The Irish Potato Famine: Genocide?

The Irish potato famine of 1845-1849 is often seen as a turning point in Irish history with many Irish historians referring to Irish history as pre-famine and post-famine. The famine killed almost 1 million and a further 2 million emigrated to escape the lack of food and lack of work. Not only did it lead to a significant decrease of the population (estimated around 25%) but it has also been seen as a prominent factor in the desire for Irish independence. While it was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that caused the potato blight, destroying the crops that much of the Irish population relied on, the British government has often been held responsible for the horrific consequences that followed. Without a doubt, the British government was responsible for worsening the conditions of the famine, with their refusal to stop food exports and the slow move to repeal the Corn Laws which kept the price of bread artificially high. This left many Irish people to starve despite the fact there was food being produced in the country and surplus food was leaving the country. With the fall of Peel’s Conservative government, the new Whig Government’s laissez-faire policies worsened the situation; limiting food relief and scrapping work programs in favour for far more limited work programs and placing strict and often unworkable rules on food relief. But can these actions actually be labelled as a case of genocide against the Irish people?

The major issue with labelling the Irish potato famine genocide is dependent on the definition of the term genocide. Definitions of genocide are another debate entirely. The UN definition is as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The British government did not directly kill Irish citizens nor were there direct attempts at preventing births or forcing Irish children away from their families. However types of acts b and c are more complicated. The British government did not cause the famine; therefore it is arguable that they did not cause either harm or inflict conditions of life to destroy the population. However the lack of aid and the commandeering of Irish resources (the lack of land in Irish hands which caused many to lose their homes when they became unable to pay their rent and also resources produced by the Irish such as corn which continued to be exported) could be seen as acts of both b and c.

The other issue with this definition, and many other definitions, is that of intent. Did the British government actually intend to destroy the Irish? There certainly is no clear evidence, such as with the Holocaust, that there was an actual intention to fully wipe out the Irish population. Cormac Ó Gráda has argued that because of this it was not genocide but neglect. However the British government must have known such actions could, if not would (as they did), cause starvation, poverty, disease and death. Therefore it could be argued that the British government’s actions can be seen as intent.

The genocide question will always be hard to determine unless clearer parameters are set over the definition of genocide, as currently the focus is heavily on that of intent. Regardless of whether the Irish Potato famine was genocide or not, the role of the British government in the outcome of the famine did cost far more lives than the famine would have alone.

Winchester’s Forgotten Train Station

The city of Winchester has a very rich history full of changes. As you know we have done a walk-about of Winchester, exploring its development through different centuries. Well, I thought I hadn’t talked about lovely Winchester much for a while and I remembered I spent a few hours at the records office (a few years back) investigating some of the cities properties for a university assignment. To my surprise, here I found that for being such a quaint little town, once we actually had two train stations! This was in the area nowadays occupied by the Chesil Street multi-storey car park. The reason why I would like to share this story with you is because I think it represents the changes that many British cities suffered since the industrial revolution. Moreover, it shows how crucial rail networks were, and how this kept the country going in more than one ways. So, for you only, here I present you Winchester’s forgotten train station.

One of the first evidence that are found about this station is that in Bridge Street there was a place called Railway Coffee Tavern, named after the opening of the station in 1885. The company Didcot and Newbury was then involved in the project of establishing rail connections in the south of England. Winchester was chosen as a stop in their line due to its history. Didcot and Newbury made a deal with another company to proceed with the project, and found a partner in the Great Western Railway. With their support the trains could run to Shawford and link with Southampton. Nonetheless, things did not go particularly well for this little enterprise. There was a strong rivalry between the G.W.R and the South Railway, therefore they had to swap trains and locomotives before arriving the station.

Nevertheless, the line did well, and in fact played a crucial role in the transport of military troops. The book Winchester Voices records the memories of Austin Laverty who remembered seen the men coming from the Boer Wars using the line that stopped in Chesil’s station. During the Great War, the train line experienced higher transit as a larger number of soldiers needed to be dispatched. However, this service stated to fall into decay with the nationalisation of British railways, which impacted negatively the businesses of the G.W.R. Cancellations of daytime services started to become something common until March 1960 when the station closed to the public. Eventually it would be used for minor services, especially in summers to help reducing the congestion of the diesel service of the Southampton line. After its definitive closure in 1968, the order of demolition was declared in 1972.

But what this shows to us about Winchester, the fluctuation of the economy and, in general, what was happening in Hampshire and the country? I believe the Old Chesil Station is a product of the Victorian revival, not only of the country as a whole, but particularly of Winchester as the city had been run down, pretty much since the English Civil War. There was a big growth in population and a period of prosperity. The railway was spreading quickly everywhere; tourism increased, and as Winchester was such an attractive place for tourists due to its history, there was a need for better connection with different places.  Even the decadence of the railway is giving valuable information of economic development and competition amongst similar business such as the G.WR and the South Railway.  And, almost in a poetic way, I think the decline of this line, and the decrease of train usage in general, links in with the current use of this plot of land: a car park necessary for the current preferred method of transport.

So, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this often forgotten site of Winchester, and that next time you see a car park, you think to yourself: “it’s likely that, underneath that structure there are the forgotten bones of an English king…or perhaps an old railway station”


P.S: If you are desperate to know more about local railways, check some of the works that helped me with my research:

Robertson, K., The Railways of Winchester (1988).

Oppitz, L., Lost Railways of Hampshire (2001).

W/G1/1223 (Contract for demolition of Chesil Station, Cowdrey Lodge Hotel, Gladstone Arms, 1-17 Gladstone Street, Winchester; letter only) – archived at the Hampshire Record Office

or check – David Turner is great, he knows loads about trains, and posts some very interesting things in his blog and twitter account –  we know this because we have been reading his stuff since 2010!!

The Role of Greenland in WW2 and The Cold War

Although Greenland has always been one of the more remote places of the world, its position leaves it with a potentially very significant role to play in any world-wide conflict. The Geographical location of Greenland is important for three reasons, the first being that it is part of the land that forms the ‘GIUK Gap’ which is an important naval choke point in the north Atlantic that is between the landmasses of Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Secondly Greenland is the perfect place for weather stations that are necessary for detecting conditions that may affect weather farther south and East. Finally radar stations are needed in Greenland in order to track aircraft due to it being on the shortest route between Europe and the United States.

Obviously the biggest examples that could include this region are World War Two and the Cold War. But before WW2 in 1934, the importance of the region was first discussed by the USA. In this year a mass flight of US bombers from Washington D.C to Alaska was undertaken in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the U.S. Army’s latest long-range bomber, the B-10, but it did something else: It demonstrated the importance of the Arctic to aviation. At this point the USA was most concerned about Japan and the potential for their attacks on Alaska as Anchorage, Alaska is almost exactly equidistant from Tokyo, New York City and London. That’s part of the reason it’s one of the world’s largest air cargo hubs today. Once WW2 was underway however, they soon saw a similar significance to Greenland as If you fly between the eastern United States and eastern Europe or Russia, or between the western United States and western Europe, you will need to pass over Greenland.

In April 1940, Nazi Germany occupied Denmark on its way to an invasion of Norway, and almost a year later, the United States signed the US-Danish Agreement on Greenland, which permitted the United States to establish military bases in Greenland. Despite its remoteness from densely populated areas, Greenland is considered part of North America and thus falls under the Monroe Doctrine, which states efforts by European nations to interfere with North American issues will be opposed by the full ability of the United States. In July 1940, the foreign ministers of the Americas declared that “any attempt on the part of a non-American state against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, the sovereignty, or the political independence of an American state should be considered an act of aggression.” This was aimed at Nazi Germany, which had by then occupied several European countries that had possessions in North America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the Germans were undeterred and  in the summer of 1940, German ships, apparently on scientific or commercial missions, landed people on the eastern shore of Greenland. German submarines secretly landed other parties. These were all attempts to establish weather stations on Greenland (similarly attempted in remote areas of Canada as well) in order to help forecast the weather for Germans submarines at sea and for continental Europe. In the autumn of 1940 and again in spring 1941, German long-range aircraft flew over Greenland. This led to the belief that the United States had the authority to act to establish bases in Greenland to provide for its defense. During the course of the war, thousands of American aircraft flew over Greenland on their way to Europe. American soldiers were stationed in the icy territory as a defense mechanism, and American civilians and soldiers manned weather stations to assist the war effort farther east.

Perhaps one of the least well known campaigns of World War II was the hunt for these German weather stations. The United States began doing this in 1940 and the job fell mostly on the shoulders of the US Coast Guard who patrolled with ships and aircraft, looking for German weather ships, or supply boats attempting to reach weather stations the Germans had set up. They were also assisted at this point by native Greenlander trackers who assisted in spotting. On top of these efforts there was also the ‘Sledge Patrol’ which was a 15 man mixed force of Norwegians, Danes and Greenlanders supported by the US who spent much of the war patrolling the coast and hunting Germans as well. On dog sleds, 2 and 3 man patrols would head out for a few months and attempt to find German weather stations in a game of cat and mouse, with the Germans Generally the mice and having to pack up their station and flee if discovered. The Germans did strike back however, in an attack on the Sledge Patrol’s base camp, killing one member of the team, Eli Knudsen, the only loss they endured.

The last land based weather station of the Germans was knocked out in October of 1944. Spotted by the USS Eastwind during a patrol, a landing party of Coast Guard sailors (Who, as part of this role, underwent special training under the supervision of commandos), made a nighttime landing and caught the Germans by total surprise, and were able to capture most of their documents. No more German land based stations were attempted after that, although offshore trawlers were still utilized.

Even before the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, some in the USA were looking ahead for what they saw as the next global conflict: The war between the United States and the Soviet Union. After WW2 the USA offered to purchase Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000 but was rejected. For several years Denmark was under pressure from its citizens to get rid of the American military bases, while constantly in a back and forth with the USA who would not drop the issue. Events elsewhere in the world in 1948 and 1949 quickly overtook these events. The Berlin Blockade, Soviet pressure on Finland, the coup in Czechoslovakia, and the detonation of the Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 all pushed the Cold War into high gear. It became politically impossible for the Danes to evict the United States from Greenland altogether.

By 1950, the United States was putting nuclear capable bombers into its base at Thule in northwest Greenland. The following year in 1951, Denmark and the United States signed an agreement that overwrote the 1941 deal where Denmark would keep sovereignty over Greenland, but the United States would be allowed permanent military bases. In the years that followed, the American presence spread. From Thule and other air bases, the United States and Canada built radar stations as part of the Distant Early Warning Line designed to detect Soviet bombers. In 1960, the United States activated the world’s first Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in Thule. Greenland throughout the Cold War was used as a vital position from which to defend its North and Eastern borders from potential air, missile and submarine attacks.

The 1951 agreement lasted until 2004, when the United States and Denmark signed a new Greenland defense agreement.

The Mother of a Lion

This month we have been given the challenge of writing about a person or event that has rarely been discussed on this blog. I have decided to do some research into Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is an interesting woman to read about. The Queen of both France and England and mother to one of the most memorable medieval kings, Richard I. Eleanor, also known as Eleanora, was born in 1122 and died at the age of 82 in 1204 towards the end of the Fourth Crusade. Eleanor became Duchess at the age of 14 after her father gave his life to defend the Holy Land and her grandfather, Duke William, announced his decision to abdicate on her birthday.

Although the exact details concerning her rise to power aren’t clear it is known that she married the heir to the French throne, Louis-the-Younger, while she was still considered a child. It was not long after they were crowned Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine Louis’ father Louis-the-Elder was dying. Some sources suggest they arrived in Paris just in time to hear his dying words. These last words seemed to encourage Louis to become a pious king. After Louis VI’s death the new King and Queen entered the capital and immediately came across trouble when Eleanor allegedly tried to force kinsmen to pledge fealty to her.

The marriage between Eleanor and Louis VII didn’t last, after the disastrous Second Crusade their marriage was ended, on account of them being fourth cousins. The reason behind the divorce tends to change from source to source, some say that Louis asked for it as Eleanor hadn’t given him an heir while others state that Eleanor asked for the divorce because Louis began to distrust her and tried to control her actions.

Not long after the divorce Eleanor left for Aquitaine, but before she arrived she was offered marriage proposals from two different men, one of which believed he could force Eleanor into accepting. Eleanor managed to escape these men and returned to the safety of her own dominion. Within two months of the divorce Eleanor married Prince Henry of England, without the consent of Louis who was Eleanor’s feudal suzerain. Both Louis and Stephen of England were furious, but Eleanor and Henry now controlled half of France and could not be forced to answer to Stephen or Louis.

Eleanor soon gave birth to their first son, William, in Normandy and Henry was equipped to attempt to take control of England. Henry succeeded and after Stephen’s death they were crowned King and Queen of England. Henry was often abroad fighting wars, leaving Eleanor behind as Queen Regent. Eleanor was able to form close bonds with their children; William, who died in childbirth, Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Johanna and John. These bonds became important to Henry later on, who began to believe that Eleanor was working with his sons to overthrow him.

Henry planned out futures for his children, arranging various and powerful marriages. However, these plans didn’t come to fruition as he became paranoid and refused to give his children the power that accompanied their various position. This led to several plots to overthrow him, leading Henry to rightly believe that Eleanor was helping them. After several years, when Richard was older he took up arms against his father, supported by his mother, Eleanor. Eventually Henry II died, and Richard became king, his older brothers having previously died. However with the attack on Christendom in the Holy Lands Richard I left England in the control of his mother, who was now 70 years old.

Eleanor ruled England for some time, keeping the peace somewhat, but decided to spend the end of her days in a convent. She lived to be 82 years old, describing herself as ‘Eleanora, by the wrath of God Queen of England’.

eleanor of aquitaine

If you would like to read some more into Eleanor of Aquitaine I would suggest E. Thornton Cook’s Her Majesty: The Romance of the Queens of England and C.A. Bloss’s Heroines of the Crusades.

First World War and Conscription: The Conscientious Objector

The First World War was the first use of compulsory military service in Britain, when in January 1916 the Military Service Bill was passed, and all men aged 18-41 – apart from those in certain professions, or medically unfit – were expected to be involved in military service. Early sign-ups for the war they thought would end by Christmas couldn’t hold the fort by 1916. The famous Lord Kitchener campaigns of ‘Your Country Needs You’ had gotten over one million men to volunteer in the First World War, but by the end of the year, this was not enough.

Too many casualties meant that volunteers couldn’t replace the growing gap in the army, and the dwindling number of volunteers was caused by a disillusionment – the war that would only last a few months didn’t seem to have an end at all. Many men were dying, and a lot were questioning why they should be the next to sign up to die. Conscription was unpopular, and many men failed to respond to their call-up.

The Conscientious Objector

Some men, on moral grounds, were exempt from fighting in the war. If called upon, some men refused on one of a number of grounds.

  1. On religious grounds – some men refused because of their Christian beliefs, taking the Bible’s instruction of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ for their reason behind their refusal of participation.
  2. On political grounds – a large number of Conscientious Objectors were those who were against the War politically, and saw it as an imperialist war. Among this group, men felt that the war was an example of the ruling class forcing the workers to fight, and refused to fight because it was not a cause they believed in.
  3. On humanist grounds – these men were not religious, but refused to join on the grounds they could not kill another human being.
  4. Being against government intervention in their lives – a number of men felt the war didn’t affect them directly, and thus did not see the need for their involvement.

It’s supposed there were about 16,000 Conscientious Objectors, but it wasn’t exactly as easy as refusing to take part. Those who objected had to go through tribunals. Cyril Pearce, creator of a database of objectors from the First World, claimed that ‘most tribunals took a very aggressive view, trying to catch men out and ridiculing them’. And those whose appeals were dismissed were still expected to answer their call up. Some Conscientious Objectors put in work in other areas of the war – working in medical areas, or helping with at home. However, there were some who refused to take part at all, and those who did faced imprisonment. Of course, once enlisted disobeying the army meant facing the court martial, and face getting shot for desertion.

The bringing about of Conscription had certainly left its mark on Britain, with the Second World War also relying on conscription. From 1949, Britain  even had conscription in peace time – 18 months of National Service was required of all healthy men between the age of 17-21, which was extended to two years in 1950. It ended gradually in the late 1950s – with all those born on or after the 1 October 1939 not required to take part. Since then, Britain’s Army has been made up completely of volunteers.

Up to 1066 – The Early Life of the Conqueror

In c.1028 a key player in one of the biggest historical upheavals in English history was born to an unmarried French woman. Herleva was a member of the ducal household of Normandy in the lower ranks of society, potentially the daughter of a tanner, but had been a short-standing mistress to the Robert I who was the debated successor to the Dukedom. Circumstances within Normandy meant that the authority of the noblemen were in flux due to wars with the church. There was also intense rivalry from their neighbours in Brittany who was hoping to expand into Norman land. With the death of Robert I in 1035 and no legitimate heirs to follow, the ducal crown was left to his eldest illegitimate son, the boy who would become the infamous Conqueror of England. Illegitimate succession was not unusual in Normandy, as the custom of male primogeniture that the church would eventually advocate by the twelfth-century, was not common law amongst the people on the continent. It is therefore unclear whether a legitimate son would supplant the eight year old child if one had occurred from a proposed marriage of Robert with a daughter of Cnut of England.

There is no full record of the Dukes childhood which means that his education and upbringing can only be guessed at. He was born in the centuries following the Carolingian Renaissance suggesting the upsurge in classical writing and texts meant he was given an education befitting his status as a high-profile Duke. Whether a legitimate son was expected hung the balance of the importance of the education of an illegitimate child. Since none occurred with no obvious inclination to marry by Robert I it could be guessed that William of Normandy was raised as an heir should. This would include academia such as mathematics and literacy but also chivalric education such as jousting, hunting, hawking, dancing and music were necessary to produce an influential and vibrant courtly lifestyle. Due to being known for administrative and diplomatic skills in later life, it is clear that the young Duke was given a first-hand account on how to keep people on his side. In his minority this was not successful since his supporters were often turn-coats. But in later life with the solidification of his rule in England, skills at appeasement were necessary. His training in government would have been similar to previous Dukes of Normandy with the primary base being within the ducal household itself. As a king of England he was celebrated to be pious which was emulated with his personal relations with the ecclesiastical courts in Normandy, but this was often eclipsed with the reports of greed and cruelty that may have been effects from his childhood in his need to maintain control of his lands, but that is clearly a personal psychological analysis that can never be confirmed.

William had a large amount of support during his minority including his maternal family and much of the Norman nobleman. His right to inherit was contested by several high ranking men from all corners but he achieved the support of Henry I whose was the King of France and an archbishop. This support solidified his right during his minority but the death of the Archbishop in 1037 meant the help of the church was lost, and Normandy descended into chaos. The troubles lasted for ten years with each man fighting to have control of the young Dukes court and government. Custody of the Duke was fought over brutally with many losing their lives in suspicious circumstances meaning William of Normandy spent periods in hiding with his maternal family as protection. One of the main issues for strife was that, like many kingdoms in the period, internal feuds and wars were fought between nobleman to the detriment of the lower ranking people trapped within the system of feudalism. However most of the viscounts and ecclesiastical courts in Normandy supported the young Duke meaning his minority ended with the ducal crown in his keeping. Successive civil wars, rebellions and uprisings meant that the Dukes education consisted of surviving and learning from a young age to fight. This could be presumed to be why his invasion of England would eventually be a success. By the age of twenty-two William of Normandy was besieging castles with relative ease from Burgundy, Anjou and Maine in order to consolidate power and create a power base at Rouen. Up until the year of 1066 when England fell to the bastard of Normandy peace was never settled, even a marriage to Matilda, the daughter of the Count of Flanders, failed to ensure that William left Normandy in a settled state. The marriage was a success with the arrival of four sons and several daughters but naturally in the most typical medieval sense, the descendants of these children caused the chaos that ensued in England and the continent for several centuries after the infamous year of 1066.

Angel in the castle? Queen Victoria and female sexuality in the nineteenth century.

‘How repressed were the Victorians?’ asks a recent article for The British Library. Writing a convincing case for a reassessment of Victorian sexuality, Dr Holly Furneaux challenges our assumptions about Victorian attitudes to sex, while considering the many ways in which theorists such as Michel Foucault have provided ‘new ways of understanding sex and sexuality in the period.’

‘Not so long ago,’ writes Furneaux in her fascinating article for The British Library, ‘it might have come as a surprise to see Queen Victoria described as “Britain’s sexiest Royal,”’ (quote taken from an Empire review of The Young Victoria). However, ‘Now,’ she suggests, ‘It seems we no longer only think of “straitlaced patriarchs making their wives and children miserable […], whaleboned women shrouding the piano legs for decency’s sake, then lying back and thinking of England.”’ (Matthew Sweet, ix). She goes on to write that such stereotypes of high prudery were famously critiqued by Michel Foucault as the ‘repressive hypothesis: the idea that Victorians could not mention sex.’ Foucault points out that, far from being silenced, sex was discussed everywhere in the 19th century in a wide range of contexts. Including, though not limited to, the law, medicine, religion, and education. Furneaux also goes on to write that ‘Much academic and popular work since has considered the many ways in which Victorians did experience and speak of desire.’

Queen Victoria herself, for instance, is known to have doted on her ‘dearest Albert’s’ physical perfections in her journal:

 ‘11th October, 1839

Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist.’

Angel in the Castle?: Queen Victoria and the 'quite charming' Prince Albert, 1854.

Angel in the Castle? Queen Victoria and the ‘quite charming’ Prince Albert, 1854.

‘Victoria’s frank expression of her desire cuts across another received view of the period;’ writes Furneaux, ‘that the enjoyment of sex was an exclusively male prerogative.’ One proponent of such a belief was William Acton, a gynaecological doctor. He wrote in his The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1857) that ‘The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feelings of any king.’ Though Furneaux writes that Acton’s beliefs were so extreme that they ‘cannot be taken as representative,’ she acknowledges that similar views are ‘Almost certainly discernible in the virginal ideal of the “Angel in the House,” a term inaugurated by Coventry Patmore in his 1854 poem of that name.’ The poem which laid out the model of the domestic goddess, who apparently retained her chastity even as a wife and mother. Paraphrasing John Ruskin, Furneaux writes that ‘In her purity and capacity for “sweet ordering” […] the angel in the house was to sanctify the home as a refuge for her menfolk from the trouble of public life.’


The Male Gaze: A man pretends to be reading as a woman looks for books. Image taken from The Exquisite.

Furthermore, Furneaux poses that ‘Gendered ideals of the sexual purity of the respectable woman, though never unchallenged, helped to enshrine a sexual double-standard.’ She believes that this ‘double-standard’ is all too apparent in the legislation of the time, with the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 infamous for having set in law that women could only be divorced on the grounds of their adultery alone. In contrast, it had to be proved that men had ‘exacerbated adultery with other offences.’  Similarly, Furneaux offers the further example of the Contagious Diseases Act of the 1860s. The act has become somewhat notorious as it aimed to deal with the rife spread of sexually transmitted infections through the forcible medical examination of female prostitutes in garrison towns, yet made no suggestion of examining the male sufferers.

Furneaux also explores the cultural fascination with the opposite of the ‘angel in the house’, the ‘fallen woman.’ In the Victorian era, this was a broad term, which encompassed any woman who had, or appeared to have had, sexual experience outside of marriage, including adulteresses and prostitutes. The archetype of the ‘fallen woman’ appears as a common trope in so much Victorian literature and art. Furneaux writes that ‘Advice literature presented a woman’s “moral influence” as a result of her “natural and instinctive habits,” but then was forced to lay out these supposedly innate characteristics.’ She offers an example by Peter Gaskell, writing in 1833 that ‘Her love, her tenderness, her affectionate solicitude for his [her husband’s] comfort and enjoyment, her devotedness, her unwearyingly care.’ Furneaux responds, ‘All the energy that went into writing conduct books telling women how to behave shows that “proper” feminine behaviour was far from natural, and had to be taught.’

fallen woman

The Fallen Woman: A client is entertained in a brothel, 1849.

However, Furneaux believes that while recent work may have done a lot to complicate overly simplistic views of Victorian purity, ‘The idea of Victorian sexual repression lingers.’ She writes that this has ‘powerful roots’ in the prominently anti-Victorianist stance of Modernist writers, most notably Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. Strachey, for instance, sought in Eminent Victorians (1918) to ‘liberate’ his generation from the ‘Perceived reticence and ignorance, especially in sexual matters, of their pre-Freudian fathers and grandfathers.’ While similarly, Steven Marcus’s The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (1966), he elaborates on the views of Strachey by presenting the Victorians as ‘Sexual hypocrites, maintaining a veneer of respectability over an underbelly of prostitution and pornography.’ Furneaux dismisses the views of Strachey and Marcus, instead adhering to the belief Foucault sets out in The History of Sexuality (1976). That is to say that ‘Far from silencing sex as a taboo subject, the Victorians inaugurated many of the discourses- legal, medical and sexological […] that allowed sex to become a legitimate subject for investigation and discussion.’

The Victorian period was, after all, a key moment in the history of sexuality. Furneaux writes that ‘It is the era in which the modern terminologies we use to structure the ways we think and talk about sexuality were invented.’ She examines the roles of sexologists during the fin de siècle, where pioneers such as Richard von Kraft-Ebind and Havelock Ellis analysed and categorised human sexuality. They created terms such as ‘homosexual,’ ‘heterosexual’ and ‘nymphomaniac.’ An advancement which Furneaux believes was ‘valuable to the history of female sexuality.’ This is not to say, however, that she views the Victorian era as being entirely tolerant towards female or hetero-divergent sexuality. Indeed, she goes to great pains to remark upon the limitations of accommodation; seen most clearly perhaps with the trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895. Furneaux also comments upon the lack of discussion regarding lesbian relationships in the Victorian era, and sides with literary scholar Terry Castle in her hostility to the suggestion that there were ‘No lesbians before 1900.’ Instead she acknowledges that while the Victorian era was tolerant of female sexuality in many ways, arguably more so than is often thought, there were undoubtedly limitations to this tolerance, limitations which are most visible in Victorian interactions with the Other- whether queer, sex worker or another form of ‘fallen woman.’

Dr Holly Furneaux’s article on gender and sexuality in the Victorian era may be read in full here. Further articles by this author may be found here.

Maori Protests and the Treaty of Waitangi

History of the British Empire’s involvement and subsequent negative and detrimental impacts on indigenous people and societies of the lands they colonised in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is well known. Those effects today are highly prevalent even in now developed and Westernised countries  of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with indigenous populations having faced depleting numbers, inequalities in welfare and health care and mistreatment from the government, and ongoing disputes concerning land rights. But focus has slid from the perspective of Maori people, and their history outside of New Zealand is largely ignored, and their movements and protests discussed very little.

In New Zealand, a major problem lies within the context of implementing treaty settlements via indigenous institutions. Issues of marginalisation help to fuel feelings of discontent and protests concerning their own land rights. Marilyn Lashley discusses how treaty settlements as reparative justice ‘provides neither adequate nor sufficient redress to most Maori individuals or households harmed by marginalization and the lingering legacy of dispossession.’  But where do these disputes concerning treaties originate from, and why is it felt that they are not doing enough to decrease the gap in inequality between the Maoris and Pākehā – the Maori term for New Zealanders of European descent? Lashley underlines the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as a source of dispute. The treaty established New Zealand as a British colony, and was written in English and Maori. Lashley discusses that this inclusion of both languages has been a major cause of disagreement, as the texts differ greatly. Maori people understood that the treaty was one for power sharing between themselves and the British, and Maori people would be equal with the British in the cultural, economic, social and political life of New Zealand. From the English text, however, the Maori ceded ‘all the rights and powers of sovereignty over their respective territories’ to the British Crown. Therefore, instead of creating a united country of the European settlers and the Maori, the legacy was one of continued land disputes, wars over sovereignty, treaty rights and marginalisation.

In the 1974, the renaming of  Waitangi Day as New Zealand Day was seen as inappropriate by many protestors, who saw it as demeaned the Treaty of Waitangi. But issues had started earlier, by using the day as a national day of thanksgiving concerning issues detached from the treaty. Therefore, this caused a growing number of protests in the 1970s. In 1971 activist group Ngā Tamatoa organised the first protests at Waitangi on Waitangi Day. This would be followed by protests in 1973, in which members of Ngā Tamatoa wore black armbands, signifying the loss of Maori land. The Ngā Tamatoa were a group created by young Maoris who wished to draw attention to the loss of Maori land and indigenous rights, created in 1968. Throughout the 1970s, Maori people increasingly took part in protests concerning their marginalisation and land rights.

Government response to the protests has been arguably slow. In 1975, the Treaty of Waitangi Act ‘reasserted the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of New Zealand’ (Lashley, pp. 6). Although it went through readjustment ten years later, it still prevented the Maori tribunal from functioning as a legally binding institution.  Protests have thus continued against acts and instances in which the rights of the indigenous Maori population is negatively affected, although not as intense as protests in the 1970s. Lashley argues the most successful treaty settlements in bringing the Maori and the Pākehā  have been in language, preschools and biculturalism, using institutions like the Tainui Trust Board to provide community-based educational, social, and health services and employment. However, it is evident Britain’s colonial footprint has left its lasting mark on New Zealand’s Maori population and their voices are largely ignored in the main scope of discussion, which underlines the major reason for these protests in the last fifty years. Issues have transcended into the country’s current political situations. The Maori marae is an open space where people can gather for discussion. In 1998 then opposition leader Helen Clark was criticised for speaking on the marae when Maori women could not. Ongoing protests have meant politicians have often avoided attending Waitangi Day at Waitangi, showing the remaining passion amongst Maori people concerning their marginalisation and land rights.

Further Reading

Maori Protest Movements

Waitangi Day Protests

Lashley, M.E., ‘Implementing Treaty Settlements via Indigenous Institutions: Social Justice and Detribalization in New Zealand’, The Contemporary Pacific, 12,1 (2000), 1-55.

The Black Death

1348, famously known as the start of a devastation of Europe and a wipe out of almost half of England’s population. The instigator was a bubonic disease named the Black Death that originated in central Asia in around 1338 to 1339. Its spread was caused by the consequences of the siege of Kaffa in 1346, a state in Africa. The Mongol besiegers threw corpses infected with the disease over the city walls and as a result, infected the besieged Genoese inside the city. Many have argued that the Black Death could not have spread through contact with infected corpses, but that rats carrying the bacteria Yersinia Pestis were able to enter the city. Either way, the siege was to prove fatal for these Italian merchants and for the rest of Western Europe. The Genoese fled to Europe and by doing so, took the deadly disease along with them. The outbreak of the disease in London is noted to have possibly killed two thirds of its population, a percentage illustrative of the severe reality of the situation.

The treatment of the Black Death in England consisted of many diverse types. Some of them made logical sense such as cleaning the streets of all human and animal waste and this waste being taken by a cart to a field outside of the village and burnt. Furthermore, all bodies were required to be buried in deep pits outside of the village and their clothes burnt. This method of sanitation is quite surprising in terms of modern standards because it implies that the importance of sanitation in order to kill disease was known. Therefore, a similarity of the medieval and modern world can be noted in terms of sanitation methods, though in the modern world we know the science behind this as killing germs and bacteria which some parts of the world may have shared in the medieval world but medieval England did not. Other treatments that were slightly more unorthodox to a modern point of view included cutting open buboes to allow the disease to leave the body and a mixture of tree resin, roots of white lilies and dried human excrement being applied to the places where the body had been cut open. Another included witchcraft and the placing of a live hen next to the swelling to draw out the pestilence from the body. To aid recovery it was advised for the patient to drink a glass of their own urine two times a day. These types of treatments are far more unfamiliar to a modern Western World but must have been believed in the medieval period. From looking at these strange treatments, it supports the view of the Middle Ages being the Dark Ages as they are unscientific and show an underdeveloped country. In this way, the Black Death can be seen as a measurement of England’s scientific development.


A word like many other words that have been adopted into the English language from India like the words ‘bangle’ and ‘bungalow’. Although today the spelling is quite different and is more recognised to the eye as ‘thug’, to mean a violent person/criminal. The definition however has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The term ‘thugee’ is defined as the robbery and murder practiced by a group in India in accordance to their rituals of worship. Another way that people might know about the Thuggee is they have been referenced in popular media, most notably in the Indiana Jones Franchise. In the second movie Jones and company arrive in India and stumble upon Thuggee practices taking place at an underground palace, in spite of them being told by a palace operative and a British officer that the Thuggee practice had been quashed previously. The film although questionable in how they portrayed them (child labour taking place {no evidence to support this}, hearts being ripped out {again no evidence to support this}). However it did show that the cult was nonetheless violent.

The earliest documentation of the Thuggee was said to have been in the fourteenth century and they were said to have derived from seven Muslim tribes in spite of them claiming to be formed from the sweat of Kali (a Hindu God of worship). What is interesting to note is the practice is hereditary being that the life of a thug was passed on from father to son in most cases. However this is not the only way to become a thug. Other ways of membership included; in some cases to take the children (if any) of their victims, train to become one with a guru or to hope that if you got to know a thug well you may be recruited as one yourself (similar to how a fraternity would work). In spite of all these ways of becoming a thug it is unclear if women undertook the activities of a thug.

The victims of the Thuggee were usually travellers as they appeared to be easy victims for their activities. Traditionally they would usually appear to help people on their travels in the areas that they occupied as a way to gain their trust. After the Thugs gained the trust of travellers they would strike at a time when their victims would at least suspect it by strangling them with either a noose or handkerchief around the neck. Usually after this act they would rob the victims of any valuables and dispose of the body. These killings usually took place in remote spots away from prying eyes near river banks for instance and at times of the day when they were less likely to come into contact with anyone, usually at night.

As of yet it is not known exactly what the death toll was from the thuggee practice. However some estimates have been made into how many killings took place during the nineteenth century when the cult was still active. The British historian Mike Dash states that approximately 2 000 000 people were killed, yet some disagree with this amount saying it was too high. David Rapoport states that 500 000 people were killed, implying that even in recent history it is extremely difficult to state accurately how many deaths took place.

During the British Raj the Thuggee became notorious and as a result the British set out to supress and eventually eradicate the practice of the Thuggee from the 1830s. It became clear from very early on that the British soon found an effective way to overcome the techniques of the Thuggee. In spite of general policing being in its infancy in Britain, they adopted very clever ways of warning travellers coming to India of the dangers, regarding the Thuggee at border points. This proved to be a success as more and more travellers became aware of the dangers and prepared themselves accordingly by productive counter measures. Secondly an official department was set up to help quash the threat of the Thuggee. This proved to be very useful as it enabled people to know about where the locations of the attacks happened, likely targets and what time of the day they would attack. Soon the Thuggee realised they had met their match and found that they could no longer keep up with the constant surveillance of the movements. Eventually the Thuggee way of life became extinct by the 1870s.



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