Untold lives blog

66 posts categorized "Writing"

27 October 2022

‘Dear old Squirrel’ - Cyril Davenport of the British Museum

Cyril Davenport, pictured below in his 80s, does not appear to be as careworn as his life and career should demand!  Not only did he devote 45 years to work at the British Museum Library, he also found time to paint, engrave, photograph, write and edit reference works, lecture on diverse subjects, and judge for international exhibitions.  In addition, he was a Justice of the Peace and Major of the 37th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.  Only someone with a lifespan of around 93 years could have managed it!

Portrait of Cyril Davenport in his 80s by Edward Patry from Hastings Museum and Art Gallery - white hair, beard and moustache, dressed in a black formal coatPortrait of Cyril Davenport by Edward Patry - Image courtesy of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

Davenport was not an obvious candidate for a job in the Museum, which he joined as an assistant in 1868 and later supervised the bookbindings department.  He was born in Sterling to an army family, educated at Charterhouse and worked as a draftsman for the War Office.  It seems likely that this training gave him technical and practical understanding in the analysis and description of objects, an experience lacking in his more academic Museum and Library colleagues.

Davenport recognised the importance of identifying and recording the outsides of books.  His ledgers containing descriptions, sketches and rubbings of the remarkable bindings held in the Museum Library are still useful to researchers.

Davenport’s ledger of descriptions and sketches of bindingsDavenport’s descriptions and sketches of bindings in the Library’s Case 20 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Davenport’s publications did not always meet with universal approbation.  His book English Heraldic Book-stamps was subject to particular censure; errors in the heraldry were noted in reviews.  Other books addressed subjects as diverse as coronation regalia, cameos, architecture, mezzotints, and miniatures.

Davenport was much in demand as a public speaker, by learned institutions as well as local societies of amateurs.  There is evidence that he could be inspirational, in one case at least.  The well-known bookbinder Cedric Chivers resolved to create his own decorated vellum covers ('vellucent') after hearing Davenport lecture on the subject.

Vellucent binding by Chivers showing a naked woman draped in mauve cloth with a wine jug on her shoulder, against an Art Nouveau backgroundThe Rubaiyat (1903) with a ‘vellucent’ binding by Cedric Chivers - Shelfmark c108bbb3. Image by permission of the copyright holder. Database of Bookbindings

After his retirement in 1913, Davenport moved to Hastings with his wife Constance (d.1932) and arts-loving daughter Dorothy (b.1891).  His son Cyril Henry had died in the previous year.

There was a rich social life in Sussex with many communal activities, a notable example being the Hastings historical pageant in 1914.  Davenport participated and was apparently a great help in the costume and banner department!

Newspaper article reporting Davenports’s third prize in a national art competitionNews of Davenports’s third prize in a national art competition includes a character analysis! Weekly Dispatch (London), 1 June 1925 p.7 British Newspaper Archive

Perhaps the most sympathetic view of Davenport’s character came from his eccentric friend and British Museum colleague, poet Theo Marzials.  In  a condolence letter to Davenport’s daughter, Marzials wrote: 'Cyril is a bit of me – of course, and always was and ever will be.  We just meet and are side by side, arm in arm, heart to heart …. Dear old Squirrel'.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings, Printed Historical Sources

Further reading;
Theo Marzials and Davenport in The Best of Betjeman 1878 Selected by John Guest 
British Newspaper Archive e.g. The Hastings pageant - Hastings and St Leonards Observer Saturday 27 June 1914 p.9; Lecture by Davenport entitled ‘Beautiful Bookbindings’ - Hastings and St Leonards Observer 24 October 1914 p.7

 

25 October 2022

Exploring the richness and variety of letters sent to the East India Company

Over 300 volumes of East India Company Home Correspondence have recently been digitised and they are now available through an Adam Matthew Digital resource

There are two series: IOR/E/1/1-195 letters sent to the Court of Directors 1701-1858, and IOR/E/1/196-314 (Miscellanies) copies of letters being sent out by the Court of Directors to Company agents, servants and Government departments 1688-1859.  ‘Home’ indicates that the correspondence is with individuals in Britain and Europe rather than Asia.

