THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

14 posts from April 2018

30 April 2018

‘Most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin’: William D. Hamilton

To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre we present the second of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. Today William D. Hamilton.

  Hamilton-1A
William D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard, 1978. Copyright © Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

According to Richard Dawkins, William Donald Hamilton was ‘a good candidate for the title of most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin’. Hamilton (1936-2000) was an eager naturalist during his childhood years, collecting and botanising in Kent – just a few miles from where Darwin lived. He studied genetics at Cambridge and became intrigued by the ideas of Ronald A. Fisher, one of the founding fathers of Neo-Darwinism, the marriage between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendelian genetics.

After Cambridge, he started a PhD jointly supervised at the Galton Laboratory at University College and the London School of Economics. In his autobiographical writings he recalled feeling lonely, unappreciated and unsupported – his project to study the genetics of altruism did not meet much encouragement. Hamilton remembered being introduced to John Maynard Smith but unfortunately, nothing came of that brief encounter.

Hamilton-2
Detail from a draft page of ‘Genetical Models for the Evolution of Competitive and Social Behaviour.’ eventually published as ‘The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’. Copyright © Christine Hamilton.

The important result of his graduate work was ‘Hamilton’s Rule’, which solved the puzzle of altruism by taking what we now think of as a gene’s eye view of nature. Altruism had been a problem for evolutionary studies since Darwin's day, as one would expect that animals want to increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not help others increase theirs. In 1964, Hamilton published a ground-breaking two-part paper on ‘The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’. 'In brief outline,' Hamilton wrote, 'the theory points out that […] a gene may receive positive selection even though disadvantageous to its bearers if it causes them to confer sufficiently large advantages on relatives' because 'relatives, on account of their common ancestry, tend to carry replicas of the same gene.' That is, altruism evolved because it guarantees that genes are passed on to the next generation through relatives, and the closer one is related, the higher the degree of altruism. For instance, you share ½ of your genes with your siblings and parents, ¼ with your grandparents, and 1/8 with full cousins.

In his later career and after some time at Michigan University between 1978 and 1984, Hamilton was research professor of the Royal Society and fellow of New College Oxford, working in Oxford's Zoology Department. Among other things, he studied parasites and their evolutionary impact. Throughout his life he undertook several expeditions to the Brazilian jungle, following his childhood natural history adventures in Kent, and later to the Congo, where he was looking for evidence regarding a theory on the origins of AIDS. Recognition for his ideas often came late, as many biologists had difficulties with Hamilton's mathematics or because the ideas were buried in obscure remarks in book reviews or papers already dealing with other topics. But his 1964 paper is now one of the most cited works in biology, and in 1993, he was awarded the Crafoord Prize (biology's equivalent to a Nobel Prize) for his work on genetics and altruism.

Helen Piel
PhD candidate, University of Leeds and the British Library

Further reading:

Ullica Segerstrale (2013). Nature’s Oracle. The Life and Work of W. D. Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Marek Kohn (2004). A Reason for Everything. Natural Selection and the English Imagination. London: faber and faber

William D. Hamilton (1998, 2001). Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Vol. I and Vol. II.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

Related articles

Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning

24 April 2018

A Danish sailor befriended and buried in Norfolk

In September 1881 an inquest was held at a cottage in the Norfolk village of Gooderstone.  The coroner was investigating the death of a young Dane who had been living there with agricultural labourer William English, his wife Sarah, and their eight year-old son George.

The Danish lad had arrived in Gooderstone on Sunday 4 September.  He called at one cottage and made signs to show that he was hungry.  Having been given some bread and butter, he moved on to the home of the English family.  They were eating their dinner.  Sarah could not understand what the young man was saying but she was moved by his sad and distressed appearance.  She invited him to share their frugal meal of Norfolk dumplings and gravy, afterwards offering him a place to stay.

SailorFrom Real Sailor-Songs collected and edited by J. Ashton (London, 1891), p.229 BL flickr  Noc

The visitor managed to explain with a few written words in English that he had been a sailor in a Danish ship.  He claimed to have been shipwrecked on 28 August. After he and a companion had been in the water for five hours, they were picked up by a fishing boat and taken to King’s Lynn harbour.  There the two separated and he had begged his way to Gooderstone.  The inquest was told that the ship had been identified as the Eros and that the sailor had deserted.

The sailor helped his hosts by doing domestic chores, washing and ironing clothes with skill.  Mr Oldfield of Caldecote found him work in the fields. 

Oxborough - Frank English with  pitchforkAgricultural labourers at Oxborough during 1930s, including Frank English (middle front with pitchfork). Family photograph Noc

On 20 September the young man was riding a horse whilst carting manure.  The horse took fright and ran away with him.  He clung to the harness for some distance but was flung off.  The wheel of the cart ran over him.  He was taken home to the English family and tended with as much kindness and sympathy as if he was their own child.  A doctor was summoned but there was little hope of his recovery.  Sarah English had no money to pay the medical bill and promised to sell a watch left to her by her first husband to raise the money. 

However the daughters of local MP William Tyssen-Amherst of Didlington Hall heard what had happened.  They visited the Dane and gave orders for everything necessary to be provided for him.  The Catholic priest from nearby Oxborough village also attended him.  Sadly the sailor died on 21 September.

The Danish authorities had been informed by Mr Tyssen-Amherst and they pledged to meet the funeral expenses.  The sailor was buried in Oxborough churchyard on 23 September under the name of Carl Hansen aged 19, although local newspaper reports call him Carl Jorgensen.

Such accidents were far from uncommon.  One year later, in September 1882, a cousin of William English was killed in a very similar way in Oxborough.  Four year-old Walter English was taking food to his father in the harvest field when a horse took fright and bolted.  The tumbril wheel ran over the child and killed him instantly. He too is buried in Oxborough churchyard.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Norwich Mercury 1 October 1881, Norwich Chronicle 1 October 1881, Norwich Mercury 13 September 1882.

 

23 April 2018

Calculating Kindness: George Price

To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre we introduce the first of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. Today we start with George Price.

 Price_1
George Price, London 1974. Copyright © Estate of George Price

George Robert Price (1922-1975) grew up in New York before he moved to study at the University of Chicago in the 1940s. He gained his PhD in chemistry for work he had done on the Manhattan Project but later, he struggled to find a job that satisfied him and his big ideas, scientific and otherwise.

In 1966, Price was operated on for thyroid cancer but the operation didn’t go well; he had to take medication for the rest of his life. With the insurance money, he moved to England the following year. Interested in altruism and conflict, he taught himself evolutionary biology and spent his time in the libraries around London. Around March, he came across William D. Hamilton’s 1964 two-part paper on ‘The genetical evolution of social behaviour’, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. Finding the mathematics in it too dense for library reading, he wrote to Hamilton asking for a reprint. Unfortunately, Hamilton replied, he had none left, but instead sent a reprint of his latest article on sex ratios which dealt with similar ideas. Price in fact disliked one idea suggested by Hamilton – that people are genetically predisposed to be kindest to kin (“inclusive fitness”), which seemed to deny true, selfless altruism. He tried to disprove it, but his Price Equation ended up proving Hamilton right (and landed Price a job at UCL). The two men struck up a correspondence and friendship that would last until Price’s death in 1975.

Price-2

Price-3
Extracts from a 1969 letter from Price to William D. Hamilton recounting his discovery of the Price equation and subsequent employment at UCL. Copyright © Estate of George Price.

In the summer of 1970, Price underwent a religious conversion and mainly refocused his energies on Jesus and the Bible. He put himself and his faith to the test, among other things stopping to take his thyroid medication. In October 1972 he wrote to John Maynard Smith that he was ‘now down to exactly 15p and [his] visitors permit for staying in the UK expire[d] in less than a month’ – to which Maynard Smith replied, ‘I have less faith than you do that the Lord will provide. Please let me know at once if I can help.’

Maynard Smith and Price had been collaborating in what was to become their 1973 seminal paper, 'The logic of animal conflict', in which they applied game theory – originally developed in the context of economics by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern – to evolutionary biology. By pitting animals against each other as in a game, supplied with strategies like probing and retaliating, and running these through a computer simulation, Maynard Smith and Price showed that it was evolutionarily beneficial for individuals not to escalate a fight and risk wounding or death.

Price’s faith eventually led him to spend his energy on the homeless in his area. After losing his flat, he briefly stayed in his office at the Galton Laboratory before moving into a squat near Euston in 1974. In 1975, he committed suicide. Hamilton and Maynard Smith both attended the funeral.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

Further reading:

Calculating Kindness (2016). Undercurrent and Camden People’s Theatre in partnership with the British Library

Laura Farnworth (2016). Calculating Kindness: Meeting George Price. The British Library, Untold Lives Blog

Oren Harman (2010). The Price of Altruism. George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. London: The Bodley Head

19 April 2018

The Plans, Maps and Views of Lieutenant-General William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain

Born to a merchant in St Kitts in the Caribbean, William Skinner (1700-1780) lost his parents at a young age and was adopted by his Aunt and her new husband Captain Talbot Edwards, Chief Engineer in Barbados and the Leeward Islands.

Skinner was educated at military colleges in Paris and Vienna and received his warrant as practitioner engineer in 1719. By 1757 he had risen through the ranks to become Colonel William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain, and in 1770 he was made Lieutenant-General.

Image 1A View in Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 26)

At the British Library we hold Skinner’s personal collection of maps, plans, surveys and views (Add MS 33231-33233) which show the variety of places where he worked throughout his career, as well as giving an insight into the working process of a military engineer in the 18th century. 

From the start of his career Skinner was sent all over the world.  He became known as an authority on fortifications, and worked on important projects including the building of fortifications on Menorca and surveying Gibraltar, where he later served as Director of Engineering.

Image 3A View of the South Front of the Mountain of Gibraltar (Maps K.Top.72.48.d.)

After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Skinner was asked to lead a major project to build fortifications in the Highlands. Fort George, built on the sea front north-east of Inverness, was finally completed in 1769 and is still in use today.

Image 4A Plan of Fort George (Maps K.Top.50.33.)

Skinner became Chief Engineer in 1757, just after the Seven Years War (1756-1763) had begun, and many projects that he worked on at this time were as a result of this conflict. In 1761 Skinner was sent to Belle Île in France, which had been captured by the British in order to have a base from which to attack the French mainland. General Studholme Hodgson who had led the raid on the island, complained about ‘the set of wretches I have for engineers’, at which point Skinner was brought in to survey the defences and provide accommodation and shelter for the Armed Forces which had been left to hold the island.

Image 5Plan of the Citadel and Part of the Town of Palais Belle-Isle (Add MS 33232, f. 3)

As Chief Engineer all military building projects needed to be submitted for his approval. One such project was the building of fortifications around St John’s in Eastern Newfoundland. This area had been reclaimed from the French in 1762 after the Battle of Signal Hill, which was the final battle of the Seven Years War in North America.

Image 6A View of Conception Bay, Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34)

William Skinner died on Christmas Day 1780. He kept on working right up until the end of his life, and had passed on his engineering talent to his grandson, who worked successfully as an engineer in the US.

All the items from Skinner’s collection are available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms, and one of his views of Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34) can currently be seen in our Treasures Gallery.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Catalogue links:

Maps and Plans, chiefly of fortifications or surveys for military purposes, Add MS 33231 A-PP
Surveys of Belle Isle, France, and plans and sections of its fortifications during the British occupation after its capture in 1761, Add MS 33232
Views of fortifications and landscapes, Add MS 33233

 

17 April 2018

Papers of Major Geoffrey Herbert Blake, Royal Indian Army Service Corps

The India Office Private Papers recently acquired the diaries of an officer who served in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps during the Second World War. 

RIASC IWM SE 588Royal Indian Army Service Corps troops unload an American C-47 cargo plane at an airstrip in the Pinwe area, 21 November 1944 © IWM (SE 588)

Geoffrey Herbert Blake was born in Peterborough on 30 September 1923.  On leaving school, he began training to become an accountant, but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war.  In June 1943, he joined the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, which was responsible for vital supply and transport services for the Indian Army.  He spent the next four years in India, and recorded his experiences in his diaries.

Blake diaries  Mss Eur F717British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

The diaries begin with an introduction on 5 March 1943 in which Blake stated his reasons for keeping the diary: 'I hope that it may record in some detail the most interesting journey of my life, and that it will give me something to talk about in my old age (if I even qualify for this status in life)'.  He then described the process of embarking on the long journey to India.  He left Liverpool on 14 March aboard the MV Britannic, a White Star liner which had been converted to carry troops for the duration of the War.  The Britannic joined a large convoy for the voyage south, with Blake commenting that 'As far as we could see, troop transports were in line', with destroyers protecting them.  The convoy stopped at Freetown, in Sierra Leone, for two days, before resuming the journey to Cape Town in South Africa.  Blake would spend about six weeks camped near Cape Town, before continuing on to Bombay, arriving on 11 June 1943.

First sight of India  Mss Eur F717-1British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

On arriving in India, Blake travelled to Bangalore, where he would spend six months at the Officer’s Training School, before taking up his duties in Air Despatch.  His diaries give a daily account of his life in India as an officer in the Indian Army during the tumultuous years of the Second World War.  He left Bombay aboard the SS Empress of Scotland on 22 January 1947 for the voyage to Liverpool.  Expressing sadness at leaving a country he had grown fond of, he wrote philosophically: 'It looks as if my Indian journey is drawing to an end, but what will the next journey be?'

The start of a journey  Mss Eur F717-1British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

The catalogue of the papers can be found online.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Papers of Major Geoffrey Herbert Blake (1923-2017), Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) 1943-1947 [Reference Mss Eur F717]

 

16 April 2018

The Library of Ideas: Undercurrent at the British Library

To announce our upcoming special event, The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library presented by Undercurrent Theatre and the British Library we present a blog post by the Artistic Director of Undercurrent Theatre, Laura Farnworth reflecting on her time here at the Library as Artist-in-Residence.

Undercurrent-1APhotographs by the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.

It is almost a year since our residency, funded by the Arts Council, began here at the British Library as their First Associate Theatre Company. During my time I have been able to rationalise what is important for me as an artist and I have learnt that I love research and it is integral to my artistic process. The better you understand material, the more distinct and original it will make your artistic work. So, spending time in and with personal archives gives you the rare opportunity to really go deep into a subject. It is about making unexpected and surprising connections between remote pieces of research. The result of these connections is where you start to create something new.

As an artist I am always looking to gather as much ‘fuel’ for my process as possible, stimulus, data, information, knowledge and details. The British Library is the optimum resource for this. Not only does it have ‘everything’(!), it also enables you to approach a topic through various ways, sound, image, digital, manuscript, maps… and all these approaches can inspire you in a different way. It really makes you think about the ‘how’ of your work, in other words, not just what your project will say and contain, but how it will be made, crafted, the form it will take.

Undercurrent-2Manuscript material from the J G Ballard archive (Add MS 88938)

A particular highlight of my time here has been researching the archive of the author J G Ballard. The archive is extensive and a fantastic overview and introduction can be found here. Whilst it does not contain as much personal material as some authors’ archives - it holds very little in the way of private correspondence - it does provide a brilliant insight into the creative process of a great artist. Ballard wrote a lot of his novels by hand and many of his typescripts are heavily annotated. As you start to work through the archive you begin to stitch together a sense of his process. You can learn so much from seeing his choices of what to edit or reword. It is unusual to have such private access to the earliest thoughts of a great artist and it’s quite special to unpick how he works through his ideas and begins his projects. 

The culmination of Undercurrent’s residency will be the The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library  The aim of this event is to encourage early-career artists into the British Library so that they can discover how they can use the Library to develop their own artistic projects. It’s a rare opportunity to meet curators and get up close to some of the collections - everything from sound to manuscripts to digital.

Laura Farnworth

Artistic Director,

Undercurrent Theatre

Associate Theatre Company of the British Library

Posted on behalf of the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.

13 April 2018

When the driver crosses his fingers – motoring superstitions

It’s Friday the Thirteenth, an ideal day for sharing a story about superstitious behaviour.  So here are some superstitions just for motorists.

According to an article in the Leicester Daily Mercury of 19 June 1939; ‘…even the Age of Machinery has its own superstitions.  A philosopher might think that the era which has produced the internal combustion engine among other things, would be above superstitious beliefs only fit for the dim dawn of mankind, when people lived in terror of the incalculable caprices of gods and demons, beneficent or very much the reverse. Far from it!  The man who drives the mechanised vehicle has his own private fancies about good or ill fortune, just like the man who urged his string of pack-horses across the trackless waste of mediaeval England’.

Car driver cropped N10002-55Detail from cover of menu for annual banquet of National Association of Automobile manufacturers 22 January 1904 - C.120.f.2 volume 3, no.32 Images Online  Noc


Here are some of the superstitions described:
• Long-distance lorry drivers do not like driving on Wednesdays.
• Bus drivers don’t like Friday the Thirteenth.
• It is unlucky for drivers to turn back after starting out for work.  Never go back indoors to collect a forgotten lunch box.  The bad luck starts as soon as you cross the threshold, so stand in the road and ask someone to bring your sandwiches out to you.
• A taxi driver who has had a streak of long waits for fares will queue in the cab rank until first in line and then drive off without taking a passenger.  In this way, the bad luck shifts to the next driver in the line.
• Beware meeting a cross-eyed woman when starting out in the morning – break the bad spell by getting into conversation with her.
• A cab driver will not change the first piece of silver taken each day but stow it away in a pocket.
• It is unlucky to lose a glove but lucky to find a rusty nail.
• Running over a tin can will bring misfortune.

How many of these superstitions are still observed today?  I’m off to look for a rusty nail to keep in my car just in case…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Michael Compton, ‘When the driver crosses his fingers’ - Leicester Daily Mercury 19 June 1939 British Newspaper Archive