THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

19 posts categorized "Americas"

07 August 2018

Loss of the ’Empire Windrush’

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The troopship Empire Windrush is best known for carrying hundreds of migrants to London from the Caribbean in 1948.  The ship hit the headlines again six years later when it was destroyed by a fire sweeping through its decks.

Empire Windrush IWMThe Empire Windrush - image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum © IWM (FL 9448)

In March 1954, the Empire Windrush was bringing 1,276 men, women and children back to the UK from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Suez. Many were National Servicemen returning home to be demobbed.

On the morning of 28 March the ship was 20 miles off Algiers.  At about 6.15 am officers on the bridge heard a 'whoof' of air and, turning round, saw oily, black smoke pouring out of one of the ship’s funnels.  Then ten foot high flames appeared.  There was a fire in the engine room.  Since the alarm bell system failed to work, stewards and catering staff were sent to arouse crew and passengers. 

Some of the military officers thought it was a practical joke when they were awoken by stewards bursting into their cabins shouting ‘Get quickly to your emergency station!'.  Captain Anderson turned over in his bunk and continued to wait for his morning cup of tea, but then became aware of a smell of burning.  He threw on his overcoat and rushed on deck.  Hot paint from the top of the funnel was setting light to the wooden decks.  The ship’s power failed and there was no light, water, or telephone.


   Empire Windrush IWM 1954The Empire Windrush as she burned at sea off the port of Algiers 1954- image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum  © IWM (A 32891)

Evacuation procedures swung into action.  Lifeboats and rafts were launched and ships were sent from Algiers.  Everything proceeded in a disciplined manner.  Within twenty minutes of the order to abandon ship, all 250 women and children had been placed in lifeboats, as well as 500 of the servicemen and the ship’s cat Tibby.  One boat was damaged as it was being launched and later sank when full of survivors.  Some of these were in the sea for two hours before being rescued.  As the fire spread, the order was finally given – every man for himself.  At about 7.15 am the last men left the ship,  including the captain.

Four lives were lost - engineers G W Stockwell, J W Graves, A Webster, and L Pendleton.  Others suffered injuries such as damaged hands from going down ropes and lifelines too quickly.

  Empire Windrush survivorsSurvivors arriving at Blackbushe Airport – from The Courier and Advertiser 1 April 1954 British Newspaper Archive

A relief operation was set up in Algiers and emergency accommodation found.  A soon-to-open holiday camp was commandeered.  The survivors were taken by ship to Gibraltar and then flown home by RAF and chartered aircraft, or taken by ship if they did not wish to fly.  Many had lost their clothing and possessions in the fire.  Service wives were handed a £30 ex-gratia payment by the War Office on arrival in the UK, plus £15 for each child.  Compensation for serviceman and for the families of the dead engineers was dealt with later.

An official enquiry into the loss of the Empire Windrush was held in June and July 1954.  It concluded that the cause of the fire could not be determined, but smoking, electrical fault, and sabotage were considered improbable. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Northern Whig 29 March 1954, The Courier and Advertiser 30 March 1954 and 1 April 1954.
W N Seybold (compiler), Women and children first…The Loss of the Troopship ‘Empire Windrush’ (1998).

 

Visit our free exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land - open until 21 October 2018

  Windrush624x351

02 August 2018

James Cook and Adam Smith

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The art historian Bernard Smith famously described Cook as ‘Adam Smith’s global agent’.  Cook’s voyages certainly promoted commerce as a civilizing activity, a key theme in Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), published the same year Cook departed on his final voyage.  Commerce is often illustrated in John Webber’s images of the expedition.

  Nootka Sound c07546-04John Webber, The ship, ‘Resolution’, at anchor in Nootka Sound, 1778, pen, wash and watercolour, British Library, Add. 15514, no. 10 Images Online

In their eagerness to trade with the British, the Mowachaht are here exercising what Adam Smith terms ‘the most sacred of human rights’ – to make a profit from what they have produced, particularly sea-otter furs which were highly prized by the British – and in doing so, are sharing in the benefits of ‘civilization’.

Like Smith’s own public image, however, the man on the £20 note extolling the virtues of the division of labour, the realities of the encounter were more complicated than that.  Less often quoted are his comments on the impact of this division of labour on individuals’s lives: ‘The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations… becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become’.

Smith was equally sceptical of European intrusions into the New World, motivated by ‘the dream of Eldorado’ or the equally fantastical ‘discovering a north-west passage to the East Indies’.  As for what he terms ‘colony trade’, this, he argued, tended to serve the interests of merchants above either those of the colonies or of the ‘mother country’. The ‘blankets, fire-arms, and brandy’ that the nations of North America traded for furs did little if anything to improve their lives, nor in Britain did those new imported products ‘consumed by idle people who produce nothing, such as foreign wines, foreign silks, &c’.

Smith was not alone in holding such critical views.  Some even stuck to the figure of Cook himself who was accused of being ‘amongst the pursuers of peltry’.  The accusation was not without some justification.  Soon after his death in 1779 a number of commercial expeditions were launched on the back of reports from Cook’s voyage of the abundance of sea-otter furs on America’s north-west coast and the huge prices they fetched in China.  Several of these trips were led by former crew members of Cook.  In 1792, George Vancouver, a midshipman on the Resolution, sailed to Nootka Sound to negotiate with Spain the rights of the British effectively to take possession of the region for purposes of trade.

In the background to Gillray’s caricature of Vancouver is ‘The South-Sea Fur Warehouse from China!’ selling ‘Fine Black Otter Skins.  The assertion: ‘No contraband goods sold here’ is hardly to be believed.  Instead, Gillray, like Smith, casts doubt on the benefits to the ‘mother country’ brought by ‘colony trade’, a point emphasised by the inscription on Vancouver’s cloak: ‘This present from the King of Owyhee to George IIId forgot to be delivered’.  Such criticisms of course take little, if any, account of the injurious impact the trade had on the Mowachaht themselves.

James Gillray  The Caneing in Condiut StreetJames Gillray, The Caneing in Conduit Street, dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy, 1796 - hand-coloured etching British Museum

So it may be true that Cook’s promotion of trade was ‘the diplomatic hallmark of his command’.  But the suggestion that he did so with a particular economic theory in mind, Smith’s or anybody else’s for that matter, would be to credit him with a far greater clarity of purpose than all the evidence would imply he possessed.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Bernard Smith, ‘Cook’s Posthumous Reputation,’ in Robin Fisher and Hugh Johnston (eds), Captain James Cook and his Times, Vancouver and London, 1979, pp. 159-186
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776
James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1784
George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1798
MacLaren, I.S., ‘Narrating and Alaskan Culture: Cook’s Journal (1778) and Douglas’s Edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784)’ in J. Barnett and D. Nicandri (eds.), Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015) pp. 231-261

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

BL_Cook_737x451-quote-final-weeks

 

04 July 2018

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin

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James Cook departed on his last voyage eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).  The official account of that voyage was published on 4 June 1784, less than a month after the final ratification of the Treaty of Paris (12 May 1784), which concluded the American War of Independence.

The coincidence of these two historic events converged in the public sphere on 10 March 1779 with the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s open letter ordering American sea captains, if they happened to encounter him, to treat Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness … as common friends to mankind’.

  Franklin 1 Franklin 1ACopy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140

The letter received considerable press coverage at the time.  Opinions about it were sharply divided. On 26 May 1779, after summarizing its contents, Lloyd’s Evening Post ends with a quotation from Swift: ‘See, Brothers, how we Apples swim’.  The line, spoken by a ball of ‘horse’s dung’, clearly implies that Franklin’s support for Cook’s voyage is nothing but a vain attempt to share in its glory.

The Whig-leaning Public Advertiser, in contrast, used the letter to voice anti-war sentiments.  On 7 June 1779 a whimsical article imagines Cook being captured by an American ship.  On discovering his identity, the Americans follow Franklin’s orders and present him with ‘Half a hundred Weight of right Virginia Tobacco, three Bags of Rice’, and other produce plundered from ‘a Portugueze Vessel’.  In referencing their highly profitable trading relations and their shared enemy, the ‘Portugueze’, the article stresses the economic and political importance of the relationship between Britain and America.

  Franklin 2
Public Advertiser [London, England], 7 June 1779; Issue 13935

A similar note is struck by the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser’s response to news of Cook’s death, communicated in a letter from Charles Clerke from Kamchatka, a place that in the 18th century was used as a metaphor for distance and coldness:

‘Had we been born in an island in the South-Seas, we should perhaps have called [Cook] an invader, a pirate. …The most striking circumstance surely is, that Captain Clerke should sit down in the Bay of St. Peter and Paul at Kamschatka, and write a letter to Mr. Stephens, at Charing-cross, which, in about half a year, reaches him as safely, as if it had been put into a penny-post-office… This is civilization; nor should we forget the friendly assistance of the Russians, any more than the French order, respecting Captain Cook’.

The greatest achievements of the voyage, the article suggests, were not so much Cook’s discoveries but the co-operation and free lines of communication between potentially warring powers that enabled these discoveries to happen and to be so promptly reported on.

As a counterpoint to the hostilities between Britain, France and America in the Atlantic, therefore, Cook’s voyages in the Pacific were seen, by some at least, as a way of promoting unity between so-called ‘Enlightened’ countries – les états bien policés (well-governed states) – whose destinies were presented as increasingly more entwined by commercial links and shared mœurs or ‘polite manners’.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779, State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140
Lloyd's Evening Post (London, England), 26 May- 28 May 1779; Issue 3421
Jonathan Swift, ‘On the words Brother-Protestants, and Fellow-Christians, so familiarly used by the advocates for the Repeal of the Test Act in Ireland,’ [1733] in The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Vol. VII, London: T. Osborne et al., 1766, p. 206
Public Advertiser (London, England), 7 June 1779; Issue 13935
Sophie Forgan, ‘A note on the ‘Afterlife of Kamchatka,’ in Smoking Coasts and Ice-Bound Seas: Cook’s Voyage to the Arctic, Whitby: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, 2008, pp. 33-40
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), 17 January 1780; Issue 3327

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

BL_Cook_737x451-quote

04 June 2018

Senator J. William Fulbright: International Scholar and Statesman

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The British Library has acquired the archive of the US-UK Fulbright Commission set up in 1948 under the Fulbright Program for grants for international educational exchange. Eleanor Casson introduces the instigator behind the program, Senator Fulbright, and the Famous Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

James William Fulbright (Bill) was born in Sumner, Missouri in 1905 to James and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906 the family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both his parents were successful local entrepreneurs. His father built up a small empire which included the local newspaper, lumberyards, a bottling company and a bank. In 1923 James Fulbright died suddenly and it was left to Roberta to continue the family business, which she did, becoming one of Arkansas’s most famous and successful business women.

The Fulbrights were known by some in the local area as ‘The First Family of Fayetteville’, they were a family of high achievers. Bill embodied this by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1924. The Rhodes scholarship and Fulbright’s time in Oxford had a profound effect on him. He immersed himself in his studies, but also embraced the cultural differences of England: from the frivolous such as tea drinking and joining the rugby team, to the more enduring like his admiration of British institutions, systems and politics.

Fulbright’s career, outside of the family business, began in 1939 when he was named President of the University of Arkansas. He was 34, the youngest college head in the United States at that time, he was also unqualified for the job, but passionate about education in Arkansas. This lasted until 1941 when he was ousted from his position by the new Governor Homer Adkins.  

In 1942 Fulbright began his thirty-two year career in Congress running for election in Northwest Arkansas. His experiences in Europe had inspired a deep interest in international affairs and his experience at the University of Arkansas had cemented his belief that education could be used as a tool in international affairs. He spent his political career campaigning for tolerance and appreciation of other cultures. His first act as a Congressman was to co-sponsor the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, the forbear of the United Nations. By 1944 he had won a US Senate seat and pushed through legislation creating the International Exchange Program in 1946.

The Fulbright Program was one of Senator Fulbright’s greatest accomplishments. To this date approximately 370,000 ‘Fulbrighters’ have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946 and the Program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide. The US-UK Commission was established in 1948, since that time there have been over 27,000 Fulbright exchanges between the two countries. The awards span a number of disciplines benefitting everyone from artists to scientists, historians to mathematicians.

Fulbright Scholarship Signing with UK  Fulbright Papers  Series 86  Box 9

22 September 1948, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (left) and Chargé d'Affaires Don Bliss (right) sign for the United Kingdom and United States respectively, establishing the Fulbright Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Fulbright Papers (MS/F956/144-B), Series 86, Box 9, Folder 2. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. By permission of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The aim of the program was to nurture the belief that experience and understanding of another culture will contribute to ‘joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes’. This belief was reflected throughout his career which led him to become known as the ‘dissenter’. He participated in the censuring of Senator McCarthy, argued against the Vietnam War, and was an advocate for liberal internationalism. Fulbright assumed the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 which he held until he lost his seat 1974, the longest serving chairman in the committee’s history. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom by his protégé President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Senator Fulbright
Senator Fulbright at the 40th Anniversary Reception of the Fulbright Program, 1986.  ©The American. By permission of The American.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive


Further reading:

Coffin, Tristram, Senator Fulbright, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1967)

‘The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996: An Online Exhibit- Expansion in Europe’, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/fulbrightexhibit/bi2pic.html

Woods, Randall Bennett, Fulbright: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1995)

Woods, Randall Bennett, ‘Fulbright, J. William’, (American National Biography: 2000). Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700698

19 April 2018

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

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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

 

18 January 2018

When it’s Not Rude to Point: Manicules in Sir Hans Sloane’s Catalogue

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We’ve all been taught that it’s rude to point.  But did you know that a pointing finger was quite a popular symbol in early manuscripts?

KitchenerLord Kitchener's pointing finger demands Britons enlist for the First World War (Wikicommons)

First used in medieval times, the manicule became a firm favourite of the Renaissance humanists.  Many a margin would be graced by these tiny fists with an extended finger or two, pointing out notable areas in a book.  Predictably enough, the term "manicule" is taken from the Latin maniculum, or "little hand".
 Manicule blog 1

Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue, volume one.  Manicules can be seen along the left hand margin.

The library of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), a physician and collector whose collections would form the foundation of the British Museum and British Library, is no exception.  These curious little scribbled fists with elongated index fingers are often encountered along the margins of volume one of his eight volume catalogue, pointing out particular works. Although the exact reason for their use by Sloane is uncertain, the manicule was traditionally used to highlight points of interest, and it is likely that they served the same purpose for Sloane.
 Manicule blog 2

Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue, volume one.  Manicules can be seen along the left hand margin.

What is more interesting is the manicules almost exclusively point to travel literature.  Sloane the armchair traveller was keen on the wider world, although he didn’t make a great deal of effort to see it in person.  As such, his materials on travel are substantial; in fact the manicules only point out selected works from quite a broad range.

These maniculed works encompass literature on numerous countries and continents, including India, China, Japan, Peru, the Americas, North Africa and Persia.  Their topics include accounts of voyages to China [566.g.5.], piracy and buccaneering in the West Indies [1197.h.2./ C.32.h.14.], sugar plantations in America [816.m.13.(156.)], the history and geography of Barbados [796.ff.20.], diplomacy in Tartaria [568.g.6.], the Berber Jewish community of North Africa [860.a.13.], and Botany and medicine in New Spain [546.g.14.].

Manicule blog 3

Illustration from The Present State of the Jews [860.a.13.]

  Manicule blog 4Title page of Diuers Voyages de la Chine, et Autres Royaumes de l'Orient [566.g.5.]

Whatever the exact reasons for Sloane’s use of manicules, the little pointing fists peppered across his catalogue makes for a fascinating exploration of his incredible collection and the materials he deemed worthy, quite literally, of pointing out.  If you would like to explore some of these works then head over to the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue and pop ‘manicule’ into the search bar.  Following Sloane’s own guiding hands, it will open a door into the varied and rich world of the travel-minded collector.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

 

See an example of a manicule from the East India Company archives.

 

04 January 2018

Trigamy - a man with three wives

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Our last post told the story of a soldier who forfeited his Victoria Cross because he had committed bigamy.  Today we bring you a case of trigamy.

WeddingFrom Thomas Hood, Humorous Poems, illustrations by C. E. Brock (London, 1893) BL flickr

George Meaden was a shoemaker in Marylebone, London.  In March 1842 he married Sarah Cash, a servant, at St Mary's Church. Sarah was the daughter of an agricultural labourer from Lakenheath  in Suffolk. 

St Mary Bryanston SquareSt Mary Bryanston Square from Thomas Smith, A Topographical and historical account of the Parish of St. Mary-le-bone (London, 1833)

In November 1845, George married for a second time, this time in Hoxton.  His new wife was Mary Ann Taylor, daughter of a tailor.  The marriage certificate records that George was a widower.  Apparently George went to measure Mary Ann for a pair of boots and had fallen in love ‘with her feet or her money’.  Mary Ann gave George £800 or £900 to study medicine.

Hoxton St JohnSt John Hoxton from James Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements ... From original drawings by T. H. Shepherd, etc (London, 1830) BL flickr

However, George's first wife Sarah was still alive. According to one press report, George and Sarah had fallen out soon after marrying, when he discovered that she had had a child. They separated and Sarah went home to the country. This may be true, but in 1851 Sarah was working as a cook in Marylebone, describing herself in the census as a widow. And whatever the truth behind the separation, Sarah also committed bigamy by marrying James Ludlow in Reading in January 1852.  Complicated, isn’t it?  And it gets worse.

Depending upon which newspaper you read, Mary Ann either knew about Sarah’s existence all along, or she discovered that George’s first wife was still alive shortly after their wedding.  George broke his promise to get a divorce.  Mary Ann left him, ‘unhappy differences arising between them’.  George agreed to pay her a weekly allowance of £2 but payments dried up when he lost money through speculating in mining shares. In February 1852 George Meaden, chemist and druggist, appeared at the Insolvent Debtors Court, pursued by creditors. 

However, by 1857 George had set up in business as a surgeon in Islington.  He married for a third time in March 1857 in St Pancras to Emma Exall. Both Sarah and Mary Ann were still alive.

St Pancras New ChurchSt Pancras New Church from Albert Henry Payne, Illustrated London (London, 1846) BL flickr

In September 1857 Mary Ann brought forward a charge of bigamy against George.  He appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court ‘very gentlemanly attired’.  Certificates were produced for all three marriages.  The sum set for bail was increased when it was claimed that George was preparing to do a runner.

George claimed that he had married Emma believing that his first wife was dead and that the second marriage was illegal.  But Sarah was found and she attended court.  Richard Morris, who had been a witness at George’s marriage to Sarah, was tracked down in Liverpool for the purpose of identifying George as the man who had taken part in the ceremony in 1842. After it was revealed that Sarah had re-married, she disappeared, perhaps fearing that she too would be charged with bigamy.  As Sarah was not present, the prosecution failed and George was discharged.  He left court with a large number of friends who had attended to hear the case.

By 1860, George and Emma had emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn.  He appears in directories mostly as a physician, but also as a dentist and as a drug store proprietor. Emma died in 1872 at the age of 42, and George in 1882 aged  67.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Chronicle 21 February 1853; Hampshire Advertiser 5 September 1858; The Era 6 September 1857; Clerkenwell News 19 September 1857

 

12 December 2017

Journals of Albert Hastings Markham

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Where in the library collections might you find watercolour arctic landscapes, playbills, squashed mosquitoes and first-hand accounts of whaling?

We are pleased to announce that the journals of Sir Albert Hastings Markham (1841-1918) have been processed and are now available to request in the Manuscripts Reading Room, under reference Add MS 89230. The journals were acquired at auction in 2015, drawing on the T S Blakeney Fund and with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library and the Eccles Centres for American Studies.

They cover the period from 1871-1902, during which Markham undertook polar reconnaissance in the Arctic and the Kara Sea, surveyed the conditions in the Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government, participated in the British Arctic Expedition (1875-1876), and served in the Navy in the Torpedo School, Pacific Station, and Mediterranean.

Sleddingscene

A sledging scene under sail, Add MS 89230/2/1 f 136

Importance and writing

Markham’s entries are richly detailed, and he does not shy away from recording his opinions on the behaviour of his crew and the places he visited. His account on the whaling vessel Arctic is probably best not read by those of a sensitive disposition, conjuring up as it does the sights and smells of decks covered with blood, fat and coal dust.

His journal as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet contains his first-hand account of the incident for which he is probably best known – the sinking of the flagship Victoria, following a collision with Markham’s ship Camperdown whilst undertaking manoeuvres off Tripoli.

These journals complement our existing holdings on Arctic research and exploration, from material relating to James Cook’s third voyage and attempts to find the Northwest Passage, and Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-1876 was in several aspects a precursor of later Antarctic explorations, and Markham’s role leading the sledging team to achieve farthest north makes this a vital first-hand account.

Accompanying materials

The British Arctic Expedition journals (Add MS 89230/2) contain beautiful watercolours and ink sketches of arctic landscapes, wildlife, and fellow crew members.

YeloomYe Loom, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 36

CaninetroopYe canine troop performing a melodious concert, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 82

During the cataloguing process I was pleased to find letters enclosed in the journals, many written by figures in the history of arctic exploration and 19th century naval history, including William Grant (arctic photographer), Captain Antonius de Bruijne (of the Dutch schooner Willem Barents), and Benjamin Leigh Smith. Markham was also careful to collect keepsakes such as dinner menus and playbills for the performances put on by the ship’s company.

ThurspopsProgramme for the Thursday Pops, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 191

The Hudson’s Bay journal (Add MS 89230/4) was partly composed by Markham whilst he journeyed from York Factory to Winnipeg by canoe. Markham and his party were plagued by mosquitoes - “the buzz and the hum of my relentless persecutors – the mosquitoes – will they never tire? Will they ever leave me unmolested?” -  and these flying irritants have literally left their mark on the journal, with folios 115-151 spotted with pressed remains.

MosquitoesJournals with the ick factor, Add MS 89230/4

The catalogue can be found at Search Archives and Manuscripts under collection reference Add MS 89230. We will continue to post images on @BL_ModernMss, so be sure to follow us if you aren’t already.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts