Wednesday, 16 October 2013

John Barrow (1764-1848)...What's in a Name?

I think we must all have places that excite our minds and leave us with wonderful memories.  Once such place as far as I’m concerned is Cumbria, and the English Lake District in particular.  This is an area I have visited since very early childhood and to this day I remember the awe I felt on travelling through the passes and narrow winding roads of the often mist covered fells as a youngster, often with only my family and the herdwick sheep as company.  I think it must have been then that I learnt that the beauty and drama of nature isn’t lessened simply because you’re being soaked by torrential rain.  I’m not so sure I fully recognised that as a child.  I was pleased to find that Sam had found his recent week spent in Cumbria with his school such a pleasure, and his account of the trip naturally included his activities, including an unexpected dip into a tarn, narrowly avoided broken limbs (not his), wildlife, bird names and a ‘pepper pot’.  This has given me the opportunity to add to my blog which I can’t help feeling has become a little stale of late, although I hasten to add the birding hasn’t been stale.

Hoad Monument..The 'pepper pot'.  Courtesy of Samuel Hood.

The ‘pepper pot’ in question is the Hoad Monument on top of the Hill of Hoad at Ulverston.  This marble obelisk looks rather like a lighthouse and was built to commemorate John Barrow.  More anon about John Barrow but before I go on I have to mention that my conversation with Sam later took me down some unexpected pathways.  One of these pathways led me to William Joyce, perhaps better known as Lord Haw Haw.  Joyce was hanged for treason soon after the Second World War having broadcast propaganda from Germany on behalf of the Nazis.  Having read a little about Joyce my view would be that he was little more than a fascist thug.  Interestingly during one of his Broadcasts during the war he informed that people of Ulverston that ‘their pepper pot’ would be destroyed by German bombing.  It never was of course.  What I hadn’t known was that the title of Lord Haw Haw was not only given to William Joyce, but had been previously used for other German Nazis propagandists.  I hadn’t known either that in what was a complicated case, Joyce had made a deal with his prosecutors to save his wife from prosecution for treason.  Apparently it was agreed to keep quiet about his association with MI5.  The hangman responsible for the execution of Joyce was Albert Pierrepoint who is known to have hanged over 400 people, some of them war criminals.  After retirement Pierrepoint related the story of him having hanged a man that used to visit the public house that Pierrepoint managed/owned in partnership with his wife.  Apparently Pierrepoint had been on friendly terms with the man.  Now I’m thinking you would have to be a fairly cold person to be a hangman, but even colder to hang someone that used to visit your pub and chat to you!  Now I could go on for ever and talk about Derek Bentley, hanged in the 1950s and many years later given a full pardon and also the song performed about Bentley by Elvis Costello, entitled ‘Let Him Dangle’ but I best return to John Barrow.

Sir John Barrow was born near the village of Dragley Beck, on the northern shores of Morecambe Bay and he was educated at Ulverston.  He went onto become a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society and for over forty years was Second Secretary to the Admiralty.  It was in this latter role that he supported attempts to find the North West Passage and individual explorers such as James Clark Ross (Ross’s Gull), Edward Sabine (Sabine’s Gull) and John Franklin (Franklin’s Gull).  Barrow’s role was during this period more or less a desk job and he wasn’t directly involved in the expeditions however Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephela islandica retains the common name in his honour.  I personally have only ever seen one Barrow’s Goldeneye in the wild and that was in Northern Ireland.  Barrow is also remembered in the place names, Point Barrow, Barrow Sound and Barrow Straits in the Arctic and Cape Barrow in Antarctica.

Whilst not directly involved in the Arctic Expeditions, Barrow was most certainly well travelled having spent periods of his life in places such as China and South Africa.  Barrow apparently shot a Hippopotamus and many years later whilst at the Linnaean Society of London when a Hippopotamus skull was being discussed he informed those present that it was not as large as the one he had been responsible for shooting.  Barrow later found out that in fact it was the very one he had shot!  Barrow must have had a sense of humour as he later used to retell this story.  He also must have held some influence as it is believed it is he who recommended St Helena as a good place to exile Napoleon Bonaparte.

Barrow’s writings include a ‘Life of Peter the Great’, biographies of Lord Howe and Lord Anson and The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty.

A relative of an iron foundry owner who offered Barrow (in his early life) a place on a whaler heading for Bear Island and Spitsbergen, Barrow did accept this offer and began to learn the skills of a sailor.  Perhaps this is where his interest in the North West Passage began.  He discovered what it was like to be stranded by ice and Barrow never went north again.  Sir John Barrow died suddenly in November 1848, while writing at his home.

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