Untold lives blog

174 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

24 May 2022

Hidden Letters: When Documents Contain a Surprise

One of the responsibilities of an archival cataloguer is attempting to determine the provenance of the documents they work with, how each document came into being, and the journey it went on before arriving at the archive.  In some cases this can be a relatively easy task: details of provenance may be clearly recorded, either within the document itself or externally.  But occasionally a document is discovered somewhere entirely unexpected, sometimes even within a collection which the archive has held for many years.  Just last year a previously unknown letter by Giacomo Casanova was discovered inside a copy of his Memoirs held by the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.  The letter was written to his nephew in 1791, but the volume it was inside wasn’t published until 1833, 35 years after his death.  How and when it ended up there has gone unrecorded, but there is at least an obvious reason for an association between these two documents.  A similar situation involving two documents held by the British Library cannot be simply explained by any such thematic link, and appears to be a connection that came about completely at random.

Inscription at the start of the journal of the ship SandwichInscription at the start of the journal of the Sandwich, inside which hides a document from 75 years later (1755), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 2, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/B/606C is a journal of a return voyage by the East India Company ship Sandwich from England to India and Mocha in 1753-55, one of hundreds of similar documents within the India Office Records covering trading voyages from the 17th-19th centuries.  But nestled between its pages is what seems to be an entirely unrelated piece of paper, containing copies of four testimonial references written in 1830 for the then newly-qualified English doctor Alfred Swaine Taylor (IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, ff. 98-99).  This is by no means an insignificant document, the references come from some of the most respected physicians of their day: Honoratus Leigh Thomas, recently retired as President of the Royal College of Surgeons; Joseph Henry Green, Professor of Anatomy at both the RCS and the Royal Academy; Thomas Addison, a celebrated diagnostician who would go on to be the first to describe conditions including Addison’s disease and pernicious anaemia; and Sir Astley Cooper, another former President of the RCS who was renowned for his pioneering treatments of aneurysms and hernias.  What it does not contain is anything directly relevant to an ocean voyage 75 years earlier.

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor by Maull & Polyblank NPG Ax87530 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

However, there is a slight connection between the two documents.  Taylor’s father was Thomas Rumbold Taylor, a captain with the East India Company, and though the journey recorded in the Sandwich’s journal is too early for him to have been involved with, he did captain the EIC ship Glory on a voyage to India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka] in 1803-05, for which the journal is preserved as IOR/L/MAR/B/295A.  Is this connection mere coincidence, or might a researcher have inadvertently cross-contaminated the records while looking into this very link?  Might Taylor himself have mislaid his references while researching his father’s profession?  If this was the case his prospects do not appear to have suffered, he would be appointed Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at Guy’s Hospital, London, the following year, and go on to a distinguished career in toxicology and forensic medicine.  As for how the document ended up where it is, we will likely never know.

Testimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley CooperTestimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley Cooper (1830), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 98v, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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

Further reading:
Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

 

17 May 2022

The Society of the Double Cross

In the archives of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library, I found a letter from 1963 sent by Philip Swann to the Honorary Secretary R A Skelton.  Swann had worked as a cartographer in Venezuela in the 1930s and was now living in retirement in New Zealand.

In Venezuela, Swann was introduced by a Scottish mining engineer to a family who produced a curious bundle of documents from a secret society known as La Socied de la Doble Cruz.  The papers referred to hordes of booty hidden across a multitude of exotic hideaways.  They mentioned legendary figures such as Montezuma and Henry Morgan and promised, should the strange hieroglyphics throughout the document be understood, potential lost fortunes might be recovered.  ‘The papers were found in the shape of a ball covered with (bitumen) fastened with two gold pins. There was also ten small bars of gold, one semi-precious stone, four minted coins very poorly done… four or five weights (presumably for weighing gold) a bundle of papers wrapped in a sort of wax…’

Hieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip SwannHieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip Swann MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 f.111


Swann said he had been sworn to absolute secrecy and, even 30 years later, felt obliged to ask that the matter be treated as confidential.  He asked the Hakluyt Society for advice on who might take up the research: ‘Even now, I still feel there is a glimmer of truth in it all, and it is worthy of investigation’.  He attached a list of sixteen things which should be explored, including the Booty of Mexico, activities on Lake Maracaibo, the Secrets of the Vulgate, and buried treasure on the Island of Cuanacoco.

Some of the events Swann writes about can be traced in other collection items at the British Library.  Morgan’s raid on Maracaibo was well documented in the 1678 publication Bucaniers of America by Alexandre Exquemelin, which is littered with enticing clues connected to the papers.

