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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Australia's mystery poet

Who was ‘Hugo’? I have no idea, but there are two of his poems available in the newspapers of his day, both in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1831. One of these, Zodiac Light, was competent by fairly ordinary, but The Gin shows a new awareness among the white people of the colony. I speculate that ‘Hugo’ was born between 1800 and 1810, in the colony, and grew up with Aboriginal playmates. He writes as one who knows the bush — and the Aborigines’ plight.

This poem was first published as “Original Poetry” in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 July 1831, page 4. It offers early instances of several words like gin, gunya and waratah.

(As I have a strong interest in such things, I have found an even earlier case of waratah from 1804. Oddly, there seems to have been no other mention of the plant until 1826, when the modern spelling first appeared. By 1831, Hugo was out-of-date in his terms. The real question must be: what happened to him?)

The Gin
“Where spreads the sloping shaded turf
By Coodge’s* smooth and sandy bay,
And roars the ever-ceaseless surf,
I’ve built my gunya for to-day.

“The gum-tree with its glitt’ring leaves
Is sparkling in the sunny light,
And round my leafy home it weaves
Its dancing shade with flow’rets bright.

“And beauteous things around are spread;
The burwan*, with its graceful bend
And cone of nuts, and o’er my head
The flowering vines their fragrance lend.

“The grass-tree, too, is waving there,
The fern-tree sweeping o’er the stream,
The fan-palm, curious as rare.
And warretaws* with crimson beam.

“Around them all the glecinæ*
Its dainty tendrils careless winds,
Gemming their green with blossoms gay,
One common flower each bush-shrub finds.

“Fresh water, too, is tumbling o’er
The shell-strewn rocks into the sea;
‘Midst them I seek the hidden store,
To heap the rich repast for thee.

“But where is Bian?—where is he?
My husband comes not to my meal:
Why does he not the white man flee,
Nor let their god his senses steal?

“Lingers he yet in Sydney streets?
Accursed race! to you we owe,
No more the heart contented beats.
But droops with sickness, pain, and woe.

“Oh ! for the days my mother tells,
Ere yet the white man knew our land;
When silent all our hills and dells,
The game was at the huntsman’s hand.

“Then roamed we o’er the sunny hill,
Or sought the gully’s grassy way,
With ease our frugal nets could fill
From forest, plain, or glen, or bay.

“Where sported once the kangaroo,
Their uncouth cattle trend the soil,
Or corn-crops spring, and quick renew,
Beneath the foolish white man’s toil.

“On sunny spots, by coast and creek,
Near the fresh stream we sat us down ;
Now fenced, and shelterless, and bleak,
They’re haunted by the white man’s frown.

She climbed the rock—she gazed afar—
The sun behind those mountains blue
Had sunk; faint gleamed the Western star,
And in the East a rainbow hue

Was mingling with the darkling sea;
When gradual rose the zodiac light,
And over rock, and stream, and tree,
Spread out its chastened radiance bright.

So calm, so soft, so sweet a ray,
It lingers on the horizon’s shore;
The echo of the brighter day,
That bless’d the world on hour before.

But sudden fades the beam that shone,
And lit the earth like fairy spell;
Whilst in the East, the sky’s deep tone
Proclaims the daylight’s last farewell.

“Fast comes the night, and Bian yet
Returns not to his leafy bed;
My hair is with the night-dew wet
Sleep comes not to this aching bead.

“The screeching cockatoo’s at rest;
From yonder flat the curlew’s wail
Comes mournful to this sorrowing breast,
And keenly blows the Southern gale.

“Avaunt ye from our merry land!
‘Ye that so boast our souls to save,
Yet treat us with such niggard hand:
We have no hope but in the grave.”

Thus sung Toongulla’s wretched child,
As o’er her sleeping babe she hung.
Mourning her doom, to lead a wild
And cheerless life the rocks among.

Their health destroyed—their sense depraved
The game, their food, for ever gone;
Let me invoke religion’s aid
To shield them from this double storm
Glycine sp.   (Peter Macinnis)

Of physical and moral ill;
We owe them all that we possess
The forest, plain, the glen, the hill,
Were theirs;—to slight is to oppress.

— Hugo

* Coodge: Coogee
* burwan: burrawang
* warretaw: waratah.

* glecinæ: probably  Glycine sp., a member of the Fabaceae

Waratah, Telopea speciosissima (Peter Macinnis)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Announcing Australian Backyard Earth Scientist

As promised last week, here is some news. At a rough guess, the book is 12 months away, maybe more. (Note inserted January 16: the book is now complete, and submitted for editing and design.)

Back in October, my favourite publisher, the National Library of Australia, asked me if I was interested in doing a sequel to Australian Backyard Explorer and Australian Backyard Naturalist.

The title they suggested was Australian Backyard Geologist, but they wanted a lot of climate science in there, so I proposed that we call it Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, and we agreed on that title.

Part of the reason I was so keen is that I am well-advanced on Not Your Usual Rocks, a work on straight geology for older readers, and you can get a sample of that from this link. When I looked at that just now, I realised that not one word or item of content from that link has found it into the book.

For that matter, little of my search for the unconformity at the base of the Sydney Basin has come in, either, so Not Your Usual Rocks is still a viable proposition, and that was always my intention.

I jumped the gun, and before I got formal approval to do the book, I was up to the fourth draft. I am now zone-refining the seventh and eighth drafts, and I still don't have the contract.

Anyhow, this explains why I have been occasionally remiss of late. It also explains why I went to visit and photograph Sydney's volcano a while back, and a few other things.

Here are a few of the pics we may use: there are 320 in the first rough grab.

Using a clinometer.

Midnight sun, North Cape, Norway.

Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), Iceland, with columnar jointing.

 Simulated sedimentation.

Looking for spiders, Sahara.

Iceberg, but is that  a polar bear on the right?

 The Amazon dropping as the dry season develops.

Reykjanes, Iceland: the rift that makes the Atlantic get larger.
 Iceland: classical glacial valley (these are amazingly hard to find!).
 Lenticular cloud at midnight, Norway
Petroglyphs, Alta, Norway.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Australia's colonial poet laureate

Michael Massey Robinson was transported in 1798 for writing a criminal poem. Others came free or were born free, and as we will see shortly, they wrote poetry that many would regard as a crime against good taste. Robinson’s poem was written as part of a criminal act.

Called Old Ham Fresh Drest, the poem was an attempt to demand money with menaces from one James Oldham Oldham, an ironmonger in Holborn, who had been apprenticed to a Mr. Dolly. When Oldham completed his apprenticeship, Dolly took him on as a partner. Dolly then became ill and bed-ridden, so Oldham ran the business until Dolly died, in about 1774. Some 13 months later, Oldham married the widow Dolly. He later became an alderman of London.

Well before that, an attorney called Peake told the neighbours that Oldham was responsible for Dolly’s death, but as Dolly was not yet in his grave, a coroner examined the case and declared that the death was due to natural causes. Peake kept up his claims, and Oldham sued him and won £500 in damages.

The case went all the way to the House of Lords, but Oldham still won. In 1796, Robinson went a letter to Robinson under a false name. He claimed to be acting for the author of a poem making the same allegations. He explained that the author was in prison and needed money.
Oldham entered into negotiations with the blackmailer, placing an advertisement in the Daily Advertiser, seeking a meeting. The blackmailer instructed him to send “a Banknote in a letter addressed to R.R., to the Cambridge coffee-house, at the top of Newman-street in Goodge-street …” This letter was to be placed in a letter rack there.

Oldham played for time, saying he wanted to see the manuscript that he was being asked to buy, and some twenty six-line stanzas were sent to him. A sample of four verses will show the nature of the writing:

“THE DEED WILL OUT,” the phantom cried,
And forwards mov’d from side to side
To intercept his rout;
Whilst our pale traveller dismay’d,
With falt’ring speech address’d the shade,
And ask’d, “WHAT DEED WILL OUT?”

“Pause thee a while, and list!”—it said,
And sigh’d and shook its aged head.
(Our hero trembling stood!)
“Why in the early scenes of age,
“Didst thou in such a deed engage?
“Remember—BLOOD for BLOOD

“Of years, not five times five are past,
“Since, circled round thy humble waist,
“The dingy apron hung,—
“Thy heart then no foul mischief brew’d;
“Thy mind a moral track pursu’d;
“And guileless was thy tongue:

“Till dire ambition, like a fiend,
“That hurls destruction, without end,
“On each devoted slave,
“Burst forth. —Then lust assum’d a name
“To hide a secret guilty flame,
“And doom me to the grave!

Oldham told his clerk to deliver the letters and then watch to see who collected them. One letter was collected without him seeing anybody, but the second one was collected by Robinson, and he was seen by both the clerk and a waiter. Oldham’s attorney, a Mr. Sarrell, with his (Sarrell’s) clerk, a Bow Street (police) officer named Rivett and another man then arrested Robinson. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, but this was commuted — at Oldham’s request.

Robinson was then aged 52, but he lived on to the ripe old age of 82. On the way out, his superior manners led to him being allowed to dine with the petty officers, and he was allocated wine each day. One Richard Dore was travelling to Sydney to take up the post of deputy jusge advocate, and by careful cultivation, two weeks after landing in Sydney, he had a conditional pardon and a post as Dore’s secretary.

He was convicted of accepting bribes and spent some time on Norfolk Island, but by 1810, he was chief clerk in the secretary’s office under Lachlan Macquarie, and the composer, each year, of an ode on the day of the king’s birthday. In 1819, Macquarie gave him two cows “for his services as Poet Laureate”.

Five verses from one of the odes will suffice. This was for the King’s birthday in 1811:

To trace the mystic Course of TIME
Thro’ each revolving Age,
The MUSE aspires, with Views sublime,
And, wondering, turns the Page !—

That Page, where Hist’ry’s treasur’d Lore
Legends unfolds of Days of yore, 
When Rome her sov’reign Flag unfurl’d,
Rose the proud Mistress of the World;

And, rich in Arts, in Arms renown’d,
Aw’d the devoted Nations round;
‘Till LUXURY’S imtemp’rate Trains
Spread Desolation o’er her Plains;

And INDUSTRY, with nerveless Hand,
Retir’d, dejected, from the Land :
Whilst rent by Faction’s wily Spell,
Her Senates droop’d—her Fame and Freedom fell

Not so, yon ISLE, against whose sacred Shore
Bellona bids reluctant Thunders roar!
Not so, our ALBION, whose imperial Shield
Still waves triumphant in the tented Field!

An unbiased judge might be drawn to the opinion that Michael Massey Robinson’s criminal poetry had become a continuing habit.