A really good update on this front with good insight into the impact all the powers are having on each other. Any update on how Ethiopia is doing as well?
 
A really good update on this front with good insight into the impact all the powers are having on each other. Any update on how Ethiopia is doing as well?
Thank you.

Ethiopia is… at peace. This means Muhammad Ali has found a reasonably pliable Oromo princeling (a Christian, but very tolerant of Muslims) and declared him king and vassal. The Era of Princes is over, and your average Ethiopian prince views it with a mix of resentment and relief.

Things could be worse. There's no jizya on Christians under Muhammad Ali. They can join the army and engage in trade. They don't have much political freedom, but in the Cairene Empire, not many people do. Some are getting jobs in Massawa, Djibouti, and upper Egypt.
 
Thank you.

Ethiopia is… at peace. This means Muhammad Ali has found a reasonably pliable Oromo princeling (a Christian, but very tolerant of Muslims) and declared him king and vassal. The Era of Princes is over, and your average Ethiopian prince views it with a mix of resentment and relief.

Things could be worse. There's no jizya on Christians under Muhammad Ali. They can join the army and engage in trade. They don't have much political freedom, but in the Cairene Empire, not many people do. Some are getting jobs in Massawa, Djibouti, and upper Egypt.

Sounds good then. Do hope that Ethiopia can rise once more at some point, although Muhammad Ali is probably going to keep things under wraps while he can.
 
Interlude: December 23, 1839 (9)
My posting has finally just about caught up with my writing, and I'll be taking November off so I can work on the sequel to Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise, before I start working on the election of 1840, the Troubles, the Formosa War, and the [REDACTED]. But I've got three more posts to go. I'll drop them one a day so they can be appreciated individually.


Central, South, and Southeast Asia
The convert and missionary Joseph Wolff[1] is in the Emirate of Bukhara, where his regalia is a source of great amusement for the locals. Not that he minds—he’s been an object of suspicion among Jews for being a Christian, Christians for being a Jew, and others Christians for maybe being the wrong type of Christian when he was trying to decide which type of Christian he wanted to be, so knowing that people are just laughing at his outfit is kind of relaxing. He doesn’t know why exactly God sent him here, but as he likes to say, “You yourself must first of all be omniscient, in order that you may be able to decide what the Omniscient ought to do.” Mostly he’s looking for isolated populations of Jews that might be open to conversion.

Converts make good missionaries because they know what persuaded them, and good missionaries do make an effort to learn what the people around them already believe. There are some odd millenarian Islamic sects in this part of the world, but what people really seem to believe is that their western neighbors in Khiva can keep attacking outlying settlements south of the Urals and get away with it. Russia is already sending men and weapons into Persia—much further south than Khiva or Bukhara—but not through a desert.

Also taking advantage of apparent weakness? Afghanistan and Baluchistan, which are still pushing westward into Persia while trying not to collide directly with the Russians or British.

To the east, Ranjit Singh looks upon the Sikh Empire and believes that it is at the height of its power. That’s a bad thing. It means there’s nowhere to go but down.

His empire is fairly self-sufficient. They have their own cotton mills. They can make their own muskets, rifles, revolvers, rockets, cannons. What they can’t make is the industrial base that will churn all this stuff out in the volume they’re going to need if they ever have to take on the British Empire. And their entire ability to conduct overseas trade hinges on Sindh, a puppet state that might rethink its loyalty at any time.

That’s not even the bad news. The bad news is that, like the kings of Portugal, Denmark, Prussia, and Russia, Ranjit Singh is well aware that he isn’t long for this world[2]. And unlike them, he has no confidence his chosen successor will be able to, well, succeed. But at 59, Ranjit’s liver is failing. He could defeat any foe in the world except booze.

Speaking of defeat, this was the year that King Bagyidaw of Burma was overthrown by his brother Tharrawaddy. The ostensible reason for Tharrawaddy’s revolt—which took the better part of three years—was that Bagyidaw was failing to restore the glory that Burma had lost after the war with Siam and the British Empire. No sooner had Tharrawaddy taken the throne than he called the kingdom’s generals together and asked them to help him plan the next war, in which Burma would reclaim the Shan states from Siam. On considering the state of their army and the military proficiency Rama displayed in Vietnam, Tharrawaddy determined that in the event of war, Burma would get squashed like a chicken under an elephant’s foot. So it will be peace for at least a few more years. In his house arrest, no-longer-king Bagyidaw is having the last laugh.

Siam is doing much better—they’ve won the wars they’ve been in, and they haven’t gone through any civil wars. There is no question what the strongest power in Indochina is… as long as you don’t think of France and the Netherlands as powers in Indochina. Which, increasingly, they are.

In Vietnam, Emperor My Duong is well aware that he isn’t the real power in the land. His right-hand man, Le Van Khoi, commands the army and occupies a position the Shogun in Japan or Ioannis Kolokotronis in Greece would recognize at once, and that the late Agustín de Iturbide tried for—he who actually calls the shots… as long as those shots aren’t fired anywhere near the French missionaries who are all over Vietnam.

But so far, it seems like his empire has done rather well out of its losses. Vietnamese ceramics are starting to make their way into the high-end markets of Paris and Anvers, and Vietnam, like Korea, has a silk industry. Although for some reason, for the past month the Compagnie de Commerce de L’Orient’s biggest purchases have been plain rice…

China
China is at war. France has taken the Penghu Archipelago, Lamay Island[3] and the cities of Kaohsiung, Taitan and Taitung. On Lamay Island, the expedition found a former French clipper—meaning the inhabitants had either killed the original crew or bought it from someone who had. What followed was not even the first massacre by Europeans in the long, sad history of that island. And a British fleet is not far behind.

Last time we looked at China, we looked at the institutions that govern China’s foreign relations and overseas trade at this point in its history. They could fairly be described as inadequate, but it seems unlikely that better institutions could have prevented this war. So now it’s time to focus on the Chinese army and navy.

Start with the navy, since the enemy will be attacking by sea. To begin with, this isn’t a single independent body. It’s basically the water arm of the Green Standard Army’s regional commands—at least, those that are on the coast. The purpose of the “Water Force” is coastal defense and reinforcing the army along the rivers. They were never meant to fight off anything more dangerous than a pirate fleet.

To this end, while the Water Force has hundreds of junks, most of them are small and shallow-drafted enough to serve as a brown-water force. Their latest cannon designs date back to the 1770s. They’re not as good as British or French guns (Qing iron and gunpowder are both lower quality[4]) but they’re still serviceable, as long as the other side isn’t armed with Paixhans guns or something. The problem is that to the Chinese navy, a 20-gun war junk is badass. To the British and the French, it could have three times as many guns and still not qualify as a ship of the line—74 guns is the minimum.

Beijing already knows the British outmatch them at sea, to such a degree that in a fight their sailors could only die to no purpose. Beijing suspects, but isn’t quite sure, that the same is true of the French. So regarding the Royal Navy, the Water Force’s orders are clear—do not engage unless cornered. If you see them, flee at once and seek the safety of coastal defenses. Regarding the French, their orders are a mess of circumlocutions that basically amount to “when in doubt, get the hell out.” This is a problem because one of the fronts of the war is the island the Europeans call Formosa and the Chinese call Taiwan. They won’t be able to reinforce that island by hiding in harbors and rivers.

At the core of the army is the Eight Banners, which date back to before the Qing Dynasty. This is an elite cavalry-heavy force, better armed, better paid, and better trained. It bore the brunt of the fighting in the Kashgar War, with support from the Green Standard Army. The dynasty call the Banners the “root of the nation.” Thing is, the nation they’re talking about isn’t China itself. The Banners are a Manchu institution, and it’s because of them that there is a Qing dynasty. Not that you have to be born Manchu to join—from the time of the conquest, the Banners have accepted Mongols, Han, and even some Koreans and Russians. But the Banners are at the core of Manchu identity.

And Manchu identity is… complicated. If they don’t maintain the Confucian[5] forms and generally try to be as Chinese as possible, they won’t be accepted as proper rulers of China, and there will be many more and much worse rebellions than the ones within the past few decades—the Miao Rebellion, the White Lotus Rebellion, the Eight Trigrams Uprising. This is a threat they have to take seriously. It wasn’t the Ming the Qing overthrew, after all—it was the rebel Li Zicheng, who had taken the capital from the Ming a little over a month earlier.

But if they don’t maintain their own martial traditions that let them win against Li—not just horsemanship and archery, but enduring days at a time in the field—they won’t be able to keep the Mongols or the western tribes in line… or keep the Chinese in line, for that matter. And if they don’t hang on to their Manchu identity and the ingroup loyalty that comes with it, their sons will have to fend for themselves in one of the most brutally competitive societies on Earth. Remember, China still has that examination system, which every year churns out more smart, hardworking people than there are positions for.

The Green Standard Army mentioned above constitutes the bulk of China’s army. On paper, it’s about 800,000 strong, and thanks to the long Kashgar War, they do have some veteran soldiers and commanders with experience in logistics. But it’s mostly a garrison force of a kind the French would recognize immediately as their equivalent of the National Guard… which they would never consider deploying against an actual invading army except as a reserve.

And the Green Standard Army has the same problems the late Ottoman Empire once had of numerous soldiers existing only in officers’ account books. And since soldiers aren’t paid enough to support a family on, the soldiers who are there are people who have no other options in life. Nor is the Green Standard Army logistically capable of deploying more than about a hundred thousand soldiers to the actual front lines. They never needed to before.

