Monday, 24 June 2013

Policing in Australia: exporting British traditions

There was a fundamental tension at the heart of the colony in NSW in the first decades of the nineteenth century. It was to be a penal colony, governed through executive military rule but in which the principles of the rule of law applied. Although the British intended to transport English law and legal proceedings along with the convicts, in practice there were significant departures from English law in the new and distant colony. Notably, the first civil case heard in Australia, in July 1788, was brought by a convict couple. They successfully sued the captain of the ship in which they had been transported, for the loss of a parcel during the voyage. In Britain, as convicts, they would have had no rights to bring such a case. The question of how to police a society that was both penal and free posed major problems after the creation of civilian colonial government in 1824. This was exacerbated by the sub-division of NSW after 1824 with the separation of VDL and Victoria and the establishment of South Australia, by the growing numbers of free settlers arriving in the colonies especially after the discovery of gold in 1851 and the gradual ending of transportation from the 1840s.

Colonists, initially in NSW but later in the newer colonies, were influenced by established English traditions in determining their policing arrangements. The English were suspicious of any notion of a powerful police, which they equated with the Catholic absolutism of France. This led to the development of decentralised model of policing in the eighteenth century where the administration of justice and the policing of towns and villages were placed under local control. The gentry acted as unpaid magistrates dispensing justice through the local Bench and property owners devoted some time to the duties of the unpaid parish constabulary. In the late eighteenth century, however, this informal, amateur system began to break down before the increasing incidence of urban unrest and property crime, especially in London.[1] Police reformers, such as John Fielding and Patrick Colquhoun and the commercial and propertied middle-classes increasingly advocated rigorous control and surveillance of the lower classes by a more systematically organised and coordinated police force. Such proposals were vehemently opposed by the gentry and the emerging industrial working class, who feared that the government would form a powerful, centralised police force to ride roughshod over their liberties. With the crucial support of Tory backbenchers, they resisted efforts to establish French-style police methods in England. The most important development was the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 that appointed stipendiary or paid magistrates in charge of small police forces. But the predominantly local system of policing was still in place in the 1820s.

There was less resistance to stern measures against agrarian protest and violence in Ireland. The Peace Preservation Act of 1814 and the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 established police forces in county areas and created a more militarised and centralised form of policing.[2] The author of these statutes, Robert Peel, when home secretary, used arguments based on the efficiency of the Irish police and the threat to liberty from disorder and crime to achieve police reform in England. Peel pushed the Metropolitan Police Act through Parliament in 1829 creating a paid, uniformed, preventive police for London headed by commissioners without magisterial duties and under central direction. The example of uniformed, professional police subsequently spread throughout England over the following decades, but they remained under local control and the extent to which the new police differed from the existing watchmen and constables should not be exaggerated.[3]

These developments provided two different models for colonial policing. First, a centralised, military styled and armed force of Ireland kept away from the local community in barracks. Secondly, a consciously non-military, unarmed, preventive English police supposedly working in partnership with and with the consent of the local community.[4] More often than not elements from both models were employed by colonial police forces and adapted to suit local circumstances. Where the security of the state was threatened, the Irish approach was deployed, while English methods were more pervasive and influenced day-to-day policing of all aspects of social life.[5]

During the 1950s and 1960s, historians of English policing argued that the introduction of the ‘new police’ received widespread community support. The few individuals, who opposed its introduction, it was argued, were soon won over by the force’s ability to prevent crime and maintain social order, so securing it ‘the confidence and the lasting admiration of the British people’.[6] The smooth transition from a locally based ‘inefficient’ parish constable system to an efficient and professional body of law enforcers formed the basis of this ‘consensus’ view.[7] During the 1970s, historians using conflict and social control theories challenged the consensus view of widespread public acceptance. Concentrating on working-class responses, they argued that the ‘new police’ were resisted as an instrument of repression developed by the propertied classes. The ‘new police’, it was argued, were developed to destroy existing working-class culture for the purposes of imposing ‘alien values and an increasingly alien law” on the urban poor’.[8] Conflict historians argued that a preventive police system was developed in response to changes in the social and economic structure of English society. Robert Storch, the foremost proponent of this interpretation contended that, the formation ‘of the new police was a symptom of both a profound social change and deep rupture in class relations’.[9] The working-class, it was argued, questioned the legitimacy of the ‘new police’ and responded to their interference in a variety of ways ranging from subtle defiance to open and, on occasions, violent resistance.

[1] Philips, David, ‘‘A New Engine of Power and Authority’: The Institutionalization of Law-Enforcement in England, 1780-1830’, in Gatrell, V.A.C., Lenman, Bruce and Parker, Geoffrey, (eds.), Crime and the Law: The Social History of Crime in Western Europe Since 1500, (Europa), 1980, pp. 155-189; Hay, Douglas and Snyder, Francis, (eds.), Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850, (Clarendon Press), 1989; Emsley, Clive, The English Police: A Political and Social History, 2nd ed., (Longman), 1996, pp. 15-23; McMullan, J.L., ‘The Arresting Eye: Discourse, Surveillance, and Disciplinary Administration in Early English Police Thinking’, Social and Legal Studies, Vol. 7, (1998), pp. 97-128. Gattrell, V.A.C., ‘Crime, authority and the policeman-state‘, in Thompson, F.M.L., (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950: Vol. 3 Social Agencies and Institutions, (Cambridge University Press), 1900, pp. 243-310 provides a good overview.

[2] Palmer, S.H., Police and Protest in England and Ireland, 1780-1850, (Cambridge University Press), 1988, chapters 6 and 7.

[3] Styles, John, ‘The Emergence of the Police: Explaining Police Reform in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century England’, British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 27 (1987), pp. 15-22.

[4] Brogden, Michael, ‘An Act to Colonise the Internal Lands of the Island: Empire and the Origins of the Professional Police’, International Journal of the Sociology of Law, Vol. 15, (1987), pp. 179-208; Anderson, D.M. and Killingray, David, (eds.), Policing and the Empire: Government, Authority, and Control, 1830-1940, (Manchester University Press), 1991 and Emsley, Clive, The Great British Bobby: A history of British policing from the 18th century to the present, (Quercus), 2009, pp. 104-111.

[5] See, ibid, Emsley, Clive, The Great British Bobby, pp. 91-92 for s succinct discussion of the two models and Hawkins, Richard, ‘The ‘Irish Model’ and the Empire: A Case for Reassessment’, in ibid, Anderson, D.M. and Killingray, David, (eds.), Policing and the Empire, pp. 18-32 makes a powerful case that there was no real ‘Irish model’.

[6] Jones, David, ‘The New Police, Crime and People in England and Wales, 1829-1888,’ Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 33, (1983), p. 153. For discussions of this debate see, Emsley, Clive, Policing and its Context, 1750-1870, (Macmillan), 1987, pp. 4-7; Bailey, V., ‘Introduction’, in Bailey, V., (ed.), Policing and Punishment in Nineteenth Century Britain, (Croom Helm), 1981, pp. 12-14; Fyfe, N.R., ‘The Police, Space and Society: The Geography of Policing’, Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 15, (3), (1991), pp. 250-252; Taylor, David, The new police: crime, conflict, and control in 19th-century England, (Manchester University Press), 1997, ibid, Brogden, M., ‘An Act to Colonise the Internal Lands of the Island: Empire and the Origins of the Professional Police’, pp. 181-183.

[7] King, H., ‘Some Aspects of Police Administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 42, (4), (1956), p. 207.

[8] Ibid, Jones, David, ‘The New Police, Crime and People in England and Wales, 1829-1888’, p. 153.

[9] Storch, R., ‘The Plague of the Blue Lotus: Police Reform and Popular Resistance in Northern England, 1840-57’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 20, (1975), p. 62.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison and the 1913 Derby

The protest at the Derby on 4 June 1913 and subsequent events were discussed in my Sex, Work and Politics: Women in Britain 1830-1918 and I have taken the opportunity in its centennial year to extend that discussion. 

On 4 June 1913, Emily Davison rushed on to the Epsom racecourse while the Derby was in progress, received fatal injuries to her head and died in hospital four days later. [1] She was one of a group of ‘freelancers’ or irregulars within the WSPU who inaugurated some of the best-known militant tactics such as hunger-strikes and window-breaking. Fiercely loyal to the WSPU leadership, they also retained their right to independent action even if supported by district WSPU and national organisers. One of the arsonists was Lilian Lenton, the daughter of a joiner from Leicester who  celebrated her twenty-first birthday by volunteering at her local WSPU office for window-breaking raids. After her first spell in prison, she graduated to arson, vowing to burn two empty buildings a week. She was arrested for setting fire to the orchid house and pavilion at Kew, went on hunger strike in prison, and was force-fed. Leonora Cohen, by contrast, was nearly forty when she hurled an iron bar at a display case in the jewel Room at the Tower of London. Unlike Lenton, Mrs Cohen was a respectable married woman, the wife of a staunchly Liberal watchmaker in Leeds. Until she became a branch secretary in 1911, she had contented herself with bringing up her son, and selling newspapers and making marmalade for the WSPU. When Asquith suddenly announced a man-only suffrage bill in November of that year, reneging again on a commitment to women, she turned to direct action. Her subsequent hunger strikes, and refusal to accept fluids, in Armley Gaol in Leeds nearly killed her. [2]

Emily Davison

These ‘freelancers’ posed a problem of control over the movement for Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. The autocratic nature of their organisation meant that it was relatively easy to dismiss any staff who deviated from the agreed strategies even at local level. This was not the case with suffragettes who, from 1909 onwards, on their own initiative took militant action. The use of hunger-strikes was begun by Marion Wallace-Dunlop in July 1909 on her own initiative and subsequently accepted by the leadership. The Pankhursts initially disapproved of boycotting the 1911 Census but, when faced with large numbers of members who wanted to take part, somewhat reluctantly approved their actions. By 1913, militant suffragettes and the government, especially Reginald McKenna at the Home Office, were embraced in a struggle for public opinion. The authorities wanted to suppress the campaign but without risking the death of a suffragette explaining the introduction of the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. Militants sought to discredit McKenna’s policy by taking action that included the serious risk of injury to highlight their cause. For the Pankhursts, their inability to restrain independent, uncoordinated militant initiatives threatened their control over the organisation.

Since 1909, Emily Davison had been involved in militant activities resulting in imprisonment, hunger-strikes and forced-feeding; stone-throwing in 1909, setting fire to pillar boxes in late 1911 and two bombings in 1912. Virtually everything about her death is contentious. Whether or not Emily intended to die is a much debated question. [3] Eyewitnesses were unclear about what happened: some believed she was crossing the course to get to the other side thinking the horses had passed, others thought she was trying to grab the reins of Anmer, the King’s horse as a deliberate act, something Stanley and Morley suggest is shown in film footage of the incident. [4] Gertrude Colmore’s biography was produced at high speed to make political capital from Emily’s death and constructed it as the martyrdom for ‘the Cause’ that many people had been waiting for.[5] She suggested that Davison had considered suicidal action on several previous occasions. Rebecca West also said that she had committed suicide, though the inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, and that her decision was both rational and premeditated.[6] While in Holloway serving a six month sentence in 1912, Davison was again force-fed and in protest threw herself twice over the railings but wire netting broke her fall. She then jumped from the netting onto an iron staircase injuring her hand and cracking two vertebrae. Whether, as Davison told the Pall Mall Gazette on her release he had deliberately tried ‘to commit suicide’ to highlight the ‘horrible torture our women face’, it later used by suffragettes and their critics to explain her action at the Derby as ‘suicide’ and that she was an unbalanced, suicidal fanatic.

