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Historical and other notes about things in the book
While it's not necessary to read these notes to follow the book, some might enjoy learning a bit more about things mentioned in Knights of the Sea. Naturally, the notes will make more sense after you've read the book. For some chapters, nothing seemed particularly note-worthy, but if you happen to come across anything inexplicable drop me a line and I'll write a note about it. In case you're unfamiliar with the territory of this story (the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and in particular Nova Scotia), see here for a map.
And in the event the reader finds him or herself wondering what has given the author the background necessary to grapple with a project such as this one, Mr Marlowe can assure readers that it is due to oodles of meticulous research. In fact Marlowe’s qualifications for writing Knights of the Sea are many – too many to spell out in detail – but here are a few of the more important examples:
Firstly, the novel is set in the Maritimes, and Marlowe’s family have dwelt in that region for countless generations, mostly because they’ve been too depressed by the damp climate and the mosquitoes to summon up the energy to move elsewhere.
Secondly, it is set in Victorian times, and Marlowe has his own top hat.
Finally, and most importantly, the plot involves a good deal of politics, a profession with which Marlowe is eminently familiar, having not only once charged The Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau five dollars to get into a rather insalubrious pub, but having also (on a different occasion) mistaken The Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien for a waiter and ordered coffee from him. Marlowe once even waved at Her Majesty the Queen who, in a gracious gesture of acknowledgement of the obviously sterling qualities of the young chap before her, waved back, demonstrating the fine solidarity existing between those at the top, and bottom, of our system of government who are alike in being very nearly powerless to affect the whims of the country's real political masters.
All of which reminds me of something Somerset Maugham wrote... what was it... oh, yes. "The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends that you know famous men proves only that you are yourself of small account." Hmm. Well, anyway, never mind that. On with the notes:
The Captain Rawlins who appears in the prologue is a fictional character, but he was inspired by a real person whom Alexander Graham Bell met in May 1887, and mentioned in a letter to his wife. In Halifax Bell met a Capt. Rawson of the Royal Engineers who was an electrical engineer specializing in submarine mining and torpedoes. According to Bell's letter, Rawson told Bell "that he had a model of a boat that was moved without mechanism -- moved in some mysterious manner by a struggle of electric currents! No paddle wheels -- Screw propeller -- or any mechanical parts whatever. Though I gave him plenty of opportunity -- he did not expand upon details -- so I presumed he did not wish to explain too fully." This intrigued me, so I created "Capt. Rawlins" and had part of the plot revolve around his mysterious engine. The real-life Rawson seems to have been more interested in amateur theatrics and cricket than in obtaining and selling strange engines... probably.
Chapter 1 - Infernal Machines. June 1887
The Intercolonial Railway, sometimes called the People's Railway, linked the previously separate colonies that joined to form Canada. It was a Crown Corporation operated by the Dominion government, and existed until the First World War when it was merged with a number of other railways to form the CNR - the Canadian National Railway.
Oscar Wilde really was arrested in Moncton on October 12th 1882 (at least according to the New York Times). It was after the YMCA accused him of breach of contract for failing to give a lecture at their meeting place whereupon, far from turning the other cheek, the pious young devils slapped Wilde with a lawsuit, demanding $200 in recompense. The problem seems to have arisen after the YMCA failed to confirm their offer of $75 for a lecture by the time specified by Wilde's agent, after which another Moncton lecture was booked, hosted by a different group. The case was settled when Wilde paid the YMCA $100, presumably feeling that this was a small price to pay in exchange for escaping from the clutches of Moncton hospitality. Why the Young Men's Christian Association wanted to hear Oscar Wilde lecture has never been adequately explained, and is one of the great outstanding questions in Monctonian history. (The epigram about Moncton in Chapter 1 was not really said by Wilde, as far as I know.)
The Chignecto Ship Railway was a project conceived by Henry George Clopper Ketchum. The idea was to spare ships the annoyance of sailing all the way round Nova Scotia, not by digging a canal across the isthmus of Chignecto (on the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), but by hauling them out of the water onto a pair of parallel railway tracks. It's not as crazy as it sounds - there's actually a sort of miniature version of this in Poland, which you might have seen if you watched Michael Palin's New Europe. You can still see ruins of the docks and other facilities along the route, with the most impressive perhaps being those scattered about a field on the Bay of Fundy shore, though you should ask permission as it is a private pasture; it seems not to have occurred to anyone to turn this piece of one of the Maritimes' greatest engineering works into a park. The ship railway was never completed, of course. It was more than half finished when the House of Commons -- in an early display of the country's unique talent for creating amazing things and then trashing them before they see any use -- killed the project by a majority of one vote. Onto the great scrap heap of history it went, eventually to be joined by Avro Canada's Jetliner and their Arrow supersonic fighter. It makes one wonder how long it will be before some government decides that the country itself is too much of a nuisance to run, and decides to toss it out too.
