Posts tagged ‘Scotland’

May 22, 2021

Books on a shelf: a random miscellany blog number 3 – love and loss

Week three of my rummage through bookshelf two from the bottom in the spare bedroom finds me in a melancholic mood which I’ll come to later.

First up this week is a copy of poems from one of Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova, the pen name of Anna Gorenko, that contains text both in Russian and English. On opening the book three coloured photographs of northern Canada dropped out which probably indicates the book was bought there some years later than its date of publication, 1976. Every journey is a book purchasing opportunity.

I was born on June 11 (June 23, Old Style), 1889 near Odessa (Bolshoi Fontan). My father was at the time a retired engineering officer on The Russian Navy. At the age of one, I was taken to the north, to Tsarskoye Selo, where I lived till the age of sixteen.

My first memories are of the damp, green grandeur of the parks, the common where Nurse took me for walks, the racecourse where little bright-coloured horses galloped, the old railway station, and some other things that later formed part of the “Ode to Tsarskoye Selo”.

Beneath that ancient maple on the ground

My marble twin* lies broken, listless,

Her face turned ever to the pond

As to the rustling leaves she listens. 

    * a sculpture of a milkmaid with a broken jug by the sculptor P. Sokolov in Tsarskoye Selo park.

Anna Akhmatova was one of six children. Her maternal grandfather’s aunt, Anna Bunina, is said to have been Russia’s first poetess; certainly the first Russian women to make a living solely from her writing. Akhmat was our Anna’s great grandmother’s name and according to family legend it could be traced back to Khan of the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde refers to a state under khan leaders dating from 13th century territorial disputes between Mongols and Turks. And for consecutive weeks we are swept up in the myths and legends of the Netflix series Resurrection – Ertugrul which is about just this. What was golden about it? Apparently the tents lived in by some of the Mongols were golden in colour.

Like Anna Bunina, Anna Akhmatova also became a significant poet. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize. In common with so many Soviet writers Anna’s work was criticised and censored under Stalin but unlike some other writers and artists she chose to live on in the Soviet Union, despite the difficulties that caused her. Her first husband was shot by the Soviet secret police – the Cheka.

Terror fingers all things in the dark,

Leads moonlight to the axe.

There’s an ominous knock behind the wall:

A ghost, a thief or a rat…

Her son was frequently imprisoned in Soviet labour camps. So too was her partner Nikolay Punin (a writer and art historian) imprisoned in the Gulag – dying there in 1953. On his arrest in 1949 (for criticising many of the portraits of Lenin churned out by what Punin described as talentless painters.) Akhmatova left his coat hanging in its place in their flat as a memorial.

During the war 1941 –

Now of all the plenty of this world

What is left? Only one’s daily bread,

Someone’s word – a gently human word –

And the lark’s pure singing overhead.

*

From 20th century Russia to 19th century Scotland and one of the most celebrated couples of their time, the Carlyles.

The Carlyles is the title John Stewart Collis gives to his biography of the illustrious pair, the historian, essayist and translator, Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane.   

The Father

He was among the last of the true men, which Scotland (on the old system) produced, or can produce.

So wrote Thomas Carlyle of his father, James Carlyle, a builder at Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. And again,

This birth into a family of Lowland Scottish peasant stock is very important, for such families were often aristocratic in their demeanour and their values.

Carlyle remembered his ‘uneducated’ father, a master-mason and builder, of having a prodigious facility for expressing himself ‘though not on paper.’

The Son

James Carlyle ensured his son, Thomas, was more formally educated and he was able to read as a very young child who at five excelled at arithmetic and Latin. He attended Edinburgh University at fourteen, not unusual in 19th century Scotland where education and learning came next to God in worship.

Jane Carlyle was Jane Baillie Welsh. She was from Haddington in East Lothian, daughter of a doctor and his wife, Grace Caplegil. Jane was also a precocious learner, specialising in the classics before she was five. She loved to express herself in prestigious letter-writing, remarked upon by Virgina Woolf.

Their marriage was perhaps platonic and stormy but endured.

Thomas Carlyle’s writings included satirical attacks on the abolition of slavery at a time when British men, women and children were being dreadfully exploited in the United Kingdom. Among his histories his work on the French Revolution is regarded of great importance. But revered as he was for his writing among the poor children in the neighbourhood of Chelsea in London where the Carlyles moved to from Edinburgh he was better known as the man who supplied them with extravagant quantities of sweeties.

Carlyle’s criticisms of the social setup in the United Kingdom made him unpopular with some in the establishment and on a more mundane level both Carlyles experienced that common prejudice experienced by the Scot living in England, ridicule of their coarse Scotch accents which he and Jane retained throughout their lives.

*

Next up is the work of a fellow-Scot who like the Carlyles decided his literary future was best served in England. J. M. Barrie from the home of Scottish gingerbread, Kirriemuir, is best known as author of Peter Pan. He was also from a working class home – his father was a weaver – and like Carlyle he also studied at the University of Edinburgh. Also like Carlyle his marriage was said to have been unconsummated. I don’t know what that says about the University of Edinburgh.

I’m not going to write about Peter Pan as I’m not even sure we have a copy of the book any longer but Barrie’s biographical novel, Margaret Ogilvy. Margaret Ogilvy is a charming account of the author’s mother’s life.

Chapter 1

How my mother got her soft face

On the day I was born we bought six hair-bottomed chairs, and in our little house it was an event, the first great victory in a woman’s long campaign; how they had been laboured for, the pound-note and the thirty threepenny-bits they cost, what anxiety there was about the purchase, the show they made in possession of the west room, my father’s unnatural coolness when he brought them in (but his face was white) – I so often heard the tale afterwards, and shared as boy and man in so many similar triumphs, that the coming of the chairs seems to be something I remember, as if I had jumped out of bed on that first day, and run ben to see how they looked…

Neighbours came in to see the boy and the chairs.

Was there ever a better beginning to a biography?

Both the child Barrie and his mother were devastated by the death of James’ brother David in an ice-skating accident a day before his fourteenth birthday.  James Barrie tried to protect his mother from the feelings of loss that stayed with all her life and as a small child he wore David’s clothes and imitated his whistling in an attempt to assuage some his mother’s despair. The lost boys and the boy who wouldn’t grow up in Peter Pan can be linked to David’s death.

 It was from his mother that Barrie learnt the art of the story-teller and when he set out as a writer he revived several of those tales told to him by her of her life as a girl and young woman. Barrie’s fondness for his mother is demonstrated in the touching way he writes of her. Here he describes her approaching death.

