Untold lives blog

114 posts categorized "Women's histories"

22 October 2020

Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

This blog post provides a modest update to curator Margaret Makepeace’s 2012 and 2016 blog posts on Untold Lives - Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong? and Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!  Readers are encouraged to refresh their memory of Margaret’s posts before reading on here.


A letter from Eliza West (formerly Armstrong) to W. T. Stead, dated 6 March 1906, and sent from 50 Gladstone Street, Hebburn, confirms Eliza’s marriage to Henry George West, and his death, which left Eliza struggling to support her family and searching for ways to generate the necessary income to keep her household afloat.

Gladstone Street in 1987 showing terraced housesGladstone Street in 1987. Copyright South Tyneside Libraries

That W. T. Stead and Eliza were still in touch may come as a surprise to those familiar with ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, Stead’s series of sensational, New Journalism articles, published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, in an attempt to end the deadlock in Parliament over the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  Stead was vilified (and rightly so) for his part in the abduction of Eliza, in his overzealous campaign to prove that a child could be bought for £5 and sold into sex slavery on the streets of London.

In Eliza’s letter to Stead she thanks him for his ‘kind and welcome letter’ and the gift of a ‘butafull’ [sic] book.  There has clearly been some delay between Stead’s last missive and Eliza’s reply because she apologises for not responding sooner and tells Stead she has been ill.  The letter is familiar in tone, and in it Eliza informs Stead that she has made up her mind to take in lodgers: ‘for a liveing as I realy don’t know what else to do [sic]’.  She signs off ‘thanking you so much for all your kindness I never will forget nor cease to remember all your kindness to us'.

In the same year a letter on Salvation-Army-Headquarters-headed-paper and dated 31 October begins with the subject line:

MRS WEST = ELIZA ARMSTRONG

The letter is from Commissioner Adelaide Cox and begins ‘My dear Chief’ (presumably, therefore, it is addressed to Bramwell Booth).  Commissioner Cox informs Booth that she has ‘instructed Staff-Captain Salt to continue to visit this woman [Eliza West] once a week until she has really turned her present difficult corner’.

The letter goes on to say: ‘We are taking up the question of the children at our Headquarters here.  There are five; and the idea is to find Homes for the three middle children.  Mrs West is willing for this.  At present, there are two lodgers in the house, who pay weekly, and all would be well in this direction, but for the fact that Mrs West has something the matter with her leg, and is obliged to attend the Infirmary'.

Those five children were Alice Maud May (born 1896), and referred to as her eldest ‘May’ in Eliza’s letter to Stead, William Frederick (born 1898), Sybil Primrose (born 1900), Phyllis Irene (born 1902) and Henry George (born 1904).

Between March and October Eliza must have moved quickly to bring in the lodgers mentioned both in her letter to Stead and that of Adelaide Cox’s letter to Bramwell Booth.  And by 1911 it would seem that the Army had succeeded also, in placing those ‘three middle children’ elsewhere, because William Frederick, Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene are not listed as members of Eliza’s new household with partner Samuel O’Donnell in the 1911 census return.

Table based on census returns for the West and O'Donnell families in 1901 and 1911

* The 1911 census records ‘children born alive to present marriage’, and sub-divides that information between ‘total children born alive’, ‘children still living’ and ‘children who have died’.  Tellingly, and indeed poignantly, in Eliza’s column, under total children born alive the number 9 is written; children still living 8; children who have died 1; and then each number is struck-through as the realisation is made that only O’Donnell’s children count here, and so the numbers 3, 2, 1 are placed above the original numbers recorded.  This however, again, is not quite accurate, as Eliza’s dead child is Reginald Ladas West (born 1894, died 1897).  Nevertheless, this semi-legible, deleted information tells us that Eliza lost at least 1 child in her lifetime, and at the time of the 1911 census was survived by at least 8.  A recent search of the General Register Office birth index adds two more children born to Eliza and Samuel, Minnie and Norman O’Donnell.

Dr Helena Goodwyn
Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University

 

08 October 2020

The Law of Forfeiture: Applying English Traditions in India?

In a delicate case from 1864 the Privy Council considered whether the English practice of forfeiture following a suicide should apply to a subject of the British Raj.

Following the death of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor in Calcutta on 31 October 1844, a second will was discovered, written by him that morning, which left a portion of his estate to the East India Company (EIC).  Since his death was by his own hand, Bayadoor’s widow, Ranee Surnomoyee, disputed the validity of this will on the grounds that it was not written in sound mind.  The court found in favour of Ranee Surnomoyee, declaring the second will to be invalid.

The Court House, Calcutta - a hand-coloured print by Frederick Fiebig in 1851, showing people in the foreground, with a cart and a palanquin.The Court House, Calcutta, where the case would first have been heard.  A hand-coloured print from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. British Library Online Gallery

An appeal was then made to the Privy Council against this verdict on behalf of the EIC, citing the law of forfeiture in cases of suicide.  A digitised copy of the response of the Council is available to view on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

Known as felo-de-se within English common law, meaning 'crime of his-, or herself', suicide in England was associated with restless souls.  Confirmed victims were historically buried at crossroads with a stake through their heart, possibly in an effort to stop the soul from wandering.  The law was only changed to allow burials within churchyards following the tragic death of Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh in 1822.   Even then, restrictions still applied.   In her book on Victorian attitudes to suicide, Barbara Gates states that churchyard burials were allowed without Christian rites and restricted to 'at night, between the hours of nine and midnight, and his/her goods and chattels must still be turned over to the Crown'.

Robert Stewart  Viscount CastlereaghRobert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, took his own life in 1822, probably due to stress and depression caused by the strain of his political career and public unpopularity. The suicide of such a public figure inspired the re-examination of related English laws. Image from Jonah Barrington, Historic Memoirs of Ireland (London, 1833) BL flickr

Intended as a deterrent to criminals, the law of forfeiture passed the deceased’s property to the Crown and away from inheritors.  It also applied to suicides, which were considered a crime against the individual, God and the Crown.  Abolished by the Forfeiture Act 1870, the practice was applied infrequently, even at the time of our case.

In the appeal the representative of the EIC did not further contest the second will.  Instead he argued that English law, including forfeiture, applied in the colonies.  The privy councillors therefore had to consider the application of these laws in India.

They examined cultural differences between Britons and Indians to find examples of where British law did not fit with Indian traditions.  The main examples given by the Council were polygamy and child marriage.  Although shocking to Victorian sensibilities, these were part of the culture and beliefs of Indians at the time and so the EIC had allowed them to continue.  Therefore, by adapting English law to suit Indian culture, the EIC had set a precedent.

In conclusion, the Privy Councillors expressed their surprise at an effort to enforce forfeiture following a suicide as late as 1844 and their confusion at its application to an Indian Hindu.  They found in favour of the descendants of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor and allowed them to retain possession of his property.

Matthew Waters
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Barbara T Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 2nd edn (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Stewart, Robert, Viscount Castlereagh and second Marquess of Londonderry

 

17 September 2020

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Toilet Papers

The panic bulk buying of toilet paper and dried pasta?  Or Captain Tom Moore’s long march for the NHS?  It’s too soon to tell which aspects of 2020 historians will focus on.  However, as Sylvia Pankhurst’s biographer, my own obsession with toilet paper began a few years before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it began in the British Library.

Many people remember Sylvia Pankhurst as the suffragette sister from the first family of feminism who stayed true to its socialist beginnings throughout her great life.  Fewer reflect upon the whole arc of that life; one of art and resistance against war, fascism, racism, colonialism, and inequality.

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst 1938

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x24529 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Sylvia was the most incarcerated and tortured of the Pankhursts, but her prison career did not end there.  In 1921 she was once more His Majesty’s guest in Holloway Prison.  This time her crime was not the struggle for women’s equality but sedition, in publishing anti-war articles in her newspaper the Workers’ Dreadnought.  Her health compromised by previous imprisonment and torture, and suffering from endometriosis, one of the bravest Britons of the 20th century served another prison term, this time as a newspaper publisher defending freedom of the press.

Sylvia used her six-month solitary sentence to write.  A political prisoner, her only permitted writing materials were a small slate and chalk.  Yet she was prolific during this period.  On release, she published the poetry anthology Writ on Cold Slate, whose title sonnet agonizes about writing under such conditions.

Whilst many a poet to his love hath writ,
Boasting that thus he gave immortal life,
My faithful lines upon inconstant slate,
Destined to swift extinction reach not thee.

So, I wondered, how did these faithful lines reach us?

My excavation of British Library manuscripts revealed that artist and writer came up with a practical means of transcribing her writing and smuggling it out of Holloway.  Sylvia drafted her ideas with chalk on slate, then reworked them with soft pencil on standard issue HM Prison toilet paper, concealed in the underclothes of her uniform.  These contraband manuscripts were smuggled out by her friend Norah Smyth on prison visits, and other prisoners on release.  Sylvia’s suggestive wipe-away slate metaphor led me to the discovery of the fragile toilet paper reality.  The compressed, previously unsorted bundles surviving today in the BL contain not only poetry but a previously unknown and nearly complete five act play and clandestine correspondence that I spent six months painstakingly transcribing and putting in order for future researchers.

Sylvia complained to Norah that ‘the stuff I write all rubs off because it flops around in my pocket,’ but this line has survived for a century on its little square of rough toilet roll, along with hundreds of other sheets of beige, perforated prison issue toilet paper.  Sylvia Pankhurst died in Ethiopia in 1960, honoured with a state funeral.  When an earthquake and coup followed, her son unsuccessfully attempted to give a portion of her extensive papers to the British Library for safekeeping.  Refuge was instead found in Amsterdam.  Years later, Richard Pankhurst once again offered the BL the opportunity of a further cache of his mother’s papers, including – bundled up in bulging brown envelopes – this toilet paper in which I have found such treasure.  Thank goodness for second chances and for writing under lockdown.

Rachel Holmes
Author 

Further reading:
Pankhurst Papers - British Library Add MS 88925
Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel (Bloomsbury, 2020).

10 September 2020

Four 'Weddings' and a Funeral: A Liverpool Story

It started with checking family history loose ends in lockdown.  I was looking for a birth record in 1900 for Elizabeth A. Spinks in Liverpool.  In the 1901 census she was living with her mother Elizabeth Jane Spinks and maternal grandparents William and Margaret Davies in Becket Street, Kirkdale.  I eventually found the record for an Agnes Elizabeth Spinks.  Agnes’s father was Edward Spinks, an able seaman.  Spinks and Elizabeth Jane Davies had married in St Mary’s Church Kirkdale on 14 April 1895.  He wasn’t with his wife and daughter in 1901 because he was moored off Malta on the ship Illustrious

Plan of Liverpool 1845 with illustrations of ships and buildingsPlan of Liverpool (London,John Tallis & Co, 1845) Maps.25.a.2 Images Online

Looking to see what the family was up to in the 1911 census, I wasn’t prepared for the subsequent story of intrigue that surrounded my distant cousin Elizabeth Jane and the downright untruths recorded in the official documents.

Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 via Findmypast © Crown Copyright from The National Archives

In 1911 she is recorded as Elizabeth Jane Eccleston, wife of John Eccleston, house painter.  They were living in Thames Street, Toxteth Park, together with daughter Agnes and Ellen Constance Eccleston (3) and John William Eccleston (1).  The census states that the Ecclestons had been married for 5 years.  This is certainly a fib, and the wedding a phantom one, no doubt designed to give the Ecclestons some respectability within the community, and their children some legitimacy. 

Edward Spinks was very much alive at the time of the alleged Eccelston nuptials.  He appears in the admissions registers of Liverpool Workhouse in October 1905, having been taken off the Laconia in Huskisson Dock; he is described as ‘temporarily disabled’ and suffering a fever.  Elizabeth is recorded as his next of kin, living in Pugin Street, Everton.  Edward reappears in the Workhouse records in April 1910, suffering from dropsy.  He had previously spent time in Toxteth Park Workhouse hospital with ‘congestion of the lungs’. 

