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Thinking about making it 15

Posted by ESC on October 25, 2003

In Reply to: One per generation posted by Lotg on October 25, 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?

: : : : Well, I think we all long to be "wild at heart." Having an ancestor who wasn't exactly on the straight and narrow is probably as close as most of us come.

: : : : Among my ancestors were Native Americans and the first white settlers in parts of the U.S. My great uncle, Sanford Walter Vest, told me stories about "Granny Radford," who was an Indian who grew up living in a tribe in Old Virginia. She could stand up on a galloping bareback horse. She was known for her physical courage. Her job when she was young was to guard the family flock. A mountain lion attacked the herd and her little dog was barking at the big cat. She ran over and scooped up her dog and saved it. When she was married and her Confederate husband was away, soldiers (Yankees?) invaded her home and made her cook. She prepared the food then, seeing the opportunity, held a knife to the leader's throat and made him eat his meal in that position. While reading about the Civil War, I was delighted to read an account by a Union soldier about the women in that part of Virginia who were "savage old bitches who just as soon cut our throats." Maybe he was talking about Granny Radford.

: : : : We don't have a lot of murderers in my family but one branch, the Gadd family, has one killing a generation. Self-defense, kind of. Like I tell people: not to worry, we have already had the killing for my generation and the next. So we are safe to be around.

: : : See what I mean? Granny Radford sounds like my kinda gal. I'm so impressed she saved her dog, and that soldier damn well got what he deserved! I'm amused that you say you don't have 'many' murderers in your family, then say there's one per generation - I think that's a pretty impressive batting average myself.

: : : As for you allaying people's fears by pointing out you've reached the quota for this generation, I prefer to use my history in the reverse way. Whenever my stepdaughter plays up, I tell her the next house we're buying will have a well. (Don't worry, she's a smart kid, I don't think she needs therapy as a result, she jokes about it herself to other people.) And whenever my partner acts up, I notice that he hides the knives (he he)!

: : One per generation isn't bad. But who is counting? Last year several counties in Western Kentucky were ravaged by tornadoes. I was in a crew that went house to house checking on people. One guy said, as I came up the walk, "Well, everybody in my family has killed somebody but me." That's our idea of a little joke and, fortunately, I knew that.

: OK, help me here I'm a bit dim. Is that a Kentucky joke, cos I don't understand it. Could be cos I haven't had my brekky yet.

: Another comment I've got re your family background regards yet another fascination people have. That of the exotic (or perceived exotic). I was interested to hear that your family heritage on one side anyway is native American. People are more fascinated if you say you've got an Indian, or an aboriginal, or a African negro in your background than if you say you've got an Englishman (nothing personal guys - it's just the way it is).

: Apparently (and this was tres scandalous), one of my great grandfathers was an Englishman, an architect, who moved to South Africa. They subsequently moved to Australia. There he married and had 8 children, 7 girls, 1 boy. My gran was a very dark-skinned lady and so is my dad and brother (not me though - weird huh - I look more Nordic?). So much so, that often at school I was asked if my dad was aboriginal. Anyway, I saw one of those old sepia tinted photos of my great grandfather, seated of course, with his wife standing in one of those stiff Victorian poses, dressed in a rather gloomy looking black (I suppose) Victorian dress. But what made it look odd, is that it was obvious she was a negro. When I (at 14 or so years of age)showed this to my gran and commented, she told me (very sharply) that it was just the nature of early photography to create that effect. Of course she wasn't black. My father finds this very amusing of course, and of course the lady WAS black. Again this makes for more fascinating history than if she'd been white.

: So again, why should such heritage be more exotic to our minds?

Western Kentucky is flat land, but he was following an Appalachian mountain tradition of goofing on strangers, especially city folk. We are kind and hospitable people but we enjoy pulling someone's leg. Example:

"This is how they tell it. I wouldn't swear hit's the truth. They say a Courier-Journal (newspaper) reporter was in Jenkins (Ky.) one day back yonder and someone had pointed out to him 'Bad John' Wright. He stepped up to John and he asks, 'Are you Bad John Wright?' Bad John says, 'That's what they call me.' And the reporter he says, 'Is it true that you've killed fourteen people during your lifetime?' 'Well, sir,' says Bad John, "Right now I'm thinking about making it fifteen.'" From "The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life' by James Still (University of Kentucky Press, 1991).

RE: American Indian heritage. It is just a fact that most people who have pioneer ancestors, are part Indian. It has become more "fashionable" to part Indian. Quoting from the above book, one man said that for the first part of his life he was ashamed of being part Indian, and for the last half he was proud of it.

Exotic is more interesting than the familiar. It is just part of our animal nature. Checking out the strange is partly for protection and partly mental stimulation.