Untold lives blog

61 posts categorized "Innovation"

15 November 2022

Star Baker or Avid Taste-Tester? – Exploring Evanion’s 19th-century baking ephemera collection

Henry Evanion, born 1832 in Vauxhall, London, was a 19th-century conjuror and entertainer.  Evanion’s career began aged just 17 and throughout his life, Evanion performed across the country in small towns, entertained royalty in private performances and had a successful run at the Crystal Palace in London.  Evanion was also an avid collector of paper ephemera from an early age and amassed thousands of items during his lifetime.  The Evanion Collection represents his widespread interests, with themes including local politics, Victorian entertainment and miscellaneous advertisements for products related to everyday household life.

Are you a star baker?
Bakers in the 19th century were spoilt for choice thanks to an increase in products available for home-baking and the enduring popularity of cookery books like Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1859-1861).

In the Victorian period, the development of new ingredients meant that bakers could make quicker and cheaper puddings.  One Victorian invention was self-raising flour, which was first introduced in 1845.  By the 1880s, it had become a baking essential for households with an 1885 advert from McDougall’s (Evan.6234.), claiming that the flour was for ‘everyday use’ and that it could help to ‘avoid indigestion’.

An advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour, with a boy in a chef's hat holding a large pie in a dishAn advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour (c.1885). Evan.6234

A second revolutionary development was egg powder, a cheaper alternative to using eggs in baking.  An advert from 1885 (Evan.4244.) for Freeman’s egg powder shows a  young woman surrounded by the bakes she’s made using the product.  The advert claims that Freeman’s is the ‘largest sale in the world’ and can be used for cakes, pancakes, plum puddings and Yorkshire puddings.

Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder.  A young woman, holding a packet of Freeman's egg powder in each hand, stands behind a table on which is displayed a range of cakes and puddings, made from the product.Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder (1885) Evan.4244.

Revolutionising Puddings?
An advertisement for Freeman’s Pudding Powder from 1886 (Evan.6504.) offered an alternative for those unable to find the ingredients to make a pudding.  The notice, titled ‘So Glad I Saw This’ tells the story of a woman who asked her friend for the recipe to make a pudding and was surprised to find that the pudding was a powder mix with added milk and sugar.

An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder, with a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder (1885) Evan.6228

This advert for the mix from 1885 (Evan.6228.) offers to send ladies one of each flavour (almond, lemon, vanilla, peach, chocolate and nectarine) for free by post for 12 stamps.  The witty advert features an image of a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’.  Pudding mixes like Freeman’s revolutionised Victorian desserts because they were a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional puddings which were labour-intensive and required lots of ingredients.

Next time you are baking a cake, watching a cookery programme or buying a sweet treat from a local bakery, think about the variety of ingredients available today and the ease of opening a tin or using a packet mix to speed up the process. These developments came from 19th-century products like the ones featured here. You can explore more 19th-century baking material via the Evanion catalogue online.

Amy Solomons
PhD Placement Student, Heritage Made Digital

Further Reading
Andrea Broomfield, Food and Cooking in Victorian England, A History (Praeger Publishers: Santa Barbara, 2007).
James Hagy, Early English Conjuring Collectors, James Savren and Henry Evanion (Shaker Heights: Ohio, 1985).
Elizabeth Harland, ‘The Evanion Collection’, The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 64- 700.

 

29 September 2022

The HCLF, chatbots and balancing cats

What links chatbots with balancing cats? The Human-Computer Learning Foundation (HCLF) was founded in 1994, by computer scientist Donald Michie; psychologist Jean Hayes Michie; and television producer Rupert Macnee (son of Patrick Macnee, star of the 1960s TV show The Avengers). The HCLF was a charitable trust created for the purposes of furthering for the public benefit 'the awareness, understanding, and use of human-computer learning and artificial intelligence'.

