Category Archives: London Life

A Parcel of Ribbons now on Kindle

Parcel of Ribbons Front Cover V3 resized 300

The book A Parcel of Ribbons is now available on Amazon Kindle

 

You can of course still buy the paperback from Amazon or Lulu.com and other outlets which has the advantage of being a physical book and of having the index. Kindle format still does not support indexing although it does include the illustrations. The footnotes from the paperback are converted into endnotes for Kindle and I have made some minor corrections, mainly of typos. Some of these arose because I transcribed many of the letters using Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which is extremely impressive (no I don’t have shares!) but occasionally produces some oddities, a few of which I missed when proof reading.

One piece of information not in my possession when I wrote the book was that Robert Lee junior did not die at Lisbon as much later members of the Bevan family believed but in fact, like two of his brothers before him, shot himself. It is no wonder that Favell Bourke Lee, by then Mrs David Bevan, sought consolation in evangelical religion. For three out of six siblings to die by their own hand was a terrible burden for the family to have to bear.

Despite this shadow that fell over the family in the nineteenth century, their eighteenth century letters remain full of life, hope and insight into the interactions between Britain and Jamaica and the lives led in London by returning colonists.

A Family Saga and A Theatrical Disaster

The falling of the New Brunswick Theatre, 28 February 1828

An imagined vision of the Brunswick Theatre collapse – hand coloured print

 

I have written before about the descendants of Scudamore Winde, the close friend of Robert Cooper Lee after whom he named his youngest son.

Scudamore Winde made his fortune as a merchant in Jamaica, but elected to remain there until his death rather than returning to England. He made generous provision for his illegitimate children – Robert whose mother was a slave and Penelope, John and Thomas the children of Sarah Cox, who was probably a free Negro. John died young and Thomas elected to work as a merchant in Kingston like his father. Robert became a merchant in London and Penelope in due course married David Steel, bringing with her a handsome dowry.

David Steel began life as a barrister, but his father (also David) ran an important printing business publishing nautical charts, and when he died in 1799 his son took over the business. David Steel bibliogDavid Steel senior had an interest in the theatre, and indeed probably a rather close interest in the wardrobe mistress Ann James, who with her four children was left well provided for at his death! In the last decade of the 18th century David Steel senior bought the Royalty Theatre, situated in Well Street running parallel to Wellclose Square in the East End of London.

The Royalty had been built for the actor manager John Palmer who ran into difficulties over the licensing of the premises, because at the time only a limited handful of ‘patent’ theatres were permitted to perform plays. The remainder were licensed on an annual basis to put on musical entertainment, ballet, and the increasingly popular melodramas. In this they were the predecessors of the music halls. Some also, such as Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre, had performances which prefigured modern circus.

When David Steel senior died he left his shares in the theatre equally to his daughter Elizabeth and his son David. Royalty Theatre

David senior also had a sister called Hannah who in 1784 married Thomas Maurice. They had a son David Samson Maurice. After Hannah died in 1788 Thomas Maurice left England for America where he set up as a merchant in Albany, New York and appears never to have returned to England. His son was apprenticed to a printer under the guardianship of David Steel senior, and it seems likely that Elizabeth Steel, who never married, stood in place of a mother to David Samson Maurice.

In January 1803 David Steel junior died at his house in Union Row, Little Tower Hill, which was also the premises for the printing business. In his Will he left his wife Penelope the option of either selling the business or, if she preferred, continuing to run it in her own right, and this she chose to do, keeping the business afloat for the sake of her for surviving children. Three and a half years later she married William Mason, and with him had a son called William Scudamore Mason who died as an infant, by which time Penelope was about forty.

Nothing seems to be known about William Mason who must have died before 1818, when Penelope married for the third time to Stanley Goddard who was about twenty years younger than she was. Her marriage to Mason may have had something to do with the family row that caused her eldest son David Lee Steel to leave home, since from 1810 onwards he no longer lived at Union Row in his mother’s house. He died in May 1818 at the relatively young age of thirty.

Penelope’s second son Scudamore Winde Steel began what would be a distinguished career in the Indian army in 1805. Her two daughters Penelope Sarah and Ann remained at home. In 1820 Stanley Goddard was declared bankrupt and the printing business which had been variously known as D.Steel, P.Steel, P.Mason, Steel & Co., Steel & Goddard and Steel, Goddard & Co, and had moved from Union Row to Cornhill not long after Penelope’s marriage to William Mason was sold to J. W. Norie & Co, which already had an established business in Leadenhall.

Penelope must have retained some money in her own right, or else the sale of the business the house and the furniture cleared Stanley Goddard’s debts and left them still with some money, for when she died in 1840 Penelope was living at 14 Euston Place, a pleasant address on the south side of what is now Euston Road opposite Euston Square. The elegant terminus for the London and Birmingham Railway was opened just three years before her death.

A particular feature of that first Euston station was its beautiful iron roof. Euston_Station_showing_wrought_iron_roof_of_1837 resized 250Iron roofs had been in use since the late 18th century, and the 19th century railway stations created many of the most beautiful ones.

However it was a wrought iron roof which brought tragedy to Penelope’s daughter Ann.

Ann Steel married her cousin David Samson Maurice in 1824. In 1826 the Royalty Theatre burnt down. It was sadly common for theatres to be destroyed by fire. In this instance it was not due to the spectacular special effect of the eruption of Mount Etna at that evening’s performance, but to gas lights at the side of the stage which had not been properly turned off after the performance and which set light to some scenery. The man whose responsibility it was to tend the furnace that created the gas spotted the fire late in the evening and was able to rouse the family who lived on site and get them out. But by the time he had gone next door to wake the landlord of the Black Horse the flames were already bursting out of the stage door into the street. It was only the collapse of the roof, which helped to dampen the flames, that prevented the fire spreading to the adjacent sugar refinery in Dock Street and the many houses of ill repute serving sailors from the docks.

