Friday, April 24, 2015

Splendid you passed ... 100th Anzac Day



Australia and New Zealand are currently in the throes of remembering their most important historical centenary of the disaster at Gallipoli in 1915.

Many of us who live in these countries are bordering on compassion fatigue, it can all get too much to take in – the plethora of films and TV documentaries, newspaper articles, displays of memorabilia, publication of books, diaries and memoirs, and also the controversies over the myth-making and the commercialisation of Anzac Day in general. Images of huge crowds gathering at Gallipoli – buses, cruise ships, helicopters – make it even more excessive.

But we can switch off and turn away should we choose. A hundred years ago, switching off was not an option. We would have all had to find courage within ourselves and face up to the grim reality and take on a role. Able-bodied, we would have had to front up and fight, or if we couldn't do that, we had to serve in other ways.

While the 100th anniversary on the shores of Anzac Cove will no doubt be an extraordinary spectacle to be part of, some of us will prefer to observe the day in quiet contemplation on our own, especially if we are privileged enough to have real memories of those who served in the War to end all Wars.

Tomorrow, as I do every Anzac Day, I will think of those members of my English family who played their part. My teenage uncle thrust into the hell of the Tank Corps at the Somme, my aunt nursing Gallipoli wounded and dying in the hospitals of Malta, my two other uncles at sea in the Dover Patrol and in the Merchant Navy dodging U-boats to bring vital supplies to Britain. Remarkably, all of them survived and it would have been a rare family that didn't lose someone. But their lives were damaged to some degree all the same by their experiences. Sadly, none of them left any descendants. My aunt mourned her fiance killed on the Western Front all of her life. Two of my uncles retreated into themselves and never married and the third suffered the tragedy of the death of his only child shortly after her birth, followed by a serious injury at sea that cut his life short. The dark angels of World War 1 left no-one unscathed in the end.

The hymn “O Valiant Hearts” is sung at Remembrance Day services in Britain and in various parts of the Commonwealth, also on Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. I can never listen to it without becoming emotional and remembering all those who have passed “into the light that nevermore shall fade”. Written by John Stanhope Arkwright with the simple music of the Reverend Doctor Charles Harris, it is one of the finest memorial hymns ever written. 

O valiant hearts who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war
As who had heard God’s message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave,
To save mankind—yourselves you scorned to save.

Splendid you passed, the great surrender made;
Into the light that nevermore shall fade;
Deep your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet call of God.

Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human way,
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self same way.

Still stands His Cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.

These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God:
Victor, He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice.

O risen Lord, O Shepherd of our dead,
Whose cross has bought them and Whose staff has led,
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy gracious hand.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blaming the engineers - The Zambezi Expedition (3)

David Livingstone’s attempts to open up the heart of Africa involved the navigation of two other rivers apart from the Zambezi, being the Rovuma (Ruvuma) and Shire (pronounced either shee- or chee-ray). All of this would depend on reliable steam vessels and the calibre of the men to operate them.

The first vessel ordered by the Admiralty was built during the winter of 1858/59 at the Birkenhead yard of Macgregor Laird for the modest cost of £1,200. This steam paddle wheeler was named Ma Robert, after Livingstone’s wife Mary, in the traditional African fashion of Ma for mother and Robert her eldest child.
 
Ma Robert, Royal Museums Greenwich

At Laird’s own suggestion, her hull was constructed of a new type of thin steel plating but unfortunately untested for the conditions she would face. She had three watertight compartments which could be taken apart or bolted together. Her boiler was designed to burn wood but in fact coal was used in her trials on the Mersey which was to be the root of another problem later.

With feed pipes that choked easily and cylinders and boilers that gave constant trouble, Ma Robert soon proved next to useless. She needed several tons of hardwood every day just to get up steam. The acquisition and haulage of wood to the river was another tough and tedious process and more time was spent chopping wood than it took for the vessel to consume it. Compounded by this was an often recalcitrant and inexperienced native crew who didn't like the job of stoking. Livingstone was disgusted with himself when he lost control on one occasion and beat one of them, a rare occurrence indeed.

Another major geographical consideration hadn’t been taken into account; the seasonal fluctuations in river levels of Central Africa. There was often insufficient water to float the vessel when fully loaded with people and equipment plus the massive quantity of wood fuel. The last straw came when the revolutionary thin hull started to disintegrate and the holes had to be stopped up as best they could with plugs of clay.  "Asthmatic" as Ma Robert came to known, finally fell apart completely and sank into the sands of the Zambezi in December 1860.

Livingstone was furious and put the blame personally on John Laird, openly accusing him of incompetence, greed and deceit and it is no wonder that Ma Robert's chief engineer, and Livingstone’s fellow Glaswegian, George Rae, would feel the brunt of his wrath. 

But although the two men were at loggerheads many times, their common roots gave Rae a major advantage in his dealings with Livingstone as the other relationships around them turned sour. It was Rae whom Livingstone relied on and trusted to take on the responsibility of building Mary Livingstone’s coffin after her death at Shupanga.

George Rae’s story is worthy in its own right. Born in 1831, the son of a master joiner, he worked for a millwright in Perth before receiving an apprenticeship with Laird’s. He later moved to the firm of Tod & McGregor

Rae went on to serve in transports employed during the Crimean War and survived a shipwreck off Cadiz. In 1856, he joined the Zambezi Expedition as engineer in charge of the Ma Robert and in 1860 he was sent by Livingstone back to Scotland to oversee the construction of the next vessel, the Lady Nyassa to be built by Tod & McGregor using Livingstone’s own funds drawn from royalties on his book.

The prefabricated Lady Nyassa being loaded at Birkenhead for the Zambesi
Mary Evans Picture Library
 Rae was lucky to get home at all, as he was involved in another shipwreck en route. The brig Guide of Salem, Massachusetts, sailed from Zanzibar on 30 August 1860, with a company that included twenty Americans as well as Rae and three Spanish ladies. At midnight on 4 September the vessel struck and went ashore near Rass Hafoon (Ras Hafun) in what is now Somalia near the Gulf of Aden. 

The Gulf of Aden, German map, printed 1860. 

In the morning, all on board were able to reach the shore, but they had been seen and were swiftly robbed of everything they possessed by local tribesmen. There was no fresh water to be found and five crewmen who went in search of some were later found murdered. By now the survivors were in extreme distress, almost unable to speak from thirst. The captain’s dog was killed as a source of nourishment and by the fifth day ashore, the group had decided it would be wiser to return to the safety and whatever supplies remained on the wrecked ship where they would hope and pray for rescue. This came a few days later in the form of a chief’s headman from the interior who had said he had orders from his Sultan if there were any Englishmen among them, they were to be protected until the arrival of the chief. (This was probably one occasion when a Scot like George Rae would willingly have admitted to being English.)

A few days later the chief made good on his promise and Rae was despatched with the ladies in an open boat to Makullah (Al Makulla). The Sultan provided them with another boat which reached Aden on 25 October and Rae was finally able to secure further passage to Southampton, where he arrived on 17 November. What happened to the Americans left on Guide is a mystery and no doubt another interesting story.

In February 1862, Rae returned to Africa with the prefabricated Lady Nyassa. This vessel would have another chequered history and Livingstone was to have no better opinion of it than the last but which, in spite of its deficiencies, was to carry the Expedition over 2,500 miles before it, too, lost its bottom and sank. In Rae’s absence, Livingstone had use of the Royal Navy survey vessel HMS Pioneer with engineer Charles Hardisty in charge. This also had trouble and was aground more often than not.

Illustrated London News images of Pioneer being loaded and towing parts of Lady Nyassa

The practicalities and frustrations in constructing and sailing Lady Nyassa can be found in the various Livingstone biographies and will not be detailed at length here, save to say that the conflicts that hounded the Expedition just continued, exacerbated by episodic mania caused by fevers as well as religious and class-divisive clashes with new missionary arrivals on the scene. 

Rae’s character is difficult to gauge. His second engineer, Charles Hardisty, was unhappy serving under him and some of Hardisty's letters to his wife that survive are vitriolic, while Rae in turn accused him of incompetence in allowing the pipes of HMS Pioneer to become blocked. Then Livingstone himself wrote,“Rae has behaved with great duplicity, accusing [the artist Thomas] Baines of having stolen his goods, then giving him a certificate that he had no reason to believe he had stolen any public property. I shall use him but be wary of trusting to him in the least degree”.

Others in the Expedition also accused Rae of being an inveterate gossip, stating that he was the original source of the suggestion of gross impropriety between Mary Livingstone and the Reverend James Stewart after he saw Stewart entering Mary’s cabin at night on the brig Hetty Ellen which had brought them out to join the Expedition at the Zambezi delta.

The brig Hetty Ellen was almost identical to this, her sister ship,
Clara Novello built at Llanelli, Wales
At least Livingstone endured these slurs on his wife's reputation with circumspection and ultimately disregarded them. Stewart maintained he was giving her spiritual comfort as she verged on total abandonment of her religious faith, while Rae took a different viewpoint. He detected a more temporal abandonment, given that Mary had turned into an alcoholic after long and difficult years apart from her husband. Rae added fuel to the fire by declaring Stewart to be a bogus missionary and was really a rogue trader and a libertine. While the self-righteous Stewart was appalled at the accusation against him, Sir John Kirk was to write in his journals that Rae's own morals were suspect as he had an eye for the native women and that he had actively pursued an adulterous liaison with the wife of a Portuguese official.

Whom to believe? Without Rae’s own defence in the written records, this is just another example of the mud-slinging that went on between the individuals and no-one emerges from this Expedition without serious stains on their character. At this distance in time it is impossible to know the truth.

After Rae finally had enough and resigned in 1863, he went to Johanna (Anjouan) in the Comoro Islands and was engaged in sugar planting with William Sunley, the British Consul. He erected a sugar engine for the Sultan of Johanna then returned to Zanzibar where he was retained by the British trading firm of Smith, Fleming & Co. With a view to purchasing some sugar-crushing machinery for his employers, Rae returned to Scotland, arriving on Monday, 9 October, 1865.

Rae decided to combine business with personal affairs and arrangements had been made for his marriage the following day, Tuesday 11 October, to Ann Dalgleish, a daughter of Walter Dalgleish of Holylee, Selkirkshire, a farm manager for the Ballantyne family who owned the Holylee estate. The circumstances of their courtship or how long the couple had known one another are not known.

Although quite hale and hearty in the morning, at around noon George Rae began to complain of a pain in his stomach but it eased enough for him to go through with his marriage to Ann at 3 o’clock. Shortly afterwards, his pains returned and he was put to bed in his rooms at 69 Abbotsford Place. By the evening he was insensible and although consciousness returned by the morning, he failed to rally and died within hours.

Abbotsford Place, Glasgow, where George Rae was married and died was demolished in the 1970s
One can hardly imagine the shock this would have had on his poor bride, Ann. If she ever expressed her feelings in any way, they are long lost to history. Ann later remarried and had two children, although she did not forget her husband of less than a day, and a purse that she owned and which was originally given to Rae by David Livingstone was later donated to the David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre by one of her descendants

Rae’s death certificate states it was a perforation of the stomach. The curse of the Zambezi Expedition had done for Rae in a most dramatic way - poor diet, shipwrecks, intermittent fevers and ulcers all added to the stress on his body. Although he was only around 30 when this photograph was taken, he looks twice that age.

George Rae. c. early 1860s. David Livingstone Centre
Contrary to what his fellow travellers on the Expedition had said about him, the newspapers reported that “Mr Rae was a gentleman of amiable and kindly disposition and much beloved and respected by all who knew him”.

Charles Hardisty (or Hardesty) the second engineer, was born in Leeds in 1830, the son of another engineer. It was his alleged neglect or incompetence in looking after the engines of HMS Pioneer that had prevented the party leaving the fever-ridden delta of the Zambezi on schedule, contributing to the death of Mary Livingstone. Whether Livingstone went so far as to accuse him openly, we can't know for sure, but Livingstone's correspondence carries much bitterness over the delays.

Although he also suffered from the fever, Hardisty managed to survive but was then sacked from his job. Whether he bore the cross of Mary Livingstone's death on his own shoulders or blamed everyone else (and primarily George Rae) is impossible to know. His letters to his wife include phrases like “[Rae] is a Thing and no better than a crawling two faced mischief making man” and “[Livingstone] is only putting up with him until he can do without him, then he will spurn him like a dog

Hardisty married young, as the 1851 Census in Yorkshire shows him already having a wife and two year old son. Interestingly, the 1861 Census return has him listed living in Southwark, London, with the occupation of “Engineer, chief. Absent on Livingstone Expedition” - no doubt a bit of boasting on part of his family. However, by the Census of 1871 he is back in Yorkshire and seems to have slipped in occupation to a mere “labourer in foundry iron” and in 1891 he is described as an “engine fitter”.

Hardisty’s life seems to have gone largely unrecorded after his expulsion by Livingstone, apart from being called as a witness in a coronial inquest into a fatal explosion of a boiler at Bradford in 1867 - a common occurrence throughout much of that century - although given the accusations levelled against him previously it is curious that his name appears in another controversy over poor boiler maintenance.


Photograph by Sir John Kirk of the fated Ma Robert, nicknamed the "Asthmatic"

All information in this series of blogs is taken from my extensive personal collection of books, journals and documents relating to David Livingstone in addition to general history publications, archive newspapers and genealogy sites. If more specific detail is required, please contact me.




Saturday, March 28, 2015

A soothing aperient (laxative) needed ... The Zambezi Expedition (2)

The Zambezi Expedition was fraught with much more than problems with equipment and badly-built vessels or serious errors in navigation and exploration. There were all the other dangers of mid-19th Century Africa by way of diseases, accidents, wild animals, slave traders, unfriendly or warring locals and competing colonisers (in this case, mostly the Portuguese). 

Add to the mix personality clashes and big egos and trouble was inevitable. What began as a petty argument could often blow up into a blazing row within minutes. There were outbursts of temper followed by sulks, accusations, slander, lies and even bouts of hysteria among the participants. Highly-educated and normally reasonable British men [more about the women later], to use modern parlance, totally "lost it" or behaved irrationally. As a result most of them ended up being sacked by Livingstone or resigning under the pressure.

One of the first to go was Livingstone's second-in-command, Commander Norman Bernard Bedingfield of the Royal Navy (1824-1894).

Livingstone had met him at the conclusion of his famous crossing of Africa in 1854 in Luanda, Angola, where Bedingfield was in command of HMS Pluto, a steam gunvessel of the West Africa Squadron and Livingstone had been much taken with him at the time [see note below], also his impressive career in the navy. While based on the west coast of Africa, Bedingfield was much lauded for his skills in river navigation and in negotiation with warring chiefs. He seemed the ideal man to help Livingstone explore the Zambezi.

What was not known to Livingstone then was that although he'd had many recommendations to the Admiralty for promotion, Bedingfield had a short fuse in that he had twice been court martialled, once for being contemptuous and quarrelsome towards a senior officer.

This did not augur well. Bedingfield was used to be in charge. So was Livingstone. There was a class and cultural divide between the men as well - the haughty English naval man vs. the blunt Glasgow Scot. 

Their clashes came quick and fast and although none of the biographies suggest they actually gave each other bloody noses, they took their vitriol to print rather than facing off in person. The final straw for Bedingfield was being told by Livingstone that his tantrums were due to constipation: 
"There is often a peculiar condition of the bowels which makes the individual imagine all manner of things of others. Now I earnestly and most respectfully recommend you to try a little aperitent medicine occasionally and you will find it more soothing than writing official letters".

Nothing like a good old "Livingstone Rouser" to cure your ills!
From the Livingstone Centre, Blantyre.

Bedingfield replied that his letter was "the most insulting I have ever received" and quit.

Livingstone was later to say "I never before met such a bare-faced dirty hypocrite as he [Bedingfield]. He suffered from a venereal bladder.

To prove the destructiveness of his experience with Bedingfield, Livingstone deliberately wrote him out of his own Narrative on the expedition and so he doesn't rate a single mention in that official account.

Bedingfield returned to his Royal Naval career and retired as a Captain in 1877, but he still received periodic promotions to Rear Admiral and then Vice Admiral, possibly as a means of helping to boost his pension. He was married but does not appear to have had children or lived in a grand house. In both the 1881 and 1891 census returns, the couple were shown as lodgers in fairly modest surroundings in Dulwich. Bedingfield died in February 1894 and left an estate of just under £3,900 to his wife, Catherine Caledonia. 

The autocratic stance in the portrait gives a good indication of Bedingfield's character. Apart from his unfortunate association with David Livingstone, he is also remembered for his actions in Nigeria with the Lagos Treaty of Cession.

Copyright Illustrated London News (3 April 1858)


Note: When ill health forced Bedingfield away from West Africa in 1854, the steam-packet in which he was travelling, Forerunner, was wrecked at Madeira and he is credited with saving several lives including that of the Governor of Western Australia, Arthur Kennedy.  The vessel was also carrying Livingstone's original journals, maps and other papers from his famed earlier crossing of the continent and that meant he had to re-write everything from memory (with some resulting errors). Given his later experience with Bedingfield, no doubt Livingstone might have wished he'd gone to the bottom as well!

All information in this series of blogs is taken from my extensive personal collection of books, journals and documents relating to David Livingstone in addition to general history publications, archive newspapers and genealogy sites. If more specific detail is required, please contact me.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Rocks in God's Highway - The Zambezi Expedition (1)

David Livingstone is a name that needs no introduction. There are so many journals, letters and books written by the man himself, one wonders how he ever found the time to travel and explore as much of Africa as he did. Subsequent to his death in 1873, numerous biographies, articles and dissertations have been published about him, one of the best being Livingstone by Tim Jeal. This book is no hagiography and exposes his many flaws as well as his positive attributes.


The famous classic image. Photo Thomas Annan, National Galleries of Scotland

Many people associated with Livingstone are moderately famous in their own right, such as his missionary father-in-law, Robert Moffat, his early travelling companion William Cotton Oswell, his childhood friend James "Paraffin" Young and the philanthropic Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. Others have been overlooked altogether and don't even warrant Wikipedia entries, yet they all did some remarkable things in helping to imbue Livingstone with his legendary status.

Even in his own lifetime, Livingstone tarnished his own halo. The Zambezi Expedition of 1858-1864 showed him in the worst light possible and it might be argued quite a number of people were humiliated or traumatised and some even lost their lives due to the disastrous way in which the Expedition was handled by him. Gruff and dour, he was fine with Africans but was useless managing those of his own race. But his major fault was in assuring those in power in Britain that the river was navigable from the Indian Ocean up to the Victoria Falls. He had in fact not personally travelled its full length himself, choosing to cut a vital corner thereby missing the notorious Kebrabasa (Cahora Bassa) rapids which rendered the river useless for commercial purposes. The repercussions can be imagined when huge sums of money were invested in the Expedition.


Kebrabasa, Thomas Baines

Here is a selection (in no particular order) of some names associated with that Expedition which may mean little to anyone who is not a Livingstone aficionado or scholar, but deserve having their individual stories better-known and they will be the subjects of upcoming posts.

Men: 

Norman Bedingfield, Royal Navy commander
Thomas Baines, storekeeper and artist
Richard Thornton, geologist
Charles Hardesty, engineer
George Rae, engineer
Charles Livingstone, brother of David
John Kirk, botanist and explorer
Edward D Young, gunner
James Stewart, missionary
Charles Meller, doctor
Horace Waller, anti-slavery activist

Women:

Elizabeth M Burrup, wife of Reverend Henry de Wint Burrup
Anne Mackenzie, sister of Bishop Charles Mackenzie
Jessie Lennox, companion to Miss Mackenzie
Mary Livingstone, wife of David (see earlier blog here)

Plus ... there will be special mention of some of those unheralded and long-forgotten Africans without whom none of Livingstone's explorations or discoveries would have been possible. 

(A link to a special Pinterest board of images is being created and will be added to the blog entries.)





Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A massacre between the lines

In the Portsmouth Evening News of 18 January 1878, and surrounded by advertisements for mahogany staircases, drapery sales and breath fresheners, departure times for mail ships, a letter to the editor about the disgraceful standard of singing by the choir in a local church and another on crimping (touts for low-class pubs who board ships and lure sailors into their clutches) is this brief report on a massacre in China.
The Russian newspapers announce that immense numbers of fugitives have arrived at Kulja from Kashgaria. At one point on the frontier alone the outpost officers report that 1,500 Dongans have sought refuge there from Toorfan, and at the Russian boundary nearest Aksu there are at least twice that number. The people of Manas were less fortunate in their endeavours to escape, the majority being cut down while on their way to seek refuge on Russian territory. According to their reports, the Chinese have massacred all the Mussulmen peasants they have come in contact with, while in the towns they have conquered, a reign of terror exists. Coincident with the arrival of Kashgarian refugees at Kulja, the Golos announces also the presence of Chinese commissariat agents there, who are buying up provisions for Tso Tsonn Tsan's army. The latter has left the encampment at Aksu and is marching forward with the intention of attacking Kashgar. Rumours are current that Bek Kuli Beg has retired to Yarkund.

With the exception of Kashgar, none of the place names or individuals meant much to me, so research beckoned. Obviously names have changed much since 1878 and here is how this same article reads using current accepted spellings:
The Russian newspapers announce that immense numbers of fugitives have arrived at Yining from Kashi.  At one point on the frontier alone the outpost officers report that 1,500 Hui people have sought refuge there from Turpan, and at the Russian boundary nearest Aksu there are at least twice that number. The people of Manass in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were less fortunate in their endeavours to escape, the majority being cut down while on their way to seek refuge on Russian territory. According to their reports, the Chinese have massacred all the Moslem peasants they have come in contact with, while in the towns they have conquered, a reign of terror exists. Coincident with the arrival of Kashi refugees at Yining, liberal sources announce also the presence of Chinese commissariat agents there, who are buying up provisions for Zuo Zontang's army. The latter has left the encampment at Aksu and is marching forward with the intention of attacking Kashi. Rumours are current that Yaqub Beg has retired to Yarkant.

Things haven't changed all that much in the 21st Century. Advertising still keeps newspapers going. There are still individuals who waste time and column space writing letters to editors on matters that seem trivial compared to reigns of terror being waged against minorities elsewhere on the planet. Read this BBC report about the Uighurs today.

Yaqub Beg is clearly not a popular figure in Xinjiang and heads up this most wanted list that also includes the woman who is probably the most famous living and exiled Uighur, human rights campaigner, Rebiya Kadeer.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

What the Fates have in store

Another year has ended on a rather sombre note, with tragedies in the air and at sea, yet more senseless violence perpetuated by fanatics, as well as random accidents no-one could possibly foresee. They serve to remind us that such events are always part of life and all the safety precautions in the world can't protect us against the Fates when our time has come.

In the 19th Century, before the use of modern navigation devices, travelling by sea was always rather risky and shipwrecks were commonplace. Just one such disaster that is now little-known was the sinking of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Teuton off the coast of South Africa. (Note: Wikipedia link is in German.)



Originally owned by Robert Jardine of London and Hong Kong, she was built by William Denny & Brothers of Dunbarton and launched in 1869 as the SS Glenarty. In 1873 she was transferred to the ownership of the Union Steam Ship Company and renamed Teuton. (There are still people who believe renaming a ship is inviting bad luck!)

The ship carried 157 passengers, many of them immigrants to South Africa. She had sailed from Plymouth on 6th August 1881 and, after a stop at Madeira, arrived in Cape Town twenty-three days later. Not long after she departed Table Bay for Algoa Bay on 30th August, she struck something off Quoin Point that lies between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas.

Rather than repeating what has been comprehensively written elsewhere, please go to this South African Genealogy blog post for the full account.

Always after reading such stories, I am intrigued to know what happened to the survivors, how they coped in later years. The blog post gives us some information about the crew and other men who survived, but what about the only female, 16 year old Lizzie (Elizabeth) Ross who lost all her family in one night? One can only imagine her state, so young and alone in a strange country.

This page on the founding of the Cape Town Caledonian Society is enlightening in that it states the Society only came into being directly as a result of the sinking of the Teuton. It also says that Lizzie Ross was "... taken in by the Minister and Elders of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Cape Town and cared for by Mr and Mrs Runciman. She was later educated as a teacher." Genealogy searches fail to show any further reference to her, but we can only hope that her later life was less traumatic. If anyone reading this does know what happened to Lizzie, please contact me.

Presuming he is the same Mr Runicman who took in Lizzie Ross, William Runciman deserves acknowledgment in his own right. From information in The Anglo-African Who's Who and Biographical Sketchbook 1907, William was born in South Shields, County Durham, around 1858, and educated in Scotland. His father, also called William, was a Master Mariner in the Merchant Navy and later became the Dock Master at Cape Town. His son immigrated to South Africa in 1873 and worked his way upwards in a steamship agency, finally becoming senior partner. He was very interested in improvements in education and public works, was a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Cape Parliament, Mayor several times over, and Simonstown owes much to his vision and energy. He married Elizabeth Black and had two sons and a daughter.

