Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Australia Day: when would you like it?

Do we need to change the date of Australia Day?

Fifty-six per cent of Australians don't mind when it's held, just so long as there is a national day of celebration.

At least that’s the finding of a recent poll conducted by The Australia Institute.

Interestingly, less than half of the respondents identified the arrival of the First Fleet as the reason why January 26 is the current date. (Actually, they’d arrived earlier in the week at Botany Bay but found it unsuitable…) Almost half of those surveyed believe Australia Day should not be on a day that is offensive to Indigenous Australians.

Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge said the lack of knowledge about the historical reasons for January 26 showed a need for better education and rejected calls for the date of Australia Day to change.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale, took the poll as an endorsement for his view that the date should be changed, but Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett said no clear answer had emerged from the poll about an alternative date.

For some, there are many other issues which we need to address first: energy prices, jobs and economic growth, the NBN, cyber-security... For many there’s plenty of reason to celebrate whatever the day - the food, the drink, the sun, the bush and the cultural diversity.

But 26 January marks the date the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove and set up the first permanent European settlement, marking the first step on the road to nationhood. Is it all just a misunderstanding?

If there’s any hope of a constructive outcome to the discussion, agreement on an alternative date - or perhaps an alternative reason - for the day is needed.

So here are what seem to be the realistic options; alternative days and stories to celebrate our great nation, days we can all be proud of.

1 January - Federation

On 1 January 1901, the six British self-governing colonies - Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia (by the skin of its teeth) - united to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

Really this is the obvious alternative. It is the point when Australia as the political entity we know it today began.

The event was celebrated in Sydney, where 500 000 people lined the route of the 'Great Inaugural Procession' leading from the Domain to Centennial Park. Over 100 000 spectators witnessed Lord Hopetoun being sworn-in as Australia's first Governor-General. He then proclaimed the Commonwealth of Australia and swore-in the Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, and his ministry.

The year before, following a constitutional convention and a series of referenda, delegates from the colonies met Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in London. Negotiations resulted in a final version of the Constitution Bill which was passed by the British Parliament. Queen Victoria gave her assent on 9 July 1900. In the same month, a referendum was held in Western Australia and the 'federationists' were victorious. A proclamation was signed by the Queen on 17 September 1900 declaring that on 1 January 1901 the six colonies would be united under the name of Commonwealth of Australia. Lord Hopetoun was appointed Governor General and on 31 December 1900, he commissioned the first Commonwealth Ministry, headed by Edmund Barton.

As an aside, apparently, New South Wales premier Henry Parkes in celebrating the centenary of the Colony in 1888 considered renaming it Australia! Parkes took a breath and decided not to so and embraced the idea of creating a federation of all of continents colonies. Either way, he was going to be the Father of Australia!

So, what’s the objection to this date?  Unfortunately, 1 January is also New Year's Day. So, it might not be ideal for us to commemorate our country when we are busy heralding the new year – or perhaps recovering from the heralding.

So, while it might be the right event to commemorate it happened on an inconvenient date.

1 January 1901. 100 000 people witnessed the ceremony in Centennial Park, Sydney when Australia was declared a nation. National Library of Australia, album 329/51.

7 February – Establishment of the first Australian Colony

This one has not been proposed by any group I’m aware of. See what you think. 

I’ve written about it before. It’s true that something different did begin in 1788, so perhaps that is worth acknowledging. Nobody called the land ‘Australia’ at that stage. ‘Terra Australis’ or ‘New Holland’ were used and it was later that Mathew Flinders suggested ‘Australia’ as less of a mouthful.

Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales, became aware of Flinders' preference for the name Australia and used it in his dispatches to England. In 1817 he recommended to the Colonial Office that it be officially adopted and in 1824 British Admiralty agreed that the continent (not the Colony) should be known as Australia.

The Colony was New South Wales and it covered most of what would become Australia, except for Western Australia.

Why is it better than 26 January?  

It was the day Arthur Phillip was formally proclaimed Governor of the Colony. It had taken two weeks to get everyone off the ships and establish a settlement. Phillip’s instructions were quite clear. Amongst them, he was to ‘endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all [the King’s] subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.’ 

Translation: talk to the locals, become friends and make sure the people under your command do the same.

These were worthy aims, and worth remembering as such.  Subsequent failure to live up to them underlines their idealism and value and history has proven them wise.

Once seriously considered it would be interesting to know how people react to this idea. A minor benefit is that it’s still in the summer!

