THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

25 April 2017

William Close - “one deserving of remembrance”

How does one describe a surgeon, apothecary, hydraulic engineer, inventor, antiquarian, musician, artist, author and editor who was also responsible for saving the lives of the children of his village?  However,  'a little slender man, very clever, but rather changeable... and one who devoted himself assiduously to his professional duties’  is the only contemporary comment which remains of Dr William Close (1797-1813).

The Furness peninsula at the turn of the 19th century provided an interesting environment for a man with Dr Close’s enquiring mind, and he supervised the medical welfare of a variety of people in that region, including agricultural labourers, miners, and factory workers.

Infectious diseases were inevitably rife, and the young were particularly vulnerable, so in 1799, only three years after the development of the vaccine against smallpox, Close inoculated all the poor children of the nearby village of Rampside at his own expense (despite not being a wealthy man).  Within five years, small pox was duly eradicated from the area.

Close 1

 This image is copied from one of Close’s engravings of Furness Abbey used to decorate the cover of The Antiquities of Furness.

Close was also interested in the history of his neighbourhood and was keen to record and preserve local landmarks for future generations. He illustrated and supplemented Thomas West’s The Antiquities of Furness (1805) from his house at 2 Castle Street, Dalton in Furness.  The building is now marked by a blue plaque

Close 2

 Plate indicating the improvements to trumpets suggested by Close reproduced from the Proceedings of the Barrow Naturalists Field Club.

Music, in particular the improvement of brass instruments, was another of Close’s passions.  Volume XVIII of Proceedings of The Barrow Naturalists’ Field Club gives a thorough account of his progress (though this perhaps somewhat over-estimates the lure of such a topic!).

Close was clearly a polymath, his interests ranging from methods of improving the permanency of black ink to the development of safer types of explosives and land drainage technology.  He gave evidence of his research in the form of detailed letters to journals of various kinds.

Sadly this far-seeing man died of tuberculosis on Sunday 27 June 1813, aged just 38.

P J M Marks
Curator of Bookbindings, Early Printed Collections

Further reading:
Damian Gardner-Thorpe, Christopher Gardner-Thorpe and John Pearn ‘William Close (1775-1813): medicine, music, ink and engines in the Lake District’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2004 Dec; 97(12): 599–602. 

Picturing Places - English Landscape Bindings by Philippa Marks

20 April 2017

Gerald Wellesley’s secret family

In the 18th century it was not unusual for East India Company servants to have Indian wives or mistresses. Children of these unions were often openly acknowledged.  Attitudes began to change after 1800 and there was a growing tendency to try to keep such families secret. Company official Gerald Wellesley provided for his children born to an Indian woman in the 1820s but stopped short of giving them his name or recognising them publicly as his offspring.

Gerald Wellesley (1790-1833) was the son of Richard, Marquess Wellesley, Governor-General of India 1798-1805. Educated at Eton and at East India College in Hertfordshire, Gerald was appointed to the Bengal Civil Service in 1807. He spent many years as Resident in the Princely State of Indore.

Indore X108(15)

Indore from William Simpson's 'India: Ancient and Modern X108(15) Online Gallery

Gerald had three children with a woman whose name has been recorded as ‘Culoo’: Agnes Maria (born 6 May 1825), Charles Alfred (born 19 January 1827), and Frances Jane (born 23 December 1827).  After a successful career in India, Gerald decided to return to England. In 1830 his children travelled to England under the surname Fitzgerald on the ship Charles Kerr in the care of Maria Elizabeth Lermit and her sister Jane Baker.  Maria was the widow of Captain Alfred Lermit of the Bengal Native Infantry.

The ship arrived at Deal on 29 June 1830.  On 10 July 1830 at St George Hanover Square London Maria Lermit married James Vaughan, newly retired from the Madras Civil Service and a fellow passenger on board the Charles Kerr.  The three Fitzgerald children were baptised at Trinity Church Marylebone on 9 August 1830 with their parents named as Charles and Culoo Fitzgerald of 29 Carburton Street.

Gerald travelled back from India overland via the Middle East and Europe. His journey was fraught with difficulty after he collapsed in Belgrade. He eventually arrived in London in December 1832.

  Wellesley arrives in London 1832
  Morning Post 11 December 1832 British Newspaper Archive

Just seven months later, on 22 July 1833, Gerald Wellesley died at the home of his brother Henry in Flitton Bedfordshire. In his will Gerald bequeathed life annuities of £150 for his three ‘protegés or adopted Children’, Agnes, Charles and Frances Fitzgerald.  He named as their guardian Maria Vaughan or, in the case of her death, Jane Baker, ‘being confident they will discharge the trust in the way I could wish’.  An annuity of £100 was provided for the guardian.  The reminder of his estate was shared between the children of his late brother Richard; his brother Henry; and his sisters Anne and Hyacinthe.

Frances Fitzgerald died in Marylebone in May 1834 aged 6 years. I have been unable to discover what happened to her brother Charles, but her sister Agnes grew to adulthood living with her guardian’s family.  James Vaughan died in 1833 and Maria was remarried in 1838 to Colonel Andrew Creagh.  In the 1841 census, Agnes was with the Creaghs in Hastings, and in 1851 she and the now thrice-widowed Maria were lodging together in Cheltenham.  In 1856 Agnes married Edward Bullock Finlay, a Church of England priest.  Agnes died on 27 October 1908 aged 83.  I wonder how much she knew of her Wellesley and Indian heritage?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/J/21 ff.221-223 Gerald Wellesley’s writer’s petition (digital image available via findmypast together with many other family history sources from the India Office Records)
Gerald Wellesley’s will - The National Archives PROB 11/1820/462
Marylebone baptismal records are held at London Metropolitan Archives
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History (2016)

 

18 April 2017

Captain Ross muses on the ice

Captain, later Sir, John Ross was one of the first Royal Navy officers sent by Sir John Barrow in search of the Northwest Passage. Barrow, presiding over huge Naval resources after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, was determined the Navy would finally discover the fabled Northwest Passage and, in turn, underscore Britain’s oceanic prestige to the world. Fitting out ships with crews of distinguished war veterans Barrow began one of the most significant non-military campaigns in the Royal Navy’s history and Ross represented one of the most trusted officers at his disposal.

Leaving London’s docks on 18 April 1818 Ross set out to chart the Arctic coast of North America but the captain took with him significant personal interests in the icescapes, peoples, flora and fauna he would encounter on the journey. Indeed, Ross’s account of the voyage, published in 1819, is notable for the various scientific and anthropological studies he relates, as well as his musings on the shape and form of ice. Some of Ross’s depictions of the ice are reproduced as accompanying illustrations to the text, including the two ‘Remarkable Iceberg(s)’ illustrating this post.

A Remarkable Iceberg (Ross June 1818)

 ‘A Remarkable Iceberg, June 17th, 1818’ from Ross, J. (1819), A Voyage of Discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in his Majesty’s ships ‘Isabella’ and ‘Alexander’ for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and enquiring into the possibility of a North-West Passage. G.7399

Ross’s icescapes are grand and sublime, overawing the crew with their stature and beauty in the light of the Arctic summer. The text and other illustrations for the publication also show how this sublime beauty can easily become a source of terror, as the ships and their crews become imperilled by the power and capriciousness of the Arctic ice. This ability of ice to shift dramatically from sublime beauty to source of terror is played with to great effect in Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Published the year after the return of Ross the novel highlights how modern men can be overpowered by natural forces still beyond their control.

 A Remarkable Iceberg (Ross July 1818)

‘A Remarkable Iceberg, July, 1818’ from  Ross, J. (1819), A Voyage of Discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in his Majesty’s ships ‘Isabella’ and ‘Alexander’ for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and enquiring into the possibility of a North-West Passage. G.7399

Despite making good progress in the summer months Ross turned around and headed home after entering Lancaster Sound. Ross claimed he saw mountains blocking further passage into the Sound but other members of his crew did not have the chance to verify Ross’s sighting. It is possible that Ross saw a mirage and took this as good reason to turn back for England, but could it also be that his musings on the ice had spooked him? It is possible, Ross’s illustrations show his awareness of the fragility of human bodies and ships to the overwhelming power of the ice, but then it is also possible Ross genuinely believed the Northwest Passage would not be found that way – or indeed any way.

Whatever the reason for his return from the Arctic, Ross’s decision earned him the ire of Sir John Barrow who was furious his captain had returned after posing so little challenge to the Passage. He would attack Ross, directly and anonymously, through the rest of his career and was delighted when Ross’s second in command, W. E. Parry, contradicted the reports of his captain. Barrow’s search for the Northwest Passage was not yet finished.

Philip Hatfield
Lead Curator for Digital Mapping

Further reading:
For more musings on Icescapes, see Philip’s Picturing Places essay, ‘Icescapes: Printing the Arctic’.
Hatfield, P.J. (2016), Lines in the Ice: exploring the roof of the world, London: British Library Publishing
Potter, R. A. (2007), Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818 - 1875, Seattle: University of Washington Press
Williams, G. (2011), Arctic Labyrinth, Berkley: University of California Press