Monthly Archives: September 2018

Rambles beyond railways

Anthony Trollope’s contemporary Wilkie Collins was, like his friend Charles Dickens, a great walker. The pair took themselves off on one occasion and hiked together round some of the remoter spots in Cornwall and Devon.

Wilkie recounted some of their adventures in a volume he entitled Rambles Beyond Railways, published in 1861. One place tbe pair visited was Minions, a tiny mining community on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Its most famous geological feature is the “cheesewring”, of which Wilkie said, “If a man dreamt of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile as the cheesewring.”

Following in their footsteps in the 21st century I can record not only the cheesewring, pictured above, but also the passing of the mining industry. This engine house, below, sat atop a mine here and was constructed nearly two decades after Wilkie and Dickens passed through the village yet it was already abandoned and derelict before the middle of the last century, so brief was its heyday.

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Was Planty Pall named after an armour-piercing shell?

Plantagenet Palliser makes his entrance in The Small House at Allington, the fifth of the six Barchester Chronicles, where he makes a half-hearted play for Lady Dumbello  – Griselda Grantly as was. Published by Smith, Elder & Co in March 1864, this novel – perhaps uniquely even for Trollope, who notoriously cared little for the general prejudice against spoilers – summarises in three paragraphs at the end of chapter 55 the essentials of the plot of Can You Forgive Her? as it pertains to the marriage of Plantagenet and Glencora and the seeing off of the Burgo Fitzgerald risk to that marriage. Can You Forgive Her, also published later in 1864 by Chapman & Hall, is, of course, the opening salvo in the series of six political novels which succeeded the Barsetshire Chronicles as the cornerstone of Trollope’s writing for the remaining two decades of his life.

I was therefore struck by the date appended to an exhibit at the 100 ton Gun Museum in Gibraltar.

Palliser 3

Standing in an ill-lit corner of the museum was one of the shells which the gun was designed to fire. It was one of three types of shells used: high explosive, shrapnel and armour-piercing. It was an example of the last of these which stood 44 inches tall, and weighing a mighty 2,000 pounds (910 kilos), beneath an information board. This explained that the shell was an example of what was known as a Palliser shell, named after Captain William Palliser who had invented a radical new method of casting the shell with a point in an iron mould. This caused the point to cool more rapidly than the remainder of the shell giving it an extremely hard, though brittle, tip. This made it capable of penetrating more than two feet of wrought iron armour plating. Such a weapon was potentially devastating during an era in which the thickest armour on warships was no more than 18 inches thick.

And the year in which Captain Palliser devised this technique for the shell’s manufacture? It was 1863.

Is it too fanciful to speculate that Trollope might have heard discussion of this fantastic new weapon and its inventor and thought it an apt name for the character he was developing in his mind who would become the focal point and provider of continuity through the series of political novels he was about to embark upon?

Alas, of course, it is impossible to prove. And the fact that The Small House at Allington was already being serialised in the Cornhill magazine from September 1862 onwards, and was written earlier still, tends to weigh against the possibility. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, though, that Trollope might make a last minute amendment to change a character name to a new, more attractively puissant and alliterative alternative that was topical and associated with the burgeoning strength of the Royal Navy underpinning the growing British Empire.

It would be nice to think it possible, at least.

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