Untold lives blog

55 posts categorized "Visual arts"

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)

25 August 2020

The Temples of Mahabalipuram and the early days of Heritage Conservation

A Privy Council appeal from 1893 reveals an attempt to preserve historic monuments in India at a time when British heritage conservation was in its infancy.

Appeals to the British Privy Council are available for free on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) and include many cases from British India.  This appeal concerns an area of land on the east coast of India containing a quarry and a group of temples then known as the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram.  It was purchased by the British government from the Mudaliar family around 1890.

Mahavellipore. The Five RathsThe Pancha Ratha or Pandava Rathas, at Mamallapuram near Madras from James Fergusson's Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India (X590) Online Gallery  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The monuments near the town of Mahabalipuram were created in 630-668 CE and now form a UNESCO World Heritage site.  They consist of several raths, or monolithic temples, and caves cut into the rock.    The site is famed for a sculpted frieze depicting the Descent of the Ganges.  After visiting in 1841 James Fergusson, architectural historian, described the sculpture as ‘the most remarkable thing of its class in India’.

The rock sculpture of Arjuna’s Penance, MahabalipuramThe rock sculpture of Arjuna’s Penance, Mahabalipuram (WD 4206) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Privy Council appeal brought by the Mudaliars concerns the value of the rock remaining in the quarry.  The judgment was given in the Mudaliars’ favour.  However, the document begins by describing the temples, not the quarry: ‘the Government of India is desirous of saving from destruction, and of preserving as public monuments, certain works… known as the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram'.

There were worries that the structures were in danger.  The appeal mentions that the Mudaliars had begun using explosives in the quarry, so ‘local authorities felt alarmed and advised the Government to interfere’.

While government intervention was common in India, in the United Kingdom the rights of landowners made the purchase of sites for their preservation more difficult.  The British Ancient Monuments Protection Act was enacted in 1882 to survey and record the locations of ancient sites, but had no powers to force their purchase.

Mahavallipore. Cave with a structural VimanaCave with a structural Vimana at Mahabalipuram from James Fergusson's Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India (X590) Online Gallery  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fergusson, who described the temples in the appeal, travelled India in the 1830s and 1840s.  From 1845 he used a camera lucida to sketch Indian architecture for publications like his Illustrations of the Rock Cut Temples of India.  Many of these illustrations are available to view on the British Library website.

In the preface to a later edition, Fergusson notes that his images had captured the British imagination: ‘In consequence of the interest which these publications excited among those interested in the study of Indian Antiquities, a memorial was addressed to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, praying them to take steps to prevent further desecration and destruction of these venerable monuments of the past'.

Books like Fergusson’s publicised the value of historic monuments and increased pressure for their preservation.  In 1895 the National Trust was founded and was soon followed by additional conservation legislation in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Archaeological Survey of India, whose records are held at the British Library, took over the preservation of the site at Mahabalipuram.  The monuments were maintained in the intervening years and are now the main tourist attraction in the area.

Matthew Waters
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Privy Council Appeal: Secretary of State for India in Council v Shanmugaraya Mudaliar and others (Madras) 
J. Fergusson (1841) Illustrations of the rock cut temples of India (Vol.1), London – Preface from 1864 edition
Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1925-1932 (IOR/V/21/99)

 

06 August 2020

John Dean: Celebrity shipwreck survivor of the 1740s

On 17 September 1740, the East India Company’s Court of Directors in London received word that a man had returned from the dead.  That man, John Dean, miraculously survived the shipwreck of the Sussex, an East India Company ship that sank, along with its cargo, off the coast of Madagascar in March 1738.  It took Dean 16 months, most of which was spent walking across Madagascar, to find a European ship to rescue him.  That ship transported him from Madagascar to Bombay, where his story was transcribed, then sent on to the East India Company in London.

By the time Dean reached London in September 1741, a year had passed since the Company’s Court of Directors had learned of his survival, and his story had been published at least twice as a 22 page booklet.  Soon after his return, a risqué mezzotint portrait of a shirtless John Dean was also published in London, showing him standing on a rocky shoreline, holding a spear, with the Sussex sinking in the background.  This rugged image of Dean most likely increased his celebrity, and parallels were made between his story and Daniel Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe.

Portrait of John Dean, three-quarter length, holding a spear, leaning back to the right against a rock, an axe and rolled mat beside him, a knife in his belt, wearing only a tattered pair of shorts, gesturing and looking to left, a ship tossed in heavy waves in the background.Mezzotint of John Dean, c.1743 © The Trustees of the British Museum  1364161001 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) (Another copy -British Library P553)

What is most interesting about John Dean’s story is that the East India Company controlled it.  On 19 September 1740, two days after the Court of Directors first received Dean’s account from Bombay, the Company’s Committee of Lawsuits put forward that 'a Bill be filed at Chancery against the Captain of the Sussex'.   John Dean’s survival had enormous value to the East India Company because Francis Gostling, the captain of the Sussex, who had also survived the shipwreck, had given a different version of events when he returned to London a few months after the Sussex sank, in the summer of 1738.  As punishment for the deaths at sea of sixteen men from his crew (one of whom was John Dean), Gostling was removed from the Company’s service, but he was absolved of losing the Sussex’s valuable cargo.  However, Dean’s account described Gostling’s actions on board the sinking ship as dishonourable, and made him out as directly contributing to the deaths of the abandoned crew.

Armed with John Dean’s story, the East India Company ruined Francis Gostling by ordering £25,000 in compensation for the Sussex’s lost cargo.  After their success at the King’s Bench in May 1743, the Company commissioned Willem Verelst on 16 June 1743 to paint not one, but three portraits of John Dean.  Two of these portraits still exist, and show a happy, healthy man, respectfully dressed in smart working class attire, carrying a hat and a walking stick in one hand and a letter of reference in the other.  They contrast with the mezzotint portrait from 1741 by showing a man who had comfortably returned to civilization.  In 1744 Dean was appointed as an elder porter at the East India Company’s Drug Warehouse, and in December 1747 he died, probably when he was in his early 40s.

Portrait of John Dean, three quarter length,  dressed in smart working class attire, carrying a hat and a walking stick in one hand and a letter of reference in the other.Oil painting of John Dean by Willem Verelst, commissioned 1743. British Library F19  BL - Images Online 

It seems to me that the portraits of John Dean say more about the East India Company than they do about the man shown in the painting.  Do you agree?

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
'History of John Dean', The Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1807, p.606.
A True and Genuine Narrative of the whole affair relating to the Ship Sussex as sent to the Directors of the Honourable East India Company; From the Time she was deserted by the Officers, and greatest part of the Crew, till she was unfortunately wreck’d on the Bassas De India... By John Dean, The only surviving person of them all (London, 1740)
Account of John Dean’s story, dated Bombay December 1739, being read at East India House, 17 September 1740, BL – IOR/B/66, f.84.
Account of a bill being filed against Captain Francis Gostling, 19 September 1740, BL – IOR/B/66, f.151.
Account of John Dean’s first appearance before the Court of Directors on 2 September 1741, BL - IOR/B/66, f.366.
John Dean’s appointment as an Elder Porter, Friday 15 March, 1744, BL – IOR/B/68, f.243.
“Warrant be made out to Mr. William Verelst for Fifty Guineas for painting two originals and one copy of John Deane late belonging to the Ship Sussex...” , 17 June 1743, BL - IOR/B/67, f.333.

 

04 August 2020

Two portrait painters on a passage to India

In these times of lockdown and social distancing, unable to visit friends and family, many of us have become used to keeping in touch in other novel ways.  In somewhat of the same manner, digitised India Office Records shed light on a method in the 18th century by which families separated from each other by the vast distances of a growing empire kept in touch: the portrait miniature.  As the East India Company established its domains in India and increasing numbers of families were residing there for long periods of time, a demand grew for miniature portraits which could be easily sent back to loved ones in Britain.

To meet this demand required the skills and expertise of portrait painters in India to undertake commissions from those wealthy enough to afford them.  These painters, like anyone else, had to be given permission to proceed to India by the Court of the East India Company.  Two such painters were Diana Hill and George Carter.

On 14 September 1785 the Court ordered that George Carter be ‘permitted to proceed to India to practice as a Portrait Painter’ and seven days later the same order was issued for Diana Hill.

Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors, 14 September 1785, giving George Carter permission to travelMinutes of East India Company Court of Directors, 14 September 1785, giving George Carter permission to travel - IOR/B/101 p.396 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors,, 21 September 1785, giving Diana Hill permission to travelMinutes of East India Company Court of Directors,, 21 September 1785, giving Diana Hill permission to travel - IOR/B/101 p.416 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Their passage to India took them to Bushire on the Persian coast where they required further clearance.  A letter in 1786 from Rawson Hart Boddam, Robert Sparks, and Richard Church of the Public Department at Bombay Castle to Edward Galley, the Resident at Bushire, records that ‘Mr George Carter and Mrs Diana Hill Portrait Painters have our leave to proceed to India to practice their profession’.

Extract from letter sent in 1786 from Bombay to the Resident at Bushire about George Carter and Diana HillExtract from letter sent in 1786 from Bombay to the Resident at Bushire about George Carter and Diana Hill - IOR/R/15/1/4, f 61 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Once in India, they were commissioned to paint many miniature portraits – examples of Diana Hill’s are held at the V&A Museum and George Carter’s at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Portrait miniature of an unknown girl, watercolour on ivory. The girl is wearing a very large white bonnet with pink ribbons.Portrait miniature of an unknown girl, watercolour on ivory, painted by Mrs Diana Hill (1760?-1844). British School, painted in India, ca. 1785-1790. Image courtesy of V&A Museum.

With museums and galleries opening again we can appreciate at first hand the skills of such painters who helped families separated by thousands of miles keep in touch in the late 18th century.

Dr Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825 (Sotheby’s Publications, 1979).
These snippets of George Carter and Diana Hill’s passage to India are contained in the British Library, India Office Records and Private Papers.  The Minutes of the Court of Directors in IOR/B have been digitised as part of Adam Matthew Digital’s East India Company resource (free access in British Library Reading Rooms).   IOR/R/15/1/4 is available on the Qatar Digital Library.

 

19 March 2020

The East India Company’s stud farm in Essex

Today’s Untold Lives centres on horses rather than people.  By 1800 the East India Company was increasingly reliant on its army, and suitable horses were needed.  On 2 January 1801 the Court of Directors paid Company official James Coggan £400 to purchase a stallion for the use of the Company’s stud in India.  They agreed to pay for a ‘Proper Person’ to act as a groom and accompany the horse to Bengal.  Further sums were authorised for the purchase of two mares a few weeks later and it was agreed to send three or four thoroughbred stallions and seven strong hunting mares to improve the breeding stock in India.

On 16 March 1801 the Court set up a Stud Committee to look into the quality of horses available for the Company in India.  Whilst Asiatic horses were suitable for the native soldiers, they were not ideal for the heavier European men.  Stronger native horses bred for the harness were too thick in the shoulder to act as a charger.  Arabian stallions were too small for Company purposes.  It was decided to set up a stud farm in England to breed the ideal blood lines to send to the stud farms in India.

Elizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexElizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman  - British Library Foster 240 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


David Scott, Chairman of the Committee, offered to present the new venture with a fine grey Arabian stallion from his estate in Scotland.  The Court initially considered acquiring part of the Cannons estate at Little Stanmore Middlesex but this proved unsuitable.  In July 1802 agreement was reached with John Towgood to lease a farm of 130 acres at Padnals near Romford in Essex.  John H Manley was put in charge of the farm but his services were dispensed with in January 1803.  Samuel Yull was then appointed to manage the establishment as resident groom.  The Company’s equine shipping agent, William Moorcroft, a respected veterinary expert, was appointed Superintendent of the Stud a few months later.

Worthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexWorthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman - British Library Foster 239. Worthy’s brother Waxy won the Derby in 1793. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The stud farm was a success. Some income was obtained from hiring out the services of the Company’s two stallions. The accounts at 25 March 1806 show nearly £440 was made from the stallions performing their duty with mares brought in to them in that season. 

Advert for Padnals Stud in Racing Calendar 1806Racing Calendar 1806   Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

From 1801 to March 1809, the horses sent to India were: 7 stallions, 6 mares, 26 colts, and 7 fillies.  In August 1804 a special stable was constructed on the upper deck of the ship Lord Keith for a prize stallion.  The Company directors were dismayed when ‘young Comus, one of the most valuable horses that could be procured in this country for the purpose of improving the breed in India’ was lost by carelessness when being transferred to a country ship soon after his arrival at Bombay.

There were concerns about inadequate management of the stud farm at Pusa in Bengal, so William Moorcroft sailed to India late in 1807 to superintend affairs.  It appears that Padnals was maintained by the Company until 1817 when Samuel Yull was given a pension of £80 per annum, and William Holmes, who had care of the colts, £40 per annum. Assistant groom James Craggs returned to his job as labourer in the Company tea warehouses with a pension of 5s per week.  After Yull’s death in 1824, his widow Olivia continued to receive half his pension.

Georgina Green
Independent researcher

Further reading:
East India Company Stud Papers 1794-1851- IOR/L/MIL/5/459-467
Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors  - IOR/B
Padnals property transactions IOR/L/L/2/1 pp.844-849
Garry Alder, Beyond Bokhara. The Life of William Moorcroft, Asian Explorer and Pioneer Veterinary Surgeon 1767-1825 (London, 1985)
 

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. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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' Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

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

 

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

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

 

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 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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

 

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