Whether you are isolating or just want the chance to do some trivia, here’s a new easy to evil quiz for you. The rules are the same as ones I have done in the past. You get the question, then a photo and the answer will be below the photo. There are four categories Easy, Medium, Hard and Evil. This quiz is a general history theme, without a specific era focus. The vast majority of answers have been mentioned somewhere on Historical Ragbag before. All the photos are mine. Keep track of your score and see how you go at the end. Good luck!!
Established in 1835 what is the capital of Victoria Australia?
2. Where Was Picnic At Hanging Rock set?
Answer: Hanging Rock (no it wasn’t a trick question)
3. From what castle did the current English royal family take their name?
Answer: Windsor Castle.
4. What is the nickname of the great bell of the clock tower in the houses of parliament in London
Answer: Big Ben
Where would you find the White Tower, built by William the Conquerer?
Answer: The Tower of London
2. Which king was found buried under a carpark in Leicester?
Answer: Richard III
3. What is the name for Viking boats used for long distance travel and trade?
4. Who were sent to Port Arthur in Tasmania? (looking for a general answer)
Where in Australia would you find the Big Lobster which was constructed in 1979
Answer: Kingston, South Australia
2. What is the name of the rock 13 km off the coast of Ireland that houses a 6th century monastery
Answer: Skellig Michael
3. Who helped found the State Library of Victoria and was the judge at Ned Kelly’s trial?
Answer: Redmond Barry
4. Where was Matilda of Flanders (the wife of William the Conquerer) buried?
Answer: Abbaye aux Dames in Caen
What date did Matthew Flinders die?
2. When was the domed La Trobe reading room in the State Library of Victoria opened?
3. Who caused Hook Lighthouse to be built?
Answer: William Marshal
4. Glendalough was founded by whom?
Answer: St Kevin
And that’s the lot of them. How did you go?
1-4: Ok you know some stuff
5-9: Impressive, nearly half way there
10-15: Stupendous well done, you might actually have read a lot of this blog.
This is actually going to be a little different to some of my other post. It’s more of a snippet of the past and doesn’t involve a lot of photos. I still thought it was an interesting history worthy of discussion- especially in current circumstances. The library sign you can see in the above photo is a ghost sign, as in the library no longer exists and is now a cafe.
So, hygienic libraries. What were they?
The concept arose when it was discovered in the late 1800s that disease could be passed on by bacteria, and books were seen to be one of the main items that would carry the bacteria. This is the era of subscription libraries like mechanics institutes, which you can find out more about in this post. So hygiene of books became a selling point for some of these libraries. Some advertised specifically as hygienic libraries as in the photo, but others were general subscription libraries with ‘hygienic’ facilities. An example of this second sort was the Boulder Public Library in Western Australia which in 1937 guaranteed the hygiene of their books by installing a fumigator. The fumigator used formalin and permanganate of potash to treat books over a 12 hour period. This particular fumigator was built of Queensland hoop pine and was seen as an attractive addition to the library furniture.
The concept certainly was in vogue, with some libraries like the Rockhampton School of Arts opting to fumigate all the shelves every year. Other hygienic libraries in the 30s, like one in Parramatta, opted to prepare the books with a material that allowed them to be disinfected when they came back into the library.
The movement died off with the wane of subscription libraries, in the face of council public libraries, and as the risk of infectious diseases like smallpox and scarlet fever also declined.
But we are still left with the signs of their existence. I haven’t been able to find anymore information about Girdwood’s Hygienic Library in the photo other than they may have used formaldehyde to wipe down the books (the sign is in Flemington in Melbourne) but if anyone out there knows more, feel free to email me (email@example.com) and I’ll add it into the post.
Addendum: 21/08/20 The Age has written an article about the Girdwood Hygienic Library
In times like these, I think it is important to have beautiful things to read about. So I thought I’d put together a post on Ely cathedral. I’m not religious, but it is a truly beautiful building with a fascinating history. I have written about it before in my tour round medieval cathedrals post a couple of years ago, but I decided it deserved its own post.
Ely is a largely Romanesque Cathedral, which is unusual in the UK. Most UK cathedrals are gothic or later, with the occasional romanesque element remaining. But Ely retains many of its Romanesque features, especially on the exterior. You can see the curved and solid shapes rather than the more common gothic pointed and etherial shapes in the photos above and below. The building you see on the site today is an amalgam of centuries of development, the Romanesque style is largely Norman and in the case of Ely was mainly completed by 1189.
Ely is known as the ‘ship of the fens’ as it dominates what is pretty much the only high point in surrounding areas. In the medieval period it would have been surrounded by fenlands. Even now that a large amount of the fens have been drained you can see how it commands the landscape. The images below are taken from the roof of the cathedral.
Ely’s origins trace back further even than the Normans, back to the 7th century CE when it was founded as a monastery by St Etheldreda. Etheldreda was a Saxon Queen and when she died in c. 680 her shrine at Ely became a pilgrimage site. It was destroyed in 1541, but there is a slate in the cathedral in front of the high altar (I unfortunately don’t have a photo of it) to commemorate where it stood.
This original building was destroyed by the Danes in 870 but was re-founded as a Benedictine monastery in c.970 The buildings you see today were begun in the reign of William the Conquerer under the direction of Abbott Simeon. Ely was partly built as a mark of Norman authority in the aftermath of rebellions in the area such as Hereward the Wake’s against the still reasonably new Norman authority. Originally Ely church was the church for the monastery, but Ely became a cathedral in c.1109 when the Diocese of Ely was carved out of the Diocese of Lincoln. It still retained its place as a Benedictine foundation. You can see some of the remains of the monastic buildings in the photo below.
Ely was dissolved as a monastery in the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century though it continued as bishopric and ultimately a college of priests was run from the old monastic buildings. Remains of the cathedral’s time as a monastic site still remain in the cathedral itself, such as the prior’s door you can see in the photo below
Although the name is contemporary this intricately decorated door is one of three 12th century doors that led from the monastic buildings and the cloister into the cathedral. The other doors lead into the choir and the south transept (see below).
The prior’s door led straight onto the nave, which was serving as the parish church until the 1360s. The nave itself is one of the most spectacular parts of the cathedral.
One of the key remaining parts of the original Norman church, the nave itself is 75m long and the ceiling is 32m high. The roof is not original. There is a ledge that runs along the top of the Romanesque columns where the original roof would have rested. In 1240 the roof was reconstructed when the cathedral was extended. You can see some the extended areas in the photos below, they are noticeable more gothic than the Norman parts of the cathedral.
The basic interior structure of this secondary roof largely survives today, but it would have been open.
In the 1850s, however, the Dean of the Cathedral Dean Peacock was one of many who thought the open roof detracted from the overall beauty of the cathedral. As part of the restoration of the cathedral by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott he had a boarded ceiling inserted that followed the lines of the open roof. The painting you can see below, was also undertaken at this time.
Henry Styleman Le Strange was the artist. Originally he was painting other smaller areas of the cathedral, but by 1856 he’d agreed to Dean Peacock’s suggestion that he paint the entire ceiling, he began in 1858. The immense work was undertaken by tracing the drawings onto the ceiling. You can see local figures including Dean Peacock and the artist himself in the ceiling panels which depict biblical scenes. Sadly Le Strange was unable to complete his work as he died in 1862 and it was completed by Thomas Parry. To find out more about the ceiling, see the article I’ve listed in the references. Much of stain glass work in the cathedral dates from the Victorian era as well.
Even though the nave is spectacular, the highlight of the cathedral interior is, arguably of course, the octagon
The octagon is not original to the cathedral either, but its construction came about for a very different reason. In 1322 the original Norman crossing tower collapsed. It was said that the noise was so loud that the monks though there had been an earthquake. The sacrist Alan de Walsingham was given the job of rebuilding. He could have rebuilt the tower conventionally, but instead the master mason whose name we don’t know he had an octagonal lantern built of 23 m across. It was a truly mammoth task of engineering, the lantern itself is 12 m high. You can see some of the beams the hold the lantern below.
The view from the lantern down to the cathedral floor is dizzying.
Ely Cathedral has stood as the ‘ship of the fens’ for hundreds of years, and although it is built for the glory of god, I like to look at it as building that is beautiful in its own right regardless of if you believe in God or not. And I think beautiful things are what we need right now.
Castle rising was my first castle. I’m Australian, where castles are few and far between sadly. I’d been studying medieval history for years when I finally made it to the UK in 2012 and, after Cambridge, Ely and Bury St Edmonds (all castleless), we arrived at Castle Rising. It’s a curiously domestic little castle, compared to some of the behemoths that I was to see over the coming months, but it has a fascinating history and I’ll always have a soft spot for it as my first real medieval castle. I’ve actually written about it before as part of my advent calendar of medieval castles. You can see it here, but this post is going to have more detail and a lot more photos.
Castle Rising is in the village of Castle Rising, in Norfolk just out of King’s Lynn. It was built for William d’Albini the Earl of Arundel in c.1140. It was built in the reign of King Stephen, but may not have been a reaction to the Period of Anarchy as many of its contemporaries were. Castle Rising was definitely a castle built for defence, the massive earthworks you can see in the image below attest to this.
However, it was as much a symbol and an expression of d’Albini’s wealth and status. It is also possible it was built for his new wife Adeliza of Louvain who was the widow of Henry I and as a former queen would have been used to luxury. It was in Castle Rising that d’Albini would have entertained his friends and followers and held his honourial court for the region. The elaborate surviving decoration (especially the external decoration) in the keep shows how seriously he took this. Castle Rising was never intended primarily for defence and conquest as many of the earlier Norman Castles, and arguably Henry II’s later simple stone keeps were.
The keep itself is also unusually shaped, it’s almost cube like rather than the more stark straight military towers you see with other keeps. The keep is 15 m high and almost 21 m across on the narrower side. It would have probably been taller originally when the towers were complete.
Much of the structure of the keep is intact so you can have a reasonable idea of how it would have been used. You would have approached over a guarded bridge and the entrance to the keep is on the second story, which you would would have reached by climbing well defended stairs.
You would have then reached the great hall. The pictures below give you an idea of the great hall. In the first you can see the post holes where floor would have been. The final picture shows what it would have looked like from this floor level. The area below this absent floor would have been the basement, used primarily for storage.
Unusually the kitchens were also on the second floor.
You could also access the lord’s chamber
And the private chapel, which you can see me sitting in below (looking very pleased at my first ever castle)
The keep is not the only building on the site, with the remains of an 11th century church that actually predates the castle. It is partly buried by the earthworks.
The d’ Albini family died out in the 13th century and Castle Rising passed into the Montalt family. The Montalt family died out in the 14th century and Castle Rising came into royal hands. It was after this that the castle entered what is probably its best known phase when it became the residence of Queen Isabella, known as the she wolf of England. She was the Queen of Edward II and many argue she had a role in his murder. It has been argued that Castle Rising was her prison, ordered there by her son Edward III, but it is also just as possible that it was the residence she chose in exile. There were certainly buildings erected for her in the grounds of the castle. There are little in evidence today, but excavations have shown; general lodgings, a chapel, hall and kitchen. You can see what is most likely the remains of the chapel below.
Castle Rising ultimately came into the hands of the Howard family who still own and manage it today. Castle Rising might not have played a grand role on any political stage in its history, but it is a truly lovely castle to explore and the detail that remains gives you a sense of a real place that was actually lived in.
Site visit 2012
One of the fun things about writing this post was that it gave me the chance to dig out several of my castle books, and some of them are rather lovely so I thought I’d include a visual bibliography.
The world heritage listed Port Arthur settlement in Tasmania was part of Australia’s extensive convict network. It was established in 1830 as a timber camp that used convict labour and in 1833 it began to be used as a punishment place for repeat offenders. It was an incredibly harsh environment with the land itself serving as a secondary prison layer. This post is going to explore the physical world of Port Arthur, as well as the story of the site over the years beyond its life a prison camp. I want to begin by acknowledging that when the colonisers moved in to establish Port Arthur, it was not unoccupied land and was the home of the Paredarerme indigenous Australians.
As you can see from the map above the Tasman Peninsula, which Port Arthur sits on, is a natural defence. As well as having to traverse a heavily forested unfamiliar landscape, without supplies, it is connected to the main land by two very thin isthmuses which were guarded. Eaglehawk Neck (the second isthmus) was guarded not only by human guards but by a line of dogs. A military barracks was established there in 1831 and and in 1832 the dog line was installed, and the number of dogs was increased after probation stations opened on the peninsula in 1840. The dogs were set up at intervals along the land with a shelter, a chain, and a lamp. The ground they stood on was shells so it would reflect the light of the lamp. The aim was that any convict that tried to sneak past would alert the dogs who would then start barking and alert the guards. They were also installed on platforms on the water. In 1837 the dogs were described by Harden S. Melville as “every four footed black fanged individual among them would have taken first prize in his own class for ugliness and ferocity at any show” . You can see a statue of what the dogs might have looked like, and a picture of Eaglehawk Neck below.
Port Arthur is not the only convict site on the Tasman Peninsula and it was part of a broader system throughout Van Dieman’s Land (now called Tasmania). Most convicts were sent to work for free settlers or the government to start off with. By 1840s a probation system was established where groups of roughly 200 men were stationed at government sites around the state to work. There were a number of these sites on the Tasman Peninsula, as well as Port Arthur. Female convicts coming into Hobart were processed at the Cascade Female Factory and usually sent out to work for free settlers. I will write in more detail about the Female Factory later, but you can see some photos of the remains below. For now it’s enough to say that the conditions were horrendous.
Port Arthur was used for convicts that had committed other offences in the colony, but the other site I wanted to talk about briefly is where the convicts who offended at Port Arthur were sometimes sent. The coal mines. They are on the Tasman Peninsula, but further north than Port Arthur.
They were operated between 1833 and 1877 (though they were in private hands from 1848) and deserve a post in their own right, something I hope to do at some point. At its peak in 1845 there with 576 convicts, 27 military personnel, 125 civilians (this included 14 women and 90 children) living at the station. 11 375 tons of coal were produced. The coal was sold but was said to be bad quality. You can see photos of the buildings that housed the convicts at the mines below.
The quality of the stonework is remarkable, but it was a hard life where punishment involved isolation cells, which you can see the passageway for on the bottom left. Convicts did try to escape from the mines, but most were recaptured or died in the hostile bush. Like the convicts at Port Arthur, the men who worked in the coal mines were mainly not, despite often popular myth, transported for what we would now consider trifles and they had reoffended. This is not to say that they necessarily deserved the often extremely harsh punishment meted out, but it is worth noting despite the harshness of the punishment the crimes committed were still serious. Which brings us nicely back to Port Arthur itself.
Ironically enough, Port Arthur is in a truly beautiful location (though I did have very good weather for my visit)
The natural harbour, which you can see above, was the major draw for setting up a logging camp. The site was named Port Arthur after Governor Arthur in 1828. From 1833 it became the repeat offender site and by 1840 it housed more than 2000 convicts, soldiers and civilian staff. They made everything from furniture, to ships. You can see the ship building area below.
Convict transportation to Van Dieman’s land ended in 1853, but there were still convicts at Port Arthur and it became an institution for the elderly and mentally and physically ill convicts. The site was closed in 1877 and a lot of the buildings were destroyed by two bushfires. It eventually became a small town, renamed Carnarvon, but it evolved to an open air museum by the 1920s with hotels and shops and the name returned to Port Arthur. It was listed as a world heritage site as part of the greater convict network in 2010 and occupies roughly 40 hectares. It is run by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.
Before I continue on to explore Port Arthur itself, I wanted to briefly discuss the Port Arthur Massacre. I don’t think the story of Port Arthur can be told without it, but I will not be naming the perpetrator as they should not be remembered. But the event can’t be forgotten as to do so denigrates the lives lost. In 1996 on the 28th of April a young man began firing on the crowds at Port Arthur. 35 people were killed and 21 injured. There is a truly beautiful memorial garden on the site of the Black Arrow Cafe, where most of the killings took place. It is still the worst mass shooting in Australian history and resulted in significantly stricter gun laws.
There is not way to elegantly move on from the above paragraph so I’m not going to try. It was a horrific event, but one that is woven into the past of Port Arthur, a past that has never been easy. So I thought I’d continue the story of Port Arthur by looking at some of the individual buildings and places. This is not going to be an exhaustive examination of every building and place in Port Arthur, but it will be a representative selection.
The building you can see above is the one most commonly brought to mind when most people think of Port Arthur. The penitentiary was capable of housing 657 men in seperate cells and dormitories. It also housed a bakehouse and cook house on the right which fed the men held in the penitentiary. It was originally constructed as a flour mill and granary in 1845, by 1857 it had been converted into accommodation for convicts. There were 136 seperate cells, a dining hall and a library with some 13000 volumes. When Port Arthur closed in 1877, the building was left. It was gutted by fire in 1897 and not long after many of the bricks were repurposed.
The guard tower was constructed in 1836 on the word of the Commandant Captain Charles O’Hara Booth. It was part of a much larger military complex but the remainder has been demolished. It survived the fires of the late 1800s because it has a lead roof.
Above you can see a replica of the semaphore tower. The original would have been much taller and was part of a line of sight semaphore system that stretch back to Hobart. The system ran from about 1811 to 1880 and in good weather a message, for example about an escaped convict, could reach Hobart in about twenty minutes.
The building above is the hospital. It was built in 1842, though there had been an earlier hospital on the site. It also housed the morgue.
There was also a pauper’s complex, but there aren’t any photos because after 1877 the mess hall was set aside for a school and the 1895 bushfire destroyed the rest of the buildings. It is worth mentioning, because it was part of the later use of Port Arthur. From the 1860s Port Arthur housed the men who had been in the convict system for years who has no chance of employment. In 1870 Marcus Clarke described these men as “poor scarecrows in cast off clothing”. The complex was closed in 1874 and remaining men shipped to Hobart. Part of this system was the insane asylum which is still standing in part.
The insane asylum was built in the late 1860s. The treatment was rudimentary at best, with ‘soothing’ activities like gardening. It was during the period of time when most of the prisoners in Port Arthur were becoming aged and infirm and industry at Port Arthur slowed significantly. The building was partly destroyed in the 1895 bushfires, and has been repurposed a number of times.
The seperate prison was opened in 1849 as part of a new method of punishment. It was a new style of prison system that kept prisoners completely seperate from each other. There were 50 cells measuring 6 ft by 9 ft by 11 ft as well as the truly horrifying isolation cells. By 1850 it was being used for the worst of the prisoners to bring their minds ‘to a more healthy condition’ . By 1884, after Port Arthur closed, it was purchased to be converted into a hotel, but it was gutted by fire in 1895 and ownership went back to the government in 1916. The aim of the seperate prison was the keep the men totally isolated, they were not allowed to speak unless they were addressed by an official, guards even used sign language amongst themselves. You can see the remarkable (and horrible) chapel in the photos below. The men were brought in hooded so they couldn’t see the other prisoners and the stalls were deliberately constructed so, once they were in, they could only see the priest.
The church at Port Arthur was opened in the 1830s and was capable of accommodating the majority of the prisoners. The 8 chime bells of the church were cast by an artisan- probably a convict- who has never been identified. When Port Arthur closed in 1877 the bells were stored at the New Norfolk Asylum, in 1897 seven of the bells when to the New Norfolk Municipal Council and they were hung in the tower of St Mathew’s Church, the 8th bell vanished. Over time seven bells have come back to Port Arthur, but the 8th is still missing.
Government Gardens and Government Cottage. The cottage was built in 1853 to house government officials who were visiting Port Arthur, from the beginning the cottage was surrounded by English style gardens that the officers’ wives and children used to walk in. The garden you can see today is a faithful reconstruction of the garden that would have originally existed.
The Governor’s House is a TARDIS like building with a really remarkable view.
It was the home of successive governors. It was built under Charles O’Hara Booth in the 1830s, but expanded extensively under successive governors. From the 1880s the building was repurposed as the Carnarvon Hotel and you can see one of the hotel murals in the photos above as well as the governor’s study and one of the bedrooms.
Point Puer was where the underage boys were housed. The first 60 boys were sent there in 1833. The aim was to train them in a useful trade and reform them so they would become useful citizens. It was not a hospitable place and it ended up being older convicts who were sent to the peninsula to teach the boys, which is just opposite the Port Arthur settlement itself, as they couldn’t get non convicts to undertake the job. By 1843 only boys under 15 were being sent there and in 1849 the remaining 162 boys were removed and sent to other stations. The buildings were cheaply built and subsequently crumbled.
I want to finish this post, I hope appropriately, with the Isle of the Dead. This was the cemetery for Port Arthur and is just off the tip of Point Puer.
The Isle of the Dead was originally called Opossum Island after the ship commanded by Captain Welsh who sheltered there in 1827. The first burial was in 1833 and it was of a 64 year old convict names John Hancock. Originally convicts didn’t get headstones, only a mound, but free settlers had headstones. This policy changed by the 1850s as there are some convict headstones from the later period. More than 10 000 convicts were buried on the Isle of the Dead between 1833 and 1877. For an island that has such a macabre purpose, it is actually very beautiful.
The Isle of the Dead seems to be a good spot to end this post. My next one will explore some of the people, convicts and soldiers, at Port Arthur. Like any site, the stories of Port Arthur is about more than the buildings.
This month’s post is going to be a quiz, I haven’t done one for a while so I thought it’d be a nice change. The rules are straight forward: Read the question, look at the picture (it will be some type of extra information) and scroll down below the picture for the answer. Keep track of your score-including bonus points- and find out how you did at the end. There are four sections: Easy, Medium, Hard, Evil. Five questions to a section. All of the answers can be found somewhere on this blog, or in posts that will be written soon.
Question 1: Which King of England was known as the Coeur de Lion?
Answer: Richard I: The photo is of his effigy in Fontevraud Abbey
Question 2: What was sealed in Runnymede in June 1215?
Answer: The Magna Carta. The photo is Runnymede
Question 3: What city is home to the medieval cathedral in the photo below? (sadly it doesn’t look like this now)
Answer: Paris: The Cathedral is Notre Dame (taken in 2012 so well before the fire)
Question 4: What is the name of the medieval illuminated manuscript written by monks in a small town in Ireland in the 9th century and now housed in Trinity College Dublin?
Answer: The Book of Kells.
Question 5: What abbey are a significant number of the Kings and Queens of England buried in?
Answer: Westminster Abbey.
Question 1: Where was Richard III buried? (the name of the town but you get a bonus point for being more specfic)
Answer: Leicester. Bonus point if you said either under a car park, Leicester Cathedral or Greyfriars)
Question 2: Which English queen (arguably) was known as an Empress and bonus point for why?
Answer: Matilda or Maud and because she had been married to Henry the Holy Roman Emperor. The photo is her burial plaque in Rouen Cathedral.
Question 3: Which Irish saint baptised the grandsons of the King at the Rock of Cashel?
Answer: Saint Patrick
Question 4: What embroidery depicts the events leading up the Battle of Hastings in 1066 as well as the battle itself?
Answer: The Bayeux Tapestry.
Question 5: Which Granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled France as the regent for her son Louis IX
Blanche of Castile. The picture is Angers castle which she was instrumental in building.
Question 1: Which Irish King was responsible for bringing the English to Ireland in the 1170s?
King Diarmuid MacMurrough of Leinster. The photo is his grave in Ferns Ireland.
Question 2: Which welshman wrote The Topography of Ireland and The Conquest of Ireland in the 1180s?
Answer: Gerald of Wales (also acceptable Giraldus Cambrensis). The photo is his birthplace Manorbier Castle.
Question 3: Which Icelandic Lawman and writer from the 13th century is responsible for much of what we know about Norse Mythology- as he was one of the first to write down the sagas?
Answer: Snorri Sturlson. The photo is of his hot spring at his home in Reykholt in Iceland.
Question 4: What former capital of Norway is home to the castle known as Haakon’s Hall?
Question 5: Where was Iceland’s Alpingi (a sort of early parliament) held?
Question 1: What is the name of the oldest stave church in Norway? Bonus point for the decade it was built in.
Answer: Urnes. It was built in 1150. The photo is of some of the remarkable carvings.
Question 2: Which French king built Sainte Chapel and for what purpose? You need both to get the point.
Answer: Louis IX and to house his holy relics- including the crown of thorns.
Question 3: What date did William the Conqueror die? And where is he buried?
Answer: 1087 and Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen.
Question 4: Where is the lighthouse built under William Marshal’s direction?
Answer: Hook Head in Ireland.
Question 5: What castle Henry I imprison his cousin Robert Curthoes in?
Answer: Cardiff Castle
that’s it. How did you do?
Ok you know some medieval stuff
Impressive ish, nearly half way there
11-15: Excellent well done, you might actually have read a lot of this blog.
Stupendous, well done. Long time follower of Historical Ragbag- or a really
impressive knowledge of random medieval history.
(remember those bonus point): Inconceivable!
The Wil-im-ee Moor-ring Indigenous Stone Quarry (also known as Mount William) is just out of Lancefield in Victoria. It’s an area of green stone that was quarried by Indigenous Australians for more than a 1000 years. The name means place of the axe.
I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring as part of the Australian Heritage Festival this year. It is land administered by the Wurundjeri Tribe Council. Last year I visited the Wurundjeri Earth Rings just out of Sunbury and wrote about them on this blog. You can see the post here:
I want to reiterate what I said in that post about the Indigenous history of Australia and my place in writing about it. Firstly Indigenous history is something that all Australians should know more about, it’s arguably the oldest continuous culture in the world and over the years it has been (often deliberately) relegated to a footnote. This is slowly changing and I’m certainly trying to learn more and to share what I find. It’s also just fascinating.
I’d like to pause here to say that I am aware that as a non Indigenous person writing Indigenous history can be problematic. This post is intended to encapsulate the possible history of the site as was explained by a Wurundjeri Elder on the tour and laid out in the National Trust Heritage List report, and I claim no more than that. Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is just so interesting and important that I want to make sure people know about it and to help ensure that Indigenous history is a part of the history of Victoria, if only in my small way.
So to begin. I wanted to start with an analogy, it’s the best description I’ve heard of what’s known of Indigenous history in Victoria. Bill Nicholson, the Elder who took the group I was part of the round Wil-im-ee Moor-ring, described it as a 100 page book, with maybe 30 pages left that are in the wrong order. When Victoria was colonised not only were a lot of Indigenous people killed, through disease like small pox but also through massacres, but culture and language was often banned and they were rounded up, removed from Country and installed in missions. At Coranderk (one of the main missions just out of Melbourne) Woiwurrung, the language group that the Wurundjeri are part of, was banned in 1863. Knowledge was simply lost. Breaking up a culture that is rooted in oral history, is tantamount to burning libraries and archives in Western culture. Efforts are being made to reclaim Indigenous history and new information is being found in archives all the time, but by the time a lot of it was being written down, usually by the colonisers like William Thomas who was an Assistant Protector of Aborigines, what they were seeing was only the tip of the iceberg of what had existed. This is why sites like Wil-im-ee Moor-ing are so essential. Apart from being spiritually important, they are physical manifestation of Indigenous culture and history. There’s a lot more around than most Victorians know about too, and again I include myself in this. There’s scar trees, possible smoking trees, burials, other quarries and more.
There’s been stone formations found in the Western District that are as old or older than Stone Henge and have possible astronomical alignments. Budj Bim, also in the Western District, with its sophisticated eel and fish trap systems and remains of housing is under consideration for World Heritage Status. Petroglyphs are being un-earthed all over Victoria and then you’ve got the earth rings like the ones near Sunbury. Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is part of a large system of sophisticated land management, language, law, ceremony, trade routes, Country and family that stretched across Victoria and Australia.
To return to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring itself. It’s roughly forty acres (though the original quarry would have covered more land), and has been fenced off since the 80s. It’s been a tourist attraction of sorts since the 1800s, visited on day trips along with the near by Hanging Rock. So it has been thoroughly picked over and much of the land was cleared. That being said, since the 1800s it has been acknowledged as a site of an Indigenous quarry pre dating European colonisation, which is very unusual in Australia (it’s much earlier than any Indigenous activity pre colonisation was usually acknowledged). The first European reference to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring comes from William Buckley, who was an escaped convict living in the bush from 1803 to 1833, he describes a hard black stone from a place called Kar-keen which was shaped into stone heads. William Barak, a prominent Wurundjeri Elder in the mid 1800s, witnessed the final operation of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring as a quarry and described it to an anthropologist called Howitt as one of the places that “a group of people claimed for some special reason, and in which the whole tribe had an interest.” This clear recorded history of Indigenous custodial rights and processes is very unusual.
To return to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring physically. The rock in is class five diorite. Simply put, it’s very hard.
Above you can see one of the rocks from which the stone was split. It was done by heating the rock up with fire and then pouring water on it to cause the cracking. The axe heads themselves were shaped on a flaking floor, one of which you can see below. You can also see what might be broken rejects.
Wattle branches were probably split to make a loop for the handles of the axes and Xanthorrhoea sap was boiled to make glue to hold it all together and it was bound with kangaroo sinew. These weren’t axes that were used for fighting, they were used whilst hunting and for things like stripping bark off trees. These specific axes have been found as far as South Australia and Southern Queensland. They were immensely valued, not only for their utility but probably for the spiritual significance of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring itself. Part of the Indigenous belief system of the area is that the ancestral spirits formed themselves into the landscape, and Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is one of these landscape features. There is also records of axes being physically traded in the 1830s when William Bradley observed one polished axe head being traded for two possum skin cloaks, and a rough head for a large number of spears. To understand the value of possum cloaks you only have to think about how small a possum is, and how many you would need and how long it would take to construct one full cloak, let alone two. The axe heads were valued.
While there is more known about Wil-im-ee Moor-ring that a lot of other Indigenous sites there is still a lot to learn and hopefully be discovered and reconstructed where it can be. It’s a beautiful place, part of a broader landscape, that more people should know more about.
It’s easy to see Fort Denison as a funny looking little island in the Sydney Harbour, but it has a fascinating history.
When the Europeans arrived in what is now called Sydney Harbour Fort Denison looked approximately like this.
It stood at an elevation of about 75 feet.
For the local indigenous people the island was known as Muttewai. When the First Fleet landed the local indigenous population, the Eora, Guringai and Daruk nations, were forced inland away from traditional grounds and killed, by European diseases such as small pox, in the wars trying to protect their land from Europeans settlers and quite intentionally by Europeans. For more information click here.
I believe it is worth discussing the indigenous history of the area because, even though it doesn’t invalidate the interesting later history of Fort Denison itself, it is essential to acknowledge and understand that the European history of Fort Denison wasn’t built on a nice clean blank slate. 
Fort Denison itself wasn’t called Fort Denison by the European settlers to begin with. It was originally known as Pinchgut Island. Pinchgut is a nautical term meaning a narrow passage, but it was also used because the convicts they marooned there as punishment, before a gaol was built, had very little food so they always had ‘pinched guts’. In the early 1800s a gibbet was also erected on the island to display a convict called Francis Morgan in chains. It was named Fort Denison after the current Governor of New South Wales in 1857.
The island of Fort Denison was levelled in the 1840s, partly with the idea of making it a defensive site and partly to mine the sandstone which was used to help construct Bennelong Point, which the Opera House now sits on. One of the reasons for the levelling of the island to make it a defensive position was the completely unexpected arrival of two American men of war in December 1839. They arrived over night and the locals completely failed to notice their arrival until the morning. The commander of the American ships was quoted as saying
“If [we had been] enemies, it would have been in our power before daylight to have fired all the Shipping and store houses, laid the town under contribution and departed unhurt.”
Developing the island to be a fortification was one of the reactions to this nasty shock. The top was blasted, but the majority of the work was carried out by convicts with pickaxes. By 1842 it was almost completely levelled. No decisions, however, regarding the island’s use as a defensive structure were made and it was left levelled for a number of years.
The settlers in Sydney Harbour were always frightened of attack and coastal defences were erected, but when the Crimean War broke out in the 1850s there was serious and widespread fear of a Russian attack on Sydney. It was decided definitively that a defensive fort should be built on the island. The fort was built by paid labour with 8000 tonnes of sandstone brought over for the construction of the Martello Tower, gun batteries and barracks. The Martello Tower is the only one in Australia and one of the last of its type of Martello Tower in the world. The walls in the base of the tower are four metres thick.
Martello Towers are a very particular type of structure and this one, the whole fort was ready for habitation by 1857, is actually one of the later examples of its kind. Martello Towers were built to a specific plan based on a tower on Mortella Point in Corsica, which held off two British warships for two days in 1794. The British were so impressed by the design that they copied it and it was replicated across the empire. Martello Towers were designed to protect the men within from cannon fire and to have cannon on the top and inside to fire back. For more information on Martello Towers click here. In the case of the Fort Denison Martello Tower, it would have originally have had a cannon on the top, but it was removed much later. You can see roughly where the cannon would have stood below.
The three cannons inside the upstairs room remain because it is impossible remove them. They were winched into place and then the roof was finished over them. As you can see from the keystone it was completed in 1857.
From the top of the tower, just below where the original cannon would have stood, you can see the power that the view from the tower would have commanded. The bell in the photo is the fog bell.
The tower is also built to withstand cannon fire. You can see the linking keystones in the the photo below. They are made from granite and are embedded in the softer large blocks of sandstone that make up the rest of the tower, to link them together and to hold the tower in one piece in the face of a strike from a cannon.
The tower also contains the powder storage room, where you can still see the rings left in the floor by the powder barrels, as well as another storage room next door. When men were collecting the powder for the guns they had to take their shoes off as their hobnail boots could cause sparks and set the gun powder off.
The tower also has musket loupes in the wall as well as the cannon that were mounted around the base of the tower in the battery. You can see a loupe below as well as the view through one of the recesses in which a cannon would have stood in. It is believed that a shot from a cannon in this position could have reached the headland you can see in the photo.
As well as the guns in the tower there were some very impressive guns in the bastion area of the Fort which can be seen on the left at the end of the photo below. The flag is a navigational aid.
The semi circular bastion was added as the fort was built and it housed 2 cast iron ten inch shell guns each weighing 4 420 kg, like the guns in the battery these guns were mounted on movable carriages. One covered the shipping channel and one pointed south towards the harbour.
The Fort was built in response to what was seen as a serious threat and the nine massive 32 pounder guns could have destroyed wooden sailing ships. The development of armour plated steam ships and the improvement of the guns on said ships, however, rendered the Fort obsolete by the 1870s. Fort Denison has never been in a real military battle, although there have been military units quartered there for many years. In the 19th century the Royal Artillery used the Fort for artillery practice as did the NSW Volunteer Artillery. Since the 1890s the main use has been as a light and tide station, and tides as still measured from there today. By 1936 the military units had moved out and a caretaker had moved in. You can see some of the history of the Fort and some of the work of the caretaker in the videos below from 1936. The videos are from the National Film and Sound Archive and can be found here.
The caretakers were not only single men living alone on the island. The first lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wren, and his family arrived in 1869. In the 1950s the island was occupied by Osmund Jarvis, his wife Jessie and their children. They used to show people around the fort and Jessie would make tea and scones for visitors. They grew vegetables and kept animals and were largely self sufficient, though they did bring in supplies from the mainland. You can see a fruit tree in the photo below, which is a relic from when the island was lived on. The longest serving caretaker was Cliff Morris who lived on the Fort for 25 years with his wife and two daughters. The final caretaker, Norman Dow and his family of five, left in 1992.
In the second video from 1936 you can see the caretaker loading the small cannon that was fired at 1pm from 1906 until 1942 to allow ships to calibrate their chronometers. However the practice was discontinued in 1942 because of World War II, the sound was frightening understandably nervous Sydneysiders. The tradition was reinstated in 1986 and the modern firing can be seen the video below. I apologise for the wonkyness of the footage. I was trying to hold my phone still and cover my ears, as instructed, at the same time.
The firing of the 1 pm cannon might have been discontinued during World War II, but some more modern fire power was installed on the Fort. In the photo below you can see the remains of the concrete block in the bastion area of the fort. In 1942 a 3 inch 20 hundred weight anti aircraft gun was installed here to defend from Japanese attack. It could be lowered to fire at ships if necessary.
Fort Denison is now an important tourist attraction, the barracks is used as a lovely and informative museum as well as being part of a restaurant with the most incredible views.
It is a place with a fascinating and complicated past, and is well worth a visit. If you do go I would highly recommend doing the guided tour. As well as supporting the national parks service who run the island, it is also the only way you’ll get inside the Martello Tower, which is absolutely worth it. Apart from anything else, the whole place is in the most beautiful location.
 Significantly more qualified people have written much better and in more detail about the atrocities committed towards the indigenous population of Australia. I would recommend anyone who wants a broader overview of exactly what was destroyed to read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.
Today 800 years ago, one of the greatest knights of his age died. William Marshal was in his early 70s when he died on the 14th of May 1219 (his birthdate was probably 1147 but it is not known for certain). This was a remarkable age for his era and in his lifetime he had ten children, was a knight errant, a commander, an Earl, went to the Holy Land, served five kings and rose from the fourth son of a non hierarchically important baron to be Regent of England at his death. He is remembered because of a remarkable contemporary biography commissioned by his son after his death. The History of William Marshal is the earliest non classical biography of a lay person, and it is a fascinating window into the 12th century.
I wrote my thesis on William Marshal in 2011, and I have written about him, and his equally remarkable wife Isabel de Clare, on this blog before so I am not going to recap his life story. There are lot of celebrations of Marshal’s life happening in the UK and Ireland at the various castles he was involved in the construction of. Sadly as I’m Australian I can’t attend any of them, so I thought I’d write this post as a recap of everything I’ve written about Marshal in the nearly five years since I began this blog.
And you’ll find many Marshal sites discussed in my post From Page to Place about places I’ve visited because of books I’ve read. This post specifically features the book that introduced me to Marshal in the first place: Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight
You’ll find Marshal scattered through all of Historical Ragbag, not just in the posts actually about him. In many ways Marshal is the heart of this blog. He certainly encapsulates his time, which happens to be the 70 odd years that I’m most interested in.
Seeing as this is the 800th anniversary of his death I thought it was appropriate to conclude with the archbishop’s words as Marshal’s body was interred in the Temple Church, as recorded by History of William Marshal.
All the writings in the History have to have taken with a lot of grains of salt, because it is a biography commissioned by his son, and it is perfectly possible these words were not actually said, but the sentiment most likely holds true.
See my lord, how it is with this life: when each and everyone of us comes to his end, there is no sense be found in us, for we are nothing but so much earth. Look there, see the best knight to be found in the world in our times. And, in God’s name what will you say then? All of us must come to this, it is an inescapable fact that each of us must die when his day comes. Just look at this exemplar here, ours as well as yours. Let each man say the Lord’s prayer, entreating God to receive this Christian soul into his realm in heaven, to sit in glory beside his own, for we believe this man to have been a good man.
For me the final line says it all, Marshal was good man.
References: History of William Marshal, Volume II, p. 457