A Man with a Mission: Peter Kingdon Booker

Lynne Booker 

Peter Kingdon Booker
Peter Kingdon Booker

On 19 October, Peter Kingdon Booker will give his 50th different presentation on Portuguese and Algarvean history. He began in the Museu do Trajo in São Brás and subsequently moved to giving his presentations in the Municipal Library in Tavira and the Convento São José in Lagoa. He has addressed the British Historical Society of Portugal in both Lisbon and Porto and the Friends of the British Cemetery at Elvas and The Rotary Club of Estoi. He has also given a number of dinner and talk presentations on the Peninsular War. Peter´s particular interest is the history of the Algarve and more generally, the history of Portugal. "There is very little written in the English language about the history of the Algarve," says Peter, "and yet there are so many non-Portuguese living here in the Algarve, many of whom would like to know more. It is my enthusism for Portuguese history which inspires me, and I suppose that it is my mission to share this knowledge with other people. In Parafuso [in São Brás] I was once introduced as a historian of Portugal to a fellow Briton, to which he said “Ah, the Peninsular War!” A part of my mission is to show that there is far more to Portuguese history than that.” He uses Portuguese language sources where possible to give the Portuguese side of the story. How many Britons for example know about the Ultimatum of 1890, something which every Portuguese schoolchild learns? How many Britons know that Portuguese resented the fact that, after success in the Peninsular War, the British army would not go home? Luckily many Portuguese books are available to him through the good offices of the Director of the Museu do Trajo in São Brás.

 

After an interlude of 28 years (he worked in human resources with the National Coal Board, also taking an MBA from the Open University) Peter is at last fulfilling his dream of continuing his serious research of Portuguese history. Peter went from Abingdon School to study history at Pembroke College, Cambridge as an Exhibitioner. "There was never any doubt in my mind about the subject I would study. As a child, I was fascinated by the White Horse at Uffington on the Berkshire Downs, where we used to picnic as a family," said Peter. "One of my supervisors at Cambridge was Norman Stone, an outspoken critic of twentieth century nationalism. Parts of Europe still suffer from narrow nationalist attitudes, and we should make efforts to understand people from different nationalities, in particular our hosts here in Portugal. Portuguese are justly proud of their contribution to world history, and as their guests in this corner of Europe, we should understand both their language and their heritage out of courtesy to them." Portugal created the first European seaborne empire but the pioneer historian of Portugal´s trailblazing role was English, and a defining historic moment for Peter was meeting the late Professor C R Boxer (1904 – 2000). "Boxer´s prolific work stands the test of time and no other historian approaches his stature or breadth of knowledge of the history of Portuguese expansion."

 

Living now in the Algarve, Peter intends to make his mark by studying in greater detail the history of the people, towns and fortifications of the Algarve, and by sharing his knowledge with a wider audience. A recent presentation touching on the Algarve was "The Jews in Portugal" which attracted over 150 people. There have been requests for a repeat by those who missed the talk and lecture number 50 will explore the Sephardic diaspora following the expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Rachel Barnard, now retired but previously Principal Lecturer and head of politics at the University of Westminster in London, has promised to help on this topic. Peter is receptive to offers of help in the research effort.

 

The fact that more than 400 different people have now attended one or more of these presentations reflects the level of expatriate interest in Algarvean and Portuguese history. Peter´s methods of presentation - using Portuguese and English as well as a wide range of photographic and diagrammatic sources - makes his presentations more accessible to Portuguese native speakers and also to those expatriates whose first language is not English. He often unearths interesting and amusing anecdotes which make his talks "entertaining as well as being informative" according to Jean Barrett. Noel Shore, Baron Teignmouth said in 1899 that looking out from Faro esplanade at low tide, he was reminded of nothing so much as Weston–super-Mare. Jean attended Peter´s recent talk on Foreigners in the Algarve. and went on to say "... we will definitely come again". His all round historical knowledge is useful when tangential questions arise after a presentation. There are many who attend regularly at either the Lagoa and Tavira meetings and there are always new people as well as some Portuguese. Capitão Arnaldo Anica, the Portuguese local historian of Tavira, famously rose in the middle of one presentation and went to the front of the room. We all wondered what would come next, but the Captain made an impassioned speech of welcome and thanks to the foreigner for his research and presentation and also to the audience for showing such interest in Portugal´s history!

 

Peter´s talks have ranged over all aspects of Portugal´s history from the date of its foundation. When asked if he would soon be running out of subjects he replied, " I don´t think there is any danger of that. The more I learn, the more I want to know and as time passes, it will also be appropriate to revisit certain topics." It seems many of his audience feel the same way too. Whilst many people passively prefer to learn by listening, more people are beginning to contribute to the Algarve History Association monthly newsletter and to take on such administrative tasks as keeping the website up to date. In the near future, two guest speakers will make presentations. In September, David Johnson will present ´The Romans in the Algarve´and in December Ronald B Thompson will present on ´The Church of São Roque´. For Peter the historical mission is a labour of love and an ingenious and unusual way to avoid the garden!

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