Untold lives blog

32 posts categorized "Georgians-revealed"

29 September 2015

Metropolitan Police take to the streets

On 29 September 1829 the Metropolitan Police took to the streets of London for the first time.  The main purpose of the force was said to be the prevention of crime, with every officer responsible for the preservation of peace and order in the district within his care.  Promotion would be the reward for vigilance. No policeman was to enter a public house except in the performance of his duty, and publicans were liable to a penalty for allowing police to remain on their premises.



Policeman from E M Davies, Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old (London, 1875), p.239 BL flickr 


The next day the Morning Post published this assessment of the new constables.

‘Last night the New Police appeared on duty for the first time.

From the slight observation we had an opportunity of making, they seemed well fitted for the discharge of the duties they have undertaken as far as regards bodily power.  Such as were stationed along the great thoroughfares of Holborn and the Strand moved backwards and forwards at a slow pace, without any indication of that offensive inquisitiveness and unnecessary meddling which too often marked the conduct of the watchmen.  Many of them have rather the appearance of respectable tradesmen than of persons taken from the more humble classes. Their dress is not so glaring as to attract notice, and their insignia of office are in a great measure concealed by a dark-coloured great coat.  In one of the narrow streets near Charing-cross, a silly and wanton trial of their assiduity was made by springing a rattle from one of the garret windows.  The Police in the neighbourhood were soon on the spot from whence the alarm proceeded, but found their attendance useless.  A crowd was collected, but soon dispersed, after indulging their curiosity by an inspection of the Police uniform.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Post 30 September 1829; Bury and Norwich Post 30 September 1829.


23 September 2015

A Caracal for the King

“The Keeper of the Beasts in the Tower is to wait upon you with the Indian who is to return to his country.”  So began a letter from Robert Wood, Under-Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Southern Department, to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company on 18 March 1760.

Letter about Abdullah’s visit to accompany the caracal and arranging his return to Bengal

IOR/E/1/42 f 106 Letter from Robert Wood at Whitehall to the East India Company Court of Directors 18 March 1760 concerning Abdullah’s visit to accompany the caracal and arranging his return to Bengal. Noc


The Indian in question was Abdullah, a member of the household of Nawab Mir Jafar Ali Khan, who had recently been chosen as Ruler of Bengal by Sir Robert Clive. The Nawab had already presented valuable gifts to the Company of clothes, jewels, essences, weapons and portraits, which had been sent to London for the attention of the Court of Directors. The Company kept the jewels and presented the clothes and essences to the ladies of the Royal Family and the weapons and portraits to the British Museum. The Nawab however was also keen to establish his own more personal direct relations with King George II, and offered him as a gift a rare syagush (more commonly known as a caracal) for the King’s menagerie, which he instructed Abdullah to accompany to London in 1759.


From The Land of the Lion; or, Adventures among the wild animals of Africa (London, 1876) BL flickr Noc

On their arrival in London King George, who was reported to be very taken with the gift, instructed his Secretary of State William Pitt not only to oversee the installation of the caracal in the Tower of London’s menagerie, but also to ensure that Abdullah received honoured treatment during his stay, paid for out of the royal treasury.  It fell to the Royal Keeper of the Beasts at the Tower of London not only to accept the caracal into his collection but also to personally escort Abdullah around London.

Abdullah spent a year in London before the East India Company were approached to assist in arranging his return to Bengal. The instructions given by Robert Wood to the Company on Mr Pitt’s behalf were for Abdullah to receive a ‘relatively luxurious’ passage home with any diet, liquor and accommodation requirements being met, and that on his arrival in Bengal he was to be given a gift of 50 guineas from Mr Pitt.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/42, f 106, f 208 Miscellaneous letters received 1760
Michael Herbert Fisher, Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain 1600-1857 (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), pp.63-64.


18 September 2015

Samuel Johnson’s MA diploma

Today is the 306th birthday of Samuel Johnson, compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language and poet and moralist. Johnson was born on 7 September 1709, but after the calendar was adjusted in 1752 he celebrated his birthday on 18 September. Actually 'celebrated' is too strong a word, because Johnson didn't like to be reminded of the passing years.  When his friend James Boswell reminded him of his impending birthday in 1773, Johnson wrote:

The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape. I can now look back upon threescore and four years, in which little has been done, and little has been enjoyed, a life diversified by misery, spent part in the sluggishness of penury, and part under the violence of pain, in gloomy discontent, or importunate distress.

