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The Red Snake

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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There are two published versions of ‘The Red Snake’ by Francis Adams. The first appeared in The Christmas Boomerang, 24 December 1888: 17–18; the second in Francis Adams, Australian Life (London: Chapman and Hall, 1892, 3–24). The present edition is based on the Christmas Boomerang version. Revisions made by Adams for Australian Life have been incorporated where they correct errors or improve the literary qualities of the work, but not where their purpose is merely to remove Queensland references for an English audience. The accidentals (spelling and punctuation) of the first edition have been adopted here, rather than Queensland Review house style.

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1 George street] George Street, Brisbane, (Australian Life, hereafter AL).

2 anyone I know,] any of my friends, (Christmas Boomerang, hereafter CB).

3 piece of humanity] human (CB); eccentric] abnormal (CB).

4 Frank Melvil of Maidenhair Passage is a thinly disguised portrait of Francis Lascelles (Frank) Jardine (1841–1919), whose home at Somerset on the tip of Cape York Peninsula overlooked Albany Passage.

5 In 1887, Francis Adams travelled by ship up the coast of Queensland to Port Darwin en route to China and Japan. Although he had remarried, his new wife (Ella Edith Goldstone) did not accompany him.

6 Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads (London: J.C. Hotten, 1866). The publication of this volume revived an Anglophone interest in Sappho and contributed to the development of a homoerotic strain in English decadent verse. Adams's alliterative phrase ‘somnolent sweet winy airs’ in the next sentence echoes Swinburne.

7 Pacific] Pacific, (AL); my overworked, sick, fevered personality] overworked, sick, fevered me (CB).

8 islands] islands, (AL).

9 left, a large coral island to the right;] left; a large coral island to the right, (CB).

10 mangroves,] mangoes (CB).

11 graceful and serpentine] graceful serpentine (CB).

12 piles,] piles (AL).

13 onto] on to (AL).

14 The phrase ‘Eden of bland repose’ is from Edgar Allan Poe, ‘To F…’, The Raven and Other Poems, 1845 (London: Wiley and Putnam, 1846), 25. ‘F…’ here refers to the poet Frances Sargeant Osgood (1811–50). Earlier versions of this poem — ‘To Mary’ (Southern Literary Messenger, July 1835) and ‘To One Departed’ (Graham's Magazine, March 1842) — also contain the same phrase. Although it is suggestive of both Poe and Swinburne, I have been unable to identify the following phrase, ‘where the sea winds sing and sunlight smiles': it is probably a misquotation by Adams. Poe's ‘To F…’ ends with the lines: ‘Serenest skies continually / Just o'er that one bright island smile.’

15 Brisbane and at Christmas too.] Brisbane. (AL).

16 boats,] boats (CB).

17 why — as the Yankees say] — why, as the Yankees say (CB).

18 know.] know, Acheson. (AL) The narrator is never named in the Christmas Boomerang version of ‘The Red Snake’. In Australian Life, Acheson reappears as the narrator of ‘Long Forster’ (pp. 137–47), and ‘The Hut by the Tanks’ (pp. 177–91).

19 Frank Jardine was the grandson of Sir Alexander Jardine, 6th Bt, and the nephew of naturalist Sir William Jardine, 7th Bt.

20 there.] there? (AL).

21 Frank Jardine was removed from his post as Police Magistrate in 1875 after many complaints about his ill-treatment of Aborigines and his exploitation of his government post for private gain.

22 In 1879, following the non-fatal spearing of two white men by Aborigines at Cape Bedford north of Cooktown, Sub-Inspector O'Connor led his Native Police troopers on a reprisal attack in which 24 Aborigines were massacred. (Cape Bedford is now part of the Hopevale Aboriginal Community.) Reginald Spencer Browne, associate editor of the Brisbane Courier and a friend and admirer of Francis Adams, gives an account of the massacre in A Journalist's Memories (Brisbane: The Read Press, 1927), 27, where he claims that 28 ‘bucks’ were killed. As a former editor of the Cooktown Herald, Spencer Browne was well informed about northern Queensland. Spencer Browne is the most likely source of Adams’ information about both the Cape Bedford massacre and Frank Jardine.

23 Long Forster’, in the eponymous story by Adams which opens the ‘Up-Country’ section of Australian Life, is also described (20) as ‘about the softest-hearted cuss ever lived. He wouldn't hurt a fly.’ Nonetheless, as revenge for the spearing of a mate, he corners and kills thirteen Aborigines, including women, with a tomahawk and his bare hands. This story first appeared under the pseudonym Proteus as ‘Tony Forster’ in The Boomerang, 5 May 1888: 11.

24 old man,] too, (AL).

25 chap] man (CB).

26 have a chat] spin a yarn (AL); [at six and have chow,] at 6 and have chow (CB); you're] your (AL); Christmas Day] Christmas-day (AL).

27 For the term ‘chin-chin’, see Sir Henry Yule, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive, new ed. edited by Crooke, William (London: J. Murray, 1903), 200: ‘In the “pigeon English” of Chinese ports this signifies “salutation, compliments,” or “to salute,” and is much used by Englishmen as slang in such senses. It is a corruption of the Chinese phrase ts'ing-ts'ing, Pekingese ch'ing-ch'ing, a term of salutation answering to “thank-you,” “adieu.”’ The entry (201) also cites W. Gill, The River of Golden Sand (1883), 41: ‘But far from thinking it any shame to deface our beautiful language, the English seem to glory in its distortion, and will often ask one another to come to “chow-chow” instead of dinner; and send their “chin-chin,” even in letters, rather than their compliments; most of them ignorant of the fact that “chow-chow” is no more Chinese than it is Hebrew; that “chin-chin,” though an expression used by the Chinese, does not in its true meaning come near to the “good-bye, old fellow,” for which it is often used, or the compliments for which it is frequently substituted.’

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28 sail] pearl-shell (AL).

29 George-street] George Street, (AL).

30 Christmas Day] Christmas-day (AL).

31 Manila] Manilla in (AL); [Hongkong] Hong Kong (AL).

32 After the word ‘faint’ in the Christmas Boomerang version, two lines of extraneous text have been erroneously inserted: ‘the office a usual to see if any work was wanted from me for the next morning's issue, but there’.

33 boarding-house,] boarding-house; (CB); George street] George Street (AL). Adams describes what is now the Brisbane CBD (North Quay and George Street) and the South Bank precinct (South Brisbane, across the river).

34 The reference is to Toowong Cemetery, at the foot of Mt Coot-tha. Adams’ first wife, Helen Elizabeth Uttley, died in Brisbane in July 1886 of rheumatic fever and complications from the birth in June of their son Leith, who died in November of that year; both are buried in Toowong Cemetery.

35 garden gate,] garden-gate (CB); and,] and (AL).

36 left.] right (CB).

37 affects,] loves, (CB).

38 door-windows] garden windows (AL); right door-window.] right window. (AL).

39 brow, with its broad frowning bar,] brow with its broad frowning bar (CB).

40 fixed inscrutable resolve of a sphinx.] bold, fixed, and inscrutable resolve of a sphinx. (AL).

41 impassive,] impassive (CB).

42 by the left door-window,] to the left, (AL).

43 the man's face] Melvil's face (CB).

44 wretched,] wretched (CB).

45 Madeline Brown'] ‘Maud Harcourt’ (AL) Francis Adams was the author of a sensational murder mystery, Madeline Brown's Murderer (Melbourne: Kemp and Boyce, [1887]). By substituting the title ‘Maud Harcourt’ and naming the framing narrator Acheson, Adams distances the narrator from himself in the later version. Madeline Brown's Murderer was republished as The Murder of Madeline Brown (Melbourne: Text, 2000), with an introduction by Shane Maloney.

46 me:] me; (AL).

47 miserable,] miserable (AL).

48 suppose?”] suppose.” (CB).

49 civilisation,] civilisation; (AL).

50 to] into (CB).

51 has] had (AL).

52 singing,] singing; (CB).

53 untutored,] untutored (CB); “musical”] pseudo-“musical” (AL).

54 white,] white (CB).

55 him,] him (CB).

56 blackfellows] black fellows (AL).

57 mysteries.”] Mysteries.” (AL).

58 several] several, (AL); runs.] runs, (CB).

