30 April 2011

A new duke for an old title

In adopting the title of Duke of Cambridge upon his marriage today to Kate Middleton, Prince William has been granted a title that has lain dormant since the death of its last holder, 106 years ago. William's title of Duke of Cambridge was last held by a grandson of George III, also named George, who died without issue in 1904. According to commentators, the choice of the Cambridge title for William is a safe option:

Genealogist Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett's Peerage And Baronetage, said it was a good choice for the prince. "Cambridge was generally spoken of as a high possibility. It has a long royal tradition, and is immediately recognisable as an English title, it's one of those places everyone has heard of."
Professor David Carpenter, of King's College, London, said there may have been consideration of using the title of Duke of Clarence but it had some unfortunate associations. "Queen Victoria's grandson Albert Victor, who was second in line to the throne, was made Duke of Clarence when he reached full age, but he was a womanising philanderer who died in the 1890s." 

Despite the long history of the city of Cambridge and the establishment of the famous university there in the early 13th century, it was not afforded the importance of a ducal title until the 17th century. From the 14th century until 1671 Cambridge was an earldom, but the title was elevated to a duchy during the re-established reign of Charles II in the 1660s, for a series of royal Stuart infants. All of these young boys were the sons of James Stuart, the Duke of York, who later became James II, the last Catholic monarch of England. James' children suffered greatly from youthful illnesses, and none of the four boys who were granted the title survived to their fifth birthday. Indeed, of the four sons granted the duchy, only two lived long enough to be formally invested with the title. These were officially the first and second creations of the duchy, and naturally due to the minority of the Stuart children there were no heirs to pass on the title to. (James' daughters were hardier than his sons. His first two daughters reigned as Queen Mary II (jointly with William III) and Queen Anne).

The duchy was left dormant for nearly 30 years after the death of James' fifth son in 1677. Then in the reign of Queen Anne in 1706 it was re-established in a third creation for George, the Electoral Prince of Hanover, who was the second cousin once removed of the Queen. He held the duchy for 21 years until the death of his father George I in 1727, at which point he acceded to the throne as George II. The duchy and all George's other British honours then 'merged into the crown' and ceased. 

The duchy remained in limbo until the following century. In 1801, 74 years after George II became king, his son George III revived the title in a fourth creation for his seventh son, Prince Adolphus. Adolphus (b. 1774) spent most of his adult life soldiering, including during the Napoleonic Wars, during which he attained the rank of Field Marshal. From 1816 to 1837 he was also the Viceroy of the Kingdom of Hanover. Upon Adolphus' death in 1850 he became the first Duke of Cambridge to pass the title on to an heir, having held the title himself for nearly half a century. His only son Prince George (b. 1819) held the title for even longer than his father: by the time of his death in 1904 he had been the Duke of Cambridge for 54 years. George, like his father, was also a military man. He served in the army all his adult life, and was its commander-in-chief for a remarkable 39 years from 1856 until 1895. Wikipedia has this charming passage on his tenure at the head of the army:

Although he was deeply concerned about the welfare of soldiers, he earned a reputation for being resistant to doctrinal change and for making promotions based upon an officer's social standing, rather than his merit. Under his command, the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution, lagging far behind its continental counterparts. In the late 19th century, whereas 50 per cent of all military literature was written in Germany and 25 per cent in France, just one per cent came from Britain. It is said that he rebuked one of his more intelligent subordinates with the words: "Brains? I don't believe in brains! You haven't any, I know, Sir!" He was equally forthright on his reluctance to adopt change: "There is a time for everything, and the time for change is when you can no longer help it."
George had three children but none were considered legitimate for the purposes of inheriting his titles. Upon his death in 1904 the duchy therefore once again lapsed. This time the title lay dormant for more than a century, until it was bestowed in its fifth creation on the newly-married Prince William, the current second in line to the throne.  
William's Cambridge title is also joined by two other lesser titles representing the peerage of Scotland and Northern Ireland: he is also the Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus. The Strathearn title has not been held for nearly six centuries, having lain dormant since the gruesome death of Walter Stewart in 1437, after he conspired in the murder of King James I of Scotland. For this crime Stewart was put to death in a most vicious fashion. According to Wikipedia:

Walter was tortured over a period of three days. On the first, he was put in a cart with a crane, hoisted up, dropped, and jerked violently to a stop to stretch his joints. He was then placed in a pillory and "crowned with a diadem of burning iron" bearing the inscription "King of all Traitors". On the second day, he was bound to a hurdle and dragged along the high street of Edinburgh. (Some claim he was also blinded and tortured with red-hot iron pincers on this day, but Buchanan speaks only of the hurdle.) On the third, he was disembowelled while alive, his entrails burnt before his face, and his heart was torn out and burnt. Finally, his corpse was beheaded and quartered, and the quarters displayed around the realm.

The barony of Carrickfergus in what is now Northern Ireland has been dormant since 1883. The 12th century Carrickfergus Castle is regarded as one of the best preserved castles in Ireland. Unlike his father William currently holds no Welsh title, although it is likely that he will be granted his father's title of Prince of Wales upon Charles' accession to the throne.

William's new wife holds no title of her own, and is therefore not known as 'Princess Catherine', despite being married to a prince. She will be known officially (and anachronistically) as Princess William, but it is doubtful that this would be much used in everyday parlance; her title of Duchess of Cambridge will be much more prevalent. She will also hold the courtesy titles of Countess of Strathearn and Baroness Carrickfergus.