Worse, the majority of those soldiers are armed with bows, swords, spears and such. Only a little over a third of them actually have guns. And for the most part, those firearms are hand-made matchlock muskets that wouldn’t have been out of place in Europe during the first Thirty Years’ War. These cumbersome weapons are longer than the average rifle and can fire, at most, two rounds a minute. Again, this has always been good enough to fight the Emperor’s wars.

Finally, there’s the triads, which are a powerful force in South China and on Taiwan. We think of triads as organized-crime syndicates. They’re that and more. Many local magistrates are not just in their pay, but are actually part of the organization. For our purposes, what matters is that they have local militias at their command. The dynasty tolerates them because they impose a kind of order in their territory, and getting rid of them would cost a lot and ultimately weaken the empire. And while they might be still in the market for a true heir to the Ming Dynasty, they will fight for China against the invaders from across the sea. Unfortunately, they’ll be doing most of this fighting with knives. They’re even worse armed than the Green Standard Army.

Spoiler: China isn’t going to win this war.

Japan and Korea
The Dutch in Dejima—and in Temmasek, and the rest of the Dutch East Indies—have gotten wise to the CCO’s little games. Alas, new orders from Amsterdam are that the French are to be allowed to take on food, water, and coal in other Dutch ports. But in Dejima, Japanese law prevails. The Dutch have never been so happy to be just barely tolerated. Here, they are under strict orders to tell the French to get lost, and they will obey with great enthusiasm.

The new Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi, and the Emperor Ayahito (assuming anyone’s told him about it), are pleased that their Dutch guests are following the house rules. They themselves have more important things to worry about. The Shogun’s late father left him a huge mess to clean up. The north has just gone through a terrible, multi-year famine, combined with a massive earthquake and a revolt in Osaka. His new advisor, the daimyo Mizuno Tadakuni, has convinced him that the key to prosperity is to prohibit ostentatious displays of wealth, and that the key to state security is for the shogunate to own all the land around Edo and Osaka, forcing the daimyos there to surrender their land in exchange for land elsewhere… especially the just-wrecked north. Neither of these reforms is earning him any points with the other daimyos. Also, this year the coastal batteries had to fire on an American merchant ship that got too close in order to warn it off.[6] So yeah, if the Dutch could just keep policing their little glorified pier, that would be great.

The French are still as welcome as ever on Jeju Island, and can still make supply trips to Korea’s mainland ports. Seeing France at war with China is a little troubling, but not very—it’s seen as mainly a war against pirates, and piracy hurts trade at both ends. Besides, as much as Monju respects Chinese culture, he doesn’t like his kingdom being thought of as a vassal. China is still a bigger threat to Korean independence than France.

Monju’s court has gotten word of something odd, though. The last trade fleet stopped in Busan and bought as much rice and kimchi as their holds could accommodate before turning south again. They had every right to do this, of course—the treaty never specified how much food they were allowed to buy. They obeyed all the proper forms and made all the correct obeisances. It was just that they had never done anything like this before. Were they embarking on some long voyage across the Pacific, something that would require a lot of food that could be stored for a long time?

King Monju soon figured it out. “The French are at war with China,” he said, “and their armies and navies must eat. It is easier to buy food here than to ship it clear across the world. And no doubt they recognize the superior quality of our rice and kimchi.” As one, His Majesty’s court praised his sagacity in solving this mystery so quickly. And, to be fair, King Monju is in fact an intelligent man… who just happens to be wrong about this one thing.

Oceania
We start with three ships, all of which were built by other nations but have been pressed into Her Majesty’s service. The brigantine HMS Secotan is one of nine ships heading south along the west coast of Africa on their way to Antarctica, under the command of Sir John Franklin. The Symmes expedition, and a failed Arctic expedition since then, were not utter wastes of time and lives. They’ve gotten a sense of when the Arctic ice is at its smallest, and it’s around September. (Franklin would be kicking himself if he knew what an opportunity he’d missed to explore the Arctic this summer.) It follows from this that the best time to explore Antarctica is around March, when you might actually get to the part of the land that’s land and not more ice.

HMS Ann McKim, an American clipper the British captured in 1837 near Valparaiso, is heading east across the Indian Ocean. George C. Canning is on board. He plans to be in Sydney by Christmas, or New Year’s Day at the latest. He’s fairly certain that talking to Arthur is going to be the hard part. Canning feels he owes it to the man to hear him out, just on principle, but if he has to he’ll use his plenipotentiary power and command of the garrison to throw the man out of his office and govern Australia himself until a replacement comes. And everybody else seems to want reasonable things and to be open to negotiation. Really, this mission seems like it should hardly be a problem at all.

