Evaluations of the Work of Beatrice Grimshaw
by Academic Analysts
(Note: Webpage in preparation)
Several academicians have taken an interest in Beatrice Grimshaw’s works from a number of different angles. Six articles by five authors are presented on this webpage — without critical review! The most recent article by McCotter is particularly noteworthy for the six excellent photos of Beatrice — and one of her grave — that it contains. All six articles can be viewed as PDF files from this webpage. Some of the articles have been converted to text that has been included in the webpage.
Click here to go the main webpage on Beatrice Grimshaw.
McCotter, Clare, 2006, Islanders, tourists and psychosis: doing time in Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel brochures: Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, v 4, p 1-18.
McCotter, Clare, 2006, Nurses, fairytales, cannibals: constructing a nationalist narrative in Beatrice Grimshaw’s Papuan landscapes: Irish Feminist Review, v 2, p 125-139
McCotter, Clare, 2006, Seduction and resistance, baptism and “glassy metaphorics”: Beatrice Grimshaw’s journeys on Papua’s great rivers: Hecate, v 32, p 81-97.
McCotter, Clare, 2007, Maintaining a wide margin: the boat as home in Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing. In Marguerite Helmers and Tilar Mazzeo, eds., The traveling and writing self: London, Cambridge Scholar’s Press, p. 97-115.
McCotter, Clare, 2007, Woman traveler/colonial tourist: deconstucting the great divide in Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing: Irish Studies Review, v 15, p 481-506.
McCotter, Clare, 2007, Bodies of De/composition: leprosy and tattooing in Beatrice Grimshaw’s fiction and travel writing: Hecate, v 33, p 81-106.
McCotter, Clare, 2007, The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone: Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, v 5, p 106-127.
Laracy, Eugenie, and Hugh Laracy, 1977, Beatrice Grimshaw: Pride and Prejudice in Papua: The Journal of Pacific History, v. 12, no. 3 (1977), p. 154-175.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by Laracy and Laracy, 1977
Gardner, Susan, 1987, A “‘vert to Australianism”: Beatrice Grimshaw and the Bicentenary: Hecate. St. Lucia, vol. 13, no. 2 (November 30, 1987), p. 31.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by Gardner, 1987
A “‘vert to Australianism”: Beatrice Grimshaw and the Bicentenary
Copyright Hecate Press, English Department Nov 30, 1987
Cloona[gh] House, Dunmurry, Co. Antrim, Ireland, Nov. 1979. “One Sunday morning, while on me way to mass/I met a bloody Orangeman and killed him for his pass/I killed him for his pass me boys and sent his soul to hell/and when he came back he had a strange tale to tell…”
What, the four of us are wondering, are we doing here? “Here” is a pleasant Irish country home, which would seem a miniature Versailles were it not for the helicopter pad. For this pleasant Irish country home is the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in Northern Ireland. Apart from his titles and the many initials after his name, General Sir xxxxx, KCGB, OBE, shall be nameless; so shall his wife, Lady X. The aide-de-camp must also be anonymous, though I can hardly forget someone who bolts out of the official car before me, in case snipers attack us from the trees. I am here simply because Beatrice Grimshaw was born here. But she didn’t live here long, since her father’s spending finally caught up with his drinking, and the family were disposessed when she was only seven. I don’t, by any means, want to write one of those ghastly biographical pieces verifying, as one of my thesis supervisors used to put it, every time the subject pissed against a barn door (something which she, in any event, would have found hard to do). But she carried a picture of this home with her all her life. It is now over 100 years after her birth, and nearly 30 years after her death, but one of the few possessions, when she died in a public hospital and was buried in a pauper’s grave, was a photograph of this house.
The General and his wife profess absolute delight that I invade their Sunday morning privacy. Of course I could never have got here without a security check which extended as far as Australia. “So she wrote books?” Lady General is asking, presiding over the tea-pot. “Yes, 40, more or less.” “And was Irish?” she helpfully pursues. “Yes — I mean, no — I mean, well, she described herself as a `convert’ to Australianism. She was also a convert to Catholicism.” “Typically Irish, in other words”, Lady X suggests mournfully. “Of course, I don’t mean this critically, but aren’t the Irish the most unusual people? So difficult to converse with! All they seem to care about is race, history, religion or politics!” The conversation seems headed straight towards disaster, as Sir General unexpectedly remarks that she must be thinking of her second-cousin several times removed, Declan, so boringly described, from time to time, by the BBC, as a notable patriot and statesman. The tedious remote cousin Declan, it seems, is a T.D. (“what we British would call an M.P.”, the valiant aide-de-camp whispers to me) in the Dail (“what we would call Parliament”) in Dublin. If worse could possibly follow, it does, since it appears that Declan, whom they would all like to forget, has a brother called Donal, also a T.D. But I am fascinated since, finally, the conversation looks like taking off the ground. If these two representatives of Empire are embarrassed by Declan and Donal, how much blarney the latter two must have to practise, in order to explain away their relationship, however, tenuous, to the Commander of what they no doubt call the “four counties”! (“But we don’t talk about Lady X’s relatives”, the aide advises.) Since this excruciating morning has already been littered, virtually to extinction, with that helpful expression: “Quite”, I am at a loss for words, but a General’s wife can, fortunately, smooth over any conversation. Relentlessly she continues: “At least the Irish are the most wonderful craftspeople, aren’t they? Which reminds me — I’m about to go to the silver market — you will excuse me, won’t you? Or would you like to come along? Perhaps you, too, often need silver Christening mugs at the last moment when a friend — “. I swallow my tea, if not my astonishment: “But this is Sunday morning in Belfast! All anybody is allowed to do is go to church! If there is a more lugubrious place than this, besides little South African dorps, on a Sunday morning, I’d like to know — or rather, I wouldn’t.” “Oh, it’s quite illegal”, she admits, and her husband the General — who, I have discovered, never uses money, dials a phone, or drives a car — adjusts her mink stole. “We officers’ wives have organized it. It takes place at the end of the military airstrip, should you like to join us later.” Later! What insanity ever got me here now? How can I escape, especially since I am now abandoned to the General and the aide-de-camp? But the General is no fool; deprived of Lady X, he, too, can keep a totally irrelevant conversation going. “Speaking of craftsmanship”, he adds, “what do you think of our décor? Wonderful, what? Amazing, what those Ceylonese can do with brass.” I agree that the Ceylonese did a most amazing job beating out a portrait of his pet poodle in brass. I agree that yes, I would like to visit the few bedrooms (a dozen, more or less), the totally boring ground floor (innumerable morning, drawing and music rooms, not to mention a library), the medieval, so to speak, kitchens (immense, extending underground). I agree (remembering the uproarious evening before, at a Provisional IRA pub) that Irish social life is not exactly standard (was that my camera confiscated? Was I carried out singing “The Bold Fenian Men”? The answer, alas, to both questions, is affirmative). By now, I think, I would agree that the earth is flat. I would agree that Orange is Green, and Green is Orange. Fortunately, I need agree to none of these heresies. I simply agree that the life of a military man must indeed have its trials — when the Irish aren’t trying to assassinate you, you have to go to memorial services at — he breaks off at this point (thank God) to ask the aide-de-camp just where the memorial service will be this coming week, and should he or should he not wear his sword, and which war will it be about, anyway? “St Paul’s, sir”, says the ever-useful aide. “I’ve already booked your flight to London. No sword. The 1939-45 war, sir.” Again, I am speechless. This General — but what else should I expect, given his profession? — dates history according to wars. “Patriotism is not enough”, says Edith Cavell in my head, as she is shot to death in what Sir General would no doubt call the 1914-1918 war. How would he describe his current posting: “the 800-years war?” I contemplate assassination (we are, after all, in Ireland) — imagine the British general being felled by a brass poodle! I gulp the dregs of my tea and thank him. Not at all, he says, it most certainly was a diversion from trying to subdue the Irish. For the last time, I agree — it must be difficult, all through the 19th century Ireland required a larger British garrison than India! Neither he nor the aide-de-camp believe me. We cross the helicopter pad, the Versailles garden, and find our Welsh chauffeur again. He may or may not be a Welsh Nationalist; he does, however, point to a map and asks me, “Where are you next going, if I may be asking, is it green or orange?” To his considerable relief, as I point out one of the most exclusive suburbs of Belfast, where collateral descendants of my subject live, the area is orange. We aren’t likely to be bombed en route. I take one last glance at that beautiful house — “a gentleman’s residence in what we would now call a stockbroker belt”, one Irish politician told me. And I realize that, with a background like this, there was no other place for Beatrice Grimshaw except Papua, and no other death than that unmarked grave in the paupers’ section of the Roman Catholic portion of the cemetery in Bathurst, New South Wales.
“They are leaving old Ireland/for afar distant strand/They are leaving old Ireland, no longer can stay/and thousands are sailing, are sailing away…”
Understanding Beatrice Grimshaw’s personality is a task that only a psychoanalyst could welcome. She was born in Ireland, listed herself as “English” on ships’ manifests, and requested a pension from the Commonwealth Literary Fund on the grounds that she was an Australian author. For nearly ten years she edited a magazine in Dublin which, she tirelessly reminded its readers, was apolitical and nonsectarian. Had she carried off this feat, it most certainly would have been the only such magazine in Ireland.
However, a weekly that commented endlessly on the relations between Ireland and England was hardly above politics nor, since it often commented on church events, beyond religion. She was born into a Church of Ireland family, and turned Catholic after she escaped from home. She believed all women should marry and have children, but she did neither. She was explicitly antifeminist, but wrote hundreds of column inches giving practical advice on anything from emigration to the Anglo-Parisian system of dress-making, while regularly interviewing women in what were, for the 1890s, rather unusual jobs. If women were by nature domestic, her own concept of domesticity must have been vast, since she gave orders to Alfred Deakin on how to colonize Papua, run northern Australia, and gain control over the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, as if the Pacific Ocean were a family pond. She prided herself that, “As a Catholic, I am glad to say that I have been able to make a literary success without using the easy lures of sensual plot and coarse treatment”,(1) and deplored almost every book by the 1890s New Women that Virago is re-issuing. Yet nearly every one of her novels, from the very first, features at least one murder. One short story is the intriguing account of a group of deserted white people devouring each other. The female hero of her own favourite of her books, When the Red Gods Call, is nearly boiled to death in a cannibal pot. My favourite of her heroes, the “half-caste” Queen Vaiti, considers murder, sadistic sexuality, near-incest, and witchcraft all in a day’s work.
Grimshaw was so close to the Lieutenant-Governor of Papua, Sir Hubert Murray, that people could be pardoned for thinking, as some did, that their relationship was more than close; even contemporary newspaper photographs show her virtually living in Government House. He certainly was taken with her, since after knowing her only a day or two he wrote to his brother, the famous Classicist and later pillar of the League of Nations, Gilbert Murray:
I have staying with me Miss Beatrice Grimshaw, a lady journalist…for the London Times and the Sydney Morning Herald. She is an extremely nice woman, clever and interesting and not a bit superior; also she is Irish, Catholic and Fenian — if she were also Australian, there would be nothing more to be desired.(2)
But although many of her plots involve consequences of bigamy, this was not an instance where she could live what she wrote, since Murray had — in succession, needless to say — two wives, and she, if flimsy evidence can be believed, was in love with the Government Tax Collector (surely not everyone’s idea of a lover; Malinowski in fact called the inoffensive William Little “the Governor’s pimp”). A North Queensland Labor journal stigmatized her, with some truth, a “capitalist hireling”, but she told the Commonwealth Literary Fund she had always been a staunch supporter of Labor’s policies towards Papua. All told, then, I’m glad not to have to account for her, but only (!) for her activities concerning Australia and the Pacific in a crucial year, 1907; crucial because she produced three important books then. Just like her, two of them are not what they seem, for these innocent appearing travelogues are deliberately commissioned and artfully crafted class pleading for colonial settler nationalism.
But a contemporary reviewer of one of these books, From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands, complained that the reader is whisked off to Fiji in the first three pages without knowing why the author is going there. I may not be able to present a convincing biographical portrait of Grimshaw, but at least I can explain how she got there — and I don’t mean the obvious answer, “by boat”! This task is much easier, for if one looks at what is known of Grimshaw before 1907, one fact stares the researcher in the face — almost everything written about her, in the most irreproachable compendia and encyclopedias, is inaccurate to some degree. It is much easier to explain what Grimshaw was not than what she was.
And, for those who like certainties, there is one overwhelming one in this story — Beatrice Grimshaw would have welcomed the Bicentenary with open arms. Nettie Palmer, reviewing Grimshaw’s work, reluctantly conceded her the status of Australian author since Grimshaw wrote about Australasia. The situation is, however, more complex. Just as one needn’t be born in Australia to be an Australian author, it doesn’t suffice to be born there to become one. But Beatrice Grimshaw was an Australian author, and she deserves to be known as one. Indeed, for a literary sociologist the more interesting question might be, not “Was she or was she not Australian?”, but, rather, “Why does hardly anyone know about her?”
For, at the peak of her career — in the 1930s — Grimshaw was one of the world’s best-selling authors. Even during the Depression, an AmeriCan magazine paid her $1000 for one short story. When she died in July 1953, obituaries in cities as far flung as Belfast, London, Manchester, New York, Bathurst (NSW, where she died), and Sydney testified to her career as a wanderer and a writer, whose multi-faceted career encompassed much of the British Empire, from its oldest colony (Ireland), to its newest (British New Guinea).(3)
Exaggerated and romanticised tributes (“Ulsterwoman who Braved Headhunters; Her Life Was Story of Courage”; “A Woman…Among Sharks, Alligators and Hostile Natives”; “Explorer, Tobacco Grower, Novelist. Beatrice Grimshaw’s Remarkable Career”;(4) even James A. Michener’s slighting of her as “Queen of Gush” in Return to Paradise) — all indicate her once widespread popularity. To give only one example of the contemporary reception of her fiction, Grimshaw’s first Papuan novel, When the Red Gods Call(1911), was issued in a dozen different editions, half-a-dozen translations and nearly as many serialisations, over a period of two decades.
Yet little is known about her now. All her books are out of print (except, ironically, the Black Heritage Library’s facsimile reprint of In the Strange South Seas). Moreover, even the most basic literary and biographical data available are incorrect. Henry Boylan’s Dictionary of Irish Biography (1978) gives her birthdate as 1880; it was 1870. It sends her to Papua a year before The Times and the Sydney Morning Herald despatched her there, and claims that From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands was commissioned by the Australian government, whereas none of these islands was ever under Australian political control. Finally, it gives Red Gods an incorrect date (1910), which is when The New New Guinea was published, Red Gods appearing a year later. The Victoria College [Belfast] Centenary Book (1959), besides altering Pacific geography with the thoroughness of an earthquake or a tidal wave (Pearl Harbour becoming Papua’s capital), adds ten novels to her bibliography, mistakenly dates several, and invents one more. Francis West’s biographical entry for the Encyclopedia of Papua New Guinea is slight and represents only cursory research.(5)
These problems are minor, however, compared to those raised by the public image which Grimshaw deliberately created for herself; paradoxical as it might seem, she was a reclusive personality who stopped at nothing to get publicity. But, as I have discussed in another context, the florid legend that she fabricated was, like much of her writing, camouflage. Occasionally, however, it backfired; she, of all people, should have known what the mass-popular press of the 1920s could do with “cannibal stories”, for instance. During one of her triumphant returns to London, her interviewer wrote that “Cinema stars and even professional boxers had to take a back seat for the moment.”(6) By the time the Adelaide Register reprinted whatever Grimshaw was allegedly saying, the captions read: “Among Cannibals. Miss Grimshaw’s Story. Where Husbands Eat Their Wives. Not an Explorer. Cannibalism Rampant. Tortured Prisoners. Ten Thousand in Unknown Valley. Unhappy Women”.(7) Perhaps she learned something from this experience, since the Australian Prime Minister demanded an explanation — this was hardly the picture of Australia’s showpiece colony that he was trying to disseminate. I could give many more examples of Grimshaw’s image-making, but I think the photographs accompanying this article illustrate my point better than anything else: either nothing is known about Grimshaw, or much is. The enacted public biography, while often exuding a funereal respectability, just as often annoys by its distastefulness.(8)
In any event, recapitulating Grimshaw’s career hardly requires the hyperbole of self-advertisement, Evening News interviews, and obituaries. Given her onetime influence, and best-selling popularity, such recapitulation should hardly be necessary. But before discussing her Australian allegiance, it has to be seen in the context of her other activities and affiliations.
Grimshaw’s earliest-known journalistic effort (“In the Far North”, Bedford College Magazine 1981) is description for potential tourists of Portrush, an Atlantic resort on the coast of her native Antrim. It shows her trying her hand at a genre which financed her early travels throughout the Pacific. There, following the footsteps of two of her favourite authors, Louis Becke and Robert Louis Stevenson, she described the “beach” and “port” communities of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tahiti for passengers of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.
But her intensive writing apprenticeship began in the circles of social and sporting journalism in Dublin from 1891-99. Beginning as an occasional contributor to the Irish Cyclist in 1891, she eventually became its sub-editor, while also working as a staff writer (from Oct. 1893) and editor (1895-99) of its sister publication, The Social Review (hereafter TSR).
Apart from occasional devotional poetry(9), the Irish Cyclist and TSR were the forcing bed of her talent. Under a variety of pseudonyms, and almost single-handedly from week to week, she turned out imitations of Kipling’s poetry, as well as pastiches of the florid prose of “decadents” such as Richard Le Gallienne. One can hardly think of a genre she did not practise during those years: short stories, topical comment, book reviews, dramatic criticism, “dialogues up to date”, “telephone talks”, career advice for women, interviews, bicycling tours, and two serialised novels, one of which, “A Fool of Forty”, I rediscovered during my research in Ireland.
For four years after 1899, Grimshaw combined free-lance journalism with work as a tour organiser and emigration promoter for Irish and British steamship companies, catering for English pleasures while profiting from Irish distress. Armed with free steamship passes and newspaper and magazine commissions, Grimshaw first reached the Pacific in 1903. In addition to the tourist description mentioned above, she began to contribute political journalism to the [London] Daily Graphic. In 1907 she published her third novel, Vaiti of the Islands, as well as her first booklength travelogues, In the Strange South Seas and From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands.
The latter’s covert promotion of European interests in Fiji, and anti-English, pro-Australian argument concerning the New Hebrides, attracted the attention of the Australian Liberal Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin. In 1908, overriding objections in the Federal Parliament that she might not be the only or the best person, he commissioned Grimshaw to write settlement and investment pamphlets for Australia’s recently acquired territory of Papua (formerly British New Guinea). A flood of leaflets and nearly two dozen articles culminated in the officially sponsored The New New Guinea (1910).
Her agent’s prediction that short stories with Papuan settings would enjoy considerable success in the U.S. and English markets, however, prompted Grimshaw to return to fiction. When the Red Gods Call inaugurated a series of novels, 16 taking place in Papua or the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and 9 in the Pacific Islands, with a further 10 volumes of short stories and occasional non-fiction, including Catholic mission promotion pamphlets. In 1928, “The Adorable Outcast” (“Australia’s second colossal motion picture”,(10) which is to say the second produced by Australasian Films, Ltd.), was tenuously based on her 1922 novel, Conn of the Coral Seas. I wonder if anyone remembers its “world premiere” at the Brisbane Tivoli, where the Nine Royal Samoans gave the film a “magnificent atmospheric prologue!” “Against such a background”, exclaimed the distribution publicity, “is woven the romance of Luya, a beautiful, untamed little pagan, whom missionaries prayed for, and blackbirders preyed on!” For once Grimshaw’s story writing abilities were surpassed, for there is no Luya in Conn, and Grimshaw found herself in the unique position of explaining to readers of the Papuan Courier that her work hardly dealt with the themes of the film, such as “miscegenation”, black-birding, “untamed little pagans”, and so on.
From 1907-34 Grimshaw lived in Papua, interrupting her isolation with several round-the-world tours and visits to her London publishers: both were opportunities for public lectures and radio broadcasts. Following a final trip to England in 1934-35, Grimshaw retired in 1936 to Bathurst, New South Wales. Although nearly 70, she taught journalism by correspondence and continued to write, although her originally innovative forms degenerated. Reportage, no longer based on experience, became rehash. Grimshaw paid a young man posted in Papua to correspond with her so that she could maintain her well-earned reputation for accuracy in `background’. Adventure romances initially inspired by the pioneering frontier lapsed into wartime thrillers. Grimshaw’s serials, mechanically repeating the picaresque exploits of her first Pacific hero, Vaiti, appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly.
