I wish you and those you love a very happy New Year.
May our world shine brighter in 2021, let’s hope for happier, healthier times.
Take care everyone.
I wish you and those you love a very happy New Year.
May our world shine brighter in 2021, let’s hope for happier, healthier times.
Take care everyone.
Long live gracious Victoriana. Bendigo Conservatory is one of my favourite spots and here she is in her Christmas finery. She has my heart; I love to peek through her glass doors and then stroll through her fresh greenery. It’s a secret world within our world, a place away from everything.
Do have a wonderful Christmas, stay well; let’s hope for joy and good health in 2021.
Much love to you and yours,
“My dear boy, I am afraid you have drawn the short straw but do understand this happens regularly in India.
Parents die all the time and quite suddenly. One minute your dear father and mother are alive the next minute, there is a cholera outbreak. Thank your lucky stars you were at school and could avoid their fate.
There is no shame in being an orphan and you are blessed an uncle in Bombay has agreed to take you in. Many orphans do not have such an advantage.
Indeed, your kind uncle has arranged a train ticket to Bombay. Only second class but at least it is not third class. You are therefore spared the ordeal of travelling with natives.
You leave for Bombay tomorrow. So, spend your remaining time at the school thanking your masters for their thoughtful and comprehensive tutelage. If you cannot speak to each master individually, then a letter will suffice.
Do remember to write to my dear wife, Mrs Abbott, who has been most kind as well as your house matron.
Who knows we may see you in Simla in the years to come.
Unfortunately, your academic progress may not open the gates of Haileybury and the Indian Civil Service for you.
However, with sound study, Sandhurst and her Majesty’s British India Army may be on the cards. Can I recommend you aim for the Royal Fusiliers? The uniform is simply stunning, and my own academically challenged brother has risen to the rank of Major.
I very much hope your Uncle is willing to invest in your education.
If I have some advice, it would be to make yourself amiable to him. I understand he is a bachelor, and it is always easier to support a likeable child.
However, should he marry, and he may do so in the years ahead, you should also make yourself agreeable to his wife. Alas, a wife may see you as a financial burden.
Goodbye, you go with my best wishes. Remember those letters to your masters.
You are dismissed.”
A 10-minute write inspired by Florence FULLER’S 1888 painting, Paper boy.
As Dalgleish strode across the salon, his boots sank into the deep plush weave of the Kashmiri carpet. ‘I guess if you are the exporter of the finest rugs in India, naturally you would save one of the best for yourself,’ he thought.
The carpet in Monsieur Henri Dauvergne’s grand houseboat was the colour of Ceylonese sapphires. In the centre, a design of Persian letters woven in crimson wool spelt the word for happiness. But this houseboat on Srinagar’s Dal Lake had not been a happy place for Dauvergne.
Dalgleish sat on the sofa and looked to the parquetry wall opposite. There was a photo of Dauvergne, and his late wife, Camille; between them, was a child, their daughter, Emilie. Another unframed photo lay on the desktop; it was of a young woman, fresh from her Parisian convent. ‘This must be the last photo taken of Emilie,’ thought Dalgleish.
Sunlight bounced off the lake through the window and onto the shiny brass ornaments sitting on the mantle above the fireplace. Dalgleish was looking at a small bamboo chair when Dauvergne entered. He was a tall man, with grey hair curling like the downy wool taken from mountain goats and woven into company’s carpets. Dauvergne’s face was ashen with a long moustache twisting toward his cheeks and the skin around both eyes appeared puffed up, like two aubergines.
‘My dear friend,’ Dauvergne said as he grasped Dalgleish’s hand, pulling him forward, kissing both cheeks.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ Dalgleish responded, ‘and sad not to have been in Kashmir for you.’
Tears come into the eyes of the Frenchman, ‘One month, Dalgleish that is all my dear Emilie had in Srinagar, one month and then the fever took her.’
‘Such a deep shock for you,’ said Dalgleish. ‘I know for years you had looked to the day Emilie would leave school and return to India.’
‘Yes,’ replied Dauvergne. ‘In this country, when death comes, it comes unexpectedly and with such speed. Emilie seemed well the day before.’
The bearer arrived, on his tray sat two glasses of absinthe, each covered with a silver slotted spoon with sugar cubes on top. A breeze coming across the lake caught the houseboat, and it gently rolled. As the emerald liquor wobbled in the crystal glasses, it glimmered. Dauvergne picked up a silver jug and poured cold water over the sugar cubes; the liquid immediately turned opalescent.
‘Please,’ said Dauvergne pointing to the drinks. ‘I bought this back from Paris.’
They sat, Dalgleish on the sofa and Dauvergne on the small bamboo chair. He looked uncomfortable. The Frenchman’s body was too large for the little chair, and he sat with his long torso leaning forward as if trying to balance.
‘Everything reminds me of Emilie. See this chair; it was her mother’s, then it became hers. Now, when I sit in it, I imagine I can smell the lavender of Emilie’s Eau de Parfum.’
Dauvergne sighed and looked out the window across Dal Lake.
‘You know, the Maharajah and several members of his court came to the graveyard, but naturally, they didn’t enter,’ said Dauvergne. ‘He caught my eye and nodded from his palanquin outside. I was extremely touched.’
Suddenly the little chair became too uncomfortable for Dauvergne; he rose quickly and stood in the centre of the salon over the Persian word for happiness.
‘Come, Dalgleish, let us take déjeuner, and you can distract me with all the news from Chinese Turkistan.’
To be continued….
Thomas Russell and his nephew Andrew Dalgleish sat on the veranda in rattan chairs at Kashmiri Point admiring the view across the hill station of Murree. Above a Himalayan Vulture soared on thermals perhaps watching with anticipation the preparations for the departing caravan. The bird knew there was the possibility that men and beasts could perish along the dangerous path across the Himalaya.
Looking down on Murree was the Himalayan mountain range; it climbed high into the blue spring sky. The snowy peaks appeared as if someone had haphazardly covered them in vanilla ice cream. Halfway down, where the whiteness met the brown rocky mass of the Himalaya, the ice cream seemed to melt into silver streams which flowed down the gullies and gorges.
The veranda faced a ravine, and on the other side, a forest of tall, straight deodars stood to attention. Their fresh scent mingled with the smell of horse dung; the pack ponies were corralled below the bungalow in a makeshift log pen. Near the pen, three boys guarded a small flock of sheep; it might be the foothills of the Himalaya but last winter a snow leopard was sighted to the east of Kashmiri Point.
‘Men of our station in life don’t often get opportunities like this,’ said Russell in a broad Scottish brogue.
‘Aye,’ replied Dalgleish, his Scottish accent was just as thick. Dalgleish might have been only twenty, but he knew something of British India. ‘If the Central Asian Trading Company is as successful as the East India Company, then 1874 should be a prosperous year for us.’
Russell took his pipe from his mouth, ‘I’ll need you to watch over the load, that’s the finest cotton from Manchester. It cannot get wet and mouldy. It’s your job every day to see the porters load and unload it properly.’
‘I won’t let you down, Uncle,’ said Dalgleish. Indeed, he had just come from inspecting the cargo. ‘What is in the locked iron trunks?’ he asked.
The older man raised his eyebrows, ‘Riffles.’
Dalgleish looked directly at his uncle, ‘But the Himalayas are filled with bandits who will murder for rifles.’
Russell nodded in agreement, ‘Mr Barkley Shaw will carry the keys, and Lieutenant Hopkirk holds the ammunition. Both men are armed. Her Majesties Government promised them to Yakub Beg the Ameer of Chinese Turkistan. That’s the only reason he is allowing the establishment of a trading post.’
Dalgleish looked shocked, and his uncle continued, ‘Remember the Mutiny in 57, don’t mention the rifles to the natives.’
A tall man strode across the garden, Dalgleish recognized him as Muhammad Isa, the caravan Bashi. He was the captain of the caravan, and it was his job to safely navigate the convoy during the month-long journey across the Himalaya into China. Thirty men, twenty cargo laden ponies, and fifteen sheep to be consumed along the way would make up the caravan.
A shorter man shuffled behind Muhammad Isa, and they both stepped up onto the veranda. The Bashi held a commanding presence. ‘Greetings Sahib Russell, I bring a bearer for your nephew.’
‘His name is Joo, and I can only spare him after he had attended to the animals and his duties in the camp kitchen.’
Russell looked the small man up and down; he was about the same age as Dalgleish, and where his left eye should have been was a raised pink scar of buckled skin. Joo immediately clasped his hands together in a Buddhist greeting and bowed his head. A long plait of black hair swung from the back of his head.
‘It is my most honoured duty to serve you, Sahib Dalgleish,’ Joo said in a voice that was almost a whisper.
Dalgleish smiled, stood up and said, ‘The pleasure is all mine, Joo. I’ve never had a bearer before.’
Muhammad Isa caught Russell’s eye and both the older men thought the same thing; best not get too chummy with your bearer.
To be continued…
Ameer: A nobleman. A ruler.
Bearer: A man’s personal servant in British India. Responsible for clothing and often the running of a household.
Caravan: A group of travellers, often traders on the Silk Road, journeying together
with pack animals such as horses, camels or yaks.
Central Asian Trading Company: Established in 1873 to trade within the domain of Yakub Beg, Ameer of Chinese Turkistan, now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous
Region of China.
Chummy: Friendly; from Chummery, a British Raj term for a residence housing single male officers of the British India Army.
Bashi: A leader, headman or captain of a caravan. Usually a senior native man with knowledge about the route to be travelled as well as experience organizing and overseeing caravans.
Bungalow: A substantial house erected in British India by Europeans.
East India Company: Also known as Honourable East India Company, East India Trading Company, the English East India Company or the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, or simply The Company.
A British company, founded with a Royal Charter in 1600, initially to trade with the Mughals of India and the East Indies. It established itself as a powerful trading, political and military force throughout Asia and helped build the British Empire. After the First War of Indian Independence in 1857 (also known as the Mutiny) the British Government nationalized the company, and the Crown took control. The East India Company was eventually dissolved in 1874.
Kashmiri Point: A scenic location in Murree and where Robert Barkley Shaw built a substantial house. The mountains surrounding Kashmir are viewed from the point.
Murree: A mountainous town or hill station in what is now northern Pakistan. It was established in 1851 by the British Raj as a sanatorium for its soldiers stationed on the Afghanistan frontier. From 1873 to 1879 it was the headquarters for the local British India Government.
Mutiny: 1857 to 1857. Also referred to the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny,
the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of Independence. Indian uprising against the East India Company who ruled British India on behalf of the British Crown. The Mutiny was unsuccessful but paved the way for the Crown to take control of British India and ultimately for Indian Independence in 1947.
Sahib: A term of address or title similar to Mr. It was used in British India by an Indian native when addressing a European Male.
Shaw, Robert Barkley: (1839-1879) A British India explorer, trader and diplomat. He established the Central Asian Trading Company in 1873 to trade with Kashgar and Yarkand in Chinese Turkistan, then ruled by Yakub Beg. Note, I have chosen to use the surname Barley Shaw because of its poetic rhythm.
Yakub Beg: (1820-1877) Also spelt Yaqub Beg, Yakoob Beg, Ya`qūb Beg or Yakub bek. He was born into a humble Muslim family in Uzbekistan but rose through army ranks. During the Dungan Revolt (1862-77) he took control of an area known as Chinese Turkistan which included the citadels of Kashgar and Yarkand. Now, this is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. He appointed himself Ameer or Atalik Ghazi.
Yakub Beg died retreating from the Chinese as they reconquered the region in 1877.
An old-timer sat on his veranda and although it was only 10 am, he held a can of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Despite the cold, he wore a blue working man’s singlet, shorts and thongs on his feet.
Coarse grey stubble grew across his face; it had a bronzy liver damaged pallor. His cheeks lacked plumpness; instead, the skin hung slack, devoid of any fat. His emancipated body was stick thin, no doubt from replacing food with booze, except for a potbelly which projected out as if a cushion was concealed under his singlet.
‘What do you know about the church?’ I asked.
With no intention of stopping, I had driven into the one-horse town of Greendale in Victoria’s Central Highlands. But an unusual church caught my eye; it looked as if it was sawn in half.
‘The money for the other half of the church got stole by Captain Moonlite.’
‘Who’s Captain Moonlite?’
‘Yer drives a fancy car like that, and yer don’t know yer Australian history.’
He proceeded to give me a history lesson. Captain Moonlite had once been Andrew Scott, a pastor sent to the parish of Greendale. In 1875 the community constructed half the church and continued to raise funds for the second half when their preacher and the money disappeared.
He resurfaced as Captain Moonlite, a notorious bushranger with surprisingly impeccable manners, always apologizing and never forgetting to say thank you to his victims.
At one point the police caught Moonlite, but he escaped taking six other prisoners with him. Eventually, he was captured for good and hanged in 1880.
‘Yer got any smokes?’ asked the old bloke
‘Sorry mate, I don’t smoke.’
I thanked him, got into my fancy car and drove away dreaming of the well-mannered Captain Moonlite.
Before me is a castrated man. Lipstick kisses cover the glass barrier between him and me.
I am visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Wilde is one of many famous people buried here and adorning his tomb is a Sphinx-like statue seemingly in flight. However, the figure’s testicles were always controversial and during construction, in 1908, they were deemed too large. A vandal removed them in 1961, and they became the cemetery superintendent’s paperweight.
Wilde’s grave has always attracted a lot of visitors and kissing it became the done thing. Hence the addition of a glass surround easily cleaned of lipstick.
Another of the cemetery’s famous tombs is that of the rock star, Jim Morrison. Like a rider on a storm, he shot to legendary status dying, aged 27, from a heroin overdose in a Paris apartment.
The sight of a spotted toy dog and other tasteless junk littering Morrison’s grave disappoints me. He wouldn’t want to be remembered this way. However soon a group of young people arrive carrying wreaths of fresh flowers. A cheer explodes as they lay the flowers on Morrison’s grave.
‘Are you fans?’ I ask.
‘It’s her father’s funeral, and there are too many flowers.’
I see a teary eye girl, too young to lose a father, and remember sitting beside my father as he fought for life in an ICU.
Wilde wrote, ‘Death must be so beautiful.’
Sometimes death is beautiful but not today. Today it is simply sad.
I ran my hand over the ancient gate. Despite furrows in the wood, it was smooth and waxy from centuries of human touch. With a push, the gate opened onto a secret walled garden, the Hortus conclusus. Lemon trees laden with bright yellow fruit stood to attention and the morning’s drizzle lingered heavily in the air. Wisps of mist floated like sheer chiffon, drifting in soft white clouds against the glossy green of the trees.
Though this was a place I should not be, the lemons with their happy enthusiasm seemed to urge me on. Their scent reached out and pulled me in. The perfume sparkled high in my nostrils, invigorating me. I felt alive and inhaled the beauty of this private world. Lemon zest lingered on my palette, a sweet tang as if I had taken a bite of forbidden fruit.
I took the path to a central octagonal stone basin, the remains of what had once been a grand fountain. Across the garden, an ancient wall fountain still tinkled clear pure water, and I listened as the cascade sang of its medieval past.
I turned toward the fishponds. Here I found a goose on a central island, baying like a dog at the moon. This was not a place for strangers, and the bird’s territorial bellow affirmed its sole inhabitance of the island. In the other fishpond, two swans circled, wings hunched chicly across their backs. They swam quickly. I heard an elegant swish, webbed feet paddling with the grace of Nureyev. It was as if the swans were sentries in a dramatic ballet, eyeing me, warning me, that this was their domain, their stage.
I was drawn into the Hortus conclusus at Giardini di Ninfa, a place strictly off-limits to the public. Ninfa, 80 miles south of Rome, is the most romantic garden in the world. I believe her to be the most beautiful. In the 1920s the hands of talented gardeners created Ninfa around the ruins of a medieval village.
Ninfa appears wild but is quietly contained to mimic the natural world, wandering lushly beside a stream of transparent spring-fed water. Roses ramble up decayed stone walls and wisteria drips in mauve curtains from her timeworn bridge.
Ninfa has always held my heart and on this joyful day, I was blessed to see her at her finest. However, I couldn’t leave her; I couldn’t tear myself away from Ninfa. I wanted to linger, then I saw the gate to the Hortus conclusus, the garden behind high stone walls once reserved an aristocratic family of the medieval castle. It’s a place of privacy away from prying eyes, a garden for reflection and contemplation.
I had to see it, so I did.
But along with stealing a peek at this private world, I wanted to belong to this place of perfection.
So that day, in Ninfa’s Hortus conclusus, I surreptitiously declared myself the owner of this small realm of paradise, along with the goose and the swans.
How could you not love visiting a place with the happy name of Birthday Villa?
It’s a beautiful estate in the central Victorian hamlet of Malmsbury. Named after the birthday of Queen Victoria, the day on which gold was discovered at the nearby Birthday Mine. Income generated from the gold mine funded the handsome manor house.
Nowadays the villa is nestled beside a vineyard from which award-winning wines are produced. The historic Malmsbury viaduct is viewed from the garden where lichen romantically clings to bare tree branches and daffodils bob with happy faces.
It’s filled with old fashioned plants, like hellebores, grape hyacinths and peonies.
My mother spotted an old-world violet with a larger flower and a longer stem than newer varieties. Her mother – whose name was Violet – grew this particular variety and the long stems are handy for posies. The chatelaine of Birthday Villa kindly gave us some cuttings.
As we headed back to Bendigo with the precious violets, my mother and I felt, not only had all our Christmases come at once, but our birthdays had as well.
In 1941 Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 sailed to defend Singapore and wrote home to his mother at Upper Lurg in North-Eastern Victoria.
‘So far this war has been a gentlemen’s affair for us, but expect it to change any tick of the clock; just busting to have a go – may sound a bit bloodthirsty, that is the way the terrible slaughter of the innocent grips one.’
Stan believed in doing his duty and continued to write to his mother.
‘Although as far as Singapore is concerned, it would take more than all the Japs together to gain a point! Pity help anyone who tries, nobody’s business what will happen. I, for one, would rather be the defender.’
On the 8th February 1942, the Battle for Singapore began.
‘They are whizzing around all day – and what they can’t do with the latest fighters that are here is harmless. Suffering tomcats they can go – at present, there are half a dozen fighters playing hide and seek in the clouds – think there were many more by the powerful noise they make.’
Eight days later, Singapore fell, and the Japanese captured Stan.
Aged 26, Stan was taken to Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp on the island of Borneo along with 1500 other prisoners captured at Singapore.
At Sandakan, the prisoners became slave labour, forced to construct a military airstrip. The Japanese guards starved, tortured, and murdered the men in one of the greatest brutalities committed on Australian soldiers during the war. In the final months of the war, the Japanese marched the surviving prisoners out of Sandakan into the mountains in three separate death marches.
Of the 2434 prisoners sent to Sandakan during the war, only six survived. Stan died, apparently of malaria, at Sandakan on the 15th June 1945, the day the third death march commenced. The Japanese threw his body into a mass grave near the camp.
After the war, the bodies in the pit were exhumed and moved to Labuan War Cemetery. Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 lies alongside other POWs, identified only by the original Sandakan mass grave.He was my Great Uncle.
Lest We Forget.