HMS Benevolence, a captured clipper formerly known as the slave ship La Benevolencia, is in the Pacific Ocean. And when I say in, I mean it’s at the bottom. It left Sydney in early September, carrying very important messages from Governor Arthur. Some time in October, somewhere in the immense blank stretch of sea southeast of the Chatham Islands, it hit a particularly bad storm and went down with all hands. The effect of this tragedy is that no one in London has any news from Australia that dates any later than mid-August, and even that is vague and missing what will turn out to be crucial details.

The war in the Philippines is over, and the island chain has been divided into three parts. The Dutch and their allies now rule Mindanao. The island of Luzon is now the Republic of Luzon. The Spanish still hold the Visayas in between.

Representatives from all over Luzon are heading for Manila, planning to meet in January. They’re going to spend the dry season[7] writing up the constitution for this republic and scheduling an election. In the meantime, Col. Andres Novales is the provisional leader. He’s got a lot on his plate right now, so he doesn’t really have time to chase down every rumor coming from the port. It does seem odd that for the past couple of months, the CCO has been buying a lot of rice and salted meat and won’t say why.

But the important thing is they’re here doing business, and so are the British, the Dutch, the Americans, and even the Spanish. Novales has learned from watching Hawaii and Siam. Get too dependent on one Power, and next thing you know you’re either a protectorate or a colony. If you make an enemy of one (or if that one makes an enemy of you), you’ll find yourself depending on its rivals. In the future, freedom will belong to those who can successfully play the Powers off against one another. This is a difficult and dangerous game that not everyone’s going to get a chance to play.

For example, the Sultan of Aceh is out of the game. He needs guns to protect his kingdom from the Dutch, and the piracy he’s tolerated until recently has alienated the British. The only Power left to turn to is the one that recently turned a pirate fleet into scorched driftwood without even slowing down. Becoming a protectorate of France is going to be such a bitter pill to swallow that no amount of black pepper can disguise the flavor.

Likewise, the Maori are very much stuck with the British. One purchaser of flax, one source of muskets. Of course, the Maori would laugh if you tried to warn them the British were taking over their country—there are about 2,000 pakeha living in Grahamport and various lawless coastal towns, whereas there are some 50,000 Maori on the islands. That number is about half what it was at the turn of the century, partly because of diseases from overseas and partly because of the many wars the Maori have fought against each other with the guns they got from the British. These wars have been long and gruesome (the most notorious example being the invasion of the Chatham Islands, in which the Moriori were all but destroyed)[8] but it will be some time before the Maori see these wars as something done to them, rather than something they did to each other.

Australia
In the future, anarchism won’t reach the same level of sway as aristism or Elmarism, but it will have its followers—including some actual philosophers, not just rich boys looking for an excuse to throw things and set fires. Proudhon and Stirner in Hannover are merely the first. And the one thing these future thinkers will agree on is that Man is not a creature of chaos being unjustly held in check by the oppressive State. That would be ridiculous. If we were creatures of chaos, how could we ever have built the State in the first place? On the contrary, they will argue that Homo sapiens is a creature of order, a species that self-organizes in groups as naturally as bees build their hives. These thinkers may despise Elmar, but they’ll agree with him that “Riot and ruin are no more the natural state of man than the boiler explosion is the natural state of water.” The problem (they will say) is that we’re too good at it—that over centuries we’ve built up such elaborate structures that now we’re trapped in them, like starving bees lost inside giant overbuilt hives, unable to get to where the nectar and pollen are.

For these future anarchists, Australia right now will be as important a case study as Port Harmony is to socialists.

Because Australia has pretty much collapsed into anarchy.

And the circumstances of that collapse deserve a chapter in themselves…



[1] His name appears on the title page of his journal as “Wolf,” but everybody else calls him Wolff, so I’m going with that.
[2] He died this year IOTL.
[3] Liuqiu Island
[4] By this time ITTL and IOTL, the French chemist Michel Chevreul had worked out the exact formula of the chemical reaction represented by the explosion of gunpowder. This meant that Western gunpowder could be made with the perfect ratio of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate.
[5] Or rather, neo-Confucian. There has been some change since 479 BCE.
[6] IOTL the Morrison incident happened in 1837. ITTL, of course, the American merchant marine in 1837 was more worried about the Royal Navy that anything else.
[7] Well, the drier season. This is Manila, after all.
[8] Yes, this is that incident from Guns, Germs and Steel. The British aren’t interested enough in this remote part of the world to protect the Moriori, and I didn’t really see any other way that an encounter between pacifists with sticks and cannibals with muskets could go.
 
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Agreed. Almost no one messes with Australia in this era (the only ongoing TL I can think of is specifically Australia-focused) so I look forward to what's about to happen.

I think there were references earlier that China is going to face a regime change or at least a major rebellion in a few decades, though not of the same variety as OTL's Taiping. That should be interesting to see. Don't think we know anything about Japan or Korea's fate though.
 

Beatriz

Gone Fishin'
The CCO seems like it’s building an informal empire in Korea ,Vietnam and Aceh to rival that of the British and Dutch. No Russian moves towards South-Central Asia yet though
 
In the Brown Velvet Swimsuit (1)
December 26, 1839
off Kangaroo Island
6:00 a.m.

George Charles Canning hadn’t expected to be woken up at around dawn the day after Christmas—certainly not for a visit to another ship. But it was what the captain wanted, and Canning himself was curious.

The prow of the other ship—one of the new[1] Blackwall frigates that served as merchantmen—was pointed east. The gilt letters OWEN GLENDOWER shone in the light of the sun that was just starting to peek over the horizon. Underneath it, in smaller letters, were the words I CAN CALL SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP.

Canning couldn’t help himself. “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”[2]

“Ah, I see you’re a man of culture as well,” said Robert Smith, captain of the Ann McKim, who was working the oars himself—a curious choice for an officer, even a youngish one, not to assign the work to some lower-ranking crewman. “The irony is that the Glendower’s undermanned right now. A good many of their crew didn’t come when they were called for.” Canning would like to have asked why—whatever veil of secrecy was being drawn over these proceedings, the two of them were alone on this boat—but Smith had returned his attention to the oars.

***​

There were only two chairs in the captain’s cabin. Captain Smith stood while Canning sat facing the young, muttonchopped Captain Michaels.

“You’re bound for Sydney?”

Smith nodded. “The Queen’s business, no less.”

“Based on what my men have heard, I cannot recommend you land there.”

“Is there plague?”

“Worse than plague,” he said. “Gold. It drives men mad with greed.” In the ensuing silence, Michaels reached for his bed and pulled a small, locked box out from under his pillow. He took a key out of his pocket, unlocked it and held it open.

It was full of gold dust.

“We may speak of it freely here,” said Michaels. “Every man still aboard knows and is here by choice. But if I may venture a suggestion…”

Captain Smith nodded, then glanced at Canning. “Holdfast is the only dog.[3]” Canning nodded in return. No wonder the captain had rowed Canning here himself instead of getting one of the crew to do it. They’d find out anyway once they made port, and no doubt more of them would desert than Smith cared to lose—but if they found out now, there would be time to organize a mutiny before they reached Sydney. If we’re still bound for Sydney… Canning was having trouble processing just how thoroughly his plans were being upended right now.

Once the box was locked and back under the pillow, Michaels began his story. “We left Liverpool August 22 with a hold near full of salt beef. We sailed to Kingston for rum, then down to the Forties… only a little ahead of yourselves, I dare say. We were bound for Port Lincoln, to trade for oil and whalebone.

“We made Port Lincoln only two days ago. As you saw”—he gestured toward the place under his pillow—“we did rather well for ourselves. We gained only a little of what we’d come for, but we gained much more than it was worth in gold. Alas, many of our crew deserted. Ran off to the Ferny Hills[4].”

“Is that where the gold is?”

Michaels nodded. “Any British ship that makes port east of the Bight[5] suffers the same loss. Possibly anywhere on the continent—I haven’t yet been to Kinjarling or Swanmouth.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“I don’t know. Port Lincoln is a little out of the way, and never did pay much heed to the rule of Sydney. But from what we heard there, neither does anyone else.”

“Is this connected to the Spencer Gulf Resolution?”

“Hmm?”

“I recall Port Lincoln was one of the early signatories…” A little more conversation revealed that Captain Michaels had never heard of the Spencer Gulf Resolution. Events must have moved very far indeed if the subject never came up.

“They say a band of rogues called the Crusaders controls the gold-mining, or most of it,” said Michaels. “The towns have been left to their own devices, but the strong-backed young men who might serve as constables or militiamen… too many of them are off to the hills.”

“Where is Governor Arthur in all this?”

“I have no notion. The last anyone in Port Lincoln heard, he headed into the hills with a garrison force and never returned. Some say the Crusaders killed him, some say it was his own soldiers. Some say he turned deserter and gold-miner himself.”

“I’m very much mistaken if that’s true,” said Canning. “But I mean to land in Australia and speak with whatever authority remains. If not Sydney, where ought I to go?”

“They say Greyhaven is safest. Port Lincoln ships dried whale meat there—I think they’re faring better selling the meat than the oil right now.”


George Arthur is sometimes called “the Lord Liverpool of Australia,” in the sense that he was a conservative, authoritarian leader whose death took place under such bizarre circumstances that it spawned a plethora of conspiracy theories…
Leopold Howard, Down Under: A History


[1] The Glendower, like its OTL counterpart (seen here), was built in early 1839.
[2] Henry IV, Part 1, Act 3, Scene 1.
[3] I.e., “let’s keep our mouths shut about all this when we’re back on the McKim.”
[4] The Central Highlands
[5] The Great Australian Bight


Tomorrow: the weirdest and most embarrassing death in this TL so far.
 
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In the Brown Velvet Swimsuit (2)
Happy Halloween!

December 29, 1839
Greyhaven, New South Wales

The first sign of trouble was the two merchantmen in harbour flying the colours of the Compagnie de Commerce de L’Orient.

CCO flag.png


A closer look showed African and Asian sailors trading foodstuffs for gold dust. Lesson learned, thought Canning. In a gold rush, the fools do the rushing. The wise man sells them food… and shovels, of course. But especially food—digging must be hungry work. Though I daresay these sailors would head for the hills themselves if they thought they’d be welcomed[1]. The captains must have upended their plans and changed course as soon as they got the word—I wonder if Anvers[2] even knows of any of this yet.

For that matter, I wonder if London does.


The men the sailors were trading with were a rough-looking crew, some of them armed, all of them with off-white armbands marked with crosses. The Crusaders. Probably. Not far from the docks was a group of a dozen or so… militiamen? Former soldiers? Random men with muskets? Canning couldn’t tell, but they weren’t wearing armbands and were sweating in the heat of this Southern Hemisphere summer, watching the armbanded men carefully. It would be best to have one of the sailors approach them. They might turn out to be allies of public order.

***​

As it turned out, they were the city militia and answered to Mayor Batman, to whose office they were only too happy to bring Canning, with a few other men from the Ann McKim as guards. The mayor himself interrupted his work to give Canning an audience. He was accompanied by a landowner, William Lawson, whose land had apparently been overrun by these Crusaders.

“It started as rumors over the course of the winter,” said Batman. “There was a local apothecary writing to goldsmiths and jewelers, trying to convert gold dust into something more negotiable. He said he’d gotten it from ‘French traders.’ The problem was that none of Greyhaven’s brewers or prostitutes had also reported being paid in gold dust.”

“Don’t forget William Buckley,” said Lawson.

“Who could? A notorious bushranger who kept going back and forth between the apothecary’s shop and somewhere in the hills to the north.”

“Onto my land, no less.”

“Indeed. He tried to be discreet about it, but… he was a hard man to miss.”

“A veritable ogre. ‘Big Bill,’ they call him. If there’s a taller and uglier man on the continent, I hope never to meet him.”

“Indeed. The apothecary was arrested first, possibly because he was an easier target. We thought he’d been clipping coins, but of course no one could produce a single clipped coin that had ever passed through his hands. He claimed Buckley had found the gold in the hills and was the only one who knew where to find more. A closer look at the dust bore out what he said—not a grain of it had ever seen the inside of a goldsmith’s forge.

“While these things were happening, we sent constables after Buckley. Two of them found him up in the hills… and that was the beginning of chaos. They didn’t bring him in.”

Canning ventured a guess. “They wanted to know where he was getting the gold?”

“That seems to be what happened. We have no witnesses of the event, but when it was over, one of them was dead and Buckley was on the run again. We surmise that they were able to force the location from him, but—whether they tried to do him in, or whether it was some other dispute—he killed one of them and escaped into the wild.

“All this was in late August. In September, men started disappearing—soldiers, guards, Arthur’s men, mine.”

“You must understand,” said Lawson. “This continent was never a prestigious assignment. The men in the System’s employ were hardly better than the convicts themselves.”

“As we’ve seen more than once,” said Batman. “Weeks later, many of them showed up again, here or in Sydney, with handkerchiefs of gold dust. By October, whole prisons were depopulating in a night—the guards running away and bringing their prisoners with them as a workforce. It was about this time that my friend William was run off his land by them.” Lawson nodded.

“The governor was in a fury. A month ago he gathered up half a battalion of soldiers, got on his horse, and headed for the hills. Last week, eleven of those soldiers arrived here in town, carrying three bodies with them. One was the governor’s.”

The man I thought would be the greatest obstacle to my work… Canning felt an odd stab of guilt, on top of his rising panic at realizing just what sort of task lay ahead of him.

“They took the trouble to bring the bodies here so that all could be examined, to clear them of any suspicion of foul play. This was less help than they intended—the poor men had been dead for six days in summer heat, so the state of the corpses… well, you can imagine. Nonetheless, it did bear out that the other two men perished from heat and lack of water. As for the governor, his only pre-mortem injuries were a pair of stings on his lower left arm. They were too far apart to have come from the fangs of any venomous snake or spider—as I hope you’ve been warned, such fatal bites are all too common here. We know them when we see them.” Canning had not, in fact, been warned, and rather wished he had been.

