Yellow Bird

The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the yellow bird behind.

Czechoslovakian history

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, where Britain and France sought to appease Hitler by signing away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Last month was the 50th anniversay of the Warsaw Pact invasion which ended the Prague Spring. More here and here.

And 28 October 2018 was the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

Recent Reading 15

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Michael Ovitz [2018]: Who is Michael Ovitz? A Memoir. USA: WH Allen.  This is a fascinating and well-written autiobiography by the co-founder and driving force behind Creative Artists Agency. CAA grew from nothing to dominate the agency business in movies and TV, and then entered M&A consultancy and advertising.  I always admired the chutzpah of this strategy and marveled at its success.  The book explains how CAA’s creative bundling of the products of its writers, actors, musicians, directors and producers enabled it to grow as an agency, and also enabled the diversification:  the expertise gained in strategizing and financially evaluating creative bundles was used to value Hollywood studios (with their back catalogues) as potential acquisition targets. Likewise, the creativity in bundling and the access to diverse talent was used to design successful advertisements.  What surprised me reading this book was that the diversification ended after just two acquisition assignments and one advertising project (Coca Cola’s polar bears).  The key reason for this seems to have been the opposition of Mr Ovitz’s partners and colleagues at CAA, despite the handsome and arguably unearnt rewards his efforts brought many of them.  No good deed ever goes unpunished, it seems.  // The book also presents his experiences as President at Disney.  Although of course we only hear his side of that story, he does seem to have been undermined from before he even began work there. // Overall, the writing is articulate and reflective, and he seems to have grown personally through his career and his apparent failures.  I greatly admire his continued desire and willingness to learn new things – new skills, new businesses, new industries, new cultures, new hobbies.  Doing this requires rare, personal courage.  Few people in American business were as willing as he was to immerse themselves in Japanese culture when doing business in Japan, for instance.  One characteristic Mr Ovitz does not ever display is smugness, and this absence is admirable.
  • Mark Urban [2018]: The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. UK: Macmillan. A very good account of the back story of Sergei Skripal, mostly based on interviews Urban conducted with him and others before the events which led to Skripal’s name becoming well-known.  Skripal is a former GRU officer who had spied for Britain, was arrested and imprisoned by Russia, and then traded in a spy swap in 2010.  He was living quietly in Salisbury, England until he and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in 2018. Salisbury, of course, is famous for its Cathedral with its 123-metre-high spire. Roger Hollis, one-time Director-General of MI5 whom some people believe was a GRU agent, was a great-great-nephew of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury from 1869 to 1885.  The good Bishop’s daughter, Annie Moberly, published a memoir of the family in 1911, Dulce Domum, which for some reason does not mention the spire. In these strange times one has to wonder if her omission was deliberate.
  • Howard Blum [2018]: In the Enemy’s House: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War. USA: Amberley. A fascinating account of the partnership between FBI agent Robert Lamphere and polyglot Meredith Gardner in decrypting the Venona transcripts of Soviet cable traffic and identifying the Soviet spies mentioned therein.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1985]: Quiller. Again, superb writing and story-telling, with cliff-hangers all the way through, and close attention required to keep up.  Some superb psychological insight and moving descriptions.  My only scepticism was over the ease with which foreign intelligence services seemed to move undetected within the USSR.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1989]: Quiller KGB. USA: Spectrum.  I was alerted to this book and an author new to me by allegations that Shore’s supposedly-true book (below) had the same plot as this earlier novel by Hall.  Shore apparently denied having even heard of the earlier book. In truth, the only element which the two plots have in common is that both involve a planned assassination of the then General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, while on a visit to the DDR.  The accusation of plot plagiarism made against Shore is thus without any foundation.  Within a few pages of starting Hall’s book, I realized this was writing of altogether better quality than Shore’s, and also of most other writers of espionage fiction.  Hall often jump cuts from one scene to another, as Sartre did in Nausea, which means the reader has to pay attention. Much is implied rather than expressed, so that attention needs to be close. This is writing of great skill and care, which is no doubt why Hall’s books seem to have been forgotten.
  • Tom Shore [2018]: Pilgrim Spy: My secret war against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi. UK: Coronet.  This is well-written and fast-paced, and was exciting to read.  It purports to be a factual memoir by a British special forces agent in the DDR in the late Summer and Autumn of 1989, who allegedly foiled a dastardly plan by revanchist Russians in league with the Red Army Faction to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on 7 October 1989. The plot hinges on the resolution of several subtle, nested epistemic modal questions – eg, What did A know about B’s knowledge of C’s affiliation?   If the story is to be believed, this undercover agent was also – himself, personally – responsible for the success of the Monday evening Lutheran Church gatherings in Leipzig that helped to defeat the SED Government of the DDR, because he was able to ask a western radio network to advertize the event.  Whether true or false, this account is immensely condescending.  There are several reasons why I find the story most unlikely to be true. First, surely the book would need official security service clearance for publication. It does not appear to have been submitted for approval.  If it had been, would we not now be hearing about an official investigation of rogue or treacherous SIS officers?  Secondly, there is almost no deep description of the Monday evening gatherings. These were momentous events, both in terms of the fall of communism in the DDR and in terms of peaceful regime change anywhere at any time.  How many people attended each week? What was said or sung at these events? What was the mood like? How did the mood change from week to week? Did people know each other?  Were there obvious informers or Stasi agents present?  Did participants leave together and straight away? Someone who was present at these events, as the author claims he was, would surely have more to say on them. The lack of such deep, textured description, like a non-barking dog, is a strong indication that this book is a work of fiction.  Finally, the author says almost nothing about what he did, and how he ate and lived, between these weekly meetings.  A small point that arose because I was reading the book on 5 October 2018:  5 October 1989 was a Thursday, not a Friday.
  • Ben Macintyre [2018]: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. UK: Viking.  A great account, well-written as this writer’s books always are, of the case of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain and then defected. One disappointment:  Macintyre asserts without sufficient consideration that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet agent, which is the line taken by the authorized MI5 historian, Christopher Andrew.   Firstly, Macintyre quotes Gordievsky quoting a senior KGB official as having dismissed the claim that Hollis was an agent of the KGB (p. 138 of Kindle edition).  Interesting but irrelevant if Hollis had worked for the GRU.  Also, we would expect names of high-level foreign agents to be tightly held, so one senior person not knowing if Hollis was an agent means nothing.  Moreover, the two agencies were rivals and were explicitly prohibited by Stalin from collaborating. Secondly, Macintyre says that the Soviet spy code-named Elli was identified as Leo Long.  As Long did not work for MI5 and Elli did, Long could not have been Elli.  Because not all documents have been released, we still don’t know the full story about Hollis nor, if he was not a Soviet agent, then who was the GRU’s senior spy in Britain at the time.  Given this ignorance, it is disappointing that a writer of Macintyre’s calibre should just accept the incomplete and much contested authorized line. For a critique of Andrew, see Paul Monk’s article in Quadrant (April 2010). For more on Hollis, see here.
  • Robert Hutton [2018]: Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter. UK: W&N.  The true story behind Anthony Quinn’s fictional account, cited below.  Well-written, well-paced and extremely interesting.  In order to determine if the Nazis had created a secret network of 5th columnists in wartime Britain, MI5 created one, led by an inspired agent, Eric Roberts.  It just goes to show that if you want to get the credit for fixing something, you may first have to break it yourself.  Who knew Britain had harboured so many would-be Gauleiter, including most energetically, Marita Perigoe, the daughter of the popular antipodean composer, May Brahe.  It is interesting that Roger Hollis opposed this activity and managed to prevent a similar false network to attract left-wing sumpathizers being created in Britain after WW II.
  • Simon Mawer [2018]: Prague Spring. UK: Little, Brown. A thriller centred on Prague in a few days in August 1968 (so not spring at all), before and during the Warsaw Pact invasion.  It was nice to see a mention of the brave Milada Horáková.  I liked the story about the characters initially in Prague rather more than the escapades of the two hitchhiking students.  With the latter story, it felt that the author was really writing about his younger, more naive self, and, truthfully, that self did not interest me. But then, I have never found Bildungsromane much worth reading.  One factual error:  The Czech character Lenka Konečková, daughter of a fictional character, Lukáš Vadinsky, tried and executed with Rudolf Slánsky, writes an article for a student newspaper in which she names some of those executed (Chapter 33). The names listed include London, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Artur London was not executed. It is not clear if this is an error by the author or by the character (ie, the author knows the truth about London, but the character does not).  Although it may have been the case that people in Czechoslovakia did not initially know the fate of the accused in the Slánsky trials, this would surely have been known to a politically-active family member such as Ms Konečková by this time in 1968.
  • Henry Porter [2018]: Firefly. UK:  Quercus. A gripping and empathetic thriller set on the Syrian refugee trail to Europe that runs via Greece and the Balkans.  The book is also a superb ethnography of life as a contemporary refugee and life as an anti-terrorist agent among refugees. The way we live now, it seems.
  • Charles Cumming [2018]: The Man Between. UK: HarperCollins. Another pacy spy thriller from Cumming.  The writing is good, although filmic, but not as gripping as Scott’s.  One has to wonder if stories are hard to come by when the main character, Kit Carradine, is a successful writer of spy fiction with almost identical initials to the author’s, who gets caught up in an actual spy mission.  Fomo, pomo or projection?  A quibble:  Would a security agency debrief a much-sought and well-known informant in an apartment in central London where she could be seen from the street?  One stylistic bug which a good editor should fix are long, discursive sentences with repeated changes of focus which frequent the book.  Do books still have editors, I wonder?
  • Manda Scott [2018]: A Treachery of Spies. UK: Bantam. A modern-day French murder mystery that reaches back to treachery and double-crossing in the French resistance and the SOE in WWII.  Riveting, although occasionally implausible: How convenient that the central resistance action was captured on cinefilm?
  • S C Brown [2017]: Initiation: A Spy Story. A well-written thriller set mostly in wartime France, playing on what we know about the sympathies of the leadership of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and drawing on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary French citizens. Includes that long-standing problem of espionage: how to transmit a true message to your enemy, and have them believe it?
  • Anthony Quinn [2018]: Our Friends in Berlin. UK: Jonathan Cape.  An easy, well-written thriller set in wartime Britain amongst a circle of would-be German agents.  Lots of single, double and triple bluffing. I liked the subtle allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock and the hook for a sequel involving an upper-class English Soviet spy.
  • Jeremy Duns [2018]:  Agent of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction.  Skerry Publishing.  A brief account of the life and times of an influential British journalist who may have also been employed by MI6, as part of a concerted effort to place foreign intelligence staff into foreign correspondent positions with British newspapers.
  • Claire Harman [2001]: Fanny Burney: A Biography. USA: Alfred A. Knopf. A fine biography of the writer, aka Madame d’Arblay.  The last part of the book, after Madame d’Arblay’s return to Britain from her entrapment for a decade in France, felt rushed, as if the author was keen to finish.  One quibble: Harman repeats the claim that Mrs Clara Bolton was Benjamin Disraeli’s mistress.  As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this claim is a statement made by Disraeli’s lawyer, Philip Rose, after Disraeli’s death five decades after the alleged affair (and four decades after Mrs Bolton’s own death).  The letters between Mrs Bolton and Mr Disraeli don’t seem to support this claim.  Imagined affairs appear to have been a common trope in biographers’ lives of prominent Georgians and Victorians.
  • Craig Brown [2017]: Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.  UK: Fourth Estate.   What a sad life she had.  Was it Clive James who said that celebrity is a mask that gradually eats away the face of the person wearing it?
  • John Menadue [1999]: Things You Learn Along the Way. Australia: David Lovell Publishing. An insightful account of a life, by someone who worked at the pinnacle of political, media and government power – with Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Fraser. As Australian ambassador to Japan (1977-1980), Menadue got to know the brothers Tony Glynn (1926-1994) and Paul Glynn (1928- ), long-serving Australian Catholic Marist priests working in Japan.  Some personal interest, as they are cousins of cousins-in-law of mine.

Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 15’

Recent Reading 14

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.

  • Kate McClymont and Linton Besser [2014]: He Who Must Be Obeid. Australia: Random House.   The life and fast times of Eddie Obeid, perhaps, despite the strong calibre of the competition, the most corrupt person ever to be a Cabinet Minister in NSW.
  • Bob Carr [2018]: Run for Your Life.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press. A memoir mostly of Carr’s times as Premier of NSW (1995-2005), running a government which was, untypically for NSW, seemingly uncorrupt.
  • Aldous Huxley [1931]:  Music at Night and Other Essays. Flamingo reissue.
  • Keith Gessen [2018]: A Terrible Country. Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Writing as smooth as a gimlet, and extremely engrossing.
  • Hayden Eastwood [2018]: Like Sodium in Water: A Memoir of Home and Heartache. South Africa: Jonathan Ball.  A well-written but very sad memoir of growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe following Independence, by a member of the family mentioned here.
  • David Margolick [2018]: The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy.  USA: Rosetta Books.
  • Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican [2015]:  How to Catch a Russian Spy.  USA:  Simon & Schuster.
  • Geoffrey Robertson [2018]: Rather His Own Man: In Court with Tyrants, Tarts and Troublemakers. UK: Biteback Publishing.  Is there anyone Robertson does not know, from Malcolm Turnbull to Prince Charles to Julian Assange?
  • Edward Wilson [2018]:  South Atlantic Requiem. UK:  Arcadia Books.  The latest in the Catesby espionage series, as always very well-written and dancing recklessly across the border between fact and fiction.
  • Philip Toynbee [1954]: Friends Apart, A Memoir of Esmond Romilly & Jasper Ridley in the Thirties. UK: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd.
  • Roland Philipps [2018]: A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean.  UK:  Vintage.
  • James Comey [2018]:  A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.  USA: Macmillan.  Superbly structured and well-written.  Engrossing.  Bam’s best choice for head of the FBI. Would make a very good AG.
  • Pat Sloan (Editor) [1938]: John Cornford: A Memoir. UK: Jonathan Cape.
  • James McNeish [2008]:  The Sixth Man: The Extraordinary Life of Paddy Costello.  UK: Quartet Books.  Many have argued that Costello was a Soviet agent, not least MI5 in an international campaign which ended his New Zealand diplomatic career and made it difficult for him to secure other posts.  But the person running the anti-Communist division of MI5 and then MI5 itself at the time himself later came under suspicion – very plausibly – of being a Soviet agent, so the case against Costello, to my mind, is not at all decisive. The MI5 campaign against Costello may well have been a diversive smokescreen from chasing genuine Soviet agents.
  • Charlotte Bingham [2018]: MI5 and Me: A Coronet among the Spooks. UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing. An amusing memoir of working for MI5 as a secretary.
  • William D Cohan [2008]: The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. USA:  Penguin.
  • Timothy Garton Ash [2015]: The File: A Personal History.  UK:  Atlantic Books.
  • Richard Davenport-Hines [2018]: Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain.  UK: William Collins. An attempt to position the Cambridge spy ring in the context of its culture and time.
  • Fyodor M. Burlatsky [1992]: Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring. USA:  Charles Scribner’s Sons. A fascinating inside account of the reformist thinking and actions of Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Andropov in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • William Taubman [2017]: Gorbachev: His Life and Times.  USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Tom Mangold [1993]: Cold Warrior:  The True Story of the West’s Spyhunt Nightmare. USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Jefferson Morley [2017]: The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton. USA:  Macmillan. Oddly, Morley mentions Teddy Kollek knowing both Angleton and Philby, but not that Kollek was a guest at Philby’s wedding to Litzi Friedmann in Vienna in 1934.
  • Robert Graves [1960]: Goodbye to All That. UK: Penguin.
  • Richard Pipes [2015]: Alexander Yakovlev: The Man whose Ideas delivered Russia from Communism.  USA:  Northern Illinois University Press.
  • Charles Hamblin [2017]:  Linguistics and the Parts of the Mind.  (Written ca. 1968. Posthumous edition prepared by Phillip Staines) UK:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.  Remarkably prescient of Belief-Desire-Intention models of autonomous agency.
  • Masha Gessen [2012]: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Masha Gessen [2017]: The Future is History:  How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Daniel Ellsberg [2017]: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner.  USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Jacques Pauw [2017]: The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison.  South Africa: Tafelberg.
  • Anne Goldgar [2008]: Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.  USA:  University of Chicago Press.  Why would I be reading this in this time of ICOs, I wonder?
  • Artur London [1970]: The Confession.  UK: Morrow.  A famous account by one of the defendants in the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia in 1951.
  • Hubert Ripka [1950]: Czechoslovakia Enslaved: The Story of the Communist Coup d’Etat. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • D J Taylor [2010]: Bright Young People:  The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918-1940.  UK: Vintage.
  • Edith Olivier [1989]:  Edith Olivier: From Her Journals, 1924-1948. Edited by Penelope Middleboe. UK:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah [2017]: The Knowledge we have lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics.  USA:  Oxford University Press.
  • James McNeish [2003]: Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in Exile in the Time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung.  UK: Vintage.
  • Francis Wheen [1992]:  Tom Driberg:  His Life and Indiscretions.  UK:  Pan.  This book is riveting reading, spoilt by its too-strong sympathy for its subject.
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick [2017, 4th edition]:  The Russian Revolution.  UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Oliver J Lodge [1916]: Raymond, or Life and Death: With Examples of the Evidence. USA:  George H Doran Company.
  • Launcelot Cranmer-Byng [1947]: The Vision of Asia. UK: John Murray.
  • Sam Dastyari [2017]:  One Halal of a Story.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press.
  • Hilary Rodham Clinton [2017]:  What Happened.  USA: Simon and Schuster.  Indeed!
  • David Burke [2009]: The Spy who came in from the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage. UK:  Boydell Press.
  • Alan Vaughan [1974]: Patterns of Prophecy.  USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Tom Bower [1996]: The Perfect English Spy: Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90.  UK: Mandarin.
  • Jenny Hocking [2016]: The Dismissal Dossier: Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 (Updated Edition). Australia: Melbourne University Press.  Sadly, even after this account, I feel we do not yet know all the duplicity around the events of 11 November 1975.
  • Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing.  UK:  Macmillan.  A wonderful account of the December-May friendship of Edith Olivier (1872-1948), later a writer, and artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944), who first met in 1924.  Given their ages at the time of meeting, it would be more accurate to describe this as an August-March friendship.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1964]: A Little Learning: the First Volume of an Autobiography.  UK:  Chapman and Hall.
  • Edith Olivier [1945]:  Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • Edith Olivier [1938]:  Without Knowing Mr Walkley.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • William Sturgis Bigelow [1908]: Buddhism and Immortality.
  • Garry Wills [2014]:  Making Make-Believe Real.  USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Garry Wills [2017]: The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. USA:  Open Road Media.

