William Ballantine was a very eminent barrister who practised law in the mid to late 19th century. He figures in both of my books, albeit with a rather poor record of success. Perhaps that was the real reason they refused him entry to the Reform Club...
His defence of Henry John Hatch against charges of indecent assault against two young girls failed, and Henry was sent to Newgate for four years. Ballantine should have won the case, because Henry was released six months later under the Royal Pardon, after one of the girls was found guilty of perjury.
Ballantine apparently successfully prosecuted Dr Thomas Smethurst on a charge of murder, and Smethurst received the death penalty, only to be granted a Royal Pardon because the conviction was unsafe.
He then failed to defend the family of Smethurst's alleged murder victim, Isabella Banks, against him claiming probate of her will made out almost entirely in his favour.
Smethurst's 'escape' from justice always rankled with Ballantine, and he made some rather silly and childish accusations against him in a book published years later.
With all of that, Ballantine was elected into the Garrick Club, and was able to rub shoulders with the likes of Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope.
Today I laughed out loud in the British Library. I was reading a book about English Criminal Justice in the 19th century, where it was stated that the Old Bailey had a foul reputation.
Serjeant William Ballantine was a very prominent barrister at the ‘Bailey, and he figures in both of my books; he defended the Reverend Henry John Hatch against a charge of indecent assault, and prosecuted Dr Thomas Smethurst for murder.
Ballantine’s failure to get into the Reform Club, having been ‘blackballed’, caused no surprise it was said. The comment was made: “An old Bailey barrister would be blackballed if he were Jesus Christ…”
These days the demand for ever more stimulating spectacle has provided us with colour 3-D moving pictures with surround sound and computer-generated graphics. The illusion of reality is almost complete. Films like Avatar demonstrate that now anything is possible; only human imagination limits what can be displayed. Virtual reality is nearly here.
In The Hague, ten minutes walk from the city centre, is the Panorama Mesdag. Hendrik Willem Mesdag, 1831 – 1915, was a Dutch artist, and in 1880 he, along with a number of helpers, painted a panorama of Scheveningen, a village on the coast, a short distance from the city. The painting, 14 metres high with a circumference of 120 metres, is housed in a purpose built enclosure with a large skylight to provide natural lighting. The ‘centre’ of the panorama was a large sand dune close to the sea. A real circular wooden pavilion, complete with roof, is built in the middle, with real sand and other sea-shore detritus leading down to the bottom edge of the painting. The top edge is concealed by the overhanging roof. Entrance is via a long dark tunnel deliberately designed to disorient the senses.
The effect is breathtaking. I listened to gasps of surprise as visitor after visitor climbed the stairs into the pavilion. The beach, to the north stretches to the horizon in both directions. It is covered in fishing boats, and the army are conducting manoeuvres on horseback. To the south can be seen the city.
The illusion of reality is almost complete. The colours are naturalistic and the lighting adds to the effect – bright when the sun is out, less so when it is overcast.
Panorama Mesdag works on at least three levels: the painting itself is beautiful, naturalistic, late 19th century landscape; it preserves the appearance of Scheveningen in the 1880s – the town has since been vastly developed with wall to wall beach cafes, bars and restaurants together with a large modern, but apparently abandoned, pier; and it is a perfect illusion. It is gratifying that in a time of modern action films and TV with ever more graphic violence, a simple naturally lit spectacle, well over one hundred years old, still has the ability to invoke awe.
(Updated 28th January 2015)
As an autodidact in the writing business, I am not sure of the correct protocol when one discovers that another writer, purportedly of factual material, is found to have been manufacturing evidence in order to make a good story.
I come from a background (a long time ago) in scientific research. There was little point in publishing anything that was not 110% accurate, because someone, probably several people, would try to repeat your findings. If their results agreed with yours, all was well and the new ‘discovery’ would enter the canon of accepted results until someone else did something better. But woe betide you if your work was faulty; and the deliberate manufacturing of results was completely beyond the pale. Anyone discovered doing that was disgraced and could never work again. That is how science worked and works still. Peer review is an absolute essential to ensuring that only tried and tested ‘information’ finds its way into broad scientific knowledge.
For reasons explained elsewhere in this blog I am interested in the Red Barn Murder that took place in Polstead in 1827. In reviewing the existing literature on the subject I have found that, with a few exceptions, it leaves much to be desired. The most readable text is The Red Barn Mystery, Some new evidence on an old murder, by Donald McCormick, published in 1967. McCormick was a journalist and prolific writer. He wrote dozens of books, specializing under the pseudonym Richard Deacon in factual stories about the spying business. He also wrote about the Hell Fire Club, the identity of Jack the Ripper and the ‘mysterious’ death of Lord Kitchener. His book on the Red Barn murder makes sensational reading. He offers astonishing explanations for the two great mysteries concerned with the affair: how did Maria’s mother come to dream that she had been murdered and buried in the Red Barn? And why was it that although Maria’s body showed clear signs of stab-wounds, William Corder denied absolutely that he ever stabbed her, even after he admitted shooting and burying her?
