1816, The Year Without A Summer

First Written for Headstuff.org

1816, The Year Without A Summer | The Eruption Of Mount Tambora

The summer of 1816 has an unusual claim to fame. It is known as The Year Without a Summer. How did it come by this unusual moniker? The answer lies in the events of the previous year. In 1815 Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies, modern day Indonesia, erupted. It was the largest volcanic eruption for 1,300 years. It had a significant effect on the global climate causing severe weather abnormalities. It resulted in a decrease in global temperatures by 0.4 – 0.7 OC. This may not sound like much but the impact of this was significant.

Earth had been in a period of global cooling from the fourteenth century. This “little ice age” was aggravated by the 1815 eruption. New England (US), Atlantic Canada and large swathes of Western Europe and China experienced agricultural disaster. The spring and summer of 1816 was marked by consistent dry fog across the east coast of America that reddened and dimmed in the sunlight. One result of this was that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Even wind and rain didn’t dispel the fog. For many this gave it an unusual, perhaps even supernatural quality. This fog has since been characterised by scientists as a “stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil”.

It is important to note that the understanding of the eruption has come in recent years with volcanologist and scientists being able to better understand the events of 1816. In line with this, historians have been able to take this new information and apply it to their understanding of the time. For example, riots occurred across France and Great Britain in 1816. The causes are now known to be linked to the eruption. Arson, looting of grain warehouses and political unrest was accompanied by a revival in religious demonstrations. The numbers recorded as attending church and chapel services increased during this period.
In May the frost was so intense that it killed off crops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Higher elevations suffered the most. Snow was recorded as falling on June 6th 1816 in Albany, New York and Maine. Following on from this in New York in May temperatures were recorded as dipping below freezing most days. On June 9th the ground froze solid and crops failed.In a previous article I looked at the ideas and climate that contributed to the writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She began the novel at Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. Switzerland was particularly badly hit by the climatic changes. One example is that an ice dam formed below the tongue of the Gietro Glacier (high in the Val de Bagnes) in 1816 and 1817. Eventually the dam collapsed under its own weight in the June of 1818, contributing to flooding in the Swiss capital. Further to this crop failures resulted in famine conditions with the government declaring a national emergency. This is considered to be continental Europe’s last ever famine which was accompanied by rising mortality rates. The flooding was worsened by the unseasonably large storms and rainfall that flooded many major European major rivers. After this came frost in August. The melt resulted in further flooding.

Closer to home the cost of bread in Britain almost doubled in the same space of time. Cool temperatures and heavy rains had resulted in failed harvests. Bread shortages led to riots breaking out in East Anglia in May 1816. In the town of Ely labourers armed themselves before marching on the town and taking the magistrate hostage. They were holding banners bearing the slogan “Bread or Blood” and fought a pitched battle with the militia. The bread shortages also fuelled mass demonstrations in many of the larger cities. The army were often used to combat the civil unrest as feelings of discontent and frustration grew. Prison numbers increased as rioters were jailed, as did the number of those executed or sentenced to transportation. However, Britain was better able to deal with the food shortages than much else of Europe due to established trading links with Western America.

In May the frost was so intense that it killed off crops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Higher elevations suffered the most. Snow was recorded as falling on June 6th 1816 in Albany, New York and Maine.

North and South West Ireland also saw the failure of wheat, oat and potato harvests. Ireland seems to have been particularly vulnerable. There was a major typhus epidemic from 1816 – 1819 in which an estimated 100,000 people died. In Ireland a recorded 80,000 people were infected. 44,000 died [1]. Figures vary however it is clear that Ireland was hard hit by the epidemic. High levels of unemployment had followed the demobilisation of the British army following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Many were living in abject poverty with little food available.

So how could one volcanic eruption have such a big impact? The eruption of Mount Tambora occurred between 5th and 15th April 1816. It ranked VEI 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. To put this into perspective this eruption was over 1,000 times greater than the 2010 Iceland eruption that caused mass travel chaos. The sound of the eruption was reportedly heard up to 2,000 miles away. Millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide, ash and pumice were ejected into the atmosphere. An ‘umbrella’ of ash spread over a million square kilometres. Billions of tonnes of dust, gas, rock and ash scoured the surrounding area before hitting the sea at such velocity that it triggered a tsunami. A 2 metre high wave hit the East Cost of Java. This was 500km away. The wave had enough power to travel for over two hours before it reached land. Further to this, hurricanes of debris incinerated the area 20 km radius of the volcano. The eruption was incredibly devastating. Clive Oppenheimer, a volcanologist with Cambridge University has placed the number of deaths between 60,000 and 120,000. These figures vary however what is sure is that this caused the largest death toll as a direct result of a volcanic eruption in recorded history. The loss of life continued in the months after the eruption as disease, famine and pestilence ravaged the area.

The effects were recorded by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. A British Statesmen he was best known for his involvement in the conquest of Java over the Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and his role in the founding of Singapore. Usefully he also wrote a memoir which included details of the eruption and its aftermath. [2] According to the British Library, Raffles collected first-hand accounts of the eruption from people living about 400 km from the volcano. He noted that the eruption lasted for over a week with the major explosions occurring on the 5th and the 10th of April. He is also a vital source of information for the effect the eruption had on the local area.

The eruption of Mount Tambora was intensified as the 1816 eruption came on the heels of several other volcanic explosions. Examples of this include eruptions in 1809, in the Pacific Ocean, and an 1812 eruption on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. Added to this was the impact of an 1813 eruption in Japan and another 1814 eruption in the Philippines. These eruptions contributed to a substantial build-up of atmospheric dust. This resulted in less sunlight passing through the stratosphere leading to a drop in temperature. The decade of 1810 to 1820 was the coldest in 200 years.

In the United States crop failures had a different impact. Migration increased as individuals and families moved away from the food shortages in New England on the east coast and began to settle in the more hospitable areas of West and Central New York and the American Midwest. This contributed to the settling of the “American Heartland”. Grain prices had collapsed which contributed to the first major American economic depression. One side effect of this was that the cost of oats rose from 12c a bushel in 1815 to 92c a bushel in 1816. The climatic changes continued into 1817 with temperatures in Central and Northern New York recorded as being as low as -30OF in the winter and snow falling in the August. This came after months of hard frosts that froze the ground, destroying further crops.

In a letter dated 8th September 1816 Thomas Jefferson had this to say. [3]

“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history of America. In June, instead of 3 ¾ inches, our average of rain for that month, we only had ? of an inch; in August, instead of 9 1/6 inches, our average, we had only 8/10 of an inch; and still it continues.  The summer, too, has been as cold as a moderate winter. In every State north of this there has been frost in every month of the year; in this State we had none in June and July, but those of August killed much corn over the mountains. The crop of corn through the Atlantic States will probably be less than one-third of an ordinary one, that of tobacco still less, and of mean quality.  The crop of wheat was middling in quantity, but excellent in quality.  But every species of bread grain taken together will not be sufficient for the subsistence of the inhabitants, and the exportation of flour, already begun by the indebted and the improvident, to whatsoever degree it may be carried, will be exactly so much taken from the mouths of our own citizens.  My anxieties on this subject are the greater, because I remember the deaths which the drought of 1755 in Virginia produced from the want of food.”

Joseph Smith’s family was one of the many to migrate. They lived in Norwich, Vermont, from 1814 to 1816. Due to the bad harvests they were one of the families that moved west, in their case to Palmyra in New York. The population of Vermont decreased from 15,000 to 10,000 at this time. In 1816 Joseph Smith Jr was 10 years old. He would later become known as “The Prophet”. The family moved to an area known for its intense religious revivalism. “The Burned Over District” [4], in west and central New York became known for the frequent religious revivals that took place there. They were so frequent and potent that this era became known as hosting the “Second Great Awakening”. This Protestant religious revivalism resulted in membership of Baptist and Methodist congregations rising rapidly. Rejecting rationalism, it placed emphasise on emotion and the supernatural.

This was fertile ground for a new religious occurrence to take place. Shortly after their arrival Joseph Smith Jr began to experience a series of visions. These were intense spiritual events that had a profound effect on him. In one of his visions an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Judeo – Christian history of an ancient American civilisation. Over time he wrote down all he learned and in 1830 published an English translation of the plates. This book was called The Book of Mormon and led to the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is fascinating the think how a volcanic eruption in Indonesia could influence religious beliefs in America.

 

[1] In Our Time podcast. 1816 The Year Without a Summer

[2] Raffles, S. 1830: Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. &c., particularly in the government of Java 1811–1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies 1817–1824: with details of the commerce and resources of the eastern archipelago, and selections from his correspondence. London. John Murray, cited by Oppenheimer (2003).

[3] https://historicinterpreter.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/weather-famine-disease-migration-and-monsters-1816-1819/ 

[4] So called because it had been burned over by so many different religions.

The Birth of Frankenstein

First Written for Headstuff.org

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (originally titled Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus) is often considered to be the first science fiction novel and is a landmark of gothic fiction. First published anonymously in 1818 when Mary Shelley was only twenty years old the story of the novels conception is as fascinating as the hold the Doctor Frankenstein and his monster have held on popular culture ever since its publication. One evening in Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 saw the accumulation of an unusual set of circumstances that triggered a creative spark that has captured popular imagination ever since.

The themes and ideas that went on to form the novel were present before that fateful night in 1816. In 1814 Mary¹, her half-sister Claire Clairmont (born Jane) and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Europe. Mary and Shelley, having fallen desperately in love, fled to Europe when her father William Godwin objected to their affair. Travelling through France, which had been ravaged by the Napoleonic wars, onto Germany at one point they stopped in Gernsheim, 17km from Frankenstein Castle. Unlike most places named after the now legendary Doctor, Frankenstein Castle significantly predates the novel. It is questionable whether Mary would have been aware of or visited the castle but the legend behind it is worth investigating. The thirteenth century castle is best known because of the actions of alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

Born in 1673 Dippel became an alchemist; creating an elixir called Dippel’s Oil. Made from pulverised animal bones the elixir demonstrates his use of animal bodies in scientific creation. It had long been rumoured that this interest morphed into anatomy studies. He was said to conduct medical experiments on exhumed corpses, trying to reanimate the dead bodies. One myth that circulated was that Dippel was successful and created a monster that was brought to life by a bolt of lightning. In all likelihood this myth was applied to the castle after the release of Frankenstein, however it is interesting to note that the name previously existed, and has long been associated with the relationship between life and death.

The trio returned to Europe in 1816. This time they were heading to Geneva, to stay with Claire’s former lover Lord Byron. Mary and Shelley published their joint journal which covered this period in 1817. The travelogue was titled History of a Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland.  Here is an excerpt that discusses the landscape they observed:

“Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime.”

1816 was also remarkable for being the Year Without a Summer. 1815 had seen a large volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. It left almost 100,000 dead. Clouds of volcanic ash were propelled into the upper atmosphere, obscuring the sun. The Northern hemisphere saw crop failures, food shortages and sudden climatic change. This included a decline in temperature and an increase in rainfall. At the time many were unaware of the causes of this strange phenomenon. It was common to have to light candles in the middle of the day due to the darkness. There are accounts of snow falling in the middle of June. Holidaying at Lord Byron’s villa Mary and her companions found themselves unable to enjoy the outdoors and instead spent their time inside discussing science, politics and literature. At this time Byron composed the poem Darkness, which reflects the uneasy feeling of the time.

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. / The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars / Did wander darkling in the eternal space, / Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth / Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; / Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day, / And men forgot their passions in the dread / Of this their desolation”.

Themes of the supernatural and mystery run throughout the work created at Villa Diodati.

Interestingly the atmospheric changes resulted in unusual sunsets. It is thought that the yellow tinge that marks William Turner’s paintings during this period is a result of this. One work which demonstrates this is Chichester Canal (1828). Byron and Mary were not the only writers to find success in that strange atmosphere. The same few days saw the origin of the book The Vampyre. Written by Byron’s physician John Polidori it became the progenitor of Romantic vampire literature and was used as a key inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula.

Added to this was the stifling interpersonal atmosphere between the group. When Mary and Percy Shelly first fell in love she was only sixteen years old and he already had a wife a child. His young wife Harriet was pregnant again at this time. This, plus her father’s disapproval, didn’t stop them. Shelley declared his love for Mary, often meeting at night at her mother’s grave. Claire went with them on their travels partly because she could speak French and they could not. Also, she was able to introduce them to Lord Byron. The two had been lovers. Although still besotted with Byron, who had largely lost interest in her, after Mary lost her first child in early 1815 Claire and Shelley embarked on an affair. It has also been reported that Polidori had designs on the young Mary, but she did not reciprocate his feelings. Notably, although Byron was interested in the young poet Shelley he was supposed to have had little respect for Mary. Shelley believed in free love and practised it, having affairs and illegitimate children throughout his life. At one point the Shelley’s were labelled a part of the League of Incest that Byron was at the heart of². Added to this Shelley was reported to have fallen into a morbid mood as a result of the oppressive environment.

It was in this atmosphere that the group; consisting of Mary, Shelley, Claire, Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori, spent their evenings talking and reading each other ghost stories. Eventually Byron suggested a ghost story writing competition. In the preface to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein Mary wrote that, feeling anxious, she would wake up each morning no closer to a story. At only 18 years old Mary was one of the more junior writers of the group. However she was highly educated for a young woman at the time and had been exposed to liberal, intellectual ideas all her life. This came primarily through her parents: radical feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and political theorist William Godwin, both successful writers.

In September 2011 astronomer David Olson managed to pinpoint the exact time of Shelley’s “waking dream”

Several days after the competition was suggested Mary dreamed of a scientist who created life but was then horrified by its creation. She had found her story. The evening before her “waking dream” the group had been discussing the principle of life; what it means to be alive and whether a corpse could be reanimated. Mary commented on this in the novels preface:

“many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. … Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth”.

Although this sounds a little morbid corpse reanimation was a hot topic of the day. Galvanism is the contraction of a muscle that has been stimulated by electric current. Studies and investigations into the line between life and death occupied many of the great scientific minds of the early nineteenth century. Professor Sharon Ruston has investigated this area of scientific interest in depth. Her findings are detailed in the essayThe Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One point of particular interest is the work of the Royal Humane Society, originally named the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. Established in 1774 the Society’smain aim was to publicise information to help people resuscitate others. Mary’s mother once attempted suicide by jumping from Putney Bridge into the Thames River. She was one of those “brought back to life”: resuscitated. This was one of the ways in which the line between life and death were being blurred and questioned. Each year there was a procession of those “raised from the dead” by the Society.

Further to this Shelley had a long history with scientific experiments. At Eton he used a frictional electric machine to charge the door handle of his room. He once blew up a tree on the schools South Meadow with gunpowder. His rooms at Oxford were fully equipped with science equipment and he continued to experiment with electricity, magnetism and chemicals. This interest continued into his adult life where he had trouble with multiple landlords and hosts. His frequent experiments would often burn cushions, leave marks on the walls and floors, and disturb other residents. In their leisure time the couple were also known to attend lectures and demonstrations that looked into the space between the known and unknown.

On that infamous night they had been reading German ghost stories from a French translation of the book Fantasmagoriana. These stories combined with the unusual dark and mysterious climate had an effect on the young writer. Shelley wrote,

“The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends…and myself agreed to write each a story founded on some supernatural occurrence.”

In the preface Mary talked about a “waking dream” in which she conceived the idea of Frankenstein.

“When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, —I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. …”.

In September 2011 astronomer David Olson managed to pinpoint the exact time of Shelley’s “waking dream” concluding that it occurred between 2 am and 3am on the 16th June 1816. This was several days after the competition began and fits in with Shelley’s remembrances of her difficulty in coming up with a story. Olsen explains,

“Mary Shelley wrote about moonlight shining through her window, and for 15 years I wondered if we could recreate that night. We did recreate it. We see no reason to doubt her account, based on what we see in the primary sources and using the astronomical clue.”

In order to capture the gothic horror found in the novel’s pages Shelley taped into her own fears. “What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow. On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story”. She began to create “a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream”. In the cauldron of the strange mix of events came the creation of one of the corner stones of gothic horror and science fiction.


¹Although at this point her name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin she referred to herself as Mrs Shelley prior to their December 1816 marriage

² Byron went into self-induced exile from Britain largely as a result of the constant rumours that he fathered a child with his sister. Like Shelley he had multiple children with multiple women; including a daughter called Allegra with Claire (1817).

The Liffey Swim and Jack Butler Yeats

First written for Headstuff.org

The Liffey Swim and Jack Butler Yeats: Ireland’s First Olympic Medalist

The first Olympic medal won by the Irish Free State was a silver medal in 1924, awarded Jack Butler Yeats for his 1923 painting The Liffey Swim. That may seem surprising today, however between 1912 and 1948 the arts took pride of place alongside sporting events in the Olympic Games. The arts section was broken down into five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture.

The arts were introduced to the Olympic Games largely due to the work and enthusiasm of one man: Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The Frenchman spent his life studying sports and education, becoming convinced of the importance of physical exercise in day to day and cultural life. Known as the Father of the Modern Olympics after he founded the International Olympic Committee, he acted as the driving force behind the sporting events revival.

Inspired by a somewhat romanticised view of the Ancient Greek games, his prime ambition was to place sport at the centre of French social and cultural life. More importantly, Coubertin saw the arts as being equal to sports. One can then see why the silver medal went to a work such as The Liffey Swim, which is now held in the National Gallery of Ireland. A lyre is represented on one side of the medal next to oars, javelins and other sporting paraphernalia.

There was of course a catch; all eligible works of art had to be inspired by sport and this suited Yeats well. Many of his oil paintings depicted boxing and horse racing events. Alongside The Liffey Swim (credited by the Olympic Committee as just Swimming) Yeats also submitted his 1915 painting Before The Start; an oil painting of three jockeys before the race began. Fellow Irish artist Sean Keating entered his painting The Fowler, which did not take home a medal. The Gold medal winner was Jean Jacoby from Luxembourg. He submitted, and won for three paintings: Corner, Depart and Rugby. World renowned artists were a part of the judging panel including John Singer Sargent and Belfast-born Sir John Lavery (who also has works on display at The National Gallery). At 53 Yeats was already a star on the international arts scene.

Jack Butler Yeats was the younger brother of Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats and son of the portrait artist John Butler Yeats. The family were very artistic, making their names through their writing or their paintings. A successful writer and playwright Jack started out as a cartoonist before he began to focus on oil painting. It was here that he found his calling and became one of Ireland’s most prominent artists of the twentieth century. Samuel Beckett once recorded that “Yeats is with the greats of our time”.

The Liffey Swim itself was a new event which Yeats captured in its infancy. The first race took place in 1920 with 27 entrants. Beginning at Victoria Quay, the swimmers would follow the river through the centre of Dublin, with spectators gathered on bridges to watch, before coming to an end one and a half miles later at Butt Bridge. After years of uncertainty, The Liffey Swim proved to be a transformative and vibrant communal event that bought people together from across the political divide. The painting captures the essence of that bond of excitement. According to the National Gallery, the 1923 swim was promoted as “the biggest free spectacle of the year in Dublin”. It was held after work hours on a Saturday so as many people as possible could watch. Even today the race still takes place on a Saturday in late August or early September. The 1923 winner was former Olympian water polo player Charles “Cecil” Fagan, who would go on to enter the race for many years to come. The runner up was the previous year’s winner Thomas Hayes Dockrell. The 1924 Olympics were the first Olympic Games after the years of conflict and war that had plagued Ireland. The fact that artists of such ability and stature wanted to take part arguably shows a great commitment to the new Irish Free State, and a desire to show the positive side of Ireland. The Liffey Swim is a positive and vibrant depiction of Dublin. For this one moment in time all are united in the joy and excitement of the competitive swim.

The bright blues of the painting reinforce the idea of this being a delightful day out. In reality it is likely that Yeats took a few artistic liberties with the colouring. On the actual day in 1923 the Irish Independent reported that “it rained now and then, but like a deluge during the concluding stages of the race” and that “a canopy of umbrellas ten deep lined the river”. Interestingly Yeats has also included himself in spectator scenes. The man wearing the brown fedora is thought to be Yeats, and the woman in the elaborate yellow hat his wife Cottie. In the painting the swimmers are approaching O’Connell Bridge. There is a feeling of activity and movement from the thick loose brush strokes and multiple layers of oil paint. The audience are placed in with the spectators, looking over shoulders to see the swimmers as they come into view. It captures the celebratory feeling that can be seen each year at the event.

Ultimately the fledgling Irish State only took home two medals from the 1924 Olympic Games. Both of these were from the arts categories: Yeats’ silver medal for The Liffey Swim and a bronze medal in literature for Irish poet Oliver Gogarty for his poem Ode to the Tailteann Games. Overall Ireland came joint fourth, with Denmark,in the arts section. Although Yeats was the first Irish artist of the twentieth century to sell for over £1,000,000 the silver medal did not initially lead to a sale. In 1925 The Liffey Swim was exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, with a £300 price tag. It wasn’t until December 1930 that the painting finally sold, for £250 to the Haverty Bequest Fund, who presented the painting to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1931.

Surviving Freshers Week in 1660

First Written for Headstuff.org

James Duport’s Guide to Surviving Freshers Week 1660

In 1660, James Duport, a fellow at Trinity College Cambridge compiled a list of 149 handwritten rules aimed at new students. In doing so he established a tradition of advice-giving that has endured over the centuries. Each new academic year, students are inundated by a plethora of do’s and don’ts; covering a wide range of issues such as studies, sex and alcohol. So how similar are Duport’s rules to those given out today and what do the 149 items tells us about students through the ages?

The most unsurprising rule urged students to “forbear wine and tobacco”. Students have always been associated with heavy drinking and the endless rounds of parties and drunkenness that haunt parent’s dreams. Even in the sixteen hundreds, it seems that there was concern about the role of alcohol in student’s lives.

Following on from this there was a desire for students to focus more on their studies. This was developed on with the rule: “never go into the town, except, to ye Church or Schools or Book-seller or Book-binders shop”. By today’s standards this seems extreme however Duport was writing immediately after the end of Cromwell’s Puritan time of rule when taverns were widely frowned upon as dens of sin in which a good man could come to harm, financial ruin or succumb to the influence of ‘loose women’. Bear in mind that the carrying of arms, daggers and such, was relatively common and minor arguments could easily escalate. In 1593 Cambridge alumni Christopher Marlowe had his life and stellar career (he was a spy, playwright, atheist and early contemporary of Shakespeare) cut short when a tavern brawl got out of hand.

It seems that Marlowe was one of the many who did not follow the rule to “beware of riot, excess & intemperance, which hath drown’d & devoured ye most pregnant parts & choicest of witts.” When away from home for the first time parents often worry that their children will be drawn into a life of excess and idleness in which riotous behaviour can bloom. One only has to look at the antics of the infamous Bullingdon Club in Oxford to understand the fear. Perhaps it was with behaviour such as this that encouraged Dupont to write the rule “take heed how you spend your time”.

Students were also given advice about what to wear and how to behave. “Wear no boots, nor powder your hair, let yr Garb be grave & sober, yet cheerful & pleasant.” After the Reformation the study of canon law declined in Universities and courses were increasingly preparing students for careers in the priesthood of the national church, in which outward presentation would have been considered important. This point is particularly interesting when you remember that in 1610 few people actually went to University, and those that did tended to be young, well off men often from high ranking families. Yet there have always been set ideas of how students should behave and dress. In turn this implies that there were also common ideas about how students should not dress and behave. This is something current students will be aware of when they go on pub crawls, fresher’s parties and end of term balls.

The complete set of 149 rules only came to light in 2013 when they were published in a Cambridge Bibliographical Society. This is the first time that the rules have been printed in their entirety after being prepared for publication by Dr Preston and Dr Oswald. The first known version of the rules have been held in the Wren Library, until recently when the missing page was located. In a post publication interview Dr Preston summed up that: “The rules are fascinating – they build up a picture of what was going on in the university at the time, and show how parents were anxious that their children be properly looked after”.

Although the rules are over three hundred years old tips such as rising early, making use of local book shops and avoiding the perils of binge drinking are still given out today by worried parents as their children are branching out on their own for the first time. These rules help to show that going away to University has always been a rite of passage, eliciting excitement and nerves in equal measure. It is interesting that the list focuses more on the social and practical side, rather than the academic, of being a student, expressing the fears of parents and guardians throughout the centuries. Who would have thought that the beliefs of a seventeenth century scholar could have so much resonance with twenty-first century parents who given the chance would often love for their children to “forbear wine and tobacco” and focus on their studies rather than socialising.

Welcoming the Mayor to Hell. The Story of Jane Byrne and Cabrini Green

First Written for Headstuff

Untitled

 

‘What It’s like to be in Hell’

 

Three weeks in 1981 saw an almost complete halt in criminal activities in the notorious Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. Often regarded as one of the most violent of the projects in America it had long been swamped by crime, gang warfare and neglect and the housing conditions were often deplorable.

In 1981, Mayor of Chicago Jane Byrne took the unusual step of moving into one of the housing units in Cabrini Green. In these days of politicians having second homes and travel allowances this seems like a strange thing for a politician to do but in the context of 1981 it was an even more provocative action for a Mayor to take. So why did she do it?

The first reason was to demonstrate that this area was not as bad as its detractors would have you think. For a Mayor it would be very difficult to claim to be a reformer making great strides against inequality when the city’s housing projects were deemed so unsafe as to be uninhabitable. Cabrini Green, infamous for crime and urban blight had also become a byword for racial and class divides. The Mayor attracted, and courted the media who followed her as she moved in and out of the project. With this publicity Byrne aimed to publicise the inequality that plagued the city. By moving into one of the most deprived areas she hoped to shine a light on the neglected side of the city and in turn hopefully prove that Chicago was a city worth investing in.

Byrne had been in office since 1979, however 1981 would prove to be the most significant year of her tenure. In 1981 there were 11 reported gang killings in the first few months of the year and a violent assault on a teenage girl. As each of these were reported on the news, Byrne faced increasing criticism for her policies and ability to protect the most vulnerable citizens. A Democrat she found the headlines depicting the decay and fear around the projects acutely embarrassing. In her election campaign she had positioned herself as a reformer. Now was the time to put that into action.

Byrne wished to demonstrate her commitment to increasing safety in public housing projects by moving in herself. In doing so she would also be able to see the problems Cabrini Green was facing first hand. Cutting through layers of bureaucracy to go straight to the source of the troubles, Byrne stated that she would stay “as long as it takes to clean it up”.

The Cabrini Green area had long had a fearsome reputation. In the 1850’s nearby gas refineries produced shooting pillars of flames and noxious fumes, leading to the name “Little Hell” being coined. This became the main destination of Irish emigrants entering the city. The same problems of poverty, inequality and danger would linger in the area. An example of this can be seen from a 1931 “map of Chicago’s gangland by Bruce-Roberts which included “death corner” with the chilling additional note “50 murders: count em”.