An interesting legal question is the issue of recognition of the indigenous peoples. Philip’s job description implies interesting ideas; 

1 – there were people here (seems obvious), 

2 – he was not governing them but was to seek good relations with them,

3- this could have been the basis for some kind of understanding – or possibly even a treaty. Instead, misunderstanding overtook good intentions (though Philip himself took efforts to restore goodwill) and the eventual Constitution could be seen as continuing to not seek governance of indigenous people.

The situation became a lost opportunity on the issue of indigenous relations.

By 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Colony indigenous Australian began to publicly characterise 26 January as invasion day but following this, there were various points of progress, without a rethink of 1788.

The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals)1967 provided for a referendum to amend section 51 (xxvi) of the Constitution and repeal section 127 giving the Commonwealth the power to make laws regarding Aboriginals and ordering that Aboriginals be counted in the census. The referendum was approved by the Australian population and enabled the Commonwealth to accept wider but not exclusive responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. This was a significant step along the path to reconciliation.

This was more consistent with Philip’s brief than what had evolved without reflective thought instead.

With regard to indigenous relations, 7 February could celebrate the best of intentions which in spite of setbacks has managed to shine through and continues to shine as a set of visionary principles in all areas of life including indigenous affairs. The ideals ‘amity and kindness’ of are entirely consistent with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples.

7 February: a better memorial for Australia - and Governor Philip.
Image via Wikipedia.

1 March – Australia starts operating…

This is the anniversary of the first Commonwealth Government taking control of Australia.

Former federal minister Ian Macfarlane of Groom, in Toowoomba, Queensland has backed calls to celebrate our nation on this day. It would mark the day Australia's first government began operating after Federation in 1901. ‘It's the day that represents Australians coming together as one nation under one government’, Macfarlane said.

An added bonus? It's still in summer and isn't already a public holiday like January 1 – because Australia is so great it deserves its own special day separate to New Year's Day.

The argument against it is that it has no imagination to it and there was no significant public ceremony accompanying it. A summer holiday is important but it's not the only important thing.

9 May – The Opening of the First Australian Parliament

The First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia was opened at the Melbourne Exhibition Building on 9 May 1901.

The new King of England, Edward VII, sent his son and heir, the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V), to Australia as his representative. The Duke drove through Melbourne streets lined with cheering crowds to the Exhibition Building, where he declared the Parliament open in front of 12 000 guests.

At 11.30 am, the senators-elect assembled on a low platform in front of a dais in the Main Hall of the Exhibition Building. The Duke and the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, and their parties entered at 12 noon and ascended the dais. The elected members of the House of Representatives, waiting in the western nave, were called by the Usher of the Black Rod and took their places next to the senators.

The Clerk of the Parliaments read the Letters Patent of King Edward VII empowering the Duke to open the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Duke then addressed the parliamentarians, saying that his father was moved by the generous aid offered by the Australian colonies in the South African war, and in service in China, and expressing the King’s ‘thankfulness and heartfelt satisfaction [at] the completion of that political union of which this Parliament is the embodiment.’ The Duke declared the Parliament open; there was a fanfare of trumpets, and a cable message from the King was read out. Lord Hopetoun administered an oath of allegiance to each of the senators and members, while they remained in their places.

The Melbourne Argus reported the following day that: ‘The ceremony was marked by the splendor and solemn impressiveness which befitted its historic importance. By the hand of Royalty, in the presence of the greatest concourse of people that Australia has seen in one building, and with splendid pomp and ceremonial, the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth was yesterday set in motion.’

This was a big day of celebration and would compete with 1 January as a logical day for national celebration. It has the ‘advantage' of not already being a public holiday. Macfarlane dismissed this option ‘because it’s way too cold for a beach or pool party’.  


The First Parliament was opened in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne, on 9 May 1901 with 12,000 guests and thousands more cheering the procession. Image: Senate Resource Centre

1 September - Wattle Day

Wattle Day is a day of celebration in Australia on the first day of September each year, which is the official start of the Australian spring. This is the time when many Acacia species ('wattles' in Australia), are in flower. Many people wear a sprig of the flowers and leaves to celebrate the day.

Australia's national floral emblem is the Golden Wattle. It has been witness to the whole of the Australian story. It has been in the land for more than 30 million years and has welcomed us all – Aboriginal, colonials, post-war and 21st-century migrants. It has no historical baggage. It is our colours – the green and gold.

Could Wattle Day resolve the conflict around an Australia Day celebrated on 26 January? National Wattle Day was officially proclaimed 25 years ago. Could it work with Australia Day to celebrate Australia, the land, the people and the nation? Terry Fewtrell, President of the Wattle Day Association, says: ‘National Wattle Day would not compete with Australia Day, rather it would complete Australia Day. It would do what Wattle has always done – unite us.’

These sentiments are worthy but the date itself is not significant. It has evolved out of a Tasmanian celebration and certainly had general acceptance in the nineteenth century but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough for a celebration of nationhood.

It's a worthy festival of Australian spring and unity. It might be a pair but it's not a replacement Australia Day.


As far as I can see there are no other serious contenders.

Various other days have been suggested which seem to match the sentiment that any day could be ‘Australia Day’. However, these either have no national significance or commemorate some specific event which probably continue to be worth celebrating in their own right. ANZAC Day is the obvious one in this category as are other days that mark progress points in the nation's development.

Which one would you vote for?

Also read:

Ancestry - 14 Days Free

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Mahathir Mohamad in bid to lead Malaysia – with Anwar on the same side

Mahathir at 50th Merdeka Day celebrations in 2007.
Now at 92, he is in a bid to lead Malaysia again.
Image via Wikimedia.

By Amrita Malhi
Visiting Fellow, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University

This article was originally published in The Conversation.
Read the original article.

On 8 January, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad announced his intention to contest the next general election, due sometime before August this year.

In an unprecedented political turnaround, Mahathir is now leader of the alliance of opposition parties bidding to oust the incumbent, Najib Razak. Mahathir handpicked Najib in 2009 to head his former party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and the coalition it has led since the 1970s, Barisan Nasional.

To add further intrigue, Mahathir now appears to be on a unity ticket with his old enemy, Anwar Ibrahim, for control of the country.

Mahathir, who first rose through UMNO ranks to become prime minister in 1981, is 92. His decision to stand again has raised questions about the state of politics in this young nation, whose median age is 28. Malaysian and international media outlets alike have carried comments along the lines that nominating somebody so old is a 'laughable' choice.

Yet the key to this decision is not in the nation’s age profile but the calculus of building electoral coalitions in a diverse nation bearing the scars of political battles fought since 1998.

Read more: People power challenges Malaysia’s PM, but change from within most likely

Look also to Mahathir’s singular skill set in building such coalitions over decades, through a combination of Malay nationalism, a pro-capitalist Islamist ethic and selective minority representation. During his career, Mahathir mastered the use of such political themes, alongside tactics such as granting favours and opportunities to allies while exerting civil and judicial pressure on opponents.

Mahathir led Malaysia for 22 years. In that time, he transformed the nation for better and for worse, depending on which constituency you consult. He resigned in 2003, after famously sacking his deputy and finance minister, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1998.

Anwar, who became his most formidable opponent, has since led the opposition alliance that Mahathir now heads, with Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah, as his deputy.

Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is still serving sentences
for sodomy and corruption.
 Image via Wikimedia.

Anwar himself has nearly completed a second prison term – the first instigated by Mahathir, the second by Najib – and is only due for release in June, at which point he is likely to seek a royal pardon to readmit himself to political life. Anwar’s convictions have resulted from charges of corruption and sodomy – a criminal offence in Malaysia – both of which he has consistently denied.

Unless Anwar wins a pardon from the king, he will not be able to participate in politics for an additional five years after his release. Nonetheless, the plan is to find a way for Anwar to take over – presumably from Mahathir, or potentially from Wan Azizah.

In 2013, at the last election, Anwar led the opposition parties to win the national popular vote. But he did not win sufficient seats to form a government, which Barisan retained.

Anwar has perfected a form of political code-switching, which allows him to argue for democratic reforms using both Islamic and secular liberal principles. This is a skill many voters, Muslim and non-Muslim, consider impressive.

Nevertheless, he failed to win important rural seats – whose largely Malay Muslim voters hold disproportionate power in this largely urban nation. Many voters in these seats view their economic and political interests as tied up with UMNO and Barisan, along with their development schemes, subsidies and loans that have propelled many Malay Muslims into better jobs in a modernising economy.

Appointing Mahathir as opposition figurehead is a bid to win these seats: the one missing ingredient in the opposition parties’ 2013 bid for power. It is for this reason that the 'nonagenarian', as Najib calls him, is suddenly running again. He is a critical component of an opposition pitch to these voters, sending the message that the opposition will not turn their lives or the polity upside down, as many fear it will.

That these fears exist is not a mystery. They circulate in comments made in public forums both by government ministers and by other figures linked to UMNO and its affiliated NGOs. They include the assertion that the opposition is un-Islamic because it includes parties like the Democratic Action Party, whose membership is largely ethnic Chinese.

Allowing this coalition to come to power, the argument goes, would allow it to dismantle the web of state protections that protects Malay Muslims not only from poverty but also from the country’s other 'races'. It would also lead to an ethnic Chinese bid for power that would displace Malay Muslims in their own nation – from which they only ejected their last group of colonisers at independence in 1957.

Incumbent prime minister Najib Razak. Image via Wikimedia.

Installing Mahathir as a figurehead is a signal to these voters – and their political patrons – that there will be no dismantling of Malay Muslim privileges. Nor will there be a public reckoning for members and officials of UMNO if their party falls, as Mahathir signalled earlier this week.

Instead, the logic goes, voting for the opposition will only rewind and reset the nation at the point it had reached 20 years ago – when Mahathir and Anwar were last leading the nation together, as the leaders of the very same Barisan that these voters continue to support.

There are two important additional constituencies that Mahathir aims to reassure, even while they express concern over a potential second era of 'Mahathirism' and seek to delimit how much power he might wield in a new government.

These are non-Muslim Chinese, Indian and 'other' minorities, along with so-called 'liberal' Malay Muslims – a term generally applied to urban professionals comfortable with interracial and mixed-gender politics. Many of these voters are already comfortable with the opposition and may fear not only Barisan but also the government’s new apparent allies, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

Read more: Malaysia in turmoil as PM focuses on survival

PAS has left the opposition alliance and is now working in coordination with Barisan. It commands a large following of supporters, although it has lost some leaders and supporters to a new party that subsequently split from it, Amanah, which has remained in the opposition.

If the opposition fails, and Barisan wins decisively, minorities and liberals will not like the price PAS will likely extract from Barisan in return for its support – which many fear includes hudud laws and a wholesale Islamisation of the state and public life. But such a transformation would be risky for Malaysia and destroy its cultivated reputation as a safe and diverse nation in which 'moderate' Islam prevails.

Through the 1990s, Mahathir presented himself to these voters as a bulwark against PAS, which he has characterised as similar to the Taliban and opposed to minority rights. A strong argument along these lines might disrupt Barisan-PAS co-ordination, and potentially deliver Barisan a weak win, whose legitimacy the opposition parties will likely challenge.

Najib has instigated a new battery of national security laws that he might consider using if political disaffection continues after a weak result. But, again, using them will be risky, as Malaysia also projects itself as a democracy.

As for the likelihood of an outright opposition win – this would take a surge of energy that seems not to be evident in supporters demoralised by the seeming impossibility of dislodging Barisan and especially UMNO. Even the multi-billion-dollar scandal that broke in 2015, and which remains the subject of a Department of Justice investigation in the US, seems not to have weakened its position.

The ConversationNonetheless, the campaign has begun in all but formal terms.

Moonrise over Kuala Lumpur from Flickr via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

When was Jesus born?

The ninth episode of the third season of DC's Legends of Tomorrow aired on 5 December 2017.  The Legends go back in time to investigate an ‘Anachronism’ in a Viking settlement in the New World. The Norsemen are worshipping ‘Beebo the God of War’ on 25 December. The Legends believe they have fixed the Anachronism and returned history to its true path only to find that the Vikings now honour Odin on the day…

Something was persistent about the date! 

Well, we all know 25 December wasn’t Beebo’s birthday nor Odin’s. 

We also know it wasn’t Jesus’ birthday either.  Believing so is just another Anachronism…

So, when was Jesus born? Is it possible after all this time to work it out?

Before that, let’s recap why 25 December could not possibly be his birthday… 

There are two main reasons:

The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:7-8).

Shepherds were not in the fields during December. The weather would not have been too cold to permit shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night. It was the custom then to withdraw the flocks from the open districts during October - November and house them for the winter.

Jesus’ parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4).

Such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition.  The Roman authorities in imposing such a census for the gathering an unpopular ‘foreign’ tax would not have enforced the imperial decree (Luke 2:1) at the most inconvenient and inclement season of the year, by compelling the people to enrol themselves at their respective cities in December.

In such a case they would naturally choose a time of year that would cause the least friction with the lives of the Jewish people. This would most likely be in the autumn when the agricultural round of the year was complete, and the people generally free to take advantage of the opportunity of going to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, the crowning Feast of the Jewish year.

Given these facts, how did 25 December become thought of as the day of Jesus’ birth?

The usual answer is that it came from the Roman church’s desire to bring pagans into Christianity.  Existing festivals and customs were ‘re-branded’ as Christian as a way of encouraging people to feel comfortable that the Church was not asking them to give up popular festivities. There is some dispute about the historical accuracy of this idea, though it is true that the Roman god Mithras had an important festival on 25 December and there is logic to the idea that the shortest day of the year would be a good time to acknowledge the re-birth of the unconquered sun - Sol Invictus. This idea became popular especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Many popular customs associated with Christmas have origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity. These elements, including the Yule log and gift giving from Saturnalia, became syncretized into Christmas over the centuries.

