Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

02 August 2021

Lady Tricyclists

As the world watches the athletes speeding round the Olympic velodrome, we’ve been looking back at the late 19th century when the sport of cycling was still in its infancy.

Advertisement for the new Marlboro' Club tricycle 1886The new Marlboro' Club tricycle 1886 - “The 'Marlboro' is extremely light, elegant, and fast, and a good hill climber. It can be used by a lady". British Library Evan.4145 Images Online

Tricycles were widely considered to be more suitable for women than bicycles.  Athletic News stated on 3 August 1881 that almost any ‘conceivable condition of female costume’ made riding a bicycle out of the question, more of an acrobatic feat than a useful accomplishment.  Tricycles were becoming increasingly popular with women, with Queen Victoria said to have bought machines for her granddaughters.  According to the Cornishman, there were over 100 distinct makes on the market by the end of 1881.

The spread of cycling amongst women was welcomed by Athletic News: ‘there cannot be the slightest doubt that ladies will be better and more healthfully employed in riding their tricycles along the highways and byways, where they can listen to the music of the birds and breathe the fresh air of Heaven, than in dawdling away their time in drawing-rooms and boudoirs, or in flirting at picnics and garden parties’.  The Liverpool Weekly Courier commented on the advantage of a vehicle which could be used at a moment’s notice 'without servants or horses’.  Propelling and steering the tricycle could be mastered in an hour.  Although the exercise was tiring at first because it used a fresh set of muscles, it quickly became easy and ‘delightful to women who are organically sound’.

A Tricycle Club for men and women was started in Kensington in London.  Meetings took place every Saturday.  A 50-mile race was organised for September 1879 with a special prize for the first woman to complete the distance, and silver and bronze medals for the runners-up to her.  The ladies of the Kensington club wore a navy blue serge dress and a felt deerstalker hat.

Victorian women’s clothing could be a problem when riding a tricycle.  In 1882 a woman out on a ride near Tring was thrown into the road when her dress became tangled in one of the wheels.  She was severely shaken and couldn’t carry on. A man passing in a trap helped her into town.

Newspapers passed on advice about suitable clothing for lady tricyclists so that they could avoid accidents or ‘loss of dignity’.  Samuel Brothers of Ludgate Hill London patented a special costume, ‘The Velocipedienne’.  This had strings to gather superfluous fullness in the skirt and a let-down fold which gave an extra six or seven inches to cover the feet and ankles.  It gave ample room for the knees to work.  In 1882 the Rational Dress Society recommended that lady tricyclists wore their new divided skirt which gave freer use of the legs and less resistance to the wind.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive  (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Liverpool Weekly Courier 23 August 1879; Bucks Herald 23 July 1881 and 17 June 1882; Western Daily Press 23 July 1881; Athletic News 3 August 1881; Lynn Advertiser 1 October 1881; Cornishman 15 December 1881; Nottingham Journal 8 June 1882.

 

29 July 2021

Birdwatching in Assam

One of the fascinating elements of private paper collections is what they contain about people’s hobbies and interests.  The India Office Private Papers are full of such collections.  One example is the papers of Dorothea Craigie Milburne which record her passion for birdwatching.

Overview of papers of Dorothea Craigie Milburne spread out on a tablePapers of Dorothea Craigie Milburne - British Library Mss Eur D913 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in Bristol in 1896, she was the first of two children of Edward Tuckett Daniell, a Bristol lawyer, and his second wife Alice Craigie.  She married William Milburne, the manager of Dhendai tea plantation, Darrang, Assam.  Both Dorothea and William were keen photographers of big game, and some of their work was published in the Statesman and the Manchester Guardian in the 1930s.  They left India in 1945, and Dorothea died in Bristol in 1982.

Most of her birdwatching was done in Darrang, Assam, as recorded in her detailed notes and notebooks.  In these papers she carefully recorded the birds she saw, giving observations on their appearance and behaviour, and even giving a numbered reference to the authoritative published guide on the birds of India by Oates and Blanford.  Here are some examples of her observations.

Of the Small Minivet she noted that they were not nearly as common or gay as other Minivets, and comments: ‘I once saw large black velvet & buttercup butterfly chasing an obviously terrified hen Small Minivet round & round peach trees in compound’.

Painting of a Minivet - orange, black and grey feathersMinivet by J Briois, c.1824 – British Library Images Online Shelfmark NHD 47/22 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Painting of a Shama - black and white feathers with a light brown breastShama by J Briois c.1824 – British Library Images Online Shelfmark NHD 47/22 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In recording her sightings of the Shama, she described an experiment she carried out: ‘I made interesting experiments with Shama visiting compound which responded to Ludwig Koch’s Nightingale record (gramophone), hopping across lawn to within few yards of verandah though usually hiding in shrubs, cocking head and responding with snatches of song.  Unfortunately chased right away by compound Dayal & Brown Shrikes & possibly frightened by cutting down of neighbouring shade trees’.

Dorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the BitternDorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the Bittern - British Library Mss Eur D913 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fans of the BBC nature programme Springwatch will know of the presenters’ fondness for the Bittern which is known for its distinctive ‘boom’ like call.  This shy bird appears fleetingly on Dorothea’s list: the Chestnut Bittern (‘Never saw settle to take in details’), Malay Bittern (‘seen once only flying through evergreen forest’), and Black Bittern (‘seen flying across a hoolah in garden several times one August’), although she records disappointingly ‘I did not hear one “boom”!’

Dorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the Spur-winged PloverDorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the Spur-winged Plover - British Library Mss Eur D913 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Knowing the call of a bird is essential in identifying it, and Dorothea kept careful notes on the sounds each bird made.  She even wrote the sounds down in music notation.  Of the Spur-winged Plover she wrote of its cry: ‘Gutteral, conversational “Whee whee wew” like beginning of “Did he do it” cry.  Rapid, irregular “Jip! Jip!” on C in flight’.

Dorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the PittasDorothea Craigie Milburne's notes on the Pittas- British Library Mss Eur D913 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dorothea often shared her passion with other birdwatchers, such as the planter and naturalist Charles McFarlane Inglis, who spent much of his free time in the study of India’s birds, and later became curator of the Darjeeling Natural History Museum.  In her notes she says that Inglis seemed surprised that she had not seen a Blue-necked Pittas, and says ‘Made special point of looking for it cold weather 1944 & early ’45 but in vain’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Dorothea Craigie Milburne papers, 1933-1945, shelfmark: Mss Eur D913.
Forests and ecological history of Assam by Arupjyoti Saikia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), shelfmark: YC.2012.a.8245
The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma: Birds by Eugene William Oates and W T Blanford (London,Taylor and Francis; [etc., etc.]1889-98), available online. 
Ludwig Koch on the recording a White-rumped Shama in 1889.
BBC Springwatch,Minsmere round-up - my highlights’ by Chris Packham, 18 June 2014.
Charles McFarlane Inglis (1870-1954).

 

27 July 2021

A captain goes down with his ship!

On 25 November 1865 the ship Great Britain slipped its anchor at Madras and, as directed by the signals from the Master Attendant’s Office, headed out to sea.  It would be the last time anyone would see the ship.

Report of loss of Great Britain from London Evening Standard 3 March 1866Report of loss of Great Britain from London Evening Standard 3 March 1866 - Courtesy of  British Newspaper Archive

There were a few things that made the fate of the Great Britain unusual.  Firstly the weather following the ship’s arrival at Madras on 20 November had been worsening by the day and there was warning of an impending cyclone.  On 23 November the crew had been forced to cease unloading cargo as the weather  conditions had rendered communication with the shore too dangerous.  Only about 55 tons of the cargo had been unloaded, leaving about half of the contents of the hold still on board.

Secondly the deteriorating weather had meant that by the evening of 23 November vessels were unable to pass the surf in the harbour, stranding people ashore.  These included William Murton, captain of the Great Britain.

Under these circumstances, there should have been no reason for the signals to be given for the Great Britain to set sail. But just after 7am on 25 November the ship left the harbour and headed out to sea, despite not having the captain on board.

Shortly afterwards, the weather claimed its victim and the Great Britain sank.  Fortunately there were no casualties and everyone was safely rescued.

For William Murton this would be his one and only commission as captain of a ship.  In February 1866 he lodged a protest with the Notary Public in Madras against the official account of the sinking of his ship which had implied negligence on his part.  He presented his account of the events of 21-25 November 1865, and concluded by stating that:
‘all losses and damage were occasioned by the bad weather and occurrences and not by the inefficiency of the said vessel or the default of the appearer William Murton, his officers or any of his mariners’.

William Murton's mariner's register certificate May 1850IOR/L/MAR/B/666B, f. 14 Mariner’s Register Certificate issued to William Murton May 1850 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

William Murton was born in Faversham, Kent in August 1834.  He had entered the maritime service on 30 May 1850 as a midshipman aboard the Nile, and he rose through the ranks receiving his master’s certificate on 22 September 1864.  He was appointed captain of the Great Britain on 1 February 1865.

William Murton's Master's certificate 1864IOR/L/MAR/B/666B, f. 16 Master Mariner’s Certificate issued to William Murton 1864 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Murton returned to England shortly after the loss of the Great Britain and retired from the maritime service.  He married Charlotte Augusta Emma Grant, daughter of the late Lieutenant Colonel Charles St John Grant, on 28 June 1866 at St John’s Church in Paddington.  The couple had three daughters: Mary, Fanny Seringa and Amelia Augusta, and one son Herbert William Grant.  Sadly Fanny and Herbert both died in 1876 aged eight and six respectively.  Fanny Seringa was named after the ship Seringapatam, in which Murton served from 1860-1862.  This was a surprisingly popular girl’s name which has been the subject of previous Untold Lives blog posts - My daughter Seringa and More girls called Seringa!

Karen Stapley
India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/666B – Captain William Murton’s service papers, 1850-1866, including copy of a petition in lodged in February 1866 in relation to the sinking of the Great Britain in November 1865.
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur A184 – William Murton’s papers, 1852.
British Library WD317 – Right profile silhouette of William Murton c. 1857.
British Library Photo 412(1) – Portrait of William Murton, Midshipman, c. 1850/1852.