Failure of the bank, Lane, Son and Fraser in 1793

There was a historical report on the 1793 failure of the bank, Lane, Son and Fraser, published in The Leeds Mercury, on 7 April 1894, Saturday, page 20. (This is available per The failure in London of Lane, Son and Fraser had ripple effects causing the failure of some provincial banks which had been corresponding with Lane, Son and Fraser. The bank had earlier been influential in Anglo-American trading affairs but had suffered badly due to the American Revolution. Australians if no others will be interested in Lane, Son and Fraser as the post-1786 Lanes were personal friends of the first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip. For this reason, this blog will soon post more material on the pre-1793 activities of Lane, Son and Fraser. (Information per Peter Dickson, UK)

The real story? Really?

(See also, Alan Frost, The First Fleet: The Real Story. Collingwood ,Melbourne, Black Inc, June 2011.)

Review of Alan Frost, Botany Bay: The Real Story. Collingwood, Melbourne, Black Inc, January 2011.

By Dan Byrnes

In early 2011, Emeritus Professor Alan Frost of Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia, took it upon himself to decry most other Australian historians by way of issuing a book titled Botany Bay: The Real Story. Implying of course, that his competitors have other than the real story. Whether we should blame Frost or his publishers for this absurd book title, I really care not. I blame Frost, because it’s easier.

This is Frost´s first sin with this book, to start by downplaying his rivals, who evidently, after so many research years have gone by, have still not yet cottoned onto ¨the real story¨. That today, by 2010 or 2011, any professor of anything, anywhere in the world, could profess to have ¨the real story¨ about anything is simply a juvenile and uncivilized nonsense. The best a historian can do is present a coherent theory about his topic, and/or present some facts, and hope for sales and encouraging reviews. So what on earth is Frost on about here?

Frost is simply a participant in The Great Australian Botany Bay Debate, a notorious academic artefact (just ask anyone in Australia with a convict ancestor). This debate, which finally becomes sterile and futile since so much of its material fails to feed usefully into subsequent (or actual) history in New South Wales, is about how and why Britain decided to both to send convicts as far away from England, as the known ends of the earth, to Botany Bay, ¨Australia¨.

The debate does however become complex, labyrinthine and finally sterile, as we shall see here. Some of the complexity can be re-researched and cast into a variety of perspectives. The final sterility is disappointing but is something Australians have to live with. It is a labyrinth which remains most frustrating and perplexing, but such is the environment into which convicted criminals are cast.

Frost is greatly part of the sterility. The complexities of the arguments, suffused as they are with the virtues or otherwise of transportable convicts, are perhaps the only reason to bother with any of it, if one has a taste for that, and most people do not share this taste. And in this book, Frost reduces the complexities to ¨the real story¨. For the record, the present reviewer sees the British settlement of eastern Australia as, initially, a convict colony, as an aftermath of the American Revolution (following the work of Eris O´Brien, published by 1937).

By Frost´s lights, this puts the present reviewer behind the eight ball, a proponent of the traditional view, and yes, correct, since Frost starts with Blainey (Tyranny of Distance etc, published as long ago as the 1960s).

Frost in Botany Bay however has said little that is new to historians about the colony-planners of the past. What is new is that his academic language is a little more raw, and he credits the work of Blainey and Dallas a little more bluntly. The British historian Harlow is not in his Select Bibliography, a strange omission since Harlow first rather vaguely said, in his Second Founding of the British Empire, what Frost expands on.

Harlow´s view was that after the loss of the American colonies, Britain set about renovating its empire, giving it a second founding. Harlow gave little specific attention though to Britain´s Australian adventure. Frost saw this as an opportunity for an Australian, and took up the cudgel, without being especially interested in the history of convict transportation as a penal-history topic. The Imperial material appealed far more to Frost.

But oddly enough, many of the historians becoming involved with The Botany Bay Debate pay scant attention to the maritime record, which has its own sets of interest. One might have thought that the maritime record would closely accompany, if not assist, the development of theoretical approaches to this Australian history. Australian historians seem not to take this view. My own view is that the maritime record fits very well with the theory of penal colonization, more so if one takes the “Imperial stuff” as mere window dressing, which may or may not be advisable.

It is true as Frost says, that some grand plans were advanced to support ideas that convicts should be transported to Botany Bay. How far these ideas were balloons sent up by politicians to induce the East India Company to co-operate remains a moot point. If grand plans were involved, Frost would be very hard put to explain why when Britain offered British merchants access to the Pacific Ocean by way of shipping out prisoners, so few merchants grasped any such opportunities, whatever resources the Pacific offered in theory or practice. The groups of merchants who were most enthusiastic about shipping felons to eastern Australia are not treated by Frost. In my view, giving London-based shipowners new access to an entire ocean, earlier explored by Cook, would have been a grand enough plan in itself. Frost would not agree, apparently.

Over time from 1788, the actual British shipping which did enter Sydney Harbour took home disillusioning reports which within 20-odd years or so scotched any grand plans that might ever have been mentioned. Before 1800, the whalers had departed the eastern Australian coasts and preferred the West coasts of South America for their industry. There was a trail of disappointment for any grand plans about flax, or naval timber, which faded away till there was left only the apparently traditional view, that the main exercise had been a plan to transport convicts and leave them in Australia once their term expired.

The maritime record more or less tracks this trail of disappointment, which suggests that there are reasons why Frost overlooks the maritime record. But to do so with a book subtitled ¨the real story¨ does seem odd. Could it be that Frost treats these grand plans in too limited a time frame, while he ignores the actual maritime records?

Given his research findings delivered with an earlier and at-first-sight, impressive set of books, any present idea that Frost could ever with his First Fleet (real story) present anything startlingly new on the relevant British maritime history is a nonsense. My own idea is that Australians only enhance the sterility of the Botany Bay Debate when they treat the first three fleets of convict ships (the only ¨fleets¨ to be spoken of anyway), as individual fleets, because the point is missed. The point being that the first three fleets are best regarded as a single burst of shipping, split into three broadsides, as it were. The ships involved were associated, in different ways, with, basically, a set of linked shipping men in London, most of whom were well-known in their day. And by the way, ask almost any Australian why there was no fourth fleet of convict ships, and you will probably get a very blank look.

If there were any merchants in London who could have justified any grand plans, tried to build such plans up, or to deliberately damage them by neglect, it would have been this group of men actually involved. Seen as a group, they are an ideal lens through which to examine the reality, or not, of any grand plans, and inspection of their careers reveals only disappointment as it was realised that any grand plans, if they indeed existed, would probably fail to materialise. Before 1800, and later, there were found no useful flax supplies, no tough naval masts, no interesting naval stores, nor a thriving whaling industry.

Of these ship men, Frost in particular neglects the whalers, who were led by Samuel Enderby Senior of Blackheath, London, where he died in 1797. I have written and published especially on the whalers, but to little avail, it seems. But since whaling in 1786 and later was an important British industry, it only needs to be asked, why would Frost neglect the role that British whalers had in shipping convicts to Australia before 1800?

To discuss ¨grand plans”and to overlook an industry as important to Britain as whaling in the 1780s, 1790s, simply makes no sense. At least, not to a maritime historian who values the integrity of Pacific maritime history. In terms of historian-reputations, The Botany Bay Debate will not be healthier to be involved with until such time as Australians start to delve into convict history seen at least partly as maritime history. That maritime history will link to later minor histories of marine exploration and re-exploration, and more or less prove itself in its own terms. Those terms are not well-shown in Frostś book at all. We await The First Fleet: the real story, with unbated breath, then. (Ends)

Keegan – A History of Warfare – a much needed historical- philosophical outlook

Dan Byrnes in review of John Keegan, A History of Warfare. London, Hutchinson/ Random House, 1993.

I mostly read social, political and maritime history, and rarely read military history unless I absolutely have to, so why did I bother anyway with Keegan here? Well, for one thing, he has a well-considered, philosophical outlook on the history of warfare that I have never encountered before. He also has useful dates in Ancient History I’d enjoy surveying. And once you get into Keegan’s view of Ancient History, he is a lecturer at Sandhurst military academy in the UK, you are gone as a reader, captured in more ways than one by Keegan’s views on the ugly business of war, about which he makes no bones, violently ugly it is.

Although, Keegan rather sidesteps questions about why humanity conducts war, and has done so for so many thousands of years. What Keegan has done is go into the anthropology of warfare, which he does partly as he thinks that the face-to-face combat we are used to in European theatres of war, came from Ancient Greece. Ancient Greek ways of warfare, best represented by the Spartans, became pathways for humanity’s trajectory out of more primitive ways of warfare, which used more ritual and ceremony than westerners are now used to.

The Greeks influenced the Persians and more so the Romans. The Romans transmitted their views on warfare to the edges of their empire, especially to the Germanic peoples. Earlier on, how and why did humanity adopt the habit of building defensive walls for cities? The development of horse-based warfare also was a factor, and horse-using fighters learned detachment for their fighting methods, perhaps more so than any other kind of fighter.

But how are all these competing views organized by Keegan as he proceeds? His book is less than chronological, and is more devoted to themes, but I found his use of statistics about war scenarios quite riveting.

Keegan begins his book by flatly contradicting the well-known view of Clausewitz that war is the continuation of policy by other means. Keegan sees this view of Clausewitz as arising from specific times and places in European history – where Napoleon’s star shines rather brightly – a Europe of polities, states, state interests,while war in fact long predates strategy, diplomacy, more modern political realities.

Yet today we are still strung between the pacifist and the lawful bearer of arms; we know both will prefer to die rather than give up their creed of life. Primitive man long ago felt and saw things differently, yet finally, the lawful bearer of arms had to heed orders that might mean the end of his life , even in “primitive societies”. Society – and/or civilisation – has always had to live with such dilemmas, but the many different ways humanity has found for dealing with these issues is why Clausewitz is not so much wrong, as severely limited in his outlook.

Keegan buffs his often philosophical prose with clear references to the uglinesses of war (kidnap, looting, pillage, rape, extortion,systematic vandalism) and he tells us (for example) that if there are many kinds of war, there are no simple answers, either. That in western culture there are three major elements to the conduct of war, the moral, the intellectual and the technological. (Keegan seems to want to leave it to his reader to decide if the advent of atomic warfare was highly meaningful for mankind, or otherwise.)

This is a very zoom-in/zoom-out sort of book. Keegan gives us close-ups of theatres of war, or he gives us long historical perspectives to ponder, as with the use of gunpowder, the development of cannon. And he also says things such as: a world without organised armies would be uninhabitable. He is also against “cultural rigidity” in the conduct of warfare. He mentions “military restraint” approvingly, and thinks that military practitioners and/or peacekeepers in the future will still have much to learn (or relearn) from The Orient, or from more primitive cultures. This is why an approach to the anthropology of warfare is to be recommended; it helps to promote cultural adaptiveness where military challenges are involved, or are imposed on us.

And, Clausewitz was wrong. Keegan says, politics must continue, war cannot continue. The two things are separable, they are not necessarily in harness to each other or for each other. (Ends)

Who links to work by Dan Byrnes?

NB: This blog because it wants to communicate with real people will have a zero tolerance view about unwanted spam, particularly machine-made or automatic spam. Spam will be killed immediately in a no-questions asked sort of way.

See Dan Byrnes’ own websites at his domain at:

See Dan Byrnes as an independent researcher at at:

One of the Findagrave websites. see the entry for Matthew Ridley (1746-1789) a minor diplomat of the American Revolution at:

For Dan Byrnes’ Commentary on the first PhD thesis ever written on convict transportation to Australia, an introduction, see a catalogue item at National Library of Australia:, the thesis written 1933 by Wilfrid Oldham.

Linked at University of Greenwich, London UK, the Maritime History Unit.

A new (2016) PhD thesis well-worth reading on these topics is: Alan Brooks, Prisoners or Servants? A History of the Legal Status of Britain’s Transported Convicts. Phd Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2016. Brooks pays a good deal of attention to information provided by Dan Byrnes, and criticises some of it in a useful way.

For a positive view on research by Dan Byrnes see (re Matthew Ridley of Maryland, and William Bligh of NSW) the history-minded website from USA:

On maritime history, see the Greenwich Maritime Unit, Greenwich University, London. Also,. the increasingly noted and useful website from University College, London, on Legacies of British Slave Ownership, albeit some some mistakes on its part which will be corrected in due course (it is a very large database and website involved):

See also an information depot on convict transportation to Australia at:

More to come. This file will be regularly updated. See   Amy Lupold Bair, Blogging for Dummies. 6th edn. New Jersey USA, John Wiley and Sons, 2016. Blurbs say, Choosing a blogging topic and platform. Using a blog to build a personal brand. Monetizing a blog through advertising. More to come here on blogging.

The Courteen Association to China

The First British Trade Expedition to China, 1637:

Captain Weddell and the Courteen Fleet in Asia and Late Ming Canton

Book Prospectus

By Nicholas D. Jackson, Ph.D.

(Note: Dan Byrnes in his website book online, “The English Business of Slavery”, treats the Courteen Association in Chapters 9, 12, 13. Pls go Google on it.)

As the Ming scholar John Wills wrote in the bibliographical essay appended to his survey of “Relations with Maritime Europeans,1514-1662,” in the Cambridge History of the Ming Dynasty: “There is no fully adequate monograph in any language on any major facet of Ming relations with maritime Europeans. The great stumbling block has been the need to make use of European archival and old printed sources and at the same time to have control of the Chinese sources.” Drawing upon several sets of primary sources in Chinese, Portuguese, and English, I set out to help remedy this historiographical lacuna by constructing a richly-textured narrative and analysis of the first British trade expedition to China in 1637. Not coincidentally, the expeditionary fleet anchored in the Pearl River estuary, the maritime venue that was to host the first battles of the Opium Wars two centuries later. Long before the British “gunboat diplomacy” of the 1830s or Lord Macartney’s famously disappointing embassy to Beijing (1793-1794), a remarkable attempt to establish commercial relations and a permanent trade station in China had been made by a group of Britons authorized and sponsored by the Stuart monarch, King Charles I. In this endeavour of 1637, naval scuffles between British and Chinese ships took place in the same waters that furnished the stage for the opening engagements of the Opium Wars early in the reign of Queen Victoria.

Raids and skirmishes involving the two peoples occurred along the shores of the same waters where the British navy was to carry out Lord Palmerston’s aggressive foreign policy in the Far East. In August 1637, the British stormed a Chinese fort and hoisted the flag of Great Britain to flutter in the breeze above a small island in south China. In September 1637 a fleet of Chinese fire-ships was launched in the middle of the night to annihilate the British fleet. Casualties and deaths were suffered by both Chinese and British in several such engagements. In the autumn of 1637, half a dozen British merchants were detained and imprisoned in the suburbs of Canton for more than three months. Since no comprehensive account of these and other striking episodes in the annals of Sino-British relations has been rendered or published in such detail as they deserve; since no narrative has unveiled and presented all the dramatis personae nor any analysis probed all the events from all the available angles or to such depths as is possible; I will be filling a wide gap in our historical record.

The British venture was undertaken by William Courteen and Associates, an upstart, “interloping,” and formidable rival of the recently (1600) organized and later illustrious East India Company. As L. H Roper, an authority on early British imperial history, recently (2017) noted: “the consistent neglect or dismissal of the Courteen Association in the historiography of the Anglo-British Empire is curious.” All the more odd seems this oversight when the Weddell expedition alone has been described by another scholar, John Appleby, as “an audaciously ambitious attempt to challenge the trading monopoly of the East India Company in Asia.” In the summer of 1637 Captain John Weddell led a Courteen fleet all the way to Macao and then up the Pearl River not far from Canton (Guangzhou). Weddell, a disgruntled ex-employee of the East India Company, was a fierce personality, veteran commander, and an intrepid entrepreneur of the seas. Although he was among the most widely-travelled and battle-hardened of the early EICo sea-captains, he had been treated shabbily and dismissed by the London-based company shortly before he had joined the Courteen Association to command its fleet to the Far East.

 The Weddell expedition of the Courteen Association, in rivalry with and led by several ex-employees of the EICo, was not only authorized but partially funded by the British king, Charles I. The monarch promised to invest £10,000 (or about ‎£2,000,000 in today’s terms). The financing was managed by Sir William Courteen, a London-based merchant magnate. He was a Dutchman who had migrated from Holland, and had become an acquaintance of Endymion Porter, one of the Stuart king’s longest serving courtiers — Porter had been close to Charles since the latter’s years as Prince of Wales, and had even accompanied the heir to the throne on the latter’s failed mission of 1623 to marry the Spanish Infanta. The directors of the Courteen Association hoped that Weddell, blessed with a royal commission, and benefiting from the recent (1635) Anglo-Portuguese accord made at Goa in India, would be able to transact lucrative business in the area stretching in an arc from the west coast of India to the southern islands of Japan. Ideally, he would set up some permanent trading stations (“factories” in seventeenth-century usage) to do a regular and large volume of business. The Weddell expedition of the Courteen Association was animated by an intrepid spirit of exploration, profit-seeking, and conquest. Such lofty, even quixotic, goals as setting up trade stations from the Malabar coast of India to the Malaysian-Indonesian archipelago to the Pearl River Delta of China to the southern islands of Japan; these were not the sum of its aspiration. The prospectus also entertained the notion of launching a contingent to discover the east-Asian outlet of the north-east passage, the route which had been eluding Europeans at least since the time of the anglicized Italian, John Cabot.

My narrative and analysis focuses on the Courteen fleet’s activity in south China, in the province of Guangdong, between Portuguese Macao and the provincial capital, Canton (Guangzhou). The Dragon, Sun, Katherine, and Anne, three large ships and a pinnace, the remnant of the Courteen fleet that had embarked from the Downs in southern England in April 1636, arrived at Macao in July 1637. In revealing and intriguing detail, I relate how CaptainWeddell with his mariners and merchants fared in the next several months spent at Macao and in the Pearl River estuary and its shores and islands, as they endeavoured to forge commercial relations with the Chinese and arrange for a permanent spot from which to conveniently carry out such trade. Besides figuring out what and how things happened as well as what designs and ambitions drove the British, my scholarship aims to explain how and why the Portuguese and Chinese treated the British the way they did. Thus, my story is presented as not only an episode of Sino-British but also one of Anglo-Portuguese relations. Further, it is intended as a contribution to early (or pre-) British imperial history — that is, it provides something along the lines of a record of the British Empire’s birth pangs—or more impishly, and to echo Austin Coates, an earlier student of the British in China: the long and disorderly preamble to British Hong Kong. The series of events sheds unique and fresh light on aspects of Ming China, particularly its imperial and provincial governance, and devices for dealing with foreigners like the British “red-haired barbarians” (红夷). Among other things, the British breakthrough in the Bogue in 1637—marauding and plundering with impunity — exposed the illusory security of the Ming policy (明朝对外政策) of playing off foreigner against foreigner (以夷制夷). Collectively the incidents of the Weddell expedition of the Courteen Association afford us a window through which we can view the workings of the imperial and Guangdong provincial administration in action during the reign of the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen. Much more, and most broadly, this book is a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of Sino-Western relations.

The First British Trade Expedition to China, 1637:

Captain Weddell and the Courteen Fleet in Asia and Late Ming Canton

By Nicholas D. Jackson

Introduction (or Prologue)

1) British in Early Seventeenth-Century Luso-Dutch Asia

2) Enter the Interlopers: The Genesis of the Courteen Association,

Rival of the English East India Company

3) From the Downs to Goa to Malacca:

The Courteen Fleet on the Way to China, May 1636-June 1637


4) Welcome to China, With Portuguese Characteristics:

The Courteen Fleet in Macao Purgatory, July-August 1637

5) The Dragon Enters the Tiger:

The Courteen Fleet at the Bogue and Pearl River Estuary, August 1637

6) Captives at Canton:

The Crisis of the Courteen Fleet in the Boca Tigris and

Retreat to Macao, September-October 1637

7) Negotiation and Liberation:

Restoration and Trade of the Courteens at Macao, October-December 1637

8) Results and Consequences of the First British Trade Expedition to China:

“Anglology” of the Ming and Sinology of the Courteens

Epilogue: Captain Weddell’s Exploits in the Pearl River: Precursor of the Opium Wars? (Ends on Courteen Association)

The republic of Australia

Not forgetting, that for its edition of 2-3 January2016, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper came out with an editorial promoting a Republic for Australia. A break-out from the editorial says: “Supporters of the status quo argue that when it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But it is broken. Australia can never define itself on its own terms while it defers to an inherited democracy.”

I agree. One of the oldest pro-Republican arguments in Australia, and it goes back to the nineteenth century, is The Maturity Argument – that Australia has come of age, is now mature, and should let go the apron strings of Mother Britain. It is the argument I mostly use, the argument I most prefer as an Australian republican. This argument was not resisted by some political circles in Britain itself in the nineteenth century, but it is still resisted by monarchists in Australia itself.

This Maturity Argument also suggests that Australia need not stoop to such tactics as the American colonists used from 1775 – armed rebellion. Politically, the transition could be made quite peacefully, and as far as I know, HM Elizabeth II of Great Britain is herself (probably) not against the idea of Australia becoming a republic.

I might add, that foremost Australian critic and comedian, Barry Humphries, as he narrates a recently-produced documentary on Australia 1950s-1980s,“Flashbacks”, (1998-2003), observes that in the 1970s, it was endlessly said that Australia was “coming of age”, and that Australia expressed some of this by rebelling against Mother England. Paradoxically, Australia by 2016 is probably rebelling less against mother England than it was in the 1970s!

One is required to ask, why would this be? It is partly because Republicans have allowed themselves to be buried by Monarchists and the forces of reaction in Australian political life. The 1970s phase Humphries mentioned seems in retrospect then to have been a false dawn for“coming of age”. Worse, there are other warnings to heed, warnings about matters not evident during the 1970s, warnings which did not seem useful till the world saw the results of the outcome of excessive Reaganism in US politics.

For today, by 2016, there is also the risk that Australians will be harmed by thoughtless adoption of ideas which have grown in the USA since 1775, many of which would be harmful for Australia because they badly suit Australian history, political systems or scale(s) of operations. It seems to me that Australians cannot yet be fully trusted to separate what good and bad that has been learned from either of its great and powerful friends – Great Britain or the USA – since 1788. And so it is up to Australian republicans to re-educate their fellow Australians. Please consider yourself placed on this pathway by reading this, then.
                                        -Dan Byrnes, January 2016.

Reflections on genealogy (3)

More on the pitfalls vs the success of doing genealogy today. (3)

One of the worst problems to be encountered in years of this sort of work with genealogy has been (mostly for some Australian, New Zealand or US genealogies) with receiving emails from matriarchs who want to set one to rights. They mostly have mistaken or low-grade views on history, if not plain wrong; worse, they tend to have inflated views on the achievements of members of their family. (If they are older people, which they generally are, their education is probably not good.) I suspect, but don’t know, that they achieve their role by default – no one else is interested.

These matriarchs mostly have little or no interest in proper foundational history because of their inflated views on the achievements of their own family. So be warned, these women’s contributions have to be taken with large grains of salt. Some of them can be quite correct and very entertaining with it, but if and when they are wrong, they are a positive danger.

There are others errors to be made and reasons for errors … To go back to the early seventeenth century, the system of “awarding” baronetcies, which was a wonderful earner for James I of England, who introduced this baronetcy system, was in many ways helpful to genealogy, as it introduced a well-watched system that redounded down the generations, and often, profitably so for the “awardees” and their descendants. This system of baronetcies created a kind of low-level aristocracy that, sitting just above the middle and upper-middle class in England, created an entirely new echelon, and an often reliable echelon, for the inspection of the historian interested in human social life. (At least one of the baronetcies created from the 1790s in London still thrives today.)

But there arose a publication now known as Burke’s Extinct Baronetcies, which partly as so many lineages became extinct (there was no one left to ask) became very inaccurate. The result was that scholars used this information – some of which was inaccurate – and thus perpetuated errors about various eras. Burke’s Extinct became a menace for historians. It took me a long time to get clear of this problem.

Other errors arise because of disputes over spelling. (Smith or Smythe, Ferguson or Fergusson, Blyth or Blythe?) All my life I have had to live with questions about the spelling of my own name (Byrnes, which is Irish, or Burns, which is Scottish.)

The reasons for errors with genealogies go on and on. There are “grandmothers” who might censor tales of the behaviour of family members, or perhaps disapprove of the choice of a spouse, and might feel free about excluding or censoring information about people they disapprove of. A child might be disinherited for reasons not given. Or, there might be other reasons for errors to be made. People often lose touch with their family members when a person or persons emigrate or move to a different part of the same country (this applies to many notable Londoners who had roots in the country counties).

I can think of at least one Scots commercial lineage active in the early nineteenth century where one can easily see the passage of a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder (once known as manic depression). A male lineage can die out so that the line is carried on only by women, which can become confusing, more so if some of the women have multiple spouses. (And errors can arise in history where a man or women has multiple spouses, some of whom can be forgotten, censored, or otherwise somehow “disappear” from the records – this can also interfere with correct information on the parent(s) of particular children.)

Sometimes, a man changed his surname to be able to inherit an estate, often from a maternal uncle or great-uncle.

But not to be negative, let us now survey reasons which assist accuracy in genealogy. Today, it is frowned on when cousins marry, but such marriage behaviour was very common till the early nineteenth century, either for reasons of the protection of property, or maybe because people saw themselves, rightly or wrongly, as having limited options for making choices about marriage partners. Illness, some other health problems or the premature death of a spouse, might also be a factor here. It generally is helpful to research if-or-when cousins marry, if only because a genealogy stops expanding for a time, and so to speak, curves back in on itself – and stays accurate.

Generally, however, and it is rather remarkable as human behaviour, genealogies tend to be as mathematically expansive as they are genetically expansive– because individuals mostly choose their partners at random. That is, they fall in love or otherwise find ways to get on, which means a couple often stays together.

What can be remarkable here is that historians still have few protocols for an understanding of “falling in love”. This sort of business tends to be assumed, and divorces or partings are also accepted by historians in a shrug-shoulder sort of way. It is also noticeable, how many old people, male or female, die during winter; it must have been a medical cliché, and also a cliché for funeral directors.

And at last we should ask, what, if anything, have I learned from these genealogical delvings? One thing seems clear, and it is something that Marx failed to notice, and it’s one reason why Marxism is wrong about class. In general, parents try to protect daughters by marrying them to their own class (horizontal class behaviour) or some class above it (a verticalising class behaviour). It is seen by most parents as cruel to induce or make a daughter marry beneath her own class (although some daughters make such a decision on their own). Sons are generally a different matter; they are more impetuous with their decisions, harder to control and they travel differently and probably further than young women do. Sons are a wild card with marriages, daughters are more compliant.

The long-term result, discernible via genealogy, is a gentle upward movement in and for society. Marxists mistake this and attribute it to rather basic economic explanations. I tend to a more behavioural explanation for this tendency to slow upward social mobility. Of course, downward social mobility exists to, perhaps due to moral failure (such as alcoholism or gambling), some effects of war, the early death of a spouse or of children, medical problems, mental illness, genetic inheritances, disruption-in-general, failed investments, failed business experience – and failure might be harder to explain than success.

More to the Marxist point, and assuming that other things remain equal, women with successful marriages tend to become wealthier, better off. Families I conclude, also, partly due to the Industrial Revolution (which is basically for England dated from 1760 to 1830) that individuals and families become wealthy not necessarily because they inherit, or posses wealth that grows via interest rates and/or skilful family management, or work both hard and well; they became wealthy or not due to climbing onto one or several income streams, particularly during times of technological change. (In the Western World, we know a good deal about technological change, due to the said Industrial Revolution and its continuances.) Poverty tends to be found where people for various reasons (and often arguable reasons) have limited access to expansive income streams in a technologically changing society.

And lastly I return to a discussion of the software that anyone might use. Because of the problem – of duplication. If errors exist, and they will inevitably appear in ways small or large, then duplications for individuals, or marriages, entire family groups, will have to be managed. One’s choice of software to use could and perhaps should take this into account, though this problem tends not to be discussed as a problem. The problem exists, however as I have found to my cost. Genealogy is an uncertain art. There are many different kinds of historical problems which can arise because of inaccurate genealogy.

But there is a sort of satisfaction to be found here too. Generally, any historical problems that are noticed will subside when genealogies are finally gotten correct. (This is a conspicuous finding with the descendancies of say, Pocahontas in Virginia.) We live, however, in times of change other then technological change. In the days we live in, when around the world now, men can marry men and women can marry women, and if either can care for children, there has been a revolution regarding “families”.

If so, what is the role of software which is based solely on male-female relationships? Rather like bulls and cows and their progeny. I think myself that the role of software has changed. Genealogical software will have to be rewritten to be able to cope with the issues – because the issues are no longer merely sexually binary. (Ends this series of articles.)

Reflections on Genealogy (2)

…On some of the pitfalls of doing long-range genealogy, and I should stress again that I’m an Australian, so really, when I look at genealogies from the UK, or USA or Canada, I am seeing matters with the eyes of a stranger.

I’ve found that there are many reasons to distrust genealogical reports, and many reasons to trust them; but one does have to be clear about this. Genealogy is and remains a very uncertain art, often because of some very human frailties – the ability to lie, to hide from unpleasant facts, to hide the future from misbehaving ancestors, or faulty memories, maybe a need to guess. But I have found out several useful things.

One unexpected finding is that about 1900, and I suppose it was a fin-de-siecle phenomenon, a turn-of-the-century sort of thing for the English-speaking world at least, there were a lot of books of genealogy printed. It was the end of a century of complicated (and very interesting) technological change. Families who thought they were anybody must have been kept very busy sorting out their ancestries, and I suppose that printing companies found the period very profitable indeed, but I’ve found that a lot of errors or omissions were made. The perpetuation of errors, the use of old and incorrect material from the past, and often handed down in families, are almost a separate field of study. One has to keep separate files on corrections.

There are some errors which have crept into English aristocratic genealogy – the corrections can often be entertaining. Scottish genealogy is very turbulent and often inaccurate.

American colonial genealogy is remarkable for a consistency of errors – the “Mayflower thing“ is hugely overdone but all the same, necessary to do. There are unreasonable difficulties with handling the descendants of Pocohontas just because she was in Indian, and similar applies to many slave descendancies. There is one correction online re the name Drake for what is now the USA – there are errors made re the descendants of Sir Francis Drake, and so on.

USA people can seem amusing, and I imagine some of this is due to the popularity of Protestant religion in the USA, as they often seem to enjoy taking genealogies back into the very mists of time, to before the Middle Ages, to about 600AD in Europe (eg., in France or England), to the time of Christ, or to “Adamic times”.

Before 1775, many colonial American men had military rank in militias which often protected settlements from Indians; the numbers of American colonial men who were “soldiers” is truly extraordinary – and the facts have often crept into US movies, too. (One of the best such movies is The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, which is ironic, as both of these actors can be claimed as Australians.) It seems then, no wonder that the USA is a heavily militarised, overly-patriotic and overly-aggressive nation; this is “cultural”, this has been going on since before the American Revolution and was heightened further by the Revolution, and it has had a founder effect for the USA as a nation.

With Australian genealogies, there is room for humour as well as sombre thoughts. Various “Anglo”Australians can be subject today to reverse snobbery, as with the genealogical website named “Australian Royalty”, which is very much for the descendants of convicts. I remain very amused with the nineteenth century pastoral sector for upper-class pastoral families, as they intermarried about as fast as is humanly possible in order to shore up their class positions in a new country, but some rather snobby twentieth century books of genealogy indicate that this is rarely how they see it themselves.

Culturally, eastern Australia has an excessive taste in history for the lurid and the scandalous, particularly regarding commercial histories in Sydney and to a lesser extent, Melbourne, which is perhaps due to our convict colony origins – and it affects genealogies as well. It is notable that Joseph Conrad, novelist and incidentally a much-travelled sea captain who knew his ports of the world, once said that the port of Sydney was the most corrupt port he’d ever seen.

And a sombre thought for the Australian experience? Just why Australia’s Aboriginal people speak of “Aboriginality” and downplay information on their European ancestry, if they have it, is I suppose for a reason that is easy to understand – that Aboriginals and part-Aboriginals fear they will become extinct as a race. But I wish they were more honest, clearer and up-front about their ancestries. Partly as it is clear, there are much less of such problems with a nearby country also with a recent European start, New Zealand.

And in New Zealand, it is remarkable, a series of governors/governors-general came from the same family, named Fergusson. This long-term charade involved a Governor of New Zealand Sir James Fergusson (1832-1907) Baronet 6 who married a sister of a Governor of South Australia; father of a Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Charles Fergusson (1865-1951) who married Lady Alice Mary Boyle, daughter of a Governor of New Zealand, David Boyle (1833-1915) 7th Earl Glasgow; father of a Governor-General of New Zealand, Bernard Edward Fergusson (1911-1980), Lord Ballantine; father of a High Commissioner to New Zealand, George Duncan Fergusson.

All this seems to me to be one of the central absurdities of New Zealand’s history. (Ends)

Reflections on genealogy (1)

I call it “long range genealogy” – the collection and inspection – often the prolonged inspection – of many genealogies … for historical purposes, not for purposes of decorating anyone’s family history. Certainly not in any regard of my own family history.

One of my general questions is: is history for genealogy, or is genealogy for history? Should the two go together or not? The two have gone together in the past with historians’ studies of royal and/or aristocratic dynasties, but less so, I think, has genealogy been applied to history-from-below, or to Economic History, two types of history of which I am fond. And from such historical and genealogical delvings, I think that the Marxist interpretations of and claims about class are incorrect – not that I want just to shoot my opinions off here; these reflections are for your use, for your information, so I hope you use them.

(1) Historians should use genealogy more often, as to do so can be instructive, but a good deal depends on (2) the genealogical software one uses. This seems to be something that very few people think seriously about, as over the years I have had an enormous amount of email from family historians, and seldom if ever does anyone mention what sort of computer systems or software they use, or apply. Why people do not mention it I do not know, but they don’t mention it, which is why I conclude they think little about it. (3) But then, I use genealogy for many purposes – albeit, mostly from the English-speaking world.

I collect genealogies, using British Imperial History as the hub, in order to see who was related to who that historians either miss, don’t know or otherwise fail to talk about. (The borders of the British Empire changed between what are called, its first and second foundings, the first founding ending with the American victory of the American War of Independence, the second founding beginning in 1783, with the end of the American War of Independence and Britain’s acceptance of the loss of its 13 American colonies. I have to go along with these changing borders as I might have to explain sometimes, why part of family, maybe why an entire family, might have emigrated or moved.)

(3a) By 2018 I have a very good collection of what can only be termed, historical genealogies. For England itself, including aristocracy and royalty. Scotland is a little separate, Ireland even more so. For colonial America, and/or what became Canada. For some Caribbean islands (but not including Cuba, which was a Spanish possession). For British India. For Australasia, which became Australia (I am a New South Welshman in Australia) and New Zealand.

(2a) Most of the time, I’ve used London as a hub for research activities, though sometimes New York, or Bombay in India. Or Sydney in Australia. Hubs can move about. I grew up in Tamworth, NSW, Australia and from time to time I use my own hometown as a hub (eg, when things do become more personal than not)

(3) I also think, if some tensions exist between the findings of history proper, and the findings of genealogy, while there may be some problems with some family histories (genealogy is an uncertain art at the best of times), there will almost certainly be a problem of an historical nature. What to do? But then, I regard “history” not as a set of findings, which is how most people seem to regard it, I regard “history” as an activity, and this activity can be fraught with any sort of problems – lacks of information, gaps in records, errors arising from misapprehensions, ordinary mistakes or ill-chosen ideologies. It’s often said, “History is written by the victors”, which is true enough, for certain kinds of history, but sometimes I try to see things from the loser’s point of view, if only to see if the victor’s record has all the facts in the right place. But back to (2).

Why on earth don’t people discuss what system, what software they use, for genealogical studies? I don’t know the answer, all I know is that people won’t discuss it. And I also know, that there are technical risks afoot. I’m in the middle of some technical changes right now, getting used to some new software, and not doing very well it at all. I used to use PAF5 (Personal Ancestral File) as distributed by the Mormon Church in Utah USA (and at one period they were very good with answering email queries).

This is marvellous software I’ve been using since about 1993, it’s the only software I’d not complain about, it’s the only software I haven’t had a problem with in 25 years. And why use PAF? It’s big capacity (in theory one million entries), and can easily handle 33-generations of any family, which is more than enough for historical work back to say, 1600, when the English East India Company had just started its operations. (Or for Virginia in America, the foundational years are about 1607-1608, and Pocahontas the Indian princess had descendants which MUST be gotten right for ethnographic reasons if no other!) PAF is reliable, it used to be well-supported. It’s easy to operate, can handle notes well, it’s easy to back-up or to copy, and can do gedcom work with ease. It’s easy to change, correct or update, easy to slip data in or out of, it can manage multi-media, give good print-outs, some in the form of website-mountable multi-generational readouts. (Which in turn, copyable, have become very popular on my various websites, which in turn is very gratifying.) I’m going to miss it enormously when I stop using it.

Why stop using it? Well, the distributors no longer support PAF, in fact they no longer even distribute it, so the software, good as it is, becomes too risky to continue to use. But have I transitioned successfully to the use of replacement software? Well no, not yet. So it’s an ongoing saga. (Ends)


Hello World! Indeed. And Compliments of the Season to you and Happy New 2019. This is a brand new blog. I’m a poet and will be blogging sometimes on poetry, but also on Australian and other history, news and current affairs, matters of general interest. Let’s see what happens, then …


Dan Byrnes is a poet all his life and by now has been through many phases, including, Australian bush poetry, learning more about high-level poetry from around the world, personal disillusionment, becoming a world citizen, a zen sense of life, and much else. He is the author of The Blackheath Connection (an overview of convict transportation from England to North America, then to Australia, 1718-1810). Webmaster. A sometime writer of letters-to-editor. Now increasingly a blogger. See his domain at…

Links, other, to The Merchant Networks Project (a long-term follow-up to The Blackheath Connection).