Untold lives blog

50 posts categorized "Science"

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)

05 January 2021

Bevin Trainees now in India Office Family History Search

In 1941 the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, supported the establishment of the Bevin Training Scheme to provide practical training in engineering for young Indians.  The Scheme was an effort to meet the demand for skilled engineers in Indian industries supporting the war effort.

Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factoryLeo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factory - from Engineering Bulletin September 1941 published by the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Crown Copyright) IOR/L/I/1/978

A previous story on Untold Lives revealed that the India Office Records include lists of the first seven batches of trainees invited to the UK and details of the firms they were placed with and houses they lodged in.

Example of a page from the India Office file showing the details recorded about the traineesExample of a page from IOR/L/E/8/8112 showing the details recorded about the trainees Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As part of the India Office Records team’s efforts to identify records of individuals in our collections who historically have been overlooked, we have now transcribed all the names and details from these lists into the British Library’s India Office Family History Search.

Here are some examples of entries:
Prasad, R. – Placed with the Cincinnatti Milling Machine Company, Birmingham, on 13 Oct 1941.  Lodged at 77 Eachelhurst Road, Erdington, Birmingham.  Trainee reference number 2/42.
Deshpande, H.G. – Placed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, Crewe, on 28 Sep 1942.  Lodged at Saxon House, Carlton Road, Whalley Range, Manchester.  Trainee reference number 5/38.
Nandy, S. – Placed with Vauxhall Motors, Luton, on 7 June 1943.  Lodged at 21 Ascot Road, Luton.  Trainee reference number 7/5.

We hope that this data will help your family history research and reveal stories about collaboration across cultures.

Matthew Waters
India Office Records

Further reading:
Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]
Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

05 November 2020

Making gunpowder after the English method

A letter dated 2 February 1725 from the East India Company directors in London to their Council in Bengal contained sections on the manufacture and use of gunpowder.  The Company was concerned about the quality of saltpetre being sent from Bengal and sent instructions on how to improve it.  They were also keen to stop gunpowder being wasted.

Saltpetre was a key ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.  The Company directors complained that the quality of saltpetre arriving in England had been declining for some years.  Very little had been bought at the London sale in March 1724, so they had decided to analyse samples from the 600 bags of saltpetre which had arrived from Bengal on the Lethieullier, Bridgewater, and Sarum.  The man who refracted the saltpetre reported that, although it looked white and good, there was a quantity of salt left in it.  The directors concluded that the Bengal Council must have employed unskilled people to refine the saltpetre, or their workers hadn’t been careful to separate the salt which was essential if good gunpowder was to be made.

Directions for refining saltpetre ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ IOR E/3/102 f.240v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

They sent ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ based on advice from experts.  The workers in Bengal were to use these in a trial on a small amount of saltpetre to see how they got on.
• Dissolve the saltpetre in fresh boiling water.
• As the scum rises, take it off and put it to one side.
• When no more scum rises, draw off the liquor into vessels and let it settle.  The remaining filth or earth which makes the petre look so dirty will sink.
• When the liquor is perfectly clear, draw it off and boil with a gentle fire until a thin film can be seen on the surface.
• Pour into large shallow coolers, no more than eight inches deep.  The saltpetre will shoot into crystals.
• Decant any surplus liquor.  Either start again with fresh saltpetre added to it or boil it down by itself for a second shooting.

 

View of a Fort St George Madras from the sea, with a church to the left, hill peaks behind and ships in the foreground, including one firing guns.View of Fort St George, Madras, 1782, with a ship firing guns © The Trustees of the British Museum


The letter also reported complaints from the owners of East India ships about the great expense of gunpowder lavished on salutes.  The directors ruled:
• No more than nine guns were to be fired when Company ships arrived at a port in India and had a fort to salute.  The forts were to return salutes with only that number.
• Nine guns when captains first came onshore from Europe or were leaving for Europe. Just seven guns for saluting captains at any other time.
• No more than five guns to answer country ships (except foreigners).
• No more than nine guns when the Governor, members of Council, or other Company personnel came on board or left the ship.
• Be as frugal as possible when using gunpowder at festivals, funerals and other occasions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/102 ff.231-240 Letter from East India Company directors in London to Bengal, 2 February 1725

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

27 October 2020

Wearing a face mask

With the coronavirus pandemic we are all getting used to wearing facemasks in a range of public spaces from shops to transport.  Yet whilst the wearing of masks feels very new to us it is not the first time that they have been employed as a form of protection during an epidemic.

Face masks have been worn as a form of protection from foul air, or miasma, since at least the early 17th century.  The miasma theory of infection, which was accepted by doctors from the 1st century BC until well into the 19th century, ventured that many diseases – such as plague and cholera – were caused and spread through populations inhaling bad air.  (Indeed, the disease malaria literally takes its name from bad (mal) air (aria) in medieval Italian.)  In order to be protected doctors, and the public alike, often carried posies of flowers to freshen the air around them or wore face coverings that both acted as a physical barrier against bad air and attempted to fragrance (and thus purify) the air that was breathed.

Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor wearing a mask- ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor entitled ‘Doctor Schnabel von Rome’, [trans. ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’], 1656. from Wikimedia Commons


One of the most striking and recognisable protective face masks from the past is the long beaked mask worn by plague doctors throughout the 17th century. The mask has been credited as being developed in 1619 by Charles de Lorme (1584-1678), the physician to the French kings Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV.  The mask, which was a form of early respirator, covered the doctor’s full face with glass openings for the eyes and two air holes for the nostrils.  The long beak contained a cavity into which was stuffed a variety of aromatic items intended to purify the foul air that passed through the mask.  It would typically be filled with dried flowers, herbs, spices or a sponge soaked in vinegar.  The mask’s grotesque features made the plague doctor an instantly recognisable and feared figure and it eventually became a popular costume for revellers at the Carnival of Venice – an event made famous for its elaborate masks.

Kid skin face mask with silk ribbonsKid skin mask with silk ribbons, worn as a prophylactic against the plague, c. 1660. Add MS 78428 B Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Although not as dramatic as those worn by the plague doctors, the British Library holds a face covering from the mid-17th century that has some similar features to shield against the plague.  The Library’s covering is made from fine kidskin leather and comprises a pouch into which the wearer could place scented materials to protect the nose and mouth from foul air.  The Library’s intriguing face covering is found in the archive of the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) and was possibly worn by him as a form of protection during the London plague epidemic of 1665-1666; the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England.

It is not clear how much protection these plague masks afforded, but both de Lorme and Evelyn lived through years of plague to survive well into old age.  Masks can clearly help support public health and though it feels strange at first, we should remember wearing them in an epidemic is nothing new.

Alexander Lock
Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts and Archives

 

30 July 2020

Sir Andrew Scott Waugh and the naming of Everest

In a letter from Charles Canning, Governor General and Viceroy of India to Lord Elgin, dated 2 October 1861, he writes that Lady Canning has set out on a trip to Darjeeling and that she talks of going into Sikkim to see the highest mountain in the world – ‘Deodunga or Mount Everest as the Surveyors have barbarously christened it’.

Guarinsankar  or Mount Everest  in the Himalaya of NepalGuarinsankar, or Mount Everest, in the Himalaya of Nepal from Results of a Scientific Mission to India and High Asia, undertaken between the years 1854 and 1858, by order of the Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company, by H., A. and R. de Schlagintweit Shelfmark1899.a.8  BL - Images Online 

How did ’Mount Everest’ get its name?

The surveying of Everest was carried out under the auspices of Major General Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, Sir George Everest’s successor as both Surveyor General of India, and Superintendent of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Waugh was born into an Indian military family in 1810. He was appointed a cadet in the East India Company in 1827, and joined the Bengal Engineers.  He was assigned to the GTS in 1832.

Page from Andrew Scott Waugh's East India Company cadet application papers - a glowing report from his schoolmasterPage from Andrew Scott Waugh's East India Company cadet application papers - a glowing report from his schoolmaster IOR/L/MIL/9/166 f.239 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Trigonometrical Survey had been instituted in 1802 by the East India Company to survey scientifically the entire Indian subcontinent.  Initially it was thought that India could be surveyed in five years: in reality, it was to take seventy.  From 1823, the GTS was under the superintendence of George Everest, and he appointed Waugh to the service.  When Everest retired in 1843, he nominated his protégé to succeed him.

By the late 1830s, the Great Trigonometrical Survey reached the Himalayan region.  Foreigners were not allowed to enter Nepal, so observations were taken from Terai.  By 1847, Waugh and his team had noted that a mountain known as ‘Peak B’ appeared higher than Kangchenjunga, the then ‘highest mountain in the world’.  Calculations and observations continued, with the mountain rechristened ‘Peak XV’.  By 1852, the GTS’s talented mathematician or ‘Chief Computer’ Radhanath Sikdar established beyond doubt that the peak was indeed the highest mountain.  It was normal for the GTS to use local names as far as possible when naming peaks.  In this instance, Waugh stated “But here is a mountain, most probably the highest in the world, without any local name that we can discover, or whose native appellation, if it have any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepaul and to approach close to this stupendous snowy mass”.  He went on to suggest ‘Mount Everest’ as a suitable epithet, a name that was finally confirmed by the Royal Geographical Society in 1865.

Photograph of Sir George EverestPhotograph of Sir George Everest by Camille Silvy, 28 July 1862. NPG Ax60654 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


So, was the mountain ‘nameless’?  It is true that it was difficult to establish a definitive local name.  However, its Tibetan name Qomolangma (or Chomolungma) had been recorded in 18th century maps.  In Darjeeling, it was called Deodungha, meaning Holy Mountain, a name championed by Brian Houghton Hodgson, the naturalist and previous Resident to Nepal.  Even Sir George Everest made objections.  He had never seen the mountain, was not involved in its discovery, and pointed out that his name was difficult to pronounce in Hindi.  Interestingly, he appears to have pronounced his name ‘E-vrest’ rather than ‘Ever-est’.

Andrew Scott WaughPortrait of Andrew Scott Waugh by William Glynn c. 1857 British Library Photo 139/1(3)

Andrew Scott Waugh received the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal in 1856, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1858.  He retired in 1861, having been promoted to Major General and knighted in the same year.  He died in South Kensington in 1877.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699 Papers of Charles Canning and Charlotte Canning, Earl and Countess Canning:
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/53, item 2623 - correspondence from Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, including his memorials, and letters in praise of Sir George Everest; Mss Eur F699/1/1/2/1, letter 31 - Charles Canning to Lord Elgin, 2 October 1861.
IOR/L/MIL/9/166/232-39: Cadet papers of Andrew Scott Waugh.
Paper read by Andrew Scott Waugh to the Royal Geographical Society on 12 May 1857, reported in Illustrated London News, 15 August 1857, p.170.
John Keay, The Great ARC: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named (2000).
General J. T. Walker, ‘A Last Note on Mont Everest’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, Vol. 8, No. 4 (April 1886), pp. 257-263.

 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs