Lithuanian Immigration to Scotland

This post is intended to support the Biographica Incognita article on Johnny Ramensky. In researching the social and political landscape in which Johnny found himself, a large story started to unfold which I couldn’t fit into the article and was so much bigger and separate to the man himself. Some of the details from the article may be repeated here in order to allow this post to work as support to the article or as a work in its own right.

Scotland at the beginning of the twentieth century was a rapidly changing environment; constantly reconfiguring and reidentifying itself to support the mass industrialisation that had swept across the United Kingdom. Shipbuilding in Aberdeen and Glasgow brought previously unknown wealth into the country. Demand for coal, iron and clay from the mines and pits particularly around Glasgow ensured incredibly low unemployment rates. Scotland’s revenue became entirely dependent on its natural resources, and in turn a huge amount of importance was placed on the native workforce. Unionisation allowed workers to leverage their vital labour against improved pay and working conditions. Company owners became increasingly agitated at the power being pressed against them by “the working classes” and feared (probably quite accurately) that submitting to unionist demands would set a dangerous precedent.

This highly volatile situation couldn’t go on forever. It eventually resulted in a series of labour strikes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Company owners were determined to find a resolution that would not result in more power being handed to the workforce. They eventually sent agents to countries known to pay extremely poor wages, in particular Lithuania and Poland, with the intention of recruiting a new workforce.

I’m going to focus on Lithuania here because that has been the basis of my research, however Poland has a very similar narrative.

Lithuania in the early 1900s

I will give an overview of the events preceding the recruitment of labour from Lithuania, however it should be noted that it is impossible to offer a complete picture of a regions social and political situation without describing the socio-political situation that preceded it, and from there its turtles all the way down.

From the sixteenth century until the late eighteenth century Lithuania was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This was divided in 1795 and Lithuania was, for lack of a better word, “absorbed” by the Russian Empire. For years after this Lithuania struggled to maintain its own identity against the pressures of increasing Russian immigration and investment. This led to Lithuania opening its borders to Napoleon in 1812 when he was marching his army on Russia. A large number of the native Lithuanian population, seeing a chance to gain independence from Russia, joined Napoleon’s army. It is hard to say what reprisals the Lithuanian people faced when Napoleon was forced to retreat out of Russia, however Tsar Alexander I was known for his ruthless reaction to insurrection.

Side Note: It definitely didn’t help that Augustus III, King of Poland-Lithuania was relentlessly committed to failure. He repeated military tactics, economic and social policy that resulted in utter catastrophe without learning or changing and reacted with complete surprise when it all went wrong… immediately followed by doing the same thing again with increased vigor. To call him ruinous would be extremely complimentary.

Two more attempts at independence were made during the nineteenth century which resulted in Tsar Alexander taking an approach of “Russification”. This was a process of suppressing Lithuania’s national identity, banning the use of their native language, persecuting any non-Catholics, and devolving power back to St. Petersburg. This also involved the mass movement of native Lithuanians out of Lithuania, and offering Russians incentives to settle in Lithuania. What strikes me the most about this are the parallels to to a lot of the actions taken by Josef Stalin half a century later – which were a stone on the path to having Stalin decried by many historians as “the most evil man that ever lived”.

This article published in 1863 entitled “Mauravievs Troubles in Lithuania” demonstrates quite clearly the approach taken by the empire.

Far from suppressing the growing nationalist movements in Lithuania, these policies of Russification forged competing nationalist groups into a legitimate resistance.


Whilst Lithuania would eventually gain its independence, the cost in human life, infrastructure and economy was tremendous. The new nation was left without the resources necessary to support its population. Disease and famine were rife amongst the lower classes. Day-to-day life was hard. I have rewritten this paragraph a dozen times trying to accurately describe how hard and I have found myself unable to do so. According to one report, 650,000 native Lithuanians, men and women who fought for decades to preserve their culture, community and national identity, left the country they had fought so hard for, never to return. That is one in four of the native population. The driver behind this diaspora was the relentless suffering that was life for the people of Lithuania.

The immigration was aided by agents arriving from Scotland, America and South Africa. They offered wages which, whilst still meagre in the receiving country, were princely to impoverished Lithuanian labourers. I find it hard to believe that those who chose to leave were unaware of the welcome they would face from local communities, given their experiences with Russian citizens being moved into Lithuania however the journey must have seemed worth it.

By the outbreak of World War One over 7,000 Lithuanians had settled into communities around Glasgow with the purpose of replacing the striking Scottish miners.

It appears that the Scots, with their fierce national pride and distinct cultural identity refused to distinguish Lithuanians from Poles, resulting in some very confusing record keeping. I have never seen a Scotsman being recorded as English without resulting bloodshed. It does seem however that over time these migrant communities integrated well. A combination of the “foreigners” willingness to anglicise their names to make them more familiar to the Scots, with some trauma bonding in the small mining communities. Events like the pit collapse at Glenboig in 1909 where a predominantly Lithuanian community spent hours digging the bodies of four Scottish miners out of the collapsed pit.

It is hard to read the story of these migrants without seeing a foreshadowing of Windrush half a century later. The Lithuanians were never forcibly removed however the cost appears to have been the sacrifice of their culture, their history and in many cases their very names.

