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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Criteria for selection

Not a lot of science in this: it's more of a note to file, relating to my current interest in gold rushes and how they were managed.

Charles La Trobe, prize idiot and bungler.
This is Wikipedia's public domain image of him. 
Sitting on my back-burner is a series of Young Adult historical fiction with a scientific bias, set in Australia in the period 1852 to 1867.

I am working hard at getting a sense for the era across, within a series of adventures. That means showing how ordinary Australians fared and thought.  A lot of what the Australian-born Australians were thinking by 1870 is surprisingly modern.

Along with most decent Australians than and Australians today who know their Australian history, I have a deep contempt for the 'boy commissioners'.

These were the 19th century whey-faced poltroons and loons, the discards of the British aristocracy, adjudged incompetent by their peers, pun intended, who, from having been "born to rule", were judged well-suited for the colonies, like Hilaire Belloc's Lord Lundy, who was dressed down by his grandsire, the Duke, thusly:
Sir! you have disappointed us!
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! . . . My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!
Well, La Trobe got Victoria instead.  Far be it from me to draw any parallels with members of the Royal Family named Charles or William who think it might be fun to trot out and become Governor-General of Australia, using Australia as crash-test dummies while they learn how to be a figurehead, but that was how Australia was seen!

Gold escort by S. T. Gill, National Library of Australia,
I think I may have acquired this attitude to British upper-class twits from Monty Python, though in relation to Australia, it owes more to reading Manning Clark. So imagine my surprise, recently, to find Clark praising one of these normally chinless, witless, gormless types when, at the age of 21, this youngster told Governor Latrobe how to sort the problems being encountered on the gold fields at Bendigo.

I wondered how he got so high so early, and turned to the Australian Dictionary of Biography to learn more of this clever young man. His name was Joseph Anderson Panton. I found him at and made the most amazing discovery: the way in which he was selected for his post.  Note well: here we are going on Panton's own personal recollection and account.

Panton stood "A good deal over six feet", and apparently was solid as well. When he applied for a post as an officer on the Gold Escort, La Trobe examined him. Remember that La Trobe was, by all accounts, a total buffoon, the sort of twit that is normally only seen in comic operas or in certain royal families. In 19th century Britain, it seemed like a Good Thing to make Charles La Trobe the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria: now we let Panton take up the tale.
The Lieutenant-Governor looked me up and down, and then remarked jocularly "This fellow seems too big for a trooper. Too heavy. It would be too severe on the horses. I think he would make a Commissioner".
How lucky we were to have a good fellow get the job for once, but is this the reverse of the Tall Poppy syndrome?

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