The Island Rose.


Last year I was suddenly and briefly transfixed by the story of Princess Kaiulani and the short lived Hawaiian monarchy. At this point I am not prepared to give any meaningful account of the fall of the last Queen of the island kingdom, nor the life of her niece the crown princess, except to say it was a great shame that the kingdom did not continue and that it was not returned after Annexation. Perhaps the tale is the more poignant because unlike other peoples of the Americas and Pacific, the Hawaiians had successfully begun to meld a constitutional monarchy with a tribal society. Making the best of a bad, situation instead of resisting the inexorable advance of European and American interference the leaders of Hawaii from Kamehameha the Great actively sought to maintain their independence by integration of indigenous and foreign culture. Utilising concepts from both worlds. The Kingdom of Hawaii therefore was no kind of “inferior” race that the “civilised” world needed to take in hand. If this model had been allowed to flourish who knows what might have happened, but instead the greed of big business and America’s brief flirtation with imperial ambition swallowed it.


Poppies”, landscape of the Scottish countryside, oil on canvas by Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn, (father’s name) 1890. A letter written to her Father from Great Harrowden Hall, near Wellingborough, indicates that she painted this for her ‘Auntie Liliu’, Princess Liliuokalani.

During the all too brief golden age of the Kingdom, presided over a court full of diversity and mixed traditions. They entertained heads of state and patronised artists, offering a sanctuary for the perpetually ailing Robert Louis Stevenson who befriended the father of the Crown Princess, Victoria Kaiulani (Cleghorn). In the spirit of the age, & in keeping with the role the Hawaiian monarchy wished to play in it, the princess was to be sent abroad, to Britain for a formal education. Before she left her friend Stevenson penned a small farewell poem in her autograph book.


Scottish Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Princess Victoria Kaiulani, c. 1891, Bishop Museum.

“Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.”


Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.”

In 1894, Stevenson died, but though saddened, Kaiulani’s world had already fallen apart. The year before a perfunctory telegram had announced flatly that the monarchy had been abrogated. The same year that Stevenson passed away the Republic of Hawaii was created, a step that lead to American annexation in 1898. The princess died in 1899 of inflammatory rheumatism, in Hawaii, brought on by a bout of pneumonia contracted the year before. Her legacy is one of romantic tragedy & idealism, she was the hope of her people, strong & couragous in many ways but indeed also as her old Scottish friend alluded in his touching little poem, as fragile & delicate as an Island Rose.



Book Review: Templar Knight vs Mamluk Warrior by David Campbell.

Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Publication date: 20 Nov 2015
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472813332


In Osprey’s latest Combat title; Templar Knight versus Mamluk Warrior David Campbell attempts to show how the warrior elites of two cultures went about their business. During the 5th, 6th and 7th Crusades, all of which tested the respective sides’ ability to respond to fast changing situations and high stress battlefield scenarios.

The author has done a creditable job in examining how the Templars and Mamluk’s fared in combat, each being a match for the other and their success or failure all really coming down to the command decisions of leaders rather than the calibre of the troops. It differs from other versus titles a little in that some of the first hand accounts are from chroniclers instead of just soldiers, and the majority are from the Crusader side, but this is a 13th century subject and ordinary brother Knights and Mamluk soldiers didn’t tend to write down their experiences. So too there is no escaping the fact that the basic dynamic of Crusading warfare is fairly well known, and therefore little can be added to the discussion that the western Knights were at a great disadvantage if the Saracens did not choose to play their game. Despite these foibles of the Crusades, an excellent point is made by Campbell in the Analysis section at the end, about how the common comparison between the Templars and Mamluk’s is faulted, and should be kept very much in mind. Only the Templars were properly Holy Warriors. Their business was to fight for God and defend the Holy land. The Mamluk’s were closer to the idea of a secular retinue, however unlike their western counterparts, they too had one primary job, which was to fight for the ruler of Egypt.

So what we have is a great investigation into two of the most professional bodies of troops in the Middle Ages. Bringing the spotlight onto a little discussed phase in the Crusading story. The book starts out with filling the reader in with all the basics needed to contextualise the action. Building a picture of two fairly well matched military elites, it then examines in as much detail as possible the two sides in combat. The battles of Damietta, La Forbie and al-Mansūrah are well done, mirroring as they do a shift in crusader strategy looking away from Jerusalem to Egypt, and continuing the pattern of inexplicable luck, stupidity and misfortune that typify much of the Crusades. There is admittedly a feeling that it was the Crusader’s game to lose, and nitty gritty tactical examinations are surrendered more to the big picture than in other titles of the series, but again that is more to do with the levels of literacy and the style in which chronicles were written. The book is illustrated throughout with full colour images and helpful maps. The main illustrations by Johnny Shumate, a CG artist whose work I have long appreciated, and suit the nature of the series very well, the excellent split screen artwork of the charge at La Forbie, being the highlight.

This is the Crusades from the front lines, and is a good book that tackles the classic “who would win” scenario, and acts as a balancing companion to already published titles, highlighting as it does the key elements that made the Tempars such a formidable fighting force regardless of victory or defeat and how the Mamluk’s were able to tackle them.


The Celtic Orations

Barbarian is an ugly term. At its most polite it could be said to mean foreigner or “different”, but what it really means is uncivilised, or savage. The Greeks and Romans had precise ideas about what made someone civilised, and indeed human. Not even the Persians, who by most standards were a very advanced race, were called Barbarians. If these people couldn’t escape the stigma, then what hope did the clannish celts of the North stand? Continue reading

Book Review: Tippecanoe 1811 by John F Winkler.


Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (20 Oct. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472808843
ISBN-13: 978-1472808844

It would probably be fair to say that the majority of the U.S. army’s activities between the major wars involved campaigns with the Native Indian Tribes of America. Most people think identify the Indian Wars with those fought on the plains of western North America agains the Sioux etc. However that was only the tail end of the struggle to dominate the continent. Realistically the new nation had been fighting the Indians since they declared themselves Independent, and the U.S. Army began this long train of costly suppression not in the 1860s but in the late 18th century.

The wars fought against the woodland tribes of the North Eastern and western territories constitutes one of the more little known stories of American military history. Osprey has recently plunged into this area with four Campaign titles examining key battles of these early Indian Wars.

The latest is Tippecanoe 1811 by John Winkler, who indeed has written the other three. After subduing the Iroquois during the revolution the Americans suffered the greatest defeat they had ever experienced at the hand of the American Indians at Wabash. The balance was redressed when the U.S. Defeated the tribes at Fallen Timbers in 1794. This book examines what happened 16 years later. On the verge of the War of 1812 a new wave of Indian leaders stirred up the tribes. Tecumseh and his brother the “Prophet”, who could be considered a northern Sitting Bull, were at the forefront, both utilising a blend of oratory and spiritual guidance to combat the ever encroaching United States and try to unify the great Indian nations against the whites.

Having gathered his followers the Prophet’s activities, mixed with the idea of Tecumseh’s unified Indian Confederation that would fight America in one last Great War, soon began to worry the local authorities and an American force under future president William Henry Harrison was sent to break up the party. There can be few ways to view this campaign other than a militarised police action, designed to shore up the shaky northwest frontier, and Winkler presents a detailed and clear analysis of the leadup and campaign.

The battle itself is particularly well described, in an atmospheric and readable way. The author has been able to bring clarity to the many exceptional American contemporary sources, which in retelling a battle like this tend to confuse as much as inform. In many ways this is a typical frontier battle that you might find in western fiction, filled with marches over tough terrain, legendary characters, hardship, a dangerous enemy and a dramatic final battle.

The book focuses mainly on the American side, probably from want of Indian sources, and is accompanied by very detailed maps, 2 3D maps, and three full colour plates by the industrious Peter Dennis that as usual puts you in the action. There’s a flavour in them of the action and adventure that I liked so much in the better drawn Commando Books, the best of this trio is probably the one showing the reeling American Left flank, if only because of the silhouettes grappling inside the tent. A small pinch of artistic license has been used so that the viewer can see what is going on, therefore we are able to observe much more of the terrain than what the three feet one witness described, but a pitch black page wouldn’t be very interesting to look at.

One gets the impression that this battle became a sort of frontier fable that would make its participants into folk hero’s like Davy Crockett and General Jackson, it shouldn’t be overlooked that both Jackson and Harrison were Indian fighters before they were presidents, Crockett even considered running for office, and it did a political career no harm to have some successful wilderness exploits against the Indians under ones belt.

All in all events like this shaped many of the men who would lead America into the 19th century, and they are therefore worthy of more attention than they have received. Obviously the author is comfortable in his field, indeed given the fine series of books he has produced it might be fair to say that what he doesn’t know about early frontier warfare isn’t worth telling, and with the usual Osprey formula of small size and comprehensive analysis, this is a book worth getting for all students of the American frontier. I’ll be looking forward to the upcoming 2016 book on the battle of the Thames.


Book Review: A Short History of the Peninsular War by Mark Simner.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 3752 KB
Print Length: 86 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Mark Simner; 1 edition (22 Sept. 2015)

I should probably preface this by saying I have E-known Mark Simner for some years now. The supposed drawback of this is that I might lose some objectivity, however having exchanged many messages with him over the web I feel this allows me to assure perspective readers of this new author’s dedication to his subject in a way I could not with someone else.

Strange as it seems the Peninsular War is becoming a niche subject. It is a field of enquiry dominated by ex soldiers, a handful of dedicated historians and professors of British military history or Hispanic studies and those devoted fans of Bernard Cornwell’s books and of course the Sean Bean series.

When casting around for some kind of introduction therefore readers are left with a stark choice, in that there has not been a readable summary history of the war written since Roger Parkinson’s 1973 contribution to The British at War series and Michael Glover’s concise history in 1974. Mark Simner’s new book has taken a step in the right direction to redress the balance.

It is a short, concise, smartly illustrated little book with an encyclopaedic feel to it. Each chapter covers about a year or so of the war. At the end of each chapter there are small biographies of key players, and at the finish is a small bibliography and a guide to battlefields, I think one could easily dip in and out of it at will. This book would be perfect for those who want to read history but excuse themselves because they have no time to delve into 300 pages as it could easily be read in a few hours. It would be extremely useful to younger readers or those completely uninitiated to the Peninsular War because of its relative simplicity, yet fine presentation of the important facts. For instance the most impressive feature is probably its blending of Portuguese and Spanish effort into the standard narrative, which could just as easily have been a summary of Wellington’s battles. So even for the veteran enthusiast there is likely to be something new to discover.


Review: Cosmonauts, the birth of the Space Age at the Science Museum.



Cosmonauts, birth of the space age, is an exhibition well worth a visit no matter how interested you are in Space. I spent over an hour and half there, and probably could have comfortably stretched another 30 minutes out of it, so even I hadn’t gotten a gratis ticket because I have a blog I would have gladly paid the entrance fee at the ticket office, instead of at the gift shop at the end. It’s layout cleverly takes you through a chronological story from 1903 to 2010, the amount of 1st’s the Soviet Space Program and today’s Roscosmos accrued in that time is baffling. It is full of atmosphere and education, representing years of work to get the 150 or so artifacts to London from Moscow, almost none of which have ever left Russia. The guides and curators are very knowledgable and take time with people. When I was there several of them had extended conversations with an elderly Polish woman who was very voluble about her admiration of Russia, and eager to learn the details about the Cosmonauts and show her young relative around. The museum guards keep a sharp eye on those carrying cameras, so if you are carrying one make sure the lens cap is on and in a neutral position, it helps them relax. Backpacks appear to be fine, I saw two people wearing them. When I visited it was very overheated, so just in case wear something that isn’t too bulky or that you can comfortably carry around. The exhibition lets out into the well stocked gift shop and subsequently into the cafe. There are T shirts, and buttons and pins, a space dog cuddly toy, a great selection of books and stacks of postcards and prints. And if your budget goes to £100 and your style is akin to Will.I.A.M then the replica Cosmonaut jacket is definitely for you.
This exhibition was better than I could have expected, so please, when you go take your time to appreciate it to its full, it truly is a once in a lifetime show that tells a largely untold story. It is an exhibition that will make you reevaluate what you thought you knew about the Space Race, and encourage you to think about the importance of cooperation in the the future.

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age
Discover the story of Russian space travel in this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition
From 18/09/2015
To 13/03/2016
Price: £14 (concessions available)
Continue reading