Posts tagged ‘history’
As Australian authors go, Sydney Loch is an undeservedly forgotten figure. A Wikipedia search redirects to his slightly more famous wife Joice NanKivell Loch. She was also an author but is mostly forgotten despite being Australia’s most decorated woman.
Nankivell Loch and her husband helped 15,000 Greeks escape Turkish persecution in the anarchic days of the 1920s. They were in Greece volunteering with Quaker Famine Relief worldwide amid a war where both sides indulged in ethnic cleansing. It was not Sydney Loch’s first encounter of the Turks as an enemy;, he served at Gallipoli as a runner for the Australian army before falling seriously ill. It was his remarkable tale of life at the front that made his name though no-one knew it at the time.
Loch was an Englishman who left his country because of unrequited love. The woman he loved was five years older than him and lived at his home in London. He was shocked when he found out she was having an affair with his father. He left the country in disgust and came to Australia. Loch eventually became a grazier in Gippsland. He signed up in 1914 and after months of training in the shadow of the Egyptian pyramids, he landed in Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. He survived four months before being wracked by typhoid fever which gave him polyneuritis. He almost died in hospital in Alexandria and was eventually shipped home to Melbourne.
It was during his long convalescence he wrote his memoir of the campaign which he published as the “The Straits Impregnable”. Loch wrote about the shortage of shells and the poor food. Death was matter-of-fact, life in the trenches was boring, and moving between was dangerous. No-one cared about the war.
Loch pulled no punches with his grim descriptions of how people lived and died in the trenches. Australian war censorship was among the strictest in the world, but remarkably Loch’s book avoided the censor’s wrath despite being a no-holds barred account of the war. The credit for its initial publication goes to publisher Harry Champion of Collins St, Melbourne. Champion immediate saw the manuscript as an important document to counteract the jingoism of war promoters to show the true horror of the battlefield.
As a memoir, Loch’s book was required to be submitted to military censors, a requirement laid down by the 1915 wartime Rules for Censors. A factual account could also run foul of the War Precautions Act which forbade material likely to discourage enlistment, already a hot topic as Prime Minister Billy Hughes considered conscription to boost troop numbers. Champion’s solution was to publish the book as a fictional novel. The author’s name was changed to Sydney de Loghe while the book’s main character was changed to “Lake”. Several other key dramatis personae were also thinly disguised. Brigadier-General Walker became General Runner, Colonel Johnston became Jackson, Adjutant Miles became Yards and war correspondent Captain Charles Bean became Captain Carrot.
The subterfuge was necessary because Gallipoli was such a fiasco. For months General Hamilton hid the poor progress and extent of the casualties and was determined the truth of the campaign would never reach the press. It wasn’t until English journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Australian Keith Murdoch got involved that Hamilton’s dirty secret got out. Murdoch carried Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter (which he re-wrote from memory after it was confiscated) to Cabinet minister in London and Hamilton was recalled in October. The campaign was soon called off and its most successful operation was its flawless withdrawal in December. By then there was half a million dead, roughly equal in number between Allied and Turkish forces.
As Collins predicted, Loch’s published work stunned the Australian public when it came out in June the following year. While the Anzac legend had already started by 1916, Australians had little access to the truth of what happened in the Turkish campaign. The Straits Impregnable was also critically acclaimed, among those was Melbourne reviewer Joice NanKivell who asked to meet the author. The book sold out in a couple of months and Champion wet his lips as he considered a second edition. It was here he made his major blunder.
Champion was at pains to point out the events of the book were real, for political reasons. Hughes had called for a referendum on conscription in October 1916. Universal military training for Australian men aged 18 to 60 had been compulsory since 1911. The referendums, if carried, would have extended this requirement to service overseas. The referendum, as was another in 1917, narrowly defeated after a bitter campaign. But that was too late for Champion, Loch and The Straits Impregnible.
Champion added a preliminary note on the first page of the second edition where no one could miss it. It read “This book written in Australia, Egypt and Gallipoli, is true”. Someone sent the book and its provocative preliminary note to Victoria’s military censor Major LF Armstrong. Armstrong was furious and demanded the book be withdrawn from sale. He also threatened Champion’s publishing house with legal action for breaching the War Precautions Act.
Champion didn’t give in straight away. He hired lawyer and friend Maurice Blackburn to negotiate with the censor’s office. Blackburn achieved a compromise; the book would be withdrawn but allowed to be published at a later date, if Loch writing as de Loghe would pen a series of pro-war articles and promote enlistment. Loch was in anguish over losing the revenue from the book but agreed to the compromise. The book was withdrawn and Loch worked on the pro-war articles. It over 12 months for Loch to summon the energy to write them and they were eventually published as a pamphlet called One Crowded Hour, A Call to Arms shortly before the war ended in 1918. It contains lines Loch must have hated writing: “You are mad, you men who will not go. There is no man in those armies who is not living at the top of his life.”
If this was of dubious literary merit, there was no doubting the calibre of The Impregnible Straits. Miles Franklin, a friend of Champion’s wife, saw it as an insight into the mindset of Australian soldiers and why they accepted the senselessness of Gallipoli without much complaint. She sold the British rights to Sir John Murray’s publishing house and they were published in 1917 with the provocative note included. Despite the parlous state of the war at the time, British censors did not take exception. Murray would establish a life-long friendship with Loch and NanKivell Loch and published their later adventures in Ireland, Russia and Quaker refugee camps in Greece.
In 1927, two successful books emerged that were critical of the war, Rupert Graves “Goodbye to all That” and Erich Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Murray tried to cash in with another edition of Loch’s book (still under the name of de Loghe). Murray wanted Loch to include a chapter on his adventures in the Russian-Polish and Greek-Turkish wars but he never got around to it. The project was eventually shelved by World War II.
In that war Loch and his wife rescued a thousand Jews in Bucharest and led Polish refugees to Cyprus and Palestine. They returned to Greece after the war and Loch died in 1954. Nankivell Loch died in 1982, aged 95. In 2006 a museum opened in their honour in Greece and it wasn’t until a year after that, that Loch’s book was rediscovered in Australia. Susanna and Jake de Vries included the book with a biography of Loch under the title To Hell and Back. After 91 years. the banned account of Gallipoli by Sydney Loch was finally out in the open in its home country.
The first European in the Maranoa was likely either Thomas Mitchell or his son Roderick in 1846 (though Finney Eldershaw claims he beat both Mitchells by four years in his journey of 1842).
Roderick Mitchell was the deputy Crown Commissioner for Lands in NSW who charted several branches of the Balonne River and may have got as far as the Bungil and Bungeworgorai Creeks. His journeys, and probably his maps, undoubtedly helped his father Sir Thomas Mitchell, then surveyor-general of NSW on his trip to the Maranoa in 1846. Sir Thomas Mitchell took the same route up the Darling River system into Queensland. He was the first person to describe Mt Abundance and the rich area around it. He called it the Fitz Roy Downs in honour of the then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Charles Fitz Roy.
It was no coincidence it was Mitchell followed his son, nor was there a coincidence about the man that followed Sir Thomas to become the first white settler of the Maranoa.
His name was Allan Macpherson.
Macpherson’s father William was the clerk of the NSW parliament and just as important as Mitchell. They were both from Scotland and good friends too. Mitchell was also fond of William’s son Allan, a determined and ambitious young man. Allan was an adventurer who ran cattle and sheep on his Keera property in the remote Gwydir district of northern NSW. While the hilly country reminded him of his native Scotland, it wasn’t profitable. Macpherson was captivated by Mitchell’s description of Mt Abundance as “champaign country” and was determined to claim it for himself.
Knowing that “first come first served” meant possession under British law, he set off north-west along the river system for the promised land in July 1847. Macpherson had more than just Mitchell’s maps, he had an armada of help: ten thousand sheep, hundreds of cattle, dozens of horses and drays and twenty men. The going was slow – they travelled just 60km in the first two weeks – but by the end of September his team was at the natural ford or “rocky bar” on the Balonne that Mitchell (senior) called St George’s Bridge because he arrived there on the saint’s day, April 23.
St George was not just the patron saint of England, it was also the last settled part of the English realm. Not a single white man or woman lived north of the bridge. MacPherson crossed his Rubicon but was forced to halt for lambing season. Leaving the sheep behind, he finally gazed on Mt Abundance on Friday, October 15, 1847. Macpherson found Mitchell had not exaggerated about the quality of the land. “A glorious prospect!” he enthused.
He claimed a farm 30km across from the Cogoon River (now Muckadilla Creek) in the west to Bungeworgorai Creek in the east. The sight of the first natives two weeks later scared his men witless. Macpherson shamed them as cowards and he spent the following months building huts, cattle and sheep yards and fencing. Macpherson built several outstations including a cattle station on the spot of what would later become Roma.
The distance to the port of Newcastle was forbidding and Macpherson hoped to find a closer route to Brisbane via the Darling Downs. Urgent farmwork tied him down at Mt Abundance and after Christmas he went back to Keera for more supplies and drays. In January 1848, Macpherson got caught up in what would be a formidable foe for all who would live in the area: summer floods. Macpherson was constantly wet and bogged in heavy and impassable country with swollen fast-moving creeks.
He eventually made it to Keera but his return to the Maranoa was also delayed by floods. It was again a fleeting visit as Keera and Sydney demanded his presence on urgent family business. It was on his third return to St George’s Bridge, Macpherson received the bad news Mt Abundance had been attacked.
Two men in outstations were speared to death and the rest were fleeing south.
Macpherson found them where the Cogoon met the Balonne but was able to convince only one of his men to accompany him back to Mt Abundance. The blacks were gone but there was a lot to be fixed. The experience redoubled his efforts to find a more direct route to the Darling Downs. The furthest he got was to a nearby station east of the Bungil owned by James Alexander Blythe.
Blythe was one of the earliest travellers to the Maranoa after Mitchell and had come back to establish a property between Roma and Wallumbilla. Macpherson was also fortunate to survive a skirmish with Aboriginals on his return home to Mt Abundance but his servant Charley was missing presumed dead.
By the end of 1848, Macpherson became convinced it was too unprofitable to run sheep due to “blacks, losses, native dogs and overcrowding.”
He turned Mt Abundance into a cattle property but the native attacks continued and three of his workers were speared in March 1849.After two more wool-carriers were killed, Macpherson and the new Commissioner of Crown Lands John Durbin patrolled the area with mounted troopers gathering the wool and taking it south. But Macpherson had had enough.
He went off to Scotland to get married and Mt Abundance remained an expensive and unprofitable out station. He sold it on his return “for a song”. As Macpherson said, “it was by no means the first pioneers that reaped the golden returns, but those who were prudent enough to follow in their wake.”
The great black boxer Peter Jackson never forgot his first defeat. Years later on his deathbed in Roma in Western Queensland, Jackson discussed the matter at great length with his doctor Guy L’Estrange. That loss to Bill Farnan in 1884 in Melbourne was Australia’s first heavyweight fight with gloves. Jackson was already a famous and feared fighter and expected to win, despite carrying a leg injury. But Farnan beat him in three rounds.
We don’t know what rundown Jackson gave L’Estrange about the Farnan fight on his deathbed in 1901, tragically aged just 40. But there is evidence foul play was involved. In in its eulogy for Jackson, the boxing magazine The Referee published the suggestion Jackson was nobbled in the fight and had been “given a dose”.
