|37A. BROWN'S NAUTICAL ALMANAC.|
|"The Captain had with him a very valuable book on navigation. It was lent to him by Rear Admiral Evans".|
|Fred Blakeley, Dream Millions. 26.||
In his narrative of the first C.A.G.E. Expedition, 'Dream Millions', Blakeley makes several references to Lasseter's acrimonious and petty arguments over Captain Blakiston-Houston's, "very valuable book on navigation", The first incident occurred at the Dashwood Creek where an emergency landing ground had been cleared on 31/07/1930. It was Blakeley's intention to place the precise location of the landing ground on the map and transmit the information to the Company's Sydney headquarters. Perhaps as a test of Lasseter's ability to take bearings and use a sextant, he was asked to make the necessary calculations, "Much to Harry's annoyance", Blakeley asked Blakiston-Houston to check Lasseter's figures. "the captain checked up with the aid of the book, and found Lasseter's figures all wrong". and he carefully explained why Lasseter's calculations were incorrect. A very heated argument ensured which Lasseter finished by turning sulky and refusing to discuss the matter further.
The second, and very revealing incident, occurred at Ai Ai Creek, where Fred Colson's truck stripped the differential, necessitating an early return to Alice Springs for spare parts. As the Captains furlough had almost expired, he took the opportunity to return east and set about collecting his personal effects, but when it came to retrieving the book on navigation, "Lasseter had locked it away in his big tin trunk and no argument would shift him, he just sat there and sulked". According to Blakeley, Blakiston-Houston went to some trouble, and no doubt with considerable patience, to explain the significance of the book. Apparently the book had been lent to the Captain by Rear Admiral Evans, the commander of H. M. A. S. Australia. The book had a great deal of historical and sentimental value as a memento of the 1912 Scott Expedition to the Antarctic where Scott and four companions perished. Evans was second in command of the expedition, hence the books value.
But Lasseter could not be reasoned with and he, "clinched matters for he stubbornly refused to go any further unless he had a book on navigation". It seems Blakiston-Houston returned to Alice Springs without the Rear Admirals book and Blakeley vowing to do everything in his power to return that book to the Admiral. Four weeks later at Illbilla, Blakeley surreptitiously rifled through Lasseter's tin trunk, ostensibly to, "see that Captain Houston's book on navigation was still there", naturally it was, where else would it be? So Blakeley bided his time until a fortnight later when Lasseter was sorting through his effects in preparation for the journey to the Petermann and Rawlinson Ranges with Paul Johns as his guide and camelman. "This was the chance I had been waiting for. As soon as he opened his tin trunk I went over and took Rear Admiral Evans book on navigation".
Naturally Lasseter made a, "fine fuss", and refused to carry on, however Blakeley finally called his bluff knowing that Lasseter would not dare return to Alice Springs, and as he had already packed his sextant away with other personal effects that would not be going south with him, Blakeley pointing out that the instrument was useless without the book of navigational tables. Shortly before departure to the south west Lasseter made a last desperate effort to retrieve the book, pleading that if he had known the book was being returned to it's rightful owner he would have bought his own set of navigation tables. Blakeley was unmoved and Lasseter rode into history with just a watch and a compass, both Blakeley's, to navigate by.
In due course Blakeley returned the book to Rear Admiral Evans with considerable pomp and ceremony, as Blakeley writes in Dream Millions, most of the officers in the Australian Navy were aboard H. M. A. S. Australia as an escort to himself and the book. And there the matter may have ended, the book, lent to Blakiston Houston by Rear Admiral Evens, purloined by Lasseter, retrieved by Blakeley had finally returned to it's rightful owner. Except, twelve years later Lasseter's tin trunk was unearthed in the Alice Springs Police Station. Prior to returning the trunk and contents to Lasseter's widow, now Mrs L. I. Green, wife of the prospector on the second Lasseter expedition, Constable L. C. Hook made an inventory of the contents of the trunk and the first item on the list was a copy of that esteemed publication, Browns Nautical Almanac, an essential companion to seafarers and navigators the world over, and updated annually.
So why would Blakiston-Houston take such a valuable book of navigational tables, out of date by perhaps more than twenty years, on a potentially destructive journey to central Australia? indeed why would Admiral Evans lend such a valuable keepsake, no matter whose care it was in? And why would Lasseter make such a fuss about the possession of this book when he apparently already carried the best available, namely Browns Nautical Almanac?, assuming it was Lasseter's copy in his tin trunk.
Blakeley is the only member of the expedition to mention the incidents involving the captains book, Coote does not mention Lasseter's petulant acquisition of the book at Ai Ai Creek, and of course Idriess avoids any issue the might portray the hero of his best seller in a poor light, perhaps most importantly Blakiston-Houston makes no mention of the book or Lasseter's blatant theft in his memoirs, and one would think that failure to return the book and the consequences would warrant at least a few lines.
And so to the 'revealing incident' at Ai Ai Creek on 31/07/30 where Lasseter refused to return Rear Admirals Evens book to the Captain. But first a word about Captain Blakiston-Houston; Eton educated and an officer in the 11th Hussars through two world wars, finishing his distinguished military career as the commander of the Southern Rhodesia Armoured Car Regiment, between times with postings to Egypt and India, treks through the Himalayas, cock fighting, pig sticking and polo, a man of action with more than an edge of danger to it, and at the time of the first C.A.G.E. expedition, aide de camp to the Governor General. Not the retiring type, and as a strapping six footer, more than capable of settling accounts with the likes of Lasseter,
Thus making Blakeley's account, where he states that Blakiston Houston abandoned attempts to recover the book, quite unbelievable. if Lasseter insisted on keeping the book I can see him being promptly picked up by the scruff of the neck, given a sharp rap under the ear for being bloody minded and liverish, the book retrieved, and possibly Lasseter unceremoniously dumped in his trunk and the lid slammed shut, and it would matter not one wit if he refused to travel further west without a book of navigational tables. The Captain had already assessed Lasseter as a "braggart and a liar", and his ilk cannot expect to bluff the likes of Blakiston-Houston.
What probably happened on the day, was simply a case of Lasseter refusing to hand over the copy of Browns Nautical Almanac found in his tin trunk twelve years later, but initially lent to Blakiston Houston by the Admiral, the book one of several similar copies that could be expected to be found on H.M.A.S. Australia, and the Captain would probably consider it beneath his dignity and unseemly for the Governor Generals aide to camp to indulge in rough house tactics to retrieve a relatively common book on navigation, settling for making a very trenchant point exposing Lasseter as petulant and childish and not to be trusted.
But perhaps the more damaging exposure was made by Blakeley, not of Lasseter, but of himself. Any leader worth the office would have immediately and firmly ordered Lasseter to hand the book over and failure to do so would end the expedition there and then, thus calling Lasseter's bluff, something that should have been done several days earlier when Lasseter reneged on the agreement to divulge the position of the reef. Blakeley exposes himself as barely fit to lead a string of camels, and leaves open to question much that has been written in Dream Millions.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
Fred Blakeley, Dream Millions. 26,27,31,32,105,148,149,170,171.