Davitt Down Under

Michael Davitt, who was born in 1846 and died in 1906, was a radical Irish nationalist, social reformer and champion of the Irish diaspora of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Davitt’s papers are held in the Manuscripts’ Department of the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The photographs within the collection are in the process of being catalogued and digitised.

In 1895, Michael Davitt departed Dublin for a tour of Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Hawaii and the United States. 

Mining shacks in Tipperary Flat, Queensland, 1895

One of the aims of the tour was to re-connect with the Irish communities in Australia after Charles Stewart Parnell’s adulterous relationship with Kitty O’Shea became public knowledge and caused major damage to the Irish Parliamentary Party’s (IPP) reputation internationally.

Irish-Australians had been major financial contributors to Irish famine relief, the IPP and the Land League throughout the nineteenth century. Their support was essential for continuing the campaign towards Irish Home Rule in Westminster. Other reasons for the tour were personal; including Davitt’s need to make money for his family by lecturing in Australia and New Zealand.

MS 9477/4425 Telegraph from Mary to Michael Davitt, 1895

During Davitt’s journey to Australia, disaster struck his family in Ireland, when his six-year-old daughter Kathleen died suddenly from the flu. However, Davitt’s wife pressed him to continue his ‘mission’, in a telegram he received from Mary in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Following his wife’s advice, Davitt continued on his voyage to Australia. 

Following his tour of Australia and New Zealand, Davitt published Life and Progress in Australasia in 1897. His book focuses on the gold rush in Western Australia and particularly on the town of Coolgardie.

MS 9649/348 Crowd of men at a sale of mining lots in Coolgardie, 1895

 

Davitt describes Coolgardie as ‘full of the gold-seeking fever’, with miners from vastly different backgrounds. In his diary for Western Australia MS 9565 he lists these as ‘any number of men with University training, pressmen, politicians, barristers, lawyers…all here on same gold hunting purpose’. The independence of the miners from the Australian authorities is illustrated by his photographs of a fire on Bailey Street in Coolgardie, which he reports in his diary was caused by the burning of an effigy of the Mayor of the town. 

MS 9649/373 Group of Aboriginal Australians under a tree near Great Boulder, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 1895

 

 

Davitt includes an interview with Catholic bishop Matthew Gibney in his book. Gibney discusses the mistreatment of Aborigines, the privatisation of Aboriginal land and hunting grounds in Western Australia. In Life and Progress Davitt declares that ‘the white man’s law justifies him in stealing the black man’s country, his wife, and daughters whenever he wants them; but to take a sheep from this moral professor of the ten commandments is to earn the penalty of a bullet!’

Davitt, as a radical politician and writer from a famine emigrant, working class background, was an important figure to the Irish diaspora in Australia. Davitt’s family were part of the million people who emigrated from Ireland to England, the United States and Australia to escape starvation after the failure of the potato crop during the Irish Great Famine. His importance to the Irish diaspora is evident throughout the Davitt photographic collection as large welcoming committees were organised to from MS 9649/32 below, where Davitt is welcomed at the train station in Maryborough, Victoria, Australia.

Reception Committee for Davitt during his lecture tour of Australia
in Maryborough, Victoria, 1895

The online catalogue has now been updated and can be viewed here.

Dáire Rooney

Æthelflæd: an Anglo-Saxon ‘Queen’ and Viking Nemesis

Detail of Æthelflæd glass from the West Window of Chester Cathedral, by WT Carter Shapland, 1961.

12 June 2018 marks the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the death of the remarkable Æthelflæd: daughter of King Alfred the Great, Lady of the Mercians and – to her Viking foes – ‘most famous Saxon queen’. Her impressive reputation and unique position in Anglo-Saxon England are recorded in two medieval sources housed in the Library, one English, one Irish. Both stand as testament to her enduring legend at home and abroad.

Diagram of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms identified as making up England (Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia). The kingdoms appear as petals with Mercia appearing bottom left. TCD MS 496, ff. 127v-128

The eldest child of Alfred the Great (d.899) and Eahlswith (d.902), Æthelflæd was born into a fragmented England: Alfred’s Wessex was one of a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in turbulent co-existence with the constantly encroaching Viking Danelaw. Alfred, it seems, intended each of his children to play important roles in furthering his aim of uniting the English kingdoms against the Danes, and this was to be achieved through a variety of means: through political power, through property, through strategic marriages, and through religious influence. However, Alfred’s contemporary biographer, Asser, describes a society that did not promote female leadership: ‘The West Saxons do not allow a queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called a queen, but only the king’s wife’. This makes Æthelflæd’s achievements all the more startling.

It is not known where Æthelflæd grew up, although she was possibly raised with maternal relatives in Mercia rather than Wessex. Her marriage to the Mercian ruler, Æthelred (d.911), was a strategic power-play for both her father and husband. Despite being a princess of Wessex, she did not officially graduate to becoming Queen of Mercia, rather she was merely designated the wife of the Lord of Mercia in recognition of Alfred’s overlordship of that kingdom.

Statue of Æthelflæd with her foster son and future King of England Æthelstan, Tamworth Castle grounds, Edward George Bramwell, 1913.

From 910 the Mercian Register of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles records her rise to prominence, possibly due to the fact that her husband became gravely ill at this time. On his death in 911 she assumed the leadership of Mercia apparently uncontested and was identified as ‘Myrcna hlœfdige’ – Lady of Mercia. The language is important, as this was the precise equivalent of Æthelred’s habitual title of ‘Myrcna hlaford’. This indicates that the Mercian rulers’ assembly did not draw any distinction between her authority to rule and that of her husband’s. She led the Mercians so successfully that on her death in 918, her daughter, Ælfwynn, was also accepted as her successor (albeit for only six months). The uncontested transference of power from one female ruler to another was unprecedented, and it would not be repeated for another six-hundred years, when the English throne passed from Mary I to Elizabeth I in 1558.

Annals of Ulster containing the entry for the year 918. TCD MS 1282 f.46v

Æthelflæd was both a warrior and a builder, planning and leading military campaigns against the Danes, whilst also extending her father’s policy of establishing a series of fortified towns or burhs. She either rebuilt or founded the county towns of Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Chester, Shrewsbury, Warwick, and Stafford. Militarily, she was a smart tactician, and just before her death the Danes of York indicated that they were ready to surrender to her. By this point the extent of the lands under her influence was rivalled only by the realms of her brother Edward the Elder Burhs and the King of the Scots, Constantín Mac Áeda (d.952).

Æthelflæd in the Library

Genealogy of Alfred, roundels containing the names of Alfred, Edward and Elfleda (Æthelflæd) TCD MS 496 ff.129v-130r

Ætheflæd appears in two sources in the Manuscripts & Archives section of the Library. She is profiled in an early-fourteenth-century diagrammatic genealogy of the kings of England, ‘Summary chronicle of English history from Beorhtric’s accession (AD 786) to Edward I’s (AD 1272)’ (TCD MS 496). This contains the family tree of Alfred in which she appears in one roundel, with genealogical lines linking him to his children Edward and Elfleda (Æthelflæd). The accompanying inscription reads:

Elfleda sapientissima filia eius cum aliis quattuor
Æthelflæd the wisest daughter of [Alfred] with four others.
And, beneath the circle:

Ista Elfleda omni mulierum sapientissima dicebatur, que multum[?] fratrem suum regem ab regnum suum gubernandum per sapientam suam instruxit. Haec nupsit comiti Edredo.
This Æthelflæd was called the wisest of all women, and through her wisdom greatly instructed her brother the king on the governance of his kingdom. She married count Edred [Æthelred].*

The annals of Ulster’s (TCD MS 1282 f 46v) record of Æthelflæd’s death in 918 also reflects her status:

Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur
Æthelflæd, most famous Queen of the Saxons, died.

‘Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur’ from the Annals of Ulster record for 918 TCD MS 1282 f.46v

 

 

 

 

 

The inclusion of the death of an Anglo-Saxon royal in the Irish annals may have been due to Ӕthelflӕd’s position as an opponent of the Norse-Gael leader Ragnall Ua Ímair (d.920/921), one of the Vikings expelled from Dublin in 902. The fragmentary Annals of Ireland, (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 5301-5320) also suggest that she allied herself with Constantín Mac Áeda, King of Scotland, against Ragnall at the Battle of Corbridge in Northumberland in the year of her death.

