Roman coins in Japan and Chinese skeletons in Roman London

Well, we’ve had two unrelated stories that hint at there having been more contact between Rome and contemporary cultures in China, Korea and Japan.

Personally I tend to dismiss this. Roman mirrors and glass have previously turned up in graves in both Korea and Japan, but that doesn’t imply direct contact, merely that the artefacts were traded on from one to another.

Like the Roman coins reportedly found at Oc Eo, it doesn’t mean that there were any Romans there. The fact that the Okinawa coins are reportedly copper, and hence low value items, suggests that they weren’t used as portable wealth, but were there as curios, perhaps along with the Ottoman coins found alongside them.

And sometimes, coins, due to being made out of hard indestructible materials do turn up in unexpected places, such as my finding an Isle of Man 10p coin in a bag of river gravel mulch in Canberra.

The skeletons however tend to suggest something more – skeletons usually being indicators of people. And people do tend to go everywhere – two Japanese sailors ended up in Tudor England having been captured from a Spanish treasure ship by English privateers. And of course Pliny has a story of people who might have been Inuit being washed into the mouth of the Rhine, so while there might have been a couple of people of east Asian origin who ended up in Roman London through some strange sequence of events, it doesn’t mean that they were running the felix draco takeaway or that they themselves are representatives of a larger community, it was pure happenstance …

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Carrot tea – an experiment

Some time ago I read a novel set in Moscow during the Russian civil war which mentioned people drinking carrot tea – something I had not come across before.

Google was not much help – the most I could turn up was a discussion on stackexchange, so I decided on a little experiment today when I was making a carrot salad for lunch:


first of all I grated some carrot quite finely using a carrot grater (you could use the shredded carrot that some supermarkets sell, or grate the carrot with an ordinary box grater, but the result is not quite as fine as you get with my genuine Russian carrot shredder).


I then took some of the shredded carrot (which was quite wet – carrots hold a lot of moisture) and stuck it in the oven at 130C for round about three quarters of an hour.


The result was something pale orange in colour and slightly crumbly. Coarser grated carrot would probably take longer. I’m guessing that traditionally the grated carrot would have been dried on the stove.

Once it had cooled, I put it in a teapot and poured hot water on it, producing an orange coloured brew slightly reminiscent of a mild assam tea:


It had a slightly earthy after taste and was not at all unpleasant.

Personally, I didn’t find it wonderful enough to want to repeat the experience, but it was perfectly drinkable.

If you do a google search for “морковь чай” – literally carroty tea – you’ll turn up a number of Russian recipes, including this one, which shows I was not too far off. Interestingly there are other variants, including carrot top tea, carrot top tea with shredded carrot, carrot tea with blackcurrant leaf, all of which are touted as being good old peasant remedies for hypertension and urinary health.

I’ve also come across some literary references to people adding dried currants to carrot tea, but that’s an experiment for another day …

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Reading Ernesta

Almost a year since I started with Ernesta Drinker Bullitt’s Uncensored Diary from the Central Empires, I finally got around to reading my Indian print on demand copy, and if you are interested in such things it was worth the wait.

Ernesta Drinker Bullitt was married to the American diplomat William Bullitt, and she accompanied her husband on a journey to Germany in 1916, shortly after their marriage, and, she kept and published a diary of her journey.

Contemporary sources in English about life in Germany and AustriaHungary during the first world war are understandably a bit thin on the ground, so Ernesta’s diary is an interesting historical resource.

As the spouse of a diplomat, she was of course to some extent insulated from the shortages and rationing, although she does record seeing long queues for bread and meat, and shortages of butter and eggs affecting even in the political class, as well as the need to have one’s ration cards ready to hand to a waiter in a restaurant.

She also took an intelligent interest in what were termed ‘women’s issues’, including the increased provision of child care as more and more women were drafted into the workforce to cover for men drafted to the front, and interestingly concerns about how, after peace, women were to be eased out of jobs to free them for men returning from the front, and her diary records the measures put in place, and what she was taken to see.

Obviously, as the wife of a diplomat, she was most likely only shown the best workers restaurants, kindergartens, clothes recycling factories, but she provides a record of these measures. Likewise when she accompanied her husband to occupied Belgium, the Germans tried their best to present their occupation in the best possible light, although she also records large scale acts of civil disobedience by the populace.

Her diary is just that, a diary, and as well as visits to childcare centres and so on she also records dinners and diplomatic functions, and indirectly the existence of a peace party within the German political class who as even as early as 1916 increasingly believed the war was unsustainable and it was better to seek a political solution.

She was also in Berlin during the battle of Jutland, and describes how the German press described the battle as a major victory, and a major attempt to break the British blockade which was seen as a major cause of the food shortages as it was believed that the ReichsBank had the cash reserves to cover food imports if only they could get the goods into the country. Interestingly she also records that the London papers were available in Berlin, though only in a few select hotels, where it could be expected only foreign diplomats and journalists were staying.

At the same time she also records deep concern at the impact on the harvest of the wet summer and how shortages of grain might lead to increasingly stringent rationing of bread and potatoes.

From my personal viewpoint it’s slightly annoying that her diary mostly covers Germany and her visit to Vienna and Budapest was only for a few days and does not provide as much detail as her account of Germany, even though she was in Budapest at the time that Rumania declared war on AustriaHungary (and coincidentally set a Krupp75mm gun on its journey to end up outside the public toilets in Beechworth).

Generally, the book is engaging and well written, and not without moments of levity, including how, prior to the first world war, Prince von Blucher leased the island of Herm in the Channel Islands from the British government, and then, eccentrically, commenced to introduce a colony of kangaroos (actually red necked wallabies) which bred successfully. (The wallaby colony declined after world war one and none now live on the island).

Despite some of its superficiality and sometimes uncritical reporting of the German response to the shortages of men and resources it is a valuable source of information on life in Germany in the summer of 1916.

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The Chiltern Gun

Doug's WW1 gun photo 2      Doug's WW1 gun photo 1

Some time ago  I wrote about the slightly unusual provenance of the Beechworth gun. Well there’s another Krupp 75mm gun close by in Chiltern, and as you can see from the photograph, it was one purchased directly from Krupp by the Ottomans.

This one has been heavily painted so it’s difficult to read the build date stamped on the top of the breech:

Doug's WW1 gun photo 3

but you can just about make out the key data for the serial number and build date:

٤o١ – (451), Build Date – ١٣٢٣ – (1907)

which matches the record from the Brisbane military museum.

Apart from someone having been a little too enthusiastic with the dove grey paint, the gun looks to be in good condition with some of the wooden parts having been recently replaced. While obscured, the breech markings would probably come up well enough using with brass rubbing techniques, or blowing a little finger print dust over the key area.


(thanks to J for tweaking the pictures with Lightroom to bring out the text on the breech)

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What’s under your roof ?

When you have an old wooden house, as we do, you don’t really have an old house. Unlike a brick house, like the 1860’s terrace we had in England, wooden houses have boards replaced, floors relaid, possibly several times in a century, with the result that you don’t really have an old house.

Or so I thought.

Down the street they were replacing the roofing iron on a nineteenth century cottage. Nothing unusual in that, but I looked up in curiosity, noticed there was something odd, looked again, and realised that the old wooden roofing shingles were still there under the tin – ie when they had replaced the shingle roof with corrugated iron, they’d simply laid the metal sheets over the old shingle roof.

I should have taken a photograph with my phone, but I thought I’d come back with my SLR and take some better quality shots.

Mistake – by the time I got back the roofers had put the new sheets of metal on and were finishing off. Still it shows that history is all around us …

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Christina Broun Cameron

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m currently reading Judith Flanders’ book on the Victorian creation of crime and crime fiction, and I came across a reference to a sprawling nineteenth century three volume novel, Not Proven, by Christina Broun Cameron, which combines elements of the Madeleine Smith case and another equally infamous case where the wife was accused of murdering one of her children, and was shut away by reason of insanity, and where the nursery maid become the husband’s lover (and possibly was before the murder) and eventually his wife after his first distraught wife dies in the asylum.

Like the much better know Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, it combines the elements current crimes to create a new confection, and at the same time reflects concerns of the times – in this case philandering husbands and female serving staff.

So I thought it night be fun to track down a copy to read.

Well there are no copies of the original 1864 three volume set available on Abe Books, either listed under the author’s name or under the title, but a search turned up a version digitised and reprinted by the British Library back in 2011.

And this led to a game of chasing rabbits down holes. The reprints are indeed available through the usual suspects (Amazon, BookDepository) as print on demand, but confusingly both only list by title and don’t tell you which volume is which. They’re also quite expensive for print on demand – something like A$75 for all three volumes. (Each volume is around 300 pages making the page cost around $0.09 a page when the actual print cost would be more like $0.01 a page, plus the cost of binding – let’s be generous and say $0.02 a page giving a production cost of $18 –which is around the same cost  proportionately of the Penguin edition of the Woman in White, although you can get that and other classics from the time more cheaply by buying other editions by other publishers who specialize in out of copyright works)

But if they’re digitised, the scanned source documents should be available – that is after all how print on demand works.

Not a bit of it. The BL will tell you it’s stored on a filesystem somewhere but unlike the internet archive there appears to be no portal to access and download them, making the content effectively useless. So it’s inaccessible …

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Othello in Wangaratta …

To Wangaratta, to see Bell Shakespeare’s production of Othello.

When we lived in Canberra, visits by Bell Shakespeare were must do dates in the calendar, so when we found that they were coming to Wangaratta for a single night, it was no different.

Othello is not a play I’m familiar with and know only from synopses and reviews of other performances so the play was essentially new to me.

The performance was done with no scenery, no props to speak of, and next to no costume other than some army surplus and charity shop items. Instead the performers let the language of the play carry you and suspend your disbelief.

A nice touch, which made the play a little more edgy, was to have an actor of mixed Chinese and Aboriginal heritage play Othello, otherwise it was just you the actors and language.

And it was powerful, and it must have been something like that when played on a wooden stage on a wagon in some country town in sixteenth century England …

The play was in fact performed in the Wangaratta performing arts centre, in a theatre strangely reminscent in design and decor of the MacRobert centre in Stirling, half a planet away, but that I think says more about seventies theatre design than anything else. Seats were good, acoustics good and the staff well organised.

One nice thing they did was instead of emailing a reminder a day or two before, they emailed out a synopsis of the play in case you didn’t know the play. Definitely an excellent venue and an excellent performance

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