Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ancestral Tomes

I simply can’t type the ‘H’ word at the moment. It’s too painful. Incredibly, House of Pants has been passed over once again – the outer shell I mean. The man I formally described as nice and sensible for agreeing to purchase House of Pants is now a stupid arsehole and a fuckwit for changing his mind. Why can’t people just stay the same? As much as it’s against my principles… oh what the fuck – does anyone know a buy-to-let landlord? They’re not actually people so there’s no risk of them changing, and if they did, it could only be for the better. E-me yeah?

To take my mind off the impending implosion of my whole entire life – like I so knew that there was going to be a major economic collapse which is why I, duh, decided to sell up this time last year and secure myself a mortgage-free bolthole in the wilderness and start an organic vege patch – I’ve decided to spend the time between now and my imminent return to wage slavery in the British Library. I guess none of you really saw that one coming. Join the club of which I am president!

I have mentioned several times in the past my convict ancestor who virtually exhausts the anti-personality gamut by encompassing every known scoundrel in one lovable rogue. I have previously mentioned my intention to write my G-G-Grandfather’s story as soon as I’ve consigned my current novel to its preordained posting in my bottom drawer where it will battle it out with the first two for the supreme position of worst novel yet by she who thinks she knows better than anyone else what makes a good novel. So, I’m now spending my days in the incredible British Library with four books dating from 1791 to 1806 in order to unlock something of this enigmatic man about whom I knew nothing until a few years ago.

Firstly, a little about the British Library. Since it reopened in King’s Cross as a major national resource a couple of years ago, it’s made its incomparable collection available to the general public virtually on demand. Provided you can furnish a signature and a utility bill, you can get access to some of the rarest books in the world. But it’s not in the least bit stuffy. In fact, a lot of people seem to be using it as an office. With free electricity and internet access and relatively cheap coffee, who could blame them? You can take your laptop in and set up at one of the generously spacious work stations. It’s the quietest place you’ll ever be in. You can’t use your phone in there obviously and that takes all the people who would annoy you out of the equation.

I discovered that the British Library held four books in which GGG is represented. Two are books of sermons. GGG was a preacher, initially as bogus as Mr love/hate hands in Night of the Hunter, but eventually attaining a Doctorate in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen. He had one sermon in each volume. He was quite young at this stage but the oratory was already showing signs that he would turn into a major ranter. Eventually, after his transportation to Australia and a briefly illustrious career as the founder and original headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, his life ended in financial ruin after he started a radical newspaper in Sydney and persistently libelled seriously important people. All that’s to come.

The other two volumes are his poetry. Poems on Various Occasions is dated 1791. It must have been a very limited edition or his own copy as corrections to the script have been made in his own hand. I know he was thought to be a mediocre poet at the time, but reading some of these verses I have to say he totally came alive for me on the page. There are two Odes to His Majesty on the Occasion of his Birthday (1790 and 1791) which must have been considered seditious at the time. I can see why he spent so much time in gaol (as it was then). There are translations of Horace and even a couple of Sapphic Odes and a very strange dramatic farce – difficult to know what amused in the eighteenth century. There's one poem that made me tearful. It’s called Extempore Effusion – To the Memory of an Infant Son. Reproduced below is a little bit of this, (faithfully in the original script – replace the ‘f’ with ‘s’ when it makes sense to do so.)

Still hopes thy mother’s pangs deride,

Still does fhe seem to hear thy breath!

Ah ! no ! Tho’ med’cine’s aid was tried,

Art vainly combated with Death !

Still from her forrow-ftreaming eye

The glift’ning tear bedews thy cheeks:

Still fans thy face the balmy figh,

Still Nature’s filent language fpeaks !

Lovely and illuminating as this book of verse is, the major draw is GGG’s personal account of The Battle of Trafalgar. He served as a Naval Chaplain and Secretary to Rear Admiral Northesk onboard the Britannia for about four years. His epic poem The Battle of Trafalgar is 870 lines long. I typed each one out by hand today. Here’s how it begins,

WHILE Gaul’s proud Despot, with insatiate hands

Wastes prostrate Europe’s subjugated lands;

And bids his blood-stain’d hordes, thro’ realms afar

“Cry Havoc, and let slip the Dogs of War;”

The last line’s Shakespeare – from Julius Caesar if I’m not mistaken. He’s a naval chaplain and this is something of an official account, so most of it’s very patriotic. I imagine they felt that way in the heat of battle. The description of Nelson’s death is not only timely in the long narrative but genuinely moving. There’s a very interesting introduction to the published poem (it came out as part of a larger collection of poems ‘written at sea’ in 1806 – a year after the battle), in which he commends Rear Admiral Eliab Harvery Esq MP, to whom the poem is dedicated,

At the various Courts-martial, which I have attended, and upon which you have sate, as a Member of the Court, I have been no inattentive Observer of your Judgment, and Discrimination, in investigating the Truth : - nor have I been unaffected by the Mildness, and Humanity :- you have invariably exhibited towards the unfortunate Prisoners! On such Occasions my Heart has again suggested, “This is truly a benevolent, good Man!”

Was this a portent of things to come? GGG became a supporter of the Emancipist movement in Sydney, even though he was freed on arrival. There is much more to unearth here and now it appears I have the opportunity to do it. Whose glass is half full then? Not bloody mine, I finished off the bottle of wine I had in the fridge and forgot to get more, arrrrgghhh that's a rum deal…

Picture : The Battle of Trafalgar by J.M. Turner


R.H. said...

My dimwit social worker niece once had a pa-a-a-rtner from a good family who confided in me his Great Plan to own several houses and rent them out to mug tenants. And to make it clear, he'd already expressed pop-eyed reverance for an old lady he knew up in Sydney who bit by bit had done the some thing. It just bowled him over, this whole idea. And so I mentioned it to my niece, first chance I got -because it was my duty to do so, and because I knew it would embarrass her. And it did, and I don't know if it was the reason they split up, and I don't care, but she got rid of him soon afterwards. Good.

Well anyone should realise that these shifty bloodless bald-headed investment-portfolio maggots bumping up rent and property values are the vermin of any society. They live off it. That's what I said to my niece, but I put it another way: expressing mild astonishment that a social worker and slum landlord could share a life together. She knew they couldn't. It was plain.

And so I prevailed, got off my bum, did my bit. And guess what, they're still 'friends'. How's that. Well golly me, never be mistaken, the educated classes are more than just big words.
They're dopey as well, that's their charm.

That's so pants said...


I was (only half) joking. I feel exactly the same way as you about buy-to-let landlords but let me tell you, after spending the best part of a year accommodating flakes who can't make up their minds, if a hustler with a back pocket full of cash showed up tomorrow, I'd be awfully tempted. You see, in this country, there is no financial penalty for changing your mind, no matter how far down the line you are, so I've spent hundreds of pounds on legal fees already and I'm still at square one.

Buy-to-let landlords in this neck of the woods tend to rent straight back to the council anyway. Whereas it's not a perfect situation, at least it provides decent temporary accommodation for vulnerable people as our local council no longer has enough housing stock to meet the needs of homeless families.



Ms Baroque said...

Pants, quel disastre. I feel awful for you. The British Library sounds like a balm for your troubled spirit, anyway, that's one thing - and I hope an evil tycoon - I mean middle-class entrepreneur - comes along soon. (Of course, the other reason people are doing this is that they don't trust the pensions.)

That's so pants said...

Hi Ms B

Yes - this is one reason I wanted to be mortgage free. Let's hope for all our sakes that the current financial situation is no more than a wobble.



Ann O'Dyne said...

double drat.
a pox on 'em.

Your 'convict' doesn't sound the least bit criminal at all.

I was claiming only earlier this week at some blog talking about 'Australian-ness' that not all of the convicts were evil ... and your GGG pops up to prove me right.
My own convict was the victim of sloppy policing and a slovenly court system.

That's so pants said...

Hi Annie

He wasn't a criminal by today's standards but my research into his writing as turned up a serious tendency towards 'one in the eye' gestures towards authority - several of which landed him in prison.

I now have conclusive proof that my quarrelsome nature is a genetic fault I can't do anything about.



Reading the Signs said...

Pants, the situation with the sale falling through is obviously shite, but I can't help feeling this whole thing is going to turn out for the fabulous best because of this goldmine (I don't necessarily mean in the financial sense) ancestor of yours - and time to research and work in the wonderful British Library. My friend did just that - wrote her first book there, using the little cubicles spaces, drinking the coffee. It's the one thing that made me feel I might want to be in London again for a bit.

I love all the details about him. I also think (I'm sorry but I have to say this) that when you do this he's going to be around helping you - read that any way you want. I recently got copies of all the letters my grandfather sent from prison and Buchenwald and reading them, as far as I was able, my German not being what it was or might have been, I had such a strong sense of presence. I didn't and don't (yet) feel moved to write a book - the important thing was to "meet" him.

I am saying this with a glass of spritzer and cassis by my side. The most pressing thing right now, it seems, is that you get yourself another bottle of wine. Cheers!

That's so pants said...

Wonderful Signs

Thank you. Lovely thoughts. I'm feeling Okay about it too. And have got a bottle of wine in the fridge too.



phil said...

Hi Pants

One of the many books left by my old man, who passed away last year, is a 2000 reprint of Peter Coleman's 1962 Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition, which amongst other things traced early Australian history of scandal rags and anti-governmentand/or authoritarian tracts. I wouldn't be surprised if your g-g-g is featured therein?

Minx said...

I have a spare voodoo doll for the arsey fuckwit. I'll swap it for some chocolate.

That's so pants said...

Hi Minx

A large bar of Green and Black's Maya Gold is winging its way to you through the wonder that is virtual reality. Please dispatch voodoo by return.

Yours very gratefully


Hi Phil

Firstly, I'm sorry for your loss. My GGG's newspaper was called The Gleaner. Would you mind having a look and seeing if you can find reference to it for me? Hopefully, I will be back in Australia for the new year and will take up the search again there. Luckily for me, my sister is a research librarian so I expect I'll find that part somewhat easier.

I read in yesterday's Guardian an article by Kate Grenville where she talks about her new book Searching for the Secret River - an account of writing the fictional version of her GGGs story (The Secret River, 2005). However, I'm not sure I can trust an ethnically white Australian who claims not to have had any 'awareness' of Aboriginal people until 1988.

What is THAT about then?


NMJ said...

hey pants, so sorry the sale has fallen through, that is just so bloody vexing, but i think signs is right (she usually is) that this could turn out to be a 'goldmine' for you. i spent about twenty minutes in the BL a few years ago, i used the lovely toilets - i was getting a train at kings cross. i wish i could have spent longer there. i too read the kate grenville interview and felt a little uneasy.

happy research


That's so pants said...


Thanks. I'm cleaning (again) in preparation for the next lot of flakes, er, potential buyers. The toilets at the BL are wonderful - but you risk entering long conversations about how marvellous it is to have those continuous cloth hand towels. It's pastel mac country - big style.

I'm glad you said that about Grenville. I thought my previous prejudice concerning her was entirely due to my totally adverse reaction to the atrocity that was 'Lilian's Story' but this stuff is plainly pants. I'm a bit younger than her but not much and certainly by the early 1970s when I was in my mid teens, I could have named half a dozen important Aboriginal public figures whose prominence is undiminished today.

I might actually do a post on this to see if I can flush out the agenda here - because there MUST be one. I was talking to my sister last night about revisionism in general and also in relation to my recent experience and she suggested that once these fallacies start to enter the public consciousness, they influence people's individual memories of what happened so they start 'recalling' in a much more conventional and conservative way. It's much easier to distill history down to a few memorable names, she said.

Detective Pants is on the case...



J said...

I'm sorry that the House of Pants sale has fallen through... does this mean you have to join the working classes again??? What a bummer! It may all be for the best though - prices could continue to go through the roof and you could end up getting a higher price.

Yes, I am a glass half full girl - how did you guess??

That's so pants said...

Hi J

At the moment, I'd settle for what I thought I had three months ago. What's interesting is that everyone assumes it will work out for the best. I guess the rest of the world knows something I don't. Probably just as well you can't see around corners eh?



phil said...

Hi Pants

I've had a look through the book, can't see any reference to the Gleaner I'm afraid.

Also sorry to hear about the fall of the House of Pants, if I might put it that way. A sale falling through is never fun.

Ann O'Dyne said...

absolutely do not trust Ms grenville's opinions if it is true that she 'had no knowledge of aboriginals until 1988' ...

"Evonne Goolagong Cawley, a Wiradjuri Aborigine, is one of Australia ’s most successful tennis players and the first Australian Aboriginal to win Wimbledon.

Goolagong won the Italian Open in 1973 and was the Virginia Slims circuit champion in 1974 and 1976. She won the Australian Open in 1974, 1975, 1976, and late 1977, the French Open in 1971 and won Wimbledon in 1971 and again in 1980, her last tournament victory. Nine years separated Evonne’s two Wimbledon triumphs. She was also the first mother to win Wimbledon since 1914.

In 1972 in the New Year’s Honour List, Goolagong was awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). On Australia Day the same year, Goolagong was named Australian of the Year.
In 1982, she received her second honour, Order of Australia (AO) and was inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.
In 1988, she was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame" ....
aaah, that must be when Grenville regained consciousness.

That's so pants said...

Hi Phil

Thanks for looking. There were only a few issues so it's not that surprising.

Hi Annie

Absolutely. Not to mention

Neville Bonner MP elected to parliament 1972.

Lionel Rose - World Bantam weight champion boxer 1965. Later a country music singer.

Albert Namatjira - world renowned painter and subject of the Archibald Prize winning painting 1956

Oodgeroo Noonuccal MBE (formerly Kath Walker) prize winning poet and leading civil rights campaigner - her poetry collection 'We Are Going' 1964 was on my school's syllabus.

Oodgeroo's son Bejam Kunmunara Jarlow Nunukel Kabool (formerly Dennis Walker - founder of the Australian Black Panther movement and leading campaigner at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1970s.

Charles Perkins - First Permanent Aboriginal head of a government Department 1981 - awarded Order of Australia in 1987.

David Gulpilil - Actor, shot to world fame in Nicholas Roeg's 'Walkabout' 1971. He may have led a troubled life but has been perfectly visible ever since his first film appearance. Also the subject of an Archibald Prize (2004).

Artie Beetson - Rugby League legend (and personal hero of mine) 1960s and 70s. First Aboriginal to captain the country in any sport.

These, and Yvonne Goologong of course, were household names when I was young. I think I will do a post about it - but I need to do some research and develop a perspective on it. Not that it's easy for me as I've been absent from the country since before the reconciliation process began. Then again, maybe that gives me something of an advantage. In any case, I just don't get it.

We'll see.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pants
Cant believe that I have found this on the internet but your GGG is also my husband's GGG!
I have been doing some research for our kids and also my own interest. I havent been able to find any record of his birth, have you? We have the same surname as your GGG and live in Australia.