Untold lives blog

400 posts categorized "Journeys"

30 March 2020

The National Indian Association and its handbook for students

The National Indian Association was founded in Bristol in 1871 by Mary Carpenter.  Local branches were established in both England and India. Its aims were to extend knowledge of India and its people in England; to co-operate with efforts for advancing education and social reform in India; and to promote friendly relations between English and Indian people. 

The Association published a monthly magazine; organised lectures; made educational grants; encouraged the employment of medical women in India; and gave information and advice to Indians in England.  The Committee of the Association also assisted Indian parents wanting to give their sons ‘the benefit of an English Education’ by offering superintendence of students, with expenses arranged individually for each case.  In all matters, ‘the principle of non-interference in religion is strictly maintained’.

Cover of Handbook for Indian StudentsNational Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students (10th edition: London, 1904)

The Association published A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom which ran to several editions.   It provided details of legal study; examinations connected with government service; universities and colleges; medical study; and technical training and manufactures. 

The 10th edition was published in 1904.  It offered general advice to those young men coming to England to study.  By practising ‘great economy’, a student could live in London in £120 to £150 a year.  Living expenses were cheaper in other cities.  Different kinds of accommodation were explained: rented rooms; boarding houses where meals were provided; or living with a family which had the benefit of gaining ‘acquaintance with English life and habits’.

As well as living expenses, the students had to pay educational or professional tuition fees and spend considerable amounts on books.  Candidates for the Indian Civil Service were likely to need £30 or £40 for books.

Indian students were warned that they would not be able to maintain themselves to any degree by teaching languages or other subjects.  After paying for the voyage, they were advised to bring at least another £20 or £30 from India for buying clothing and other essential items on arrival in England.  The Association said that it was inadvisable to buy articles of dress in India for use in England.

It wasn’t thought necessary for students to be met on landing. The shipping agents would look after baggage, and students coming all the way by sea could take a train from the Albert Docks to Fenchurch Street Station and then a cab to their destination.  It was equally easy to arrive at Charing Cross Station from Brindisi.  However it was important to inform a friend in London by letter or telegram of the expected date of arrival.

A resolution of the Government of India was quoted which stated that Indian students travelling to England should apply for a Certificate of Identity signed by the head of school or college, and counter-signed by a District Officer, Commissioner of Police, or Political Officer.  The certificate proved that the holder was a British subject and could be used to obtain a passport for travel to foreign countries.  It also allowed for speedier processing of appeals for assistance from students unable to complete their course ‘owing to embarrassed circumstances’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
National Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom (10th edition: London, 1904) British Library 8366.bb.60.

19 March 2020

The East India Company’s stud farm in Essex

Today’s Untold Lives centres on horses rather than people.  By 1800 the East India Company was increasingly reliant on its army, and suitable horses were needed.  On 2 January 1801 the Court of Directors paid Company official James Coggan £400 to purchase a stallion for the use of the Company’s stud in India.  They agreed to pay for a ‘Proper Person’ to act as a groom and accompany the horse to Bengal.  Further sums were authorised for the purchase of two mares a few weeks later and it was agreed to send three or four thoroughbred stallions and seven strong hunting mares to improve the breeding stock in India.

On 16 March 1801 the Court set up a Stud Committee to look into the quality of horses available for the Company in India.  Whilst Asiatic horses were suitable for the native soldiers, they were not ideal for the heavier European men.  Stronger native horses bred for the harness were too thick in the shoulder to act as a charger.  Arabian stallions were too small for Company purposes.  It was decided to set up a stud farm in England to breed the ideal blood lines to send to the stud farms in India.

Elizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexElizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman  - British Library Foster 240 Noc


David Scott, Chairman of the Committee, offered to present the new venture with a fine grey Arabian stallion from his estate in Scotland.  The Court initially considered acquiring part of the Cannons estate at Little Stanmore Middlesex but this proved unsuitable.  In July 1802 agreement was reached with John Towgood to lease a farm of 130 acres at Padnals near Romford in Essex.  John H Manley was put in charge of the farm but his services were dispensed with in January 1803.  Samuel Yull was then appointed to manage the establishment as resident groom.  The Company’s equine shipping agent, William Moorcroft, a respected veterinary expert, was appointed Superintendent of the Stud a few months later.

Worthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexWorthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman - British Library Foster 239. Worthy’s brother Waxy won the Derby in 1793. Noc

The stud farm was a success. Some income was obtained from hiring out the services of the Company’s two stallions. The accounts at 25 March 1806 show nearly £440 was made from the stallions performing their duty with mares brought in to them in that season. 

Advert for Padnals Stud in Racing Calendar 1806Racing Calendar 1806   

From 1801 to March 1809, the horses sent to India were: 7 stallions, 6 mares, 26 colts, and 7 fillies.  In August 1804 a special stable was constructed on the upper deck of the ship Lord Keith for a prize stallion.  The Company directors were dismayed when ‘young Comus, one of the most valuable horses that could be procured in this country for the purpose of improving the breed in India’ was lost by carelessness when being transferred to a country ship soon after his arrival at Bombay.

There were concerns about inadequate management of the stud farm at Pusa in Bengal, so William Moorcroft sailed to India late in 1807 to superintend affairs.  It appears that Padnals was maintained by the Company until 1817 when Samuel Yull was given a pension of £80 per annum, and William Holmes, who had care of the colts, £40 per annum. Assistant groom James Craggs returned to his job as labourer in the Company tea warehouses with a pension of 5s per week.  After Yull’s death in 1824, his widow Olivia continued to receive half his pension.

Georgina Green
Independent researcher

Further reading:
East India Company Stud Papers 1794-1851- IOR/L/MIL/5/459-467
Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors  - IOR/B
Padnals property transactions IOR/L/L/2/1 pp.844-849
Garry Alder, Beyond Bokhara. The Life of William Moorcroft, Asian Explorer and Pioneer Veterinary Surgeon 1767-1825 (London, 1985)
 

17 March 2020

Mr. Coryate’s shoes

I have come across an intriguing 17th-century book titled Coryats Crudities, written by Thomas Coryate (1577?-1617), and illustrated with satirical prints.  Coryate (also spelt as Coryat) was an entertainer to Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).  In 1608 he undertook a five-month journey in continental Europe, and this book, published in 1611 and dedicated to the Prince, gives a detailed account of his travels.

Frontispiece engraving from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; frontispiece, engraving Noc

The text on the frontispiece illustration informs the reader that Coryate visited France, the Duchy of Savoy, Italy, Switzerland, Rhaetia (the canton of Graubünden, now in Switzerland), Germany and the Netherlands.  It features the author’s portrait at the age of 35, engraved by William Hole, flanked by eleven amusing images of his adventures.  These included being sick on board of a ship (top left), being carried in a chair on poles upon the shoulders of two men in the French mountains (centre left), and a Venetian courtesan hurling eggs at him from a window as he passes by in a gondola (centre right).

Woodcut of shoes from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; Coryate’s shoes, woodcut, leaf k 4 recto Noc

Even more unexpected is the second illustration: a pair of shoes, encircled by a laurel wreath.  Printed above and below are prose and a verse in Latin by Henry Peacham, commemorating Coryate and the iconic shoes he wore while walking for 900 miles of his 1,975-mile journey across Europe.  This type of ‘lachet’ shoe had two leather tongues with holes in them for shoelaces.  Coryat’s shoes were strengthened with pieces of horn, and he tells us in the book that he had them mended only once - in Zurich.  Humorous verses, printed at the start of the volume and written by numerous authors in response to Coryate’s request, mention his shoes 32 times!

After returning to his beloved home village, Odcombe in Somerset, Coryate asked for permission to display his shoes inside the local Church of St Peter and St Paul, as a sort of thanksgiving for his safe trip.  They hung there until 1702, went lost in the 1860s, but have been replaced by a replica pair, carved in stone.

The book was popular with contemporary readers, and the British Library holds four copies, with shelfmarks C.152.e.5., C.32.e.9., 152.f.19 and G.6750.  This last copy was presented by Coryate himself to Henry, Prince of Wales.

The ‘Odcombian Legge-stretcher’ (as he referred to himself) embarked on further travels in 1612, spending time in Turkey and the Holy Land.  In 1615 he travelled from Aleppo in Syria to India, walking over 3000 miles.  He kept recording his experiences during these journeys, periodically sending back manuscript notes to England.  He died of dysentery in Surat, Gujarat, India, in December 1617.  His surviving notes were published, providing a unique insight into the lives of people in these countries through the eyes of an early English traveller.

Marianne Yule
Curator of Prints & Drawings
British Library Western Heritage Collections

Further reading
Frederic George Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Division I. Political and Personal Satires. Vol. I. The Trustees, 1870, Satires No.75 and 77, pp. 39-42; shelfmark 1572/628
Biographical entry for Coryate, Thomas (1577?-1617), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Farah Karim-Cooper, Strangers in the city: the cosmopolitan nature of 16th-century Venice, 2016
Description of the Jewish Ghetto and the courtesans of Venice in Coryate's Crudities, 1611

 

05 March 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Three: imprisonment for insurrection in the Channel Islands

This is the final blog of a series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

The following experience took place in the only part of the British Isles occupied by Germany during the Second World War: the Channel Islands.  The present account has been revealed from a letter dating from 1954, almost a decade after the conclusion of the War.  It was sent from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers, a retired HM Consul, who was 65 years old when he was incarcerated.  He was sentenced and imprisoned in France, before being moved to Germany.


Why was he interned?  Apparently, he was guilty of stirring up an insurrection.  Furthermore, he admits that he had been helping and would continue to help the ‘Resistance’.  More detail is given in a book he wrote while in prison, The Brigadier.  He refused to believe in the fall of Singapore, and repeatedly told others ‘Do not be believing them: it is all lies together’.  Therefore, he was deemed ‘a man so dangerous that the Court dare not let me run loose’.  He would not do so until VE day, when he was liberated by the US Army.

First page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod FerrersThe first page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers  – Add MS 89060.

Unlike other accounts which reflect on hardship in captivity, Ferrers writes little of the conditions, instead emphasising his thoughts on the German people.  He comments that the common man had little power but to go along with the machinations of the state, stating that ‘After a phase of indiscriminate indignation I found it possible to confine my resentment to the real ruffians, and to feel some sympathy with the decent man, of whom there were plenty, who could hardly do otherwise than play into their hands’.

Instead, he lays the blame firmly on the Gestapo.  Ferrers does not disguise his scorn for them, arguing that ‘The Gestapo was a stench in the nostrils of every decent man: and among the Germans there were as many decent men as anywhere else’.  He writes that the group ‘hardly concealed its contempt’ for the German courts, manned as they were by the common people.  Throughout the short four-page letter, Ferrers repeatedly emphasises how ordinary citizens were effectively powerless, ‘Called up, willy-nilly, from their own affairs, they were compelled to do what they much disliked’.  Rather than blaming them for his years of imprisonment, as many understandably would, he sympathises with them.

Final page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod FerrersThe final page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers  – Add MS 89060.

This empathetic outlook (written while Britain still had rationing because of the War!) is an uncommon find.  Indeed, Ferrers finishes the letter noting how he has been ‘surprised to find how many people are surprised at my point of view’.  While recent understandings of Nazi Germany have emphasised the normality of life for the common people in the fascist regime, Ferrers already understood this, despite his experiences.  He argued that the German people were not the real enemy – but Hitler and the Gestapo.

Ferrars died less than a year after sending this letter, on 6 March 1955 in Brighton.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University.  His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Further Reading:
Add MS 89060 - Letter from V. M. Ferrers to Sir Amberson [Barrington Marten].
Gilly Card, Vyvyan Macleod Ferrers
Vyvyan Ferrers, The Brigadier (London: Art & Educational Publishers Ltd, 1948).

 

27 February 2020

A Ship-Board Romance: Lucia Green and Captain Luke Dodds

In December 1807, Miss Lucia Green boarded the East India Company ship Walmer Castle, bound for St Helena and a new life with her fiancé, the naturalist William John Burchell.  By the time the ship arrived in April 1808, Lucia had decided to break off her engagement.  And the reason for her change of heart?  During the voyage on the cramped East Indiaman, Lucia had fallen in love with the ship's Captain, Luke Dodds.  Burchell was devastated and never married. But what happened to Lucia and her Captain?

