THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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36 posts categorized "Visual arts"

22 February 2018

Mr Robertson and the Great Stupa at Amaravati

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In the British Museum’s Asahi Shimbun Gallery there is a permanent display of sculptures from Amaravati Stupa. These beautifully carved limestone sculptures originally surrounded a massive Buddhist monument in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was constructed between the 3rd Century BC and the 3rd Century AD. When Buddhism’s popularity in southern India went into decline, the Great Stupa at Amaravati became disused, and was eventually abandoned.

1 Asahi Shimbun GalleryThe recently reopened Asahi Shimbun Gallery in the British Museum. Noc

In 1816-17 a British survey team excavated Amaravati Stupa’s remains, and in 1859, 121 of the stupa’s sculpted stones were shipped to the British Museum. What few people realise is that some unusual things happened to these precious sculptures in the four decades between these two events.

 2a IMG_1743King standing with attendants -  in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery.Noc

2b WD1061f13largeKing standing with attendants - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.13.Noc

2c photo958 23b detailKing standing with attendants - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(23b). Noc

Francis W. Robertson was the East India Company’s Assistant Collector at Masulipatam from 1817 to 1819. Masulipatam was the closest seaport to Amaravati, and Robertson knew the man in charge of the stupa’s excavation in 1816-17. Together, they made plans to beautify Masulipatam’s market place by building a monument out of Amaravati sculptures.

The resulting monument, known locally as “Robertson’s Mound”, was probably completed in around 1819. It attracted virtually no outside attention until 1830, when the Governor of Madras, Sir Frederic Adam, paid a visit to Masulipatam. Adam wanted to establish a museum in Madras Presidency, and upon seeing Robertson’s Mound in the market place, he gave orders for it to be dismantled so the sculptures could be deposited in the new museum, once it was created.

3a IMG_1741Horse walking through gate - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

3b WD1061f28largeHorse walking through gate - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.28. Noc

3c photo958 32b detailHorse walking through gate - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London-  Photo 958/(32a). Noc

Over 20 years later, the Madras Government Museum was finally established. In 1854 the stones from Robertson’s Mound, along with some other sculptures from Amaravati, were sent to Madras. 121 of them were sent to the British Museum in 1859. By looking at drawings, photographs and other documentation in the British Library, one can identify which of the British Museum’s 121 Amaravati sculptures were part of Robertson’s Mound. One can also ascertain the condition of these sculptures before and after they were attached to this curious and short-lived monument.

4a IMG_1759Man and woman standing next to a horse - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

4b WD1061f31largeMan and woman standing next to a horse - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.31.Noc

4c photo958 31 detailMan and woman standing next to a horse - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(31). Noc

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
Howes, Jennifer. “The Colonial History of Sculptures from Amaravati Stupa.”
In Hawkes, J. & Shimada, A. Buddhist Stupas in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Taylor, William. On the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1856. (BL, V9700)
Tripe, Linnaeus. Photographs of the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1858-9. (BL, Photo 958)

 

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

 

27 October 2017

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

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This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.
  Item 29 Evan.9195 paper bag
Evan.9195

The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Item 28 Evan.2591 India in London
Evan.2591

A review in The Era newspaper for 16 January 1886 tells us that this ‘exhibition of Indian arts, industries and amusements’ was held under the auspices of Lord Harris, Under Secretary of State for India. The entertainments included a pageant representing the durbar or levée of an Indian potentate. The reviewer was most derogatory about this, complaining bitterly that he could not understand it because it was conducted in Indian languages. He was also unimpressed by the music, declaring that a performer on a tom-tom ‘rapped away like an undertaker on a coffin’! He was much more enthusiastic about a silent comedy sketch and the arts and crafts on display. The reviewer instructs his readers that ‘visitors to India in London should not leave without tasting the quaint Indian sweetmeats made at a stall in the gallery’ which may have been the treats destined for the paper bag at the British Library.

Despite being held under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for India, all was not well with the organisation of the entertainments at Langham Place. The St. James’s Gazette for 19 February 1886 discloses that Mr W S Rogers of the India in London exhibition was charged with ‘having kept open that building as a place of public resort without first having complied with the requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works’. Furthermore, it was ‘unfitted for the reception of the public with due regard to their safety from fire, and that the real and only remedy was to pull down the building and erect a new one.’ He was fined £50. Concerns for health and safety evidently came to London earlier than one might have imagined, as well as Indian sweetmeats.

Connecting Stories with logos

Exhibition details are on the Library of Birmingham website 

Penny Brook
India Office Records

Further reading
Evanion catalogue  
British Newspaper Archive 
Asians in Britain web pages

Untold Lives blogs about Connecting Stories:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England 

 

 

29 September 2017

Spies or Pandits? Colin Mackenzie’s Indian Assistants, 1788 to 1821

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One of the British Library’s most iconic art works is a small oil painting of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the first Surveyor General of India, standing alongside three Indian men. The identity of the Indian men is lost to us today, but the level of attention and detail that Thomas Hickey used to paint their faces shows that this picture was intended to make them recognisable as distinct individuals.

F13 small
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three Indian assistants by Thomas Hickey, 1816. (F13)

Colin Mackenzie conducted extensive research, mainly in the south of India, during his four-decade career in Asia. The immense collection he assembled is the largest archive of information from South Asia to ever be gathered by an individual. However, to assemble such a vast collection, Mackenzie relied heavily on the assistance of educated, multilingual Indians who performed an astonishing variety of tasks for him. Known as 'pandits', they mainly worked as translators, but during field surveys they also collected manuscripts and transcribed oral histories.

F13 detail 1

F13 detail 2
Close-ups showing the faces of the three Indian men. (F13)

Another task performed by these Indian assistants was to walk ahead of Mackenzie and his survey team to announce their impending arrival. They would brief the inhabitants at these places of the arrival of foreigners, and the intentions behind Mackenzie’s investigations. The earliest documentary evidence of an Indian assistant working for Mackenzie appears to record one such advance foray in 1788. It is from a set of four maps by an anonymous Telugu artist. Mackenzie labelled one of these maps with the caption, 'Harcara Sketch of Guntoor obtained or observed by one of my Harcaras'. (WD2673) The word 'harkara' means a messenger, informant or spy.

WD2673 crop
Map of Gunthur prepared by a 'harkara' in 1788. (WD2673)

Mackenzie’s Indian assistants should not be viewed merely as passive employees. Their role was to explain Indian knowledge and culture to their European colonizers, and they understandably used this position to their advantage. In particular, it was possible for them to increase the social status of the communities they came from by conflating their importance in the documents they translated and interpreted.

Colin Mackenzie openly acknowledged the contribution of the Indian men who assisted with his research. It is impossible to say how many Indian assistants he employed during his long career in Asia, from the 1780s to 1821. In 1808 alone he was employing at least 12 Indian assistants. Mackenzie regarded many of these men as family, and in one version of his last will and testament he bequeathed a tenth of his estate to two of his Indian assistants. As for the painting by Thomas Hickey, Mackenzie chose to have his portrait painted alongside three Indian men, thus reflecting their central role in creating his collections.

Will
A passage from Colin Mackenzie’s will saying that Kavali Laksmiah and his younger brother Kavali Ramaswami should receive a tenth of his estate.  (IOR/L/AG/34/29/33, folio 249)

The portrait of Colin Mackenzie with his three Indian assistants is on exhibition in Stornoway’s Lews Castle Museum until 18 November 2017. Curated as part of An Lanntair’s Purvai Project, 'Collector Extraordinaire' celebrates the life and work of Mackenzie, one of Stornoway’s most famous natives. The Purvai Project aims to inspire artists and performers by looking at Colin Mackenzie’s work. But how should we view his Indian assistants? 

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:

David Blake, 'Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary', The British Library Journal (1991), pp. 128-150
Jennifer Howes, 'Illustrated Jaina Collections in the British Library',  in J. Hegewald, Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture, Berlin: EB Verlag, 2015. See page 263.
R. H. Phillimore, Historical Records of the Survey of India, 1800 to 1815. Surveyor General of India, 1950. See pages 355-356.
Phillip Wagoner, 'Precolonial Intellectuals and the Production of Colonial Knowledge', Society for Comparative Study of Society and History (2003), pp. 783-814

18 August 2017

Illuminations in celebration of the peace

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In 1814, after almost 20 years of war with France, Britain and the coalition forces defeated Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). With the French leader exiled and the Hanoverian Kings marking 100 years of sovereignty, there was a lot to celebrate, and in the summer of 1814 London's parks played host to a scheme of spectacular entertainments. Free and available for all to enjoy, the events were depicted in brightly coloured prints, such as these examples from the King's Topographical Collection.

  MapsK_Top_26_7_y
John Fairburn (active 1789-1840), Description of the Grand National Jubilee, held in St James's, Hyde, and the Green Parks, on Monday 1st August, 1814, published by John Fairburn at Fountain Court, Minories, London, August 1 1814, etching and letterpress with hand-colouring, 430 x 335mm, Maps K.Top.26.7.y.

Arguably the most magnificent spectacle was the Temple of Concord, created in commemoration of peace treaties. The Temple was unveiled in a hugely theatrical show. It was initially concealed from view within the walls of a gothic castle, around which a mock siege was performed with cavalry, artillery and rockets. When the siege reached a dramatic climax the walls of the Castle were dilapidated to reveal the Temple in all its dazzling glory. Unveiling the Temple in this way was seen as highly symbolic of the transition from war to peace.

  MapsK_Top_26_7_bb

Thomas Palser (active 1803-43) ,The Fortress (which inclosed the Grand Pavilion) in the Green Park, with the ascent of the Balloon, published in London by Thomas Palser, 24 August 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 29.2 x 40 cm, Maps K.Top.26.7.bb.

  MapsK_Top_26_7_gg

Thomas Palser (active 1803-43), The Grand Pavilion in the Green Park, published in London by Thomas Palser, 12 August, 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 317 x 48.1 cm, Maps K.Top.26.7.gg.

The mastermind behind the Temple was Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Congreve (1772-1828), a rocket designer and Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich. He had served many campaigns throughout the Napoleonic War (1803-1815), and led a company known as the 'rocket brigade' at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

  MapsK_Top_26_7_ff

Matthew Dubourg (active 1806-1838) after John Heaviside Clark (approximately 1770-1863), The Revolving Temple of Concord Illuminated: as Erected in the Park in Celebration of the Glorious Peace of 1814, published Bond Street, London, August 12, 1814 by Edward Orme (1775-1848), aquatint and etching with hand-colouring, 260 x 384 mm, Maps K.Top.26.7.ff.

The Temple revolved so everybody could see its lavish decorations, rendered on semi-transparent fabric lit from behind with rows of oil lamps. Congreve had commissioned some of the nation's best artists like Thomas Stothard to design and paint allegorical scenes of these transparencies, each tableau praising 'the Triumph of England under the Regency'. Congreve had also designed a special type of firework, described by the magazine La Belle Assemblé as a rocket within which a 'world of smaller rockets' were contained so that as soon as it was discharged 'it bursts and flings aloft into the air innumerable parcels of flames, brilliant as the brightest stars'.

London's print sellers never missed an opportunity for business, so cheap and eye-catching prints like this would have been plentiful, and purchased as souvenirs for affordable sums at booths in the parks and print shops.

 

Over 500 views and maps from the King's Topographical Collection and other British Library holdings are available to view at https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places. Keep up to date with what's being discovered at: https://twitter.com/bl_prints.

Alice Rylance-Watson

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

 

 

01 August 2017

Battles on the Serpentine

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Historical re-enactment is a centuries-old form of fun. The Romans recreated famous battles in their amphitheaters for public entertainment, and from around the 17th century military displays, mock battles and re-enactments became popular in England. As these prints from the King's Topographical Collection show, historical re-enactment was used to celebrate the Grand Jubilee on 1 August 1814, in mock naval battles which took place on Hyde Park's Serpentine River.

 

MapsK_Top_26_6_p80
Thomas Palser (active 1803-43), Scene on the Serpentine, Hyde park, on the Night of the Grand Jubilee, August 1, 1814, published in London by Thomas Palser, August 24, 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 28.6 x 40 cm, Maps K.Top.26.6.p.

 

The battles were part of a series of public festivities marking peace with France and 100 years of Hanoverian rule. Sixteen years had also elapsed since the major naval Battle of the Nile (1-3 August 1798), which Nelson won for Britain against the French Republic.

A fleet of miniature ships were built at Woolwich especially for the Serpentine re-enactments. They were fitted up and rigged as men-of-war and flew French flags, Union Jacks and American banners. Britain was then still at war with America and one of the key battles for territory had taken place in the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard.

  MapsK_Top_26_6_n80

Thomas Palser (active 1803-43), The Action between the British & American Frigates on the Serpentine, Hyde Park, published in London by Thomas Palser, 1 August, 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 28 x 40.6 cm, Maps K.Top.26.6.n.

 

  MapsK_Top_26_6_o80

Thomas Palser (active 1803-43), The Jubilee Naval Action on the Serpentine in Commemoration of the Battle of the Nile, published in London by Thomas Palser, 24 August, 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 28.2 x 39.9 cm, Maps K.Top.26.6.o.

 

While some newspaper critics called the events ‘absurd’, most spectators revelled in watching the little ships engage in such dramatic combats. As these prints show, rockets were fired off to simulate blasting cannons and vessels were set alight to excite the crowd and rouse patriotic cheers.

Over 500 views and maps from the King’s Topographical Collection and other British Library holdings are available to view at: https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places. Keep up to date with what’s being discovered at: https://twitter.com/bl_prints

Alice Rylance-Watson