I was fascinated to read in your magazine, about three years ago (I can't remember exactly when), about the days of the British Empire and some of the great characters of those times.
But why did you not mention my ancestor William Plumstone, the man who introduced the porcelain eggcup to the Headhunters of Sarawak?
Despite being warned numerous times, William had the courage to penetrate deep into the Sarawak forests, with his eggcups. Filled with a missionary zeal, he won over village after village, until it was discovered that the eggs of the Sarawakean chickens were too large for the eggcups (which had been manufactured in Stoke on Trent especially for the bantam market). Resourceful until the last, William tried to show the headunters that they could fit the eggs into the eggcups by turning them upside down, but this tended to make the eggcups topple over, and so ultimately, his fate was sealed.
To this day, William is remembered in Sarawak as "eggcup man from Great White Mother Land", and it is believed that his head is preserved deep within the Sarawak forests, resting upon a ceremonial eggcup.
I was reminded today of an article in your steamed publication about heroes of the Empire. I was sorting through some of my grandfather's effects when I was reminded. He had lots of effects. Victorian explosions, mostly, but there were also quite a few other effects, like one-legged footsteps on gravel, tigers rolling in sycamore leaves in November, the Prime Minister playing nude scrabble while a Rumanian bus conductor yodels in the background - that kind of thing. It was often said of my grandfather, "he should have worked in Radio", but it was never said loud enough to penetrate the noise of the effects, so he remained very much a "hobby sound effects man" and kept his main job coming up with names for greyhounds.
Anyway, while I was sorting through the effects, I was reminded of your article, and then I thought about a man from our village - Middle Lower Snotbury (not to be confused with Upper Middle Snotbury, "Home of the Dodecahedral Dovecote"!) - who did much to spread the gospel of Empire.
Horation Mooncandle was the man who introduced the wheelbarrow to the Kalaallit people of Western Greenland. Hailing from our village in Dorset, Mooncandle, being a keen gardener and learning that the Kalaallit were descended from the so-called "Dorset" peoples, thought it would be a good idea to visit Greenland and take up the evangelical cudgel for Dorset horticultural methods.
Mooncandle's story is ultimately tragic. The wheelbarrows that he imported brought bemusement to the Kalaallit. Many thought the wheelbarrows were furniture or a kind of mobile firewood.
Also, the traditional Dorset crops failed to thrive in the harsh Greenland climate. And finally, when it became clear that there would never be a viable Kalaallit wheelbarrow-manufacturing industry (they couldn't get the wood), Mooncandle was forced to abandon his dream.
Horatio Mooncandle retired, not to his home village of Middle Lower Snotbury, but to nearby Middle Upper Snotbury (not to be confused with Lower Middle Snotbury, "Home of The Triangular Beehive"!), where he dedicated his twilight years to button design and opium smoking.
Buster "Queenie" Loompipe-Snood,
Middle Lower Snotbury,
when you printed an article about the British Empire some twelve years hence, little did I imagine that it would remind me of my Great Great Grandfather, Sir Hector Bagpipe McSporran, the man who tried to introduce mock turtle soup to the Andaman Islanders.
And indeed, it did not remind me of my Great Great Grandfather at the time.
But it just has. Reminded me, that is. And thus, I am moved to write this Epistle from the Land of the Thistle to your letters page, in celebration of a remarkable man.
Sir Hector might be thought of as a man ahead of his time, but his actions were motivated not so much by conservation, but by a desire to introduce a quirky marketing "gimmick" that might enhance the appeal of his company's "Emperor Mock Turtle Soup". Sales were plummeting after a disastrous attempt to elicit testimonials from customers. Comments like "ghastly", "never again - simply awful" and "smells like the contents of an albatross' stomach" did little to increase sales.
Thus it was that Sir Hector, and his Secretary Hamish McTickell, journeyed throughout the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 1870s, offering free tins of soup to the natives. They had the idea of relaunching the soup in Britain with the tagline "even the Andaman Islanders prefer to shell out for our soup", but the islanders saw no reason to eat mock turtle soup when they could have the real thing. Indeed, the only use they had for the cans of soup was as missiles, which they hurled back at Sir Hector and Hamish, before following up with iron-tipped spears, arrows and stone axes.
Even Plan B, an attempt to gain testimonials from the British Penal Colony at Port Blair, failed, the authorities feeling that their charges were being sufficiently punished already, without this "further ordeal".
This is the story of my Great Great Grandfather, Sir Hector Bagpipe McSporran, and his heroic attempt to introduce mock turtle soup to the Andaman Islands.