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Untold lives blog

29 posts categorized "Georgians-revealed"

03 June 2016

‘My present dreadful situation’: The perils of fame as an 18th century actress

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Shakespeare in Ten Acts, our major summer exhibition for this year, tells the story of 400 years of Shakespeare in performance.  We tell the stories not only of the best known and most successful actors of the day, but also those who struggled to make a living and today have fallen from memory.

I curated the part of the exhibition showing women on the stage, from the unnamed first professional female actor who played Desdemona in Othello on 8 December 1660, right through to genderblind and genderqueer casting in the last few years. 18th century female actors typically came from difficult backgrounds and went on the stage through a lack of social options, and were discarded by theatre managers and the public when they became a little older.

The Folger Shakespeare Library has generously loaned us a number of items of memorabilia relating to female actors in this period. The cult of celebrity around the performers meant that women were evidently clamouring for domestic items such as a decorative tile with Jane Lessingham as Ophelia in Hamlet ...

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© Folger 241098 ART (realia) (B2d). Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

...or a perfume bottle with Ann Barry as Constance in King John -

Tanya BL14.4.16_082

Items loaned  by the Folger Shakespeare Library

 

...or even an enamel medallion featuring George Anne Bellamy with David Garrick, as Romeo and Juliet -

  Bellamy & Garrick

David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy in Romeo and Juliet. Based on a painting by Benjamin Wilson engraved by Ravenet. Enamel, ca. 1765 © Folger Shakespeare Library


I found George Anne Bellamy’s story the saddest. She was a star of the Covent Garden stage, particularly successful in romantic roles. She was extremely popular with the public, and when a rival actress was cast as Cordelia in King Lear, Bellamy arranged for handbills to be distributed to the audience, stating that the part had been taken from her the previous night but that she would ‘be ready in case I should, that evening, be honoured with the preference'. The crowd cried in her favour and she was waiting in the wings to replace her humiliated rival.

This might seem like an unsisterly act, but the stage was a cut-throat business for women and the crowds could be very fickle. Indeed by her late thirties, Bellamy’s fame was beginning to fade and she was plagued by gambling and lifestyle debts. She had also had three illegitimate children.

I uncovered three poignant letters written by Bellamy amongst the private papers of Robert Clive at the British Library.

Bellamy 1

India Office Private Papers Mss Eur G37/94/1   Noc


The letters date from summer 1767, when Clive had just returned from India for the final time. Bellamy, recently released from a debtor’s prison, wrote to him begging for money. In the first letter, she explains that  ‘My having had too liberal an education for my fortune, I was induced to come upon the stage where youth, adulation and my natural vivacity, as well as keeping too good company, led me into unpardonable follies’. She wrote two further letters in increasing desperation and concern that the letters had not been delivered properly.  On the back of each of the three letters, Clive or his secretary wrote the words ‘no reply’.

Most of these women are almost entirely forgotten today, while their male counterparts who acted with them – David Garrick or Spranger Barry – are still relatively well-known. It’s nice to be able to tell these women’s stories for a change.

Tanya Kirk
Co-curator, Shakespeare in Ten Acts  Cc-by

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur G37/94/1 & 2  Letters sent from George Anne Bellamy to Robert Clive 1767

 

More about our stunning Shakespeare exhibition and the programme of events

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15 December 2015

'Seeing without being seen' – Bentham and the Panopticon prison

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Since 2012, the British Library has been part of the Transcribe Bentham initiative, which gives volunteers the opportunity to explore and transcribe papers written by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).  Transcribe Bentham celebrated its fifth anniversary in September 2015 and volunteers have now transcribed a whopping 14,000 manuscripts!  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our transcribers because their efforts feed directly into the work undertaken by the Bentham Project at University College London in preparing the new edition of Bentham’s Collected Works.  The British Library holds around 15,000 pages of material written by Bentham and his family members.  A new batch of this material has just been digitised and we hope that the following taster might inspire any interested newcomers to come and have a go at transcribing Bentham. 

  Img_1_UC cxix, f.125r
Panopticon plans (drawn by Willey Reveley), c. 1794-1795 (Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections, UC cxix, f. 125r)

 

Many of these freshly digitised papers concern the Panopticon prison, one of Bentham’s most infamous ideas.  Bentham argued that prisons should use an ingenious system of surveillance to encourage inmates to reform their behaviour.  The name Panopticon comes from the Greek  – ‘pan’ meaning ‘all’ and ‘opticon’ relating to the idea of seeing or observing.  As Bentham explained, ‘The essence of it consists then, in the centrality of the Inspector’s situation, combined with the well known and most effectual contrivances for seeing without being seen.  As to the general form of the building, the most commodious for most purposes seems to be the circular’.  An elaborate system of lights and screens would allow a centrally-positioned prison governor to see into each cell, without being seen himself.
 

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Jeremy Bentham, Draft of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, c. 1787 (British Library Add MS 33550 f. 158r) Noc

The unnerving possibility of being watched at all times would make prisoners more likely to keep out of mischief.  Bentham was so convinced by this idea that he also maintained that the Central Inspection principle could be similarly utilised in other institutions like workhouses, hospitals or schools.  Yet he did express some qualms as to ‘whether it would be advisable to apply such constant and unremitting pressure to the tender mind’.  These papers are draft versions of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, a pamphlet which Bentham published in 1791.  Comparing these drafts with the final published text should give us an insight into the evolution of Bentham’s philosophy.  These papers will also provide context to current research into Bentham’s criticisms of the method of transporting convicts to Australia as a form of punishment. 

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Jeremy Bentham, Draft of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, c. 1787 (British Library Add MS 33550 f. 201v) Noc

If the Panopticon has piqued your interest, visit Transcribe Bentham today to begin transcribing.  In addition to the Panopticon writings, the latest set of British Library papers contains some of Bentham’s writings on logic and his proposals for a legal code.  We are continuing to digitise new material and there are a large variety of other writings, from across Bentham’s long life, already available to transcribers.  You do not need any specialist skills or knowledge to participate, just a willingness to have a go!  The Transcribe Bentham website has lots of information to guide newcomers through the process of completing their first transcriptions.  We hope to see you there! 

Louise Seaward
Research Associate, Bentham Project, Faculty of Laws, University College London

Visit the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk today
Follow Transcribe Bentham on Twitter @TranscriBentham

Further reading:
Jeremy Bentham, Selected Writings, ed. by Stephen Engelmann (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011)
Janet Semple, Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

 

27 October 2015

Captain Cook – Endeavour and Resolution

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Captain James Cook was born in the village of Marton in the North Riding of Yorkshire on 27 October 1728. He began his career at sea working in the North Sea coal trade, but in 1755 he enlisted in the Royal Navy. During the Seven Years War he served as the Master on the Pembroke, discovering and developing his talent for surveying.

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Engraving of Captain James Cook, Add MS 23920 f.1r

The chart below was created by Cook in 1763. It shows the Islands of St Pierre and Miquelon just off the South Coast of Newfoundland.

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 Chart of the Islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, Add MS 31360 f.21

In 1767 Cook was appointed to command the Endeavour on a voyage commissioned by the Royal Society to observe the Transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti. On board were astronomer Charles Green and the wealthy naturalist Joseph Banks whose retinue included the artists Alexander Buchan and Sidney Parkinson (who both died on the voyage) and the naturalist Daniel Solander.

Sailing from Plymouth on 25 August 1768, Cook reached Tahiti on 13 April 1769. After successfully observing the Transit of Venus, Cook opened his secret instructions from the Admiralty which ordered him to search for the Great Southern Continent.  Having failed to find the continent Cook decided to investigate the land sighted by Abel Tasman in 1642, which Dutch cartographers had named New Zealand. The chart below was drawn by Cook and is accurate except for two mistakes: he charted Banks Peninsula as an island, and he charted Stewart Island as a Peninsula.

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Chart of New Zealand, Add MS 7085 f.17

Cook carried onto the Eastern Coast of Australia, the first sighting by Europeans. After carrying out a running survey of the East Coast, Cook returned to England. The voyage was received by the British public as a great success. However Cook had not given up on the idea of finding a Great Southern Continent and proposed a second voyage circumnavigating the globe from west to east as far south as possible.

Captain Cook sailed in the Resolution in company with Tobias Furneaux in the Adventure. Whilst attempting to locate the fabled Southern continent Cook and his officers accurately charted the islands in the Pacific they came across including Vanuatu as shown below. This chart is attributed to Midshipman John Elliott.

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A plan of Vanuatu with 4 views, Add MS 15500 f.17

Cook was appointed to the Resolution again early in 1776 to locate the North West passage, accompanied by Captain Charles Clerke in the Discovery.  Having failed to discover the passage, Cook was forced to return to the Hawaiian Islands with a damaged ship. Relations with the local people were hostile and took a turn for the worse when the one of the Discovery’s cutters was stolen and Cook planned to take an Hawaiian Chief hostage. When he went ashore on 14 February 1779 he was met by a volatile crowd. In the ensuing altercation Cook and four of the marines were killed.

Cook Add MS 15513 f.29Noc

View at Waimea in the Hawaiian Islands by John Webber, Add MS 15513 f.29

The British Library holds a world renowned collection of the charts, artwork (ethnographic and landscapes) and logbooks from Cook's three voyages. We are pleased to announce that we are curating an exhibition based on these collections which will be held in summer 2018.

Laura Walker
Lead Curator Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1850-1950 Cc-by

Further reading:
More information on James Cook can be found at: Andrew C.F. David, 'James Cook', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
An account of the second voyage by John Elliott is held at the British Library Add MS 42714 ff.7-45.

 

21 October 2015

Trafalgar and the death of Nelson

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Today, 21 October, marks the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought by the Royal Navy in 1805 under the command of Viscount Horatio Nelson against a superior combined force of French and Spanish ships commanded by the French Admiral Villeneuve. It was the most decisive naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars, confirming British naval supremacy and ensuring that Napoleon was unable to progress his plans for an invasion of Britain.

In a letter written just before the battle Nelson informed his mistress Emma Hamilton:

'…the signal has been made that the enemy's combined fleet are coming out of Port. We have very little wind, so that I have no hopes of seeing them before tomorrow. May the God of Battles crown my endeavours with success; at all events, I will take care that my name shall ever be most dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life. And as my last writing before the Battle will be to you, so I hope in God that I shall live to finish my letter after the Battle'.

This was the last letter Nelson would write Emma.  

Nelson Egerton 1614, f.125

Horatio Nelson to Emma Hamilton, 19 Oct. 1805. British Library, Egerton MS 1614, f.125 Noc

 

Just before the two sides engaged at about noon on 21 October, Nelson sent round his famous flag signal: ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’. By 5pm the battle was virtually over with the British having captured seventeen prizes and burned another. Admiral Villeneuve was taken prisoner and taken back to Britain. Only eleven French ships escaped back to Cádiz and of those only five were considered seaworthy.

So comprehensive was the victory that Nelson’s unorthodox tactics have given rise to a great deal of controversy ever since, with some praising them as a masterpiece of naval strategy while others question how much control he had over his unusual plans. Nelson’s chief aim was to send the enemy into confusion. Twelve days before the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson sent this memorandum to Admiral Collingwood: the British fleet was to be drawn up ‘in two lines of 16 ships each with an advanced squadron’. The intention was to ‘overpower from two or three ships ahead of the Commander-in-Chief’.  

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Admiral Lord Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar Memorandum, 9 Oct. 1805. British Library, Add MS 37953 Noc

 

The victory at Trafalgar came at the cost of many lives including that of Nelson who was hit by a musket-ball fired from the mast of the French ship Redoubtable. In severe pain, he died three hours later at 4.30 pm. His body was preserved in a barrel of brandy for the voyage home.

Celebration of the great victory at Trafalgar was heavily tempered with grief at the news of Nelson’s death. On 9 January 1806 he was interred in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.  Huge, silent crowds lined the streets to watch the cortège go past. Even the captured French Admiral, Villeneuve, was present to pay his respects.  

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Lord Nelson’s Funeral Procession by Water, 8 January 1806. British Library, K.Top.27.46. Noc

 

Nelson's influence continued long after his death with great revivals of interest, especially during times of national crisis in Britain. Though it came at the cost of his life, his comprehensive victory over the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar ensured his reputation as one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes for many centuries to come.   

Alexander Lock
Curator Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1851-1950 Cc-by

 

17 October 2015

The London Beer Flood 1814

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On 17 October 1814 catastrophe struck at Meux’s Brewery on Tottenham Court Road London.  Eight people lost their lives when a vat full of beer burst, releasing 3,555 barrels of liquid.  The shock demolished the brick wall of the brew-house which was 25 feet high and 22 inches deep and caused a substantial part of the roof to fall in.  The cock of the adjoining vat was broken and the contents poured out, adding to the flood of beer. 

 

  Beer barrels Noc

A brewery in happier times – image taken from George Cruikshank, The House that Jack built ... (London, 1853) shelfmark 11647.g.15

 

Those who died were named as:
Eleanor Cooper aged 14, servant to Richard Hawes of the Tavistock Arms, Great Russell Street
Mary Mulvey, a married woman aged 30, and her son Thomas Murry aged 3 by a former husband
Hannah Banfield aged 4
Sarah Baten aged 3
Ann Saville aged 60
Elizabeth Smith, a married woman aged 27
Catherine Butler, a widow aged 65

Richard Hawes gave evidence at the coroner’s inquest held on Wednesday19 October that he was in the tap room of the Tavistock Arms at 5.30pm on the previous Monday when he heard a crash. The back part of his house was beaten in and everything in his cellar destroyed. Beer was pouring into his pub and across the street.  Eleanor Cooper was in the yard washing pots and her body was dug out from the ruins nearly three hours later. She was found standing by the water butt.

One little girl lost her mother, brother and grandmother in the accident.  They were buried and suffocated in the kitchen of a house in New Street adjacent to the brew-house. She escaped because she had just been given permission to go out to play in the street.

Others suffered serious injuries: the brewery superintendent and one of the labourers were taken to Middlesex Hospital and were reported to be ‘in a dangerous way’. The coroner’s jury returned a verdict that the victims had met with their deaths ‘casually, accidentally, and by misfortune’.

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

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Nottingham Gazette 28 October 1814, Liverpool Mercury 28 October 1814

 

29 September 2015

Metropolitan Police take to the streets

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On 29 September 1829 the Metropolitan Police took to the streets of London for the first time.  The main purpose of the force was said to be the prevention of crime, with every officer responsible for the preservation of peace and order in the district within his care.  Promotion would be the reward for vigilance. No policeman was to enter a public house except in the performance of his duty, and publicans were liable to a penalty for allowing police to remain on their premises.

 

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Policeman from E M Davies, Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old (London, 1875), p.239 BL flickr 

 

The next day the Morning Post published this assessment of the new constables.

‘Last night the New Police appeared on duty for the first time.

From the slight observation we had an opportunity of making, they seemed well fitted for the discharge of the duties they have undertaken as far as regards bodily power.  Such as were stationed along the great thoroughfares of Holborn and the Strand moved backwards and forwards at a slow pace, without any indication of that offensive inquisitiveness and unnecessary meddling which too often marked the conduct of the watchmen.  Many of them have rather the appearance of respectable tradesmen than of persons taken from the more humble classes. Their dress is not so glaring as to attract notice, and their insignia of office are in a great measure concealed by a dark-coloured great coat.  In one of the narrow streets near Charing-cross, a silly and wanton trial of their assiduity was made by springing a rattle from one of the garret windows.  The Police in the neighbourhood were soon on the spot from whence the alarm proceeded, but found their attendance useless.  A crowd was collected, but soon dispersed, after indulging their curiosity by an inspection of the Police uniform.’

