Madeleine Smith in New Zealand

Well, I though I would do the obvious and repeat my investigation of the distribution of the trial reports in New Zealand.

Well that turned out not to be sensible – the non-Maori population in 1857 was only around 50,000, most of whom were homesteaders, and consequently there were relatively few newspapers publishing then in New Zealand (14 in fact), which makes any attempt to follow the flow of information impossible.

What we can say is that the New Zealand papers that reported on the conclusion of the trial were a month and a bit behind the Melbourne and Sydney papers, perhaps reflecting the time the mail took to get from Australia on to New Zealand, with the news reaching the north island via Auckland …

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Melbourne gets the news first

As part of my looking into how the news of the Madeleine Smith trial got to Australia I thought I’d break the reports of the trial down by date and place of publication.


And it’s quite striking – the first reports of the outcome of the trial  were published in Melbourne on 04 September 1857, but the news didn’t get to Sydney until 08 September, and to Hobart (or indeed Newcastle) until September 12th,  neatly reflecting the fact that there was effectively no railway network in Australia in 1857, and most travel between population centres in the eastern states, which were of course separate colonies, was by coastal steamship ….

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Madeleine Smith in South Africa (or maybe not)

Having established that it’s likely that the news of the Madeleine Smith trial reached Australia via the India/Sri Lanka route, I thought I’d look to see if there were any searchable digitised newspaper resources available for South African papers.

I decided not to bother searching for English language newspapers in India itself as 1857 was the year of the Indian Rebellion (or Mutiny for the less politically correct) and newspaper publication might well be disrupted or records missing.

However I do know from reading histories of the 1857 events that there was no overland telegraph link from India to Europe, and as there was no Suez canal, the mail would have come the long way round via the Cape of Good Hope, where the British had a well established colony.

So, I thought we might get an anchor date by looking for online archives.


The National Library of South Africa has archives on microfilm only – fair enough, they have other priorities, and while the British Library has some online resources from the correct period, which can be searched remotely, you need a readers’ card to access them, and getting a readers’ card requires registration in person, which kind of breaks the remote access model.

I will be in London later this year, so I guess I could shoehorn a visit to St Pancras into the trip but it does seem a lot of extra work for a very simple search query…

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Madeleine Smith in America

I’ve previously written about how the Madeleine Smith trial was reported in Australia, so I thought I’d have a fairly superficial look at how it was reported in America.

Remember that in 1857 there was no transatlantic telegraph cable – the cable was not complete until August 1858, although construction had begun in 1857.

Most New York papers have reports of the outcome of the trial in the first few days of August, which is about right – three weeks for a mail steamer to carry the news from Liverpool to New York. Reports of the initial arraignment are a few days earlier, late July which again fits with the 3 week schedule, given that the trial started on June 30.

To research this, I’ve been using the Library of Congress Chronicling America website. While it lacks external tools such as querypic it’s reasonably comprehensive in its coverage, and searching over a fairly tight timeframe suggests that the trial was reasonably widely reported in the east coast newspapers and sensational enough to get a column or two to itself in the overseas news, but not quite the impact that it did in Australia or New Zealand.

Interestingly, there’s also a report in the Polynesian from Hawaii dated 26 September 1857 which had been copied from one of the San Francisco papers (and annoyingly not one that’s digitised, so I can’t check the date and origin of the report), but confirming that the news reports in both Australia and New Zealand had come via the steamer route via India and Sri Lanka and not via America …

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Shakespeare and me

Shakespeare and I have never really got on.

Sure I’ve seen productions of his plays that were fantastic, and some that were quite frankly terrible, and the odd experimental version that was, well, odd.

And the reason why I went to see them was that I enjoy the theatre and its magic, not because I enjoy Shakespeare. I never really cleaved to English Literature and its orthodoxies and its insistence that this is what it meant, and how everyone should bow down in front of the great god Shakespeare.

Instead I’ve seen him as a hack writer, a very good hack writer, but a hack writer nevertheless, stealing ideas from literature and half heard stories of places far away. One of the interesting things about Shakespeare is where he doesn’t mention – like the newly conquered Peru or Mexico, or Japan, despite all of them being in conversation and in the popular tales of Raleigh’s of Drakes voyages and raids.

And this in a time when there were black people from Africa in London, Elizabeth was in negotiations with the sultan of Morocco, and there were even two Japanese sailors who had been captured by Thomas Cavendish.

But no, perhaps Shakespeare simply found it safer, politically, to put his plays in Rome, Venice or Athens, places known at least by reputation to most of his audience and about which he could raid his grammar school education. It’s been argued that the Tempest is set off the coast of South America – that may be so, but the identification is hardly explicit.

And computational analysis of the texts have put to bed any idea that he was anything other than a hack and a writer who collaborated with Marlowe among others.

Recently I’ve read two not particularly scholarly books that have reinforced this – Dominic Dromgoole’s Will and me which is part autobiography and what he has come to feel about Shakespeare after years of producing him, and strangely enough Harry Turtledove’s alternate history novel Ruled Britania.

Central to the plot is Shakepeare’s writing of a play Boudicca. As Shakespeare didn’t write such a play Turtledove uses the text of Fletcher’s Bonduca as a source of impressive speeches.

Fletcher and Shakespeare of course knew each other, and in fact collaborated later in Shakespeare’s life, so the device of raiding Bonduca works well – it could indeed be Shakespeare.

Basically what it comes down to is that the Tudor theatre needed plays, lots of them, and that Shakespeare, Kyd, Marlowe, Munday, and the rest of them were in the business of writing them, collaborating, plagiarising and reusing each other’s work. Nothing is truly original and what we know as the Shakespeare canon is only what was attributed to him in the first folio – doesn’t mean that the attributions are correct or are all his own work.

The picture that emerges is of a working writer.

Not some lofty paragon. Not some literary genius but someone who grafted at it – and who had off days – Dromgoole’s commentary on the opening of Cymbeline being wriiten by Shakespeare on an off day when he had a hangover is both wonderfully witty and probably what it was like.

Deadlines. Fights with coauthors and actors. Days when the words wouldn’t come and days when they wouldn’t stop.

And that Shakespeare is altogether more interesting than the rather colourless genius the English Literature types would have us believe in …

(still doesn’t mean his plays aren’t hard work at times)

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Echuca …

A couple of Saturdays ago we treated ourselves to a day out and drove, with no clear plan, to Echuca, a town on the Murray about 200km to the west of us.

In the nineteenth century Echuca was a major inland port on the Murray, and, like Morgan in South Australia, a railhead and a transhipment point for grain and freight from the railway to the paddle steamers that plied the Murray.

In fact before the railway systems of South Australia were connected in the 1880’s, if you wanted to get from Melbourne to Adelaide it was either the coastal steamer, or a train to Echuca, riverboat to Morgan, and train back to Adelaide.

While the regular paddle steamers are long gone there are still a number of preserved paddle steamers at the Echuca wharf museum, plus various other attractions, including a mock colonial period street and an old mailcoach that gives rides around the town.

All in all a bit hokey, but it did kind of give a feel of how things might have been a hundred and fifty years ago. And if living history is not your thing there’s number of reasonable restaurants and a couple of second hand bookshops on the main street.

In a strangely naff sort of way I liked it …

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Madeleine Smith as a worldwide phenomenon

As a final bit of investigation around the Madeleine Smith case I thought I’d have a look at how widely it was reported in Australia and New Zealand.

First of all I went to QueryPic to see if the case had registered at all:


which it had – a massive peak for 1857 when the trial took place. Remember that 1857 was the year of the Indian Mutiny and the reports of that might be expected to take precedence over a murder trial on the other side of the world.

Searching Trove, the National Library of Australia online newspaper archive, showed it had been major news with most papers reprinting the Times summary of the case [PDF via Evernote] and many the long report of the trial [PDF via Evernote] – both these are from the Sydney Morning Herald.

It was much the same thing in New Zealand, and when the news broke it almost beat news of the Indian Mutiny for importance [PDF via Evernote] and newspapers the whole progess of the trial – as in this PDF from the Otago Witness.

It’s worth noting that even though the trial was old news by the time news reached Australia and New Zealand it was still a major sensation. In the days before either Australia or New Zealand were connected to the outside world via undersea telegraph cables, news could take two or three months to reach the Antipodes. In this case while the trial took place in Edinburgh in early July, news and detailed reports did not reach Australia until nearly the end of September, and New Zealand two or three weeks later …

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