I feel there is an important reflection point here. Integration is important, a cohesive community offers resilience where division exposes vulnerability. However a diverse community allows innovation, support structures and growth. Either through our action or inaction the men, women and children who left Lithuania after a long fight for independence felt compelled to abandon their culture. At what point does this become an act of attrition and genocide given the scale of the population we are discussing? Centuries of migrations just like this one, have shown that a great deal can be gained by finding the perfect balance between social integration and preserving cultural identity.

In Britain we often find it easy to forget due to our previous standing as Empire and Superpower, that we are a people forged through diversity. From our earliest recorded history with the Celts, the Roman Occupation, Saxon Invasion, Normans, Anjouvins and French adding to us through conquest. Italian, Greek, Spanish, through trade and hundreds of others adding to our civilisation through our own imperial expansion. We are not an element we are a solution and we are, in my opinion better for it.

For a more personal perspective on life for these families please read my Biographica Incognita entry on Gentleman Johnny Ramensky (Coming Soon)


Saragarhi: Bole So Niha

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the British had been trying to solidify their imperial borders in what is today Pakistan. Despite the enormous wealth India had brought the empire it also provided its share of problems. Arguably more so than any other region under British control. The tried and tested method of arming the local populous to enforce British rule had gone very wrong in the 1850s when an uprising almost led to complete loss of control in the subcontinent. Thousands of British troops were required to maintain order. Troops that given the size of the empire at this time were badly needed elsewhere.

Side Note: One of the key reasons India was so important to the British Empire was because it secured the opium trade into China which created a MASSIVE revenue stream. Pablo Escobar had nothing on King Edward VII.

To prevent further insurrection significant restrictions were placed on the native population, even those serving in a British uniform. These included curfews for civilian population, harsh penalties for what equates to sedition and native military personel were provided outdated weapons, including rifles that could only prove effective in combat if used as a club.

Side Note: I can only imagine the body count that resulted from deliberately under-equipping a military force and then marching them against a well equipped enemy. It certainly wouldn’t have improved sentiment towards the British however it was effective in preventing any further uprisings and mutinies …. for a time.

In a place called Saragarhi, a small, lightly fortified signal station sat between two large forts. The forts were built by the British to secure their control over the Khyber Pass. The signal station placed in what it would be generous to call a village was designed to ensure communication between the two forts which had a mountain between them. Strategically this meant that the forts could respond to threats much more quickly. The signal station was manned by 21 men of the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Army.

Shortly after dawn on 12th September 1897 a sentry notices a dust cloud on the horizon. Its not long before it becomes evident the cloud is caused by thousands of men on the march. A signal is sent to the fort placed slightly closer to the incoming men, the reply received estimated twelve to fifteen thousand tribesmen on the move directly for Saragarhi. The signaller asked the forts if they could send help. Each of these forts held garrisons of nearly two thousand men however to mobilise a realistic fighting force would leave both fortresses exposed. A larger British force was moving up the pass and may be able to support the forts if the tribesmen could be delayed. Saragarhi are told that no support is coming.

The orders were issued by the station sargeant, Hold. Each man stoically went about his duty. Barring the gate, stockpiling ammunition at defensive points, checking rifles and swords. No argument is made, not even a complaint. The signaller was ordered to remain at his post and relay details of what happened next.

Its important to remember that despite the fact the station was only made of wood and mud it held an elevated position that an attacking force would have to climb to reach. This would have helped but absolutely wouldn’t have done much against 500:1 numbers especially given the Sikh regiments were provided old and inefficient weapons. The most optimistic thing I can say about this situation is that as long as the defenders aimed in roughly the right direction they were pretty much certain to hit an enemy.

The first attempt on the gates was made at about 0900 this was turned back when the incline became too slick with blood and an alternative approach was considered. Clearly no better approach was found as some time later a second identical attempt was made on the gate and duly repulsed. At this point the tribal leaders decided to get creative, they set fires around the station to obscure their approach with smoke and created a breech by undermining a wall opposing the main gate. The defenders are given some small warning as one of forts signalled having spotted a detachment of tribes men sneaking around the outer wall. The warning isn’t enough to prevent the breech and at close quarters the rifles are useless, the next moments are a blinding whirr of steel and blood, of sword and knife and bayonet and gore. The tribesmen are forced to withdraw one last time. The defenders are offered lands and riches to surrender. No one moves. A second melee ensues and the Havildar(Sargeant) Ishar Singh single-handedly holds off an advance to allow his remaining men time to withdraw to the second wall. He is reported to have killed ten men before being overwhelmed.

The handful of remaining defenders steadied themselves for another assault, the gate to the inner wall erupts and and tribesmen flow through. As the remaining defenders fight fearlessly, imposing a terrible cost on their attackers the signalman sends one final message to the fort, requesting permission to take up his rifle. It is reported this man kills about twenty tribesmen before they fall back. Rather than assaulting again they set fire to the signal tower. As he burns he screams the Sikh battle cry “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”.

The post was taken but these 21 men held off an army for a day. Long enough for the reinforcements to arrive to support the forts and drive the tribesmen back. When the post was reviewed the bodies of almost six hundred tribesmen were found with the twenty-one Sikhs.

This story has been told in a lot of places, using much more skill than I have been able to apply here. As a rule I don’t write about something if I cant add quality to the narrative however despite the incredible work of youtubers like Extra Credits and historians like Amarinder Singh, I feel its a story worth telling and repeating.

I remember being told in school, that at its height the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe. I was never taught how the empire was spread and maintained with the strength and the blood of recruited indigenous people. Their bravery and contributions were rarely acknowledged. I have found references everywhere citing that these 21 men were given “the highest honours available to them” whilst I cant find reference explicitly stating what those honours were I think its unlikely they would have been decorated as highly as British born soldiers.

I won’t delve too deep into Empire here. The devastating affect imperial expansion has had on cultures across the world has resulted in entire civilisations falling out of the history books. Whilst there was often some benefit to the cultures being ruled it was often small and not worth the cost.

I do however find myself wondering; if the best military wisdom at the time was that native recruited soldiers couldn’t be trusted, which is evidenced by the allocation of laughably archaic weapons, and given the very obvious importance of the signal station, why was the post manned by native troops and led by a non-commissioned officer. Practically speaking I know that if you want to get a job done, your first task is to distract the officer to get them out of your way. However this was not the wisdom of the nineteenth century.

I first heard the story of Saragarhi a few years ago and t remains one of the greatest stories of duty and courage I know. I am sure the social, political and emotional truth of that September day is infinitely more complicated than I have relayed here. Its always worth remembering that the British Empire wasn’t built without an incredible cost and that our taught history doesn’t always reflect who paid that cost.


Jack Sheppard: Stone walls do not a prison make.

In researching my next Biographica Incognita entry I have been looking at impressive escapes from prison. This inexorably led me to the story of Jack Sheppard whose criminal career only lasted about two years but in those two years he accrued the notoriety of a lifetime.

Jack was born in March 1702 in Spittlefields, London which at the time was little more than a slum. The hardship his family were almost certainly experiencing can only have increased as his brother, sister and father all died within a couple of years of each other. Jack was sent to a workhouse at the age of six where he was apprenticed to a series of furniture makers and eventually apprenticed as a carpenter.

According to the biography by Lucy Moore by 1722 he was showing “great promise” as a carpenter. He is described as short and slight (about 5′ 4″) but deceptively strong. Other records suggest he was particularly pale with a slight stutter. Despite this he was immensely popular due to his witt and good nature. Reading between the lines Jack appears to have been a bit of a loveable rogue.

Frequenting some of the less salubrious drinking houses in London, Jack would later claim is what led to his descent into criminality. Looking at this through the lens of modern social analysis, Jack was a poor man from a poor family, by the age of twenty earning only an apprentices wages, with the ample illicit opportunities provided by the public houses of London’s East End and the company he would inevitably keep in that environment made a criminal career the path of least resistance.

So far I have just described a penniless young man who dropped out of his apprenticeship and spent a lot of time in the pub. Whilst there is social commentary enough here, this is only where Jacks story truly begins. He started going out with a sex worker called Elizabeth Lyon. Bess is an interesting character in her own right and probably deserves a dedicated post. She was Jacks sherpa up the steep incline that he would take to become a legend.

Jack started with petty theft, pocketing items from shops, or removing property from residences where he was employed as an independent carpenter. He never seems to have been caught for these minor crimes and that is probably what gave him the confidence to escalate. Jack however had gotten on the wrong side of Jonathan Wilde, the “Thief taker General” who it turns out was also the Don Corleone of eighteenth century London. Jack has previously refused to work for Wilde and subsequently used one of Wildes fences to move some stolen property.

Wilde arranged a less than elaborate set up in which Jack was invited out for a pint by a mutual friend and then handed over to a local constable. At a time before a recognisable police force when constables were part time and prone to minor bouts of getting stabbed to death, this guy must have thought all his christmases had come at once. All he had to do was sit in a nice warm pub any await the arrival of a criminal with a £40 bounty who had a reputation for being non-violent.

The Birth of a Legend

Jack was held on the top floor of St Giles Roundhouse to await further questioning. Consider this like local police station cells, secure and guarded. Reports on how quickly his escape was achieved vary but the longest estimate is three and a half hours. He had broken through the ceiling timbers, climbing to the ground whilst still wearing leg irons. By this time a crowd was forming outside as his escape had been noticed and was causing a fair amount of noise. He joined the crowd, pointed to a shadow on the roof and coolly shouted “hes up there” before walking away.

A month later Jack was caught picking a pocket and sentenced to a custodial sentence in Clackenwell prison which was a modern, state of the art, prison… 1724. Bess was with him as she was recognised as his wife at this point. They escaped within a couple of days. They had broken out of their leg irons and then escaped, first out of their cell into the prison yard and then over the seven meter high wall.

Where Jacks first escape went largely unnoticed by the press, this escape did not. London’s papers were littered with articles and cartoons of Jack and Bess. He became a folk hero overnight.

Wilde, receiving both pressure as London’s “Thief taker General” and desperate to remove Jack as competition focused his efforts on locating and arresting him. As there was no warrant for Bess, she had escaped but wasn’t held for any crime, it took Wilde no time to locate her, at which point he kept her plied with brandy until she disclosed Jacks location. He was hiding in the gin shop run by the mother of one of his criminal partners. Which frankly sounds like the ideal hiding place to me.

Jack stood before the magistrate charged with three counts of housebreaking. Interestingly I could find no suggestion of a charge of gaolbreaking. Of the three counts the first two were dismissed as having “insufficient evidence”, the third however was stacked with the full weight of Wildes resources, a parade of witnesses were presented to the magistrate as well as Wilde himself taking the stand. On this charge Jack was sentenced to death by hanging.

Jack got bored of waiting around in a cell whilst his sentence was being ratified, so he left prison again; Bess visited him with another sex worker, whilst they distracted the guards Jack loosened the iron window bars and escaped wearing woman’s clothing provided by Bess. I should stress its not explicitly stated and probably best not to speculate on how two sex workers chose to distract the prison guards.

He managed to evade escape for some time however was eventually found and arrested. The level of physical restraint placed upon him at this point was hilarious. He was placed in a strongroom in Newgate Prison called “The Castle”, literally wrapped in chains leaving only his head visible atop the pile of chains which were bolted into the floor. Whilst detained thus he was visited by dozens of people from all levels of society, he dictated an autobiography and a portrait was painted (unfortunately only the original sketches survive).

Jack got bored again, and so he left. Taking advantage of a disturbance in the court room next to the prison caused by Jonathan Wilde being stabbed during an active court session, Jack slipped his handcuffs off, picked the lock holding his chains (reportedly using a nail between his teeth), shuffled up the chimney, pried the iron bars sealing the chimney loose(all whilst still wearing leg irons). shuffled back down the chimney to collect the bedsheets from his cell, went back up the chimney, to the prison roof, used the sheets to climb down to a neighbouring house, broke into the house and walked out of the front door without waking the occupants.

Unfortunately Jack decided to celebrate his escape by stealing some money and posh clothes, going to his local pub and consuming a frankly athletic amount of alcohol. It didn’t take long for the constables to learn that he was on a bender in his favourite pub, they came and arrested him. This time Jack was weighted, chained, handcuffed and had a round the clock guard.

Jack Sheppard was hanged in Tyburn on 16th November 1724.


Jack was known as “Honest Jack” given he never hurt anyone, his demeanour even going to the gallows was warm, friendly and jovial. At the time when personal luxury items were increasingly popular with the middle and upper classes, the streets of London were awash with unemployed sailors and soldiers and alcohol was cheaper than food. Crime was skyrocketing Jacks popularity isn’t hard to understand.

I feel that any sensible man would have left London after his first escape. England had no centralised police force to follow him across districts but Jack comes across as such an endearing character due to his daring and apparent irreverence toward the laws and punishments directed at him. Times and attitudes changed but two hundred years later the story of Gentleman Johnny Ramensky who also escaped from “inescapable prisons” five times would excite the public imagination. Ramensky never seems to have gotten close to the level of public affection that Jack managed to cultivate.

That being said, in reading up on Jack Sheppard I found myself having to only use contemporary sources. Jacks legend was still very much alive after his death. In each retelling seems to have twisted and changed, constantly evolving to a point where if Jack heard it today he wouldn’t recognise the tale. The legend of Jack Sheppard has had three centuries to grow into something different. In the beginning was a smaller than average man from a poor family who just knew how to have a good time. Everyone loves a bit of civil disobedience and Jack Sheppard alloyed a legend out of civil disobedience and contempt for authority.


Safeguarding: Self Radicalisation

The author is dead” –Unknown

Over the last decade the UK Government have made significant advancements in the identification and support of vulnerable people at risk of becoming radicalised. From its publication and constant revisions of the Prevent Strategy(2011) to the assembly of multi-agency panels to review and support at risk individuals. In my role as a safeguarding nurse I have received specific training in radicalisation however lock down has presented some interesting new spikes in “Self Radicalisation”.

I should probably start by describing what I mean by radicalisation. In the context of my work radicalisation is the exploitation of vulnerable persons, coercing or manipulating them into adopting an extremist ideology or undertaking tasks in the name of an extremist ideology. This is not exclusively about Islamic Extremism, any extreme religious or political ideology counts, be it the IRA in the eighties, or Basque Extremists in mainland europe until 2011. A strong argument has been made to include the INCEL group as extremist, especially after the events in Toronto. The UK Government maintain a “Proscribed Organisations List”. As a rule, you’ll likely have an easier life if you do not become affiliated with any of the organisations on this list. It is not uncommon for some of these organisations to target individuals with deficits in their social awareness, particularly individuals with autism as the lack of social awareness increases the chance of successful indoctrination.

Self Radicalisation is where an at risk individual encounters extremist materials without having been targeted and without guiding begins to engage or adopt the organisations ideologies. In this case the author is dead, their intentions when writing the material are irrelevant, the reader has found extremist meaning in there whether it was intended or not and may undertake acts of domestic terrorism in line with their newly adopted beliefs.

So how to you protect against this? Removal of any inflammatory material would probably help but that would be state censorship and I have a bit of an issue with that. Normally I would have an issue with the state legislating against membership of a particular organisation but take a look at the list, I don’t think anyone could argue how dangerous these groups are.

Its slightly easier with Radicalisation where you have identified dangerous groups and if they start interacting with at risk individuals. With Self-Radicalisation all the individual needs is access to the internet. Many individuals most at risk are socially isolated so they don’t have friends and family noticing the subtle changes in behaviour or picking up alarm cues in conversation. Fortunately however many of these individuals do have some level of health and social need. At the moment the most effective identification method we use is simply asking health staff or social workers to consider the risk of radicalisation when interacting with their patients. They are then supported to put their emerging ideologies into the proper context and understand it. Which frankly is a concept that could be lifted directly out of Brave New World.

I guess my question here is how do we find the line between protecting society and oppressing an individual? when is it ok to cross that line? is it ever ok to cross that line?

I am extremely proud to live in a plural society, I can believe anything I want, within reason I am able to express that belief openly as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else. Individuals may discriminate against me for my beliefs but at least on paper the state cant legislate against whats in my head. However it is clear from our management of individuals in PREVENT cases that the state want us to think a certain way and will take steps to ensure that when belief approaches extremism.

Things I couldn’t find a place for

There were a number of comments I wanted to make that I couldn’t introduce into the text above without breaking its flow.

Firstly I have no idea who said “the author is dead” I thought it was either Oscar Wilde or Roland Barthes, if anyone knows can you let me know.

There is an absolutely amazing episode of The West Wing in which they draw the religious comparison “Islam is to Islamic Extremist as Christianity is to the KKK”. Its an entirely valid religious comparison. The episode is the first episode in season three and is called Issac and Ishmael, I highly recommend you watch it.

Its really important to recognise that radicalisation is safeguarding, terrorism is criminal. Radicalisation is about protecting vulnerable individuals from indoctrination before they go any further.

When Lenin and Mao read Karl Marx Communist Manifesto they could be broadly described as self radicalising. Both were believed to have significant mental health issues which would have made them more likely to adopt extremist ideologies. Their interpretation and execution of the Communist Manifesto was almost certainly not what Karl Marx had intended.


Safeguarding: Ethnicity and Ethics

This situation is more of a hypothetical, whilst based on a real situation the patients confidentiality is assured by the fact I cant remember most of the specific details and as a result have confabulated. I should also stress the question I am exploring is not related to the safeguarding concern for which I was supporting the patient.

Because referring to her as “the patient” is going to get very annoying very quickly, lets call her Debbie.

Debbie entered the country three years ago but did not enter through any of our ports. As such she had no visa and the home office and other authorities were completely unaware of her. She was living with a family somewhere up north and in exchange for room and board was providing domestic services and childcare. I can feel daily mail readers everywhere raging at this situation but I need to stress this is a genuine safeguarding concern. An individual in this situation is at extremely high risk of abuse and exploitation. If the authorities are unaware of her she doesn’t have access to health or social care or any form of legal protection. In the eyes of the state at this point she doesn’t exist. This specific situation is tragically extremely common. It is so common that I am certain summarising Debbie’s situation does not constitute a breech of confidentiality.

Debbie had a one night stand with a gentleman whose name remains unknown to her and fell pregnant. I am unconvinced there hasn’t been an element of sex work or sexual exploitation however was unable to verify this feeling. Because of the pregnancy the family she was staying with decided to ask her to leave. I suspect because the birth of a child and the need for antenatal care would probably draw attention to their exploitative relationship with a young lady who was residing in their house illegally. With no money, no friends or family in the country and no means of accessing housing she went to London and presented to a hospital where he was found to be about 30 weeks pregnant.

There is a lot more to this story however this is where my question comes in. Debbie is from an African country where a reported 20% of women have HIV. We know that reporting in this particular country is sub-optimal and the real number of women with HIV is likely to be significantly higher. She presents to a hospital having not seen a health practitioner since childhood and is now pregnant. Would you routinely screen her for HIV?

The reason I am questioning this is because the basis for an HIV screen would be entirely one of ethnicity and should we be treating one person differently to another based entirely on where they come from? However there are implications for her unborn baby and her mysterious Casanova. You could simply ask her if we could perform a viral screen however how would you respond if she declined? We don’t insist on any tests in a capacitous patient if they decline, it would be a tremendous violation however there are implications beyond the rights of this individual. If we test without her knowledge or consent we still need to overcome the unethical basis for the test.

This isn’t a matter of Safeguarding or Mental Capacity but a matter of Clinical Law so thankfully I would never be asked to advise on a situation like this. I would however be interested in the thoughts of my readers so please comment below.


Safeguarding : Incest

Some of my readers are aware that I am an Adult Safeguarding Nurse for a large hospital in the south of England. This work leads to a lot of exposure to (among other things) the weird and wonderful diversity of human nature. I will relay some of the more interesting experiences in these posts if it is possible to anonymise the details enough to prevent a breech of confidentiality. In the case of this post I have changed some of the smaller details which don’t in any way impact the learning I have taken from it.

I received a call for advice from a department in the hospital regarding a patient in her early twenties who reported to being in a consensual sexual relationship with her biological father who was in his late thirties. Realistically this does not constitute a safeguarding concern as defined by Section 42 of the Care Act(2014) given neither individual was considered to have a cognitive impairment that would suggest an exploitative relationship. However as rule anything that doesn’t really fit anywhere else comes to my team. and I am going to be honest the research necessary for this case has fucked my browser history up and I am really looking forward to how it impacts my targeted adverts on sites.