29 April 2011

A sunny day on Dartmoor

Coins hammered into log bench, Lydford Gorge

Over Easter I spent a few days staying with a friend near Exeter. It was a great chance to get out of London and to enjoy the English countryside, and the highlight of the visit was the day-trip we took up to western Dartmoor for a bit of exploration on foot.

The last time I visited Dartmoor it was August, but despite it being high summer the moor was wreathed in impenetrable mist. This time around the weather was much nicer, with the hot sunshine and blue skies that the south of England relished over Easter gracing the rolling moorland and making an active stroll a fine way to pass the time.

Our first task was to navigate to our chosen destination on the western side of the moor. Jack's sat-nav got us there in the end, but not before displaying its fondness for sending us up tiny goat-tracks in its eagerness to find us the very shortest route as the crow flies. Once we disregarded the narrowest routes we made swift progress, whizzing down hedgerow lanes while keeping a watchful eye out for approaching traffic.

Once the lanes had been negotiated we made our way to our first stop, which was the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale, where we stopped for lunch. After admiring the pint glasses and crockery all hanging from hooks embedded in the ceiling, we ate a pub lunch out in the sunshine, where we were able to survey the whole valley from our bench.

Then it was time to consult Jack's copy of Really Short Walks in South Dartmoor, a ramblers' guide. Just up the road from the inn a 2.25km circuit mapped out a quick sample of the moor's ancient history. Back in the Bronze Age the local climate was warmer, and the slopes were covered in woodlands, out of which tribes burned off clearings for habitation and farming:

There had been a human presence on the moor on and off since the last hunter-gatherers and the earliest farmers. The thin tree cover was partially cleared by 4000 BC. There were further clearances around 2500 BC and the moor was almost entirely deforested by 1500 BC. Tiny pockets may have survived, such as the gnarled and stunted trees of Wistman's Wood that can be seen today [...] 
When the trees had all been cut down, houses and field boundaries had to be constructed out of stone. The houses probably had turf roofs while the reaves formed small hedges. The farming communities living on the moor were able to cultivate cereal crops [...] The moor was also ideal for raising stock, both cattle and sheep, though we do not know whether this was on a seasonal basis with people bringing their animals on to the moor in the summer months to exploit the higher pasture and perhaps to search for tin ore. No doubt the reality was far more complicated than we realise. People farmed this landscape for over 300 years. They cleared the fields of granite stones and boulders, which were incorporated into the reaves and house walls. These stones were also heaped up into small cairns, many of which were used to contain the ashes of their dead. There were also ritual monuments such as barrows and stone rows [...] 
By 1200 BC most settlements and fields on the moor had been deserted. Why had people left? Did they destroy what little fertility there was in the soil? Did the climate become cooler and cause the harvests to fail? Was there some catastrophe in the more fertile lowlands which enabled people to move down from these marginal uplands? Were the upland communities physically moved out and resettled, like the Scottish crofters out of the nineteenth century? 
- Michael Parker Pearson, Bronze Age Britain, London, 2005, p.89-91. 

After emerging from a stone-fenced carpark, we followed a babbling leat (artificial watercourse) across a gentle hill face to explore a Bronze Age village site, replete with the remains of stone roundhouse foundations. A nearby double row of stones (182 metres long) stretched into the distance, probably an ancient ceremonial thoroughfare around which locals buried their dead. One prominent kistvaen grave just south of the stone rows once contained a flint scraper, flint flakes and a whetstone for polishing metal, showing the importance of industry and crafts to the Bronze Age tribes. Closer to the slopes of the nearby King's Tor, a 3.8 metre standing stone stood at a gentle lean, paired by a much later medieval waypost a few hundred metres away, which was marked with a 'T' on one side and an 'A' on the other, to direct medieval travellers venturing across the moor to Tavistock or Ashburton.

Bronze Age roundhouse

Ceremonial stone row

Kistvaen tomb

Standing stone near King's Tor

Medieval waypost

A short drive north led us to our second stop, the National Trust reserve at Lydford Gorge. This was a welcome slice of proper wilderness, with thick English woodlands clinging to the steep slopes of the gorge. The pathway struck out along the top of the gorge before doubling back in a steep stair to the pool at the base of the cascading White Lady falls. While the flow was considerably diminished from its usual high point due to the dry weather, it was still a pretty spectacle. Then walking back alongside the stream we came to the highlight of the gorge: the Devil's Cauldron, the point at which the rushing pressure of the waters has carved out a deep gnarled defile from the terrain, into which the stream is sent gushing and roiling. A metal gangway allows visitors to walk up to the noisy centre of the cauldron, to admire the powerful jets of water and the echoing boom of falling water. Click on the video link below to get an idea of the noise it generates.

White Lady falls

Inside the Devil's Cauldron

Our last brief stop before entrusting ourselves to the satnav and returning home was in the nearby village of Lydford, a tiny place that boasts both the remains of a medieval stone keep and a slightly younger medieval church. Lydford was once far more substantial. It was one of Alfred the Great's four fortified Devon burhs, but it declined after it was raided by Vikings in 997 and following the Norman Conquest. The castle, perched atop a man-made hillock, was first constructed in about 1195 during the reign of Richard I, to act as a prison. It was remodelled in the 13th century, but now only a shell remains. Next to it, the stone church of St Petrock is of an uncertain age, but it is believed to have been remodelled in the 13th century and had its tower added in the 15th century.  

Remains of Lydford Castle

St Petrock's, Lydford
It was a splendid day out exploring Dartmoor, made even more enjoyable by the fact that the Devonian weather was apparently superior to that experienced in the Mediterranean, where so many British residents have fled to avoid the upcoming royal wedding!

22 April 2011

Three photography exhibitions

Two months ago I visited the National Portrait Gallery to view the 2011 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. After a hiatus in gallery visits, I recently chalked up three in quick succession in central London. Here's a quick run-down on the highlights.

Out of Place

Shading Monument for the Artist / Cevdet Erek
Out of Place was a small exhibition - just one room with two small annexes. It was a collaboration between the Tate Modern and a Jordanian gallery, featuring the work of four artists. According to the reliably pseudy blurb, '[t]he artists in Out of Place each explore the relationship between dominant political forces and personal and collective histories by looking at urban space, architectural structures and the condition of displacement'. 

My favourite images were the large-format architectural landscapes of Hrair Sarkissian’s In Between, which depict the ghostly hulks of huge failed building projects in the empty expanses of rural Armenia. The brutal concrete giants are punctured with glassless window frames through which, no doubt, bitter winter winds howl. On the plus side, they'd make great sets for a James Bond movie.

Ahlam Shibli's The Valley photos offered a glimpse of a Palestinian Arab village within Israeli-controlled territory. While a few frames showing the ever-encroaching development of massive houses for Israeli settlers held a real sense of purpose, I felt some of the other documentary images were less than compelling. The relative poverty that the villagers live in was only fully explained by a potted history on a caption near the photos - the images didn't really manage the task on their own.

There were also two artists working in other mediums. Romanian film-maker Ion Grigorescu shot a huge amount of footage of his native Bucharest from the 1970s onwards. While it was clear from the excerpts I saw that communist-era Bucharest was dominated by ugly tower blocks and everyone seemed to drive the same model of car, there's only so much jerky 8mm film shot at a 15-degree slant that you can take in as a casual observer.

Cevdet Erek's artwork Shading Monument for the Artist borrowed text from Spanish Civil War memorials and suspended large plastic text perpendicular to a wall, so that the movement of the sun throughout the day casts shadows of the text. It's an interesting idea, and certainly would've been more dramatic if I'd caught it on a sunny day.

(Out of Place closed on 17 April)

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is an annual exhibition normally hosted by the Photographers' Gallery in Soho, but as this year's event falls during the long refurbishment of that site, the exhibition has migrated to an interesting gallery space on Marylebone Road. Ambika P3 is part of the University of Westminster's campus, and used to be a chemistry facility. Now it's an art display venue, which presents an impressive space to fill. After traipsing down flights of stairs and through a grim-looking underground carpark, visitors emerge into a balcony overlooking a cavernous 1300-square metre interior. There are four collections competing for the £30,000 first prize, which goes to the living photographer thought to have made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe in the past year.

I suspect the lead contender for the prize is the Open See series by Jim Goldberg, in which he documents the lives of modern refugees who have reached Europe. Part of the collection is a series of polaroids annotated by the subjects themselves, but the most prominent piece is a large portrait of a man sifting through refuse in 'High Noon at Dhaka Dump', in which a flat sea of rubbish spreads out behind the subject, trailing off into the far distance.

Elad Lassry's photographs are perhaps the most visually striking images of the exhibition. In particular, the Israeli-born photographer's picture 'Man 071', a head-and-shoulders view of a smiling male model that is distinguished by the eerie duplication of his eyes, so that a second set sits immediately above the real ones. And his simple yet appealing image of a Burmese cat feeding her kittens against a plain white background is dominated by the striking expression in the mother cat's eyes - staring directly down the lens at the photographer, as if she is quietly furious that her private moment with her kittens is being snooped on.

There was only room for one of Germany photographer Thomas Demand's large-scale images in the exhibition space, but it is a spectacular one. The huge image of a village church organ, with its multitude of pipes arrayed like stalagmites, is doubly impressive because Demand recreates all his subjects in 3D using paper models. The original organ, Demand reveals in an on-site video, played the same folk tune regularly for 80 years until recently, when a new town mayor blithely decided that the village needed a modern tourist attraction, and had the organ removed so it could be automated and play different tunes.

Lastly, American photographer Roe Ethridge's images straddle the world of commercial photography, where he makes his living, introducing an appealing surreal aspect to highly corporate images of modern life, like his magazine catalogue-style 'Thanksgiving 1984', which could have appeared in a department store advertising campaign, and his simple yet beautiful ballet studio portraits of ballerina's dancing feet.

(The prize winner will be announced on 26 April, and the free exhibition runs at P3 until 1 May)

Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer 1908-1974

I'd never heard of Armenian-born photographer Ida Kar before I noticed the exhibition on her life's work at the National Portrait Gallery. Educated in Alexandria but building her career as one of the pre-eminent photographers of the London arts scene, Kar was at her peak photographing a multitude of artists and creative types in the 1950s and 60s.  

The list of subjects who appeared before Kar's camera is compelling. Bertrand Russell gnaws on a pipe as he jots in his notebook. Henry Moore lurks in his sculpture workshop. Artist Marc Chagall, turning towards the light. The legendary photographer, Man Ray, round-shouldered and subdued next to a vibrant painting of a carousing girl. The architect Le Corbusier, looking up, interrupted, from his work desk. Jean-Paul Sartre, his face in shadow but a flash of light illuminating his hair to cast him as a philosophical Tintin.

Perhaps my favourite of Kar's art-world portrait was that of the art dealer John Kasmin, sitting like a mod prince in his tastefully decorated flat. Incidentally, his Wikipedia entry notes that Kasmin experimented briefly with life in the colonies:

John Kasmin briefly lived in New Zealand in the mid 1950s, working temporarily as an orderly at Wellington Public Hospital. Many young colonial bohemians of the day were entertained by his quick acerbic wit.