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817 

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817  - IOR/E/1 /253 p.57  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The home correspondence arriving at East India House covers a vast array of topics and subjects ranging from the day-to-day running of the Company, personal requests from employees and their families, and even unsolicited letters advertising patents, proposals and publications.

The correspondence is arranged by the date it was received at the Court, rather than the date it was sent.  The date the letter was received is recorded on the back of the letter, along with any actions taken by the Court, such as referral to a committee; read in Court; laid on the table for any interested parties to look at; or given to a specific individual to answer.  When a letter was read in Court, the Court Minutes [IOR/B] can be consulted to discover the Company’s response.

Much of the routine correspondence relates to the East India ships, including signing charterparties; appointing captains and crew; paying wages, supplies and repair bills; notifications of ship arrivals in various ports; and matters relating to the trade goods being carried on board.   Other correspondence relating to trade includes dealings with Customs officials; notifications of sales; intelligence received from agents in other countries relating to rival companies’ trade and goods; and London merchants sending money and goods to Asia in exchange for diamonds, jewels and coral.

Approval of officers for Company ships 1761Approval of officers for Company ships 1761 - IOR/E/1/43 f.306 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Related to matters of trade and shipping was correspondence with other Government departments, particularly the Admiralty, as Royal Navy vessels often provided escort services for East Indiamen and the ships would come to each other’s aid at sea.

Letters from the Company’s agents in places like Italy, Vienna, Madeira and the Levant also form part of this series.  These tend to relate to packets of the Company’s correspondence sent overland, and intelligence about political relations between countries which might impact the Company.  In the case of Madeira, there are bills and invoices for wine supplied to East Indiamen, the Court of Directors, and key Company employees.

Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company 1771Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1771  - IOR/E/1/55 f.486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are also many letters from Company employees and their families, mostly in the form of petitions.  These include requests from employees to be considered for promotion, to extend leave in England owing to illness, or for relief or other assistance from relatives of employees who found themselves in financial distress.  Other topics include requests to send family members and servants to and from India, and the administration of deceased relatives' estates in India.  Occasionally there are letters from people trying to ascertain whether their relative overseas is still alive.

Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief 1764Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief December 1764 - IOR/E/1/46 ff.796-797  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other recurring themes are concerns about the smuggling of Indian tea into England and Scotland; arrangements with missionary societies for sending supplies to their missions in the East Indies; and letters from individuals attempting to get the East India Company to take up their patent or invention, or to purchase copies of their recently published books.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1 – Home Correspondence 
Adam Matthew Digital: East India Company Module 5 

 

13 October 2022

‘True nobility of soul’ - William Blake, the housekeeper of the Ladies Charity School House, Highgate

Woollen draper, writer and philanthropist William Blake was devoted to the welfare and education of orphans.  In the 1650s he opened the Ladies Charity School House in Highgate, hoping that aristocratic and influential women would help fund it.  Blake donated his entire fortune of £5000 to the charity and became the housekeeper of the establishment.

What led Blake to such commitment?  He described his background thus: ‘I was brought up by my parents to learne Hail Mary, paternoster, the Beliefe, and learne to reade; and where I served my apprenticeship little more was to be found’.  His wife Mary died in 1650 leaving him to bring up four children who also died young.  Maybe these circumstances strengthened Blake’s resolve to support destitute orphans.  Blake himself said he drew inspiration from the Puritan devotional text, Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety.  This work may also have encouraged Blake’s own writing.

Page 2 of Lewis Bayly’s Practice of PietyPage 2 of Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety London : For Edward Brewster, 1689. BL 4401.f.11.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Ladies Charity School on Highgate Hill comprised comprise newly built houses in addition to existing rather grand buildings including Dorchester Hall.  The latter were owned by the Blake family and local landowners, and taken over by Blake via mortgages.  About 40 fatherless boys and girls were to be enrolled into the boarding school: ‘The boys to be taught the art of painting, gardening, casting accounts, and navigation, or put forth to some good handicraft trade, and to wear an uniform of blue lined with yellow.  The girls to be taught to read, write, sew, starch, raise paste, and dress, that they might be fit for any good service’.

Architectural drawing of the Ladies Charity School in the Survey of London Volume 17Architectural drawing of the Ladies Charity School in the Survey of London: Volume 17 plate 40 - From an old print in the collection of Mr. Arthur Boney of Highgate

Money was a constant issue. Blake’s occupation as a woollen draper at the sign of the Golden Boy in Covent Garden yielded little, and the ‘Ladies’ did not prove to be a reliable resource.  He resorted to relentless fundraising including a publication titled The Ladies Charity School-house Roll of Highgate, etc. (Silver Drops, or Serious things.).  The text has been considered impenetrable but it was ornamented with engravings and, sometimes, special bindings dedicated to particular recipients whose names appeared on the upper covers.  On the evidence of the unevenly applied tooled decoration, some artisans demonstrated more energy than skill although no one could accuse them of stinting with the gold!

Presentation binding for Elizabeth  Lady Delamere from British Library Image Database of BookbindingsPresentation binding for Elizabeth, Lady Delamere from British Library Image Database of Bookbindings

 

Engraved plate of Father TimeEngraved plate of Father Time from W.B . The Ladies Charity School-house roll of Highgate [London, 1670?] Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, 2011

Blake had to rethink the undertaking when his finances failed.  His land-owning brother refused to help him out, thinking the whole project ill conceived.  Apparently, the residents of Highgate Hill felt that the school for destitute children lowered the tone of the neighbourhood.  In 1685, the school buildings passed into other hands and were demolished.  Blake spent about two years in the Fleet debtors’ prison and suffered much ill health but characteristically used his confinement to write texts on charity.  He was not without support.  In Silver Drops, he thanked a Dr Cox who helped him through his illness (and he bound a copy of his book for the doctor, now in Bryn Mawr College, P.A.).  The Parish of St Giles in the Fields paid £10 for him to be freed in 1687.  His burial date is likely to have been 23 March 1696 in the parish of Highgate.

Perhaps the last word should be left with William Howitt who wrote: ‘Blake’s style is frequently unintelligible, almost insane, but there is true nobility of soul struggling through’.

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
William Howitt, The Northern Heights of London: Or Historical Associations of Hampstead ... London, 1869.

M. M. Foot, "A Binding by the Charity School Binder," The Book Collector, Spring 1983, pp. 78-79.

08 September 2022

Granville Archive available

The Untold Lives blog has included several posts on the Granville Archive over the last couple of years.  The archive was acquired by the British Library in 2019, along with a supplementary collection of family papers previously hidden from public view, thanks to support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and other funders.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Like so much else, the project to repackage and catalogue the archive was held up by consecutive lock-downs.  Now, at last, the work is complete: catalogue descriptions for both the main and supplementary collections are available on the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue (Add MS 89317 and Add MS 89382).  Readers can now directly request access any of the material in the BL reading rooms.

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, inscribed with a charitable appeal to the Countess from the finder, a Rev H Woodhouse, 30 April 1872
(Add MS 89382/4/23, f. 40) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The archive is large.  The main collection consists of 883 volumes and files of correspondence and papers, and the supplementary collection a further 96 (as well as a satin purse in which some of the letters were stored).  The collections span several generations over three centuries.  Of particular importance are the papers of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl (1773–1846), diplomat and politician, and his son Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl (1815-1891), diplomat, foreign secretary and close friend of Gladstone. 

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville.

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, 6 March 1876
(Add MS 89382/4/11, f. 142-143) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Women members of the family are well represented, including Lady Susanna Leveson-Gower (1742-1805), wife of Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford; Lady Henrietta (Harriet) Leveson-Gower (1785-1862), wife of the first Earl Granville; and Castalia Leveson-Gower (1847-1938), wife of the 2nd Earl Granville.  Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821) and her sister Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) feature prominently in the supplementary collection.

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, 22 February 1791

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, 22 February 1791 (Add MS 89382/1, f. 150) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anyone interested in 18th-19th century diplomacy and foreign affairs, national politics, aristocratic society and intimate family life, the development of higher education, and national museums is likely to find material of interest in the Granville Archive and supplementary papers.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.  Enclosed in a letter to Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, while he was away in St Petersburg, Russia, 19 October 1804
(Add MS 89382/2/22, f. 70) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

To find out more about some parts of the archive, see the previous Untold Lives blogposts, and enjoy a detailed account of innovative conservation treatment for locks of hair in the collection by BL conservator Veronica Zoppi (listed below).

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Hary’o: the Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 1796-1809, ed. George Leveson Gower and Iris Palmer (London, 1940)
Edmond Fitzmaurice, The Life of Granville George Leveson Gower K.G. 1815-1891. 3rd ed. (London, 1905)
Janet Gleeson,  An aristocratic affair: The life of Georgiana's sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006).
The political correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1868–1876, ed. A. Ramm, 2 vols. (London, 1952).

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive
Ciphers and sympathetic ink: secret love letters in the Granville papers
A rebus puzzle
Conservation of the Granville Archive papers

 

01 September 2022

Percy Bysshe Shelley encounters the mountains of West Wales

A man of great personal charisma and thorough-going radicalism, Percy Bysshe Shelley – sleep-walker, hallucinator, someone who believed his own father had contemplated committing him to an asylum – may have been a hypochondriac living on his nerves.  But he was also a thinker and activist trying to bear witness to a new kind of environmentalist morality.  His ethics, often insufficiently recognised as such, engaged with the entirety of the natural world and viewed humankind as part of that whole.

Head and shoulders portrait of Percy Bysshe ShelleyPercy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) from Joseph Gostwick, English poets. Twelve essays ... With twelve portraits (London, 1876) British Library Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

While shifting focus from human relationships ran the risk of personal unreliability, it created space for the radical, pacifist vegetarianism Shelley first articulated in the Notes to Queen Mab (1813).  This dismisses even cooking as ‘screening… the horrors of the shambles’ : the register suggests visceral disgust, and his argument links a carnivorous diet to violence, criminality and war.  Formed by a Christian upbringing despite the atheism he embraced, Shelley revisits the Christian symbolism of man who ‘slays the lamb that looks him in the face’ in the accompanying poem, and implies the killing of any animal is a kind of moral cannibalism.

Over the next nine years, culminating in his unfinished ‘The Triumph of Life’, Shelley developed a poetics capable of rendering the quality of aliveness.  The famous invocation in ‘Ode to the West Wind’ (1819) – ‘Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; /Destroyer and preserver’ – celebrates change as the agent of both life and death.  The idea of mutability as loss recurs in ‘Mutability’ and ‘Ozymandias’, for example.  But in poems of celebration like the Ode, ‘Mont Blanc’ and ‘Letter to Maria Gisborne’, flux becomes revolutionary life force.  Here, Shelley’s all-one-breath lines tend not to pause for sentence endings, but keep rushing onward through his em-dashes.  We sense the attempt to capture animation itself.

Cwm Elan House set in a grassy valley under mountainsCwm Elan from R. Eustace Tickell, The Vale of Nangwilt - a submerged valley (London, 1894)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There’s a sense too that clustered ideas are themselves already always in motion: social and political revolution, the new experimental scientific sense of a natural, not supernatural, animating life force, the personal quest for meaning.  In reality of course these developed by stages.  The poet’s schoolboy chemistry is well-known.  Arguably less familiar is his encounter with the landscape of the Elenydd in west Wales, which I’ve explored while researching the original radicalism of the Romantic encounter with the natural world.  Sent down from Oxford for atheism, in July 1811 Shelley went to stay on an uncle’s estate, Cwm Elan, in the ‘highly romantic’ Cambrian mountains. Five years before his first trip to the Alps, letters show him grappling with this experience.  On 26 July he wrote to Elizabeth Hitchener:

Rocks piled on each other to tremendous heights, rivers formed into cataracts by their projections, & valleys clothed with woods, present an appearance of enchantment— but why do they enchant, why is it more affecting than a plain, it cannot be innate, is it acquired?

Atheism may have entailed his desire to locate meaning.  But the sense that it could be found either within or outside human observers implicates them in the natural world and its goings-on.  This interactive sense of being alive within the living world is a key Romantic step: the same one being taken a little earlier, in Germany, by Romantic Idealist philosophies.  As Shelley would articulate this five years later, in ‘Mont Blanc’:

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves…

‘Rapid waves’ indeed.  By 1904, as if to illustrate Shelleyian mutability, both Cwm Elan and nearby Nantgwyllt, to which Shelley brought his new wife in 1812, had vanished under Birmingham Corporation’s controversial reservoirs.

Cwm Elan House in the Elan Valley with the rising waters of the Caban Coch reservoir very close to the front of the houseCwm Elan House in the Elan Valley in a postcard view of 1903 with the rising waters of the Caban Coch reservoir very close to the front of the house. © Powys County Archives Office 2022 People's Collection Wales

 

Professor Fiona Sampson
Fiona Sampson’s new book is Starlight Wood: walking back to the Romantic countryside (Little, Brown, September 2022).

Further reading:
Percy Bysshe Shelley biography
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley's A Vindication of the Natural Diet

 

05 July 2022

Ibrāhīm al-Najjār al-Dayrānī: Doctor of Lebanon

In late 1837, an eager fifteen-year-old named Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl ibn Yūsuf al-Najjār al-Dayrānī travelled from his home in a mountainside town outside Beirut in order to study medicine in Cairo.Principal square in Grand Cairo  with Murad Bey's palace'Principal square in Grand Cairo, with Murad Bey's palace' by Luigi Mayer, from Thomas Milton, Views in Egypt, Palestine, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire (London,1840) British Library shelfmark 762.h.2.(1), Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

His journey took place against the backdrop of rapid modernisation in the Middle East, with local rulers increasingly bringing in technical, military, administrative and scientific practices and expertise from Europe.  In medicine, Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849), the Ottoman governor of Egypt, imported from 1825 European doctors, particularly French, to administer to the health of Muhammad Ali’s growing army, develop medical institutions along Western lines, and train locals in Western medicine.

Dr Antoine Bertélémy Clot (1793-1868) or ‘Clot Bey’, as he was nicknamed, accompanied Muhammad Ali’s occupation of Greater Syria (1832-40).  Clot Bey was instrumental in the selection of Ibrāhīm as one of the five first Lebanese students to embark on a Western medical education at the school in Cairo that he had founded in 1827.

Ibrāhīm was a product of European expansionism in the Middle East: his grandfather was reportedly a Corsican carpenter who had arrived in the Levant with Napoleon’s invading forces in 1799.  Unusually, we know about his personal experiences thanks to his memoir Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ (Lamp for the Traveller and Diversion for the Reader), which he self-published 20 years later.

Title page  Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ  printed Beirut  1272 hijrī (1855-56)Title page, Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ, printed Beirut, 1272 hijrī (1855-56) 

Without detailing his education, Ibrāhīm mentions his yearning for medical knowledge from a young age, which could not be satisfied locally.  Clearly, the extraordinary wealth of medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical learning previously compiled by Arabic-speaking physicians was not what he had in mind.

The memoir discusses Ibrāhīm’s arrival in Cairo, the medical school at Qasr al-ʿAynī, and the content of the four-year medical course.  Beginning with chemistry, general anatomy, and pharmacology, the 500 students – mostly from rural Egypt and destined for careers with the army – progressed to minor surgery, botany, pathology, pharmacology, major surgery and specialist anatomy.  Students accompanied their teachers on hospital ward rounds and observed autopsies, which Ibrāhīm confesses that he loathed.  This emphasis on human dissection was one major difference between a traditional Arabic medical training and the education Ibrahim was receiving; to alleviate Muslim concerns, the school claimed that the cadavers used were those of Jews and Christians.

A view of Constantinople'Panorama of Constantinople' from A Series of Eight Views, forming a Panorama of the City of Constantinople and its Environs, taken from the Town of Galata (1813) British Library shelfmark Maps K.Top.113.75.f  Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

After graduating in 1842, Ibrāhīm travelled to Constantinople (Istanbul).  Having cured – he claims – a patient whom his host’s personal physician could not, he was introduced to the chief doctor of Istanbul and enrolled at the Royal Medical School.  For four years, he attended lectures, saw patients, and learnt Turkish and French in order to access modern textbooks.  This culminated in a gruelling public examination presided over by the young Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecit I (r. 1839-61).

Portrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David WilkiePortrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David Wilkie (1785-1841), 1840. Image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust

After qualifying fully aged 22, Ibrāhīm spent three years travelling in Europe, before returning to Lebanon as chief medical officer at the Ottoman army barracks in Beirut.  Straddling the manuscript and print eras in the Levant, Ibrāhīm authored books, including one manuscript recently made available on the Qatar Digital Library (British Library Or. 12152).  This pharmaceutical inventory, apparently in his hand, expresses an intellectual position encompassing both traditional Arabic pharmacological and botanical knowledge, and use of Latin- and Greek-derived terminology and chemical compounds discovered by Western physicians.

Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by  Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 8v)

Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 1r). The author is described as ‘One of the doctors of the Royal [Medical] School in Asitane [Istanbul], and the foremost doctor to the Sultanic [Ottoman] armies in Beirut’.

Embodying the modernising efforts of 19th-century Ottoman rule, Ibrāhīm al-Dayrani was one of the first doctors to be trained in the Western medical methods and concepts that have become universal.  He died in 1864, aged just 42.

Jenny Norton-Wright
Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

16 June 2022

Birds, Landscapes, and Letters: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras

In 1802, Mary Symonds wrote to her sister Hester James from Madras (now Chennai), 'I hope now we are settled that I shall be able to send something for the curious by every opportunity'.

Painting of the coast near Madras showing the beach with small wooden boatsMary Symonds, Coast Near Madras, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album PIC106.78

Mary had accompanied her sister, the talented ornithologist and painter Elizabeth Gwillim, and Elizabeth's husband Henry Gwillim, a judge in the new Supreme Court of Madras.   The materials the sisters sent home provide a uniquely detailed picture of their work and lives between 1801 and 1808.  In the British Library, four thick volumes contain the sisters' 77 long letters; at McGill University, 164 zoological and botanical paintings represent their scientific work; at the South Asia Collection in Norwich, 78 landscapes and portraits depict their surroundings.

Ink sketch of Elizabeth Gwillim at her writing deskElizabeth Gwillim at her writing desk, sketch in a letter to Hester James, 7 February 1802 Mss.Eur.C.240/1, ff. 33r-38v, f. 36v.

Elizabeth Gwillim was the first to record the avian life of Madras in detail.  Decades before John James Audubon, she painted birds from life and to scale, even the large birds of prey and waterbirds which dominate her collection.  Mary's descriptions and paintings document Elizabeth's artistic process and reveal the crucial role of the Indian bird-catchers who secured the living birds.  Elizabeth's paintings pay unusual attention to the placement of the bird's features and reveal a taxonomical rather than purely artistic interest.  A similar attention to detail is evident in the watercolours of fish, most by Mary Symonds.  The fish paintings reveal a collaborative process of information gathering and several are inscribed with the fishes’ local names.

Two Indian birdcatchersMary Symonds, Birdcatchers, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC 106.66

Black StorkElizabeth Gwillim, Black Stork Ciconia nigra (Linnaeus 1758) McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-1-010

Painting of Moon wrasse fishMary Symonds, Thalassoma lunare (Moon wrasse, labelled Julis lunaris), McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-2-5

In 1805, Elizabeth wrote 'without some little knowledge of Botany it is impossible to read the Hindoo languages'.  Like her contemporary, William Jones, Elizabeth regarded linguistic and botanical studies as intertwined.  Elizabeth studied Telugu, translating a local temple legend.  She was part of the circle of missionary and medical botanists who linked Madras and the Danish settlement of Tranquebar and she sent plants and seeds back to a nursery garden in Brompton where several grew and were depicted in Curtis' Botanical Magazine.  One of her most detailed botanical images, of the Magnolia coco, remains in the Linnean Society herbarium. 

Magnolia coco'Gwillimia Indica' (Magnolia coco) by Elizabeth Gwillim, Linnean Society Herbarium (LINN-HS 981.10. Magnolia indet. (Herb Smith)), by permission of the Linnean Society of London

Apart from their scientific pursuits, the sisters' letters and paintings provide a wealth of details about food, clothing, and the lives of Madras' inhabitants, from Governor Edward Clive to Elizabeth's maidservant, whose biography she relates in detail.

A Lady’s Maid - an Indian woman dressed in white carrying a basketMary Symonds, A Lady’s Maid, A Pariah Woman, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC106.75


The early 19th century was a turning point in the East India Company's regime in India.  The Company was completing its conquest of Mysore, the Carnatic, and the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.  However, the tenuous nature of British rule was dramatically highlighted by the uprising at Vellore in July 1807, in which Indian soldiers killed their British commanders and took over the fort, raising the flag of Mysore before the uprising was brutally repressed.  Elizabeth and Mary collected first-hand accounts of the event, for which they blamed Company policy.  By the time of Elizabeth's death in 1807, the Gwillim household had been drawn into conflict with the Company regime in Madras, which Henry Gwillim denounced as 'despotic'.  This prompted Henry's recall to Britain, where he and Mary made new lives.  The story of their time in Madras has remained largely untold until now.

Anna Winterbottom
McGill University

To learn more:

• See the exhibition 'A Different Idea of India: Two Sisters Painting Southern India, 1801-1808', opening on 15 June at the South Asia Collection.  
• Visit the Gwillim Project website for transcriptions, case studies, webinars, and more.
• Read the original letters in the British Library manuscript India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C240/1-4.
• Read more about Elizabeth's botanical work on Kew's blog.
• Look out for the forthcoming book, Anna Winterbottom, Victoria Dickenson, Ben Cartwright, and Lauren Williams eds., Women, Environment and Networks of Empire: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras (McGill Queen's University Press, 2023).

 

21 April 2022

The Archive of the Hakluyt Society

The Hakluyt Society is a subscription organisation whose aim is to advance scholarship by producing scholarly and academic editions relating to historic voyages, travels, and works of geographical interest, from both printed and manuscript sources.  The Society was founded in 1846 and is named in honour of Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616), the Elizabethan collector, writer, and editor of geographical literature who is particularly remembered for works relating to the exploration of North America.  Originally the Hakluyt Society published works relating to travel before 1700, but over the years the Society has expanded its scope beyond that date and extended its work to conferences, lectures, and the award of grants and prizes.

Four volumes of leather-bound Council Minutes after conservationMss Eur F594/1/3-4: Hakluyt Society Council Minutes, 1965-1987. These minutes have been conserved and rebound with the financial assistance of the Hakluyt Society. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We are pleased to announce that the archive of the Hakluyt Society is now catalogued as part of the India Office Private Papers and available to researchers.  Descriptions can be found via the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, and researchers can consult material in our Asian and African Studies Reading Room.  The Hakluyt Society has had many links with the India Office and its predecessor the East India Company over the years.  Its Presidents Sir Henry Yule, Sir William Foster and Sir Gilbert Laithwaite all served at the India Office, Foster being one of the Hakluyt Society’s longest serving Officers as President from 1928-1945, and Vice-President from 1945-1951.  The Society has also had long-term connections with the Map Room and the Department of Printed Books first at the British Museum and subsequently at the British Library.  Hakluyt Presidents with British Library connections include Edward Lynam, Charles F. Beckingham and Sarah Tyacke.

Hakluyt Society Presidents -Sir Henry Yule, Sir William Foster and Sir Gilbert LaithwaiteImages © National Portrait Gallery, London – from left to right: Sir Henry Yule by Theodore Blake Wirgman (1881) NPG D23052; Sir William Foster by Bassano Ltd (1929) NPG x81132; Sir (John) Gilbert Laithwaite by Howard Coster (1927) NPG Ax2276 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The archive contains papers relating to the running of the Society, including signed Council Minutes, Committee papers, administrative records and financial papers, and correspondence and other papers generated by the work of the Society's various Honorary Secretaries.  These include Raleigh A. Skelton - known as Peter (who worked in the Department of Printed Books and then the Map Room at the British Library), the geographer Eila Campbell (Birkbeck College, University of London), and the geographer Terence E. Armstrong (Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University).

The bulk of the archive relates to the Hakluyt Society's activities in the 20th century, and particularly in the period after the Second World War.  Some 19th century materials do survive, including the Society's Record Book from 1846, Council minutes from its first meeting in 1847, printed Annual Reports from 1849, and some correspondence with contributors from the 1890s.  A significant amount of the later material relates to proposals for volumes (not always completed or published) together with correspondence with the Society's contributors.  These include significant publications for the Society, such as The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery… (Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1955-1974).  Other material relates to the relationship between the Hakluyt Society its publishers and distributors.  There is only limited material relating to individual members of the Society, and these include published membership lists, and subscription accounts.  The Hakluyt Society archive also contains some manuscript and original material collected by or deposited with the Society.

Lesley Shapland,
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F594 Archive of the Hakluyt Society
The History of the Hakluyt Society by Raymond John Howgego

 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs