Controversy over Strzelecki

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The truth dimmed by the „Dark Glass”

by Lech Paszkowski

Concerned by the recent book about Paul Edmund Strzelecki „In a Dark Glass” and different reviews of it in Australian press we asked Mr. Lech Paszkowski to express his opinion on this biography. Mr. Paszkowski may well be considered an authority on the subject of Poles in Australian history.
     He spent seven years doing vast research work in libraries and archives all over Australia and the fruit of this study, a large book entitled „Poles in Australia and Oceania, 1790 - 1940” is just about to appear in Polish.
The writer is now working on the English version of the book.
     Mr. Lech Paszkowski had published many articles, mainly on the subject of Poles in Australia, in various Polish newspapers „Wiadomości” (News) in London, „Kultura” in Paris, and in „The Polish Catholic Weekly” in Melbourne and „Polish News” in Sydney.
His articles also comprised reviews of books published in Australia.

You will find below his appraisal of Miss Heney's recent publication - Editor.

liscAngus & Robertson recently published a book by Miss Helen Heney entitled „In a Dark Glass” (The story of Paul E. Strzelecki).
In the introduction the author states: „This study will be unacceptable to many, and this the ultimate reason for making it”.

It is obvious from these words that Miss Heney, for reasons known only to herself, wished to write a controversial book.
I have read several reviews of Miss Heney's book, but most of them display ignorance of the subject and contain pure nonsense.
It seems surprising that so many Australian crities have accepted this „story” with out any criticism.
In really the book by Miss Heney contains no revelations for Polish historians, as does a most scholarly written biography of 320 pages „Paul Edmund Strzelecki” by W. Słabczynski which was published in Warsaw in 1957. The only revelation is a definitely negative interpretation of everything that Strzelecki said or did.

It is impossible for me to disenss the matter fully in a short article but as a man whose name appeared in the acknowledgements in the above mentioned, book I would like to make a few comments.

liscFirstly, it must be clearly stated that Sir Paul nobleman or „Szlachcic” by birth and nobody is able to deny this. It would not by difficult to provide a photograph of Strzelecki's coat of arms and crest „Oksza” surmounted by a coronet. However the wealth and influence of his eminent family, well-known since the 14 th century, declined, but the Strzelecki's certainly cannot be described as belonging to the class of „cottage-gentry”, as suggested by Miss Heney.

It seems strange to me that Miss Henry quoted the opinion of Mr. Simon Konarski of Paris, the most competent Polish genealogist, in reference to the non-exiting title of Count, but she has not mentioned his statement that he does not believe that the Strzelecki family declined to the level of „cottage-gentry” and sees no reason to doubt that Paul Strzelecki belonged to that well-known family. The contents of the letter, which is still in my possession, are known to Miss Heney.

There are many points which show that Miss Heney has a definite tendency to reject any evidence which does not suit her determination to paint Strzelecki in the darkest of colours. In her zeal to do so she describes other persons in the best possible light. For instance the Turons, who although describer in Poland as of „good nobility” never possessed a title - yet several times the author mentions their „title”.

liscThe author takes great pains in regard to the accuracy of dates, and she states that Strzelecki started his journey, which terminated in the exploration of Gippsland „after McMillan journeys”.
This is only partly true, as it was not after all of the McMillan journeys. According to Geoffrey Rawson's book „The Count”, McMillan started his first expedition on 28th May 1839, and Miss Heney does not mention that McMillan achieved his aim and finally crossed Gippsland, reaching Cornet Inlet on 13 th February 1841, which was nine months after Strzelecki and his party reached Westernport.

McMillan's journeys did not extend further into Gippsland than the La Trobe River. Therefore Strzelecki's party was the first one to cross Gippsland, at least between the La Trobe River and Westernport.

Before denying Strzelecki's gold discovery doubters should carefully read the chapter „Gold” in G. Rawson's book. This biography cannot be ignored or thrown overboard.
     It should also be started never claimed higher education. Miss Heney also knows that in the opinion of the component Polish genealogist, Mr. Konarski, the American fortune-hunters were not related to family of Paul Edmund.

However, praise should be given to Miss Heney for her research which revealed some interesting manuscripts but she is not the only one in that field. Already mentioned Mr. W. Slabczynski one of the Director of the National Library in Warsaw conducted a recent research about Strzelecki in two hundred libraries and found for example, such a letter from Charles Darwin, praising Strzelecki's book.

liscIt does not seem feasible that such men as Charles Darwin, Sir Roderick Murchison, Professor Frederick McCoy, Sir John and Lady Franklin, Lord and Lady Herbert, Philip P. King, James McArthur and many other intelligent persons, who certainly were not fools were deceived by a „clever” foreigner, whose only virtue was „a quite marked talent for extracting fame and public notice for whatever he did do”.

Certainly he did not receive an honorary D.C.L from Oxford, the title of Sir, the Gold Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society or Companionship of the Bath and K.C.M.G for nothing.
     Were we to believe all of Miss Heney's interpretations it would show the intellectual elite of England and Australia in the XIX century, who bestowed all these honours on a „pitiful figure”; in a very poor light. After all, Englishmen, known as cool observers, and not Poles made Strzelecki famous.
It is not the usual practice in historical science to call overnight black what was hitherto considered to be white.

I trust that historian will take a more sober look at the matter than the literary critics of Adelaide and Sydney have done.

Lech Paszkowski

See press release _fragment_ of this article.