Neither her father Alfred’s nor her brother Edward the Elder’s deaths are recorded in the annals, but Æthelflæd is referenced in Irish and Welsh sources as a most famous Saxon Queen. Although this title was not technically correct, the scribe’s singling out of Æthelflæd in such a way is in clear recognition of her unique position and the importance of her achievements from an opponent’s perspective.

The Library’s online exhibition, ‘Transmitting the Anglo-Saxon past’ provides further examples of Anglo-Saxon history manuscripts from the Library’s collection.

The Anglo-Saxon world will become the focus of a major exhibition ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms‘ at the British Library from October 2018.

‘Our Aethel’ statue, Tamworth, Luke Perry, 2018.

The cities of Tamworth (where she died) and Gloucester (where she was buried) are both hosting ‘Aethel’-festivals in June and July 2018, www.aethelflaed2018.co.uk and www.visittamworth.co.uk/aethelflaed

Estelle Gittins
*With thanks to Dr Laura Cleaver, School of Art History

Digitising the Michael Davitt photographic collection at the Library of Trinity College Dublin: MS 9649.

MS 9649/17 Davitt wearing a Russian fur coat and hat, Moscow, 1905

Trinity College Library is home to the papers of Michael Davitt, 1846-1906. Davitt was a convicted Fenian, Irish nationalist, Irish Parliamentary Party MP, investigative journalist and agrarian campaigner, who is well known for being one of the founders of the Irish National Land League. This extensive collection was presented to TCD library from 1978 to 1980 by Davitt’s son, Cahir Davitt and includes over 6000 letters, 550 photographs, 40 diaries as well as newspaper cuttings, published pamphlets and articles.

The Davitt photographic collection provides a visual record of the latter half of Davitt’s career, when he toured across the prairies and mountains of Northwest Canada, the gold fields of Australia and the battlefields of South Africa during the Second Boer War. The photographs document Davitt’s investigations, as a social campaigner and journalist, into the migration of Scottish crofters to Northwest Canada following the Highland Clearances, the Murray River communal settlements in South Australia, the rush to settle Western Australia fuelled by the gold fields at Coolgardie and the aftermath of the Kishinev pogrom in the Russian Empire.

MS 9649/296 Scottish crofter family, the McKenzie’s wearing their ‘best’ in Manitoba, Canada, 1891

MS 9649/280 First Nation Canoe in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 1891

Davitt was an important figure to a generation of the Irish diaspora who migrated from Ireland to the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand after the devastation of the Great Famine. As a migrant himself, his family left Mayo for Haslingden in Lancashire, his commitment to improving the lives of agricultural tenants and labourers in rural Ireland through his work in the Land League cemented his reputation amongst Irish people living abroad. This is demonstrated in MS 9649/32, which depicts a large crowd of people gathered to welcome Davitt to Maryborough in Victoria.

These photographs are currently being catalogued and digitised. While the Davitt collection is one of the most heavily used historic collections in Trinity Library, this important and extensive collection of photographs within the Davitt papers is less well known due to limited cataloguing. The project aims to update the existing catalogue, the digitisation of the photographs and the publishing of the photographs on Trinity’s digital collections repository to increase accessibility to this significant collection.

The online catalogue has now been updated and can be viewed here.

Dáire Rooney

MS 9649/32 Reception Committee for Davitt during his lecture tour of Australia in Maryborough, Victoria, 1895

Samuel Beckett: the man and his afterlives

Actor Patrick Magee (1922-1982) in Krapp’s last tape.  (MS 11314) © BBC

Today’s post, by guest author and student of English literature Grace McLoughlin, is the sixth and final one in our series revealing undergraduate students’ reactions to working directly with the Library’s world renowned Samuel Beckett literary manuscripts. Again the Library thanks Dr Julie Bates, Assistant Professor in Irish Writing, in the Department of English.

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