Saturday, 21 September 2019

Remembering 1919 on the Isle of Lewis

Related news story, BBC Scotland, 21-9-19

How war was followed by land raids in Scotland

When the war ended, many soldiers and sailors from the Highlands and Islands returned home believing they had been promised land as a reward for their service on the frontline.
They had expected to use the land to build homes, grow crops and raise livestock to feed their families.
But when they found this was not available to them as promised, they carried out raids to take control of areas of large estates.[...]

Forthcoming Conference

University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Centre for History

Celebration of The 1919 Land Settlement (Scotland) Act
Isle of Lewis, 26 - 28 September 2019
"...Opening with a celebratory dinner the event will explore the significance and legacy of the 1919 Act through talks, posters, displays and field trips. The event will show that this was not an isolated response to war and changing times but was part of a global impetus aimed at the restoration of a sense of balance in social relations around land and land ownership.
Registration and field trips are made free by generous support from the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures and the Historical Geography Research Group. The celebratory dinner will be charged at £25 - £30 per head."

Thursday 26 (Stornoway), 
Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September 2019 (Balallan)
Thursday 26th September, Stornoway (location TBC)
5:00pm – Registration opens
6:15 – Welcome to the conference and official opening
6:30 – Keynote - Professor James Hunter (UHI)
7:30 – Conference dinner
Friday 27th September, Kinloch Historical Society, Balallan
8:45am – Registration for those unable to attend on the previous day
9:15 – Panel 1: International Perspectives on land settlement (Chair: Dr Iain Robertson (UHI))
Andrew Newby (Tampere University, Finland) - “A violent decimation of landlord power”: Denmark’s Lensafløsningsloven of 1919 – A Centenary Appraisal
Roy Jones and Tod Jones (Curtin University, Australia) - "Antipodean aftershocks: World War 1, the 1919 Land Act and land (un)fit for heroes at the (other) end of the world
Barbara Arneil (University of British Columbia, Canada) - The Small Holdings Colonies Acts (1916 and 1918)
10:30 – Coffee
11:00 – Panel 2: Contemporary Perspectives and Legacy (Chair: Dr Micky Gibbard (Dundee University))
Helen Barton (UHI) - We express our Deepest Regret…
Seonaid McDonald (Archivist, Tasglann nan Eilean, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) - What the local government archive sources tell us (or don’t?) about the land struggles
11:45 – Keynote - Professor Ewen Cameron (University of Edinburgh), (Introduction and chair: Dr Anne Tindley (Newcastle University))
12:45pm – Lunch
1:30 – Trip to West Harris with the West Harris Trust
Three stops along the route between Balallan and Talla na Mara to look at community landownership, tour of Luskentyre until 4pm. Go to Talla na mara to visit café and look at exhibition, return to Balallan approximately 5:30pm.
Saturday 28th September, Kinloch Historical Society, Balallan
9:00am – Open
9:15 – Panel 3: Local Histories of Land Settlement (Chair: Professor James Hunter (UHI))
Malcolm Bangor-Jones (Independent Researcher) - The resettlement of Syre in Strathnaver by the CBD in the 1900s
Neil Bruce (UHI) - “Storm in a quaich”: the Uist Rocket Range, the crofters and the priest
Colin Tucker (Comann Eachdraidh Sgìre a’ Bhac) - There is only one home: that little house with its few acres of land in Eilean Leodhais
10:30 – Coffee
11:00 – Panel 4: Thinking around Land Reform (Chair: Professor Ewen Cameron (University of Edinburgh))
Mairi Stewart (Independent Researcher) - The planting of forest workers on the land is a more anxious … business than the planting of new trees: the 1919 Forestry Act and land settlement in Scotland
Lindsay Blair (UHI) - ‘Mutations from below’: An Sùileachan (2013) and The Land Raiders of Reef
Iain Mackinnon (Coventry University) - The role of historicism in accounts of land reform in modern Scotland
Rob McMorran (SCRU) - Current pathways to community ownership in Scotland and their effectiveness is supporting continued expansion of the Sector in the 21st Century
12:30pm – Lunch19
1:30 – Talk from John Randall (Comunn Eachdraidh na Pairc) on South Lochs
2:00 – Trip to the South Lochs with John Randall (return around 5pm)
5:00 – Closing remarks
For more information contact

