First published on Tarboard on May 21, 2006
I found this amongst some old papers. I think I wrote it some years ago with the intention of sending it to Mixed Moss in response to a debate about the origins of the Amazon pirates. I’m not sure if it ever arrived at Mixed Moss, certainly it never appeared in it. Anyway, I read it, quite liked some of it and decided that even if it is not up to MM’s standards I might inflict it upon Tarboard.
I was delighted to Read Pauline’s Marshall’s “The Children on the East Side”. This put forward the claims of the red-capped Rawdon-Smith girls to be the ‘original’ Amazon pirates.
No one who has met Pauline could doubt that she is anything but a “real Amazon pirate”. She is as real as Kanchenjunga. I remember her, a few years ago, on a TARS trip to Piel Island (down the river and along the coast from Peel Island). Piel Island is crowned by a rather splendid but ruined castle which is inaccessible without a stiff, hands on the rock, scramble of the sort not usually associated with ladies, in or approaching, their eighties. I looked up to see a pair of pirates striding the battlements: Pauline and my (then) 15-year old son, Ian, striding the battlements, her redcap and his ponytail streaming out in the breeze.
The historian R. G. Collingwood (Uncle Robin to the Altounyans) never, to my knowledge commented on this piece of history so dear to the hearts of lovers of Swallows and Amazons. In his “The Idea of History he did, however, say something about historical knowledge in general which I find helpful when wondering ‘how it all began’. He claimed that what is important, when thinking about history, is not the closeness to the event but the ability to “think it again for yourself”.
Now neither TARS, nor Tarboardistas, are under any obligation to be either historians or scientists; they don’t need to weigh the Rawdon-Smiths against the Altounyans against the Crossleys if the don’t want to. And even if they do want, if they are driven by a desire to know ‘what really happened’, are we not are trying to capture the thoughts of an author at the point of creation? This is like trying to catch sunbeams. Instead we should try to decide what it is which counts for each of us as a true and original Amazon pirate.