Regular readers of the blog may recognise the name Susannah Middleton. Her collection of letters, written from Gibraltar in the early nineteenth century, is a real favourite with staff and readers of the Caird Library. In December, a selection of the manuscripts she wrote to her sister in London featured as our item of the month.
It was thus with some interest that, in 2011, I learnt that a descendent of Susannah’s was planning to visit the library. Alison Board spent a day in the old Caird Library reading Susannah’s letters. Alison explained that in addition to being an ancestor of the Middletons, she was also a fine art student at the Arts University College, Bournemouth. On the look-out for inspiration, Alison had hit upon the idea of turning Susannah’s words into a work of art. The result of the research can be seen in the image on the right as Susannah’s writing continues to influence the artwork Alison is creating.
I’ve always known that manuscripts had the potential to inspire far more than academic studies (although don’t get me wrong, they’re very important too!), so it was great to see an example of a different approach to using archives. Thanks to Alison for keeping in touch and sending the image to us. If you would like to find out more about her work, Alison maintains a blog which can be read at: www.susannahandthecaptain.blogspot.co.uk.
Richard (Assistant Archivist)
Image: © Alison Board
June and July will see two seminars given by Archive and Library staff as part of a wider Museum Staff Research Seminar series designed to illustrate the research actually being carried out with the Museum’s collections. This is an opportunity to hear about research projects Archive and Library staff are involved with.
On Wednesday 22 June, Archives Assistant Graham Thompson will be exploring the early years of commercial maritime photography with a focus on the Kentish riverside town of Gravesend. As the maritime gateway to London, the Thames was at the time the busiest shipping lane in the world. All kinds of shipping passed up and down this artery of Empire, from tea clippers racing to China in the last days of sail to P&O steamers full of emigrants to all parts of the Empire, from small barges of local produce to the 42,500 ton HMS Thunderer, the last battleship built on the Thames. Between the years 1870-1910 much of this traffic passed by the lens of two generations of commercial shipping photographers, F. C. Gould & Son. With extensive experience of early photography, Graham’s talk F. C. Gould & Son, photographers at the Thames Gateway promises literally to be a window on the past.
On Wednesday 13 July, we plunge into the world of Admiralty Record Keeping. How did their Lordships, so fond of seniority and established precedence, grapple with their own records? How did they find anything before the profession of Archivist existed and what was their attitude to Records Management? What did Samuel Pepys have to do with it all? In 1688 and all that: Admiralty Record Keeping since Samuel Pepys, Assistant Archivist Mike Bevan traces what was originally stored in the Pepysian presses now lovingly preserved at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and charts the early attempts to bring order to the mass of Admiralty records to their modern arrangement at The National Archives.
These talks are free and begin at 4pm in the Boardroom, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF.
Places are limited so please ensure you contact the Research Administrator to reserve a place: on 020 8312 6716 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
In 2003, the NMM purchased a small archive of thirteen manuscripts and a pamphlet which belonged to William Wildman, Viscount Barrington. He collected these between 1762 and 1765, while he was Treasurer of the Navy, which also made him a Commissioner of Longitude – part of the Board responsible for assessing John Harrison’s famous marine timekeepers. Many readers will know the story of the 1765 Act which has been told by Dava Sobel in her bestseller, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time. She presents the Board of Longitude as purposefully making it difficult for Harrison to win the prize, through personal animosity.
An AHRC-funded research project currently underway between the National Maritime Museum and the University of Cambridge is seeking to re-address the whole story of the Board of Longitude. A small archive like the Barrington Papers is invaluable for showing the complex processes and personal stories behind the official Board minutes. Katy Barrett, one of the PhD students on the project has published an article discussing the Barrington Papers in detail in Notes and Records of the Royal Society, entitled ‘Explaining’ themselves: the Barrington Papers, the Board of Longitude, and the fate of John Harrison’. This will be available free online until the next issue of NRRS is posted and will appear in paper form in July. It shows the careful discussions on which the 1765 Act was founded, and that Sobel’s accusations are part of a much wider picture.
Katy (Doctoral Researcher, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
A few weeks ago I visited The National Archives for their Cataloguing Awareness Day. I was really impressed with the variety of projects underway, from the records of Victorian women prisoners, to ‘Bread or Blood’, describing political agitation for electoral reform in the early 1830s. I thought I’d mention the most relevant connected with maritime research.
Bruno Pappalardo, from the Advice and Records Knowledge team, gave an interesting overview of a project to catalogue and digitise a series of Royal Navy Medical Officers journals, from 1793-1880, though the series itself runs up to approximately 1960. The project is being funded by the Wellcome Trust and aims to catalogue over a thousand medical officer’s journals. The series includes convict and emigrant ships as well as the ships of the Royal Navy.
Bruno showed how these journals provide a wealth of information for medical historians, as they include detailed information on diseases and injuries, treatments and living conditions at sea. Surgeons were often fascinated with the natural world and frequently recorded their impressions with far more detail than the terse entries in the Captain’s log, leaving a series of records replete with watercolour illustrations, hand-drawn maps, and pictures of local flora, fauna, people and animals.
We have one or two examples in our manuscript collections, including the medical journal of La Seine kept by Surgeon John Martin off the coast of Africa and West Indies between 1799-1800 (ref: MLN/12) and the papers of Surgeon Vice Admiral Sir James Porter, (1851-1935) who amongst other things was principal medical officer to the Naval brigades during the Boer War (collection ref: PTR).
We also have a few examples of the standard surgeon’s reference books, such as Buchan’s Domestic medicine of 1779 and William Turnbull’s The Naval Surgeon of 1806. The ship’s copy of Buchan’s book was taken by the mutineers from HMS Bounty in 1787, showing just how important the information these books contained was.
So whilst these journals could be invaluable for comparing how the treatment of wounds and diseases, fevers and injuries changed over time, they are also of great potential value to family historians and other researchers. Of real value to family history research, it was pointed out, the medical journals go back further than the records of individual naval ratings (which don’t start until 1853). In other words it’s a way of finding information about ratings, of which there are virtually no record beyond a mention in a ship’s crew list. And the best news is that the new catalogue entries will be fully searchable by name; a wonderful tool for tracing naval ancestors.
Now that I’ve sung the project’s praises, you can have a look for yourself at:
Or you can search the TNA catalogue for details of these records at:
Martin (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
It’s always interesting to hear about what people are researching in the library. That’s part of the thinking behind this ‘who’s researching what?’ section of the blog. It’s really inspiring to read about the work being done by research fellows like May Bo Ching – the staff here know that the NMM collections are magic, but the point of an archive and library is to share them with others as well.
What would be really lovely however, is to hear more from you – our archive and library users – about your research inspirations and journeys. I was thinking about this a couple of months back, when I discovered the art notebook of a flickr user, someone who had visited us last year. It was really exciting to see a memento of someone’s visit – complete with a sketch of Captain James Cook and his large nose.
It’s also very nice to hear that people have enjoyed their visit to the Museum, as expressed in these blogposts by Anne and Mandy, who visited us last year as part of their British Studies course. I particularly like Mandy’s take on ‘Admiral Lord Nelson’s love letters’ – scroll down for her description of his letters to Emma Hamilton as “hot and steamy”.
So, if you have something to share about your experience with the library and manuscript collections, please do comment. Or if you’d like to write a guest piece for our ‘Who’s researching what?’ section, send me an email at: email@example.com.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)
Hi everybody, my name is May Bo Ching and I am the Asian Gallery Fellow working principally on the Chinese collections of National Maritime Museum (NMM).
I was born and brought up in Hong Kong, and I have been teaching in Sun Yat-sen University at Guangzhou for ten years. The personal name ‘Sun Yat-sen’ might sound unfamiliar to you, but he earned his fame as a revolutionary hero here in England and was later regarded the founder of the Republic of China – in 1896 he fled to London after an unsuccessful revolutionary uprising in China. Legend has it that he was kidnapped by the Chinese secret service while he was staying in this city.
I am a historian by training, focusing mainly on modern Chinese social and cultural history. My current research projects include a study of the botanical and zoological drawings done by a few Cantonese craftsmen under the instruction of British naturalists in the 18th and 19th centuries; another one deals with the transformation of Cantonese opera from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. A ‘side-product’ coming out of these two researches is a third project studying the cuisines and table services consumed by Chinese and European merchants while they were entertaining each other during the 18th and 19th centuries when Sino-foreign trade in Canton was thriving.
This is my first time conducting research by looking at artifacts right from the very beginning. Historians tend to rely too much on documents, and always overlook the fact that there were many THINGS around along with various historical episodes. Having worked at NMM for almost a month, I am no doubt excited by the objects, and am equally absorbed by the manuscripts and published materials the library possesses. How delighted I am when I extract some useful data from the log book of a particular Indiaman of which the picture is also collected at NMM!
At the moment I am sketching some themes for the Asian Gallery, identifying objects for display, and envisioning what kind of historical narratives can be presented out of such a display. My two-month experiences at NMM will certainly enrich my own understanding of modern Chinese history, and I hope my interpretation of the objects will also be helpful for designing the upcoming Asian Gallery.
May Bo Ching (Asian Gallery Fellow)
Hi my name is Richard Axelby and I’m working as a Caird Research Fellow helping out on the early stages of planning for the Indian Ocean Worlds exhibition.
My academic background is in Anthropology but, after spending an exhausting 15 months of fieldwork chasing sheep and shepherds up and down the Himalayas, I decided that an immediate change of disciplines was necessary. Thus, upon finally finishing my PhD, I shifted sideways into the field of history reasoning that archival study allowed me the best chance to stay warm and dry. Alongside anthropology, my research interests include the history of science and of the environment.
I’m particularly interesting in the ways in which different cultures perceive and represent the natural world around them, whether it is flora, fauna, landscapes or other people. Maritime history offers huge potential for exploring the range of cross-cultural points of contact occurring between Europeans and Asians from the 16th century onwards and that progressed through exploration to trade, colonial expansion and resistance.
Over the next few months I’ll be sifting through the Museum’s collections looking for examples of these encounters. Attempts to understand and represent ‘the other’ can be found written into a sailor’s dairy, or illustrated by one of Hodges’ paintings of Indian scenery, or shown in an African mask or the casual snapshots of a colonial administrator. Together these items demonstrate a shifting diversity of views which reveals the extent to which every encounter is a co-production which leaves neither side untouched.
So if you have any suggestions or ideas, or just fancy a chat, I can often be found lurking in the Caird Library, or you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard (Caird Research Fellow)