Later in her career Kar became an accomplished travel photographer, journeying back to visit her elderly parents in Armenia, and pursuing her interest in left-wing politics by visiting the USSR and Cuba. Her images of Cuba, in particular, display a vivid talent for street photography and a love for her chosen subject matter.   

(The exhibition runs until 19 June, tickets £3)

20 April 2011

Bad meat and bad blood

Seacliff Asylum in 1910 © Turnbull Library

In 1893 a dispute between staff and the superintendent of Otago's Seacliff Lunatic Asylum led to disquiet in Dunedin. Public clamour for an inquiry into the management of the asylum led to a petition to Parliament, making the Seacliff case an example of the parliamentary petitions process bringing a local debate, of equal parts bad blood and bad meat, onto the national stage.


The young province of Otago, its booming economy fuelled by gold revenue and rapid immigration, quickly established a facility to house and treat ‘lunatics’ separately from incarcerated criminals.[1] Built on the site presently occupied by Otago Boys High School, the Dunedin Lunatic Asylum opened in 1863. It soon found its capacity sorely stretched by a considerably greater than anticipated number of patients. A larger facility was called for.

The eventual erection of the country’s largest lunatic asylum – indeed, the country’s largest building at that time – at Seacliff approximately 30 kilometres north of Dunedin, was an attempt to provide greater space for the accommodation of the mentally ill, while at the same time removing them from the centre of town life – a case of 'out of mind, out of sight'. The asylum also had 900 acres of associated farmland, so the patients would be afforded the beneficial disciplines of physical work, while at the same time off-setting the cost of their incarceration through the fruits of their agricultural labour.

In April 1889 Frederic Truby King, a talented 41 year-old Taranaki man with well-regarded Scottish qualifications in the relatively new field of the treatment of mental illnesses, was appointed superintendent at Seacliff. While he was later to become famous for his work in child health reform and for the establishment of the Plunket Society, Truby King’s years as Seacliff’s superintendent and his associated lecturing in mental diseases at the University of Otago also allowed him to stamp his authority on the formative years of New Zealand mental health practice.

The extremely detailed annual reports of the Inspector of Asylums, Dr Duncan McGregor, provide a volume of information relating to mental health treatment in the 1890s. The report for 1892 shows that the total number of registered insane persons in New Zealand at the close of that year was 1917: 1154 males and 763 females. Of these patients, 537 (28.0 percent) were housed at Seacliff. The institution also dealt with a broader ethnic cross-section of patients than in other institutions, counting among its 1893 patient population, for example, 15 Germans and 12 Chinese (all males).[2]

The operation of state-funded lunatic asylums required a great attention to detail, from both the superintendents charged with the duties of running the institutions, and from the Inspector himself. The Inspector noted in his report the complications of providing elaborate mental health facilities from a small public purse:

The prospect of my being able to provide separate accommodation for idiots, criminal lunatics and inebriates is I am afraid still very uncertain. It is a very heavy burden for a young colony to provide such accommodation for these classes as modern public sentiment demands, especially where as with us the whole cost falls on the Consolidated Fund.[3]

Indeed, despite the revenue raised by Seacliff’s farming operations, the cost of running Seacliff was by far the greatest of the six public asylums operating. It cost £13,270 19s 1d for the year 1893, when Auckland, the next largest establishment, cost £9,561 7s.[4]

Truby King, a vigorous and lively authoritarian figure, enjoyed the challenges inherent in dealing with the mentally ill – indeed, in his dotage he was known to rue the lack of contact with patients that he so valued. His liveliness has been frequently noted:

…King himself was a man who thrived on disorder. He ate at irregular times, paid no attention to the state of his attire, left travel plans to the last minute, was careless with money (once being declared bankrupt), talked interminably on his latest enthusiasm to anyone who would listen, and was impatient with opposition. There were many who found this total engagement with his latest mission attractive, while others found him irritating and eccentric.[5]

The Seacliff Diet

Superintendent Truby King devoted much of his efforts to refurbishing and modernising the Seacliff facilities, to improve the treatment and accommodation of his patients. One key early reform he initiated was the modification of patients’ diets and the cooking arrangements at Seacliff. First, cooking was centralised in a single kitchen in order to save on staff salaries. Second, the amount of meat available to patients was reduced (from an unlimited amount available, at every meal), and the availability of a broader range of vegetables was ensured. This caused public concern that patients were being starved to ensure their placidity. Truby King refuted these complaints, arguing that ‘the consumption of flesh by the insane should be limited … because it is desirable to lessen rather than to foster the animal propensities’.[6] The success of this measure was such that ‘the superintendents of other asylums were quick to follow suit, and by 1906 King’s dietary pattern was the norm throughout New Zealand asylums’.[7]

Changes made by Truby King to the kitchens at Seacliff had a beneficial effect on patient wellbeing. However, it seems food provided to staff was not always received with uniform approval.

The strange case of attendants Arundel, Impey and Clark

A discussion of the Seacliff diet is germane to the petition of Richard Brinsley and 1518 others, calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the management of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. David Pinkerton MP, one of the three representatives of the City of Dunedin electorate, presented the petition to Parliament on 28 September 1893.[8] The petition made no specific mention of James Arundel, Matthew Impey and John Clark, attendants at Seacliff, but Truby King’s dismissal of these men as a disciplinary measure for insubordination was the impetus for the creation of a sizeable petition to Parliament, and led to a fiery debate in the House of Representatives. In this fashion a seemingly minor dispute originating in a staff canteen entered the national political arena. It all began in the Seacliff kitchen.

