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: http://www.danbyrnes.com.au

See Dan Byrnes as an independent researcher at academia.edu at: independent.academia.edu

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

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: catalogue.nla.gov.au, 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: http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~auntsissie/genealogy/benedictarnold.html

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): https://www.ucl.ac.uk

See also an information depot on convict transportation to Australia at: http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/serendip.html.

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.

Review of The Pseudo-Science Wars, by Michael Gordin

Recent reading by May 2017 … Dan Byrnes, review of Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. University of Chicago Press, 2012. Gordin’s book is more important than it seems. (Gordin was a Professor of History at Princeton University when he wrote this book.)

And I need to defend this position, since as with the US writer Hemingway, we need a good bullshit detector here, about Velikovsky and his ilk, not Gordin.

G. K. Chesterton was quite wrong when he said that if people (he meant people in the English-speaking-world) will not believe in Christianity, they will believe anything. Chesterton is proved quite wrong by the Twentieth Century experiences of a Christian USA, which became a nation in which anything could and would be believed. Including pseudo-science, Creationism, including belief in UFOs – which might by the way be sourced in the old beliefs of American Indian tribes, this up-in-the-air matter remains very up-in-the-air.

The updated finding for our post-Chesterton era is that …. people will believe anything, including Christianity. Period.

We now by 2017 have a USA, an only-in-America, in which, apparently, it is possible to believe anything. We owe this situation partly to the Internet, the fact that anyone can post any fool opinion on the Net (and be believed by somebody), partly to a US education system that seems increasingly poor and which encourages ignorance, and … today, we live in days when denialism about climate change is widespread. Scientists, especially climate scientists, find that their scientific methods used to identify risks arising from climate change are allowed by the media to be questioned by idiots and ignoramuses.

The situation is so bad that I have no panacea, and indeed it has gotten worse, we now live in days of “fake news”. But I do know, from having been a journalist (and a one-time university Geography student), that most journalists are not qualified to discuss the weather, let alone qualified to discuss climate, which produces our weather wherever we happen to live. Enough said.

I also often wonder why/how the idea that the Earth will end one day soon, thus destroying all our lives, really, why is this idea so popular in the USA? Of all places? The answer is probably with Colonial American Christianity, from the Mayflower days, from the days of the Witches of Salem, with Millenarian Christianity, probably, with its eschatology, its belief that relatively few people will be”saved”during the End Times; most of us, like humanity during the Flood of Noah, will be left to perish. Poor us.

Millenarian Christianity, sometimes called “chialism”, is associated with an idea that “religion” will soon be associated with a major, and beneficial, change in society. Belief in an end-of-the-world can also be found in Islam, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, which leads me to suspect that such a belief should be regarded as universal – as well as destructive.

In Christian beliefs, there will be a Second Coming of Jesus and at the Second Coming, Jesus will not arrive as a harmless male baby, he will come as a fully-fledged Lord of Heaven – doing judging stuff big-time and so kiss goodbye your and my fantasies about continuing to have a nice life on Planet Earth. The idea that the world might or will end has been around for thousands of years in in one form or another, but it was really given a workout in the 1970s when Velikovsky and the zeitgeist popularised his book, Worlds in Collision, first published in the 1950s. Which was about, say, the 15 Century BCE, when Venus was ejected from Jupiter as something like a comet and came close to crashing into Earth. If you can believe that.

This notion was popular with readers but was found so unsatisfactory by scientists that very soon its publishers, Macmillan (a textbook publisher), mostly respected by scientists in the USA, let the publishing be done by Doubleday (not a textbook publisher). Velikovsky ended embarrassing a lot of people including himself – if we respect Science, that is.

And so we had Velikovsky using comparative mythology (based on old holy book writings, mostly Jewish), to drum up his bullshit science, bullshit astronomy, bullshit historical chronology and so on. Gordin thinks the Velikovsky thing blew up in the 1970s and had largely died by 1985. I was living in Melbourne, Australia, during the 1970s, and, indeed, the second-hand bookshops were full of copies of Velikovsky paperbacks; he’d become a sort of unofficial, one-man publishing industry.

I read Velikovsky sceptically, since there was nothing that I  (with my university education fresh in memory) knew about from astronomy or science, geology or ancient history, or Middle Eastern religion, that would support Velikovsky’s views. I sought the advice of a friend’s father who was a scientific geologist. This geologist confirmed my scepticism, but he did surprise me by admitting that reading Velikovsky had jolted him out of the usual old assumption used by geologists (Uniformitarianism, slow, boring, uninterrupted)  and made him wonder anew about Catastrophism (interruptive, sudden and surprising) happening from time to time.

There I left matters till years later I read Gordin, provoked by latter-day findings that in the USA in our Internet days, lots of folks will believe anything, even more than they did in the heyday of Velikovsky. What’s going on? Why would it be that the USA, of all countries in the world, rich and wealthy it is said, has become so truly-rooly only-in-America, the glad home of truly wacky ideas? Why not, well, Iceland? Or India, which has a large enough population to produce a large number of weirdos.

You’ll have to read something like Gordin’s book. Which is a bit dry, a bit slow, and doesn’t exactly tell us exactly what is scientifically wrong with Velikovsky’s views or findings – except in the footnotes. The footnotes are extraordinarily well-done, but of course they slow down a reading of Gordin’s text. The point might be that what Gordin calls “the modern pseudo-scientific fringe” in US life is actually bigger and more dangerous than we thought (in our current world of “fake news”).

But one useful thing Gordin does say, is that pseudo-science is mimetic – it imitates the form and/or substance of the fruits of proper scientific inquiry. Pseudo-science is – science as if.  In Velikovsky’s case, “as if” was written cosmologically large. However, I personally haven’t heard anyone mention Velikovsky, positively or negatively, for years. Whereas, other sorts of US nonsense I have heard mentioned, and too often; unfortunately it is repeated on Australian TV by Australian accents.

Velikovsky is not, I think, the Big Daddy of Pseudo-Science in the USA, but he does stand out, partly as he has a Russian-Jewish name, not an English-based US name. Velikovsky’s scientific nonsense spilled over into all sorts of other unscientific nonsense now popular in the USA; Creationism, religiosity of various kinds, astrology, many kinds of pseudo-science, and non-science or anti-science trends such as today’s anti-vaccination groups, anti-fluoride groups, and so on.

(The anti-vaxxers are right weirdos, encouraged as they are by the USA’s excess emphasis on individualism; they seem to thrive on denying that man is a social animal, liable from time to time to be infected by other social animals near him or her. Particularly with children who are forced by law to regularly gather in institutions known as schools.)

And so, watch out for US mind viruses, they’re deadly and today they’re transmitted not by books, as with Velikovsky, but by the Internet. Given the many weird things that folks in the USA believe today about so many things, including “fake news” … We note also with our heart sinking that a climate-change-denialist buffoon named Trump is currently president of the USA …

I can only say that what the USA needs today, apart from a reliable bullshit detector, is a good solid dose, never to be forgotten, of the usual set of journalistic questions which by the way precede the win-date, November 1783, of the American Revolution.These questions are deceptively simple-seeming … They are: how, what, when, where, why, who?

Because luckily for the rationalists amongst us, there is no bullshit on earth that can stand up for long to sustained attack from these questions. (Ends).

Introducing Tamworth

Tamworth in New South Wales is my home town and now aged 70+, I still think often and fondly of it. This, by the way, would be Tamworth before it was ever “country music capital of Australia”, when it was just another rural city in New South Wales, in the 1960s searching for some reasons to be mentioned more than once just because it appeared on a map.

I was born in Sydney in 6 April, 1948, and my parents moved to Tamworth in 1950, not long after the birth of my only sister, Maureen. My father, originally a farm boy from Tullamore in far western NSW, had asthma, and his doctor had recommended Tamworth as less humid, drier, healthier, definitely more congenial than Sydney. And so I had the benefits of a very free, wide-open Australian country boyhood. It was marvellous! A entire river to swim in. Hills to climb whenever you felt like it. A highway in front of the house to watch out for. Down the road, a bit closer to town, was the local electricity power station, which I now realise in days of climate change was one of the calling cards of my boyhood; it was regularly shut down as unwary crawling possums were fried into eternity. A stable weather pattern, safety, subdued seasons called Spring and Autumn, seasons that could be severe called Summer or Winter. And in summer, the heat! The heat was fantastic. I had as much sun as a child could bear, and I still hate the cold.  

My father was named Daniel Hilton Byrnes, from Tullamore NSW. My mother was named Sarah Smith, from Watson’s Bay, Sydney. My sister was named Maureen Joan. And I was named Daniel Thomas, the Thomas being for my mother’s father, Thomas Smith. But before I want to tell you more of my parents, I need to tell you about my family history …

Why does Hollywood make movies out of mere comic books?

Dear Readers, This rant about Hollywood was part-inspired by one of my Australian friends who happens to be a landscape painter. His views about Hollywood are probably more charitable than mine.

I write in August 2016 as “Hollywood” has just released a new DC Comic Books movie starring Will Smith, something about crims who have been given super-hero-type powers. This movie is titled, Suicide Squad. “News stories” (which are really just publicity balloons) arise about an actress or two in the movie being miscast … But who cares? Hollywood, probably in search of dollars, and abandoning artistic integrity, has become just a branch office of the US comic books industry. Thus it deserves everything it gets.

Look at it this way, and it’s appalling … “Hollywood” has been milking the US comic books industry for dollars instead of milking world literature. In literary terms, “Hollywood” has done far worse than turn inward, or become overly-introspective, it has lost touch with reality and yet it remains busy promoting comic-book-reality. So let’s wonder awhile why “Hollywood”, one of escapism’s more luxurious homes in human history, has become this unrealistic.
Let’s be charitable and assume that Hollywood is in fact too big, too-multifaceted, it has to be at least part-populated by people who are still sane, to have become just malicious, or even badly misguided. Let’s assume that “Hollywood” has just lost its imagination for a period that’s temporary, that it’s going through a bad patch, an unfortunate cultural phase, but not as bad even as rock n roll having lost its roots. But even this could be far too charitable.

Not only has Hollywood sold out to comic-booksville. It makes too many remakes, which means that already-made movies have become the chief topic of study in “Hollywood”. One of the latest unnecessary remakes is a remake of The Magnificent Seven, this time around starring Denzel Washington. As if the world needed or wanted another remake of The Magnificent Seven! So ”Hollywood” has two dire problems: it has sunk to the level of making too-many remakes (lost its imagination) and it’s making too many movies drawn from comic books (lost its faith in world literature). This is the end of “Hollywood”.

You can tell this is the end of “Hollywood” when you make just one count about “Hollywood” as a so-called USA industry: why has the USA made so few movies about the American Revolution? For on reflection, we would soon realise that the USA has made far more movies about winning WWII than about winning its American Revolution– why on earth would this be?

But it’s not all bad, movie lovers. The good news is that lots of good movies and excellent TV mini-series are being made in Canada, UK, Ireland, Norway, other Scandinavian countries, in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, in what used to be called Middle Europe. In Nigeria in Africa, in China,South Korea, South America, Australia. Firms such as HBO, Netflix and BBC keep making stunningly watchable material.

While in India, luckily, Bollywood (Hindi Cinema) is fully geared-up, equipment-wise and techo-wise, it’s ready to go. Bollywood is also lately doing a few productions in Australia. All Bollywood has to do is switch more new content to something the Western World wants, milk world literature in the right ways, and everything should be quite ok from Bollywood. So forget Hollywood, think Bollywood. Forget Los Angeles. Forget hollywood magic, it’s gone, time has moved on.

Goodbye, Hollywood. Maybe it had to do with the world’s digital revolution? Maybe it has to do with the politico-cultural decline of the USA? How and why across the years, Hollywood forgot about world literature and adopted for US-written comic books is hard to say, but it was a fatal mistake. Fatal, and very disappointing with it.

On Mervyn Peake’s Ghormenghast

In March 2017amongst my watching of old videos was an unexpected pleasure, a viewing of Ghormenghast by Mervyn Peake. The reason to mention it,and recommend it, is due to what? … the sets, the actors, the general idea of ghastliness? Some of the actors, and wonderful performances they all give, are: Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee, Warren Mitchell, Zoe Wanamaker, Martin Clunes, Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes, Mark Williams.

The actors in Ghormenghast are a mini-who’s-who of the UK acting world. But that’s not the only reason to watch Ghormenghast. The entire Ghormenghast world needs to be seen to be appreciated, and well, I read the three Ghormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake in the 1970s.

Memorable it was, for vague memories of satire about mouldering piles of old stone architecture, decaying aristocracy, things of the past, the pointlessness of human affairs. Ghormenghast in the novels and film is the home of the just-born Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Groan, who comes from just the kind of lineage of Groaners you’d expect to be living in such a run-down old castle, it’s all simply appalling.

In the movie version the sets are remarkable, while the action is about decaying aristocracy visited by an intelligent-but-feral kitchen hand, ruthlessness itself, who has escaped from the castle kitchens and becomes Chancellor of the Earldom, but is hardly happy.

Then comes a flood to add more chaos to the sets; you might say, a fearsome case of suddenly rising damp. It’s hard to convey how dreadfully depressing-funny it all is. Suffice to say, highly recommended. It’s a BBC Worldwide release dated 2001, a two-disk set.

Stranger to Stranger, by Paul Simon, review by Dan Byrnes

Review by Dan Byrnes of Paul Simon, his 2016 album, Stranger to Stranger. Concord Music Group Records/Virgin/EMI (on 8-9-2016).

Paul Simon (born 1941 so now aged 74 ) is apparently a bit sleepless at night, hence his song, Insomniac’s Lullaby. Stranger to Stranger is Simon’s 13th studio album and follows his 12th album released in 2011, So Beautiful or So What.

Simon is still hip, still writes a good line, a satirical line or a perceptively sad line; sometimes even a timeless line. He also has the reputation and the friends to do pretty much what he likes, and with Stranger to Stranger he’s done it again. Stranger is mostly an experimental album, concerned to explore either unusual instruments, or, Partch’s alternative theory of music itself.

Creatively, Stranger is not a patch on Graceland, far a better-quality album, yet in many ways it is unfair to compare them. The nature of the experiments conducted for Stranger make it a smaller-scale album, but it’s still witty, still interesting, without being what Graceland was, which was riveting.

My favourite line from Stranger is from Insomniac’s Lullaby, where a sleepless Simon, condemned to be up-all-night, prays that God will save him “from questions I can’t understand”. (Not “don’t understand” but can’t understand”.)

My favourite song on Stranger is probably Cool Papa Bell, a blather of seeming satirical nonsense where Simon lets loose a spray on the absurdities of contemporary USA. The song’s maybe a bit unfair to the actual Cool Papa Bell, who was an Afro-American baseball player 1922-1950 (James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, a centre fielder, died 1991), reputed to be the fastest baseball player ever. Simon seems to be saying that to avoid today’s USA absurdities, you have to move your mind pretty quickly or risk being eaten-up by rampant stupidity, in the sense that this is how the world is these days: it’s the stupid, stupid. And I quite agree.

But overall with this album, I suspect that the music experiments and the musical ideas came first, the lyrics came second, the artistic satisfaction came in third and late. One of the characteristics of the album is the repetition of lyrical lines (“I can’t talk now, I’m in a parade.”) plus repetition of purely musical lines and motifs. And finally we have it. Two short-but-marvellous guitar instrumentals to give the listener a rest; tracks originally written for a stage play. A few well-done satires. Amused pity for “street angels”, a link back to the guy who pretentiously “can’t talk now, I’m in a parade” (These days, Simon can’t see why an interesting character can’t appear more than once on a music album, and well, why not?)

Stranger also gives us several songs, miscellaneous, about genuine tragedies (Riverbank) or Insomniac’s Lullaby. A moving-mystifying encounter with a Brazilian faith healer (Proof of Love).

Among the musical inspirations were some sessions exploring flamenco spontaneity. Three tracks using ideas from the Italian electronic dance music virtuoso, Clap! Clap! (Digi G’Alessio). Musical ideas from Harry Partch, a 20th Century composer who heard 43 tones in an octave, not the 12 tones we usually hear, so Partch invented instruments (Cloud Chamber Bowls, Sonic Canons) to reveal these notes. Plus a new instrument from a Partch devotee and curator of Partch instruments, Dean Drummond, inventor of the Zoomoozophone.

One of Partch’s ideas was that atonal works derived from his music were akin to the spoken word, and Stranger is an unusual album, in that I at least felt it was full of musical experiments devoted to backing up not so much a good songwriter, which Simon is, but a poet-wordsmith devoted to the spoken word, which Simon also is, but less often.

And so, Stranger is a 74-year-old Paul Simon at play, perfectly happy to mine failure or experiments to finally get success and make it fun as well – wall-to-wall fun if we can believe Cool Papa Bell.

Simon has done it again and given us new things as well. He’s vastly enjoyed some musical experiments, being with his musicians various; and his old recording pal, Roy Halee, whom Simon dragged out of retirement. The interesting cover art is from a portrait of Simon by Chuck Close.

Age hasn’t dimmed Simon’s talents one bit. Stranger to Stranger is an excellent album, but just, not as good as Graceland. And it’s interesting. It’s not as if the music world isn’t awash with a helluva lot of experiments, there is a lot of sampling going on. Paul Simon seems to see it all, keep on top of all of it, and come out on top yet again. More power to his old age. (Ends 757 words)

On Beatles’ lyrics

Dan Byrnes’  review of Steve Turner,  The Beatles: Stories Behind The Songs. Scoresby Victoria, The Five MilePress, 2010. (Text first published in
For an old Beatles fan, what a delight to read this book! Which I got at a 2016 second-hand book fair in Armidale. I ended finishing it in two readings, as bedtime reading, the second time reading it late into the night, to finish it, as it so interesting.

To my mild amazement, I found I had been quite wrong in my views on why some Beatles songs were written as they were, and to my pleasure, right about others. Bono, of the Irish band U2, blurb-writes for this book, “I am a huge fan of The Beatles: The Stories Behind the Songs. It’s an inspiring and humbling book.” I feel much the same.

Nor has the book dispelled one impression I have of The Beatles – they were a remarkably hard-working set of musicians. It’s been said of drummer Ringo Starr (by their producer, George Martin, I think), that you could set your metronome by him. George, Paul and John were all very hard-working musicians, writers, creators. The book has extensive chronologies and discographies, and news on some Beatles songs I still haven’t heard. Which means, there is still more enjoyment waiting for me in Beatles Land. All ultra-enjoyable.

Candidate Donald Trump vs USA weather

Donald Trump vs USA weather (? [Jan. 2016])

Will the real USA please stand up? We live in times of an early start for the US presidential race and a rich, ignorant buffoon named Donald Trump seems streets ahead of his Republican competitors. But how far ahead really is he of his main Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton?
Fear not dear reader-persons about media coverage of Trump. Look instead at the USA’s weather. And we find that the real USA isn’t Donald Trump. The real USA is on the weather ropes (see if we aren’t correct, watch tornado alley in the USA for more bad news if you don’t believe us). Trump is just a side issue.
In early January 2016, mid-winter US-style, the Mississippi River floods, the state of Missouri is in a state of emergency. Parts of St Louis have met destruction. People are being evacuated. All this is on world TV, yet Donald Trump keeps frothing that he will return the USA to its former “greatness”. This writer wonders if the weather (read, the effects of climate change) will allow Trump his wish?

We find that www.forbes.com by 4-1-2016 has an article by a sceptical Larry Olmsted (“When the Levee Doesn’t Break: what’s wrong with the Media’s Weather Coverage?”), where Mr Oldmsted fails to consider cases where the levee does break (such as with New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina). Mr Oldmsted wonders if Memphis Tennessee is really badly flooded or not? And this writer concludes that if US media outlets can’t be trusted to write accurately about the weather, why should they be trusted to write accurately about more subtle matters such as politics and about Trump? It seems a fair enough question.

It gets worse in the USA. We found that earthzone.org runs a web page on “Changing the Media Discussion on Climate and Extreme Weather”, by two writers, Christine Shearer of University of California Santa Barbara and Richard B. Rood, of Dept. of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science, University of Michigan. And we thought, don’t ask Trump about any of this, ask Shearer and Rood. The Weather Channel of the USA (much maligned we found in some circles) had predicted a colder-than-average-winter for the s/w, s/e and the east coast, while warmer-than-average temperatures were predicted for the west coast, n/w, Upper Mid-West and n/e interior,with the current El Nino set to make its mark on the US 2016.

Well, we finally turned in despair to an article on Trump …  The article by Brad Norington finds that Trump’s remarks are “wild, inflammatory and often extreme”, or “wild and devoid of reason”. Not to put too fine a point on Trump, Norington finds he is by turns remarkable for his rise, confounding the experts, shallow (short on detail for the most complex questions), a big mouth, no experience in public office etc etc. Trump advocates a discriminatory immigration policy (about Muslims). Trump is anti-Mexicans. Trump can be abusive, racist, factually incorrect, not so fond of women having menstrual periods, yet Trump is popular.

But who is Trump popular with? Not, it seems, popular with the men who run the USA’s Republican Party or GOP. (Grand Old Party as it laughingly reviews its own history back to Jefferson.) The men who run the GOP are terrified that Trump might get near to winning a Republican nomination to run for President, that they might ever have to endorse him. It seems Trump speaks for a pretty mean constituency, which consists of remnant Tea Partiers, plus working class men with no great education levels, non-university graduates who yet fancy themselves “straight-talkers”. How strong are Trump’s supporters likely to be? Norington doesn’t think Trump will do well soon where he needs to do well politically, in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. At least one expert Norington talked to thinks Trump’s success is a reflection from USA folks annoyed that a leftie-black-guy (happens to be named Obama), is currently running the US White House.

Norington thinks Trump will finally be left with two options. Stay with the Republicans and be finally inhibited. Or cut loose from them, go Independent, and lose comprehensively to Ms. H. Clinton.

And please don’t ask what happened to those working class US guys with their poorer education levels, or their wives or girlfriends, or their collective destinies, because it will be all too sad. Deplorable, really. Anyone for weather in the USA, then?

(Based partly on an article by Brad Norington on Trump, Weekend Australian, 2-3 January 2016., p. 17 of Inquirer section, “Trump card unplayed as senior Republicans consider shut-out”. The reader will obviously gather that Mr. Byrnes as things happened was not one of those who predicted that Trump would win the US presidency. Which, drat it, becomes another story.)

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)

New website on convict transportation by Prof. Gary Sturgess

From an earlier post to Google-Plus, which by late 2019 is to be discontinued by Google…

 February 2016: At long last, Dan Byrnes’ historical work found online, on convict transportation and the convict contractors particularly (the managers of the convict shipping), has a new companion website. This welcome new website is mounted by Sydney historian Gary Sturgess and is still in its early days, but it should grow regularly. Thiswebsite-to-watch is found at PHP-driven pages such as:http://convicts.sturgess.org/index.php?title=Early_Australian_Convict_Transportation

Early Australian Convict Transportation – Convict Transportation

Background [edit]. The vast majority of the 162000 convicts sent to Australia between1787 and 1868 were transported by private contractors. And for the first three decades, from 1787 until around 1815, these contractors,and their agents on board the ships – the ships’ officers, the surgeons, …