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How to honour the spot? 26 January 2013

Historic place marked by a public toilet

Story by CAROLINE MARCUS and GARY STURGESS

A CRUCIAL link to our history has literally been flushed down the toilet.

The spot, thought to be where Governor Arthur Phillip first set foot in 1788, founding Sydney, is now home to a demountable toilet block. Gary Sturgess, a former adviser to the Greiner government, said Sydney Ports has dumped the toilets on what should be a place of historical significance, opposite the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks.

A spokesman for Sydney Ports, which installed the toilets three years ago, said the corporation was "unaware of any official marker at the site of the demountable."

"It was placed there in response to a series of complaints that there were insufficient public toilet facilities at The Rocks," the spokesman said.

Why is a toilet marring our nation's historic site?

By Gary Sturgess

The spot where Governor Phillip first set foot in Sydney Cove - where European settlement began - is a toilet. Literally. The Sydney Ports Corporation dumped a portaloo there last Australia Day and has failed to take it away.

Last Saturday there were people filing in and out of this makeshift establishment, completely unaware that they were standing (or sitting) on one of Australia's most historic sites. They had all come to The Rocks to celebrate the foundation of modern Australia - yet not one of the people I spoke to were aware that this was where it had all started.

And why should they? There were no public events focused on this site, no banners explaining its significance. The only clue was a passing mention at the foot of an obscure sign half way up a path nearby. While they were grateful to have access to such convenience, there was universal agreement it might have been situated somewhere more appropriate.

Indeed, there was little about The Rocks last Saturday that explained what the celebrations had to do with that place. Other than the distant sound of a 21-gun salute, this could have been an Australia Day party anywhere in the country.

When I came across the large signs celebrating Jack Mundey's campaign to save Sydney's historic centre, I wondered whether he is proud of what he accomplished. Yes, we have preserved the physical shell, but as a former Communist, does it not bother him that we have saved so little of its heart?

The problem, it seems to me, is that we have no sense of place. We rush through the city landscape totally unaware of its ancient landfalls and waterways, its ridges and gullies. We have lost our sense of history - we have no idea how Bridge St and Spring St acquired their names or why O'Connell St cuts away at a different angle from every other street in the city.

If a sacrilege such as this toilet were to be imposed upon a site that was sacred to the Aboriginal peoples, there would be national outrage, but after all that we have done to their culture, they still retain a strong sense of place.

I asked a number of people on Saturday if they knew where Phillip landed. One couple - he from London and she from Perth - responded immediately that it was at Farm Cove. Two rangers employed by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, the state government body charged with managing The Rocks, thought it was Dawes Point, under the bridge. No one mentioned this site behind the international terminal.

Part of the problem is that the Sydney Rocks Authority was merged some time ago with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which is a landlord and developer. It supports a wonderful little museum and employs an archaeologist, but SHFA has no particular commitment to The Rocks or its history. In spite of the amalgamations, organisational authority at the Rocks seems to be highly fragmented. The SHFA rangers explained that responsibility for the portaloo lay with the Sydney Ports Corporation and not with their organisation.

We have an historian as Premier, but the government as a whole seems to have little interest in our history.

In the past year, the State Records Authority - a division of the Department of Finance and Services - has closed its facility in The Rocks. Researchers wanting to access our early records must now make their way to Kingswood, in Sydney's west.

I was informed on Saturday that microfilms of the British archives that are kept by the State Library - the only place where most Australian historians can access those records - are no longer accessible for public health reasons.

At a time of austerity, I can understand that government might not wish to spend money erecting a statue on the site of Phillip's first landing, but surely they might have refrained from locating a portable toilet on the spot.

NB: Gary Sturgess is an adjunct professor with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, based in Sydney.


Modern shipbreaking

Where do dead ships go to die? Freighters and so on? Aircraft carriers, oil tankers, cruise liners, ferries, fishing boats? Many - as many as hundreds per year - go to the world's biggest ship-breaking yard at Alang, of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, on the Gulf of Cambay. The ships are rammed ashore and worked on by thousands of workers, stripped down to the last bolt. Everything is recycled/resold.

In 1997, Alang worked on scrapping 348 ships, almost one per day. There are upsides and downsides. Workers' living conditions verge on the putrid. Working conditions for up to 40,000 workers are unsafe, conditions - as with an oil tanker - can be dangerous.

Shoddy environmental regulations can mean that dying ships release toxic wastes that no one worries about except environmentalists. Upsides are the provision of employment and a service. The ship-breaking industry produces about two million tonnes of re-usable steel per years. And this websites imagines the shipbreaking industry has grown near Bombay because in the days of sailing ships, Bombay was the most prominent and respected ship-building centre in all India. In 1997, an expose story on ship-breaking in the USA's Baltimore Sun won a Pulitzer Prize. (Article in The Australian Magazine, 18-19 July 1998.)


Movie to be made of Batavia

Columnist with Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Fitzsimons recently published a book on the tragedy of the Dutch ship Batavia, which infamously wrecked on the north coast of West Australia. His newspaper informs us that a six-part TV mini-series is to be made of his book, expected to be screened during 2013.

Batavia delves into the true story of a Dutch shipwreck off the coast of Western Australia in 1629, where 331 people landed; 125 were subsequently murdered by a psychopath and mutinous crew members.” (Item, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 2011.


A Merciless Place

Emma Christopher in Interview (From Sydney Morning Herald, weekend edition, 7-8 August, 2010, Spectrum Magazine section)

subhead: This British-born historian has found a link between the birth of Australia and the African slave trade. She talks to Steve Meacham.

As a confessed “slavery specialist”, Dr Emma Christopher agrees she is a member of a rather small club – at least on this side of the world. “There's not many of us here in Australia”, says the British-born academic with a laugh, before pointing out that most US universities have a school of slavery studies.” So she travels to a lots of international slavery conventions and symposiums. Another laugh: “My frequent flyer points are pretty good.”

We catch up at Christopher's picket-fenced, gable-windowed cottage in Sydney's inner-west Rozelle just hours before she is due to board yet another plane. This time the destination is Brazil, where she'll follow-up a long-cold slave trail for her latest venture, a documentary linking her adopted country, Australia, to her area of greatest expertise, West Africa.

For the next five years, Christopher, 38, will spend many hours in an aircraft seat, relieved of teaching duties in the University of Sydney's history department while she completes two Australian Research Council fellowships. Her projects will see her further examine the little-known relationships between the birth of Australia and the slave trade that saw millions of shackled Africans shipped to the Americas.

But today we're discussing her latest book, A Merciless Place, subtitled The Lost Story of Britain's Convict Disaster in Africa and How it Led to the Settlement of Australia. At 365 pages, plus another 60 pages of footnotes and bibliography, you would be forgiven for thinking it a sombre tome, a dry analysis of a terrible era of human suffering.

In fact, it's a fine example of modern popular history. Not exactly a romp, but a compelling read with an enormous cast of unsavoury characters, spiced with delicious historical trivia. In l770s London, Christopher informs us, prostitutes thought nothing of advertising in magazines such as Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies or Man of Pleasure's Kalendar.

“A Miss Wilmot even advertised that she had pleasured King George III's brother and that any other man might share the royal experience for a guinea if he could overlook the fact that she had syphilis.”

Essentially, her book explores what the publicists call “'a story lost to history for over 200 years; a dirty secret of failure, fatal misjudgement and desperate measures which the British Empire chose to forget almost as soon as it was over.”

Most Australians know the First Fleet arrived in 1788 because the British needed a new penal colony having lost its original targets for convict tranportation when the Americans won their War of Independence. But few realise that Botany Bay wasn't the original subsititute. Between being crushed by George Washington and setting sail for what is now Sydney, the British Government tried to set up several penal colonies in West Africa and modern-day Namibia.

Christopher realised she had stumbled on a forgotten saga in in 2002 when she was reading about Australian history before taking up a teaching post at Monash University in Melbourne – and spotted references to convicts being transported to Africa. But when she asked the leading historians of Africa for more details, “they all said they didn't know convicts had even been sent to Africa.”

The book redresses that collective ignorance, adding a new perspective to the birth of modern Australia. The First Fleet wasn't just a daring adventure born of political expedience, says Christopher, but a reaction to the utter debacle in West Africa, which had ended in muder, infamy and scandal.

A Merçiless Place begins in revolutionary America and ends in colonial Sydney, but most of the story takes place in the Hogarthian Hell of 18th century working-class London and the malaria-infested slavery coasts of present day Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The slave trade from Africa to the Americas had always been run by a private British monopoly that resisted any move to foist convicts upon the ports. But when the Dutch entered the revolutionary war on the American side, the British government saw an opportunity. It formed two independent companies of the British Army, stocked them with convicts from the stinking prison ships lining the Thames and sent them to West Africa under the guise of capturing the Dutch slave ports.

"The real intention was just to dump the convicts there,'' Christopher says "That causes incredible chaos. Some run away to become pirates. A lot more run away to fight with the Dutch. Some of them run away to shack up with African women. A worse place to have convicts running amok is hard to imagine.”

“The slave traders were appalled. They had alwȧys run their trade on the basis of white superiority.'' But emancipated white convicts were hardly a great advertisement for their race – and neither were the unscrupulous officers put in charge of them.

Christopher's tale revolves around several key historical characters. Two of the most important were a conman-cum-housebreaker called William Murray and an Irishman, Patrick Madan, who both thrived in the lawless cesspit that was 18th-century London. Their exploits read like a Georgian version of Underbelly.