    (from a letter to Hester Thrale, 21 September 1773)

Despite his gloomy thoughts, it was not the case that Johnson had achieved little. He had devoted nine years of his life to his dictionary; it was a brilliant achievement, and before it went to press his friends wanted his academic qualities to be recognised.  As a young man, Johnson had been to Pembroke College, Oxford, but he had not completed his studies and left without a degree.  His friends therefore approached the University of Oxford to seek a Master of Arts for Johnson. The university conferred the MA on Johnson in 1755 in recognition of his work on the dictionary. This was just in time for the letters ‘A.M’ to be added to the title page.

  Samuel Johnson's Dictionary - title page
Title-page of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). 70.i.12.    Noc


The university went on to confer a doctorate on Johnson in 1775, which pleased him greatly.

Johnson’s MA diploma is now preserved in the British Library.  After his death it was owned by his friend and biographer James Boswell, and it came to the Library in 1910.

  Samuel Johnson's diploma

Samuel Johnson’s MA diploma, Add MS 38063   Noc

Sandra Tuppen
Lead Curator Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1601-1850



07 August 2015

The amiable Princess Amelia

Princess Amelia, the youngest child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, was born on 7 August 1783.  Amelia was delicate from an early age and later suffered from tuberculosis. She was her father’s favourite daughter, interested in art, music, history and literature as well as being an accomplished horsewoman.

Princess Amelia Noc

Princess Amelia from a painting by Andrew Robertson reproduced in W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia

Amelia and her sisters were kept at home in the ‘Nunnery’ as their mother feared that the King’s mental health would be affected by difficult decisions about suitable marriages for his daughters.   The Princesses’ public outings were reported in the press and their costumes described in great detail – today’s preoccupation with the lives and appearance of members of the royal family is nothing new!  When the King, Queen and Princesses attended a performance at Covent Garden Theatre in May 1805, followers of fashion were treated to this pen portrait:

The King – A Field Marshall’s full uniform.

The Queen – Silver tissue; zephyr blue robe; head dress white and gold, diamond helmet; small black Turkish feather, and a profusion of diamonds.

Princess Augusta – White spangled dress; white head-dress, large plume of white feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Elizabeth – Egyptian brown robe, superbly spangled; black head dress, white plume of feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Mary – Slate-coloured tissue robe; white head dress, plume of white feathers, and a profusion of diamonds.

Princess Sophia – Silver tissue dress; black head dress, large plume of feathers, and bandeau of diamonds.

Princess Amelia – Rich tissue dress, elegant bird of paradise feathers, large diamond crescent, and bandeau of diamonds.

Closeting in the ‘Nunnery’ did not prevent the princesses from conducting clandestine romances with men connected to the court. When Princess Amelia stayed at Weymouth in 1801, hoping that the sea-bathing would improve her health, she fell in love with Colonel Charles FitzRoy, one of the King’s equerries.  She set her heart on marrying him, and began to use the initials A. F. R. – Amelia FitzRoy.

  Charles FitzRoyNoc

Charles Fitz-Roy from a miniature in the possession of the Hon Mrs William Lowther reproduced in W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia


By October 1809 newspaper articles about Amelia’s visits to Weymouth had an ominous tone: ‘The Princess Amelia takes the benefit of the warm salt bath, and as often as the weather permits, alternately takes an airing on the sand and an excursion on the water.  The benign effects of which, we fervently pray, will ultimately restore her Royal Highness’s health and spirits’.

Unfortunately the Princess’s health continued to deteriorate and she died at Windsor on 2 November 1810, much mourned.   On her death bed, Princess Amelia gave her father a ring which contained a lock of her hair and the inscription ‘Remember me’.   She left a will bequeathing the bulk of her estate to Charles FitzRoy and entrusting him with the handling of certain bequests.  Amelia’s executors, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, wished to avoid making public the relationship between their sister and FitzRoy.  They therefore secured FitzRoy’s agreement to cede his rights as residuary legatee, promising that Amelia’s wishes would nevertheless be honoured.  This pledge was not kept: FitzRoy was excluded from decisions about the distribution of Amelia’s effects and received very little from her estate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
W S Childe-Pemberton, The romance of Princess Amelia (London, 1910).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – George III, daughters of.
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Post  29 May 1805; 25 October 1809.
Honoria Scott, Sketch of the life and character of her Royal Highness the Princess Amelia (London, 1810).

Georgian Britain - prints, drawings, documents and articles.


26 June 2015

ABBA’s Waterloo at the Prince Regent’s Stables

1974 saw ABBA win the Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden with their song ‘Waterloo’, one of the best remembered entries from the show’s long history which quickly catapulted the group to international fame. But how many of us watching the live broadcast over four decades ago realised that Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid were performing in a space once graced by royal stallions?

ABBA Waterloo YouTube

ABBA winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 courtesy of YouTube


In Eurovision land, the winning country hosts the following year’s competition. Having won two years in a row, diminutive Luxembourg was in a fix and so Britain stepped in. Rather than hosting the show in London, the BBC chose one of the largest concert halls on the south coast, The Dome in Brighton.

Brighton 1

The Dome at Brighton today Noc


This yellow brick edifice with minarets and an impressive 24 metre cast iron dome was constructed in 1804-8 for George, Prince of Wales (soon to become Prince Regent, and later King George IV). The building’s ‘Indian-Saracenic’ design, created by William Porden (ca. 1755-1822), pre-dates that of the neighbouring Royal Pavilion as we know it today, which at the time comprised only a smaller neo-classical structure. The purpose of Porden’s monumental creation was as stabling for the prince’s horses, with an adjacent hall – now the city’s Corn Exchange – acting as a riding school. The stage where ABBA sang was built inside the circular stables where up to 60 royal horses were once housed and groomed. The balconies from which Europe’s television broadcasters provided their live commentary held accommodation for stable-boys.

Brighton Pavilion

74/558*.h.12 John Nash, 'Her Majesty's Palace at Brighton' (London, 1838) Noc


Queen Victoria disliked the royal estate at Brighton, and in the 1850s the buildings were all sold to the town corporation. The circular stables were first concerted into a concert hall 1867-73, and the space has been remodelled several times since. Its most recent refurbishment was in 1998-2001, when a certain Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA stepped up to become one of its 50 famous patrons. He hasn’t yet offered to give an updated performance of ‘Waterloo’ at the Dome, but here’s hoping!

Adrian Edwards
Head of Printed Heritage Collections Cc-by

Further reading:
Brighton and Hove, by Nicholas Antram and Richard Morrice. (Pevsner Architecture Guides.) [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008].
The New Encyclopædia of Brighton, by Rose Collis. [Brighton: B&H City Council, 2010].
The Complete Eurovision Song Contest Companion, by Paul Gambaccini, Tim Rice, Jonathan Rice and Tony Brown. [London: Pavilion Books, 1998].
Illustrations of Her Majesty's Palace at Brighton, formerly the Pavilion, executed by the command of King George the Fourth under superintendence of John Nash Esq Architect (London, 1838).

A free display “Waterloo: War and Diplomacy” runs until 6 September 2015 in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

17 July 2014

The Difference caus'd by mighty Love! - romance and the Benthams

In the short time since we announced on Untold Lives that the British Library had joined the Transcribe Bentham initiative and asked for volunteers to help us advance scholarly research into the life and ideas of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), public interest in the online transcription of Bentham’s manuscripts has exploded. In just over three months, 1,163 manuscripts have been transcribed—almost 10% of the British Library’s Bentham collection! We are delighted to announce the release of more material to explore, and cordially invite any interested newcomers to join us in transcribing them.


Our inclination was that the British Library’s Bentham material represents a chance to really get to know the Bentham family, since the majority of it is correspondence, and discoveries made by our volunteers have certainly borne this out.

Jeremiah Bentham, father of Jeremy, though cold-hearted in business matters (one letter reveals him being responsible for the cutting off of the water supply to one of his tenants) was found to be quite the romantic, as this love letter to Jeremy’s mother Alicia (transcribed by volunteer Peter Hollis) shows:
while I was present with you Time bore me on his rapid Wing, so swiftly did the delightful hours pass on, but no sooner was I gone from you than that Wing became pinion'd & coud no longer fly, or was rather chang'd into leaden Feet, so slowly do the Sluggish Minutes now creep forward — such is the Difference caus'd by mighty Love!

Bentham 33537_004_001
Jeremiah Bentham’s letter to Alicia, 1745 (BL Add. MS 33537 f. 4r) Noc

Romantic interest was a dominant theme in first batch of manuscripts released online, which covered the period 1744 to 1783. Jeremy himself was courting, as shown by this rather cruel letter to brother Samuel about a certain ‘Miss S[arah]’  (transcribed by volunteer Simon Croft):
She has indeed a most enchanting set of teeth — seems well made: and is of a very good size. But her features viz: nose and mouth are too large for her face: eyes I do not recollect much about.
Indeed I could not get a full view of her face: she was dressed very unbecomingly.

Bentham 33538_001_001
Jeremy Bentham’s letter to his brother Samuel, written in 1776 (BL Add. MSS 33538 f. 1r)  Noc

Six months later, Jeremy complained to Samuel (also transcribed by Simon Croft) that his letters to Sarah (‘the little vixen’) had gone unanswered, though we might not be surprised given his ungentlemanly attitude.

New material, covering the period 1784 until 1794, has now been uploaded to the Transcription Desk. Events covered include Jeremy’s long journey to Russia to visit Samuel, where he first conceived of his famous panopticon prison. The period also includes the early years of the French Revolution, as well as the return of Samuel from Russia in 1791, and the death of Jeremiah in 1792. Some of the most intriguing material revolves around the scheme to establish the panopticon, which dominated the next decade of Jeremy’s life, and includes his attempts to lobby leading politicians of the day.

There is no need for specialist equipment or expert knowledge to begin participating—just a willingness to get to grips with 18th and 19th century handwriting, and transcribe it through our website. Visit Transcribe Bentham today to get started!

Dr Kris Grint
Dr Tim Causer
Bentham Project, Faculty of Laws, UCL


27 March 2014

A truly original Richard III

To celebrate World Theatre Day we have the story of an East India Company sea captain performing the title role in Richard III at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 17 January 1803. 

Captain James Peter Fearon was born in London on 17 February 1773, the son of two well-known actors, James Fearon and his wife Mary. James Fearon died at Richmond aged 43 on 30 September 1789, leaving a widow and eight children between the ages of sixteen and nearly one.   Benefit performances were held in theatres to raise money for the family, with the Duke of Clarence contributing 20 guineas.

Eldest son James Peter was serving as a midshipman on the East India Company ship Queen at the time of his father’s death.  Perhaps an influential patron with whom his father had come into contact had helped to place the boy in a potentially lucrative career?  James Peter progressed steadily upwards through the ranks of ship’s officer, and was appointed captain of the East Indiaman Belvedere for her voyage to China from May 1801 to September 1802. 

His brothers also secured positions with the East India Company. Peter Fearon was appointed an officer cadet in the Bombay Army in 1799, and John Douglas Fearon was a cadet for Madras in 1807.  Two of his sisters became the wives of Company men and a third married a Royal Army officer in India.

 Richard III 03080653
David Garrick (1717-1774) as Richard III Images Online  Noc

Captain Fearon’s theatrical debut as Richard III was well-received by the large number of sailors in the audience and by the press.  He gave the performance twice more in January.  The Monthly Mirror believed that he could have a stage career as there was ‘much genius’ in his performance notwithstanding the blemishes. His voice was described as ‘uncommonly powerful, but not so melodious’ and he was praised for his ‘freedom of deportment, confidence, feeling, and unabating spirit’. However Fearon was criticised for hurrying through many of the most significant soliloquies as if he did not understand their meaning: ‘He appears, throughout, to be running a race with the character, and frequently gets the start of it’. The Morning Post wrote that the Captain’s face was capable of very little variety of expression, yet he had the great recommendation of being no imitator but a truly original Richard.

This triumph was followed on 9 February 1803 with Fearon’s appearance at Drury Lane as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.  Sadly this performance to a meagre audience was not well received. His portrayal of ‘deep and gloomy malignancy’ was described as feeble.

Captain Fearon was facing financial ruin as he trod the boards. He was declared bankrupt in February 1803. He was subsequently licensed as a free mariner by the East India Company and sailed for Bombay in 1807.  In another change of career Fearon purchased the Bombay Gazette in 1810, but this appears to have been an unsuccessful venture.  James Peter Fearon was living as a mariner in Calcutta when he died at sea in 1821. His will was proved in India, leaving his property to be divided between his mother and sisters.

Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by

Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive - for example Morning Post 18 January 1803 and 29 January 1803

The Monthly Mirror vol XV (1803)

Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans, A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses musicians, dancers, managers and other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800 (1973-1993)

Find my Past for the Fearon family in India -

Cadet Papers of Peter Fearon IOR/L/MIL/9/110 f.401

Cadet Papers of John Douglas Fearon L/MIL/9/108 ff.562-63

Estate papers of James Peter Fearon IOR/L/AG/34/29/33 p.1057; IOR/L/AG/34/27/76 p. 982

24 March 2014

Meet the Benthams: an extraordinary Georgian family

The British Library has joined the Transcribe Bentham initiative, and needs your help to uncover the secret life of Jeremy Bentham, philosopher, reformer, and Georgian gentleman.  Transcribe Bentham, an online scholarly crowdsourcing project, invites members of the public to explore and transcribe the manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham.  Since its launch in 2010, Transcribe Bentham’s online volunteers have made important discoveries in UCL’s collection of digitised Bentham manuscripts, for instance in relation to his most famous invention—the Panopticon prison.

The British Library is digitising its own collection of Bentham papers and these are now being made available on Transcribe Bentham to complement UCL’s own on-going digitisation programme, virtually reuniting the two Bentham collections for the first time since Bentham’s death.  Volunteers do not need any specialist equipment or expert knowledge to begin participating—just a willingness to get to grips with 18th and 19th century handwriting and to type what they read into a text box using a specially-adapted transcription toolbar.  

  Bentham 33537_294_001
NocPseudo-Voltaire (John Lind) to Jeremy Bentham, sent in 1774 (British Library Add MS 33537 f.294r)

Whilst the UCL collection contains mainly philosophical writings, in the British Library collection there is potential to uncover Bentham’s more personal side, as it contains thousands of letters.  Bentham was described by Jose del Valle, the Guatemalan politician, as the ‘Legislator of the world’ and such a title is certainly justified by the sheer number of nationally and internationally important figures with whom he corresponded.  Within the British Library’s collection are letters from the French general Lafayette, the English abolitionist William Wilberforce, and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia.  But the collection also contains a great deal of personal correspondence, and volunteers will encounter Jeremy’s extended family: his mother, Alicia; his step-mother, Sarah; his brother, Samuel, the renowned naval architect; his step-brother Charles Abbot, later 1st Baron Colchester, Speaker of the House of Commons; his nephew George, the famous botanist; and the patriarch of the family, Jeremiah Bentham.  There is even a letter from Jeremiah to Jeremy’s headmaster at Westminster School, complaining about the alleged plundering of his son’s book case by some older ‘lads’.  

   Bentham 33537_037_001

Jeremiah Bentham’s letter to Mr Cooper, complaining about the theft of little Jeremy’s school books (British Library Add MS 33537 f. 37r)  Noc

Because some of this correspondence has not been read since its original composition, discoveries made by volunteers have the potential to fundamentally shape and illuminate our understanding of Bentham’s life and relationships (the definitive biography of Bentham still remains unwritten).  Once completed, transcripts are presented alongside the original manuscript image in a digital repository, freely accessible to anyone interested in researching Bentham.  In addition, any volunteers who produce transcripts that are subsequently used in the new edition of Bentham’s Collected Works, currently being prepared by the Bentham Project at UCL and published by Oxford University Press, will receive full credit for their contribution in the particular volume’s acknowledgements.

Kris Grint
Research Associate, Bentham Project, Faculty of Laws, UCL   Cc-by

Visit the Transcribe Bentham  Transcription Desk today

Follow Transcribe Bentham on Twitter @TranscriBentham

Further reading:

Jeremy Bentham, Selected Writings, ed. by Stephen Engelmann (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011)

Philip Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2009)

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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