Category Archives: historical

Pemulwuy et al

They were so brave, those lads who went north to the sweat and swamps of New Guinea to hold the line. This was against a possible Australian invasion if the Japanese broke through on the Kokoda Trail. They should be venerated, along with many of our wartime leaders. So it always seemed an anomaly that our powers to be do not afford the same to the First Australians who also attempted to hold the line against a foreign invasion. If not outnumbered, back in those early days, they were certainly outgunned, from the time of the first European settlement to well into and past colonial times. Historians know their names and many are advocating for a change. Perhaps their leaders will never be in the same league as Blaimey, Monash, Pompey Elliott or Weary Dunlop. But these too were leaders of men and women who took it up to the enemy. They should be at least recognised as such, particularly in our national war memorials.


I’ve written of the exploits of Pemuluwuy in another place. He scared the be-jesus out of the Brits and their convicts in the very early days, keeping them from venturing out in into the bush, away from the safety of numbers. Later on, along came Windradyne. In Western Australia there was Yagan and decades on, up in the Kimberlies, the redoubtable Jandawarra. On our own island, during the Black Wars, noteworthy were Musquito and the fearless Aboriginal woman, Wayler.


All of these leaders mounted gutsy rearguard actions to try and stem the tide, but of course the odds were so massively against them. Undoubtedly there was cruelty on both sides, but that is the nature of any conflict and these were desperate times, even if one side’s cause was realistically hopeless.

There’s no suggestion here that we should engage in a rush to erect statues to these heroes of the frontier skirmishes, but nor should we put to one side that these warriors were defending their lands as much as our boys at Kokoda.


As for Captain Cook? He was undoubtedly a great explorer of the seas, navigator and cartographer, but an argument could be mounted that his role in our history is overrated. Should he, though, be to blame for his discoveries leading to the forced foreign incursion to these shores? I don’t think so. It certainly, in my view, does not warrant the tearing down of statues honouring him, akin to what’s going on overseas with former slave owners and traders, as well as Confederate generals. Just don’t put up any more to him. Please!

Peter FitzSimon’s commentary =

Ken and Alice

Q1. Which American President-to-be had the unfortunate occurrence of both his mother and beloved wife dying, of unrelated causes, in the same house on the same day?

Q2. Which American President-to-be took as his bride a woman whose maiden name bore his own surname?

A1. Theodore Roosevelt A2. Franklin D Roosevelt

Earlier in the year SBS treated its viewers to ‘Country Music’, tracing the genre from its roots to the last decade of the 20th century. In recent times I have also watched ‘The Civil War’, being the epic series making the name of its now revered documentarian, ‘The Dust Bowl’ and ‘The National Park: America’s Best Idea’. So I was excited when SBS programmed his latest series on the music genre I love, narrated, as have been all his recent offerings, by the great Peter Coyote.


Ken Burns, the Michigan born film-maker, made his first documentary, featuring the Brooklyn Bridge, back in the 1980s. He progressed onto ‘The Shakers’, ‘The Statue of Liberty’ and ‘Huey Long’. The eleven hour ‘The Civil War’, from 1990, remains his crowning glory. Burns works entirely with archival footage – none of this penchant for re-enactments that so often blight today’s documentary work.

And ‘Country Music’ was special and I was so enjoying it once it commenced. Then I read that the BBC had butchered it for its UK showing, reducing its length to fit its schedules – and this is the version we received. I was horrified to the extent I’m considering buying the box set to gorge on the missing bits. With so many platforms these days it seems an extravagance. We’ll see.

But we’re not here to talk solely about Ken or SBS ripoffs. We’re here to talk also of Alice.

Now the exercise to commence this scribbling were titbits from another Ken Burns’ masterpiece entitled ‘The Roosevelts: an Intimate History’. It’s a six episode opus, made in 2014, concentrating on the big three – Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. It was narrated by Coyote as well, with assistance from Meryl Streep and Paul Giamatti.


During watching some of the first episodes I met Alice. She was the incredible, rambunctious and maverick daughter of the 26th President, for two terms, of the USA. This US leader was also the hero of the Battle for San Juan Hill, leading his legendary Rough Riders. I was intrigued by the girl, but soon she faded from view as I encountered other fascinating feminine figures, including the predominately lesbian group of women who gave succour to Eleanor while Franklin was conducting his personal relationships with various other partners.

Then my own beloved daughter also discovered Alice. She sent me a link, as is her practice when she comes across someone who may tickle my curiosity. I was tickled and started delving, eventually being won over. That other interesting bunch Burns pointed me to will have to wait.

So let me introduce you to a young lady who, in her youth, ‘…breathed new life into the very idea of young womanhood in the early 20th century as the suffrage movement was gaining steam. She herself would be involved in that… movement and the sexual revolution some half century later.’ Leah Silverman ‘Alice Roosevelt Longworth: The Original White House Wild Child’ Check it out on ‘’ on line.


To do so, though, I’ll have to take you back to that fateful day of February 12th, 1884, that we started with in Q1.

The day Alice was born, to a delighted Teddy Roosevelt, she was named after his beloved wife. Two days after delivering his daughter she died of kidney failure. It was a double whammy for the future POTUS as, elsewhere in the house, his own ailing mother succumbed to her illnesses. The 25 year old father was almost paralytic with grief and soon after hightailed it off to the Badlands of North Dakota to play at being a manly, hairy-chested cowboy and big game hunter. Although he took a distant interest in his little girl, he was happy enough to leave her in the care of his sister for three years. Anna, Alice’s Aunt, was a woman of strength and independence. As a role model she definitely had more influence on her niece than her oft absent father as she was growing up. Sadly, Teddy could never call his daughter by her given name, inventing nicknames for her instead. This reflected how he felt being so bereaved, but indicated little care for the daughter’s feelings. This refusal carried on into his next marriage, to a childhood sweetheart, Edith Carow, after his return, in 1886, from his self imposed isolation.

Young Alice rejoined the family when they moved to Long Island, but as she grew up and Edith kept producing step-brothers and sisters, five in all, tensions rose between the step-mother and the wilful eldest daughter. Edith was always wary of her husband’s undying regard for his departed first wife and that seemed to effect how she related to Alice. The fact that, as she progressed through her teenage years, her father still didn’t address her as Alice, continued to weigh heavily. But she resisted bowing to her problems. These were compounded when her father threatened to send her to boarding school to get, she presumed, her out of the way to improve familial cohesion. She fired up big time, confronted her father and in the end he backed down. The event was an important life lesson for the sassy youngster. The compromise was that she would return to her aunt’s home. Thinking she’d won a victory, Edith started to gossip that the girl was out of control, haring around the town with all the local lads instead of engaging in the prim and proper activities expected of the fairer sex at the time. In reality, Alice distrusted all men intensely, probably a legacy of her fraught relationship with her father, who always had weightier matters on his mind. She told all and sundry she’d never marry – and she never did, in the conventional sense.


TR’s burgeoning standing as a mercurial public and political figure bought the spotlight onto his eldest child. The equivalents of our New Idea and Womans Day back then had a field day with her, due to her non-conformist ways, to the joy of her gender and generation. But that was also to the increasing chagrin of Teddy. His career continued to advance, only problem was, so did Alice’s notoriety. Sadly he started to see her as a millstone. At eighteen Alice had the eyes of the nation on her and he increasingly felt they should have been on him. She even caught the attention of the Kaiser of Germany during a visit – so much so he named a yacht after her. So is it any wonder the public started calling her Princess Alice? And then Teddy, in 1901, unexpectedly assumed the Presidency.

She still gave him plenty to think about, though, apart from the affairs of the nation. She took to driving cars – outrageous enough for a woman, but worse, she drove then exceedingly fast. She smoked and chewed gum in public – unheard of! Like any fella she took to wearing pants, slept in till noon regularly, particularly after partying hard into the night. Her headlines appeared on the front page of the dailies – her father’s policy-making in the inner pages. He fumed and fumed, but no matter the entreaty from him, nothing stopped her. She even had one of those newspapers keeping a daily tally of the events she attended. It was noted that, in a fifteen month period, she made it to 1706 engagements that made either the social pages or the scandal sheets. ‘I must admit a sense of mischief does get a hold of me from time to time. I’m a hedonist. I have an appetite for being entertained,’ she gushed in one interview.

She was banned from the White House on occasions – once when she took a dislike to the future President Taft’s wife and held a ceremony to bury a voodoo likeness of her on the grounds.

President Roosevelt continued in office till 1909 and during that time Alice drew crowds to rival him. But as time went on so her interest in the issues of the day captured at least a part of her mind. And by now she was in love – sort of. The object of her attention was Congressman Nicholas Longworth. He was rich, older and came to her with a long history of newsworthy entanglements with women. And he also had a passing resemblance to her father. They became a couple, out and about partying up a storm and keeping the punters interested with a string of affairs each. All that continued after their marriage, at the White House, in 1905.


By the 1920s Teddy had passed away and Alice took up with a Senator William Borah as her new bit on the side. The daughter she bore during that time – well, she really couldn’t say, could she, who was the father – her Congressman hubby or the Senator. Typical – and more fodder for the press.

But age does catch up. She remained forthright and fearless in her opinions, not afraid to share them around. She was a vocal pacifist until Pearl Harbour and later gave counsel to the Kennedys, Johnsons; even the Nixons. She was also loud in her advocacy for women’s rights in her later years, right up until her health deteriorated in her eighties. No longer a wild child, but forever venerated, she passed away in 1980.

It was a long and boisterous life – and here’s a final word on her from Jimmy Carter, ‘She had style, she had grace, and she had a sense of humour that kept generations of political newcomers to Washington wondering which was worse – to be skewered by her or ignored by her.’

If her father didn’t notice her enough, she made sure the rest of the world did. You can meet up with her and many other fascinating figures associated with this great US family on YouTube. Just plug in ‘The Roosevelts: an Intimate History’. Yes Katie, your Alice was a standout.

Trailer ‘The Roosevelts: an Intimate History’ =

Trailer ‘Country Music’ =


Grubby. That’s what I felt. Uncomfortably grubby. Voyeuristic even. It was a bit like watching sexual activity on the small screen that goes beyond what you feel to be acceptable and necessary given the context of what it is you’re viewing. But these were words, not images – intimate words about what a president did to a naive, young and obviously smitten intern.


These were words I found so hard to listen to, even to the stage I felt like turning ‘The Clinton Affair’ (SBSonDemand) off – despite the fact I found so much of it bloody interesting. But not this aspect. These were the words the Republican right and their ‘take no prisoners’ lawyers used to try and get their quarry. There’s little doubt that, in his younger and middle years, the man was a womaniser, preying on the opposite gender and perhaps even abusing them, in a similar way to what our present odious incumbent was well known for. But, of course, the oranged one is from the far right and therefore immune. In Clinton’s instance no one now doubts it was a consenting relationship that, in the days of Roosevelt or Kennedy, all in the know would turn a blind eye to so they could get on with governing. This POTUS was already under pressure from his previous embroilment with Paula Jones, but that case was mired in legalese and going nowhere. When Lewinski’s affair with the Leader of the Free World came to light, they went in for the kill.


The treatment, what we would now define as slut-shaming, as revealed in the programme, was vicious – both from the public officials, the media and the popular entertainment world. It was revolting, completely without consideration for the well-being of the victim. Mental health wasn’t much of a factor in those days. But what I found was reprehensible was the way they went for Monica’s mother in an attempt to further entrap her daughter. The mother knew any misspeak would have dire consequences for her much loved offspring and it broke her. They destroyed this hither to resilient woman who had been, up to then, one of Monica L’s few supports. Of course the girl herself became so notorious she had to virtually spend decades underground. She has only just re-emerged into a new public life and is now largely respected. That is a credit to her.

Then and now it is patently clear she’s no bimbo. Lewinski, in her interview for this, comes across as intelligent and articulate, although the events still pain. She used her assets to win over the man she was in the thrall of and she was his willing partner in those small rooms off the Oval Office. Of course, the argument the Reps et al used was that it wasn’t the relationship, as such, that was the issue, but the misleading. But even to the layman it’s hard to fathom the reasoning that it amounted to grounds for impeachment, as indicated by the end judgement. But to get there they were determined to use the intensely private accounts of what actually happened in those small rooms luridly to enhance their case. Why? It was so heartlessly shaming for the woman involved, if not the Pres.


Thinking people commended the American public, at the time, for not being taken in. They realised, even if they relished reading about the scandal and listening to the shock-jocks, that here was a man who ran a competent administration and was working hard for their benefit and that of the country. That, for all his personal faults, he didn’t deserve this. He carried on with aplomb throughout, this genial, charismatic leader. His popularity actually increased in his second term while all this was going on.

Virginian-Pilot Newspaper Content

And what of his wife in all this? She went the Tammy Wynette route, as we all know. I doubt I’ll read ‘Rodham’ – see following article – but I’ll be watching the forthcoming series ‘Hilary’ when it debuts on SBS soon. In this, according to Ms Lester, Bill puts forward an excuse for his actions back then. ‘You feel like you’re staggering around – you’ve been in a 15-round prize fight that was extended to 30 rounds, and here’s something to take your mind off it for a while…’ Make of that what you will, but what many of us wouldn’t give for a Bill or a Barak in the White House with the US in free fall, instead of the creepy, pompous, divisive, disastrous arse who inhabits it now.

‘The Clinton Affair’ on SBSonDemand =

Amelia Lesters opinion piece =

She was only Nineteen

Her name was Jane Gordon. I like Gordons – they’re some of the best people I know and there’s no reason to think she wasn’t amongst them either back then. It was the name that drew my eye to her out of those listed. She was from County Cork. She had stolen a pair of scissors – supposedly. She was only nineteen.


I’ve lived in ignorance of this story of my island for all these years. Others haven’t. A book has been written about it, several artists have constructed works in commemoration of it – but they have passed me by. Imagine what the repercussions would be if an event of its nature occurred today on our shores. Two hundred and forty one souls perished, of which 157 were women and 55 were children. It was that figure that shocked – all those women and kids. The horror of it. And it is also sobering to think that, in terms of loss of life due to a maritime catastrophe, this has not been the worst one in our history. It occurred ten years later, tellingly in the same area. I was aware of the sad story of the barque Cataraqui.

The bare bones of this story came to me via my friend Steph, a traveller to places near and far. From her adventures I usually receive generous mementos in the mail. A recent excursion had been to a near place – King Island. Among the material that arrived, in my resulting package, was a pamphlet entitled ‘The Wrecks of King Island’. In it I read something of the Cataraqui, but also of the one that was news to me – the floundering of the Neva. All those poor women and children! I took to the ether to find out, as much that source would allow me, as to exactly what happened to the vessel; to try in fill in those bare bones of the pamphlet.

In the 1830s most Irish were living a hardscrabble life, to say the least, even in that era before the potato famines; the Great Hunger commencing in 1845. I have no idea how tough it would have been for Jane Gordon, but it was very dire for many parents. So dire that they concocted crimes themselves for their children to be charged with once they reached an age where, in normal circumstances, it could be reasonably assumed they could stand on their own two feet. There was no future for young people in Ireland, so parents dobbed them into the authorities for crimes they may have or may not have committed. Get it right and they would be transported, to a potentially better future, for seven or fourteen years. Why, they’d all heard tales of felons shipped off to New South Wales, or some such place, who’d received their pardons and went on to make fortunes. It did happen, of course, in rare cases, but anything was better than the desperation of life on the Emerald Isle. Imagine that. Imagine that Jane’s parents presented her to the local authorities in their county with a purloined pair of scissors, a crime for which she could reasonably expect to escape the death penalty. The wretched girl, in reality or otherwise, had to be taught a lesson – or at least that would be their excuse. Perhaps, in their own misery, they welcomed the chance of some hope of betterment for Jane. Perhaps they only aspired to one less mouth to feed. Surely, though, there was the possibility of some escape from the existence that would befall her if she remained. If she became an enforced part of the Irish diaspora, who knew? In reality, unfortunately, they signed her death warrant.

On board the Neva, as it sailed from the Cobh of Cork, under the sure hands of Captain Peck and a crew of twenty-six, would be a range of women. A few would have committed despicable crimes and have escaped the hangman’s noose by a hairsbreadth for a variety of reasons. Others would be there as they had stolen from a toff, or from their masters, items to onsell, so as to put food on the table. Many were prostitutes. Also afloat would be their children as well, mostly babes in arms or wee toddlers. There were also a few free ladies, sailing to join their felon husbands in and around Sydney Town, the destination of the boat. I wonder, on the eighth day of the new year of 1835, if many truly waved farewell to Ireland with bountiful hope in their hearts. Did Jane?


The Neva

In the wash up of the events that were to follow, in the wake of the calamity that occurred in fifth month of the ship’s voyage, an inquest was held in Launceston into what happened. Captain Peck was exonerated of all blame and he returned to England. In most accounts he is paraded as a hero, bravely attempting to save as many as possible – but there is also one that portrays him as a coward, only concerned with his own survival.

Some say that he, as well as those other crew members who survived, attempted to cover up the true goings-on on board the Neva on that fateful date, 13.05.1835, to protect their own skins. Most accounts state all was as it should be as the vessel, unawares, approached its doom. Some, though, give a version that revolves around the same excesses of grog and debauchery that occurred on many ‘floating brothels’ at the time. Why should the Neva be any different? Was there a party, of sorts, going on, distracting the crew from navigating through some of the world’s most treacherous waters?

There has also been conjecture in the past as to which of the reefs, off the island, the Neva floundered on. Was it the Navarine or the Harbingers; the latter being the latest thinking. The foul weather; the women, most likely already addled by breaking into the grog store, as well as the distance from shore, made survival for the convicted on board most unlikely. This notion was enhanced when several of the life boats, under the control of the captain, swamped immediately on launching. Imagine the scenes of horror on deck, before it disintegrated, as those trapped by the swirling sea, took stock and realised their fate. Perhaps it was lucky that many were so exceedingly inebriated before their bodies were flung into the maelstrom, as has been recorded. Consider, for a moment, the pitiful wailing of the children. Many of the survivors, those few who did make it to shore, died due to exposure, during that first night in the thin bush of that part of King Island. Seven skeletons have been found since the wreck; ninety-five bodies, washed up, were buried in shallow graves. Eventually the fourteen souls remaining – eight men and six women (not including Jane Gordon), under the leadership of Peck, set about making the next night and the ones to follow more conducive for enduring the ordeal that they all knew was coming. They constructed a tent of sorts, fortified by a keg of rum washed up on the beach. Scouting parties were dispatched regularly to seek habitation. After a fortnight’s subsistence on salt pork their luck turned.

neva wreck

Two survivors of another wreck further south, the Tartar, were encountered. They led the Neva’s victims to the hut of sealer John Scott and his native wives. They were fed on wallaby meat and soon felt sustained enough to join Scott and his kangaroo dogs in hunting and a spot of fishing. Eventually a small boat, searching for the Tartar, came across them and Peck sailed off to raise the alarm and seek rescue. He returned and began the process of getting them all back to Launceston. This was not aided by some being away hunting, requiring another trip. One woman, Rose Hyland, terrified of the sea, claimed she would not board and raised a pistol to emphasise her determination to be left to the comforts of the barren coast. She was overpowered, so off they sailed to their futures.

Fast forward to Catherine Stringer, a Hobart psychiatrist. On a trip to the island at the western entrance to Bass Strait, she, too, came across the tale of the Neva. The loss of all those women affected her deeply. Catherine was particularly stung when she counted that twenty-eight of her namesakes had perished; 28 Catherines. One, Catherine Brooks, was only six years old. She resolved to make the woeful historical event wider known.

On several excursions back to King Island she started to collect seaweed from the beaches where those, whom the sea had given up up 175 years ago, were found. Transporting her gatherings home she converted the algae into a thin paper. From this product she cut the makings of 42 dresses. One, her gown for Catherine Reilly, a little baby, stunning in its simple beauty, can be viewed on-line. They were framed and exhibited at the Moonah Arts Centre back in 2016. She succeeded in alerting this true story to the attention of many.


Tasmania’s is, these days, a tranquil place, but in the past it has been shattered by terrible events – the genocide of the first islanders during the Frontier Wars, the incarcerations on Sarah Island, Port Arthur, bushfires – to name just a few. Surely the wreck of the Neva should be held up as another and not lost to the past. I’ll remember it now – and continue to think on Jane Gordon. She was only nineteen.

The Irish Times Looks Back at the Story of the Neva =

ABC News item on Catherine Stringer’s exhibition =

The Perfect Irish Colleen

She was gorgeous in red, was Main Kelly. At fourteen she was described by her image capturer as ‘…the perfect Irish colleen.’


Normally I would not cite one of the world’s richest men, in any era, as one of my heroes, but an Alsatian jew has become that. Albert Kahn, born in 1860, was a young man when he moved to Paris after the Germans took over the Alsace, France’s punishment for losing the Franco-Prussian War. Starting off as a lowly banking clerk, he worked his way up the finance ladder, largely because of his willingness to take audacious risks with his hard-earned; this being mostly to do with South African diamonds. But there was more to the man than lust for dough. He gave back. He was an art lover – mates with Rodin. He was also prepared to put his riches into philanthropic interests. In 1893 he acquired a large parcel of land in Boulagne-Billancourt, on the outskirts of Paris, using it to landscape magnificent gardens where he attempted to create harmony between the plants of different biomes. He entertained the greats of his era there, from royalty down. He maintained a special interest in all matters Japanese, intent on further opening up that then exotic nation to Western trade and ideas; whilst taking a few of their notions as well.


Kahn first became fascinated with photography through his chauffeur, Alfred Dutertre, whom he paid to train in it. On a trip to Japan he observed his minion gaining expertise and was captivated. When the Autochrome process, invented by the Lumière brothers, came along in 1903, giving the world quality colour images, he started to formulate another audacious plan. He would use it, together with the brothers’ other great contribution in cinematography, to create another take on harmony. Why not use both to record the differing cultures of the world for the purposes of education to create greater understanding, particularly as Kahn feared many ways if life would soon disappear in his modern world? That would be something worthwhile to finance, would it not? He would canvas the entire planet, between 1909 and 1931, sending out his representatives to the four corners. At the end he managed to amass 72,000 Autochrome plates and 183,000 metres of moving film. It remains a one off – a truly remarkable record of human activity during early last century; the pictures all in stunning, even by today’s standards, colour.

For a very long time the archive languished in storage, but in 1986 came a systematic ordering of it and it is now on display, for one and all to view, in a new museum, established in the grounds of his famous gardens.

Australia in Colour’ was showing on SBS when I came across ‘Edwardians in Colour’ while meandering around YouTube. Thinking it would be similar, I clicked on it and was taken into the world of Kahn, discovering, in the first episode, Miss Kelly as well, or to give her her moniker in the old language, Main Ne Tuathail. I doubt that there’s the remotest possibility the two ever met, but he certainly would have espied the glorious Autochrome plate of her. The woman who bought them together was remarkable in herself – and remarkable for her time. She was Marguerite Mespoulet – the only photographer of her gender Kahn employed on his mission to to harmonise and create understanding across the cultures. Kahn was right about her subject’s lifestyle – Main’s was almost gone.

Mespoulet had been an early recipient of the banker’s travelling scholarship, taking the opportunity to also visit the Land of the Rising Sun. She received a portion of his generosity due to her brilliance as a student at the Sorbonne. Her discipline? Celtic Studies. Once she mastered the Autochrome process, she was a cinch to be employed as a travelling photographer, despite her sex. The Ireland of 1913 would be her destination. She was intrigued to find whatever traces of the ancient ways that still lingered there.


When MM and her travelling companion, Madeline Mignon, arrived in the spring the place was in dire straits under British rule. It suffered from economic depression, outbreaks of disease such as typhus and a rising republican movement that would soon explode into the Easter Rebellion. Plus, for the camera-lugger and her pal, the weather was appalling.

But the lady was made of tough stuff. Contemporaries describe her as of ‘… strong of presence and personality.’ She soon picked up on a whisper that here remained in Galway a small village, the Claddagh; a collection of a couple of hundred small thatched cottages, in disrepair, on the outskirts of the county’s major town. Mespoulet wrote in her travel journal that the place reminded her of villages in that other Celtic outlier, Brittany. Claddagh’s citizenry lived in filth, scratching a living from the sea. The husbands went out in boats, the women did everything else and were the mainstays of the community. Ringworm was rife in the children. But under grey skies Marguerite M enticed some photographs from the populace, using bribery and cunning to convince them to sit still long enough for the process to take effect. The images currently enchant our generation and will those in the future. Without doubt the standout one is of Main, bedecked in her red cloak, the signature clothing item of her fast disappearing way of existence.

Already the Galway City Council was starting to provide these people with better housing, complete with running water rather than their traditional well, but having little notion how this would destabilise community. It did make for a healthier populace, but soon the language started to die on the ground and the red cloaks evaporated.

The two MMs spent three weeks in the Claddagh with the people as they went about their lives. They then moved on, leaving Main and their other subjects to their futures. A descendant in the documentary describes Main, fully grown, as a happy woman who bought joy to all around her.

When her photographer and partner returned to France they bought with them just a relatively small number of plates compared to other Kahn operatives, but what treasures they were. Included in their number was a rare photographic record of the use of coracles, also about to be replaced by more manoeuvrable craft. Then there was the memorable image of a fringe weaver. Her art was soon to go as well. In her journal MM described how this gaunt woman struggled to make ends meet whilst raising her seven children. We don’t know we’re alive.

FT5S Mother of seven making fringes for knitted shawelscoracles

But what of Mespoulet and Kahn? Soon after her Irish expedition the former moved to North America and embarked on an academic career as a professor of French literature. She returned to France frequently and lived to the ripe old age of 85.

The Great Depression, sadly, ruined Kahn. He ceased funding his passion in 1931 and died penniless. But what a legacy! And you can meet him, Mespoulet and Main by clicking onto YouTube’s ‘Edwardians in Colour’, Episode 1. She was/is beautiful, Main. Her like will never be seen again in Western Europe and she is very much worth a look for all lovers of stunning images from the past. Just mesmerising.

‘Edwardians in Colour’, Episode One =

The Teeth, Darling


So here it is, just as I explained to and warned you of in my last missive. You agreed to be not only the owner of, but also a conduit for, the information I am about to impart. What happens to it after my demise I’ll leave in your capable hands. It’s not earth-shattering and it is as it was, for better or worse. I fear now I’ve entered my seventies that, well, let’s just say the London winters are not getting any kinder.

I have been thankful to have you by my side through the legal ordeals of these last fraught years. Without you I would have died a pauper – and how dear Bram concerned himself with my future security as he approached his own departure. All through that fearful business over ‘Nosferatu’ with the Germans, then the American studio who thought they could make a movie of his most famous book without any thought to the rights of its writer or descendant. As you are aware, there’s only Noel, but we fought hard for his inhertance. Frightful, just frightful. You stood by me as adviser and friend. In you Anna, although you came along belatedly in my life, I saw the daughter I never had. In truth I didn’t give myself the chance of having one, as you will read. I know I can confide in you with all surety that it’s confidential. In part, thanks to you, my husband’s legacy is secure due to the funds your organisation has secured for me. From their dealings with the film companies, who wanted to use his work as the basis for their projects, I am able to spend what years that remain to me in relative comfort. And now, dearest friend, to my unburdening.


Yes, that a Prime Minister would once say that I was the most beautiful woman in London went straight to my head. He was an old dear, but I took his words to heart and I hasten to add, he was not the only prominent figure to take that view and express it publicly. I became prideful, dare I say it, wholly vain. And Anna, I wish now I could change the person all those compliments made me back then. Maybe, just maybe, Bram would still be alive to share in our successes – for I treated him most abominably. But we can’t go back. Then I placed retaining my youthful, porcelain (as many described them) looks above all else – even my marriage, or at least that part of it that people cannot see. To outward appearances nothing was amiss. I made certain of that. But behind closed doors all was not as it seemed, dearest Anna. He had much to put up with in me. Instead of making his home his safe harbour, I made it something he wished to escape from for as much as propriety would allow. That caused him to garner yet more secrets to the ones he already held. In the end, perhaps my denial of what should have been rightly his for the taking served me well. And we will come to that, but we should start where it all began – with Oscar of course. It is known how I moved on from Mr Wilde to Bram Stoker, what is not known is exactly why. The truth of the matter – it was largely about the teeth, darling.


They were bad from the start and frankly, off putting. He knew, poor fellow. He spent so much time and money trying to fix them, but as the years passed they only became worse. At the time we were together, it wasn’t so dire, but still, the smell! Oscar tried to cover it up with potions or pastes, but nothing seemed to work. I think they only served to hasten their destruction. Back then dentistry wasn’t what it is today. It meant endless, excruciating pain for the poor man – and heavens, it is tedious and taxing enough today in my experience. As well there were all sorts of charlatans around and when it came to his deteriorating teeth, Oscar would believe anyone. He would always try and hide his mouth with his hands when speaking and rarely smiled. Why, the poor man found laughing tortuous, least it exposed the state of what his mouth enclosed. It was a nightmare – the pounds he spent before finally submitting to having them removed and dentures inserted. How he hated them too. Of course, that was well after he had moved on from me. We were courting for only two years. Mostly he was at Oxford with myself either at home in County Down or in Dublin. So the opportunities to be together were fairly rare. Honestly, I think he liked the thought of me more than the actuality and we were never intimate, just kisses and embraces, when I could bear them. So it came as a surprise to me that Christmas when he presented me with that beautiful little cross on a thin chain. You know, in our day, that usually indicated that an engagement was imminent. But his visits across the Irish Sea came less and less as his life more revolved around the university – and rumours were already circulating. He was certainly great fun when he was around, but, to tell the truth, the thought of getting up close and amorous with him frightened me. The smells, despite his scents and pomades, just repulsed me. Knowing what we know about Oscar now, what he was getting up to at Oxford and on his jaunts to London, I suspect, would have made a marriage to him a great mistake. Still, I know that when I announced my betrothal to Bram, it came as a great shock to him. Bram was a friend of his so he felt betrayed by both of us. We continued to remain on harmonious terms, Oscar and I, to keep up appearances, but Bram never felt he could trust him to be in my company without his presence. I suppose that is only as it should be.

Bram was far more solid and reliable. He didn’t shine like Oscar, but he held his own in society and found some degree of fame as well. To start with, my husband’s teeth weren’t an issue, but as time went on they started to go the same way as Oscar’s. But that wasn’t our major issue as it turned out. No, what happened within our marriage, I bought on myself. Some of it occurred when I discovered I wasn’t the love of his life. Possibly I wasn’t even in second place – for there was always Oscar, whether Bram trusted him or not. And then, once we moved to London, there was Henry.


Little Noel was born in ‘79, the year of our move. There were to be, as you are aware, no more children. There couldn’t be Anna. What you didn’t know, nor did anybody else as Bram put such a brave face on it, was that I ceased all close proximities to the poor man, if you know what I mean. He was a dear fellow. Everybody said so, unfailingly polite and courteous to me as to everyone else who crossed his path. We made our marriage work for I had deep affection for him and he for me, despite my silliness – and it was silliness. His health was always delicate, but I cared for him when he was afflicted as I cared for him at the end. It was the least I could do. I was happy to be his nursemaid and house keeper, as well as raising our child. But, as for that other role of a wife, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know if Bram cared so much in the end, in any case. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but his constitution wasn’t strong enough for exertion – and when he felt it was, well, he sought relief outside the home. I pretended I didn’t know – but we both tacitly reached an understanding that I wouldn’t hold it against him. As well, he had Henry. Henry Irving – the foremost actor of his day. Bram, once he had that job in the great man’s theatre, well, he was simply became infatuated. He couldn’t stop talking about him, although the man treated him as a mere lackey and refused to pay him anything like the amount Bram could get elsewhere. But husband wouldn’t hear of it. He was in thrall of the man. If there was anything else involved, I don’t know. I always had my suspicions, as I had of the days when Bram knew Oscar before I wooed him away. I am at a loss over all that. It’s not in the natural way of things, in my view, but then again, could I blame Bram for finding succour in any way he could after the way I treated him? When, on the few occasions I did broach the subject, Bram shrugged it away. He was hiding something, I was certain – and the proof, I believe, finally came in the way he left me. I believe, though, I was very, very blessed to have had Bram for a husband. It’s excruciating to think about what may have occurred had it been Oscar. Friends have imparted that Oscar never forgave Bram for snatching me away from him. It may have been the case that the reverse applied too – that I snatched Bram away from him. I’m told that charming little cross, that I returned to Oscar, remained on his person till the day the Lord took him. I also worried that Bram was frightened that Oscar would attempt vengeance one day by seeking my affections again. But he was never open with me over this, so I couldn’t allay his fears. There was no chance of it. But if he had of asked, could I have mentioned the teeth, darling Anna?


I did wonder if the perfect teeth of Dracula, including those designed for enabling blood-sucking, could have been Bram’s way of getting back at Oscar. I don’t know, but in his later years my poor husband’s were not very attractive either. I wasn’t giving him much attention at all by this stage. No wonder he wandered out to seek comfort and release from the ladies of the night – or, at least, I assumed they were ladies. In truth, I could not blame him and it was convenient for me. And maybe that killed him, as so many of our social set were afflicted with the dreaded syphilis. The doctors would never say as much, despite my pointed questions, but I suspected. So maybe my restraint saved me from that fate as well. Even so, the lack of love, in the true way, that I failed to show this kind and loyal man does weigh on me heavily now that he’s gone.

My beauty didn’t last, of course. It never does. All those years I spent protecting my complexion and making sure I was the most alluring in the room in all our public engagements have come to nought now he is deceased. They all dried up, just like my porcelain skin.

As you are well aware, my dear, these last years have been devoted to Bram’s legacy. ‘Dracula’ has surpassed all our expectations – and to think that odious Irving once shattered our beloved author by telling him he didn’t possess an ounce of literary talent. I wonder who’ll be remembered better as the years roll on – my Bram or that man? But nothing could break his hold. At least Bram outlived his hero and had some freedom from his constant barbs in his last years.

So darling lady, my confession of imperfection is before you. I feel a little more peace in my life now. Is that unfair of me? I have often been touted as the one who won the heart of Oscar when she was a girl and Bram’s when I was a woman, but in truth, despite my limitations as a wife, my heart will always belong to Bram. More so now than ever. I hope history will treat him kindly as it has not for Oscar. They are both brilliant men and I fear, with my vanity and foibles, I served neither well. With your assistance I have tried to make it up to my husband – so thank you dear Anna for your friendship, wise judgement and future discretion


Part of the above is my imagining with a new book on Wilde on the retail shelves and a coming series on ‘Dracula’ destined for our small screens. Her marriage to Bram Stoker allowed the former Irish beauty Florence Balcombe to meet Presidents of the USA and a Prime Minister, Gladstone, became a friend, regaling her as the greatest beauty of the day. The Patti Boyd, perhaps, of her times, her association with two literary icons, as well as her own prominence as a jewel of the London social set, ensures for her a small place in history. In later life she fought tooth and nail (you punster) to protect the inheritance of Stoker. His vampiric tale has generated millions. We have moved on from the primitive dentistry of Victorian times, but with Drac it’s all about the teeth, darling.

More on Florence –

The Walkers and the Dauber

There is a resemblance to both, isn’t there? It’s not just me, is it? You can see it too, can’t you?

Every wall of each of three rooms was covered in paintings, many of them portraits. In the first I ventured into, they were from the colonial period and my eye was immediately drawn to her. I knew that face, or so I thought. I soon realised I couldn’t have, given her provenance and lack of fame; also given she died in 1889. And this was painted decades earlier than that. I thought she was beautiful; undeniably striking. There was no descriptive tag to her on the wall, so I had to resort to something I usually abhor for her details – a centrally placed computer device that the Library of New South Wales assured would provide all the viewer could wish to know about any given item in this particular exhibition, simply called ‘Paintings from the Collection’.

maurice felton mrs-anna-elizabeth-walke

Normally I hate anything to do with digital technology and art galleries. Try as I might to use those hand held devices at Mona, I always end up giving it away in disgust. To me they ruin the experience there, to the extent that I’d rather not be in the know. But I quickly mastered the ones in Sydney and at least made a start getting to know my lady from two centuries ago. In the gen it provided I was delighted that there was a Tasmanian connection with her. I scribbled down a few of the details concerning the art work in question and resolved, as is invariably the case, to delve deeper once on home soil, for Anna Elizabeth Walker was really beginning to intrigue. And a part of that was trying to rack my memory cells as to just whom she reminded me of. Eventually the penny dropped, two fold as it turns out, but I’ll save that for later.

Now at home I wasn’t illuminated much more about her than I discovered in Harbour City, but, as one might expect from those times, of the man she devoted her life to, we could ascertain a great deal. And he seems a prickly sort of go-getting customer.

He had arrived on New Holland shores in 1818 – so quite early on. He was a Yorkshireman by birth, having entered the world in 1791 to a relatively well-to-do family. He had served his country at Waterloo and other engagements in the war against Napoleon; later remaining in service as a master of stores. This led to attachment to the good ship ‘Friendship’ (oxymoron?) which took him and a cargo of convicts to New South Wales. He spent less than a year in Sydney. He was soon sent to take charge of the infant settlement of Port Dalrymple, across Bass Strait, on Van Diemen’s Land’s Tamar River. He immediately took a shine to that scenic part of our island and started to think it may be the place to build a future. To that end he constructed himself a stone house in George Town. But, by the time it was completed, he was finding it impossible to get along with his immediate superior, one Gilbert Cimitiere. Relationships had sunk so low in the small European community that all communication was conducted via their respective clerks. When the latter became so fed up with that and complained about him to Governor Sorell in Hobart, Thomas Walker felt it was in his best interests to hightail it back to Sydney Cove. Once there he was found a position being responsible for the growing burbs of Windsor and Parramatta. He built a home in the district, calling it Rhodes, after his mother’s family pile back in the Mother Country. And around this time he began successfully courting Anna, daughter of prominent citizen and Blue Mountains conqueror Gregory Blaxland. Was it a love match? Did one T Walker see it as improving his social standing? There are indications he was that kind of guy, but we’ll never know. They wedded in 1823.

By 1825 the new groom was crook, a factor he put down to the arduous, as he saw it, work expected of him in his Sydney roles. Five years later he uprooted his family to move back to VDL, still mightily peeved that the authorities in the northern colony had not recognised his true worth. He saw there were opportunities, for him and his burgeoning family, out on the Westmoreland Plains, around Longford, so that’s where he decided to settle, constructing another Rhodes. He worked assiduously at building up a real estate portfolio with properties in the two colonies, plus around the developing Port Phillip region. He was made a magistrate in 1837 – finally some recognition.

But let’s return to the eye-catching Anna. She remained by hubby’s side till his death, in the rebranded Tasmania, in 1861, after which she returned to be closer to her family in NSW. It was, though, during an earlier visit to Sydney that artist Maurice Felton was commissioned to paint the likeness that so attracted me that Harbour City morning. For it Anna dressed in black, clearly indicating she was in mourning. During the family’s 1840 visit her brother, John suddenly passed away, causing the Walkers to extend their stay. The red shawl featured, possibly an heirloom, is used to conceal yet another pregnancy, her fourteenth in fact. Alice was born back here early 1841, giving her and Thomas four sons and ten daughters – what a brood! What does that say about their marriage? They were a productive pair, no doubt, but that wasn’t unusual for those times.

As to whom actually outlaid the funds for a portrait is unknown. Thomas certainly commissioned it, but maybe her parents paid for it. A son just gone, a daughter about to travel back to a faraway place with some of their grandchildren, they had reason. Their portraits were also commissioned from the same painter, as well as one of their eldest boy and heir.

We also know something of the artist himself. Felton arrived on Australian soil in 1839, quickly staging his first exhibition in the following year to drum up business, coinciding with the Walkers time in Sydney. Painting was, for him, initially a sideline to his main work as a surgeon, but he obviously hoped to develop it into another source of income. He also opened a shop in George Street to further advertise his gifts.

Back to the present, there was another Felton portrait on display that morning that is also worthy of mention. The sitter was a fair amount younger than Anna and I would have thought little of it till I read the tale associated with it on the computer screen. 21 year old Sophia Stratham O’Brien never sat for her likeness from Felton. We suspect his first contact with her was in his other capacity.

sophia stratham o_brien

She was part of the artist’s 1841 showing in Sydney, but the young lady herself had already been dead some six months. Perhaps Felton was the officiating doctor at her death. He then would have taken a cast of her face and with the assistance of an engraving, said to closely resemble her, put together the image we see framed today. In part, it is similar in structure to a well known painting he’d done of another young woman, Queen Victoria, which was, for a while, the talk of the town. In the days before photography became widespread, his work was the family’s lasting memory of a daughter taken well before her time. Poignant.

Death, sadly, came early to Felton too. Only four years after his arrival he passed away in unknown circumstances.

Again, returning to Anna. What of the question that exercised my mind for some time after the viewing? Just who was it she reminded me of during my time spent at the State Library of New South Wales? I thought and thought and then I twigged – Lady Edith Crawley.

edith100"The Leftovers" New York Premiere - Arrivals

Many, including myself, miss Downton – although there is a movie version, I believe, on its way, primed for release later this year. The middle daughter was always my favourite. Not as beautiful, in the customary way, as the sisters on either side, she was, for a while, quite a shrinking violet. But when she came into her own, in later seasons, she underwent, for her times, a most unorthodox transition. To me the resemblance to the actress who played her, Laura Carmichael, seemed uncanny. Then, one morning in the bath, I dismissed her, replacing her with Janel Moloney, who, as Anna Moss, had to wait to the very final episode of all those seasons of ‘The West Wing’ to get her man. Janel or Laura? I’m none the wiser now, but something about that portrait did a déjà vu on me.

Am I slightly bonkers?

Paintings from the Collection, State

Nagle and the Strumpet

Portsmouth 1804

He informs me he’s had hundreds, but you can’t tell with him. You name any port, he’s had a rumpy-tumpy there. Give me a port and I’ll tell you a fine story of an abedding, he says. He gets that silly grin on his face and you think he’s telling pork pies. But who knows? It could be true. But he tells such tales – and so many. Could he have really done all that? But I give him this. He knows how to treat a woman. He’s gentle, he is. If I am anything to go by all those poor lasses; all those whores, harlots and strumpets he’s fadoodled with, wouldn’t have had it so bad. He takes his time, tries to give pleasure as well as take. I have rightly become attached to him – and I don’t say that lightly. But he’s a restless soul, I know that for a fact.

And he’s different. He sticks out. In part it’s because he dresses like a toff – you’d be thinking he was gentry. He brags he’s just not any common seaman. His waistcoats, best britches and silk jackets – you’d believe he was a dandy in the king’s court. And you can tell he’s from far away by the way he says stuff to me; to everyone when he’s in a tavern in his cups or chatting with the girls downstairs. He has a funny way of saying it – and he looks at you all queer-like when you say you don’t get his drift. Took him a while to tell me about where he came from – almost as if he was scared of saying it. And it’s quite a story, I can tell you.


I first laid eyes and bedded with him back in ‘94 or 5. That’s when I found out he had his letters. He’d scribe me notes to tell me when he’d be visiting my premises and have a boy deliver them. There’d be a verse or two on them most likely. But they’d make you blush, some of what he wrote with me in mind. What he planned to do with me. How good I’d feel after the business. But he was caring, caressing till he made me quiver. The others were mostly a rough and ready bunch until I worked my way up a bit, even if, in the main, they meant a girl no harm. No, you don’t meet many sailors who can put words together so tidily like him.

And now he’s here in Portsmouth. He’s took leave of his last ship a month or so ago and he’s been visiting my premises – well, in truth visiting me, a couple of times a week. He keeps me busy, he does, what with me trying to keep things orderly and making sure my girls are clean, if you know what I mean. I insist they must be fresh after each and every shaking of the sheets, ready and respectful for the next customer. And I teach them well – how to dress, with just enough showing to interest any gentleman who comes along. These days I don’t open my doors to sailors and the like. Just Jacob, for, you see, I know him from our time together in India. I run a classy establishment now, I do. The lasses I have, they’re young and very well skilled. They are very comely to the eye and most have all their teeth.

One of those girls picked him up in a tavern in the town and bought him here, fooled by the cut of his jib. Once he laid eyes on me, though, he was no longer interested in her. Not one little bit. He remembered me. He remembered me very well. He only wants me. He tells me, the devil, that there’s nobody as well versed as I. That I know his tastes to the letter. And I am happy for him to have his way with me. He is very generous – always has been. And he treats me right. Considerate-like. He says he likes my ways and it doesn’t worry him that I’m carrying a bit of lard these days. Reckons it adds to his desire for me. But he’s getting on. With a twinkle in his eye he tells me he’s only three score-something in years. He doesn’t rightly remember. But I reckon he’s more than that. I have to work on his todger a bit these days – not like back when we met up and had rumpy in India. But now the seas are free of that evil Bonaparte, he tells me he’s going back to the land of his birth. Back to what they now called the United States of America.

Can you believe he recalls when he first copped a gander at me – and I know it is no fib for he tells it right. I also well remember the day well. We’d been cooped on that wretched boat, the Lady Juliana. Bound for Botany Bay, it was nothing but a floating brothel. Most of us had been on the game one way or another before we were hauled before the assizes for our wrongdoings. Me, I stole a ring from an upper crust turd in an inn. Wasn’t even real gold, but I still got my seven years transportation. It could have been my neck I suppose, but now I count it as my lucky day as it turns out. On board that foul brig I quickly found my mark and I was on to him. He didn’t stand a chance once I gave him the eye and the smile I knew was one of my assets. I could tell he’d never met my like before and I was soon cosseted in his officer’s cabin. He was a bit of a pompous type in some ways, but he was kind. He made it clear if I gave him my favours he would look after me once we landed. I soon cottoned on that he was spoken for back home, but that didn’t matter. Where we were going was far, far away. He knew it. I knew it. But he said he could better me and we started with my letters. By the time our final Land Ho was on the horizon I had mastered them. Lieutenant William did right by me and while we were together I didn’t hussy around. I had my hopes for him in the end, I must admit, but it wasn’t to be.

lady juliana

The woebegone clods in Port Jackson the day we landed had been expecting a supply ship, not one full of wanton women on the make. Still victuals wasn’t the only thing they were starving for. Soon most of the lasses were accounted for by the men of the colony in one way or another, but Will made sure I weren’t one of them. We spent our first few nights together in a tent by the cove, but later he had a hut built, then a stone house for us. We were well set up and I thought I had enough of his heart to see us being there for quite a tidy time. But soon my soldier man reckoned he could see a life for himself in this new place with the kangaru and burning sun. But that meant bringing out his betrothed for the family honour. He was remorseful, but he had no option but to cut me loose. But he was thoughtful to the end. He was a good man. I owe him.

It was always lively reminiscing about our time in Sydney Town in the many nights Jacob and I have shared our bed. Jacob tells me he sailed to New Holland in the big fleet, landed in time to see the jack raised and he quickly made friends with the natives. He says that with that twinkle of his. I reckon he‘d be only interested in the female of those primitives. He spent time on Norfolk Island after his supply ship was wrecked on it’s shores. He saved a few lives and was rewarded with extra tots of rum for his troubles, he recalls with a chuckle.

He was there on the beach when the natives speared the guvnor. He boasts that he shot the savage that did it. The wound wasn’t fatal, but Jacob received an extra ration of grog for that deed too.


Once William had made his choice my time in the colony came to an end. Will understood himself enough to know that, while temptation awaited, he couldn’t help himself. He knew the guvnor wouldn’t turn a blind eye once he was wed. He arranged a berth on the next sailing ship out of Port Jackson, which just happened to be making a run to India for extra supplies for the commandant’s store. Why, he even shelled out for a maid, Moll, to accompany me.

Well, I only know one thing, and Molly didn’t take much to convince. We set up in Calcutta with Will’s funds. Soon we had a good passing trade with plenty of sails from foreign shores in port. We even hired some dusky locals to drop their saris as well for those who wanted a taste of the Oriental. Even then I had strict rules with the girls for I had plans of returning to England to set myself up there – but with a quality place and a quality brace of lassies better than just doxies.

It was back in Calcutta that I first laid myself out for Jacob. He was soon a regular while his ship was in port – and he always sought me out as he told me I was more his style than anyone else he had rolly-rolly with in the flesh markets of the world. Soon he was talking to me more respectfully and caressing me as well as expecting his own bits to be rubbed and cajoled. Sometimes Moll would join us and he’d need no cajoling then, but mostly it was he and me and we fitted together most satisfactorily. He would take me out on the town too. We ate in the curry houses. He always said he took as much spiciness in every which way he could.


He loved telling tell his stories, he did, whether the audience was just me or with others crowded around, hanging off his every word. But to me and me alone, or so he said, he told how he came to have this strange way of speaking. Being raised in the Americas he was too cut off from places where you could pick up the King’s English and he’d had little schooling, just enough to know his letters and how to read them. When he was fifteen he told us that his father took him into battle against the redcoats, against us, at a place called Brandywine Creek. Just for my ears he told me he killed an Englishman too. And I could scarcely believe what he was saying. He then fought us at sea, was captured not once but twice – by us and the Frenchies. This was in the Indies. He told all who would listen about the slave girls there and how he caroused with then, but he told me alone that most of his time he was in chains until the French exchanged him for some of their own. And that’s how he ended up on a fleet of boats taking convicts like me to another new world. Taking my like to Botany Bay. What adventures! What an adventurer! All the high seas was his home. Back then I wondered what would become of him for I knew I was only a very little diversion for him.

Soon after his visit Moll and I parted ways She wanted to stay, I wanted to try my luck in Old Blighty – and my luck was top notch. It took a sweet bit of time, but money talks, so they say, even coin made by girls on their backs in India. I soon had a sponsor to share the costs and we set up here in Portsmouth – a classy place catering to the aristocracy and the snobs. And then Jacob finds his way here like a not-so-bad penny.

He’s still chirpy, but now and again there’s a sadness. He’s getting older and he’s not as twitchy as he once was; not so energetic in the boudoir. But I like that. We are not so young these days. Then one night he told me of the girl he loved – ‘a lively handsome girl in his eye’ was how he pictured her for me. They had two little ones, in Lisbon, but when he was at sea the fever took them – all three of them. He nearly lost himself, as he tells it. He said he made a vow never to allow himself to feel the same way about another lass. For the rest of his life it would be whores, harlots and strumpets. He resolved to be a free spirit, but it seemed to me he was half-hearted in saying it. It was then I saw and felt another side to Jacob. With me he ceased his boasting. He became quieter with his tales, listened to others more. He decided he would go home, home to the Americas.

May I speak freely? In truth that has hit me harder than I expected it would. These last weeks in Portsmouth he has come to mean more to me that just a regular johnny. I think he’s someone I could love, really love. I had that feeling for Will too – and look how that turned out. There’s more to our rumpy now, but tomorrow he sails back to family and god knows what. Back to where his funny words come from. But I’ll have my memories to warm the cockles. Not his boastful stories, but his gentleness in the bed chamber, his quiet words, his head pressed agin my breasts, his fingers gently stroking. He could melt my heart, Jacob Nagle. Tomorrow it will be business as usual, but I’ll go down to the docks, but I’ll have plenty of bosom showing, just to say to him that these mams and I will miss him.


Jacob Nagle was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.’

Combining the ‘Harlots’ of SBS tele fame, the sailor I read about at the ‘UNESCO Six’ exhibition put on by the State Library of NSW and the line from the Fellowship of First Fleeters website ‘...he voyaged to Madras and Calcutta where he met two convict women from Sydney who had established a brothel.’ came the basis for this scribing.

He, Jacob, intrigued me, but it was relatively easy to find information on him in the ether, not so the two prostitutes. There was nothing about how they made the move from the unknowns of Sydney Cove back to the relative knowns of a teeming Indian city so early in our nation’s history, so that aspect is my imagining.

Nagle wrote his memoirs in later life and historians reckon he got the details pretty accurate.

He frequented prostitutes, towards whom he acted charitably when he thought their case merited it.’

After Nagel left UK shores to return to the US he visited family members and discovered his parents had passed away. From that time he continued to serve on British and American merchantmen. He visited Central America, the West Indies again, China, Canada and other parts of his own country. He was shipwrecked once more, this time off the coast of Brazil – and he liked that country so much he remained there from 1811 till 1821. Was there another woman involved?

By 1824 he’d had enough of his nomadic lifestyle and returned back to his relatives, couch-surfing around them, often outstaying his welcome. The end came in Ohio on 1841.

During his life he had ‘…suffered severely from scurvy, felt the lash on his back, saw men killed in battle and executed, He was robbed and cheated of his money...’ An extraordinary life indeed.


Jacob Nagle’s original journal

Fellowship of First Fleeters account of Jacob Nagle =

Mothers Day with Joe

Joe played his first test against the touring English and visited their shores four times. In all he played thirty-one tests against our old cricketing foe. He captained his country in eighteen of those. It took Bradman to lead the Australian XI more times to that point. He, Joe, was a thick set man in the Boon tradition and also mightily powerful with the bat. He was courageous against speed in those unhelmeted times, could defend with stoicism and build an innings by slow aggregation. He figured in some mighty stands. But, when it called for it, he could swashbuckle his way to a ton in the blink of an eye. He once held the record for the fastest century against the Poms. He also took on the South Africans once they came into the test fold.

My lovely Leigh and I, for various reasons, did not travel north this year to celebrate Mothers Day with our wonderful Mums, but nonetheless we wanted to do something to mark the day, something a little different perhaps – something we normally wouldn’t do. In the lead up to it Leigh saw an ad, I readily agreed and she made a booking.

Joe was born at Glen Ormond in South Australia, the son of a well-to-do merchant. He attended the Prince Alfred College in that state’s capital, quickly demonstrating his prowess with the willow. He once set a schoolboy record, scoring 252 against a neighbouring educational institution. He also was proficient at the native game, playing footy at a high level. After his school years he moved on to an agricultural college, before managing one of the family’s wheat farms. Later he returned to Adelaide to marry and open a sports store on Rundle Street. His father, John, saw his business potential and started to groom him to take over the family firm and was not happy when his son was selected to play his sport at the highest level for South Australia. Over time his wife, Alice, gave him ten sons and five daughters so Joe was soon to have trouble balancing his life between representative cricket, family and business. Could he make a go of it in all three arenas? Only time would tell.

The journey on that most recent of Mothers Days was only a short one, just into the nearby suburb of Claremont. The location of our repast was to be an elegant mansion that was once, before the area became built up, the most dominant feature on the landscape for miles. Now it is largely hidden from view of the major thoroughfares. A chocolate factory is now the feature most commonly associated with Claremont, but once upon a time it was this house. A recent benefactor had lovingly bought the building back to life as in previous decades it had fallen into decrepitude. It is now open to the public for tours, high teas and special occasion functions such as ours.

To start with his sporting passion won out for Joe, but the time away from family weighed heavily. Then his father pulled the mat right out from under him. John purchased a large property and informed his son he was to manage it. Joe retired from cricket and followed his old man’s orders. But his country needed him and he was soon back in whites, succumbing to pressure to take over the national side as captain. He tried to battle on in that role for a few more years, but age and weariness caught up with him. He was doing too much and had to slow down, seeing him give away the game at the highest level to return to his holdings and his ever growing family. Part of the trouble was where his father’s land was situated – almost in the middle of Tasmania, just outside Oatlands.

Claremont House was radiant in the dusk as we arrived. Entering, we were impressed by the capability of the restorers who had taken it back to something akin to how it must have looked in its heyday. On its originally prominent site it began life, around 1840, as a four-roomed Georgian home, gradually morphing into its present day form as a mansion in the Italianate style. The land it was established on was once owned by another iconic figure, one of the founders of Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner. He put it up for sale in 1826 for it to be purchased by another mover and shaker of those early days in the colony, Henry Bilton. He built the first structures on site, including the cottage, by 1840 transforming it into a substantial house of rendered brick. Fast forward to 1858 and Bilton had increased his land holdings around it to 350 acres. Being childless, on his death in 1889, the land was sub-divided and sold off. Parliamentarian Frank Bond became the new owner of the house itself, adding extra rooms to his Claremont edifice and constructing its tower. Twenty-one year old Kathleen Brook purchased the property in 1911and with her wealth it soon became a centre of the local social scene for the well-to-do.

Stuck in the middle of Tassie, Joe was far away from any substantial social scene, something Alice probably would have felt quite keenly. But being in that part of the world had some advantages for her husband. He found a new passion – politics, initially throwing himself into the various farming associations whose function it was to gain better deals for the man on the land. But Alice was hankering for a more urbane existence and it was her that saw an advertisement in the press for a substantial house to house a substantial family by the Derwent, not too far out of Hobart. It was also right on the road north to Stonehenge, their Midlands residence. Perfect. She quickly purchased it on Joe’s behalf and they moved in in 1920. And soon Joe started to set his sights on taking his political ambition one step further. He became the MLC for Cambridge in ’21 and served that electorate in the Legislative Council until 1941.

I wouldn’t rave about the tucker, but there was plenty of it, being a buffet – and it was palatable enough. But it was the plush surrounds, on that second Sunday in May, that really appealed. The food was being served in a large room dominated by an expansive billiard table. And on this was arranged all sorts of memorabilia that fascinated this diner, including from Joe’s tenure at the stately home. Amongst it was a plethora of photos from his time as a cricketer, including a snap of him arm in arm with the great WG, as well as one of the man he called his ‘white-haired boy’, Victor Trumper. I was so engaged I almost totally forgot about my stomach and the gorgeous date waiting for me back at our table. Also featured, from more recent times, was an image of the current owner with Dame Helen Mirren.

Along with politics the former cricketer was partial to automobiles, converting the coaching house to hold his collection of six expensive models. Sadly, though, time marches on and with his children grown up and largely dispersed, the place became too onerous for the ageing couple to manage. He sold it to the Red Cross in 1940 to be used as a convalescent home for the war wounded.

It was a delightful evening at Claremont House for Leigh and I, well worth the cost of the meal for all that history. My lady has vowed to return to partake of the tour and high tea and I would encourage any visitors to our fair city to do the same.

Joe Darling CBE saw his later years sadly mired in controversy as he dared to take on the might of the Forestry Department whose practices, back in the day, were every bit as dubious as they have been in a more recent era. He accused the minister and some officials of taking bribes and demanded a royal commission. The evidence he presented was so compelling that this was finally granted – something that did not earn him friends, but served to demonstrate the man himself hadn’t changed much from his days leading our nation on the cricketing fields of the world. He won out in the end, but did not live to see the outcome, passing on in 1946. He was the last surviving member of the soon to be federated nation’s touring party of 1896, dying only thirteen days later than fellow Tasmanian tourist of that team, mate and local parliamentarian CJ Eady. Joe is buried at Cornelian Bay. I wonder what the great man would have made of twenty/twenty, IPA and dare I say it, the current ball-tampering farce? I daresay he’d turn in his grave by the river.

Claremont House website =

Anzac Morn

On this Anzac Day morning I think and I remember. I remember my father, long passed, who fought for his country far away from home in the war against Hitler and Japan. I think of my brother-in-law who went to an ultimately unpopular conflict and had to wait so long for the recognition he and his comrades deserved. I spend a little time considering the fact that my sister’s and his son who, in the era of Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism, was also bravely prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if called upon. Three courageous men I am proud to call family. And, this morning, I think back further of the two shots in anger that bought a war very close to home.

On Sunday mornings it has been my habit, of late, to venture to Northgate to collect the papers and then to mosey up to Banjos to peruse them over a flat white and date scones. The Sunday just past, in doing so, I sidetracked to a photographic display the shopping centre had set up to commemorate all those Aussies who were prepared to sail to war zones worldwide. The selection of images concentrated on, not our troops at war, but the home front. There were servicemen preparing to depart, parades and their return. It focused on the Boer War and the two great conflicts of last century and it focused on Tassie. There were men and women – soldiers, sailors and aviators.

My eyes were drawn to the World War 1 images, particularly those showing aspects of the preparatory training the men underwent at Claremont Camp, established where Cadburys is now sited. It was set up when it became clear that the regular facility at Brighton couldn’t cope with the numbers required. That is just up the road from our abode by the river and Claremont Village is where we regularly travel to for mail, groceries and newspapers. I looked at the faces of the men at this training ground and wondered if any of them had been responsible for those shots on another morning on the little island, off the coast, that Leigh and I had so recently visited.

It was a special three days Leigh treated me to on Bruny Island. There is much to attract the visitor there – it’s scenery, tucker and wildlife for example. But there also is its history. It was the latter that my mind goes to as I sit by the river this Anzac morn, looking out over the Derwent. For, on a small patch of Bruny, a war came to Southern Tasmania.

During those days, just across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from here, we visited the remaining buildings of the old quarantine station. Built in an isolated spot, for obvious reasons, near Barnes Bay back in the 1880s. It was at its peak during the horrendous flu pandemic that swept the world immediately after the Great War. All Tasmanian troops, returning from various fronts, had to spend a week at the station to ensure that they were virus free before they could sail on up the Derwent and home. But the most interesting tale, for me, from its years of existence, occurred during he 1914 to 1918 war when perhaps the only shots fired in anger on local soil at the ‘enemy’ happened.

Now, as we know from the recent excellent ABC series on General Monash (whose forebears had been Monasch), anyone with a German sounding name or background could be interned, such was the outrage at the actions of the Hun during the early days of the call to arms. Some bright spark down here in a governmental authority decided that the station on Bruny Island would be the ideal place to house these poor souls, suspected to be aliens, given it was isolated, yet within easy sea reach from Hobart. Somewhere between 50 to 75 such men were sent to the island during this period, including 41 German seamen who had the misfortune of being docked at Port Cygnet when the news came through that Britain, therefore Australia, was at war with Germany. It’s a lovely tale that, on the journey from there to Hobart on the now commandeered SS Oberhausen, the ship’s grog supplies were liberated from a locked storeroom and by the time the city was reached, both crew and captors were right royally inebriated.

By February 1915 the Quarantine Station was housing a range of presumed unsuitables, including the now compulsorily sober sailors. They were put to such tasks as tilling the soil, building wooden huts and erecting a shop to spend their meagre allowances at. Of course ‘no ales or spirituous liquor’ were for sale. The semi-prisoners could, though, take a boat out from shore to fish to supplement rations. But overall the men were bored out of their brains in such a nothing location, as beautiful as it may look to the eye. By July they’d had enough. And when their miniscule wages failed to arrive and they had nothing to spend at the shop retailing their small luxuries, they decided to down tools and go on strike.

The head guy at the camp put in a call to his superiors in Hobart. He had witnessed the sentry on duty being pelted with rocks and the mob refusing to return to barracks. A platoon training at Claremont were transported to the docks, shoved on a ship and waved farewell to go to Bruny to face the break out.

The only record of proceedings I could find on-line reflected the material on view at the little museum where these events took place over a hundred years ago now. It was in the form of a letter from a soldier in the party, a Ray Searle, written to his mother. This account is taken from his missive.

As the troops approached landfall they were ordered to fix bayonets. In reality it was all over in minutes. As the men in uniform were landing a warning shot was ordered to demonstrate they meant business. The armed troops then located all the detainees and frog-marched them down to the beach. Six of the malcontents were arrested and the rest escorted to their cabins.

However the thought of his freedom being again restricted was too much for one of the Germans. He (Searle describes him as a big man) decided to do a runner and he took to the bush. One of the party took aim at him and fired. There is no record of whether the shot hit its target or what happened to the largish wannabe escapee. And that was the end of it.

By the end of 1915 the Federal Government at last got their act together and took over from the states the responsibility of housing all internees. Those at the small facility on North Bruny were sent off across Bass Strait to a much larger one to sit out the war. Apart from the sailors, most had lived quietly and happily in Tassie for up to thirty-five years, yet were still considered a threat – even if many similar, such as Monash, were serving and fighting their former countrymen. Their war, thought there is no doubt, was much better than for most poor sods on the Western Front – but still their fate was so ridiculous and lacking in logic, let alone humanity.

On this Anzac Day morning I awoke to birdsong on my bedside radio. I had opened my eyes and ears to the live broadcast of the dawn service from the nation’s capital; in fact, to the minute’s silence between the Last Post and Reveille (which is French for, appropriately, to wake up). Except, during that minute, it was anything but silent. It seemed all the birds of Canberra had gathered to send off their own gorgeous tribute to the fallen. I wonder if the glorious bird life of Bruny gave any comfort to the men cooped up there during those months. With its honeyeaters, robins, firetails and pardalotes; as well as its water fowl, parrots, raptors and avians of the sea, it is an ornithologist’s paradise. It certainly wasn’t that for the men there, but maybe there could have been some positive memories despite the stupidity of war.
Lest We Forget.