THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

27 April 2017

Picturing Places - Taking a wider view?

Think of the British Library’s collections - it is probably books rather than prints and drawings which come to mind.  Think of Gainsborough, Constable or Turner:  do you picture Sublime, imaginary paintings rather than ‘topographical’, place-specific prints and drawings?

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33.h.7.: Peter Fabris, The eruption of Vesuvius, from Supplement to the Campi Phelgraei (1779) Noc

Picturing Places, a new free online resource launched today by the British Library, aims to widen perceptions of both the British Library’s holdings and topographical art.

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Maps K.Top.14.83.e.: Anonymous, Interior view of the east end of Netley Abbey near Southampton (about 1790-1810) Noc

Rather than seeing topography as marginal compared to the landscapes in oils or watercolours by the canon of ‘great artists’ or more imaginative and Sublime images, Picturing Places celebrates images of specific places in the graphic arts, sparking a lively debate around nationhood, identity, and cultural value.

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Add MS 36486 C: George Scharf, Panorama of Ratisbon (Regensburg) (1845) Noc

The British Library holds the world’s most extensive and important collection of British topographic materials: from handwritten notes by antiquarians to rare first editions, extra-illustrated books and unique compilations of plates, text and drawings by named collectors, the British Library is a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in the intersections between place, art, representation and history.  The full extent and depth of the collections are only now being properly recognised and explored. 

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Add MS 15546, f.101: Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, A service in Bath Abbey (1788) Noc

Picturing Places explores the Library’s extensive holdings of landscape imagery and showcases works of art by well-known artists such as J.M.W. Turner alongside images by a multitude of lesser-known figures.  Only a few have ever been seen or published before, as historically, the British Library’s prints and drawings have been overlooked by scholars.  The material in these extensive collections reflect the scholarly and artistic practices of earlier eras when images and texts would have been seen as more closely equivalent.  They have been neglected due both to the overwhelming volume of material and the perception of their relative ‘insignificance’ in the context of a national library where text has always taken precedence. 

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746.e.2.: Robert Wallis after JMW Turner, Stonehenge, from Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1829) Noc

While landscape images have often been treated as accurate records of place, this website reveals for the first time the many different stories involved – about travel and empire, science and exploration, the imagination, history and observation.

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Add MS 15509, f.11: John Cleveley, junior, The ruins of Killaru, Islay (1772) Noc

Picturing Places is an outcome of a current British Library research project, Transforming Topography, which we began in 2013 with a research workshop sponsored by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.   We have partnered with other institutions such as the Royal Collection and British Museum and with academics worldwide.  93 authors representing emerging and established experts in fields such as art history, history, cultural geography and geography are currently involved, and we have 108 essays now being processed for publication.  Films from the Library’s 2016 Transforming Topography conference exploring the depiction of place are also available, providing revelatory insights about the history of landscape imagery.

Keep an eye on Picturing Places and  @bl_prints for updates as the project progresses.

Felicity Myrone
Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings

 

25 April 2017

William Close - “one deserving of remembrance”

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.

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 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

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 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

20 April 2017

Gerald Wellesley’s secret family

In the 18th century it was not unusual for East India Company servants to have Indian wives or mistresses. Children of these unions were often openly acknowledged.  Attitudes began to change after 1800 and there was a growing tendency to try to keep such families secret. Company official Gerald Wellesley provided for his children born to an Indian woman in the 1820s but stopped short of giving them his name or recognising them publicly as his offspring.

Gerald Wellesley (1790-1833) was the son of Richard, Marquess Wellesley, Governor-General of India 1798-1805. Educated at Eton and at East India College in Hertfordshire, Gerald was appointed to the Bengal Civil Service in 1807. He spent many years as Resident in the Princely State of Indore.

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Indore from William Simpson's 'India: Ancient and Modern X108(15) Online Gallery

Gerald had three children with a woman whose name has been recorded as ‘Culoo’: Agnes Maria (born 6 May 1825), Charles Alfred (born 19 January 1827), and Frances Jane (born 23 December 1827).  After a successful career in India, Gerald decided to return to England. In 1830 his children travelled to England under the surname Fitzgerald on the ship Charles Kerr in the care of Maria Elizabeth Lermit and her sister Jane Baker.  Maria was the widow of Captain Alfred Lermit of the Bengal Native Infantry.

The ship arrived at Deal on 29 June 1830.  On 10 July 1830 at St George Hanover Square London Maria Lermit married James Vaughan, newly retired from the Madras Civil Service and a fellow passenger on board the Charles Kerr.  The three Fitzgerald children were baptised at Trinity Church Marylebone on 9 August 1830 with their parents named as Charles and Culoo Fitzgerald of 29 Carburton Street.

Gerald travelled back from India overland via the Middle East and Europe. His journey was fraught with difficulty after he collapsed in Belgrade. He eventually arrived in London in December 1832.

  Wellesley arrives in London 1832
  Morning Post 11 December 1832 British Newspaper Archive

Just seven months later, on 22 July 1833, Gerald Wellesley died at the home of his brother Henry in Flitton Bedfordshire. In his will Gerald bequeathed life annuities of £150 for his three ‘protegés or adopted Children’, Agnes, Charles and Frances Fitzgerald.  He named as their guardian Maria Vaughan or, in the case of her death, Jane Baker, ‘being confident they will discharge the trust in the way I could wish’.  An annuity of £100 was provided for the guardian.  The reminder of his estate was shared between the children of his late brother Richard; his brother Henry; and his sisters Anne and Hyacinthe.

Frances Fitzgerald died in Marylebone in May 1834 aged 6 years. I have been unable to discover what happened to her brother Charles, but her sister Agnes grew to adulthood living with her guardian’s family.  James Vaughan died in 1833 and Maria was remarried in 1838 to Colonel Andrew Creagh.  In the 1841 census, Agnes was with the Creaghs in Hastings, and in 1851 she and the now thrice-widowed Maria were lodging together in Cheltenham.  In 1856 Agnes married Edward Bullock Finlay, a Church of England priest.  Agnes died on 27 October 1908 aged 83.  I wonder how much she knew of her Wellesley and Indian heritage?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/J/21 ff.221-223 Gerald Wellesley’s writer’s petition (digital image available via findmypast together with many other family history sources from the India Office Records)
Gerald Wellesley’s will - The National Archives PROB 11/1820/462
Marylebone baptismal records are held at London Metropolitan Archives
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History (2016)