Chapter 2 -
The Unfortunate Escape of the Propagandist
Chapter 4 - “Got ’im, Himmel!”
Burggraff, the title of Paisley's friend Adelmo, means "count of the castle or fortified town", and was a title that had largely died out in German by 1887, except as a subsidiary title of noblemen with several titles.
Chapter 6 -
Knights of the Electric Fish
Passenger pigeons (which Elliott thinks about when trying to understand what Lady Beauchamp means by “transmigration”) were once the most numerous bird in existence, with flocks moving about eastern North America in such numbers (in the hundreds of millions) that they could darken the sky for hours or days. They were slaughtered so recklessly that by 1914 the passenger pigeon was extinct.
Fabians vs Fenians. This mix-up of terms which both Paisley and Elliott are guilty of (probably in order to be irritating), can be cleared up as follows. Fabians were a British society in favour of gradual social change. Fenians, by contrast, were a revolutionary & terrorist organization created to free Ireland from British rule.
The Fabians split off from the somewhat more woolly-minded “Fellowship of the New Life”. But whereas the latter organization fizzled out soon after, the Fabian Society is still around today. Some of the more famous members include H.G. Wells, Edith Nesbit, Beatrice Webb, and Ramsay MacDonald. They were interested in such reforms as the introduction of a minimum wage, universal adult suffrage, and health care.
One of the schemes of the Fenians was to invade the colonies of British North America (or after 1867, Canada), and trade them for Irish independence. They staged raids across the border from the USA, the first at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, and later into Ontario, Québec, and Manitoba. The Canadians, taking exception to being repeatedly attacked by these wild bands of Irish-American revolutionaries, became more inclined towards favouring Confederation as a means of collective protection from invasion. Meanwhile, in England, Fenians were planting bombs at Clerkenwell prison, Scotland Yard, Nelson's column, London Bridge, the Tower of London, and Parliament, which likewise did not so much effect Irish independence as turn public opinion against the Irish, since they mostly tended to kill innocent bystanders.
Chapter 8 - A Wolf in no Clothing
Sir Walter Scott was probably the most popular writer of his time, and started the historical novel genre. His works were popular not only in the English speaking world (and Scotland), but were to be found in the original or in translation in many other countries too. During the Greek Revolution, there was even a warlord who kept a set of Scott novels in his cave for the convenience of British visitors. As far as I know, there is no evidence of a real Scott novel called The Beastmen of Glen Glammoch, but it would be best to consult the DeLoup / Graven archives at the Spohrville Library before coming to any conclusions.
The Cutty Sark song that Mungo sings, and which bothers Paisley, is part of Robert Burns’ poem Tam O' Shanter:
Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
Which is about Tam happening upon some dancing witches, one of whom is wearing a Paisley linen shirt (sark) that is too short (cutty).
The Plica Semilunaris (another of those Big Words that Elliott isn't supposed to know…) is a little fold of tissue in the corner of the eye. It is a vestige of the nictitating membrane, or “third eyelid” that is found in cats, dogs, and many other animals (but not in primates such as humans). Paisley’s is larger than usual because of her lycanthropy.
Wolfville is a real place, not something I made up to have more wolves in the story. Besides being the home of Acadia University, it has also been home to people with the surname DeWolfe, and Alexander Graham Bell was genuinely researching his family tree there in 1887.
Chapter 12 - Spooks on Stilts
Codd-neck bottles (which contain no cod) are pretty much as described in the book. They’ve been mostly replaced by cans and metal bottle-tops, but in Japan there’s still a popular drink called ramune (which comes from the Japanese pronunciation of ‘lemonade’) that uses bottles sealed with a glass ball that drops into the bottle neck.
Does anything in this chapter need further explanation?
Plan H, as Paisley calls it, is her and Elliott's scheme to sneak liver into Lady Beauchamp’s food to save her from insanity. They were basing their plan on the general idea of liver being healthy, but actually it is an excellent source of vitamin B12 (which had yet to be discovered in 1887). B12 is only present in animal foods, so someone who –as Lady Beauchamp seems to be doing – eats only fruit and vegetables will be at risk of a deficiency of this essential vitamin. Eventually, this may result in permanent damage to the nervous system, and can cause psychosis or a wide range of other disorders.
Evans and Woodward (Mathew Evans & Henry Woodward), who provided Adelmo with the lights in his submarine, were a couple of inventors from Toronto who developed and patented an incandescent light bulb in 1874, one of their innovations being the use of an inert gas inside the bulb (which is what incandescent light bulbs still use today) instead of a vacuum, which doesn’t work as well. Being in Canada, though, they were unable to find anyone willing to invest in the invention, so they sold their patents to Thomas Edison, who claimed all credit for developing the light bulb. Of course, Evans and Woodward weren’t the sole inventors of the light bulb – countless people tried their hands at inventing one – but they were on the right track, and were frustrated mainly by a lack of money.
Johnston’s Fluid Beef, the mainstay of the modern submariner, was a real stuff. For those of you familiar with British foods, it eventually became Bovril. It was created by John Johnston (another fellow with rather unimaginative parents), who set up a company at 27 St. Peter Street, Montreal, to make this nutritious cattle goo. Production moved to Great Britain, where Bovril was considered a somewhat more appetizing name than ‘Fluid Beef’. Bovril went on to make plenty of amusing and sometimes disturbing advertisements for their liquid beef product (for example, this one).
Nothing too noteworthy.
Chapter 17 - Celebrating 129 Years of Nova Scotian Democracy, or Elliott Elects to Campaign
Celebrating 129 Years of Nova Scotian Democracy, the title of this chapter, is (dare I say it) a slight poke of fun at Nova Scotia’s prominent Democracy 250 campaign a few years ago. Certainly during the 1775-1815 period, the concept of “democracy” would have been about as socially acceptable in the British Empire as Marxist-Leninism, or sleeping in on Sundays. Even 129 years after the first meeting of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, democracy in Nova Scotia was, as in the rest of Canada, still very much what we might call a work in progress. And we’re still working on it.
The Old Gaol in Baddeck (“gaol” being an old spelling of “jail”) was as described in this chapter. A few years later, in 1890, a new courthouse was built. I think it must have been round about that time that the old gaol fell out of use. The customs detective that I placed in the gaol in this chapter was inspired by one mentioned in a biography of John Thompson. The real case was of a customs detective in Baddeck who had been charged with a crime in 1886 which Thompson (the Minister of Justice) thought might have been a false charge set up by a corrupt magistrate in order to discredit the detective. The detective, thought Thompson, probably knew of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by the magistrate himself.
A Shiretown is the chief town in a county, where government institutions such as court houses and gaols were located. You can still find old courthouses around the Maritimes that have been rendered obsolete, along with the shiretowns themselves, by the mindless centralization of government services.
Weginald Wuggles Gates, a.k.a. Reginald Ruggles Gates, was a real Nova Scotian youngster of 1887, later to become a real biologist and eugenicist. He was (for a while) married to Marie Stopes, and founded the eugenicist journal Mankind Quarterly. For much of his life he was a proponent of racist pseudoscientific theories which would be considered repugnant today, such as classifying the races as virtually different species. When the Second World War exposed the worst excesses of Nazi eugenics, the field fell off somewhat in public esteem, with Gates’ reputation suffering accordingly. He's memorialized by, amongst other things, the Ruggles Gates Chair In Biology at Mount Allison University.
Commercial Union with the United States was one of the policies that the new Liberal Party leader, Wilfrid Laurier, advocated. It amounted to a kind of free trade, where Canada and the USA would have been a common market, with trade barriers against the rest of the world. Since Canada was part of the British Empire (which covered much of the rest of the world), this presented certain awkwardnesses. There were also those south of the border who wanted to use commercial union, and other pressures, to lead Canada towards annexation by the United States. When the matter became an election issue, Canadians soundly defeated the idea of commercial union, considering it a threat to Canada’s burgeoning independence.
Laurier was a great reader and - as Paisley muses - tended to frustrate Thompson by always getting the new books first from the Library of Parliament. Of course, some other parliamentarians may have been inconvenienced in turn by Thompson’s habit of mailing interesting library books to his wife in Halifax, so that she could read them too.
Crown Prince’s Serious Illness, a headline in the newspaper that M. Percheron gives Paisley, was a serious concern in 1887. After Frederick became the German Emperor the following year (upon the death of his father), Frederick himself had only another ninety-nine days before he too died, on 15 June 1888, as a result of the untreatable cancer that was reported in the papers in 1887. The consequences for world history of Frederick’s untimely death were, perhaps, incalculable. It’s possible that there would have been no World Wars in the 20 th century had he lived to lead Germany in a more liberal, less warlike direction.
In passing, I should add that the other news story noticed by Paisley – about half a million eels being delivered to Budapest by railway – was not a mere whimsy on the author’s part, but was something that actually happened.
Picking the sharpest spoon, as Strange does in this chapter, may seem a peculiar thing to do, spoons being a rule rather dull instruments, but before stainless steel cutlery became widespread, spoons tended to be made of softer metal, such as silver, or silver plated brass. These will wear away with time, leaving a sharper edge where the spoon rubs against a pot or bowl. Some old spoons can be sharper than modern table knives.
The Hue and Cry (or hue an' cry as Strange says it) is an old obligation in common law - if anyone sees a crime committed, they're supposed to shout to alert others so that the offender may be arrested.
A Special Constable was indeed something a man could be compelled to serve as, when local authorities decided one was necessary for the maintenance of law and order. Rather like being deputized in the Wild West. The pitiful fees paid (which Maddox complains about), such as 20¢ for delivering a writ of capias – an arrest warrant – are the actual fees, specified in the Statutes of Nova Scotia. Had Maddox refused to serve as a constable, he would have been liable to pay a fine of $8.
The comment by Thompson about Lord Salisbury's life being "very stupid and worthless" was (like a number of Thompson's other utterances), something he actually said. They are just used here in different situations. In reality, the "latest act" by Lord Salisbury that Thompson complained about was not a submarine scheme but Salisbury's acceptance of the Bering Sea Arbitration (a fishing dispute).
Trusts, or monopolies, were a serious problem in 19th century United States. Eventually, the so-called "anti-trust" laws were enacted to prevent such abuses of monopoly. In Canada there is a Competition Act which similarly governs anti-competitive activities.
Duelling-scars were popular souvenirs of university life in Germany up until the 1930s. The object of the exercise, rather than killing the opponent, was generally to inflict or receive a superficial wound that would be cool-looking. Fortunately, we have advanced beyond such primitive displays, and have replaced them with the more civilized institutions of tattooing and body-piercing.
The ironically-named “Congo Free State” was one of the most abominable and barbarous colonial enterprises ever undertaken. It was operated as a private commercial fiefdom of the king of Belgium, without any oversight by the Belgian government. Like the Wellborn Trust’s schemes, the Congo Free State began as a supposedly philanthropic organization – the Association Internationale Africaine – which was eventually transformed into a nightmarish rubber monopoly that was infamous for its cruelty. Amid worldwide outcry, generated in part by writers such as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle, the Belgian Parliament took control of the Congo.
Madame Tussauds’ museum was, and is, a collection of wax figures begun by the eponymous Madame Tussauds, who launched her career sculpturing famous decapitated heads in the Terror during the French Revolution. When the French ran out of aristocrats, she took her show on the road, finally ending up in London. Her display of slaughtered dukes and duchesses, spiced up with waxworks of a few notorious criminals and maniacs, was a great success. Eventually, she even modelled authors, such as Sir Walter Scott. Another author, P.G. Wodehouse (of Jeeves & Wooster fame), said in 1975 that after getting both a knighthood and a waxwork of himself in Madame Tussauds’ he no longer had any ambitions. And true to his word, he then promptly died.
Mrs Maddox, who used to fire rockets at drowning sailors on Sable Island, is the narrator of a short story about her first encounter with Dr Maddox: “A Visit from Prospero”, which is included in the short story collection Ether Frolics. Rockets were used on Sable Island at that time for firing rescue lines into the surf when a ship had been wrecked near the island.
Morse's Tea, which in Paisley & Elliott's day was the product of a Halifax company, is still made today, only in Sussex, New Brunswick, by Barbour's Foods. For many years, the Morse’s Tea building in Halifax was occupied by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, descendent of the Victoria School of Art established by Mrs Leonowens (see above). Sadly, a nitwit recently painted over the venerable old Morse's Tea name for no conceivable reason other than sheer idiocy. To the right is an example of a samovar similar to the one Elliott owns (if less beetle-like).
Canute, whom Elliott thinks about when trying to shift some smoke out of the room, was an English king who demonstrated the limitations of political power by going to the seashore and ordering the tide to go back. It was fortunate for him, and for subsequent English history, that he attempted this feat on the sea in England, rather than on the shore of the Bay of Fundy near Spohrville, where the tide can change by
as much as sixteen
Chapter 25 – A Warm Welcome
The “exotically primitive painting – liberal in its use of gold-leaf” Elliott sees on the cabin wall is an icon of St. Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers, whose image was common on Greek and Russian ships.
Martello Towers are little round forts that were built all over the British Empire at various times between the 1790s and the 1850s. They generally had cannon on the roof, and quarters for soldiers within. The most famous Martello tower in the world is the one in Sandycove, Ireland, which is renowned for having hosted the writer James Joyce for a few days. Joyce would have stayed longer had his friend not started firing his pistol at Joyce. Exactly why he did this is unknown, but when we consider that Joyce was one of the ringleaders responsible for the creation of The Modern Novel, then one may perhaps gain a better insight into the motives behind the shooting incident.
The Naval Display in Halifax Harbour occurred more or less as described, apart from the Krasnaya Luna’s involvement. They pulled out all the stops to celebrate the Jubilee, with forts attacking ships, ships launching torpedoes, and even a mine that blew up a small islet in the harbour. Very enjoyable for everyone, except the fish.
Chapter 26 - Χαίρετε, νικωμεν (Rejoice, We Conquer)
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