Vale John Fieldsend, CJ

This post is to remember the life of a courageous Zimbabwean, Sir John Charles Rowell Fieldsend (1921-2017), who was first Chief Justice of Zimbabwe. The following text is from an obituary in The Times (3 March 2017):

When Ian Smith’s white minority government issued its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in 1965, it was the country’s judiciary who had to interpret that in practice. Among their number was John Fieldsend, a High Court judge.
Smith had detained several of his opponents, including Robert Mugabe, the future prime minister, Canaan Banana, later president, and Daniel Madzimbamuto, who would become deputy postmaster general. Madzimbamuto’s wife, Stella, brought a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that her husband was being held unlawfully. The case found its way to the appellate division of the High Court in 1968, where Fieldsend was on the panel of five judges. Sir Sydney Kentridge, who appeared for Madzimbamuto, recalled: “The real issue was whether the judges should apply the law of the constitution as they were appointed, or whether the revolution had been successful.”
By a majority the court backed the continuing detention of the men, with Fieldsend dissenting. “He was a man of conscience,” recalled Kentridge, “the epitome of real judicial probity.” The Privy Council in London upheld the case on appeal, but Smith took no notice, leaving the British government unable to recognise his regime, even though Smith professed loyalty to the Crown. The move led to much debate over which constitution the country was following — the one approved by Britain in 1961, or the “illegal” one of 1965 promulgated by Smith.
In his dissenting judgment Fieldsend declared that “while the present authorities are factually in control of all executive and legislative powers in Rhodesia, they have not usurped the judicial function”.
Lawyers for James Dlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadrack, who had been sentenced to death, appealed to the Privy Council, which ruled that their sentences should be commuted. The Smith regime hanged them anyway. Fieldsend now realised that he was an isolated figure in a country that was changing fast. He resigned, saying that he could not accept the government’s “intention not to recognise any right to appeal to the Privy Council”, and left the country.
Eventually UDI ended, Rhodesia formally gained independence and was renamed Zimbabwe, and Mugabe became prime minister in 1980, inviting Fieldsend to return as chief justice. Fieldsend felt that in those early days of black rule Mugabe was making all the right noises. His role was to help with the Africanisation of the country, making sure that Zimbabwe emerged from colonial rule on a stable footing.
He was at pains to ensure proper and fair hearings, firmly opposing informal justice and village courts. He was particularly critical of a trial held in 1982 in a sports stadium in front of 2,000 spectators in which a 64-year-old white farmer was convicted of adultery with the wife of a black employee, describing it as “a spectacle out of keeping with the administration of justice”.
John Charles Rowell Fieldsend was born into a Lincolnshire farming family in 1921, the son of Charles Fieldsend, who had been awarded an MC in Mesopotamia during the First World War, and his wife, Phyllis, (née Brucesmith). His father was an engineer who was involved in building dams in India and railways in Africa, where he moved with his family in the 1920s.
John was educated at Michaelhouse, a boys’ school in South Africa. He then went on to study law at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 1943 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, serving in Egypt and at the Battle of Monte Cassino before ending his war in Greece.
Returning to Rhodes, Fieldsend met Muriel Gedling at a dance. They were married in 1945 and she worked as a teacher. Meanwhile, Fieldsend was called to the Southern Rhodesian Bar in 1947 and took silk in 1959. Muriel died in 2010, and Fieldsend is survived by their two children, Peter and Catherine Ann Buss, both journalists.
After resigning under Smith’s regime, Fieldsend met Edward Heath in London, where he was disturbed by the prime minister’s habit of dunking biscuits in his tea. He was given a post at the Law Commission, examining legislation concerning public liability.
He was succeeded as chief justice of Zimbabwe in 1993 by Telford Georges, the first black person to hold that post. He then served as chief justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands (1985-87) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (1987-98), and was president of the court of appeal in Gibraltar (1991-97).
In retirement, Fieldsend, who was knighted in 1998, restored an old house between Pisa and Florence. When he was in Britain he lived with his wife in West Sussex, where the vast contents of his bookshelves ranged from a copy of the Koran to a recipe for elderflower cordial. “He was like a real-life Wikipedia,” his daughter said. He adored gatherings of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, regretting that his deteriorating hearing meant he could not keep up with their lively chatter.
Sir John Fieldsend, judge, was born on September 13, 1921. He died from lung cancer on February 22, 2017, aged 95.”

