Archive for the 'History' Category

Christmas Down Under – Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

Christmas Down Under - Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

My Great-Great-Grand-Father Edward Hunter arrived in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, Victoria, on the 3rd of January 1853 aboard a three-masted barque called The Emigrant.  Edward, his wife Jane and their sons Robert aged 6 and Edward Jnr aged 2 spent their first Christmas in the Antipodes on a sailing ship rounding the treacherous southern coast of Australia (today nicknamed The Ship Wreck Coast after all those ships that didn’t make it to port).  After four months at sea, leaving behind the coal mines of Northumberland England, they caught their first glimpses of their new home.

What a Christmas that must have been, far from family, heading to a new world with landfall only ten days away I can’t image how they must have felt.  Instead of snow and an open coal fire the Hunter’s first Christmas was amidst the roaring waves of the Southern Ocean, Seagulls wheeling overhead in a blazing summer sky, the creaking of timber, sails and rope, the smell of salt and eucalyptus in the breeze and no doubt that feeling of sick expectation a mix of excitement and trepidation played on Edward’s mind and in the pit of his stomach.

E. Hunter - Well the beard is kind of festive?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any records of how the Hunter family celebrated Christmas.  I know that by their next Christmas Edward was the manager of Hartland’s Plant Nursery on the banks of the Yarra River in Ivanhoe Melbourne and that Jane had given birth to another son William.  Edward somehow made the leap from Coalminer / Bricklayer to Horticulturalist in a year, resisting the allure of the goldfields and re-inventing his life in a way that would never have been possible in Victorian England.

I’ve been trying to find out more about colonial Christmas in Australia, trying to imagine my way into Edward and Jane’s life and not having much luck until I found this really amusing scholarly article, “Revisiting a ‘well-worn theme’: the Duality of the Australian Christmas Pudding 1850-1950 by Rhiannon Donaldson. Rhiannon writes about the single-minded determination with which the new settlers set about recreating the traditional English Christmas.  Where Ox Tail was not available to make soup Kangaroo Tail was substituted (either sounds kind of yuck to me). Anyway I think it is extremely funny to trace our social history using pudding – I really am going to study in the social sciences next time round.

The thing to remember about transplanting the traditional Dickensian Christmas to Australia is that it is frequently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit here in mid-summer.  I love this quote from Rhiannon’s paper, which sums up the mid-summer Christmas dilemma “Writing in 1855, William Howitt described this process of pretence undertaken by settlers, as they attempted to recreate a traditional Christmas “with the good old orthodox roast-beef and plum pudding. We…drank a Merry Christmas to all our friends in Old England, in a tumbler of brandy-and-water. We tried to believe it Christmas, spite of the thermometer at 120°, of diggers’ tents in the distance, and the Bush around us”.

I imagine that Edward and Jane finding themselves newly middle-class and missing home would have re-created a traditional Christmas feast of roast and pudding. I hope for Jane’s sake that she had a kitchen with a nice high ceiling or that a least she was able to leave the doors and windows open to get a nice breeze without a million blow-flies (the other gift of Australia to the new settlers) descending on her kitchen. Now we may look back at Jane’s folly at creating this dinner in the blistering heat, shaking our head’s and smiling sagely, but we in Australia have persisted with the dream of Christmas for the 175 years since Melbourne was first settled, it made the journey with us in our cultural DNA.

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree!

As well as substituting Kangaroo for Ox tail the settlers needed to find a substitute for the traditional pine, spruce or cypress Christmas Tree as a consequence there are many different native plants which ended up with the common name: Christmas Tree or Christmas Bush.

My Mother’s Father, Edward and Jane’s Grandson, cut Cherry Ballart Trees for Christmas.  This native cherry looks like a Cypress tree and is covered by red fruit in mid-summer (these fruit are a strange flavour like sweet pine but very yummy). Another favourite in Melbourne was Bursaria spinosa or Christmas Bush a beautiful shrub covered in pure white star like flowers. The one I like the best is too big to bring inside as a Christmas Tree but is a wonderful feature of my neighbourhood around Christmas the beautiful paperbark tree called  “Snow in Summer’ by European settlers.

Snow in Summer

Good-bye from the Garden Shed

It is now Boxing Day in Australia and ironically it is so cold that we have the heater on. The drought has broken and it has rained so much that everything has really slowed down in the garden apart from the weeds!

I’ve really enjoyed writing for TQS and would like to thank SJ for the opportunity.  I’ve learnt so much about my family, the history of Australia and gardening over the last year. As I mentioned in a previous post I am going to continue to experiment by trying to grow vegetables using the advice of the Colonial Gardener published in 1854, so I will be moving this research to this blog.

By Christmas 1873 Edward had become a land owner and an Orchardist in Lilydale Victoria, both Head Gardener and Master and by Christmas 1890 he had was elected the founding president of the Wandin and District Horticultural Society – if only he was still around to help me learn how to garden!

The most important thing that I have learnt through this project is that like the Victorians we are trying to learn how to live on this continent – still.

Final Floral Flourishes

Old World - New World Buttonhole

Here is the buttonhole the Undergardener made for the Mistress to wear on Christmas Day.  It is a mix of English Rose, Teatree blossom and banksia leaves.  A mix of the old world and the new, the modern and the Victorian.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Lady’s Horse- Part II

The Lady's Horse- Part II

In the second installment of The Lady’s Horse, we will take a look at another source for equestrian wisdom in the Victorian Era, and see what it has to say about the nature of the horse appropriate for a lady:

Park riding with some remarks on the art of horsemanship, written by J. Rimell Dunbar, Professor of Horsemanship, 1859.

Those of you who read Part I will be relieved to know that this post will be much shorter, as this particular author says much less about the proper horse for the lady rider than Matthew Horace Hayes.

So much less in fact, that Dunbar’s thoughts can be summed up by the following:

“Horses with bad habits are never fit to carry ladies.”

That and his ‘Golden Rule’ which is that “a lady ought never, if can be avoided, chastise her horse: let someone else undertaking the breaking him of any vice”, which explains why the horse must not have bad habits. If a lady is not supposed to chastise her mount, then it had better behave for the entirety of her ride.

He discusses the issues of the equestrienne in the chapter titled ‘STYLISH RIDING’.

From the title we have chosen for this division of our work, the reader may discover our intention to confine it to that branch of riding, practiced by gentlewomen, thoroughly instructed in the equestrian art, in which we see displayed those inimitable beauties that have carried horsemanship to the highest pitch of perfection; and although we feel bound to admit that perfection in the art of riding, as in every other art, is the limit to which improvement can be carried, we trust we shall be excused for maintaining that perfection itself may be rendered more pleasing and agreeable by the aid of style, and where style is required, in how infinitely greater a degree do we sometimes find it in the female than the other sex. An accomplished horsewoman rides with elegance, propriety, and a good grace, united to a noble boldness, beautiful yet modest, which never fails to command attention and excite admiration.

Ah yes. The gentleness and style of the female rider. Very important.  On to the horse.

We will assume that a lady having selected a horse for her own use, before she purchased him, took an opinion, as to his qualities and ability to suit her, from a competent judge, and that he was found in all respects what a lady’s horse should be—wellbroke. No lady should ever attempt to ride a horse which does not in every particular answer this description.

Yup. That’s basically it. Dunbar writes more, but it’s to give instruction on riding, not in regard to the horse itself. I think that this book is probably a little more typical an example of Victorian views (‘the horse must be well behaved as to not distress the lady’) than the one written by Hayes; but I believe I prefer Hayes’ more progressive confidence (comparatively speaking) in the ability of a lady to ride well.

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

If you live in country Victoria or have the means to get there (I may have discovered the real reason why Airforce 2 dropped Hilary Clinton in Melbourne instead of our capital Canberra) then you have until this Saturday the 28th of November 2010 to see a fabulous exhibit of Australian Fairy Art from the Victorian era at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

After stopping in Castlemaine recently to visit Tute’s Cottage I drove onto Bendigo especially to see this exhibit – it was well worth the drive.

Beautiful Bendigo

Bendigo is an extraordinarily gorgeous town. The Victorian architecture surrounding Queen’s Park, at its heart, shows the amazing wealth and opulence of the goldfields at their peak. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring but I only had enough time to see the exhibit and get on my way back to Melbourne. I have been eagerly anticipating this exhibit since February as it promised to explore the transposition of the English Victorian Fairy Art craze into an Australian context – very pertinent to our interests at TQS.

The exhibition was beautifully mounted with works from national collections, ‘never been seen before’ works from private collections (fancy how special a family would feel to own their very own fairy art) and illustrations from period books. I loved it but left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

For me the best works of the exhibit were the two beautiful painting by the Australian painter Frederick McCubbin. Frederick’s work is well known to many Australians as his triptych called ‘The Pioneer’ has graced many a lounge room wall, biscuit tin and tea towel.  It is a stunning work that subtly shows the impact of settlement on the bush. As time passes from left to right in the triptych more and more of the bush is cleared until you can just see a hint of a city in the distance. Unfortunately familiarity has bred contempt for McCubbin’s work and I get the sense that we don’t love his painitings as much as we could – too sentimental for modern sensibilities perhaps.

McCubbin’s fairy paintings have the same sombre mood as ‘The Pioneer’ until you begin to catch glimpses of the winged creatures hidden in the bush. The only clue to finding the fairies quickly is following the gaze of the small children in the paintings. In a way McCubbin is encouraging us to look through the eyes of childhood to see the bush in a new way.

Another highlight of the exhibit was a chance to see new prints of the ‘Cottingley Fairy Photographs‘. These faked photographs from 1917 show two young girls and fairies frolicking in a garden. If you haven’t ever read about the Cottingley Fairy Scandal and the role of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creater of Sherlock Holmes, it is worth following the link above. Given that the girls cut the fairy images out of a popular children book of the time – it is a wonder that anyone thought they were real. I suppose sometimes we just need to believe – and that might be why I love the Cottingley Fairy Photographs. The Cottingley Fairies are also behind the plot of the 1997 fantasy film – Photographing Fairies.

So why did I leave unsatisfied? While the craze for fairy art was an English Victorian era phenomenon it didn’t really take off in Australia until the Edwardian period – so not so much Australian fairy art of the Victorian era. The catalogue to accompany the exhibition is OK but not great. I was left disappointed by the lack of Australian context provided in the curator’s notes. Here there is a brief discussion of Victorian England’s representation of the fae as mischievous, wanton and dangerous as a salve to the taming of the wild by the industrial revolution, when an enormous proportion of the population forsook the rural life for cities. In Australia the burgeoning of fairy art in the Edwardian period is seen as a retreat from the horror of war.

I think that Australian fairy art of the Edwardian period is another version of the ‘Lost in the Bush’ myth of Australian settlement. It might surprise non-Australians to know that in Primary School we are all read and re-read the story of three young children who stray from their parents and become hopelessly lost in the bush. The children become increasingly frightened, the older sister (my hero) snaps gum of Eucalypt trees for her brothers to eat and covers them with her skirt to keep them warm at night until eventually at the point of no hope they are rescued. This is our ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and our cautionary tale about the wild wood, nature as savage and unknown. Europeans decided very early on after drought and flooding rains that the bush was out to get us. Fairies are a way of making the Australian bush safe. They are chubby cherubs looking out for us or as the Australian Girl Guide rhyme says of the bush spirit the Melluka,  ’I'm a Melluka but you will find, though I play tricks, I’m always kind’.

The answer to the question is of course ‘Yes’!

Purple King Climbing Bean and Fairy

Victorian fairy folklore is full of cautionary tales about farmers who failed to heed the warnings of fairies: don’t plant your potatoes here, don’t call your cows without using their proper name, don’t use all the milk without leaving us a saucer by the front door (so like living in a share house) and the ever popular don’t forget to leave us a corn-dolly from your new harvest. Ruin, failed crops and disappointment in love follow all who don’t do as they are bid.

As a gardener I am fully prepared, if the fairies at any point tell me where they want the carrots planted, I will do as they say (actually I would do pretty much anything to get carrots growing properly)!

Pollen pants means that it is both 'Hammer Time' and a Bee - so not a fairy!

If you look carefully through my posts you will see that on a number of occasions I have been lucky enough to accidently capture images of the fairies that live in my garden – I could tell you how many there are – but the fairies don’t want me to spoil the fun.

Queen Victoria on Horseback

Queen Victoria on Horseback

This is a fantastic picture of Queen Victoria on horseback- you can clearly see the type of habit she wore and that she’s riding side saddle. The man holding her horse is the famous Mr. Brown.

Long live the Queen!

If you get a chance to see the movie based on their friendship, I highly recommend it. It’s entertaining and has great Victorian Era visuals.


Has Beans!

Has Beans!

Throughout this project I have been haunted by the question – what types of vegetables did people grow in Melbourne during the Victorian era (well haunted might be an overstatement … so Victorian). Discovering the answer to this question has not been straight forward. This is an update on an earlier post in which I searched through a collection of ancient seed catalogues in the National Herbarium of Victoria‘s library.  The selection of vegetable seeds available in each catalogue was surprisingly small.  There were artichoke, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion and other basics. Mmmm…

…so I began trawling other other library collections…

My next step was to visit the State Library of Victoria, in June, a magnificent Victorian beauty, in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business district.  I went to the State Library to read an original copy of ‘The Colonial Gardener : being a guide to the routine of gardening in Australia with a catalogue of select kitchen, garden and flower seeds as sold by Smith, Adamson and Co, 1854‘. This short pamphlet, with a surprisingly long title, published twenty years after the settlement of Melbourne is now digitized and available to read on-line (and as SJ has said – the Victorians would have loved the internet. I did however enjoy the experience of handling an original copy).

Reading Room at SLV - or what the afterlife looks like!

The ‘Colonial Gardener’ provides advice to commercial and beginner gardeners in an almanac style. I love the foreword to the pamphlet – authentic 1850′s marketing spiel!

“At considerable trouble and expense, we have got the following calendar compiled, by a thorough gardener to meet a very obvious want. It has been criticised by and had the approval of some of the oldest resident gardeners in the colony and though printed principally for the guidance of our non-professional customers, professional gardeners but of short experience in the colony might do worse than be guided by it. It may not enter sufficiently into detail to satisfy all, but we flatter ourselves that the information it does give is substantially correct. Smith, Adamson and Co.”

Finally, a proper list of vegetables! The interesting thing about the ‘Colonial Gardener’ is that it shows the beginnings of working out how to grow vegetables in the new colony. The entries each month provide general growing advice, invariably refer to the unpredictability of rainfall and the extremes of temperature. One of the interesting things I’ve noted about their advice is that they are encouraging gardeners to plant ‘a little and often’ this is still great advice as it means that you have a succession of vegetables available rather than them being ready all at once. This is something that I still struggle with as a gardener because once I’m out there with the seed packet open I’m in a planting kind of mood! ‘Little and often’ also has the advantage of ensuring that in an unpredicatable climate you are more likely to get at least some of your crop. Very clever Messers Smith and Adamson!

My next challenge is to see how many of the seed varieties listed in ‘The Colonial Gardener’ still exist in modern seed catalogues. This task is likely to take longer than the life of this blog – so at the end of December 2010 I will move this research to my regular gardening blog.

Making a start on this research in June the first Victorian vegetables to go into my garden were broad beans (Yes Fava Beans! Liver and Chianti fffff). The Colonial Garden lists two bean varieties for planting in June: the Mazagan and the Long Pod. Looking in the American Heirloom Seed Companies catalogue the Mazagan are described as an early fruiting dwarfed plant.  I can’t find seeds available to Australia so far.

Long Pod have also been hard to identify as there seems to be a long list of bean types that have been called Long Pods – the Mr Smith of the vegetable world. In Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management – The Art of Gardening, Mrs B cautiously promotes both the Mazagan and Early Long Pod with the following advice

“…but whatever sort is grown, the culture is the same, and as it is not a favorite vegetable with many persons, it should be carefully considered how much ground can be devoted to it without encroaching on space required for more important crops”.

Crimson Broad Bean in flower by October (mid-spring Melbourne)

Eventually I found an ‘Early Long Pod’ Broad Bean in the Australian Yates Seed Catalogue. I love broad beans so despite Mrs B’s warning I planted a whole garden bed and added some ‘Crimson Flowered’ Broad Beans another old variety of bean rescued from extinction by seed savers in the 1970′s. One of the main themes that I keep returning to in my reading, and it is especially evident when you look at old fruit catalogues or read ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ by Jennifer Davies, we have far less variety of vegetable seeds available to us now than the Victorian gardeners had.  One of the losses that I feel most keenly is that we no longer have the knowledge of what grows well in our own neighborhoods and in many cases we have lost the plants.

Now it is November (late-spring in Melbourne) and there are broad beans ready to eat. They have grown so well this year as the weather has stayed wet and humid. Our first wet spring in ten years! I harvested a big pile and turned to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management to see if she included receipies for broad beans.

Has beans!

Young beans liberated from their pods.

Here is Mrs B’s receipe

1092. INGREDIENTS – To each 1/2 gallon of water, allow 1 heaped tablespoonful of salt; beans.

Mode.—This is a favourite vegetable with many persons, but to be nice, should be young and freshly gathered. After shelling the beans, put them into boiling water, salted in the above proportion, and let them boil rapidly until tender. Drain them well in a colander; dish, and serve with them separately a tureen of parsley and butter. Boiled bacon should always accompany this vegetable, but the beans should be cooked separately. It is usually served with the beans laid round, and the parsley and butter in a tureen. Beans also make an excellent garnish to a ham, and when used for this purpose, if very old, should have their skins removed.

Time.—Very young beans, 15 minutes; when of a moderate size, 20 to 25 minutes, or longer.

Boiled Ham Beans and Swirls of Parsley Butter - Yummy!

Something to bear in mind is that if you salt and boil tender young broad beans for 15 to 25 minutes they will taste and look like grey sludge (hence Mrs B’s contradictory views on the enjoyment of beans). My advice is to get some unsalted water boiling rapidly and blanch for 3 minutes any longer and they are yuck, yuck, yucky.

Parsley butter (cut parsley up finely and mix with butter) was a revelation with the ham and beans and is really worth trying. I made little swirls with a piping bag rather than placing in ‘a tureen’ as directed – with only two to feed a tureen would be over-kill and the parsley butter doesn’t keep very well.

All in all I highly recommend growing and eating broad beans with or without cannibalism and Chianti.

Time Traveling to Tute’s Cottage, Castlemaine

There is a garden in country Victoria that I’ve been wanting to see ever since Mandy Stroebel’s fantastic new book ‘Gardens of the Goldfields – A central Victorian sojourn’ came out in July this year – Tute’s Cottage. This tiny cottage now jammed between a road reserve and the Forest Creek embankment was built in 1858 when the surrounding area was still being mined for gold. Tute’s cottage was occupied under miner’s rights – the right to fence off a small amount of land to create a productive garden, these types of gardens were amongst the first gardens of settlement, and were not owned by the occupiers but leased from the Crown.

Tute's Cottage - lived in by 'Miner's rights' from 1858 to 1997.

In Mandy’s book she describes her project to recreate an 1850′s productive garden in the bones of the remaining allotment garden at Tute’s. This garden is now looked after by a collective of neighbours who live near the cottage and is occasionally open to the public – especially on Castlemaine’s Open Garden Weekend – the weekend after the Melbourne Cup each year.

Broad Beans (Back Left) growing in Tute's Cottage Garden.

Mandy also notes the difficulty of finding nurseries and seed catalogues that still stock Victorian seed varieties and plants. You will see in the photo of Tute’s Garden that the beds are edged with local sandstone rocks. Miners had to be resourceful in creating their productive plots from materials at hand and gardens of this period were often edged with bones or bottles – these were subsistence rather than pleasure gardens.

If you feel like time traveling to the 1850′s and can’t afford a Tardis or Star Gate then a day in Castlemaine during the yearly Garden Festival is the strategy for you. Failing that boil up some broad beans and ham.

The Splendour of the Turf

The Splendour of the Turf

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the Melbourne Cup, the world’s richest horse race, which was run on the turf at Flemington for the first time in 1861. The Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival has come down to us from the Victorian Era with many of its traditions intact. In many ways the Melbourne Cup became our equivalent of Spring (May Day) Festivals.

Turf Racing 1881

Almost from inception the Cup became a Melburnian institution with 100′s of 1000′s of people of all social classes attending. The Cup was a place to promenade and picnic, to see and be seen. To underscore its importance to the social life of the colony the Victorian Government made the first Tuesday of November, Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday in 1873 closing all banks and government offices.

Fashions on the Field 1881

Today  as I enjoyed my public holiday I spent some time trawling through the internet looking at historic images of the Cup. There is very little to pick between images of 1881 and 2010. Men and women still dress in their finest and promenade on the lawn. Despite the waxing and waning of fashion hats have endured as a constant feature of race day – ensuring that millinery has remained a thriving art in Australia.

A traitor to my city I have to confess that I’m not interested in horse racing. I’ve never managed to get excited about the idea of dressing up and attending but nevertheless I feel a social obligation to place at least one small bet on the Cup each year (look in Melbourne parents take their kids to place a bet from the moment we are born). I have bucked the trend in my family who on both sides have loved racing from both sides of the turf. I’ve even found an extraordinarily wealthy ancestor, William Bailey, who (apart from being a career criminal) was exceptionally fond of a flutter. His 1906 obituary is online and a good third of the text lists the horses he owned, races won and the seemingly ridiculous amounts of money he paid for yearlings (1000 Guineas – This is why we are no-longer rich, ‘Damn you Bill’, I say as I shake my fists at the heavens).

Where did the money go Bill?

Fashion and flowers remain an important part of the carnival especially roses. Each of the major racedays at Flemington has an official flower. Victoria Derby Day is the Corn Flower, Melbourne Cup Day is the Yellow Rose, Oaks Day the Pink Rose and Stakes Day the Red Rose. There is a modern staff of 12 gardeners that tend the enormous race track rose gardens and lawns with modern equipment; in previous eras this staff would have been much larger.

By the 1860′s the vast expanses of turf at Flemington would have been mown using horse drawn mowers. Horse drawn mowers were developed in the 1830′s. Previously lawns were managed using scythes (think Grim Reaper). To protect the turf from damage from the horses’ hooves the horses were fitted with leather booties.

These boots are made for mowing...

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Garden Management has an extensive section on the newly developed Mowing Machines. All are a hand pushed version of the mowers that horses pulled along.

Mrs Beeton gives the following advice on when to mow the lawn:

“A scythe works better in the morning when the dew is on the grass, or when it has been wetted by a slight shower of rain, so when mowing is effected by means of the scythe it is better to get the work done early in the morning.  The mowing machine, which works on an entirely different principle, acts more smoothly and pleasantly when the grass is dry, and may therefore be used even at midday… to produce a soft elastic velvet-like surface of fine short, close grass, a lawn should be run over with the machine at least once a week.”

One of the models recommended by Mrs B.

Taking up Mrs Beeton’s advice I have been mowing our front lawn with the modern equivalent of the ‘Excelsior Junior’. The hand mower is definitely a lot more work than the petrol lawn mower. If the grass gets too long or sends up flower heads it wraps around the blades and jams the mower. This is one of the reasons that you do need to mow the lawn every week when using these devices. With out a scythe (I really think that me doing the lawn with the scythe would be the very last straw for our neighbors – which has almost inspired me to find one) I use hand clippers to cut down the long pieces.

As for a finish that looks like “a soft elastic velvet-like surface” well … it looks more like a neatly tossed salad.

The Junior Salad Tosser!

So now that Melbourne Cup Day is in its dying hours I can go to bed with the knowledge that while I didn’t back the winner again this year or solve the puzzle of where the Bailey millions went (I imagine it was all lost at the track) – a least my front lawn is almost up to scratch!

The Lady’s Horse – Part I

The Lady's Horse - Part I

“It was so cheerful to be trotting and cantering all together that it always put us in high spirits. I had the best of it, for I always carried the mistress; her hand was so little, her voice was sweet, and her hand so light on the rein that I was guided almost without feeling it.” Black Beauty 1877

Ah yes. The lady’s horse. If you were a lady in the Victorian Era, not just any horse would do. Ladies couldn’t just throw their legs up over any ol’ mount that ambled down the trail, if you know what I’m sayin’. They had to protect their delicate sensibilities and the right horse was essential to maintaining a lady’s grace and demeanor.

So Many Horses- Which Is Appropriate for The Lady?

In this and the next few posts, I am going to use two primary resources written in the Victorian era to discuss how the equestrian experts of the day viewed a couple of topics. The first being, as mentioned above, the type of horse suitable for a lady. I will deal with The Lady’s Horse in two posts, so that I can examine both books individually, while at the same time attempting not to lose all readers of this blog by making my post too long.

The first book, Riding: on the flat and across country: A guide to practical horsemanship, was written in 1882 by Matthew Horace Hayes. Hayes devotes a whole chapter (Chapter 6 to be exact) on “Ladies Riding” and he actually surprised me by how confident he seems in the ability of women to ride effectively. This is not to say that he’s a champion of Equal Rights! On Horseback!, but for a 19th century man writing on the horsemanship of women, he’s more complimentary than I expected. In other words, he’s a little more confident in a lady’s ability to ride as well as a man without “special allowances”. He refrains from giving overall rules based solely on the rider being a woman, but instead gives instruction on the different circumstances a rider might encounter based on the talent of the equestrienne.

For example, he writes:

As the object of this book is to teach the theory and practice of riding in a “workmanlike” manner, I shall not touch on the artificial rules and varying fashions of park or school equitation, but shall devote my space to the special points of horsemanship which concern ladies, and which hold good for all time.

(Or “hold good” until women ditch the sidesaddle and start riding astride in the twentieth century, but we won’t hold this lack of premonition against poor  Mr. Hayes.) The first section in his chapter on Lady’s Riding is on The Lady’s Horse , which was very convenient for the purposes of this post. Let’s read shall we?

A Lady’s Horse.—The question of man or woman being able to ride and control a horse, supposing him to be properly bitted and saddled, resolves itself into the more or less perfect possession by the rider of the following requisites : good hands; strong seat; firm nerves ; even temper, and physical strength. If a lady lack somewhat the last-mentioned gift, she amply makes up for the deficiency by a tightness of grip unobtainable in a man’s saddle; while it is but bare justice to say that in touch, courage, and patience she is at least our equal. Mere brute force has little to do with the capability of holding a puller.

See, right off the bat Hayes surprised me with this no-nonsense look at women riders. Pretty progressive for a Victorian dude, I thought. He goes on:

Ladies who have had equal opportunities, with men, of learning, ride quite as well as they. But, as a rule, they don’t get the chance of excelling, nor are they ” set right” by unpalatable home truths being told them without favour or affection, unless, indeed, they have hard-riding, and, may be, jealous brothers.

Very interesting, Hayes!  I’m listening…

A fine horsewoman, therefore, may be satisfied with any horse which is fit for a man, provided he is fairly steady to mount, goes up to his bit, and does not require an unusual amount of ” collecting.” I have the pleasure of knowing several ladies who could ride anything that has ever been foaled, yet it is not desirable, even with one of them, to have a horse ” dance about” when he is being mounted, or one which ” sprawls all over the place ” and requires constant pulling together, when the rider is up.

So. Pretty complimentary I’d say. After this introduction, he goes more into detail about what kind of horse would be desirable for a Victorian lady. Just for fun, I am going to subject Cinder to Victorian scrutiny. Let’s see how she fares.

The ordinary lady rider ought to have a horse which is perfectly steady to mount; is light in hand ; goes in a natural collected manner, and is safe and easy to ride.

Ok, well, Cinder aces the first requirement. She’s steady to mount- stands nicely without “dancing about” (poetry!). One point for Cinder. She’s relatively ‘light in hand’- in other words, she doesn’t pull her head down against the reins constantly. Another point for Cinder.
Now for the last point. Hmmm…“safe and easy”….well, most of the time she’s safe and easy. As long as there’s nothing strange brushing against her legs, she’s not in a large open field, and there’s no geese flying overhead. On the other hand, since she’s great with traffic, motorcycles, and large farm equipment, we’ll give her half a point. Half the time she’s safe and easy.
Two and a half out of a possible 3 points for Cinder. She’s well on her way to becoming the perfect Lady’s Horse.

Thanks for the points, folks.

He should not be rough or high in his action, lest he might fatigue her unnecessarily. All ladies, except those who are nervous, like light-hearted showy horses, though, unless they are really good riders, they naturally desire the fire and gaiety to be well under control. The plucky hard-riding sort love to steer horses which other ladies would be ” afraid of their lives ” to mount.

Well, Cinder’s not what I would call ‘light hearted and showy’. It just ain’t her personality; but as she’s not a total grouch, she has a touch of diva, and since she looks divine in purple (which is a decidedly showy color), we’ll give her another half a point.

In the next section, Hayes deals with the qualities necessary for a horse to carry a sidesaddle. I will deal more thoroughly in a future post about the sidesaddle itself, but we’ll read what he has to say in relation to a sidesaddle-carrying equine.

In order to give plenty of room for the saddle, a lady’s horse may be longer in the back than would be desirable in one for a man. He should be quite twentyone pounds, taken from a man’s point of view, above the weight he has to carry, as extra fatigue is entailed on him by the rider having to sit so far back. The side position naturally causes an unequal distribution of weight. Besides this, a lady cannot ease her horse by standing in the stirrups or getting off and on as a man may often do during a long ride. The far back position of the seat, however, enables a lady to ride a horse which is uncertain on his fore legs better than a man can do. A lady’s horse may, with advantage, have a fairly high forehand, so that the saddle may not shift forward, and that he may not jolt his rider too much.

As Cinder is half Clydesdale and therefore quite large, I think she’d do fine carrying the extra weight of a sidesaddle. Another point for her. (That’s four points out of a possible five for those who are keeping track.)

So, you know how I was talking about how surprised I was that Hayes seemed pretty progressive? Well, progressive had its limits in the Victorian Era, and no chapter in any lady’s riding manual, progressive or not, would be complete without style pointers. No matter how Workmanlike! the author intends it to be.

The style of horse should, if possible, be in thorough keeping with the style of rider. A young lady with a slight pretty figure will look best on a horse which is all blood and quality; while a portly and dignified matron will be best suited with one of the weight-carrying hunter stamp.

Make sure your horse doesn’t make you look fat!

Since we’re dealing with Cinder here, and since I am Cinder’s only rider, for this section we will judge her in relation to me. That’s right ladies and germs, I shall put myself up for Victorian Scrutiny. Does Hope’s horse make her look fat? Let’s find out!

First: Am I a ‘young lady’?  By Victorian standards no, that ship has sailed.

Second: Do I have a ‘slight pretty figure’? I don’t think that my figure and the word ‘slight’ have ever been used in conjunction.

Ok then, we have now determined that I am a lady neither young, nor possessing a slight figure; so that means I must fall into the second category of Portly and Dignified Matron.

Good grief, are those the only choices? I don’t really consider myself portly (and those who know me personally would certainly never call me dignified), but I suppose I fall on that side of the Victorian Lady Spectrum, so we’ll roll with it- bringing us to the horse required for such a lady: one of the weight-carrying hunter stamp. Cinder is half draft horse, and draft crosses are often used as hunters, so DING DING DING, we have a winner! Another point for Cinder. This is even funnier to me, because I have a bumper sticker that says “Ride a draft, it makes your butt look smaller”. I guess my car is partying like its 1877 and I didn’t even know it!

The next section of the chapter is especially interesting, because Hayes breaks down the method used to find the proper height ratio between lady and horse; Victorians apparently, were very thorough.

15.1 is a nice height for a horse to carry a lady five feet high. We may add an inch in height for the horse for every four inches by which the lady exceeds five feet.

Let me break that down for the non-horse people reading this. Horses are measured in ‘hands’ and a hand is four inches. So 15.1 means 15 ‘hands’ plus one inch. So, since Victorians add one inch to the horse for every four inches a woman is over 5 ft, and I am 5’4″, it means I should have a horse that’s 15.2 hands high. Cinder is 16.2. At least. So she’s a good 4 inches too tall for this portly matron. No point for you there Cinder, sorry. Horizontally you qualify, vertically not so much.

Next we have a Very Important Tip for Serious Riders. So listen up y’all.

Grey horses are objectionable for ladies, as the hair which comes off their bodies shows very much on the habit. Besides this, they are difficult to be kept clean.

Don’t want a grey horse, ladies! Their hair might come off on your clothes. Cinder is not grey, Cinder gets another point.

Nope, no grey here!

Last but not least, we have the last piece of advice on horse selection for Victorian Lay-deez.

Geldings are always preferable for ladies to either mares or horses. The former are especially objectionable in India, the latter in England.

Geldings are castrated males horses. Uh oh. Cinder’s a mare. Sorry Cinder. Another Victorian FAIL. It’s interesting to note that even in 2010, mares still get a bad rap for being moody and difficult- I know several modern lady riders who ‘can’t stand mares’. I however, love mares- I understand their hormonal plight and love them for their varying emotions.  So, since in this case I am the lady in question, and mares are my preference, I will give Cinder half a point.

Hayes’ last two tips regarding the color and sex of the horse are decidedly un-Workmanlike! and I dislike the Section for Portly Matrons (like me!) but overall, Matthew Horace Hayes is pretty balanced in his evaluation of the horsemanship skills of the Victorian lady rider and I found that pretty cool. Go Team Hayes!

Oh dear, I almost forgot about poor Cinder. Let’s tally her results! Will Cinder take home the much coveted title of Lady’s Horse?! Drum roll please….

Cinder received 6.5 points out of a possible 9.

Not 100%- but since she’s the only horse playing- she wins by default!  Congratulations, Cinder! You are now an honorary Lady’s Horse of the Victorian Era!

[graphic]
Stay tuned for The Lady’s Horse- Part Deux, where I will be looking the other primary source I found and what it has to say about the proper horse for a Victorian lady. Don’t fret gentle readers, it had less to say, so it will be a shorter post.

Reading About Arsenic and Regency Eccentrics

Reading About Arsenic and Regency Eccentrics

I have been reading some great stuff about the nineteenth century lately. One title was based on my interest in William Kitchiner after I made curry and started prying into his life a bit. The other book I stumbled onto at the library, entirely by chance.

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, & Play, James C. Wharton, Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Arsenic Century

The Arsenic Century, my accidental find, is an exhaustive look at the extremely liberal use of arsenic in the nineteenth century, with a focus on England and Victorian London. The author, James C. Whorton, delves into every aspect of it: how it is produced, how it was detected, the awful “cures” people used, and he does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the sicknesses and deaths it caused. It’s (in large part) a fascinating history book that is sprinkled with science and riveting murder mysteries in the form of poisoning cases.

To this day, I think that is the association most people have with arsenic: murder by poison. In many instances it was deliberately administered to the unsuspecting with the intent of causing death, but in others, people were poisoning themselves by working with it to make artificial flowers, wallpapers, and dyes. I’d heard of “arsenic green” but was unaware that arsenical compounds were used to make a vast array of colors.

People living in this time were also poisoned by their consumer products. If making the wallpaper was making the manufacturers sick, naturally it was making the people whose homes it hung in sick as well. Candles, cloth, paper, and more contained arsenic. Arsenic was sold alongside other products in pharmacies and dry-goods stores, and was sometimes mistakenly dispensed as something innocuous like baking powder. Mislabeled arsenic at home lead to deadly meals.

One of the saddest stories Wharton tells is about adulteration of candy, which was a known problem during this period before strict food ingredient, labeling, and quality laws. Wharton tells us of a candy maker who sent his assistant off to buy a large sack of plaster of Paris so he could make a large batch of peppermint candies with a great deal of filler to extend his profits. When it was time to make the candies, someone in the shop went to fetch the filler from the back room and instead grabbed a container of arsenic (which was labeled, but only on the bottom). When the candy was distributed for sale, dozens were killed, and many more were sickened.

Another aspect of arsenic use I found shocking was that people elected to deliberately take arsenic themselves on a regular basis, and that there were commercial preparations containing arsenic that were sold and intended for use much like vitamins today, or as facial washes to eliminate skin problems. Writers and the press called these people “arsenic-eaters.” They were convinced arsenic in controlled quantities made people more energetic, plumper, and more vital, and there was a lot of anecdotal evidence from people and animals like horses working more efficiently and putting on weight (of course underweight at this time often signified poverty or sickness) in response to small doses.

Wharton includes tale after tale of death due to stupidity, carelessness, or honest mistakes from being surrounded by arsenic. The body count gets so high in some chapters, it’s almost laughable, in a morbid way. Considering how much Wharton fits into this very dense and fact-filled book, it’s a lively read.

So what does Beeton’s say about arsenic?

There is faintness, depression, and sickness, with an intense burning pain in the region of the stomach, which gets worse and worse, and is increased by pressure. There is also vomiting of dark brown matter, sometimes mixed with blood; and mostly great thirst, with a feeling of tightness round, and of burning in, the throat. Purging also takes place, the matters brought away being mixed with blood. The pulse is small and irregular, and the skin sometimes cold and clammy, and at others hot. The breathing is painful. Convulsions and spasms often occur.

I will admit to you that I am completely blanking on the name of the doctor who wrote most of the chapter in the BOHM on medicine and treatments, aptly titled “The Doctor.” There is a section devoted to arsenic, and they recommend treatment with “Emetics, Lime–Water, Soap-and-Water, Sugar and Water, Oily Drinks.” So, something that would make the patient vomit, or dilute the poison. Wharton lists several “cures” Beeton’s does not mention that could be just as deadly as arsenic, such as calomel or opiates.

Dr. William Kitchiner, Regency Eccentric, Author of the Cook’s Oracle, Tom Bridge and Colin Cooper English, Southover Press, 1992.

I have also been reading about one of my new favorite people, William Kitchiner, MD, who famously wrote The Cook’s Oracle. Tom Bridge and Colin Cooper English do Kitchiner justice in a terse volume called Dr. William Kitchiner, Regency Eccentric, Author of the Cook’s Oracle. At the outset, the authors admit that not a whole heaping ton is known about Dr. Kitchiner’s life, which makes for my favorite kind of biography, one that does not start seven generations back on a beet farm.

Kitchiner, denied the ability to practice medicine in London since he was certified in Glasgow, was most famous during his lifetime for his Committee of Taste, a small group of men who rotated based on their availability. The Committee were the taste testers for the recipes that would come to fill out The Cook’s Oracle [1817].

The routine was invariably as follows: invitations were sent, a response was expected within a day, guests arrived at 5 p.m. sharp and the door was promptly slammed shut and locked at 5:02. Dinner was served at exactly half-past nine, and when the clock struck eleven, guests were handed their hats, the end, GET OUT.

As a writer of books and music, an inventor of a stove and a sauce (Zest) meant to fight scurvy in the Royal Navy, and an educated man of taste, Kitchiner was acquainted with renowned people and invited them to his tastings. Famous writers, actors, and poets were often in attendance, and Kitchiner even hosted George IV when he was still the Prince Regent, who was attracted by the plain, practical dinners and interesting company.

Many modern historians agree that Beeton certainly would have had a copy of The Cook’s Oracle, probably even before she began compiling the BOHM. Sarah Freeman, in Isabella and Sam [1978], calls Kitchiner “prissy, demanding, dictatorial,” which is well-evidenced by his dinner party dictates, but also that The Cook’s Oracle was “the oldest book she definitely made use of–though perhaps the most modern in spirit.” Freeman writes:

Isabella was preceded by Kitchiner in very many essential respects: he was the first cookery writer ever to give accurate weights and measures; he included detailed marketing tables listing the seasonal prices of foodstuffs…and he emphasized economy rather than elegance, taking as his motto: ‘ORDER AND ECONOMY ARE THE BASIS OF COMFORT AND INDEPENDENCE.” [Emphasis Freeman's.]

I will personally vouch for Kitchiner here. When I get to what looks like one of his recipes, notable for their clear measurements and unambiguous instructions, I know that I have encountered something that will actually work.

Kitchiner had one bastard son from a long-term relationship he had after his brief marriage, which resulted in a separation, but not dissolution. His legitimate wife is not mentioned in his will, but his companion, Elizabeth Friend, was provided for. Sadly, speaking of poisons, it it suspected Dr. Kitchiner was poisoned by amanita mushrooms under very suspicious circumstances shortly after changing his will to make his son a majority recipient of his estate.

Another enjoyable read, and the last chapter provides an interesting selection of his recipes from his most famous book.

FINALLY:

A million thank yous to the Under Gardener, who told me a months ago to watch The Supersizers Go Victorian. A recent comment from MadamQ nudged me toward it again, and I was ready this time! In case you do not know the Supersizers, they are two British comedians/TV presenters who immerse themselves in the culture of a time period for a week. I thought this was a scream, but in the past year I have found increasingly bizarre things relating to the nineteenth century funny, so take me as you will.

The Supersizers enjoy a Christmas feast that would make Dickens envious, a calf’s head, many jellies, fried ears, very sad, thin soup for the poor a la Soyer, and more.

I like what cohost Sue Perkins said about the Victorians–I think she nailed it: “The fascination with rare and beautiful creatures, combined with the desire to kill them and eat them.”

Here is the first part:

The rest is on the YouTubes. I am still cooking, don’t worry. I’ll be back soon with glistening piles of who knows what.

Allow myself to introduce…myself.

Allow myself to introduce...myself.

Greetings gentle readers of the Queen’s Scullery!

I have signed on for the remainder of the year to discuss the ins and outs of riding and horsemanship in the Victorian Era. I am really excited to do more research on this topic- I have a degree in History and loved All Things Equine since I was small (like many little girls, I just never grew out of it), but have never tried to combine the two interests. I will attempt to do so here.

Since the methods of horsemanship, equipment, and apparel for men has changed comparatively little since the nineteenth century, I will be concentrating on women of the era. The differences between then and now are legion and I will have a lot of fun researching them. For example, consider for a moment the image below:

Typical apparel for Hope and Cinder

Now compare it to the caricature below depicting Elizabeth the Empress of Austria published in Vanity Fair in 1884:

Different, no?

Also, you’ll notice in my picture there’s no groom present to ‘help the lady gracefully into the saddle’- the absence of such would have been a big no no for good Victorian ladies. Not that I was riding that day, which is why I’m not wearing a helmet (another difference between then and now- Victorians did not require brain protection), but even if I was, alas, I would not have had a male hand to guide me onto my noble steed.

So as you can see, there is a lot to delve into!

Serving as the springboard for my research will be Black Beauty, the novel written 1877 by Anna Sewell. The book is largely thought of now as a book for children, but Sewell a actually wrote it to bring awareness to the conditions endured by riding and working horses in England at the time. It’s useful for my purposes, because Sewell is very thorough in her descriptions of a wide variety of horsemanship and animal husbandry practices of the era. The ideas I find interesting in this work of Victorian Era fiction will provide the basis to then find the historical documentation in non-fiction riding manuals of the same era.

Cover of the first edition published in 1877

When I can feasibly do so, I will be using my trusty assistant Cinder to try things out or as a model for explanation.

Thrilled I'm Sure.

Beekeeping and the Steampunk Gardener!

Beekeeping and the Steampunk Gardener!

Head Gardeners have often kept hives to provide honey for the ‘Big House’ and bees to ensure pollination in their garden. Without pollination flowers don’t turn into fruit.  In many ways bees are the real Undergardeners in any productive garden. Coming into Spring it’s time for this Undergardener to tend her bees.

A smart bee sting or two in hot, sultry weather benefits gardeners by causing them to perspire more freely, and feel much lighter afterwards. Journal of Horticulture 1871

I have always been fascinated by bees and I have a hive of my own. I’m still a beginner and very much the apprentice to a few more experienced Beekeepers who live locally. Beekeeping is my first authentic experience of the apprentice – Master relationship which was the foundation of how men learnt their trade in gardens during the Victorian era. I’ve always been very comfortable learning from books. With bees it’s different. No matter how much I read my hands and my eyes need ‘to do’ and ‘watch’ to learn this skill. Like the ancient trades this has to be passed from Master to apprentice with time, care and many stings.

After a long winter hiatus it is time for this apprentice to begin actively managing the hive towards the reward of robbing honey.

I’m reading a lot about the history of beekeeping at the moment. I have learnt that how we tend bees today has changed very little since the Victorian Era. In fact the Victorian Era saw the innovations that created the modern box bee hives.

Straw Skep

Before the Victorian Era bees were kept in straw skeps. Skeps are essentially upturned straw baskets under which bees form their naturally curvy honey comb. In this system when the beekeeper collects honey the swarm of bees are killed or made homeless in the process. This means that each year the beekeeper needs to start again by collecting a new wild swarm.

The Victorian Era saw the rise of the amateur naturalist. Bees were cultivated by middle class gentlemen not for honey but science. The most famous of these amateur beekeepers was Charles Darwin who kept at hive in the garden at Down House. Darwin marshalled his children into an army of laboratory assistants in order to track the flight paths of Bumble Bees. It is postulated that keeping bees helped Darwin formulate his theories on evolution.

Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect, as in the case even of the human eye; or if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee, when used against an enemy, causing the bee’s own death; at drones being produced in such great numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir-trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen-bee for her own fertile daughters. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species 1859.

In 1860 another amateur naturalist the American Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth patented his design for a box hive. With only slight regional adjustments the Langstroth hive is the standard box hive still used by 75% of the world’s beekeepers. The Rev Langstroth designed a hive that provides bees with frames in which to build their comb and store their honey.  The advantage of this design is that beekeepers can remove the frames to check for disease, control swarming by removing cells that will lead to the birth of Queen Bees and rob honey with out destroying the hive. This potentially allows beekeepers to increase the yield of honey they can rob each year as the hive builds its numbers.

An open hive box showing the frames.

The clever thing that the Rev had realised is that bees build their natural burr comb in sheets separated by a standard distance, the width of a bee, now called the ‘bee space’.  By designing frames a ‘bee space’ apart the bees don’t glue the frames together or to the hive box with comb. This is what makes the frames ‘removable’.

The second clever thing about the Langstroth hive is that by placing a grille (the Queen Excluder) between the box containing the Queen Bee and the boxes from which you wish to collect honey (called the Supers) you can stop the Queen from laying brood in the honey. The grille is also based on the ‘bee space’ – worker bees can fit through to stock honey, Queeny can’t get into to lay eggs – genius.

Hive frame with comb and bees.

Here in Australia there are more than 1500 species of native bees.  Most of these are solitary bees that don’t form large combs or colonies this makes them mostly unsuitable for hiving.  There is a native sting-less bee that can potentially be hived but not in the cool south were I live.  In order to ensure the pollination of the crops that European settlers brought to Australia eight hives of the European Honeybee (Apis mellifera) were first brought to Australia in 1822. Unfortunately they don’t record how they managed to bring hives of bees safely to Australia across rolling, boiling seas for six-months. I imagine that they feed the bees on honey or sugar-water and lashed the hives down tightly in the hold. Possibly the boxes were marked with a big ‘Don’t unpack mid-voyage’ sign.

I enjoy the fact that in keeping bees and learning from other more experienced keepers I am participating in an authentically Victorian gardening activity – this is the most steampunk gardening gets!

Mr. White, the naturalist, says, that both horse-beans and peas sprang up in his field-walks in the autumn; and he attributes the sowing of them to birds. Bees, he also observes, are much the best setters of cucumbers. If they do not happen to take kindly to the frames, the best way is to tempt them by a little honey put on the male and female bloom. When they are once induced to haunt the frames, they set all the fruit, and will hover with impatience round the lights in a morning till the glasses are opened.  Mrs Beeton HM