“This was the story they told. They set out west from Sydney into the Blue Mountains, looking for the main camp of the Crusaders. During the day, they found nothing, and every night men disappeared from camp by the dozen—and every man who left took as much food and water with him as he could carry. The governor began keeping watch himself at night, but to no avail. By the time they found the main camp of the Crusaders, at a place called Ballyarrat[3]…

“I should mention something of these Crusaders. Their leader is a raving madman who calls himself ‘Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay.’ No one in Greyhaven knows his true name[4], but he describes himself as a ‘gentleman buffeted by the cruel winds of fortune.’ He claims to be the rightful King of Jerusalem, descended from Godfrey of Bouillon—hence the name ‘Crusaders.’ Those who’ve met him in person say he can at least affect the accent and manners of a gentleman. His enforcers are another matter. Rough and murderous rogues, even by Botany Bay standards—the most formidable being none other than our friend ‘Big Bill’ Buckley, who seems to serve as his right-hand man.”

“Point of order,” said Canning. “How do we know all this?”

“From deserters,” said Batman. “Some men are too weak to dig, or tire too quickly. Some made enemies while they were prisoners or guards—enemies who now have friends among the Crusaders. So they flee or are driven out.

“The fools run further into the outback, looking for fresh sources of gold. Out there, they die like China travellers[5]. The wiser ones make their way here, where everyone is desperate for workers. In this place, a man who shows a little loyalty to the Crown will surely gain longer-lasting rewards than a handful of gold dust.” Batman raised his voice a little as he said these words. He can’t think I’m going to run off to these Ferny Hills, can he?

But then, I’m not the only man in the room
. The remarks must have been addressed to the men who had accompanied Canning from the Ann McKim.

“Thank you. You were saying about the governor?”

“Yes. By the time Arthur and his remaining loyalists found the Crusaders, their number was down to fourteen—all tired, hungry, and thirsty. Even Arthur could see they were outnumbered, outgunned, and in no shape for battle, so they kept out of sight.

“They were at a creek downstream of the Crusader camp, and tried to catch something for dinner. They were hoping for fish, but they found a platypus. Have you heard of it? A curious native beast, like an otter but shorter and plumper in shape, with webbed feet, a flat tail, and a mouth like a duck’s bill. Harmless, or so we thought.

“Small though it was, Arthur thought it might serve for meat, but they didn’t dare shoot it—the Crusaders would have heard the shot. Two of them chased it upstream to slow it down, and Arthur himself bent down to catch it. It proved to have spurs, or fangs, or whatever they were, on its hind feet, with which it stabbed him in the arm. He dropped it, and it escaped. As for the governor, his arm swelled up thick as his leg, he was in terrible pain, and… well, his heart gave out that evening.

“So his men fled south, taking his poor body with them. They nearly perished themselves before they found water fit to drink—two of them did perish, as I said—but in time they made it here.”

***​

To this day, Governor Arthur remains the sole human in history whose death has been attributed to the platypus[6], although several dogs have been killed by its venom. Even in December of 1839, correspondence from Sydney reveals there were many who did not accept the official account of his death, suspecting either the Crusaders, his own guards, or Mayor Batman of murdering him. But at the time, Australian fauna were still so little studied and poorly understood that no one could say it was impossible. For decades afterward, bestiaries and encyclopedias would unquestioningly report that this singular and innocuous-looking creature was indeed as deadly as any dunback[7] if provoked. “If for long life you are amorous/Then do not molest the Platypus,” wrote the Australian poet Charles McGonagall III in 1873.

Arthur’s corpse was in no state for any further meaningful autopsy by the time it reached London, of course. But by 1900 or so, the lack of other human fatalities, combined with anatomical studies on the species and some native Australian lore, caused many to see the governor’s death in a new light. “In the threescore years since Arthur’s demise, several men are known to have been stung by a male platypus,” Fanny Drake, who was the first Australian ever to breed the platypus in captivity, wrote in 1899. “None perished, or even suffered permanent injury. I myself suffered this misfortune last year, and though the sting was painful in the extreme and left me well-nigh bedridden for a week, I had fully recovered by the end of the month. Is it possible that Arthur was the victim of a murderous conspiracy by his own men?” Gilbert Woods, in 1913, was more blunt: “There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the animal which killed Governor Arthur walked on two legs.” (As historian Hugh Roberts commented much later, “On two legs? In Australia? Do you have the slightest idea how little that narrows it down?”)


One point that everyone seems to have overlooked is the conditions Arthur was facing at the time. After years of sedentary office life, this 55-year-old man had spent the past two weeks in full uniform in the heat of an Australian summer, riding and walking almost continuously. At the time of the fateful encounter, he was overstressed, undernourished, and (according to the reports of his men) had not slept at all in more than three days. He was also dangerously dehydrated—at the time of his death, he and his remaining men were downstream from the Crusaders, who used the stream where he found the animal for bathing and disposing of their wastes. Between that and the turbidity from the gold-panning, it would not have been potable at all. Under these circumstances, a double dose of platypus venom, and the agony that it induced, could have been just sufficient to push him over the edge into heart failure.
Leopold Howard, Down Under: A History

***​

“What is the extent of the Crusaders’ power?”

“As far as I know, they don’t yet rule any of the large settlements,” said Batman. “But as you saw, they can come and go openly, even here. Sydney seems to have made some accommodations with them. Arthur governed that city more closely than any other—they’re quite lost without him.”

“What of the other towns? Especially those that signed the Resolution?”

“For a long time, the signatories took shelter here from Arthur’s persecution. With him gone, they are returning. We form a sort of informal parliament, but our powers and duties are not yet defined.”

“A good beginning,” said Canning. He pulled out his copy of the Resolution and placed it on the mayor’s desk. “You deserve to know where I stand. When I first set sail from London, I had it in mind to accede to nearly all of these demands. As it happens, the one sticking-point I meant to hold out on was a guarantee that some room would be set aside for the penal system—and that is no longer a concern. Even as we speak, it’s likely that word has reached England’s shores of the gold to be found here. Very soon now, every impecunious young man in the British Isles will be trying to buy passage to these shores. I’m very much mistaken if their Lordships will continue to transport convicts here as a punishment. Penal settlements may be maintained in the west, or in Van Diemen’s Land, assuming there is no gold there. But in New South Wales, the System is surely at an end.

“Returning to the Crusaders, I saw some of them trading gold dust for food at the docks. Is that how they feed themselves?”

“For the most part,” said Batman. “Some of the convicts were once poachers and know how to hunt. Buckley has a fondness for native women, who’ve taught him to find wild plants that are fit to eat. But all this together is not enough to feed thousands of men, especially since the kangaroos and wallabies and such have long since fled.”

“And if we don’t find enough men willing to bring in the wheat harvest,” said Lawson, “we’ll all soon go hungry ourselves. My friend Blaxland[8] is desperate for farmhands.”

“What of powder and shot?”

“They have none but what they can trade for, and they expend a good deal of it hunting.”

“Well, there at least we have the advantage… unless the French or Americans start trading it for gold. What do you and your informal parliament particularly need at the moment that I might provide?”

“Some of our leaders are still held captive at Macquarie Harbor. We have already agreed on a list of men who should be set free and returned to us. Have you authority to effect this?”

“I have plenipotentiary power from Whitehall.” There, that’s one test of leadership passed. I said “plenipotentiary” out loud without stumbling. “It would be my pleasure to command their release.”

But of course, plenipotentiary power would mean nothing to this would-be King of Jerusalem and his followers. Canning knew he would have to send for help in maintaining order. A few units would suffice, but they would have to be the most trusted, honourable units—men who would not succumb to the lure of gold. And this in a time of war. Thank God the Prime Minister settled matters with the Americans when he did, but will we never know peace?

And how was he to explain all this in his next missive to Whitehall? Your Lordships, I regret to inform you that this colony has fallen into utter disorder, the governor has been killed by a platypus, and the most powerful man on the continent is a Bedlamite bushranger

“To the little fellow in the brown velvet swimsuit.
May we all guard our rights as well as he.”
-Traditional Australian toast


[1] Colonial Australia isn’t 100% white—there are a few convicts from the West Indies—but it’s very close.
[2] Where the CCO is headquartered
[3] OTL Ballarat
[4] His name is on file somewhere in Sydney, but communication is spotty at the moment between there and Greyhaven. He is John Nichols Tom (or Thom), a former maltster who ITTL was transported to Australia for perjury but hasn’t lost his gift for passing as a member of the upper class.
[5] In the early days of Australian penal settlement, a rumor spread among the convicts (few of whom had ever seen so much as the cover of an atlas in their lives) that it was possible to reach China from Sydney by walking more or less north. This rumor led some escapees to death in the outback.
[6] IOTL, of course, there are no recorded human fatalities at all.
[7] Pseudonaja textilis, the common (but lethal) brown snake.
[8] Gregory Blaxland, who (along with Lawson and William C. Wentworth) made the first crossing of the Blue Mountains by settlers in 1813.
 
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So the Crusaders are sort of part of an alt-Eureka? With all the gold dust around, it’s curious that Ballarat hadn’t been discovered as a rich source of gold- being where the Victorian Gold Rush started OTL.
 
Well, that's a way to enter the pages of the history books, Governor.
Despite the tragic death, it is really hilarious...but it's still a way to get your name famous for a while.
 
Charles McGonagall III? I see William McGonagall's ATL family member also goes into poetry (and emigrates to Australia). Though I do hope, for his sake, that he is slightly more talented that poor benighted William ("Calamity in London; Family of 10 Burned to Death" remains one of the funniest things I think that I've ever read. Dear god, I never expected a poem to try to rhyme "carbonized" in relation to a tragedy).
 
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