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168 posts categorized "Domestic life"

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

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Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

09 March 2017

Did Jane Austen develop cataracts from arsenic poisoning?

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When Jane Austen died in 1817, aged 41, her portable writing desk was inherited by her sister Cassandra. It was later passed down through her eldest brother’s family. In 1999, Joan Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen’s great-great-great-niece, very generously entrusted it to the care of the British Library. Among the items that had been stored for generations in the desk drawer were three pairs of spectacles. According to family tradition, they all belonged to Jane Austen.

AUSTEN%20IMAGE%201

Spectacles believed to have belonged to Jane Austen (now British Library Add MS 86841/2-4): wire-framed pair (on left), ‘tortoiseshell pair A’ (centre), ‘tortoiseshell pair B’ (on right, with string wound around arm). 6a00d8341c464853ef01bb097e9917970d

The British Library has for the first time had the spectacles tested. Our Conservation department was involved from the start, to ensure that no harm would come to them. The company Birmingham Optical kindly supplied us with a lensmeter to measure their strength, and their specialist staff undertook the tests.

Jane%20austen%20spectacles%20testing
 Louis Cabena (left) and Deep Singh (right) from Birmingham Optical, with lensmeter and spectacles in the British Library Conservation Centre. 6a00d8341c464853ef01bb097e9917970d

The tests revealed that the three pairs of spectacles are all convex or ‘plus’ lenses, so would have been used by someone longsighted. In other words their owner needed glasses for close-up tasks, such as reading. Interestingly, ‘tortoiseshell pair B’ is much stronger than the others.

Test results

Wire-framed pair:       R. + 1.75 DS  L. +1.75 DS (PD 27.0 53.0 26.0)

Tortoiseshell pair A:   R. + 3.25 DS  L. +3.25 DS (PD 26.0 56.0 30.0)

Tortoiseshell pair B:   R. +5.00/-0.25 x 84 L. +4.75/-0.25 x 49 (PD 28.5 55.0 26.5)

We showed these results to the London-based optometrist Professor Simon Barnard. He believes there are a number of possible reasons for the variation in strength. Jane Austen may always have been longsighted, and initially used the wire-framed pair for reading and distance viewing. She later required a slightly stronger pair (tortoiseshell pair A) for reading, and used the strongest pair (tortoiseshell pair B) for extremely close work, such as fine embroidery, which would have been held closer to the face than a book.

Austen is known to have had problems with her eyes. She complained in several letters about her ‘weak’ eyes. Could it be that she gradually needed stronger and stronger glasses for reading because of a more serious underlying health problem? Professor Barnard believes this is a possibility. He points out that certain systemic health problems can cause changes in the vision of both longsighted and shortsighted people. Diabetes is one such condition, because it can induce cataracts. A gradually developing cataract would mean that an individual would need a stronger and stronger prescription, over time, in order to undertake close-up tasks. However, diabetes was fatal at that time, so someone might not have lived long enough to require several different prescriptions in succession. 

If Austen did develop cataracts, a more likely cause, according to Professor Barnard, is accidental poisoning from a heavy metal such as arsenic. Arsenic poisoning is now known to cause cataracts. Despite its toxicity, arsenic was commonly found in medicines in 19th-century England, as well as in some water supplies. In this situation, Austen would have switched from using the wire-framed pair to tortoiseshell pair A, then pair B, as her cataracts got progressively worse.

Jane Austen’s early death has in the past been attributed to Addison’s disease (an endocrine disorder), cancer and tuberculosis. In 2011, the crime writer Lindsay Ashford suggested that Austen died of arsenic poisoning. She came to this conclusion after reading Austen’s description of the unusual facial pigmentation she suffered at the end of her life – something commonly found with arsenic poisoning. Ashford’s novel The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen strays from theories of accidental poisoning into rather more fantastical murder. The variations in the strength of the British Library’s three pairs of spectacles may indeed give further credence to the theory that Austen suffered from arsenic poisoning, albeit accidental.

