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Persian Plantings

Recently, a chance mention of a ship called Persian by fellow writer and storyteller, Jackie Kerin, led to the discovery of an intriguing coincidence.

Jackie uses the Kamishibai format to tell the story of the historic voyage of the Persian in 1833 when it transported seeds and plants such as ferns, grasses and grape vines from England to Australia. The plants survived this long and arduous journey thanks to terrarium style glass boxes called Wardian cases.

The 1833 voyage carried an experiment by amateur horticulturist, Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who wanted to see if the boxes he had designed could successfully transport plants and seeds across the oceans of the world when all other methods had failed.The experiment was a resounding success. After six months at sea enduring temperatures from  -7°C   to 40°C  (19.4°F to 104°F), the plants arrived ‘alive and vigorous’.

The Wardian cases were on the third voyage the Persian had made to Australia. The coincidence we discovered relates to the Persian’s second journey in 1830. This time, my paternal convict ancestor John Rowley was on board.

In 1830, John Rowley, an eighteen-year-old labourer from Leeds, and his partner in crime, twenty-two -year-old William Thackrah, were sentenced to death for breaking into a premises and stealing goods and chattels (such as  spoons,  sheets,  aprons, table-cloths & fabric).

Why the death sentence despite the fact the men had not hurt anyone? Crimes against property (and the Crown) were considered the most heinous by the British Government of the time, and no doubt the privileged class that owned property held the same view. So while thieves were hanged, a man found guilty of manslaughter was fined as little as one shilling.

Eventually, the death sentences imposed on Rowley and Thackrah were commuted to fourteen years transportation to Australia. Both men were on the Persian in 1830 when the ship transported 198 convicts (all male) to Van Diemen’s Land.

Three years earlier in 1827, the Persian had made her first voyage to Australia as a female convict ship carrying sixty convicted women including, to give an example, sixteen-year-old Charlotte Williams who had received a life sentence for a first offence of ‘stealing a watch from the person’.

All three voyages brought foreign transplants to the Australian continent.

Not all of the convict ‘plants’ had a beneficial impact but most of the 160 000 plus men, women and children who were transported across the oceans and transplanted on the Australian continent made positive contributions to the building of Modern Australia. When my ancestor, John Rowley, had served his time, he left Tasmania to take up land allotments in Gippsland, Victoria and played a significant role in the development of the township of Rosedale. Without convicts like him we would not have the Australia we know today.

Like the convict transplants, not all the exotic plants (or the microorganisms that travelled with them in the soil) transported in Wardian cases made a positive contribution to the Australian continent. However, without Dr Ward’s amazing case we would not be enjoying the health benefits of the Cavendish banana or locally grown delicious mangoes. In the 1840s the Wardian cases brought grafted mango trees to Australia from India, generating the establishment of mango production in Queensland.

The Wardian cases were so successful worldwide they revolutionised the transportation of plants and were even used in botanical espionage. In the19th century, China’s tea monopoly came to a halt when Wardian cases were used to successfully move nearly 20,000 tea plants from China to India. Likewise, Brazil’s monopoly on rubber ended when the Wardian cases facilitated the successful transportation of 70,000 germinated rubber tree seeds to Ceylon.

After bringing the first Wardian cases to Australia, the Persian returned to England in 1834, once again successfully carrying plants, such as the coral fern and the black wattle, across the oceans.

My ancestor was not free to return to his homeland but in his new land he planted many, many more plants starting with his own eight children who went on to ‘propagate’ numerous more Rowley ‘plants’.

Learn more about  Jackie Kerin’s story of The Amazing Case of Dr Ward .

Until next time….JB 🙂

References:

The Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases by N.B. Ward

A Commonwealth of Thieves by Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 2007

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Invasion? Please don’t insult me.

As a convict descendant I find the claims that January 26th represents an invasion of Australia downright insulting. Such a claim implies that the convicts of the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip who were forcibly transported from England invaded this continent.

To claim invasion denies the suffering of those convicts who were confined to a space of 18 inches by 6 feet on crowded ships for almost nine months on a journey over 24 000 kilometres of ocean (not to mention what happened to them before getting on the ships). We’re talking about people who had no desire to inhabit ‘New Holland’ and who were forced to survive for the most part ‘on flapjacks and desiccated salted beef’ and had to cope with sea sickness, diarrhoea, abuse and more.

Claiming ‘Invasion’ not only denies the suffering of the convicts but also the gruelling work they put in after they were forced to live here; the hard labour it took to build new lives, to build the infrastructure for Modern Australia which began on 26 January 1788. Unfortunately, people like Greens leader Richard Di Natale don’t care about that. Without a thought for the convicts or one iota of respect for their descendants, he’s interested only in manipulating emotions and scoring political points by screaming: INVASION!

Not only is it an insult to the convicts and their descendants, but falsely claiming January 26th marked an invasion of the continent is also an insult to Governor Phillip who faithfully followed the Crown’s instructions to ‘open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections’. Even after receiving a serious injury when speared by an Aboriginal warrior, Phillip refused to retaliate and continued to try to maintain friendly relations. Hardly the actions of an invader!

January 26th marks the beginning of Modern Australia which has evolved into the fantastic country we have today. That is worth celebrating. Those who clamour for a change of date seem to be not only ignorant of historical facts and disrespectful to Australians who are convict descendants but also indifferent of the ramifications for Aboriginal people who will surely be subject to resentment (or worse) if they are seen as the reason for changing a date that has become so popular with the general public.

Why not consider a more inclusive solution? There is no reason why Australia Day can’t be a day of celebration AND reflection. A day when we can reflect on what happened to Aboriginal nations after the arrival of the First Fleet and celebrate what has been achieved by Aboriginal people in recent times. A day to reflect on what happened to those who were transported here and celebrate what they achieved. And a day to celebrate what we have all achieved together to make Australia what she is today. I reckon that’d be deadly! 🙂

One more thing. Since so many Australians seem to be uninformed about those who laid the foundations for Modern Australia, perhaps a brief look at what brought them here is appropriate.

Many of the convicts on the First Fleet and the convicts that came after them were decent hardworking people who had been forced to break the law because England’s new Enclosures Acts had driven them off the common land their families had worked for centuries and into the cities in the hope of finding work.

Furthermore, the New Transportation Act 1780 meant that Britain had the power to transport people for such minor offences as ‘stealing cloth from the rack’ (the sin of one of my convict ancestors), not paying excise tax, ‘killing or wounding any deer without the consent of the owner’, or for attending a meeting of Quakers. Nine-year-old orphan John Hudson was sentenced to seven years’ transportation for breaking into a residence and stealing several items of clothing and a pistol. Nine years old! Mary Wade was only eleven when, before her sentence was commuted to transportation, she was sentenced ‘to be hanged by the neck till she be dead’ for stealing a few items of clothing from another girl.

All this was happening in a society that had no police force, where the possibility that confessions were beaten out of people was very real and where witnesses were not always truthful. The real ‘crime’ of a servant girl accused of stealing might have been that she rebuffed her employer’s inappropriate advances. They were harsh times and the exiles to Australia had no idea that many of them would end up creating good lives for themselves in the distant, frightening land on the other side of the world.

Ref:

The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally

Mary Wade to Us :A Family History 1788 – 1986

Happy Big Toe Day!

Recently I was sent a reminder about Happy Friends’ Day. What?? Yet another ‘Happy’ day? Is everything going to be reduced to Happy Something Day? Already we have a long list of ‘Happies’: Happy Birthday, Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Father’s Day, Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy New Year, Happy Australia Day, Happy Halloween and on it goes. The Happy Hounds are forever sniffing out a new day to Happify. They’ll latch onto anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day soon I receive an invitation to celebrate Happy Big Toe Day!

Those Hounds have even sniffed out Anzac Day. Yes. It’s true. One Anzac Day, I heard people greeting each other with ‘Happy Anzac Day’. During my extended cringe at hearing this, I imagined the ghosts of Gallipoli soldiers rolling their eyes in disgust and saying: “It was all for bloody nothin’. Those twits have no idea!”

I attended the Anzac Service in Byron Bay in 2015 when I visited the area to research the setting of A Devious Mind. The bugler was silhouetted against the dawn sky and the final plaintive bars of The Last Post were waning when I spoke to a young lad who had recently made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli. He was a similar age to many of the Gallipoli soldiers, some of whom were between 14 and 16 years old. Looking at his fresh young face as he spoke of how he had experienced a little of the conditions the Anzacs had endured on the battlefield stirred in me a profound sadness at the thought of mere boys ‘bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags…’. The realisation of ‘the pity of war’ brought tears to my eyes that morning.

Do we, the ones who inherited the legacy of a free and democratic society in a ‘sunburnt country’, really want to dishonour the Anzacs by glibly chanting Happy Anzac Day? (Don’t forget the cheesy grin that goes with that.) Such a greeting effectively shifts the focus of Anzac Day from those who served − to ourselves. We want to make sure we all have a ‘happy’ day. That’s how we show respect to those who served our country? Can this be true? I thought it was the day we paused to honour and remember the service people who died, who suffered physical injuries and mental trauma, who lived, worked and fought in horrific conditions. Do we really want to reduce Anzac Day to some slick greeting card level?

Someone needs to tell the Happy Hounds to stop sniffing around Anzac Day. The appropriate greeting on April 25th is: Lest We Forget.

JB

Holy Moly! My Name’s Rowley

As children, my siblings and I often proudly pranced around singing the chorus of A Frog He Would a Wooing Go.

With a rowley, powly, gammon and spinach,
Heigh ho! Says Anthony Rowley.

What a feather in our cap it was to know that our name was famous enough to be featured in a traditional nursery rhyme.

Rowley was my father’s name. Its origins date back to a small parish in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England. Before I started this blog I contacted the Rowley Parish Council in Yorkshire. They confirmed that the first syllable in Rowley rhymes with ‘bowl’ so that Rowley rhymes with ‘holy’ and ‘moly’ as in the song above. The catalyst for writing this rant about pronunciation was the straw that broke the camel’s back: something that happened to one of my nieces. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

Growing up in the small country town of Orbost, no-one ever mispronounced Rowley. So it came as a bit of a shock when, having ventured further afield to the big city, I first heard my surname pronounced so that the first syllable rhymed with ‘fowl’. I excused that person on the assumption that their education was lacking. However, when I heard it mispronounced a second time and then a third time, I started to get annoyed. It seemed to me that Rowley was incredibly easy to pronounce. How on earth could people get it so foully wrong?

This vexed issue was one of the reasons I chose the pen name Brigid George for the murder mystery series I have started writing; JB Rowley seemed too hard for many people. I’m waiting for the day when I’m invited up to the podium to accept my prize for best mystery novel at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards. Will they be able to pronounce Brigid George correctly?

For someone who has several names (June Barnes-Rowley, JB Rowley, Brigid George being the main ones) it might seem strange that I get my kickers in a knot about the mispronunciation of my family name. But I do.

I recall an instance when an English teacher in a secondary school mispronounced Rowley when she introduced me to her class as a guest speaker. When I corrected her, she objected saying ‘row’ rhymes with ‘cow’. To enlighten her, I wrote the word ‘bowl’ on her board. I could also have written: bowler, bowling, knowledge, etc. And I could have lectured her on different pronunciations of ‘ow’ such as in crow. However, since by this time she seemed willing to accept that I knew how to pronounce my own name, I didn’t.

Over the years, I resigned myself to the fact that on some occasions I will hear my name mispronounced and I should grit my teeth and remind myself that the Rowley motto is ‘bear and forbear’. HOWEVER, I knew I had to take action when one of my nieces recently told me that she had been informed by teachers at school that she was not pronouncing her name correctly. Her own name! For now, I’ll put aside the arrogance of those teachers and the damage they might have done to a young child’s confidence. There is something even more dangerous afoot.

Clearly, there is a conspiracy out there to brainwash all the Rowleys into mispronouncing their name! I knew I had to arm myself with my trusty pen and put a stop to this mischief. So here I am to set the record straight. All Rowleys will now have a reference to refer to and none of us need ever again be thrown into a state of discombobulation by non-Rowleys who think they know better.

I should point out that the Rowley coat of arms bears the wolf, so if you do mispronounce our name, beware of wolves!

Until next time…

JB 🙂

The most precious gift of all?

Pekanbaru Library on the island of Sumatra is one of the most impressive library buildings I have ever seen but the empty book shelves and the sight of out-dated books published in the 1970s and 80s saddened me.  When I visited the library on a trip to Indonesia a couple of years ago the head librarian, a tall man dressed in a uniform reminiscent of army fatigues, graciously met with me to discuss the library system in Indonesia. I had several picture books with me that I had brought over from Australia. When I showed him a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, his eyes widened and his mouth dropped. His look of astonished enchantment increased with each page. At the end of the book, he asked in an awed tone, “Where can I get such a book?”

The reaction of Indonesian teachers to Eric Carle’s masterpiece was similar. One teacher, who  immediately grasped the beauty of the book’s simplicity and its educational value, highlighted the lessons embedded in the story as she turned the pages: “Colours, numbers, days of the week, food, biology…” Millions of children have enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar without even noticing that it was teaching them so many things. What a gift Eric Carle has given to generations of wide-eyed children.

Like many children in Indonesia I had little access to books as a kid growing up in the Australian bush. However, I was lucky enough to be given the gift of story by an aunt who sent books each Christmas, knowing that my parents could not afford such luxuries. Those beautifully bound books of literature classics gave me hours of reading pleasure, escape from my real world, a love of stories and probably extensive education that I was not aware of at the time.

That love of stories stayed with me and led me to oral storytelling and writing. I feel privileged to be able to use my skills to give the gift of story. Although I would not attempt to emulate Eric Carle’s magnificent picture book I hope that children reading my chapter book, Trapped in Gondwana, will benefit from the pleasure of reading a good story and escaping from their real world while being unaware of the lessons they are learning about the evolution of the earth, the environment, threatened species, personal growth and more.

I wonder if Trapped in Gondwana is the book that I boasted about to my mother when I was still a scrawny bush kid in the early 1960s.

“One day,” I said to her, “I’m going to write a best-selling book.”

My mother replied, “One day I might give you something to write about.”

It wasn’t until after her death almost forty years later that she gifted me her story by leaving papers, previously hidden, for her children to find, which revealed her secret. When I put together the pieces of the puzzle presented by the paperwork, I remembered the promise she had made to me. At the same time I recalled one of her favourite sayings: “You can say anything you like about me when I am dead.” That was how I knew she had given me permission to write her story and the licence to write it as I saw fit.  Her legacy to me was the gift of story. Perhaps it is her story Whisper My Secret and not Trapped in Gondwana about which I heralded great success with my grandiloquent boast. (Fingers crossed for both!)

Whatever the fate of my books in terms of sales, I do believe that the gift of story is one of the most precious gifts we can give, not only to children, but to each other. Apart from bestowing books whether print, electronic or audio, we can also give the gift of story in other ways. Sharing our stories, whether by telling and listening or by writing and reading, is a profound gift which binds families, communities, friends and nations through the creation of understanding, empathy and a sense of connection.

Until next time…JB 🙂

Whisper My Secret

Trapped in Gondwana

About Whisper My Secret

Why I Envy Librarians

Books for Indonesian kids

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Australia Day Blogging Awards

Versatile Blogger Award
Thank you, Bean from Finding Your Gibbee, for awarding me The Versatile Blogger award.

In keeping with the rules of this award (see below) and to celebrate Australia Day, I would like to award The Versatile Blogger to the following brilliant bloggers:
Jackie Kerin
Lillian Rodrighues-Pang (http://lillistory.wordpress.com/)
Zena Shapter
Skye : Leopold Primary School
Liam : Leopold Primary School
Riley : Leopold Primary School

Rule number 4 (Share seven completely random things about myself.)
1: I am a child on the inside (the outside is another matter)
2: I am also a reptile (love the heat and cannot tolerate the cold)
3: I love a good murder (in fiction)
4: I have killed
5: I have never been in jail (well, not as an inmate)
6: I make a mean pavlova (never been arrested for it)
7: I love listening to audio books (never been arrested for that either)
Re point 4: It was a mouse.

Here are the rules that go along with this award:
1.In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.(15 isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture. Try and pick at least 5 )
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

I’m just a timid little mouse in the blogging universe but there is nothing like an award to get me roaring like a lion. JB 🙂

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