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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ben Kingsley on wearing a moko

Part-Indian actor on being Maori

Ben Kingsley, four-time Oscar winner, donned a Maori facial tattoo for his role in the SF movie "Ender's Game."  He plays Mazer Rackham, a military genius who happens to be half-Maori, and who, because of those famous warrior genes, manages to concoct winning strategies in the battle against alien forces. 

And, being half-Maori, the character is entitled to wear a moko, or full facial tattoo.

And they got the moko right, for a wonder (though it wasn't actually carved into his face, the traditional way) ... but then Kingsley produced the usual platitudes when asked to say how he felt about it.

"I was conscious of their special power, their significance," he intoned when interviewed for Salon.

Reading on, however, it seems those sentiments were coaxed out of him.

The question:

Is there any particular responsibility that comes with donning tattoos associated with another culture, not your own? 

His answer:

Well, I know that Gavin Hood was somewhat apprehensive about asking me to wear Maori makeup. He thought I’d say I love this character, but I don’t want to wear tattoos. Well, he didn’t know me well. He did quite gently broach the subject, and he said he’d bring me together with Maori experts and show me videos of tattoos on Maori faces. I said, “Gavin! Hold it right there! I shall go into makeup, I shall apply tattoos, I shall wear them with pride onto your set.” It is that simple with me.
When I meet the costume department, who are designing costumes, they bring a ton of sketches, swaths of designs. I see four racks of clothes, and I say, “Whatever you want me to wear in this scene, hang it in my trailer and I shall wear it!” For me, it’s the telling of the story. Costumes are their department! You hang it in my trailer, and I shall put it on. I’ve learned to do this because it frees me to do what I love, which is the acting.

What happened in makeup, since you’re curious about tattoos: Makeup artists would work very quietly for an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 15, and I have my eyes closed. I gently run my lines, quietly meditate and go blank. When they say, “You’re ready,” I open my eyes, I see the extraordinary design they created, and I leave my trailer.

I do know and have great respect for tradition of Maori tattoos. They explain and display a lineage, a story, a past. When they have applied those wonderful tattoos to my face, I was conscious of their special power, their significance. But I was more conscious of how every actor on set looked at me differently. I didn’t need to research it. I just needed to put it on my face, and everyone looked at me in a curious, slightly cautious sense. Nobody just looked at me. They read me. And it shows on camera.

Interesting observation.  Read the rest.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tip for women only: no cleavage

How should one dress for a presentation?

Global law firm Clifford Chance is facing backlash for a now-viral memo on presentation skills it distributed to only women at the firm.

The five-page memo, published in full on Above The Law, is entitled "Presentation Tips for Women" and contains tips such as "don't giggle," "don't squirm," and "don't mess with your glasses or hair."

The memo also counsels its recipients to "wear a suit, not your party outfit" and reminds them that "no one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage." (See picture above, which tends to prove they had a point.)

Clifford Chance has dismissed allegations that the firm is sexist and told that the memo was compiled by a female partner based on "her personal perspective after years of public speaking,"
 and that the firm is being punished for a few items taken out of context.

The tips, as it happens, are eminently sensible.  Here is a sampling:

It is better to be more formal, practiced & professional, even in a casual crowd
  • Don't drop your volume at the end of a sentence
  • Don't jumble your words, "dunno," "wanna," "probly"
  • Breathe
  • Pretend you're speaking to the back wall
  • Your voice is higher than you hear
  • Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe
  • Don't lean on the lectern
  • Over-prepare the first minute, so you can begin confidently
  • Even if you memorize, bring notes on a card to ensure you don't blank
  • Don't sway
  • If you have the choice of a podium or sitting down, choose the podium
  • Make sure your cellphone is turned off
The problem is that the memo was sent only to female employees.  And, believe me, men can make a mess of a presentation, too.

Tall ship Amistad in trouble

Tall ship replica has funding woes

Connecticut legislators are demanding a full accounting of the millions of state tax dollars that have been invested in the tall ship Amistad and have called for the state to stop funding the vessel until the group in charge of the ship explains how the money is being spent.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, made the demand for a full accounting and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Thursday that Amistad America should answer questions about how it has spent the money allocated to it and outline how it plans to become financially stable, according to The Day in New London.

The Day recently reported that the ship, which was built with state funds to tell the story of captive Africans who escaped slavery and were declared free by the U.S. Supreme Court, is being used in Maine to teach sailing and that its parent organization has lost its tax-exempt status.

Maynard commended Urban for pressing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to detail how Amistad America has spent the $8 million in state taxpayer money it has received for the construction, maintenance, programming and operation of the vessel.

Amistad America lost its tax-exempt status after failing to file tax returns for three years. It no longer is based in New Haven, it has no office or website and its board is inactive.

And yet it was such an inspiring story.

In January 1839, 53 African natives were kidnapped from eastern Africa and sold into the Spanish slave trade. They were then placed aboard a Spanish slave ship bound for Havana, Cuba.
Once in Havana, the Africans were classified as native Cuban slaves and purchased at auction by two Spaniards, Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montez. The two planned to move the slaves to another part of Cuba. The slaves were shackled and loaded aboard the cargo schooner Amistad (Spanish for "friendship") for the brief coastal voyage.  However, three days into the journey, a 25-year-old slave named Sengbe Pieh (or "Cinque" to his Spanish captors) broke out of his shackles and released the other Africans. The slaves then revolted, killing most of the crew of the Amistad, including her cook and captain. The Africans then forced Montez and Ruiz to return the ship to Africa.  During the day, the ship sailed due east, using the sun to navigate. However, at night Montez and Ruiz would change course, attempting to return to Cuba. The zigzag journey continued for 63 days. The ship finally grounded near Montauk Point, Long Island, in New York State. The United States federal government seized the ship and its African occupants -- who under U.S. law were "property" and therefore cargo of the ship. On August 29, 1839, the Amistad was towed into New London, Connecticut.
The government charged the slaves with piracy and murder, and classified them as salvage property. The 53 Africans were sent to prison, pending hearing of their case before the U.S. Circuit Court in Hartford, Connecticut.

Read more

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"No Woman, No Drive"

This last weekend, Saudi women defied the religious ban by getting behind the wheel and putting films of the daring act on YouTube.

And a skit by a Saudi comedian, also on YouTube, has gone viral.

Who is he?  And what does it mean?

From the BBC

Less than two days after it was posted, No Woman, No Drive has had more than three million views on YouTube. It's the most popular YouTube video in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and has been a big hit around the world from South Africa to Denmark to Canada. "Insanity" is the word 26-year-old comedian Hisham Fageeh uses to describe the way his video has taken off. "For two days my brain has been on fire - I can't wrap my brain around what is happening," he told the BBC.

It's a satirical video set to the tune of Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry, with the words changed to focus on driving. It was put together by Fageeh and colleagues at the production house Telfaz11, which specialises in making comedy for an online audience. In short, they wanted it to go viral.

Like all the best ideas, "it came to me either in the shower or in the toilet", Fageeh says. Judging by the comments online, some people have been left confused as to whether he supports women driving or not.

Watch it, and decide for yourself...

Edinburgh first book prize snared by Angela Jackson

From the BBC

An Edinburgh author has been named the winner of the Edinburgh International Book Festival's 2013 First Book Award.

Angela Jackson, one of 42 writers in contention, said it felt "particularly special" to win the prize for her debut novel, The Emergence of Judy Taylor.

Visitors to this year's festival voted her book ahead of other first works by such authors as Gill Hornby, sister of Nick, and broadcaster Dawn O'Porter.

Jackson's novel tells of a dissatisfied wife who embarks on a new life.

"It's great to know I'm on the right track [and] that my work is connecting with readers," the author continued.

The former musician and psychology lecturer said the prize would "spur [her] on to complete my second novel".

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said Jackson's triumph was "a wonderful, home-grown success story".

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sprawler

You know how it is when you are sitting in a middle seat, watching the people come up the aisle on a very full plane, and wondering with dread who is going to plop down on the seat next to you. 

I remember the time a huge Polynesian rugby player (a prop for a Waikato team) arriving beside me, and how I squinched up in dreadful anticipation.  And he turned out to be the politest seat-mate possible.  I was amazed how efficiently he kept his muscular body to himself.  It must have been something to do with being so athletic.

And another time my seat mate turned out to be a famous black jazz saxophone player, on his way back to Los Angeles.  He was such a charmer and so very interesting that I didn't mind when he fell asleep on my shoulder.

It was not like that on the latest flight from Sydney. The guy who arrived up the aisle was yelling on his cellphone.  He dropped his luggage, partly on my lap, and then shuffled his not particularly large body into his seat and overlapping mine, chattering non-stop.  No eye contact was made whatsoever, and there was no polite nod. 

Instead, he propped his left elbow on the armrest, and leaned his head on his hand, which cuddled the cellphone, so that he was holding his conversation right in my ear.  I heard about the smarmy so-and-so in the office, and how he was sending his fervent love to everyone else, and that it was such a good idea to bring in the team from Pittsburgh.  And then, thank the lords of the sky, the instruction to turn off electronic devices put a halt to the chat -- though he delayed as long as possible while he sent everyone his love again.

And after that, he sprawled.  He used up the same amount of room as the fellow in the picture above, but without the excuse of being alone.  Broad gestures were made in time to the action on the movie he watched.  Elbows were akimbo as he ate his airplane meal.  And guess what happened the instant the plane touched ground.

Yes, out came that cellphone again.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Great review of The Elephant Voyage


by Joan Druett
Old Salt Press $26.50 (New Zealand price)

In November 1883, the unlucky, bad tempered Captain Sanford Miner and the crew of the schooner Sarah W. Hunt found themselves off Campbell Island.  Twelve men in two whaleboats headed for the island in terrible weather to look for seals. One boat disappeared, the six men in the other struggled ashore and nearly died. Captain Miner, assuming they were all lost, sailed for Lyttelton and a heap of trouble. The captain's indifference to the fate of his men outraged the public, acting premier William Rolleston dithered about sending a rescue mission, and it was only the lucky arrival on Campbell Island of a seals protection vessel that saved the castaways. When they returned to Lyttelton and told their story, it blew up into an international scandal, that brought down politicians and created waves that reached as far as the United States. Joan Druett tells this riveting story superbly. -- JOAN CURRY "Your Weekend"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ned Kelly and the cops he killed

Murdered cops get dedication service.
The “cultural adoration” of bushranger Ned Kelly meant that the policemen he murdered suffered an injustice after death.  Or so says Victoria’s top policeman.
Chief Commissioner Ken Lay will attend a dedication service at the graves of Constables Scanlan and Lonigan and Sergeant Kennedy, all of whom were murdered by Kelly.
The policemen, he says, have become nothing but footnotes to history, while the whole world knows about their killer.
“It’s a shame that in death, another indignity befell Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan and Scanlan,” he said.
“They became pawns in the long-running historical conjecture about the meaning of Ned Kelly.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More on the mutiny...