So, there is a connection, though it may not be direct.

The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also often changed since the holiday's inception. At one extreme was a raucous, drunken, carnival-like state in the Middle Ages. The tamer family-oriented and children-centred theme was introduced in a 19th-century transformation championed by Charles Dickens - The Man Who Invented Christmas and made a good fortune from it!

The celebration of Christmas was banned on more than one occasion by Puritan inspired 'theocracies' such as Oliver Cromwell’s Government due to concerns that it was both pagan inspired, immoral and unbiblical. Several Christian groups continue to reject or minimise the celebration of Christmas today.

If Jesus Christ was not born on December 25, does the Bible indicate when He was born?

Jesus birthday was not celebrated as a festival by the earliest Christians and later Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. For example, Clement picked 18 November and an anonymous document, believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, suggested 28 March.

The biblical accounts point to the autumn of the year as the most likely time of Jesus’ birth, based on what we can work out about the conception and birth of Jesus famous cousin, John the Baptist.

Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem Temple during the annual course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Calculations indicate that his course of service corresponded to 13-19 June in the year 4 BC, considered to be the most likely year of Jesus birth.

Follow this story a bit further…

It was during this time of Temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and travelled home and Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

It sounds plausible.

The origin of this calculation is a slightly eccentric though very thorough Anglican theologian E.W. Bullinger and his detailed reasoning is set out in his Companion Bible, Appendix 179.

Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837– 913)
was an Anglican clergyman.
Picture via Wikipedia.

Bullinger, however, goes further. He gives us the date of 29 September 4 BC. He points out that it corresponds to the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles which he finds is of significance. 

And what is his view of 25 December?

Well, if you count back 280 days (the period of human gestation), it was the date of Jesus conception. So, there is a connection…

Bullinger saw this as fitting neatly with history and theology. For him, 25 December, was the day on which Jesus was ‘begotten of the Holy Ghost’. His birth took place on 29 September 29, in the year following. For him this made ‘beautifully clear’ the meaning of John 1:14, "The Word became flesh" (Matt. 1:18, 20) [i.e. was conceived] on 25 December 5 B.C. and after 280 days ‘dwelt [“tabernacled”] with us’ on 29 September 4 B.C.

25 December, says Bullinger, is ‘associated with our Lord and was set apart by the Apostolic Church to commemorate the… "Word becoming flesh" - and not, as we have for so long been led to suppose, the commemoration of a pagan festival.‘

He sees a strong argument in favour of the correctness of this view in the fact that the date of the Festival of Michael and All Angels has been from very early times 29 September. His reasoning is that it was the archangel Michael who announced the conception and later the birth of Jesus.

Do you think Bullinger is correct?

See also: Jesus: the most significant person in history?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Americus Napoleon Poe: impressions of a recluse

I recently enjoyed reading Recollections of Leonard Lake: Interviews with Local Residents, 1979– 1983. The document was recorded and transcribed by Sandra Marshall. I found it at leonardlakereserve.com which also has wonderful photos of the area. Looks like a great place to live.

And that’s exactly what great uncle Americus Napoleon Poe Jr (1860-1941) decided to do.  

Americus was named after his uncle who lived 1827 to 1906. His other uncle was Alonzo Marion Poe who I’ve written about before.  ‘Americus Jr’, as he became known, was a son of the third and youngest of those brothers Alexander Hamilton Poe (1832- c 1904) who migrated from Missouri to California with his young family in about 1873.

The older Americus and his brothers Alonzo and Alexander were the children of William and Margaret Poe. The younger Americus had a brother named after is more famous uncle Alonzo. So, there was a bit of name recycling going on… And it made things a bit confusing when I first tried to work out who was who.

Sandra tells me that although Poe’s Cabin is mentioned in Recollections it no longer exists. However, he did plant lots of quince and figs, apples, walnuts and almonds among other things. The quinces have survived well despite major neglect and they make ‘good fruit leather’.

Recollections of Leonard Lake contains some fascinating accounts of residents’ memories of Americus. These bring some life the little we know of him and also show some interesting connections with what we know of other relatives including my father.

I’ve speculated about why William named the first Americus Napoleon and it’s interesting to read what the man himself said about his name. Even more interesting that his neighbours felt it was probably true.

So, here are extracts from Recollections.

Dr William A Boyle and Helen Boyle interviewed in San Francisco, 20 May 1979

Dr Boyle: “I was born in San Rafael in 1887... When I was a youngster we spent our summers up there at the lake. We usually went up in the latter part of June and stayed until the Fall, coming down usually pretty well before Thanksgiving. We would start off from San Rafael in the summer and take the train to Ukiah—at that time that was as far as it went. In Ukiah, we would rent a livery team to take us on to the lake which was about a three-hour trip. We did lots of walking on those trips. You know, when my mother and father first went up to the place the train only went as far as Cloverdale and they took a livery team on to Ukiah, then another in, to the lake.

“At the lake we kept one horse to do all the work and we used to rent a cow and take her in with us from Ukiah so that we’d always have plenty of milk. …

“In my day, the only near neighbours that we had were the Priors who were about three miles below and then Poe up on that hill above.”

Sandy: “Tell me about him.”

Dr Boyle: “Well, his name was Americus Napoleon Poe, A. N. Poe. He was quite dark. I wondered in later years if he had some Italian in him. But, he never had any friends. He had a wife and she lived there all alone. He didn’t believe in the education of women and he wouldn’t take any newspapers or anything. He did have a horse who was pretty near starved most of the time, and he also had a dog. But he was a very good hunter, and incidentally, he used to act as [a] guide to people who wanted to hunt around there. He made some money that way. Then, he used to come around to our place when Una was there alone. They got to be pretty good friends and she used to give him food, I think."

The description of Americus is interesting. His dark complexion was a feature of the Poe boys for a few generations; my father and some of his brothers had these features and were ‘mistaken’ for being Italian, Spanish or Jewish depending on how the conversation went. We also have ‘independent verification’ of Americus’ appearance. The Great Register of California listed voters with a brief physical description.

So, while we don’t have a photo of him we have the ‘official’ description of him from the 1892 Register.

Americus was 30 years of age at the time and the Register shows his height, complexion, eye colour and hair colour.

His wife’s name was Mary and she was some 10 years younger than him. They apparently never had any children. We hear more about her below. I can’t find anything more of her after she ‘disappeared’ though it sounds like she married again.

Dr Boyle continues…

“One-time Poe didn’t show up for three or four days and Una [his sister] went out, walked up to his place, and she found him lying dead out in the field and the little dog standing guard. Oh, was he ever. For a long time, she had trouble coaxing the dog to let her approach. Then she called the Sheriff and they took the body down. Although Poe was rather cruel to dogs, that dog really stood by him in the end, guarding his body.”

Sandy: “Was that after his wife had died?”

Dr Boyle: “Oh no, she left him, finally. Seems to me she married somebody at Staleys, but I couldn’t be sure. I was rather surprised, because she was not a very good-looking or attractive woman but, she did get married again after she left Poe.

“Poe was a very good shot. He used to shoot deer and sometimes bring them around and sell them to us."

Sandy: “Can you describe where he lived?”

Dr Boyle: “There’s a little hill there that we used to call ‘Snake Hill.’ “There were always a lot of snakes, gopher and water snakes. You went on from there, on up through the woods and finally came up to a bare area, on the top, where Poe lived. His place was always very bare looking."

Sandy: “The place that they call ‘Poe’s Cabin’ is—you know where the big house is, then the barn. If you keep going up from there, way up on the top of the ridge from there is a little cabin built in the shape of a cross. It’s very old and beginning to fall down now, but that’s known as Poe’s Cabin…”

Hazel Putnam, interviewed in Reeves Canyon, 29 June 1979

Hazel: “I used to visit Americus Poe in his house. His front room was so loaded with books, periodicals… he was a very learned man. His kitchen, well, one of the last times I was in it the wooden floor had completely worn out and he was walking on hard dirt. He had never replaced the floor in the kitchen area.

“He avoided ever riding in any sort of vehicle, a buggy or an automobile because he had crushed ribs and it would be too painful. But, he could walk and cover ground in an amazing way. He travelled on foot every place he went. He could just tear out and cover the ground like a deer.”

Interestingly, Poe was granted a patent in 1899 for his invention of a 'felly shield' for bicycles. It looks like others quickly improved on his patent and there is no record that he ever made any money from it.

Sandy: “His house was where Rick’s is now?”

Hazel: “Just about—it was a little closer. It was under the walnut trees. Well, not under them really, no, because at that time the walnut trees were very tiny. Not too long before he died they had grown up far enough so that he could put a rope up on a limb and hang up the things that he would kill so that they would be cooling and sort of refrigerated by the cool wind that blows up the canyon.

“I don’t know if anyone has told you what a fabulous garden he had. You know where those figs are, just below the house? He had the spring down amongst them developed to irrigate the trees. He had terraces, like they have in Europe, on that whole hillside. He had the stream irrigating back and forth. Those figs are Smyrnas. The only place they grow is in Italy and the only reason that they grow there and not anywhere else is that it takes a very special insect to get into the little low end of the fig. Of course, the fig, the whole meaty fig is the blossom. He sent to Europe and imported some of those insects. He used to can those figs and he gave some of them to me. The figs were so large that four was all that he could get into a quart jar. They were fabulous.”

Sandy: “What other things did he grow?”

Hazel: “He had plums, and then he crossed apricots and plums and called them plumcots. He would cross everything that had similar pits, seeds. He had everything under the sun crossed there.”

Sandy: “Did he have vegetables as well?”

Hazel: “A few, not as many. It was mostly fruits and berries. He would grow enough fruits and vegetables for himself and he had a lot of potatoes so he could boil them up.'

“He was a very slight man, small and sharp. He disliked and distrusted almost everyone who came into the canyon, though he liked Una particularly and he liked me. He didn’t trust my father too much but he did like me and then he got to liking my husband and he liked Harry Jr. as a little kid growing up. He really was a very interesting person and the claim is that he was a descendant of Edgar Allen Poe, which he probably was."

The story of the family being connected to Poe is persistent but as yet unproven. Perhaps if more Poe men did a Y-DNA test we could resolve that one for sure and solve several other mysteries about family connections! If you're interested in learning more please see this link.

“At one time he had a wife who lived up there with him. I do not ever remember her but then when I was very young there were stories, hush-hush type as if they suspected . . . well, she disappeared. They suspected murder but it was a supposition. Possibly she just ran away. I don’t know."

Herb Singley, interviewed in Ukiah, California 20 July 1979

This continues the conversation regarding Americus Napoleon Poe and his death.

Herb: “Poe had a little pet dog and he had a lot of hogs there and, a body, they’ll eat it if they can, if they can get to it. This little dog was darn near starved to death but he stayed there with that body and kept those hogs from bothering it.

“Una found a home for that dog down in San Rafael somewhere. Although she didn’t think too much of that old guy she did spend quite a good bit of time just seeing that he was all right.”

Sandy: “Tell me, do you know anything about the little cabin that is built in a cross shape, seems to face North, South, East and West.”

Herb: “I’ll tell you that didn’t belong to the Leonard Lake property in those days. It belonged to a fellow by the name of Doc Dollin. He built it up there as a kind of hunting cabin, although it was never used for anything."

Sandy: “Do you happen to know who designed it?”

Herb: “Oh, I think it was old man Poe himself. He was an interesting character, old Poe. Of French descent and first cousin to Napoleon Bonaparte [1769-1821].”

Sandy: “So that’s how he got his name.”

Herb: “Americus Napoleon Poe, yup, that’s the way it was. He was a particular guy but also a mining engineer and was pretty good at land surveying.”

Americus’ uncle Alonzo was, amongst other things, a land surveyor platting the town of Whatcom in Washington state. It may well have been a long-standing occupation of the family. Though family stories claim the original form of the surname was ‘De La Poe’, or something similar, I’ve never heard a suggestion that there is a connection to Bonaparte. 

I think this is a little bit of self-amusement which Americus perhaps learned from Americus senior. 

Or perhaps he adapted an from his reading of Edgar Allan Poe. The Spectacles is a short comedy tale published in 1844. The narrator, 22-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte Froissart, changes his last name to the plebian ‘Simpson’ as a requirement to inherit a large sum from a distant cousin…  

Dorothea Hardy and Esther Clifton, interviewed in Palo Alto, California, 14 July 1979

Dorothea: “I keep thinking about Poe’s place because when he died, that spring when Una found him in the field, well, the children and I hiked north up to his cabin and that cabin was just as he left it, not a hair moved. His hat was on the rack, his clothes, the dirty dishes in the sink. He put up canned jellies, fruits and such and those were all around and his gun in the corner.

“Nobody went up to do anything about his belongings. They were not important and nobody’d been in to see after anything.”  

Sandy: “You remember Poe alive? You knew him?”

Dorothea: “Oh yes, he came down a couple of times to visit, all dressed up. A spry little man, and really quite elegant…”

Doralinda ‘Doris’ Little, interviewed in Ukiah, California, 7 March 1983

Doris: “I also knew the woman whose father had the Cross Cabin built.”

Sandy: “Who was that?”

Doris: “Her name was Dollin, Irene Dollin. She loved Poe’s place. Her father was a dentist. They didn’t go up to the lake but to Poe’s, you know, up to the Upper Ranch and Doc Dollin would rent from Mr Poe the privilege of hunting around his place and he would take Irene with him. Irene has since passed away, she would probably be in her nineties now. She came up to Orr Springs Inn one time, and she tried to walk into the lake but she lost her way.”

Sandy: “You mean to see it again?”

Doris: “Yes, she wanted to see it again you know and she tried to hike in and all. Well, when she couldn’t make it someone told her to get in touch with Naman and me and she did. She told us that she had been a young girl when she used to go up there to the Poe Place, as it was called then, and she wanted to know if she could come in and just see it again. Of course, we welcomed her.

“She came and we went by jeep up top-side, to the Cross Cabin, because that used to belong to her father. Mr Poe built that for her dad. It was a hunting stand, that is why they have the arms on it so that he could see each way across, watch for game. It’s built in a cruciform so that the hunter could see each direction, from which any deer might be coming.

“Now Mr Poe brought all of the timber for that cabin up along the back, up the Jack Smith Trail, because there was no road up there then. Mr Dakin is the one who had that road put in.”

Monday, 6 November 2017

Jottings of interest November 2017: What are my top six posts?

John Barnes

John is the author of  La Trobe: Traveller, Writer, Governor featured in the previous post - La Trobe: Rambler, Writer and Royalist. I’ve created a mini-bio and authors page for him at goodreads, where you can also see his picture and a list of his other publications.

Alonzo Marion Poe – an Oregon pioneer

The territorial seal of Oregon (1848-1859).

I recently saw a very interesting website - THE OREGON TERRITORY AND ITS PIONEERSIf you’re interested in the ‘Oregon Country’ it’s well worth a look.

The site is maintained by Stephanie Flora who confesses that ‘The Settling of Oregon and Its Pioneers is my number one hobby and addiction.’ If you visit her site you’ll learn about early Oregon and the natives, explorers, fur traders, missionaries and the pioneers who settled it. The site Includes pioneer lists up to 1855, pioneer diaries, Oregon trail information and a photo gallery of early pioneers.

The site mentions Alonzo Marion Poe and Stephanie was happy to update her entry on him and add the information from two of my previous blogs, the latest being The when and where of Alonzo Marion Poe. You can see my items there too.

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men ...’

I've discovered that the process of writing up what I think I know forces me to think more precisely than otherwise. As a result, I end up learning more.

One of the reasons for this is the help I get through the process from Rudyard Kipling’s servants…


They are faithful servants whose assistance has been extolled by journalists and corporate thinkers across more than a century. Here is Kipling’s introduction of them to you, just as I heard it I read it as a child.

‘I Keep Six Honest Serving Men ...’
I KEEP six honest serving-men
 (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
 And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
 I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
 I give them all a rest.

These servants were once known as the ‘five Ws ‘of journalists (or I guess ‘Five Ws and one poorly written H’)…

But Kipling was not all work and no play. He gives his servants time off and is much less a hard taskmaster than a young girl he knows. The unbounded energy of an inquisitive child leaves no time for servants to rest. He continues…

I let them rest from nine till five,
 For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
 For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends 'em abroad on her own affairs,
 From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

following the story, The Elephant's Child in Just So Stories (1902)

Kipling’s daughter Elsie Bambridge recognised herself in the second half of the poem. She was apparently known in the family as ‘Elsie Why’.

The poem remains an enjoyable read today and Just So Stories remains a great book to read to children.

by Rudyard Kipling

Readings of Interest…

Many of my posts link to further reading usually websites and relevant books.

I’m aiming to make links to particular books which are available via Angus and Robertson or in some cases organisations doing work which is worth supporting. Angus and Robertson's prices are often the best for online purchase. 

While these will be specific links, you may also want to do your own search of their catalogue. If so I’d like to encourage you to do that through this link.

There are also a number of out-of-print books which I mention and I will try to find easy-to-access sources for these too.

What are my top six posts so far?

I have one more post in the works for this month which I hope will be up about Thursday. After that my typing fingers will take a break for a month.

In the meantime, you may be interested to know which of my posts have been the read most to date.

Here’s the countdown…

Number 6:

A tale of two tea planters: Claud Bald and F G Marsh. An introduction to my two tea-planting ancestors and a view of some long-lost photos.

Number 5:

A ‘new’ photo of an Australian Beersheba hero? The story of a war hero who also built a church.

Number 4:

Alonzo Marion Poe: a recurring family name. The peripatetic Poes are a source of continuing intrigue.

Number 3:

Who was here first? A short list of my ‘first arrival’ ancestors.

Number 2:

Grandfather Poe and the King of Chinese Cinema. Solving more family mysteries and widening horizons.

Number 1:

La Trobe: Rambler, Writer and Royalist. Responses to John Barnes impressive award-winning biography of the man whose name followed me around for many years.

Please look over the posts and forward your favourites….