The crimson thread of medievalism: haematic heritage and transhistorical mood in colonial Australia

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When Henry Parkes, in his now-legendary speech at the 1890 Melbourne Federation Conference, claimed a “crimson thread of kinship runs through us all”, he demonstrated that blood was an eloquent motif across the ideological spectrum in the nineteenth century, serviceable not just to advocates of the ‘ethnological unity’ of Empire, but also to those seeking to enshrine ethnocentrism within a vision of political separation. The political preoccupation with blood was, moreover, complemented by a widespread cultural engagement with what Douglas Cole calls ‘haematic ideas’ of colonial identity. This paper will examine the cultural politics of nineteenth-century Australian ‘haematic medievalism’ as it was expressed through the heraldic fetish in colonial society. In his book Pounds and Pedigrees, Paul de Serville offers an account of how ambitious colonial Australians’ “craze for honours” led to the hot pursuit either of individual knighthoods or of pedigrees proving a sanguinous link to ancient English families and ancestral lands. The motives for this genealogical craze certainly involved the desire for social distinction; but this should not lead us to overlook its affective dimension, in which a deeply-felt connection to history and to imperial ideals (De Serville describes an interest in genealogy as nothing less than “a declaration of love for the home country”) was fused with keen anxieties about the shame and loss of caste resulting from the colonies’ recent penal history. Looking at examples from colonial novels, popular verse, and cartoons from newspapers and periodicals, I will reflect on how, as a medievalist practice, heraldry functioned to express a potent and confused range of emotions about colonial and, eventually, national identity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistoricising heritage and emotions
Subtitle of host publicationthe affective histories of blood, stone and land
EditorsAlicia Marchant
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315472881
ISBN (Print)1138202827, 9781138202825
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Heritage


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