An interview with an academic, historian, and author of popular books on crime with particular reference to his forthcoming study of the Jacobite Rebellions.
Jonathan Oates is a distinguised academic who has a penchant for murder and rebellion; his main field of interest is the history of the Jacobites. Among his publishing credits are around forty articles in various academic and local history journals, chiefly on matters associated with the Jacobite Rebellions, and a number of popular books on real life crime. He has also given various talks to the general public on both local history and family history.
In 2006, he published a book on the Jacobite invasion of 1745; in September he has another book out: The British State At War: The Jacobite Campaigns. Already available for pre-order on Amazon at a hefty £60.00 in hardback for a mere 256 pages, this is the sort of book that for purely financial reasons will have little appeal to the general public, but if his methodical scholarship is anything to go by, it will soon become the standard work on the Jacobite campaigns with history departments and specialist libraries worldwide.
Dr Oates answered a few questions about his soon to be published monograph and other things.
AB: Who exactly were the Jacobites?
JO: The Jacobites were followers of the exiled Stuarts after 1688. They opposed the new status quo established by William and Mary, then the Hanoverian monarchs of the Eighteenth Century. They were from all over the British Isles and had support from monarchs opposed to Britain, especially in war time. Their numbers fell throughout the Eighteenth Century, and after the accession of George III they were no longer a serious threat.
AB: Obviously the movement failed because we now have the House of Windsor, but does it still exist in any way, manner, shape or form today?
JO: There are a number of Jacobite societies in the UK; such as the Northumbrian based The Fifteen. They are chiefly social and scholarly and are not political.
AB: From the title of your new book one would assume it is based largely on state papers. Where did you research it, Kew?
JO: Much of the research took place at Kew among the State Papers Domestic and State Papers Scotland, but also among county record offices, the British Library and the Royal Archives for the Cumberland Papers, though microfilm copies were used at the British Library and Cambridge University Library.
AB: What are the problems involved with researching a book of this nature? Obviously you can't interview contemporary witnesses, but how reliable are the documents?
JO: The documents viewed are primarily letters written at the time by soldiers and administrators. Clearly the main drawback is that the information they had from other sources was often out of date and based on hearsay at times, but there is no reason to doubt the assumptions that were made as being correct, nor the state of the troops and their needs.
AB: You've also written a lot about crime including a book about Lewisham and Deptford. Does that include the infamous Deptford Fire? If yes, what conclusions did you reach on that?
[The Deptford Fire or New Cross Fire was an accidental house fire dating from January 1981. Not unnaturally there were suspicions of arson, and because all the victims were black, it quickly became a cause célèbre that was hijacked by the usual suspects, but the best evidence indicates the fire was started probably accidentally by someone at the party although to this day it is still sometimes alluded to as the Deptford Massacre].
JO: The Lewisham and Deptford book covers the years 1593-1939, chiefly the late Nineteenth to the early Twentieth Century, so the fire was not included. I have little knowledge about that, as to whether it was arson or an accident, what little I have heard seems to suggest the latter.
AB: You have also written about murder, including unsolved murders. Which is your favourite of these?
JO: It seems odd to talk about having a favourite unsolved murder. I suppose one of the most fascinating is the murder of Vera Page at Notting Hill in 1931. Ultimately frustrating, of course, but the chief suspect was probably guilty, and with today's forensic advances would probably have been found guilty.
AB: You have written or nearly completed a book about John Reginald Halliday Christie, and have what might be considered a dissenting opinion about him. Can you tell us what it is and how you came to this conclusion?
JO: I am far from alone in my views on the Christie case. My book is really a biography of the man - in many ways a very ordinary man and not wholly bad - the first time such has ever been written. The evidence seems to me to be that it is more probable that Evans killed his wife and child rather than Christie, who wasn't a child murderer. Just to pick up one thread, if Christie killed Beryl as Evans’ supporters claim, then why did no one in that little house hear her scream when there were workmen as well as Ethel Christie in the house? If Christie killed baby Geraldine, why did no one hear her crying over the next two days when she was unattended? Of course if Evans killed them, then he did so in the evening when no one was about to hear, and this seems more likely.
AB: Your book on Christie was due out this year I believe, but it has been delayed. Did the publisher run out of money?
JO: The Christie book is not out until 2013 as the publishers want to tie it in with the 60th anniversary of his death.
[This book could well be a bestseller because among other things it will be a scholarly debunking of 10 Rillington Place, the book by Ludovic Kennedy which is the generally accepted view of what happened at this address in November 1949, what was to become known in 1953 as the Notting Hill house of horrors after Christie murdered his wife and three other women there. The skeletons of two women were also found in the back garden; they were murdered by Christie during the Second World War, but a cold appraisal of the evidence indicates that for a brief period of time, two murderers were living at the same address and one attempted to frame the other].
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