Untold lives blog

9 posts from February 2022

28 February 2022

John Sanderson’s horrible housemates

The Levant Company clerk John Sanderson had arrived in Istanbul on 12 March 1592.  However, something had changed in the behaviours and manners of the English residents since his first being there.  Sanderson wrote that there had been a ‘great alteration; frome serving God devoutly and drinking puer water, nowe to badness stoutly and much wine (the witts hater).’  In Sanderson’s absence the embassy had been taken over by Edward Barton and Sanderson now had to decide whether to move in with him.  Despite his reservations, the benefits – and probably also savings– were too great to forego Barton’s offer.

Sanderson_title pageTitle page of John Sanderson's commonplace book British Library Lansdowne MS 241 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in 1560 John Sanderson is a rare example of an early modern man of trade who wrote a record of his life.  His miscellaneous commonplace book is held in the British Library manuscript collection (BL Lansdowne MS 241).  His short ‘autobiography’, entitled by its author ‘a record of the birthe and fortunes of John Sanderson, alias Bedic’, noted down not only Sanderson’s illnesses, fortunes and misfortunes, but also and very keenly, his many judgments (‘censures’) about other people.  And there were loads of them.

Reading Sanderson’s account, anyone who has ever been stuck in a riotous house-share with horrible house-mates will soon start to feel sympathy.  Sanderson claims that the ambassador Barton ‘vexed me to my very soule,’ although his foremost adversary seems to have been William Aldrich, who Sanderson claims to have ‘stealingly’ struck him.  After Sanderson struck him back the ambassador Barton himself ‘laid his fists one my face for so doinge, and confined me to my chamber.’  After all these fisticuffs Barton sent a stern letter to Sanderson’s room, threatening to deport him back home to England.  After the altercation Aldrich refused to dine in the same table with Sanderson and complained that he ‘outlooked him'.  Ill-will continued for some time, although the ambassador eventually tried to make amends by gifting Sanderson ‘a redd velvett goune wch the Gran Sigr had vested him with before he kiste his hand'.  Additional proof of this reconciliation was that Sanderson later acted as the ambassador’s deputy when Barton famously, and somewhat notoriously, accompanied the Ottoman sultan Mehmet III to his wars in Hungary.  However, the scuffles continued between Sanderson, Aldrich, and the steward of the house.

Based on his writings, Sanderson was a keen observer of the faults of other people.  He listed all the names or sometimes the initials of his ‘frenemies’, saying that ‘many other agreevances and discontents passed whilst I was ther, in comp of Bushell, Aldrich, Mons, Wragg, Rivers, Babington’...  The animosities between Sanderson and the two Aldrich brothers, William and Jonas, were explained by the different ‘conditions and qualities’ of the men, whereas the differences between Sanderson and Barton were probably due to breaching social hierarchies and trying to police Barton’s behaviour too much (possibly due to toxic masculine bravado).  Sanderson gave all these men derogatory nicknames ranging from ‘wicked athiesticall knave’ to ‘poysoner’ and ‘whoremonger’ and continued to record their deaths with no small amount of glee.

The selected texts from this old ledger volume bought by Sanderson’s father were edited by William Foster, the then president of the Hakluyt Society and published in 1931.  You can find this fascinating manuscript as part of the Lansdowne collection.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg
Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, and Art Studies, University of Helsinki
(eva.holmberg@helsinki.fi)


Further reading:
British Library Lansdowne MS 241.
The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant 1584-1602. Ed. by William Foster. Hakluyt Society 2nd Series ; No 67. London: Hakluyt Society, 1931.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, ‘‘Passages recollected by memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in seventeenth-century merchants’ life writing’, in Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2021. p. 211-239 (Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel; Vol. 1).

This blog post is the second in a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

24 February 2022

Letters of James Jackson of the Royal Navy – Part 1

An interesting new addition to the India Office Private Papers gives a glimpse into the life of a seaman in the British Royal Navy in the late 18th century.  Little is known about James Jackson other than he was serving aboard HMS Suffolk from 1793 to 1796.  His letters were sent home to his ‘brother and sister’ who were living in Enfield, England at that time.

The first three letters were written at Spithead on 18 November 1793, 5 January 1794 and 19 April 1794 where the Suffolk was being refitted in preparation for sailing with the next fleet to India.  In his first letter he apologises for not writing sooner ‘but was prevented from fulfilling it by our ship’s being unexpectedly ordered to sea’.  He mentions mutual friends, and says ‘I think Brother John Clarkson has met his fate poor fellow in the watery Element as well as Robert or you would have heard some tidings of him before this’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793 - Mss Eur F756 f.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In these letters he enquires anxiously after the health of his sister who he had heard was ill, and reports a rumour that he had heard from an officer who he is friendly with that they will be continuing on to the East Indies, and that they will be attacking islands belonging to the French.  James believes that they will not be returning to England for about two years.  He mentions that if he gets the opportunity he will try to contact their brother William who is in India.  The collection does also include three letters from William Jackson in Calcutta.  He thanks them for paying the postage on their reply to his previous letter as ‘otherwise I could not redeem it at present we have not been paid as it is customary to be the last thing before we sail altho’ we are now quite ready for sea waiting for it’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794 - Mss Eur F756 f.3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In his third letter, on the eve of sailing he wrote: ‘it is a pleasing satisfaction to me to be able to inform you that I leave this country without the least regret and in good health which I hope will be continued till my return both on my part and yours’.  He promises to write whenever he can but warns that it may be eighteen months or longer before they hear from him again.  In May 1794, the Suffolk under the command of Captain Peter Rainier led a convoy of merchant ships to Madras.  During the voyage, James was able to send off a letter home, via the East Indiaman Earl of Wycombe to St Helena, dated 6 June 1794 ‘at sea’: ‘I have this first opportunity embraced to forward you this letter according to your request as also to acquaint you that I am very well.  I might say never better only very warm for we are at this time nearly under the sun….we shall touch at Rio Janario in South America’.  He concludes ‘I wish you well but the boat is waiting alongside so adieu’. We will catch up with James in a forthcoming post.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of the Jackson Family, 1784-1843, British Library shelfmark: Mss Eur F756.
HMS Suffolk

 

22 February 2022

‘A mishap to German aviators’ in Mesopotamia: a tale of engine failure and a small Persian dog

In 1917, four German aviators and their dog faced the dangers of unreliable machinery and merciless desert heat in Mesopotamia.

World War I saw the first large-scale use of aerial warfare.  Aeroplanes proved particularly valuable in the deserts of Mesopotamia, where the Ottoman Empire and its German allies faced off against the invading British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force.  British and German pilots were crucial to war on this front, flying over vast stretches of desert to observe enemy troop movements.  A single mechanical failure could send a mission spiralling towards disaster.

Map of Mesopotamia 1916Map of Mesopotamia, 1916. 'Map 3. Mesopotamia' [‎365] (1/1)  Qatar Digital Library 

One such incident is recorded in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and gives an insight into the early problems of military aviation as it adapted to new environments.

On 7 July 1917, two German two-seater planes set out southwards from Tikrit.  The four aviators were tasked with flying over British positions near Baghdad and gathering information.  The mission went mostly to plan; both planes made it to their rest stop at Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and stayed there until 9 July.

Extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917

Extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

Disaster struck on their return journey, ‘about halfway across the 50 odd miles of desert they had to pass over’.  One plane ‘suffered a serious breakdown’ and was forced to land.  The other plane landed to try and help.  The stricken craft could not be repaired, and so the Germans burnt it to avoid it falling into British hands.  It now seemed as though two of the pilots had no way to escape the desert.

Photograph of a Rumpler C.III  a German reconnaissance planePhotograph of a Rumpler C.III, a typical German reconnaissance plane.  Image from the Ray Wagner Collection, courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

These aviators were nothing if not creative, however.  They loaded the surviving plane with all their belongings, a salvaged machine gun, ‘and a small Persian dog which habitually accompanied all important reconnaissance’.  Two pilots took their seats in the plane, while the other two ‘sat on each wing where they held on as best they could’.  Four men, three machine guns, and a small dog managed to fly in this manner for around 25 minutes.  But the extra weight prevented the plane from climbing high enough to cool its engine.  The Germans landed once again, resolving to wait until the evening brought colder temperatures.

Second extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917Second extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

They may have quickly regretted this decision.  The Germans spent a torturous day in the desert, exposed to the sun and forced to drink near-boiling water from the engine’s radiator.  As the sun finally set, the exhausted men drove their plane across the sands rather than attempting to fly.  Roughly fifteen miles from Samarra, this plane’s engine also failed.  The Germans burnt it and continued on foot.

The trials of the day proved too much for two of the men, who ‘collapsed and had to be abandoned’.  The surviving pair reached British lines at dawn on 10 July.  The British sent patrols to search for the two men left behind but found no sign of the pilots.  The two survivors were now prisoners of war.

Not all of the plane’s passengers suffered such a grim fate.  The ‘small Persian dog’ survived the desert trek, and found itself switching its wartime allegiance.  It was given to some British troops ‘with whom it is no doubt a popular pet’.

Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot  France  1915Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot, France, 1915. 


Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282  - available via the Qatar Digital Library
Mesopotamia campaign
Aerial warfare during World War One 

17 February 2022

Thomas Richardson Colledge: the missing years

Thomas Richardson Colledge, favourite student of Sir Astley Cooper, became a renowned medical missionary.  Educated at Rugby, with initial training at Leicester Infirmary, Colledge entered the East India Company’s service in 1819 as a ship’s surgeon.  Eight years later he joined the Company’s China factory in Macau and Canton.  He was responsible for establishing the Medical Missionary Society of China.

Details of Colledge’s twelve years in China may be found in histories of British involvement in China and the celebrated diaries of his American friend Harriet Low. Colledge’s contemporaries in China included Jardine, Dent, Lindsay, Inglis and Elliott. He is noted for his support for the dying Lord Napier, Britain’s first Chief Superintendent of Trade at Canton. Colledge left China before the First Opium War.

Painting of Thomas Richardson Colledge and His Assistant Afun in Their Ophthalmic Hospital, Macau'Thomas Richardson Colledge, M.D., and His Assistant Afun in Their Ophthalmic Hospital, Macau', by George Chinnery, 1833, oil on canvas.
Gift of Cecilia Colledge, in memory of her father, Lionel Colledge, FRCS, 2003, M23017. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

Whilst there are glimpses of his later life as a highly respected opthalmic physician and pillar of Cheltenham society, there is little or nothing about the formative early period he spent at sea.  Ships’ journals in the India Office Records help shed light on these years.

Each of Colledge’s four voyages to China presented its own challenges and learning experiences.  The first three voyages were on board the East Indiaman General Harris, Captain George Welstead.

During the 1819 voyage to Penang and China, the General Harris was struck by lightning in Cape latitudes and there were many casualties.  Five men died and one man was terribly mangled.  The rest were very lucky to escape - a fire on a wooden ship carrying casks of strong spirits stored close to powder barrels was to be avoided at all costs.  Later in the voyage, the large number of sick crew placed the ship at risk when navigating the dangerous shoals of the Palawan Passage.

The second voyage in 1821 was far longer and even more trying .  Within days of arrival in Madras, cholera ran through the ship.  To Colledge’s credit only one man died.  However Colledge was lucky to survive when a boat returning him to the ship capsized.

Some months later the General Harris assisted the General Kyd, lying dangerously beached on the notorious South Sands of the Malacca Straits.  The two ships then encountered a typhoon which reduced the General Harris to bare poles.  After stopping for essential repairs in St John’s Bay, the ships arrived in China to be caught up in a suspension of trade caused by a dispute between the Chinese and HMS Topaze.  For several weeks the General Harris was held back at Chuenpi and then ordered to sail back to the Straits of Malacca to return the following season.  The General Harris arrived home in April 1823, after an absence of more than two years.

The voyage of the General Harris in 1824 was disrupted by a tornado, ill-discipline, and an uncharted reef in the South China Sea.  A minor collision in Anjer was followed by a furious gale off the Cape which brought a great deal of water on board.

Colledge’s fourth and last voyage to China on the troop transport Abercrombie Robinson, Captain John Innes, appears to have been relatively uneventful.  The journal records two births on board and the punishment of Private John Kent, who received 150 lashes out of a sentence of 300.

After eight years at sea, the offer of a posting in China must have been a most attractive proposition!

Jim Markland
Cheltenham Local History Society


Further Reading:
General Harris: Journal, George Welstead Captain, (25 Jan 1819-31 Jul 1820) IOR/L/MAR/B/32D, British Library, India Office Records.
General Harris: Journal, George Welstead, Captain (4 Jan 1821-7 May 1823) IOR/L/MAR/B/32E, British Library, India Office Records.
General Harris: Journal, George Welstead, Captain (18Nov 1823-8 Jun 1825), IOR/L/MAR/B/32F, British Library, India Office Records.
Abercrombie Robinson: Captain John Innes, Journal (18 Nov 1825-17 Apr 1827) IOR/L/MAR/B/3&1A, British Library, India Office Records.
Colledge, Frances Mary, Thomas Richardson Colledge, (Looker-On Printing Company).
Colledge, Robert, Medicine and Mission: The life and interesting times of a Nineteenth-century pioneering doctor, (Aspect Design, 2020).
Collis, M., Foreign Mud, Faber (1946).
Morse, Hosea Ballou, The Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China 1635-1834 (Oxford University Press 1926).

 

15 February 2022

Leendert Hasenbosch’s diary: the story of a gay soldier marooned on a desert island

Leendert Hasenbosch, a Dutch East India Company soldier, was marooned on Ascension Island as punishment for sodomy in 1725.  Abandoned on an uninhabited island, he kept a diary of his days as a castaway and his struggle for survival.

Views of Ascension Island circa 1596

Views of Ascension Island circa 1596 Wikimedia Commons

This diary was later recovered and published as Sodomy Punish’d: Being a True and Exact Relation of what befell to one Leondert Hussenlosch (London, 1726), surviving in a single copy in the British Library.  It is a rare first-hand account of the lived-experience and hardships of a gay man at a time when sexual relationships between men were punishable by death.

Title page of  Sodomy Punish'dSodomy Punish’d, London: 1726, British Library RB.23.a.6682

Leendert Hasenbosch spent his first month on the island searching for water and praying for rescue.  Lonely, he wrote in his diary and tried to keep a bird as a pet but it died.

May 5: '…They put on shore with me a cask of water, two buckets an old frying pan &c.  I made a tent on the beech'.
May 8: '…I trust God Almighty will deliver me by some ship that may touch here'.
May 11: 'I sat down very discontented, being almost dead with thirst'.
May 12: 'This afternoon put some onions, pease and calavances into the ground near my tent to try if they would grow'.

In June, Hasenbosch experienced hallucinations and his situation got increasingly desperate.  He linked these visions to his guilty conscience and prayed for 'forgiveness for [his] sins'.  He was haunted by 'devilish spirits', including one with 'the resemblance of a man [he] had been well acquainted with, whose name [he is] afraid to mention; he staid with [him] for some time'.

By August, Hasenbosch’s water supply had dried up and he was beginning to starve.  He’d failed to catch any of the goats on the island and rats had eaten his crops.  His entries became shorter and preoccupied:
August 8 to 10: 'Nothing particular. No rain'.
August 12 to 16: 'Still no rain'.
August 17: 'No rain falling. I am in the most deplorable condition…'

He resorted to desperate measures:
August 22: 'This morning I caught a large turtle, and drank near a quart of her blood, and took some eggs and fat…I drank my own urine'.

Hasenbosch survived for just over another month on eggs, turtle meat, blood and urine:
October 7: 'I was again oblig’d to drink my own urine; I likewise eat raw flesh'.
From October 9 to 14: 'I liv’d as before'.

His published diary ends here.

Entry from the journal of the East India Company ship Compton describing the discovery of Hasenbosch’s campEntry for 20 January 1725/26 from the journal of the East India Company ship Compton – British Library IOR/L/MAR/B/666A

In January 1726, the East India Company ship Compton discovered Hasenbosch’s camp – a tent, bedding, and items including a kettle and tea, pipes, a hatchet and nails, and his diary up to November.  The Compton’s men searched in vain for the man or his body.  They did not believe that he had left the island because ‘his Paper and a great many Necessarys’ had been left in the tent.

Tragically, there are two fresh water sources on Ascension Island but Hasenbosch didn’t find either.  His diary was brought back in the Compton to England where it was published.  Other editions followed, some more homophobic than others.  His identity was only determined centuries later.

As the sailors didn’t find a skeleton in Leendert Hasenbosch’s camp, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was rescued by a passing ship and survived.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Read Leendert Hasenbosch’s diary in full
Journal of the East India Company ship Compton – British Library IOR/L/MAR/B/666A

 

14 February 2022

PhD placement opportunity: John Evelyn correspondence

We are now accepting applications for an exciting new PhD Placement opportunity, John Evelyn’s miscellaneous correspondence: making connections. This placement within the Modern Archives and Manuscripts (1600-1950) section is one of 15 placements currently being offered by the British Library, to be completed over three months full time or six months part time between June 2022 and March 2023.

The papers of John Evelyn (1620-1706) and his family are one of the library’s great archive collections. Evelyn, like his friend Samuel Pepys, is best known for his diary, and is regarded as one of the great chroniclers of the seventeenth century. An important figure in the British hub of the republic of letters, he corresponded and wrote widely on scientific, cultural and political issues. Evelyn’s correspondence provides much needed context and flavour to his diaries, and is an invaluable resource for seventeenth century studies.

Portrait of John Evelyn

Portrait of John Evelyn

Following the acquisition of the papers in 1995, extensive arrangement and cataloguing work took place, with the bulk of Evelyn’s incoming letters grouped and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. However, five volumes of ‘single letters or small groups’ were arranged chronologically and have not been fully catalogued and indexed.

The placement student will work to catalogue these five volumes of letters, which cover the period 1637-1705. Initial scoping has revealed letters from the architect Christopher Wren, sculptor Grinling Gibbons, and antiquarian Ralph Thoresby, as well as less well-known correspondents on topics of business, family matters and Evelyn’s Grand Tour of Europe. In addition to letters from correspondents in Amsterdam, Paris and Florence, there appear to be numerous letters relating to Evelyn’s local parish at Wotton in Surrey, representing a broad cross section of society; letters seeking patronage are found alongside petitions from local parishioners.

As an additional task, the student will be asked to select one aspect of the letters – it could be a correspondent, a particular place, event or theme – and explore links and connections on this aspect through the wider Evelyn papers.

Letter from Jane Newton

Add MS 78315, f 2r. Letter from Jane Newton.

The successful candidate will receive an introduction to the work of the Library and the Modern Archives and Manuscripts section, and training will be provided in object handling, archival cataloguing standards and their application in the library’s in-house cataloguing system, IAMS. They will also have the chance to take part in other training events and talks, including Digital Scholarship training sessions and reading group discussions.

Information on eligibility and funding can be found on the placement scheme pages. The deadline for applications is 25 February 2022 (5pm).

We look forward to seeing your applications!

The Modern Archives and Manuscripts Team

10 February 2022

JMW Turner, Artist and Publican?

In June 1820, JMW Turner’s uncle Joseph Mallord William Marshall, after whom he had been named, died.  Turner had lodged with his uncle, then a butcher in Brentford, for several years during his childhood.  Marshall left everything to his widow, Mary, with instructions about who should inherit on her death.  Turner and his cousin Henry Harpur, a solicitor, challenged the will so that they would not have to wait until their aunt’s death to benefit from their uncle’s will.  An agreement was reached whereby Turner and Harpur received four properties in New Crane Wapping, at the southern end of New Gravel Lane: Turner took nos. 7 & 8 and Harpur 9 & 10.  Turner also agreed to pay his aunt Mary an annuity of £20.

Map of Wapping from Horwood's Plan 1792-1799Map of Wapping from Horwood’s Plan 1792-1799 -  Romantic London Map © The British Library Board

 

Map of the Thames end of New Gravel Lane from Horwood’s Plan showing location of numbers 7-10Map of the Thames end of New Gravel Lane from Horwood’s Plan showing location of numbers 7-10 -  Romantic London Map © The British Library Board

Number 8 was a public house, The Ship and Bladebone.  The pub in Watts Street, off what was Old Gravel Lane, renamed itself Turner’s Old Star in 1987.  This may be somewhere that Turner visited but it is not the pub that he owned.  The Ship and Bladebone was a ten-minute walk away in what is now Garnet Street (formerly New Gravel Lane).

Site of The Ship and Bladebone - photo of sign for Garnet Street in front of school playgroundSite of The Ship and Bladebone  in Garnet Street– photograph by author Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Ship and Bladebone had a succession of tenants, one of whom, Elizabeth Crosset, was involved in an illegal practice, whereby coal whippers, who unloaded coal from the ships on the Thames, were forced to lodge in certain pubs and pay unreasonably high rents.  It is uncertain whether Turner was aware of this, although he was certainly involved in the overall running of the pub, chasing unpaid rent and arranging leases.  There are details of Turner paying for repairs to the roof, which were carried out in 1843 by the landlord Thomas Farrell.

Advert for sale of a 19-year lease on the Ship and Bladebone - Morning Advertiser 28 November 1844Advert for sale of a 19-year lease on the Ship and Bladebone - Morning Advertiser 28 November 1844

There have been many stories about the time that Turner spent in Wapping, most of them without much factual basis.  Turner’s first biographer, Walter Thornbury, suggested that he would go to Wapping in order to visit prostitutes and make sketches of them.  This seems to have been based on comments made by Ruskin, who assumed that some of Turner’s erotic drawings were made in Wapping.  Thornbury seems unaware of The Ship and Bladebone, where Turner would have had legitimate business.

Another story is that he installed his lover, Sophia Booth, as landlady at The Ship and Bladebone.  Her name does not appear on any documents associated with the pub and she is recorded as living, without gaps, in Margate and Deal and then with Turner in Chelsea.

After Turner’s death in 1851, his will was challenged.  When matters were settled in 1856, the pub went to a cousin, John Turner, as ‘heir at law’.  By this time, it had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair.  The pub next passed to the lawyer, Jabez Tepper, a relation of Turner’s by marriage, who had acted for the relatives who contested the will.  The pub was demolished and, in 1868, Tepper sold the land to the Limehouse District Board of Works and a gasworks was built.  The site is now occupied by a primary school.

Sophia Booth did have an intriguing connection with Wapping.  Her younger sister, Sarah Elizabeth, lived there with her husband John Green.  I have been unable to find any connection between the Greens and The Ship and Bladebone but this is certainly an area for further research.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Sam Smiles - ‘On the Waterfront: The Darker Side of the Ship and Bladebone”, Turner Society News. No 107, December 2007.
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997).
Bernard Falk, Turner the Painter: His Hidden Life (London 1938).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians, Volume 2 (London, 1862).
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast.
Search for JMW Turner papers in the British Library catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open

 

08 February 2022

LGBTQ Histories in the Archives

As LGBT+ History month gets underway this February, here at the British Library we have published our LGBTQ+ Histories collection guide.  This guide highlights some amazing archives and manuscripts within the Modern Archives collections that relate to LGBTQ+ histories in the UK.  Exploring collections through the 17th to 21st centuries, it encompasses records relating to the persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, archives from theorists of sexuality and gender, archives relating to LGBTQ+ activism, as well as creative works that explore LGBTQ+ themes.  The guide outlines some of the difficulties and complexities that arise in both identifying and researching such collections, but it also offers insight into the significant research possibilities these collections offer to readers.  These collections shine a light on histories of oppression, of hidden love, of divergent interpretations of Queer sexualities and genders, and offer first-hand accounts of LGBTQ+ lives through the ages.  This blog highlights just a few of the collections noted in the LGBTQ+ Histories guide.

17th Century collection items that reference same-sex relations are predominately available as records of prosecution, such as the confession and punishment of Bishop John Atherton (1598-1640) recorded in Sloane manuscripts.

Confession and punishment of Bishop John Atherton recorded in Sloane manuscripts.Sloane MS 1818, f.177. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Allusions to same-sex relations also appear in manuscript-circulated poetry of the 17th century.  Manuscript production offered more opportunities to make such references as their content would not have to pass through the Stationers' Company for approval to publish and reproduce.  Poets such as John Donne could circulate their poetry away from the eyes of the censor and might have been emboldened to make reference to same-sex relations more directly.  In ‘Sapho to Philanis’, Donne explores the Sappho’s yearning for her lesbian love interest, Philaenis.

Manuscript of 'Sapho to Philanis’Egerton MS 3884, f.86.v. © British Library Board.

Many of the 17th century manuscripts explore LGBTQ+ lives from the outside through articles of persecution or satirical works.  However, as we travel through the centuries one can find items of personal correspondence or creativity that offer personal experiences of LGBTQ+ lives.  One example is the correspondence between Lord Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey, and Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st Earl of Ilchester.  These affectionate letters capture some of the emotion that infused their decade long relationship.

Letter from Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox  15 October 1737Add MS 51345, f.80. Letter from Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox, 15 October 1737 - ‘ I have loved you ever since I knew you, which is now many years, so much better than most people are capable of loving anything…’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The papers of The Chevalier D’Eon shed light on the life of one of the most fascinating figures of the 18th century.  The Chevalier assumed different genders at different periods of their life.  Their life as a spy, diplomat, author, collector and soldier is recounted through letters, journals, papers and ephemera.  D’Eon would later provide inspiration for theorist Havelock Ellis who explored sexuality and gender in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.  The British Library holds the papers of Ellis and these are a rich resource for those exploring the emergence of categories of sexual and gender orientation.

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or the Chevalier D’Eon dressed in a costume which is female on the left and male on the rightMademoiselle de Beaumont or the Chevalier D’Eon, portrait from London Magazine, September 1777, Add MS 11340. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are just a few of the many diverse and fascinating collections mentioned in the guide.  We hope that readers will reach further into these collections and discover more themselves, so that they may bring to life more of these hidden histories.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Collection Guide: LGBTQ+ histories: archives and manuscripts: 1600 to present 
BL LGBTQ Histories