Saturday, 23 April 2016

Vicars and Tarts!! Well almost

Tom Hughes Clerical Errors: A Victorian Series, Volume 1, (Kindle edition), £3.86

The behaviour of public figures has always been subject to scrutiny from an often prurient public. This has been particularly the case with clergymen especially those who pronounce solemnly on issues of personal morality and then demonstrate a hypocritical disregard for their own words.  Often their indiscretions were--and still are in some cases--brushed under the carpet by moving individuals to different parishes but often not before their actions had become newsworthy.  Public attention was magnified by the dramatic expansion of the local press during the nineteenth century--then as now scandal sold newspapers.  Clerical Errors mines the local press to explore five such scandals.  There is the case of a married London clergyman accused of writing an obscene letter to his supposed mistress; a country clergy accused of breach of promise and a Manchester curate who stole the affections of a wealthy cotton merchant's wife; a slander trial when a Berkshire clergyman sued a farmer who claimed to have seen the vicar and a female parishioner in a compromising position; and a vicar with a sickly wife who advertised for a cook with unfortunate consequences. 
Not only are the stories of these five scandals well told and are based on an obvious detailed understanding of the contemporary press, but they provide important insights into social attitudes in Victorian Britain to the politics of class and gender and the ways in which both the common law and ecclesiastical courts were used  in clerical scandals.  Reputation was critical for individuals, especially clergymen, and they were prepared to go to great lengths to protect it. 
This is an excellent book in which Tom Hughes writes with verve on a subject he knows well.  It combines well-structured, interesting narrative with analysis of why the five stories are important in illustrating social attitudes to clerical misdemeanours.  I look forward to further volumes on the subject.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The ‘Southern Cross’

Given the symbolic importance of the Southern Cross and the Eureka Stockade to the later history of Australia, it is perhaps not surprising that both have been issues of controversy. The Southern Cross, first flown at Bakery Hill on 29 November and then over the Eureka Stockade until the assault on 3 December, was viewed by diggers as the symbol of their resistance to colonial authority. It was not the flag of revolution but an assertion by the people that their dignity and rights would be defended against an insensitive and despotic government. The design of the flag was taken by Charles Ross, one of Eureka’s miners from Canada to three women Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Elizabeth Hayes to sew in time for a large rally at Bakery Hill. There is no evidence who designed the flag, although Ross was known on the diggings as the ‘bridegroom’ of the flag and is often credited with having created its unique design.  
During the battle on December 3 1854, he was mortally wounded near the flagpole and the Eureka flag was torn down, trampled, hacked with sabres and peppered with bullets. It was retrieved by Trooper John King and the King family kept the flag for 40 years, until loaned to the Ballarat Art Gallery in 1895, where it remained in continued obscurity until it was ‘rediscovered’ by Len Fox during the 1930s. However, it took decades to convince authorities properly to authenticate it. [1] Final proof was found in the sketchbooks of Charles Doudiet, auctioned in 1996. Doudiet, a French Canadian artist-digger, had been prospecting at Ballarat in 1854 where he had befriended another digger, ‘Charlie’ Ross. When ‘Captain’ Ross, as the diggers called him, was severely wounded in the attack on the Stockade, it was Doudiet who took Ross to a hotel to nurse him.[2] Doudiet, eyewitness of these events, then recorded meticulously in his sketchbook the two major events of the Eureka story: the diggers taking the famous oath of allegiance beneath the flag and also the storming of the Stockade that he labelled, ‘Eureka Slaughter 3 December’. Both of his paintings show the flag flying, its design exactly as described by Len Fox’s research. The remnant of the original Eureka Flag remains today, preserved for public display in Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, along with Doudiet’s sketches.[3]