Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Molasses, Alas, The Sideways Platypus

Recently a customer was searching through old letterbooks in the Chelsea Archives at Birkenhead Library. Tissue thin pages, eye-watering  italic script, crumbling pages, circa 1889 – that sort of thing.

He was hoping to find reference to his grandfather. Instead he found curious little notes. Which would be fine, except they seem to be nonsense:

Ref: 'Platypus', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
Did you get the bit about the platypus and the wimple? And then there’s the all important “squelette insurance:”

Ref: 'Squelette', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
To be sure there are occasional words that seem to be proper topics for sugar refining like coal, meltings, crushings, stock bags, bills, Fiona (a ship), and hessian, etc.  Yet surrounded by other, odder words, the whole meaning of the note wobbles and is lost:

Ref: 'Hessian', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library

Ref: 'Prudishly', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
Grecian Beard? Prudishly coals? And then there are the ones that sort-of-look-like Italian:

Ref: 'Italian', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
As it happens "rompicapo" is Italian for a malfunction or disturbance. Which seems so fitting it's probably a coincidence.

So, in all likelihood, if these notes are not actually Harry Potteresque incantations, I guess they are shorthand codes, efficient transactions between the Refinery and Head Office in Sydney. And maybe protection against nosey-parkers too! In any event I welcome any attempts at code-cracking:

Ref: 'Mudfish', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
And when you’re done with the mudfish and the otter, don’t forget the “sausage yewtree” please!

Ref: 'Sausage Yewtree', Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library
Source: Chelsea Archives Box 22, Item 02 Outward LetterBooks Auckland to Sydney 1888-1891.

Author: Paul Croxson, Chelsea Archives, Birkenhead Library

No comments:

Post a Comment

Kia ora! Please leave your comment below.