Despite, or perhaps because of this grievance, the loss spurred Jackson onto greater things. Born in Christiansted on the island of St Croix in what was then the Danish West Indies (and is now the American Virgin Islands) in 1861, this black kid from the Caribbean found himself in the strange world of Sydney aged 16 and standing six feet tall. He was gentle and easy going and didn’t like a fight. But his weakness for food led him to Larry Foley’s Hotel. Larry Foley was one of Australia’s first boxing champions who was undefeated at bare-knuckle fighting. He liked the look of Jackson and tried him out in the back shed. Foley gave Jackson a job and the training he needed in ringcraft.
Jackson became as good as his mentor in bare-knuckle and would sometimes fight with his right arm bound. Four months after the Farnan loss, the pair held a rematch. The bout was indecisive with police stopping the fight in the sixth round after spectators stormed the ring. Farnan retained his title by default but lost it to Tom Lees two years later in 1886. Jackson beat Lees later that year to take the title. Foley gave him a special belt to celebrate the win, now in the possession of a Sydney based collector.
Having conquered Australia, Jackson went off to take on the best in the world in America. He arrived in 1888 and started with an 18 round victory over Black Canadian George Godfrey. Godfrey had previously tried to fight John L Sullivan but after Sullivan became world champion, he refused to fight black boxers. Jackson would run into the same problem with Sullivan – he would not “lower himself to fight a nigger” – and Jackson left frustrated for England.
Jackson chalked up two years of victories in England and returned to the US hoping to get another chance to take on the champion. But Sullivan still would not get in the ring with a black man and turned Jackson down. Instead, Jackson fought Sullivan’s main contender, Gentleman Jim Corbett. Jackson was five years Corbett’s senior and was ill for ten days before the fight in May 1891 and had a sprained ankle. Yet Jackson and Corbett slogged it out for 61 rounds for an energy sapping draw with most observers saying Corbett had the worst of it.
Though Corbett would later go on to defeat Sullivan and become world champion, it was the Jackson fight he remembered best in the biography The Roar of the Crowd. “That night I thought Peter Jackson was a great fighter. Six months later still tired from the fight, I thought him a greater one. I still maintain he was the greatest fighter I have ever seen.”
But Jackson would never lift the world crown. After the Corbett draw he went back to England and defeated the snarling Australian-Irish fighter Paddy Slavin to lift the British and Commonwealth titles in a difficult bout. The pair had bad blood since Sydney days and they still hated each other intensely. In the eighth round Slavin broke Jackson’s rib and a splinter punctured a lung. In intense pain, Jackson seemed beaten but rallied in the tenth to take control of the fight and pounded Slavin to pieces. The referee insisted the fight continue until Slavin was knocked out but the damage was fatal to Jackson.
The punctured lung never repaired and Jackson went on a downhill spiral. He was forced to appear in vaudeville, giving boxing exhibitions in circuses and as Jeff Rickert and Raymond Evans said about him in “Radical Brisbane: An Unruly History”, acting as a grey-wigged Uncle Tom in stage performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Suffering from tuberculosis, his last fight was against the powerful Jim Jeffries in 1898 and Jeffries knocked him out in five rounds.
Though Jackson always retained Danish citizenship, it was to Australia he returned in 1899, his career in ruins. He trained fighters in Sydney for a time but his TB worsened. On the advice of doctors, he retired to the dry heat of Roma, a shadow of the giant he once was. He died on July 13, 1901 at Argyle Cottage a privately run sanatorium which was later demolished to make way for the southern end of Roma’s airstrip. Dr L’Estrange put the cause of death of the “retired pugilist” as pulmonary phthisis exhaustion.
Jackson was due to be buried at Roma but there was a last minute change of plan. Another black West Indian boxer, Jack Dowridge from Barbados, who fought under the label of the Black Diamond, sent a telegram asking for the body to be sent by train to Brisbane. Jackson’s casket was escorted to Roma Railway Station by a band with a procession of sporting bodies and dignatories. In Brisbane, the procession went from Dowridge’s Hotel to Toowong Cemetery where he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Dowridge, with the help of several journalists and Jackson’s former coach Foley began to raise funds for a Jackson memorial. After a public subscription, Sydney mason Lewis Page carved a dazzling white Carrara marble monument over Jackson’s grave with an image that looks nothing like Jackson. The inscription repeats what Shakespeare’s Antony said about Julius Caesar “This was a man”.
But the best tribute was paid by Jack Johnson, an uppity black boxer from Galveston, Texas who achieved what was denied Jackson. On Boxing Day 1908, a white Australian crowd in Sydney was stunned when he defeated Canadian Tommy Burns to become the world’s first black heavyweight champion. A few weeks later he went to Brisbane and Dowridge took him to visit Jackson’s grave in Toowong. A.E. Austin of the Brisbane Courier said the living champion spent a quiet few moments in silent contemplation at the grave of his brother-in-arms. “It was an impressive sight to see the living gladiator kneeling for a moment over the tomb of he who was Australia’s fistic idol”, Austin wrote.
Tucked away at the bottom end of the Sahara, Timbuktu has long been the perfect metaphor for a mythological exotic other. In 1510 Moorish author Leo Africanus described Timbuktu’s fabulous wealth during a visit of the city, during the height of the Songhai Empire – one of the largest Islamic kingdoms in history. In his The History and Description of Africa, Africanus described the ritual in the court in Timbuktu as “exact and magnificent”. Its wealth came from its position as the southern terminus of a key trans-Saharan trade route. Merchants sold slaves and bought gold and the city was far enough away from everywhere to maintain autonomy and power. Some 333 Sufi saints are said to be buried in tombs and mausoleums across the city.
The issue of slavery doesn’t seem like an important topic to be discussing the 21st century but it is still a real issue in many parts of the world, including Australia. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon recognised the fact this week when she announced new laws to criminalise forced marriage, forced labour and organ trafficking. Roxon said Australia wasn’t immune from slavery and people trafficking. The new bill tackles worker exploitation, ensures those who help to enslave or traffic can be charged as well as those who keep slaves and allows for reparations with up to 12 years in prison for forced labour charges.
American-based British historian Simon Schama addressed the subject in his blood Rough Crossings: Britain, Slaves and the American Revolution. The book tells the story of black Americans who sided with the British in the War of Independence because King George III embodied the idea of freedom for them better than George Washington. The framers of the new American constitution had a bold plan for taxation and representation but behind the rhetoric of freedom, the reality of slavery was their Achilles heels. Tens of thousands of Black Africans looked to Britain to deliver them from the slavery. When Boston lawyer James Otis called out the contradiction and said slavery diminished the idea of American freedom, Founding Father John Adams could only “shudder at the consequences of such premises.”
The fact was the trade in humans kept the American cotton industry in profit and this was something the southern colonies were not to give away lightly. Slave rebellions in the sugar islands of the Caribbean created a terror the cotton economy was next and thousands of white Americans signed up for the revolt to protect their livelihood.
But Britain was a dubious saviour for the blacks. Slavery was still legal in the British Empire and repeated attempts in parliament to ban it were always rejected on the economic grounds it would give bitter enemy France too much of an advantage in the Caribbean sugar trade. The notorious case of the slave ship the Zong where the captain threw 122 sick slaves overboard to get £30 a head compensation for their loss at sea spurred campaigners such as Granville Sharp (a founding father of Sierra Leone) and Thomas Clarkson to lobby for change. But even when revolutionary France rejected slavery (Napoleon re-established it in 1802), a suspicious British parliament would not immediately follow suit.
It wasn’t until 1807 the slave trade was made illegal in Britain and also in the US. But the economic benefits of the institution of slavery continued in both countries until Britain made it illegal in the Empire in 1834. The internal contradictions of the US system were brilliantly exposed by 28-year-old runaway slave Frederick Douglass who wowed Britain when he toured in 1846. The articulate, witty, handsome and charismatic Douglass gave a dramatic account of cruelty in the plantations and lived constantly under the fear of re-capture. The book on his life was an immediate best seller.
I sent one of my journalists to catch up with the Governor at the meet-up of Roma flood victims and I later met her at the art opening. She spoke at length at the opening and well used to boring speeches I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised then by a touching, humorous and well considered speech that I know she spent considerable effort researching and putting together.
Governor Wensley noted that Roma was celebrating its sesquicentenary this year. Founded on the sight of three pubs in 1862, it is 150 years old later this year. It was one of the first towns to be gazetted after Queensland separated from NSW and the town gained its name from the wife of Queensland’s First Governor Lady Diamantina Bowen (nee Roma). And it was clear from Governor Wensley’s speech it was Bowen’s wife she identified most with, not Queensland’s First Governor.
The young Contessa Diamantina di Roma was born on the Greek Ionian island of Zante near Corfu in 1833. Corfu had briefly passed through French hands during the Napoleonic era but was ruled by Britain by the time of Roma’s birth. Her aristocratic Venetian family ruled Corfu in the name of Britain. Her mother was Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo and her father Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma was president of the Ionian Senate and known to Queen Victoria who appointed him a poet laureate.
George Ferguson Bowen was a protestant Irishman educated at Oxford and briefly in the Navy. He was appointed chief secretary to the government of the Ionian Islands in 1854 where he mixed in the same circles as Diamantina. They married in April 1856 and they stayed on Corfu until 1859. It was that year that Queensland broke free from NSW and Bowen was called by his country to serve as first Governor. Lady Bowen was about to head to unfamiliar territory but made immediately welcome by 4000 people on the docks of Brisbane waving British and Greek flags.
Following their arrival, the colony of Queensland was officially declared on Saturday, 10 December 1859. Two days later there was a function for the new Governor and his wife at the Botanic Gardens. Bowen would remain Governor of Queensland for eight years, an interventionist Governor who was sometimes popular and sometimes unpopular. He had debts to deal with after NSW closed down all its Queensland bank accounts and he had to create a civil service from scratch. It didn’t help his politicians were naive. Robert Herbert was just 28 when he became Queensland’s first premier and had arrived here as Bowen’s private secretary.
But Queensland would thrive as would the Bowens. Without the demands of office, Roma was extremely popular. Governor Wensley said despite her privileged upbringing in Greece, Lady Bowen loved the very different landscape of Queensland. She felt instantly at home in the climate and brought a sense of nobility and grace lacking in the young rough and tumble colony. Three of her six children were born in Brisbane. She was active in social welfare and became patron of many charitable societies. Her daughter, also Diamantina, would marry a Queensland grazier. Bowen and his wife would later serve in New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius and Hong Kong before retiring to Britain.
There were 23 more governors of Queensland that followed Bowen before Wensley took over in July 2008. A former distinguished diplomat she was appointed to the position after her predecessor Quentin Bryce became Governor-General of Australia. Penelope Wensley was a country girl born in Toowoomba in 1946. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1968 – the only woman selected in an intake of 19.
Wensley has a stellar diplomatic career at postings across the world including following in Bowen’s footsteps as Consul-General in Hong Kong. She was involved in putting together the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to combat Drought and Desertification. She is keenly interested humanitarian and human rights issues, women’s rights, and environmental and sustainable development. When she told Roma and Mitchell flood victims this weekend she would act as an advocate for them with the new State Government, it was difficult not to believe her.
Byrne lived 21 of those 22 years in Tyrone, born as he was of unexceptionable stock. The local gossips said the reason for his height was his parents had a love affair on top of a huge haystack and this lofty situation affected conception. Yet although acknowledged as a freak of nature, he wasn’t generally treated as one. As Australian historian Patrick O’Farrell noted, the Irish look at everyone on their merits. Writing about the Irish in Australia, O’Farrell noted that because they never tried to paternalise their relationship with Aborigines they never looked down on them as the WASPs did and instead treated them as equals. Byrne left Tyrone not ashamed of his freakdom but wanting to exploit it. His parents knew he could better capitalise on his status elsewhere. His exceptional size had attracted a nearby carpetbagger named Joe Vance from Coagh.
Vance wanted to astound Europe with Byrne. The pair arrived in London in 1782, and Byrne transfixed the capital as Vance’s creation “the Irish Giant”. He took a room next door to the fabled Cox’s Museum at Charing Cross. The choice was not accidental. James Cox was a jeweller and toy maker who exported luxury European items to the Far East. When China suddenly banned his goods, he turned his unsaleable cargo of exotic clocks, watches and earrings into a museum of “automata” which opened in 1772. This museum became known for its extravagant assemblage and quickly became “a seductive metaphor and a compelling stage for debating the troublesome issues of political and economic stability.”
While Cox had sold up by the time Byrne moved to London, his museum retained an aura that Vance knew he could capitalise on. Byrne entertained audiences next door for seven hours a day, six days a week. His gracious airs made him the talk of the town. Within a few weeks, Byrne was entertaining the Royal Family, members of the nobility and his baffling condition was examined by the Royal Society. When a fellow freak, Count Joseph Boruwlawski known as the “Polish Dwarf” met Byrne in London, their surprise was equal. As Boruwlawski remembered, Byrne was a moment speechless, “viewing me with looks of astonishment; then stooping very low to present me his hand, which easily have contained a dozen like mine, he made a very polite compliment. Had a painter been present, the contrast of our figures might have suggested to him the idea of an interesting picture; for having come very near him, the better to show the difference, it appeared that his knee was nearly upon level with the top of my head.”
Flushed with success, Byrne moved to Piccadilly where he continued to work six days a week (Sundays excepted). Admittance for ladies and gentlemen was 2s. 6d, children and “servants in livery” had to fork out a shilling. This was expensive and Vance and Byrne grew wealthy on the profits. By early 1783 the fickle public were tiring of the Irish Giant. News of his success drew other tall men to London including the Gigantic Twin Knipe brothers who were born only five miles away from Byrne in Tyrone. Another Irishman was advertised as a giant “upwards of Four Inches taller than the noted Burn.” Byrne’s problems were compounded by his love of gin and whiskey. He was frequently drunk on stage and many performances had to be cancelled. Vance was forced to drop the price to a shilling for all but Byrne’s dissolution continued.
On 23 April 1783 Byrne fell asleep in a “lunar ramble” at the Black Horse public house and someone stole £700 from his pockets – his entire savings. Devastated, he redoubled his drinking and contracted tuberculosis. He deteriorated badly in May and died on 1 June 1783. In his final days his biggest fear was not death but the surgeons’ thirst for his body. His Irish Catholic upbringing gave him a horror of the coroner’s knife which he believed could deny his soul a place in heaven on Judgement Day.
One man in particular had no time for Byrne’s scruples on the matter. That was John Hunter, Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III. Hunter was a pivotal influence on modern surgery and had dissected thousands of cadavers he got from “resurrection men” – professional grave robbers. From the moment Hunter set eyes on Byrne he coveted his body for science. Byrne was aware of Hunter’s ambition and strove to thwart it in his dying days. His instructions were that his coffin should be guarded by Irish friends who would arrange to bury him at sea. Byrne scraped the last of his savings to the undertaker whom he entrusted to carry out the plan.
Hunter meanwhile was determined not to lose out. He employed a man named Howison to watch Byrne’s whereabouts at all times from a next door apartment. When Byrne died, a newspaper reported he wanted his bones “far out of the reach of the chirurgical fraternity”. But chirurgeons were not put off and there were an arms race of demands made for the body. One reportedly offered a ransom of 800 guineas to the undertakers. The offer was turned down but the promoters got one last meal ticket out of Byrne as they displayed his enormous coffin for one shilling entry. Then on 6 June, the body was taken aboard a ship to Margate where it would be sunk in “20 fathoms of water” in the English Channel. At Margate another boat was chartered and the coffin was tipped into the sea.
But Byrne’s body was no longer in it. The Annual Register for 1873 said the sea burial report was “merely a tub thrown out to the whale.” While the whales had the tub, Hunter had the body. When Byrne died, next door Howison immediately told his paymaster. Hunter successfully bribed the undertaker for £500 who switched the body with paving stones while the oblivious funeral party was drunk. Hunter took the corpse back to his surgery but became terrified of the revenge of Byrne’s friends if they found out. He chopped up the body and boiled the pieces so only the bones were left. In his haste, the skeleton was discoloured brown. Hunter’s failure to conduct an autopsy ruined any immediate hope of diagnosing the condition. He then hid the huge skeleton for four years until Byrne’s name was forgotten.
Hunter got his way but the fight continues between his legacy and Byrne’s modern day relatives anxious to carry out the dying wish. One of those relatives, Brendan Holland said Byrne’s body has been on display for 200 years and it was time for him to receive a proper burial. “He was quite a celebrity and he made a lot of money out of exhibiting himself,” Holland said. “It’s the person within that’s important. It’s very unfortunate that he didn’t live long enough to understand that.” His enthusiasm for a sea burial is not shared by the Hunterian’s current director Sam Alberti. Alberti was reluctant to hand over his star attraction saying “researchers were excited about the potential for future research.”
But the British Medical Journal agrees with the family Byrne has done his time and should be buried at sea. Fellow Northern Irishman and researcher at the school of law at Queen’s University Belfast, Thomas Muinzer wrote in the Journal it was time to respect his memory and reputation. “What has been done cannot be undone but it can be morally rectified,” Muinzer wrote. Mr Muinzer added there was nothing of any more use that could be deduced scientifically from Byrne’s bones. “We have now a full record of Byrne’s DNA and we also have numerous examinations of the skeleton,” he wrote. “With burial law, when you or I stipulate burial wishes in life, we rely on those wishes to be respected. Those wishes don’t have legal force, they have moral force.”
The moment of silence at the ceremony was marked just before 8am when the first Japanese planes launched their attack. Tuesday, 7 December 1941 would become a day that would “live in infamy” as Roosevelt predictedwhen he responded to the attack. In two hours, 2,400 people would be killed, 1,200 wounded (a shocking discrepancy between the dead and wounded) 20 ships sunk and 164 planes destroyed. Yet the infamy FDR spoke about was not the death toll but the fact the Japanese had lied to the US Government and attacked 30 minutes before they declared war.The cause of Pearl Harbor, as so much of the 20th century’s conflict was oil. Expansionist Japan was reliant on US petroleum to fire its economy but knew the time would come when the alarmist Americans would turn off the tap. The US took a dim view of the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the subsequent war with China. Modern China retains so much bitterness about that war it still refuses to call the area Manchuria because it might legitimise Japanese claims. Instead it just called “North East China”.
From their puppet base in Manchukuo, belligerent Japan declared all out war on China in 1937. Relations with the US deteriorated with the USS Panay Incident in 1937 when the Japanese sunk an American ship in Nangking and then the Allison Incident where US consul to Nangking John Moore Allison was struck in the face by a Japanese soldier. Japan said sorry for both incidents claiming it did not see the American flags on the Panay. It did not offer an excuse for Allison but bowed to US demands for an apology.
Yet economic self-interest ensured the US kept supplying oil to Japan until 1941. It wasn’t until July that year they finally placed an embargo as did Britain. Crucially so did Dutch two months later, breaking an existing treaty with Japan and ending the possible supply line of Javanese oil which had supplied 15% of Japanese crude. The embargo put a critical constraint on the conduct of the long-running war in China. Japan was the sixth largest importer of oil in the world. If Japan wanted to resume bombing Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong’s armies, it would have to grab oil for itself and the East Indies was the easiest target.
While Pearl Harbor was a shock, the war between US and Japan was no great surprise. A majority of Americans expected war in Asia especially in the Philippines which held many strategic American interests. But Japan had other ideas. It was well aware it could not cope with planned American expansion of the Navy. The 1940 Two-Ocean Navy Act (sponsored by two Democrats Carl Vinson of Georgia and David Walsh of Massachusetts) planned to expand the size of the US Navy by 70%. Japan could never match this so struck a blow early before the Vinson-Walsh ships came off the assembly line.
An attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese believed, would also neutralise the existing Pacific Fleet to give Japan free reign to take Jakarta. Then the Americans would sue for a peace profitable to Japan. That this was flawed thinking is obvious in retrospect as was their complete failure to work out how the US would respond. Yet as a plan it no woollier than the thinking that led to another oil war while the execution was just as striking.
The 1941 attack was led by submarines. Five midget submarines came within 20km of the coast and launched their charges at 1am. At least four of them were sunk. Then the planes struck. There were almost 200 of them in the first group. A second wave of 170 flew closely behind. They were picked up by newly established radar on the northern tip of Oahu but misdiagnosed as a returning US crew and its immense size was not passed on to headquarters. At 7.48am they arrived at Pearl Harbor. The immediate target of the first wave was the battleships.
Japan believed that by targeting the battleships they would remove the biggest status symbols from the Navy. While they succeeded, they badly misread the importance of the technology. The sinking of one battleship the USS Arizona caused half the death toll on the day. Ten torpedo bombers attacked the ship. After one bomb detonated in the Arizona’s ammunition magazine, she went up in a deafening explosion. 1,117 of the 1,400 crew were killed instantly and the fire took two days to put out.
The second wave had various targets including hangars, aircraft, carriers and cruisers. After 90 devastating minutes, half the planes on Oahu were destroyed. A planned third wave to knock out Pearl Harbor’s remaining infrastructure was called off which Admiral Chester Nimitz admitted could have postponed US operations for another year. But Japanese Admiral Chuichi Nagumo refused because of likely casualties and a need for night-time operations.
Despite this lapse, the Japanese did not rest on their success. Hong Kong was attacked a day later as were US territories Guam and Wake Island. The Philippines, a commonwealth of the US at the time, was also invaded on 8 December. The same day Japanese troops made an amphibious landing at Kota Bharu in north-eastern Malaya, and six points along the south-east Thailand, an invasion ended by an armistice which allowed Japan to use Thailand as a base to attack Malaya. Malaya had rubber and was the obvious dropping off point to access Dutch oil in soon-to-be Indonesia.
Only the US, Iran and Romania exported more oil than the East Indies but the profits went to Amsterdam and Royal Dutch Shell not Jakarta. Borneo was another victim of the 8 December attacks threatening the oilfields of Kalimantan. The rest of the island archipelago quickly fell and would remain in Japanese hands until 1945 while the war was fought elsewhere. The three aircraft carriers that called Pearl Harbor base were out at sea during the attack and the elimination of its battleships gave the US no choice but to put the fate of the war in its carriers.
While the Europe First policy slowed down the Pacific Conflict it was almost over as soon as it began. A wrathful America armed with its new Navy and massive fighting capacity was never going to forgive Japan’s treachery. By July 1942, America sunk four of Japan’s own carriers at Midway and needed their Indonesian oil, fierce military pride, deadly code of honour and incessant pro-war propaganda to keep the insanity going for another three years.
Neither of Beetson’s parents came from Roma. His mother Marie came from Cherbourg Mission, the Aboriginal reserve settlement near Murgon in Queensland’s Lower Burnett. She was a member of the Stolen Generation. Marie fled Cherbourg and she and husband settled in Roma in the 1940s. This was a difficult time for Aboriginals in western Queensland.Some of the smaller towns around Roma still had “yumbas” well after the war. “Yumba” was a Murri word for camp and has provided the name of several Australian towns such as Yamba, NSW and Yaamba, Qld. White people steered clear of these camps while the Aboriginals were barred from the pubs and shops. As a white women growing up in Mitchell remembers, the only place the two communities would meet would be on the footy field. The yumbas were razed to the ground and the Aboriginals relocated in town. Roma was a bit different. It had a camp but it had been demolished as early as World War I. As a result Indigenous people were more common in town, though still fringe dwellers. The Beetsons lived in a small house on the Bungil Creek. Artie was born in January 1945 just as the world began to look beyond the tyrannies of Hitler and Japan. Artie got the rudiments of an education at the local state school and left aged 12 or 13.He played first grade league in Roma for Cities until he was 19. Cities team mate John Vickery remembers Beetson didn’t much like training but he was a natural. “He was so strong; he would have three or four defenders on him and he would still get away.” But there were other qualities Vickery also recalls, qualities that made the man as much as the player. “He was down-to-earth and humorous –he loved his jokes but when he was on the field he stuck to his game.”Another team mate John Ashburn remembered him as a deserved accolade of a game Immortal in 2003. “Artie had terrific ball skills and could unload a pass to anyone.”
Ashburn said both of Beetson’s parents were well known around town and he was always proud to say he was from Roma. In 1962, aged 17 he played for Roma against Charleville and was “tickled pink” to be selected. On the way down he watched as a team mate got plastered and learned the drinking culture. He transferred to Redcliffe in 1964 aged 19 and said the training regime was not like today. “If it rained we played cards and drank a keg,” he said. “It rained a lot in Redcliffe.”
Between the showers, Beetson helped them win the Brisbane premiership. For once Beetson played in the forwards as the Dolphins beat Valleys 15-7 to take the 1965 premiership over the Hornibrook Bridge for the first time ever. They would not win again until 1994, 29 years later. Before their losing final in 1987, their general manager Don McLennon reminisced on the Beetson win. “Arthur played the majority of his football as a centre in his two seasons with us,” he said. “He was a huge manager and it was a masterstroke of Henry (Holloway, the captain-coach) to switch him to the forwards.”
It was clear he was too good for Queensland and moved to Balmain Tigers in 1966 aged 21, getting to the grand final in his first season. As Beetson recalled, the season ended in bitter disappointment after a stunning start. “We won our first 10 games and beat the Englishmen – the only club side to do it.” The season fell apart after Balmain hooker Dick Wilson negotiated a bet for a friend on Newtown to beat his own side. Wilson was expelled after Newtown won, though Beetson claimed Wilson made no money out of it. When the reserve hooker broke a collar bone in the semi-final, it left them in trouble for the final against St George. St George had won the last 10 premierships and Balmain with young Artie – picked in all three Australian international games that year – were fancied by some to slay the dragons despite losing to them in the semi.
But it was a one-sided final with St George thrashing Balmain 23-4. 1967 was a “disaster” according to Beetson with Balmain missed out on the finals a year and Beetson missing out on a Kangaroo tour. In the off-season of 1968 Beetson moved to England to play for Hull Kingston Rovers. Beetson’s second game would be one he’d never forget. It was the derby against local rivals Hull to be played at 11am on Christmas Day. Fellow Australian Jim Hull and Artie slept in after a skinful the night before and when they arrived at the ground, two substitutes were ready to start. The pair dressed hurriedly and for the first time in his career Beetson didn’t strap his ankles.
“I made a break down the sideline and the winger tried to tackle me high,” he said. “I pushed him down and he wrapped his legs around mine just as two other Hull players came over the top.” Beetson went down like a sack of potatoes, crying in agony. Beetson was in pain for months and considered giving the game away. But back at Balmain for the new season he “worked his way” back into the game.
Balmain won the premiership in 1969 but Beetson had to watch from the sidelines. He was sent off in the finals and suspended for two matches. People kept telling him he got them there and he won a premiership blazer but he said it was a terrible disappointment. In 1970 Beetson had his nose broken in the first test match against Britain and smashed again in the second. “It rearranged my face putting my nose over my left ear,” he said. Beetson also parted company with Balmain when they refused his request for $2500 sign-on fee, normal match payments and $150 a win. When Dennis Tutty won a court case in 1971 against the transfer system, Balmain hastily sold Beetson for $15,000 to avoid him walking out for nothing.
“I thought no one would pay that but then Easts stepped in,” he said. The change of club helped him tame an eating problem and trim his weight. He thrived under the coaching of Don Furner and Jack Gibson and was a regular in internationals winning the world championship in 1975 and premierships in 1974 and 1975. When Gibson left Easts in 1977, Beetson became captain coach but had only moderate success. He switched to Parramatta in 1979 where he finally got a chance to play for his beloved Queensland.
NSW had played Queensland many times in the 1970s but the more powerful Sydney league was too good for Brisbane league and Queensland lost 15 times in a row. In 1980, a new concept was tried called State of Origin and it allowed Queensland to choose seven players playing in Sydney to represent the state. Parramatta’s Beetson was the captain. 28,000 turned up to Lang Park to see Queensland upset the favourites to win 20-10. It was Beetson’s only game for the Maroons. Beetson returned to Redcliffe in 1981 and coached them to a grand final defeat. He was to be captain coach of the Maroons that year but had to withdraw with injury hours before the game. Without him Queensland won again and a new tradition was born.
It became a tri-series in 1982 with Beetson as Qld coach and they won 2-1. It was the same in 1983 and 84 before Beetson stood down. He coached Easts to a 1987 finals defeat to upcoming Canberra Raiders. He returned to State of Origin in 1988 coaching Lewis, Meninga, Belcher, Vautin and Miles and whitewashed the Blues coached by old mentor Jack Gibson. “The side that year was as near to perfect,” Beetson said. Gibson gained revenge with a 1989 win and Queensland sacked Artie. After a stint as commentator, he returned as Cronulla coach. He could not win a premiership for the Sharks and in 1993 he bowed out of coaching. His “cloth cap” image did not suit a game that was soon to go into the Super League era.
Beetson returned to his mother’s home town of Cherbourg after his playing days were over to offer support to the Indigenous population. Then principal Chris Sarra remembers his visit to ABC reporter John Taylor, “he gave so much back, particularly to young Aboriginal children,” Sarra said. “The kids were so excited, even though they didn’t quite understand how legendary he was. I got a sense that we were in the presence of almost royalty on that occasion.” As Taylor concluded, the thing Beetson enjoyed most was being there at a country game, watching the footy,
“Just a game of footy on a bush oval on an afternoon,” Taylor said.
“I think that was Arthur’s idea of the best of times.” He would be the best player to emerge from Roma until Darren Lockyer followed in his footsteps in the 1990s.
Expect a deluge of commemoration in April next year for the 100th year anniversary of the sinking. 1502 people died in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912 when Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage. It was the worst disaster at sea ever and it remains among the top peacetime sinking today behind only the Filipino Dona Paz (1987) and the Senegalese La Joola (2002) disasters.
Neither of these Third World tragedies have a cultural affinity in the west worthy of a Hollywood movie. Similarly unknown is the worst marine disaster ever the Nazi ship Wilhelm Gustloff which was torpedoed by a Russian submarine in 1945 for a loss of 7,000 lives. What too about the unheralded British Troopship Lancastria which sunk in 1940 for the loss of over 3,000 lives but whose official record has been classified until 2040 possibly because the captain ignored maximum loading capacity instructions?
The Lancastria is a mystery but the Titanic has become a myth. The reason it sank is for reasons familiar today: the law not keeping up with communication, technology and corporate greed. While fitted with wireless, it was unregulated and not unknown for rival companies to jam each other. Meanwhile the law the Titanic was sailing under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. The relevant section about the number of life-boats, life-jackets, life-rafts and life-buoys on British ships was a matter delegated to the Board of Trade “according to the class in which they are arranged”. The Board, guided by ship owners, judged the number of lifeboats to be a function of tonnage not of total passengers. By law Titanic needed to have a lifeboat capacity for 1060 people but carried 20 lifeboats, enough for 1178 people including all of first class. She could carry three times that many people.
The last time the Board had regulated on the matter was 1896. At the time the law was passed, the largest ship afloat was the 12,950 ton vessel RMS Lucania. Identical in dimensions and specifications to Cunard sister ship RMS Campania, the Lucania was the joint largest passenger liner afloat when she entered service in 1893. But the Germans outstripped the Cunard ships with the 14,400 ton Norddeutsche Lloyd vessel Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in 1897, and further ruffled British feathers by winning the Blue Riband for the record speed in an Atlantic crossing averaging 22.3 knots, half a knot faster than Lucania.
White Star line then seriously upped the ante with vessels such as the Oceanic (1899), Celtic (1901), Baltic (1905) and Olympic (1911) trebling the tonnage. A year later their Titanic weighed in at a new record 46,329 tons, almost four times as heavy as the law aimed for Lucania. White Star’s ships were built for comfort and style not speed. Cunard continued to dominate the Blue Riband, despite their smaller ships. White Star was cutting corners of a different kind.
In 1912 White Star was owned by the International Mercantile Marine company owned by monopolist J.P. Morgan. At the time, IMM was overleveraged and suffered from inadequate cash flow that would eventually cause it to default on bond interest payments in 1914. At the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster Sir Alfred Chalmers of the Board of Trade was asked about the lifeboat regulations. Sir Alfred made a strange claim.
He said if there were fewer lifeboats on Titanic then more people would have been saved. He said if there had been fewer lifeboats then more people would have realised the danger and rushed to the boats filling more to capacity. This claim has superficial validity as in theory the lifeboats could have saved 1,187 but only 710 survived. But then he gave the real reasons: The latest boats were stronger than ever and had watertight compartments making them unlikely to require any lifeboats, sea routes used were well-travelled meaning that the likelihood of a collision was minimal, the availability of wireless technology, the difficulties of loading more than 16 boats, and ultimately it was a matter for the ship owners.
Those owners were well served by the highest ranking surviving officer Second Mate Lightoller – the hero of A Night to Remember. Lightoller somehow guided his upturned boat through four hours of increasingly choppy seas to safety. In his testimony to the London Board of Inquiry said it was “very necessary to keep one’s hand on the whitewash brush”. That meant giving careful answers to sharp questions “if one was to avoid a pitfall, carefully and subtly dug, leading to a pinning down of blame on to someone’s luckless shoulders.” His job was to defend the work of the Board of Trade and White Star Lines and he succeeded admirably.
But his testimony did force a change of the rules. Lightoller himself admitted the pendulum had swung “to the other extreme and the margin of safety reached the ridiculous.” But then he would remember the “long drawn out battle of wits, where it seemed that I must hold that unenviable position of whipping boy to the whole lot of them.” The only other thing that bothered him was that White Star never thanked the whipping boy. Perhaps they had others things on their mind. Although the Line survived the tragedy, both IMM and Morgan went under – just like their most famous ship.