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9 posts from August 2020

31 August 2020

Music hall entertainment for Bank Holiday Monday

In August 1882 the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool advertised a varied bill for Bank Holiday Monday – magic, singing, comedy, dancing, opera.  The venue sought to attract customers not only through the quality of performers booked but also by its claim to be the coolest and best ventilated hall in England.

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool August 1882

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool - Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882. British Newspaper Archive

The acts for the evening of 5 August 1882 were listed as-

    Bryant’s Great Marionette

George Bryant operated marionette performances from the 1870s.  Here is a picture of his Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark –a ‘Novel, Wonderful and Amusing Speciality’, ‘the Best Mechanical Entertainment in Europe, consisting of Songs, Dances, Jokes, Choruses etc’.

Picture of Bryant's Marionette Minstrels playing instruments from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in SouthwarkBryant's Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark - British Library Evanion Collection 752

    Don Esparto, the Mystagogue, and Miss Lilian Haydn, the Enchantress

Don Esparto was the stage name of illusionist William Smith from Barrow Upon Humber, Lincolnshire.  He combined conjuring with mesmerism.  In one show, he made a man eat a candle in the belief that it was a string of sausages.  Miss Lilian Hadyn acted as his assistant and was described in newspapers as vivacious and a very good serio-comic.

    Sisters and Brother Phillips, the Burlesque Trio, The Three Comical Cards

This ‘Witty, Whimsical and Pantomimical’ act was formed in 1870 by W H Phillips who wrote the songs and material performed.  In 1886 he complained of ‘unprincipled copyists’ malignant vindictiveness and jealousy’.

    Brady and Johnson, the Inimitable Comic Duettists

Albert Brady and Marion Johnson were the stage names of married couple John and Mary Brady.  They performed sketches.

    Mr Harry Steele, Comic Vocalist and Eccentric Skater

Steele’s catchphrase was ‘By Jove! I was nearly down again’.

    Miss Milnes, Soprano Vocalist

The repertoire of Agnes Milnes, ‘the queen of song’, included opera and sentimental ballads.

    Mr George Vokes, Grotesque Comedian

Vokes was said to excite ‘the risible faculties of the audience by his comicalities’.

George-VokesGeorge Vokes by Alfred Concanen, circa 1870s © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

    Mr Harry Starr, American , Dutch, and Irish Character Comedian

Starr enjoyed considerable success as a variety artist and then became an actor and dramatist.

    Sisters De Laine, Fascinating Duettists and Champion Skipping Rope Dancers

In 1894, Alice De Laine opened a dance academy in London for music hall aspirants which specialised in tuition for skipping rope dancing.

Sisters De LaineAdvert for Alice De Laine's dance academy - Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894 British Newspaper Archive

       The Band - Grand Selection from Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena

The performance started at 7.30pm. Tickets for the front stalls cost 1s 6d, stalls and promenade 1s, and the body of the hall 6d.  The Liverpool Mercury described the evening’s programme as ‘unusually interesting’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. London and Provincial Entr’Acte 26 July 1873; Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882; Liverpool Mercury 8 August 1882; The Era 22 August 1880, 3 October 1885, and 8 May 1886; Midland Counties Advertiser 1 November 1888; Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894.


27 August 2020

Collections in the UK on Indian Independence and Partition

The India Office Records and Private Papers, held at the British Library, contains one of the largest archives outside South Asia of records relating to the Indian independence struggle, and the eventual partition of pre-1947 India into the independent states of India and Pakistan.  This includes official government records, as well as significant collections of private papers.

Photograph of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for IndiaMahatma Gandhi and Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, 18 April 1946 - Photo 134/2(19) Images Online c13486-31

 

However, there are also a wealth of records on this subject to be found in local archives, libraries, and record offices around the UK.  Here are a just a few examples of some of the wonderful collections available to be explored.

There are of course many libraries in London which hold collections relating to Indian Independence, including the National Archives, the Parliamentary Archives, the Marx Memorial Library, and the London School of Economics Library. There are also a great many important collections to be found at Oxford and Cambridge, for instance:
• The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds the papers of Clement Richard Attlee, British Prime Minister 1945-1951, along with the papers of several British politicians who were involved with Indian affairs and Indian civil servants.
• Cambridge University holds the papers of many British politicians involved in the administration of British India, while the Centre for South Asian Studies holds the private papers of many members of the India Civil Service and their families, and officers and other ranks who served in the Armed Forces in India at the time of Independence.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge, SimlaPandit Jawaharlal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge, Simla,  11 May 1946 - Photo 134/2(28) Images Online c13486-35

 

Elsewhere around the UK are wonderful collections on this subject, here are just a few examples:
• The Keep Archive Centre in Brighton, which holds a collection of letters from Gandhi to Madeleine Slade (often known as Mirabehn), many written while he was at Yeravda Prison and during his period of fasting; and a collection of official papers and reports accumulated by Major-General Thomas Wynford Rees, Commander of the Punjab Boundary Force, August and September 1947.
• Correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Eleanor Rathbone, May-Nov 1941, at University of Liverpool, Special Collections & Archives.
• The Mountbatten Papers and the papers of Lieutenant Colonel Nawab Sir Malik K H Tiwana (relating to the Punjab and its partition), both collections at the University of Southampton.
• Papers of Dr V.N. Sharma, Director General of Hospitals in India which include photocopies of letters and photographs sent to him by Subhas Chandra Bose at Hull History Centre.
• Quit India poster (Bombay, 1942) at West Glamorgan Archive Service.

Map showing India and Pakistan boundaries, dated 1947Map showing India and Pakistan boundaries, dated 1947 - Maps MOD OR 6409 Images Online B20151-85

In recent years there has been many fascinating projects to collect oral histories relating to independence and partition.  To name just three:
• The Memories of Partition Project Archive, a project to record the memories of those affected by the 1947 Partition of India is held at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, University of Manchester.
• The White Line - Here, There, Then, Now Oral History Project, in which interviews were carried out with people who eventually migrated to Huddersfield to record their memories of pre-Partition, the Partition era and what happened afterwards, is held at Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield.
• India: A People Partitioned Oral Archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Indian Independence Collection Guide 
Archives HUB 
AIM25 
The National Archives (TNA) Discovery
Scottish Archive Network 
List of UK archives 
Chris Cook (ed), The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives: Sources since 1945 (Routledge, 2006)

25 August 2020

The Temples of Mahabalipuram and the early days of Heritage Conservation

A Privy Council appeal from 1893 reveals an attempt to preserve historic monuments in India at a time when British heritage conservation was in its infancy.

Appeals to the British Privy Council are available for free on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) and include many cases from British India.  This appeal concerns an area of land on the east coast of India containing a quarry and a group of temples then known as the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram.  It was purchased by the British government from the Mudaliar family around 1890.

Mahavellipore. The Five RathsThe Pancha Ratha or Pandava Rathas, at Mamallapuram near Madras from James Fergusson's Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India (X590) Online Gallery  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The monuments near the town of Mahabalipuram were created in 630-668 CE and now form a UNESCO World Heritage site.  They consist of several raths, or monolithic temples, and caves cut into the rock.    The site is famed for a sculpted frieze depicting the Descent of the Ganges.  After visiting in 1841 James Fergusson, architectural historian, described the sculpture as ‘the most remarkable thing of its class in India’.

The rock sculpture of Arjuna’s Penance, MahabalipuramThe rock sculpture of Arjuna’s Penance, Mahabalipuram (WD 4206) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Privy Council appeal brought by the Mudaliars concerns the value of the rock remaining in the quarry.  The judgment was given in the Mudaliars’ favour.  However, the document begins by describing the temples, not the quarry: ‘the Government of India is desirous of saving from destruction, and of preserving as public monuments, certain works… known as the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram'.

There were worries that the structures were in danger.  The appeal mentions that the Mudaliars had begun using explosives in the quarry, so ‘local authorities felt alarmed and advised the Government to interfere’.

While government intervention was common in India, in the United Kingdom the rights of landowners made the purchase of sites for their preservation more difficult.  The British Ancient Monuments Protection Act was enacted in 1882 to survey and record the locations of ancient sites, but had no powers to force their purchase.

Mahavallipore. Cave with a structural VimanaCave with a structural Vimana at Mahabalipuram from James Fergusson's Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India (X590) Online Gallery  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fergusson, who described the temples in the appeal, travelled India in the 1830s and 1840s.  From 1845 he used a camera lucida to sketch Indian architecture for publications like his Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India.  Many of these illustrations are available to view on the British Library website.

In the preface to a later edition, Fergusson notes that his images had captured the British imagination: ‘In consequence of the interest which these publications excited among those interested in the study of Indian Antiquities, a memorial was addressed to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, praying them to take steps to prevent further desecration and destruction of these venerable monuments of the past'.

Books like Fergusson’s publicised the value of historic monuments and increased pressure for their preservation.  In 1895 the National Trust was founded and was soon followed by additional conservation legislation in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Archaeological Survey of India, whose records are held at the British Library, took over the preservation of the site at Mahabalipuram.  The monuments were maintained in the intervening years and are now the main tourist attraction in the area.

Matthew Waters
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Privy Council Appeal: Secretary of State for India in Council v Shanmugaraya Mudaliar and others (Madras) 
J. Fergusson (1841) Illustrations of the rock cut temples of India (Vol.1), London – Preface from 1864 edition
Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1925-1932 (IOR/V/21/99)

 

20 August 2020

Death on the Cherwell

Browsing the British Library Online Shop, one of the Crime Classics caught my eye - Death on the Cherwell.  My great great uncle drowned in the River Cherwell and this is his story.

Cover of Death on the Cherwell showing two girls in a punt
Death on the Cherwell, a novel by Mavis Doriel Hay originally published in 1935 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Edwin Thomas Smith was born in 1856 in Headington, Oxford, the sixth of the eight children of Thomas, a mason’s labourer, and his wife Mary. His siblings married, and all but one sister left the area.  Edwin stayed with his widowed mother in the High Street at Old Headington and worked as a gardener.  He took an active part in village life, attending St Andrew’s Church regularly.  Edwin belonged to the Temperance Society, helping to run its lending library.   He was also a hardworking member of the Loyal Havelock Lodge of the Oddfellows friendly society, serving as Grand Master, Lecture Master, and Vice-President of the Juvenile Branch.

In 1885, Edwin was appointed caretaker of the newly established Headington Cemetery.  His duties were to dig graves, keep the cemetery tidy, and to keep the register of burials.  He did not stay in post long, but resigned following a dispute over his pay.  Then he became gardener at Lady Margaret Hall.

On the morning of Friday 7 June 1901 Edwin was found in the River Cherwell, face down in the water by the landing stage at Lady Margaret Hall.  A student called Miss May discovered him on her way to the boathouse.  Two workmen were summoned to lift Edwin out of the water, and the Vice-Principal, Miss Edith Pearson, attempted artificial respiration to no avail.

An inquest was held the same day.  Edwin’s sister Sarah Baker said that he had been suffering from giddiness for some time.  Jane Bunce, housemaid at Lady Margaret Hall, said she had spoken to Edwin just before he went down to the river to fetch water for the indoor plants.  He said that he had had a bad night and complained of chest pains.  The jury returned a verdict of ‘Found Drowned’.

Edwin was buried on Sunday 9 June in Headington Cemetery.  His body was taken from his home in the High Street to St Andrew’s Church preceded by 130 brethren of the Loyal Havelock Lodge.  The service was ‘impressively read’ by the vicar Reverend R W Townson.  Everyone then moved to the cemetery where the rest of the burial service was read, followed by the Oddfellows’ service.  The grave was covered with wreathes.  At Evensong later that day, Reverend Townson devoted the greater part of his sermon to the lessons to be learned from Edwin’s God-fearing life.

Edwin’s mother Mary died in 1905.  She was buried with her son.  Here is their grave, the inscription to Edwin faded and its stone cross broken from the base.

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary, with a stone cross propped in front of the main stone and a bunch of freesias

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary in Headington Cemetery - author's photograph Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (available via Findmypast) – e.g. Jackson’s Oxford Journal 15 June 1901.
Rules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity Friendly Society

18 August 2020

Quetta to Sistan: The Development of a Strategic Trade Route

‘Such Central Asian trade as of old [that] drew its goods from British sources has slowly drifted into the hands of Russia, which on its part has not been backward in putting in motion every engine that ingenuity could devise, and its paramount position in Central Asia afforded to popularize its Asian and Persian trade at the expense of ours.’

Mss Eur F111_386_0282_cropDrawing of a telegraph station along the Quetta-Sistan Road (Mss Eur F111/386, f.137)


Thus wrote Lieutenant Frank Webb Ware, Political Assistant at Chagai, in his first report on the trade route being opened up between Quetta, in British Indian territory, and Sistan, on the Persian frontier.  Such fears of Russian dominance in Persia were the very reason for the British plan to revive what was an ancient road.  Russian influence had been growing in Persia since the Napoleonic era and their presence felt in Sistan since at least the 1860s. Being on the doorstep of the Indian Empire, any interference in Sistan could not be tolerated by the British, and their efforts to assert their own power over the region was a part of the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain for predominance in Central Asia.

Mss Eur F111_377_0098_cropPhotograph of the ‘Mil-i-Nadir, or Pillar of Nadir’, probably taken by H A Armstrong, Assistant Superintendent, Indian Telegraph Department (Mss Eur F111/377, f.46)

To counter Russian activities in Sistan, Webb Ware was appointed at Chagai and tasked by the Government of India to establish wells, guard houses, and levy posts along the new route from Quetta.  Trade was seen as an important way of gaining influence and protecting British interests.  After travelling the route himself in the early part of the year, Webb Ware submitted his first report on the subject in the summer of 1897, remarking that he was ‘disagreeably astonished’ at the ascendancy that Russia had already gained in Sistan.

Mss Eur F111_377_0067_cropPhotograph of the landscape near the trade route, close to Dehbakri, Iran, probably taken by H A Armstrong (Mss Eur F111/377, f.30)

In the following years more reports would be submitted and progress made on the development of the route.  Recommendations were made to extend the railway from Quetta along the same road, largely for military purposes.  The project was of such significance that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India at the time, kept copies of all the relative documents.  It is from his papers that these images are taken.

Mss Eur F111_386_0291_cropDrawing of the landscape near Kirtaka, Pakistan (Mss Eur F111/386, f.141)

Military intelligence was gathered and a telegraph line proposed.  The resulting surveys produced photographs and sketches of a region little-known to the British.  The line drawings are reminiscent of those of the Lake District by Alfred Wainwright, albeit they were made for very different purposes.  These, along with Webb Ware’s reports, are being digitised as part of the Qatar Foundation-British Library Partnership Programme and are available on the Qatar Digital Library

John Hayhurst
Gulf History Specialist

Further reading:
'Report on the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts' - Mss Eur F111/362, f.10 and f.11 

'Report of Khan Bahadur Maula Bakhsh, Attaché to the Agent to the Governor General of India and Her Britannic Majesty's Consul-General for Khurasan and Sistan, on His Journey from Meshed to Quetta via Turbat-i-Haidari, Kain, Sistan, Kuh-i-Malik Siah and Nushki (7th April to 28th July 1898)' - Mss Eur F111/363 

'Report on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts for the year 1897-98 and on the Development of The Quetta-Seistan [Sistan] Trade Route' - Mss Eur F111/364 

'Report on the Development of the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts, for the year 1899-1900' - Mss Eur F111/374 

'Military Report on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/378 

'Notes on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/382 

 

13 August 2020

‘Black Peggy’ and the Foundling Hospital

In 1793 the London Foundling Hospital received a petition from ‘Black Peggy’, a native of Bengal.

‘Being a poor unfortunate girl just arrived at the age of fourteen was on my voyage to England with Mrs Harding, unhappily seduced by my fellow servant James Murray by a false promise of marriage, but on our arrival at Ostend he knowing of my pregnancy left me friendless and unprotected.  Nothing but the kind humanity of my mistress could have supported me through this scene of misery and repentance and who is still inclin’d to be my friend could I conceal my disgrace by your benevolence.  This gentleman urges me in the most supplicating manner to entreat and solicit your generous aid and protection to the unhappy infant of your very humble petitioner.’

Peggy’s mistress, Mrs Elizabeth Harding of 2 Buckingham Street, recommended acceptance of the child because of the girl’s penitence and past good conduct.  On 4 May 1793 Peggy’s two-month-old daughter was admitted to the Hospital as Foundling No.18142.  She was baptised with the name Jane Williams and sent as a nurse child to Dorking.  Sadly Jane died a year later and was buried at St Martin’s Church in Dorking on 11 May 1794.

Foundling Hospital Chapel with children filing in.sFoundling Hospital Chapel – British Library Crach.1.Tab.4.b.3. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear whether Peggy was of Asian or African descent.  African slaves were brought to Bengal in the 18th century.

I believe that Peggy’s mistress was the wife of Thomas Harding an officer in the East India Company’s Bengal Army.  In May 1794 Elizabeth Harding was granted permission by the East India Company Court of Directors to return to her husband in India.  At the same time Thomas Parry Esq, (the Company director?), was authorised to return a black servant named Peggy to Bengal on the Royal Admiral with no expense to be incurred by the Company.

Extract from East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes for 7 May 1794IOR/B/119 p.93 East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes 7 May 1794  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the passenger list for the Royal Admiral, Peggy is recorded as the servant to Mrs Anna Maria Freeman who was returning to her husband in Bengal.  The ship sailed from Plymouth in August 1794 and the two women landed at Calcutta in February 1795.

The homeward passenger list for the Royal Admiral shows Anna Maria Freeman and her black servant, now named as Peggy Harding.  This link to her previous mistress surely confirms that this is the Foundling Hospital’s ‘Black Peggy’?  What had happened to cause Mrs Freeman to leave again for England on the Royal Admiral in August 1795?  Did she discover that her husband had died in her absence?  Frustratingly I have been unable to identify with any certainty who her husband was.

Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Mrs Freeman and Peggy left the ship in the Bristol Channel on 8 January 1796.  Less than a month later Anna Maria Freeman, described as a widow, married William Fairfax in Bristol.  Fairfax had been first mate in the Royal Admiral on the 1794-1796 voyage to India and back.

For now, the story of Peggy ends here.   Perhaps she is the black female servant called Peggy who sailed on the Houghton to Bengal in the spring of 1797?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Journal of Royal Admiral for 1794-1796 voyage with passenger lists.

London Metropolitan Archives Foundling Hospital records - Petition of 'Black Peggy' is in A/FH/A08/001/001/018 Petitions admitted to ballot 1792-1793.

Forgotten Foundlings: black lives and the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital.

11 August 2020

Receipts of the Late Thomas Lakin

Despite an active career as a potter, Thomas Lakin (1769-1821), whose pieces can be found in collections globally, is almost entirely absent from the written history of Staffordshire Pottery.  He is scantily mentioned in the pottery directories of the time, and was omitted completely from Simeon Shaw’s History of the Staffordshire Potteries, one of the principal texts on the history of the industry.

Lakin spent his working life in the Leeds and Staffordshire potteries.  He worked a number of years for John Davenport in the Longport glassworks, and traded in pottery under numerous titles including 'Lakin & Poole', 'Lakin & Son' and 'Lakin & Co.'.  Before his death he was a Principal Manager of the higher departments of the Leeds Pottery.  An obituary in The Staffordshire Advertiser, which asserted his reputation, noted ‘he had long been distinguished for his taste, judgement and ingenuity as a potter'.  Little is known of Lakin’s personal affairs: unlike many of his better known contemporaries, he did not leave a business or family archive.  He did however leave what is considered one of the seminal published texts on 18th century pottery techniques - Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts of the late Thos Lakin ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. printed for Mrs Lakin (Leeds: Edward Baines, 1824).

Published post-humously by his wife Catherine, the text contains a variety of trade recipes for various enamels, coloured glazes, underglazes, glass staining, and more used by Lakin.  The preface by his wife provides us with the only published primary biographical source for Lakin, beyond newspaper clippings.

The British Library’s Add MS 89436 is a manuscript copy of Potting, Enamelling & Glass Staining.

Cover of Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining'Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining' Add MS 89436

Manuscript copies of texts continued to offer an alternative to printed publications well into the 19th century.  Various factors led to their production: practice of penmanship, dissemination of ‘banned’ publications or plays, and cost or scarcity of the printed text.  Lakin’s volume was a considerable £50 on release.  Thanks to its uniqueness, and valuable content, the volume would have been in high demand and probably sold quickly.  Manuscript copies were likely made by those that either could not afford the printed version, or simply could not get their hands on it.  The British Library’s copy stands out for its remarkable penmanship and beautiful calligraphic coloured title page.

Enormous care and time was taken to produce this copy, and no doubt it would have been treasured by the owner throughout their career.  Add MS 89436 may have been copied by a potter, from a fellow potter’s printed copy.  It wasn’t unheard of for potters themselves to have well-practised penmanship, as surviving business ledgers demonstrate.  This was likely a result of extensive record keeping and the need for legible documentation within the business.

A recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.Add MS 89436, a recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.

Several other manuscript copies of Lakin’s text have been up for auction in the past decade, and can be found in collections globally, including one at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass, in New York.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Please note that due to work-flow restrictions resulting from Covid-19 action this material may not be accessible via the reading rooms until later in the year.

Thank you to Patricia Halfpenny from the Northern Ceramic Society for her assistance in tracing information relating to Thomas Lakin and his career.

Further Reading:
LAKIN, Thomas. Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. Leeds : printed for Mrs Lakin, by Edward Baines, 1824.
Harold Blakey, “Thomas Lakin: Staffordshire Potter 1769-1821”, Northern Ceramic Society Journal, Vol. 5, 1984. pp.79-115.

 

06 August 2020

John Dean: Celebrity shipwreck survivor of the 1740s

On 17 September 1740, the East India Company’s Court of Directors in London received word that a man had returned from the dead.  That man, John Dean, miraculously survived the shipwreck of the Sussex, an East India Company ship that sank, along with its cargo, off the coast of Madagascar in March 1738.  It took Dean 16 months, most of which was spent walking across Madagascar, to find a European ship to rescue him.  That ship transported him from Madagascar to Bombay, where his story was transcribed, then sent on to the East India Company in London.

By the time Dean reached London in September 1741, a year had passed since the Company’s Court of Directors had learned of his survival, and his story had been published at least twice as a 22 page booklet.  Soon after his return, a risqué mezzotint portrait of a shirtless John Dean was also published in London, showing him standing on a rocky shoreline, holding a spear, with the Sussex sinking in the background.  This rugged image of Dean most likely increased his celebrity, and parallels were made between his story and Daniel Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe.

Portrait of John Dean, three-quarter length, holding a spear, leaning back to the right against a rock, an axe and rolled mat beside him, a knife in his belt, wearing only a tattered pair of shorts, gesturing and looking to left, a ship tossed in heavy waves in the background.Mezzotint of John Dean, c.1743 © The Trustees of the British Museum  1364161001 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) (Another copy -British Library P553)

What is most interesting about John Dean’s story is that the East India Company controlled it.  On 19 September 1740, two days after the Court of Directors first received Dean’s account from Bombay, the Company’s Committee of Lawsuits put forward that 'a Bill be filed at Chancery against the Captain of the Sussex'.   John Dean’s survival had enormous value to the East India Company because Francis Gostling, the captain of the Sussex, who had also survived the shipwreck, had given a different version of events when he returned to London a few months after the Sussex sank, in the summer of 1738.  As punishment for the deaths at sea of sixteen men from his crew (one of whom was John Dean), Gostling was removed from the Company’s service, but he was absolved of losing the Sussex’s valuable cargo.  However, Dean’s account described Gostling’s actions on board the sinking ship as dishonourable, and made him out as directly contributing to the deaths of the abandoned crew.

Armed with John Dean’s story, the East India Company ruined Francis Gostling by ordering £25,000 in compensation for the Sussex’s lost cargo.  After their success at the King’s Bench in May 1743, the Company commissioned Willem Verelst on 16 June 1743 to paint not one, but three portraits of John Dean.  Two of these portraits still exist, and show a happy, healthy man, respectfully dressed in smart working class attire, carrying a hat and a walking stick in one hand and a letter of reference in the other.  They contrast with the mezzotint portrait from 1741 by showing a man who had comfortably returned to civilization.  In 1744 Dean was appointed as an elder porter at the East India Company’s Drug Warehouse, and in December 1747 he died, probably when he was in his early 40s.

Portrait of John Dean, three quarter length,  dressed in smart working class attire, carrying a hat and a walking stick in one hand and a letter of reference in the other.Oil painting of John Dean by Willem Verelst, commissioned 1743. British Library F19  BL - Images Online 

It seems to me that the portraits of John Dean say more about the East India Company than they do about the man shown in the painting.  Do you agree?

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
'History of John Dean', The Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1807, p.606.
A True and Genuine Narrative of the whole affair relating to the Ship Sussex as sent to the Directors of the Honourable East India Company; From the Time she was deserted by the Officers, and greatest part of the Crew, till she was unfortunately wreck’d on the Bassas De India... By John Dean, The only surviving person of them all (London, 1740)
Account of John Dean’s story, dated Bombay December 1739, being read at East India House, 17 September 1740, BL – IOR/B/66, f.84.
Account of a bill being filed against Captain Francis Gostling, 19 September 1740, BL – IOR/B/66, f.151.
Account of John Dean’s first appearance before the Court of Directors on 2 September 1741, BL - IOR/B/66, f.366.
John Dean’s appointment as an Elder Porter, Friday 15 March, 1744, BL – IOR/B/68, f.243.
“Warrant be made out to Mr. William Verelst for Fifty Guineas for painting two originals and one copy of John Deane late belonging to the Ship Sussex...” , 17 June 1743, BL - IOR/B/67, f.333.

 

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