Don’t mention the war.

Once upon a time (or at least a little while ago), Esteemed Architect, gawd bless ‘im, announced that the Regency Wreck originally went by another name.  Really? It was not always called the RW? Well, shiver me timbers.  As he delivered his news, a small moue of ambivalence flickered across his features but we heeded it not, being altogether too gung ho to know more.

I don’t expect you can read this, but here is ocular proof that the house was once known as Pyrrhus.  And I must tell you that when I saw this a little colour drained from the day because, I confess, I am just a tinkly tad superstitious.  Quite against my will, I might add, but I was doused in it from an early age by my mother, who always touched wood and never tempted fate nor crossed her knives.  All of which has left me one of those strange hybrid creatures – resolute and doughty in my rational denial of all such nonsense, yet surreptitiously chucking my spilled salt over my left shoulder.  Just in case.  You know how it is – a little insurance never hurts.

And just in case your days of Greek Lit in Translation are a little fogged and hung about with the rheumy skeins of time past, I’ll remind you that it was Pyrrhus for whom the phrase ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ was coined.  He was the gent who won the battle but lost the war.  Wiki tells me that his victory was one with  such devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such will ultimately cause defeat.

More than a little contemporary truth in that, I’d say, when I recall our triumphal glee at the auction and contrast that to our feelings now.

So anyway, this was our man Pyrrhus before the battle.  Off to war with a fleet wind behind and a good horse beneath. Full of vim and vigour.  Because, I ask you, how could you go wrong with a metallic six pac like that?

And this was him after,

surveying the future with a sort of grim resignation, poor bugger.  Tired, careworn, utterly over the whole thing and yet compelled to go on.  Much as we sometimes feel really.

If you’re interested, John Dryden’s translation of Plutarch’s Pyrrhus, 75 AD reports that:

“… they had fought till sunset, both armies were unwillingly separated by the night, Pyrrhus being wounded by a javelin in the arm, and his baggage plundered by the Samnites, that in all there died of Pyrrhus’s men and the Romans above fifteen thousand. The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward.”

So on that basis I’d say that the Pyrrhic legacy seems to extend further than just our house because there are more fallings out and schisms in one tiny area than I’ve ever come across before.  Which is a shame and a half.  I put it down (mostly) to the cumulative and collective stress of an entire area in transition.

But all this got me to wondering why on earth John Flavelle – he who built the house – gave it such an odd name.  A name with such a penumbra of  unfortunate associations. Was our Irish jeweller a Greek scholar maybe?  Was he a man who wanted to give wry expression to life’s capriciousness? To its steeplechase-ness?  Or did he name the house as he did,  blithely ignorant of its classical associations?

A little internetty delving suggests the latter.

Because as it turns out, Pyrrhus the second was a racehorse!  One, what’s more, in Australia.

I found them both nestled in the classified section of The Courier in 1855.  (Mssrs Google, how I love thee. I will name my first racehorse in thy name). And after wading knee deep through ads for The Crinicrescent Cream, a PREPARATION like no other which will produce so beautiful and magnificent HEAD of HAIR,  the Practical Treatise upon the Cultivation of Sugar Cane, and Row’s embrocation (Beware Of Spurious Imitations), good for the cure of cankerous tumours on cows – in the middle of all that fascination, I found

“J_ Ferbt, Logan River, the Blood Stallion

PYRRHUS THE SECOND,

By New Warrior (imported) out of Doctressby

Doctor Jenner (imported). For terms apply to

WM. DRYNAN”.

separated just a column inch or two from

“FLAVELLE BROTHERS & ROBERTS

BEG to inform the Public that they have

secured the services of Mr. Samuel

Whitby, a thoroughly prictical watchmaker.

From his experience (acquired in London and

Melbourne) and ability, they feel satisfied that

all orders entrusted to them will be thoroughly

and efficiently executed. Watches sent by pri

vate hand or otherwise can be safely returned

by post”.

A long bow?  Probs. But in the absence of any shorter, I shall twangle its strings.

 

13 Responses to “Don’t mention the war.”

  1. Love your prose like style of conversation. I’m always amused and so refreshing too. When will we see more progress photos of WR? I’m fascinated with the transformation, very unusual to someone such as myself living in the wild west of Colorado where almost any building older than 50 years is considered really old…we tear down and rebuild frequently around here – a habit, I assume, developed during the gold rush days and never let go of.

    • Hi Deb. Nice to hear from you. Progress shots? No problem Modom. Coming up soon. We supposedly have a tiler in this week, so there should be acres of dark and light stuff to photograph.

      The wild west of Colorado sounds a bit like the wilds of Sydney about 17 years ago when we arrived. Everything seemed built to last about 35 years. But the pendulum has swung and there’s more appreciation of ‘heritage’ now, which is why it’s hard to remove a rusty nail without written permission.

  2. Pimpy

    When is the book being released. This blog is an entertaining read indeed. The refitting of the regency wreck sounds like such an adventure; possibly a nightmare at times. It’s looking well worth the struggle.

    Thanks for sharing the experience.

    • Greetings sirrah. But Pimpy?! An adventure it certainly is; a bit like a ceramics course – a nightmare at times but worth the struggle (Almost definitely. Probably. I’ll get back to you on that – by which of course I mean the house).

  3. Is it bad luck to change the name of a house? Maybe he won the money for the house on the horse. That’s my wager and I’m sticking with it. Maybe you will need to add some equestrian elements.
    Best,
    Liz

    • Hey Liz. I think it is, much in the same way that it’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. So I think we shall just have to embrace it. And wear jodhpurs to bed, to be on the safe side.

      • If John Flavelle had as many hard-won battles to build this house as you are having now, and he was building across the road from houses named Sophocles and Euripides, Pyrrhus might have seemed an apt title for his labours. On the other hand, if he was borrowing the name of a racehorse to give his home a bit of class, that also seems exactly right for our city.

        I hope one day the houses that were once Sophocles and Euripides are given back their names just as around the corner “Osborne House” is being regilded above its entrance. And when your renovating is over, will you be tempted to carve “Pyrrhus” above your portico and leave passers-by to muse on its origins?

      • Oh, I’d forgotten about Euripides and Sophocles, so we’re in good Greek company I guess. And it could be worse. It could be Iphigenia, or Medea, or something along those lines.

        And yes, the current idea is to have the name and number sandblasted (no evidence of gilding, sadly) into the glass above the door. We’ll be a community of arcane house names. Will you adopt yours?

  4. It is just so great that you can find out all this information these days, the internet is a useful thing, is it not? Pyrrhus before and after battle looks rather like parents before and after having children. From young and gung ho, to tired and care-worn, as you put it. I am rather taken by his leopard horse cover, and his metal six-pack is impressive. Still was important all those years ago. Look forward to seeing photos of the house progress and hoping that it is all put back together now and you can see some sign of the light at the end of the tunnel.

    • I had to smile at your comment about the leopard horse cover – very you to be looking at the fabric. And yes, there definitely is light at the end of the tunnel but it’s one of those odd tunnels which never seem to get any shorter, no matter how long you walk through it!

  5. I seriously considered following your witty and hugely entertaining blog butdecidedthatwalking around a perpetual shade of green (even if Farrowand Ball) wouldn’t suit me.

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