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

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Post 30 September 1829; Bury and Norwich Post 30 September 1829.

 

23 September 2015

A Caracal for the King

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“The Keeper of the Beasts in the Tower is to wait upon you with the Indian who is to return to his country.”  So began a letter from Robert Wood, Under-Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Southern Department, to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company on 18 March 1760.

Caracal IOR E 1 42 f 106

IOR/E/1/42 f 106 Letter from Robert Wood at Whitehall to the East India Company Court of Directors 18 March 1760 concerning Abdullah’s visit to accompany the caracal and arranging his return to Bengal. Noc

 

The Indian in question was Abdullah, a member of the household of Nawab Mir Jafar Ali Khan, who had recently been chosen as Ruler of Bengal by Sir Robert Clive. The Nawab had already presented valuable gifts to the Company of clothes, jewels, essences, weapons and portraits, which had been sent to London for the attention of the Court of Directors. The Company kept the jewels and presented the clothes and essences to the ladies of the Royal Family and the weapons and portraits to the British Museum. The Nawab however was also keen to establish his own more personal direct relations with King George II, and offered him as a gift a rare syagush (more commonly known as a caracal) for the King’s menagerie, which he instructed Abdullah to accompany to London in 1759.

 

  Caracal
From The Land of the Lion; or, Adventures among the wild animals of Africa (London, 1876) BL flickr Noc

On their arrival in London King George, who was reported to be very taken with the gift, instructed his Secretary of State William Pitt not only to oversee the installation of the caracal in the Tower of London’s menagerie, but also to ensure that Abdullah received honoured treatment during his stay, paid for out of the royal treasury.  It fell to the Royal Keeper of the Beasts at the Tower of London not only to accept the caracal into his collection but also to personally escort Abdullah around London.

Abdullah spent a year in London before the East India Company were approached to assist in arranging his return to Bengal. The instructions given by Robert Wood to the Company on Mr Pitt’s behalf were for Abdullah to receive a ‘relatively luxurious’ passage home with any diet, liquor and accommodation requirements being met, and that on his arrival in Bengal he was to be given a gift of 50 guineas from Mr Pitt.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/42, f 106, f 208 Miscellaneous letters received 1760
Michael Herbert Fisher, Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain 1600-1857 (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), pp.63-64.

 

18 September 2015

Samuel Johnson’s MA diploma

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Today is the 306th birthday of Samuel Johnson, compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language and poet and moralist. Johnson was born on 7 September 1709, but after the calendar was adjusted in 1752 he celebrated his birthday on 18 September. Actually 'celebrated' is too strong a word, because Johnson didn't like to be reminded of the passing years.  When his friend James Boswell reminded him of his impending birthday in 1773, Johnson wrote:

    The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the     general care of humanity to escape. I can now look back upon threescore and four years, in which     little has been done, and little has been enjoyed, a life diversified by misery, spent part in the     sluggishness of penury, and part under the violence of pain, in gloomy discontent, or     importunate distress.

    (from a letter to Hester Thrale, 21 September 1773)

Despite his gloomy thoughts, it was not the case that Johnson had achieved little. He had devoted nine years of his life to his dictionary; it was a brilliant achievement, and before it went to press his friends wanted his academic qualities to be recognised.  As a young man, Johnson had been to Pembroke College, Oxford, but he had not completed his studies and left without a degree.  His friends therefore approached the University of Oxford to seek a Master of Arts for Johnson. The university conferred the MA on Johnson in 1755 in recognition of his work on the dictionary. This was just in time for the letters ‘A.M’ to be added to the title page.

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Title-page of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). 70.i.12.    Noc

 

The university went on to confer a doctorate on Johnson in 1775, which pleased him greatly.

Johnson’s MA diploma is now preserved in the British Library.  After his death it was owned by his friend and biographer James Boswell, and it came to the Library in 1910.

  Samuel johnson diploma

Samuel Johnson’s MA diploma, Add MS 38063   Noc


Sandra Tuppen
Lead Curator Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1601-1850