View of the Island of St Helena 1806 View of the Island of St Helena 1806 - Maps K.Top.117.131.e  Images Online

According to the journal of the Walmer Castle, Lucia disembarked at the Cape of Good Hope in June 1808.  In July 1809, she boarded the Warley at the Cape, and reached St Helena in August.  Captain Luke also returned to St Helena that summer, which must have been distressing for William Burchell.  The Walmer Castle arrived back in England in September 1809.  It must have still been love for the reunited Lucia and Luke, because they married in Lingfield, Surrey on 29 May 1810.

Passenger list of the Walmer Castle Passenger list of the Walmer Castle IOR/L/MAR/B/181F

Luke Dodds was 20 years older than Lucia when they met.  He was born in Heworth, near Newcastle in 1768.  He went to sea aged 11 or 12, working the Northumberland coast as a seaman before finding work on the EIC ship Sulivan in 1785.  He worked variously as quartermaster, gunner’s mate, and boatswain on EIC ships on the China run, interspersed with voyages to the West Indies, becoming 1st mate on the Walmer Castle in 1798.  By 1805 he was Captain, and was to stay with the Walmer Castle on its runs to China via India until 1813.  It was a rapid rise, and Dodds would have made a comfortable amount of money on the way during his East India Company voyages.

Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping - entry for Luke Dodds

Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping - entry for Luke DoddsIOR/L/MAR/C/659 Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping. Entry for Luke Dodds, pp.120-121.

The Dodds had two children - Henry Luke, born 5 February 1811, in Woodford, Essex, and Lucia, baptised Hastings, Sussex, 5 July 1815.  By the 1841 census Luke and Lucia were living comfortably in Hythe, Hampshire.  A magistrate, an 'Esquire' and a man of independent means, Luke Dodds died on 28 February 1849, aged 80.  He lived to see his daughter Lucia marry Graham Eden William Hamond on 7 December 1843.  She married well, Hamond being the son of Admiral Sir Graham Eden Hammond.  Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived as tragedy struck when Hamond died at Woolwich on 23 January 1847 while in command of the steam-sloop Medea.  They had a daughter, Elizabeth Anne, and a son Graham Eden, an officer in the 7th Hussars, who died in 1872.  Elizabeth Ann married the Reverend John Henry Good, vicar of Hythe, in 1879.  Their son Cecil Henry Brent Good was born in April 1880.  In 1948, his daughter (and novelist) Cecily Good, great grand-daughter of Luke and Lucia, married Sir Basil Gould, becoming Lady Gould in the process.

Luke and Lucia's son Henry Luke Dodds never married.  He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and gained an MA from Cambridge in 1843.  He was vicar of Great Glen (or Glenn), Leicestershire from 1855 until his death in May 1886.  By the 1871 census his mother Lucia was living with him in the vicarage.  She died there on 6 November 1878 age 90 and was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert's Church.  Her headstone records her date of birth as 7 July 1788, meaning she was just 19 when she met Captain Dodds on that fateful journey to St Helena.  Lucia's headstone reads 'Dearly Beloved and Longed For' and the burial register is annotated (presumably by Henry Dodds) 'eheu! desideratissima' (Alas! Most longed for).  William Burchell may well have agreed.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading
IOR/L/MAR/B/181F: Log of the Walmer Castle, October 1807-November 1809
IOR/L/MAR/B/182H: Log of the Warley, April 1807-October 1809

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part One and Part Two

 

11 February 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Two: an album created by a Prisoner of War in Italy

Here is the second of a multi-part series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

Internment was often a negative experience, but here is something positive which came out of it - a scrapbook put together by British prisoner of war W. “Bill” Millett interned in Rezzanello, Italy.  His regiment was captured in early 1941 while in Africa.  The album features contributions from various men in the camp, Britons, Australians, Indians, and others.  The entries include poems, prose, sketches and even watercolours, showing the talents of these prisoners of war. Bill was evidently held in high regard by others in the camp. Londoner Captain S.G.M. Wright sarcastically reflects:

‘When I look back on these days,
I shall remember you Bill,
With your peculiar annoying ways,
Which, I see you possess still.’

There are 53 contributions, many providing an insight into life in the camp.  One concerns food: ‘The burial of one more (breakfast) at Rezzanello’. The author longs for eggs, bacon, and coffee.  Another regards gambling: ‘Smoke filled eyes and tongues all furry, scarcely seeing in the gloom, Knights of the Round Table, see them, in the castle anteroom.’  Perhaps the most insightful is this two-page drawing showing important times of day, including waiting for the toilet:

‘Another Day’ - sketches by Arthur Powell‘Another Day’ by Arthur Powell, 13 December 1941 – Add MS 89265

The illustrations include sketches of men, women, children, regiment logos, and even two watercolours of horses.  Horse racing is a theme which consistently appears throughout the album, generally with the jaded pessimism of experienced gamblers.  Most however, appear when the contributors ask Bill to come and see them after the War.  This belief that the War will be over soon persists throughout.

While most contributions are written in English, the album contains prose in other languages too.  One man wrote a couplet in Persian which he saw in Delhi, which he (doubtfully) ascribes to Firdawsi; it contains a few mistakes and is composed in reality by Amīr Khusrau Dehlavī.  Another man gave a short passage in Morse Code:

Couplet in Persian Giles Farmer, 27 January 1942 - Add MS 89265                                  

 

Passage in Morse CodeL.Canty [undated] - Add MS 89265

Dickie Findlay-Shirras of the Gordon Highlanders takes the prize for most impressive prose, writing in a combination of English, French, Italian and German!
 

Message in a combination of English, French, Italian and GermanDickie Findlay-Shirras [undated] - Add MS 89265

Unsurprisingly, many entries contain philosophical thinking on the effects of internment.  Perhaps Major Brian Ashford-Russell says it best, identifying the positive outcomes of their imprisonment:

‘If our forced sojourn in Italy
has taught us tolerance… given us a better understanding
of the problems and comradeship
of the members of the great-
British Commonwealth, then the
Days will not have been wasted
And we may regard ourselves
As making a real contribution
To the peace, if not to the war.'

The album is not a typical prisoner of war diary.  Judging from the album, men interned at Rezzanello appear to have been treated leniently and with relative freedom.  Major H.A. Moorley, nicknamed Sinbad the Sailor, should have the last word:


 ‘And if ever in the afterwards,
I am called upon again,
To languish in a prison camp,
in sun or snow or rain,
I hope that arrangements are made,
By the Powers that Be to see,
That the same eight cheeky blighters,
Are in a room with me.’

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
Add MS 89265 - Album of W. (Bill) Millett, Rezzanello prisoner of war camp, Italy.
BBC News, ‘An Italian adventure’   17 October 2005
Charles Rollings, Prisoner Of War: Voices from Behind the Wire in the Second World War (2007) (especially pp.272-281).
The Memory Project, ‘Veteran Stories: Arthur Powell’ 
 

05 February 2020

Garrod Family Papers

A recent addition to the collections of India Office Private Papers has been fully catalogued and is now available to researchers.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj.

The Garrod family in 1933 - parents with two small children  The Garrod Family in 1933-  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Noc

William was born in Bristol in 1893.  He served in France with the Worcestershire Regiment from 1915 until 1918, and in India and the Middle East with a Punjab Regiment until 1922.  On returning to England, he studied history and theology at Queens College, Oxford, where he met Isobel who worked in the Bursary at the College.  They got engaged in August 1926, and were married two years later in July 1928.  The collection contains a lovely group of correspondence between them from this period, which was featured in an earlier Untold Lives blog .  In 1930, they travelled to India on William’s appointment as a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment.  They spent the next ten years raising a family, while William worked in various parishes across northern India.

Army identity card for William Garrod Army identity card for William Garrod -  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Noc

Photograph of William Garrod in Army uniformWilliam Garrod -  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Noc

In 1941, William returned to military service as a chaplain in the Indian Army, being posted to Iraq and Syria with the 10th Indian Division.  In 1943, he was promoted to Assistant Chaplain General, first with Eastern Command, then with the Southern Army.  He returned to civil duty in January 1946, and the family returned to England later that year on William’s retirement from the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment.

Letter from Isobel Garrod  April 1941 Letter from Isobel Garrod April 1941 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Noc

The collection contains a large amount of family correspondence.  William and Isobel wrote regularly to each other whenever they were apart, particularly when he was on active service during the Second World War.  The importance of keeping in touch with family through writing letters was made clear by William in a file in the collection (shelfmark Mss Eur F730/2/12).  In a short article sent to all Chaplains in the Southern Army, William highlighted the importance of letter writing for the morale of the men in the Army overseas.

Article on the importance of letter writing by William GarrodArticle on the importance of letter writing by William Garrod  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Noc


Also included in the collection are files of demi-official correspondence relating to William’s war work as Assistant Chaplain General, maps of the Middle East, printed papers (including instruction guides for officers during the First World War, and papers on Christian teaching and prayer), and albums of family photographs illustrating their life in India.

The Garrod Family Papers are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: Mss Eur F730

 

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

On 3 February 1908 the Swansea Empire was offering a varied bill of entertainment – music, magic, comedy, ventriloquism, the American Bioscope, and La Freya ‘The Parisian Beauty, in a Novel Speciality’.

Theatre bill for Swansea February 1908South Wales Daily Post 3 February 1908 British Newspaper Archive

 

La Freya was a French vaudeville performer whose act consisted of ‘artistic visions and superb poses’.  She appeared at theatres the length and breadth of Britain between the years 1907 and 1915.  In 1909 she was on the bill at the Euston Theatre of Varieties which stood opposite St Pancras Station, a stone’s throw from the British Library’s present site.  

 
 
Euston Theatre of VarietiesEuston Theatre of Varieties from The Era 16 June 1900 British Newspaper Archive 

Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties April 1909Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties from Music Hall And Theatre Review 2 April 1909

Taking the stage, La Freya stood on a podium in front of a black velvet curtain, dressed in a thin white silk body suit.  Her body was used as a screen.  She adopted a variety of poses as her husband projected lantern slides he had painted to ‘clothe’ her.  The ‘Decors Lumineux of Mr La Freya’ transformed her into visions such as a fairy, a butterfly, a mermaid, a gondolier, and a Scottish Highlander in full warpaint. 
  Full-length portrait photograph of La Freya

Portrait photograph of La Freya by Antoni Esplugas - Government of Catalonia, National Archive of Catalonia courtesy of  Europeana

La Freya and her husband had developed the act when they were working at the Folies Bergère in Paris.  The act lasted for ten minutes and the strain of standing still made La Freya sick when she first performed it.  She overcame this, although the lights continued to hurt her eyes.

The couple went to England intending to stay for just one season but ended up staying for several years, apparently because their management would not let them leave.  However La Freya and her husband did travel abroad for short seasons.  For example, from September to December 1910 they were in the United States, captivating audiences in New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 via findmypast Copyright: 'Fair Use' allowed (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

They sailed to South Africa in June 1911 with other performers to fulfil engagements with Sydney Hyman at the Empire in Johannesburg.  By September La Freya was back on the London stage.

In June 1912 ‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were passengers on SS Medina to Australia.  They appeared in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane and the act was well-received.  A special tableau was created – the personification of Australia with Sydney Town Hall in the background.

The Australian press was keen to interview the couple.  La Freya spoke to journalists in English with her husband acting as interpreter.  She came from the south of France and her husband, identified as Monsieur La Mort, from Paris.  The Sydney Sunday Times  published a special illustrated feature on La Freya’s fitness regime, with advice on how to achieve a corsetless figure through ten or fifteen minutes’ exercise every day.

‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were bound by contracts for two more years and were aiming to make as much money as possible.  Then they planned to retire whilst La Freya was still a big name in vaudeville.  She wanted to concentrate on setting up a house and garden in the south of France, whilst her husband intended to shoot and fish.

It seems that La Freya disappears from the newspapers in early 1915.  So did she retire to lead a quiet life far away from the public gaze?  Can anyone tell me what happened to ‘the most perfectly formed woman in the universe’?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
Trove newspapers from Australia
Anita Callaway, Visual ephemera – Theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia (2000)

 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs