THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

107 posts categorized "Health"

25 July 2017

A Soldier’s Life – the memoir of William Young 76th Regiment of Foot

Add comment

We recently acquired the captivating memoir of William Young, HM 76th Regiment of Foot.  Young wrote  ‘A Soldier’s Life &  Experience’ whilst stationed in Bangalore in 1871 ‘surrounded by lovely scenery, thousands of miles away,’ to give his relatives at home ‘some faint idea of my chequered life – its joys, its troubles and sorrows’. 

Mss Eur F 698 -1 compressed
One of H.M.’s 76th Regt’ by William Young MSS Eur F698

William starts with his childhood in Ireland and his unhappy relationship with his father who was ‘a very cross man’ with ‘ a rough harsh manner’.   Having decided to leave home, William ‘in mad brained folly enlisted for a Soldier’.  His ‘ever gentle and kind mother’ fretted for him. When she died soon afterwards, she was said to have called for William with her last breath.

Mss Eur F698 - 2 compressed
‘Good bye Sister!  I’m going for a Soldier!!’ by William Young MSS Eur F698


In February 1864, William’s regiment arrived in Madras  after ‘a charming voyage’.  He describes his reactions to his new surroundings – the people, their clothes and language, the blazing sun.  Barely a week after landing he was promoted to Lance Corporal at the age of only nineteen, being ‘a tall, smart, healthy looking young fellow’.

William started to court Mary, the daughter of John Nugent a retired Army Warrant Officer. As John objected to the relationship, William visited Mary at night muffled up in a large black cloak!  John eventually gave his consent to the marriage, but, as William expected, the Colonel of his regiment said that he was too young to marry and there was no vacancy for Mary to be taken on the strength as a wife. 

John Nugent died on 2 November 1865 and Mary’s mother Jane agreed that the couple should marry without permission.  William and Mary had two marriage ceremonies, Protestant at St Matthias Vepery on 17 November 1865, and Catholic at Bangalore on 22 December 1865.  The couple were forced to live apart and Mary worked as a lady’s servant. They did not meet for eighteen months. After William signed on for another term of eleven years, he was given accommodation in the married quarters, with the promise of Mary being taken onto the strength as soon as a vacancy occurred.

There is a gripping description of a military march.  William marched with a pebble in his mouth to help keep away the ‘parching thirst’.  The women of the regiment rode in a cart; many were drunk.  Mary was horrified at their uncouth behaviour and was ostracised for refusing to associate with them.   When the regiment received orders to go to Rangoon, Mary fled to her sister in Trichinopoly rather than travel on with the other women. Her belongings were on board the ship and so William was obliged to sell them in Burma. The couple were later reunited in 1868 at Madras when Mary came to visit William in hospital.  Sadly, Mary died in November 1868 at the age of only 25 – ‘thank God we were permitted to meet and make up all our little misunderstandings’. 

Mss Eur F698- 3 compressed
‘The tired Soldier and his family’ by William Young MSS Eur F698

William’s memoir continues with his return to Britain on leave, his voyage back to India, and a fascinating account of the daily life of a soldier in India, including the relationship between the Army and the local peoples.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
MSS Eur F698 Memoir of William Young
Church register entries for William’s marriages- IOR/N/2/46 ff. 359, 379. Digitised images available via the Findmypast website.
(Mary’s name is given as Catherine in the church records from India.)

 

19 June 2017

Judith Weston and her search for a husband

Add comment

Judith Weston left England in December 1727 to visit her brother William in India.  William had recently been appointed to the East India Company’s civil service in Bengal. Aged 26 and belonging to a large family living at West Horsley in Surrey, Judith was hoping to find a husband. 

Still 4
 India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162 Noc

Her voyage to India on the ship Streatham (or Stretham) is described in Judith’s account which is preserved in the India Office Private Papers. There were four other female passengers on board the ship. Judith explained that the Bay of Biscay was so rough that they could not cook meals, change their clothes or even lie down. The other ladies were horribly seasick, but not Judith! She even kept a good appetite. She tells us that one of the other ladies was so sick, she burst a vessel in her stomach.

The ship docked in the Cape Verde islands and Judith was fascinated by the active volcano, Fogo. Hot lava was visible at night and the female passengers found this frightening. The ship continued to the Cape of Good Hope and then onwards to India.

 Still 5

India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162 Noc

The ship stopped off at Fort St George in Madras (modern day Chennai) on its way to Calcutta (Kolkata). The ladies had to endure a difficult journey to shore by rowing boat in very rough seas. Judith was embarrassed by the fact that the oarsmen were wearing only loincloths.

Arrival at MadrasNoc

Landing at Madras P1551 (1856) Images Online  

When Judith made dry land, she was taken to the governor but the other ladies had to stay in a punch tavern. They were all invited to a dinner and dance in the evening. The governor made it very clear that he thought that none of the ladies would get a husband. Judith did not like being treated as merely a package of goods for market. The governor had been asked by an East India Company official who lived at an outpost station to find a wife for him. The governor thought Judith would do. He was very surprised when Judith refused the offer. She was determined to continue on her voyage to see her brother.

Judith found a husband very quickly - within a month of the Streatham’s arrival at Calcutta in July 1728.  She married Scottish-born merchant John Fullerton on 16 August 1728. The previous year, John had been the sole survivor of an attack on a group of Englishmen at Jeddah.

It seems to have been a very happy relationship. In 1732 the couple left India on separate ships to return to England and settle there. John wrote to Judith from St Helena declaring his love for her. He was relieved to find that she had given birth safely on board ship. She was three weeks away from port at the time. She had produced a fine baby boy but John wanted a daughter. In his letter, he wrote that he hoped to have a ‘little Judy’ in the future. His wish was granted. As well as four sons, they had a daughter Judith.
 
Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton

At our event on 19 June you can hear more about the shipboard experiences of voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.

Further reading:
Judith Fullerton papers, British Library, India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162
John Fullerton papers, British Library, India Office Private Papers Mss Eur D602

 

07 June 2017

Three men and a boy (and a coal mine…)

Add comment

In 1735, three men and a boy from an unassuming village near Bristol made the headlines. As one cheaply printed broadside says, “amongst the many and various accounts which have been given us of accidents happening to mankind, nothing has occur’d more particular for many years than the following account from Bristol”.

ThreeMenAndABoy

A full and true account of the wonderfull deliverance of three men and a boy. Bristol, c.1780.

Joseph Smith, 69, Edward Peacock, Abraham Peacock (his son) and Thomas Hemings of Mangotsfield worked in an old coal mine near Two Mile Hill in Kings Wood. In the early 18th century, coalfields were divided into ‘liberties’. Aristocratic families owned these liberties and leased the mining rights to master colliers, the so-called ‘adventurers of the coal mines’. This particular mine was owned by the Chester family and run by one Joseph Jefferies. 

On this fateful day a “prodigious torrent of water burst out of the veins”, spelling “nigh immediate death” for the miners. Their candles were extinguished instantly and the mine began to flood. As the water rose, the men scrabbled for higher ground until they found a “hatchin”, a local term meaning a “high slant from whence coal has been dug”.

They huddled together on this ledge, in the darkness, for 10 days and 19 hours. They divvied up a bit of beef and a crust of bread between themselves and drunk their last drops of water. As the days passed, desperation forced them into “drinking their own urine”, chewing on coal chips and even “a piece of shoe”.

Why did it take so long for the miners to be rescued? Well, the colliers on the surface tried several times to go down into the mine and rescue their “unfortunate brethren” but they suspected a “black damp in the work”. Black damp is a noxious mixture of poisonous gas that eliminates oxygen from the atmosphere, causing suffocation. It’s common in mines and, nowadays, there are safety measures in place to combat this but in the early 18th century there were none.

Eventually, a last ditch rescue attempt was successful. The rescuers apparently carried down a “quantity of burning coals” and “draughted the damp” so they could reach the miners. The writer of this broadside declares that, “what with the heat of the place they were in, and the nauseous fumes of their bodies, their want of water and meat during so long a time,” the survival of the miners must be considered “nothing else but a surprising miracle”.

