Cemeteries: Tower Hill

Tower Hill Cemetery lies between Port Fairy and Warrnambool in Western Victoria.

img_9230Tower Hill itself is a former volcano not far from Port Fairy and about 3 hours drive west of Melbourne. You can see the view looking over the remains of the Tower Hill crater and looking out towards the sea from the top of Tower Hill in the photos below.


Tower hill itself is not really a town, though there are a few houses around it. Tower Hill was first sighted by Europeans in 1802, the sighting was made by the Frenchmen in the ship the Geographe, but it wasn’t surveyed until 1846. In the surveys conducted between 1846 and 1850 it is described as heavily wooded, with descriptions of ferns and large trees. It was also a favourite site of settler James Dawson of the near by Kangatong station. He had it painted in oils in 1855 so he could show others how beautiful it was. However between 1857 and 1860 the hill itself and the surrounding area was heavily deforested, mainly for the use of the timber but also for grazing. This use of the land continued until 1961 when Tower Hill was proclaimed Victoria’s seventh state wildlife reserve. There has been significant re planting done since.

I would like to pause in the ongoing narrative of Tower Hill at this point to discuss its pre-European importance. When Tower Hill was first sighted by Europeans it was certainly not an unknown hill. For the local Koroitgundij people it is a site of great importance and their ancestors undoubtably would have witnessed the eruption that created the funnel shaped crater 30 000 years ago. Today there is the Worn Gundidj  visitor’s centre in the middle of Tower Hill which tells the indigenous history of the site.  You can see the visitor’s centre in the picture below.


The cemetery at Tower Hill stands at the base of the hill’s slope. It was established in 1856 and contains some of the most impressive monuments for a cemetery of its size that I’ve ever seen.



The monuments range from small, such as the heart shaped stone below.


To the significantly more dramatic



There are a number of interesting people buried at Tower Hill, but I thought I’d briefly discuss a man whose death was a key part of Australian labour history. William John Mclean was the first person to die for the union movement in Australia. Known as Billy Mclean he was born in 1869 and lived in Koroit, a small town very near Tower Hill. In the late 1800s the nearby town Port Fairy was one of Australia’s most important international ports, though you certainly wouldn’t know it now.


Port Fairy

As an important port much of the wool shorn in areas as far away as southern NSW was taken by the river system and bullock drays to Port Fairy for transportation. Shearers would hitch rides with the bullock drays back in the opposite direction for the shearing season. Billy Mclean was one such shearer. The shearers often endured awful conditions and pretty terrible pay at the same time as being forced to pay exorbitant prices for food from stores that were owned by the stations. As such there were a number of shearer strikes. On the 26th of August 1894 in NSW the paddle steamer Rodney was transporting a non union labor force up the Darling River to work at the near by station of Tolarno. Many of the river captains refused to support the pastoralists by bringing in non union labour to try to break the strikes. Captain Dickson of the Rodney was not one of them. The paddle steamer was set upon by striking shearers and after the non union labour and the crew had been removed from the boat, the shearers doused it in kerosene and burnt to the water line.

The afternoon of the same day, a little further up river, Billy Mclean was one of about fifty shearers who were headed for Grassmere station near Willcannia where it was believed that non union workers from New Zealand had been brought in. Mclean was one of the first to enter the shearing shed and he was shot in the lung, one of his mates Jack Murphy was also shot. Neither died on the scene and they were arrested by the police on the way back to the strike camp. There is definite argument that the shooting was retaliation for the burning of the Rodney earlier that morning.

Mclean was tried and convicted of unlawful assembly, sentenced to 3 years hard labour and sent to Goulburn gaol. In the cold of the prison and never having recovered from his injury Mclean developed tuberculosis of the lung and was sent home to his mother to die, so it couldn’t be said he died in gaol. He died in 1896. He was 26. The man who shot him was never tried and was given a medal by the pastoralists association.

The other shearers rallied round Mclean’s mother and raised 90 pounds for the erection of the monument over his grave. It still stands in Tower Hill Cemetery today and is 14 feet high. You can see it in the photos below.


img_9210The epitaph reads








AND WHO DIED 22nd MARCH, 1896,



Donald MacDonald, the general secretary of the AWU wrote to Henry Lawson asking him to compose the epitaph. It is not known if Lawson did or not.

For more information on Mclean and the shearers’ strikes see…


Billy Mclean is only one of a number of fascinating people buried at Tower Hill Cemetery. Alongside the outstanding individual monuments Tower Hill Cemetery also houses several groups of matching monuments such as those that you can see below. img_9220

As with many cemeteries of this era, there is a distressingly large number of young deaths and whole families. You see the same surnames repeated over and over, showing the long term connection to the area.


My next post will be on the nearby Port Fairy Cemetery.


Billy Mclean: http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=unity

Tower Hill: What happened at Tower Hill? Fisheries and Wildlife Dept 1960.

Tower Hill by M.C Downes.

Tower Hill: Victoria’s heritage. http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/315547/Heritage-story-Tower-Hill-Reserve-history-and-heritage.pdf

The photos are all mine.

Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle perches dramatically on the edge of a craggy hill  looking over the town of Castleton and Hope Valley in the Peak District.img_0519

Peveril Castle

Castleton grew up around Peveril castle and and was first documented in royal accounts in 1196, but was probably there from around 1155 at least. By 1215 it had its own trade fair and it continued on through the centuries to survive as a local hub, even after the demise of the castle.


The view over Castleton and Hope Valley.

Peveril castle itself was originally built, most likely of stone, by William Peveril shortly after 1066. However its most striking feature, the keep, was the work of Henry II. The castle came into Henry II’s hands in 1155 and is an excellent example of the common square keeps that he had built up and down the country.  Peveril came into royal hands after William Peveril’s son, also called William, firstly made an enemy of the powerful Earl of Chester and then of Henry FitzEmpress, who shortly became Henry II. In 1153 Henry had already promised to dispossess the younger William of his estates for treachery and plundering and give them to Chester. By 1155, when he carried out the threat, Chester was dead so Henry kept the castle for himself. The name however survived. Henry II used Peveril as a base to oversee the local area and keep the local barons, who had been used to more autonomy during the period of anarchy, in check. Even when he wasn’t there, and there were only a few guards left to man it, Peveril was a potent symbol of royal authority. It also served as an administration point for the Forest of the Peak.