Elizabeth left Edward to live with John Eccleston at some point in 1906.   Agnes was removed from school in Everton on 21 May 1906, probably because the family moved out of the area.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool.Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool. Lancashire Banns & Marriages via Findmypast, Image © Liverpool City Council.

Elizabeth’s third wedding (counting the fantasy one) took place on 25 June 1913 at St Peter’s Parish Church Liverpool, when she “married” John Eccleston.   She is described as a widow, living in Walnut Street.  Perhaps Elizabeth truly believed that Spinks was dead – his spells in the Workhouse infirmaries indicate he wasn’t a well man.  However, he didn’t die until November 1916, aged 44. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Everton Cemetery.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.Marriage entry from General Register Office for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.  The church was opened in 1836, closed in 1973, and demolished in 1979.

Finally, Elizabeth and John Eccleston were married (again) in St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale, on 5 November 1919, 24 years after she’d married Edward Spinks in the same church.  This time, with Edward dead, presumably the marriage was legal.  Interestingly (or shamelessly) she was back living in Pugin Street, although not in the same house she’d lived in with Edward.  I have been unable to find any reference to a charge of bigamy against Elizabeth, though I find it surprising that she wasn’t ‘found out’, given the close knit ties amongst people in working class neighbourhoods within Liverpool at the time.  Perhaps by moving around this large industrial city, and lying on official documents, she was able to disguise her cohabitation, her illegitimate children, and bigamy.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Many cases relating to bigamy at the time can be found in the British Newspaper Archive.  A search for cases of bigamy relating to couples married at St Mary’s Church Kirkdale for example brings up the following cases:
Cheltenham Chronicle 17 Oct 1903: Case of Francis Huxham, barman, who married Agnes Edwards at St Mary’s, Kirkdale in 1900, then bigamously married Jane Hindley.
Cornishman 4 Nov 1909: Case of Daniel Young, seaman, who bigamously married Frances Stephenson at St Mary’s Kirkdale in September 1907 while married to Ellen Jane Opie of Penryn.
Dundee Evening Telegraph 24 Jul 1913: Case of Arabella Margaret Bake, married Joseph William Bake at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 25 Dec 1900, and bigamously married William Woolliscroft at Liverpool Parish Church in December 1905.
Liverpool Daily Post 3 Nov 1916: Case of Walter Turnbull Andrew Collier Hunter, seaman, married Jane Shaw Barton at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 23 December 1914, then bigamously married at St Anne’s Church Aigburth in December 1915.

 

31 August 2020

Music hall entertainment for Bank Holiday Monday

In August 1882 the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool advertised a varied bill for Bank Holiday Monday – magic, singing, comedy, dancing, opera.  The venue sought to attract customers not only through the quality of performers booked but also by its claim to be the coolest and best ventilated hall in England.

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool August 1882

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool - Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882. British Newspaper Archive

The acts for the evening of 5 August 1882 were listed as-

    Bryant’s Great Marionette

George Bryant operated marionette performances from the 1870s.  Here is a picture of his Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark –a ‘Novel, Wonderful and Amusing Speciality’, ‘the Best Mechanical Entertainment in Europe, consisting of Songs, Dances, Jokes, Choruses etc’.

Picture of Bryant's Marionette Minstrels playing instruments from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in SouthwarkBryant's Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark - British Library Evanion Collection 752

    Don Esparto, the Mystagogue, and Miss Lilian Haydn, the Enchantress

Don Esparto was the stage name of illusionist William Smith from Barrow Upon Humber, Lincolnshire.  He combined conjuring with mesmerism.  In one show, he made a man eat a candle in the belief that it was a string of sausages.  Miss Lilian Hadyn acted as his assistant and was described in newspapers as vivacious and a very good serio-comic.

    Sisters and Brother Phillips, the Burlesque Trio, The Three Comical Cards

This ‘Witty, Whimsical and Pantomimical’ act was formed in 1870 by W H Phillips who wrote the songs and material performed.  In 1886 he complained of ‘unprincipled copyists’ malignant vindictiveness and jealousy’.

    Brady and Johnson, the Inimitable Comic Duettists

Albert Brady and Marion Johnson were the stage names of married couple John and Mary Brady.  They performed sketches.

    Mr Harry Steele, Comic Vocalist and Eccentric Skater

Steele’s catchphrase was ‘By Jove! I was nearly down again’.

    Miss Milnes, Soprano Vocalist

The repertoire of Agnes Milnes, ‘the queen of song’, included opera and sentimental ballads.

    Mr George Vokes, Grotesque Comedian

Vokes was said to excite ‘the risible faculties of the audience by his comicalities’.

George-VokesGeorge Vokes by Alfred Concanen, circa 1870s © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

    Mr Harry Starr, American , Dutch, and Irish Character Comedian

Starr enjoyed considerable success as a variety artist and then became an actor and dramatist.

    Sisters De Laine, Fascinating Duettists and Champion Skipping Rope Dancers

In 1894, Alice De Laine opened a dance academy in London for music hall aspirants which specialised in tuition for skipping rope dancing.

Sisters De LaineAdvert for Alice De Laine's dance academy - Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894 British Newspaper Archive

       The Band - Grand Selection from Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena

The performance started at 7.30pm. Tickets for the front stalls cost 1s 6d, stalls and promenade 1s, and the body of the hall 6d.  The Liverpool Mercury described the evening’s programme as ‘unusually interesting’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. London and Provincial Entr’Acte 26 July 1873; Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882; Liverpool Mercury 8 August 1882; The Era 22 August 1880, 3 October 1885, and 8 May 1886; Midland Counties Advertiser 1 November 1888; Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894.


13 August 2020

‘Black Peggy’ and the Foundling Hospital

In 1793 the London Foundling Hospital received a petition from ‘Black Peggy’, a native of Bengal.

‘Being a poor unfortunate girl just arrived at the age of fourteen was on my voyage to England with Mrs Harding, unhappily seduced by my fellow servant James Murray by a false promise of marriage, but on our arrival at Ostend he knowing of my pregnancy left me friendless and unprotected.  Nothing but the kind humanity of my mistress could have supported me through this scene of misery and repentance and who is still inclin’d to be my friend could I conceal my disgrace by your benevolence.  This gentleman urges me in the most supplicating manner to entreat and solicit your generous aid and protection to the unhappy infant of your very humble petitioner.’

Peggy’s mistress, Mrs Elizabeth Harding of 2 Buckingham Street, recommended acceptance of the child because of the girl’s penitence and past good conduct.  On 4 May 1793 Peggy’s two-month-old daughter was admitted to the Hospital as Foundling No.18142.  She was baptised with the name Jane Williams and sent as a nurse child to Dorking.  Sadly Jane died a year later and was buried at St Martin’s Church in Dorking on 11 May 1794.

Foundling Hospital Chapel with children filing in.sFoundling Hospital Chapel – British Library Crach.1.Tab.4.b.3. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear whether Peggy was of Asian or African descent.  African slaves were brought to Bengal in the 18th century.

I believe that Peggy’s mistress was the wife of Thomas Harding an officer in the East India Company’s Bengal Army.  In May 1794 Elizabeth Harding was granted permission by the East India Company Court of Directors to return to her husband in India.  At the same time Thomas Parry Esq, (the Company director?), was authorised to return a black servant named Peggy to Bengal on the Royal Admiral with no expense to be incurred by the Company.

Extract from East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes for 7 May 1794IOR/B/119 p.93 East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes 7 May 1794  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the passenger list for the Royal Admiral, Peggy is recorded as the servant to Mrs Anna Maria Freeman who was returning to her husband in Bengal.  The ship sailed from Plymouth in August 1794 and the two women landed at Calcutta in February 1795.

The homeward passenger list for the Royal Admiral shows Anna Maria Freeman and her black servant, now named as Peggy Harding.  This link to her previous mistress surely confirms that this is the Foundling Hospital’s ‘Black Peggy’?  What had happened to cause Mrs Freeman to leave again for England on the Royal Admiral in August 1795?  Did she discover that her husband had died in her absence?  Frustratingly I have been unable to identify with any certainty who her husband was.

Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Mrs Freeman and Peggy left the ship in the Bristol Channel on 8 January 1796.  Less than a month later Anna Maria Freeman, described as a widow, married William Fairfax in Bristol.  Fairfax had been first mate in the Royal Admiral on the 1794-1796 voyage to India and back.

For now, the story of Peggy ends here.   Perhaps she is the black female servant called Peggy who sailed on the Houghton to Bengal in the spring of 1797?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Journal of Royal Admiral for 1794-1796 voyage with passenger lists.

London Metropolitan Archives Foundling Hospital records - Petition of 'Black Peggy' is in A/FH/A08/001/001/018 Petitions admitted to ballot 1792-1793.

Forgotten Foundlings: black lives and the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital.

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.

 

16 July 2020

Researching Women in Science in the Modern Manuscript Collections Part 2: 1849-1950

The 19th century saw women in Britain campaigning for the right to the same access to education as men.  In 1849, Bedford College became the first higher education college for women and more colleges would be set up in its wake.  Women would soon study for degrees in the sciences.  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake became some of the first women to qualify as doctors in the country.  An increase in formal education across scientific subjects meant an increase of women in the fields of chemistry, engineering and biology.  Among the correspondence within the Stopes Papers (Add MS 58447 – 37201) we find countless letters of professional women across many spheres in the early 20th century, including letters from surgeon Dr. Ethel Vaughan-Sawyer and engineer Hertha Ayrton.

Bedford College in York Place LondonThe second home of Bedford College in York Place, London - Illustrated London News 21 May 1949 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

Prospects for finding manuscripts relating to women working within the sciences improve as time goes on, but it is not a level playing field for all women.  Opportunities evidently improve for some women within the 20th century as more women gain qualifications, but there are very few collections relating to BAME women in science before the later 20th century.  On top of the combined pressures of both sexism and racism within society which denied the opportunities of many professional careers to BAME women, the scientific arena itself engaged in theories of racial superiority.  Just as opportunities were opening up for women in science, eugenic theories first postulated in the 19th century became mainstream. Physicians like Marie Stopes actively engaged in eugenic societies and with ideas of racial purity.

This systemic racism from both inside and outside of science meant opportunities to break through into professional scientific research were few and far between for many women of colour.  However, in the field of medicine, we can find some collections relating to BAME women.  Dr Rukhmabai travelled from India to gain a degree in medicine from the London School of Medicine for Women and went on to practise in India.  There is a file concerning her early life in the India Office Records (IOR/L/PJ/6/202, File 729) which concerns her seminal legal case contesting her arranged marriage.  The London School hosted many Indian students providing scholarships to exceptional students to train in London.

Newspaper article on the hostel for Indian medical students from Vote 16 July 1920
Newspaper article on the hostel for Indian medical students from Vote 16 July 1920. British Newspaper Archive

There are also papers within the Sylvia Pankhurst Papers (Add MS 88925) concerning the legacy of Princess Tsahai Haile Selassie who trained as nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Princess Tsahai in nursing uniform at Great Ormond Street with two other nursesPhotograph of Princess Tsahai in nursing uniform at Great Orm0nd Street Hospital - Illustrated London News 5 September 1936 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

The collections explored over these two blog posts demonstrate how factors of gender, wealth and race have affected how different women have been able to contribute to science in Britain up until 1950.  Despite the evident, and varied, obstacles women faced over the centuries – which have influenced the type of material we hold in our collections – there is still a lot to explore.  Buried within the archives, the collections relating to women in science contain many examples of ingenuity against the odds, many accounts of controversy, innovation and discovery, and many more stories yet to be told.

Jessica Gregory.
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts.

Further Reading:
Subhadra Das, Bricks and Mortals: A History of Eugenics Told Through Buildings
Voices of Science 

Women in Science: archives and manuscripts, 1600 - present

 

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