GanglandMap

“Sing a Song of Gangsters”: The Bruce-Roberts Gangland Map, 1931

It was into this environment that building began on the first public housing units in 1942, part of the mid-twentieth century urban renewal that took place across America. However, the end of World War II resulted in the closure of many nearby factories and thousands of new unemployed. It didn’t take long until the struggling city began to withdraw services from the projects. This included police patrols and building maintenance. The later stages of building works were conducted on a very tight budget. These new homes were of low quality and suffered from maintenance problems very quickly. 1942 regulations stipulated that the population had to be 75% white. This was later found to be racially discriminatory and the controls were removed in 1966. This contributed to a shifting demographic in the area.

As occurred in many other housing projects and inner cities across America, Cabrini Green experienced ‘white flight’. It didn’t take long until the population of Cabrini Green was ‘overwhelmingly’ African-American and very poor. This contributed to the image of racial and class inequality in Chicago. Furthermore, in 1992 the LA Times reported that of Cabrini Green’s 7,000 residents half are younger than 20. Only 9% of residents were employed and single parent families were the norm.

 

Over the years fencing was added to balconies. The reinforced metal and mesh exteriors gave the projects a cage like quality. This was intended to prevent garbage from being emptied into the yard below and also to prevent deaths of people being thrown/ falling off the building. In practice however it just obscured activities from police and allowed gangs to take over the open gangways. Residents had begun to throw their garbage outside when the trash chutes were full. One account states that garbage stacked up in these chutes, reaching up to the fifteenth floor at one point. Lawns and green areas, originally intended for sport and recreation, were paved over. When lights in the hallways and outside blew they were not replaced and fire damaged housing units were boarded up and abandoned.

Gun fire had long been the norm in the area. In the days after Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 snipers positioned on the upper floors caused almost constant gun fire leading to casualties and property damage. Sniper fire continued sporadically throughout the 1970s. It is strange to think that in a housing center in the middle of an American city snipers can and have taken control of the area. In 1970, July 17th, two police officers were fatally shot.

Although there were only 3,607 units at its height, there were around 15,000 known inhabitants. It is often thought that the real figure was much higher, with family members and friends living together, and gangs taking over empty units. Cabrini Green is located on the near north side of Chicago, a stone’s throw from the Gold Coast, which is otherwise a largely affluent area of the city. This reinforced the idea of relative poverty in the heart of the city. By 1981 Cabrini Green was considered a ‘no go’ area, largely avoided by all who could.

Byrne’s arrival coincided with Easter. A parade and children’s events had been arranged. Hymns were sung. Local news outlets had been reported and were on hand when a group of locals began to protest at the perceived publicity stunt, chanting “we need jobs not eggs” and “Jayne Byrne is full of tricks”. They also captured the arrest of one of the protesters. It was not an auspicious start. Byrne’s attempt to gain greater knowledge of Cabrini’s problems first hand did gain international coverage, however it was mostly negative with headlines calling it a ‘stunt’, and a ‘disaster’. Byrne remained in Cabrini Green for only three weeks.

The 1980s also saw a crack epidemic ravage inner city America. The projects quickly became a hub of addiction and drug selling. For many this was a quick way to make money when they felt that there was nothing else for them. It also became an added element to the ongoing gang operations. Gangs in the area included The Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Cobra Stones, Blackstones and El Rukins.

A New York Times article had this to say on the drug problem in Cabrini Green:

“drug dealers form thickets in the lobbies so deep that it resembles a crowded market. The elevators are often out of service, forcing residents into stairwells that addicts have claimed for their own purposes”.

It was “the Poverty District”, the place where peopled queued for drugs from the 4th floor down to the building lobby.

Byrne and her husband took over a fourth floor apartment, but a police and substantial personal body guard presence remained at all times. Additional security measures were put in place for her stay, the rear entryway of the unit was welded shut so that there was only one main access point to her apartment. This had the unwelcome side effect of creating a fortified area for gangs to use after her departure. In the future gangs would copy this so her attempt to raise awareness of conditions in the project inadvertently actually contributed to the problem.

Gun crime continued after Byrne’s tenure as Mayor until the projects were demolished in 2011. Gang members would ring in the New Year with gun fire. It became a yearly ‘celebration’. Bullets put civilians at risk but it seemed as though there was nothing that the police could do about it. In the end each New Year the police ended up simply cutting the area off. As the area was cordoned off it also meant that emergency services could not enter the area. Over time gangs took control of individual buildings, marking them with distinctive symbols and imagery.

The 1990’s then saw several very high case crimes reported nationally. In 1992 a young boy, Dantrell Davis was shot dead by a stray bullet when he was holding his mother’s hand on the walk to school. He was the third pupil from Jenner School to be murdered in seven months.

In 1997 a crime occurred that was so vicious that it shocked the nation anew, and this time even caused outrage among resident gangs. A nine year old girl, “Girl X”, was found in a 7th floor stairwell. She had been raped, beaten, choked, poisoned with a can of insecticide and her body covered in gang symbols. She survived and the attacker, who had no gang affiliations, was found in a rare show of unity with the help of local community leaders and gang leaders who were all sickened by the crime and the attempts the culprit had made to blame them. It was this incident more than any other that triggered rehabilitation attempts and ultimately helped lead to the decision to knock down the project, and attempt to erase its history for good.

So did Byrne achieve anything by this move?

After her stay in Cabrini, she approached private donors to fund a sports complex that would boost morale, give people the chance to be a part of something, and show how some investment and interest can help improve an area. Her husband Jay McMullen coached the local baseball, basketball and soft ball teams long after they left and the centre was reported to help the residents feel as if they were again part of the mainstream.

Unfortunately the funds dried up after the 1983 election and over time the centre also fell into disrepair. Newspapers were dismissive of her actions and any good intentions that Byrne may have had were obscured. It was an effort to demonstrate a commitment to making the complex safer, but actually contributed to the public perception of Cabrini Green as being dangerous and undesirable. After all, if it were otherwise, why would Byrne have needed to be constantly accompanied by police officers?

However not everyone was so negative. In a New York Times report, Janice Todd, an assistant principal at the Richard Byrd Elementary School had this to say,

“A poll taken soon after the Mayor moved out showed that her popularity had risen as a result of her stay there. But residents say that when she left, so did many of the city services that had been increased for her stay.

”My feeling is that things were never different when Mayor Byrne was here. The gangs and troublemakers simply went underground when the Mayor was here. Now there has been a resurgence of gang activity.”

Byrne was not re-elected in 1983.

Who Was Lady Godiva?

First Written for Headstuff.ie

Lady-Godiva_DSC_9412

 

In the centre of Coventry, a midlands city in England, there is a statue of a woman astride a horse, her head bowed, unclothed except for her long hair. Across the road, at the top of a slate grey brick clock tower every hour, on the hour, a smaller version of the woman on the horse circles underneath the caricature of a man with binoculars leering over her. They are Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom.

Every place has its own mythology and for Coventry the Lady Godiva story is a vital part of the city’s historical consciousness. It is a story that every school child learns and every migrant to the city becomes acquainted with. However, how much does the story fit with the historical facts and why has this story lived so long in the city’s memory?

Growing up in Coventry, this is the version of the story I was told: Lady Godiva was the wife of Earl Leofric, Lord of Mercia in the eleventh century. Leofric, a very powerful and influential man enforced heavy taxes on his people. Unable to pay Godiva pleaded their case, begging her husband to remove the taxes. He refused, eventually turning around and declaring that if she rode through the market place naked he would alleviate the citizen’s financial burden. Amazingly she took him up on this. One day, clothed only by her long hair, she rode through the market place in the middle of the day. Out of respect, every citizen shut themselves away and promised not to look, so as to preserve her modesty. One man however reneged on this. His name was Tom, and he took a peep, viewing her naked body. After the ride he was dragged into the market square and blinded by the angry citizens. Having completed her challenge Leofric removed the hated taxes, and Godiva became a local hero. This version however differs significantly from the facts.

Lady Godiva and her husband Earl Leofric were one of the last powerful noble families of the pre-Norman period in England. In old English, the name Godiva translates as Godgifu, meaning ‘gift of God’. She was independently powerful and wealthy. Leofric was one of the three great Earls of the eleventh century, responsible for ruling over the kingdom of Mercia. At the time Coventry was a very small place consisting of only 69 families and a monastery. Importantly Godiva actually owned Coventry outright and would have been responsible for setting taxes herself. This undermines the traditional story. Further the only two known taxes at the time were taxes on stabling horses and the Heregeld; a tax everyone had to pay to contribute towards upkeep of the king’s bodyguard. It was not possible for this tax to be removed and if Godiva choose to pay it on behalf of her citizens then there would have been no need for the naked horse ride.

The Anglo – Saxons had very different attitudes to nobility and gender compared with the incoming Normans. The first written records of the story date from the thirteenth century. Written from the Norman perspective it offered a less than glowing account of the previous Anglo – Saxon rulers, most of whom had been displaced after the invasion. This is significant as it helps to explain why the tale removes much of Godiva’s agency, independence and wealth. Similarly it is also at pains to paint Leofric in a negative light, as the heartless landlord oppressing his tenants. Arguably part of the reason for this is to show the Normans in a better light, rewriting history in their favour. It is worth noting at this juncture that divorce existed in Anglo – Saxon society and it was not unheard of for noble women to divorce their husbands if given reason to. If Leofric had indeed been so cold and cruel this is an option that Godiva could have availed upon.

References made to the couple during their lifetime and shortly after make no mention of the horse ride, and instead emphasise their wealth and piety. They were known for giving generously to religious houses, founding a Benedictine monastery in the town in 1043 (The monastery was later destroyed in the Reformation period). They also donated land to the monastery of Saint Mary in Worcester and Lady Godiva was known for donating her own jewellery, along with gold and silver, to churches and religious homes. On her death she left her own heavy gold chain, a sign of her status, to a local church, with the instruction that a prayer be said for each chain link. It appears that they were very generous with their wealth. Lady Godiva is the first woman to be recorded in the Domesday book, the great survey ordered by William the Conqueror to map and number the population, property and wealth of his new land. It was completed in 1087. Unusually she kept her wealth and land after his ascension even though William confiscated the land and property of most existing English nobles. It was noted that she had holdings in Leicester, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. Godiva must have been a powerful and popular woman to retain her property, especially as by this point she was a widow, Leofric having died in 1057. The date of Godiva’s death is unknown. Often cited as 1067 it has been argued to be anything between this date and 1086.

Peeping Tom and Lady Godiva

The story first dates from the thirteenth century when it was recorded by monk and collector of anecdotes Roger of Wendover in his Flores Historiarum. It is known that Wendover died in 1236, so the story must predate this. There are no surviving records of the story from before this. Historians place very little credibility in Wendover’s account. He was known to collect unusual stories and often stretched the truth beyond breaking point. This version differs from later versions. In Wendover’s story Godiva passed through the market attended by two knights. The people of Coventry were assembled but kept their eyes closed. Here is an extract from Flores Historiarum:

‘The Countess Godiva devoutly anxious to free the city of Coventry from a grievous and base thralldom often besought the Count, her husband, that he would for love of the Holy Trinity and the sacred Mother of God liberate it from such servitude. But he rebuked her for vainly demanding a thing so injurious to himself and forbade her to move further therein. Yet she, out of her womanly pertinacity, continued to press the matter insomuch that she obtained this answer from him: “Ascend,” he said, “thy horse naked and pass thus through the city from one end to the other in sight of the people and on thy return thou shalt obtain thy request.” Upon which she returned: “And should I be willing to do this, wilt thou give me leave?” “I will,” he responded. Then the Countess Godiva, beloved of God, ascended her horse, naked, loosing her long hair which clothed her entire body except her snow white legs, and having performed the journey, seen by none, returned with joy to her husband who, regarding it as a miracle, thereupon granted Coventry a Charter, confirming it with his seal’.

A different account came in the sixteenth century from Richard Grafton, M.P. for Coventry. The fiercely Protestant Grafton recorded a sanitised version of the story to better suit his, and his audiences, sensibilities. There are similarities though between this version and Wendover’s:

‘she returned to her Husbande from the place from whence she came, her honestie saued, her purpose obteyned, her wisdome much commended, and her husbands imagination vtterly disappointed. And shortly after her returne, when shee had arayed and apparelled her selfe in most comely and seemly manner, then shee shewed her selfe openly to the peuple of the Citie of Couentrie, to the great joy and maruellous reioysing of all the Citizens and inhabitants of the same, who by her had receyued so great a benefite’.

The introduction of the voyeur famously to be known as Peeping Tom is more recent, 17th century, addition. Here is an extract from the account of Humphrey Wanley (1672-1726):

‘In the Forenoone all householders were Commanded to keep in their Families shutting their doores & Windows close whilest the Duchess performed this good deed, which done she rode naked through the midst of the Towne, without any other Coverture save only her hair. But about the midst of the Citty her horse neighed, whereat one desirous to see the strange Case lett downe a Window, & looked out, for which fact, or for that the horse did neigh, as the cause thereof. Though all the Towne were Franchised, yet horses were not toll-free to this day’.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson later further romanticised the story with his poem Godiva, written in 1840 and published in 1842. The lengthy poem emphasised Godiva’s virtues, particularly her chastity, for his Victorian audience.

‘… loathed to see them overtax’d; but she
Did more, and underwent, and overcame,
The woman of a thousand summers back,
Godiva, wife to that grim Earl, who ruled
In Coventry: for when he laid a tax
Upon his town, and all the mothers brought
Their children, clamouring, “If we pay, we starve!”
She sought her lord, and found him

‘“Then she rode back, clothed on with chasity;
And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,
The fatal byword of all years to come,
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,
Peep’d – but his eyes, before they had their will,
Were shrivell’d into darkness in his head,
And dropt before him.’

In these sources there are several themes that carry through the centuries. The first is the depiction of Lady Godiva herself. She is seen as being modest, chaste and brave. Further Leofric is also described in negative terms, as the cruel, cold husband and landlord that forces Godiva to do something that would have been seen as pretty extreme in order to help and protect the people of Coventry from his greed.

Edmund-Blair-Leighton-Lady-Godiva

Over time historians have presented some possible explanations as to why this story has both been constructed and attached to Lady Godiva. For example pagan rituals were intertwined with Christianity at this time and the story bears some resemblance to fertility rituals. In the eleventh century Christianity and paganism were still closely interlinked. Following on from this it was also known for penitents to make a public procession to atone for their sins. The deeply pious Godiva may have made her way through the town before halting at the shrine of Saint Osburga, a nun who was killed several centuries earlier in a Viking attack. Alternatively the reference to nakedness could suggest she had removed her jewellery and other signs of her station. It is possible that stories and rituals of this manner occurred and over time became associated with Godiva, before passing into folk history.

Daniel Donoghue, author of one of the few works on Lady Godiva: Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend has stated that ‘nobody knows quite why the legend was invented and attached to her name but it does seem to function as a kind of myth of origin for the town of Coventry’. It is telling that the statue was erected in 1949. Much of Coventry was destroyed in the 1940 Blitz and even more was wiped away by the town planners that rebuilt the city. It is significant that this statue has avoided all recent regeneration and rebuilding and remains the centrepiece for Coventry. Lady Godiva fits into the city image of personal sacrifice, martyrdom, of a victim rising from the flames that had become so important during the war years and helped to embed the story of Godiva in Coventry’s cultural consciousness.

Ned Kelly and the Jerilderie Letter

First Written for Headstuff September 2016

https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=ned+kelly&client=ms-android-samsung&prmd=ivn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiIpcjl1YnPAhVn5oMKHRmJD-kQ_AUIBygB&biw=360&bih=560#imgrc=Nvs5h0fAlEvd9M%3A

“Dear Sir, I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present past and future.” This is how infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly began what has become known as the Jerilderie letter, or his confessions. Coming in at nearly 8,000 words this letter, dictated by Kelly to fellow member of his gang Joe Byrne offers a rare glimpse into the life one of Australia’s most famous sons. Alongside his statement made to the police after his arrest, this is the only other document in which we hear his own words.

Jerilderie was a pivotal place in the lives of the Kelly gang. This is where, in January of 1879 the gang undertook two large armed robberies, the second being in Jerilderie, New South Wales. At this point in time the public were largely supportive of the gang despite the fact that they were responsible for the deaths of three police officers from a confrontation in Stringybark Creek, October 1878. Shortly before the robbery in Jerilderie twenty three suspected Kelly sympathisers were rounded up and arrested leading to public anger and the quick release of the prisoners. At this time, the gang had evaded the police and the letter suggests that Kelly wanted to explain and justify the murders. He seemed at pains to be understood. This was not new: Kelly had a history of writing to the authorities explaining his side of things when he felt let down or misjudged by the legal system.

After the events of Stringybark Creek the ransom for the gang had risen significantly from £2000 to £8000, dead or alive. It is possible that as a result of this, the gang started to become more fearful of being betrayed to the police in return for such a life changing sum of money. This may in part explain Kelly’s words on those who would betray him or his associates. He argued that he had never “interfered with any person unless they deserved it”, though if provoked he would not hold back:

“But by the light that shines pegged on an ant bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot, will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so depraved as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human burial their property either consumed or confiscated and them and theirs and all belonging to them exterminated of the face of the earth”.

These strong words make his case clear and would prevent many a have – a – go – hero from trying to take him on, however they also foreshadow future events. On the 25th June 1880 the gang executed a former friend and ally turned police informer Aaron Sherritt. Sherritt was shot dead by the gang even though he had four well-armed police men in his home for protection.

https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=ned+kelly+jerilderie&client=ms-android-samsung&prmd=imvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKs7zA2InPAhVi9IMKHa7uAyAQ_AUIBygB&biw=360&bih=560#imgrc=j0Q5BR-U4yBL9M%3A

Kelly details how his life, and that of his family, had been affected by disputes with the law for many years. His father was an Irishman, John ‘Red’ Kelly who, at the age of twenty-two, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing two pigs from his native County Tipperary in 1841. After his release in 1848, he married Ellen Quinn, the daughter herself of Irish immigrants. They went on to have eight children with Kelly being the third. His father died in his mid-forties shortly after being released from another stint of hard labour. This time the six months captivity seems to have wrought damage on his health, leading to his death.

It was not long before Kelly, now joint head of the household with his mother, would attract the attention of the police. When he was around 14 Kelly was arrested after a disagreement over a horse. The Jerilderie letter proclaims his innocence of this and future crimes that marked his teenage years. Aged 15 Kelly found himself in disagreement with, a Mr McCormack who referred to how he could have Kelly “or any of my breed” punished as he saw fit. Although said in a tense heightened atmosphere this still shows the prejudice and stratification of society in existence in the colony. McCormack accused Kelly and an associate, Gould, of using his horse without permission. As the altercation escalated Kelly punched McCormack. This resulted in his first prison sentence. As early as this he suggests that there was a certain amount of prejudice against him from the police authorities. Importantly whilst maintaining his innocence he does make it clear that “I hit him and I would do the same to him if he challenged me”.

Animosity towards the police pervades his Jerilderie letter. This is largely the result of his personal experiences; however it does give one an insight into policing of rural towns in the second half of the nineteenth century. For those from small, poverty stricken communities, often made up of emigrants and those who were transported for acts of criminality, there was long running resentment towards authority. This often manifested itself in the actions of the bushranger, members of the rural poor who eschewed the life prescribed for them and bucked from the yoke of the British legal system for a life of crime in the bush. Immigrants and their descendants often held on to their ethnicity and culture. This is particularly important when one considers that by this point resentment had built up in the general population regarding the amount of manpower and expense funding the attempts to capture or kill the Kelly gang. The police were being paid double time and were working increased hours. Although it would not be surprising that the police would want to hunt down the men responsible for the murder of several of their own, the resultant cost of this actually encouraged sympathy for the gang with many disagreeing with the police focus on them.

This runs alongside the undercurrent of anti-British sentiment that was nourished in the colony. The language and imagery of the Irish man living under British colonialism finds expression in the letter. In a continuation of his anger towards the police Kelly ponders the action he may one day be compelled to take against them.

“I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian Police and inhabitants but also the whole British army and no doubt they will acknowledge their hounds were barking at the wrong stump and that Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than Saint Patrick was to the snakes and toads in Ireland, The Queen of England was as guilty as Baumgarten and Kennedy, Williamson and Skillion of what they were convicted for”.

The Kelly gang were active between 1878 and 1880. As the son of an Irish criminal, sent thousands of miles away from his homeland, it is not very surprising that feelings of dissatisfaction and blame towards the British establishment flourished in the new, harsh environment that many found themselves in. It is also important to note that at the time many Irish in Australia would have been living with their own and cultural memories of the Great Famine still raw and exposed. The famine resulted in the deaths of approximately two million from starvation and disease, with another two million estimated to have emigrated. ‘Red’ Kelly and his family arguably fit into the theme of the Irish diaspora; banished from ones homeland for a relatively small matter. How many, after their period of imprisonment was completed, would be able to make the journey home? And even if they could what would they have found there in the years after the famine wrought devastation on Ireland.

For many such as ‘Red’ a seven year sentence meant he would never see his homeland again. In this light it is hardly surprising that Irish (and Irish Catholic) patriotism, often established in opposition to British rule was common in the colony. Kelly questions in his letter,

“What would England do if America declared war and hoisted a green flag as it is all Irishmen that has got command army forts of her batterys even her very life guards and beef tasters are Irish would they not slew round and fight her with their own arms for the sake of the color they dare not wear for years and to reinstate it and rise old Erins isle once more from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke and which has kept in poverty and starvation and caused them to wear the enemys coat. What else can England expect is there not big fat necked unicorns enough paid to torment and drive me to do things which I don’t wish to do”.

The Kelly families long history with the police continued when Kelly was a young adult. He was first arrested and tried for theft and assault aged fourteen. He was acquitted but went on to associate with well-known bushranger Harry Power who had been taken to the bush after escaping from Pentridge Gaol. It is likely that Kelly would have been bought up hearing stories of bushrangers and their exploits, which were often highly romanticised, and would have been well acquainted with the lifestyle that came with it. Kelly was given his first prison sentence aged only fifteen.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Ned_Kelly_aged_15.jpg

In 1870 he was sentenced to three years hard labour for horse theft. By this time he had become a familiar face to his local police force, having faced and defeated charges multiple times already. One of the few photographs of him from this time show a well-built, heavy set man. His exact date of birth is unsure and many suspected that he was actually several years older by his imposing stature.

This conflict intensified. From the letter it is clear that Kelly felt he and his family had been the target of anti – Irish bigotry and were the focus of continual police persecution; an act by which the wealthier agriculturalists and members of the burgeoning Victorian establishment trod on the poor. However by the time Kelly fled his home for the bush the situation had escalated. On April 15 1878 what has become known as ‘The Fitzpatrick Incident’ occurred in the Kelly family home.

Constable Fitzpatrick visited the Kelly home that night. The reasons for this are disputed but Fitzpatrick stated he was there to issue an arrest warrant to Kelly’s younger brother Dan for horse stealing. What happened afterwards is touched upon in the letter. A fracas ensued and Kelly’s mother Ellen, along with two other associates Bricky Williamson and Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, who had been shot twice. There is an often repeated myth that this incident occurred because the family were trying to protect one of the younger sisters from Fitzpatrick’s unwanted sexual advances. However this is denied by both Fitzpatrick and Kelly. The constable stated that when he was guarding Dan when two horsemen came up to the property. Kelly then burst through the door and shot the policeman. In the ensuing scuffle he was overpowered by the family; including Ellen. Kelly gives a different version of events in the letter.

He continues with the theme of police brutality and argues that Fitzpatrick pointed a gun at his mother when he came to apprehend Dan. Kelly himself was not on the scene. “The trooper pulled out his revolver and said he would blow her brains out if she interfered in the arrest she told him it was a good job for him Ned was not there or he would ram the revolver down his throat”. As a result of this Williamson and Skillion were sentenced to six years hard labour apiece. Ellen, who was taken into custody along with her baby Alice, was sentenced to three years hard labour. This deepened Kelly’s sense of injustice; he maintained that Fitzpatrick had falsified evidence to ensure that members of his family would be punished.

Even at the time Ellen’s sentence was popularly viewed as being very harsh and unfair. Kelly, who seems to have felt that had he been there the police would not have been so quick to threaten his family had this to say:

“but they knew well I was not there or I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain I would manure the Eleven mile with their bloated carcases and yet remember there is not one drop of murderous blood in my veins … my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police”.

It was after this incident that Dan joined Kelly in the bush and he officially became an outlaw.

The letter also exposes the difficulty many former convicts faced in trying to reintegrate back into society. Once he had been labelled a criminal, whether guilty, convicted, or not, it seems almost impossible for Kelly to hold down a legal job. With inevitability, whenever something went missing or wrong, he was the first person to be blamed. This is something he explored in the letter and is an issue that is still pertinent today. Kelly said that he “ran in a wild bull which I gave to Lydicher a farmer he sold him to Carr a Publican and Butcher who killed him for beef some time afterwards I was blamed for stealing this bull from James Whitty Boggy Creek”.

Further to this one line in the letter, an aside to the wider argument against the police feels chilling when read today. In detailing the injustices of certain members of the police receiving high salaries to protect the population that they steal from and brutalise, Kelly had this to say:

“if so why not send the men that gets big pay and reckoned superior to the common police after me and you shall soon save the country of high salaries to men that is fit for nothing else but getting better men than himself shot and sending orphan children to the industrial school to make Prostitutes for the Detectives and other evil disposed persons send the high paid men that receive big salaries for years in a gang by themselves”.

Kelly grew up with his family and did not attend an industrial school, but this one line suggests that there was a general knowledge of the abuses going on against children in institutions at the time. In light of what we now know, this is a deeply troubling line to read. This feeling is heightened by the fact that it is buried in the confession and is only mentioned in order to reinforce the belief in police brutality.

For many Kelly has become a kind of Robin Hood figure; a poor working man fighting against the system. The gang were well known for their good treatment of civilians and hostages. During the final Glenrowan siege it is recorded that no civilian hostages were hurt by the gang and those that did sustain injuries were shot by the police. Near the close of the Jerilderie letter one can see where this idea came from: “all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund and do not attempt to reside in Victoria”.

Ned Kelly’s place in Australian history and culture is undisputed. The worlds very first full length narrative film was about Kelly and the history of his gang. So often in popular culture, despite the dead and prison sentences behind him, he is viewed as one of the last free, wild men; he represents the end of the bushranger era. As Australian society moved inevitably towards a more urban way of life Kelly is often hailed as a reminder of a different, heavily mythologised time. The letter ends on one final message, words underlined for emphasis: “I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed”.