Untold lives blog

240 posts categorized "Domestic life"

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 Noc

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.

 

15 January 2020

Tragic ice accident in Regent’s Park

On 15 January 1867 a shocking accident took place in Regent’s Park London.  Forty people died when the ice gave way as they were skating and sliding on the frozen lake. 

Peolpe amusing themselves on the ice at Regent's Park lakeOn the ice at Regent's Park lake from A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)  Noc

Hundreds were amusing themselves. Nineteen icemen employed by the Royal Humane Society were in attendance as lifeguards and they had issued warnings about the dangerous conditions.  Suddenly a large area of ice disintegrated and great numbers of people were plunged into the icy water. 

Great numbers of people plunged into the icy water as the ice disintegratedGreat numbers of people plunged into the icy water from A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)  Noc

People struggling in the icy water of Regent's Park lakePeople struggling in the icy water - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

The icemen ran to help with their rescue boats and apparatus but their efforts were dwarfed by the scale of the disaster.   Those who managed to keep afloat were brought to shore but many drowned in the deep water, some trapped under pieces of ice.  Survivors were treated at Marylebone Infirmary and St Mary’s Hospital Paddington.

Dragging and diving for dead bodies in Regent's Park lake Dragging and diving for dead bodies in Regent's Park lake - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

Recovery of the bodies took several days. They were taken to Marylebone Workhouse, and relatives and friends attended to make formal identification.  All the deceased were male and mostly aged in their teens and twenties.

Identifcation of the bodies at Marylebone Workhouse Identifcation of the bodies at Marylebone Workhouse - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

The victims came from a variety of backgrounds, not all from London.  They included several schoolboys and students, clerks, a warehouseman, a fruit seller, an organ pipe maker and an organ builder, a costermonger, a silk merchant, a coach-maker and a coachman, an upholsterer, a butler, a cabinet-maker, a gentleman, a gasfitter, and a paperhanger. The youngest to die was nine-year-old Charles Jukes, the son of a Marylebone carpenter living close to the park. 

Eleven-year-old John Broadbridge also came from Marylebone. His father Joseph was a bricklayer.  By a strange quirk of fate, Joseph was involved in an accident as a teenager on the frozen lake in Regent’s Park in December 1840.  He and two local men became immersed in the icy water of the lake.  Iceman Charles Davis went to assist them with his boat, but was jerked into the water when all three grabbed hold of it.  However Davis managed to get them into the boat and was himself helped out by another iceman with a ladder. 

Robert Edwin Scott was aged 29, a clerk and a lieutenant in the Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.   He lived in Haverstock Hill London with his wife Julia Ann.  Four months after Robert died at Regent’s Park, Julia gave birth to a daughter.  Sadly their baby died at the age of just three months. 

The inquest jury’s verdict was that the accident was caused by overcrowding on the ice which was dangerous from brittleness and partial thaw.  The jury recommended that the police or another authority should be given powers to prevent the public from venturing onto unsound ice as the evidence had demonstrated that notices and verbal warnings were not heeded.  It also urged the Government to reduce the depth of water in the lake as already done at St James’s Park.

The Royal Humane Society made eighteen awards to those involved in the rescue.  Staff of the Workhouse and Infirmary were given financial rewards by the Board of Guardians. 

The water depth in Regent’s Park lake was reduced from twelve feet.  When the ice gave way in 1886, about 100 people sank into the water.  But this time no-one died because the water was only three or four feet deep.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Globe 17 December 1840 and 21 January 1867; The Illustrated Police News 19 and 26 January 1867
Christian Book Society, A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)
Wendy Neal, With disastrous consequences: London disasters 1830-1917  (1992)

 

03 January 2020

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive

The Granville Archive recently acquired by the British Library includes a collection of supplementary material previously hidden from public view.  When Castalia Leveson-Gower prepared her edition of the private correspondence of diplomat and statesman Granville Leveson-Gower (1773-1846), her father-in-law – the bulk of them are letters from his lover, Harriet Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough (1761-1821) – she carefully omitted any letters referring to the couple’s passionate affair, the secret births of their two children, and the delicate discussions between them and Lord Granville’s eventual wife, Harriet’s niece.  Even letters that were chosen for inclusion in the published edition had to be carefully filleted to cut out any tender endearment or reference to their illegitimate daughter and son.  The entire collection of original letters, including those published, was retained in private hands.  Its whereabouts was unknown to researchers until its acquisition by the British Library (along with Castalia Leveson-Gower’s research papers and her own private correspondence with her husband, the second Earl Granville).  The collection arrived at the Library, bundled in boxes and trunks, at the same time as the main, larger, Granville Archive (Add MS 89317).  Now the supplementary collection has been catalogued (Add MS 89382), and it provides a fascinating complement to the main family archive.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Noc

The new cache of letters will be a rich new source for researchers into late 18th and early 19th century politics and upper class society.  They shed particular light on the personal and political lives of aristocratic women of the period.  Besides the intimate letters between Lady Bessborough and Lord Granville relating to their clandestine affair and children, there are letters from other members of their circle of friends and relations, including Lord Granville’s mother, Susanna Leveson-Gower, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Lady Bessborough’s sister), and Caroline Lamb (her daughter).

Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 'I leave you and give you the only valuable gift in my power, wrote in my blood, my blessing.'  Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 (Add MS 89382/3/4) Noc

Alongside discussion of the latest books and politics, perennial concerns about reputation, scandal and money run throughout this correspondence.  Huge gambling debts were a worry for many in their circle: in a bundle of letters to Lord Granville, the Duchess of Devonshire pleads urgently for funds to stave off creditors.  When the Duke of Devonshire died in 1811, a litigious dispute arose between his heir, the sixth Duke, and his widow, former mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, over the family diamonds.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum there are smaller sums, such as the itemised accounts for housing and educating their illegitimate children which feature in Lady Bessborough’s letters to Lord Granville.

Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807. 'I have just given 30 guineas for a piano forte for tho it is a lump down it is cheaper in the end than hiring.'  Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807 (Add MS 89382/2/27) Noc

The letters from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville tell a vivid story of their long relationship.  Frequent, often daily, letters passed between them, from their first meeting in Naples in 1794, when she was a married woman of 32 and he a 20 year old ‘Adonis’, until her death in Florence in 1821.  They describe the course of their affair through flirtation, intimacy, subterfuge, and passion, and the enduring friendship that survived it, cemented by the birth of their two children and his eventual marriage into her family in 1809.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts
 
Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Amanda Foreman, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (London, 1998)
Janet Gleeson, An Aristocratic Affair: the Life of Georgiana's Sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006)

25 December 2019

Christmas storytelling

We wish all our readers a very happy Christmas! Perhaps you 'd like to entertain your nearest and dearest over the holidays with some of the tales we have shared on this blog?

Christmas story-telling - a family gathered round'Christmas story-telling' by J E Millais Illustrated London News 1862 Images Online

Here are a few suggestions with a seasonal flavour.

The Poisoned Mince Pie

Having a ball - Christmas in Calcutta

Captain Bendy's not so happy Christmas

Charades – a Christmas game to make a long evening short

A Tommy's Christmas Day letter 1917

Santa Claus’s coming to Britain

A Victorian father's Christmas reflections on his children

Boxing Day murder in East London

A pot pourri of stories to enjoy!

 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

19 December 2019

Christmas appeal from the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union

In 1925 the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union published a touching booklet entitled A Christmas Recipe.  It was an appeal for funds to support their work with needy London children.

Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Noc

The Christmas recipe was this:
‘Take a little trouble.  Mix with it a little thought.  Add a pinch of imagination, and some warmth of heart.  Stir yourself up to the point of action.  Pour in as much as you can spare from your pocket.  Take a pen and ink, and an envelope, and a three-halfpenny stamp. Take the result to the post.  And there you are – a bit of happiness worth anybody’s while’.

The recipe from A Christmas Recipe A Christmas Recipe Noc

The old saying of ‘too many cooks’ did not apply to this recipe – the more cooks the better.  The leaflet then went on to urge the reader to open their eyes to children who were poor, lonely, ailing, hungry, and badly clad.  Then to imagine that they were their own children and that they were powerless to help them. 

As for the amount of the donation: ‘Trouble and thought and imagination and warmth of heart together will tell you more clearly than anything else just how much of this ingredient you should use… you should not stint it.  If you can spare half a crown, a florin piece will be just too little to bring the best result of happiness.  If you can spare fifty guineas, fifty pounds will be just too little for a really perfect dish of happiness’.  The very act of donating would bring cheer: ‘You will smile to yourself rather happily as you drop the letter into the box.  You will have a light heart for the rest of the day, and for some days to come’.

The booklet then goes on to set out why money was urgently needed.  Despite increases to wages and the help given through schools and other agencies, many poor children in London lacked warm clothing, nourishing food, and fresh air.  Many were ill or disabled.  In large families the dole given to unemployed men seldom met all necessary expenses after the rent was paid.

As well as gifts of money the Shaftesbury Society asked for clothing, boots, nourishing food, toys, and picture books.   The Society also appealed for donations of time: ‘It just means coming to one of our Missions for an hour or two a week, and being friends with the children’.  The Society’s volunteers were very diverse: ‘the unlettered, the rough toiler, the man and woman who were themselves such children as these,…the scholar, the University graduate, the artist, all eager to help’.

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union in A Christmas Recipe Noc

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union demonstrated the breadth of work.  Children were given trips to the seaside and country.  Medical treatment, equipment and ‘industrial training’ was provided for disabled children.  Clothing and boots were supplied.  The Society maintained holiday homes and homes for destitute children, as well as organising day nurseries, infant welfare centres, Sunday Schools, Bible classes, schools and meetings for mothers, companies of Scouts and Guides, and Bands of Hope promoting temperance.

Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Noc

The Society summed up its aims as to love and to serve.  The booklet includes a quote from the 1924 Declaration on the Rights of the Child: ‘Mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union, A Christmas Recipe (1925) shelfmark X.519/23823

 

10 December 2019

Sarah Danby – JMW Turner’s lover

Sarah Danby was born Sarah Goose in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, probably in 1766, as she was christened, a Roman Catholic, in Baumber on 5 April in that year.  She was brought up in Lambeth and became a singer and actress.  On 4 April 1788, she married John Danby, a successful organist and glee composer, with whom she had five daughters and one son, two of whom died in infancy.  The Danbys first lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and were near neighbours of the Turners, who lived in Maiden Lane. 

John Danby's death May 1798 reported in True Briton John Danby's death reported in True Briton 19 May 1798 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers

John Danby suffered with poor health, probably rheumatoid arthritis, and died, aged 41, at home on 16 May 1798, sadly just at the close of the benefit concert organised by his friends at Willis’s Rooms that very evening.  At that time the Danbys were living at 46 Upper John Street and Sarah was two months pregnant with their fifth daughter, Theresa.  John Danby was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard but his grave was destroyed with the coming of the railway.  His name can be seen on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.

 
John Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial SundialJohn Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.  (author’s photo)

Sarah began a relationship with Turner and lived with him for short periods of time at various addresses but this was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.  Various reasons have been suggested and the truth may well be a combination of some or all of the following: 
Turner often made disparaging comments about matrimony, probably as a result of his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early failed relationship.
Sarah was a Catholic; Turner was not.
Sarah was dependant on a pension from the Royal Society of Musicians, which would stop if she lived permanently with Turner.

Life study of a female figure, possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooksLife study of a female figure c.1812-13 , possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooks -  Tate Britain  Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

They had two daughters together; Evelina (1801–74) and Georgiana (1811–43) but Turner saw little of them and he spent his latter years mostly in Chelsea, with Sophia Booth.  After Turner’s death in December 1851, Sarah lived in poverty in William Street, Marylebone, with her unmarried daughter by Thomas Danby, Marcella, a music teacher, and her granddaughter Louisa Symondson.  Turner left Sarah nothing in his will and she was forced to sell various drawings and sketches that he had given her, just to survive.  She applied for an increase in the pension she received from the Royal Society of Musicians but this was refused.

Crossing The Brook - painting by Turner'Crossing The Brook' by Turner.  The two girls are thought to be his daughters, Evelina and Georgiana - Tate Britain Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported))


Sarah later moved to George Street, near Euston Square, where she died on 16 February 1861.  The Registrar recorded that she was 100 (she was probably 95) and that she had eaten beefsteak for her dinner the day before she died.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Kensal Green.

Sarah’s death was quickly followed by law suits involving her family.  In April 1861 Marcella was taken to court by her niece, Caroline Frances Lamb, and Caroline’s husband, Edward Buckton Lamb, over the administration of Sarah’s personal estate, which was valued at under £200.  Marcella then countered with a case against the Lambs to recover letters and documents relating to Sarah’s accounts and private affairs.  She also recovered the large sum of £1621 9s 7d which was paid into court by the Lambs.  Yet when Marcella died in 1863, her estate was valued at less than £100.  A mystery which remains to be unraveled!

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Anthony Bailey, Standing in the sun (London, 2013)
Stephen J May, Voyage of the slave ship, J.M.W. Turner's masterpiece in historical context (Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014)
Dictionary of artists’ models, edited by Jill Berk Jimenez (London, 2001)
Article on John Danby by Selby Whittingham in New Dictionary of National Biography
The life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A.; founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow academicians, Walter Thornbury, 1897.
 

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham will reopen on Saturday 11 January 2020.
Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: self-guided visits.
Guided tours Wednesday to Sunday at 1.00, 2.00 and 3.00pm.  Last entry 3pm.

Turner's House logo

 

 

05 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 2

We left George Byworth in Tasmania working as a merchant officer on sealing voyages.

Back in London, his father Thomas died in 1837.  His will left everything to George’s mother Mary.  She carried on with the watch-making business in Lambeth with her son Thomas.

We know that George returned to England at some point, because on 24 October 1844 he married Amelia Webb in Camberwell.  He described himself as a master mariner of Old Kent Road.  Nineteen-year-old Amelia came from Binfield in Berkshire.

View of Singapore with ships at anchorView of Singapore with ships at anchor from Pieter Harme Witkamp, De Aardbol (Amsterdam, 1839) Shelfmark 10002.g.16-19. BL flickr Noc 

The couple were soon travelling.  Their son George Alfred was born in October 1845 and baptised in March 1847 in Singapore.  In June 1847 George was the master of the Antaris sailing from Singapore to Port Jackson with a general cargo.  His wife and son were passengers on the ship.  Sons Donald Campbell and William Wordsworth Russell, were born in Sydney in July 1847 and April 1849.  Four more children were born in Tasmania between 1851 and 1858: Mary Ann Louisa, Amelia Frances, Edith Constance Burnell, and Loughlin Alan.

George’s mother Mary died in 1853.  She left the business premises and equipment to her son Thomas.  Household goods and other personal effects were shared equally between her sons George, John and Thomas.  She named her friend Henry Vandyke of the Marine Society as her executor but he renounced probate in favour of Thomas. An intriguing link to the Marine Society!

In 1854 George changed careers and became licensee of the British Hotel in George Town, Tasmania.   He advertised in his local paper, the Cornwall Chronicle:
‘GEORGE BYWORTH (late Master Mariner) has great pleasure in making known to the public at large, and particularly to families who visit George Town for health and recreation, that he has obtained a license for the BRITISH FAMILY HOTEL, where will be found accommodation for families and parties, of the most agreeable nature, and at moderate remunerative charges. G. B. will devote himself to ensure the comfort of all persons who favour him with their patronage’.

George Town, TasmaniaGeorge Town, Tasmania from Francis Russell Nixon, The Cruise of the Beacon: a narrative of a visit to the Islands in Bass's Straits (London, 1857) Shelfmark 10498.aa.7. BL flickr Noc

However in September 1857 George Byworth, licensed victualler, was declared insolvent.  By July 1859 the Cornwall Chronicle was reporting the destitute state of the family.  George was desperate to find work and, even though he had ‘seen better days’, he was very willing to accept ‘humble employment’.  Local people raised money for the Byworths and donated clothing, flour, tea, sugar, wood and coal.  Amelia was given help to open a milliner’s shop. 

Launceston, TasmaniaLaunceston, Tasmania from Élisée Reclus, The Earth and its Inhabitants (London, 1878) Shelfmark 10005.ff. BL flickrNoc

The next blow was Amelia’s death from dropsy in October 1862.  George tried to earn a living by running evening classes in navigation, and then expanded this into a commercial and nautical school offering ‘an English education’.  But in 1869 the seven-roomed cottage in Launceston he had occupied was advertised for letting, and his household goods were put up for auction – ‘Piano, table, chairs, bedstead, cooking utensils, and quantity of sundries’.

Things weren’t going well for the Byworth family in London either.  In 1869 George’s brother Thomas was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour for receiving stolen goods.

In September 1870 George Byworth entered the Launceston Invalid Depôt, a government-run institution for the sick and poor.  He was unable to work but left in March 1872 at his own request.  George died in Launceston on 20 October 1876 at the age of 69 after a life full of incident.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Trove newspapers
British Newspaper Archive

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

05 November 2019

A family archive

Sometimes, by chance, an archive brings together seemingly disparate or unrelated material in a quite fascinating way.  A fantastic example of this from our Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts department is the truly familial archive of the civil servant and statistician, Sir John Boreham.  This includes, alongside his own papers, the diaries of his wife, Lady Heather Boreham, and the literary papers of their son-in-law, Kevin Stratford.

John and Heather Boreham with a koala bear in 1986John and Heather Boreham in 1986, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

Sir John Boreham (1925-1994) was a statistician for the British government and director of the then Central Statistical Office between 1978 and 1985.  But, as Claus Moser wrote, ‘…he was neither a typical civil servant nor a typical statistician. He disliked bureaucracy and in all he did was unconventional, original and independent in action and spirit’.

After studying at Oxford, Boreham joined the Government Statistical Service (GSS), working first at the Agriculture Economic Research Institute in Oxford and then in the statistics division of the Ministry of Food.  Throughout the 1950s, Boreham worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Register Office (GRO) and the Central Statistical Office.  In 1963 he took up the positon of Chief Statistician at the GRO.  For the next decade, he was Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Technology and then Assistant Director of the Central Statistical Office becoming director of the CSO and Head of the Government Statistical Service in 1978.

As director of the CSO Boreham faced challenges almost immediately when the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher formed in 1979 and sought to cut the Civil Service.  The cuts had a large impact on the CSO but Boreham remained resolute and ‘…interested above all in using statistics to improve the lot of humanity’ (Moser.)  The archive contains a letter from Thatcher congratulating Boreham on his appointment as director.

After 35 years at the GSO Boreham retired in 1985, apparently hoping to spend more time playing golf and reading French literature.  However his work was too highly valued and he became regional co-ordinator of statistical training in the Caribbean and later worked as a consultant in the Bahamas in the 1990s.

In 1948, Boreham married Heather Horth (1927-2004) and together they had three sons and a daughter.  The archive contains a series of diaries written by Lady Boreham between the 1970s-1900s, which add an interesting and detailed perspective to the history of the Borehams’ lives.  These diaries will be available to consult from the end of 2020.

Kevin Stratford in spring 1981, holding a catKevin Stratford in spring 1981 during a break from writing The Plagarist, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

The final section of the archive covers the literary papers of the writer Kevin Stratford (1949-1984).  He died young, cutting short a career that ‘robbed this country of one of its most promising young writers’ according to Peter Ackroyd.  Stratford’s papers include his literary drafts, notes, correspondence with publishers and a series of notebooks.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

Further reading:
Claus Moser, Sir John Boreham’s Obituary in The Independent Wednesday 15 June 1994.
The archive (Add MS 89283) is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk for any further information.

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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