The wrong Billy

8 Jun

After enjoying a naughty but nice week off in the sunshine and neglecting both blog and research, it’s time to get back down to business.

I’m still enjoying reading Maurice’s diaries and am getting better at staying focused on only noting down what I decided was needed for my research. However, this hasn’t stopped me from laughing out loud at some of Maurice’s random thoughts and acts. I’ve just narrowly avoided snorting out my drink at reading:

July 14 1918: ‘went to a trance medium, who however found that she was unable to get into a trance with me. A humbug probably’

Poor Maurice, I wonder what he was hoping to find out?

Maurice’s early diaries are sporadic and brief, and although I can pick up clues from past reminiscences, I wont be able to build up a very full timeline of his activities between 1900-1920. After this date, there is a diary for almost every year and his collecting becomes much more organised and dedicated. However, despite a lack of description, I’m starting to pick out objects that I will look at in more depth as case studies. The selection, collection, and interpretation of these objects will show Maurice’s progression and growth as a collector.

From having read bits and pieces of the diaries before I began my PhD, I became fascinated with Maurice’s relationships with his ‘boys’, or as Roald Dahl would say ‘one’s native servant’. I want to know more about how these relationships and the involvement of ‘boys’ in the act of collection. For Roald Dahl during his time in Tanzania, an outsider to the race of ’empire builders’, his ‘boy’ became a friend and an ally in a strange environment. Maurice’s relationships with his boys are a chaotic blend: fraught, complex, humorous and tender.

In general, it is easy to translate a sense of superiority where his boys are concerned. Sebastian, his guide in Sardinia, is frequently blamed for Maurice not finding good quality hunting ground, not having his ammunition loaded fast enough, missing his shot and for giving him bad information about the breed, size and quality of the target. He is blamed when his tent falls down in the night and for forgetting to wake him up at a certain time. Later in Africa, I remember him nicknaming a boy ‘lumpy head’. Yet ‘boys’ were also generally well respected and renowned by colonial travellers and settlers. Maurice often writes down recommended names in certain regions. in 1902 Maurice wishes to hire a guide for fishing on the Campbell River in British Columbia. He is told by his acquaintances to use ‘Billy’ and so he sends word to the Indian village for them to send him Billy. A man duly arrives and says that he is ‘Billy’. After a day or two with his guide, a friend points out that he has the wrong ‘Billy’. He promptly dismisses him and tells him to come back with the real Billy. Unlike poor Sebastian, Maurice seems to have a bit more respect for Billy and admires his skills and equipment.

The diary for 1902 has been the most fascinating yet as Maurice follows prospectors up the Yukon to the Klondike during the Gold Rush. Daylight hours are scarce and the weather is treacherous. He misses the last scheduled boat by a day, then finds another boat that attempts to make the journey out of season. After struggling for several days and having abandoned most of the luggage, the boat admits defeat and limps home.

I’m currently reading the diary from the year 1918 when Maurice was in New York and Canada overseeing the contract for H-16 planes during the war. In typical Maurice style he manages to spend most of his time on fishing trips, and even acknowledges that most of his days are spent ‘skrimshanking’ (avoiding duties and obligations). That is another word added to my glossary, and one aptly relevant to me this past week!


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