Monday, September 29, 2014

Bagot Goats linked to Richard the Lionheart

The little known history of the Bagot goat is interlaced with images of knights on horseback, Kings and coats of arms, a story spanning 800 years where fact, legend and folklore are closely intertwined.

    This rare and ancient breed, probably England’s oldest, survived for centuries under the protection of one aristocratic family. However, half a century ago, because the breed was deemed to be of little intrinsic value, attempts were made to exterminate it. In 1979 only 12 goats remained in the herd. Without the help of a dedicated group of enthusiasts the pure Bagot goat and its intriguing story could have been lost forever.
Fact and folklore behind the legend

   When Richard the Lionheart returned from the Holy Land in 1194, the evil Prince John was Regent of England and Robin Hood and his Merry Men championed the poor of Sherwood Forest. This legend is well known. But almost unknown is that when Richard returned to England from the Crusades he brought back a few black headed goats reputedly to be from the Rhone Valley of Switzerland.

   Two hundred years later, in 1380, a young King Richard 11 presented the herd of black and white goats to Sir John Bagot at Blithfield Hall in Staffordshire. These were released into Bagots Park, 800 acres of woodland on the edge of the great Needlewood Forest. Here beneath the majestic oaks the goats ran freely. With the Lord’s wild deer, they provided sport for the royal hunting parties. This was their home for 600 years.
   For centuries legend and folklore allowed the long haired goat to live a protected life. One story tells that long ago a poacher killed a Bagot goat and ate it. Immediately, he fell ill with a mysterious illness. After that the goats were never touched despite the poachers still stealing the Lord’s deer.
   Unlike the deer, however, by law the goats were not classed as wild. If the goats strayed onto local farmland, the Estate had to pay for any damage to the crops. It is said the farmers may have encouraged the goats to escape onto their land in order to claim compensation.

   In 1380, Sir John incorporated a goat’s head into the Bagot coat of arms. It became the family’s mascot. Sir John’s helmet, which rests in the Blithfield Church, has a goat’s head on the top of it. Displayed at Blithfield Hall is a magnificent set of goat horns. These measure almost 4 feet across. But the legend, which closely unites the goats with the Bagot family from which they take their name, is that if ever the Bagot goat dies out, the House of Bagot will fall. This belief possibly ensured the survival of the breed.
   Over the years the size of the herd fluctuated. As numbers increased some culling was done. In 1920 and 1954 a few Bagot bucks were sent to the Rhinog Mountains in Wales. Today some of the wild goats of the Rhinog have distinctive Bagot markings.

   By 1939 it appeared that the fate of the Bagot herd was sealed. The Staffordshire Water Authority bought the Blithfield Estate. The old forest and grazing land was to be drowned to become a massive reservoir. The Bagot goat was considered to be of no commercial value and was to be exterminated. Fortunately, with the outbreak of the Second World War construction of the reservoir was postponed. The following year, the War Agriculture Executive issued the extermination order. Lord Bagot disputed this and the goats were given a reprieve, but the Court stipulated that the herd must not exceed 60.
   At the end of the war, work on the reservoir resumed and in 1953 most of the land was flooded. The remaining forest was cleared for farming. The Water Authority had allowed the 5th Lord Bagot to continue living in Blithfield Hall but the stately home had fallen into disrepair. When he died, the 6th Lord and his wife, Nancy Lady Bagot decided to buy it back together with some of the surrounding land. After considerable expense and extensive restoration, Blithfield Hall was opened to the public in 1956.

   Of the hundred goats which had roamed the woodland, only twenty were kept. These were brought to the Hall by Nancy Lady Bagot. The remaining wild goats were caught and sold. A few went to private farms or zoos, others were killed. A group was sent to Hal Bagot, in Cumbria.
   But the Estate's goats were destined to live in a walled garden and small paddock near the house. Gone was the natural cover of the primeval forest. By 1979 only 12 goats remained and their survival was in doubt. This gave the Bagot breed the dubious distinction of being, not only on the critical list of British endangered breeds, but featuring as the rarest of the rare breeds by the British Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
   Nancy Baroness Bagot felt she had no option but to entrust the remaining animals to the RBST in a hope that they would ensure the survival of the breed. Perhaps the old legend prompted her do this.  The Trust decided the only way to protect the species was to increase their numbers as quickly as possible so embarked on a grading-up program using base stock of various breeds and crossing them with pure Bagots. But a handful of enthusiasts could see that the true bloodline of the ancient breed was in danger of being lost. 
  As a result, the Bagot Goat Breeders Study Group was formed in 1987. Their aim was to promote the breed and maintain its integrity. Their approach was different to that taken by the Trust. Over the previous 80 years culled animals had been relocated around England and Wales. It was to these sources of pure lines that the Study Group directed their attention. By tracing the history of the animals and selecting from the small closed herds, a breed register of pure stock was compiled. As a result of the hard work undertaken by dedicated enthusiasts, hopefully the Bagot goat will never come close to extinction again.      

   Although there are no Bagot goats at Blithfield Hall today, Nancy Baroness Bagot wrote, “I count myself very privileged to have known Bagots Park and to have seen the goats in their natural surroundings. It is very heartening that so many goat lovers are caring for these unique and historic animals.”
   Nancy Baroness Bagot who was Honorary President of the Bagot Goat Society for many years passed away in 2014. 

 Note: When I visited England several years ago I came across a handsome Bagot buck on a farm in the south. I noted in my diary “What a magnificent animal”. Last year, I published a short story for boys, ‘King Richard and the Mountain Goat,’ – a purely fictitious tale based on the myth surrounding the Bagot breed.

Note 2: This article by Margaret Muir was first published in The Goat Farmer Magazine – June 2000   
For more information about Bagot Goats go to :

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nelson and Brunel linked by ship’s pulley-blocks

HMS Victory (2006)
The age-of-sail is often associated with the Napoleonic era. But the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the construction of steam-powered iron ships, saw the era of wooden fighting ships rapidly draw to a close. One sign of impending change was noted in 1805, when Lord Nelson personally acknowledged how new technology was replacing the old ways.

Just 2 of the many blocks on Bark Endeavour (replica)
The wooden block, an essential component of any ship’s rigging, provides a link between Admiral Lord Nelson and Marc Isambard Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the builder of some the greatest steam ships the world has ever seen.
'Deadeyes' used for tensioning rigging (Endeavour-replica)
At that time, a first rate ship of the line required about 1000 blocks of different sizes, and every year the Royal Navy required over 100,000 blocks. Traditionally, the sheaves over which the ropes ran were made from lignum vitae, a particularly hard timber with self-lubricating properties. HMS Victory alone carried over 900 blocks. For centuries, they had been hand-made by outside tradesmen but the resulting quality was inconsistent, the supply irregular and the blocks were expensive.

In 1802, Brunel proposed a system of making blocks using machinery and in August of that year he was authorized by the Admiralty to proceed.
With Brunel’s modern Block Mill established and operating at Portsmouth Dockyard, Lord Nelson was anxious to witness the new technology before he sailed. His diary schedule for 14th September, 1805 included a visit to the Mill, to see how modern innovations applied to block making.

Admiral Nelson figurehead - Portsmouth dockyard.

What Nelson witnessed that day was an assortment of machines driven by two 22.4 kw (30 hp) steam engines including circular saws, pin turning machines and mortising machines. By using these mechanical devices, 10 men could produce, in any given time, as many blocks as 110 skilled craftsmen.
Admiral Lord Nelson - Portsmouth

It seems fitting that on his last day on British soil before embarking on HMS Victory and heading south to Cape Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Nelson recognized that a new era of manufacturing was dawning, in particular in relation to sailing ships.

Refs: Wikipedia 
Pics: Mast and rigging HMS Victory (2006), HM Bark Endeavour and Nelson figure-head and statue - Portsmouth, England. (MM)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It's a fact - all boys were once called girls and all girls were called gay!

If historical authors always adhered to the correct terminology of the past, readers would be totally confused. Consider, for example, in the period of Middle English, 1150 to 1349, all young children were called girls. Boys were identified as 'knave girls', and girls as 'gay' or 'maiden girls'. The Oxford English dictionary confirms this.

BBC’s History Extra site also confirms that for centuries boys were called girls and states:
“Until the late 15th century the word ‘girl’ simply means a child of either sex. Boys, where they had to be differentiated, were referred to as ‘knave girls’ and girls in the female sense were called ‘gay girls’. Equally a boy could be a ‘knave child’ and a girl a ‘maiden child’.

The term ‘boy’ was reserved for servants or ‘churls’, the meaning ‘young man’ probably deriving from the latter as a pejorative term but not occurring before 1440.”

The article also details the fact that until the 20th century boys were usually dressed in Pink and girls in Blue. Pink being a stronger colour and blue being more delicate.
How definitions change over time.


Friday, September 05, 2014

DARK TOURISM - Part 3 - Tasmania’s trauma sites

Port Arthur and Sarah Island – spanning the spectrum of light to dark

Australia’s traumatic heritage, though pale in comparison with that of Rwanda or Cambodia, cannot be wiped from the history books. Over the past two centuries, perceptions of convict trauma included periods of shame, rejection, ignorance and acceptance. Port Arthur and Sarah Island are two of Tasmania’s best known sites of convict confinement and these have been conserved as part of Australia’s rich heritage, (sadly Australia fails to show equal respect for its ancient Aboriginal trauma history).  Both of these trauma sites rate on the scale of Dark Tourism but present at varying points on the scale.

Port Arthur
After bushfires devastated Port Arthur in 1895 and 1897, the structures which remained standing were cleaned, conserved and prettied-up and today Port Arthur is the most visited convict site in Tasmania. It attracts 300,000 visitors a year who come for various reasons – to appreciate the convict history of Van Diemen’s Land and learn more of the history of colonization. Others visit Port Arthur merely to enjoy a family outing.

Very little evidence of the trauma of incarceration is transmitted from the buildings gracing the manicured gardens. The whitewashed prison walls have successful erased the memories of the past and the void which once was the main prisoner accommodation, with its metal scaffolded walkway, provides no inkling of past trauma.

The decaying Gothic ruins of Port Arthur, in its ambient surroundings, had once been a site of ‘incarceration, domination and subjugation, a place of cruelty, depravity, brutality and desperation’ for 12,000 convicts. With the passage of time and squeaky-clean conservation, ‘the dark past which occurred within the prison has been almost completely obliterated to make way for a tourist asset’.
Yet to step aboard the local tourist vessel and motor across the bay to the Isle of the Dead is like sliding down the ladder of thanotourism. Stepping ashore and being confronted by the mounds and gravestones of 1769 prisoners, artisans and guards who were buried here, one senses mortality and authenticity. The site is overgrown and little obvious conservation has been done. In order to visit the Isle of the Dead visitors must make a conscious effort by purchasing a ticket. These aspects of the Port Arthur site plus the following item make up the ‘emotional dichotomy of Port Arthur’.

Sadly, today, Port Arthur carries a more recent and darker scar. It is the site of the shooting massacre in 1996 when 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. And whether we like it or not, this event is now permanently etched into Tasmania’s history. For some time after the event, the effects of the trauma were acute and ‘the Port Arthur Historic Site shifted from being Tasmania’s top tourist attraction to a place to be avoided’. 
But eighteen years after this event, with the help of time and conservation, the trauma has been shifted down a notch. The walls of the Broad Arrow Café have been preserved and a Huon Pine cross offers a place for prayers alongside a pool of remembrance. Today, few people would visit Port Arthur specifically to see the memorial to those who died, however, there are still staff members working there who witnessed the atrocity, and there are thousands of people indirectly connected with the six hundred visitors and numerous emergency service personnel who were at the site on that fateful day. The need to conserve this site is essential.

Sarah Island – Convict settlement - Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania
In contrast to Port Arthur, there was little to conserve on Sarah Island after the settlement was abandoned, and today all that remains are a few crumbling walls and piles of hand-made bricks and rubble, now overgrown with grass and moss. Historically, Sarah Island or Settlement Island was the darkest of the Tasmanian penal settlements – a Hell on Earth for the prisoners sent there. Not only were the punishments sadistic, but the conditions the men endured were deplorable.

So why visit the old trauma site? Perhaps in search of personal convict connections or to experience the infamous site made famous by Marcus Clarke’s classic Australian novel, For the Term of his Natural Life. I would argue, however, that most visitors do not go specifically to visit Sarah Island but that their attendance is an obligatory component as part of the cruise on Macquarie Harbour to the lower reaches of the Gordon River. With only 45 minute ashore and a guided walk over the main settlement area, I doubt few tourist come away with a sense of the deprivation and trauma which the convicts suffered. While the guide was talking, I noted that few visitors stopped to read the sign:
           Flagellation: In 1823 under Commander Cuthbertson – who according to one account was ‘a sadistic bully with peculiar qualities’ 9,100 lashes were given with the ‘Macquarie Harbour Cat’, which was heavier than that used by the army or navy. 

Close by, the cyclone wire around the top of the solitary confinement cells quickly dispelled thoughts of heritage (for me), and if that was not sufficient, a short role-play presentation, in which one visitor was designated to be Matthew Brady – the Gentleman Bushranger – was delivered in a jocular vein trivialising both history and character. Nevertheless, most visitors enjoyed the entertainment.
Erica Robb commented that, ‘Sites elicit different responses – [and the] experience is not uniform but subjective’.  My personal reason for visiting Sarah Island was in an attempt to embrace the atmosphere of the island and, not being satisfied with the sanitized superficial presentation, I repeated the trip the following day and spent time investigating a little used track which led to the far end of the island. Here, through the undergrowth, I was able to glimpse Grummet (Small) Island, feel the blast of the wind and imagine the trauma of the men, shackled and freezing in sodden clothing trying to survive on that isolated outcrop of rock. 

No doubt, some visitors (like me) go to trauma sites in an attempt to recapture the scene but come away disappointed because promoters sanitize the past by presenting it as a form of entertainment. ‘Where heritage is involved, collective amnesia is common’.  I think this would apply to most tourists visiting Sarah Island.

In conclusion, we conserve places of trauma for various reasons – to preserve heritage, to memorialize events, to salve the political conscience or for financial gain. From the sites examined, it is evident that calculated and ‘informed’ decisions are made by government organisation and museum curators. The results can be confrontational or appear trivial.
It has been said that ‘tourism and heritage are complex human phenomena’ producing a complex multi-layered dialogue, and the reason tourists visit places of trauma is equally variable. For some it is a pilgrimage to a site of remembrance, or it may be an attempt to reach back to recapture the lives and times of predecessors.

At some stage in each of our lives we are all touched by trauma, but by sharing and conserving our experiences we are able to acknowledge the loss, recognise the past and move forward, while permitting the dark memories to slide and eventually pale into insignificance within the grey mists of time.
*  *   *
References available – pics by author (apart from flagellation)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

DARK TOURISM - Part 2 - The Dark Side - Rwanda and Cambodia

WARNING : some people may find the content and images in this post distressing.


Sitting at the darkest end of the Dark Tourism spectrum are visits to sites where atrocities have taken place. Because these occurred within living memory, these locations cannot be sanitized or the trauma erased from memory.

In 1994, Rwanda witnessed the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. The horrific acts of genocide which took place were sickening. While the people and government of Rwanda confront the challenge of conservation and tourism, political tensions still exist and many people live in fear of reprisals. For some it is too early to forget and move on. For them the pain remains.

For some Rwandans, conservation is seen as necessary – to preserve a memorial site, to remind everyone what happened and to ensure that this is never happens again. For the government it is a source of tourist income. But should visitors be encouraged to feed off the fate of innocent victims and why would people choose to visit such gruesome sites?
One author comments that there is ‘an increased interest in death, disaster and atrocity’ and that such sites have recently become acceptable products for consumption in the global tourist industry. He refers to this as ‘a growing phenomenon of late twentieth century tourism’.

Visitors to Rwanda spend an average of less than three days in the country and can choose between eco-tourism and genocide tourism. Some visit such sites as the Nyamata Church were 10,000 villagers were killed or the old Technical College where 45,000 people were rounded-up and slaughtered; a place where ‘the remains of hundreds of lime-covered decomposing bodies – adults and children, hacked and broken, mouths open in silent screams’ cover the floors and benches of every room. This trauma site has been described as ‘unaltered and unsanitized’.

Certainly visiting Rwanda is not for the faint-hearted, but for international tourists, ‘the recent traumatic historical events are simultaneously re-appropriated, remembered and forgotten’. However, for Rwandans the controversy over conservation, preservation and visitation is still ongoing.

Cambodia – the Killing Fields bloom

As in Africa, the events which occurred in Cambodia in the 1970s are still too fresh to be forgotten or ignored. Over a period of three year, eight months and twenty days, 1.7 million people were slaughtered.

Although Cambodia is still struggling to re-emerge from its years of shame, the government has chosen the bold, yet controversial path of revelation – of presenting the atrocities which occurred under the Pol Pot regime via the tourism industry. When considering the nature of visitation, the expectation of tourists, the emotional state of the visitors and the nature of the site, one author claims some people are fascinated by death saying it is the macabre or gruesome elements which attracts them.

Today, the Tuol Svay High School just outside Phnom Penh (re-named S-21) is a ‘much visited’ trauma site. In this location alone 14,000 people were tortured and interrogated. Only seven survived. In an otherwise empty room a steel bed frame, complete with shackles shows where the prisoners suffered. Elsewhere in the building rooms are papered with thousands of photographs of victims who died in agony under that roof.

It is hoped that conservation of this site will stand as a warning that this sort of event should never happen again. For the generation who lost loved ones but survived the brutality, conservation provides an opportunity to grieve openly as part of the path to healing. But there are others who would prefer not to broadcast this horrific episode of genocide.

Conserved trauma sites in Cambodia include the villages of Nyamata and Ntarama. Here in the Churches thousands more were slaughtered. This aspect of Dark Tourism is ‘occupying a tense divide between voyeurism and social justice’. Tourists have various expectations and motivations, and dark tourism ‘remains an ambivalent pursuit’.

After considering thanotourism in these two third world countries, Part 3 will look at several different trauma sites in Tasmania – a British colonial state, founded in the early 1800s under an often brutal and cruel regime.

Sources are available if required.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

DARK TOURISM – Intro and Part 1 – A Paler Shade of Grey

Visiting places of trauma has been dubbed DARK TOURISM – So what is it and why are so many people compelled to visit places of extreme trauma? As the subject is extensive, I have divided my blog post into 3 parts.

Part 1 - The Paler Shade of Grey of DARK TOURISM – considers popular sites in Italy (the Colosseum and Pompeii) that are visited without stirring much emotion.
Part 2 - The Darker Side – Rwanda and Cambodia, places where poignant reminders of fairly recent genocide cannot fail to affect the visitor.
Part 3 - considers the various aspects of Tasmania’s trauma sites both past and recent. This is significant to me, as I have chosen to live in Tasmania, and because I plan to write a book using one of these convict settings.

Note: The most popular DARK TOURISM sites today are the World War 2 Concentrations Camps in Germany. I have not included these in my post.

The reasons to conserve places of trauma vary considerably. They are wrapped in controversy and the decision to conserve and admit tourists is not always popular. Trauma sites include mass graves, places of incarceration, concentration camps, sites of assassination and genocide. The traumatic events may have occurred in the distant past or within the past decades, and the degree of visitor discomfort associated with the sites can change over time. Spatial and temporal differences are marked and both affect the way we view and experience such places.

Though some argue that it is preferable to ignore sites of suffering, the memories or evidence of such events are indelibly printed in history and need to be acknowledged. The reasons individuals visit places associated with death and suffering also vary and range from pilgrimages of personal grieving to morbid curiosity.

It has been suggested that visits to places of trauma are ‘usually undertaken in the name of social justice and historical awareness’ and that tourist wish to learn more about violence in the hope of preventing future atrocities.

Of the popular Dark Tourism destinations, Rwanda is one country still confronting the challenge of conservation and tourism. Here political tensions still exist and many people still live in fear of reprisals. For those the pain of grieving is still acute and the idea of conserving evidence of past trauma is sickening.

Likewise, Cambodia, having conserved evidence of its ‘Killing Fields’ atrocities, has recently opened its door to tourism on its dark secrets. For the generation who survived the brutality, preservation of such places of suffering provides the opportunity for Cambodians to grieve openly, which they were never permitted previously.
Places of recent traumatic events are more intense on the spectrum of Dark Tourism, but as the cumulative memory heals over time, the darkness slowly pales towards the light.

Australia’s dark colonial history is entrenched in its penal settlements and being a nation, which grew and flourished from its convict roots, many descendants wish to re-connect with their heritage through visiting conserved sites. Fifty years ago such sites were seen as less savoury places to endorse.

The conservation and presentation of places of trauma may be seen as a political expression of acknowledgement or, in the case of third-world countries, a means of making money.

Consider, then, the spectrum of Dark Tourism from light to dark.

Part 1 - Italy’s past trauma - a Lighter shade of Pale.

At the lightest end of the trauma spectrum are sites such as the Roman Colosseum, where gladiators fought to the death to entertainment the populace. On one occasion 10,000 gladiators appeared before 50,000 spectators. Yet the Roman Colosseum has been conserved not as a place of trauma but as the largest Roman amphitheatre ever built. Today the arena rings with the chords of mobile phones - not the cries of the spectators baying for blood. Visitors to the site appear oblivious to this site’s traumatic history.

Likewise, Pompeii, having slid to the end of the darkness scale presents a similar detached image of trauma. The city is conserved for its heritage value, and tourists visit this site as part of the Grand Tour of Italy seeming unconcerned that in 79 AD thousands died – suffocated and burned alive in the choking ash as a result of a cataclysmic volcanic explosion.

Images of death are starkly evident in the plaster casts of the victims but these are largely ignored by passing tourists. Today’s visitors are more interested in the structural layout of the city than the history of human suffering, probably because destruction of Pompeii is so long ago that the cumulative memory has wiped the thanos from this traumatic event. Ironically, and without realizing it, many photos of the site include the brooding silhouette of Vesuvius, the killer volcano, in the background.

Even the Italian curators show little respect for its death toll. Casts of ‘bodies’ are seen shelved, like clay pots, while one victim, sitting with his head in his hands appears, in my view, to be tired of waiting to be noticed . Is it because this event was a natural catastrophe – an Act of God – and was not perpetrated by the hand of man? Or it is purely the passage of time which has made the response to trauma pale into insignificance?

One writer suggests that visiting places of trauma ‘gives meaning to history in a subjective, embodied and reflexive way’. But in effect, tourists only receive what is presented to them which at times may appear inappropriate and may not tell the full story. Because of our familiarity with death through the media, some tourists may be disappointed with visiting trauma sites as they ‘lack the immediacy of death [with] its sounds and smells’.

Coming next: – Part 2 - The Dark Side – Rwanda and Cambodia.
This paper was the result of a short research project. References supplied if required.