Category Archives: Talks

Things are going downhill fast: understanding massive landslides. Prof. Dave Petley. 7th Oct 2019

Dave told us that a land­slide occurs when a slope col­lapses.  He showed us a pic­ture of a huge land­slide in New Zealand which left two cows and a calf marooned on an untouched meadow that was sur­roun­ded by land­slide debris.  Sometimes there is no obvi­ous reason that one sec­tion of a slope col­lapses but other parts are stable.

There are dif­fer­ent types of slide and dif­fer­ent scales of slide.

In Alaska a moun­tain slide slid 15 km across a gla­cier, but in a cliff fall in Staithes a block about the size of a coffee cup hit a girl on the beach and killed her.

Probably the land­slide that most people know about was the dis­aster at Aberfan in 1966.

The spoil tip, loc­ated above the town, col­lapsed and slid down into the school and killed 118 people in there.  He said that this was a shame­ful event, because the spoil could have been taken away but the tip was situ­ated where it was because that was the cheapest place to put it.  The Coal Board did remove it later, but it took money raised from the public appeal for the town to pay for the removal.

Sometimes land­slides have reached the sea and caused tsuna­mis and three massive slides in Brazil in 2019 killed 400 people as the slide front became chaotic.

There are five key pro­cesses involved in land­slides.

1/         The role of water.

Friction is a key con­trol.  Water cre­ates buoy­ancy and reduces fric­tion.

2/         Liquefaction.

As earth mater­i­als deform they go from solid to fluid and the block picks up          mater­ial and speeds up.

(Dave showed a pic­ture of a car half-buried in a road in Alaska, 2018.  He said      that the embank­ment found­a­tions lique­fied as the slope slipped.)

3/         Rocks with defects are much weaker that those without defects.

Multiple hori­zontal defects or cracks are more likely to fail.

4/         Earthquakes in moun­tains gen­er­ate many slope fail­ures.  Nepal has mul­tiple            slides.

5/         We don’t under­stand why the biggest slides travel so far and so fast.

The slides are fre­quent in spring­time when snow and ice melts.

They are very chaotic, they slide far and then con­tinue to creep.  We don’t know   why they become chaotic and break up in to much smal­ler particles and ’liquefy’.

These con­di­tions cannot be sim­u­lated in the labor­at­ory.

Big rock falls are not under­stood.

Landslides are often part of a highly com­plex chain of events.

A land­slide in Sulawesi in 2018 was prob­ably caused by an earth­quake and pos­sibly irrig­a­tion con­trib­uted.

In the north of India, as the con­tin­ent travels north­wards on the tec­tonic plate push­ing up the Himalayas, earth­quakes are caused.  Dave showed satel­lite photos on which the fault line and fault rup­tures were shown.  The are stretched for over 200 km.  These faults cause earth­quake waves.

He showed photos of an area along this 200km fault line where he said 40 — 50% of the land­scape had slipped.  In one place the moun­tain had slipped and flowed down the valley.  More that a cubic kilo­metre (i.e. 2.5 bil­lion tons) of mater­ial blocked the valley, 500metres deep.

In 2007, in a panda con­ser­va­tion area in China, an earth­quake and land­slide caused great damage to Beichuan town.  Dave showed a pic­ture of a crane that had the arm that holds the coun­ter­weight bent upwards.  The crane had been jolted as it dropped over 6.5 metres in the earth­quake. The land­slide and buried Beichuan Middle School, killing 700 people.  The school was a primary and sec­ond­ary school so all the school-age chil­dren in the town were in it at the time.  As Chinese par­ents were allowed to have only one child this was a major cata­strophe. 10 minutes later a whole hill slid down, bull­doz­ing build­ings and caus­ing a massive loss of life

In 2005 in Kashmir a land­slide killed 600 people.  Two women, who were cut­ting grass at the top of the slope, were on an unbroken mass of mater­ial which slid down.  The women ‘surfed’ over 2.5 km on the land­slide and sur­vived.

The chaotic mass blocked the valley and a lake built up behind the dam.  As water loosens the mater­ial the dam could col­lapse at any time, so the Army evac­u­ated all the 1 mil­lion people who lived there until they could drain the dam.

A ques­tion was asked about ava­lanches, which are much easier to pre­dict and there­fore could be stud­ied in more detail than land­slides.  Dave said that they were sim­ilar but dif­fer­ent because the mater­i­als in an ava­lanche were snow, ice and water so much less fric­tion that in a land­slide, and as the solid mater­i­als slid they melted and the water made them even more fric­tion­less.

This was a very inter­est­ing talk that was well illus­trated with slides and a video.

If you want to know more about land­slides Dave has a blog:

Thomas Chippendale marquetry — Jack Metcalfe – 30th Sept 2019

I wasn’t cut out to be a mar­queteur. I even failed my GCE ‘O’ level in wood­work. So I could only marvel at the intric­ate skill with wood ven­eers, knives, scalpels and fret­saws dis­played not only by master fur­niture maker Thomas Chippendale but also by our speaker Jack Metcalfe.

Jack Metcalfe in his work­shop. Picture copy­right Yorkshire Post Newspapers, and used by per­mis­sion of the pho­to­grapher, Simon Hulme.

It was not until the last decade of his work­ing life that Chippendale, the great cab­inet maker, turned to pro­du­cing mar­quetry dec­or­ated fur­niture, but his cre­ations set him apart from his rivals and he pro­duced a group of com­mis­sions that stand out as world­wide mas­ter­pieces of their time.

And Jack Metcalfe has devoted the last 25 years to uncov­er­ing and mas­ter­ing the tech­niques of mar­quetry as prac­tised by Chippendale and his skilled artis­ans — he had a labour force of around 50 people — in the 18th cen­tury. Using equip­ment, mater­i­als, dyes and tech­niques as close to the ori­ginal as pos­sible, Jack has built rep­licas of sev­eral of Chippendale’s most strik­ing pieces of fur­niture.

He has researched, taught, lec­tured and writ­ten about marquetry-decorated fur­niture. He wrote his first book in 2003, and The Marquetry Course became an inter­na­tional suc­cess, top­ping the best sellers list in mar­quetry books. It has been trans­lated into Dutch, German and Hungarian.

Jack at work with an inlay knife.

Spurred on with this response,” he explained. “I star­ted research­ing Thomas Chippendale’s mar­quetry fur­niture and closely examin­ing the tech­niques used by the mar­queteurs of the day.”

Jack, who lives in North Leeds and recently cel­eb­rated his 80th birth­day, took up mar­quetry as a retire­ment pro­ject after taking a golden hand­shake at the age of 50 fol­low­ing a career with BT which cul­min­ated in London.

I worked all over the place,” Jack remem­bers. “My dear wife ran the home and family. I would leave on a Monday morn­ing and not be back until Friday.” And, post-retirement, it was his wife’s uncle who sug­ges­ted that Jack now needed a hobby to fill his time.

Uncle Tommy took me under his wing and gave me the greatest lesson of my life,” explains Jack. “The ‘lesson’ lasted eight years! During that time, he passed on a lifetime’s skill and even more per­sonal wisdom.”

Jack went on to teach mar­quetry at Leeds College of Art and Design, for three years, and then at York College for a fur­ther five years.

Jack’s treadle fret saw.

Thomas Chippendale, the only son of a car­penter, was bap­tised in 1718 in the market town of Otley, five miles away from Jack’s own home. He was appren­ticed to Richard Wood, a cab­inet maker and wood carver based in York, and in 1748 he mar­ried Catherine Redshaw in fash­ion­able Mayfair, London.

In 1754, two events were to change Chippendale’s life forever. He moved into premises in St Martin’s Lane, London, where the dwell­ing offered enough space for the many work­shops he would need to run his busi­ness, as well as accom­mod­a­tion for both him­self and his family. He also pro­duced a port­fo­lio of all his fur­niture designs, a manu­script he called The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. It was an instant suc­cess, since all his com­mis­sions eman­ated from that pub­lic­a­tion and took him into the world of the aris­to­cracy and wealth. It trans­formed his repu­ta­tion overnight.

Most of his com­mis­sions are held in Yorkshire houses, show­ing how loyal he was to his home county. Harewood House, where the great master col­lab­or­ated with renowned archi­tect Robert Adam, has the most prom­in­ent col­lec­tion. In addi­tion Nostell Priory, Newby Hall and Temple Newsam House hold valu­able items of Chippendale fur­niture.

A statue of Thomas Chippendale in his home town of Otley. From Jack’s own web­site,

Jack Metcalfe is in the pro­cess of moving home, for­sak­ing the impress­ive work­shop at the back of his present house and hanging up his col­lec­tion of tools for the last time. “With my books I think I’ve done as much as I can to record Chippendale’s work, and I had eight years teach­ing Chippendale’s mar­quetry, so I’ve been able to pass some­thing on to the next gen­er­a­tion,” he told us.

Sadly, Jack’s beloved wife Gloria died of motor neur­one dis­ease in 2012, and he asked for his speaker’s fee from Stumperlowe Probus Club to be donated instead to the Motor Neurone Disease Association:


Steve Brennan is a retired chest phys­i­cian who worked for many years at the Northern General Hospital and came this morn­ing to talk to us about the life of Gerolamo Cardano who lived in 16th cen­tury Italy and who has been described at vari­ous times as a phys­i­cian, chem­ist, astro­lo­ger, astro­nomer, philo­sopher, math­em­atician, bio­lo­gist and gam­bler. He cer­tainly had a busy life.

He was born ille­git­im­ate in Pavia in 1501. His father was a lawyer who also had con­sid­er­able expert­ise in math­em­at­ics and was an asso­ci­ate of Leonardo da Vinci. He ini­tially assisted his father in his legal prac­tice but left to read medi­cine at Pavia University much to his father’s dis­ap­proval.

When war broke out the uni­ver­sity was forced to close so Cardano moved to Padua University where he proved to be an excep­tional but out­spoken and unpop­u­lar stu­dent. He was gran­ted his doc­tor­ate in medi­cine at the third attempt in 1525 and applied for a pos­i­tion in the Milan College of Physicians but was turned down because he was ille­git­im­ate. He then moved to Sacco and set him­self up in a small prac­tice without any great suc­cess and had to rely on gambling to provide his income. In 1531 he mar­ried Lucia Bandarini and soon after moved to Milan and applied to the College of Physicians but was rejec­ted again. This was a des­per­ate period in his life he suffered from mal­aria, des­ti­tute and had to enter the poor­house.

Cardano even­tu­ally obtained a post as lec­turer in math­em­at­ics in Milan, was able to treat patients in his spare time and man­aged to estab­lish a good repu­ta­tion par­tic­u­larly amongst the nobil­ity. He applied once more for entry to the Milan College without suc­cess prob­ably due to his pub­lish­ing a book entitled “The Differing Opinions of Physicians” attack­ing the med­ical estab­lish­ment and high­light­ing no less than 76 errors com­monly made by doc­tors. However, the book was pop­u­lar with the public and fol­low­ing pres­sure from his admirers in 1539 he was accep­ted by the College. Over the next six years Cardano immersed him­self in the study of math­em­at­ics cul­min­at­ing in the pub­lish­ing of an opus which demon­strated the solu­tion of the cubic equa­tion.

Cardano’s fame spread due to the pop­ular­ity of his pub­lished works and his grow­ing repu­ta­tion as a top phys­i­cian. He received sev­eral offers from the crowned heads of Europe but turned them down apart from the Archbishop of St Andrews who suffered from debil­it­at­ing asthma. The best medics in Europe were unsuc­cess­ful in treat­ing him so Cardano, having been offered a huge sum of money, trav­elled to Scotland set­ting off in February 1552. His rem­ed­ies for asthma were suc­cess­ful and many are still rel­ev­ant today.

On return­ing to Italy he was appoin­ted pro­fessor of medi­cine at Pavia University and acquired a port­fo­lio of wealthy cli­ents and celebrity status. However, in 1557 his son Giovanni mar­ried Brandonia di Seroni who was described as worth­less and shame­less. The mar­riage was a dis­aster and Giovanni even­tu­ally poisoned his wife, was tried and executed in 1560 and Cardano was dev­ast­ated.

His repu­ta­tion rap­idly declined and he moved to Bologna as pro­fessor of medi­cine where due to his arrog­ance he was deeply unpop­u­lar.

In 1570 he was jailed for heresy, a result of the inquisition’s activ­it­ies. Archbishop Hamilton inter­ceded on his behalf and he was released in 1571. He decided to move to Rome where he was well received par­tic­u­larly by the Pope who gran­ted him a pen­sion.  He died in September 1576 and was buried in Milan. Remarkably Cardano was cred­ited with inven­tions such as the smoke­less chim­ney, the mul­tiple Archimedes screw, the gimbal com­pass sta­bil­iser and an early ver­sion of the uni­ver­sal joint. This was a fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion about a bril­liant but dif­fi­cult man told with great style and good humour.









Flower Power’ by Rod Amos – 16/9/2019

Flowers are an essen­tial part of our lives, and are used in drink­ing, for eating, attract­ing part­ners, admir­ing, treat­ing mal­ad­ies etc…………

Rod, a Rheumatologist, talked to us today about the myths, magic and medi­cinal qual­it­ies of English wild­flowers.

As a warn­ing, in case we fan­cied trying out a few myths and exper­i­ment­ing, we were shown pic­tures of 4 very sim­ilar look­ing plants – Cow Parsley, Sweet Cicely, Angelica and Hemlock, the last of these being the killer. Beware! The devil is in the detail!

Modern medi­cine is deemed to have taken shape from the 19th cen­tury, but prior to that, medi­cine up to the 1700s was based on Quackery, when anyone could sell any sup­posed home-made remedy. Purging the humours was another dodgy wheeze.

As far back as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians (e.g. Hippocrates, Paracelsus, Dioscorides, Galen) rem­ed­ies, con­cocted from plants, based on myth and magic were pro­moted.

Even today there are myths.
— Why do we apply a dock leaf to a sting? Is this another sting to mask the first? Is it a placebo? It has been found that if you chew a dock leaf first, it releases anti-inflammatory prop­er­ties, so maybe there’s some­thing in it after all.
— Hawthorn (its altern­at­ive name being ‘’Mother will Die’’), brings bad luck if brought into the house, because decay­ing Hawthorn smells like the decay of bodies, giving off the same chem­ic­als.
— Lilac was used to line coffins, as the purple colour was asso­ci­ated to the last stage of mourn­ing.
— Red and white flowers are banned in hos­pit­als as they infer blood and band­ages.

Some myths and super­sti­tions gave rise to the Doctrine of Signatures – This is when nature pro­duces objects used to treat parts of the body which are sim­ilar in appear­ance :-

e.g. — Walnuts used in treat­ment of the brain
— The Eye Bright plant used for the eye
— The Lungwort plant with spots on their leaves appear­ing like air spaces in lungs, which was used for coughs etc

However, some of the main plants that have con­trib­uted to myth, magic or medi­cine, are listed below. In some cases their prop­er­ties were found by acci­dent, or because of the per­ceived Doctrine of Signatures :-
Lesser Celandine and Figwort. Their roots are like haem­or­rhoids (piles). The former is the first flower of Spring and, like fig­wort, is used to treat piles. Both are used to treat Scrofula (TB of the skin) as they con­tain sapon­ins and tan­nins which are a nat­ural pro­tec­tion for the plants and may be anti-inflammatories. Scrofula was also called ‘Kings Evil’ and was thought to be cured when the mon­arch touched you. Because of the time this involved for the King, ‘Touch pieces’ were minted with the Kings head on, as a sub­sti­tute for the mon­archs touch.
Early Purple Orchid. Its roots are like testicles, so it was power­ful in sexual magic, as an aph­ro­dis­iac, or in determ­in­ing the sex of an unborn child. This myth goes back to the Greeks and the plant has lots of folk names, but, there is no known medi­cinal value. The Church called it Gethsemane or Cross Flower because of the spots on the leaves, which rep­res­en­ted drops of blood.
- Lords and Ladies. There were lots of folk names here too, because of its shape, all infer­ring sexual magic.
Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea). There was lots of folk­lore sur­round­ing this plant, with the Church naming it ‘’Ladys’ Fingers and Virgins’ Fingers’’. Fox=mischievous animal, glove= digitalis in Latin, mean­ing you can put your finger in it. William Withering in 1775 acci­dent­ally real­ised that a medi­cine con­coc­tion for bal­an­cing the ‘’humours’’ con­tained digoxin, an extract from fox­glove, as its active ingredi­ent, which was effect­ive against dropsy, which is a swell­ing caused by heart fail­ure.
- White Willow and Meadowsweet (Spirea), which both grow in damp places, give us sali­cylic acid, a major com­pon­ent of Aspirin. Johann Pagenstecher extrac­ted sali­cylic acid from Meadowsweet. Johann Buchner isol­ated a yellow sub­stance from willow tree tan­nins which he called salicin (Latin for willow). Raffaele Piria con­ver­ted this into sali­cylic acid. Further con­tri­bu­tions in this field were made by Thomas John Maclagan. Felix Hoffman went a step fur­ther and found acet­ylsali­cylic acid using acetic acid. He called this A for ‘acetyl’ and ‘spirin’ as it came from Spirea. ASPIRIN was born. (He also found HERO-IN.)
Oskar Lassar inven­ted his famous paste, which has sali­cylic acid in it, for treat­ing skin prob­lems.
Rev. Edmund Stone found by chew­ing willow bark, which is bitter like Peruvian bark, he could cure fever, as it con­tains quin­ine, a treat­ment for mal­aria.
Naked Ladies, (Latin name col­chicum autum­nale) which is an Autumn crocus. This comes up in Autumn before the leaves (hence the name naked ladies) and an over­dose can be pois­on­ous. It pro­duces col­chicine, used to treat gout. This was dis­covered acci­dent­ally by John Hall who mar­ried Shakespeares daugh­ter in 1607. It was recor­ded as having been used as ‘Eau de Medicineale’ by Banks and Cook on the ‘Endeavour’.
Nightshades – The deadly vari­ety (Belladonna) con­tains atropine (from Atropos, one of the 3 Fates). This dilutes the pupil and even­tu­ally leads to death. It is one sub­stance in ‘Flying Ointment’, used as a hal­lu­cin­at­ory exper­i­ence.
Monkshood – All parts of this plant are toxic, reflec­ted in its folk names. It is still used in homeo­pathy in small quant­it­ies. Cerberus and Hecate in Greek myth­o­logy men­tion the toxin acon­ite in this plant.

Now well aware of how to poison someone, Rod fin­ished his talk with a story about Dr. Edward William Pritchard who put the above inform­a­tion to use by pois­on­ing his rel­at­ives, but even­tu­ally was hung for his crimes!!!

In the Footsteps of Shackleton — Martin Thomas — 9th September 2019

Martin Thomas is a retired vas­cu­lar and thyroid sur­geon, keen sailor and a very old friend. He came all the way to Sheffield from where he lives in Bosham, Sussex, espe­cially to deliver this talk. He was a com­modore of the Ocean Cruising Club. He has sailed to the Antarctic twice and then seven years ago, with a group of retired sur­gical col­leagues from St Thomas’ Hospital, he sailed across the Southern Ocean from the Falklands to South Georgia and back, tra­cing the exact route of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic “Traverse” in 1916 across the massive, unex­plored and uncharted moun­tains and gla­ciers from Peggotty Bluff in King Haarkon Bay to the other side of South Georgia at Stromness. There Shackleton knew he could summon help from the Norwegians in the White House at the whal­ing sta­tion to save the other mem­bers of his Endurance crew marooned on Elephant Island and at King Haarkon Bay

In the first part of this fant­astic, superbly delivered (not one um or ah!) and beau­ti­fully illus­trated talk with dra­matic video clips, Martin gave an account of Shackleton’s exploits com­par­ing them with those of Amundsen and Scott, in order to give a detailed insight into the very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters of each.

While Roald Amundsen was hugely suc­cess­ful, and the first to reach both Poles, he was so driven and force­ful in achiev­ing his ambi­tions but at the expense of the well­being of his men and dogs, slaughter­ing the latter for food. Scott believed in naval dis­cip­line, was irrit­able and not the best man man­ager, but his rel­at­ive fail­ing, in con­trast to Amundsen, was his reluct­ance to use dogs and skis, rely­ing on less effi­cient man­power to drive the sleds along, and using up 7000 instead of 4000 cals/day. Shackleton (Fig 1), on the other hand, led his men by example, was much less formal, knew how to get the best out of them.

Sir Raymond Priestley in 1956 said of Shackleton “Scott for sci­entific method, Amundsen for speed and effi­ciency but when dis­aster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”. He became a role model as one who, in extreme cir­cum­stances, kept his team together by incred­ible lead­er­ship. One of many examples was Shackleton’s fixing of the lots drawn for the better fur-lined sleep­ing bags, making sure his men got them instead of him­self.

His first exped­i­tion was with Scott and Wilson to a record lat­it­ude of 82 degrees South in 1901–4, fol­lowed by Nimrod in 1907–9 to 88 degrees South  just 97 miles from the South Pole. Amundsen won the race to reach the South Pole in 1911. Shackleton then raised funds for a coast to coast cross­ing of Antarctica via the South Pole. Disaster struck when Endurance was trapped, drift­ing for months in the ice flows and even­tu­ally crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea (Fig 2). Martin showed Hurley’s dra­matic video of Endurance dis­in­teg­rat­ing and sink­ing. The crew escaped (Fig 3) with pro­vi­sions, even­tu­ally reach­ing Elephant Island, 346 miles from where Endurance was lost, and where they were marooned. It was the first time in 497 days that they could stand on solid ground but the chances of rescue from here were zero. Shelter was made by upturn­ing two of the three boats and con­struct­ing upper and lower floors – the “Snuggery”. They sur­vived on ele­phant seal, pen­guin meat and albatross. The chicks were a real del­ic­acy.

Notables amongst the crew were Frank Worsley (cap­tain), Frank Wild (second-in-command), Hussey (met­eor­o­lo­gist), McIlroy (head sci­ent­ist), Tom Crean (head dog hand­ler), McNish (car­penter), Frank Hurley (pho­to­grapher), Alexander Macklin (one of the two sur­geons), Marston the artist and Mrs Chippy, the cat, who was shot (act of com­pas­sion as she could not sur­vive the con­di­tions and needed feed­ing).

The only course of action for sur­vival was to risk a 720 mile open-boat jour­ney to South Georgia. The James Caird (Fig 4) was adap­ted by Harry McNIsh the car­penter to raise its sides to allow rock bal­last for sta­bil­ity, strengthen the keel, seal the joints with a mix­ture of artist’s oil paint and seal’s blood and to create a deck. Those chosen to make the jour­ney with Shackleton were Frank Worsley (nav­ig­ator), Tom Crean, two strong ABSs McCarthy and Crean and the car­penter McNish. The latter had been insub­or­din­ate and mutin­ous when stran­ded on the ice flow (see the excel­lent 2002 film “Shackleton” with Kenneth Branagh) and it was a stroke of man-management genius on Shackleton’s part to take along McNish, in order to sep­ar­ate him from Vincent, all for the good of those left behind on Elephant Island. McNish was trouble but if he declined to come, Shackleton threatened to shoot him. In any case, McNish’s car­pentry would prove indis­pens­able.

They trav­elled light, with pro­vi­sions for just four weeks. Success came from Shackleton’s lead­er­ship, Worsley’s mag­ni­fi­cent nav­ig­a­tional skills, much of it by dead reck­on­ing, sex­tant, naut­ical almanac (which was almost des­troyed, “shed­ding its pages so fast” from the ele­ments), a  chro­no­meter, only an occa­sional glimpse of the sun and stars in the extremes of appalling weather and the prob­lem of get­ting bear­ings, and the need to be con­stantly baling out. The ever-optimistic McCarthy was a huge sup­port to Shackleton and the others: “it’s a grand day sir”. They were very cold, inad­equately clothed and con­stantly wet. Thirst and exhaus­tion was very ser­i­ous prob­lems, but all over­come by the sheer will to sur­vive. It was endur­ance to the extreme, through superb seaman­ship and dis­cip­line.

After defer­ring land­fall to avoid the real risk of destruc­tion on the South Georgian rocks in a gale, they back­tracked, then entered King Haarkon Sound (Fig 5) the next day but faced a gruelling 51km trek across the moun­tain range (Fig 6), scal­ing 9000ft and totally inad­equately kitted out. Screws were inser­ted into their boots (which leaked) to act as make­shift cram­pons. Shackleton, Worsley and Crean made the jour­ney armed with min­imal tackle such as rope, rations, tobacco and primus, to travel “light”. Picking fair weather to set off, there were trial ascents into a series of moun­tain gaps and forced des­cents and re-ascents before finally reach­ing a pre­cip­ice… and over they went, blindly and roped together, as there was no altern­at­ive. “I was never more scared in my life than for the first thirty seconds…the speed was terrific…that hair-raising shoot into the dark­ness” (Frank Worsley: Shackleton’s Boat Journey. 1940. Hodder & Stoughton – an abso­lute must-read for Probus). And so to Grytviken and rescue.

They turned up totally filthy and unre­cog­nis­able in Stromness (Figs 7 and 8), unwashed and unshaven for months. The Norwegians were very hos­pit­able, offered baths and food, and they returned to pick up the other sur­viv­ors. Elephant Island was a chal­lenge with four attempts over four months and in four ships before they could be evac­u­ated and repat­ri­ated

Martin’s voyage on Pelargic Australis (Fig 9) and tra­verse of South Georgia in Shackleton’s foot­steps was cer­tainly a chal­lenge for men in their 60s. There was fit­ness train­ing and cre­vasse man­age­ment in the Alps. Mountaineering and skiing exper­i­ence was vital. They were all old like-minded med­ical friends who got on together and they had to be in peak con­di­tion. There was also the risk factor: no emer­gency facil­it­ies in South Georgia! Evidence of life lost in more recent times was seen with a heli­copter wreck en route from an attemp­ted SAS rescue during the Falklands War. Martin fell 600ft and, as he put it, “a very silly thing to do”, thank­fully with only minor scrapes. But, at worst, they risked not sur­viv­ing. Extremely unpre­dict­able severe weather (Fig 10), which changes quickly, makes for a very hos­tile envir­on­ment. But what a hol­i­day!

Fig 1. Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO OBE FRGS FRSGS1874–1922 aged 47.  Born County Kildare. Educated Dulwich College. Died GrytvikenSouth Georgia

Fig 2. Endurance trapped in pack ice

Fig 3. Across the ice flows after Endurance sank

Fig 4. Launching the James Caird from Elephant Island 1916

Fig 5 King Haarkon Bay, South Georgia

Fig 6 South Georgia moun­tains – the chal­lenge for Martin’s group

Fig 7. Grytviken whal­ing sta­tion (by Frank Hurley)

Fig 8 Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken

Fig 9. Martin’s chartered yacht Pelargic Australis

Fig 10. Martin and co. pitch­ing camp at Trident Ridge

In Pursuit of a Peak District Pensioner Criminal — Tim Knebel — 2nd Sept 2019

Tim is a pro­ject co-ordinator with the “Peak into the Past“ local his­tory organ­isa­tion and gave an inter­est­ing talk on a rather unusual topic. Normally, you would expect a talk on the his­tory of the Peak District to be con­cerned with mining, canals, mills and archae­ology, but this was about the life and crimes of an eld­erly woman who was an habitual crim­inal within the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area.

The woman was Annie Burke, also known as Annie Monks, but she had many other ali­ases and was described vari­ously as a hawker, beggar, itin­er­ant and vag­rant. Details of her life are shrouded in mys­tery because she had numer­ous ali­ases. She led a nomadic life and was an accom­plished liar able to spin the most heart-breaking yarns for sym­pathy. She was born in Oldham in 1843. Or was it Hunslet, Leeds, in 1851? Or 1853? Prison records were hazy to say the least. What made her stand out in the crim­inal fra­tern­ity of the time was that she was female and eld­erly, which was not the norm.

She was mar­ried in 1879 to a George Monks and they had eight chil­dren, four of whom died prob­ably when young. They lived in slum dwell­ings in the Narrow Marsh area of Nottingham, which was dan­ger­ous and rife with dis­ease. The mar­riage was not happy with both hus­band and wife appear­ing in court on vari­ous assault charges against each other. The chil­dren were taken into care. Perhaps, this is when Annie became a vag­rant, living by her wits in a chaotic life­style.

Her pat­tern of crim­inal activ­ity was mainly to call on large coun­try houses and vicar­ages and spin the story of her piti­ful plight which invari­ably involved the fate of her hus­band, chil­dren or any other rel­at­ive which could pull the heart strings. Good natured house­hold­ers or ser­vants would give her clothes, food and money but she would take the oppor­tun­ity to scan the house and grounds and steal any­thing of worth. In modern crim­inal par­lance she often dis­trac­ted the vic­tims to select the loot. Also, she would ask for the loan of cloth­ing for a spe­cial occa­sion like a funeral or christen­ing, but the clothes were never returned. Invariably, she would sell the stolen goods in public houses for money which was spent on food or drink .

Clearly, Annie liked her drink which would result in many con­vic­tions for brawl­ing and assault. Her defence in court was often “I was very drunk and don’t remem­ber any­thing.” Her steal­ing and lies invari­ably res­ul­ted in con­vic­tions with hard labour in prison. It was notice­able that many of the con­vic­tions were for the theft of small items like a carpet, a basket of clothes, a bottle of beer and table clothes. Compare that with sen­ten­cing today! At one court appear­ance she explained to the judge that she had 65 con­vic­tions and was going for the cen­tury. She led a chaotic life and one won­ders if her reg­u­lar spells in prison gave her some form of struc­ture with shel­ter, food and dis­cip­line des­pite the pro­spect of hard labour.

Tim was asked why he chose to study the life and crimes of Annie Burke (Monks) and replied that when research­ing prison records he was amazed at the shear number of con­vic­tions she had amassed and was intrigued to know more about her. He came to have a sneak­ing regard for her and, although she was a crim­inal with many vic­tims, she was feisty, hardy and resource­ful. She was a sur­vivor, although there seems to be no record of her where­abouts after 1915, or of her death. Certainly, Annie Burke led a sad, chaotic life and she would never have ima­gined that her life would have been researched and presen­ted to the gentle folk of Stumperlowe Probus Club in 2019.