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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Johnsonville NZ and Frank Johnson its founder


When I first started to consider that I might settle in Wellington, I looked at the map – and was surprised to find that there was a suburb called Johnsonville. It’s surely something of a good omen to find a place that carries your name.
And I have often joked [and sometimes even been taken half-seriously by a Maori Treaty claim consultant] that as a member of the Ngati Hone tribe, I was participating in a claim for wrongly sequestered land at Jo’ville.
So I have always felt a proprietary interest in this suburb, which though rather mundane in many respects, preserves some of the features of a small, pleasant free-standing town [including a lovely English-style church that provides a focus for the High Street].
Wellington has an extraordinary physical setting with the harbour being bordered on its western side by the steep cliffs and bluffs that mark the line of the massive and potentially deadly Wellington Fault. There is only one route in and out of the city [unique in my experience], as it is built at the end of a peninsula.
In the suburb of Kaiwharawhara, the single route forks – with the right-hand fork [State Highway 2] essentially following the line of the harbour [a very difficult route until the 1855 earthquake shifted the shore back and gave some leeway] and the left-hand fork snaking up the line of a formerly waterfall-interrupted stream hemmed by rocky banks – the Ngauranga Gorge [State Highway 1].
Connecting the embryonic settlement and port of Wellington with any kind of hinterland was a nightmare, as the line now followed by SH1 was broken and mountainous going north - until the wide sandy beaches beyond Paekakariki provided a highway and a stock route – while the line of SH2 ran first through the fertile Hutt Valley to then slam into curtain wall of the Rimutaka Mts.

And Maori were not slow to recognize that the settlers were at a disadvantage. The Maori Chief Te Rangihaeata of Ngati Toa fortified a stronghold or 'pa' at Porirua at the point where the ancestor of SH1 finally fought itself to the west coast. He considered the route [which had long been a Maori walking track] his ‘spine’ and intended to use his strategic leverage as a bargaining chip.
Johnsonville stands where the trek up Ngauranga Gorge finally levels out a bit – and some hundreds of acres of potentially cultivable land nestle themselves in a natural basin.

It was here in 1841 that Frank Johnson settled, developing a thriving farm on the burgeoning trade route. I had never given Frank much notice, simply absorbing the fact that he had first developed a saw-mill to treat the timber that he cut from the Bush.
An update on the history of Johnsonville has recently been published in one of our local newspapers, ‘The Wellingtonian’, see:

- so I decided that it was about time that I found out a bit more about Frank Johnson. And to my considerable surprise, I soon discovered that he was an interesting fellow who became a published author much respected in his final country of settlement, Canada.


The 1892 edition of the [American] Magazine of Poetry and Literary Review - edited by Charles Wells Moulton provides the following entry:
Frank Johnson was born September 2nd, 1810, in London, England. He had barely entered upon his third year when he was sent to a preparatory school at Hampstead. From thence having completed his eighth year, he was transferred to a classical school in London, where after seven years of training in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and mathematics, he was sent to Edinburgh University.

Here, however, his ambition to be an actor brought his studies in Edinburgh to a close. It was now that his naturally good constitution began somewhat to fail him, through too close an application to his self-directed studies, and with a view to recruit him, he was sent by his father, a medical practitioner, into Hertfordshire.
It was here that he betook himself to the study of the flora of the fields, and it was during his rambles in the lanes and wastes of Hertfordshire, that he familiarized himself with the poverty and struggles of the underpaid labourers on the soil, a familiarity which, some years afterwards, he turned to good account in his "Village of Merrow."

It was in his twenty- fifth year that, again with a view to thoroughly establish his health, and to wean him from his still lingering ambition to be an actor, his father proposed to him an extended course of travel, a proposition which was embraced with enthusiasm.
In less than a month he embarked in a small South Seaman, bound for a lengthened cruise in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It was thence that he acquired the terrible experience that enabled him to write his "Lashed to the Mizzen."

After a cruise of upwards of two years, unbroken by a single night on shore, Mr. Johnson, on the vessel touching at New Zealand, abandoned her and resided along with the cannibals, thirty miles up the Hokianga river, on the lookout for a chance passage to Australia, whence after a further detention, he embarked in a brig for Valparaiso, eventually reaching Buenos Ayres, by crossing with a guide the Andes and the Pampas.
This was followed by extensive travel in the leading countries of Europe. Thus far his life appears to have been one that few would have quarrelled with, but now the picture was about to change.

He invested quite a little fortune, bequeathed him during his travels by his grandfather, in the New Zealand Land Company's unfortunate Cook Straits Settlements. It would be a long story, but one by no means dishonouring to Mr. Johnson to show how, for upwards of eight years, the principal share in upholding the Port Nicholson Settlement, fell to him.
It must suffice to say, that after almost incredible trials and disappointments, he had finally to retire with the loss of two-thirds of his capital and fearfully worn, into the bargain.

After his return to England, he farmed for a few years in Pembrokeshire, whence at the suggestion of his then still surviving mother, he removed with his four boys to Lower Canada, now the Province of Quebec.
He is still living on the farm near Lennoxville, acquired by him some thirty years since, with his eldest son who looks after the cultivation of the land. He still continues to be a welcome contributor to the local press, and his writings are regarded with favour. As a citizen and colonist Mr. Johnson holds a high rank.

[Frank died at the age of 81 in Canada].


Frank arrived in New Zealand on the 'Adelaide' March 7, 1840. On the ship passenger list he is listed as F.J. Johnson & wife [born Ann Meaton]. Two of his sons were born in New Zealand [Edgar and Alfred]
He chose lot No. 11 on the west side of Old Porirua Road, now Johnsonville Road, for his l00-acre country block and established a saw-mill there. It soon became known as Johnson's Clearing and later on as Johnsonville. Frank also bought Section 24, a mile further north, but this was cut up and the smaller parcels of land sold.

Johnson's Clearing is now bounded by Ironside, Moorefield, Johnsonville, Broderick and the Old Coach Roads.
Obviously, he worked hard but he had his problems with the local representatives of the New Zealand Company. As for his relations with Maori, he must have been reasonably well-liked and respected, as when jailed activist Henare Maroro sought vengeance or ‘utu’ in the form of one pākehā life for each year he had spent in prison, he chose Frank’s neighbour John Branks, murdering him and his three children with a native mere or axe.

One is tempted to read something of Frank’s experience with his fellow early Wellingtonians into his account of double-dealing and reciprocity denied in ‘Giles and Janey’ [though he does term it a ‘Canadian Tale’]. I find it fascinating in that it deals with that awkward transition in colonies from a kind of primitive communism of shared effort and mutual obligations to legalism and capitalism red in tooth and claw.
I’ll quote part of it to give you a taster:

[from ‘Giles and Janey’ or, ‘The kindly gentleman: a Canadian tale’]

And then the kindly gentleman, for such indeed he seemed,

More generous by far than ever I had dreamed.

Came, smilingly, assenting to all that I desired,

Nay, pressing my acceptance of things not then required,

Assuring me I needn't give a thought about the pay.

Till fortune, in a manner, flung some good chance in my way;

He'd never been a loser by a Homespun, as he'd said,

And he couldn't think, in my case, there was anything to dread.

My present wants supplied, I thanked him for his aid,

And homeward to my wife a joyful journey made.

"How kindly is the man — how Christian like," I said;

"What a gentleman will do, if only thorough bred!

Were fortune's fav'rites all but half as good as he,

How happy, Jane, throughout, this little world might be." '

A thousand times we blessed him, and when the night time came

My Jane and I together knelt — together did the same;

And never prayer from mortal heart sincerer went to heaven,

That if the man had still his faults, those faults might be forgiven.


So time ran on, the kindly man and I from day to day

Exchanging help, till he, in turn, some pounds had got to pay.

When Janey more than gave a hint she thought it time to settle —

Perhaps I thought as Janey did, but hadn't got the mettle.

I couldn't bear to press the man 't had been so good and kind,

As even he I heard at times a little was behind;

But still a something whispering that Janey was a’right,

I mustered all my courage up, as folks do when they fight.

And somewhat, to the counting house, less cowardly, I stole:

"A little, sir, will do me now — I don't, sir, want the whole? "

"The whole, my friend! — you strangely err — the whole's the other way :

I'm sadly out if you have not a pound or two to pay."

'Twas all in sorrow, not in shame, I gave a sudden start

When first I saw the kindly man was hollow in his heart.

"A pound or two to pay, sir! that never can be true ;

If figures, sir, mean anything, the pay must lie with you."


"My simple sir," he smiling said, "you do not understand,

You're in the Eastern Townships now — not in your native land!

