those who watched the British television series, Time Team, will be aware of archaeologist Francis Pryor. The sub-title of the book is how we have transformed the land from prehistory to today. In this book the author looks not only at changes to the British landscape from after the Ice Age until today but also the way we can study and evaluate these changes to the landscape. Frances Pryor provides an interesting view of the history of Britain through its landscape.

Bound for Australia

David T Hawkins has prepared this detailed guide to the records of transported convicts and early settlers in Australia. Originally published in 1987 this new reworked edition was published in 2012.   The work not only lists the available resources that provide information about convicts but also provides examples of the documents available. It is essential reading for anyone researching convicts in Australia.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Kingdom by Robyn Young is the third volume in the Insurrection trilogy which is based on the life and times of Robert the Bruce. This volume is a fictionalised account of the events leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn where Robert's army defeated the English army led by Edward II in Stirling in 1314. The other volumes in the series are Insurrection and Renegade. At the back of the volume the author includes a section where she discusses writing historical fiction and the changes she made to the characters (including inventing some) and events when writing this story. This is a series I have made a note to read when I have more time. It looks like a good series in which to become involved, probably holiday reading, provided that you do not worry too much about the actual history. After reading this series the reader should certainly have a better understanding of this volatile period in British history and may want to investigate the story further.

The roses of no man's land

One of the books that was frequently mentioned in the forum of the online course - World War I: a history in 100 stories - was the book by Lyn Macdonald, The roses of no man's land.  Lyn is a British author who has written a series of books on World War I based on first hand accounts of those who were involved. In The roses of no man's land she focuses on the stories of the medical personnel, particularly the VADs and nurses, as well as some of those injured providing another viewpoint of the events and effects of the war.

The book is divided into three sections - 1914-1915, 1015-1917 and 1918. Part of the first section tells the story of the unofficial teams of women, led by a woman of society, who took it upon themselves to establish hospitals and ambulance services for the injured. The book then looks at the development of the VADs - members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment - who initially assisted in hospitals in England but as the war wore on were used in medical units at the front, some undertaking nursing duties. The book looks at the development of the war through the experiences of these medical workers and their patients. One of the issues looked at is the reaction of trained nurses to the VADs. This experience parallels the accounts written of the experiences of Australian nurses working with British medical teams.

This book is another valuable contribution to the history of the First World War. Other books by Lyn Macdonald include They called it Passchendaele, Somme, 1914-the days of hope, 1914-1918-voices of the Great War, 1915 - death of innocence, To the last man: Spring 1918 and At the going down of the sun (co-author).