Monday, 26 May 2014

The morning after!

Well has there been a political earthquake?  UKIP would certainly want you to think so and now with representation in Scotland and Wales as well as England it can certainly claim to be a ‘national’ party.  It’s the first time in a century that both the Conservatives and Labour have been defeated by another party.  Labour did well in London but its performance beyond the capital was lack-lustre and does not suggest that Miliband will be prime minister in 2015.  The Conservatives did quite well given that euro-elections are generally seen as a time to give the governing party a good kicking.  The Lib-Dems were annihilated with only one MEP and an election strategy that was, however principled it was, proved disastrous.  Saying that you’re the only party to take on UKIP may be true but it demonstrates political naivety when it was clear from the outset of their campaign that the electorate had no sympathy with what you were saying.  Nick Clegg will continue to lead the party—who would want to pick up his poisoned chalice anyway—into the valley of death in 2015, something that all Paddy Ashdown’s bluster will do little to prevent.  The explanation for the strong showing of euro-sceptic parties on the continent—it’s all to do with the recession silly—won’t do in Britain where our economy is reviving and, if the figures are right, reviving strongly.  

The message from the main parties seems to be: it’s not the general election and people may have given their vote in UKIP in 2014 but they’ll see sense and come back for the election next year.  This may have been the case in the past and UKIP will undoubtedly lose ground in 2015 but such is people’s disillusion with Europe that a focused electoral strategy could well see UKIP MPs being elected…and don’t forget we have the Newark by-election imminent.  This poses a major dilemma for all the parties.  For the Lib-Dems it must now be clear that its pro-European policy is no longer tenable in its current form—yes, argue for Europe but argue for Europe from a position of strength by agreeing to a referendum on the issue and stop treating the electorate as if we’re idiots, something the other parties need to stop doing as well.  The, were the politicians and we know what’s best for you no longer holds water…the essence of democratic politics is the art of persuasion and the three parties aren’t persuading anyone.  There’s nothing new about this but for the first time that I can remember the people have, in significant numbers, had enough of the patronising, posturing of Westminster’s elite.  Despite all the weasel word statements by mainstream politicians that they are listening and about letting the people decide, many appear still to believe that they have the only solution to the country’s problems and will push ahead whatever the consequences…something that the elite in Brussels will almost certainly do as well.  Politicians in Britain have yet to learn that they were elected to do a job on our behalf and it’s a temp job at that.

Political earthquakes come and go and few are in retrospect little more than slight tremors but on this occasion, at this time that is not the case.  The future direction of the EU is something that is too important to be left in the hands of self-serving politicos.  I was one of those who campaigned for the EU in the 1975 referendum and would campaign in favour of a reformed and smaller EU in 2017 if I get the opportunity.  The essence of this earthquake is that it may lead to the reversal of EU policy on closer integration—something that as far as I can see few outside Brussels actually want—and the restoration of the EU to its founding economic principles on which most people still agree.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

We’ve got it! No you haven’t

Having  watched The Andrew Marr Show this morning, a pervading liet-motif from the three mainstream political parties all said, with varying degrees of confidence, that they are listening to what the local election results are telling them about people’s attitudes to the political elite and to the continued rise of UKIP.  In essence, they saying ‘we’ve got it!’.  The reality is very different.  The mainstream political parties say, as they always do when faced with anything that challenges their hegemony, we’re listening and will take your concerns into account…no you haven’t!  The local government elections on Thursday and the probable outcome of the European election demonstrates clearly that UKIP is taking votes from all the political parties.  Labour may have gained the most council seats—no surprise for the opposition mid-term—but their results do not presage well for the General Election next year. 

No opposition has won a General Election when they did not have a majority in local government and Labour do not.  Their leader is hardly elector-friendly, his policies on, for instance, the cost of living crisis, are unravelling and although some polls give the party a lead over the Conservatives, at this stage of the electoral cycle it should be doing considerably better.  The Lib-Dems suffered most in the elections and although it is unlikely that Nick Clegg will be removed as leader, his poll ratings are appallingly low and his credibility as party leader is shot—he may have acted in the public interest in joining the coalition but this will, I suspect, have a debilitating effect in the elections next year.  The Conservatives also lost council seats but not enough to give Labour the majority in local government that it needs but the fissures in the party—evident since the 1980s—over Europe are damaging—the electorate generally punishes divided parties.  So where does that leave UKIP?  Well in a first-past-the post system, nowhere at all.  More councillors but no council and, though it looks like it will focus on 20 seats in 2015, it’s improbable that it will make the breakthrough into parliamentary politics.  This may explain the double-talk from the three main parties—yes we’re listening and will take your concerns into account…but no we’re not going to change our political directions.

Is it any surprise that there is a disconnect between the public and politicians?  Miliband is still saying Labour can—please note not will—win the General Election in 2015; Clegg, I won’t quit despite defeats; and Cameron, well actually saying very little leaving all the flak to his ministers and supporters.  Yesterday’s Times had an article by Matthew Parris in which he says that people don’t really care about the EU as an electoral issue and that in 2015 people will vote over largely domestic issues.  He may be right—past experience suggests that it is domestic issues not foreign or European affairs that determine how people vote—but in today’s circumstances, he just might be wrong.  UKIP’s popularity lies in being ‘none of the above’ and although its focus has long been on immigration and membership of the EU, these are now real issues for many people beyond the Westminster ‘bubble’.  There may be some UKIP supporters who want to stop all immigration, but most don’t.  What they want is for Britain to have greater control over who can come to this country and, because we have no control over labour movement from the EU, that tends to be the focus of their thinking.  If we leave the EU we can again control immigration—whether this is true or not matters less than how the issue is perceived. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Chartism: Rise and Demise

Just Published

Chartism 2 front cover

 

Chartism was the largest working-class political movement in modern British history. Its branches ranged from the Scottish Highlands to northern France and from Dublin to Colchester. Its meetings drew massive crowds: 300,000 at Kersal Moor and perhaps as many as half a million at Hartshead Moor in 1839. The National Petition in 1842 claimed 3.3 million signatures, a third of the adult population of Britain. At its peak, the Northern Star sold around 50,000 copies a week, more than The Times. This was a national mass movement of unprecedented scale and intensity that was more than simply a political campaign but the expression of a new and dynamic form of working-class culture. Across Britain, there were Chartist concerts, amateur dramatics and dances, Chartist schools and cooperatives and Chartist churches that assaulted the political hegemony of the wealthy, the conservative and the liberal. For over a decade, Chartists led a campaign for the franchise with a mass enthusiasm that has never been imitated. Chartism: Rise and Demise provides the analytical narrative for the series. The causes of Chartism and how they have been interpreted is the focus of the opening chapter. The remainder of the book explores the development of Chartism chronologically from its beginnings in the mid-1830s to its demise in the 1850s and divides this into four phases. The first phase covers the years between 1838 and 1841 and revolves round the critical events of 1839, the first Convention, the First Petition and the Newport Rising. The second phase lasts from 1841 to 1843 and focuses on the emergence of the so-called Chartist ‘new move’, the creation of the National Charter Association, the relationship between Chartists and the middle-classes and the strikes of 1842. The third phase covers the years between 1843 and 1850 during which there were attempts to reposition the movement, the Land Plan and the seminal events of 1848. The final phase considers the ways in which the movement developed during the 1850s when leadership moved away from Feargus O’Connor to Ernest Jones.

 

Chartism: Rise and Demise---the video

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Rum Rebellion: Bligh in Sydney

Soon after his arrival at Sydney, on 13 August 1806, Bligh was given an address of welcome signed by Major Johnston for the military, by Richard Atkins for the civilian officers and by John Macarthur  for the free settlers.[1] However, not long after, he also received addresses from the free and freed settlers of Sydney and the Hawkesbury River  region[2], with a total of 369 signatures, many made only with a cross, complaining that Macarthur did not represent them.

...We beg to observe that had we deputed anyone, John Macarthur would not have been chosen by us, we considering him an unfit person to step forward upon such an occasion, as we may chiefly attribute the rise in the price of mutton to his withholding the large flock of wethers he now has to make such price as he may choose to demand.[3]

This only confirmed what Bligh would have been told about Macarthur by Banks.

A View of Sydney Cove—Port Jackson 7 March 1792

One of Bligh’s first actions[4] was to use the colony’s stores and herds to provide relief to farmers who had been severely affected by flooding on the Hawkesbury River, a situation which had disrupted the barter economy in the colony.[5] Supplies were divided up according to those most in need and provisions were made for loans to be drawn from the store based on capacity to repay. Bligh offered to take wheat from the next crop into the Government stores at 15s per bushel.[6] This delighted the settlers, resulting in strong loyalty to Bligh even after the events of 1808 but it earned the enmity of traders in the Corps who had been profiting greatly from the situation.[7] This was evident in an address to Bligh on 17 February 1809

The memorial of the undersigned, who came free into the colony, - Most respectfully showeth: - That your memorialists had no hand, act, or part in the rebellion that now exists in this colony.

That they do abhor and detest the said act, its aiders, and abettors, and were every way fully satisfied and content under His Excellency’s administration. His Excellency was doing all that public virtue or private worth could accomplish to correct abuses, re-establish discipline, protect and encourage sobriety and industry.

That your memorialists believe the following causes principally led to the rebellion; - That the officers had been (and still continue) merchants, traders, a dealers, which was carried on by employing convicts as their agents in different parts of the colony, by which means a great number of the inhabitants are in debt to them or their agents, which gave them a dangerous influence; and they had entered upon expensive establishments, which nothing but a continuance of abuse could support. That there is no nutritious liquor produced in the colony, either as a restorative to the sick or laborious. That our present rulers monopolised the whole of the spirits brought into the colony at about ten shillings per gallon, which they retail at from two to six pounds per gallon. They had for years commenced land-jobbing. This went so far as the selling of land before the grant was obtained, and was declared a legal transaction by two civil Courts....The officers were interested in impeding agriculture: the more settlers were ruined the cheaper they could purchase estates; the less grain grown by the settlers, the better prices they had for their own.....[8]

A View Of Sydney Cove New South Wales 1804

View of Sydney, 1804

Bligh was under instructions from the Colonial Office to normalise trading conditions in the colony by prohibiting the use of spirits as payment for commodities. Bligh was determined to stamp out the barter of spirits for goods or labour, commenting on 7 February, 1807

It is absolutely necessary to be done to bring labour to a true value and support the farming interest... In addition to the reasons already given to prohibit the barter of spirits, is the strong temptation it holds out to the settlers and other inhabitants to erect private stills, which tend to destroy not only the grain but the industry and morals of the people. The practice of distillation has been so general that the late Governor found it necessary to prohibit it under certain fines and penalties, and to offer emancipations, free pardons, and pecuniary remunerations to those who would give information of persons employed in this ruinous work; but the effect has not yet been produced, as this practice still continues in violation of every order and vigilance of the police.[9]

This was followed on 14 February 1807 by the following proclamation

His Excellency the Governor laments at finding, by his late visits through the colony, that the most calamitous evils have been produced by persons bartering or paying in spirits for grain of all kinds, the necessaries of life, and the labourers for their hire, such precedings depressing the industrious and depriving the settlers of their comforts and wants. In order to remedy these grievous complaints, and to relieve the inhabitants who have suffered by this traffic, he feels it his duty to put a total stop to this barter in future, and to prohibit the exchange of spirits or other liquors as payment for grain, animal food, labour, wearing apparel, or any other commodity whatever, to all descriptions of persons in the colony and its dependencies.[10]

Between October 1806 and February 1807, he introduced further measures to carry out his instructions. On 4 October 1806, Bligh banned departing ships from leaving crew members behind[11] and issued new port regulations securing government control of ships and boat building and on 28 February 1807 declared that all goods shipped to NSW should only be unloaded at Port Jackson.[12] On 1 November, he issued general orders forbidding barter in goods. [13] On 3 January 1807, he proclaimed all promissory notes should be payable only in sterling, not kind[14] and the following month on 14 February he outlawed the importation of stills for alcohol production and bartering with spirits.[15] Bligh communicated his policy to the Colonial Office in 1807, advising that his policy would be met with resistance. Castlereagh, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies wrote back to Bligh, his instructions being received on 31 December 1807. The instructions were to stop the barter of spirits and H.V. Evatt concluded in his history of the Rebellion that

...Bligh was authorised to prevent free importation, to preserve the trade under his entire control, to enforce all penalties against illegal import, and to establish regulations at his discretion for the sale of spirits.[16]

Bligh had come to administer a penal settlement not facilitate private enterprise. Evatt argues that the enmity of the monopolists within the colony stemmed from this and other policies that counteracted the power of the rich and promoted the welfare of the poor settlers. Free settlers such as John and Gregory

Blaxland claimed that Bligh had no interest in supporting their enterprises and did not give them the assistance which the British Government had promised.[17] People came to NSW to make money and Bligh seemed oblivious to this. Bligh ceased the practice of handing out large land grants to the powerful in the colony; during his term he granted just over 2,180 acres of land, half of it to his daughter and himself. One thousand acres were at the Hawkesbury that he farmed as a ‘model farm’ for private gain. He allocated himself publicly victualled convicts and animals from the public herds and erected buildings at government expense. This was, to say the least, insensitive, but Bligh was never known for his tact. He was ‘making hay while the sun shines as fast as he can’, as Surgeon John Harris wrote.[18]

Bligh also upset some people by allowing a group of Irish convicts to be tried for revolt by a court that included their accusers and then when six out of the eight were acquitted, he kept them in custody. Soon after his arrival he replaced most of the officials, many of them from the military, with his own appointments. This did not play well in a small community and did not endear him to the Corps. [19] He dismissed D’Arcy Wentworth[20] from his position of Assistant Surgeon to the Colony and sentenced three merchants to a month’s imprisonment and a fine for writing a letter that he considered offensive. Bligh also dismissed Thomas Jamison[21] from the magistracy, describing him in 1807 as being ‘inimical’ to good government.[22] Jamison was the highly capable (if crafty) Surgeon-General of NSW, had accumulated significant personal wealth as a maritime trader and was a friend and business partner of Macarthur’s. Jamison never forgave Bligh for sacking him as a magistrate and interfering with his private business activities and supported Bligh’s later deposition.

Governor Phillip intended to reserve the land between, roughly, Hunter Street and the water for public purposes.  Cutting into this reserved area, during Phillip’s time, was a track formed by the passage of traffic behind the row of tents that the officers of the First Fleet had pitched on arrival, soon replaced by rudimentary huts, on the western bank of the Tank Stream that flowed into Sydney Cove, now Circular Quay.[23] That track became George Street and this, rather than Phillip’s conception, proved to be the model for the grand Sydney tradition of urban planning.  Phillip’s successors gradually abandoned his plan.  Leases were granted, at first only for short periods. However, the third Governor, Phillip King, attempted to regularise the haphazard system and to establish clearly defined property rights:  creating a register of dealings, quadrupling the rent and granting a large number of leases, many for periods of 14 years.[24] Bligh, wanted to return to critical aspects of Phillip’s original plan by clearing grand spaces around Government House and the church but King’s leases stood in the way. Bligh used his wide discretionary powers to achieve his objective refusing to issue further leases, announcing that he would not approve building on existing leases, ordering residents to surrender possession of homes, demolishing structures built without approval and threatening to demolish others. Intending to revoke the leases, but unsure of his power to do so, he sought instructions from London.[25]

The wife of a commercially successful emancipist wrote complaining:

From some he took good houses and gave them bad ones.  From others he took their houses and turned them into the street and made them no recompense whatever.  Some he stopped building.  Others he made make improvements against their inclinations and on the whole endeavoured to crush every person as much as possible.[26]

When one occupant of a leasehold residence in the environs of Government House objected to Bligh’s order to remove it, asserting that he could not be forced to do so by the laws of England, Bligh allegedly exploded:

Damn your laws of England! Don’t talk to me of your laws of England.  I will make laws for this colony, and every wretch of you, son of a bitch, shall be governed by them.  Or there (pointing over to the gaol) is your habitation! [27]

It is clear that Bligh had made enemies of some of the most influential people in the colony. He also antagonised some of the less wealthy when he ordered those who had leases on government land within Sydney to remove their houses. Even if these measures affected relatively few, this assault on private property was unsettling.


[1] Address to Governor Bligh, 14 August 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 165-166.

[2] Sydney Settlers’ Address to Governor Bligh, 22 September 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 189-189; see also, Hawkesbury Settlers’ Address, undated, 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 190-192.

[3] HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 189.

[4] Government and General Order, 23 August, 30 August 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 173-174, 176.

[5] Samuel Marsden to King, 28 March 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 53-54 provides valuable details about the flood while King to Camden, 7 April 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 59-61 considers its effects. See also, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 176, 186, 237, 823-831. Newspaper coverage of the floods can be found in Sydney Gazette, 30 March and 6 April 1806.

[6] Sydney Gazette, 21 December 1806.

[7] See, Fletcher, Brian H., ‘The Hawkesbury settlers and the Rum Rebellion’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 54, (3), (1968), pp. 217-237 for a detailed discussion of the relationship between Bligh and the Hawkesbury settlers.

[8] Hawkesbury Settlers’ Address to Bligh, 17 March 1809, HRNSW, Vol. 7, pp. 78-80.

[9] Bligh to Marsden, 7 February 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 246-252.

[10] Government and General Order, 14 February 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 253-254.

[11] Regulations respecting Vessels: Foreign and English, 4 October 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 193-197.

[12] Government and General Order, 28 February 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 258.

[13] Government and General Order, 1 November 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 198.

[14] Proclamation, 3 January 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 236.

[15] Government and General Order, 14 February 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 253-254.

[16] Evatt, H.V., Rum Rebellion:  A Study of the Overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps, (Angus & Robertson), 1938, p. 72.

[17] This is evident in Gregory Blaxland to Under-Secretary Chapman, 15 October 1807 and John Blaxland to ?, 16 October 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 301-304, 308-313. See also, Castlereagh to King, 13 July 1805, HRA, Series I, Vol. 5, pp. 490-491 on what the Blaxlands were promised.

[18] Harris to Anna Josepha King, 25 October 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 347. Bligh has earlier dismissed Harris from the magistracy: Government and General Order, 2 May 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 266.

[19] On Bligh’s early appointments, see Government and General Orders, 15, 16 August 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 167-169.

[20] Bligh to Windham, 31 October 1807, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, pp. 188-190 stated the Bligh suspended Wentworth on 25 July for ‘extreme misconduct’: ‘it has been a practice to allow them [sick men] to remain victualled as Hospital Patients requiring care, applying their use to private advantage.’ D’Arcy Wentworth to Castlereagh, 17 October 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 313-328 gives Wentworth’s response.

[21] Parsons, Vivienne, ‘Jamison, Thomas (1753?-1811)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 12-13.

[22] Bligh to Windham, 31 October 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 355; see also, Nicholas Bayly to Jamison, 12 February 1808, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 518-519 indicates the cause of his dismissal.

[23] Ibid, Atkinson, Alan, The Europeans in Australia, Vol. 1, p. 273. Bligh to Windham, 31 October 1807, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, pp. 155-156 lists the leases under question.

[24] See generally Atkinson, Alan, ‘Taking Possession:  Sydney’s First Householders’, in Aplin, Graeme, (ed.), A Difficult Infant: Sydney Before Macquarie, (University of NSW Press), 1988, especially pp. 76, 79-82, 83-84.

[25] Ibid, Atkinson, Alan, ‘Taking Possession:  Sydney’s First Householders’, pp. 84-87; HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, pp. 155-156,714-715. See also, Government and General Order, 23 July 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 275-276.

[26] Ibid, Atkinson, Alan, The Europeans in Australia, Vol. 1, p. 273.

[27] Ritchie, John, A Charge of Mutiny: The Court Martial of Lieutenant Colonel George Johnston for Deposing Governor William Bligh in the Rebellion of 26 January 1808, (National Library of Australia), 1988, p. 365.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Ukraine and taxation: two disconnected stories

I must admit I felt quite sorry when the Russian duo in Eurovision on Saturday were booed and that whenever Russia was mentioned in the scoring, the same happened.  Whoever said Eurovision had nothing to do with politics.  It was as predictable as the outcome of the referendum in the eastern part of Ukraine—for the government in Kiev it was illegal and a ‘farce’ while the Russian Foreign Minister said Russia would respect the ‘will of the people’ in the eastern provinces.  It may have been illegal and expressed the ‘will of the people’—though precisely what this means is unclear—but it does little to resolve the on-going tension in Ukraine and the potential for direct Russian intervention.  The problem in Ukraine is that, whatever the nature of provincial government, it remains a largely centralised system of government based in Kiev.  It is hardly surprising that Russia is concerned about the westward looking agenda of Ukrainian politicians—Kiev was where the Rus state had its origins--and there was always little chance that it would accept a further EU country on its doorstep.  Whatever the aspirations of Euro-politicians, it was diplomatically and politically inept to encourage Ukraine to believe that it could become a member of the EU, an unlikely eventuality anyway given the parlous state of its economy.

Map: Ukraine's political and linguistic divide

The relationship and respective power of the different nationalities within Russia  had long been a divisive issue that the break-up of the Soviet Union simply exacerbated.  What do areas with Russian-speaking majorities do when they are no longer part of the Russian state?  As Ukraine clearly shows you can force those groups to remain within the state but at a huge cost in terms of political stability and political violence.  But is this the answer…well clearly not if the resistance of pro-Russian militias is any indication.  Whether the Ukrainian government agreed with the referendum or not, it is an expression of how a significant number of people feel about their position within that state.  The attitude of the Putin government is far from obvious—despite what the West feels—and may have more to do with assuaging internal critics rather than a reversion to the ‘salami tactics’—taking a piece at a time—of its Soviet past.  Annexing Crimea was undoubtedly an expression of Russian imperialism reversing what was an almost inexplicable decision in 1954 but whether this extends to the eastern provinces of Ukraine is far less clear.  There has been ample ‘provocation’ in the past week to ‘justify’ Russian intervention but its troops have remained firmly on the Russian side of the frontier.  Ukraine faces three equally unpalatable options.  It could cut the eastern provinces free allowing them to join with Russia; it could deal with pro-Russian feeling by giving those provinces autonomy within the Ukrainian state; or, it could imposed a military solution or at least try to. 

Yet another tax avoidance scandal has hit the headlines with the predictable moral outrage from politicians, a bit like the moral outrage of global politicians to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  The difference is that the tax avoidance is not illegal.  Whatever you may think is the moral imperative, there is nothing legally wrong with individuals seeking to avoid paying some of their taxation.  If you don’t like this then make all tax avoidance schemes illegal: that would leave no wriggle room for those seeking to avoid paying their full tax bills.  This would mean, for instance, that you could not offset your tax bill against charitable donations or against personal losses in business.  But I hear you say that would be unfair on charities and , of course, you’d be right.  The problem is that as soon as you allow exemptions from paying taxes because of X, then people will try to exploit that legal loophole. If you give people allowances, they will apply those allowances within the rules even if you might think they are morally wrong to do so.   As soon as you say, you will pay £X in tax but…you’re into tax avoidance.  The solution is that we should tax all income—whatever its source—with no exceptions; so if you earn £200,000 or £20,000 a year, you pay all your standard and/or higher tax. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Sir Benjamin Stone 1838-1914

Sir Benjamin Stone 1838-1914: Photographer, Traveller and Politician, 107pp., 20 photographs, ISBN 13: 978-1499265521, ISBN 10: 149926552, £7.99, paperback. Published by the Author under his imprint Birmingham Biographies, this volume is available from Amazon and from other booksellers.

BookCoverPreview4 

Includes twenty rarely-seen or previously unpublished photographs by Sir Benjamin Stone.

Sir Benjamin Stone lived a full life, and was certainly a more contented man than his restless Birmingham contemporary Joseph Chamberlain. Elected to Parliament in 1895, Stone would have been an undistinguished backbencher had it not been for his camera. On the terrace of the House of Commons he lined up his fellow-MPs and various interesting visitors to have their pictures taken. Dubbed ‘Sir Snapshot’ by the press, he became in these years the most well-known amateur photographer in the country. Stone was an intrepid traveller too, embarking – equipped, of course, with his camera – on a voyage around the world in 1891 and a journey of almost one thousand miles up the Amazon in 1893. He was also an insatiable collector, particularly of botanical and geological specimens and a shrewd businessman, with investments in glass and paper manufacture and house-building and quarrying. Stone was also a Tory politician. He doggedly promoted the Tory cause in Liberal-dominated Birmingham in the 1870s and early 1880s, and, after the Liberal rupture over Irish Home Rule in 1886, became an equally-determined supporter of the new Unionist alliance.

Drawing on newspapers and his own extensive personal papers, this is the first biography of Sir Benjamin Stone to be written. It is published to mark the centenary of his death.

Stephen Roberts is Visiting Research Fellow in Victorian History at Newman University, Birmingham.  His published work focuses on Chartism and the political history of Victorian Birmingham.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Fallacies: some thoughts on two recent education stories

Over the May Day weekend two educational stories have come to light.  The NAHT union conference has decided to investigate the benefits of scrapping the six-week summer holidays and University fellows with a PhD in maths or physics are being urged to become school teachers in England to inspire youngsters to study the subjects.  I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu…I’ve been hearing both of these points ever since I became a teacher and, as far as I can see there is little in what is being proposed that is different from the arguments that were deployed in the 1970s.

Is the current system of school holidays fit for purpose?  Of course it isn’t.  No one would designing a school holiday regime from scratch would have terms and half-terms of uneven length.  Higher education generally operates ten week terms though from what ex-students have said, given the paltry amount of teaching they got, it could have been accomplished in two.  Yes I know higher education is about more than teaching and learning—as should all education—but this is hardly value for money…but that’s a different issue.  Would it be better say to divide the school year into six terms of six or seven weeks?  Would it improve student learning and teacher sanity?  Well certainly the latter but as far as learning is concerned the jury appears still to be out.  We already have a varied system of school terms with often neighbouring areas having slightly different term and particularly half-term dates and government gave academies and free schools in England permission to vary term times earlier this academic year.  But the main concern for the National Association of Head Teachers appears to be the burgeoning cost of holidays during school breaks—they can easily be double those in term time—and its solution according to Russell Hobby is:

We would like to see local or regional co-ordination, but at that point you could also have the opportunity to have a staggering of holidays around the country.  So if different parts of the country within local authority boundaries or regional boundaries had slightly different holiday times I think that would ease the pressure on the prices of holidays as well.’

He said the change would take away some of the excuses that both parents and teachers made about missing school days.  I’m afraid I don’t see the economic logic in his argument.  Even if you staggered school holidays—and there is a case for secondary schools breaking up for the summer in late-June or early-July and coming back mid-August to fit in with the examination cycle—that would not prevent an increase in the cost of a holiday but will simply lengthen the time that leisure companies can charge a holiday premium.  It is, as the companies continually say, a matter of supply and demand. 

In my experience, there have always been staff shortages in one area or another in schools.  This has been the case particularly and persistently in Mathematics and Physics.  Why would you want to teach if you have a degree in these subjects when your skills earn better pay and conditions by working in other areas of the economy?  The government’s solution—yes yet another initiative in this area all of which have previously largely failed—is to pay ‘experts’ £40,000 a year as research fellows to conduct master classes for pupils in networks of schools, set up free online maths and physics resources for schools to use, and teach lessons that stretch more advanced students.  Usual response from the teaching unions with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers saying that the experts should be trained as teachers before being allowed to educate children.  Well that probably will guarantee that the scheme never gets off the ground!!  The response to the story on the BBC website is equally negative…experts won’t be able to communicate with students and so on. 

We spend an inordinate amount of time and money teaching teachers to teach and a lot of it is wasted.  To teach effectively you need to know your subject and be able to communicate it interestingly to students in ways they can understand…you can improve a teacher’s ability to do this but if they can’t communicate effectively in the first place it really is a waste of time.  The best teachers I know are great communicators and who make learning interesting and fun for the students and they get great results.  They may or may not be experts in their fields but they have the confidence and communication skills to get the subject across.  Now you can’t teach that.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Rum Rebellion: Appointing William Bligh as governor

In the early years of the settlement, particularly during the three years between Governor Phillip’s retirement in December 1792 and the arrival of Hunter his successor in mid-1795, when Grose and then Paterson administered the colony, alcohol, generically referred to as rum, was a readily tradable item in the barter-based, economy operating beyond the bureaucratic, requisition system at the government store.  Rum became a substitute for currency.  The shortage of currency in the colony was aggravated by the fact that William Bassett Chinnery[1], the agent appointed by the British Government to operate the colony’s accounts from London was in the process of embezzling some £80,000.[2] The NSW Corps officers’ early trading success was based on the fact that were paid in London and could draw bills that would be honoured there. They alone had access to sterling for purposes of trade and a trading cabal that operated as an extension of the officers’ mess was able profitably to exploit a monopoly position in rum and other goods and they vigorously defended this under both Hunter and King. This was no longer the case in 1808 as competition now ensured that monopoly profits were substantially reduced, although high prices were retained by the penumbra of illegality that surrounded the trade. 

It is likely that William Bligh was selected by the British Government as governor because of his reputation as a strict but fair disciplinarian though in the public and subsequent historical consciousness he will forever be remembered for the infamous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. The critical figure in his appointment was Sir Joseph Banks who had accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage and was the government’s unofficial adviser on matters relating to Australia. Banks had formed an intense dislike of John Macarthur. This occurred in 1801 when Macarthur, already one of the wealthiest men in the colony, applied for permission to export some of the king’s merino sheep to NSW and for an enormous land grant to help establish a wool industry. Banks did not favour a large land grant to one person but thought the wool industry should be developed by an English company. He also knew that Macarthur, due to a thrusting desire for personal enrichment, was a disruptive force in the colony. When Macarthur’s requests for sheep and land were granted, Banks was upset and recommended Bligh for the job of governor because he though he could deal with Macarthur. On 15 March 1805, he wrote to Bligh requesting him to consider the post. He wrote that King’s successor must have the following qualities:

…one who had integrity unimpeached, a mind capable of providing its own resources in difficulties without leening on others for advice, firm in discipline, civil in deportment and not subject to whimper and whine when severity of discipline is wanted to meet emergencies.[3]

Sir Joseph Banks

Banks proceeded to offer a number of inducements for Bligh to accept. The Governor’s salary would be doubled from £1,000 to £2,000 and, in addition, Banks believed Bligh need spend less than half of this because he would have ‘the whole of the Government power and stores’ at his disposal. His seniority and pension rights would continue. Banks even added that there would be better marriage prospects for his six daughters in NSW. He was not simply using his influence to help Bligh; he was exerting pressure on Bligh to accept the governorship. He was not ignorant of Bligh’s reputation as a disciplinarian: he chose him for that reason. Bligh, Banks believed stood a good chance of standing up to and reining in the maverick NSW Corps, something that his predecessors had been unable to do. So did Earl Camden, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who wrote to Banks that he was recommending Bligh for appointment because of Bligh’s ‘merit & ability & of the character he bears, for firmness & Integrity’.[4] Bligh was persuaded and left for Sydney with his daughter, Mary Putland, and her husband who died on 4 January 1808 of tuberculosis. Bligh’s wife remained in England.[5]

Even before his arrival, Bligh’s style of governance led to problems with his subordinates. The Admiralty gave command of the Porpoise and the convoy to the lower ranked Captain Joseph Short and Bligh took command of a transport ship.[6] This led to quarrels which eventually resulted in Captain Short firing across Bligh’s bow in order to force Bligh to obey his signals. When this failed, Short tried to give an order to Lieutenant Putland, Bligh’s son-in-law to stand by to fire on Bligh’s ship. Bligh boarded the Porpoise and seized control of the convoy. When they arrived in Sydney, Bligh, backed up by statements from two of Short’s officers,[7] had Short stripped of the captaincy of the Porpoise that he gave to his son-in-law.[8] He also cancelled the land grant Short had been promised as payment for the voyage[9] and shipped him back to England for court martial, at which he was acquitted.[10] The president of the court, Sir Isaac Coffin, wrote to the Admiralty and made several serious accusations against Bligh, including that he had influenced the officers to testify against Short. Bligh’s wife obtained a statement from one of the officers denying this and Banks and other supporters of Bligh lobbied successfully against his recall. The secretary of state thought the dispute arose from ‘very trivial causes’ and ‘proceeded to a length to which it could not possibly have advanced had you both been impressed with a just sense...of the propriety...of preserving a good understanding with each other.[11]


[1] William Bassett Chinnery, who was appointed Agent for New South Wales on 1 May 1787, was enabled to embezzle more than £80,000 of Treasury funds prior to his dismissal on 17 March 1812. For Chinnery’s private life and his love of music, see, Yim, Denise, Viotti and the Chinnerys: a relationship charted through letters, (Ashgate), 2004. Chinnery was able to avoid detection for a long time because the accounting and control systems used at the British Treasury and the function and operation of the Audit Office established in 1785 were inadequate.

[2] See Scorgie, Michel E., Wilkinson David J. and Rowe, Julie D., ‘The Rise and Fall of a Treasury Clerk:  William Bassett Chinnery’, paper presented to the Conference of the British Accounting Association, April 1998; compare with Scorgie, Michel E., ‘The rise and fall of William Bassett Chinnery’, Abacus, Vol. 43, (2007), pp. 76-93.  See also ibid, Whitaker, Anne-Maree, Joseph Foveaux: Power and Patronage in Early New South Wales, pp.155-156.

[3] This crucial letter was first quoted, in full, in the HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. xxxv–xxxvi. The editor gave no specific location for this letter, but stated that he had had access to manuscripts in the possession of W.R. Bligh of Sydney, William Bligh’s grandson. Bligh presented some of these to the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales in 1902 and they were transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910. This letter was not amongst the collection and its present location is unknown.

[4] Camden to Bligh, 18 April 1805, ML Banks Papers, Series 59.01.

[5] Bligh’s commission, instructions and additional instructions are in HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, pp. 1-19.

[6] Short to Secretary Marsden, 12 March 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 31-34, Bligh to Secretary Marsden, 30 May 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 81-84 and Bligh to Castlereagh, 1 April 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 55-57 provide the protagonists’ stances. Short to Bligh, 15 May 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 74-75 explains Short’s position and his offer of an apology.

[7] Lieutenant Tetley to Bligh, 15 November 1806, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, p. 40 and Daniel Lye to Bligh, 22 November 1806, 9 December 1806, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, pp. 41-42.

[8] Bligh to Secretary Marsden, 12 December 1806, HRNSW, Vol. 6, pp. 208-221 details the enquiry.

[9] Bligh to Windham, 5 November 1806, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, p. 30.

[10] Rear-Admiral Isaac Coffin to W.W. Pole, 13 December 1807, HRNSW, Vol. 6, p. 388.

[11] Windham to Bligh, 31 October 1807, HRA, Series I, Vol. 6, p. 80.