From genealogy website

Tombstones, Runciman family, Simonstown, Cape, South Africa

Images of the area in and around Simonstown

Site showing book with old photos with links to Runciman


More on the Teuton here:


Wrecksite details

Other shipwrecks in the same vicinity.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thoughts on coping with a four year anniversary of "that bloody mess"

Like millions of others, I have been moved by many of the events taking place on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, such as the poppies surrounding the Tower of London, but I am a bit apprehensive that this centenary of the "War to End All Wars" is going to last another four years until the 11th hour of the 11th month in 2018.

In every week of every month until then there will be some anniversary somewhere - of battles on land and sea, other war-related events or disasters. They already loom large. The Gallipoli Campaign, the sinking of the Lusitania, the major Battles of the Somme – all lie ahead. And then there are the other world-shattering events that took place in those troubled years such as the Russian Revolution and the murder of the Tsar and his family. There are already rather too many books being published on these topics, fiction and non-fiction, not to mention television dramas, films and documentaries - plus every village, town and city in all the countries affected by that War are seemingly being compelled to remember their men who marched away in some way via a display or event of some kind.

But how much can all of us take? At what point will we feel the need to switch off because we are suffering "centenary fatigue"? 
Private John Atkins

My Uncle John was a teenage recruit to the first Tank Corps and was lucky to survive as the Corps had a high casualty rate. He was hardly one for navel-gazing, being a practical no-nonsense sort of fellow with a wicked sense of humour about the stupidity of politicians. He also had an aversion to memorials or any notions of sentimentality about "that bloody mess", as he called the First World War, and he would no doubt be baffled by all the attention and introspection being awarded to the centenary.

There is much comment in the British media and on Facebook (around 5,000 likes and heading for 2,000 comments as of writing this) about this article from The Guardian  regarding this Christmas advertisement produced by Sainsbury supermarket chain currently doing the rounds on UK television. There is quite a war of its own going on among the comments. There are those cynics who think it is crass commercialism and disrespectful, those who find it beautiful or moving but have no compunction in telling the others they ought to think the same as they do. I can almost hear Uncle John chuckling at the pomposity and self-righteousness being flung about.

There is no doubt that the commercial is a fine production but ultimately it is a simplified and sentimental rendering of a well-known, if somewhat apocryphal, episode from that War that may have more to do with distorted memories and wishful thinking, even a bit of ancient propaganda. (Google for more articles and studies as to how much hard truth is behind the Christmas Truce story.)

Christmas 1914 was when this War was supposed to be over. There was probably still some optimism that the European powers would see sense and let those young men return home – many of whom were naive and had signed on as a lark, an adventure, rather than having any real awareness of what they were fighting for. None of the participants could have foreseen what lay ahead – almost another four years of slaughter such as the world had never seen.  

In all likelihood, most of  the young men who played football at Christmas were eventually killed, wounded or scarred in some way, psychologically if not physically, and it is this that went through my mind when I watched the commercial. If there was a moment when those on both sides genuinely believed in the spirit of Christmas and the ultimate goodness of mankind, then we should never denigrate that faith, even if a supermarket chain used it to give itself a plug in the process. If one researches old newspaper and magazine advertisements during World War I it will be seen that there were no scruples back then about using images of men who were likely to die in order to sell products. 

There are thousands of interpretations of World War I – photographs, films, paintings - many of them capable of creating intense emotions, but for me personally one of the finest is Midnight at the Menin Gate by Will Longstaff to be seen at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Its spiritual tone might be unfashionable now in our more irreligious age, with its representations of ghostly souls drifting through the cornfield and its poppies, but it gave consolation to many bereaved families in the years following the War. Its message on the "bloody mess" is that we might learn and not let it happen again. A faint hope since there were, of course, many other terrible conflicts to follow, but in many ways the world is a better place due to that waste and sacrifice of a century ago and if we need to keep being reminded about it for the next four years perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.


Copyright Australian War Memorial