Monthly Archives: September 2019

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Part Two

Hi everyone welcome back to part two of the script for Episode 1 of the podcast. You can catch the episode here!

Check out the previous post , last week for part one of this essay.

ill met by moonlight, John Law…

In March 1612 Justice Roger Nowell was visited by a pedlar named John Law. Law claimed he had been hexed by a witch, causing him to fall ill.
On the 21st March, Law was travelling through Trawden Forest when he crossed paths with Alison Device, a young woman of repute in the area as the granddaughter of Elizabeth Southerns – an elderly wise woman known as ‘Old Demdike’. Her whole family were outsiders, presumed to be witches. Device asked Law to sell her some pins. Law refused – maybe because metal pins in 17th century England were expensive and he didn’t believe she had the money, or maybe because witches used pins to cure warts, for divination, and to cast love spells.

Whatever the reason Law told Device it was not worth the bother of unpacking half his bag on the roadside for so small a sale. They argued for a while, Alizon claiming Law called her a thief, then went their separate ways. Seconds later Law collapsed. John Law struggled back to his feet and stumbled into a nearby inn.

The best guess these days is he suffered a minor stroke, but to add context it was almost half a century before a Swiss doctor called Johan Wepfer began to unravel what caused these apoplexies- as they were then called. There was no real understanding among experts, let alone everyday people to explain what happened to John Law.. so magical thinking did not seem unreasonable. At first John Law didn’t believe he had been hexed, but in the following days his son Abraham convinced him this is exactly what had happened.

Alizon Device, on the other hand needed no convincing. From a family of wise women, folk healers with a magical edge, she truly believed she had supernatural powers, and that day had caused the devil to strike John Law down. When Abraham Law came round and took her to see John. Alizon broke down and confessed to hexing him, and begged him for forgiveness.

On the 30th March 1612 Alizon, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James were summoned to appear before Justice of the Peace Roger Nowell.

Now if you’re thinking poor Alizon and her family, about to face some Kangaroo court over this nonsense… well… fair enough, but what unfolded next might stretch your sympathies a little. The Demdikes are not the easiest of families to warm up to.

At the summons Alizon fessed up to hexing John Law, stating immediately after their fight, the devil appeared to her in the form of a black dog and asked what he should do?

“What canst thou do at him?” she asked the dog.
The dog answered “I can lame him”. Alizon thought this was a fantastic idea… then 300 yards down the road John Law fell.

Alizon went on to implicate her grandmother, Old Demdike, in the killing of a cow through witchcraft. Her brother James added to their troubles, claiming Alizon had bewitched a young child. Elizabeth mostly stayed silent but when pushed admitted Old Demdike had a strange mark on her, of the type the devil leaves when he sucks your blood.

Next Alizon, maybe hoping to take the heat off of her, maybe out of revenge for a previous dispute turned in another family of wise women from the town, the Chattoxes.

Ten years earlier a member of the Chattox family had broken into the Devise home and stolen from them. Under questioning Alizon accused the matriarch of the family, Anne Whittle, of the murder of 4 men, including her own father, John Devise.

On 2 April 1612 Old Demdike, Anne Whittle and her daughter, Anne Redferne were brought in. Demdike and the elder Chattox quickly confessed to being witches. Redferne refused to say anything, but old Demdike claimed she’d seen Anne Redferne making clay figures, something like voodoo dolls. Another witness, Margaret Crooke, backed this up, claiming Anne Redferne killed her brother by witchcraft after an argument.

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty” bringing it back to Bertrand Russell. Would people, in a simpler time be a little terrified at these alleged serial killers turning each other in like this? Honestly, crazy as it all seems now, I could see fear directing a judge into an atrocious ruling. We’ll come to this, but first let’s take a quick ad break.

(Short excerpt from Ishtar’s ‘Space Radio’)

Hi folks welcome back. Where we left off Alizon Device, old Demdike, old Chattox and Anne Redferne had faced justice Roger Nowell on what began as a single charge of witchcraft, and quickly indicted themselves in multiple acts of murder and malice. On April 10th 1612 friends and family got together to discuss what to do now, and the suitably witchy sounding Malkin Tower.

I come Malkin Towers…

The name Malkin tower immediately makes me think of witchcraft. My reasoning there’s a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where one of the witches calls to her familiar “I come Greymalkin”. Truthfully grimalkin is a medieval word for cat, and malkin can mean cat, a woman from a low born family, a weakling or even, a mop. I Google image searched Malkin tower and come across a lone tower on a windswept looking hill. Desolate and spooky it looked exactly like the kind of place where wise women would brew potions … then I began to dig a little to find it was a Victorian folly called ‘Blacko tower’ Malkin tower, the home of Alizon’s grandmother old Demdike was demolished long ago, was probably a normal old cottage, the exact location lost to history.

On the 10th April Alizon’s mother Elizabeth called friends and family to malkin tower to plan to save their loved ones. The meeting could have gone unnoticed but for James Device stealing a neighbour’s sheep to provide food. The neighbors reported the theft, and meeting to justice Nowell…who concluded the meeting must have been a coven of witches. He arrested eight more people for witchcraft, following an inquiry on April 27th 1612. Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston were all brought in. Preston would be tried separately – she lived across the border and fell under the jurisdiction of York.

A digression into being buried alive…

Jennet Preston faced the courts first, at the York Assizes on 27th July. Presiding judges were witch hater James Altham and the desperate to re-locate Sir Edward Bromley. Preston had previously beaten a charge of using witchcraft to kill a child in 1611. She was now charged with the murder of a nobleman, Thomas Lister, four years earlier.
On his death bed, surrounded by family and friends, Lister had cried out

“Jennet Preston lyes heauie vpon me, Preston’s wife lies heauie vpon me; helpe me, helpe me“

What damned Jennet Preston was when she was viewing Lister’s body, laid out in state, he began to bleed profusely. Superstition has it if a corpse bleeds in someone’s presence the deceased is pointing out their murderer from the other side.

Now keep in mind the test for death at this time was to listen for a heartbeat and check for signs of breathing, and this was rarely done by an actual doctor, we shouldn’t be too surprised people occasionally got buried alive… well possibly more than occasionally – we mostly know just the near misses. A few decades after Thomas Lister in 1661, Lawrence Cawthorn, a butcher from London was accidentally buried alive. He had fallen ill and, his landlord knowing he would inherit Cawthorn’s possessions if he died in his property – sent him off to be buried. As the last sod of earth was loaded on the coffin all in attendance could hear Cawthorn screaming so quickly dug him back up, but not quite quickly enough – they opened the coffin to find he had shredded his shroud and beaten his face to a pulp trying to break the coffin open with his head.

Alice Blunden of Basingstoke was buried in 1674 and was far luckier. A group of children heard her screams, and people were able to dig her out in time. The Irish philosopher John Dun Scotus was accidentally buried alive in 1308, only discovered years later from deep scratch marks on the inside of the lid. I digress but to me at least it makes sense the rumours of Mr Lister’s death were greatly exaggerated, and it makes none that he bled on command to indict his killer.

It also strikes me as odd this incident only came up in 1612. Jennet Preston strongly proclaimed her innocence but was found guilty. She was executed by hanging on 29th July 1612. The others all went to trial at the Lancaster Assizes on the 18th – 19th August 1612.

The Pendle witches weren’t the only witch trial that day; The Salmesbury Witches were charged with using witchcraft to murder, and with cannibalism. Sir Edward Bromley was presiding judge. The court clerk was a man named Thomas Potts. Potts would gain fame from the book he wrote on the trial, The wonderful discoverie of witches in the countie of Lancaster – to this day the main source of information on the Pendle and Salmesbury Witches.

The Salmesbury Witches.

The Salmesbury Witches were three women – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley – who were accused of murdering and eating a baby. Their accuser was a 14 year old relative of the Bierleys, Grace Sowerbutts. They were also accused of using witchcraft to make Grace’s life hell. They all proclaimed their innocence.

Their trial began with a prepared statement from Grace Sowerbutts. Grace claimed her grandmother, Jennet, Aunt Ellen and Jane Southworth could transform themselves into dogs. That they had “haunted and vexed her”, in her own words, for years. These vexings took the form of magically picking her up and dropping her atop a haybail by her hair, and hypnotically convincing her to drown herself.

Grace had also claimed they took her to the house of a Thomas Walshman and his wife, taking their baby outside, then sucking the child’s blood. The baby died the following night. Grace claimed her grandmother and aunt had then stolen the child’s corpse, to cook and eat the body.

Thomas Walshman took the stand, and confirmed he had a child who died suddenly. There was an uproar from the public gallery.

“If what this girl says is true then we need to know more, bring her back up and examine her further”

Under further examination Grace lost it and broke down. Her tale unravelled and a distraught Grace finally started to tell the truth. The Salmesbury witches had all been Catholic, but converted to the Anglican church. They were much happier with the church of England. Jane Southworth’s uncle, Christopher Southworth, sometimes aka Christopher Thompson, was a Catholic priest, who covertly ran his own church. When the ladies converted they had a falling out, and he began to plot revenge on them. His plan, to get 14 year old Grace to make the accusation.
Why Grace went along with it isn’t clear, and what happened to her and Christopher has been lost to history, but the Salmesbury Witches were released without charge.

The Pendle witches were not so lucky. They, for one had their own accusatory minor to deal with – 9 year old Jennet Device – Alizon’s sister- was called as a key witness. Even in 1612 the evidence of a child so young was banned, except, thanks to James I, in the case of witch trials. A number of the accused were known Wise Women – pagan folk healers.. Of course a number of guilty pleas had been made already too. Old Demdike, in her 80s when taken into custody, died before the trial started.

The Pendle Witch Trials…

First up was Anne Whittle. Accused by Alizon of murdering four men she pled not guilty on the charge of killing Robert Nutter. Unfortunately she had made a confession earlier, which was read out to the court. A boarder at her house was also called to the stand. He stated he recalled Nutter claiming she turned his beer sour before he died. A tearful Anne broke down in court, admitted guilt, and begged God’s forgiveness.

Elizabeth Device, Alizon’s mother, was accused of the murders of two men by herself, James and John Robinson, and of helping Old Demdike kill Henry Mitton. She plead not guilty. 9 year old Jennet Device was called in to give evidence and Elizabeth lost all composure and had to be escorted out, screaming at Jennet to stop what she was doing before she signed the family’s death warrant. Unfortunately no one challenged the child’s evidence – Jennet told the court Elizabeth had been a witch for 3 or 4 years, and had a familiar – a brown dog called Ball, who she called on to hex her victims.

Her son James also gave evidence against Elizabeth, though accused of being a witch himself, pleading not guilty to the murders of Anne Townley and John Duckworth. Jennet took the stand again to accuse James. Elizabeth and James Device were both found guilty.

Anne Redferne, daughter of Anne Whittle, also known as Chattox was found guilty the following day of the murder of Robert Nutter’s father, Christopher, based on the evidence of the now deceased Old Demdike. The Bulcocks, Jane, and her son John were up next. They were dragged into this mess because they had attended the Malkin tower meeting- something they denied. Again 9 year old Jennet Device gave evidence against them and they were found guilty of the murder of a woman called Jennet Deane.

Alice Nutter, who had come to the malkin towers meeting to support the family found herself entangled with the murder of Henry Mitton. She was also found guilty. Katherine Hewitt and Alice Grey, both also attendees at the Malkin towers meeting were accused of killing a child called Anne Foulds. Hewitt was found guilty, while Grey was let go, found not guilty.

Finally it was Alizon Device’s turn. The woman who started the whole witch hunt off by wishing ill on the pedlar John Law. This was pretty much a non event. Device sincerely believed she had harmed Law and tearfully confessed to hexing him that day in the forest. She was found guilty. All but Alice Grey were sentenced to hang, a sentence carried out the following day. When I mentioned to my mum I was doing a podcast on the Pendle witches she was particularly interested in the testimony of young Jennet, and said she learned at school Jennet Device gave evidence to get in with the in crowd… sold out her family to be popular. It backfired, she was shunned the rest of her life. I couldn’t find this in the sources, maybe it had become a cautionary tale not to dob your parents in for stuff? Who knows? It does seem very possible though.

There is evidence though a Jennet Device faced a witch trial herself in 1634. Accused by a ten year old boy, Edmund Robinson, she was found guilty of the murder of Isabel Nutter…. The same Nutter family who allegedly lost several family members to the older Devices…. The boy’s evidence was later found to be false, but she seems to have spent the rest of her life in jail regardless. Sir Edward Bromley’s work did please the king, and he got his promotion in 1616.

So that was the tale of the Pendle witches, I hold to my interpretation that it was the result of a combination of primitive superstition, political opportunism, petty revenge, and possibly a need by some young, unreliable witnesses to fit in and/ or be agreeable to authority figures. While, in my opinion there was all kinds of crazy in play here it is also worth noting that in 1998 when it came before parliament to pardon the Pendle Witches, British Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to do so.

On 27th August 2008 the Swiss Parliament ruled the 1782 beheading of Anna Goldi – generally accepted as the last execution for witchcraft in Europe – a miscarriage of justice, and exonerated her. This prompted supporters of the Pendle witches to try again, but yet again the British Government refused to overturn the convictions.

I hope you found this episode interesting. Please subscribe to our podcast, give us a positive review on whatever podcaster you are listening in on. Please share our podcast round with anyone you know who likes history and strange tales. Please follow us on the Tales of History and Imagination podcast Facebook page, more social media pages coming soon – and drop me a line. Music has been provided by Ishtar, who incidentally had a song about Pendle Hill in their set in the mid to late 2000s, research, writing and all that production stuff by me. Thanks for listening, and I will see you in two weeks for more tales of History and Imagination.

[Outro music- ‘Space Radio’ by Ishtar]

This Tale is part two of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Part One

Hey everyone go check out for the First of our Podcasts! The internet tells me people like choice, so I am posting the transcript on here for the readers out there. It’s long so I’m posting in two parts.

Hi folks and welcome to Tales of History and Imagination, my name is Simone. Today’s tale is about a woman named Alizon Device, and her untimely death on 20th August 1612. This is a tale of witchcraft, allegations of murder and of 10 executions. On the teaser for this podcast I quoted the philosopher Bertrand Russell…

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”

Irrational fear definitely helps explain this story, but it really is only one element. Political opportunism and scapegoating are factors, not to mention the lengths a young outsider will go to just to fit in with the crowd. I should also point out, while witch hunts took a massive number of lives in Europe – the figure I was told when younger of 600,000 dead is now thought an exaggeration, the ballpark is still in hundreds of thousands- In England only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft. That a single case lead to 2% of the countries’ total executions makes the story of the Pendle Witches significant.

We’ll get to the case but first today I’m going to spend a little time looking at how we got to the witch trials in England – and while I want to mention a few European milestones, I’m not jumping into the witch trials at Navarre, and Wurtzburg and such.. it is too deep a rabbit hole. I should also say up front – do I believe in witches? Well, I believe many witches were folk healers with pagan beliefs. And, yes I believe some witches wished people misfortune- but that leaves you a long long way from proving anything supernatural. I do believe the witch hunts were an atrocity.. so, without further ado. Welcome to episode 1, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

[Theme music plays, an excerpt from Ishtar’s ‘The Enemy Within’]

Witches in Antiquity.

So, by way of background.. Tales of Witchcraft go all the way back to antiquity. The old testament of the bible mentions witches. In 1 Samuel, written possibly as early as the 10th century BC, King Saul calls on the witch of Endor to summon the ghost Samuel to help the Israelites defeat the Philistines. The witch instead prophesied the deaths of Saul and his sons, which is what the bible says happened. It should not surprise anyone the writers of the bible didn’t love witches… in Exodus, just after dealing with the 10 commandments, the book states “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. If you were to sum up early responses to witches, early people viewed them as frightening, mysterious, but at times useful.

Stories of persecution and execution of witches go way back in antiquity in a number of civilizations – as do stories of turning to witches for assistance. In Ancient Greece for example anyone who was anyone would travel to the Oracle of Delphi for advice on matters of importance. On the flipside you get stories such as the public execution of Theoris of Lemnos and her family in Athens for practicing witchcraft in the 4th century BC. What she did exactly was not recorded by the statesman Demosthenes, but she was believed to practice folk healing, and may, possibly have poisoned someone. Nearly 200 years later Plato would write in his ‘Symposium’ that he saw practitioners of magic as maleficent beings, but tied their powers to the God Eros.

Some earlier philosophers actually courted public belief in their magical powers. Pythagoras had some believing he could be in two places at once, could make predictions, and could bite poisonous snakes before the snakes could bite him. Thales of Miletus surely was risking life and limb a little when he predicted a solar eclipse, and used this knowledge to bring about a truce with the warring Medes in 585 BC. The Medes, thinking it was an open from the gods to cool it stopped. Empedocles was so intent on proving himself supernatural to the locals he jumped into the volcano at Mt Etna, thinking when he disappeared the people would think he flew into the heavens and was a God. When his sandal got thrown back out somehow the people just realized he’d jumped into a volcano, and burned to death… but, we are getting off track a little… so.

In Ancient Rome it was a capital offense to use witchcraft to blight crops, or destroy one’s flocks or herds, but a great many Patricians would privately consult witches for political or military advice. The writer Plutarch is one example of a guy who believed in omens, even if he was suspicious of witches and magicians. Some apparent folk healers and the like of course pitched themselves as miracle workers and messianic types in the Roman empire. One gets the sense Jesus was one of many, presuming his reality, plying a trade in healing the sick, casting out demons, and flashy shows of magic.

The Middle Ages

The rise of Christianity brought changes to the view of witches especially as the religion extended out into Europe and met with pagan religions. While Christianity may have started from “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” – seen practitioners of any opposing set of beliefs as a threat, but in the 5th Century AD, St Augustine robbed witches of any perceived power by stating belief in witchcraft was primitive superstition, and witchcraft a bit of a nonsense. At a number of church synods, notably at Elvira Spain in 306 and Ankara Turkey in 314 witchcraft had been proclaimed a sin you could take a penance for, rather than something to be executed for. It became the greater heresy to believe in witchcraft than to practice anything resembling witchcraft for much of late antiquity and the early middle ages.

This is not to say there weren’t incidents. Witch hunts clearly occurred during this era, otherwise why make laws banning witch hunts? Charlemagne – the de-facto first Holy Roman emperor, crowned in 800 AD– shocked at news of a spate of recent witch hunts, proclaimed

“If anyone, deceived by the devil, shall believe, as is customary among Pagans that any man or woman is a night- witch and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death… he shall be executed”

In 1100 King Kalman of Hungary banned witch hunts stating “witches do not exist”. The Lombards, of which Charlemagne had once been king, made it clear killing witches would bring dire consequences… A number of other medieval rulers, however did come to see witchcraft as a danger. In 1080 Pope Gregory VII wrote a strongly worded letter to Harald III of Denmark demanding he stop the widespread murder of witches. King Harald had gotten it into his head witches had caused a spate of storms and crop failures. Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious called for all witches and sorcerers to be killed. In Scotland Kenneth MacAlpin – the Pictish king often thought the first king of Scotland called for sorcerers and witches to be burned to death, if they attempt to invoke spirits.

In 900AD, the Canon Episcopi, a church document dealing with Pagan beliefs re-iterated St Augustine’s views, witches don’t exist. It stated definitively the bigger crime is the heresy in believing in such things. From here on for the next few centuries though, in an effort to be consistent – the church began to prosecute witches as heretics – mostly imposing fines.

The Road to Malleus Maleficarum

From around 1300 a belief began to grow that witches were engaged in malicious behaviour; meeting in secret covens to have mass orgies, and eat babies. A Christian cult known as the Cathars had become very popular in Southern France and Northern Italy their brand of religion probably having arrived from Armenia, Persia or the Byzantine Empire via Bulgaria. Threatened, the church became less forgiving of anything considered heretical, the Cathars themselves eventually all but annihilated. From the 15th Century stories began circulating that witches made pacts with the devil and were obliged to carry out wicked deeds and spread misfortune. By this time the crusades in the Near East had opened up access to classical texts lost to the west but preserved by Islam, while some of these texts fed a rise in Renaissance occultism among the upper classes of Europe, it also reinforced negative views towards witchcraft among the scholastic movement.

Now, on occasion accusations of witchcraft were political – Pope Boniface VIII, who died in 1303 not long after being kidnapped and released by the King of France – was posthumously tried for witchcraft, among a raft of other, more serious charges. When the Knights Templar became a little too wealthy and powerful, as the first multi-national corporation to speak of and a money lender to kings – King Philip the Fair, the same pope kidnapping king of France arrested and executed them for heresy and witchcraft, on Friday the 13th October 1307. It is clear Philip 4th liked to excuse his own bad behaviour by claiming his enemies were witches.

In 1486 a Dominican monk and inquisitor named Heinrich Kramer wrote an important book called Malleus Maleficarum, “the hammer against the Witches”. It was a huge best seller, second only to the Bible throughout Europe. It laid out an argument for future, and ongoing inquisitions against witches – covens, human sacrifice, deals with the devil.

All that said, in England concerns over witchcraft were not great…. up till the era of the Stuarts. The Tudor king Henry 8th, possibly more driven by a need to enforce loyalty since making himself head of the Church of England, passed a witchcraft act in 1542 which allowed him to confiscate a witches land, and even put them to death. His daughter, Elizabeth 1st changed the law only allowing the death penalty if someone used witchcraft to murder another. These laws appear largely unused.

Daemonologie… and how to drown a cat….

King James I of England, presided over a time of a great number of witch trials, and this is the time our tale is set in. In 1589 James, then just king of Scotland, was betrothed to Anne of Denmark. In Anne’s first attempt to cross the North Sea she was almost scuttled by a violent storm. James then sailed to her with a fleet of ships. The two of them then almost drowned on the way back – with one of James’ ships was sunk on the return voyage.

The Danish admiral who had attempted the first crossing was sure the bad weather was being caused by witchcraft – he had insulted the wife of a Danish official back in Copenhagen and was sure she had hexed them. This was added to by an official investigation, which pointed the finger at Danish minister of finance, Christopher Valkendorff, for having cheaped out on the ships, but he had managed to defend himself by claiming the incident must be down to witchcraft instead. Several prominent women were tortured, eventually owning up to the attempt on Anne’s life, and twelve women were burnt on the stake as a result.

On his return to Scotland, King James called for his own tribunal, and, unsurprising when you use torture to force confession, found a number of witches. Under torture James’ alleged conspirators confessed to tying a dead man’s genitals to a cat, calling on the devil to kill the royal couple, then throwing the cat into the ocean, among other things.

The North Berwick witch trials themselves deserve an episode, especially the tale of Gellis Duncan, a maid working for one David Seaton whose accusation and torture of Gellis seems more driven out of jealousy and a need to control Gellis – who had of late taken to sneaking out of the house at night, and if you can’t openly punish her for meeting up with a paramour then why not punish her for attempted regicide instead right?

James I wrote a treatise against witchcraft, daemonology, in 1591, which though more nuanced than many of the witch trials were, did state witchcraft had been going on for as long as we have existed and advocated for witch trials. When James claimed the English throne he enacted a witchcraft act in England. But did magistrates believe witches were evil? Some yes, some were no doubt company men, willing to do what the boss asked of them. In 1605 William Shakespeare wrote one of the greatest witch hating, propaganda pieces ever in Macbeth – In the a play the virtuous Macbeth is lead astray by three witches to kill the king and take the crown. Misled by the 3 weird sisters and fuelled by ambition Macbeth sinks Scotland into a repressive tyranny, until the forces of good. children of his slain former friend Banquo, helped by a cast Scottish Thanes and English soldiers defeat him and make all well in the world again – Banquo was an ancestor of James by the way.

Now, Lancaster in the North East of England was a lawless borderland, where theft and violence was common. It was a stronghold of a number of underground Catholic churches, churches who came out of hiding briefly in the reign of Elizabeth’s sister Mary, then went underground in Elizabeth’s reign. There were a number of wise women, the types of folk healers often accused of witchcraft. There were two local judges in the area, Sir James Altham- a virulent witch hater, and Sir Edward Bromley, who was desperate to win James I’s favour and be promoted to a better position closer to London.

By 1612 James was king, and concerned Catholics particularly meant to do him harm, sent out orders to the Justices of the peace to make lists of recusants – those who refused to take part in the protestant church proceedings. In Pendle, Lancaster, this order fell on Roger Nowell.
Now this seems a good place to split this script up…

Sorry folks this is a long one… the podcasts ARE wordy. I’ll post part two next week. In the meantime please go take a listen at

This Tale is part one of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.

The Nature Boys, Part One… A Supermarket in California

“What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon”
Allen Ginsberg – A Supermarket in California.

Hi folks welcome back to this week’s Tale of History and Imagination. Since completing the piece on Altamont (if you haven’t read yet please scroll down the page a little – it was a 4 parter) I have been a little curious about something I know, or suspect I know, only the outlines of. Being a little time poor for a few weeks I haven’t done all the spade work on this yet, but I figured this week I’d share my thought process, and next week look at a chunk of it. I had a question:

If you take it that the fallout from The Altamont free concert was the beginning of the end for the hippy, peace and love mass movement (and let’s face it there was quite a bit going on in 1969 that contributed) – then where does the hippy movement begin? Who were the first hippies?

Now, on a page in a notebook I keep on my bedside table I have a brainstorm, a mind map. It contains the outlines of my current knowledge on this question. In the middle, encircled “who was Hippy patient zero?” In a circle close to this are a handful of names. One of these ‘Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters’. Now Kesey, an author whose best known work “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest” became a major film in 1975, starring Jack Nicholson and featuring a cast which included Taxi’s Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd, was definitely an early hippy. He had come from the Beat Generation, and thus was a bridge between the two movements. He was an early adopter of LSD. With his entourage of non-conformists which included the Grateful Dead (then called The Warlocks) ,he, and his ‘merry pranksters’ hopped aboard a psychedelic patterned bus in 1964 and travelled the USA spreading peace, love… and acid. The Red Dog Saloon, a bar in the largely abandoned former gold mining town of Virginia City, Nevada is also in this circle. All the cool people hung out there. There was a sense of commune about the place. People did a lot of peyote there, and many of the jam bands which became associated with the summer of love got their starts playing there.

In an outer circle I have a handful of philosophers. Now Diogenes of Sinope has to be considered right? Living in Greece in the 4th century BC, he had come from a well off family, but very publicly walked away from materialism when he ‘defaced the money’ then hit the road, leaving all he owned behind. Diogenes lived in a turned up barrel, or tub. He hung out with the animals – having all but joined with a pack of stray dogs. He did outrageous things like walking through the streets in the middle of the day with a lantern proclaiming he is looking for an honest man, but cannot find one. He was a fierce critic of society, feuded with Plato for a while, and challenged authority wherever he could. Legend has it Alexander The Great just had to meet Diogenes when travelling through Corinth on his way to conquer the world, so he made his way out to the barrel. Spotting him sunbathing and staring intently at a human bone he came rushing up asking the philosopher if there was anything he could do for him.

“Yes” Diogenes replied “Stand out of my sunlight” A little taken aback Alexander replies “If I were not Alexander I should wish to be Diogenes”. Unimpressed Diogenes replies “If I were not Diogenes, I would still wish to be Diogenes” and went back to staring at his bone. I think at least in terms of anti-authoritarianism Diogenes would have found kinship with the hippies?

In this circle I have several other philosophical names- Epicurus, who lived in a commune and believed in a lot of the same peace, love and nature messages of the hippies. The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama who pondered on the meaning of existence while sitting under the Bodhi tree, who gave up a life of comfort for something more meaningful, and whose philosophies filter down to the hippies. Ditto Lao Tse, who dropped some seriously laid back wisdom in the Tao Te Ching for the Chinese people in the 6th Century BC, before jumping on the back of an oxen and riding off into the sunset.

Much closer to the centre I have the Mazdakian movement written down. I currently do not know a lot about Mazdak, here’s what I can tell you, off the top of my head. Mazdak was a Zoroastrian priest with a commune in Persia around the early 6th century. Though Zoroastrianism was still the religion of choice in the empire, his brand was quite heretical. He preached peace, love, communal living, free love, and a vegetarian diet. More down to politics than anything else Mazdak fell foul of the authorities and the Mazdakians were rounded up. Mazdak himself hung upside down and used for target practice by the archers some time around 528 AD.

Closer again, the Merrymount colony of Quincy, Massachusetts. The Merrymount colony turned on, tuned in and dropped out. They found free love, eschewed much of their clothes, fell in love with nature and grew their hair long… till the Puritans showed up in the 1620s and told them to get a haircut and a real job. I have a little question mark next to Henry David Thoreau , author of the transcendentalist novel Walden (and last weeks opening quote). A bigger question mark next to St Francis of Assisi. A big circle around their precursor, The Beat Generation. Both movements were similar, and a number of beatniks, maybe most notably the poet Allen Ginsberg, who struck up a close friendship with Bob Dylan and was heavily involved in the anti-war movement.

The Nature Boys, however – a group who largely centred round a raw foods supermarket in Laurel Canyon, Southern California are the group which most interests me at the moment. In my opinion they are absolutely fascinating, and on occasion pop up in some odd cultural places…. And no I don’t mean
styling and profiling, jet plane riding, rolex wearing, womanizing professional wrestlers.

Next week, the Southern California Nature Boys, and the story of eden ahbez – the non-capitalization is very deliberate, he thought only God and Infinity were important enough to have capital letters.

This Tale is part one of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.

Originally published 28th July 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

The Carrington Event

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hi folks welcome to this week’s Tale of History and Imagination. First thing I should say, I often play fast and loose with the quotes and today this is especially true. Sorry fans of Henry David Thoreau. Second I am putting the Somerton man topic to one side for a while – it is a multi- parter, and I am stretched thin as it is at the moment. Once the podcast is up we’ll take a trip to Sommerton beach, I promise.
This week I wanted to do something a little different. Let’s just jump in and I’ll explain why I am fascinated by this tale at the end.

The date of today’s tale, September 2nd 1859. The location, many – but let’s start off where I started the first blog – in Boston, Massachusetts. It is 9.30 am at the telegraph office on 31 State Street and the air is positively electric – quite literally electric. The telegraph operators, like many others across the country had fired up the machine that day only to find sparks coming from the telegraph machines. In some cases the sparks had set fire to nearby objects. Any time I have heard this story operators got electrical shocks or burns – though none of the dozen secondary sources I have read on this make this claim. In Boston, if you remember my bit on Samuel Morse, the home of the telegraph – they simply unhooked the batteries. Imagine their shock and amazement when the telegraphs kept running anyway. The air was so charged that day, that the machines kept on going, as if they were somehow possessed. A telegraph station in Portland, Maine had gotten the same idea, and shared their amazement with 31 State Street. Across much of the USA this behaviour was observed.

That night people stared up to the sky in amazement. That, in the dead of night it was bright enough to read a newspaper is one thing, but the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights normally only ever seen at far north latitudes, could be seen in the tropics – reports coming from places as far afield as Cuba and Hawaii. On the same night the Aurora Australis, the southern lights were on display. As far north as Santiago, Chile people stared in wonder, and perhaps a little dread. The New York Times wrote, the following day

“With this a beautiful tint of pink finally mingled. The clouds of this colour were most abundant to the North East and North West of the zenith… There they shot across one another, intermingling and deepening until the sky was painfully lurid”

You may wonder what on earth could cause such a thing. Some at the time, no doubt attributed it to the divine. Others at the time put forward suggestions which included volcanoes giving off a massive amount of gas all at once, or a meteor shower turning to a pink mush in our atmosphere. An amateur astronomer in Surrey, UK by the name of Richard Christopher Carrington had a pretty fair inkling what had caused the phenomenon. On the 28th August 1859 he had been staring out 150 million kilometers away, at the surface of our sun. for five years he had spent many an hour staring out to space, and had noticed solar flares – explosions of energy with an average power rating of 1,000 atomic bombs going off- before. Carrington observed a number of solar flares over the following day, till there was a particularly large one on September 1st. This was the one which caused what is now known as a Coronal Mass ejection. I’m not super clued into science (hence not Tales of Science and Imagination) but my understanding is the Corona is a huge ring of plasma which surrounds the sun – this is the halo you can see in a solar eclipse. Occasionally, when a solar flare is powerful enough, it ejects huge sums of plama out of the Corona, out into the wilds of space- often followed by a powerful wave of electro-magnetic energy. Of course we are on a tiny spheroid, a very long way from the sun. We rarely get hit, but this wave – hereafter known as the Carrington event – hurtled towards us, clearing 150 million kilometers in a little over 17 hours. At the time the experts of the day, Lord Kelvin included, dismissed Carrington’s explanation as preposterous. Over time he was proved Oll Korrect, in the Boston speak of the time. Carrington’s event would be the most powerful of it’s kind – scientific measurements of nitrogen levels in ice show, at least in the last 500 years, his solar storm was twice as powerful as the next most powerful event to hit the earth.

But what would happen if we got hit with a Carrington event part two? It would be pretty right? Free electricity? Well… this is how I got to thinking this story would make a good post.

Last weekend I got thinking about the precariousness of the ones and zeros which make up our lives so much these days. First it was going through a collection of CDs full of legal downloads from the iTunes store. When iTunes first came along I was an early adopter- and I spent a tonne of money on my music collection – several hundred CDs worth of music. In 2015 I was sent into a mad panic when my laptop died, taking many gigabytes of data with it. Of course the music library was still on the cloud – I could still download it when I got a new hard drive. I only got as far as the letter E. Spotify had been the new thing for a little while, and iTunes will be up there forever right? Last month Apple announced they were closing down the platform. A second incident jumped out at me – waiting round at my parents’ place to go out shopping with my mum, I stopped to look at the photo albums they have over there – actual physical wooden boxes, with glass covers, and wood bound volumes which sit like upside down files in a filing cabinet. Volume after volume of family memories, some going as far back as my great- grandparents. We may curate our lives in an almost hyper-graphic intensity these days, but you know there is something more ‘real’ to one of George Eastman’s kodak moments… or at the very least, less transitory. Well the scary news is, if Carrington part two happens we may well lose our cloud based existence as easily as I lost that hard drive. Add to this any travel requiring a GPS would be impossible, GPS would bite the dust. Satellites would become useless space junk. The electrical grid, wherever the CME hit, would become worthless as transformer after transformer blew. Potentially we could be plunged back into the past for years.

In a 2011 National Geographic article I read, Daniel Baker of The University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics estimated the costs of such an incident, if it hit the USA in 2011, at 2 Trillion dollars. Of course we have only become more reliant on vulnerable technologies – electronic banking among them – since then. Oh, and in 2012, that apocalyptic Mayan year, the Earth only narrowly avoided being hit by another CME almost as big as the solar storm of 1859.

This week’s Tale of History and Imagination is brought to you by well… anywhere which sells solar storm proof external hard drives I guess?

Catch you all next week, for another Tale. As always please share us around, like, comment.

Originally posted 19th July 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

Lord Timothy Dexter

Jaques. “Is not this a rare fellow, my lord? He’s as good at any thing, and yet a fool.”
Duke Senior. “He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.”

William Shakespeare – As You Like It.

Hi folks welcome back to Tales of History and Imagination. This week I figured it was time to get back to a few one parters. Tonight’s piece is a re-working of a question I answered on Quora a few years ago. Generally most of my writing on that site was off the cuff – 15 minute compositions in quiet time, while I was temping at a job that often had an hour in the doldrums in the middle of the day, and managers who encouraged me to jump on a quiz site or answer a Quora question or two till the phones started ringing again. I did delete, or hide dozens of my answers after this job however in case it looked really bad to a prospective employer. This one is still up. The question that day was.

“Who is the most foolish person ever to live on Earth?”

Other answers were mostly stories of hubris – successful, seemingly clever folk who were doing well – till something stupid, or unfortunate happened. Some guy who let his dream girl get away. Politicians who found that power corrupts (to corrupt Lord Acton’s quote)…. One writer stated anyone who bought modern art – something which doesn’t sit too well with me, I love a lot of modern art – but I get what he means. Two Billionaires going to war over a work of art – the victor spending tens of millions is, in my opinion, not foolish so much as grotesque that two people would have that much money to buy something so functionally ‘useless’ (to corrupt Oscar Wilde’s quote). My thought process: let’s write a short piece on a world class dullard who succeeded in a huge way BECAUSE he was a fool. No folks, I am not taking a sly dig at the 45th president of America – May I present to you ‘Lord’ Timothy Dexter.

Timothy Dexter was born to a poor farming family in Malden, Massachusetts on January 22nd 1747. Seeing I am writing this on the 4th of July (in the USA at least) as a random aside the small town of Malden was an early antagonist of British taxation, and boycotted British tea in 1770. Back to Lord Dexter, his family barely subsisted on their farm, and took Timothy out of school, aged 8, to labour alongside his family. At the age of 16 the emancipated Timothy took off for the coastal city of Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he found work as an apprentice leather-dresser (a job which involved colouring and working tanned leather into a usable state). Aged 21 he met, and fell in love with Elizabeth Frothingham, an older, wealthy widow. Dexter gave up his job at the tannery and moved in to a house on the wealthy side of Newburyport.

How did the wealthy people of Newburyport see Timothy Dexter? Well, think back to the CBS TV series The Beverly Hillbillies – think of the snooty, nonplussed neighbours living next to Kirkeby Mansion, the house used for the series… and Dexter was a Clampett. The circles Dexter found himself moving in found him uncouth, poorly educated – not ‘one of us’. In the spirit of the ‘real housewives of…’ genre, rather than shun Dexter, they decided to be sly, and duplicitous, and feed him bad business advice till he had spent Elizabeth’s fortune, and had to move back to the poor side of town. How did that work out for them? Well… let’s say I could have answered ‘Lord’ Timothy to a Quora question ‘Who was the luckiest person ever to live on Earth?’

In 1775, tensions between Britain and the 13 colonies who would become the first version of the USA broke out into all out war. Needing funds to fight the redcoats, the Continental Congress began issuing paper money, known as ‘Continental currency’ to fill their war chest. They would issue around $241 million in these promissory notes. During the war of Independence these notes took a hiding and become all but worthless, in part down to some people expecting the British would win the war, but mostly cause the Continental Congress printed way too many of these dollars. There was a saying at the time ‘not worth a Continental’ for something of little or no value. At the start of the war Timothy had a little money to play with, and members of the wealthy set urged him to buy as many bills as he could. Dexter bought a lot of Continental currency, and in spite of expectations came out of the War of Independence extraordinarily wealthy. This scenario would play out time and time again.

Warming pans were a wonderful idea in places which had icy winters, long before we had electric blankets. One might imagine them worthless in the tropics. On bad advice Dexter began shipping them to the West Indies. They did become a massive seller there however, as a frying pan shaped object on a long pole was the perfect ladle to stir molasses with in the Caribbean nations. “While you’re at it why not sell them woolen mittens?” someone said, and Dexter, not understanding his incredible luck, sent container loads of mittens there. This time a passing merchant ship on its way up to Siberia saw an opportunity and bought the lot, selling them on for a healthy profit to the Cossacks who had begun colonizing the freezing Siberian Tundra a century and a half ago. What else could the Caribbean Islands need? “Cats would be a capital idea young Timothy! Who doesn’t love cats?” – I imagine a Milburn Drysdale type saying to him. Well I don’t know if they loved cats, but the many ships coming and going from the plantations had left the Caribbean with a rodent problem, and cats were just what they needed. On a whim Dexter bought a huge pile of whale bone, 340 tonnes of the stuff, not even knowing what he had bought. The following season corsets became all the rage on the continent, and again he made a killing.

One day someone said to Dexter, you should put all of your money into sending coal to Newcastle, England. Not knowing coal mining around Newcastle had been a huge part of the economy since the 13th century, and odds were the coal Dexter was looking to buy had come from there in the first place. Dexter sent boatloads back over. Luckily for him there was a miners strike at the time, and Newcastle needed the coal to power its industrial factories and boat yards. Again what should have been ruinous turned a handsome profit.

Now in middle age, Timothy spends some of his fortune on a mansion worthy of the Clampett clan, and began to decorate his home with gaudy wooden statues of great men from history. He took on the appellation ‘Lord’ claiming himself the first ‘lord of the younited states’. Though to date he seemed not to have questioned the advice of others, or picked up any sense of how much others loathed him, the penny began to drop for him. Ironically it appears to have been prompted out of his mistrust of a few recent, real friends he had picked up. In an effort to test them he faked his own death and plotted to watch the reaction of the crowd at the funeral. His family were in on the ruse, and were coached on how to mourn for him. The funeral was a massive affair, with over 3,000 attendees (mostly curious to hear a few stories about crazy old Lord Dexter). When Dexter saw his wife laughing and talking with people at the wake he lost it, and in the kitchen began to cane Mrs Dexter for not mourning him enough. This brought in onlookers and the game was up.

One final thing I should mention about Lord Dexter, towards the end of his life he wrote a book titled ‘A Pickle for the knowing ones or plain truth in a homespun dress’, a thankfully short book (it completely lacks punctuation, and some of the spellings are enough to make someone who studied medieval literature all through university (me) want to pull my hair out at times. The short version is Lord Timothy Dexter planned to leave his wisdom for others to wonder at, but instead complains about politicians, the church, and his wife. The book went through 8 editions, along the way picking up a page full of commas at the end, with instructions to “distribute them as you pleased”. If you are wondering the photo I sent out earlier in the week is an excerpt, and yes, the book is available for download on Google Books. If looking for unintentional comedy I will always recommend Pedro Carolino’s ‘English as She is Spoke’ before ‘A Pickle for the knowing ones’ but it is ok. Lord Timothy Dexter, the man who sold coals to Newcastle died October 23rd 1806 at the age of 59.

Thanks as always for checking out our page, and welcome to our new followers. As always folks please like, comment, share. Recommend Tales of History and Imagination to a friend who digs the quirkier stories from our past. Check in with us again next week for more Tales of History and Imagination – Simone.

Originally published 5th July 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page, based on an earlier piece I wrote for Quora. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow

Women’s History month 4: Hell hath no fury, like the Trung Sisters

“Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d,
Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d”

  • William Congreve. The Mounring Bride. 1697.

Hi folks welcome to this week’s Tales of History and Imagination. I am taking a bit of liberty with the opening quote a little this week – which if you are wondering is the actual quote we generally get “Hell hath no fury…” from. Congreve, if we have any bibliophiles out there makes great reading, though to date I haven’t read or seen The Mouning Bride …yet (he was a playwright) – but Love for Love, and The Way of the World are entertaining. Today’s blog is not so much about a scorned lover as a vengeful widow… and no, I’m not doing Olga of Kiev…. everyone does Olga. Today I want to look at the tale of the Trung sisters – who briefly saved Vietnam from the yoke of a cruel dictatorship.

If you were to view a map of the world in the second century BC you would see all kinds of borders, and countries which have long since faded into obscurity. If you were casting your eye over a map of South East Asia you would notice a sizeable land known as the Nanyue Kingdom. Made up of most of modern day Vietnam, and the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi, the Nanyue kingdom was a prosperous land, with it’s own language, culture and traditions. It drew a great deal of wealth from the Red River Delta, and it’s goods sold as far away as markets barely understood in the East at the time like Rome. To the north of the Nanyue there was a rising empire, hungry to expand, and make the most of their neighbours’ spoils – The Han Dynasty in China, at the time most of the way through their second decade – having taken over from the Qin. For decades tensions simmered between the two kingdoms till, in 111BC Emperor Han Wudi ordered six of his armies down the Xi River to assimilate or destroy the Nanyue Kingdom. Under the leadership of Generals Lu Bode and Yang Pu the Han crushed the Nanyue Kingdom, over time extending out past their main centres into the remote villages. They set up 9 commanderies to administer the land, 3 of those established in what is now Vietnam. The Chinese records paint a picture of a liberating army, bringing civilisation to the kingdom. The Vietnamese saw them as cruel, violent overlords with a message of assimilate or die.

In 40 AD, while far spread, there were still enclaves of Vietnamese culture in remote villages. In one such village lived a soldier referred to in the writings as General Lac. The general had two daughters, Trung Trac, and Trung Nhi. The older sister, Trac had fallen in love with the son of the General’s closest friend, the village doctor – the son an up and coming leader called Thi Sach. With both families blessings the two married. While the tales of the Trung sisters do mention both sisters had grown up around a dad who had taught them how to fight, and to lead an army, there is nothing in the tales that states they were engaged in any resistance against the Han before 40 AD. This was the year things changed however, the Han were at the village, they would say to bring, language, and laws, and irrigation. The Vietnamese would say to bring death and slavery. Thi Sach would do his best to raise an army to resist them, but was caught and executed. This was when a mourning bride, Trung Trac, would avenge her husband, and start a revolution in the process.

in 40 AD, still in mounring for her husband, Trac and her sister Nhi would gather a small army, and using all the lessons learned from General Lac, decisevly crush the soldiers sent in to run the village. Women left similarly bareft in four other neighbouring villages soon joined their army. A highly competent army went from town to town, village to village, deposing the Han invaders. The army, composed mainly of women – many widowed by the Han invasions- picked up in number as it went. At it’s height the army was said to be 80,000 strong, led by 36 female generals. In 65 major battles they reclaimed 65 fortresses from the Han, sending what was left of the occupiers scattering back over the border to China. The speed of this must have been remarkable as Vietnamese records state this took not years, but months. After 71 years of occupation the Nanyue Kingdom was again free, united for a time under Queen Trung (Trac). The kingdom would only last for three years.

In the complete annals of Dai Viet, in a section not written till 1479, a chronicler wrote

“Queen Trung reigned for three years. The queen was strong and intelligent… and established a kin gdom…. but as a female ruler could not rebuild the state.” It was clear that the sisters were in the process of rebuilding, they had set up a new capital at Me Linh, now a rural district of Hanoi. There is precious little to make my way through from numerous write ups on the net, apparently very scant detail in the primary sources for that matter, but it does seem that – after the ladies had proven just how formiddable they were in liberating the kingdom, they found misogyny a much harder foe to defeat….. well that, and the Han were not done yet. in 42 AD they sent another army, headed by General Ma Yuan, to recapture the kingdom. In 43 they reached Me Linh, and the Trung sisters, looking to their now, mostly male army for support, found themselves largely deserted. They fell back to the Jin River to regroup, but were soon decisively defeated by the Han. Why did the men scatter, leaving them to the mercy of the Han? Despite past evidence to the contrary, they believed the Trung sisters did not stand a chance.

There are many conflicting tales as to what specifically happened to the sisters. Some accounts have them perishing in battle, others state they were captured, then beheaded. A third, more fanciful claim is they jumped into the river and drowned, their bodies washing up down river where they had mysteriously turned to statues. These same statues are now said to reside in Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung Temple.

Though there is so very little primary source material in this tale, there is so much could be taken from the tale of the Trung sisters. Hell hath no fury really is the least of it, this is a tale of the potent power of a combination of passion, expertise and diversity, and the deadly risks of letting outmoded ways creep back in. It is also proof positive of the slogan on posters all across New Zealand schools in the 1980s when I was still in primary schools “Girls Can Do Anything” Vietnam would not see any significant self determination till the 12th century.

Thanks folks for tuning in for my weekly ‘Women’s History Month’ blogs.

Originally posted 26th March 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

Women’s History Month 3, Five trailblazing ladies

Hi folks it is time for the latest in Tales of History and Imagination. We are still in Womans History Month, and still not wanting to use any of my long form pieces till the podcast is up I thought I would do five quick pieces involving remarkable women I haven’t seen written on this month by anyone else – well at least not as far as I am aware of?
So today’s tale, Five Trailblazing Ladies!

Who was the first black woman to win an Oscar you ask? Well that was Hattie McDaniel (10th June 1893 – 26th October 1952) for best supporting actor. The role was as ‘Mammy’, Scarlett O’Hara’s house servant in Gone with The Wind (the oscar was in 1940). Yes it is a troublesome role in a troubling film by today’s more enlightened standards, but Ms MacDaniel was the first… and sadly only black female oscar winner in an acting role till Halle Berry’s 2002 win as best actress for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monsters Ball.
Hattie MacDaniel was also a trailblazer, in a path more frequently taken – as a blues singer hers was the first black, female voice beamed out across American airwaves with ‘I Thought I’d do it’ in 1927. She acted in over 300 films, but only got credited for 86.

Margaret Mitchell

Keeping with Gone With the Wind, the 1939 film was of course based on a 1936 novel America went crazy for, written by the journalist Margaret Mitchell (8th November 1900 – 16th August 1949). The novel went on to win a Pulitzer prize in 1937, and was written – in a life gives you lemons so let’s make lemonade moment – while Mitchell was off work with a broken ankle. I don’t know very much about Margaret Mitchell but I do know that as an author she courted controversy in her time, for things we would not be offended about now… or perhaps take offense for other reasons entirely. In one article she wrote about four of her home state of Georgia, USA’s hometown heroines

  • America’s first female senator Rebecca Latimer Felton (who would court controversy today for being rabidly white supremacist in her views).
  • Frontiers-woman Nancy Morgan Hart, who fought the British in the War of Independence
  • Cultural mediator between settlers and native tribes Mary Musgrove
  • and Lucy Mathilda Kenny, who cut her hair, rather Mulan-esque, and fought alongside her husband in the American Civil War under the name Private Bill Thompson.
    All rather shocking stuff for the time, heroines???

Turning to the skies, french aeronaut Sophie Blanchard (25th March 1778 – 6th July 1819) was the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon, in 1803. Married to fellow pioneering balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, she did not let his untimely death in a ballooning accident put her off, in her lifetime making over 60 flights, and on occasion surviving some close calls. Napoleon Bonaparte was impressed with her flying skills so much he made her “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals”.
Unfortunately Sophie Blanchard was also the world’s first female death by aeronautical accident. In 1819, while shooting off fireworks for an appreciative crowd below, she accidentally set her balloon on fire and tumbled onto a roof far below. It is said she survived this but then slipped from the roof and died.

Someone whose derring do and love of heights, once climbing to a height of 8,848 Metres, did not take her life was Japanese mountain climbing legend Junko Tabei (22nd September 1939 – 20th October 2016). Already a highly thought of and experienced mountaineer, Tabei did what some misogynists believed impossible. In 1975 she became the first woman to climb Mount Everest, taking the same route traveled in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The climb was no picnic – at one point 6,300 metres up, the resting party were hit by an avalanche and had to dig themselves out. A few days later, on 16th May 1975 Junko Tabei reached the summit.

Finally, we all know the USSR were a force to be reckoned with. Laika the Russian dog beat NASA’s Ham the chimp into orbit- though sadly Laika died while up there. Yuri Gagarin beat Alan Shepard as the first man in space. American Sally Ride may have been America’s first woman in space in 1983 – but Valentina Tereshkova (b, 6th March 1937) holds the Official record (there is a very spooky recording by Italian brothers Archille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia that has been suggested may be radio communication with an earlier female cosmonaut, who may have burned up in the atmosphere- it is dubious) having orbited the earth 48 times in Vostok 6, from 16th June 1963. To date she is the only woman to have performed a solo space mission.
Valentina Tereshkova entered politics in the years following her mission, and still serves on The Duma till this day.

Final Woman’s history month post next week, though hardly the last time I will post about a powerful female lead this year. Next week I’m also thinking about starting a weekly poll…. We need some more noise here people, in teaching parlance we call this too much TTT (teacher talk time) let’s get some noise happening! 🙂
As always, please share my posts round, like and comment.

Originally published 22nd March 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

Women’s History Month 2: Mary Anning, The Carpenter’s Daughter

Hi folks, happy Womens History Month! I had something completely different planned for this week, but the mass shooting in Christchurch a. necessitated a change of subject and b. took me completely out of the headspace to write anything other than angry, anti fascist invectives. I was planning to write on Tamar of Georgia (1166 _ 1213) a true girl power heroine who does not get discussed enough – but this is history, and history is problematic. Tamar, a christian ruler, fought off an invasion from, then in turn invaded the Seljuk Turks. How do you write that in the wake of the murder of 51 Muslim New Zealanders here? Do I really want some mouth-breathing fascist taking my post as a dog whistle? Absolutely not. Sorry Tamar, we’ll return to you later.

A quote from John Donne’s Meditations has been stuck in my head all day. I am shocked, and horrified, and heartbroken for the families of the deceased. I don’t often buy into nationalistic rhetoric, but make no mistake, we are a diverse nation of many colours, religions (or lack of) and back stories. You take on them you take on all of us.

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.” – John Donne.

Now, on another note, repeat after me….

“She sells seashells by the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the sea shore
Then I’m sure she sells seashells.” – Terry Sullivan.

Mary Anning (May 21 1799 – March 9 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist. Our understanding of the Jurassic era (approx 201 – 145 million years ago) owes a huge debt to Ms Anning and her work. She lived, and worked near the Blue Lias (layered limestone and shale) cliffs at Lyme Regis, Dorset.
Among her achievements Anning was the first to identify an Icthyosaur skeleton, found several early Plesiosaurus, the first Pterosaur found outside of Germany, and helped lead public understanding towards the concept that animals could go extinct- something thought heretical by many at the time, as it implied God was imperfect, if things could…. well…. go the way of the dinosaur.
Mary Anning should have been a superstar of the 19th Century scientific community, but she was shunned, largely, as – first it was a boys’ club and second, Anning was a dissenter – a protestant who believed church and state should be kept separate, and had nothing to do with organized Anglican religion. After her death she began to get some of the recognition she deserved- prompting Charles Dickens to write of her, in 1865

“The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it”

In 1908 Terry Sullivan wrote the tongue twister above, in her honour. In 2010 the Royal society listed Anning as one of the 10 British women who most influenced the history of science.

So… expanding on Dickens’ Messianic appellation, Mary Anning was born in 1799 to cabinetmaker Richard Anning and his wife Mary aka Molly. They grew up in a house near the water, which regularly flooded in bad weather. The same rough, stormy weather which regularly flooded their home however also uncovered many ancient monsters in the cliffs nearby. Aged 15 months she was nearly killed at a travelling horse show when an oak tree her family were watching under was struck by lightning. She was one of 10 children born to Richard and Molly, but only one of two who made it to adulthood.

Anning grew up in wartime. The outbreak of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars kept many British holidaymakers away from the continent. Europe’s loss was Lyme Regis’ win – it became a holiday hotspot. With many visitors over the summer months, opportunities for extra money abounded, including hunting through the fossil rich cliffs for specimens to sell to holidaymakers. In the dangerous winter months, when the cliffs were tempest tossed, and landslides a regular occurance – Richard, Mary and her brother Joseph would brave the weather in search of dinosaurs. On one trip an ailing Richard, already deathly ill with tuberculosis, tumbled over a cliff, sustaining critical injuries. Richard’s death led to 11 year old Mary leaving school to work full time as a fossil hunter to support the family.

By the 1820s, Mary Anning had firmly taken the helm of the family business. She established a shop, and had become a leading expert paleontologist; autodidactically no less. She closely recorded all of her findings, though she would only be published once by the boys club. Anning also maintained close ties with several leading male scientists, who often shared her ideas – without crediting her. Of note, she sold a full icthyosaur skeleton to King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, when he visited her shop. However throughout the 1830s Anning fell upon hard times. Britain’s economy fell into a slump, and luxuries like dinosaur bones fell out of favour with the middle class. Marred also by poor financial decisions, Anning was at risk of being sent to the poor house. At the urging of Mary Anning’s friend William Buckland, the British government granted her a modest pension for the rest of her life – in recognition of her many significant scientific discoveries.

Mary Anning died, 9th March 1847, of breast cancer.

Originally posted March 17th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow. Edited 2020… except for the poetry.

…. What I wish the 15th March 2019 was remembered for…

Hey folks just a quick note from my desk at my day job. To those pouring scorn on the kids today:

February 1 1960, four black teens took it upon themselves to sit down in whites only seats, at a lunch counter in a Woolworths in North Carolina. These four young men, Ezell Blair jr, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond refused to be moved and were arrested for their civil disobedience. Within days 300 black students sat at the same counter, refusing to move, and within weeks this scene played out in 50 American cities. This WAS an important step leading towards the Civil Rights act of 1964.

Likewise, the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976, became an important step towards the abolition of apartheid in South Africa – Thousands of protesters took to the streets in protest of being forced to speak Afrikaans in the schools. Police sparked international outrage when they shot into the crowds, an image of a young boy, Hector Pieterson’s body being carried away the final straw for many businesses – who started to boycott the country after this.

Never forget, days after the Berlin wall came down in 1989 Czechoslovakia demanded their independence from the USSR. Who instigated this movement, which culminated with 500,000 citizens out on the streets of Prague to demand their independence? The kids.

From campus protests to black lives matter, from Tiananmen square to Iran in 1999 the kids have been showing us adults what standing up for your rights looks like. Today in New Zealand, as around the world lately, they are standing up for Mother Earth. My message to other oldies like myself, never underestimate what the kids can accomplish.. and to the kids thank you for stepping up on an issue of existential proportions, if we want an Earth, and continued life then someone needs to step up. I for one am glad it’s you, past experience has shown you guys have made all the difference.

Women’s History Month! Mary Cassatt’s ‘In the Loge’

Hi folks, about time I posted something new I think? My technical issues with broken tablets have been sorted – I have picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 which does all I need to write on here. Note this week there are no Photoshopped, cartoonized pictures as I am including some bona fide art, and it seemed a shame to mess with it.
A quick word, a few weeks back I did outline the basics of the story of the Profumo affair – then Woman’s history month happened and I thought “great, Christine Keeler was such a fascinating character!” I won’t spoil the story to those of you who don’t know it, but the Police tweeting about a female police officer running a Japanese internment camp in World War 2 made me second guess myself a little. I then got a little distracted with Leaving Neverland (cause, let’s face it either you were caught up in it, or caught up in telling people how you weren’t going to watch it earlier this week right? Ok maybe just me?)

THEN I scribbled down a piece on how Mary Cassatt’s (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) 1878 painting “In the Loge” captured an element of the zeitgeist of Modernism- the artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where an industrialising, urbanizing world in flux began to challenge traditional ideas, became more self- referential, and began to believe the world is what we choose to make of it. Art became more about capturing the mood of the occasion, and interested in reflecting a modern world where it was increasingly important to be out and about so as to see and be seen. My interest in the painting, a lady modelled on her sister, Lydia, peers across the theater with her binoculars (she is at the opera house, where Parisians go to see and be seen) clearly not at the stage but at someone out of our view- another attendee. In the background a man with binoculars is ogling her as intently as she is ogling her subject.

At the time of my first exposure to this painting, an Art History lecturer told an 18 year old me, the painting caused an uproar because- how dare a woman set her gaze on another – women are to be looked at, and not to be the lookers. I don’t think pervy guy in the background is held up to such scrutiny. We ourselves sandwich poor Lydia by staring at the painting from the other direction. We may have stopped by that same day to see a Manet street scene, where generally people are there to be seen – unless we came across Olympia, a reclining nude who, unnervingly eyeballs us back, having caused a similar outcry, or taken a Lydia-esque stop at a Degas, to watch the ballerinas- who definitely were to be seen, and not to gaze.

This painting should beg questions of anyone either angered with, or flummoxed by the anger towards a recent Gillette commercial- How far the world in general has come, but how little some of us have changed. I had a whole bit on how in this time women were making steps towards independence- the industrial revolution led to then record numbers of women entering the workforce – admittedly often in poorly paid jobs – from teaching to heavy work like being ‘hurriers’ in coal mines, from factory workers to the ‘hawkers’ (sorry for a possibly derogatory term these days) selling goods in bars and footpaths, often pictured in paintings by fellow impressionists Manet, Degas, and other men – but not so much our heroine Mary Cassatt- as someone of a gender which typically was less accepted gazing where she saw fit, most of her snapshots of Parisian Modernism are in the confines of the opera house… It seems to me sometimes progress can find itself waylaid by the silliest of squabbles.

Where this one hit speed wobbles a little, in the wee small hours last night I am having a bit of a look online for some more info on Cassatt, and the ‘Gillette ad’ reaction to her painting… Now I believe my art history lecturer. I can imagine the backlash, who in this age can’t? Did the internet come through with some crazy statistics about the backlash? In a word, no. I believe this has much more to do with finding a pothole in the information superhighway than it never happening. At some point I will take myself down to the Auckland University library, dig out a book on Mary Cassatt, and go old school on this. Expect some foot marked addition to this post some time. How far the internet has come, how little some parts have changed?

For your enjoyment I have posted Mary Cassatt’s In the Loge. I haven’t posted Manet’s Olympia, sooner or later I will piss off someone on a forum and I could see them reporting this post for posting nudity or something and I may as well save myself the bother, but she is worthy of both seeing and being seen.

Mary Cassatt, self portrait.

Oh I have a complete piece on Tamar, Golden age ruler of Georgia to drop Friday, and plan to FINALLY record some podcast scripts tomorrow night.

Published March 13th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.