 

The Stinson Crash

Today, 19 February 2017, is the 80th anniversary of the crash of the Stinson in Lamington Ranges National Park in Southern Queensland, half a kilometre from the border with New South Wales, in 1937. I attended the 50th anniversary commemoration in February 1987, where I met some of the original rescue party, as I reported here. The plane was the Stinson Model A Brisbane. Another model A is shown here:

The plane was on a scheduled Airlines of Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney, with 2 pilots and 5 passengers on board. Both pilots and 2 passengers died in the crash. One passenger, James Westray, went for help, but died after falling down a waterfall.  Judith Wright, who later lived in nearby Mount Tamborine for two decades, wrote a poem about Westray, The Lost Man. The two survivors, John Proud and Joseph Binstead, owed their rescue to the intuition and perseverance of legendary bushman Bernard O’Reilly.
The passengers and crew were:
Joseph Robert Binstead, wool broker, of Manly NSW
John Seymour Proud, mining engineer, of Wahroonga NSW
William Walden Fountain, architect, 41 of Hamilton, Brisbane QLD (Originally from New Jersey)
James Ronald Nairne Graham, Managing Director, 55 of Hunters Hill NSW
William James Guthrie Westray, Insurance Underwriter, 25 of Kensington, London, England
Commercial Pilot, Beverly George Merivale Shepherd, 25 of Sydney NSW
Commercial Pilot, Reginald Haslem Boyden, 41 of Randwick NSW.
Proud (1907-1997) went on to a prominent career as a mining engineer and executive, and was a generous philanthropist.  Some more information can be found here.
A report in the Beaudesert Times on the 80th anniversary trek is here.
 
Photo credit: Wikicommons: Bill Larkins.

Three Potters

Surfing idly, I encounter a reference to one Andrew Onderdonk, an international lawyer who visited with George Santayana (1863-1952) in the 1920s. The question that immediately entered my mind is the one I am sure occurs to you too: Is this man a descendant of the second Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania? That was Henry Onderdonk (1789-1858), who was supposedly replaced as Bishop due to a problem with alcohol. Bishop Henry’s successor, the third Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, was a mathematician and philosopher named Alonzo Potter (1800-1865), whose grandson Warwick Potter (31 October 1870-11 October 1893) was a student and close friend of Santayana’s at Harvard. Santayana wrote a very moving quartet of sonnets to him, following his early death. One sonnet is here, and posts on Santayana here. I imagine Warwick Potter would be completely forgotten now if not for Santayan’s consoling poems.

It seems that Andrew Joseph Onderdonk (1889- ?) had also been a student of Santayana’s at Harvard, and was still alive in the mid-1960s, when he offered to sell Santayana’s writing chair to journalist Joseph Epstein.

Warwick Potter’s father was Major-General Robert Brown Potter (1829-1887), a Civil War general on the Union side and subject of a famous photo, taken around 1864. The photo is mainly well-known because the photographer, Mathew Brady (1822-1896), included himself in it. One would be tempted to call this action post-modernist, if painters from the renaissance onwards had not done the same – for instance, Raphael in his “School of Athens”. Brady’s louche posture against a tree on the right of the picture contrasts with the formality of comportment of the General, standing hatless at the centre of his behatted men, who all face him while he faces us. I wonder about the names and fates of the other soldiers in the photo.

Alonzo Potter’s first wife, and the mother of Robert Potter, was Sarah Maria Nott, the only daughter of Eliphalet Nott (1773-1866), President of Union College, Schenectady, New York, from 1804-1866.  Warwick Potter had three brothers and a half-sister: Robert Burnside Potter, Abby Potter, Austin Potter and Frances Tileston Potter. He was born on 1870-10-31 in Lemington, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and died on 1893-10-11 in Brest, Brittany.  I find it most consoling that I am able to place Warwick Potter in his family, with both his father and paternal grandfather being identified, and help preserve his memory. He has now, for me, a local habitation and a name.

Our Glad

New South Wales tomorrow has its first premier of Armenian descent, Gladys Berejiklian, leader of the Liberal Party, who is also the second woman to be premier.  Her first language was Armenian, and she only learnt English once she went to school. Her great-grandparents were apparently killed in the Ottoman genocide of Armenians in 1915.
In addition to the majority Anglo-Celts, the state of NSW has had premiers of Hungarian, Italian and American descent. Her only fellow female premier, Kristina Keneally, was born in the USA. Until recently, the Governor of NSW was the very admirable Professor Marie Bashir, who is of Lebanese descent. There was a moment in 2010 when it was women all the way up!
As far as I am aware, the only American Governor of Armenian heritage has been George Deukmejian, Governor of California from 1983-1991.
Some previous discussion of leaders from minority groups here.

Recent Reading 12

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Edward Fulbrook [2016]:  Narrative Fixation in Economics. UK:  College Publications.
  • Pamela Vass [2016]:  The Power of Three:  Thomas Fowler, Devon’s Forgotten Genius. UK: Boundstone Books.
  • Charles Babbage [1835]:  On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. UK:  Charles Knight.
  • Timothy James Burke [1996]:  Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women:  Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. USA:  Duke University Press.
  • Petina Gappah [2016]:  Rotten Row. UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 12’

An eternal golden braid

These are the people I will invite to the first annual party to celebrate the availability of cost-effective time travel:

Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464)
Matteo Ricci SJ (1552-1610)
Thomas Harriott (1560-1621)
Robert Southwell SJ (c.1561-1595)
Kit Marlowe (1564-1593)
Henry Wriothesley (1573-1624)
Charles Diodati (c.1608-1638)
Shi Tao (1641-1720)
Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664-1753)
Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Edward Francisco Burney (1760-1848)
Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837)
Eduard Rietz (1802-1832)
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806-1826)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Arthur Hallam (1811-1833)
Matthew Piers Watt Boulton (1820-1894)
Henry Horton McBurney (1843-1875)
Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams (1843-1885)
Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)
Wolcott Balestier (1861-1891)
Warwick Potter (1870-1893)
Joseph Trumbull Stickney (1874-1904)
Jan Letzel (1880-1925)
David Kammerer (1911-1944)
John Medill McCormick (1916-1938)
Lucien Carr (1925-2005)
Christophe Bertrand (1981-2010)

Courage, honour, valour

For as long as I can remember, I have had to endure lectures from men in uniforms – policemen, soldiers, teachers, clerics – about courage and honour.  I recall a particular egregious lecture from a cleric on the cowardice of men who had long hair. (For next millennium readers, this was part of a larger argument accusing anyone not supporting US and Australian involvement in the second Indo-Chinese war of cowardice.  Of course, it required great courage for a 17-year-old conscript to openly confront such logically specious, and morally tendentious, nonsense.)   The forces of conservatism always accuse those who confront them of cowardice, it seems.
The Hillsborough coronial verdict shows just what true courage and valour and honour are:  It is fighting for justice against all odds, against the overwhelming sentiment of those in authority and of society in general, against friend and peer, as well as journalist and foe, against recalcitrant judges and lying policemen.  But courage is also admitting when one has made a poor decision, and bravely facing the consequences of that decision.  It is not too late for these men in uniform to finally reveal some courage and accept the consequences of their negligence, their lack of preparation, and their poor judgment.

Historic compromises

After the coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew the democratically-elected administration of Salvador Allende (and which killed him and many others), the Eurocommunist left in Western Europe spoke of the need to have a grand “historic compromise” before entering Government: enjoining the centre and centre-right to support a coalition of national unity, so as to preclude, or at least inhibit, the right from undermining an elected government of the left.  One of the ironies of history was that it was the left in government – the communist regimes of Eastern Europe – which were forced to forge such grand compromises, by conducting negotiations and sometimes forming coalitions (albeit, short-lived) with their non-communist opponents in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even Zimbabwe.