Following a payout on the fire insurance Elizabeth Steel made the theatre site over to David Samson Maurice and gave him the £6,000 insurance money with which he decided to rebuild the theatre. Together with an ambitious partner Richard Carruthers, who combined wholesale haberdashery with selling a patent fluid for lubricating carriage axles, he sold shares in the new Brunswick Theatre to raise the necessary capital of about £20,000.

Building work began on 3 August 1827, and the walls went up with astonishing speed, tied together with temporary wooden beam that were removed when the iron roof went on. The architect was Stedman Whitwell, and he produced a splendid design combining classical Greek with Egyptian styles sculpted in cement on the brick frontage. Brunswick Theatre resized 250Natural light was let into the theatre through a series of tall narrow openings in the front wall filled with a glazed iron lattice. Particular attention was paid to fireproofing the building, with stone staircases, gas lighting rather than candles, water piped through the walls (presumably to provide an early form of fire fighting) and a wrought iron roof. Whitwell seems not to have known much about the actual workings of the theatre (unlike David Maurice who was said to enjoy amateur theatricals) and arrangements were made for him to visit Drury Lane Theatre to see how the flies were constructed and the theatre machinery installed.

Whitwell claimed afterwards that his brief extended only to completing the shell of the building which was roofed over in haste in order to meet the licensing deadline in October, with the intention of being open for the first performance at the end of December. It proved impossible to meet this deadline and a new date was scheduled for the end of January. On the 26 January David and Ann Maurice’s elder son was buried at St Botolph Aldgate aged just twenty-one months.

The theatre finally opened on Monday 25 February to a full house of about 3000, with a second performance on the Tuesday. Work fitting out the interior was still continuing on the Wednesday in expectation of the next performance on Thursday. On the Monday there had been a problem when the scenery flats would not slide in the grooves of the flies which had dropped on one side. All the weight of the flies, the theatre machinery and the painters and carpenters workshops, amounting some estimated to 100 tons, was hung from the wrought iron roof, as was common practice in theatres with timber roofs. Whitwell was there on the Monday when instructions were given to crank up the flies by throwing a chain over a tie beam, and a similar process was gone through on the Tuesday after the flies had dropped on the other side. It was assumed that the scenery had swollen slightly due to the damp – after all the building had been given no time at all to dry out and it was winter.

On Thursday 28 February David Maurice and his friend William Evans, a former editor of the Bristol Observer, left Anne Maurice to go and visit friends and went to the theatre where rehearsals were in progress. There were about 80 people in the theatre including dancers, actors, musicians, gas fitters, roofers, and carpenters. Some were in the dressing rooms and the Green Room under the stage, some on the stage, others were right up at the top of the building. Shortly after half past eleven an odd rumbling was heard, there was a sound as if something had been dropped in the carpenters’ workshop above the auditorium, but no one paid any attention. Then there was a sharp crack like a firecracker followed by two or three more and the entire roof collapsed down into the building pushing the front wall out into the street.

Brunswick collapse resized 450

David Maurice was killed but his partner Richard Carruthers survived. In all fifteen people died, although the last of those severely injured did not die at the London Hospital until the end of April. Two of the victims had been passers-by in the street but there were many miraculous escapes. A group of carpenters were persuaded by one of them not to try to flee but to remain on the staircase (which you can see in this print was tied into the south-east corner of the building) while the slates and beams cascaded around them – all of them survived. Many people were dug out of the wreckage and in many ways the hero of the day was the Reverend George Smith. An ex-Navy man who had fought at the Battle of Copenhagen he organised the initial rescue attempts, later in the afternoon assisted by Philip Hardwick who brought over a large number of men from St Catherine’s Dock to help. By the middle of Friday all the victims had been accounted for.

A fund was initiated for the support of the survivors, a number of families had lost their chief breadwinner, many workmen had lost all their tools and both actors and workmen were expecting to be paid on the Saturday. Destitution threatened them. The landlord of the Star Inn, which lost its front wall, was ruined because he was on a repairing lease.

George Smith wrote an immediate and very vivid account of the events (he was an enthusiastic evangelical and inveterate pamphleteer) and the inquest was a protracted affair lasting for many weeks. The ultimate verdict of the jury was that the roof had collapsed because of the weight of the flies and theatre machinery suspended from it. I suspect that the filling of a large lead cistern in the painters shop above the stage shortly before the accident may have been the final straw. There was of course a great deal of interest in the disaster not simply because so many had died, and so many more would have died had it happened a few hours later, but because of the innovative technology used in the wrought iron roof.

Poor Ann Maurice who had lost both her child and her husband in the space of a month found herself in serious financial difficulty. In September 1828 the newspapers reported that she had decided not to rebuild the theatre and the site was sold to George Smith and a group of trustees who created the very first purpose-built mariners asylum to provide shelter food and clothing for seamen and to protect them from the corrupt practices of crimping.

Ann was clearly made of the same tough stuff as her mother Penelope for she carried on the printing business on her own account. Eighteen months after the tragedy she remarried to Robert Edgar, the brother of a man who had worked for her first husband. Edgar, a wine merchant,  was declared bankrupt in 1834 and died six years later (both Ann and her mother seem to have had better business sense than their husbands) but Ann continued in business until the late 1850s when she retired, dying at Kilburn in 1868.

Ann’s son Richard Lee Steel died young and his widow took her family to America, where descendants still live today. Her daughter Eliza married the widower of her own cousin Mary Steel (Anglo-Indian daughter of Scudamore Winde Steel) – he died soon after and she brought up his two surviving children. Ann’s other son Robert Edgar worked as a writer for the Reuters Telegraph Agency as did his son. Their descendants still live in England, almost certainly quite unaware of their connections to a theatrical disaster and a black heritage in Jamaica.

 

NOTE ON SOURCES:
I have to thank Yuri, a reader of this website, for alerting me to Penelope Winde’s third marriage and the history of her publishing house. It was while looking further at her family that I came across the story of the ill-fated Brunswick theatre.
Most of the images displayed here have been taken from a wonderful scrapbook about the disaster compiled about the beginning of the twentieth century and now in the possession of the East London Theatre Archive. There and in some other places the theatre is referred to as the Royal Brunswick.
This blog includes a full version of the story of the disaster written some years later by Charles Dickens, which drew upon the many press reports of the disaster and the lengthy inquest.
Other sources include:
A Bibliography of the Works Written and Published by David Steel by Mario Witt, Greenwich Maritime Monographs, 1991.
A Directory of Printers and Other Allied Trades London & Vicinity 1800-1840 by William B Todd, Printing Historical Society, 1972.
George Charles Smith of Penzance : from Nelson Sailor to Mission Pioneer by Roald Kverndal, William Carey Library 2012.

Telling History versus Story Telling

Dido

The Kenwood portrait of Dido and Elizabeth, now at Scone Palace and attributed to Zoffany

I have just been to see the film Belle, the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate great niece of Lord Mansfield, daughter of a black mother, and the sparkling personality who shines out of a dual portrait that for many years had her labelled simply as the black servant of her cousin Elizabeth Murray. The differences between the story told in the film and the few known facts of Dido’s life lead me to ponder the differences between writing history and telling a story.

Before going to the cinema I had also read Paula Byrne’s book of the same name which, besides presenting the few known facts of Dido’s life, gives an excellent account of the background to her life in the context of the growing anti-slavery movement, and tells the story of the Zong massacre which had a profound influence on public opinion.

This deeply shocking case concerned a heavily overloaded slave ship, poorly navigated on its way to Jamaica, with a crew who jettisoned the ‘cargo’ when water ran short and whose owners then claimed on the insurance. However, it later became clear that the real reason for murdering about 142 souls was that disease had taken its toll and they were of greater value to the owners dead than alive. The first hearing before a jury found in favour of the owners, but the insurers appealed and Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench was then called upon to adjudicate.

The presence of a young mixed race woman in Lord Mansfield’s household, not as a servant, but in many respects as an adopted daughter, was viewed by his contemporaries as having influenced his judgments in both the Zong case and in the legally more significant case of James Somersett. Although the exact wording of the Somersett judgment is only available via press reports (Mansfield lost his library and all his papers when his house was attacked during the Gordon riots in 1780 and Dido, Elizabeth, Lady Mansfield and Mansfield himself only just escaped from the mob) it established the precedent that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will and as such was a significant step on the way to reform and emancipation.

The best historical writing tells a story as true to the facts as the writer can make it, in the full knowledge that there will always be interpretation of those facts – none of us can totally step outside our own time or the limits of our own knowledge and prejudices. The writer of a story based, more or less loosely on historical facts subsumes the history into the need to tell a dramatic tale, sometimes with an implicit political or social message, that they hope will entertain and hold the reader or viewer, and perhaps in the process educate as well.

So how much does it matter if the story teller diverges from the historical facts?

Paula Byrne’s verdict on the film was that “Like all historical-biographical movies, it takes considerable artistic licence even with the few facts that we know about Dido. The Zong case, being more dramatic, is made the centrepiece of the courtroom drama, although the Somerset case was really the more significant for the abolitionist cause. And John Davinier becomes an idealistic clergyman’s son, with a little of the Granville Sharp about him, instead of a faceless French servant. But the spirit of the film is true to the astonishing story of Dido’s bond with Lord Mansfield.”  [Byrne, Paula (2014-04-01). Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle (p. 238). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

The man Dido eventually married, after the death of her adoptive parents and the marriage of Elizabeth Murray was some kind of servant, not the crusading son of a vicar portrayed in the film, who is in turn loosely based on the anti-slavery activist Granville Sharp. Dido herself was probably kept more in the background at Kenwood than the film suggests and was certainly not an heiress. Mansfield left her a comfortable legacy and it is possible that her father left her £500, if she is indeed the reputed child Elizabeth mentioned in his Will, but the amounts of money involved were not enough to attract the attentions of an impoverished aristocrat looking for a rich wife as shown in the film. In the film these characters stand as placeholders or exemplars of the attitudes of the day, demonstrating the prejudices and hypocrisy Dido must have faced, but for which we have no specific evidence.

It was brought home vividly to me recently how much the history that I take for granted can be a closed book to others when I was talking to a young woman who had quite literally never heard of the Holocaust, who had no concept of what had happened. Her friend suggested that she should watch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as a way of beginning to understand even though that is an entirely invented story.

When Twelve Years a Slave came out it caused a stir, particularly in America, and clearly there were many people who had no idea what slavery had entailed, how appallingly brutal it was, nor the risks run by free black and mixed race people before slavery was abolished. Similarly there has only relatively recently been an awakening in the UK, not simply of the importance of our slave owning past, but of the fact that there had been a considerable black presence in Britain before the eighteenth century. For example see the work of Miranda Kaufmann, who is incidentally a descendant of Robert Cooper Lee.

So to return to my original question, would it matter if someone who watched the film Belle believed every word to be historically accurate? Yes I think it would. I think the story teller has a duty to make clear that their story is ‘based on’ historical fact and is not a historical documentary.

But if watching the film Belle caused someone to be interested in the facts of the case and to try to discover these for themselves then that would I believe be a good thing. Moreover it is a good film, with wonderful settings and costumes and makes very enjoyable viewing!

 

 

Snails and Serendipity

Snail Milk Water

 

So much of extending my historical knowledge has depended on serendipity.

This week I was in London for a meeting and hoping to be able to visit the Tate afterwards. However the meeting over-ran and, because it was closer to St Pancras where I catch my train, I went instead to the Georgians Revealed Exhibition at the British Library. It is full of fascinating images and objects demonstrating the way in which the Georgians shaped modern Britain. One of the highlights for me was the huge map of Georgian London making up the floor of the final room of the exhibition. I can spend hours looking at maps – and often do!

