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Parliament ofWhores: The Mystery ofthe Mace Kathryn Ferguson In the Speaker's Chambers ofthe parliament ofVictoria in Melbourne Australia, at a little after 1:30 in the afternoon ofFriday 9 October 1891, parliamentary housekeeper George Pearse advised parliamentary doorkeeper Frederick Davis, parliamentary engineer Thomas Jeffery, and parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms George Upward ofa parliamentary predicament. "The mace," Pearse declared "is gone" ("Mace Board" 127). Today, we know very little more about the disappearance ofthe Victorian Legislative Assembly's Speaker's mace than what was conveyed in Pearse's terse assessment ofthe situation some 113 years ago. The dearth ofverifiable information surrounding the loss ofthe mace has, however, been counterbalanced, indeed overbalanced, by a surfeit oftheories, accusations and rumours regarding the whereabouts ofthe 1.5 metre gold-plated and richly chased sceptre that symbolised the constitutional rights ofthe Victorian population and the authority invested in the office ofSpeaker in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.' The early investigation ofthe mace's theft came up with four possible solutions: Thomas Jeffrey had stolen the mace; one of the workmen contracted to finish a basement extension in the north wing ofParliament House had stolen the mace; an anonymous, and probably non-professional, thiefhad stolen the mace; a member ofparliament, possibly inebriated, had taken the mace on a lark and had subsequently lost it. A little over year after the disappearance ofthe parliamentary device, the press came up with a fifth, and far more shocking, solution in November of 1892. It was widely and volubly touted in the press and on the streets that prostitutes and parliamentarians had taken the mace to a brothel in Little 64volume 32 number 2 Parliament of Whores Lonsdale Street where it was used for less-than-proper parliamentary proceedings, and then left in the brothel. It is this fifth, most unlikely yet most persistent, solution that fascinates me. The theft ofthe mace provides a special opportunity to examine Melbourne at a moment ofintense political crisis. The actual theft of the mace, in and ofitself, was not a crisis; an older mace was quickly brought out ofstorage and dusted offto be re-commissioned. The Legislative Assembly's activities continued, slightly inconvenienced, but without interruption on Tuesday 13 October. However, the theft of the mace would become the imaginative nexus ofa crisis when specific anxieties collected and crystallised around it logically, illogically and randomly. The crisis ofthe missing mace eventuated, not because the parliamentary device was physically missing, but rather, because of the way the theft ofthe mace came to be imagined. The power and authority ofthe Speaker's mace is wholly symbolic; its measure as a practical and usable weapon was no longer a consideration even in an Anitpodean outpost of Empire. Similarly, the outlandish stories surrounding the theft of the mace might best be understood, indeed appreciated, for their figurative rather than analogic representations ofcalamitous circumstances. "Crises", as Frank Kermode explains, is best understood as "a way ofthinking about one's moment, and not inherent in the moment itself" (101). Thus, rather than being quickly dismissed as a vaguely ridiculous colonial cocker, the strange tale ofgovernmental impropriety and lewd libertinism might be read productively as a gaudy, but nonetheless valuable, artifact ofcertain "ways ofthinking about" specific circumstances and undercurrents in fin-de-siècle Melbourne. The final decade of the nineteenth century in Melbourne did not begin propitiously. The Victorian gold rush was over, the economy had crumbled and women were seen gadding about town on bicycles demanding the vote. Anxieties and unemployment were running high while the market and morale were running low. In 1890 the banking infrastructure was crumbling, land prices had dropped dramatically and a maritime strike paralysed the docks. In 1891 British capital Victorian Review (2006)65 K. Ferguson stopped coming in, the sewers caught fire and the city flooded and was besieged by plagues ofbankruptcies and locusts. Not only was the town in the midst ofan economic depression, it was beset by sweeping feelings ofdejection. Myths and allegories ofthe city's present and future fate abounded, each trying to find sense, reason and a scapegoat ifpossible for the seemingly inexplicable downturn in the city's fortunes. It was in the spring of 1891, an early...


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