Alias Grace shows the versatility of Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace was my third Margaret Atwood book after Lady Oracle and Oryx and Crake. What struck me most is how different they all are.

Atwood is a talented author who can switch between genre and eras with evident ease. She also defies labelling.

Alias Grace can’t be pigeon holed as historical fiction or a crime novel, despite the narrative being around two murders in a historical setting.

It’s more a study in psychology and the human condition, the lessons from which are applicable anywhere at any time.

The novel is based on a true story set in Canada during the mid 19th century. It’s told from the perspective of Grace Marks, who really was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, and a fictional doctor Simon Jordan, who interviewed her years after the event.

I like having the two perspectives and enjoyed the subtle humor which Atwood always manages to inject — Grace’s observations of the people around her and Simon’s misguided affair with his landlady.

As any good historical novel should do, it also transported me back to the the time and place, revealing facts about Canada’s turbulent political development I was previously unaware of.

I read this book earlier this year during a week at the beach and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A Netflix series based on the novel has been produced.

Asus C302 Chromebook

Asus C302 Chromebook

I’m writing this on a new Asus C302 Chromebook, which arrived on Wednesday. It’s my first experience with the Chrome operating system, although I’m actually dual booting with the Linux distro, Gallium.

This flexibility offers considerable advantages.

The Chromebook itself is a handy device with a 360-degree hinge which enables it to be used as a laptop or tablet. It has a camera, wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity and micro SD storage.

At 1.2kg and 30cm wide it’s a little bulky in tablet mode compared with an iPad, but it makes up for it with general productivity.

Asus C302 Chromebook

The Asus C302 Chromebook can be used as a laptop or tablet.

Chrome OS is basically just the Chrome browser. That’s enough for most day-to-day computing needs but the availability of Android apps from the Google Play store makes it even more powerful.

Using the excellent Nine email client I’m able to access my work and personal email accounts. The Microsoft Android apps for Word, Excel and Powerpoint all work smoothly in Chrome.

Linux on Chromebooks

It’s already possible to install Linux software on Chromebooks running the latest kernel. The Asus C302 isn’t capable of that, but no problem, just dual boot.

Gallium is based on Xubuntu and maintains compatibility with the Ubuntu repositories. This gives access to all the Linux software you could possibly need. Libre Office, MasterPDF and Hiri (email) are just as good as any Windows equivalent.

I won’t be editing video on this device, but it meets all my business and personal computing needs while being ultra portable.

The picture below shows it running Gallium, connected by USB hub to a wide-screen monitor and Logitech keyboard and mouse.

This was my first purchase on Amazon Prime. At $677 it’s a little pricey but it’s better value than a Pixelbook which still can’t be easily obtained in Australia.

Touchscreen works perfectly in Gallium. The only problem I’ve had is getting audio to work, although it does connect to bluetooth speakers.


The Gallium Linux operating system on an Asus Chromebook connected to a wide monitor.

Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison just a kid

It’s a sign of ageing, but Scott Morrison is the first Prime Minister of Australia to be younger than me.

I’ll be 52 in January. Morrison is 50, born in May 1968. If we’d gone to school together I probably wouldn’t have spoken to the kid in the playground, him being a grade below me. We might have played under 12 football together, but that’s about it.

This pointless trivia marks the passage of time. I remember when football players started being younger than me. Adam Gilchrist (born 1971) was the first Australian cricket captain to make me feel old. I’ve stopped observing how young the doctors and dentists are.

Morrison isn’t the youngest-ever Prime Minister. Wikipedia faithfully records the age of the 29 men and one woman who have held that office in 117 years.

The youngest was Chris Watson (37 years, 18 days) and the oldest John McEwen (67 years, 265 days). Curiously, the median age of a Prime Minister on the first day of their first term is 52 years and 353 days which falls between Joseph Cook and Billy Hughes.

Australia has had 46 Test cricket captains, 36 since Federation in 1901. Prime Ministers only last slightly longer in the job.

Insurgents should depart

Like most Australians, I was appalled by the week’s events; the “insurgency” as Malcolm Turnbull called it. Morrison wasn’t an active schemer until the second challenge was imminent, so I reserve judgement on him and hope he manages to rebuild the Government so it’s at least competitive at the next election.

The reactionary right of the Liberal Party is a disgrace. The sooner that people like Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz leave Parliament the better.

Commentators claim that Peter Dutton’s rise would have assisted the Coalition in Queensland. I doubt it. The LNP’s problems are of its own making. The Liberal and National parties should never have merged.

Until they realise that and demerge, they will continue to struggle, bleeding votes to One Nation in the bush and the Greens in Brisbane. I think Dutton will probably lose his seat.


Robert Winthrop

Bigamist and bounder

Bigamist and bounder Robert Winthrop was a gold digger – gold that’s in the ground and women.

Anyone familiar with the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser will see something of his character in the man who fathered at least 18 children across three states in Australia and the two islands of New Zealand.

Harry Flashman was Fraser’s fictional creation of the Rugby school bully who persecuted Tom Brown and was finally expelled for drunkenness.

Although somewhat cowardly, Flashman enjoyed enough good fortune to be mistaken for a hero while remaining by his own description a scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief and a toady.

He was also a notorious womaniser, as was Winthrop, this rogue with gold fever who left a trail of women and children in his wake.

Robert WinthropRobert Hay Winthrop was born on 27th January 1849 in Devon, England and at some point attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Permission to establish this Academy was granted in 1798 to train “gentlemen cadets” for commissions in the infantry and cavalry, along with training existing officers for staff duties. Unfortunately Winthrop’s training was used as his disguise to con people into believing that he was a true gentleman.

He entered the Army in 1866 as an Ensign in the 20th Foot Regt (The East Devonshires), which was a break from tradition, as his father, uncles, cousins and grandfather were all Navy men. His first posting was to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in June 1867. After a promotion to Lieutenant in June or July 1870, he was then posted to Cape Mauritius, but returned to England after only three months and retired by sale of his commission on 4 Nov 1870.

Winthrop was a “remittance man” who came from a long line of distinguished Royal Navy commanders and admirals. In fact one of Winthrop’s ancestors was John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts.

A “remittance man” was someone sent from England to the colonies, usually because they were the black sheep of a noble family, or sometimes because they were the youngest son. It would appear that Robert Winthrop was indeed the ‘black sheep’ of the family, as he was the first of six (6) children {3 boys and 3 girls}, born to Commander Hay Erskine Shipley Winthrop and Ann Hives.

Research by one of his descendents estimates that Winthrop sired 18 children by five women, but there could be more, as he never stayed in one place for too long.

On the 20th September 1872, Winthrop sailed into Port Chalmers in Dunedin, New Zealand from Plymouth, England. He was a cabin passenger on-board the 2023 ton ship named “Hydaspes”.

His father died on 15th July 1874 back in his homeland England, at Bath in Somerset. Robert was not named in his father’s Will as Hay left everything to his wife Ann Hives. Although when Ann died, her surviving sons – Robert & Farbrace – were named as beneficiaries to her Will and a trust established by her father, John Hives Esq.

Some 3 months after his father’s death, he shipped 3 boxes of goods or personal effects from Oamaru to Dunedin on the 27th October 1874. Oamaru is some 108 kilometres north-west of Dunedin, and yet nothing has been found to date (2009) on what he was doing in this region.

From “Inwards Correspondence” received by the Provincial Secretary, it would appear that Robert applied for employment on 11th January 1875, with the Department of Lands and Survey at their Christchurch District Office. It is not known if he was successful in gaining employment within this government department, although if sufficient checks were made on his background he may have been found to be an unsuitable candidate.

Ellen Benny

Partner Number 1: Another three years pass before he marries Ellen Benny in the Manse of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Christchurch on the 10th January 1878. Marrying in the Manse and not inside the Church would suggest the displeasure of Reverend Charles Fraser at Ellen being quite pregnant at the time. Not something one would expect from an officer and gentleman! At this point in time, it has been suggested that Winthrop was the local “Times Agent” in Leeston near Christchurch.

Their first son Bertram Hay Winthrop was born on 23rd June 1878 in the township of New Plymouth on the South West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, some 791 klms North-West from Christchurch.

Two years later on the 21st June 1880, their second son Robert John Winthrop was born in Helensville, just north of Auckland. Helensville is a town on the Kaipara River at the southern edge of the Kaipara Harbour and is approximately 405 klms north of New Plymouth.

On baby Robert’s birth registration, his father was not the informant, it was his Uncle Charles Archer Wells, whose daughter’s entry was recorded directly below Robert’s on the 12th July1880. Ellen’s sister, Elizabeth Margaret Benny, married Charles at “Southbridge” back in Christchurch on 17th January 1877.

Five months before Robert John was born, Winthrop imported from Sydney to Auckland, a small herd of “Alderney” cattle, which most likely originated from the Isle of Alderney in the Channel Isles. One of these beasts was a bull named “Melbourne” from a prized cow named “Argus”, which took out 1st prize in its class at the International Sydney Exhibition. All up these cattle were awarded three first-class prizes and one second.

After arrival, they were de-pastured on a property named Surrey Hills Estate, a 314 acre suburban farm situated 1 mile from Queen Street in Auckland. Invitations to inspect these animals was extended via a newspaper article in the Waikato Times on 24th October. Waikato is located on the north-western tip of the south island, which shows the wide-spread interest the arrival of these cattle created.

Winthrop also owned a racehorse named “Makomako” which he entered into the Taranaki Champagne Stakes to be held in 1882. New Plymouth is in the region of Taranaki which is where Winthrop held 119 acres of farming and grazing property.

But on Saturday 24th September 1881, he sold this property at auction to a Mr. Chard. The sale included farm stock which consisted of a prized and celebrated draught horse named “Lord Ravenwood”, his thoroughbred mare “Makomako” in foal to the renowned stallion “Bedouin”, another mare named “Dido”, a pair of buggy horses, an American wagonette, various harness equipment and gymnasium appliances. So it would appear that Winthrop never did get to race “Makomako” in the Taranaki Champagne Stakes.

Newspaper shipping reports show that Robert travelled by sea extensively between Helensville, Auckland and New Plymouth during this time, so one wonders if he was preparing to leave the country for greener pastures.

Mary McAulay

Partner Number 2: He was known to stay at the Victoria Hotel in Victoria Street in Auckland, which was run by Edward Swanston Hill and his second wife, Mary McAulay. Mary had worked for Edward in his Hotel as a barmaid and housekeeper before they married – on 5th November 1874. At that time, Edward was a Widower aged 48, and Mary was only 21 years of age. In 1875 they produced a son named William Swanston Hill.

On the 11th January 1882 Robert eloped with Mary to Melbourne after feigning illness while at the theatre with Mr. Hill in Auckland. He excused himself and insisted that Mr. Hill stay on, returned to the Hotel to collect Mary and off they went.

Edward followed the couple to Australia and found them living at the Waterloo Hotel in Chancery Lane, Melbourne, where they had been living since 28 February 1882. Robert & Mary then moved on to live at 181 Montague Street in Emerald Hill and were living under the assumed surname of Willoughby.

Edward Hill sought and was granted a divorce from his unfaithful wife in Melbourne in December of the same year. Meanwhile back in New Plymouth, Ellen gave birth to another son Joseph – named after her father – on the 24th April 1882.

Back in Victoria, at least three boys and a girl were born to Mary McAulay {aka Willoughby} and Winthrop between 1883 and 1888 in Victoria. They were Robert (1883), Edward Neville (1885), Patrick Edward (1886) and Ivy (1888).

Two of these Winthrop boys enlisted and fought overseas.

Son Robert signed up with the 11th Battalion, 8 – 12 Reinforcements and left Fremantle on 2nd November 1915 onboard the HMAS Ulysses. He was then transferred to the 11th Battalion, Australian 3rd Infantry Brigade. He was wounded on 22nd July 1916 at Le Touquet and died as a result of his injuries on 25th July, at No. 8 Red Cross Hospital in Etaples. Robert is buried at the Camiers Road Cemetery in Etaples, France – ANZAC Section, 3rd ECHELON GHQ.

Son Edward also signed up and was appointed to D. Coy, 19th Battalion. This unit embarked from Melbourne onboard the HMAS Ceramic on 25th June 1915. He went AWOL on the 2nd February until the 5th February 1916 and was punished on the 6th with 2 days F.P. Edward returned to his unit on the 8th March and disembarked at Marseilles on 26th March 1916. On or about the 14th November, he was wounded in action, receiving gun shot wounds to his left thigh. His wounds must have been horrific as it would appear that both legs were amputated at different times in hospitals in France and London between 1916 and 1917. He then spent another 2 years in and out of hospital. Edward was finally discharged from duty on 21st March 1921. On his return to Australia he settled back into work as a packer in Artarmon, Sydney where he was to die unmarried and alone on 4th October 1945.

Mary Ann Capes

Partner Number 3: Winthrop ‘officially’ married again to the heavily pregnant Mary Ann Capes, a 30-year-old spinster, at 100 Greensbury Road, North Melbourne on 19th September 1892. But, they married after producing a son named Sydney Albert Willoughby, who was born on the 26th May 1889 in Aberfeldy. Mary’s cousin Florence Capes was the informant of Sydney’s birth and her mother, Mrs. E. Capes, was a witness.

Mary Ann was born in Mount Pleasant on 24th April 1862 to Elisha Capes & Anness Wiles. Mary Ann was 13 years younger than Winthrop, a young and vulnerable woman. If you look closely at the marriage registration image below, you can see that there were two surnames registered for the groom – Winthrop and Willoughby, plus two possible ‘conditions’ at the time of marriage – Widower and Divorced.

What is very interesting is the date which appears in the 4th column – 17th April 1888.

The death certificate of a woman named Mary Willoughby was purchased, which states that she died of Phstitis on the 17th MAY 1888 in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. Her father was listed as John McCauley and her husband’s name was Robert Willoughby. Issue in order of birth were given as: Robert 5 years, Patrick 3 years and Ivy, 6 weeks. Other information provided on this certificate states that Mary was from Newfoundland and had been in Victoria for 6 years, which coincides with her elopement from New Zealand in 1882 and her death in 1888. Surely from these known facts, it is clear that Winthrop was out by one month in the 4th column of his Marriage certificate to Mary Anne Capes!

The daughter named Ivy Willoughby was born on 1st April 1888 to a Robert Willoughby, aged 39 (born 1849), a “Billiard Marker” from Starcross (Devon) in England and one Mary McAulay, aged 30 from Newfoundland. In the informant column for Ivy’s birth a notation was made under Robert Willougyby’s name, which states, “declaration under act of law required”.

But back to Winthrop’s liaison with Mary Ann Capes: A son named Ernest Winthrop was born in Drouin North on 10th November 1892. On the 7th December, Mary Ann died at Drouin North of Phstitis and Exhaustion, a condition likened to Tuberculosis. Mary Ann had been suffering from this disease for 15 months so Winthrop must have known that Mary was very sick, as she would have been wasting away and short of breath. Mary was laid to rest in the Warragul Cemetery on the 9th December.

Young Ernest developed Marasmus in early February of 1893. Marasmus is a term used as roughly equivalent to anaclitic depression, a term coined by René Spitz to refer to children who suffer from the early loss of a mother without a suitable substitute. Little Ernest died at Buln Buln on 21st February 1893 and he was buried with his mother.

Blanche Matthews

Partner Number 4: Winthrop’s next catch was Blanche Matthews, a recently divorced mother of one son, on 14th August 1895 in Collingwood, Melbourne. It is believed that Winthrop didn’t stay around too long with Blanche, who lived in Sydney, but children bearing the Winthrop surname were born between 1904 and 1912 in Sydney.

These children were: (1) James Bruce Winthrop 1904, known as Anderson – after Winthrop, Blanche married 2 men named Anderson in 1915 & 1918); (2) Wilfred Godfrey Winthrop 1905 (marriage date of parents was given as that of Blanche and her first husband, George Matthews); (3 & 4) Cecil Bruce & Doris Muriel – twins born in May 1906 (the date given for her marriage to Winthrop on their birth certificates was the 14 August 1894, which was the date of her divorce from George Matthews – another interesting find was that Cecil Bruce Winthrop gave his stepbrother’s name as next of kin on his war records as Archibald Winthrop, when in fact his name was George Archibald Matthews, the only surviving child of Blanche and George Matthews.

Winthrop was listed in the Sands Directory of 1911 as living at Blanche’s house at 60 Simmons Street, Newtown, Sydney. Blanche came by this house from her first marriage to the unfaithful husband named George Matthews.

Emma Gorey

Partner Number 5: Winthrop was obviously seeing Emma Gorey (nee Willoughby) not long after marrying Blanche. Emma was a widow with eight surviving children when she gave birth to Winthrop’s son Eric Paul on the 3rd March 1898 in Angustown, Victoria. There is no birth certificate for Eric, but he gave this birth date on his army recruitment record. They had a daughter as well, who was named Kathleen. She was born in Perth in 1902 and died there in 1903.

Emma’s husband Daniel had died in a sawmill accident in November 1892. Yet more tragedy was to befall her family when Emma’s three year old daughter Rebecca died the same year. Then in October 1896, 15 year old son John Gorey was accidently killed when he fell from his horse while helping out on the farm. Emma stayed on the family farm at Angustown near Whroo in Central Victoria, with the assistance of her brother-in-law Edward Gorey.

Edward Gorey was a prospector who reopened the Balaclava mine in Victoria and it is assumed Winthrop was attracted to this district for its gold potential.

His son Edward Winthrop was attending the Angustown School with four Gorey children in 1898, as can be seen in the image below. Clara, Bennie, and Willie were Emma’s children. The boy named Edward Gorey was the son of Daniel’s brother Edward who helped reopen the Balaclava mine.

Young Edward Winthrop was 13 years old on these school records, so where were his siblings? His older brother Robert would have been 15, brother Patrick 12, and his sister Ivy was 10. As stated earlier and from research gathered, their mother died on the 17th May 1888 in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, and no records of the birth, marriage nor deaths of Patrick and Ivy have been found.

For reasons unknown, but probably gold related, Winthrop and Emma’s family packed up and moved to Western Australia between 1898 and 1900. Although, research by a Gorey descendent shows that Emma’s “brother” had established a business over in Western Australia and also panned for gold, so news of the Kalgoorlie minefields would have been of great interest to Winthrop. It is also believed that Emma’s brother-in-Law Edward Gorey travelled with the family to Western Australia.

Electoral rolls of Western Australia show that Winthrop was working the goldfields with his sons Robert and Edward Winthrop before these boys signed up to join the Army. It is then obvious that Emma and her other children lived in Perth while Winthrop lived in Kalgoorlie.

When Edward Winthrop enlisted with the AIF he named his step-sister Emma Begley (nee Gorey) as next of kin. Robert Winthrop junior gave his next of kin as his father Robert Winthrop senior. Apart from working the Kalgoorlie diggings, Edward worked for a time in Midland near Perth with the Railways. After Emma Gorey died on 21st December 1907 in Midland Junction, her daughter Emma Begley took in her younger siblings, 17 year old Benjamin Gorey and 14 year old Edith Gorey, as well as 9 year old Eric Paul Winthrop.

According to military records, Robert Winthrop senior was living at 327 Hay Street, Kalgoorlie. That’s in the heart of the gold city’s brothel precinct. Another address given was Picidilly in Kalgoorlie. After his son Robert died, Robert senior wrote to the War Office seeking payment of Robert junior’s ‘deferred pay’, but the address the war department had for him was 228 Hindley Street in Adelaide.

From what has been researched and documented, it can only be assumed that Winthrop was travelling between Sydney, Victoria and Western Australia for many years living the life of a bigamist.

Robert Hay Winthrop died on 13th August 1934 in Claremont, Perth and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery with no headstone.