Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

18 February 2020

Following in your late brother’s footsteps

Nicholas White was born 7 May 1875, the thirteenth child and youngest son of Nicholas White, a Cornish farmer of 50 acres and his wife Mary Jane Gartrell.  Nicholas was perhaps not the name his parents had intended for him, as his arrival was overshadowed by a family tragedy a few short days later.

Nicholas and Mary Jane White already had a son named Nicholas. He was their eldest son, born in 1855 and a student at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper’s Hill, Englefield Green, Surrey.

On the afternoon of 12 May 1875 Nicholas and another student George Morley had gone swimming in the Thames near Runnymede. Nicholas got into difficulty in the water and had drowned, almost taking his friend George with him according to testimony at the inquest the following week.

RunnymedeRunnymede from The Half Hour Library of Travel, Nature and Science for young readers (London, 1896) Shelfmark 10027.ee BL flickr Noc

Whatever name the Whites had intended for their newborn son, by the time his birth was registered and he was baptised on 6 June he too was given the name Nicholas, presumably in memory of his late brother.

The links to his late brother did not end there.  On 30 April 1894 Nicholas applied to and was also accepted for entry at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper’s Hill, going on to work as a Civil Engineer for the Public Works Department in the Punjab.  He spent his career in the Punjab rising to Chief Engineer and Secretary to Government in the Public Works Department by March 1925.  He was awarded a CBE in 1929 and retired in May 1930 returning to England.

Nicholas was married in India in October 1902 to Maud Nina Magniac (b.1873).  Following their return to England they lived in Clevedon, Somerset where they remained until their deaths, Maud in 1952 and Nicholas in 1959.

Nicholas senior and junior were not the only White brothers to attend the Royal Indian Engineering College.  John Henry White (born in 1868) also studied there.  He took up his service in India in 1891 with a career in railway engineering.  John was engineer-in-chief for the construction of the North-Western Railway in September 1914 and Deputy Director of Railways in Mesopotamia 1916-1917.  He also married in India in November 1903 to Louisa Winifred Gartrell, a cousin on his mother’s side.  He retired from the service in August 1923, leaving India and settling with his wife and children in St Helier, Jersey.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/4, No. 73 – Accountant General’s department miscellaneous matters: Question of deferred fees in case of student who drowned (Mr N White), 1875.

 

14 February 2020

Ciphers and sympathetic ink: secret love letters in the Granville papers

Before the encrypted digital communication of our day, diplomatic correspondence involved using trusted couriers, and sometimes ciphers of the kind that featured in an earlier Untold Lives blogpost.  Lord Granville (1773–1846), whose family papers have recently been acquired by the British Library, would have been no stranger to such methods, as a diplomat who served in both St Petersburg and Paris.

Secrecy was vital for Granville’s long correspondence with his lover Lady Harriet Bessborough (1761-1821) too.  When their affair was at its height, they wrote daily.  Both then, and later when arranging care and education of their illegitimate children, discretion was of the utmost importance.  Only a few of their closest friends were privy to the true nature of their relationship.  Gossip and innuendo could not be entirely suppressed, but the real danger was of incontrovertible evidence – like letters - falling into the wrong hands.  This could have led to loss of reputation, position, and even children for Lady Bessborough.

So all the more surprising is the openness of their correspondence, particularly the letters of Lady Bessborough.  Though plagued with fear of discovery and ruin, she must have been confident that these communications were reasonably secure.

The letters and notes were delivered direct or via intermediaries, by messenger or post.  While Granville was away in Russia, they went by diplomatic courier – a particularly secure channel of communication.  Those letters were numbered like diplomatic despatches, often written over several days, in contrast with the hurried scrawl typical of communications between them in England.  Nevertheless, Lady Bessborough was concerned for their safety and confidentiality, and had to be reassured by their friend George Canning that all would be well.

Letter from George Canning to Lady Bessborough, 2 November 1804

'You may depend upon it – your fears about the Foreign Office are perfectly groundless … if you think you should derive any additional security from sending your letters to me, to be forwarded under my cover to G, I will take change of them with the greatest pleasure & will certainly take all the care of them that I do of my own…'  Letter from George Canning to Lady Bessborough, 2 November 1804 (Add MS 89382/3/2 ff. 7-8).