In reality, Davison deliberately undertook her final militant act alone, knowing it might prove fatal. But little attention has been given to her religious convictions. As a devout Anglican, suicide would have been unthinkable as it have meant that she could not be buried in consecrated ground. That Emily had purchased a return rail ticket is generally taken as indicating that she did not intend suicide but normal services to Epsom were suspended on Derby Day and replaced by excursion services for which people bought a return ticket, so this is not conclusive. However, she also an invitation to a suffragette dance later that day and had planned a holiday with her sister which suggest that martyrdom was not her intention. She was carrying a suffragette scarf and may have wished to attach it to the King’s horse or simply unfurl it after the horses had passed. If this was the case, then it was a protest that went tragically wrong. Analysis of the three newsreels of the incident show that Emily was closer to the start of Tattenham Corner than previously thought and that this would have given her a clear view of the oncoming race. They show that in the four seconds that passed after she got on to the course, she was able to identify the King’s horse and sought to attach the scarf to it as it passed her but it collided with her and it had always been assumed that this was her intention. Although the jockeys were wearing their owners’ colours, it is unlikely that she would have been able to identify Anmer as he galloped towards her and that she was simply lucky to pick the royal horse. This was an act of political protest not one of political suicide though she was probably aware of the risk this entailed. Stanley and Morley concluded that no proof of her motives is possible since she left no written statement about her intentions.[7] In some respects, it does not matter what her purpose was because the political implications were the same. [8]

The leadership of the WSPU in London found itself having to improvise in the aftermath of Davison’s actions. Christabel was in exile in Paris and Emmeline was in and out of prison and was rearrested en route to the funeral. Her funeral in London, organised by Grace Roe on 14 June, proved to be the last great suffragette showpiece attended by a vast crowd and five thousand women dressed in white as a suffragette guard of honour and much of the press coverage was respectful, awed by her devotion to ‘the Cause’. Although the funeral procession was not subjected to hackling from people who normally turned up the suffragette events, popular reaction to the procession was ambiguous. Anmer had been put down following the incident and, though it was unlikely that he would have won the race, many people had placed bets on him and may have blamed the suffragettes for losing their money. Others saw the attack on Anmer as an insult to the king. Emily’s body was taken north by train and was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard, Morpeth, Northumberland. The movement now had its martyr.


The mixed reactions to her funeral were a reflection of growing popular hostility to the suffragettes after 1912. Labour Party leaders and non-militant suffragettes denounced suffragette martrydom as a contrived and dishonest policy that did little to further the suffrage cause. The press insisted that society could not submit to what the Daily Sketch labelled as a form of terrorism. Emily’s death had no impact of government policy to suppress the WSPU: in continued to raid its headquarters, tap its telephones and intercept its mail. If anything, the campaign by the authorities was intensified strengthened by the increased alienation of public opinion by its militant actions. This was reflected in private correspondence along suffragettes and, although the Pankhursts tried to capitalise on Emilys’ death, it helped to strengthen their determination to change course after the outbreak of war in 1914.

[1] Tanner, Michael, The Suffragette Derby (Robson Press), 2013, is good on the tensions of the Derby though less convincing on Davison’s actions.

[2] Ibid, Liddington, Jill, Rebel Girls: Their Fight for the Vote, pp. 231-245.

[3] Morley, Ann with Stanley, Liz, The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison, (Women’s Press), 1988, is an important revisionist study of this rather enigmatic figure. See also, Purvis, June, ‘Remembering Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913), Women’s History Review, Vol. 22, (3), (2013), pp. 353-362, and Fisher, Lucy, Emily Wilding Divison: The Suffragette Who Died For Women’s Rights, (Blacktoad Publications), 2013. Collette, Carolyn P., (ed.), In the Thick of the Fight: The Writing of Emily Wilding Davison, Militant Suffragette, (University of Michigan Press), 2013, prints her published and unpublished writings, some of which are at

[4] Morning Post, 9 June 1913. Ibid, The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison, pp. 164-165.

[5] Colmore, Gertrude, The Life of Emily Davison: An Outline, (The Woman’s Press), 1913. Her biography, hagiography as it undoubtedly is, remains an important reference point as it contains the basic source material for all later writers in Emily Davison. However, it excludes much that is important in understanding Emily’s life and thus her death.

[6] West, Rebecca, ‘The Life of Emily Davison’, The Clarion, 20 June 1913.

[7] Ibid, The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison, pp. 165-166.

[8] There was a copycat incident at Ascot a fortnight later, when James Hewitt, great-grandson of the second Viscount Lifford and generally regarded as an ‘eccentric’, ran out in front of the Gold Cup field with a suffragette flag in one hand and a loaded revolver in the other. He brought down Tracery, the leader and was seriously injured.

Immigrants and diggers

There was also significant movement of population within Australia itself. Of particular concern was the movement of people from VDL. Transportation to NSW and Victoria had ceased by the time gold was discovered in 1851. Nonetheless, VDL remained a penal colony with a very high proportion of transportees to free settlers.[1] On the mainland they were disparagingly known as ‘Vandiemonians’ or ‘Vandemonians’ referring to the place where they had often served time blended with ‘demon’. They flooded into Victoria in the early days of the gold rushes and in the second half of 1851 there were more recorded immigrants from VDL than NSW and South Australia combined. A significant proportion of these were ex-convicts, but it is probable that many more crossed the Bass Strait. The majority of contemporary observers considered them as a severe threat to law and order on the goldfields and Geoffrey Serle suggested Vandemonians were largely responsible for the increase in recorded crime. [2] Efforts to stem their flow led to the Convicts Prevention Act of 1852. Criticised by some at the time as ‘illiberal’ and ‘arbitrary’, this legislation stopped convicts with conditional pardons from landing in Victoria. The fear and hatred these new immigrants inspired also helped generate support for the anti-transportation movement, headed by the Australasian League that successfully lobbied for the end of transportation to VDL by the end of 1852.

The population of Australia doubled in less than ten years because of gold. Over half a million people sailed from the United Kingdom during the 1850s, more than went to the United States. Over half paid their own fares and in Victoria seventy per cent were unassisted. A high proportion of men who came to Australia were educated, had professional experience and good connections at home. Peter Lalor, a civil engineer, came from Ireland to Melbourne in 1852 and Joseph Reed, a Cornish architect left England to look for gold in Victoria. Thousand crossed the Pacific from California and China. Some came from continental Europe such as Raffaello Carboni, a colonel under Garibaldi and since 1849 an exile in Rome, attracted to Melbourne by articles in the Illustrated London News.

Gold worth £3 million was mined in NSW and more than £9 million in Victoria by the end of 1852 long before most emigrants from England landed. Although gold continued to be found in significant quantities in Victoria during the 1850s, it gradually declined after 1860 and the number of individual diggers plummeted. Many of those who rushed to the goldfields turned to other occupations either to support the diggers or in areas that benefited from the growing wealth of the colony. Joseph Reed, for instance, began to design the grand civic buildings in Melbourne that gold made possible. Peter Lalor and Raffaello Carboni became involved in goldfields politics in the period leading up to Eureka Stockade. Francis Hare, cousin of the governor of Singapore who arrived in Melbourne in mid-1852 found that more reliable money was to be made in guarding the gold as it travelled to Melbourne than digging for it. Some emigrants were successful; most were not.

What image do we have of diggers? Though they only made up a significant proportion of Australia’s workforce only in the 1850s, nostalgia for the freedom of the digger developed rapidly once the early rushes was over. This was, in part, fostered by the emerging labour movement as a time when working men were, at least temporarily, free from the master-servant relationship.[3] By the late nineteenth century, the 1850s increasingly looked like a lost heroic or ‘golden’ age during which, according to W. E. Adcock ‘our pioneers were founding a nation.’[4] The Australian writer Henry Lawson played a major part in communicating this nostalgia and his pessimism about the Australian present was developed in relation to a weakening collective memory of the gold decade. [5] His writing on the gold rush was largely a memory of greatness as well as a radical critique of the loss of independence since suffered by working men and a contrast between the confining anonymity of the city and the freedom of the diggings and the ‘mateship’ of the diggers. Gold-seeking was a liberating experience leading to independence and freedom that anti-democratic imperial officials sought to smother. This optimistic view of experience is problematic for two reasons. First, it seems to read back some of the nationalist concerns of the 1890s into the 1850s. Secondly, it gives a false impression of the way gold was actually understood in the 1850s when reactions across the political spectrum were either pessimistic or deeply ambivalent in the aftermath of the chaos of self-interest that gold seemed to have released. Conservative memory was not of freedom but disorder and the gold rushes were remembered as a vast fantasy that lured and trapped thousands of immigrants in an alien and hostile land.

This pessimistic view of gold-rush society was gradually erased from radical memory and the dominant nationalist historiography[6]. Disruption was temporary and soon forgotten. What was remembered was the beneficial increase in population, urban growth and civic pride, self-government and effective nation building. Gold became the keystone on which Australia’s new society was based and mainstream history has in general celebrated the achievements of the gold years. The self-seeking acquisitiveness of the diggers was refashioned as initiative and enterprise and their creative energy was favourably compared to the attitudes of convicts and assisted immigrants. It was on them that the nation was built. This view was strongly expressed in the 1930s with almost eugenic pride when Australians were concerned about the quality of their racial stock

...the diggers as their Pilgrim Fathers, the first authentic Australians, the founders of their self-respecting, independent, strenuous national life, the fathers of their soldiers....[the legend] does not distort the facts. [7]

White Australia was the central defence of national identity and this, in Hancock’s view, justified the restriction of non-Europeans.

What [Australians] fear is not physical conquest by another race, but rather the internal decomposition and degradation of their own civilisation. They have gloried in their inheritance of free institutions, in their right to govern themselves and freely make their own destiny.[8]

This view was reiterated in the Australian volume of the Cambridge History of the British Empire, originally published in 1933[9] and W.P. Morrell concluded

...tens of thousands of men took part, and though many faltered or fell by the wayside, the best of them evolved a new type of self-reliant character, a new free, careless social life. [10]

The only qualification to this general approval of the nation-building capacity of gold was that the large number of immigrants swamped the Australian-born population and this delayed the rise of nationalism to the end of the century.[11] Goodman argued that

The realisation that Australian nationalism played little part in the consciousness of the 1850s had not prevented a popular reading of the gold rushes into the story of national development. [12]

Despite this nationalist historiography using the past to justify the present, there is a modicum of truth in its view of the independent diggers. What it neglects is that their independence was interspersed with intervals of wage-labour as they exhausted their resources before striking gold. It also romanticises the nature of the egalitarianism present on the goldfields. There was certainly a sense of social equality that led to the jettisoning of social pretensions but it was a consequence of the particular conditions that existed as all scrambled for their own gold. Many contemporary observers commented that the goldfields were not place for people unwilling to put their physical energy into manual labour. Egalitarianism was a consequence of the nature of the labour market during the 1850 when workers could demand their own rates of pay. Gold refashioned Australia but the legacy of the diggers is greater in legend than in reality.

[1] Ibid, Robson, Lloyd, A History of Tasmania, Vol. 1, pp. 465-467.

[2] Serle, pp. 126-127.

[3] This is examined in ibid, Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, pp. 5-10, 20-24.

[4] Adcock, W. E., The Gold Rushes of the Fifties, (Cole), 1912, p. 11.

[5] Matthews, Brian, ‘Lawson, Henry (1867-1922)’, ADB, Vol. 10, pages 18-22 and Clark, M., In Search of Henry Lawson, (Melbourne University Press), 1978 provide valuable, if idiosyncratic, biographical material.

[6] Ibid, Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, pp. 10-11 and ibid, Lyons, Martyn, and Russell, Penny, (eds.), Australia’s History: themes & debates, pp. 24, 36, 54-55, 103-105 and 121.

[7] This can be seen especially in ibid, Handcock W. K., Australia, pp. 35-36.

[8] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 80.

[9] Portus, G.V., ‘The Gold Discoveries’, in Scott, Ernest, (ed.), Cambridge History of the British Empire: volume VII (part I) Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 1933, reprinted with a new introduction, 1988, pp. 245-271.

[10] Morrell, W. P., The Gold Rushes, (A & C Black), 1941, p. 415.

[11] Ward, Russel, Australia since the coming of man, (Melbourne University Press), 1987, p. 117.

[12] Ibid, Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, p. 11.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

4000,000 and counting

PASSING 400,000

I started my Looking at History blog on Blogger on 30 July 2007 and it’s taken until 7 June 2013 to reach 400,000 ‘hits’: an average of around 66,000 per year.  I’ve published 823 blogs in that time, around 137 blogs a year.  Inevitably, take-up of the blogs was initially slow but once they began to appear in Google Search the number of hits began to rise significantly and in the past two years the blog has consistently been getting 20,000 hits a month.

Analysis of which blogs have been particularly popular shows that ‘Disease in the Victorian city: extended version’ has over 9,000 hits followed closely by ‘Suffrage since 1903: Arguments against  women’s suffrage’ with 8,300.  Generally the blogs on nineteenth century British society, women’s history and Canada have performed the best.  Given the nature of the blogs, their audiences is not surprising with the United Kingdom (150,000) and United States (121,000) being the most important.  There has also been a good take-up from Canada (23,000), Australia (13,000), France (11,000) and Germany (10,000) with a gap before Russia (2,000) and India (2,000). 

The bulk of the hits are accessed through Internet Explorer (41%), Firefox (21%) and Chrome(20%) using Windows (77%), Macintosh(10%) and Linux (5%).  Access using tablets or phones is currently more limited with iPad (2%), iPhone(2%) and Android (1%) but this represents a significant increase since the end of 2011 when these did not register at all. 

Comments on the site have been overwhelmingly positive and in several cases helpful in enabling me to correct errors and I have been both gratified by this as well as pleased that readers take the time to make comments (whether critical or not). 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

‘A Peaceable Kingdom’: Essays on Nineteenth Century Canada


The essays in this book seek to unpick the notion of the 'peaceable kingdom' in the light of the violence that permeated Canada between 1837 and 1885 and argue that, far from having little impact on the development of Canada from a colonial state to a continental dominion, violence played a seminal influence in stimulating constitutional development. The British government's response to the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838 was to establish a union of the two provinces in 1841 and rule by a 'responsible' government from 1848 that proved sufficiently resilient in facing down the Tory reactions to the Rebellion Losses legislation. The Fenian invasions in 1866 impacted on the Confederation debates, though to what extent is unclear, but the fear of further Fenian incursions reinforced the argument that domestic security could only be achieved through a closer constitutional federalism. The resistance in Manitoba in 1869 and 1870 reflected the hesitant nature of the new Confederation especially its failure to take account of minority interests while the North-West rebellion in 1885 demonstrated its unwillingness to negotiate for a second time and the growing confidence of its political and military position.

Peaceable Kingdom




Prologue: A Peaceable Kingdom

1. Populism and Protest

2. Niagara, 1837

3. The Militia and French Canada 1760-1867

4. Defending the Crown

5. Provoking violence: Montreal and Longueuil

6. Patriotes and independence

7. Was Papineau to blame?

8. The Diary of the Rev. Henry Scadding, 1837-1838

9. Murder, Vengeance and Rebellion

10. Russia and rebellion in North America

11. Interpreting the rebellions

12. Canada’s ‘Wars of Religion’

13. The Offending Arch

14. Rebellion, remembering and trauma


Monday, 3 June 2013

Cutting pensions!!!

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has just announced that he would cut the winter fuel payments for the UK’s richer old people if Labour wins the next general election.  It would affect about 600,000 people over 61 who pay higher and top income tax rates—saving about £100m. He also suggested curbs on new free schools and police commissioners to save money.  The response on the BBC website has been predictable with nearly three hundred comments within two hours of his speech and most of them negative: we paid in for our pensions and now are getting pay-back, some higher tax payers are not wealthy pensioners, typical labour, the politics of envy…and so on.  Now it’s not like me to jump to Ed Balls’ defence…he generally brings out the worst in me largely because he comes across as arrogant and self-obsessed (yes and I’m positive he’s a very nice man really, kind to animals!!), but he has made what is a good point but has not taken it further enough.  Why should pensioners be exempt from the austerity programme that is being foisted on the rest of society? 

Now I’m a pensioner.  I took early retirement from teaching to care for my wife disabled by a stroke (for which we have a disability living and carer’s allowance) and will receive my state pension later this year.  We had already paid off the mortgage on our house and had the sense to save for our retirement so we’re not badly off…not wealthy by any means but with enough to get by with some ease (even without the benefits).  We had planned for our retirement, though circumstances meant that there had to be some rapid changes in those plans, and had the incomes to do so.  Many pensioners could not do this even if they wanted to.  You might think that I would find Ed Balls’ proposal completely unacceptable but I don’t and think he’s missed a trick in not carrying out a thorough review of pensions and allowances, something that you can afford to do when in opposition rather that come up with a headline-grabbing and inevitably unpopular idea.  The problem is that pensioners have a firm grasp over the political system…they are the ones who are most likely to vote in elections and the power of the ‘grey vote’ is growing.  Politicians who challenge pensioners are in for a good mauling: it’s unfair to target the old, it’s an attack on the elderly poor and suggests that society is becoming increasingly uncaring.  Well, yes but that doesn’t mean that pensioners should be treated as politically untouchable and until politicians are prepared to address the issue, despite its political risks, that perception will remain.

I have examined how I think matters could be reformed in a previous blog  and I want to reiterate the points I made there.  The problem for any government is balancing the needs of pensioners with the needs of society as a whole.  If rises in benefits for those below 60 are fixed at 1%, then why should this not apply to those of pensionable age?  This would be a perfectly acceptable proposition if the UK defined the ‘minimum wage’ as a ‘living wage’ but it doesn’t.  So, unless as a society we are prepared to accept more pensioners living in abject poverty, it’s a non-starter unless politicians are prepared to accept the political fall-out of doing it and most are not.  What about reintroducing national insurance contributions for pensioners to cover health costs, a more reasonable proposition as they are most likely to need medical services but again is it politically acceptable and anyway pensioners will continue to cover the costs of their social care needs, arguably a fiscal contribution to the state?  Which brings us to the other allowances pensioners get: free prescriptions over 60, free bus passes, free television licences to those over 75 and the winter fuel allowance.  Of these arguably the more important and costly are free prescriptions and the winter fuel allowance.  So link free prescriptions to the common pensionable age, 65 not 60 and increasing in line with the increasing pension age…there is no longer any logic with leaving it at 60.  As far as winter fuel allowance is concerned, it should be taxed something that now has increased logic given the increase in personal allowances and limited to those whose joint or single incomes is below say £40,000 (though there may be a case for a figure as low as £30,000).  Those on the lowest income would receive the full amount with those above that level paying tax on it and those who clearly don’t need it would no longer be eligible.  In addition, when people receive the allowance should operate in the same way as free prescriptions.  The importance of free bus passes (for which you have to apply—you do not receive them automatically) depends, to some extent, on where people live: there is greater logic in rural areas where facilities may be at some distance than urban areas where they are generally closer. So, again link the allowance to the common pensionable age and introduce a fee of say £50 for urban dwellers and £20 (or none at all) for rural dwellers or abolish it altogether and accept the political flak.    Finally, free television licences should be restricted to those over 80.

The current situation for pensioners is becoming increasingly unaffordable and as the number of those on pensions increases, this will become even more the case.  There would be a case for reforming the state pensions system further even if we were not in the depths of recession.  Pensioners should not be immune from tough and unpopular political decisions.