THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

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22 June 2017

The King’s Architect and the ‘Architect King’

n 1757 the Swedish-born Scot, William Chambers (1723–1796) was appointed as architectural tutor to the future king, George III. Chambers’ job was to teach the young heir the principles of classical architecture, but together they also designed and built several real buildings too. The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George and later given to the nation, now resides at the British Library and includes views of a number of the buildings born out of their partnership, many of which can now be seen at Picturing Places, the British Library’s brand new online encyclopaedia of all things topographical.

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John Spyers’ view of Richmond Observatory. Maps K.Top.41.16.r. Noc

One of those views is featured in my article about the little-known draughtsman, John Spyers. For 20 years Spyers worked for the most famous of all British gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, before turning his hand to topographical art and selling two albums of his drawings to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great for a very large number of roubles. A handful of original views by Spyers are preserved in the King’s Topographical Collection. One shows the Royal Observatory in Richmond Gardens, which was designed by Chambers and completed in time for the King to observe the much-anticipated transit of Venus in 1769. While the view’s poorly-drawn sheep are clear evidence of Spyers’ authorship, the drawing was formerly unattributed until an exhibition and conference at Hampton Court Palace in 2016 drew attention to the overlooked draughtsman.

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Design for a Register for the Weather by James Adam. Maps K.Top.41.16.s. Noc

The Royal Observatory is one of the many buildings that illustrate George III’s fervent interests in science and the arts. Another related building is encountered in Peter Barber’s article on the Scottish architect, Robert Adam. Like the Observatory, the design for a weather register by Robert’s partner and brother James was also intended for Richmond. But although it is undoubtedly very elegant, for unknown reasons it was never built – probably to the delight of William Chambers as Robert Adam was one of his great rivals, even though they shared the title of ‘Joint Architect to the King’.

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The Great Pagoda, from Chambers’ Plans, Elevations, Sections…56.i.3 Noc

Adam never completed any major works for the King, whereas Chambers was far more successful in this respect. The majority of his private royal commissions appeared at Richmond’s neighbour, Kew Gardens, between 1760 and 1763. (The present-day Kew Gardens encompasses both parts of the royal estate, although at the time the two gardens were separated by a thoroughfare known as ‘Love’s Lane’.) Chambers designed and built more than 20 follies and seats in a multitude of styles to ornament the gardens – a ‘Turkish’ Mosque, a ‘Moorish’ Alhambra, a ‘Chinese’ Pagoda and a ‘Gothic’ Temple among them. The full story is told in Jocelyn Anderson’s article, which looks at Chambers’ publication, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry (1763). George III’s own copy of this book is today owned by the British Library.

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Restoration of the Great Pagoda begins… © Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens is currently being restored by Historic Royal Palaces, who are returning the building to its original appearance complete with 80 glowering dragons. The restored building will be open to the public from mid-2018. In much the same way Picturing Places brings into the open hundreds of items from George III’s personal collection of topographical art, with both projects offering further insights into the tastes and patronage of this fascinating and cultured monarch.

Tom Drysdale
Archivist (Curators' Team), Historic Royal Palaces

 

19 June 2017

Judith Weston and her search for a husband

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. 

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 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.

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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.

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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

 

15 June 2017

The loss of the East Indiaman ‘Ganges’

The British Library holds an account of the sinking of an East India Company ship, the Ganges, in 1807.  It is a terrifying story, not least because the crisis took place over several days. The Titanic sank in less than three hours. The Ganges was in trouble for a week. 

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'The Ganges East-India-man Foundering in a Gale' - from T Harington, Remarkable Account of the loss of the ship Ganges East Indiaman… (London, 1808) Noc

The author of the account was Samuel Rolleston, a passenger on the Ganges.  Born in Hampshire in 1775, the son of a merchant, Rolleston had been appointed to the East India Company’s civil service in Bombay in 1794. 

A convoy of East Indiamen had left India and was approaching the Cape of Good Hope.  The weather was unsettled and the Ganges had been letting in water. The crew were monitoring the leak.  On 24 May, there was 24 inches of water in the hold. To make the ship lighter, four guns were thrown overboard and then some of the masts were lowered down.  One of the other ships in the convoy was the St Vincent.  On 25 May Captain Thomas Talbot Harington, commander of the Ganges, went on board the St Vincent. He asked the commander, Captain Charles Jones, whether some passengers could change ships. Jones refused as the St Vincent was also leaking. However he agreed to stay close by. 
 
On 26 May, the weather was fine. There were hopes that they would reach the Cape safely.  The next day, Harington gave orders to throw more cargo overboard.  The passengers helped the crew to do this and also to pump out water from the hold.  The guns on the main deck were thrown overboard.  Now the Ganges was less able to defend herself against attack.  The Ganges made constant signals of distress.  The St Vincent did not reply. 

The passengers believed that they would die that night. Darkness fell and the ship was rolling heavily.  At midnight, an officer thought he saw a light.  He went to tell the captain.  Three hours passed before they saw the light again.  At dawn, it was clear that the St Vincent was astern.  The Ganges sent a signal: ‘The Ship is Sinking. Sent Boat’.  The sea was rolling so violently that it was difficult to get people into the launch.  The first passengers left just before 1pm.  The last boat, with Harington and Rolleston on board, reached the St Vincent at 9pm. 

The next day, 29 May, the Ganges was still visible.  Harington and Rolleston went to her in a launch to see if they could salvage anything.  They could not and returned to the St Vincent. They had just reached her when the Ganges sank in one minute.  She went down with her masts standing, except one.  All hands and passengers had been saved, but presumably any animals on board had been left to drown.  Rolleston finished his account with ‘gratitude to my Creator’.

After this traumatic experience, Samuel Rolleston settled in England. The family home was Pan Manor on the Isle of Wight.  He was twice married and had two children. Rolleston died in 1860 aged 84.

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton

A Passage to India - Shipboard Life - Join us on 19 June to hear more about the experiences of voyagers between England and India as revealed in their private papers.

Further reading:
The loss of an East Indiaman in 1807, BL Mss Eur F591
Simon Martin, ‘The Loss of an East Indiaman in 1807: account by Samuel Rolleston’ in The Journal of the Families in British India Society, no.22 Autumn 2009, pp.23-29
T Harington, Remarkable Account of the loss of the ship Ganges East Indiaman… (London, 1808)