Grimshaw’s career thus described a narrowing spiral. Once her writings were favourably compared with the work of her contemporaries such as Joseph Conrad, Bret Harte, Mary Kingsley and Robert Louis Stevenson. And so my description comes full circle, for today her work (actually only a misleading portion, usually her three early travel books and selective portions of her fiction, most often When the Red Gods Call or the blatantly racist White Savage Simon) is dismissed.
In “Beatrice Grimshaw: Pride and Prejudice in Papua”, Eugenie and Hugh Laracy summarize Grimshaw’s early Pacific career as propaganda for commercial and settler interests. In her non-fiction, indeed, Grimshaw spoke with many tongues. She could be the voice of church, state, and business; self-styled “unofficial publicity officer” for Sir Hubert Murray, mouthpiece, echo, recorder, “roving commissioner”, teller of tales…The Laracys quote from From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands and In the Strange South Seas as if the books had only “two clear-cut objectives”
The first was to entertain and divert armchair travellers. The second was to promote European enterprise: tourism in Polynesia and settlement in Melanesia. Underlying these, however, is another theme, a racialist one…Her attitude towards the islanders, ranging from patronizing to disgusted, was one of the present age would damn, but which a school of thought fashionable earlier in the century rationalized in terms of…social Darwinism.(11)
These two books cannot be so easily amalgamated, however. In modulation (hence, in implied and/or actual readership), they vary considerably. Grimshaw herself seems to have recognized some fundamental division when regathering and recombining her material. From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands and In the Strange South Seas resulted from the same journey (the two books were first published in January and October of 1907 respectively). But Grimshaw published them in reverse order: From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands records and reorders material from the second half of her trip. (From now on, I shall refer to these texts as FCI and SSS.)
The two books differ markedly in tone, purpose, and attitude. If one scrutinizes the portrayal of race relations, the depiction of Pacific Islanders, (although it relies on evolutionary theory to account for social division and hierarchy, is far more benign in SSS than it would be for a long time in Grimshaw’s work again. The reasons for such discrepancies are readily understandable once one knows each book’s publishing history; each is an elaboration of articles originally commissioned for different purposes.
Grimshaw’s first Pacific years (1904-1907) saw, in addition to the three books published in 1907, the production of nearly 30 articles. These included a nine-part series in the Daily Graphic (January 1905), and a nine-part series about the New Hebrides in the Sydney Morning Herald (25 November 1905-3 March 1906). Vaiti of the Islands was serialised in both Pearson’s Magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald (2 June-28 July 1906).(12)
Yet Grimshaw probably wrote even more at this time. A sequel to the first Vaiti stories, Queen Vaiti, was serialised, but not released in book form until 1908, when Pearson’s published it in Britain, and not until 1920 in Australia, when the New South Wales Bookstall issued it as a paperback. If one trusts internal evidence, many parts of Conn of the Coral Seas were probably written at this time as well (although the serialisation did not appear in the Grand Magazine until October 1921-April 1922), for certain passages hardly differ from the New Hebridean chapters of FCI.
If one idly turns the pages of FCI and SSS(or, for that matter, the later New New Guinea), it soon becomes obvious that they are neither the armchair travel nor the amateur ethnology that booksellers today, misled by the books’ bulk, gold lettering, and attractive `Native’ women portrayed on the covers, classify them as. My own copy of The New New Guinea was purchased from a leading Dublin antiquarian bookseller who was unaware that Grimshaw had been “Irish”. The text had been taken apart by previous owners (to decorate their home with its many photographs, the bookseller suggested) and then carefully reassembled. But it was not longer the same book, since comments had also been scrawled in it. This may serve as an emblem of my method here, which is to deconstruct the apparently compact unity of these books.
The captions and chapter headings reveal a rather unusual amalgamation of romanticism and practicality, sometimes in one term. “An Imperial Wonderland” yokes politics and idyll. “How It All Came True”, “Days in Dreamland”, “The Fairy Islets” and a “Chance for Robinson Crusoe” co-exist in SSS with “Servant Problem Again”, “Food and Fruits of the Country”, “What about the Missionary?” and “All about Guano” — the latter about as down to earth as one can descend.
FCI similarly oscillates between, on the one hand, conventions of gothic romanticism (“Garden of the Swiss Family Robinson”, “The City of a Dream”, “The Fairy Fortress”, “A Native Princess”, “The Mysterious Islands”, “A Stronghold of Savagery”, “The Bluebeard Chamber”) and, on the other hand, advice for settlers and investors: (“How the Colony is Governed”, “Trade of the Islands”, “A Splendid Timber Country”, “On a Coffee Plantation”, and “The Returned Labour Trouble”).
Messages of two different orders are thus encapsulated: an Eden requiring little labour (by whites) can yield profit and satisfy every childhood dream. As one reviewer aptly put it, Grimshaw’s Utopias have a mint. Certainly, for her, they did.(13)
FCI and SSS do have common features, the most obvious being the themes for which they are rightfully criticised today: both are, to a limited extent, about Pacific Islanders, but not for them. Grimshaw (and many others) believed that Polynesians and Melanesians were not only dying out but, unlikely as it seems, welcomed their supersession by a “fitter” race. Although Grimshaw dwelt briefly amongst various Island communities, she remained capable of ethnocentric statements of extraordinary insensitivity; for example, the assertion (astonishing from someone who adored “singsings” and dancing, and never hesitated to desecrate an indigenous place of worship to carry off “idols”, if she could get away with it) that Polynesians lacked poetry. It is symptomatic, too, that Grimshaw often compared islanders to figures in a pantomime who, of course, are silent. Her advice to intending travellers that they should “snapshot” “the” native, indicates that most Islanders, true to their traditional beliefs, didn’t wish to be photographed at all.
Idologically(14) FCI and SSS legitimate “protection”/control over Islanders, alienation of their land, incentives to settlers, and importing indentured labour, while deploring protective tariffs against Island products. Both books, therefore, seek to facilitate the development of intensive capitalist agriculture in a hitherto subsistence economy. Both are striking examples of class pleading, but cast in a form that conceals class interests, as statistics alternate with idyllic descriptions. Grimshaw simultaneously celebrated unspoiled nature and encouraged its despoliation: Arcadia would necessarily be devastated by the globetrotters, investors, speculators and settlers who heeded her advice.
Yet, as contemporary reviewers noted, these books are not as alike as they might seem. FCI was touted as a “book of the week” in the Publisher and Bookseller. The Athenaeum, while praising Grimshaw’s “power of lively narrative and…real ability to describe”, dismissed her as “not a safe guide” to the New Hebrides because of her “prehistoric”, “amazing, cock-and-bull attitudes”. The Outlook concluded that “After reading Mrs [sic.] Grimshaw we can think of Fiji as a possible place to settle in, and of the New Hebrides as just the home for all those members of European society who would never be missed”. The Saturday Review honed in on FCI’s unabashed racism: “[T]he author might speak with more discrimination; indeed, her cheerful attitude [about violating `native’ taboos],…is typical of the worst type of British globe-trotter”.(15) Wittingly or not, the New York Saturday Review of Books(16) discerned Grimshaw’s covert intentions:
If the Fiji Islands were in the hands of promoters; if they were being exploited by a land company; or if a steamship line were booming its tourist patronage, no better prospectus could be obtained…According to the author, Fiji is a land of unlimited possibilities, as well as a kind of earthly paradise.(16)
The instrumentality of FCI was, then, noticed. But the personal import of SSS gave the book such drawing power that reviewers tumbled over one another in emulation of Grimshaw’s own enchanted, enchanting style. It is small wonder that, seeking a similar commission to attract investment and settlement to the North of Australia, Grimshaw later loaned a copy of this book to Alfred Deakin, and promised him a scrapbook with nearly 100 favourable reviews. For here the needs of writer and readers for release into a timeless paradise were matched. Implicitly SSS was saying, Et ego in Arcadia…whilst omitting the memento mori. Archetypal yearnings were being touched, meeting an almost hypnotized response. The main difference between the two books is that FCI is effective, SSS affective.
The Daily Chronicle (in a two-thirds column review), described SSS thus:
Whoever reads this book will surely be a little smitten with Miss Grimshaw’s passion for the radiant islands…[and share the sentiments of Grimshaw’s Cingalese steward on one of her schooners]: Oh my God, I plenty wish I stopping there, I no wanting any heaven then!(17)
But it was left to the Manchester Guardian to interpret more politically the significance of Grimshaw’s writing:
Of course the islands are in their decadence. The warriors have become dying labourers and the women have lost their arts…The tourist, who corrupts a nation more quickly than material wealth by making the inhabitants a generation of flunkeys, insolent and servile at the same time, is now finishing what the merchant seaman and the `missi’ began. In a very few years, especially if many Englishmen obey the call of Miss Grimshaw, who urges them to emigrate, so that we may lie in the sun while the bananas drop into our mouths, the islands…will be like Peru after a generation of the Spaniards…The native music…will be tuned to the pitch of the Sydney music-hall. The heroes of old time will be forgotten; and the modern hero, such as Miss Grimshaw saw, will die of guano dust at 10 shillings a week, on Malden Island…(18)
Most politically noteworthy, however, was the serious attention given to SSS by the Tory Unionist Morning Post. For 13 years, in and out of office as Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin had been “Our Special Correspondent”, “Our Sydney Correspondent”, and “An Australian Correspondent”. As “Australian Correspondent”, Deakin had written about the New Hebrides: “[They were] ours by right…Once the Islands are Anglised in spirit and Australianised in their immediate relations, the designs of those who seek to make them an appanage of New Caledonia will be defeated.”(19) This review (several columns long and warranting attention by itself, as it was not in the usual Thursday review of new books) was unsigned. But I suspect that Deakin, Richard Jebb (a vociferous exponent of colonial nationalism) or Fabian Ware must have written it, preferring anonymity to hide direct intervention:
[T]o be barred from the South Sea Islands when they are made to glow as they do in these pages is a punishment which surely there were no crime to fit. The writing is elegant; virility, elegance, conciseness, wit, and not a few touches of pathos contributing to the delight of the reader. What, according to Miss Grimshaw, must inevitably be denied to `any combination of coloured grease’ on canvas is here achieved in print, and there is not a chapter which may be missed without loss. It is difficult to resist the temptation to quote largely…[T]hough [the book] takes the form of the romance of travel, and is picturesque and vastly entertaining from cover to cover, there is conveyed in it a wealth of information, correcting many false impressions given by those who have not seen with their own eyes and yet have written.(20)
But why is the represented world of FCI savage, and that of SSS only “strange”? At times one feels these are the works of two different authors. Any answer must address the differing interests the two books served when initially written in article form.
There is no evidence to contradict Grimshaw’s statements in the Daily Graphic articles, the sub-text of SSS: “It is the aim of the present series to bring into communication…the would-be settler and the might-be-settled land”, (Daily Graphic, January 1905); “I have set forth to tell something of Britain of the South Seas, and such as it is, my say has been said” (the last words of SSS).
SSS is the tale of Grimshaw’s first Pacific wanderings, a term designating the absence of a fixed course or goal, a “circular tour” as Grimshaw sometimes said. The Kipling quotation on the first page indicates the nature of her “objective”, for she was like Tennyson’s Ulysses, content to push ever onwards “Till the anchor rattled down on stranger shores”,(21) with no Ithaca in sight. Since the travels in this book were confined to the charming Eastern and Central Pacific, and involved collecting information for tourists as well as for settlers, the book is singularly free of the racism disfiguring Grimshaw’s other work. In SSS Grimshaw was free, after years of unremitting work, to take her time. Often she had to, preferring the chaotic arrival of unpredictable schooners to the scheduled steamers. The first three pages of SSS are an impassioned evocation of Wanderlust, and the word “call” (with its associate cry) appears no less than 10 times. The first chapter shows Grimshaw tasting the fei, a prosaic enough cooking banana, but said to cast a spell (therefore, “fey”), obliging the traveller to return. None of these connotations are coincidental, for Grimshaw was describing how an apparent vacation was turning into a vocation. And one would search in vain for a Going Home in her oeuvre. After a loving description of a “house by the shore” in Rarotonga — on the margins of sea and land, settlement and wandering, nature and culture — Grimshaw inserts one of her skilful Kipling imitations clearly foreshadowing her future. She might visit “the cold grey Northern countries where money grows”, but she would never again live there.
(Windows blurred with beating mud, grey London roaring by in the rain; haggard faces, and murky summer, and the snake of custom clipping stranglingly about the free man’s throat — O Island wanderer, back in the weary North, does your seabird’s heart fly swift from these to those, and sicken for the lands where you must go no more?(22)
There would be no Going Home, simply because Grimshaw was realising that she had come home. One of the most stable and obsessive of her symbols, as we have seen, was her birthplace, Cloonagh House, with its connotations of inheritance, entitlement, birthright. From the implications she let slip, one would think it was an Anglo-Irish estate rather than a downwardly-mobile merchant’s house which was eventually bought by Belfast’s only Jewish Lord Mayor, Otto Jaffe. By the time Grimshaw arrived in the Pacific, her family had been dispossessed for some time. Is it any surprise, then, that SSS has no less than six photographs and lengthy descriptions of dwelings, many of them belonging to Pacific royalty? Or that Grimshaw spends some pages purportedly amused — but I think, impressed — by the ways in which South Sea Islanders sought to place her in their social hierarchies? For once, this queenly figure (she was nearly six feet tall) didn’t have to achieve status. A quasi-royal position (due, as she saw it, to such qualities as race and height, rather than character) was ascribed to her. All she had to do was be, at a time when her own family in Ireland was dramatically losing caste.
The inevitable question: `Where was my husband?’ followed by: `Why had I not got one?’…was put by almost every new-comer…An unmarried woman who had money of her own, who wandered about alone, who held office in no village…this was decidedly a puzzle to…folk whose own women all marry at about fourteen. They had seen white women travelling with their husbands, but never one who had ventured from Beritania all alone!
There was evidently some difficulty…in `placing’ me according to Samoan etiquette, which is both complex and peculiar. A white woman with her husband presents no difficulty, since the `faa Samoa’ always gives the superior honour to the man…In my case, the question was solved…by classing me as a female chief! I was…officially considered as a man…and the young chiefs of the district came almost every evening to call…sitting in formal rows, and conversing…in a well-bred, gracious manner oddly reminiscent of a London drawing-room. The women did not visit me officially.(23)
Grimshaw, in other words, was doing what she loved most — writing — and spending her free time among people whose appearance and social organization commanded her astonished respect (as she had commanded theirs). A sense of release is almost palpable as one reads SSS. For the first time in years her writing is relaxed, rather than exhaustedly haranguing (by the time she finished with Dublin, she had written Yeats off as a “gifted young extremist”!). It is difficult not to like the implied author, who delights in climbing cross-trees, taking the wheel, listening to sailors’ stories…Probably for the first time in her life, after her father’s financial collapse, she was freed from the Calvinist conviction that failure to work was a sin; no one in Samoa, she felt, would have known what she was talking about, when she referred to industrialised working time.
Time is simply wiped out. One discovers, all of a sudden, that one has been groaning under an unbearable and unnecessary tyranny all one’s life…Why do people rush to catch trains and omnibuses, and hasten to make and keep appointments, and have meals at rigidly fixed times, whether they are hungry or not? These are the things that make life short…
The Samoan does what he wants, when he wishes, and if he does not wish a thing, does not do it at all. According to the theology of our youthful days, he ought in consequence to become a fiend in human shape;…but he is the most amiable creature on earth’s round ball. Angry voices, loud tones even, are never heard in a Samoan house. Husbands never come home drunk…and ill use their wives; wives never nag at their husbands; no one screams at children, or snaps at house-mates and neighbours…There is…no striking ground for ill-temper or peevishness; and amiability and courtesy reign supreme. The Samoan has his faults…but they are slight indeed with the faults of the ordinary European.(24)
I sense, then, in SSS, a woman released, if not necessarily liberated. For problems such as confusion about the mandates of gender, or nationality, have hardly been resolved; they have been magically abolished. Emigration, it seemed, was emancipation.
FCI, however, has a different tale to tell. Its racist arguments legitimate the alienation of land and the exacting of “native” labour, if necessary by force, particularly in the New Hebrides. Prefiguring the nastiness pervading The New New Guinea, many passages in FCI make for tasteless, offensive reading.
I do not think that the most fervent advocate of the rights of the natural man could uphold the claims of the untamed New Hebridean to the freedom of his forefathers, or sentimentalise…over the `noble wild man’ domoed to bow beneath the yoke of an oppressive civilisation. The New Hebridean, in his native state, is neither more nor less than a murderous, filthy, and unhappy brute. Tamed, cleaned, restrained from slaying his acquaintances either wholesale or retail, and allowed to live his life in peace on his own bit of ground, he is a passable poor relation of the Maori or Zulu (179-80).
[T]he truth, or half the truth, about…these savages can never be told. Any book which depicted them…as they are would be fit for nothing but to be burned at the hands of the common hangman. Darker spots upon the surface of the earth than Malekula there cannot be; worse friends in or out of it than most of the natives not the wildest imaginations of madhouses could picture. And there description must cease!(25)
Almost all Islanders have names in SSS, whereas they are usually described by insulting sobriquets — intended to amuse, no doubt! — in FCI, such as “Mrs. Frizzyhead”, “Mrs. Flatface”, and “Mrs Blackleg”. Why was Grimshaw who, I shall argue, later, was not as racist as such passages would make one believe, writing like this?
Part of any answer must be found in the material factors which Grimshaw herself never ignored. It is likely that Grimshaw’s claim in her letter of 1 October 1908 to Deakin is exaggerated: “His Excellency Sir Everard im Thurn informed me, when I visited Fiji early in 1907, that I had done much to develop the place, and he had no doubt the recent advance was largely owing to my work”. The Colonial Secretary’s files in the Archives of the Western Pacific suggest a different story. Grimshaw appears to have requested an honorarium of between 40 and 50 pounds from the Fijian Government to write a book that would be a general advertisement for the colony. She wanted the Government’s imprimatur, and this im Thurn refused. On 3 July 1905 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary:
I am fully aware that Miss Grimshaw can write her impressions very cleverly and attractively; but in a handbook to be scattered broadcast with the Government imprimatur to Canadians and others it is absolutely essential that the information…should be something more than the impressions of a traveller however gifted.(26)
Grimshaw’s application was supported by businessmen from the Suva and Levuka Chambers of Commerce and the Planters’ Association. Hugh Laracy suggests that they may have helped to finance her Fijian activities. Certainly Grimshaw’s articles about Fiji and the consequent book are an unambiguous expression of European settler interests. The tone becomes more irritable and strident as the “lady traveller” makes her way through rough country; “wasteland” from a European agricultural viewpoint.
Grimshaw had arrived in Fiji during a time of socio-economic transition described by Caroline Ralston as a change from “beach” to “port”:
With the advent of a planter community…many foreigners became vitally concerned in island policies. The planters’ prerequisites — security of land tenure, the continued availability of land for sale, and an adequate supply of cheap labour — often brought them, and other foreigners with property interests, into direct conflict with island governments and their rights.
One of the results, Ralston comments, was the development of unpleasant, if not obnoxious, settler ideologies concerning land and labour.
[N]ew attitudes had infiltrated into the towns and precedents had been set that were to expand into an established expatriate philosophy and outlook when the planters entered the community.(27)
In other words, FCI’s semi-sponsorship was by groups who, left to themselves, wrote letters to the editor advocating lynching if the “native” population would not be coerced into wage labour. Grimshaw, however, although not always noted for her decorum or good taste, had developed her own ideas about advocating causes: hide them. As she later outlined her method to Deakin, when proposing to attract settlers to the north of Australia, “It is bad management on someone’s part, if a commission does become known. I do not think my Fiji book had any `commission’ “flavour” (Ltr., 1 Oct. 1908). “I can certainly get settlers for the North of Australia; the place attracts myself very strongly, which makes it more likely that I shall do my best work in writing about it (separate ltr. of 1 Oct. 1908). “Special interest of adventure” would he”most valuable” because “practical matter will want all the lightening it can get” (first cited, ltr. of 1 Oct. 1908). “Literary art” — which, incidentally, required leisure, therefore money — would remove any “commissioned” flavour.
But the New Hebrides complicated Grimshaw’s purposes. She was beginning to side with Australian Pacific policy and wanted neither of the interested governments (England or France) to annex them. In 1906, the secret Anglo-French Commission had reached a decision of “divided rule” from which the New Hebrides still suffer — a decision made without consulting Australia. In 1907 the Imperial Premiers’ Conference in London rejected the proposed formation of an Imperial Secretariat composed of representatives from the self-governing Dominions (seen by Britain as an attempt to wrest control from the Colonial Office).
Given Grimshaw’s complicated Irish background, it comes as no wonder to find that, when she first wrote to Deakin on 25 Jan. 1908, she was offering her services to Australian political interests. Concerning the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, she flattered and advised.
I believe…it is your desire to see the interests of Australia fully safe-guarded…and I know that you have the reputation of seeing further ahead than most — indeed, than many of your contemporaries.
Having seen something like the beginning of the contest over these islands, and heard practically all that has gone on since, I am most anxious to be of use to the Australian side in any way that I can…
I should, however, be very glad of any advice that you can give me as to the points…of importance to impress on the public mind. I am acting as occasional correspondent (by special arrangement) for The Times, and I have active and intelligent agents in London, also in Sydney, who place anything I may send them in the most effective manner. In fact, when I need it, I have a very satisfactory system of disseminating any desired information of impression widely through the press of the world, not necessarily under my own signature.
If you can give me your view about the present aspect of the New Hebrides question, and what you most wish to see done, I will do my best to assist the end that may seem…best for Australian interests.
FCI is, nonetheless, Grimshaw’s most “English” book, even referring to her “English skin”. Her shift from an Imperial to a colonial loyalty was only beginning when it was written, and it could have been awkward to dissociate herself from her stated admiration of Sir Everard im Thurn’s policies. But the anomalous status of the New Hebrides (described by Grimshaw as a combination of Alsatia and Arcadia), which belonged to “no one” (Grimshaw would not have considered the New Hebrideans to be the owners of their own land) demanded a strong case for annexation by some government. The relative cultural pluralism of SSS had hardened into a rigid polarisation by the time Grimshaw’s New Hebridean travels were over. Thus, the book most influenced by political interests, FCI, was published first and voiced ideologies far more blatant and disgusting than SSS. It remained in Grimshaw’s interest, even after FCI was published, to reiterate in articles such pleasantries as “So the tangle drags on, and the reign of terror continues unabated” (which nationalities, after all, had instigated the “tangle”, and might not the New Hebrideans have considered that they were living under a reign of terror?) But legitimation of foreign control required debasement of New Hebrideans, and Grimshaw accomplished this with typical thoroughness, in both reportage and fiction.
Having considered, to a degree at least, the political and material factors conditioning SSS and FCI, I should like to speculate about these books’ personal significance for Grimshaw. She seems to have slammed them together in a few months between (more or less) July 1906 — by which time she was back in Ireland for the first time since early 1904 — and early 1907, when FCI (unashamedly assembled in large part from earlier Sydney Morning Herald articles) appeared. During this time her mother died (6 November 1905), as did her father (16 March 1907). FCI is dedicated to her father Nicholas Grimshaw — the only book out of nearly 40 which Grimshaw dedicated to anyone. But I doubt this was an act of devotion. Expiation, rather. For, after her brief return to Ireland, Grimshaw had clearly decided to “cross the Line” for good — to forsake her people and her father’s house, as she told a friend years later. James Hammerton observes: “The constricting power of gentility was inseparable from the net of patriarchal security, and it is not fanciful to suggest that the death of a father or the loss of family fortune which forced daughters to leave home might have increased women’s scope for independence and action.”(28)
A bereavement, in other words, could be enabling, and by 1907 there was nothing left in the way of family obligations to keep Grimshaw in Ireland. Like many other women travellers of her time, Grimshaw was freed by death in the family (and a respectable, responsible, stay-at-home married sister). Forever, now, she could heed the compelling motivation of her life — a craving for strange places. What Dorothy Middleton (Victorian Lady Travellers) has observed in general applied to Grimshaw in particular:
Travel was an individual gesture of the housebound, man-dominated Victorian woman. Trained from birth to an almost impossible ideal of womanly submission and self-discipline, of obligation to class and devotion to religion, she had need of an emotional as well as of an intellectual outlet. This she found, often late in life, in travel, and…was able to enjoy a freedom of action unthinkable at home.
If any generalization is possible…, [such women] did not travel to find romance — not the romance…of a love affair…[T]hey loved their relations and friends but they also loved to escape, to be themselves under foreign skies with no personal demands and obligatory duties — heaven forbid that a devoted sister should join them in the South Seas or the affairs of a favourite niece detain them in London!(29)
Grimshaw’s mandate to propagandize, then, resulted from a long pre-existent urge to travel. Since by then she came from a family no longer of means, she could best fulfil this desire by allying herself with forces of capitalist and imperialist expansion. The titles of travel books and articles at the time (including Grimshaw’s own “A Lady in Far Fiji”, and many other of that ilk) indicate that the reading public for travel books expected a gender-specific point of view, whether trivial, marginal, or specially privileged. The traditional conventions of travel literature, as Catherine Barnes Stevenson explains, were male and therefore cast in the form of a quest romance.(30) These authors used (and virtually exhausted) the metaphor of the land-as-woman.(31)
A quest assumes an objective, and the conventional male emplotment of the hero’s journey is linear, purposeful. Thus, although Dan Vogel’s categories(32) for the various forms of such writing provide useful discriminations — journey, wandering, quest, pilgrimage, odyssey, and going forth — none of these categories seems to have been developed with female travel narratives in mind. In male quest literature, of course, a faraway princess is sought (as in Grimshaw’s novel, My Lady Far-A way, and her frequent references to the “princesse lointaine” motif). But when a woman authored her own quest, as Grimshaw did, understanding her situation is complicated, because it is not culturally validated.
Contemporary women had many motivations for travel, as Joanna Trollope noted in Britannia’s Daughters.(33) These range between the “damned whore” and “God’s police” stereotypes and include governesses, nurses, vice-reines, botanists, butterfly hunters, trail-blazers, explorers, camp followers, prostitutes, missionaries, actresses and, as with Grimshaw, journalists. But although women had many motivations for travel, they found it difficult to force their gender experience into the pre-existing, hegemonic forms. As Susan Greenstein understands, it could not be “adequately described in the adventurer’s vocabulary of the central tradition.”
[T]he African pastoral is distinguished by the ease with which any white man can achieve dominance…This…is reflected in the literature of imperialism, whose central conventions and recurrent motifs interpret as a test of manhood, the encounter between a passive, if often malignant, continent, and the adventurers who penetrate it…In these romances and adventure tales, historical reality and cultural myths about the experiences men have are reinforced by one another….
[But] to suggest a few of [the transformations wrought by women]: while women, too, embellish[ed] the myth of Africa as `heart of darkness’ or archetypal female principle, they also provide the metaphor of the `garden which must be cultivated’, and the figure of the `outsider as guest’…[T]o be in Africa at all women travellers had to free themselves from their own colonized situations, while female settlers responded to the influence of frontier life, which fostered a kind of independence less acceptable in England.(34)
Women began to try their pens with styles suiting their own subjects: in their most primitive forms, these tended to be “loose, accretive and epistolary.”(35) Stevenson thus enables us to understand why Grimshaw’s narratives, amongst many others, seem plotless (not only for the political reasons I have given, which forced Grimshaw to pretend she was simply describing holidays, but because she was in search of a style).
[W]omen’s travel narratives tend to be `generic hybrid[s]…subjective autobiography superimposed on a travelogue’…Men…write formal, distilled autobiographies in which the primary concern is an objective evaluation of the significance of the whole life (or journey). Women…impose no overarching design on their lives or travels. Women tend to record, to surrender to experience; men to judge, to schematize experience.
The late Victorian bourgeois women who “crossed the Line” were venturing into new, creative space within which some discovered and tested themselves. (Since she was writing imperialist propaganda, Grimshaw didn’t say much about her personal transformation, but she did let a few details slip: “There is nothing like travel in rough countries for teaching you your deficiencies…I could write Latin verses, but I couldn’t make bread — I could embroider with silk on canvas, but I didn’t know how to grease my boots properly…”(36)
The experiences and writings of women like Grimshaw put many male concepts into question. They rarely experienced travelling as exile. Dozens of colonial women writers expressed what Isak Dinesen celebrated most pithily concerning her farm in Kenya — “Here I am, where I ought to be”(37) — a comment uncannily echoed by Willa Cather after her family moved to Red Cloud. There she was, “where she wanted to be, where she ought to be.”(38) Such women, having the heady experience of determining their own lives, felt like exiles back at “home”. Like Grimshaw, they immediately repacked their trunks. At home they might seem, at best, eccentric spinsters, “intellectually and experientially excluded from the world of politics”. Overseas, they might discover themselves, as Grimshaw did, “at the center of intense political activity.”(39) Virginia Woolf, in Three Guineas, derided the characteristics of “home” which might well spur a woman to leave:
Our country throughout the greater part of its history has treated me as a slave; it has denied me education or any share in its possessions. `Our’ country still ceases to be mine if I marry a foreigner. `Our’ country denies me the means of protecting myself, forces me to pay others a very large sum annually to protect me, and is so little able, even so, that Air Raid precautions are written on the wall. Therefore, if you insist on fighting to protect me, let it be understood…that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to protect myself or my country. For…in fact, as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.(40) (Emphasis mine.)
Grimshaw would not have accepted the feminist aspects of this declaration. In most respects, Grimshaw remained after her own “voyage out” what she had been before — a woman, a woman with an ambiguous relationship to her class and her country, a woman in desperate need of work. The latter she found, not only in her efficiently accomplished “roving commissions”, but in a renewed impulse — after 10 years — to write fiction.
Yet, before briefly describing what it meant to her to be “a `vert to Australianism”, I think it high time to address the issue I have evaded thus far, however often I have alluded to it: Grimshaw’s racism. This was no simple entity; as ideology and behaviour it changed considerably over time. It presents a number of special interests, in that it originated in an analogous form of discrimination — gender — and was nurtured in the struggle for Irish nationhood. Although never straight-forwardly pro-female or pro-Irish (hence the absurdity of Murray calling her a “Fenian”; one’s imagination boggles at Grimshaw gun-running), Grimshaw was initially sympathetic to both “Questions”. Her ancestors were from Lancashire, but she referred flatly to the British as “the race we do not love.”(41) Everyone who has written about her, myself included, has written her off as a racist colonial writer, but that conclusion now seems to me far too easy. It is more interesting to ask, not whether Grimshaw was racist (although how she was is another question), but whether and how white women’s racism has differed from white men’s.
In Pacific historiography it has usually been assumed that, during transitions from frontier to settlement, the establishment of European family life ended free and easy liaisons between European men and indigenous women (whether such relationships were indeed “free and easy” is another question). With their increasing numbers, European women and children are held responsible for social distance, “Black Perils”, punitive measures of segregation and other forms of social control.
Such type-casting of white women as victims or villains in inter-racial sexual drama has not gone unchallenged, however. One early concern of American feminism in the 1960s was to delineate motivations and characteristics of white female racism, and its modulations by class. Later, as feminist political thinking matured, particularly under pressure from American feminists of colour, the popular and persuasive analogy between sexism and racism began to be prised open. Much 1970s thinking made the error of equating an analogy with identity. The literature of the women’s liberation movement initially made many a “woman as nigger” comparison to “prove” that discriminations against women (of all races) and Blacks (of both sexes) were more than simply alike. Since (the implied argument ran), their social subordination sprang from the same source (white patriarchy), all women and all Blacks must also have the same interests and objectives. However, the status of these groups was not structurally identical. Rather, the similarity lay in rationales for keeping all women and Black males in their respective, `inferior’ places vis-a-vis white males.
The analogy was, however, seductive. Two major literary-critical consequences were that Ellen Moers’ Literary Women and Tillie Olsen’s Silences associated the beginnings of “women’s writing” with “anti-slavery” causes. (It must be kept in mind that they were discussing the first 300 years or so of professional writing by white, middle-class women in Western Europe and America.)
[O]ne of the most characteristic strains in literature written by women…is conscience, concern with human beings in their time — from the first novel in our language, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. that first by anyone against slavery.(42)
This identification of a “tradition” stems from a belief that the pervasive, systematic oppression of nearly all women because of their sexual-reproductive differences from white men predisposes them to sympathy with other groups whose physical visibility also serves as an index for discrimination. It is certainly the case that some white women (albeit differing in age, nationality, class, and what, individually, they made of such preconditions) perceived resemblances between the ways they and colonised peoples were imagined and treated by white males. Some did translate an emotional/ethical identification with the colonized into political action. The bourgeois American women’s movements, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, began with such identification and affiliation. In various colonial-class societies, white women have prominently contributed to literary dissidence or resistance against racial opression; Olsen gives an impressive listing.
Yet, if colonialist women’s socio-structural ambiguity (oppressors by race and class, subordinated by gender) was, and continues to be, conducive to protest, it has also fostered complicity. For their roles as reproducers and legitimators of the colonial body politic have also been striking; perhaps because societies, depending on women’s continuing gender subjection to ensure the reproduction and socialization of the next generation, offered them an inflated spurious, derivative caste superiority (based on colour, which, here, I’m assuming to be white, but these observations could apply to any racist society). Thus the Society of Authors, at its 1897 annual dinner, celebrated Flora Annie Steele, doyenne of Anglo-Indian romance. Sir John Lubbock claimed that her books “had done much to increase our understanding of India, and therefore to promote the maintenance of our rule in that country (Applause)”. [Emphasis mine].(43)
Grimshaw’s writing in fact challenges stereotypes of “the” colonial woman writer as either friend or enemy of “the” native. Any ideology, of course, is a kaleidoscope of contradictions, a confusing mixture of “truth” and “falsehood”, and her racism was no exception. It does, however, become more comprehensible, if not forgivable, once one understands how it flowed from her experiences of her “Irish” nationality and female gender. When she arrived in the Pacific, most of the ingredients of her racial beliefs arrived with her. Sometimes they hardened. Sometimes they relaxed. Most importantly, her racism was not static; she was not consistently the simplistic boor many have assumed her to be. Since her present reputation is that of a self-assured racist for whom stereotypes afforded a world-view and descriptive stock-in-trade, I shall stress the fluidity and uncertainity of Grimshaw’s character typing in 1890s Ireland, and 1920s Papua.
During the six years that Grimshaw wrote most of The Social Review’s book reviews, the magazine gave “Irish” books high priority and, frequently, acidly criticized the writings of outsiders about Ireland. Significantly for any discussion of Grimshaw’s later Australian identification, being born in Ireland was not seen as a prerequisite for being an “Irish” writer. Spenser’s colonizing venture was seen as a case in point; TSR included him in an Irish canon by referring to him as “the last Irish poet of renown”. “True Hibernicism”, according to the magazine in 1896, was “an elusive quality”.(44) But it could be attained by people of non-Irish origin who were willing to labour to acquire “not only a knowledge, but a true sympathy with, Ireland and its people”. In effect, then, TSR was debating, under Grimshaw’s editorship, double-binds challenging colonial and post-colonial writers generally. Can an exotic become a native? How is one to steer among insular, parochial, regional, national and metropolitan identifications and loyalties?
But TSR never questioned that a unitary “Irish character” (by which it meant “peasant”) existed. Perhaps influenced by her classical education, Grimshaw often resorted to typological characterization, producing some Theophrastean-like petty misers, “Society men”, and lady cyclists. Nonetheless, TSR consistently deplored stage Irishry, for instance. “Whether an English audience would recognize the Irishman in a play [without] a red nose, a rolling eye, a bottle, and a glass, and the most villainously impossible of accents, is a matter for grave doubt”, “Maev” noted caustically as early as 1895. But the fact that Paddy or Roseen was being caricatured did not disturb her; her objection was that it was done badly, with no ear for dialect, by foreigners. When insisting, “It is quite time…our neighbours should be brought to the knowledge that the English language…can be heard to perfect advantage in many parts of Ireland; and we certainly do not require…lessons from the mighty Babylon with regard to our speech”, TSR was consenting to linguistic colonization. Grimshaw’s Papuan fiction later unequivocally endorsed the colonial administration’s policy of replacing other lingue franche with English. In Guinea Gold (1912) an intrepid Irishwoman, a “cannibal driver”, builds an enclosure within which “natives” are forbidden to speak their home languages. This is uncannily reminiscent of the early English attempts to enforce spatial and linguistic segregation between the “old English” of Dublin and the Irish “natives” who lived literally “beyond the Pale”.
But it is hard to know what Grimshaw meant by referring to an “excellent type of Irish peasant woman”. Is it shorthand? A reduction? An average? A simplification? A generalization so loose as to be meaningless? What casual or conditioning relationships were implied when Grimshaw/”Maev” tossed off simple connectives in a phrase such as “the race and the life and habits” of the Irish?
These questions, however, are anachronistic. Little in Grimshaw’s education (or anyone else’s) before Max Weber’s conceptualization of ideal types, would have inclined her to sociological classification and discrimination. But the very air hummed with the assumption that physical traits expressed moral capacities. Her publishers, Mecredy and Kyle, issued “popular pamphlets” including one on physiognomy, and an early Grimshaw essay, “The Prophecy of a Face”, “reads off” a person’s future from his physical appearance.
Even without the presuppositions of popularised science, however, Grimshaw would probably have adopted the technique of implied physical and moral equivalence for, to a degree, this is almost every writer’s tool. At this formative stage of her career, Grimshaw used “type”, “class”, “rank” and “race”. When “race” enters her vocabulary, deterministic overtones appear, but not consistently, for when she used “class”, she usually conceived of it very rigidly: class-belonging could only result from birth, inherited breeding. (One of the most intriguing facets of her “conversion” to “Australianism” was that — shades of “socialism without doctrines”! — she thought Australia classless.) Yet her autobiographical sketch, “The Decent Poor”, and reviews of several proletarian novels, show an awareness of upward and downward mobility.
Gender, however, was the conundrum of Grimshaw’s life. A male/female dichotomy was, for her, the primordial model of difference. She conceived of this distinction as absolute, allowing for no overlap and the expression of no more than two, antagonistic viewpoints. In this she may have been no different from anyone today:
The recognition of one’s sex, and therefore of the male-female dualism which is the first cognitive step a human being makes, is the basic pattern according to which all creatures and natural phenomena are classified, the first ordering principle, the first process of abstraction when observing the world, the first distinct experience of oneself.(45)
However, even if the recognition of gendered identity is the first model for classification, this opposition need not be seen as hierarchical. But it is unlikely to be, since children are born into a world of patriarchal discourse in which “male” and “female” are hardly equivalent. In her early writing, Grimshaw accepted this notion of difference as a chasm or schism: her female characters were fated, while her male characters exercised freedom of choice. A rhetorical consequence of being unable to regard gender difference as a spectrum or continuum is a symbolism based on contrasts and absolutes. Retrospectively, it is clear that Grimshaw was a prisoner of the science of her time, when endocrine hormones, for example, had yet to be discovered. Confusing consequence (an unequal socio-sexual division of labour) with “cause” (biological difference), predisposed her towards origins as total explanations. Hence the recurrence of words such as “roots” and “bedrock” in her polemical writing.
Another sequence of her thinking concerning gender was her conceptualization of the relationship between Ireland and England. As she phrased it, as usual, in a review of Kipling,
England and Ireland, indeed, occupy very much the same position as the typical man and woman. The former is strong and virile, not easily impressed with either the thoughts or the pains of others, and on that account all the more able to cut his way straight to success…. The work of the world, the business of the world, the money of the world are in his hands, and, consequently, the power also; and…he cannot understand why the weaker, more emotional…creature at his side should not be contented with the crumbs that fall from his table.(46)
Thus the subordination of women to men in the family and in society gave Grimshaw telling analogies for class and colonial power relations. A significant number of her plots revolve around a triangle. Rivalry is usually between a “Celt” and a “Saxon” for a woman often associated with an island home: “The `Roisin Ruadh'”, “Carry Me Out to Sea”, When the Red Gods Call and Red Bob of the Bismarcks are only a few. Portraying a conquered land and people as female is a familiar trope of colonial fiction. But when Grimshaw used it, she was drawing on experience as well as convention. George Moore’s A Drama in Muslin (1887), exactly contemporaneous with Grimshaw’s adolescence, compares the Land War with sexual antagonism and barter, contending that both colonialism and male-female relations are property and power contexts. The Land League itself was recognized as “Nothing less than the strongest native revolt for over two hundred years, [which] sought to disrupt the bases of the Cromwellian settlement and of British rule”.(47)
When Grimshaw later dealt with race, she was acquainted with Darwin’s and Spencer’s works too well to ignore evolutionary theory. Nor could anyone who used to drink tea with Malinowski ignore developments in contemporary anthropology altogether. But her white characters are usually Lamarckians who, in one generation, can acquire and transmit new hereditary characteristics. Black characters develop at a leaden pace.
It is child’s play to plunder Grimshaw’s fiction for its racism and sexism, as I set out to do some years ago. At that time, not yet having found her agent’s records in London, I had no idea of her colossal contemporary influence. Most scholars assume it was considerable, but confined to Papua and Australia; to the contrary, she had an immense readership in Britain and the States. Thus, historians of race relations are fully entitled to take her retrograde views seriously. General publics do not, after all, customarily read the latest anthropological theory, if for no other reason than it is not usually available to them. But they do read thrillers from the corner news agent or drugstore, at the railway station or the airport — and that is where Grimshaw sold. This is why Lois Whitney investigated:
the fictional best-sellers, the cheap tracts, the popular poems…I wanted to see what the history of ideas…would look like if it were written, not in terms of what…philosophers actually said, but…of what the public thought they said — a far different matter, but equally important, since it is only after ideas reach the public that they become a real social force.(48)
Which is another way of wording Marx’s dictum that theory can only become a social force once it reaches the masses. In that case, Grimshaw was a class agent indeed. Evans, Saunders and Cronin, noted the “key interpretive role” of “the daily newspaper and weekly or monthly journal, as well as the pamphlet, the colonial travel-book or novel, and the political speech” — all of them genres Grimshaw popularized. They stated:
[P]opular colonial writings formed an intermediate intellectual stage and forum between imported European theories about race relations and the colonists’ actual interaction with these `lower forms’ of man…Sophisticated theories supported rougher stereotypes with very little apparent contradiction.(49)
Grimshaw stands arraigned, then, in the dock of history. But what, precisely, is the charge? After all, she also wrote, in an address to the Royal Colonial Institute (now the Royal Commonwealth Society) in 1922:
It is in the last degree unfair and incorrect to represent the Papuan native as a howling fiend, intent only on devouring the white settler, or driving him out of the country…[A]n intelligent people, with considerable strength of character, and much ability in a mechanical direction, are going to go on living, side by side, with a gradually growing population of whites…[T]he Papuan is going to have time and opportunity to develop his possibilities, and become as competent a craftsman and as able a planter as he has it in him to be…It will be a long time before he develops executive ability of any kind. But he is already a trader of no small keenness, and his mechanical tastes surprise everyone who has had to do with him as a workman…[A]fter all, the Papuan was not created to charm us, or to keep his country as a perpetual museum of Stone Age weapons and customs for our amusement…I have said little of what may be the ultimate future of this strange, hard-charactered race, with its destiny in the melting-pot and its brain still undeveloped, though developing at a rate that seems almost miraculous to those who know the earlier days of the country…But whatever it may be, the destinies of the coloured and the white in Papua must run side-by-side.(50)
No one could call this declaration, by today’s standards, enlightened. Given Grimshaw’s background, however, it represents considerable development since the days when she allowed herself to be pictured with cartoons of cannibals licking their (human) chops. But what does anachronistic judgment of this colonist’s manifesto accomplish, besides to exonerate us? I have tried to explain, if not to expiate, Grimshaw’s racism by showing some of its components: her always-already confused thinking about gender factors which influenced her early Pacific travel writing. Grimshaw was a writer of mass-popular fiction in `White Australia’, and she thought she knew what her market wanted to hear: thus she also pandered to Yellow Peril fears and managed to insult nearly every nationality inhabiting Thursday Island. On occasion she was anti-Semitic. One of the most ironic vindications of her later claim to be an Australian writer is that she was reproducing an outlook which so many at the time shared, often because they had no choice if they wished to be published (The Bulletin interfered, virtually to the point of rewriting, in manuscripts by Katherine Susannah Prichard and Vance Palmer, for instance, a process which its editors referred to as “white-washing”!). I hope to have shown, then, that Grimshaw’s racism was as pragmatic and, in its horrid way, sincere, as it was deplorable, and that its expression varied considerably depending on her medium and channel as well as her audience. Any other approach can only be descriptive.
Papua, however, for all Grimshaw’s pontificating, was not her final destination: Australia was. As early as 1910, her fiction — as with many writers, far more revealing than their commentary — expressed what she thought about it. The novel, Nobody’s Island, is the usual silly combination of bigamy (unwitting), divorce (disallowed), pregnancy (unexpected), treasure hunting (immensely successful), murder…It is also, however, a rumination abut class, and turns the metaphor of land-as-woman inside-out with the character of Ben Slade, presumably inspired by the West Australian, William Little. Slade has “no profession, no people”.(51) When he falls in love with (and, of course, saves from the hangman) the aristocratic Edith, she must disown her Englishness (she describes herself as a “‘vert to Australianism”).(52) This includes rejecting inherited, unearned income, for Slade can’t imagine being anyone’s tenant. She must learn to be self-sufficient: “[Y]ou’re waking up when you begin to see that making your own bread and meat and potatoes and housing and clothing, is the only way for a man to be a decent human being.” She abandons her quotation-crammed, over-precise, snobbery-ridden speech, since her Australian husband declares: “[T]he English language was made for me, and not I for the English language”. Like many of Grimshaw’s Australian heroes, he reades Shakespeare for fun, but places no great value on a formal education: “Have you decided…that a college education is not — always — indispensable?…Also that a man is not an unclean beast if he doesn’t use the shibboleth, and call it `varsity”? By this time Edith, watching her husband superintending a cooking-fire outdoors, would probably agree to anything he says, for he is everything her nasty, overbred, English first husband was not:
He was more than ever the son of Earth tonight, skin burned as brown as the trunks of the forest trees, hair and beard grown furry as brown moss, eyes brown-yellow like the eyes of beasts and birds. He was handsome, as always, and, as always, seemed not to know, or, if he knew, not to care. Edith, who knew every line of her own beauty,…was always impressed by this unconsciousness of her `brown man’s’. It seemed, now, almost as if a piece of the landscape had got up and sat itself down beside her.(53)
Bathurst, New South Wales, several years later.
I have written to the local paper, and received a gratifying number of replies and invitations, considering that Grimshaw has been dead for over two decades. I drink innumerable cups of tea with elderly women who describe Grimshaw as having been “straight out of Cranford”. I wish this had been true, for then she would have died in a community of women — or, to put the blunt truth I discover rather differently — in a more congenial community of women. Since my research has led me to places neither she nor I would normally frequent, I am not too surprised to find myself having another conversation, this time with the Governor of the Bathurst Prison. It leads nowhere, for nothing in his records confirms that Grimshaw moved to Bathurst because one of her brothers was in prison there. Yet one of her novels describes the interior of that prison in such detail, one wonders…Some of the more obvious people to interview would be the doctor who attended her in her last illness, and her priest. The former is readily available; the latter has been dead for some time, and, I discover, carried out the act that is every researcher’s horror — gave most of her belongings to the Salvation Army and sold the rest, so that she could receive a proper burial. Since Grimshaw wrote an autobiography which some people read in manuscript, and is reputed to have sent a tin trunk of papers to a relative in Port Moresby during the 50s, this is enough to make me weep. What eventually does, however, is something else. I start with the doctor’s surgery — that, at least, is not an unfamiliar environment! But I don’t remember ever in my life having spent a morning with a Monumental Mason.
He remembered himself as an idealistic young doctor scarcely out of medical training. He remembered the old woman. For some time, he knew, she had been dying — one could hardly call it “wasting away”, for she was enormous — of incipent insulin shock. What he didn’t know, till after she died, was that every time he visited her and accepted a cup of tea, it meant that she could not drink anything warm again that day. All she could afford was enough fuel to heat one drink. Then she went completely off the rails, and that was when he, and the parish priest, and an ambulance found her wandering, at twilight, along a New South Wales country road, screaming such obscenities that, once she was in the public, poor section of the hospital, he had felt obliged to put her — under restraint. The last he saw of her alive, she was shouting venomous remarks at the other patients in the women’s ward, and accused him of having put her in a brothel.
Only one of her fictional characters might be able to think of something appropriate to say, so he returns to the subject of her desperate poverty. She had sold her house — initially a convict barracks, then an inn — the site of which I have already visited. It is in ruins. Things got worse after her brother, for whom she had been keeping house, died. World War II had not only destroyed stocks of her books, but bombed the few properties she had remaining in the British Isles. Apparently her dissolute father had bequeathed her shares in Welsh collieries which, as strategic locations, were destroyed by the Germans. So she approached a body called the Commonwealth Literary Fund — do I know anything about it? I do; I have read her case at the Australian Archives. Unlike most things she wrote, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, for it was not like her to beg. Nor did it get her anywhere. When, after months of negotiating, the Fund awarded her a pension of a pound a week in recognition of her “services to Australian literature”, she turned it down. “One pound a week is of no use to anyone”, she replied.
“And yet”, the doctor muses, “at least she, too, could have had a cup of tea.”
I feel as if we are in one of her suspense stories, only this time it is my turn to introduce the conversation-stopper. “She may have died thinking she was poor”, I say, “but she wasn’t. She may have been the richest woman in Bathurst, without knowing it. Several weeks before, her youngest sister Nichola, who lived at a house called `Cloona’, in Devon, died. She left Beatrice more than six thousand pounds.”
Dr. X has decided that a medicinal brandy would do him no harm, and me a great deal of good. “Who on earth was Nichola?” he asks. “What was their agreement?”
“Typically Victorian”, I explain. “Imagine a large Victorian family, with two surviving brothers and four surviving sisters. The sisters are Maud, a chronic invalid on a sofa, Emma, who becomes a Post-Impressionist in Paris — a kind of poor person’s Gwen John — Beatrice, and Nichola, named for their dissolute father. Maud marries a physician who runs a private sanitorium, and wastes away there for decades, whist Nichola does the housekeeping — yes, it is rather sinister, isn’t it? Maud finally dies, and from everything you tell me, I would suspect she had diabetes too, since she was blind, and Beatrice gave her, unconditionally, the copyright to The Terrible Island, a best-seller with a number of blind characters in it. Maud conveniently passed away, and Nichola promptly married her dead sister’s husband — her brother-in-law. Surely there’s a law against that somewhere, or was? They must have thought so, since they went to New Guinea to marry, with Beatrice’s blessing. Then the two sisters made a pact: whoever died first would leave whatever she had to the other. Dr. Sinclair hardly needed more money; he had an income of his own, plus his first wife, Maud’s. Beatrice had nothing to leave. But Nichola died first — by a few weeks only — and if only probate acted quicker! Beatrice would have inherited six thousand pounds; moreover, she might not have died at all, then, since she could have afforded warmth, and medical care.”
Nothing, as is said, can kill a conversation like death, and this conversation would seem to be terminally ill. Especially since I am crying at the thought of this woman having, in effect, starved and frozen to death, in New South Wales, in 1953. “She was hardly the first or the last”, Dr. X comments drily, but this is cold comfort! Now, however, fortified by his wee medicinal drop, Dr. X has an idea. Surely I would like to meet someone who knew Beatrice before she became so dotty? Or course. Well, then, I should meet B., who could explain about Beatrice’s ring, since he wears it all the time.
(“For a gold ring he placed on her finger/Saving `Love, bear you this in your mind/If ever I should sail from old Ireland/You’ll mind I’m not keeping you behind.”)
“Yes, that boring ring. She would take about it. She gave it to B. — well, no, not exactly, to his mother, once she knew she was dying, but the mother got killed, along with all her children but B., in a car accident — B., of all people survived! The family dyslexic! He would survive!”
I’m not paying a great deal of attention, mainly because I have heard about this ring from so many people; even read about it; but never truly believed in Grimshaw’s reputed romance.
“Oh, it was simply trash. She wore it always, though. Apparently it was from someone in Papua. Once she knew she was dying, as I told you, she gave it to B’s mother. At that time she was living at B.’s mother’s pub — the Royal Hotel, I expect you’ve seen it. Across the road from the Shamrock.”
To his medical relief, I have recovered. “Indeed, we might as well be in Belfast with the Orange and the Green — segregated, the Irish pub on one side of the road, the Brits” (he deplores my Irish usage and accent) — “on the other. So B. is still alive?”
He toys with a surgical diagram, before answering carefully, “Yes he is. You might find him difficult, though. The family cretin, you know.”
“Yes”, I answer cheerfully, as if every family has a cretin. “I know. How do I find him?”
“At the RSL Club”, he replies, looking at his watch. “Ah, it’s Friday, they’ll have mixed prawns. Women are not, of course, allowed in the main bar, but I suppose I can coerce B. into the Ladies’ Bar — but are you sure you want to go there?”
“Try and stop me.”
So here we are again, militaristic as ever. What would the Gen. and his Lady think, living in Cloonagh House, should they see me here? The place stinks, like most Australian pubs; when will people start vomiting, and when will the vomit be sluiced out? This being, of course, the ladies’ bar, the place smells of babies’ urine; and maidenhair plants (how appropriate!) are wilting all over the show. And now I must meet B., who, apparently, is mentally defective…
I nearly pass out. Not because he is mentally defective. His hands tremble a bit, and his head seems large for his body, but he speaks perfectly intelligible English, whilst we murder the prawns before us. It is when I accept one from his fingers that I nearly pass out. In Grimshaw’s novels, I could do so easily, but this is real life, Bathurst, not Papua, so the merciful option of oblivion is not available.
“Yes”, says the family idiot/imbecile/dyslexic peaceably. “This is the ring Doctor was talking about.”
I know — how could I not? How people used to snigger at it! Papuan gold; therefore coppery. PAPUA was superimposed on it, but it was so old, the U had fallen to pieces, so it now reads: PAPLA. Oh yes, many witnesses have said. She always wore that ring. Some silly story — what was it? Oh, he fell off his horse in India. No, darling, said another, not at all. You know what those spinsters are like. She said it was an officer who went to his death storming the trenches in World War I. Poor fat old thing. Can you ever imagine her having a lover? Although she did write those torrid, romantic stories.
To my intense irritation, Dr. X, whom I otherwise like very much, has had a pint or two, or three and is roaring along with the rest of the RSL Club. “Indeed”, he is belching slightly, “if you knew how many of my women — spinster — patients talk about a fiance dead in Flanders!” To my horror, I find I am also shouting, but no one at the RSL on a Friday night is likely to notice a foreign woman making a spectacle of herself. “You Australians”, I scream, as if no other nationality did so, “fondly erect War Memorials in every little godforsaken town! Lovers plot assignations there! Well, then, besides remembering Gallipoli, as you so obsessively do, and that murderer, `Breaker’ Morant,(54) why not remember the Battle of the Somme? When, one summer morning, in July, 1916, 19,000 men were killed — in a single day — and 60,000 were `casualties’. Do you think for a moment those men were without women? Perhaps they didn’t all have the sweethearts you have such fun deriding, but they must have had mothers, wives, daughters, nieces, cousins…Frankly, as people always say when they are about to say something obnoxious, I think you’re being obnoxious, both of you! No one will know the `truth’, I suppose, about the relationship between Beatrice Grimshaw and the government tax collector. But I do know one thing — when he died, she raised money by public subscription for his grave, and donated the first five pounds herself. So stop sneering at her affair! Especially when I can tell you exactly how she described him.”
Researchers are expected to be polite and patient. This tirade of mine was neither; moreover, it contained far more passion than the pacifism it professed. So I would not be surprised if these two nice men, who have done nothing worse than enjoy their Friday evening up till my peroration, decided that, after all, a game of darts is in order. Instead, they listen with what Beatrice would no doubt have called `bated breath’ to what I know of the relationship with William Little. It concerns one of Grimshaw’s notable lapses of taste, when, in a series (“My Life among South Sea Cannibals”) for Northcliffe’s scandal-mongering Evening News, Grimshaw broadcast a mysterious “romance in eleven lines” to an audience of several millions. We have already seen Malinowski’s sarcastic description of what was an enduring, triangular friendship among Grimshaw, Little, and Murray, who was by no means above favouring his friends with government posts, perks or stipends. Thus Little’s rather unromantic metamorphosis from spokesman for Papuan miners to the British Royal Commission concerning New Guinea in 1906, to tax collector. He was one of Grimshaw’s earliest friends in Papua and, if Grimshaw is to be believed, after more than a decade’s friendship, he proposed, only to die of a mysterious tropical ailment on the eve of his putative wedding. This is how she described him to her British audience in 1922:
The miners…were a strange, hard, lonely race…who ran surprising risks without apparently being aware of the fact, and who became…utterly callous to death or danger. To myself they were always courteous and kind and the soul of hospitality. All classes were represented among them, and many nations, Australians predominating.
They were, and are, perhaps the bravest of men in the world. I have reason to know, for only the death that ever `stalks at noonday’ throughout the wonderful, heart-holding land of Papua, and carries away her very best and bravest, prevented me from joining those mining camps for life as the wife of the finest man and most daring miner-explorer Papua has ever known, the late `Billy’ Little.(55)
A photograph of Little, that “great New Guinea explorer”, accompanied this revelation.(56)
When I have finished, Billy — who, I have decided, may be what is popularly called `learning disabled’ but strikes me as no fool — takes off William Little’s ring and says simply, “It’s yours now.” “But — but — you can’t do that — “. “Why not?” he asks peaceably. “It was hers; then my mother’s; then the coroner gave it to me, so I think I have the right to give it to whoever I like.” For a moment I wonder if this is a bizarre proposal of marriage but, fortunately, every woman’s dream come true is not happening. “She loved Papua”, he is ruminating, “and from everything you say, you did, too. Also, you seem to have cared for her.” “Not really”, I object. “I never even met her! And I have a feeling that if we had met, we might not even have liked each other! I’ve just been trying to understand her.” “Try it on”, he suggests. It promptly falls off and gets lost amongst the prawns. Beatrice Grimshaw was, after all, nearly six feet tall. Two weeks later in Brisbane a jeweller tells me he cannot make it more than three sizes smaller without destroying it. Even then, it falls off my largest finger. Fortunately, I have a `keeper’ for this `keeper’. If we move back in time to Ireland, the scene shifts to Dublin, where I am attending the local variant of the famous History Workshops. It is Halloween, and I am devouring a barmbrack straight out of Dubliners. I bite something indigestible, and remember with horror an encounter with an Australian beer bottle, which demolished one of my front teeth, to the amusement of my students, and the profit of my dentist. But this time, no one profits but me, for I have bitten into the ring hidden in the barmbrack. Unlike Beatrice’s ring, it really is trash, since it is brass. It is just the size to keep me from, for example, inadvertently flushing Beatrice’s ring down the toilet.
“Some die by the glenside, some died with a Stranger/And wise men have told us, their cause was a failure…/I went on my way, God be praised that I met her…/Sure, I’ll be glad, and I’ll never forget her…”
Bathurst Cemetery. What a necropolis! I think of all the graveyards I have visited during the course of my research, and smile as I think how many people think literary research is conducted in libraries. In Ireland, I located Grimshaw’s great-grandfather’s grave — not because I have a passion for graves, but because this earlier Nicholas Grimshaw is buried in Carnmoney district, an area where an agrarian secret society, the “Hearts of Steel”, flourished in the 18th century. I have located her brother Ramsay’s florid masonic memorial in nearby Oberon, and suspect Grimshaw impoverished herself even more to pay for that piece of grotesquerie. I think back to Port Moresby, where I found William Little’s grave. It was the wet season, and I fought my way through knee-high, sharp grass. Horrid, newer graves of Christianized Papuans surrounded me, photographs of the dead smiling benignly underneath their plastic covers in the drowning tropical rain. I found an enormous headstone, the inscription almost effaced, but I could make it out. Whatever the relationship between this woman and that man — the governor’s protegee, the governor’s pimp — the epitaph reads blamelessly about a Brave Pioneer and a True Friend.
“What?” says the Monumental Mason, the last in my cast of characters, and perhaps the least-expected. I may not ordinarily drink tea with generals, or stronger stuff with `terrorists,’ or nothing whatsoever with prison governors, but this is even more strange. This is not the 20th century. I have somehow wandered into a 19th century script, or perhaps some edifying painting, portraying a mournful couple in a graveyard: entitled “The Redemption”, perhaps? However, the Monumental Mason, who offers me the last in this endless string of cups of tea, regards it as the height of normality to live in a cemetery, and speaks affectionately of the dead as if he knew them all personally. He certainly knows their whereabouts! No, not heaven or hell, where they are buried. “But this may be difficult”, I explain, gratefully accepting the tea, for it is a cold, sodden, dark, rainy day in Bathurst, and I remember how many of those days Beatrice Grimshaw must have endured, with only enough money to…”You see”, I continue, “her grave is not marked. I have every reason to believe there is not a headstone.” “Oh that”, he says, stroking his cat. “Nothing simpler, if you can tell me her name, and when she died. It would help too, if you had any idea which section of the cemetery she is buried in.” “The paupers. Roman Catholic.” “Right!” He begins burying his nose in some antiquated ledgers.
“We’ll find her!” “No, please! Just the site of her grave! I don’t think I could face a ghost just now!” “Quite so”, he agrees soothingly. “Cemeteries are rather upsetting places, what? Anyway, the details…” “I take a deep breath. “Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw. July 1953.” Some minutes later, we find the site, having wandered through what the Monumental Mason no doubt thinks of as streets, lanes, alleys. He is quite satisfied that this is the grave. I am not satisfied, however, remembering all those which she, as a true neo-Victorian, decorated. For there is, as I thought, no grave to decorate. Just a plot of grass, gone to seed. I therefore perform one of the most uncharacteristic acts of my life, and ask the Monumental Mason if would carve a modest headstone? I have just had a windfall of scholarship money, so —
“But of course!” he replies. “Only why should you pay for it, when the Bathurst Municipality will?”
I am so grateful, for she should not be here, all alone, all unidentified. The only difficulty the Monumental Mason — I sense his hands itching to begin chiselling marble — can think of, if that since I am not a relative, and there are no descendants, how are we to know how the inscription should read?
But that’s easy. I didn’t spend all those hours in Somerset House reading wills for nothing. All we need do is describe her as she described herself.
Born Ireland, 1870. Died Australia, 1953.
So why don’t I start driving back to Brisbane, instead of sitting on a most uncomfortable marble bench, in the rain? What else am I supposed to do? Tear off my hair and weave a mourning ring for her? Why can’t I get back into the 20th century? Because I sense that Grimshaw requires something else. Since the rain is turning into a downpour, I flee to the nearest shelter — a tree weeping over a lugubrious tombstone, where an angel is bewailing all sorts of worthy people, proclaiming the usual pieties about resurrection and life everlasting. What twaddle, I think, finding a dry patch underneath the willow. But then I realize; indeed, how could anyone surrounded by thousands of stone angels not realize? The tombstones all round are engraved with superstitious nonsense about crucifixions. A crucifixion, I remember, is followed by a resurrection. “I could never forget her name”, an elderly female interviewee in Dublin says, “because I loved her stories.” Nor is she the only one. Many people are only too glad to talk about her, because they remembered her stories. But it is not the memories of octogenarians that interest me so much as the reactions of my Papuan students. They scarcely noticed Grimshaw’s racism — stale news to them in a colonial writer! What they honed in upon immediately was her love for their country, and they devoured her books. So now I know exactly what to do. I hope Beatrice, wherever she may be, enjoys her tombstone; but I know what is more important, leap into my car, and start off on a journey that takes me to Brisbane, Sydney, Belfast, London, anywhere. Anywhere I can bedevil a publisher. Anywhere I can get some of her work re-published. I simply hope, since this journey began in Belfast and ended in Bathurst, that her best stories will be re-published in Australia. Then, I think, she will rest in peace.
This paper is for the late Professor E. R. R. Green, Institute of Irish Studies, and for Prof. James Grimshaw and his wife, Dr. Grimshaw, Chemistry Dept., Queen’s University of Belfast.
(1). Dictionary of Catholic Authors, 294.
(2). F. West, ed., Selected Letters of Hubert Murray (Melbourne: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), 47.
(3). To refer to Ireland as England’s oldest colony is a convention requiring slight modification; the Isle of Man may be regarded as the first. Although I refer loosely to 19th century Ireland as a colony, this is a usage which Grimshaw’s family, at that stage of Ulster’s development, would probably have rejected. Nonetheless, eight centuries of British dominion over Ireland provided Great Britain with a training — and battle-ground for conquering other alien lands. That my preference in regarding Grimshaw’s background as colonized is not wholly fanciful, may be supported by the Guardian Weekly which entitled its leader “A Foreign Land”, and commented in its opening paragraph: Anyone accustomed to wandering round the…Third World would find little in Ulster that is unfamiliar. Guerrillas, suspended democracy, armies and gunmen on the streets, unthinkable behavior in prisons, questionable and questioned frontiers, squalid housing, grinding poverty, indifferent multinationals, once vibrant economies in visible decline…The uniqueness of Northern Ireland is that it lies, not south of the equator, but just off the shores of Britain. (24 Feb 1980, p. 4)
(4). Telegraph [Belfast], (1 July 1953); Daily News and Leader [London], (3 Sept. 1912), 9; Sydney Morning Herald Women’s Supplement (13 Feb. 1939).
(5). Brian Cleeve’s Dictionary of Irish Writers — Fiction (1966), in addition to the incorrect birthdate (one of the easier matters to verify in a biography studded with tantalising gaps) reiterates an oft-repeated, but nonetheless misleading, claim that Grimshaw was the first white woman to penetrate several areas of Borneo and New Guinea. This feat may have its source in the 1922 Australian or the 1928 British Who’s Who (“the first white woman to ascend the notorious Sepik and the Fly River”, p. 1242). Such claims presumably emanate in part from authors themselves, or from their agents. Grimshaw’s quasi-autobiographical Isles of Adventure (1930), the last travel book she wrote, lends partial credence to these claims. But she makes it clear, for instance that she was the first white woman to accompany parties of missionaries and Government officials or Papuan police to these remote areas.
(6). Francis Grierson, “Beatrice Grimshaw”, Bookman 62 (1922), 123.
(7). Adelaide Register (4 July 1922).
(8). Fuller description of Grimshaw’s “ideal biographical legend” may be found in my Ph.D. dissertation, “For Love and Money: Beatrice Grimshaw’s Passage to Papua”, Rhodes University, 1986.
(9). See, for example, “To Myself”, Irish Monthly (1983), 654.
(10). Film Weekly [Sydney] (21 June 1928), 4.
(11). Journal of Pacific History 12 (1977), 161.
(12). I would like to thank Eileen Dwyer, Archivist for John Fairfax and Sons, for helping me to speculate how influential Grimshaw’s articles for the Sydney Morning Herald may have been. The paper’s average daily circulation in 1905 was 75, 225; in 1906, 77, 766; 1907, 80, 208; 1908, 87, 966; 1909, 93, 733; 1910, 97, 208; 1911, 103, 641. Grimshaw wrote for the Herald for most of her career, but these are the important years when her Pacific reportage, When the Red Gods Call, and Vaiti of the Islands were published. These pre-World War I figures were not audited, but obtained from an old office ledger.
(13). FCI was handsomely published and liberally advertised by its first publisher, Eveleigh Nash, who paid forty pounds advance on 15% royalties for British book rights. It went into an American edition in the same year, as well as Bell’s Colonial Editions of Standard Works. A popular edition at about one shilling was published by Nelson in 1916, with rights for the United Kingdom, the British Islands, Colonies and Dependencies excluding Canada, and an advance for Grimshaw of 30 pounds. A school edition may also have been published. Nelson acquired the rights to publish one in 1918 for an outright fee of 30 pounds which was paid to Grimshaw on 3 Oct. 1919. Perhaps the book’s chauvinism had kept its appeal alive during WWI; the political interests it served may well have led to its being deemed suitable as a set-book.
Later in the year SSS was published by Hutchinson, whose interest in colonial editions was so great that he travelled around the world three times and met “every” book-seller in the “Colonies” (“A Chat with Mr. G. Thompson Hutchinson”, Publishers’ Circular 1905, 51-52). It became a bestseller immediately, according to the Daily Chronicle (“Best-sellers, Oct. 1907, 3). By Dec. 1911 the Spectator advertised it in a one shilling Net Library of Standard Copyright Books. It was also issued in Nelson’s “Popular Libraries for the Holidays. The Most Famous Books of Biography and Travel” (Publishers’ Circular, July 1911). Hutchinson then published a “cheaper edition” (omitting the photographs), again for one shilling. SSS was also published in the States by Lippincott, at $3.50 net.
(14). Since “ideology” is a notoriously slippery concept, I shall use John Plamenatz’ practical-functional definition throughout:
[F]or beliefs to be ideological…they must be shared by a group of people…must concern matters important to the group, and must…serve to hold it together or to justify activities and attitudes characteristic of its members…[T]rue beliefs can also be functional in these ways. What makes beliefs ideological…is their constituting a system of beliefs which is…accepted regardless of whether or not its constituent beliefs satisfy the criteria of truth (Ideology, London: Macmillan, 1971, 31).
(15). Publisher and Bookseller (2 Feb. 1907); Athaneum (12 FCeb. 1907), 133; Outlook (3 Aug. 1907), 150; Saturday Review (24 Aug. 1907), 240-41.
(16). New York Saturday Review of Books (11 Jan. 1908), 21.
(17). Daily Chronicle (10 Oct. 1907), 3.
(18). Manchester Guardian (21 Oct. 1907), 5.
(19). Quoted in La Nauze, Vol. II, 441.
(20). Morning Post (9 Oct. 1907), 5.
(21). Kipling, quoted on p. 1.
(22). SSS, 114.
(23). SSS, 310-11. Susan Greenstein notes in “Sarah Lee: the Woman Traveller and the Literature of Empire” (in Dorsey et al., Design and Intent in African Literature, 143): “To the people they met, women like Sarah Lee and Mary Kingsley…were simultaneously less than female (unhusbanded) and honorary males”. Catherine Barnes Stevenson (Victorian Women Travel Writers in Africa) further comments that “the sexually ambiguous position” occupied by women “[g]ranted the license to behave like men at moments when `typically’ female conduct would have been not only ludicrous, but dangerous…” She understands however, why women like Grimshaw, however much they enjoyed their honorary male status overseas, anxiously sought to prove to the public at home that they had remained “self-consciously female in appearance and behavior” (4-5). It was one thing to “Cross the Line” by boat; quite another to transgress gender norms back `home’.
(24). SSS, 321.
(25). FCI, 222.
(26). My thanks are due to Hugh Laracy for checking the Colonial Secretary’s papers. Item CSO 2880/1905 is a minute dated 3 July 1905, in which Grimshaw states that 40 pounds would suffice her to write a book as a “a general advertisement for the colony”. She then resorts to a threat, however diplomatically put, that she is on the point of leaving Fiji, but would stay if the 40 pounds were granted. She further points out that the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand had paid 50 pounds for her writings about Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. Laracy notes that Grimshaw’s memorandum was apparently submitted to the Colonial Secretary by representatives of commercial interests in Fiji. The negative reply which was sent to three of them, once filed at 2846/05, has been lost. Laracy suggests that the interests underwriting FCI were the Suva Chamber of Commerce, the Planters’ Association, and the Levuka Chamber of Commerce. Grimshaw was not a liar, but she certainly did exaggerate, so her later statement to Deakin that im Thurn was pleased with her work about Fiji may be viewed as true, but in retrospect. Grimshaw’s correspondence with Deakin may be found in the following depositories: Ltr. to Alfred Deakin, 1 Oct. 1908, Natl. Library of Australia, Ms. 1540/2157-9, “Correspondence concerning Hubert Murray”; Ltr. to Alfred Deakin, 1 Oct. 1908, Natl. Library of Australia, Ms. 1540/15/2419; Ltr. to Alfred Deakin, 1 Oct. 1908, Australian Archives, CRS Al (Dept. of Home and Territories, Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1903-1908.
(27). Caroline Ralston, Grass Huts and Warehouses: Pacific Beach Communities of the Nineteenth Century (Canberra: ANU Press, 1977) 165-166, 193.
(28). J. Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Femae Emigration, 1830-1914 (Croom Helm, 1979), 192.
(29). Dorothy Middleton Victoria Lady Travellers (Carole) 3-4, 9-10.
(30). C.B. Stevenson Victoria Women Travel Writers in Africa (Boston: Twayne English Authors Series, 1982).
(31). See Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1975).
(32). D. Vogel “A Lexicon Rhetoricae for `Journey’ Literature”, College English 36 (1974), 184-9.
(33). J. Trollope, Britannia’s Daughters (London: Hutchinson, 1983).
(34). S. Greenstein, “Sarah Lee: The Woman Traveller and the Literature of Empire”, in David Dorsey, et al., Design and Intent in African Literature (Washington: Three Continents Press, 1981), 134, 143.
(35). Stevenson, 9, 9-10.
(36). FCI, 66.
(37). I. Dinesen, Out Of Africa,  (Penguin, 1981), 342.
(38). W. Howarth, “The Country of Willa Cather”, National Geographic 162, (1982), 81.
(39). Stevenson, II.
(40). V. Woolf, Three Guineas  (Penguin, 1981) 125.
(41). “Maev” wrote, reviewing Kipling’s “The Song of the English”, that “the English nature” could possess “real greatness and strength”, but this would appear to be damning with faint praise, since she immediately followed with a reference to “our passionate resentment at its long-standing cruelty and neglect towards ourselves…”. Her conclusion is a typical piece of juggling: “`[T]he Song of the English” is a useful reminder…of the really admirable qualities possessed by the race we do not love” (TSR, 23 Jan. 1897; 81).
(42). T. Olsen, Silences, 42.
(43). The Author (1 March 1897), 258.
(44). Review of E. Rentoul Esler’s The Wardlaws, TSR (6 June 1896), 890.
(45). Gisela Breitling, “Speech, Silence and the Discourse of Art. On Conventions of Speech and Feminine Consciousness”, in G. Ecker, ed., Feminist Aesthetics (London: Women’s Press, 1985), 169-70.
(46). “Maev”, rev. of The Seven Seas, TSR (23 Jan. 1897), 81-2.
(47). C. Cruise O’Brien, States of Ireland (Cananda, 1974), 47.
(48). L. Whitney, Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English Popular Literature of the Eighteenth Century (NY: Octagon, 1965), 2.
(49). R. Evans, K. Saunders and C. Cronin, Exclusion, Exploitation and Extermination: Race Relations in Colonial Queensland (Sydney: ANZ, 1975), 15.
(50). “Papua and the Western Pacific”, United Empire: The Royal Colonial Inst. Journal 13, 524-5.
(51). Nobody’s Island (1917), 265. Mark Plummer, in The Sands of Oro, is “of no class at all that one could define, and no particular occupation, unless — Yes, of course, he had discovered rivers, and found mountain ranges…[But] who were his people? Probably absolutely nobody” (1924; 28).
(52). Nobody’s Island, 233.
(53). Nobody’s Island, 73, 233, 75, 202.
(54). See Susan Gardner, et al., Critical Arts Monograph 1, “Breaker Morant”. (Centre for Cultural Studies, Univ. of Natal, Durban). Sold out, but available on request from the Director, Prof. Keyan G. Tomaselli, Univ. of Natal, King Geo. Vth Ave., 4001 Durban, South Africa.
(55). “In a South Sea Goldrush”, (17 May 1922), n.p.
(56). For an obituary concerning Little, see the Papuan Courier, 29 Oct. 1920. The contributed “appreciation” in the adjoining column sounds very like Grimshaw.
Photograph (Painting of Whitehouse, the Irish Grimshaws)
Indexing (document details)
Subjects: Discrimination, Human relations, International, Interpersonal communication, Journalism, Journalists, Literature, Personal relationships, Prejudice, Racism, Reporters, Women
Author(s): Gardner, Susan
Document types: Feature
Document features: Photograph
Publication title: Hecate. St. Lucia: Nov 30, 1987. Vol. 13, Iss. 2; pg. 31
Source type: Periodical
ProQuest document ID: 915346211
Text Word Count 18767
Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/pqdlink?did=915346211&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=48776&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Evans, J., 1993, Beatrice Grimshaw and Australia: White Women in the Pacific: Olive Pink Society Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 1 (June 1993), p. 34-39.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by Evans, 1993
Julie Evans apparently authored a dissertation and subsequently published an article6 – in 1993 – on the significance of Beatrice’s work, particularly as it relates to colonialism and feminism. The article is shown below.
BEATRICE GRIMSHAW AND AUSTRALIA
– WHITE WOMEN IN THE PACIFIC
Women travellers and travel writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been the focus of feminist y attention in recent years. Some of this scholarship has been directed towards retrieving the contributions of these women as active agents in their respective fields of literature, anthropology, botany etc. and has mirrored the important retrieval process which has been undertaken in many other areas of feminist scholarship. As a result, the role of women travel writers in fields of inquiry formerly recorded as male has been identified and articulated.
However, the significance of the meaning attributed to the contribution of women travel writers has been viewed by different commentators in different ways. The quest of some critics ‘eager to co-opt these women for one ideological discourse or another’ (Kroller 1990:88) needs to be tempered by a deeper analysis of the actual significance of their gender within colonial relationships. This is particularly so in considering the extent to which their use of gender as a tool of analysis was compromised by their dual positioning as women who were ‘both subordinates in colonial hierarchies and…. active agents of imperial culture in their own right’ (Stoler 1991:51).
In examining the historical connections between feminism and racism in the West, Vron Ware alerts us to both the difficulty and the necessity of addressing the specific complexities of the category ‘woman’ in this particular context. She argues that an essential part of negotiating productive future relationships between women across cultures, class, and race, is to try to come to an understanding of the ways in which such relationships have been negotiated in the past. Women travellers and travel writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide an obvious forum for observing and analysing such interactions.
While some of these travellers identified the `welfare’ of indigenous women as a primary focus of their activities, others travelled much more explicitly as adventurers. Some recent studies have attempted to focus on the extent to which any of them had ever determined upon or were willing or able to interrogate or escape essentially masculinist and imperialist discourses (Ware 1992, Haggis 1990, Burton 1990, Paxton 1990). These studies are of particular interest for several reasons. First, they allow an increased understanding of the historical periods themselves; second, they explore the complexities of the negotiations of the category ‘woman’ with race, culture and class; and thirdly, they reflect upon the question of any individual’s capacity to transgress the categories of the ‘familiar and natural’ (Torgovnik 1990) through which culture is constituted. The extent to which individual subjectivity is able to transgress those familiar and natural constitutive discourses has been a central concern of feminist academic debate.
It is only relatively recently, however, that the ‘dangerous’ familiarity of race has been identified as a more urgent concern in both feminist and other understandings of the imperial past and present. Within such a framework, it becomes increasingly clear that while women’s travel narratives sometimes personify and articulate a woman’s personal journey of liberation from patriarchal oppression back home, that ‘Self-assertion in a Victorian traveller did not automatically imply that she extended the same principle to others’ (Kroller 1990:89; Stevenson 1982:2). Least of all, to those indigenous women against whom the situation of white European women was so often compared.
In the context of the study of Orientalism, for example, Perera notes the practice of an ‘oriental misogyny’ which she defines as:
sensationalized Western representations of womens, conditions in a domain demarcated as ‘the Orient’. These representations of misogyny focused mainly on practices like sati, polygamy and parda that positioned ‘oriental’ women as passive victims of their cruel and tyrannical male masters, as against their more enlightened idea of gender relations supposedly existing in the West (Perera 1991:135).
Perera’s book, Reaches of Empire, is concerned with constructions of empire and gender in what have been regarded as ‘domestic’ novels. She suggests that ‘oriental misogyny’ served not only to legitimate empire, but also as a means of interrogating the position of white women within patriarchy. In this way, she argues, the counter-discourse provided by feminist theory comes to use the vocabulary of ‘oriental misogyny’, thereby reflecting its grounding within the imperialist ‘master’ discourse.
Perera’s insights into the complexities of race and gender hierarchies can be used to investigate what might be termed the primitive misogyny reflected in the work of Beatrice Grimshaw. Grimshaw was a prolific travel writer, columnist, publicist and novelist who wrote extensively about the Pacific at the beginning of the twentieth century. While the way she chose to live her own life represented an explicit challenge to traditional English notions of femininity, her writings clearly illustrate Kroller’s argument about the ways in which the self-assertion of many women travellers did not extend to the colonised women they wrote about.
Grimshaw was born in Northern Ireland in 1870 and the young Beatrice took advantage of the opportunities available to the ‘New Woman’ of the 1890s. She partook of higher education and, in contradiction to contemporary stereotypical notions of femininity, asserted her individuality while firmly denying any ideological affinity with feminism (Gardner 1987/8:34; Laracy & Laracy: 156). Grimshaw first worked as a journalist in Dublin, later moving to London where in 1902 she became responsible for organising the Cunard shipping company’s literary department (Laracy & Laracy:157). The next few years were spent travelling, acting as a publicist for government and commercial interests and producing nearly thirty newspaper articles for The Daily Graphic, Sydney Morning Herald and Pearson’s Magazine (Gardner:40).
1907 saw the publication of her ‘impressions’ of her recent travels – In The Strange South Seas, and From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands – and a novel, Vaiti of the Islands. A short visit to Papua, via Australia, in 1907 was to see her establish her home there for the next twenty-seven years, during which time she became a well-known figure in colonial life. In 1936 she eventually retired and moved to Bathurst, Australia . She died there in 1953, aged 83.
Grimshaw was a pivotal figure in the colonial society developing in Papua in the first quarter of the twentieth century. That period saw an increasing self-consciousness in colonial settings (Kuklick 1991:284-5). The colonisers were sufficiently numerous to become more inward-looking and more eager to create and consume representations of themselves which conformed to metropolitan standards and identities, no matter how these may have conflicted with colonial realities.
Grimshaw’s prodigious output was central to these processes in colonial Papua. She published approximately forty books in all, of which sixteen popular novels ‘were set in Papua or the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, nine in the Pacific Islands, with a further ten volumes of short stories and occasional non-fiction, including Catholic mission promotion pamphlets’ (Gardner 1987/8:37). The Adorable Outcast was a 1928 motion picture loosely based on her 1922 novel, Conn of the Coral Seas, many of her stories were serialised in the Australian Women’s Weekly, while through her occasional world tours and radio broadcasts, she reached an even wider audience.
The popularity of Grimshaw’s work is particularly significant in the light of Kuklick’s observations concerning the importance of such contemporary representations of life in the colonies during this increasingly narcissistic period. How colonists represented themselves to themselves became as necessary to developing colonial identities as how they represented the Other. Colonials ‘images of themselves, and images of the Other against which their sense of self was often articulated, were eagerly consumed. Grimshaw’s work was particularly popular amongst the European women living in the Solomons (Boutilier 1984:191). Newspapers were similarly significant (Thompson 1980:4-5).
Whether in the form of travel writing, journalism, the novel or short stories, it is clear that the role of popular writing was pivotal in shaping and reflecting popular colonial discourses on both Self and Other.
Grimshaw’s writing is important because it was influential on several of these fronts. Against the imperialist reality of her world, (and the more pragmatic necessity of supporting herself financially), the explicitly political nature of much of her work is readily observable. While the implicit political nature of her work will inform the rest of the discussion in this article, the explicit politics of her role can be seen in Grimshaw’s letter concerning the New Hebrides to Alfred Deakin in 1908:
….I am most anxious to be of use to the Australian side in any way I can. I should, however, be glad of any advice that you can give me as to the points… of importance to impress on the public mind. 1 am acting as occasional correspondent (by special arrangement) for The Times, and T have active and intelligent agents in London, also in Sydney, who place anything I may send them in the most effective manner. In fact, when I need it, I have a very satisfactory system of disseminating any desired information of impression widely through the press of the world, not necessarily under my own signature (Gardner 1987/8:48).
It is at this point that I would like to introduce another element into this study: a consideration of the extent to which the establishment of white female identity in Grimshaw’s writing can be viewed as a metaphor for the establishment of a white Australian identity in the Pacific region. For, like Stoler’s European women in the colonies, Australia occupied an ambiguous position as both subordinate in colonial hierarchies and as active agent of imperial culture in its own right. Grimshaw’s travel writing in, for example, From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands, can be read as a reflection not only of a white, European, and middle class perspective, but also as a metaphor for Australia’s developing sense of national identity.
Grimshaw can be shown to have many formal links with Australia both acting on behalf of Australian political and economic interests in Melanesia and in coming to identify herself increasingly as ‘Australian’ (Gardner 1987/8). But it is within the actual text of her work that Grimshaw assumes an even closer affinity with developing notions of ‘Australian’ national identity within the region. I have argued elsewhere (Evans 1993) that despite her avowed anti-feminist stance, Beatrice Grimshaw’s novels actively assert and contest the position of white women within her own patriarchial culture.
While very much a part of imperialist discourse, Grimshaw’s position as both female and Irish (and increasingly as ‘Australian’) and her straddling of the positions of coloniser and colonised, make her a compelling study. In asserting an imperialist ideology which is fundamentally patriarchal she both asserts and contests her own status as colonised – as woman, as Irish and as Australian. Her contestation of prevailing notions of femininity, particularly within the confines of marriage, pervades her novels and is at times surprisingly explicit in its subversiveness. In the novels, however, ultimately her ‘feminist’ discourse surrenders to the patriarchal discourse on ROMANTIC LOVE and once her independent, feisty woman hero meets her ideal man she quite happily and willingly submits to the inferior status accorded to her future life. True love makes submission and inferiority worthwhile.
While it is unclear how contemporary commercial constraints may have influenced the plots of her novels, the antinomy within her texts seems to reflect the antinomy within her own subject positions. Although rumoured to have been engaged at one time, Grimshaw never married, she clearly lived a life of adventure and some daring. She flouted the conventions of the day, she was articulate and confident in her opinions. While both her life and her works challenge the patriarchal mould of the typical woman her biographers record her as seeing herself as explicitly anti-feminist (Gardener 1977; Laracy & Laracy 1977) and despite her colonial sympathies, her adventures are clearly framed in support of the imperialist project.
Clearly Grimshaw’s ‘feminism’ as expressed in the text of her novels is problematic. Not only does it ultimately assume the acceptable and safe interrogation of patriarchy so Common in Mills and Boon publications (and indeed, some of her early novels were published by Mills and Boon), but more importantly, her interrogation of women’s position is explicitly contingent upon a notion of woman = white woman (Harraway 1992:93). Her blindness to any notions of a sisterhood, or even the possibility of shared experience of women cross-culturally is firmly embedded in her complicity in the imperial (and patriarchal) project. Her sense of self as white and British (=European =Australian) and ultimately as female, white and British depends upon, amongst other things, a notion of an Other as inferior. And for Grimshaw, the notion of Other is not a textured one which might have held the possibility of ‘escaping’ her imperialist subjectivity and exploring a common womanhood. Unlike some of the women travellers of her time who openly, if not unproblematically, asserted their allegiance with a notion of womanhood other than white womanhood (Ware 1992), Grimshaw was never in danger of being `disloyal to civilisation’ (Rich 1979:306) in such a way.
Her travel writing, no less than her novels, reveals her complicity in the imperialist task of representing the indigenous population as inferior. Not only her own but Australia’s sense of identity is established against the representation of the inferiority of both neighbouring and domestic indigenous cultures. In terms of using gender as a tool of analysis, the assertion of indigenous women’s position within indigenous cultures is primarily used as a further indication of both the superiority of white culture in general and of white women in particular.
Australia’s role as coloniser, of both her own indigenous population and of parts of Melanesia, has been reflected in a range of discourses. Beatrice Grimshaw’s From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands is a pertinent illustration of such a colonising stance reflected in popular discourse and begins to express a distinctively Australian, as opposed to European, discourse on the primitive. As such, a study of Grimshaw’s texts, including both her travel writing and her fiction, adds to the existing literature on the extent to which whiteness, Europeanness and masculinity have informed Australian discourses on national identity (cf. Thompson 1980, Lake 1986, White 1981, Beckett 1988).
In the travelogue, Grimshaw begins by firmly establishing the distance between the Old World and the New. She demonstrates her ambiguous position as both coloniser and colonised by valorising the New World in terms of its freshness and difference, while. elsewhere claiming other differences as evidence of the superiority of the Old (=British=European =White=Australian). We hear of, for example, ‘…sparkling Melbourne …Sydney, bright and eager and curiously young (where have all the greybeards hidden themselves? or are they all at home in the old grey lands that suit their wearied souls?’ (p.10). And also of
the connecting link between Eastern and Western Pacific. East of Fiji, life is one long lotus-eating dream, stirred only by the occasional parties of pleasure, feasting, lovemaking, dancing, and a very little cultivating work. Music is the soul of the people, beauty of face and movement is much more the rule than the exception, and friendliness to strangers is carried almost to excess. Westward of the Fijis lie the dark, wicked cannibal groups of the Solomons, Banks and New Hebrides, where life is more like a nightmare than a dream, murder stalks openly in broad daylight, the people are nearer to monkeys than to human beings in aspect, and music and dancing are little practised, and in the rudest possible state. (p.14- my italics)
This Polynesian/Melanesian distinction has been identified in several recent works1 and is clearly reflected in Grimshaw’s texts, in both her novels and her travel writing. Such distinctions served to reinforce both social Darwinist notions of white superiority, and the prevailing aesthetic which saw those nearest to the pinnacle of whiteness as possessing the greatest possibility of ‘beauty’. Those further down the scale, darker and more ‘primitive’, had no place in the aesthetic hierarchy apart from providing a position against which others could claim their beauty.
The civilising influence of the whites could be measured against this same social Darwinist scale. Hence those people who had been able to overcome their cannibal past became increasingly acceptable. The Fijian, for example, once ‘the most determined cannibal known to savage history’, eventually became a member of a country ‘advancing rapidly towards a better state of civilization …. due to the untiring efforts of the missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, and the influence of the whites themselves…’ (p.16), while the cause of law and order in the islands benefitted much, ‘since the strong hand of British authority hasextended its powers so far’ (p.19).
Such acceptability, however, in no way extended to equality and a little later in the travelogue, Beatrice Grimshaw hastens to add that:
the Fijian’s civilization is only varnish-deep. Cannibalism has been abandoned, cruelty and torture given up, an ample amount of clothing universally adopted, yet the Fijian of 1905, freed from the white control and example that have moulded all his life, would spring back like an unstrung bow to the thoughts and ways of his fathers. This is a truth doubted by no man who knows the inner life of Fiji (p.39).
All of which is a considerable contrast to her 1911 description of Rossel Island natives in her novel, When The Red Gods Call, as ‘talk[ing] now in a hideous tongue, like the snappings and snarlings of dogs, quite unlike anything I had ever heard before’ (p.94).
It was not just the people but the landscape itself which could evoke the evil inherent in the primitiveness of the country, in its unexplored, unfamiliar, non-Europeanised and, above all, unfamiliar state. Again, the association of blackness with evil, and whiteness with purity, is paramount:
The black, monstrous peaks gloomed about us sinister, strange and evil in the grey-green dusk, the ten-foot reed grass waved its melancholy heads above us like funeral plumes; my three wild-eyed Fijans tramped silently in the rear. Among these very peaks, and in this valley that we were traversing, countless murders and ambushes had taken place, and cannibal feasts had been held, in the stormy ‘seventies’.
And further, ‘…no white woman had ever before ventured through these regions alone…’ (p. 41).
In these passages, Grimshaw assumes the traditionally male role of explorer. Indeed, she felt ‘absolutely inflated with pride, and felt that Stanley, Burton and Speke were not to be named with myself’ (p.33). She assumed also the characteristic masculine tropes of arrival narratives which utilise the language of sexual penetration which Kroller finds so startling, considering that women travel writers so often went abroad to escape the demands of their families regarding gender roles and marriage. Grimshaw clearly establishes herself in this vein. She revelled in
the first day in a foreign port …. the first night in the tropics under the silvered palms and the purple, warm-breasted sky – ….the whole responsibility (if the expedition lying upon one’s own single pair of shoulders—- Such first times possess a fresh ness and a keen delight of their own, as perfect as first love itself (p.34).
There are endless other examples of typically imperialist discourse in From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands often directed towards articulating ‘what value the country still might be to possible settlers’ (p.31). But 1 want to concentrate on Grimshaw’s use of ‘primitive misogyny’ in establishing the sense of self for her white, British/European, and colonial audiences. Grimshaw explicitly uses her perception of the plight of indigenous women as further evidence of the inferiority of primitive races, mirroring the common nineteenth and even twentieth century view that the status of women will be secondary to that of men in every society, and that therefore, the low status of the women reflects the to”, status of the society in general (Evans-Pritchard 1965).
It is not often that the Fijian woman gets a chance of making herself prominent, or getting the best of anything; she is simply a drudge and a slave, as,,, rule, eating the leavings of the men, doing all the. hardest of the work, and pushed into a corner at once, if such a rarity as a white visitor passes through, because it is not modest for her to talk to, or even look at, men, also because she is a dog, a slave, and does not count (p.44).
Far from empathising with their inferior position, Grimshaw goes on to claim:
One young woman, shoe-brush haired, wild-eyed and long of tooth, caressed my arm in a passion of delight, even going so far as to set her teeth gently in the flesh, and exclaim longingly, ‘Vinaka na kakana!’ (what good food). I knew that she was too young to have been a cannibal, and that her exclamation was only a compliment- somewhat left-handed, it is true – to my British skin; but the remark was interesting as an unconscious outbreak of heredity. The voting lady’s parents, a fine old couple residing in the next house, had, without any doubt at all, enjoyed many a hearty meal of human limbs, in the good old days, when the forearm was always considered the choicest and
tenderest bit (p.44).
Moving on to the New Hebrides, Grimshaw discovers ‘ugly creatures with flat, savage features and unkempt hair …silent, sullen, ugly… gorilla-like creatures'(p.138) who are ‘almost devoid of gratitude, almost bare of natural affection; ready to avenge the smallest slight by a bloody murder, but too cowardly to meet an enemy face to face’ (p.139). She goes on to repeat extracts from her letters printed in The Sydney Morning Herald among which are her perceptions of the women of the New Hebrides:
The New Hebridean wife is very hard worked, and not too kindly treated, but she has one source of satisfaction, as a rule, the price that was paid for her. ‘I cost twelve pigs,’ Mrs. Frizzyhead No. l boasts to Mrs. Frizzyhead No. 4, who is a new acquisition, and inclined to be cheeky No. 4, who is painting her forehead jet black with burnt cocoanut, and drawing a line of red ochre down her nose, pauses in her toilet to say contemptuously, ‘I cost fifteen!’ Mrs. Flatface, the sole joy of old Mr. Flatface, from the bush, here chips in: ‘I cost twenty, and two of them were big, as big as a whaleboat from the steamer’!
The Frizzyhead ladies subside, and wait till they can catch young Mrs. Blackleg coming up from the yam plantations, with a baby in her arms and a hundredweight of yams on her back, to revenge themselves by telling her that she only cost ten pigs, and is a low creature anyhow (p.159).
Later on, Grimshaw describes the women of Malekula as ‘bent and misshapen with the enormous loads they are obliged to carry, and their expression is, if possible, more degraded than that of the men. Pleasure of any kind is a thing unknown to them’ (pp.177-8). Grimshaw gives one of these women a pink ribbon which she ties around her neck and a ‘sort of sacred joy seemed to overflow her whole countenance, and lift her far above the things of common earth. She seemed to feel ennobled and exalted by this wonderful thing that had happened. That she should have had something given to her – she, a woman! – and that it should be this marvellous piece of loveliness, this nameless thing of beauty!’ (p. 178).
Beatrice Grimshaw’s account of these women clearly reflects her primary identity as imperialist. She refers to her sense of responsibility for the colonised early in the travelogue as ‘the white man’s burden (or, in this case, the white woman’s)’ (p.65) and such is the extent of the significance of her own gender in her writing that her femaleness becomes simply a more biologically accurate adjective to use when describing the person who is employing the imperialist gaze.
Apart from her view of women as passive victims of cruel and tyrannical men, her seeming preoccupation with the sensational reinforces the ‘primitive misogyny’ foregounded in Perera’s use of the term ‘oriental misogyny’. In highlighting the practices of cannibalism and polygamy, as well as the women’s ‘degraded condition’ and the cruelty of the menfolk, Grimshaw not only uses the vocabulary of primitive misogyny but also fulfills the role ascribed to travellers’ accounts by Kuklick. ‘If (nonspecialist readers) wished to be entertained as well as to be reassured of the merits of their own way of life, they might prefer to turn to travellers’ accounts. These offered thrilling reports of explorers’ physical hero] sm in the wilds of the Empire – and represented a form of pornography that could be openly admitted to polite households, describing behaviour forbidden in Western society with a particularity of detail’.
The imperial gaze reflected in travelogues such as From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands and in many of the novels, short stories and newspaper articles she produced, places Grimshaw firmly in the camp of the colonisers. Her interest in representing the position of women in indigenous societies lies in the extent to which their perceived inferior position vis a vis their menfolk serves to reinforce notions of white =British=Australian superiority. Her equation of Australia= British is fundamentally unquestioned in the text. Although she may consider Australia as purely colonial (p.122), in the imperial hierarchy she nevertheless sees Australia as representing civilisation. In relation to the Tanna people she states, ‘Whatever they may have gathered of civilization in Australia stays with them but a little while after they leave’ (p. 206); and later, that:
1 wished most earnestly, that I could see the strong hand of Great Britain or her Colonies grasp the bridle of this wretched country (New Hebrides), as unfit to be left to its own guidance as any runaway horse, and pull it firmly and determinedly into the road of civilization and law-abiding peace. The missionaries have done what they can; but the hand of a strong Government could do much more (p.220).
Furthermore, ‘nothing British is ever wrong; and therefore, if an Australian – or any Australian – had dropped from heaven at that moment, he would, like a certain famous cocoa, have been extremely grateful and comforting’ (p.222).
Grimshaw’s travel writing in From Fiji To The Cannibal Islands is an important and illuminating study. When positioned against her novels in which the predicament of white women within traditional western patriarchal marriages is so finely interrogated, Grimshaw’s travel writing reveals her incapacity (and unwillingness?) to escape the masculinist and imperialist discourses when speaking of indigenous women. Furthermore, her constitution of Australian identity within the text as superior=white=British=European against the untextured primitive Other, reflects many of the discourses shaping emerging national identities at the time. Beatrice Grimshaw’s texts are by no means an isolated example of a specifically Australian primitivist discourse. White Australian constructions of Aboriginality have largely been expressed within such a framework and the role of literature has been significant in both constituting and reflecting popular and ‘official’ discourses (Beckett 1988; Healy 1978).
The extent to which Australia’s dual positioning in the imperial/ colonial paradigm mirrors Grimshaw’s own dual positioning as imperial/colonial and patriarchal/ ‘feminist’ may be useful in understanding how the intersection of various discourses has shaped both individual and national consciousness. By analysing the past with a view to understanding the ways in which such discourses have intersected to shape the present, we may come to a clearer understanding of how the oppression of others can be identified and addressed.
Furthermore, such a project may serve to remind us as scholars, as individuals, as white feminists, and as Australians, of the dangers of the ‘familiar and natural’. The ways in which we, like many of the women travellers and others we write about, might continue to work from a standpoint with which we are so familiar that we become blind to the discourses of oppression they might hold.
Beckett, J.R. (ed.) (1988 ) Past and Present. The Constitution of Aboriginality, Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra
Boutilier, J. (1984) “European Women in the Solomon Islands, 1900-1942: Accommodation and Change on the Pacific Frontier,” in O’Brien, D. & Tiffany, S.W., Rethinking Women’s Roles. Perspectives from the Pacific, University of California Press: California
Burton, A. (1990) “The White Woman’s Burden,” Women’s Studies International Forum 13 (1/2) 295-308
Evans, J. (1993) Unpublished doctoral dissertation on Beatrice Grimshaw
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1965 ) “ThePosition of Women in Primitive Societies and our own,” in The Position of Women in Primitive Society and Other Essays in Social Anthropology, Faber &Faber: London
Gardner, Susan (1977) “For Love or money: early writings of Beatrice Grimshaw, colonial Papua’s woman of letters,” New Literature Review 10-36
___________ (1987/8) “A ‘vert to Australianism; Beatrice Grimshaw and the Bicentennary,” Hecate v13 (2.) 31-68
Grimshaw, Beatrice (1907) From Fiji To The Cannibal Islands, Thomas Nelson & Sons: London
___________ (1911) When The Red Gods Call, Mills & Boon Ltd. London
Haggis, J (1990) “Gendering Colonialisn or Colonising Gender,” Women’s Studies International Forum 13 (1/2) 105-115
Harraway, Donna (1992) “Ecce Homo, Ain’t (Ar’n’t) I a Woman, and Inappropriate /d Others: The Human in a Post-Humanist Landscape,” in Butler, J. & Scott, J.W. Feminists Theorize The Political Routledge: New York
Healy, J (1978) Literature and the Aborigine in Australia 1770-1975, University of Queensland Press: Brisbane
Kroller, Eva-Marie (1990) “First Impressions: Rhetorical Strategies in Travel Writing by Victorian Women,” .ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 21:4, October 1990
Kuklick, Henrietta (1991) The Savage Within. The social history of British anthropology, 1885-1947, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Lake, Marilyn (1986) “The Politics of Respectability: Identifying the Masculinist Context,” Historical Studies 22 (86)
Laracy, Eugenie & L.aracy, Hugh (1977) “Beatrice Grimshaw: Pride and Prejudice in Papua,” Journal of Pacific History 12:54-175
Parker, P. (1987) Literary Fat Ladies. Rhetoric Gender Property, Methuen: London
Paxton, N.1990 “Feminism Under the Raj: Complicity and Resistance in the writings of Flora Annie Steel and Annie Besant,” Women’s Studies International Forum 13 (1 /2) 333-346
Perera, Suvendrini (1991) Reaches of Empire, Columbia University Press: New York
Rich, A. (1979) “Disloyal to Civilisation,” in On Lies, Secrets and Silence, W.W. Norton: New York/London
Said, E. (1978) Orientalism, Pantheon: New York
Stoler, Ann Laura (1991) “Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power. Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia,” in di Leonardo, Micaela (ed.) Gender At The Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era, University of California Press: California
Thompson, R. (1980) Australian Imperialism in the Pacific, Melbourne University Press: Melbourne
Torgovnik, M (1990) Gone Primitive, University of Chicago Press: Chicago
Ware, V (1992) Beyond The Pale, Verso: London
White, R (1981) Inventing Australia. Images and Identity 1688-1980, George Allen & Unwin: Sydney.