Land Raiders' Cairn, Gress, Isle of Lewis
Extract  from 'As I See It' column by 'M.S.', Stornoway Gazette, 23-12-1955, addressing the somewhat different question of 'squatters and plot-holders' in the  post-Second World War context:
   It was of course the first world war that started it on a big scale.The returned warriors, especially the younger sons who were landless, tired of "roaming with a hungry heart" and wanted nothing more than to settle down on their native heath; and that is what many of them did. They staked their claims in common ground and were not to be gainsaid by stay-at-homes; and although their actions were watched by jealous and resentful eyes in some instances, they felt that they had fought for their privileges and - what impressed those who would oppose them - they looked as if they were prepared to do a lot more fighting. Furthermore they had many ex-servicemen friends among the crofters too...
  And so on the common pastures of almost all the townships of these islands the squatters established themselves, many of them doing really excellent work with the unpromising materials on which they started. Taking over laud which had produced nothing since the peat was skinned from it but heather, moss and poor-quality grass, they dug it up, trenched it, worked it into productive agricultural units which are today, in some cases, producing far more than the neighbouring crofts.
   ... "The genius raids - the common people occupy and possess" [T E Lawrence, Letter to Robert Graves,1935]. And the common people who occupied and possessed the barren land and made it fertile, who built houses and grew good crops by their own labours, who made oases where there were deserts, will leave the abiding earth the richer for their passing through it.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Fishcuring Fletts of Findochty

Founder of a Family Business

The Alexander Flett whose firm embarked on the Newfoundland Fisheries venture in 1907 was not the first nor the only one of his family to make a noteworthy contribution to the herring industry of north-east Scotland. That their surname became 'a name to conjure with' in the fishcuring context may be attributed to the energy and entreprise of his father, James, whose death in 1897 drew a remarkable double tribute from the county's weekly newspaper.

"A portrait of the late Mr, James Flett, Findochty, whose death we announced last week"
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 28 January 1897

DEATHS... At 42 Findochty, on the 14th inst., James Flett, Fishcurer, in his 80th year.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897

By the death of Mr James Flett, senior partner of the firm of J. Flett & Sons, one of the best known, familiar and striking figures has been removed from Findochty. Mr Flett was born at Findochty in 1817, and was thus in his 80th year. His father was Alexander Flett, his mother Margaret Smith, both of Findochty. He served an apprenticeship as cooper with the late Mr Taylor, fishcurer, Findochty. After completing his apprenticeship, he worked for some time as a journeyman with Messrs Walter Biggar & Co., who were the first curers to send Scotch cured herrings to the German markets. He commenced fishcuring on his own account at Peterhead in 1839, and at Findochty, his native village, in 1849. Mr Flett married Catherine Pirie, daughter of the late Alex. Pirie, who belonged to Banff, and who went to Findochty many years ago as manager for Messrs Walter Biggar & Co. His wife died on January 3rd, 1868. Mr Flett's family of three sons and five daughters all survive him. The sons are all in the business so long carried on by their father. Of the family to which Mr Flett himself belonged, the eldest brother, Alexander Flett, died in Findochty in 1892, aged 88. There still survives another brother, William, surnamed [nicknamed], from his uncommon strength, "Wallace". This nonagenarian celebrated his 90th birthday on 5th January of this year. The deceased gentleman was a man of splendid and striking physique. Standing as he did six feet three inches in height, no one could fail to notice him. He was of a kind and genial disposition, a great favourite with everybody in the village, particularly so with the young. Of children, he was very fond, and to run up to him in the street, seize his hand or his huge staff, was sufficient to dtaw forth a "sweetie," from his capacious pocket and a blessing fron his generous heart. He had a fund of quaint humour, and was known and respected throughout the whole of the North of Scotland. Few strangers went to Findochty without giving him a call. 
    Although he never took an active part in public matters, he was a keen politician. Some years ago, a navigation class was started in Findochty, under the auspices of the County Council. What was the teacher's surpirse one night when the class was gathering to see the venerable form of Mr Flett walk into the room, pay his fee, and enroll his name among the rest. Anything that looked like the more scientific working on the sea and of its products was to him a source of personal interest. A Liberal in politics, Mr Flett was a Free Churchman, He was a life-long friend of the late Rev. Robert Shanks, the first Free Church minister in Buckie, and a correspondence was kept up between them till the demise of the latter. A few years ago, less than ten, another well known figure was seen paying a visit to Mr Flett in Findochty. This was "La Teste", the Elgin poet, To hear these two comparing notes, or to hear Mr Flett calling attention to points of similarity in the life and fortunes of himself and "La" was no ordinary treat. In the death of Mr Flett, his own generation see another place left vacant never to be filled; while the younger race, deprived of his portly figure in the street, and the kind smile from his open face, will feel the place srange, and the town less homely. It may be mentioned that the last work on which the deceased was engaged was in arranging volumes of Spurgeon's sermons, copies of which he had from the beginning of their publication. Mr Flett was a great reader and had a love of poetry, his favourite author being Scott. 
   The funeral took place on Monday and was largely attended, the coopers carrying the coffin when it left the house and also at the grave.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897
The impression of warmth, sincerity and personal feeling in the above is reinforced by the author (possibly the same) of the paper's regular column of informal chat, local news and common-person views, written mostly in the Doric.

    Willie -- I was unco' sorry to learn that ane acquaintance o' mine, in the person o' Mister Flett, fishcurer, Findochty, had passed awa' fae this weary warl' last week, Nae doot he's been spared to his family an' freens for a gie puckle longer than is the lot o' mony, bit for a' that fin death comes an' tak's awa' even the aul'est o' oor freens an' neepers, peer, frail, human natur' canna keep back the fa'in' tear or hide the pang o' sorrow an' regret at the pairtin'.
    Geordie -- The curer 'll be unca mair missed in Finachty. He wis aye ready to help the needy, to cheer the dooncast, an' to encourage the young. Nae doot to some he may at times hae appeared to be caul' an' stern, bit fatever may hae been the appearance ootside there wis aye the warm, kin'ly heart within.
     Jamie -- I speak from personal experience of the sympathetic heart which beat in the bosom of Mr Flett. Of course it would be sheer mockery on my part to say that he was perfect (the perfect man must be translated to some other sphere as it has never been my lot to meet him yet-------
    Maggie -- I cud tell ye faur ye wid see him, bit I winna dee't evnoo.
    Jamie -- There were many traits in the deceased's character which it would be well worth our while to seek to emulate, These points I need not dwell on now as they will readily come up before those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Of him I think it may truthfully be said
To all he was pleasing -- to auld and to young --
To the rich and the poor, to the weak and the strong;
He laughed with the gay -- moralised with the grave
The wise man he honoured -- the fool he forgave. 
   Geordie -- That wis the curer's character to a T. He wisna ony o' yer harem-skarem patienceless creatur's that the warl's sae foo o' noo-a-days.
 -  Banffshire Advertiser, 21 January 1897 
Quayside, Findochty harbour
Findochty harbour from the West
Biographical details given by the paper are confirmed and amplified by census and other records:

James can be found at James Street, Peterhead, although his birthplace is given as Aberdeenshire not Banffshire. There are a lot of other people in the same 'household', possibly some kind of lodgings or digs for migrant or temporary workers as there is a range of surnames, ages and occupations.
His mother Margaret and father Alexander, White Fisher, were in Findochty, Rathven, both ages rounded down to 60, with Female Servant Janet Copland, 20; all born Banffshire.
His future wife Katharine (Catherine) Pirie was 12, living in Findochty, Rathven, with her sisters Ann, 15, Spirit Dealer; Margaret, 9; and Isabella, 6, born in England (others in Banffshire). Intriguing as Ann's apparent role is, most likely it was very temporary, their parents being away from home on census night. Alexander Pirie's occupation is given elsewhere as both cooper and 'vintner'.

Alexander Flett b. 9-4-1776        Parents: George Flett and Isobel née Mackenzie
Margaret Smith b. Rathven, 20/01/1777    Parents: William and Anne [née] Smith m.16-10-1773
Margaret Smith m. Alexander Flett, Rathven, 18-2-1798

James, aged 33, Fish Curer, Unmarried, was living in Victoria Square, Rathven, with his now widowed mother Margaret Flett (née Smith), Stocking Weaver, Head of Household, and her two grandsons, Alexander Smith, 22, Cooper, and George Smith, 13, Apprentice Shoemaker. All born in Rathven (the parish/registration district for Findochty). 
Catherine Pirie was 22, Unmarried, living in Road Leading West with her father Alexr. Pirie, Cooper & Vintner. born Turriff, Aberdeenshire (1795); mother Isabella, 50, born in Rathven; unmarried sisters Margaret, 19, and Isabella,15; also two grandsons of the household head - John Pirie Legg, aged 2, and Walter James Flett, 2 months. The latter was the acknowledged son of James and Catherine, the former possibly Margaret's son. Reputedly it was not unusual, and not socially unacceptable in the fishing villages of north-east Scotland, for a couple's eldest child to be born before their formal marriage.

Old Parish Records for Rathven 1821-22, 10th Dec:
Alexr. Pirie and Isabel Campbell both [residing] in this parish were matrimonially contracted
and after publication of banns were married.

James, now 43, Fish Curer, and Catherine, Fish-curer's Wife, 31, were living in a Private House, Rathven, with James's mother, Margaret Flett, Fisherman's widow, 84, and their children: Walter Jas (James), 10; Alexander, 7; Margaret, 5; William D (Downie), 3; and Catherin(e), 10 months; also Isabella Taylor, Domestic Servant, 23.

1865 Scottish Valuation Rolls

1868 Sadly, Catherine died of peritonits, while still only in her 30s.

In 1871 James, now a widower, 53, Cooper & Fish Curer, was living at 20, Rathven with his children (except the eldest, Walter James): Alexander, 17, Cooper; Margaret, 15, House Keeper; William, 12; Catherine, 10; Isabella, 8; Ann, 6; Mary, 3.

In 1881 the census transcription gives James's address as house name 'Wesleyan Chapel', house number 41 (Rathven parish), where he wa living with his two youngest daughters: Isabella, Governess, and Mary, Scholar.

By 1891 Mary had moved on but Isabella, 28, was still unmarried and a Governess, living with James, now designated a Fish Oil Manufacturer (a new entreprise?), at Main Street (Rathven parish).

In 1882-4, Frances Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland described Findochty

In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles described Rathven

In 1934 a review of the novel Bid for Fortune by James's grandson Joseph appeared in the Stornoway Gazette and decades later the reviewer remembered the book:
The ruse with the diamonds was a natural for Joe Flett. He belonged to one of the leading families in the herring trade.  Flett was a name to conjure with when I was young...  - The Hub of My Universe by James Shaw Grant. Edinburgh, James Thin, 1982. Ch. 41, 'They Hid the Diamonds in a Barrel'.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Fletts in Newfoundland Fisheries Venture 1907-1908

This blog has previously looked in some detail at the novel Bid for Fortune, by "J.S.[Joseph] Flett" (Moray Press, 1934), and in particular among other aspects at the ways in which its author drew on his experience of living in Canada, or more accurately Newfoundland, at that time a distinct 'colony' or dominion of Britain with its own government. But 1915 was not the first occasion on which he had made the transatlantic crossing in the interests of the family fishcuring business. Eight years previously, aged 19, he had been delegated to take responsibility for a pioneering attempt to transform the Newfoundland herring fishing industry, a venture which not only drew the attention of newspapers but involved government sanction and international repercussions.

Banffshire Advertiser, 9-5-1907, p.8

New Departures in Fishcuring
Local Workers off to Newfoundland 
Interesting Experiment
   Much local interest is evinced in a fishing experiment undertaken by Mr Alexander Flett, fishcurer, Buckie, Findochty, and Aberdeen, who has entered into a three years' agreement with the Government of Newfoundland* to carry on drift net fishing for herring and curing after the Scottish method in Newfoundland. This experiment differs from that of Mr Cowie of Lossiemouth, who is in the service of the Canadian Government, while Mr Flett's venture is in charge of Mr Joseph Flett, his son, who sailed in company with Mr G. Flett "Crawford" [nickname/tee-name], Findochty, on 9th April. Mr Flett has already shipped Buckie-made curing stock, and to-day the staff will leave here for Liverpool, whence they sail for Newfoundland on Saturday. [Details of those engaged: 3 fishermen, all Fletts from Findochty; 4 coopers, 3 from Buckie and one from Findochty; 6 (female) fishworkers, 3 surnamed Reid from Buckie, and 3 Mair from Portknockie, 'also three girls from Nairn'.] One of the stations to be opened up will be at Twillingate Island, Notre Dame Bay,. The output of cured herring for export from Newfoundland at present ranges from 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per annum, and everyone will join in wishing that success may crown the venture, so that new markets may be opened up and the present ones extended.
 * "Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 to 1934 when it surrendered dominion status by ending self-government..."

A slightly shorter story appeared in the Aberdeen Daily Journal (Press & Journal) 9-5-1907

The Newfoundland Herring Fisheries
The herring exports of Newfoundland at present total from 100,000 to 200,000 barrels annually, and with a view to increasing the output, the Newfoundland Government has - as briefly reported yesterday - concluded a three years' agreement with Mr Alexander Flett, fishcurer, Buckie, Findochty, and Aberdeen, to introduce into Newfoundland waters the Scottish method of catching herrings by drift net, and curing them as is done in this country. Mr Flett has already shipped salt and barrels and to-day a party leaves the Moray Firth shores for the Atlantic voyage. The venture is in charge of Mr Flett's son, Joseph...
Newfoundland in 1907
Four months later the 'P&J' returned to the topic, evidently quite a hot one in the context of a long-running dispute over access to fishing grounds involving diplomatic wrangling with the USA, In a column on 'The Newfoundland Fisheries' (under 'Sir Robert bond's Speech: American Opinion') the paper noted:

Aberdeen Daily Journal (Press & Journal) 12 September 1907 

Important Development
Agreement with Buckie Fish Curers
   The "Standard" says an arrangement has been entered into between the Newfoundland Government and Messrs Alexander Flett and Son, fishcurers, Buckie, Banffshire, to carry on herring fishing operations off Newfoundland upon the Scottish system. Whether the project will have any effect on the differences with the United States remains to be seen, but the experiment is to be tried in earnest. It is not a private speculation on the part of Messrs Flett. A formal agreement has been entered into between the Newfoundland Government and Messrs Flett and Son for three years to develop the herring fishing in the manner in which it is carried on upon the east coast of Scotland. A few months ago a number of fishermen, coopers and girls went out from the east coast of Scotland to train the Newfoundlanders in conducting the industry. It is understood that the Newfoundland Government have granted a substantial subsidy in order to give the venture a fair trial. There will be no curing at sea. The fish will be landed at convenient places, and cured in barrels both for home consumption and export. The advantage of the Scottish system is that Newfoundland will reap the full benefit from the fishing, and it is understood that there is an abundance of herring off the Newfoundland coast. The value of the herring fishing on the east coast of Scotland this year is estimated at £1,300,000 sterling, and it can be understood that to a fishing country like Newfoundland the adoption of fishing methods that bring in such a splendid harvest would be a matter of the highest importance. Naturally the Messrs Flett are very reticent on the matter, but they are very hopeful of success, and a member of the firm has gone out to superintend the operation.

Unfortunately the hopes of success were looking rather forlorn within less than a year.

26 March 1908 - Banffshire Advertiser

Newfoundland Herring Fishing Experiment Reported a Failure
Some time ago, Messrs Alexander Flett & Company, fishcurers, Buckie, sent out a representative and workpeople to Newfoundland by arrangement with the Government. St. John's " Evening Chronicle " contained the following reference hereto:-  
  We understand that Mr Flett, the Scottish herring packer, who is described by the "Herald" as having the profoundest faith in the future of the herring industry in the island, but is alleged by Captain Eli Dawe to have lost 26,000 dollars in the venture here, is reported in Government circles to be desirous of leaving the Colony and abandoning the venture entirely, if he can induce the Government to recoup him for the outlay he has made in the drift-net fishing so far. This would include the Schooners, outfits and gear he provided, and it is held on behalf of Mr Flett that it would be cheaper for the Government to do this than to continue the project for another two years and pay out 5000 dollars each year as a subsidy to him, which will have to be done in the event of no arrangement being now arrived at. Probably outside of a comic opera there is nothing to equal the Government's bungling with this drift-net project... [Details of false starts and failed arrangements since 1905] ... Now, after a season's trial in Green Bay, it is found that he caught just twelve barrels of herring in the outer waters, and for this the Colony has to pay him 5000 dollars.
Neither family tradition nor public records so far discovered give the full story of how and when the 'venture' ended; it may have been affected by a 'modus vivendi' accommodating US demands with regard to the Newfoundland Fisheries (reported in the Press & Journal 14-8-1908). Whatever its losses, however, the firm survived and was evidently sufficiently well regarded and prosperous for a renewed attempt to establish itself in the 'Colony' to appear a reasonable proposition in 1915. This time Joe as its representative stayed for nearly six years, and it was the death of his father Alexander which brought him and his young family back to north-east Scotland in 1921.
Record of Joe's voyage out in 1907 (last name in the second column)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Agatha and the Asylum: a fragment

Footnote on Hanwell Asylum and asylum attendants
AcknowledgementThis connection was drawn out by Dr Jonathan Oates in a Local History talk in Ealing Central Library a few years ago, about Agatha Christie and Ealing, where she spent quite a lot of time during her early years, in the home of a great-aunt. 
Agatha Christie's The Big Four (1927) is, to put it mildly, not one of her best books. Not so much a crime novel as a portmanteau of preposterous plots tenuously linked in the rather leisurely attempts of Poirot and Hastings to combat a more than usually unbelievable world-domination mini-conspiracy. (Mind you, some aspects are less implausible than others, such as the arch-villains' motivation, "lust for power and personal supremacy" and the backing of "unlimited money".)

Published in the aftermath of its author's disappearance trauma and sensation, it may have been written partly as therapy, to get back on track, or under pressure from publishers to produce something before the publicity subsided, or to use up every idea she'd ever had (or borrowed) and see what she could get away with (while incidentally releasing some of her more cynical and exasperated feelings about her most famous character) - or perhaps a combination of such things might explain it.

In Chapter 2, 'The Man from the Asylum', it looks as though part of the plot may be the one about the good guy falsely certified insane. (This - spoiler alert - turns out not to be the case; the inference that it could happen in the real institution named might have led to some bother):
'A big burly man in uniform' turns up claiming to be "From 'Anwell - from the 'Sylum"  (thus establishing  his lower-class, uneducated and 'uncouth' persona) and to be seeking an escaped inmate who has been confined for two years: "'Armless enough", not homicidal, but suffering from "persecution mania". Of course "They all say they're sane", the keeper observes "callously".
It later transpires that the presentation of this character conforms exactly to Captain Hastings' mental picture of "what an asylum attendant should look like"; since his own personality is established as ultra-conventional and accepting of prevalent stereotypes, this may not be the view of his creator, but she says nothing to counteract it. The experience of no doubt having had anxieties about and aspersions recently cast on her own mental state could well have fostered lurking fears of incarceration. (From memory, Why Didn't They Ask Evans? - 1934 - also contains a plot-strand about confinement on supposedly spurious mental-health grounds, in a private nursing home, but that's another and rather better story.)

"Hanwell Asylum" - in the 1920s it was the London County Mental Hospital - in spite of its association with reforms in the treatment of mental patients, may have been an object of some awe, pity and terror for local residents, as such places tend to be. Anecdotally, its later incarnation "St. Bernard's" was something of a hissing and a byword among 1980s Hanwell schoolchildren, to the extent that the sight of a "St. Bernard" label on clothing from Northern Ireland was an occasion for taunts and embarrassment.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Tales of Gender and Medical Life

A few Notes and comments on Conan Doyle's Tales of Adventure and Medical Life.

The collection was first published in 1922, this paperback edition in 1963.

Dates for the individual stories are not given, but Internal evidence  suggests a setting in the 1880s, that is around the time when the author was trying unsuccessfully to establish himself as a general practitoner. The 'Medical Life' section provides a wealth of authentic detail relevant to several aspects of the history of medicine.

The second story of the 'Adventure' set also has a medical theme, as may be guessed from the title, 'The Surgeon of Gaster Fell'. The inclusion of a young female character, not essential to the plot, rounds out the narrative and incidentally provides a kind of baseline for considerations of gender in the 'Medical' set. Noting that this duaghter and sister of medical men does a lot of reading, the narrator encourages her: "Women have opportunites now such as their mothers never knew. Have you ever thought of going further - or seeking a course of college [sic] or even a learned profession?"  When she denies having any ambition and expresses anxiety about her future, he reassures her that she seems "... destined to fulfil the lot of women - to make some good man happy..." The year is 1885.

Women are present in strength in the medical stories, admittedly viewed primarily in relation to medical men, as patients, relatives, or occasionally fellow health professionals. Although they are often the subject of patronising generalisations, even misogynistic insult from the less sympathetic male characters, the latter are likely to be shown the error of their ways or are let in for some sort of comeuppance, The author displays nuances and subtlety of understanding; while still clinging to assumptions about supposedly universal 'male' and 'female' attributes, gender-based expectations may be confounded and stereotypes undermined.

No.1, 'A Physiologist's Wife', illustrates the unthinking dependence of medical high-flyers on the help and support of well-disposed women - wives or unmarried sisters - whose grateful acquiescence is blandly assumed (some at least of the speaker's  taking-for-granted turns out to be misplaced):
 "... I cannot imagine any higher mission for a woman of culture than to go through life in the company of a man who is capable of such a research..." (p.107)
 "You... have a worthy mission before you in aiding the life-work of a man who has shown himself capable of the highest order of scientific research..." (p.121)

No.5, 'The Curse of Eve', tackles the reality of a difficult chidlbirth in a modest home, not so much as experienced by the mother, but partly from the points of view of doctor and consultant, and first and foremost through the increasingly desperate anxiety of the expectant father (so often the subject of feeble jokes and clichés) about what was happening to his wife:
"Where was the justice of it?.. Why was Nature so cruel?.."

Childbirth as agonising, dangerous and unfair is a recurring theme, There is a link here with Dr Joseph Bell of Edinburgh, famously associated with the character of Sherlock Holmes, who is credited with having been among the first senior doctors to insist on hand-washing before examination of pregnant and puerperal women, thus saving many from potentially fatal infection. (He may also, of course, have inspired the creation of aome of the medical characters in these stories.)

The husband mentioned above does not get off scot free, but his night of emotional torment is outdone by the ordeal by which another father, in No.6, 'A Medical Document', chooses or is made to 'share' his wife's experience. This story is in fact a portmanteau in which doctors from various specialisms, and a generalist, frankly exchange views, discuss cases and swop anecdotes after one of the quarterly dinners of the Midland Branch of the British Medical Association. A contribution on chidlbirth stands out, and could almost stand alone as a striking short-short:
The post-prandial medics go on to agree that obstetrics and gynaecology (not so called) is 'a very wearing branch of the profession' and discuss what is apparently the main reason for this:
"I was a very shy fellow myself as a student, and I know what it means...
"Take some poor, raw young fellow who has just put up his plate in a strange town. He has found it a trial all his life, perhaps, to talk to a woman about lawn tennis and church services. When a young ma in shy he is shyer than any girl. Then down comes an anxious mother and consults him upon the most intimate family matters. "'I shall never go to that doctor again,' says she afterwards. 'His manner is so stiff and unsympathetic.' Unsympathetic! Why, the poor lad was struck dumb and paralysed..."

A logical conclusion from such a state of affairs might be the recruitment of more women to the profession, and some similar atttiude may lie behind Conan Doyle's more than comparative openness to the idea of women as doctors. Perhaps a part was played too by his sense of justice, or vicarious guilt over the vicious behaviour of Edinburgh medical students in this connection, not very long before his time there - not to mention a fine sense of the irony and absurdity of male attitudes.

Story No.8, 'The Doctors of Hoyland', opens with a description of a 30-plus male doctor whose position in the locality, "a clear run of six miles in every direction", seems secure: "He was particularly happy in his management of ladies. He had caught the tone of bland sternness and decisive suavity which dominates without offending."
Then a well-qualified rival sets up, and shock-horror, Doctor Verrinder Smith turns out to be a woman - "'What?' he gasped. 'The Lee Hopkins prizeman! You!'
"He had never seen a woman doctor before, and his whole conservative soul rose up in revolt at the idea. He could not recall any Biblical injunction that the man should remain ever the doctor and the woman the nurse, and yet he felt as if a blasphemy had been committed..."
Later: "Not that he feared competition, but he objected to this lowering of his ideal of womanhood... It revolted him the more to recall the details of her education. A man, of course, could come through such an ordeal with all his purity, but it was nothing short of shameless in a woman."

Dr, Smith comes off best in the immediate argument:
He: "Ladies are in danger of losing their privileges when they usurp the place of the other sex. They cannot have both."
She: 'Why should a woman not earn her bread by her brains?" [...]
He: "'... I must say that I do not think medicine a suitable profession for women and that I have a personal objection to masculine ladies." [...]
She: "... Of course, if it makes women masculine that would be a considerable deterioration."

She also comes off better professionally. "In a month, Doctor Verrinder Smith was known, and in two she was famous." She takes on cases and performs operations that would have defeated him: "For all his knowledge he lacked nerve as an operator, and usually sent his worst cases up to London. The lady, however, had no weakness of this sort, and took everything that came in her way."
When he has become her patient after an accident he finds himself defending her to his assistant-surgeon brother, visiting from London: "She knows her work as well as you or I"; "... [W]e may have been a little narrow in our views". Eventually he confesses himself to have been "quite in the wrong" over this woman question.

"And yet under all her learning and firmness ran a sweet, womanly nature..." The reader may by now, if not from the start, be inclined to suspect a traditional battle-of-the-sexes plot to be resolved in romance, and a proposal does indeed ensue, but (spoiler) without the conventional 'happy ending'. Happy enough for Dr Smith, who has only intended her stay in the area to be temporary, and had already decided to devote her life entirely to science: "There are many women with a capacity for marriage, but few with a taste for biology. I will remain true to my own line, then."
"And so it came about that in a very few weeks there was only one [now sadder and wiser] doctor in Hoyland...'

Further discussion of the medical stories can be found in some of the biographies of Conan Doyle, e.g.:

Rodin, Alvin E. & Key, Jack D. The Medical Casebook of Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle: From Practitioner to Sherlock Holmes and Beyond..(Robert E. Krieger 1984)  

Booth, Martin. The Doctor, the Detective and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography. (Coronet Books)

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Two Female Physicians of the early 20th Century

(This post was sparked off by a recent similarly-themed one from 'lenathehyena')

A Flett from Findochty and a MacCallum of Muckairn Manse

By the 1920s the occurrence of women's names in the Medical Register (and Medical Directory) had become less of a rarity than it had been, although they were still very much in the minority and would remain so for many decades. As it happens, two such names in particular leapt to the eye in the course of previous research for this blog, those of Nelly Flett (no relation, as far as is known, to other Fletts looked at here) and Margaret MacCallum, sister of Dr John Cameron MacCallum.

Nelly Flett is not the only woman with that surname listed in the 1927 Medical Register (MR) - the others were Jessie from Uddington and Isabelle from Bathgate - but her address, 5 Seafield Street in the Flett stronghold, Findochty - links her geographically at least with the family background of Joe Flett and of two First World War Conscientious Objectors. She gained her registration on 10th May 1924, having qualified MB ChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) at Aberdeen. (Joe's elder brother Alexander was a doctor: MB ChB Aberdeen 1904; MD 1906).

The more likely of two Nelly Fletts in the 1901 Census was living at 18 Blantyre Place, Rathven (the parish/registration district, often used interchangeably with Findochty in the records). Her father John was a fisherman. (Joe's family were in the fishing and fish-curing business).
Findochty Harbour
In 1930 Nelly is still appearing (Registration being for life, unless struck off) but her address has changed to 'c/o National Bank of India, Bombay' - no clue as to her reason for emigrating, whether off her own bat or in order to join her future husband. 'Nelly Flett' disappears from subsequent MR volumes, to be replaced by (Mrs.) Nelly Tarlton:
British India Office Marriages - on 2-2-1929 at Calcutta, Bengal:
Nelly Flett (30) and Edward Smedley Tarlton (43).

The Bombay address continues through MR 1933 and 1936 (volumes in the National Archives library) but by 1939 Nelly is evidently back in Britain, at Cherington Park, Avening, Stroud.

The Tarltons duly appear in the 1939 Register of Electors online, although it doesn't give Nelly her due. Her 'MB ChB' is transcribed erroneously as if middle intials, 'Ma Mb C?' and her occupation as the default for married women,'Unpaid Domestic Duties'.  Her 26-12-1898. Edward is described as 'Engineer (Mechanic) Retired', d.o.b.19-1-1884.

It is not clear without further research whether or for how long Nelly practised medicine in Gloucestershire, where she evidently continued to live. She appears in the Medical Directory for 1942 and 1944 as 'Tarleton, Nelly, née Flett', and (consistently as Tartlton) at the same Avening address in the MR until 1966, when she would have been in her 68th year.

Incidentally, Alec Flett's daughter and Joe's niece Elizabeth Horne Flett joins her father on the MR listing in 1942, with the qualification MRCS Eng (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England) LRCP London (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London) 1941. Her home address was 34 The Avenue, Bedford Park, Chiswick.

Margaret Nathaniel MacCallum, apart from being female, was a more likely candidate for the medical profession, being the daughter of a Church of Scotland minister and younger sister of a doctor. What's more, her family showed signs of holding progressive views. Her brother's stand as a 'conchie' is well documented, along with his concern for workers' health and rights, while her father Malcolm stood as a Labour and Land League candidate in the 1920 Argyll by-election.

Margaret, born in 1892, studied medicine at Edinburgh - scene of notorious rioting against women in the medical faculty a few decades earlier - and qualified MB ChB in July 1913, so that she appears in the Medical Register and Medical Directory from 1914. In 1916 she added a Diploma in Public Hea;th (DPH) from Birmngham, suggesting an inclination towards social involvement rather than an elitist career. Her address until 1921 is given as the family home, Muckairn Manse, Taynuilt in Argyllshire (now a Category B listed building).
Muckairn Manse, designed by Thomas Telford (1828)
Changes in the listings from 1922 are explained, like Nelly's at the end of the decade, by the fact that she married. This record too is slightly inexact, but clear enough in meaning:
McCallum, Margaret Nathan married Dunst[a]n, Robert at Newington in 1922.
Robert Dunstan was also a doctor, registered from 9-11-1900 (MRCS Eng, LRCP  London).

Margaret continues to appear under her married name, Dunstan (Mrs.) Margaret Nathaniel (formerly/née MacCallum), coincidentally also until 1966 like Nelly, when she would have been about 75. But for a time in the MR, at least until 1933, she had remained as MacCallum. Her address and Robert Dunstan's are the same: 84 Boyson Road, London SE17 during most of that time. In MD 1929 Robert has the additional address 'Paper Ridge, Temple'; this and other volumes show his additional attainments: Barrister-at-Law, Gray's Inn; Mem Med Leg (Medico-Legal) Soc; late Lt.RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps - one wonders how he got on with his brother-in-law John).

The Dunstans do not seem to show up on the 1939 Register of Electors (frustratingly England and Wales only) online, although the MD for that year lists them both as living at South Green Cottage, Fingringhoe, Essex. Twenty years later (MR 1959) they were at Ivy Lodge, Martock, Somerset, and from 1964 Margaret was at Shipley Avenue, Torquay.


Neither of these is a noted pioneer among women in the medical profession nor celebrated for having practised medicine in a particularly adventurous or dangerous environment, but they like many others are part of the story of what the pioneers enabled women to achieve, even if the process was slow.* It took even longer in some specialisms, as indicated by the moderately well-known 'riddle' about the surgeon who turns out (spoiler alert) to be a woman  - who would have thought of that?!