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208 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

07 September 2023

A Victorian holiday embarrassment

On holiday in Brittany in 1864, a Victorian clergyman from Norwich bravely tested the seaside facilities at St Malo, unfortunately with embarrassing results.

Head and shoulders portrait of Arthur Charles Copeman sporting a large beardPortrait of Arthur Charles Copeman via Wikimedia Commons

Three diaries of the Reverend Canon Arthur Charles Copeman (1824-1896), father of the medical scientist Sydney Monckton Copeman, have recently been added to the British Library’s collections.  Two describe the daily life of an English clergyman, while the third volume details a month-long tour around Brittany with his brother-in-law, seeing the sights.

Two weeks into the trip, the pair walked from Mont Dol to the town of St Malo.  Having secured a room in a local hotel, they made their way down to the beachfront, presumably to refresh themselves after their hot and dusty journey.

View of St Malo with windmills on the shore and boats sailing on the seaView of St Malo from Vues des côtes de France dans l'Ocean et dans la Méditerranée peintes et gravées par M. L. Garneray, decrites par M. Étienne de Jouy. British Library shelfmark: 650.b.7 Images Online

Copeman describes in detail what they discovered at the shore:
‘We found a congeries of little wooden cells ranged on the sea-ward side of a gentle slope which was thronged with ye ladies & gentlemen of S.Malo with whom it appears the favourite and fashionable promenade – and an office for the issue of bathing tickets which was beset with applicants’.
(Congeries, an unfamiliar word, defined by the OED as ‘a collection of things merely massed or heaped together’.)

Having secured a bathing ticket, the pair were pleasantly surprised to find it entitled them to temporary possession of two of the beach huts, together with towels and bathing costumes.

The Reverend was particularly taken with the available attire, enthusing it was ‘of the simplest construction but of imposing & indescribable effect’.  Once within this pair of loose blue shorts and sleeved ‘gaberdine’ top, he thought he would have been unrecognisable to even his closest friends.  However, Copeman believed he and his companion attracted ‘the admiring inspection of the promenade’ as made their way down to the sea.

And yet, their favoured bathing suits would prove to be their undoing.

‘When emerging after a delightful bathe, we found our wondrous costume clinging everywhere tenaciously to the skin & bringing out in strong relief every irregularity of a development somewhat obtrusively bony.’

Shocked by the betrayal of their previously modest attire, the pair ‘took fright & with a leap & a run we regained our dressing houses whence were heard roars of convulsive laughter till we re-appeared in civilised attire’.

Bathing at Brighton - bathers standing in the waves in front of the bathing machines

Bathing at Brighton from George Cruikshank, Cruikshank's sketches British Library shelfmark: RB.23.a.34787 Images Online

It is perhaps reassuring to know that self-consciousness in a bathing costume is not new, and was affecting people nearly 160 years ago.  Fortunately, the Reverend also refers elsewhere in his journal to other occasions when he bathed without incident, away from the prying eyes of a popular promenade, in locations more suitable to the shyer swimmer.

I am pleased to report that Copeman did not let this event dampen his spirits or lessen his opinion of St Malo, as this final quotation demonstrates:
‘Joking apart however no one can fail to be struck with the admirable arrangements here & elsewhere on ye French coast for the enjoyment & safety of the bathers’.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:
Add MS 89721/3 - Journal of the Reverend Arthur Copeman of a walking tour of Brittany, France.

 

22 August 2023

The Hakluyt Society: Publishing in Wartime

In 1946, the Hakluyt Society published the last two volumes in its Second Series, The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires, translated and edited by Armando Cortesão from Portuguese manuscripts in the Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Deputés, Paris.  Correspondence in the Hakluyt Society archive at the British Library reveals just how difficult it was to undertake ‘business as usual’ publishing for the Society during the Second World War, and how difficult it could be for individuals to undertake such work during wartime conditions.

Armando Frederico Zuzarte Cortesão (1891-1977) had been an Olympic sprinter for Portugal, who had then qualified as an agronomist and had worked as a colonial administrator on Sao Tome and Principe before overseeing the Agência Geral das Colónias.  Increasingly interested in history and cartography, Cortesão left Portugal in 1932 for political reasons and did not return until 1952, spending his ‘exile’ in England and France.

First page of typed letter from Cortesão to Edward Lynham, 1 October 1940

Second page of typed letter from Cortesão to Edward Lynham, 1 October 1940Letter from Cortesão to Edward Lynham, 1 October 1940 - Mss Eur F594/6/3/5 f.11r & f.11v

In 1938, Cortesão was working on his transcription of the Tomé Pires codex, alongside translator Margery Withers, and by May 1939 he hoped to have everything ready for publication in early 1940.  The war obviously changed all that.  In September 1939 he informed the Hakluyt Society that he would have to put his work for the Society on hold as he was working both for the BBC and for the Ministry of Information, splitting his time between London and Evesham.  The Society was understanding: 'I fully understand your position and when you began your book nobody foresaw this war' wrote Edward Lynam, although the Council was worried about its ability to produce the books that its members were expecting in return for their subscription.  Letters from both Cortesão and Lynam in October and November 1940, the height of the Blitz, refer to falling bombs and blown out windows.

Despite the practicalities and the call on Cortesão’s time, by the end of 1943 the manuscript was complete, with only Appendices, Foreword, and some notes on maps outstanding.  The Society was writing to publisher Cambridge University Press and casting about for a printer.  CUP couldn’t give any promises due to contract work for Naval Handbooks and with work for HMSO.  Printers Robert Maclehouse and Co. had available paper (the Hakluyt Society had no regular paper ration), but they also had no way of knowing whether they would have available manpower.  Emery Walker agreed to print the plates 'subject to our being able to obtain the paper'. 

First page of typed letter from printers Robert Maclehose & Co, 28 March 1945
Second  page of typed letter from printers Robert Maclehose & Co, 28 March 1945

Letter from printers Robert Maclehose & Co, 28 March 1945 - Mss Eur F594/6/3/5 f.36r & f.36v

The Hakluyt Society was surprised at the length of Cortesão’s notes and asked him to reduce them substantially.  He replied: 'I am tired… I think that the notes cannot bear further cuttings, and I hope that the Council will now find that they are within the limits of reason and that I have done my best to please every body'.  A compromise was reached, and the rest of 1944 was taken up with typesetting and preparation.   In March 1945, the question again arose of the availability of paper for the print run; the book was longer than expected and Cortesão had requested an additional 50 copies which he would pay for.  Maclehose managed to find a few reams of paper from another publication, which caused further issues as it was a different thickness.  At the same time, the Ministry of Supply were insisting that Maclehose reduce their electricity consumption to 75% of their weekly total, while also under pressure to print University Examination Papers 'at the same scale as in peace time'.

Hakluyt Society minutes state that the binders promised delivery of the book by April 1946.  Despite their wartime delay, the volumes were deemed to be the Society’s 1944 publication and distributed to subscribers who received them by June 1946.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading
Hakluyt Society 2/89: The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires / An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, written in Malacca and India in 1512-1515 / and The Book of Francisco Rodrigues / Rutter of a Voyage in the Red Sea, Nautical Rules, Almanack and Maps, Written and Drawn in the East before 1515 / Translated from the Portuguese MS in the Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Deputés, Paris, and Edited by Armando Cortesão. Containing the translated Books I-IV of the Suma Oriental (Hakluyt Society, 1944).
Hakluyt Society 2/90. The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires … Vol. II. 1944. Pages 229-578 + 10 maps, 5 illustrations. Book VI of the Suma Oriental, together with a translation of Rodrigues’ ‘Book’, the entire Portuguese texts, and a letter from Pires to King Manuel, 1516. (Hakluyt Society, 1944).
Mss Eur F594/6/3/5: 'Pires Voyages in the China Sea', Apr 1938-Nov 1945.
Mss Eur F594/1/2 Hakluyt Society Council Minutes, 18 Jul 1923-7 Jan 1965.

 

10 August 2023

Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, and the Secret Treaty of Dover (1670)

Henrietta Anne (1644-1670), Duchess of Orléans and sister to King Charles II, was a key negotiator of an important diplomatic agreement between England and France. In 1670, Charles II and Louis XIV of France signed the Secret Treaty of Dover. Kept hidden from the public, it included Charles’s promise to publicly convert to Catholicism (which never happened) in exchange for vast sums of money, as well as a mutual alliance against the Dutch Republic.

Painted portrait of Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, by Peter LelyHenrietta Anne, Duchess of Orleans, by Sir Peter Lely, around 1662, NPG 6028. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Terms of Use: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The British Library holds a rich volume of papers relating to the Treaty which demonstrates Henrietta’s significant role and is largely written in French.

Henrietta had a brief but extraordinary life. Born in Exeter in 1644, she was quickly whisked away to France because of the English Civil War and raised at the French court. At sixteen, she married Phillippe, Duke of Orléans and brother of Louis XIV. She was highly educated and intelligent, but was embarrassed by her written English and wrote almost exclusively in French.

Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, written in French by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661)Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661). Add MS 33752, f. 3.

In 1669, Charles II wrote a top-secret letter to Louis about the treaty, entrusting its delivery to Henrietta: ‘desireing that this matter might passe through your handes as the person in the world I have most confidence in.’ Charles even sent Henrietta a cipher, so that their correspondence would be totally confidential.

Henrietta was politically invaluable: both exceptionally close with Charles and trusted enough by Louis that he met her almost every day in early 1670 to discuss the negotiations. She provided the link between the two monarchs that allowed Louis to address Charles as ‘monsieur mon frère’ in his letters.

Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, written in 1669Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, 1669. Add MS 65138, f. 47.

Unfortunately, many of Henrietta’s letters were destroyed after her death. One of the most striking surviving documents is her letter to Charles about this ‘grande affaire.’ Henrietta, who was Catholic, refers to Charles’s conversion as ‘le desin de la R’ (‘the design about R’), with R standing for ‘religion.’ She advises Charles at length on finances, the prospect of war in Holland, and Louis’s motives. She even suggests that Charles conceal their scheme from the Pope, since he might die before the planned conversion!

After several pages of confident political discussion, Henrietta signs off with a show of modesty, writing that she only dares to meddle in questions above her station because of her great love for her brother.

A visit to Charles by Henrietta was the cover story for the final stage of the treaty’s formation, and she was personally charged with carrying the French copy back to Louis.

Final protocol of the Treaty of Dover, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II's principal advisorsFinal protocol of the Treaty, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II’s principal advisors. Add MS 65138, f. 91v.

Tragically, Henrietta died just months later at the age of 26. One first-hand account states that she drank a glass of chicory water, a medicinal drink, before collapsing in agony (Stowe MS 191, f. 22). Another account ungenerously insists on her depraved, sinful life, claiming she was poisoned and spent her final moments repenting (Kings MS 140, f. 107).

What we can be sure of is her affection for Charles. She addresses her letter to him uncharacteristically in English: ‘For the King.’

‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles II‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles. Add MS 65138, f. 51v.

Isabel Maloney
PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and PhD placement student in Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Keith Feiling, ‘Henrietta Stuart, Duchess of Orleans, and the Origins of the Treaty of Dover’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 47, No. 188 (Oct., 1932), pp. 642-645.

Cyril Hughes Hartmann, Charles II and Madame (London, 1934).

08 August 2023

William Henry Quilliam – the Victorian solicitor who established Britain’s first mosque

What do the names Abdullah Quilliam, Henri Marcel Léon and Haroon Mustapha Leon have in common?  The answer is that they are all aliases of William Henry Quilliam, 19th century solicitor and convert to Islam.

William Henry Quilliam was born in Liverpool on 10 April 1856.  He was of Manx descent and raised by Wesleyan Methodists.  After training and working as a solicitor, he moved to the Middle East in 1887, where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam.  He returned to England and opened Britain’s first Muslim institute and mosque at 8-10 Brougham Terrace, Liverpool, in 1889.  The site was a place of worship and education, with its own science laboratory and museum.

Quilliam was given the title of sheikh-ul-Islam (leader of the Muslims) of Britain by the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II.  He also found time to edit a series of Islamic periodicals, publishing frequently under the alias H. [Haroon] Mustapha Leon.  A controversial figure in Victorian England, he received backlash for publicly renouncing Christianity, while Brougham Terrace became a target for vandals.  After leaving the UK for a short period he lived on the Isle of Man in the 1910s, changing his name for a third time to Henri Marcel Léon.

Photograph of William Henry Quilliam  alias Abdullah QuilliamWilliam Henry Quilliam, known as Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam. Public Domain

Quilliam is the subject of British Library manuscripts collection Add MS 89684, which has just been catalogued and is now available for research.  The papers in this collection were compiled by Patricia ‘Pat’ Gordon, granddaughter of Quilliam, while conducting research into her grandfather’s life history.  The collection comprises correspondence, newspaper and magazine cuttings, photographs and even a ceremonial silver trowel.  The trowel was presented by the United Methodist Free Churches to Quilliam’s mother, Harriet, on the laying of a memorial stone of the School Chapel, Durning Road, Liverpool, on 20 August 1877.

A ceremonial silver trowel presented to Mrs QuilliamA ceremonial silver trowel presented to Mrs Quilliam Add MS 89684/4/6

During the 1990s, Pat was in regular correspondence with the Abdullah Quilliam Society of Liverpool.  The Society was founded to restore the location of Quilliam’s mosque at Brougham Terrace.  Pat was invited by the Society to unveil a plaque outside the prayer hall on 10 October 1997, in a ceremony which was organised to commemorate Quilliam’s achievements.  Photographs of this event can be found at Add MS 89684/3/2.

Quilliam died in London on 23 April 1932.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Muslim section of Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, not far from the grave of the Islamic scholar and barrister Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872-1953).  It is thanks to the work of Pat Gordon and the Abdullah Quilliam Society that William Henry Quilliam’s mosque and unique history have survived.

George Brierley
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Quilliam, William Henry
Add MS 89684 – Papers relating to Abdullah Quilliam

 

03 August 2023

Reginald Bult and Operation ZO

Nunhead is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries.  It may not have the famous residents of Highgate or Kensal Green, but in among the graves and tombs of local worthies lies that of a sailor who took part in one of the most daring naval raids of World War One.

Reginald Bult’s grave  Nunhead cemeteryReginald Bult’s grave, Nunhead cemetery, © Sarndra Lees, New Zealand, 2015.

Reginald Bult was born in Bermondsey in 1896 and grew up in Peckham, the seventh of nine children of Henry, a railway weighbridge clerk, and Jane.  He worked as a Post Office telegraph messenger and a lift attendant before joining the Royal Navy on his eighteenth birthday, just two months before the start of hostilities.  Within a year he had advanced to Able Seaman and in April 1918 he took part in Operation ZO.  The brainchild of Vice Admiral (later Admiral of the Fleet) Roger Keyes, the plan was to sink obsolete cruisers simultaneously in the harbours at Zeebrugge and Ostend thus preventing German U-boats entering the North Sea from their pens at Bruges.

The operation began on the eve of St George’s Day with Keyes’s signal ‘St George for England’ (to which Capt. Carpenter, commanding HMS Vindictive, replied, ‘May we give the dragon’s tail a damn good twist’).  Reginald was onboard HMS Iris II (a requisitioned Mersey ferry) whose task was to create a diversion by landing Royal Marines and sailors on the mole at Zeebrugge to destroy German guns and cause as much damage as possible.  Iris came under intense fire and most of the raiding party was killed before they even got off the ship.

Reginald Bult’s name in the register of participants in Operation ZOReginald Bult’s name in the register of participants in Operation ZO, Add MS 82500 C.

The operation was only a partial success.  Neither blockship at Ostend obstructed the harbour , and while all three were sunk at Zeebrugge, they were not in the right positions.  The harbour was only out of action for a couple of days.  The Germans simply dredged new channels, allowing naval movements at high tide.

The cost was huge.  Of the 1780 men who took part something like 227 died and 400 were wounded.  Exact figures are difficult to determine as there is no consistency of approach in whether to include the missing among the dead and whether to combine casualties from both sites.  Whichever source one uses, the ratio of casualties to participants was around 1:3. 

Sadly, Reginald is numbered among the dead, dying of his wounds in Dover Military Hospital, his Royal Navy service record marked, poignantly, ‘DD’ – discharged dead.  He was mentioned in dispatches and he was included in the ballot for a Victoria Cross to be awarded to the non-officer ranks in action at the mole – the warrant for the VC allows recipients to be chosen in this way where a body of men is deemed equally brave.

Reginald Bult’s service record
Reginald Bult’s service record, The National Archives ADM 188/691/22432, © Crown copyright, 1908, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Reginald Bult’s mention in dispatches  London Gazette  19 July 1918Reginald Bult’s mention in dispatches, London Gazette, 19 July 1918, Add MS 82503, © Crown copyright, 1918, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Reginald was not chosen. Instead it was fellow Bermondsian Albert McKenzie who was selected, one of eight VCs awarded for the operation.  McKenzie, only nineteen at the time of Operation ZO, was severely wounded in the action.  He recovered but did not live to see peace, succumbing to the 1918 flu pandemic just eight days before the armistice.  He is commemorated with a statue on Tower Bridge Road, a stone’s throw from where he was born, and is buried just a mile from Reginald, in Camberwell Old Cemetery.

Michael St John-Mcalister
Manuscripts Catalogue and Process Manager

Further reading
The Keyes Papers, Add MS 82499-82507
E. C. Coleman, No Pyrrhic Victories: The 1918 Raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend, A Radical Reappraisal (Stroud, 2014)
Christopher Sandford, Zeebrugge: The Greatest Raid of All (Oxford, 2018)
Philip Warner, The Zeebrugge Raid (Barnsley, 2008)

 

22 June 2023

The actor, the fascist, and the reincarnated queen

That is not the title of an unrealised Peter Greenaway film, nor the pub-going cast list of the opening line to a joke, but three roles occupied by Mary Taviner (1909-1972).

Photograph of Mary Taviner in about 1939Mary Taviner, c. 1939. British Library Add MS 89481/10, f. 50

Taviner’s acting career comprised just four films (one of which was as a nine-year-old).  Contemporary and modern critics agree that there was nothing wrong with these melodramatic stories of ghosts, spies, and murder, apart from the acting, the plots, and the scripts that is!  Her stage career lasted longer; from a 1924 London production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she continued to work until the year of her death.  Again, notices were mixed.  Her only cheerleaders seem to be have been her local newspapers, basking in the glory of having a ‘star’ in their neighbourhood.

Politically, Taviner was on the far-right.  She was a pre-war member of the British Union of Fascists and appeared in a production staged by the Never Again Association, a front for extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.  Her 1954 film The Devil’s Jest was a vehicle for her view that Britain and Germany should have allied against communism rather than fight each other.  She even sported an Iron Cross on a bracelet.

Taviner had a confused relationship with leading fascists.  She fell in love with Oswald Mosley only to later unsuccessfully sue him for breach of promise.  In this action she enlisted the help of William Joyce (later known as Lord Haw-Haw), who had fallen out with Mosley in 1937.  Yet she later turned on Joyce, accusing him of running a 300-strong pre-war spy ring under the noses of the intelligence services.

She was still working for the fascist cause in the 1960s, and was involved with the White Defence League, Mosley’s Union Movement, and the Young Britain Movement, closely linked to the UM.  She tried to organise a conference of European fascists in Marylebone only for the local council to ban it and she stood as a UM candidate in the Kensington borough elections in 1962 but mustered just 78 votes.

What of that third role Taviner inhabited?  Her claim to be the reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots, (she even had her portrait painted as the queen) was the pinnacle of her many fantastical claims about herself.  She claimed her mother was the offspring of German and British aristocrats; she was not.  Taviner styled herself Baroness Marovna, the widow of a scion of the Romanovs, but no such barony existed.  She was supposedly elected spiritual leader of Scotland by an organisation that has left no trace of its existence.  She claimed to have worked in British intelligence during the war; she had not.  Her story about Joyce’s spy ring was a fiction.  All these tales smack of Taviner trying to make herself more interesting to producers and directors.

Despite such an interesting life she remains a peripheral figure.  Her death went almost unnoticed; even The Stage, the theatre’s leading newspaper, missed it.  She is not mentioned in the books written by or about the actors and directors she worked with and there are only passing mentions in a tiny fraction of the books written about British fascists and fascism.

Michael St John-Mcalister
Manuscripts Catalogue and Process Manager

Further reading:
Facts, Fictions, and Fascism: A Life of Actor Mary Taviner (1909–1972), 

Add MS 89481/10

 

06 June 2023

Papers of Sir William Hay Macnaghten and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten

A recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers is now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  This consists of papers relating to Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bengal Civil Service 1814-1841; and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815 and Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William 1815-1825.

Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart  at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee.'Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee' from James Atkinson, Sketches in Afghaunistan British Library X812 Images Online

In 1838, Sir William Hay Macnaghten was appointed Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja.  The mission to Afghanistan ended in disaster and the collection contains many papers relating to the death of Sir William at Kabul on 23 December 1841 during the first Anglo-Afghan war.  Included is Lady Frances Macnaghten's claim for compensation and a copy of a letter from Captain Lawrence giving an account of the death of Macnaghten and the retreat from Kabul.

First page of note written by Eldred Pottinger
Second page of note written by Eldred PottingerNote written by Eldred Pottinger Mss Eur F760/1

There is also a copy of a note written by Eldred Pottinger, the political officer who succeeded to the position of Envoy on Macnaghten’s death. In the note, he described the desperate situation of the Kabul garrison: ‘Macnaghten was called out to a Conference and murdered….we are to fall back on Jalalabad tomorrow or the next day – in the present disturbed state of the country we may expect opposition on the road – and we are likely to suffer much from the cold and hunger as we expect to have no carriage for tents or superfluities.’  He reported that he had taken charge of the mission and that ‘The cantonment is now attacked’.

Sir William’s father was Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Madras in 1809. The collection contains a journal written by Sir Francis from this period in his life.  He began writing the journal while on board the ship Bucephalus, which left Portsmouth on 15 November 1809 and arrived at Madras on 25 April 1810. He explained, ‘These notes and memoranda were written on ship board as the matter of them occurred to my memory. They were mainly intended to express for my own use the facts and my feelings upon them. Should they fall into other hands they will I trust be treated accordingly’.

Sketch of a water spout  Mss Eur F760-2Macnaghten's sketch of a water spout Mss Eur F760/2

The journal includes an account of the circumstances of Macnaghten's appointment to the post of Judge at the Supreme Court of Madras, preparations for leaving England, and the voyage to Madras. The journal ends with his being sworn in as a judge on the bench at Fort St George and paying a formal visit to the Nabob of the Carnatic. He includes such information as the fees of a knighthood and some facts on the Bucephalus. Macnaghten also drew a sketch of a water spout which the ship encountered along the way. He described that on 16 December 1809: ‘Saw a water spout. The store ship which we had under convoy fired a gun at it and we saw it regularly dispersing – It emptied itself regularly from its bottom or lower part and we perceived the sea where it fell very much affected by it. It had the appearance of smoke rising from a distant fire’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers relating to Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten (1763-1843), Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815, Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal 1815-1825; Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bart (1793-1841), Madras Army 1809, Bengal Civil Service 1814-41, Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja from 1838; and other members of the Macnaghten family, collection reference Mss Eur F760, available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Other Macnaghten papers at the British Library:
• Addresses presented to Sir Francis Workman-Macnaghten (1763-1843), Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal, on his retirement and departure for Europe, 1822, shelfmark Mss Eur F718.
• Letter book, dated Feb 1839-Mar 1841, of Sir William Hay Macnaghten containing copies of his letters to the Governor-General Lord Auckland, and other British civil and military officers, on foreign political and administrative matters, and in particular on policy towards Afghanistan, shelfmark Mss Eur F336.

 

01 June 2023

Sir Stafford Northcote’s voyage down the new Suez Canal

A travel journal of the British politician Stafford Northcote includes a first-hand account of the opening of the Suez Canal.

Oil painting of Sir Stafford Henry NorthcoteSir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, by Edwin Longsden Long (1882) NPG 2944 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

On 17 November 1869, the Suez Canal was opened for the first time and Sir Stafford Northcote, Earl of Iddesleigh and former Secretary of State for India, travelled to Port Said for the inaugural voyage.  Aboard Sir George Stucley’s yacht, the Deerhound, Northcote joined the procession down the new canal on the eighteenth vessel.

Steamships passing through the Suez CanalSteamships passing through the Suez Canal from Cassell's History of the War in the Soudan (London, 1885) BL flickr

The opening was attended by the great and the good, including the Emperor of Austria and Queen of Holland.  Following the opening ceremony, the evening of 16 November closed with a display of ‘illuminations’ and the dawn of 17 November began with a 21-gun salute!

However, the procession did not go completely to plan.  The captains navigating the new canal were short of experienced pilots to guide them.  The Deerhound soon received news that a vessel had run aground ahead.  This put them in ‘a ticklish position, sometimes drifting on to the bank, sometimes bashing’ into the ship in front.  Fortunately they were able to steer past several grounded vessels, and only briefly ‘stuck in the mud’ themselves.

On reaching Lake Timsah, the guests saw ‘a large building has been erected for a state ball, capable of accommodating 2000 or 3000 persons properly’ near the shore.  The Viceroy of Egypt had also summoned ‘a host of arab chiefs from Upper Egypt to come and encamp on the long sandy beach’.  Northcote praised the camp, calling it ‘by far the most interesting part of the sights which have been provided for us’.

In the evening, Northcote went ashore to attend the reception in the temporary ballroom.  He did not stay long, but took the opportunity to visit ‘the supper room and got some excellent ices, and dates, sugarplums, biscuits and very fair champagne at the buffet’.

Map of the Suez CanalMap of the Suez Canal from Lucien Lanier, L'Afrique (Paris, 1899) BL flickr

But the aim of the trip was not champagne and dancing.  On reaching Port Said, Northcote wondered at the luck of Egypt, now able to ‘boast the possession at once of the oldest and the newest of the great works of man’.  And on completing his voyage he began to consider the economic impact of this new trade route:
‘What the effect of the canal may be upon commerce it is too early to speculate.  Will Marseilles and Lyons fair so much by the abbreviation of the route to India as to cut out Liverpool and Manchester?  Or shall we build vessels which will run through from England to Bombay?’

Cover of Stafford Norhtcote's travel journalCover of Northcote's travel journal – photograph by Matthew Waters

Northcote’s voyage from Falmouth to Egypt to see the new canal and back again was recorded in his travel journal which is now available to view at the British Library (Add MS 89674/1).  This volume also includes a record of a second trip around the Mediterranean in 1882.  It is accompanied by a second diary (Add MS 89674/2) covering two journeys to North America in 1870 and in 1871.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further Reading:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Northcote, Stafford Henry, first Earl of Iddesleigh
Add MS 89674/1 - Journal of Stafford Northcote recording trips to Egypt and around the Mediterranean
Opening of the Suez Canal

 

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