1 See, for example, Liz Branigan’s article in this volume.
McCotter, Clare, 2006, Seduction and Resistance, Baptism and ‘Glassy Metaphorics’: Beatrice Grimshaw’s Journeys on Papua’s Great Rivers: Hecate. St. Lucia, vol. 32, no. 1, pg. 81-96.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by McCotter, 2006
[In preparation. See companion webpage.]
Seduction and Resistance, Baptism and ‘Glassy Metaphorics’: Beatrice Grimshaw’s Journeys on Papua’s Great Rivers
Clare McCotter. Hecate. St. Lucia: 2006. Vol. 32, Iss. 1; pg. 81, 18 pgs
Copyright Hecate Press, English Department 2006
Having found records kept by her London agent, Susan Gardner describes Grimshaw as a ‘colossal contemporary influence’.4 Some indication of the popularity of her writing is evidenced by the numerous editions and translations of her works,5 and also by the fact that even during the Depression an American magazine was prepared to pay her one thousand dollars for a story.6 Writing for such publications as the Daily Graphic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Times, the National Geographic, and the Wide World Magazine, Grimshaw was also a prolific journalist. The Islands Of The Blest (date of publication uncertain) and Three Wonderfiil Nations (date of publication uncertain).12 In these texts, landscape and ethnological descriptions are used to facilitate the development of two distinct genres of tourism13 in the South Seas: beach combing escapism in the eastern Pacific, and ethnic tourism in the more western islands.14 Grimshaw’s production of tourist space and place, however, is not confined to her travel brochures.
Beatrice Grimshaw was born at Cloona House, Dunmurry, on the outskirts of Belfast in 1870. Influential in the development of spinning and weaving industries in the north of Ireland the Grimshaws were a prominent family in Belfast throughout much of the nineteenth century. For a young girl growing up at this time Beatrice received an expansive education: private tutors; a period at the Pension Retaillaud, Normandy; secondary education at Victoria College, Belfast; a year at Bedford College, London, followed by another at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Grimshaw’s parents had hoped that their daughter would become a lecturer in classics at a women’s college, but the young Beatrice had other plans. After sending R. J. McCredy, the proprietor of the Dublin based publication, Irish Cyclist, an anonymous letter signed ‘Belsize’ in 1891 expressing her interest in cycling and journalism, Grimshaw became an occasional contributor to the magazine. She appears to have been made a permanent staff member in 1892, writing at that time under the pseudonym Graphis or, simply, ‘G’. Appointed to the post of sub-editor in 1893, her rise through the ranks of this otherwise all-male magazine was rapid. Also in 1893, while continuing to write for the Irish Cyclist, Grimshaw joined the staff on the magazine’s sister publication, the Social Review. She was with the paper a relatively short period of time, approximately two years, when she was promoted to editor. After almost a decade spent meeting weekly deadlines, Grimshaw moved to London where she worked as a free-lance journalist and immigration promoter. But she could not settle in there. From her early days in Dublin she had harboured a desire to see the Pacific.1 And in 1904, on commission from the Times (London) and the Daily Graphic (London), she arrived for the first time in the South Seas. During the forty nine years which followed she would exhaust numerous type-writers in various locations across Oceania as she produced travelogues, travel brochures, political pamphlets, much journalistic copy, plus copious amounts of long and short fiction. With a large readership in the English speaking world Grimshaw was one of the best known writers working in popular fictional genres during the first decades of the twentieth century. Stating that ‘new and strange things are the chief happiness of life’ (Isles of Adventure, 34), Grimshaw was also a passionate traveller. Both before and during her long residency in what is present-day Papua New Guinea (1907-1934) she spent periods travelling to various island groups in the Pacific.2 Throughout this time Grimshaw also travelled extensively within Papua itself.3 In 1936 Grimshaw retired to Kelso, a village on the outskirts of Bathurst, New South Wales, where she continued to write well into her seventies. She died in Bathurst in 1953.
Having found records kept by her London agent, Susan Gardner describes Grimshaw as a ‘colossal contemporary influence’.4 Some indication of the popularity of her writing is evidenced by the numerous editions and translations of her works,5 and also by the fact that even during the Depression an American magazine was prepared to pay her one thousand dollars for a story.6 Writing for such publications as the Daily Graphic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Times, the National Geographic, and the Wide World Magazine, Grimshaw was also a prolific journalist. Frequently interviewed when she went on one of her round-the-world trips, which usually included a visit to her London publisher, she was a celebrity in her day. However, Grimshaw’s influence is not restricted to her own period. I have demonstrated elsewhere how she played a major role in the production of tourist space and place in the Pacific.7 And perhaps this is where her real importance lies for us today. Her oeuvre is not the preserve of solitary researchers; its influence is still reverberating strongly in touristic discourses pertaining to the region.8 In the introduction to her book, Victorian Women Travellers, Dorothy Middleton states: Travel was an individual gesture of the house-bound, man dominated Victorian woman’.9 This view of Victorian and early twentieth-century women travellers as solitary figures, breaking free from the domestic arena to undertake journeys which, as ‘individual gesture[s]’, kept them rooted in what was ultimately the private sphere, remains pervasive. Frequently dismissed as eccentrics and globetrotteresses or hailed as proto-feminists, as Sara Mills recognises criticism has tended to position these women outside the imperial sphere and thus as disconnected from the production of imperial knowledges.10 Born out of a colonial context, the development of tourism in the region was dependent upon an imperial presence in the South Seas. A confluence of discourses of travel, geography and ethnology, Pacific tourism is an imperial knowledge. And Beatrice Grimshaw contributed to the construction of its various parts in no small measure.
As well as writing thirty one novels, eight volumes of short fiction, plus hundreds of other short stories published in magazines and newspapers,11 Grimshaw also wrote two travel brochures: The Islands Of The Blest (date of publication uncertain) and Three Wonderfiil Nations (date of publication uncertain).12 In these texts, landscape and ethnological descriptions are used to facilitate the development of two distinct genres of tourism13 in the South Seas: beach combing escapism in the eastern Pacific, and ethnic tourism in the more western islands.14 Grimshaw’s production of tourist space and place, however, is not confined to her travel brochures. In her 1907 travelogue From Fiji To The Cannibal Islands, for example, Grimshaw’s prose, ostensibly directed at prospective settlers, is also used to fuel tourism in Fiji.15 Describing the potential of land for livestock and crop farming Grimshaw is constructing an imperial geography of Fiji, but these landscape descriptions do not speak exclusively, or perhaps even primarily, to an audience intent on immigration. For the Fiji which Grimshaw is promoting is as much about tourism as it is about settlement. The descriptions of her horseback journey through the centre of Fiji, which she also discusses in Three Wonderful Nations, are used to promote both settlement and ethnic tourism on the island group.16 Many of Grimshaw’s other journeys function in a similar manner. Even when addressing prospective settlers she is still actively involved in the production of tourist space and place because she is a tourist interacting with the landscape that surrounds her, and because she is producing landscape descriptions that have the potential to engender tourism in the region. In the account of her travels through the Vanuatuan forests and also those relating to her journeys up the great Papuan rivers, the seeds of ethnic and adventure tourism in the Pacific are being sown. Grimshaw is laying the foundations for genres of tourism that would explode in popularity in the latter half of the twentieth century, reaching new heights in the twenty-first. A recent Channel 4 programme, which has relevance here, is Surviving Extremes.17 One episode documented a tourist’s journey through the swampland surrounding some of Papua’s most notable estuaries, a landscape which Grimshaw first made known to a large readership over ninety years ago. In another television series, BBC’s Tribe, the programme on Papua opened with a description of the landscape as an immensity which still contains many ‘blank spaces’.18 This was a common trope in colonial writings about Africa but, as far as the island continent was concerned, Beatrice Grimshaw did more than any other writer in the first half of the twentieth century to develop and disseminate this image of the Papuan landscape. It is a representation that is found throughout her fictional and nonfictional texts.19 In her constructions of tourist space and place Grimshaw produced landscape descriptions, racialised and gendered cartographies of the Pacific which continue to have influence today. Sometimes this influence is obvious, as in the case of the web-site promoting tourism on Norfolk Island which quotes from From Fiji To The Cannibal Islands, or the web-site promoting business and tourism in Papua which discusses the cottage that she built at Rona Falls and also her love of the Sogeri district.20 Today Grimshaw’s voice is still far from silent.
In his landmark text, Orientalism, Edward Said has stated that ‘there is no use pretending that all we know about time and space, or rather history and geography is anything other than imaginative’.21 Commenting on the advances evident in positive historical and geographical endeavour in Europe and the United States, Said goes on to add, ‘Yet this is not to say that they know all there is to know, nor, more important, is it to say that what they know has effectively dispelled the imaginative and historical knowledge that I have been considering’.22 Beatrice Grimshaw laid no claims to having produced ethnologies or geographies, nevertheless her many accounts of the ethnological Other and her landscape descriptions would undoubtedly have been accepted and absorbed as such by a wide readership. It is possibly here among the popular genres which Grimshaw exploited that we find imaginative ethnologies and geographies at their most pervasive, influential, resilient – in short, at their most difficult to dispel. In this paper, which focuses on Grimshaw’s travel writing, I analyse her representation of the landscapes surrounding two of Papua’s largest rivers, the Fly and the Sepik. I examine her attempts to construct these waterways as conduits for colonial advance, arteries of the nation which unfold narratives of linear progress. As the title of this paper suggests, landscapes are not static entities, constantly in motion, they are more than capable of talking back. Particular attention will therefore be paid to the dialogic relationship that develops between Grimshaw and the spaces with which she engages. Tourist space and place incorporates not only physical terrain but also body space, the body of the touristic self and the body of the ethnological Other. How Grimshaw interacts with this Other, how she attempts to mark the indigenous people whom she encounters on these journeys as her own is a central concern of what follows.
In her third travelogue, The New New Guinea (1910), Grimshaw’s engagement with the great Papuan rivers had been restricted to her travels in the Purari and Aird estuaries. This situation changed in April 1923 when Grimshaw, in the company of some priests from the Papuan Catholic Mission, travelled up the Sepik. Her account of the initial stage of this journey focuses, to a large extent, on the commercial potential of the landscape with regard to settlement,23 and also its capacity to sustain the indigenous population.24 Human existence, indigenous or colonial, is nearly always ineludible in Grimshaw’s landscapes. She is concerned with the interaction of land and people, especially how the former supports the latter. Therefore, the commoditisation of the landscape in the opening page of this narration comes as no surprise:
There is oil somewhere along its course – not yet located; there is gold; there is a seventy-mile stretch of sago, and hundreds of miles of wild sugar-cane. Tobacco is grown by the head-hunters of the middle river in such quantities that stray traders buy it by the ton, the quality of the leaf being good enough for white men to make into cigars. (Isles of Adventure, 37)
The Sepik which Grimshaw constructs is not simply a river; it is also a potential conduit for colonial development. Describing the river as the ‘backbone of the Mandated Territory’ (82), Grimshaw tries to inscribe it with a narrative of linear progress, stating, in the final paragraph25 of her account of this trip, that:
The unused sago that rots and drops into the stream will feed hungry thousands. The gold and oil that have not yet been prospected will come into use, and with them, perhaps, the coal that has already been whispered about. Big ships will steam up the great water-way where now the stately egret walks in solitude … (82)
She is converting the Sepik into a power line that will feed the masses and fatten the imperial exchequer.26
But the Sepik is not an economic power line, either metaphorically or otherwise. When exploiting physiological analogies in their descriptions of rivers, writers have, for obvious reasons, tended to favour the bloodstream27 – frequently depicting major rivers as the arteries of the nation. Grimshaw opts instead for the vertebral column, running from the head of the body/water-head to the abjection of the anus/estuary; it is a metaphor that underpins the impossibility of projecting a developmental trajectory on to these rivers. Progress does not lead to abjection. Describing the abject, Julia Kristeva explains that ‘it is something rejected from which one does not part.’28 Producing unease or even nausea, the abject at its most obvious is that which we conceptualise as dirt and contagion, that which must be cast off but from which distance can never be maintained. Kristeva iterates:
it is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.29
A worrying interspace that challenges the boundaries of the self, abjection is ‘above all ambiguity.’30 Threatening the dichotomy between inside and outside, the abject – in its most obvious manifestation ‘corporeal waste, menstrual blood and excrement, or everything that is assimilated to them, from nail-parings to decay’31 – is that which is constantly rejected in the endless attempt to protect subjectivity. Whether from without as in Levitical abominations or the interior defilement of the gospels, abjection – always posing the risk of contamination and thus boundary collapse – bespeaks an unholy admixture. It is precisely this sense of indeterminacy and concomitant unease that distinguishes Grimshaw’s depiction of Papuan estuaries. Invoking a landscape of abjection these delta typographies are marked by a concatenation of ‘unnatural’ coming togethers:
For miles and miles about the low dark green line of coast the sea is insipidly fresh and hideously yellow, with the tremendous outpour of the river water … It is thick to look at; there is no transparency in the livid flood, and every ray of light is cast back into the sky as from a brazen mirror. (The New New Guinea, 122)32
The mingling of river and sea creates a ‘hideously yellow’ zone that is neither fresh nor brine; viscous and opaque the opening of the Purari river is an oral/anal cavity marked by stagnancy and decay. The outward flow is disrupted, creating a ‘great yellow flood’ that is Over half a mile wide, in places fully ten miles inland'(125-6); the boundaries between inside and outside have been eroded. Movement of any kind is difficult in Grimshaw’s estuaries; they are landscapes where mobility is seriously impaired:
We reached the river mouth when the tide was nearly low and boldly made the attempt. It failed. The steamer, though drawing less than nine feet of water, struck fast, and it became evident that we had at least got to spend the day where we were. (122)
The situation does not improve on land:
Walking about in a Purari delta village is not an easy performance. The whole town is built in the mud – black, thick, ill-smelling slime, half land and half water, cut up by numberless canals and streams of all sizes. (139)
In this topography of glutinous quagmires, movement is confined to a system of bridges ‘and if you fall off one when nobody is about you may very well be suffocated in the slime below’ (140). That is if you are white: ‘It is said – with how much truth I cannot tell that many of the natives of the Purari delta can support themselves in this slime by a kind of half-swimming, half-paddling motion, and can even get about in it, like mud-turtles’ (140). The Maipuans, we are told, ‘live in mud almost as much as an alligator’ (128); Grimshaw posits this ambiguous space of alluvial deposits ‘half-land half-water’ as their natural element. The Purari delta people, she states, not only live in slime they are o/it: ‘The Purari mind is transparent enough at some times, though at others dense and dark as the mud of the swamps that breed it’ (145).33 Indeterminate like the black mud and viscid flood, both landscape and inhabitants are abjected.34
For Grimshaw, Papua’s estuaries are spaces of abjection, spaces where linearity is defeated in the presence of fluvial reflux. These rivers do not flow boldly to the sea. They turn back on themselves, disrupting boundaries and creating glissades of ambiguity. This is something that is particularly true of the Fly:
The bore is the victory of the sea over the river; when it sweeps up the Fly […] driving back for awhile the river-water, it builds a terrace right across from bank to bank, from three to eight or nine feet higher than the level in front of it. (Isles of Adventure, 143/4)
Turning rapidly, this roaring river reflux shatters the illusion of linear progress. A guest on the government oil-launch Laurabada, Grimshaw ascended the Fly in February, 1926. The party with whom she was travelling included Papua’s colonial lieutenantGovernor, Hubert Murray, and a group of indigenous police officers. In contrast to her description of the Sepik, Grimshaw does not appear to have any urge to translate the Fly into an economic power line. From her arrival she seems to be at one with the river: ‘This night we lay swaying gently to the pull of the Gulf tides, quiet, cool, and at peace. The Fly was welcoming us kindly’ (Isles of Adventure, 111). Embraced by the rhythms of the tidal stream both river and travellers are in mutual motion. Grimshaw is enthralled by the landscape, a landscape that is both seductive and resistant. She describes how ‘[o]n the rivers, where transport is simpler, the perils of rising and falling water, shoals, snags and rapids, forbid all lingering'(119). There is no aggressive desire for mastery here, in any case it would be impossible: ‘It is fatally easy to lose your boat up a Papuan river, and the loss of your boat means the loss of everything, not excluding life …” (119). Aware that she and her party are largely at the river’s mercy, Grimshaw appears to appreciate its spirit, even its magnificent violence. In the concluding lines of her chapter on the Fly she states:
The Fly took one more ‘lick’ at us before we left; for the holdingground was bad, and the ship dragged all of five miles, and it was more good luck than anything else that found us safely afloat next morning. She is a wicked river, but a beautiful river, and wonderful beyond all telling! (145)
A landscape of seduction and resistance, it is the Fly that gets the final word.
Grimshaw’s interaction with a variety of disparate landscapes is, as stated, more often than not, influenced by the capacity of the space in question to support human life. But on the apparently uninhabited Middle Fly she simply asserts that man ‘does not rule here. Man, on the Middle Fly, matters less than the least of the crocodiles that sleep, insolent, undisturbed, upon endless mudbanks’ (114). When signs of human presence start to re-emerge along the river banks, however, Grimshaw is quick to comment on what she sees as an absence of domesticity: They were pathetic, those deserted camps, the temporary resting-places of a driven, scared people, who live – if it may be called living – in constant fear of murder’ (117).35 This comment leads into a brief discussion of head hunting practices in the area. Then, on the following page, perhaps as a response to her dismay at nomadic architecture, she attempts to feminise and domesticate the bush: ‘tremendous forest trees hung all over with what looked exactly like pink silk stockings – trees yellow-green, feathery, fluffy, like the quaint little border plant one used to see in old-fashioned gardens, called Prince’s feather’ (118). The terrain is then likened to a ‘tropical hothouse’ (118), but the Victorian cult of gardening makes only a fleeting appearance. Grimshaw’s interest in it, like her critique of nomadic accommodation, is brief and half-hearted. Her concern with the domestic is decidedly lacklustre on this trip. It is the landscape itself which appears to be speaking loudest, especially at sunset:
At night we anchored in a wide elbow of the river, surrounded by high forest. No tongue could tell the glory of the sunset on the splendid stream, the exquisite, nameless greens of reeds and cane and tall bamboo; and no words known to any human language could express the strange, drugging peace that crept about one’s mind, fascinating, hypnotising, winding the spell of the wild places ever closer and closer. (121-2)
This is a topography of seduction which is sensuously drawing Grimshaw in: ‘These edges of earth, these mysterious places “at the bank [sic] of beyond,” call in a way incomprehensible to those who have never known them. They are as perilous as precipices, or deep seas. They have the same allure’ (122). When the sun rises, a vision of colonial settlement suddenly materialises. Perhaps it is an effort to palliate against enticement:
new vistas of what seemed like the loveliest of green meadows, planted with groves of graceful foliage; bright lawns running down from ramparts of forest; sometimes a view of distant spreading fields that seemed all ready for the plough, fair, quiet, civilised … (122)
A projection of the colonial mind or a remarkably illusory landscape, the wilderness or its nemesis, either way the image is dramatically ephemeral. Grimshaw writes: ‘It was all a mirage. The meadows, the lawns, the fields, were nothing but marsh, mud sometimes, and sometimes water covered with long deceptive grass’ (122). Confined to the government launch, this is a part of the landscape from which whites are excluded. Grimshaw claims ‘natives can pass over it in their gliding canoes cut out of a single log … but white people here had never been away from the river, and, for the present, were not likely to go’ (123). And Grimshaw, taking an uncharacteristic turn, does not seem to mind.
A remark towards the start of her narration of this voyage indicates that Grimshaw is interested in ‘the matter of settlement on the Fly’ (no), yet it is rarely mentioned. Her discussion of government plans for the area is restricted to approximately two paragraphs (139), which are largely concerned with missionary work, not settlement. Colonial exploits are not Grimshaw’s primary concern in her account of this journey; she is not in any hurry to see changes on the Fly. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the imperialist will to possess is absent. It is palpably present, embodied in the European mythology of discovery. Commenting on the imperial preoccupation with discovery and naming, Anne McClintock states: ‘The imperial act of discovery can be compared with the male act of baptism. In both rituals, western men publicly disavow the creative agency of others (the colonized/women) and arrogate to themselves the power of origins.’36 McClintock goes on to say: ‘Like baptism, the imperial act of discovery is a surrogate birthing ritual: the lands are already peopled, as the child is already born.’37 And, as we shall see, it was not only men who displayed a will to discovery/possession within colonial contexts. In the account of her journey on the Fly, Grimshaw swiftly draws attention to her status as the first white woman to travel up the river. This is something that she takes pride in and, as her following comment about Lake Murray (a lake on the upper Fly) shows, she has clearly been checking the facts: ‘all in all, the white people who had seen it at the time of my visit [numbered] only seventeen – the seventeenth white person, and first white woman, being myself (Isles of Adventure, 116).38 She also points out that at the time of her visit she is the only white person to have seen both the Fly and the Sepik. Grimshaw is writing herself into the imperialist birth of Papua, especially the birth of the great river regions.
She is a ‘discoverer’, her ‘find’ on this trip – the women of the Fly: ‘A sight that excited and amazed the (Papuan) police extremely was something not seen before on the Strickland (a tributary of the Fly); something that peered timidly out of the forest, and retreated, coming back to gaze again – a woman’ (121). Grimshaw is in little doubt as to why the woman appeared; she iterates: ‘Probably the sight of myself on the bow of the boat had brought her out’ (121). A similar ‘find’ is made on Lake Murray. Grimshaw states: ‘So far as I know, the women of the lakes had not been seen by any previous party, of the very few parties who have visited Lake Murray’ (132). Grimshaw goes on to add that the women who had been hiding in their canoes when the government party arrived at their village ‘could not be induced to land until I went down and showed myself (133). The birth of the nation is incomplete if only one sex is delivered; Grimshaw is the selfappointed mid-wife at the birth of the other. Named, or rather renamed, after the Lieutenant-Governor with whom Grimshaw had been friends since her arrival in Papua, it is on Lake Murray that she most strenuously tries to mark as her own the women of the region. She describes how she:
put a white singlet on one of them to the accompaniment of wild yells from half the tribe – the woman herself seemed entirely indifferent. I also offered her a small looking-glass, holding it before her face, but neither she nor the other women seemed to have any idea of what it was; plainly they had never seen such a thing before. (134)39
This is not the first time that a baptism with calico is enacted. In her account of her earlier trip on the Sepik, Grimshaw described how she gave a piece of blue loin-cloth to a child rescued by the missionaries from an ethnic group presumably intent upon his destruction. The boy responds by flinging his original garment, ‘a little strip of fur’ (59), into the river, before tying on ‘the new magnificence [and] looking at himself in wonder’ (59). The reference to fur is interesting because Grimshaw had earlier stated that the boy was wearing ‘breech-cloth’ (58); now we are being told that his original garment was fur. This may be a mistake, or alternatively Grimshaw may have thought that the removal of fur – the most primordial of coverings – from the child’s body would have helped to emphasise what she sees as a process of change. Grimshaw describes how she won the child’s confidence with ‘pats and strokes’ (60), stating that it was like ‘taming a little wild beast’ (60). The boy is referred to as Monkey,40 and Grimshaw claims that before long he was Obediently answering’ (59) to this new name. His expression, however, remains ‘stunned’ and ‘dead’ (60). But once contact is made with people who speak his language and he learns that the missionaries are not going to kill him the ‘black despair’ (60) leaves his eyes and he becomes ‘a real boy again’ (60). Re-clothed, re-trained, re-named, the surrogate birthing ritual is complete – the child has been reborn.
Unlike this incident with the child, in which she simply played a part, Grimshaw lays full claim to the ‘discovery’ of the Lake Murray women. She believes that it was her presence which drew them from the shadows into the glare of imperial history. And it is she who will officiate at their initiation into that history. This time, however, the cotton casts no spells. The child may have been delighted with the gift, but the individual who is the focus of the adult ceremony remains ‘indifferent’. Covering the woman’s breasts with a vest, Grimshaw obscures her reproductive potential. But her ability to sustain life is a power that lies outside the control of colonial authorities. Whether seen or unseen it is a force that remains indubitably there. Grimshaw, perhaps believing that the newly invested woman will want to inspect her seemingly transformed self, presents her with ‘a small looking-glass’ (134). This, she asserts, will give the women of the group an opportunity to see themselves ‘a hundred times better than in the clearest, darkest pool’ (134). Grimshaw offers the women an identity that is small, compact, framed and portable: ‘you could carry it about with you at all times, though you couldn’t carry pieces of Lake Murray, which had been your only mirror hitherto’ (134). It is an identity that is built upon the products of imperial capitalism, an identity that is severed from place, disconnected from the great river, and the women of Lake Murray appear to be decidedly unimpressed. Grimshaw believes that their lack of interest in the gift stems from their inability to understand its function. She does not consider that the narrow contained image she offers may hold no allure. Grimshaw believes that prior to her visit Lake Murray was the group’s mirror. If this were true, if the Lake Murray people had sought their reflection in what Henry Thoreau called ‘the earth’s eye’,41 then the image depicted therein would have been highly fragmentary, constantly moving, constantly changing. Moreover, unlike the acutely individualistic self-image contained within the frame of a hand mirror, the image in the lake would have reflected place and possibly one or many faces in that place, an identity that was clearly relational. Recent research has shown that vision is a culturally specific phenomenon. Studies of eye movements have demonstrated definite differences between Westerners and people from East Asia:
That is, North Americans attend to focal objects more than do East Asians, analyzing their attributes and assigning them to categories. In contrast, East Asians have been held to be more holistic than Westerners and are more likely to attend to contextual information and make judgements based on relationships and similarities.42
Context and background, a holistic approach to seeing which incorporates landscape, is not possible with a small hand-mirror. The image which Grimshaw offers the Lake Murray women is highly individualistic. For people living in complex social groups, as these women did, identity tends to be more relational than it is in western societies which reify the individual. It is also possible that among the Lake Murray residents subject formation was not closely connected with vision at all, for it is difficult to capture an image on the surface of a lake. Looking for this elusive trace frequently means nothing to see. And perhaps nothing is what the Lake Murray people wanted to see, a possibility Grimshaw cannot conceptualise. Despite their lack of interest in the mirror, she states: ‘All the same, I left it with them, being reasonably confident that feminine vanity would show the way to its use before very long’ (134). She goes on buoyantly to add ‘One can imagine the competition for the possession of that glass later on, when not only the women, but the men, had realised that you could see yourself in it a hundred times better than in the clearest darkest pool’ (134). And yet, despite this upbeat mood Grimshaw concludes: ‘It was a rather barren [my italics] visit on the whole’ (134). Grimshaw ‘discovered’ the Lake Murray women, but this is not a surrogate birthing ritual; in the instance of ‘discovery’, discovery itself is erased. By rejecting the mirror the women of the lake are not only rejecting colonial commodities and thus, the putative superiority of the white imperialists, but also a construction of the subject which is inscribed in the ‘symbolic register of resemblance and analogy.’43 Commenting on western configurations of the subject Homi Bhabha maintains:
What is profoundly unresolved, even erased, in the discourses of poststructuralism is that perspective of depth through which the authenticity of identity comes to be reflected in the glassy metaphorics of the mirror and its mimetic or realist narratives.44
No doubt with the Lacanian mirror stage in mind, Bhabha states:
This image of human identity and, indeed, human identity as image – both familiar frames or mirrors of selfhood that speak from deep within Western culture – are inscribed in the sign of resemblance.45
When Grimshaw holds the mirror before the faces of the Lake Murray women and they do not appear ‘to have any idea of what it [is]’ (134) the ‘analogical relation unify[ing] the experience of selfconsciousness’46 is ruptured. Demonstrating no ‘compulsion to believe when staring at the object’47 their identity ‘exceeds the frame of the image, it eludes the eye’.48 This colonial encounter as Grimshaw states is ‘barren’; for if the identity of the Other lies beyond a visual framework how can the devouring eye of the white imperial subject find it? How therefore can it continue to be the Other? How can the imperialist continue to be subject?
In this paper I have argued that Beatrice Grimshaw was actively involved in the production of an imperial knowledge: tourism in the Pacific. And that, far from silent today, Grimshaw’s voice is still reverberating in touristic discourses pertaining to the region. A confluence of discourses of travel, landscape and body space, Grimshaw’s constructions of tourist space and place are not confined to the pages of her travel brochures, nor indeed to the descriptions of coral sands and turquoise seas which abound in her works. They incorporate the mud and slime of the estuary and the seductive and resistant stretches of the Fly on which she travelled in 1923. Grimshaw was a colonial tourist, a subject position which she used as a means of italicising individuality, as a means of decisively separating herself off from that which she conceptualised as the herd – whether it be the metropolitan crowd or, paradoxically, for someone who produced two tourist brochures, fellow tourists. Tourist space and place, as stated, is a coming together of geographical and ethnological discourses. In Grimshaw’s writing, the body of a racialised, ethnological Other is frequently translated into a touristic sight/site. With regard to her own tourism Grimshaw often uses indigenous people to shore up subjectivity, which in many cases has been destabilised by the liminality of the journey and also by specific landscapes; travel can both affirm and undermine the subject. But the text is not a closed system of signification; representations can and do rupture the frames within which they have been positioned. In Grimshaw’s travel writing this is perhaps most strikingly displayed in her interaction with the Lake Murray women who refuse the contained and ocularcentric identity into which Grimshaw tries to deliver them. Like the landscape with which they are at one, they demonstrate their ability to talk back while maintaining a velvet silence.
1 See the opening autobiographical chapter of Grimshaw’s travelogue, Isles of Adventure. Beatrice Grimshaw, Isles of Adventure (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1930), pp. 11-36. All further references to this text will be given in the body of the paper.
2 In Isles of Adventure Grimshaw describes trips undertaken in the late twenties to Java, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. See Isles of Adventure, pp. 219-288.
3 See for example Isles of Adventure, pp. 37-198.
4 Susan Gardner, ‘”A ‘vert to Australianism” Beatrice Grimshaw and the Bicentenary’, Hecate, 12 (1987), p. 60.
5 Susan Gardner states that When the Red Gods Call ‘was issued in a dozen various editions, half-a-dozen translations and nearly as many serializations over a period of two decades.’ Susan Gardner, ‘For Love and Money: Beatrice Grimshaw’s Passage to Papua’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, Rhodes University, 1985), p. 2. I have recently come across a Dutch translation of Nobody’s Island on-line.
6 See [unsigned article], ‘Explorer, Tobacco Grower, Novelist. Beatrice Grimshaw’s Remarkable Career’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 1939.
7 Clare McCotter, ‘Colonising Landscapes and Mapping Bodies: Imagining Tourist Space and Place in Beatrice Grimshaw’s Travel Writing’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Ulster, 2005). See also: Clare McCotter, ‘Islanders, Tourists and Psychosis. Doing Time in Beatrice Grimshaw’s Travel Brochures’, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 4 (2006), pp. 1-18.
8 See in particular that section of chapter two in my doctoral thesis which deals with photographic images in Grimshaw’s travel brochures. ‘Colonising Landscapes’, pp. 129-149.
9 Dorothy Middleton, Victorian Lady Travellers (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 4
10 Sara Mills, Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 23.
11 Grimshaw’s bibliography is best viewed as a work in progress. During my own research I came across El Frida, her first work of prose fiction, previously unmentioned in other bibliographies, in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
12 Beatrice Grimshaw, The Islands of the Blest (Dunedin: Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, date of publication uncertain). Beatrice Grimshaw, Three Wonderful Nations (Dunedin: Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, date of publication uncertain).
13 See: McCotter, ‘Islanders, Tourists and Psychosis’, pp. 1-18.
14 According to Valence Smith, ethnic tourism is ‘marketed to the public in terms of the ‘quaint’ customs of indigenous and often exotic peoples’. Smith, ‘Introduction’, Hosts and Guests. The Anthropology of Tourism ed. V.L. Smith (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), p. 4. In ethnic tourism the bodies of Indigenous people become touristic sights/sites.
15 For a full discussion of From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands and planter interests/commissions see Susan Gardner, ‘ “A ‘vert to Australianism” Beatrice Grimshaw and the Bicentenary’, pp. 31-69.
Like many writers who exploit popular forms Grimshaw was acutely conscious of audience or rather audiences. There is an authorial presence, an T emerging from the various, sometimes conflicting, subject positions which she occupies, moving through these texts. Commenting on authorial presence, Roland Barthes has stated:
To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the author (or by its hypostases; society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the author has been found, the text is ‘explained’ victory to the critic. Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image Music Text, trans. By Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press, 1977, P. 147).
But the text only becomes a closed system of signification if the author is posited as a unified, fully recoverable, fully knowable entity, an entity not only fully knowable to the reader/critic, but also to the authorial T. This is precisely what the author is not. Our engagement with that which constitutes an T in any text is always partial, always contingent. But perhaps more so in travel writing where subjectivity may be undermined and disrupted by the journey. A collection of souterrains and slippery surfaces, a text is no more under the total control of an author than it is under the total control of a critic.
16 Beatrice Grimshaw, From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands (London: Thomas Nelson, 1907), p. 193.
17 Surviving Extremes. ‘Swamp Irian Java’. Dir. Andrew Palmer. Presenter: Nick Middleton. Production: Keo Films. Channel 4, 26 March 2005.
18 Tribe. ‘The Kombai People’. No Dir. Producer: Jonathan Clay. Presenter: Bruce Parry. BBC, 17 January 2005.
19 In Grimshaw’s writing the boundaries between the two are frequently blurred. For example, narratives discussed in the travelogues at times resurface in the fiction.
20 These web-sites can be found at <http://guide.nf/people.html> and <http://www.com/forum>
21 Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin Group, 1995), p. 55.
22 Said, p. 55.
23 See Isles of Adventure, pp. 37-38.
24 See: Isles of Adventure, pp. 39-41.
25 Although many topics are discussed in between, this chapter has a circular quality: it begins and ends on a strong colonial note with Grimshaw describing the commoditization of the landscape.
26 Recognising the changes that this would mean for the people of the region, Grimshaw, in a moment of pre-emptive colonial nostalgia, regretting the passing of that which has not passed, asserts ‘I am glad I shall not be there. I like my head-hunters as they are’ (Isles of Adventure, 82).
27 Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: HarperCollins, 1995), p. 261.
28 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay On Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 4.
29 Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p. 4.
30 Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p. 9.
31 Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p. 70.
32 Beatrice Grimshaw, The New New Guinea (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1910), p. 122. All further references to this text will be given in the body of the paper.
33 As Stephen Greenblatt argues ‘It has become clear that every version of an “other”, wherever found, is also the construction of a “self”. (Stephen Greenblatt cited in ‘Introduction’, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (London: University of California Press, 1986, pp. 2-3). My focus in this paper is Grimshaw’s river journeys. I have already discussed what her engagement with the indigenous people of the Purari delta may tell us about her attempts to construct a ‘self elsewhere. See Clare McCotter, ‘Spatio-Temporal Liminality: Releasing the Imaginative in Beatrice Grimshaw’s Spaces Between’, Tourism & Literature: Travel, Imagination & Myth, Conference Proceedings CD ROM , eds. Mike Robinson and David Picard (Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University, 2004), ISBN 1 84387 0853.
34 As I have argued elsewhere, Grimshaw’s engagement with race is not monolithic. See: Clare McCotter, ‘Maintaining a Wide Margin: The Boat as House in Beatrice’s Grimshaw’s Travel Writing’, The Travelling and Writing Self, eds. Marguerite Helmers and Tilar Mazzeo (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, forthcoming)
35 In Totem and Taboo Freud selects the Australian Aborigines as a means of comparison with the West because they have been described ‘by anthropologists as the most backward and miserable of savages’. For Freud backwardness is inextricable from the nomadic lifestyle: ‘They do not build houses or permanent shelters; they do not cultivate the soil; they keep no domestic animals except the dog; they are not even acquainted with the art of making pottery’ (Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, London: Ark Paperbacks, 1983, p. 2). As I stated, Grimshaw is dismayed by the nomadic architecture which she witnesses on the Fly, but as she progresses up stream to Lake Murray she becomes much more accepting, recognizing, unlike Freud, that it does not indicate a lack of civilization:
Here the people are too nomadic to undertake the work of heavy building. Their constructive abilities seem to find expression in feather-work, carving, and especially the decorating of heads – all of which arts they carry to remarkable perfection, considering the absence of decent materials and tools. A true artist is the Lake Murray head-hunter; be it canoe-paddle, arrow, club, or head, his hand adorns whatever it touches, and his sense of form and colour is impeccable (Isles of Adventure 131-2).
36 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 29.
37 McClintock, p. 29.
38 While Grimshaw does not claim to have discovered any new mountain ranges or rivers she states quite emphatically that she was the first woman to visit particular regions of the Fly and the Sepik and appears to be proud of the fact.
39 It is interesting to note that the trade cotton – the ‘singlet’ – mentioned here is white. In Grimshaw’s fiction there are numerous references to calico but it is usually red, the colour apparently favoured by many Indigenous people in the region. But when Grimshaw is ‘discovering’ the Lake Murray women, the cloth that she has is white. Anne McClintock, drawing on a wealth of photographic evidence, particularly advertisements, states that in the nineteenth century ‘civilisation, for the white man, advances and brightens through his four beloved fetishes – soap, the mirror, light and white clothing.’ (Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, London: Routledge, 1995, p. 32.)
40 We are told that ‘Monkey’ is the Pidgin English for child, but within pseudoscientific discourses of race this sobriquet also indicates origins, a starting point which is always impossible no matter how hard imperialists try to create it. The boy’s acceptance of the symbolic cotton could be read as the birth of a new identity, a birthing ritual in which a part has been played by both Grimshaw and the priests. But this is not a starting point; the boy has a life before which lives on in his present and future, a place which the Europeans can never fully access.
41 Thoreau cited in The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, trans. by Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), p. 210.
42 Hannah Faye Chua, Julie E. Boland, and Richard E. Nisbett, ‘Cultural Variation in Eye Movements During Scene Perception’, PNAS, 102 (2005) www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0506162102 [accessed 20 October 2005] (12629-12633)
43 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 48.
44 Bhabha, p. 48.
45 Bhabha, p. 49.
46 Bhabha, p. 49.
47 Richard Rorty cited in The Location of Culture by Homi Bhabha (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 49.
48 Bhabha, The Location of Culture, p. 49.
Clare McCotter. Having completed a BA Hons degree at the Queen’s, University of Belfast, I undertook an MA (Irish Literature Written in English) at the University of Ulster. Following this I did a PGCE (English) at the University of Edinburgh, before returning to the University of Ulster to commence work on a doctoral dissertation on Grimshaw. Previously I worked as a psychiatric nurse. I live in County Deny.
Evans, Julie, 2006, “How White She Was!”: Race, Gender and Global Capital in the Life and Times of Beatrice Grimshaw”, in Grimshaw, Patricia, and Russell McGregor, eds., Collisions of Cultures and Identities: Settlers and Indigenous Peoples: Parkville, Victoria, Canada, University of Melbourne, Department of History, p.142-154.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by Evans, 2006
McCotter, Clare, 2008, A Bloodied Bond: Fly River Heads and Body Image in Beatrice Grimshaw’s Colonial Landscapes: Irish Studies Review, v 16, Issue 4 (November 2008), p 461-485.
Click here for article on Beatrice Grimshaw by McCotter, 2008
Fabulous photos in McCotter’s article…
Figure 1. Beatrice Grimshaw (n.d.). State Library of New South Wales. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.
Figure 2. Beatrice Grimshaw (n.d.). Australian Handbook, October 1926.
Figure 3. Beatrice Grimshaw (n.d.). State Library of New South Wales. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.
Figure 4. Beatrice Grimshaw. The Australian’s Woman’s Mirror, 30 March 1926.
Figure 5. Beatrice Grimsahw. Wide World Magazine, 1909.
Figure 6. Beatrice Grimshaw (n.d.). State Library of New South Wales. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.
Figure 7. Beatrice Grimshaw’s unmarked grave.
Webpage posted February 2010.