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The Scrivener: From Plums To Bicycles

Pity poor Captain Charles Sturt, a military man and determined explorer. He traced rivers, sought lakes, aiming for the very centre of the vast island continent of Australia. In doing so he opened up nearly 5,000km of land. He had to give up, due to scurvy, severe sunburn, and near blindness. Eventually Captain Sturt returned to England where his courage and enterprise were recognised, but he died a few days before being knighted…

Brian Barratt, an intrepid time traveller and wordsmith, ventures back 134 years to explore the obituary columns of The Times newspaper, there to discover' another astonishing cast of international characters.

For more fun with words and ideas visit Brian's celebrated Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas

Monsieur Berard was a chymist. In 1872, the more famous Louis Pasteur confirmed his findings that fruits absorb oxygen but emit carbonic gas. The experiment was done by placing some plums inside a chamber filled with carbon dioxide, and a similar number placed next to the chamber, in the fresh air. Those in the chamber remained firm. You can guess what happened to the others. Had M. Berard been born later, he would have been called a chemist. A note of his death appeared in The Times obituary list for 1869.

Two people very closely related to Australia died during the same year. Captain Charles Sturt was not only a military man but also a determined explorer, as befitted the times. Tracing rivers, seeking lakes, and aiming for the very centre of the vast island continent, he opened up nearly 5,000km of land. He came to within about 250km of the centre but had to give up, due to scurvy, severe sunburn, and near blindness as a result of his efforts. Eventually returning to England, he died just a few days before he was knighted.

In about 1802, John Pascoe Fawkner surveyed the area he found around Port Philip, declaring it would be a good place for a village. That village is now called Melbourne and has about twenty streets named after him.

Another pioneer, this time in Music, departed. He was Hector Berlioz, composer of Symphonie Fantastique, Harold in Italy, The Damnation of Faust and The Trojans.

Most of the ecclesiastical personages who passed away are described as the Bishop, Archdeacon, Dean, whatever, of their diocese or parish. That is a clear indication that the Church of England was the established church. Roman Catholic dignitaries, however, are prefixed by the name of their denomination. Nowadays, in Australia at least, the media report news about such people as the archbishop of Sydney, without letting us know which one. There are at least two archbishops of Sydney.

There’s the usual ration of European aristocracy with grand titles, such as Prince Frederic William of Hohenzollern. His background involves the history of Swabia in south-western Germany, Prussia, plus a lot of Frederics and Williamses. Prince Albert Swartsburgh Rudolstadt also departed. A quick check in the atlas shows that he lived in Thuringen, which is rather nice. Some of the 17th century ancestors of a relation whose family tree I’m researching also came from that area.
You could get in the list merely by being someone’s brother or cousin. There’s Count Mustai (the spelling is difficult to decipher) Ferretti, brother of Pope Piux IX, and Count Christopher Ferretti, cousin of the Pope.

At the top of this obituary list, however, is Richard, second Marquis of Westminster, described as ‘probably the richest subject of the Crown’. Whatever he did with his riches, I now lose my way in the rich labyrinth of English aristocracy. The encyclopaedia I have at my side makes no mention of his name in the Westminster Dukedom. Oh, it’s all so complicated. So much easier to work out what M. Berard did with his plums.
Among the more unusual occupations of people who died that year, we find that Mr John Hulme had been the inventor of the self-acting mule. I can find no mention of this gentleman in my reference books of inventors and engineers. The mule in question, by the way, was not a well-trained hybrid quadruped — it was a machine used in the spinning industry.
Amidst this death and mourning, there is an important birth to note. The word ‘bysicle’ was first used in 1868, but ‘bicycle’ was born in 1869. No need to ride a four-legged mule to work, now, eh?

© Copyright 2006 Brian Barratt


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