So what happened next? A long spell in hospital? Early retirement? Nope! These miners were made of tougher stuff than that. They received some “comfortable refreshment”, walked to their respective homes and faded into obscurity as local printers found another melodramatic story to report. And that was the end of that!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

25 May 2017

The Art of Children’s Games

Add comment

One of the delights of working with archives is when you come across something unexpected while looking for something else completely. This occurred recently when I was looking through a file of newspaper cuttings relating to Persia in the collections of papers of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, held at the British Library. Amongst the papers was a page from The Sphere newspaper, from March 1906, showing a collection of photographs under the title “What To Do With Children: The Art Of Games, as taught by the Children’s Happy Evenings Association”.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249 cropped

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

In the late 19th century, the health of working class children was a major concern for social reformers. Children often lived in cramped and unhealthy conditions, with the expansion of cities leaving a lack of safe space where children could play in the evenings. The construction of railways and factories tended to take priority over parks and recreation grounds.

Founded in 1889 by Ada Heather-Bigg, the goal of the Children’s Happy Evenings Association was to provide a wide range of games and activities which working class children could do after school hours. Heather-Bigg believed that play created happiness which was an important element in the development of a child’s health. Giving children something to do in the evenings would also prevent them from getting into trouble and falling into bad ways. Participation in the Happy Evenings was dependent on a child having a good school attendance. This had the advantage of stressing the importance of school and education, but inevitably meant many of the poorest children were excluded.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

By 1906, the Association had 134 branches across London, and affiliated organisations had been set up in Manchester, Plymouth, Oxford, Middlesbrough and Walthamstow.  It relied on the help of volunteers, with around 1300 volunteers helping to teach 22,000 children from the poorest areas of London how to play. Toys, such as dolls and board games were donated by wealthier families, and there were more energetic games such as running, skipping, and boxing. Music and dancing was also offered, which was a real attraction at a time when a piano was not standard school equipment. The Association came to an end with the start of the First World War.

John O’Brien
India Office Records


Further reading:
The Sphere, 24 March 1906, page 275 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England, Jane Martin (Leicester University Press, 1999)
Playwork: Theory and Practice, edited by Fraser Brown (Open University Press, 2003)

 

25 April 2017

William Close - “one deserving of remembrance”

Add comment

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

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

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

Close 1

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

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

Close 2

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

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

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

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

P J M Marks
Curator of Bookbindings, Early Printed Collections

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

Picturing Places - English Landscape Bindings by Philippa Marks

06 April 2017

English settlements on Madagascar – a tale of disaster

Add comment

East India Company ships regularly called at Madagascar for water and firewood, and bartered with the local people for supplies of beef and fresh provisions. But in the 1630s and 1640s there were English ambitions to establish a plantation on Madagascar.  The East India Company declined to become involved, saying all resources were fully committed to normal trading operations.

Madagascar 1655 Map of Madagascar 1655 from Gabriel Gravier, La Cartographie de Madagascar (Paris, 1896) 010095.g.13 BL flickr

In 1644 the Courteen Association sent 140 men, women and children as planters to Madagascar.  A settlement was established on the south side of St Augustine’s Bay.  But crops failed, there was not enough grass to pasture cattle, the settlers lacked proper supplies, and fever and dysentery struck. Faced with starvation, the survivors sailed for the Comoros in May 1646.

In the spring of 1649 an all-male group of planters set out. They planned to settle on one of the islands off the north-west coast of Madagascar. The East India Company was persuaded to reach an agreement with the merchants backing the venture, and in February 1650 sent two ships to drop more men and supplies at the plantation.  Presents were taken for the King of Assada – a small chariot which had belonged to Queen Anne, a sword, and a looking glass. But again death from disease and the hostility of the local people caused the planters to give up.  They sailed for Surat on 20 August 1650.  Most entered East India Company service as seamen, and the rest were sent home.

Bearblock journal

Extract from the journal of James Bearblock concerning his voyage to Assada and Bantam in the Supply  6 October 1650 - 16 March 1650/51 IOR/E/3/22 ff.29-36 (OC 2173)  Noc

This is what East India Company captain James Bearblock discovered when he arrived in the Supply at Madagascar in early October 1650:
‘As soon as the ship was moored, I sent the boat well manned ashore to Antifia, who when they came aland, found the town ruinated, and the most part burnt & not any inhabitant there, neither by my conjecture had been (for I went ashore presently after) of a long time.  But there we found scattered many bones and skulls of dead men to the number of 30 or thereabouts, and in the ruins of one great house, a piece of an English feather bed tick, with some feathers, and a piece of a rug, such as our company of planters were accommodated withall, with some shoes and slippers part burnt.  We also found in the same house, many great and small beads of glass striped, some whole and some melted.  Also hauling the seine in the river wee drew up at one draught one of the Company’s ammunition swords, just such a one as we had for the plantation.  This made me doubt more, having sad appearances of a tragic scene acted in that place.  I knew not suddenly what to conjecture of it, nor which way to apply myself to gain a real knowledge of this sad accident.  The natives were so shy, that it was impossible to have speech with them’.

Bearblock made repeated efforts to find the settlers before sailing to the Comoros where he learned what had happened.  Because of the inevitable time delay in news reaching London, the Company continued to send ships and planters to Assada, and the ships continued to search for the settlement before giving up and proceeding to India. The experiment was not attempted again.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company records: IOR/B Minutes of the Court of Directors; IOR/E/3 Correspondence with Asia
Alison Games, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660 (Oxford University Press, 2008)
William Foster, ‘An English settlement in Madagascar in 1645-6 ‘, English Historical Review, Vol.27, No. 106 (April 1912), pp.239-250

 

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

Add comment

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

16 March 2017

Aristotle’s Masterpiece: What to expect when you’re expecting, seventeenth-century style

Add comment

How would a seventeenth-century woman know if she’s pregnant? Why, by the following signs of course: “pains in the head, vertigo, and dimness of the eyes…the eyes themselves swell, and become of a dull or dark colour”.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the most popular manual about sex, pregnancy and childbirth from its first appearance in 1684 through hundreds of editions up to the late nineteenth century. The manual offers advice on everything from “the use and actions of the genitals” to “monstrous births, and the reasons thereof”. This is a book for the common people that would’ve been cheaply printed, sold ‘under the table’ and hidden under the mattress at home. With its advice for both men and women, it would’ve been furtively rifled through as often as we use Google (rightly or wrongly) to decipher our medical problems nowadays.

Image1
Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available].  Noc

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is neither by Aristotle or, indeed, a masterpiece. Nicolas Culpeper had already written his Directory for Midwives in 1651 and other writers and booksellers sought to emulate its resounding success. Aristotle was a long-established pseudonym used when printing works about reproduction. The text itself is a peculiar mash-up of early seventeenth-century medical works and popular old wives’ tales about sex and reproduction passed down through generations.

For instance, is it a boy or a girl? Well, “male children lie always on the [right] side of the womb” and girls on the left. But if you wanted to be certain, cast a drop of milk into a basin of water. If the milk drop sinks to the bottom intact, it’s a girl. If it spreads and disperses on the surface of the water, it’s a boy. With sage advice like this, it’s hardly surprising that copies of The Masterpiece were used until they literally wore out. This means that comparatively few survive today, with the British Library being lucky to hold about thirty different early editions.

To us, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is a delightfully eccentric insight into seventeenth-century sexual and reproductive lore, sometimes recognisable as the precursor to modern science and sometimes decidedly not.

Image2
Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

This manual devotes a lot of time to describing monsters, for example. These “monstrous births” are variously attributed to “maternal imagination, witchcraft, human-animal copulation or a disorder of the womb”. The crude curious woodcuts, instrumental to the manual’s appeal, feature a child with its eyes where its mouth should’ve been, a naked woman covered in hair and conjoined twins amongst others.

Image3
Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

Elsewhere there are largely sensible instructions for midwives. The basic anatomical descriptions and the large, fold out diagram of the position of a baby in the womb also occupy more familiar territory for modern readers.

Image4
Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

But home remedies that feature dog’s grease or even dragon’s blood soon confuse matters again.  As does the insistence that bleeding a woman, a somewhat primitive practice, is advised if she’s having difficulty during childbirth and that, during pregnancy, a woman must ensure that her home is not, for some inexplicable reason, “infected with frogs”.  Ribbet.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections