Saturday, October 24, 2015

Away with the Fenians and prattling Polonius ...

The pond started off with a cartoon celebrating the Fenians and Samuel Calvert's engraving of the attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh at Clontarf in 1868 in honour of the pond's most admired historian, known to his chums as prattling Polonius ...

Polonius was on fire today in the lizard Oz ...

What made the pond admire Polonius so?

Well it's there in the first few pars, which preceded the ritual bashing of the Islamics ...

Talk about tough minded but fair.

It set the pond's mind wandering back to the days when to be an Irish Catholic was to be one of the outcasts, an inheritance from the endless demonisation on parade in the nineteenth century.

Of course a more obvious example of every ethnic group that came to Australia that wasn't assimilated, even if it wanted to, involved the Chinese who turned up at the gold fields, triggered riots and returned home. Some wanted to stay, but if they did so, they faced astonishing prejudice, and in the end the enactment of the White Australia policy.

So Clive James is a bad historian, but what made it more poignant for the pond is that prattling Polonius himself acknowledges an allegiance to the tykes who were deemed to be the source of so trouble in the minds of all right-thinking colonials.

It all reached something of a peak with the assassination attempt - imagine an Islamic fundamentalist taking a pot shot at British royalty today - but there were curious sideshows to the royal circus, which saw the prince stop at BarwonPark, the sprawling pastoral estate of Thomas Austin at Winchelsea:

It was not then the palatial mansion of today; that was built in 1869, inspired by Mrs Austin’s embarrassment at having to host royalty in a sizeable but hardly stylish bluestone and timber homestead. But what Barwon Park lacked in opulence it certainly made up for in hunting stock – specifically, rabbits, literally in their thousands. 
Thomas Austin’s desire to recreate and re-enact traditional hunting scenes from his English childhood led him to import two-dozen rabbits, along with numerous other species including hare, sparrow and partridge. He released the rabbits onto his property on Christmas Day 1859; within a year they had multiplied alarmingly and denuded large sections of his property. Austin was able to fulfil his hunting dreams, and then some – and he kept good figures too, recording a ‘kill’ of over 14,000 rabbits in 1867, the year of the prince’s visit. Prince Alfred arrived at the Austin’s in mid December, after calling at Winchelsea to lay the final stone in the bluestone bridge that still spans the Barwon River there today. After dining, the party took advantage of the warm summer evening to embark on a rabbit shoot, strolling to ‘the Warrens’, an area near the river where the rabbits were as thick as flies. 
In three hours’ shooting the prince bagged over 400; the party together shot almost 1000. The proceeds were distributed, by Austin, among the local residents, who no doubt feasted heavily on ‘underground mutton’ through the following week. (The pond is indebted to Steve Thompson's The Royal and the Rabbits, the Feast and the Fenian: Australia's First Royal Tour, in pdf format here).

Now a sensible person might have shot both Austin and the prince and saved Australia much grief and many rabbit plagues, but on the tour went ...

Prince Alfred continued on a tour of western Victoria that took in several more set-up hunting expeditions, including kangaroos near Warrnambool and one strategically placed black swan at Hexham (“the swan was as drunk as the locals”, wrote the travelling Argus correspondent). 
This and subsequent trips around Victoria saw the prince welcomed in Geelong, Colac, Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine and dozens of hamlets and railway towns in between. At each stop he was publicly feted, subjected to relentless speeches and ‘declarations of loyalty’, and presented with ornamental trinkets and mementos. The royal entourage would leave Victoria on January 4th, 1868, making its way to Tasmania, Sydney, Queensland and then back to Sydney. 

And then came the vexatious, troublesome Fenians:

It was during the second visit to Sydney and the final leg of the tour, in March 1868, that its most widely known event occurred: an assassination attempt on the prince. While being ushered around a retirement home for sailors in the harbour-side suburb of Clontarf, the prince was approached by a pistol wielding Irishman, Henry James O’Farrell, who shot him in the back at near point-blank range. Wounded, the prince fell to his hands and knees, exclaiming ‘Good God, I am shot, my back is broken’ while the crowd fell upon O’Farrell, beating him incessantly and calling for his lynching. The police eventually rescued O’Farrell from the crowd while the prince was carried into a tent to be examined. It was discovered that the would-be assassin’s bullet had been slowed by Alfred’s thick leather braces, hitting a rib before deflecting around his torso and lodging in his abdomen. They were not life-threatening injuries but he would require hospitalisation and some surgery. He was transferred to Government House, where the pellet was removed and spent several days in recovery. O’Farrell was charged with assault with intent to murder, put on trial and executed within six weeks of the event – a measure of the common disgust which most colonials felt about the whole affair. O’Farrell’s crime touched off a long and often bitterly waged vendetta against Irish nationalists, their sympathisers and the Irish generally. It also produced acrimonious dialogue between the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales, each blaming the other for the embarrassing event (to be fair, these colonies needed only flimsy excuses for their rival newspapers to engage in endless bickering). Among the clamouring expressions of shock and indignation at the shooting were vague and not-so vague insinuations: first, comments about Sydney crowds and the lack of security; then it emerged that O’Farrell was actually from Melbourne, a ‘haven for Fenianism’. The issue would keep colonial writers and typesetters busy for months throughout 1868.

Indeed, indeed, and to be sure, and much later in Tamworth, the crime of Fenianism, imagined or real, was still a matter for common gossip nigh on a century later, with Ned Kelly's origins thrown in for good measure ...

Now there are many other stories about the assassination and the Fenians available online, and the outrage and the carry-on:

After the shooting Irish Protestant of ‘the Orange movement came into its own’, with ‘its anti-Catholicism making it attractive to new members’. By the end of 1868 the Orange movement in Australia had become: Ultra-British, Ultra- Protestant, (with) ready-made positions at hand to feed the needs of that insure phase in the evolution of Australian identity. Orange Lodge members were still weary of the anti-Irish movement and attitude caused by the shooting especially in rural communities for many presumed all Irish were Catholics. Because they were mostly Irish, they were still part of the prejudice and racism towards the Irish after the shooting. 
Henry Parkes (1815 - 1896) who at the time of the attempted assassination of Prince Albert by O’Farrell was the Colonial Secretary and the ‘principal ministerial contact with the head of the Princes’s entourage’. Some have said that Parkes turn the attempted assassination to his own political advantage, even to the extend that Parkes ‘even claimed that he had foreknowledge of the conspiracy’ (the attempt of assassination). Immediately after the shooting Henry Parkes initiated his own investigation, as he may had little conviction in his own police force who were mostly Irish. After interviewing O’Farrell on the evening of the shooting, he then went about to search his hotel room. Upon searching O’Farrell’s personal effects he found a notebook of which set Parkes on the course that possible created the Fenian scare and the Irish distrust and hatred amongst fellow Australians. Parkes believed that a Fenian group and O’Farrell were all part of the conspiracy to kill Prince Alfred. 
Parkes use the shooting to gain public support for his personal prejudice against Irish and Catholics. His opinion of the Irish was that they were just ‘jabbering baboons and disruptive trouble makers’. So with an Irishman shooting Prince Alfred it gave a perfect opportunity to promote his dislike of the Irish. Did Parkes attitude add to the hysteria that occurred after the shooting? The Parliament was quick in the passing of the Treason Felony Act which the shooting and ‘investigation of O’Farrell ...helped to decide Parliament on very stringent measures’. After the confession of O’Farrell was released in which he claimed the shooting was that of his own doing with no Fenian involvement, Parkes was then blamed for causing the Fenian scare after the shooting especially since he had never really found no evidence. This however still did not change Parkes’s attitude and ‘suspicion of Catholicism’, showing his personal racism attitude towards both Catholics and Irish whom the majority were Catholics. Parkes who was a Protestant used his political power to finally introduced the Public Instruction Act which abolished state aid for Catholic school and others and ‘as a result New South Wales has been plagued by a two school system ever since’. 
The Sydney Morning Herald along with the Empire published many stories and editorials about the shooting and many of the indignation meetings afterwards. The Herald also published telegraph messages from rural New South Wales and others about the feeling of horror amongst the many Australian communities. Did the Herald influence people’s reaction to the shooting with such editorial story lines as ‘A crime, which every one will repudiate with horror’ and ‘We have no reader who does not feel its enormity to the fullest extend’? These and others were published only one day after the shooting. But the Herald also advised their readers to: Let the law be respected, even in the white heat of some of the strongest passions that can stir our nature in control...At present there is no authentic information as to the motives which led to the deed (shooting)...Let us not, under cover of zeal for righteousness, commit the wrong of casting undeserved suspicions...we must strive to preserve a moderation and a calmness that will keeps us from excess. 
As O’Farrell was from Melbourne, the writings of the Herald quickly shifted blame for the shooting to Victoria setting the tone that ‘the crime was not of home grown but a foreign importation’. Did this make the inclination, that there was or even start some animosity between the states of Australia? The Herald was widely read in the Colony with copies being even sent to family members and friends in rural New South Wales ‘containing of course full particulars of the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred’. One of the Catholic periodical at the time was called the Freeman’s Journal which the Herald wrote on its dislike of the publication and its contents. Even the Melbourne Age objected to the display of Irish disloyalty to the Crown and Empire which appeared in another Catholic publication the Advocate. The reason for this was that both the Freemans Journal and Advocate had published sympathy and support for the Fenian movement. So still the Herald reported the views and opinions to their readers and may have dictated their feelings towards fellow Australians. Especially with comments such as ‘if Irishmen could not leave their hereditary feuds behind them, they would not make good Australians’. Did the Herald reader take this as all Irishmen were bad Australians? (The pond is indebted to Cathy Dunn's piece, available in full here).

And so on (there's another piece here on the assassination), and the pond could do the same for the bad Aborigines that started it all, and the bad Chinese, and the bad Vietnamese and the bad Italians and the bad Greeks and the bad Croatians and the bad Serbians and the bad ...

Well, the colonials and the continent have a splendid record of demonising the newest wave of migrants, and Polonius fits right into that tradition, whereby the onetime demonised are able, after a suitable time, and with appropriate forgiveness and forgetting, able to demonising the next wave ... with the hapless Islamics the latest to suffer, though they copped an early blast way back when a few malcontents bunged on the battle of Broken Hill.

No doubt the Islamics pray for the arrival of Pacific Islanders in droves, driven by the flooding of their island homelands, so that they too might have a new wave on which to pick ...

It reminds the pond of that old song:

Why can't a migrant be more like a Hendo? 
Hendos are so honest, so thoroughly square; 
Eternally noble, historically fair; 
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat. 
Why can't a migrant be like that?

Sing along, and if you like you can transpose the lyrics and make it about women, just for fun ...

But back to that historically obtuse Hendo, and naturally, having exhausted the pleasures of Islamic bashing, it was time for some more of the inexhaustible pleasures of black bashing ...

Yep, Hendo knows the words to that song really well:

Why can't the blacks be more like a Hendo? 
Hendos are so honest, so thoroughly square; 
Eternally noble, historically fair; 
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat. 
Why can't the pesky, vexatious, difficult, 
troublesome, quarrelsome blacks be like that?

Sadly, if it means the pond must join with Polonius in singing his national song, the pond will probably revert to its old tradition of singing the words of Waltzing Matilda whenever  Polonius's wretched national anthem bobs up ...

Try it, it isn't so hard, though a week's listening to a Charles Ives' piece is always excellent preparation ...

As for the rest, well the pond blames the bloody Fenians ...


  1. Aw, DP, give ol' Gerard a break! He was only responding to a response, ie, taking up the megaphone to broadcast one person's opinion. Some may see that as perniciously divisive, but the man has a job to do. He could have, like countless others, ignored Cheetham's discomfort. He could have quoted me, if he desired, as someone who can't/won't attempt to sing a dud song.

  2. Dear Dorothy,
    Parkes may have been put up to the Fenian lark by a scoundrel ancestor of mine, one Henry (sometimes Harry) Rowland Benedict. At one time a perfectly respectable public servant (although it appears that he had married bigamously, first in Geelong then 9 months later in Hobart) who went off the rails, served some time as a 'detective', then as a 'journalist'. Benedict entered into an arrangement with Parkes (possibly more gullible than guilty) to find the dastardly Fenians (in return for 'expenses' of course). Benedict didn't deliver a dozen Fenians as promised. In the end it was Parkes who paid the price, if only temporarily, when my scoundrel Benedict should have done some time.

  3. "So Clive James is a bad historian..."

    One with no future in prediction either, or so it seems. He repeatedly gets his own future d.o.d. wrong on both counts. If you don't learn your history you're doomed to go on repeating the same mistakes - they say - but let Clive continue penning his story, let him not presently be such a late learner.

  4. I wonder Gerard wouldn't mind getting fucked for God?


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