A Walk on the Wilder, Western Side of the Scenic Walkway to Manly

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Social History

Middle Harbour: 1922 Sydney street directory
The walk from The Spit to Manly is one of Sydney’s classic walks along a wild, rugged yet suburban coastline. The full journey is 10km through lush, dense bush land and spectacular lookouts. The first half of the walk (rated Grade 3 by NPWS) – Spit Bridge to about Balgowlah Heights – has a lot of up-and-down, crossing over foot bridges, winding steps but nothing too steep. The water views looking across to Little Manly, North Head and South Head are singularly impressive, and offer a sharp contrast with the contours of the walking track, through promontories dominated by a thick covering of nature.

The aesthetic significance of The Spit to Manly walk is evident to anyone who follows its sinewy trail, but it was also intriguing for me to discover little snippets of local history along the way. In my previous post (‘Sydney’s Heritage and History Trails: Manly Scenic Walkway’), I featured some of the historical points of interest pertaining to the eastern end of the Manly Scenic Walkway (Fairlight to Manly Wharf).

Spit Bridge (current)
Spit Bridge
Our starting point for the MSW walk going west to east, The Spit✥, a narrow channel of land jutting out from the northern part of affluent Mosman, was originally known as the “Sand-Spit”. Although there had been some tentative type of service earlier, Peter Ellery started the first truly effective ferry service from the Spit to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Ellery ran the service from land he had acquired for farming in present-day Clontarf (today where Ellery’s Punt Reserve is situated) in a direct line over the water to the tip of The Spit. Ellery charged the users of his hand-operated punt ⅙d for a horse and cart and 6d for pedestrians. His service proved popular, popular enough for it to become a public ferry by 1871 (in 1888 a steam punt◙ replaced the hand-cranked boat) [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, (Local Studies Service, Mosman Library, www.mosman.nsw.gov.au)].

The growing pressure for improved communications and transport lines between Sydney and the Manly area prompted a series of proposals (1862, 1888, 1915) for a bridge to be built across The Spit, before finally the go-ahead was given and a low timber bridge constructed and opened in 1924. Manly Council financed the bridge, and in a deal with the state government was permitted to reimburse its expenditure by collecting tolls for its use. In 1930 control of the bridge was passed to the Department of Main Roads [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, ibid.].

The current bridge, a bascule lift span type made from steel and concrete, dates from 1958. The bridge, constructed in the same position as the erstwhile timber one, is also low-lying … consideration was given to making it a higher level bridge, but displaying a regrettable lack of foresight, the powers-that-be eventually plumped for the easier option and their legacy is still bedevilling Sydney motorists today! The Spit Bridge is believed to be the only Australian lift bridge still in operation on a major arterial road [‘Spit Bridge’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org].

Clontarf Pleasure Grounds
A beautiful tranquil reserve fronting the beach sits on the land where Clontarf Pleasure Grounds once stood (owned for many years by publican Issac Moore (Sr) and his descendants). For around half-a-century from circa 1860 the Grounds was a popular venue for numerous leisure activities…including games of quoits, skittles and cricket, picnics, swimming and of course drinking! Clontarf Grounds were reputed to be “the oldest, largest, and most shady pleasure grounds in the harbour” [MacRitchie, John, ‘Clontarf’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/clontarf, viewed 31 Oct 2017]. Over the years Sydney’s Clontarf has had several associations with Ireland: the name itself derives from the Battle of Clontarf, 1014 (a town close to Dublin); in the 1800s the grounds drew huge crowds during holidays including the Catholic Young Men’s Societies on anniversary days.

Plaque in Clontarf Reserve remembering 1868 incident
Attempted assassination in the Pleasure Grounds
In March 1868 a lone, mentally disturbed Irishman (and alleged Fenian sympathiser⌘) Henry O’Farrell took the opportunity during a visit by Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh to Clontarf, to shoot but not kill Alfred, Queen Victoria’s son. The British Prince was not badly wounded (the would-be assassin’s bullet was impeded by the “double thickness of the Duke’s trouser braces”). Prince Alfred was ferried to Sydney’s Government House for treatment. One unintended upshot of the incident was the establishment of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) at Camperdown through publicly subscribed funds raised to commemorate the Royal’s safe recovery◬. O’Farrell’s fate was sealed, he was summarily tried and hastily hanged within a month. His lawyer tried to run an insanity defence (entirely plausible) but in the prevailing climate O’Farrell’s case was a hopeless one. The incident had provoked pro-royal Australians into unleashing a torrent of prejudice aimed at Catholics, Fenians and Irish folks generally [MacRitchie, ibid.]

Clontarf Beach ‘Tent City’
During the Great Depression this now fashionable beachfront and reserve at Clontarf was the site of an impromptu tent city comprising several hundred homeless people down on their luck…the makeshift tent ‘homes’ were cobbled together with posts found in the bush and hessian (coated with whitewash, lime and fat as waterproofing)[MacRitchie, ibid.]

PostScript: MSW’s white sands
One of the pleasures of walking the stretch of the MSW track between Clontarf and Fairlight Beaches is coming upon the various little beaches that jot the coast. Often sheltered in bays away from the powerful ocean currents, some of these “mini-beaches” are accessible only from wooden staircases leading down from high on the promontories around Dobroyd Head and Balgowlah Heights. Bearing names like Castle Rock Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, Reef Beach and Washaway Beach, walking on these pockets of sandy white strips convey a sense of being in a remote and deserted location, despite most of the spots being a only a stone’s throw from middle class suburbia.

Grotto Point Aboriginal carvings
A short diversion off MSW onto a side track on the Dobroyd Point stage of the walk will allow you to view a number of archaic Aboriginal engravings – this part of the headland is known as Grotto Point. Enclosed in wooden pens are various depictions of whales, boomerangs and small fish carved into the rock platform.


✣✣ for more on Clontarf and the whole Sydney pleasure grounds era see also my 2014 post ‘A Day-Trippers’ Paradise: The Vogue for Pleasure Grounds in 19th/20th Century’

✥ a Spit (or sandspit) is a deposition bar or beach landform that juts out from the coast
◙ the introduction of the steam punt at The Spit later on (1911) would allow the Manly trams to be carried across Middle Harbour [MacRitchie, ibid.]
¤ as a result Northern Sydney motorists continue to be plagued by traffic bottlenecks every time the Spit Bridge opens in the middle for passing water crafts
⌘ It seems to have been generally assumed at the time that the Irishman was acting on behalf of the Irish Underground Fenian Brotherhood but this remains inconclusive
◬ the adjacent Duke of Edinburgh Parade is named in honour of Prince Alfred

Sydney’s Heritage and History Trails: Manly Scenic Walkway

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Social History

Of the many, many coastal walks afforded by “the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security…”(Governor Arthur Phillip’s appraisal of Port Jackson after sighting Sydney for the first time in 1788), the seaside walk on the southern side of the suburb of Manly✳ is certainly right up there with the most picturesque of them.

‘Father of Manly’
Henry Gilbert Smith
Pivotal to Manly Scenic Walkway (henceforth MSW) and to the seaside community of Manly as a whole is the historic Manly Wharf, the original of which was built by Henry Gilbert Smith in 1855⌽. Smith, known as the “Father of Manly”, had a vision of how the undeveloped bushland that dominated Manly in the 1850s could be transformed into a thriving seaside resort. Purchasing and leasing in excess of 300 acres of land, Smith built Manly’s early hotels, including one (as a sop to the local Temperance Society?) that served only soft drinks! As well the pioneer entrepreneur was responsible for planning the layout of Manly’s streets and parks as they still exist today [‘Manly Heritage Plaques Walk’, www.manlyaustralia.com.au]

Carrying passengers to Manly
Creating a seaside resort a good 11.3km from Sydney (a formidable distance in the 19th century) necessitated a good transport link. Travel by water was the obvious mode of transport for the beach suburb. HG Smith started the first regular service from the wharf operated through the paddle steamer Phantom which ferried day-time visitors to Manly and night-time theatre-goers to and from Sydney in the 1860s. From the 1870s the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company. controlled the suburb’s ferry services. Briefly in the early 1890s the Port Jackson Co had competition from a new rival, the Manly Cooperative Steam Ferry Co which lowered fares and increased services. By 1896 the Manly Co-op business however faltered and was wound up and Port Jackson Co resumed its monopoly.

Pt Jackson Steamship Co
The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co, whose motto was “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”, continued to serve the public at Manly until 1972 when its role was taken over by Brambles Industries which in turn passed ownership to the state government two years later [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’, www.manly australia.com]. In the early 1990s the government operator introduced Catamaran vessels, JetCats, to replace the unreliable and costly hydrofoils…the Manly service is now operated by Bass and Flinders Cruises operating as Manly Fast Ferries.

Venetian carnivals
East Esplanade was the venue for many of Manly’s early cultural activities, such as the Venetian Carnival which flourished from around 1913 on. The carnival comprised stalls with food and entertainment (eg, “chocolate wheels and other gambling devices”), costumes, fireworks and a water pageant [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’]. By 1930 the annual Venetian Carnival was promising the greatest “new attractions, new frolics and new stunts … ever organised in the Southern Hemisphere” with the inclusion of aeroplane rides, a “night time raid”, a “monkey speedway” and participation by Manly Surf Club. The event in 1930 ran for three weeks during Summer with the proceeds pledged to Manly Hospital and other local charities [The Sydney Mail, 15-Jan-1930 (Advertisement)]

A meander along the Esplanade
Rows of Norfolk Island pines (no surprise to learn was also the idea of HG Smith!) flank MSW with narrow strips of sand on both sides of the wharf forming beaches sheltered in the cove from the ocean. Standing in front of the wharf building opposite Manly’s famous (Italian-inspired) Corso, if you go left, past the fast food outlets on West Esplanade the walking path heads back toward the suburb of Fairlight. Right, past Aldi◘ takes you on to East Esplanade and the walkway curves around past an assortment of clubs devoted to aquatic pursuits (Manly Yacht Club, 16ft Skiff Club, etc) and connects up with the locale known as Little Manly.

If you head further east where the Esplanade ends, the road will make its way to Little Manly Beach and Point with its spectacular promontory views. Little Manly today is uniformly residential but for a very long period (1883-1964), the Manly Gas Works located at Manly Point Park met all the area’s domestic gas needs.

Beyond Little Manly is the dense pristine heathland known as North Head, a sandstone promontory with a significant history of military and immigration activities. North Head’s surviving fortifications were strategically important to the country’s eastern coastline defence especially during WWII. The headland also functioned as Sydney’s Quarantine Station for a huge stretch of New South Wales’ history (1832-1984), isolating smallpox and other infectious diseases from entering the community.

Little penguins and large selachii
Starting back at the wharf and heading in a western direction this time, along West Esplanade, we note the first of numerous stencilled messages on the walkway alerting walkers to the presence of little penguins. Manly Wharf and its surrounds are known nesting grounds (May/June) for migrating colonies of Eudyptula minor.

Further along MSW one of the first complexes we pass is the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, a public aquarium displaying sharks, stingrays, little penguins (easier to spot here than on the nearby shoreline!) and other refugees from the ocean. A lure for thrill-seeking visitors is the “Shark Dive Xtreme” (swimming with 3m plus grey nurse sharks). The Sanctuary has been somewhat of an institution in Manly for 52 years¤ but is now in the final chapter of its Manly story – in March this year the management announced its upcoming closure, citing that the business, in a small ageing building, was no longer viable [B Kay, ‘Manly Sea Life Sanctuary aquarium to close at the end of the year’, Manly Daily, 30-Mar-2017].

If we follow MSW walkway to its natural end-point, it would take us past magnificent, dense bushland, serene bays and scenic lookouts on a trek of 10km to the low-lying Spit Bridge – this archaic looking bridge is the curse of motorists forced to twiddle their thumbs in peak-time gridlock whilst the bridge opens in the middle to let various sea craft through its passage.

Two Manly pollies from Federation era
The walkway passes another local landmark Manly Pavilion (a bistro/reception venue these days) and continues up the stairs. At the top two base relief bronze plaques greet walkers and joggers, these are of Federation era politicians Edmund Barton and the somewhat itinerant Henry Parkes, both residents of the area in the 19th century. Apparently these are replacement plaques as the originals were stolen from the site in 2014 [J Morcombe, ‘Federation fathers Barton and Parkes stolen from Manly’, Manly Daily, 01-Apr-2014]

Fairlight House
The MSW path soon reaches the suburb of Fairlight, in the 1920s, along with Balgowlah collectively known as Manly West. Fairlight was named after Fairlight House, the mansion home of Henry Gilbert Smith (that seminal figure in Manly’s development again!). English-born Smith took the name from a village in Sussex. Built in the 1850s by colonial architect Edmund Blacket, the house was demolished in 1939. All that is left to remind us of its one-time grandeur is a plaque on the spot showing a grainy old photo of the grand house.

Fairlight Beach
Fairlight Beach Dutch submarine episode
The small beach at Fairlight with its rocky shore and unpredictable breaks holds no attractions for board surfers but its position nestled into the cove and small tidal pool makes it kid-friendly. A tourism sign on the beachfront recounts its connection with a Dutch submarine which had seen action in the world war against the Japanese (the K.12 succeeded in torpedoing several enemy warships). The K.12 sub had been residing in Manly harbour when heavy storms in 1949 prompted the leasee, the Port Jackson Co, to try to tow it to a safer haven in Neutral Bay. Unfortunately in the process it became grounded near Fairlight Beach and sat there for 18 months before being refloated early in 1951…the K.12 was salvaged for scrap and eventually finished up in a new location near Ryde Bridge where it sank again! Parts of the sub’s engine and the bow are still wedged on rocks at Fairlight Beach [G Ross, M Melliar-Phelps, A century of ships in Sydney Harbour (1980); ‘Submarine Refloated, Salvaged for Scrap’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18-Jan-1951]

PostScript: Kay-ye-my, the Aboriginal name for Manly Cove and North Harbour
Long, long before the Europeans came to the area, Manly was home to two indigenous Eora peoples, the Cannalgal and Kay-ye-my (AKA Gamaragal) clans, who were the custodians of the land. On one part of the walkway overlooking North Harbour there’s information signage which celebrates the Kay-ye-my clan who for millennia contentedly inhabited the Manly region, living a traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering.

The Gamaragal were situated on the north shore of Port Jackson – occupying the land from Karabilye (Kirribilli) to the cliffs of Garungal or Carangle (North Head) and the sandy bay of Kayyeemy (Manly Cove) [‘Gamaragal – Aboriginal People of Manly and Northern Sydney’, Dictionary of Sydney, 24-Sept-2013, www.home.dictionaryofsydney.org

Kay-ye-my Point

FootNote: Manly East and Manly West
Less than one hundred years ago Sydney cartographers divided the suburb of Manly and its greater surrounds neatly into East and West Manly…as illustrated in the following street maps taken from the 1922 Wilson’s Street Director (predecessor of the standard Sydney street directory Gregory’s). Today’s distinct suburbs of Fairlight, Clontarf, Seaforth, Manly Vale and North Manly are not identified on the maps, and ‘Balgowlah’ and ‘Dobroyd'(sic) are listed as locales only. Note also no bridge at The Spit in 1922.

Manly East
Manly West

✳ the origin of the name for the suburb can be traced back to Phillip himself…on his visit to the area the first governor described the aboriginal inhabitants as ‘manly’ in physique. As if to demonstrate the veracity of Phillip’s observation forcefully, one of the clansman in fact speared the governor over a misunderstanding at Little Manly Beach! (Phillip recovered from his wound and to his credit did not seek to inflict retribution on the native population)
⌽ later a second parallel wharf was built for cargo transport which became redundant after the construction of Spit Bridge in 1924 enabled easier road transport. In 1928 the cargo wharf was converted into a Fun Pier which operated until 1989
◘ where the Manly Fun Pier was until its closure and demolition in 1989
¤ starting in 1965 as Manly Marineland and later known as Oceanworld Manly before its present handle

The Kroger Grocery Empire: Barney’s Blueprint for Success

Regional History, Retailing history, Social History

The history of the Kroger Grocery Company has parallels with the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, another pioneering powerhouse of American food retailing. Both grocery businesses started in the 19th century as tea and coffee purveyors, however Kroger, unlike A&P Tea, has survived through the centuries and still trades today as lucratively as ever. In the 2016 fiscal year Kroger was the largest supermarket chain by revenue in the US (yielding US$115.34 billion). It shares a roost with Walmart at the top of the US retail tree…it is number 2 general retailer behind Walmart in the US, and is the third largest retailer in the world[1].

Origins, growth and expansion of the Kroger name
The man behind the Kroger Company was Bernard Kroger, better known as ‘Barney’. Kroger, the son of German immigrants, got into the retailing world at the basement level – working door-to-door selling coffee first for the Great Northern and Pacific Tea Co and then the Imperial Tea Co. By 1883 Kroger was in business for himself, his first store traded under the name The Great Western Tea Co…soon renamed Kroger Grocery and Baking Co✳. The Cincinnati-based business expanded exponentially into the 20th century, by the end of the 1920s decade Kroger had over 5,500 stores in the US[2].

The Kroger business ethic
Not afflicted with the curse of Hamlet, Barney Kroger was not one to overthink or complicate matters, as his simple motto attested: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.” Kroger’s business style was heavily and idiosyncratically micro-managerial, the businessman personally maintained an account book which meticulously recorded all the firm’s financial transactions. Kroger’s business credo was “First: Do it first. When seasonable goods come into the market, have the first. When prices go down, be the first to reduce them. Second: Never sell anything except for just what it is, and don’t sell it then if it isn’t good. Third: Advertise as liberally as business income permits. Fourth: sell on a small margin and make the turnover rapid”. The Ohoian entrepreneur’s pragmatism emphasised “duplicating and reduplicating…what works”[3].

One of Barney Kroger’s most enduring contributions to grocery retail revolves around his minimum cost/high volume approach to trading. He is remembered for introducing the template of the low-cost grocery chain, still much duplicated in modern retailing. Kroger was also innovative in his store design, adding distinct bakery, meat and seafood departments in his grocery stores[4].

In-house food manufacturers
Bread-making was a good example of the Kroger cost minimisation strategy…at variance with most grocers in the early 20th century who purchased the product from independent bakeries, Barney Kroger baked his own bread. This way he could further cut the price for customers and still make a profit. Kroger after the death of Barney has rapidly expanded its own product manufacturing facilities, now making thousands of comestibles within the company[5].

A typical mid-century Kroger store
Merger juggernaut
From the 1950s on Kroger embarked on an ongoing series of mergers with smaller firms to consolidate its market position in the US grocery/supermarket trade. The most significant of these, in 1999, was with Fred Meyer, Inc., then the fifth biggest American grocer. This new acquisition by Kroger saw it reach a new high of 2,200 stores in 31 states, netting the supermarket giant billions in annual revenue[6].

Kroger innovations
Kroger has led the way in retail grocery innovations…the innovations pioneered by the company include ‘firsts’ for a grocery chain, eg, the routine monitoring of product quality and the scientific testing of foods; testing of electronic scanners. As well Kroger was a pioneer in modern consumer research in grocery lines[7].

Kroger’s position today as a market leader in the US grocery and supermarket field (FN1) rests firmly on the solid foundations laid down by its founder Barney Kroger. Contemporary growth by the company has continued a trajectory of diversification well beyond the grocery staple into fuel centres, florists, drug and convenience stores.

✳ eventually the company name was shortened simply to Kroger

[1] as at December 2015 Kroger operated a total of 2,778 supermarkets and multi-department stores across 34 American states, ‘Kroger’, Wikipedia, http://Wikipedia.org
[2] ibid.
[3] ‘Bernard Heinrich Kroger (1860-1938)’, (Zachary Garrison, 08-Jun-2011), Immigrant Entrepreneurship: 1730 to the Present, www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org; BM Horstman, ‘Barney Kroger: Hard work, marketing savvy won shoppers’, Cincinnati Post, 17-Jun-1999, www.webarchive.org
[4] Horstman, ibid.; ‘Kroger’, Wikipedia, loc.cit.
[5] ‘History of Kroger’, (Kroger), www.thekrogerco.com
[6] Dana Canedyoct, ‘Kroger to Buy Fred Meyer, Creating Country’s Biggest Grocer’, New York Times, 20-Oct-1998, www.nytimes.com
[7] ‘History of Kroger’, loc.cit.

Foundations of Basic Brewing: Beer’s Formative Role in the Making of Western Civilisation

Archaeology, Pre-history, Social History

If you delve into the story of beer’s prehistoric origins, you are instantly struck that its trajectory parallels that of another contemporary alcoholic beverage, wine. Just as with wine, drinking beer❈ was perceived from the earliest times not only to have an euphoric effect on consumers, but to contain tangible nutritional and medicinal properties.

Clay tablet – Sumerians drinking beer through elongated bent straws
The consensus among historians is that the production of beer probably started in Western Asia, more exactly in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. Dating its beginnings is hard to say with precision, the best evidence lies in discoveries of ancient drinking vessels and utensils. The earliest such artifacts are possibly some 7,000-year-old pottery jars with traces of beer substances that were found in Iran (Persia), and a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet of people drinking a beer-like beverage through reed straws[1]. Another finding, a tablet recording a poem written in the 19th century BCE in honour of the Sumerian goddess of beer, Ninkasi, also represents the first known recipe for the craft of brewing beer[2].

Bread or beer – what came first?
In the beginning there was the domestication of cereal grains, the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists … well not quite the beginning, this occurred (very roughly) 10,000-year-ago in the Neolithic period. The precedence of cereal grains is incontrovertible. What the next step was is not so black-and-white. The conventional wisdom has been that the cultivation of cereals was undertaken for the production of food. The grain would permit crops such as emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and barley to be grown … this led to the baking of bread and other food items.

Beer came about, according to this view, by association with bread, possibly by accident. A likely explanation for this might entail a situation where a farmer or a baker samples water in which bread had been sitting for some period of time. The water having undergone spontaneous fermentation, the natural spoilage of the germinated grain created a beer substance. The sampler liked the taste and it caught on, and thus a beer culture was born[3].

Beer the conduit for permanent human settlement?
But did humankind get serious about crop cultivation solely to produce flour for bread-making, this theory is still the orthodox view but a body of research over recent decades suggests that the earth’s grains were possibly domesticated for beer before they were for bread. This counter-view has its genesis in the early 1950s with two scholars, Robert J Braidwood and Jonathan D Sauer. It was anthropologist Braidwood who posed the question “Did man once live by bread alone?” As a result of research on a site in Jarmo (present-day Iraq) Braidwood hypothesised the earliest farming of wheat and barley was more to do with the taste that had been acquired for beer. Botanist Sauer proposed that “thrist rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the origin of small grain agriculture”. Beer being a “palatable and nutritious beverage” (was a) “greater stimulant” for the cereal producers[4]. The desire for the beverage according to this view was the lever that prompted humans to begin forming permanent settlements[5].

Building on this argument, Katz and Voight in the 1980s argued that beer had a dual appeal in antiquity: people enjoyed “the altered state of awareness” that sufficient intake of beer engendered, and at the same time they benefitted from beer’s nutritional superiority to every other food in their diet aside from animal proteins[6]

Recent anthropological studies conducted in Mexico support the contention that beer took primacy over bread. Teosinte, the ancestral grass of modern maize common to Meso-America, was much more suited to beer making than for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. Mexican farmers only managed to domesticate the grass into the diet staple maize much later[7].

First draughts: Sumer, Mesopotamia and the Levant
Although the Greeks traced the genesis of beer to Ancient Egypt, the general consensus of scholars would attribute its origins, based on clear archaeological evidence, to Mesopotamia, and more specifically, mainly to sites in modern-day Iraq. Recent research from Simon Fraser University (Canada) suggests the importance of the brewing of beer to Natufian culture (the Levant) in the Late Epi-Paleolithic period (around 10,000-9,500 BCE[8]. The Godin Tepe (“Grand Mound”) site (Tepe Gawra settlement) in Northern Iraq is one of the oldest in the world to yield evidence of beer production and consumption.

Chinese rice-beer brewmasters
As is the case with the origin of wine, the Orient has thrown up a worthy contender for the mantle of the first known instance of the brewing of beer. Recently a team in Jiahu (Yellow River Valley), Northern China, found pottery residues of a 5,400 to 4,900 year-old⊛ beer made from rice, barley and other grains[9]. Just as the Chinese used rice in their beer, other early brewers experimented with different materials aside from wheat and barley – rye in Thracian beer (as did the Russians later to make kvass), date palms and pomegranates in Babylon. Excavations at a 2,500-year-old Celtic site in Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Germany) unearthed the remnants of beer mixtures which had added the ingredients henbane, mugwort and carrot seeds to a base of barley malt[10].

Beer, a healthy option?
The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians believed that beer had health benefits. The brewing process involved in producing beer killed off any inherent bacteria and viruses, this made drinking beer preferable to water which retained various pollutants that made it unsafe by comparison. It was also nutritionally advantageous – providing much-needed carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. The Ancient Egyptians moreover thought that sage and thyme contained anti-cancer properties and integrated these herbs into their beers. Positive medicinal effects in ancient beer included the essential amino acid lysine and the brews were high in B-vitamin content. The Egyptians identified the existence of some 100 remedies in beer. Further south on the Nile the Ancient Nubians 2,000 years ago infused their beers with antibiotic medicine, tetracycline[11].

Ancient Egyptian brewster making beer
A heavenly brew
Beer in ancient times was integrated into mythology and religion, thus elevating its status. It was part of the Sumerian “god myth” with Babylonians believing that beer was “a gift from the gods’ – or more precisely the ‘goddesses’ (Ninkasi – the ancient Sumerian titular goddess of beer). Egyptians associated their main goddesses, Hathor and Heqet, with the creation and consumption of beer (zytum¤), as was Tenenet (or Tjenenyet) who was the “Goddess of Beer and Childbirth” … beer was an integral part of the religious festivals and state occasions of Ancient Egypt (for which ‘special’ beer brews were produced)[12].

Wine Vs Beer
Ancient Greeks and Romans were generally less enamoured with beer than other ancient civilisations – although each still produced the beverage. In both societies wine was the preferred drink and one that bestowed social status. The great Ancient Greek philosophers and historians (eg, Xenophon in Anabasis) derided beer as a low-class drink for ‘Barbarians’. An indicator of the Greeks’ low opinion of beer as a beverage was that they exported it to Mediterranean ports as an aid to craftsmen to soften ivory in the making of jewellery[13]. A common perception concerning Ancient Egypt is that whilst the lower echelon of society drank beer (the “poor man’s” liquor), the upper strata right up to the Pharaohs drank wine only which was much more expensive. It would appear though that, to the contrary, beer was a staple in the diet of all Egyptians regardless of class, the Pharaohs included[14].

PostScript I: Women – the original home brewers
Sumerian society was structured around the home, the men hunted and the women collected and prepared the ingredients for eating and drinking. Within the domain of the home the first beers were brewed – by women! Women brewers in Sumeria were often also priestesses and thus held in high social esteem. When Babylon eclipsed the Sumerian Empire Babylonian women also enjoyed a similar prestige – having the right to divorce and own a business and property, and to work as brewsters (professional female brewers) and as tavern keepers (and as well as bakers)◘[15]. Early beer making elsewhere was also the preserve of (elite) women! eg, the indigenous Wari (Sp: Huari) society in the Andes in Southern Peru that flourished before the rise of the Inca Empire[16].

Beer brewing and the product’s distribution and sale remained women’s work until brewing moved away from the home when beer-making took on a commercial-scale of activity. By the Industrial Revolution the brewing of beer had been fully taken over by men[17] .

The Mesopotamian symbol for beer

PostScript II: The world according to beer
In 2011 a documentary, How Beer Saved the World, screened on the Discovery Channel. The film, once you get past the irritatingly over-the-top, megaphonic introduction, makes a reasoned case for beer’s fundamental role in shaping the world as we know it. A battery of scientists and anthropologists take turns explaining the breadth of the ancient (and the modern) world’s debt to beer – eg, it fuelled the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza (workers were paid in beer۞); it prompted the invention of mathematics and the world’s first form of writing, Cuneiform (the film argues that arithmetic and writing was necessary to account for beer’s production and distribution); it contributed to the modern process of pasteurisation. It also reinforces the view that barley was grown for beer before bread, and that the brewed beverage came about by accident.

❈ with the seemingly inexorable onslaught on the market of craft beers today, brewers are sifting increasingly exotic and sometimes weirder ingredients into their brew concoctions (so much so that lentil beer for instance seems almost a mild deviation from orthodoxy). For the ancient pioneers of beer-making though the basics comprised water, barley (or similar grain, eg, emmer, malt), yeast, but not hops … this last naturally growing plant ingredient was somewhat of a late-comer added to the composition of beer, it seems that the human cultivation of hops came much later (ca. AD 12th century), ‘The Short and Bitter History of Hops’, (D Martorana, Philly Beer Scene, Apr/May 2010), www.beerscenemag.com
⊛ early Yangshou period, flourished c.5000BCE
¤ the honey-flavoured Hqt or Heqet was the most popular of the beer brews in Ancient Egypt
◘ this brings us back to the beer or bread debate – was beer-making an offshoot of bread-making or vice versa? Evidence from Ancient Egypt doesn’t resolve this question, but we do know that specially made bread was the basis for some of the beer brewed (beer loaves); also in Sumeria bippar (twice-baked barley bread) was used in the brewing of beer, Hornsey, loc.cit
۞ each one received a daily allowance up to one gallon of low-alcohol beer

[1] ‘History of the word Beer’, (Beer100.com Your place for everything Beer), [NDP] www.beer100.com
[2] ‘Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History from Ancient Sumerian, 1800 B.C.’, (Open Culture), 03-Mar-2015, www.openculture.com
[3] B Mauk, ‘When was beer invented?’, (Live Science), 18-Jan-2013, www.livescience.com
[4] JW Arthur, ‘Beer through the Ages: The Role of Beer in Shaping Our Past and Current Worlds’, Anthropology Now, 6(2), Sept 2014), www.jstor.org; D Spector,’How Beer Created Civilisation’, Business Insider Australia, 27-Dec-2013www.businessinsider.com.au
[5] although the “beer first” thesis has enjoyed a vogue, some scholars reject the argument wholly, eg, Paul Mangledorf: “Man cannot live on beer alone … Are we to believe that the foundations of Western Civilization were laid by an ill-fed people living in a perpetual state of partial intoxication?”; [6] Spectorloc.cit.
[7] JP Kahn, ‘How Beer Gave Us Civilisation’, The New York Times, 15-Mar-2013, www.mobile.nytimes.com
[8] ‘What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic’, Hayden, B, Canuel, N & Shanse, J. J. Archaeol Method Theory (2013), 20:102. Doi:10/1007/s10816-011-9127-y
[9] J Wang et al, ‘Revealing a 5,000-year-old beer recipe’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (113:201601466), 23-May-2016, www.pnas.org
[10] B Bower, ‘2,550-Year-Old Celtic Beer Recipe Resurrected’, (Science News), 17-Jan-2011, www.wired.com
[11] C Seawright, ‘Ancient Egyptian Alcohol: Beer, Wine and the Festival of Drunkenness’, 02-Jan-2013, www.thekeep.org; ‘Wiki History of Beer’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org; S Webb, ‘Did Beer create civilisation?’, Daily Mail (Aust), 21-Dec-2013, www.dailymail.co.uk
[12] SH Katz & MM Voight, ‘Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet’, www.penn.museum/bread.pdf; IS Hornsey, A History of Beer and Brewing (2003)
[13] Hornsey, ibid.; JJ Mark, ‘Beer in the Ancient World’, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02-Mar-2011, www.ancient.eu
[14] ‘Ancient Egypt Online’, www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/index.html
[15] T Nurin, ‘How Women Brewers Saved the World’, 21-Apr-2016, www.bearandbrewing.com
[16] RR Britt, ‘Elite Women Made Beer in Pre-Incan Culture’, (Live Science), 14-Nov-2005, www.livescience.com
[17] ‘Women in Brewing’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org

Fountainhead of the Fermented Grape: Wine’s Ancient Origins

Archaeology, Pre-history, Regional History, Social History

Where did the story of wine and wine-making begin? As with many things whose beginnings are shrouded in the mystery of ancient and even pre-historic times, it is very hard to pinpoint a one hundred percent, definitive answer to this question. The evidence for when and where humans might have first cultivated Vitis vinifera va. sylvestris (the wild grape fruit)❈ lies in the realm of archaeology.

Today’s Transcaucasian republics – physical map
The timeline for the first experiments with wine-making, thanks to a wealth of archaeological evidence, puts it in the pre-recorded history stage of humanity, more precisely in the Neolithic Era (in Eurasia this was, very roughly, from 9,000 to 4,000 BCE). The consensus view has traditionally tended to be that the rudiments of viticulture can be located in the area around Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea.

The Fertile Crescent: home of Ur-winemakers
Transcaucasia (the Caucasus), that relatively narrow strip of multi-ethnic lands separating the Black Sea from the Caspian, stretching south to include the northern parts of Turkey and Iran, has perhaps the best claim to the honour. Archaeologists have discovered early signs of wine activity and implements in southern Georgia, north-western Azerbaijan, and northern Armenia, suggesting that “Stone Age people took advantage of a temperate climate and availability of wild fruit species to experiment with cultivating grapes”[1].

Wine expert Caroline Gilby identifies three basic pre-conditions for successful wine-making in the Neolithic era, (i) a stable human population settled in the one place for some time, (ii) invention of pottery/clay vessels for storage✜, and (iii) existence of wild grapevines (plus a self-fertile plant to cross-pollinate with). Transcaucasia fits the bill – plant cultivation for most of the major agricultural crops began in the Middle East region around 10,000 years ago. Within the greater Caucasus, Georgia for which wine is a national obsession has 500 distinct varieties of the vine, whilst Turkey and Armenia have around 600 and 200 respectively[2].

Not to be outdone, Iran itself has a claim worthy of contention for longevity of vine production. In the mid 1990’s evidence of mey (Persian: wine), dating to about 5,400 BCE, was found in excavated jars at the Hajji Firuz Tepe site in the Zagros Mountains of north-western Iran. What was especially significant about this location was that it also contained evidence of the preservation of wine (in the form of a resin from the local terebinth tree)[3].

Armenia: site of oldest known vineyard
In recent years archaeologists discovered and excavated the Areni-1 Cave – the earliest known site of wine production (pre-historic “wine-making on an industrial scale” not hitherto unearthed)[4]. Items found at the vineyard at Vayots Dzor included a wine-press, fermentation vats, jars and cups[5]. The clay receptacles with their wine traces were radiocarbon-dated after being chemical analysed at between 4100 BCE and 4000 BCE. A side-effect of the recent vinaceous archaeological discoveries has been squabbling among the various Transcasusian states as to who were the first wine-makers[6].

Egyptian winery, 2nd millennium BCE
Mediterranean wine culture
Transcaucasian wine production and consumption clearly predates those from the Mediterranean region. Egypt is closest in time to the northern Eurasian area, its oldest traces of wine (yrp or irep), found inside the Tomb of the Scorpion King (Abydos, Upper Egypt), is about 5,000-years-old. Interestingly they were found to be spiked with natural medicines (effectively herbal wine). These medicinal additives were later adopted by Greek and Roman winemakers who followed the Egyptian practice[7]. The ancient Egyptians, who had a preference for red wine, were the first to depict wine and wine-making in their hieroglyphics.

Roman wine jars – great & small
In Grecian Macedonia fragments of crockery and assorted pottery with wine traces have been found dating back to around 4,500 BCE. Evidence of wine cultivation – dating from the mid-3rd century BCE – was also found on the Greek island of Crete. For ancient Romans wine was the drink de jour … initially Roman attempts at the craft of wine-making were derivative of the established Greek (and Etruscan) methods of viticulture but the Romans later drew on the ample supply of indigenous vines in southern Italy to produce their own varieties. With the ever widening reach of Roman imperial expansion – through war, trade and settlements – the Romans spread wine consumption and viticulture to the countries and regions it conquered (especially France, Germany, Spain and Portugal)[8].

Vino in eastern Asia: China’s early wine origins
In the mid 2000s China emerged as a candidate for the world’s earliest consumers of wine. An international team of archaeologists (Chinese, American and German) dug up an early Neolithic village (Jiahu) in Henan Province, unearthing pottery with traces of “wine-like drinks”(sic) (a fermented mixture comprising rice, honey and hawthorn fruit and grape). The beverage has been dated somewhere between the year 7,000 BCE and 5,500-6,000 BCE[9].

Whether China has the bragging rights to being the earliest consumer of wine (and perhaps the first centre of wine production), or Transcaucus does, one point remains clear: the interest and active, on-going work of archaeologists in this field, ensures that ownership of the title has a fluidity to it. Yet more candidates for the world’s earliest pioneers of viticulture are likely to be unearthed in the future.

❈ the European grape-vine common to western Eurasia – between the Mediterranean and Caspian seas
✜ ceramic containers were invented around 20,000 years ago

[1] T de Waal, The Caucasus: An Introduction, (2010). For instance, discoveries in the 1960s of domesticated grape pips in N/W Azerbaijan have been dated at around 6,000 BCE; in Shulaveri, Georgia, University of Pennsylvania academic Patrick McGovern found wine residues in the shards of 8,000-year-old ceramic vessels, A Friedrich, ‘Georgia’s Vintners Thrist for the Past’, The Washington Post, 22-Feb-2004
[2] C Gilby, ‘The Birthplace of Wine?’, Decanter, (Jan. 2012), www.winesofturkey.org. The domesticated form of the grape has hermaphrodite flowers which self-pollinate, KK Hurst, ‘Wine and its Origins – The Archaeology and History of Wine Making’, (About Education), www.archaeology.about.com
[3] ibid.; M Berkowitz, ‘World’s Earliest Wine’, (Newsbriefs) Archaeology Archive, 49(5) Sep/Oct 1996, www.archaeologicalarchive.org/9609/newsbriefs/charlesfort.html
[4] Dig project co-director Boris Gasparyan, cited in Gilroy, op.cit.
[5] ‘History of Wine’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[6] Gilroy, loc.cit.
[7] the Scorpion I wine did not emanate from a local production point, but was imported to the Nile from the Levant, B Handwerk, ‘Scorpion King’s Wines — Egypt’s Oldest — Spiked with Meds’, National Geographic News, 13-Apr-2009, www.news.nationalgeographic.com; J Butler & R Heskett,
Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age, (2012)
[8] ‘Ancient Rome and wine’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[9] ‘Chinese People were Drinking Wine 9,000 Years Ago’, (Phys Org) 19-Dec-2004, www.phys.org

Bonaparte in America

Biographical, Regional History, Social History

The association of America with Napoleon Bonaparte for most people probably revolves round the purchase by the US of huge swathes of territory (the Louisiana Purchase) from Napoleon in 1803. Napoleon Bonaparte (Italian: Nabulione Buonaparte) never came to the United States or to anywhere in the New World – although it was the core element of his Plan B in the event of his grand scheme to conquer Europe going pear-shaped (as it ultimately and irrevocably did in 1815)[1]. However Napoleon’s older brother Joseph (born Giuseppe), formerly King of Spain and the Indies, and before that, King of Naples and Sicily, did come to the American continent and moreover lived in the US for some 17 or more years after the Emperor’s fall from power.

King Joseph
Joseph succeeded in his getaway where Napoleon failed, slipping out of French waters and travelling incognito to New York, albeit narrowly avoiding detection by the British. In America Joseph styled himself the Comte de Survilliers … after living in New York and Philadelphia for a period Bonaparte purchased a palatial residence in Bordentown, New Jersey called “Point Breeze” – one of the finest country houses in the Delaware Valley. Joseph was able to afford (and subsequently vastly improve) one of the republic’s grand mansions because he had brought the Spanish Bourbons’ crown jewels with him which he had acquired when abdicating the Spanish throne. With his dubiously acquired riches Bonaparte made other land acquisitions in upstate New York on the Black River (a locale still known as Lake Bonaparte)[2].

‘Point Breeze’, Bordentown, NJ
Joseph AKA the Count of Survilliers largely led a quiet, uneventful and comfortable life in the US, taking no interest in a political role … when Mexican rebels and expat French supporters gave their backing to him to be made emperor of Mexico (1820), he demurred at the offer. In 1832 Bonaparte returned to Europe (although he did return briefly to the US and his much loved mansion ‘Point Breeze’❈ in 1839), living for a while in London and in Italy where he died in 1844. The ineffective, former ‘puppet’ king of Spain was never permitted to return to his native France again because of the French government’s concern that it might provoke a groundswell for a Bonapartist restoration[3].

Joseph was not the only Bonapartist to flee to America following his brother’s downfall in 1815. The return of the Bourbons with the ascension of Louis XVIII prompted a “witch-hunt” of Bonapartists in France. Many followers of Napoleon escaped to America to avoid arrest and recriminations … once there some of Napoleon’s loyal soldiers set up Bonapartist colonies in Alabama (Vine and Olive Colony) and Texas (Champ d’Asile) – which were uniformedly unsuccessful and short-lived[4].

PostScript: Napoleon’s “life in America”
A) Rescue plans – before and on St Helena
In the aftermath of the disaster of Waterloo rumours abounded about various plots and attempts to rescue Napoleon. One plot involved a mega-wealthy French-born banker Stephen (Étienne) Girard living in the US who supposedly hatched an elaborate plan to transport the deposed emperor to Virginia (claim made in the Baltimore American, 1902). According to some sources Girard played a role in the Louisiana Purchase machinations[5].

Napoleon’s island prison
By far the most bizarre plot involved a Brit of Irish parentage Tom Johnson, who as well as being a recidivist smuggler had a bit of a reputation as an escape expert. Johnson’s claim was that in 1820 he was offered £40,000 to rescue Napoleon from St Helena, using two primitive types of submarines he had designed as the “getaway” vessels. Johnson’s colourful account reads as highly fanciful and the plot was in any case never implemented … the one plausible element of the story being that Johnson’s underwater crafts (for which designs did exist) were inspired by Robert Fulton’s 1806 submarine – the American engineer and inventor had earlier worked for both Napoleon and the British government on armed maritime vessel projects (what is less certain is whether Johnson had actually met Fulton as he claimed)[6].

B) Exploring the “What If …” scenario for Napoleon
Devotees of alternative history have speculated lyrically about what might have happened had Napoleon made good his escape to the Americas. One of the early imaginative conjectures (1931) came from British historian HAL Fisher who hypothesised that the exiled emperor might have established a base in New York and then gone on to Spanish America to liberate the masses, finally drowning at sea whilst attempting to conquer India[7].

Outlawed in Europe after Waterloo, it would have been logical for Napoleon to gravitate towards America … the US had only recently engaged in hostilities with Britain (War of 1812), so the locals would probably have been disposed or at least neutral towards him, he would have been able to live as a free man. The US was a new country born of revolution (and one inspiring a revolution in his native France which promoted his own rise). An American base would position the ambiguous ex-monarch well to marshal his resources and launch an invasion of Central and South America which was ripe for revolution against the Spanish conquerors. One of Napoleon’s aide-de-camp in fact made the suggestion to him that he should make himself “emperor of Mexico”[8].

A recent alternative history (Shannon Selin, Napoleon in America) postulates three possible theoretical courses of action for Napoleon – settling on the eastern (Atlantic) seaboard, living peacefully, probably near his favoured brother Joseph (possibly biding his time, building up the necessary support for another go at overthrowing the French Bourbons and reclaim the throne either for himself or for his son); establishing a colony within the US peacefully (in fact Bonapartists later attempted to forge colonies in Alabama and Texas – both then controlled by Spain); and as with Fisher’s supposition, invading Spain’s American colonies and thereby securing a new throne[9].

❈ as boys Frank and Charles Woolworth (the future retail empire giants) lived close to ‘Joe’ Bonaparte’s abandoned Bordentown mansion, spending lots of their leisure time playing at ‘Point Breeze’

[1] originally Napoleon and Joseph had laid plans for the two of them to seek refuge together in America in the likelihood of a worst-case scenario … a location in New Jersey was picked out as the optimum place for settling. Napoleon missed a real chance to escape to the US by stealth, having prevaricated too long waiting for anticipated passports which did not come, and then making the fateful decision to give himself up to the British authorities, CE Macartney & G Dorrance, The Bonapartes in America, (1939), www.penelope.uchicago.edu (see also PostScript above)
[2] R Veit, ‘Point Breeze (Bonaparte Estate)’, (2015), www.philadelphiaencyclopedia.org; ‘Joseph Bonaparte at Point Breeze. New Jersey’s Ex-King and the Crown Jewels’, Flatrock, www.flatrock.org.nz
[3] ibid.
[4] ‘Bonapartist Refugees in America, 1815-1850’, www.napolun.com
[5] L Weeks, ‘What if Napoleon Had Come to America’, NPR, 10-Feb-2015, www.npr.org. Girard also underwrote the American war effort in the War of 1812.
[6] M Dash, ‘The Secret Plot to Rescue Napoleon by Submarine’, Smithsonian Magazine, 08-Mar-2013, www.smithsonian.com
[7] H.A.L. Fisher, ‘If Napoleon had Escaped to America’, (Scribner’s Magazine, Jan. 1931), www.unz.org
[8] M Price, ‘How Napoleon Nearly Became a U.S. Citizen’, History News Network, 28-Dec-2014, www.historynewsnetwork.org
[9] Weeks, op.cit.

Nature Vs Nurture and the Unravelling of ‘Scientific Racism’

Racial politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

By the mid 1930s the allure of “scientific racism” was on the wane in advanced western countries❈. Although scientists were in the thick of the movement both as eugenicists and as propagandists, significant numbers of scientists and politicians never bought the shonky scientific approach of the eugenics movement. Many in the science community never accepted the methodology for the eugenicists’ grand schemes[1]. Information on heredity was far from comprehensive in that era, the science was misguided and there was a vastly imperfect understanding of genetics, at best rudimentary, at the time. Eugenic hygiene organisations were unable to produce reliable statistics. As John Averell pointed out, “proof’ of research” in the field comprised “primarily statistical correlation within conveniently constructed ‘races’ rather than individual case studies to see if the desirable characteristics were actually inherited”[2].

Mendel's schema
Mendel’s schema
The scientific genesis of the 20th century eugenics movement was located in the rediscovered research of 19th century Austrian monk Gregor Mendel. Mendel experimented in plant hybridisation and his laws of inheritance based on the crossing of garden peas✥ were the foundation for the theories of eugenicists like American Charles Davenport. Davenport et al applied the Mendelian method to human traits such as eye colour which he argued was inherited (as the colour of Mendel’s pea plants were). The eugenicists employed an overly simplified dominant/recessive scheme to account for complex behaviours and mental illnesses, this was a fundamental flaw in their thinking (derived from ‘pedigrees’ based on Mendelian inheritance), a single-gene explanation of human characteristics and conditions. Contemporary science unequivocally accepts that these traits are in fact shaped by (many, many) multiple genes, ie, the existence of polygenic traits[3].

Although eugenics was portrayed by its adherents in the early 20th century as a “mathematical science”, a clinical method of predicting traits and behaviours and controlling human breeding, its drew criticism from scientific quarters on a number of levels. The ‘evidence’ was typically shoddy, such as the research into determining just who was to be classified as being ‘feeble’ and ‘unfit’ in society. The eugenicists relied often on subjectivity, second-hand accounts and hearsay to establish the lineages of the ‘undesirable’ gene pool (see PostScript 1), or on visible observable (physical) features (the resort to phrenology and the like). The theories of eugenics did not seem adequate to explain some traits, such as shyness – rather than being an immutable genetic condition, this could be subject to change over time (ie, some people grow out of shyness!). In addition eugenicists took no account of factors external to a person’s gene makeup in the categorisation of the ‘unfit’, such as his or her contracting a transmissible disease such as syphilis[4].

The scrutiny on eugenics, its growing characterisation as a pseudoscience unable to stand up to academic scientific rigour, prompted some proselytisers of eugenics to claim that eugenics was more than merely science, that it was tantamount to a new religion or moral code[5]. One of the eugenics practitioners who typified this was Alexis Carrel, an American-based French surgeon and Nobel Laurette biologist. Carrel’s eugenics was a strange mix of science, religion, clairvoyance and ultra right-wing politics … his extreme ideas were infused with an anti-materialist, holistic spiritual mysticism. In his 1935 international best-seller, Man, the Unknown, Carrel warned against the degenerative effect of modernity and outlined his notion of an autocratic utopia in which the dysgenic elements were eradicated from society[6].

The eugenics scene in Australasia mirrored Europe and America in questioning the correctness of the ‘science’. The scientific community although entrenched in the vanguard of the eugenic movement threw up its share of dissenters from within its ranks. One such was geographer Griffith Taylor who championed “racial hybridity” and cast serious doubts on the goal of race purity and its assumptions that underpinned eugenics. Moreover there was a lack of cohesion and camaraderie among the individual eugenicists who are often rivals of each other … this of itself did not make for a strong, lasting movement in Australia[7].

J B Watson, Behaviourist
J B Watson, Behaviourist
The Behaviourist counterpoint:
The rise of behaviourism in the West as a valid analytical tool for explaining human nature was a counterweight to the biological determinism of eugenics whose advocates preached that biology was destiny. The behaviourist backlash against the persuasive eugenics ideology was led by pioneering American psychologist John B Watson▣ around the time of the Great War. Watson, rejecting Freudian concepts of the unconscious mind, or that mental states or ‘instincts’ were significant, arguing instead that observable behaviour was the key to explaining human traits and complex mental states. In doing so, Watson was also refuting the view that heredity played a role in this construct. For Watson, and for B F Skinner who later took up his mantle as a radical behaviourist, the environment, modelled behaviour, was the source of human change. The work of Watson and Skinner and other behaviourists undercut the eugenics movement’s singular reliance on nature by shifting the debate to the significance of nurture in the process[8].

PostScript 1: ‘Feeble’ family studies template
The belief of eugenicists that all social ills – poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, criminality, venereal disease, epilepsy – could be traced back to one genetic flaw, and that intelligence was determined by heredity, was shaped by seminal pioneering studies in the field. One of the most influential was by psychologist Henry Goddard (1912) who analysed the genetic pattern of one man’s lineage (known as “Martin Kallikak” – fabricated name derived from the conjunction of ‘kallos’ beauty and ‘kakos’ bad). ‘Kallikak’ produced two widely divergent types of families (one ‘good’, one ‘bad’), which despite being nurtured in two radically different environments, the patterns of which Goddard concluded was solely the result of heredity[9].

PostScript 2: Polygenism debunked
The polygenists accepted that the species had more than one origin (cf. monogenism – deriving from one, common ancestor). Morton (see FN 2 below) believed that races were arranged in order of intelligence … the fairer the skin the more intelligent. DNA evidence, tracing human markers, has disproved the theory by proving that all Eurasians, Americans, Austronesians, Oceanians and Africans, share the same, common ancestor[10].

❈ Scientific racism uses ostensibly scientific or pseudoscientific techniques and hypotheses to support or justify racial inferiority or superiority, Scientific racism’, Wikipedia, www.en.m.wikipedia.org
Scientific racism was denounced by UNESCO in a 1950 statement on race
✥ for what Mendel described as ‘factors’ (the “heredity unit”), the early eugenicists substituted the word ‘genes’
▣ Watson’s life reads like some kind of early 20th century Mad Men persona (influential ad man, marital infidelities, monumental falls from grace, self-exile, etc)

[1] for instance in the interwar period, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a Noble Prize winning evolutionary biologist, rejected the eugenicists’ inadequate methodology, ‘Eugenics in the United States’, Wikipedia, www.en.m.wikipedia.org
[2] this view prescribed a hierarchical order of races, an Anglo-Saxon ‘race’, a Nordic ‘race’, and so on down the line. Polygenists in the 19th century like Samuel G Morton contended that different races were in fact different species, each with separate origins, ‘Science: 1770s-1850s: One Race or Several Species’, RACE, www.understandingrace.org; J Averell, ‘The End of Eugenics … or is it?’, Melrose Mirror, www.melrosemirror.media.mit.edu
[3] ‘Mendelian genetics cannot fully explain human health and behaviour’, DNA from the beginning, www.dnaftb.org; ‘Rocky Road: Charles Davenport’, www.strangescience.net
[4] Eugenics and scientific racism had been described as “folk knowledge validated by scientific inference”, S A Farber, ‘U.S. Scientists’ Role in the Eugenics Movement (1907-39): A Contemporary Biologist’s Perspective’, Zebrafish, 2008: December; 5(4), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
[5] A H Reggiani, ‘Drilling Eugenics into People’s Minds’, in S Currell [Ed.],
Popular Eugenics, National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s
[6] ibid
[7] D H Wyndham, ‘Striving for National Fitness: Eugenics in Australia 1910s to 1930s’ (Unpub. PhD, Dept of History, University of Sydney, July 1996), www.kooriweb.org
[8] ‘Eugenics movement reaches its height 1923’, A Science Odyssey (PBS), www.pbs.org; ‘John B. Watson’, Wikipedia, www.em.n.wikipedia.org
[9] ‘Kallikak Family’, http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/356/Kallikak-Family.html
[10] ‘Scientific Justifications for Racism’ (Polygenism), www.sites.google.com