An Inquiry by the Inspector of Asylums

On 23 November 1892 staff at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum were served a dinner that was, by all accounts, of inferior quality. It was later reported that ‘there was a good deal of dissatisfaction on account of the fact that the meat, of which the quality was always good, was often underdone, according to the taste of the majority of the attendants’.[9]

Some staff had long been nursing grievances about continually receiving poor cuts of meat from the asylum kitchen, but on this occasion a broader range of staff expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the victuals provided. A dispute arose after a particularly vocal member of staff, James Arundel, made a complaint directly to the superintendent about the standards of food provided by the kitchen. In the dining room, tempers flared: Stanley Blacklaws, when serving a plate of fish, was accosted by attendants. The serving plate suffered the ignominious fate of being flung out the window to its destruction. Also, a dining room tablecloth was discovered to have three parallel rents of three or four inches in length, presumably from an attendant’s knife. Heated exchanges between certain staff and the superintendent resulted in a petition being circulated amongst attendants, although the contents and signing of the petition proved controversial. Later, three attendants were dismissed from employment at the asylum, and substantial numbers signed a public petition calling for an inquiry into Seacliff.

A seemingly exhaustive series of interviews with Seacliff staff, conducted by Dr McGregor in the high summer of 1892-93, tap into the disquiet of the incident. A copy of the memorandum signed by 25 Seacliff attendants is appended to the report. In it, staff outlined their complaints against the victuals provided, and against their superintendent’s handling of these complaints. The memorandum criticises several aspects of the food provided by Seacliff’s kitchens, and contests Truby King’s notion that statements made by attendant Impey in conveying these concerns were fictitious: ‘[Truby King] states that the discontent emanates from a very small number of malcontents, who have been a short time in the service; further, that we have no just causes for complaint’.[10]

In the Inspector’s hearing, Truby King frequently cross-examined his staff, eliciting statements from many attendants similar to that of James McConkey:

I am an attendant. I signed the petition [to the superintendent] merely to show we were unanimous about the food. I did not hear any expressions said to be used by Dr King. I did not hear [Dr King] call any of them “liars”. Dr King has never behaved harshly or tyrannically to me.[11]
Most witnesses at the hearings agreed Truby King addressed the concerns raised by staff regarding the dinner offerings on the evening in question. However, by generating the petition, questioning the superintendent’s authority and calling for an apology, Arundel, Impey and Clark were deemed inappropriate for employment as lunatic asylum attendants. In his summation of the inquiry, the Inspector noted that:

The dismissal of all three was justifiable and necessary; and the evidence is conclusive that the Doctor treats the attendants with every consideration. I cannot conclude without saying that in all my experience I have never known of a more deliberate and skilful attempt to make mischief in a public institution on the basis of such a frivolous grievance.[12]
Despite the finality of this verdict, the dismissal of the three attendants did not bring a close to the asylum controversy. On 13 July 1893 David Pinkerton MP moved a successful motion to place the extensive record of the inquiry hearings before the House. The details of staff grievances were therefore placed firmly in the public gaze. Vindication of Truby King’s handling of the matter must surely have been tempered by the publication of incendiary assertions such as those of another departed attendant, Sidney Maxwell. In his statement Mr Maxwell notes that:

I am afraid one of Dr King’s weak points is his inability to grasp and lay square the corner-stone, to speak illustratively, of his utter want of tact in dealing with the attendants. And until Dr King realises this essential feature in his government of the institution, it will be hopeless for him to succeed in superintending the asylum without clashing with the attendants in any other way than is indicated by the partial and sycophantic report that, somehow or other, he succeeds year after year in obtaining.[13]
A report including such censure can hardly act as total vindication of Truby King. A total of 1425 copies were made of the report, at a total cost of £13 10s: a substantial publication by either contemporary or current standards.

A debate in the House 

The publication of the official vindication of the attendants’ dismissal did not bring a close to public questioning of lunatic asylum policy and management. Seeking to capitalise on an issue of local importance, Henry Smith Fish MP, one of three MPs representing the City of Dunedin electorate, initiated a debate in the House on 1 September 1893. Fish enquired to the Premier:

Whether he is aware that, since Dr McGregor’s appointment as Inspector of Hospitals and Lunatic Asylums, at least five hundred employees in the latter department have either been dismissed or voluntarily left the service, and can he explain why if this is so?[14]
Fish also went on to decry the Inspector’s management of asylum attendants, drawing attention to the dismissal of one particular matron in Wellington, a Miss Finch, and arguing that he was ‘…free to confess his belief that a large number of the dismissals and voluntary retirements from the service only arose from one reason, and that was on account of the tyrannical and overbearing management by Dr McGregor of these institutions’.[15] Fish went on to lambast the £1200 salary paid to McGregor, pointing out that it was ‘£200 in excess of the amount received by the Premier of the country, and larger than that paid to any other Civil servant under the Crown’.[16]

The Hon William Pember Reeves, replying on behalf of the Premier, disagreed with criticism of McGregor, pointing out that turnover of 500 staff in seven and a half years should be seen in the context of a total staff of nearly 250. Many of the departees had left the service voluntarily, or because of their unsuitability for asylum work. In Reeves’ opinion ‘he had never seen a Civil servant of whom he had a higher opinion than he had of [McGregor]’, and ‘there was no more enthusiastic, skilful or devoted public servant in the service of the colony’.[17]

Among other members taking the call on the topic, Mr Fish’s fellow Dunedin representative David Pinkerton MP spoke briefly to draw the House’s attention to the preparation of a petition dealing with the matters being addressed by the House. Later, William Hutchison MP, the third Dunedin representative to speak, endorsed Fish’s criticisms of McGregor and called for a review of the practice of inquiring into asylum performance. Despite pointing out that he was a ‘personal friend’ of McGregor, Hutchison also questioned the worthiness of the attendants’ hearings being conducted with only McGregor and Truby King in attendance, and argued that ‘there ought to be persons representing all classes of the community present at inquiries of that sort’.[18]

To this, Eugene O’Conor (MP for Buller) noted that the debate in question was a ‘very great waste of time’; adding the cryptic statement that ‘it was unfortunate for the chief officer of the lunatic asylums in the colony that he was related to a member of that House who came from the same locality as the honourable member for Dunedin City, and who did not agree with him’.[19] Two other members attacked Hutchison’s notion of a broader range of classes of individuals conducting asylum inquiries, with Captain William Russell Russell (MP for Hawke’s Bay) asking ‘did anybody imagine for an instant that anyone without special knowledge of the subject could do much good by merely visiting the lunatic asylums?’, while Hon Thomas Fergus (MP for Wakatipu) savaged the idea of appointing ‘half a dozen nobodies to go out and interfere with the management of the various lunatic asylums throughout the country’.[20]

The debate closed after a lengthy rejoinder from Fish, laced with a whiff of scandal. He urged the House to observe the practices and occurrences at Seacliff:

Let them look at the inquiry last year [i.e. into the dismissal of Arundel, Impey and Clark]. Let them recollect the connection of the official head of the department with those interested in that inquiry. Let them recall the incident that took place in the railway carriage between the head of the department and the gentleman who was going to make the inquiry.[21]

With these unverifiable accusations aired, the debate adjourned.

A petition to the House

On Thursday, 28 September 1893 the public petition foreshadowed by Pinkerton was presented to Parliament. Presented in the name of Richard Brinsley by Pinkerton himself, the petition included 1519 signatures. The resulting Parliamentary debate the following day gave rise to heated disagreements in the House, and old enmities quickly emerged to the detriment of good order, as reported by the Otago Witness:

…Mr Fish followed [Mr Pinkerton,] urging an inquiry, and pointing to the very large number of dismissals of officials. Sir Robert Stout had not quite heard what [Fish] had said; whereupon Mr Fish said it would be better for the knight if he kept his ears open, and ‘it would be better if you kept your mouth closed’ said Mr O’Conor [MP for Buller]. The member for Buller of course withdrew, Mr Fish telling the House pathetically that either Sir Robert or Mr O’Conor was always offending against the rules of good taste and etiquette.[22]
Parliament took no action as a result of the petition. Perhaps this was an early case of labour agitation against a high-handed employer: after all, David Pinkerton was prominent in the Dunedin union movement. But despite the complaints made against his management of the asylum, Truby King remained in charge of Seacliff for another 27 years. He went on to found the Plunket Society, which has been devoted to promoting the health and wellbeing of babies and children since 1907. At his death in 1938, Truby Smith was accorded the honour of being the first New Zealand private citizen to be accorded a State funeral.


The word ‘lunatic’ was in common and formal usage at this time.  Its usage only declined after the passing of the Mental Defectives Act 1911, which rejected such terminology.  Source: Oxford History of New Zealand, 2nd edn., 1992, p 267.
[2] Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1894, H-7, p 10.
[3] AJHR, 1893, H-4, p 1.
[4] AJHR, 1894, H-7, p 14.
[5] Brookes, B., ‘King, Frederic Truby 1858-1938’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 21 May 2002, www.dnzb.govt.nz.
[6] AJHR, 1891, H-29, p 3.
[7] Caldwell, C., ‘Truby King and the Seacliff Asylum 1889-1907’, in B Brookes & J Thomson (eds.) ‘Unfortunate Folk’: Essays on Mental Health Treatment 1863-1992, Dunedin, 2001.
[8] The day on which the Electoral Law Amendment Bill, which granted women’s suffrage, was read a second time in the Legislative Council.
[9] AJHR, 1893, H-29, p 1.
[10] AJHR, 1893, H-29, p 15.
[11] AJHR, 1893, H-29, p 11.
[12] AJHR, 1893, H-29, p 1.
[13] AJHR, 1893, H-29, p 18.
[14] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 549.
[15] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 550.
[16] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 550.
[17] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 552.
[18] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 555.
[19] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 556.
[20] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 557-8.
[21] Hansard, 1 September 1893, p 560.
[22] Otago Witness, 5 October 1893, p 19.  Obtained from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/.

[This article is an edited version of a research project I undertook in 2004, but which was not published at the time]

11 April 2011

Sibling rivalry

Friday Night Dinner cast © Channel 4
One of the highlights of writer Robert Popper's Channel 4 sitcom, Friday Night Dinner, is the reliably infantile bickering and Machiavellian acts of sabotage perpetrated on each other by the two rival brothers, Adam (The Inbetweeners' Simon Bird) and Jonny (newcomer Tom Rosenthal). As the show's premise is rather traditional - two grown-up sons in their early 20s return to the Goodman family home every Friday for dinner with their parents - it's pleasing to see that family relationships are treated with a well-honed sense of black humour.

Adam and Jonny have clearly been engaged in a tit-for-tat game of revenge and counter-revenge for their whole lives, but now that they're grown-up (well, physically, at least) each has to concoct increasingly devious means to humiliate the other. Series one began with cunning attempts to poison each other's water glasses with huge spoonfuls of salt, but escalated to a fine set-piece involving the very single Adam being forced to conduct a speakerphone conversation with an eligible 'female' whilst chasing Jonny around the bathroom trying to prevent him tipping water down the toilet bowl, so as to persuade the girl that Adam's actually making the call while using the lavatory.

Adam and Jonny's parents are played by the always watchable Tamsin Grieg (Black Books, Green Wing, Love Soup) and the Tony Award-nominated Paul Ritter. Grieg's character Jackie is played fairly straight, although she's not above a little manipulative scheming to line up potential mates for Adam, and becomes increasingly frustrated with Jonny's excuses as to why he never brings his girlfriend around to meet the family. (Adam points out that this is probably because either A) she doesn't exist, or B) she's actually seeing someone else entirely). Ritter's character Martin is an enjoyable portrayal of quirk-ridden middle-aged suburban eccentricity - he's continually wandering around shirtless proclaiming that he's 'baking', eating from the kitchen bin, or enthusiastically referring to his wife's cooking as 'a lovely bit of squirrel'.  

The final regular cast member is the ever-entertaining Mark Heap (Spaced, Big Train, Green Wing, The Great Outdoors, Lark Rise To Candleford, i.e. he's in just about everything). Here he's playing a role that befits his awkward energy: the slightly creepy neighbour Jim, whose evening walks with his dog Wilson always conveniently end up at the Goodman's doorstep. This is mainly because he's stalking Jackie and is never short of feeble excuses to ring her doorbell. Heap is the perfect choice for the role, in part because he's worked with Grieg several times before, most notably in Green Wing.

It's great to hear that a second series of Friday Night Dinner has been commissioned by Channel 4. But after the big finale of episode six, which was broadcast on Friday, Popper will have a challenge to top the writing in what has been one of the most solidly entertaining new sitcoms in ages. The final episode excelled in the mortifying social awkwardness stakes, with Adam discovering he's trapped in a dinner date with the lovely Tanya Green (rising star Tuppence Middleton) with his family in close attendance to generate the maximum possible embarrassment, and a smirking Jonny relishing a heaven-sent opportunity to torture his older brother.  

See also:

Oasis - Wibbling Rivalry (legendary 1994 interview) Part 1 Part 2


Last night featured a quick trawl through the pop memory banks at Soho's Karaoke Box. Highlights included Sam and Tina's heroic rendition of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girls, which runs Kate Nash's version into a close second, and a stirring group collaboration on Free Fallin' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

07 April 2011

The past is a foreign country

sandringham 1981
Originally uploaded by travelling-light
Of late cousin Davo has been posting some great family snapshots from his younger days in Hamilton, and this has reminded me of the huge changes that have occurred since then, both within the family and in New Zealand in general. I'm on the other side of the world from the various old photos that comprise my early history, and perhaps that's for the best given my typically poor performance when thrust reluctantly in front of a camera. But it did inspire me to get hunting for some old New Zealand photos online, and that's where this chap comes in.

Travelling Light has posted over 8000 photos on Flickr, and while I've only scratched the surface, I've been really impressed with both the quality of the images and the chance to look back at life in New Zealand before it caught up with the modern world in the 1980s and afterwards. TL's photos show a New Zealand of gently decaying weatherboard villas; decrepit English cars, some 30 or 40 years old and still barely moving; and corner dairies sinking into their foundations while they purvey one cent lollies and Lemon and Paeroa.

There's also time for reportage photography: check out the superb photos from the 1981 Springbok tour, and you'll be catapulted back into those testing days of confrontation and intolerance. And artistic work like this painterly shot of some Dunedin rugby goalposts. There's also time for what seems like TL's abiding passion, which is motorbikes - plenty of beautiful motorbikes.

I've only looked at a few hundred, so I guess there's about eight thousand more to go!

04 April 2011

Sent him forth from the garden of Eden

Garden of Eden, by Hieronymus Bosch
Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Exeter's Department of Theology and Religion, and has recently presented a three-part series on BBC2 entitled The Bible's Buried Secrets, in which she discusses modern interpretations of traditional Biblical beliefs from a revisionist viewpoint.

There's something greatly encouraging about the prospect of a sympathetic historian unfettered by particular doctrines approaching Biblical history, rather than attempting to view it through the lens of one particular variety of faith or another. Certainly, she does have a particular doctrine that informs her own viewpoint, as the Daily Mail took great pains to point out, inserting the word 'atheist' before her name every time it's mentioned in their articles. But perhaps an atheist is best placed to stand back from the centuries of dogma that have coloured religious scholarship and ask sensible questions about the weight of supporting evidence behind certain claims. And the three topics she addressed in her series were fairly impressive ones to tackle.

In the first episode Stavrakopoulou asked if the weight of historical evidence actually backed up the Bible and modern Judaic scholarship's assertion that King David united Israel and Judea to rule a legendary empire in the ancient Holy Land. She talked to various revisionist scholars who question whether this empire ever existed at all, and who point out that the documentary evidence for such an empire is extremely limited. This might not seem like much of a case, given the length of time that has elapsed since the events were supposed to have occurred, but Stavrakopoulou argued that other powers that existed at around the same time, including the well-known Philistines, who occupied what is today modern Gaza, have much more evidence of their existence. Another scholar she interviewed suggested that some research has shown that at the time tradition holds that David built and ruled his empire, the lands under his control were actually barely populated, and if that was true, there simply wasn't the manpower to create a great empire of powerful armies and grand temples and palaces.

Questioning the validity of legends surrounding King David naturally goes to the heart of Judaism and the modern state of Israel, for whom David is the core of its founding mythology. Naturally, in the course of a one hour TV documentary you don't expect to be able to show enough argument to accurately weigh up intricate details of complex expert evidence, but I certainly got the impression that someone advancing an academic theory that undermined that founding myth in Israel itself would certainly find the going hard, both academically and politically.

The second episode addressed controversial theories surrounding the ancient shift from polytheism - the worship of many gods - to monotheism, which in Judaism meant that Yahweh, known to us as God, was the one and only deity. This unique selling point became a central tenet of Judaism and later Christianity. Stavrakopoulou examined Old Testament evidence for a fuzzier definition of monotheism in ancient times, in which other gods coexisted in people's understanding of divinity alongside Yahweh. And, more controversially, she argued that one of these gods, the mother goddess Ashareh, could have been considered at the time to be the wife of Yahweh. If organised religions had not shunted Ashareh off to the margins of theology, and indeed attempted to erase her name from history, then Stavrakopoulou suspects the history of humanity and in particular the relationship between the sexes would have been radically different. It's an appealing feminist recasting of ancient history, and it poses some interesting counterfactual ideas.

Stavrakopoulou saved her biggest claim for the third and final instalment of The Bible's Buried Secrets. In that episode, broadcast last week, she argued that centuries of religious tradition have misled believers and non-believers regarding the location of the mythical Garden of Eden, from which God cast forth Adam and Eve in disgrace. She made the case that in the ancient world a garden was both a regal status symbol in which rulers displayed their command over nature, and also divine enclaves: the people believed them to be the literal homes of gods on earth. The kings of men maintained their royal gardens to maintain both the splendour of their reigns but also to signal their vital connection to the holy entities worshipped by the masses.

To illustrate her point, Stavrakopoulou pointed to an Assyrian wall panel relief in the collections of the British Museum, which she believes depicts a contemporary ideal of a divine garden. It's an Assyrian work from the royal palace of King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-630 BC), and it depicts a wooded hill, adorned with multitudes of trees and bushes and fed by the waters emerging from an aqueduct:

Assyrian relief, 6th c. BC, © British Museum
Moreover, Stavrakopoulou argued that there was a very real event that could have informed the Old Testament Eden myth. The First Temple in Jerusalem, the holiest site in the Jewish faith, has been described as follows:
Its walls were lined with cedar, on which were carved figures of cherubim, palm-trees, and open flowers, which were overlaid with gold. Chains of gold further marked it off from the Holy of Holies. The floor of the Temple was of fir-wood overlaid with gold. The door-posts, of olive-wood, supported folding-doors of fir. The doors of the Holy of Holies were of olive-wood. On both sets of doors were carved cherubim, palm-trees, and flowers, all being overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:15 et seq.)
In other words, the interior decoration of King Solomon's Temple was that of a luxurious garden. It also acted as the focal point for the earthly manifestation of the Jewish god. But it didn't last. 

In the 6th century BC the Kingdom of Judah was a tributary of the mighty Babylonian Empire, with a Judean, Zedekiah, ruling as the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Zedekiah entered into an anti-Babylonian allegiance with Egypt and refused to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, which led to an 18 month siege of Jerusalem. The city fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC, and was devastated by the victorious army. The Temple itself, the holiest site in the Jewish faith, was destroyed, Zedekiah was taken to Babylon and the Kingdom of Judea came to an end. Could this, then, have been the inspiration for the biblical stories of the Garden of Eden? A foolish king keeps a divine garden to house the spirit of his people's god, but through a reckless decision he brings a great calamity to Judea and is cast out by an all-powerful and vengeful overlord.  

I had previously wondered if the story of the Garden of Eden was derived from the earliest pre-historic memories of the shift from nomadic hunter-gathering to settled village life, with all its new rules and obligations that some people must have failed to get accustomed to. Or perhaps it was just a simple metaphor for the Babylonian captivity, in which the Jews were cast out of their homeland and exiled far afield. (For which we are indebted, because it brought us a Boney M hit). Whatever its origin, for many centuries the story has been used to reinforce mankind's fall from grace. But for Dr Stavrakopoulou, the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden by God isn't about the innate sinfulness of humanity. Rather, it's a tale that was passed down through the folklore of the Holy Land, and tells of the ultimate sacrifice made by a foolish king who betrayed his nation and brought suffering to his people. Here she sums her case, seated in front of the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem:
For me, the ancient story about the Garden of Eden is not about the human condition. It's not saying that you and I are inherently bad. It's about the religion and politics of a particular people, two and a half thousand years ago. Some people may see this as reductive, that somehow I'm not embracing the full richness of the story. But I think the real motivation of the story is far more exciting. It allows us to engage with the real passions and anxieties of a people from long ago.

But does that mean the story doesn't speak to us anymore? Well, it might speak to Jews, Christians and Muslims more eloquently than we'd imagine. For people of faith, religion is a way of reconnecting with the divine, with the unity found in the Garden of Eden, but lost in the distant past. The idea of a lost paradise sits strongly in our collective psyche, and I think nowhere more so than here.

The place where the Dome of the Rock now stands is Jerusalem's most hallowed piece of real estate. It's where people believe Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, it's where the Jewish Temple stood, it's where Mohammed ascended to heaven. Thousands have fought for this patch of earth. It's the spot where God met man. This was heaven on earth. And this was the Garden of Eden. Is it any wonder that no-one wants to give it up?