Monthly Archives: December 2014

‘Anglicanism and the British Empire c 1700-1850’ by Rowan Strong


2007,  336 p. (and my word- what an expensive Kindle version!)

When (or if) you think about missionary activity in the British Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth century, it’s likely that you’ll think of the Church Missionary Society,  the Evangelicals  or groups like the Clapham Sect, noted for their lobbying for the abolition of slavery.  Missionaries seem such a very mid-19th century phenomenon. This book, however, argues that the Anglican Church’s missionary activities commenced long before this, right back almost to the Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century.

Strong is careful to delineate early in his introduction that he’s not writing about missions as such:

It is important, at this juncture, to explain what this book is not about. It is neither a history of missions, or of the Anglican missionary societies whose publications are used here; nor is it a history of the colonial development of the Church of England in North America, Bengal, Australia or New Zealand. It is also not a history of the colonial encounter between English or British colonizers and indigenous colonized peoples in the various colonies under scrutiny here, except as these occurrences found their way into the sources used here to construct the public discourse of the Church of England regarding the English, and then British Empire. This work is, rather, a history of the public views of both metropolitan leaders of the Church of England in England, and of Anglicans in these British colonies, regarding the church and the empire, and about the colonizing and colonized populations to be found there. These views were presented in the public sources examined here, and therefore derive from both the centre and the peripheries of empire- that is, from England and the various colonial contexts over this period. (p. 7)

The two earliest missionary organizations associated with the Anglican Church were the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge  (SPCK) established in 1698 and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), established in 1701.  Thus, they pre-dated the Great Awakening of 1740   and the development of the Church Mission Society (CMS)  in 1799 which, although also Anglican, had a strongly Evangelical bent.  Strong’s emphasis in this book is on the SPG in particular and the fundamental interpretative themes of empire it provided for English metropolitan and colonial Anglicans.

He identifies a number of continuities over the 150 year period that he deals with in this book.  First was a sense of Providence: that God intended Christianity to be universal, and that it was God giving England all these territories.  Believers had a duty to God to ensure that the peoples of these God-given lands heard the Gospel.  It was part of a “commercial theology of exchange” (p. 67) and a just return to God for the riches that England had derived from her colonies and plantations.   Second, it was necessary to civilize these heathens before you could Christianize them.  Initially there was a degree of tolerance and even admiration for the natural religion of Native Americans in particular but if they had their own religion, why did you need missionaries?  And so, it became necessary to civilize them to Western practices first, then Christianize them later.  Third, it was very important for the Church to keep an eye on the colonists and settlers as well, who were likely to slide into infidelity and degeneracy once they were in the colonies.

There were disjunctions, though.  The SPG was comfortable with slavery, seeing is as a given, ordained and permitted by God.  In fact, the SPG was even bequeathed its very own plantation in Barbados.  It preached moderation in the treatment of slaves, but not emancipation and it acquiesced in the planters’ rejection of baptism lest their slaves expect that it lead to actual instead of merely metaphorical freedom.

The relationship of Anglicanism and Empire changed over time.  After the loss of the American colonies, the British Government became more conservative, implementing aristocratic military rule and emphasizing social hierarchy, racial subordination and landed patronage.  An established church, closely integrated with the government was part of this conservative trend and  the ‘Crown, Church and Constitution’ approach was writ large in Upper Canada especially.  The atheism of the  French Revolution had frightened the government and church, and Anglicans developed a new fellow feeling towards French clerics who had been dispossessed and persecuted (even if they were Catholics).

It was a mistake, it was now recognized, to prevent an ‘episcopal’ (ie. Bishop-based)  church from having its own bishops, and expecting them only to look back to the mother church in England.  This was true not only of settler colonies, but India as well.  A Bishop was installed in Bengal, India in 1814, thus confirming Anglican supremacy in a colonial setting.  The new model was for the Anglican Church to be the established English Church in the colony, even if there were other smaller denominations present.

But by the late 1830s-early 1840s  the Anglican hierarchy realized that this renewed state/church alliance would not last.  Not only had there been the Catholic Emancipation Act and the Sacramental Test Act of 1829 which removed the barriers to Catholics and Dissenters, but the 1832 Reform Bill also enfranchised the unlanded middle class, many of whom were Dissenters.  In 1841 the Colonial Bishoprics Acts provided a fund whereby the Anglican Church could establish its own dioceses and churches  where-ever there were significant numbers of Anglicans, without waiting for the permission of the government.

It took a while for this new approach to the relationship with government to catch on amongst the colonial bishops though.  Bishop Broughton in New South Wales in particular, was very much of the old paradigm, keen that the Anglican church retain its dominance both politically and socially.  His emphasis lay on improving the morals and education of white ex-convicts and settlers, with little attention paid to indigenous peoples.  But when Samuel Marsden, an Anglican minister, established the evangelical-influenced Church Mission Society in NSW in 1825,  the Anglican church itself moved into new areas.  Even though it might not have been his preference, Bishop Broughton had to operate within the new paradigm of church governance and an independent relationship to the state. In New Zealand, however, the CMS had been active in missionary activities to the Maori and white whalers since 1814, and the New Zealand Bishop Selwin was always part of the new paradigm.

Strong draws heavily on the lectures delivered annually by prominent clergy  on 15 February to commence the annual meeting of the the Society for the Promotion of the Gospel at St.Mary-le-Bow in central London.  The sermons were published along with the annual reports of the Society which incorporated portions or summaries of reports submitted by missionaries across the Empire.

The book is organized geographically (North America, Bengal, New South Wales) although the argument about the changing relationship of the Anglican Church to the state proceeds chronologically.  Because of the geographical approach, there is a degree of repetition when these Anglican worthies preach the same observations (need to civilize indigenous people before you could Christianize;  the moral decline of degenerate colonists; God’s providence in giving England the Empire) first for one colony, then another, and another.  I found the chronological argument more compelling, and felt that it tended to become smothered by all these sermons which are quoted rather generously.

It was rather strange for me reading a book that draws on much the same historiography as I am accustomed to (Catherine Hall, Linda Colley) but with a strong religious-history bent.  Nonetheless, for me, it helped me to draw a stronger distinction between Anglican evangelicalism and the ‘older’ type of Anglicanism  exhibited by Bishop Broughton.

‘Capital’ by John Lanchester


528 p. 2012

How can a writer fill over 500 pages largely about ordinary lives where nothing much happens and yet leave you wanting more? This was my selection for bookgroup but I must confess that I didn’t realize that it was quite so long. Oh dear, I thought, the ladies will be very cross with me, but it didn’t take long for me  to not even care.

The book is set over a roughly a one-year period, starting in December 2007, just as the Global Financial Crisis is starting to bite.  It focusses on Pepys Road in South London, a street where prices have boomed. Some families have lived there for decades, almost oblivious to the goldmine that they’re sitting on, while others are on their upward professional trajectory, only too aware of their burgeoning wealth. They are a diverse group: a widowed elderly woman, a Pakistani family who own the small grocery shop, an African footballer who has a contract with an English football team, a wealthy money trader and his wife, and an Eastern European housepainter.  Then there are other people who are tied to these householders: a nanny, a grandson, a daughter, an aggrieved personal assistant and a Zimbabwean refugee working as a parking inspector.

What is common to the residents of Pepys Road is that they have all received in their letter box a postcard that shows a photograph of their front door and the enigmatic message ‘We Want What You Have’.  The postcards keep coming, with photographs of their houses from varying sightlines and at different times.

The book follows the little dramas of the inhabitants of Pepys Road in short chapters of just a couple of pages each.  I felt, in a way, like the unnamed postcard-sender, looking in at the window of one house for just a few minutes before moving onto the next.  It was a wonderful way to approach such a lengthy, sprawling book.  The characters were so well defined, so quickly,  that I only once or twice had to flick back to see who they were again.  I found myself sitting down on the edge of the bed to read just one or two chapters for a couple of minutes, then coming back half an hour later to read another few.  I was genuinely sorry that the book ended.  I didn’t even particularly care who was sending the postcards, although the book does use the solving of that little mystery as a way of bringing the narrative to a close.

And the bookgroup ladies?  Not a single grizzle about the length, and they enjoyed it too.

My rating: 9/10

Read because: my own selection for CAE bookgroup

Pudding people first at Christmas


I have had half of last years Christmas pudding in the freezer all year. “Must eat that pudding sometime” I’d think each time it tumbled out. So here I was in December, thinking about Christmas lunch, wondering if it would be TOO bad to serve up half an elderly pudding? I decided that perhaps, all things considered, it might be.  The reality is that I’m the only person in the family who really likes plum pudding, which is why there was probably half a pudding in the freezer in the first place.    Did I really want to make another pudding only to add yet another half-pudding to the freezer?  (I suppose at this rate, by Christmas 2015 I’d have a whole pudding in two bits!)

Then I spied a recipe in the Age for a Christmas Bombe.  That sounds interesting- a mashup of pannetone, ice-cream, plum pudding and pavlova. Delicious or disgusting?  It looked good in the picture.


So by Christmas morning, there was a  pannetone-lined basin filled with plum-pudding icecream securely tucked away in Dad’s freezer (my freezer is too full of old puddings, you see….) ready for the great bombe-ing later in the day.  The table was set, waiting for my guests.


So, first thing to get the pudding out of the bowl.


Sh*t! It won’t come out!!!


Oh yes it did. (Phew!)


Now the great smothering with meringue.



Someone can always be trusted to clean the bowl and lick the beaters. (In this case, my 85 year old father!)


Hey, this doesn’t look too bad.


Now, for the Great Flaming.   I don’t have a kitchen blowtorch, but my stepson has two.  Not kitchen ones, though.  Which shall I go for?  The industrial-strength flame-thrower? Or the little one?


Will the big one shoot my pudding into the venetian blinds, incinerating us all?  Will the small one take an hour as a feeble flicker s-l-o-w-l-y adds a tinge of colour to the meringue?

I’m not brave.  The little one it is.


If I’m going to immolate myself as well as the pudding, you’re all coming with me.


Damn. We’ve forgotten how to turn the blowtorch off.  Oh well, it will run out of gas soon.


And here it is!!


Guess what? I’ve got half a Christmas Bombe in the freezer.  But, unlike Albert, the  Magic Pudding, this cut-and-come-again pudding probably won’t still be here this time next year.

After all, now that we have an Andrews Labor Government,  it’s all about pudding.

Christmas in Port Phillip 1841

We haven’t visited Judge Willis’ Port Phillip for a while.  Now that Christmas is here, let’s read an article about Christmas that was published in the Port Phillip Patriot of 1841, Judge Willis’ first year in the Port Phillip District.

CHRISTMAS IN AUSTRALIA  (Author not identified)

…Hitherto…no one has attempted to give us a sketch of an “Australian Christmas”. This festive season, in our country, has not yet been described, and in order to make up for a deficiency so glaring, I shall endeavour to convey to the reader unacquainted with our genial clime, an idea of the twenty-fifth of December in this portion of the Southern hemisphere…

…The inhabitants of this colony have adopted a great many of those customs of their ancestors and the Australians look forward to the arrival of Christmas with the same degree of fondness and veneration as a Briton. Variations in the mode of living and a difference of soil and climate may cause this season to be celebrated with less precision and minuteness here than in England. We certainly have not the same associations [?] of antiquity to instigate us, and fill us with any degree of enthusiastic ardour, yet our love of Christmas is by no means of an ordinary description…

The author then indulges in some reminiscences of Christmas back ‘home’ before remembering that it’s Christmas in Australia that he’s writing about.

During the week immediately preceding the twenty-fifth of December, every family in the whole colony appears to be thrown into a state of bustle and activity. The farmer hurries to the metropolis with his eggs, his poultry, and the produce of his lands, and purchases an ample supply of Christmas dainties for the due celebration of the approaching holiday. Raisins, currants, wines, spirits, and a large variety of other niceties, which it would be impossible for me to enumerate, are obtained by the active housewife to adorn and set off the Christmas dinner. Every one is employed in providing for the eventful day, and the ordinary avocations of society seem to be almost forgotten.

I was particularly interested in some of the comments below, most particularly the mention of Aborigines  bearing Christmas Bush.  In his book Aboriginal Victorians, Richard Broome reminds us that early Melbourne (c. 1835- approx 1841) was an Aboriginal town, with the visible presence of Aboriginal people quite a common sight.  (See Section III p. 15 of Broome’s book, available through Google preview here). Although Superintendant La Trobe issued orders in September 1840 that ‘no Aboriginal blacks of the District are to visit the township of Melbourne under any pretext whatever’, this directive was impossible to enforce.   I wonder if there was some sort of exchange going on here, with the aborigines  collecting the Christmas bush and bringing it into town, knowing that it was prized by the settlers for decorating their houses?  Were the aborigines ‘in crowds’ or were they wandering through the crowds of settlers, I wonder?

Christmas-eve at length arrives, and the scene which it presents both in town and country is of a very peculiar and pleasing description. The aborigines themselves seem influenced by the day, and may be seen in crowds strolling through the town, bearing “Christmas bushes” for the purpose of adorning the houses.

I must admit that I’m not familiar with Christmas Bush, and the writer mentions that it is no longer common around Melbourne.  I assume that he’s referring to Ceratopetalum gummiferum, but I note that it now only seems to be found in New South Wales.

[These “Christmas bushes” are plucked from a beautiful tree which is now becoming very scarce in the vicinity of our towns. This tree usually attains the height of about twenty feet, and when in full bloom has a very picturesque appearance. The bark is smooth and frequently mottled, the leaves vary from two to three inches in length, are rather narrow, and terminate in a point, have the edge indented like a saw, and are of a glossy dark-green colour. The flowers are of the cruciform species, similar in shape to a cabbage blossom, and when in full vigour are of a fine red colour. Indeed, I think the whole vegetable kingdom could scarcely furnish a more appropriate shrub than this for the purpose of adorning our houses on Christmas Day.]


Here in Melbourne the weather on Christmas Day  tends to be highly variable.  I remember hot Christmas Days, but I also remember huge hail storms and some pretty ordinary weather.  Nonetheless, it was the novelty of a hot Christmas that impresses our author.

… In Australia the difference of climate causes the scene to bear a different and less animating aspect. Instead of the cool breezes and snow storms of an English winter, the sultry winds of summer and the scorching rays of an almost vertical sun, effectually put a stop to all sorts of amusement. In the towns, clouds of dust occasionally darken the atmosphere and render the weather peculiarly disagreeable. Under these circumstances every one is constrained to rest quietly within his doors, and wait patiently until the approach of night may in some degree moderate the oppressive blast. Even then there is a warmth in the air- a calm, sultry heat, which renders it totally impossible for any one to arouse himself to exertion. Instead of blazing fires glowing in the hearth, every fire-place is ornamented with evergreens; and instead of sitting opposite the burning ‘yule clog’ the peasant seats himself quietly in the open air on the outside of his humble cottage.

Well, this little ‘peasant’ here in 2014 won’t be sitting quietly in the open air outside my humble cottage.  She will, however, be relaxing on Christmas night after lunch with her family.  Happy Christmas readers – or whatever salutation you prefer.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Finished

Well, it’s the end of the year and time for toting up my reads for The Australian Women Writers Challenge again.  I had intended to read more histories written by women, and I’m rather disappointed to see that I hadn’t really read as much as I thought I had.  I do, however, have an excuse as this thesis really does need to be written.  In fact, the high number of fiction books gives a hint as to why it hasn’t been finished this year as planned.

Here they are, then:


The Golden Age by Joan London

When It Rains by Maggie Mackellar

The Kayles of Bushy Lodge by Vera G. Dwyer

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

After the Fire, A Small Still Voice by Evie Wyld

Letter to George Clooney by Debra Adelaide

NON-FICTION  (Memoirs, biographies, non-fiction)

Velocity by Mandy Sayer

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama Julie Szego

Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson

Night Games Anna Krein

Housewife Superstar Danielle Wood

The Ghost at the Wedding Shirley Walker

Mrs Cook: the Real and Imagined Life of the Captain’s Wife Marele Day

Madness by Kate Richards


Shattered Anzacs Marina Larsson

What’s Wrong with ANZAC?  Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka Clare Wright

Broken Nation Joan Beaumont

And my favourites?  The Golden Age for fiction; a dead heat between Boy, Lost and Madness for non-fiction and Shattered Anzacs for history.

awwbadge_2014Posted to Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Imagine there’s no countries

I don’t normally get my history from the New Scientist, but there was an interesting article in the 6 September 2014 issue called “Imagine there’s no countries…” written by Debora MacKenzie.  Her article incorporated some historical approaches (Benedict Anderson etc) but also highlighted findings from the social sciences related to nationhood.  For example, here’s some rather disjointed observations from the article that attracted my attention:

Robert Dunbar of Oxford University has found that one individual can keep track of social interactions linking no more than about 150 people. He came up with this figure through studies of villages and army units throughout history and the average tally of Facebook friends (!!).  Society transcended that number by the invention of hierarchy, which meant that leaders could coordinate large groups without anyone having to keep personal track of more than 150 people.

Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut notes that Eurasion empires grew largest where fighting was fiercest, suggesting that war was a major factor in political enlargement.  Picking up on the idea that hierarchy facilitated larger groups than the 150 figure, Turchin suggests that in addition to their immediate circle, an individual interacted with one person from a higher level in the hierarchy, and typically eight people from lower levels.

These hierarchies, of course, are not nation states.  A number of historians have concluded that states define nations, not the other way round.  For example, in France in 1789, half its residents did not speak French; while in Italy in 1860 at reunification, only 2.5% only spoke standard Italian.

When nation-states fail, they break down into civil war.  Civil wars are often blamed on ethnic or sectarian tensions, but there are other nation-states that combine multiple ethnicities and religions.  What makes the difference, the article suggests, is bureaucracy.  An interesting thought, especially given the rage that conservatives, in particular, direct towards ‘red tape’.  While we might complain about lengthy processes, queues etc. a return to  the alternative of patronage, bribery and ‘who you know’  being the basis of service provision  is pretty unappealing.

My mum 08/09/25- 17/12/10

Four years ago today.


Mum was an airhostess with TAA before she married.