Untold lives blog

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19 September 2017

'I have made resolutions to be good': letters of Princess Charlotte to her tutor

Can you imagine the 19th century without Queen Victoria? If the young Princess Charlotte, only legitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales, had not died in childbirth in 1817, aged 21, she could have succeeded her father George IV to the throne in 1830 – and perhaps been quite a different sort of Queen.

Charlotte was the only child of an unhappy marriage between George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Her parents lived apart for most of their marriage and fought constantly over their daughter, at the same time neglecting her in a way that would seem cruel today. George was determined Charlotte should never be alone with her mother. George and Caroline’s quarrels were public knowledge – the Prince instigated more than one investigation into his wife’s morals, while living openly with his mistress, and Princess Caroline’s own behaviour was less than discreet. The country took sides, and Charlotte became for many the focus of future hopes for the monarchy.

Expectations of the young Princess were high. Judging her education and training to be of some importance, her grandfather George III appointed John Fisher, later Bishop of Salisbury, as her ‘preceptor’ and the Reverend George Frederick Nott as ‘sub-preceptor’.  Nott was responsible for  religious instruction, Latin, English and ancient history.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, by Marie Anne Bourlier, published by Edward Harding, after Sir Thomas Lawrence. Stipple engraving, published 19 May 1806. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Library has recently acquired 31 letters from the young Princess Charlotte to Mr Nott, written between 1805 and 1808 when she was aged 9 to 12 (Papers of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, Add MS 89259). Nott was a regular visitor to Warwick House, where Charlotte lived alone with her appointed carers. As the letters show, he was an important figure in the Princess’s life. The letters are signed affectionately; she enquires anxiously after his health; she even ‘wishes he were here’.

  Christmas 1805 p.2-3
'I wish you had been of the party': Charlotte’s description of Christmas Day in a letter dated 29 December 1805. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

But things didn’t always go smoothly. Charlotte’s school work and behaviour often fell short. Contemporary accounts describe her as lively and rebellious. There are tales of her throwing the Bishop’s wig into the fireplace, standing behind him imitating his mannerisms, and getting up to mischief with her young playmate George Keppel. What’s more, writing and spelling were not her strong suit. Nott had many occasions to rebuke Charlotte, prompting pained expressions of contrition on her part.

My dear Mr Nott I assure you Early undated (2)
'I have made resolutions to be good'. Undated letter, around 1805-1806. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Were these authentic expressions of remorse, or was the young Princess simply playing the game? She was sincere, she protested, time and again.

My dear Mr Nott I cannot help (4)
“It is not cant, but sincere words from my heart, I feel it”. Undated letter, around 1805-1806. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Charlotte’s letters show a childish mixture of spontaneity (‘do, do forgive me my dear Mr Nott’), and amusingly formal turns of phrase (‘Feeling conscious my dear Mr Nott how much I must appear to deserve your reproaches for my long silence’, 26 August 1807). The same variety is seen in her handwriting – sometimes careful, at other times hastily scrawled and crossed out. As Charlotte’s epistolary style matures over the four years, we also see her best handwriting gradually evolve from round, carefully formed letters to a rapid, rather spidery hand.

These letters, in Charlotte’s own hand, breathe life into her story. She may never have excelled at ‘Lattin’, but the strength of feeling evident in the letters foreshadows the determination she would display a few years later, when steadfastly refusing to marry against her own inclination.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

Further reading:

Add MS 89259 Papers of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, canon of St George’s Chapel Windsor, and superintendent of the education of Princess Charlotte, 1758-1849
Add MS 82586 Correspondence of Princess Charlotte with her tutor George Frederick Nott, 1805-1809 (transcripts). Papers of Lord Chancellor Eldon, volume 6
Add MS 58865, ff. 167-178v Papers of Lord Grenville concerning the education of Princess Charlotte, 1804-1806. Dropmore Papers, volume 11
Add MS 86491 Letters to Fisher, chiefly from or relating to Princess Charlotte Augusta, 1816, and undated. Fisher Correspondence. Vol. 3 

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.


Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.


British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.


  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)


12 September 2017

A Dust-up in the Desert: Hostilities on the 1931 Citroën Expedition across Asia


Sand hills of the Gobi Desert. Source: Francis Edward Younghusband, The Heart of a continent: a narrative of travels in Manchuria, across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral, 1884-1894. British Library: 010057.i.7. Flicker:

On 1 June 1931, in the desolate heat of the Gobi Desert, French naval officer Lieutenant Victor Point beat up and threatened to shoot a Chinese government official. 

Both Point and the Chinese official, Mr Hoh Ching-sheng, were part of a Sino-French scientific expedition organised by the industrialist André Citroën. The project, known as the Croisiere Jaune (Yellow Crossing) was led by the French explorer and General Manager of Citröen, Georges-Marie Haardt.

The expedition comprised two caravans of Citroën vehicles equipped with caterpillar tracks capable of tackling rough terrain. The first team was led by Haardt and embarked from Beirut, heading eastwards. The second team, led by Point, embarked from Beijing and headed westwards. The two team planned to converge somewhere in central Asia.


Haardt (second left) with representatives of the National Geographical Society in December 1930, making preparations for the 1931 expedition. Source: Library of Congress picture library ( Public Domain.

The aims of Haardt's project were much the same as other excursions by Europeans into Asia over the previous century: to collect scientific data, map previously uncharted regions, and explore the continent’s archaeological sites. Haardt took with him the latest technologies in colour photography and film production, as well as a team of artists, historians, archaeologists and geologists.

While Haardt’s progress through Syria, Iraq and Iran was relatively straightforward, Point’s trek through the Gobi Desert, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, was beset with political difficulties. Throughout the 1920s Chinese attitudes toward western imperialism had hardened. Conscious of the reputations that many European explorers had acquired for plundering Asia’s archaeological sites for the benefit of museums in London, Paris and Berlin, Chinese officials were determined to impose tight restrictions on such expeditions, including those planned by Point through Xinjiang. These included a ban on the removal of antiquities, as well as on the taking of photographs and film footage.


Extract of a letter from the British Minister in China, dated 23 July 1931, reporting on the incident involving Lieutenant Point and Mr Hoh Ching-sheng. IOR/L/PS/12/4237.

It was on this last point that Lieutenant Point came to blows with Hoh Ching-sheng. The newspaper The Peking Leader reported on 18 June that: 

‘Lt Point was taking a motion picture of the surrounding landscape, when Mr Hoh unintentionally passed in front of the Frenchman’s camera […] in the altercation that ensued [Point] hit Mr Hoh right and left […] and said that he could shoot him [Hoh] if he wanted.’

The newspaper reported that the French party had repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement with their Chinese partners, and had ‘more than once taken pictures on the way of the disgraceful things of China, such as bound feet of the Chinese women’. In his own report of the incident, the British Minister to China commented on the ‘careless selection of French personnel to command the Chinese section of the Expedition.’

Point was eventually able to complete his part of the 1931 expedition. However, on his return to France the following year, he killed himself in a fit of jealousy, with a gunshot to the mouth, in front of his fiancé, the famous French actress Alice Cocéa.

Primary sources: 

British Library, London, Coll 37/5 Iraq: Persia, Chinese Turkestan, China, etc: Citroen Co's expedition under M. George Haardt (IOR/L/PS/12/4237)


Mark Hobbs

Gulf History Content Specialist

Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme