Sunday, November 24, 2013

A curly tale of pigtails

For anyone who has ever bought a real hair wig or had extensions, this story will really make your hair curl and you will be glad you weren’t living a century ago.

In October and November of 1905, a very unusual coroner’s case appeared in the British newspapers that caused alarm and even panic among the community. A Yorkshire man called John Deighton died from anthrax, still a very nasty disease to contact in our time and nearly always fatal in the pre-antiobiotic age. 

But what was most worrying is that it was alleged he had contracted it through his job as a wool-comber in which he had opened bales of Chinese pigtails (or queues) imported into Britain for use in the wig trade. The coroner had ordered that a doctor examine the said pigtails, which he did, and came to the conclusion that although many unknown spores were present in the bales, none of them contained the bacillus associated with anthrax.
But the newspapers grabbed the story and it was repeated around the world with varying degrees of hysteria. This one comes from a New Zealand newspaper on PapersPast:

The astonishing statement was made at an inquest at Bradford recently that large quantities of Chinese pigtails are imported into England for commercial purposes.

The fact came out during an inquiry into the death from anthrax of a man employed by a firm of wool-combers. The foreman related that the workman, John Deighton, had been employed in opening camel hair, low foreign wool, low hair, and human hair.
The Coroner: Do you know where human hair comes from?
The foreman: I believe that comes from China.
Mr Seal (H.M. factory inspector): Have you ever known the firm to use, human hair from China before?
The foreman: Yes,we have done a good bit of it. It comes in 1000 1lb lots.
Has any sickness or illness been associated with the time when you were dealing with human hair? - No.
How does the hair appear when it comes in? - Just as if it had been cut from a Chinaman's head and rolled up.
Is it in pigtails then? - Yes.
It might have been cut from the head of a man suffering from plague or an infectious disease for all you know? - Yes.
Dr. Logan and Deighton had been ineffectually inoculated with selavo [sic. should be Schlavo’s] serum. Death was due to general anthrax.
The Coroner said, under the circumstances, and considering that two cases of anthrax had occurred at these works, he thought it was necessary to have further inquiries with regard to human hair being manipulated by the firm. He thought it was necessary to adjourn the case in order to have some of this hair examined as a protection for the general public.
The Los Angeles Herald put a different spin on it altogether and the wool-sorter Deighton had morphed into a woman wearing artificial hair, with greater emphasis on the fact that pigtails were used for automobiling fringe nets.


Artificial Hair Made From Chinese Appanage Causes Woman's Demise

Special cable to The Herald
LONDON, Oct. 28. — A new warning note to women who go automobiling has been sounded at an inquest at Bradford on the body of a woman who died from anthrax, caused by wearing artificial hair made from a Chinese pigtail, and it came out in the evidence that Chinese pigtails were largely imported for the purpose of making, among other things, fringe nets for automobiling.
The coroner remarked that as the case in question showed how serious was the danger from the wearing of these fringe nets, all this hair ought to be bacteriologically examined, and that, in fact, this would be done now at the factory where the fatal case of anthrax had been caused, and an application would be made at the home office for an order requiring special precautions to be taken at all factories where artificial hair was made up.

As these pigtails were regularly exported by the ton into Europe and America, prior to the demise of the custom in China shortly before the First World War, that would have amounted to an awful lot of Chinese hair. Many pigtails were reputed to have come from decapitated bandits as detailed in another lurid article from the Los Angeles Herald of 23 June 1908. What a grotesque and creepy thought that your fashionable hairpiece might have come from an executed man or had been dug up by grave-robbers!

See article San Francisco call, Nov 8, 1908 Chronicling America

Ton of Pigtails from Bandits Who Have Been Beheaded Brought to New York In Big Freighter Wray Castle
 NEW YORK, June 22.—
A ton of Chinese hair for the "rats" of American women formed part of the cargo of the big freighter, Wray Castle, which has just arrived from the Orient. The hair came from the heads of Chinese bandits who had been beheaded and is valued at more than $5000.  
Enough of this hair is on board the Wray Castle to provide thousands of American girls with the necessary "filling," and great care was taken on the freighter to keep it from exposure of any sort that might spoil it for the market in the United States.
Hardly had the consignment of the Chinese hair been brought to the American docks on Staten island before the British steamer Seneca arrived at quarantine with twenty-two cases of Chinese pigtails, which, according to Captain Grimes, were collected in Chinese cemeteries by a crafty American, who collected the gruesome souvenirs for profit in three months' plunder in Chinese burial grounds.

From 1910 onwards, the pigtail started to disappear in China and no doubt other sources had to be found for ladies’ hair rats (presumably extensions), but anthrax continued to be a very real risk, especially to workers in the cheap fur industry. American newspapers carried regular reports of death, mostly of girls who had been wearing fur collars or coats.

And this alarmist image shows that there just as much risk from poorly processed and domestic cat skins than as from the Chinese pigtails. Ugh and more ugh!

See article The Day Book, December 10 1915, Chronicling America

Watch out ladies, if the furs don't get you, then the fringe nets or false hair will!!

General articles on the history and demise of the Chinese pigtail, or queue.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joseph Bell - Chief Engineer "Titanic"

As readers may may know from previous posts on this and my other blog The History Bucket, I am keen to tell stories of heroism by individuals who remain largely unknown. I also have an interest in ships and the sea, and the history and genealogy of those who served in the British Merchant Navy. I am currently engaged in the transcription of World War I MN crew lists for the UK National Archives and I know that many of those men would have suffered greatly or lost their lives in the course of their duties when their ships were torpedoed or otherwise destroyed, and that the majority of them have no known graves or memorials.

Thus all these interests merge together in this appeal by a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers to assist in the restoration of the gravestone of a man who has been largely overlooked in the famous drama of the sinking of the Titanic - the Chief Engineer, Joseph Bell. This coincides with the publication of a new book about Bell. If it weren't for Bell and his engineers who remained in the bowels of the ship and kept the lights on and the machinery operating until the bitter end, well knowing that none of them would survive, the death toll from that famous disaster would have been even higher than it was.

Mr Lightfoot's words say it all:

Joseph Bell Appeal

As an ex marine engineer who is still working in the marine industry and someone who has shown an interest in the refurbishment of Joseph Bell’s gravestone in Farlam, Cumbria, I have been asked to write a foreword to a book that is to be published about this Maritime hero who was a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers back in the day. 
So I thought I would take the opportunity to promote the Institute and decided to see what reference there is to Joseph Bell on the IMarEST website. 
Surely the Institute is proud of the numerous members who have given their lives in the line of duty and especially those who went above and beyond the call of duty? 
Sadly I cannot find any reference to Joseph Bell via the search facility.

Since time immemorial marine engineers have had to battle for the public recognition we justly deserve for the job we do for the nation.  Making mention of past and present members who have performed heroic deeds could help the cause. Of course Joseph Bell was not the only Engineer to remain at his post until the ship went down; all of the engine room staff did, so many more than just the one hero, but for the purposes of this communication JB is the person being honoured.

As well as the book, descendants of his family have started a fund to raise £2000 to have his gravestone cleaned and repaired and I was wondering if the Institute would be prepared to make a donation or at least give some support and publicity to honour one of our own?  After all I'm not sure I would have had the courage to stay at my post down in the engine room, knowing that if I did I would surely die.

More details about Joseph Bell’s gravestone appeal can be found here

Thanks for your time and hopefully your interest in the Appeal.

Best regards

John H Lightfoot  MBE  CMarEng  FIMarEST
Click here for information on the book

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The finest man who ever walked the deck of a ship"

In March 1939, my father sailed to South Africa as a passenger on board the Union Castle Line ship, the Dunbar Castle. The master was Captain H A Causton. 

Dunbar Castle. Image from
Less than nine months later in January 1940, that vessel was sunk by a German mine in the English Channel off the North Goodwins while in convoy. The event made headlines in British and Empire newspapers: 

"Stories of Heroism on Mined Liner" (The Evening Telegraph)

"Deeds of Heroism as the Dunbar Castle Sank" and "Even the Children were Brave"  (Hull Daily Mail)

Fortunately all except one of the passengers were rescued by minesweeper HMS Calvi and a coastal barge and taken to the Kent coast. According to the newspaper reports of the time only four crew died, including the Captain who was struck by the falling mast. [The Merchant Navy death records confirm that 8 crew, including the Captain, died.]  Captain Causton struggled valiantly to save the ship's documents before being carried to the lifeboat, but sadly had died by the time they reached Ramsgate.

This was just one story among many similar events during the dark days of 1940. British merchant shipping suffered horrendous losses of vessels and many crew members perished while simply doing their jobs. Numerous tales of great deeds by the RAF, the Royal Navy, the Army and individuals in ancillary services have been told but the Merchant Navy is not always as well represented as it ought to be. 

In one of the newspaper reports about the sinking of the Dunbar Castle, the chief officer described the Captain as "the finest man who ever walked the deck of a ship".

This captured my attention. Who was this long-forgotten hero of what is an almost minor event in the annals of World War II? 

So, with all the genealogical material at my disposal today, I set out to try and find out more about Captain Causton - this "fine" man my father may well have met and spoken to during his pre-war voyage to South Africa.

Courier and Advertiser Jan 12 1940 Copyright National Library of Australia

Henry Atherton Causton was born on 7 August 1879 in Hampshire. His father was Edward Atherton Causton, shown in the 1881 Census Return as Curate at St Peters Church, in the village of Goodworth Clatford, Hampshire. Henry was the youngest of five children. He later married but does not appear to have had any children himself. His wife, Margaret Getrude, outlived him by more than 40 years and died aged 95 in 1982.

The documents of his naval service show him receiving his master's certificate in 1909 at the age of thirty and interestingly his steamship certificate has the notation of him being qualified also as a "1st mate of a square rigged sailing vessel".  There is a photograph of him as a younger man in the records available to subscribers on His physical description being 5ft 10 1/2 ins tall, hair and eyes brown.

A curious side to all of this is that the SS Kent, a vessel on which Causton served as 2nd Mate in 1906 was sent from Durban to look for a dredger called Walrus that had gone missing in the same latitudes as did the later famous Waratah - on which I have previously posted a story (see here).  A report in 1910 from the New Zealand Herald describes how a piece of canvas was located on Ile St Paul and which showed the names of the crew (including Causton) who called there during the search.

Causton served as master on several Union Castle liners including Dromore Castle, Edinburgh Castle and Gloucester Castle. His first command of the Dunbar Castle was in March 1939, the same voyage that took my father out to Cape Town, South Africa, and from where he travelled to his ultimate destination in Northern Rhodesia.

As an indication of how much men like Causton were respected and esteemed in their time, not just in Britain but in her far-flung dominions as well, this photograph of his funeral comes from the Central Queensland Herald of 7 March 1940

Copyright National Library of Australia

The passenger whose body was washed ashore covered in oil and was at first thought to be another crew member turned out to be Lieut. Col. Walter Russell Johnson, DSO, CBE. 

He had a distinguished record in the First World War, serving at Gallipoli and in the Russian Civil War campaign, and had been hoping to sign on again in the Second but was probably considered far too old as he would have been over fifty. 

The coincidences with my own family background continue. From the Northern Rhodesian address given for Johnson in the probate documents means that there is every possibility that even if my father may not have met him personally, he certainly would have known about such a distinguished local resident, as the British community that existed in that country in those days was small and closely connected.

Captains and Colonels may get most of the glory, but one must never forget the others who died doing their vital jobs. The seven crew from Dunbar Castle were

Norman Leslie Bacon
John Thomas Linney
William Frederick Young
Angus Fraser
Richard Kay
Ronald Albert Davis
William John Stewart

These fine and appropriate words by poet laureate, John Masefield, appear on the memorial at South Shields to men of the Merchant Navy who died in World Ward II. [The full poem can be read here.]

Unrecognized, you put us in your debt;
Unthanked, you enter or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.

Merchant Navy Memorial at South Shields

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Empire Sculptor

Whenever there is a major shift in power in a country, statues soon topple after the event. One of the most famous recent occurrences was the pulling down of the Sadam Hussein statue in Iraq in 2003, but elsewhere many other reminders of old regimes have also been blown up, dumped or removed. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Lenin, Stalin and others of their ilk all fell on their faces.

One image that was familiar to me as a child was that of Cecil JohnRhodes in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). Apparently this statue now lurks abandoned behind the Bulawayo Museum along with other relics of that by-gone colonial age.

Old postcard with Rhodes looking across Bulawayo

I was reminded of this statue and several others I have seen elsewhere around the world when I visited the Reading Museum recently and saw the exhibition on the sculptor John Tweed, whose images are a roll-call of famous men from the history of the British Empire. 

Tweed was born in Scotland in 1869 and died in 1933, was a friend of Auguste Rodin, and highly thought of in his day, but doesn’t rate his own Wikipedia entry. A new book about him Sculpting the Empire by Nicola Capon has been published to coincide with the exhibition.

Cover of the book showing Tweed and his famous image of Captain Cook

While the statue of Rhodes may have gone from the main streets of Bulawayo, another of Tweed’s spectacular creations can be seen not far away in the Matopo Hills. It is the Allan Wilson Memorial, also called the Shangani Memorial, built over the remains of the 34 men of the Shangani Patrol, whose fight to the death was legendary in the annals of imperial history; a British version of Custers Last Stand.

Old postcard of the Memorial, Matopos

It is surprising that the Zimbabweans haven’t got rid of this particular edifice which is near the grave of Cecil Rhodes (also still intact) but perhaps it is just too big to move and apparently the area still draws enough tourists to warrant it remaining where it is. It could also be that as it represents a defeat of white soldiers at the hands of the Matabele warriors it isn’t a proclamation of racial supremacy. 

Another famous statue in South Africa is that of Jan van Rieebeck, the founder of Cape Town. 
Jan van Riebeeck, Cape Town Daily Photo

Tweed was also responsible for the representations of many other imperialists, soldiers, and important individuals throughout the Empire. His Lord Clive still stands proudly in both London and Kolkata (Calcutta).  One of his most famous sculptures is that of Captain Cook at Whitby, Yorkshire, with replicas to be found on the foreshore at St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia, and at Kauai, Hawaii, in Victoria, BC, Canada, and in Resolution Plaza, Anchorage, Alaska.

Captain Cook at Whitby, Wikipedia Commons

Anyone in the Newcastle upon Tyne area may be familiar with another Tweed statue that is still to be seen in Westgate Road. It is of Joseph Cowen, a politician who probably means little these days to most people but who was controversial and left-wing, almost a revolutionary, in his day and seems an odd choice among all the empire-builders and capitalists. 

This Flickr page has a particularly good collection on John Tweed and his work.

Another comprehensive list of Tweed’s works can be found here.

The the fine detail achieved by John Tweed

Sunday, July 28, 2013

By jingo, it has to be Mazawattee!

Inspired by this informative and delightful prize-winning short video made by my cousin Alwyn Scott about Earl Grey and his famous Tea, I started thinking about other teas that might have once been popular but have disappeared.

One brand that has and I remember well as a child was Mazawattee tea. Mistakenly, I had always thought it an African name, but the Mazawattee Tea Company was founded in England by John Boon Densham in the mid-1800s. 

Diana James, author of the book The Story of Mazawattee Tea, in this article in The Sunday Times of 24 May 1998, describes the origin of the name as

“... an exotic combination of the Hindi word Mazatha, meaning luscious, and the Sinhala word watte(e), or garden. On the advice of the firm’s printer the “tha” in mazatha was excised, and thus Mazawattee Tea was created. This strange linguistic hybrid, which paid scant respect to native pronunciation, proved to be remarkably popular.
She further tells us:
People were fascinated by this unusual name, and so it achieved the objective of bringing the firm’s tea to the forefront of the market. It gave rise even to several cartoons in the newspapers of the day. One, which was rather racially patronising, showed a little page-boy of African descent offering a silver salver displaying packets of tea. The balloon from the boy’s mouth encloses the pun: “Massa-wot tea?” (“Master, what tea?”)
It was during this period that a famous painting was developed; a painting which is today one of the few lasting legacies of Mazawattee Tea. Entitled “The Old Folks at Home”, it shows a smiling, bonneted and shawled grandmother, together with her bespectacled grand daughter, happily drinking cups of Mazawattee Tea. This painting was used extensively on posters, tea packets - and large enamelled metal advertisements which were in those times the equivalent of today’s more sophisticated hoardings.”
The company knew how to get attention and the brand became strongly associated with the British Empire.

This image was used on postcards to promote the arrival in an area of the tea wagon drawn by a team of zebras and driven by men from the colonies. As zebras are notoriously difficult to train, this was an amazing success story.

Image London Zoo collection

A full column advertisement from The Ipswich Journal of 19 September 1896 demonstrates the Empire connections well. John Bull representing Britain faces a critical world with Mazawattee in hand, and Australian cricketers, King of the Ashanti, Paul Kruger and the even the relieving column for the Matabele Rebellion in Rhodesia all owe some kind of allegiance to Mazawattee! 

In later years, the declining fortunes of the company hadn’t been helped by its warehouse at Tower Hill and a factory at New Cross being destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War II.  By the 1960s, Mazawattee had disappeared from the shelves. Its tins, cards, and posters are still popular with collectors.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Shipwreck of the Future"

This extraordinary futuristic drawing of a disaster is from the New-York Tribune of December 26, 1909. 

From Chronicling America, Library of Congress

The text above the drawing reads:

Liner Icarus in mid-ocean Dec. 26 1919, 3.10 pm. By wireless to The Tribune. A disastrous explosion (cause as yet unascertained) in our motor room at 5.12 this morning made it necessary to descend. Unfortunately, the waves were running high and our rudder was broken. Wind increased rapidly and our stern was battered till we threatened to sink. Other airships have come to our rescue as have some submarines and the freight steamer Lusitania, formerly used for passengers. All hands will be saved beyond a doubt, except those in the motor room which is now submerged.”

The likelihood of such an air “liner” as this actually being constructed may seem highly improbable from an engineering point of view although strangely enough something not too dissimilar featured at the most recent Paris Air Show. See here.

There is also a certain poignancy in that this fantasy drawing unwittingly presaged two enormous tragedies at sea that would happen long before 1919. Less than three years after the drawing was published the Titanic sank, in which all those in the submerged “motor room”, ie the engineers, really did perish and Lusitania did not survive either to become a “freight steamer” and was sunk by a German U-boat off Ireland in 1915, with an equally huge loss of life.

The artist was H.M. Pettit. He was born in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1867, and worked as an artist and designer in his home town before moving to New York City. His illustrations appeared in many of the famous magazines of the day, such as Frank Leslie's Weekly and Harper's Weekly. He was particularly known for bird's eye vista illustrations and imagining future skyscrapers and a cosmopolis such as that in Moses King's book King's Views of New York that showed the skies of the city full of dirigibles. Pettit went on to work on conceptual architectural images, and was commissioned for large industrial murals, train stations and educational establishments. He was also the official artist for the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34. He was married twice and died in 1941.

Another example of Pettit's work – the burned out area of San Francisco after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. [Frank Leslie's Weekly]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

90th Anniversary USAT Merritt

An occasional newsletter from the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco has alerted me to a story of which I knew nothing, the impending 90th Anniversary of the arrival of a group of Russian refugees into San Francisco.

July 1st, 2013 - Anniversary at the Immigration Station on Angel Island
Maria Sakovich, Eugenia Bailey 
Ninety years ago, on 1 July 1923, a special group of refugees on the American transport U.S. Army Transport Merritt arrived at San Francisco. These 526 Russian men, women, and children had been part of a flotilla of some twenty Russian vessels (under the command of Rear Admiral Yu. K. Stark) which left Vladivostok at the end October 1922 when the city fell to the Bolsheviks. After a harrowing journey plagued by inhospitable governments, poor shipboard conditions, and typhoons which sank two of the not-very-seaworthy vessels and their passengers, a remnant of the original 7,000 refugees managed to make it to Manila in the Philippine Islands, where the American government had guaranteed asylum. Consultation by Governor General Leonard Wood with President Harding and the Secretaries of War and Labor enabled the homeless and stateless Russians to come to the United States under the terms of the recently enacted quota law. The American Red Cross helped to finance the trip.Because the group was so large (the only one to come with American assistance), Angel Island immigration officials held and processed the refugees at Fort McDowell, an army installation on the west side of the island. Although great care had been taken to make sure that all were eligible to enter the country, under the immigration laws, nineteen (possibly twenty-one) were excluded. Those who appealed the order had to wait at the immigration station until final decisions were made in Washington, D.C. Ultimately four persons were deported back to the Philippines.Among the passengers were fifty families (forty-three of the children were under fifteen years of age), naval and army officers, engineers, two doctors, and a chaplain. The parents of one of the writers of this article, Paul and Maria Nikonenko, were among the refugees. Most, however, were young men, sailors and farmers, including a nineteen-year-old seaman, Prince A. Chegodaieff. After the dangers and uncertainties of the preceding months, the emigrants had found safety. Several became movers and shakers of the newly emerging Russian community in San Francisco.
For more information and details of contacts or how to get to the service at Angel Island on July 1, see Museum of Russian Culture news and an image on Flickr of USAT Merritt here.

When many countries around the world are sweating and bickering over what to do with immigrants and refugees, this serves to remind all of us who live under secure and democratic governments that we still have our role to play in rescuing and giving shelter to those trying to escape from brutal regimes.

It is sobering to think that only a remnant 526 people made it to America out of 7,000 original refugees. What happened to the rest of them? Has anyone documented their story? Or are they just another group of unwanted people who have fallen through the cracks of history ?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Samuel Laman Blanchard

My final post in this series from that single column of The Carlisle Journal in 1845, is an obituary that is so dramatic and effusive that one begins to suspect the person described is just too good to be true until you reach the last comment and it makes you feel guilty for having such thoughts.

It is our most painful duty to announce the sudden death of Mr. Laman Blanchard. He died about half-past one'clock this (Saturday) morning and has left four orphan children to lament his loss. Mr. Blanchard is well known in periodical literature. His graceful verses, his lively stories, his wit that never had a touch of malice, are known to many readers. There, perhaps, never was a man who had a readier pen. A poem, an essay, a witty paragraph seemed to spring spontaneously from his brain. There was an amenity in everything he did; and, indeed, how could it be otherwise, seeing that he himself was the very impersonation of kindness and goodness of heart. Mr. Blanchard was long in the service of literature. He was a member of the press in various ways, for more than twenty years; beginning young, and fighting an upward fight throughout – bravely, independently, without envy or uncharitableness – until he reached the age of 42, when he died. We may fearlessly assert that no man ever ran the same career, in the same circumstances, who left so few enemies, and so many, many friends. These few facts are addressed to strangers. His independence, his perseverance, his untiring kindness, and his many sterling and admirable qualities need no demonstration to his acquaintance or his friends.- Examiner. [Mr. Blanchard committed suicide after his wife became insane.]

Samuel Laman Blanchard was born in 1803 and had started out as an actor but later became a poet, journalist and editor. When one reads a list of his friends that includes such famous individuals as Edward Bulwer-Lytton, William Harrison Ainsworth, Charles Dickens, Leigh Hunt, Robert Browning and William Makepeace Thackery, all of whom sprang to help his orphaned children, there is no doubt the fulsome obituary was genuine and he was much loved in literary circles. 
One of two images of Blanchard at National Portrait Gallery London

Depression was obviously the direct cause of his death, and here is the sad relevant extract from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography:
In February 1844 Ann Blanchard was struck with what was described at the time as ‘paralysis’, and after a protracted period of suffering died on 16 December. Distracted by his wife's illness and death, by the pressures of periodical journalism, and by concern for his four children, Blanchard entered an acute depressive state during which symptoms of his wife's paralysis were repeated in him. On 14 February 1845 he committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor at his home at 11 Union Place, Lambeth Road, London. A coroner's inquest decreed that he was of unsound mind at the time. He was interred the following month at Norwood cemetery.
Unlike his more famous contemporaries, there is not much to be found on Blanchard's writing although here are a few links.

Wikipedia Quotes


Sonnets here 

Some personal memories of him by George Patmore

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bucks Head Hotel Glasgow ... and a family tragedy

The fleeting nature of life in times past is all too apparent from the briefest and yet most poignant entry in the death column of the Carlisle Journal of 22 February 1845. 

This is for a boy who didn't live long enough to make a mark in life but in trying to find out something about him and his parents I found myself following some fascinating links to a Glasgow landmark, a couple of eminent Scots builders and, curiously, a King of Saxony.

This is the entry -
At Glasgow, on Friday last, Charles, the only son of Mr. McDonald of the Buck's Head Hotel”.
No age is given, but it is very likely this was the “son and heir” proudly announced when he was born the year before (18 June 1844) to a Mrs McDonald at the same hotel.

My first step was to find out about Charles McDonald and the hotel. This advertisement appears in the Carlisle Journal of 8 August 1843.

Charles M'Donald respectfully returns thanks to his Friends for the Patronage bestowed on him since he Opened the above Extensive and Commodius HOTEL, and at the same time begs to state that nothing shall be wanting on his part to merit a continuance of Public Esteem.
THE BUCK'S HEAD is situated in the most Central Street in the City, and is in the Vicinity of the various Railway Stations, and Steam Boat Wharfs, for which Conveyances leave the Hotel at the various hours suiting the departure of the Trains and Steamers.
N.B. The House kept open waiting the arrival of the London Mail by Carlisle, and the last Railway Train from Edinburgh, at which terminus a Conveyance will be in attendance.
*** STABLES and LOCK-UP COACH HOUSES are attached to the Premises.

Early hotel images from Glasgow Story

The Hotel was a prime establishment in Glasgow that had existed since the mid 1700s and had long been associated with important events in the history of the city - which can be read about here.

It certainly catered for VIP guests. During July 1844 there were various newspaper reports of it hosting the King of Saxony and of big crowds around the Hotel and of Mr McDonald being seen attending to him in great style.

However, Charles McDonald's early optimism and confidence was short-lived as he, too, was dead within eighteen months, as per another death notice for him in the Carlisle Journal on 22 November 1845 in which it was noted he was “formerly of this city” [Carlislel]. 

No cause of death is given and one has to ask did both he and his baby son die from one of the raging infectious diseases that often afflicted cities like Glasgow during this decade, or were the two deaths unrelated? What happened to his wife? In that connection, I also discovered an intriguing marriage announcement in another newspaper of 18 March 1845 - “At York Place, Stirling, Charles McDonald, merchant of Glasgow, to Christina Bowie, daughter of late Alexander Bowie, Esq. of Stirling”.  Is this the same Charles McDonald?

Only further research well beyond the scope of this posting might answer such questions. An online family tree (see here) about the Bowie family suggests she had died in childbirth but there are conflicting dates on that family tree as to her marriage and death so one can't be sure. Still, the McDonalds were an example of a mid-Victorian tragedy that wasn't that rare – father, possibly mother, and only child all dead within the space of a year.

After McDonald, numerous proprietors came and went. In 1860, a Mrs. Moffat advertised that the hotel had undergone “a complete renovation in every department”, but less than five years later - twenty after Charles McDonald's brief sojourn - the hotel was razed and replaced with a new building designed by the famous architect, Alexander “Greek” Thomson

Buck's Head Building remains a major Glasgow landmark today and is a British “A” Grade Listed Building.

More images of the building that stands today from various angles here

YouTube video

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lieutenant E N Kendall ... a man of "talent, enterprize and unwearied zeal" (Sir John Franklin to Kendall's mother)

Moving on to another individual in the obituary column from the Carlisle Journal of 22 February, 1845 (see previous blog entry) this short summary sparked my interest and sent me digging for someone of whom I knew nothing and, as usual, I was astonished at what was to be found -
“On Tuesday week at Southampton, Lieut. E. N. Kendall, marine superintendent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Company. This promising officer served on several expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and accompanied the last expedition of Sir J. Franklin to the Polar Seas, between the years of 1825 and 1827, and was the companion of Dr. Richardson on that branch of the expedition which discovered and delineated the northern coast of America lying between the Mackenzie and Coppermine Rivers.”
This “promising officer” was Edward Nicholas Kendall, born in 1800 into a Cornish naval family and left orphaned with three siblings at the age of six. His life was remarkable, both in the way of exploration and dutiful naval service, yet promotion to higher rank than Lieutenant seemed to have eluded him. One has to wonder why after reading the summary in The Canadian Dictionary of Biography of his achievements. Perhaps he was too humble and not pushy enough on his own account or he fell foul of someone with influence at a critical time in his career. And history is full of people like him.

Cree Wigwams in Summer, 1851, Lieut. E. N. Kendall
McCord Museum, Canada
Members of Ancestry will be able to search for and view Kendall's public family tree showing his numerous descendants, several of whom are in Australia. A family photograph is also posted to the family tree (he looks not unlike his one-time superior Sir John Franklin) also his polar medals and other information about him. (Just enter Edward Nicholas Kendall into

Some of Kendall's paintings, sketches and charts can be found at the Scott PolarInstitute and National Maritime Museum UK.

by Lieut. E.N. Kendall

Another longer obituary in a Southampton newspaper where he was Superintendent for the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation (P&O) company describes how his death was unexpected and much regretted in the city and the flags were at half-mast for several days after he died -
“... By his kindness and urbanity of manner to all who approached him, by his indefatigable attention to the duties of his highly important and responsible situation, his officer-like conduct to the gentlemen in the service of his company, by his regard for the interest of the town, his extreme benevolence, and the exercise of all the virtues of private life, he had gained universal respect and esteem, and the announcement of his sudden death was felt universally, as that of a dear and respected friend. ...”
It goes on to say that since the 1820s, Kendall had great zeal for the expansion of “steam communication with our Colonies” and while in his service with P&O had -
“projected a plan for … extending steam navigation to Australia and printed for private circulation a pamphlet describing the proposed route and arrangements – a project which will no doubt be carried out at no very long period hence.”
Sadly, Kendall did not live to see his dream fulfilled.  Although not the first steamship to operate in Australian waters, in 1852  Chusan, built at Miller, Ravenhill & Salkeld, Low Walker Yard, Tyneside, became the first P&O regular steam vessel to Australia.

SS Chusan
State Library of South Australia

More interesting links on Kendall here

Internet Archive - Book on earlier Franklin expeditions (includes many references to Kendall and his drawings)

Internet Archive - Reports written by Kendall on New Brunswick.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The “twins” of Waterloo

As more and more old newspapers become accessible online, these have become a treasure-trove for crazy folk like me who love nothing better than delving into the obscure, weird or wonderful stories from the past and then going off to try and find out more about the people involved. Sometimes there is much to be found, other times the trail goes cold.

A group of death notices and obituaries following one upon the other in the Carlisle Journal of 22 February 1845 provide a snapshot of a variety of people who had their 19th century equivalent of “fifteen minutes of fame” and for very different reasons. 

This is the first of them. Normally, this story would be more pertinent to my other blog on women, The History Bucket, but is included here as a complement to the other lives that I will explore in coming months about this group of people from various walks of life who all happened to go off to meet their Maker around the same time in 1845.

Were twins born on the field of Waterloo?
On the 29th ult. [January], aged 67 years, Mrs. Letitia Scott, Murray Street, Oldham Road [Manchester]. She was a soldier's wife and gave birth to twins (girls) on the field of Waterloo, both of whom are still living.”
This triggered many questions. Could this be true? What on earth would that experience have been like for a woman - going through what could have been a complicated birth on this most famous of all battlefields? Did this happen at the time of the battle or afterwards?

The female experience of war during this era is notoriously difficult to research, not just because it was never officially documented but like all personal war stories is open to the problems of memory inaccuracy and myth.  A recent book on the topic by Annabel Venning, Following the Drum – The Lives ofArmy Wives and Daughters Past and Present has gone some way to enlightening us, but much of this feminine history is shrouded in mystery and especially as it pertains to the Napoleonic era.

I did glean some information about Letitia Scott, although I knew not to expect much. I surmised that having served in this famous battle, there was bound to be a lot of information available on her husband, via the Waterloo Medal Rolls and other well-documented resources.  Sure enough, I soon determined that he was Corporal William Scott of the 95th (Rifle) Regiment, or Green Jackets – now a popular regiment with re-enactment groups and also in the famous Sharpe novels. I also discovered that his medal came up for auction in 2005 and sold for £3,300 - a sum of money that would have completely beyond all comprehension for William and his family.

As to the Waterloo births, two entries do appear in the Army GRO birth indices for 1815 but they are both for a Mary A. Scott born St. Amand (Waterloo area) - a clerical error which may account for the “twins” story perhaps. 

Further research via family researchers on Ancestry and elsewhere show baptismal details for two girls born two years apart, and before and after the battle date of 15 June 1815.  Mary Ann was born on 23 March 1815 and Margaret 17 July 1817. 

One family tree states that Letitia was born Letitia Borr in Ireland in 1779, but that seems to be all there is on her origins.

Letitia and her husband William appear in the 1841 Census Return, living at 31 Murray Street, Manchester. The conditions in which they lived must have been dire and extremely cramped as there are 13 other individuals listed for this address. William is now a labourer, and both of them are aged 60. There is a son, also William and a labourer, aged 20 and one daughter “Maria” Scott, whose age of 25 would indicate that she is probably Mary Ann. A toddler and a baby are also listed, obviously grandchildren.

We can presume that William and Letitia Scott worked in tough conditions in industrial Manchester as everyone else in that area would have done. William lived to a grand age considering how hard his life would have been in first the army, and then the mills. He died in 1864 aged 85. In the 1861 Census Return, he was shown living with Mary Ann, whose birth is simply noted as “France. British Subject.” Not exactly correct, as in 1815 Waterloo was part of the Netherlands, and is now in Belgium, but that's a minor technicality and should not impact on the romantic notion about her birth that may very well have been much cherished or proudly boasted of in the Scott family. Mary Ann herself died in 1869.

Of what happened to her “twin” sister Margaret, there is nothing. Perhaps she died young or married and just disappeared into the great throng of Manchester mill life.

This caricature from this website for a re-enactment group for 95th Rifles. Note that all the women seem to have twins, or more!

Modern photo of Murray's Mills, Manchester.