Friday, December 7, 2012

500 words

A 24 year old TJ is watching over my shoulder as I natter on.

 I received several emails from people who were unable to attend my talk at the Royal Asiatic Society in Hong Kong in November, so I promised to publish parts of it in future blogs. This is the first installment.

In the late 1840s, a gypsy in Creggan Parish, Co. Armagh prophesied the future of two men: one of them the future Sir Thomas Jackson [aka TJ], the other a Mr. Mauleverer. One of them would die a dastardly death and one of them would be known all over the world. This is one of those instances where truth is stranger than fiction.  For the full story of the murder of Mauleverer and its consequences see the link to my website article: The Murder of Mauleverer.

The parents of TJ and of several other future Hongkong Shanghai Bank employees - employees who emigrated to Hong Kong from Ireland in the mid to late 1800s - were named at the trial for Mauleverer’s murder. None of them were suspects, but they were noted as jurymen, neighbours, farmers, or policemen. As a result of their interconnections, this murder had an echo effect on the future of Hong Kong that bears thinking about.

TJ himself was born in 1841, the same year that another Irishman, Pottinger, signed the deed that made Hong Kong a British colony. Pottinger was the first of eight Hong Kong Governors of Irish ancestry who served in TJ’s lifetime. Every one of these Irishmen was marked in some way by crop failures in their homeland. For many of them, it was the aftermath of the Great Famine that had propelled them to emigrate in the first place.

One interesting sidebar is that most small farmers in Creggan at the time of the Great Famine farmed between an acre and an acre and a half - barely enough to keep body and soul together. This was coincidentally the same kind of acreage that most farmers in Canton farmed. Just as in Ireland, these Cantonese farmers experienced calamitous crop failures combined with unjust and dysfunctional land ownership systems. And if that coincidence is not enough, one of the key crops that failed in Canton was also the potato. I am dying to learn more about this.

I read recently that blog posts should not exceed 500 words. Gadzooks. Now that I have proved to myself that I can actually complete a post that comes in under the 500 word wire – and it isn’t just a Martini recipe - I shall revert to my old evil ways. The next post will definitely exceed this miserly limit.

Also let’s be clear. The only reason that this post is so short is that most of the material has been punted offsite to three links, one to my website and two to previous blogs. This is cheating, I know, but I trust that it works. Less than 500 words. Done. (If you don't count captions & photos.)

Thanks to Bill Greaves who is doing the intro. He did the spade work to make this talk possible.

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