Afterwards I browsed through the books and souvenir objects for sale, which included among the usual mugs and posters a complete high head white wig for those wishing to dress the part! And among the books I came across a small volume that looked interesting, containing Georgian household cures and remedies.

And here I discovered a Jamaican connection, for the original book had come down through the Biscoe and Tyndale-Biscoe families to its present custodian Nicola Lillie. Some readers may remember the story I told not long after starting this website of the court case involving Joseph Biscoe and his runaway wife Susanna.

Joseph Biscoe’s aunt by marriage, Elizabeth Ambler (Mrs Elisha Biscoe) was the original owner of the ‘Physick Book’ in which she, her friends and later generations recorded their recipes for various potions for easing or curing everything from the bite of a mad dog to fits, bladder stones, gout, coughs and indigestion. Marilyn Yurdan worked with the author to provide the medical historical background, and although some recipes would be fairly easy to make now, it really is a case of ‘Don’t try this at home’ when you encounter Nurse Payne’s Receipt for a Sore Throat in the Small Pox containing rock alum and white dog turd! Given that as little as one ounce of alum can kill an adult (not to mention the dog turd), this is not one to copy.

Nor are we likely to want to make use of woodlice, earthworms and snails, all of which were favourite eighteenth century ingredients.

More benign is a recipe to make Lavender Water by simmering lavender flowers in cider; and a Tincture for Gout and Colick in Stomach was made using raisins, rhubarb, senna, coriander, fennel, cochineal, saffron and liquorish infused in brandy. My guess is that the rhubarb and senna would have made it effective for constipation if not for gout. Increased prosperity in the eighteenth century leading to a diet rich in red meat and other high protein items such as turtle, taken together with rich red wines, made gout the classic Georgian complaint.

Besides reproducing the recipes, the book explains what the various ingredients were – how many of us now would recognise Burgundy Pitch, mithridate or Balsam of Tolu? even if we could safely identify coltsfoot, ox-eye daisies or camomile. To take us through these forgotten ingredients each recipe has its own glossary and an explanation of its intended use or the problem it was intended to ease.

It is also a beautifully produced little book with a short, illustrated history of the Ambler Biscoe family and woodcut illustrations of the various herbs and other ingredients.

Although the eighteenth century family name was Biscoe, in the mid-nineteenth century it became Tyndale-Biscoe (after the Biscoe name had been lost for a time through a female line of descent) and some readers may know the lovely Historic Jamaica from the Air by David Buisseret, in which the photographs were taken by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe.

There is a large bequest of papers, maps, documents and photographs relating to Jamaica made by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe and his wife in the Jamaica Archives in Spanish Town – you can read the details of what was donated in Kenneth E. Ingram’s University of the West Indies publication Manuscript Sources for the West Indies. The collection also includes genealogical information on the Morrison, Duff and Dallas families of Jamaica and the Branch and deFreitas families of St Lucia.

In addition to their connection with Jamaica, the eighteenth century Biscoe family also owned plantations on St Kitts. There are records for the slave ownership of Stephana and William Biscoe (widow and son of Joseph Biscoe) in Jamaica on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website.

Not for the first time I have been impressed by just how intertwined was the history of Jamaica with the huge changes that went on throughout the eighteenth century.

Lavender Water & Snail Syrup: Miss Ambler’s Household Book of Georgian Cures and Remedies, Nicola Lille & Marilyn Yurdan with illustrations by Laura Lillie, The History Press, Stroud, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7524-8995-7

The 4th of July – not the end of the story

320px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting

Signing the Preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris, November 30, 1782.*

 

 

Following the 4th of July celebrations of America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, I thought it interesting to quote from a letter which demonstrates that this was, to slightly mis-quote Churchill, not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Six years later, on the 6th of December 1782 Robert Cooper Lee wrote to his second son Richard who had been sent first to Brussels, and then to Hanover, to learn how to be a merchant.

Robert Cooper Lee to Richard Lee

Bedford Square, 6th December 1782

My dear Richard,

One of the most important Events in the Annals of Great Britain has taken place.  The Independency of the United States of America.  On the 30th of November Provisionary Articles were signed at Paris by his Majesty’s Commissioners and the Commissioners of America, to constitute a Treaty of Peace, when the Peace shall be agreed upon between Great Britain and France.  This previous Step, the signing of Articles with America being an Acknowledgement of her Independence, has removed the principal Obstacle to a general Accommodation.  The Parliament met yesterday, and was opened by one of the longest Speeches from the Throne that has been made for many Years; it contains great Variety of Matter and expressly declares the Dismemberment of the Empire by the Seperation of America.  The Address in the House of Commons was moved by Mr Yorke and seconded by Mr Banks.  There was no Amendment moved.  Mr Fox Lord North and Mr Pitt spoke, but there being no Opposition to the Address it is called a Conversation, and not a Debate.  All Parties seemed agreed on the Necessity of assenting under the present Circumstances, to American Independence.  And equally agreed with respect to France and Spain to accept of nothing short of honourable Terms of Peace.  How that can be reconciled to the Idea of giving up Gibraltar I cannot see, yet that is confidentially talked of, and that the Spaniards are to give us the Island of Porto Rico in the West Indies in Exchange.  Our captured Islands to be restored to us, and St Lucia to the French.  In the East Indies the French demand to be put in the same Situation they were in prior to the last War, but that cannot be agreed to on our part.  The prevailing Opinion here is that a general Peace will take place.  Our political Barometer the Stocks have risen five or six per cent.  I would send you Woodfull’s Paper with the King’s Speech and the Debates on it, but I conclude you will easily get a Sight of them.

A Frigate the Resource from Jamaica arrived a few days ago; she left Jamaica the 14th of October, and brings to Government Intelligence that the French and Spaniards were preparing to make another attempt on that Island. Don Solana with the Spanish Ships was about proceeding to the Cape, where the land Forces intended for the last Expedition had continued; they expected to meet the Reinforcement of Ships and Troops from France that sailed in September, when Lord Howe sailed, and to make a force of 25,000 Men and 25 Ships of the Line.  Admiral Piggott from America would be soon after them, and Admiral Hughes with the Ships detached from Lord Howe’s Fleet shortly afterwards.  I therefore trust Jamaica will escape this Danger.  Have you seen Sir Edward Hughes’s Accounts in the Gazette of our Engagements with the French Fleets in the East Indies?

These ‘Provisionary Articles’ were finally ratified by the US Congress on the 14th of January 1784.

For a family whose income depended on the free movement of trade, any war caused difficulties at best and disaster at worst, Robert Cooper Lee’s comment about the improved price of ‘Stocks’ shows that the reaction to the prospect of peace was very favourable. And as can be seen from the second paragraph of the letter the threat to Jamaica had been very real. For an island only just recovering from the disastrous hurricane of 1780, and the several more that followed in that decade, the arrival of peace was more than welcome.

You can read all the Lee family letters in the book A Parcel of Ribbons.

Picture source: U.S. Diplomacy Center (State Department) exhibition via Wikipedia, a 1902 print from an earlier painting, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin standing on the left.

Inoculation, Vaccination and an old controversy

Benjamin Moseley on Vaccination resized 450

Morning P0st 17 May 1810 from British Newspaper Archive

While researching something else entirely I came across Dr Benjamin Moseley and an old controversy with very modern echoes.

Benjamin Moseley was born about 1746, son of Edward Moseley of St Osyth on the north Essex coast. On the 22nd of October 1765 he was granted the Freedom of the City of London by Redemption, paying forty-six shillings and eight pence for admission to the Company of Woolmen. His father was recorded as ‘Gent’ and, combined with the location of the family, this suggests that they had made their money as sheep farmers supplying fine English wool to the world.

Benjamin was trained as a doctor in London, Leiden and Paris and settled in Kingston, Jamaica about 1767, practising as a surgeon apothecary and eventually becoming Surgeon General. He also served as an Assistant Judge in the parish of St Andrew. On the 9th of January 1768 he married Martha Clare, by licence, in Spanish Town. Of their children only two outlived their father, a son William Henry born about 1777 who in due course followed his father into medicine as an Army doctor but who died only four years after his father; and a daughter named Martha Elizabeth born about 1781. Nothing more is known of Martha Clare who may have died in Jamaica.

There is an interesting note on the parish register for St Osyth –  “At front: note of outbreak of smallpox from which 86 persons died, 1737-1738” (now held at the Essex Record Office in whose SEAX database I found it). St Osyth is a very small place, so the village memory of this disastrous event may have coloured Benjamin’s childhood. In any case when he arrived in Jamaica he would have become very aware of the devastating effect of smallpox epidemics.

Normal mortality in such epidemics was about 30 percent, although a milder form had only a one percent mortality, however there was a hemorrhagic form that was almost invariably fatal. No wonder then that a slave who could be certified to have had the disease and have recovered, usually evident from the sometimes terrible scarring it caused, commanded a higher price. By the second half of the eighteenth century most planters were having all their slaves inoculated.

While there was little that could be done to treat the disease once caught, knowledge of inoculation had spread from China, India and the Arab world into Europe by the eighteenth century. The technique involved taking some of the pus from the lesions of an infected person and introducing it into the person to be inoculated via a small cut or scratch.  Sometimes the person doing the inoculating would travel around taking the sick person with them to provide live material. Sometimes dried matter was used and was inhaled. The result was that the person being inoculated caught smallpox, but usually in a mild form, from which they recovered in a couple of weeks or so. However there were fatalities. One high profile death was that of the young Prince Octavius, son of George III who had all his children inoculated.

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A boy suffering from smallpox (CDC website)

At the end of the eighteenth century Edward Jenner made a scientific study of inoculation using cowpox – hence the new term vaccination – first inoculating with cowpox and then testing its efficacy by infecting his subjects with smallpox. The cowpox made them slightly unwell, and they failed to catch smallpox. In due course vaccination replaced inoculation with smallpox as being the safer option.

It was not however uncontroversial. Benjamin Moseley had written a number of treatises – on the benefits of coffee and sugar (in which he had a financial interest!) and on dysentery, another killer scourge in Jamaica especially amongst the troops stationed there. He has a small place in history however as a vocal and high profile opponent of vaccination.

Benjamin Moseley on Coffee resized 450

He was not opposed to the principle of inoculation and like many doctors made a living using the traditional method. However the arguments against introducing animal matter into humans, mainly children, have a modern parallel in those who oppose, for example, the use of pig heart valves in humans. Although the notion featuring in cartoons of the time, that those vaccinated with cowpox might turn into cows seems extreme to us now, given that the understanding of disease and its causes was rudimentary, the anxieties are understandable.

According to Sam Kean, writing about a new video game teaching about vaccination, Moseley argued that vaccination would degrade people spiritually, making them near-brutes. Why, “owing to vaccination,” he wrote, “British ladies might wander in the fields to receive the embraces of the bull.” He even prophesied “a new Pasiphaë”—the mythological queen who had sex with a cow and gave birth to the Minotaur. Lisa Rosner, a historian at Stockton College helping develop the video game on vaccination, calls Moseley a talented demagogue: “He really had his finger on the pulse of what people are afraid of.”

Although eventually vaccination resulted in the world-wide banishing of smallpox in the wild to a small number of (hopefully) very secure laboratories, the same is not true of measles. Also an epidemic killer, routine vaccination, compulsory before school admission in some countries, has significantly reduced but not yet eliminated the disease. Recent outbreaks in the UK have been attributed to a scare a decade ago, echoing Moseley, that the vaccine could cause autism. That claim has been totally discredited but a generation of children grew up who had neither had measles nor been vaccinated, with the result that mass vaccination is now being offered to those who had missed out in order to contain the spread of what can be a fatal illness.

Benjamin Moseley had built up a large and wealthy clientelle in England based around his Jamaican connections. This gave him both influence and access to the means of  widely publicising his views. Similarly in the MMR vaccination scandal in the UK, access to media, happy to play on the natural fears of parents who only want the best for their children, facilitated the spread of a scientifically discredited theory. It seems little had changed in two hundred years.

 

 

 

 

The Genealogical Jigsaw Puzzle

St Mary Aldermanbury before the Blitz

 

It is always very satisfying when another piece of the genealogical jigsaw puzzle slots into place, and this is what happened following the item I wrote last time about Robert Fotherby, who gave his body to science.

I already had a copy of his Will and decided now was the time to transcribe it and to remind myself why I knew anything about him in the first place. I had in fact come across him in the Will of John Rose of Cotterstock (c.1696-1736), which is one of those documents that is a real treasure trove. John Rose had no children and left a number of legacies to his cousins before making over his estate which included holdings in Jamaica to his nephew, then a minor, on condition that he change his name from John Pate to John Pate Rose – which in due course he did.

He listed the following cousins – Robert Fotherby and his wife Frances; Mary Stileman; Martha Milner; Thomas Bush; Thomas Pain the Elder of Oundle, and his sons John and Thomas; Rose Fuller and Francis Sadler both of Jamaica; and the widowed Mary Smith of Leicester. He left a number of charitable legacies and money for his servants as well as, intriguingly since I don’t know what the connection was, Fifty pounds to be equally divided between the two Sons of Thomas King late of Spanish Town in Jamaica aforesaid Dancing Master deceased to be paid them in Jamaica money. Whether John Rose had ever visited his estates in Jamaica, which were being managed by Francis Sadler, is not recorded. You can read the Will in full here.

To unpick all these relationships we need to go back to the early days of settlement in Jamaica when the sons of Thomas Rose of Mickleton decided that their future lay there. The eldest brother William, an apothecary, remained in London acting to some extent as family banker; Dr Fulke Rose and his brothers Thomas and Francis patented land in Jamaica; John Rose pursued a career as a merchant based mainly in London, trading goods and convicts into the island (although one of his daughters was born in Jamaica). There was also a sister Elizabeth Rose, possibly married in 1679 to Richard Phelps in Jamaica, and later to a man called Milner, finally in 1699 back in London to a widower called William Bush with whom she had several children.

So we can de-code the cousins of John Rose of Cotterstock, whose father was William Rose the Apothecary, as follows: Mary Stileman was a daughter of John Rose the merchant and you can read more about her here. Her son from her second marriage was Francis Sadler. Martha Milner was a daughter of Elizabeth Rose, and Thomas Bush was Martha’s half-brother. Rose Fuller was a grandson of Fulke Rose and as a young man he went to Jamaica to manage the estates belonging to the Fuller and Isted families.

That was as far as I had got until I looked again at Robert Fotherby and discovered a marriage licence allegation on Ancestry for an intended wedding to the widowed Frances Charnock ‘aged upwards of thirty years’, in 1732.  Frances Rose had buried her daughters Elizabeth and Mary in the parish of St John Jamaica in August and October 1720, and her husband Dr John Charnock in September ten years later. Their deaths are recorded in a monumental inscription (Lawrence Archer, p.313).  Returning to England she remarried and had, it is to be hoped, ten happy years with Robert Fotherby. That he was very fond of her is evidenced by the care he showed in providing for Elizabeth Lambe, who had been her companion, and perhaps her nurse in her last illness.

Frances was buried on the 2nd of March 1741/42 at St Mary Aldermanbury in the City of London, where her mother Elizabeth had been buried in 1735 and her infant niece Elizabeth Serocold (daughter of Martha Rose) was buried in 1716. The church was destroyed by enemy action in 1940, but in 1969 when the site was to be redeveloped the stones were sold and the church was rebuilt in Fulton, Missouri, USA as the National Churchill Museum.

So of this extensive list of cousins, all apparently relations of the Rose family, I am left with Thomas Pain and his sons who I suspect were closely related to John Rose’s wife Elizabeth (one of the witnesses to her Will was a Thomas Payne) and Mrs Mary Smith of Leicester.

I did not hold out much hope of finding Mrs Mary Smith though my guess is that she was also a member of the Pain family. However I then discovered that in 1758 the Bank of Smith and Payne was established in London’s Lombard Street. John Payne, the founding partner, and a Chairman of the East India Company, was a nephew of the Thomas Payne of Oundle mentioned in the Will of John Rose of Cotterstock. Both the Smith and Pain/Paine/Payne families had connections with Wigston near Leicester.

John Paine of Oundle, son of Thomas the Elder, was buried  in the church of St Peter, Oundle on the 23rd of July 1801, aged eighty-one, at which time his younger brother Thomas and sister-in-law Sarah were still alive.

 

As a postscript: John Pate did obtain a private Act of Parliament in 1744 to change his name to John Pate Rose. He went on to have three daughters with Martha Henn, but I am not clear whether he was married to her. Hannah Bella born in 1753 died young. His daughters Letitia and Sophia born in 1751 and 1752 both married within a month of each other in 1784, each couple being witnesses at the others’ wedding – Letitia to the widowed Sir George Booth and Sophia to the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne with whom she had a daughter Margaret.

 

 

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men

 Royal London Hospital 1752

The newly built London Hospital in fields outside London at Whitechapel c.1752

 

Readers who are within travelling distance of the Museum of London have one week left in which to visit the fascinating Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men resulting from excavations at the London Hospital in 2006. I should declare an interest since one of the joint authors of the book of the exhibition, and a major collaborator thereon is my daughter Natasha Powers.

You may wonder what this has to do with a website such as A Parcel of Ribbons, devoted principally to the history of eighteenth century Jamaica. However, when transcribing Wills with Jamaican connections I have come across several references which link to the whole issue of enlightenment science, medical training and body snatching in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

There is a great contrast during this period between an Enlightenment interest in medical research and the fears of those whose religious beliefs required that their bodies should be available intact for the Day of Judgement.

One very early reference to donating a body for medical research occurs in the Will of Robert Fotherby, who owned 90 acres in the parish of St Catherine Jamaica. Written in 1749, he requested that:

My Body I direct and order to be opened (if I die in London) by Mr Hawkins the Surgeon that now lives near Smithfield Barrs To whom for his Trouble I give and bequeath Three Guineas but if Mr Hawkins should not be alive or not in the Way at the Time of my Death to intitle himself to the above mentioned Three Guineas by performing the aforesaid Operation Then my Will is that my Body shall be opened by one of the Surgeons of Saint Bartholomews Hospital to be paid for his Trouble at the Discretion of my Executor hereinafter named but if it please God I should die in the Country then my Body to be opened by any Surgeon in the Neighbourhood where I die as my Executors shall think proper it being my earnest desire and determined Resolution that my Body should be opened before it is put into the Coffin that the Cause of my Death as much as is possible may be discovered for the Benefit of Mankind and for other Reasons therefore in case my Executor hereinafter named shall neglect or refuse to Comply with my Request and Order aforesaid she shall forfeit and pay to the Poor of the Parish where my Body shall be buried without having been first opened the Sum of One Hundred Pounds to be paid to the Church Wardens of the said Parish at the Time of my Death within one Month after my Burial but for proof of my Body having been opened before put into the Coffin the Oath of the Surgeon that performed the Operation or any Credible Witness that see the Operation performed shall be sufficient and such Oath I do direct and order to be made before some Magistrate before my Body shall be Interred and such Affidavit or Copy of such Affidavit to be delivered to the Church Warden or Church Wardens (or left at the Dwelling House of one of them) of the Parish where I shall be buried to satisfy them that they can have no Demand on my Executor on account of my Body having been buried without having been first opened according to my Directions as aforesaid

Fotherby did not die in London, but at Haselbech in Northamptonshire. From a subsequent Chancery suit it appears that an autopsy was carried out as he had requested. His wish to benefit those who came after him by anything that could be learned from ‘opening’ his body is admirable and in this he was ahead of his time.

A much later reflection on the fear engendered by the body snatchers occurs in the Will of Mary Cooke, a sister of the Jamaican composer Samuel Felstead, who died in Bethnal Green in London, in 1843 at the age of ninety-three. Her Will was written in 1829, before the changes brought about by the passing of the Anatomy Act in 1832, when fears of body snatchers were rife, and as a result she requested burial in an iron coffin.

You can see an example of such a coffin (some of which had triple locks !) at the exhibition, and if you cannot go, you can see it in the background to the interview with Jelena Becvalac on the exhibition webpage and on YouTube. It appears that such coffins were successful in foiling the attempts of the body snatchers, but were unpopular with those who managed the burial grounds since unlike wooden coffins they did not decay rapidly, reducing the space available for further burials.

 

Pancakes 18th century style

 

18th_century_Dutch_dish_resized 256

With Lent fast approaching I thought it would be good to dip once again into the cookbook of Hannah Glasse to see how she made pancakes.

This is an 18th century Dutch dish such as Hannah Glasse might have used to serve up her pancakes*.

Traditionally of course pancakes were made on Shrove Tuesday, when western Christians were shriven of their sins and used up foods they were forbidden to eat during the fasting period of Lent. Because the date of Easter is moveable so is the start of Lent, which this year begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13th.

This time of year is also known as the ‘hungry gap’, when foods stored over the winter are running out and new spring crops have not yet come in.

Hannah Glasse lists seasonal foods in her book and mentions a huge range of fish available during the winter – many now unavailable or ignored, including a surprisingly large range of freshwater species the fishing for which, of course, would not be so adversely affected by winter weather.

She mentions dorey, brile, gudgeons, gollin, smelts, crouch, perch, anchovy and loach, scallop and wilks, periwinkles, cockles, mussels, geare, bearbet and hollebet. She also advises on how to chose for freshness salmon, pike, trout, carp, tench, grailing, barbel, chub, turbot, cod, ling, skate and thornback, sole, sturgeon, herring, mackerel, lobsters, prawns and more.

Of January Fruits which are yet lasting, she lists some grapes, fifteen varieties of apples (most of which I regret to say I have never heard of) and five kinds of winter pears. In February she adds to the list the Pomery, the Winter Pipperning and the Dagobent Pear. Even in March, and with no refrigerated storage, she expected to have available five apple varieties and two pears. By April her list of available vegetables and salads is increasing and includes cucumbers, mushrooms and purslane grown on hot beds – making use of the huge quantities of manure available to 18th century farmers and market gardeners.

We are not so used now to having to think seasonally about our food, but even in our relatively sheltered economy the UK is suffering some shortages due to having experienced an eighteen month drought followed by many months of exceptionally high rainfall. Farmers are still unable to lift root crops from saturated ground, two weeks of heavy snow meant crops such as leeks and greens could not be harvested, and until the ground dries out new seed cannot be sown as cultivation with heavy machinery only compacts the soil destroying its structure. In any case the ground is so wet that seed would rot if planted.

Although food prices are pushed up by such conditions, the wealthy West can today afford to import food to make up any shortfall. It is worth remembering that 18th century Jamaicans too were heavily dependent on imports, despite the island’s potential for growing its own food, with planters preferring  to give their land over to the monoculture of sugar, coffee and other cash crops. Some native foodstuffs, such as the green turtle, were exported to the profitable markets of London, and in the fifth edition of her book Hannah Glasse included lengthy instructions on preparing a turtle in the West Indian Way. This was for a turtle weighing sixty pounds!

And so back to pancakes. Hannah Glasse included several pancake recipes in her book, most of which are far more generous with cream, eggs and butter than is fashionable now. Most use spices such as cinnamon, mace and nutmeg as well as sugar, and in the case of at least one recipe the quantity of nutmeg is quite large.

If you are thinking of trying the recipes remember 18th century eggs would have been smaller than today, and spare a thought for Hannah when you reach for the packet of caster sugar. She would have had to shave her sugar off a Jamaican sugar loaf and to pound it with pestle and mortar to achieve the desired fineness; her nutmegs would have been bought whole and her cinnamon as curled bark, all to be grated and pounded by hand.

Several of the recipes make use of ‘sack’ which was a fortified white wine approximating to a sweet sherry. It was imported into England, but would also have been imported into Jamaica from the Canaries which were on the shipping route for the outward journey of many of the supply ships.

creamjugs

18th Century Cream Jugs recently sold by Lacy Scott and Knight.

 

To make Fine Pancakes.

Take half a Pint of Cream, half a pint of Sack, the Yolks of eighteen Eggs beat fine, and a little Salt, half a pound of fine Sugar, a little beaten Cinnamon, Mace and Nutmeg; then put in as much Flour as will run thin over the pan, and fry them in fresh Butter. This sort of Pancake will not be crisp, but very good.

Pancakes.

Take a Quart of Milk, beat in six or eight Eggs, leaving half the Whites out, mix it well till your batter is of a fine thickness. You must observe to mix your Flour first with a little Milk, then add the rest by degrees; put in two Spoonfuls of beaten Ginger, a Glass of Brandy, a little Salt, stir all together, and take your Stew-pan very clean, put in a piece of Butter as big as a Wallnut, then pour in a Ladleful of Batter, which will make a Pancake moving the Pan around, that the Batter be all over the Pan; shake the Pan, and when you think that side is enough, toss it, if you can’t, turn it cleaverly; and when both sides are done, lay it in a Dish before the Fire, and so do the rest. You must take care they are dry; when you send them to the Table, strew a little Sugar over them.

A Quire of Paper

Take a Pint of Cream, six eggs, three Spoonfuls of fine Flour, three of Sack, one of Orange-flour Water, a little Sugar, and half a Nutmeg grated, half a pound of melted Butter, almost cold; mingle all well togeether, and Butter the Pan for the first Pancake; let them run as thin as possible; when just coloured they are enough: And so do with all the fine Pancakes.

Interestingly her pancakes seem mainly to have been served on their own with sugar rather than with sweet or savoury fillings.

 

* By Leoboudv (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jamaica in the 18th century British Press

I was searching the British Newspaper Archive last week and in an idle moment wondered just how much coverage there was of Jamaica. A search for the single word ‘Jamaica’ was revealing. Even bearing in mind the rapid increase in the number and size of newspapers, particularly during the 18th century, the increase in references to Jamaica is an indicator of its rising importance to the British economy, and sadly during the 20th century also its decline.

  • 1710-1749      5,703
  • 1750-1799    28,818
  • 1800-1849  169,096
  • 1850-1899  390,761
  • 1900-1949     74,838
  • 1950-1999          648

A further breakdown in the first half of the 18th century is also revealing (again bearing in mind that the number of papers was also increasing).

  • 1710-19        96
  • 1720-29      996
  • 1730-39    1,147
  • 1740-49    3,464

Incidentally re-running the search a day later produced a few more references, either due to minor vagaries of the indexing system, or to the addition of new newspaper scans. The ten year project to digitise the newspaper collections of the British Library is on-going, so as with many on-line sources it’s worth popping back from time to time to see if an item of interest is now available.

And like maps, I find old newspapers endlessly fascinating. Where else could you learn that in 1742 a clerk to a vinegar merchant in Hoglane, reputed to be worth £2000, a widower for thirty years and who had pass’d his Grand Climackterick five years had married a lass of nineteen!

More particularly for the family or other historian you may find mention of someone in an unexpected context – perhaps a house sale, or as victim (or perpetrator) of a crime.

For example I wrote a while back about the scandal involving Joseph Biscoe and his wife and found that not long after the court case Biscoe sold all the contents of the house he had owned in Derbyshire, from which it sounds as if he was getting rid of everything that might be connected with her.

Biscoe sale

But to return to Jamaica. Many of the early references are records of which ship has arrived and what the cargo was. On the 2nd of September1712 the Newcastle Courant announced that a galley called the Rapier had arrived from Jamaica carrying a cargo of ‘sugar, cocoa, indigo etc.’ Many announcements during periods of war related to British ships being captured, or enemy ships that had been captured and their cargo taken. For people anxiously awaiting news of the arrival of friends or family, or whose fortune was tied up in a particular cargo, the shipping news in the papers was a vital source of information, especially for those who did not live in one of the major ports.

It was through the British Newspaper Archive that I discovered a reference in 1768 to a box addressed to Joseph Lee being washed up on the shore near Penzance with a large quantity of mahogany presumed to be from a shipwreck. As I knew that Joseph Lee was visiting London at the time and the box was addressed care of Messers Thomas and Stephen Fuller, Merchants in London, I knew for certain this must relate to the Joseph Lee whose letters feature in A Parcel of Ribbons.

Sadly also there are sometimes adverts relating to runaways.

Missing black boy 1807

This one appears to be a boy who was free rather than a slave, but one wonders what it was that made John Thomas run away from his apprenticeship and offer himself to someone else. The age given is young for an apprentice, so was he in fact a slave whose master wished to disguise the fact at a time when emancipation and an end to the slave trade was very much under discussion?

 

Newspapers are an invaluable source of information I’ve only touched on the British ones here, but of course there were newspapers published in Jamaica, and you will also find many references in American newspapers.