We should, however, inject a note of caution at this point: although prescription lenses were in use in Austen’s day, we don’t know whether these glasses were prescribed for her by a physician, or whether she bought them ‘off-the-shelf’. We can’t be completely sure that she wore them at all. However, we are keen to publish these test results in the hope that other eye specialists will share their ideas and opinions with us. 

We know this subject is already of interest to literary scholars. Janine Barchas and Elizabeth Picherit of the University of Texas at Austin have taken a keen interest in the spectacles in the British Library, and have also been investigating Austen’s references to spectacles in her novels. Their theories will shortly be published in the journal Modern Philology. We look forward to further discussions and debate on this topic.  The spectacles themselves have just gone on display in the British Library’s free Treasures Gallery for all to see.

Dr Sandra Tuppen

Lead Curator, Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1601-1850

The British Library

Email: sandra.tuppen@bl.uk

02 March 2017

The personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore

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India Office Private Papers recently acquired two fascinating documents concerning the personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore. Both Thomas and Dorothy came from families closely connected to the East India Company.  Their son John Shore (1751-1834) became Governor-General of Bengal.

The first document is an inventory of the household goods, plate, jewels, china, linen, furniture, clothing, and books belonging to Thomas Shore which were in his London house at the time of his death in 1759.

Thomas Shore inventory

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The second is an auction catalogue for furniture, fine china, and ‘other East Indian Curiosities’ which were sold in June 1775 when Dorothy Shore, ‘A Widow Lady,’ moved from Golden Square in London to the country.

  Doorothy Shore auction

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

 Thomas Shore (1712-1759) was the son of John Shore, the East India Company’s warehouse-keeper at Botolph Wharf on the River Thames.  Thomas followed his father into Company service, becoming  a supercargo in charge of the commercial business of several voyages to China.

In 1743 Thomas Shore married widow Mary Dorothea Edgell (née Hawthorn).  Her stepfather was East India Company sea captain John Shepheard (d.1734).   Mary Dorothea died, and in 1750 Thomas married  her younger half-sister Dorothy Shepheard (c.1725-1783).  Thomas and Mary had two sons, John and Thomas William.  John continued the family tradition of East India Company service, whilst Thomas William became a Church of England priest.

The inventory lists the contents of Thomas Shore’s house room by room: servants’ garrets;  bedrooms; closets;  dining room; parlours; china room; kitchen; yard; wash house; pantry; and cellar. Every item is recorded from valuables to a cheese toaster and mops. Thomas owned many objects from Asia including Chinese snuff boxes, musical instruments, and ornaments; Indian textiles and tea kettles; dressing boxes and a bathing bowl from Japan.  Thomas’s book collection ranged from works of religion and history to geometric problems and Gulliver’s Travels.  Dorothy’s personal belongings in the house were itemised to distinguish them from her husband’s property, mostly jewellery but also her clothes, childbed linen, and textile pieces.

P7280016

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The auction of Dorothy Shore’s household goods offered a ‘Variety of Furniture, useful and ornamental  China, curious carvings in Ivory, &c brought from India by her Husband’.  Amongst the items sold were an ‘India japan case with Mariner’s charts’ - 2s 6d; 27 small Indian pictures of birds and flowers - 6s; a parcel of India paper hangings on cloth - £1 6s 0d; ten blue dragon plates, two basins, a Nankeen sugar dish with handles, cover and plate – 7s; two Chinese summer houses with figures – 7s.  Some lots can be matched to objects listed in her late husband’s inventory, for example the ‘Luxemburg gallery’ of prints. The sale raised a total of £103 5s 0d.

P7280002 cropped

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

We should like to thank the Friends of the British Library for their generous donation enabling the purchase of such interesting documents which allow us to peek into the homes of an East India Company family in the 18th century.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702
The East India Company at Home 1757-1857

14 February 2017

Broken Valentine Promise

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On Valentine’s Day 1904, Ernest Down made a proposal of marriage to Bessie French at Plymouth Friary railway station. In June 1905 Bessie took Ernest to court to recover damages for breach of promise.

Romantic couple

From Frederick Langbridge,  Love-Knots and Bridal-Bands: poems and rhymes of wooing and wedding, and valentine verses (London, 1883) BL flickr Noc


Ernest Down worked as an assistant at his father’s dental practice in Plymouth.  The attachment between Ernest and Bessie began in January 1904.  The following month, on 14 February, Bessie and her mother were leaving Plymouth for London when Ernest appeared at the railway station.  He asked Bessie to become engaged to him.  Bessie refused as they had known each other for such a short time.  However she said that if he still wanted to marry her in six months’ time, he should ask again. She would then give him a definite answer one way or the other.

The couple corresponded regularly whilst Bessie was in London.  Ernest was not present at the Devon Assizes and so was spared the embarrassment of hearing his declarations of undying love ''From your Darling Boy' read out loud in court by Bessie’s counsel. This poem was greeted with laughter:

Forget Me Not
I love you now, and shall for ever,
Your love may change, but mine will never!
Though separation be our lot
Dearest one, forget me not:
Forget me not, though far away,
And other faces see;
There’s not an hour that passes by
But what I think of thee.

 Breach of promise

Western Times 1 July 1905 Noc

Bessie was questioned by the judge. Ernest had told her that his father wished him to break off the engagement and that he would give her the reasons the following evening.  He did not turn up.

The judge summed up the evidence: Ernest had indeed broken his promise to marry Bessie after his father objected.  Justice Bingham advised the jury to award only a moderate sum in damages to ensure that Bessie would receive some payment from the young man. After a few minutes’ deliberation, the jury awarded Bessie £50 in damages.

Justice Bingham’s concern that Bessie might not get any money was well-founded.  In May 1906 Ernest appeared before the Official Receiver in Plymouth.  He filed his petition in bankruptcy saying he was unable to meet the judgment given against him at the Devon Assizes for breach of promise.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Western Times 1 July 1905; Western Morning News 11 May 1906

 

29 December 2016

Sanger’s Circus in Sheffield

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Showman John Sanger’s newly-built Royal Hippodrome in Sheffield promised to provide splendid entertainments in December 1888.  The programme at Sanger’s New Royal Circus was regularly changed but additional attractions were brought in for the Christmas season.

Flying Eugenes evan444 cropped

The Marvellous Eugenes c.1885 Evan.444 Images Online


Sanger's Sheffield acts in December 1888 included –
• The Marvellous Eugenes -  ‘the greatest living gymnasts’
• Borkoff the equestrian bear who could ride on horseback with ease and grace
• Engist and Orsa, -‘Continental Musical Grotesques’
• Hadjalhi’s Troupe of Arabs – a novel and daring acrobatic performance
• The Martinette Troupe - ‘Pantomimists and Musical Marvels’
• Dezmonti, Alexandre, and Miss Maude - the greatest aerial bar performers in the world
• ‘Educated’ horses, elephants, bears and kangaroos
• Etherdo and Pugh - ‘the flying batsmen’
• Miss Lavinia Sanger and Herr Hoffman – a classical act of school riding.

On Christmas Eve Sanger staged a ‘gorgeous‘ spectacle, The Carnival on  Ice or Fete in St Petersburg, modestly promoted as ‘the grandest production ever introduced into an arena’.  No expense had been spared, with lavish costumes and sensational effects.  The arena with sawdust had been transformed into a scene of Russian winter.  A packed appreciative crowd was treated to sleighs drawn by ‘diminutive symmetrical ponies’; ‘fancy and scientific skating’ by the Lisbon Troupe; snowstorm scenes; fights with bears; a snow ballet; and a harlequinade.

Sanger Circus 1888

British Newspaper Archive Sheffield Daily Telegraph 20 December 1888

Crowds spilling out of the circus could roam the streets in search of further seasonal delights to sample. They might wish to fortify themselves with one of G Hiller and Son’s celebrated pork pies – over one ton of these had been sold at Christmas 1887.  Or they might browse in the showroom of J S and T Birks who were offering crystallised fruits; calves’ feet and other jellies; magic bouquets; bon-bons; Chinese and Japanese lanterns; wreathes; French and fancy confectionery.  Young and old were invited to walk around T and J Roberts’ Christmas bazaar at The Moorhead.  On display were 10,000 gifts - dolls; musical toys; ornaments; work boxes; and fancy baskets. And I do hope that shoppers remembered to pick up a copy of the Christmas number of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. This comprised seventeen original complete stories for just one penny, including A Prince of Spoons; The Voice from the Dead House; Mr Buffrog Scalped; and Hah Aw Killed a Tiger at T’Owd Casino.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Sheffield Daily Telegraph December 1888

The Sanger family features in  There Will Be Fun – a free British Library exhibition on Victorian popular entertainments, open until March 2017. See rare and wonderful treasures from the Evanion Collection.

Evanion the Royal conjuror plays with fire

27 December 2016

Library closures at Christmas

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If you’re feeling at a loss because the wonderful British Library is closed for five days over Christmas, spare a thought for the residents of Sheffield in 1888.  The reading rooms of the city’s free libraries were shut for a fortnight in December.

  Mechanics' Institute Sheffield

Sheffield Mechanics' Institute which housed a Free Library - image from Pawson and Brailsford's Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and neighbourhood (1862) BL flickr


Protest letters were sent to the editor of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.  Mr J Thornton of Whitham Road asked why the reading rooms were closed for more than two or three days and complained that the free libraries were being mismanaged.  Money could be saved by reducing the number of assistants at the Central Library from seven to three – they had little or nothing to do half the time. If Mr Thornton was known to the assistants, I do wonder how he fared on his next visit to the library.

‘Pro Bono Publico’ supported Mr Thornton, suggesting that the libraries be kept open all year round except for a few days’ closure for cleaning and painting.  Extra hands could be employed to cover for attendants taking holidays.  It would greatly help those seeking work if the reading rooms opened at 08.30 instead of 10.00. Half the day had gone before job seekers could get to a place any distance away, and they also missed the morning post. 

‘A Burgess’ added his voice to the protest.  Perhaps the library committee thought it did not much matter to close when people were preparing for Christmas, but ‘in this large town there are always a number of people unemployed, and others who are incapacitated from work, &c, to whom the reading rooms are a benefit and pleasure’.

The environment of the reading rooms also came in for criticism.  ‘Pro Bono Publico’ complained of the lack of ventilation: ‘When the gas is lit, and the windows closed, the atmosphere is something awful.  I should think the gas-burners and check valves want seeing to.  After I have been in a few minutes my eyes smart, and my nose certainly tells me the air is vitiated to a great extent’.

We look forward to welcoming our readers back to the well-ventilated rooms of British Library on 29 December, and hope that our services also provide pleasure as well as benefit. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive -  Sheffield Daily Telegraph 17 & 19 December 1888

07 November 2016

Pay and living conditions of Indian seamen

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In November 1942, the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery received a report from Sir Azizul Huque, High Commissioner for India in the United Kingdom, on the low pay and poor living conditions of Indian seamen serving in the British Merchant Navy. The very interesting report and subsequent correspondence on the issues are contained within a file in the India Office Records.

LE8-4755 Huque Report

Extract from a report by Azizul Huque, IOR/L/E/8/4755

Sir Azizul Huque’s report exposed the poor living conditions in Liverpool and Glasgow in which Indian seamen were obliged to live. He visited Glasgow in July 1942, and found a hostel recently constructed by the Missions to Seamen which he described as excellent, and a private boarding house named Alley’s Boarding House was regarded as acceptable. However, one common lodging house named Norfolk House was described as extremely unsatisfactory. This was due to Muslim seamen having to cook their food close to where ham and bacon were cooked by other lodgers. This was a cause of considerable grievance, as was the poor standard of cleanliness and sanitary arrangements.  Sir Azizul brought this to the attention of the Ministry of War Transport who arranged for the Indian seamen to be removed to approved boarding houses.

Sir Azizul also enclosed a report on a visit to Liverpool by Mr Tomlinson, Chairman of the Ministry of Labour Seamen’s Welfare Board, to inspect the seamen’s lodgings there. The conditions at the house at Trinity Place, Springfield were described as abominable,” a veritable rabbit warren for human beings”. Another house in the city was stated to be deplorable, and in such a state that it would be impossible to make it satisfactory, badly overcrowded and dirty, with a vile atmosphere. It was recommended that the system of farming out boarders by the steamship companies should stop, and a seaman’s hostel for Indian seamen should be established in keeping with the Ministry’s standards.

There were over 30,000 Indian seamen in the British Merchant Navy at that time, forming almost one-fifth of its total strength, and yet they received lower wages than either Chinese or British seamen. In 1942, an Indian seaman received wages of £4 1s per month compared to £16 15s for Chinese seamen and £22 12s 6d for European seamen. The official explanation given for this in an internal India Office note was that they were inefficient compared to Chinese and British seamen, and that the standard of living in the villages where Indian seamen came from was very low, and so despite being poorly paid they were still better off than their fellow villagers.

LE8-4755 Bevin Letter

Letter from Ernest Bevin to Leo Amery, IOR/L/E/8/4755

The rest of the file contains some fascinating correspondence detailing attempts by Sir Azizul Huque, Ernest Bevin, the then Minister for Labour and National Service, and others to improve the wages received by India seamen in order to bring them more into line with other seamen in the Merchant Navy. As Bevin pointed out to Amery in a letter of 1st September 1945, “these men are enduring all the risks and hardships of the sea for us and … we are withholding from them the financial recognition which is being accorded to all other sailors, both white and coloured”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
File C&O 79/46 Part B - Conditions of Employment of Indian Seamen, Sep 1944-Apr 1947 [Reference IOR/L/E/8/4755]

 

31 October 2016

The Dumb-Cake

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Women!  Dump the pumpkin this Hallowe’en!  Revive an old tradition!  Hurry away and bake a dumb-cake.

The dumb-cake was a method by which unmarried women tried to discover the identity of their future husbands. The ritual is linked to several dates in the calendar: Hallowe’en, Christmas Eve, the Eve of St Agnes (20 January), St Mark’s Eve (24 April), and Midsummer Eve. There were variations in practice in different parts of the UK but all agreed that that not a word must be spoken throughout.  The slightest whisper would break the spell. 

According to the Preston Herald, a large sheet of white paper was spread on a table and three girls each placed on it a handful of flour and a pinch of salt. A dough was made and the girls took turns to roll it out. They then marked the dough with their initials and put it before the fire to bake. The girls sat in a half-circle as far away from the fire as possible. Between 11pm and 12am each girl had to turn the cake once. On the last stroke of midnight, the future husband of the girl to be married first would stride into the room and point at her initials.

A Scottish version of the cake recipe was far more inventive.  The Aberdeen Evening Express gave instructions for four girls to prepare thimblefuls of sand, flour, bran, salt, and brick-dust, with parings of their nails and some hair from the back of their head.  So not something you’ll ever see show-cased on the Great British Bake Off.

 

Girl sleeping

From Norman Rowland Gale,  Songs for Little People (London, 1896) BL flickr  Noc

 

Dumb-Cake rules in Yorkshire decreed:
Two to make it,
Two to bake it,
Two to break it.
A third girl put a piece of the cake under the pillows of the two bakers.  When they dreamed, the girls would see the face of their future husband.

In Leicestershire, dumb-cakes were intended to be eaten.  The girls ate their share whilst walking backwards to bed.  If a girl was destined to be married, she would see her husband rushing in pursuit.

Dumb-Cake

The Dumb-Cake  - A play in one act (1907) Noc

A one act play entitled The Dumb-Cake was first produced at the Hicks Theatre in London on 19 June 1907. It is set at Hallowe’en at Webster’s Almshouse in the Borough where Martha Hardy has been nursing her bed-ridden mother for some years.  A neighbour, Mrs Nye, has encouraged Martha to bake a dumb-cake. When Spotto Bird, a pickpocket seeking refuge from the police, ducks through Martha’s open door, she believes the cake has worked its spell...

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Aberdeen Evening Express 26 April 1894; Preston Herald 25 July 1903; Leeds Mercury 24 June 1913; Leicester Daily Mercury 25 April 1939.
Arthur Morrison and Richard Pryce, The Dumb-Cake  - A play in one act (1907)