Archive for the 'History' Category

Proposed Grafton Town Hall

Design for a Proposed Town Hall and Municipal Offices for Grafton, New South Wales, May 1886 (architect unknown), courtesy of the Clarence River Historical Society:




Clarence River stories

Sir Ninian Stephen (1923-2017) was Governor-General of Australia from 1982-1989, and before that, a Judge of the High Court of Australia from 1972-1982.  He was named for Nina Beatrice Mylne (1873-1946), an Australian heiress whom his Scottish mother accompanied on her European and Australian travels.  Nina Mylne was born at Eatonswill, a property on the Clarence, 8 miles upriver from Grafton, New South Wales.   On that property now is a settlement called Eatonsville, on the southbank of the river; the area on the northbank is known as Mylneford.

Nina Mylne’s father, Graham Douglas Mylne (1834-1876), had been born in St Andrews, Scotland, and had been a Lieutenant in the 95th regiment of the British Army from 1853-1861, seeing action on Deesa, India in 1854, the Crimea 1855, Lucknow 1857, Hunker 1858, Burugain, Sandi and Ruiya 1859.  He came to NSW in 1859 to take over the property at Eatonswill established in 1839 by his late brothers, John, Thomas and James Mylne. John and Thomas Mylne had returned to Scotland to bring to NSW two Mylne sisters;  all four had been among the 121 who did not survive the wreck of The Dunbar at Sydney Heads on the night of 20 August 1857.  Only one person survived that disaster.  Graham Mylne’s brother James Mylne, who had also served in the Indian Army, had died of natural causes in Malta on return visit to Britain following the tragedy of the Dunbar.

Graham Mylne married Helena White in 1860. They were good friends with the first Governor of Queensland, the new colony proclaimed on 10 December 1859, George Bowen (1821-1899) and his wife. The Bowens’ first surviving child, Adelaide Diamantina Bowen, born in 1858, was known as “Nina”.  Bowen appointed his private secretary, Robert Herbert (1831-1905) as the first Premier of Queensland.  Herbert organized and won the first elections on 27 March 1860, and served as Premier from 1859-1866. Herbert appointed another of Bowen’s private secretaries, John Bramston (1832-1921), as the Attorney-General of Queensland.  The two had met at Balliol College, Oxford, and were life-long friends.  They shared a house together on a farm near Brisbane, which they named Herston, combining letters from both their names. Herston is now a Brisbane suburb.

From 1864, Graham Mylne jointly owned a property near Roma in south-western Queensland with Herbert and Bramston, and he was the elected MLA for the surrounding electorate, Warrego, from 1867-1868.  The town of Roma, gazetted in 1867, was named for the maiden surname of Governor Bowen’s wife, who hailed from the United States of the Ionian Islands. Graham Mylne’s father-in-law, William Duckett White (1807-1893), built a fine homestead, Lota House, on the sea east of Brisbane, in the suburb now called Lota.

Both Robert Herbert and John Bramston eventually returned to Britain, and Herbert served as Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1871-1892. Bramston served under his friend as Assistant Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1876-1898.

Note: The image is The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin, 1904, now in the National Gallery of Victoria.




CCCP

Today, 7 November 2017, is the centenary of the Great October Revolution.

Like Mikhail Gorbachev (in an interview with Clive Anderson on BBC1 on 3 November 1996), I would have preferred the Revolution of February 1917 to have prevailed.




cod-Bourbakism

Economic historians Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah have published a new book on the role of information in post-war economics.    The introductory chapter contains a nice, high-level summary of the failures of the standard model of decision-making in mainstream micro Economics, Maximum Expected Utility Theory or so-called rational choice theory.  Because the MEU model continues to dominate academic economics despite working neither in practice nor in theory, I have written about it often before, for example herehere and here.  Listen to Mirowski and Nik-Khah:
Given the massive literature on so-called rationality in the social sciences, it gives one pause to observe what a dark palimpsest the annals of rational choice has become. The modern economist, who avoids philosophy and psychology as the couch potato avoids the gym, has almost no appreciation for the rich archive of paradoxes of rationality. This has come to pass primarily by insisting upon a distinctly peculiar template as the necessary starting point of all discussion, at least from the 1950s onwards. Neoclassical economists frequently characterize their schema as comprising three components: (a) a consistent well-behaved preference ordering reflecting the mindset of some individual; (b) the axiomatic method employed to describe mental manipulations of (a) as comprising the definition of “rational choice”; and (c) reduction of all social phenomena to be attributed to the activities of individual agents applying (b) to (a). These three components may be referred to in shorthand as: “utility” functions, formal axiomatic definitions (including maximization provisions and consistency restrictions), and some species of methodological individualism.
The immediate response is to marvel at how anyone could have confused this extraordinary contraption with the lush forest of human rationality, however loosely defined. Start with component (a). The preexistence of an inviolate preference order rules out of bounds most phenomena of learning, as well as the simplest and most commonplace of human experiences—that feeling of changing one’s mind. The obstacles that this doctrine pose for problems of the treatment of information turns out to be central to our historical account. People have been frequently known to make personally “inconsistent” evaluations of events both observed and unobserved; yet in rational choice theory, committing such a solecism is the only real mortal sin—one that gets you harshly punished at minimum and summarily drummed out of the realm of the rational in the final analysis. Now, let’s contemplate component (b). That dogma insists the best way to enshrine rationality is by mimicking a formal axiomatic system—as if that were some sterling bulwark against human frailty and oblique hidden flaws of hubris. One would have thought Gödel’s Theorem might have chilled the enthusiasm for this format, but curiously, the opposite happened instead. Every rational man within this tradition is therefore presupposed to conform to his own impregnable axiom system—something that comes pre-loaded, like Microsoft on a laptop. This cod-Bourbakism ruled out many further phenomena that one might otherwise innocently call “rational”: an experimental or pragmatic stance toward the world; a life where one understands prudence as behaving different ways (meaning different “rationalities”) in different contexts; a self-conception predicated on the possibility that much personal knowledge is embodied, tacit, inarticulate, and heavily emotion driven.  Furthermore, it strangely banishes many computational approaches to cognition: for instance, it simply elides the fact that much algorithmic inference can be shown to be noncomputable in practice; or a somewhat less daunting proposition, that it is intractable in terms of the time and resources required to carry it out. The “information revolution” in economics primarily consisted of the development of Rube Goldberg–type contraptions to nominally get around these implications. Finally, contemplate component (c): complaints about methodological individualism are so drearily commonplace in history that it would be tedious to reproduce them here. Suffice it to say that (c) simply denies the very existence of social cognition in its many manifestations as deserving of the honorific “rational.”
There is nothing new about any of these observations. Veblen’s famous quote summed them up more than a century ago: “The hedonistic conception of man is that of a lightning calculator of pleasures and pains, who oscillates like a homogeneous globule of desire of happiness under the impulse of stimuli that shift him about the area, but leave him intact.”  The roster of latter-day dissenters is equally illustrious, from Herbert Simon to Amartya Sen to Gerd Gigerenzer, if none perhaps is quite up to his snuff in stylish prose or withering skepticism. It is commonplace to note just how ineffectual their dissent has been in changing modern economic practice.
Why anyone would come to mistake this virtual system of billiard balls careening across the baize as capturing the white-hot conviction of rationality in human life is a question worthy of a few years of hard work by competent intellectual historians; but that does not seem to be what we have been bequeathed. In its place sits the work of (mostly) historians of economics and a few historians of science treating these three components of rationality as if they were more or less patently obvious, while scouring over fine points of dispute concerning the formalisms involved, and in particular, an inordinate fascination for rival treatments of probability theory within that framework. We get histories of ordinal versus cardinal utility, game theory, “behavioral” peccadillos, preferences versus “capacities,” social choice theory, experimental interventions, causal versus evidential decision theory, formalized management theory, and so forth, all situated within a larger framework of the inexorable rise of neoclassical economics. Historians treat components (a–c) as if they were the obvious touchstone of any further research, the alpha and omega of what it means to be “rational.” Everything that comes after this is just a working out of details or a cleaning up of minor glitches. If and when this “rational choice” complex is observed taking root within political science, sociology, biology, or some precincts of psychology, it is often treated as though it had “migrated” intact from the economists’ citadel. If that option is declined, then instead it is intimated that “science” and the “mathematical tools” made the figures in question revert to certain stereotypic caricatures of rationality.” [Mirowski and Nik-Khah 2017, locations 318-379 of the Kindle edition].

Reference:

Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah [2017]: The Knowledge We Have Lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.




Liverpool Cathedral

Chapel of the English Martyrs, Metropolitan RC Cathedral, Liverpool.

 




Vale John Fieldsend, CJ

This post is to remember the life of a courageous Zimbabwean, Sir John Charles Rowell Fieldsend (1921-2017), who was first Chief Justice of Zimbabwe. The following text is from an obituary in The Times (3 March 2017):

When Ian Smith’s white minority government issued its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in 1965, it was the country’s judiciary who had to interpret that in practice. Among their number was John Fieldsend, a High Court judge.

Smith had detained several of his opponents, including Robert Mugabe, the future prime minister, Canaan Banana, later president, and Daniel Madzimbamuto, who would become deputy postmaster general. Madzimbamuto’s wife, Stella, brought a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that her husband was being held unlawfully. The case found its way to the appellate division of the High Court in 1968, where Fieldsend was on the panel of five judges. Sir Sydney Kentridge, who appeared for Madzimbamuto, recalled: “The real issue was whether the judges should apply the law of the constitution as they were appointed, or whether the revolution had been successful.”

By a majority the court backed the continuing detention of the men, with Fieldsend dissenting. “He was a man of conscience,” recalled Kentridge, “the epitome of real judicial probity.” The Privy Council in London upheld the case on appeal, but Smith took no notice, leaving the British government unable to recognise his regime, even though Smith professed loyalty to the Crown. The move led to much debate over which constitution the country was following — the one approved by Britain in 1961, or the “illegal” one of 1965 promulgated by Smith.

In his dissenting judgment Fieldsend declared that “while the present authorities are factually in control of all executive and legislative powers in Rhodesia, they have not usurped the judicial function”.

Lawyers for James Dlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadrack, who had been sentenced to death, appealed to the Privy Council, which ruled that their sentences should be commuted. The Smith regime hanged them anyway. Fieldsend now realised that he was an isolated figure in a country that was changing fast. He resigned, saying that he could not accept the government’s “intention not to recognise any right to appeal to the Privy Council”, and left the country.

Eventually UDI ended, Rhodesia formally gained independence and was renamed Zimbabwe, and Mugabe became prime minister in 1980, inviting Fieldsend to return as chief justice. Fieldsend felt that in those early days of black rule Mugabe was making all the right noises. His role was to help with the Africanisation of the country, making sure that Zimbabwe emerged from colonial rule on a stable footing.

He was at pains to ensure proper and fair hearings, firmly opposing informal justice and village courts. He was particularly critical of a trial held in 1982 in a sports stadium in front of 2,000 spectators in which a 64-year-old white farmer was convicted of adultery with the wife of a black employee, describing it as “a spectacle out of keeping with the administration of justice”.

John Charles Rowell Fieldsend was born into a Lincolnshire farming family in 1921, the son of Charles Fieldsend, who had been awarded an MC in Mesopotamia during the First World War, and his wife, Phyllis, (née Brucesmith). His father was an engineer who was involved in building dams in India and railways in Africa, where he moved with his family in the 1920s.

John was educated at Michaelhouse, a boys’ school in South Africa. He then went on to study law at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 1943 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, serving in Egypt and at the Battle of Monte Cassino before ending his war in Greece.

Returning to Rhodes, Fieldsend met Muriel Gedling at a dance. They were married in 1945 and she worked as a teacher. Meanwhile, Fieldsend was called to the Southern Rhodesian Bar in 1947 and took silk in 1959. Muriel died in 2010, and Fieldsend is survived by their two children, Peter and Catherine Ann Buss, both journalists.

After resigning under Smith’s regime, Fieldsend met Edward Heath in London, where he was disturbed by the prime minister’s habit of dunking biscuits in his tea. He was given a post at the Law Commission, examining legislation concerning public liability.

He was succeeded as chief justice of Zimbabwe in 1993 by Telford Georges, the first black person to hold that post. He then served as chief justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands (1985-87) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (1987-98), and was president of the court of appeal in Gibraltar (1991-97).

In retirement, Fieldsend, who was knighted in 1998, restored an old house between Pisa and Florence. When he was in Britain he lived with his wife in West Sussex, where the vast contents of his bookshelves ranged from a copy of the Koran to a recipe for elderflower cordial. “He was like a real-life Wikipedia,” his daughter said. He adored gatherings of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, regretting that his deteriorating hearing meant he could not keep up with their lively chatter.

Sir John Fieldsend, judge, was born on September 13, 1921. He died from lung cancer on February 22, 2017, aged 95.”

 




Czech architects in Japan

I welcome additions and corrections to this list.

  • Karel Jan Hora
  • Jan Letzel (1880-1925)
  • Antonin Raymond (1888-1976)
  • Frantisek Sammer (1907-1973)



The Stinson Crash

Today, 19 February 2017, is the 80th anniversary of the crash of the Stinson in Lamington Ranges National Park in Southern Queensland, half a kilometre from the border with New South Wales, in 1937. I attended the 50th anniversary commemoration in February 1987, where I met some of the original rescue party, as I reported here. The plane was the Stinson Model A Brisbane. Another model A is shown here:

The plane was on a scheduled Airlines of Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney, with 2 pilots and 5 passengers on board. Both pilots and 2 passengers died in the crash. One passenger, James Westray, went for help, but died after falling down a waterfall.  Judith Wright, who later lived in nearby Mount Tamborine for two decades, wrote a poem about Westray, The Lost Man. The two survivors, John Proud and Joseph Binstead, owed their rescue to the intuition and perseverance of legendary bushman Bernard O’Reilly.

The passengers and crew were:

Joseph Robert Binstead, wool broker, of Manly NSW
John Seymour Proud, mining engineer, of Wahroonga NSW
William Walden Fountain, architect, 41 of Hamilton, Brisbane QLD (Originally from New Jersey)
James Ronald Nairne Graham, Managing Director, 55 of Hunters Hill NSW
William James Guthrie Westray, Insurance Underwriter, 25 of Kensington, London, England
Commercial Pilot, Beverly George Merivale Shepherd, 25 of Sydney NSW
Commercial Pilot, Reginald Haslem Boyden, 41 of Randwick NSW.

Proud (1907-1997) went on to a prominent career as a mining engineer and executive, and was a generous philanthropist.  Some more information can be found here.

A report in the Beaudesert Times on the 80th anniversary trek is here.

 

Photo credit: Wikicommons: Bill Larkins.




Three Potters

Surfing idly, I encounter a reference to one Andrew Onderdonk, an international lawyer who visited with George Santayana (1863-1952) in the 1920s. The question that immediately entered my mind is the one I am sure occurs to you too: Is this man a descendant of the second Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania? That was Henry Onderdonk (1789-1858), who was supposedly replaced as Bishop due to a problem with alcohol. Bishop Henry’s successor, the third Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, was a mathematician and philosopher named Alonzo Potter (1800-1865), whose grandson Warwick Potter (31 October 1870-11 October 1893) was a student and close friend of Santayana’s at Harvard. Santayana wrote a very moving quartet of sonnets to him, following his early death. One sonnet is here, and posts on Santayana here. Warwick Potter would be completely forgotten now if not for Santayan’s consoling poems.

It seems that Andrew Joseph Onderdonk (1889- ?) had also been a student of Santayana’s at Harvard, and was still alive in the mid-1960s, when he offered to sell Santayana’s writing chair to journalist Joseph Epstein.

Warwick Potter’s father was Major General Robert Brown Potter (1829-1887), a Civil War general on the Union side and subject of a famous photo, taken around 1864.  The photo (below) is mainly well-known because the photographer, Mathew Brady (1822-1896), included himself in it. One would be tempted to call this action post-modernist, if painters from the renaissance onwards had not done the same. Brady’s louche posture against a tree on the right of the picture contrasts with the formality of comportment of the General, standing hatless at the centre of his behatted men, who all face him while he faces us.

Warwick Potter had three brothers and a half-sister: Robert Burnside Potter, Abby Potter, Austin Potter and Frances Tileston Potter. He was born on 1870-10-31 in Lemington, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and died on 1893-10-11  in Brest, Brittany.  I find it most consoling that I am able to place Warwick Potter in his family, with both his father and paternal grandfather being identified.




Our Glad

New South Wales tomorrow has its first premier of Armenian descent, Gladys Berejiklian, leader of the Liberal Party, who is also the second woman to be premier.  Her first language was Armenian, and she only learnt English once she went to school. Her great-grandparents were apparently killed in the Ottoman genocide of Armenians in 1915.

In addition to the majority Anglo-Celts, the state of NSW has had premiers of Hungarian, Italian and American descent. Her only fellow female premier, Kristina Keneally, was born in the USA. Until recently, the Governor of NSW was the very admirable Professor Marie Bashir, who is of Lebanese descent. There was a moment in 2010 when it was women all the way up!

As far as I am aware, the only American Governor of Armenian heritage has been George Deukmejian, Governor of California from 1983-1991.

Some previous discussion of leaders from minority groups here.