I was wrong about Petropaulowski …

Well about the Polish origins of the name anyway.

The name Petropaulowski was in use in English long before the Crimean war.

Searching GoogleBooks for the name shows it is used in an account of Cook’s voyages published in Manchester in 1811, and in the British parliamentary proceedings in 1848 discussing a search to find Franklin’s lost 1845 expedition, as well as other places.

The name in this form also turns up in German and Dutch accounts of expeditions  to the Russian Far East in the 1840’s and 1850’s so I guess that it was first transcribed as Petropaulowski, possibly by a German or Dutch merchant, and the name stuck …

But not everyone used it. Using the Google Ngram viewer for Google corpus of English books we see that both names were in use in the first half of the nineteenth century, and crucially Petropaulowski is the most common in the 1850’s


Of course what the ngram viewer does not show is what town Petropavlovsk, or indeed Petropaulowski referred to – there are several in Russia …

… and it wasn’t just a British thing either – David L. Gregg, the US consul in Hawaii (then an independent polity) uses it in his diary entries referring to the comings and goings of the joint Anglo French force.

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Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War

The Crimean War has been referred to as the first modern war, by which people usually mean that there was something very like modern trench warfare during the siege of Sebastapol, few large set piece battles with the exception of Alma and Inkerman in the early stages of the war, and of course the presence of newspaper reporters, who made use of that newest invention, the telegraph, to send home reports, often less than flattering to the British military establishment from the battlefront.

However, what’s often not appreciated is that this was not just a conflict localised to the Crimean peninsula, but involved naval actions in the Baltic sea and an attack on the Russian naval base at what was then Petropavlovsk, and is now called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy (Петропавловск-Камчатский) in the Russian far east.

There’s quite a good account of the attack in Wikipedia, so I won’t repeat the details here, but essentially British and French naval squadrons in the Pacific sought to interrupt trade between California and the Russian Far East by attacking Russian ships, just a few years later, the Russian navy was to support the Union navy during the American civil war in hunting down Confederate commerce raiders trying to disrupt the trade between California and Russian Far East – remember that at this time Alaska was still a Russian province and there had even been  a Russian fort in Hawaii.

While the Hawaiian fort had been abandoned by this stage, the Pacific was of great military interest to Russia, which is why  a Crimean war cannon was sent to Cooktown to defend the town from possible Russian invasion, and also why, for one, Port Fairy on Victoria’s south coast sports an impressive nineteenth century gun battery


And the war had other effects – it’s been suggested that the Crimean war curtailed organised mass emigration from the Highlands of Scotland to Australia.

So, you could guess that the attack on Petropavlovsk would have been of great interest to Australian (and New Zealand) newspapers of the time, and you would think that it would certainly show up in a search of digitised newspapers in Trove.

There’s only one problem, It doesn’t. Using QueryPic, it’s simple to show that there was a great interest in the Crimean war:


Search for Petropavlovsk, and you really only find references to the loss of the  battleship Petropavlovsk in 1904 during the Russo Japanese war.

Nowadays, there’s pretty much a set of standard rules about how to transcribe  Cyrillic to Latin script. Back in the nineteenth century, the rules were a bit more vague, and sometimes they followed nineteenth century German transcription rules, which is why sometimes you see Chaikovsky written as Tchaikowski  and Chekhov as Tchekhov (or Tchekhoff) in old books.

So my first guess was a transcription problem, so I want looking for websites that included contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the battle.


In this Russian example we can see that Petropavlovsk is spelled in Russian exactly as we would expect, and that the post Revolution spelling reforms have had no impact on the name.

And in this English map of about the same date


the town’s name is given as Petropavlofsk.

Well, that’s believable, the way the stress falls on the ‘o’ – pyetrO-pavlofsk – means the final ‘v’ would be pronounced softly, and could well have sounded like an ‘f’ to a nineteenth century ear, just as a lot of Russian surnames which end in ‘ov’ (ов) are transcribed as ending in ‘off’ in nineteenth century transcriptions – closer to the sound if not the way it’s spelled.

Only one problem. That doesn’t show up either in QueryPic.

In fact it was only by searching Trove for the names of the ships involved in the action did I discover what the British called the town: Petropaulowski or even Petro-Paulowski – a transcription that looks almost Polish, but there it is when you search QueryPic

chart (1)

Perhaps because it was a joint Anglo-French operation there was an officer of Polish heritage among the French  naval officers who could speak some Russian – I’m waving my hands here – and his transliteration got into the official reports of the time. I don’t know, I’m guessing, but it’s odd given that a near contemporary English language map gives it as more reasonable  Petropavlofsk.

But when you do search Trove for Petropaulowski, you notice something else interesting about the reports – they almost all come via Californian newspapers, rather than, as is the case with reports from the Crimea itself,  from English newspapers such as the Times.

Just as we can see with the prevalence of American condiment bottles in Norfolk Island from the 1850’s, do we see that already trade across the Pacific between Australia and California  was already well established in the 1850’s …

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Baked beans and the British Empire

We’ve just had brunch – baked beans (Watties’ from NZ), toast, bacon and the last of our home grown tomatoes.

And it struck me that everywhere we’ve been that was governed by Britain in colonial times has a local brand of baked beans, as in English style baked beans in tomato sauce out of a can.

There’s Ayam in Malaysia/Singapore, Cargill’s in Sri Lanka, Wattie’s in NZ and of course SPC and Heinz here at home in Australia, even if we disloyally prefer Watties’.

Even in Abu Dhabi airport, they served English style baked beans (no bacon of course) with toast.

Now, baked beans only really became popular in England at the end of the 1800’s, with Heinz opening their first factory in the UK in 1905.

So why the rapid spread?

Perhaps it was the army – baked beans, troops for the use of – certainly that’s how Watties got into the baked beans business

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Early mobile photography

Early photography, and we’re talking 1850’s and early 1860’s here, was a cumbersome process.

Photgraphic plates had to be prepared almost immediately before use – in itself a messy fume laden business, and then processed almost after exposure, so unstable were the photographic emulsions.

This is, or course, why most of the photographs we have from the period are studio portraits – doing photography outside was just too difficult – even the family group pictures of Victoria and Albert with assorted sprogs at Osborne, were carefully posed, and doubtless the photographers had a tent pitched that contained their impedimenta.

There are of course exceptions, such as the picture of the Chartist demonstration at Kennington Common in 1848,

(photo: Wikipedia)

but they’re rare.

Roger Fenton’s famous photographs of the Crimean war had a tremendous impact but again they required a horse drawn van load of equipment

(photo: UK royal collection trust)

In fact even the early American Civil War photographers used horse drawn vans:

(source: Luminous-lint.com)

But then the State Library of Victoria recently blogged about Thomas Hannay, an itinerant Scottish photographer, who drove a horse drawn van around the west of Victoria in the late 1850’s photographing people and things

(source: State Library of Victoria)

which is kind of interesting.

Obviously in an area with a small and scattered population there probably wasn’t enough work to keep a studio photographer in business – people like J.A. Rochlitz in Beechworth could run a business as there would always be people on the gold fields wanting to send photographs home, but in the western district, with its scatter of hard working farmers and fisherfolk, less so. Much less so.

Now what I don’t know is whether Hannay was unique, or if there were other itinerant country photographers across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

However, Hannay, who seems to have been based in Maldon originally, seems to have got about quite a bit, having been identified earlier this year as the first photographer of the Naracoorte caves in South Australia …


And to answer my own question, Hannay wasn’t the only one – as this advert from the Age in July 1858 suggests

travelling photographers

–  travelling photographers were common enough to be targeted in adverts for used horse vans …

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A visit to a grand old lady …

Mount Buffalo was Victoria’s first National park, and really where winter sports began in  Victoria in the late 1800’s.

So popular was the park that in 1910 someone had a plan to build a hotel for skiers and summer walkers modelled after Alpine resorts in Europe.

There wasn’t enough money to build it all at once, but over the years bits were added on, new wings, tennis courts, ski hire and the rest, so that by the 1930’s it was large rambling wooden building and something close to the original dream of a European Alpine hotel in Australia.

At some time along the way it was acquired by Victorian Railways, who continued to run it in the grand manner with silver service and dressing for dinner.

But of course times changed, and the railways were privatised, and the by now rather run down hotel ended up with Parks Victoria, who not knowing what to do with it leased it out to various operators, the last of whom walked out in 2006, unable to make it pay.

And there it sat, neglected, rotting, and falling apart. There was talk of demolishing all or part of it, but eventually money was found to begin restoring at least part of the building.

So, for the last few years it’s been empty, and shrouded in scaffolding, but by this year, restoration works have progressed enough to allow visitors in to see progress.

A large part of the building is still fragile, with rotting floors, but the dining room, the ballroom, a few of the bedrooms and some of the lounge areas have been restored and the original 1930’s furniture put back.

The toilets still don’t work, there’s no heating, but the building is more or less weathertight, and there’s lighting in the restored part of the building.

As part of the Australian Heritage Festival, Parks Victoria were offering tours of the building, so we signed up.

Actually, we signed up twice.

The first time we underestimated the traffic up the mountain, arrived 5 minutes late to find that the tour had already set off and that there was no way to catch them up as they lock the doors to keep casual visitors from getting in to what is still officially a work site.

The second time we were more successful, arriving in good time in pouring rain, and joining the other heritage geeks trying to keep dry on the verandah.

IMG_0276  IMG_0277

Inside it’s very much like these large moribund timewarp hotels that you used to find in the highlands of Scotland, or indeed in such outposts of empire as the Queens Hotel in Kandy.

Large rooms, over stuffed armchairs, a billiards room for the gentlemen, a sitting room for the ladies and a definite air of waiting for someone to order a stiff whisky.

IMG_0279 IMG_0283

Upstairs they’ve restored some of the bedrooms and dressed them to give an impression of how they would have been in the 1930’s, but most of the bedrooms are awaiting restoration (and such luxuries as a new floor), but most of the ground floor area has been restored – well except for plumbing and heating.

Suggested uses are as a restaurant, as a location for ghost tours or even mystery evenings where people role play an Agatha Christie story, but truth be told it’s all a bit unknown, as to where the funding is coming from to complete the restorations, but it’s an interesting piece of Australian history, and almost a time capsule …

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Lunacy in nineteenth century Beechworth

At the top of the hill in Beechworth is a big complex of buildings set in spacious grounds which houses a hotel, some council offices, a day spa, the local ghost tour operators, the local arts society and possibly some others I’ve forgotten.

Of course it hasn’t always been a mixture of local business and societies, it was once the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, one of the four big government mental health hospitals in Victoria.

Beechworth was chosen basically for the same reason that there was also once a major prison in the town – it was a long way from Melbourne, and yet in a reasonably populated area of the state.

Possibly also, being in the heart of the gold country, it also attracted more than its fair share of wandering inadequates, vagrants, and madmen who existed on the fringes of nineteenth century society.

Ever since I moved to Beechworth I’ve always been vaguely interested in the history of the lunatic asylum, perhaps because I have a degree in psychology – something that surprises some people who assume that I must have a qualification in computer science or informatics, or possibly zoology or physiology.

But no, my degree was in psychology, and even though I specialised in animal behaviour and neurobiology, and forty years ago at St Andrews it was a requirement that you had to do enough of the quasi medical side of things to allow you to go onto to a post graduate qualification in clinical or related areas of psychology.

It was of course the seventies, when everyone was very aware of the abuse of psychology in the old Soviet Union – ‘Comrade you’re criticising our socialist utopia, let us help you by locking you up in a mental hospital until you learn new ways of thinking …’

But it is true that some of the abuses of psychology in the old Soviet Union had uncomfortable parallels with the abuse of mental health in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, where wayward daughters and discarded wives were locked up in asylums – just look at some of Wilkie Collins’ novels for this and of course his mate Dickens wanted to lock up his wife in an asylum.

And of course, the history of psychology has more than its fair share of charlatans, sociopaths and oddities, making for a lot of amusing stories – all of which tickled my picaresque sense of humour and left me with a vague interest in the history of psychology.

Moving to Beechworth, I of course was interested in the history of the old lunatic asylum, but there’s a lack of information – the information’s there, it’s just not that accessible or organised.

There are some people looking into the history of the asylum, but the night they did a presentation on the project was of course the night I was on the phone to clown central about our broken internet cable.

So I didn’t learn that much about the project.

But recently I came across a book, The maddest place on earth by Jill Geise, which discusses the origins and development of the Victorian Lunatic Asylum system in the nineteenth century.

It’s an interesting and entertaining read, and one that relies heavily on the work of Julian Thomas, a journalist who went under cover to work as an attendant in the Yarra Bend and Kew asylums in the nineteenth century, and whose articles were published in the Argus, the paper of record in Melbourne at the time. (collections of his articles were published as the Vagabond papers – various digitised editions of the Papers are available via the internet archive, such as this edition of the first and second series of reports from the New York Public Library.

Unfortunately it doesn’t cover Beechworth directly, nor, because Thomas only (understandably) worked on male wards does it describe the treatment or abuse of female inmates, but judging by his reports of the treatment of male inmates, in which most of the abuses reported are drearily familar, I suspect the treatment and mis treatment of female inmates was much as you would expect.

However, there’s probably some interesting and human stories there.

Just as I uncovered the Catherine Morton case by searching Trove, my next steps will be to search Trove for stories around the treatment of lunatics, and reports relating specifically to Beechworth …

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You look for answers, you get more questions

Following on from yesterday’s family history investigation, I did what I should have done a long time ago, I had a look at the 1901 and 1891 censuses.

The 1901 census was more or less what I expected:

People at home for the 1901 census

James, my grandfather, was still at home and working as a grocers’ assistant, as expected, as he didn’t marry Catherine, his first wife until 1906.

Lizzie is still at home, and obviously doing well as a pupil teacher.

And of course Kate was still at school. As the school leaving age was raised to 14 in 1901, we can’t say if there was any significance of her still being in school, but given she appears, like her sister, to have gone on to be a school teacher, there was money for her to stay at school if she wished.

Annie, as we now know, had married in 1899 and was no longer at home.

And then we turn to the 1891 census:

1891 census snip

Annie is described, at the age of 14, as the housekeeper, James, my grandfather, was already working as a message boy, and Lizzie and Kate are at school.

So far, so good.

My great-grandfather, however, is not working as a boot and shoe maker, but as a traveller and collector. Exactly what this means is a bit vague, he could for example, be a travelling boot repairer, but we don’t know.

But the great revelation is a second son, Stewart who was working as a clerk.

So as well as Kate we now have Stewart to add to the family tree.

There is of course no other daughter listed, so we are still left wondering who the mysterious A was who was present at my great grandfather’s death.

It is of course just possible there was another daughter who married early, but the 1881 census puts paid to that:

1881 census snip

Clementina, as we would expect is still alive, Stuart is in school and both Annie and James are too young to go to school. My great grandfather is a bootmaker, and obviously doing well as he’s employing an assistant.

But no second daughter whose name starts with A …

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