They used code names for mutual friends and public figures.  Granville himself was nicknamed 'Mr Arundel' and Lady Bessborough signed her letters to Russia 'Ann Newton'.

A list of cipher names compiled by Lady Bessborough, 1804.A list of cipher names compiled by Lady Bessborough, 1804. Mr Pitt is 'My Uncle', Charles Fox 'Anne', Mr Canning 'The Pope', the King 'Mr Wyatt' and so on (Add MS 89382/3/6)

Back in England, they had used various subterfuges, sometimes employing “a feign’d hand”, writing in French or Italian to give protection from servants’ eyes, and directing to other names and addresses.

Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, July 1798

'Una mezza paroletta mio dolce tesoro, per darti felice notte, e poi addio, che non ho forza bastante per scriverti questa sera sono tanta straccata. You laugh so at me for writing Italian,that I stop’d short & waited till Mary went away, instead of finishing my letter then. I don’t know whether she tries to read or not, but it always appears to me as if she did and puts me in a great fidget if I am writing English.'  Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, July 1798 (Add MS 89382/2/8 f.119r)

Occasionally the couple took even stronger precautions.  Letters from summer 1798 tell how they experimented with vitriol (ferrous sulphate, an ingredient of ink) and sympathetic inks, two different methods of secret writing.  Ink made up of vitriol without galls produced a colourless writing which only darkened when spirit of galls was brushed over it.  Sympathetic ink on the other hand was invisible until brought close to heat.  Despite sympathetic ink’s convenience and availability, Lady Bessborough declared her preference for vitriol.

Add MS 89382.2.8 f.102rWriting in ordinary and sympathetic ink, on the same page.  'I have got some sympathetic ink but I do not like it half as well as the Vitriol, only it is easier got as they send in the colour boxes of course - and they say it comes & goes as you put it near & take it from the fire. I shall write a few words underneath to try - the first fire you meet with make the experiment, it will do with a candle but not so well.'  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, postmark 11 July 1798 (Add MS 89382/2/8 f.102r)

Importantly, secrecy meant relying on servants –otherwise invisible lower class people like maids, midwives, and nurses.  We know the name of Sarah Peterson, Lady Bessborough’s maid: 'Sally' crops up throughout the correspondence.  Letters from her to Granville after Harriet’s sudden death in Florence requesting loans and assistance for her brother (a riding master in Gazeepore) give us some idea of the value and significance of her role - and an inkling of the turmoil into which she herself was now thrown by the death of her mistress of 39 years.

Letter from Sarah J Peterson to Lord Granville requesting £800 loan for a house lease and furniture, 3 April 1822

'My Lord, I return your Lordship by most grateful thanks for your generous present to me and the kindness with which you recieved me.  I hope I shall not forfeit that kindness and your good opinion which is most dear to me by the bold & I almost fear improper request I am going to make.  It is with trembling I do so and humbly implore you will not be offended if you cannot comply but continue your promise of being a Friend to me for the sake of the Dear one. …'  Letter from Sarah J Peterson to Lord Granville requesting £800 loan for a house lease and furniture, 3 April 1822 (Add MS 89387/3/1, ff. 62-63)

 

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

 

11 February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

05 February 2020

Garrod Family Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

 

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

 

30 January 2020

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

We left William Burchell, probably the best naturalist you've never heard of, in early 1808 on the island of St Helena, teaching school, tending a nascent botanic garden, and carrying out botanical and geological surveys of the island.

St Helena - Terrace KnollTerrace Knoll : A view in St. Helena. 'In looking inland you have this view and turning towards the sea you have the view of the Friar. This was drawn and coloured on the spot and is very correct. In the winter the hills are much greener. The bamboo is not finished but correctly shows its growth. The yams grow along a stream of water.' William Burchell's Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810 – Dated 16 February 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

All was looking well.  A minute of the East India Company Court of Directors dated 4 November 1807 recorded the decision 'That Miss Lucia Green be permitted to proceed to her Uncle at St Helena'.  In December Lucia set sail to join Burchell in the East India Company ship Walmer Castle.

