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June 2006

Arabs and the Mackenzie Institute
Corporal punishment
Edward Purchase
Paul Rochot in World War I
Surgeon Thomas G. Balfour

Arabs and the Mackenzie Institute

6 June 2006

I read your exchange of correspondence with Mr. Thompson of (the) Mackenzie Institute. I didn't really understand your objections. What is true and you should grasp is that these Arabs yet have to prove that they are no threat to the civilization of the western and European world. While I wouldn't attach their hostility towards the western and European nations to their religion - I would blame their religious leaders and method of their teachings in their mosques and madrassas. I don't understand why you sounded so angry which is spotted in your tone. While on one hand you claimed to be an expert on Arab history, on the other you are failing to understand them - why so many suicide bombers? I hope you have reconciled with Mr. Thompson by now.

Raymond Durrani

6 June 2006

Raymond, If you didn't understand my objections it would be understandably difficult for you to follow my correspondence with John Thompson. They stemmed from a public address in which he stated – and I'm paraphrasing him although I have a shorthand record - that the "Arabs have contributed nothing to the Western world; they are an ignorant people who live in poverty." My response was that, to the contrary, we owe to the Arabs the preservation of a dreat deal of classical literature, culture, plays, philosophy, ethics, mathematics, poetry, astronomy, medicine. We use the Arabic numbering system. We do mathematical calculations – as the Arabs do – from right to left, though we have retained our left to right convention of writing. (Roman numerals would be useless for mathematical computations.) These observations were part of my exchange with John, so how could he characterize them as ignorant and poverty-stricken? That's illogical.

You now ought to be able to read my response in a somewhat different light. As regards any Arab threat, it is equally valid to return your statement in sugesting that "you should grasp that western and European nations yet have to prove that they are no threat to the Arab world." This would be the more difficult undertaking of the two given the long history of invasions from the west from the Crusades on. I do not believe that I claimed at any time to be expert on Arab history. That you have this impression is an erroneous one. My references to the works of scholars comes from general and not specialist knowledge. Nor do I believe that challenging John the way I did betrayed a failure to understand the Arabs who are as diverse a people as the Scandinavians, Chinese or indigenous people of North America. I'll not attempt to answer what I took to be a rhetorical question about suicide bombers, which was a tactic begun by the Tamil separatists of Sri Lanka. It would take too long. As for reconciliation with John Thompson that is not necessary. He is a scholar with an expert knowledge of terrorism in its many forms. Our dispute centred on his intemperate remarks about the Arabs I found unacceptable. He, to his credit, was more moderate in our correspondence. This, however, had nothing to do with the fanaticism of a few thousand Jihadists, some of whom of course are Arabs.

Art C


22 June 2006

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A. W. Cockerill

Corporal Punishment

Art, Thanks for your further message. Now retired and living in London, I should have more time for CP research and for updating and will be better placed to visit the Public Record Office, British Library, etc. I do however hope to look at The Charity of Mars, which you told me about a while ago.

On your comment about drumming out, it wouldn't get mentioned on my site except perhaps in passing if it was associated with CP - were boys ever caned at the same time as being drummed out? I should have thought being drummed out was quite enough, from your description, and yet I think it was not unknown at famous "public" schools in the 19th century to be flogged in front of the assembled school and then immediately ceremonially expelled. (The one mention of drumming out combined with flogging that is on my site relates to apprentices at an RAF technical training school -- which is odd, since officially there was never supposed to be any CP at all in the RAF.)

As regards "cuts" vs. "stripes", I think I would have assumed they were probably the same thing, i.e. strokes with a cane or possibly birch. What do you take the difference to be?

I've had a chance now to look at some more of your excellent RMA website pages. You have certainly put a lot of work into it.  I hope you will find time to make an index, so that for instance one could easily refer to all the pages that mention punishments, which may not always be apparent from the page's title. Or alternatively a "search this site" function would be useful. (On my own site I use the free one from, which seems to work OK.)

A few specific points:

(1) On (concerning 1852) you refer to a bamboo cane 5 or 6 feet long with joints or knuckles in it. Could I ask the source of these details?  I should have thought bamboo was rather unsuitable because it is so stiff, compared for instance with rattan, which is much more flexible, especially if soaked. In fact it seems to me that the knuckles in bamboo make it less rather than more suitable, being points of weakness at any of which the cane might break under pressure. But I might be wrong, perhaps especially if it is soaked first. Also the length sounds a bit excessive. I think punishment canes are typically about 3 feet long. Would not anything longer than that be quite difficult to wield with any accuracy?

Also, how sure are we that these mid-19th-century canings were always given on the posterior?  In ordinary UK schools my impression is that where the cane was used at all in that era (the earliest documented use I have found so far is 1820s) it tended to be applied to the hand, and that it was the birch, rather than the cane, that was inflicted on the boy's backside (always bare) in a tradition dating, it seems, from Roman times. This seems to have begun to shift towards the end of that century when birching began to go out of fashion -- although the distinction "cane on hands, birch on bottom" (the latter of course being for more serious offences) can still be found in some reformatory records as recently as the 1920s. Of course I realise that RMA was neither an ordinary school nor a reformatory (how would you categorise it exactly?), so the analogy may be irrelevant.

(2) At we have master Flippant being sentenced to six strokes of the birch. The story refers to his shirt being pulled out his trousers for the punishment (which I think you have described elsewhere as the procedure for caning). But if this really was a birching, surely he would have had to take his trousers down, since the birch was never anywhere given through clothes, as far as I am aware (it would have had more or less no effect). I do realise that this is only a second-hand humorous anecdote. I suspect the instrument has become muddled in the retelling.

Away from the RMA and on army boys more generally --

(3) Sorry if I have already asked you about this before, but I wonder what you make of the caning reference in "Beverley Boy" Reminisces a long way down the page at The implication seems to be that caning for boy soldiers in the 1950s here was an entirely normal official punishment, and yet I don't think I have ever come across any reference to this in official sources. In your book "Sons of the Brave" I think from memory the implication was that it was sometimes done, but only unofficially, and as far as I recall not as recently as the 1950s. (I take it from this account that these "Beverley boys" were already real soldiers as far as the army was concerned, unlike the lads at the Army Apprentice Schools at Arborfield and Harrogate whose canings we have discussed before, and who for this purpose seem to have been deemed to be at school rather than in the army.)  I should welcome your views about this.

(4) I have had in my possession for a long time six photocopied pages from a punishment book that I deduce to be from some sort of military school. They cover January-April 1911. The names seem mostly English-sounding and each name is preceded by a number, e.g. "1176 Crick". The offences are largely familiar school ones ("Smoking behind stage in Gym", "Eating sugar in the Schoolmaster's room") but it was clearly a boarding establishment ("Dirty habits in Dormitory"). A few are more military in tone ("Improper conduct at Drill"). The clincher is that in several cases the name entered under "By whom reported" is "Sergt Major". Most of the punishments are canings, sometimes combined with a fine. For smoking, one boy was given 6 with the cane and also fined 2s 6d, which must have been quite a lot of money at the time for a boy. A more usual fine was 6d. In March came a sudden spate of indecent behaviour cases, and for these only, the birch was brought out (6 or 9 strokes). There is reference to "The Governor" addressing the boys in Chapel. Naturally I should like to know from what establishment these pages came. Do you have any bright ideas?  Would you like to look at these pages, if I were to send you photocopies by post?  (I would scan them as images and send by e-mail, except that my scanner isn't working at the moment.)

Sorry to throw all this at you in one go, after being so uncommunicative for so long. Needless to say, none of this is urgent!

By the way, I note that nearly a year ago I promised to update my links to your pages, and I now see that I have not in fact done so. Sorry about that - I will try to get to it soon.


Edward Purchase

[Ed. note: See the article on Warrant Officer Alfred Fowler (1865 - 1953) led the contributor, Mrs. Fiona Archontoulis of Brisbane, Australia, to conduct a search for her relative.]

20 June 2006

Peter, I tracked down Edward Purchase junior (my great uncle, Virtue Purchase's brother)  and now know that he was in the RAMC in 1904 (see attached marriage cert). He also joined the Australian Army in Adelaide in 1914. Interesting! I wonder why he would have come to Australia; his wife was still in Southhampton at the time. He died in 1942 in the Military Hospital on Oriental Road, Woking. Any further thoughts?


Paul Rochot in World War I

27 June 2006

Bonjour Monsieur, par hasard, j'arrive sur votre site et je lis l'histoire du soldat Paul Rochat pendant la grande guerre. L'histoire commence le 11 septembre 1914.

Je suis particulièrement touché car je m'appele moi aussi Paul Rochat et je suis né le 11 septembre 1954. Je n'ai aucun lien de famille avec ce Rochat, mes ancêtres étant suisse.

Bonnes salutations.

Paul Rochat

30 June 2006

Monsieur Rochat, Pardon moi pour le dêlai. Il est intéressant que vous ayez trouvé votre nom sur mon emplacement. Nous vivons maintenant dans un petit monde, nous pas ?

Les meilleurs voeux,

Art Cockerill

Surgeon Thomas G. Balfour

1 June 2006

This will answer your e-mails, respectively [Continuing correspondence re. scarlet fever and smallpox]: 

I regret to say that I have been too casual in our recent correspondence regarding the work of Dr. Thomas G. Balfour, relying for the most part on memory. The reason for this reliance is that I researched material for The Charity of Mars (2002) book over two 3-month periods at the Public Record Office, Kew, in 1999 and 2000. [The PRO has since been renamed the National [archives.] The book being published in December 2002, my detailed notes are no longer available due to lack of storage space for the accumulated correspondence and papers that filled a number of 3-inch loose-leaf binders. Without detailed references, to provide a logical and sequential paper trail for the passage on Balfour, I relied on memory to augment the published references. 

In this connection, see the short passage dealing with Balfour (pp 79-80 of the Charity book) to which are appended five notes. The significant reference is to the last sentence of the first para. on p 80, the statement being, "The results were inconclusive: two boys in each group contracted scarlet fever."30 Note 30 reads "From Lectures on the diseases of infancy and childhood by Charles West, MD (3rd edn. 1845)."

The lead to West's published lectures could only have come from the Minutes of the Board of Commissioners (PRO WO 143-11 - Minutes of H. M. Commissioners, Royal Military Asylum Indexed Vol. IV, 1846 Jul. 16 - 1860 May 10) or the Commandant's Correspondence (PRO WO 143-32 - Commandant's letter book Indexed Vol. IV, 1849 Jun. 10 - 1854 Aug. 6). I deduce that I got the reference from the minutes and not the commandant's correspondence, only because the commissioners were assiduous in following the affairs of Asylum. Hence, my reference to the minutes was, in truth, speculative and no more. I cannot recall where I found a copy of Charles West's Lectures. I seem to recall it was in the Toronto Reference Library. Before beginning a collaborative association with Mr. Peter J. Goble, I worked alone.   

Peter's discovery of Balfour's frequent entry in the punishment books of the Asylum was the reason for writing the draft text recently sent you. It threw a new and interesting light on part of the staff surgeon's life at the RMA. Peter is still working on the punishment registers. For what it's worth, I have asked him to extract a summary of Balfour entries in the register and to send them to you for your information, Andy, an MS Excel spreadsheet.

Turning now to other topics in your messages, you will be aware from my notes above that the 'Minutes of H. M. Commissioners' are indeed in the National Archives at Kew. For easy reference, a full listing of the RMA and Duke of York's documents held in the National Archives, Kew, is to be found at URL

As to your puzzlement of the view I expressed in the "On the evidence presented...etc." I should point out that my article is written for a general readership, which would not, I believe, appreciate so subtle a distinction between what I wrote and that written in West's book had I quoted it word for word. I do not believe that Balfour's was a statistically significant size, an observation with which there appears to be some agreement although I was not aware this was not generally known in the mid-19th Century. Similarly, I was not aware that Hahnemann proved that tincture of Belladonna given in small doses is a protection against the infection of scarlet fever.  

My characterization of Atropa belladonna, atropine, as dangerous was based on the popular perception of it as a poison. I am not a chemist, but I still recognize atropine for a poisonous alkaloid as a matter of general knowledge. It would be pointless using such words and terms as atropa, atropine and poisonous alkaloid in a book such as the Charity history of the RMA. I would soon lose the reader. For the same reason, I would not use the word 'dwale', but most informed readers would recognize 'belladonna'. To anchor it for those who might not know belladonna, 'deadly nightshade' would register, even with a schoolboy or girl. To me, this choice of language distinguishes the treatment I gave to Balfour's 'study' from the more scholarly approach taken in your joint commentary on Balfour's 1854 report.

Hence, and specifically to answer the implied question of 'substantiating the view' I expressed, I have no evidence to substantiate my opinion. It was a lay view and, in retrospect, I don't think I would write a different conclusion today given the same facts available in 2002 or more recently. 

To answer Andy Grieve's query apropos the presentation of Balfour's results to the BMA, that was speculation. He had to have given the results to someone for West to have published his account of the experiment. I have no doubt at all that Balfour was well-known in London, in the medical fraternity, and among his military medical colleagues. He had to have written his results in some form. We have not found them in the RMA papers and documents in the National Archives. Would the BMA not be a likely forum for an address on his findings? I would think so.

I have made a sincere effort here to answer questions and queries in both e-mail messages referenced at the head of this response. I accept your remarks in the spirit I believe they were put and welcome the opportunity to respond. I hope you find my explanation of notes and references from some time ago satisfactory. I should be pleased to answer any further questions you might have. In the meantime, I trust you will find the information Peter is sending on Dr. Balfour useful although it hardly qualifies as fascinating medical data.

Art C

Coda: [Commentary by P. J. Goble incorporated in article – see The sins of Pte Seth]

2 June 2006

First and foremost, thank you very much for sending me a copy of The Charity of Mars, which reached me here today.  It evokes uncomfortable memories of my own incarceration in boarding schools! The only part of the main text with which I would quarrel is the word  ‘epidemiological’,  which we have discussed already.  As far as the footnotes are concerned, I hope it will be helpful for your future writings if I note that ‘scarlatina’ is spelled thus (note 27), and that ‘using a control group’ was not really standard practice in Balfour’s time (note 29).

Second, thank you for clarifying that the Minutes of the Board of Commissioners (PRO WO 143-11 - Minutes of H. M. Commissioners, Royal Military Asylum Indexed Vol. IV, 1846 Jul. 16 - 1860 May 10) and the Commandant's Correspondence (PRO WO 143-32 - Commandant's letter book Indexed Vol. IV, 1849 Jun. 10 - 1854 Aug. 6) are the only sources about the belladonna trial on which you may have drawn in addition to the passages citing Balfour in Charles West’s book.  This is a very helpful clarification.  I need to look at those next time I visit Kew and it is very helpful to have the relevant URL so that I can ask for the documents to be ordered up to the reading room before visiting.

As far as a possible oral presentation of Balfour’s data is concerned, I guess we are currently all left speculating about that.  I had wondered whether the four sentences quoted in West’s book were taken from a letter that Balfour had written to West, but I haven’t made any serious attempt to find out if West’s papers are accessible.  I may get round to that, and I will let you know if I find anything.

Balfour’s smallpox study and Wallace’s criticism of it sounds interesting. I’ll leave it to Andy to find out more about that.

Finally, it may well be that Andy will send you a draft of the biographical piece he is preparing for the James Lind Library. If not, I would be keen to have your comments on those elements of it which refer to aspects of Balfour with which you have become intimately familiar.

Iain C

4 June 2006

Sir Iain, Thank you for your further comments on Balfour, most interesting. Although I reply, I know Peter well enough to write for us both, though he's quite capable of speaking for himself. There's nothing to be done to correct the bloopers in The Charity of Mars book. Like everything once in print it has a life of its own. I should also mention that a review in the Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research, though commending its research and originality, was highly critical of some syntactical errors and rotten editing.

On the other hand, I rewrote the article with which this correspondence began. It is now posted on the web. It includes the corrections you made, for which I thank you. Getting it right is important to most writers and journalists, so I welcome and take seriously criticism of anything I write. I did make a link to your James Lind Library article, which will bring additional visitors to your site [we get a little under 2,000 hits a day on the site], so the link should improve the readership of your commentary.

Apropo Balfour's 'smallpox vaccination' experiment and Wallace's criticism, while Wallace was an Edinburgh-trained MD, he was, I gather, an advocate of homeopathic medicine. This may have influenced him in his criticism of Balfour's smallpox work.

I should appreciate any fresh information you might get on Surgeon Balfour. As a former member of the RMA staff, we are very interesting his career.

Art C

4 June 2006

Thank you very much for linking to the commentary on the JLL. I am very impressed by the enviable numbers of visitors to your site. Congratulations on building up such an impressive fan club! The minor matters in the Charity of Mars book are not ‘bloopers’. I mentioned them only because I knew you were preparing additional material, so thank you for taking them into account.

You may find the attached JLL commentary of interest. Towards the end there is a quotation from a 1723 letter from Massey to Jurin. Massey makes a justified criticism of Jurin’s comparison of mortality associated with natural smallpox and mortality associated with inoculation. Nevertheless, Jurin’s inference about the merits of variolation was almost certainly right.

We’ll be back in touch when Andy and James have prepared their biographical piece on Balfour for the JLL. Meanwhile, thank you again for helping to sort out several issues.

Iain C

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