Untold lives blog

59 posts categorized "Innovation"

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

04 March 2021

The Garden of Aden: The Experimental Vegetable Garden at Aden

Ill-health plagued the East India Company Army in the 19th century.  Army rations consisted of bread and meat, supplemented by other items which the soldiers bought for themselves.  Despite the work of Dr James Lind on scurvy a century before, malnutrition was common in the army.  At Aden, this diet was even more unsuitable owing  to a lack of fresh water, which was needed to render the salt meat provided palatable.

Army review on Woolwich Common 1841 showing soldiers, horses and cannons
Army review on Woolwich Common by the Queen, 1841 in The Records of the Woolwich District Volume II by William Vincent, (Woolwich: J. R. Jackson, [1888-90])

It was in these conditions that the Executive Engineer at Aden, Lieutenant John Adee Curtis, created an experimental vegetable garden in 1841.  Curtis’s aim for his garden was to supply the hospital and the troops stationed at Aden.  He calculated that, when it was fully productive, it would even be able to supply a small surplus which could be distributed to the prisoners who would tend the garden, helping to prevent scurvy in jails.  This would also cut down on labour costs, although Curtis claimed that ‘the garden has been almost entirely watered by the wastage which occurs in drawing water for the public works from the well situated at one angle of the enclosure’, reducing the work involved.

Water tanks at AdenWater tanks at Aden, mid 1870s. Photographer unknown, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, T.11308/3 

The troops did not derive any benefit from its produce in the first year, as most of the vegetables were cut down and buried in the soil to rot, improving it for the following year.  However, between October 1841 and January 1842 the roads were closed and the hospitals lacked supplies.  During that time, the garden supplied them with 1943½ lbs of vegetables. 
In his letter asking for an extension of the scheme and the garden, which was 100 square feet, Curtis is enthusiastic about the future.  He does not mention what types of vegetables were grown, but he is confident that ‘with good seeds all Indian vegetables may be produced in Aden throughout the year’, and that in a few years, the soil may be improved enough to grow European vegetables.  Not all of his seeds germinated, but he attributes this to faulty seed, as he claims that all the plants which germinated produced vegetables.

The British also moved away from a reliance on salt and tinned meat at Aden, and negotiated for fresh meat.  This not just provided a healthier diet for those stationed at Aden, but also improved relations between the East India Company and the local citizens.

No more is heard of the experimental vegetable garden after 1842, but the military board’s continued funding of the garden in 1842 and the creation of another similar garden at Karachi a year or so later suggests that the project was continued for at least a short time.

Toy British soldiers dressed in red uniforms standing in a line
Toy British soldiers from Funny Books for Boys and Girls. Struwelpeter. Good-for-nothing Boys and Girls. Troublesome Children. King Nutcracker and Poor Reinhold (London: David Bogue, [1856]). Images Online

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further Reading:
The experimental vegetable garden at Aden appears in IOR/F/4/1930/82915 and IOR/F/4/1998/88694.

 

14 July 2020

Researching Women in Science in the Modern Manuscript Collections Part 1: 1601-1848

The British Library modern manuscript collections contain a substantial volume of papers that concern the history of science in Britain.  There is, however, a notable absence of women authors among these scientific manuscripts that date from the 17th to the 20th centuries.  Women had been excluded from formal scientific training until the birth of women’s colleges in the 19th century, but it is not the case that women did not make contributions to science before this.  Examining women’s contribution to science offers us an alternative history of science, one that encompasses more informal approaches, cross-disciplinary perspectives, and involves a concerted effort on behalf of women to carve out a space for themselves in an establishment that often suppressed or even appropriated their work.

Before the scientific revolution many women were practising medicine and herbalism in their homes and communities.  This tradition didn’t drop away immediately with the rise of modern medicine.  The Sloane manuscripts contain many medicinal recipes from the 17th and 18th centuries and many of these were authored by women.

Sloane MS 3849An example of a medicinal recipe in the Sloane Collection, 17th Century. Anonymous. Sloane MS 3849 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In aristocratic homes of the 17th and 18th centuries, women were more likely to be taught to read and write; their position in society meant that they could attain modern scientific publications and then engage in their own personal studies, translations and writings.  The British Library holds some manuscripts authored by the polymath, Margaret Cavendish.  Cavendish was tutored at home and pursued her own intellectual interests across subjects, writing a treatise on natural philosophy which was a field of early modern science.  Her achievements meant that she became the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society in May 1667.

Engraving of Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon TyneMargaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, by William Greatbach, published 1846 - NPG D5346 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Another aristocrat with a formidable legacy is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who educated herself through the household library.  Lady Montagu witnessed smallpox inoculation among groups of women during her travels in the Ottoman Empire.  Learning from these women, she brought the process to Britain, successfully inoculating her family and others.  She wrote in favour of inoculation in an article defending the process, and ultimately, the processes she learnt from women in Turkey and developed in Britain would be built upon by Edward Jenner in the development of the vaccine in 1796.  The British Library holds items of her prose and correspondence across collections, including in the Portland, Egerton and P.A. Taylor papers.

Add MS 61479
A poem manuscript by Lady Montagu addressing a woman advising her on retirement. Add MS 61479  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Several women working in science in the early 19th century similarly benefitted from educational opportunities available to them owing to their class and connections.  Mary Somerville was educated at home, had the benefit of access to books and a sympathetic uncle who worked with her to improve her studies.  Her formidable intellect meant she wrote and published on the subjects of maths, physics, and geology.  Somerville in turn tutored Ada Lovelace who worked with Charles Babbage on the first mechanical computer.  There are items of correspondence from both women in the Babbage Papers (Add MS 37182 - 37201).

Add MS 37192Letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage, 1843, Add MS 37192 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The next blog in this series will examine women in science after the birth of women’s colleges and related archives in the collections.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Devoney Looser, British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1620-1829 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000)

Women in Science: archives and manuscripts, 1600 - present

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