They knew she was dying. She told them to fold up the christening robe and almost sharply she watched them put it away, and then for some time she talked of the long lovely life that had been hers, and of Him to whom she owed it. She said good-bye to them all, and at last turned her face to the side where her best-beloved had lain and for over an hour she prayed. They only caught the words now and again, and the last they heard were “God” and “love.” I think God was smiling when He took her to him, as He had so often smiled at her during those seventy-six years.

*

And finally, the reason for my own melancholia (probably not the correct description since I know its cause) is our gorgeous and sweet-natured cat was put to sleep on Monday following a short illness and stroke. The Dude was about eighteen years old, a rescue cat who chose us at the Cat and Dog Home. He came home with us a poor wee specimen of a beastie, severely ill but we nursed him through that bad time and for fourteen years he was our beautiful companion who adopted the sunny front spare room and would settle down on the floor next to me while I read my daily five-minutes and more of books from the second shelf from the bottom of the bookcase next to the door.

Where we lived in our last house, in the Aberdeenshire countryside, we were semi-adopted by two feral cats who looked very like wild cats. We sometimes fed them and looked out for them. These cats were different generations and one followed the disappearance of the other. Both of these cats we called Murdoch. The first Murdoch and the Dude got on particularly well. One early morning Murdoch appeared as usual in the garden and the Dude ran out to see him. We saw nothing of either of them the whole of that day. It was into the evening before Dude turned up, hungry and exhausted and went straight to bed. He slept soundly that night and most of the following day after his adventure on the road with Murdoch – or more likely across fields and woodlands. Where they got to we never discovered but life on the road didn’t appeal to the Dude and he never again followed his friend beyond the end of the drive.

The younger Murdoch was never such a close companion but he was a frequent visitor and we watched him over the years as his health failed. Cats never give up and so it was that Murdoch would drag his clearly arthritic body around the area he frequented, presumably for food from households such as ours.

One day he turned up at the back door obviously unwell. It was winter but there was some warmth from the sun against the south-facing wall of the house and Murdoch cooried in to rest there. When he went to drink from a little pond he lost his balance and it was obvious he was having a stroke and had lost control of his hind legs. The vet was called out and we managed for the first time to get hold of the poor animal and he was put to sleep on garden bench. Now the two Murdochs and the Dude can roam cat heaven together.

Farewell my old friend.

Dec 12, 2020

It’s a Fishy Business – Scotland’s Plaice in Brexit

Brexit – England’s Declaration of Independence as penned by Homer (Simpson) – a fish oddity.

Jaculator fishmonger, Pufferfish Johnson, blowing out his well-exercised blowhole that Brexit is destined to lead to a national revival. The great Clownfish spouts blanks whether –

  • an additional £350m a week to the NHS
  • 40 new hospitals (that’ll be 6 plus some refurbishments)
  • 50,000 new nurses or in the real world 30,000
  • his ‘do or die’ pledge that Great Brian would be out of the EU by October 2019,
  • he’d rather be dead in a ditch than extend Article 50
  • he’d never suspend parliament to force through Brexit – before illegally proroguing it for the longest period in the modern era
  • squirming u-turns on proxy voting in the Commons
  • free school meals in England,
  • the NHS visa surcharge
  • dodgy NHS appp
  • face masks in shops
  • face masks in schools
  • England’s exam fiasco
  • England’s national lockdown
  • extension of the furlough scheme
  • world beating track and trace
  • millions of tests every single day
  • operation moonshot to combat Covid

Those not Zipfish-ed up the back Smelt a Ratfish at being led by the Elephant Nose fish to Flounder as flotsam and jetsam on the seabed of international prosperity.  Given Clownfish’s reputation to not give a Dogger Bank about anything, his only Porpoise in life being himself, they Otter have known Betta over his promises of Sea Pie in the sky.

Now we’re in for a Cat and Dog fish fight because a Bighead Carp of a Prime Minister, the Blowfish PM, doesn’t give a Bombay Duck about a Dealfish.

The Chubsucker PM’s Loosejaw Minnows; Moray Eel, Douglas Ross; Parrot fish, Andrew Bowie; chief Toadfish and Hogsucker, Alister Jackfish, are in the Halibut of Swordfish propagandising straight off the John Dory party’s handbook, as crooked as a barrel of fish hooks.

Barracuda done Betta cry the people of Scotland, ye Bass! And when the Britfish and Mudsucker Flounders on the iceberg of destiny the Sturgeon (or Salmond) of Scotland will lead us Herring back to tell the EU we’ve Haddock enough of Batfish Englandshire and leave them Abalone to all their racist, supremacist Pollocks.

So Dab your eyes and open the Dory to a Brill Goldfish Plaice in the sea of opportunity that’s lapping at our shores.  

May 29, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 10

Looking back at week 10 I have to report it was a most unusual week.

We had a liaison in a deserted graveyard with our son to receive some health supplies I needed – all gloved and masked up. Social distancing was practised throughout the short liaison which was odd, to say the least. Then it was straight back home and the bag taken from car boot to the quarantine room aka spare bedroom aka pantry for three days. He had slipped a honey comb in with the essentials so looking forward to that.

A couple of days later our daughter and son-in-law brought other medicine and rare commodities such as bags of flour and fresh yeast. It was a lovely warm day and chairs had been set out sufficiently distant from each other (pairs of) and we enjoyed a nearly normal visit albeit we sprayed their chairs and left them outside for several days afterwards.

Another major variation this week was a virtual family quiz. After some instructions earlier in the day from our granddaughter’s partner we got set up and it went remarkably well. Granddaughter spent hours compiling an excellent set of questions and really deserved her glass of wine during the quiz. Make that glasses. Tell me how many glasses does it take to affect eyesight? Grandson thought question about the Spanish Steps was a trick one but I couldn’t follow his logic of assuming they were somewhere in Spain since all steps in Spain are, er Spanish. Also since he has been up and down the Spanish Steps in Rome with US we weren’t too sympathetic when he struggled to get that one right. Well, he didn’t.

Despite all the medicines delivered last week wasn’t a great one for me but nothing too major. Managed to make some delicious griddle cakes which are a bit like girdle scones. Felt obliged to make something other than the bread my husband bakes given the amount of flour we now have; strong white, wholemeal, rye, spelt, Polish, plain white, SR white and banana flour. Yes, banana flour! And if any bananas turn up in our supermarket delivery this weekend I might bake a banana loaf using it. Bananas are a rare treat as we try to eat organic and they seem as rare as hen’s teeth although there were always plenty around when we used to get out shopping. What we did enjoy last week was an organic watermelon but I don’t think I’ll be making watermelon bread anytime soon.

The weather has been perfect for watermelons which is great for us folk with gardens but not so great for people without. Speaking to a friend on the phone who told me of a friend of hers with severe breathing problems has not been out the whole lockdown. He stays in a small flat. That must be hard. Another of her friends is slowly recovering from Covid19. He was extremely touch and go months ago and his voice was badly affected by the tubes down his throat so that he is only now finding his voice again.

Leaf cover means I can no longer report the starling saga in the tree across the road. Haven’t heard any great ruckus so assuming all is well there. Meanwhile our martins are busy doing what house martins do, eating mainly and tearing around at high speed – sounds like teenagers. They have been surveying another gable at our house for nesting, presumably, because our neighbours have again this year hung plastic carrier bags on the outside of theirs to deter the birds from nesting. Believe me it isn’t a good look (in all senses.)

Runner beans, lazing ladybird, evening sky, red tree peony, griddle cakes (weel done)

Most of the plants being raised in the greenhouse are enjoying the fine weather outside along with everybody else. Runner beans still romping away as much as possible given they are confined in pots. The summer savoury is possibly ready to eat but if we do that would clear one of the pots. The radish competition is hotting up and my five seedling are, well, seedlings not seeds anymore.

Still struggling to find anything we can bear to watch more than twice on Netflix and Amazon Prime (that we haven’t already seen.) I’m sure there are lots but not got into anything recently.

Finished reading Dreamers. The fascists still won. Latest fiction – I read other stuff all the time but the books mentioned are my bedtime reading. The latest as I write this is big, described as an epic and you can’t get bigger than that. As some of you know I’m not keen on big, epic, books as they’re not easy to hold up in bed and I tend to get bored before the end. Will see how I get on with the Icelandic Independent People by Halldór Laxness. It was recommended by my husband, he described it as superb. Annie Proulx described it as funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant though not directly to me. I like Annie Proulx’s writing, her descriptions are funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant.

I’ve not commented on the politics of the lockdown this week. Nothing I can say can top the bizarre and corrupt roguery that’s been happening with the backing of Johnson. We expect nothing less from the contemptible Cummings. Think they’ve ramped up the deceit surrounding ‘we’re all in this together’ crap. From the ridiculous to the sublime. I am not uncritical of the Scottish Government’s handling of Coronavirus, specially at the beginning (and I recognise how difficult handling a new virulent virus must be) but Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has put herself up for scrutiny day in day out. She is faced with a hostile press not like the lame bunch down south and shows she has detail at her fingertips, adroitly handling questions on a wide range of topics. Compare with the bumbling fool that is Johnson. People thought that was an act. How tragic it is to discover he really is not clever but the biggest fool in Christendom. And not only a fool but ignorant. Totally and woefully ignorant – turning his head from side to side looking for someone to dig him out of a ditch because he hasn’t the first clue about – well, anything. Maybe that’s what he meant by dead in a ditch – his reputation.

Stay well.

Oct 8, 2019

The Power of Scotland

Oct 23, 2018

Against the grain: Scotland pays the English Exchequer

It was regarded as oppressive to Scotland – tax that is – the malt tax in particular was exercising minds over what was seen as the high-handed treatment of Scotland almost before the ink was dry on the Union agreement.

whiskey-still[1] - Copy

To pay for their war with France the English government had introduced a malt tax and when the Union was agreed Scotland was temporarily exempted from it.

Between 1713 and 1724 the malt tax was expected to be a temporary tax which was voted for or against annually. But it was imposed on Scotland ‘with great difficulty’ to the extent a ‘Scotch peer had moved in the other House to dissolve the Act of Union’ – and the vote was tight with 55 voting on each side of the proposition that the Union be dissolved.

Article 14 of the Treaty of Union of 1707 specified that no part of the UK would be burdened unfairly with duties but that due regard would be made to particular circumstances and ability to meet responsibilities. Yet only six years after the Union what had been the English parliament and renamed the British parliament did –

‘actually impose a heavy burden upon Scotland, without any regard to the circumstances of the case, viz. the inferiority of Scotch grain, or the ability of the people , in that part of the United Kingdom, to pay a tax, which in several places was nearly equal to the value of the raw article.’

In other words a tax was imposed on Scots farmers that amounted to almost the value of their crop of bear barley. Bear barley was the principle type of barley grown in Scotland because of its climate and soil conditions, to an extent, but it was not as productive or as valuable as barley grown in most of England.

Support for the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 to return the Catholic Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain was boosted by resentment over the London government’s high-handed treatment of Scotland and the crushing fist of the Hanoverian monarchy. That Hanoverian crushing fist was liberally applied to Highland Scots at Culloden and in the brutal aftermath with Hanoverian redcoats unremitting campaign of rape and slaughter when forts, roads and bridges were constructed throughout Highland Scotland to more effectively control and repress the population -which they did successfully.

With the Jacobite rebellion suppressed and voices questioning Scotland’s treatment within the Union bludgeoned into silence the malt tax could be imposed without fear. In 1725 some consideration was paid to Scotland’s problems paying the tax and differential taxes were temporarily introduced with Scotland paying 3d to England’s 6d on a bushel of malt. But sixty years on arguments over the government’s unfair treatment of Scotland raged on.

Scots famers resisted the tax by not informing excise officers they were growing barley and refusing them admission to their grain lofts. And for most of them they had the support of local justices of the peace.  The tax led to riots and their brutal suppression which resulted in deaths and transportations. 

The Scots clergy, however, who had been exempted from all taxes on what was grown in their glebes (land attached to manses on which various crops were grown to provide food and income for ministers and perhaps local people) and who had never been charged any malt tax before volunteered to pay nominal sums to prevent more unrest among their countrymen and women. This squirming hypocrisy was seen as betraying the interests of Scotland – that driven by their hatred of Catholicism they were content to support the Protestant Hanoverian monarchy – brought in to keep the Catholic Stuarts out of power.

Not many Scots were in favour of the Union – not that they had any say in the matter and from its inception it was apparent Scotland far from being an equal partner would be subordinated to larger England whose parliament became the Union parliament with all of its traditions retained as if it was still English.

Over half a century after the imposition of the malt tax complaints raged on that Scots were effectively paying twice as much tax as the English.

Here’s a flavour from the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser in 1867 –

‘A certain class of English newspaper writers, and of Englishmen generally, can never be made to understand why Scotsmen should ever speak of Scottish rights, or have any notion beyond being regarded as a somewhat insignificant appendage to England.’

The author referred to the Union as a source of tension between Scotland and England and the levying on taxes imposed by an English-biased parliament. Obviously before the Union Scotland had its taxes and England its own taxes so everyone was happy, or not.

From the Union taxation was decided by what was still regarded as fundamentally the English parliament and the author went on to state that London treated Scotland as if she –

‘were a conquered country, in so far as it (Scotland) has been heavier taxed than the other divisions of the larger and wealthier neighbour.’

The issue of the malt tax still figured among complaints – the annual tax that had become a permanent tax with its detrimental impact on Scotland (and Ireland) – more so than in England. The argument was now less on the quality and value of barley grown in each of the nations than on what barley, or rather its malt, was made into.

Scots and Irish people when not drinking water – remembering that drinking water was often polluted before piped supplies made it into homes (for many that was not until the 20th century) so they drank whisky. In England beer was the national drink. It wasn’t that people drank all day and night but those were the national drinks (tea, coffee and cocoa were expensive luxury imports and the majority of people could not afford to buy them.)

Malt in Scotland and Ireland was used to produce malt spirits – whisky. This didn’t happen in England. Malt spirits or whisky was therefore being taxed by the Exchequer through the malt tax which given whisky’s importance in the diet of Scots and Irish penalised them far more than English consumers.

The consumption of malt and grain spirits in Scotland, England and Ireland for the year ending 31st December 1866 and the revenue derived from them through the duties paid were –

In England 9,515,040 proof gallons; pop c 20 million
In Scotland 7,691,760 proof gallons; pop c 3 million
In Ireland 5,910,061 proof gallons pop c 6 million

The rates of duty were similar in all three countries i.e. 10 shillings per proof gallon making the amount of duty paid in England £4,757,520; in Scotland £3,845,879; in Ireland £2,955,031.

Taking the population of each country into account this worked out per head of population per gallon tax as –

England paid tax of 4 shillings 9 penny
Scotland paid tax of £1- 5 shillings 1 penny.
Ireland paid tax of 10 shillings

Scots were paying far more per head of population than the English. It was said that the English people would not have stood to be treated so unfairly as to pay greater tax than the people of Scotland and Ireland.

‘That any nation should be made to pay at the rate of £1.5.1 a head on a single article of consumption is unparalleled in the annals of taxation, and no Legislature in the world ever made such an unfair and unjust use of its power as has the Parliament of the United Kingdom.’

What would English people say if they were compelled to pay a tax of £1 a head for their ale? They would not stand for it and nor should they. But Scots were being unjustly taxed and their complaints fell on deaf ears inside the parliament in London.

It was argued at the time that if the English were taxed on their national beverage – beer – at the same rate Scots were taxed on their national beverage whisky – high duties on tea and sugar and other commodities which made them too expensive for the majority of the population could be reduced to make them affordable.

From England the argument came that it was a matter of choice what Scots drank and they could drink beer so their complaint of being unfairly taxed did not stand scrutiny. This failed to tackle the question of why one drink in one part of the Union was targeted to be highly taxed while another was not, notably England’s drink.

Given it was the Scottish beverage that was taxed at a higher rate and the tax collected in Scotland in proportion to the population was greater then Scotland should be relieved of the burden of taxation on other taxes, it was argued. Instead Scots paid the penalty of their whisky being targeted for high taxation and were forced to pay the same rate for taxes which were made common across the Union – in essence they were being dealt a double whammy tax obligation.

‘Were the case reversed it would amount to this, that the people of England would pay £20,000,000 more of taxation than they do, and the people of Scotland would pay not more than two fifths of what they at present contribute to the national revenue. This would amount to £1 per head saving in Scotland imposed through the special whisky taxation.’

Suppose, it was asked, that England was a whisky nation and Scotland a beer nation would it be likely the duty on whisky would have been 10 shillings a gallon and no duty on malt liquors i.e. beer? The opposite would be the case it was argued – ‘Englishmen would never have submitted to be taxed £1 a head higher than Scotsmen.’

Why do Scots submit to such gross injustice?

‘We are sometimes taunted as a nation, by English writers, for our inadequate provision for the poor, but the additional taxation wrung from us by a Parliament in which there are nearly eight Englishmen for every one Scotsman would double that provision, and leave the whole of the eight hundred thousand pounds assessed for that purpose in the pockets of ratepayers.’

There were Scots MPs in the London parliament but they were accused of not being much interested in sticking up for Scotland unlike many Irish MPs who argued in the interests of their country. On the subject of the unfair taxation laws Scots MPs were largely silent.

High taxation of malt spirits led to illicit distillation – making their national drink affordable to Scots and so criminalised them.

We no longer have a malt tax as such but whisky is still taxed at high levels – currently around 76% of the price of a bottle of whisky is tax that goes to the Exchequer in London. Every day the London government collects around £9 million from spirit drinkers in the UK.

I suppose the government in London saw it could get away with the malt/whisky tax paid by Scots to enhance the services and infrastructure around London and so when North Sea oil and gas came along in Scottish waters it was a lesson well learned that the Scots could be ripped off without their MPs complaining. And they were right.

Dec 7, 2017

Short-changed: Scotland’s currency a Unit or Unite?

Or minting it in Aberdeen 

rob iii gold lion

Robert III gold lion

Banks have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, again. Can’t remember when it was otherwise. In certain parts of the country such as where I live it’s virtually impossible to find a working bank that doesn’t involve a round trip in a car that takes a good hour and a half or by bus the greater part of a day. It really is like going back more than a century.

Now it appears banks will also remove many cash machines making it all but impossible for folk in rural areas to access their own cash, never mind the difficulties all of this involves for local businesses in depositing takings at the end of each day or for community groups trying to get their hands on change for admission charges to facilities or indeed bank these safely and locally.  

Not so long ago Scotland’s influence over its money supply was greater than now with local banks and even stock exchanges dotted around the country and like now banks issued bank notes but not coins – this ended in Scotland 300 years ago.

Since the Union of 1707 Scotland’s mints along with so much else were consigned to the scrap heap thereby diminishing this nation’s ability to influence her own economy despite Article 16 of the Treaty of Union stipulating that Scotland retain its own mint –

“…a Mint shall be continued in Scotland under the same rules as the Mint in England…”

What happened to that? The Mint at Edinburgh stopped striking coins a mere two years after the Union with an issue of half crowns and shillings in 1709. In 1870 the Coinage Act transferred the nominal role of Governor of the Mint of Scotland to the English Chancellor of the Exchequer in London. Another Coinage Act, this time in 1971 finally extinguished all sign of Scotland’s distinctive currencies when the Chancellor of the Exchequer became the Master of the Mint under Edward Heath (apologies for any unwanted imagery associated with that statement.)

The mint at Aberdeen was one of the earliest Scottish mints. It began during the reign of William the Lion (1165 – 1214) and continued intermittently until the Act of Union. Despite its long existence few Aberdeen coins are extant for coins used to be melted down and the precious metal re-used for new strikes at the behest of the monarch who pocketed the difference between the higher value of old redundant coins and lesser worth replacements. Essentially this was a means of underhand taxation that benefited the monarch while anyone else caught snipping off pieces of coin for its silver value faced gruesome execution. 

We are all too familiar with being short-changed nowadays when using Scottish currency in England but you may be surprised to learn that the foundation of this has legitimate basis for people with long memories. Way back in the 12th and 13th centuries the amount of silver that went into making silver coins or sterlings was reduced from 240 pennies created from one pound of silver to 252 squeezed out by Robert the Bruce’s moneyers compared with 243 around the same time in England.

When David II was held for ransom by the English the Scots paid £40,000 to get him back using silver from which 294 pennies were extracted (and later still a pound was used to produce 352 coins) giving rise to complaints that the exchange was being carried out on the cheap. It has to be said that England did the same whenever cash was required – for example to finance military campaigns or to pay off debts – the medieval equivalent of quantitative easing. Coins were also cut in half or quartered to provide coins of lesser value used along with small value currency such as round half-pennies and farthings (which date from Alexander III.)

hammered silver penny alex iii aberdeen 1250-80

Alexander III silver penny minted in Aberdeen 1250-1280

It’s not known where Aberdeen’s mint was situated. According to one of the city’s 19th C historians, Kennedy, it was in Exchequer Row, but others disagree – in the way a bunch of historians do (worse than ferrets in a sack.) It might be mints from different periods operated in different parts of the town for there was no need for a specific building as little space was required to produce coins – they were made by hand, stamped or hammered from a die imprinted with the design of the coin. Perhaps a furnace was employed to soften pieces of metal to be cut to an appropriate size of disc and weight which were then placed between a two dies – the top one hammered to make the distinctive markings on the new coin. Mechanisation was brought in during 1637 in Scotland with the appointment of French coiner Nicholas Briot as Master of the Scottish Mint.

Naturally, control over the creation of money was tightly regulated. In 1526 the Scottish parliament decreed that –

“feigners and counterfeiters” of the king’s money should be severely punished by which was supposedly hanging, drawing and quartering.

Such a dire threat might have dissuaded some from forgery but not all and a cursory glance back in time shows just how tempting it was to try. In 1566 arrests were made in Aberdeen of individuals accused of bringing in counterfeit or black money called hardheids from Flanders and the town’s commissioners, Robert Crichton and James Millar, were ordered to carry out an investigation which resulted the following year in Andrew Murray, a burgess from Perth, and Patrick Ramsay, a burgess from Dundee, being found guilty and gruesomely executed. In 1594 Scotland’s Privy Council reiterated a ban on foreign currency to reduce the amount of foreign coins circulating, sometimes from legitimate reasons e.g. the old rose noble of England had been temporarily allowed into Aberdeen to pay for English soldiers then barracked in the town.

As I mentioned above control over currency rested with the monarch who appointed moneyers to mint coins and he or she determined the timing of new issues. Sometimes a moneyer’s name was pressed onto coins, adding to confusion over their source for coiners and moneyers were peripatetic and moved about the country following the monarch’s movements and supplied coins where necessary.

Scotland’s own currency, silver pennies, first appeared in the 12th century during the reign of David I. Before then all sorts of currencies were used for trading including Roman, Northumbrian, Viking and Anglo-Saxon which explain why exposed money hoards have often included money from different parts, for example two hoards of Roman silver denari found in 1966 at Birnie, near Elgin in Moray (pronounced Murray as in Andy not moray as in the eel) inside wee leather purses which had been placed in a pot lined with bracken. A couple of centuries ago several purses and bags of money were discovered in Aberdeen which dated from the time of Mary Queen of Scots and these coins carried both her name and that of her husband Francis, Dauphin of France.

mary and francis testoon

Mary and Francis testoon

It was in 1136 then that Scotland’s first coins were minted – in England, or rather that disputed territory of Carlisle. The town had been taken by the Scottish King David and as there were silver mines there along with a mint he put both to good use and had a number of silver coins struck. These first issues looked remarkably like English money but over time Scotland’s currencies grew distinctive. By the reign of James III (1460 – 1488) instead of showing a nominal portrait to represent the monarch Scottish coins featured realistic regal portraits and were by now more comparable with French coinage than English – a hint at the close relationship between Scotland and France. Those from the reign of James III also featured Scotland’s heraldic emblems of the thistle and the wonderful unicorn. The golds were called riders and the silvers were placks.

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Find the unicorn

Edinburgh has long been Scotland’s financial centre and unsurprisingly an important supplier of Scottish currency although it wasn’t until 1527 that a specific building was designated for the mint. Edinburgh was also the last place in Scotland to mint coins after the Union of Parliaments. The Union of Scotland and England was marked by striking a new coin which interestingly acquired similar but different names north and south of the border – known as a unit in Scotland and as a unite in England (make what you will of the subtext of these names.) The unit was silver and worth £12 Scots or £1 sterling (English) and from the time of the Union Scottish currency had to fit in with England’s; both silver and copper.

Aberdeen minted coins were of a slightly more recent vintage than Edinburgh’s but as parliament followed the king around Scotland with the mint in his wake Aberdeen became a centre of production for several years from 1342 when plague ravaged the country encouraging the nobility to head north in hope of escaping it.  

Whenever mention is made of Scotland’s former currencies it’s usually the groat or bawbee which are recalled but there were many other coins circulating here across the centuries including the plack, bodle, pistole, crown, demi-lion, ducat or bonnet, merk or mark, unicorn, half-unicorn, dollar, farthing and ryal as well as half-groats, half-pennies, and half almost anything – produced by cutting a coin in two. Of course not every coin was minted at each new strike and not every mint from the Borders to Inverness produced a range of coinage.

As trade increased so did constraints on currency. Parliament imposed limitations on the movement of money leaving the country. Such a tax in 1331 was set at one shilling in the pound and provided Aberdeen with over £8 duty taken from £160 of its currency which had moved away that year.    

While there are not many extant Aberdeen minted coins some remain. Several turned up in a silver hoard of 12,000 coins unearthed in a 3-legged bronze pot in 1886 in the city’s Upperkirkgate, at Ross’s Court. Most of these 13th and 14th century coins were English pennies along with a number of French Mary Queen of Scots testoons and 113 pennies from the reign of Alexander III but as to where they were minted there is no record and no hint on the coins.

On the subject of things missing several coins from that cache, sixty-two of them, were bought by Queen Victoria including twelve early ones produced under Alexander III, a couple from the time of Robert the Bruce and two from John Balliol’s pretendy reign – they have since disappeared along with several handed over to both the National Collection of Antiquities in Edinburgh and the British Museum. The bulk of the hoard, around 10,000 coins, was returned to Aberdeen city and the University of Aberdeen but again a portion of these have also disappeared.

Aberdeen coins showed the king’s crowned head on the front except for those dating from Alexander III’s time which show an encircled head containing the king’s name and title. The reverse features a long double and single cross with stars, pellets and so on in the angles – and the mint name in a circle. In the case of the groats and half-groats an outer circle included the motto Dominvs Protector Mevs et Liberator Mevs (the protector and liberator) or contractions of it. On the Alexander III penny the coin includes the name of the moneyer, John of Aberdeen (no, not THAT one!)

David II was the first monarch to have groats and half groats minted, the latter marked Vila Aberdon indicating they were struck in Aberdeen. A Robert III groat reads Villa de Aberdein. A rare James II half groat from the Aberdeen hoard has Villa Aberden. Another variation denoting Aberdeen in James III and IV groats is the legend Villa de Abrde. Coins carrying HA were also Aberdeen mints signifying an occasional spelling of Aberdeen as Habirden.

As British banking staggers from crisis to crisis and the ordinary people of this country are the ones to shoulder the burden of bankers’ incompetency and criminality and at a time financial experts warn that the state of the UK banking system is worse than useless for its ability to ride out another storm the likelihood of which is extremely high it is surely time to return to more localised fiscal controls – not dependent on the whims of a monarch but a national bank of Scotland issuing 21st century currency, perhaps the unit.

Nov 3, 2017

There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

Jul 26, 2017

 Archibald White Maconochie: Tinned Fish, Tariff Reform & War – Part 1  

A W Maconochie (2)

Guest blog by Textor

At a time when political rats of all descriptions are scuttling to fight for or against Brexit it’s worth bearing in mind that ghostly shadows of today’s dogmas, bigotries and self interest are to be found in the past. Not because the world never changes, but because the stresses and strains of capitalism presents supporters and opponents of different factions with a limited bag of solutions. Eerily for today the brief party political career of Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) mixed the “common sense” of a businessman, ill-trained in politics, with bellicose aims, scandal, racism and demands for something to be done about unfair international trade.

Ad of 1877

 

 Archibald White Maconochie’s business was canning; putting fish, meat and vegetables into tins as well as preserving fruit and making pickles. In the early 1870s with his older sibling James he became one half of Maconochie Brothers. Based in Lowestoft the firm initially dealt in handling and curing fresh herring; a massive trade in late Victorian Britain and supplied fish to the British and European markets. Business grew and by 1878 the brothers had developed a network of contacts around the British coast and in Ireland. Skippers and their boats were contracted as sole suppliers of herring while at the same time the brothers bought fish on the open market.

Pan Yan Pickle ad

Keeping an eye out for opportunities the brothers turned to food preserving – an industry pioneered by Pasteur’s science of sterilisation and with expanding global urban markets the commercial potential was enormous. The Maconochie Brothers while still curing food by older methods enthusiastically entered the new world of tinned foods so much so that by 1878 they were promoting themselves as The Largest Fish & Meat Preserving Factory in Great Britain. Thriving and struggling to cope with the demand for preserved fish James and Archibald decided to go to the heart of the Scottish herring industry, to the Buchan coast and specifically to Fraserburgh where they built Kinnaird Head Works. There at the factory’s two-acre site literally millions of herring were filleted, cleaned and washed by fifty “girls” and either packed into wooden barrels or preserved and canned using up-to-date scientific methods. Above the fish processing area was the tinplate department where men manufactured cans for the busiest season, July and August. The store had capacity to hold up to 2 million tins. With smooth continuous factory production being one of the keys to the profitability of the new industry the empty tins were carried by a shoot to the processors below. Five herrings were packed into 1lb tins by women and lids were soldered on by men prior to entering high pressure steam vessels for sterilisation. It’s worth noting how important female labour was in this system and how up until mechanisation was introduced the handicraft skills of the tinsmiths were crucial in the early days of the trade.

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Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) was aware of the potential for tinsmiths to hobble his business for he knew these skilled men could withdraw labour at the height of landings, and with herring being highly perishable there was a real threat of losing fish, losing profits and customers shifting to competitors. This could be managed either by introducing new technology or taking a hard line with workers. In 1888 at Lowestoft the extent of AWM’s enthusiasm for stopping fractious labour showed when he grabbed tinsmith David Brown by the throat, knocking him down with the apparent intention of strangling him and shouting I’ll have the life out of you yet. Violence was his negotiating stance when workmen had the temerity to question the rate of work and the tools supplied for soldering. The boss was charged with assault and at the Police Court he was found guilty and  fined £2 with the option of one month imprisonment. He chose to pay the fine. But the Maconochie Brothers had the last laugh as they vindictively sued men who walked out in sympathy at the Lowestoft factory at the time of the assault. The company claimed men had broken a legal contract and that under the conditions of the Employers’ and Workmen’s Act of 1875 they, the company, were entitled to £10 compensation from each of the six men pursued. In the event the firm was awarded £1 damages from each man with the tinsmiths also forfeiting two days wages. Not difficult to see who came out of this affair least affected.

An endnote to this tale is that machinery had been developed in the 1870s to put lids on tins which removed one component of the canning process to semi-skilled status. This was not enough for AWM and in 1901 he still fretted over the canning operation and eventually came up with a machine for beading tin lids and so doing away with the need for soldering. With a single operator the mechanism could manufacture 2500 containers per day but this was further improved by his design of a 4-man operated beader which could deliver 6000 tin an hour. These machines he said gave the edge to employers and tinsmiths could no longer hold up the trade.

Maconochie's Ad 2

And trade was not held up. The world became the company’s marketplace especially countries of the empire and as provisioning of British military forces became a necessity Maconochie found the State an enthusiastic customer for his products. Late Victorian imperialist wars were fed by Maconochie and what better to supply the troops than rations with a shelf life of at least two years. According to Baden-Powell

With morale and Maconochie the British soldier can go anywhere and do anything.

 “Maconochie” had become a global brand  Unsurprisingly when Archibald Maconochie turned to politics the problems of the British Empire were central to his campaign.   

Political cartoon AWJ election Sept 26 1900 p.7

It was the General Election of 1900 that achieved a small political profile for AWM when he was elected to represent the constituency of East Aberdeenshire. He’d stood on a Liberal Unionist  platform against the sitting Liberal member T. R. Buchanan a man who favoured Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland agenda. In Maconochie’s eyes Irish Members of Parliament, and by extension their supporters, through their demand for Home Rule threatened the very existence of Britain and its empire (it seems that his anti-Irish bias extended to him having a condition in his will that should any of his sons marry a Catholic they would forfeit their inheritance.) As much as he loathed home rulers it was not this that brought him to politics but the more immediate and bloody struggle being fought out in southern Africa, the Boer War. Fought essentially over who would control the area’s goldfields and get access to the strategically important ports round the Cape this, the final war of Victoria’s reign, was a sure indication of mounting international tensions which divided liberals such as Buchanan and socialists like Keir Hardie from bellicose defenders of the rights to empire.

Maconochie fell into the pro-war camp and found a ready supporter in Aberdeen’s conservative paper the Daily Journal. However, regardless of the fact that his business was selling vast amounts of tinned food to the army it would be wrong to attribute his support solely to self-interest. Like so many others of the time his notion of what was best for Britain inextricably linked business and politics with Britain bringing civilisation and some form of material well-being to the rest of the world: plant the flag and let business follow and so native populations could be given proper  “care and protection”. He believed what he described as the Anglo-Saxon race had a great and heavy responsibility. If we look at the way Maconochie treated his own white labour, from direct assault to paternalism, we can conclude how he thought the colonised should be handled. Archibald had in fact a very straight forward way of addressing politics. Sophisticated notions of negotiation, of moral authority and international law were beyond him. In his view all government required was application of business principles to the nation’s affairs.

Maconochie Accident APJ Aug 22 1903

Mr A W Maconochie, MP, had a nasty motor spill on his way to political meetings at Tarves and Methlick last Saturday. The Liberals of East Aberdeenshire are doing their best to effect another spill later on.

 Britain was not alone in the imperial chauvinist dream; Germany and France in particular envied and challenged her as the then premier world power. Archibald Maconochie recognised these growing threats; to take an anti-war position was to open the door to competitors. The only way of confronting commercial-political enemies he said, was the extension of the Empire in order to keep open markets for British trade. Supporters of AWM stressed his local connections and in particular the hundreds employed at the Fraserburgh works pointing to the fact that full employment meant no need for a soup kitchen in the town. Addressing electors Maconochie said Boers needed to be defeated, integrated and made part and parcel of our Imperial Empire. His rival the anti-war Liberal Buchanan fought to retain his seat but he was denounced for his support for Home Rule as giving succour to the enemy and of not supporting troops who were dying on the battlefields of the Transvaal and despite Aberdeen’s liberal newspaper the People’s Journal condemning AWM for having no other platform than being anti-Boer Buchanan lost the election by 73 votes.

In local terms this was a big event as liberalism had long been backed by the area’s agricultural and fishing electorate. The conservative Press was ecstatic; Maconochie had broken the evil tradition of Aberdeenshire Radicalism. In Fraserburgh Kinnaird Head Works declared a half-holiday and workers marched through the streets shouting Maconochie forever. We can imagine that the local anti-war and pro-labour voters were all but silenced at the unionist success but we can only wonder what they thought when in the midst of Fraserburgh celebrations the new Member of Parliament found eager workers willing to unhitch horses from his carriage and yoke themselves to draw Maconochie to his factory. It is undoubtedly the case that Archibald’s victory was down to his opposition to the Boers and defence of British troops then dying on the veld. Fourteen years later a similar febrile, pro-empire mood also had men swarming to the flag.

1900

Columbia to Britannia: You mustn’t mind those noisy boys of mine, it’s election time. May 16 1900

Maconochie’s anti-Boer view reached fever-point in 1901 when he told the good folks of New Deer that it was for every man to do his utmost to support the Government . . . If a man encouraged the enemy he was no patriot, and was not fit to live among us . . . kid gloves must be taken off and war ended as speedily as possible a sentiment endorsed by the editor of the Daily Journal who described Radicals as a cause of humiliation and shame to Scotchmen in all parts of the world. Addressing constituents at Strichen AWM went so far as to sympathise with the view that anybody expressing support for the Boers should be shot.

 With the end of the Boer War in 1902 the central plank of Maconochie’s platform fell away. He was a bit like Donald Trump left with a rag-bag of opinions and prejudices which mingled commercial instrumentalism with half-digested economic theory. For example on taking his seat in Parliament he was astonished at how backward and hidebound by tradition the process of parliamentary voting was, with walking in and out of yes-no lobbies. This he said could be made easier, more efficient by giving each member electric bells to register approval or disapproval of motions resulting in more or less instantaneous results. In a similar rejection of tradition AWM wanted to throw out aspects of the humanist education syllabus in particular he saw no need for Greek and Latin to be taught. These languages served little purpose in a world of competitive commerce he claimed, better that students spoke German and French. Maconochie did fall in with fellow liberals in his support for old age pensions and as for trade unions he judged them okay so long as they did not actually interfere with employer’s right to set the rates of production. Too often, he said, unions were implicated in ca-canny policies, robbing management of its rights and undermining competitiveness. In other words they might be fine as friendly societies but unacceptable if they challenged the distribution of property and economic power.

MB ad 1877

As manager of a business with international reach Maconochie’s view of the world was saturated with notions of competition. He saw the world in terms of struggles, between firms, between nations and also a social-Darwinist hierarchy of racial division. And there’s no doubt that he was correct to identify deepening international competition as being profoundly important to the well-being of the British Empire. Times were changing, the historical advantage industrial and commercial Britain once had was under threat. Across the pond the USA had emerged as a growing power with its state providing protection to some home-grown industries. In Europe Germany in particular was aggressively pursuing industrialisation and colonisation with the intention of promoting what it regarded as its national right. In Britain these antagonisms highlighted the need for an active and even aggressive defence of national interest. Private capitalism and state institutions were in deep embrace, or as Archibald put it trade followed the flag, for trade was sustained by the flag, and the trade led the flag. So it was with some prescience he predicted that this competition would lead to war with Germany.

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Planting the flag

Part 2 to follow

The demonisation of foreign workers; the emergence of the Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company; dodgy war rations; continuing xenophobia- Chinese, European Jews and threat to the Empire.

Mar 7, 2017

The Transportation of Angus Gillies

Angus Gillies from Inverness-shire was convicted of simple larceny (theft) at the Old Bailey in London in February 1845 and sentenced to seven years transportation.

Punsihment-of-convicts

I don’t know what attracted Angus Gillies to make the long journey south into England but he worked for a time in the household of a Dr Dowler, as a carer for a man described at the time as ‘a lunatic’. Dr Dowler’s cook and housekeeper, Mary Lewis, and Gillies struck up a relationship and together they planned to open a coffee-shop which was to prove the undoing of Gillies when he was accused of stealing fifteen £10 bank notes and three £5 bank notes which Mary Lewis had withdrawn from a bank to pay for the business.

Full of anticipation the pair set off to check out the property and settle the payment. Mary picked up her money – notes and a little in gold coin when Gillies suggested she let him carry the money –  “You had better hand over that money to me, as I have had the paying of the other money, and I will pay it” – he had earlier paid a deposit of £5.

Bangalore first of migrant ships

Bangalore is on extreme left

Mary Lewis replied, “Well, Mr Gillies, as you had the paying of the other, I suppose you will have the paying of this” and so she gave him notes worth £165 which he slipped into his pocket-book and off they went to the coffee-shop on Ludgate Hill. Satisfied with the premises they were shown into a back room to settle the deal but no sooner had they sat down when Gillies jumped up stating, “I have lost my book.”

Mary Lewis replied, “That is impossible.”

He said, “Then I have dropped it from my pocket in your room; give me your key to go back and look for it.”

She handed over the key to her room and Gillies went out returning within the hour to report he found no sign of the money. Mary Lewis insisted it was impossible the money could have been lost as they had gone straight to the coffee shop from her home. Gillies then urged her to return to the Glyn and Co bank and get from them the numbers of the bank notes paid out to her so they might be stopped.

shippppp

Onboard a convict ship

After this Gillies proposed marriage to Mary Lewis but when their marriage banns were put up he disappeared and that was the last she saw of him until his appearance in the dock of the Old Bailey charged with larceny.

In court as a witness was Janet Gillies, Angus’s cousin. She had travelled all the way from Inverness-shire and as Janet spoke only Gaelic her evidence was relayed through an interpreter. She told the court she saw Gillies at her home a few days before Christmas the previous year when he gave her a bundle of money and asked her to take care of it. In turn she gave the money to Angus MacDonald, a magistrate in Inverness-shire, for safe-keeping. For whatever reason MacDonald passed the money on to Andrew Wyness, a police constable, who was also a witness in court having arrested Angus Gillies at his home in Inverness-shire on the 29th December 1844.

Thirty-five year old Angus Gillies was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land on the 3rd February, 1845.

prison-hulk-discovery

Convict hulk

Gillies was duly put on to one of the very many ships that sailed non-stop delivering their cargoes of criminals to whichever part of the British Empire there was a need to for their labour, far away from families. The majority of this human cargo was composed mainly of the impoverished and desperate among Britain’s population and the trade was a major source of income for shipping companies. Whether or not the transported could ever return to their homes was of no interest to the British authorities.

One of the ships on the Britain to Australia route was Angelina which makes it sound rather nice. In April 1844 she set sail with 171 prisoners stuffed into her hold and docked in Australia in August – four months of incarceration in crampt and unhealthy conditions all the time the distance stretching between the ship and home. Disease and death cut many a sentence short.   

I didn’t expect to find any record of Angus Gillies’ transportation but such is the magic of the internet that is precisely what I did – not in Australia but in the year 1848 – three years after his transportation order from the court – he was at last en route for Van Diemen’s Land on board a wood barque, the Jersey-built Bangalore, along with 203 fellow prisoners sailing from Bermuda.

In 1823 Parliament passed an Act permitting the courts to send their British and Irish convicts to any of Britain’s colonies to provide free labour. Times had become harder for the Britain’s capitalists anxious to squeeze every ounce of profit out of the Empire once slavery was abolished in 1806 -although they kept the trade going until 1833. Over the next forty years 9,000 were transported from Britain and Ireland to Bermuda and put to work mainly on the island’s naval dockyard – quarrying the local limestone and constructing a breakwater, similar to the construction of a prison to provide prisoners for forced labour to construct a breakwater at Peterhead in northeast Scotland.

bermuda 1862

Convict hulks and ships of the British fleet at Bermuda

Seven old hulks were moored off Bermuda to house prisoners many of whom had been given shortish sentences such as Gillies’ with his seven years for larceny. The hulks were steaming hot in summer and freezing cold in winter and were breeding-ground for disease – dysentery, consumption bronchitis and all manner of fevers.

It was easy to become a convict in 19th century Britain and Ireland when people lived in unimaginable poverty and starvation was ever-present. The 1840s was the period of the worst of Ireland’s famines when food grown in that country was carted past hungry men, women and children – food they could not afford to buy and which was being taken to the ports to be exported to England. Anyone caught stealing was arrested, tried and transported.  

jersey

Whatever happened to Angus Gillies once he landed in Australia on 14th July 1848 I have not been able to discover. Did he ever get back to Inverness-shire and his family? Perhaps someone out there knows.

Jun 7, 2015

Picture of the Month: Darkened Figure by Anthony Scullion

Anthony Scullion Darkened Figure

Anthony Scullion Darkened Figure

Anthony Scullion’s figurative paintings are ethereal and mysterious. To me his subdued palette emphasises a profound sadness that haunts the people that populate his canvases.

Sketchily drawn figures move silently across his pictures, oblivious to the viewer, intent on activities we cannot even guess at, absorbed in their own worlds, or else gaze out, their stare seldom engaging with us.

His figures are like characters from a play or people inhabiting a parallel universe that seems consumed by conspiracy or anxieties – victimised and vulnerable and to me reminiscent of Goya although he is influenced by the ‘chiaroscuro of Rembrandt and the spirituality of Giacometti and distortions of Francis Bacon’.

This Scottish artist, born in East Kilbride, studied at Glasgow School of Art in 1992.

Darkened figure oil on canvas

This monochrome study of a female drawn entirely in black emerges from a greyish-white background exudes mystery and contemplation. The girl’s downcast eyes suggest her uncertainty, her vulnerability, that makes it uneasy for the viewer staring at her as if we’re intruding into her thoughts.