Newsletter 25

Welcome to the December 2011 issue of our occasional newsletter.

ORACLES

Christmas time, New Year and the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere) all come so close together that for some purposes they almost merge. Superstitious attempts to foretell the future by means of old folklore rituals have attached themselves to midwinter’s day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, midnight on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, reflecting the more general feeling of change that this time of year brings. It is also, perhaps, a reflection of hope for a brighter future in the dark days of winter. Nowadays it is not necessary to carry out a ritual or consult an oracle to obtain an unreliable idea of what the future holds, since all the news media are overflowing with economic experts, political experts, meteorological experts and so on, all giving their predictions for the months ahead. Nor do you have to wait until a specific time of year, because such forecasts are now available 24 hours a day, along with astrological predictions.

Delphic oracle

In ancient Greece the popular method of foretelling the future was to consult an oracle. The most famous was the oracle of the god Apollo at Delphi in central Greece. Originally this oracle operated on only one day a year, but this was later extended to nine days. Not only was the enquirer obliged to be at the oracle at the appropriate time, but he had to perform certain rituals, an important part of which was paying the fee for consulting the oracle. After purifying himself with holy water, an animal was sacrificed on an altar outside the temple of Apollo. If the result of the sacrifice was regarded as auspicious, he could enter the temple and sacrifice on an inner altar, before submitting his question to the Pythia.

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi

The Pythia was a priestess of Apollo who had to be over 50 years of age, and once appointed as Pythia, she had to remain chaste. She sat in the innermost sanctuary of the temple and entered a state of trance before delivering the answer to the enquiry. Because the answers from the oracle were usually ambiguous, everything relied on their interpretation.

A great empire

King Croesus was presented with a typically enigmatic reply. He was the ruler of Lydia, a kingdom in Asia Minor covering an area that now forms part of western Turkey. Lydia was the first ancient state to issue coinage, and during the reign of Croesus (approximately 560 to 546 BC), the Lydian empire expanded along the western seaboard of what is now Turkey. The wealth of such a powerful monarch became legendary, and Croesus made rich offerings at various Greek shrines, most notably Delphi.

Eventually the Lydian empire was threatened by the increase in power of Persia, and so Croesus consulted the oracle. He was told that ‘If you cross the River Halys, you will destroy a great empire’. Interpreting this as a sign that he would defeat the Persians, Croesus crossed the river and attacked. The Persians were led by Cyrus the Great, and they won the battle and captured Sardis, the capital of Lydia. It was the Lydian empire and not the Persian empire that was destroyed. Croesus proved to be the last king of Lydia.

Nothing changes

It would be interesting to know whether the Lydians would still have lost if Croesus had not crossed the Halys. Did the Pythia or her advisers know that Lydia was likely to lose? And that even without prompting, Croesus was likely to be overconfident? Certainly the ambiguous nature of the answers from the Delphic oracle is similar to the way modern experts hedge their bets in forecasts or astrologers give their predictions. Even so, such forecasts remained popular, however useless, and much is the same today. The oracle at Delphi still functioned in the Roman period, but the great treasures amassed there were plundered on a couple of occasions. The site continued to attract visitors, although more as a tourist attraction than a religious site, until it was finally closed down by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in AD 395.

A CHRISTMAS SLIP

Rise and fall of the port

Axmouth in Devon is a small seaside village divided from the town of Seaton to the west by the mouth of the River Axe. The place was a major port in pre-Roman times and probably continued as a port after the Roman conquest. The Fosse Way, the Roman road connecting Lincoln and Exeter, actually aims straight for Axmouth on the map, and so there must have been a road linking the Roman port to that major road. The port seems to have continued into Saxon times, but by the 16th century a pebble ridge had encroached on the inlet to the harbour from the sea, reducing it to a narrow channel. Subsequent attempts to improve the harbour were not successful, but Axmouth continued as a small working port well into the 19th century, before the railways eventually killed off its trade. After this it became a picturesque coastal backwater, eclipsed by the adjacent town of Seaton.

The Great Landslip

Axmouth briefly hit the headlines at Christmas 1839 with a spectacular land movement about 2 miles east of the mouth of the River Axe. At Dowlands Farm, early on the morning of Christmas Eve, ominous low rumbling and crushing sounds were heard, but nothing could be seen. Twenty-four hours later, at 4 am on Christmas morning, similar sounds were heard. Farm labourers nearby found that their cottages had moved and warped to such an extent that they had to force their doors open with crowbars to escape. Outside they saw the ground was sinking – sliding away in terraces towards the sea. The subsidence continued throughout Christmas Day, accompanied by thunderous roaring and grinding noises. Eventually a large area, several hundred feet wide and about a mile long, sank to form a chasm nearly 200 feet deep.

A contemporary print of the landslip at Axmouth
A contemporary print of the landslip at Axmouth

The ground subsided in slabs, so that at the bottom of the chasm an orchard and parts of fields were recognisable, almost untouched, with their crops and lengths of hedges largely intact. In other places the ground was broken and churned up, and the landslip left in place pinnacles or rough truncated cones of chalk, once buried but now protruding from the new lowered surface. To the south of this chasm, the land right on the shoreline, about half a mile wide, had moved seaward and the adjacent seabed was raised, pushing the sea further out from the coast and forming a new reef. The earth movement enclosed two basins or harbours at each end of the new reef, but the reef washed away after a few months. During this upheaval it was fortunate that no-one was hurt, and the little port of Axmouth was not affected.

Because of its spectacular nature, the landslip was widely reported. Some coastguards had seen flashes of fire and noticed sulphur fumes, so an earthquake or even a volcanic eruption was suspected. Questions were asked in Parliament and scientists hurried to study the event – it was named the Great Landslip of 1839. Visitors came from far and wide to see it, and in London details of a new dance called the landslip quadrille were sold with a print of the scene. Even Queen Victoria sailed over from the Isle of Wight in her yacht, but viewed it from afar and did not land. The Penny Magazine carried an account of the phenomenon a few weeks later:

‘The concourse of persons which has flocked to the scene of devastation is incredible; many thousands have been there, congregated from almost every county in the kingdom, even the most distant. The crops of the two farms which have suffered (that is Dowlands and Little Bendon) were getting so spoilt and trodden down by these visitors, that the tenants, in order to save something from the wreck, and in some sort remunerate themselves, held it necessary to levy a toll of sixpence per head on all tresspassers. In this way it is supposed that they are reaping a silver harvest, far richer even than if the catastrophe had never occurred. The crowds during the first week were too numerous to be counted.’

The picture was not quite so rosy for the farmers as was portrayed, because they lost over 20 acres of corn and turnips, and it took some time to make up for what they had lost. However, they continued to charge spectators until the late 1930s. The landslip is still a spectacular stretch of coastline, but now it is a National Nature Reserve full of wildlife and rare plants.

A DECEMBER STORM IN NOVEMBER

The most severe storm ever to have hit Britain (since records began, as meteorologists are so fond of saying) was probably a category 2 hurricane. It occurred on 26th to 27th November 1703. This was actually a December storm, because the old Julian calendar was still being used. In modern reckoning, it was 7th to 8th December. The damage was not caused simply by the ferocious winds, but through flooding from rivers and storm surges. Daniel Defoe (most well known today for his novels Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders) thought it was a great way of making some much-needed money and advertised in newspapers for eyewitness accounts. As a result, he published a book in 1704 called The Storm; or, a collection of the most remarkable casualties and disasters which happen’d in the late Dreadful Tempest both by Sea and Land. Such a long-winded title wouldn’t be acceptable to most publishers today! We have just had an article on this event (‘The Forgotten Storm’) published in Family History Monthly, pages 52 to 53, for the December 2011 issue, which is a lovely Christmassy issue with all sorts of fascinating articles, including 19th-century Christmas celebrations, women agricultural labourers and discovering 19th-century soldier ancestors.

RESCUE FROM THE FLOOD

Last time, we mentioned the ‘Falco’ detective novels of Lindsey Davis, set in ancient Rome, as we had discovered that the author had picked our Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (Facts On File) for her top ten Rome books in a feature in the Guardian newspaper’s website in 2009. We’ve since been reading her Falco: The Official Companion that was published in 2010, a highly readable companion to how Lindsey wrote the novels, her own background, the novels themselves, and all sorts of stuff on the Romans – a must-read for anyone who is thinking of writing a book or is interested in the Roman world. And if you haven’t read the Falco novels, you’ll soon be hooked. On pages 34 to 35, Lindsey says that ‘If, today, I had to snatch a suitcase of Roman books from my own shelves to save from rising flood waters, I would grab…’. Fourteen books are then listed, including our own Handbook and classic ones we have loved (such as Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jérôme Carcopino) and prestigious modern ones we also love (such as the Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome by Amanda Claridge and The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World edited by Richard J A Talbert). What books would you rescue from the flood waters?

A SEASONAL BATTLE

One of the most successful sea battles for the early American Navy in the War of 1812 against Britain took place off the coast of Brazil on 29th December 1812. It was a contest between the British frigate Java and the American frigate Constitution. The odds were in favour of the American ship, which had heavier armament and was more strongly built than the British ship – the Constitution had already earned the nickname of ‘Old Ironsides’ when defeating and capturing the British frigate Guerriere, because some cannonballs had simply bounced off the side of the ship rather than punched their way through. However, the real advantage was that American crew was more experienced and better trained, leading to more effective gunnery on board the American ship. The Java was shot to pieces, with a great number of casualties, and the ship was so badly damaged that it became a ‘perfect wreck’ and had to be abandoned and sunk.

As Steven Maffeo points out in his book The Perfect Wreck, most histories of that war deal with this battle in a few pages of summary (we devoted one page to the event in our own book, The War for All the Oceans), so his book is designed to redress the balance. It starts with the events leading up to the battle, covering how both ships were fitted out and manned on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Here, and throughout the book, there is sufficient detail to highlight the differences and similarities between the American and British navies at that time. This approach is continued consistently throughout the book to the battle itself and the immediate aftermath. What makes the book different from other historical treatments, though, is that the facts have been fleshed out with imagined conversations between many of the men involved. Although these conversations are imaginary, they too are based on contemporary sources, and although the book reads like a novel, it is actually a factual book with elements of fiction based on fact. Surprisingly, the advantage of this method is that more factual details can be included without boring the reader. The result is an excellent account of a duel between two sailing warships. If you are interested in the War of 1812, an account of a sea battle or just a good read, this is a book for you. It is published by Fireship Press.

HMAV BOUNTY AND FAMILY HISTORY

The ship known as His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty was actually a converted merchant ship and was never involved in battles, but was the setting for what is probably the most famous mutiny in the world. In our June 2011 newsletter we described our visit to the replica Bounty which was built for the 1962 film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. We were actually taking part in the filming (by Lion TV) of a programme on the mutiny for a new 10-part family history series called ‘Find My Past’, in association with the genealogy company Findmypast.co.uk. Instead of the formula of taking a celebrity and tracing his or her family history, this series takes a famous incident in history for each of its programmes. For the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, the family historian Nick Barrett tracked down three people whose ancestors were there.

We were filmed with Ken Ford, whose ancestor was John Fryer, the sailing master of the Bounty – probably the most important man on board. Before this programme, Ken had absolutely no idea that John Fryer was an ancestor and had never before researched his family history, so this has been an amazing year of discovery for him. It highlights the truism that we all have ancestors! And some of them may well have been involved in key events in history and may even have been key players.

The series is presented by Chris Hollins and is currently being shown on the ‘Yesterday’ TV channel, but no doubt it will be repeated and sold to overseas channels.

Filming Ken and Roy on the Bounty
Filming Ken and Roy on the Bounty

MORE MARITIME MENTIONS

Rick Spilman has posted a very nice review of Jack Tar, on both Amazon in the US and on his website The Old Salt Blog, saying that ‘The details are vivid and the prose is gripping … Jack Tar is an immersive and fascinating look into the life of the British Jack Tar during the Napoleonic Wars. Highly recommended.’ We are pleased to return the compliment, as his own website (www.oldsaltblog.com) is packed full of all things nautical, with up-to-the minute news stories, links to other maritime websites, authors, magazines and museums, and much, much more. A wonderful website.

A CHRISTMAS MELODRAMA

The lost bride

A song that is occasionally performed by folk singers, particularly around Christmas time, is the ballad known as ‘The Mistletoe Bough’. In brief, the story tells of a family celebrating Christmas in ‘the hall’ (of a castle or mansion). Tired of dancing, the young bride of the lord’s son proposes a game of hide-and-seek and runs away to hide. She seems to disappear without trace, and days and weeks go by. Years later someone raises the heavy lid of an old wooden chest in a remote part of the castle (or house) and finds the skeleton of the missing bride. She had hidden in the chest but could not get out again, nor could anyone hear her cries.

Details of the legend vary. Sometimes the occurrence does not take place at Christmas and names of the participants change, but in most cases the bride, if not fresh from her wedding, is at least still wearing her wedding regalia. The legend is widespread, with places like Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, Bawdrip Rectory in Somerset, Castle Horneck in Cornwall, Exton Hall in Rutland and elsewhere all claiming it for themselves. On the face of it, this would seem surprising. Many places make a claim to fame, such as ‘Queen Elizabeth I slept here’, but why should so many locations lay claim to such a specific and melancholy legend?

A modern song

Perhaps the answer lies with the song, because ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ is not a traditional song with its roots lost in the mists of time – the authors are actually known. It first appeared in the 1830s, written by T H Bayley and set to music by Sir Henry Bishop. The song appealed to the Victorian sense of maudlin melodrama and so became very popular. In the mid-19th century, during the research for his work on London life, Henry Mayhew interviewed a street ballad singer who found the song an asset:

‘Sometimes I could take 5s. [5 shillings] in the day, and not work heavily for it either; but at other times I couldn’t take enough to pay my lodging. When any popular song came up, that was our harvest … The very best sentimental song that ever I had in my life, and which lasted me off and on for two years was Byron’s “Isle of Beauty”. I could get a meal quicker with that than with any other. “The Mistletoe Bough” got me many a Christmas dinner. We always works at that time [of year].’

An older past

On the face of it, the popular song could well have spread the legend, encouraging various places to claim it as its own. However, the song itself may have been inspired by a story within the poem ‘Italy’, which Samuel Rogers published in 1822. In his notes to later editions, Rogers stated that the story was claimed by ‘many old houses in England’, hinting that it was long in existence. Such a story was also recounted by Mary Russell Mitford before the song was published – writing about Bramshill House in Hampshire in a book published in 1832, she considered that

‘the place is full of histories. It has a haunted room; a chapel shut up, and full of armour; a chest, where, as they say, a bride hid on her wedding-day, and the spring-lock closing, was lost, and perished, and never found until years and years had passed; (this story, by the way, is common to old buildings; it used to be told of the great house at Malsanger;) it swarms with family-pictures, has a hall with the dais, much fine tapestry, and is wanting in no point of antique dignity; the library is full of old books, the furniture as true to the ancient fashion as is compatible with modern notions of comfort; and I cannot conceive a more perfect specimen of a great nobleman’s residence in the seventeenth century than the splendid mansion of Bramshill.’

Perhaps here is the real key as to why the story spread far and wide even before the song became popular. Most old mansions and large houses at that time had old wooden chests of various sizes, originally used for the storage of cloth and clothes, and of course the story is such a simple one it may have been invented in more than one place. Once well known, the story became fashionable and was available for plundering and adaptation. Just as Bramshill House was considered by Mary Mitford to be a ‘perfect specimen of a great nobleman’s residence’ because ‘the place is full of histories’, it may well have become fashionable to have a version of the story of the dead bride attached to the old oak chest, alongside the haunted room and suit of armour in the hallway, so that the house had its full measure of ‘antique dignity’.

HORSE SONGS

Canals songs

The words of traditional songs can vary considerably because each singer may deliberately ‘improve’ a song by changing words and adding verses, or may simply not remember the words accurately. This can lead to songs being recognisably the same, but with widely varying verses in different parts of the country or different parts of the world. Songs could also be adapted to suit the occasion. For example, there is a canal song generally called ‘Poor Old Horse’, whose wording can be found in songs elsewhere. It starts:

‘A number one came a backering by,
And they say so, and they hope so.
I said, old man, that horse will die.
Oh, poor old horse!’

A ‘number one’ was the canal term for a boatman who owned his own boat and worked for himself rather than for a large company, while ‘backering’ (or ‘bacca-ring’) was the bad practice of letting the horse work on its own without a driver. The second and fourth lines are the same in each verse, making the song repetitive in much the same way as a sea shanty, and the final verse gives a connection with the sea:

‘And after years of such abuse,
And the say so, and they hope so.
You’re salted down for sailor’s use,
Oh, poor old horse!’

Canal boats moored on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne
Canal boats moored on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne

Dead horse ceremony

Some versions of the ‘Dead Horse Shanty’ have similar words, and one version starts:

‘Says I, “Old Man, your horse will die”
And we say so, and we hope so
Says I, “Old Man your horse will die”
Oh poor old horse.’

Other verses of this shanty have lines like ‘We’ll hoist him up to the main yard-arm’ and ‘And drop him down to the depths of the sea’, which were usually only sung for the ‘Ceremony of the Dead Horse’. Because merchant seamen were given an advance on their wages when they signed on as a crew member, they reckoned that for the first part of the voyage they were working for nothing. Inevitably, all the advance had been spent before they set foot on board ship, perhaps on clothing, gear and food, but more usually on drink and women. They knew they were not owed any more until they had ‘worked off’ the advance. Up until that time, they said that they were ‘working for a dead horse’.

At the end of the time covered by the advance on wages (usually one month, but sometimes as much as three), they would hold the Ceremony of the Dead Horse to celebrate. The core of the ceremony was the hoisting of a rough effigy of a horse up to the main yardarm, accompanied by the singing of the Dead Horse Shanty. The youngest member of the crew would already be seated on the yardarm, and when the ‘horse’ reached him, he cut the rope with a knife and the ‘horse’ was dumped into the sea, as the crew cheered.

The Sailor’s Grace

Verses of the of the Dead Horse Shanty were sometimes ‘borrowed’ to expand another song called the ‘Sailor’s Grace’. This was sung at a ceremony for the opening of the first barrel of salt meat once the fresh food, eaten at the start of the voyage, had been used up. The meat was supposed to be pork or beef that had been salted down to preserve it, but the sailors generally referred to it as ‘salt horse’, perpetuating the belief that fraudulent suppliers provided cheap horse-meat and sold it as beef or pork. The ‘Sailor’s Grace’ was chanted like a dirge, with the men standing around the barrel as it was opened, and one short version went:

‘Salt horse, salt horse, we’d have you know
That to the galley you must go.
The cook without a sign of grief
Will boil you down and call you beef
And we poor sailors standing near
Must eat you though you look so queer.
Salt horse, salt horse, what brought you here?’

Ceremonies aboard a sailing ship seem far removed from life on the canals of Britain, so did the canal song become a sea song, or vice versa? There was always an exchange of songs, views and information between seamen and canal boat people, because boats frequently picked up cargoes at the docks for transport inland on the waterways, but perhaps it is more a case of the different versions having a common ancestor.

Mummers

On land, there is another traditional song called ‘Poor Old Horse’, and the first verse of one version runs:

‘You gentlemen and sportsmen,
And men of courage bold
All you that’s got a good horse,
Take care of him when he is old.
Then put him in your stable,
And keep him there so warm.
Give him good corn and hay
Pray let him take no harm.
Poor old horse! Poor old horse!’

This was published in 1857 in a collection of songs which recorded that it was ‘sung by the Mummers in the neighbourhood of Richmond, Yorkshire, at the Merrie time of Christmas’ and that ‘It is a very old composition, and is now printed for the first time’.

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defines a mummer as ‘A masker; one who performs frolics in a personated dress’. It cites Shakespeare as an early source for the word, but mummers and their plays probably developed from much earlier pagan rituals. Many attempts have been made to trace specific identifications between mummers’ plays and known pagan rituals and deities, without much success, which is hardly surprising. Just as traditional songs change with the singing, so do traditional rituals and performances – oral tradition spread over centuries is just chinese whispers writ large.

The term ‘mummers’ has been in use since medieval times, but only in the 18th century is there evidence for the type of play performed. Nowadays defined as a ‘mummers’s play’, it has a battle, a death and a magical cure by a quack doctor that resurrects the dead person. Whatever their form, mummers’ plays seem to have taken root in the 17th century and persisted right through the 19th as harmless Christmas pastimes, like carol singing. They involved dressing up, and apparently the mummers of Richmond in Yorkshire, who provided the version of ‘Poor Old Horse’ above, included a ‘rustic actor’ who sang the song ‘dressed as an old horse, and at the end of every verse the jaws are snapped in chorus’.

Although this Richmond mummers’ song seems like a humanitarian plea for the welfare of elderly horses, it is likely to have the same sort of ancestry as the canal songs and shanties with ‘poor old horse’ wording, with the songs and ceremonies all influencing each other, adapting to differing circumstances and changing along the way. The mummers’ plays and their version of the song are probably earlier than all the other songs with similar words.

Flogging the Dead Horse ceremony

Just as the mummers’ plays evolved into an excuse for dressing up, having fun and sometimes begging, so the ceremony of the dead horse persisted after the main era of sailing ships was over. In 1879 Alfred Simmons sailed from England to New Zealand in the steamship Stad Haarlem. He witnessed a ceremony which he called ‘Flogging the Dead Horse’. This was recorded in his diary, and he later published an account:

‘We had this evening what to the sailors was evidently splendid fun, and what to the emigrants was at least a novelty. An auspicious ceremony, known to seamen as “Flogging the Dead Horse,” has been performed. For the benefit of the uninitiated I explain. When the crew for a vessel are engaged, the owners allow them to draw the first month’s wages in advance; and those who know our sailors best will be disposed to believe that not a great amount of the “advance” remains in hand when eventually the crew ship themselves for the voyage. The sailors regard this first month’s work as a sort of nightmare – the sooner it is over the better they like it. And when the month is up, and their wages commence to accumulate, they celebrate the occasion.’

Simmons then described what he witnessed:

‘Well, this day completed the first month of the sailors’ service; and they manufactured what they called, and what for courtesy’s sake I will also call, “a horse.” The carcase was fearfully and wonderfully made. Some canvas which had done service for our good ship for the past three years, was first sewn into shape, and by dint of much intricate work and delicate persuasion, the internal organs, in the shape of shavings and hay, were artistically inserted. The assistance of a pseudo veterinary surgeon was then called into requisition, the needle and thread were applied, and the carcase stood forth a completed thing. And it was a sight to behold. The shades of evening were approaching, and with them there came the sounds of laughter and revelry. From the forecastle there emerged a roaring procession of Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, and Dutchmen – sailors, cooks, stokers, engineers, and emigrants. In their midst, bound around its neck with a stout rope, they dragged the unhappy effigy of their own creation, and even as Macbeth’s witches marched around the seething cauldron, so even marched my heterogeneous procession round and round the ship, chanting to a horribly flat minor key:

Poor old man, thy horse will die—
Poor old horse. And when he dies we’ll tan his hide—
Poor old horse. Poor old horse, thy days are ended—
Poor old horse.

The ceremony next involved executing the horse, followed by the crew begging for alcohol from the passengers:

‘Having repeated the chanting of this elegant piece of poesy for half an hour or more, the procession wended its way to the foremast, which one of the sailors mounted, carrying with him a line attached to the “ poor old horse.” Amid the united “hurrahs”’ of the English, Irish, and Scotchmen, and the deep-toned “ Hoera’s!” of the Dutchmen, the effigy was then hauled up to the yardarm. Sundry invocations to the publican’s “spirits” were offered up at this solemn juncture; and presently, accompanied by a final roar of merriment, the line attached to the executed “old horse” was cut, the effigy fell with a loud plunge into the sea, and in a few moments the “horse” was lost to the sight of mortal man for ever. The upshot of all this mummery was that we – the saloon passengers – were “respectfully invited” to stand glasses of grog all round to the crew. It was not within the power of human nature to withstand such an appeal, so sundry bottles of whisky were subscribed for, and glasses were ordered.’

Competition results

Simmons may have confused ‘flogging a dead horse’ with the term ‘working for a dead horse’, or this dead horse ceremony may really have been known as ‘flogging a dead horse’ on board the steamship Stad Haarlem. However, if you have just read this piece, the one thing that should be clear is the answer to the competition in our previous newsletter. We asked what ‘working for a dead horse’ means, and the answer is ‘working to pay back an advance on wages.’ The winner of the competition is Geoff Voisey.

JACK TAR IN THE US

We’re pleased to report that our book Jack Tar is now available in the US as a paperback (as well as an ebook).

EBOOKS (or e-books?) REVISITED

We also have some news on the ebook situation of some of our books. The following books are now available as ebooks: The War for All the Oceans, Trafalgar (known in the US as Nelson’s Trafalgar) and Jack Tar. They are all priced a bit cheaper or quite a bit cheaper than their paperback equivalents. We’re still not sure about our Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece. This is advertised on Amazon as a fiendishly expensive ebook, in both the US and UK (and presumably elsewhere). However, the publisher says it is not available as an ebook. We are still trying to find out more information about this from the publisher, but for now we would suggest you stick to real books for that title!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year

As this picture says from the Boy’s Own Paper of December 1896, we wish you all a happy new year for 2012.