BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

90. Oz Convicts

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia

Author: Lucy Williams

No. of Pages: 202

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 5

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Writing in this volume’s Introduction, the authors states that, over a four-year period, ‘…She spent almost every day banished beyond the seas, out of time and space, in convict Australia’. She continues ‘This book is a collection of the tales I found there’. While an admirable precis of what is to follow, it must however be qualified by two of the author’s subsequent statements, both of which appear on page xiii of the volume. These are:

‘All the stories related here are based on original records’.

‘Using my knowledge of the period, places and criminal justice system, I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario…but…cannot know for sure’.

After reading these statements, this reviewer found himself asking ‘How much of what appears within this volume is in fact true (with ‘true’ being defined as ‘An accurate representation of what actually occurred’)? To state that ‘All the stories related here are based on original records’, implies very strongly that in fact ‘truth’ may be absent from the majority of the tales that are related, with the ‘original records’ have been used only as a foundation; the key word in this instance being ‘Based’. This is a definition supported by the Oxford Dictionary when it states that ‘Based on’ is as the foundation or starting point for something’, while the author, by then stating that ‘…I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario but cannot know for sure’, compounds the problem further. Against such a background, to question ‘How much of what is within the volume is true?’ is not unreasonable, and indeed, this reviewer found himself asking that question repeatedly during the review process. He believes that what has resulted from these two statements is a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘A plausible mixture of fact and fiction’), but as there is no way to know which is which, and with ‘Scepticism’ now attending every word, the volume’s reputation and authority has inevitably suffered.

The volume opens with the expected Contents page, this is in turn being followed by an Acknowledgements section within-which the author thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted her in the creation of the work. The previously-mentioned Introduction follows. Subtitled The Lives of the Lagged, this summarises the narrative presented within the main part of the volume, while providing additional background concerning the records accessed during its writing, the individuals involved and the political and social circumstances which resulted in the ‘Transportation’ phenomenon. Where necessary, subheadings within the section deal with specific aspects of the story being presented.  The five Chapters which constitute the volume’s major section now appear. These take the reader from the process and reasons by which prisoners became ‘Transportees’, to descriptions of conditions within the penal colonies themselves. As with the Introduction, subheadings within each Chapter are used to detail specific individuals and events. A Conclusion section placed after Chapter Five (The Hothouse of Humanity on the Swan River) acts as a summary to what has gone before while presenting the author’s thoughts on the process. The Conclusion is in turn followed by a three-page Appendix. Although no background information is provided, its content appears to be three letters written by one Margaret Catchpole to two separate individuals in 1802. The Appendix is in turn followed by a five–page section titled Tracing Transportees: Resources for the Reader. The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Suggested Reading placed after that section is analogous to a Bibliography, and is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Twenty four Images appear in an eight-page section placed in the book’s centre. These are both colour and monochrome in format and contain reproductions of individual portraits, advertisements, documents, structures and ephemera relevant to the narrative. While each image is informatively captioned, not all carry citations to indicate their origins. Neither the Contents page nor the Index acknowledges the existence of the images section or its contents. The numerous Quotes that appear throughout the volume carry no authenticating citations and as a result could well be imaginary; there is no indication to the contrary. Curiously, and despite the immense distances involved in both the transportation process itself and on the continent of Australia, the volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted (and by the author’s own admission), this volume is a work of faction; ‘actual’ history ‘embroidered’ and ‘imagined’ to create a pre-determined narrative. As such, it cannot be considered to be an authoritative historical work. The previously-mentioned lack of citations for any of the numerous quotes appearing within the book only serves to re-emphasise the point. The result is a potentially-valuable resource reduced to little more than a collection of interesting tales, some of which may actually be true. Regrettably, the Index does not help, being best described as ‘incomplete’ in its entries. When reviewing this volume, and in the course of random searching, this reviewer had occasion on to seek Index entries for  Millbank, Pentonville and Portland (all on page 21) and Ned Kelly (page 181). Nothing was found and subsequent equally-random searches, returned similar results. What other, similar, information may be missing cannot be known. The absence of Maps has already been alluded-to.

The difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, while this volume may have little to offer for serious researchers, it is still a collection of ‘Convict Stories’, and as a result may appeal to readers seeking ‘Human interest’ tales about the transportee’s experiences. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘lower class’ life in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Britain, may also find its contents of interest, these suggestions being made with the qualification that what is appears before the reader may not in fact be true.

This is undoubtedly a ‘sincere’ book, written to explain a complicated situation and doing it well, but to present a narrative as ‘true’ when it is patently not, comes at a cost. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

87. boocock railway pics

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens

Author:  Colin Boocock

Total Number of Pages: 255

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

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In this volume’s Preface, the author makes the following statement: ‘This book serves a modern need…by showing how anyone interested in railways can photograph them, and can keep up-to-date throughout a long photographic career as technology improves’. He then notes that ‘The book is also a celebration. The year 2017 marks the seventieth anniversary of the year in which I took my first railway photograph, 1947’. These statements are an excellent precis for what is to follow.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre of railway publications. However, unlike many of that genre, it has the bonus of both a well-written and very readable narrative and several sections about the actual process of railway photography; the latter being something rarely encountered within such books.

Within the volume itself, an Acknowledgements page placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who contributed to the volume, while clarifying the matter of Copyright in respect of the small number of images that are not the author’s own. The author also notes that within the volume his ‘…Views are based on his own experience and cannot be attributed to the publisher or its agents’. A Preface follows. Within it the author simultaneously explains the volume’s rationale and clarifies various technical matters relating to the photographic equipment he has used over the years. The Preface is followed in turn by an Introduction within which the reader is introduced to both the origins of the author’s photographic passion and to descriptions of the various types of railway photography and the unique technical difficulties and solutions associated with these. The eight Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume follow the Preface. Each Chapter covers a specific decade (for example The 1940s; The 2000s etc.). The Chapters are arranged in a standard format consisting of several pages of explanatory text outlining the author’s photographic adventures during that time, followed by a selection of photographs relevant to the narrative.  While initially the photographs are monochrome, over time (and as colour film became less expensive), these become increasingly of coloured format. Helpfully, and at the beginning of each collection of photographs, the author provides details of the camera/s used to take the images that are to follow. The Chapters are in turn followed by four Appendices.  According to the author ‘These appendices draw on my experience over the years’, and are devoted to the ’technical’ aspects of photography.  A two-line Postscript conveys St. Augustine’s thoughts on travel. It is the volume’s final section.  The book contains neither Index or Maps, nor a list of the photographs within it.

Unfortunately while this volume is both well-written and copiously illustrated, for this reviewer it is badly let down by the lack of an Index, with the additional lack of any Maps serving to compound the problem. In this reviewer’s opinion, without the assistance of an Index, it is unreasonable to expect a casual reader to (for example) know where an image of Ryde Pier Head (page 47) might be found, where a Eurostar (page 153) is located within the volume, or where to look to learn about Mobile phones as a useful photographic device (pages 242-243). The absence of such assistance reduces this volume to essentially a ‘Collection of Pretty Pictures’ with some useful words thrown in – if the latter can be found! A similar situation pertains to the lack of Maps; where (for instance) is Grindleford (page 81) or AoBaoGou (page 177)? The average reader (especially if they are a layman) cannot be expected to have to repeatedly confer with refer to an atlas when perusing this volume. Again, this lack reduces the volume’s value, particularly to the ‘off-shore’ reader not familiar with the geography of the British Isles (the book’s primary area of focus).

Because it provides a unique photographic record of the period 1947-2017, there is no doubt that this volume will appeal to readers with an interest in the railways of Great Britain over that time. In many instances, the images capture now-departed aspects of British culture, and as a result, Social Historians might also find the volume useful as a research tool. Photographers and railway modellers are likely to find the images and articles relating to their interests useful, with the qualified assumption (due to the lack of an Index) that they can actually locate such material. Non -‘railway enthusiast’ readers looking for pictures of ‘pretty trains’ might also find it worthy of their attention. In summary: An excellent, well written and very informative volume; a shame about the Index and Maps

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

80. NHS at 70

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The NHS At 70: A Living History

Author: Ellen Welch

No. of Pages: 149

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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In the Preface to this volume the author writes the following: ‘At midnight on 5 July 1948 the National Health Service [NHS] was born, with the founding principle to be free at the point of use and based on clinical need rather than a person’s ability to pay’. The background thus established, she concludes ‘This book attempts to summarise the foundations of the NHS and discuss why it was formed, provide an understanding of its current structure and problems and consider what the future may hold’. It is an excellent summation of what is to follow.

Within the volume, the Contents page is followed by an Acknowledgements section. In this, the author clarifies her position vis–a-vis the NHS (‘The views in this book are my own’), and thanks those who assisted her in the volume’s creation. The section is in turn followed by a Preface from which the quotes in paragraph one were taken. The section summarises the content of the four Chapters placed after it; the latter forming the bulk of the book. The Chapters take the reader through the history of health services in Great Britain, and while so-doing cover a time period from 500A D to 2018. Chapters 1 and 2 provide background, while Chapter 3 (Timeline of the NHS) precis ‘events of significance’ that have occurred within the 1950-2018 period. The title of Chapter 4 (The Modern NHS) is self-explanatory. The latter Chapter is followed by a section titled Sources and Additional Reading. This is bibliographical in nature, and lists the books, articles and online sources used by the author when writing this volume. The Index follows and is the volume’s last section. Within each Chapter, subheadings are used to provide additional Chapter-relevant information. These are accompanied by personal reminiscences (Titled My NHS Story), which provide a ‘human’ perspective to the events and times that the Chapter is discussing. The volume contains numerous photographs, advertisements, and a building-plan, together with assorted paraphernalia and cartoons relevant to the narrative. These are informatively captioned, monochrome in format and from a variety of sources. Tables and Flow-charts also appear where appropriate. The existence of such items is not however acknowledged on either the Contents page or within the Index. The volume’s single ‘footnote’ appears on page 43; it is however, more an ‘aide memoir’ than a formal citation.

Regrettably, for this reviewer at least, this volume, while well written and researched, was let down by the ‘small things’, especially in regard to the Index. In his considered opinion, the Index could best be best described as ‘patchy’ and so-focussed on the ‘mechanics’ of its NHS subject as to exclude almost everything else. These exclusions included such random items as Elizabeth I (Page 19), Caribbean, Ireland (both on page 60), Great Ormond Hospital (page 72), John and Rosemary Cox (page 85), Sugar Tax (page 109) and Commonwealth Fund (page 134).  Other omissions were also found and what else has been left out cannot be known. As a result, the authority and veracity of the Index must be inevitably be in doubt. In addition it was noted that both the previously-mentioned My NHS Story personal reminiscences and those of other individuals are not accompanied by verifying citations. This reduces their value to researchers. Citations for the various Official Documents, Reports, Acts of Parliament etc. quoted within the volume are also missing. A Glossary for the volume’s large numbers of acronyms and abbreviations would also have been helpful, as a non-medical reader has no way of knowing (for example) what an OT (page 73) might be.

Potentially, this volume could have been the ‘Standard Reference Work’ for its subject. For readers seeking an easily-readable ‘once over lightly’ history of the NHS it might still achieve that status. Regrettably however, for academic-level researchers, the ‘difficulties’ with the Index and the lack of citations, Glossary etc. have considerably reduced its value as a research document; it is an ‘aide’ rather than being the ‘authoritative document’ it could so easily have been.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

32. DSCF9237 (2)

Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years

Author:  Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 188

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 5

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In the opening sentence of this volume’s Afterword, the author writes the following: ‘In this book we have looked at the strange myth which has been sedulously propagated over the last few years by baby boomers about the idyllic nature of their childhood’, He then adds  ‘That they should … half believe this nonsense is perfectly understandable’ . There is more in the same vein within the chapter and these statements summarise what is ultimately a very sour and unpleasant little book.

As can be seen by the subtitle, the focus of this this book is on the ‘Not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’, and the possibility that the well-held viewpoints of the ‘Baby Boomers’ of the title (defined by the author as being those born between 1946 and 1964) may be incorrect, This is a reasonable possibility and one would expect a reasoned and well-presented discourse as a result. What one finds instead is that the author’ is of the viewpoint that all the ‘Boomers say is exaggerated and viewed through increasingly rose-tinted glasses. It is a hypothesis looking for a home.  To prove (or perhaps justify) the correctness his hypothesis, the author then proceeds to locate, record and then destroy (largely, it should be noted, through use of derision),  all and any stories which might just suggest that there was an element of truth in what Boomer’s might be saying.  The result is unpleasant, derisory, bitter and resentful. It rapidly becomes evident that the author is determined to find incidents to support his preconceived ideas, while coming from a curious position of both moral superiority and self-justification. If there is a fault to be found, he will find it and expose it to the light of the Twenty-first Century values, where it can be derided and ridiculed. There is no objectivity.  The result does not make for good reading.

The main part of this volume consists of nine Chapters. These cover those aspects of British society which the author has chosen to investigate in support of his hypothesis. They are preceded by a List of Plates section. This repeats the captions placed under the 15 images appearing in a dedicated 8-page section within the volume. An Introduction then records both the reasons the work was written and summarises its narrative. An Afterword placed behind the last chapter justifies the author’s stance for what he has written, and is followed by a two-page Bibliography.  An Index completes the volume.

Due to the preconceived ideas of its author, this reviewer would suggest that this volume’s value as an ‘authoritative’ work should be treated with some caution. However, those seeking confirmation of similar ideas concerning Baby Boomers and their views, will no doubt find it useful. Baby Boomers themselves might find it of interest in respect of their younger years, although with the qualification that they might find the author’s viewpoint difficult to reconcile with their known realities. The photographs might also trigger reminiscences.

Due to the author’s very evident bias against his subject, this was not a pleasant volume to read. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 5.

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nzcrownmines is available for Book Reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.