Reading and Rambling

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stories of the Relics

Two sennights ago, I had the most fantastic opportunity for a Ross writing immersion.  For those who know my story – literally and figuratively - you will appreciate what an amazing experience this proved to be.

As part of the TATE?UTAS Ross Symposium, I was able to spend time in the town, deliver a presentatiion on my passion and pass some precious time exploring the relics.

Here is a version of what I experienced and shared ...

It began with a night's accommodation at the utterly charming property of Somercotes (one I simply must repeat!)  What a delightful setting, and a terrific chance to steep myself in the modern day context of my own 19th century novel. 

A significant highlight was the chance to enjoy some precious time before the day’s literary sessions amidst the relics of Horton College.  Major bucket list TICK!

How authentic and quaint is this ?????

And the surrounds were stunning ....

Writing About Place ... 

Re-inspired by my jaunt to the Melbourne Writers Festival in August, wich offered some amazing inspiration regarding the importance of place in writing - an idea that featured across the entire range of author presentations I attended, with both national and international writers

The idea of place as a character in itself within a story - alive, complex, tangible and unique - was one I explored in my own writing, which began with a place ...  Scenes and chapters in our own local, state and national history - the untold stories - are a terrific source of inspiration!

What stories lay waiting to be uncovered in the relics?

For me as a writer, recreating our past through stories and keeping our history alive before it disappears forever is a particular area of passion and interest, one I was excited to explore when I began my MA with Rohan Wilson …
A childhood spent growing up in Evandale no doubt fuelled my fascination with Tasmania’s past from an early age – especially historic buildings (and even more notably grand ones!). 
My Relationship With Tasmania's Past ...
Fallgrove, Clarendon House, Franklin House and Entally were all so close, along with those lesser, quieter buildings in local streets, all surrounded by the midlands of Tasmania.
Personal ancestry. William Henry Clayton, the second son of Henry and Mary Clayton, was the architect who designed over 300 Tasmanian buildings including The Launceston Hotel, Chalmers Church and Wickford, the family property built at Norfolk Plains in 1838, before he emigrated to New Zealand
There are fascinating stories already existing within these two personal threads. 
What others are as yet untold?

Following my discovery of the initial image that sparked a story I was desperate to learn more. 
The research process began where I imagined myself in the writerly footsteps of Hannah Kent and Kate Grenville – but in a Tasmanian context
Sources of information - 
  Local LINC library.     TAHO (field trip planned!)
  People -  Archivist Keith Sykes, Historical Society publications 

The Treasure TROVE
(long may it live!)
This led me on a deeper digital trail to a myriad of amazing repositories …
~  Newspaper articles – including scandalous letters to the editor
~  UTAS eprints, Library Open Repository – letters and photographs
~  Victorian Police Gazette – the language of the period, inquests, deserters, crimes
~  University of Melbourne Library – historical map of Richmond, Hawthorn, Yarra

History Revealed Itself ... that crumbling arch was once THIS!!

Horton College
~  Exclusive boys boarding school in the midlands of Tasmania, two and a half miles south of Ross, that operated in the second half of the nineteenth century
~  Established when Captain Samuel Horton, of Somercotes, made a donation of land and a sum of money to the Wesleyan Methodist Church
~  The foundation stone was laid by Captain Horton on January 6, 1852, but the building was not completed for another three years due to a delay caused by the Victorian gold rush
~  The first student. “John Manton aged 11 years admitted 3 October 1855”, one of 770 boys who passed through the College, with an average of 50 students a year, mostly Tasmanian but also a number from Vic and NSW
~  During its 38 years of existence it was home to a succession of boys – many of whom became successful doctors, barristers, merchants, well-known clergymen and various other creditable professions
- Subjects included Latin, Greek, French, Algebra, Trigonometry, History, Geography, Arithmetic, Writing, Grammar, Scripture along with Music, Drawing and Drill
~   Closed 1892 after the retirement of Willam Fox, Head Master of 26 years, financial decline and the establishment of rival schools in Hobart and Launceston
~  Demolished in 1920, most materials sold, the College bell went to Hutchins School in Hobart, while some of the bricks were taken to Launceston, becoming part of the wall of the Mary Fox wing of the Methodist Ladies College in Elphin Road

