*Speakers: Jon Robson (J), Male (M)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 22 September 2018
J: I’m going to give a slightly different talk today compared to what people have been talking about earlier but I would – like everyone else I would like to pay my respects and thanks to the original inhabitants of this land and their descendants. Oh he’s not here at the moment but especially to Tyrone.
It’s an honour to be invited back, I have spoken here before. I always like coming back to Canberra and so thank you very much for inviting me. As I tried to say before it doesn’t take very much for me to – I’ll talk about Cook ‘til the cows come home and – but today I thought I might just – oh sorry, I should have done this as well.
Guy did mention that I am the Map Librarian at the University of Waikato. Since I got taken on for this talk I have retired so I’m now a gentleman of leisure and I am not gainfully employed. I was given a wonderful farewell two months ago and my Maori colleagues told me that it is time that I changed and adopted a Maori way of identifying myself. I previously linked to a mountain – or a hill, I should say – in northeast England where I come from which in fact is the same hill that Cook would do – Cook would use if he was doing it. I would use the same river, the River Tees, as he would have used except that he came from Yorkshire and I certainly don’t come from Yorkshire, I come from County Durham, best part of England.
But I’ve lived in Aotearoa, New Zealand, now for 37 years and I – as I say I worked at the University of Waikato and so nowadays I’m very proud to be able to say that [speaks Maori], [Tarongia] 2:24 being a volcano just outside Hamilton. [speaks Maori]. That’s my water, my river. [Speaks Maori] my friends and colleagues at the University of Waikato [speaks Maori] and [speaks Maori], I’m very honoured to be a New Zealand resident these days. It’s the best move I ever made. Australia didn’t want me, I should add.
Now the talk I propose to give is really using Cook as a starting point and developing because what I’ve always felt is that he had a role as a teacher and he learnt that himself from the people who taught him and he saw the value of then passing on the teaching knowledge and we have a line, and I’ve called it a linkage, a surveyor’s chain, of naval maritime surveyors or hydrographers that start with Cook and in the same way that the Bible sort of goes on about so-and-so beget so-and-so beget so-and-so Cook I’m saying begat Bligh, Bligh begat Flinders, Flinders didn’t quite begat Parker King but he caused him to become a surveyor. Fitzroy comes into it and the man I want to finish with is a man called John Lort Stokes who was operating in both New Zealand and Australian waters in the 1840s, 1850s.
So mostly what I’m trying to do is give an Australian succession because all of these people, except really for Fitzroy, operated in Australian waters and were responsible for a huge amount of the early detailed charting of the Australian coastline. But there’s - a little bit of New Zealand also features and we also have a side trip to Tierra del Fuego. I don’t propose to cover the Dutch and people like Fisher nor the French such as Baudin and little – one or two other British people I’m afraid I’m sort of bypassing as well so don’t expect much on that.
So we move to Cook, we start with Cook and in 1758 he was master of HMS Pembroke which went off to North America, they were fighting the French as they were doing for most of the 18th century and there was a siege of a French fort called Louisbourg and in August 1758 the French after a siege of about three months capitulated, surrendered and the British moved in and about five days later Cook met an army engineer called Samuel Holland who was using a plane table, surveying practice on the beach outside Louisbourg. Cook was interested in what was going on, he asked what was happening, Samuel Holland offered to teach him what was going on and Cook had this ability to get people to recognise his talents.
And the captain of the ship, The Pembroke, was a man called John Simcoe, and he encouraged Cook and a group of young midshipmen and lieutenants in learning how to become surveyors. I should add at this point that one of the lieutenants was a man called John Robson and I’ve tried like I don’t know what to find out if we’re related. To this day I don’t know but it just gives me another linkage with Cook which I rather like.
So Cook learns to become a surveyor, he surveys for example the St Lawrence River in 1759 and this Library has got a copy of the chart that was produced. It is one of the most gorgeous things, it really is a work of art. Sadly it’s not in the exhibition – oh by the way can I just congratulate <inaudible> 6:46 Susannah, wherever she is, Guy, all the other people that have been involved in the exhibition, I think it’s brilliant so please enjoy that. But anyway so he does this map of the St Lawrence and he does various other things around Nova Scotia and then in 1763 he goes to the island of Newfoundland and he is the Surveyor of Newfoundland.
And it’s interesting at this point because we’ve been talking about in this – so far in a lot of the talks about Cook’s relationship with the indigenous people and I believe this is where Cook first encounters indigenous people. They are the Beothuk people of Newfoundland, there are the Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia and part of Newfoundland and there are some Inuit at Labrador. I hope you might have seen the chart of the Labrador coast, it’s in the room and that was an occasion where Cook did meet Inuit people so he was starting to meet indigenous people at this point.
Can I just now do a completely different thing? We’ve heard about Cook and his people at Endeavour River and how they took the turtles much to the disgust of the local people so can I, Alberta, make a little bit of retribution? Can I offer you that as a gift?
A: Thank you.
J: A pleasure. I just thought it was about time that somebody did a little bit of pay back.
J: So anyway this is the part of the chart that Cook did of St Lawrence River and as I say it is a wonderful, marvellous chart and this is within about two years of him learning how to be a surveyor cartographer, it is a fantastic thing. And as I said Cook, having learnt to become a surveyor, it puts into him the need to pass on the knowledge, the skills of surveying, cartography etc to the young men that work under him. So by the time he’s coming to the Pacific, he’s using all sorts of strategies for doing his charting. This is a chart, this is – north has suddenly gone ‘round to the right, this is what Cook called the New Hebrides, what we now call Vanuatu. He did this using a technique called running survey and he did that in just a few weeks, making landfall about three places. It really is one of the pieces of early chart work. Cook so quickly developed the skills etc to produce these wonderful charts.
But he has this Australian connection and I thought it appropriate to use the Endeavour River chart that was engraved and used in the books. Now Cook on his third voyage had The Resolution and one of the crew, the Master, was a guy called William Bligh who at this stage wasn’t famous but he was only 22 but he was already a Master which in fact was the highest level of a non-commissioned officer in the navy. He was in charge of effectively running the ship on a day-to-day basis. He was only 22 so he obviously had something about him, there was obviously ability and skill etc. What I can’t really establish is whether he was already a skilled cartographer surveyor when he joined The Resolution or whether it was through Cook’s teaching that he became one or whether Cook helped to just modify his skills but anyway Bligh also had a character that didn’t get on well with other people.
I mean this comes out later with The Bounty voyage but on The Resolution he obviously fell foul of the man who ended up taking over the ship, a guy called James King who everybody else loved but Bligh hated and King was given the responsibility of writing up the narrative of the voyage at the end of it and did not use Bligh but in fact used Bligh’s deputy, a man called Henry Roberts, so Bligh was absolutely put out and we now have copies of charts and narratives where he has annotated this – things like I drew this map, it wasn’t Roberts and things of that sort so he was quite an unhappy man quite early in his life. Well this is a chart from the third voyage and we do know that Bligh was responsible for the original of this if not for the finished product so he was already - as I said he was a very skilled cartographer surveyor.
Then of course he has the terrible thing of The Bounty voyage where everything goes wrong off the island of [Tapoa] 12:23 in Tonga and they go to – in an open boat, 18 people and they go across the Pacific, 7,000km in an open boat which is even by itself, is an absolutely wonderful piece of navigating and everything. But in the midst of it he goes through part of the Fiji islands and he charts them as he’s doing that, they’re on the point of dying etc, etc and he is still finding time to produce charts so he obviously had certain qualities about him.
After the disaster of the <inaudible> 13:07 voyage he gets back to England eventually and a bit later he’s given command of a second voyage to carry out the task and on this occasion his ship is called The Providence. This time he’s given a second ship as a security thing - just to add, another of Cook’s young gentlemen, a guy called Nathaniel Portlock, was in command of the assistant and he produced charts as well in the course of this voyage and here we have this linkage coming through because a midshipman on The Providence was called Matthew Flinders and this is where I think Flinders developed his skill, his interest in surveying and everything that that involved. Of course Bligh then has a further career where he serves at the battle of Copenhagen with a certain amount of glory. Nelson thought highly of him but he then becomes Governor of New South Wales and has a second mutiny so there was – for all his good qualities he had quite a lot of poor ones as well.
So moving on to Flinders, joined the navy and he was a Lincolnshire boy, he joined the navy in 1789 and as I said before he was a midshipman on The Providence where he learnt certain skills and then he comes to Australia. And ‘round about 1795, 1797 he partners up with George Bass who I said I wasn’t going to talk about and they come down and they cross the Bass Strait and they establish that it is Bass Strait and that’s why we call it the Bass Strait. And he also established that this island or this land mass is an island and for the moment they’re still calling it Van Diemen’s Land which is what Tasman and Fisher had done so many years earlier but as I said doing it in this small schooner and a whale boat so it’s another example of wonderful surveying done in very hard conditions etc.
With that reputation Flinders goes back to Britain and he’s given charge of a little [bond] 15:48 vessel which is then renamed The Investigator and he’s told that he needs to go back to Australia and do a proper chart of the whole land mass. And he does that, he goes off and from 1802 to 1803 he circumnavigates the land mass of Australia. At this point of course it hasn’t actually got the name Australia yet, it’s New Holland still. He’s doing it at about the same time that Baudin and Freycinet, the French people, are operating in the same area and in fact they do meet on occasion and – but this is a chart that was actually done I think about 1826 based on a chart that Flinders did but really it is the first representation of what we now call Australia together with the island of Tasman – well it would later become Tasmania. And we – I think it’s true that Flinders is the person who first puts the word Australia onto a chart of the thing.
But things don’t operate particularly well because he leaves Australia – I think he tries once to get away, the ship – there’s something wrong with the ship, he goes back, he ends up in the schooner, The Cumberland, and he heads off across the Indian Ocean and he reaches Mauritius where for some reason the Governor of Mauritius imprisons him and keeps him there for about seven years on trumped up charges, absolutely ruins Flinders’ health. It also means that the French effectively get back to Europe and talk about what they’ve achieved long before he can get back. But eventually he does reach Britain again but as I say his health is absolutely shot and he dies in 1814. He’d written up a narrative of his expedition ‘round Australia, he dies on the same day it gets published. Somewhat ironic situation.
So that’s Parker King, came from a naval family. His father was Governor of Norfolk Island for example and he – according to family tradition Matthew Flinders was a friend of the family and encouraged Parker King to become - to join the navy and to actually do survey. Now the British navy – so in the 18th century was not particularly interested in charts. If people wanted charts they were basically expected to do them themselves. There wasn’t a central repository and in fact most ships’ captains couldn’t do a chart to save their lives so there wasn’t – and if you did do one as I say you had to – and you wanted it published, you had to pay for it. If you wanted one you bought it. But eventually the British copied the French and the Dutch and they created The Hydrographic Office and that opened in 1795 with a man called Alexander Dalrymple in charge.
Now he wasn’t particularly a Royal Navy person but he was interested in maps and he’d done books about the South Pacific and things of that sort so he was actually a very competent man but his tenure comes to an end, a man called Thomas [Hird] 19:48 takes over as the hydrographer to the Admiralty and he’s the first naval man in the position and it’s he that teaches Parker King and encourages him into becoming a surveyor. And King in 1817 comes to Australia – this is a map that I’ve copied off the internet and you can see that he just went round and round and round Australia charting the coastline. All the time these people are adding to the existing set of knowledge and you know what he was doing was equally good, he was a very competent and very good surveyor.
He’s in Britain in 1826, he’s given charge of a ship called The Adventure which has a companion boat which you may have heard called The Beagle and they are sent to the bottom end of South America to chart this region. The – South America at the time has – is in a state of turmoil, you’ve got the results of the Napoleonic wars which has left the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, somewhat in a mess, the colonies in South America are all starting to rise up and seek independence and – etc and the British and the French see the opportunity for potential exploitation and they decide that the time’s come, they need to come down to this area and get good charts etc so that they can move in and deal with the people of South America. And so in 1826 the two ships come down to this area and Parker King is in charge of The Adventure and they spend about three years in the region and produce a whole set of wonderful charts.
I will just mention – I’m coming back to him, a man called Robert Fitzroy and another man called John Lort Stokes but we’ll come back to them in a moment. They are both part of this expedition and so as I said – we’ll just keep on Parker King – in 1830 he effectively gives up his active naval career, he moves back to Australia and he becomes a Member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales and a Commissioner for the Australian Agricultural Company. At some point he’s living in Port Stephens, he also has property outside Sydney and he’s advising the people on surveying and things of that sort. And he even sort of gets commissions and he comes across to New Zealand at one port and does a little survey there so he’s semiretired but he has a huge effect on people around him. And one of these people is a man called Robert Fitzroy who had taken over in charge of The Beagle on the first voyage to South America because the man who was commanding it had committed suicide, he’d cut his throat.
The conditions were so terrible, the storms, the rain and everything were so terrible that the commander just gave up and committed suicide, Fitzroy is given the position of taking over and he goes – one of the things that he does – it’s one of these very debatable actions – he takes four Fuegians back to Britain, the whole idea being that he will educate them so that they can then converse and take civilisation back to Tiera del Fuego. So they get back to Britain in 1830 and he’s expecting a second voyage to take them back to Tiera del Fuego. For a while that’s stopped but then the Admiralty relent and a second voyage for The Beagle is planned and you’ve all heard of this voyage, I think, because Fitzroy asks for a naturalist on board and the naturalist he gets is Charles Darwin. And so the second voyage of The Beagle who – it has this man, John Lort Stokes on board, is the one that has Charles Darwin on board.
Now everybody knows it because of Charles Darwin but in fact the proper purpose of the voyage was continuing the survey both of the Chilean coast and the Argentine coast. And they even go up – and this is the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador which they charted as well. This man, Fitzroy, is a strange character, he later becomes Governor of New Zealand. He has a terrible time, he’s not exactly the easiest person to work with. The British people, whatever you want to call them, that are already in New Zealand, don’t like him because he – a lot of the time he was siding with Maori people but he gets kicked out but he goes back – one thing that he does, weather forecasts, he starts weather forecasts in Britain and in fact very recently, a few years ago they’ve – one of the shipping forecast areas was renamed Fitzroy after him.
But like the man who took over before he commits suicide in about 1865, I think it was. But he was a very good cartographer, very good cartographer but as commander of the ship he delegates a lot of the work to a man called John Lort Stokes who is this guy, this is John Lort Stokes as an old man. He had joined The Beagle in 1825, he spent 18 years on this same ship in South American wars and after the second voyage, the third voyage of The Beagle, they come to Australia. He’s second in command when they come to Australia but this is an example of the charting that he was doing in South America. This is a river, the – the east coast of South America is over here and they walked up this river for about 25 days and Stokes did the charting of that so he was a very competent – from a very early age, competent surveyor.
But going back to the – on the second voyage, The Beagle voyage, Stokes and Darwin shared the cabin at the back of the boat and this is the cabin. This is the chart table up here, this huge area. Darwin slept over in the top corner, Stokes slept just over here on the right and Phillip Parker King’s son, Phillip Gidley King, slept on the right, there were three of them but they spent five years living together in this cabin and Stokes and Darwin became very good friends. And so when The Beagle comes to Australia in the 1840s and they venture up to the very northern coast of Australia they come to an inlet which they call Port Darwin so Darwin in Northern Territory is named through this connection here.
But these are some of the charts that Stokes did of Australia. The one on the top left is the bottom end of the Gulf of Carpentaria and one of the things that Stokes was doing on this particular voyage, whereas Flinders and Parker King had largely just done the coast Stokes and the people on this voyage, The Beagle, were taking little boats and walking up these rivers because they felt that there was the possibility of an inland sea or that there was fertile land etc and they wanted to find it. Stokes called this little bit of area the planes of promise, he was convinced that there was still something in there even though all of the rivers that they went up effectively came to nothing.
Stokes then goes back to Britain and then in 1848 he’s given charge of another ship, a steam vessel by this point, called The Acheron, and they come and the idea is that they will survey New Zealand. And what they do over the next couple of years is the first scientific you might call it proper survey of New Zealand. They’re nearly finished it when they get summonsed back to Britain. Stokes is one of these people that he probably would have had a much more illustrious career but he’s tended to speak his mind and when he got recalled he told them what he thought of them so he never really got any further in the Admiralty – in the Royal Navy. But having been recalled from New Zealand they had to wait in Sydney for a while for a ship to take them back to Britain and in that time he did a survey of the New South Wales coast so this is one of the best and detailed – early detailed maps of the New South Wales coast.
But these are two of the maps showing the legacy of John Lort Stokes. Australia on the left you might recognise, and New Zealand. All the maps of New Zealand up until this point are quite distorted, the interior – so the South Island, Te Waipounamu, is usually too thin etc but by this point we’re getting a true representation. Sadly Stokes is – it’s interesting, walking from the hotel to here I’m going past Flinders Street and Bligh Street and everything like that but Stokes doesn’t get a look-in which is very sad. But he wasn’t even then finished with Australia because he then made representations to the Royal Geographical Society suggesting that there needed to be an interior expedition across from the west coast through the centre of Australia. And he was given – he was expecting to lead it. The Duke of Northumberland who was the Colonial Secretary expected him to lead it and then the Admiralty said no, you can’t go so he didn’t actually do it. And Augustus Gregory led an expedition in his stead.
But in a way to come full circle Stokes – as I said we had this line from Cook through Bligh, Flinders, Parker King, Fitzroy to John Lort Stokes. John Lort Stokes was quite open that his hero was James Cook and so sailing up the west coast of Te Waipounamu in 1851 he sees – da, da, sees this particular mountain from the other side, not from this side, and he named it Mt Cook, now known more properly as Aoraki Mt Cook. And that’s it, thank you. If anyone has any questions.
M: Five, 10 minutes for questions so question there and if you could just wait for the microphone, please.
A: Thank you, very interesting. Given your history that you're interested in, having travelled the Pacific for 70 years and realising how big it is, Cook is credited with finding little specks in the middle of nowhere. Did he have prior knowledge that goes back from the history you’ve just given us or did he really find those places? And if so how?
J: I think we’ll be back into the <inaudible> 32:44 talking about Cook. He was using methodology that he’d learnt as part of his surveying etc but I think he also was using very similar skills that the people of the Pacific were using as well and watching for the swells of the sea. He was watching for flotsam and the jetsam on the water, he was watching birds if they saw birds and reckoning you know that’s probably a land bird and cloud formations and all sorts of things so he was using all sorts of things to help him move towards places. Probably he was very lucky as well. I sort of – I mean when you think about it people like Magellan managed – I sort of think in terms of the nucleus and everything you know and various electrons that just move all the way through without hitting anything. Magellan and Bougainville and people like that tend – and Byron – tended to go through this ocean and they really didn’t know what they were doing or looking for and they didn’t find anything whereas I think Cook had again a thing I’ve used before, he was like a pinball machine, he seemed to bounce from one place to another. So he had skill, he used all sorts of skills, he had a lot of luck.
A: <inaudible> 34:32.
A: <inaudible> 34:33.
J: Well I mean people like [Mayer and Charlton] 34:38 had crossed the Pacific, Magellan had crossed the Pacific but they hadn’t really seen very much and their ability to pinpoint places was not particularly good. I mean this is – going back more like a couple of hundred years earlier, you had the Spanish Mendana who finds what he calls the Solomon Islands and when he tries 20 years later he can’t find them because his ability to pinpoint things was just not there. So sometimes these people, if they’ve found somewhere they didn’t necessarily know where it was.
A: I was wondering if you looked at the various maps and charts that Dalrymple had prepared that they actually took on the Cook voyage where he had <inaudible> 35:48 the information from the various Dutch and Spanish and so on explorers.
J: Did people hear that? I don’t know. The lady was asking about – I mentioned Alexander Dalrymple who would later become the hydrographer of the navy but way back in – ‘round about the 17 – late 1760s, 1770s he had done a lot of work establishing what the Spanish had done, what other people had done in the Pacific and produce charts that did record everything to that point. So yes, I mean – I’m sorry, I have seen them and Cook would have been aware of some of this.
A: <inaudible> 36:41 went with the exhibition and of course he was also expecting to command the expedition to the transit of Venus but was replaced by Cook.
J: Well he – yeah, he had been one of the people who had been one of the prime movers for the transit of Venus voyage but the Royal Navy effectively said you can’t have a civilian in command of a Royal Navy ship and Dalrymple then said well if I’m not going in command I won’t go and the Royal Navy said good.
M: Question here and then one behind.
A: John, can you say something about Cook, the man and how he behaved in Australia, what he might have done differently, what he did do, how things may have been different?
J: Cook, the man. I –
A: Thinking about <inaudible> 37:54 turtles, the way he landed in Botany Bay and what he was like.
J: Well I’ve long berated Joseph Banks for all that he perpetuated Cook’s myth eventually, if he had done anything about him he would have written a biography of Cook. The first biography of Cook is written by a man called Kippis who didn’t meet Cook but it was done about five years after Cook dies and basically actually it’s not a biography, it’s just another retelling of the ship’s narratives. And it’s very poorly researched, I don’t think he even talked to Mrs Cook so it doesn’t offer us anything about Cook, the person. I think - we know that James Boswell who was the sidekick of Dr Johnson met Cook before the third voyage and expressed an interest in going and Johnson I think talked him out of it. I think if Boswell had gone we would have probably got a description of him as a person that we don’t possess from anyone else.
So we are – we tend you know I think of him as being a very serious man, I don’t think – I’ve been quoted on this before – I don't think he would have been the life and soul of the party, I can’t imagine him standing there telling jokes and things of that sort. I think he took his job and everything to do with it extremely seriously. I think you’ve then got to take into account that he didn’t have a particularly robust education. In so many things he was self-taught. Then he’s put in charge of a ship coming to the Pacific. Now he’d been master of 400-men ships in the Royal Navy so he had – and he then looked after a 20 – he’d been in total command of a 20-man survey vessel so he had leadership skills, he knew how to get the best out of men and I think on the – I think one of his qualities on all the voyages was that the men knew he’d come up from the ranks so if he sent them up the rigging they knew he’d done it, they knew that he could do it if he had to.
So he had certain qualities like that but like so many people he was coming into a completely new environment where there was no training for anything like that and you had then this whole thing of the contact on the shore where you have people coming together with total communication difficulty, totally different cultural concepts etc, that things happened. There’s part of me that is more surprised that more terrible things didn’t happen. It’s very hard to really comment too much about it.
A: <inaudible> 41:25 when he met indigenous people <inaudible>?
J: The gentleman’s asking about Cook listening to Moreton who was the President of the Royal Society who sent out these instructions that Cook was meant to adhere to in meeting local people. I think he tried to wherever possible but often events – people with him, I mean on the terrible first incident at Gisborne you know somebody tried to pick up a musket and Monkhouse, the surgeon, shoots the man. So you know you can tell people not to do something, not to do something but suddenly things happen and they blow out and terrible things happen. So I think he tried but he wasn’t always able to control everything.
M: I think we have one last question here.
A: Can you just clarify Cook’s titles on his various voyages and how he was addressed? ‘Cause I know he was appointed Lieutenant.
J: You’ve seen The Herald today.
A: No, I haven’t, actually.
J: There’s a half page article in The Sydney Morning Herald. Cook was - on The Grenville up until 1767 he was the Master of that vessel. The Master was the senior non-commissioned officer on the ship. In fact on that thing there were no commissioned officers so he was the Master but he would have been addressed as a courtesy as Captain. He then was appointed to go on The Endeavour and The Endeavour is a much bigger vessel, it can hold about 70 odd crew. In order to do that he had to be commissioned. Thankfully for Cook he had the experience, he had whatever. He passed his Lieutenant’s commission exam and so he became a Lieutenant so he was on The Endeavour, Lieutenant Cook but again as a courtesy he would be addressed as Captain. At the end of The Endeavour voyage he is promoted to Commander so for the second voyage he is Commander Cook, again he will be addressed as Captain Cook. After the second voyage he is promoted – the term is usually called Post-Captain but in fact you can reduce it to Captain. The Sydney Morning Herald thing talks about different – there really wasn’t a thing, he was Captain now and as such he would be Captain Cook.
If he had come back after the third voyage and he had survived, because he’s now got to that level he would rise up the ranks, all he had to do was keep alive, he would have become an Admiral and he would have – if he’d lived long enough he could have been Admiral of the Fleet because it wasn’t down to ability or anything else, it was just – you just – as people died off you went up. So he was courtesy then Captain Cook throughout but he was only Captain Cook in reality from the third voyage.
A: If writing about him for The Endeavour voyage though in text, for example, should you be writing Lieutenant Cook or Captain Cook?
J: I think it probably depends on the context. I don’t think it would matter if you would put Captain Cook. I think if anyone questioned it I would probably say they were being pedantic.
M: Sorry, we’ve got to move on to the next talk. Please let us all thank John.
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