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Untold lives blog

289 posts categorized "Journeys"

17 October 2017

The life and loves of a ‘tremendous literary rebel’, Michael Madhusudan Dutt

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Dutt’s colourful life included romantic adventures, a change of religion and travel to Britain and France, in keeping with a man describing himself as ‘a tremendous literary rebel’. His exceptional creative talent led his biographer Ghulam Murshid to praise him as ‘the father of modern Bengali poetry’.

Item 14 add_or_5606 compressed
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, (1824-73)
Watercolour on ivory. Undated
Add.Or.5606

Around 1833, Dutt and his Hindu parents moved to Calcutta where his father’s success enabled him to provide his son with a good education. The young Dutt entered a world of culture and debate. He began his own writing career and developed a love of English literature and a longing to visit Britain. Towards the end of 1842 he was horrified when his parents began to plan an arranged marriage for him, declaring ‘I wish (Oh! I really wish) that somebody would hang me!’ Shortly afterwards, Dutt converted to Christianity, possibly motivated at least in part by a wish to evade the marriage.

Dutt baptism 1843 cropped
Dutt’s baptism at the Old Church, Fort William, 09 Feb 1843
IOR/N/1/64 f.101

Obliged to leave Hindu College after his conversion, he continued his studies at Bishop’s College, still supported by his parents, but unfortunately a rift later developed between him and his father. In December 1847 he left Calcutta for Madras where he struggled to find employment until the father of Charles Eggbert Kennet, an old friend from Bishop’s College, helped him to obtain a post teaching at the Madras Orphan Asylum. Aged twenty-four, in 1848 Dutt married seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum. Today, a relationship between a teacher and a pupil would be considered scandalous, but early marriage was then considered entirely respectable for young women such as Rebecca. The Kennet family seem to have remained on good terms with the young Dutts as they appear as witnesses to the baptism of their daughter Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt. Their contemporaries were much more concerned by the fact that Dutt, an Indian man, was marrying a girl of British descent, as this was possibly the first time that this was known to have happened.

BL-BIND-005137759-00313 cropped
Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt’s baptism at St Mark’s Church, Madras (Black Town), 15 Nov 1849
IOR/N/2/C/2 f.130

Dutt and Rebecca had four children together, but when he returned to Calcutta after his father’s death in 1855, he left her and started a new life with another European lady, Henrietta Sophia White. Finally achieving his dream of studying law in England, he was called to the bar in London though he and Henrietta spent much time in France. They eventually died within a few days of each other in Calcutta in 1873. I do not know what became of the unfortunate Rebecca and her children.

The watercolour of Michael Madhusudan Dutt is on display in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. The exhibition and community engagement are a partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours and events are on the Library of Birmingham website

Connecting Stories with logos

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage


Further reading
Ghulam Murshid, Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / by Ghulam Murshid; translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, ( New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003)
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The heart of a rebel poet : letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / edited by Ghulam Murshid, (New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)
Clinton B Seely, The slaying of Meghanada : a Ramayana from colonial Bengal / Michael Madhusudan Datta ; translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)

Find My Past for British India Office collections 
Asians in Britain 

Untold Lives blogs:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England
Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War 
East India Company trade with the East Indies 
Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold 
First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition 

10 October 2017

Advice for ladies in India

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In 1847 a book called Real Life in India by ‘An Old Resident’ offered advice to British ladies going to live in India. This covered clothing, equipment for the voyage, household management, and ways of passing the time.

European young lady's toilet

From William Tayler, Sketches Illustrating the Manners & Customs of the Indians & Anglo Indians (London, 1842) Noc

A long list of essentials for the voyage was provided.  Women were told to take dozens of chemises, nightgowns, petticoats, ‘cambric trousers’, handkerchiefs, towels, stockings, and gloves, together with fourteen dresses of different sorts, bonnets  shoes, one warm cloak, and six mosquito sleeping drawers.  Other necessities included bedding, table linen, shoe ribbons, haberdashery, hair brushes and combs, tooth brushes and powder, soap, perfume, stationery and books, candles, and a supply of Bristol water and soda.  A considerable amount of cabin furniture was recommended: couch, swinging cot, chest of drawers, bookcase, chairs, looking glass, lamp, foot-bath, waterproof trunks, and air-tight cases for dresses.

India - ladies' equipment

 From Real Life in India by An Old Resident (London, 1847)   Noc

On first arrival in India, ladies were advised to consult friendly females about the management of domestic affairs.  The ‘Old Resident’ pointed out that a British woman who had been accustomed to performing various household duties would be surprised to find that in India there was nothing for her to do. Everything would be done by the domestic staff. The day’s supplies were purchased by the khansuma (butler) at the market soon after day-break.  Shopping, ‘a source of entertainment and economy in England’, was not an occupation for a lady in India.  An immediate supply of hams, cheeses, or pickles could be obtained by sending a peon with a note to the local store.  Only preparations for the gaieties of the cool season gave ladies an excuse to venture out to visit the milliner or jeweller for new finery.

Ladies could combat the lassitude caused by the Indian climate by reading, painting, music, needlework, intelligent conversation and occasional soirées, or taking a morning and evening promenade.  Our ‘Old Resident’ points out the danger of falling victim to ‘indolent habits and coarse indulgences’: ‘the sylph-like form and delicate features which distinguished the youth of her arrival, are rapidly exchanged for an exterior of which obesity and swarthiness are the prominent characteristics, and the bottle and the hookah become frequent and offensive companions’.

Painting and needlework equipment should be taken out from Britain. Silver knitting needles were best as steel ones tended to rust from the warmth of the hand.  Ladies who were accustomed to riding should take out saddles, bridles and a riding habit as prices were higher in India.

The author ends his chapter devoted to information for ‘the weaker sex’ with detailed advice about the care of pianos in India. He encouraged ladies to learn the art of tuning since piano tuners and instrument repairers were not found at every station in India. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

05 October 2017

The quest for El Dorado

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Have you seen Werner Herzog's 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath of God?  Although historically wildly inaccurate, it has always been a hugely popular cult film. TIME magazine included it in its list of 'All-Time 100 Best Films'.  Herzog tells the story of the Spanish descent of the Amazon in 1560 – a quest for El Dorado.

The movie starts well, with the huge expedition winding its way down from Andean foothills to where they built their boats. But the later part of the film, with a handful of men and a horse on a raft, is wrong in every way – the expedition had no horses, hundreds of men, and two or three proper boats.

Spanish explorer

Spanish explorer from Edward Eggleston, The Household History of the United States and its people (London, 1889) BL flickr Noc

El Dorado was an elusive rich kingdom, now thought to be associated with the Omagua people on the main Amazon near the present Brazilian-Peruvian frontier, rather than in forests east of Quito.  In 1560 a great expedition led by Pedro de Ursúa built boats and embarked on the Amazon in northern Peru. But it found heavy rains, little food, and no wealth. The venture was hijacked by the embittered Basque arquebusier Lope de Aguirre.  Ursúa, his officers, and his beautiful mistress Inéz de Atienza were all murdered.  Aguirre wanted to descend the river as fast as possible, sail up the coast to Venezuela, and then march south to conquer Peru for his band of traitors.  The voyage down the Amazon became a bloodbath, with the paranoid psychopath Aguirre killing a third of the Spaniards and marooning hundreds of native Andean porters.  The story of the expedition was sensational, with El Dorado gold, Amazonian adventure, treachery, sex, class warfare and scores of murders.  But it added almost nothing to knowledge of Amazonian geography or indigenous peoples.

In 1570 Richard Hakluyt published Lopez Vaz's first-hand account of this disastrous descent of the Amazon by Pedro de Ursúa and his murderer Lope de Aguirre.  Hakluyt's English translation of this important source is the only known version, because the Spanish original is lost.

   Bollaert front coverNoc

 In 1861 the Hakluyt Society published The Expedition of Pedro de Ursua & Lope de Aguirre in Search of El Dorado and Omagua in 1560-1.  It is unfortunate that William Bollaert chose to translate from the Franciscan friar Pedro Simón, whose Noticias historiales de las conquistas de Tierra Firme (Cuenca, 1627) were entirely plagiarized without acknowledgement from earlier sources.  There were four eyewitness accounts by members of the ill-fated journey: Lopez Vaz, Captain Altamirano, Gonzalo de Zúñiga, and Francisco Vázquez,  Summaries were also written soon after the event by Diego de Aguilar y Córdoba (1578), Toribio de Ortigüera (1581), and Juan de Castellanos (1589).

  Pedro Simon Noc
Clements R. Markham wrote a stirring introduction to the Hakluyt Society edition - 
‘The blood-stained cruise of the “tyrant Aguirre”… is by far the most extraordinary adventure in search of El Dorado on record.  The dauntless hardihood of those old Spaniards and Germans, who, undismayed by the reverses and sufferings of numerous predecessors, continued to force their way for hundreds of miles into the forest covered wilds, is sufficiently astonishing; but in this cruise of Aguirre all that is wildest, most romantic, most desperate, most appalling in the annals of Spanish enterprise seems to culminate in one wild orgie of madness and blood’.

John Hemming
Hakluyt Society

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Richard Hakluyt, The Principall navigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation (London, 1589) volume 8.
The Expedition of Pedro de Ursua & Lope de Aguirre in Search of El Dorado and Omagua in 1560-1, (from Pedro Simón, Sixth Historical Notice of the Conquest of Tierra Firme), translated by William Bollaert with an introduction by Clements R. Markham, Hakluyt Society, 1 ser., 28, 1861.

 

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

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How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

24 August 2017

Daydreaming in the service of the East India Company

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The British Library holds an interesting maritime journal showing the daydreams of one young man.  The journal records the voyage of the East India Company ship Ceres from Madras to China and then to England in 1797 to 1798.  Interspersed with entries recording latitude, longitude, weather conditions, deaths and punishments on board copied from the official journal of the ship is a collection of doodles and jotted thoughts.

  WhampoaNoc
Whampoa from Thomas Allom, China, historisch romantisch, malerisch (Carlsruhe, 1843) British Library 792.i.30.
BL flickr 

The author of the journal was seaman William Davenport Crawley who joined the Ceres in Madras aged about 20. His identity is revealed by many examples of his signature as he practised writing it in the journal.  Crawley belonged to an Irish family from Castleconnell in County Limerick.  There is a letter inserted in the volume addressed to Thomas Crawley at Castleconnell, and a note that Thomas was an officer in HM 32nd Regiment of Foot.

Crawley writes out the names and addresses of female relatives, for instance, Miss Mary Crawley, 38 Southampton Street, Strand, London.  He jots down a message to Mary: ‘Miss Mary Crawley, you are a very bad girl for not writing’.  Another doodle reads: ‘Sally Davis, WDC loves you’.  William also fantasises about becoming a captain. He tries signing ‘Captain Crawley’ several times.

The reality of life on board ship was that periods of boredom could be punctuated by distressing events. One entry remarks:
‘At 7 am Departed this Life Thos. Spinks, Seaman. At Noon Committed the Body to the Deep’.

Another entry records the meeting of the Ceres with an American ship in September 1797. The Ceres was told that that ‘the Americans were at war with France’ and that Admiral Nelson had engaged the French fleet. This may refer to the blockade of Cadiz against the Spanish fleet, rather than the French.

On 30 September 1797, Crawley records that a ship from Cork has appeared bringing news of ‘Adml. Nelson being killed and his Ship Sunk’. This was not true, although Nelson had been wounded in July 1797 and one arm was amputated. The crew of the Ceres would have been unable to verify that Nelson had survived until they reached port. Bad news, and worries about dangers at sea, could prey upon the mind. It is perhaps unsurprising that William Crawley occasionally mused upon mortality. He wrote out the following motto twice:
‘All human things are subject to decay and Death the broom that sweeps us all away’.

 

  Limerick - White AbbeyNoc
Thomas Walmsley, White Abbey near Limerick (1806) K. Top. LIV no. 23

We have been trying to discover more about William Davenport Crawley.  It appears that he returned to Ireland to live as a member of the local gentry at White Hill Castleconnell and had children.  He died aged 73 on 11 July 1850 at the home of his daughter Mrs Elizabeth Kelly in the town of Limerick ‘to the deep regret of his family and friends’.  Elizabeth’s son William Pierce Kelly followed his grandfather’s example and journeyed to India, joining the Madras Medical Service in 1857.  William Pierce Kelly’s son, born in Rangoon in 1877, was named William Davenport Crawley Kelly.

Can any of our readers help us fill in the gaps before William joined the Ceres in India and tell us more about his later life?

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal compiled by William Davenport Crawley, seaman, East India Company ship Ceres - British Library Mss Eur F490
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Limerick Chronicle 13 July 1850
Journal of voyage of Ceres by Captain George Stevens IOR/L/MAR/B/215J
Assistant Surgeon papers for William Pierce Kelly IOR/L/AG/9/397 ff.594-598, 639-640
A Passage to India –Shipboard Life: podcast of event held at British Library in June 2017

 

16 August 2017

“Old Dad” – Turner and Son in Twickenham

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A widowed father in his sixties sharing a small house with his ambitious, unmarried son in his thirties; running the household while his son runs the business.  Sounds familiar?  Steptoe and Son?  Try Turner and Son.

The great painter JMW Turner’s father, William Turner, was born in South Molton, Devon, in 1745, but moved to London around 1770, following in his father’s trade as a barber and wig-maker and settling in Covent Garden.  His wife Mary, sadly, suffered from a form of mental illness, which resulted in her being admitted to St Luke’s Hospital for Lunaticks in Old Street in 1799 and then Bethlem Hospital in 1800, where she died in 1804. Her condition had not been helped by the loss of her daughter, Mary Ann, who died just before her fifth birthday in 1783.

In 1807, JMW Turner was a successful artist with a flourishing studio and gallery in Queen Anne Street, off Harley Street, and had recently been made Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy.  Because of the Napoleonic Wars, most of his painting expeditions at this time were within the UK.  He also had a busy private life, which included a daughter born to his mistress, Sarah Danby, with another born later.  Turner needed somewhere to escape to for relaxation, so he bought a plot of land in Twickenham and designed a two-bedroom house, Sandycombe Lodge, which was built over the next five years.  In 1813 he moved in with his father, fondly known as “Old Dad”.

Turner Old Dad

John Linnell’s drawing of Old Dad made in 1812, when he attended one of his son’s lectures at the Royal Academy. The eyes below are those of Turner, looking at his notes. Image © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported).  

Old Dad kept house for Turner and tended the plot of land, sometimes complaining of the hard work involved in controlling the rampant weeds. Turner Senior also acted as studio assistant, preparing and varnishing canvases, and initially walked the ten miles to Turner’s studio.  However, he swiftly made the connection between the local market gardens and Covent Garden and could often be seen sitting on top of the vegetables in the market gardeners’ carts, the agreed fare being a glass of gin.

Turner Sandycombe Lodge

Sandycombe Lodge, Twickenham, Villa of J.M.W. Turner, engraved by W.B. Cooke, published 1814. Image © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported). 

There are many visitors’ accounts of the good times that were had at Sandycombe Lodge, which was used for picnics, parties, fishing expeditions and the meetings of The Picnic Academical Club, a sort of artistic lads’ drinking society.  Old Dad played a central role in the organisation of these festivities.  According to an early biographer, Walter Thornbury, he was ‘very like his son in the face, particularly as to the nose...he had a habit of jumping up on his toes every two or three minutes which rather astonished strangers.  The father and son lived on very friendly terms together’. They certainly had a very close relationship and Turner was known to change his plans to be with his father on his birthday.

After 1815, Turner was able to travel more freely in mainland Europe and his visits to Twickenham became less frequent.  Old Dad’s health also began to fail and in 1826, Turner sold Sandycombe Lodge and moved his father back to Queen Anne Street.  This is the part of Turner’s life that is depicted in the film “Mr Turner”. Old Dad died in 1830, at the age of 81 and is buried in St Paul’s, Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church).

Turner memorial

Old Dad’s memorial in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden - photograph by the author   Noc

 

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Sandycombe Lodge has recently undergone extensive restoration to return it to Turner’s original design and is now open to visitors. Twitter @TurnersHouse

Further reading:
J.M.W.Turner, R.A. The Artist and his House at Twickenham, Catherine Parry-Wingfield, 2012.
The life of J. M. W Turner, R.A.; founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow academicians, Walter Thornbury, 1897.

Richmond and Twickenham: A Modern Arcadia
Turner's topographical watercolours

 

 

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

03 August 2017

Travelling through Europe: the journals of Mary Cecilia Blencowe

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Mary Cecilia Blencowe was born in 1852 in relatively unremarkable circumstances. She never married and has no descendants, but luckily for us Mary Cecilia Blencowe left behind something even better– her diaries. Mary was an avid traveller, and detailed two voyages across Europe in 1871 and 1872 in journals which I am currently cataloguing.

Her first voyage began in March 1871. Mary travelled to Europe during the tail end of the Franco-Prussian war, which had seen France suffer a humiliating defeat to a nascent Germany. She was in no doubt about her allegiance, regularly expressing her sadness for ‘Poor France’ and insulting their ‘merciless foes’. Her assessment of the war is uncannily prophetic, writing in 1871 that ‘France has fought and been conquered…only for a moment and – we shall see’, presaging the hostilities that would erupt in World War One 53 years later.

Landscape Diaries
Mary Cecilia Blencowe's diaries, Add MS 89256/2 and Add MS 89256/1

Her travels took her to Verona (‘the house where the parents of Juliet lived…is now a tavern, and looks neglected and dingy’), Venice (‘embarking in a gondola…[is] much pleasanter than rattling through the streets in a noisy omnibus!’), Genoa (‘if our boat had only not been quite as unwieldy, we should certainly have fancied ourselves in fairy land’) and Stresa (‘how doubly beautiful it seemed to us, after having been so long in towns in the busiest haunts of men who don’t always improve things’), before arriving in Switzerland to stay in Lausanne. Her entries give a fascinating snapshot of Europe immediately after the Franco-Prussian war, as well as providing details of a Victorian woman’s holiday activities.

Vue Generale de Lausanne
Vue Generale de Lausanne, A Garcin, 1870-75. J. Paul Getty Museum (Getty Open Content Program)

Mary’s diaries reveal a surprisingly modern sense of humour, rather than the dry and moralistic attitude culturally associated with the Victorians. In Venice she enjoyed the eternal pastime of people-watching from the campanile, ’watch[ing] the small people and still smaller pigeons in the piazza below’. She also went to art galleries, although she didn’t always appreciate the exhibits, describing one as ‘an ancient picture of an ancient prince, with his favourite cat who is so hideous I think it is a good thing the days of her life are over’.

Landscape Text
Add MS 89256/2

Childsnatcher smallThis adventure ended in July 1871, when she returned to London. In 1872 she travelled to Germany and Switzerland and began writing again. The highlight of this trip was her encounter with ‘a very curious specimen of the human race, a very little weird old man…[who] looked like some creature of another world, but what sort of world I cannot say.’ It wasn’t just her who was scared as ‘he glared at children…until they ran away frightened’. Underneath her description Mary drew a tiny sketch of the man – a Victorian child catcher.

Childsnatcher Page

Her adventures end in August 1872 when she regretfully returned to England in a carriage, comforted by the presence of ‘such a nice Prussian. So handsome and so manly’. Holiday romance, Victorian style.

Emily Stevenson
Modern Archives and Manuscripts Intern