Friday, March 17, 2017

Ellen Kelly, mother of Ned

(It wasn't intentional that this review of this new biography should be posted on St Patrick's Day although, given its subject matter, it couldn't be more appropriate. I have also decided to post it here rather than on my regular book review page because Mrs Kelly probably carried more buckets for men in her lifetime than anyone today could possibly imagine and for that alone she deserves acknowledgement and respect.)

Mrs Kelly - The astonishing life of Ned Kelly's Mother 

Harper Collins


The taglines on the back cover are succinct: 
"Ellen Kelly. Wife of a convict. Mother to outlaws. Witness to history".
The book, however, is anything but, a hefty hardback of 616 pages and unless readers have strong wrists, I'd recommend waiting for the paperback version or read it on a Kindle.

Gather together a group of diverse Australians to discuss whether bushranger Ned Kelly was a folk hero or just a sadistic criminal and you are very likely to end up with a heated argument as most people tend to see him firmly in one light or the other.

Ellen King, formerly Kelly (nee Quinn), the woman who gave him life, also has a prismatic quality about her. She'd come from extreme poverty and violence in Ireland only to face the same, if not worse, in Australia. Said to be a fearless horsewoman who could ride like the wind, she was full of Irish passion and fiercely loyal to her own kith and kin. During her lifetime of 91 years, she was witness to Australia's transition from a collection of convict colonies into a modern nation, living long enough to witness planes flying overhead and motor vehicles hurtling along what would become the Hume Highway, the main road between Melbourne and Sydney. 

In spite of its title, this epic work isn't all about Ellen and for most of its length includes an almost day-by-day journalistic account of Ned Kelly's spurious activities from an early age plus those of his extensive relatives, friends and enemies, as well as a sundry assortment of shop-keepers, bank managers, politicians, law-makers and law-breakers. There are passages of fictional dialogue and occasionally some truly spectacular purple prose, e.g. this description of Ned when thwarted in Jerilderie:
"The veins in his head are like angry snakes writhing about. His eyes are the colour of rubies and rolling around liked loaded dice."
Ellen lingers in the background, mostly a conduit for all these comings and goings, with her roughly-built cottage being the transit point for events all while she was busy putting up with drunken husbands or lovers, having babies in rapid succession, trying to scratch a living from stubborn earth, keep food on the table and some semblance of order with the squabbling family, lawlessness and general chaos around her. She was blamed for hitting Alexander Fitzpatrick, a policeman, over the head with a shovel for which she was sent to gaol. This was the trigger for Ned's rage at Stringybark Creek and which led to his eventual downfall in the famous iron-clad shoot-out at Glenrowan.

These latter exploits have been written about so many times before that only a die-hard Kelly enthusiast would want to wallow through them in any depth. I must admit to speed-reading a lot of this, my main interest being in trying to get to grips with Ellen herself if at all possible.  There are attempts to show us what Ellen might have been thinking in certain situations, particularly when she was working in the laundry at the Melbourne Gaol as her son swung from the gallows a few feet away, but she remains elusive.

While I am most certainly not of the opinion that only male authors should write about men, female ones about women, sometimes a woman's own personal experiences can help in writing about another woman's journey. I particularly wanted to know how Ellen, already a grandmother at aged 46 and arrested just three days after the difficult birth of her own 12th child, coped with imprisonment and removal from her other children. Those first few days after birth are never easy, let alone the round-the-clock demands of an infant. In a prison where you might be allowed to wash yourself once a week, how did you manage to look after a baby that generates soil daily? Even if Ellen was already used to a spartan life of great hardship, this treatment of her and her little daughter was truly horrific. 

Ned, of course, used his mother's imprisonment to excuse his rampages and murder of three policemen and within these pages a lot of Kelly myths are challenged. He wasn't the anti-establishment "Robin Hood" hero that his supporters believe him to be, but a self-serving, nasty piece of work. The fact that the majority of his victims were individuals also of Irish heritage, many just trying to establish peaceful lives in a new and challenging environment and were not the English imperialists he loathed, says a great deal. What he did to the three men at Stringybark Creek - and his attitudes afterwards - seals the answer for me. That said, not all the Kelly genes were bad and there is some irony that Ned's half-brother John King became a policeman. 

Perhaps because Ellen didn't write and leave any personal expression behind in the way of memoirs or letters, she must remain a bit of a mystery and in spite of all these many pages, I don't feel I have gained any greater insight into her apart from what I've read previously in much simpler or concise booklets published by local historical histories and museums, so it left me wanting.

There were no winners when it comes to the other women caught in this saga. Bridget Kennedy and Maria Lonigan, wives of two of the policemen killed by Ned Kelly, both lost babies after they discovered their husbands had been murdered. Their lives were just as fraught with difficulties and filled with tragedy as Ellen's and because, like their husbands, their names are not recognised, for me they are the forgotten true heroines of this shambolic history.

Five stars for its research and scholarship, but only three for its perceptions.

For those interested in how the Kelly myth still has the power to divide communities in Australia today, here are links to a couple of articles, including excellent speeches made by the top cop of the State of Victoria and a descendant of Sergeant Kennedy. 













Thursday, February 2, 2017

C.L. Daly rediscovered

One wonders how many paintings there might be in galleries around the world that have been attributed to men and were actually done by women. In an earlier blog, I explored the story of Lady Butler who remains famous for her military paintings but whose later work is largely forgotten. 

The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, has opened an exhibition of watercolours by Caroline Louisa Daly that were wrongly attributed for years to men who, it has turned out after investigation by the Centre's curator, had either never visited Prince Edward Island or weren't artists. It was only after an English descendant of Caroline's pointed out the error that the paintings were investigated and the correct attribution applied. See The Toronto Star, also The Guardian. 


Caroline Louisa
Image from public family tree on Ancestry

Caroline's father was Sir Dominick Daly, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia. Daly Waters was named after him by explorer John McDouall Stuart (now famed for its outback pub and Australia's most remote traffic light.)

Caroline was married in Adelaide in 1866 to Henry Hobhouse Turton. His journal as a 15 year old sailing out to Australia has been posted by a descendant to The Ship's List, read here.

As Caroline lived in Australia for quite a number of years, there are bound to be some of her historically valuable paintings around but from a brief initial search, the one below is the only accessible painting by "C.L. Daly" from official Australian collections, but there may be more in other galleries or in private hands. 

C.L. Daly, Government Cottage, Glenelg
 (State Library of South Australia)









Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Study well, get admitted, become Chief Justice ..."

There are still many "firsts" that women are yet to accomplish in countries around the world.

Another bastion has finally fallen in Australia with the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the High Court, Susan Kiefel.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said her story was “an inspiration” :-
“She left school at 15. She began her working life as a legal secretary. She studied for her completion of high school qualifications part time ... she studied law part time through the barristers admission board. She was admitted to the bar in 1975. She went on after practising at the bar to win a Master of Laws at the University of Cambridge. She took silk in 1987 – the first woman in Queensland to do so. In 1993 she became the first woman to be appointed a judge of the supreme court of Queensland. She has been one of Australia’s most outstanding judicial officers.”

Sydney Morning Herald

The Guardian

ABC News






Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Lady Squatters *


On 29 September, 1839, a barque called Indus under the command of a Captain McFarlane sailed from Leith, Scotland, bound for Australia. It was a long voyage and the vessel did not arrive at its destination of Port Phillip until more than five months later on 15 March, 1840.


(No image of Indus can be found, but would have been similar to this one built in Van Diemen's Land 1839)

There were only four passengers in cabin class, one of whom intended to become a sheep farmer in the newly-opened grazing districts of Port Phillip. But this was no braw muscle-bound Scotsman intent on taming the bush and making a fortune, the prospective sheep owner was a plump, middle-aged single lady called Anne Drysdale.

Born in 1792, she was the youngest of five children of William Drysdale, the town clerk of Kirkaldy, Fifeshire. The family also had links to the church, law, the civil service and the East India Company. As is the case with most women of her time, Anne’s early years are not well documented. It is assumed she grew up at the Drysdale estate at Pitteuchar near Kircaldy.

Whether Anne had any marriage prospects when she was young is not known, but she had her own income, was well-educated, strong-minded and fiercely independent, all attributes unlikely to appeal to the conservative suitors in her circle. It seems the city lights of Edinburgh did not attract her either and she much preferred the countryside, being keen on farming. For some years she leased a farm of her own in Ayrshire and lived with the Houison Craufurd family in their castle at Craufurdland.



Craufurdland Castle where Anne Drysdale lived for some years c 1830

What propelled Anne to leave Scotland behind forever and take a gamble far across the world in Australia is not known for certain, but it is thought problems within the family over her father’s will may have played their part although she was to tell most people that it was health problems that had driven her to new horizons.

With huge tracts of land available to anyone who could afford the ten pound annual licence and enough funds to buy the sheep to stock it, Anne soon took up her 10,000 acres between the Barwon River and Point Henry in the area that now includes the city of Geelong and she built a small house at Boronggoop.

Anne then went on to form a successful business partnership with another independently-minded woman, the much younger Caroline Elizabeth Newcomb, who had arrived in Port Phillip in 1840 from Van Diemen’s Land, as the governess to the seven daughters of the man whose name is recorded for posterity as one of the two founders of the city of Melbourne, John Batman; the other being John PascoeFawkner.

Caroline’s origins and reasons for sailing to Australia are also somewhat elusive. Born in London in 1812, her father, Samuel Octavius Newcomb, was variously a lace merchant and a clerk. In 1823 he was lost at sea, his Probate documents showing he worked for the Commissary Department at Sierra Leone.

Although she is also supposedly another victim of the “health problems” that drove Anne to Australia, being only 21 at the time of her arrival in 1833 in Van Diemen’s Land and with much evidence of a sturdy constitution during her years in charge of the practical side of the Drysdale & Newcomb business enterprise, one has to wonder if there was more to it.

Bev Roberts, author of MissD and Miss N - an Extraordinary Partnership, refers to a passage in John Pascoe Fawkner’s diary in 1836 … “Report circulated by [Henry] Batman that Mr Ellis came up last night to take away Miss Newcombe and he and the men were sett to watch nearly all night to prevent her escape ….” Apparently “Mr Ellis” was a member of the vessel that had brought Caroline to Melbourne. One can draw all kinds of assumptions from this - romantic, illicit, or otherwise, - but without any further evidence it must remain a mystery

Whatever the real reasons for Caroline being in Australia, soon after they met, Anne invited Caroline to move into the house at Boronggoop. Being a healthy and energetic woman compared to Anne who had become increasingly overweight, Caroline took over much of the physical duties in the farmyard, garden and stables. Apparently they shared a bed as well. This has led to some recent assumptions about a physically intimate relationship and some people appropriating Drysdale and Newcomb as champions for the modern GLTB movement, without taking into account that in the tiny houses and limited furniture of the era, it was common for parents, children, grandparents, occasional visitors, even strangers, to share beds with others. Two women living closely together would appear like sisters and not necessarily raise salacious eyebrows, rather they would be treated with curiosity because they had dared to be independent of men.

Both women were also deeply religious and even if they were aware they had what might be considered unnatural tendencies, whether they acted on them is something that can never be proved. People forget that things discussed quite openly today would never have been mentioned, or even comprehended, in years gone by. This may seem laughable or na├»ve in sophisticated 21st Century eyes but it is important not to judge people in the past by the awareness and openly accepted or fluid morals of today. Another extract from Bev Roberts’ book indicates that Caroline suffered from impatience and a quick temper and that her spiritual conflicts were more concerned with trying to control them than struggling with impure actions of the bodily kind.

While at Boronggoop, many prominent visitors called to visit the lady squatters. They included Charles La Trobe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria, and his wife Sophie, the Reverend John Dunmore Lang and perhaps one of the most famous, Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane, during Sir John’s tenure as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, prior to his tragic final voyage in search of the North West Passage.

In 1849, the two women left behind the cramped timber cottage and moved into a grand stone house at Coriyule on the Bellarine Peninsula, which still stands today. Sadly their time there was brief. Anne died of a stroke in 1853 and was buried on the property. Although deeply grieving for her friend, Caroline continued to run the business and became even more involved in religious organisations, local community and political associations.


Collage of views of Coriyule from Pinterest

Then, to everyone’s surprise, at the age 49, Caroline married a man twelve years her junior - the Reverend James Davy Dodgson. Again, it is inappropriate to assume this was some sort of romantic union and probably had pragmatic aspects for both individuals, including companionship and support. Caroline followed her husband to his various postings around the Colony of Victoria until she died in 1873. He arranged for her to be buried next to Anne Drysdale at Coriyule, but when he sold the estate some years later he exhumed both women and had them interred at Geelong and when he died in 1892 he was buried in the same gravesite.

There are no known portraits of Anne Drysdale, but here are photographs of Caroline and her husband.

Caroline Newcomb
Rev. James Davy Dodgson
A teapot prize, 1857 Geelong Agrcultural Show, presented to Miss Newcomb



Both women are recorded in place and street names around Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. A plaque outside the Methodist Church in the town of Drysdale carries this inscription:

In memory of two remarkable women in early Victoria, ANNE DRYSDALE (1792-1853) and CAROLINE NEWCOMB (1812-1874). They arrived as single women in 1840 and 1836 respectively and met in Geelong. At a time when there were few career opportunities for women, they formed a pastoral partnership and successfully operated several properties on the Bellarine Peninsula, employing a number of men.

Mourning brooch for Anne Drysdale presented to Mrs Thompson


Sources:

Miss D & Miss N, an extraordinary partnership. The diary of Anne Drysdale, edited by Bev Roberts.

The Lady Squatters, John Richardson

Journal of the C J La Trobe Society, A Black Apron View of History?

ditto, Miss Newcomb's Teapot (GLBT references)

Some photos found on a public family tree at Ancestry - with thanks to the contributor.


(* Please note in this connection, squatters is the Australian historical term for early landholders and sheep graziers.)







Sunday, October 23, 2016

Putting women on the map

As I am about to move to a town named after a pioneering woman of Australia - whose history I’m currently researching and on which I will write more anon - I was curious to find out about other such instances and was surprised when it proved no easy task.

While there are many cities and towns around the world named after famous women - goddesses, saints, Queens and numerous wives, mothers or daughters of governors or important founding fathers or officials - Alice Springs in Australia or Ladysmith in South Africa being a couple of the better-known examples - those named after ordinary women who were enterprising in their own right and not some adjunct to male endeavour are almost impossible to find. 

There is no comprehensive research available into the topic of places named after women. This website lists a few places in South Australia - mostly relatives of governors or other important men - and quite a few of them would be spots that most of those women would never have visited - or even wanted to visit! - in person.

Lake Griselda and Griselda Hill are apparently named after Griselda Sprigg, the first woman to cross the Simpson Desert in both directions.

Lake Griselda, Simpson Desert. Copyright Panoramio

In Western Australia, the barren Mount Daisy Bates is named after the controversial anthropologist and journalist.* There is also a Bates Siding in the middle of the desolate Nullabor Plain. 


Daisy Bates chats to HRH Duke of Gloucester at Ooldea Siding, 1934

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that so many of these landmarks named after women are about as inhospitable and remote as you can get from civilization on the planet - not unlike the distant Rose Island atoll, the subject of my earlier post on Rose de Freycinet. Unless my ongoing research finds other instances, it may well be I am moving to a town that is unique - in Australia at least.


* Other features in this area include Amy Giles Hill and Mount Fanny - the origins of these names are unknown. 





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Monday, September 12, 2016

Recognition for Australian women doctors of WW1

I was delighted to see on TV news last night that some of the Australian women doctors who served in World War I are getting recognition by way of a memorial plaque in Melbourne's Welsh Church.

Imperial War Museum 


Follow these links for more information:

Channel 7

The Conversation

Looking for Evidence blog

ANZAC Uni Melb

And for anyone interested in this little-known aspect of WW1, I thoroughly recommend the recent book by Katrina Kirkwood about her grandmother, Dr Isabella Stenhouse. 

Read my review here.

Add caption

















Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sarah Selina Cooke

Following on from my previous post about my admiration for 19th Century women and what they often had to endure, the story of Sarah Selina Cooke, as described in my companion blog is just one example.

Not only did she lose two, and maybe more, children as babies, she had long separations from her husband and had to try and make a life for herself in a strange country that was often unhealthy and unstable and subject to the violent turmoil of invasion.

To cap it off, she was the victim of two ship mutinies, during the second of which her husband was murdered and her own life hung in the balance, yet she seems to have dealt with it in a practical manner according to the subsequent reports. I would love to find out more about Sarah but, like so many other women from history, after her few minutes of fame she simply disappears.

Read about the mutiny on the "Amelia" here, and the second post giving some brief details about Sarah's background here.