Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Live Bait Squadron - film by Klaudie Bartelink

I didn't put this on earlier, I was hiding from it because a younger version of me features in it ...

It's Klaudie Bartelink's beautiful and moving documentary film on the Live Bait Squadron, the British cruisers that were sunk by one German U-Boat on 22 September 1914 with the loss of 1,459 men and boys.  It was premiered at Chatham for the centenary of the disaster.

But now, having effectively retired from research and nearly recovered from the process of downsizing to a smaller house, here it is:

The beauty of the wrecks is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, they are under constant threaten from salvage operations.

UPDATE: The wrecks have now been designated as War Graves.  The families of the dead and the divers & historians who have been working to achieve this for several years are naturally delighted.

Monday, 28 November 2016

A Cleveland link to a Dublin matricide in 1936?

A new story.

I've recently been contacted by researchers working on the fascinating business I outline below.  It seems almost certain that the main protagonists were related to the Weatherills of Hollin Top Farm, near Danby, and the Browns of Staithes and they wondered if I knew anything of the people involved.
I didn't!  Perhaps one of my readers does?  Do let me know!

On 23 May 1936, a 20 year old man called Edward Francis Allen Preston Ball was convicted in Dublin of the brutal murder of his mother.  He was found guilty but insane, and sentenced to an indefinite stay in the Dundrum Lunatic Asylum.

The national press had been entranced by the story and it was covered by every provincial newspaper.

It began with the finding of Mrs Ball's bloodstained car "at the top of a precipice overlooking the sea near Shankhill, Co Dublin" [Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 18 May 1936].  Mrs Ball lived in a fashionable area, was of independent means, and was the wife of Dr Charles Preston Ball, a Dublin nerve specialist, from whom she had been separated for some years.

Her body could not be found, though they searched with aeroplanes, row-boats and grappling apparatus according to a report in the Irish News.  In the meantime, her house was watched by the police and, five days later, her younger son, Edward, was arrested.  The police were satisfied that he had killed his mother with a hatchet before disposing of the body.

He pleaded not guilty at his trial, his rather unlikely defence being that he had come home to find that his mother had committed suicide by cutting her throat with a safety razor blade and that he had decided to hide the suicide by disposing of her body in the sea.

Witnesses told of the poor relations between mother and son and to his failure to settle down to any proper occupation after finishing school.

His father told the court of his late wife's mental illness.  She had begun to show signs of mental instability after Edward's birth and had become terribly neurotic, "She would meet patients at the door and tell them not to come in and see him, and get friends to ring him up and send him on wild goose chases into the country." But at the same time, she had carried on writing him affectionate letters until the time of her death.  [Derby Daily Telegraph, 22 May 1936].  He thought perhaps his son's mental state was inherited from her.

There had been some disagreement the day before between two expert witnesses, pathologists engaged by the opposing sides, over whether or not hair had been chopped or cut off the dead woman's head.  Dr Ball was naturally very anxious that the court took the view that his son was insane - the alternative would, of course, have led to the death penalty.

Mr Justice Hanna spoke in his summing up (widely reported in the press on 23 May) of the "months, even years" that the boy had suffered "under the disposition of his mother towards him."  In the end, he had found it intolerable (it had been suggested that the crisis came when Mrs Ball would not give him £60 to go on tour with the theatrical company for which he was an unpaid extra) and "suddenly something snapped".
"It might be," said the Judge, "that Mrs Ball, outside her own home, was bright, cheery and charming, and that she was not the same inside her home ... The position of the boy was very pathetic.  He was drifting about like flotsam on the sea."  
Pointing out that adolescent insanity was a rare disorder, the judge said that he disliked very much using the word 'insanity'.  The terms 'sane' and 'insane' were relics of the time when people thought that the sane and the insane were like black and white, in two separate compartments.  Modern science had shown that that was not so.
"There is a twilight of the mind, just as there is a twilight between day and night."  
Unsurprisingly, the jury returned the verdict of guilty, but insane.

In normal circumstances, he would not have got anything due to him under his mother's Will, but the press was fascinated to discover that this would not be the case - his insanity prevented him from being debarred.  So when he was released from the asylum 14 years later, he had something to live on.

This was a major news story at the time, but now is really only remembered because it features in A Classical Education, a short and fascinating book by the historian, Richard Cobb. 

For years, Cobb had been making a party piece of his connection with his old schoolfriend, Edward Ball.  He knew the strange boy very well, and had known - and very thoroughly disliked - his mother. Over the years, his anecdotes had become much embellished.  The entrancing power of the prose distracts the reader from this most successfully and there is no easy way of finding out which parts are true.  (For example, Cobb says that Ball insisted at his trial that the murder had been premeditated.  And did the Irish police really suspect Cobb of inciting the murder?  And Mrs Ball try to sue him for libel?).  The title of the book comes from their shared time at Shrewsbury School and from something Cobb quotes Edward as saying when they finally met again after his release.  His classical education had meant that he had no idea that if one wanted to wash blood from an axe, it was important to use cold , not hot, water:
"What a pity that we went to a classical school!"

The question is: Who was Mrs Ball?

Newspapers say little of her family background - beyond the fact that she was of independent means - and don't even appear to be sure of her name.  She is called, variously, Lavena, Vena and Vera.

But it now seems very likely that she was in fact Lavinia Weatherill, and the granddaughter of Edward Theaker Weatherill.  He was born at Hollin Top Farm, near Danby in 1820, married a Staithes girl, Lavinia Brown, and was buried at Hinderwell in 1905.

Edward & Lavinia's son John married Margaret Mackenzie of Dublin.  Richard Weatherill (1844-1923) recorded that John & Margaret's children included Lavinia Brown Weatherill, who married Dr P Ball, and had John Charles Preston (Edward's older brother).

This exactly matches the unfortunate Mrs Ball - described by Richard Cobb as "slothful, unimaginative, uneducated, ignorant, feckless, sloppily dishonest ... changeable, untruthful, untidy ..."

As you can see, he really didn't like her.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)

I was listening this morning to Today on Radio 4 and heard Andrea Wulf describing how little known Alexander von Humboldt is to the English-speaking world today - at least, before the publication of her prize-winning biography The Invention of Nature.

So it's nice to remember that the Revd Robert Barlow of Hutton Rudby was a reader, boasting in Chapter 1 of his fictionalised semi-autobiography Remarkable but Still True:
... I myself am a great reader of all sorts of books, from Baron Humboldt's 'Cosmos,' down to the veriest romance, at times, to relax the tension upon the mind and memory necessary for the profitable perusal of scientific reasoning.
This was no idle boast - he had indeed left notes from his reading of Cosmos in one of his notebooks.

We can all expect to hear more of von Humboldt now that Wulf's biography has been awarded the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

History of Hutton Rudby Choral & Dramatic Society

Malcolm McPhie been interested in the history of the Hutton Rudby Choral & Dramatic Society and been collecting material about it for years.  I've known he was planning to find a way to make this fascinating local history available to the general public, and have wondered how he would do it.

And here at last his long-awaited message!
I have finally reached the point where I can now share the information I have and tonight launched the Facebook page listed below:

Hutton Rudby Choral & Dramatic Society - History

Currently this covers the period 1920 to 1950, which I know won't be of interest to everybody. If your particular interest is in later productions I suggest you "like the page" to receive notifications of updates, or save the link so you can call back after I've added further material. 
If I see a reasonable amount of interest in these pages, I may add more material on, say, a weekly basis. 
A brief explanation of my reasons for creating this are in the "Welcome" album. I also recommend you take time to read the story of Walter Lyulph Johnson (Watty) the Founder and original President of the Society. I can guarantee you will learn more than you ever knew about the Johnson Room and its benefactor.

Please feel free to leave comments and reminisce with others who visit the site.

However, if you spot any mistakes (and there will be plenty) it will keep the pages tidier if you message me rather than clutter the pages with corrections. I'll add them all to a list for correction.

Malcolm McPhie

I've put a permanent link to it at the bottom of this webpage.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Comments - thank you!

I'd like to thank everyone who sends me such kind comments about this blog - they are much appreciated!  Today I publish one from Andrew, who is related to both the Fawcetts of Crathorne and the Honeymans of Hutton Rudby.

William Orton, forger of Hutton Rudby

On 27 January 2013 I told the story of William Orton of Hutton Rudby, who was found guilty at the York Assizes in March 1821 of forging and passing a counterfeit banknote and was sentenced to be transported to New South Wales.

Geoff Royle, his descendant, followed up the trail and within a very short time reported to this blog (see "William Orton of Hutton Rudby and New South Wales") that William had gained an excellent character in the first 24 years of his time in Australia but in 1845 at the age of 67 had been caught out once again in a matter of forgery and been sentenced to two years in Parramatta Gaol.

Geoff has now discovered that William's first years in New South Wales were not without incident.  He tells me (and you can find more details of the family on his website)
1829 Dec/1830 Jun   In more hot water!  In June 1830 he had a "ticket of leave" cancelled as he was found guilty at Paterson Plains, NSW, of receiving stolen property.  
For reference : A "ticket of leave" allowed convicts to work for themselves on condition that they remained in a specified area, reported regularly to local authorities,  and if at all possible, attend divine worship every Sunday.
William must have won his excellent reputation after 1830!