Saturday, March 30, 2013

The daughter of time

The recent identification of bones under a carpark in Leicester as being those of Richard III resulted in renewed interest in the king who was the last of the Plantagenets - [Guardian article] For centuries many history books have described Richard as the evil hunchback who stole the role of king from his nephew when Edward IV died, then imprisoned his two nephews in the Tower of London and arranged to have them murdered. Shakespeare's play, Richard III,  has perpetuated that notion.

In the novel, The daughter of time, written by Josephine Tey in 1951, a policeman, Alan Grant, is in hospital recovering from breaking a leg. To fill in the time a friend brings him a collection of portraits of people about whom a mystery is attached. Among them is a portrait of Richard III which inspires Grant to evaluate the story surrounding the king by investigating the actual known facts, rather than stories written long after Richard's death. 

The title of the book refers to a quotation from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) - 'For, truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority.' In the novel Grant reads all the books that he can easily locate about the life of Richard including those credited with providing authoritative accounts. He soon discovers that the 'original' sources were written many years after the events described and by Tudor supporters. It is therefore necessary to seek information from documents produced during the reign of Richard. Aided by Brent Carradine who researches the available documents at the British Museum, Grant is able to debunk many of the myths and piece together the facts relating to this period of British history revealing an entirely different story.

This book should be read by all who are interested in history, including family history, re-enforcing the need to investigate the facts and not to just accept a story at face value.

For those interested in Richard III the Richard III Society provides detailed information.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A walking shadow: the remarkable double life of Edward Oxford

The life of Edward Oxford can be told in two parts. Born in England 1822 Edward Oxford gained notoriety in 1840 when he fired two pistols at Queen Victoria. There is no proof that the pistols were loaded and after his trial at the Old Bailey he was declared insane and was initially sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem and later transferred to Broadmoor Hospital when it opened in 1863. From all accounts Oxford took advantage of the situation to study and improve his education  studying subjects including French, German and Italian as well as some Spanish, Greek and Latin. He also became a grainer and painter. Eventually it was decided that Oxford was sane but the government did not want him released in England so he was released on the understanding that he travelled to one of the colonies and stayed there.

Edward Oxford left Plymouth aboard the Suffolk in December 1867 but he now had a new identity - he was now John Freeman, a 'merchant' travelling to Melbourne Australia. In the second part of the book Jenny Sinclair pieces together what is known of Freeman's life in the colony of Victoria. Initially he worked as a painter and grainer and then in 1874 he wrote a series of articles about Melbourne for the Argus. The articles were signed Liber meaning, in Latin, free. Freemen was a member of the West Melbourne Mutual Improvement Society and was also actively involved at St James' Cathedral, holding positions of church warden and secretary.  In 1881 Freeman married Jane Bowen (Tapping) and by 1888 they were living in Albert Park. He was a respected member of Melbourne society and no-one suspected his past.

In 1888 the book, Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life, was published in London. Freeman based the book around the Argus articles of 1874 and provided a view of life in Melbourne probably written for a London audience.

Freeman was probably not the only person in Melbourne who had two or more identities. Living two lives cannot always have been an easy thing to do but there is no evidence that Freeman told anyone in Melbourne about his earlier life in England. It was only through letters to a friend in England that many years later that John Oxford was linked to James Freeman.

In this book Jenny Sinclair provides not only an account of the life of Oxford / Freeman but also an introduction to life in Victorian England and the Colony of Victoria.

Berkshire Record Office - Broadmoor - Edward Oxford

Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Celebrating Mooroolbark

Celebrating Mooroolbark is primarily about the Mooroolbark Community Centre and festivals held in Mooroolbark but it is more than that. It provides a view of the community spirit that existed in the area as it evolved from a rural community to a suburb of Melbourne.

The Mooroolbark History Group effectively has used articles from local newspapers plus photographs to tell the story. A brief account of the early settlement of Mooroolbark is followed by the story of the Mooroolbark Public Hall, the community meeting place for the residents of the area from 1924 until the building of the new community centre in 1980. The hall was the location for the first school until it moved into its own building and a number of churches also initially held services in the hall. The hall was also the centre of entertainment for the local population with dances and carnivals held in and around the hall.

In March 1980 the new community centre was opened and since that time has been the meeting place for many community groups, recreational classes, social functions, art displays and other events. To celebrate the opening of the community centre the first Red Earth Festival was held and it continued as an annual event until 2001. From 2002 the Celebrate Mooroolbark Festival, centred around the community centre, has been held each March.

The story of the community centre and the festivals unfolds chronologically and is well illustrated with copies of newspaper articles which further enhance the story as well as many photographs of people and events. The focus of the book is on the people and events that contribute to the function of the community centre and the festivals as well as the public who enjoy participating in the community centre activities and festival events.  As the title suggests, this book is a celebration of Mooroolbark. It is also the story of the evolution of a vibrant community contributing to an understanding of the social history of the suburb.