Nothing new under the sun

Keith March 10th, 2008

My wife Marilyn and I have got away for the long weekend to Lorne (on the Victorian south-west coast, on the Great Ocean Road).  Found a delightful place to stay – Shepherd’s Rest.  This is a modern two-bedroom apartment, on the top level of a new house in North Lorne.  It is owned by a couple of artists, who have moved down from further north in Victoria, where they ran a farm. 

The place is totally delightful, decorated with a wide range of pieces of art.  It is only two blocks back from the beach, and only a short walk from where my uncle once had a holiday house, where I spent many happy holidays as a child.  It was interesting walking on the beach here again for the first time for many years.  The beach has changed a lot – a large amount of sand has been washed away.

There is a good supply of holiday reading in the bookshelves here.  One book is of a type I have never seen before.  It is a taste of absolutely brash commercialism from the 1890s (precise date not specified).  It is Dougal’s Index Register to Next of Kin, Heirs at Law, and cases of Unclaimed Money Advertisements.  At least, that is the short form of the title.  The title page expands this out to a grand total of 85 words, including several et ceteras (then spelt as “&c.” – the ampersand sign comes from the letters “et” – the Latin for “and”). 

The book is an absolute teaser.  It is in essence very similar to some of the spam that we see today.  It provides a huge list of names from various advertisements for people (next of kin, etc) being sought to claim apparently huge sums of money from wills, stockholdings, court cases (&c.).  It is also peppered with facsimile copies of hand-written letters of thanks from successful claimants, and “amusing anecdotes on extraordinary windfalls, curious wills, misers, missing relatives, foreign intestates, &c. &c.”

It is not clear if the book was sold at a price or just given away, but the dear reader who finds a relevant name of interest in the book can only obtain the full text of the original advertisement for the princely sum of one pound.

We are also left in absolutely no doubt that F. H. Dougal & Co were at the time located at 62, Strand, London, England, and that we should accept no substitutes:

“We hereby caution the public against unscrupulous persons representing themselves to be in a position to supply copies of advertisements relating to the names in our book at nominal prices.  Our INDEX TO ADVERTISEMENTS has been compiled at great expense and labour extending over a period of 50 years.  The advertisements relating to names in our book cannot be supplied by any other person.”

Indeed.

The fact that it purports to include advertisements for “missing friends” also makes me wonder if the concept behind Facebook is such a new idea.

Another thing that strikes me is that it includes advertisements covering “recover of claims in Great Britain, the Colonies, India, America, France, Germany, Ireland and all parts of the world.”  (The colonies apparently included Australia, New Zealand, Canada and more.)  The way that city or state names from across the world are mentioned directly in the text seems to assume geographic knowledge on the part of the reader superior to that assumed by most publications today. 

Maybe the world was a smaller place back in the 1890s than we might now think?

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