Untold lives blog

246 posts categorized "Work"

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 Noc


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. Noc

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   

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)
 

09 March 2020

A Pioneer of Artificial Intelligence: Donald Michie

This post is part of a series highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2020. 

A reasonable claim could be made to the idea that Donald Michie (1923-2007) is the father of British research into artificial intelligence (AI).  Following a successful early career as a mammalian geneticist, Michie devoted his life to the development of computers which could perform complex, human-like tasks.

His initial interest was sparked during his wartime service as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park where he forged a friendship with Alan Turing, playing chess, discussing the potential of computers, and even (unsuccessfully) attempting to locate Turing’s hidden stockpiles of silver after the war.  The two gave considerable consideration to developing early computer programmes which could play chess.

Donald Michie in 1940s Donald Michie c. 1940s (Add MS 89072/1/5). Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

Michie’s interest in building machines capable of learning continued after the war.  In 1960, he developed a computer programme which could learn to play a perfect game of noughts and crosses.  Lacking a computer to test the programme, MENACE (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine) was built from matchboxes and coloured beads which corresponded to all potential possibilities in a game, winning Michie a bet in the process.

In 1965, Michie established the forerunner to the University of Edinburgh’s Department for Artificial Intelligence and was at the forefront of international research into the field for decades thereafter.  Working at Edinburgh, Michie and his team developed and built a pair of machines, affectionately known as Freddy I and Freddy II.  These machines were capable of learning to identify the parts of and assemble model toys, such as a car or a boat, integrating perception and action into one machine.

Michie’s importance was most evident from his prominent role in the Lighthill Report and Debate in 1972-73.  James Lighthill’s 1972 Report for the Science Research Council suggested that research into AI had overpromised and underdelivered on its capabilities to that point.  A televised debate in 1973 saw Lighthill opposite Michie and two fellow researchers into AI: James McCarthy and Richard Gregory.

Michie, McCarthy and Gregory were not successful.  The outcome of Lighthill’s intervention became known as the AI Winter.  Funding for research into AI was slashed across the UK (and, shortly after, in the USA).  However, Edinburgh retained its research into AI, albeit with a departmental restructure in 1974.  Michie continued his research at the University for a further decade before moving on to co-found the Turing Institute in Glasgow as Director of Research.

Following his retirement from university teaching, Michie dedicated his work to developing a chat-bot to beat the Turing Test: could a computer programme convince a human it was a human?  He named his chat-bot Sophie, complete with humorous backstory and familial relations (apparently ‘Southern California Trash’ was an apt accent for her given her personality).

Donald Michie in 1980s Donald Michie c. 1980s (Add MS 88958/5/4). Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

The Donald Michie Papers at the British Library comprise three separate tranches of material gifted to the library in 2004 and 2008.  They consist of correspondence, notes, notebooks, offprints and photographs and are available to researchers through the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue at Add MS 88958, Add MS 88975 and Add MS 89072.

Matt Wright
PhD student at the University of Leeds and the British Library. He is on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership researching the Donald Michie Archive, exploring his work as a geneticist and artificial intelligence researcher in post-war Britain.

Science week logo

Further Reading:
Michie, D., Donald Michie on Machine Intelligence, Biology and more, ed. by Ashwin Srinivasan, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
van Emden, M., ‘I Remember Donald Michie (1923 – 2007)’, A Programmer’s Place, 2009.

A longer version of this post can be found on our Science blog.


 

27 February 2020

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

In December 1807, Miss Lucia Green boarded the East India Company ship Walmer Castle, bound for St Helena and a new life with her fiancé, the naturalist William John Burchell.  By the time the ship arrived in April 1808, Lucia had decided to break off her engagement.  And the reason for her change of heart?  During the voyage on the cramped East Indiaman, Lucia had fallen in love with the ship's Captain, Luke Dodds.  Burchell was devastated and never married. But what happened to Lucia and her Captain?

View of the Island of St Helena 1806 View of the Island of St Helena 1806 - Maps K.Top.117.131.e  Images Online

According to the journal of the Walmer Castle, Lucia disembarked at the Cape of Good Hope in June 1808.  In July 1809, she boarded the Warley at the Cape, and reached St Helena in August.  Captain Luke also returned to St Helena that summer, which must have been distressing for William Burchell.  The Walmer Castle arrived back in England in September 1809.  It must have still been love for the reunited Lucia and Luke, because they married in Lingfield, Surrey on 29 May 1810.

Passenger list of the Walmer Castle Passenger list of the Walmer Castle IOR/L/MAR/B/181F

Luke Dodds was 20 years older than Lucia when they met.  He was born in Heworth, near Newcastle in 1768.  He went to sea aged 11 or 12, working the Northumberland coast as a seaman before finding work on the EIC ship Sulivan in 1785.  He worked variously as quartermaster, gunner’s mate, and boatswain on EIC ships on the China run, interspersed with voyages to the West Indies, becoming 1st mate on the Walmer Castle in 1798.  By 1805 he was Captain, and was to stay with the Walmer Castle on its runs to China via India until 1813.  It was a rapid rise, and Dodds would have made a comfortable amount of money on the way during his East India Company voyages.

Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping - entry for Luke Dodds

Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping - entry for Luke DoddsIOR/L/MAR/C/659 Description of commanders and mates examined by the Committee of Shipping. Entry for Luke Dodds, pp.120-121.

The Dodds had two children - Henry Luke, born 5 February 1811, in Woodford, Essex, and Lucia, baptised Hastings, Sussex, 5 July 1815.  By the 1841 census Luke and Lucia were living comfortably in Hythe, Hampshire.  A magistrate, an 'Esquire' and a man of independent means, Luke Dodds died on 28 February 1849, aged 80.  He lived to see his daughter Lucia marry Graham Eden William Hamond on 7 December 1843.  She married well, Hamond being the son of Admiral Sir Graham Eden Hammond.  Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived as tragedy struck when Hamond died at Woolwich on 23 January 1847 while in command of the steam-sloop Medea.  They had a daughter, Elizabeth Anne, and a son Graham Eden, an officer in the 7th Hussars, who died in 1872.  Elizabeth Ann married the Reverend John Henry Good, vicar of Hythe, in 1879.  Their son Cecil Henry Brent Good was born in April 1880.  In 1948, his daughter (and novelist) Cecily Good, great grand-daughter of Luke and Lucia, married Sir Basil Gould, becoming Lady Gould in the process.

Luke and Lucia's son Henry Luke Dodds never married.  He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and gained an MA from Cambridge in 1843.  He was vicar of Great Glen (or Glenn), Leicestershire from 1855 until his death in May 1886.  By the 1871 census his mother Lucia was living with him in the vicarage.  She died there on 6 November 1878 age 90 and was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert's Church.  Her headstone records her date of birth as 7 July 1788, meaning she was just 19 when she met Captain Dodds on that fateful journey to St Helena.  Lucia's headstone reads 'Dearly Beloved and Longed For' and the burial register is annotated (presumably by Henry Dodds) 'eheu! desideratissima' (Alas! Most longed for).  William Burchell may well have agreed.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading
IOR/L/MAR/B/181F: Log of the Walmer Castle, October 1807-November 1809
IOR/L/MAR/B/182H: Log of the Warley, April 1807-October 1809

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

 

20 February 2020

Baptisms, Barracks, Bazaars: indexing the India Office Records

'Cleverness is not required in an indexer; brilliancy is dangerous.  The desirable quality is clearness.'

So begins The Technique of Indexing (1904), a manual by a pioneer in the field of indexing, Mary Petherbridge.  A graduate in natural sciences from Cambridge University, Mary set up The Secretarial Bureau in London in 1895.  The Bureau offered a range of services; enterprisingly, it also gave training in secretarial and indexing work.  For women, this was an opportunity to learn skills that could help them to earn an independent living.

Mary’s timing was fortunate.  The great department of state, the India Office, held many volumes of historical documents that were effectively unusable because they had no indexes.  Of particular concern were 488 volumes of East India Company letters to India, covering the Company’s history from 1753 to 1858.  In 1901 the Superintendent of Records, Arthur Wollaston, decided that male clerks could not be spared for indexing work.  Women from the Bureau were commissioned instead.

Although freelance, Mary quickly established a firm relationship with the India Office.  She set up an office in the Record Department, at one point even bringing in her own furniture.  There her small staff, usually between four and eight women, indexed the correspondence, Royal Commission reports, and other records.  Mary also acted as the Department’s Dutch and Portuguese translator.  Her business flourished, as her office stationery shows:

Office stationery from The Secretarial BureauIOR/L/R/7/101

For the Bureau, the India Office commission was clearly prestigious.  Examples from the East India Company’s records featured in The Technique of Indexing:

The Technique of IndexingPage from The Technique of Indexing

Mary selected her best pupils to be trained on the India Office premises.  One of these was Theodora Bosanquet, who later was to become well known as the secretary to Henry James.  Years afterwards, Theodora recalled being hard at work in the office when she heard The Ambassadors being read aloud to a fellow pupil – a dictation exercise.  James had approached the Bureau to find a secretary; Theodora volunteered for the role.  The scene that she evokes is an appealing one: James’s words echoing in the offices upstairs, while the business of government carried on in the formal rooms below.

The indexing of the India correspondence was finally completed in 1929.  Mary and her staff had created a remarkable 430,000 index entries, filling 72 volumes.  Not long afterwards, Mary closed down the Bureau.  She herself continued to work as Official Indexer to Government until her death in 1940.

These index entries make up almost a third of the entries in the Records catalogue today.  Mary’s contribution is recorded only in the invoices that she submitted (at a rate of 2s 6d per 100 entries by 1929).  But no one did more to open up the East India Company’s later archives than she.  Generations of researchers have reason to be grateful!

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, Post-1858 India Office Reocrds

Further reading:
India Office Records: IOR/L/R/6/224
Hazel K Bell, From Flock Beds to Professionalism: a history of index makers (Oak Knoll Press: Hatfield, Herts, 2008)
Theodora Bosanquet, ‘As I Remember Henry James’, Time & Tide, 3 July 1954, pp. 875-76
Mary Petherbridge, The Technique of Indexing (The Secretarial Bureau: London, 1904)

 

18 February 2020

Following in your late brother’s footsteps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

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

 

05 February 2020

Garrod Family Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

 

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

 

30 January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

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

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

 

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