Monday, 31 December 2012

A Singular Circumstance

So, before leaving  behind the Album for the Cupar Antiquarian and Literary Society 1840 it might be worth a recap of the somewhat convoluted route my research took, and why I though it worthwhile.

The obituary for Milne’s father, Rev GG Milne, stated that he was a keen antiquarian, which lead me to the aforementioned album. Among the relatively small number of entries in the album were two which were definitely connected to Milne Snr. The second of these was a report of a public debate on the origin of archaeological finds discovered near Largoward, Fife. This in turn lead me to James Graham-Campbell’s  paper about the ‘Norrie’s Law’ dig which referenced JM Leighton’s 1840 book History of the County of Fife

 Following up on this I read Leighton’s chapter on Cupar which covered legends connected with the Milne’s family home, Carslogie House. These legends, apparently made famous by Sir Walter Scott, involved the ‘Clephane Horn’ which was sounded to rally troops affiliated to the previous occupants of Carslogie, the Clephanes. Leighton also noted that the Clephane family had, at some undetermined point, been gifted, by some undetermined monarch, a steel hand: a metal prosthetic made to compensate a member of the Clephanes who had lost such a limb in the service of the King in question.

With me so far?

As I mentioned previously, the Antiquarian’s album was by and large incomplete. In fact after flicking through several empty pages I nearly put the book down believing that there was no more to see. However, my perseverance paid off when, on the very last page, I spotted a few more cuttings- most of which concerned reports of stock shares.

No information about who had included any of these or why, but this one in particular caught my eye.

 The inclusion of such a small cutting pertaining to such an obscure story as reported, initially, in the Elgin Courant may seem a little odd but I believe the interest in this ‘Singular circumstance’ can be attributed to the Rev. Milne. I say this for two reasons; firstly Milne was, demonstrably, interested in archaeology and secondly he was born in Keith, Banffshire not far from Ballindaloch.

From these articles then we have references to tales which concern ancient and mysterious civilizations (Picts),  advanced technology (the steel hand), literary connections (via Sir Walter Scott) and, potentially, subterranean suspended animation (the unearthed toad) not to mention the aspect of wireless audio communication (the Clephane Horn). Any one of these could be viewed as fodder for an aspiring science fiction writer and I believe that Robert Duncan Milne may well have incorporated several of these aspects into what was perhaps his most famous, or indeed most infamous story, Ten Thousand Years in Ice.

First published 14 January 1889 (available to read here: Ten Thousand Years in Ice is a first-person account of “how a prehistoric man was resuscitated from a frozen state” and caused something of a sensation when it was translated for publication in Hungary, something I’ll look at in more detail in my next entry.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Steel Hand

Following on from his paragraph about the apparently famous 'Horn of Carslogie' JM Leighton, in his book ‘History of the County of Fife’, continued with this absolute gem:

“Beside the horn, the family of Clephane had long been in possession of a hand made of steel, in imitation of that of a man, which has also been brought into notice by Sir Walter. The tradition is that this steel hand was a present from one of the kings of Scotland to a baron of Carslogie, who had lost his hand in battle, in defence of his country. It does not seem, however, to be an agreed point what king this was, or which of the long line of Barons of Carslogie received the royal gift. It has been said that the hand was lost at Bannockburn, and that the gift was made by Robert the Bruce; but others say that it was at a much more recent period, and that it was presented to the great grandfather of the late General Clephane.” pp37-38

Images of the steel hand can be seen here, pages 206-207:

The last few posts have been mainly concerned with the life and interests of Rev. George Milne and the previous owners of the house in which RDM grew up, the Clephanes of Carslogie.  Although not directly linked, as far as I can tell, to the Clephane family it would seem incredible if the Milnes knew nothing of the legends of Carslogie, especially given Rev. George’s apparent interest in local history.

An ancient castle; daring-do in the name of King and country; a steel hand (just how cool is that?):  already sounds like something out of a book! Certainly my first impressions were of Walpole’s gothic horror ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1764) but the steel prosthetic (and one which allowed its wearer to still grasp a sword) sounds more akin to sci-fi. As yet I haven’t found a tangible link to this an RDM’s work but it’s hard to imagine that such a place wouldn't have influenced such an imaginative mind.

The Clephane Horn

Referenced in Graham-Campbell’s paper is JM Leighton’s ‘History of the County of Fife’ (1840). As all three volumes are available in Cupar Library’s local/family history section I thought it would be worth checking them for information on, or images of RDM's family home, Carslogie House.

More in hope than expectation- images of Carslogie House have proven to be very hard to source- I looked through the chapter on Cupar. What I found was so much more intriguing:

“Tradition says, that in ancient times, when private feuds and quarrels were common among the Scottish barons, the lords of Carslogie were leagued with the proprietors of Scotstarvet [sic]… The horn of Carslogie, with which the call to battle was soundedhas been rendered famous by Sir Walter Scott, and is still, we believe in the possession of the widow of the late Major-General  William Maclaine Douglas Clephane, the last direct male heir of the Clephanes of Carslogie…”. Leighton, Vol III p. 37

The Clephane Horn:

As beautiful as this is it's not the weirdest or coolest Clephane family heirloom. More to follow...

The story so far...

A few months ago I stumbled upon the name Robert Duncan Milne for the first time. All I knew of him was that he was a Scottish born writer of science fiction who had been working in San Francisco around the end of the nineteenth century.

Following a fruitless attempt to source 'Into the Sun' (available here: through my local library I decided to shell-out for a copy I'd found on Amazon.

As a resident of Cupar, Fife for over thirty years you can perhaps imagine my surprise when I discovered that Milne was born in my hometown. Yet, apart from a brief mention in the library's 'famous dead folk' section there was nothing locally I could find relating to Milne and no-one I spoke to had even heard of him let alone read his work. 

The purpose of these blogs is to build on the earlier research undertaken by Sam Moskowitz ( and to both celebrate and promote the life and work of an author who has, for too long, been overlooked. 

To this end my Robert Duncan Milne facebook page ( went live a few days ago. However, as it wasn't showing up on google searches I've decided to post the bulk of my findings via this blog. 

For the benefit of anyone coming to this for the first time here's what I've been up to so far:

In order to better understand RDM I've decided to gather as much information as I can about the time and place in which he grew up. To this end I began exploring RDM's family background, beginning with his father, the Rev. George Gordon Milne. 

It may seem like an odd step but an obituary is often a good starting point. This proved to be the case when, from Fife News, Saturday Oct. 12, 1872 I found the following tribute in Rev GG Milne's obituary:

 "A pleasant companion, an able and deeply-read scholar, and a first-rate antiquarian..." 

This was very useful as, having been an antiquarian, it was highly probable that he left some publicly accessible written works behind...

As it transpires Milne Snr. did indeed leave some 'written works' behind in the 'Album for the Cupar Antiquarian and Literary Society 1840', accessed via Cupar Library.

The album itself is an interesting volume: approximately A3 in size and containing around 60 or so pages, only half of which have anything on them, it's an eclectic mix of odds and sods. More like a scrapbook than anything else it has all sorts of weird and wonderful items including the attached n
ewspaper cutting.

At first glance this undated cutting from an unnamed newspaper appears to have very little to do with RDM. However this article demonstrates that his father, the Rev. Milne, was clearly interested in local history- an aspect which I believe has some relevance to RDM's upbringing and will be explored in a later post.  

If nothing else Rev. Mine's argument regarding the origins of the artefacts discovered at ‘Norrie’s Law’ offers an interesting perspective on Pictish art as seen through eyes of a nineteenth century clergyman. 

The ‘Mr. Buist’ referred to here appears to be Rev. Dr. George Buist whose work on the ‘Norrie’s Law’ finds are referenced in the article linked to below.

James Graham-Campbell’s paper is a detailed account of the discovery of Pictish artefacts in Largoward in 1819, and certainly worth a read:

I’ll return to the relevance of the newspaper cutting later but the next status update will focus on a fascinating aspect of local history of which I had been previously unaware, which came to my attention via Graham-Campbell’s report.

Why 'The Eidoloscope'?

As the purpose of my bloggings are to promote the works of  Robert Duncan Milne it seemed appropriate to reference one of his stories in the blog title.

I had initially fancied 'Into the Sun' but thought it sounded too vague, or worse like a weather report! As the Eidoloscope was not only the title of a story but the name of a device RDM dreamed up which was able to look at past events in a specific space I thought this to be far more fitting, analogous as it is with what I hope to do through these blogs and posts.

The Eidoloscope was also the name given to a film projection system built by Woodville Latham and 'presented publicly in 1895' ( As RDM's story was first published in 1890 this would suggest that this may be an example of life imitating art- surely a sign of successful science fiction writing?

There's much more to say about both the story and this apparent convergence of science and fiction (or vice versa) but that's for another day.