Untold lives blog

177 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

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

08 February 2022

LGBTQ Histories in the Archives

As LGBT+ History month gets underway this February, here at the British Library we have published our LGBTQ+ Histories collection guide.  This guide highlights some amazing archives and manuscripts within the Modern Archives collections that relate to LGBTQ+ histories in the UK.  Exploring collections through the 17th to 21st centuries, it encompasses records relating to the persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, archives from theorists of sexuality and gender, archives relating to LGBTQ+ activism, as well as creative works that explore LGBTQ+ themes.  The guide outlines some of the difficulties and complexities that arise in both identifying and researching such collections, but it also offers insight into the significant research possibilities these collections offer to readers.  These collections shine a light on histories of oppression, of hidden love, of divergent interpretations of Queer sexualities and genders, and offer first-hand accounts of LGBTQ+ lives through the ages.  This blog highlights just a few of the collections noted in the LGBTQ+ Histories guide.

17th Century collection items that reference same-sex relations are predominately available as records of prosecution, such as the confession and punishment of Bishop John Atherton (1598-1640) recorded in Sloane manuscripts.

Confession and punishment of Bishop John Atherton recorded in Sloane manuscripts.Sloane MS 1818, f.177. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Allusions to same-sex relations also appear in manuscript-circulated poetry of the 17th century.  Manuscript production offered more opportunities to make such references as their content would not have to pass through the Stationers' Company for approval to publish and reproduce.  Poets such as John Donne could circulate their poetry away from the eyes of the censor and might have been emboldened to make reference to same-sex relations more directly.  In ‘Sapho to Philanis’, Donne explores the Sappho’s yearning for her lesbian love interest, Philaenis.

Manuscript of 'Sapho to Philanis’Egerton MS 3884, f.86.v. © British Library Board.

Many of the 17th century manuscripts explore LGBTQ+ lives from the outside through articles of persecution or satirical works.  However, as we travel through the centuries one can find items of personal correspondence or creativity that offer personal experiences of LGBTQ+ lives.  One example is the correspondence between Lord Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey, and Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st Earl of Ilchester.  These affectionate letters capture some of the emotion that infused their decade long relationship.

Letter from Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox  15 October 1737Add MS 51345, f.80. Letter from Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox, 15 October 1737 - ‘ I have loved you ever since I knew you, which is now many years, so much better than most people are capable of loving anything…’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The papers of The Chevalier D’Eon shed light on the life of one of the most fascinating figures of the 18th century.  The Chevalier assumed different genders at different periods of their life.  Their life as a spy, diplomat, author, collector and soldier is recounted through letters, journals, papers and ephemera.  D’Eon would later provide inspiration for theorist Havelock Ellis who explored sexuality and gender in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.  The British Library holds the papers of Ellis and these are a rich resource for those exploring the emergence of categories of sexual and gender orientation.

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or the Chevalier D’Eon dressed in a costume which is female on the left and male on the rightMademoiselle de Beaumont or the Chevalier D’Eon, portrait from London Magazine, September 1777, Add MS 11340. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are just a few of the many diverse and fascinating collections mentioned in the guide.  We hope that readers will reach further into these collections and discover more themselves, so that they may bring to life more of these hidden histories.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Collection Guide: LGBTQ+ histories: archives and manuscripts: 1600 to present 
BL LGBTQ Histories

04 January 2022

Early modern Iran seen through the eyes of G. Hofstede van Essen

As a well-travelled physician, scholar and Royal Society fellow, Hans Sloane had an interest in foreign places, their people and customs, which also fed into his collection of drawings, such as those kept in Add MS 5234.  This album is one of more than 4000 manuscripts from the Hans Sloane Collection at the British Library, about which you can learn through the collection guide.  It contains miscellaneous notes and drawings collected by visitors to Europe and Central Asia.  Among them is a remarkable but little known series of 30 Indian ink and wash drawings of sights and monuments in Iran, signed by 'G. Hofstede van Essen'.

The Great Mosque at Isfahan, standing in the market place, with camels in the foregroundAdd MS 5234, item 8: G. Hofstede van Essen, The Great Mosque at Isfahan, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much of this artist’s life and work remains shrouded in mystery, including his full name.  Presumably from Germany, Hofstede is documented as travelling in present-day Syria, Iran and Turkey between 1693 and 1703.   His best-known work is a painting of the ruins of Palmyra, made in 1693, and soon after shipped to historian Gisbert Cuper in The Netherlands, where the painting remains to this day

How did Sloane acquire Hofstede’s drawings?  Sloane may have learned about Hofstede’s work through Gisbert Cuper, from whose library he bought manuscripts at auction.  The Royal Society in London provides another link to Hofstede.  As editor of the Society’s Journal, Philosophical Transactions, Sloane would have read accounts written by fellow members concerning a 1691 expedition to Palmyra organised by the British Levant Company and in which Hofstede possibly took part.

In these drawings, Safavid Iran is seen through the eyes of a European draughtsman, who may have had little understanding of the local language and traditions.  Nevertheless, Hofstede was keen to demonstrate his direct experience of the terrain.  This draughtsman sitting on a hill whilst sketching Soltaniyeh stresses Hofstede’s role as first-hand witness.

A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill with a draughtsman sitting sketching in the foreground

 

Close-up of the draughtsman sketchingAdd MS 5234, item 17: G. Hofstede van Essen, A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill, and a close-up of the draughtsman sketching, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Hofstede’s drawings display an interest in recording local traditions – from games to burials – and an antiquarian appreciation for monuments and buildings, evident in the depiction of details from their decoration like this bas-relief from Persepolis.

A bas-relief in Persepolis - a seated man with two attendants, one with fly-whisk, one with sunshade.Add MS 5234, item 6: G. Hofstede van Essen, A bas-relief in Persepolis, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The inscriptions on these drawings make the many individuals who must have handled and observed them more tangible.  There are notes in Dutch, with spelling mistakes that suggest a non-native speaker like Hofstede, as well as inscriptions in English and French by different hands.

The red-bordered labels pasted on the folios offer a glimpse into how the drawings were ordered and displayed before coming to the British Museum Library.  Whether the labels were added during Sloane’s lifetime or by somebody rearranging the collection after his death is another open question.  Similar labels appear in other albums from Sloane’s collection (Add MS 5253, 5255 and 5256), that include drawings with a similar ethnographic focus.

Persian caravan - long line of men on horseback and pack animals proceeding downhill along a winding road
Label accompanying drawing of Persian caravanAdd MS 5234, item 25: G. Hofstede van Essen, a Persian Caravan and a close-up of the label accompanying it, ca. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much about the provenance, historical accuracy and interpretation of Hofstede’s drawings, as well as their relation to other items in Sloane’s collection, remains unclear.  Yet it is certain that Hofstede’s drawings have many fascinating, so far untold, stories to tell.

Alice Zamboni
PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
-Add MS 5234 contains many other works on paper, some of which are discussed and illustrated in Kim Sloan, "Sloane’s ‘pictures and drawings in frames’ and ‘books of miniature & painting, designs, & c.” in From Books to Bezoars. Sir Hans Sloane and his Collections (London: The British Library, 2012), 168-189.
-One letter sent from Gisbert Cuper to Sloane survives in Sloane MS 4041, fol. 95. Sloane’s printed books collection includes a copy of the catalogue of Cuper’s library, auctioned in 1717 (General Reference Collection S.C.147).
-Hofstede’s painting of the ruins at Palmyra now belongs to Allard Pierson  (University of Amsterdam Special Collections), and was on display at Museum De Waag, Deventer (The Netherlands), on the occasion of an exhibition about Palmyra in 2016-2017.
-An engraving closely related to Hofstede’s painting of Palmyra was published in Philosophical Transactions 218 (1695), after p. 175.
-Add MS 5024/1, also from Sloane’s collection, is a view of Istanbul seen from the water depicted in ink and blue wash and mounted on a roll. It bears the name of Hofstede van Essen penned in ink on the verso, but more research would be needed to confirm the attribution.
-In the transcript of the catalogues listing the contents of Sloane’s library, drawings by Hofstede van Essen are mentioned in three different albums, which suggests they would have been rearranged in what is now Add MS 5234 at a later date. Transcript of ‘Mins’ BL Sloane MS 3972 C vols 1-8 

