New England's History

Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, September 09, 2019

Return to Blogging

Cross posting to the Personal Reflections and New England Australia blogs.

Well, I am now in Armidale. I still don't have the internet working properly, that requires connecting to the NBN, but can access the internet using a hot spot created on the mobile. This is potentially very expensive, but meets my immediate needs.

After such a long delay in blogging, the move was creating distractions and delays long before the intensive move period, traffic to my blogs has declined greatly. I have to rebuild and that will take time.

I will write about the move, after all it has been a big and all consuming one, but for the moment I simply want to record that I am back blogging.

I look forward to a return to regular posting, to the on-going conversation with blogging friends old and hopefully new!

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

A restless, curious spirit


Romantic figure: Jennie, Lady Randolph, Churchill. In 1914 Hugh Frewen introduced her to Montagu Porch who would become Jennie's third husband. This is the fourth in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen 

In 1944, Hugh Frewen published an autobiography, Imogene an odyssey. In her forward to the book, Dame Mary Gilmore wrote that it was a record of impressions and reflections in verse during journeys across four continents and over many countries.

It is also the story of a man from his birth to his arrival on “the rolling hills and downs of Dorrigo” where he would spend the last years of his life.

It is clear from the story that Frewen had inherited his father’s love of travel, his restless spirit and his insatiable curiosity.

In 1908, the 25 year old Frewen was appointed as an assistant resident and private secretary to Sir Percy Girouard, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Nigerian Protectorate. When Girouard left in 1909, Frewen became a political officer in charge of a Nigerian hill station.

In Nigeria, Frewen met Montagu Porch who was also working in the Colonial Service. Porch was six years older than Frewen and had an equally restless spirit. They became friends.

This was a fateful friendship.

Randolph Churchill had died in 1895. Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, then married the much younger George Cornwallis-West, a captain in the Scots Guards. The couple drifted apart, divorcing in 1914. 

Frewen then introduced Porch to his Aunt Jennie. She was 23 years older than Porch. As had happened with Cornwallis-West before him, Porch was instantly smitten and pursued her over the next four years. The couple finally married in 1918.

He has a future”, Jennie said, “and I have a past, so we should be all right.” This proved to be the case. “My second marriage was romantic but not successful, my third marriage was successful but not romantic”, Jennie later wrote.

 In 1913, Frewen resigned from the Colonial Office and returned to England.

He had become concerned about what he saw as British profiteering on Nigerian currency issues, concerns that he raised with father Moreton who was briefly a British MP.

Hi father raised the matter in the House of Commons, leading to the appointment of a commission of inquiry. Frewen felt obliged to resign his position as a consequence.

The next year, 21 February 1914, Frewen married donna Maria Nunziante, the daughter and co-heiress of the Italian Duke of Mignano. War clouds were now looming over Europe, clouds that would soon sweep up Hugh Frewen.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 31 July 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hugh Frewen Jr, the son of Mortal Ruin



Speculator: Morton Frewen lost a great deal of money on grandiose schemes. This is the third in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen 
Born in 1853 and educated at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge, Hugh Morton Frewen came from an old and wealthy English-Irish landowning county family.

In 1881 Morton married Clara Jerome at Grace Church New York. It must have seemed a fine match to Clara’s mother, one suiting her dynastic ambitions. Sadly, appearances can be deceiving. Clara did find love, but not dynastic success.

Morton Frewen would acquire the nickname Mortal Ruin because of his habit of borrowing and losing money on grandiose schemes. In the words of the great imperial writer Rudyard Kipling, Frewen lived “in every sense, except what is called common sense, very richly and wisely to his own extreme content”.

Initially, Moreton took Clara to live on the large ranch he had acquired in Wyoming, the Prince of Wales Ranch. Wyoming was in the middle of a cattle boom, and Frewen was seeking to build a cattle empire there as part of the boom.

Frewen built a huge log cabin castle/mansion to house his new bride. This new house quickly burnt down. Worse was to follow.

