Untold lives blog

16 posts categorized "Australasia"

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

On 3 February 1908 the Swansea Empire was offering a varied bill of entertainment – music, magic, comedy, ventriloquism, the American Bioscope, and La Freya ‘The Parisian Beauty, in a Novel Speciality’.

Theatre bill for Swansea February 1908South Wales Daily Post 3 February 1908 British Newspaper Archive

 

La Freya was a French vaudeville performer whose act consisted of ‘artistic visions and superb poses’.  She appeared at theatres the length and breadth of Britain between the years 1907 and 1915.  In 1909 she was on the bill at the Euston Theatre of Varieties which stood opposite St Pancras Station, a stone’s throw from the British Library’s present site.  

 
 
Euston Theatre of VarietiesEuston Theatre of Varieties from The Era 16 June 1900 British Newspaper Archive 

Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties April 1909Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties from Music Hall And Theatre Review 2 April 1909

Taking the stage, La Freya stood on a podium in front of a black velvet curtain, dressed in a thin white silk body suit.  Her body was used as a screen.  She adopted a variety of poses as her husband projected lantern slides he had painted to ‘clothe’ her.  The ‘Decors Lumineux of Mr La Freya’ transformed her into visions such as a fairy, a butterfly, a mermaid, a gondolier, and a Scottish Highlander in full warpaint. 
  Full-length portrait photograph of La Freya

Portrait photograph of La Freya by Antoni Esplugas - Government of Catalonia, National Archive of Catalonia courtesy of  Europeana

La Freya and her husband had developed the act when they were working at the Folies Bergère in Paris.  The act lasted for ten minutes and the strain of standing still made La Freya sick when she first performed it.  She overcame this, although the lights continued to hurt her eyes.

The couple went to England intending to stay for just one season but ended up staying for several years, apparently because their management would not let them leave.  However La Freya and her husband did travel abroad for short seasons.  For example, from September to December 1910 they were in the United States, captivating audiences in New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 via findmypast Copyright: 'Fair Use' allowed (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

They sailed to South Africa in June 1911 with other performers to fulfil engagements with Sydney Hyman at the Empire in Johannesburg.  By September La Freya was back on the London stage.

In June 1912 ‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were passengers on SS Medina to Australia.  They appeared in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane and the act was well-received.  A special tableau was created – the personification of Australia with Sydney Town Hall in the background.

The Australian press was keen to interview the couple.  La Freya spoke to journalists in English with her husband acting as interpreter.  She came from the south of France and her husband, identified as Monsieur La Mort, from Paris.  The Sydney Sunday Times  published a special illustrated feature on La Freya’s fitness regime, with advice on how to achieve a corsetless figure through ten or fifteen minutes’ exercise every day.

‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were bound by contracts for two more years and were aiming to make as much money as possible.  Then they planned to retire whilst La Freya was still a big name in vaudeville.  She wanted to concentrate on setting up a house and garden in the south of France, whilst her husband intended to shoot and fish.

It seems that La Freya disappears from the newspapers in early 1915.  So did she retire to lead a quiet life far away from the public gaze?  Can anyone tell me what happened to ‘the most perfectly formed woman in the universe’?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
Trove newspapers from Australia
Anita Callaway, Visual ephemera – Theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia (2000)

 

09 January 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part One: the diary of a Jewish refugee confined by Britain

This blog is the first of a series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

In 1940, Winston Churchill ordered what he later referred to as ‘a deplorable and regrettable mistake’: the internment of men and women living in Britain from enemy countries.  This included Germans, Austrians, and Italians; among them were refugees who had fled Nazi persecution, including Jews.  One was nineteen-year-old Konrad Eisig, whose diary of internment on the Isle of Man and his voyage to Australia on HMT Dunera is held by the British Library.

The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man – Add MS 89025 Noc

Konrad had escaped Germany on the eve of the War, settling in Leicester.  When he applied to travel to the Lake District for a holiday, the police showed up at his door in May 1940 to detain him. He entered the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man in June.  He worked as a cook, attended numerous classes, and was involved with the camp university and youth organisation. Writing to his girlfriend, he exclaimed: ‘I want to see you, I want to be free!…but we shall come together again.  We must’.

However, Konrad was transported to Australia on HMT Dunera, setting sail on 10 July.  The voyage was horrific, with more than 2500 men on board, 1000 over capacity - Jewish refugees, Nazis, prisoners of war, and Italian refugees who survived the sinking of the Arandora Star.  Konrad reported that British soldiers ‘robbed and plundered us’.  Detainees were kept in a hold which was not big enough, and were only allowed ten minutes of air and exercise each day.  One man committed suicide by jumping overboard.  Another was thrown down the stairs by soldiers for not taking his wedding ring off quickly enough, and another ‘got a bayonet into his back’ for daring to ask for permission to keep his prayer book.

The seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT DuneraThe seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT Dunera – Add MS 89025 Noc

A torpedo missed the Dunera by only 50-100 yards two days after setting sail.  The ship eventually arrived in Australia in September.  The internees were well treated by the Australians, who quickly realised most of the men were not the evil Nazis they had been expecting.  The men were taken to Hay, New South Wales, which was ‘much better than we expected’, though the climate was a vast change from England and Germany!  Konrad again attended many classes ‘in order to leave as little time for thinking as was at all possible’.

Konrad’s diary finishes abruptly on 1 August 1941.  The fear of German invasion by Nazis disguised as refugees had died down, and arrangements were being made for refugees to return.  Joining the Pioneer Corps gave priority.  However Konrad was disdainful of this option: ‘it is an insult, a crime against all justice’.  It appears that he waited for a later ship.

The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy – Add MS 89025  Noc

Konrad had escaped persecution but then been unjustly incarcerated where he thought himself safe.  He says: ‘We were called “Refugees from Nazi Oppression”, we were used as England’s best advertisement.  Then suddenly “Intern the damned fifth columnists” and here we are’.

The diary covers a variety of themes: justice, mental health, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and more.  It gives a unique insight into an experience which has not received much attention, reminding us that the War affected innocent refugees, even in Britain.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further reading:
Add MS 89025 – Letter diary of Konrad Eisig's voyage on HMT Dunera and his internment in Australia
Cyril Pearl, The Dunera Scandal: Deported by Mistake (1983).
Rachel Pistol, Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA (2017).

 

05 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 2

We left George Byworth in Tasmania working as a merchant officer on sealing voyages.

Back in London, his father Thomas died in 1837.  His will left everything to George’s mother Mary.  She carried on with the watch-making business in Lambeth with her son Thomas.

We know that George returned to England at some point, because on 24 October 1844 he married Amelia Webb in Camberwell.  He described himself as a master mariner of Old Kent Road.  Nineteen-year-old Amelia came from Binfield in Berkshire.

View of Singapore with ships at anchorView of Singapore with ships at anchor from Pieter Harme Witkamp, De Aardbol (Amsterdam, 1839) Shelfmark 10002.g.16-19. BL flickr Noc 

The couple were soon travelling.  Their son George Alfred was born in October 1845 and baptised in March 1847 in Singapore.  In June 1847 George was the master of the Antaris sailing from Singapore to Port Jackson with a general cargo.  His wife and son were passengers on the ship.  Sons Donald Campbell and William Wordsworth Russell, were born in Sydney in July 1847 and April 1849.  Four more children were born in Tasmania between 1851 and 1858: Mary Ann Louisa, Amelia Frances, Edith Constance Burnell, and Loughlin Alan.

George’s mother Mary died in 1853.  She left the business premises and equipment to her son Thomas.  Household goods and other personal effects were shared equally between her sons George, John and Thomas.  She named her friend Henry Vandyke of the Marine Society as her executor but he renounced probate in favour of Thomas. An intriguing link to the Marine Society!

In 1854 George changed careers and became licensee of the British Hotel in George Town, Tasmania.   He advertised in his local paper, the Cornwall Chronicle:
‘GEORGE BYWORTH (late Master Mariner) has great pleasure in making known to the public at large, and particularly to families who visit George Town for health and recreation, that he has obtained a license for the BRITISH FAMILY HOTEL, where will be found accommodation for families and parties, of the most agreeable nature, and at moderate remunerative charges. G. B. will devote himself to ensure the comfort of all persons who favour him with their patronage’.

George Town, TasmaniaGeorge Town, Tasmania from Francis Russell Nixon, The Cruise of the Beacon: a narrative of a visit to the Islands in Bass's Straits (London, 1857) Shelfmark 10498.aa.7. BL flickr Noc

However in September 1857 George Byworth, licensed victualler, was declared insolvent.  By July 1859 the Cornwall Chronicle was reporting the destitute state of the family.  George was desperate to find work and, even though he had ‘seen better days’, he was very willing to accept ‘humble employment’.  Local people raised money for the Byworths and donated clothing, flour, tea, sugar, wood and coal.  Amelia was given help to open a milliner’s shop. 

Launceston, TasmaniaLaunceston, Tasmania from Élisée Reclus, The Earth and its Inhabitants (London, 1878) Shelfmark 10005.ff. BL flickrNoc

The next blow was Amelia’s death from dropsy in October 1862.  George tried to earn a living by running evening classes in navigation, and then expanded this into a commercial and nautical school offering ‘an English education’.  But in 1869 the seven-roomed cottage in Launceston he had occupied was advertised for letting, and his household goods were put up for auction – ‘Piano, table, chairs, bedstead, cooking utensils, and quantity of sundries’.

Things weren’t going well for the Byworth family in London either.  In 1869 George’s brother Thomas was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour for receiving stolen goods.

In September 1870 George Byworth entered the Launceston Invalid Depôt, a government-run institution for the sick and poor.  He was unable to work but left in March 1872 at his own request.  George died in Launceston on 20 October 1876 at the age of 69 after a life full of incident.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Trove newspapers
British Newspaper Archive

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

03 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

We met George Byworth in our story about the East India Company and Marine Society boys.  He was given as an example of a boy apprentice who made good of the opportunity offered by the Marine Society.  Here we look at his interesting life in more detail.

George was born in London, the son of watchmaker Thomas Byworth and his wife Mary.  His baptism record at St James Clerkenwell from March 1807 gives his date of birth as 23 February 1807.  This tallies with the age given on his death certificate.  However records from the Marine Society and the Board of Trade say George was 14 in March 1823 and 15½ in September 1824, suggesting he was born in 1809.  Why the discrepancy?

Sailor Boy on the lookoutSailor boy on the look-out from Mark James Barrington Ward, The Round World (London, 1890) Shelfmark 10004.f.7.  BL flickr  Noc

From March 1823 to May 1824 George served in the East India Company ship Scaleby Castle on a voyage to Bombay and China.  He sailed with nine other Marine Society boys, one of whom fell overboard and drowned.  They were paid a monthly wage of 10s. 

List of Marine Society Boys on the Scaleby CastleList of Marine Society boys from IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle Noc

Captain David Rae Newall’s journal of the voyage sheds light on how vulnerable these young boys were.  On 1 April 1823 seaman Thomas Barnes was confined in irons for making attempts ‘to commit an unnatural crime on some of the Marine Society Boys’.  On 13 August 1823 a court of enquiry found seaman James Russel guilty of an ‘unnatural attempt’ upon George Byworth.  Russel had a cut on the back of his hand which George said he had made with his knife.  Russel was punished with three dozen lashes.

 In September 1824 George was bound as a merchant navy apprentice to William Shepherd for four years.  He petitioned the East India Company in September 1827 to be granted free mariner’s indentures for India.  This was approved and he spent some time in Calcutta as a merchant officer in the intra-Asia or ‘country’ trade.

George then based himself in Australia undertaking convict and sealing voyages.  Questioned about provisions on sealing vessels in 1834, he described an allowance of pork, bread, flour, coffee, sugar and spirits, supplemented by gathered food such as fish, penguin eggs and petrels.

Map of KerguelenMap of Kerguelen from John Nunn, Narrative of the Wreck of the 'Favourite' on the Island of Desolation (London, 1850) Shelfmark 10460.e.23. BL flickr  Noc

In March 1832 George was the chief officer in the Adelaide when she was sent to Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, to rescue five shipwrecked men.  The Adelaide met with Captain Alexander Distant who reported that he had already taken the men to St Helena.  George went on board Distant’s ship for some supplies but a violent gale prevented him from returning to the Adelaide.  He was obliged to sail with Distant to St Helena.

View of St Helena from the seaView of St Helena from the sea from John Charles Melliss, St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island (London, 1875) Shelfmark 10096.gg.15.  BL flickr Noc

On 14 August 1833 George wrote to the Governor of St Helena telling his story and asking to be paid the cost of clothing provided by Captain Distant plus the rate allowed by the British government to wrecked mariners.  The St Helena Council granted him a daily allowance of 1s 6d.   George wrote again on 9 September expressing his thanks for the island’s kindness, and asking for £12 for his passage on the Lord Hobart to the Cape of Good Hope where he could pick up a ship to return to Tasmania.  The East India Company was repaid George’s expenses by the Admiralty in March 1834.

Part 2 will tell what happened next!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle and IOR/L/MAR/B/34DD Pay Book of Scaleby Castle.
IOR/B/180 pp.398, 406 Petition of George Byworth to the East India Company to be granted free mariner’s indentures September 1827.
The National Archives BT 150/1 Merchant Navy apprenticeship September 1824.
IOR/G/9/24 Cape Factory Records.
IOR/G/32/96 St Helena Factory Records.
Trove newspapers.
Thierry Jean-Marie Rousset, ‘Might is Right’. A study of the Cape Town/Crozets elephant seal oil trade (1832–1869). A dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Historical Studies. Faculty of the Humanities University of Cape Town. 2011.

 

11 April 2019

The Well-Travelled Goat

On 4 April 1772, the obituary of a goat appeared in the London publication The Craftsman.  On 27 February 1772 the celebrated Dr Samuel Johnson wrote to Joseph Banks through Sir Joshua Reynolds:
Sir,
I return thanks to you and Dr. Solander for the pleasure which I received in yesterday’s conversation.  I could not recollect a motto for your Goat, but have given her a distich.  You, Sir, may perhaps have an epic poem, from some happier pen, than that of, Sir, Your most humble Servant,
Sam Johnson

Head of a goatGoat from Walter Dwight Wilcox, Camping in the Canadian Rockies (New York, 1896)  Noc
BL flickr 

The note included two lines in Latin about the goat, translated by Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell:
In fame scarce second to the nurse of Jove,
This Goat, who twice the world had traversed round,
Deserving both her master’s care and love,
Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.

Rumour has it that Banks had the Latin lines engraved on a silver collar that the goat wore following her retirement at Greenwich, where she became something of an attraction.  Why did a goat merit such attention?

In the goat’s obituary, we read that she had indeed 'been twice round the world, first in the Dolphin, Captain Wallis, then in the Endeavour, Captain Cook'.  The Dolphin’s visit to Tahiti in 1767 was the first recorded by a European ship.  She sounds like a robust animal from this account in The Scots Magazine of 1773:
In a very few minutes an active bold spirited youth ascended the ship … and many of his companions followed his example. As one of them was standing near the gangway a goat belonging to the ship, gave him a butt upon the breech, which greatly alarmed him : looking round to discover his enemy, he observed the goat standing on its haunches ready for another assault … the poor fellow instantly jumped overboard … and … all the rest soon followed.

Attack on the Dolphin by natives of Otaheite Attack on the Dolphin by natives of Otaheite Add. 23921, f.5 Noc
Images Online  

Following Wallis’s reports of Tahiti on his return to Britain, the island was chosen as a site for the Royal Society’s global astronomical project.  The plan was to observe the planet Venus passing across the face of the sun to estimate the size of the solar system.  This was James Cook’s first objective when HMB Endeavour sailed to Tahiti from Plymouth in 1768, with the indomitable goat aboard.  An anonymous letter following the Endeavour’s return, published in The Gentleman’s and London Magazine, explained the goat’s importance:
Before I conclude, I must not omit how highly we have been indebted to a milch goat: she was three years in the West Indies, and was once round the world before in the Dolphin, and never went dry the whole time; we mean to reward her services in a good English pasture for life.

Did this hardy well-travelled goat inspire Cook in his distribution of breeding pairs of animals, including goats, on his later voyage in the Resolution?  The Arapaoa Island goats of Aotearoa New Zealand are believed by many to trace their origins to Cook, based on evidence in Cook’s journals and in an account of the voyage by scientist Georg Forster, who was also on the Resolution.  If so, this would be yet another reason to celebrate her.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Anonymous. 'An Authentic Account of the Natives of Otahitee, or George’s Island; together with some of the Particulars of the three Years Voyage lately made by Mr Banks and Dr Solander, in the years 1768, 1769, and 1770. Being the Copy of an original Letter from __ ___on board the Endeavour, to His friend in the Country', The Gentleman's and London Magazine, 1771, Volume 41 pages 496-499. British Library RB.23.a.15626,
‘An Epitome of Captain Wallis’s Voyage’, The Scots Magazine 1 November 1773, volume xxxv, page 580. British Newspaper Archive available online at the British Library. Also published in The Gentleman’s Magazine 43, 1773.
Boswell, James. Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson. William Andrews & Lemuel Blake Propose to Publish by Subscription, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Etc. (Extracts from the Monthly Review, Published in London.). 1807. British Library DRT Digital Store 10855.d.10,
Forster, Georg. A Voyage round the World, in His Britannic Majesty's Sloop Resolution, Commanded by Captain J. Cook, during the Years 1772, 3, 4 and 5. 1777. British Library 1472.d.3.
Johnson, Samuel, and Redford, Bruce. The Letters of Samuel Johnson / Edited by Bruce Redford. Vol.1, 1731-1772. Hyde ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. British Library ZC.9.a.3886
Marquardt, Karl Heinz. Captain Cook's Endeavour / Karl Heinz Marquardt. Rev. ed. Anatomy of the Ship. London: Conway Maritime, 2001 British Library LB.31.b.23843
O'Brian, Patrick. Joseph Banks. Collins Harvill, 1988. British Library YK.1988.a.2588
Sutherland, Alison. No Ordinary Goat – The Story of New Zealand’s Arapawa Goats. New Zealand Arapawa Goat Association, 2016

 

26 March 2019

A Melancholy Death on James Cook’s first Pacific expedition – Private William Greenslade

After a voyage to the Pacific in HMB Endeavour lasting almost three years, James Cook arrived back in England in 1771.  By then more than 40 of the ship’s company had died, most from diseases caught on the way back in the Dutch colonial city of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia).  This death, among the voyage’s first, was not, however, from natural causes.

The ship Endeavour at seaSydney Parkinson, 'The Endeavour at sea' from Sketches made in Captain Cook’s First Voyage 1768-1771. © British Library. Add.Ms.9345f.16v Images Online

Private William Greenslade was one of twelve marines serving under Sergeant John Edgcumb.  Barely 21 years of age, quiet and industrious, Greenslade disappeared overboard on 26 March 1769, as the Endeavour was within days of its destination – Tahiti.  Both Cook and the young botanist Joseph Banks describe the events retrospectively and second hand.  As Cook noted, 'I was niether made acquainted with the Theft or the circumstances attending it untill the Man was gone'.

According to the accounts of Cook and Banks, Greenslade had shame heaped upon him by his fellow marines and Sergeant Edgcumb for having stolen a piece of sealskin in his care.  The sealskin acquired in Tierra del Fuego was prized for making waterproof bags to protect tobacco.  Banks appears to have concluded it was suicide, sure that Greenslade 'was drove to the rash resolution by an accident so trifling that it must appear incredible to every body who is not well accquainted with the powerfull effects that shame can work upon young minds'.  Cook was not quite so so sure, writing that his disappearance overboard might have been 'either by Accident or design', although he too agreed that 'circumstances makes it appear as tho it was done designedly'.

However Banks's description opens up opportunities to speculate about the role of the other marines, especially Sergeant Edgcumb, opportunities that Martin Dugard explores fully in Farther Than Any Man.  We learn from Banks that the sealskin was in the charge of one of Cook’s servants, possibly Thomas Mathews, who had promised to make tobacco pouches for several of the men.  Greenslade’s requests for one had been refused several times.  While Greenslade was on duty outside the Great Cabin around noon, Cook’s servant had been called away hurriedly, leaving the sealskin with the young marine.  The temptation apparently proved too much to resist, and he cut a piece from it to make his own tobacco pouch.  When the servant immediately discovered the theft on his return, he decided not to raise it with the officers “for so trifling a cause”.  The marines, however, had other ideas.

Sergeant Edgcumb “declard that if the person acgreivd would not complain, he would”,  and resolved to take the matter to the captain, for the honour of the marines.  Between the noonday theft and around seven in the evening, the marines “drove the young fellow almost mad by representing his crime in the blackest coulours as a breach of trust of the worst consequence”.  When Edgcumb ordered the young marine to follow him up on deck, Greenslade slipped away and was seen no more.  It was half an hour before Edgcumb reported him missing, by which time there was no chance of a rescue.

For Dugard, there is enough in these accounts to speculate whether Greenslade had been deliberately set up with the temptation to steal and driven to suicide.  Whatever the truth, young William Greenslade holds a melancholy place in the records of Cook’s first Pacific voyage.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Banks’s Journal Entry  
Cook’s Journal Entry
Cook, James, Beaglehole, J. C., Davidson, James Wightman, Skelton, R. A., Williamson, James Alexander, and Hakluyt Society. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Edited from the Original Manuscripts by J.C. Beaglehole with the Assistance of J.A. Williamson, J.W. Davidson and R.A. Skelton, Etc. Extra Series (Hakluyt Society); No. 34-37. (Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1955.) British Library Shelfmark: Open Access Manuscripts Reading Room MSL 912.09
Dugard, Martin. Farther than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook. (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2001.) British Library Shelfmark General Reference Collection YA.2002.a.15416

 

06 September 2018

Murray the Escapologist

It is not unusual when looking through archives to find something unexpected.  This entertaining leaflet for Murray the Australian Escapologist was among the private papers of Sir John Gilbert Laithwaite, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943.  It was in a file of brochures and pamphlets he had collected on his various tours of India.

Advert for Murray the EscapologistIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur F138/57


Born in 1901 in Melbourne with the exhausting full name of Leo Norman Maurien Murray Stuart Carrington Walters, he not surprisingly shortened it for his stage act to Murray the Escapologist.  His interest in magic and escapes had been kindled as a boy by seeing other magicians, including the famous Houdini.  Having saved for a pair of handcuffs, he practised escapes by handcuffing himself to his bed every night so that he could not go to sleep until he had freed himself. 

Murray the Escapologist handcuffed to railingsLeeds Mercury, 24 December 1926 British Newspaper Archive

Murray worked hard and travelled the world building up his act.  He often worked as a crew member on ships during the day, and performed his act in the evening wherever the ship docked.  In this way he travelled to America, Singapore, India, and South America, before reaching Europe, arriving in England in the mid-1920s.

Murray the Escapologist hanging upside down in a strait-jacket, preparing to be hoistSunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 13 January 1937 British Newspaper Archive

Some of his stunts sound particularly hair-raising, such as hanging upside down in a strait-jacket from the roof of the Palace Theatre Blackpool, being thrown out of an airplane over the Bristol Channel while locked inside a mailbag, being locked in a safe and thrown into the sea, or being manacled and thrown into the lions’ den at Olympia.  In 1926, he told a correspondent of the Dundee Courier that the feat he was most proud of was being secured to the track of the Peking-Shanghai Railway ten minutes before the Shanghai Express was due to leave the station.  He escaped when the train was only 100 yards away.  Such acts did not always win approval from the authorities. In Japan the police refused to allow him to give a public performance because he would set a bad example. 

In 1939, Murray was touring Germany, and performed at the Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin where he entertained Adolf Hitler.  On the outbreak of war, he had to quickly flee the country leaving his props and costumes behind in order to avoid being interned.  As the leaflet shows, this experience became a part of his subsequent act.  To build up his show again, he travelled to India where he performed successfully in Bombay.  In India, he performed with Madam Gillian, the Woman with the X-Ray Eyes, who had the “uncanny ability of rendering startling and truthful character analysis through her magnetic eyes”.

Murray the Escapologist smoking a cigarette in a holder Birmingham Mail, 13 January 1939 British Newspaper Archive

Murray continued to amaze audiences until his retirement in 1954, when opened a magic shop in Blackpool called Murray’s Magic Mart, which he ran until a couple of years before his death in 1989.

 John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Miscellaneous booklets and pamphlets on monuments in India, collected by Sir J G Laithwaite, during his tours of India, 1937-1943 [Reference Mss Eur F138/57]

David O’Connor, “The Magic of Murray” on the ‘Magic for Kids’ website, 24 November 2015

Barry McCann blog post Magic Murray, Blackpool Museum Project 

Article in the Dundee Courier, Wednesday 29 December 1926; Robert E Vivian, article in the Evening Despatch, Wednesday 18 January 1939  

24 July 2018

Myths about James Cook

In 1930, Australian politician Sir Joseph Carruthers published Captain James Cook R.N., 150 Years After.  Despite being riddled with inaccuracies and overstatements the book was well received by reviewers and included a foreword by former Australian Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes.  Amongst other claims, Carruthers posits that: the spread of disease by Europeans had little to do with the devastation wrought on Pacific Islanders; that Cook diligently respected the rights of Indigenous peoples; and that he has a claim to have started building Britain’s Empire in the Pacific.

  Photo portrait of Sir Joseph Carruthers in uniform with a sword Sir Joseph Carruthers  Photo: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW - Call no PXE 1104 /1/ 7.

Here are some of Carruthers’ claims regarding Cook and Australia, and what’s wrong with them.

1. Australia is the Great Southern Continent Cook was searching for

It is commonly believed that Cook was tasked with ‘discovering’ Australia.  Carruthers had no small part in establishing this myth, using the fact that Cook was issued with secret Admiralty orders to search for the fabled ‘great southern continent’; however, this was not Australia.  The Admiralty’s secret orders instructed Cook to search southward of Tahiti between 40 and 35 degrees latitude ‘until you discover it, or fall in with the Eastern side of the Land discover’d by Tasman and now called New Zeland’ (sic).  The great southern continent was expected to be east of New Zealand.

2. Cook Discovered Australia

Carruthers also bolstered the claim that Cook discovered Australia based on an interesting definition of discovery:

‘Captain Cook is the real discoverer of Australia in the sense that he stands alone as the one man who made good his discovery and founded an indisputable title to possession for the British race.  No new fact was needed to prove that’.

It is a perception that downplays the Dutch, Spanish and other English sailors (to name but a few) who sighted and even landed on Australia’s shores before Cook; and more importantly denies the fact that the continent was already populated by the Indigenous peoples, estimated to have arrived there over 60,000 years ago.

3. Cook was an example to the Union movement

Carruthers was writing in the wake of the Great Depression, when the Union movement was in full swing.  In his book he took the opportunity to advise that:

‘It is just as well in these days, when the Union wage in Australia and America varies from one pound to three pounds per day, to remember that the greatest discoverer and navigator of all time did his job magnificently on ‘five bob’ a day and never made a murmur about his pay’.

4. Cook’s Divine Grace

Cook as a man of destiny is a recurring motif in many books.  For Sir Joseph, Cook was ordained to land in Australia under divine providence. His book contains many biblical allusions and calls to God.  Perhaps most bizarrely though, he recounts that when Cook’s father ‘went to live in Yorkshire, the grandmother said to him: “God send you grace.” At his new home he [Cook’s father] met his future wife and her name was Grace’.  Thus, for Carruthers, Grandma Cook’s prayer was fulfilled.

Peter Hooker
PhD candidate with the University of Newcastle (Australia)

Further reading:
Carruthers, Joseph and Hogan, Michael, 2005 A Lifetime in Conservative Politics: Political Memoirs of Sir Joseph Carruthers 1856-1932. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press
Carruthers, Sir Joseph 1930. Captain James Cook, R.N., One Hundred and Fifty Years After, London: John Murray.
Ward, John M. Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector (1856–1932) Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979.

 

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