Meeting Report: Two talks by members

Date: 
4 March 2011
Occasion: 
Members' Night
Speaker(s): 
Dr B.A.S. Dale & Alistair Gair

An Unexpected Encounter in Tropical Queensland by Dr Dale

Dr Dale, a retired Medical Microbiologist at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, found himself crossing a River Annan in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula. Research revealed that the river had been explored and named in November 1865 by John Jardine, born in 1807 at Spedlins Tower, Templand, the fourth son of the sixth Baronet of Applegarth, Sir Alexander Jardine. In 1835, John Jardine took a commission with the 1st Regiment of Dragoons, marrying two years later. In 1839, he sold his commission and sailed in the Dryade with his wife for Australia, arriving in Sydney in January 1840. In the subsequent decades, he was a ‘squatter’, was bankrupted, became a commissioner and magistrate in New South Wales and latterly Rockhampton in the newly-established state of Queensland, and fathered ten children.

In 1863, he was appointed Commissioner of crown lands and police magistrate at Somerset on the tip of the Cape York Peninsula by Sir George Bowen, Queensland’s first Governor. His reports to the governor contain fascinating accounts of the aboriginal inhabitants, fauna and flora of the area, the health of its settlers and meteorology. In November 1865, he headed south down the coast on the steam paddle ship HMS Salamander. It was whilst on his passage that John Jardine made the first exploration by a European of a river a few miles to the South of the Endeavour River. The following year, his report of this exploration appeared as a paper to the Royal Geographical Society of London and it was in this report that the name ‘Annan’ was proposed, together with ‘Esk’ for a smaller river joining the Annan from the south a few hundred yards before it enters the Coral Sea. Having explored what was to become Queensland’s River Annan, he returned to Rockhampton to resume his former duties as commissioner and magistrate. He died in 1874, survived by his wife, five sons and two daughters.

He and his family are highly regarded by Queensland’s historians as early pioneers of the European colonisation of Northern Queensland. Several of his sons were awarded fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society for their role in the exploration of the region, and Queensland has both a National Park and a river named in the family’s honour. Of interest to members of the Society is the fact that John Jardine was the younger brother of the Society’s founding President, the seventh Baronet of Applegarth and eminent natural historian, Sir William Jardine.

The Orkney Islands by Alastair Gair

Alastair Gair, a Castle Douglas dentist, who has been visiting Orkney since the 1980s, gave the Society an archaeological tour of the archipelago’s 6,000 years of human history, proving the telling statement: ‘if you scrape Orkney it will bleed archaeology.’ No trace prior to the Neolithic period survive, but in the Knap O’Howar is to be found the oldest surviving stone building in Northern Europe, dating back to 3,500BC, with evidence suggestive of occupation for one thousand years. It has a 6,000-year-old quern stone and centrally-situated hearth. The Barnhouse settlement, discovered near the Stones of Stenness in 1984, again has the typical central hearths except for one house, which has two. The best-known site, Skara Brae, was buried by sand for millennia and revealed only in 1850. There are six earth-covered houses there and even a workshop. A complete house is open for the public to view, with stone furniture such as a dresser and beds, covered passages and central hearths.

There is a concentration of Neolithic ceremonial monuments in the Stenness area: the Standing Stones of Stenness with its twelve stones; the Ring o’ Brodgar, originally comprising sixty stones and the third largest stone circle in the British Isles; Maeshowe, the largest and most impressive of Orkney’s chambered cairns, which date back to the 3rd Millennium BC, has a high vaulted burial chamber and three side chambers. It also has Viking graffiti, and its looting in about the 12th Century is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga. In Hoy, there is the Dwarfie Stane, perhaps the only rock-cut tomb in the U.K and the home, in legend, of a dwarf in Norse sagas.

After a quiet archaeological period in the 2nd Millennium BC, burnt mounds dating from 1,000BC onwards have been found. Notable remains from the Iron Age are the Brochs, examples being the Broch of Gurness and the Broch o’Borwick – which has not yet been fully excavated. The Broch of Deerness used to be considered a monastic site but is now thought a settlement site.

About 800 AD the Vikings began to make their impact on Orkney. Cubbie Roo’s Castle, also mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga, is said to be Scotland’s earliest stone castle and was built by a Norse chief in 1150. The martyrdom of St Magnus at Egilsay defines the Norse period, his body being brought to St Olaf’s church while St Magnus’s Cathedral in Kirkwall was being built by masons from Durham Cathedral, which was being built at the same time. At Orphir, there is the Drinking Hall owned by Earl Haakon and a circular 12th Century church. The Earl’s Palace at Birsay is a fine Renaissance building of 1568. During the Napoleonic Wars, only three Martello Towers were built in Scotland, one being at Longhope in Hoy to protect the harbour and British convoys. Maritime archaeology is represented by the wreck of the Iona, which has been left in its beached situation and a block ship from the 2nd World War at Scapa Flow. The Italian Chapel, created by Italian prisoners of war in two Nissen huts in the period 1943-45, is a remarkable and beautiful memorial from the dark days of the 20th Century.