Consider–my world 1952 to 1959. Thoughts on the origins of belief.

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.


That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively.

And that takes me to the subject of belief, because my sister’s death affected me very profoundly – of course this was just as true for the rest of my family and extended family, but it is of myself I think now as I sit in the last six months of my seventh decade. Read my mother’s account in her own words.

My immediate family were not religious, or perhaps more accurately were not church-goers.

My mother was perhaps best described as a stoic. In her words:

Truly, as Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote in “Ye Wearie Wayfarer”

Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

The poets and Charles Dickens – she acquired a love for both from her father – were the formulae of her faith, rather than The Bible which she rarely read.


Robert Louis Stevenson:

UNDER the wide and starry sky

  Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:

Here he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

And my father? Very much impressed by the writings of Colonel Ingersoll, among others. Indeed it was from my father that I first heard the name. But his agnosticism – for such it was – combined with a respect for the ethics of Christianity and for much the churches did, though he, nominally an Anglican, did not really want to have much to do with them. He had seen, it appears, fanaticism in some of his family’s past – though he rarely talked about that or them. He did quote this back at me, though, when after around 1958-9 I became perhaps obnoxiously religious.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same door wherein I went.

With them the seed of wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow:

And this is all the Harvest that I reap’d —

I came like water, and like water, and like wind I go.

And my Grandfather Christison, though the son of a woman of faith for whom he had enormous love and respect, was also truly an agnostic, at least as far as the institution of the church and the Holy Scriptures were concerned.  He loved his Dickens.

“…while I clean my boots keep a eye upon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of more flopping, give me a call. For, I tell you," here he addressed his wife once more, "I won’t be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as a hackney-coach, I’m as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to that degree that I shouldn’t know, if it wasn’t for the pain in ’em, which was me and which somebody else, yet I’m none the better for it in pocket; and it’s my suspicion that you’ve been at it from morning to night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and I won’t put up with it, Aggerawayter, and what do you say now!"

Growling, in addition, such phrases as "Ah! yes! You’re religious, too. You wouldn’t put yourself in opposition to the interests of your husband and child, would you? Not you!" and throwing off other sarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation, Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his general preparation for business.

A Tale of Two Cities

On “flopping” he once told me that when you see someone praying you should watch out for the knife in the other hand. He also deconstructed for me, as we might say now, quite a few of the stories in the Bible. I remember particularly that like any sane person in the last few centuries he was more a touch disbelieving about:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day.

Joshua 10:13

He also thought the Second Coming was taking rather a long time. He and I discussed such things there in Waratah Street West in the later 1950s,

I went to Church/Christian Endeavour/Sunday School probably no more times than can be counted on the fingers between 1950 and 1956. But that changed markedly, especially after 1959.  As I mentioned in the previous “Consider” post my views in the early fifties derived from the books my mother had bought from some passing Seventh Day Adventist colporteur.

What I do remember is that I sought comfort as I grieved for my sister in the years 1952 and 1953 in religious rituals of my own, such as arranging crosses of pebbles in various parts of the garden, something my parents were totally unaware of. And I pondered the images of the next life and the resurrection of the body on those SDA “Uncle Arthur” books.


I also often had dreams and nightmares about death. In one I recall there was a skeleton by my bed, as vivid as can be.

To be continued.

Scans–sister, self

Here is one of my sister Jeanette, which I hadn’t scanned before. I think it was taken in the playground at Sutherland Public School in 1951 and thus must be one of the last photos of Jeanette who died in January 1952.



The heads “inserted” in the back row aren’t named, so Jeanette is third from the left in the lacy collar.

And here am I around 1990-91 at a barbecue. Andrew is the one to whom I am talking – a former member of the Chinese Air Force.


Of course I no longer smoke – even if that achievement was to take another 20 years!

More on nostalgia

I see I have a tag here for nostalgia but I have rather neglected it, as I am sure far more posts would qualify – all The Shire ones for starters!



Compare those with yesterday’s post. Not sure how old those are, but suspect the 1930s or 1940s…

There are still patches that are little changed since I lived and worked around Dapto and The Gong in the 70s, or for that matter since my Dad was born at Shellharbour 101 years ago. But the area is nowhere the dairy hub it was. The old Dairy Farmers’ Co-op at Albion Park is witness to that.



View between Albion Park and Dapto, from the train window last Monday afternoon.

God’s Politics has a nice companion post today.

Comparing today with yesterday is a popular yet pointless pastime.

For one thing, we rarely remember yesterday accurately. More to the point, yesterday was so, well, yesterday — different context, different players, different period in our lives, different numbers, different stages in science, commerce, and communications.

Seeking to restore the 1950s — grafting 1950s values, lifestyles, cultural politics, educational, and religious institutions — onto 2012 is nonsense. It sounds appealing, but it is delusional.

That world didn’t disappear because someone stole it and now we need to get it back. It disappeared because the nation doubled in size, white people fled racial integration in city schools, and women entered the workforce en masse. It disappeared because factory jobs proliferated and then vanished, prosperity came and went, schools soared and then soured, the rich demanded far more than their fair share, overseas competitors arose, and medical advances lengthened life spans.

The comparison worth making isn’t between today and yesterday. It is between today and what could be. That comparison is truly distressing, which might explain why we don’t make it….

Respectability achieved–and rapscallions left behind?

Here’s a bit of history.

The demands for self-government by the free settlers of New South Wales and the other colonies were largely met when the Imperial Parliament passed the Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850. This authorised the Legislative Councils in the Australian colonies to pass bills establishing themselves as bicameral legislatures. In 1853, proposals were submitted to the Imperial Parliament from the New South Wales Council. After some amendments, the Imperial Parliament passed a Constitutional Statute in 1855, (Imperial Act18 & 19 Vic. No.48 Cap.54). This authorised Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to assent to a bill passed by the Legislative Council of New South Wales (New South Wales Act 17 Vic. No.41) giving New South Wales a fully responsible system of government, with two Houses of Parliament.

It was not, however, fully representative government. The franchise was still property and gender based, with only men able to vote; but it was a very low property qualification and it was a poor man who could not vote. To register, potential voters had to be male adults of over 21 years who owned freehold property of at least 100 pounds per year, or leased property with an annual value of at least 10 pounds per year, or occupied lodgings or rooms with a rent of at least 10 pounds per year or had an income of at least 100 pounds per year. In the nineteenth century, women were not considered capable of making a rational choice at the polls, so were therefore not given the franchise.

The property qualification for Members was lowered, but because Members of Parliament still received no salary, only those who were wealthy could afford to run for Parliament.

The first New South Wales Parliament established under this new Constitution met on 22 May, 1856. The population of the colony was approximately 300,000.

And here is a very respectable looking chap:

FotoSketcher - william1a

That’s William Whitfield, born 16 Mar 1812 in Cootehill, Drumgoon Parish, Cavan, Ireland and died 12 Oct 1897.  He had arrived in Sydney 11 Apr 1826 on the Thames, master Robert Frazer, from Cork, Ireland. By 1856 he was in Picton, NSW.


This is my branch of the Whitfields, and we have been fortunate in having a great family historian in Bob Starling. “Jacob Whitfield’s journey from Cootehill County Cavan Northern Ireland to the land down-under : embracing the Whitfield family history /​ by Robert Starling… Research relating to Jacob Whitfield (convict) transported from Ireland 1822. Jacob’s wife Mary and four children migrated on the ‘Thames’ in 1826. Mary and two children died on the voyage. William, the only son of Jacob to survive was responsible for the Whitfield name propagating to towns of Picton, Braidwood and the NSW South Coast.”

Now the old Jacob was, it appears now, a horse thief. (See Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days. This is very messy, having just grown over ten years and more. Make sure you trawl through the comments!  Also, in 2008 I walked Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, formerly Macquarie Street South, “Looking for Jacob”.  I kind of found him in what is left of “Market Lane”…


According to this, William and his wife, Caroline Philadelphia WEST, lived in Elizabeth Street from 1836 to 1846. Jacob, we know, had a hut in the area – all of this in that yellow square.

Ramana in Pune will be interested in what is on the Elizabeth Street frontage now, as he recently told me in Facebook about going there once!

One of the remaining mysteries about Jacob concerns his final years. On Trove I have tracked down the latest mention of him in a case where he wasn’t the defendant!



The rest of that paper is rather devoted to the subject of gold…

So Jacob remained in Market Lane until at least the second half of 1851. In a 2011 comment on “About the Whitfields: Convict Days” Bob Starling wrote:

For some years I have been searching for Jacob Whitfield’s death. It was noticed that Jacob gave his religion as a Quaker on one of his applications to marry. With this fact the Quaker society in Sydney has carried out some research and came up with the following piece of information:

“In searching the incomplete records we have of burials in the Friends Burial Ground within the old Devonshire Street (Sandhills) Cemetery, I came across a reference to:
“Burial Notes missing of … Jacob Whitfield” Unfortunately, there is no indication of his date of death or burial. Burials took place in the Friends Burial Ground from about 1837 through to about 1880.”

Whilst we can now accept that Jacob died in Sydney, probably between 1851 and 1856 we cannot quite put him to rest until we find an exact date.

He was certainly around for a long time.


From Bob Starling

Bit of a villain though, it seems.



It turns out there is another Whitfield family altogether extant – and with Shire links.

Perilous Seas: The Whitfield Family – Ancestors & Descendants England & Australia 1605-2012

The Whitfield family farmed in the Tyne Valley of Northumberland before moving to iron works on the Derwent River in Cumberland where two daughters drowned in separate accidents. Descendants experienced contrasting fates. One, James Whitfield made a fortune on the Australian goldfields before becoming a successful entrepreneur in Workington. His siblings lived and worked in industrial towns and the youngest, William Whitfield became a master mariner in Australia, experiencing a number of misfortunes before returning to Hull, Yorkshire, leaving his Australian family behind.

Now that is interesting, because my father used to say his Aunty Jessie and one other family member had traced the family to Hull, and there was allegedly a lost fortune there… That must be this family, but there is no doubt there is no close connection.  I suspect OUR Whitfields arrived in Ireland in the 17th century as part of the “plantations”.

And as for Jacob? Given the respectability his son William achieved I am beginning to think he was simply left behind when William and Caroline went south. Certainly he was erased from the family memory as I first encountered it in Picton in the 1950s with yet another William Whitfield – Dad’s Uncle Bill.

You will recall that we “found” Jacob, my convict ancestor, or we at least found the part of Sydney where he is known to have resided in the second half of the 1830s through early 1840s. By the 1860s the family had moved on – Braidwood, Picton… My grandfather was born in Picton in 1867. Him I remember. Just. He died in 1948. His brother William I remember more clearly, because he survived well into the 1950s. That William – son of William, the son of William, the son of Jacob – was still riding horses and ploughing his orchard almost to the year of his death. I remember his house, with its (to citified me) rather magic rural air, and tales of this one and that one, and timber getting, and horse breaking, and blacksmithing, and bullock teams… And Sao biscuits with tomato and cheese…

The tales never went back more than about one generation…

I think I can see why, for several reasons. Sometimes my father would mutter about the Old Testament curse on “the sins of the fathers”… Perhaps too, given what the area they had left behind in Surry Hills had become by 1900, you will see why it didn’t figure in the stories… Anyway, it was not part of my grandparents’ generation’s personal memories. They had become country people.

Temps perdu–Whitfield’s, not Proust’s–1 — 20th century

The first thing to come my way was a special edition of Aero Magazine.


Now I need to refer you to Closely watched planes 1 and About the Whitfields: loss in my “Specials” archive.

14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better…

Thus begins a letter from Port Moresby reproduced on the second of those two pages.


One of my father’s wartime photos

Sadly many more have been lost over the years

Now I am not absolutely sure which squadron my father was in, or if as a “carpenter-rigger” – so described in his discharge papers – who appears to have been involved in salvaging bent aircraft – I have seen a file of correspondence with the higher-ups in the RAAF my father was engaged in, including some recommendations of his that seem to have been adopted – he was attached to several. His discharge papers don’t say. One thing I do know is that he rather specialised in Kittyhawks. 82 Squadron seems a possibility.


So I was drawn to a photo in that copy of Aero.


Now the more I look at the guy in the cockpit the more convinced I am that it is my father!



I guess I will never be sure.

The same issue has this photo of someone I once met and talked with for an hour or more: Richard Cresswell. As I mentioned in “Closely Watched Planes”:

I met Wing Commander Cresswell — as he became — purely by chance one night at the Sydney Intercontinental Hotel in 1988 and had quite a long conversation with him; but that’s another story.



Exploring my inner Scot — 3

You ken that I was an Elder of the Kirk at one time, and that, at the end, in a Kirk that closely resembled what you may read at the Inverness Branch of the Scottish Reformation Society.

In contrast the official gateway to Scottish Culture is bland pap.

FotoSketcher - Picture0024a2

Of course one of Scotland’s – and the world’s – great treasures is Rabbie Burns. His satire on the most characteristic dogma of Scots Calvinism is as potent today as it was over 200 years ago.

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends aen to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an’ grace
A burning and a shining light
To a’ this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I wha deserv’d most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years ‘ere my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause.

When from my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung’d me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar o’ Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a’ Thy flock.

And so on. Not only is Holy Willie a hypocrite, as becomes obvious if you read on, but God is clearly in urgent need of psychiatric assessment. A psychopath of the first order. However, the people often rose above their beliefs – or were buoyed up by them to a supreme confidence in being indeed a chosen sample, and this, along with a passion for education, helps to explain the enormous contribution the Scots, in our case via their boat people, have made to British Commonwealth, US and world life and culture – far greater than one might expect given their numbers and the remoteness of Scotland.

On that see also To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 by T.M. Devine.

Why then did it send so many of its citizens abroad? The answer varies according to time and place of origin. Emigrants came from all over the country. Some, particularly in the Highlands and islands, were certainly poor, even destitute, and the clearances in the late 1840s and early 1850s were undeniably brutal and often coercive. Most of those who left, however, were not utterly impoverished; many had skills and qualifications. Some were driven by martial spirit, missionary zeal or imperial fervour. The empire, Mr Devine points out, was an emphatically British venture in which the Scots saw themselves as equal partners with the English, giving them self-respect as well as prosperity.

The main motive, though, was the desire for a better life and more opportunities. In this, and in their readiness to work hard, Scots were much like emigrants elsewhere. Similarly, like other emigrants, they persecuted native Americans, exterminated aborigines, stole land, defrauded their partners, exploited their workers and happily traded in opium. They did not trade in slaves, not much anyway. But Scotland’s economy in the 18th century was inextricably intertwined with slavery through the sugar, tobacco and cotton industries, plus the civil and military structures that sustained them. Scots were pretty average in other ways, too. They made bad investments, could be thoroughly prejudiced (often about each other) and, it should be remembered, frequently returned home as failures (over 40% in the 1890s).

Yet in some ways they were untypical. They were often educated, which helped to account for the high numbers of lawyers, doctors and engineers among them. This in turn may explain why they were so influential in the lands where they settled. They were also militaristic, religious (David Livingstone, still revered in Africa, became a Victorian saint), loyal (notably to the Crown in the American colonies) and liberal (reflecting the Scottish Enlightenment). Above all, they were numerous, at times proportionately more so than any European nation except the Irish and perhaps the Norwegians.

I have been having fun with, among other sources, exploring my Presbyterian and Scottish background via Project Gutenberg. Here is some of what I have in my Calibre Library and on my Kobo Reader.


Of those let me highlight one.


That’s a good book – and the page is linked too.

Consider this:

IN no country and at no time has a more searching system of ecclesiastical discipline been attempted than in Scotland in the first century after the Reformation. Not only was the teaching or the practice of the unreformed faith punished with the severest penalties, not only was attendance at church and the learning of religion, as the reformers understood it, rigidly enforced; but even the private life of the people was watched and scrutinized. The behaviour of the congregation on the way home from divine service, the amusements which formed the relaxation of the people, the dress of the women in the street as well as at kirk, the snuff-taking of the men, domestic broils and filial misbehaviour in the various households,—these and other such matters were discussed by ecclesiastical tribunals and visited with pains and penalties, as much as offences against human or divine laws. The country was overspread with a network of church authorities claiming disciplinary powers, there was quite an arsenal of punitive machines in every district, and the whole system was kept in motion by the free use of espionage. Verily, in Scotland “new presbyter was,” as Milton said, “but old priest writ large,” larger in fact than the original by far. Even the soldiery of the Commonwealth, sufficiently used to the methods of Puritanism in England, were astonished and disgusted with the ways and means of Scottish discipline; so much so that during their stay in the country in 1650 they destroyed many of the weapons of this intolerable tyranny; and it is indeed surprising that the people themselves accepted it so long with submission. That the Church has authority to use discipline over its members is admitted; and that at the present time this authority is too little recognised is, in the opinion of very many, equally true; but in the day of its supremest power the Scottish Kirk Sessions seem to have usurped a universal authority. The punitive rights of the State, the proper control which a man has within his own house, even that discipline which every one should learn to exercise over himself, all these, as well as that influence which more strictly is the province of the Church, the Kirk endeavoured to control and enforce by means of its own ecclesiastical courts.

Of these courts the first was the “Exercise,” as it was at first quaintly called, from the custom of “making exercise,” or critically examining a given passage of Scripture; more properly described as the Presbytery. Next to this came the authority of the Synod, or district court, and the final appeal lay to the General Assembly. Of these the higher courts not infrequently did much more than exercise appellant jurisdiction, issuing orders to spur on the zeal of the inferior ones.

The methods of punishment employed by the Kirk were various. Excommunications were freely launched against offenders, especially against those who did not accept in their fulness the teaching and practices of the reformers. Public penance was also resorted to, often in addition to some other form of punishment; the penance usually involving the use of the “repentance-stool,” or the jaggs, or jougs….


The jagg or jougs consisted of an iron collar fastened by a padlock, which hung from a chain secured in the church wall near the principal entrance. An offender sentenced to the jagg was compelled to stand locked within this collar for an hour or more before the morning service on one or more Sundays. About the time of the Revolution this dropt out of use, chiefly from the fact that the State no longer suffered the powers of the Kirk to be carried with so high a hand; several of the old jaggs, however, yet remain. At Merton, Berwickshire, at Clova, in Forfarshire, and at Duddingston, Midlothian, the instrument may still be seen attached to the kirk wall; the jaggs of Stirling and of Galashiels have also been preserved, though removed from their original places.[12]

Besides the repentance-stool and the jagg, which were specially the weapons of the kirk, there were other instruments of punishment employed by the State, to which the Kirk also did not hesitate at times to have recourse. Just as the Spanish Inquisition handed over those whom it condemned to the “secular arm” for punishment, so the Scottish Kirk passed resolutions desiring the bailies to put this or that offender in gyves; magistrates were requested to imprison others, “their fude to be bread and watter;” employers were instructed to fine or chastise servants who used profane language; and town authorities were solicited to procure appliances for “ducking” certain classes of sinners. The brank or scold’s bridle, the stocks, and the pillory, were used by the ecclesiastical, no less than by the civil, authorities; the Kirk also imposed fines, decreed banishment, used the steeples as prisons, and inflicted mutilation, and even death, upon offenders; its power to enforce these sentences being largely due to the fact that civil disabilities followed the pronouncement of excommunication. The excommunicated person was an outlaw; he could hold no land, might be imprisoned by any magistrate to whom he was denounced, and was to be “boycotted” by friends, followers, and tradesmen; any one showing him the smallest consideration, or affording him the least assistance, was liable to a similar punishment. These large powers were only abrogated in 1690.

Among the offences dealt with by the Kirk, a prominent place was given to adherence to the unreformed faith, and to any apparent lack of zeal for presbyterianism. Saying mass according to the ancient rite, or even hearing it, or giving any countenance to such as did so, was severely dealt with. Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, was summoned, with nearly fifty others, before the High Court in 1563, charged with saying mass; and although he was liberated at that time, he was subsequently hanged. For a similar “crime,” John Carvet was put in the pillory at Edinburgh, in 1565; other priests were banished in 1613; and another (John Ogilvie) was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in 1615. For hearing mass, John Logane was fined a thousand pounds in 1613, and many persons were from time to time imprisoned, or otherwise punished. The Church festivals were also put under a ban. The General Assembly in 1645 prohibited schoolmasters from granting a holiday at Christmas; the Kirk Session of St. Andrews punished several persons for keeping that festival in 1573; and in 1605 the same authority at Dundonald summoned a man for not ploughing on “Zuile day” (Yule). To harbour a priest, to possess books of Catholic devotion, to paint a crucifix, all these were recognised offences, which were visited with fines and imprisonment. In 1631 Sir John Ogilvy of Craig was committed to jail for “daily conversing” with supporters of the old faith….

If there had been a few Bamiyan Buddhas to blow up in Scotland some of those old Presbyterians would have been up for it.  For example:


Well what a day! After a beautiful breakfast off we went to Girvan. [link on image above]

We passed a beautiful old abbey and couldn’t resist a photograph.  It is called the Crossraguel Abbey and was built in 1244 by Duncan, Earl of Carrick.  See website:

This abbey was destroyed during the Reformation when the Roman Catholic Church outlawed throughout Scotland and England by King Henry VIII.

Not quite right as Henry VIII’s changes did not apply in Scotland, which afterwards had its own Reformation. Crossraguel continued as an Abbey until 1560. Henry VIII died in 1547.

500 years of Roman Catholicism, and any semblance of religious tolerance, came to a juddering halt with the Reformation in 1560. In Scotland this took the form of an orgy of destruction driven by an especially radical brand of Presbyterian Protestantism ("Presbyterian" means governed by representative committees rather than by a hierarchy of bishops). It led to the supplanting of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland by the Presbyterian Kirk; and to the loss of much of the magnificent architecture built during the previous 500 years.

But to leave it there would be unfair. However, that is it for today! Enjoy the Burns.

  • And on contemporary boat people, as distinct from my own ancestors, do make sure you read Lucy Robb in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.  I can’t bring myself to discuss the current cesspit called Parliament on this at the moment – but she does have something worth saying. Whether the dolts will take notice is another matter!  God, even Clive Palmer made more sense the other day than they have lately!

Exploring my inner Scot

FotoSketcher - Picture0025a


There was a time in Primary School when, bored with just being an Aussie, I pretended to myself and sometimes to my classmates that I was Scottish. Well, I guess I am partly, being descended via my mother from Scottish people named Christison, voluntary boat-people from the latter 19th century. The tartan, by the way, actually came from Scotland via my Aunt Beth who visited there a number of times. It must be around 40 years old now but is still my main source of winter warmth! Highly efficient.

brechin1They’ve been around in Scotland for a while, the Christisons. On the right you can see a heap of them, including my great-great-grandfather, in the town of Brechin in Angus-shire in the 19th century.

And I recently discovered one – probably one of them – was deep in the Scottish Reformation.

…The poor, of course, only exchanged better for worse landlords, as they soon discovered.  The “Zealous Brethren”—as a rule small lairds, probably, and burgesses—were the nucleus of the Revolution.  When townsfolk and yeomen in sufficient number had joined them in arms, then nobles like Argyll, Lord James, Glencairn, Ruthven, and the rest, put themselves at the head of the movement, and won the prizes which had been offered to the “blind, crooked, widows, orphans, and all other poor.”

After Parliament was over, at the end of December 1558, the Archbishop of St. Andrews again summoned the preachers, Willock, Douglas, Harlaw, Methuen, and Friar John Christison to a “day of law” at St. Andrews, on February 2, 1559.  (This is the statement of the “Historie.”) The brethren then “caused inform the Queen Mother that the said preachers would appear with such multitude of men professing their doctrine, as was never seen before in such like cases in this country,” and kept their promise.  The system of overawing justice by such gatherings was usual, as we have already seen; Knox, Bothwell, Lethington, and the Lord James Stewart all profited by the practice on various occasions.

Mary of Guise, “fearing some uproar or sedition,” bade the bishops put off the summons, and, in fact, the preachers never were summoned, finally, for any offences prior to this date…

And earlier still:

Dabbling in family history of the Christisons — my mother’s lot. Sasine (Scots law) is the delivery of feudal property, typically land.
Country Code G[reat] B[ritain]

Rep. Code 234
Repository National Archives of Scotland
Ref. No GD198/55
Title Instrument of sasine following on precept from chancery, 26th May, (1490) following on GD198/54, reciting procuratory, 25th May, 1490, by
Alexander Setoune [Seaton] of Tulybody [Tullibody], sheriff of Strivelineshire [Stirling], in favour of John Davidsone [Davidson], one of serjeants of said sheriffdom.
Date 27th May, 1490
Description Notary: Dugald Cossour [Cossar], priest, St. Andrews diocese.
Attorney: Thomas Buchquhanane [Buchanan]. Witnesses: Robert Buchquhannane [Buchanan], Patrick Haldane, Thomas Cristisone [Christison], David Lyndesay [Lindsay], John Conysoune, Duncan Arrald [Arrol], MAURICE MAKADAME [McAdam], Patrick Malcomsoun [Malcolmson], Gilchrist Henrisone [Henderson].

Lately I have been reading quite a few Scottish things, beginning with Josephine Tey. More about her in the next post, except to say she was no fan of Scottish Nationalists. Here is her portrait of one from her novel The Singing Sands.

… They fished turn-about, in a fine male amity; Grant flicking his line with a lazy indifference, Pat with the incurable optimism of his kind. By noon they had drifted back to a point level with the little jetty, and they turned inshore to make tea on the primus in the little bothy. As Grant was paddling the last few yards he saw Pat’s eye fixed on something along the shore, and turned to see what occasioned such marked distaste. Having looked at the advancing figure with its shoggly body and inappropriate magnificence, he asked who that might be.

‘That’s Wee Archie,’ said Pat.

Wee Archie was wielding a shepherd’s crook that, as Tommy remarked later, no shepherd would be found dead with, and he was wearing a kilt that no Highlander would dream of being found alive in. The crook stood nearly two feet above his head; and the kilt hung down at the back from his non-existent hips like a draggled petticoat. But it was obvious that the wearer was conscious of no lack. The tartan of his sad little skirt screamed like a peacock, raucous and alien against the moor. His small dark eel’s head was crowned by a pale blue Balmoral with a diced band, the bonnet being pulled down sideways at such a dashing angle that the slack covered his right ear. On the upper side a large piece of vegetation sprouted from the crest on the band. The socks on the hairpin legs were a brilliant blue, and so hairy in texture that they gave the effect of some unfortunate growth. Round the meagre ankles the thongs of the brogues were cross-gartered with a verve that even Malvolio had never achieved.

‘What is he doing round here?’ Grant asked, fascinated.

‘He lives at the inn at Moymore.’

‘Oh. What does he do?’

‘He’s a revolutionary.’ …


“Josephine Tey” — Elizabeth Mackintosh – 1896-1952

You will find her books linked to the picture.

See also Elizabeth Mackintosh: woman of mystery who deserves to be rediscovered.

Last week, I went to Kevin Spacey’s Richard III at the Old Vic and came away marvelling, yet again, at the polemical and psychological brilliance of Shakespeare’s remorseless Tudor propaganda. The "bottled spider" is not just a deformed monster, an object of fear, but a strangely lovable monster, who excites our pity, too.

Afterwards, the conversation turned to the princes in the Tower. Did Richard really murder his nephews? The Daughter of Time was one of my adolescent favourites and so I referred, en passant, to Josephine Tey. Blank looks: no one had heard of this once-celebrated mystery writer from the 1940s and 50s.

That might be how Elizabeth Mackintosh, born in 1896 at Inverness, might have wished it. As well as "Josephine Tey", she also wrote as "Gordon Daviot", and seems to have been obsessively private. Even in death, she slipped away, unobserved, and in disguise. The Timesrecords the death of Gordon Daviot on 13 February 1952, two days before the state funeral of George VI, whose life, death and majesty had filled the newspapers that week.

Miss Mackintosh’s cremation in Streatham Vale was attended by only a handful of mourners, but they included Dame Edith Evans and John Gielgud, both friends.

So, whoever "Gordon Daviot" represented, it was someone rather unusual, a creative artist whom people cared about. Gielgud later wrote: "Her sudden death was a great surprise and shock to all her friends in London. I learned afterwards that she had known herself to be mortally ill for nearly a year, and had resolutely avoided seeing anyone she knew."

Apart from By The Banks of the Ness by Mairi A MacDonald, there’s almost nothing biographical in print about "Bessie" Mackintosh. She grew up in Scotland, one of three sisters, trained as a PE teacher and suffered, as many young women did, a mysterious and inconsolable bereavement during the Great War. When her mother died in 1926, she was called home to nurse her invalid father. Her writing, which began as an escape from domestic routine, first appeared in The English Review in the late 1920s…