From the Horton College Journal .. 
Jun 16, 1857     “James J Turnbull ran away from College.”
Dec 21, 1858     “Thomas Melville dismissed from his situation in deep disgrace                             and heavily in debt.  A desperately bad man.”
Sep 23, 1859     “Mr Maxey, the Head Master, left to the great satisfaction of                               the President and Masters who had all been insulted by him.”
Oct 14, 1881     “Two of the boarders, Frederick Walter Dally and George                                     English Herbert Fulton died.  In the former case death was                                 caused by accident, and in the latter it was the result of                                   disease … the moral effect on the boys was most [important].”
The Beginnings of a Story ...
Having gathered together all sorts of articles and pictures, I began to imagine my own version of Horton College.  I created maps and family trees which I collated together with my cuttings and scribblings in a notebook.  I then began to set in motion the ideas that had begun to bubble away in my brain in my process of ‘magpie nesting’.  Finding the right mix – the historical evidence of setting, characters and events scattered within a narrative arc that came from my own imagination.

As the story started to take shape on the page I began to assemble my cast of characters – students, masters, servants … But stepping into the centre stage spotlight appeared 16 year old William Learoyd, bringing with him a large helping of dramatic tension.
On the UTAS eprints repository, I found these wonderful letters which gave voice to the students.

“I received thy letter in due time and am very much obliged to thee for the photograph.”
“I wish Papa would write oftener for I have written two letters to which I have received no answer.”       
                                    (Aha!  William)
“On the 23rd of 9th Mr Robert Crawford aged about 19 who was the head waiter of Horton College died suddenly at about 5 in the afternoon …  I suppose thou hast seen all the particulars in the newspapers …”
“On the 5th of November we had a holiday and we made a large bonfire on the top of a high hill and the wind drove the flames amongst a lot of dead trees and set fire to them. The boys had a great many fireworks and we had a great deal of fun in letting them off.”
Shaping the Narrative ...
Chapters constructed around the snippets I had discovered in my research – the flash flood of the Macquarie, the fire on the hill, the masters behaving badly, a tragic death – but with William’s experience of this new environment providing the perspective, the lens through which all this is narrated.
Having William sent to Horton from Melbourne demanded (of course!) a reconnaissance mission to find where he came from – and details of the dark reason behind his move to Tasmania.
Miriam’s character materialised later in the process (a little bit of me in the story) For me, her emerging role within the narrative became necessary  – but she needed to add something to the story. Her modern day sections alternate with William’s as she goes on her own Tasmanian trail into the past.  It is Miriam who finds closure for them both – laying to rest ghosts of the past.
The End of the Journey ...
Well, I’m yet to get there … although I know where I’m going, along with Miriam, and where William has gone.  Amdist the daily routine - the bread and butter stuff of English teaching that interferes with our dreams of living the fantasy of writing full-time - William whispers to me from time to time, waiting for me to resolve his story.  I have promised him this summer ...
~   All That Remains   ~
"All that remains today of Horton College is a crumbling portico arch evident on the Midlands Highway just south of Ross.  It was once a grand building, established with a donation by Captain Samuel Horton of Somercotes, an exclusive boys boarding school that operated from 1855 to 1892.

In 1868, William Learoyd was sent to Horton from Melbourne after a terrible murder near his home above the Yarra.  He struggled to adapt to the change, finding himself suddenly alone in the isolation of the Tasmanian midlands, but slowly began to make friends in this distant colonial outpost.  However, a series of traumatic events and conflicts led William to ultimately run away from the college and he was never seen or heard from again."