All things are here quite different — with fruitless words dispense:

A pound is sixteen shillings here, a shilling fifteen pence;

In some, indeed in many ways, black almost rules for white;

It takes , I know, a year or two to see things in that light :

Be seated, Giles, time presses — still — a few mere moments wait,

I'll— r — look into the little thing — and — r — set the matter straight."

A bigly book, from leaf to leaf with studious face he turned.

When clear I saw at every leaf how less and less I'd earned;

There was int'rest in the first place, there was int'rest in the second,

And int'rest on the interest, Lord knows how often reckoned;

A something hard in every way — a famine price for flour-

To settle up all the somethings took nearly up an hour,

For I was sorely tasked t' unfold his figurifics.

One might as well at once keep counts in hieroglyphics.

Not that unschooled, he scribbled thus, more art than ignorance there,

Many a baffled brain, he judged, would back out in despair.

It saddened me to note the names, with mine, in such sharp quarters,

It made me think, and more than once, of Fox's Book of Martyrs,

How any man, it staggered me, could trust himself to slumber

With such a shaming record of dealings — without number.

Dishonesty and meanness disfigured every leaf;

"If this," said I," be lawful trade, let trader stand for thief."

Nothing that I had done throughout was entered at the rate

Agreed upon between us, or rightly as to date;

And everything delivered was posted at a price

That pointed to a memory anything but overnice.

In vain did I remonstrate, my temper scarce retained:

The hook alone knew anything — the book alone explained.

A hint at its authority seemed tantamount to libel.

Finally, like all emigrants, Frank had his moments of homesickness and nostalgia. His book ‘The Village of Merrow:  Its Past and Present’ covers the history and society of an English village that was close to his heart – Merrow near Guildford in Surrey. And he does his best in a poem to conjure the still warm air of a late summer’s evening, as the gloaming falls:

Merrow Churchyard by Moonlight

Now Dian’s  orb was hung on high,

And all so sunk in rest,

A stranger to the world had deemed

Its habitants were blest.

Who, with the sorcery around

Of a night so calm, so clear,

Could have borne to think that its least content

Could have ever known a tear?

A night indeed! -- so hushed, serene,

Scarce a dead leaflet stirr’d;

If, in the far, a cry, a chime,

Who would not such have heard.

The snowy moon that lives aloft

Seemed all alone to bide,

As if the only thing awake,

And watching all beside.

I could but think of day’s bright orb

Were made alone for light,

Man might have done without the sun,

For the sake of such a night.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Guest Post from Theo Johnson Bodkin: 'Saturday Morning'

by Theo Bodkin, V2

Saturday morning me and my dad driving home from Cricket. We take a right on to a newly made gravel road where it’s all happening. A church with a big cross on the top sits on the left and a baseball game is parked on the right. People cheering sounds down the street. A pink car is the only other thing on the road but us.

 In a spilt second, like a flash of light with a scream, blood covers the road like a big sheet.

“Help,” someone screams, “get an ambulance!”

A huge swarm of people surround a kid paralysed with pain, lying on the pavement. We hear the sound of the ambulance, “nee naa nee naa.” Inside we both feel the guilt, even though we did not do it.  We still have the guts to keep on driving.

“Woah, that was scary,” I said to Dad.

“Yes that is why you look right and left before you cross the road,” warned Dad with a stern face.
[From the Island Bay School 'Writers' Window' at  http://ibs-writerswindow.blogspot.co.nz/ ]

No longer a Facade

[Full video available on YouTube courtesy Vanessa Dixon]


O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,

O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--

That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,

And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!

'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

[From Thompson's 'In No Strange Land']


The Lancashire Poet Francis Thompson was born in 1859 in Preston but his family moved to Ashton-Under-Lyne during his childhood. They lived at 226 Stamford Street [until recently described as ‘still standing and marked by a Blue Plaque].
Withdrawn, odd and dreamy, he was ill-equipped for life, becoming the recurrent target of animosity and rejection. He failed to complete his training as a Catholic Priest, spent six years studying medicine at Manchester University and was rejected by Oxford University for his character rather than his intellect. During his spell as a medical student he spent his time at the museum, at Old Trafford watching the cricket, or simply in the library reading.
Gravitating to London, he eventually became a homeless and destitute opium addict sleeping under the Thames bridges.
Eventually though his poetry was ‘discovered’ after he pushed an untidily written poem under the door of the editor of the magazine ‘Merry England’. For the next twenty years he was the subject of recurrent attempts at character reclamation, with his benefactors including literary cognoscenti and a kindly prostitute.
All help failed and he died in 1907, a pale and haunted figure who had built up a litany of sentimental, bitter and ornate poetry.
Quite how he would have reacted to the collapse of his family home in Ashton-under-Lyne is an interesting conjecture.
Asked to examine the abandoned building in the light of recent falls of bricks, a council contractor on a cherry-picker was examining the facade and poking at the brickwork when the whole shemozzle collapsed.
“He was up there trying to make it safe and he obviously took out the wrong brick. The whole lot came down with a loud rumble,” an eyewitness told The Manchester Evening News.

Monday, March 24, 2014

'McPigmet' to Get the Bird in Dundee


News that Hollywood A-List Hollywood Celebrities ‘Kermit’ and Miss Piggy, have hopped and trottered into the Scottish Independence Debate, with a ‘Non’ny-No and a ‘Moi’, has re-opened one of Tinsel Town’s longest running family feuds. Scion of the clan, Pigmet, the star of Angry Birds, has raised his dirk in a no fingers - no thumbs salute to show his displeasure at the views of his parents.
Readers will remember that Pigmet became especially estranged from his mother ‘Miss’ Piggy over a ‘Who Do You think You Are’ exposé that uncovered her less than illustrious ancestry:

‘According to her promotional literature Pigmet’s mother was born 'Piggy' [Pigathia = River of Passion] Lee, the daughter of Danish immigrants to Iowa [family name formerly Landrace, tracing ancestry to King Sweyn III].

‘Following a visit to Pork Farms, Iowa, where he trawled through the records, Pigmet was able to establish that his mother’s embellishments of her family bloodline could not be supported. It seems that she had been telling porkies.
‘Rather, the evidence confirms that she was the illegitimate daughter of Polk County town drunk Oval T. Spamroll and trailer-trash, anyone’s dumpling, Evangeline O’Peccary. However, tracing these lines back further, Pigmet is able to prove that Oval was a direct descendant of Civil War General Oddball T. Spamroll and that his grandmother’s father ‘Bristly’ O’Peccary was in fact consumed at the behest of Sam-I-Am, by a member of the notorious Cat in the Hat Gang’.

In the light of this, and his Republican and Scottish sympathies, Pigmet was reportedly enraged to learn that his mother has set her sights on either replacing Queen Elizabeth as the monarch of the United Kingdom or becoming the Queen of his beloved Scotland.
Further work by genealogists has confirmed that, like his hero ‘The King’ Elvis Presley, Pigmet shares Scottish as well as Anuran ancestry. It seems that Oddball T. Spamroll was the direct descendant of Oisin Tavish Spamroll of that Flitch, the ancient Clan Chieftain of the McPorkadales of Stye of which the Spamrolls are a sept.

Apparently Pigmet has now committed to a demonstration of levitating in a show of national solidarity with micro-gravity manipulating Yes-Yin Alex Salmond.
As both the McPorkadales and the Spamrolls share the motto: ‘Null ornis tutus in undis est’ [No Bird is safe in the Breeze] and a mutual clan animosity still burns with the Birds, it appears that the British taxpayer will be making an outlay for special security when Pigmet attends the forthcoming Hop set for 4th July at the Dundee Trades Hall and Hog Mart.

Worryingly, Pigmet seems unaware that the Salmonds and the Birds share a long history of clan affinity; collaborative rieving and thieving; bushy and tooth-brush eye brows; and pathological antipathy towards the McPorkadales and the Spamrolls

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Original Aussie Sheila


I was fascinated to read about Sheila Chisholm [1895 - 1969] in recent reviews of Robert Wainwright’s book 'Sheila: The Australian Beauty who bewitched British Society'. The story immediately put me in mind of the ‘Duchess’ who is encountered by Digger Smith, the ANZAC soldier, when he is on leave in England during WW1. I feel certain that the ‘Mrs Chicolo Legend’ influenced C.J. Dennis in writing his poem – and that there is a strong possibility that 'Sheila' gave her name to the Typical Aussie Girl.
Let's start with the poem.

A Digger’s Tale by C.J. Dennis (1918)

"My oath!" the Duchess sez. "You'd not ixpect

Sich things as that. Yeh don't mean kangaroos?

Go hon!" she sez, or words to that effect --

(It's 'ard to imitate the speech they use)

I tells 'er, 'Straight; I drives 'em four-in-'and

'Ome in my land.'

"You 'ear a lot," sez little Digger Smith,

"About 'ow English swells is so stand-off.

Don't yeh believe it; it's a silly myth.

I've been reel cobbers with the British toff

While I'm on leaf; for Blighty likes our crowd,

An' done us proud.

"Us Aussies was the goods in London town

When I was there. If they jist twigged your 'at

The Dooks would ask yeh could yeh keep one down,

An' Earls would 'ang out 'Welcome' on the mat,

An' sling yeh invites to their stately 'alls

For fancy balls.

"This Duchess -- I ain't quite sure uv 'er rank;

She might 'ave been a Peeress. I dunno.

I meets 'er 'usband first. 'E owns a bank,

I 'eard, an' 'arf a dozen mints or so.

A dinkum toff. 'E sez, 'Come 'ome with me

An' 'ave some tea.'

"That's 'ow I met this Duchess Wot's-'er-name --

Or Countess -- never mind 'er moniker;

I ain't no 'and at this 'ere title game --

An' right away, I was reel pals with 'er.

'Now, tell me all about yer 'ome,' sez she,

An' smiles at me.

"That knocks me out. I know it ain't no good

Paintin' word-picters uv the things I done

Out 'ome 'ere, barrackin' for Collin'wood,

Or puntin' on the flat at Flemin'ton.

I know this Baroness uv Wot-yeh-call

Wants somethin' tall.

"I thinks reel 'ard; an' then I lets it go.

I tell 'er, out at Richmond, on me Run --

A little place uv ten square mile or so --

I'm breedin' boomerangs; which is reel fun,

When I ain't troubled by the wild Jonops

That eats me crops.

"I talks about the wondrous Boshter Bird

That builds 'er nest up in the Cobber Tree,

An' 'atches out 'er young on May the third,

Stric' to the minute, jist at 'arf past three.

'Er eyes get big. She sez, 'Can it be true?'

'Er eyes was blue.

"An' then I speaks uv sport, an' tells 'er 'ow

In 'untin' our wild Wowsers we imploy

Large packs uv Barrackers, an' 'ow their row

Wakes echoes in the forests uv Fitzroy,

Where lurks the deadly Shicker Snake 'oo's breath

Is certain death.

"I'm goin' on to talk of kangaroos,

An' 'ow I used to drive 'em four-in-'and.

'Wot?' sez the Marchioness. 'Them things in zoos

That 'ops about? I've seen then in the Strand

In double 'arness; but I ain't seen four.

Tell me some more.'

I baulks a bit at that; an' she sez, '"Well,

There ain't no cause at all for you to feel

Modest about the things you 'ave to tell;

An' wot you says wonderfully reel.

Your talk" - an' 'ere I seen 'er eyelids flick --

"Makes me 'omesick".

"I reckerlect," she sez -- "Now let me see --

In Gippsland, long ago, when I was young,

I 'ad a little pet Corroboree,"

(I sits up in me chair like I was stung.)

'On it's 'ind legs,' she sez, 'it used to stand.

Fed from me 'and."

"Uv cours, I threw me alley in right there.

This Princess was a dinkum Aussie girl.

I can't do nothin' else but sit an' stare,

Thinkin' so rapid that me 'air roots curl.

But 'er? She sez, "I ain't 'eard talk so good

Since my childhood.

"'I wish," sez she, "I could be back again

Beneath the wattle an' that great blue sky.

It's like a breath uv 'ome to meet you men.

You've done reel well," she sez. "Don't you be shy.

When yer in Blighty once again," sez she,

"Come an' see me."

"I don't see 'er no more; 'cos I stopped one.

But, 'fore I sails, I gits a billy doo

Which sez, "Give my love to the dear ole Sun,

An' take an exile's blessin' 'ome with you.

An' if you 'ave some boomerangs to spare,

Save me a pair.

The Thursday 28thSeptember 1916 edition of Tasmania’s ‘North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times’ issued the following notice:

‘Lord Loughborough’s Affairs – Money Lenders Warned

Lord Rosslyn has issued a warning that owing to money lenders tempting his son (Lord Loughborough) to borrow money, he will not be responsible for his son's debts. Lord Loughborough married an Australian lady at Cairo in December, 1915’.

This was a bit rich because ‘Loughie’s dad, James Francis Harry St. Clair-Erskine, 5th Earl of Rosslyn, had once lost £15,000 betting on his horse Buccaneer to win the Manchester Cup; was the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo [and went back to lose all his winnings]; and an out and out scoundrel who went through a fortune in properties, an estate, and collieries only to be declared bankrupt and lose everything, including his magnificent steam yacht and the family silver, gold and silver plate which was sold at a three-day auction in Edinburgh.

But like father, like son.

Francis Edward Scudamore St. Clair-Erskine, Lord Loughborough [b. 16 November 1892, d. 4 August 1929] was both ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ and ‘brave, crazy and foolhardy’.

As Robert Wainwright explains in his new book ‘Sheila: The Australian Beauty who bewitched British Society’ [seehttp://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=858], Lord Loughborough—"Loughie", pronounced Luffy, to his friends—was twenty-three years old in May 1915 when he found himself invalided from the Dardanelles Campaign with a bullet wound in the shoulder to a make-shift hospital at Mena near Cairo.

‘Tall, rakishly handsome and affable, so far he had found it difficult finding a place in society beyond his birthright, let alone meeting the demands of the military. He had been in Rhodesia when the war broke out, but joined up within a month of returning to London in the autumn of 1914. On application, he had been assigned to the obscure new armoured car division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

‘Loughie had been dressed in his army uniform when he appeared in a court in January 1915 accused of writing a bad cheque. According to the charge, he had, in April 1913, signed a cheque for £200 to cover a gambling debt. Not only had the cheque not been honoured, but it had been post-dated to November to cover the fact that Lord Loughborough had not yet come of age’.

The matter took a long time to come to court because Loughie had fled to Rhodesia. Clearly the war was a life-saver in his case.

The Rosslyns were the descendants of the Norman Sinclair, or St Clair family (also anciently spelt Sanctclare which had held a castle at Roslin in Scotland since 1280.


Margaret "Sheila" Mackellar Chisholm was born on 9 September 1895 at Woollahra, Sydney, youngest of the three children of native-born parents Harry Chisholm, grazier of Wollogorang, Breadalbane, and his wife Margaret, née Mackellar. Sheila was educated at home. She was variously described as of excellent deportment with a beautiful complexion and a good dancer. She was also praised as ‘calm, lovely, gentle, restful and perfect', and with a classic, oval face, dark brown eyes and auburn hair, her 'smile was like that of a Lely court beauty'.

Her grandfather John Chisholm had been in born in 1820 very modest circumstances in a cottage in George Street, Sydney. Over the years he became a very successful and wealthy grazier – a tribute to his energy and frugal habits. Around 1854 he purchased Wollogorang, fourteen miles from Goulburn in New South Wales. Here he went in for breeding pure-bred cattle, and was one of the first to import shorthorns from England.

John’s youngest son Harry took over Wollogorang when the old man retired back to Sydney. The eldest son, John, had been found dead on 1st April, 1887, having fallen from his horse soon after leaving home that morning.

In 1914, Harry’s wife Margaret [‘Ag’] and his daughter ‘Sheila’ left Australia for a visit to England, where following the outbreak of WW1, they decided to try, as far as they could, to assist Sheila’s brother John who was serving with the Australian Imperial Force. John was in Egypt prior to the Gallipoli landings, and Sheila and her mother enrolled as nurses at the Mena Hospital.

As Robert Wainwright describes:

"Jack", a lean, 6-foot-tall man with the ingrained deep tan of a grazier, cut a commanding figure and was assigned to the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment and given the rank of sub-lieutenant. The regiment was part of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade, which would be based at Maadi on the outskirts of Cairo where they would wait for orders.

'No one was prepared for the reality of war, as an Australian government report prepared in the aftermath recorded:

'The weather was beautiful, and anyone might have been easily lulled into a sense of false security. In April however, a trainload of sick arrived. Its contents were not known until it arrived at the Heliopolis siding. The patients had come from Lemnos and numbered over 200 sick. On the following day, however, without notice or warning of any description, wounded began to arrive in appalling numbers. In the first 10 days of the conflict, 16,000 wounded men were brought in to Egypt.

'Sheila was a witness to the horror: "The news was appalling, like a nightmare. About 500 wounded were expected but 10,000 arrived."

'A casino was taken over, then a sporting club, a factory, three more luxury hotels, even Prince Ibrahim Khalim's palace. By the second week of May 1915, the initial plans for one hospital of 520 beds had grown into eleven hospitals housing 10,600 beds, most of which were now being made of palm wood. By the end of August, the wounded and sick would number more than 200,000, handled by a daily staff of fewer than 400.

'The crisis was not merely because of a lack of space and facilities but also a lack of staff; many nurses began to break under the strain. Reinforcements were on their way, but there was a desperate need for civilian help. Margaret and Sheila Chisholm were among a number of Australian women who volunteered to stay on and help.

'Margaret, or "Ag" as Sheila began calling her mother in gentle mockery of Margaret one day declaring: "Goodness, I am becoming an old hag," had been working for the Blue Cross taking care of injured horses. She and Sheila also helped establish the Australian Comforts Fund, which provided basic items, such as blankets and socks, for the soldiers at the front; they spent hours each day going from one hospital to another, visiting men they didn't know, listening to their stories and providing reassurance. Against protests from officialdom, they even provided free cigarettes to convalescing soldiers, rather than force the men to spend their wage of 5 shillings a day on the tobacco they needed to take their minds off the pain and horror.

Sheila then worked alongside her mother tending the wounded and dying, much to Ag's annoyance who thought her daughter, aged nineteen, too young and delicate ("how it bored me to be thought too young", Sheila would later recall). The young woman, who a few months before had been dressed expensively while attending parties almost nightly and mingling with the upper echelons of London society, was now clad in the practical garb of a hospital volunteer.

'But she did not remain unnoticed, particularly when she accidentally destroyed several thermometers by leaving them for too long in boiling water and was relegated to cleaning duties for a period. She would always cringe at any reminder of that particular mistake.

'Two decades later, at a reunion of nurses in Adelaide, her contributions would be remembered. Miss Sinclair Wood, principal matron of the Army Nurses Reserve, who was in Egypt when the first wounded came back from Gallipoli would recall:

"There were five of us at Mena Hospital, and one night we got word that 248 men were coming. We set to and made up beds, prepared wards, and waited. The men had been in the ship for a week and no one knows what they had gone through. When we got the opportunity to snatch two hours’ sleep some of the Red Cross women, among them Sheila Chisholm, who was one of the loveliest girls I ever saw, came over, rolled up their sleeves and it was wonderful what they did".

 'A Sunday Times gossip column in early May 1915 described her as one of "four beautiful Australian girls to be seen in Cairo quite recently". It seemed she could not be mentioned without a comment about her beauty.

'Margaret and Sheila had other roles outside the hospital, including organising the delivery of Australian and English newspapers so the men could feel as though they were still a part of the world outside the war. There were even moments of levity in the bleakness of the dusty city. The cable sent to Australia by Margaret to begin an appeal for newspapers mangled her surname, which appeared as "Mrs Chicolo".

'Not only did papers arrive in their thousands but more than a hundred letters came addressed to Mrs Chicolo, thanking a "foreigner" for her kindness. "Some of the epistles are written in French and Italian, and others from people I know," she told The Sydney Morning Herald.


Picking up the story again from Robert Wainwright:

‘It was here at Mena, convalescing, that Francis Erskine's life changed for the better when an Australian soldier was given the bed next to him. Jack Chisholm and Francis Edward Scudamore St Clair-Erskine—two elder sons of landed gentry from opposite sides of the world—found themselves in the same wartime hospital, and they would soon share another common bond.


‘Sheila met Loughie one day when she came to visit her brother in hospital. It was love at first sight, according to a later report in the Singleton Argus, which described Loughie as a "youthful warrior". He was instantly smitten by Sheila’s dark beauty and frontier-like attitude and quickly made a play for her attention. She was at first distracted—just another admirer—but fell for his cultured English charm when he sat up with her all night nursing a sick stray dog she had adopted and called Treacle.

‘She recorded the romance in her memoir: "Loughie came to tea the next day. He was tall and slim, with thick brown hair and hazel eyes. He was witty and most attractive. I soon began enjoying his company. We read the Brownings. He pursued me relentlessly and I was flattered by his attention. He told me that he had fallen in love with me at first sight. He constantly said: 'I love you and you are going to marry me, you will like England and all my friends will adore you.'

"He was persistent. He said: 'I know I am wild, but with your love I will be different. I could do great things.' I believed him and I was fascinated by him. We seemed so happy together. I thought this must be love."

 ‘Margaret counselled her daughter against marriage—she was too young and her beau, as witty and charming as he was, had a reputation for being too wild. Her father, Chissie, would not approve.

‘But amid the Armageddon the warnings fell on deaf ears, as she later remembered thinking: "Too young, too young, wait six months, wait a year, wait while he goes back and probably gets killed. He loves me so much and I love him. He is sweet to me and fond of animals; can't we be engaged? I suppose Loughie was spoiled and perhaps not very reliable but he had a great attraction and such a wonderful sense of humour, and he always made me laugh."

‘Loughie returned to the Gallipoli peninsula, his shoulder mended, but remained only a few weeks before being injured again, this time "slight and entirely his own fault", according to his colonel who described him as "brave, crazy and foolhardy". He returned to Cairo where he soon proposed.

 ‘Their engagement was announced on July 20 in the Daily Mirror, which praised the young peer. The rush to the altar received the blessing of Loughborough's father, the Earl of Rosslyn, of whom the paper commented: "The Earl himself is, of course, one of our most versatile peers. He has been a good soldier, a fair actor, a talented editor and a very brisk war correspondent. He has made at least one speech in the House of Lords. Verily, a peer of many interests!"

 ‘On December 27, 1915, at St Mary's Church in Cairo, Lord Loughborough married Sheila Chisholm, a union described by the News of the World as one of the most interesting weddings of the war because of the match between an Australian commoner and a British peer, adding: "Like most Australian women she is a superb horsewoman and excels as a vocalist."

 ‘Another newspaper columnist noted: "It is refreshing to hear that an Australian girl, after a pretty little war romance, has married into the peerage. With some of Britain's lordlings it has been a not too infrequent habit either to marry a charmer off the music halls or else wed an American heiress. Now it appears they are marrying on the keep-it-in-the-Empire principle—at least Lord Loughborough has set a new and patriotic fashion in that direction."

Not surprisingly, the marriage was a disaster - though Sheila went on to an extraordinary life as a society belle, royal mistress and 1920's 'Flapper'. She was buried at Rosslyn Chapel.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hannah Arendt


Last night was the night that my wife’s Book Club convened at our house. In my bright, bouncy and typically boundary-less manner, I made an offer to help entertain our guests. I gave my wife the choice of a) readings from my Blog, b) a talk on family history research, or c) a brief demonstration of male pole-dancing.
I detected some reluctance from her and when I then threatened to flounce off on my own for the evening there were visible signs of relief on her part.
This turned out well for me because I went to see the film about Hannah Arendt.
I’ll give Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review here to set the scene:
‘There is something perhaps a little stagey and mannered in Margarethe von Trotta's film about Hannah Arendt and her experiences in the early 1960s writing her iconic report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. At times, in fact, it seems like a radio play with pictures. But for all that, this is an interesting film about ideas, and how explosive they can be.
‘Arendt, played by Barbara Sukowa, is shown being commissioned by the New Yorker to write about the trial. The result was her celebrated coinage "the banality of evil": her epiphany in realising that Eichmann was not a scary monster but a pathetic little pen-pusher. For Arendt, it was in this shabby and insidious mediocrity – emblematic of a nation of administrators obediently carrying out the Holocaust – that true evil resided.
‘But for many in Jewish circles, this was too sophisticated by half: her remarks on perceived Jewish collaboration in the Warsaw ghetto were resented and her association with the philosopher and Nazi associate Martin Heidegger was not forgotten. (Perhaps the nearest dispute in our day was Gitta Sereny's apparent leniency on the subject of Albert Speer.) This is a formal and pedagogic production, but worthwhile nonetheless’.
Bradshaw seems to touch on damning with faint praise an extraordinary attempt to translate the rich complexities of philosophy and the human condition into entertainment. I thought it was brilliant
It casts a bright light on some of the topics that I try to sketch in this Blog, relating to the nature of thought and the importance of moral disobedience. I have never termed the Blog 'Buddhist' but I would guess that anyone who has tried to follow the Path will recognize an occasional marker, through my longstanding interest in the relationships between words, our internal dialogues and action - and the necessity of being 'awake'.
[For some of the more obvious examples see:

Anyhow, the clash between the Yang of Love [which includes empathy] and the Yin of Ignorance [which includes bureaucratic banality] is a marvellous topic for meditation, thought and action, as my rough-and-ready header maps out. And if you want some brain teasers try 'passionate thought' and 'radical evil'.
For more on the film and the ideas that it presents, see the two clips below – in particular, the wonderful lecture / question time held by Richard J. Bernstein at the New School in New York.