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Grit in the sandwich

That previous post, After Lieutenant Oates, was prompted by the jarring detail that ‘heroic’, ‘self-sacrificing’ Oates, a young subaltern, had impregnated a twelve-year-old minor. Many of these stories stumble on such: the fly in the ointment, the grit in the sandwich.

But my tale-for-today was itself spurred by something already percolating through my conscience.

To get us amused during these dark days of social distancing, the ever-excellent London Review of Books daily pulls an article from its archives, as ‘Diverted Traffic’. Today’s comes from 1998 and is Terry Castle reviewing a then-forthcoming biography of:

Marion Barbara (‘Joe’) Carstairs, the subject of Kate Summerscale’s vastly entertaining new biography, The Queen of Whale Cay, would seem to fall into the latter category. In the Twenties, Carstairs (1900-93) was briefly yet wildly celebrated as the ‘fastest woman on water’ — Britain’s premier speedboat-racer, winner of the Duke of York’s Trophy, and world-record holder in the one and a half litre class. Voraciously homosexual in private life, Carstairs dressed like a beautiful man, smoked cigars, and was pursued from race to race by a gaggle of female fans. (Sir Malcolm Campbell of Bluebird fame called her — apparently without irony — ‘the greatest sportsman I know’.) Special ‘friends’ included the lesbian actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar. Carstairs, the Evening News reported in 1925, could ‘dance a Charleston which few people can partner’.

Diverting indeed, and as good a use of a few socially-isolated minutes as can be enjoyed in solitary silence. After all, these ‘free spirits’ (who so often are highly expensive to the community as a whole) fascinate, but don’t leave a scum-stain around the bath. Ms Carstairs, a strange but over-wealthed personage, meets the measure:

No one is quite sure who Carstairs’s father was: he may or may not have been Albert Carstairs, a Scottish army o4cer who disappeared before her birth in London. Her volatile, oil heiress mother – subsequently a heroin addict and dabbler in bizarre rejuvenation therapies – seems not to have paid much attention to the odd little homunculus to whom she had given birth. […]

After a brief period at a boarding school in Connecticut, Carstairs experienced her first real liberation. Financed by the family trusts, she made her way in 1916 to the battlefelds of France, where she drove an ambulance for the American Red Cross. Between runs to the trenches, she shared a flat in Montparnasse with several other girl-drivers, one of whom, Dolly Wilde, louche niece of Oscar and member of the expatriate lesbian circle around Natalie Barney, became an early and important love.

Names, idle names, unknown to me. What I do know is an aunt (my father was the youngest of a very extended family) was driving ambulances at the same time, in the same area, with the same motive, but definitely without the Standard Oil trust fund (an inheritance of $200,000 a year).

But, as I say, there’s always a glitch, a lingering odour, a fart in the elevator. Here it comes:

Following the Armistice and a stint driving lorries for the British forces in Ireland, Carstairs returned to Northern France, where she assisted in the grisly work of reburying thousands of British soldiers who had been placed in temporary graves.

I pass quickly over the British soldiers (my maternal grandfather remains in the care of the CWGC at Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 2), but — hey! — the young miss had a stint driving lorries for the British forces in Ireland. Got that?

  • An auxiliary driver? Check! ✔︎
  • Ireland? Check! ✔︎
  • Post Armistice? Check! ✔︎

Could that possibly suggest the Black and Tans?

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After Lieutenant Oates

Boys of my generation (the first to benefit from the 1944 Education Act) picked up all kinds of incidental mental baggage.

One was an amount of ‘respect’ for Lieutenant Lawrence Oates, the guy who knew his frostbite was hindering Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. So Oates made his excuses, left the expedition’s tent in a —40 degrees blizzard, and was seen never again.

Fortunately young brats are no longer trained up to such self-sacrifice.


For the first time in a fortnight we sallied forth to the supermarket (we’ve been coping from the local ‘convenience’ store and without newspapers).

A short drive, probably nearer two than a single mile, and I was constantly expecting the North Yorkshire Constabulary to hove along, arrest and fine us.

It all seemed very much an adventure, heading out into the chill of public disgust. It was a useful outing, particularly for the most essential of supplies — the one that comes in 75cl bottles.

We were not ‘gone some time’.

Illusion and disillusion

Too late! The damage was done to tender minds:  Lieutenant Oates was revealed as a paedophile, alleged to have fathered a child on Ettie McKendrick.

It’s as well not to waste too much sympathy and adulation on Old Etonians.

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We’ve been here before!

Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!

Thank you, Miranda: don’t call us, we’ll call you. We’re coming to realise that all is changed, changed utterly: systems that have worked since the 1940s are no longer fit for purpose. Suddenly we are ‘all in this together’.

Enough convenient clichés, as the alternative to creative thought and analysis. And yet … some basic lessons may not have been learned (another cliché).

So here is the New York Times republishing a book review from June 1988. It is Gordon A. Craig running a rule over a very academic book by Richard J. Evans. Evans was reciting the history of one of the last pandemics: cholera. Craig summarises the context:

Asiatic cholera, one of humanity’s greatest scourges in the modern period, came to Europe for the first time in the years after 1817, traveling by ship and caravan route from the banks of the Ganges, where it was endemic, to the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia and Iran, the Caspian Sea and southern Russia, and then—thanks to troop movements occasioned by Russia’s wars against Persia and Turkey in the late 1820s and its suppression of the revolt in Poland in 1830–1831—to the shores of the Baltic Sea. From there its spread westward was swift and devastating, and before the end of 1833 it had ravaged the German states, France, and the British Isles and passed on to Canada, the western and southern parts of the United States, and Mexico.
Then he comes to the attrition:
Statistics for morbidity and mortality in this first great cholera epidemic are unreliable, for there was generally no means of collecting and tabulating them on a large scale, but on the basis of what we have it appears that Russia suffered over 100,000 deaths in 1830–1831 and that, in Germany, Berlin alone had 2,000 deaths out of a population of 230,000, while in France there were 39,000 cases of cholera in Paris, with 18,000 deaths, a mortality rate of 21.8 per thousand of population. In Great Britain, the Black Country was particularly affected, with heavy death rates in towns like Bilston, Manchester, and Liverpool, while Glasgow and Dublin had mortality rates of 15 and 30 to the thousand respectively.​
A census of 1831 gave the population of Dublin City as 203,652: if the attrition was 1/30, that’s 6-7,000 dead. Dublin county added a further population of 183,042. The spring of 1832 was mild and damp — not unusual conditions for Ireland and Dublin, and perfect for the spread of vibrio cholerae bacteria. Which spread rapidly through the slums and tenements of Dublin, and elsewhere across the country. [Fr Alan Hiliard did a piece on this for RTÉ last week].

Ireland, 1832

No time is a good one for a pandemic to strike. Ireland in 1832 could not have been in a much worse condition. There had been failures of the potato crop in 1829 and 1830 (a warning that went unheeded). That generated agrarian tensions — particularly aimed at tithes for the established church, the rise of secret societies, and outbreaks of violence first in Kilkenny, then across much of Leinster and Munster. The arrival of cholera exacerbated those simmering problems. In May 1832 seven were shot down at Castlepollard. The following month a auction of sequestered property (for failing to pay tithes) caused a riot at Newtownbarry Bunclody and a further fourteen victims. In July, at Knocktopher, a dozen police and four civilians were killed.

The cholera epidemic had appeared in the (as then) United Kingdom at Sunderland in October 1831: as with the Black Death (June 1348), and now Co-vid-19, it began with travellers and ports of entry. The first case in Ireland was reported in Belfast, 18 March 1832: a week later it was in Dublin, in Cork by 12 April. By 8 May fourteen Irish counties had cases.

Divine intervention?

As fast as the infections spread, popular panic went before. Maj Gen Henry Green Barry of Ballyclogh House, Mallow, wrote a report to Dublin Castle. The Virgin Mary had put in an appearance (9 June 1832) at Charleville, and had left a pile of ashes on the altar, commending them as the sure remedy against cholera. Variations of that appear, particular as turf which had been blessed, with astounding speed across rural Ireland. By 11 June, a schoolmaster at Callan notes it in his diary . The same day the superstition has reached Mountrath. I reckon something like a spread of 40km each day. Police reports show something extraordinary: ‘news’ (and wholesale outcry) reaching along the Barrow valley, and along the post-roads.

At noon on the following Tuesday, three days after that initial manifestation at Charleville, Patrick McDonald was working his fields near Tallagh and was greeted by five men who urged him to join with them to spread the blessed turf. The group was ‘apprehended’ by the RIC at Terenure (for those not familiar with the 14 and 15 buses, that’s barely a couple of miles from the centre of Dublin). It seems incredible that Swanlinbar is awake with the revelations by midnight that same day, that Killibegs was in on the act by Wednesday.

The ‘news’ travelled, and it transmogrified: the original ashes became blessed peat, and then picks of straw. The ‘authority’ changed from the BVM to different RC bishops. The other remarkable aspect was how sectarian the transmission was: protestants were deliberately excluded from the net (one shibboleth, as at Garvagh, in County Derry, was the ability to recite prayers as gaelige). Generally, RC clergy deplored the whole myth. And then there is the remarkable lack of violence that went with the phenomenon: there was an altercation in Donegal, and the chief constable complained of ‘insolence’ to his men at Rathcoole. What did ensue was a suspicion of worse to come among the protestant minority.

Now here’s a thing

In 1975 the Blackstaff Press published Now you’re talking : folk tales from the North of Ireland. Michael Murphy records being told in the County Down, in 1960, of ‘the Night of the Straws’. This story involves Daniel O’Connell betting he could raise Ireland in a single day:

I’d run with a straw to your house and you be to run with it to another and everyone in the house be to run until there wasn’t a house in all Ireland that hadn’t a straw and they were all standing ready.

Clearly a folk-memory from 1832.

Where are we now?

Let us hope Covid-19 is less devastating, in terms of attrition, than 1832. But let us also remember that the cholera of 1832 lingered in the populace to do most of the fatalities of An Gorta Mór — far more so than hunger alone.

Let us also look at the parallels — for starters:

  • rampant xenophobia and the rise of ‘nativism’. Between 1830 and 1850 the immigrant population of New York exploded (from 9% to 46% over those two decades). Irish Roman Catholics were an especial target, crowded in the Sixth Ward around Five-Points, alien in their religious adherence, condemned to low-paid irregular employment, and blamed for criminality. Their locality, its lack of sanitation, and conditions provided the centre for cholera in the city.
  • weirder and wonderful ‘theology’. Look no further than those evangelical pastors refusing to close their places of worship and accept social distancing.
  • miraculous medications. Trump’s continuing advocacy of Chloroquine. Take one gram more than the recommended dosage, and you’re dead. Clorox and bleach may work on surfaces, but ingesting either is no good idea — and all these wonder disinfectants exclude the 0.1% of known germs.

[Regulars of will have already seen this post]

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Tweed? What sort of forename is that?

The New York Times had a piece by … wait for it! … Tweed Roosevelt

great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, … a university professor and the chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Institute at Long Island University.

A bit of a self-publicist, and keeper of the Teddy Roosevelt flame, Professor Roosevelt felt able to speak with personal interest on:

Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, [who] sent a letter to the Navy pleading for permission to unload his crew, including scores of sailors sickened with Covid-19, in Guam, where it was docked. The Pentagon had been dragging its feet, and the situation on the ship was growing dire.

“We are not at war,” he wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

After the letter was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Navy relented. But on Thursday, it relieved Captain Crozier of his command.

The captain of a 104,000-ton warship, caring for the lives and health of the crew for whom he was responsible? Unforgiveable!

The article concludes with another personal connection:

As a descendant of the namesake of Captain Crozier’s former command, I often wonder, in situations like this, what Theodore Roosevelt would have done. In this case, though, I know exactly what he would have done. In 1898, he found himself in almost the exact same position.

Before his rise to national politics, Roosevelt commanded the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry regiment, in the invasion of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The Battle of San Juan Hill had been fought and won, and the war was basically over. However, the soldiers, still deployed in Cuba, faced a far worse enemy: yellow fever and malaria.

As was usual in the days before modern medicine, far more soldiers died of disease than of enemy action. The battlefield commanders, including Roosevelt, wanted to bring the soldiers home. But the leadership in Washington — in particular Russell Alger, the secretary of war — refused, fearing a political backlash. A standoff ensued.

The career Army officers, who did not want to risk their jobs by being too outspoken, were stymied. Roosevelt, as a short-term volunteer, had less to lose. So, with the tacit approval of his fellow commanders, he wrote a fiery open letter and released it to the press.

The letter, known as the “round robin,” was printed in virtually every newspaper in the country, creating an uproar demanding that the soldiers be brought home immediately. Alger relented, and the troops were sent to quarantine on the end of Long Island, at Montauk Point. Though hundreds of men died of disease in Cuba, Roosevelt’s actions probably saved countless more.

He did, however, pay a price. Alger was furious with him. When Roosevelt’s nomination came up for a Medal of Honor, the secretary shot it down (Roosevelt eventually received the medal, posthumously, in 2001). Of course, Roosevelt came out the winner. Who today remembers Russell Alger?


Malcolmian aside: Well, I do

Alger, it was claimed, was somehow related to Horatio Alger, who for near four decades earned his crust writing ‘uplifting’ tales of young men lifted from poverty to affluence. Russell Alger would have been such an exemplar. Orphaned, he raised his younger siblings and worked his way through law school as a rural teacher. He hitched his wagon to the Michigan Republican Party, and rose to be Governor of the State and President McKinley’s Secretary of War.

The McKinley Administration’s treatment of Teddy Roosevelt was as political and shoddy as that now extended to Captain Crozier. The order for Crozier’s defenestration may have been signed by the (acting)  Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly (who had naval service, but is more recently a very senior bean-counter for PWC). It will, for sure, have crossed the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.

That, I trust, establishes where I would stand on this issue.


Come with me to Maplewood, New Jersey. Head along Ridgewood Road (which runs NE/SW across the top of the township). Immediately opposite St George’s Episcopal Church (itself a class discriminator) is Roosevelt Road. Off Roosevelt is Kermit Road. Did you notice the impressive pillars as you turned off Ridgewood? You should have done, because this is an old Roosevelt estate. It includes some fine early twentieth century mansions — built, as one can see, in the first (Teddy) Roosevelt presidency.

I had close family connections in that patch, which prompted some trouble convincing a UK despatching agency that ‘Kermit Road’ could possibly be a real address. Kermit was son of Teddy, and brother of Quentin — so both of them get named in this vicinity.


Here’s how one lot of prolific Roosevelt’s fit together:

Note (President) Teddy Roosevelt’s second wife: Edith Carow Roosevelt, who had a great-uncle, Robert Kermit (who is worth referencing in his own right). Then look bottom right and find Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Junior, who married Katherine Winthrop Tweed, And so, by the endearing Rooseveltian tradition of preserving family names, we arrive at Tweed Roosevelt.


Aforesaid Kermit Roosevelt (as immediately above, 1889-1943) suffered the life-long burden of a fully-famous father. When wikipedia says He fought a lifelong battle with depression, also decoding as alcoholism. What to do with an OTT son of a great president, cousin of a serving one? In WW2 he was given a job in ‘intelligence’ and shipped out to remotest Alaska. Where, aged 53, he shot himself.

His son, though, also Kermit but known as Kim, was an early admission to the OSS — and therefore into the CIA. He was instrumental in the 1950 coup in Egypt which expelled King Farouk, managing the failure of the Mossadeq coup (1953) and the 1954 coup in Guatemala.

We should not be surprised by the involvement of other members of the tribe in the spying demimonde. Our Tweed Roosevelt’s father (again see above) Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Junior was the CIA’s man in Istanbul, Madid and London.

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A great man: Henrique o Navegador (I)

Someone might amplify to me why Liverpool’s Sefton Park, outside the Palm House, features a (rather fine — especially for a piece of late Victoriana) statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. The clue seems to be there are seven other statues, all ‘discoverers’, in the same location. I’m told it is by Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud, and closely parallels an original in Lisbon’s Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

But allow to focus on the subject, not the object.

Dom Henrique

Ay time I look at medieval history I seem to come across the generations who sprang from

Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster

Here’s another one. How João I Aviz got the top job (1385) and founded his dynasty is a story in itself, but he promptly married Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt. That spawned a litter of first generation descendants (though João seems to have done his bit for progeny via other bits on the side).

By any primogeniture, short of plagues, Borgias and mass assassination, the fourth child and third son of João I would have have been more than ‘spare’. What he did become, though, was a very effective director of Portuguese trade policy.

There are two kinds of interpreters:

  • one is either of the ‘Great Man’ lot; or
  • one looks for the economic and other conditions that facilitated the ‘Great Man’.

I am, by temperament, most definitely one of the latter.


In the early fifteenth century, the location of Portugal, at the end of the European landmass, was its opportunity.

Trade eastwards was becoming increasingly sticky. Those pesky Ottoman Turks were becoming increasingly commercial: they sat across all the traditional routes to the orient, and recognised the need to be paid for the privilege. Gold was coming in across the Sahara — the Venetians had trading posts well into sub-Sahara: other profitable commodities from that supply chain were salt and slaves.

There is a corollary in that. When the Latins finally recognised the loss of Jerusalem (and that’s an historical ‘given’ after 1244), and when the Tartars overthrew the Bagdad Caliphate (1258), ‘normal relations’ could be established with the Ottomans. We can have a useful discussion sometime about how ‘crusading’ (and its targeted opposition) involves war-making, trading, and diplomacy. Then, as later, christian missionaries were in the company of traders and import/export dealers. So, around the thirteenth century Europeans are appearing across Asia. Marco Polo may get the credit (and his journey was 1271-1295), but initially he was following the footsteps of his father, Niccolò, and uncle Maffeo. Lest we forget — his was a route well-travelled: Roman traders were calling on  the 27th Chinese Han emperor in AD166, and Justinian’s spies brought back the silk-worms and mulberry bushes around AD557.

Another ‘theatre’ of the crusading period was Iberia. Lisbon was taken from the Almoravids after the siege of July-October 1147. The Reconquista was complete only after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212).

Two centuries later …

Along comes our ‘Great Man’.

He made his first mark by driving the plan to capture Ceuta (the other Pillar of Hercules, opposite Gibraltar) — not only a strategic location, but the centre of tunny fishing. As significantly, a way of spiting the Castilians.

Once João was sold on the scheme, full mobilisation was ordered. That’s something not easily disguised, and soon all Europe and north Africa were puzzling over the intended target — a crusade? Granada? Castile? Further afield? The king’s ploy was to cook up a dispute with Holland — credibly, because of the ongoing Hook and Cod Wars (though, discreetly, Count William VI was let in on the secret).

On 21-22 August 1415, João I Aviz and his expedition secured Ceuta, with young Henrique as a wounded hero. Which is why the flag of Ceuta is that of Lisbon, and both include the arms of Portugal. Ceuta was no great gain for Portugal (and that, too, is another story), but it had turned the country’s attention to Africa.

Henrique’s due reward was to be named as governor of the Algarve and based himself at Sagres, than which Europe does come further west and south.

Henrique was a ‘navigator’ by delegation (that cognomen came along only in the nineteenth century, and popularised through two English biographies). What he did was be the centre of information at this personal court — in effect a one-man technological institute.

Henrique’s ideas

The motive was to locate the source of that wealth — the gold, slaves and salt — the other side of the Sahara (and, since Ceuta didn’t produce the expected dividend, there were bills to pay). Plus, there was the legend of a christian kingdom of ‘Prester John’, in need of aid, surrounded by Islamics.

Several innovations and adaptations lay behind Henrique’s explorations:

  • The Portuguese had learned from the Moors and Catalans, and further developed portolans.
  • Navigation improved as the magnetic compass and compass rose improved;
  • The Portuguese shipbuilders took the Arab qārib — a very ancient vessel, compare the Latin carabus or even the Greek καραβος — and its lateen sail, made a hybrid with the whaler, the ballinger. Add a rudder, from northern European experience and the result was the caravel, far more sea-going and far more load-carrying.

Then there was ‘method’. Henrique’s instructions to his navigators came down to: head west for x days, crossing the air stream coming from the south, and then swing towards the south in a great arc. As time went by, the westing was increased, and the arcs outwards similarly.

Admittedly the navigators had some precedents. Under Juba II of Mauretania, a contemporary and sometime guest of Julius Caesar, Berbers are alleged to have located the Canary Islands — but found evidence of previous occupation. The Catalans had shown interest in the Canaries as a route for slaves and a source of dyes from the dragon tree. Henrique moved in: first in 1424 (which was a military failure) but with more success later.


Meanwhile, Madeira had moved up Henrique’s agenda.

Portuguese histories claim Joao Gongalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz, squires of Henrique, were driven by a storm and ‘discovered’ the smaller island of Porto Santo in 1425. Odd, that, because the whole archipelago had been on charts since around 1351. Henrique accepted that here could be Portugal’s first overseas colony. We can also assume uninhabited Madeira hadn’t been targeted by others because [a] it wasn’t a source of valuable slaves, and [b] it couldn’t counts as a crusade.  Sending rabbits as a meat-source may  not have been Henrique’s idea, but it devastated Porto Santo — with no natural predators, the rabbit bred … err … like rabbits. The main island was soon exploited as a source of timber and that red ‘dragon’s blood’ dye. Once ground had been cleared, first wheat and then wine became a profitable export. And then sugar (which required the importation of commuted felons and then a slave work-force). All of which went to finance Henrique’s naval academy.

Cape Bojador

Or, in Arabic, Abū Khaṭar (‘the father of peril’) was generally regarded as the limit of European knowledge of the African coast. Again we have Portuguese history magnifying a dubious ‘first’. In 1434 Gil Eanes is supposed to have rounded the Cape. In truth, French out of Lanzarote were there three decades earlier — and there is doubt which cape Gil Eanes rounded. Even Henrique didn’t advance the claim until 1443, whence was angling from the regent, his brother, Don Pedro, a grant a monopoly of the Guinea trade.

Henrique was not entirely a cartographer: there are always mercenary ends lurking behind his projects. The Guinea coast had been on European maps since c.1320: the camel caravans from across the Sahara were bringing some two-thirds. of Europe’s consumption of gold. Jaume Ferrer had gone looking for the legendary Riu d’Oro a century earlier — and had disappeared without trace. Guinea was also a source of ivory — and slaves. So the Portuguese exploration of the coast was the search for a suitable landing place, and a means of busting the Moorish control of the trans-Saharan trade — even if it was presented as yet another crusading venture. Note, too, that Gil Eanes’ second expedition brought back, not gold, but oil and seal skins — and Henrique had a monopoly on soap production.





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Emergency football

The (indefinite) suspension of professional sport doesn’t greatly trouble me. I can count the number of top-level football games attended on one hand — fewer than international rugby games at Lansdowne Road.

Still, an anecdote …

Dear Old Dad was a bit of a player. He was a decent footballer and a more-than-competent medium-fast bowler. When he came down from Sheffield in the late 1930s, he joined the Metropolitan Police and became a regular in their squad.

When league football was suspended in the 1939-40 season all kinds of ad-hoc alternatives were invented. Most of the professional sportsmen were now ‘in service’, so their teams were stuffed with talent.

Hence Metropolitan Police versus the Army. The Army were effectively the all-powerful pre-War Arsenal side.

The coppers turned up at ‘a famous North London stadium’ (the other one was used as a PoW camp, which seems appropriate). Kitted up, the Fuzz were ready to play — the Army were still lacking a couple of star players. The Fuzz were feeling quite cocky about their prospects.

Dear Old Dad told the story on his death-bed.

“At the last moment, [Gunner] Denis Compton showed up. Borrowed a pair of boots.”

“What was the score?”

“Oh, let’s not talk about that!”

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1724 and all that

A brief (I hope) addition to that over-long explication of the Flying Dutchman.

I am told the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie records in Amsterdam, together with the Rijksarchief at the Hague are exhaustive.

On 27 September 1723, the Fortuijn, newly-built by the chamber of Amsterdam, set out to sea from Texel, in company with ‘s Graveland and Hogenes. On 2 January 1724, the three vessels put into Cape Town. It must have been a good trip: only four deaths out of total crews of around 700 were reported. At the Cape two other Dutch ships, the Anna Maria and the Doornik, which had left separately, rendezvoused and so comprised a small fleet.

On 18 January 1724, re-victualled, the Anna Maria, the Doornik, the Hogenes and the Fortuijn left the Cape. Apparently they separated on the continued voyage to Batavia. The smaller ship, the Anna Maria, was faster, and arrived at Batavia on 1 April 1724: the Doornik and the Hogenes hoved in on 17 and 21 April respectively. The ‘s Graveland had left the Cape on 3 February, to put into Batavia on 27 April. The Fortuijn was never seen again, and reported missing in the Uitloopboekjes.

Neither the the Doornik nor the Hogenes made any report of difficulties. Not so the later-arriving ‘s Graveland. The log of that ship recorded sighting the floating remnants of a Dutch ship at latitude 13 degrees, 20 seconds south — which is south of the Cocos-Keeling Islands (longitude was still a bit of an issue at that time). That report prompted a search-vessel, the Windhond,  to be despatched out of Batavia. Which opens another line of enquiry, and a remaining puzzle.

Did the Windhond investigate the Cocos Islands (in Dutch the Kokus Eilanden) or Christmas Island (Monij)? When the Windhond returned to Batavia, the captain’s report refers to ‘steep hillsides’, which might seen to be more appropriate to Christmas Island than Cocos-Keeling. Furthermore, the Dutch National Archive (reference has a listing of VOC ships lost or laid up between 1603 and 1778. It includes:

That decodes/translates as frigate [fregat] Fortuijn, built 1722 at A(msterdam), 145 feet in length, crew 225 ‘coppen’ or heads, sailed from Texel on 27 September 1724, its captain was Westrik, and vermist op zijn úijtreijs optrent het Eijlant Monij (lost outbound around Christmas Island).

It appears that, between 1694 (the loss of Ridderschap van Holland) and the Fortuijn in 1724, no other VOC ships went missing on the outward passage.

If there is a bottom line here, it has two aspects:

  • Despite all that English schoolboy stuff about Captain Cook ‘discovering’ Australia — who knew it was lost? — the Dutch had a good idea of its western coast long before. They just keep quiet about the whole locality, for good reasons of commercial security.
  • In Captain Westrik, we have another candidate for ‘Captain Vanderdecken’.


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