The cattle boom had been based on speculation connected with the expansion of European settlement into new territories. This was unsustainable.

As the Wyoming cattle boom came to an end, Morton Frewen’s venture collapsed. He had arrived with 16,000 pounds capital. He left with debts of 30,000 pounds.

Our New England hero, Hugh Frewen Jnr, was born in 1883, the first of three surviving children. His sister, Clare Consuelo Frewen, became a writer, journalist and sculptress who mixed with the elites and, among other things, was Charlie Chaplin’s lover.

Hugh Frewen grew up in the old manor house of Brede Place., a house that his mother somehow managed to keep despite the family’s financial tribulations. Frewen loved Brede Place, “its stones of hoary grey, set in the foreground of a fairy bay, with land-locked waters rippling into foam.”

Life wasn’t always easy for the boy. This was a world that mixed access to the British and European aristocracy and intelligentsia with the embarrassment of a father who sometimes could not pay the school fees!

Despite the problems, it seems to have been a happy time. Frewen loved his father and did not share the negative perceptions that had formed about him.

I am not sure what Frewen did first after leaving school, but from 1906 to 1909 he was private secretary to Sir Percy Girouard, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Northern Nigeria and then, a little later, political officer in charge of a Nigerian hill station.

This position marks the start of the journey that would finally bring Hugh Frewen to Dorrigo’s quiet green hills. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 July 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Three sisters in Europe: Jeromes in the court of Napoleon III



The Jerome sisters: Jennie (1854-1921), Clara (1851-1935) and Leonie. Their mother wanted them to marry well. She was successful. This is the second in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen 

In 1867, Clarrisa (Clara) Jerome and her three daughters – Jennie, Leonie and Clarita (also Clara) - sailed for Paris and the Court of Emperor Napoleon the Third. There Clara expected to find husbands for the girls that would fulfill her most ambitious dynastic ambitions. 

Napoleon III was then near the end of his reign, although that was not clear at the time.

A nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, he had become President of the French Republic on 20 December 1848. Four years later he seized direct power to reestablish the Napoleonic Empire.

Napoleon III was a considerable reformer who shared his uncle’s vision of a great French empire. He reformed public administration, expanded French power and rebuilt Paris.

The Paris you see today with its boulevards, a Paris much loved by many Australians, is the creation of Napoleon III and his main agent, Baron Haussmann, the prefect of the Seine.

Napoleon III may have been a reformer, but he had failed to modernize the French military. When war began with Prussia in 1870, the French suffered a humiliating defeat. Napoleon III was captured and then deposed.

Clara Jerome moved the girls to London where they cut a considerable swath through London society. They were young, wealthy and attractive.

The beautiful Jennie was the first to marry. On 15 April 1874 she married Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill at the British Embassy on Paris.

The couple had met the previous August at a sailing regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wright, introduced by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Randolph was quickly smitten.  They became engaged within three days, although it took several months to agree marriage settlements.

Jennie was a remarkable woman, the subject of many stories, some even true! What is relevant from our viewpoint is that in November 1874 their first son, Winston, was born.

In 1984 the eldest Leslie sister, Leonie, married the wealthy Irish landowner and Baronet Sir John Leslie. They would have four sons.

Between these two weddings, Clara (Clarita) married Moreton Frewen at Grace Church New York on 2 April 1881. Frewen came from an old and wealthy English-Irish county family. This marriage marks the start of the New England connection in our story.

Looking back, Clara Jerome’s dynastic objectives for her daughters may have seemed ambitious, but certainly they had all married well with multiple connections into the British upper class.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 July 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   
Postscript

I love my readers.I Got this nice email from Associate Professor Richard Scully from the University of New England. Richard is an expert in this area of European history.
Dear Jim, 
I enjoyed your piece on the Jerome sisters in the Express. 
Would just note that Louis Napoleon actually seized dictatorial power a little shy of three years (not four) after his election as President (on 2 December, 1851). His coup established him as President for 10 Years, and enabled him to consolidate his personal power.  
Once totally secure, he called a national plebiscite a year later (November 1852) which asked the people whether he should become Emperor of the French. The vote was affirmative, and he assumed the title one year exactly after his original coup. 
It would also be contentious to argue that the French army was not modernised. The experience of the Italian war of 1859 and the conflicts in Mexico, Africa, China, and Indochina would belie this. Rather, it was a failure of command and strategy that toppled the French in 1870-1, when faced with German armies (and commanders) hardened by two more recent wars (1864 & 1866) with lessons learned from the American Civil War as well. French re-modernisation had commenced in earnest, but the emperor (by now quite enfeebled) misjudged his timing and diplomacy completely, giving his armies too little time to implement everything. 
Best,
Richard
They are fair points. Checking around, I found this rather nice piece on Quora, Why did France lose to Prussia so quickly in the Franco-Prussian war?, which provides more information on the reasons why the French lost.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Captain's adventure - from wealth and power to the Dorrigo Hills





NEW YORK MARRIAGE: Clarissa (Clara) Jerome nee  Hall. This is the first in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen 
Many remarkable stories are to be found hidden within the history of the broader New England, stories once well known but now much diminished by time. This is one-such story.

I am not sure when I first met Captain Hugh Frewen (or Cappie as he was known), but it must have been in the early sixties. I clearly remember him from New England New State Meetings and from our car drive on Sydney. There he stood out in his tropical drill suit, frail but still erect.

At the time, I had no idea of his history. He was just a friend of my grandfather's.

I did find out a little later that he was Winston Churchill’s first cousin when I found a letter in my grandfather’s papers from Clementine Churchill to Hugh Frewen.

In 1943, David Drummond had published a book called Australia’s Changing Constitution: No states or new states. Frewen sent a copy to Winston Churchill asking him to read it.

Clementine replied to say that Winston had yet to read it, perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, but had asked her to thank Hugh and say that he would read it. Drummond had annotated the letter to say that Hugh was Churchill’s cousin.

I knew little more until I watched a BBC TV series telling the story of his mother and her sisters. I was immediately caught.

There was such an enormous difference between the quiet hills of Dorrigo where High Frewen spent the last years of his life and the world of sometimes wealth and imperial power that Hugh Frewen came from.

We can begin our story in 1849 with the marriage in New York of Leonard Jerome and Clarrisa (Clara) Hall. The couple had four daughters, one of whom died young.

Known as the King of Wall Street, Leonard Jerome was a flamboyant and successful stock speculator and railway investor who made and lost several fortunes.

Jerome was very much a New York man, part of that period of American history known as the Gilded Age. New York was his power base, his home. There he spent money on supporting the arts, on building race tracks and mansions.

The Jerome Mansion on the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street had a six-hundred-seat theatre, a breakfast room which seated seventy people, a ballroom of white and gold with champagne and cologne-spouting fountains!

His wife’s needs were  different. While a recognized beauty of the Gilded Age, she suffered from a degree of insecurity. Her sole goal, a biographer tartly recorded, was to ensure that each of her daughters married nobly and lucratively.

In 1867, Clara and her three daughters sailed for Europe, starting the next stage in our story.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 July 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Launching an introductory course on the history of Australia's New England

This is a photo of the North Coast Steam Navigation Company's Uralba in naval dress.
Built by the shipbuilder E Wright of Tuncurry in 1942, this was the last ship built for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, the last wooden coal burner built in Australia and, almost certainly, the last ship built in New England for the coastal trade.
Back in June 2007, so twelve years ago, I started outlining a possible course outline on the history of Australia's New England. The trigger at the time was linked to frustration on the new school curriculum, at the way it it ignored particular areas, as well as my own concerns about the promotion of New England's history.

My 25 June 2007  post, Towards a Course on the History of New England- The Colonial Period, was the most developed. Note the way I have tried to tailor it so that schools in particular areas could use local examples and themes in the course.

In the years since I have kept researching and writing, but have never given up the idea that my material might form the basis for a course or courses. My view was and is that history has to be taught if it is to have real meaning to people. This is especially important where, as in the New England case, history has been effectively written out of existence by the passage of time and fashion.

Aberglasslyn House: The monumental Georgian pile designed by architect John Verge for George Hobler remained unfinished following Hobler’s insolvency in the crash of the early 1840s. Part of New England's built landscape 
I can now advise that, after all this time, the first course, An introduction to the History of New England, will be delivered through the University of the Third Age (u3a) in Armidale over the first semester in 2020. This first course is experimental, to test interest, to develop the course ware required for broader delivery and to sketch further courses where there may be demand.

Here I need to make an important point. In market test on the Uralla, Armidale and Glen Innes family Facebook pages,  I received 35 expressions of interest for external delivery within a few days. It was also suggested that the course should be delivered in conjunction with other u3A branches and local historical societies.

Horton River Band 1967: Dave Game, Mark Rummery, Chris Sullivan, Lionel O'Keefe. The band became a major vehicle for presenting New England's folk tradition.
Neither surprised me. For every person currently living in New England there are three New England expats living elsewhere. At purely local level, the same position holds for Armidale or Uralla or Glen or Singleton. People want to know their history and want to see it in a broader context. However, this creates a problem.

.In logistic terms,  it's not clear how this might be done simply, recognising that we are working outside a conventional university environment. So things have to be worked through. Can it be done?

Now as part of continuing market testing let me outline the course to you.

Scope

In geographic terms, the area covered is the New England Tablelands and the surrounding river valleys from the Hunter to the NSW border and, in fact. beyond prior to the separation of Queensland.  In time terms, we are looking at the 30,000 or so timer period since first human habitation.

This is a general introductory course that seeks to cover, if in a sometimes superficial way, most aspects of human life.
Overseas Students' Week 1960: The Columbo Plan brought many international students. By the early 1960s, they formed a significant part of the student body at the University of New England
Structure

It will be a full semester course with a break in the middle for school holidays. That means 16-18 lectures plus some tutorials and possible excursions. The number may fall a little depending on detailed course planning. Lectures will deal with main content, the tutorials with method issues and sub topics linked to the main course. Excursions are supplementary.

This is based on internal delivery. .Any external delivery will be a little different since on-line platforms will have to be used. That is one of the issues that will have to be worked through.
Tom Robert's painting of squatter Edward Ogilvie. Ogilvie staked out land on both sides of the Clarence River seeking to build a dynasty.
There are. no pre-requisites for enrolment nor is any knowledge assumed. This is an adult education course where interest is the only requirement. There will be no essay or assignment tasks since at this point the course does not provide a formal qualification requiring formal measurement.

This may change should it be possible to offer a recognised certificate or letter of attainment. Those wishing to obtain this would need to go through an assessment process without affecting others.

 Course Content

The course content is evolving, but this is the current draft:
  1. Introduction
  • Structure of the course, objectives
  • Setting the scene: geography of New England, naming
  • Historical overview 
  1. Aboriginal New England to 1788
  • Origins
  • The journey
  • Arrival in new England
  • Impact of the Late Glacial Maximum
  • The Holocene and the spread of settlement
  • Aboriginal New England on the dawn of invasion
The heritage-listed Brewarrina fish traps are one of the largest surviving examples of Aboriginal engineering.
2 Colonial New England
  • Britain and the context of European occupation
  • The penal period
  • The pastoral rush including the frontier wars and the impact on our Aboriginal peoples
  • Mining
  • Spread of the railways, rise of the towns
  • Political movements including rise of the unions and the emergence of the first new state agitation
  • Threads in social and cultural history: families, class, recreation, art, architecture
3. New England in the Twentieth century
  • Economic challenges from the 1890s, context for what might follow
  • First World War
  • Emergence of new political forces including Labor, the Country Party and a resurgent new state movement
  • Fights for services and the creation of new institutions
  • The Depression, possible secession and recovery
  • The Second World War
  • Social and economic change 1950-2000
  • Aboriginal history over the 20th century
  • Threads in social and cultural history: families, class, recreation, art, architecture, music, film, 
Conclusion

Obviously a lot of work to go, but in the meantime I would be interested in any feedback you care to offer. 



 .  .  

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Bikes put boys on a road to freedom



Road trip: Boys on an adventure. Setting off for Port Macquarie 1956. This is the second in a two part series. You will find the first here

In 1904, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company published its Tourists’ & Settlers Guide to the Northern Coastal River Districts of New South Wales. By then, the Great Northern Railway had attracted most inland traffic, but water travel was still the dominant transport mode along the North Coast and up the coastal rivers.

The Guide is something of a classic period piece, one that tells us much about the detail of Australian life in a particular place at a particular time. It includes hints about cycle tourism.

By 1904, the safety bicycle had become a popular sporting and touring machine, but it was still more the workhorse for many working men in country and city alike. Bicycles were used to get to work, to collect orders and to deliver goods.

By the 1950s, bikes had become the province of young people, boys in particular. Both girls and boys peddled to school, all schools had bike racks, but boys were allowed to roam, girls were restricted.

“I still remember”, Catherine Marker recalls, “learning to ride a bike when I was 7 or 8 with friend Beryl teaching me. However, as a girl I was not allowed to do the fun rides my brothers did”.

Bikes gave boys freedom. They travelled.

John Caling recalls: ‘I used to ride out to my old mate Robin Munsie's place "Strathhaven" on Burying Ground Creek most weekends. When I first started that ride the Grafton road was only sealed as far as Ralph Toombs' property at the edge of Armidale. The rest was gravel and pretty rough in places”.

Dick McDertmott remembers riding to Woolomombi Falls, Dangarsleigh Falls, Gara Gorge, Thunderbolts Rock, the Dangarsleigh War Memorial and Gates, Dumaresq Dam, the Blue Hole, the Pine Forest, Bald Knob and Hillgrove.

Sometimes, Dick and his friends would travel with rabbit traps, slug guns over their shoulders. The skins would go to Thos Green and the meat to the Niagara cafe.

Most trips were day trips, but long trips were a rite of passage for many boys.

 In 1956, fifteen year old Keith Douglas, Ken Sweeney and Richard Hoy set off for Port Macquarie down the then dirt roads. By the end of the first day they were at the bottom of the range. “Not a bad day’s ride”, Keith later commented.  

Four years later, fifteen year Philip Kitley and friend David Belshaw set off to ride to Sawtell, something that Philip recorded in a piece in the Armidalian. They made it in two days.

There wasn’t a lot of money around following the Second World War. Many of our bikes were made from bits and pieces, heavy steel frame bikes, but they were well used.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 June 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Kate Bagnall's great blog: The Tiger's Mouth. Thoughts on the history and heritage of Australia's Chinese

I have just found Kate Bagnall's great blog, The Tiger's Mouth. Thoughts on the history and heritage of Australia's Chinese. That history and heritage forms one thread in the history of New England. I recommend a browse. 

Reading Kate's blog, I decided to list some of her posts that were most relevant to my own research and writing.

8 July 2018, Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation. Paper presented at the 2018 Australian Historical Association conference. It includes this excerpt:
"Barton could be so dismissive of his responsibility because, at that moment in time, domiciled Chinese men were able to bring in their wives and minor children under section 3 paragraph m of the Immigration Restriction Act. This provision was suspended by proclamation after only 15 months, and repealed in 1905, but during the time it was in force 88 Chinese family members, mainly wives, were allowed to enter Australia permanently. One of these was the wife of Kok Say, managing partner of the Hong Yuen & Co. store in Inverell. In mid 1902, Kok Say wrote to the government requesting a permit for his wife’s entry and stating his credentials – he had been naturalised in 1884 after arriving in the colony of New South Wales nine years earlier. In his words, ‘I have made my home here & have no intention of returning at any time to China’. His request was granted without issue and Mrs Kok Say arrived at Sydney from Hong Kong in November 1902".
Hong Yuen is a very well know name. The link above will take you to the Australian Archives  papers dealing with the application for Mrs Kok Say's entry. The image is drawn from Kate's paper.

12 December 2017 Communication and collaboration in the digital age. This paper presented at the Related Histories: Studying the Family conference, held at the National Library of Australia on 29 November 2017 provides a nice picture of some of Kate's work. My attention was caught by the involvement of Sydney merchant Quong Tart in cycling; I have been writing about cycling in my current Armidale Express history columns. The paper also refers to the work of Janis Wilton in Golden Threads. I hadn't realised that the website was no longer on line. 

13 August 2017, New guide to researching Immigration Restriction Act records


22 February 2017, Finding your Chinese roots. Includes a lot useful background material. 

26 October 2016, Emma Tear Tack nee Lee Young. In this guest post, New England local historian Gill Oxley shares the interesting lives of Emma Tear Tack, nee Lee Young, and her reverend husband Joseph including their missionary work at Tingha and surrounding areas. It includes a link through to a 2010 paper by Ian Welch, The Methodist Chinese Mission in Australia,  which provides background information on the work of the Mission. It includes some details (pp99-20) on Joseph's work that I have taken the liberty to quote in full:

"New England, northern New South Wales.

The work in Victoria gave rise to missions in other parts of Australia. The Rev Joseph Lee Tear Tack had accepted the post of Superintendent of the Chinese Mission in New South Wales and had established himself at Tingha, in the Glen Innes circuit to which Edward Youngman had been appointed as minister. Youngman took little interest in the work and his attitude was accepted by the other ministers in the area.75

The pattern was similar to that of Victoria with an early curiosity tapering off into disinterest. While four hundred had attended in the early stages, it was not long before it dropped to about twenty or so regular adherents. A church building was opened at Tingha in 1887 but the congregation continued to fall with less than ten men attending each Sunday and eventually attendance at worship was down to an average of three. The major reason was the constant movement of men in search of new tin workings. The movement of Chinese to the New England district was stimulated by the finding of alluvial tin, for which the gold-sluicing techniques worked just as well.

His main means of outreach was to conduct English language classes at Tingha on four evenings a week. These were well attended with about thirty men coming each night and through the contacts made in the classes, he succeeded in convincing thirteen men over the years to accept baptism.76

His greatest success came after he managed to borrow a horse from a Chinese merchant and could move more freely. He started preaching at the main Chinese centre at Emmaville where his congregation attracted about a hundred men every Sunday. He travelled regularly to Tenterfield, Inverell and Glen Innes. He was still tied physically to the property at Tingha but spent two full months at Emmaville and returned every month. He supplemented his own income through his English classes.77 
In 1895, the Society decided to close the New England mission, and asked Tear Tack to open a new church in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, where a considerable Chinese population had developed. 
75 Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Reports 1889:xvi and 1891:xix.
76 Wesleyan Missionary Notices, London 1888:10
77 Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Reports 1893:xxi; 1894:xxi; 1895:xxviii" 
14 September 2016, The curious case of Ernest Sung Yee. Fascinating post

 16 June 2016, In memoriam. Hunter Valley Story. 

15 January 2016, Building a DIY Trove list exhibition. A really valuable post focused on the Chinese in NSW.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Riding the cycling craze: Safety bike a transport breakthrough



 Safety Bike group about 1900: Note the heavy dresses that had to be accommodated on the bikes, giving us the girls' and boys' bikes we know today. Photo National Museum.

“Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze” is the opening line in one of Banjo Paterson’s poems first published in the Sydney Mail on 25 July 1896. That poem signals the arrival of one of the most important inventions of the late 19th century, the safety bike.

I was reminded of this a few weeks back. I had been doing some contract writing in the city. Each day I walked from the bus stop to the office past construction work underway for the Sydney metro. There, suddenly, the side of a building was revealed through demolition carrying the words Bennett and Wood. I was at what had once been Sydney bike central, the home of the famous Speedwell brand. 

Cycling had been popular for some time, although some of the early variants such as the velocipede or the later Penny Farthing are strange to modern eyes. They were heavy, expensive and could be dangerous.

There were three wheelers suitable for the ladies. Queen Victoria had one, although there is no record of her ever using it, but cycling was the largely the domain of men,

The arrival of the safety bike changed all this. It had a diamond shaped frame, two equal sized wheels, pedals that provided drive to the back wheel by a chain.

Women with their bulky dresses could not easily ride the new bikes. They were accommodated with a step through frame with a guard over the chain to stop their dresses becoming caught.

Men and women could now ride together. The result was a cycling craze that swept the world. 

In Sydney, Bennett and Wood had opened a cycle sale shop in 1882 in humble premises in Clarence Street, a single fronted two-storey warehouse. They were both cycling enthusiasts.

Initially they imported Penny Farthings, but then began importing the new safety bikes from England. In 1887, Bennett took full control of the business. As demand grew, he began local manufacture.

Demand continued to grow and the company bought premises in George Street and then Market Street. Meantime, down in Melbourne, a cycling enthusiast called Tom Finnigan had established a cycling business in the suburb of Malvern. The famous Malvern Star bike was born.  

The cultural and social effects of these developments were quite profound. They formed a pattern of life that survived in Australia to the 1960s.

Next week, I will take you down memory lane with a particular focus on Armidale, bringing back a world in which kids could roam wild in a way that’s no longer possible. 

This is the first of a two part series. You will find the second part here
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 June 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Kettling for the cause: workers' rights and wedding nights



Cacophony: Depiction of charivari in the early 14th century.

My historical research takes me down some strange by-ways.

I was listening to a radio report on demonstrations in Istanbul where the demonstrators were tin kettling, banging pots and pans together to create noise. I had not heard that phrase for a long time!

I first came across the term reading about the history of the miners’ union in the Lower Hunter, the Northern Coal Districts. This is a long and fascinating story that has had a more significant impact on Australian history than most realize.  

Coal miners were paid under a complicated system of piece rates. While earnings were better than average in good times, the work was hard, often dangerous and insecure.  

Starting with Miners’ Lodges in the 1850s, a concept drawn from the English and Welsh coalfields, the miners tried to organise collectively. For their part, the proprietors also organised, creating what came to be called the Combine.  

The miners’ main weapon was withdrawal of labour, strikes, while the proprietors retaliated with lock-outs and the importation of non-union labour, the scabs. The relationship was far more complex than this simple description, for unions and proprietors would also combine if anything threatened the powerful market position held by Hunter Valley coal.

Tin kettling was a powerful miner weapon in these industrial disputes. As the scabs arrived, the miners’ women and children would greet them by blocking roads and banging on pots and pans, creating a constant and often effective cacophony.

I had thought that this was the end of the story, but when I came to investigate, I found that this was not the common Australian usage for tin kettling. The dictionaries don’t mention the industrial usage. Instead, they focus on tin kettling as a custom in Australian marriages!

I shuddered a bit on this one. When I spoke to female friends, they shuddered too.

Imagine. You have just married. Tired, you come back to your new marital home for the first time after the wedding.

Unknown to you, your guests have all followed you home secretly carrying pots and pans. You are ready to go to bed and suddenly the silence is broken by banging, kettling and drumming accompanied by raucous noise! Ouch.

This is still not the end of the story. Researching, I found the practice of charivari or, in England, skimmington or rough music, a practice that spread to North America. Here performance, vulgarity and loud noise, including the banging of pots and pans, were used to embarrass wrong doers in small communities.

The next time your young child or grandchild gets the pots and pans out and starts banging them, remember they may be an extension of a long tradition!
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 June 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019