The Man Who Never Was


At the appointed hour, I sought out the office of art historian Jennifer Montagu, where we were to be joined by her colleague, Medieval historian David Chambers. The winter light outside was fading fast and the darkening, south-facing room—a simulacrum, almost to the point of parody, of an absent-minded professor’s cluttered, untidy yet richly populated nest of obsessions—was extremely, not to say soporifically, well-heated. I felt as if I had somehow entered the mind of an owl (owls are opportunistic nesters): an impression augmented by Jennifer’s large, humorous brown eyes behind the lenses of her thickly-glassed spectacles.

She was something of an iconoclast herself; with a paradoxical and distinguished family history. Her father was Ewen Montagu, lawyer, judge, writer and, as the naval representative on the Twenty (XX or Double Cross) Committee during the war, had, with the secretary to the Committee, an eccentric RAF officer called Charles Cholmondeley, conceived Operation Mincemeat. Ewen’s book about the operation, The Man Who Never Was, came out in 1953. Acting on the basis of the famous Trout Memo—likening organised deception in wartime to fly fishing—written in 1939 by Ian Fleming, the British in 1943 arranged to have a dead man dressed as an officer in the Royal Marines and dropped into the sea from a submarine, HMS Seraph, so as to wash ashore near Huelva on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain.

He had a packet of official papers in a briefcase chained to the belt of his trench coat. The papers included references to plans for the imminent, though fictional, Allied invasion of Greece, the Balkans, Corsica and Sardinia—as opposed to Sicily, where the actual invasion would and did in fact take place. In the briefcase there were also proof copies of a (real) official booklet—Combined Operations, 1940-42—to which General Eisenhower was asked, for the American edition, to write a preface. In the fiction, the dead man was a courier carrying these things from London command to Allied generals in North Africa—Mountbatten to Eisenhower—and a passenger in a plane which had been shot down somewhere over the ocean. His papers identified him as Captain, acting Major, William Martin, a name and rank chosen for their plausibility, their ordinariness. There was a single black eyelash affixed to the envelope of official papers, so that, when it was returned to the British by the neutral Spaniards, they would know if it had been opened or not.

In the so-called pocket litter—a photograph of his fiancé, two love letters, a receipt for the purchase of a diamond ring, a letter from his father, bills, stamps, theatre ticket stubs, a silver cross, cash, a St Christopher, cigarettes and matches—given the dead man, Montagu manufactured an entire life history for the mythical Major; whose body was in fact that of a Welsh itinerant called Glyndwr Michael who had died of liver failure in St Pancras hospital on January 28 that year and been kept in a freezer for three months or more. He had been living rough, sleeping in an abandoned warehouse, where he got so hungry he ate crusts of bread baited with toxic paste and placed there to kill rats; and succumbed to liver failure consequent upon phosphorous poisoning.

Phosphorous, unlike arsenic, decays in the body; the corpse, even after a post mortem, could plausibly be thought to be that of a man drowned after the aircraft carrying him had crashed into the sea. Major Martin’s body was duly recovered by a local fisherman on the Atlantic shore, the German secret service, the Abwehr, was informed, the contents of the briefcase, the packet and the pocket litter read, scanned and evaluated by them in Cadiz or Seville or Madrid before being returned to the British. The Major, a Roman Catholic, was buried with full military honours in the local cemetery. This improbable deception, which reached up the Nazi chain of command as far as Hitler himself, was entirely successful.

Ewen’s younger brother, Jennifer’s uncle, was also a distinguished, if eccentric character. He was the film maker, communist, table tennis champion, wild life conservator and spy, Ivor Montagu, who in 1959 was awarded the Lenin Prize for services to socialism; but is probably better remembered as an innovative and dedicated worker towards the establishment of a genuine British film culture. He was variously a movie critic, a screen-writer, and Alfred Hitchcock’s producer in the 1930s. Both Montagu boys were members of an exceedingly wealthy family of Jewish bankers, awarded the Baronetcy of Swaythling in 1907.

Jennifer had studied political science at Oxford after the war but, because of her interest in sculpture, gravitated towards the Courtauld, where she became a protégé of Ernst Gombrich, who pointed her in the direction of French artist Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), about whom she wrote her dissertation. Did you know, Gombrich asked her, sounding very Warburgian, that there is a history of facial expressions? Le Brun had lectured in Paris on the subject. I am very unfaithful to my artists, Jennifer said, but I always keep them as friendsI like lesser-known artists, those who raise interesting problems, more so than the famous or popular ones. I am the sole survivor of the Society of the Enemies of Bernini, which I founded with Anthony Blunt. I liked her immediately. She made me laugh.

David Chambers, meanwhile, was a quiet, civilized, modest man with a razor wit which he kept mostly hidden. He had come to the Warburg as a reader in 1968: a tall figure sped into the Reading Room and bore down on me. He introduced himself as the librarian and said that he had liked my book—a slim volume boiled down from a thesis. I was struck dumb, first to meet a librarian who read books, and second to meet one who had noticed my book and could bother to come and find a mere new reader to say something nice to him. David went on to remember Joe’s abiding love of Italy; and recalled times he spent there traipsing alone by train with an empty suitcase, making personal contacts and collecting rare publications or periodicals to exchange for the Journal. He was, as the Italians say, un uomo generoso.

After David left, Jennifer and I talked on, about all sorts of things, including her father and her uncle. Ivor, she said, was definitely a spy. As for her father, she said that his book was not as good as the recent one by Ben McIntyre, Operation Mincemeat. She was one of those people with whom conversation flows in an intensely pleasurable manner which does not necessarily leave substantial memory traces behind. It was almost as if, over the twenty odd years that separated us, we were flirting, albeit decorously, with one another. I would have liked to have stayed for longer, but the room was so hot it was starting to make me yawn. I stood up, ready to go. And then I made what might have been a faux pas.

I knew someone in Wellington was writing a biography of Ivor Montagu. Russell Campbell, researching Montagu’s intelligence activities in London during the war, had sent me a few snippets of information about John Platts-Mills, who in 1943 had acted, unsuccessfully, on behalf of Dave Springhall, a communist journalist and editor tried and convicted of spying for the Russians. For some reason, I felt obliged to mention Russell’s project to Jennifer; why, I don’t quite know. After all, what could she say? She blinked behind her spectacles. Yes, she said, I have had an email from him; and that was that.

It’s a curiosity, perhaps a perversity, of biographical research that, when you come across someone who has little or no interest in discussing family matters, it is impossible not to admire them for it. We shook hands; and Jennifer gestured towards the now dark window. I think, she said, I will go out and smoke a cheroot in the car park. And after that? I asked. After that I will come back here and work until late. I do my best writing at night. She was 84, almost 85, years old. I kept thinking of her, puffing away down there in the car park, or writing in longhand in a tiny space cleared on that magnificently cluttered desk, as I made my slow way, in the cold evening air, back to Lisson Grove.

brian norton

images : cover of the 1953 edition; Glyndwr Michael before he was tipped into the sea.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trust Deed


The Warburg Institute is housed in a squat, square, five storey purpose built structure on Woburn Square in Bloomsbury. It’s been there since 1957 and, although many people have complained about its ugliness, I liked its graceful and capacious proportions. I was early, of course, so I wandered around outside for a bit, trying to pick up a trace of something, I’m not sure what. Virginia Woolf’s perfume perhaps. Leonard’s aftershave. I hadn’t been in Bloomsbury before. A fine rain drifted down from a grey sky but it wasn’t really cold. The grass in the small rectangular park was wet, though, there were muddy puddles everywhere, the trees were bare, yellow and purple crocuses, far too soon, were trying to push their way up into the February air. Most of those passing looked like students heading for class—the Warburg, like the Courtauld, like King’s College, is part of the University of London.

My meeting at ten was with Jill Kraye. An American, Chicago born, but in manner more like a New Yorker, she had studied at Colombia University before joined the Institute in 1974 as Assistant Librarian and has been there, in various capacities, including Librarian, ever since. Most recently, as Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy.  She was intense, engaging, immediate, as she took me from reception up a wide, generously proportioned marble staircase with polished wooden banisters and along a corridor to a small office on the right at the end: not hers, but that of Charles Hope, a former Director, whom she thought I might like to meet as well. He was a suave fellow, an Englishman, with impeccable manners; inadvertently, or perhaps advertently (how do you tell?) intimidating. I spent about an hour with them, listening rather than talking, as they held a conversation, for my benefit, about Joe Trapp.

And much else besides. The Warburg has been in crisis over the last few years, because the university, allegedly, was attempting to sell it; or rather, sell the building it is housed in, after merging its collection—350,000 books, a like number of photographs, a unique, hundred year old archive—with that of the Senate House library in nearby Malet Street off Russell Square. In this scenario, the Institute as a home for scholars and students would, presumably, have gradually disappeared. The plans, whatever they actually involved—the UOL denied any intention to sell—were greeted with outrage. Petitions were drawn up and signed; letters were written; there were editorials and news articles published. Charles Hope explained that he had abandoned his scholarly work and dedicated himself, over a period of years, to coming to a precise understanding of the legal position of the Warburg vis à vis the University of London.

The Institute and the UOL ended up, in 2010, going to court to seek a determination upon the legalities of the relationship. Money was of the essence: the proximate cause of the dispute had been the university’s decision, in 2007-08, to more than double the so-called estates charge on the Institute. They said this ‘space charge’—which somehow rose from about £8,000 in 2006-07 to £643,000 in 2007-08—was in line with normal full-economic cost principles used by other universities. In other words, the UOL was massively inflating the rent they charged the Institute for the use of its own building—the construction of which they had committed to many years before in the founding Trust Deed. Along with concurrent funding cuts, this would have left the Warburg in serious financial difficulty. That, too, in the way of such things, would most likely have been used against it: see, it’s not economically viable, we need to do something about that.

The Trust Deed was signed in November 1944 by the UOL and Eric Warburg, then a major in the US army, on behalf of his family. Viscount Lee of Fareham, he who was there at the founding of the Courtauld, was also a party to this agreement (he is the ‘Another’, above). It was typed up—courier not pica—on a single sheet of cheap wartime paper, using both sides of the page, and listed the contents of library as about eighty thousand books and a large collection of photographs (no mention of the archive); and stated that the University will maintain and preserve the Warburg Library in perpetuity in accordance with this Deed  . . . and will keep it adequately equipped and staffed as an independent unit.

What could be clearer than that? The High Court, in its wisdom, ruled that the university did indeed have an obligation to keep the Institute equipped and staffed. Mrs Justice Proudman (that name!) further said that the levying of space charges is not, to my mind, permissible. The imposition of university-wide space charges flies in the face of this provision as it merely treats the Institute as a constituent part of UOL without regard to its special character or its position as an independent unit. The UOL was, however, given leave to appeal certain elements of the judgment; which, inter alia, it claimed as a victory. Why a university might choose to levy ‘space charges’ on one of its own colleges or other bodies is a conundrum. It looks very like another creative accountant’s method of cutting costs.

Charles said that, although the Institute seemed to have successfully fought off this attempt to vary the terms of the Trust Deed (the judgment was brought down in November, 2014), he wasn’t confident it was the end of the matter. Further efforts would likely be made to undermine the Institute which, people say, will probably end up crossing the Atlantic to find a safer home at some American institution. There is talk, for instance, of re-locating it to the Getty Centre in Los Angeles. Others have speculated it might return to Germany, perhaps even to Hamburg itself. Wouldn’t that be peculiar? The Deed was signed while V1s and V2s were exploding into the streets of London; now, the UOL seemed determined to accomplish what the Nazis could not: destruction of the Warburg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Strand Lane Baths

drawing_of_roman_bath_in_the_strand_1841Predictably, I lingered too long at the Courtauld. By the time I left, I was short of time; and so, feeling a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in WonderlandI’m late, I’m late / For a very important date—I scooted down the stairs and out and back up the road to that green glass fronted building. I remember a big room full of students milling about, a reception desk where they phoned ahead to say I was coming, a lift, stairs and corridors, most of all a sense of aged creaky structures concealed behind that ultra-modern facade—and then, towards the end of the last corridor, there I was shaking hands with Michael Trapp, Professor of Greek Literature and Thought, and being ushered into his long narrow book-lined office with its single window looking out over The Strand below.

Michael is the elder son of Joseph Burney Trapp and his wife Elayne, née Falla; New Zealanders who moved to England in the early fifties and lived on a boat on the Thames near Reading, where Joe had a job teaching English at the university. He was a librarian at heart, however, and in 1953 took up a position at the Warburg Institute in London; and gradually rose through the ranks until, in 1976, he became its director, succeeding the eminent Ernst Gombrich. He retired in 1990 but continued to write and publish until his death in 2005. His area of expertise was the early Renaissance. He was an authority on the English Humanists, particularly Thomas More; upon the history of the book, especially pre-Gutenburg; and on representations of the Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch. After his death one of his colleagues described him as the nicest man I ever knew. I asked Michael what he thought about that.

He smiled. The niceness was—discretionary, he said. My father did not always show what he felt or thought, because it was often not politic so to do. That reticence was of long standing, it may have gone back to his childhood, and was certainly apparent in his early days at Reading, where he would hesitate to deliver an opinion for fear of making an error or being taken for a fool. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have strong opinions—he did. He was just careful about how he expressed them. If you are going to come from an obscure town like Carterton, on the other side of the world, and penetrate to the very heart of the British scholarly establishment, as Joe did, you would need to show a bit of discretion, wouldn’t you?

Michael, an exceptionally nice man himself, brought up a couple of photographs on his laptop screen. The first was of a children’s Christmas party at the Warburg in 1958, I think. There was a long table where a straggle of kids sat wearing paper hats and crepe streamers before plates of jelly and cream. Joe was bending over solicitously to the far left of the image and, near the centre, a woman—perhaps Gertrud Bing—held two babes in arms. The one on the right was Michael. The other photograph was a solo shot of Joe Trapp the same age as I am now—Michael said. That is, about 60. He is sitting at a desk, turning in his chair to look at the camera. Thick black-rimmed glasses, a big nose, slightly bulging eyes; a formidable presence. The look is challenging, perhaps even suspicious: what do you want? Or even: what are you looking at? The image, emblematically, faded slowly to grey as our conversation proceeded.

As it did, a more complex picture emerged. A man of great learning and prodigious memory who was nevertheless uninterested in, or actively sceptical of, theoretical considerations; one who did not have a grand over-arching hypothesis to prove and was not engaged in the writing of a big book; who preferred to follow certain individual threads to see where they led and how they got to where they were going. His interest in visual representations of Petrarch, for example, was of this kind. He was an able administrator as well as a consummate scholar, and managed to satisfy his own intellectual needs despite the busy public career he followed. He was not, Michael said, a disappointed man.

In politics he remained, all his life, an egalitarian socialist. This wasn’t just an ideal. Part of what sustained him through all those years at the Warburg—effectively half a century, because he continued to work there after his retirement—was a belief in community. The basis of the Warburg’s collection was assembled by its founder, Aby Warburg (1866-1929), art historian and independent scholar, in Hamburg in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His interests were eclectic and esoteric and, once the Nazis came to power in Germany, the library, the institute and its scholars, many of whom were also Jewish, were all under imminent threat. The collection, and the scholars, were transported to London; the books, the shelving, even some boxes of pen nibs, crossed the North Sea in two little steamers. The institute has remained in England ever since; and, despite vicissitudes, survives today. Much of what Joe and Elayne did, Michael said, especially in the early days, involved looking after these aging and increasingly frail German scholars; but they were also intimately engaged in the work of ensuring that unique community had a future.

There’s always a point in these conversations, which are also interviews, where I feel called upon to explain myself. I said that this was precisely my interest in his father: as a conservator of culture, as one of those often obscure or unsung people who labour to do the work that must be done to keep a fine old tradition alive. In that sense, I said, I was just as interested in the Warburg as I was in Joe. The Warburg, I said, warming to my theme, seems to me to be about tracing continuities and identifying methods of change, especially in visual symbology, as a means of recording, maintaining and extending traditions founded in antiquity, persistent until today and viable in the future too—if we have one.

Michael agreed; but he was looking a bit alarmed. Yes, I had become too ardent. We changed the subject. He had spent the afternoon engaged in an ongoing project which is attempting to secure the preservation of an ancient site on university land: the Strand Lane Baths, allegedly a Roman survival but actually the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to feed a fountain in the gardens of the old Somerset House, then a Royal palace; the domain of Anne of Denmark, wife to James I. The cistern, after a period of neglect, had been brought back into use in 1770 as a public bath; the Roman speculation seems to have begun in the 1820s, as an advertising gimmick.

The Baths’ real fascination, says Wikipedia, lies in the changes of identity that have ensured their survival, from utilitarian infrastructure to publicly protected monument, and from cistern to cold bath to Roman relic. But even if they are not Roman, the fact that so many people have passionately wanted them to be is now as real a part of their history as their actual origins. That sounds very like something that would have interested your father, I said. Wasn’t he also concerned with tracing the history of misunderstandings, or misattributions? The curious way in which the past is as much an invention or a fiction as it is a record of fact? Yes.

Michael had another relic to show me. It was a Greek grammar, a small soft-back, which had belonged to Joe’s older sister Phyllis, and then to him. Both of their names were in the front, first hers, then his. There were annotations to some of the exercises therein; and a date: 1943. Phyllis, who was herself fluent, had taught Joe Greek while he was a pupil at Dannevirke High, where she was a staff member for a time. In 1943 he was turning eighteen and about to go down to Victoria University in Wellington to study. My father didn’t think his Greek and Latin were good enough to embark on a scholarly career, Michael remarked. But he did find himself teaching Latin grammar to students at the Warburg in the early days (Latin was and is compulsory there). They were evening classes, and when he came home afterwards, he would invariably say that he had been setting people on the wrong path again. That, too, was entirely characteristic: a genuine modesty expressed as ironic self-deprecation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Manet not Manet


I was still early. I wandered further down Fleet Street to where The Strand (they are really the same road) officially begins. The plinth of the Temple Bar Monument had a sculpture of Queen Victoria inset on one side. She was looking more vague than grumpy, wearing a small gold crown, carrying a golden sceptre and an orb, with various devices in relief on either hand, representing Art and Science. A violin, a harp, a palette and brush, the masks of comedy and tragedy; a sextant, a cog-wheel, the globe, a skull. Her son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, is apparently represented on the other side but I didn’t go round to see him. I wanted to scout out the place I was going to and then I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was thus entirely apposite, if fortuitous when, after scoping the green glass frontage of Kings College, I saw a sign that advertised the Courtauld Institute.

The Courtauld! Fabled name. And indissolubly linked with the Warburg Institute, where I was going to go the next day. The Courtaulds were textile millionaires in nineteenth century Britain; their fortune was based upon the manufacture of silks and crepes. They were also, in the early twentieth century, pioneers in the making of artificial silks: rayon or viscose, made from cellulose in dissolved pulp of organic origin. Tree fibres; bamboo. It was Samuel (1876-1947) who, after the war, became interested in art and, using his vast wealth, started buying French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. His extraordinary collection was assembled quite rapidly, most of it accumulated between 1926 and 1930. He had Roger Fry, among others, as an adviser.

After his wife died in 1931 he lost interest; and in 1932, with politician, diplomat and collector Lord Lee of Fareham, and art historian Robert Witt, founded the Courtauld Institute of Art—to which he donated his paintings. It isn’t just a collection however, the Institute also exists for the purposes of the study of art history and of the techniques of conservation. Many distinguished people have studied at the Courtauld, including Australia’s own Bernard Smith, who was there (1948-1951) while the Fourth Man among the Cambridge spies, Anthony Blunt, an expert on Poussin, was Director (1947-1974). The Courtauld is part of the University of London and, since 1989, domiciled in Somerset House on The Strand, purpose built in 1780 for the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Art and the Society of Antiquities. I went up the steps to reception trembling with nervous anticipation. After all, inscribed over the entrance to the Great Hall, in Ancient Greek, is the admonition: Let no stranger to the Muses enter here.

Perhaps I had transgressed. You can’t properly look at paintings when you are in a hurry; on reflection, I should have skipped the Medieval and Renaissance collections on the lower floors—magnificent though they are—ignored the fascinating exhibition of the prints and drawings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (‘Bruegel, Not Bruegel’), and gone straight to the top, where the Cezannes (The Card Players), Degas (Woman at a Window), van Goghs (Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear), Gauguins (Nevermore) and single works by Chaim Soutine (Young Woman in White Blouse) and Amedeo Modigliani (Female Nude), hang. Looking at paintings in the flesh, even, or especially, when you know them in reproduction, is always surprising, sometimes astonishing. I did not expect, for instance, to be moved almost to tears by the big Édouard Manet painting hung centrally on a wall that otherwise showed four Cezanne landscapes; but I was.

It was Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1882) and I’m still not sure why it affected me so; but it might have been because of the way she, the barmaid, Suzon, a real person, looks so remote, so desolately out of the painting, without meeting any of our eyes; while in the mirror behind, in which we can see the bar and its many patrons, we also see her from behind, in conversation with a top-hatted gentleman who is almost, not quite, out of the frame. It looks like a proposition is being put, the prelude to an intimate encounter perhaps; and yet, when you look back at Suzon’s face, you know that this is nothing she ever wanted or needed, merely something that she will have to endure—if indeed she goes through with whatever it is they are discussing. So we have mirrored both her action in the world and its internal or psychological complement.

That’s the thematic that moved me; or one of them. But the painting is startling in other respects too. There is the pair of legs, wearing green pointy toed boots, suspended from the top left hand side of the picture: they belong to a trapeze artist but resemble, even though you can see the bar upon which they rest, the feet of a suicide, a hanged woman. A mirror painting, the work is conceptually intricate, almost to the extent of Velazquez’ Las Meninas, which Manet had seen and loved. In a technical sense, despite the solidity, the reality, of so much within the picture—the bowl of oranges on the bar, the array of bottles on the left—over all, the thin washes of paint give the impression (that word!) of it being barely finished, or perhaps I mean just finished. Manet has painted enough to give us the full picture and then he’s left off. The consequence is that A Bar at the Folies-Bergère looks utterly immediate, as if it were still being made. Or rather, as if what it shows with such clarity and force, is still happening.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

from : Imperial Drifts

temple_bar_dragon_15305195724I had another meeting with a family member—a different family—at 5.30 in the evening. It was in town, at Kings College, London, down on The Strand and not far from the Thames shore. I wrote up my notes of the conversation with Barney and Tim and then, at a loose end, sallied forth, a couple of hours early, to have a bit of a look around. I wasn’t sure what for; but I did know that John Platts-Mills’ old rooms at the Inner Temple were not far away from Kings; so I thought I might see if I could find them. I took the Jubilee Line from Baker Street to Westminster then changed for the District Line. At Temple, as if drawn by the ancient waters, I made my way down to the river.

Or such was my intention; but halfway across the Victoria Embankment, a motorcycle cop drew up beside me and stayed me with his gauntleted hand. I could see his steady blue eyes beneath his visor and wondered, in the instant, how I had offended. Was I jaywalking? Then I realised he was the outrider of a convey. It swept past me at speed, a dozen vehicles long: more motorcycle cops, black 4WDs with tinted windows, two big grey windowless Mercedes vans, more cops on bikes. None of the vehicles showed any insignia; there were no flags on bonnets, no royal or government crests either. In fact, there was nothing I could see which might have identified what kind of convey it was nor who was in it.

My mind spun with possibilities. Clandestine royals? A President or a Prime Minister from some foreign country who did not wish anyone to know s/he was in town? Henry Kissinger? A high level military delegation, on its way to confer with politicians at Westminster? Black ops? Or did the vans contain captured terrorists and were they en route to Wandsworth Gaol? Common criminals wouldn’t receive such lavish treatment. It was frustrating not knowing; intimidating too. I imagined how many Kings and Queens of England had taken that route in their carriages before, with mounted equerries slashing the poor folk out of the way. I seemed to hear the cries of peasants going under the wheels of antique tyrannies. There were ghosts of downpressers in the grey afternoon air.

The Thames didn’t care. The brown river slid slowly by, cleaner than when last I had seen it, immemorial in its blank acquiescence to whatever took place along its banks. I gazed down at the flow, letting my mind drift; then walked slowly along until I was opposite Middle Temple Lane, where I re-crossed the road, without incident, and wandered through the precinct. I saw a yellow building on my right which could have been where Platts-Mills had his rooms; but somehow could not summon the energy to seek it out further. I wondered about the Temple Church, where he and Janet were married in 1936: built by the Knights Templers 800 years ago, in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; but I already knew it wasn’t open today.

The chaos and roar of traffic along Fleet Street was a subliminal shock. Then I saw, as I looked along the busy thoroughfare, protruding from the murk, the bronze statue of a dragon writhing on its plinth. It was rampant, its mouth open, its wings spread and clutched in its fore-claws a shield bearing some obscure device. While this too seemed like something out of the far past, the Temple Bar Memorial is actually less than a century and a half old: built in 1880 by Horace Jones to mark the place where one of the eight gates to the City used to stand; with the dragon on top sculpted by Charles Bell Birch. Monarchs on their way from Westminster to the Tower used to have to pause at the gate before entering the City. Sometimes the Mayor would be there to offer up his sword and his keys.

I was going the other way—towards The Strand I mean—but I still had a bit of time on my hands. And there, on the other side of the road, was a church. St Dunstan-in-the-West; so in I went. The cacophony of the street stilled; I found myself in a pale grey octagonal nave, with burgundy pillars and a vaulted ceiling painted aqua blue. Golden wooden beams gleamed in the empyrean. Muted light shone down through stained glass windows. Although I am not in the least bit religious, I could hear the whisper of heavenly choirs singing, far away. St Dunstan was Bishop of London in Anglo-Saxon times, in the last decades of the first millennium, the century before William’s conquering Normans swept over in 1066. He is the patron saint of gold and silver smiths, because he is said to have made his own plate for the churches where he officiated.

This was not the church St Dunstan built, however; that was demolished in 1829, when Fleet Street was widened. The new church, the one I was in, was made in the early 1830s over the graveyard that stood behind the old church; by two John Shaws, father and son. The curious octagonal construction is said to have been in imitation of the shape of a lantern; and some bits of the old building were incorporated in the new. I ran my hand along a wooden communion rail, carved by Grinling Gibbons when the poet John Donne was vicar here in the 1620s. Next to the main altar was a wall of Byzantine icons obscuring what looked like a chapel; with their opulent gold leaf, their purple skies and staring eyes of saints, they looked strangely anomalous in the otherwise sparse Anglican interior.

I had heard footsteps behind me while I was drifting through time in that sacerdotal space; perhaps the rattle of keys. Sure enough, when I dragged myself away from contemplation of these wondrous things and turned to go, the door was locked. I was a prisoner of St Dunstan! Momentary panic was soon alleyed; a young robed woman, looking vaguely monk-like, came out of an ante room to release me. She must have known already I was there. We close at 4 o’clock she explained, unapologetically. I lingered a moment. Why, I asked, is the chapel next the altar closed off like that? What is that wall of icons? It’s called an iconostasis, she explained. Basically a screen. It comes from a monastery in Bucharest. People from the Romanian Orthodox Church worship here as well. This is one of only three churches in England where they can.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized



One Saturday morning in March 2013 Maggie and I went along to the Art Gallery to see a show called The Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era. It was just a short walk from her flat in Florence Court down to the gallery; and hot already as we ambled under the shade of the Phoenix palms in Nesca Park then turned the corner into Darby Street, where the smell of charred bacon mingled with the aroma of coffee from the breakfast bars packed with gorgers and loungers; while mementos of last night’s debauches lay palpable in the stains on the pavement as much as in the wear on the faces. I don’t exclude myself. It could have been, except for the cars and the clothes, a scene straight out of the Regency period two centuries before. As was the show we were going to see.

Outside the gallery the Council had cordoned off with orange tape the stumps of the arcade of grand old fig trees which, in spite of public protests, they had cut down; transforming Laman Street, twenty-first century style, into the ugly chaos of a building site. Out of a naked blue sky the yellow sun beat down upon desolated ground. Some violation had occurred which would never be accounted for; except perhaps on the books of those who would profit from it. That felt very Regency too, in the New South Wales version. It was, we were assured and did not believe, only temporary. As always it was a relief to leave behind the heat and dust and noise and splintered light to enter the cool half dark of the gallery.

Most of the ground floor was closed off for the installation of a new show; over to the right, one of the Darby Street coffee shops had established a pop-up cafe and there were plastic tables and chairs, a sofa, where was usually art space. Treasures was upstairs. I looked forebodingly at the concrete staircase we would have to climb: a Brutalist structure designed, apparently, to intimidate with its implied weight, its lowness and squatness, all-comers. I never go up without thinking of the 1989 earthquake and the Irish roadie I knew who was buried for twenty-four hours in the rubble of the collapsed Newcastle Workers Club. Ricky and his mate spent the time until their rescue singing every song they knew that had the word ‘help’ in it.

But I like the gallery and especially the upstairs; the claustrophobia always dissipates as I enter that big light-filled room. This day, as so often, I went backwards through the exhibition; as if seeking to trace time back to its source. Thus I began, not with the headline piece—Edward Close’s grand 1821 water colour Panorama of Newcastle—but before Thomas Mitchell’s two modest ink drawings from 1828, one of which shows the strange, pagoda-shaped structure built to enclose the coal-burning, ship’s warning light on Signal Hill; and followed them with three miniatures by Richard Read, also in water colour, of the Macquarie family: Lachlan, the Governor, his wife Elizabeth and their coddled darling, the unfortunate Lachlan Junior, as a child.

Apart from the panorama, there were a half a dozen other pieces by or attributed to Edward Close, a military engineer who settled on the Hunter and was one of the founders of the river town of Morpeth. His works are precise, elegant, exactly observed but to my eye somewhat attenuated. The best of them a graceful rendition of the Governor’s house with a white path curving up to the Georgian door of the low, stone building; and a view of South Head and Coal Island at the time when, in the early 1820s, the building of the causeway between them, which Close supervised, had just begun. You could make out three delicate lines of tide wrack cast up on the ochre sands of Horseshoe Beach; and the spidery construction of the flagstaff on the hill where now Fort Scratchley stands.

This was a leit-motif of the show: the then persistent within the now. For me it was most resonant, most acute, on the north wall, where four landscapes by Joseph Lycett hung. They were all views of Newcastle and environs circa 1818 and by looking into them you could recover lineaments of the original geography, and traces of its human societies, contiguous with the streets of the town yet buried beneath the assumptions, no less than the concrete and the clay, the buildings and the asphalt, of the present day.

Alongside and opposite these four oil paintings a number of heterogeneous other works hung, many of them attributed to a troika of artists: James Wallis / [Joseph Lycett] / Walter Preston. Wallis was the military officer who commanded the settlement at the Coal River, aka King’s Town, during the period when Lycett’s oils were painted. Walter Preston, another convict, transported for armed robbery, was an engraver and there were other examples of his work in the show. There were also paintings by Wallis himself, including a portrait of his dog, Fly, monstrous, like a mutant Stubbs, before an aquatic landscape. He was a competent but uninspired artist; and why the bracketing of Lycett’s name after his?

Their names recurred in the caption to an old bound book, an album, in a glass case opposite; it was closed but on the wall above a series of projections showed the works—water colours, engravings, drawings, that had been pasted, presumably by James Wallis himself, whose book it was, inside and on the front and back covers. At least half of the twenty-six images therein turned out to have been made by Joseph Lycett: watercolours of plants and flowers, mostly. Towards the end of the album six fine paintings of views around Sydney harbour appear. Five of them are inscribed, in Wallis’ hand, Drawn by a Convict.

These landscapes are all dated 1818, presumably because Wallis, and his album, departed the colony in March, 1819 and had, before he left, engravings made of these images for a book published in Sydney that year and again in London two years later; on both occasions Wallis claimed the engraver worked from his own Original Drawings. These originals were thought to have been lost until, just a few years ago, the album turned up in the back of a cupboard in Ontario, Canada, and was auctioned as part of a deceased estate. The State Library of NSW bought it in 2011 for the hefty sum of $1.8 million dollars. Wallis’ ‘original drawings’, then, were made by a convict; and that convict was Joseph Lycett.

There was another album, similarly presented, assembled by one of Wallis’ predecessors, Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe, and containing water colours of native Australian birds and animals by another convict artist, Richard Browne. I knew Browne’s work already, had seen his curiously elongated images of birds, his startling, toothy, larger than life portraits of Aboriginal people, eight of which were included in the exhibition, before. They are striking yet disturbing caricatures; you don’t know if they are meant to be satirical; or if Browne just couldn’t draw very well; or if he actually saw things this way. You can’t quite work out where to situate artist, subject or viewer.

A third book stood alone in another glass case in the middle of the room, without an associated slide show, and open upon a hand-coloured print showing an engraved and hand coloured version of one of Lycett’s four oils, the Inner View of Newcastle. This book, though I didn’t realise it at the time, was a copy of the rare and precious Views in Australia which Lycett, with others, prepared in London between 1824 and 1825. I noted the beautifully exact rendition of a two-pronged grass tree in the foreground, and the unusual way the leaves and branches on the sheoak trees were painted, before passing on. There was something else ahead, something astonishing.

It was inside a cube of what looked like thick glass but must have been perspex or some other kind of hard, transparent plastic: I could have touched it but I didn’t. This cube squatted, tardis-like, four square on the floor. It was roofed, about the size of a small room; within it, select drawers open, lid up, wings flying, stood the Macquarie Chest. Not only had I not seen it before; I had never heard of its existence. There it was, a portable wunderkammer and prodigy of unknown import. Or : conundrum.

The chest is an amalgam of an eighteenth century naturalist’s collecting cabinet and a military travelling trunk of a kind popular in the Empire, especially among officers sent out to administer the Raj. As in both of those articles of furniture, the drawers and wings and other fold-outs collapse, the four stumpy legs unscrew and fit in the bottom-most drawer, to form an oblong that could easily be stowed in a cabin, in the hold of a ship, in the freight compartment of a horse-drawn transport. A collecting cabinet was designed to transport specimens safely; while a military travelling trunk, when assembled in the officer’s tent or in his bungalow, would transform into writing desk, wardrobe, dressing table, shaving station and so forth: a portmanteau for the gentlemanly functions and pursuits enshrined within.

This one, however, built out of local timber—rosewood and cedar—had no practical function but was rather a sort of museum-cum-art gallery. Within its curiously wrought spaces there are the taxidermed bodies of eighty species of bird, all endemic to the Hunter River and environs. There are, likewise, a drawer full of beetles arranged, mandala-like, in patterns; another containing spiders and larger winged creatures such as stick insects, mantis and dragon flies, similarly disposed; two drawers of butterflies and moths; two of sea weeds and algae; two very beautiful arrangements of sea shells. These disparate specimens, with one or two exceptions, are all likewise local to the Newcastle area.

The natural history collections are only one part of this cabinet of wonders; the other consists of thirteen oil paintings on wooden panels which may be slid out of drawers or revealed when lids are opened or wings unfolded; they fall naturally into three groups: eight showing pairs of native birds and animals before exquisitely painted landscapes and dramatic skies; four seascapes copied after engravings made to illustrate Matthew Flinders’ account of his 1802 voyage in HMS Investigator round the Australian coast; and, the largest of the works, on the top lid, a selection of fish from Newcastle waters lying on a sandy beach before a rocky landscape; many of these fish also appear in the Wallis Album. The thirteen panels are unsigned but were certainly painted by Joseph Lycett.

The Macquarie Chest is assumed to have been made, its contents assembled, its panels painted, in Newcastle as a gift for the Governor whose name it bears; and its provenance suggests it returned with Macquarie to England in 1822; and later passed into the ownership of the Drummond family, who stored it for 150 years in a junk room in Strathallan Castle in Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands, where it was intermittently a plaything for children. It has a companion, the so-called Dixson Chest, a sort of mirror image, constructed either before or after (or, more likely, at the same time, as the Macquarie), which turned up in London in the 1930s sans most of the contents of its drawers; it has also, disastrously, had its Lycett panels ‘restored’ by some well-meaning vandal.

The Macquarie Chest is an amazing thing; yet I peered into the cube in a state of frustration: you couldn’t get up close to the painted surfaces and you couldn’t then step back and let them resolve; you had to perch, as it were, with your nose against the glass, looking at each work from an oblique or an acute angle. Not all of the panels were shown; just as not all of the drawers were open. It was maddening to learn that the eight bird and animal panels, which can be displayed together, make a three-part panorama of Newcastle, the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie; exasperating to have to pace around the transparent box trying to get a decent look at some of the more occluded drawers and display cases.

I could not help seeing an analogy with the artist himself, Joseph Lycett, a prisoner while he painted these illuminating works; now those works were themselves in a kind of captivity; while its guards had the untrammelled access I and other members of the public are denied. But that’s how it is with galleries, museums and libraries too—for the Macquarie Chest, and its pair the Dixson, are the property of the State Library of NSW. Newcastle folk, who believe the Macquarie Chest rightly belongs to them, have commissioned a modern day simulacrum which in this exhibition was displayed, en plein air, near its obsessively protected senior. The top features paintings by Philip Wolfhagen, including a Homage to JL; it is more art object than natural history display.

So who was Joseph Lycett? I didn’t know; but I did have, on my desk at home, a card from a previous exhibition at the Newcastle gallery, showing a reproduction of another of his paintings, the View on the Wingeecarrabee River. I had looked at it again and again over the two years since I’d picked it up: intrigued by the chunky way the rocks on the other side of the river had been—like Inca masonry—painted; and fascinated by the two tiny, bent figures in the foreground, one white, one black, running in pursuit of their two dogs, which were themselves chasing an upright kangaroo. I loved the feathery branches on the sheoak trees and, more generally, his take on Australian landscape : both exotic and familiar, a place seen through innocent eyes; as if Lycett, pace his older contemporary William Blake, had the doors of perception cleansed.

There was also, by my bed in Sydney, a book about him—one that had come to me as an unsolicited loan from a friend, one which I had not yet read. I’d leafed through it when it arrived, looking at the reproductions of paintings, which were various and not of a particularly high quality, then put it aside. Now I learned its owner wanted it back. The next day, Sunday, I took a train down to Summer Hill and, as I soon as I arrived, went and found the book; and began, using View on the Wingeecarrabee River as a bookmark, to read.

Joseph Lycett, Governor Macquarie’s convict artist by John Turner was published in 1997, the bicentenary of the European discovery of the Coal River in 1797. Turner was a historian with an interest in the local area; he taught for many years at the University of Newcastle. The inception of his book was curious: in 1982 Turner received a letter from one Michael Lycett, of Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, a descendent of the artist, who was researching the life of his mysterious ancestor. Among the provocations for Michael Lycett’s research was the information that, early in the twentieth century, another Lycett descendent had been refused a job as butler to the Earl of Harrowby because of the recursive notoriety of his long-dead artist ancestor.

Turner’s book, still the only full biography, is well researched, detailed, often illuminating—and ultimately unsatisfying. This is because of a paucity of the kind of material from which biographies are usually written; indeed, it looks as if Joseph Lycett sought, wherever possible, to cover his tracks. To leave as little of himself behind as he could. He volunteered a bare minimum of information to those who were compiling official records; or else eluded altogether those who might have wished to document him or his activities. Towards the end of his preface, Turner writes of the inadequacy of the sources demanding a seemingly endless stream of ‘possibles’, ‘probables’ and ‘perhaps’s’.

This deliberate effacing of the self is all the more striking when you consider the rich legacy of art works Lycett left behind; one which continues to grow as more comes to light. When a major survey exhibition was curated in 2006, the catalogue featured 149 works and yet did not include, by any means, all those that the artist is known to have made; the Wallis album, for instance, had not yet been found. Most of these several hundred works were executed during a ten year period, that is, between Lycett’s arrival in New South Wales early in 1814 and his virtual disappearance from the record mid-way through the next decade, by which time he was back in England. There is a resonant silence around the life of the man responsible for this impressive oeuvre.

Turner’s research has been amplified by others, mostly professional art historians, in the nearly two decades since 1997; but very little of substance has been added to the biography. In some respects, all that has happened is a proliferation of those possibles and probables, those perhapses. After finishing Turner’s book, and then reading everything else I could find on the subject, I felt as frustrated as I had when trying to get a decent view of the Macquarie Chest locked away in that perspex cage in the gallery. There had to be some way of comprehending these mysteries, those enigmas : but how?

I returned twice more to the Newcastle gallery to see Treasures; on each occasion concentrating exclusively on Lycett’s works, whether collaborative or otherwise. One intriguing fact came to light : for most of their existence, paintings now known to be Lycett’s were attributed to others and particularly to his commandant, James Wallis, who, when he left New South Wales took with him in his baggage, along with the landscapes in the album, a number of other Lycett works, including some of the oil paintings. Still other works were assumed to be by another hand because they showed places in the colony that Lycett is not known to have visited.

There is a debate, for instance, as to whether he ever went to Tasmania, whose landscapes he painted with the same aptitude as those of his works that show scenes in New South Wales which he had, presumably, viewed. Turner, who believes he did go to what was then known as Van Diemen’s Land, also mentions in one place the alleged existence of a notebook. What price this document? I considered writing a version of it myself, as a fiction that might also constitute a forgery. After all, that was the crime for which Joseph Lycett had been transported : he was a forger, a counterfeiter of money.

For a forger, anonymity is a sine qua non. The success of your enterprise depends on two things: first, that no-one recognises that what you have made is counterfeit; second that, if someone does realise, they still won’t know who did it. So Lycett’s self-effacement as an artist has a paradoxical symmetry when aligned with his other profession, that of a forger. However, even a master counterfeiter might feel pride in his work and a corresponding need for recognition; while it is rare indeed for an artist not to seek some acknowledgement for his or her endeavours. Was there some correspondence between Lycett’s art works and the money he had, literally, made? Was the fidelity with which he painted landscapes he may not have seen linked to the forensic care with which he copied the banknotes that he had? What is the connection between art and forgery?

This question has exercised me for some time; and among my books on the subject was one that is apposite. The Forger’s Shadow by Nick Groom is a study of literary forgery in the hundred or so years between the birth of Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) and the death of Thomas Wainewright (1794-1847), dubbed the Poisoner, who was himself transported to Australia for his crimes. Groom’s study investigates the peculiar qualities of Romantic poetry’s relations with literary forgery. It intends, in Groom’s own words, to put poetry back into literary forgery, and forgery back into poetry.

Lycett’s dates are 1775-1828; he was thus a contemporary of some of the poets examined in Groom’s study. He was also, in a literal if not a literary sense, a forger. Is there more to his work than meets the eye? Some complexity that might illuminate the waste ground that lies between authenticity and its shadowy other? Which are, I suggest, entwined together like the mollusc and the shell; or the convict and his keeper. Or Australia Felix and its murky shadow. Truth and seeming are the yin and yang of our contested present as much as of our rich past and equivocal future. Some intrinsic accommodation, implied in Lycett’s work, might yet be stated.

After my third viewing of the show in Newcastle, on the train back to Sydney, a strange conviction overcame me. All at once, and indubitably, I felt I knew who Joseph Lycett was. I do not mean that I understood the construction, however fugitive, in the biographies; nor exactly the artist, although I do believe an artist’s personality can sometimes, not always, be found in or through the work. No, what I felt with a certainty that still surprises me, is that I knew the man. It was as if a ghostly hand came down the years and clasped itself in mine. As if a contract was signed or a pact made. Or, more precisely, as if a summons had been issued. I knew in that moment I would have to write about him.

image : Old Ouse Bridge, York; oil on panel; Joseph Lycett, c 1811

One of just two paintings known from his pre-transportation years in England

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

from : Mortal Things


The drought over the years 1814-16 led to an increase in crop depredation, particularly by the Gandangara people, who would descend onto the plains from their fastnesses in the Southern Highlands and plunder corn from the settlers’ fields. Tribes from as far afield as Jervis Bay habitually moved inland in times of scarcity as well. The plains were the traditional lands of the Darug people but the situation was complicated by the fact that both they and their coastal cousins, the Eora, had been decimated by disease, mainly smallpox, over the first two decades of European settlement.

In the vacuum so created, the Dharawal, another coastal people, whose traditional lands also encroached upon the south-west portion of the Cumberland Plains, had developed a largely peaceable, mutually supportive relationship with local settlers, particularly in Airds and Appin. When the Gandangara came looking for food, Dharawal people took refuge on the farms of friendly settlers; and also attempted to arrive at some accommodation with the interlopers on behalf of both the settlers and themselves.

Macquarie’s Aboriginal policy had since his arrival been conciliatory and in some respects enlightened; as was his early response to a new era of conflict. In December 1814 he founded a school at Parramatta for Aboriginal children and at the same time initiated, on the 28th, an annual feast at which the people of the district, both black and white, mingled, received gifts and exchanged entertainments. The next month, January 1815, he made the first ever land grant to indigenous people, returning to sixteen families, including that of his Eora friend Bungaree, some acres at Georges Head on the north shore of Sydney Harbour.

This was followed by other grants, notably at Black’s Town, now Blacktown, in Sydney’s west. His hope that an incorrigibly nomadic people would settle upon these tiny parcels of land to garden and to farm was, however, wholly mistaken. Another aspect of the realpolitik behind the grants—that they might operate to get Aboriginals off the streets of Sydney—was equally misguided; and later, in 1816, he decided to ban from the town the recurrent ‘contests’, during which ritual fights took place over a number of days. This despite the fact that these rehearsals of traditional law, while robust and confronting, were considered a fine spectacle by most townsfolk.

However, his initial low-key response to the emerging pattern of indigenous crop theft, settler retaliation, followed by revenge attacks and further depredations by the Aboriginals, inevitably leading to more reprisals, soon hardened into a resolve to settle the matter once and for all. Early in 1816 he conceived the plan of sending detachments of troops out into the troubled areas, with orders to pacify the land. His instructions were clear: the soldiers were to take prisoner all Aboriginal people they found, to shoot any who refused to surrender and to hang them in trees. They were also to bring back eighteen small children for the Native Institution (the school) at Parramatta.

When, two years earlier, Macquarie authorized civilian militias to act against crop thieves, he distinguished between the peaceful Darug and Dharawal, who were not to be harassed, and the warlike Gandangara, who were; no such distinction was made now. Nor were women and children excepted although they were, if possible, to be spared. Macquarie wrote that the Native Blacks of this Country, having for the last three years manifested a strong and sanguinary hostile spirit, in repeated instances of murders outrages and depredations of all descriptions against white settlers residing in the Interior, I felt myself compelled to inflict terrible and exemplary punishments. Effectively, the plains were to be cleared of Aboriginal people. It was an early example of the notorious policy of dispersal.

What followed was farcical. Captain Schaw was sent north and west towards the headwaters of the Hawkesbury River to scour the Evan lands and the Grose along the Nepean marches. Lieutenant Dawe marched down into the Cowpastures and the Illawarra; both these men commanded light companies. Captain Wallis, with a detachment of more heavily armed grenadiers, was given the most troublesome sector, the new country of Airds and Appin. The three forces were to meet at the conclusion of the operation at Woodhouse’s farm on the Appin Road. Neither Dawe nor Schaw managed to find, let along engage, any Aboriginal people at all, probably because the extant networks effectively subverted Macquarie’s intent. They were sent on wild goose chases by their Aboriginal and settler guides that tied them up and exhausted them.

Wallis, however, at the farm of a settler called John Kennedy, noticed among the Dharawal people sitting down there, two of the five named as wanted men: Yallaman and Battagalie. Kennedy and another settler, Hamilton Hume, asserted their right to be there and argued that they were helping to protect the property. Wallis left in some confusion and soon afterwards was abandoned by his guides—a convict called John Warby, sympathetic to the Aboriginals, and two likewise reluctant Dharawal men, Budbury and Bundle. Nevertheless, after the return of Warby and a tip off from a man named Tyson, he found, in the early hours of April 17th,  above the Cataract River at Appin, an Aboriginal, probably Dharawal, encampment.

The fires were burning but deserted, Wallis wrote in his report. A few of my men heard a child cry. I formed line ranks, entered and pushed on through a thick brush towards the precipitous banks of a deep rocky creek. The dogs gave the alarm and the natives fled over the cliffs. It was moonlight. I regret to say some (were) shot and others met their fate by rushing in despair over the precipice. Fourteen dead bodies were counted in different directions. How many met their deaths as they rushed shrieking and terrified over adjacent precipices, nobody knew for certain. Women and children were among the dead.

Five prisoners were taken, one of whom was later banished to Van Diemen’s Land in remittance of the death sentence imposed upon him. Two other men, Gandangara warriors Durelle and Cannabayagal, were captured nearby, hanged, as per Macquarie’s instructions, from trees, their bodies left to rot as a warning to others, their heads hacked off and taken back as trophies. Wallis’ men had with them special bags made precisely for this purpose. The heads were sent to Edinburgh and remained there, ‘for scientific study’, until 1991. Dawe, Schaw and Wallis each received fifteen gallons of rum for their exertions over the twenty-three days of the operation; their lieutenants got ten gallons; the guides, NCOs and soldiers were given half a pint. Cash and clothing was also distributed among the troops.

Wallis was not happy about what he had done. In his report he lamented this melancholy but necessary duty and expressed regret at the deaths of women and children. How deep the wounds went is difficult to say but it isn’t too much to suggest that the relatively enlightened policies he showed towards the Awabakal and Worimi during his time at Newcastle stemmed from the need to make amends for this traumatic event. By the same token, the operation, which Macquarie claimed as a military success, was one of the factors leading to Wallis’ appointment as Commandant. The Governor praised his zealous exertions and strict attention to the fulfilling of the instructions on this delicate but very important service.

image : Joseph Lycett : View on the Worrogoomboo River about 90 miles from Sydney

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized