23 July 2016

Willoughbyland: a strange English colony in South America

I actually read The Spectator’s review of Matthew Parker’s book Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony (Windmill Books, 2015) before I had ever heard of the book. But perhaps reviews are useful like that; they whet an appetite that the reader may not have even been aware of. The story started off with the fact that by the mid-C17th, almost every English attempt at settlement along the wild North East coast of South America/Guiana had failed. One of the last colonies had collapsed in 1627 when the colonists had been massacred.

In the meantime Francis 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham (1614–1666) was one of the best connected Englishmen in the House of Lords. He inherited the title from his father and older brother, but he was also the grandson of John Manners 4th Earl of Rutland on his mother’s side. And in 1628 Willoughby married Elizabeth Cecil, the daughter of Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon.

The Civil War was a terrible time for everyone, but at least Baron Willoughby did well. Once he declared himself for the Royalist cause in early 1648, Willoughby was promoted to Vice Admiral under the Duke of York. Following the execution of King Charles I in 1649, and seeing that life at home was going to miserable, Willoughby set sail for Barb­ados, which had declared itself Royalist.

Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony 
by Matthew Parker,
published by Windmill Books in 2015

Willoughby’s timing was excellent. The first Europeans who came to Suriname had been the Dutch traders who visited that wild coastline. It was really only in 1650-2 that permanent settlement seemed likely in Suriname, under Governor Lord Willoughby of Barbados. The governor used his own money to equip a small fleet of ships with enough guns and equipment to settle a new colony. Will­oughbyland, as he called it, consisted of c30,000 acres, 50 plantations and a fort. By the time 12-15 years had passed, there were c1,000 plantation owners; the lands were worked by 3,000 African slaves and native Indians. The first settlers planted cotton and tobacco, and harvested native timbers.

Was Will­oughbyland meant to be a Utopian settlement, where the settlers would be bound by a single political or religious vision? The New Australia Colony in Paraguay, for example, was based on a shared belief in their socialist brotherhood of Anglophones; no divorce tolerated, no alcohol tolerated and no blacks allowed. Fruitlands was a Utopian agrarian commune est­ab­lished in Harvard Mass that did not recognise the purchase of land. The land would be redeemed only when the members yielded their individual rights to the Supreme Owner.

Willoughbyland aka Suriname is marked in red

Initially I had thought Willoughbyland was a utopia. With England in ruins from the Civil War, people had started to look abroad for space and freedom. But no, it was just another European colonisation plan, complete with slavery, a land grab and an exclusive focus on growing crops that would be useful to Britain. But the air was clean, the beaches gorgeous, the fruits exotic and the soil fertile.

The most common ailments might well have been the French Pox, malaria and alcohol poisoning. And some colonists were chewed to death by tigers, snakes or poisonous eels. But for most of the planters, their enormous profits made up for an occasional dead relative. Willoughby­land grew good quality sugar and exported products that Europeans really needed eg tobacco, honey, wax, drugs and cotton. The colony was looking like Paradise.

The Dutch fleet arriving off the Suriname coast

Author Matthew Parker even found London newspaper references to the colony eg "Surynam is coming to the highest probability of being the richest and healthfullest of all our foreign settle­ments. A government inspector declared it England’s most hopeful colony anywhere in the world" (May 1662). 

After Willoughby poured a lot of money into the settlement, he returned to Europe to attract new settlers and to raise money for the colony. He remained away from Suriname for another ten years. So we have to explain why the settlement thrived, even though the driving force behind its original settlement was thousands of ks away.

Plantations had covered both banks of the Suriname River, attracting more colonists who eagerly arrived on ships; the numbers grew from 600 in 1654 to 4,000 eight years later. Everyone was welcome wherever they came from, and society became accidentally democratic. Brasilian Jews arrived, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English.

Willoughby survived the Cromwell years, and after the restoration of his beloved King Charles II in 1660, he was appointed to a director­ship in the Caribbean - Governor of Barbados, ad­ministering the colonies at St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat.

By the time Willoughby returned to the islands, in 1664, his original colony was rich, but immoral and on the downward slide. Most of the workforce had been English, supported by Amerindians. But once slavery received royal sanction on Suriname, the number of slaves outnumbered the settlers. Willough­byland was changing into a place of cruelty. Matthew Parker suggests that the replacement governor, William Byam (1623-70), had used the restoration of King Charles II to bolster his own power base. Democracy was no longer be tolerated, the scheduled elections were cancelled and Byam started locking up anyone who opposed him.
Francis 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham 

During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Willoughby set sail again, this time moving in on the Dutch island of Tobago in July 1665. In July 1666, an English fleet of warships left Barbados to recapture St Kitts from the French. Almost the entire fleet was destroyed by a hurricane, killing Gov Willoughby who had left big estates in Barbados, Antigua and Suriname to his two surviving children.

Willoughby’s death at sea in August further depressed morale. So when a Dutch fleet from Zeeland arrived at the Suriname River in February 1667, the English defenders of Fort Will­oughby quickly surrendered. Willoughby’s brother tried to capture Suriname’s fort back. And although he succeeded, it was by then too late. The Treaty of Breda had been signed. Carrying off what­ever they could, the English used a scorched earth policy to destroy their own estates as they left. In the chaos, many slaves escaped.

This was the end of Willoughbyland’s brief exist­ence (16 years), given to the Dutch in exchange for their colony New Amsterdam, later called New York. (Suriname or New York? Tough choice). In the end the author acknowledged that Willoughbyland made little impact back home, and was soon forgotten. Unfortunately for the colony's slaves, slavery in Suriname was not abolished by the Netherlands until 1863!

19 July 2016

Sarona: elegant German colony in the centre of Tel Aviv: guest post

The Temple Society was a Protestant sect that originated in the Luth­eran Church in southern Germany in 1858. Two of their leaders, Kristoph Hoff­mann & Georg Hardegg, encouraged their communities to live in the Holy Land since that would hasten the second coming of Christ. An earlier post showed how Dr Conrad Schick, a German archaeologist-architect-city engineer who had been part of the German community in Jerus­al­em, wanted to build a railway linking the Mediterranean coast with Jerusalem. This was a truly co­op­erative project between Catholic French engineers, German Protestants, Jewish Jerusalemites and Muslim Ottomans.

What I didn't mention was that the Templers had also purchased land in Mount Carmel and had established a colony there in 1868. These Templer colonists built an attractive tree-lined main street, 30 meters wide. The houses, des­igned by architect Jacob Schumacher, were built of stone, with red-shingled roofs, instead of the typical Israeli flat roof design. Hard work, the harsh climate and epidemics claimed the lives of many before the colony became self-sustaining. So Hard­egg stayed in Haifa, while Hoffmann established a colony in Sarona near Jaffa a year later in 1871.

The German Templers of Sarona focused on agricul­ture and small industry in a northern suburb of Jaffa. These first German settlers purchased 60 hectares of land from a Greek monastery, quickly followed by laying the foundations for the first houses. As in the Haifa colony, diseases like malaria caused the deaths of 20% of the 125 Sarona colonists during 1872. In an effort to soak up the marshy land, 1,300 eucalyptus trees were planted. One of the most important buildings in Sarona was the Community House, dedicated in 1873 to accommodate the local school.

By the 1880s 269 people lived in Sarona. As well as the communal hall, here were 41 homes, a cavern-based winery, workshops and barns. The colonists were not replicating Biblical simp­licity – they brought modern farming practices to the Holy Land, and focused on crops and products that could be marketed for a profit. First they organised grain crops and dairy products, then orchards and vineyards. Once the large winery was opened, Sarona’s wines were marketed in Germany. The milk, cheese, butter and meat were sold in Jaffa. So market-oriented was Sarona that when Jewish wineries began to pose strong competition, the German colonists of Sarona re-planted their vineyards with citrus.

Original stone houses in Sarona
built in the 1870s and 1880s
renovated from 2003-2013

Sarona's lily ponds and gardens

Faced with a shortage of financial resources for infrastructure dev­el­opment, the community introduced Frondienst, a compulsory work system where every male member was required to do a fixed number of hours of community work each month - building of roads, develop­ment of land, drainage and community facilities. In some important ways this type of commune predicted the kibbutzim that were soon to cover the Holy Land.

In Nov 1917 British troops occupied Sarona, turning the commun­ity house into a field hospital for milit­ary use. In July 1918, the British interned 850 Templers near Cairo. Once Israel became part of the British Mandate in 1919, International charity organisations took up their cause; in July 1920 270 internees were repatriated to Bad Mergentheim in Germany. Then the House of Lords in London permitted the remaining internees to return to Sarona in 1921, even the Templers who had been exiled to Egypt. The residents returned to a colony ruined by British soldiers and following negotiations with the British authorities, compensation was event­ually paid.

Surprisingly after the chaos of WW1 the settlement flourished under the British Mandate. Ag­ricultural areas expanded and new houses were built in a modern, internat­ional style. By 1925 Sarona was still a small settlement, although growing. It was a farming community that also had an emphasis on trades. With hundreds of thousands of Jewish migrants arriving from Eastern Europe, the settlement prospered due to a keen Jewish market, ready for Sarona’s produce and services.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, all international schools of German language financed by the German government's funds were obliged to redraw their educational programmes and employ teachers aligned with the Nazi party. The swastika was used as a symbol in all such institutions.

But the worst tragedy only became visible once WW2 started, and Sar­ona became a Nazi stronghold. The mayor of Sarona, Gotthilf Wag­ner, was a virulent Nazi and he encouraged a number of the Templers to become active members of the Nazi Party. The British naturally decl­ared the German Templers to be enemy nationals.

Wherever active Nazi Germans lived in the Holy Land, they were interned by the British in Sarona, Wilhelma, Bethlehem of Galilee and Waldheim. Sarona itself held c1,000 persons behind a high barbed-wire fence. Wilhelma, another German Templer colony near Jaffa, took more of the remaining Sarona residents..

In July 1941 188 people from Sarona were deported to Australia and interned in Tatura Internment Camp in Central Victoria until 1947. Why did Australia accept these enemy prisoners? It would appear that the British could get no-one else to receive them, so the British Government leant on its most loyal ex-colony. Due to unsafe conditions in the Holy Land after the war, the Templers who had been interned in Tatura were offered the option of starting a new life in Australia or returning to Germany. Templers who were still in Palestine during the war, or in Germany, were also able to emigrate to Australia.

In December 1947, just as all British soldiers left the greater Tel Aviv region for home, the British handed over the Sarona camp to the mun­icipality. Thus Sarona became the first military camp under the indep­endent command of the IDF/Israeli defence forces.

When the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was estab­lish­ed in May 1948, the complex temporarily housed some of the original government ministries. [Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, but it was a city under siege until December 1949]. From then, until its reopening, Sarona housed the headquarters of the Israel Defence Forces. After a few year, the State of Israel paid hefty compensation to property owners whose assets had been nationalised.
Sarona Market, Tel Aviv

German war cemetery
Tatura Internment Camp

With the rapid growth of Tel Aviv, Sarona became prime real-estate in the very heart of a huge city. When plans for redeveloping the area were proposed in the mid-1970s, preservationists successfully campaigned against demolition because of the town’s unique heritage value. And since 2003, the Tel Aviv municipality’s restoration of Sarona progressed. Located just off one of Tel Aviv’s busiest roads, the original 37 Templer buil­dings that had been part of the original settlement have been meticulously restored.

Sarona's main boulevard, Kaplan Street, was widened and became an area of cafés, shops and art galleries. The parks are truly lovely, the paths are tree-lined, lily ponds abound – all in the heart of a city dominated by thousands of blocks of flats!! The Vis­itor Centre documents the history and restoration of Sarona, telling the story of its devout, religious settlers, the later growth of Nazism and its important history during the British Mandate. One wine bar, which sits in an underground cave, had been built as a wine press by the Templers in the 1880s.

The newly renovated complex was opened in early 2014. Yet to come are festivals, street theatre, open air films, art fairs, and a music garden that will host classical music concerts and jazz festivals. And an even bigger food market.

Thank you to NaftaliTours. Contact them for English-speaking guided tours of Sarona in Tel Aviv, the First Station in Jerusalem and other important historical sites.

16 July 2016

A child murderer in Jack the Ripper's London (1897)

Jack the Ripper Tours have been a wonderful source of information.  Robert Coombes worked as a purser and chief steward for the National Steamship Co. He, wife Emily and their sons (Robert 13; Nathaniel 10), had moved into a neat, yellow-brick house in Cave Road in London in 1895.

The parents were much respect­ed in the neighbourhood. Robert and Emily Coombes were described as very cheerful; she was a patient wife and mother, and a careful housewife. But the neighbours disliked the two boys who they described as being shifty.

Nathaniel and Robert Coombes in their days of innocence

In July that year, Robert Coombes said goodbye to his wife and children, and headed for the docks to set sail for New York aboard a steamship. Just 3 days after Mr Coombes left, some Cave Road neighbours became concerned that they had seen nothing of Mrs Coombes for several days and had asked the boys how she was. The boys’ response was that their mother had gone to Liverpool to see father and, since the story seemed believable, it was accepted. But then the neighbours began to notice a stench emanating from the house. Were the boys leaving their faeces around the house?

One neighbour was so worried, she contacted the boys’ aunt. The aunt went to the house in Cave Rd on several occasions, but no-one answered the door. On Monday 15th July 1895 the aunt returned to the house at 6pm. The door this time was answered by a man she didn’t know, John Fox. Fox only opened the door very slightly and said “No, you cannot see Emily.. she is not at home.. she has gone on holiday. To Liverpool”. The man then slammed the door shut.

Soon her nephews Robert and Nathaniel came walking up the street and approached the door. “Where is you Ma?” she asked them. Robert confirmed that she had gone to Liverpool. A rich aunt had apparently died and had left them a lot of money. At this point the two boys joined a group of other boys for the recreation ground, so the aunt left.

However the aunt perservered. This time the door was opened and she forced her way in and went straight to the back parlour, where she found her two nephews and John Fox playing cards. Auntie asked Robert if she could go into his Ma’s bedroom. But he said her room was locked and he didn’t have any key. So she borrowed a key from the landlady, unlocked the door and saw the dead body of her sister-in-law on the bed.

Auntie sent straight away for a constable. The police found a dagger-knife on the foot of the bed and a truncheon on the floor. The Divisional Police Surgeon arrived and found Emily’s body in a horrible state of decomposition; the head had been entirely eaten by maggots. The stench was everywhere.

Robert told his aunt that his mother had given Nattie a hiding for stealing some food on the Saturday. Nattie wanted to kill her but he asked Robert to do it instead. So Robert obliged. After committing murder, the Coombes brothers partied it up - they went to watch cricket at Lords and played cards. Emily had been dead ten days! Whoever John Fox was, he had taken Mr Coombes’s gold watch, smoked his tobacco and wore his new suit.

As news of the murder spread across the neighbourhood, journalists arrived in Cave Road to gossip with the neighbours. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper released the shocking story on Sunday 21st July 1895! But the conduct of the boys had excited no suspicion. Both boys went to school each day, had their meals in the house and slept in the back bedroom every night. The matter-of-fact-way in which Robert had described murdering his mother was particularly chilling.

At Robert’s subsequent Old Bailey Trial, there were only three issues of interest:
1. how emotionally disturbed had the mother been in the past?
2. how mentally disturbed was Robert since birth? And
3. how much influence did all the pernicious Penny Dreadful novels in the house have? Should they be banned across Britain?

Nathaniel was never charged with murder. And John Fox was later found not guilty of any involvement in the crime. When Robert’s jury retir­ed, they returned and found Coom­bes guilty; but they strongly recom­mended mercy because of Robert’s youth, and because he did not real­ise the serious nature of murder. He was guilty but insane. Robert was sent to Broadmoor where he remained for 17 years in “classy” Block 2. He emigrated to Australia in 1914, and served with great distinction as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli soon after. Presumably Robert, the once-vicious murderer, had been redeemed in Broadmoor and Coffs Harbour.


Now a book has been published called The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, written by Kate Summerscale, published by Bloomsbury Publishing and well reviewed by Victorian Musings.

120 years after the trial ended, Summerscale’s questions are different from those presented to the original jury. In fact the majority of the book focused on what happened post-trial. This is fortunate for me since I am more interested in psychology and sociology than I am in literature for its own sake.
The new book The Wicked Boy, by Kate Summerscale

The author covers many professional fields of expertise, some of which were not available in 1895. The sociologists would have been fascinated to look at 1890s child rearing, especially amonst over-crowded and under-nourished working class London families. The social historian would ask if the violence associated with Jack the Ripper back in 1888-1891 had not dissipated yet in London a few years later? What would psycho-analytically focused psychologists have made of the bizarre relationship between 13 year old Robert and his 37 year old mother? Why was young Robert such a self possessed young lad who seemed very pleased with his shameful behaviour? Did it matter that the boys’ father was usually not at home, sharing the parental responsibilities with his wife?

Finally Summerscale asks how much influence can popular culture have on a young teenage mind? If the same murder happened today, would we be blaming video games and violent films (rather than Penny Dreadful novels)?