 

07 December 2021

The body dissected, drawn and displayed - Anatomy in an album of drawings from Hans Sloane’s collection.

A recent addition to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts is Add MS 5259, a folio-size album containing more than 200 drawings on human and animal anatomy.  Dating between the 16th and 18th centuries, these drawings were executed by various European artists and physicians and once belonged to Sir Hans Sloane, himself a physician and avid collector, whose albums of drawings were introduced in a previous blog post.

A first look through the folios of the manuscript may leave many viewers surprised: there are drawings of human organs, watercolours of dissected animals, sketches of the musculature and detailed views of bodies displaying pathological conditions.  How can we make sense of these striking juxtapositions?  Yet the contents of Add MS 5259 reflect the breadth of knowledge and range of topics part of the visual culture of anatomy in early modern Europe, when studying anatomy meant to dissect, examine and represent the body of humans and animals alike.

Nowadays we think of anatomy within the remit of the medical profession only, but in the early modern period, how the body functioned was a question that fascinated a broader audience.  For artists, understanding how the body articulates movement through the combined work of muscles and bones was key to the successful depiction of lifelike figures.  Add MS 5259 contains examples of anatomy drawings made by and for artists, like this pen and ink drawing of an animated skeleton that once belonged to the Flemish artist Prosper Henry Lankrink.

Drawing of the human skeleton  mid-16th century. Pen and brown ink on paperAdd MS 5259, item 21 (f. 19r): Battista Franco, drawing of the human skeleton, mid-16th century. Pen and brown ink on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Sloane’s time, medical knowledge was disseminated in print.  The manuscript notes and sketches preparatory for publications rarely survive, so the large amount of draft material in Add MS 5259 offers valuable insight into physicians’ publishing endeavours.  Equally noteworthy is the presence of drawings executed by medical practitioners who were skilled draughtsmen, such as William Cowper, whose chalk drawings of the musculature relate to his publication on the topic, Myotomia Reformata (London, 1724).

Study of a flayed body  late 17th-early 18th century. Red and black chalk on paper.Add MS 5259, item 48 (f. 32r): William Cowper, study of a flayed body, late 17th-early 18th century. Red and black chalk on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Whereas anatomy textbooks usually offer representations of an average body, collections of medical case studies known as Observationes take hold in the 17th century as a way to report on abnormalities affecting the body.  This may explain why the manuscript includes, for example, depictions of overgrown organs and conjoined twins.  The understanding of these conditions – which for modern viewers are very different – gradually shifted during Sloane’s lifetime from the realm of the monstrous to the pathological.  For physicians, producing drawings of these conditions was one way of documenting them and increasing the reliability of their written observations.

Add MS 5259 also testifies to the widespread experimentation with animals.  By vivisecting animals like the mouse pictured here below, anatomists could investigate vital operations occurring in the living body, which could not be understood by inspecting a cadaver.

Dissection of a mouse  1689.  Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Add MS 5259, item 191 (f. 117r): Unknown artist, dissection of a mouse, 1689. Detail from a larger sheet with annotations in Latin accompanying the drawing. Pen and ink and watercolour on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Animals could be a substitute, but also a term of comparison for the human body.  The growing interest in comparative anatomy in the late 17th century is reflected in these chalk studies of a chimpanzee, preparatory drawings for a book by Edward Tyson that explored the structural similarities between primates and men.

Study of the musculature of a chimpanzee  late 17th century. Black and white chalk on blue paper.Add MS 5259, Item 209 (f. 133r): William Cowper, study of the musculature of a chimpanzee, late 17th century. Black and white chalk on blue paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Overall, Sloane’s album reminds us of the value ascribed to visual representation in the study of anatomy, at a time when drawing and dissecting were equally important ways of producing knowledge about the body.

Alice Zamboni
PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
- For more on Sloane’s collection of manuscripts at the British Library, you can consult the collection guide
-Two works on paper from Add MS 5259 were removed from the album in 1928 and transferred to the Prints and Drawings Department in the British Museum: item 13 (British Museum 1928,0310.101) and item 227 (British Museum 1928,0310.102)
-William Cowper’s drawings in Add MS 5259 have recently been discussed and illustrated in Monique Kornell, “Drawings by William Cowper for his Myotomia reformata (London, 1724), Master Drawings 57, no. 4 (2019): 489-510.
-Prosper Henry Lankrink’s ‘PHL’ monogram features on the British Library’s copy of the first Dutch anatomy manual for artists, Jacob van der Gracht’s Anatomie der wtterliche deelen van het menschelick lichaem (Anatomy of the exterior parts of the human body; The Hague, 1634): British Library General Reference Collection, 544.l.11.(1.)., as well as on many drawings now in the collection of the British Museum.

 

25 November 2021

‘So Long’ from King Naimbanna II - Manuscripts from an 18th Century African King

Within the Clarkson Papers there are a number of volumes relating to the settlement of Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 1791 onwards.  These were explored in a series of Untold Lives blogs called The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists.   We return to these papers to explore a number of fascinating folios of correspondence between John Clarkson and King Naimbanna II.

King, or Obai, Naimbanna II (1720-1793) was a leader of the Koya Temne Kingdom on coast of Sierra Leone.  Agents of the Sierra Leone Company negotiated with Naimbanna in 1788 and persuaded him to sign over some of his land for the Company’s settlement.  Naimbanna later stipulated that the deal had been negotiated too hastily and should not have been given consent.  A digitised version of this treaty is available to view via the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

When John Clarkson arrived in Freetown at the end of 1791 he made a conscious effort to engage with Naimbanna as the local leader.  Documents from his papers show that collaboration was deemed essential in order for the new settlement to succeed.


Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John  the Governor of Freetown  to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John, the Governor of Freetown, to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’. Add MS 41262A, f.65. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son  12 May 1792A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son, 12 May 1792. Add MS 41262A, f.105. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A working relationship was established, as the documents below illustrate.  Naimbanna gave these folios to John Clarkson when the governor was due to depart Sierra Leone for England at the end of 1792.

First of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’ 23 December 1792
Second of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’  23 December 1792Two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson, described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’. 23 December 1792. Add MS 41262A, ff 211-214. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These fascinating folios stand out among Clarkson’s papers.  They are described as prayers or good luck charms.  Written in Arabic, they consist of scraps of sentences from the Koran that the author hopes will protect the bearer on his journey.  Other notes present with these papers describe the folios as badly written, but despite this criticism from Clarkson’s contemporaries, these letters are important historical documents in their own right.  They illustrate Naimbanna’s cautious engagement with the new settlement and his relationship with its governor Clarkson.

Naimbanna engaged diplomatically with the new settlement believing it could offer certain benefits.  He backed the original abolitionist mission of its founders, aimed to benefit from a proliferation of trade and sought out specialist education for himself and his sons.  Naimbanna sent his children abroad to experience different educations in different parts of the world.  His son Prince John Frederic would travel to England in 1791 to receive an education under the sponsorship of abolitionist and activist, Granville Sharp.

Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna  Bury and Norwich Post  1 January 1794Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna, Bury and Norwich Post, 1 January 1794. British Newspaper Archive.

With this openness and pragmatism of approach, Naimbanna hoped to both take advantage of the opportunities the new colony could open for the Kingdom, whilst retaining power as the rightful leader of the region.  However, cordial relations would not last.  Naimbanna died in 1793 as did his son, Prince John Frederic, whilst in transit back from England.  Successive Temne dynasties fought with neighbouring communities in an effort to consolidate their lands, but ultimately these lands were taken by the British in the latter half of the 19th century.  The British made Sierra Leone a British protectorate in 1896 and despite the Temne revolts in 1898 they would govern until Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists, Parts 1-4.
Ijagbemi, E. A. 'THE FREETOWN COLONY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ‘LEGITIMATE’ COMMERCE IN THE ADJOINING TERRITORIES', Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 5, no. 2, Historical Society of Nigeria, 1970, pp. 243–56.
Kup, A. P. 'John Clarkson and the Sierra Leone Company', The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, Boston University African Studies Center, 1972, pp. 203–20.
.

18 November 2021

The danger of supporting German Cathedrals during the Second World War

Showing support for German creations when at war was dangerous, as Sydney Cockerell found out four years into the Second World War.  The former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge penned a letter to The Times on 10 July 1943 lamenting the damage to Cologne Cathedral made by British forces.  Whilst he wrote that it was probably unavoidable, he argued that as a nation Britain should not be afraid to express regret of damage to historical monuments, even those situated in enemy countries.  The reaction to this statement is contained in dozens of letters sent to him, collected in the British Library’s Modern Archives.

He received numerous statements of support for his view, with many providing detail of the damage sustained.  Others agreed with him that it was probably unavoidable, and even that the Germans may have known that British forces would hesitate to harm such beautiful buildings.  However, other commentators were not so positive, as can be seen in this letter below which assumes he must be ‘a tottering silly old fool for writing such tripe’.

A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943 – Add MS 52771 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A harsh reply, but arguably the worst was to follow.  Another man wrote to Cockerell saying ‘people with your namby pamby views are not wanted in this country & are unworthy of the freedom enjoyed here’.  He goes on, ‘You are not fit to be called an “Englishman” & should be denaturalised & sent to Germany…you would promptly be shot, in some ways the Germans know better how to deal with your type’.

A more rational reply was given by an inhabitant of Coventry, arguing that instead of showing support for German cathedrals, he should focus closer to home, specifically on Coventry Cathedral.  She writes of the ’11 hours of diabolical bombing’ which ‘utterly destroyed it’ in November 1940.  Furthermore, her husband was killed that night on duty as an Air Raid Warden, and her home destroyed.  Included with her letter were two postcards showing the damage done.

Interior view of Coventry Cathedral before the bombingCoventry Cathedral before the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 104v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The shell of Coventry Cathedral after the bombingCoventry Cathedral after the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 105v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following all these replies, Cockerell went on the offensive. In a further letter written to The Times nine days after the initial one, he asserts that ‘fine architecture is part of the common heritage of humanity, irrespective of frontiers’.  He also bemoans the angry replies, arguing if such people would feel no regret if Beethoven or Mozart were forgotten, ‘As patriotic Englishman, should we now repudiate these enemy composers?  Fine architecture is music and rhythm in stone’.  His archive contains many more letters of support than negative replies, though many are keen to stress that damage is often inevitable, a point he himself makes on multiple occasions.

Cockerell would continue to lament damage to historical monuments throughout the War, including Rouen Cathedral.  He received an interesting reply in an unsigned and undated letter: ‘Most people…would rather see a fine, modern power station (the symbol of a full and glowing life for everyone) than an old cathedral (the symbol of an evil past)’.

Whatever the truth of this statement, this short episode shows how expressing support of historical monuments situated in enemy countries was risky and could lead to vitriol and hatred.

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

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The free display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further reading:
Add MS 52771 - Cockerell Papers, Vol, CXLIX, Correspondence rel. to the bombing of Cologne Cathedral, 1943 (ff. 92-122b); Correspondence and photographs rel. to the damage to Rouen Cathedral, 1944 (ff. 123-162).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Alan Bell, ‘Cockerell, Sir Sydney Carlyle (1867–1962), museum director and book collector’.

 

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