Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Caversham Heights Society

MEMBERS were enlightened by two very different but equally informative talks during January, one on Rasputin and the other on

MEMBERS were enlightened by two very different but equally informative talks during January, one on Rasputin and the other on the founding of Australia.

Most of us are vaguely aware of Rasputin, a mysterious character who exercised a very strong influence over the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and especially over the Tsarina, Alexandra, after he “miraculously” healed the crown prince of haemophilia in 1905.

His unpopularity led to his murder in 1916 at the hands of several noblemen and eventually to the downfall of the Russian monarchy.

What none of us, or at least very few of us, were aware of was the origins of, and the very colourful life story of, Rasputin until Hugh Granger elaborated on “The truth about Rasputin”.

Hugh’s fascinating talk was both scholarly and detailed as he described the origins and the somewhat dubious lifestyle of one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures in Russian history.



Gregoriy Rasputin was born in Siberia around 1871, the son of illiterate parents, and he became a hermit monk before joining an underground group of so-called holy men who had dreams and visions and exercised healing capabilities.

Rasputin earned himself a reputation as a pious devotee of orthodox Christianity who lived a humble life and was able to foretell events and conduct miraculous healings.

Beneath this façade, he was a womaniser who begat numerous children from an equal number of women. He made large sums of money, much of which he gave away to good causes, and while to many he was a saint, to others, especially in the upper echelons of Russian society, he was a dangerous charlatan. He was probably a mixture of both but he made many enemies and when love letters from the Tsarina addressed to Rasputin were discovered not only did these exacerbate the unpopularity of the monarchy but they also hastened his own murder.

Hearing Hugh’s depiction of the life and times of Rasputin one could not help but reflect on Putin’s Russia and think that nothing much has changed!

Malcolm Nelson’s talk on “The founding of Australia: birth of a nation of thieves” was in stark contrast since it described how British convicts and settlers colonised and tamed the New South Wales area of what is now Australia.

We were told about the known background of Australia in the late 18th century, the erroneous information about Australia provided by Captain Cook following his exploration trips and the uneven, and often pernicious, punishments for petty crimes conducted in Britain at that time, all of which led the authorities in England to send these “convicts” to a new settlement on the other side of the world.

We were told about the first convoy of 40 ships, led by HMS Sirius, that set sail from Portsmouth on May 13, 1787 and landed at Botany Bay eight months later. We were told about the numbers of convicts, service personnel and settlers who set sail and the discrepancies of the first census.

Above all, we were told of the numerous problems that had to be overcome — lack of skills, lack of food, lack of tools, the lack of clarity as to whether or not the settlement was to be a prison or a colony, smallpox etc.

Yet despite the odds within 20 years several thriving settlements were in existence: Tasmania (1804), Brisbane (1824), Melbourne (1835) and Adelaide (1837).

Appetites have been whetted for another instalment of Australia’s development at another time.

Meetings are held every second Wednesday at 8pm, preceded by coffee, in the hall of Caversham Heights Methodist Church.

New members are always welcome. For more information, please call Jill Hodges on 0118 959 5307 or email irishjill@southcote.net



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