Book Review: ‘William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern

Author: Mark J. White

Total Number of Pages: 302

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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Within the scientific world, Palaeontology (Defined as ‘The study of fossils as a way of getting information about the history of life on earth and the structure of rocks’) is now a legitimate field of research. Such was not always the case and the origins and emergence of this branch of science is the subject of this volume. It is also the biography of one of the chief protagonists within it; one William Boyd Dawkins.

The author describes William Boyd Dawkins as being ‘…One of the first … to work within a scientific framework that recognised a deep antiquity and long evolutionary context for humans and other animals’’ and this biographical volume is predicated on that statement. It describes Dawkins’ development from childhood to his pre-eminence in ‘…A field that he would practically make his own’, that of Palaeontology (although Palaeolithic archaeology was a close second). While so doing it portrays an individual who would not suffer fools gladly and was completely and utterly sure of his own infallibility. Such an attitude inevitably creates situations of controversy and Dawkins was no exception. He became embroiled in several such events (largely, it should be noted, as a result of his own actions), and these are detailed at length within this book. Although at times the author will express a personal opinion, the controversies are invariably presented objectively. Where necessary, additional information is provided to show if the line of thinking of both Dawkins and his contemporaries was subsequently proven to be correct. The famous ‘Piltdown Man’ hoax is also referred-to, although only in the context of Dawkins’ later years.

The volume consists of 10 Chapters. Within these, subject and event-specific subsections  elaborate on the over-all narrative.  An Acknowledgements section at the front of the work thanks those who gave assistance in its creation. A Preface follows, and explains how the book came to be written.  Endnotes are used to provide additional information, their citations appearing within a designated Notes section placed after the last chapter of the volume. This is followed by a Bibliography, while an Index forms the book’s final section. Photographs (termed Plates within the text); some maps and several plans appear within a 24-page section in the centre of the book, while numerous diagrams, illustrations and other relevant images appear as Figures throughout the work. A ‘Map of England and Wales showing some of the key sites and places mentioned in the text’ is included in this group. No mention of either photographs or figures appears on the Contents page.

This volume is well written and illustrated, but for this reviewer it is badly let down by both the Index and the photographic section. The former is largely Anglo-centric in its focus, and despite their appearance within the text, carries no references to those countries such as Belgium, France or Germany, in which work similar to Dawkins’ was being undertaken. Localities visited by Dawkins during his 1875 World Tour are also not mentioned. By omitting such basic information, the authority of the Index is inevitably compromised. One has to ask, what else might be missing? There is no way to know. The photographic section is equally problematical. Although the contents of that section are presented as un-numbered captioned images, within the text of the book, reference is made to Plates (Plate 11 on p.164 for example), with the strong implication that both the captioned images and Plates are one and the same.  The reader is therefore required to search through the un-numbered images within the ‘Photographic’ section until they find the caption that seems to coincide with the Plate Number given in the text. In the instance referred-to, this ‘could’ be Image No. 15 and not the Plate No.11 of the text. There is no definite way to be certain.  To further complicate matters, due to the presence of maps and drawings (which, as they are in the same section, could also be Plates), the possible Plate No. 11 (now, apparently Image No.15), could equally be Image No.19. To this reviewer, this is totally unacceptable and a situation which he did not expect to encounter in a work such as this.

Although this book is a biography, the in-depth nature of its subject and the author’s academic writing style makes it likely to be more suited to university Palaeontology / Archaeology Departments or Libraries rather than the ordinary ‘Man in the street’. That detail notwithstanding, ‘Generalist’ historians with an interest in ‘Early Britain’ or ‘Cavemen’ could find it a useful addition to their shelves, while Public Libraries could include it in their ‘Prehistory’ section. Hobbyists interested in ‘British Pre-history’, Palaeontology or Pre-historic Archaeology may also find it of use as a reference.

In respect of the history it imparts, this volume is excellent. However, the previously-outlined difficulties with both the Index and photographic sections, together-with the absence of any reference to photographs, figures or maps on the Contents page, markedly reduces both its authority and its value. Despite this, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.  It should have been much higher.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

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Book Review: ‘William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern’

Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday

Author: Neil Matthews

Total Number of Pages: 135

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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The concept of package holidays is a familiar one as are the advertisements reminding us of the desirability of ‘Two sun-filled weeks in Ibiza’, or Greece or even in the Caribbean. We also think nothing of flying immense distances to, ‘soak up the rays’.  But where did it all start?  This well-written and researched book attempts to answer that question.

The British are no strangers to the concept of ‘holidays’, both at home and abroad and were sufficiently adept at it by the middle of the Eighteenth Century to create what was known as ‘The Grand Tour’. Intended as ‘… A means of education and particularly social finishing’,   the ‘Tour was effectively a journey around both Britain and Europe by the upper classes, with the added bonus that it ‘…Also came to acquire a reputation for one specific benefit; it could improve your health’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lower orders’ were not encouraged to participate in such ventures. The rise of the British Middle Class and the development of reliable railway transport systems radically changed the situation. Prompted by the perceived health-benefits of both sea and salt air, Middle Class Britain increasingly patronised the seaside towns. Some brave souls even ventured across the English Channel into Europe. It was however Thomas Cook’s railway-based day excursions that really revolutionised British holiday-travel. They enabled the average worker to visit places hitherto reserved for those with money, while his  subsequent development of package holidays gave the British populace access to Europe. However, and although he is probably the best known, Thomas Cook was not alone in developing such concepts. Others were doing similar things and the activities of both Cook and his contemporaries are examined within this work. They are not, however, its main focus. That is reserved for an organisation called the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA).

The Polytechnic Touring association was a natural development of a larger organisation known simply as ‘The Polytechnic’. Privately-funded and developed to provide educational ‘improvement’ for the increasing numbers of ‘White Collar’ workers within the City of London, the Polytechnic was formed in 1888 and was described as being ‘… A blend of club and classroom’.  At the time this concept was revolutionary. The Polytechnic’s founder and (initially) chief financier was a seasoned traveller, and, naturally, travel came to be part of the new school’s ethos. The PTA was the result, becoming an organisation which the author suggests was ‘One of the most enduring and successful travel agencies of the latte Victorian and Edwardian era’. Whether this statement is correct or not will be for the reader to decide.

An Acknowledgements  section at the front of the volume thanks those involved in its creation, and this is followed by an Introduction which provides a general historical background to both British holiday practices, the origins of the original Polytechnic and the PTA itself . The Introduction is followed by 10 Chapters which form the main body of the work. These are essentially detailed elaborations on the information provided in the Introduction. A section titled A Note about Money gives a small amount of information concerning currency-values and invites interested readers to peruse a website for additional calculations. This section is in turn followed by a Select Bibliography, while a two-page Index completes the work. Within the volume, two separate photographic sections provide images of persons and documents important to the narrative together-with examples of postcards relevant to the PTA story. The latter are largely uncaptioned, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. No maps are provided.

This volume is ‘specialist’ in nature and this reviewer believes that it is likely to be of most interest and use to historians specialising in British social history, the history of British education (especially the development of ‘technical’ education), and the British Industrial Revolution. As it details the rise of British mass-travel, social-history researchers with an interest in that subject may also find this work useful, while those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in Britain may well find something to interest them.

For this reviewer, the absence of maps, captions for many of the images, and an indication of the latter’s existence on the Contents page, reduces this volume’s research value. As a result, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 7. It could have been higher.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com.

 

Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016

Author: Paul Malmassari

Total Number of Printed Pages: 528

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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To the general public, the idea that trains could be weapons of war is preposterous. Trains carry freight, they do not carry and use guns, and they definitely do not engage in hostile actions against an enemy, especially not in the Twenty-first Century.  This volume proves otherwise.

It is very evident that the author of this volume knows and loves his subject.  Originally published in France in 1989, this revised and upgraded English-language version is well researched and, due to the depth of information, is likely to become the authoritative work on armoured trains.  The book covers the development and use of the armoured train as a military device.  In most of the instances described within this volume, the armoured train was essentially a very mobile ‘fortress on railway tracks’. As such it could carry the battle to the enemy and cause havoc as a result.  It was not as mobile as aircraft (which were invented later), but was a definite improvement over its horse-based contemporaries. The major European and Asian powers were inevitably the largest users of armoured trains and as such their trains form the largest section of the volume. It does not however ignore smaller conflicts and combatants, and includes and describes all and any situations where vehicles running on railway tracks were involved in aggressive military activities.

The volume describes itself as an “encyclopaedia’ and as a result is  more suited to ‘dipping into’ rather than a straight ‘cover-to-cover’ read.  An Introduction provides general background details, and precedes the largest section of the work. This consists of 72 sections (aka ‘Chapters’) arranged by country and appearing in alphabetical order. Within each section information is given concerning the armoured railway vehicles that operated in or were owned by, that specific state. To this reviewer however, some of the inclusions are at best tenuous, and he considers the inclusion of New Zealand as the owner of an ‘armoured train’ while part of British Forces in the Middle East during World War II to be drawing  a very long bow.  At least one image (frequently more) appears within each section, while numerous line drawings are included.  Drawn to HO scale (1:87) these are of both rolling stock and locomotives.  Two Appendices are included; one containing numerous art-works of armoured trains, the other ‘… Original Factory Drawings of Armoured Trains and Trolleys’.  An Index and an Acknowledgements section are also provided. Sequentially-numbered Footnotes are used within each section while a Sources sub-section replaces a designated Bibliography. No maps of any sort are provided.

Unfortunately, this reviewer has two major concerns with this volume. One is with the complete lack of maps within the work, a situation which means that, unless they are geo-politically aware, a reader will have absolutely no idea as to where the trains actually operated. As several of the nations within the volume have also changed their names, this puts the reader at a major disadvantage. The other concern relates to the Index. Although the names of specific countries (for example, France, Russia, United States of America, South Korea, Georgia) are listed as Section (Chapter) Headings on the work’s Contents page, a random search within the Index found no evidence of  either these or any other ‘country’ names within that section. While it could be argued that a Contents-page listing is sufficient for the purpose, and that most readers will turn to the Contents before the Index, observation indicates that although purchasers of such a volume will initially only peruse the Contents page, they will eventually seek additional information within the Index section.  The absence of specific ‘country’ names makes such searching at best very difficult.  To this reviewer, this is a major failing as in his opinion, the seeker of specific information  needs to be able to quickly and positively identify that train X belongs to country Y (or vice versa). For this reviewer, being unable to do so, considerably-reduced the value of both the Index, and the volume.

The limitations outlined above notwithstanding. this volume is likely to appeal to several different groups.  Railway historians and enthusiasts will probably find it of interest, especially if they are interested in military railways, while both general and military historians could also find it informative.  Irrespective of the scale they work in, model-railway enthusiasts could also find it useful, especially if their interest is in military railways.

Due to its specialisation, this volume is likely to become the authoritative one on its subject. The lack of both maps and an incomplete Index do however reduce its value considerably.  On that basis, and on a Rating Scale, where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give this volume a 7. It should have been higher.

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 nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines)

Title:  British Battlecruisers 1905-1920

Author: John Roberts

Total Number of Pages: 128

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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Compromise can sometimes have unexpected consequences, with ‘theory’ not being supported by actual experience. So it proved with the ‘Battlecruiser-type’ warship. In theory a warship which was fast enough to overtake its opponents and (by being equipped with very heavy gun armament), be able to then destroy them, was an excellent idea. The reality was somewhat different, and as with many compromises, it was ultimately unsuccessful in its application.

This volume was originally published in 1997, and revised and reprinted in 2016. It covers the rise and fall of the battlecruiser-type warship within the Royal Navy.  Unlike many other works on such vessels, this book concentrates on the technical aspects of the type. Numerous Photographs, Tables, Drawings, Plans and Diagrams, contribute to the narrative. In addition, a set of Original Plans In Colour of HMS Invincible appear in the middle of the work. Looking suitably nostalgic by virtue of the colours employed, these include a fold-out section and are supplemented by an additional monochrome plan (that of HMS Queen Mary, 1913). This resides in a specially-designed pocket inside the back cover.

The volume consists of 16 un-numbered sections. A Preface to New Edition [sic] section is followed by one titled Abbreviations which is devoted to the abbreviations used throughout the work. An Introduction provides details of the World War I operational service of Royal Navy battlecruisers. Three other sections cover the history, development and construction of the battlecruiser-type vessel within the Royal Navy. Additional sections provide detailed analysis of the machinery, armament and armour that such vessels carried. A Summary of Service section details the naval service of most of the vessels referred-to within the volume, although HMS Hood is conspicuously absent.   A Sources section serves as a Bibliography. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered endnote markers are used to provide additional source information. The relevant sources appear in a separate Notes section. An Index is provided. The existence of the previously-mentioned Photographs, Tables, Drawings and Diagrams is not mentioned within the Contents section, while the Index states only that ‘Page references in Italics denote photographs / diagrams’.

To this reviewer, this volume’s title implied a full history of the battlecruiser type of vessel. Such was not the case. He found instead a work that concentrated almost exclusively on the technical details of the type, and ignored all post-World War I service of its subjects.  He was especially surprised to find  no mention of HMS Hood  (the ultimate, and most famous British battlecruiser) in the volume’s Summary of Service section; this despite photographs and technical details of this vessel appearing within the work. As the loss of this ship forms a major part of Great Britain’s recent naval history, this is a major omission which reduces the volume’s authority.

This volume is likely to appeal to several groups. These could include those seeking technical information concerning Royal Navy battlecruisers per se’. Those interested in sea-going artillery and naval design and Historians with an interest in World War I or in naval, and military matters may find it worthy of inspection.   Warship modellers seeking details about specific vessels may also find it a useful source of information. Those seeking details of the post-World War I service of these vessels, and of HMS Hood in particular, are however, likely to be disappointed.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I give it a 6.


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Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

PAGES FROM A SKETCHBOOK: THINGS THAT ARE DRAWN ON WET AFTERNOONS…

A wet afternoon (despite it being high summer), so herewith some doodles. I trust they will be of interest.  These are examples of the sorts of machinery and structures associated with underground (reef/hard-rock) gold mining on New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.

Media: Unipin-brand black-ink pen (0.1 mm nib) on A5-sized 140gsm white cartridge paper.

All images are copyright.

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POPPETT HEAD 

Also known as ‘Headframes’, these structures are placed at the surface (top) of vertical shafts, and, through the use of cables and cages (the equivalent of elevator cars) raise and lower men and materials to various places within the mine.

The various biuldings associated with the mine are visible in the background, with the most important being the Winding Engine House immediately behind the ‘head which contains a steam-powered winch. This uses cables, led over large-diameter wheels placed on the top of the ‘head and attached to the roofs of the cages to haul these  the cages up and down in response to set bell-signals from the miners travelling within them.

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Poppett Head and Winding-Engine House with surface buildings,. The flag visible on the on flagpole indicates that Company is on gold.

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Winding-engine house and Poppet Head (Headframe), with another Poppet Head and Mullock (waste rock) heap in distance. Ore bin visible at lower right.

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Locomotive No.2 at ore bins. Mullock (Waste rock) heap visible at right.

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 Tramway locomotive setting back (Reversing) with a rake of ore wagons into Battery / Reduction works.
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 Battery / Reduction-works, showing cyanide plant and associated buildings. A water-race is visible in upper-left background, tramway trestle to upper right. 
PAGES FROM A SKETCHBOOK: THINGS THAT ARE DRAWN ON WET AFTERNOONS…

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’