Clarence River stories


Sir Ninian Stephen (1923-2017) was Governor-General of Australia from 1982-1989, and before that, a Judge of the High Court of Australia from 1972-1982.  He was named for Nina Beatrice Mylne (1873-1946), an Australian heiress whom his Scottish mother accompanied on her European and Australian travels.  Nina Mylne was born at Eatonswill, a property on the Clarence, 8 miles upriver from Grafton, New South Wales.   On that property now is a settlement called Eatonsville, on the southbank of the river; the area on the northbank is known as Mylneford.

Nina Mylne’s father, Graham Douglas Mylne (1834-1876), had been born in St Andrews, Scotland, and had been a Lieutenant in the 95th regiment of the British Army from 1853-1861, seeing action on Deesa, India in 1854, the Crimea 1855, Lucknow 1857, Hunker 1858, Burugain, Sandi and Ruiya 1859.  He came to NSW in 1859 to take over the property at Eatonswill established in 1839 by his late brothers, John, Thomas and James Mylne. John and Thomas Mylne had returned to Scotland to bring to NSW two Mylne sisters;  all four had been among the 121 who did not survive the wreck of The Dunbar at Sydney Heads on the night of 20 August 1857.  Only one person survived that disaster.  The wreck of the Dunbar was sufficiently searing on the colonial psyche that NSW school children were still taught about it 120 years later.  Graham Mylne’s brother James Mylne, who had also served in the Indian Army, had died of natural causes in Malta on return visit to Britain following the tragedy of the Dunbar.   According to Louise Tiffany Daley, the Mylne brothers were known for their hospitality and their parties, and for introducing horse racing to the northern rivers.

Graham Mylne married Helena White in 1860. They were good friends with the first Governor of Queensland, the new colony proclaimed on 10 December 1859, George Bowen (1821-1899) and his wife. I wonder if Mylne and the Bowens traveled to NSW from Britain on the same ship.  The Bowens’ first surviving child, Adelaide Diamantina Bowen, born in 1858, was known as “Nina”.  Bowen appointed his private secretary, Robert Herbert (1831-1905) as the first Premier of Queensland.  Herbert organized and won the first elections on 27 March 1860, and served as Premier from 1859-1866. Herbert appointed another of Bowen’s private secretaries, John Bramston (1832-1921), as the Attorney-General of Queensland.  The two had met at Balliol College, Oxford, and were life-long friends.  They shared a house together on a farm near Brisbane, which they named Herston, combining letters from both their names. Herston is now a Brisbane suburb.
From 1864, Graham Mylne jointly owned a property near Roma in south-western Queensland with Herbert and Bramston, and he was the elected MLA for the surrounding electorate, Warrego, from 1867-1868.  The town of Roma, gazetted in 1867, was named for the maiden surname of Governor Bowen’s wife, who hailed from the United States of the Ionian Islands. Graham Mylne’s father-in-law, William Duckett White (1807-1893), built a fine homestead, Lota House, on the sea east of Brisbane, in the suburb now called Lota.

Both Robert Herbert and John Bramston eventually returned to Britain, and Herbert served as Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1871-1892. Bramston served under his friend as Assistant Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1876-1898.  Herbert never married.

Note: The image is The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin, 1904, now in the National Gallery of Victoria. The city in the background of the third panel is said to be Melbourne.

 

References:

Louise Tiffany Daley [1966]:  Men and a River: Richmond River District 1828-1895.  Australia:  Angus and Robertson.

CCCP

Today, 7 November 2017, is the centenary of the Great October Revolution.

Like Mikhail Gorbachev (in an interview with Clive Anderson on BBC1 on 3 November 1996), I would have preferred the Revolution of February 1917 to have prevailed.

Roger Hollis and Elli

 

The British journalist Chapman Pincher (1914-2014) became convinced that Roger Hollis (1905-1973), Director General of MI5 between 1956 and 1965, had been a Soviet agent, supposedly working for GRU, Soviet military intelligence.  Pincher wrote a book, Treachery, in 2009 to present the full case for this claim.  Most of the evidence is circumstantial and, considered individually, not greatly persuasive.  But assembled and concatenated, it is strongly compelling. Hollis as Soviet agent is certainly the simplest overall explanation for the many coincidences, Western espionage failures, Soviet espionage successes, and multiple instances of MI5 inaction and bumbling idiocy that seemed to accompany Hollis’s career.  He wielded his pocket veto so often and so successfully, there was surely something up. Opponents of the Hollis-as-spy theory need not only to find a better candidate but also to provide an alternative explanation for his career-long pattern of inactions, delays, and ditherings at some times, and fast, resolute actions at others, in each particular case objectively favouring the interests of the USSR.

One supporting sub-claim is that Hollis is the spy working inside MI5 codenamed Elli by a Soviet defector in 1945, a name also used in other decrypted Soviet communications. Apparently, the Soviets believed that the agent named Elli had some Russian family connection, perhaps pre-Revolutionary. Here is Pincher (Location 432 of the 2011 Kindle edition):

Colonel John Lash, a Russian scholar at Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), the signals interception station based at Cheltenham, assured me that ‘something Russian’ must have meant something pre-revolutionary. Otherwise, the statement would have been ‘something Soviet’. Then, in 1985, while browsing through a book called Along the Road to Frome, one of several written by Hollis’s elder brother Christopher, I made a most relevant discovery. Members of the Hollis family and other relatives believed, with genealogical evidence, that they were directly descended from the Russian czar Peter the Great, and were rather proud of it! In that book, published in 1958, Christopher had stated: ‘I did, indeed, I suppose, share with my distant and much removed cousin, Annie Moberley, a claim to descent from Peter the Great.’ In another of his books, Oxford in the Twenties, when explaining his rather peculiar looks, Christopher stated that he was ‘the inheritor of a good deal of mixed blood, but it came from Eastern Europe’.

Annie Moberley’s father, George, had been born in St Petersburg, where his forebears were well established as merchants before the revolution. He became Bishop of Salisbury and firmly believed in his descent from the heroic czar. The Hollis brothers’ mother, formerly Margaret (Meg) Church, was related to Richard Church, a dean of St Paul’s in London, whose wife was a direct descendant of a woman called Sarah Cayley, who allegedly derived from an illegitimate son of Peter the Great. The Moberleys also traced their connection with the czar through Sarah Cayley.

Christopher Hollis, who was highly intelligent, certainly believed in the royal relationship, however distant. Whether or not it was real or taken seriously by other members of the Hollis family, they all knew about it. If Roger had been Elli, he could, directly or indirectly, have revealed this Russian connection to some Soviet contact, who would have informed Moscow in one of the enciphered messages, which would explain how Gouzenko’s deskmate had heard about it.

Whether Roger believed the Russian connection or not, it is inconceivable that he failed to appreciate the danger that it might make him suspect if his MI5 superiors heard about it following Gouzenko’s statement. Confirmation of the Russian connection was the missing link in Gouzenko’s evidence, and had it been known in MI5 Hollis should surely have been closely questioned about the exceptional ‘coincidence’, along with the other matching features.

What better fit could there be for Gouzenko’s statement –‘he has something Russian in his background’? No other Elli candidate has ever fulfilled the description. Gouzenko could not possibly have known anything about Hollis or his family when, as a young cipher clerk, he had made his original statement about Elli to the Canadian authorities in 1945. It was an inexcusable gaffe by Peter Wright –later the self-styled ‘Spycatcher’ –and the other counter-intelligence investigators of the Hollis case to have failed to read the biographical books by Roger’s well-known brother, which were on the shelves of many libraries.”

Intrigued by this, I looked at Pincher’s stated sources, the two books by Christopher Hollis. These led me to other books by and about Annie Moberly (1846-1937), which I reference below. (Note that Pincher repeats the mis-spelling of “Moberly” as “Moberley” that Christopher Hollis makes in his 1958 book, which suggests that Pincher did not look far beyond Christopher Hollis’ books.) The quotation that Pincher gives from Hollis (1958) is also incomplete.  This is what Hollis wrote:

I did, indeed, I suppose, share with my distant and much removed cousin, Annie Moberley [sic] of Versailles fame, a claim which Mrs Iremonger’s The Ghosts of Versailles had not at that time exposed, to descent from Peter the Great. But even the existence of that claim had been kept from me. The exposition of it would have raised too many embarrassing questions about mistresses and illegitimacy. So I had to content myself with being Irish, and that indeed gave me a sufficient opportunity of political eccentricity.” (Hollis 1958, page 15).

Christopher Hollis is speaking here about his childhood.  He does not say at what age he became aware of the family claim of descent from Peter the Great.  The passage is sufficiently vague that he may only have become aware of it with the publication in 1956 of Iremonger’s book about the Versailles Incident, an incident in 1901 when Annie Moberly and a traveling companion later came to believe they had engaged in time travel during a visit to Versailles.  However, Iremonger’s book itself refers to an earlier book by Edith Olivier (1872-1948), a life-long friend of and, through Edith’s mother, a cousin of Annie Moberly, as the source, a book of essays published in 1938 (Olivier 1938).  Of course, neither Christopher Hollis nor Roger Hollis may have been aware of Olivier’s 1938 book, or her 1945 book, both of which talk about the Moberly connection to Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725).  Olivier notes that Annie Moberly kept a portrait of her Russian-born grandmother Sarah Cayley in her rooms at St Hugh’s Hall, Oxford, where she was the Founding Principal (1886-1915).   She was an Honorary Fellow and member  of the Governing Council of the Hall from her retirement in 1915 to her death in 1937. According to Anna Thomasson’s biography of Miss Olivier (Thomasson 2015, page 183), Annie Moberly was still living in Oxford in 1929. Did Roger Hollis meet with her while he was at Oxford during 1924-1926? If so, he presumably would have seen the portrait of their common ancestor Sarah Cayley on her walls.

Pincher has not revealed the full extent of Hollis-Cayley family connections in his 2009 book, perhaps because he did not know them. His case is in fact stronger than he recounts.  He is correct that Roger Hollis’ mother Mary Margaret Church (1874-1941) was related to Richard William Church (1815-1890), Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Richard was her uncle, brother to her father, Charles Marcus Church (1823-1915). And Richard had married Helen Frances Bennett in July 1853. But Mary’s father, Charles Church, Canon of Wells Cathedral, also married a Bennett sister, both daughters of Mrs Emily Bennett, nee Moberly. Emily Moberly was the daughter (one of 3 girls and 8 boys) of British-born Russian-based merchant, Edward Moberly, and Sarah Cayley (born 1764-), daughter of John Cayley (1730-1795), British Consul-General in St Petersberg.  Emily’s brother George Moberly (1803-1885), was born in St Petersberg and was later Bishop of Salisbury, from 1869 to 1885; in December 1834, he married Mary Anne Crokat (1812-1890), who was from a family of Scottish merchants long in Italy, as the Cayleys had been in Russia.

The wife of John Cayley (1730-1795) and the mother of Sarah Cayley Moberly was also called Sarah.  She was Sarah Cozens Cayley (1732-1803), who was born and died in St. Petersburg, and was a daughter of Richard Cozens (1674-1735) and Mary Davenport.  Cozens was British, and was Chief Shipbuilder to the Czar. His wife Mary was a daughter of Richard Davenport, also working as a shipbuilder for the Czar, and his wife Mary Dodd.  The eldest sibling of Sarah Cayley was Alexander Cozens (1717-1786), who was to achieve later renown as a landscape painter, as did his son, John Cozens (1752-1797).  Alexander Cozens was a godson of Czar Peter the Great, and also long rumoured to be the Czar’s illegitimate son. This may have been the source of the family rumour of Czarist descent.  The four sons of George Hollis and Mary Margaret Church, including Christopher Hollis and Roger Hollis, were direct descendants of Sarah Cozens Cayley and Sarah Cayley Moberly.  Another child of John Cayley and Sarah Cozens Cayley was Henry Cayley (1768-1850), whose children included the mathematician Arthur Cayley (1821-1895) and writer Charles Cayley (1823-1883), a close and life-long friend of poet Christina Rosetti.

The three Church brothers, Richard, Bromley, and Charles, were nephews of General Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), liberator of Greece.  Richard Church attended Wadham College, Oxford from Easter 1833, overlapping with the period that George Moberly was a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford.  In the summer of 1833, before Richard met his wife, Helen Bennett, niece of George Moberly, Richard’s widowed mother, Mrs Church, married the widowed Thomas Crokat, future father-in-law of George Moberly.  Moreover, a third daughter of Mrs Emily Bennett, a sister to the two Bennett sisters who married the two Church brothers, married Charles Crokat, brother of Mary Anne Crokat.

One of the 15 children of Bishop George Moberly and Mary Anne Crokat was Charlotte Anne (“Annie”) Elizabeth Moberly (1846-1937), who wrote a book about her father, Dulce Domum (Moberly 1911).  As mentioned above, she was a participant in a supposed episode of time travel, the Versailles Incident (aka the Ghosts of Petit Trianon Incident) of 1901.  (Edith Olivier, in her memoir of 1938, also recounts an episode she, Edith, also had of supposed time travel, this time on Salisbury Plain.)  Both Christopher and Roger Hollis were first cousins twice removed of Annie Moberly, and the Crokat-Church and Crokat-Bennett marriages means the families were triply connected.  Moreover, the father of Christopher and Roger Hollis, the Right Reverend George Hollis (1868-1944), was also an Anglican clergyman and Bishop of Taunton, from 1931-1944.  One would expect that Bishop George Hollis knew his father-in-law Charles Church and knew of wife’s other ecclesiastical relatives, Richard Church (who was a prominent Anglican writer) and Bishop Edward Moberly; although much younger, he may also have met them. (Edith Olivier was also from an Anglican Church family, as the daughter of a Canon and the grand-daughter of a Bishop, Robert Eden.)

Of course, none of these connections or the fact of his brother’s knowledge prove that Roger Hollis knew that his ancestors had been merchants in Russia in the 18th and early 19th centuries, or that he had heard the claim that his family were illegitimate descendants of Peter the Great.  But the likelihood that he did not, it seems to me, is significantly less than the likelihood that he did.

 

References:
J. A. Hamilton, ‘Moberly, George (1803–1885)’, rev. Geoffrey Rowell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18862, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Christopher Hollis [1958]: Along the Road to Frome. London, UK: George G. Harrap.

Christopher Hollis [1976]: Oxford in the Twenties. Recollections of Five Friends. London, UK: Heinemann.

Lucille Iremonger [1956]: The Ghosts of Versailles. Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

C. A. E. Moberly [1911]: Dulce Domum. George Moberly, His Family and Friends. London, UK: John Murray.

G. Martin Murphy, ‘Church, Richard William (1815–1890)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5389, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Edith Olivier [1938]: Without Knowing Mr Walkley. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Edith Olivier [1945]: Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Chapman Pincher [2011]: Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage. Mainstream Digital.  Digital edition of book published in 2009.

Kim Sloan, ‘Cozens, Alexander (1717–1786)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6546, accessed 26 Aug 2017]

Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing. London, UK: Macmillan.

Dick White, ‘Hollis, Sir Roger Henry (1905–1973)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31249, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Recent Reading 13

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.

  • Dan Shanahan [2017]: Camelot Eclipsed: Connecting the Dots.  Independently published.
  • China Mieville [2017]:  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. UK:  Verso.
  • Joshua Rubenstein (Editor) [2007]: The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Henry Hemming [2017]: M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster.  UK:  Preface Publishing.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1935]:  Edmund Campion, Jesuit and Martyr. UK:  Longmans.
  • Alison Barrett [2015]:  View from my Tower: Letters from Prague, March 1985 – May 1988.   A fascinating series of letters from wife of the British Ambassador to members of her family about her time in Prague, in the period of stasis just before the Velvet Revolution.
  • John O Koehler [2008]:  Stasi:  The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.  USA:  Basic Books.
  • Giles Udy [2017]: Labour and the Gulag:  Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. UK:  Biteback Publishing.
  • David J Garrow [2017]: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Yanis Varoufakis [2017]: Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. UK: Vintage Digital.
  • Nick Bilton [2017]: American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web. USA:  Virgin Digital.
  • Michael Howard [1996]:  Strategic Deception in the Second World War.  USA:  WW Norton.
  • Andrew St. George [1995]: History of Norton Rose. UK:  Granta Editions.   This is a history of the English law firm Norton Rose, written for the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1794.   The firm grew in the 19th century alongside the railways, acting as a conveyancing firm for the land purchases needed for new railway lines at the same time as lobbying MPs to legislate for the routes of these lines desired by its clients.  Its growth was helped by the life-long friendship between young Mr Philip Rose and Benjamin Disraeli.  One error in the book:  St. Geoge seems to have conflated two of Disraeli’s confidants and alleged mistresses:  Clara Bolton (nee Clarissa Marion Verbeke, 1804-1839), polyglot wife of George Buckley Bolton (the Disraeli family doctor) and Henrietta, Lady Sykes (c. 1801-1846), wife of Sir Francis Sykes (1799-1843), third Baronet of Basildon.  Mrs Bolton was also a confidant of Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), only son of Fanny Burney and a grandson of Charles Burney.
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith [2017]:  Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life.  UK:  William Collins.  This is a fascinating and well-written account of the intelligence of cephalopodes, drawing on the author’s underwater interactions with them.  The only major blunder in the book is the author’s mistaken view that the only or even the main form of human thinking is verbal.  This belief shows the fallacies possible when generalizing from introspection, and perhaps only a philosopher could believe something so obviously false.  Most mathematicians, architects, musicians and visual artists; most engineers, craftsman, surgeons, and machinery operators; and most sportsmen and women, dancers and actors, spend most of their time thinking without using any words, in my experience.
  • Philip Pilkington [2016]: The Reformation in Economics:  A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory.  UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • John Le Carre [2017]: A Legacy of Spies.  UK:  Penguin.
  • Roy Hattersley [2017]: The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from  the Reformation to the Present.  UK:  Chatto and  Windus.
  • Don Aitken [2005]:  What was it all for?  The Reshaping of Australia. Australia: Allen and Unwin.
  • Don Aitken [2016]:  The Second Chair.  Australia:  Danbee Books.
  • Mark Singer [2016]: Trump and Me.  USA:  Penguin.
  • Ian Hacking [2014]: Why is there Philosophy of Mathematics at all?  UK:  CUP.
  • David Talbot [2015]: The Devil’s Chessboard:  Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Edward Jay Epstein [2013]:  Sixty Versions of the Kennedy Assassination: A Primer on Conspiracy Theories.  EJE Publications.