Posted by Lotg on October 24, 2003
Why do we take pride or pleasure from the criminal and the macabre?
When I was growing up the range of ethnic backgrounds of people who lived in this country was more limited than it is now. The demographics have changed incredibly. The majority of immigrants were Chinese, Italian and Greek oh, and of course, Pommies. There wasn't much variety other than that. Although to call the Chinese - immigrants was laughable as, particulary in the country towns, most were descendants of those who came out in the goldrushes, and many had more Aussie generations behind them than we 'white' aussies.
In any case, most of us were of English/Irish/ Scottish heritage. Remembering that our white history is only about 230ish years old, for most people who fall into that category it's pretty easy to trace back to our earliest Australian descendents. In fact, my own grandfather (now deceased of course) who was born in the 19th century, used to recount to me some of the most amazing stories that really revealed our still early settlement.
It was therefore considered to be something of a badge of honour to be able to say you were of convict stock - and the biggest honour was to be able to say you were of 1st fleet stock, cos that meant you were descendent from the 1st white settlers, barring the discoverers and people sent to prepare things.
I'm one of those 1st fleet descendents and as you can see, I love to brag about it (dunno why - I didn't do anything to make it happen - can't take any credit). But even stranger than bragging about my criminal heritage, is that I love to brag about the nature of the crimes. And people love to hear it - so it's not just me who's strange. I had 2 ancestors who came out on the first fleet. Different ships. They were a husband and wife team (well actually the history books say they were living in sin, or some equivalent term). Coincidentally they had the same surname - supposedly by birth (even this seems a bit dodgy - methinks Suzannah used Edward's surname as an alias, as she seems to have had 3 similar surnames). Anyway, Edward's crime was that he stole 2 cows. Suzannah on the other hand was a knife murderess who did away with an unwanted husband and managed to talk her way out of the noose. There was apparantly another murder by knife to which she was credited, and charged, but it was never conclusively proven. The victim in that case was also a previous lover.
After arriving in Australia they both spent time at Norfolk Island, then went onto Tasmania. Eventually Suzannah was granted a pardon and some land (history has it that Suzannah was a very smart, very good looking, very well-built gal - read into it anything you like - we have). She ended up a wealthy and successful landowner and business woman. However, along the way she remarried and had several children. 3 of whom in different incidents, died. All drowned in wells (different wells) and one nanny drowned too, apparently trying to save a child. Apparently her husband eventually committed suicide (his grave said he died of a broken heart over the loss of his children) and another story tells of his sense of guilt because he heard one of the children call and didn't get there quickly enough.
All of which is very sad and shows that frankly Suzannah was a cruel heartless bitch.
BUT - this story is more interesting to people's ears than the story of my well-to-do, wealthy English and Irish landowner ancestors on the other side of the family who came out here of their own accord. Who wants to hear about what excellent farmers they were and how well they did? How rivetting is that? I suppose it is interesting, but the truth is that people would rather hear the gory stuff. It's more colourful.
And actually Lewis, I'm blaming you for triggering this. In a different thread, you quipped 'bloody Vikings'. This amused me and reminded me of discussions among friends when I discovered with much digging, that way back, squillions of years ago, I had ancestors who came from a place called Thorvald (I think there are some dots and stuff over the 'o'). This place, I believe, no longer exists but fell victim to some battle. I think it once belonged to Denmark and ended up in Sweden when Sweden one some battle and changed the battle (or it could be the other way around). Anyway, our family likes to brag that they were Vikings. But I pointed out that most of us probably have such heritages, and that surely bragging about Viking heritage isn't so great, cos they raped, pillaged and plundered. They were just a bunch of murderous thugs weren't they?
So why are we like this? If these crimes were committed today, we'd be horrified, offended. But because they're now historic, it's as though they're no longer close, we can't directly relate, so somehow they're now exciting. It's like reading fictional murder/mysteries - they're detached.
Why would we rather hear and brag about the evil doers? It's a form of voyeurism isn't it? Funny creatures aren't we?