59 Lepers); put two revolvers in my belt (AL); take my rifle and] Lepers), put two revolvers in my belt and (CB).

60 interested me,] interested me (CB).

61 in North America, I unravelled the Red Indian carvings] in South America on the Amazon, I unravelled the Indian carvings (AL).

62 Biame (also Baiame or Byamee) is the Great Spirit of the dreaming of several language groups of Indigenous people in south-eastern Australia, and is associated with initiation sites (boras). He is depicted in a famous Wiradjuri rock painting near Singleton as a man with staring eyes and extremely elongated arms. Following the usage of the English Presbyterian missionary William Ridley, who translated the language of the Kamilaroi people in 1866, Baiame is sometimes identified with the Christian God. The story told here by Adams does not appear to have any real connection with Cape York, although a white man may well have tried to pass himself off as the ‘Biame’ of southern language groups. See William Ridley, Kamilaroi, Dippil, and Turrubul: Languages Spoken by Australian Aborigines (Sydney: Government Printer, 1875). See also CareyH.M., ‘The Land of Byamee: K. Langloh-Parker, David Unaipon, and Popular Aboriginality in the Assimilation Era’, in Journal of Religious History, 22(2) (1998): 200218.

63 mysteries,] Mysteries, (AL).

64 gorges.] gullies (AL).

65 gully] gulley (AL).

66 it] the rock (CB).

67 over the sea and the plans in the east.] in the east over the sea and the coast. (AL).

68 dingoes] dingos (CB).

69 cutting,] cutting (CB).

70 a sweet, lingering passion] a lingering passion (AL).

71 were] were were (AL).

72 over] ever (AL).

73 mysteries] Mysteries (AL).

74 of all] of (CB).

75 the men] the young men (AL).

76 After the death by drowning in the Nile of his Bithynian-born lover, Antinous, Roman Emperor Hadrian was inconsolable and decreed that Antinous be deified. The cause of Antinous's death is unknown, but Melvil here refers to the tradition that Antinous was sacrificed, or sacrificed himself, perhaps to restore Hadrian's health.

77 someone] a man (CB).

78 a man] some man (CB).

79 The bust of Antinous held by the Louvre is the so-called ‘Antinous of Ecouen’ (Accession number Ma 1082 [MR 413], presented to the Louvre in 1793), an eighteenth century copy of an original found at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli during the Renaissance, and widely copied.

80 earth.] sand. (AL).

81 spade,] spade (CB).

82 love-place—] love-place, (CB).

83 faintly from the left] from the left (CB).

84 earth] sand (AL).

85 earth] sand (AL).

86 By this time a slight land breeze was blowing.] A slight land breeze was blowing. (AL).

87 bannered] coloured (AL).

88 match] match, (AL).

89 every one] everyone (CB).

90 sea breeze blowing from the east] land breeze blowing from the west (AL).

91 quite quiet,] both quite quiet (AL).

92 Then I put down] I put down (CB).

93 onto] on to (AL).

94 Then putting] Then I putting (CB).

95 the cord. They] the cord, they (CB).

96 just glinting] gold (CB).

97 commanded] told (CB).

98 coast.] east (CB) Eucalyptus coolabah grows widely on flood plains throughout Australia, in both coastal and inland areas. The description here of the tree as ‘crooked and stunted’ is curious: the coolabah (as it is generally spelt today) grows to about 15 metres, with wide, spreading branches; however, its lower bark is furrowed.

99 wrists,] wrists (CB).

100 growing radiance] full glow (CB).

101 No quotation marks in CB. These words, like the following snatches of song, are from ‘Home Sweet Home’ by American John Howard Payne. They occur in his 1823 opera, Clari; or the Maid of Milan. In 1852, the English composer Sir Henry Bishop adapted Payne's words and wrote the melody that is still popular today.

102 The Red Snake — square-snouted, thin, whip-like, furious —] The Red Snake, square-snouted, thin, whip-like, furious, (CB).

103 his,] his (AL).

104 a row in the sun for their friends to come and see,] a row in the sun, (CB).

105 “Home, home, sweet, sweet home!”] “Home, home, sweet, sweet home,” (CB).

106 well — the work] well; the work (CB).

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