"People like Madan and Murray weren't outcasts,” Christopher says. “They were heroes of the underclass. They led their own criminal gangs. And when Madan was captured, his gang launched an assault on the watchtower to get him out.”

Both ended up guarding slaves in West Africa. One of them was murdered, the other disappeared mysteriously, becoming a kind of 18th-century version of Lord Lucan.

''There were always reports that he'd been seen drinking in a London pub”, Christopher says, "but there is no evidence.”

The real villain in A Merciless Place is a commander, Captain Kenneth MacKenzie, a career soldier and impoverished Scottish aristocrat who was divorced by the mother of his six children (a rare occurrence in the Scotland of the times) because of the time he spent in brothels. ''Perhaps it was the flagrant manner in which he went about these affairs, writes Christopher. “Not only had he visited prostitutes in the small village where the family lived, but he had made no secret - barring once pulling the bedclothes over his head when seen in bed in a brothel – of his nocturnal activities.”

Desperate for cash, Mackenzie had volunteered to raise a company of soldiers to fight inAmerica, where he hoped to profit from the war. To his consternation, though, his more able recruits were sent to other regiments while Mackenzie was put in charge of the company of convicts bound for west Africa.

They arrived at Goree, off the coast of Senegal, in 1781, before setting sail for the slave forts that dotted the Guinea coast.

Mackenzie proved a thoroughly dishonest and disreputable leader. He set up his own private plantation and ordered the white convicts to work aIongside black slaves. "This, of course, is heresy to the slave traders”, Christopher says. ''It caused huge poIitical troubles in Britain because the slave traders were well represented in parliament. But the government had no alternative, it kept sending convicts to West Africa.”

The conditions were horrific. By comparison, Christopher says, the convicts who were later sent to Australia had it easy.

“Although life was reaIly harsh in early Sydney, they had so much more on their side, Disease here was on the side of the invaders. It wiped out the indigenous people. In Africa it was the other way round. Also in Africa, the slave trade had been going on for centuries and the native people had got guns. Indigenous people here didn't have the weapons to fight back. Here convicts lived long lives. In Africa they were dying in a matter of weeks.”

Things came to a head when Mackenzie ordered one of the convicts to tie another over the mouth of a cannon, then fire it. He was taken back to Britain and convicted of muder, but the die was cast on the whole experiment. The British made one more attempt at creating another penal colony at the mouth of the Orange River in Namibia before deciding on the Botany Bay option.

Christopher has been able to trace three convict survivors of the African tragedy who were on the First Fleet. One of them was Thomas Limpus, condemned for stealing a few handkerchiefs.

“I still find it incredibly difficult to understand what it must have been like for a young man like Thomas Limpus to be transported to Africa, and ultimately Australia. What is that like if you had only lived in the slums of London? Committing a terribly small crime, then finding yourself guarding slaves in Africa?”

In Limpus's case, he ended up owning a farm in the Sydney basin and living to a ripe old age.

Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Lost Story of Britain's Convict Disaster in Africa and How it Led to the Settlement of Australia is published by Allen and Unwin [2010] $35.

(Ends Meacham interview with Emma Christopher)


Armidale man trying to solve the riddles of convict transportation to Australia

This is from The Armidale Express, 1 October 2003, page 8.

Armidale author and researcher, Dan Byrnes, is still finding many gaps as he delves into the history of convict transporation to Australia. In a talk at the New England Writers Centre, Mr Byrnes confessed to a feeling of mystification about his latest set of findings, which relate to his earlier work on matters 1718-1810.

Much of his earlier work, entitled The Blackheath Connection, has been available on the Internet since March 2000.

Mr Byrnes' puzzlement relates to the family histories of many of the merchants involved with shipping prisoners to Australia after gaining a government contract to do so (there were about 648 convict ships by some counts).

He has found from database work that the family histories of many of their associates can also be linked, and patterns emerge, many of which are not registered in the history books.

"This seems like a new development for the period 1810-1867", he said. "One I hadn't expected. and which I hope to make the subject of new articles. A problem arises: since the genealogies are linked, the articles would best appear as a series, but it's difficult these days to have material published in series."

Mr Byrnes has also tried to enlarge on the scenarios usually menioned in the penal history Australians are used to reading.

"Between 1775-1867, the penal history often excludes a great deal of material on merchant history, which is relevant to discussing ship managers engaging in transportation", he said.

This applies to William Richards II, who organised the First F1eet, and to Duncan Campbell, overseer of the Thames prison-hulks to 1803.

Oddly enough, Richards' son, William III, became a convict ship captain, and later had a property, Winterbourne, near Walcha.

"The case of Richards at Walcha is an almost-quaint, inland, New England touch to such maritime history, but it's become hard to contain the number of issues involved," Mr Byrnes said.

"By regarding transportation as commercial maritime history, I've tried to explain the motives of the shipping men involved. After his father's First Fleet experience, just why William III Richards became a convict ship captain is something I still do not know.

"These are mysteries which still seem to be locked up in unwritten family histories. On today's Internet there are many family histories of relevance, though many are still unavailable. The net makes some research easier."

"Still, it often remains necessary to track family movements across the entire British Empire", Mr Byrnes said. "Meanwhile, it seems that families with ancestors who were involved in shipping convicts mostly don't wish to advertise their forebears. Just maybe, the 'convict taint' applies to the descendants of these shipping managers as well as to convict descendants -- or it is just that Australians haven't asked useful questions? I really can't say," he said.

Some of these convict contractors were part of layerings of different sorts of business associations between Britain and Australia, including our pastoralism - and family histories often seem relevant.

"The mystification arises in some cases, via using a large database, when indications arise that after the careers of some convict contractors [were over], someone in that extended family later appears as part of Australia's vice-regal sector.

"The continuities of some family interests do not seem to be accidents", Mr Byrnes said. "Particularly when it's evident that some convict contractors, such as shipping managers, had developed a continental overview of Australia before most pre-Federation Australians did. It's rather as though Australians have found this hard to visualise, though I regard it as part of our internationalistic history, it's a kind of outer shell of our convict history", he said.


A story of money

Wendy Moore, Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2009, 359pp

(Review by Steve Meacham, Australia)

If you enjoyed Keira Knightley in The Duchess, or Amanda Foreman's novel on which it was based, you'll appreciate this meticulously researched and well-written biography of another independently-minded Georgian woman doomed to scandal, infidelity and abuse. At age 11, Mary Eleanor Bowes became the richest heiress in Britain, when her father, a coal magnate, died, leaving her a fortune worth about $300 million in today's money. At 18, she married the older, frowsty Earl of Strathmore, delivering him five children before she was widowed, aged 27 (one of their descendants would be the late Queen Mother). But it was her second marriage that made the Countess of Strathmore one of the most notorious women in Europe, lampooned in 18th-century cartoons and gossip columns. "Captain" Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Irish gold digger, became the model for Thackeray's villainous anti-hero, Barry Lyndon. Though superficially charming, Stoney was an absolute rogue. Drunkard, womaniser, wife-beater, liar, gambler, debtor, he was described by his father as "the most wretched man I ever knew". He duped the Countess into marrying him on his ""death bed" after supposedly suffering fatal injuries in a duel defending her honour (she was already pregnant With a rival lover's child). In fact, the duel had been staged. How the Countess survived the indignities and physical punishment Stoney heaped upon her provides Moore, a journalist and accomplished biographer, with ample material to explore the underbelly of Georgian aristocracy. Mary was no simpleton. She was well-educated, a talented poet, and a keen amateur botanist who - had she married someone else - might have been remembered as a female role model, But she was impetuous and easily wooed. Divorce, of course, was almost impossible in Georgian England. But Mary eventually proved her mettle, winning a landmark case, with the help of four maidservants, to extricate herself from Stoney and win back her much-depleted fortune.


Was it a whaler?

From New York Times 14 July, 2010 and via a GeneaNet newsletter some days later
18th-Century Ship Found at New York Trade Center Site By DAVID W. DUNLAP

On Wednesday, archaeologists examined the remains of a wooden ship found at the World Trade Center site. In the middle of tomorrow, a great ribbed ghost has emerged from a distant yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, workers excavating the site of the underground vehicle security center for the future World Trade Center hit a row of sturdy, upright wood timbers, regularly spaced, sticking out of a briny gray muck flecked with oyster shells.

Obviously, these were more than just remnants of the wooden cribbing used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to extend the shoreline of Manhattan Island ever farther into the Hudson River. (Lower Manhattan real estate was a precious commodity even then.)

“They were so perfectly contoured that they were clearly part of a ship,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, an archaeologist with the firm AKRF, which is working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to document historical material uncovered during construction.

By Wednesday, the outlines made it plain: a 30-foot length of a wood-hulled vessel had been discovered about 20 to 30 feet below street level on the World Trade Center site, the first such large-scale archaeological find along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982, when an 18th-century cargo ship came to light at 175 Water Street.

The area under excavation, between Liberty and Cedar Streets, had not been dug out for the original trade center. The vessel, presumably dating from the mid- to late 1700s, was evidently undisturbed more than 200 years.

News of the find spread quickly. Archaeologists and officials hurried to the site, not only because of the magnitude of the discovery but because construction work could not be interrupted and because the timber, no longer safe in its cocoon of ooze, began deteriorating as soon as it was exposed to air. For that reason, Doug Mackey, the chief regional archaeologist for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, was grateful for the rainfall. “If the sun had been out,” he said, “the wood would already have started to fall apart.”

As other archaeologists scrambled with tape measures over what appeared to be the floor planks of the ship’s lowermost deck, Mr. Mackey said, “We’re trying to record it as quickly as possible and do the analysis later.” All around the skeletal hull, excavation for the security center proceeded, changing the muddy terrain every few minutes.

Romantics may conjure the picture of an elegant schooner passing in sight of the spire of Trinity Church. Professional archaeologists are much more reserved. They were even careful not to say for certain whether they were looking at the prow or the stern of the vessel, though the fanlike array of beams seemed to suggest that the aft (rear) portion of the ship was exposed. Mr. Pappalardo said the whole vessel may have been two or three times longer than the portion found.

Perhaps the most puzzling and intriguing find was a semicircular metal collar, several feet across, apparently supported on a brick base, built into the hull. Perhaps it was some sort of an oven or steam contraption.

About the farthest Mr. Mackey and Mr. Pappalardo would go in conjecture was to say that the sawed-off beams seemed to indicate that the hull had deliberately been truncated, most likely to be used as landfill material.

A 1797 map shows that the excavation site is close to where Lindsey’s Wharf and Lake’s Wharf once projected into the Hudson. So, no matter how many mysteries now surround the vessel, it may turn out that the ghost even has a name.


More on work by Ken Cozens

From Roger Owen, West Wickham, UK.
Review of Wapping 1600-1800: A Social History of an early modern London Maritime Suburb by Derek Morris and Ken Cozens. The East London Maritime History Society, London, 2009. (181 pp with illus. ISBN 978-0-9506258-9-8)

This monograph is to be welcomed by maritime, family and local historians alike, as synthesizing aspects of the history of Wapping from a wide range of primary and secondary sources and providing a bridge between maritime and urban history. As an area almost adjacent to the City of London, wapping would have been one of the first districts to be developed as part of the urban sprawl that we know today.

The authors detail the extraordinary diversity of occupations and business interests, from innkeepers to map and instrument makers and marine artists, typical of similar areas of port cities inhabited by seafarers from the 1700s. The latter were mostly transient workers of many nationalities who manned the sailing ships which were engaged in coastal, continental and deep-sea trading. There were also many well-known seafarers such as Captain James Cook and William Bligh, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and the hymn-writer and former slave ship captain, John Newton, who were residents or had links with the parish.

In a narrow strip of land adjacent to the Thames were the offices, workshops and warehouses of the variety of trades needed to support the Royal Navy and the merchant ships proceeding to and from the Legal Quays upstream of the Tower of London, or the Sufferance Quays on the south bank. The authors discuss the network of families of wealthy merchants and shipowners in Wapping and nearby localities. The latter were prominent in victalling the Royal Navy; in the coal trade, since Wapping was the principal unloading point for coal from the north-east; in timber, tar and hemp importing from the Baltic, Russia and New England and in convict transportation to Australia.

They were also involved in the East India and West India trades -- sugar from the West Indies was the largest UK import during the period 1750-1820, and they were major investors in the West India Docks and East India companies. The mostimportant of these shipping merchants identified from their research by the authors was the partnership of Camden, Calvert and King. They were able to operate at the highest levels of government through their social networks, and in particular their business associates who were members of Trinity House and/or freemasons. These social and family links were important in shipping circles before the development in the nineteenth century of the limited company.

The authors do not claim that their study is exhaustive and they hope that it will encourage others to research and document British maritime history. It is clearly written and supplemented by several useful appendices and includes references for further reading and the archive and website sources consulted. The book adds to studies of Thameside areas, such as in the Survey of London series, the most recent being the two volumes on Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs published in 1994.

The authors are to be congratulated for producing what is a valuable source on the history of Wapping, which does much to remove the "sailor town" image and the perceptions that many will have of the district having been an impoverished working class area during the period studied.The book is a worthwhile addition to any maritime library.

(Ends review by Roger Owen)


This file is devoted to presenting copies of newspaper and other articles of general interest, some old, some new -Ed.

File begun 23-7-2007

From BBC Headlines 23 March 2010
Search engine collects historical resources - Pages from Nelson's diary, National Archive - The project will unite documents and records held in separate institutions

A search engine is being created to help historians find useful sources. The Connected History project will link up currently separate databases of source materials.

Once complete, it will give academics or members of the public a single site that lets them search all the collections.

Once completed the search engine will index digitised books, newspapers, manuscripts, genealogical records, maps and images that date from 1500-1900.

"There are a number of electronic resources that have been created by universities and by commercial providers," said Professor Robert Shoemaker from the University of Sheffield which is heading the project. "They are all available, and all separate and some require subscriptions."

"What we are trying to do is join them up to create an integrated search facility so you do not have to conduct more searches than necessary," Professor Shoemaker told BBC News. "We are creating a kind of sophisticated Google for those selected range of resources that we know are of high quality," he said.

Much of the work involved in the Connected Histories project will be tagging and annotating entries so classification systems are standardised.

"We want to provide a level of structured searching by names, places and dates," he said. "That information is provided on some databases and in some cases we'll have to identify it ourselves."

In general, said Professor Shoemaker, the different collections possess different types of materials so there is little overlap between them. Currently 12 institutions have signed up to contribute their collections but more are expected to join in the future.

The initial partners include the University of Sheffield, the Institute of Historical Research, the University of Hertfordshire and King's College, London. The first phase of the Connected History project should be completed by March 2011.

Once complete, said Professor Shoemaker, the search system will make it much easier for anyone, be they academics, amateur genealogists or curious citizens, to get at all relevant sources.

"Our hope is that this becomes perceived as the place to go when finding sources for British history. I think in the fullness of time we should expect that everything will be on the web and we need a way to interrogate that material," he said. "It is designed to be infinitely expandable."
(Ends this BBC Headlines item)


What clues does this wreck hold?

By STEVE MEACHAM
1 December, 2009, Sydney Morning Herald.

DID American whalers discover the east coast of Australia before Captain Cook?

That is the intriguing question a crack team of maritime archaeologists, divers and marine scientists hope to answer when they sail tomorrow for a remote reef 450 kilometres off the coast of Queensland.

The expedition leader, Kieran Hosty, describes the 200-year-old mystery of Wreck Reef as one of the great untold sagas of our maritime history.

The story began in 1803, after Matthew Flinders had completed his epic circumnavigation of Australia and was returning to England. He was a passenger on HMS Porpoise, a 10-gun sloop under the command of Lieutenant Robert Fowler. The ship was travelling in convoy, accompanied by Cato, an armed cargo ship, and Bridgewater, a cargo ship owned by the East India Company.

But disaster struck close to midnight on August 17 when Porpoise hit an uncharted reef in the dark. Fowler ordered a cannon to be fired to warn the other ships. In the confusion Cato and Bridgewater were heading for a catastrophic collision until Captain Park, on the Cato, changed course, even though that meant hitting the reef about 400 metres from the Porpoise.

To his shame, the captain of the Bridgewater made no effort to rescue the two shipwrecked crews, ignominiously sailing on to India. ''The Bridgewater's captain did the dirty,'' says Hosty. ''His crew were so revolted by his actions that some of them jumped ship in India, refusing to sail with him.''

Flinders and Fowler stayed on board the Porpoise that night, rescuing those still in the water - only three men out of 98 died - and salvaging whatever might aid their eventual survival.

But on the treeless sand island itself, other crew members made a startling discovery: the timber remains of a previous wreck.

Sadly for science, they immediately burnt the timber as firewood. But among their number were the master's mate and a ship's carpenter, both expert witnesses with an intimate knowledge of marine technology.

''They knew what they were talking about,'' says Hosty. ''They said the timber came from the stern of a 400-ton, sturdily built ship … It had clearly been on the reef a long time.''

When Flinders heard of the discovery he deduced the wreckage must be the remains of La Perouse's Astrolabe or Boussole, which had gone missing after leaving Botany Bay in 1788.

However, we now know La Perouse's ships came to grief on the Santa Cruz islands. So who did the mystery wreck belong to?

Not the Dutch, says Hosty: they confined themselves to Australia's west and north coast. Possibly the Portuguese, or the Spanish who had settled Espiritu Santo, part of modern-day Vanuatu, in 1606. It might have been British, though no suitable ship is recorded missing.

''I think it is most likely to have been American,'' Hosty concludes. ''There were certainly American whalers in that area around that time.''

He is confident they will find it: ''Our trip is to continue to explore the Porpoise, confirm the wreck of the Cato and, hopefully, locate the pre-1803 wreck.

''We presume it did the same thing as the Porpoise and Cato: came up on the southern side of the reef - where the wreckage was found - then sank in between 10 and 20 metres of water.''

The best case scenario is that they find a wreck which predates Cook's voyage along the east coast of Australia in 1770. But Hosty says it won't rival the Duyfken, the first known vessel to anchor in Australian waters in 1606. ''The guys from the Porpoise would have recognised if the wreckage was that old.'' (Ends)


News on a French maritime database for the future

Shortly after this website announced the appearance of our new online database for logging maritime history data, we received (early August 2008) a copy of a leaflet advertising a projected database on French maritime history set to appear about the end of 2010.

It is Navigocorpus - Corpus des itineraires des navires de commerce, XVII-XIX. Its rationale is:
The steady flow of ships entering large and small ports in early modern times has attracted an important amount of historical research. Most books and articles analyse the commercial geography of a port in a given period and the nature of trade contributing to the prosperity of its inhabitants.
Often neglecting the huge number of small vessels, these studies generally concentrate on long distance trade. The authors have compiled port and toll records and aggregated the data to produce tables, charts, maps showing the countries the ships came from, their average size, their flags, and the evolution of shipping and trade over time. This kind of analysis, which has certainly improved our understanding of the trade of a specific port, blots out the particularity of each voyage and does not allow more complex combinations of the different criteria. They support a linear analysis whereas recent approaches to trade suggest designing it as a system. A systemic analysis of shipping is difficult because of the huge amount of archival research it implies.
Our project aims to create a database offering a means of going beyond such limits. We want to make an important collection of data on merchant shipping between the C17th and C19th centuries available to the public. At the end of this three-year project, the database will include the data on 300,000 voyages that French and foreign researchers involved in this project have collected in different European ports, as well as the data we will collect in a few selected sources of major interest which have not yet been exhaustively exploited.
The itineraries of merchant ships will be presented on a standardised form providing approximately thirty different entries per ship voyage. The core of each entry will consist in the different stages of the voyage to which all other information will be related. It will be possible to query the database online according to one's research interest, combining one or more criteria. The website, which will go online after 2010, will progressively integrate data that other researchers will provide, once their scientific character have been checked, as well as the work of students we will involve in such research through a common procedure.
The three research centres co-operating in this project, called NAVIGOCORPUS (Database on the itineraries of merchant ships 17th-19th Centuries) will also provide assistance (database form and methodological tutoring) to researchers and students who intend to exploit sources on shipping and add them to our database. In collecting their data, researchers usually neglect information which they consider irrelevant to their scope: we intend to promote a data-capture procedure in order to take into account all the data the sources provide and to avoid other researchers having to go back to the sources again if they have a different question. Once operational, our database will enable a thorough renewal of traditional approaches to maritime trade. The question of our database providing immediate access to the itineraries followed by some hundreds of thousands of ships, opens up a whole new set of historical analysis. It will be possible to question the basis not only on essential aspects of trade and information flow, but also on its frequency and temporality, to retrace shipowners' entrepreneurial behaviour and captain's life-courses, etc. A code to places will enable the user to move easily from the database to maps.
Besides the creation of the database and the website hosting it, the project aims to stimulate new researches illustrating the potentialities of the database. A major international conference will be held at the end of 2010. We will present NAVIGOCORPUS and the new research it facilitates and discuss further possible developments of the project, not only as far as its quantitative dimension is concerned but also as regards the opportunity of associating other narrative, entrepreneurial, notarial and iconographic sources to the database.
We will debate new methods and discuss sources for maritime historians fifty years after the maritime conference organised by Michel Mollat du Jourdin which helped to launch the great era of French maritime research in the 1960s and 1970s.

This database will be a project co-ordinated by Silvia Marzagalli, CMMC, Nice, see http://www.unice.fr/cmmc/
and Pierrick Pourchasse, CRBC, Brest see http://www.univ-brest.fr/Recherche/Laboratoire/CRBC
and Jean-Pierre Dedieu, LAHRHA, Lyon, see http://larhra.ish-lyon.cnrs.fr/
Contact: Marzagalli@wanadoo.fr
Contact: pierrick.pourchasse@univ-brest.fr/

European woman 'arrived in New Zealand before Captain Cook'

The discovery of a European skull dating back more than 260 years has cast doubt that Captain James Cook was the first Westerner to step foot on the shores of New Zealand.

By Paul Chapman in Wellington, New Zealand, from UK Telegraph
06 Aug 2008

[Captain Cook recorded in his log, a tale told to him by a Maori chief, of a ship having been shipwrecked many years earlier, before his own arrival.]

Scientists are baffled after carbon dating showed the skull, a woman's, which was found near the country's capital, Wellington, dates back from 1742 – decades before Cook's Pacific expedition arrived in 1769.

The discovery was made by a boy walking his dog on the bank of a river in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, an area settled by Europeans only after the establishment of a colony by the New Zealand Company in 1840.

Dr Robin Watt, a forensic anthropologist called in by police who investigated the discovery, said yesterday: "It's a real mystery, it really is. "We've got the problem of how did this woman get here? Who was she?

"I recommended they do carbon date on it and, of course, they came up with that amazing result."

The mystery of the skull, found four years ago, was raked over last week at an inquest in Masterton, the provincial capital.

John Kershaw, the local coroner, was told that police at first thought they had a murder inquiry on their hands.

"One of the reasons some work was done on the skull was because it had a number of puncture wounds," Mr Kershaw said.

"We don't know how this lady met her death, although the historian we used indicated drowning was a reasonable guess."

The inquest heard that the skull was definitely not Maori - the only race known to have inhabited New Zealand in the 18th century - and almost certainly of European origin.

The European discovery of the shoreline of New Zealand was made by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.

Tasman however had no women aboard his expedition.

The Maori are believed to have settled around 1200. The first white women known to have arrived in the country were two convicts who escaped from a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia, in 1806.

Gareth Winter, the official Masterton archivist who was called as an expert witness, told The Daily Telegraph that the possibility of a hoax could confidently be ruled out.

Mr Winter said that Captain Cook recorded, in the log of his second journey to New Zealand aboard the Resolution in 1772-5, a tale told to him by a Maori chief of a ship having been shipwrecked many years earlier.

Cook said the Maori told him that they given the ship's captain the name "Rongotute".

Early missionaries wrote of hearing the same story from Maori, who related that the survivors of the ship had been killed and eaten when they came ashore.

They said that many Maori had subsequently died in an epidemic, possibly as a result of exposure to a newly-introduced infection from Europe.

Historians believed that the most likely site of such a shipwreck was Cape Palliser, the windswept southern-most point of North Island.

Stories that the wrecked ship had crockery on board, and that Maori wore pieces of it as pendants around their necks, convinced the missionaries that the vessel had indeed been European.
(Ends)


Medal by forger Thomas Barrett of First Fleet sold

From The Age newspaper -- 23 July, 2008

(A newspaper picture showed: The medal showing the Charlotte in Botany Bay and winning auction bidder Michael Crayford for the National Maritime Museum. Picture was by John Woudstra.)

THE crowd of medal collectors breathed a collective sigh and craned in their seats as Australia's first piece of colonial art sold for $750,000 at auction to a beaming mystery buyer seated in the third row.

Minutes later, it was revealed that the National Maritime Museum had bought the Charlotte Medal - a silver disc engraved by the convict and expert forger Thomas Barrett when the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay. Even the most hardened medal collectors paused in their bidding to clap.

Very little material survives from the ships of the First Fleet, so the Sydney museum sent its assistant director of collection and exhibitions, Michael Crayford, to Melbourne to secure a seminal piece of Australian history.

"It is also one of the best artworks for that period (so) we're absolutely thrilled to have it and it will be on display to the public within weeks," Mr Crayford said.

The silver disc was sold by John Chapman, a retired dentist, who bought it at auction in 1981 for $15,000.

The rest of his extensive collection of Australian medals, coins and banknotes, valued at $1.6 million before auction, also went under the hammer at the Noble Numismatics auction yesterday.

"I'm very pleased because what I wanted was for the medal to be displayed to the public," Dr Chapman said. "You realise that in the end you can't own these things, you're just the custodian."

Thomas Barrett crafted the souvenir medal at the request of the ship's doctor, John White, when the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay on 20 January, 1788.

Cut from a surgeon's kidney dish, on one side its engraving shows the Charlotte secured to a buoy at Botany Bay, with the sun, crescent moon and stars adorning the sky, and dark marks that may represent ocean fish.

On the other side is a description of her voyage from England to Australia, including latitude, longitude and the length of the arduous journey.

By the time Barrett arrived at Botany Bay, he had already twice avoided execution.

Ever the entrepreneur, Barrett and a group of other forgers made quarter-dollars from melted belt buckles and pewter spoons while on their voyage, and used them to buy goods from merchants in Rio de Janeiro through the Charlotte's portholes - almost sparking an international incident.

Six weeks after the colony was established, however, Barrett was hung for stealing butter, "pease" and pork.

The National Maritime Museum only has one other First Fleet item in its collection - a wooden sea chest that is believed to have been the property of convict Henry Kable and brought to Australia.
Sent us by Zillah Campbell who promotes a website on Henry Kable and his descendants - Ed


For the Ayers article below, see http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/3269.html

With the Internet, Every Man's His Own Historian

By Edward L. Ayers, author of The Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 and professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he created the Valley of the Shadow Project, writing in Newsday (25 January, 2004):

Unlike any medium before it - from books and museums to film and television - the World Wide Web is profoundly changing our relationship to history. Unlike a museum, the Web is open all the time to people everywhere. Unlike a television show, movie or book, it does not tell only one story. Unlike a textbook, it encourages exploration, challenge and dissent.

Most radically, the Web allows every person to be his or her own historian. By giving easy access to a deep set of historical records, people can handle the pieces of the past for themselves. The Web puts diaries, letters, newspapers, censuses, military records, memoirs, photographs and maps into the hands of visitors, letting them go as far into the details of individual lives as they choose.

Everything from the founding of Jamestown to the Civil Rights movement, from the witchcraft trials of Salem to the inventions of Thomas Edison, from the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the history of television news has been opened to this experience. Historians have built large projects on women's lives, on Abraham Lincoln, on Harpers Weekly, on the Mississippi River, on the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the histories of Los Angeles and Chicago. Historians constructed an instant archive on the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, chronicling personal responses to tragedy in real time.

In the process, the doors of the historical record are opened. Individuals can wrestle for themselves with some of the great questions of American history, such as what caused the Civil War.

I cite the Civil War not just because that period happens to be my specialty. No part of American history has seen more action on the World Wide Web. Hundreds of sites document every facet of the conflict. The Library of Congress has mounted famous photographs and official documents, while distinctly non-academic sites trumpet their political beliefs under waving flags.

The Valley of the Shadow project, which I originated at the University of Virginia, displays the records of every person in two counties, one in the North and one in the South, throughout the Civil War era. These records cover the lives of blacks as well as whites, females as well as males, deserters as well as heroes. Political, economic and military history is documented alongside the history of emotion, intimacy and death. Thus it is possible for anyone with Internet access to study, for example, what difference slavery made in leading to the Civil War in greater detail and precision than has ever been possible.

This ongoing study is causing us to re-evaluate the conventional story of the war as a conflict between a modern, industrialized North and a backward, agrarian South. This standard interpretation, it turns out, is misleading and evasive.

White Americans found it possible to reconcile slavery with technology, towns, white democracy and profitable business - all considered key aspects of modern life in the mid-19th century. The Civil War was not the inevitable clash of the future against the past, as many of us have been schooled - and might prefer - to believe.

Slaveowners took out insurance policies on the people they claimed as their property. Slaves worked in factories as well as on farms. The Confederacy gathered the confidence to leave the United States, forging a new nation based on slavery, in part because of its network of railroads, newspapers, telegraphs and steamships. The history of the 20th and 21st centuries has shown all too clearly that forms of modern life can easily co-exist with forced labor and racial domination. The American South pioneered in this fusion.

Americans like to think that slavery was merely an accident in our development as a nation, a brief mistake, a wrong turn. But in 1860 slavery already had been established for two centuries. Slavery drove much of the American economy, providing more than half of all the nation's exports. Slavery generated the war against Mexico of 1846-48 and thus the addition of a vast part of our territory. Before the Civil War, slaveholders held the presidency more often than not.

These are uncomfortable facts that contradict our sense of ourselves. But it does no good to ignore them or brush them aside. The point of studying the past is not merely to make us feel good about ourselves, but to let us view ourselves honestly. The Civil War did end up ending slavery, of course. The challenge is to see how that profound good grew out of a war that did not begin with that purpose in mind.

Documents have a way of making that challenge come vividly to life. Already over the past 10 years, we have had millions of hits on the Valley Project Web site - from students in middle and high schools, in community colleges and graduate schools, and from some people who have not been in a classroom for a long time.

Of course, not everyone has the time or the interest to study the primary sources, and the Web does not remove the responsibility of the historian to make sense of the past, any more than government documents on the Web make journalists who interpret them obsolete.

Those who study history carefully have conclusions to make that casual browsers of documents cannot. Historians still need to tell stories that dramatize the most important meanings of the past, as they always have.

(Ends)

The Wreck of the Dunbar, the folk opera

(From The Armidale Independent, 4 July 2007, page 15.)

As Sydney prepares to commemorate the 150th anniversary of one of Australia's worst maritime disasters, a group of Armidale-based writers, performers and director are taking their opera to the city ...

A STAGE production in Armidale, based on the true story of a disastrous shipwreck just outside Sydney Harbour in 1857, has brought together three people with close family connections to the tragic accident.

Isabel Castle and lan Lockrey were drawn to see Dunbar, a folk opera, because the wreck of the Dunbar is a significant event in both their families' histories.

As a result of the production they have met not only each other, but also a man who is a living link to the one survivor of the wreck.

Two brothers and two sisters of Mrs Castle's great-grandfather were among the 121 people who died in the disaster. Mr Lockrey's great- great-grandfather was the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper at the Macquarie Lighthouse, South Head, on the night of the wreck.

The third person - Frank Hanson – traces his family back to the Dunbar survivor, James Johnson.

All three were amazed – as were the writers of Dunbar – to find so many vital links “to the Dunbar story” here in rural Armidale.

They have made this discovery as Sydney prepares to commemorate the disaster on its 150th anniversary next month, and as the Armidale- based writers, performers and director of Dunbar prepare to take their opera to Sydney as part of that commemoration.

The three-masted clipper ship Dunbar at the end of a three-month voyage from England, drove on to rocks near The Gap, South Head, during a violent storm on the night of 20 August, 1857.

Mr Lockrey tells the story as it has come down from his great-great grandfather, Emanuel da Silver, and Emanuel's daughter Maria, who was a young child at the time.

“During the storm, Maria was told to stay inside," Mr Lockrey said, "but she was too inquisitive, went outside, heard someone calling for help, and told her father."

It was the sole survivor of the Dunbar, James Johnson, who was finally hauled up the cliff to safety about 30 hours after the shipwreck. (When she was 19, Maria married the rowing champion Ned Trickett, Australia's first sporting world champion.)

On board the Dunbar were many people returning to New South Wales after a trip back to the "home country".

Among them were John and Thomas Mylne, owners (with their brother James Mylne) of Eatonsville Station on the Clarence River.

The Mylne brothers were bringing back with them their sisters Anne and Elizabeth (and all their family's household belongings, including silver and furniture, as well as three stud bulls), and were travelling with their friend, Francis Tindal.

Mrs Castle's great-grandfather Captain Graham Mylne - who was on military service in India at the time of the disaster - came to Australia to manage Eatonsville.

"The people of the Clarence had prepared the station for their return," Mrs Castle said, "and had organised a grand ball. Then, like a thunderclap, came the news that, on that dreadful night, four of the eight Mylne siblings had perished." '

James Mylne died while returning to Scotland shortly after the shipwreck, and another brother – Mrs Castle's great-grandfather Captain Graham Mylne, who was on military service in India at the time of the disaster – came to Australia to manage Eatonsville.

James Johnson, celebrated as the sole survivor of the Dunbar wreck, is said to have been a cabin boy on the British naval vessel Bellerophon when it took Napoleon into exile on St Helena.

He shipped as an able seaman on the ill-fated voyage of the Dunbar and, miraculously, was washed to safety on a rocky ledge after the ship had broken up at the foot of The Gap and everyone else had perished. He stayed on in Australia after the disaster, entering the lighthouse service and becoming Assistant Head Keeper at Nobby's Lighthouse, Newcastle.

It was there that, by an uncanny coincidence, he helped to rescue the one person to survive the wreck of the Cawarra after it was driven on to the Oyster Bank during the Great Storm of 1866.

These near-miraculous incidents in the life of James Johnson ensured him a place in Australian folklore and, although an unseen presence, he is the true hero of the Dunbar opera.

The Dunbar disaster prompted the construction of another lighthouse - the Hornby Light – on South Head.

The first keeper of the Hornby Light, which began operating in 1858, was Henry Johnson, Frank Hanson's great-grandfather.

Mr Hanson grew up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney - not far from the Hornby Light and in touch with his family's proud involvement in this aspect of the city's maritime history. While published accounts based on historical records say that James Johnson the Dunbar survivor and Henry Johnson the first Hornby Light keeper were brothers, there is a popular tradition - referred to in Mr Hanson's family history - that they were one-and-the-same man.

The writers of Dunbar - Christopher Purcell (composer) and journalist Jim Scanlan (librettist) - say they were excited to meet, in Frank Hanson, a man with such a close connection to this almost-legendary figure.

Mr Hanson, a retired physics and electronics technician who lives in Armidale with his wife Shirley, contacted The Independent after hearing about the Dunbar opera.

It was at their home that the meeting with Mr Lockrey (who raises Angora goats at Invergowrie), Mrs Castle (who grew up in Armidale and has temporarily returned here from Sydney to care for her elderly mother), and the Dunbar writers took place.

"It was wonderful to meet three people with such strong family connections to the Dunbar story", Mr Scanlan said.

"It added a new, personal dimension to our work. Although it was amazing to find them here in Armidale, we're expecting to meet many more people with similar connections when we present the opera in Sydney next month."

Note: The Armidale company of 20 singers, actors and musicians will travel to Sydney for performances of Dunbar at the Australian National Maritime Museum on Friday, 17 August, Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, 19 August as part of the Museum's weekend-long commemoration of the Dunbar disaster.

They will also present the opera at St Stephen's Church, Newtown, where many of the people who died on the Dunbar were buried.

The St. Stephen's performances will be on Saturday, 18 August, and at a special commemoration service on Sunday, 19 August.

Over the next five weeks the Dunbar company will be busy organising fund-raising activities to help with the costs of travelling to Sydney.


Britain faces up to its role in slave trade

AN ANNUAL commemoration day will be held to recall Britain's role in the slave trade, and the fight against it. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said he expected the day to be held in common with the rest of Europe, in June so that modern day slavery - human trafficking - could also be recalled and combated.

Mr Prescott said the commemoration day would provide a chance for national and local government, as well as schools, to think how they could help contemporary Africa. He likened slavery to the Holocaust and expressed his deep personal regret.

The British Government has refused to make a full apology for Britain's role. Mr Prescott argued that Africa did not want this, but it was time Britain faced up to the past. "Like the Holocaust, we are learning to talk about the slave trade openly and more honestly. Tragic and terrible as it was, the slave trade defied anyone to discuss it because it was so horrendous."

He said he believed Britain was about to go through the process of self-examination that the US experienced with the publication of Alex Haley's Roots in 1976. He said: "I think this anniversary is beginning to make us think again in the same way as the US. There is a sense of shock and horror at what went on in our history, and the sheer brutality of it. It has not yet fed into the schools. Indeed, it has been kept out of the curriculum."

In the US, Congress and a growing number of elected officials in states and cities are wrestling with whether to formally apologise more than 140 years after slavery was abolished.

State legislators in Virginia, the heart of the former Confederacy, in February unanimously passed a resolution expressing "profound regret" over the state's role in slavery. Other elected bodies are considering similar measures that would express regret, apologise or create commemorative days. Slave dinkus

Mr Prescott said it was important to ensure history is properly told, "including the good, the bad and dreadful". "The legacy of this 200th anniversary should be a permanent date when we ask whether there is more we could do, so that every year, like the Holocaust, we remind people of the horrors. Each year we should think about it and commemorate and rededicate ourselves to helping people on which such horrors were inflicted."

Mr Prescott was speaking the day before Britain was to sign the European convention. against human trafficking, publish a plan to fight modern-day slavery and host a visit by Owen Arthur, the Prime Minister of Barbados, to Hull, the birthplace of William Wilberforce, who changed the law in 1807.

The Prime, Minister, Tony Blair, is to deliver a pre-recorded address to a ceremony in one of the slave ports in Accra at a ceremony tomorrow. A national memorial service will be held at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday and the former secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, will address both houses of the British Parliament in May.

Mr Prescott said the country had to express "more than regret" for its role in the slave trade, but argued that the issue of an apology was not being raised in Africa. During a recent visit to Ghana, he said, he had met children who had told him: "Not every white man was guilty and not every black man was innocent."

"That has started a debate about whether you really want the native chiefs really to apologise for selling their own people. The traders only had to go to the ports and the slaves were delivered from inside Africa. The Ghanaians said: 'We don't want apologies. We want people to think what we can do to help us. What our ancestors did was horrific, but everyone feels we need to learn and move on from that experience'." (Originally from Guardian News & Media, Los Angeles Times. From Sydney Morning Herald, 24-25 March 2007, Story by Patrick Wintour in London
Timeline given for this article was: HISTORY OF A SCOURGE - 1444, First public sale of African slaves in Portugal. (Slavery had been practised in China, India, ancient Greece and Rome, British colonies, Europe and the US.) 1777, Vermont, then independent, becomes the US' first sovereign state to abolish slavery. 1807, Britain passes Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. 1862, Abraham Lincoln proclaims emancipation of slaves with effect from January 1, 1863; 13th amendment of US constitution bans slavery in 1865. 1926, League of Nations adopts Slavery Convention abolishing slavery. 1948, UN General Assembly adopts Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including an article banning slavery.

Slavery abolished 1807 ...

Announcing Events and Activities in 2007 for 200th Anniversary of Abolition of the U.S. and British Slave Trade (item lifted from the website of the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool UK)

Contact: Sheila Weber, UK: 646-322-6853, sheila@wilberforcecentral.org

NEW YORK, 13 November 2007 /Christian Newswire/ --  WilberforceCentral.Org announces forthcoming events and activities now planned for the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the British and the American slave trade. (www.wilberforcecentral.org

The British Act was approved by Royal Assent on March 25, 1807 and the U.S. Act was signed by President Thomas Jefferson on March 2, 1807.  Wilberforce Central is a coalition formed to introduce the media and the American public to the numerous events surrounding the bicentenary of the end of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, with particular focus on the inspiration and impact that 18th-century British parliamentarian William Wilberforce brought to that historic accomplishment.

The importance highlighting the bicentennial anniversary is underscored by a recent survey of 1,000 plus adults in Britain conducted in September 2006 on the issues of slavery and abolition, which revealed the need for more public education on the issue:

Slave dinkus

"There is some limited awareness of the significance of the 2007 in relation to the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Act, and one in ten can name the exact year when the act was [established.] However, few people are able to identify prominent abolitionists from a list, indicating that although there is a basis upon which to build awareness for next year's bicentenary, there is some way to go to raise awareness and knowledge in this area. Results also reveal the public's limited understanding of what slavery in the 21st century involves. Even the most widely recognized form of modern slavery, trafficking for sexual exploitation is identified by only 35% of people.” 

Calendar of Major Events in 2007

January 2007

February 2007

February 15th, 4:30 p.m. Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale University
A Colony of Citizens Book Talk and Discussion with the Author

Laurent Dubois, Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University, discusses his 2005 Frederick Douglass Prize-winning book A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804, which positions events in Guadeloupe within a larger framework and suggests the complex fruits of emancipation in the French Caribbean and the Atlantic World. http://www.yale.edu/glc/events/index.htm

February 23rd. Bristol Bay Productions releases motion picture “Amazing Grace” in U.S. theaters, starring Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce and Albert Finney as John Newton.  See (URL now defunct) http://www.amazinggracemovie.com/

February 23-24th: The Victoria & Albert Museum will be holding a two-day conference: From Cane Field to Tea-Cup: The Impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on Art, to commemorate the 1807 anniversary. The conference will look at the links between the trade, slaves and slavery and the production and collection of domestic and decorative artifacts, including furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, sculpture, architecture, prints and paintings. (dates to be determined)  Also currently on display: Asante Goldweights from Ghana (Metalware, Room 116) which mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and 50 years of independence of Ghana. 
See website now defunct error 500 - http://www.vam.ac.uk/

March 2007

Bristol Bay Productions releases motion picture “Amazing Grace” in theaters in the United Kingdom, starring Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce and Albert Finney as John Newton. (U.K. date to be determined) 

BBC – season of programs on BBC channels on the abolition of slave trade. www.bbc.co.uk

William Wilberforce’s famous abolitionist speech to Parliament, along with other selected texts, will be performed in central London, sponsored by the Commission for Racial Equality.  www.cre.gov.uk

March 5, 6, and 7th. Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale University.  Principles and Agents: The British Slave Trade and its Abolition. The Third Annual David Brion Davis Lecture Series on the History of Slavery, Race, and Their Legacies.  P. David Richardson, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation presents a three-part lecture series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the British abolition of the slave trade. Monday, March 5: lecture and opening reception at the Beinecke Mezzanine, "Growth and Expansion of the British Slave Trade, 1660-1807." Tuesday, March 6: lecture location TBD, "African Agency in the Slave Trade." Wednesday, March 7: lecture location TBD, "Ideology, Politics, and British Abolitionism, c.1780-1807." http://www.yale.edu/glc/events/index.htm

March 25th (Anniversary of Abolition of Slavery in Britain) 
Birmingham Bicentenary Sunday Service
, led by the Council of Black Led Churches, organized by Birmingham Churches Together, at 6 p.m. in the Bethel Convention Center, West Bromwich, England. Seating reservations needed. Contact: dking@christian-aid.org

March 25th: Grand re-opening of Wilberforce House Museum. The historic home of William Wilberforce is being upgraded and all new exhibitions will be introduced. The Council owned Wilberforce House Museum, the first Museum in Britain to tackle the subject of Slavery and Abolition, is 100 years old in 2006 and was last updated in 1983 (for the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation). New displays expanding the history of slavery, the role of Wilberforce and contemporary issues relating to the subject of slavery are all dealt with in the new development. Contact vanessa.salter@hullcc.uk

March 27th. National Commemorative Service at Westminster Abbey at 12 noon.  Invitation only; sponsored by Set All Free. See website now defunct error 500 - http://www.setallfree.net/;
and www.westminster-abbey.org

May 2007

TELEVISION RELEASE for documentary filmThe Better Hour. William Wilberforce: A Man of Character Who Changed the World.  (Date to be determined) www.thebetterhour.com

July 2007

Breaking the Chains Walkathon- communities all over the UK will walk to show their respect to those men, women and children that lived and died in bondage. A website was at [now defunct]: http://www.blackhistoryfoundation.com/

August 2007:More to come

Museum Activities – A number of museums in the U.S. and U.K. will have exhibits on slavery in 2007 including – see www.wilberforcecentral.org/wfc/Museums/index.htm

Slave dinkus

Coalition members in WilberforceCentral.org include: 

WilberforceCentral.org allows for other groups to join and participate with self-registry of their events as a "Co-operating Group."

US vs pirates of the Mediterranean

The world's most powerful navy was created to meet the threat of looting

Ian W. Toll. Six Frigates: How piracy, war and British supremacy at sea gave birth to the world's most powerful navy.

Publisher, Michael Joseph, 2007, 560pp. (Reviewed by Sydney barrister Michael Pembroke in Sydney Morning Herald 3-4 February 2007)

AFTER 1776, the merchant ships of the former American colonies ceased to enjoy the protection of the Royal Navy. For the first time, richly-laden and defenceless merchant vessels, flying the Stars and Stripes (with only 15 stars in 1794), came to be seen on the high seas and in foreign ports.

 


They suffered dreadfully in the Mediterranean at the hands of the Barbary States of Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco, which practised a form of institutionalised piracy, supported by the state. American ships were captured by fast-moving corsairs operating out of of ancient sea ports along the North African coast. Crew members were sold into slavery. Women were delivered to harems. Prisoners who escaped or misbehaved were subjected to gruesome tortures and barbaric forms of execution. Not surprisingly, news of these attacks created a popular sensation in the United States, inspiring lurid journalism, fiction and plays.

Thus it was that in 1794 a closely-divided US Congress came to enact a resolution for the provision of a naval force "adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerian corsairs". The War Office was authorised to build six wooden frigates with a proviso that their sole purpose was to police the Mediterranean against piracy.

Within a few years, the fledgling navy was engaged in an undeclared war with France and, from 1812 to 1814, in a declared war with Britain. Both wars were driven by a desire to protect the commercial interests of the burgeoning young country. French depredations were so great that in 1795 the Secretary of State reported that French privateers had that year captured 316 American merchant vessels.

The British were little better. The Royal Navy, imperious after routing the French and Spanish at Trafalgar in 1805, adopted a bullying approach. It would make incursions into American territorial waters, boarding and confiscating American ships, impressing their seamen, taking their property and conducting blockades of harbours from Maine to South Carolina. Resentment reached boiling point; trade and commerce were stifled. A declaration of war came to a vote in June 1812 and was passed in the Senate by four votes.

The second Anglo-American war, known as the War of 1812, was the making of the United Sates Navy. Churchill later described it as futile and unnecessary. But he also said that as a result the British Army and the Royal Navy learned to respect their former colonials and that "the United States was never again refused proper treatment as an independent power".

Six Frigates covers the period from 1794 to 1815, but in his recounting of the first two decades of the naval history of the US, the author informs the reader of much more. Then the seat of government, 18th-century Philadelphia, is carefully portrayed. It was home to the nation's most eminent scientists, philanthropists, poets, physicians and artists including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, third and fourth presidents of the US respectively.

Like many 18th-century intellectuals, they regarded politics and government as tedious work, a duty rather than a calling. What the author has written about them is not new, but he has engagingly woven their life and times into his subject matter.

The vignettes of naval battles are first rate, displaying obvious seafaring knowledge and historical research. The author captures the sense of chivalry prevalent among young ships' officers of the time, as well as the horror of grapeshot and cannonball, and the Dante-esque work of the ship's surgeon.

There is more, of course - the strategic significance of southern live oak, the triumphs and courts martial of naval heroes and the sacking and burning of the newly-built public edifices and government buildings in Washington.

What makes the book so effective is the delicious detail and its scholarly research. The author, who has an obvious feel for the sea, reveals a fascinating glimpse of the forces that shaped the politics and future economic prosperity of the US.

Above all, Ian Toll writes with clarity and force. This was a book I did not want to finish. It is a magnificent, riveting achievement. (Ends review)


Online berth for Brits bound for Botany Bay

By Jodie Minus in The Australian, 11 January 2007

FOR Australians whose ancestors emigrated from Britain by ship, tracing the family tree just became easier with the online publication of passenger lists yesterday.

Details of British migrants who sought new lives abroad between 1890 and 1899 can now be searched online in a collaboration between Britain's The National Archives and the ancestral records site, findmypast.com.

Over the next six months, the digitised passenger lists at www.ancestors-onboard.com will expand to include the years up to 1960, covering 30 million Britons. Until now, the documents were available to view only at The National Archives in London.

Heather Garnsey, executive officer of the Society of Australian Genealogists, yesterday welcomed the move. "Because of Australia's ties with Britain and the number of people with British heritage, it's very important - from a research point of view - it's going to be very valuable," she said.

 


"Interest in genealogy has always been strong, but it's getting stronger now and the Internet is making a huge difference. The National Archives is a very good example of this. They are putting a lot of work into digitising records and making them available and that opens up research resources.

"A lot of people who gave up after a certain amount of tracing because they hit a brick wall ... will now be given a new lease of life in their search."

It took a team of 125 full-time workers to digitise the 1.5 million pages of original documents.

The lists will include the pre-World War I peak emigration period between 1890 and 1914 when each year an estimated 125,000 people left the British Isles for the US, 50,000 for Canada, and 25,000 for Australia. [Ends]

Google excites readers around the world - Dec. 2006

Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have long vowed to make all of the world's information accessible to anyone with a Web browser.

Today that vow will come closer to being implemented as Google will sign an agreement with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web. Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library are some of the US institutions that will sign the agreement today.

The whole project will convert about 15 million books at a cost of $150 million dollars or about $10 per book.             

Last night (13 Dec 2006) the Library of Congress and a group of international libraries from the United States, 

Canada, Egypt, China and the Netherlands announced a plan to create a publicly-available digital archive of one million books on the Internet. The group said it planned to have 70,000 volumes online by next April. Doesn't that just want to make you get out of your chair and shout! I don't know about you but I am excited. 

(From a US website dated 14 December 2006 by Dr. Joseph Mercola, just one of the many people around the world excited by Google's knowledge initiative for the Net. The editor of this website has lately been noticing (and using), information from Google's postings of the old English publication, The Gentleman's Magazine, mostly for career descriptions and the data from obituaries -Ed.)

West is master of slave trade guilt

By Rebecca Weisser, Weekend Australian, 2-3 December 2006

Europe is becoming an example of how a sense of historical responsibility can mislead present generations, writes Rebecca Weisser.

Inherited culpability for slavery has merged with guilt over Third World poverty

Muddled self-castigation in the West? Slavery may be history in the West, but it still thrives in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

ANDREW HAWKINS has turned hand-wringing into performance art. In June the youth theatre director took a guilt trip to Gambia, where he donned a yoke and chain, knelt in front of 16,000 Africans in a football stadium and apologised for what he calls the African holocaust. Hawkins claims to be descended from Britain's first slave trader, John Hawkins. "God would. consider what Sir John Hawkins did to be an abomination," Hawkins said. "It's never too late to apologise.".

The "sorry" movement, which reached its zenith in Australia at the 2000 march for Aboriginal reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge, has gone global. In much of western Europe, the US and Canada, inherited culpability for slavery, colonialism, the treatment of indigenous people and the Palestinian question has merged with modem guilt over Third World poverty in an orgy of muddled self-castigation.

As Britain gears up to commemorate the 200th anniversary in 2007 of the abolition of the slave trade in the former British Empire, it has been difficult to make the point that the anniversary should be seen as the celebration of a great and hard-fought victory. As Patrick West wrote in his book Conspicuous Compassion: "While slavery was not a distinctly Western phenomenon, the campaign to abolish it was. And the West was the first to do so."

It is the guilt and shame of the slave trade rather than the triumph of Enlightenment values that has dominated the public domain. Earlier this year, Liverpool councillors debated whether to rename several streets in the city, including Penny Lane of the fame of The Beatles' song, which had been named after notorious slave traders.

Slave dinkus

This week [prior to 2 Dec., 2006], Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote to New Nation newspaper in Britain to express his "deep sorrow" that the slave trade happened.

"It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time," he wrote. "Personally, I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was ... but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have hap happened, and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today."

Blair's statement hasn't gone far enough from activists who want "an apology of substance"; in other words, money.

"Blair's article is taking a backward step from Britain's official position in 1807 when it abolished the trade and expressed regret for what had happened," says Mawuli Klu of Rendezvous of Victory, a British African-led, and community-based lobby group. "This has heightened feelings among people in the African community. We want an apology of substance that addresses the demands for African reparations."

There is a broader dimension to the call for reparations. Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International calls for states that benefited economically from the slave trade to write off the debts of poor countries harmed by slavery. The push to "drop the debt" for Africa, championed by celebrities such as U2's Bono, is driven by the underlying idea that Africa is poor because it has been exploited through colonialism, of which slavery is the most horrific and graphic example. Britain, along with other Group of Eight countries, has responded by agreeing to double aid to Africa by 2010 and write off debts to the poorest countries.

Yet African countries that participated in the slave trade were enriched by it just as European countries were. In his history of the Atlantic slave trade, author Hugh Thomas notes that the trade was possible only because of the participation of many Africans, such as the rulers of Benin and the kings of Ashanti, Congo and Dahomey, as well as European merchants and politicians. Indisputably, African slave traders were enriched not just with the money they earned selling slaves but by the land they expropriated from those enslaved. Thomas quotes King Gezo of Dahomey, who said in 1840: "The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people", and, "it has been the source of their glory and wealth".

Britain is not alone in struggling with a guilty conscience. The French have been debating whether Napoleon committed genocide on a par with Hitler, trying to wipe out the adult black population of the former French colony of San Domingo (now Haiti) after a bloody uprising at the start of the 19th century.

French historian Claude Ribbe, in a book called The Crime of Napoleon, challenges the accepted view of Napoleon as a military genius and founder of the modern French state and presents him as an anti-Semitic racist who reintroduced slavery after its abolition in 1794, ordered the extermination of the Haitian population and founded an empire that could prosper only through slavery.

Even more contentious is whether French history teachers should be obliged by law to teach, the positive benefits of colonialism. A law passed in the French parliament stipulates that French history textbooks should "recognise the positive role of the French presence in its overseas colonies, especially in North Africa". The law sought to acknowledge Algerian Muslims who fought on the French side in the Algerian war, but provoked so much ire in France and Algeria that talks on a friendship treaty between France and Algeria broke down. French President Jacques Chirac inaugurated a Slavery Remembrance Day on May 10 this year, the fifth anniversary of the passing of a law by the French Senate recognising slavery as a crime against humanity.

The French and British history wars underline the common themes in a debate that is not limited to former colonial powers.

Former colonies such as Australia and the US have been caught up in the same debate that has become part of the great Western guilt complex. And along with the guilt come the apologies. Blair has apologised for the Potato Famine, Bill Clinton apologised to the Sioux people, Pope John Paul 11 apologised for everything from the persecution of Galileo and the execution of Jan Hus to Catholic involvement in the slave trade.

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Yet the guilt complex seems to be a Western phenomenon. It is often said that Jews invented guilt and Catholics perfected it, but although Muslims are, like Christians and Jews, "children of the book", there have been few apologies emanating from the Islamic world or, for that matter, other cultures. Arabs, Persians, Berbers, Indians, Chinese and Africans were ail involved in the African slave trade from the 8th century through to the present, with few proclamations of public guilt or effective action to eliminate slavery that exists largely in Africa and Asia.

Slave dinkus

Even using the narrowest definitions of slavery that exclude bonded and forced labour and servile concubinage, there are estimated to be 2.7 million slaves in the world today. Including bonded labourers, there are estimated to be 27 million slaves, and including all categories of trafficked women and children, there are estimated to be I00 million slaves.

The Anti-Slavery Society estimates there are 8000 female slaves in West Africa who are hierodules; that is, religious sex slaves. In West Africa, children are kidnapped or bought for $20 to $70 in Benin and Togo, then sold into slavery for sex or domestic labour in oil-rich countries such as Nigeria and Gabon for $350. Hierodules also exist in India despite efforts to suppress the practice. Young women who are trafficked to the Middle East and North Africa from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal are sold for $3000 to $I0,000. Imprisoned in a room by their owner for the sadistic use of himself and his friends, these women survive on average for about two years.

In response to such shocking statistics, the contrast between practical assistance and self-aggrandising symbolism is striking. While Hawkins is fundraising for another guilt trip, walking in yokes and chains, the Anti-Slavery Society, one of whose earliest members was William Wilberforce, is raising funds to purchase the emancipation of modern slaves and stamp out modern-day slavery.

Wilberforce, a profoundly religious and deeply conservative man who fought all his life not just for the abolition of slavery but against child labour, cruelty to animals and discrimination against Catholics, was on his death bed when the Bill he fought for, for so many years, was finally passed abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire. He said, "Thank God that I have lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give £20 million for the abolishment of slavery."

Abolition was one of the great benefits of colonialism, an achievement of which Britain and the West should be proud, and an inspiration to present generations to continue to fight to eliminate slavery and spread the spirit of the Enlightenment throughout the world.

(Ends the Weisser article, which was not otherwise attributed)

Article from the newspaper Weekend Australian December 3-4, 1988, p. 19.

By Rowena Stretton

The earliest known convict ship log to survive in private hands - discovered in a Massachusetts house last year, has surfaced for sale in Australia. The 1795-96 log of the ship Marquis Cornwallis - on which a bloody mutiny was suppressed - is earlier than any convict logs held by Australian institutions or collectors. It is on offer for a large but undisclosed sum, expected to be several hundred thousand dollars, from Sydney antiquarian bookdealers, Horden House. Bound in rough sailcloth with a manuscript on Indian-made paper, it was discovered by an English book collector in the United States a year ago. Both the log and an unframed oil painting of the ship by the Belgian-born artist Balthasar Solvyns had been kept in a box by the descendants of Michael Hogan, part-owner and captain of the Marquis Cornwallis, who migrated to America in the 1820s. The log is important because it is so early, covering convict transportation within the first ten years of the founding of the colony. Horden House spokesman Ms Anne McCormick said it only stayed in private hands because the boat was both privately owned and captained. Apart from its historical importance, the log has great dramatic value.

Picture caption: Ms Anne McCormick with the log, scrolls and painting of the Marquis Cornwallis ... avoided British Admiralty archives. Picture: Simon Bullard.

Anne McCormick, Horden House, antiquarian bookshop, 77 Victoria Street, Potts Point. Sydney. Australia. 2011. AH (02) 357 6541 BH (02) 356 4411. Log for sale for $320,000 on Dec 5, 1988.

Arrow graphicReferences other: Nil.

Google excites readers around the world - Dec. 2006

Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have long vowed to make all of the world's information accessible to anyone with a Web browser.

Today that vow will come closer to being implemented as Google will sign an agreement with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web. Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library are some of the US institutions that will sign the agreement today.

The whole project will convert about 15 million books at a cost of $150 million dollars or about $10 per book.             

Last night (13 Dec 2006) the Library of Congress and a group of international libraries from the United States, 

Canada, Egypt, China and the Netherlands announced a plan to create a publicly-available digital archive of one million books on the Internet. The group said it planned to have 70,000 volumes online by next April. Doesn't that just want to make you get out of your chair and shout! I don't know about you but I am excited. 

(From a US website dated 14 December 2006 by Dr. Joseph Mercola, just one of the many people around the world excited by Google's knowledge initiative for the Net. The editor of this website has lately been noticing (and using), information from Google's postings of the old English publication, The Gentleman's Magazine, mostly for career descriptions and the data from obituaries -Ed.)


See http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/3269.html -- With the Internet, Every Man's His Own Historian

By Edward L. Ayers, author of The Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863, and professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he created the Valley of the Shadow Project, writing in Newsday (25 January, 2004):

Unlike any medium before - from books and museums to film and television - the World Wide Web is profoundly changing our relationship to history. Unlike a museum, the Web is open all the time to people everywhere. Unlike a television show, movie or book, it does not tell only one story. Unlike a textbook, it encourages exploration, challenge and dissent.

Most radically, the Web allows every person to be his or her own historian. By giving easy access to a deep set of historical records, people can handle the pieces of the past for themselves. The Web puts diaries, letters, newspapers, censuses, military records, memoirs, photographs and maps into the hands of visitors, letting them go as far into the details of individual lives as they choose.

Everything from the founding of Jamestown to the Civil Rights movement, from the witchcraft trials of Salem to the inventions of Thomas Edison, from the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the history of television news has been opened to this experience. Historians have built large projects on women's lives, on Abraham Lincoln, on Harpers Weekly, on the Mississippi River, on the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the histories of Los Angeles and Chicago. Historians constructed an instant archive on the attack of 11 September. 2001, chronicling personal responses to tragedy in real time.

In the process, the doors of the historical record are opened. Individuals can wrestle for themselves with some of the great questions of American history, such as what caused the Civil War.

I cite the Civil War not just because that period happens to be my specialty. No part of American history has seen more action on the World Wide Web. Hundreds of sites document every facet of the conflict. The Library of Congress has mounted famous photographs and official documents, while distinctly non-academic sites trumpet their political beliefs under waving flags.

The Valley of the Shadow project, which I originated at the University of Virginia, displays the records of every person in two counties, one in the North and one in the South, throughout the Civil War era. These records cover the lives of blacks as well as whites, females as well as males, deserters as well as heroes. Political, economic and military history is documented alongside the history of emotion, intimacy and death. Thus it is possible for anyone with Internet access to study, for example, what difference slavery made in leading to the Civil War in greater detail and precision than has ever been possible.

This ongoing study is causing us to re-evaluate the conventional story of the war as a conflict between a modern, industrialized North and a backward, agrarian South. This standard interpretation, it turns out, is misleading and evasive.

White Americans found it possible to reconcile slavery with technology, towns, white democracy and profitable business - all considered key aspects of modern life in the mid-19th century. The Civil War was not the inevitable clash of the future against the past, as many of us have been schooled - and might prefer - to believe.

Slaveowners took out insurance policies on the people they claimed as their property. Slaves worked in factories as well as on farms. The Confederacy gathered the confidence to leave the United States, forging a new nation based on slavery, in part because of its network of railroads, newspapers, telegraphs and steamships. The history of the 20th and 21st centuries has shown all too clearly that forms of modern life can easily co-exist with forced labor and racial domination. The American South pioneered in this fusion.

Americans like to think that slavery was merely an accident in our development as a nation, a brief mistake, a wrong turn. But in 1860 slavery already had been established for two centuries. Slavery drove much of the American economy, providing more than half of all the nation's exports. Slavery generated the war against Mexico of 1846-48 and thus the addition of a vast part of our territory. Before the Civil War, slaveholders held the presidency more often than not.

These are uncomfortable facts that contradict our sense of ourselves. But it does no good to ignore them or brush them aside. The point of studying the past is not merely to make us feel good about ourselves, but to let us view ourselves honestly. The Civil War did end up ending slavery, of course. The challenge is to see how that profound good grew out of a war that did not begin with that purpose in mind.

Documents have a way of making that challenge come vividly to life. Already over the past 10 years, we have had millions of hits on the Valley Project Web site - from students in middle and high schools, in community colleges and graduate schools, and from some people who have not been in a classroom for a long time.

Of course, not everyone has the time or the interest to study the primary sources, and the Web does not remove the responsibility of the historian to make sense of the past, any more than government documents on the Web make journalists who interpret them obsolete.

Those who study history carefully have conclusions to make that casual browsers of documents cannot. Historians still need to tell stories that dramatize the most important meanings of the past, as they always have.

(Ends)



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