Tag Archives: United Kingdom
The announcement by Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, that pubs in England will be allowed to resume trading from July 4 was greeted with rousing cheers from some. But having a pint in the pandemic era will be slightly different. While two-metre social distancing rules are being relaxed to one metre to ensure economic viability for publicans, to maintain the safety of customers and staff, pubs will where practical be restricted to “table service”.
Standing at the bar is one of the most cherished rituals of the British pub experience – and many people are worried that the new rules could be the beginning of the end of a tradition that dates back centuries. Except, it doesn’t – the bar as we now know it is of relatively recent vintage and, in many respects, the new regulations are returning us to the practices of a much earlier era.
Before the 19th century, propping up the bar would have been an unfamiliar concept in England’s dense network of alehouses, taverns and inns. Alehouses and taverns in particular were seldom purpose-built, but were instead ordinary dwelling houses made over for commercial hospitality. Only their pictorial signboards and a few items of additional furniture distinguished them from surrounding houses. In particular, there was no bar in the modern sense of a fixed counter over which alcohol could be purchased and served.
Check out: Intoxicating spaces
Instead, beverages were ferried directly to seated customers from barrels and bottles in cellars and store rooms by the host and, in larger establishments, drawers, pot-boys, tapsters and waiters. The layout of Margaret Bowker’s large Manchester alehouse in 1641 is typical: chairs, stools and tables were distributed across the hall, parlours, and chambers, while drink was stored in “hogsheads”, “barrels”, and “rundlets” in her cellar.
The bar as we know it didn’t emerge organically from these arrangements, but rather from the introduction of a new commodity in the 18th century: gin.
Originally it was imported from the Netherlands and distilled in large quantities domestically from the later decades of the 17th century, but the emergence of a mass market for gin in the 1700s gave rise to the specialised gin or dram shop. Found mainly in London – especially in districts such as the East End and south of the river – an innovation of these establishments was a large counter that traversed their width.
Along with a lack of seating, this maximised serving and standing space and encouraged low-value but high-volume turnover from a predominantly poor clientele. The flamboyant gin palaces of the later 18th and early 19th century – described by caricaturist and temperance enthusiast George Cruikshank as “gaudy, gold be-plastered temples” – retained the bar, along with other features drawn from the retail sector such as plate-glass windows, gas lighting, elaborate wrought iron and mahogany fittings, and displays of bottles and glasses. While originally regarded as alien to local drinking cultures, by the 1830s these architectural elements started making their way into all English pubs, with the bar literally front and centre.
As architectural historian Mark Girouard has pointed out, the adoption of the bar was a “revolutionary innovation” – a “time-and-motion breakthrough” that transformed the relationship between customers and staff. It brought unprecedented efficiencies that were especially important in the expanding and industrialising cities of the early 1800s.
In particular, a fixed counter with taps, cocks and pumps connected to spirit casks and beer barrels was more efficient than employees scurrying between cellars, storerooms and drinking areas. This was especially the case for “off-sales” – customers purchasing drinks to take home – which had always been a large component of the drinks trade and still accounted for an estimated one-third of takings into the 19th century.
Posterity has paid little attention to the armies of service staff who kept the world of the tavern spinning on its axis before the age of the bar. But they are occasionally glimpsed in historical sources – such as Margaret Sephton, who was “drawing beer” at Widow Knee’s Chester alehouse in 1629, when she gave evidence about a theft of linen. While skilled – one tapster at a Chester tavern styled himself rather grandly in 1640 as a “drawer and sommelier of wine” – drink work was poorly paid. Staff were often paid in kind with food and lodgings and the work was usually undertaken by people who were young, poor, or new to the community.
The lack of a bar made the job especially challenging. It was physically demanding – in 1665 a young tapster at a Cheshire alehouse described how during her shift she was “called to and fro in the house and to other company, testifying to the constant back and forth. The fact that drinks were not poured in front of patrons made staff more vulnerable to accusations of adulteration and short measure – sometimes with good reason – and close physical proximity to customers when serving and collecting payment meant such disputes could more readily turn violent. For female employees, the absence of the insulating layer of material and space later provided by the bar meant they were much more exposed to sexual abuse from male patrons.
What can the historical record teach proprietors of any newly bar-less pubs? There are, of course, modern advantages such as apps and other digital tools – plus the example of European and North American establishments, where table service was never fully displaced. But there are practical lessons to be learned from the past all the same. Publicans today might streamline the range of drinks on offer and encourage the use of jugs for refills. Landlords could develop careful zoning for their staff – in larger alehouses and taverns tapsters were allocated specific booths and rooms. Most importantly they need to establish and enforce clear rules about behaviour towards staff – especially in terms of physical contact. Better to have premodern pubs than no pubs at all, after all.
The chances of finding another major archaeological monument near Stonehenge today are probably very small given the generations of work that has gone into studying the site. Stumbling across such a monument that measured more than 2km across must be highly unlikely. And yet that is exactly what our team from the Anglo-Austrian “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes” research project has done.
We discovered a circle of pits, each ten metres or more in diameter and at least five metres deep, around Stonehenge’s largest prehistoric neighbour, the so-called super henge at Durrington Walls. More amazingly, the initial evidence for this discovery was hidden away in terabytes of remote sensing data and reams of unpublished literature generated by archaeologists over the years.
Durrington is one of Britain’s largest neolithic monuments. Comprising banks and ditches measuring 500 metres across, the henge was constructed over 4,500 years ago by early farmers, around the time that Stonehenge achieved it’s final, distinctive form. The site itself overlies what may have been one of north west Europe’s largest neolithic villages. Researchers suggest that the communities that built Stonehenge lived here.
Over the last decade, there has been a quiet revolution in the landscape around Stonehenge as archaeologists have gained access to enhanced remote sensing technologies. Around 18 sq km of landscape around Stonehenge has now been surveyed through geophysics. Now archaeologists are joining the dots within these enormous data set, and making associations they might not have done otherwise.
The first geophysical anomalies related to our new discovery were recorded (but not published) some years ago when a small number of peculiar circular splodges in the magnetometry data south of Durrington. These were initially interpreted as shallower features, possibly dew ponds, unlinked to the henge. But our research group realised that similar features had been recorded far to the north of the henge by archaeological contractors, interpreted as natural sink holes caused by solution of the chalk bedrock.
Our mapping work suggested all these features were actually linked and part of a single, massive circuit surrounding the henge monument at Durrington. Detailed study, including drilling for underground samples, revealed the anomalies as massive pits, with near vertical sides, containing worked flint and bone. Radiocarbon dating suggested the features were from the same time as the henge.
Shafts and pits are known in prehistoric British archaeology, but the sheer number of massive pits and the scale of the Durrington circuit is unparalleled in the UK. The internal area of the ring is likely to be at least around three sq km. This arrangement of pits certainly gives the impression they bound an important space, and here there may be a comparison to be made with Stonehenge itself.
Stonehenge actually has a territory sometimes called the “Stonehenge Envelope”. This is marked by lines of later burial mounds clustering around the monument, covering an area similar to that of Durrington Walls. The space is marked so clearly that archaeologists have suggested only a special few people may have been allowed to enter the area.
This association of Stonehenge with death and burial has also led to interpretations that it was reserved for ancestors. Durrington, in contrast, is believed to be associated with the living. But our discovery of the pits suggest that Durrington did have a similar special outer area, as large as that associated with Stonehenge.
The pit circle also provide insights into the mindset of the people who built these massive structures. The pits appear to be laid out to include a much earlier monument: the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.
Built more than 1,000 years before the Durrington Walls henge, such ditched enclosures were the first large communal constructions in Britain and they were clearly important to early farming communities. The decision to appropriate this earlier monument into the circuit of the henge must have been a deliberate, symbolic statement.
In fact, the pits appear to have been laid out in a notional circle so that they were all the same walking distance from the henge as the causewayed enclosure. Given the scale involved and the shape of the landscape, which includes several valleys, this would have been difficult to achieve without the existence of a tally or counting system. This is the first evidence that such a system may have been used by neolithic people to lay out what must be considered a sacred geometry, at the scale suggested by the Durrington pits.
The unexpected discovery of a unique set of massive pits within the Stonehenge landscape may also have implications in terms of the site’s management. There are similar individual features scattered throughout the landscape that are unexplored but may be of equal significance. Yet a proposed road (the A303) development includes a road tunnel that will pass close to the iconic site of Stonehenge itself and impact a large corridor of land directly associated with the site.
The issue of value is complex when we’re discussing a period of history in which the digging of pits clearly had a multitude of social values. We would do well to consider the implication of such discoveries before a tragic loss ensues. Future generations are unlikely to forgive us if we damage this unique landscape.
As a professor of medieval Europe, I’ve taught the bubonic plague, and how it contributed to the English Peasant Revolt of 1381. Now that America is experiencing widespread unrest in the midst of its own pandemic, I see some interesting similarities to the 14th-century uprising.
The death of George Floyd has sparked protests fueled by a combination of brutal policing, a pandemic that has led to the loss of millions of jobs and centuries of racial discrimination and economic inequality.
“Where people are broke, and there doesn’t appear to be any assistance, there’s no leadership, there’s no clarity about what is going to happen, this creates the conditions for anger, rage, desperation and hopelessness,” African American studies scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor told The New York Times.
Medieval England may seem far removed from modern America. And sure, American workers aren’t tied to employers by feudal bonds, which meant that peasants were forced to work for their landowners. Yet the Peasant Revolt was also a reaction brought on by centuries of oppression of society’s lowest tiers.
And like today, the majority of wealth was held by an elite class that comprised about 1% of the population. When a deadly disease started to spread, the most vulnerable and powerless were asked the pick up the most slack, while continuing to face economic hardship. The country’s leaders refused to listen.
Eventually, the peasants decided to fight back.
Clamoring for higher wages
Surviving letters and treatises express feelings of fear, grief and loss; the death tolls from the 14th-century plague were catastrophic, and it’s estimated that between one-third to one-half of the European population died during the its first outbreak.
The massive loss of life created an immense labor shortage. Records from England describe untilled fields, vacant villages and untended livestock roaming an empty countryside.
The English laborers who survived understood their newfound value and began to press for higher wages. Some peasants even began to seek more lucrative employment by leaving feudal tenancy, meaning the peasants felt free to leave the employment of their landowning overlords.
Rather than accede to the demands, King Edward III did just the opposite: In 1349, he froze wages at pre-plague levels and imprisoned any reaper, mower or other workman in service to an estate who left his employment without cause. These ordinances ensured that elite landowners would retain their wealth.
Edward III enacted successive laws intended to ensure laborers wouldn’t increase their earning power. As England weathered subsequent outbreaks of the plague, and as labor shortages continued, workers started to clamor for change.
Enough is enough
The nominal reason for the Peasant Revolt was the announcement of a third poll tax in 15 years. Because poll taxes are a flat tax levied on every individual, they affect the poor far more than the wealthy. But similar to the protests that have erupted in the wake of Floyd’s death, the Peasant Revolt was really the result of dashed expectations and class tensions that had been simmering for more than 30 years.
Things finally came to a head in June 1381, when, by medieval estimates, 30,000 rural laborers stormed into London demanding to see the king. The cohort was led by a former yeoman soldier named Wat Tyler and an itinerant, radical preacher named John Ball.
Ball was sympathetic to the Lollards, a Christian sect deemed heretical by Rome. The Lollards believed in the dissolution of the sacraments and for the Bible to be translated into English from Latin, which would make the sacred text equally accessible to everyone, diminishing the interpretive role of the clergy. Ball wanted to take things even further and apply the ideas of the Lollards to all of English society. In short, Ball called for a complete overturn of the class system. He preached that since all of humanity constituted the children of Adam and Eve, the nobility could not prove they were of higher status than the peasants who worked for them.
With the help of sympathetic laborers in London, the peasants gained entry to the city and attacked and set fire to the Palace of Savoy, which belonged to the Duke of Lancaster. Next they stormed the Tower of London, where they killed several prominent clerics, including the archbishop of Canterbury.
A bait and switch
To quell the violence, Edward’s successor, the 14-year-old Richard II, met the irate peasants just outside of London. He presented them a sealed charter declaring that all men and their heirs would be “of free condition,” which meant that the feudal bonds that held them in service to landowners would be lifted.
While the rebels were initially satisfied with this charter, things didn’t end well for them. When the group met with Richard the next day, whether by mistake or intent, Wat Tyler was killed by one of Richard’s men, John Standish. The rest of the peasants dispersed or fled, depending on the report of the medieval chronicler.
For the authorities, this was their chance to pounce. They sent judges into the countryside of Kent to find, punish and, in some cases, execute those who were found guilty of leading the uprising. They apprehended John Ball and he was drawn and quartered. On Sept. 29, 1381, Richard II and Parliament declared the charter freeing the peasants of their feudal tenancy null and void. The vast wealth gap between the lowest and highest tiers of society remained.
American low-wage laborers obviously have rights and freedoms that medieval peasants lacked. However, these workers are often tied to their jobs because they cannot afford even a brief loss of income.
The meager benefits some essential workers gained during the pandemic are already being stripped away. Amazon recently ended the additional US$2 per hour in hazard pay it had been paying workers and announced plans to fire workers who don’t return to work for fear of contracting COVID-19. Meanwhile, between mid-March and mid-May, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos added $34.6 billion dollars to his wealth.
It appears that the economic disparities of 21st-century capitalism – where the richest 1% now own more than half of the world’s wealth – are beginning to resemble those of 14th-century Europe.
When income inequalities become so jarring, and when these inequalities are based in long-term oppression, perhaps the sort of unrest we’re seeing on the streets in 2020 is inevitable.
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Modern Britons associate The Great Escape with the 1963 film of that name starring Steve McQueen, reffering to, of course, a mass escape by Allied prisoners during the second world war. But this title might more appropriately be applied to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4 1940.
As the UK marks the 80th anniversary of that escape, we shall hear much of the author JB Priestley’s first “postscript” for BBC Radio on Wednesday June 5. That broadcast coined the phrase “Little Ships” and even acknowledged Priestley’s own part in shaping understanding of Dunkirk. He asked listeners: “Doesn’t it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it – as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed ‘Dunkirk’?”
But there was nothing inevitable about it.
Before pledging to “fight them on the beaches”, Winston Churchill himself reminded the House of Commons in the same speech that “wars are not won by evacuations”. He acknowledged that the BEF had courted disaster before depicting its escape as “a miracle of deliverance”. That the British public regards it as a triumph owes much to the work of British newspaper journalists and the Royal Navy press officers who briefed them.
How the ‘miracle’ came about
Dunkirk was not reported in eyewitness accounts from the beaches. The few war correspondents who struggled back with the retreating armies had no means by which to communicate. Reports, such as Evelyn Montague’s The Miracle of the BEF’s Return for the Manchester Guardian of Saturday June 1 1940, were penned by journalists invited to witness the Royal Navy’s delivery of evacuated soldiers to the ports of south-east England. There, they were briefed with patriotic fervour and naval pride as well as facts.
The first sentence of Montague’s piece gives a flavour of the mood that was inspired:
In the grey chill dawn today in a south-eastern port, war correspondents watched with incredulous joy the happening of a miracle.
The reporter – a grandson of the famous Guardian editor and owner C.P. Scott – did not fail to give the Royal Navy credit. Having described a waterfront hotel in which “every armchair held its sleeping soldier or sailor, huddled beneath overcoat or ground sheet”, Montague turned to the scene in the port:
As the rising sun was turning the grey clouds to burnished copper the first destroyer of the day slid swiftly into the harbour, its silhouette bristling with the heads of the men who stood packed shoulder to shoulder on its decks.
Back in 1940, the Times did not award reporters bylines. Its report of the BEF’s return on June 1 was by “Our Special Correspondent”. He too witnessed the scenes in a south-eastern port (security censorship forbade more precise identification). The men, he wrote, were “weary but undaunted”. Protected by “the ceaseless patrol maintained by British warships and aeroplanes in the English Channel”, men who had displayed “steadiness under a cruel test” were “pouring onto the quays”.
The Daily Mirror’s Bernard Gray, writing in its stablemate, the Sunday Pictorial, gave his verdict in a column on June 2 headlined simply “The Whole Magnificent Story”. “There have been many glorious episodes in the history of Britain”, he opined, “but, if that great English historian Macaulay were able to select from 2,000 years the most glorious week in the annals of the British Empire, this last seven days would surely be the week he would have chosen.”
Gray did not hesitate to offer comparisons:
Never mind the defeat of the Armada. Forget even the Battle of Waterloo, the epic of Trafalgar. For this week has seen the British Empire at its mightiest – in defeat.
Standing “in the streets of an English Channel Port”, G. Ward Price of the Daily Mail was similarly enthralled in his front-page piece, Rearguard Battles On, on June 1: “It is a picture of staggering heroism, fighting spirit and determination that never weakened in the face of overwhelming odds in men and material.”
A defeat, however ‘glorious’
It took Hilaire Belloc, the Anglo-French author of Cautionary Tales for Children, to recognise in his column for the Sunday Times (The Evacuation and After, June 2) that the withdrawal from Belgium and the collapse of Britain’s key ally, France, constituted a “catastrophe”.
In his defining examination of the elements that comprise Britain’s “received story” of 1940, The Myth of the Blitz, Scottish historian and poet Angus Calder noted that elements of the way the story was reported were misleading. However, Calder agreed that “Dunkirk was indeed a great escape”.
I celebrate the work British newspapers did to stiffen resolve and sustain morale at this time of grave national peril. In a democracy fighting totalitarianism, newspapers must balance their obligation to hold power to account and their duty to the national cause. The newspapers surveyed here certainly colluded in the creation of myths about Dunkirk, but their readers might not have welcomed any efforts to report Dunkirk any other way.
After all, myths are not lies and this one was studded with harsh facts. In Bernard Gray’s words for the Sunday Pictorial, Dunkirk was glorious despite the truth that: “The British Army has not won a battle. The British Army has retreated. The British Army has had to leave the Battlefield.”
For me, David Low captured the prevailing mood in his famous “Very Well, Alone” cartoon for the Evening Standard just a few weeks later on June 18. It depicts a British soldier alone before a raging sea and gesturing with a raised fist towards the Nazi-occupied continent from which German troops were expected to arrive at any moment.
Which Florence Nightingale will we remember today? The ‘Lady with the Lamp’ or the influential writer and activist?
Florence Nightingale’s birth on May 12, 1820, is commemorated as International Nurses Day, honouring her founding role in modern nursing. Today would be her 200th birthday, so expect to hear even more about her.
Yet mention her name to nurses, the reaction tends to be an eye-roll. Why?
Nightingale influenced nursing and health care in two ways.
First there is the impact of her myth. This myth was created when she headed a group of nurses to care for the thousands of British troops dying from disease during the Crimean War (1853-56).
The public revered Nightingale as the Lady with the Lamp, gliding around at night at Scutari Hospital in Turkey embodying selfless care. This image has been a burden for nurses as it ignores the skills involved in effective nursing.
Second, there was the impact of the real Nightingale. After the Crimean War, she spent most of her remaining 54 years as an invalid in her bedroom.
She wrote insightful reports and papers on reforming the army and improving public health. These were highly influential.
So too was her practical guide for women nursing family members at home, Notes on Nursing (1859). Later, her focus was on improving conditions in India.
In all her work, Nightingale aimed to prevent needless deaths from disease, as had occurred during the Crimean War.
In 1869, writing to one of the nurses she sent to Australia, Nightingale described her wartime experience as:
like a horrid spectre one is afraid of conjuring up out of the dark corner of one’s mind […] ready to spring, if one were not so overwhelmed with present work.
Her description resonates with the despair of those caring for COVID-19 patients with inadequate facilities today.
Meanwhile, the public insisted Nightingale reform civilian nursing. They poured money into a Nightingale Fund to establish a training school for nurses under her guidance.
Nightingale complained; she had not asked for the money nor been consulted about its aim. Eventually, in 1860, the Nightingale School of Nursing began at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Though she tried to influence it, she had little to do with its management.
Nightingale also had little choice but to respond to the innumerable requests she received for advice, especially about hospital design and nursing.
Australians wanted a piece of her too
Australian hospitals and politicians equally clamoured to collaborate with the famed Nightingale.
One result was the spread of the hospital building style she favoured. These hospitals had separate buildings (pavilions) to help prevent cross-infection.
Inside were long, traditional wards that became known as Nightingale wards. They had high windows for light and ventilation; patients and beds were arranged for
easy supervision. An example can be seen in the original buildings at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney.
Nightingale was not immune from imperialist prejudices. An example is her collecting statistics about indigenous health in British colonies.
As the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives points out, her involvement did not help Indigenous Australians. Nor was she always successful.
While Australian hospitals and governments boasted they consulted her, the tyranny of distance was against them. In the 1860s, she commented on plans for new wards at Sydney Infirmary (now Sydney Hospital), but in the three months it took for her letter to arrive, the plans had changed.
It was certainly not her fault that, after the building was completed, it was discovered the architects had forgotten to include toilets.
Nightingale advised on a new Australian nursing school
Nightingale’s major contribution to Australian nursing occurred when she was asked to establish a school of nursing at Sydney Infirmary.
The new nurses were expected to be a secular version of the other trained nurses in the colony, the Sisters of Charity.
Nightingale agreed to send nurses to Sydney, but largely left it to the matron of the UK’s St Thomas’s Hospital to choose them. Only later would Nightingale view the matron as someone who would not know “a sheep’s head from a carrot”.
The six nurses arrived in 1868. Most were inexperienced, including their leader Lucy Osburn. Nightingale tried to advise, but again the length of time letters took to arrive meant they were of little use. Problems mounted. Three years later, Nightingale disowned the project and deemed Osburn a failure.
Strict hygiene, hard work and patients first
Nightingale had been too hasty. Osburn learnt from her mistakes and persisted in her work. She implemented Nightingale’s key ideals including strict hygiene and conscientious, patient-centred nursing.
She demonstrated that nursing needed to be taught, rather than learnt from experience. As important, her nurses had reasonable pay and good living conditions in the Nightingale wing. Better conditions attracted nurses more able to implement the new standards of antiseptic practice.
Today’s nurses have reason to be ambivalent about Nightingale’s impact, but her ideals have helped ensure they are among the most trusted occupational group.
When you’re in a medical emergency, you don’t typically think of calling a statistician. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has shown just how necessary a clear understanding of data and modelling is to help prevent the spread of disease.
One person understood this a long time ago. Were she alive today, Florence Nightingale would understand the importance of data in dealing with a public health emergency.
Nightingale is renowned for her career in nursing, but less well known for her pioneering work in medical statistics. But it was actually her statistical skills that led to Nightingale saving many more lives.
An early spark
Nightingale was one of the first female statisticians. She developed an early passion for statistics. As a child she collected shells and supplemented her collection with tables and lists. Nightingale was home-schooled by her father but insisted on learning maths from a mathematician before she trained as a nurse.
Upon arriving at the British military hospital in Turkey in 1856, Nightingale was horrified at the hospital’s conditions and a lack of clear hospital records.
Even the number of deaths was not recorded accurately. She soon discovered three different death registers existed, each giving a completely different account of the deaths among the soldiers. Using her statistical skills, Nightingale set to work to introduce new guidelines on how to record sickness and mortality across military hospitals.
This helped her better understand both the numbers and causes of deaths. Now, worldwide, there are similar standards for recording diseases, such as the International Classification of Diseases.
The ability to compare datasets from different places is critical to understanding outbreaks. One of the challenges in monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic has been the lack of standardised datasets experts can compare on the number of people infected. This is due to differences in testing rules in different countries.
More than 150 years after Nightingale pointed out the need to standardise datasets before comparing them, we are certain she would have something to say about this.
With her improved data, Nightingale put her statistical skills to use. She discovered deaths due to disease were more than seven times the number of deaths due to combat, because of unsanitary hospital conditions.
However, knowing numbers alone have limited persuasive powers, Nightingale used her skills in statistical communication to convince the British parliament of the need to act. She avoided the dry tables used by most statisticians of the time, and instead devised a novel graph to illustrate the impact of hospital and nursing practice reform on army mortality rates.
Today, graphs remain one of the most effective ways to understand the effects of health care interventions, including those used to illustrate the effectiveness of physical distancing to curb COVID-19’s spread.
Florence Nightingale down under
Nightingale may not have travelled much after her wartime experience in Turkey, but she was engaged in improving public health in many countries, including Australia.
She wrote papers on the benefits of pavilion-style hospital building designs, which were later incorporated into Australian hospitals. This style consists of small wings, or pavilions, leading off a central corridor – this is convenient for nursing staff and encourages good ventilation.
In 1868, Lucy Osburn headed the first team of nurses sent to Australia to establish Nightingale-style nursing. One of the team’s first tasks was to nurse Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, who had been shot in an attempted assassination.
Nightingale never visited Australia herself, but this did not stop her using her usual tactics of requesting data from her wide network of contacts and drawing conclusions from what she found. She was a prolific correspondent – we have more than 12,000 of her letters, and those are only the ones which haven’t been burned, lost or otherwise destroyed.
Nightingale would surely have embraced 21st-century communication. We can imagine her sitting at her laptop tweeting under the moniker @ladywiththelamp.
A trailblazer for women
In 1858, Nightingale’s achievements in statistics were recognised by the Royal Statistical Society in the UK, when she became the first woman Fellow of the Society.
After Nightingale’s fellowship, it would be more than 100 years before a woman was elected President of the Royal Statistical Society, with Stella Cunliffe’s election in 1975. It was only in 1995 that the Statistical Society of Australia had a woman as president, with the election of Helen MacGillivray.
As in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, female statisticians are still fighting for equal recognition. To date, only two women have received the Statistical Society of Australia’s highest honour, the Pitman Medal.
But it’s clear female statisticians are still making headway. In 2019, five major statistical associations had women presidents. Today, on her 200th birthday, Nightingale would have been proud.
Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.
History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.
Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.
Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.
The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.
Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.
Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.
In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.
Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.
The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.
Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.
Women as agents of history
According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:
A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.
Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.
As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:
Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.
Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.
Mikaere has argued that:
It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.
It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.
Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.
Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.
Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.
In 1970, the bicentenary of the Endeavour’s voyage along the east coast of Australia contributed to a renaissance of storytelling about Captain James Cook.
While government-sponsored commemorations celebrated Cook as an Enlightenment explorer and national founder, Aboriginal people provided their own viewpoints on Cook and his legacy.
During this commemorative period, Indigenous stories about Cook were recorded in the Kimberley region, Arnhem Land and the Wave Hill region in the Northern Territory, along with places on the Queensland coast.
Coinciding with an emerging national movement for Indigenous land rights, these renditions of Cook provided radically different accounts of colonisation and its enduring structures and effects.
These stories questioned the settler mythologising that rendered Cook’s actions as heroic, benign or of historical interest only. And they politicised in unprecedented ways the figure of Cook and the longstanding traditions around the ways Australians remember and celebrate him.
In time, these alternative accounts transformed the ways we understand Cook in Australia – both his own time here in 1770, as well as the cultural production of him as a historical figure in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The stories told by Hobbles Danaiyarri
I began thinking quite differently about my own research on Cook’s encounters at Botany Bay in 1770 after reading the stories told by Hobbles Danaiyarri, a senior Aboriginal lawman and knowledge holder, to the ethnographer Deborah Bird Rose.
Danaiyarri considered Bird Rose a consummate listener, faithful recorder, intelligent interlocutor, incisive interpreter and generous executor. And as Bird Rose later recounted, almost from the moment she arrived to do anthropological fieldwork at Yarralin in the Northern Territory in 1980,
Hobbles had been telling me about Captain Cook and the hidden history of the north.
For nearly three decades, she wrote about the gifts of knowledge – and ways of knowing – he shared with her. Danaiyarri’s spoken-word poetic history – which focused quite extensively on Cook – is one of the great pieces of Australian literature, yet it is still not as widely known as it should be.
The power of a greeting
There’s one section in Danaiyarri’s epic narrative – or saga, as Bird Rose calls it – in which he describes Cook’s failure to say “hello” to the people whose territory he had entered on the east coast. He explains:
[Cook] should have asked him – one of these boss for Sydney – Aboriginal people. People were up there, Aboriginal people. He should have come up and: ‘hello’, you know, ‘hello’. Now, asking him for his place, to come through, because [it’s] Aboriginal land. Because Captain Cook didn’t give him a fair go – to tell him ‘good day’, or ‘hello’, you know.
This sharp accusation that Cook’s monumental failing during his initial trespass into Aboriginal territory was “not saying hello” – rather than, for instance, opening fire – draws attention to the social and cultural expectations, values and dynamics that should have governed such an event.
Danaiyarri’s account peeled back the curtain to show us how this first encounter might have looked from “the other side of the beach”.
Until this time, such critical Indigenous knowledge had not penetrated the vast amount of settler storytelling devoted to Cook’s first landing on the shores of Botany Bay.
The stories we inherited of this episode had cast the Aboriginal people Cook encountered as either ferocious warriors or pathetic cowards. They were not properly seen as bosses for the country, who would expect a stranger to recognise them in that way and act accordingly.
Without acknowledgement of that fundamental principle, our interpretations of Cook’s landing were lacking a full understanding of this moment, specifically what motivated the local people’s responses to his forceful entry onto their land.
Responding to the crew’s presence
What does it mean to accuse Cook of failing to say hello? Why was this such a blunder and what were the implications of this impolite behaviour?
Curious about the implications of what Danaiyarri said, Bird Rose asked Yarralin people what would have happened if Cook had asked properly to enter the local people’s land. She explained,
I was told that either he would have been denied permission and therefore would have gone way, or he would have been allowed to stay but only on terms decided by the owners of the country.
Cook was in Botany Bay for eight days, and throughout that time, the local people sought to impose the terms on which the crew stayed.
They kept their distance from the strangers and never opened up direct communication with them. But they also did not abandon the country to Cook’s crew. Rather, they orchestrated as best they could the crew’s presence – keeping them contained within a limited space.
They behaved, as Danaiyarri would put it, as bosses should.
Understanding why the ‘beach’ is so important
the view from the ship and the view from the shore.
While it implies equal weighting would be given to understanding both sides of the story of Cook’s landing, it’s a wrong-headed idea. It suggests each party remained – and can remain still – suspended in their own separate worlds: on the ship or on the shore.
Missing from the tagline is the “beach” – the literal and metaphorical space where cross-cultural encounters, misunderstandings and, too often, violence has taken place.
As Danaiyarri reminds us, Cook did come ashore and the way he did set some of the terms for future colonial-Indigenous relations.
These encounters are challenging and complex to understand. Aboriginal stories, like those told by Danaiyarri, tell us what ought to have happened on the beach. And they ensure none of us forget where, how and why the troubles between Indigenous and other Australians began.
This year’s 250th commemoration provides yet another occasion to grapple with this difficult history – but the opportunity will be lost if we remain blinkered in seeing things only from one, or other, vantage point.