Peveril was part of the Lordship of the Peak and it was given by Richard I to his brother John when Richard came to the throne in 1189. John however was forced to surrender it due to his rebellion. When John came to the throne himself in 1199 William Ferrers, the Earl of Derby, paid the huge sum of 2000 marks to claim much of the lordship for himself. John however refused to hand over the castles of Peveril and Bolsover, which he saw as the symbols of the authority in the area. He only conceded Ferrers’ right to them in 1216 when his authority was crumbling. However his castellan refused to hand them over and John told Ferrers he could take them by force, if he could. John died in 1216 and Ferrers managed to take Bolsover by force during the first year of the reign of Henry III, however he never attacked Peveril and the castellan moved out by negotiation. Ferrers, however had only been given lordship of Peveril until Henry III came of age. Initially, though, he refused to hand it over. He finally gave up and surrendered it to royal hands in 1223.


Peveril Keep

Peveril stayed in royal hands until the 1372 when it was given to John of Gaunt, who was the Duke of Lancaster and the third son of Edward III. He was one of the most powerful lords of his time and he possessed many castles. As such he never saw Peveril as being a residential centre and began to strip lead from it to use in other castles. Slowly  the administrative functions of the castle began to drift elsewhere too and by the 16th century the castle was derelict.

The castle was never besieged, so the ruinous state you see it in now is due to decay through time and the stone being repurposed for Castleton below.


looking down on Castleton from the keep.

Peveril stands on a steep natural hill with the precipice-like Cave Dale to the back and one side and Cavern Gorge to the right. It commands the main high ground over Hope valley and was a symbol of authority for all the lords who held it. img_0530

a model of what Peveril would have looked like in around 1300.


The landscape around the outcrop on which Peveril stands.

The path that you take up to the castle now leads you through the remains of what would have been the east gate. It was most likely built under Henry II in the late 1100s. It would originally have been a simply decorated arch.

img_0539This path is most likely the route through which Peveril would have been accessed for the majority of its existence. It is very steep but it would have just about been accessible to horses.  Upon entrance to the castle precinct it is the keep which immediately dominates the view.


It stands at approximately 15m high. It would originally have had a parapet. It is less than 12m square and as such is much smaller than other similar keeps that Henry II had built all over the country. It is said to have cost around 184 pounds and to have been built of stone quarried locally. The spiral stair you can see in the photo above is roughly in the same spot that the original medieval stair, built of either stone or wood, would have stood. The keep would have housed a main public space on the first floor entry, and a basement storage area below. You can see the entrance door in the photo below, it is taken roughly where the floor of the main hall would have been. img_0566

You can see the line of the original pitched roof of the main hall still visible in the outline of the stone in the photo below.img_0558

You can see the basement in the photo below. The stair down still survives.


The keep at Peveril was not the only hall. In the photos below you can see the view down from the keep to the area where the new hall and the west gate would have stood.img_0556img_0563

It is not known exactly when the new hall was built, but it was probably in the mid 13th century. It would have had a fire place and a kitchen and been where important people dined. Henry III stayed at Peveril in 1235 and if this hall was complete in time it would have been here that he held court. This area is also the site of the west gate. It would have led to a bridge over the gorge outside, but there are sadly no remains to be seen today. This would have been the other main access point to the castle, apart from the east gate.

Below you can see the area where the old hall and the chapel probably stood.


There was also a small circular tower in this section which was built partly of roman stone, repurposed from a nearby Roman site. This was probably a 13th century addition and may not have had much functional defensive use.  The hall itself was most likely in this area in one form or another since the beginning of the castle, the remains today date to roughly the same time as the keep because it was built using the same stone. While it is not certain where the chapel was, we know there was one because of a document from 1264 which mentions it. There is a structure next to the hall that has Norman masonry and is facing roughly east west and has no other known purpose, so it has been interpreted as being the chapel.

This does not cover all of Peveril castle and it is a site well worth a visit. Although it is not one of the largest castles in the country it is certainly one of the more atmospheric and the position it commands is extremely dominating.

References: English Heritage Peveril Castle book and a site visit in 2012.

The photos are all mine.

Victorian History Crossword

NB: If it looks like you’ve seen this crossword before, you have. I put it up yesterday but there was a technical error so I had to take it down. There should be no problems with this version. The questions and answers are all the same as yesterday’s, the lay out is just a little different.

Have a shot, see how you go.  Click this link for a printable version of the crossword grid. Crossword Puzzle

Crossword Puzzle Maker_ Final Puzzle

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Cemeteries: St Kilda Cemetery


This is the second in my series of posts about cemeteries. The first was about Melbourne General Cemetery and can be found here. This time I’ll be discussing St Kilda Cemetery. St Kilda is a suburb in southern Melbourne and its cemetery is an an excellent example of Melbourne’s inner suburban cemeteries.

I’ve always found cemeteries interesting as a lens through which to view a city, or a town, and I’ve always found the history they so neatly incapsulate fascinating. St Kilda has a personal connection for me as well because there is a plot there in which several of my ancestors are buried. One of them, Robert Henry Woodward, was originally buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. The family believes, however, that he was moved to St Kilda to be with his wife Letitia at a later date. His grave at Melbourne General Cemetery is certainly unmarked.


The Woodward Graves.


Robert Henry Woodward and Letitia Woodward

IMG_9755The site of Robert Henry Woodward’s original grave at Melbourne General Cemetery

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 7.25.39 PM

What the Woodward grave looked like in the 1970s. My extended family and I are in the process of restoring it somewhat.

Robert Henry was one of my first ancestors to come to Australia in the 1850s, and Letitia was born here in 1824 when her father was stationed in Sydney. So I was interested to see where they were buried.

The cemetery itself also has a fascinating history. It was first laid out in 1851 by an assistant of Robert Hoddle, best known for laying out the grid of Melbourne’s CBD. It opened in 1855 and the brick wall enclosing it was added in c. 1883.


The walls of the Cemetery

The cemetery covers 18 acres and contains approximately 53 000 burials. St Kilda has been a desirable place to live for over a hundred years and as urban sprawl in Melbourne has increased there have been several attempts to have the cemetery closed. Fortunately none have been successful. The cemetery is laid out in religious denominations as can be seen in the map below.

St Kilda Map-V3_DPMG - FINAL

Although in comparison to  Melbourne General Cemetery St Kilda is quite small, it is still large for a suburban cemetery. It certainly feels vast when you step inside, as you can see from the photos below.



St Kilda also houses many beautiful funerary monuments. A number of which can be seen below.





Religious Figures








Ornate fences.

There are also memorials to a number of well known people in St Kilda Cemetery.

I don’t feel it is necessary to go into the history of each of them, but I would like to discuss one in particular. Ferdinand Von Mueller, best known in Melbourne as the Director of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens from 1857-1873.


Von Mueller


His memorial can be seen below.


Von Mueller was born in 1825 in Rostock in Mecklenburg-Schwerin in what is now Germany. He trained as a pharmacist, but specialised in botany as part of his degree. He came to Australia in 1847 with his two remaining sisters, seeking a warmer climate for his sister’s health. He began his time in Australia in Adelaide, where he investigated the local flora as well as working as a pharmacist. He came to Melbourne in 1852 when Governor Latrobe appointed him Government Botanist. In Melbourne Von Mueller began collecting specimens of the local indigenous flora. He was instrumental in cataloguing Victorian and in fact Australian flora, adding new genera and greatly expanding exisiting knowledge. He travelled a great deal within Australia and was at the heart of bringing together isolated information from disparate sources on indigenous flora.

When he was appointed director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 1857 he immediately arranged to have the herbarium built, added his own extensive collection of specimens and began collecting seeds and plants from all over Australia as well as internationally. In the herbarium he built what is now one of Australia’s most important dried plant, algae and fungi collections. Under his stewardship the gardens began to build towards the magnificence which you see today. They can be seen in the photos below.

Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Native mexico

Cork oak, Quercus suber

Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Part of the Children's Garden next to

Children’s garden Melbourne Botanic Gardens

Herb Garden, Botanic Gardens MelbourneHerb Garden Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Along with the Melbourne Botanic Gardens Von Mueller played a role in the establishment of some of Victoria’s numerous rural botanic gardens. For example when the gardens in Hamilton were established in 1870 Von Mueller supplied 450 shrubs and trees, providing the start of planting for the garden. The tree below is possibly one of the ones he sent.

Corsican pine Botanic Gardens Hamilton

Von Mueller was also one of the first to recognise the importance of the native forests of Victoria and campaigned against indiscriminate clearing. Sadly there began to be complaints about Von Mueller’s management of the gardens in around 1868. There seemed to be the feeling that he was focusing too much on the plants and not enough on the beautification of the gardens. Complaints were along the lines of “‘no foundations exist … neither are statues erected … works of art we can call forth at pleasure, while time lost in forming the plantations cannot be regained”[1] He stoutly defended what he saw as the object of a botanic garden, saying in an 1871 lecture

“that from the early transcendental days of Greece up to the most recent decennia all institutions designated as botanic gardens were mainly or exclusively devoted to the rearing of such plants as were adopted for medicine, for alimentary or industrial purposes; and it would be little short of relapsing into barbarism, were we to alienate any such institutions of ours entirely from their legitimate purpose.”

He continued

“The objects of a botanic garden must necessarily be multifarious, nor need they be, in all instances, precisely the same; they may be essentially modified by particular circumstances and local requirements, yet, in all cases, the objects must be mainly scientific and predominently instructive. As an universal rule, it is primarily the aim of such an institution to bring together with its available means the greatest possible number of select plants from all the different parts of the globe; and this is done to utilise them for easy public inspection, to arrange them in their impressive living forms, for systematic, geographic, medical, technical or economic information, and to render them extensively accessible for original observations and careful records. By these means, not only the knowledge of plants in all its branches is to be advanced through local independent researches, conducted in a real spirit of science, but also phytologic instruction is to be diffused to the widest extent; while simultaneously, by the introduction of novel utilitarian species, local industries are to be extended, or new resources to be originated; and, further, it is an aim to excite thereby a due interest in the general study and ample utilisation of any living forms of vegetation, or of important substances derived there from. All other objects are secondary, or the institution ceases to be a real garden of science.”[2]

Unfortunately he was not successful in his arguments as he was replaced as director in 1873. He remained Government Botanist, but he was so upset by his dismissal from the gardens that it is said that he never set foot in them again. Von Mueller was a dedicated worker, writing over 3000 letters a year, publishing over 800 papers as well as a number of books. By the time he died in 1896 he was largely responsible for the international recognition that was given to Australian scientific endeavour. His work was also of the quality and magnitude that much of it has still not been superseded. He is to me one of the most fascinating people with a memorial in St Kilda cemetery.

St Kilda Cemetery as a repository of history has many more stories to tell apart from Von Mueller’s and the Friends of St Kilda Cemetery do run regular tours. Information can be found here.

St Kilda, like other cemeteries, is a fantastic place not just for its own history but also for the survival of the stories of the people who are buried there. It also creates an area of community space in a tightly urban precinct. It is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. Cemeteries, like St Kilda, are a vital part of the community.

The photos are all mine apart from the photo of Von Mueller from the Dictionary of Biography and the Botanic Gardens and Hamilton Gardens pictures which were kindly provided by garden writer and photographer Penny Woodward.

For more information on St Kilda Cemetery see:


For more on Von Mueller see:



For the entirety of his speech in 1871 in defence of Botanic Gardens see



[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mueller-sir-ferdinand-jakob-heinrich-von-4266

[2] http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Stout33-t4-body-d9.html

Stone Forts

If you ever spend any time in Ireland you will come across the stone forts, also known as ring forts and cashels. They were usually farming settlements and normally date from between 500-900 CE, though they were reused later as well. Many are testaments to the brilliance of drystone walling and the skill of the builders as they are still standing today. Some were ‘fixed’ at later dates of course. They vary in purpose and in style but they usually have some common features. For example the majority contain stairs worked into the side of wall of the fort. These forts were not roofed over to create one residence, in fact the exterior walls were used for protection, from the weather and attack, and houses either of stone or wood were built inside. The design of the stairs allowed people to access the top of the walls simply. The forts often also command the high ground, giving an excellent view to any possible attackers, as well as providing a defensive position. Many stone forts feature souterrains, these are holes or tunnels in the walls of the forts. There is ongoing debate as to whether they were used for storage, for escape or both.

The five stone forts featured below are each good examples of a different aspects of stone fort building. The sites below are listed in no particular order.


Lecanabuile and the next stone fort listed Cahergall  in County Kerry are excellent examples of two forts built close together. These are two communities which would have interacted. You can see Cahergall in the distance in most of the photos below. Lecanabuile dates to the 9th or 10th centuries CE. The circular enclosing wall is more than 3m thick and roughly 20m in diameter. There has been some reconstruction. The remains of the round house you can see in the photos below is relatively contemporary to the outside walls and a souterraine inside leads to a gap between the external walls. The external walls were built by building two stone walls and filling the interior. The square building you can see attached to the round one is a later addition showing the ongoing use of these stone forts. The other structures you can see inside the walls are later again.





Cahergall, as you can see from its appearance in the earlier photos, is just down the hill from Lecanabuile. Its stone walls are very impressive as they tower over the surrounding landscape. The walls have been reconstructed to an extent in recent times. It was built around 600 CE and the walls stand at around 6m high and 3m thick. There is a stone house inside that is original and would have once likely housed someone important. Like Lecanabuile it is entirely drystone walled.








Dunbeg is a little different to the other stone forts in that it is a promontory fort. It was built around the 8th or 9th centuries CE and was occupied again in the 10th and 11th centuries CE. It stands on a sheer cliff on the Dingle Peninsula. One of the key issues with it standing on a sheer cliff is that the fort is currently falling into the sea, as can be seen in several of the photos below. It also has extensive earthwork defences surrounding it. There was also probably settlement on the site before the building of the fort. Behind the earthworks and the drystone wall there is the clochain, or beehive hut. The life in the fort would have been centred on the two hearths inside the beehive. The main entrance is currently blocked due to instability, but you can see how it is structured in the photos below. Additionally there is a souterrain which runs from the inside to the outside of the fort. There was probably also more buildings originally but they may have been claimed by the coastal erosion.



Grianan Aillgh

The original hill fort in this position would have been built probably sometime around the 1st century CE, but it was the royal citadel of the Ui Neill family from the 5th to the 12th century. It stands in Donegal. There is also a burial mound nearby which dates to roughly 3000 BCE and this might have attracted the builders originally. The walls stand about 4.5m thick and about 5 m high, but there was fairly extensive rebuilding work in the 1870s. The fort is surrounded by three earthen banks and it is believed that the track that runs through them and up to the fort might be the remains of an ancient roadway.



Staigue stands in County Kerry and happened to be the first fort I saw and it remains one of the most impressive. Dating it is uncertain but it is probably from the early centuries CE. The walls are up to 5.5m high, 4m thick and 27.4m in diameter. The steps in the walls run in a distinctive X shape possibly to make it possible for people to pass each other running up and down. There are no surviving buildings inside the walls, but there are two small chambers contained in the walls which might have been for storage. There would have been houses inside; they just either weren’t built in stone or haven’t survived. The top of the walls command an impressive view of Kenmare bay and would have given the local chieftain ample warning of any attack or visit from the sea. The drystone walling here is particularly impressive and seems to be largely original.



These stone forts are only examples of the thousands in Ireland, though not all of them are in anywhere near as good condition. If you ever get the chance they are absolutely worth a visit.

For more information see: http://heritagecouncil.ie/unpublished_excavations/section13.html

References: http://www.theringofkerry.com/cahergal-leacanabuaile-forts




Site visits in 2015

All the photos are mine.


Easy to Evil Australian History Quiz.

This is how the quiz works.

There are twelve questions.

There are three sections: easy, hard, evil.

There are four questions in each section.

You get the question then a photo and the the answer is below the photo.

Keep track of how you do because there is a scoring system at the end.



  1. What is the name of the market in Melbourne which is built on a graveyard on the corner of Victoria and Elizabeth street?IMG_1142

Answer: Queen Victoria Market. You get the point if you said Queen Vic, Vic or Victoria Market. For more information on the graveyard click here


2.  What is the southern most point of mainland Australia which is named after Thomas who was a friend of Matthew Flinders?

IMGP0304.JPGAnswer: Wilson’s Promontory



3. When was Federation in Australia?

PA0013 Answer: 1901 . The picture is Tom Robert’s painting of the opening of Australia’s first parliament in May 1901. For more information click here



4. What year was the Eureaka Stockade


Answer: 1854. The photo is of the flag of the Southern Cross.



5. Where did Australia’s parliament sit from 1901-1927?


Answer: Parliament House Melbourne. For more information on the fascinating building click here.



6. Where was the first shot fired by the British Empire in World War One ?

pn cheviot 1

Answer: Point Nepean in Victoria. For more information click here



7. What island did Captain James Cook name after he ‘discovered’ it on June 7th 1770?

IMGP3548.JPGAnswer: Magnetic Island.



8. What is the name of the beach Harold Holt drowned at and what year did he drown?

PN cheviot 2Answer: Cheviot Beach 1967. For more information click here.




9. What is the name of the boat that sank off the shipwreck coast in Victoria on the 1st of June 1878?

loch ard sunshneAnswer: The Loch Ard. The photo is of Loch Ard Gorge. For more information click here.


10.  What is the name of the man who named the Grampian Mountains in Western Victoria and mapped much of the district?

IMG_7551Answer: Major Thomas Mitchell. For more information click here. 



11. What is the name of the small Victorian town named after the man who was Governor of Victoria from 1926-1931?

IMGP2217.JPGAnswer: Somers. The photo is of Somers’ beach.


12. What is the name of the first lighthouse to be erected in South Australia?


Answer: Cape Willoughby Light House.



So that’s it. How did you do?

1-4: Well you’ve got some basics down pat. Good start.

5-8: Impressive. You know you stuff.

9-12: Incredible effort. You may know more than is sensible:)

12: If you got them all… Sure you didn’t write the quiz?


Hope you enjoyed it.


The photos are all mine apart from the Tom Roberts painting which can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Parliament_House_Art_Collection/Tom_Roberts_Big_Picture and the Eureka Flag which can be found at http://www.artgalleryofballarat.com.au/exhibitions-and-events/collection/australian-collection/the-flag-of-the-southern-cross-(eureka-flag).aspx



The King’s Champion Part 2

I have written a previous post about my quest to discover the medieval origins of the position of King’s Champion. Rather than rehashing it, you can find it here.

So following the work I did for the previous post, I decided I needed more information than my collection of books and what I’d so far managed to find online could provide. So I headed for the State Library of Victoria. It’s one of my favourite places to do research and if you’re not familiar with it you can see the famous domed reading room in the photos below. I always work in here whenever I can because it has an extensive collection and the most amazing atmosphere. IMG_0695


In the reading I’d been doing for my previous post many of the 1800s sources on the King’s Champion I’d found had been based on the work of William Dugdale. I decided he would be a good person to begin the next stage of my search with. Primarily to see if he had any references in his work that would let me track back further. I discovered he was a writer in the 1600s who wrote extensively about both baronial families and peerage. I also found that the State Library had a copy of his two volume work The Baronage of England or The Historical Account of the Lives and Most Memorable Actions Of Our English Nobility.  The first volume covers from the Saxons, to the Norman Conquest, to those who had their rise before the reign of Henry III. The second volume covers from the end of Henry III’s reign to the reign of Richard II. It was the first volume I was most interested in as it was this that later writers were referencing when discussing the Marmion family’s heritage.

I ordered both the books from the State Library. They are classified as rare books so I had to view them in the heritage reading room. Rare books is a wide ranging definition. A book can be rare due to age, or fragility, or a lack of copies in existence as well as other reasons. I was expecting an 1800s copy of the work as this is what usually happens. So I was delighted to find that what I’d ordered was actually a printing from 1675. This is one of the things I love about libraries like the State Library of Victoria. They have an amazing range of rare, fragile and obscure items but you don’t have to have any special qualification to access them. They are there for the use of all Victorians. All I needed to access these books was my library card. I was very excited as this is now my record for the earliest book I have ever held. It beat one from the mid 1700s I used for researching William Marshal during my honours year. The title page of Dugdale’s book can be seen below.


The first volume indeed had the peerage of the Marmion family. It begins by saying that William I gave Robert Marmion the castle of Tamworth. The Domesday Book lists Tamworth castle as being in the hands of the king in 1086. William I died in 1087 so it is just about possible that he gave the castle to Robert Marmion. What is most interesting is the entry regarding the Marmion family and Scrivelsby, the manor which is now tied to the role of King’s Champion. It is only mentioned once and this is not until the narrative reaches Phillip Marmion who died in the 20th year of the reign of Edward I. In this case it is just a passing mention. Scrivelsby is listed as of one of the properties Phillip held by right of Barony on his death. You can see the passage on the page below.


Dugdale does provide references as to where he is getting his sources. Unfortunately he does it in an abbreviated form, but doesn’t explain what the abbreviations mean. I am yet to work out exactly what the reference for Scrivelsby is referring to, but when I work it out I’ll track it down. The other telling thing about this book is the lack of any kind of reference to the Marmions as hereditary Kings Champions. This doesn’t prove that they weren’t of course, but it might mean that it wasn’t well known or considered especially important.

I also examined the second volume of Dugdale’s work, but there were no further mentions of the Marmions or of the Dymoke family, the family who inherited the title of King’s Champion. What Dugdale does give the reader is what seems to a be a reasonably accurate account of the individual Marmions in England in the Norman and early Plantagenet times. So it seems likely that whether or not they were official King’s Champions, or hereditary Champions of Normandy, that the Marmions were in England roughly from the time of William I. There is also a second Dugdale work that apparently does discuss the role of King’s Champion that I am hoping to track down soon.

Having determined that most likely the Marmions were in England in some form from the time of William I, I decided to try a slightly different track. I’d been looking into the household of the king because the King’s Champion is often mentioned in coronations alongside positions such as the Marshal. From work I’d done on William Marshal I knew that the Marshal is definitely an hereditary position and that it was certainly considered a part of the king’s household. So I decided it was worth having a look through one of the best records of a king’s household from the early Plantagenet period. The Constitutio Domus Regis is a contemporary account probably of the household of Henry I. The exact date is still under debate. It has thankfully been translated by S.D Church. The State Library has a copy which also contains the translation, by Emile Amt, of the Dialogus De Scaccario (the Dialogue of the Exchequer) which dates to the 12th century. I have gone carefully through the Constitutio and am unable to find any mention of the King’s Champion. I also can’t find any kind of regular payment to the King’s Champion listed in the Dialogus. Again this doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist in this time, it may just not have been included in these particular documents. It could also mean that if it did exist then it was much less formal an appointment than say the Marshal, and may have not had a day to day role.

Continuing on a slightly different track I decided that exploring the question from the point of view of the coronation itself was a good idea. Other sources I’d been reading referenced two books

1. The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902

2.  English Coronation Records  Edited by Leopold  G. Wickham Legg published 1901.

The State Library had copies of both. I began with The Coronation Book. While this text doesn’t provide  any revelatory new information it does cover the position of King’s Champion in later years in detail and provide some lovely little vignettes of the Champion’s role in the coronation.  For example John Dymoke entrance as the champion to Richard II. When he appeared at the coronation on his ‘mighty steed’ he was summarily told that he had come in at the wrong time and told to come back later when it was appropriate.

The Coronation Book  provides extensive discussion of many of the ceremonies that various Champions after the reign on Richard II were involved in. It doesn’t however provide any information as to the the role of the Champion before the reign of Richard II. What it does do though is give some lovely illustrations and photos. Some are non contemporary illustrations of the Champions performing their duties and others are of the Champion’s acroutements. They can all be seen below.


The Manor of Scrivelsby  which is currently tied to the position of Champion.


Some of the suits of armour worn by the Champions.


The cups which are the official payment to the Champion for their service at the coronation.


Sir Charles Dymoke James II’s Champion


Henry Dymoke the Deputy Champion.

Henry Dymoke participated in George IV’s coronation because the Champion John Dymoke (Henry’s father) was a cleric and therefore apparently unable to undertake the role. The only other time a Deputy Champion was used was at the coronation of Richard II when the hereditary Champion was Margery Dymoke. Her husband John Dymoke undertook the role by right of his wife as she was a woman and as such unable to be to be Champion. [1]

Margery and John Dymoke actually raise a very interesting point which is briefly discussed in The Coronation Book. The coronation of Richard II is the first record we have of the Champion’s role in the coronation. It is also the period in which the Dymoke family took over from the Marmions as the Champions. The Coronation Book mentions that there was a case in the Court of Claims before Richard II’s coronation. John Dymoke argued his right to be Champion through his wife’s descent from Phillip Marmion and his possession of Scrivelsby. [2] When I found this I realised that this court case would be absolutely key because it would have to include an explanation of the rights of the Marmions to the position of King’s Champion. The Coronation Book  doesn’t really provide that much more detail, but thankfully the second book I listed above, English Coronation Records, does.

English Coronation Records in fact has a transcription and translation of the court case. It’s reasonably long and as such I won’t present it in full here. In summary John Dymoke and Baldwin de Freville both presented their cases to be the King’s Champion. Both of them were claiming the position of Kings Champion due to their descent, through marriage, from Phillip Marmion. Phillip was the last of the main line of Marmions and he died in the reign of Edward I. John held Scrivelsby and Baldwin held Tamworth. There were fierce arguments on both sides. In the end it was decided that as John had presented a better case and crucially because “several nobles and magnates appeared in the said Court and gave evidence before the said Lord Steward, that the said Lord King Edward and the said Lord Prince lately dead frequently asserted, while they lived, and said that aforesaid John ought of right to perform the aforesaid service for the said Manor of Scrivelsby.” [3] This last point is absolutely key because this is the point where the role of Champion is tied irrefutably to Scrivelsby itself rather than the specific family.

So through all this I have still failed to find definitive evidence that the Marmions were the hereditary Champions. It does seem, however, that they were certainly believed to be the hereditary Champions in 1367 at the time of Richard II’s coronation. Baldwin and John were both arguing on hereditary descent from the Marmions not specifically on the possession of their respective manors. Additionally no one in the court seemed to find this claim odd and several nobles seemed to feel that Edward III and Edward the Black Prince had discussed it, so it must have been a position that was known and understood.

I am still not quite finished with this. I’m hoping to track down the other Dugdale book in which he apparently discusses the role of the King’s Champion, as well as deciphering his abbreviation style. I am also going to look into the Marmions specifically, as it seems clear that the role was tied to their family not to the property of Scrivelsby until 1367. I am going to see what I can find out about their role in Normandy where they were supposedly hereditary Champions. If I find anything I’ll post an update.

[1]  The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902 p.151

[2] The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902 p.134

[3] English Coronation Records  Edited by Leopold  G. Wickham Legg published 1901. pp. 160-161

The photos are all mine.

The King’s Champion

This is a post of ongoing research. It began with a conversation between my brother and me. He mentioned a podcast he’d been listening to which had discussed the modern existence of the position of a ‘king’s champion’, a hereditary role that was apparently part of the coronation ceremony. The champion was intended to challenge in combat anyone who disputed the monarch’s right to the throne. The modern holder of the position was apparently an accountant by training. My brother quickly Googled it when I said I was interested and according to Wikipedia it is a role that goes back to the time of William the Conquerer. Now Wikipedia is a great quick reference source, but as everyone knows it should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’ve been reading about the medieval period for a long time and I’d never even heard of the position. Especially in the period I know the most about, the early Plantagenets. I’m always a little suspicious of anything that is blithely labeled as going back to the Conquerer. Also, the king’s champion is such a romantic sounding notion that to me it felt like something you’d find in later eras of romance and chivalry. So I decided to investigate.

It immediately became clear that the position certainly exists today and many secondary sources report that it goes back to the Conquerer. Not many, however, provide any proof of this except to say that the position was, and still is, attached to the Manor of Scrivelsby and was originally held by the Marmion family. So I decided that the Domesday Book was probably a good place to start.

For anyone who doesn’t know the Domesday Book dates to 1086 and was created at the orders of William I, otherwise known as William the Bastard or to a modern audience William the Conquerer. It was essentially a census of Britain, basically who held what land and what they held on it. A facsimile copy can be seen below.


In the Domesday Book the owner of Scrivelsby manor is listed as Robert Despenser.  It has never been suggested that Despenser was the champion, so it appears the position was not tied to the manor from the beginning. However, I quickly discovered that the Marmions inherited the Manor from Despenser through marriage.

I haven’t, however, been able to find a source definitively confirming that the Marmions came over to England with William I. The closest I’ve found is the Encyclopedia Brittanica  from 1911, which mentions a charter from the reign on Henry I in which Robert Marmion is listed as king’s champion. I haven’t been unable to find the actual charter as the Encyclopedia doesn’t give any more information. [1]

The Marmions were definitely in England during the period of Anarchy, 1136-1154, though because Henry of Huntingdon lists a Robert Marmion as fighting with rebel, and many would say bandit, Geoffrey Mandeville. Robert Marmion is described as being one of the only people killed in a fight at a monastery. According to Huntingdon as he died excommunicated he is still “being devoured by eternal death”.[2]

The Marmions themselves are an interesting family. According to tradition they were the hereditary champions of the Dukes of Normandy. While I haven’t been able to find any primary sources confirming this I have found several secondary sources, including an 1800s work on the heritage of the Marmion family.[3] The Marmions certainly were close to the Dukes of Normandy as various Marmions were witnesses to a number of charters of the Dukes of Normandy and the Kings of England. For anyone unaware the Dukes of Normandy became the Kings of England when William I conquered England, though it was not a title held by all of his descendants. The Calendar of the Documents of France 918-1206 lists a Marmion, usually Robert which seems to be a family name, as a witness to charters of Henry II, Robert Duke of Normandy and Richard I. Marmions are also listed  in a writ of Geoffrey of Anjou, when he was Duke of Normandy, as holding property from the Bishop of Bayeux in c. 1150. [4]  Roger de Torigni who was Abbot of Mont St Michel also describes Fontanetum, which he says was the home of Robert Marmion, as one of the places in Normandy conquered by Geoffrey of Anjou.[5] Therefore the Marmions did hold land and have influence with the Dukes of Normandy, so the tradition that they were the hereditary champions of the Dukes is not impossible. Also if the name Marmion is familiar it is because one particular Marmion is the subject of a Walter Scott poem. It can be found at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5077 and seems to be a largely romantic and fictionalised account of a Marmion at Flodden Field.

It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that the concept of a royal champion was in existence in this time period. The concept of a non royal champion certainly existed in this time period. Champions were, to an extent, part of the judicial system. They were usually used by those who could not fight for themselves; either due to age, gender, infirmity, religious position i.e a monk, or the fact that they were an entity i.e a town or monastery. Not many contracts for these sorts of champions survive, but they did exist. For more information on the role please see Trial By Battle in  France and England by Ariella Elemma. [6] The concept of a judicial champion is more documented in France, but it did happen in England. As Elemma says the earliest known record of a champion contract in England is the pipe roll from the ninth year of the reign of Henry II which lists a payment of what amounts to a year’s wage to a Thomas as ‘king’s champion’. [7] This may or may not have been a Marmion. As far as I can find the head of the Marmion family at the time was Robert Marmion. It is therefore possible that the ‘Thomas’ who is listed here is a champion for the king in another matter entirely apart from the role the Marmions played in the coronation and as official king’s champion.

The earliest definite listing of the role of the king’s champion in a coronation is Richard II’s coronation, but that isn’t to say that it didn’t happen earlier. For example Henry III’s second coronation. He had more than one coronation because he was only nine years old at his first and the country was in the midst of the Baron’s War of which the Magna Carta was part. During this coronation Phillp Marmion bore “sable, an arming sword, the point in chief, argent.” [8] This is possibly for his role as king’s champion.

The best described coronation from the time period is the first coronation of Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart. Chronicler Roger of Hoveden described it in detail. An excerpt can be seen below.

“First came the clergy in their robes, carrying holy water, and the cross, tapers, and censers. Next came the priors, then the abbots, and then the bishops, in the midst of whom walked four barons, bearing four candlesticks of gold ; after whom came Godfrey de Lucy, bearing the king’s cap [of maintenance], and John Marshal by him, carrying two great and massive spurs of gold. After these came William Marshal, earl of Striguil, bearing the royal sceptre of gold, on the top of which was a cross of gold, and by him William Fitz-Patrick, earl of Salisbury, bearing a rod of gold, having on its top a dove of gold. After them came David, earl of Huntingdon, brother of the king of Scotland, John, earl of Mortaigne, the duke’s brother, and Robert, earl of Leicester, carrying three golden swords from the king’s treasury, the scabbards of which were worked all over with gold ; the earl of Mortaigne walking in the middle.[9]

This is only a small segment of the detailed description. The office of champion is not mentioned which does argue for the fact that it might not have been as integral a part of the coronation as it became. That being said, Hoveden does say that there were other officials and the champion may simply have been counted as one of those.

The existence of a champion who played a key role in the coronation of the king can not be disputed by the time of the coronation of Richard II. Richard II was crowned in 1377. In this case it was John Dymoke who undertook the position because he had inherited it, along with Scrivelsby, through marriage. [10] By the reign of Charles II Edward Dymoke was champion and he was very much part of Charles’ coronation. His role is described below.

The champion, The lord high-constable on his right hand, both likewise on horseback. At the lower end of the hall, York-herald proclaimed the challenge, in these words following “ If any person, of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny, or gain-say our sovereign lord King Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, son and next heir to our sovereign lord Charles the First, the last king deceased, to be right heir to the imperial crown of this realm of England, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his champion, who saith, that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him, and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever he shall be appointed.”

Thereupon the champion threw down his gauntlet, which lying some small time, and no body taking it up, it was delivered unto him again by York-herald. Then all advanced forward, until the champion came to the middle of the hall, where York-herald made the like proclamation, and the gauntlet was again thrown down, taken up, and returned to the champion; who advanced to the foot of the ascending steps to the state, and at the top of the said steps, the said herald proclaimed the said challenge the third time; whereupon the champion threw down his gauntlet again, which nobody taking up, it was delivered unto him. This being done, the earl of Pembroke and Montgomery (assisted as before) presented on the knee to the king a gold cup with a cover, full of wine, who drank to his champion, and by the said earl sent him the cup ; and he, after three reverences drank it all off, went a little backward, and so departed out of the hall, taking the said cup for his fee, according as had been adjudged him by the said Court of Claims. [11]

Edward Dymoke’s son Charles performed the office of champion for the coronation of James II and this time he came in clad in fully white armour on a white charger. [12] A nice little poem written before the coronation of George II sums up the romance of the role quite clearly:

“When first the new-crown’d King in splendor reigns,
A golden cup the loyal Champion gains.
With gesture fierce, his gauntlet stern he throws,
And dares to mortal fight, his absent foes.
Where no brave Quixote answ’ring to his call,
He rides triumphant thro’ the guarded hall.
Thrice happy conqu’ror, that the laurel wears
Unstain’d by warrior’s blood, or widow’s tears. .
Arm’d at all points should he a foe behold,
Say, would he keep the field, or quit the gold ?[13]

The role of champion in full splendour, including riding in on the horse and throwing down the gauntlet, continued until the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. The ritual was suspended, but Henry Dymoke was made a baronet in compensation.[14] Another John Dymoke was hereditary champion for Elizabeth II’s coronation, and while he did not ride into the banquet on a white charger he did carry the Union Standard as part of the coronation ceremony. He died at the start of 2015 at the age of 88.[15] The current champion is Francis Marmion Dymoke, and he is a chartered accountant. What role, if any, he plays in the coronation of the next king remains to be seen.

What my research has shown me so far is that I was right to be suspicious of secondary sources blithely declaring that the title of king’s champion went back to the Conquerer. While it is possible that kings’ champions played roles in Norman and early Plantagenet coronations, and it certainly seems to be what tradition says, there is little primary proof. I will continue to have a dig around and I’ll update this post if I find anything new. If anyone reading this has a source of information I haven’t found, please feel free to let me know. I would like to say quickly that I have looked at the peerage book from the 1800s that Wikipedia references, it provides no sources for the sweeping statements it makes so I deliberately have not included it. 


P.S I have done some more research and managed to track the champion definitively to the coronation of Richard II and to a court case which makes it clear that the Marmion family were at least thought to have been the champions then. I’ve written it up in a seperate post and it can be found here.


[1]  http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/CAU_CHA/CHAMPION_Fr_champion_Late_Lat_c.html

[2] Henry of Huntington. The History of the English People 1000-1154, translated by Diana Greenway. ISBN970199554805. P.83

[3]  History of the ancient noble family of Marmyun; their singular office of King’s champion, by the tenure of the baronial manor of Scrivelsby, in the county of Lincoln: also other dignitorial tenures, and the services of London, Oxford, etc. on the coronation day. The whole collected at a great expense from the public records … by T. C. Banks. esq.https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=27 p. 6

[4] Calendar of Documents from France https://archive.org/details/cu31924028043663

[5] Roger de Torigni Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Volume 4 https://archive.org/stream/chroniclesofreig04howl#page/138/mode/2up/search/marmion p. 139


[7] Elemma, p. 211

[8] An historical and critical enquiry into the nature of the kingly office and how far the art of coronation with the oath established by law, is a solemnity indispensable to the exercise of the regal dignity; shewing, the origin and antiquity of inunction, the ancient and modern forms of the coronation ceremony, and setting forth divers peculiar services claimed to be performed on that grand occasion; particularly the singular office of King’s champion… / by T. C. Banks. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=2up;seq=132;size=150 p. 110

[9] Roger of Hoveden Volume II. https://archive.org/details/annalsofrogerdeh02hoveuoft p. 117.

[10] Banks p. 117 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=27

[11] Banks 74-45 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=1up;seq=97

[12] Banks p. 96 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=124

[13] Banks p. 112 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=1up;seq=134

[14] John Plunkett Queen Victoria p. 23 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=b8HVrM5LES0C&pg=PA23&dq=&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

[15] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11512352/Lieutenant-Colonel-John-Dymoke-Queens-Champion-obituary.html




Llywelyn The Great

Today, the 11th of April, is the anniversary of the death of one of the most important Welsh Princes. I am not going to be writing about him in detail. I have written about his wife before and that can be found here.

Llywelyn succeeded in almost uniting much of Wales and in holding off the English. Sadly his dream of a united and independent Wales was not to last. Wales was largely conquered by the English under the reign of Edward I, little more than 40 years after Llywelyn’s death.

He died on the 11th of April in 1240 and was buried beneath the high altar of Aberconwy Abbey, but about forty years later Edward I wanted the land the abbey stood on to build Conwy Castle. So the monks moved the coffin containing Llywelyn’s body by river to the newly built abbey at Maenan. During the dissolution of the monasteries the coffin was moved for safe keeping to St Grwst’s church where it was forgotten about and was found covered with rubbish some 200 years later. It was then moved to the chapel in Llanrwst parish church. No one knows what happened to Llywelyn’s body.

You can see Llywelyn’s coffin below. When I saw it in 2012 it was located in a chapel out the back of the church and was quite difficult to find. There were no directions to it at all and nothing except a small sign propped up inside to distinguish it from the other random monuments in the room.

llew coffin 2llew coffin 1

Many castles you see today in Wales were in fact built by the English. Castles such as Pembroke, Manorbier, Cilgerran and Carew.  There are, however, Welsh built castles and Llywelyn was responsible for part of several of them. Such as:

Criccieth 2CricciethCriccieth Castle


Dolbardarn 2DolbardarnDolbadarn Castle

DolwythenDolwythn 2Dolwyddelan Castle

Llywelyn  truly made a mark on Welsh soil and was a great Prince who deserves to be remembered.


Statue of Llywelyn in Conwy, which is much smaller than it appears and much smaller than it should be.



The photos are all my own.

Incidentally I discovered Llywelyn many years ago in Sharon Kay Penman’s fabulous book Here Be Dragons.  As this blog is largely non fiction I don’t usually recommend historical fiction. I am making an exception in this case. Here Be Dragons is a truly wonderful book and everyone should read it.