My immediate reaction when the basic details were described to me was “ewwww” however that was a very quick instinctive reaction which led to me thinking “blimey, that felt like a programmed response”. I did some digging and stumbled across a psychosocial mechanism called The Westermark Effect. This is sort of like a a reverse imprinting from a young age. Sexual attraction is suppressed with people you live closely with, this is believed to be a clever biological mechanism to limit the damage inbreeding can do to any gene pool. I am from Cornish stock, my people are famous for inbreeding on a borderline industrial level however its usually not immediate family members. As a professional this led me to wonder how effectively I could support these patients given I am biologically programmed with a bias preventing me from understanding their situation.

There were some obvious human rights and criminal considerations so the obvious place to start was Section 64 of the Sexual Offences Act(2003). This led to a number of interesting incidental findings –

  1. Adoptive family are covered by this section. I presumed the reason for the Act was to legislate in a way that would prevent damage to the gene pool and prevent the birth of children with potentially avoidable life limiting physical health problems. Which thinking about it feels like legislating for Eugenics. However preventing intercourse with an adoptive family member who in theory has no genetic tie to you doesn’t fit that theory so I have no idea of the aim of this section.
  2. My patients believed they were not breaking the law because they apparently didn’t have penetrative vaginal intercourse, only anal and oral sex. It turns out according to the Act any sexual penetration is unlawful. Which again doesn’t support the theory that the purpose of the section is to protect against the consequences of a close familial pregnancy.
  3. The punishment for violation of this section is a custodial sentence of not more than eight months AND a fine OR a custodial sentence of not longer than two years.

This got me wondering how many people have actually been prosecuted under this section of the Act. I found a response to a freedom of information request submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service(CPS) indicating that between 2003 and 2017 eighteen people have been prosecuted. This doesn’t include arrests without prosecution. I know this is over a period of fifteen years but that was still considerably higher than I was expecting. I do however remember listening to a podcast which outlined a situation with some similarities to the case I had. I think it was RedHanded but I am afraid I cant remember which episode. However I do highly recommend this podcast, it is truly outstanding.

So the next question that presented itself was – Is legislating against sexual relationships with close family members a violation of a persons rights under the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR) or the Human Rights Act(1998). The key article in question would be Article 8, the right to a private and family life. Honestly I have no answers here. In my work I assess situations against Article 5 (The Right to Liberty and Security) and Article 8 (The Right to a Private and Family Life) on almost a daily basis. If the spirit of the law was to protect society and the well being of hypothetical unborn children I would argue there is no violation in legislating against incest. However for the reasons listed above I have no idea what the spirit of this act is but it doesn’t appear to be about protecting genetic diversity or unborn children.

This case has offered a lot of reflection and learning. Both academically and in considering how I as a person respond to situations that I don’t understand or that don’t conform to even the broadest social-norms. I would totally invite discussion and debate around this issue.


Geographical Anomaly

So I was finally putting pen to paper on my Biographica Incognita entry on Gentleman Johnny Ramensky. I have spent weeks reading newspapers and court records from the first half of the twentieth century. However in writing about Johnny’s parents immigrating from Lithuania I realised I didn’t really understand the geography of Lithuania. So I hit google maps and street view. Confident I had a fair understanding of the general topography of Lithuania I was about to log off when I noticed something.

Do you see it?


I get the value of coastal provinces however this must be an absolute bastard to govern. Its small, with too few resources to independently support its population, There is no direct land access back to Russia without going through Lithuania, Latvia or Belarus. So this province must be the only access Russia has to the Baltic Sea right?

Wrong. Russia has a huge length of coast on the Baltic Sea at the Fino-Russian border.

I suspect Russia held on to this as their empire receded and the countries now surrounding Kaliningrad …. which I presume is the name of this aberration struck for independence.

I have a totally irrational but fierce anger of geo-political anomalies like this. As with Alaska and Crimea, provinces cut up due to conflict or clumsy resolution to conflict just result in more trouble.

If I become unwell following the publish of this post, please check for Polonium.


OMH: Would World War Two Have Happened Without Hitler?

Would World War Two have happened without Adolf Hitler?

There are few that would dispute that Adolf Hitler was one of the darkest figures in human history. The atrocities he visited upon millions of people are beyond imagining. Often in hypothetical discussions about time travel, the first thought visited is, “I would kill Hitler”.

However, reflecting on his rise to power, it becomes apparent that modern history focuses heavily on the intrinsic factors that led to a nation appointing a man, who would otherwise have achieved a diagnosis of “criminally insane,” as their leader. The extrinsic factors get overlooked. Ultimately, would Germany have sought global conflict if Hitler had never existed?

Pride and Versailles

The area now identified as the country of Germany has a long and largely proud history, and, whilst it would be tempting to reflect back to the Merovingian dynasty and further, for the sake of brevity lets stick to the post Great War twentieth-century[i]. Germany had just proven they could contend militarily on a global scale; rightly or wrongly they had held their own in a war against some of the largest and most powerful nations on earth, and despite their resulting defeat this was a feat that few other nations could have achieved. They were a strong and proud people.

….. and then Versailles happened. Frankly the Treaty of Versailles is as close to gang-rape as I have ever heard politics getting[ii]. Rather than proving magnanimous in victory, the leaders of Great Britain, France and the United States behaved like thugs. Drunk with success and fury they  took the bloodied but proud German nation and imposed unfathomably harsh sanctions on them; prohibiting their air force, reducing their army and navy to a size that would be limited even for a nation a tenth of their size, and demanding inflated reparations so high that it would prevent her operating on any serious economic level for over a century. The human and economic cost of defending the world against Germany (and her attempt at empire building in the Great War) was beyond imagining, however the Treaty of Versailles reads of retribution not redress. A proud and strong nation was mugged, berated, and castrated. The aim was humiliation.

Following Germany’s defeat in World War One her leaders were immediately contrite and conciliatory; what option did they have? However the German people were undoubtedly painfully aware of their new place in the world. Some of them got angry. The angriest of them, a man so enraged that at any other time in history he would have been dismissed immediately as insane, started speaking to the German people, and to their pride; stirring in the people something Versailles had stolen from them and whipping them into a frenzy comparable to the religious zeal of the crusades.  This was a key factor in the strength and rise of nationalism, and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

George Elser

In November 1939, an explosion ripped through the crowd at a rally in Munich. The blast originated from a bomb, placed behind a pillar on the stage. Several minutes earlier Adolf Hitler occupied this stage, however he left earlier than expected. Had he remained as planned there is no doubt he would have died that night. The man who placed the bomb was George Elser, a disgruntled worker who took exception to Hitler on political ground. However, would the war have looked different had Elser been successful? By this point the human cost was still incalculable. The events of Kristallnacht[iii]  had occurred a year earlier. Hitler had already whipped the German people into a frenzy and directed that hate and anger and fear at the Jewish people. He had surrounded himself with like minded (but admittedly less charismatic) people who would have easily stepped in to succeed him in the event of his death.

What is unclear is whether any of the possible successors would have had the stomach for war. Britain had already declared war on Germany two months earlier. It is possible that at this point, and remembering the reprisals they experienced at Versailles, any successor would have felt committed to the course of war.

I have chosen the example of George Elser and the suitcase bomb as, of all the varied attempts on Hitlers life this was the closest anyone really got to success.


I don’t think the atrocities would have looked the same but I do believe, due to all the factors above, that Germany would have been driven to war regardless of Hitlers existence. They were humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles[iv] and they were still mourning their dead. There was a gap in the national consciousness that would likely not have existed had the victorious powers of The Great War taken a more balanced and forward thinking approach to dealing with Germany. The only shape that could fill that gap was nationalism. Any leader able to manipulate the pain of their people, give them someone to hate and tell them they could have an empire again, would probably have achieved just as much as Hitler, but at the time he was the only person trying to do this. Jews have been the victims of national powers throughout history. In 1290 Edward the First of England expelled all Jews from the country and at the time no-one seems to have flinched. Whilst I would like to believe the world had developed in the intervening six hundred and fifty years the evidence suggests otherwise. The Jewish people are often the first group to be targeted when a nation is angry. So it is not surprising that Hitler also targeted this group of people. It is actually kind of sickening to think that the acts visited upon the Jews in World War Two, acts that in my opinion fully demonstrate the darkest, rankest depths of human evil, may have been visited upon them because Hitler felt, as many before him, that the Jews were the easiest available targets. 

The lesson I have taken from this reflection is that it is important to consider our actions and the ramifications of those actions as much in victory as in defeat. I have leaned very heavily on the feeling that Versailles broke a proud people so hard that they turned to one of history’s most evil[v] and unstable individuals to deliver them.

[i] That’s how history works right? In neat little unrelated sections.

[ii] I really dislike the term “gang rape” however given it was a group of nations violently and non-consensually violated every operational aspect of a single sovereign nation it was hard to find a better analogy.

[iii] I read accounts of Kristallnacht in primary school and I still get the occasional nightmare.

[iv] Article 231 of the treaty fills the singular purpose of getting the boot in.

[v] I’ve used the word evil a lot in this document. There are a great many books arguing if a man can be evil or just commit evil acts. Without going down the path of Kantian philosophy I use the term to describe a man who continually gives orders with the express intention of maximising human suffering.


BI: James Barry

I was anxious about writing this article. Whilst I feel that Doctor Barry’s story is one that has been neglected by history the issues it raises particularly around the possibility of Dr Barry being a transgender male are incredibly polarising which is something I have never particularly understood. Looking at social media almost any post you can find about transgender rights or any story involving and individual who identifies as a different gender to that which they were recognised at birth almost universally drive people to the extremes either having allegations of being transphobic, small minded bigots or overly liberal. I asked a friend and colleague of mine about this who chairs a local transgender rights society. She explained that people, like myself are often too nervous to openly discuss these issues for fear of being labelled transphobic, as a result the majority of people who get the airtime in these issues are people who reside in the extremes. She went on to explain she felt that peoples fear of opening a dialogue on any level in regards to transgender rights is the biggest challenge she and her members face. I found the conversation enlightening and I am grateful to her for helping me pick apart some of my sources to draw the conclusions I did. So the first lesson I would like to share from writing this article is that you should never be afraid to open a dialogue on matters that can appear quite socially uncomfortable, enter the conversation with an open mind and admit your preconceptions may be wrong. Its only by bringing these issues into the light and openly talking about them that we can raise awareness, making society as a whole more comfortable with the conversations and diluting the opinions of those on the extremes.