Portrait of Captain Henry Morgan set against a background with shipsCaptain Henry Morgan from A. O. Exquemelin, Bucaniers of America, or, A true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French (London, 1684)

Elsewhere I discovered further tantalising leads.  Famed shipwreck salvager and treasure hunter Arthur McKee had a history of success discovering riches of bygone eras.  In his journals, McKee documented a curious excursion: ‘I was contacted by two men from Venezuela who stated they wished to discuss with me some strange markings found on some old documents. These documents were discovered at an old house in Venezuela which had been torn down’.

McKee described manuscripts inscribed on a skin-like material and leather, dated as early as 1557, which referred to ‘The organisation of the Doble Cruz’.  He spoke of the same strange hieroglyphs mentioned by Swann.  His translations mirrored those of Swann in a fashion beyond mere coincidence, with just enough translation discrepancies to suggest this wasn’t a copy of earlier research.  He appeared to be witnessing the same original documents.

In 1976 McKee organised an expedition.  The Forte La Tortuga was a supposed pirate fortress located 110 miles off the Venezuela coast.  McKee and two academics were transported to the deserted island by helicopter.  The expedition was doomed.  Injury and disorientation led to a very real fight for survival.  Rescued by the army ten days later, the quest was abandoned.

La Orden de la Doble Cruz still exists.  Based in Venezuela, a branch of the Knights Templar Illuminati Order fly the flag of the Double Cross, their legitimacy ‘evidenced by authentic ancient documents that rest in this city of Maracaibo, in our beloved country Venezuela’.

Craig Campbell
Formerly Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records
@archaeodad

Further reading:
MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 Correspondence addressed to the Honorary Secretary of the Hakluyt Society, R.A. Skelton. ff 108-111 Letter from Philip Swann. 1963.
British Library Add MS 36330 Venezuela Papers. Vol. XVII. (ff. 345). 1653-1680. ff. 317, 332 Captain Henry Morgan: News of his design to surprise Cartagena: Madrid, 18 Mar. Spanish. 1676.
British Library Add MS 12428-12430 A Collection of Tracts relating to the Island of Jamaica, from 1503 to 1680. Journal kept by Col. William Beeston, from his first coming to Jamaica, 1655-1680.
British Library Sloane MS 2724 Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle: Collection of his papers and letters: 17th cent. f. 1 Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Morgan, Deputy-Governor and Commander in Chief of Jamaica: Proclamation conc. the Royal African Company: 1680/1
British Library RB.23.b.6178 Bucaniers of America: or, a true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies, by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French… London : printed for William Crooke, at the Green Dragon without Temple-bar. A. O Exquemelin, (Alexandre Olivier) 1684.

 

25 April 2022

The Prayer Book of a Queen: Isabella of Castile and Inquisitorial Culture in Late Medieval Spain

In the British Library’s illuminated manuscript collection lies the breviary of Isabella of Castile, queen of Spain alongside her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, in the late 15th century.  This breviary, much like Isabella’s book of hours that is held by the Cleveland Museum of Art in the United States, was designed to be used by Isabella on a daily basis to recite daily prayers and record the lives of saints.  Beyond its daily function as a prayer book, what can this book tell us about Isabella herself?  What can it tell us about religious life in late medieval Castile, particularly for Jews and Muslims living in Isabella’s domains?

The month of January as depicted in the calendar section of the manuscriptThe month of January as depicted in the calendar section of the manuscript (MS 18851, c. 1497)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

To place this manuscript in its 1497 context, we must first travel back to 1494 when Pope Alexander VI (born Rodrigo Borgia of Valencia) bestowed both Isabella and Ferdinand with the title ‘The Catholic Kings’ following their annexation of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada in 1492.  This title came to characterise the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand since quickly after the extension of their rule into Granada, the Muslim and Jewish residents of Iberia were made to convert to Latin Christianity or leave the peninsula entirely.  Many travelled to the Americas to live in Iberian controlled territories in North and South America, while others fled to the Ottoman Empire or the North African coast.  For those that did remain, called conversos in Castilian Spanish, life under Isabella and Ferdinand was tumultuous as the establishment of the ‘heretical’.  Their religious practices, dress, interactions with their neighbours, and daily lives were scrutinised by the Inquisition in violent and, often, deadly ways.

The coat of arms of Isabella and FerdinandThe coat of arms of Isabella and Ferdinand Digitised Manuscripts (bl.uk)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

What, then, does MS 18851 have to do with this history of religious persecution and violence?  Like the books of hours and breviaries of other Iberian monarchs, notably of Alfonso V of in the British Library’s collection, they were crafted both for personal use and for performance since these manuscripts were often shared at court and read among the ladies of a queen’s household.  Since Isabella’s breviary was not only for her eyes, its importance as a symbol for her piety and position as a ‘Catholic Monarch’ meant that it embodied the social, political, and religious violence occurring in late 15th century Iberia since she used books, artwork, architecture, and dress to perform the role of the Catholic Queen.  While those within her domains were forced to convert and tried before the Inquisition, Isabella’s books, both the breviary and the book of hours, were symbols of her position as a Christian ruler for her own subjects and courtesans, and for those that flip through its digitised pages at the British Library today.

Jessica Minieri
Doctoral Researcher in the Department of History at Binghamton University

Further Reading:
Catlos, Brian A. Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, c. 1050-1614. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Downey, Kirstin. Isabella: The Warrior Queen. New York: Doubleday, 2014.
Edwards, John. Isabella of Castile: Spain’s Inquisitor Queen. Tempus Publishing, 2005.
García-Arenal, Mercedes, Gerard Wiegers, Consuela López-Morillas, and Martin Beagles, eds. The Expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain: A Mediterranean Diaspora. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
Piera, Montserrat. Women Readers and Writers in Medieval Iberia: Spinning the Text. Leiden: Brill, 2019.

This blog post is part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs). On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

21 April 2022

The Archive of the Hakluyt Society

The Hakluyt Society is a subscription organisation whose aim is to advance scholarship by producing scholarly and academic editions relating to historic voyages, travels, and works of geographical interest, from both printed and manuscript sources.  The Society was founded in 1846 and is named in honour of Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616), the Elizabethan collector, writer, and editor of geographical literature who is particularly remembered for works relating to the exploration of North America.  Originally the Hakluyt Society published works relating to travel before 1700, but over the years the Society has expanded its scope beyond that date and extended its work to conferences, lectures, and the award of grants and prizes.

Four volumes of leather-bound Council Minutes after conservationMss Eur F594/1/3-4: Hakluyt Society Council Minutes, 1965-1987. These minutes have been conserved and rebound with the financial assistance of the Hakluyt Society. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We are pleased to announce that the archive of the Hakluyt Society is now catalogued as part of the India Office Private Papers and available to researchers.  Descriptions can be found via the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, and researchers can consult material in our Asian and African Studies Reading Room.  The Hakluyt Society has had many links with the India Office and its predecessor the East India Company over the years.  Its Presidents Sir Henry Yule, Sir William Foster and Sir Gilbert Laithwaite all served at the India Office, Foster being one of the Hakluyt Society’s longest serving Officers as President from 1928-1945, and Vice-President from 1945-1951.  The Society has also had long-term connections with the Map Room and the Department of Printed Books first at the British Museum and subsequently at the British Library.  Hakluyt Presidents with British Library connections include Edward Lynam, Charles F. Beckingham and Sarah Tyacke.

Hakluyt Society Presidents -Sir Henry Yule, Sir William Foster and Sir Gilbert LaithwaiteImages © National Portrait Gallery, London – from left to right: Sir Henry Yule by Theodore Blake Wirgman (1881) NPG D23052; Sir William Foster by Bassano Ltd (1929) NPG x81132; Sir (John) Gilbert Laithwaite by Howard Coster (1927) NPG Ax2276 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The archive contains papers relating to the running of the Society, including signed Council Minutes, Committee papers, administrative records and financial papers, and correspondence and other papers generated by the work of the Society's various Honorary Secretaries.  These include Raleigh A. Skelton - known as Peter (who worked in the Department of Printed Books and then the Map Room at the British Library), the geographer Eila Campbell (Birkbeck College, University of London), and the geographer Terence E. Armstrong (Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University).

The bulk of the archive relates to the Hakluyt Society's activities in the 20th century, and particularly in the period after the Second World War.  Some 19th century materials do survive, including the Society's Record Book from 1846, Council minutes from its first meeting in 1847, printed Annual Reports from 1849, and some correspondence with contributors from the 1890s.  A significant amount of the later material relates to proposals for volumes (not always completed or published) together with correspondence with the Society's contributors.  These include significant publications for the Society, such as The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery… (Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1955-1974).  Other material relates to the relationship between the Hakluyt Society its publishers and distributors.  There is only limited material relating to individual members of the Society, and these include published membership lists, and subscription accounts.  The Hakluyt Society archive also contains some manuscript and original material collected by or deposited with the Society.

Lesley Shapland,
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F594 Archive of the Hakluyt Society
The History of the Hakluyt Society by Raymond John Howgego

 

19 April 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


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

 

Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season

 

28 February 2022

John Sanderson’s horrible housemates

The Levant Company clerk John Sanderson had arrived in Istanbul on 12 March 1592.  However, something had changed in the behaviours and manners of the English residents since his first being there.  Sanderson wrote that there had been a ‘great alteration; frome serving God devoutly and drinking puer water, nowe to badness stoutly and much wine (the witts hater).’  In Sanderson’s absence the embassy had been taken over by Edward Barton and Sanderson now had to decide whether to move in with him.  Despite his reservations, the benefits – and probably also savings– were too great to forego Barton’s offer.

Sanderson_title pageTitle page of John Sanderson's commonplace book British Library Lansdowne MS 241 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in 1560 John Sanderson is a rare example of an early modern man of trade who wrote a record of his life.  His miscellaneous commonplace book is held in the British Library manuscript collection (BL Lansdowne MS 241).  His short ‘autobiography’, entitled by its author ‘a record of the birthe and fortunes of John Sanderson, alias Bedic’, noted down not only Sanderson’s illnesses, fortunes and misfortunes, but also and very keenly, his many judgments (‘censures’) about other people.  And there were loads of them.

Reading Sanderson’s account, anyone who has ever been stuck in a riotous house-share with horrible house-mates will soon start to feel sympathy.  Sanderson claims that the ambassador Barton ‘vexed me to my very soule,’ although his foremost adversary seems to have been William Aldrich, who Sanderson claims to have ‘stealingly’ struck him.  After Sanderson struck him back the ambassador Barton himself ‘laid his fists one my face for so doinge, and confined me to my chamber.’  After all these fisticuffs Barton sent a stern letter to Sanderson’s room, threatening to deport him back home to England.  After the altercation Aldrich refused to dine in the same table with Sanderson and complained that he ‘outlooked him'.  Ill-will continued for some time, although the ambassador eventually tried to make amends by gifting Sanderson ‘a redd velvett goune wch the Gran Sigr had vested him with before he kiste his hand'.  Additional proof of this reconciliation was that Sanderson later acted as the ambassador’s deputy when Barton famously, and somewhat notoriously, accompanied the Ottoman sultan Mehmet III to his wars in Hungary.  However, the scuffles continued between Sanderson, Aldrich, and the steward of the house.

Based on his writings, Sanderson was a keen observer of the faults of other people.  He listed all the names or sometimes the initials of his ‘frenemies’, saying that ‘many other agreevances and discontents passed whilst I was ther, in comp of Bushell, Aldrich, Mons, Wragg, Rivers, Babington’...  The animosities between Sanderson and the two Aldrich brothers, William and Jonas, were explained by the different ‘conditions and qualities’ of the men, whereas the differences between Sanderson and Barton were probably due to breaching social hierarchies and trying to police Barton’s behaviour too much (possibly due to toxic masculine bravado).  Sanderson gave all these men derogatory nicknames ranging from ‘wicked athiesticall knave’ to ‘poysoner’ and ‘whoremonger’ and continued to record their deaths with no small amount of glee.

The selected texts from this old ledger volume bought by Sanderson’s father were edited by William Foster, the then president of the Hakluyt Society and published in 1931.  You can find this fascinating manuscript as part of the Lansdowne collection.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg
Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, and Art Studies, University of Helsinki
(eva.holmberg@helsinki.fi)


Further reading:
British Library Lansdowne MS 241.
The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant 1584-1602. Ed. by William Foster. Hakluyt Society 2nd Series ; No 67. London: Hakluyt Society, 1931.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, ‘‘Passages recollected by memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in seventeenth-century merchants’ life writing’, in Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2021. p. 211-239 (Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel; Vol. 1).

This blog post is the second in a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

24 February 2022

Letters of James Jackson of the Royal Navy – Part 1

An interesting new addition to the India Office Private Papers gives a glimpse into the life of a seaman in the British Royal Navy in the late 18th century.  Little is known about James Jackson other than he was serving aboard HMS Suffolk from 1793 to 1796.  His letters were sent home to his ‘brother and sister’ who were living in Enfield, England at that time.

The first three letters were written at Spithead on 18 November 1793, 5 January 1794 and 19 April 1794 where the Suffolk was being refitted in preparation for sailing with the next fleet to India.  In his first letter he apologises for not writing sooner ‘but was prevented from fulfilling it by our ship’s being unexpectedly ordered to sea’.  He mentions mutual friends, and says ‘I think Brother John Clarkson has met his fate poor fellow in the watery Element as well as Robert or you would have heard some tidings of him before this’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793 - Mss Eur F756 f.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In these letters he enquires anxiously after the health of his sister who he had heard was ill, and reports a rumour that he had heard from an officer who he is friendly with that they will be continuing on to the East Indies, and that they will be attacking islands belonging to the French.  James believes that they will not be returning to England for about two years.  He mentions that if he gets the opportunity he will try to contact their brother William who is in India.  The collection does also include three letters from William Jackson in Calcutta.  He thanks them for paying the postage on their reply to his previous letter as ‘otherwise I could not redeem it at present we have not been paid as it is customary to be the last thing before we sail altho’ we are now quite ready for sea waiting for it’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794 - Mss Eur F756 f.3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In his third letter, on the eve of sailing he wrote: ‘it is a pleasing satisfaction to me to be able to inform you that I leave this country without the least regret and in good health which I hope will be continued till my return both on my part and yours’.  He promises to write whenever he can but warns that it may be eighteen months or longer before they hear from him again.  In May 1794, the Suffolk under the command of Captain Peter Rainier led a convoy of merchant ships to Madras.  During the voyage, James was able to send off a letter home, via the East Indiaman Earl of Wycombe to St Helena, dated 6 June 1794 ‘at sea’: ‘I have this first opportunity embraced to forward you this letter according to your request as also to acquaint you that I am very well.  I might say never better only very warm for we are at this time nearly under the sun….we shall touch at Rio Janario in South America’.  He concludes ‘I wish you well but the boat is waiting alongside so adieu’. We will catch up with James in a forthcoming post.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of the Jackson Family, 1784-1843, British Library shelfmark: Mss Eur F756.
HMS Suffolk

 

14 February 2022

PhD placement opportunity: John Evelyn correspondence

We are now accepting applications for an exciting new PhD Placement opportunity, John Evelyn’s miscellaneous correspondence: making connections. This placement within the Modern Archives and Manuscripts (1600-1950) section is one of 15 placements currently being offered by the British Library, to be completed over three months full time or six months part time between June 2022 and March 2023.

The papers of John Evelyn (1620-1706) and his family are one of the library’s great archive collections. Evelyn, like his friend Samuel Pepys, is best known for his diary, and is regarded as one of the great chroniclers of the seventeenth century. An important figure in the British hub of the republic of letters, he corresponded and wrote widely on scientific, cultural and political issues. Evelyn’s correspondence provides much needed context and flavour to his diaries, and is an invaluable resource for seventeenth century studies.

Portrait of John Evelyn

Portrait of John Evelyn

Following the acquisition of the papers in 1995, extensive arrangement and cataloguing work took place, with the bulk of Evelyn’s incoming letters grouped and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. However, five volumes of ‘single letters or small groups’ were arranged chronologically and have not been fully catalogued and indexed.

The placement student will work to catalogue these five volumes of letters, which cover the period 1637-1705. Initial scoping has revealed letters from the architect Christopher Wren, sculptor Grinling Gibbons, and antiquarian Ralph Thoresby, as well as less well-known correspondents on topics of business, family matters and Evelyn’s Grand Tour of Europe. In addition to letters from correspondents in Amsterdam, Paris and Florence, there appear to be numerous letters relating to Evelyn’s local parish at Wotton in Surrey, representing a broad cross section of society; letters seeking patronage are found alongside petitions from local parishioners.

As an additional task, the student will be asked to select one aspect of the letters – it could be a correspondent, a particular place, event or theme – and explore links and connections on this aspect through the wider Evelyn papers.

Letter from Jane Newton

Add MS 78315, f 2r. Letter from Jane Newton.

The successful candidate will receive an introduction to the work of the Library and the Modern Archives and Manuscripts section, and training will be provided in object handling, archival cataloguing standards and their application in the library’s in-house cataloguing system, IAMS. They will also have the chance to take part in other training events and talks, including Digital Scholarship training sessions and reading group discussions.

Information on eligibility and funding can be found on the placement scheme pages. The deadline for applications is 25 February 2022 (5pm).

We look forward to seeing your applications!

The Modern Archives and Manuscripts Team

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