Desperate measures.

One evening in 1849, a British soldier stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, robbed a man at gunpoint. The villain, strangely, did not run off with his booty, which amounted to little more than loose change, but insisted – at gunpoint – that his victim report him to the authorities immediately. The soldier was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 17 years transportation to an Australian penal colony.

We could assume the soldier had a mental breakdown and this outrageously disproportionate sentence was the tragic result. But then it happened again. Different soldier, similar crime.

From the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. Wednesday 4 July 1849.
On Monday night, Connolly, a private in the light company of the 65th regiment, having armed himself with his musket, proceeded about 10 o’clock to Mr. Townsend’s house on the Tinakori Road and having obtained admittance demanded money from the inmates. With the view of intimidating them he discharged his musket, and eventually obtained from Mr. Lowe, a lodger at Mr. Townsend’s, a coat and the sum of four shillings.

He then went to Te Aro, between 12 and 1 o’clock to the house of a carpenter named Levy, in the neighbourhood of the barracks on Mount Cook where he obtained a pair of trousers and two shillings. Information was given to the police the next morning at daylight, and on sending to the barracks it was found that Connolly, who had committed the offence for the avowed purpose of getting transported, had given himself up and was in custody of the guard.

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Te Aro Flat with army barracks on the hill in the background.
Stock, Arthur Henry (Rev), 1823-1901. Te Aro, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-17-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23023083

It appears that some months ago some soldiers belonging to the regiment were transported to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania, Australia] and shortly after their arrival received tickets of leave ; these men have written to their comrades representing their present way of life as being in every way so preferable to their former condition, that several soldiers have lately committed offences with the express intention of getting transported.

This is a subject of grave importance and one that calls for strong representations from the proper authorities to the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. In the administration of convict discipline, it is understood that tickets of leave are usually granted to criminals who, after having served a portion of their time, have shown themselves, by their good conduct, deserving of this indulgence. But if convicts are to receive tickets of leave almost immediately after their arrival in a penal settlement, transportation ceases to be a punishment, and in cases of this kind the practice becomes subversive of military discipline by holding out a premium on insubordination and a temptation to the commission of crime.

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Early Wellington. Perhaps not the most popular outpost in the British Empire.
From Hobson Street, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-13-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23071258

 

The treasures of conquest

When visiting museums we’re often so impressed by the exhibits that we don’t stop to think how they came to be there. Sometimes they were “acquired” as “spoils of war” or, to put it more bluntly, by looting – although the guardians of the treasure haven’t always been keen to advertise the fact. Artifacts “came into the possession of…” or (my favourite) “fell into the hands of…”, as if from a tree or upper balcony.

treasure 1These cigarette cards issued by Churchmans in 1937 are a good example. All the loot was in the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, at the time. If you aren’t familiar with the period or its Imperialist wars, just follow the links.

The Golden Throne of Ranjit Singh.
The ambitious nature of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh [1780-1839], combined with his forceful character and military genius, earned him the title of “The Lion of the Punjab.” The throne illustrated was made for him after his accession to the throne of Zaman Shah, King of Afghanistan, whom he defeated in 1799. It is made of wood covered with richly-chased gold plates, analysis showing the metal to contain 97-75% of pure gold. The throne later came into the possession of the East India Company, becoming the property of the British Government after the Indian Mutiny [1857].

Gold treasures from the Burmese Regalia.
treasure 2After the third Burmese War of 1885-6, in which King Thibaw was decisively defeated, the Burmese Regalia were taken from the Royal Palace at Mandalay, passing into the possession of the Secretary of State for India and thence, in 1890, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We illustrate two of the many magnificent objects from the Regalia on view there : left, a gold food-vessel in the shape of a duck, elaborately chased and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds; right, a gold salver, 23¼ inches in diameter, bearing a 9-stone ornament in the centre.

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Gold Crown and Chalice from Abyssinia [Ethiopia].
When the British military expedition to Abyssinia, under Sir Robert Napier, entered Magdala on April 13th, 1868, several of the Emperor Theodore’s treasures fell into Sir Robert’s hands. We show two interesting items of this treasure. The gold crown (on right) belonged originally to the Abuna or Head of the Abyssinian Christian Church, being subsequently appropriated by the Emperor Theodore [Tewodros II]. The chalice, of hammered gold, bears incised inscriptions recording that it was given by King Joshua (1682-1706) to the Sanctuary of Quesquam.

A few of the looted treasures have been returned to Ethiopia over the years. An association was founded in 1999 to lobby for the rest.

Cultural vandals

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Kilpeck Church

Leominster, Pembridge, Weobly, Eardisland; all have exquisite churches dating from the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Kilpeck, on the other side of the river [Wye], has another, which, although one of the smallest in England, is one of our richest examples of Anglo-Norman Romanesque architecture.

Unfortunately, Victorian prudes defaced many of the quaint corbels that encircle the outside of the building*, but that is nothing to what happened at Shobdon when, in 1753, the second Lord Bateman pulled down a church which was at least the equal of Kilpeck, and probably grander. He did this not only in order that he might indulge his taste in ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic,’ but also that he might have some ruins as features in his park, a form of absurdity then very fashionable.

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Kilpeck Church

We read in one of Horace Walpole’s letters of the same year to Richard Bentley: ‘A little way from the town are the ruins of Llantony Priory: there remains a pretty old gateway, which G. Selwyn has begged, to erect on the top of his mountain, and it will have a charming effect.’ Walpole himself was, of course, the arch-priest of this kind of vandalism, but the high-water mark of stupidity and insincerity was probably reached by ‘one of the most notorious debauchees of the age,’ who added a church spire to a country cottage in order that there should be a point of focus in the vista from his windows.

The noble Bateman has left us the present Shobdon church, which, though dedicated nominally to the Almighty, was more certainly intended for the greater glory of his lordship. It certainly helps to perpetuate his memory.

I am surprised that his lordship allowed the fine old Norman font to remain in the church, but perhaps he thought of it as ‘a feature,’ as he certainly regarded the carved doors and tympana of the old church when he re-erected them on the summit of a windswept hill. There, exposed to frost and rain, these carvings, in soft stone designed for the interior of a building, have slowly mouldered so that they are now but ghosts of their former glory.
‘Coming Down the Wye,’ Robert Gibbings. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1942.

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Llanthony Priory

*Gibbings’ assertion of an attack by Victorian prudes may be a mistaken impression. In fact, the carvings at Kilpeck are known for their remarkable state of preservation.

Mulberry ‘B’

Continuing from my last post, D Minus One ….

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Harold Hickling was involved with the enormous Mulberry artificial harbours, so vital to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, from the planning stages until his appointment as Naval Officer In Charge, Mulberry ‘B’, in June 1944. A fascinating insider’s account of the whole operation was included in his book ‘Sailor at Sea’ (1965). Here are some excerpts, beginning with his specifications written in 1943. Images from the Imperial War Museum.

“Each harbour is to be approximately two miles long and a mile wide and must be capable of berthing the largest Liberty ships and discharging stores at the rate of 11,000 tons a day. The breakwaters must give protection in winds up to Force 6 (half a gale). Inside the harbour floating pier-heads connected to the shore must enable ships to discharge at all states of the tide…… Each harbour is to be completed by D+14 and is to last for ninety days.”

The various units comprising the harbours….. were to be prefabricated in the United Kingdom, assembled on the South Coast of England, towed seventy miles across the Channel and put down on an enemy coast, possibly under fire, in a couple of weeks. …nothing of the sort on so gigantic a scale had ever been done before….. new and untried devices would have to go straight from the drawing board into mass production. There would be no time for tests and trials.

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Concrete caissons to be used as breakwaters, under construction at George V graving dock, Southampton. © IWM (A 25793)

There were to be five craft shelters known as Gooseberries, consisting of sunken blockships (code name Corncob), to be finished by D-day +4 and were a British Naval commitment. Out of two of them was to grow a Mulberry, the American Mulberry ‘A’ at St. Laurent, the British Mulberry ‘B’ at Arromanches. Each harbour was to consist of:
(1) A floating outer breakwater – code name Bombardon.
(2) A concrete breakwater – code name Phoenix.
(3) An assortment of piers – code name Whale.

It was a strange procession that moved southwards from Selsey and the Solent…. The Phoenix looked like blocks of flats being towed by a taxi, while the Pier heads with their ninety foot high spuds might have been Battersea Power Station taking a sea trip from Ryde; then came sinister shapes, low in the water, making the most awful grinding noises in the choppy sea; these were the 500-foot-lengths of pier roadway though they might have been the Loch Ness Monster.

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Phoenix caissons for Mulberry Harbour off Selsey Bill. © IWM (A 24115)

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A Spud pierhead unit parked awaiting D Day. These were fitted with legs to enable adjustments to be made according to the state of the tide. © IWM (H 39297)

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A section of the roadway being towed into position. © IWM (A 24160)

As each unit arrived off its Mulberry it was pounced upon by small harbour tugs and manoeuvred into its pre-arranged position…. [Lieutenant Commander] Lampen [a.k.a.] the ‘Planter’ took over the blockships and one by one sank them, the bows of one just overlapping the next.

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Block ships for a ‘Gooseberry’. © IWM (A 24683)

By D + 4 the Gooseberry at Arromanches was planted….. Lampen then started extending the Corncob breakwater with the Phoenix. It was no easy matter to hold these 6,000-ton rectangular concrete ships in a tideway with a cross-wind on their high sides, during the twenty-two minutes which, with all flooding valves open, they took to sink….. Yet with skilful handling of tugs and cool judgment our ‘Planter’ placed them not to an accuracy of feet but of inches, while experienced civil engineers looked on at this young sailor, an amateur, with mingled feelings of admiration and professional jealousy…… you couldn’t see daylight between one caisson and the next.

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A line of concrete caissons [Phoenix] forming the inner breakwater. © IWM (A 24168)

On 1st August 1944, we were working twenty-nine ships, nine of which were large Liberty ships; 11,000 tons were discharged on that day….. In addition 5,000 personnel and 600 vehicles were landed. We had reached our target.

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Ships unloading onto a Spud pierhead at the British prefabricated harbour, Mulberry B at Arromanches. © IWM (B 7236)

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 Group of Officers responsible for planning and execution of Mulberry; left to right: Lieut Cdr A M D Lampen, RN [the ‘Planter’]; Capt Hickling, DSO, RN, NOIC Arromanches; Rear Admiral W G [‘Bill’] Tennant, CB, MVO; Capt J H Jellett, RNVR; and Commander R K Silcock, RN. © IWM (A 24857)

General Eisenhower in his official report wrote…..
Through the summer of 1944 the Mulberry and beach installations represented an essential factor in the success of our operation. Without them our armies could not have been adequately supplied in the field. The men who worked them with so much gallantry and devotion deserve the gratitude of liberated Europe for their share in the Victory.

D Minus One

It was June 5th 1944. In twenty-four hours the biggest invasion in history was due to start, an invasion that had taken two years to prepare and which, if successful, would mark the beginning of the end of the war; if it failed hostilities might drag on for years.

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© IWM (A 24096)

Early next morning, the 6th June, I said to Bill*: ‘They’ll just be touching down, let’s go up on to Portsdown Hill and see if we can hear the gunfire.’

We stood near Fort Southwick on that lovely summer’s morning, looking down on Portsmouth, on the harbour and the ebbing tide with Whale Island in the foreground and the Isle of Wight sleeping in the ground mist across the Solent.
‘Do you hear anything?’ I asked.

Bill strained his ears. ‘Yes, I can hear a woodlark singing.’
Bill was a great bird watcher. And there in the blue sky was a tiny speck happily indifferent to the sound and the fury of two powerful forces coming to grips less than a hundred miles away.

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© IWM (EA 26941)

That evening of D-day, as the armies fought their way into the bridgehead, the first units of the two prefabricated artificial harbours started on their slow and hazardous journey across the English Channel.
‘Sailor at Sea’, Vice-Admiral Harold Hickling C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.

*Bill – Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant.
Hickling was put in charge of the Mulberry B artificial harbour.
More about that later…