Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Recent research

It's been a busy few months, with plenty of research work and editing to be getting on with. Much of my time has been spent down at TNA, where I have been immersed in the mysteries of ADM 12, which contains the so-called Index and Digest volumes that should, in theory, provide access to documents contained in ADM 1 and elsewhere. The contents of at least some of the I&D volumes are, however, quite baffling; indeed, even the staff at TNA have been confounded by some of the cryptic references I have turned up. Why the Admiralty chose to instigate such an impenetrable system can only be a matter for speculation; one eminent historian I spoke to at the reception to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History mischievously suggested that 'talent' in the nineteenth century preferred the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office to the backwaters of the Admiralty, and the record-keeping system of which I complained was one manifestation of that dearth of adminstrative ability. I'm not sure about that, but whilst not expecting any government department to organise its records with the covenience of future historians in mind, surely they could have come up with something more usable.

Also of interest was some work I did for a scholar in Australia who was interested in an obscure article from The Spectator that dwelt on the fate of two Aborigines who were executed in Western Australia in the early 1840s; there is evidence of a miscarriage of justice, a gentle euphemism for state murder if ever there was one. It took some time, but I'm pleased to say that I eventually found the relevant piece. Curious to relate, given that magazine's general temper today, the author was highly sympathetic to the plight of the victims. 

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