Untold lives blog

202 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

05 July 2022

Ibrāhīm al-Najjār al-Dayrānī: Doctor of Lebanon

In late 1837, an eager fifteen-year-old named Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl ibn Yūsuf al-Najjār al-Dayrānī travelled from his home in a mountainside town outside Beirut in order to study medicine in Cairo.Principal square in Grand Cairo  with Murad Bey's palace'Principal square in Grand Cairo, with Murad Bey's palace' by Luigi Mayer, from Thomas Milton, Views in Egypt, Palestine, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire (London,1840) British Library shelfmark 762.h.2.(1), Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

His journey took place against the backdrop of rapid modernisation in the Middle East, with local rulers increasingly bringing in technical, military, administrative and scientific practices and expertise from Europe.  In medicine, Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849), the Ottoman governor of Egypt, imported from 1825 European doctors, particularly French, to administer to the health of Muhammad Ali’s growing army, develop medical institutions along Western lines, and train locals in Western medicine.

Dr Antoine Bertélémy Clot (1793-1868) or ‘Clot Bey’, as he was nicknamed, accompanied Muhammad Ali’s occupation of Greater Syria (1832-40).  Clot Bey was instrumental in the selection of Ibrāhīm as one of the five first Lebanese students to embark on a Western medical education at the school in Cairo that he had founded in 1827.

Ibrāhīm was a product of European expansionism in the Middle East: his grandfather was reportedly a Corsican carpenter who had arrived in the Levant with Napoleon’s invading forces in 1799.  Unusually, we know about his personal experiences thanks to his memoir Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ (Lamp for the Traveller and Diversion for the Reader), which he self-published 20 years later.

Title page  Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ  printed Beirut  1272 hijrī (1855-56)Title page, Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ, printed Beirut, 1272 hijrī (1855-56) 

Without detailing his education, Ibrāhīm mentions his yearning for medical knowledge from a young age, which could not be satisfied locally.  Clearly, the extraordinary wealth of medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical learning previously compiled by Arabic-speaking physicians was not what he had in mind.

The memoir discusses Ibrāhīm’s arrival in Cairo, the medical school at Qasr al-ʿAynī, and the content of the four-year medical course.  Beginning with chemistry, general anatomy, and pharmacology, the 500 students – mostly from rural Egypt and destined for careers with the army – progressed to minor surgery, botany, pathology, pharmacology, major surgery and specialist anatomy.  Students accompanied their teachers on hospital ward rounds and observed autopsies, which Ibrāhīm confesses that he loathed.  This emphasis on human dissection was one major difference between a traditional Arabic medical training and the education Ibrahim was receiving; to alleviate Muslim concerns, the school claimed that the cadavers used were those of Jews and Christians.

A view of Constantinople'Panorama of Constantinople' from A Series of Eight Views, forming a Panorama of the City of Constantinople and its Environs, taken from the Town of Galata (1813) British Library shelfmark Maps K.Top.113.75.f  Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

After graduating in 1842, Ibrāhīm travelled to Constantinople (Istanbul).  Having cured – he claims – a patient whom his host’s personal physician could not, he was introduced to the chief doctor of Istanbul and enrolled at the Royal Medical School.  For four years, he attended lectures, saw patients, and learnt Turkish and French in order to access modern textbooks.  This culminated in a gruelling public examination presided over by the young Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecit I (r. 1839-61).

Portrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David WilkiePortrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David Wilkie (1785-1841), 1840. Image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust

After qualifying fully aged 22, Ibrāhīm spent three years travelling in Europe, before returning to Lebanon as chief medical officer at the Ottoman army barracks in Beirut.  Straddling the manuscript and print eras in the Levant, Ibrāhīm authored books, including one manuscript recently made available on the Qatar Digital Library (British Library Or. 12152).  This pharmaceutical inventory, apparently in his hand, expresses an intellectual position encompassing both traditional Arabic pharmacological and botanical knowledge, and use of Latin- and Greek-derived terminology and chemical compounds discovered by Western physicians.

Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by  Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 8v)

Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 1r). The author is described as ‘One of the doctors of the Royal [Medical] School in Asitane [Istanbul], and the foremost doctor to the Sultanic [Ottoman] armies in Beirut’.

Embodying the modernising efforts of 19th-century Ottoman rule, Ibrāhīm al-Dayrani was one of the first doctors to be trained in the Western medical methods and concepts that have become universal.  He died in 1864, aged just 42.

Jenny Norton-Wright
Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership


21 June 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 3: The Price of Whale Oil

For hundreds of years the British hunted whales for their oil, blubber and bone.  Whales provided lubricant for machinery during the industrial revolution, fuel for lamps, and their baleen could be used as parts for everyday items such as corsets and umbrellas.  Traditionally the British whaling grounds lay to the north where Northern Right whales and Bowhead whale were hunted, but the prized sperm whale oil called ‘spermaceti’ would see the expansion of the trade into the southern seas.

Ink drawing of a sperm whaleInk drawing of a sperm whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.141, Add MS 30369

The expansion of British whaling grounds is intimately tied up with the history of Empire and oil prices were often impacted by the gains and losses of colonies.  The eruption of the American Revolutionary War had a massive effect on the British whale oil trade, depleting output and raising prices.  Much of the whale oil trade had come out of the British colonies in North America, but with the advent of the war this was almost completely shut down.  At the end of the war the British wanted to create more self-sufficiency in terms of oil supply.  The American trade bounced back and the British wanted to compete in a buoyant market, so Britain imposed import duties on US oil and created the Southern Fisheries trade, focusing British whaling on the mid and south Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Accounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries TradeAccounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries Trade, Add MS 38352, f.123.

Notes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South SeasNotes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South Seas, 1791. Add MS 38350, f.262.

British Guiana, Madras, South Africa and Australia in the early 1800s further contributed to the whale oil trade.  They introduced landing points for ships working along the tropical latitudes pursuing the more lucrative sperm whale with its more valuable oil.  British whaling became a global enterprise and those staffing whaling ships were multinational and multi-ethnic.  Crews encompassed employed and indentured sailors, as well as enslaved and free African men.  Given the arduousness of the work, employers could not afford to refuse whalers whatever their background, therefore whaling ships were a popular destination from those escaping or freed from slavery during the 18th century.

However the War of 1812 interrupted the trade and temporarily sent the price of whale oil upwards again.  It was not until the end of the war that whaling returned without obstacles.  Production sky-rocketed to the point of over-supply, causing a glut and a fall in its value in the late 1830s.  The home-grown British whaling trade started to decline as more and more colonial oil was bought in from Australia and the government decided against further propping up the London-based trade.

Newpaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever  4 September 1813Newspaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever, 4 September 1813, Leeds Mercury, British Newspaper Archive, Image © The British Library Board.

A combination of free-trade policy with the Americans and the colonies decreased investors' interest in British-based whaling, and, as well as this, whale stocks were failing after hundreds of years of hunting.  The British began to import the majority of oil and so were liable to market shocks in America, such as that caused by the American Civil War.

Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry  1846Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry, 1846, Add MS 40458, f.307.

British whaling would return in the 20th century and a global, mass-commercialised whaling would cause far more devastation to whale stocks than the London and Nantucket-based industries of previous centuries.

A second ink drawing of a sperm whale Ink Drawing of a Sperm Whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.142, Add MS 30369

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from -
The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795
The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

Further Reading:
‘An Overview of the British Southern Whale Fishery’, Bruce Chatwin, 2016, British Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/G/32/163 East India Company papers on the Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/F/4/1373/54697 Establishment of a whale fishery by the inhabitants of St Helena, 1833


16 June 2022

Birds, Landscapes, and Letters: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras

In 1802, Mary Symonds wrote to her sister Hester James from Madras (now Chennai), 'I hope now we are settled that I shall be able to send something for the curious by every opportunity'.

Painting of the coast near Madras showing the beach with small wooden boatsMary Symonds, Coast Near Madras, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album PIC106.78

Mary had accompanied her sister, the talented ornithologist and painter Elizabeth Gwillim, and Elizabeth's husband Henry Gwillim, a judge in the new Supreme Court of Madras.   The materials the sisters sent home provide a uniquely detailed picture of their work and lives between 1801 and 1808.  In the British Library, four thick volumes contain the sisters' 77 long letters; at McGill University, 164 zoological and botanical paintings represent their scientific work; at the South Asia Collection in Norwich, 78 landscapes and portraits depict their surroundings.

Ink sketch of Elizabeth Gwillim at her writing deskElizabeth Gwillim at her writing desk, sketch in a letter to Hester James, 7 February 1802 Mss.Eur.C.240/1, ff. 33r-38v, f. 36v.

Elizabeth Gwillim was the first to record the avian life of Madras in detail.  Decades before John James Audubon, she painted birds from life and to scale, even the large birds of prey and waterbirds which dominate her collection.  Mary's descriptions and paintings document Elizabeth's artistic process and reveal the crucial role of the Indian bird-catchers who secured the living birds.  Elizabeth's paintings pay unusual attention to the placement of the bird's features and reveal a taxonomical rather than purely artistic interest.  A similar attention to detail is evident in the watercolours of fish, most by Mary Symonds.  The fish paintings reveal a collaborative process of information gathering and several are inscribed with the fishes’ local names.

Two Indian birdcatchersMary Symonds, Birdcatchers, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC 106.66

Black StorkElizabeth Gwillim, Black Stork Ciconia nigra (Linnaeus 1758) McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-1-010

Painting of Moon wrasse fishMary Symonds, Thalassoma lunare (Moon wrasse, labelled Julis lunaris), McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-2-5

In 1805, Elizabeth wrote 'without some little knowledge of Botany it is impossible to read the Hindoo languages'.  Like her contemporary, William Jones, Elizabeth regarded linguistic and botanical studies as intertwined.  Elizabeth studied Telugu, translating a local temple legend.  She was part of the circle of missionary and medical botanists who linked Madras and the Danish settlement of Tranquebar and she sent plants and seeds back to a nursery garden in Brompton where several grew and were depicted in Curtis' Botanical Magazine.  One of her most detailed botanical images, of the Magnolia coco, remains in the Linnean Society herbarium. 

Magnolia coco'Gwillimia Indica' (Magnolia coco) by Elizabeth Gwillim, Linnean Society Herbarium (LINN-HS 981.10. Magnolia indet. (Herb Smith)), by permission of the Linnean Society of London

Apart from their scientific pursuits, the sisters' letters and paintings provide a wealth of details about food, clothing, and the lives of Madras' inhabitants, from Governor Edward Clive to Elizabeth's maidservant, whose biography she relates in detail.

A Lady’s Maid - an Indian woman dressed in white carrying a basketMary Symonds, A Lady’s Maid, A Pariah Woman, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC106.75

The early 19th century was a turning point in the East India Company's regime in India.  The Company was completing its conquest of Mysore, the Carnatic, and the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.  However, the tenuous nature of British rule was dramatically highlighted by the uprising at Vellore in July 1807, in which Indian soldiers killed their British commanders and took over the fort, raising the flag of Mysore before the uprising was brutally repressed.  Elizabeth and Mary collected first-hand accounts of the event, for which they blamed Company policy.  By the time of Elizabeth's death in 1807, the Gwillim household had been drawn into conflict with the Company regime in Madras, which Henry Gwillim denounced as 'despotic'.  This prompted Henry's recall to Britain, where he and Mary made new lives.  The story of their time in Madras has remained largely untold until now.

Anna Winterbottom
McGill University

To learn more:

• See the exhibition 'A Different Idea of India: Two Sisters Painting Southern India, 1801-1808', opening on 15 June at the South Asia Collection.  
• Visit the Gwillim Project website for transcriptions, case studies, webinars, and more.
• Read the original letters in the British Library manuscript India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C240/1-4.
• Read more about Elizabeth's botanical work on Kew's blog.
• Look out for the forthcoming book, Anna Winterbottom, Victoria Dickenson, Ben Cartwright, and Lauren Williams eds., Women, Environment and Networks of Empire: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras (McGill Queen's University Press, 2023).


01 June 2022

Letters from the Garrod children to their father

Among the private papers collections donated to the British Library, the Garrod Family Papers present a very special archive ranging from 1867 to 1990.  They include correspondence, files, maps, printed papers and photographs of William Francis Garrod (1893-1964) and Isobel Agnes Garrod (formerly Carruthers) (1898-1976) relating to their family life in India, Garrod's career in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment 1930-1946, and his service in World Wars One and Two.

A great number of letters were exchanged when William and Isobel got engaged, then married and had four children.  Among lockets of hair, newspaper cuttings and postcards, one can see them overcoming the challenges of family life, household and financial issues while keeping close family ties despite the distance between them.

Children in costumes as the cast of a play Children in costumes as the cast of a play - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

As William spent long periods of time away from home so the children grew up observing their mother write to their father and became interested in writing to him as well.  They took up this habit at a very young age, before even being actually able to write.

Scribbles and love from AndrewScribbles and love from Andrew - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

The children report frequent visits to the cinema, social and academic updates from school, sickness and all the social events their father is missing such as Christmas and birthdays.

Letter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdaysLetter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdays - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of Daddy, Sammy the cat and Jimmy the dogDrawing of  Daddy, Sammy the cat ,and Jimmy the dog - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from schoolDrawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from school - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They do not often mention the war besides hoping their father is well and can come home soon.

Letter from Janet -  ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’

Letter from Janet - ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’ - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Letter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the warLetter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the war - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

However, they do show in drawings how they imagine it to be.

Drawing of war ship attacked by planesDrawing of war ship attacked by planes - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take lifeboatsDrawing of planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take to lifeboats. - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They also depict their image they have of their father’s role in it and the dangers he faces being away from home.

Letter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing HitlerLetter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing Hitler India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Luckily, those drawings are also often accompanied by captions sometimes composed by the children themselves, sometimes by thoughtful Isobel to make sure the drawings would be understood on the other end.

Daddy being saved from a snake by a squirrelDaddy being saved from a snake by a squirrel  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Isobel is also very careful in numbering the letters in case they get lost, delayed or get to William all at once. In some of the letters one can imagine how frustrating it must have been to not have control over that and to be aware there was an inevitable delay between sending a message and it reaching William.

Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’- India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Not only does the collection give a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj, it also provides the very rare perspective of children.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730. They are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

William Francis Garrod’s story from Bristol in 1893 to northern India has been explored in a previous Untold Lives blog post.
The Garrod papers also feature in anther Untold Lives blog post about the General Strike of 1926.


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

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


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