THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

229 posts categorized "Domestic life"

12 September 2019

Pupils from the Asylum for deaf and dumb children

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The Asylum for the support and education of the deaf and dumb children of the poor published lists of pupils’ names with some family details.  Some parents had more than one deaf and dumb child to care for.  I picked a family named in a report of 1817 to try to trace what happened to the children after they left the Asylum.

The Deaf and Dumb Asylum Old Kent Road'

'The Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Kent Road' from David Hughson, Walks through London, including Westminster and the borough of Southwark, with the surrounding suburbs (London, 1817) Noc

Pupils Henry and Louisa Tattler (or Tatler) came from a family of eleven children, four of whom were deaf and dumb. They lived in Plough Court, Fetter Lane, London. Their parents were James Tattler, a jeweller or trinket maker described in the report as ‘insane’, and his wife Mary Ann. In 1816 James was a patient at Bethlem Hospital which specialised in the care of the mentally ill.  He died in 1817, aged 44. 

Bethlem Hospital'View of the new Bethlem Hospital in St. George's Fields' 1814, Maps K.Top.27.56.2 Noc Images Online

What happened to the family after James Tattler’s death?

Mary Ann continued to live in Plough Court. Henry Tattler (born 1804) followed his father into the jewellery trade.  He was apprenticed to Robertson and Co of Villiers Street in March 1820.  In 1851 he was living in Baldwin’s Gardens Holborn with his brother James (born 1793) who was a shoemaker described as partially deaf and dumb.

Louisa Tattler (born 1807) became a bookbinder.  Around 1841 she became a pauper inmate of the West London Union Workhouse.  She was still there in 1861.

Here is what I have discovered about some of the other siblings.

Anne Tattler was apprenticed aged 13 in 1810 to Joseph Anderson, a water gilder in Clerkenwell.  It is likely that she was the mother of Alfred Tattler born in the Shoe Lane workhouse in 1818. Alfred was buried aged three months.

Frederick Tattler (born 1801) lived in the Fleet Street area and worked as a carman and labourer. He married Sarah Wickens in 1839. It does not appear that they had any children.

Sophia Tattler (born 1803) married Joseph Snelling in 1829 but died in 1831 in Holborn.

Emma Rebecca Tattler (born 1805) had mental health problems.  She was admitted in January 1840 to the workhouse in Shoreditch and became the subject of a removal order to her home parish of St Andrew Holborn.  Her mother Mary Ann gave a detailed statement about the family’s circumstances going back to her marriage to James in 1792. The Shoreditch justice suspended Emma’s removal ‘by reason of insanity’ and she was taken to Sir J. Miles’ Asylum. However the removal order was executed in March because she was said to have recovered.  Emma died in March 1842 whilst in the care of the Holborn Poor Law Union.

Charles Richard Tattler (born 1808) was a wine cooper living in Finsbury. He married Susan Lawrence in 1830 and they had five children,

Edwin Tattler (born 1814) was a pupil at the Orphan Working School in City Road.  He then worked as a cooper before joining the Army, serving in the Rifle Brigade.  He deserted in December 1834 and the trail goes cold.

The story of the Tattler family shows what can be uncovered from online resources, especially for those who came into contact with institutions and authority.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Asylum for the support and education of deaf and dumb children of the poor
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London, 1817)

Family history information can be found from findmypast and Ancestry under a variety of spellings for the surname e.g. St Martin-in-the-Fields Poor Law examination for Henry Tatler 1827 from City of Westminster Archives Centre and. Poor Law settlement papers 1840 for Emma Rebecca Tatler from London Metropolitan Archives.

 

10 September 2019

Asylum for the support and education of deaf and dumb children of the poor

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An Asylum for the support and education of the deaf and dumb children of the poor was established in London in 1792 by Reverend John Townsend. The institution was maintained by charitable donations.  Its aim was to rescue deaf and dumb children from ‘a state of deprivation, ignorance, and inaction’ and to prevent them from being a burden to society. 

Portrait of Joseph Watson and drawing of the Asylum for the deaf and dumb'Joseph Watson and the Asylum for the deaf and dumb, Camberwell, in which he taught.' Engraving by former pupil George Taylor. Wellcome Collection CC BY

The Asylum opened in Fort Place, Grange Road Bermondsey.  It moved to larger premises in Old Kent Road in 1809 when there were 182 pupils.  Joseph Watson was the principal from its beginning until his death in 1829.  He had a small number of private ‘parlour’ students housed in his own quarters at the Asylum. They were taught by the Braidwood oral method, set out in Watson’s guide entitled Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language.  Charity pupils were instructed using sign language.

Illustration showing a variety of people from John Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a languageIllustration from John Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language (London, 1809-10) Noc


There was a ‘manufactory’ in Fort Place from 1801 to 1820 which offered practical vocational training in tailoring, shoemaking and stay-making for the Asylum’s children.  The manufactory also operated a printing press.

The Asylum actively aimed to spread the word about its existence throughout the UK.  Applications far exceeded the number of places available and there was a long waiting list.  Applicants had to be aged between nine to fourteen years and pupils were selected by a poll amongst the Governors.

The Asylum published reports of its work which included lists of current pupils and details of their father’s trade and location, and the number of siblings.  Children came from a variety of backgrounds, urban and rural – their parents were labourers, artisans, shopkeepers, publicans, schoolteachers, agricultural workers and small farmers, seamen, soldiers, deserted mothers and widows.

In the 1817 report there is a note about John Williams, whose father William was a stone-cutter and house painter in Merthyr Tydfil Glamorganshire with six children.  As it had been noticed that John had ‘a considerable talent in drawing’, the Asylum Committee thought it would be a good idea to allow him to receive instruction.  They arranged for John to go to the British Museum every day for practice and moved him to live at the manufactory to make his journey easier.  His work was inspected by the eminent artist Richard Westmacott who took John under his patronage.

John returned to Merthyr and earned his living as a house painter and glazier.  However he continued to paint portraits and landscapes and appears to have been well-known locally as an artist.  Examples of his work have survived including a portrait of William Moses which is inscribed: ’Drawn by John Williams, Deaf & Dumb 1814’.

It has been said that John was more talented than Penry Williams, his famous younger brother. Penry secured patronage to support his art training in London and he spent most of his career in Rome.  John died in Merthyr at the age of 51.

Our next post will look at the family of Asylum pupils Henry and Louisa Tattler from London.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Plan of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb, situated in the Grange Road, Bermondsey (London, 1797)
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London, 1817)
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London,1821)
Joseph Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language; containing hints for the correction of impediments in speech: together with a vocabulary illustrated by numerous copperplates, representing the most common objects necessary to be named by beginners, 2 vols (London, 1809-10)
Mary E. Kitzel., 'Creating a Deaf place: the development of the Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Poor Children in the early nineteenth century,' Journal of Cultural Geography (2017)
Derrick Pritchard Webley, Cast to the winds – the life and work of Penry Williams (1802-1885), (National Library of Wales, 1997)

 

22 August 2019

Are women more faithful than men? An Eighteenth-Century Couple Discuss the Differences between the Sexes

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In two slim volumes of collected love letters recently catalogued by the British Library (Add MS 89402), a young couple in the mid-eighteenth century discuss their private lives, family news and, above all, their love for one another.  Written between 1758-1762, the couple’s initial correspondence display a certain caution and reveal the discreet nature of their courtship; but over time their letters become longer and more intimate, eventually detailing plans for their wedding.  Though purposefully kept anonymous, the correspondents have now been identified as Francis Smyth (1737-1809) and Mary Plumer (1741-1824).

Yet, whilst they were deeply in love, Mary and Francis did not always agree – especially when it came to the subject of male fidelity.

Cover of volume 2 of Francis Smyth and Mary Plumer’s love lettersCover of volume 2 of Francis Smyth and Mary Plumer’s love letters. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

In the spring of 1762, Francis and Mary discussed the differences between the sexes – particularly in relation to their faithfulness.  In a playful but sincere manner, the couple discussed the nature of courtship and cases of ‘jilting’, each mentioning friends who had sadly suffered heartbreak.  The exchange began after Francis detailed how a fellow student at Cambridge had been rejected by a woman who took a fancy to another man:
'I have much to tell you of my intimates in College, in the love way I have many stories but one I will tell you…a friend of mine has had a passion for a very pretty Lady for many years, & had the happiness of meeting with the kindest return to his Love. They had many meetings & were as much engaged to all appearance as two people could be…[but] about a week ago a new Lover offered, she accepted him, & discarded the old one without any concern, who is at present as unhappy as can be'.
    (Letter 25, F. Smyth to Mary Plumer, 31 March 1762)
 

Detail from a letter from Francis Smyth to Mary Plumer  31 March 1762Detail from a letter from Francis Smyth to Mary Plumer, 31 March 1762. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

Though sympathetic to this young man’s upset, Mary protested that men were more inclined to be “false” than women:
' I am sorry for your friend’s disappointment, & to hear that there are such Women in the world, but for one of our Sex that are false, there are thousands of yours'.
    (Letter 26, M. Plumer to F. Smyth, 2 April 1762)

Francis was dismayed by Mary’s generalisation about the unfaithfulness of men:
'I find we must still dispute! How could you blame the men as you do! to knock them down by thousands to one frail female is what I must resent!'
    (Letter 27, F. Smyth to Mary Plumer, 4 April 1762)

Yet Mary was unconvinced and remained sceptical:
'I find you are obliged to take up arms in defence of the thousand poor men I knocked down (as you term it) don’t you believe there are Male jilts as well as female? I cannot say I can complain of the inconstancy of your sex to myself…but I have felt for my friends…[and] I will have done with this disagreeable subject... '
    (Letter 28, M. Plumer to F. Smyth, 5 April 1762)

With that the matter ended.
  Detail from a letter from Mary Plumer to Francis Smyth  31 March 1762Detail from a letter from Mary Plumer to Francis Smyth, 31 March 1762. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

Despite having differences of opinion regarding the faithfulness of men, Mary and Francis remained loyal to each other and were married six months later at St. Martin’s in the Fields on 26 October 1762.

Their love letters can now be read in full at the British Library.

Violet Horlick
Kings College, London.

Further reading:
Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (Oxford: OUP, 2019)

 

29 July 2019

Choice little dinners for July

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Looking for ideas for summer evening meals?  Help is at hand!  Christina Helen Gwatkin began to compile recipe books during the 1880s when she was the newly-married wife of a Bengal Army officer.  She saved a newspaper cutting detailing ‘bills of fare for choice little dinners on three consecutive nights during July for six people’.

Dinner table laid for a mealImage taken from Isabella Mary Beeton, The Englishwoman’s Cookery Book (London, c.1870) British Library shelfmark 7949.de.26 Images Online Noc

On the first night –
• Clear oxtail soup
• Boiled salmon, sauce tartare, cucumber
• Lamb cutlets with peas
• Roast ducklings
• Cherry tart, cream
• Anchovy toast
• Cream cheese and Gorgonzola, handed with brown biscuits
• Dessert, strawberries and cherries

On the second night –
• Clear gravy soup with peas
• Salmon cutlets with piquant sauce
• Hashed duck
• Roast loin of lamb boned and stuffed, mint sauce, French beans, potatoes, purée of peas
• Fresh strawberry cream
• Apricot fritters
• Cheese fondue
• Watercress sandwiches
• Dessert, strawberries and melon

On the third night (if you still have an appetite for cooking or eating) –
• Giblet soup
• Fillets of sole à la maître d’hotel
• Rissoles of lamb
• Roast chicken with watercress, purée of haricot beans, potatoes, stewed vegetable marrow
• Currant and raspberry tart, whipped cream
• Cheese canapés
• Tomato salad
• Dessert, cherries and apricots

Mrs Gwatkin’s books include a wide variety of recipes, for example curries, chutneys, kofta balls, ragout of rabbit, gruel, a mould of pig’s feet, vinegar cake, gateau of prunes, and claret pudding, as well as cosmetic preparations such as carrot grease for the hair.  She also offers guidance on catering for 20 choir boys, 130 children on a school treat, and teas for Mothers’ Unions, Sunday Schools, and cricket.

Bon Appetit!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F664/1/3 Recipe books and press-cuttings 1883-1889 compiled by Christina Helen Gwatkin, wife of Frederick Stapleton Gwatkin, Bengal Army

 

23 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 4

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We’ve reached the final instalment in our story of Mermanjan.

Mermanjan, distraught at the sudden loss of her beloved husband, was taken in by a General and his wife who were fervent evangelical Christians.  They persuaded her to be baptised at Poona in December 1861 in the hope that she would meet Thomas in heaven.

Portrait of Mermanjan

Portrait of MermanjanPortraits of Mermanjan, probably by Thomas Maughan - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On 5 November 1863 Merrmanjan married an Irish Roman Catholic doctor Francis Ronanyne O’Kearney, who was attracted by the ‘comfortable little fortune left to her’ by Thomas.  This was no romantic relationship: ‘she told him plainly that her first husband held all her heart and always would’. During the early years of her second marriage she travelled and visited many of the capitals of Europe, but she found she was suffering from glaucoma and she eventually became totally blind.

My great-grandmother Beatrice became firm friends with Mermanjan after the Dimmocks were posted to Mahableshewar in 1889.  Beatrice wrote of the O’Kearneys: ‘relations were obviously strained, but the ill-sorted couple still lived together.  Little by little she poured her troubles into my ear, and occasionally I had a glimpse of the terrible violence of her anger against her husband, long unfaithful to her and becoming more and more insulting and indifferent to any attempt at disguising his feelings’. 

Beatrice moved to Bombay in 1892. She soon received news that Dr O’Kearney had brought a charge of infidelity against Mermanjan and had  ‘lodged his complaint against her in the High Court of Bombay to obtain separation from her’.   The man named was a blacksmith with whom Mermanjan used to read the Koran, together with her Muslim house staff.  ‘The disgrace and disgust nearly turned her brain’ – she was 68 and the blacksmith only 25, a ‘low born workman!’.   She was confined to her room and followed by her husband and sister-in-law every time she left the house and was worried that she would lose claim to her belongings if she left without her husband’s permission. As she was blind, Mermanjan found a kindly librarian who wrote to Beatrice to ask for her help. 

Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock

Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock concerning Mrs O’Kearney (Mermanjan) 1894 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/15 (Copyright - heirs of the author of the letter)

Mermanjan was grudgingly allowed to travel to Bombay to obtain legal advice with Beatrice’s help.  Eventually the case was settled out of court when O’Kearney realised that he ‘would simply be washing his dirty linen in public with no advantage to himself’.  He even expressed himself ‘willing to forgive and forget etc.’ but Mermanjan said that she did not want to see his face again. O’Kearney returned to Ireland and Mermanjan bought a small house in the hills at Satara.

Then Mermanjan’s health began to fail, and she became ‘querulous and irritable’.  It was not deemed acceptable for a Muslim woman to live apart from her husband so she wrote to O’Kearney forgiving him.  He joined her in Satara, though it was not a happy household.  O’Kearney died in 1911 after catching a cold.  Mermanjan died of heart disease in 1917, aged 84, and was buried by the side of her second husband.

Mermanjan’s treasured relics and papers were left to her friend Beatrice. She handed them down to her daughter Gertrude who pieced together the story: ‘Mermanjan, Star of the Evening,  who may  shine once more and the story of her life may light up those other lives, like the brilliance of an Indian sky at night, uncovering some small piece of the making of what was once an Empire’. 

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
IOR/N/3/35 f.278 Meermanjan’s baptism at Poona 13 December 1861
IOR/N/3/37 ff.307, 312 Marriage of Mermanjan to Francis O’Kearney at Roman Catholic and Church of England ceremonies, Poona 5 November 1863
IOR/N/3/106 f.329 Burial of Francis O’Kearney
IOR/N/3/117 f.276 Burial of Mermanjan [Her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

Finding Mermanjan Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

16 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 3

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We continue our story of Mermanjan and Thomas Maughan.

The couple moved to Bombay soon after Thomas was promoted to Major in 1849.  In 1854 he became Lieutenant Colonel.  When the Indian Rebellion or ‘Mutiny’ broke out, Thomas was Political Secretary in Kolhapur.  Thomas recounts how he disagreed with ‘the cruel destruction of (36) wretched creatures shot in cold blood, many of the aged men on the verge of the grave… Our troops had not been fired at, and there was no necessity, in truth no excuse for the butchery’.  As a result of Thomas’s disagreements with his superiors, which had taken a toll on his health,  he was ‘turned out’ of his appointment and granted 15 months furlough (leave) in England.

Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858

Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/11

Mermanjan and Thomas had been living together bound by the Muslim ‘Nikkah’ ceremony and they were both convinced of the validity of their union.  However 'gossip was busy’ and Thomas realised that their unique union was viewed with suspicion by his British friends: it would ‘injure his reputation and hers if they were not made man and wife in the eyes of his world’.  Perhaps prompted by the imminent visit to England, they were married on 19 January 1858 by the registrar for Bombay at his home. 

For a while they lived in London, where Thomas had relations. Mermanjan was ‘shy and retiring by nature, but of great spirit’, and she was greatly celebrated and made a few good English friends, including Thomas’s niece Eliza with whom she corresponded. Thomas appears to have composed the ‘Nina waltz’ for his wife, using his pet name for his wife. 
 

Music in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz possibly by Thomas MaughanMusic in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz by Thomas Maughan? (name of composer has been torn away) - India Office Private Papers  Mss Eur E304 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan?)

By September 1858 they had moved to a country house, Wrotham Place in Kent. Mermanjan must have caused a stir amongst the locals who would have thought her an exotic visitor to the village. Thomas and Mermanjan were invited by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to stay at Windsor Castle.  Mermanjan was well received at court and ‘bore herself well’.

Sketch of Victorian women Sketch of Victorian women

Sketches of Victorian women - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

By 1860 Mermanjan and Thomas were back in Poona. They found many changes. The East India Company had been wound up in the wake of the Rebellion and its armies had been absorbed into Her Majesty’s Army.  Thomas was ‘fretting at continued unemployment’ and his health ‘was not good’.

On 3 July 1861, aged only 55, Thomas ‘died very suddenly, after taking a dose of medicine wrongly made up by the native apothecary’.  The prescription was later described as being a ‘lethal dose’, which ‘no reputable chemist would make up … without reference to the doctor who made it’.

Mermanjan was left alone in India grieving for Thomas, a widow at the age of 28 estranged from her family. None of the papers mentions any children, but some baby clothes and shoes were found among her possessions which suggests that maybe Mermanjan lost a child too. 

Mermanjan’s tragedy and hardships did not end there – Part 4 will take us to the end of her fascinating life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
Finding Mermanjan Part 1, Part 2, Part 4
IOR/N/11/1 f.412 Marriage of Thomas Maughan and Mermanjan at Bombay 19 January 1858 [her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

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We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Watercolour of Indian landscapes, possibly by MermanjanWatercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Watercolour of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Caricatures of English Victorians in India possibly by Thomas MaughanCaricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

30 May 2019

The Geologist and the Tortoise

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It has not often been said that behind every great man walks his tortoise.  Yet one of William Buckland’s scientific conclusions was inspired by his tortoise.

Portrait of William Buckland William Buckland c. 1843 from Elizabeth Oke Gordon, The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland (1894) Noc

William Buckland (1784-1856) was a pioneering geologist and celebrated theologian.  He was elected to the Royal Society in 1818, and appointed Dean of Westminster by Sir Robert Peel in 1845.  One of his many research successes is the discovery of the misnamed ‘Red Lady of Paviland’ in a cave in Gower, Swansea.  This is still the oldest anatomically-modern human found in the UK.  His research partner and wife was Mary Morland (1797-1857) who specialized in technical illustrations of fossils for publication.  She also repaired broken fossils and made models of them.  When William and Mary married in 1825, their honeymoon lasted a year and was spent touring Europe, visiting geologists and geological sites.  Before marrying, Mary had already illustrated publications by French palaeontologist Georges Cuvier and for the British geologist William Conybeare.

Drawing of Professor and Mrs Buckland and thier young son Frank with fossils'Professor and Mrs Buckland and Frank' from Elizabeth Oke Gordon, The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland (1894) Noc

While working on his ‘Bridgewater Treatise,’ Buckland had been sent a slab of sandstone with mysterious fossil traces on its surface.  William Buckland’s daughter Elizabeth Gordon relates how the puzzle was solved:
‘He was greatly puzzled ; but at last, one night, or rather between two and three in the morning, when, according to his wont, he was busy writing, it suddenly occurred to him that these impressions were those of a species of tortoise. He therefore called his wife to come down and make some paste, while he went and fetched the tortoise from the garden. On his return he found the kitchen table covered with paste, upon which the tortoise was placed. The delight of this scientific couple may be imagined when they found that the footmarks of the tortoise on the paste were identical with those on the sandstone slab’ (Gordon, 1894: 217).

Buckland is a celebrated figure who recognised the work of his many collaborators.  As far as I know though, the tortoise didn’t get its name in print.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Buckland, William. Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology / William Buckland. Bridgewater Treatises ; 6. Pickering: [s.n.], 1836. British Library W5/7293, W5/7294.
Buckland, William. Plates of Dr. Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise. 1836. British Library 495.i.20.
Gordon, Elizabeth Oke,  The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland, Sometime Dean of Westminster ... by His Daughter, Mrs. Gordon, Etc. [With a Preface by W. B. Dawkins.]. 1894. British Library 4907.ee.1.