The Beechworth gun …

About a year ago I posted about the unusual provenance of the the Beechworth gun.

At the time I didn’t think to take a picture of the crest, but I was in Beechworth last weekend, and this time I did:


in the ideal world I’d have used something a little better than my phone to get a higher resolution image but after playing with pixlr the Carol I crest is quite clear making the provenance of the gun totally unambiguous.

Probably the best thing would have been to take a rubbing of the crest and the manufacturer’s plate but grave rubbing media are unavailable here in Australia, so a photo it is …

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The Nizam of Hyderabad’s mummy …

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to an article from the Hindu, a major Indian newspaper, about conservation work to be undertaken on an Egyptian mummy in the Hyderabad museum.

This of course begs the question of quite how an Egyptian mummy ended up in Hyderabad. The truth is quite prosaic – one of the late nineteenth century Nizams was an avid collector of curios and artefacts, took a fancy to the mummy and bought it for the reputed sum of a thousand pounds.

As Egypt was on the way between England and India, and this was the height of the Raj, I’m guessing it was bought by the Nizam during a stopover in Egypt.

While possibly the most exotic example of the dispersal of Egyptian artefacts by the activities of gentlemen collectors, it’s by no means the only one, nor is it a purely Anglosphere one – for example the remarkable collection in Zagreb is really down to the activities of a nineteenth century AustroHungarian aristocrat, Baron Franz Koller, even though the famous mummy with wrappings in the Etruscan language came as the result of a minor AustroHungarian public servant who took a tour to Egypt, bought a mummy, and brought it back to display in his Vienna apartment.

After his death, the mummy passed to his brother, a priest in Slavonia (now part of Croatia) who gave it to the Zagreb museum.

The Nizam was neither the first nor the last to do such a thing, but it does beg the question as to what other Egyptian artefacts have ended up in unlikely places as a result of the Suez canal sea route between Britain and India.

The Egyptian craze of the early nineteenth century led to a vast number of mummies and artefacts being acquired from Egypt and in time, like the mummies in Perth and Belfast ending up in museums with, at times, uncertain documentation.

Using modern technology to study these remains can help expand our knowledge of ancient Egypt (or in some cases not) but because so many artefacts were acquired in the nineteenth century before people cared overmuch about documentation and provenance, there’s a great risk of knowledge being lost because these items have ended up in small local museums where there are either not the resources or the interest in investigating them fully.

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Bad Hair (cut) Day …

I went to get my hair cut yesterday.

I normally go to a moderately upscale place that has staff who have mustered the art of cutting my slightly unruly hair short enough to look neat but not so short that I look like an elderly member of the mafia.

When I got there, half the staff were clustered round the reception desk staring at computer screens. It was clear that something was wrong, very wrong.

Their booking management system had crashed.

This had a whole range of implications. Not only did they not know who was booked to come in, the individual stylists who are mostly subcontractors rather than employees, didn’t know what work they had, or who they were having as customers.

But they covered it beautifully.

They asked me for my name, offered me a coffee, found me a stylist – rather than one of the two people who regularly cut my hair it was someone else – they’d resorted to a round robin system rather than trying to reinvent the booking schedule.

Ok, there was a bit more sitting about waiting than normal, and a bit of complete confusion at the start of the job, with someone mistaking me for another client, but they found me a gofer to shampoo my hair, and someone to cut it, the boss came round to apologise for the chaos and make sure I was happy, and I ended up with a good haircut.

And for those of us who just go and get our hair cut there was an insight into the backend of the business. Emma, the girl cutting my hair, broke off in the middle for a fast conversation with a colleague:

“No, it’s in my book, 10,12, 8”
“10 ?”
“yep, just be sure to drag it through”

Obviously, someone else was colouring one of Emma’s regular’s hair and needed to check the details to get the same effect.

The reason why I was so struck by this experience was the way they handled what must have been a really bad day:

⇒ Keep cheerful
⇒ Tell the customers you’ve had a problem and that you’ve got a workaround
⇒ Involve them in the problem, and check they’re happy
⇒ Give the customers decent service

Sure, it probably cost them a few extra complimentary coffees, but they probably didn’t lose any customers as result of their little problem.

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Tesla …

Last weekend was a public holiday in Canberra, officially Family and Community day but informally Fish and Chip day.

We could have been like everyone else and dashed frenetically to the coast, only to find that the water was still too cold to swim, but decided instead on a weekend of gardening and sensible things.

But Sunday was a nice day, and after some serious planting we took some time out to drive to Goulburn for lunch with a bit of landscape photography on the way. We only chose Goulburn because it has a nice reliable cafe by the park (and because in NSW it was just a normal weekend …).

Anyway we parked in out usual place next to the visitor’s centre – and there it was, a Tesla charging station


not in itself remarkable, but along with the wind farm t-shirts for sale in the visitor centre, a sign that change is coming …

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Living as a Victorian …

There’s a minor spat going on over at Slate about the validity (or otherwise) of a couple in Washington state in the US who have chosen to live a late nineteenth century life eschewing modern conveniences like electricity and all the gamut of technology that comes with it.

These people are essentially re-enactors, fully immersed re-enactors but re-enactors nevertheless. There are of course contradictions in what they are doing.

Their books are advertised on the web, and I’m sure that if one of them became ill they would not eschew the benefits of modern medicine or medical technology.

Most crucially they can stop whenever they want.

Unlike one of my great uncles who lived on a remote sheep farm well into the nineteen seventies without electricity, telephone or television.

Apart from a battery radio, a battered tractor and an equally battered truck he lived what was essentially a nineteenth century existence doing a nineteenth century job. Yet he had no doubt about the conveniences of modern life, at the first opportunity he acquired an LPG fridge, stove and heating to keep food fresh and to escape the tyrrany of keeping the range stocked with wood. Lack of a suitable alternative meant he stuck with oil lights until petrol generators became cheap enough to buy and run.

He had no doubt of the conveniences of modern life, and as soon as he could adopt them, he did.

At a fundamental level, attempting to live a nineteenth century is a conceit. That is not to say that re-enactment does not teach us things, like how much effort went into the business of life, how difficult it was to keep things clean, the joy or otherwise of dealing with a wood range on a permanent basis (we supplement our very twentyfirst century ducted heating with a wood stove in winter, and I can tell you that lighting it and keeping it supplied steals an hour from my winter evenings).

Reenactment of course has its limits. The penny post is no more. The railway network has shrunk and one’s life is no longer governed by the arrival of the mail or papers on the train.

Reenactment might teach you how some nineteenth century things work, and might well in some cases aid research, but one cannot recreate the structures of nineteenth century life.

It is telling that the re-enactors have chosen to live a pretend Victorian comfortable middle class existence rather than that of nineteenth century farmworkers which was infinitely less comfortable.

To wish to escape the pressures of the modern world is natural enough. To try to live a simpler less material existence is entirely laudable, but let’s not pretend you are reliving life in a different era.

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What’s a courgette ?

There’s a long green versatile vegetable that the English call a courgette and almost everyone else calls a zucchini. If you do search for the two terms using google’s ngram viwer you can see that no one talked about them much until the sixties:


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and that courgette is very much a British thing:

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In Australia we mostly say zucchini, probably as a result of the large number of Italian migrants from the fifties onwards. Unfortunately there’s no convenient dataset that goes all the way to the naughties but using querypic to look at the Trove digitized newspaper data from the early nineteenth century to the fifties we seem always to a have preferred zucchini to courgette:

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and while it’s not at all significant because of the small sample the Kiwi’s, (until the late forties at least) tended to follow English usage

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Montrose, and Lola Montez …

History can be deadly dull. Names, places, dates, events.

What of course makes history interesting is the ‘story’ aspect of it, the interplay between people and events, and also how people got on with everyday life. And of course, there are these occasional wild exotic characters that really you couldn’t invent with any degree of credibility. Characters who seem completely theatrical, such as Jane Ellenborough and Lola Montez, women who both had affairs with Ludwig of Bavaria, and who by force of circumstances took to living on the wild side, and embraced it with gusto.

In the case of Lola Montez, sometime mistress of Ludwig of Bavaria, sometime an exotic dancer who caused near riot in Castlemaine with her ‘spider dance’, she seems to have been destined to live fast and die young.

Her mother was from impoverished Irish gentry stock, who like so many genteel women of that time escaped the life of genteel poverty chronicled by both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters by marrying an East India company officer and moving to India.

In due time, little Lola was born, except of course she wasn’t Lola then, she was Eliza Roseanna Gilbert. And then as often happened, her father died. The British in India died young, usually of drink or disease, rarely due to fighting. The cantonments of British India were surrounded by graveyards.

Her mother remarried in due course and Lola’s stepfather thought she should be sent to school in Britain, choosing a school in Montrose in Angus where she would be close to his family.

School was not a success. Lola lasted eight or so months in dourly Calvinist Montrose, where she caused outrage by running naked down the high street, for what reason no one knows. She was moved on to other schools, acquired the conventional accomplishments of a mid Victorian young lady, and in due course a husband, another Indian army officer, who promptly ran off with a fellow officer’s wife, leaving Lola on her own and without an income.

She tried being an actress, but was apparently terrible. She tried being a dancer but was not much better, and somewhere along the way hit on her true talent. I would say to be a courtesan but that would be unfair, her real talent was as a businesswomen to turn the money she acquired from her exotic activities into a successful and notorious saloon in California’s gold country. From there she toured as an exotic dancer including to Victoria’s gold country, which says something about nineteenth century communications and how fame and notoriety was spread by the press.

She was a larger than life character, someone who in the course of her career went from abandoned wife to a dalliance with Liszt to someone who negotiated with Metternich’s emissaries during the 1848 insurrections when her lover Ludwig was indisposed to a California bar and brothel owner.

If it was fiction it would seem unbelievable, but as fact …

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