26 December 2009

More rabbits

Further to today's post on Thomas Austin and the supposed 150th anniversary of the rabbit plague, I note an 1866 report by the Geelong Advertiser that -
A few weeks ago, it was our pleasant duty to inform our readers that acclimatisation was flourishing space at Barwon Park, especially referring to the successful hatching of broods of young pheasants. Since then, however, ill luck has attended them, and no less than eighty birds were carried off last week by an epidemic.

Thanks to the courtesy of Thomas Austin, Esq, the proprietor, whose gamekeeper has kept an accurate account of all rabbits killed during the past year, we learn that the total number picked up was 12,608, and many others, say over 500, were lost. The warren, to all appearances, is as full us ever. Some estimate may be formed of what a small beginning may do when we state that the first and only importation of rabbits made by Mr Austin was in December 1859, and the importation consisted of ten couples, one of which, much to the chagrin of the importer, died a day after landing. It is known that since that time over 50,000 have been caught and killed. The greatest number killed in one day last season was 222, and in looking over the book we find that many days averaged over 150.

The number of pheasants shot last year was 63. The hawks have much militated against the successful breeding of the pheasant, and as many as 1200 of these pests were shot during last year, and and as many as 130 were disposed of last month alone. It is believed that the hares are also prospering, over a dozen young ones having been seen romping about in the cool of the evening.

Before concluding this short narrative of the condition of the preserves at Barwon Park we must tender our thanks for the many pleasant days Mr Austin has given to sporting men, whom he is always glad to see. In fact he is, as he states, willing to give any gentleman a day's shooting so long as he does not bag to sell.
Austin - that practitioner of noblesse oblige - expired in time to escape much of the condemnation as putative father of the rabbit plague and starling plague. His wife Elizabeth (1821-1910) made some amends as founder of the Austin Hospital for Incurables, later the Austin Hospital.

By 1872 a correspondent in the Adelaide Register (where only ten years earlier a writer had sniffed that "the shooting of one of them now and then" will be "a matter of trifling importance") wrote that a -
warning against rabbits should be attended to. I have carefully prevented for years any being turned loose at Mount Lofty, in consideration of the numerous market gardeners around its slopes; but a few weeks ago I saw some running about ... and am told that a distinguished summer neighbour of mine also let some go for future sport. If there is sport, depend upon it there will be no cabbages, carrots, turnips or celery.
Three years later an Act to provide for the Suppression of the Rabbit Nuisance (38 and 39 Vic., 1875, No. 16) became law in South Australia, illustrating questions about identity mechanisms (persons with "written authority") and power.

That Act, provided among other things, that
It shall be lawful for any person authorized in writing in that behalf by the District Council of any district which has been duly constituted and declared a Rabbit district, after twenty four hours' notice shall have been given, to enter any land within such Rabbit District, or any land in the neighborhood thereof, not being another district, whether enclosed or not, at any reasonable hour in the daytime, for the purpose of ascertaining if any rabbits are thereupon, and no such person shall be deemed a trespasser by reason of such entry, or be liable for any damage thereby occasioned, unless the same shall be occasioned by such person wilfully, and without necessity: Provided that any person so authorized shall exhibit such written authority, if required to do so by the owner or occupier of such land, or his authorized agent, and if being so required he shall fail to exhibit such authority, then he shall be liable to be deemed and dealt with as a trespasser. ...

If any person shall wilfully obstruct, hinder, or interrupt person appointed by the Commissioner or any District Council, in the exercise of any power, or authority, vested in any such person by this Act; or shall threaten, assault, or use improper language to any such person whilst in the performance of his duty under this Act, every such person so offending shall, for every such offence, forfeit and pay a penalty not exceeding Twenty Pounds: Provided that no proceeding for the recovery of any such penalty, nor the payment thereof, shall be a bar to any action at law by any such person for or in respect of any such assault, but every such action may be commenced and proceeded with as if this Act had not been passed, bylaw or usage to the contrary notwithstanding.
Similar legislation was enacted in Victoria in 1878. In 1887 the colonies of Victoria and South Australia collaborated, unsuccessfully, in building a 'rabbit proof' fence that stretched for a mere 290 miles.

Rabbits in abundance

This week is reportedly the 150th anniversary of the first 'successful' importation of rabbits in Australia, some of whose descendants are currently frolicking in the wet grass outside my office at UC (and will presumably soon be busy adding to the bunny population).

Scholars disagree about the beginnings of rabbit infestation in Australia and the anniversary is problematical. (Governor Phillip was accompanied by five rabbits in 1787; a dispute between John Pascoe Fawkner and Henry Batman in 1836 featured disagreement about the destruction of rabbits and the Governor Gawler arrived at Port Adelaide in 1840 with "30 trusses of hay, a cask of oil, seven whalers' chests and 16 rabbits".)

During December 1859 some 21 wild European rabbits were released into special pens at the 11,7360 hectare Barwon Park estate at Winchelsea (near Geelong) on Christmas Day 1859. They had arrived from England on the brig Lightning. At Barwon Park, home of squatter and Acclimatisation Society member Thomas Austin (1815-1871), they were fed on lettuce that had been specially grown for them. Austin's nephew - in some accounts his brother - had sent him 24 rabbits, five hares, 72 partridges and some sparrows. The latter have been equally prolific, albeit without the serious environmental damage associated with bunnies.

Having recovered from the voyage the rabbits were released so that Austin and other 'Port Phillip Gentlemen' could go hunting. Sources differ on whether 21 or 24 rabbits did the feral thing. Thomas, brother James and associates released rabbits on other grazing properties in Victoria and NSW, reportedly requesting legislation to protect rabbits.

The Brisbane Courier of 7 May 1864 reports that -
At the meeting of the Council of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society, held last week, reference was made by a gentleman present to Barwon Park, in Victoria, the owner of whom, Mr Thomas Austin, had done much to encourage the importation of English game some years ago, and who now was enabled occasionally to invite his friends to join him in a battue. Since the meeting, the following extract, which is taken from the Geelong Advertiser, has come into our possession:
On Thursday last, Mr Thomas Austin, of Barwon Park, entertained a number of his friends to a shooting party. The guests assembled shortly after nine, and after partaking of a substantial breakfast, proceeded to the place of rendezvous - the keeper's lodge. Here guns and ammunition were waiting, and it having got noised abroad in the neighboring village of Winchelsea that there was going to be a battue with the rabbits, a great many volunteer visitors had collected to partake of the sport and the good cheer which circulates so freely. These, with Mr Austin's own men, formed a goodly array of more than twenty-five. The assembled gentlemen then inspected the aviaries, in the immediate vicinity, where a number of pheasants are still confined for those present; with those are thirty-four blackbirds and thrushes, which Mr Austin brought out with him in the Yorkshire.

He was very successful with them on board ship, as out of forty-four taken on board only, ten died during the voyage. In this spacious aviary a number of trees are growing, and have become so luxuriant that they have forced their heads far above the wire network; and it is Mr Austin's intention, after they have incubated in the spring, to open a portion of the roof and give them their liberty. This locality is admirably adapted for their propagation, as all eagles and hawks are destroyed as soon as "they put in an appearance".

Close to this aviary is a four-acre enclosure, surrounded by wire, and made dog proof, if a strange one should come near, but dogs are prohibited from being at large. In this paddock, containing excellent clover, the hares that Mr Austin brought out with him are turned loose, and it is worthy of remark how successfully Mr Austin carried out his idea; instead of obtaining those that have been for some time in confinement, Mr Austin thought it would be more desirable to obtain wild ones, and a week before the Yorkshire sailed those hares were at large, and out of eleven shipped nine were turned into this paddock. The hare is a very timid animal, and the boxes on board ship were so constructed that they might enjoy great privacy, and Mr Austin, knowing how obtrusively curious people are to see such things when landed, had a spring-cart awaiting the arrival of the trains to convoy them at once to Barwon Park, and the same day that they were put ashore they were turned loose.

The rabbits, which have now become very numerous on the estate, are the English wild rabbit; the original stock was sent to him from the old country by his brother, Mr James Austin. They prefer the long grass in the bends of the river to the sedges and rushes on the plains, making their burrows principally on the bare high ground. Through the long grass various pathways had been cut, to give the sportsmen an opportunity of firing. The beaters, provided with sticks, formed themselves into a straight line, bending the long grass and driving the rabbits before them, and so made them bolt into the open.

Shortly after midnight the keepers had been round netting the warrens, and so kept the rabbits from their holes; and although the beaters were so numerous, they had great difficulty in driving the rabbits before, the rabbits evincing the greatest desire to double back, and showing much repugnance to leave their own particular bond. Mr Austin had given permission to have the cock pheasants shot, and so the sportsmen were constantly on the qui vive for a cock to rise; this also gave an interest to the beaters, for, when a hen pheasant put up, a cry of "ware hen" immediately resounded along their rank. Experience has shown that the most productive preserves number about ten hens to each cock.

Mr Austin opened the campaign by having a bang at a handsome cock in full feather, and which was bagged. About one o'clock the party found themselves again in the vicinity of the keeper's cottage, covered with English ivy, and situated in a lovely little valley adjoining the plantations and preserves. While the sportsmen went inside to partake of the good things produced, the beaters formed themselves into picturesque groups on the green slopes around, enjoying the hospitality and abundance of the proprietor; their happy smiling faces showed that they participated in the day's enjoyment. The bright sunny day, with now and then a passing cloud to soften the glare, the chiaroscuro effect on the landscape, the great variety in the tints of the foliage, produced by exotic and indigenous trees being planted singly and in groups around, formed a coup d'oeil seldom witnessed, and must have been seen to be appreciated.

The midday repast being over, and a short spell for smoking allowed, the sportsmen again sallied forth up one side of the river and down the other, every bend of this winding river offering ample sport and diversion. Pheasants were put up over an area extending for four miles; they are well supplied with food, and they keep to the locality. Last year, however, a hen got away as far as Modowarre, and a native youth was surprised to see a rara avis feeding with his fowls in the morning; he was seen busy loading his gun when a person rode up, and he pointed out the prize he was going to bag, when the horseman told him it was one of Mr Austin's pheasants, and the bird's life was therefore spared, and may be the same bird that has selected the neighbouring forest for her habitation, and was lately seen with a brood of eleven surrounding her.

Sunset closed the "laboring day" for shooting, when the killed consisted of 173 rabbits and five pheasants for seven guns, not a bad day's sport; the amount of killed and wounded left on the field was not ascertained. An excellent dinner, provided with the accustomed liberality of the host, brought to a conclusion a most agreeable day's amusement. "The parish lantern" (a full moon) was provided for those who had to wend their way homeward that night.


Having returned from my road trip to Melbourne with Kruger the WonderDog (what a fine dog he is, and fine company like Orr SC) I'm reading miscellaneous Christmas presents and grazing the Michael Kirby website.

Alan Steinweis's Kristallnacht 1938 (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2009) is a concise account, perhaps of most value to novices and from my perspective offering less bite than Saul Friedländer's Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (New York: HarperCollins 1997). It's of interest for its microhistories of participants in the 'night of broken glass'.

Wilfred Prest's William Blackstone: Law & Letters in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2008) considers the author of the Commentaries - praised by one contemporary as the "most correct and most beautiful outline that was ever exhibited of any human science" - and other works. Prest takes issue with Jeremy Bentham's attack on the Commentaries and on Blackstone -
... [a] persistent and sustained condemnation of the misanthropic enemy of reason and reform, 'everything-as-it-should-be Blackstone', a muddled and shallow apologist for the status quo. Making up in critical acerbity what it lacked in humdrum detail. Bentham's Blackstone replaced the conscientious and upright scholar, judge and public man with an even more two-dimensional caricature; that of failed barrister turned stodgy Tory academic and confused textbook apologist for the British Constitution and unreformed common law.
Michael Kirby in 309 Australian Book Review (Mar. 2009) 14–15 noted that "Prest frequently reaches the limits of his source materials" and suggested that "what really matters about [Blackstone] today is not so much his life ... more important would be an analysis of what [Blackstone] wrote, and how, often unthinking, it has influenced the law in lands far from Oxford’s dreaming spires". Blackstone's shopping list is interesting but ultimately unimportant; the reception of his work is fundamental.

Martin Wiener's superb An Empire on Trial: Race, Murder and Justice under British Rule, 1870-1935 (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2009) is far more enjoyable ... lucid, persuasive, insightful. I have yet to get into Legal Foundations of Tribunals in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2006) by Chantal Stebbings and In The Common Defense: National Security Law for Perilous Times (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2007) by James Baker. Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing and the Erosion of Integrity (New York: New Press 2007) by Anne Moore is marketed - oops, that damn M word - as -
both a scathing critique of corporate marketing's dalliances with the cultural underground and a highly entertaining depiction of the absurdity produced by our advertising-saturated late-capitalist wonderland. Here is a world in which cultural resistance and the DIY underground, once refuges from consumer society, have been repurposed by corporations even as the underground itself emerges as a key demographic to be targeted.
All in all, deliciously ahistorical and self-involved.