Bond for Lucia Green providing surety for her travel to St Helena.Bond for Lucia Green providing surety for her travel to St Helena. IOR/O/1/234 no.2088, signed by Matthew Burchell and Robert Holt Butcher, vicar of Wandsworth.

By the time the ship arrived in St Helena in April 1808, Lucia had struck up a relationship with Captain Luke Dodds.  She announced to Burchell that she no longer wanted to marry him.  His St Helena journal and correspondence from that time record his devastation at the betrayal.  Burchell had to watch as Lucia sailed away to a life with Captain Dodds.

Burchell's business partnership also failed and was dissolved.  Moreover the East India Company was pressing Burchell for research of economic rather than scientific benefit ‘in the hope that something valuable for the purposes of commerce or manufacture might be brought to light’, and so reduce the expenses of the Island.  Burchell felt frustrated.  He wrote: “not having been employed in a manner useful to the Honourable Company, I feel that I could not conscientiously receive the salary”.  By April 1810 he had resigned as Company naturalist, having previously given up his position as schoolmaster.  His last few months on St Helena were mired in arguments with the churchwardens over payment of rent.  One cannot help but view Burchell's later experiences on St Helena as having been tainted by his personal anguish. 

He left the island on 16 October 1810, and travelled to Cape Town, where he undertook a remarkable four-year expedition into the interior of Southern Africa, through Cape Colony and Bechuanaland. His Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa was published in two volumes in 1822 and 1824; an expected third volume was never completed. 

The Rock Fountain in the country of the BushmanTravels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 1 p. 294: 'The Rock Fountain in the country of the Bushman'

 

10. IMG_20191219_093018 Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 1 p.325: 'A Hottentot Krall on the banks of the Gariep'

 

11. IMG_20191219_093737Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa Vol 2 p.360: 'View on entering the town of Litakun'

Burchell was travelling again by 1825, this time to Brazil.  He collected widely over a period of five years, including in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goiás, Tocantins, and Pará, ending up in the town of Belém.  He returned to England in March 1830 laden with the fruits of his collecting labours.

William John Burchell by Thomas Herbert MaguireWilliam John Burchell by Thomas Herbert Maguire-  lithograph, 1854 NPG D32394 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Burchell did not produce a narrative of his expedition to Brazil.  Indeed, the rest of his life was spent cataloguing his enormous collection of specimens, which he guarded rather jealously.  The task was not finished until 1860.  Burchell slowly withdrew from his friends and fellow scientists, including William Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. He published few of his findings and drew little public acclaim.  William Burchell committed suicide at the family home in Fulham on 23 March 1863.

Today William Burchell is seen as a pioneer for his meticulous field work in recording the date and precise location where he collected his specimens, and for his myriad talents in botany, geology, art and illustration, geography, and what we would now call environmentalism.  His name deserves to be more widely known.

And how did life turn out for Burchell's fiancée Lucia Green and her Captain Luke Dodds? That’s another story

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

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

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

 

28 January 2020

Sir Francis Drake: the deluded history of an English Hero

The anniversary of Drake’s death on 28 January 1596 seems an appropriate time to share news of an interesting heritage acquisition, a 16th-century Italian 'avviso' (newsbook), New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake

This newly discovered account of the calamitous English Armada of 1589, co-commanded by Drake and Sir John Norris, is likely the unique surviving example of the report.  It appears to be entirely unknown to bibliography and scholarship.

Pages from 'New and Latest Report from Portugal'Nuovo et ultimo avviso di Portogallo, per il quale s’intende il successo dell’ Armata d’Inghilterra, condotta da D. Antonio, & dal Drago in quei paesi. Con altri particolari d’importanza. ['New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake in those countries. With other important particulars']. Ferrara: per il Baldini, 1589.  British Library shelfmark C.194.a.1452.

'Avvisi' news media circulated by letter or in print have a reputation for being factual, concise and reliable.  They did not seek to exaggerate, impress, or sensationalise for effect.  This avviso is an eyewitness account from a Spaniard in Lisbon with the English at its gates.  It describes the frustrating wait for Spanish or Portuguese reinforcements and the losses suffered by their enemy.

The objectives of the English Armada were to hammer home the advantages gained from the failure of the Spanish Armada the year before.  Elizabeth sought to facilitate Dom Antonio’s claim to the Portuguese throne and so undermine the Spanish Monarchy and its Empire.  The largest English expeditionary force ever assembled - 25,000 men - would finish off the weakened Spanish navy left in port.

The ragtag English forces, largely made up of jail birds and beggars were more interested in pillaging than military glory.  They lacked proper funding (as usual), organisation and discipline.  With no baggage train or cavalry, Norris needlessly marched an army across country instead of sailing up the Tagus to take Lisbon.  Sickness and starvation began to deplete their vast numbers.  Frustrated by the absence of a Portuguese rising in favour of Dom Antonio, the English waited for Drake to sail up the Tagus; but Drake’s ships did not turn up instead busying themselves taking rich prizes from ships in the Roads off Lisbon.  The approach of Spanish reinforcements led the English to retreat.  Sick, starved and dying of wounds, no more than 5,000 returned to England.

The Queen was furious; it was clear that Drake’s and Norris’s thousands had failed.  Disgruntled demobbed survivors brought only plague back and the recently emboldened reputation of the Tudor State was in peril across Europe.  Drake’s reputation eclipsed with accusations of cowardice added to his well-known avarice.

The main contemporary English source describing the expedition was written by a participant, Captain Anthony Wingfield, immediately upon the survivors’ return to England.  It is an expert piece of spin and propaganda.  Written in a heroic literary style, it played down the heavy losses and amplified the ‘glory’ of taking the fight to 'offend' the King of Spain 'in his neerer territories'.

Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale Wingfield’s apology spent much time condemning “false prophets gone before us”, “telling strange tales” and “sectaries against noted truth”.  Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale [under Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris]: sent to his particular friend, and by him published, for the better satisfaction of all such, as, hauing been seduced by particular report, haue entred into conceipts tending to the discredit of the enterprise, and Actors of the same. British Library shelfmark 292.e.7.

 

Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris Wingfield’s account in English (for influencing opinion at home) formed the basis for Latin translations printed in Frankfurt and Nuremberg designed to affect informed opinion further afield on the continent.  Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris (based on Wingfield’s True Coppie of a Discourse) Brevis et fida Narratio, et continuatio rerum omnium a Drako et Norreysio (post felicem ex Occidentalibus insulis reditum) in sua expeditione Portugallensi singulis diebus gestarum. British Library shelfmark G.6516


It is significant that Wingfield’s account has prevailed. Drake’s posthumous reputation steadily revived.  The self-congratulatory, self-exonerating poltroonery of Wingfield’s ‘true’ copie makes for a deluded national history.  The existence and discovery of this Italian newsbook shows the importance of paying attention to wider sources.  Its acquisition adds a new source from a traditionally reliable genre - the avvisi - a counterbalance to facts concealed from English historiography and perpetuated national mythologizing of the Drake Legend.
 

Illustration from The English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'dThe English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'd. was first published in 1681 by Nathaniel Crouch, updating The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake (Drake’s nephew) written in 1625 in an attempt to revive his reputation and status.  Published in many editions, a 1750 edition can be seen online.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

We are very grateful for the contribution made by the British Library Collections Trust towards the cost of acquiring the avviso.

Thanks to Stephen Parkin for providing a translation of the Italian newsbook.

Further reading:
One of the best accounts of the 1589 English Armada can be read online The year after the Armada, and other historical studies by Martin Hume (1896)

A reliable English language biography of Sir Francis Drake is Sir Francis Drake: the Queen's pirate by Harry Kelsey (1998)

A stimulating examination of the English treatment and understanding of the events is given by Luis Gorrochategui Santos in The English Armada: the greatest naval disaster in English history (2018)

 

23 January 2020

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

Imagine you’d left your home in London to establish a new life on the island of St Helena.  You begin a trading partnership with your fiancée’s uncle, and the Governor writes to the East India Company’s Directors singing your praises.   As a result, you become the island’s schoolmaster, and later the Company’s naturalist. You send out to England for your fiancée to join you and eagerly await her arrival…. only to find that she has transferred her affections to the ship's Captain and no longer intends to marry you.

This unfortunate turn of events happened to the naturalist and explorer William John Burchell (1781-1863).  During his time on St Helena (1805-10), his travels across South Africa (1810-15), and his expedition to Brazil via Portugal, Madeira and Tenerife (1825-30), he collected tens of thousands of animal, plant, and insect specimens and a variety of ethnographic material.  A talented artist, he made many drawings and paintings, including landscapes, specimens, and the people he encountered.  Burchell has a zebra, several birds, a lizard, fish, butterflies, a plant genus, and even the army ant Eciton burchellii named after him, yet he is not generally well known.

Portrait of William John BurchellWilliam John Burchell by Mary Dawson Turner (née Palgrave), after John Sell Cotman etching (1816) NPG D7805 ©National Portrait Gallery, London

William was born in Fulham in 1781 to the nurseryman Matthew Burchell and his wife Jane.  His early life was surrounded by plants from all over the world, and he came into contact with many of the day's leading botanists.  He worked for a while at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and by 1803 had been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.  However in August 1805 we find Burchell signed up as 4th mate on the East India Company ship Northumberland.  What made Burchell leave his blossoming botanical career in London?  The answer seems to be a young woman named Lucia Green.  Burchell’s family objected to the match, presumably making him determined to succeed on his own terms.  He arranged a trading partnership with Lucia’s uncle William Balcombe, who had permission ‘to proceed to St Helena for the purpose of exercising the business of an Auctioneer and Appraiser, to the said Island’.

List of the ship's company on the NorthumberlandIOR/L/MAR/B/141 O List of the ship's company on the Northumberland Noc

How Burchell was able to join the Northumberland is not clear.  He did not have the required maritime experience, so perhaps there was a friendship with Captain George Raincock, or a connection with one of the ship’s principal managing owners, Henry Hounsom, William Masson or William Sims.  The ship arrived at St Helena on 13 December 1805.  The ship’s journal notes that Burchell “Left sick at St Helena 28 Jan 1806”, but the presumption is that he never intended to travel further.

 View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. from Burchell's Saint Helena Journal  View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810. Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Burchell was appointed schoolmaster in June 1806 and asked to focus on educating the young men of the island in the light of Company regulations for cadets.  In November 1806 it was proposed that Burchell develop and look after a botanic garden in James’s Valley.  In 1808 Burchell was appointed as the Company’s naturalist, to “ascertain and investigate the natural productions of the Island… in the hope that something valuable for the purposes of commerce or manufacture might be brought to light”.  He was asked to send back samples of “coloured earths” and “sea fowl guano”, to look after plants destined for England, and investigate the cultivation of cotton. 

Sketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles - St Helena JournalSketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles: Burchell - 'There's a famous big one down there Charles; Charles - Yes Sir, I'll soon have that down'. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810 – Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

And all the while, he awaited the arrival of his fiancée Lucia Green.

To be continued…

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/141 O: Journal of the Northumberland
IOR/L/MAR/B/181 F: Journal of the Walmer Castle
IOR/G/32/70-75: St Helena Consultations
IOR/G/32/136-138: St Helena: Original Letters &c from St Helena to the Court
IOR/B/141, 146 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors
Susan Buchanan, Burchell’s Travels. The Life, Art and Journeys of William John Burchell, 1781-1863 (Cape Town, 2015)
William J. Burchell, Travels in the Interior of southern Africa  (London, 1822-1824)
Buchell’s St Helena drawings, and his manuscript notes on the flora and fauna of St Helena (together with other archival material) are held by the Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Burchell’s original St Helena diary, together with other papers and correspondence, is held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  It has been published by Robin Castell in William John Burchell (1781-1863) [on] St. Helena (1805-1810) (St Helena: Castell Collection, 2011). The diary is quoted in Buchanan, op. cit.
Other Burchell papers, and papers relating to Burchell can be found at the Linnean Society (Correspondence with William Swainston), and the William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand (including copies of material at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the papers of Helen Millar McKay in connection with her research on Burchell). Further drawings and paintings by Burchell can be found in the collections of Museum Africa in Johannesburg.

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