I am confident in my opinion that Dr Barry was not a transgender man, I am basing this on the fact he did not appear to identify as male, only bore the disguise to balance the incredible gender inequalities of the time. However I am looking at this through the lens of a twenty-first century, British male who identifies with the gender on his birth certificate. I absolutely recognise that there are a number of unconscious biases as a result of geography, location in time and general upbringing that I may have been influenced by unknowingly. I also recognise that whilst there is an extensive history around the world of people dressing in the clothes of another gender, history lacks the vocabulary to analyse this. Given the extreme societal biases against such things it is unlikely the individuals themselves would know how to express the disconnect as identifying as another gender. In this regard its only in the last decade, one hundred and fifty years after James Barry’s death, that we have acknowledged transgender expression. This by no means suggests that I think we have developed far being attitudes in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. As stated above, as I see it the only way I can see us truly developing is by opening the dialogue and not being afraid to talk, to be challenged and to change our perspective.

Regarding the extensive statement this story makes about gender inequality, not just at the time but also now. I was shocked by how attitudes towards Barry immediately changed on the discovery that he was a woman. I have linked a couple of news paper articles below that were written in the years after his death. They read bleakly as “we knew it all along” and whilst I couldn’t share many of the source materials I used for my research for reasons of copyright, I felt a deep shame in reading them, putting a large amount of Barry’s apparent volatile nature which was previously dismissed as him just being a lad, down to typical female hysteria. A number of articles suggested that Barry was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Erskine and only got away with the behaviours due to his favour. I have found literally no evidence that James Barry’s father was anyone other than Jeremiah Barry, It is undisputed that a large part of Barry’s success in passing as a male was a result of the support from Lord Erskine, much of the material reads as the authors felt it was impossible for a woman to have the intelligence to pull this off without being directed by a man. All of the great accomplishments for which Barry was celebrated throughout his life were almost immediately dismissed upon death as his gender was discovered. I couldn’t even find a published obituary which would routinely be published by Horseguards for an officer of Barry’s station regardless of the fact he had retired at the time of his death. Whilst this speaks fairly darkly of attitudes towards towards women in the Victorian British Empire, the fact that Dr James Barry is still all but unknown and the immediate assumptions people make when reading this story suggest we have not developed as a society in our attitudes towards gender equality as far as we might like to think.

My first introduction to the story of James Barry was from a song by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts entitled “Doctor James”. Once again proving that folk music is an essential component in our oral tradition and in some cases the only means by which these important stories and legends are preserved. I highly recommend this song to anyone so inclined.

The letters I had accessed with the help of the Royal College of Nursing written by Florence Nightingale to her family make for highly entertaining reading. As does a letter chastising the physician who certified Dr Barry’s death for observing life extinct but failing to note that the corpse was “perfectly female in form”.

The numerous works of Hercules du Preez were invaluable in my research particularly an article “Doctor James Barry: The Early Years” where through frankly meticulous research a lot of the myths surrounding Doctor Barry’s early years were debunked. A number his other articles whilst interesting lacked a fair balance of sources so whilst I used them, I took the details with a pinch of salt.

Several works of Robert Hume were useful, the article “Anatomy of a Lie” written for the irish Enquirer, was very useful in leading me other more useful primary sources.

These two newspaper articles written years after Barry’s death are interesting in context however are poorly researched. The anecdotes made me chuckle but offer a bleak commentary on the perception of women at the time. I could never offer the social analysis this story deserves. As is the mandate for my Biographica Incognita, I try to write an accurate but interesting narrative with the purpose of inspiring interest in the reader and hopefully resulting in them reading further around the subject and drawing their own conclusions. I hope I have done an adequate job of shining a light on this incredible character who I feel has been mistreated by the tides of history.  


BI: Hereward the Wake

I have just updated and republished my Biographica Incognita article on Hereward the Wake.

I almost certainly haven’t done this incredible figure from history justice. In my retelling of his tale but my aim is to make people curious and to inspire further reading around some of histories more fascinating forgotten characters.

Having read a number of works by modern historians a few years ago as research for this article, as well as translations of the Gesta Herewardi and the few relevant parts of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles. I found myself reviewing some of the materials for this update and reflecting on Guy Halsall, an incredible historian who has remarked on the folly of reviewing history in search of a single person.

He is absolutely right, there is so little reliable information on Hereward that any work on him has to be largely conjecture. Its more revealing to look at the world he inhabited and the shifting cultures in England shortly after the Norman Conquest.

Its also quite telling that William didn’t have the smooth transition I remember hearing about in my childhood. The first few years of his reign were rife with rebellion and insurrection. It is a testament to the man that he not only managed to take England (although as I said in the article there was more than a little luck involved) but also that he managed to hold and mostly introduce stability to a country which had experienced only Saxon rule for a significant period of time prior to his invasion.

I have absolutely marginalised the importance of the northern Earls, in particularly Morcar who had been a key figure in the politics and military efforts for a long time even before William decided to take England. Frankly he probably deserves an article in his own right.

I mention my frustrations with my education in history. Particularly at secondary school. I am not exaggerating when I say that there was no focus on any events prior to 1939. Which in itself is extremely discouraging as the factors that led to World War Two took place in the years, decades and in some cases centuries before the outbreak of war. However the focus was on teaching us only what we needed to know to pass our exams and not provide us the tools to analyse complex events and perspectives. This unfortunately seems endemic in the British education system. This is not the fault or responsibility of the teachers but of the exam boards.