Untold lives blog

209 posts categorized "Health"

10 May 2022

Grants of money made by the East India Company

In 1831 the East India Company was directed by its General Court of Proprietors to prepare a statement of expenditure since 1813 on grants of money and pensions.  This was to include grants over £200, pensions of £100 per annum and above, and all superannuation and retirement allowances, except those paid to civil and military personnel under Company regulations.  Names of recipients, amounts, and reasons were set down, and the list was printed for the information of the Company’s shareholders.

Title page of Grants of Money  Pensions  Superannuations  and Retiring Allowances made by the East India CompanyTitle page of Grants of Money Pensions Superannuations and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A wide range of European men and women received money for many different reasons, relating to activities both in Asia and in the UK.  Famous names appear.  Captain George Everest received £600 in 1830 for ‘the superior nature of his duties’ when employed on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Thomas Stamford Raffles was paid £315 in 1816 for expenses involved in publishing his History of Java.  Major General Henry Shrapnel was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1828 as a consideration for any future supplies to the Company of shells of his invention.

Clarke AbelClarke Abel. Lithograph by M. Gauci after P. W. Wilkin. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection 363i.

At the top of the list of grants are two payments to surgeon and naturalist Dr Clarke Abel.  The first for £434 was made in 1818 as the value of the apparatus Abel lost in the wreck of the Alceste when returning from China with the Amherst embassy.  The second grant in 1823 for £500 was to provide equipment required for Abel’s research as a naturalist going to India with Lord Amherst.

First page of grants of money in the statementFirst page of grants of money in the statement  OR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Further down the page are two more surgeons.  Dr Whitelaw Ainslie received £600 in 1816 for ‘the merit and utility’ of his book Materia Medica of Hindostan.  James Annesley of the Madras medical establishment was given £500 for ‘the talents, energy and zeal displayed by him, in the publication of an elaborate work on the diseases of India’.

The Abbé Dubois, a Roman Catholic missionary, received a pension of £100 per annum from 1824 for vaccinating patients in India and for his ‘high character’.

Captain Thomas Mackeson, formerly a commander in the Company’s mercantile marine, was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1814 for his services and a wound received from a Spaniard on board his ship.  According to the Madras Courier, Mackeson was visiting the sick on his ship the Sarah Christiana towards the end of 1809 when he was hit on the back of the head with a hatchet by a crew member.  A court martial was held in Madras in March 1810 and the man was sentenced to death.

In 1815 Lieutenant Colonel George Hanbury Pine was granted £600 for his long detention in France as a prisoner of war.

Widow Mary Ann Sawyer was granted a pension of £100 per annum in 1824 in recognition of her late husband’s service in sorting the Company’s cinnamon which ‘materially contributed to its advantageous sale’.

Royal Navy captains were given money for convoying Company ships.  Many entries concern distressed widows and children of Company men.  There are a number of pensions awarded to civil and military servants for ‘insanity’.  London employees were rewarded for long service when they retired: auditor William Wright was allocated a pension of £1800 per annum in 1825 after 54 years with the Company.

This is just a small selection from a 41-page document providing fascinating glimpses into lives which were intertwined with the East India Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379 Grants of Money, Pensions, Superannuations, and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company (Printed in London 1831).
British Newspaper Archive: Madras Courier 20 December 1809 and 27 March 1810.

28 April 2022

The Soldiers’ Daughters’ Home

In December 1880 thirteen-year-old Ada Rose Mills was removed from the Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Hampstead because she had started to suffer from frequent epileptic fits.  Girls applying for a place at the Home underwent a medical examination and only those judged to be in good physical and mental health were accepted.  If, after admission, a girl was found be afflicted with ‘a malignant, infectious, or incurable disorder’, ‘any bodily or mental defect’, or subject to fits, she was returned immediately to those who recommended or placed her in the Home.  Poor Ada Rose was sent to her widowed mother in Ireland.

Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead in 1858Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead Illustrated London News 19 June 1858 . Image copyright Illustrated London News Group - British Newspaper Archive

The Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead was founded in 1855.  Its object was ‘to nurse, clothe, board, and educate the destitute female children, orphans or not, of Soldiers in Her Majesty’s Army, born during the service, or subsequent to the honourable discharge, of the father’.  The Home aimed to instruct the girls in ‘industrial habits’ fitting them for domestic service.  Scholarships were granted to the ‘most industrious’ to support them whilst training as regimental or parish schoolmistresses.

There were two classes of admission: by election with places supported by the Foundation, and by payment of fees.  This was the order of preference for admission when destitution was proved:
• Total orphans
• Motherless daughters of soldiers
• Fatherless daughters of soldiers
• Girls whose parents were still alive, with the father on active or foreign service.
Two sisters could not attend at the same time unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Girls were taken in from under three years of age up to thirteen, and they could not remain after they reached sixteen.  The Home’s Committee tried to find a suitable situation for each girl, and presented her with an outfit including a Bible and prayer book.  Ex-pupils were considered to be under partial guardianship whilst they remained unmarried and they could return to live at the Home temporarily if seeking a job.

Ada Rose Mills entered the Soldiers' Daughters' Home on 14 June 1877 as a scholar paid for by the Secretary of State for India.  She was born in Bangalore on 21 June 1867, the daughter of Sergeant William Mills of the Madras Sappers and Miners and his wife Annie née Hopkins.  Five siblings were also born in India.

William Mills died of a brain tumour at Secunderabad on 5 September 1873.  His widow Annie was living in Dublin when her son Archibald George enlisted in the Royal Engineers in July 1879 aged fourteen.  He had previously attended the Royal Military Asylum Chelsea for nearly three years as an apprentice.  Annie later moved to Gosport in Hampshire.

The India Office gave Annie Mills payments amounting to £32 0s 6d to support her daughter after she left the Soldiers' Daughters' Home.  Sadly Ada Rose died on 16 February 1885 aged seventeen and her mother was paid £4 for her funeral expenses.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/7/15824-15836 Soldiers' Daughters' Home 1869-1902, includes IOR/L/MIL/7/15833 Admission of Ada Rose Mills in place of Emily Godden and Isabella Hamilton, 1876-1877;  IOR/L/MIL/7/15834 Death of Ada Rose Mills, an inmate of the Soldiers' Daughters' Home, 1881-1889 – the file includes a copy of the rules for the Home dated 1878.
Baptism 14 August 1867 of Ada Rose Mills IOR/N/2/48 f.158, and burial 6 September 1873 of William Mills IOR/N/2/54 f. 157, plus other entries from church records for the family – available via Findmypast.
Record of service for Archibald George Mills The National Archives WO 97/3471 no. 28 - available via Findmypast.


19 April 2022

The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795

At the end of the 18th century, a succession of bad harvests severely depleted the national crop of wheat.  The harvest of 1795 in particular resulted in chronic shortages.  On top of this, the geopolitical landscape of Europe had been turned upside down by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with the French Republic altering trade and commerce across the continent.  The combination of these pressures was a doubling of the price of bread among ordinary civilians.  Counties around Britain appealed to the Privy Council for supplies of wheat to aid their populations as people in towns felt the effect.  A number of bread riots broke out across the country as people went hungry.  Burial figures from these years show a marked increase in 1795, implying a rise in death rate.

Document entitled ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’ ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’, Add MS 38353, f.208. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Faced with increasing discontent and instability the government had to do something to address the crisis.  There was an effort to import more grain from the Quebec and the Baltic, but there were plans forged at home as well.  Records in the Liverpool Papers show how the government were concerned that big farms were benefitting from the shortage by selling their wheat at over-opulent prices.  There were suggestions of limiting the control that the big farms had over price at the markets, but little action was taken on big producers’ profits.

Instead, attention turned to stretching supply.  Members of Parliament debated a motion to force millers to not strip the bran from their flour, so supplies might go further.  Millers were a popular focus of anger during the crisis.  They were often accused of mixing in other substances into flour in order to stretch their profits, so by forcing millers to change their product from the popular white bread to an unpopular whole-wheat bread, the government hoped some of the public’s ire would be redirected to them.

Document suggesting a plan 'to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’ ‘…to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’, Add MS 38353, f.280.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Advice given to the government at the time shows that given there was least some bran in loaves of bread already it was unlikely that the public would notice too much change.  However, the author of the report stipulates that in his opinion the bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’.

Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’, Add MS 38353, f.290. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another suggested course of action was the mixing of grains; unlike wheat, harvests of barley, rye, oats and peas had done well.  Suggestions were made for bakers to mix grains and create new loaves of bread for sale, but again this divergence from the white loaf was unpopular.

Recipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of breadRecipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of bread Add MS 38377, f.116.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When these plans were put in action it was the poorest segment of the population that would be consuming these altered loaves.  The richer demographics could choose to avoid wheaten bread altogether as they could easily exchange it for other sources of food.

The bread crisis would ease a little with a successful domestic harvest in 1796, however prices would continue fluctuate wildly over the end of the 18th century bringing continued hardship to those who relied on bread for many years to come.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Stern, Walter M. 'The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96', Economica, vol. 31, no. 122, 1964, pp. 168–87.


Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season


14 April 2022

Mary Marshall – JMW Turner’s Mother

Mary Marshall was born into a prosperous family of butchers and shopkeepers.  She was baptised at St Mary’s Islington on 13 November 1735.  She married William Turner, a barber and wigmaker, at St Paul’s Covent Garden, on 29 August 1773.  Turner was newly arrived from Devon and eager to establish himself.  When he applied for the marriage licence William declared his age as 28 and Mary’s as only 34, perhaps indicating someone‘s embarrassment at her being about ten years older than her husband to be. 

West front of St Paul's Covent GardenThe west front of St Paul’s Covent Garden by Edward Rooker (1766) British Library Maps K.Top.24.1.a. BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary’s younger brother had moved to the thriving west London community of New Brentford to become a butcher.  His name was Joseph Mallord William Marshall and when Mary gave birth to a son in 1775, he was given the names Joseph Mallord William Turner, possibly with an eye to inheritance.  A daughter, Mary Ann, was born in 1778.

There is very little reliable evidence of Mary Turner’s appearance or personality. Turner's first biographer, Walter Thornbury, built his picture of her around the supposed existence of an unfinished portrait by her son, ‘one of his first attempts’.  Thornbury writes: ‘There was a strong likeness to Turner about the nose and eyes; her eyes being represented as blue, of a lighter hue than her son's; her nose aquiline, and the nether lip having a slight fall.  Her hair was well frizzed . . . and it was surmounted by a cap with large flappers.  Her posture therein was erect, and her aspect masculine, not to say fierce.’   No-one has, as yet, been able to trace this portrait and Thornbury had not seen it himself.

There does, however, exist a sketch in one of Turner’s notebooks that has been widely believed to be of his mother.  Intriguingly, the recent scanning of Turner’s painting 'Mountain Scene With Castle, Probably Martigny', has revealed two previously unknown portraits, one of which might be of his mother. 

Thornbury described Mary Turner as ‘a person of ungovernable temper’.  Her fragile mental health deteriorated, probably exacerbated by the death of her daughter, Mary Ann, just before her fifth birthday in 1783.  When the situation at home became difficult, Turner was sent at the age of ten to live with his uncle, Joseph Marshall, in Brentford.

Although his parents’ unhappy marriage may have contributed to Turner’s negative view of that institution, there is evidence that Mary supported her son’s artistic ambitions and promoted his work amongst her friends and neighbours in Covent Garden.

In 1799 Mary Turner was admitted to St Luke’s Hospital, a public mental health asylum in Old Street.  Turner, by this time a successful and prosperous artist, has been criticised for not paying for private care.  However, St Luke’s was a highly respected establishment with specialist provision and Turner probably had to use his influential connections to get his mother admitted.   She remained in St Luke’s until December 1800, when she was discharged as incurable.

Hospitals - St Luke's and Bethlem WellcomeSt. Luke's and Bethlem Hospitals in Moorfields. Engraving by J. Peltro. Wellcome Library no. 26125i

Once again, Turner’s friends pulled strings and Mary was transferred to the Bethlem Hospital in nearby Moorfields (‘Bedlam’), now, surprisingly, described as curable.  On Boxing Day 1801, she was discharged uncured but within a week Turner managed to get her readmitted to the incurable ward, where she remained until her death on 15 April 1804.  Her name was later included on her husband’s memorial plaque in St Paul’s Covent Garden.

Turner memorialThe memorial to Turner’s parents in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden - photograph by the author Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians, Volume 2 (London, 1862).
Records of patients at Bethlem Hospital  are available via Findmypast.
Explore Archives and Manuscripts for papers at the British Library relating to JMW Turner.

“Old Dad” – Turner and Son in Twickenham

Turner's House logoTurner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.


07 April 2022

Rescue at Sea of a Man Overboard

On 30 October 1879, the Government of India forwarded to the India Office an extract from a letter written by Captain Methven of the P&O ship Kaisar-i-Hind.  Captain Methven wished to notify his employers and the authorities of the gallant act of bravery on the part of one of his officers in rescuing one of his shipmates from drowning.  Correspondence in a file in the India Office Records described the rescue.

Printed extract from the letter written by Captain Methven about the rescueExtract of letter from Captain Methven IOR/L/PJ/31124 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This occurred at 10 am on 5 August, when an Indian seaman fell from the foreyard (the lowest yard on a ship's foremast) on to the awning and then overboard, striking an awning stanchion on the way and sustaining several injuries in the process.  The alarm was raised, but the seaman was quickly swept astern of the ship.  A life-buoy was thrown to the stricken man but he was too weak to hold on to it.  As described by the Captain, the second officer G C Brookes ‘made a full spring and took the water close to the spot, felt the lascar with his feet – at this time below the water – let himself sink and clenched him; but there were several instants before Mr Brookes came to the surface’.  A rope was thrown, which Brookes was able to grab while holding tightly to the Indian seaman, and both men were pulled aboard the ship.  Of the rescue Captain Methven wrote: ‘The act was as prompt as it was gallant.  The tide ran dangerously strong.  The man was stunned and disabled, and an instant later and he was inevitable gone…. Altogether it was well done’. 

Letter to the India Office recommending that Brookes' name be put forward to the Royal Humane Society for an awardLetter to the India Office recommending that Brookes' name be put forward to the Royal Humane Society for an award IOR/L/PJ/3/1124 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Government of India agreed with this, and recommended that the India Office bring it to the attention of the Royal Humane Society.  The incident was widely reported in the newspapers of the time, but tragically the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette reported on 29 September 1879 that the Indian seaman had died the same night from the injuries he received in the fall.

View of Westminster Bridge coloured pinkWestminster Bridge from J M Burton, Under Westminster Bridge: a tale of the London dynamiters & unemployed (London, 1888) BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Newspaper reports indicate that Brookes had been involved in another rescue four years previously in London.  On 7 August 1875, the South London Chronicle reported that a man named Nicholas Socoloff, a chiropodist who worked at the London Bridge Turkish Baths, had ‘purposely fallen’ from a boat into the Thames at Westminster Bridge.  Brookes had jumped into the water and supported Socoloff until help arrived to pull him from the water.  Sadly, it was reported that three days later Socoloff hanged himself at his lodgings while in a state of temporary insanity.

The Royal Humane Society was founded in London in 1774 with the purpose of granting awards in recognition of acts of bravery in saving human life.  For the rescue of Socoloff in 1875 the RHS awarded Brookes a bronze medal, and in 1879 he was awarded a bronze clasp for the rescue of the Indian seaman.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Recommends that the gallant conduct of G C Brookes, Second Officer of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company's Steam Ship Kaisar-i-Hind, in rescuing from drowning a lascar seaman who had fallen overboard be brought to the notice of the Royal Humane Society, 1879, Shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/3/1124 No.120.

Correspondence with the Royal Humane Society, Shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/495.

The British Newspaper Archive:
South London Chronicle, 07 August 1875
Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), 16 September 1879
Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 29 September 1879
Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 30 October 1879
London and China Telegraph, 10 November 1879

Acts of Gallantry, Vol. 3, compiled by William H. Feyver & Craig P. Barclay (The Naval & Military Press, 2002), page 71.

Royal Humane Society


05 April 2022

The Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum

The foundation stone of this building in London’s Balls Pond Road was inscribed; ‘Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum, established A.D. 1839, erected 1843’.  It was funded thanks to The Bookbinders' Pension and Asylum Society (created in 1830); its aim to ‘provide a weekly pension of 6s. to 12s. and an asylum for aged and incapacitated members and their widows; also for females who have worked at the business for at least ten years’.

Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum - black and white drawing of outside of building.Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum from Illustrated London News 8 July 1843 British Newspaper Archive

Many 19th century London workers were only a step away from the breadline and a misfortune like illness or losing one’s job meant destitution, imprisonment for debt or being dispatched to the workhouse.  It is no wonder that bookbinders banded together to help people in their trade who could no longer look after themselves.  Their fund raising work attracted interest in the newspapers, including this column in The Planet.

Bookbinders Asylum  - Planet 1 Nov 1840Report of meeting of the Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum Society from The Planet 1 November 1840 British Newspaper Archive

Money-raising activities included dinners, theatrical performances, outings, and securing donations.  The latter came from a surprising variety of patrons, from Prince Albert (£25) to a miser resident in Hoxton who left the majority of his estate (£900) to the Asylum.

Unusually, we can see the faces of two early residents, James England (b.1797) (who appears in the newspaper cutting above) and Richard Stagg (b.1791).

James England

Richard Stagg

Photographs of James England and Richard Stagg from The British Bookmaker Vol. 4, no. 38  p.16 (August 1890) and Vol. 4 , no. 42  p.17 (December 1890)

By the early 20th century it had become impossible maintain the asylum in its existing set up.  The land, which had been located on the outskirts of the capital, now occupied a prime situation.  The asylum closed in 1927 and a new establishment, called The Bookbinders’ Cottages, was built in Whetstone.  It consisted of seven semi-detached two-storey blocks, each containing two dwellings.  Subsequently, the foundation was modernised and is now owned by the Book Trade Charity.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings

Further reading;
Lost Hospitals of London 
Herbert Fry's Royal Guide to the London Charities – the quote about the purpose of the Society is taken from the 1917 edition p.22 
The British Bookmaker - a journal which recorded the history of the bookbinding trade societies.
British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast


30 March 2022

The travel writer Mary Ann Parker

Mary Ann Parker's A voyage round the world in the Gorgon man of war (1795) was the first travel memoir, by a European woman, of her voyage and visit to New South Wales.  Beyond this memoir, and grant applications made to the Literary Fund, Mary Ann Parker's origins, family, and later biography remained obscure.  Here, I historically identify Mary Ann Parker's father as the Georgian medical practitioner, John Burrows.

Black and white view of Sydney with boats in the bay and buildings along the shore.Fernando Brambila, View of Sydney (1793) British Library Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Burrows was a London apothecary’s son who identified himself at different times as a ‘surgeon’, a ‘doctor of physick’, and an MD.  A medical adviser who was sometimes favoured by wealthy patients and patrons; who travelled and worked as a doctor in other European countries; who translated, wrote, and published medical books; who obtained a patent in 1772 for Velnos vegetable syrup, from the sales of which another man later succeeded in making a fortune; and who was described as a ‘druggist’ when he was declared bankrupt in August 1783, a few months after his daughter Mary Ann Burrows married a Royal Navy officer, John Parker, in London.

Title page of A voyage round the world by Mary Ann ParkerMary Ann Parker,  A voyage round the world in the Gorgon man of war (1795) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary Ann Parker completed the fifteen month return voyage to New South Wales with her husband, Captain John Parker, of HMS Gorgon, in 1791-2.  She had previously travelled with her parents, in Europe, in 1775-82.  Living in Spain and Italy, and travelling home through France.

In September 1782, Amelia Barry, who was stranded in Pisa, entrusted ‘Dr Burrows’ to carry a letter to Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Observing that

Docr. Burrows, the Gentleman who will have the honour to present you this letter, is one of the few friends to whom I am under infinite obligations.   During his residence in Tuscany, I have found united in his Person, the character of a skilful Phisician, and a most sincere Friend: To my lasting regret, he is going with his family, to England.

By the time Amelia Barry next wrote to Franklin in February, ‘Miss Burrows’ was married to John Parker, at a wedding on Monday 29 January 1783, in her home parish of St James Piccadilly in London.

John Parker obtained promotion to Lieutenant from February 1783.  It was Lieutenant John Parker who purchased insurance for the Burrows' new London home on James Street, Golden Square, and was probably the leaseholder.  Within a few months of being declared bankrupt, Burrows obtained his certificate, and recommenced trading. He was listed in London directories up to the mid 1790s.

A quack doctor stands outside his house surrounded by a pyramid of bottles inscribed 'Velnos Syrup', one of which he holds up, demonstrating its virtues with a complacent smile to a band of rival practitioners who are furiously threatening his barricade.Thomas Rowlandson, Mercury and his advocates defeated, or vegetable intrenchment (1789). The pyramid of bottles is inscribed 'Velnos Syrup'. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Captain John Parker, by then of HMS Woolwich, died of yellow fever in Martinique in 1794.  His widow did not marry again. In 1818, the Parkers' eldest daughter, Margaret, married Robert Vincent, a solicitor.  In 1841, the census enumerator found ‘Mary Parker’, aged ‘70’, at home on Harpur Street, Holborn in London with her two granddaughters, aged 15 and 20.  All three were described as independent, not as employed or in school.

By 30 August 1848, the Vincent family had moved to Connaught Terrace, where Mary Ann Parker died, aged 82.  Mary Ann Parker’s death notice appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, edited by John Bowyer Nichols, whose father, John Nichols, had printed and appreciatively reviewed A voyage round the world in the Gorgon man of war (1795).

Dr Charlotte MacKenzie
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Marie E. McAllister ‘John Burrows and the vegetable wars’, Linda Evi Merians (ed) The secret malady: venereal diseases in eighteenth century Britain and France (1996), pp. 85-102.
Charlotte MacKenzie, The travel writer Mary Ann Parker (2022).

17 February 2022

Thomas Richardson Colledge: the missing years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Markland
Cheltenham Local History Society

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


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