THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

88 posts categorized "Science and environment"

12 December 2017

Journals of Albert Hastings Markham

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Where in the library collections might you find watercolour arctic landscapes, playbills, squashed mosquitoes and first-hand accounts of whaling?

We are pleased to announce that the journals of Sir Albert Hastings Markham (1841-1918) have been processed and are now available to request in the Manuscripts Reading Room, under reference Add MS 89230. The journals were acquired at auction in 2015, drawing on the T S Blakeney Fund and with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library and the Eccles Centres for American Studies.

They cover the period from 1871-1902, during which Markham undertook polar reconnaissance in the Arctic and the Kara Sea, surveyed the conditions in the Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government, participated in the British Arctic Expedition (1875-1876), and served in the Navy in the Torpedo School, Pacific Station, and Mediterranean.

Sleddingscene

A sledging scene under sail, Add MS 89230/2/1 f 136

Importance and writing

Markham’s entries are richly detailed, and he does not shy away from recording his opinions on the behaviour of his crew and the places he visited. His account on the whaling vessel Arctic is probably best not read by those of a sensitive disposition, conjuring up as it does the sights and smells of decks covered with blood, fat and coal dust.

His journal as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet contains his first-hand account of the incident for which he is probably best known – the sinking of the flagship Victoria, following a collision with Markham’s ship Camperdown whilst undertaking manoeuvres off Tripoli.

These journals complement our existing holdings on Arctic research and exploration, from material relating to James Cook’s third voyage and attempts to find the Northwest Passage, and Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-1876 was in several aspects a precursor of later Antarctic explorations, and Markham’s role leading the sledging team to achieve farthest north makes this a vital first-hand account.

Accompanying materials

The British Arctic Expedition journals (Add MS 89230/2) contain beautiful watercolours and ink sketches of arctic landscapes, wildlife, and fellow crew members.

YeloomYe Loom, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 36

CaninetroopYe canine troop performing a melodious concert, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 82

During the cataloguing process I was pleased to find letters enclosed in the journals, many written by figures in the history of arctic exploration and 19th century naval history, including William Grant (arctic photographer), Captain Antonius de Bruijne (of the Dutch schooner Willem Barents), and Benjamin Leigh Smith. Markham was also careful to collect keepsakes such as dinner menus and playbills for the performances put on by the ship’s company.

ThurspopsProgramme for the Thursday Pops, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 191

The Hudson’s Bay journal (Add MS 89230/4) was partly composed by Markham whilst he journeyed from York Factory to Winnipeg by canoe. Markham and his party were plagued by mosquitoes - “the buzz and the hum of my relentless persecutors – the mosquitoes – will they never tire? Will they ever leave me unmolested?” -  and these flying irritants have literally left their mark on the journal, with folios 115-151 spotted with pressed remains.

MosquitoesJournals with the ick factor, Add MS 89230/4

The catalogue can be found at Search Archives and Manuscripts under collection reference Add MS 89230. We will continue to post images on @BL_ModernMss, so be sure to follow us if you aren’t already.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

30 November 2017

The journal and drawings of Mary Emma Walter

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Mary Emma Walter’s journal and album of drawings in the India Office Private Papers are two of my favourite collection items.   The illustrated journal describes the voyage to India and her life as an army officer’s wife.  Letters sent to her mother in England have been copied in. The album contains pictures of views, flowers, people, and objects.

Mary Emma was born on 23 July 1816, the daughter of James Battin Coulthard and his wife Mary née Lee. The family lived in Alton, Hampshire, where James served as a magistrate for many years.  On 3 January 1838 Mary Emma married Edward Walter, an officer in the East India Company’s Bombay Light Cavalry, who was on furlough in England.  The journal starts with the couple’s journey back to India in October 1838, travelling via France and Egypt.

   Lyons 1838Lyons 1838 - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Cairo 1838A street in Cairo 1838  - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

The journal gives a fascinating insight into the Walters’ life as the regiment moved around India.  Mary Emma arrived at their new station at Deesa on 15 September 1839 and must have been heavily pregnant throughout the strenuous journey - she tells us that she was ‘unexpectedly confined with a little girl’ three days later.  She left her room on 23 September and resumed her usual amusements, including playing the piano. 

Walter bungalow DeesaThe Walter bungalow at Deesa - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Unusual events such as an earthquake in April 1840 are described amongst the details of the Walter family’s daily routine. Mary Emma records how her baby was vaccinated against smallpox and how the child lost weight when suffering from the heat.

Mary Emma drew pictures of everyday life in India, both people and objects...

AyahAyah - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Bullock cartBullock cart - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  CarpenterCarpenter - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Pungi muscial instrumentPungi - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

….and buildings and their decorations -

Syed's tomb SukkurSyed’s Tomb at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
 

Tiles - SukkurTiles at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

…and many beautiful botanical specimens.

Botanical 4India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botancial 1India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botanical 3 India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
         

By the time Mary Emma and Edward took leave to England in 1843, they had two daughters - Emma Frances and Louisa. Two more girls, Mary and Alice, were born during their stay and both were baptised at Bishopstoke in Hampshire.

  Bishopstoke HantsBishopstoke in Hampshire - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Edward returned to India in December 1846, but Mary Emma stayed on until October 1847 and then travelled back to Bombay with Alice.  Her three other daughters stayed on in England and were educated on the Isle of Wight. A fifth daughter Gertrude was born at Sholapore in 1849.

Mary Emma Walter died at Neemuch on 30 October 1850 aged only 34. She was buried there the following day by the splendidly named Assistant Chaplain, Hyacinth Kirwan.  Edward retired from the Bombay Army in 1851 and returned to England. He married Caroline Janetta Bignell in 1853. The 1861 census shows Edward and Caroline living on the Isle of Wight with their two young sons Herbert and Edward, four of Mary Emma’s daughters, a governess, and five servants. Edward senior died on 10 December 1862. 

Eldest daughter Emma Frances Walter had married Julius Barge Yonge in 1858.  In 1871 her sisters Alice and Gertrude were living with her. Gertrude suffered from chronic rheumatism.  In 1873 Gertrude moved into the home of Julius’s sister, the well-known novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge.  She acted as Charlotte’s secretary/companion until her death in 1897.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal and album of Mary Emma Walter (1816-1850) India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1-2
Article on Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) by Elisabeth Jay in the Dictionary of National Biography

 

26 October 2017

Gardening in the 18th century: a seed shop in North-East England

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Gardening became a popular pursuit in the 18th century. The plants to cultivate rose sharply with new varieties flooding in from abroad, mostly sold as seeds. In the 17th and early 18th century, seeds were sold by greengrocers and street tradesmen but gardening’s increasing popularity meant dedicated seed shops were soon springing up. By the late 18th century most provincial towns had at least one seed shop and many had nurseries too. Seeds were advertised in innovative ways. As well as the usual trade-cards, seed catalogues were printed with sale prices and descriptions of each plant. These catalogues were where most gardeners encountered new plants on offer. All of this is evident in the sole surviving copy of a seed catalogue printed in Houghton-le-Spring, a provincial town near Durham, in 1779: A Catalogue of ...Seeds…with their Season of Sowing, Planting and Culture: Chiefly Adapted to the Northern Climates by seeds-man James Clarke, whom we know little about.

SeedCatalogueTitlePage
This seed catalogue demonstrates the provincial popularity of gardening and the vastly increased demand for seeds outside London. It reveals what plants were grown in northern climates and, in particular, what new cultivars were successfully sold and grown in 1779. A surprising variety of slightly tender fruit is listed, for example. Amongst the assortment of apricots is the Anson's variety – ‘a kind lately introduced into English gardens’. The Brunswick variety of fig described on page 39 was imported from the Mediterranean during the 18th century and is still a very popular cultivar today.

SeedCatalogueFigs
We can also see that gardening was opening up to a wider audience during this period. James Clarke explains in his introductory note that he is ‘deviat[ing] from the common method of seeds catalogues … [his] chief design and wish in this work, is to render the general knowledge of gardening more easily attainable to the young and unexperienced’. He provides thorough guides to growing melons and cucumbers in ‘hot-beds’. Exotic fruits were grown in England long before 1774 but would’ve been a novelty for Clarke’s customers. These guides were indeed unusual. A basic seed list with prices was, as Clarke says, ‘the common method of seeds catalogues’. 

SeedCatalogueCucumbers

So who was James Clarke? He was clearly a shrewd businessman. Providing planting instructions encouraged amateurs to buy his wares, increasing his profit. It also ensured customer success with their seeds, promoting him as a reputable seller. He has, however, proven difficult to trace. Only a marriage license for James Clarke, Houghton-le-Spring, and Elizabeth Purdy survives from 1770. His designation was ‘gardener’, a general term for all those involved in gardens.  

The rise of gardening and its related trades was part of the emergence of consumerism in the late 18th century. Products that were previously seen as essentials were suddenly subject to changing tastes and fashions, fuelling consumer demand and stimulating growth. This little seed catalogue, with its tempting descriptions of growing the latest fashionable exotic crops, is testament to these changes.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

22 August 2017

Sir Hans Sloane as a collector of “strange news”

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Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was a major figure in the flourishing scientific culture of Enlightenment London, serving as both President of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. However, his greatest legacy lies in his vast collections of books, manuscripts, specimens and other objects, which after his death became the bedrock of the new British Museum, the ancestor of the British Library.

Sloane’s collections were particularly strong in natural history, medicine and travel, but their overall scope was astonishingly broad. Ongoing research into different parts of his collections is gradually uncovering more detail about their richness and variety. One product of this work is the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue (SPBC), a free and fully-searchable online database that records over 35,000 printed items from Sloane’s library (and counting).

To take just one example of the research possibilities provided by the SPBC – Sloane was a collector of “strange news”. “Strange news” was news of unusual or dramatic events, such as earthquakes, freak weather, monsters or medical marvels, usually accompanied by a supernatural interpretation, such as divine judgement or demonic influence. It typically appeared in the form of short printed pamphlets, bearing titles that promised accounts of “strange”, “miraculous”, “wonderful” or “extraordinary” events to their readers.

Image 1
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange news from France… (1678), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘c 626’. (BL 8755.c.27.)

The SPBC lists 57 items with titles containing even just the word “strange”, alongside “news/newes/relation”. For instance, one pamphlet of “strange news from France” owned by Sloane provides an account of a storm of fist-sized hailstones that destroyed everything except – significantly – a Protestant church. Another of “strange and true news” tells of severe weather across the Midlands that saw snow smother some and floods drown others, depicted as God’s judgement for wickedness. A third relates a nine-foot-long winged serpent that terrorised the people of Essex – complete with frightening illustration.

Image 3
From Sloane’s copy of The Flying Serpent, or strange news out of Essex… (1669?), A1v. (BL 1258.b.18.)

Image 2
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange and true news from Lincoln-shire, Huntingtonshire, Bedford-shire, Northampton-shire, Suffolk… (1674), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘N 788’. (BL 8775.c.67.)

“Strange news” was part of a diverse and sophisticated culture of news in early modern England. Although this era saw the birth of the printed newspaper, which generally contained foreign or domestic politics, this was far from being people’s only source of news. Strange news was another – and very different – kind of news in circulation. Its popularity came partly from its raw sensationalism, but also from its supernatural explanations, which appealed to a religious and superstitious culture.

But why did Sloane, a man of science, collect strange news, which represents such a different mental world? Although it is impossible to be certain, there are several clues. Sloane once said he was curious about “very strange, but certain, matters of fact” – in other words, unusual natural phenomena – and accounts of dramatic earthquakes, storms and floods (if not of giant flying serpents) may have appealed to this desire to explain the bizarre-but-true. He may also have been interested in collecting the pamphlets’ supernatural interpretations specifically to expose them as false, as it has been argued that he acquired other objects for this purpose, such as “Quacks’ Bills” (dubious medical adverts) and “magical” tokens. Whatever the reason, Sloane’s collecting of “strange news” indicates that he may have been at the forefront of the Enlightenment, but his interests were not restricted to the products of the new science.

Edward Taylor
PhD placement student, Sloane Printed Books Project

Further reading:
Delbourgo, J., Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (London: Allen Lane, 2017) – including discussion on Sloane’s attitudes to magic and the supernatural.
Mandelbrote, G., ‘Sloane and the Preservation of Printed Ephemera’, in G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor, eds, Libraries within the library: the origins of the British Library's printed collections (London: British Library, 2009), 146-168.

27 June 2017

A botanical excursion in Wales

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On Sunday 27 June 1773 at Chepstow, a party of botanists were clambering about ‘on the Steep nacked Bank by the Side of the Wye not far from the Castle’, hunting for plants.  The species identified included wild cabbage (Brassica maritima) on Chepstow Castle, madder (Rubria tinctoria) and stonecrop (Sedum rupestre) “upon the Rocks on both Sides of the Wye above and below the Bridge at Chepstow”, and the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) on the river bank.  They may have been too intent on their botanising to notice that two other members of their party were getting stuck in the mud of the tidal river. The artist Paul Sandby recorded this mishap in his 1775 aquatint, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire.

K.Top.31.6.f

Paul Sandby, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire  British Library K.Top.31.6.f. Noc

This expedition took place between 25 June and 16 August 1773.  The members of the party were Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Daniel Solander, Reverend John Lightfoot, The Hon. Charles Greville, Paul Sandby, and possibly also the Swiss geologist and meteorologist Jean Andre de Luc. The itinerary, recorded in Lightfoot’s journal, covered much of the coast of South Wales from Chepstow to Milford Haven and St David’s.  The purpose of the expedition was primarily botanical but there were also artistic aims. 

Sandby had made a tour of North Wales in 1771 and his subsequent enthusiasm for Welsh scenery must have been well known to his friends. While the scientists explored the vegetation, Sandby was taking views of the many castles along the Pembrokeshire coast. They were at St Quintins on 5 July where Sandby sketched the Castle gatehouse and the botanists found mint, Mentha longifolia, “by the Mill going to St. Quintins Castle a mile from Cowbridge, and in a wet marshy meadow on the left going to the Mill, found Ranunculus lingua” or Greater Spearwort.

K.Top.47.50.b

Paul Sandby, St Quintins Castle British Library K. Top.47.50.b .Noc

The party was at St Donat’s on 6 July. While Sandby drew the landscape and castle, the botanists were exploring the cliffs, caves, and crevices at nearby Nash Point where they found the ferns Asplenium marinum and  Adianthum capillus veneris “upon Nash Point facing the Sea, several Patches of it, but upon very high inaccessible places”.

K.Top.47.43.b.

Paul Sandby, North West View of Saint Donat's Castle British Library K.Top.47.43.b. Noc

Sandby depicted the view up the Neath River on Wednesday 7 July while the scientists were making a new botanical discovery for the county of Cheiranthus sinuatus or Sea Stock “a quarter of a mile before you come to Breton Ferry, on a Sandy Bank, on the right-hand side by the Road Side from Bridge End”.

K.Top.47.46.c.

Paul Sandby,View up the Neath River from the house at Briton Ferry British Library K.Top.47.46.c. Noc

This expedition had an unexpected outcome for Sandby’s career.  Later the same year, Banks was approached by the artist P. P. Burdett who wished to interest the scientist in his ‘secret’ printmaking technique as a way to reproduce Banks’s collections from his voyage with Captain Cook.  Banks did not take up this offer, but Greville subsequently paid Burdett £40 for the description and passed it on to Sandby.  This was the technique Sandby developed and named aquatint, and his first set of prints, published in 1775, was of the views in South Wales taken during the summer tour; the set was dedicated to his companions, Banks and Greville.

Ann Gunn
Lecturer in Museum and Gallery Studies, University of St Andrews

Further reading:
A transcript of Lightfoot’s  journal is in the Natural History Museum and it was published in 1905 by H. J. Riddelsdell, ‘Lightfoot’s visit to Wales in 1773’, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 43 (1905), 290-307
Gunn, A. V., The Prints of Paul Sandby (1731-1809): a Catalogue Raisonné , 2015 Turnhout: Brepols / Harvey Miller

 

18 May 2017

Loveable Oak Trees

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Oak trees provided essential material for warships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – the ‘wooden walls’ that defended the British Isles from invasion. But they inspired an affection that went far beyond an appreciation of their usefulness. Ancient oaks were treasured and preserved into extreme old age. Landowners were reluctant to cut them down, poets addressed verses to them, artists relished the chance to delineate their swelling trunks and shattered branches. Some went further and treated them as objects of worship.

Writers from this period state that their forefathers, the Druids, worshipped the true God in oak groves before churches were built – hence it was reasonable to see old trees as ‘natural temples’.

Oak trees were also credited with being the sites of the first parliaments, and  symbols of resistance to overweening authority. One famous tree, the Swilcar Oak, is given a speaking part in a poem by Francis Mundy about Needwood Forest in Staffordshire (1776). He shakes his tresses, spreads his bare arms to the skies, and begs the axeman to spare the young oaks growing around him. Horace Walpole claimed that an ancient tree was an image of liberty, since in a country ruled by a despot it would be appropriated for timber.

  Talking Oak

'The Talking-Oak' by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale from Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1905) 556*.a.3/6 Noc

Another vocal tree was the ‘Talking Oak’ of Alfred Tennyson’s poem of that name (1837-8).  Its narrator confides so much in the old oak tree that the tree replies, and tells him that the woman he loves is superior to all the other young women he has seen in his five hundred years of life. What is more, because she also talks (and sings) to the tree, he can testify that his love for her is returned.

 Payne 2

Robert Pollard after James Andrews, An East View of Yardley Oak (1805). British Library K.Top XXXII Online Gallery Noc

 

There are many portraits of famous old oak trees.  The Yardley Oak was the subject of a poem by William Cowper (1791-2), who wrote that his idolatry of the tree had some excuse, because of the precedent set by the Druids.

Cowper writes lovingly of the giant bulk of the tree, its sides embossed with excrescences that have developed over many years. Such features also appealed to the artist Samuel Palmer, whose 1828 drawings of the oaks of Lullingstone, near Shoreham in Kent emphasized the human-like belly, shoulders and sinews of the ancient trees.

Payne 3
Samuel Palmer, Ancient Trees, Lullingstone Park (1828). Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.


For Jacob George Strutt, who produced 40 portraits of trees for his Sylva Britannica (1822), 21 of them oaks, old trees were ‘silent witnesses of the successive generations of men, to whose destiny they bear so touching a resemblance, alike in their budding, their prime, and their decay’.

Do we still feel the same way about oak trees today?

Christiana Payne
Professor of History of Art, Oxford Brookes University

Further reading:
Christiana Payne, Remarkable trees via the British Library's new digital resource Picturing Places
Jacob George Strutt, Sylva Britannica; or, Portraits of Forest Trees, distinguished for their Antiquity, Magnitude, or Beauty. Drawn from nature and etched by Jacob George Strutt (London: J. G. Strutt and Colnaghi and Co, 1822)
Christiana Payne, Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760-1870 (Sansom and Company, 2017)
Fiona Stafford, The Long, Long Life of Trees (Yale University Press, 2016)

 

25 April 2017

William Close - “one deserving of remembrance”

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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

18 April 2017

Captain Ross muses on the ice

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Captain, later Sir, John Ross was one of the first Royal Navy officers sent by Sir John Barrow in search of the Northwest Passage. Barrow, presiding over huge Naval resources after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, was determined the Navy would finally discover the fabled Northwest Passage and, in turn, underscore Britain’s oceanic prestige to the world. Fitting out ships with crews of distinguished war veterans Barrow began one of the most significant non-military campaigns in the Royal Navy’s history and Ross represented one of the most trusted officers at his disposal.

Leaving London’s docks on 18 April 1818 Ross set out to chart the Arctic coast of North America but the captain took with him significant personal interests in the icescapes, peoples, flora and fauna he would encounter on the journey. Indeed, Ross’s account of the voyage, published in 1819, is notable for the various scientific and anthropological studies he relates, as well as his musings on the shape and form of ice. Some of Ross’s depictions of the ice are reproduced as accompanying illustrations to the text, including the two ‘Remarkable Iceberg(s)’ illustrating this post.

A Remarkable Iceberg (Ross June 1818)

 ‘A Remarkable Iceberg, June 17th, 1818’ from Ross, J. (1819), A Voyage of Discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in his Majesty’s ships ‘Isabella’ and ‘Alexander’ for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and enquiring into the possibility of a North-West Passage. G.7399

Ross’s icescapes are grand and sublime, overawing the crew with their stature and beauty in the light of the Arctic summer. The text and other illustrations for the publication also show how this sublime beauty can easily become a source of terror, as the ships and their crews become imperilled by the power and capriciousness of the Arctic ice. This ability of ice to shift dramatically from sublime beauty to source of terror is played with to great effect in Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Published the year after the return of Ross the novel highlights how modern men can be overpowered by natural forces still beyond their control.

 A Remarkable Iceberg (Ross July 1818)

‘A Remarkable Iceberg, July, 1818’ from  Ross, J. (1819), A Voyage of Discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in his Majesty’s ships ‘Isabella’ and ‘Alexander’ for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and enquiring into the possibility of a North-West Passage. G.7399

Despite making good progress in the summer months Ross turned around and headed home after entering Lancaster Sound. Ross claimed he saw mountains blocking further passage into the Sound but other members of his crew did not have the chance to verify Ross’s sighting. It is possible that Ross saw a mirage and took this as good reason to turn back for England, but could it also be that his musings on the ice had spooked him? It is possible, Ross’s illustrations show his awareness of the fragility of human bodies and ships to the overwhelming power of the ice, but then it is also possible Ross genuinely believed the Northwest Passage would not be found that way – or indeed any way.

Whatever the reason for his return from the Arctic, Ross’s decision earned him the ire of Sir John Barrow who was furious his captain had returned after posing so little challenge to the Passage. He would attack Ross, directly and anonymously, through the rest of his career and was delighted when Ross’s second in command, W. E. Parry, contradicted the reports of his captain. Barrow’s search for the Northwest Passage was not yet finished.

Philip Hatfield
Lead Curator for Digital Mapping

Further reading:
For more musings on Icescapes, see Philip’s Picturing Places essay, ‘Icescapes: Printing the Arctic’.
Hatfield, P.J. (2016), Lines in the Ice: exploring the roof of the world, London: British Library Publishing
Potter, R. A. (2007), Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818 - 1875, Seattle: University of Washington Press
Williams, G. (2011), Arctic Labyrinth, Berkley: University of California Press