Photograph of Donald Michie and Jean HayesDonald Michie and Jean Hayes (Add MS 88958/5/4), reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie

The HCLF defined human-computer learning to mean "that the human and computer partners both learn from each other as they go along, exchanging partly formed concepts while each assisting the other to bring nascent ideas and conceptualisation to levels difficult for either to attain alone".

The administrative papers of the HCLF were collected over the life of the organisation by Rupert Macnee, and donated to the British Library in 2020. Rupert served as secretary for the HCLF from its inception. The archive includes registration and legal documents, correspondence, accounts, meeting minutes and articles. Many are printed on the back of documents relating to Macnee's work as a television producer.

Letter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLFLetter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLF, Add MS 89496/2. Reproduced with permission of Rupert Macnee and the estate of Donald Michie.

The HCLF felt that technology and the internet's rapid development was causing people to be left behind, creating a gap in skills required to obtain jobs. The papers trace how the HCLF began developing downloadable computer games designed to build the user's perceptual and motor skills, whilst simultaneously developing the knowledge base available to the computer. One of these games involved a pole-balancing 'polecat'. An idea to try and incorporate the popular Japanese manga and cartoon chat character Doraemon to boost sales in Japan was suggested, but after actually seeing the character's appearance they deemed his design to be too round for their requirements. Some skills could be learnt using a voice instruction system developed by the HCLF, known as "Automated Voice-Over Training". Macnee provided the test voice for the system, likening it to Obi-Wan Kenobi tutoring Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. They discussed the idea of partnering with Disney or Warner Brothers to create a version for children.

Developing the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character DoraemonDeveloping the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character Doraemon, Add MS 89496/3. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

The archive also reveals how the HCLF developed a 'chatbot' computer program called Sophie, similar to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ELIZA program from 1964. Sophie was presented as a casual member of staff working for the HCLF. Visitors could 'chat' to her on the HCLF website, but after a certain amount of interaction the visitor would be told that Sophie had to get back to work. As an alternative they could pay and subscribe to her Conversation Club, where they could chat for as long as they wanted. Sophie was programmed to analyse the questions she was asked and provide suitable answers. 'She' would learn from each interaction. A fictitious profile and backstory was created for Sophie, including a family, which had some amusing results. Her brother John worked for 'Woofie Bits dog-food manufacturers', and her sister Julia's religion was listed as 'nature-worship,  vegetarian'.

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members, Deposit 10206. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

Tragically, Donald Michie was killed in a car crash in 2007, and the HCLF was disbanded shortly afterwards. The study, development and use of artificial intelligence for language learning, however, has continued.

Jonathan Schofield
Manuscripts cataloguer

Donald Michie at the British Library
The Donald Michie papers at the British Library is comprised of three separate tranches of material, gifted to the library in 2004 and 2008. They consist of correspondence, notes, notebooks, offprints and photographs, and are available to users through the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, under references Add MS 88958, Add MS 88975 and Add MS 89072.

The archive of the Human-Computer Learning Foundation can be found at Add MS 89496. For copies of agreements relating to the HCLF please see Add MS 89072/2/3.

 

30 August 2022

Coxwell’s concrete lemon

A recent donation to the India Office Private Papers is an ensign’s commission granted to Anthony Merry who joined the East India Company as an army cadet in 1798.

Commission as ensign granted to Anthony MerryCommission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anthony Merry was baptised at Great Warley in Essex on 2 September 1783, the younger son of Anthony Merry and Margaret (née Hornby).  When Anthony senior died in 1785, his will confirmed the marriage settlement made with Margaret together with a further £200.  The settlement appears to have included the manor of Hayleys in Epping.  Anthony did not mention his children.  The bulk of the remaining estate went to his sister Elizabeth Pinnell and other relations.

Margaret Merry re-married twice.  In 1786 she wed widower William Dowson of Chamberlain’s Wharf Southwark, and their son William was born the following year.  Dowson died in 1791, leaving Margaret £100 and the use during her lifetime of Millfield House in Highgate.

In 1795 Margaret married another widower Henry Coxwell, a chemist and druggist in Fleet Street London.  They had a son Charles in 1795 and a daughter Elizabeth in 1797.  Coxwell was a member of the Committee of Chemistry at the Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and the inventor of concrete lemon.

Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell- Bath Chronicle 1799Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell - Bath Chronicle 7 March 1799 British Newspaper Archive

Concrete lemon was crystallized lemon juice, ‘the pure acid part of the fruit in a solid and dry form, resembling in appearance white sugar candy’.  Coxwell signed each package sold as a guarantee of its authenticity.

Handbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemonHandbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemon - British Library General Reference Collection Cup.21.g.24/5 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The crystals were said to be ‘convenient and elegant’, dissolving instantly in cold water, and cheaper than fresh lemons or lemon juice.  They could be used to make punch, lemonade, or sauces.  Ships of the Royal Navy and East India Company were supplied with Coxwell’s concrete lemon to help guard sailors against scurvy.

Thomas Trotter's comment about the use of Coxwell's concrete lemon by the Royal NavyThomas Trotter, Medicina Nautica; an Essay on the diseases of Seamen vol III (London, 1803), p.76 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Henry Coxwell died at Millfield House in 1832, ‘deeply and deservedly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance’.  His library was sold three years later.  This included a collection of modern medical books together with others on a variety of subjects – travel, plant, insects, literature, philosophy, politics.

Newspaper advert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's libraryAdvert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's library - Sun (London) 19 October 1835 British Newspaper Archive

Anthony Merry died before his stepfather, in 1831.  His career in the Madras Army had been very brief.  In February 1801 Lieutenant Merry was stationed at Seringapatam with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment Native Infantry.  He wrote to  his commanding officer, Major Thomas Riddell, expressing his wish to resign the Company’s service and to proceed to Europe at the first opportunity.  Major General Brathwaite recommended that this request be granted, given Merry’s general character and conduct.  Merry was permitted to resign and told to go immediately to Madras and be ready to embark for Europe.

After his return to England, Anthony Merry served as an officer in regiments of the Royal Militia.  He married Elizabeth Strivens in 1805 and settled in Kentish Town in north London.  It appears the couple had four children: Margaret, Robert, Eliza (died in infancy), and William Henry.  Anthony’s East India Company commission was carefully preserved and passed down the family before being gifted to the British Library.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Commission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759.
Baptism of Anthony Merry – India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/9/108 f. 466.
Papers in Madras Military Proceedings 1801 about Anthony Merry’s resignation - India Office Records IOR/P/254/70 pp.1788-1791, 1794-1795.
Will of Anthony Merry 1785 – The National Archives PROB 11/1127/339.
Will of Anthony Merry 1813 - The National Archives PROB 11/1785/332.
Will of Anthony Merry 1835 - The National Archives PROB 11/1849/369.
Will of Sukey Merry 1840 - The National Archives PROB 11/1921/375.

 

09 August 2022

Sanitary technology at East India House and the India Office

In a previous post, we looked at issues of sanitation at the Fort William Garrison in Bengal, which included a description and plan for new urinals.  This is not the only reference to urinals in the India Office Records and Private Papers.  The East India Company was also concerned with improvements in sanitation closer to home.  In 1851, the Company headquarters was East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London, a building that had been remodelled and extended at the end of the 18th century.  By 1851, in light of new sanitary technology, improvements were required.  A report from the Clerk of Works recommended that the urinals near the General Court Room be upgraded.  They needed to be enlarged and fitted 'with enamelled slate Partitions, with the doors acting to throw a jet of water each time it is used'.  The Clerk had done his research, having viewed the urinals at the House of Lords and at the City of London Club House, but in his opinion by far the best design was those in use at the South Eastern Railway Station (London Bridge) and these he proposed be replicated at East India House.  The bill for the works, presented at a Finance and Home Committee Meeting on 18 February 1852, was for £64 16s.

Plan A - diagram for fitting up urinalsPlan A included in IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of urinals 25 April 1884 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1858 the India Office took over from the East India Company, and the newly formed Government department moved in 1867 into a purpose built building in Whitehall designed by George Gilbert Scott.  By 1883, plans were put forward to improve the sanitary fittings, and approval was sought for initial works to be carried out on urinals in both the basement and on the second floor, as an ‘experiment’.  It was agreed that the basement was problematic, being the area 'where there is the most difficulty in securing careful usage', and as such required urinals proposed in Plan A, with a continuous water flow.  For the second floor urinals, where 'sufficient care and cleanliness in the use of the urinals can be depended on', plan B was to be used which employed an overflow system into a slate channel.  Again, the Clerk of the Works had done his homework, and Plan B was based on a similar system employed at the Bank of England.  The refurbishment was considered 'a great improvement as to cleanliness, and that [the urinals]… can more easily be kept in order and in good repair', and as such funds were authorised for works to be extended throughout the building.  In 1885, the total costs of the project were reported as £473 5s 9d compared to the original estimate of £450.

Plan B - diagram for fitting up urinalsPlan B included in IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of urinals 25 April 1884 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is interesting to note that the sanitation works at the India Office included improvements in water re-use.  Waste water from the hydraulic lift system was stored in a cistern and was used for flushing both WCs and urinals.  But when the lifts were used frequently, the cistern achieved capacity and the excess water literally went down the drain at Charles Street.  Changes to the pipes and plumbing were put in place to move more of the waste water around the building and so use more of it for flushing.

On a final note, for anyone interested in researching sanitation and sanitary conditions in our records, it is always useful to search using a variety of contemporary terms.  Think ‘lavatories’ and ‘privies’ as well as ‘urinals’.  You never know what you might find.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/SUR/1/1, ff.117-118: Finance & Home Committee 16 April 1851. Alterations to Urinals.
IOR/L/SUR/1/1, f.157: Finance & Home Committee 18 February 1852: New urinals.
IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of Urinals for the India Office and recommendations for fitting up others, 25 April 1884, includes plan A and plan B.
IOR/L/SUR/6/7, ff.5-6: Accounts submitted for fitting up urinals and altering supply pipes to Lavatory basins in the India Office 16 March 1885.

 

14 July 2022

Sanitation at the Fort William Garrison

The Garrison at Fort William was not a particularly healthy place in 1860.  The proportion of its inhabitants sick in hospital was the highest for any station in Bengal, save for Dum Dum.  ‘Offensive smells’ were rife, and living quarters below rampart level were particularly noxious in the hot and rainy seasons due to poor air circulation.  A Sanitation Committee, which included the Deputy Inspector General of the Hospital, the Garrison Surgeon, and the Garrison Surveyor, had been looking at the issues for a number of years.  Fort William suffered from a number of structural problems due in part to an insufficient fall in elevation for drainage.  The privies leaked, the drains mainly opened into the ‘cunette’ or wet ditch, which had a propensity to silt up (but not with silt), and the Fort’s water supply was insufficient. 

View of the interior of Fort William Calcutta looking east across the courtyard towards Chowringhee Gate and Chowringhee Road View of the interior of Fort William Calcutta looking east across the courtyard towards Chowringhee Gate and Chowringhee Road by William Wood, William (1828) Shelfmark: WD3755 British Library Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Committee also viewed the behaviour of the men themselves as a problem – there were too many ways in which alcohol could be brought into the Fort, and too many ways in which the men could sneak out to the local grog shops at Hastings and Kidderpore Bridges.  The Medical Officers were of the opinion ‘… that almost every fatal case of cholera has been immediately traced to intemperance…’.

Dalhousie Barracks & Fort William in CalcuttaPhotograph of Dalhousie Barracks & Fort William, c 1859. Photo 147/1(49) part 1 Images Online

Number one on the suggested list of improvements were the privies.  A new standard plan for privies was to be introduced in the various barracks, the hospital, and places in the Garrison such as the arsenal.  In addition,  a new type of urinal was to be installed; unfortunately, a fully enamelled version could not be sourced in India, and would have to requisitioned from England.  In the meantime, a patented portable urinal could be purchased from Mr Lazarus of Cossitollah.  ‘The upper circular receiving basin is enamelled ware and empties into a strong iron Cylinder below.  Rings at the sides enable the whole to be carried away by means of a pole passing through them.  The main objection to this urinal is that the lower Cylinder – not being enamelled, rapidly corrodes.  It is however well adapted to meet the present requirements, and accordingly 100 are now being supplied for the use of the Barrack floors. Privies etc. in the Fort’.

Plan of patented urinalsPlan of patented urinals - Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 473 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Additionally, gutter-shaped glazed tiles from Doulton and Co. of London were to be installed in the privies and urinals ‘generally wherever the offensive matter is likely to come into contact with the ground’ as they were ‘guaranteed to stand the action of the most powerful acids’.  The Committee were also keen to increase the supply of disinfectants, suggesting liberal use of both charcoal and chloride of lime.

As for excessive drinking of liquor within and without the Garrison, a carrot and stick approach was taken.  There was to be greater enforcement of the Regulations of 1850, which limited each man to two drams of spirits per day, and the number of regimental canteens supplying alcohol was to be reduced.  Gate searches were to be increased.  To prevent soldiers sneaking out, more sentries were to be posted and repairs made to the ramparts to prevent climbing; in addition glass was to be set in mortar ‘at the top of the escarp’.  There was to be investment in ‘works connected with the amusement and instruction of the soldiers in the Garrison’.  These included the provision of skittle alleys, a gymnasium, a theatre, and a Garrison library.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 460: Proceedings of a Committee Held at Fort William by order of His Excellency Hugh Rose, G.C.B. Commander in Chief, to report on the Sanitary Condition of the Hospital and of the Fort. 13 Jun 1860.
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 461: Statement of the work accomplished or under orders of the Fort William Special Committee, 2 Jun 1860. Prepared by Major R H Sankey, Officiating Garrison Engineer
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 473: Letter by Major R H Sankey, Garrison Engineer, to Brigadier M Smith, Commanding Fort William, 16 Jul 1860
IOR/E/4/852, p.957: Despatches to India and Bengal, Jun-Jul 1858. Opinion of authorities as to the necessity of privies.
Army Medical Department. Statistical, Sanitary and Medical Reports for the year 1862 (London: Harrison & Sons, 1864) 

 

05 May 2022

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society was established in 1851.  On 31 March five boys were sent out for the first time to work in the streets of London for a fortnight’s trial.  By July, 30 boys were on the books.

Shoe-blacks at work - from the front cover of 'The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition'Front cover of The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition. By the Committee. (London, 1854) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The idea of reviving the obsolete occupation of shoe-black was prompted by the wish to cater for overseas visitors in London for the Great Exhibition who would want to have access to this service as they did at home.  The police were consulted, and approved stations were set up to ensure that the boys did not obstruct public footpaths.

Boys wanting to join the Shoe-Black Society had to be recommended by the superintendent of a Ragged Union School and submit a printed form stating their circumstances.  After a few days’ practice with the brushes, boys were given a month’s trial.  The shoe-blacks maintained the connection to their school and attended as often as possible on weekday evenings and Sundays.

Uniform and equipment were provided by the Society.  The shoe-blacks wore a red woollen jersey, a cap with a red band, and a black apron.  Two badges were displayed: one read ‘Ragged School Shoe-Black Society’, and the other was the boy’s distinctive letter sewn in glass beads by the girls of the Lisson Street Refuge.  Kneeling mats and boxes for resting customers’ feet were made by boys at the Grotto Passage Refuge.

Each morning the shoe-blacks from all parts of London assembled at 7.30 am at the Society’s office off the Strand to pick up their boxes and uniforms.  After prayers and a Scripture reading, they went off to their stations before returning in the evening: 4 pm in the winter and 6.30 pm in the summer.  The charge for brushing customers’ trousers and cleaning their shoes was one penny.  Officials from the Society visited the boys during the day to oversee their conduct and supply blacking.

A daily account of earnings was kept with each boy.  Sixpence was returned to the boy and the rest divided – one third to the boy immediately; one third retained by the Society; one third paid into a fund for the boy.  Once a boy had ten shillings in the bank, he could draw it out to buy good working clothes,  Further withdrawals were allowed at the discretion of the Society.  When a boy left, the balance was spent for his benefit by the superintendent of his school, on apprenticeship, an outfit for emigration, or clothing for a job.

The boys brought their own lunch to eat at their stations, but for evening meals a refreshment room was provided, run by a matron who received the profit and bore the risk. She sold bread and butter, eggs, herrings, pies, oranges, pudding, coffee and soup.

Punishments were imposed for misconduct.  Fines levied for lateness, absence, and misbehaviour were applied to a sick fund for the boys.  Rewards for earning the most money were given in the form of prizes and medals.  Entertainments and lectures were provided, with an annual treat at Midsummer.

The Society said it took boys who were ‘ragged, hopeless, and sometimes starving’ and gave them a means of livelihood and an incentive to industrious habits.   The occupation of a shoe-black was seen as a stepping stone to better and permanent employment.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition. By the Committee. (London, 1854).

 

12 October 2021

The Rational Dress Society

The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in London.  The aim of the Society was ‘to promote the adoption, according to individual taste and convenience, of a style of dress based upon considerations of health, comfort, and beauty, and to deprecate constant changes of fashion, which cannot be recommended on any of these grounds’.  The Society promoted its work through drawing room meetings, advertisements, pamphlets, leaflets, and by issuing clothing patterns approved by the Committee.  There was an annual membership subscription of 2s 6d.

Rules of the Rational Dress SocietyRules of The Rational Dress Society printed in Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1884 Viscountess Harberton, President of the Rational Dress Society, published a pamphlet entitled Reasons for reform in dress.  She contended that anything truly beautiful was in accord with nature and questioned how far current women’s clothing conformed to that rule.  A woman’s waist was naturally broad and flat, but dresses were designed to set off a round waist, sloping in like the letter V from under the arms.

Front cover of Reasons for Reform in DressFront cover of Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Skirts were absurd, amounting to the hanging of a sort of curtain round the wearer.  They combined the maximum of weight with the minimum of warmth, and were the cause of many accidents.  Queen Victoria was reported to have sprained her ankle by stepping on her dress.  Women were hurt walking, trying to run, or when getting in and out of trains and carriages.  Every quick or sudden movement was dangerous.  Interference with the power of locomotion resulted in the loss of nerve-power.  A long skirt had a ‘constant liability to disarrangement’ and was difficult to keep clean as it rubbed against the heels and dipped into dust and dirt. 

Moreover, skirts were tiring to walk in – the legs had to be pushed against a mass of drapery.  Going upstairs, a woman probably raised between 2lb and 6lb of weight with her knee at every step.  Women expended maybe twice as much energy as men walking the same distance: ‘Nature gave muscles to the legs to support and convey the body, but never contemplated half the world constructing an artificial jungle for themselves to wade through as long as life lasts’.  Viscountess Harberton therefore advocated the need for women to be able to wear some form of divided skirt.

Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress - black and white image from a newspaper showing an outfit described as a navy blue jacket and skirt with a white silk vest.
Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress – navy blue with a white silk vest - from The Gentlewoman 18 April 1891, British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

The pamphlet also discusses the ‘unmitigated evil’ of stays which displaced the internal organs and reduced the wearer’s ability to breathe.  The human form should not be altered to suit the dress: ‘would it not be wiser were all classes to combine to devise and adopt a dress which was both pretty and convenient? ... Our present dress sins against Art, it sins against Health, and it sins against Utility’.  A fresh start was necessary, ‘and if we are too faint-hearted to do this, we may as well give up the whole thing, with the humiliating reflection, that we have not fulfilled our duty in our generation, though seeing it clearly, but have left a grievous burden on our daughters, from which we could well have freed them, but we lacked the courage of our opinions’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Viscountess Harberton, Reasons for reform in dress (London, 1884) British Library General Reference Collection 7745.bb.6
The Rational Dress Society’s Gazette
Lady Tricyclists

30 March 2021

An Alternative to the Suez Canal?

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1868 created a new trade route between Europe and Asia as an alternative to the long sea journey around the Cape of Good Hope, but a different route had also been given serious consideration.

Isthmus of Suez and the River Euphrates in a detail from a map of ArabiaThe Isthmus of Suez and the River Euphrates in a detail from a map of Arabia by William Henry Plate (1847), IOR/X/3205, India Office Records, British Library
 

A survey of the Isthmus of Suez in 1798 had incorrectly shown the Red Sea to be 8.5m higher than the Mediterranean, an idea finally put to rest by a more accurate survey carried out by British army officer Captain Francis Rawdon Chesney in 1830.  Chesney’s recommendation however was for the establishment of a permanent steam-boat service on the Euphrates River as part of an overland route linking the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and in 1834 the UK Parliament voted a grant of £20,000 towards determining the navigability of the Euphrates during the winter months.

Opening of report recommending the Euphrates Expedition by the UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Steam NavigationReport recommending the Euphrates Expedition by the UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Steam Navigation (1834), IOR/L/MAR/C/573, India Office Records, British Library

The crew of the Euphrates Expedition, commanded by Chesney, departed England on 31 January 1835.  Also on board, in pieces that could be assembled when needed, were the two iron steam vessels the expedition would use, named Tigris and Euphrates in honour of the rivers they would be traversing.  The expedition arrived at Sowedich [Samandağ, modern-day Turkey] in April and then travelled overland to Bir [Birecik, Turkey] on the Euphrates, where the steamers were assembled and the survey commenced.

Dimensions and crew of each of the steam vessels  from Chesney’s official report of the expeditionDimensions and crew of each of the steam vessels, from Chesney’s official report of the expedition (1850), IOL.1947.c.142, India Office Records, British Library

The expedition was not without problems, including an initial reluctance by the East India Company to be involved in a project which had been planned “without [their] participation or concurrence” (IOR/L/MAR/C/573, f. 29).  There were also various delays caused by vital passage or supplies being denied by Ottoman officials, despite permission having been obtained from the Government of the Ottoman Empire, which the British suspected to be intentional obstructionism with possible Russian influence.  But the most tragic setback came when the steamers were caught in a storm that, in the words of one of the officers, “came hurling on towards us with the most fearful rapidity” (IOR/L/MAR/C/574, ff. 183-85).  The crew of the Euphrates were able to secure her to the bank, but the Tigris was blown back into the centre of the river and sank within minutes, with the loss of 20 men.

Drawing of the Tigris immediately before her sinkingDrawing of the Tigris immediately before her sinking, by Captain James Bucknall Estcourt (1836)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The expedition was completed in June 1836 and the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society proclaimed it a success, stating that “everything which could reasonably have been looked for, has been accomplished” (The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 7 (1837), p. 411), while the Resident in the Persian Gulf wrote that the establishment of a permanent steam service on the Euphrates was “worthy of the deepest consideration” and suggested ways in which it could strengthen Britain’s already dominant position in the Gulf (IOR/L/MAR/C/574, ff. 342-44).  Further explorations were carried out in the 1840s, but in 1854 preparations began for the building of the Suez Canal and an official overland route between the Mediterranean and the Gulf never became a reality.

Matt Griffin
Content Specialist, Gulf History, British Library Qatar Foundation partnership

Further reading:
The Euphrates Expedition of 1836: Ingenuity and Tragedy in Mesopotamia
Papers of Edward Philips Charlewood, Officer on the Euphrates Expedition
Dr Johann Helfer and the curious case of an unexplained footnote

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