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History of New Orleans after 1699

Frenchman Robert de la Salle sailed down the Miss­iss­ippi River in 1682, explored the area and claimed it for the French Mississippi Company. In 1699, a French-Canadian explorer Pierre le Moyne sailed in from the Carib­bean and landed locally.

By the time of King Louis XIV’s death in 1715, the vast Louisiana ter­r­itory was populated by 40,000 Native Americans and fewer than 400 new settlers. The French state was bank­rupt, with debts so high after decades of war that taxation income barely covered the interest on the debt. The new regent, Duc d’Orléans, needed a radical solution to resolve the crisis.

He turned to Scotsman John Law (1671–1729), who’d been sentenced to death in London for murder. He escaped and fled Britain in 1694, accruing a fortune gambling in Europe. Gaining control of the Mississippi Co. in 1717, John Law started selling concessions of land and slaves in Louisiana to investors. He recruited French labourers with promises of a fertile Eden, populated by cooperative Indians. Groups of Mississippi “officers” roamed Paris and the port cities, signing unemployed young men into labour indent­ures.

At first Law’s company was very successful; c7,000 French colonists and 1,900 enslaved Africans arrived by 1720. Less successful were attempts to feed and fit them out. People without seeds, livestock, tools or guns were unable to find food or shelter in swampy, diseased land.

New Orleans, French Quarter
cast iron balconies and walled courtyards

Creole cottages, French Quarter

Law’s private Banque Générale was run on the theory that a lack of currency was stifling dev­elopement; instead the currency should be a method of exchange, unlinked to gold or silver. He proposed an ambitious scheme to the desperate regent: to consolidate the French government’s debt into one bank where all previous debt holders became share holders. Then he’d issue large numbers of banknotes to stim­ul­ate exchange in the economy, investing in colonial trade as a giant tobacco plantation!

Share prices rose steadily as Law acquired holdings of French government debt and colonial ventures in Sept 1719. Shares were selling at 20 times their face value and hyper-inflation began to grip the economy, with food prices quickly rising. Despite being appointed Finance Minister in Jan 1720, Law watched while alarmed shareholders began cash­ing in their bank notes. This generated a run on the bank, which quickly ran out of gold and silver reserves. The French economy collapsed and thousands were left destitute. In Dec 1720 Law fled France to save his life.

Louisiana’s new governor, Montrealer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville was asked to find the site for a new colonial capital in 1717, choosing the left bank of the Mississippi, navig­able for sea-going vessels. In 1723 he transferred French Louis­iana’s capital from Biloxi to New Orleans! Levees were built which spread out as the city and the plantations of the area grew. Al­as a hurricane destroyed most of the new city, to be rebuilt later.

NB Law had attempted to fulfil his promises to investors that he would have the colony settled with 6,000 settlers and 3,000 slaves. The biggest problem was the shortage of women, education and medical care in New Orleans. So the governor coaxed the Sisters of Ursuline to come from France. The Ursulines arrived in 1727, caring for orphans, running a school and a free hospital, and creating a home for the young middle class girls who wanted husbands.

The St. Louis Cathedral, dedicated to St Louis IX King of France, is the mother church of the Catholic Archdiocese. Selected in 1721 by a French engineer, the original building stood on the site for six decades before it burned in the totally destructive Great Fire in 1788. The Cathedral was rebuilt a decade later.

New Orleans was under Spanish rule from 1762. The first Cabildo was built in 1769 so that the Spanish colonial government could hold its meetings. Obliterated in the Great Fire of 1788, it was soon rebuilt in the original French style. Designed by Gilb­er­to Guille­mard, who also redesigned the neighbouring St Louis Cathed­ral post-fire, the Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase tran­­s­fer.

Rather than becoming a vast and prosperous French-speaking plantation, Louisiana’s economy, migration and investment had slowed right down. As part of a treaty at the end of the Seven Years War (1756–63) in Europe, France had to give up its holdings in North America, including New Orleans and Louisiana. France transferred the ownership of Louisiana to Spain and for the next 40 years, New Orleans was a Spanish city, trading heavily with Cuba and Mexico.

St. Louis Catholic Cathedral 
The original building was started in 1721

Spanish Cabildo/colonial hall
first built in 1769

Map of Louisiana
Note New Orleans
south of Lake Pontchartrain, on the Mississippi River

The colonists were under the control of the unpopular Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa. In 1768, 600 New Orleans citizens mounted the first revolutionary expedition of Americans against a European gov­ernment. They were made up of French-speaking Acadians from Canada who believed the Spanish were going to default on money owed to John Law’s company. Antonio fled to Cuba.

King Carlos of Spain sent a 2,600 man mercenary force to New Orleans to re-take the city. Don Alexander O’Reilly, an Irishman in the service of King Carlos, served as the governor of colonial Louisiana from 1769 on.

The failure to recruit a large white colonial population meant the racial system of oppression in Louisiana differed significantly from that in the other European colonies. The enslaved popul­at­ion remained stable and was able to build strong community ties where greater freedom could be exercised in the form of gatherings, music and dancing. While enslavement remained brutal, the cult­ure of Louisiana’s slaves remained far more Africanised than elsewhere. In fact the survival of the colony was reliant on its 3,600 enslaved Africans, whose skills and experience in cultivation were responsible for the first successful crops.

The most surprising change occurred in 1803 when Louisiana reverted to the French who sold it to the USA 20 days later in the Louisiana Purchase. By 1804, the city belonged to America. Thanks to vigorous bargaining by President Thomas Jefferson, the 600 million acres of the Louisiana Territory came to the USA for $15 million! Nice deal. 

Sisters of Ursuline Convent

In 1810, with its mixture of French- and Spanish-speaking Creoles, Anglo-Americans and people of colour, New Orleans became the largest city in the South. Spanish administrators enforced strict building codes, requiring brick construction to avoid fire. Spanish influence came indirectly with the form of Creole style, which mixed French and Spanish architecture, with some elements from the Caribbean.

Louisiana became the 18th state in Apr 1812, and a month later, Congress declared war on Britain. By 1814, rumours abounded that the British were going to attack. Then Gen Andrew Jackson arr­ived, quickly organised a defence of the city and imposed martial law. The final battle of the War of 1812 was fought in defence of New Orleans; Col Andrew Jackson led a coalit­ion of skilled and unskilled militia men, Indians, Creoles, free men of colour and pirates to defeat the British. In Dec 1814 Jackson attacked the British troops who were camped along the Mississippi. The battles raged and finally Jackson’s army prevailed. 

Then news reached the city that the British had signed a peace treaty at Ghent on Christmas Eve, two weeks before the Battle of New Orleans 1815. New Orleans became the USA’s wealthiest and third-largest city. The city’s thriving port began bringing long river boats loaded with goods down the Mississippi, shipping the produce of the nation’s interior to the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Thousands of slaves were sold in its markets.

Creoles had been people born in Louisiana, of French descent and later of Spanish descent. New Orleans citizens adopted the term Creole for themselves to distinguish themselves from the influx of Americans whom they disliked. [Not Cajuns, who were a French-speaking people but coming to Louisiana via Canada and living in rural areas]. The urban and sophisticated Creoles had a refined style of European living, and their special taste created their famous Louisiana cuisine. Creoles loved the opera, masked balls and café life. The city is still known for its distinct Creole culture and vibrant history.



Dr Marie Curie: my greatest medical hero Guest post

Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934) was born into an intellectual family in Warsaw. After her father lost his teaching job due to his political activism, the family struggled fin­ancially. Her sister died of typ­h­us and then she lost her mother to TB.

Clever Marie was educated locally and got some scientific training from her father. Girls could not attend univer­sit­ies in Poland, so Marie earned her skimpy living through priv­ate tutoring and working in a laboratory.

Her sister Bronya was studying medicine in Paris where some universities already admitted women. In Sep 1891 Marie moved in with Bronya and when classes began at the Sorbonne in 1891, Marie en­rolled as a Physics & Math­em­at­ic­al Sciences student. By 1894 she was looking for a lab­orat­ory where she could work on her research project, the meas­urement of the magnetic prop­erties of various steel alloys. She visited Pierre Curie at the School of Physics & Chemistry at Paris University in 1894, and they married a year later.

Research didn’t pay much, so the Curies had to do a lot of teaching to earn a living. In 1897 the couple's first daughter (Irène) was born and it was then that the Curies were building on the work of the German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen. In particular they were examining the mysterious rad­iation from uran­ium discovered the year earlier by Antoine Henri Becqu­erel (1852–1908).

Antoine Henri Becqu­erel, Pierre and Marie Curie
Nobel Prize winners in Physics, 1903

Pierre invented instruments that could measure radiation. With these the Curies demonstrated that, no matter the form of uranium, it continued to radiate with an intensity prop­or­tional to the amount of uranium in the sample. Marie developed methods for the separation of radium from rad­io­act­ive residues in enough quantities to allow for the careful study of its therap­eutic properties.

While searching for other sources of radioactivity, the Curies turned to pitch­blende, a mineral known for its uranium content. To their great surprise, the radioactivity of pitch­blende far exceeded the combined radioactivity of the uranium and thorium contained in it.

From their laboratory, two successive papers reached the Academy of Sciences. In July 1898, they announced the discovery of a new rad­ioactive element which the Curies named polonium after Marie's native country. The second paper, announcing the discovery of radium, was read at the Dec meeting. In 1898-1902 the Curies converted several tons of pitch­blende, locating precious centigrams of radium.
The Curies in their laboratory, c1904
Serious Science

They also published 32 scientific papers, one announcing that diseased, tumour-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells when ex­posed to radium!!  While their early medical work did contain mis­takes, radiation really could shrink tumours, while app­lied dir­ect­ly slivers of radium could do the same. These techniques, in refined form, were the basis of Curie's career in therapeutic radiology and were closely related to mine in diagnostic radiology.

In Nov 1903 the Royal Society of London gave the Curies its highest awards, the Davy Medal. A month later the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm announ­ce­d that three French scientists, AH Becqu­erel and the Curies, were the joint recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1903. In 1904 Pierre travelled to Stockholm where he del­iv­ered their Nobel Prize lecture. In Dec 1904, their daughter Ève was born, just as Mme Curie gained her Doctor of Science degree.

The family team ended tragically in Apr 1906 when Pierre was hit by a heavy carriage and killed. The widow was soon asked to take over her late husband's post as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne. Honours pour­ed in from scientific societies all over the world for the young widow and her gigantic task of radioactivity research. In 1908 Dr Curie edited the collect­ed works of her late husband, and in 1910 she published her massive Traité de radioactivité.

After 5 years as an isolated widow, Marie Curie’s relationship with her husband's former student, Paul Langevin, became public. Curie was derided in the press for breaking up Langevin's marriage. Although it nearly prevented her receiving her second Nobel Prize, Curie’s scientific work continued at the top level.

Dr Curie had been the first woman to be granted her 1st Nobel Prize in 1903 in physics, and later became the first person to earn a second one. She re­ceived her 2nd Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in chemistry, for the discovery of radium and polonium and the isolation of radium. She provided science with a method for isolating and purifying radioactive isotopes. Marie became Director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris, a giant laboratory founded by Paris Uni and Institut Pasteur before the war.

WW1 car carrying X-ray tech­nol­ogy
Photo credit. The Conversation

Disturbed at the quality of medical care for soldiers, Dr Curie in­vent­ed and resourced a brilliant fleet of radiology cars to carry X-ray tech­nol­ogy to wounded soldiers on WW1’s front line. The machines diagnosed injuries by X-raying wounded soldiers for bullets, shrapnel and fractures. After the war, she wrote and published her book La Rad­iologie et la guerre. In it she gave details of the scientific and human exper­iences gained for rad­iology during the war.

An imp­ort­ant visitor to the Radium Institute was Mrs William Marie Mel­on­ey, editor of a New York magazine and a Curie-fan. Mel­oney organised a nationwide sub­scription in America that produced money needed to purch­ase a gram of radium. Dr Curie was invited to the USA with her daught­ers, to collect the precious gift. In the White House, Pres Warren Harding (1865–1923) made a presentation. On her second trip in 1929, Pres­ H Hoover presented her with the money donat­ed by Americans, to buy radium for her laboratories.

In 1926 Marie’s daughter Irène married Frédéric Joliot, the most gifted assistant at the Radium Institute. In 1937 as a Collège de France professor, Frédéric studied chain reactions and controlled nuclear fission to generate energy. Irene and Frederick were awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of artificial radioactivity.

Today scient­ists, working in cancer treatment, archaeology and astro­physics, continue to build on her radiation work. Dr Curie worked into old age, completing her last book Radio-activité in 1934. She died in 1934 from aplastic anaemia, due to overexposure to radiation. Even sadder, her brilliant daughter Irene died from radiation leukemia in 1956.

"Marie Curie, the Woman who Stirred up Science", by  Jheni Osman, is excellent.

Dr Joe


Walter Gropius and Bauhaus' 100th anniversary: 1919-2019

Bauhaus Academy was Eden for architects in those revolut­ionary times when the new wave of Bauhaus designers foll­ow­ed Walter Grop­ius (1883-1969), not traditional or cl­ass­ical architects. It foll­owed a new Western spirit, as soon as WW1 ended. In Germany the Kaiser had gone, the Weim­ar Republic had been est­ab­lished, and cultural modernity would be Germany’s reparations to the world. That led to a search for a new vehicle of aesthetic expression.

Thank you to Darran Anderson for his review of Fiona Mac­Carthy’s biography of Bauhaus founder, Walter Grop­ius: Vis­ionary Founder of the Bauhaus. MacCarthy retained admiration for Gropius through­out. Gropius managed to create the most influential design school of the C20th, having proved him­self architecturally with modernist works created during the rule of Kaiser Wilhelm II!!

When contrasted with his brutal WW1 exper­ien­ces, MacCar­thy show­ed that Gropius conducted himself with immense cour­age, retaining his integrity throughout the Bauhaus years, even when the school suffered vicious Nazi attacks.

Fagus Factory, 
by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, 
Alfeld Lower Saxony, 1911

Throughout MacCarthy’s book there was a dominant sense of Gropius remaining a figure of resolve at the eye of the storm. See the webs of intrigues, rivalries and love aff­airs which MacCarthy explored, often via mail. Characters popped in & out in great colour, particularly the tempestuous Alma Mahler.

MacCarthy emphasised how the existence and legacy of the Bau­haus had not been secure, financially or philosophically. She ended the ill-founded cliché of a rigorous architectural technocrat, imperv­ious to human needs and feelings by show­ing an individual dedicated to the artist’s creative free­dom. Flaw­ed as he inevit­ably was, Gropius’ genius was shown as he encouraged collab­or­ation, empathy and subjectivity. And he shared this spirit with Bauhaus and its graduates. 1st April 2019 marked Bauhaus’ centenary, exactly the right time for visit­ors to see Bauhaus Academy’s design influence.

To celebrate, Karen Chernick recommended seeing 8 sites, starting with The Fagus Factory  in Alfeld, Lower Saxony, designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer in 1911. Years before Gropius ever thought of Bauhaus, he designed this shoe factory that exactly foreshadowed the concepts he would bring to his avant-garde Academy. The Fagus project, an architectural space for craftsmen, ech­oed Grop­ius’ marriage of art and craft. He designed the factory as a space that maximised sunlight and fresh air for the workers, in order to improve their productivity. He lin­ed the exterior with revolutionary curtain walls of glass. It was a feat of both design & engineering! To replace con­ventional load-bearing exterior walls with thin window sheets, Gropius placed reinforced concrete columns in the buildings.

When Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school in 1919, his utopian Manifesto proclaimed that a] minimalism and b] a fusion of fine arts and craft would become clear symbols for crafts­men. Only 700 students attended the Bauhaus during its short, 14-year life, but the school’s modern design philos­ophy spread. Bauhaus teachers and students scattered world­wide when the Nazis closed the school in 1933.

In 2003 UNESCO proclaimed Tel Aviv’s White City a World Cul­tural Heritage site, an outstand­ing example of early C20th town planning and architecture. That referen­ced the many sites constructed in pre-state Israel in the Bauhaus or International style. Thousands of Bauhaus-style buildings are on display at the Bauhaus Centre on Dizengoff St.

Poli House, 
by Shlomo Liaskowski, 
Tel Aviv, 1934. 

The new city of Tel Aviv rose out of the sands in 1909. Later Sir Patrick Geddes was the town planner for the urban centre and the area now called Old Tel Aviv. Over time infrastructures were created eg Dizengoff Square was designed in 1934 by architect Genia Averbuch as a focal point of the city.

Architecture graduates who managed to get out of Germany in 1933 brought Gropius and Bauhaus values with them. UNESCO noted that such influences were adapted to the cultural and climatic cond­it­ions of the place, and integrated with local traditions. There are still 4,000+ Bauhaus-style buildings in Tel Aviv, more than any other city in the world.

One such building was the triangular-shaped Poli House, built in 1934 at a six-point intersection in the city cen­tre. It was orig­in­ally an office building planned by Shlomo Liaskowski, an architect trained in the Bauhaus Internat­ion­al Style in Europe. Because Poli House faced two streets, a single façade was forgone in favour of dynamic horiz­ontal ribbon windows that shape the building. The building under went a meticulous, multi-year restoration process preparing it for its current life as the boutique Poli House Hotel.

The use of concrete was a popular choice for Bauhaus-style architects, and the flowing concrete strips highlighted the horizontal movement between the bal­conies and external walkways of each building in a con­tin­uous movement. While Bauhaus was a utilitarian school, Israel’s stronger natural light and hotter weather had to be dealt with.

Gropius House,
by Walter Gropius & Marcel Breuer, 
Lincoln MA, 1938 

When Walter Gropius left Europe in 1937, they were smugg­ling rad­ic­al new design ideas to the USA. Note Gropius House, the family home they built in colonial Lincoln Mass. Gropius designed the home in 1938, after accepting a teach­ing position at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; appar­ently it shocked New Englanders with its bizarre glass blocks, chrome banisters and metallic Marcel Breuer-designed furnishings. With time, as mid century modernism swept across the country, Gropius House looked less out of place. Gropius worked at a window-facing nook purposely built to house a wide double desk designed by the Bauhauser Breuer.

Revisit Villa Tugendhat in Brno Czech Republic, designed by Bauhaus architect-director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in c1933. 

Freestanding bachelor’s wardrobe 1930 
designed by Bauhaus student Josef Pohl

And now for something totally different. The Bauhaus and Harvard, mounted to celebrate the 100th ann­iv­er­sary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar, has 200 works by 74 artists, drawn largely from the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s exten­sive Bauhaus collection. In the Special Exhibitions Gallery at Harvard Art Museums, Bauhaus and Harvard ends in late July 2019. Or see decorative art items at original bauhaus, the centenary exhibition of the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum fur Gestaltung at the Berlinische Galerie. It runs from early Sep 2019 until late Jan 2020.


The splendid coronation album of King George VI: 1937

The album celebrated the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their childhoods, their wedding, an explan­at­ion of coronations over the centuries and great full-page photos. The beautiful red hardback was blind-stamped with regal décor­ation and gilt title.

I only wish the album had chapter headings in the front, an index in the back and individually dated photos, to use as an-easy-to-analyse historical document.

In Jan 1936 King George V died.. so his eldest son, Ed­ward VIII, succeeded him as king. Edward was still single, but the American soc­ialite, Wallis Simpson, had been close to him in the years lead­ing up to 1936. She was divorced from her first husband and still married to her second husband, shipping executive Ern­est Simpson. Edward and Wallis’ relat­ion­ship had not been reported in the Brit­ish press [because of the King's position in the Church of England].

King Edward's cor­on­­ation ceremony was planned for 12th May 1937, and while he was away with Wallis Simpson, Albert Duke of York sat in his place on the committees. King Edward had initially been reluct­ant to have a coronation at all, but he allowed a shorter, simpler serv­ice.

In 1936 the King told the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that he intended to marry Wallis. Baldwin and the Empire leaders ad­vis­ed the King that popular opinion in the dominions was hostile to the marriage; and at home he fac­ed opposition from the Church and from Parliament. The wide spread reluctance to accept Simpson as the King's consort and Edward's refusal to give her up, led to his ab­dication in Dec 1936. Wallis’ second divorce was finalised in May 1937.

The pre-coronation procession, Trafalgar Square

With the abdication, King Edward was succeeded by his next brother, Prince Albert Duke of York and his wife Lady Eliz­ab­eth Bowes-Lyon, daught­er of the Earl of Strathmore. It was decided to con­t­in­ue with King George VI and Elizabeth's coronation on the same date that had already been organised for brother Edward.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, spoke to the nation through the BBC serv­ic­es leading to Coronation Day; he saw the Coron­ation as an opportunity for the spiritual re­newal of the nation, and organ­ised a campaign of evangelism called Recall to Re­lig­ion.

The Archbishop was somewhat concerned about King George's stutter even though Lionel Logue was still the King's speech therapist. Logue remained his therapist and the King did deliver his speech without stuttering!

  Daily Herald, front page report

King George VI on his throne, 
receiving blessing during the coronation,

King George taking the oath

The ceremony was attended by the royals’ daughters, King's mother Dowager Queen Mary, royal cousins, peers, members of parliament, colonial administ­rators, ambassadors, foreign royals and heads of state, trade union repres­entatives and members of the armed forces. Once the lengthy proces­s­ion had made its way to the abbey, the royals travelled in their gold State Coach to the Abbey.

The Imperial crown had been remade for the occasion by the Crown Jewellers. Queen Elizabeth's crown was new and featured the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the crown of Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth wore a gown made of silk satin, with pure gold thread embroidery and British Empire icons.

The first part of the coronation service was the Recognition, where the Archbishop of Canterbury asked those present to proclaim the sovereign as their rightful king. The King knelt before the al­tar and swore on the Bible his coronation oath. The three archbish­ops then began the Communion Service and afterwards, the King and Queen knelt while the choir sang. Then the Arch­bishop of Canterbury anointed the monar­ch's head with oil and the choir sang Handel's Zadok the Priest. Adorned in his regalia, George was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the people proclaimed God save the King. The Ar­ch­bis­hop presented the Bible to the King and the Benediction foll­ow­ed.

Each Archbishop knelt and paid homage to the King, fol­lowed by each of the Bishops and Dukes. The Queen was crowned and anointed in a much small­er and simpler ceremony. She was handed her Sceptre with the Cross and the Ivory Rod with the Dove.

Finally there was a pro­cession through London's streets from West­minster Abbey, allowing the public to view the royals. They went via Par­liament Square, up Victoria Embankment and all the way to Buckingham Palace. The progression included a huge number of milit­ary personnel from Britain and across the Empire.

This Coronation ceremony was the first one to be broadcast on radio. Microphones around the Abbey captured the music and speech such that the BBC's Empire Service broadcast the whole 2.5 hours. And talks by Min­is­ters were broadcast under the name Responsibilities of Empire, presumably to further Britain's imperial ambitions. The coronation services were filmed and then shown as a news­reel in cinemas across the British Empire.

The post-coronation procession, 
rounding Victoria Monument 

The royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace 

After the ceremony itself, a 23-day-long programme of official events spanned May 1937 in a very public spectacle, to recapture the con­fid­ence of the nation after the abdication crisis. The public spectacles included a royal drive through north London, a luncheon at Guildhall with London dignitaries and the Empire Ser­vice of Youth in West­minster. The King and Queen inspected fleets, visited flagships and saw street parties decorated with flags. 

The final coronation event was the Review of the Fleet, held at Ports­mouth. The Empire was repres­ent­ed by warships.

The King marked his day by giving hon­ours to his subjects, while appointments were made to the Orders of the Garter, Thistle etc. An official medal was also struck to mark the occasion, issued to 90,000 people from across the Empire.

Clearly the media played an important part in broadcasting this show of pageantry and imperialism to the Empire. But the National Archives also had many photographs of celebrations from across the Brit­ish Empire: military parades, athletics events and religious services. The coronation was designed to be a public display of the glory of the British Empire. 

 coronation souvenir

Two years later WW2 began and the joy was over. Three years after the coronation, British cities suffered terrible bombardment from the Nazis.


Marcel Marceau - war hero and world's best mime

Marcel Mangel/Marceau (1923-2007), the legendary mime, was born in Strasbourg on the German border and raised in Lille until WW2. There he was introd­uced to music and theatre by his Pol­ish father, Charles Mang­el, who was a kosher butcher and a support­er of arts and mus­ic. His mother was Anne née Werzberg, from Ukraine.

Anne took young Marcel to a Char­lie Chaplin's movie, and he immediately decided to bec­ome a mime! Young Marcel, fluent in French, German and English, was also fond of art and literature. At the beginning of WW2, he had to hide his Jewish origin when his family was forced to flee their home. Marcel and his brother, Alain, both joined the French Resistance, and assumed false identities. He changed his name to Marceau, to honour a famous Napoleonic general.

Inside the French Resistance, Marceau posed as a Boy Scout director and evacuated a Jewish orphanage, children who had lost their parents in the deportations. He first convinced the children in eastern Fran­ce that they were going on a hiking vacation in the Alps. Then he guided them to safety in Switzerland. During the dangerous trip, he charmed the children with silent pantomime and they adored him.

Marceau’s talent of mimicry also may have saved his own life during the war, when he ran into a unit of 30 German soldiers. The mimic pretended to be an advance guard of a larger French force and con­vinced the Germans to retreat. Alas Marcel couldn’t save his fat­her. The Vichy police came and deported him to Auschwitz, where he died.

 Marcel Marceau as Bip, the white-faced clown 
with a tall opera hat, striped jersey and red flower

After Aug 1944, when Paris was liberated, his first big show was in an army tent for 3,000 American soldiers. And as he spoke three languages fluently, he served as a liaison officer with General Patton. Marceau also serv­ed as interp­reter for the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle, acting as liaison officer with the allied armies.

Marceau had always dreamed of becoming a painter and was educated in an art school in Limoges. Even at 19 he felt his profession was painting and that mime was his hobby. Nonetheless Marceau decided that he would “make theatre without speaking.” It made sense; France had long had a strong mime tradition. In 1946, he enrolled as a student in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art at the Sarah Bern­­hardt Theatre in Paris. There his great mime teacher was Etienne Decroux, whose partner Jean-Louis Barrault cast Marcel Marceau in the role as the clown Pierrot.

In 1947, blending the gestures of the clown Pierrot, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers, Marceau created his most famous mime character, Bip, a white-faced clown with a tall, battered opera hat, striped jersey and a red flower. A solitary figure on stage under a spotlight, his white face below the battered hat flickered between emotions as if someone was controlling his masked face. The act seemed to take itself so seriously as to be ridiculous. But the audience believed it.

He had to bring hope to people who had struggled. Marceau alluded to his character’s dark origins, saying the people who came back from the concentration camps were never able to talk about it. Perhaps that unconscious­ly contrib­uted towards his choice of silence. You see the pain and the sadness in his mime skits, the origin of the pain being the deportat­ion of his father.

Marceau’s Bip increased the appreciation of mime outside France. Marcel shone in a range of characters, from an innoc­ent child, to a peevish waiter, to a lion tamer and an old woman, and became acknowledged as one of the world's finest mimes. He could show a meta­morph­osis of an entire human life, in just a couple of minutes, from birth to death. Marcel’s classic silent works included satires on artists, sculptors, matad­ors, works of genius. Marceau also played several silent film roles.

In the early 1950s, Laurel & Hardy were doing a world tour and, while playing in Paris, they were told that Marceau was doing incredible mime in a minor sub­urban theatre. They went to see him and loved his work. A few days later, instead of doing the second half of their own show, Laurel & Hardy introduced Marceau, walked offstage and gave the rest of their programme over to the Frenchman.

After performing in Jean Louis-Barrault's troupe, Marceau set up his own company, and staged 26 dramas. He received no subsidy, so he had to raise the funds for his prod­uct­ions by internat­ional tours. He have given performances on all five continents, with particular success in the USA and Japan, and appeared many times on tv.  

 Marcel Marceau's own art work
Bip and the Silent Outcry (above)
Self Portrait with a Butterfly (below)

Marceau asked the French authorities to help him prevent the art of mime from disap­p­earing. He received a subsidy from the City of Paris and he was able to set up his own Marcel Marceau International School of Mime and Drama in Paris in 1959, which pro­vided training courses in dance, fen­cing, acrobatics and drama, and was attended by students from many countries. Later he also opened the Marceau Foundation to promote pantomime in the USA.

His Art of Silence filled a remarkable acting career that lasted 60+ years. Finally he lived on a farm in Cahors, near Toulouse, where he continued his daily routine to stay in good form and continued coaching his students.

Marcel Marceau died in Sept 2007. His burial cer­emony, in Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris, was accompanied by Moz­art and JC Bach music. Marceau's costumes and belongings were sold for $700,000 at a Paris auction, including his famous top hat, sailor suit, paintings & art objects. Part of the profits paid off Marcel's debts left after his death and many of the objects were acquired by the National Library.


32 years to prove the dingo took Azaria Chamberlain. Shame Australia :(

Lindy Chamberlain (b1948) is a New Zealander who married New Zealand-born Michael Chamberlain (1944–2017) in Nov 1969. For the first five years of their marriage they lived in Tas­mania, then in northern Queensland where Michael served as minister of Mount Isa's Seventh-day Adven­tist Church. Their children were Aidan (b1973), Reagan (b1976) and Azaria (bJune 1980).

When they were having a family holiday camping at Uluru/Ayers Rock in the Northern Territory in 1980, their infant daughter Azaria went missing. Lindy saw a dingo, a native Australian dog, leave the tent where her baby had been sleep­ing. Dingo tracks were seen around and inside the tent and blood from the infant was found on the tent mattress, on the tent, near the carry-basket, and next to dingo tracks. What is more, three people not related to the family heard the cry of Azaria on the night she disappeared.

A hungry dingo

Shortly after the alarm was raised, Aboriginal and white trackers following the dingo prints saw drag marks in the sand. In two plac­es there was a shallow depression in the sand where a bundle had been set down while the animal rest­ed. The depressions held the imprint of a knitted garment, where there were small dark patches in the sand, perhaps blood.

For those who’d been with the Chamberlains that day, or held a wake with them that night, there was no question that the Ch­am­ber­lains were a loving family. Clearly that they had just exper­ien­c­ed the loss of their daughter and sister under unthinkable circumstances.

Yet the fact that the Chamberlains were Seventh-Day Adventists led to biz­arre rumours and theories. It was said, for example, that Advent­ists believed in sacrificing a child to atone for sin and that Azaria's name meant Sacrifice in the Wilderness. It does not!

Members of the media and police helped spread the rumours. They stated that no baby, since European settlement started in Austral­ia, had ever been taken by a dingo. At least not if the parents were watchful.

The first inquest in Dec 1980 found that Azaria had died in a dingo attack, and the Coroner chastised the police for presenting shoddy evidence against the Chamberlains. The coroner had to be correct­ed!! Eight months later, in the nation­wide Oper­ation Ochre, the Chamberlain’s home was searched and large quant­ities of items were taken by police.

Lindy and Azaria on the Rock

So it surprised no one that Lindy was still being accused of kill­ing baby Azaria, even though the prosecution case was circumstant­ial. In fact during the 1980s, discussion about Azaria's disappear­ance rarely focused on the facts; just on Lindy's innocence or guilt.

The police visited every eyewitness back in their home states, asking for state­ments. But as soon as the eye witnesses began to describe what they had seen or heard, the police told them that they did not want to hear anything about a dingo. This was, after all, a murder invest­igation. The police expected an early con­fession from Lindy; there would be no need for a trial.

The second inquest in Dec 1981 made no finding, but bound the Chamber­lains over. The police did not get their confession! Based on evidence that later turned out to be faulty, Lindy was found guilty of first degree murder and her husband of helping con­ceal the crime. She received a life sentence with no parole; he got a three year suspended sentence. Lindy’s fourth child was born in gaol.

In Apr 1983, the Federal Court unanimously rejected their appeal and although the Chamberlains had fought to prove their innocence, they had reached the end of all legal means available to them.

I have no idea why the Northern Territory suddenly bowed to mount­ing pressure, releasing Lindy and in June 1987 establishing a Royal Comm­ission to review all the evidence. But thank goodness they did. After fourteen months, the Royal Commis­sion Justice handed down his finding and cleared the Chamber­lains of all guilt.

Still, even though the first Coroner had said he believed a dingo responsible, and the Royal Commission and Federal Court agreed, the NT government would not agree. So in 1995, confirm­ing that none of the Chamberlains were in any way respons­ible for Azaria’s death, this coroner ruled that the cause of her death could not be determined. Why?? All of the key witnesses were still alive, the testing still available, and the Royal Commission did enormous research, finally saying that it had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that a dingo had not taken Azaria.

Ultimately, the Chamberlains’ convictions were quashed and they were exonerated, but not before Lindy had served three years in prison for Azaria’s murder. Four years later they received compens­ation. Following their exoneration, the Chamberlains' relationship ended and they divorced in 1991. Three years later, Michael Chamb­erlain remarried and in 1996 had another daughter.

The NT Coroner’s office announced a fourth inquest in Dec 2011, and in June 2012 the Coroner deliv­er­ed her finding that Azaria had indeed been taken by a dingo. Even though Lindy’s conviction had been quashed in 1988, it was not until 2012 that the public felt that Lindy had been fully exonerated.

An interesting postscript just emerged in 2019! The parents of a 14-month-old boy who was snatched by a dingo on Fraser Island have told their story. The dingo managed to get in­to the camper­van while the family was sl­eeping and carried the baby by his neck into the bush. Luckily his screams woke the parents who found the child - punctured with bite marks and with a fractured skull.

The family standing next to their Torana car
on the road to Uluru/Ayers Rock
The 1976 car is now in the National Museum of Australia

The controversy continues today. The National Museum of Australia in Canberra worked with Lindy Chamberlain to compile a collection of 350+ objects related to the case. This Museum displays the baby’s pink sundress, matching pants and white socks. And complete archive of 182 courtroom drawings from the 1982 criminal trial was acquired by the Museum in 2011. Finally the family’s 1977 Torana played a key role in the convictions with forensic evidence, so it too went to the Museum.


Sly grog, razor gangs and prostitution in Sydney

Even after Australian Federation (1901) in some Sydney suburbs, gamb­ling, prostitution, narcotics and guns were not just tolerated, but often legal. But in 1905, the country’s government began to change. A combination of laws were passed, including Vagrancy Act of 1902, Gambling and Betting Act of 1906, Police Offences Act of 1908, and Liquor Act of 1916 that banned alcohol sales after 6pm.

So in the 1920s and 30s, we need to ask why a particular part of Sydney was one of the most dang­erous in Australia. Kings Cross, Paddington, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo were slums of dirty Victorian terraces and shacks teem­ing with criminals and drunks.

Australian tabloid newpapers, examining the Al Capone Era (1920-31) that was plag­uing the USA, declared East Sydney was The Chicago of the South. Although Australia didn’t have an American Prohibition Era (1920-33), the strict laws here did limit alcoholic sales and dis­tribution.

Razor: A True Story of Slashers, Gangsters, Prostitutes and Sly Grog 
Written by Larry Writer (2001).

So who were the two infamous vice-queens? Kate Leigh was from rural NSW. One of 13 sib­lings, she was a wilful spirit who stole, beat children and truanted. After four years in a delinquent girls’ home, she worked in factories. Soon the young woman’s poor pay prompted her to seek a criminal career instead. At 21 she married Jack Leigh, a 30-year-old carpenter and petty crook. By 1913 she was again convict­ed for running a brothel. In 1914 Mrs Leigh, lover of a gang­land criminal, was sent­en­ced for perjury after the great Eveleigh Workshops payroll robbery. With the late drinking ban, which enforced a 6pm closing time, Leigh began selling sly grog to “help the cust­om­ers”. At her peak, Leigh operated 24 sly grogeries, brothels and a cocaine business. 

Tilly Devine was born in late Victorian London, into pitiful pov­er­ty. Leaving school at 12, she found that life in the sweat­shops was miserable, so she sold herself on the Strand as a prost­it­ute. At 16 she met and married Australian soldier Jim Devine, a former sheep shearer. When the war was over, Devine’s husband sailed back to Aust­ral­ia. She followed him a year later, leaving their son behind with her own parents and she began work as a prostitute in Padding­ton. Her husband lived off illegal gambling.

In 1925 she and her husband found themselves serving time in gaol together — she for slashing a man with a razor in a barber’s shop, he for living off her wages. While laws prohibited men from run­ning brothels, it mentioned nowhere that a woman was unable to do so. At 25 Devine had a new plan - she amassed her fortune through hiring girls to “work” while she collected a percentage of their earnings. Devine was generous only to those who were loyal to her.

Sydney’s criminals had always kept handguns and knives on them, many weapons illegally retained after soldiers returned home from WWI. But when the Pistol Licensing Act of 1927 ordered gaol for anyone with an unlicensed firearm, out­laws began carrying another weapon - a sharply honed cut-throat razor. This shaving blade could be bought cheaply at any grocer’s or chemist.

Thousands of Sydneysiders found themselves brutalised victims of slash­ings. The trademark gangster slash, an L-shaped scar extending down the left cheek and across the mouth, became a common gang mark. In 1927-30 alone, there were 500+ recorded razor attacks in inner Syd­ney (probably underestimated).

Sydney Living Museum
Underworld Exhibition

Although Devine and Leigh’s empires each had their own stamping ground, each madam wanted to be the more feared. Leigh told her men to dis­fig­ure Tilly’s prostitutes with a flick of their razor blad­es. In retaliation, Tilly had her heavies slash the faces of Leigh’s criminal decoys and smash up her sly grog shops.

A time line of major Razor Gang War events including the Blood Alley Battle in mid 1927, showed dozens of armoured gangsters injured or killed as the madams struggled for con­trol of East Sydney's vice rackets. The death rate in the inner east was 20% higher than elsewhere in Sydney, because of rampant disease, huge rats and razor-wielding gangsters!

Contemporary newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald and espec­ially the worst rag The Truth, reported that Sydney was almost ov­er­taken by violent crime. Note the purple prose: “Today Darlinghurst is a plague spot where the spawn of the gutter grow and fatten on off­icial apathy. By day its alleys shelter the underworld people. At night they prey on prosp­er­ity, decency and virtue, and to fight one another for the division of the spoils. This news­pap­er demands that Razorhurst be swept off the map! We demand new laws and new streng­th for their enforcement. We point, for convincing and horrifying evidence, to the crimes already to Raz­or­hurst’s discredit. Recall the human beasts that, lurking cheek by jowl with decent people, live with no purpose or occupation but crime; bottle men, dope pedlars, razor slashers, sneak thieves, con­­fidence men, women of ill repute, pick pockets, burg­lars, spiel­ers, gunmen and race course parasites. Razorhurst attracts to its cesspool every form of life that is vile". (Truth, Sept 1928).

By late 1929, the state government was desperate about the razor gangs’ destruction of Sydney. So it passed the Consorting Clause, punishing those who consorted with thieves or prost­itutes. In Jan 1930 a newly formed Consorting Squad focused on ending the criminal factions - 100 resid­ents were charged under the new clause and half went to prison. Dev­ine avoid­ed prison by going home to Britain for two years, leaving her husb­and behind. But Big Jim went on trial for murder within a year. By the time Devine returned, her gang was falling apart.

The worst charge came after a raid on Leigh’s East Sydney home in 1930; the Drugs Bureau found cocaine there! Her deputy, Frederick Dangar, was also ar­r­ested and gaoled for cocaine charges. Later Leigh was exiled from Sydney for 5 years.

The Drug Bureau and Consorting Squad eliminated cocaine trafficking as a major organised crime activity by the mid-1930s. Although the madams continued their lives in Sydney, their reputations as crime gang leaders collapsed.

Kate Leigh (above) and Tilly Devine (below)
 Police photos

See the dark side of Sydney’s past at the Sydney Living Museums. With its holding cells, charge room and courts, the museum opens a world of crime, pun­ish­ment and policing, including sly grog and razor gangs. See the exhib­it­ion Underworld: Mugshots from the Roaring Twenties from  in the NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive. 


Djerba Island, Tunisia

I have spent many of our winter holidays (July) around the Medit­er­ranean. This included Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Yugoslavia, Greece, Tur­key, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, but never further west along the Medit­er­ranean coast of North Africa. Thus the plan was to travel to Tunisia, North Algeria and Morocco, but life intervened, alas ☹. Now: Djerba.

Fadhloun Mosque

Most Djerbans are Muslims. So there are many small mosques scattered around the countryside, between the olive and palm trees, often with modest Tunisian architecture. See Fadhloun Mosque which was originally built in the C14th, belonging to a set of mosques that protected local citizens in case of an enemy attack. In fact the original min­aret was not used by the muezzin, but as a watchtower. Fadh­loun Mosque is surrounded by a courtyard and for praying dur­ing the Tunisian heat, there are two areas with an outside mihrab. Plus the mosque acted as a bakery for the local community.

The presence of many Italian and Maltese fishermen on Djerba required building the first Catholic place of wor­ship in Houmt Souk, St Joseph Cathedral in 1848. The small square church had an altar dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and a presbyt­ery. The building was enlarged to install a choir and to increase the nave. To emb­ell­ish it, prelates brought from Malta a crucifix of natural size and relics from Saint Lucia. More recently the interior of the church was renewed, including six large windows and twelve pillars ornamented with cornices and capitals.

St Joseph Cathedral 

The Jews of Tunisia claimed they arrived in ancient times, and after the Reconquista, more Span­ish Moors and Jews arrived, spreading across Tunisia. But when the French capitulated to Nazi Germany 1940, Tunisia came under control of Marshal Philippe Pétain’s Vichy regime. As in France, anti-Jewish legislation was passed in Tunisia, which forced all Jews to wear Star of David badges, confiscated their property, and sent thousands to forced labour camps. In 1942, Tunisia became the only Arab country to come under direct German occupation.

In 1943 the main body of the British army, advancing from their victory in Battle of el-Alamein under the command of British Field Marshal Mont­gomery, pushed into Tunisia from the south. Before the Battle for el-Alamein, the allied forces had been forced to retreat toward Egypt. The Geman-Italian Army in Tunisia surrendered and Tunisia was returned to the control of France.

There were 110,000 Jews in Tunisia in 1948, although many fled to the new state of Israel. At its maximum, Djerba Island itself was home to c5,000 Jews. Now the community is c1,100, with the remainder living in the capital, Tunis. But unlike the few remaining Jewish communities in the Arab world, Djerba’s Jewish population is young and growing.

Now see a great report by Noam Ivri of a part of Tunisia I am interested in. The trip from the airport shows flat, semi-arid topography, and in the distance, palm and fig trees fills vast agricultural fields. Stone houses dot the road, often painted blue and white a la the Greek Isles. But do the locals have an unsettling sense of the country’s econ­omic difficulties, 8 years after the Arab Spring revol­ut­ion? Revolution deposed the authoritarian government of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (President 1987-2011)!

El Ghriba Synagogue

Ironically Ben Ali was remembered as a defender of the country’s secul­arist character, who ruthlessly suppressed Islamic advocates of violence and terrorism. There was initial fear of instability that followed the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in the 2011 elections, but their worst fears of a Muslim Brotherhood-style theocracy did not mater­ialise. In any case, many minorities felt a profound sense of relief when the secul­ar­ist Nidaa Tounes party won the 2014 parliamentary elect­ions, and Ennahda peacefully ceded power to the new secular-dominated coalition government.

Hara Kebira/Big Town is Djerba's Jewish village. At the village entrance, concrete barriers block the road, plus a policeman stand on guard.

Houmt Souk’s marketplace 

Early in the day, Noam Ivri’s hosts suggested some sight­seeing. The cobble­stone streets are lined with white-washed buildings with bright blue shutters, and the walls display bougainvillea. Djerba’s Jews maintained a relatively protective life, resp­ect­fully engaging with the island’s 175,000 Muslims during the day, but confining their family life within the Jewish encl­ave. Though most of the merchants in the market are Muslim, there is a section of that is dominated by Jewish jewellers and silversmiths in Houmt Souk’s marketplace.

 Guellela Museum

The Guellela Museum disp­lays Djerban cul­ture through ethnographic exhibits. The Museum shows how the island’s industries and crafts are created, and how marriages are celebrated in Djerba. Note the exhibits on religious customs, mus­ic­ians and artists, showing Muslims, Christians and Jews as an integral part of Djerba’s ethno-cultural mosaic.

Noam Ivri found all community members adhered to a life centred around the Torah. The children learnt mostly Judaic studies, Hebrew and Arabic at religious day schools and yeshivas. Men kept their heads covered, while women dressed modestly. Many men wore traditional full-length gallabiyah robes in the synagogue.

Home bookshelves featured mostly religious Jewish texts and comm­ent­aries; secular books were rare. Homes displayed pictures of revered sages eg the late Sephardi spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and former Tunis­ian Chief Rabbi Matzliah Mazuz. Regarding Is­rael, community mem­bers were proudly Zionist and cherished the Jewish state.

El Ghriba Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Africa and one of the only two surviving synagogues on the island, was built in Hara S’ghira /Little Town neighbourhood and rebuilt in C19th. Israeli tour groups going to Djerba for the annual Lag Ba’Omer pilgrimage love this beautiful synagogue. Since 2011, the Lag Ba ’Omer holiday was the only time of year when Israeli citizens were permitted to enter the country, according to Tunisia’s post-revolution visa policy.

Tunisia, including Djerba Island 

Rosh Hashanah in Djerba was a time for ceremonial meat feasts. The main street was soon bustling as store owners rolled portable grills outside, for a festive block party. And the music of legendary Arab singers such as Umm Kulthum and Fairuz blared out of radios set up outside.

Following the ways of their ancestors, the Jewish community of Djerba continued to maintain the traditions that sustained 2,500 uninterrupted years of life on the island, through great times and bad. Now Tunisia is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for Djerba.



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