Princess Alexandra in Alexandra no less

The little town of Alexandra in Victoria was not always called Alexandra. Originally it was called Red Gate, but some time after gold was found in the 1860’s it was renamed after Alexandra of Denmark, the wife of Bertie (later Edward VII), the prince of Wales.

And for a long time that was it, until in the 1960’s the State Library of Victoria was refurbished and they decided to get rid of a statue of Princess Alexandra in a style vaguely reminiscent of a Roman empress.

Where else to give it to but Alexandra?

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and there she is, in a park opposite the council offices, in a little shelter like a votive shrine looking suitably imperious …


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The Mohyu lockup

Yesterday was J’s birthday, and still in celebratory mode we decided that as today was a nice bright cold day, we’d drive over to Mansfield, stopping off at Harry Power’s lookout for a bit of a walk.

Well, when we got to Harry Power’s lookout it as 2C and threatening snow so we carried on down to Mansfield for a pie and a coffee, and were rewarded by a troop of feral roe deer crossing the road in front of us in the woods just out of Tolmie.

Mansfield has its own links to the bushranger days of the nineteenth century in the form of an 1880 monument to the police troopers killed by Ned Kelly and his gang at Stringybark creek.

The monument is now in the middle of a busy roundabout and impossible to photograph on a winter Sunday due to the ski traffic going to and from Mount Buller.

However we did find, entirely by accident another monument to the bushranger days.

We stopped to go to the loo in Mohyu, and there, beside a deconsecrated church that is now the local Lions club was the old Mohyu lockup:

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I’m guessing, purely because of its location next to a children’s play area it’s been moved from somewhere else, as has the deconsecrated church …

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Unravelling the death of Robert Burns Clow

If you’ve been following this blog avidly, or indeed languidly, you’ll be aware that we spent most of May in Malaysia, and in fact we spent almost all of our time there in Kuching in Sarawak and in Sabah

Sarawak was established as an independent polity by James Brooke, and only became a British colony in 1946 when the last of Brooke’s successors as Raja of Sarawak abdicated

The reminders of the Brooke presence are all still there, from the Sarawak coat of arms on the old post office building, the old court building where the Raja presided and of course the Astana, once the Brooke residence and now the residence of the governor of Sarawak

While we were there I came across a story that an illegitimate son of Robert Burns (Scotland’s national bard, and a well known serial fornicator) had been killed by Borneo pirates in the 1850’s and that Charles Austen, a brother of the more famous Jane, had commanded the mission to revenge the murder of Robert Burns’ illegitimate son.

A little fantastical and a little bit garbled.

I already knew from our 2013 trip to Sri Lanka that Charles Austen was buried in Trincomalee and had died during the second Burmese war in 1852. Wikipedia helpfully details his career and he took over command of the East Indies and China station, based in Penang, in January 1850 and died of cholera in October 1852.

As commander of the East Indies and China station it is unlikely the Austen took personal command of the mission, but he was probably reponsible for ordering it.

This was the first clue to the story.

There was a well known mission in 1848, commanded jointly by Henry Keppell and James Brooke to supress piracy in Borneo, but this clearly was not it.

Charles Austen, for one, was home in England in 1848.

So I went looking for Robert Burns Clow.

Being an illegitimate son of Robert Burns he was incredibly easy to find, but being born in 1788, and a sucessful merchant in London. Unfortunately the date of his death is not known, but if it was him, he would have been around 63 when murdered, and crucially probably not of an age to gallivanting round Borneo if he was already a successful merchant.

However, he had a son, also Robert Burns Clow, born in 1820, who would only have been 30 or 31, and was recorded as being murdered in Borneo.

Again the story is slightly garbled, with confusion between the son and the father, but understandably so.

So my next trick was to go looking in Trove, the National Library of Australia’s digitised newspaper database. At first, I searched for Robert Burns Clow and drew a complete blank. However, searching for Robert Burns in the period between 1850 and 1852 found gold. In among all the mentions of Burns club dinners and immortal memories was a clutch of articles from September 1852, such as this one from the Bathurst Free Press describing the murder of a Robert Burns, a grandson of the poet, while aboard the Dolphin, in the Sulu Sea, which lies between the south of Sabah in Borneo and the Phillipines.

Crucially this was quite a different location to the 1848 anti piracy mission which was centred on Labuan to the north of Borneo.

As a cross check I ran the same searches on Welsh Papers online and the dates matched reasonably well with a report of the initial attack on the Dolphin and the not totally successful mission to avenge the murders, both from the Pembrokeshire Herald.

Crucially the latter report also gave the names of the ships involved in the mission, HMS Cleopatra and the armed paddle steamer HMS Pluto and the East India Company steamer Semiramis.

Both the Pluto and the Semiramis are not particularly well documented but the Cleopatra is and confirms her role in the punitive action.

I’m happy in my own mind that I’ve unpicked the garbled story. I’ve also learned something about using online resources along the way. And I’m quietly fascinated that a vicar in Pembrokeshire would know as much about this incident as his counterpart in Bathurst. Even before the international telegraph network was in place, the mail steamers kept the world connected.


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British reaction to the Russo Japanese war of 1905

Quite some time ago now I became mildly fascinated by the Russo Japanese war of 1905 and how it all fitted into the various debacles in Korea resulting in the Korean war, not to mention the ongoing Russo Japanese fencing match over Manchuria and the Soviet Far east both during and after the post revolutionary civil war.

At the same time I’ve maintained an interest in British colonialism in India and SE Asia.

To that end, I’ve been reading To Lhassa at Last an account by Powell Millington – a fairly low down officer in the British Army in India – of the 1903/4 British invasion of Tibet

The book itself is pretty lightweight, although an engaging read, but there’s one slightly curious passage discussing his requisitioning of supplies from monasteries in which he imagines a Japanese officer during an invasion of England in the 2000’s “requests” supplies from an Oxford College.

Why Japanese?

The clue to this lies in the book’s original publication date – 1905 – just after the Russo Japanese war, which did not go well for the Russians, and was one of the contributory causes to the discontent that fueled the 1905 revolution in Russia.

Perhaps Millington’s little fantasy was early evidence of the dawning realisation among the British military that the Japanese might be significant foes in the future …


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Reduction …

Like many children growing up in countries that still used the old British Pounds, Shillings and Pence (£sd) my early years in school was blighted by the dread exercise of reduction.

Basically, take a sum of money, break it down to the number of pennies or half pennies involved, all necessary, as unlike sensible decimal currency it was all completely non-intuitive.

Multiply the number of pound by 20 to get the number of shillings. Add on any extra shillings. Multiply the number of shillings by 12 to get the number of pennies and add on the extra pennies. Multiply by 2 to get the number of halfpennies. Later, as preparation for decimalisation, we then had to convert the resulting sum to the new currency – multiply by ⅚ to get the number of cents (a cent was worth 1.2d, hence the totally useless five cent coin is still the size of an old sixpence), and then move the decimal point to get the number of dollars and cents.

Tedious, boring and did wonders for being able to do mental arithmetic.

That of course has been in the box of dead useless knowledge until I started working on the project. Prices and materials were of course in £sd, and of course, as the old boy locked the door in 1968, 2 years after decimalisation, some of the prices are in both systems, eg 75c and 7/6, and of course there’s sometime a little creative rounding to document.

So I’ve good at pre decimal currency, surprisingly good, even though it’s still a useless skill in the main …

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Sometimes a rusty washer is just that …


I went for a walk a couple of days ago and I found an object – ok, an old rusty washer – on the footpath beside some old mine tailings, possibly brought to the surface by the recent rain.

I thought that there was an outside chance it might be a very corroded Chinese cash coin, but no, even though it’s roughly the right size, weight and thickness it’s clearly just an old rusty washer.

Why can I be so definite without a detailed examination? Well one of the distinguishing features of cash coins is that the hole in the coin is square

and the washer has an almost perfectly circular hole …

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Hoyle’s Pacific Vegetable Wonder


State Library of Victoria – original at

Last week, while I was working on the Dow’s Pharmacy Documentation Project we had a query from a lady researching her family history as to whether we had any bottles of Hoyle’s Pacific Vegetable Wonder

Unfortunately we didn’t, nor could I find an example on the Collections Victoria website. I even did a quick check of a shelf of undocumented bottles, and while most of them are from roughly the right period, most were for Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure, an alternative to Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound.

However I though I’d do a little digging, not the least because the product was distributed by Davy and Rocke, a partnership between Herbert Rocke and Henry Davy.

Herbert Rocke,who after his partnership with Davy dissolved in 1877, went on to partner with Henry Tompsitt to set up a wholesale druggist business, and an early example of electronic commerce with Tompsitt sourcing supplies in England and Rocke ordering material by telegraph from Melbourne.

Davy on the other hand went on to partner with George Mansfield to set up a patent medicine business, both importing and distributing brands from overseas, and making up, and selling their own.

However a google seach for Hoyles Pacific Vegetable Wonder tuned up very few leads. Some digitised newspaper articles on Trove, such as one from the Launceston Weekly Examiner on the product being used to treat Chinese goldminers infected with leprosy, some newspaper advertising, like this from the Herald in Melbourne, and a research paper from the ANU’s digital repository on the incidence of leprosy in Chinese migrants in the nineteenth century, and a reference on the Chinese History museum website to a photograph of Chinese lepers being treated with Hoyle’s mixture, but unfortunately the photograph had been indexed, but was not online.

Otherwise, not much.

Enough to establish that the product was around in the mid-1870’s and dropped out of sight thereafter, possibly because it didn’t live up to the hype, or was outcompeted in the market place by competing products, such as Hall’s vegetable pain conqueror. The fact that Davy and Rocke dissolved their partnership in 1877, around the time that Hoyle was marketing his product probably didn’t help.

Certainly, a quick QueryPic search shows the product was only really mentioned around 1877:

pacific vegetable wonder

But that can’t be the whole story. Hall’s Vegetable Pain Conqueror, doesn’t do any better in terms of mentions:

halls vegetable pain conqueror

Nor, despite all the money Mr Hayman spent on advertising his Balsam of Horehound, does Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound really register

hayman horehound balsam

although a search simply for Balsam of Horehound gives a wider spread

balsam of horehound

suggesting that he may have suffered competition from other, local, brands.

Incidentally, Woods great Peppermint Cure shows a wider spread, suggesting that it held its own in the marketplace

great peppermint cure 2

So, what does this all mean?

Firstly, poorer people, and migrants for whom English was not their first language, were possibly more reliant on patent medicines than middle class people who could afford to go to a doctor, and pay for formulations to be made up.

It’s also likely that people who were poorer were less likely to buy and read a newspaper on a regular basis and so may not have been a target for newspaper advertising. This almost certainly the case with Chinese lepers in 1870’s Australia, and the advertising was more likely to be aimed at the management of leper hospitals, who would probably be more likely to read newspapers than the inmates.

Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound represents an early use of advertising that was copied by some other manufacturers. Neither Hoyle’s or Hall’s mixtures seem to have gone in for extensive press advertising despite Hall’s claiming on the bottle wrappers to bring relief to an amazingly wide range of ailments

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One suspects that Laudunum may have been one of the ingredients, which certainly would have produced relief from pain.

And of course, both Hoyle’s and Hall’s mixtures may simply have fallen out of favour as they were found not to work long term …

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