Lachlan Macquarie

From the antipodean ABC, courtesy my friend Lachlan Mead, an article assessing the George Washington of Australia:

Fact check: Was Lachlan Macquarie a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people?

The claim

Lachlan Macquarie, governor of NSW from 1810 to 1821, is often remembered by history as a man of the enlightenment who brought civilisation to the colony.

Indeed, the plaque attached to his monument in Sydney’s Hyde Park reads: “He was a perfect gentleman, a Christian and supreme legislator of the human heart.”

But late last month Bronwyn Carlson, head of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University, challenged this during an ABC RN Breakfast interview.

Asked if she would be satisfied with a different or additional plaque, Professor Carlson said: “Would people be satisfied to say this: ‘Here stands a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people’?”

Is this characterisation of Macquarie accurate? Did Macquarie commit mass murder? Did he order genocide? RMIT ABC Fact Check delves into a fraught and controversial part of our history.

The verdict

The issue is not cut and dried.

In April 1816, Macquarie ordered soldiers under his command to kill or capture any Aboriginal people they encountered during a military operation aimed at creating a sense of “terror”.

At least 14 men, women and children were brutally killed, some shot, others driven over a cliff.

Although Macquarie’s orders included an instruction to punish the guilty with as little injury to the innocent as possible, archival evidence shows he knew innocent people could be killed.

In addition, Macquarie explicitly instructed his soldiers to offer those Aboriginal groups encountered an opportunity to surrender, and to open fire only after meeting “resistance”.

These instructions appear to have been ignored. Historical records suggest the soldiers offered no opportunity to surrender, opening fire on a group of people ambushed at night and who were fleeing in terror.

Macquarie appears to have glossed over this failure in the weeks following the massacre, telling his superior back in England that his men acted “perfectly in Conformity to the instructions I had furnished them”, and claiming the soldiers had indeed encountered resistance before opening fire.

Macquarie was ultimately responsible for his men. By today’s standards, his actions — and lack of action in not bringing soldiers who disobeyed his instructions to account — would, as a minimum, likely be regarded as a war crime involving a disproportionate response that led to a significant loss of life.

And, depending on the definition, the incident might also be described as “mass murder”, perhaps akin to recent military massacres in which innocent civilians attempting to flee were killed.

The issue of whether or not the actions amount to genocide is a complex one. A legal definition of genocide did not exist until after World War II. It is questionable whether this can be applied retrospectively to Macquarie’s actions, which took place some 130 years before the UN General Assembly made genocide a crime under international law.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Macquarie set about deliberately to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, as per the UN definition, however misguided and destructive some of his Indigenous policies might have been. It is, therefore, problematic to suggest that Macquarie, as an individual, was guilty of ordering genocide.

However, it can be argued that the impact of the wider conflict between Aboriginal people and Europeans (whether soldiers or vigilante settlers), combined with a range of other factors — the loss of land and food sources, the spread of disease, the removal of children, and alcohol abuse, for example — contributed to the large-scale loss of life and culture that resembled genocide.

Experts contacted by Fact Check acknowledged the nuance in the arguments, but differed in their interpretations of Macquarie’s actions and his culpability or otherwise.

Read the whole thing.

Victorian Childbirth

My grad school colleague Anne Huebel has penned an entry on Remedia: the history of medicine in dialogue with its present.

Managing Victorian Reproduction: Medical Authority over Childbirth in British Advice Literature

“Obey implicitly the advice and directions of your medical attendant.” Such was the advice of Dr. Thomas Bull for women in labor. Dr. Pye Henry Chavasse, Bull’s contemporary and rival in the advice literature industry, agreed. Doctors Bull and Chavasse wrote popular books on pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Like William Smellie a century earlier, they emphasized a doctor’s right to manage a woman’s health and to expect obedience in return for their medical care. Both authors described how women should regulate their lives and bodies prior to and during pregnancy, labor, and lying-in, all of which occurred in the patient’s home. On the surface, the books encouraged women to take control of their health; however, they in fact advanced the medical management of women’s bodies.

Much more at the link.

Douglass and Anthony

It is just and fitting to celebrate the American Revolution, but one must also remember that, at the start, not everyone partook of its bounty equally. The tacit recognition of slavery is the original sin of the American republic; that women could not vote is now outrageous to us. Where was the “liberty” for these people? As the nineteenth century wore on, the movement to abolish slavery completely grew ever stronger, culminating in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Women’s suffrage took longer – it was guaranteed on a national basis for all types of election with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, although many states had earlier granted the women the right to vote in other elections.

It’s safe to say that the two biggest figures in these movements were Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. They both happen to be buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. We made sure to visit their graves.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and escaped to New York at age 20. He became an anti-slavery activist and was known for his powerful oratory on the subject; his Narrative Life (1845) was a best seller which fueled the abolitionist cause and whose proceeds allowed Douglass to purchase his legal freedom. He was also the only African-American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention (1848), which launched the American Women’s Rights movement. The town, located about fifty miles to the east of Rochester, seems quite proud of this heritage.

Unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed when we got there, but I certainly appreciated the display of the Nineteenth Amendment Victory Flags.

The (heavily restored) original venue. The Convention’s “Declaration of Sentiments” (a feminist twist on the Declaration of Independence)  is inscribed on a wall on the other side of the greenspace in the foreground.

As an aside, Seneca Falls represents a stop on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, a which connects the Erie Canal to Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake (two of New York’s Finger Lakes). I thought this was a nice nineteenth-century scene. (The town is also the fictional “Bedford Falls, N.Y.” from the film It’s a Wonderful Life.)

Susan B. Anthony was not actually at the Seneca Falls Convention, but with its main organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom she met in 1851, founded the Women’s Loyal National League (an abolitionist society) and in 1866 the American Equal Rights Association, which was dedicated to equal rights for men and women. Anthony, famously, was arrested for voting in Rochester in 1872, and refused to pay the fine; the authorities decided not to pursue the matter. In 1878, Anthony penned what was to become the Nineteenth Amendment, and up until her death she gave countless speeches in favor of the cause. Her grave in Mount Hope is a pilgrimage site of sorts for those who value a woman’s right to vote.

Another Canadian Article

Still celebrating Canada 150 here at First Floor Tarpley! Here is an article I noticed last week on the road. It serves as a reminder of how the nineteenth century was the first great age of globalization, and of the putative origins of the word “Canuck”:

Hawaiian-Canadians and ‘Buffalo’ Canadians: The hidden history of confederation

One hundred and fifty years ago, a disparate collection of peoples, nations, population clusters, companies, outposts and colonies began to cobble themselves together into Canada.

The story of how that awkward colonial jumble turned into today’s plural, prosperous, but still half-finished democracy – often in spite of its founders’ intentions – is not widely understood. We need to turn away from the Heritage Minutes and look into the forgotten back alleys of our history. Look, for example, at two near-forgotten diasporas that shaped Canada before Confederation, and whose invisibility defines us.

The Hawaiian Canadians:

Canada is not a simple story of French, British and Indigenous nations. At the point when British Columbia became a colony in 1851, for example, the Pacific coast contained sizable populations of Indigenous nations, a thin scattering of British and U.S. trappers and miners and a well-established community of Hawaiian Canadians.

Indigenous Hawaiians, who crewed transpacific ships, had been settling the Vancouver and Victoria areas since the 1780s, jumping ship to take jobs in the burgeoning fur and later mining and timber industries; in the 19th century, they were recruited and imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the 1830s, Hawaiian Canadians were the single most populous ethnic group employed by the company on the West Coast. By 1851, half the working-age population in Fort Victoria was native Hawaiian. By 1867, according to Tom Koppel’s history of their community, the Hawaiians had become farmers, landowners and fishermen, and were known, sometimes derisively, as “Kanaka” (the Pacific Island word for “man”). There was a substantial “Kanaka Row” shack town in Victoria, and sizable districts in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. They had their own schools and preachers, and while they taught their children English, some subscribed to Hawaiian-language newspapers….

The “Buffalo” Canadians:

Canada is defined even more by the diasporas it creates elsewhere – after all, there is nothing more Canadian than being forced to leave Canada to succeed. Nowhere is this more evident than on the southeast coast of New South Wales, Australia, where an influential Canadian immigrant community reshaped reality in the middle of the 19th century.

The Canadians were not voluntary immigrants. They were political dissidents, 58 francophones and 82 English-speakers, well-educated and influential men who were convicted of fighting for democracy, public education and free trade in the 1837 rebellions. They avoided the executions and dismemberments [sic] meted out to others, and instead were shipped to the Australian prison colony aboard the HMS Buffalo.

There, the Canadians proved popular. The Bishop of Sydney sympathized with them and assigned many to serve as free labourers in Sydney, where they played a significant role in building the community physically and politically. Their presence is remembered in the names of Canada Bay, today a major suburb of Sydney, and nearby Exile Bay. And, according to Australian historian Tony Moore, they also proved politically influential, helping advance the causes of labour rights and governance (which, as a result of their defeat in the rebellions, lagged behind in Canada).

Read the whole thing.

Fenian Raids!

An article in the National Post today revisits a somewhat-forgotten chapter in Canadian history: the Fenian raids of the 1860s and 70s. These were conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of American-based Irish republicans who attacked Canada (at the time either a British colony or a dominion of the British empire) in the hopes that they could exchange it for Irish independence. (The title, as many commenters point out, is silly. Just because Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen does not mean that Saudi Arabia attacked the United States on 9/11.)

Ireland likes to brag that they’ve never invaded anyone. Too bad they invaded Canada

In 2015, Ireland’s justice minister Frances Fitzgerald attended a Dublin citizenship ceremony and proudly told 73 people that they were now citizens of a country that didn’t invade things.

“Ireland has never invaded any other land, never sought to enslave or occupy,” she told the crowd of newly-minted Irish.

It’s a uniquely Irish boast. On a continent jam-packed with invaders, the Emerald Isle is known to count itself as one of the few that has resisted the urge to charge onto foreign soil and plant a flag or two.

Too bad it’s not true.

Go back 150 years to the frontiers of Canada, and you’ll find no shortage of armed, rowdy, top-hatted militants who would beg to differ that they weren’t an invading army of Irishmen.

“Canada … would serve as an excellent base of operations against the enemy; and its acquisition did not seem too great an undertaking,” wrote Irish nationalist John O’Neill, an architect of what are now known as the Fenian Raids.

The plan was simple: Take a bunch of Irish veterans of the American Civil War, take over Canada and then tell Queen Victoria she could have it back in exchange for an independent Ireland.

That, or the whole thing would just be a good chance to shoot up some relatively undefended British land.

The wildly optimistic planners of the scheme figured they would only need about two weeks to take over Kingston, Toronto and the other major centers of what is now Southern Ontario.

From there, they would commandeer some ships, slap together a navy, sail up the St. Lawrence and demand the surrender of Quebec. Then, once the Atlantic Coast was swarming with Irish privateers, the English would have to deal.

The invasion’s organizers, the Fenian Brotherhood, even began funding the effort by selling bonds that would be promptly repaid by a future Irish Republic.

But like most rebellions throughout Irish history, the “invade Canada” scheme was big on romance but very deficient in strategic planning.

Although the Fenian Brotherhood had envisioned vast columns of battle-hardened Irish-Americans streaming into Canada, their peak showing was only about 1000. Of those, many forgot to bring guns, and many more deserted as soon as they hit Canadian soil.

All told, Fenian conquests added up little more than brief occupations of a customs house, some hills, a few villages and Fort Erie.

More at the link, and at Wikipedia.

Panel at the Funk

I was pleased to attend an interdisciplinary panel last night in the Funk Heritage Center entitled “The Etowah River: History, Ecology, Literature.” Organized by Donna Little, professor of English at Reinhardt, it also served as a kick-off event for Reinhardt’s new low-residency Master of Fine Arts program, currently organized around the theme of “Story and Place in the New South.”

The Etowah River begins near Dahlonega, Georgia, flows southwards and then eastwards, passes through Canton (the seat of Cherokee County and seven miles south of Reinhardt), and then joins the Oostanaula at Rome. The resulting river is named the Coosa; this becomes the Alabama River near Montgomery, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile.

donna

Donna Little speaks at the Funk Heritage Center, 4/20/16.

Dr. Little opened the night’s proceedings by showing a map of the area. Nowadays we are used to thinking in terms of I-75 and I-575, the north-south freeways leading to Atlanta, but the Etowah and the Oostanaula run east-west, and that’s the direction that Indians would have been familiar with: thus the Mississippian Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, and New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, which was not in the middle of nowhere in north Georgia, but on the Oostanaula, which was a major thoroughfare.

Speaking of the Cherokee (who, it must be said, were only resident in north Georgia from the 1780s or thereabouts), Dr. Little publicly unveiled a discovery of hers: that during the expulsion of the Cherokee Indians during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a group of Cherokee actually encamped on what was to become Reinhardt’s campus. Lloyd Marlin’s History of Cherokee County (1932) quotes the now-lost journal of Nathaniel Reinhardt (the father brother of Augustus Reinhardt, who was the co-founder of RU on his family’s land). It reads:

In 1835, Father [i.e. Nathaniel’s father Lewis Reinhardt] bought a tract of land on the old Pinelog Road [i.e. today’s GA-140] some two miles from his mill-place, improved it and in the latter part of 1835 he moved on it.

1838… In the spring many U.S. soldiers were passing through the country for the purpose of collecting and removing the Cherokee Indians to the West. They frequently lodged at night at Father’s Saw old Foekiller, a neighbor Indian, just after he had been arrested by the soldiers, who were carrying him to Fort Buffington. They treated him rather cruelly, which excited my sympathies very much in his favor. The old Indian desired to see father, who solicited better treatment in his behalf. He left all his keys with Father. After the Indians had been collected by the soldiers and started on their final march off, they came near our house the first night and camped, I caught the measles from a soldier who lodged with us that night, and had them severely. One of the neighbors came and stayed the night at Father’s from fear of injury by the Indians.

[Emphasis added. Fort Buffington was thirteen miles from Waleska and the distance is certainly walkable in a day.]

The need for a Trail of Tears monument on Reinhardt’s campus (not just an exhibit at the Funk) is very great.

wheeler

Ken Wheeler.

Reinhardt History Professor Kenneth Wheeler followed with a talk on the human relationships along the Etowah River, particularly the gold rush of the 1820s and the antebellum iron industry, both of which were ecologically disastrous. He also mentioned how Reinhardt co-founder John Sharp had promoted a steamboat service between Canton and Rome, and how William Nickerson attempted to dredge the Etowah for gold – although the attempt proved uneconomical, and Nickerson later opened a sawmill. Presumably all these characters will appear in Dr. Wheeler’s upcoming book.

RayMinik

Keith Ray and Diane Minick.

Keith Ray, adjunct professor of biology at Reinhardt (a Reinhardt graduate and Ph.D. candidate at Auburn), mentioned how the Etowah valley is one of about five or six places in the world which, for the past 100 million years or so, has neither been under water, nor under glaciers. This remarkable stability has produced a vast abundance of plant and animal species. (I had no idea this area was so ecologically diverse.) Environmentalists Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative and Diane Minick of the Upper Etowah River Alliance spoke of the importance of maintaining this diversity.

stacey

Laurence Stacey.

Laurence Stacey, adjunct professor of English at Reinhardt, ended the evening by reading some haiku.

The Terrible Beauty

A seminal event in modern Irish history was the Easter Rising of 1916. In that year a group organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to Irish independence, seized several blocks of the Dublin city center on Easter Monday and proclaimed a Provisional Irish Republic.

Easter_Proclamation_of_1916

Via Wikipedia.

The British, even though they were engaged in fighting the First World War, quashed this rebellion after a week and executed sixteen of the leaders – which, as it turns out, was a tactical error. Although most Irish people at the time did not support the rebels, sympathy for them only grew after their deaths, so much so that in the “Khaki Election” of 1918, some three-quarters of all Irish constituencies returned members of the republican Sinn Féin party, many of them running unopposed. Sinn Féin had been founded in 1905 and was rather more radical than previous Irish nationalist parties. Unlike Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party, which had actually negotiated a Home Rule Bill to go into effect at the end of the First World War, Sinn Féin MPs simply ignored Westminster, gathered in Dublin, declared themselves the “Dáil Éireann,” reproclaimed the Irish Republic of 1916, started annexing the machinery of state, and began recruiting an Irish Republican Army to defend it. As it happens, the IRA did not defeat the British, and after negotiations the Irish had to settle for dominion status within the British Empire – and even then this “Irish Free State” did not include the six counties of Northern Ireland. (Eventually this entity was transformed into the Republic of Ireland in 1949, although it still does not include Northern Ireland.)

The Easter Rising was originally scheduled for Easter Sunday itself, but was postponed until Easter Monday, which in 1916 was April 24. All the same, the association of this event with “Easter” has stuck, both in its name and in its connotation of “blood sacrifice” and “redemption,” and it is usually commemorated on Easter, whenever that holiday falls in a particular year. Easter lilies, therefore, are not purely religious symbols in Ireland: to wear one proclaims your support for Irish republicanism and the honoring of republican martyrs.

Republican Mural on Mountpottinger Road, Belfast. From the University of Ulster’s CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) Web Service.

I have not been able to find much information on how or even if the Easter Rising was celebrated by the Free State – presumably it was (the Free State flew the republican tricolor, after all), even though a lot of people saw the Free State as a betrayal of the ideals of 1916. The Irish government (now republican) certainly celebrated the fiftieth anniversary in 1966, an event that left an impression on people at the time.

The timing of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising was significant. As taoiseach, Seán Lemass was anxious to secure Ireland’s future within the European Economic Community (EEC) and had attempted to improve relations with both Britain and Northern Ireland. He constantly brought to the fore images and references to ‘modern’ Ireland so that the fiftieth anniversary commemoration was as much about the act of looking forwards as backwards, requiring a delicate negotiation between tradition and change. Nowhere was this more apparent than in how the commemoration was communicated to the youth of Ireland, a group which represented the nation’s future but which had mixed reactions to the lessons of the past.

There’s more at the link, and of course today the Irish government sponsored major commemorations of the centennial of the Rising. From RTE:

Thousands line the streets of Dublin for 1916 parade

The principal Easter Sunday State Commemoration Ceremony and Parade started at 10am with a reading of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin for the largest public spectacle in the history of the State.

Wreath-laying ceremonies followed at Glasnevin Cemetery and at the Stonebreakers’ Yard in Kilmainham Gaol.

The parade then made its way from St Stephen’s Green to College Green, stopping off at Dublin Castle.

At midday, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read aloud at the GPO by Captain Peter Kelleher, followed by the Military Band playing Mise Éire.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the gathered crowds the State honoured the memory of those who died in 1916 with the respect and the dignity that is their due.

The Irish flag was lowered to half mast during the event and President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath to honour all those who died.

It is significant that the commemorations remember all those who died – i.e. not just the rebels, but the British and their local allies as well. (The British ambassador was a participant in today’s events, although no Unionist was – Northern Ireland being represented by its Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.) And note that “Fr Seamus Madigan, head chaplain of Defence Forces, said the flower-laying was a ‘symbol of the unshakeable resolve to live together on this island in peace and harmony.'”

These are noble sentiments, indeed, and fairly novel ones when commemorating the Easter Rising.

***

From the National Post: Canada’s Little-Known Role in Creating Modern Ireland. At first I thought this was going to be an examination of Alexander of Tunis’s insult in 1948, but it goes back further than that:

The House of Commons and the Quebec and Ontario legislatures adopted resolutions backing Irish self-government in the late 1800s. Liberal opposition leader Edward Blake, who had been Ontario’s premier in the 1870s, left Canada to take up the cause of Home Rule for Ireland by serving in the British House of Commons as the Nationalist MP for South Longford, in the Irish midlands. Ottawa Liberal MP Charles Ramsay Devlin, a former trade commissioner, left the government of prime minister Wilfrid Laurier to serve in Westminster as a the Nationalist MP for Galway. Devlin ended up becoming secretary-general of the United Irish League in 1903-06.

Blake and Devlin are probably not that significant (as mentioned, these IPP types were completely eclipsed by the events of 1916), but it’s good to remember the “international” aspect of the British Empire, whereby a political career in a colony could serve as prelude to a political career in the metropole (or in another colony, according to your point of view) – and that there was sympathy for Irish independence, and not just for unionism, in nineteenth-century Canada.

Caroline Affair

Reading Robert Bothwell’s Your Country, My Country, I was interested to learn about the Republic of Canada and the SS Caroline, historical details that had previously escaped me. In 1837, Upper Canada (that is, present-day Ontario) was rocked by a rebellion, led by William Lyon Mackenzie and directed against the so-called Family Compact that ran the place. Upper Canada had been set up in conservative reaction to the United States, and so had an established church and a government that was not actually responsible to its people. One did not need to be American to object to this situation, thus Mackenzie’s rebellion; it was unsuccessful, but an inquiry by Lord Durham recommended certain changes to the political situation to forestall future incidents, among them the union of Upper and Lower Canada into a single entity.

(When I first learned about this in grade eight, at my public junior high school, it was pretty clear that Mackenzie was supposed to be the good guy. What a surprise the next year when, playing sports for my private high school against Upper Canada College, I discovered a monument to its cadet corps, which had valiantly helped to defeat the rebels in the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. This was one of the many signs that I was now living in a different world.)

Mackenzie, defeated in Toronto, retreated with his men to Navy Island in the Niagara River where they proclaimed an independent “Republic of Canada” and where they were supplied from the American side by sympathizers who sent money, food, and arms to them on the steamboat Caroline. On December 29, 1837, however, Col. Allan MacNab (who was later the premier of the united province of Canada) led a party of militia across the international boundary, seized the Caroline, chased off its crew, set it on fire, and sent it over Niagara Falls! From Wikipedia, here is a depiction of the event by George Tattersall:

Destruction_of_the_Caroline

This was an international incident. President Martin Van Buren protested strongly to London, and in retaliation the next year a group captured and burned the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while in U.S. waters. But the Caroline incident has had a lasting influence: it has been invoked many times since in the justification of “anticipatory self-defense” a.k.a. the preemptive strike, like the one that the United States launched against Iraq in 2003.

Links

  • 155-year-old mousetrap, on display in the Museum of English Rural Life, claims its latest victim.
  • The Helgo Treasure, from Viking Age Sweden, includes a bronze Irish crozier, a Coptic ladle, and a bronze Buddha from the Indian subcontinent – a testament to how much Vikings were plugged into early medieval trading networks.
  • Related: a Viking woman was buried with a ring reading “For Allah.”

Museums

• Ron Good brings the Arabia Steamboat Museum to my attention. This sounds fascinating and worth a visit if you’re ever in Kansas City:

The Steamboat Arabia was built in West Brownsville, PA at the boat-yard of John S. Pringle in 1853.  At 171 feet long and capable of carrying 222 tons of cargo, she was considered an average-sized packet boat.  The 28-foot-tall paddlewheels could push the steamboat upstream at a speed of over 5 miles per hour.  Being a side-wheeler (having one paddlewheel on each side, rather than just one on the back) made it easier to maneuver around hazards like sandbars and snags… In her heyday, the Arabia was considered a dependable vessel and soon gained a reputation for speed, safety and comfort….

The Arabia traveled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for about two years until she was purchased for $20,000 by Captain John Shaw of St. Charles, Missouri in February of 1855.  Her first trip on the Missouri River took her to Ft. Pierre, South Dakota with 109 soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas….

The most treacherous of the many river hazards were fallen trees lying hidden from sight just under the river’s surface.  These “snags” crippled and sank hundreds of steamboats, some even on their first trip up the river.  Of the estimated 400 steamboats lost to the river, about 300 were “snagged.”  The Arabia was one of those victims. [On September 5, 1856,] the steamer’s thick, oak hull was pierced by the end of a lethal snag.  The impact was tremendous, catapulting the bow from the water and throwing many of the shaken passengers to the floor.  As the Arabia’s timbers gave way, the log was thrust into the heart of the boat.  Water poured through the gaping hole, and the Arabia began quickly sinking.

Within minutes, much of the boat and virtually all 200 tons of precious frontier cargo lay at the bottom of the Missouri River…

All aboard were saved except for a solitary, forgotten mule that remained behind, tied to a piece of sawmill equipment on the deck.  The river bottom was soft, and the boat and cargo sank quickly into the mud and silt.  The next morning, only the smokestacks and the top of the pilothouse remained visible.  Even these disappeared in a few days, swept away by the tremendous force of the river.

Notorious for its shifting channel, the Missouri River cut a new path and moved east, abandoning the spot where the Arabia sank.  By the twentieth century, the steamboat was lying deep beneath a Kansas farm field.   Rumored to be filled with whiskey and gold when it sank, the Arabia drew the attention of treasure hunters and failed salvage attempts for many years.

Using a metal detector, weathered maps, and old newspaper clippings to guide the search, David Hawley located the wreck in July 1987.   Years of erosion and shifting sand left the lost paddleboat 45 feet underground and a half-mile from the present channel of the Missouri River.

David, along with his father Bob, brother Greg, and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell, would soon return to the farm and begin an adventure consuming the next 20 years.  The excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

The Hawleys originally intended to sell these items but they quickly realized their historic value, and so opened the museum instead.

Some thoughts on improving historic house museums, courtesy Gene Harmon:

Picture in your head a historic house museum that you have visited.

Did you picture Mt. Vernon or Monticello? How about the historic house that you grew up down the road from? Did images of antiques and display cases flash through your mind, or was it the velvet rope barriers, musty smell, creaky floorboards, and dusty signs? I bet a majority of these things popped into your head because that’s what many people remember after they leave a historic house museum. I know that I have! The historical value of the museum is short term, but the memory of a musty old home you visited once as a kid will last you a lifetime. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

When historic house museums started popping up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries their purpose was to educate immigrants about “American values and patriotic duties.” As the years went by and the surrounding communities changed, the museums stayed the same. As a result, historic house museums have been experiencing a steady decline in visitors and funding over the years. However, people like Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah Ryan are on a mission to revive interest and relevance in these museums.

Vagnone, the executive director of New York City’s Historic House Trust and co-author of Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (published in October 2015), explained a core issue pertaining to historic house museums’ decline through the years: too many of them are offering a “beige experience,” he told interviewer Carol Bossert on September 18, 2015. Many museums are too similar in presentation, and the public possess a “you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all” mentality towards the museums. “One of the problems with house museums is you keep kind of circling back to the same people who come . . . Eventually they are going to die and there’s going to be no one coming to your parties,” Vagnone stated.

Vagnone’s co-author, Deborah Ryan, explained in the same interview with Vagnone and Bossert that, “Historic house museums tend to be inward focusing particularly on their collections, and what we have suggested is that the houses need to turn themselves inside-out. So, rather than expecting people to come to them, they need to make the community aware of who they are and make the community feel welcome.” Ryan also advised that historic house museums need to grow into “place-making” because places hold meaning for people. Museums should not just be “biometric space” that contain objects. Museums are places where activities happen; where families do things together, watch demonstrations, and get involved.

Some of the most memorable house museums that I have seen let me participate in the house’s history; a lot of the historical participation that I have taken part in was not even traditionally exciting scenarios. I love feeling included in the household and in the everyday rituals that would normally take place, like milking a cow, making soap, stoking the fireplace, or baking bread. I love learning about the clothing people in certain eras wore and how they would make or acquire these clothes. The little routines like that are what have stuck like glue in my mind.

Read the whole thing.

• A museum in Tallahassee, Florida is devoted to the art of Jack T. Chick, the author of some 250 religious tracts. You’ve probably discovered some of these left in public places, like the classic “This Was Your Life” or “Bad Bob!”

Whether you love him or hate him, you gotta respect Chick for sticking to his guns. Since 1961 (over half a century!), he’s cranked out tract after tract to help sinners “see the light.” He’s written over 250 different tracts, with more than 900,000,000* distributed worldwide (in over 100 different languages)! His influence is so vast that entire nations have passed special laws banning his comics. Even as Political Correctness reigns supreme, Chick seems unafraid to take on the sacred cows. He steadfastly exposes a conspiracy of Catholics, Masons, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, Rock & Rollers, and any other group the devil might use to damn your soul. Chick also offends Jews and Muslims with previews of their fiery futures in hell (but only because he wants to save them). The more taboo a topic, the more likely you’ll see it covered in a Chick tract!

We don’t condemn Chick for his controversial nature. We celebrate it! It’s just one of his unique characteristics. Besides, he’s an Artist. They’re supposed to be provocative. (If he drew Christ in a Bowl of Urine, many of his critics would love him.)

Our goal is to SALUTE this dedicated demagogue and immortalize his work by assembling a complete library for fans and scholars to marvel at JACK T. CHICK!

According to Wikipedia, Chick was most likely influenced by the format (but not the content!) of Tijuana Bibles, of whose existence I was unaware.