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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Plane gets a licking

Cows interested spectators at an emergency landing

The Dominion Post has an amusing report this morning that I could not resist passing on.

Cattle are surprisingly inquisitive, as I have found out many times when going out mushrooming.  They gather round and drool, and flutter ridiculously long eyelashes, and when they get really interested they start to lick.

This herd of beef cattle had the most interesting experience yet, on Sunday.  A small plane, flown by a private pilot, made an emergency landing in their paddock after the engine started shuddering.

No one was hurt, and the plane was washed.  After a fashion.  The cows, after scampering away from the landing, reassembled for a close inspection.  Then, liking what they scented and saw, they started to lick.

This happened just north of Wellington, at Te Horo on the Kapiti Coast.  The Kapiti Aero Club secretary denied all knowledge of the pilot's identity.  All he knew, apparently was that the pilot issued a mayday call, and then made a successful landing, and the plane will be trucked out this week.

More amusing still, it seems that cows are even more interested in cameras.  As you can see, they have abandoned the plane to inspect the photographer.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ancient tablet transcribed

Well, there's a language I have never heard about before. Luwian.  Evidently a local dialect from about the time of beautiful Helen of Troy, whose face sank a thousand ships.

Long ago, a French archaeologist couldn't decipher it, either, but he had the sense to copy what he saw on a huge tablet covered with this script, before the stone tablet was used in the construction of a mosque.  And now a team of scholars has translated the message, which is a story of a mythic "Sea People."

From The Smithsonian

An interdisciplinary team of Swiss and Dutch archaeologists say they have managed to deduce the writings on a 3,200-year-old stone tablet that appears to tell tales of ancient Troy and the so-called "Sea People."
The 95-foot-long, 13-inch-tall limestone slab in question was discovered in 1878 in a small village in what is now modern-day Turkey, reports Natasha Frost of Atlas Obscura. Despite having no idea what the hieroglyphic symbols meant, French archaeologist Georges Perrot supposedly copied the entire inscription for his records before the limestone was taken away by the villagers and used to build a new mosque.
The archaeologists deciphered the copy of that inscription, which was written in Luwian, the tongue of a little-known civilization believed to exist thousands of years ago in Asia Minor, writes Owen Jarus of Live Science. The Luwians have been proposed by some to be the "Sea People" cryptically mentioned in Egyptian writings that might have helped drive the end of the country's New Kingdom. Swiss geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger goes further, proposing that the Luwians fueled the collapse of the Bronze Age superpowers by starting a series of conflicts in a kind of "World War Zero" some 3,200 years ago.
Since 1956, scholars have slowly worked to decipher the Luwian language, including Perrot's transcription. The copy was in the possession of the English archaeologist James Mellaart, who spent the last decades of his life trying to translate the slab, before his death in 2012.
Today, less than 20 people in the world are estimated to be able to read the Luwian language, and Mellaart's son gave the inscription to the team of archaeologists, who are affiliated with Zangger's Luwian Studies Foundation
According to a press release, their translation reveals an epic story worthy of being carved into stone, namely the exploits of prince from the region of ancient Troy named Muksus who advances his forces all the way to the borders of ancient Egypt.
However, some scholars are skeptical of the authenticity of this story. Dutch scholar Fred Woudhuizen was working with a copy of a copy of a copy, notes Jarus, since Perrot's transcription was later copied by a Turkish scholar, whose work was then copied by Mellaart. Without any stones left to corroborate this copy, the authenticity of the work is suspect. Mellaart's own credibility also must be considered. Scholars have spoken out against some of his claims, and in 1991, he was forced to publish a story in HALI magazine titled "James Mellaart Answers His Critics." 
But Woudhuizen and the Luwian Studies Foundation, however, argue that it would have been very difficult for Mellaart, being unable to read Luwian, to successfully forge a long, intricate inscription.
You can read a translation of the tablet yourself this December when the foundation publishes it in the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society – TALANTA.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ship stamp worth untold

An old, unused, ship stamp could be yours for a mere fifty grand in Kiwi dollars, if you link to a stamp and coin auction that is to be staged in Wellington late this week.

The stamp was designed and printed to commemorate a royal visit to the country back in 1949

Due to the ill-health of the royal in question, King George VI, the visit was cancelled, and so was the stamp.

Well, it was meant to be cancelled and destroyed in its entirety, but one sheet of the print run was "liberated" before the rest were incinerated.

There are only seven known examples.

The auction as a whole is expected to make over two million in sales.  That, however, might depend on the popularity of a rival attraction, a heavy-duty firearms fair that is to be held, if you please, at a school.  The gun fair is designed for collectors of old military weapons, but instead has raised a heap of controversy...

Read more.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

From the website of Age of Nelson author Alaric Bond

From time to time I hope to feature authors who write in a similar vein to me, and the first of these is Joan Druett.

I initially became aware of Joan's books when I joined Old Salt Press, where she is one of the original founders, although her work has also been published by Heinemann, Collins, Simon & Schuster, Routledge - oh, the list goes on! As an historical novelist who also produces well respected non fiction she has her feet firmly set in both camps and, (somewhat unfairly), excels at both.

Amongst her fiction output is The Wiki Coffin Mysteries, a thriller series in the best traditions of both nautical history and crime fiction. The hero, a mixed race seaman with remarkable, if sometimes lateral, detective abilities is a wonderful creation in himself. Through the course of several books he takes on a series of diverse crimes and equally eclectic enemies, all within a strong maritime setting.

Lady Castaways is an example of her non-fiction output, and one of several that centre on female mariners. As an enthusiastic researcher myself, I am often amazed at the wondrous stories that can be uncovered with a little effort. In Lady Castaways Joan has taken several such tales, knocked off the dust and presented them in a way that gives some long forgotten nautical heroines their deserved prominence.

One of her most recent offerings is The Money Ship. In any style of fiction it is unusual to come across such a complex plot, and one that covers so great a range of years, yet Joan's writing style effortlessly keeps the reader informed. And there are so many fascinating facts rolled up with the fiction, although at no time did I find myself being lectured, or bored in any way – just an old fashioned good read and I commend it, and all of Joan Druett's work, to you.

You can find out more at Joan's website or click on the link above.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wreck of shark-ship found

It inspired the movie JAWS.

The ship delivered an atomic bomb to its target in Japan, then sank, delivering its crew to shark-infested waters ...

From The Smithsonian

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, the Navy cruiser sunk by an imperial Japanese submarine 72 years ago during the waning days of World War II, was finally discovered on Saturday, reports Chris Buckley at The New York Times.
A team financed by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, discovered the warship 18,000 feet deep in the North Pacific Ocean. Kristine Phillips at The Washington Post reports the ship was on a super-secret mission to Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands in late July, 1945, to deliver the components for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped a week later on Hiroshima, Japan. After delivering her payload, the ship was sailing in the Philippine Sea on its way to rendezvous with other ships in preparation for an attack on Japan.
Around midnight on July 30, however, Japanese submarine I-58 intercepted the ship and launched torpedoes, fatally wounding the 610-foot vessel. It only took 12 minutes for the Indianapolis to go completely under. Phillips reports about 800 of the crew of 1,197 were able to get off the ship alive, crammed into a handful of lifeboats and floating around the ocean in life jackets. As it turned out, that was the beginning of the tragedy.
Reports of the sinking did not reach the Navy because of the ship's secret mission and no one knew there were hundreds of men scattered in the ocean. While Navy intelligence had intercept a message from the Japanese submarine responsible for torpedoing the Indianapolis, the transmission was dismissed as a hoax, and over the next four-and-a-half days, the sailors had to fend for themselves.  
Natasha Geiling at reports that the survivors had to tread water because their life vests weren’t buoyant enough to keep them afloat. Without much food or fresh water, men slowly perished. But the worst of it was the sharks.
The sharks were drawn to the area by the explosion of the sinking ship as well as men thrashing in the water and the blood of the wounded. One by one the survivors saw wounded men get dragged under by sharks, only to have their mutilated corpses later float to the surface.
By the time a spotter plane found the men at sea and ships were deployed to rescue them, only 317 of the roughly 800 men who went into the water remained. Up to 150 had died from shark bites, making the sinking the worst shark attack in history.
The story of the Indianapolis was brought into the popular spotlight by the movie Jaws in which the captain hunting the huge shark tells his story of surviving the harrowing shark attack.
According to a press release, the ship was located by Allen’s Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel in an undisclosed location in the North Pacific. The team was able to locate the ship after new information about its whereabouts surfaced in 2016 when a naval historian was identified a landing craft that had spotted the Indianapolis the night it went down. Using that information, the team was able to narrow its search to a 600-square-mile section of open ocean. Using state of the art remote operated vehicles and sonar, they found the wreck and were able to identify it beyond a shadow of a doubt using insignia on the hull and other markers.
“To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role during World War II is truly humbling,” Allen says in the statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”
There are 19 survivors of the wreck who are still alive (Albert Morris, Jr. died at age 92 on August 15). ​Scott Neuman at NPR reports that the location of the ship will be kept secret and the site will be administered as a war grave

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Norfolk Island New Zealand territory? Wonderful!

Could New Zealand adopt Norfolk Island?

Apparently, some locals would love it.

And we would love it, too.  Historically, socially, and visually, it is an amazing island.  Unique.

Until recently it was easy to fly for a very different holiday, but the link between Auckland and Norfolk has vanished.  We would love to have it back.  We would love the island to be part of Us.

But is it possible?  Andre Nobbs, resident and past minister, thinks it is.

Since the administration of Norfolk Island has been taken away from the locals, and given to the bureaucrats in New South Wales, the situation there has changed.


As we know, the folks who live there manage by having at least three jobs.  They also have a barter system, to get around the fact that there is not a lot of money to pass around.  The sort of situation where someone will drop off a basket of lemons, and get a dozen fresh laid eggs in exchange.  A system that worked really well.  Until now.

But, as Andrew Nobbs says, New Zealand is not known for being heavy-handed with the islands it administers.  It tends to let the locals get along as best they can, and help out when they get into trouble.

Will it happen?

We can hope....

Saturday, August 19, 2017

An update from the author of the Dawlish Chronicles

Dawlish Chronicles update – and some rediscovered photographs
Firstly, an update on the sixth Dawlish Chronicles novel. The manuscript is ready for publication and all that now remains before submission of the total package is finalisation of the cover. For this I am working closely with a splendid designer, Sara Leigh Paterson, who previously produced the covers for Britannia’s Spartan and Britannia’s Amazon. The design process is a fascinating and rewarding one, with various concepts initially suggested by myself and with Sara coming up with pencil sketches and mock-up alternatives.
Choosing between some ten attractive designs has been difficult but I’ll be revealing the winner – and the book’s title, in the near future. I’m aiming to have it published in both hard-copy and eBook formats by October.
For the time being this latest book is still Britannia’s X, with “X” yet to be revealed. I’ll be sending a free hard-copy to whoever guesses what “X” might be. The only clue that might help is that the story sees Captain Nicholas Dawlish serving Queen and Empire in 1884-85. If you guess what X may be, please contact me on

Some recent sorting of stored documentation has thrown up two photographs which provided useful references when I was writing Britannia’s Wolf. They had “gone missing” for several years and I found them again quite fortuitously. You may find them of interest.
If you have read Britannia’s Wolf you will remember that a very significant role was played by Nordenvelt guns, weapons which were in general use on many warships in the late-Victorian period. Though capable of a high rate of fire, the Nordenvelt, like its contemporaries the Gatling and the Gardner, was not an automatic machine-gun. In the Nordenvelt’s case it was activated by pulling a lever back and forth, feeding rounds into the breeches of the gun’s barrels from a vertical hopper-magazine, firing them, and ejecting the spent cases. The slow rate of fire from each individual barrel was compensated for by placing multiple barrels in parallel. Up to a dozen barrels might be employed, though three or four were more common, the calibre usually being .45 inch. In one demonstration for the Royal Navy a 10-barrelled version fired 3,000 rounds of ammunition in just over three minutes without stoppage or failure.

Japanese seamen operating a ship-mounted Nordenvelt.

It appears to be a 3-man team: possibly the aimer at front left, crank operator at front right, and the  loader ahead and to the left.
The Nordenvelt, due to its multiple barrels, was heavy by comparison with later, genuinely automatic, machine guns such as the Maxim. The weight penalty was not a major drawback on shipboard, but if deployed on land it needed a field-gun type carriage. Entering service in several navies in the 1870s, including the Royal Navy, it provided the ideal defence against attack by small torpedo-armed vessels. A heavy version, firing one-inch solid steel rounds from up to four barrels, was developed to provide a fearsome counter to lightly-constructed, unarmoured torpedo craft and their poorly-protected crews.
The Nordenvelt was made obsolete in the late 1880s by the arrival of fully-automatic machine guns but many served on in smaller navies long beyond this time.
My fascination with the Nordenvelt design was triggered some thirty years ago when I found a sample mounted in the yard of a police station in Warri, Southern Nigeria. My recently rediscovered photographs are of this weapon. It has three barrels and the vertical ammunition magazine and the operating lever can be seen clearly. It is mounted on a conical steel mounting, such as would suit it for placement on a ship, or even a small steam craft, such as a pinnace.
So how did this fascinating weapon end up in a Nigerian police station? Nobody could remember, and indeed nobody knew what it was even called. My own guess is that it was mounted on a small Royal Navy craft used for patrolling the vast mangrove swamp of the Niger Delta. Another possibility is that it may have been a weapon taken off the protected cruiser HMS Philomel, which provided the naval brigade for the Benin Expedition of 1897, the city of Benin being approximately 55 miles north of Warri. If so, then this weapon may have seen extensive service. (This is a reminder to me to write a blog in the future about this remarkable expedition, which was instrumental in bringing African Art to the notice, for the first time, of European critics).
Finding these photographs again has brought back happy memories – and are a good example of the fact that when one sits down to write, one’s entire experience is a preparation for that moment.
Best Wishes: Antoine Vanner
And it you haven’t readBritannia’s Wolf yet – in which we encounter Commander Nicholas Dawlish on unofficial secondment to the Ottoman Navy in 1877-78 -Click here to find out more.

Friday, August 18, 2017

UNFIT -- a brilliant cover article from The Economist

DEFENDERS of President Donald Trump offer two arguments in his favour—that he is a businessman who will curb the excesses of the state; and that he will help America stand tall again by demolishing the politically correct taboos of left-leaning, establishment elites. From the start, these arguments looked like wishful thinking. After Mr Trump’s press conference in New York on August 15th they lie in ruins.

The unscripted remarks were his third attempt to deal with violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend (see article). In them the president stepped back from Monday’s—scripted—condemnation of the white supremacists who had marched to protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, and fought with counter-demonstrators, including some from the left. In New York, as his new chief of staff looked on dejected, Mr Trump let rip, stressing once again that there was blame “on both sides”. He left no doubt which of those sides lies closer to his heart.

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Mr Trump is not a white supremacist. He repeated his criticism of neo-Nazis and spoke out against the murder of Heather Heyer (see our Obituary). Even so, his unsteady response contains a terrible message for Americans. Far from being the saviour of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.

Start with the ineptness. In last year’s presidential election Mr Trump campaigned against the political class to devastating effect. Yet this week he has bungled the simplest of political tests: finding a way to condemn Nazis. Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday—briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first. As business leaders started to resign en masse from his advisory panels (see article), the White House disbanded them. Mr Trump did, however, earn the endorsement of David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

The extreme right will stage more protests across America. Mr Trump has complicated the task of containing their marches and keeping the peace. The harm will spill over into the rest of his agenda, too. His latest press conference was supposed to be about his plans to improve America’s infrastructure, which will require the support of Democrats. He needlessly set back those efforts, as he has so often in the past. “Infrastructure week” in June was drowned out by an investigation into Russian meddling in the election—an investigation Mr Trump helped bring about by firing the director of the FBI in a fit of pique. Likewise, repealing Obamacare collapsed partly because he lacked the knowledge and charisma to win over rebel Republicans. He reacted to that setback by belittling the leader of the Senate Republicans, whose help he needs to pass legislation. So much for getting things done.

Mr Trump’s inept politics stem from a moral failure. Some counter-demonstrators were indeed violent, and Mr Trump could have included harsh words against them somewhere in his remarks. But to equate the protest and the counter-protest reveals his shallowness. Video footage shows marchers carrying fascist banners, waving torches, brandishing sticks and shields, chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Footage of the counter-demonstration mostly shows average citizens shouting down their opponents. And they were right to do so: white supremacists and neo-Nazis yearn for a society based on race, which America fought a world war to prevent. Mr Trump’s seemingly heartfelt defence of those marching to defend Confederate statues spoke to the degree to which white grievance and angry, sour nostalgia is part of his world view.

At the root of it all is Mr Trump’s temperament. In difficult times a president has a duty to unite the nation. Mr Trump tried in Monday’s press conference, but could not sustain the effort for even 24 hours because he cannot get beyond himself. A president needs to rise above the point-scoring and to act in the national interest. Mr Trump cannot see beyond the latest slight. Instead of grasping that his job is to honour the office he inherited, Mr Trump is bothered only about honouring himself and taking credit for his supposed achievements.
Presidents have come in many forms and still commanded the office. Ronald Reagan had a moral compass and the self-knowledge to delegate political tactics. LBJ was a difficult man but had the skill to accomplish much that was good. Mr Trump has neither skill nor self-knowledge, and this week showed that he does not have the character to change.

This is a dangerous moment. America is cleft in two. After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela and equivocating over Charlottesville, Mr Trump still has the support of four-fifths of Republican voters. Such popularity makes it all the harder for the country to unite.

This leads to the question of how Republicans in public life should treat Mr Trump. Those in the administration face a hard choice. Some will feel tempted to resign. But his advisers, particularly the three generals sitting at the top of the Pentagon, the National Security Council and as Mr Trump’s chief of staff, are better placed than anyone to curb the worst instincts of their commander-in-chief.

An Oval Office-shaped hole
For Republicans in Congress the choice should be clearer. Many held their noses and backed Mr Trump because they thought he would advance their agenda. That deal has not paid off. Mr Trump is not a Republican, but the solo star of his own drama. By tying their fate to his, they are harming their country and their party. His boorish attempts at plain speaking serve only to poison national life. Any gains from economic reform—and the booming stockmarket and low unemployment owe more to the global economy, tech firms and dollar weakness than to him—will come at an unacceptable price.

Republicans can curb Mr Trump if they choose to. Rather than indulging his outrages in the hope that something good will come of it, they must condemn them. The best of them did so this week. Others should follow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The second-oldest fruitcake in the world

It's in Christchurch, New Zealand, right now, but will soon be heading back to Antarctica.

From the Smithsonian

Conservationists working to preserve artifacts in the first buildings ever constructed in Antarctica have found something extraordinary: a perfectly preserved, 106-year-old fruitcake. No, the cake is not a sign that Santa Claus hails from the South Pole, rather it is likely a leftover from Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910 to 1913 Terra Nova expedition, where the explorer sought to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole, reports Christine Dell’Amore at National Geographic.
According to a press release from the Antarctic Heritage Trust, the cake was one of approximately 1,500 artifacts taken from buildings that were first constructed at Cape Adare, Antarctica, in 1899. The cake was found a tin from the bakers Huntley & Palmers. While the tin was corroded, the cake itself was intact and still wrapped in wax paper. “There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible! There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation,” says Lizzie Meeks, the Trust's program manager for artifacts.
Yonette Joseph at The New York Times reports that researchers believe the cake belonged to the Terra Nova team because Huntley & Palmers was the bakery Scott commissioned to supply biscuits and cakes for his expeditions.
Dell’Amore reports that it’s likely the cake was left at the cabin by Scott’s Northern Party. Scott, with a team five men, eventually made it to the South Pole, only to find they were 34 days behind an expedition led by Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. Scott and his team all perished on their return journey
The expedition’s Northern Party did scientific investigations in the area around Cape Adare before moving to another location for a six-week mission. But heavy ice kept their ship from picking them up, and the six men had to spend an entire winter with few provisions and little shelter. They dug ice caves for shelter, hunted penguins and seals and rationed their meager tinned food. After months of illness and near starvation, the men were able to complete a six-week journey to the expedition's main camp.
So why would Scott load up on fruitcake—generally reviled these days—in the first place? “Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today,” Meek tells Dell’Amore. “Living and working in Antarctica tends to lead to a craving for high-fat, high-sugar food, and fruitcake fits the bill nicely, not to mention going very well with a cup of tea."
But this particular fruitcake will not be served at tea time. According to the press release, conservators at the Canterbury Museum lab in Christchurch, New Zealand, have removed rust from the cake tin, deacidified the label, repaired the torn wrapper and added chemicals to stabilize its preservation. The cake, along with all the artifacts from the Cape Adare huts, will be returned to Antarctica and put back exactly where they were found when the man-made structures' own conservation efforts finish up. 
The fruit cake is not the only surprise conservators have found in the huts. Earlier this year, the Trust announced it had found a very detailed watercolor painting of a Tree Creeper, which was created by Scott's chief scientist Edward Wilson, who later froze to death along with Scott and the rest of the team just 11 miles away from a depot with food and water.
The Terra Nova cake is not the world’s oldest preserved fruit cake. While there is no official organization keeping track of such things, for more than a century, a family in Tecumseh, Michigan, has preserved a cake made by family matriarch Fidelia Ford who prepared the cake in 1878 and died before she had a chance to slice into the fruity loaf.
Read more: