Research in New Zealand

My application for a Leverhulme International Fellowship to spend three months at the University of Waikato (the subject of one of my blogs last year) was not successful but, nothing daunted, I set off for New Zealand anyway in July 2015. I headed for South Island, with the ambition of visiting four archives on the east coast. First stop was Christchurch, which was originally one of the most ‘English’ settlements in the country. Today, as one resident ruefully observed to me, it remains ‘munted’ after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The city is reminiscent of Berlin after the fall of the Wall; there are building works everywhere, and local inhabitants are adopting an attitude of slightly-forced resilience. Nevertheless there is a certain doomed grandeur to the ruins of the nineteenth-century Cathedral and, walking over to the Christchurch branch of the National Archives of New Zealand in warm sunshine, I confess I did not miss the British summer.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral as it still looks, supported by scaffolding

My project involved gathering evidence of British medical practitioners who travelled or emigrated to New Zealand in the decades 1840-1890. I am particularly interested in doctors who suffered difficulties in transferring their professional lives to this specific colonial context, so I consulted the records of lunatic asylums, bankruptcy hearings, and private letters or memoirs, for evidence of career turbulence. The National Archives offices in Christchurch and Dunedin hold the records of the Christchurch, Hokitika and Dunedin asylums, while the Canterbury Museum and the Hocken Collection (the latter being the special collections of Otago University) mainly hold personal papers.
The story of medical men who were admitted to asylums as patients rather than staff turned out to follow a rather predictable pattern; they tended to have developed alcoholism, and so experienced relatively short-term admissions to asylums (where in modern terms, they had a chance to ‘dry out’). For example on 10 January 1881 Bernard Doyle, an unmarried thirty-five year old man originally from Scotland, was admitted to the optimistically-named Sunnyside asylum at Christchurch. The cause of his disorder on admission was said to be chronic alcoholism, and he was reported to have suffered several attacks over the preceding three years. His difficulties were compounded by epilepsy, and for four days after his admission he remained very ill indeed. By March, though, the medical superintendent noted with satisfaction and some righteousness ‘This patient has greatly improved so very much ashamed of himself & regaining his self-respect & losing the craving for drink’. Doyle was discharged on 2 April 1881, and did not return to Sunnyside, although of course we have no way of knowing whether he stayed on the wagon and out of other institutions thereafter.
The Hocken Collection was founded by a doctor, Thomas Morland Hocken, although fortunately for him he did not suffer mental ill health. It is probably the most southerly archive I will ever visit, as it is located in central Dunedin (‘the Edinburgh of the South’) but in this instance it is also the site of a missed opportunity. It was only after my time in the Hocken that I discovered it is home to the records of a private lunatic asylum, Ashburn Hall; most historical researchers have an anecdote about ‘the one that got away’ or the document they missed and this will be mine. Still, while I was there I did manage to read the autobiography of Samuel Hodgkinson, who provides an early and personal report of what it was like to suffer from depression. He recalled of 1854 ‘I began to feel out of health, & was prescribed for by Dr Barker, but became worse; my illness was a bad form of dyspepsia caused in a great measure no doubt by the coarse diet, & too much tea-drinking combined with over exertion. I suffered from great depression of spirits & mind; at Dr Barker’s invitation I went to Christchurch & stayed with him for some time; both he & Mrs Barker were exceedingly kind to me, but I did not improve in health & he advised me to try a change by going Home & seeing my relations again.’ He returned to England to visit his brothers and sisters, and got married in 1857. Hodgkinson clearly felt much better when he returned to New Zealand in 1858, and went on to be an elected member of the colony’s House of Representatives.
My visits to New Zealand archives were all too brief, but I have lots of material to write from and will aim to start teaching topics on the nineteenth century colony soon. Any takers for a Kiwi topic for Sources and Debates?


Pauper Prisons, Pauper Palaces

On Saturday 22 November Keele hosted a conference organised by the British Association for Local History on the topic of Victorian workhouses. This was the latest in a series of annual conferences deriving from a Lottery-funded project at the National Archives, to calendar a portion of the contents of the vast collection of documents in classification MH 12 and to analyse them for local studies.
MH 12 comprises 16, 741 volumes of letters exchanged by the poor law unions of England and Wales (established by the New Poor Law of 1834) and central government. The letters are arranged chronologically by union but were not indexed at the time of compilation; therefore they contain a mass of fascinating, unique, but unsorted data. Lottery funding has enabled local groups of volunteers to be trained in the art of summarising the contents of a small minority of volumes, to open out their use by historians of the poor law and by historians of different places. The papers delivered at this year’s conference amply demonstrated the range and potential use of the material, many of them revealing stories about the poor inhabitants of north Staffordshire.

The first paper by Julie Bagnall, for example, a former student of Keele’s Certificate in Local History, concerned the allegations of immorality leveled against the porter of the workhouse in Newcastle under Lyme in 1857. Ambrose Taylor was accused of having fathered triplets on Sarah Hand, a previously respectable townswoman: he had not married Sarah, and both she and all three of the children died soon after the birth. Taylor had committed no crime, but the question arose of whether the poor law union should allow him to continue in post when he had displayed such evidence of immorality. The result of debates between the Newcastle union and the Poor Law Board was that Taylor was reprimanded but not dismissed, a telling instance of the sexual double standard for men and women in Victorian England.

Vagrant ward Stoke workhouse

Plan of the vagrant ward in Stoke on Trent’s workhouse, built in 1842

In another case from Staffordshire, Alun Davies who holds the Keele MA in Local History examined the death of a vagrant in the Newcastle workhouse in 1841. James Smith died on 15 February aged just 35, having been discharged from the workhouse the same morning. Smith was starving, as was proved by a subsequent post mortem, and there were initially calls for a charge of manslaughter to be brought against the workhouse officials: but where did the blame for Smith’s death lie? With the workhouse master and matron who were nominally in charge, with the porter who admitted and discharged vagrants, with the absent medical officer, or with the Poor Law Commission which promoted a policy of ‘less eligibility’ which meant that conditions for paupers must be worse than for the poor in their own homes? No-one was prosecuted for Smith’s death.
Other speakers discussed the disruptive disagreements that could break out between workhouse staff, the political machinations around the definition of poor law unions, emigration of paupers to the new world, and the difficulties faced by relieving officers and medical officers in judging their mediation between the union’s elected guardians and the poor in their care.

If you are interested in the having a look at some of the results of the project, you can access the summarised contents of sundry places for free via the National Archives website: see
and then search for poor law unions where the contents of volumes have been described in full, for example letters to and from Wolstanton Union in north Staffordshire.

Revolution, War, and the Military

On Friday 14 November Keele hosted a symposium, ‘Revolution, War and the Military, 1640-1820’, to mark the retirements of two History professors, Ann Hughes and Malcolm Crook. Professors Mike Braddick of Sheffield and Alan Forrest of York joined Ann and Malcolm to give papers on the theme of revolutionary events and associated warfare. The event was held in the Moser Centre and attracted visitors from across the country including former students and staff in History at Keele.
The day was introduced by Professor Charles Townshend who spoke about ‘Professing Revolution at Keele’. He had good reason to understand Ann and Malcolm’s position, having worked at Keele himself for over 30 years before retiring in 2011. Charles reflected on the historiography of revolutions in the west as having moved away from grand narratives of clashing ideologies, but also observed that the ‘end of history’ as signalled by Francis Fukuyama was belied by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Civil war battle

Ann’s paper returned to a set of sources she first used forty years ago, the parish accounts generated to chart losses to Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil Wars. These accounts list financial and material loss when soldiers required quartering or took supplies and plunder, but also recount the suffering entailed in human terms since the accounts were often glossed with information about lives lost or injuries sustained. The result was a redefinition of social and economic evidence as itself intensely political. Her research generated debate around state formation, reading financial accounts as semi-autobiographical texts, and the role of memory and forgetting in personal and national histories. Mike’s paper complemented and complimented Ann’s in that he began by crediting Ann with inspiring and shaping his own research career. Her work from the 1980s onwards had stressed the levels of partisanship expressed in the English provinces and the role of religious networks in determining patterns of participation in the conflict, for which level of engagement was a better gauge than allegiance. He then went on to focus on the career of John Lilburne and, in contrast to Pauline Gregg’s biography of him, emphasised the importance of the period 1649-1653 in understanding Lilburne’s significance. His local political manoeuvrings in this period were central to his early development of ideas about ‘rights’ (normalised much later in the Enlightenment) and set the seal on his fate as a secular political martyr.
Fr Rev battle
Malcolm and Alan followed with two papers about France in the period 1792-1814. Malcolm took issue with a recent claim that a French republic was inevitable from 1789; instead he argued forcefully that republicanism was not expressed at such an early date, and cited substantial evidence that even the majority of Jacobin clubs in early 1792 were gratified by the continued presence of Louis XVI as French head of state. The French hereditary monarchy was only substantially undermined from the summer of 1792 onwards. Quoting an incisive student verdict on events, Malcolm supported the contention that it was not the monarchy which failed but the monarch. Alan shifted the audience’s focus to the post-revolutionary wars and the composition of the French army. Volunteers were initially sought to replace noblemen, and when this failed conscription was necessary (and by 1799 ferocious). The army professionalised relatively quickly, and did not secure men’s engagement by reference to revolutionary fervour; instead loyalty was established, as in many other forces and in conflicts ancient and modern, by reference to pride, prestige, and commitment to fellow fighting men. In a trade-off between an ideologically motivated force and an efficient military, Alan argued, the latter won.
The day was concluded by a plenary discussion of some of the key themes raised by all four papers, in particular the extent and role of ‘revolutionary’ ideas in these struggles, and the benefits to scholarship of comparative work, particularly in the similarities and contracts between work on the English Revolution and wok on the French Revolution.

Utopian Universities

On 23 and 24 October 2014 the Institute of Historical Research in London held a fifty-year retrospective of the Universities founded in England during the 1960s. These tended to be newly-built institutions, often on the edge of a city, which aspired to offer a different experience to students (architecturally, academically, and socially) compared with the ancient and red-brick universities. The focus of the papers was on seven Universities in particular, namely Essex, Lancaster, Sussex, University of East Anglia, University College Kent, Warwick and York, but Keele was also frequently referenced during the event as the ‘pioneer’ of the 1940s which inspired other foundations. These universities were at the time expressions of unprecedented idealism about what higher education could achieve, backed up by the Robbins Report of 1963 (idealism which could not last and was stopped in its tracks in the 1980s).
‘Campus visions’ addressed the architectural legacy of the new Universities. Collectively they comprised some of the most exciting architectural commissions of the 1960s and typically resulted in brutalist concrete and plate-glass designs which aimed to compel certain types of behaviour; walkways were constructed, for example, to ensure that students must meet. Interestingly Keele was often referenced at the time as an example of what not to do, and yet the eclectic style of our own campus has weathered rather better, I think, than some of the later 1960s constructions.

Ziggurat brutalism at the University of East Anglia
The ‘utopian’ universities also strove to offer new ‘maps of learning’ for students, and here Keele was again mentioned, given its dual-honours curriculum promoted by Lord Lindsay. The universities were aiming to widen the intellectual diet of undergraduates by breaking out of the traditional single-honours mould. At Sussex, for example, subjects were taken within different ‘Schools’ that would strongly influence the content of a degree; History taken in the School of European Studies would look rather different to one taken in the School of American Studies, for example.
Student radicalism at the new institutions was partly spurred by debates around the national lowering of the voting age and of adult majority to 18. This was only agreed in 1969 and took effect in 1970, which meant that throughout the 1960s, bizarrely, Universities were acting in loco parentis towards their students. Radicalism was fostered at institutions which were relatively physically isolated from their surrounding populations and where the breaking down of intellectual boundaries inspired notable student engagement and activism. Considerable attention was directed at student action at Essex in 1968 and 1974; however, in a sobering turn of events, student radicalism in the past which may have been deeply deprecated by University management at the time is now being incorporated into institutional histories with a very positive slant (as a quaint anecdote from history); see Keele’s own video wall for one example of this labelled ‘History and Legends’.
Keele supplied a positive model for civic engagement, given Lindsay’s intention that a four-year degree (a multi-disciplinary foundation year followed by three years of dual honours) would constitute training in ethical citizenship. His ambition was backed up by the role of the Workers Educational Association and the support of self-motivated adult learners in North Staffordshire in establishing the University. Elsewhere professional fundraisers were employed and local authorities, charities and other bodies invested heavily in some of the new institutions at first: but climates of opinion tended to change and support cooled. Warwick was the most successful University, raising £2.75 million by 1967 to fund the Warwick Arts Centre (which has remained a very popular arts venue to the present). There was not much reflection, however, on the role of students in or on communities. Predecessors to twenty-first century volunteers were not represented in the papers.
The conference was certainly expressive of the innovations achieved by the new universities of the 1960s, but delegates tended to be less clear on their legacy. Keele’s own recent shift away from a commitment to dual honours certainly suggests that any legacy may be more historic than current.