It was not on the outward voyage to Tahiti that trouble began on the Bounty, or even in Tahiti itself. It was on the little island of Anamooka, in Tonga – an island lying on our northeastern horizon – that the most famous mutiny in history was brewed.
Bligh wanted to make landfall at Anamooka.  He had been there with Captain Cook in 1777, and remembered old friends.  But it is not a wise move, for Cook had made a bad mistake on this island.  He had kidnapped a chief, had him flogged, and then ransomed him back to his people, at the price of one hog. It was a mistake that the natives still remember.
Two work parties are sent ashore. One, numbering eleven men, has the job of filling casks with fresh water, and is led by Fletcher Christian.  The men carry muskets and other arms, but these are left in the boats, to be used only in an emergency. Accordingly, when the natives crowd around, harassing and distracting the party, nothing is done to prevent the theft of an adze and an axe.
Bligh, when he hears the report, flies into a rage.  He damns Christian, asking him if he was afraid of a set of naked savages. Shouting back, Fletcher Christian declares that Bligh’s orders were impossible to follow—on one hand he was told not to use the guns on unarmed natives, and now, on the other, he is being blamed for not using them to prevent trouble.
Simmering down, as usual with him, Bligh sends Christian and the party ashore again next day. This time, the party is attacked with stones and clubs.  Running back to the boat, the party tosses nails, to delay their pursuers. They manage to get to the boat unharmed—to find that the grapnel anchor has been stolen from the line that held it to the bottom of the lagoon.
“You’re a parcel of good for nothing rascals,” Bligh storms when they get back on board.  Copying Captain Cook, he kidnaps some chiefs, to hold them hostage until the grapnel is returned. But night falls, and still the anchor has not been returned. Weakly, Captain Bligh lets the Tongan chiefs go, giving them presents of nails to appease them. It was then that Bligh loses the last of the respect of many of his men.

The Bounty weighs anchor, and sails on, towards disaster.


Monday, October 21, 2013


When architect Jon Utzon won the competition with his design for the Sydney Opera House, his family did not have a notion of the great future in store for the building – that it would, in fact, become an icon, and a tourist attraction that would draw in millions of dollars a year.
Forty years later, his son, also Jon, celebrated the famous Opera House’s birthday, along with a crowd of sixteen thousand.
The event included a performance by Jimmy Barnes and the presentation of an oversized cupcake. The Australian Minster of Tourism, George Souris, hailed the event with huge enthusiasm, saying that the house’s value was incalculable, attracting over 8 million visitors each year, as well as providing an epicentre for the arts.
It did not just belong to Australia, he said – “It belongs to the world.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bligh at Tofua

TOFUA, April 28, 1789

Night falls. The Bounty launch is bobbing in the surf of the island of Tofua, at the end of the first day of her voyage. The Bounty ship has long since vanished into the mists of the horizon.  The nineteen men crammed into the 23-foot launch try to snatch what sleep they can. At daybreak, they sail slowly along the coast, landing where they can, scavenging for coconuts and fresh water, trying to trade buttons from their jackets for breadfruit from the natives.
It becomes a routine over the next few days. But the natives are gathering in greater and greater numbers, friendly at first, but increasingly more menacing. Forebodingly, it seems that the news of the kidnapping at Anamooka has reached Tofua. Not only does the crowd know about the seizure of the chiefs, but they are aware of Bligh’s weak capitulation, and that he handed out conciliatory gifts when he let the kidnapped chiefs go.
In the middle of the next day, it becomes obvious that attack is imminent. The warriors are gathering, pressing in from all sides.  Each warrior holds two stones, and taps them together as he slowly advances. No words are spoken.  There is just the ominous clack, clack, clack of the stones.
Bligh orders a quiet, orderly retreat to the boat, while he remains on the beach, casually pretending to write up his log. Two chiefs approach, and order him to sleep on shore. “I never sleep out of my boat,” he replies.  “Then we will kill you,” they boast.
Still, Bligh remains calm. Taking one of the chiefs by the hand, he leads him to the launch through the press of menacing warriors. There is no noise, apart from the clack of stones.  The Bounty men watch numbly, with silent horror.
Bligh reaches the launch. The chief breaks away. “Pile into the boat!” shouts Bligh.  All the men obey except the big quartermaster, John Norton. Dutiful to the end, he wades out to where the boat’s painter is tied, ready to release it.
Frantically, the others shout at Norton to leave it, and jump into the boat. Too late.  A shower of stones fells him to the ground. The warriors take the line from his slack grip. They start to haul the launch up the beach. Through the surf and across the shingle, they drag it, while other warriors rain stones on the men in the boat.  Fumbling with his knife, Bligh somehow manages to cut the line. Pushing with their oars, raising the sail, the Bounty men flee
The natives leap into canoes and make chase. Bligh and his companions take off jackets and hats and throw them into the water. The warriors in the canoes stop for the plunder, and so the men in the Bounty launch escape. Their last sight of the beach is of John Norton’s head being beaten in, while other natives pull off the murdered man’s clothes.
Bruised and bleeding from the hail of stones, shaking with the aftermath of fear, the men in the launch make a historic decision. They will stop at no more islands. Instead, they will make the 3,618-mile voyage to Timor, in the East Indies, skirting Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Great Barrier Reef, and then negotiating the scarcely charted Torres Strait. Living on one ounce of bread and a quarter pint of water each day, somehow they will do it—and without the loss of even one more man.  
It is the start of the most remarkable small boat voyage in history.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

From Bligh to Betsy

Bligh to his wife, from Timor

My Dear Dear Betsy...
Know then, my own dear Betsy, I have lost the Bounty ... On the 28th April at day light in the morning Christian having the morning watch. He with several others came into my Cabbin while I was a Sleep, and seizing me, holding naked Bayonets at my Breast, tied my Hands behind my back, and threatned instant destruction if I uttered a word. I however calld loudly for assistance, bu the conspiracy was so well laid that the Officers Cabbin Doors were guarded by Centinels, so that Nelson, Peckover, Samuels or the Master could not come to me. I was now dragged on Deck in my Shirt & Closely guarded – I demanded of Christian the cause of such a violent act, & severely degraded him for his Villainy but he could only answer – ‘not a word Sir or you are Dead.’ I dared him to do the act & endeavored to rally some one to a sense of their duty but to no effect. Beside this Villain see young Heywood one of the ringleaders & beside him Stewart joined with him. Christian I had assured of promotion when he came home, & with the other two I was every day rendering them some service – it is incredible! These very young Men I placed every confidence in, yet these great Villains joined with the most able Men in the Ship got possession of the arms and took the Bounty from me, with huzzas for Otaheite. I have now reason to curse the day I ever knew a Christian or a Heywood... 

Wrecks and bad luck


Sally Allyn, wife of Captain Gurdon Allyn, was an amazingly dutiful wife  who featured as a minor character in her husband’s memoir, The Old Sailor’s Story ...   
On page 11 of this book, he writes—“On the 13th of November, A.D. 1822, I was married to Miss Sally S. Bradford, of Gales Ferry”—as a kind of footnote in his remarkably varied career as a sea captain.  “Having a mind to make a guano voyage,” he writes on page 61, “... I sailed from New London June 20th, A.D. 1844, bound to the island of Ichabo, on the southwest coast of Africa.  My wife and little daughter, five years of age, accompanied me on this voyage.” 
The experiment in wife-carrying must have been successful, for when Allyn was offered an Indian Ocean and North Pacific whaling voyage in the ship Charles Henry of New London by the owners, Perkins & Smith, he not only accepted, but concluded to take along Sally as well: “My wife and daughter accompanied me on this voyage for the benefit of their health,” he notes (page 64), “to which the owners made no objection.”

The voyage was not a lucky one.  They crossed the South Atlantic, entered the Indian Ocean, and proceeded to the Prince Edward Islands for sea-elephant oil, where the ship dragged at the end of an anchor and 90 fathoms of chain in a heavy sea.  After that unnerving experience they took just one whale, and steered for the Crozet Islands and Desolation (Kerguelen), managing to take only two more whales, one of them a “dry-skin” , yielding no oil. And so continued the story of hard seas and hard luck, first about Tasmania and New Zealand and then in the North Pacific before returning south.   Then, “on the twenty-third of December, A.D. 1846, my forty-seventh birthday, we proceeded towards Cape Horn, which we doubled in January, taking one whale on the passage, which owing to boisterous weather we were unable to finish cutting in, and lost him when he was only partially stripped of his blubber” (page 70). 

Finally, after some months of banging and beating about on the Patagonian coast, on June 20, 1847, “having filled up, we started for home,” he wrote.  “But,” he elaborated, “the old Charles Henry never reached New London. ‘On the tenth of August, after the usual pleasures and vicissitudes of a long ocean passage, we sighted Long Island.  The weather became moderate and foggy, and guided by soundings we proceeded to feel our way along the shore. ‘Leaving the ship to my mate, with directions not to get in nearer than fifteen fathoms, I lopped down “all a standing,” and contrary to my expectations fell soundly asleep.  The mate, wishing to be extra smart and being in a hurry to get home, disregarded my orders ... and the consequence was the ship was cast away ...” (page 71).

‘The ship Charles Henry, Allen, of and for N[ew] London, with a cargo if 1800 bbls oil and whalebone, from the Pacific Ocean, struck the bar nine miles West of Montauk point last Monday evening at 10 o’clock,” reported the Whaleman’s Shipping List of New Bedford, for August 17, 1847; “at 4 AM on Tuesday beat over the bar and brought up on the beach.  At 9 AM the ship’s company landed without difficulty, Mrs. Allen and two children among the number.”  As Captain Allyn remarked, “After sailing around the world, and cruising among coral reefs and rocky islands, weathering gales and surviving the perils of different oceans, lands and climes of both hemispheres, having obtained a full ship, and almost arrived at home, to be cast away in moderate weather ... was, to say the least, very annoying.” 

However, the ship, while unsalvageable, was insured, and the whole of the cargo was saved, and so in 1852 Perkins & Smith, having lost no money by the voyage, invited Allyn to take command of a new ship, the Nathaniel S. Perkins, on a whaling and sealing voyage.   Allyn departed from New London in September, steering once more for the Indian and North Pacific Oceans, and—also as before—carried his wife, along with “Mrs. Pinkham, the wife of my mate.”   Again, it was not a  happy voyage: in October 1855, at the end of the third whaling and sealing season in the Ochotsk, they arrived at Honolulu to learn that their youngest son, aged 25, had died on the Isthmus of Panama. This may have had some bearing on Captain Allyn’s decision to leave the ship in Honolulu, giving over the command to Captain Asa Fish.  He took the New London ship Brookline home, arriving April 30, 1854, after a dull passage from Honolulu of 180 days.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rough Medicine: dentistry


Toothache was so common on board ship (the grub being so tough and rough) that skippers became adept at handing out swabs soaked in oil of cloves (which works a treat), and drawing teeth. 

Mary, the young daughter of the famous captain "Bracewinch" Jarvis, who sailed on the Dundee bark Duntrune in 1896, reminisced later that she saw her father pull a tooth for one of the apprentices. "There was a hatch in the after cabin," she wrote, and "the poor boy was on his back on the hatch cover with my father's knee on his chest while Father struggled with the tooth.  I hope it was the aching tooth that came out," she remarked.

In view of that, Mary was understandably nervous when it was her time for dental work.  However, her father's cure was merely to bounce her on his knee until she was giddy, then suddenly part his legs so she thumped to the deck.  As a cure, it was ineffective, but perhaps the jolt took her mind off the ache.

The biggest problem of all was when the skipper himself was the one with toothache.  "All this week J [James] has suffered agonies with his teeth," wrote Maria Murphy in May 1884.  "Neuralgia set in and for two days and nights the pain was terrible -- he tried everything. The jumping pain is gone today but the tooth is very sore and grumbles all the time -- he has scarcely slept for a week ... Toothache and head winds are pretty hard to bear."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

the death of a baby

Childbirth at sea was harrowing enough, and because of that seafaring wives were usually put on shore to wait for the "happy event" in some strange boarding house.  There was good reason, because pregnancy on board was bad enough -- Bethia Sears of the clipper Wild Ranger died of morning sickness -- and no captain felt capable of coping with complications.  However, being born in a foreign port rather than on board ship did not mean that the infant was bound to survive.

There is a sad little grave on Norfolk Island in the middle of the broad Pacific, unearthed by local historians, and lovingly cleaned.  It is to "Georgie" -- the baby who was born on the island to Lizzie, wife of Captain George Brightman of the California whaleship, aged just three days.

Early in 1849, another whaling wife, Susan Veeder, bore a little girl in the port of Talcahuano, Chile, a charming infant they named Mary Francis.  At eleven months she had "7 teeth, Creeps all about the Ship, and is very cunning. She is now on deck takeing a ride in her Waggon." Nine weeks later, she was dead, killed by a bungling doctor. The ship had called at Tahiti, and Captain Veeder had sent for a local medic, Dr. Johnson, as Mary Francis was a little feverish with teething.  He prescribed two powders, and shortly after taking the second one, the little girl convulsed, and a few hours after that, she passed away.  As Susan bitterly wrote, there was no doubt that Mary Francis had been poisoned.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

American whaling surgeons

Much to my surprise, I found two journals kept by surgeons on American whalers.  One was kept by Dr. Tom Noddy, who joined the New Bedford ship Java, in December 1854.  The ship was in Honolulu, provisioning for the homeward passage, and Dr. Noddy, it seems, wanted to work his passage to the Atlantic.  Perhaps he had failed to establish a practice in the Islands, or maybe he had been fired from his job on an English whaleship—which often happened.  Whatever his record, Captain John Lawrence was pleased to take him on, because after several years at sea his crew was run down with hard living at sea and alcoholic sprees in port.   As events proved, however, Tom Noddy spent more time medicating Lawrence’s dogs—“a pair of Russian hounds brought from the Okhotsk Sea”—which were subject to fits of madness that cleared the decks like a hail of shot, than he did in treating the men. 

The other man to medicate an American crew was Dr. John King of Nantucket, who in 1837 abandoned his fledgling practice to run away to sea on the Aurora.  Amazingly, he signed on as a seaman, to serve “before the mast.”  Why he had made this very strange decision is unknown, but the fact remains that he was prepared to live in the damp, noisome forecastle with the other common sailors, bunking in a narrow wooden berth with two dozen companions snoring and cursing around him, eating plain, greasy food that had been sent down in a common bucket, urinating into a barrel, and easing his bowels over the bow of the ship.  Captain Hussey, finding a physician in his forecastle, had foresight enough to bring him aft, give him a cabin, and re-ship him as the surgeon.  It is impossible to tell if the young doctor felt cheated of some strange ambition, since he did not confide his feelings to his journal.  Instead, he immediately demonstrated that he was a conscientious and dutiful man, for one of his first actions after settling in and looking around was to check off the contents of the ship’s medical chest.

1.         Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) — astringent gargle

2.         Antimonial wine (used with tinct. opium for coughs)

3.         Basilicon ointment (resin, oil, and lard)

4.         Blister plaster

5.         Blue vitriol (copper sulfate) — for burning ulcers

6.         Burgundy pitch (spruce tree resin) — for blister plasters

7.         Calomel & Jalap — mercurous chloride plus Ipomoea purga powder

8.         Calomel pills (one part mercurous chloride, one part sulfurated antimony, two parts of guaiacum resin, with castor oil and alcohol)

9.         Calomel (mercurous chloride)

10.       Chamomile Flowers

11.       Castor oil

12.       Camphor gum — camphor resin, expectorant

13.       Salts of lemon — citric acid

14.       Cream of tartar

15.       Dover’s powder — ipecac plus opium

16.       Balsam copaiba — of Copaifera tree

17.       Elixir vitriol — aromatic sulphuric acid — acid, alcohol, ginger, cinnamon

18.       Emetic tartar — tartarated antimony

19.       Ether — ethyl oxide

20.       Flaxseed — linseed

21.       Flowers of Sulphur

22.       Ipecac — dried root of  Cephalis ipecacuanha

23.       Kino — dried and powdered sap of Pterocarpus marsupium —astringent, for dysentery

24.       Laudanum — opium, saffron, cinnamon, and cloves macerated in Spanish wine

25.       Mercurial ointment — mercury, lard, suet

26.       Nitre

27.       Olive oil

28.       Opium pills

29.       Paregoric — tinct. opium plus benzoic acid, camphor, anise, alcohol

30.       Essence of peppermint

31.       Rhubarb (officinale)

32.       Simple ointment — wax plus lard

33.       Spts. hartshorn — carbonated ammonia

34.       Spts. Nitre — Sweet spirits of nitrous ether

35.       Sugar of Lead — lead acetate

36.       Syrup of squills — Scilla maritima plus honey

37.       Liquid opopeldoc — soft soap, ammonia, essential oils

38.       Tinct. of myrrh

39.       Tinct. of Guaiac

40.       White vitriol — zinc sulfate

41.       Quinine

42.       Tinct. of rhubarb

43.       Gum Arabic

44.       Blue pill — two parts of mercury, three confection of roses, one part powdered licorice root

45.       Strengthening plaster

46.       Ashesive plaster

47.       Glauber salts — hydrated sodium sulfate

            Chloride of lime

A basic kit indeed.   King, a conscientious fellow, also kept a list of patients in his journal, which makes it obvious that he had to procure other ingredients on his own account, Epsom salts — magnesium sulfate—in particular.  The conditions treated were interesting—apart from routine cuts, bruises, and boils, he medicated men with gastrodynia, severe constipation, diarrhea and dysentery, and various complications of venereal disease—all traditional side-effects of a tough life at sea.



According to the new eBook distributor, Draft2Digital, Kobo has removed a huge bundle of titles from the storefront.
This, according to the press release, is because of bad publicity.
In order to make a clean sweep, Kobo isn’t featuring titles from a whole raft of publishers, all houses that have produced one or two books of erotica ... or more.
And Indies, it seems, are particularly suspect.  Accordingly, all books that are distributed by Indie-friendly outfits like Draft2Digital have been caught up in the wake.
Will they ever be featured again?  Undoubtedly so, just as the US government will, in restoring and upgrading national debt levels.  But, like that too, it will take time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

English whaling surgeons

Dr. John Lyell (Perth Museum and Art Gallery)

In view of all the previous horror stories, it would seem obvious that captains’ wives on South Seamen—the London whaleships that ventured through the southern Indian Ocean to the Timor Straits and the East Indies—should have been envied by their American counterparts, because British whalers were required by law to carry a surgeon.  Journals by the wives who sailed on South Seamen are very rare—but there is one in the State Library of New South Wales, kept by Eliza Underwood, wife of Captain Michael Underwood of the London South Seaman Kingsdown, who sailed in the East Indies and tropical Pacific from 1829 to 1832.  To my satisfaction, I found that she described the ship’s doctor. To my amazement, I found she regarded him with deep contempt.

Eliza Underwood did not even call him by name, simply referring to him as “doctor,” without even the courtesy of a capital letter, and preferred to minister to her husband herself when Underwood was crippled with gout, dosing him with a dangerous patent nostrum called “Reynold’s specific” (probably a tincture of autumn crocus), even though she anticipated that it would lead to “several days of suffering.”  The reaction to the drug was worse than expected, Underwood being “unable to move himself or bear others to lift him.”  His skin was so tender he could not endure the slightest touch, but still she did not consult with the surgeon.

It was impossible not to feel curious about this despised doctor.  Surely he had been unusually unfortunate, I thought, and wondered whether any of his colleagues had had similarly strange experiences.  So I set out to find journals that had been kept by whaling surgeons on South Seamen in the same seas at about the same time.

I found nine:

Thomas Beale, Kent and Sarah & Elizabeth, 1830-1833

Frederick Debell Bennett, Tuscan, 1833-1836

James Brown, Japan, 1832-1836

John Coulter, Stratford, 1832-1836

William Dalton, Phoenix 1823-1825, and Harriet, 1826-1829

Eldred E. Fysh, Coronet, 1837-1839

John Lyell, Ranger, 1829-1832

Robert Smith Owen, Warrens, 1837-1840

John Wilson, Gipsy, 1839-1843
And I wrote about there fascinating adventures in Rough Medicine (the book)
But were there really no American whaling surgeons at all?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Annie Ricketson


A remarkably unfortunate woman was Annie Ricketson of Fall River, Massachusetts, who sailed on the Pedro Varela.  In 1885 her husband, Daniel, became very ill with some kind of blood poisoning, Annie recording that “one of his testicles come to a sore and bursted and running badly,” and she was terribly afraid for his life. 
The schooner beat against head winds to get to Barbados, and Captain Ricketson was carried on shore on a litter, to be treated by two shore doctors.   They gave him ether and cleaned out the abscess in his groin—and overdid the anaesthetic, which drove Captain Ricketson insane. 
At that, the two surgeons reverted to more traditional methods, putting a blister plaster on the back of his neck.  “I never felt so bad in my life as I did when I cut that hair off,” Annie wrote, and that page of her journal is still stained with her tears.
After two months of watching this kind of blundering, Annie took her husband back on board, and nursed him until he could walk and talk again.  Then they picked up a boat off Annabon, West Africa, in which three sick men had been set adrift.  Daniel fell ill again, and Annie headed for the Azores—where the schooner was put under quarantine, the port surgeon refusing to come on board.  So Annie put to sea again. 

Two days later, her husband died.

Wives died, too.  Jemima Gifford and George E. Allen were married in Westport, Massachusetts, on January 27, 1864, and she sailed on the Mermaid of Westport in 1880: the log for June 29, 1881, records that “the Capt Wife is very sick we stear for Bermuders.”   The battle to get her to a doctor was doomed, however, for the July 8 entry relates that they “had head winds ever sence July 1st at 20 minuets to 8 PM the Capt wife died of consumption we are still trying to get to Bermuda wind still ahead  Lat 33.37N Long 61.00W.”

They made the island - eventually.  On July 21 the entry reads, “left Bermuda the Capt has gone home with his children.”



Charlie Hunman, who was to play Christian Grey in the highly anticipated film of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” has walked off the set, citing a busy schedule.
He was given the starring role just weeks ago.
Universal Pictures and Focus Features announced that it was a mutual decision, because Hunman’s preparation time was so limited by the demands of his prominent role in the FX series, “Sons of Anarchy.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Three Doughty Whaling Wives


Mary Brewster, the wife of Captain William Brewster, sailed on the whaleship Tiger of Stonington, Connecticut.  “The best part of the day I have spent in making doses for the sick and dressing sore hands and feet,” she wrote in July 1846;  “5 sick and I am sent to for all the medicin,” but — like Mary Stickney — she failed to note what the medicines were. 
Another example is the lady in our featured illustration, Caroline Mayhew, the daughter of a Martha's Vineyard doctor, who was on board the Powhattan in April 1846 when the ship limped into St. Jago, Cape Verde Islands, with eight men down with smallpox.  The port doctor refused to come on board, putting the ship into strict quarantine instead, but Caroline managed to cure them, though she never described her methods. 

Less lucky in a similar situation was Lucy Ann Crapo, wife of the captain of the whaling bark Linda Stewart, which in June 1880 dropped anchor at Talcahuano, Chile, with four sick seamen.  This port doctor did consent to come on board to look at the men, and diagnosed smallpox.  As it turned out, they had a harmless rash—but it killed them all the same, because he sent them to the smallpox ward, where they contracted the disease from the men who were already there.  “The want of knowing one [kind of rash] from the other has made a sad chapter in our voyage,” wrote Lucy Ann.
And ... as we shall find out ... a wife was useful as a mourner at a death bed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mary Stickney


Many American shipmasters found their wives useful, roping them in to help with medical emergencies—to hold a patient’s head while the master of the ship got going with knife and saw, for instance, and also for nursing duties, sickbed work being part of the traditional female realm. 
One such was Mary Stickney, wife of Captain Almon Stickney, who sailed on the whaleship Cicero of New Bedford in the years 1880 and 1881, and kept an interesting record of the men she treated.  Sores and boils were common, partly because of working with salty rope and canvas, but also because of micro-organisms which live naturally on the skin of the whale. 
Unsurprisingly, mishaps happened when a man lost his balance on the decks or in the rigging.  Cuts and bruises could be due to more than simple accidents—during shipboard fights, for instance, or after after the first mate caught them slacking on duty.  

Mary Stickney failed to describe what she prescribed for all these ailments, merely noting that she had carried “1 Paper box of Medacine” on board, but her journal is eloquent testimony that whaling was a rough life, and a tough one for all on board.  One man, Will Winslow, was very ill indeed, being both feverish and delirious, but was back on lookout at the masthead the instant his head was clear enough to keep his balance—and somehow it is not a surprise, either, to find that Mary was famous for keeping a talking parrot on her shoulder.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Abby Jane Morrell's husband, Ben


Captain Benjamin Morrell of Stonington, Connecticut, had a somewhat bizarre reason for allowing himself to watch his sailors die—that his wife, Abby Jane, was one of the complement on board his schooner Antarctic. 

In October 1829 she, along with eleven of the men, fell ill of what he called “the intermittent fever.”  It was, in fact, cholera—not that it made any difference to the outcome.  “Had she not been on board,” he wrote, “I should certainly have borne up to the first port under our lee … But I reflected that some slanderous tongues might attribute such a deviation … solely to the fact of my wife’s being on board. That idea I could not tamely endure … ‘No! perish all first!’ I muttered with bitterness, as I gloomily paced the deck at midnight.” 

Morrell medicated the patients with “blisters, friction, and bathing with hot vinegar,” rather than put into port and risk “the unfeeling sarcasms of … carpet-knights.”  Two men died, but the rest recovered, and Morrell’s reputation was safe.

Other skippers found their wives more useful.  Follow the series to find out how...

Thursday, October 10, 2013



Ned Kelly, the famous armour-plated bushranger, had a “soft and mild looking face and eyes,” and cried, “I am done, I am done,” when shot down by police, according to a 133-year old letter.
When hit by a hail of bullets, Kelly staggered, but did not fall – probably because of his armour, a metal suit that weighed about 97 pounds.  According to the letter, the bullets rained against the metal “like hail” and then slid off.
“They were firing into him at about 10 yards in the grim light of the morning without the slightest effect,” runs the letter.
It was not until the constables aimed at his legs that Ned Kelly finally and reluctantly fell to the ground.
The letter was penned by a Scotsman, Donald Gray Sutherland, who was working at the Bank of Victoria in Oxley when Kelly made his last stand.
Hearing of the affray, he went to nearby Glenrowan, to see the “desperadoes” who had caused bank staff “so many dreams and sleepless nights.”

Rough Medicine: nasty blunders


Told much less often are stories of captains who killed their men with a lethal combination of ignorance and officiousness. 

One such was Captain William Cleveland of the Salem, Massachusetts, ship Zephyr.  While at anchor off an island in the notoriously unhealthy Straits of Timor, in 1829, Captain Cleveland overheard a hand named Cornelius Thomson complain that he had felt a little chilly in the night.  On being cross-examined about it, Thomson protested that he felt perfectly well.  Cleveland, however, was determined "to be on the safe & cautious side"—as his wife Lucy put it—and commenced upon a ferocious course of treatment, which started with "a powerful dose of Calomel of Julep," progressed through a "dose of castor oil" and several enema injections to raising blisters "upon the calf of both legs after soaking them well in hot water," and culminated with "a blister on the breast, throat rubbed with linnament &c." 

Within hours the poor fellow was delirious, and by morning he was dead.  It was the day after his twenty-first birthday. Everyone was very upset, as young Thomson was popular with all.  Lucy wrote that he was "a correct, an amiable, respectful, very handsome young man, always ready at his duty, cheerful & obliging; he had gained upon our affections very strongly.  On Wednesday evening he was dancing happily upon the forecastle, and Sunday at 8 in the morning  he was carried on shore [and] buried."  Lucy thought his rapid deterioration strange -- "the shortest & most deceptive" sickness she had ever beheld, but it is doubtful that she realized that it was her husband's meddlesome medicating that had carried him off. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rough Medicine: amputations


According to legend, the amputation of limbs was embarked upon quite lightheartedly—and it does seem that some American whaling masters did remarkably well with their sleeves rolled up and a knife or a saw in their hands.  Tales of their resourcefulness are legion.

One yarn relates the amazing feat accomplished by Captain Charles Ray of the Nantucket whaleship Norman, 1855-1860, whose third mate, Mr. King, was taken out of a boat by a whale, his right foot entangled in the line.  After cutting the poor fellow free, Ray took him on board, cut off the foot above the ankle, sewed the flap—and went back and killed the whale. 

Captain Jim Huntting of Southampton, Long Island faced a similar problem when one of his men got both hand and foot entangled.  Collecting up an armory of carving knife, carpenter’s saw, a fishhook, and a sail needle, Huntting lashed the screaming patient to the carpenter’s bench, dressed the hand and amputated the foot.  He had to keep on summoning new assistants, because the seamen who were ordered to help kept on fainting. 

Trickier still was the challenge faced by a Captain Coffin who was taken down by a line himself, and whose leg was so mangled that it obviously had to go.  So he sent for his pistol and a knife, and then he said to his first mate, “Now sir, you gotta chop off this here leg, and if you flinch, sir, you get shot in the head.”  And Captain Coffin sat as steady as a rock with the pistol aimed as his mate went at it with the knife.  No sooner was the wound dressed and the leg thrown overboard, than both men promptly fainted.