McCormick claimed that Beauty Smith, Corder’s one-time accomplice in pig-thieving, was hiding in the Red Barn. Corder shot Maria, and thinking her dead, went to find a spade to bury her body. But she came to and Smith stabbed her to put her out of her misery. Maria’s step-mother, Anne Martin, knew she had been killed and buried in the barn, because Smith told her; they were having an affair…
Between the time of Maria’s death and Corder’s arrest for her murder, Beauty Smith had been convicted for animal-stealing, and was transported for life. According to McCormick, while Smith was in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), he met Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, a well-known writer, forger and putative poisoner, who had also been transported for life. Wainewright had been acquainted with Corder in London and Beauty Smith confessed to him that he had stabbed Maria in the Red Barn after Corder shot her. Apparently, Wainwright told this story to Mrs Hampson of Sydney, a friend of an English actress Caroline Palmer, who had played Maria in stage adaptations of the murder and became interested in the case. In addition to this, Corder’s sister, Mary Borham, ‘years after the execution of her brother’, found some old diaries of his in which he referred to his acquaintance with Wainwright in London. Mary Borham became friends with Caroline Palmer and corresponded with her ‘for a few years’.
This is absolutely fascinating stuff except for two problems: Mary Borham, William Corder’s sister, was buried in Polstead, on 5th January 1829, less than six months after his execution, and Beauty Smith was transported not to Van Diemen’s Land, but to Sydney. Since both he and Wainewright were transported for life, even if either had got a Ticket of Leave (a type of parole), which both did, this would have precluded travel outside of their local area. Thus it would have been impossible for them ever to have met up in Australia.
There are a number of lesser ‘errors’ in McCormick’s book. He reports that Corder’s wife Mary gave birth prematurely in Lavenham, and she and the child died within hours of each other. Yet several newspapers reported that she gave birth on 16th November in Polstead where the birth was registered. Subsequent investigation shows that she lived for many years after that, and the child, John Corder, had a largely successful career as a newspaper and book-seller in Colchester, and died in 1892. McCormick cites a newspaper or journal, Settlers’ Sentinel, Sydney, 21 July 1859 in his references. The National Library of Australia have no record of such a publication ever having existed, nor was there any newspaper or journal with the words ‘Settler’ or ‘Sentinel’ in the title extant in Sydney in 1859.
Needless to say, all attempts at finding any record of the existence of the actress ‘Caroline Palmer’, which was allegedly the stage name of Mrs E T Kemp, have failed, as have attempts to identify Mrs Hampson of Sydney.
Clearly, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but all of these facts, taken together, point to only one conclusion: either Donald McCormick was fed spurious information by his network of international contacts, resulting from his years spent as foreign manager for the Sunday Times, or he deliberately manufactured evidence in order to make a good story.
A search of the internet will reveal that Jeremy Duns, an active writer and journalist, and Melvin Harris, a writer now deceased, both charge Donald McCormick with manufacturing evidence. Harris claimed that McCormick invented evidence in respect of two of his books, The Mystery of Lord Kitchener’s Death, and The Identity of Jack the Ripper. Details can be seen here: http://www.casebook.org/dissertations/maybrick_diary/mb-mc.html
Jeremy Duns claims that McCormick’s The Life of Ian Fleming also contains manufactured evidence. Duns’ material can be seen here: http://www.jeremy-duns.com/blog/licence-to-hoax
All of this means that Donald McCormick’s book on the Red Barn murder is effectively worthless as an account of historical fact, and the various mysteries associated with Maria Martin’s murder remain.
I went to school in Brentford in West London. The town was dominated by a large gasworks and Griffin Park, the Brentford football ground. My school was adjacent to the football ground, and the gasworks, sandwiched between the River Thames and Brentford High Street, was evident to a greater or lesser extent depending on the wind direction. All that was generally visible of the works was an enormous gasholder, a very high featureless brick wall at the end of Ealing road and an enormous crane behind the wall, used to lift coal out of barges moored in the river.
Many years later I decided to make a sentimental journey to Brentford, and try out one of the local pubs. The wall was still there although the crane was gone and the gasworks had closed some years earlier. The year was 1977, and the world was reeling at the news of the death of Elvis Presley at the age of only 42. Someone had painted on the wall in large white letters:
“Elvis, you will live in our hearts forever”
But that was not all. Three days after Elvis’s death, Grouch Marx had died. I was (and still am) a great fan of Groucho, and evidently I was not alone, because someone else had crossed out Elvis’s name, and written Groucho above.
There can be few animals more bizarre than the giraffe. Darwin claimed that giraffes evolved their long necks so that they could browse leaves that were out of the reach of other animals. In addition, giraffes' great height allowed them to see predators easily and thus make them difficult to stalk. Quite so, but did Darwin ever see a giraffe drink? I don’t believe a word of it. Giraffes are completely absurd. I read somewhere that giraffes prove that God exists, and that He has a sense of humour.
One morning in 1977, a 15 year old giraffe called Victor was found slumped on the ground at Marwell Park, a private zoo in the south of England. Victor had collapsed upright on to his stomach and was unable to get up. No one knew exactly what had happened, but Victor, weighing best part of a ton, was flopped on his front and was helpless.
The Times showed a picture of Victor, but did not name him. There was a brief update the next day, a Saturday, but by Monday he was identified as “Victor”, together with the story that he had slipped while getting frisky with his mate Dribbles, and indeed some time later she gave birth to a female calf named Victoria…
The media worldwide repeated the story. There was a report that the Royal Navy had made Victor a sling out of sailcloth so that he could be lifted on to his feet with a block and tackle. The entire country held its breath, willing the sling to work. For several days news bulletins here and around the world had updates on Victor; normal life seemed to be in suspension. But by Wednesday it was all over. Shortly after being hauled up, Victor suffered a massive heart-attack, and in the words of Marwell “…died with his head on the shoulder of John Knowles, the founder and Director of Marwell…”
And on that wall in Brentford, someone had crossed out Groucho and written Victor…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs