Podcast Episode 189: The “Wild White Man”


In 1835, settlers in Australia discovered a European man dressed in kangaroo skins, a convict who had escaped an earlier settlement and spent 32 years living among the natives of southern Victoria. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the extraordinary life of William Buckley, the so-called “wild white man” of colonial Australia.

We’ll also try to fend off scurvy and puzzle over some colorful letters.


Radar pioneer Sir Robert Watson-Watt wrote a poem about ironically being stopped by a radar gun.

The programming language Ook! is designed to be understood by orangutans.

Sources for our feature on William Buckley:

John Morgan, Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 1852.

R.S. Brain, Letters From Victorian Pioneers, 1898.

Francis Peter Labillière, Early History of the Colony of Victoria, 1878.

James Bonwick, Port Phillip Settlement, 1883.

William Thomas Pyke, Savage Life in Australia, 1889.

Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke, Stories of Australia in the Early Days, 1897.

John M. White, “Before the Mission Station: From First Encounters to the Incorporation of Settlers Into Indigenous Relations of Obligation,” in Natasha Fijn, Ian Keen, Christopher Lloyd, and Michael Pickering, eds., Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies II, 2012.

Patrick Brantlinger, “Eating Tongues: Australian Colonial Literature and ‘the Great Silence’,” Yearbook of English Studies 41:2 (2011), 125-139.

Richard Broome, “Buckley, William,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sept. 23, 2004.

Marjorie J. Tipping, “Buckley, William (1780–1856),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1966.

Reminiscenses of James Buckley Who Lived for Thirty Years Among the Wallawarro or Watourong Tribes at Geelong Port Phillip, Communicated by Him to George Langhorne (manuscript), State Library of Victoria (accessed Jan. 28, 2018).

“William Buckley,” Culture Victoria (accessed Jan. 28, 2018).

Jill Singer, “Here’s a True Hero,” [Melbourne] Herald Sun, June 8, 2001, 22.

“Australia’s Most Brazen, Infamous Jailbreaks,” ABC Premium News, Aug. 19, 2015.

“Extraordinary Tale of Our Early Days,” Centralian Advocate, April 6, 2010, 13.

Bridget McManus, “Buckley’s Story Revisited: Documentary,” The Age, April 8, 2010, 15.

Albert McKnight, “Legend Behind Saying ‘You’ve Got Buckley’s’,” Bega District News, Oct. 21, 2016, 11.

David Adams, “Wild Man Lives Anew,” [Melbourne] Sunday Age, Feb. 16, 2003, 5.

Leighton Spencer, “Convict Still a Controversial Figure,” Echo, Jan. 10, 2013, 14.

“Fed: Museum Buys Indigenous Drawings of Convict,” AAP General News Wire, April 23, 2012.

The drawing above is Buckley Ran Away From Ship, by the Koorie artist Tommy McRae, likely drawn in the 1880s. From Culture Victoria.

Listener mail:

Yoshifumi Sugiyama and Akihiro Seita, “Kanehiro Takaki and the Control of Beriberi in the Japanese Navy,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 106:8 (August 2013), 332–334.

Wikipedia, “Takaki Kanehiro” (accessed Feb. 9, 2018).

Yoshinori Itokawa, “Kanehiro Takaki (1849–1920): A Biographical Sketch,” Journal of Nutrition 106:5, 581–8.

Alan Hawk, “The Great Disease Enemy, Kak’ke (Beriberi) and the Imperial Japanese Army,” Military Medicine 171:4 (April 2006), 333-339.

Alexander R. Bay, Beriberi in Modern Japan: The Making of a National Disease, 2012.

“Scott and Scurvy,” Idle Words, March 6, 2010.

Marcus White, “James Lind: The Man Who Helped to Cure Scurvy With Lemons,” BBC News, Oct. 4, 2016.

Jonathan Lamb, “Captain Cook and the Scourge of Scurvy,” BBC History, Feb. 17, 2011.

Wikipedia, “Vitamin C: Discovery” (accessed Feb. 9, 2018).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Miles, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 188: The Bat Bomb


During World War II, the U.S. Army experimented with a bizarre plan: using live bats to firebomb Japanese cities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the crazy history of the bat bomb, the extraordinary brainchild of a Pennsylvania dentist.

We’ll also consider the malleable nature of mental illness and puzzle over an expensive quiz question.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 187: A Human Being in the Bronx Zoo


The Bronx Zoo unveiled a controversial exhibit in 1906 — a Congolese man in a cage in the primate house. The display attracted jeering crowds to the park, but for the man himself it was only the latest in a string of indignities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the sad tale of Ota Benga and his life in early 20th-century America.

We’ll also delve into fugue states and puzzle over a second interstate speeder.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 186: The Children’s Blizzard


In January 1888, after a disarming warm spell, a violent storm of blinding snow and bitter cold suddenly struck the American Midwest, trapping farmers in fields, travelers on roads, and hundreds of children in schoolhouses with limited fuel. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Children’s Blizzard, one of the most harrowing winter storms in American history.

We’ll also play 20 Questions with a computer and puzzle over some vanishing vultures.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 185: The Man From Formosa


In 1703, London had a strange visitor, a young man who ate raw meat and claimed that he came from an unknown country on the island of Taiwan. Though many doubted him, he was able to answer any question he was asked, and even wrote a best-selling book about his homeland. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the curious question of the man from Formosa.

We’ll also scrutinize a stamp forger and puzzle over an elastic Utah.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 183: An Everest Mystery

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1924 two British mountaineers set out to be the first to conquer Mount Everest. But they never returned to camp, and to this day no one knows whether they reached the top. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the case of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, which has been called “one of the greatest unsolved adventure mysteries of the 20th century.”

We’ll also learn what to do if attacked by a bear and puzzle over the benefits of a water shortage.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 182: The Compulsive Wanderer


In the 1870s, French gas fitter Albert Dadas started making strange, compulsive trips to distant towns, with no planning or awareness of what he was doing. His bizarre affliction set off a 20-year epidemic of “mad travelers” in Europe, which evaporated as mysteriously as it had begun. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the parable of pathological tourism and its meaning for psychiatry.

We’ll also contemplate the importance of sick chickens and puzzle over a farmyard contraption.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 181: Operation Gunnerside


During World War II, the Allies feared that Germany was on the brink of creating an atomic bomb. To prevent this, they launched a dramatic midnight commando raid to destroy a key piece of equipment in the mountains of southern Norway. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll remember Operation Gunnerside, “one of the most daring and important undercover operations of World War II.”

We’ll also learn what to say when you’re invading Britain and puzzle over the life cycle of cicadas.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 180: An Academic Impostor

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Marvin Hewitt never finished high school, but he taught advanced physics, engineering, and mathematics under assumed names at seven different schools and universities between 1945 and 1953. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the curious career of an academic impostor, whose story has been called “one of the strangest academic hoaxes in history.”

We’ll also try on a flashproof scarf and puzzle over why a healthy man would check into a hospital.

See full show notes …