Untold lives blog

48 posts categorized "Americas"

13 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.4 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony continued

A massacre by Plymouth Colony militia

This is a journal chronicling events that occurred between 1622 and 1623 in and around the Plymouth Colony, obviously from a colonialist perspective.  One event in particular stands out.

Title page of Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New EnglandEdward Winslow, Good Newes from New England, C.132.h.20(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During these early years of the colony there was a growing threat from the Narragansett and Massachusett tribes.  At the same time, more badly provisioned men were arriving at the colony amidst a shortage of food.  They settled at nearby Wessagusset and stole corn from the Massachusett tribe.  Tensions grew and rumours reached Plymouth of an oncoming attack.

To purportedly pre-empt this, the Plymouth militia massacred a group of Massachusett visitors in Wessagusset.  This atrocity is described by Winslow in this book as 'the just judgment of God upon [the Native American’s] guilty consciences' for plotting against the English.

A different perspective

Page from Thomas Morton's New English CanaanThomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1637. C.33.c.27 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of contemporary printed sources about the Plymouth Colony were written by the colonists themselves or to promote further settlement in North America.  Thomas Morton, however, wrote from a different perspective.

His book is a harsh critique of the Plymouth Colony’s treatment of the native people, who Morton describe as more 'civilised and humanitarian' than the colonists.  Morton claims that Massasoit only made peace with the colonists because they claimed to keep the plague in their powder store and said they could unleash it at any time.   He also recounts the atrocity at Wessagusset, describing how the colonists 'pretended to feast the savages' before stabbing them with their own knives.


The Mystic Massacre

Engraving depicting the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by militia by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified villageJohn Underhill, Newes from America; or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; containing, a True Relation of their War-Like Proceedings, 1638. C.33.c.25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This engraving depicts the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified village during the Pequot War (1636-1638).

The war against the Pequot tribe was fought by an alliance of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.  It was ostensibly caused by tribal competition for political dominance and control of the fur trade, however this power vacuum only existed as a result of European involvement in the region and the spread of epidemics that reduced native populations.

The violence at Mystic horrified the colonists’ tribal allies.  Over 500 Pequots died, including women and children, as the village was torched. By the end of the war, the tribe was effectively extinct.

The loss of tribal lands

Deed showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists.Collection of Sundry Original Deeds of Conveyance of Lands ceded by Indian Sachems to English settlers in New England, from 1659 to 1711. Lansdowne MS 1052 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are original manuscript deeds showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists. The Mohegans allied with the English colonists during the Pequot War and later conflicts such as King Philip’s War. This was to defend themselves against the Narragansetts.

By 1676 Uncas had suffered heavy losses and, in this weakened position, he ceded all Mohegan lands apart from a reserve of farms and hunting grounds to the colonists in exchange for protection.  Tract by tract, field by field, Native American lands were slowly lost to the English colonists during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

06 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.3 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony

The colonists signed the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, before they disembarked the ship.  This was to establish legal order and quell dissenting views between the separatists and the other passengers on how the colony should be run.

The colonists settled at an abandoned settlement of the Patuxet people in Wampanoag territory.  They had raided this settlement shortly after their arrival, desecrating graves in their search for corn stores.  It became Plymouth Colony.  Construction began in December but most people stayed on the ship.  Many succumbed to disease and, by the spring, only 47 survived.  Local people made contact in March 1621 and it was only because of the help of Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the Patuxet people, that the colonists survived.

The arrival of the Plymouth colonists put Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, in a vulnerable position.  He had already witnessed the devastating effects of disease and colonisation on his people and the neighbouring Narragansetts were threatening.  He had little choice but to sign a peace treaty and ally with the English colonists, which he did at the end of March 1621.

That is not to say, however, that the Plymouth colonists maintained peace with other local Native American tribes in the years that followed.  Tensions in the region heightened as the English founded more colonies, encroaching on native territories.  The Plymouth colonists were perpetrators of violence and brutality towards some communities, namely the Massachusetts at Wessagusset in 1623 and the Pequots in the 1630s.

The first printed account of Plymouth Colony

 Title page of 'Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth'  1622Edward Winslow and William Bradford, Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth, 1622, C.33.c.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, this is the earliest printed account of the establishment of Plymouth Colony.  It functioned as a promotional tract, an appeal for investment and an attempt to gloss over the hardships and uncertainties facing the colony in its first two years.

The Mayflower Compact is printed, for the first time, in this account.  This was to give the impression of law and order within the colony and to emphasise that there was a unified mind-set across the colonists, separatist or otherwise.

This account also emphasises the devout nature of Plymouth Colony.  However, a mention of the whaling opportunities in the area lets slip the economic factors behind its establishment.  The colony quickly got involved with the profitable fur trade.  These things tend to be glossed over in the Pilgrim tradition.

This account also emphasises that relations between the local people and the English were cordial, ignoring any tension and conflict caused by their invasion of Wampanoag land.  Indeed, this relation’s description of the sharing of food between the Wampanoags and the English has become celebrated as the First Thanksgiving, but this is a mythologised 19th century reinterpretation of events.

Winslow and Bradford’s account also introduces us to Tisquantum of the Patuxet people.  Tisquantum had been abducted by English explorer Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery.  He escaped, returning to America to find his tribe wiped out by disease.  He worked ceaselessly to establish peace between the colonists and the local people, living in the colony for 20 months and acting as a translator, advisor and diplomat for Massasoit.  Tisquantum is often depicted as a ‘noble savage’ but he should be remembered as a practical advisor and skilled diplomat.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

29 September 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.2 Who were the so-called Pilgrims?

The separatist congregation that made up a third of the Mayflower’s passengers are remembered and celebrated today as the Pilgrim Fathers of North America but who were they really?

The other passengers aboard the Mayflower were servants and independent settlers hired by the Merchant Adventurers Company who financed the voyage and the prospective colony.  However, it was the elders of the separatist congregation who governed the new colony in its formative years and their religious beliefs shaped how it was run.

The English Reformation

The tremors of the English Reformation, in which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII, were still being felt in the early 17th century.

It caused decades of conflict, intolerance and persecution on both sides as each monarch after Henry VIII swung back and forth between Protestantism and traditional Catholic beliefs, culminating in the English Civil War.

 

Illustration showing the burning of Thomas Cranmer at Oxford from John Foxe’s Book of MartyrsThe burning of Thomas Cranmer at Oxford from John Foxe, [Book of Martyrs], 1563, C.37.h.2 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The persecution of Protestants is famously depicted in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a highly influential work printed in 1563 that fuelled the radicalism of English non-conformists and separatists, such as the congregation that helped to establish the Plymouth Colony.


A difference of opinion

A catalogue of the severall sects and opinions in England and other nationsA catalogue of the severall sects and opinions in England and other nations. With a briefe rehearsal of their false and dangerous tenents, 1647, (669.f.10(111)) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

English separatists were Protestants who believed the Church of England hadn’t gone far enough in its renunciation of Catholicism.  Separatists existed in many diverse groups but they were united in their desire to defy the law, form their own churches and resist state interference in religious matters.

The separatist congregation that established the Plymouth Colony were originally from the East Midlands.  They immigrated to Leiden in Holland initially but a desire for more religious freedom, financial difficulties, a dislike of Dutch culture and the potential for missionary work compelled them to sail to North America aboard the Mayflower in 1620.


Worms gnawing the kingdom to the bone

The Mayflower congregation are remembered as legendary pioneers who established one of the earliest English settlements in North America, all in the search of religious freedom.  However, this was not how they were seen at the time.

A Whip for the Back of a Backsliding Brownist - broadside from 1640 demonstrating the unpopularity of separatistsA Whip for the Back of a Backsliding Brownist, c.1640, Lutt.II.237 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This unique broadside from 1640 demonstrates the unpopularity of separatists, and Brownists in particular (which is the particular sect that the Mayflower congregation identified as).  They were seen as intolerant fanatics and trouble-makers who were needlessly rocking the boat.  This broadside compares them to papists, arguing that both extreme groups “breed the mischief here” and jeopardise the Church of England.  The separatists are described as 'wormes' gnawing 'the kingdome to the bone'.

Colonial life: An equipment list

We don’t know for sure what supplies the passengers on the Mayflower brought with them but it is likely to be similar to the provisions described in this rare broadside.

List of provisions needed by settlers in New England 1630A Proportion of Provisions Needful for such as Intend to Plant Themselves in New England, 1630 816.m.18(13) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Atlantic crossing itself took 66 days and was beset by winter storms.  The colonists didn’t intend to settle in modern-day New England.  The Mayflower was bound for Virginia but it was forced to anchor in Provincetown Harbour, Cape Cod, due to rough seas.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

22 September 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.1 English colonisation of North America prior to 1620

This month marks a pivotal moment in English colonial and North American history: the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing to North America in 1620.

Approximately one third of the passengers on board the Mayflower were English separatists who wanted to make a living in the profitable ‘New World’ away from religious restrictions.  They are known euphemistically as the Pilgrim Fathers of the United States of America, and are mythologised today as symbols of religious freedom.  They have become a central theme in the United States of America’s founding story.

The settlers founded Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts and what was then Wampanoag land.  Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, had no choice but to sign a peace treaty with the invaders.

Jamestown and Plymouth were the first of many English colonies in North America and the Caribbean.  This was driven by the pursuit of economic profit and the fight for influence amidst other European powers.

The consequences of colonisation were grave for everybody who was not European. Native Americans were devastated by disease, the buying out of land and violent conflict. The racial enslavement and transportation of African people to work on colonial plantations became endemic and horribly profitable.

More colonists wanted

The English Virginia Company established the colony of Jamestown in 1607 on Paspahegh land.  The Powhatan Confederacy, a collective of Algonquian peoples that included the Paspahegh, resisted English colonial establishment and expansion for many years in the Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1610-1646).

The settlers defeated the Powhatan Confederacy but they did struggle in the early years of the colony.  No crops were planted in the first year and supply ships either brought more hungry settlers or failed to arrive at all.   There were many fatalities from 1609 to 1610, a period known as the starving time.  The colony desperately needed more settlers.

An advert printed in London by the Virginia Company in 1609 calling for people to sign up.

For the Plantation in Virginia, 1609, C.18.e.1(63) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is an advert printed by the Virginia Company calling for people to sign up, giving no indication that Jamestown was on the brink of collapse.


Native Americans as seen through European colonial eyes

Picture entitled ‘A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia’ showing two men with bows and arrows, with text describing these 'Princes' of Virginia‘A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Picture and text explaining the manner of making boats by Native Americans in Virginia, hollowing out tree trunks‘The manner of making their boates’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Engravings by Theodor de Bry in Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590. C.38.i.18

These engravings are the only surviving visual record of the Native Americans encountered by England’s first colonists.

Although stylised, they depict the Secota, Roanoke and Pomeiooc peoples of North-Carolina and their settlements. De Bry based his engravings on the watercolours of John White, a member of the short-lived Roanoke Colony, who drew from life the Carolina Algonquian people in that area.

These images played a central role in shaping European conceptions about the so-called New World and its inhabitants.


How New England became New England

Map of New England unfolded from a book, first printed in 1616Map from John Smith, New England’s Trials, 1622, G.7197 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This map, first printed in 1616, marks the first time that New England was called New England.

It was named by John Smith, the coloniser famous for his association with Matoaka, the Powhatan woman who was captured and held for ransom by colonists during the First Anglo-Powhatan War.  She is known today as Pocahontas.

John Smith’s book is essentially a promotional brochure about North America’s riches and natural resources.  The then Prince Charles (who became Charles I in 1626) renamed the Native American places with English alternatives, erasing their people’s history and culture.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

19 June 2020

Get Up, Listen Up! for Windrush Day 2020

Windrush Day was introduced in 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury.  The day honours the life and work of the British Caribbean community whose presence in the UK long predates the arrival of the Windrush, but grew in the post-war years as the forces of colonial oppression pushed people to travel to a ‘Mother Country’ in need of rebuilding.  72 years on, the relationship between Britain, the Caribbean and the descendants of the ‘Windrush Generation’ continues to be fraught as anti-racist protests gather force and people await compensation following the fallout of the Windrush Scandal.

To mark Windrush Day this year we have released audio of three public events that speak to our current times. These events were recorded at our Knowledge Centre in 2018 as part of a series accompanying our exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land.    The exhibition shed new light on the significance of the arrival of the Windrush as part of a longer history of slavery and colonialism, telling the story of Caribbean people’s struggles for social recognition, self-expression and belonging throughout history.

Here’s your chance to listen again (or perhaps for the first time) to a lecture on that other ‘Middle Passage’ by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles; a conversation on race relations legislation and the Windrush Scandal produced in association with the Runnymede Trust; and the incredible voices of Wasafiri magazine’s ‘Windrush Women’ writers with Beryl Gilroy, Jay Bernard, Hannah Lowe, Valerie Bloom and Susheila Nasta.

For more explorations of race, migration and culture take a look at our Windrush Stories website which includes articles, collection items, videos and teaching resources. You’ll find suggestions for further resources specific to each event below.

Jonah Albert and Zoë Wilcox

 

British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage
Recorded on Friday 15 June 2018 and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

In this keynote lecture Professor Sir Hilary Beckles examines the circumstance which lead to people from the Caribbean re-crossing the Atlantic in response to the push of colonial oppression and exploitation, and the demand for their labour in the UK.

Historian Hilary Beckles is Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.  Born in Barbados, he received his higher education in the UK and has lectured extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the founder and Director of the CLR James Centre for Cricket Research, and a former member of the West Indies Cricket Board.

For more on this topic take a look at the articles in the Waves of History section of our Windrush Stories site.  You can discover personal stories of migration in The Arrivants section, including video portraits from the 1000 Londoners series and video interviews with members of the Caribbean Social Forum.


Race Relations: An Act?
Recorded on Friday 6 July 2018, this event was produced in association with The Runnymede Trust.

Image by Michael Ward © Getty image

There have been four Race Relations Acts since 1965.  Our panel of experts discusses the impact of immigration legislation on the Windrush generation and other migrants and their descendants.

Sir Geoffrey Bindman founded Bindmans LLP in 1974 and throughout his long and distinguished legal career has specialised in civil liberty and human rights issues.  He was legal adviser to the Race Relations Board from 1966-1976 and to the Commission for Racial Equality until 1983.

Amelia Gentleman writes on social affairs for The Guardian.  An awarding winning journalist, she is known for her investigative and campaigning work on the Windrush scandal.

Maya Goodfellow, chair of the conversation, is a writer and researcher.  Her work spans a range of issues including UK politics, gender, migration and race.

Matthew Ryder was Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement at City Hall.  He became a barrister in 1992 and writes regularly for national newspapers on social policy and cultural issues.

Iyiola Solanke is Professor of European Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds, and an Associate Academic Fellow of the Inner Temple.  She has published on judicial independence and diversity, intersectionality and race relations in Britain and Germany.

For further reading see our series of articles, Perspectives on the Windrush Generation Scandal, by Judy Griffith, David Lammy and Amelia Gentleman.

 

Windrush Women: Past and Present
Recorded on Monday 25 June 2018 and produced in association with Wasafiri

There are many stories missing from the Windrush narrative, not least those of the bold and pioneering women who left everything behind, to better their family’s lives and their own.  At this event, contemporary international writing magazine Wasafiri celebrates women writers from the Windrush era.  Former Editor-in-Chief of Wasafiri, Susheila Nasta introduces a recording of her interview with one these pioneers, Beryl Gilroy - writer, poet and London’s first Black head teacher.  Poets Jay Bernard, Val Bloom and Hannah Lowe read work inspired by their legacy of these women.

Jay Bernard is a writer, film programmer and archivist from London.  In 2016, Jay was poet-in-residence at the George Padmore Institute, where they began writing Surge, a collection based on the New Cross Fire and which won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award for new work.

Hannah Lowe is a poet and researcher.  Her first poetry collection Chick won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection.  She has published a family memoir Long Time No See.  She teaches Creative Writing at Brunel University and is the current poet-in-residence at Keats House.

Valerie Bloom is an award-winning writer of poetry for adults and children, picture books, pre-teen and teenage novels and stories.

Susheila Nasta was Founder and Editor in Chief for 35 years from 1984 to 2019 of Wasafiri, the magazine of international contemporary writing.  A literary activist, writer and presenter, she is currently Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

For over three decades, Wasafiri has created a dynamic platform for mapping new landscapes in contemporary international writing featuring a diverse range of voices from across the UK and beyond.  Committed to profiling the ‘best of tomorrow’s writers today’ it aims to simultaneously celebrate those who have become established literary voices.

You will find more on Beryl Gilroy’s books Black Teacher and In Praise of Love and Children on our Windrush Stories website, as well as articles on the work of Andrea Levy and performances by female poets of Caribbean heritage including Malika Booker, Maggie Harris, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Hannah Lowe, Grace Nichols and Kim O’Loughlin.

 

30 January 2020

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part Two

We left William Burchell, probably the best naturalist you've never heard of, in early 1808 on the island of St Helena, teaching school, tending a nascent botanic garden, and carrying out botanical and geological surveys of the island.

St Helena - Terrace KnollTerrace Knoll : A view in St. Helena. 'In looking inland you have this view and turning towards the sea you have the view of the Friar. This was drawn and coloured on the spot and is very correct. In the winter the hills are much greener. The bamboo is not finished but correctly shows its growth. The yams grow along a stream of water.' William Burchell's Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810 – Dated 16 February 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

All was looking well.  A minute of the East India Company Court of Directors dated 4 November 1807 recorded the decision 'That Miss Lucia Green be permitted to proceed to her Uncle at St Helena'.  In December Lucia set sail to join Burchell in the East India Company ship Walmer Castle.

Bond for Lucia Green providing surety for her travel to St Helena.Bond for Lucia Green providing surety for her travel to St Helena. IOR/O/1/234 no.2088, signed by Matthew Burchell and Robert Holt Butcher, vicar of Wandsworth. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By the time the ship arrived in St Helena in April 1808, Lucia had struck up a relationship with Captain Luke Dodds.  She announced to Burchell that she no longer wanted to marry him.  His St Helena journal and correspondence from that time record his devastation at the betrayal.  Burchell had to watch as Lucia sailed away to a life with Captain Dodds.

Burchell's business partnership also failed and was dissolved.  Moreover the East India Company was pressing Burchell for research of economic rather than scientific benefit ‘in the hope that something valuable for the purposes of commerce or manufacture might be brought to light’, and so reduce the expenses of the Island.  Burchell felt frustrated.  He wrote: “not having been employed in a manner useful to the Honourable Company, I feel that I could not conscientiously receive the salary”.  By April 1810 he had resigned as Company naturalist, having previously given up his position as schoolmaster.  His last few months on St Helena were mired in arguments with the churchwardens over payment of rent.  One cannot help but view Burchell's later experiences on St Helena as having been tainted by his personal anguish. 

He left the island on 16 October 1810, and travelled to Cape Town, where he undertook a remarkable four-year expedition into the interior of Southern Africa, through Cape Colony and Bechuanaland. His Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa was published in two volumes in 1822 and 1824; an expected third volume was never completed. 

The Rock Fountain in the country of the BushmanTravels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 1 p. 294: 'The Rock Fountain in the country of the Bushman' Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

10. IMG_20191219_093018 Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 1 p.325: 'A Hottentot Krall on the banks of the Gariep' Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

11. IMG_20191219_093737Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 2 p.360: 'View on entering the town of Litakun' Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Burchell was travelling again by 1825, this time to Brazil.  He collected widely over a period of five years, including in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goiás, Tocantins, and Pará, ending up in the town of Belém.  He returned to England in March 1830 laden with the fruits of his collecting labours.

William John Burchell by Thomas Herbert MaguireWilliam John Burchell by Thomas Herbert Maguire-  lithograph, 1854 NPG D32394 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Burchell did not produce a narrative of his expedition to Brazil.  Indeed, the rest of his life was spent cataloguing his enormous collection of specimens, which he guarded rather jealously.  The task was not finished until 1860.  Burchell slowly withdrew from his friends and fellow scientists, including William Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. He published few of his findings and drew little public acclaim.  William Burchell committed suicide at the family home in Fulham on 23 March 1863.

Today William Burchell is seen as a pioneer for his meticulous field work in recording the date and precise location where he collected his specimens, and for his myriad talents in botany, geology, art and illustration, geography, and what we would now call environmentalism.  His name deserves to be more widely known.

And how did life turn out for Burchell's fiancée Lucia Green and her Captain Luke Dodds? That’s another story

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part One

A Ship-Board Romance: Lucia Green and Captain Luke Dodds

 

23 January 2020

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part One

Imagine you’d left your home in London to establish a new life on the island of St Helena.  You begin a trading partnership with your fiancée’s uncle, and the Governor writes to the East India Company’s Directors singing your praises.   As a result, you become the island’s schoolmaster, and later the Company’s naturalist. You send out to England for your fiancée to join you and eagerly await her arrival…. only to find that she has transferred her affections to the ship's Captain and no longer intends to marry you.

This unfortunate turn of events happened to the naturalist and explorer William John Burchell (1781-1863).  During his time on St Helena (1805-10), his travels across South Africa (1810-15), and his expedition to Brazil via Portugal, Madeira and Tenerife (1825-30), he collected tens of thousands of animal, plant, and insect specimens and a variety of ethnographic material.  A talented artist, he made many drawings and paintings, including landscapes, specimens, and the people he encountered.  Burchell has a zebra, several birds, a lizard, fish, butterflies, a plant genus, and even the army ant Eciton burchellii named after him, yet he is not generally well known.

Portrait of William John BurchellWilliam John Burchell by Mary Dawson Turner (née Palgrave), after John Sell Cotman etching (1816) NPG D7805 ©National Portrait Gallery, London

William was born in Fulham in 1781 to the nurseryman Matthew Burchell and his wife Jane.  His early life was surrounded by plants from all over the world, and he came into contact with many of the day's leading botanists.  He worked for a while at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and by 1803 had been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.  However in August 1805 we find Burchell signed up as 4th mate on the East India Company ship Northumberland.  What made Burchell leave his blossoming botanical career in London?  The answer seems to be a young woman named Lucia Green.  Burchell’s family objected to the match, presumably making him determined to succeed on his own terms.  He arranged a trading partnership with Lucia’s uncle William Balcombe, who had permission ‘to proceed to St Helena for the purpose of exercising the business of an Auctioneer and Appraiser, to the said Island’.

List of the ship's company on the NorthumberlandIOR/L/MAR/B/141 O List of the ship's company on the Northumberland Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

How Burchell was able to join the Northumberland is not clear.  He did not have the required maritime experience, so perhaps there was a friendship with Captain George Raincock, or a connection with one of the ship’s principal managing owners, Henry Hounsom, William Masson or William Sims.  The ship arrived at St Helena on 13 December 1805.  The ship’s journal notes that Burchell “Left sick at St Helena 28 Jan 1806”, but the presumption is that he never intended to travel further.

 View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. from Burchell's Saint Helena Journal  View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810. Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Burchell was appointed schoolmaster in June 1806 and asked to focus on educating the young men of the island in the light of Company regulations for cadets.  In November 1806 it was proposed that Burchell develop and look after a botanic garden in James’s Valley.  In 1808 Burchell was appointed as the Company’s naturalist, to “ascertain and investigate the natural productions of the Island… in the hope that something valuable for the purposes of commerce or manufacture might be brought to light”.  He was asked to send back samples of “coloured earths” and “sea fowl guano”, to look after plants destined for England, and investigate the cultivation of cotton. 

Sketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles - St Helena JournalSketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles: Burchell - 'There's a famous big one down there Charles; Charles - Yes Sir, I'll soon have that down'. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810 – Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

And all the while, he awaited the arrival of his fiancée Lucia Green.

To be continued…

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/141 O: Journal of the Northumberland
IOR/L/MAR/B/181 F: Journal of the Walmer Castle
IOR/G/32/70-75: St Helena Consultations
IOR/G/32/136-138: St Helena: Original Letters &c from St Helena to the Court
IOR/B/141, 146 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors
Susan Buchanan, Burchell’s Travels. The Life, Art and Journeys of William John Burchell, 1781-1863 (Cape Town, 2015)
William J. Burchell, Travels in the Interior of southern Africa  (London, 1822-1824)
Buchell’s St Helena drawings, and his manuscript notes on the flora and fauna of St Helena (together with other archival material) are held by the Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Burchell’s original St Helena diary, together with other papers and correspondence, is held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  It has been published by Robin Castell in William John Burchell (1781-1863) [on] St. Helena (1805-1810) (St Helena: Castell Collection, 2011). The diary is quoted in Buchanan, op. cit.
Other Burchell papers, and papers relating to Burchell can be found at the Linnean Society (Correspondence with William Swainston), and the William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand (including copies of material at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the papers of Helen Millar McKay in connection with her research on Burchell). Further drawings and paintings by Burchell can be found in the collections of Museum Africa in Johannesburg.

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part Two

 

17 September 2019

Bogle-L’Ouverture publishing house

In October 1968 the activist and author Walter Rodney, returning from the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Canada, was declared persona non grata by the government of Jamaica.  He was banned from resuming his teaching position at the University of the West Indies.  In Kingston, students and other activists participated in what became known as the Rodney Riots, and there was considerable activity amongst Caribbean communities in the UK and the US.  Out of that struggle, the publishing house Bogle-L’Ouverture was founded in London by Jessica and Eric Huntley.  2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of their first publication, a collection of Rodney’s lectures entitled The Groundings with my Brothers

Cover of The Groundings with my Brothers by Walter RodneyCover of The Groundings with my Brothers by Walter Rodney - Artwork for cover design ©  Errol Lloyd

Named for the leaders of the Morant Bay Rebellion and the Haitian Revolution, Bogle-L’Ouverture, alongside New Beacon (founded 1966) and Alison & Busby (founded 1967), soon became an integral part of progressive independent publishing in London.  Their publications provided a space for radical black thought to be distributed and read in the UK.  In 1972, Bogle-L'Ouverture published one of the key early post-colonial texts in Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

Cover of How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter RodneyCover of How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney - work in copyright

The Huntleys founded the Bogle-L'Ouverture Bookshop in West London in 1974, and the space became a key venue for political meetings, talks and readings.  In 1980, following Rodney’s assassination in Guyana, the bookshop was renamed in his honour.  The physical space of the bookshop mirrored the fact that Bogle-L’Ouverture was an example of community publishing in the true sense, with publications often financed by friends of the Huntleys, and collaboration central to their work.  It was out of this sense of collective struggle that The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was established by Bogle-L’Ouverture, New Beacon and Race Today.  There were twelve Book Fairs held between 1982 and 1995 and they were intended, as John La Rose stated, 'to mark the new and expanding phase of the growth of radical ideas and concepts, and their expression in literature, music, art, politics and social life'.

Programme of International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1985 featuring photograph of Malcolm XProgramme of International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1985 featuring photograph of Malcolm X - work in copyright

The programmes from each of the twelve book fairs have all been reprinted in A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited.  Looking through them one is made aware of what important and creative accomplishments these events were.  Yet, rather than evoking nostalgia, the editors hoped to offer inspiration for others to act.  Indeed, longstanding publishers such as Hansib, Karnak House and Karia Press were founded in the wake of New Beacon and Bogle-L’Ouverture, and Peepal Tree sold their first publication, Rooplall Monar’s Backdam People (1985) at the book fair.  More recently, innovative publishing concerns such as Own It!, Jacaranda, and Flipped Eye have also begun to build on the tradition established by the Huntleys more than half a century ago.  Yet their legacy extends beyond the publishing world – the Huntley archives are held the London Metropolitan Archives, which since 2006 has hosted an annual conference reflecting on their life and work.

Laurence Byrne
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Andrews, Margaret Doing nothing is not an option: the radical lives of Eric & Jessica Huntley, Middlesex, Krik Krak, 2014 [YK.2015.a.1141]
Sarah White, Roxy Harris & Sharmilla Beezmohun (eds). A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited, London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 2005 [m05/.29879]

 

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