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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The bulls of Pamplona and other stampedes

Another excerpt from The Speed of Nearly Everything. Not the toads, though: they came later.

I have been to Pamplona in quieter times,
to here is a toad stampede in Whistler BC
Each year, locals from the Spanish town of Pamplona and quite a few tourists, join in the running of the bulls, part of the festival of Sanfermines. If you have your head about you, it is easy enough to do, because the bulls need to travel 848.8 metres from the point where they are started, and the average time is 3 minutes 55 seconds.

Note: that is the average time. These bulls are young, know no fear, and weigh 600 kg (about 1300 pounds) each. In 1959, one bull completely lost interest in running, and took more than 30 minutes, which would have made a bit of a hole in the average. Some of the bulls must run faster to make up for it.

Then there is the human side of the statistics. There are 2000 runners a day on week days, and as many as 3500 on weekends, and at least some of those know that each year, about 300 people are injured, around 3% of them seriously.

That means there is a lot of nervousness (or to be honest, panic) in the hearts of those waiting to run, or running. It means a lot of people who will be happy to trample on you, in order to avoid being trampled by some bulls.
Here are the stampeding toads, slower than
any house mouse, heading off to mate.

So while the average speed of the bulls is only a bit over 13 km/hr, less than 10 mph, no faster than a house mouse, a few of them will have heard about the chap who drowned in a lake with an average depth of six inches. Besides, house mice are lighter, have less staying power, and don’t travel in herds.

Without the other runners, Pamplona would be far safer than running in front of a herd of buffalo which can reach 50 km/hr or 30 mph if they are American buffalo. Make that 55 km/hr or 35 mph if they are African buffalo.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Bicycles replace horses

At the end of the 19th century, the bicycle was a cheap alternative to the horse for many people in the bush. Bicycles needed no feeding, so bikes quickly became a popular form of transport (and sport), after a lot of development that began with primitive velocipedes, which unsurprisingly failed to catch on at first. Some of the voyages were epic:

The spirit of the Nomad is evidently very strong in Mr. Francis Birtles, a calm-eyed, wiry-looking Australian, who called at "The Daily News" office this morning to announce his future wanderings. Mr Birtles contemplates a journey into the great unknown interior of Australia on a bicycle, and in this weather he is likely to find the trip sweeter in contemplation than in realisation.

Speaking to a reporter, he said: "I have been a wanderer for ten years since I left my native State, Victoria. For the last five years I have been in South Africa, and have travelled all over that country with the mobile columns of the constabulary, from Capetown to Koomati Poort, and from the Orange River to the Limpopo. As a cyclist, I have done a deal of racing on the Transvaal roads, and have crossed the Karoo and Kalahari deserts. Now I want to ride from the Indian to the Pacific Oceans. Next Wednesday I shall mount my machine at Fremantle, and will call at the Exhibition at Hay-street East for a final send-off at 4 p.m. From Perth I shall ride to Laverton, and will then strike north-easterly to cross the border into South Australia. I want to go through country which has not yet been traversed, and if I get through all right will come out near Alice Springs, on the overland telegraph line. The ride to Adelaide will be comparatively easy, and then I shall cross to Ballarat, Melbourne and Sydney."

You are taking on a big task, Mr. Birtles, said the reporter, thinking of natives, waterless wastes, and miles of rolling sand dunes and spinifex, so bitterly cursed by well-equipped explorers.

"I know,'' replied the wandering one. ''I may have trouble with the natives, but I'll watch them. What will be the greatest difficulty will be finding water in unknown country. However, I shall carry a week's supply, and if I can't replenish it by finding water in a week, the country must be bad. I am sending my food supplies up to Laverton by train. All I am afraid of is a bad break-down in mid-desert."

Would be a bit awkward, wouldn't it? the scribe said.

Well, I'm going to ride a springframe machine of B.S.A. parts made by the Davies-Franklin Co., and, with ordinary luck, I'll get through." Why make the ride at all? "Oh," said the cyclist, "I fancy the trip. It will fill in time and will satisfy my passion for wandering. I'm only 25 years of age, and I've travelled a bit. No, I don't expect to make much money out of it, seeing that I'm paying all my expenses. I shall write all about it.

You may have seen my articles, "An Australian Trooper in Zululand," in "Life." I expect to be about two months on the journey, and, as I say, I have only myself to look after. No horses or camels to trouble about, so I ought to get through."
Daily News (Perth), 20 December 1906, 11,

In January 1907, Birtles had made it to Kalgoorlie. It has  to be understood that Birtles was an “adventurer”, alsways grifting for sponsorship or handouts, so in part, he was writing for unseen audiences. Here is part of a letter he sent back to Perth.

“I am travelling along quietly through the various inland towns; I will not be leaving Laverton before the end of this month. I want to catch the rains which generally fall in the beginning of the year. The people have treated me well on the 'run up' here. From Grass Valley, to Kalgoorlie the pipe tracks are good travelling. As for the main road it is best left alone. The roads over the ranges are very gravelly, the wheels skidding all the way. A man could make a hundred miles a day here. As for myself, I pedal along four or five hours a day on an average. There are so many people to see; that one loses a lot of time. But I do not mind: I am in no hurry. I feel in splendid going order now. I have had two water-tanks fitted to my 'bike.' They will have to carry me through the dry, country. The holding capacity of the two is five gallons. Pretty weighty, certainly, but I shall want it. In conclusion, I wish to thank you and all brother cyclists for your hearty send-off and good wishes.”
The West Australian (Perth), 10 January 1907, 8,

In February, he was back in Laverton.

A telegram form Western Australia states that the transcontinental cyclist, Francis Birtles, who was endeavouring to ride from Perth via the goldfields through to Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia, had, after many hardships, been compelled to return to Laverton. After leaving Laverton, Birtles struck due east into the Victorian desert, and endeavoured to get through to the nearest known water. 56 miles distant. He failed in the attempt, the country being found impassable, and after being away four days, during which period he cycled or pushed his machine 107 miles. Birtles was compelled to return to Laverton again. Whether the overlander has definitely given up his attempt is not stated, but it was a dangerous task to endeavour to cycle across the great Victorian desert in midsummer.
Evening Journal (Adelaide), 8 February 1907, 1,

Meanwhile, there were others on the road as well. Note the careful mention of their benefactors at the end:

Two cyclists, named Robert Lennie and A. Warren, left Perth yesterday at about half-past 12 o'clock, on a trip across Australia. The route which they will adopt will be from Perth to Coolgardie, via the old goldfields road, through Northam and Southern Cross. Thence, they will journey to Widgemooltha, to Fraser's Range, and to Balladonia, where they will be joined by Francis Birtles, who has failed to reach the McDonnell Ranges in South Australia from Western Australia. From there the three riders will travel to Port Augusta, where Birtles will leave them, and probably proceed to the MacDonnell Ranges in the interior, in furtherance of his search for the "long armed blacks." Lennie, who is secretary of the Bonnievale Cycling Club, and a member of the Council of the Goldfields League of Wheelmen, and Warren, will then proceed to Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, their object being to break the record from Perth to Sydney, which is said to stand at present at 31 days. Both men carry light equipments, their Davies-Franklin machines being fitted with path-racing parts, and heavy Dunlop tyres.
The West Australian (Perth), 26 February 1907, 6,

Birtles pushed on to Adelaide, but there was to be ill-feeling ahead: I leave it to the more patient reader to trace the rest of the tale.

Adelaide, April 16. Francis Birtles, the cyclist who left Fremantle on Boxing Day with the intention of coming to the Pacific Ocean, arrived at Adelaide this afternoon. He had travelled 3,185 miles. His worst experiences were in the early part of the journey, when he essayed to travel the coastal route from Western Australia, and was driven back for want of water. Finally he went through Laverton to Kurnalpi—a trip which cost him much difficulty through lack of water. After he had reached Eucla he had very little trouble.
The West Australian (Perth), 17 April 1907, 8,

In May, he reached Sydney, but Lennie and Warren were less than happy:

Bounder Blatherskite Birtles Claims Unentitled Kudos. A Blown-out Bladder of Bluff.
The following copy of a telegram received locally has been handed us for publication:
"Completed journey Indian to Pacific Ocean. All well. Fremantle to Sydney. Francis Birtles."

Our Sydney correspondent wired on Thursday morning as fol[l]ows: Birtles arrived at noon yesterday, boomed as the rider from oce[a]n to ocean. It is alleged he did part of the journey in the train to get a lead on Lennie and Warren, who arrived at "Truth" office five hours later.

There were no league officials to welcome them here, although Lennie, and not Birtles, is the accredited West Australian League representative.

Lennie is indignant at the scurvy action of the New South Wales League, and says they do things better in the West. The secretary of the Cyclists' Association welcomed them at the Gaiety on Thursday night.
The Truth (Perth) 11 May 1907, 6,

Still, Birtles kept it up, but when I accidentally passed his grave in Waverley cemetery as I walked from Bondi to Coogee, I had never heard of him. Still, there, he is, described as "The Australian Explorer", but back in 1912, that headstone was still three decades away.

Francis Birtles, the well-known cyclist, who has gained fame by circling, crossing, and re-crossing the Australian continent in his many rides in the little known territories of the north-east, north, and north west coasts, was, at the latest advice, going so strong that he should succeed in his attempt to lower the existing bicycle record from Perth to Sydney.

From advices received by Anthony Hordern and Sons the overlander has been forcing the pace on the wild track from Norseman (W.A.) to the South Australian border, and, despite his strenuous efforts, arrived at Nullarbor (S.A.), nearly three days ahead of his time. Birtles, who is mounted on a Universal bicycle, of B.S.A. parts, and Dunlop tyres, had ridden 1150 miles in 12 days 10 hours, and that over the worst possible roads, and it now appears as if he will be able to arrive in Sydney well up to his schedule of 30 days. The cyclists of New South Wales have followed Birtles’ ride with more than usual interest, as he has always started and finished in Sydney, and there will be a large crowd to welcome him on his return.
Sydney Morning Herald, 17 January 1912, 22,

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Bicycles in the Antipodes

The northern hemisphere velocipedes were exported to many distant places, and in 1831, a “Sydney Exquisite” was seen riding his velocipede on “the Race Course”, one of the names given in those days to what is now Sydney’s Hyde Park. The southern section featured Sydney’s water supply, which came from a nearby swamp through a tunnel (“Busby’s Bore”) before discharging from an outlet pipe that carts could drive under.

The unused water drained away into Sydney’s original water supply, an open sewer called the Tank Stream, but at least near the bore outlet, the water was clean. This was just as well because, as a newspaper report said, “…the Exquisite was chuckling inwardly at the admiration he excited…” but this ended when he ran into a drain and capsized head over heels, with a wheel wrenched off.

He appeared considerably chagrined at the accident.
The Sydney Monitor, 19 March 1831, 3,

Any Australian enthusiasm for cycling faded until January 1845, when a sporting gentleman made a bet undertaken “to ride a dandy horse one mile along the turnpike road between the first toll-gate and Parramatta, without touching the ground with either hands or feet.” The bet was for £50, and the side bets were for 2 to 1 against the rider. So what was a dandy horse? The newspaper Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, was quick to explain.

…it is a remnant of English recreative mechanism, very much in vogue 25 years ago, amongst the gentry of Great Britain, and consists of two wheels, placed one before the other, connected by a curved shaft, upon the concavity of which is fixed by steel springs, to afford an elastic movement, a species of saddle. Here the rider must sit, with knees flexed and feet resting upon two projecting bars of iron, attached on either side of the front wheel. It must be observed that great dexterity will be required to balance the machine, and upon this the whole difficulty of performing the task seems to rest; but as the front wheel moves to a guide under the control of the rider, this can be materially lessened by what would be termed upon the turf, a “fine hand.”
Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer (NSW), 4 January 1845, 2.

At the end of the year, that attempt was still to take place. In November, it was specified that “…the match is to ride a dandy horse upon a turnpike road, the distance of one mile, during which transit the adventurous desperado is to have his legs tied to an iron bar, and to be thereby prevented from either touching the ground or using them in any other manner.” Then in December, the match was definitely to occur:

MONDAY next is the day appointed for this long talked of and singular exploit. Our readers may remember that a wager of £50 to £20 was made that a Mr.—— could not, within one month, find any person to ride the ordinary two-wheeled velocipede one standard mile, during which transit the rider was not to allow either foot or hand to touch the ground. It was purposed to make the last deposit at Parramatta, but at the request of several Sydneyites, the parties interested have resolved to run as near the metropolis as possible; and the Woolpack, opposite Petersham, has been named as the place of rendezvous. The final sum will consequently be made good at the above Inn, at 11 o’clock in the forenoon, when the ground will be named and the effort made for the accomplishment of this novel, and, as far as we can learn, unexampled feat. The betting can with difficulty be quoted, as persons are offering 5, 6, and 10 to 1, against its being accomplished.
Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer (NSW), 6 December 1845, 2,

Still, nothing seems to appear in the newspapers, which are full of “dandy horse brushes” and a horse named Velocipede. As 1851 progressed, there was a report of five men riding a velocipede towards the Victorian goldfields, in company with a drag hauled by four bulldogs, attended by fierce looking men who had two more dogs of the same breed as spares. The velocipede riders were all on board a curious vehicle:

One single piece of wood mounted on three wheels (one before and two astern) straddled across by five strapping fellows, seated comfortably on saddles and working away with their feet, which propelled the strange vehicle at a rapid pace.
The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, 21 November 1851, 5.

Another was seen heading for the Victorian goldfields in 1858, travelling “at Cobb’s coach speed”. It was:

…a hobby-horse or velocipede, piloted by a sturdy driver, whose chiropodical strength and pluck had propelled the slight but well knitted machine, carrying himself and upwards of two hundred weight of ‘swag’ through the mire and macadam of the road from Melbourne to Sandhurst in the short space of two days and a half. This is a feat which we do not remember to have seen equalled even in the old country when velocipedes were the fashion; and when we take into consideration the present heavy state, and the numerous ups and downs of our roads, it seems highly probable that the introduction of this mode of locomotion may, in the fine weather, be a mighty rival to Bill and Deaken, and chaw up Cobb.
The Age, 19 July, 1858, 6.

(While Cobb and Co are still well-known today, the rival coaching firm of Bill and Deakin, owned by the father of later Australian Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, has been almost forgotten.)

By 1869, the British newspapers were reported in the South Australian Register as talking about bicycles, and how they were better than velocipedes, but “ARGO” warned the paper a month later that the “two-wheelers” weren’t up to the task, and that velocipedes were better on Australian roads. The writer painted a picture of doctors running about to their patients, postmen with their letters, butcher boys with their chops and joints, and asked: how would they stand their “bicycular machines” up? No, Argo told his readers, there was a better choice.

With a three wheeler, I know all about it. I place my machine at the door, where it stands by itself, all alone; I quietly step into it, sit on the seat, put my feet in the slipper straps of the treadles, and when quite ready I depress the treadle that is higher, produce an immediate forward motion, and by the continued alternate action of the feet propel myself at such speed as may be convenient. 
So the bicycle could lean against a wall or a post, but how did you get moving?

Next, I suppose, when the perilous feat of mounting is accomplished, you get somebody to give you a shove, perhaps to run along with you for 20 or 30 yards, and then, I can imagine, if a practised hand, you can trundle yourself along gaily enough; and if you were going to the Bay or to Mitcham, you would have a fine bowl along the hard roads.

But suppose you want to call at 20 places in an hour. What then? How do you stop the two-wheeled machine? Do you run it obliquely against a wall at the risk of ruining your pants, to say nothing of your knees! Or do you bring it to a stand in the middle of the road, when of course it falls over on one side or the other, and you and your velocipede are sadly mixed up together; then getting up, do you transact your business, leave the joint or the letter, and getting on again, ask some passing stranger to give you a shove, and so you repeat the process ad infinitum.

To my view the bicycle may be grand for a journey, but disgusting for morning calls.
 South Australian Register, 1 June 1869, 3.

The earliest use I can find of “penny farthing” as a name for a bicycle is 1914, but these bicycles that Argo wrote about were clearly of that variety — and merely the only bicycles there were. Still, this type of bicycle proved superior, the very next month, when bicycles competed with velocipedes on the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A newspaper report denigrated the velocipedes as “mostly clumsy looking vehicles”, and the results supported this view.

Even so, the winning bicycle took eleven minutes and a half to complete two miles, but even slow bicycles could be a problem. In October 1869, a cyclist appeared in Bathurst and frightened the horse drawing a fruit cart.

On Friday evening a person named Vaughan was riding down George street, Bathurst, in a fruit cart, and when near the store of Messrs. Webb and Co. a person rode up the street on a bicycle; Mr. Vaughan’s horse was a spirited animal, and having never before seen a man “riding on a wheel,” became considerably frightened, and, anxious to get out of the way of the strange-looking affair as quickly as possible, bolted with his own conveyance. Mr. Vaughan, by a sudden movement of his horse, was thrown out of the cart on to the road, but fortunately sustained no damage beyond a severe shaking. The horse did not run far before it came to grief, for on turning the corner of the street by the Bank of New South Wales the cart turned a somersault and the horse was laid upon its back. No material damage was, luckily, done.
Empire (Sydney), 19 October 1869, 3,

By 1875, Australian explorer Ernest Giles commented that the Nullarbor Plain was ideal for camels — or bicycles, because the ground was clear of traps and impediments.

It was splendid country for the camels to travel over; no spinifex, no impediments for their feet, and no timber. A bicycle could be ridden, I believe, over the whole extent of this plain, which must be 500 or 600 miles long by nearly 200 miles broad, it being known as the Hampton plains in Western Australia, and ending, so to say, near Youldeh.
— Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed, 1889.

Then, in 1882, came the “safety bicycle”, which was more or less the equal-wheeled bicycle we know today. In December 1882, a Dr Richardson addressed a London tricycle club dinner, noting that several tricyclists and bicyclists could travel at twelve or fourteen miles an hour, and some experts had reached eighteen miles an hour.

(Prophetically, given that the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics and makers, he said that he “…did not think he would be a false prophet if he assumed that the first principles of the problem of aerial flight would originate from the tricycle and bicycle.” That was 21 years before the first Wright aeroplane took off!)

Warming to his theme, Richardson said that cycling was healthy, though he regretted that some people were trying to power bicycles with electricity. Postmen used bicycles and tricycles, and one day, soldiers might ride into battle in the same way.

When this was reported in The Queenslander in September 1883, the paper reminded its readers of the specialist machines coming from the Coventry Machinists Company in England. Amongst their specialities were machines made to order for India, designed to be propelled by coolies; and these are of sufficient strength to carry one or two, as the case may be, with an umbrella for shade and, according to the number, one or two coolies additional -- and other of the company’s products were already available in Brisbane.

In fact, Messrs. Shaw and Co.’s establishment, in Queen-street, was displaying the “Special Club” bicycle, with one of which the one-mile amateur championship of New South Wales was won in August, 1882. Another of their models, the “Boy’s Own” bicycle, was also on view at the same place. Some of these, at least, were still of the “penny-farthing” variety.

At the same time, there was the “Otto” safety bicycle. This had two large wheels, and the seat over the axle between. There was an art in working this, but the experience of those who have tried it was “The more we ride it the better we like it.”

Then comes the alarming part. The brakes were “very effective and prompt, bringing up the machine with ease at a moment’s notice,” but the steering was done by the slacking of the driving gear on the one side and the use of the brake at the same time, which keeps that wheel motionless while the other travels as far round as is necessary.

In other words, the wheels were on each side, rather like “White’s improved bicycle”, a few pages back. By 1884, the market was sorting itself out, but the “Kangaroo” safety bicycle, which quickly became a record-breaker, was still one of the penny-farthing style.

There were drawbacks, though.

The velocipede mania is spreading. It must have its run like any other fever. It may become chronic, though some wise heads are predicting a speedy crisis and collapse; or perhaps the collapse is to come before the crisis, or they may be simultaneous! Just at present, however, the inventive genius of many countries seems to be concentrated upon the construction of velocipedes of every novel style. If announcements may be credited, there is—or is going to be, which amounts to the same thing in this fast age—a monocycle, which can be driven sixty miles an hour; a bicycle warranted to run a hundred miles an hour on a single rail of a railroad track; and probably tricycles and quartercycles of indefinite speed. The machines are gradually being furnished with all conveniences, even to lanterns and lunch-boxes! Nobody feels terrified, even when such accidents occur as did recently in Cincinnati; when a young man taking a velocipede lesson in the fourth story of a building, lost the control of his machine, and was precipitated through a guarded hatchway to the cellar beneath. Such an occurence only incites story-makers to circulate reports that in certain cities the velocipedes are driven so fast that every collision results in the total disappearance of both rider and machine! No fragments are ever found!
The Queenslander, 10 July 1869, 3,

If you believe that yarn, wanna buy a bridge?

The end of the penny farthing bicycle

The old style bicycles seem only to have been called “penny farthings” after about 1914. Before that, they were just “bicycles”, as we can tell from the passing reference here to the “high wheel”.

The Brisbane Courier says:-In order to thoroughly test the capabilities of his “Kangaroo” safety bicycle, Mr. W, Johnson, captain of the Amateur Cycling Club, started at 5.40 a.m. on Wednesday for Southport, with the intention of breaking the records all along. There was a slight head wind, and Mount Gravatt was not reached under 35 mins., the best time to this place being exactly half-an-hour.

However, from this point the speed improved, and the Eight Mile Plains Hotel was passed in 58 mins. (quickest on record), and still quickening the speed, Palm’s hotel at Beenleigh was reached in exactly two hours, being about twenty minutes quicker than the previous best.

This is about twenty-one miles from Brisbane, and the Logan has to be crossed, which takes up some few minutes. Pimpama (31 miles) was reached at 9 a.m., and finally the Labrador Hotel at exactly 12.15 p.m., the whole journey from start to finish, which is fully fifty miles, occupying just 6 hours 35 mins. All hills as far as Beenleigh were ridden with comfort, but beyond Pimpama they are of such a rugged and steep nature that very few indeed of them could be ridden on any machine.

Mr. Johnson’s “Kangaroo,” which has a 36 in. wheel, geared to 54 in., and weighing about 50 lbs., stood the work well, and carried its rider with safety down hills that it would be folly to try to ride down on an ordinary bicycle. The machine was a source of curiosity, and inquiry all along the road, spectators wondering how such a little machine could attain so high a rate of speed. Mr. Johnson is thoroughly satisfied with his new machine, and says he will never return to the high wheel again. The “Kangaroo “ is thoroughly safe, and very little, if any, behind the ordinary bicycle in speed.

Mr. Johnson starts front scratch in all races in Brisbane, and has never yet been beaten by any Queenslander off the same mark. During the past eighteen months he has started in seventeen races, winning thirteen; was three times placed second, and once third. Three of his losings were against Sydney men. Mr. Johnson will be in Rockhampton in a week, or two, and we are told that he will bring his wonderful little “Kangaroo” with him.
Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 19 December 1884, 5,

Two cyclists named Gault and Cox set out in 1885 to ride from Adelaide to Melbourne, and got there, although Gault’s “Kangaroo” had to be replaced by another machine, along the way. It’s a story worth reading in full:


Another transcolonial ride-Adelaide to Melbourne-has been successfully accomplished, the heroes being Messrs. A. Gault (South Australian B.C.) and R. C. Cox (Ariel B.C.), who arrived in Melbourne a week ago, and after having been well fêted by Melbourne cyclists have returned to Adelaide per steamer.

Mr. Gault, who is perhaps the most representative cyclist of the neighbouring colony, speaks to me in felicitous terms of the trip over, and his experience is certainly in favour of long-distance rides. The riders left their city on Saturday, 21st March, Gault mounted on the newly-introduced and quaint looking safety bicycle “The Kangaroo,” and Cox on a Royal by Hilman and Cooper.

The first stage of the long journey was made at Aldgate, where the first “tea” of the journey was disposed of, and{a fresh start made for Strathalbyn (80 miles), which was made at 11.30 p.m. in the face of a strong head wind. The next day the River Murray was reached, which they crossed in a small boat, and arrived at East Wellington (66 miles) in time for the midday meal.

Twenty miles of sand and hillocks made the afternoon a prolonged one, and it was not till reaching Menindie at 8.20 that they halted, where they gladly put up for the night. Monday was the next day, and a chilly frost met them on their start at 8.20 a.m., but, however, sand had given way to good roads, and some quick travelling brought them to M’Grath’s Flat (109 miles) at 9.45. Between the flat and Wood’s Wells (121 miles) sandy patches intervened, and the trip was rendered lively with “over the handles,” &c.

The wells were reached at 12.10, where for 25 minutes they rested, and on their way again they made for Salt Creek (132 miles), reaching the creek at 3 p.m. They were here treated very courteously by Mrs. Sherwood. Salt Creek has a history of crime in the career of the desperado, Malachi Martin, who, it is recounted, had a partiality for cutting off the existence of the natives by drowning them in bags and other original tortures. Martin, however, met his fate on the unhallowed beam for the murder of an unfortunate servant girl, which he was found guilty of. He deserved his fate.

At 5.30 they leave, and arrive at the Coorong Beach) and Chinaman’s Wells at 8 p.m. Ten minutes suffice them then, and they push on for Cantara (148 miles), meeting on their way the picketed waggon of a teamster. With rough bush hospitality they drained tea from the humming billy, and by the aid of flickering lamp wrote letters to those at home, and which they afterwards gave to the mail coach, which they met before reaching Cantara.

Coolattoo (154 miles) was the next place of accommodation, reaching well-earned repose there at 12 o’clock. At 9 they are again on the road, and arrive at Kingston (180 miles) at 1.15 p.m. From this point to Narracoorte the journey was unrideable, swamps and hills vying with one another to make matters unpleasant At Narracoorte a fresh machine was obtained for Mr. Gault [he was riding the “Kangaroo”], and at 11.15 they started and reached the border at 1 p.m., where they were welcomed with rough roads.

Messrs. Kay and Harslett, two cyclists, met them at Apsley (260 miles) and paid them every attention. The prettily situated Edenhope was reached at 6. 45, and Barrow (295 miles) at midnight. By persuasion they made for Hamilton via Coleraine, instead of via Balmoral and Cavendish. This they regretted, as the roads are beastly. The ride was also rendered more uncomfortable by the rain, and they were glad to seek repose at Coleraine.

Next day they reached Hamilton (358½ miles), where they were cordially entertained by Mr. Farrell. The rest of the journey is familiar to my readers, and was safely negotiated by the South Australians putting in one day no less than 103 miles. At Geelong they were met by Messrs. Killott and Moffatt They express themselves highly favoured at the attention they have met with from Victorian cyclists during their stay.
The Australasian (Melbourne), 11 April 1885, 22,

Soon enough though, equal wheels and a chain drive became standard, and cycling spread across the land. By 1899. Miles Franklin wrote of bicycle tourists:

Several jackeroos, a neighbouring squatter, and a couple of bicycle tourists turned up at Five-Bob that evening, and we had a jovial night. The great, richly furnished drawing-room was brilliantly lighted, and the magnificent Erard grand piano sang and rang again with music, now martial and loud, now soft and solemn, now gay and sparkling. I made the very pleasant discovery that Harold Beecham was an excellent pianist, a gifted player on the violin, and sang with a strong, clear, well-trained tenor, which penetrated far into the night.
— Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career, 1899.

And in April of that year, the Wombeyan Caves were also seeing cyclists.

WOMBEYAN CAVES. — Quite a large number of visitors passed through en route to the caves during the holidays, including an unusually large number of cyclists. Owing to the weather turning wet much inconvenience was felt by visitors at the utter want of accommodation at the caves, and many returned much sooner than they would otherwise, and many more were prevented from going. Matters would be even worse than they are if it were not for the obliging caretaker, Mr. Chalker, who, I understand, generally takes a “roost” somewhere in the bush and gives up his own apartment to visitors. Now that new roads are being made at a huge expense, and every facility afforded to tourists for visiting the caves, I do hope that something will be done in the way of increasing the accommodation for them when they arrive. Practically the whole of the visitors came via Taralga, as the new road is not yet, of course, passable. I understand about 150 men are engaged working about the caves.
Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW), 15 April 1899, 5,

The bicycle was out of its swaddling clothes: its fifty years were up, and accidents began to happen:

Bicycle Accident.-Mr. Colin Mackenzie, who some time ago went in for cycling, met with a severe accident on Sunday evening last, returning home from Yalbraith Church. When within about three miles of Taralga after coming down Byrnes’ Hill, Mr. Mackenzie was “coasting,” and when rounding a sharp turn on the road he ran into the causeway, causing the machine to bump badly, and the rider was ultimately thrown heavily on his shoulder and head. As a result the shoulder was badly dislocated, and in addition the head and face were much cut and bruised. For a time Mr. Mackenzie remained half-conscious, but fortunately came round and struck out for home, pluckily riding the machine a part of the way. After much difficulty, Mr. Whiting with assistance managed to get the shoulder fixed up again, and at the present time Mr. Mackenzie is progressing favourably though suffering much pain. It was Mr. Mackenzie’s intention to have gone to Goulburn Sunday morning to hear the Rev. Buchanan preach, but owing to one of his children being taken suddenly ill, he was compelled to abandon the trip to Goulburn, and went to Yalbraith instead.
Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW), 1, 12 October 1899.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

True high summer

Yes, I know I'm supposed to be chatting about bicycle history, but the weather's getting to me.  Later, OK?
Even in winter, we swim and surf.
Sydney's high summer has to make a few trial attempts before it really gets going.  Once the cicadas have started to sing in the trees, a day will come when it seems as though the oven door has been left open.  On that day, the pigeons in the city parks squat in the dust beneath the trees, seeking coolness from the soil.  At home, dogs lurk in the shadows, cats disappear, and people drive quickly to the beach, where they fight tooth-and-nail for a shaded parking spot.

Shade is a highly valued commodity at this time.  In high summer, walking in the street becomes a matter of scuttling from shaded spot to shaded spot, and otherwise mild and inoffensive citizens will stride down the wrong side of the footpath when it is the shady side, glaring at oncoming pedestrians, and daring them to contend for the right to remain in the shade.  High summer is a time when there is a tinge of madness in the Australian air, but not even mad dogs or Englishmen would go out in our midday sun.

The next day may be just as hot as the preceding one, but it may end in a cooling thunderstorm, or it could be more normal.  At other times, a cool gale, a ‘southerly buster’, may come rushing up the coast.  Whatever happens, over a few weeks the oven-door days get closer together.  That is when the holiday mood starts to show, for it is mood, rather than weather, which marks the true onset of high summer.  High summer is a state of mind, not a meteorological phenomenon, running from one point in the calendar to another — but assume it runs from about December until mid-March.

High summer in Australia means Christmas, warm nights, droning cicadas, and a gentle laziness and relaxation, warm sand as the sun goes down.  By late November, Australian school children have finished their annual tests and examinations while the oldest students in the high schools have moved into the limbo that lasts until the university places are announced.  No exertion will change anything, so nobody tries too hard.

Even the adults start to relax in early December, planning for the coming summer break.  Ties are left dangling on a hook behind the door, coats are hung up in the cupboard, and the sights, sounds and smells of summer are all around us.  Australia is the Lucky Country, we tell each other, and as December progresses, we feel even luckier than usual.

In mid-December, the morning rush hour gets progressively lighter, and the evening rush hour extends to a restful thinness as people try to fit in as many parties as possible.  The shop workers are still rushed off their feet, but even they get to party after hours, to look forward to the break that is coming.

But even if December brings us our first tastes of high summer, it can also be a time of heavy rainfall.  The rain will put off the bushfire risk, at the same time promoting growth and increasing the fuel that bushfires can feed on later.  And the rain has another marvellous effect for somebody who thinks like me.  When it rains, it brings out the frogs.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Australian seasons

This is an excerpt from chapter 6 in  Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, due for release on 1 February 2019.

Credit where credit is due: I work-shopped this essay with my Stage 3 students at Manly Vale Public School, where I make occasional visits as their "visiting scientist".  I learned a lot from Years 5 and 6...
In the northern hemisphere, away from the tropics, they have four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter, but is that number right for Australia? Much of Australia doesn’t have a real winter, leaving just three seasons, but there might be five or six seasons in other places.

The First Fleeters called Australia “a land of contrarieties”. The swans were black, not white; trees kept their leaves but dropped their bark; it was warm on the hills and cool in the valleys; the eagles were white; the bees had no sting — and the seasons were the wrong way around!

Legend says the NSW Corps soldiers changed between winter and summer uniforms, using seasons based on the first days of March, June, September and December. Those arbitrary dates worked, sort of.

Waratah (Telopea speciosissima), a spring
marker for Sydney.
The invaders might have been better off with the natural calendar of the Dharawal people of Sydney. You can find the details on the web, if you search on <Dharawal seasons>.

This chapter was written during Ngoonungi, which is cool, getting warmer, when the Miwa Gawaian (waratah) flowers.

Ngoonungi is also the time of the gathering of the flying foxes. In my part of Sydney, just north of Dharawal lands, as dusk gathers each night, I see these fruit bats fluttering east along the valley below me, sometimes near my window, rushing to gorge on figs nearby.

Flying foxes at dusk, Manly Vale.
Seeing them, I know the time has come to work barefoot by day. It is my season of happy toes, lasting six delicious months.

Far to my north, in Yolngu country, the stringybark is in flower then, as Rarranhdharr comes to an end. In the Anangu Pitjantjatjara country, which we call the north of South Australia, it is the end of Piriyakutu/Piriya-Piriya, when the hibernating reptiles come out. In Western Australia, the Noongar people call this time Kambarang, when the rain gets less, and the quandong is in fruit.

I notice the first blowfly, cicada or koel; the first magpie attack; the first funnelweb in the swimming pool or the first Christmas beetle. My children knew it was proper summer when the first Bogong moth started banging around on the ceiling at night.

Angophora costata, or Sydney Smooth-barked Apple,
shedding its bark, November, Forty Baskets area.
My high summer comes when the trunks of the Sydney smooth-barked apple, Angophora costata, turn orange-brown in mid-November. We take friends on mystery walks through a grove of these trees, just to watch their delight.

Early-days jacarandas, Circular Quay,
October 2017.
Sydney’s very first jacaranda comes out each year at Circular Quay, and I saw it the day I wrote this. The day I saw the first orange tinges on the Angophora trees, I noticed that the Quay jacarandas were in decline. I also notice the first evening storms with warm rain that people want to run around in, and the first big electrical storm that people should not run around in.

But what do city folk use as season markers? I asked my friends, and we found these: the first time your breath comes out of your mouth like smoke, as the water vapour in your breath condenses in the cold; the time when parents stop nagging their children to wear a hat and have to start nagging them to wear a jumper, or when you wake up in spring and hate the thought of porridge, so you switch to muesli — and when you go back again, in autumn.

I really loved this thought from Anil Tortop, a talented Turkish-born illustrator who lives in Brisbane: “The time I use/stop using the hair dryer. Or when ants start to invade the kitchen. Or when geckos start singing all together.

I suppose I'd best say something about high summer then, given that's where we are right now.

Here's a link.

A short overview of bicycles

There were earlier oddities, but cycling really began in the 1840s and 1850s with the Aellopodes, which are now almost forgotten, but which apparently had a reputation in British cities back then. Here is how the device was written up in the Mechanics’ Magazine, volume 31, 1839:

The Aellopodes. A curious specimen of mechanical ingenuity bearing the above title is at present exhibited at Lowther Rooms, Strand. It is a carriage for travelling without horse or steam, propelled solely by the traveller’s own weight; and it is the invention of Mr. Nevis, a native of Cambridge. Its structure is light and elegant; and any persons may, on common roads, propel themselves at the rate of between twenty and thirty miles an hour, and on railroads it might be worked with incredible velocity. The chief object of its inventor is, that it might be employed to take up the cross mails, whereby he calculates that a very large saving would be effected by the post office.
Mechanics’ Magazine, volume 31, 1839, p. 16

There are no pictures of this device available, though the sparse literature suggests that the “Mr. Nevis” mentioned in the piece was actually Thomas Revis. The Aellopodes was 12 feet long, and the rear wheels were six feet high, with propulsion being effected, “not by the user’s weight in the usual sense, but by stepping on treadles”.

Some of the devices, though, were rather more alarming to the rider. What could be more daunting, for example, than a unicycle like the one above? Scientific American, perhaps more than usually tongue-in-cheek, questioned criticism of this design in another journal, suggesting that it would be no harder to ride than it would be “to sit in a chair balanced upon two legs, resting upon the rather uncertain substratum of a slack rope”.

Having once seen a nude unicyclist leading a crowd of mainly equally unclad bicyclists on a chilly north British evening in Manchester (no, I don’t wish to explain further), I would not be prepared to attempt to pontificate on what people can or can’t do on one-wheel vehicles. I simply wouldn’t be persuaded to get up on one of those, myself!

I might, on the other hand, be more tempted to risk my nose, chin and other extremities in the device above, given that the feet are not engaged in pedalling, but the apparent lack of any brakes or any steering (aside from that achieved by leaning out to one side or the other) would give me some pause.

Meanwhile, other minds were concerning themselves with other amusing variations, like the ice velocipede and the water velocipede below. At this stage, there were no public attempts to develop a pedal-powered flying machine, but there must surely have been a few, somewhere, quietly out of sight. Most of the smart money was being invested in steam power.

And now I am prepared to discuss the Australian case, beginning in early 2019.

Friday, 28 December 2018

The moose cavalry threat

Another excerpt from The Speed of Nearly Everything.

Because horses are herd animals, seen as food by larger predators, they get nervous easily. A wild stallion may move forward to threaten a human, but picking up a stick is enough to make the horse think again, and choose retreat.

Clearly, horses are fairly easily ‘spooked’, and people who know horses are well aware of this. They will also assure anybody who will listen that the smell of a strange animal will always upset horses. Camels and Hannibal’s elephants have both been cited in the past as species that can cause cavalry horses to stampede.

I once stood in open woodland in Finland, as a reindeer farmer banged loudly on a tree, three times. The reindeer who knew that this was the food signal, came racing in. That was terrifying, and moose are bigger.

The moose has been used in a number of northern European cultures as a draught animal, pulling a sleigh, and even carrying riders on occasion. There are also tales of moose cavalry at various times, though these are hard to test out.

Blame Monty Python, who made the moose a running joke, for some of the confusion. There is at least one excellently manipulated digital image of a harnessed moose, supposedly used to haul logs out of forests. The giveaway is that one pile of logs appears on each side, one of the elements reversed, but if there has been one legpull, there may have been others.

You can read that Ivan the Terrible banned moose husbandry in Siberia in the 1500s to stop the locals using moose cavalry against him. You can also learn that in the 1700s, Sweden tried moose cavalry, because they believed the moose smell would terrify enemy horses, but the idea failed when it proved too hard to gather food for the animals, which seems improbable, given that they eat twigs.

They may or may not have existed, but if they ever did, the moose cavalry would have charged at 55 km/hr or 35 mph — and provided the Python team with some excellent material.

The pace of the pachyderms

Another excerpt from The Speed of Nearly Everything. My delightful commissioning editor said that it should be "suitable for reading on the john", and then said there was no need to explain that.

The classification of animals and plants always involves a bit of opinion, and that can sometimes cause confusion. Aristotle did not exactly see that whales and porpoises were mammals, but he knew they were not like fish. Linnaeus, who invented our classification system, listed whales and porpoises as fish in the first ten editions of his book, Systema Naturae.

Asian elephants, Minneriya, Sri Lanka, pachyderms to scholars of old.
In the same way, 19th century scientists grouped elephants, rhinos and hippos as pachyderms. These were big, had thick grey skins, and came from Africa, but the grouping logic made as much sense as linking worms and wombats because they burrow, or butterflies and birds because they fly.

Still, the pachyderms were big and they had a formidable approach to threats: they charged them down. The pachyderms were big and heavy enough not to fear anybody or anything. They still are.

A rhinoceros will charge for short distances at 40 to 50 km/hr (25 to 30 mph), as timed by chargees in motor vehicles. Black rhinos (think of them as dark grey) have poor vision, and often break off, or run into a tree, but they are also very good at changing direction, which takes all the fun out of being charged. They tend to be aggressive to each other, and may keep up their charging speed for some time when chasing other black rhinos.

Hippos can certainly outrun a human on land, though estimates of their speed vary between 30 and 50 km/hr (18 to 30 mph). The hippos are vegetarians, but that does not seem to stop them attacking and killing humans: they have a reputation for killing more people in Africa than lions, though the Cape buffalo is also a contestant there. The good news: hippos can’t jump, but you need to choose a thick tree, and hand go on!

Further reading for extreme taxonomists: look into the Whippomorpha.

Saturday, 1 December 2018


Another excerpt from The Speed of Nearly Everything.

According to Lord Cardigan, the Light Brigade charged the Russian guns in the Crimea at 17 miles per hour, a speed that was quite possible, though we have no idea where he got the figure from. That's about 27 km/hr.

Horses are herd animals, so they are comfortable galloping together at close quarters. The idea of the cavalry charge was to form a line, with the horses close together, and then move forward, first at a trot, and later, over the last hundred yards or metres, at the full gallop, riding down a wretched infantry, terrifying them and causing them to flee.

The theory of the cavalry charge began to come apart when the longbow came into use, because longbowmen could shower many arrows down on the approaching line, injuring the horses and possibly the riders while they were unable to harm the infantry.

Then there were the pikemen, who used long pointy sticks to impale the horses as the charge reached them, palisades and other defences, but the cavalry could often manoeuvre around the defences, which were hard to move around on the churned-up battlefield. Muskets had a practical range of perhaps a 100 yards, and even the best infantryman was unable to fire more than four shots a minute.

In the reload time of 15 seconds, Cardigan’s men would have covered 125 yards between shots, so the infantry had just one chance to kill, wound or stop the cavalry who were hurtling at them, half a ton of thundering horse with a razor-sharp sabre swinging down at their heads and shoulders.

Instead or infantry, Cardigan found himself charging fifty guns that fired grape and round shot over far greater distances, with Russian riflemen on his flanks picking off more riders. The wonder is not that so many were killed (118) or wounded (127) from the 670 men who started out, but that so few were hit.

The tradition of the charge was maintained into the First World War, when infantry were repeatedly sent “over the top” to charge an enemy equipped with machine guns and repeating rifles with a far greater range, and the Australian Light Horse undertook a successful cavalry charge, one of the very last, at Beersheba in 1917.

These were really mounted infantry who rode to the battle and dismounted to fight. Only Poland had cavalry in World War II, but they were mounted infantry like the Light Horse. 

Their Turkish opponents never expected them to charge, and when the ALH did, the Turkish rifles were all set for extreme range, which mean aiming higher, and soon the Australians were riding in, under the bullets, but you could only pull that trick once.

The role of the cavalry passed to the much faster tank regiments, though cavalry ranks like squadron leader (major) and wing commander (lieutenant-colonel) in some air forces reflect a cavalry origin. Tank regiment officers often wear silver insignia, another cavalry tradition.

Aircraft were obviously never used to charge infantry, though tanks were often used, like cavalry, for infantry support in World War II, along with air cover. The charge has largely ceased to be an effective military tactic.

Animals still charge, though. An elephant at 30 mph (50 kph) weighs as much as 12 horses and travels roughly twice as fast. American bison weigh about a ton, but have the same top speed. The bulls of Pamplona, the ones that people run through the streets with, have been clocked at 35 mph (55 kph), the same speed reported for giraffes and African buffalo. We will come back to some of these later.

With the onset of summer, I'm in a bit of a writing doldrum right now, so I thought looking at speed would be appropriate.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Fast music and slow music

I spend a lot of time at my desk, listening to music, and something triggered me the other day to look at something I wrote in my now out-of-print book, The Speed of Nearly Everything. I decided to share it.

Somebody whose music always
seems never to end, even though
the fat lady is singing all the time.
At the age of 17, Mozart composed his 27th symphony, all in a single day. That was fast music indeed, but at least he never had to put up with a sheet music publisher giving it a nickname.

Later composers mostly hated the nicknames given their works, but it is likely that few would have as good a case as Frédéric Chopin with his Waltz in D flat Major, Opus 64, No. 1, known around the English-speaking world as The Minute Waltz.

From a sampling of recordings, it appears that the usual playing time is between one and a half and two minutes, and those who try to play it in less are usually dismissed as “musical gymnasts”. Artur Rubinstein recorded it at 1:48 and Vladimir Ashkenazy at 1:49, and times up to two minutes are not unknown.

Legend has it that Chopin was inspired by the sight of a small dog chasing its tail, and that he called it by the French title Valse Minute, meaning the little or tiny waltz, so time was not involved. All the same, many performers have managed to get through the work in less than a minute: probably the fastest ever was Liberace, who could complete the work in just 37 seconds, and often did.

Sergei Rachmaninoff made an arrangement of Flight of the Bumblebee and cut an Ampico piano roll that lasts a fraction over a minute. While Ampico rolls are open to doctoring, accordionist Alexander Dmitriev has been filmed playing this work on a bayan (Russian chromatic accordion) in just over 65 seconds by my timing. Accordionist Liam O’Connor, acclaimed by the Guinness Book of Records for achieving 11.64 notes per second could probably do better.

Gabriel Fauré was once asked how fast one of his songs should be sung. He suggested that if the singer was notably deficient of talent, it should be sung very fast indeed.

Then there is slow music.

Few pieces of musical composition can have an accurate time attached to them. John Cage created 4’ 33”, a piece of absolute silence which lasts exactly that long. Most classical music station engineers loathe it, because networks typically have a system that plays standby music after the transmitter has been silent for 90 seconds, and the very nature of Cage’s work ensures that this fallback is triggered at least once (and often twice) in a playing.

By an odd chance, Cage brought fame to perhaps the longest piece of music ever conceived. Erik Satie produced Vexations, his marathon piece on a single sheet in 1893, and Cage arranged for the first complete performance in 1949. There is a catch: while the music can be written on a single sheet, the theme is to be played 840 times, “very slowly”.

Another piece of French music, from Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, only seems excruciatingly slow. A chorus of nuns sing Salve Regina as they file off-stage to their deaths, with the interpolation, every so often, of the swoosh of a guillotine blade falling. Each time the sound is heard, one of the performers stops singing. To listeners, the chorus seems to go on for hours.

The guillotine, on the other hand, is very fast. It takes less than one second for the 40 kg blade to drop 4.3 metres, by which time it is travelling at just over 9 m/s, 33 km/hr, 20 mph, severing the neck in 2/100 of a second. Death may take a few seconds, then all is silence.

Some pianists may be tempted, after attempting to play Vexations as a solo work, to wish they had lost at least their fingers to Madame la Guillotine.

At least they would still be able to play 4’ 33”.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Bulletin libel case

This is a second extract from e-book, Not Your Usual Australian Villains, a study of Australian post-invasion scallywaggery, with a few slightly more evil characters thrown in. It follows on from my previous entry Shooting the Duke of Edinburgh, because both feature a beach about 3 km from my home, and both feature an apparently somewhat bent judge, Sir William Manning.


This is not so much the story of a riot, as a story about a story about riotous behaviour. Clontarf became well-known after the attempt to kill the Duke of Edinburgh there in 1868, but a dozen years on, it was a place of depravity and debauchery — or so gossips said.

When the newspapers said just that, the Moore brothers, who ran a hotel at Clontarf, sued The Bulletin for £1000 and the case was tried before Sir William Manning, who had been there in 1868, when the Duke was shot.

Perhaps we should look first at what was said in a piece called The Larrikin Residuum, which was written by William Henry Traill, an editor and journalist with the Bulletin. He was an experienced journalist and began this way:

The scene presented by the motley crowd at Clontarf on Boxing Day is one never to be forgotten by an eye witness. Englishmen have been accused of taking their pleasures sadly. The larrikin takes his or her pleasure madly. At Clontarf it was not an excursion – it was an orgy. Large ocean steamers discharged cargo after cargo of young Australians. Young men, young women, lads, girls, and still more sad, children thronged the ground, crowded the dancing pavilion (save the mark!) and jostled at the drinking bars. [1]

Curiously, the Moores’ solicitor was the judge’s son-in-law while their barrister was named Manning (and was almost certainly the judge’s nephew). This was a set of relationships which might have been enough to make the judge step aside, but he did not. It certainly renders some of the judge’s rulings suspect, as he blocked certain lines of evidence brought forward by the defence, while allowing curious material from the plaintiff’s side. Here is how several papers described the case, though the italics are mine:

Mr Salomons, Q C applied to his Honor for leave to prove that the scenes described were of general occurrence at Clontarf, and had been witnessed there for years. His Honor refused to admit the evidence. [2]

Here is sample of evidence that was allowed: it, surely, was bad enough.

Captain Francis, master of Commodore in December last: On Boxing Day she made two trips; I have known the plaintiffs for 20 years; on that morning Mr. William Moore was at the wharf to take care that no improper characters came on board the Commodore, I was on the ground on that day, I know the article in the Bulletin; that description is not true, I saw nothing of that kind while I was on the ground, the class of people who go to Clontarf is respectable.

Cross-examined: I did not see what was going on in the pavilion, I saw no one drinking, I heard no bad language; there was no fighting. [3]
Thomas Bray, examined by Mr Pilcher: I was at Clontarf on Boxing Day; I saw a great number of rowdies there; there was a great deal of fighting and drinking going on during the day; I saw girls fighting and heard them swearing; I saw three fights between men while I was there; from what I saw, I did not think it a respectable place to go to. [4]
John Charles Gleadow, a clerk, deposed that he was camping in the neighbourhood of Clontarf on Boxing Day with some friends. Was at Clontarf from 11 o’clock in the morning until between 3 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Had read the Bulletin article some time ago, and thought it fairly described what witness saw on that day. About 11 o’clock he law a fight between two or three men respecting a girl who had been dancing with one of them. One of the men was cut and bleeding about the face, and the girl took off her drawers and wiped his face with them, and afterwards threw the blood-stained drawers amongst the larrikins, who raised a yell of applause. [5]

There was a great deal more evidence. On one side, there were the proprietors and those dependent upon them saying “I didn’t see any of that”, while on the other side, there were large numbers of independent members of the public detailing cases of girls bathing naked, watched by boys, and boys bathing naked watched by girls, drunken under-age girls fighting and more. The writers of the accounts may have been biased, but there was just too much evidence branding Clontarf as a den of iniquity.

In the end, a jury of four (“a publican, an ex-publican, a grocer, and a nightman”, said the Bulletin later) awarded the Moores a farthing damages. This is almost the ultimate insult to a plaintiff, but it meant the defendants had to pay the plaintiffs’ costs. These amounted to £1500, and as they could not pay, two men, Haynes and Archibald were gaoled for 12 months. In fact, they were released after six weeks, when public donations covered the costs bill. [6]

I will be breakfasting at Clontarf tomorrow. I plan to raise a glass of tap water to Salomons, Haynes and Archibald.

[1] Bulletin, 8 January 1881.
[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1881, 3,
[4] Evening News (Sydney), 9 May 1881, 3,
[5] Evening News (Sydney), 10 May 1881, 3,