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.

Executive salaries

The news today (19-12-2018) from a meeting of NAB Bank shareholders is very encouraging. The news is that shareholders have revolted against CEO-type remarks (which have been used for years now) that huge salaries have to be paid to attract international talent to a senior position. When the truth is that in Australia, a royal commission into banking and the finance sector has found that many banks have been behaving badly and been ripping off their customers, including charging deceased customers for “fees for service”. Ergo, the huge salaries and bonus packages have only attracted badly behaving types. Lord, this website is pleased that this nonsense has been sorted out. I hope this revised shareholder outlook spreads internationally and very quickly, too.

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).

Hello world!

Hello, and Welcome to Dan Byrnes’ Blog. Is it a new world or is it just a new world? Have you decided yet? This blog will treat many unanswerable questions, such as: Why is it mostly  folks who live in USA (repeat USA in case you don’t know where it is) who worry about The New World Order? Or have distinct nostalgia about The Old World Order? And, do you want fries with that? French fries? Really? Well, I never …