Wild Things All at Sea

Article excerpt

QUESTION My ancestor, John T. Danby, sailed for the Australian goldrush in 1852 and in the log of his voyage aboard the barque, Blackfriar, he noted: 'Mother Carey's Chickens (used for target practice!), a blackfish 60ft in length, bubbys, a grampas spotted in colour and 20ft in length, albatross catching flying fish by the ship's bow, Cape pidgeons, Cape hens, ice porpoises and the wandering albatross.' What might these creatures have been?

MOTHER Carey's chickens are storm petrels, of which there are several species and many of which are very common.

Blackfish often refer to 'oceanic dolphins' such as pilot whales and false killer whales, although none of the six or so species exceed about 20-25ft in length. The right whale was referred to as the black whale by 19th-century whalers and is possibly what the author is referring to.

Grampas (or grampus) is an old name for the orca or killer whale.

The varying albatrosses are fairly self explanatory.

Cape pigeons are Cape or pintado petrels, a common in the southern hemisphere, and Cape hen is another seabird, the white-chinned petrel.

Gordon Allison, warden, North Kent Marshes, Kent.

A BUBBY is likely an alternative name for a booby. They are large seabirds closely related to gannets with long, pointed wings and long bills.

Perhaps the most famous is the blue-footed booby of the Galapagos Islands but your ancestor more likely saw a masked or a brown booby.

They are well-known to sailors, their name is based on the Spanish slang term bobo, meaning 'silly', as these tame birds had a habit of landing on board sailing ships, where they were usually captured and eaten.

Boobies are often mentioned as having been caught and eaten by shipwrecked sailors, notably Captain Bligh of Bounty fame.

An ice porpoise is harder to distinguish. There are only six species of porpoise; just two live in the southern hemisphere: Burmeister's porpoise and the spectacled porpoise.

Burmeister's porpoise is common on the South American coast and the spectacled porpoise is found in cool sub-Antarctic and low Antarctic waters, so the latter is perhaps what your ancestor saw - if he did, though, he was lucky as the spectacled porpoise is an elusive beast.

T. Dent, Renfrewshire.

QUESTION Did the Irish ever take part in the crusades?

THERE were eight crusades between 1096 and 1272, and all attracted Irish knights, religious and hangers-on.

Nearly all the participants, however, were Anglo-Norman nobles. They felt complete justification in their quest to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims because, in 1095, Pope Urban II had upgraded the conflict from 'just war' to 'holy war'.

The Anglo-Norman nobility was well versed in the arts of war and invasion, having invaded in Ireland in 1169. For example, on the second crusade, one of the most notable participants was Sir Gilbert Peppard, the Lord of Ardee, Co. Louth, who was killed in battle. On the third crusade, Bertram de Verdun, Lord of Dundalk and Cooley in Co. Louth, was the most significant Irish crusader, but he too was killed in battle at Jaffa in 1191.

Many who took part in the crusades came from Co. Kilkenny, where Jerpoint Abbey was their mustering point as they set off on their travels.

One of the leading noblemen from Kilkenny who took part in at least one, probably two, crusades, was Sir Thomas Cantwell.

Two religious organisations that were prominent in Ireland were also very involved in the crusades.

The Knights Templar was a kind of freemasonry, founded to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem, and it had many connections, especially as they were regarded as pioneers in the earliest but primitive practice of banking.

Knights Templar in Ireland were allowed to have one home that was free of taxes.

One, Ingelbrictus, lived in Dublin and he was constantly moving from home to home in the city so that he could claim freedom from taxes on every house. …