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My first post. Which, I suppose is much better than the Last Post. Let’s begin the journey. If my life’s experiences are anything to go by, it should be both unpredictable and interesting. Shall we see?
I am the original peripatetic! At one time I counted that I had lived in 15 houses over 13 years – and then I stopped counting. So far, I have lived and worked on four continents and each has been, in some way, fascinating, thrilling, problematic, fulfilling and much more. I’m often asked which city did you like best? And my mind runs over Edinburgh, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Québec city, Paris, Rome, Berlin, London, Cape Town and a host of other places that I have been privileged to see and experience. But there is only one city that deserves the crown and that is Venice. But I digress, perhaps in a future post we can talk more but I’d like to start with describing how I finally stopped thinking about writing a book and actually did it.
My wife, Victoria, has always known that she was descended from two unfortunates who were transported to Australia in the 1830s. One of her relatives, Eleanor Oberg, had provided some basic information about them. By some accounts, Victoria’s great-great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Goulding (or Golden or Crocker) had been transported when she was 13 years old for stealing a cloak. And her great great-great-grandfather, Robert Bright, was apparently born in Cambridge, England and was transported about the same time for burgling a house. So we knew that they had made their way, or more accurately, been hauled away to Tasmania. We knew little more than that.
A little while after coming across this information we were on holiday in Tasmania (we were living in Scotland at the time) and Victoria was thrilled to discover contemporary records of Mary Ann at the The Cascades Female Factory, a former Australian workhouse for female convicts in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, in Hobart. We were also told about the same time that Robert and Mary Ann were buried at the Amherst pioneer cemetery, near Talbot in Victoria across the Bass Strait. So, on the same trip, we made our way there and, sure enough, found the weathered tombstone and their resting place.
I still remember it. It was very warm (we were there for Christmas), the sun beat down on the cemetery, parching the grass. The cemetery was quite open, almost a field rather than a groomed site. Damaged, fallen gravestones littered the ground around us. A copse of trees looked on, steadfast, silent sentinels. We were alone. Just the breath of a breeze and, other than the occasional call of a bird, it was silent. We walked the grounds seeking out the marker and finally, with a sense of both joy and reverence, we found it. We stood by the grave and we both read the inscription lovingly crafted almost 150 years earlier.
There were a few wildflowers growing amongst the thirsty tufts of grass and I picked a couple, wound a lengthy stalk around their stems and placed them at the base just to show that they had not been forgotten. It was there and then that I resolved to write their stories.
The one subject at school that I really enjoyed was history (I still remember the shock of failing my “O” level examination in that subject at the age of 16 but I rectified the error by re-sitting the exam a few months later and passing). So, with this underlying interest, maybe even a passion, the thought of researching the lives and times of Robert and Mary Ann was something I looked forward to undertaking. Of course, I already knew quite a bit about that period – when the industrial revolution was just beginning to dramatically change the landscape. I had studied the European wars, the politics of Castlereagh, Canning, Disraeli, Gladstone and Wellington, about the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Victorian era and more at school. But in all that time I had never really spent any time digging beneath the surface except, I suppose, by osmosis through reading the novels of Charles Dickens and perhaps Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes adventures. It was to be a longer process than I had first imagined.
My, how times flies! I need to leave this now and get on with preparing for a board meeting tomorrow. More on this later.