Saturday, July 1, 2017

"You've got to do better" - Endell Street Military Hospital

Recommended viewing! 

Follow the link to Deeds Not Words.

This great piece of film tells the story of Endell Street Military Hospital in London, staffed entirely by women during the First World War, many of them early sufragettes. It was run by Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson (daughter of the first British woman doctor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson).


Imperial War Museum

You not only have got to do a good job, you have got to do a superior job. What would be accepted from a man will not be accepted from a woman. You’ve got to do better.” [Flora Murray]



Monday, May 15, 2017

A courageous and vigilant gatekeeper.

The tragedy of the morning sickness drug thalidomide is well-known in many countries around the world because of its disastrous effects on babies born during the 1960s and 1970s that left them with severe problems, usually missing limbs. Around half of those with the condition died, others had to grow up with prosthetic legs or arms.

What may be less well-known is the story of the vigilant woman pharmacologist and researcher who stopped the drug being released into the United States where it would almost certainly have caused an even wider tragedy.

Whenever governments decide to cut back on those involved in health research - and especially those who do the checks on the safety of drugs before they are released into the community - it is worth reminding them of the story of Canadian Frances Oldham Kelsey who was rigorous in her work with the US FDA. 

Courageous and stubborn, she was committed to do the right thing and refused to give into pressure from the mighty drug companies and thus ultimately stopped thousands more families from suffering the heartbreak and disabilities that afflicted far too many others.

Frances died aged 101 in 2015, just hours after rather belatedly receiving the Order of Canada from the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, just one of the many awards she received during her lifetime - and rightly so.

Our world needs more gatekeepers like this wonderful woman.

Video about her at Acheron

Article from The Smithsonian

Obituary in The New York Times.












Friday, March 17, 2017

Ellen Kelly, mother of Ned

(It wasn't intentional that this review of this new biography should be posted on St Patrick's Day although, given its subject matter, it couldn't be more appropriate. I have also decided to post it here rather than on my regular book review page because Mrs Kelly probably carried more buckets for men in her lifetime than anyone today could possibly imagine and for that alone she deserves acknowledgement and respect.)

Mrs Kelly - The astonishing life of Ned Kelly's Mother 

Harper Collins


The taglines on the back cover are succinct: 
"Ellen Kelly. Wife of a convict. Mother to outlaws. Witness to history".
The book, however, is anything but, a hefty hardback of 616 pages and unless readers have strong wrists, I'd recommend waiting for the paperback version or read it on a Kindle.

Gather together a group of diverse Australians to discuss whether bushranger Ned Kelly was a folk hero or just a sadistic criminal and you are very likely to end up with a heated argument as most people tend to see him firmly in one light or the other.

Ellen King, formerly Kelly (nee Quinn), the woman who gave him life, also has a prismatic quality about her. She'd come from extreme poverty and violence in Ireland only to face the same, if not worse, in Australia. Said to be a fearless horsewoman who could ride like the wind, she was full of Irish passion and fiercely loyal to her own kith and kin. During her lifetime of 91 years, she was witness to Australia's transition from a collection of convict colonies into a modern nation, living long enough to witness planes flying overhead and motor vehicles hurtling along what would become the Hume Highway, the main road between Melbourne and Sydney. 

In spite of its title, this epic work isn't all about Ellen and for most of its length includes an almost day-by-day journalistic account of Ned Kelly's spurious activities from an early age plus those of his extensive relatives, friends and enemies, as well as a sundry assortment of shop-keepers, bank managers, politicians, law-makers and law-breakers. There are passages of fictional dialogue and occasionally some truly spectacular purple prose, e.g. this description of Ned when thwarted in Jerilderie:
"The veins in his head are like angry snakes writhing about. His eyes are the colour of rubies and rolling around liked loaded dice."
Ellen lingers in the background, mostly a conduit for all these comings and goings, with her roughly-built cottage being the transit point for events all while she was busy putting up with drunken husbands or lovers, having babies in rapid succession, trying to scratch a living from stubborn earth, keep food on the table and some semblance of order with the squabbling family, lawlessness and general chaos around her. She was blamed for hitting Alexander Fitzpatrick, a policeman, over the head with a shovel for which she was sent to gaol. This was the trigger for Ned's rage at Stringybark Creek and which led to his eventual downfall in the famous iron-clad shoot-out at Glenrowan.

These latter exploits have been written about so many times before that only a die-hard Kelly enthusiast would want to wallow through them in any depth. I must admit to speed-reading a lot of this, my main interest being in trying to get to grips with Ellen herself if at all possible.  There are attempts to show us what Ellen might have been thinking in certain situations, particularly when she was working in the laundry at the Melbourne Gaol as her son swung from the gallows a few feet away, but she remains elusive.

While I am most certainly not of the opinion that only male authors should write about men, female ones about women, sometimes a woman's own personal experiences can help in writing about another woman's journey. I particularly wanted to know how Ellen, already a grandmother at aged 46 and arrested just three days after the difficult birth of her own 12th child, coped with imprisonment and removal from her other children. Those first few days after birth are never easy, let alone the round-the-clock demands of an infant. In a prison where you might be allowed to wash yourself once a week, how did you manage to look after a baby that generates soil daily? Even if Ellen was already used to a spartan life of great hardship, this treatment of her and her little daughter was truly horrific. 

Ned, of course, used his mother's imprisonment to excuse his rampages and murder of three policemen and within these pages a lot of Kelly myths are challenged. He wasn't the anti-establishment "Robin Hood" hero that his supporters believe him to be, but a self-serving, nasty piece of work. The fact that the majority of his victims were individuals also of Irish heritage, many just trying to establish peaceful lives in a new and challenging environment and were not the English imperialists he loathed, says a great deal. What he did to the three men at Stringybark Creek - and his attitudes afterwards - seals the answer for me. That said, not all the Kelly genes were bad and there is some irony that Ned's half-brother John King became a policeman. 

Perhaps because Ellen didn't write and leave any personal expression behind in the way of memoirs or letters, she must remain a bit of a mystery and in spite of all these many pages, I don't feel I have gained any greater insight into her apart from what I've read previously in much simpler or concise booklets published by local historical histories and museums, so it left me wanting.

There were no winners when it comes to the other women caught in this saga. Bridget Kennedy and Maria Lonigan, wives of two of the policemen killed by Ned Kelly, both lost babies after they discovered their husbands had been murdered. Their lives were just as fraught with difficulties and filled with tragedy as Ellen's and because, like their husbands, their names are not recognised, for me they are the forgotten true heroines of this shambolic history.

Five stars for its research and scholarship, but only three for its perceptions.

For those interested in how the Kelly myth still has the power to divide communities in Australia today, here are links to a couple of articles, including excellent speeches made by the top cop of the State of Victoria and a descendant of Sergeant Kennedy. 













Thursday, February 2, 2017

C.L. Daly rediscovered

One wonders how many paintings there might be in galleries around the world that have been attributed to men and were actually done by women. In an earlier blog, I explored the story of Lady Butler who remains famous for her military paintings but whose later work is largely forgotten. 

The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, has opened an exhibition of watercolours by Caroline Louisa Daly that were wrongly attributed for years to men who, it has turned out after investigation by the Centre's curator, had either never visited Prince Edward Island or weren't artists. It was only after an English descendant of Caroline's pointed out the error that the paintings were investigated and the correct attribution applied. See The Toronto Star, also The Guardian. 


Caroline Louisa
Image from public family tree on Ancestry

Caroline's father was Sir Dominick Daly, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia. Daly Waters was named after him by explorer John McDouall Stuart (now famed for its outback pub and Australia's most remote traffic light.)

Caroline was married in Adelaide in 1866 to Henry Hobhouse Turton. His journal as a 15 year old sailing out to Australia has been posted by a descendant to The Ship's List, read here.

As Caroline lived in Australia for quite a number of years, there are bound to be some of her historically valuable paintings around but from a brief initial search, the one below is the only accessible painting by "C.L. Daly" from official Australian collections, but there may be more in other galleries or in private hands. 

C.L. Daly, Government Cottage, Glenelg
 (State Library of South Australia)