Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

Cefalù Pantocrator retouched.jpg

I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.


And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint.jpg

Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

Lord Castlereagh Marquess of Londonderry.jpg

Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

Bildergebnis für methodist central hall westminster

On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.


It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

Tate Britain (5822081512) (2).jpg

Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

Henry James.jpg

Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

Morpeth Arms, Pimlico, SW1 (3106288271).jpg

Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.


Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.


Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

Florence Nightingale (H Hering NPG x82368).jpg

Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

Mary Mohl self portrait crop.jpg

Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.


Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

1st Baron Herbert.jpg

Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

Panorama Abu Simbel crop.jpg

Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

The Parthenon in Athens.jpg

Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

Bildergebnis für athena florence nightingale

Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

Panorama dentro.JPG

Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868.jpg

Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

Bildergebnis für notes on nursing

She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

Henry Dunant-young.jpg

Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

Florence Nightingale Medal.jpg

The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

Bildergebnis für florence nightingale museum

Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum /


Canada Slim and the High Road to Anarchy

Landschalacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

Six nights ago the world was shocked and saddened when a lone gunman in a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort and Casino on Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, shot into a crowd of more than 20,000 people, killing 60 and injuring hundreds.

The world has learned that the suspect, Stephen Paddock, was armed with at least 23 firearms, including long distance rifles used by the American military for the last half-century.

What we know – and I don´t want to give this monster more attention than he deserves – about Paddock was that he was a professional gambler, a real estate investor, a pilot and plane owner, a former employee of Lockheed Martin (a military contractor), a retired accountant and twice divorced.

Invading his home, police have discovered Paddock had a cache of over 63 weapons.

In plain and simple language, a civilian was armed with military grade firearms.

Those bearing arms in the US armed forces are analysed and supervised.

Civilian gun-owners in the US….

Not so much.

Thus there is a real danger that civilians will – unsupervised – acquire a stockpile of weaponry and that the unbalanced among them will use them.

And as events in Vegas and many other locations prior to Sunday night´s massacre have proven….

It is almost impossible to determine what will trigger these civilians to become unbalanced and unleash the unthinkable upon the unknowing.

Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.

Flag of the United States

In an average year in America there are over 10,000 homicides, 20,000 suicides and 500 accidental deaths caused by civilian-owned firearms.

Over 1.5 million people in the US have been killed using firearms since 1968, equivalent to the population of a large American city.

Globally, it is estimated that there are over 875 million small arms in the hands of civilians, law enforcement agencies and armed forces.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Of these, 75% are held by civilians.

US civilians account for over 270 million of this total.

The United States and Yemen are distinct from many other countries in that they consider civilian gun ownership as a right.

In most countries, civilian firearm ownership is considered a privilege because the legislation governing possession of firearms is more restrictive.

Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Solomon Islands and Taiwan prohibit civilian ownership of firearms in almost all instances.

In America it has been shown that the states with the strictest gun laws have lower homicide and suicide rates than those with the least restrictive gun laws.

States without universal background checks or waiting period laws have steeper homicide and suicide rates than do states with these laws.

But, of course, for every study proving that gun control does work, somehow studies emerge that gun control doesn´t work.

And the mindset in America is so pro-gun ownership that an American philosophy Professor Michael Huemer argues that gun control is morally wrong, because individuals have a right to own a gun for self defence and recreation!

In my homeland of Canada, rifles and shotguns are relatively easy to obtain, while handguns and semi-automatic weapons are not.

File:Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg

So, though our gun laws may not have significantly reduced gun violence or firearm suicide rates, the ability and the frequency to murder masses of people at one time is significantly lower than our counterparts south of the border.

Gun control laws enacted in Australia, following mass shootings, have shown a dramatic decline in overall firearm-related deaths, especially suicides.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Gun control laws passed in Austria, Brazil, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa and Colombia have all shown a resulting reduction in homicide and suicide rates.

The effectiveness and safety of guns used for personal defence is usually the argument given by gun ownership advocates.

Yet it seems in the US, out of 1,000 criminal incidents, guns are used for self defence in less than 1% of the time.

In most cases, the potential victim never fired a shot.

What is certain is that the likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm.

Every year in America there are over 19,000 firearm-related suicides.

It has been shown that individuals living in a home where firearms are present are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not own firearms, because firearms are the most lethal method of suicide.

Every year on average there are over 10,000 firearm-related homicides in America, 75% of them using handguns.

The US has one of the highest incidence rates of homicides committed with a firearm in the world.

Of the victims of gun homicide in America, 55% of them are African Americans.

Of the white homicide victims, 84% are killed by white offenders.

Of the black homicide victims, 93% are killed by black offenders.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and over 30,000 deaths due to firearms in the US, while, by comparison there were only 50 deaths due to firearms in the UK.

(A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot dead in a public place.)

The rate of deadly mass shootings in the US keeps increasing every year.

Sadly, unbalanced individuals can become infected by the attention given other disturbed people who have become mass killers, resulting in more mass killing.

More people are typically killed with guns in the US in a day (on average, 85) than are killed in the UK in a year.

In the US, areas with higher levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun assault and gun robbery.

At least 11 assassination attempts with firearms have been made on US Presidents: four were successful (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy).

Above: The assassination of President William McKinley, 1901

And throughout history, gun violence has played a major role in civil disorder.

But, let me be fair….

Most gun owners are not criminals and purchase guns to prevent violence, rather than for recreational use.

Debate over gun control remains a heated and controversial issue in America.

Firearms regulations are sets of laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification and use of firearms by civilians.

Much, albeit necessary, focus has been on the possession, modification and use of firearms.

Personally, I think there needs to be more focus and more restrictions on the manufacture, sale and transfer of firearms as well.

The fewer guns produced, the fewer guns can be purchased, legally or illegally.

If manufacturers are restricted to selling arms only to the military and the law enforcement community and private selling of arms to the public are reduced while the private purchase of arms is made prohibitively expensive throughout heavy taxation, then might the production and availability of new armament to the general public be reduced.

As for existing guns, limit ownership to one weapon, buy back or seize (should the gun owner refuse to sell) the remaining weapons and destroy them.

My argument is if the purpose of purchasing a firearm is recreation or self-protection, only one firearm is necessary.

If the purpose of owning a firearm is recreation or self-protection, then, like Canada, let that ownership be restricted to rifles and shotguns, banning the future purchase of handguns and semi-automatics.

As for the illegal purchase and sale of firearms, let the penalties be so harsh as to actively discourage the practice.

Those who read these words may accuse me of being a “gun grabber”.

They are right.

With great power comes great responsibilty.

Owning a gun is a great power – the power to end another person´s life.

Quite frankly, there are far too many civilians who don´t act responsibly, and though there are indeed many who do, it only takes a few to cause carnage as was witnessed on Sunday night in Paradise, Nevada.


Enough with “thoughts and prayers”.

Offering condolences after a public tragedy, manmade or natural, is a poor substitute for preventing or preparing for these tragedies.

There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them:

“Go in peace, be warmed and filled.”,

….without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2: 14 – 16, The Holy Bible)

(Donald Trump, regarding Puerto Rico, take note.)

As well, we need to learn from history that shows just how irresponsible civilians can be once they get their hands on a firearm.


Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), Russia, Monday 27 February 1917

Events took a decisive turn in the early hours of the day, when the army, as many had predicted, began mutinying.

At 3 am, following the previous day´s example of the Pavlovsky rebels, the soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment´s barracks near the junction of the Moika River and the Ekaterininsky Canal, some of whom had been ordered to fire on the crowds on Sunday, decided to mutiny.

When the soldiers lined up for duty, some of them turned on their commanding officer and shot him dead.

They were unable, however, to persuade the rest of the Regiment to join them, so they headed off to incite other regiments, picking up a rabble of civilian supporters along the way.

They gathered at the Liteiny Bridge and headed to the depot battalion of the Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Regiments as well as the 6th Engineer Battalion.

Liteyny Bridge Panorama.jpg

Above: Liteiny Bridge, today

Most of them soon joined the Volynsky rebels – with the Engineer Battalion even bringing their marching band – and, by the end of the day, would kill the commanders of a battalion of the Preobrazhensky and a battalion of the Volynsky as well as numerous other officers.

In those first few hours most of the rebellious soldiers were disorientated and numbed by the spontaneous decision they had made.

They had no sense of where to go or what to do, other than get other regiments to join them.

Such was the euphoria among the rebellious troops that many simply walked around shouting, cheering and arguing amongst themselves “like schoolboys broken out of school”.

Leadership of this motley mob of soldiers and civilians devolved into acts of sudden bravado or rabble-rousing on street corners, but they quickly realised that they needed to arm themselves.

It was a huge shock to Meriel Buchanan, daughter of the British Ambassador, arriving back in Petrograd at 8 o´clock that morning from a visit with friends in the country, to find there were no trams or carriages to transport her and her luggage back to the Embassy.

She was forcibly struck by how Petrograd had changed in her absence:

“In the bleak, gray light of the early morning the town looked inexpressibly desolate and deserted, the bare, ugly street leading up from the station, with the dirty white stucco houses on either side, seemed, after the snow-white peace of the country, somehow the very acme of dreariness.”

At 10 am, with Meriel Buchanan shut up and forbidden to leave the Embassy, the rebel group descended on the Old Arsenal at the top of the Liteiny, which housed both the Artillery Department and a small arms factory.

Above: Liteiny Prospekt, today

In a mad frenzy, they smashed in the Arsenal´s ground floor door and windows and looted rifles, revolvers, swords, daggers, ammunition and machine guns.

Around 11 am, they turned their attention to the hated symbols of tsarism – the nearby District Court and the Palace of Justice, together with an adjoining remand prison.

The prison was burst open, the inmates set free and handed weapons, and the prison set on fire.

The District Court was torched, thus destroying all the criminal records of all the freed convicts as well as valuable historical archives dating back to the reign of Catherine the Great (1762 – 1796).

American photographer Donald Thompson watched the violence on the Liteiny when suddenly he himself was arrested and hauled off to the police station.

He showed the police his American press pass, but he was locked in a suffocating small cell with 20 other people.

The mob broke into the police station, smashed the lock to his cell and suddenly people threw their arms around him and kissed him, telling him he was free.

In the front office, as Thompson made his way out, he “found a sight beyond description”: “women were down on their knees hacking the bodies of the police to pieces”.

He saw one woman “trying to tear somebody´s face off with her bare fingers”.

The Liteiny quarter was now a scene of “indescribable confusion”, ablaze from the fires at the District Court and the Palace of Justice, the air thick with the crackle of random shooting. (French diplomat Louis de Robien)

An abandoned, overturned tram was being used as a platform from which a succession of speakers attempted to harangue the mob, but “it was impossible to make heads or tails of the disorderly ebb and flow of all these panic-stricken people running in every direction.” (Louis de Robien)

When a group of still-loyal Senonovsky Regiment soldiers arrived, there was a pitched battle between them and a company of Volynsky mutineers – watched by groups of civilians huddled into side passages and doorways, many of them women and children tempted out by “the spirit of curiosity”, and who took enormous risks, “walking out calmly under a lively fire to drag back the wounded”. (Louis de Robien)

The wounded were carried off as fast as they fell, leaving behind “long trails of fresh blood” in the snow. (US Special Attaché James Houghteling)

In between bouts of fighting, civilians scuttled back and forth across the Liteiny, intent on carrying on shopping as normal, even lining up outisde the bakeries and dispersing only when they heard machine gunfire.

To many of the bewildered civilian population, the events swirling around them were unreal, “as though they were watching some melodrama in one of the cinemas.” (James Houghteling)

Such was the abandon with which weapons looted from army barracks, the arsenal, prisons and police stations were handed out to everyone.

Crowds of civilians, workers and soldiers were soon parading round gleefully, brandishing their weapons and firing them off at random.

“Here….a hooligan with an officer´s sword fastened over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and revolver in the other.

There….a small boy with a large butcher´s knife on his shoulder.

Close by, a workman….holding an officer´s sword with one hand and a tramline cleaner in the other.

A student with two rifles and a belt of machine gun bullets around his waist was walking beside another with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick.

A drunken soldier had only the barrel of a rifle remaining, the stock having been broken off in forcing an entry into some shop.” (British engineer James Jones)

There was no safe haven for any officers seen walking the streets that day who did not immediately surrender their weapons when challenged.

By midday the rabble of weapon-toting civilians in and around the Liteiny had been joined by 25,000 soldiers from the Volynsky, Preobrazhensky, Litovsky, Keksgolmsky and Sapper Regiments.

The dense crowd jammed the street for a quarter of a mile, “carried on by its own faith in itself”. (Arno Dosch-Fleurot, New York World)

Everywhere, amidst the mighty roar of revolutionary excitement, the singing and cheering and shouting, the fighting colour of scarlet was in evidence – in crude revolutionary banners, in rosettes and armbands and in red ribbons tied to the barrels of rifles.

Throughout that terrifying day in Petrograd many observers became alarmed by the anarchy and violence of the mob.

This was no benign revolution, but rather “like watching some savage beast that had broken out of its cage”. (US entrepreneur Negley Farson)

Hardened criminals, bestialised by brutal prison conditions, yet released by the mob from prisons across Petrograd, proceeded to incite the crowds to violence, arson and mass looting.

It was dangerous for any foreign national to venture into the streets without wearing some token of sympathy with the Revolution – a red ribbon or an armband of some kind.

“It was a very easy time in which to be killed.” (Isaac Marcosson, Everybody´s Magazine)

Foreigners were constantly being stopped and challenged on the streets for being policemen or spies.

Some were killed if they could not produce proof of identity quickly enough.

That day “anybody could have a gun for the asking”. (James Jones)

With so many untrained and inexperienced people now in possession of them and not “having a care as to which way the gun was pointing when they tried it out for the first time“, indiscriminate firing led to many innocent bystanders being killed and wounded. (James Stinton Jones)


All day long, people – mixed casualities of soldiers and civilians – flocked into hospitals from the streets, trying to escape the shooting.

A long overdue day of reckoning had arrived, as popular hatred was visited, with a savage vengeance, on the police.

During this February Revolution of 1917, there were far too many incidental acts of murder of policemen for any reliable record ever to have been taken of the numbers killed.

Nobody was immune to the experience of such savagery.

By late evening 66,700 men of the Imperial Army in Petrograd had mutinied.

Revolutionaries were now in charge of the whole city, except the Winter Palace, the Admirality and the General Staff – still guarded by loyal troops, as were the telephone exchange and the telegraph office.

Above: The Winter Palace, today

The whole day had been “a Revolution carried on by chance – no Organisation, no particular leader, just a city full of hungry people who had stood enough and were ready to die if necessary before they would put up with any more tsarism”. (US aviator Bert Hall)

Prise de la Bastille.jpg

Above: The storming of the Bastille Prison, Paris, 14 July 1789

These events bring to mind the French Revolution of 1789 and Charles Dickens´ A Tale of Two Cities.

“Petrograd was flaring like the set piece of a colossal firework display.” (Canadian William J. Gibson)

“The prisons were opened, the workmen were armed, the soldiers were without officers, a Soviet (worker´s council) was being set up in opposition to the Temporary Committee (formed by the Duma´s moderate and liberal members) chosen from the elected representatives of the people.”

Petrograd “was already on the high road to anarchy”.

(UK Military Attaché Major-General Alfred Knox)

Above: A scene of anarchy, Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648)

As I have previously written, revolution or civil war is highly unlikely in America as there is great lack of cohesion amongst its citizens.

But should American citizens ever get it into their heads to revolt, their 270 million guns could create one hell of a state of anarchy and destruction.

I hope that day never comes, but a failure to address the problem of an overproliferation of guns is perhaps tempting fate one time too many.

Is it only a century that separates Paradise from Petrograd?

Man at bridge holding head with hands and screaming

Above: Edvard Munch´s The Scream

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917


RIP Earth (or how I started worrying and learned to love science)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 – 26 September 2016

As the few, but faithful, followers of my blog know, I am a freelance teacher of English as a second language here in Switzerland.

So this position often finds me, on a regular basis, in situations that can be quite challenging.

My latest challenge is an old foe I have wrestled with on a number of occasions in the past: institutions which insist their students learn what they aren´t enthusiastic about learning.

And, truth be told, this is a battle I haven´t always won, for one must somehow make seductive that which isn´t that seductive in the first place.

Think back to high school and the subjects you had that you were forced to take but you didn´t enjoy.

While I was excited by literature and history and geography, I was unmotivated by science, math or tech.

I couldn´t have cared less, and I often suspect that the only reason I passed those courses is that the teachers wanted me out of their courses and gave me marks I didn´t deserve!

Only years later by travelling and independent home study did there arise within me an abstract attraction to these subjects.

Now my latest challenge is that I have somehow talked a school into believing that I am competent enough to teach technical English to employees of a company that produces coffee machines.

The school that chose their textbooks seems unconcerned that the textbooks that the students use are not particularly related to the daily business of the employees.

So, for example, I have had to make relevant subjects like oil drilling and laser technology to people who have no interest in them, and, truth be told, are subjects I am not much motivated to teach.

Now, normally I would simply persevere and keep teaching these subjects to the best of my ability regardless of diminishing class attendance until the course had been completed.

But, yesterday, a conversation after class with one of my students has made me reconsider my approach and attitude to these courses.

Nicole told me that the firm Eugster Frismag AG once had “ordinary” English courses, but after a multitude of complaints from the students that the courses weren´t technical enough they asked my school to offer a curriculum of technical courses.

Now I have taught technical English courses before Eugster Frismag – at technical colleges and companies – so I was assumed to be a natural choice for this assignment.

But I would be speaking falsely if I claimed that teaching these courses came naturally to me.

I have felt like a fish on the shore teaching lobsters about the glory of mountains.

But when Nicole told me that she was unhappy with the technical aspects of the course but remained with the course in hopes of improving her English, I have become filled with a new resolve…

To make what I teach (and, by extension, what I write) both relevant and interesting to my audience.

Now before you, my gentle readers, grow fearful that I am going to now wax poetically about snake wells vs vertical wells, or explain in excruciating detail everything you didn´t want to know about Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, let me assure you that this is not my intention.

If it could be said that my blog possesses a style or a theme, the approach I try to take with my writing is to take my personal experiences as well as the events of the day and combine them to make writing that is both interesting and relevant to the reader.

I am not always sure that I am successful, but I always keep trying.

In my search for relevant materials that might capture the interest of others I again turn to headlines of the day:

“Something isn´t right with our Internet shopping habits.

With every new delivery…

Another cardboard box.

Scientists and policy makers are grappling with the long term environmental effects of an economy that runs increasingly on instant gratification.

We want what we want NOW and companies like Amazon and Google are eager to deliver.

Google 2015 logo.svg

The $350 billion e-commerce industry has doubled in the last five years.

The environmental cost includes 35.4 million tons of cardboard (2014) and the emissions of increasingly personalised freight services.

Consumers share as much responsibility for the environmental cost of the deliveries as the companies that provide the speedy services.

The Fibre Box Association – the trade group of the cardboard industry – estimates that the use of boxes for e-commerce is growing faster than most other market segments.

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco´s main recycling processor, which collects 100 tons of cardboard every day, has a simple solution:

Recology Logo Official.jpg

Slow down consumption.” (NY Times, 16 February 2016)

“Facing a six-year barrage of increasingly large earthquakes, Oklahoma regulators are ordering the state´s powerful oil and gas industry to substantially cut back the underground disposal of industry wastes that have caused tremors across the state.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has asked well operators in central Oklahoma to reduce by 40% the amount of oil and gas wastes they are injecting deep into the earth.

Seal of Oklahoma.svg

The actions significantly increase the effort to rein in the earthquakes, which the Commission has long tried to reduce one well or a handful of wells at a time, but they are an equally notable challenge to the industry, which will most likely be able to make the cutbacks only by reducing oil and gas production.

The liquid wastes are a byproduct of pumping oil and gas.

The more that is drawn from the ground, the more wastes must be disposed.

Most of the oil and gas industry has cooperated with the Commission´s earthquake reduction efforts in the past, but a handful have complied only under pressure.

The new orders come after three of the largest quakes in Oklahoma´s history, 4.7, 4.8 and 5.1 magnitude shocks that rocked a major oil field this year.

In 2010, when the tremors began, Oklahoma recorded three earthquakes at or above a magnitude of 3.0.

Last year, Oklahoma had 907.

Although critics contend that earthquakes have caused millions of dollars of damage, Oklahoma´s political leaders have long been reluctant to impose restrictions on an industry that dominates the state´s economy.

Until last spring, Republican Governor Mary Fallin maintained that the cause of the tremors was unclear and the state legislature refused to consider legislation addressing the issue.

Mary Fallin.jpg

Governor Fallin abandoned her position as the number of quakes rapidly increased, but the political leadership was not jolted into action until January after a series of small earthquakes damaged homes and interrupted power in Edmond, an Oklahoma City suburb and home to many in the state´s political and financial elite.” (NY Times, 7 March 2016)

Pollution in America has gotten so bad that immigrants need to be persuaded to trust the tap water…

“At a time when water crises in communities like Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, have eroded confidence in public water systems – particularly in poor and minority communities – a health outreach initiative in Colorado is trying to dispel the notion that all tap water is harmful…”(New York Times, 31 March 2016)

The Flint River in Flint, Michigan, United States, in the late 1970s during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, Taken from approximately halfway between the Grand Traverse Street bridge and Beach-Garland Street bridge, looking east.

Above: Flint River, Flint, Michigan, in the 1970s

And environmental problems are not exclusively American…

“Queensland tourism operators have broken their silence about the worst crisis ever faced by the Great Barrier Reef, with more that 170 businesses and individuals pleading with the Australian government to take urgent action to tackle climate change and ensure the Reef survives.

Many tourism operators have previously been quiet about concerns for the Reef, fearful that speaking about the mass bleaching event would turn tourists away, lowering their incomes in the short term.

The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst bleaching event ever seen, with virtually the entire Reef affected.

Unusally warm water has killed as much as half the corals in the northern sections and scientists have found climate change will make those conditions normal in less than 20 years.” (Guardian, 6 May 2016)

And in the Great White North…

“Real life sightings of grolar bears (a hybrid breed of polar and grizzly bear) are becoming more common as the Arctic warms at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, driving the two species closer in the hunt for food.

In Hudson Bay there have been documented cases of polar bears and grizzlies feasting on a whale carcass together.

The hybrid may ultimately become a threat to the polar bear, as grizzlies are more numerous and their territory is expanding, meaning that they could dilute the polar bear population until it fades away altogether.” (Times, 25 May 2016)

Polar Bear - Alaska (cropped).jpg

Let´s look in at the wildlife of the Dark Continent…

More than 1,300 rhinos were killed by poachers in Africa last year, the highest number since a surge in their slaughter began a decade ago.

Diceros bicornis.jpg

Poachers target rhinos for their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicines in the belief that they cure hangovers, fevers and even cancer.

Rhino horn can be worth more than gold on the black market.

Black rhinos are much rarer than white rhinos, with only 5,000 in the wild, compared with 70,000 in 1970.

Africa has fewer than 750 eastern black rhinos, the rarest of three subspecies.” (Times, 6 June 2016)

“The fight over a titanium mine near the South African village of Xolobeni is a symbol of the struggle between traditional industry and a sustainable future.

The dunes appear endless.

Behind them lie rolling grassy hills, banana trees, sweet potato fields and thatched huts.

There are horses, goats and dogs, but no roads, no towns.

The only constant sound is the crash of the breakers from the Indian Ocean.

This is Xolobeni, a remote village on the eastern shore of South Africa and the focus of a bitter dispute over a massive titanium mining project.

Photo of Xolobeni area

For activists, the story is simple:

An exploitative international mining company is set on uprooting a community and destroying the local environment to reach precious ore.

For supporters of the project, the opposite is true:

Much needed investors have come to help South Africa exploit a key resource and develop an impoverished region.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, 40, an activist against the project and who grew up in the area, claims that much of the coast and its hinterland would be destroyed by the mining project, with water sources drained, fish stocks undermined, farms razed and over 2,000 people displaced to rudimentary township settlements.

“Xolobeni will become a desert.

They (the Australia-based Mineral Commodities – MRC) will poison everything.

We are living with the plants and nature and we know that without the plants we cannot live.

The mine will poison our land.

Our way of life will die completely.” (Observer, 12 June 2016)

And as we take more from Earth, Earth is less able to meet our demands…

“An upsurge in the international and local demand for avacados has inspired widespread theft in New Zealand, creating a black market for the popular fruit.

Close-up picture of foliage and avocado fruit

So far this year there have been nearly 40 large scale thefts from avocado orchards on the North Island with as many as 350 avocados being stolen each time.

“We have reports of people driving utility vehicles into orchards and filling up the entire back tray.

Growers are finding blankets and duvets in their orchards with piles of avocados in them that thieves have picked before being interrupted.

There´s certainly a large scale theft going on and large numbers of it going on.”(Bevan Jelley, NZ Avocado Market manager)(Independent, 15 June 2016)

We need to learn to strike a balance with nature…

“The new airport on the island of St. Helena, in the south Atlantic 1,200 miles from the African coastline, where Napoleon spent his last days, may never open because of wind and turbulence risks.

First Comair Boeing 737-800 flight to Saint Helena Airport (191).jpg

The opening of the airport, built for about 250 million pounds, was indefinitely postponed last month after test flights showed that dangerous wind conditions made landings and take-offs unsafe.” (Times, 4 June 2016)

“As Louisiana floodwaters recede, the scope of the disaster comes into view.

Louisiana said that at least 11 people died and that about 30,000 people had been rescued.

In Louisiana, severe weather can often seem a trauma visited and revisited, but the disaster unfolding last month fits into a recent and staggering pattern in more than half a dozen states, where floods have rolled out at such a scale that scientists say they might be a once every 500 or 1,000 year occurrence.

The cumultative, increasingly grim toll, from Maryland to South Carolina to Louisiana to Texas, includes scores of lives and billions of dollars in economic losses.

Everywhere the same refrain – that it has never happened like this – has given rise to the same question:

How should communities and families plan for deluges that are theoretically uncommon but now seem to play out with appaling regularity?

As Louisiana faced its second catastrophic flood in about five months, climate scientists elsewhere cautioned that the state was unlikely to be the last to confront a disaster like this one.

“There is definitely an increase in heavy rainfall due to climate change.

The actual increase from place to place is going to be variable because of the randomness of the weather.

Some places will see a dramatic change.”(John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist)”(New York Times, 17 August 2016)

“The winter job of the RRS Ernest Shackleton is to support British research in the Antarctic into the effects of climate change.

RRS Ernest Shackleton BB.jpg

During the summer the ship supports a cruise liner, Crystal Serenity, whose passengers have a choice of eight restaurants, afternoon tea, golf tuition and an itinerary through the Arctic Northwest Passage possible only because of climate change.


“There is something terribly ironic about taking advantage of climate change to see an ecosystem that is undergoing destruction.

This ship can only go because of climate change.

As sea ice disappears so will the ecosystem based around it.

This is extinction tourism.

They are going to see animals before they disappear.

I find that extremely problematic.”(Michael Byers, University of British Columbia)(Times, 18 June 2016)

We are destroying this planet, our home, in the name of comfort and convenience, in the name of progress and profit.

All of nature, including man, is part of one great whole interdependent ecosystem.

The destruction of any of its components means the decline and destruction of the whole.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in Earth´s atmosphere.

Its concentration in the air is rising in line with fossil fuel consumption.

Earth´s temperature is rising.

We are the cause of global warming.

“The demand for energy is certain to increase…as an ever larger population strives to improve its standard of living.“(Charles Keeling, author of Climate Change and Carbon Dioxide: An Introduction)

Charles David Keeling 2001.jpg

The more we demand products, the more products are produced.

The more products are produced, the more fuel is consumed –  both in these products´ production as well as their delivery.

So many of us are dependent upon technology for our daily lives yet despite this the country that uses these technologies the most – the United States – doubts science the most.

According to the National Geographic magazine of March 2015, a third of Americans believe that humans have existed in their present form, less than half of them believe in global warming, that the moon landing was fake, that vaccinations cause more harm than good and that genetically modified food is evil.

National Geographic March 2009.jpg

Perhaps it is a question of rejecting what isn’t understood.

Perhaps it is a fear that science has its own agenda.

Perhaps this fear is caused by the truth of science refuting “truths” we believe to be “self-evident“, truth we prefer to be true rather than what actually is.

Some folks believe that climate change is a fantasy meant to prevent industry from making a profit.

And even the nature of science that rarely claims absolute certainty as there remains gaps in knowledge causes folks to doubt its evidence for science does not pretend to be infallible.

But nature has its laws

And measurement of phenomena is usually reliable.

It never fails to astound me that it is easier for some folks to believe in God than it is for them to believe in scientific evidence….

To believe in technology but not in the science behind the technology…

To believe only the information that fits with our belief systems.

We believe what the Internet says if what we read conforms to our wishes.

It is an age of disbelief, despite all evidence justifying belief.

Climate change is real.

Climate change needs to be stopped.

We need to change our lifestyles, for our planet can no longer be sustained if we don´t.

I support the environment, because I live in one.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 lunar mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.




Adam in the Abbey 3: The greater fool

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 – 20 September 2016

I have, up till recently, been an avid comic book reader and collector.

And, sorry, DC comics, generally I have made mine Marvel.


For it has been Marvel that struck upon the notion of making their heroes with feet of clay, rather than just Super aliens or vengeful billionaire Batman types.

Spider-man was just a Sad Sack teenager whom everyone in his universe reviled.

The Hulk was a victim of repressed anger and overexposure to gamma radiation.

Iron Man was an alcoholic, Wolverine a victim of government experimentation, and Daredevil was blinded by radioactivity that enhanced all his other senses.

It took DC and other comic producers years to realise that what sells animated literature to humans is the humanity of the comic book characters.

Marvel killed off loved ones, had them divorce, die from tragic accidents or fatal diseases, go crazy and even quit their superheroics when the pressure got too much.

And the moments where Marvel writers truly excelled was when the lines they drew between good and evil became blurred.

Taking my nose out of the comic books, I have noticed that there has been a tendency in human history to paint ourselves with haloes and to demonise our opponents, for in doing so we justify questionable behaviour like wars and violence and injustice upon one another.

We are selectively fed information designed to elicit our emotions in favour of protecting the status quo of those who benefit by its continuance.

So regardless of how those we oppose love their children too, or that they too feel fear and sorrow and hurt and love and compassion and tenderness, their villainy must be dramatic and unquestionable, otherwise it is harder to make their children orphans, their villages uninhabitable and their graveyards full.

We also go to the opposite extreme to make saints out of mere mortals.

Mandela never defecated, Gandhi believed in equality for everyone including his wife and Mother Teresa never felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of tending to the poor of Calcutta.

I am reminded of comic books and the issue of opinion.

Daredevil is told a story by his mother of an encounter between a knight and a priest in the forest.

The knight mocks the priest and tells him that all the priest sacrifices – physical pleasures, material possessions, family – are for nothing as the priest cannot prove uncategorically that God exists.

The knight asks the priest: what will he do if when he dies and finds all of this sacrifice had been for naught?

The priest responds that he would be disappointed, but then he asks the knight: what will he do if the priest is right?

Who then, we must ask, is the greater fool?

In economics, the greater fool theory states that the price of an object is determined by, not its intrinsic value, but rather by belief and expectation, often unsupported by rationale, of the market participants.

The Canadian musical comedy group the Arrogant Worms suggests in one of their songs that:

Completely Canadian Compilation! cover art

“History is made by stupid people.

Clever people wouldn´t even try.

If you want a place in the history books…

Then do something dumb before you die.”

So when I consider the founding of New Norcia and recall the hardships endured to make it a reality…

I want to tell you a story about a great fool…

New Norcia, Western Australia, April 2014

New Norcia Benedictine Monastery.jpg

I had been to Singapore and I attended all the pomp and ceremony of my best friend`s wedding in Perth and I still had a few days to play with before I was required to fly back home.

Now we tend to forget as non-Australians that Australia is BIG, very BIG.

Australia is the world´s 6th largest country and the world´s largest island, an island so big it qualifies as a continent and the only continent that is also one nation (by the present geopolitical map).

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Western Australia (WA) covers 1/3 of the continent-country yet contains only a population of 2.3 million people, out of the national total of 22 million.

Map of Australia with Western Australia highlighted

Most of these 2.3 million live within a 200 km radius of Perth, Australia´s most isolated state capital city.

Once the visitor has visited the capital and its sister/rival city Fremantle and popped over to Rottnest Island (“Rotto”), there is not much left “in the ´hood” to see that doesn´t require many miles of travel and much careful planning to reach, and as I only had a few days to explore Australia before flying back to Switzerland via Singapore, the closest and easiest site seemed to be New Norcia.

Now if an alien civilisation ever landed in New Norcia they could be forgiven for thinking they had not landed in Australia, for at first glance this 19th century monastic community 130 km north of Perth appears to be Spanish.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that this unexpected collection of Benedictine buildings in the Australian bush looks Spanish, because the buildings were Spanish-inspired by an inspired Spainard with a dream, a mission, to bring Christianity to the indigenous population.

Now before one examines the extraordinary life of Rosendo Salvado and his legacy, one must never forget that Australia was and still remains a very dangerous place.

Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else in the world.

The world´s ten most poisonous snakes are Australian.

The five most lethal creatures in the world are Australian.

If you are not stung or pronged to death, you may be eaten by sharks or crocodiles or carried away by strong currents or bake outside in the Outback.

And the damned place is strange

No one can figure out how the indigeous peoples came to be there, its seasons are back to front, its constellations upside down, its water drainage flows counterclockwise, and its wildlife contains creatures that bounce, fish that climb trees, foxes that fly and crustaceans so big that a grown man could climb inside their shells.

80% of all that lives in Australia exists nowhere else and shouldn´t exist at all, as Australia is the driest, flattest, most desiccated, infertile, climatically aggressive, most hostile place on Earth, excepting Antarctica.

Welcome to Oz, mate.

Now for a moment imagine you are talking to your mum or your worrying wife.

Imagine for a moment that you are telling her you are going to leave home and travel to a faraway place where danger and death are more commonplace than is ever found where you live.

And the reason you are leaving is not because you are economically insecure or unpopular at home, but you are leaving because you have a dream to spread the Word of God to those who have not heard it before.

I believe that there are few folks who understand this impulse and fewer still that have this impulse themselves, for most folks do not lack for courage, but many men and women prefer the sanity of security rather than the uncertainty of adventure, the comforts of home and family and relationships rather than the isolation of faraway places with strange sounding names.

Now when I had told my long-suffering wife I was flying to Australia to attend my best friend´s wedding her only concern was whether I would spend too much money.

For it is common knowledge that most Australians of European descent have gathered themselves close to shore where conditions are less wild than further inland and have sanitised the place to keep the wilderness away and put up parking lots for your shopping convenience.

Then looking at the paved Paradise they have created, modelled on a country that rarely thinks about them, they wish to keep and secure it as it is and reluctantly accept change that might affect their ideas of Utopia.

In my short stay in Oz I felt that I was travelling in the southwestern United States, for there are similarities between these two distant points on the map.

Desert climate, a feel of modernity rising out of the frontier, even street grids and city layout, it all felt uncannily familiar to this traveller who had been to the American Southwest.

Like their American cousins, individual Australians are, as Bill Bryson describes them, “immensely likeable – cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted and unfailingly obliging”.

Black Swan, Bill Bryson, 2000, Down Under book cover.jpg

But collectively, Aussies, like Yanks, do have some questionable attitudes when it comes to dealing with their indigenous past or their intercultural present.

(And, please note, that I, as a Canadian, must acknowledge that Canadians are also remiss at dealing with our own indigenous past or intercultural present/future.

Flag of Canada

The only difference between Canadians and Australians in this regard is that we have been quieter about voicing our wrong attitudes, but to pretend that there is no xenophobia or distrust in Canada would be to paint a reality that isn´t entirely true.)

When I look at the history of European expansion I am struck by how similar it is to modern tourism in terms of mentality.

Just as the modern tourist, with limited time and budget, wishes to be little disturbed by oddity and inconvenience and prefers to find much of the commonplace comforts of home wherever he travels, so the Europeans who dared to venture from their native shores transplanted their culture to alien lands, little caring, then and now, how this would affect the new worlds that they had foisted themselves upon.

The English would build a new England, regardless of how inappropriate or ill-fitting a new England would be in the “new” world.

So Europeans and their descendants in Australia did/do what Europeans and their descendants did/do in North and South America and Africa, what was/is unfamiliar was/is either eliminated or kept apart at arm´s length or forced to adapt to the conditions we impose(d) upon it.

Destroy, exile or convert.

In 1696 the Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh, after discovering Rottsnest Island, landed on the western shore of Australia as its first white visitor ever.

“Big Willie” didn´t stay.

After him, Antoine d´Entrecasteaux explored this region in 1792 with the idea of annexing it for France, but, mon Dieu, la France was in the middle of une guerre civile and in no position to stake their claims there.


Tant pis, he left.

“Ah, hah!”, thought the English.

“This is our big chance!”

The English dispatched Captain James Stirling in 1828, who took a look around, liked what he saw, and had no difficulty in persuading his government to provide funds for the founding of a colony.


The Swan River Colony was founded on 1 June 1829, but like their North American predecessors of Canada´s Anticosti Island or the Norse colonies in Newfoundland or America´s Jamestown colony, bitter weather conditions and the inevitable hardships of the early stages of building a civilisation where that civilisation had not been before, caused many of the new settlers to lose heart.

They claimed they had been deceived, but they had in fact been victims of their own imaginations, conjuring up visions of wealth and comfort which they thought were theirs simply for the asking.

In their disappointment, many turned their backs on Swan River, saying it was unhealthy, barren, useless, and they went off to Sydney or other places where their imagined goals might be found.

But the stout-hearted remained.

By 1845, the year that Rosendo Salvado first landed in Australia, the Colony had prospered.

There were over 4, 000 colonists, 2,000 horses, 10,000 cattle, 140,000 sheep, 2,000 pigs and 1,400 goats.

(It is unclear as to how many were permitted to vote!)

In The Salvado Memoirs, one of the few accounts available about this remarkable man, purchased at the New Norcia gift shop, Salvado diplomatically recounts the state of the Catholic Church´s presence in Australia:

18 years after Captain James Cook had taken possession of the eastern coast of Australia in the name of Great Britain, the first colony was founded there by Captain Philip, and with it the first town, Sydney.

In a short time, the Colony attained a high degree of prosperity in trade and agriculture, partly thanks to the activity of its governors and the enterprise of its European inhabitants, but with the growth of both population and wealth, this society, most of it male and many of its members under judicial sentence in their own country, rushed headlong into evil courses.

There was a great outbreak of crime which even the severest penalties – some of them quite dreadful – failed to prevent.

No appeal was made to religion, either for spiritual support or moral sanction, and it would seem the Almighty allowed things to go on this way for years, to bring home the lesson that, as far as the inner reformation of man is concerned, human means are worthless, unless they have a religious source and inspiration.

Through the workings of Providence, two Catholic priests, who had been sentenced to exile by English law, arrived in Sydney in 1800.

Fired by that religious zeal and concern for others which Christ left as a legacy for His disciples, and which had been the reason for their banishment, they took up their task anew.

Three years later they were recalled, and the Catholics of the Colony were left, like those who after a flash of lightning are, again in darkness.

Things were in this state when in 1817 an Irish priest, Father O´Flynn came out to Australia.

Unfortunately religious intolerance brought about his return, it being alleged that he had not obtained the government´s consent to come.

Before leaving his faithful Catholic followers, Father O´Flynn left behind the blessed Eucharist there for their consolation.

Many protests were made by the Catholics of New South Wales against O´Flynn´s enforced departure and as a result the Governor decided to bring out, at his own expense, two other priests, Father Connolly and Father Therry in 1820.

The good Fathers were quite surprised on arrival to find that the sacred writ left by Father O´Flynn two years before remained whole and incorrupt.

Though the Protestants were not happy to see the number of Catholics growing every day and prevailed upon the Governor to issue regulations to impede this development, Catholics even so became more numerous and fervent than ever.

64 years after Cook´s arrival and 46 years after the foundation of the Colony, the spiritual care of the vast land of Australia was confided by Pope Gregory XVI to the English Benedictine priest, John Bede Polding, who was consecrated Bishop for the task.

Bishop Polding arrived in Sydney in 1835.

Thanks to the strenous works of good priests, the Catholic Faith flourished and spread, but the increase in the number of Catholics, the enormous distances involved and the establishment of new settlements on the Australian continent, made it next to impossible for Bishop Polding to attend to the entire area of his jurisdiction, so at the end of 1840, the Bishop sailed for Rome, to inform the Holy See of the needs of his vicariate.

The Pope lent a ready ear, and by way of promoting spiritual good, divided the Diocese of Australia into a number of episcopal sees, giving Sydney primary status, with Polding as Archbishop.

Meanwhile, the Catholics of Swan River, who had been, from the foundation of the Colony in 1829, without church, altar or priest, communicated with Sydney asking for a priest to say Mass and administer the sacraments in a church they sought permission to build.

On the Archbishop´s arrival back in Sydney in 1843, he was informed of Perth´s wishes and sent the Reverend John Brady, Vicar General and Belgian priest John Joostens and Irish student Patrick O´Reilly to the Swan River Colony.

The Archbishop´s emissaries arrived in Western Australia on 24 November 1843 and shortly after landing asked Governor John Hutt for a plot of land to build a church in Perth.

While the church was being built, Father Brady visited parts of the Colony to get a better idea of the numbers of Catholics there were in the Colony and to reawaken fervour for their religious duties.

Brady then decided that he ought to go to Europe to acquaint the Holy See with the plight of these Catholics so out of touch with far-off Sydney 3,000 miles distant and in no position to receive spiritual assistance.

Brady left the Colony on 14 February 1844 and arrived in Rome that November.

…and thus begins the story of Rosendo Salvado.

Father Rosendo didn´t need to leave Italy, for he had already created for himself a life that was enviable and admirable.

The good Father was known for his genial and expansive nature, possessing a manner of ease and good humour that won him both esteem and friendship.

Salvado was a man of culture and scientific curiosity, a man of great positive energy and deep personal piety and he was physically tough.

Rosedo´s skill and sensitivity as an organist and composer had already brought him recognition in the most discriminating circles of the Benedictine Order in Europe.

Medalla San Benito.PNG

He was fluent in his native Spanish, Italian, Greek and Latin.

Yet this same man would plough the Australian mission fields with bare and bleeding feet and would carry a sick native girl on his shoulders to safety for days on end through many miles of bush.

He was popular wherever he went and had the ability to adapt to whatever environment he found himself in.

Salvado did not need to leave Italy, for he was well-loved and respected by the community and monastery of Cava (25 miles from Naples), even to the extent that the Abbot had organised the installation of a special organ for Salvado´s exclusive use.

Badia di Cava.JPG

Even after Salvado had begun his mission in Australia and would return periodically to Europe to raise funds for its continuance, the Abbot would still try to convince Salvado to return to Cava.

But Salvado and his fellow Benedictine, Father Joseph Serra, were determined to devote themselves to foreign missions and on 26 December 1844 they set out together to ask permission from the Church in Rome to be sent abroad to serve God to the best of their abilities.

Salvado would learn through Father Brady of the difficulties that awaited him and of how uncertain were the dangers that lay ahead.

Spainards Salvado and Serra, Austrian Father Angelo Confalonieri, Italian layman Nicola Caporelli and Irish Bishop Brady left Rome on the evening of 8 June 1845, and travelled to Paris, Amiens, London and the Downside Monastery (112 miles west of London) collecting eager followers as they went.

Downside abbey2-2.jpg

Above: Downside Abbey

What started as a fraternity of five became a six-nation troupe of 28, including a nurse, nuns and a novice.

They set out from England to Australia on 17 September 1845.

They had no idea of the trials and tribulations that awaited them.

Some would die before their time in ways unpleasant.

They arrived in Fremantle on 8 January 1846 and soon the Australian adventure was organised into three separate missions: Northern, Southern and Central.

The Southern Mission left Perth on foot on 6 February, headed for Albany on King George Sound, which it took them till the end of March to reach.

Almost perishing from hunger and thirst, the Southern Mission was abandoned and the surviving brethern made their way to Mauritius.

The Northern Mission left Fremantle bound for Sydney on 1 March and were shipwrecked in the dangerous Torres Strait, with only the Captain and Father Superior Angelo Confalonieri surviving.

Confalonieri would manage to reach the State of Victoria but would survive only until 9 June 1848.

Salvado´s Central Mission survived but not without difficulties.

Salvado and his companions would be abandoned in the wilderness without guides, encounter poisonous grass, suffer terribly from a lack of water, endure eye troubles and abdominal pains, and all manner of hardships.

The Central Mission had at first no territory.

Salvado lived in the wilderness, leading the same nomadic live as the indigenous people whom he had come to convert.

His food was of the most unpredictable character, consisting of wild roots dug out of the earth with spears, lizards, goannas, kangaroo and grubs.

Goanna head2.jpg

Above: a goanna

After three years of difficulties living amongst the local people, Salvado was convinced they could be converted to Christianity.

After returning to Rome for assistance and money to aid him in his work, Bishop Salvado returned to Australia on 15 August 1852.

The Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia, though founded on 1 March 1846 as a mere hut in the Bush, began to take the form by which it is known today.

Salvado and his willing workers cleared land for the plough and introduced the natives to habits of industry.

They built a large monastery, schools and orphanages for the young, cottages for the married and flour mills to grind wheat.

They created a town –  in which many natives were fed, clothed and converted to Christianity.

Ronald Berndt, Professor of Antropology at the University of Western Australia, has suggested that Salvado was both a man of and before his time.

Quite soon after his arrival, Salvado commenced learning the local language, as he realised the importance of undertaking this task if he were to communicate with the local people, and though this is an approach not unusual amongst missionaries it was rare amongst the colonists of that period.

(And I imagine still rare amongst the European-descended inhabitants of modern Australia…)

Salvado was rare in that he wanted to know more about the indigenous population – not simply because this was useful in terms of evangelisation, but because he was interested in them as people.

He recognized the need to intermingle with the people, to listen and to ask.

When the natives relaxed around their fires, talking among themselves, discussing daily events or plans for tomorrow, telling stories or singing, much could be learned.

Salvado, though first and foremost a missionary, appreciated native life and the people themselves, respectfully observing and enjoying his time with them despite the difficulties that adaptation to such an alien situation caused him.

On his last return to Europe to secure more funding and assistance, Abbot Salvado died in Rome on 29 December 1900, age 87, after 51 years of service to Australia for the Benedictine Order.

I, a non-Catholic, non-religious man, was moved by both Salvado´s legacy and by the lives of the monks that carry on his work never ceasing at New Norcia.

A dozen monks live in the monastery, ranging in age from 40 to 95.

They live as St. Benedict proscribed: sleeping in spartan cells; praying together seven times a day; working between dawn and dusk and devotion on producing quality bread, nutcake and biscotti, olive oil and wine, port and ale; providing accommodation and spiritual comfort to visitors who come from all over the world.

My room contained nothing more than a shower, a bed, a desk, a night table, a lamp, and an alarm clock.

I watched the monks at prayer in the Oratory or the Church at 0515, 0645, 0730, noon, 1430, 1830, and 2015.

I did not attend all seven gatherings every day, for my restless spirit compelled me to take the guided tour, eat in the guesthouse or at the roadhouse across from the monastery where the buses would stop once a day heading towards Perth or Geraldton, visit the museum and the art gallery and the gift shop, stroll over to the grand New Norcia Hotel and linger over a glass of wine made at the Abbey and follow the River Walk.

It is impossible to capture in words what beauty lies behind the doors of New Norcia, for its majesty is not only seen but it is also felt.

In the Oratory and the Church these monks have created a place that calms one´s heart and clears one´s cluttered mind.

Outside the buildings Nature herself soothed and distracted with birdsong alien to my ears and sights strange to the eye.

It has always struck me as curious how man feels God can be kept restricted to buildings.


I saw no koala bears except in the Perth Zoo.

I saw evidence of wombat burrows but witnessed no wombats.

Parrots were everpresent in the trees of the monastery grounds and my eyes were dazzled by their brilliant colours.

Rainbow Lorikeet

I saw kangaroos in the Zoo and from the bus window on the road to and from New Norcia.

Kangaroo and joey03.jpg

I saw no waterbirds nor frogs, lizards nor platypus, for I saw no water as the River ran dry.

I briefly caught a glance at a shy dingo while kookaburras laughed at my stumbling efforts to make sense of all that surrounded me.

Dacelo novaeguineae waterworks.jpg

As for Salvado and the insanity that drove him to leave a comfortable life in Europe to live among the natives and establish a monastic community in one of the most difficult places on Earth, I can´t help but wonder how he would view his legacy.

Certainly he left behind a community of believers who still practice a 1,500 year old tradition worthy of preservation, but what of the indigenous population he sought to understand and convert?

Did they actually need to be converted, actually need to be civilised?

Were they afforded any dignity or respect as a result?

I saw only two of the indigenous natives during my fortnight in Australia and as much as I tried I failed to see the dignity and pride of a people who have lost so much since the Europeans invaded.

The pair of indigenous men I met at the Perth Bus Station were friendly and gregarious but their very presence seemed to frighten the whites waiting for their buses and annoy the security personnel protecting the premises.

I think of my own country of Canada and my limited experience with our indigenous population and I am ashamed.

"black and white image of an Inuit hunter seated in a kayak holding a harpoon"

I am ashamed that I feared what I did not understand.

I am ashamed that I made assumptions and had preconceptions about people I had rarely spent time with and that I had accepted without thinking some prejudices expressed about them.

I remember Oka, not just for the Abbey (the first Abbey I had ever visited and had ever been accommodated) but as well for the Crisis of 1989, when the mayor of Oka thought it was a great idea to build a golf course on native burial grounds and in protest the Mohawk people blockaded the Mercier Bridge leading into Montreal.

Folks were more disturbed by the disruption of traffic rather than the violation and disregard of native rights.

The present inequality and ongoing struggle for native people´s rights still continues.

In northern Canada, dozens of native women have disappeared or have been murdered near Highway 16 in British Columbia.

Most of the Highway of Tears cases remain unresolved.

Highway of Tears.jpg

Standing Rock´s struggles against the Dakota Access Pipeline is only the latest of the ongoing battles that native peoples have had to fight to protect their land and their heritage.

Standing Rock logo.png

We forget that the cultural damage we have inflicted upon native peoples doesn´t only cause loss to these peoples but as well diminishes us.

One might easily scoff, as the knight did in Daredevil´s tale, at Salvado´s sacrifices.

One might mock the monks of New Norcia and their devotion to a God that in His majesty actually doesn´t require worship from mere mortals, a God that might not even exist, a Heavenly reward that might not be waiting despite all of the efforts of these good men.

One might belittle the past of the indigenous peoples and laugh at their technological backwardness making their submission simplistic and totally disregard and disrespect their proud heritage and unique cultures and basic humanity.

But when I look into a mirror and when I compare myself to individuals such as Salvado and the monks of New Norcia and native peoples all around the world, I wonder…

Perhaps I, with all my gadgets and all my cynicism and all my self-assured cockiness and undeserved swagger…

Perhaps I am the greater fool.

(Sources: Wikipedia; The Story of New Norcia; “Your Day at New Norcia”; Rosendo Salvado: Commerating 200 Years (1814 – 2014); The Salvado Memoirs; Bill Bryson, Down Under)












Adam in the Abbey 1: The Road to New Norcia

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 September 2016 / 15 September 2016

Homer once said that all men have need of the gods.

And maybe this is so, for since time began we have sought a way to understand, and perhaps even influence, powerful natural phenomena, such as weather and the seasons, creation, life, death and its aftermath.

There are times I wonder whether God created man or whether it was man who created God, but to religion’s credit its rituals give many lives a deep sense of identity, cement social groups and bring meaning to the rites of passage in life, such as birth, maturity, marriage and death.

Religion has also been used as a political tool, justifying military conquests, giving courage in battle and comfort in loss, and will even pervert itself in its own name where murder, though morally wrong, is justifiable if the cause is just and holy.

alt=A depiction of the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 from a medieval manuscript. The burning buildings of Jerusalem are centered in the image. The various crusaders are surrounding and besieging the village armed for an attack.

Religion organises life – through calendars, rites, rituals and taboos – and death – by suggesting that our lives have significance and role in the cosmos.

People will defy princes, powers and principalities, suffer persecution and even court death to defend their rights to worship with their chosen rituals their perceived divine providence.

For many, religion is not just a social impulse, it is also a matter of intense personal experience – a search for significance and meaning through an inner awareness of the undefinable divine.

We seek meaning to the trials and tribulations of life and solace in something that shows that individuals matter on a cosmic scale – if not in this life with its injustice and unfairness, then in a prospect beyond the grave.

For it is hard to remain strong within ourselves in the face of pain and suffering and then to face an eternity of nothingness where all that we were and all that we could be is mere rotting remains in some forgettable tomb and meaningless like dust in the wind.

In this paradoxical existence we want to believe that there are unseen forces at work, that sense can be made of the world, that we matter.

I am not much of a churchgoer, much to the despair and grief of religious friends and family.

They wish to bring me closer to them in spiritual harmony and hope to give me the same hopes that they fervently cling to.

They have found fulfillment in their group and fear what exclusion from their group might mean to my spiritual future.

But it is this religious grouping I object to, rather than the religious beliefs they espouse, for the dark side of organised religion is the creation and segregation of humanity into two basic sides – “Us” and “Them”.

And it is this division that condemns anything that is not believed and practiced by “Us”, resulting in many using religion as a cloak to disguise thought and actions that are very unreligious in practice.

Kill, in the name of religion.

Force others to bend to your will, in the name of religion.

Justify injustice, in the name of religion.

Unite against the infidel and convert or eliminate him, in the name of religion.

The gods are on your side and you can control the uncontrollable if your belief is strong.

To be fair, much that is good and honourable has been accomplished in the name of religion –  such as orphanages and hospitals and schools…

But much that is evil has also manifested and justified itself in the name of religion – such as crusades, religious persecution, racism, sexism…

Religion is not famous for possessing a “live and let live” attitude.

My wife is religious, in her own way, and remains devoted to her Catholicism by tradition, but she has sought her own path to peace and enlightenment by exploring such methods as meditation.

Saint Peter's Basilica

She is far more of a social animal than I, so she will, on occasion, participate in worship should one of our more religious friends ask this of her.

I am not so compliant or gregarious, but, for moments like christenings, weddings and funerals, I will throw on a suit and participate in all the pomp and ceremony with which religion surrounds itself to show my compassion for others to whom these moments matter.

I share their joys and sorrows, even if I don`t share their beliefs.

I try not to be hypocritical about it, so I won´t try to visit Mecca in the guise of a Muslim, or take communion in the pretense of a Christian, but I will remove my hat in a church and cover my head in a synagogue.

Masjid al-Haram and the center of Mecca

I may sing psalms I do not feel, but I don´t expect the enlightenment the congregation expects should I bow my head while others pray.

I love and respect my friends and family with their various Christian, Muslim and Hindu beliefs, even if I neither understand nor share their beliefs.

goddess of wealth and beauty

I respect my wife`s Catholic church and its long history and its emotionally moving rituals, but, similar to Groucho Marx, I refuse to join any church that would consider me as a member!

Groucho Marx - portrait.jpg

So why have I  – who could be at best be labelled an agnostic and at worst a godless, without redemption, hopeless, barbaric, atheistic, infidel pagan – found myself over the years visiting temples, churches, shrines, monasteries and abbeys?

Could it be that I too, despite all my protestations, have a Homeric need for God?

I am not sure.

I feel closer to the divine when I am in a forest than when I am in a church, by an ocean rather than an altar, reading the clouds rather than reading holy writ.

But I am attracted to what religion represents – the good within man and man’s search for that good.

Granted that I, being the pagan I am, have limited authority to discuss such matters, for only the truly devout fully comprehend the shrines of the holy, but in spite of my limitations I have been profoundly affected by the places I will describe.

One of my favourite writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, famous for his walking from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (vividly described in his books, A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road), was a man who lived life to its fullest.

After Constantinople, Fermor enlisted in the Irish Guards, fought in Greece and Crete. disguised as a shepherd organised the Resistance, and travelled extensively throughout his life.

So, at first glance, Fermor spending time in abbeys amongst the rigourous lives of monks in a retreat of peaceful solitude and calm contemplation, might seem odd.

Nonetheless his novella, A Time to Keep Silence, which recounts his experiences in the French abbey of St. Wandrille to the abandoned monasteries of Cappadocia in Turkey, resonates within me, for the emotions he expresses are akin to my own.

Like Fermor, I have visited more monasteries than are described because many of them were part of wider travels, wherein, though significant, were only accidentally a background part of the journey complete rather than deliberate goals sought out.

At first, monasteries and abbeys were of interest only for the purposes of charity, i.e. what food or shelter they could provide me.

As described in Canada Slim behind bars 5a: Arrested development, in my travels I learned how to travel without money by using charity to fill my empty stomach and shelter my weary head.

In travels across Canada, the US and Europe, many a night found me dossing in a Salvation Army type men’s hostel if an urban area was quite large.

The Salvation Army.svg

Smaller towns would either offer me paid accommodation in a hotel or bed-and-breakfast, or would have me sleep directly inside the church itself.

I was rarely refused something to eat along with the night’s lodging.

So in this manner I was able to walk/thumb my way across Canada and hitch around the States and visit England and Wales and continental Europe when lack of finances was a problem.

I worked whenever possible and paid as often as I could, but I knew that had I waited to travel until I had complete financial security I might never have left.

I never begged on the street nor rummaged through rubbish and only stole the occasional hanging fruit off of trees.

I asked for help and was rarely refused.

I was a temporary burden at best.

Though I have known many a church, abbeys and monasteries somehow mostly escaped my notice.

(For Titchfield, see The glory departed of this blog.)

Titchfield Abbey 1.jpg

Only after meeting and marrying my wife Ute did abbeys and monasteries become deliberate goals of sites to see, rather than merely resources of food and shelter, especially in our journeys over the years in Italy.

The abbey that has left a most enduring impression, for it was the first abbey I spent time in really trying to understand the monastic life, was New Norcia, a place I have been recently reminded of when last month, on 24 August, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck near Norcia (the inspiration for New Norcia), Italy.

(See Moving Heaven and Earth of this blog.)

New Norcia is a town in Western Australia, 132 km/82 mi north of Perth, the only monastic town in Australia, and it is its story, and my own, I want to share.

Adam in the Abbey 2 will speak of Benedict and how he has inspired generations of followers.

Fra Angelico 031.jpg

Adam in the Abbey 3 will tell the tale of how two Spanish monks came to live in extreme hardship among the indigenous people of Australia and yet preserved to become a holy beacon in the South Pacific.

(To be continued…)




Canada Slim behind bars 3: Prisoners of choice

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 5 July 2016

Why do people travel?

For each person there are personal, individual reasons for venturing outside our personal comfort zones into the Great Unknown.

But essentially I think it is a quest to learn something new, something previously undiscovered, not yet experienced before.

Travellers seek to challenge themselves by discovering who they themselves are in new situations.

Some folks want to immerse themselves in situations to attempt to understand what these situations feel like.

It is one thing to cocoon yourself within your own culture and seek to find this culture wherever you go.

But for some, travel truly rewards when one immerses oneself into the experience of being another person outside of one´s experience.

Some may wonder what is it like to sleep behind the bars and walls of a prison without actually having to commit a crime.

It is one thing to voluntarily sleep in a cage and leave that cage when one desires.

It is quite a different experience being forced to remain entrapped within a confined area dependent upon the mercy of others for your release.

Tourists can indulge their curiosity about jail sleeping in more and more locations around the world.

In my last blog post, Canada Slim behind bars 2: Punishment preserved, I wrote of Fremantle Prison.

Fremantle PrisonOne can sleep there as well as tour the Prison.

And Fremantle is just one of many prisons where one can experience overnight accommodation behind bars.

On the East Coast of Australia, in the southeast between Adelaide and Melbourne, (through which most travellers speed through, thus missing wild, pristine beaches and tranquil fishing villages) close to the border with the State of Victoria, Mount Gambier is South Australia´s second most populous city.

You can stay at the Old Mount Gambier Gaol, built in 1866, this Heritage-listed building was last used as a prison in 1995.

The experience is anything but luxurious.

Very little has been done to renovate the cells which remain with heavy, rusty bolted doors and solitary loos in the corner of each cell.

The Jailhouse Hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand, boasts that it has been accommodating people for over 130 years!

Built in 1874 by Benjamin Mountfort, (who also designed the Christchurch Catheral, the Canterbury Museum and the Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers), the Jailhouse was constructed out of 60cm thick concrete and has served as a jail, a women´s prison, a military camp and (since 2006) a hostel.

In Luzern, here in Switzerland, the Löwengraben Jail Hotel was a prison from 1862 until 1998.

This ultimate location was chosen, because in that time there was still a moat in the street in front of the building.

In 1999, the Jailhotel opened.

Until 1969 all kinds of prisoners were locked up.

During the last 30 years though, only remand prisoners and conscientious objectors stayed in this prison.

Although this prison had only space for 55 inmates, there were more than that most of the time.

The prison also had a guillotine, which is now in the Museum of History in Luzern.

In 1998, Grosshof Prison in Kriens was built and all the inmates of the city prison had to move over there.


This hotel goes beyond simply renting out former prison cells as overnight rooms.



For an extra price, visitors can stay in the former library or the director´s office, both of which have been turned into luxury suites.

Every part of the prison has been put to some new and creative use without compromising the essence of the original layout or the prison contents.

The library is still full of old prison books for visitors to read during their stay.

In Oxford, England, my favourite English city, the core of Oxford Castle is a millennium old.

Most of the Castle´s structures (old and new) were converted into a prison in the 1800s.

Today the Malmaison Hotel Oxford has overnight rooms, apartments, restaurants and bars.

Much of the prison infrastructure is still evident to visiting eyes, but the cells of Her Majesty´s Prison Oxford (closed in 1996) have tripled in size and feature showers, clawfoot tubs and fancy toiletries.

The thick walls, low ceilings and original iron cell doors still remain and still today the barred windows won´t open.

In Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the infamous Charles Street Jail / Charlestown State Prison was originally a model prison in the 1800s that fell into disrepair in the mid 20th century.

Prone to riots and subject to physical decay, the Jail was officially condemned decades before it finally shut its doors as a prison.

Today it has reopened its doors as the Liberty, an amazingly luxurious four-star Hotel that would shock and impress the Jail´s former inmates.

The Liberty Hotel, Boston - Cupola

On the edge of Boston´s Beacon Hill neighbourhood, the Liberty / Jail was built from local granite in 1851 and served as a prison until 1990.

The Liberty houses 298 rooms of luxury (19 of which are in a former cell block).

You can still find remnants of jail cells all over the Hotel, often backlit in neon green, pink and purple.

Malcolm X (1925 – 1965), aka Malcolm Little, black Muslim minister and human rights activist, once did time here.

Malcolm X in March 1964

In 1946, Malcolm was arrested while picking up a stolen watch he had left at a shop for repairs, and in February began serving an eight-to-ten-year sentence for larceny and breaking and entering.

He was paroled in August 1952.

In Liepaja, on the Baltic coast of Latvia, the Karosta Prison Hotel brags that it is “unfriendly, unheated, uncomfortable and open all year round”.


Latvia’s Karosta Prison was used as a Nazi and Soviet military prison for most of the 20th century.

Hundreds of prisoners are said to have died here, many of them shot in the head.

Nowadays the nightmarish facility has been transformed in a prison-themed hotel where guests can sign an agreement to be treated like actual inmates.

This former brutal KGB jail has no fancy touches – everything here remains as when it was a fully-functioning detention and torture centre, barbed wire included.

You are treated like an actual prisoner throughout, complete with threats and warning gunfire and crying fellow inmates.

That includes sleeping in a cell on an old mattress laid over wooden boards, eating prison food served through the barred doors, getting verbally abused by the guards and following orders to the letter.

Failure to comply to the strict code of conduct is punished through physical exercise and cleaning work around the prison.

Karosta Prison, Liepāja, Latvia

Gluttons for punishment will get a bellyful in this creepy old prison, which operated right up until 1997.

Built in 1900 as an infirmary, it was quickly turned into a military prison, even before the building was completed.

Tours depart on the hour, detailing the history of the prison, which was used to punish disobedient soldiers.

A range of more extreme ‘experiences’ is also on offer for groups of 10 or more.


If you’re craving some serious punishment, or just want to brag that you’ve spent the night in a Soviet jail, sign up to become a prisoner for the night.


You’ll be subjected to regular bed checks, verbal abuse by guards in period garb and forced to relieve yourself in the world’s most disgusting latrine (seriously).



Try booking the night in Cell 26 – solitary confinement – you won’t be bothered, but the pitch-blackness will undoubtedly drive you off the edge.

For those wanting a pinch of masochism without having to spend the night, there are one-hour ‘reality shows’.

There are also tours to the once-off-limits northern forts, where you can take part in the Escape From The USSR spy game.

Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Palatinate, in southwestern Germany, is home to 98,166 people (including 45,000 NATO military personnel), a championship football club, the largest public swimming pool in Europe, the Pfalztheater (where the first German performance of West Side Story took place), the Palatinate Forest (one of the largest forests in Central Europe), the Karlstal whitewater canyon, the Kaiserpfalz (the castle of Emperor Barbarossa- “Redbeard”), the largest US military community outside the United States and – the Alcatraz Hotel.

Open from 1867 until 2002, this former prison features 56 rooms (some of them cells) and offers the “full inmate experience” complete with optional striped pyjamas.

Despite having no connection whatsoever to the island prison of Alcatraz,  the hotel´s decor randomly pays tribute to its namesake with plenty of pictures from San Francisco.

The full inmate experience includes inmate-made bedframes, an old prison toilet, cages and three levels of cells.

In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, sitting on its own lush green oasis island, the Langholmen Hotel once housed Sweden´s most wanted until 1975 and was the site of the country´s last execution in 1921.

There remains bars on the windows and ladders joining inmate bunks but after touring the onsite museum, one can enjoy the modern pleasures of  meatballs and pickled herring inside the prison´s former hospital which is now a restaurant.

The oldest part of Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki, Finland, dates back to 1837 and the main part to 1888.

The building originally served as a county prison and pre-trial detention centre.

Almost 40% of Finland´s prisoners are reported to have passed through this four-winged former county prison and pre-trial detention centre.

The prison was closed in 2002.

The 106 rooms, comprised of two to three cells each, are sleek and minimalist behind the towering red brick perimeter walls.

I have visited Boston, Luzern, Oxford and Stockholm, but did not have the opportunity to visit the abovementioned prison hotels, so I hope to return to these cities to do so.

I hope to visit Christchurch, Helsinki, Kaiserslautern, Liepaja and Mount Gambier one day soon.

But the one prison hotel I have yet to mention is the place wherein I both lived as a longterm resident and worked as a tour guide: the Ottawa Jail Hostel in Ottawa, Canada…and that experience deserves a post all its own…

Nicholas Street Gaol, Ottawa, Canada - 20050218.jpg






Canada Slim behind bars 2: Punishment preserved

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 July 2016

Brexit and the European Championship seem all anyone can talk about these days, whether in the classes where I teach or at the Starbucks stores where I work as a barista.

As I don´t have a stake in either event, my thoughts are more preoccupied with my duties at hand, plans for future walks during my days off in my suddenly-more-open calendar, and writing my blog.

Earlier I mentioned, in Canada Slim behind bars 1: Voyeurs of tragedy, how I would tell the tales of my experience as prison tourist, prison tour guide and prisoner.

So let me begin with a confession…

I am a prison tourist.

Don´t misunderstand me.

There is no fetish involving steel bars, chains, or punishment.

There is no bloodlust craving or secret desire to build a do-it-yourself dungeon based on ideas discovered in these remembrances of penal past.

But rather I feel a mixture of emotions:

There is the grim realisation of the veracity of how we mere mortals “wrestle not against flesh and blood but rather against princes and powers and principalities”.

The state wields its enormous dual powers of law and order against crime to enact punishment upon those who breaks its laws just or injust, and though there are some who truly merit being removed from the general populace, there also exist those who are incarcerated not for crimes of violence but rather for their defiance of thought and action against rules that offend either the conscience or rational behaviour.

Sadly, these latter prisoners have often been treated as severely or worse than those prisoners of violent behaviour have been.

It is a rare man who can be trapped within the penal system of law and order and walk out stronger than when he walked in.

And, of course, not every man walks out.

There is also within me a spark of optimism.

For as bad as modern prisons are, in former times many prisons were worse.

This is not to say that this trend has been global, for there still do exist in some parts of the world hellholes unspeakably vile and cruel, but in lands where these words might be read I do believe some improvement has been shown.

I do believe in separating the truly violent elements of man apart from potential victims, but I remain unconvinced that sticking a man in a cage will somehow improve him, somehow rehabilitate him.

I also believe that a state that advocates capital punishment is hypocritical in suggesting that it is immune from moral censure for doing the very acts that it itself condemns.

Murdering a murderer is murder, regardless of the justification given.

And for those families and lovers left alone and tragic by a murderer´s act more blood spilt will not bring their lost ones back nor ease the pain of that loss.

Vengence is not justice.

It is simply revenge.

Killing someone who is trying to kill you may be called “war”, but ending a human life before its time is still murder, no matter what nobility we pretend this act has.

I don´t blame the soldier as much as I blame the folks who caused the wars to occur.

I have had the great blessing of having visited a number of countries during my brief half-century of existence and when opportunity presented itself I would try and discover for myself aspects of these countries´ heritage in hopes of better understanding these places I found myself in.

But I am only one man, limited by both time and money, living on a planet where there exists more than 55,000 museums in more than 202 nations scattered across the globe.

In the world´s tiniest nation, Vatican City, there are at least 8 museums worth exploring.

In the US, a nation of museum afficiandos, there are 35,000 registered museums.

My homeland of Canada has at least 2,000 official museums.

My present country of residence Switzerland has 750 museums.

So much to see and do in only one lifetime…

In my travels throughout Canada and during my one visit to Australia I visited a few prison museums and was fascinated by all I saw and learned about how penal order was maintained and about some of the characters that once occupied the cells within these walls.

To be clear, I separate concentration camps from prisons, as the former are not confinement for criminals as they are a state´s attempt to separate from the general populace those of undesirable ethnicity or belief or sexual orientation or physical / mental capacity in an attempt to purge these elements out.

At present, I have yet to visit concentration camps, but I fear the great sorrow and anger I anticipate feeling upon seeing such vast inhumanity being visited upon innocents whose only offense was being different from the accepted norm.

If you, gentle reader, sat me down and asked me straight out direct what prison museum have I seen that I would most recommend to a visitor, I would, without hesitation, recommend Fremantle.

Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia, April 2014

My best friend Iain of Liverpool was getting hitched to a lovely lady from Perth and I was his best man for his wedding in Perth.

Being my first visit to Oz (and to date my only) I did want to explore as much as I could, but obligations to the bridal pair as well as the normal restrictions of limited time and finance meant my explorations were bound to seeing only Perth, Fremantle and New Norcia.

I was in Oz for a wedding, not for pleasure!

To be fair, I have absolutely no regrets, though I won´t deny I did embrace my moments of exploration when they became available, I also thoroughly enjoyed my moments spent with Iain and Samantha and her family and friends and feel truly honoured and blessed that they wanted me to share in their special moment.

Fremantle Prison is Western Australia´s only World Heritage building.

In 2010, Fremantle Prison, along with 10 other historic convict sites around Australia, was placed on the World Heritage Register for places of universal significance.

Collectively known as the Australian Convict Sites, these places tell the story of the colonisation of Australia and the building of a nation.

Fremantle Prison is Western Australia’s most important historical site.

As a World Heritage Site, Fremantle Prison is recognised as having the same level of cultural significance as other iconic sites, such as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or the Historic Centre of Rome.

For 136 years, between 1855 and 1991, Fremantle Prison was continuously occupied by prisoners.

Convicts built the Prison between 1851 and 1859.

Fremantle Prison is the only surviving intact convict-built prison in the world.

Fremantle Prison is the longest and tallest convict-built structure in the Southern Hemisphere, 136 metres long and 20 metres / 15 feet high.

Its original capacity was 1,000 men.

The cells were 1.2 metres / 7 feet wide by 2.1 metres / 4 feet high, fitted with a hammock slung between raw limestone walls.

Cold, claustrophobic, uninviting.

Seven gun towers around the perimeter walls look down on the Prison and the town of Fremantle with its harbour.

A chill wind whistles in from the southwest Indian Ocean.

Initially called the Convict Establishment, Fremantle Prison held male prisoners of the British Government transported to Western Australia.

After 1886 Fremantle Prison became the colony’s main place of incarceration for men, women and juveniles.

Fremantle Prison itself was finally decommissioned in November 1991 when its male prisoners were transferred to the new maximum security prison at Casuarina.

Fremantle Prison was a brutal place of violent punishments, such as floggings and hangings.

Conditions were primitive: freezing in winter and scorching in summer, infested with cockroaches and rats.

The site was lonely and cruel.

It housed thousands of prisoners, each with a fascinating story to tell.

Fremantle was the site of numerous daring escapes and prisoner riots.

Throughout its operational history, Fremantle Prison held thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children.

Fremantle Prison exhibits an extraordinary power of place.

Above: One of six cells restored to represent the Prison´s varying living conditions at different times in its history

Because it remained operational as a prison until 1991, the site is remarkably intact and authentic.

Visiting the Prison one can see first hand what life was like for modern prisoners as well as for convicts 150 years ago.

Why convicts in Western Australia?

One must remember that Australia is not just a country, but is a continent unto itself.

Western Australia is beyond huge…

If Western Australia were its own separate country (which would suit WA just fine!), it would be the 10th biggest country in the world.

Western Australia was founded in June 1829 (I think it was a Tuesday?) by a group of 69 people, including military officers, free settlers, their families and servants, led by Captain James Sterling, the colony´s first Lieutenant Governor.

Although their philosophy was Utopian and aimed at the instant creation of a community of gentlemen farmers their experience was harsh.

There were no roads, no bridges, no labourers to build them.

The land had to be cleared and fertile soil was extremely limited.

Despite the first 20 years being filled with frustration, many labourers enjoyed being free of the restrictions of life in England.

One wrote:

“We bless the day we left England….I am at work brickmaking….I work 8 hours a day….I have no rent to pay, no wood to buy.  I just go outdoors and cut it down….It is not here as in England.  If you don´t like it, you may leave it….”

But the colony would stagnate without massive injections of capital and labour, so, despite many misgivings, the settlers petitioned England, asking for the introduction of convicts.

As British jails were full, the government agreed to transport felons.

The Scindian brought the first 75 convicts to Western Australia on 1 June 1850.

9, 601 were to follow.

All were male, which would create a great gender imbalance in the colony.

On arrival in WA, convicts had all their personal possessions, including the clothes they were wearing, removed and sold to pay for their board and maintenance.

Each convict was issued the government uniform of trousers, vest, a light white canvas jacket and a straw hat.

Convicts would assemble on the Parade Ground at 5 am and by 6 am would march off to work wherever they were needed.

Besides Fremantle Prison, convicts would construct many public buildings, including the Perth Town Hall and the WA Government House, as well as bridges and highways.

After convict transportation to the colony ceased in 1868, Fremantle Prison became WA´s major civilian prison.

From 1888 to 1970, Fremantle also served as a Women´s Prison with walls built around their section separating them from the men.

From 1940 to 1946, Fremantle was one of more than 50 military prisons across Australia holding a combined total of more than 12,000 POWs, with Fremantle accommodating 400 military prisoners by October 1945.

A prisoner´s daily routine remained the same for over a century and a half.

The prison day begins at 6. 45 am (an hour later on weekends and public holidays).

The junior night officer rings a hand bell 15 minutes prior to the unlocking of the cells.

The prisoners rise, dress and prepare for the day.

The prisoners, who have been locked in their cells for the past 14 1/2 hours, stand outside their cell door until told to “file off”.

The prisoners move away from their cell with their toilet bucket and their water bucket, a flask and meal plate tucked under their arms, a safety razor in their top pocket, toothbrush in mouth.

The air has its own unique perfume, combining body odors, the stink of urine and faeces, the smell of disinfectant and the aroma of a breakfast of bacon and eggs for the officers, porridge for the prisoners, bread with Vegemite, honey or margarine, and black tea.

Lunch and dinner are meat dishes – corned beef, sausages or mince pie – with mashed potatoes and cabbage -served with bread.

The prisoners eat their meals inside their cells.

The toilet buckets are emptied into the septic traps, to be hosed and disinfected by the yardman prisoner.

The prisoners go to a water trough to brush their teeth, shave and wash their face and hands.

Showers are only three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Prior to the installation of showers, prisoners would be entitled to a bath once a week only.

The Prison attempted to install portable chemical toilets in the 1970s, but prisoners smashed them and drank the chemicals!

Buckets were used until the day the Prison closed on 31 October 1991.

The prisoners work in the cookhouse, the divisions (sections of the Prison), the yards, the hospital, the carpenter shop, the metal workshop, the tailor shop, the boot shop, the print shop, the clothes storage area, the library, the concrete fabrication shop, the gardens and the school.

The library held around 10,000 books.

Electricity was installed in the 1920s.

The Prison also has its own Church of England chapel, the only place in the Prison that has no bars across the glass windows.

Many convicts are not nice people and putting them in a prison will not make many of them act nicely, so punishments are used to keep the convicts in line.

Misbehaving prisoners are punished with flogging, solitary confinement and working in chain gangs at gunpoint, as well as restricted diets of bread and water, time spent in irons and a lengthening of the prisoner´s sentence.

Particularly difficult prisoners are put to work hand pumping groundwater into the Prison´s reservoir – “cranking” was especially despised by the prisoners.

Prisoners sentenced to capital punishment await their fateful day in Death Row, confined separately, under constant supervision, often kept under restraint, permitted an hour of exercise each day.

Death Row inmates are permitted visits by friends, relatives, legal counsel and clergy.

Hanging is usually at 8 am on a Monday, unless Monday falls on a public holiday.

The day of execution has arrived.

The condemned is woken at 5 am, taken for a shower, given special clothing held together with tape rather than buttons.

At 6 am, the prisoner is escorted to the holding cell next to the gallows.

The last meal is toast and tea.

Brandy and a visit by the clergy are offered the condemned person.

0759: Four men arrive at the holding cell.

The prisoner is brought out into the corridor and hobbles placed upon the prisoner´s ankles.

Handcuffs keep the prisoner´s hands behind the back.

A calico cap is placed upon the prisoner´s head, to be later pulled down over the prisoner´s eyes.

Prisoners in the exercise yards are still.

The entire Prison is quiet.

The condemned is escorted to the gallows door and blindfolded and a noose placed around the neck.

The prisoner drops into eternity.

43 men and one woman were hanged in Fremantle Prison, all as punishment for murder.

The first hanging was on 2 March 1889.

The last hanging was on 26 October 1964.

The tours are excellent and quite informative and some of the guides are said to be ex-wardens.

Fremantle Prison received international as well as Australian tourists, as well as ex-cons, former prison officers and their families, over 180,000 visitors a year.

Beside the Prison itself, there is a visitors´ centre with a searchable convict database, an art gallery, a café, a gift shop and tourist accommodation.

The art gallery showcases and offers for sale the artworks of current and former prisoners of Western Australia.

Many cells and areas of the Prison depict prisoners´ artwork.

The laughter of school groups does little to dispell the gloom and foreboding of this place.

And the guides will speak little, if at all, about prison tattooing, riots or graffiti portraits of revenge, sex or brutality.

A chill wind still whistles through the corridors and clouds seem everpresent above the watchtowers.

The unconscious mind compels you to want to flee, to run, to escape.

And there were many escapes from Fremantle Prison over the years.

Ask the guides for the tale of Moondyke Joe or the tale of the Fenian O´Reilly or the great escape of Hooper and Cabalt.

Hollywood writers, have your notebooks a-ready.

A prison is a scar upon both the physical and psychological landscape of a country.

And it still remains a matter of great debate how effective a prison is.

And though one might, in all good conscience, argue that it is perhaps inherently wrong to view a place of punishment as a tourist attraction, perhaps as it would be great if swords might be converted into ploughshares maybe the future may see a day when all prisons are converted into museums or alternative accommodation.

Perhaps some day societies will find a more humane and rational method of controlling its misbehaving elements and prisons become obsolete.

But prisons should still remain standing as reminders of the evil than men do and as reminders of the evil men do to control its societies.

The sun might shine brightly on the prospect of tomorrow, but the winds of the past remain chilly.

(Sources: E. Langley Smith, Fremantle Prison: An Overview; Wikipedia)