Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings – sidetracking through history

I haven’t commented on the Eastman case. I worked with David for several years, knew him for longer. The issue in the Martin Inquiry was not whether or not he had a sometimes difficult personality, but whether he received a fair trial. It appears not. You will find the details here, here, here, here, here, here.  Obviously, its big news in Canberra. What a mess.

Over at her place, The Resident Judge of Port Phillip, Janine Rizzetti has continued her series of book reviews, most recently with ‘A Biography of Robert Baldwin: The Morning-Star of Memory’ by Michael S. Cross. It’s a good review. Janine followed Judge Willis from Port Phillip to Canada and then found, as I had done, the similarities between Canadian and Australian history. Canadian history is longer, more complex, but both countries evolved as part of the same empire.

Australian historiography has been through phases. In one phase, the more nationalistic phase, the Imperial connection was effectively written out of Australian history except to the degree that it was necessary to establish a counterpoint to the Australian point, or deal with one of the isms, imperialism or colonialism. Australia was defined by its differences from, to a degree conflict with, its parent. It therefore comes as something of a shock to find that our now somewhat distant siblings actually had similar experiences. It can be a bigger shock to conclude that one’s parent may have been right after all, or at least conclude that that parent had a defensible view.

At the moment, I’m deeply enmeshed in the history of two linked Australian families, the Wyndhams and Wrights. I hadn’t intended to go this route. However, in pursuing one topic I found that I actually had a series of books on my shelves dealing especially with the Wright family. Thank heavens for the bicentenary! It led to a huge burst of historical and especially small press publishing. The bicentenary has long gone, as has the publishing burst. The books remain.

The books that I am reading contain excerpts from letters and diaries. This was the material as well as her own memories that Judith Wright used to write Generations of Men. It is the small details of life that I find most interesting,

On 7 September 1876, Emma Halliday nee Wyndham wrote from Darjeeling to her Uncle, George Wyndham, at Dalwood. The letter is an affectionate one, mainly concerned with horses. George had sent her a stallion from the Hunter; Emma appears to have been breeding and selling horses. “We are staying here in the hills because my husband has sick leave, as he had fever and argue”, Emma writes. “However, we rejoin the regiment in two month’s time, and we go up to Cawnpore, which I do not fancy at all”. Wise words. Next year, Emma, her husband and their child would die in the massacre at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny.

As an historian who see himself as a story teller, I don’t have to get involved in the rights and wrongs of the Indian mutiny. What is more important is that it touched one family in the context that I am writing about. 

I had intended in this post to go on to discuss some of the issues that Winton Bates is raising on Freedom and Flourishing. The segue would have been the importance of time in making judgements when so much of current data is actually short term. I apologise, Winton. I am reading!


Anonymous said...


There are similarities between Canada and Australia, as you say, and people (generally at the upper administrative level) common to both places. Your post also points out (as we tend to overlook) the links between India and the Australian colonies: quite a lot of people who came here came from families which had been involved earlier in the British enterprise in India and there was quite a bit of back and forth. This persisted until the British quit. For example, my great uncle, who graduated from Duntroon in the early twenties, was at Quetta staff college in the 30s.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, marcellous. That(your uncle)is an interesting example. I should try to write something consolidating the pattern; I seem to be coming across it all the time now. The machinery of Imperial Government including foreign relations and defence made for much greater interactions at an earlier point than I had realised.

Winton Bates said...

Thanks for reading.
The posts scheduled for the next couple of weeks will attempt to put the story together.

Jim Belshaw said...

Look forward to it, Winton. On the time one, because I am so enmeshed in history at the moment, I am wondering about the weighting to be placed on relatively short term data.