Untold lives blog

54 posts categorized "Science"

31 October 2022

Mr Trick and Mrs Treat

At Hallowe’en, we’d like to introduce you to Mr Trick and Mrs Treat.  Both feature in several articles in the British Newspaper Archive.

The Weston-super-Mare Gazette of 21 April 1849 reported that Mr Trick and his family were amongst 90 or so people from north Somerset villages emigrating to the USA.

Newspaper article about families emigrating from Banwell, Somerset, in 1849Weston-super-Mare Gazette 21 April 1849 British Newspaper Archive

William Trick was a baker living in the village of Banwell with his wife Ann and two children.  Trick was a member of the Banwell Total Abstinence Society and regularly addressed meetings during the 1840s.  He belonged to the Banwell Wesleyan Missionary Society and spoke on the subject of ‘missions to the heathen’ at a meeting held in the local chapel in November 1846.

The Emigrant's Last Sight of Home - painting of a man and his family about to set off on a journey by cart, looking back at their village from the top of a hill‘The Emigrant’s Last Sight of Home’ by Richard Redgrave (1858).  Image Photo © Tate Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) 

The Tricks sailed from Liverpool in steerage on the steamer Sarah Sands on 29 March 1849.  A broken piston rod in the engine meant that the ship had to make a great part of the voyage under sail.  The delay caused anxiety in New York but over 200 passengers and a valuable cargo eventually arrived safely on 1 May.

William, with his wife, daughter and son, travelled onwards to Dubuque County, Iowa, with others from Somerset, such as the Dyers.  The area had been settled by Europeans in the late 1830s, and in the 1850s became known as Dyersville.  William acquired 40 acres of land and also worked as a Methodist preacher, playing a large part in the building of the local church.  In 1855 he was granted naturalization.

According to the 1906 Atlas of Dubuque County, the marriage of William’s daughter Annie to Malcolm Baxter in 1852 was the first in the community.  Annie died in April 1856 aged just 27.

William Trick junior became a hardware merchant who served as mayor of Dyersville.

William Trick senior died on 27 October 1873 aged 78 after a busy life of public service.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery Dyersville where his daughter Annie and wife Ann already lay.

Let’s move on to Mrs Treat.

The Edinburgh Evening News of 19 February 1875 published an article entitled ‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ about Mrs Treat and her carnivorous vegetables.  Very appropriate for Hallowe’en!

Newspaper article about Mrs Treat's carnivorous vegetables‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ - Edinburgh Evening News 19 February 1875 British Newspaper Archive

Mary Lua Adelia Treat was born in 1830 in New York, the daughter of Methodist minister Isaac Davis and his wife Eliza.  In 1839 the family moved to Ohio.  Mary was married in 1863 to Joseph Burrell Treat, a doctor who also wrote and gave lectures on a variety of subjects including women’s rights and abolition.  The Treats moved in 1869 to Vineland, a model town and community in New Jersey founded by Charles K Landis.

Newspaper article entitled 'A lady and her spiders'‘A Lady and her Spiders’ – Shields Daily Gazette 28 August 1879  British Newspaper Archive

Mary Treat was a self-trained naturalist with a particular interest in insects and carnivorous plants.  Having made scientific investigations with her husband, she continued to research and publish on her own after the couple separated and Joseph went to live in New York.  He died in 1878 at the age of 55 and was buried at Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

After the separation, Mary supported herself by writing scientific magazine articles as well as books including Chapters on Ants (1879) Injurious insects of the farm and garden (1882); and Home Studies in Nature (1885).  She corresponded with Charles Darwin and had plant and insect species named after her.

Drawing of the geometric web of a garden spider from Mary Treat's Home Studies in Nature
Geometric web of a garden spider from Home Studies in Nature (1885)

Mary Treat died in 1923 aged 92 at Pembroke, New York State, after a fall.  She too is buried in Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Findmypast and Ancestry for the passenger list of steamer Sarah Sands; land transactions; naturalization records; UK and US census records; birth, marriage and burial records.
Atlas of Dubuque County 1906 
Injurious insects of the farm and garden
Chapters on Ants
Home Studies in Nature
Tina Gianquitto, ‘Of Spiders, Ants, and Carnivorous Plants – Domesticity and Darwin in Mary Treat’s Home Studies in Nature’, in Annie Merrill Ingram, Ian Marshall, Daniel J. Philippon, and Adam W. Sweeting (eds) Coming into Contact – Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2007)

 

29 September 2022

The HCLF, chatbots and balancing cats

What links chatbots with balancing cats? The Human-Computer Learning Foundation (HCLF) was founded in 1994, by computer scientist Donald Michie; psychologist Jean Hayes Michie; and television producer Rupert Macnee (son of Patrick Macnee, star of the 1960s TV show The Avengers). The HCLF was a charitable trust created for the purposes of furthering for the public benefit 'the awareness, understanding, and use of human-computer learning and artificial intelligence'.

Photograph of Donald Michie and Jean HayesDonald Michie and Jean Hayes (Add MS 88958/5/4), reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie

The HCLF defined human-computer learning to mean "that the human and computer partners both learn from each other as they go along, exchanging partly formed concepts while each assisting the other to bring nascent ideas and conceptualisation to levels difficult for either to attain alone".

The administrative papers of the HCLF were collected over the life of the organisation by Rupert Macnee, and donated to the British Library in 2020. Rupert served as secretary for the HCLF from its inception. The archive includes registration and legal documents, correspondence, accounts, meeting minutes and articles. Many are printed on the back of documents relating to Macnee's work as a television producer.

Letter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLFLetter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLF, Add MS 89496/2. Reproduced with permission of Rupert Macnee and the estate of Donald Michie.

The HCLF felt that technology and the internet's rapid development was causing people to be left behind, creating a gap in skills required to obtain jobs. The papers trace how the HCLF began developing downloadable computer games designed to build the user's perceptual and motor skills, whilst simultaneously developing the knowledge base available to the computer. One of these games involved a pole-balancing 'polecat'. An idea to try and incorporate the popular Japanese manga and cartoon chat character Doraemon to boost sales in Japan was suggested, but after actually seeing the character's appearance they deemed his design to be too round for their requirements. Some skills could be learnt using a voice instruction system developed by the HCLF, known as "Automated Voice-Over Training". Macnee provided the test voice for the system, likening it to Obi-Wan Kenobi tutoring Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. They discussed the idea of partnering with Disney or Warner Brothers to create a version for children.

Developing the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character DoraemonDeveloping the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character Doraemon, Add MS 89496/3. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

The archive also reveals how the HCLF developed a 'chatbot' computer program called Sophie, similar to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ELIZA program from 1964. Sophie was presented as a casual member of staff working for the HCLF. Visitors could 'chat' to her on the HCLF website, but after a certain amount of interaction the visitor would be told that Sophie had to get back to work. As an alternative they could pay and subscribe to her Conversation Club, where they could chat for as long as they wanted. Sophie was programmed to analyse the questions she was asked and provide suitable answers. 'She' would learn from each interaction. A fictitious profile and backstory was created for Sophie, including a family, which had some amusing results. Her brother John worked for 'Woofie Bits dog-food manufacturers', and her sister Julia's religion was listed as 'nature-worship,  vegetarian'.

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members, Deposit 10206. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

Tragically, Donald Michie was killed in a car crash in 2007, and the HCLF was disbanded shortly afterwards. The study, development and use of artificial intelligence for language learning, however, has continued.

Jonathan Schofield
Manuscripts cataloguer

Donald Michie at the British Library
The Donald Michie papers at the British Library is comprised of three separate tranches of material, gifted to the library in 2004 and 2008. They consist of correspondence, notes, notebooks, offprints and photographs, and are available to users through the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, under references Add MS 88958, Add MS 88975 and Add MS 89072.

The archive of the Human-Computer Learning Foundation can be found at Add MS 89496. For copies of agreements relating to the HCLF please see Add MS 89072/2/3.

 

30 August 2022

Coxwell’s concrete lemon

A recent donation to the India Office Private Papers is an ensign’s commission granted to Anthony Merry who joined the East India Company as an army cadet in 1798.

Commission as ensign granted to Anthony MerryCommission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anthony Merry was baptised at Great Warley in Essex on 2 September 1783, the younger son of Anthony Merry and Margaret (née Hornby).  When Anthony senior died in 1785, his will confirmed the marriage settlement made with Margaret together with a further £200.  The settlement appears to have included the manor of Hayleys in Epping.  Anthony did not mention his children.  The bulk of the remaining estate went to his sister Elizabeth Pinnell and other relations.

Margaret Merry re-married twice.  In 1786 she wed widower William Dowson of Chamberlain’s Wharf Southwark, and their son William was born the following year.  Dowson died in 1791, leaving Margaret £100 and the use during her lifetime of Millfield House in Highgate.

In 1795 Margaret married another widower Henry Coxwell, a chemist and druggist in Fleet Street London.  They had a son Charles in 1795 and a daughter Elizabeth in 1797.  Coxwell was a member of the Committee of Chemistry at the Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and the inventor of concrete lemon.

Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell- Bath Chronicle 1799Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell - Bath Chronicle 7 March 1799 British Newspaper Archive

Concrete lemon was crystallized lemon juice, ‘the pure acid part of the fruit in a solid and dry form, resembling in appearance white sugar candy’.  Coxwell signed each package sold as a guarantee of its authenticity.

Handbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemonHandbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemon - British Library General Reference Collection Cup.21.g.24/5 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The crystals were said to be ‘convenient and elegant’, dissolving instantly in cold water, and cheaper than fresh lemons or lemon juice.  They could be used to make punch, lemonade, or sauces.  Ships of the Royal Navy and East India Company were supplied with Coxwell’s concrete lemon to help guard sailors against scurvy.

Thomas Trotter's comment about the use of Coxwell's concrete lemon by the Royal NavyThomas Trotter, Medicina Nautica; an Essay on the diseases of Seamen vol III (London, 1803), p.76 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Henry Coxwell died at Millfield House in 1832, ‘deeply and deservedly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance’.  His library was sold three years later.  This included a collection of modern medical books together with others on a variety of subjects – travel, plant, insects, literature, philosophy, politics.

Newspaper advert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's libraryAdvert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's library - Sun (London) 19 October 1835 British Newspaper Archive

Anthony Merry died before his stepfather, in 1831.  His career in the Madras Army had been very brief.  In February 1801 Lieutenant Merry was stationed at Seringapatam with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment Native Infantry.  He wrote to  his commanding officer, Major Thomas Riddell, expressing his wish to resign the Company’s service and to proceed to Europe at the first opportunity.  Major General Brathwaite recommended that this request be granted, given Merry’s general character and conduct.  Merry was permitted to resign and told to go immediately to Madras and be ready to embark for Europe.

After his return to England, Anthony Merry served as an officer in regiments of the Royal Militia.  He married Elizabeth Strivens in 1805 and settled in Kentish Town in north London.  It appears the couple had four children: Margaret, Robert, Eliza (died in infancy), and William Henry.  Anthony’s East India Company commission was carefully preserved and passed down the family before being gifted to the British Library.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Commission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759.
Baptism of Anthony Merry – India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/9/108 f. 466.
Papers in Madras Military Proceedings 1801 about Anthony Merry’s resignation - India Office Records IOR/P/254/70 pp.1788-1791, 1794-1795.
Will of Anthony Merry 1785 – The National Archives PROB 11/1127/339.
Will of Anthony Merry 1813 - The National Archives PROB 11/1785/332.
Will of Anthony Merry 1835 - The National Archives PROB 11/1849/369.
Will of Sukey Merry 1840 - The National Archives PROB 11/1921/375.

 

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

 

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.

 

03 November 2021

Unexpected items found cataloguing Hans Sloane’s natural history drawings

All manuscripts are unique and cataloguing them often leads to unexpected findings.  The 73 albums of natural history drawings recently selected for cataloguing as part of a PhD placement project undertaken in the Modern Archives and Manuscripts Department at the British Library are no exception.  Bird feathers, prints obtained from plant leaves, the wings of a dragonfly, a dried fish skin – at first, these objects seem to have little in common.  In fact, they all belong to the same remarkable early modern collection of natural history drawings. So how do they fit within it?

The albums of drawings catalogued during this project were bequeathed by the physician and Royal Society fellow Hans Sloane (1660-1753), who kept them in his library alongside prints, manuscripts and printed books.  You can learn more about Sloane’s legacy and his manuscripts through our collection guide.  Plants and animals easily come to mind as subjects of natural history drawings, but in Sloane’s lifetime, this category encompassed a broader range of topics, all of which are represented in his collection. There are studies on human and animal anatomy, maps and charts, sketches of fossils and minerals, costume albums and architectural drawings, all executed in a range of techniques.

Paper is not the only material found in the albums: parchment, cardboard and canvas were used for watercolours, and a series of studies of butterflies was even executed on small veneer panels, pasted on the folios of an album.

Study of a yellow butterfly on a dark green backgroundAdd MS 5271, item 162: Monogrammist ‘d.v.’ (Nicolaes de Vree?), Study of a butterfly, late 17th century. Oil on veneer panel, 47 x 87 mm.

There are not just albums in this collection.  As the drawings vary significantly in size and format, they were housed differently.  Pictured below is an example of a roll, filled with nature prints obtained from inking different leaves.  A team effort was necessary to measure this more than 5 metres long roll, which will not fit on any Reading Room table!

Paper roll filled with nature prints obtained from inking different leavesAdd MS 5026: The roll with nature prints, partly unrolled. Ink and watercolour over 14 sheets of paper pasted together and laid down on canvas; 33 x 552 cm.

A renowned collector, Sloane received donations and acquired works from many collecting enthusiasts, so that reconstructing the drawings’ provenance remains challenging.  How this dried fish skin made its way into an album of miscellaneous fish drawings is unclear, but the accompanying inscription tells us that the fish was ‘from Gibraltar by the persons sent from the King of Poland to collect natural curiosities in Africa, 1732’.  Sloane’s botanical specimens are now in the Natural History Museum, but some ‘organic matter’ remains in the albums.

Dried fish skin with an eye made of cardboard, accompanied by an inscription in pen in brown ink

Add MS 5267, item 99: dried fish skin with an eye made of cardboard, accompanied by an inscription in pen in brown ink.

In Sloane’s drawings collection, art and nature come together in fascinating ways.  In a series of watercolours of birds by the naturalist George Edwards, the iridescent wings of a dragonfly were pasted around the drawn body of the insect.

Dragonfly - the iridescent wings of a dragonfly were pasted around the drawn body of the insect.Add MS 5264, item 139. Detail from a watercolour of birds and insect by George Edwards, with real dragonfly wings pasted on paper.

In Sloane’s ambitious project to understand the variety of the natural world through arrangement and classification, specimens and artefacts were studied alongside images of the same.  Could this help explain why a watercolour of a crossbill includes two real feathers from this bird pinned onto the sheet?

Watercolour sketch of a crossbill. pencil and two bird feathers on paper.Fig. 5. Add MS 5264, item 73: Unknown artist, sketch of a crossbill. Watercolour, pencil and two bird feathers on paper.

These are just some highlights from a multifaceted drawings collection, which we hope many British Library readers will be keen to explore and help research further. The descriptions of these albums will become available on our online catalogue in early 2022.

Alice Zamboni
PhD placement student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts Department and PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Further reading and links to online resources:
Reconstructing Sloane projects website Reconstructing Sloane – Welcome to Reconstructing Sloane.
Kim Sloan & Felicity Roberts, partial transcript of the handwritten British Library catalogue of Additional Manuscripts, vols 20-21, for Sloane’s albums of drawings (entries Add MSS 5018-5027 H and 5214-5308).
Sloane’s manuscript catalogue listing his albums along with books and printed ephemera, MS 3972 C vol IV 

Some of Sloane’s Additional Manuscripts have been digitised thanks to funding by the Oak Foundation and Trinity College Cambridge and can be consulted online

 

18 May 2021

Introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Hans Sloane

One day in early August 1735, a woman arrived at the London home of Sir Hans Sloane, letter of introduction in hand.  Social networking etiquette required such a document when approaching a new acquaintance.  And, Elizabeth Blackwell hoped to connect with Sloane, who was linked with numerous networks of knowledge, and acquire his support.  Some 280 years later, that letter is held by the British Library and identified as Sloane MS 4054, f. 90.

Letter written by physician Alexander Stuart introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans SloaneThis letter, written by physician Alexander Stuart, introduced Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane MS 4054, f. 90

One of Sloane’s close colleagues, a Scots-born physician named Alexander Stuart, had written it on Blackwell’s behalf.  But even before stating the reason for her visit, Stuart assured Sloane that 'Mrs. Blackwell' merited his consideration. She was, he wrote, the 'Niece of Sir Wm. Simson, one of the Barons of the Exchequer, whom you know; & first Cousine to My Lady Cook Windford, whom you also know'.  She was, then, a gentlewoman who could be linked to persons familiar to Sloane.

With those salient points covered, Stuart explained why Blackwell wished to see him.  She was working on a project, and Sloane’s endorsement would be of great help.  A 'very ingenious person', Blackwell wanted to draw a set of about 500 plants from the most up-to-date (1721) edition of the Dispensatory of the Royal College of Physicians.  Blackwell also had with her a proposal for the project. In all likelihood, it was similar to those drawn up by persons who were writing books that they wanted to sell by subscription.  Its wording probably resembled the text of an advertisement that ran in the London Evening Post on 9-11 October 1735: 'This Day are publish’d PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION, A Curious Herbal'.

Botanical drawing of a dandelionElizabeth Blackwell’s illustrations include this Dandelion. Plate 1 of Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737). 452.f.1.

Stuart’s letter also noted that the document had space at the bottom for signatures of endorsers – akin, perhaps, to the page that is found in volume one of effectively every copy of A Curious Herbal.  The apothecary Isaac Rand had composed the proposal for Blackwell and, along with the illustrious Dr Richard Mead, had promised to sign it.   Would Sloane also 'be so good as to sign the recommendation'?

Page of Publick Endorsements from A Curious HerbalThis page of Publick Endorsements likely resembled the one that accompanied the proposal that apothecary Isaac Rand wrote for Blackwell. A Curious Herbal (London: Charles Nourse, 1782), vol. 1. 445.h.6.

As it happened, no.  But Sloane would help Blackwell in other ways, which were cited in the dedication that she composed to him – one that was engraved and printed on pages found in various copies of A Curious Herbal.  Likewise, Blackwell would compose dedications to Stuart, Mead, Rand, and six other men who contributed to her undertaking.

Elizabeth Blackwell's dedication to Sloane in A Curious HerbalSloane didn’t sign Blackwell’s recommendation but he helped her in other ways, as noted in this dedication. Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737), vol. 1, after plate 96. 452.f.1.

What other insights might Stuart’s letter provide into A Curious Herbal and Elizabeth Blackwell?  If nothing else, its references to Blackwell’s uncle and cousin (whom, research indicates, lived in or near London) cast some doubt on claims that she was from Aberdeen.  Without wishing to wound Aberdonian pride, the possibility cannot be discounted.

Janet Stiles Tyson
PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London

 

23 March 2021

The search for Franklin in the Barrow Bequest

An intriguing collection of manuscripts known as the Barrow Bequest was acquired by the British Museum in February 1899. The private collection was created by Sir John Barrow (1764–1848) and his son Colonel John Barrow (1808–1898) during their official careers at the Admiralty and as writers and promoters of Arctic exploration.

Sir John Barrow appointed Sir John Franklin to lead the ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. Less well-known than his father, John Barrow Junior has recently been called the ‘quiet hero of the search for Franklin’ for his efforts in coordinating the search expeditions from 1848 onwards.  Franklin’s two ships – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – were last seen by Europeans on 26 July 1845 near Baffin Bay in Greenland, and later by Inuit near King William Island.  

The Barrow Bequest includes drawings made during a British diplomatic mission to China in 1792–93 and Sir John Barrow’s expedition to southern Africa in 1801–02 (Add MS 35300), as well as the manuscripts of Barrow’s autobiography and other writings. The largest part of the collection, however, relates to Arctic exploration.

The letters, drawings, maps and printed materials collected by John Barrow Junior while he was Keeper of the Records for the Admiralty tell the stories of the early expeditions which embarked for the Arctic in search of Franklin and his missing expedition. Many of the letters from individuals involved in the expeditions are addressed to Barrow, including several from Jane Franklin, who tirelessly promoted and sponsored the missions to discover her husband’s fate.

Add MS 35304 contains records relating to the voyage of HMS North Star, commanded by James Saunders in 1849–50. The North Star was intended as a provision ship for the Franklin search expedition under Sir James Clark Ross.

View of Wolstenholme Sound showing the outlet between Baring’s Island and the northern mainland [Greenland]View of Wolstenholme Sound showing the outlet between Baring’s Island and the northern mainland [Greenland], 1849-50. Add MS 35304, f. 9.

Highlights include five watercolour drawings of Wolstenholme Sound on the north-west coast of Greenland near Baffin Bay. These show a desolate landscape of glaciers and barren islands. Tiny figures explore their surroundings while their ship, the North Star, is locked in the ice. The North Star failed to meet the Ross expedition and returned to England after spending a winter in the ice in what is now named North Star Bay.

View of Wolstenholme Sound showing Wolstenholme Island, Dundas Hill and Baring’s Island, GreenlandView of Wolstenholme Sound showing Wolstenholme Island, Dundas Hill and Baring’s Island, Greenland, 1849-50. Add MS 35304, f. 10.

Another highlight is The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette, a handwritten magazine illustrated with watercolour and pen-and-ink drawings which was 'published in winter quarters, Arctic Regions’ between 28 October 1852 and 12 February 1853. The magazine is written largely in the hand of Sherard Osborn, who was in command of HMS Pioneer in the Franklin search expedition under Sir Edward Belcher. It was created for the entertainment of the crew and the volume includes two playbills for the Queens Arctic Theatre printed on board HMS Assistance. The crews abandoned the ships in the summer of 1854 after spending two winters in the ice and failing to find Franklin.

A scene from Hamlet in The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette,A scene from Hamlet in The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette, 1852-53. Add MS 35305, f. 32.

Playbill for the The Queens Arctic Theatre, 21 Dec 1852, HMS Assistance.Playbill for the The Queens Arctic Theatre, 21 Dec 1852, HMS Assistance. Add MS 35305, f. 31v.

The wrecks of Erebus and Terror were found in 2014 and 2016 by Parks Canada in an area that was identified by Inuit. The search for evidence of the Franklin expedition continues to this day.

Catherine Angerson
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts
@BL_ModernMSS

Digital Resources:

The British Library has digitised the ten volumes in partnership with Adam Matthew for Age of Exploration, an online collection of primary sources relating to five centuries of global exploration, trade and colonial expansion.

The following volumes are now available to view in full on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

Vol. I. Drawings by William Alexander and Samuel Daniell [in China, Southeast Asia, South America and southern Africa] (Add MS 35300)

Vol. II. Autograph manuscript of Sir John Barrow’s Voyages of Discovery and Research within the Arctic regions (Add MS 35301)

Vol. III. 'An Autobiographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart. (late of the Admiralty)' (Add MS 35302)

Vol. IV. ‘A Supplementary Chapter to the Biographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart.’ (Add MS 35303)

Vol. V. Watercolour drawings and printed materials relating to the voyage of H.M.S. North Star to Baffin Bay and Barrow Straits (Add MS 35304)

Vol. VI. Manuscript of The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette (Add MS 35305)

This list will be updated as further volumes are added. You can also browse the collection and read full catalogue descriptions in our online catalogue.

Further Reading:

The search for John Franklin and the discovery of the Northwest Passage, British Library (2018)
Claire Warrior, New discoveries from the lost Franklin expedition, Royal Museums Greenwich (Feb 2020)

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs