by Marc DeSantis A Rural England Though Jane Austen’s life of forty-one years was lamentably short, her time on earth, 1775 to 1817, was nonetheless one of great and momentous change. England was still largely rural in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture. The population of Britain at the dawn of the nineteenth century was nine million, with four-fifths of this total living in the country. Fully one-third of the population of England was employed in agriculture. Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather, which was especially fickle in the late eighteenth century. The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving. Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet. Crops and livestock could be devastated by too much cold or not enough rain. Poor weather also encouraged the spread of blights and rots. When the wheat harvest was bad, the price of bread shot up, making it hard for the poor to feed themselves, and riots over food would sometimes erupt among the rural hungry. Life in the country had other hardships. There were highwaymen on the roads ready to waylay travelers, groups of gypsies robbed countryfolk as well, and thieves stole horses and other valuables. On some occasions there were even murders, particularly when it was thought that a vulnerable (more…)
November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities.
Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he “studied hydraulics.” He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands where he earned a living as a barber.
In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane (1783–1860). Belzoni was a tall man at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) tall (one source says that his wife was of equally generous build, but all other accounts of her describe her as being of normal build) and they both joined a travelling circus.They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by performing exhibitions of feats of strength and agility as a strongman at fairs and on the streets of London. One trick he was famous for, was to lift a platform holding twelve people and carry it across the stage. In 1804 he appears engaged at the circus at Astley’s amphitheatre at a variety of performances. Belzoni also had an interest in phantasmagoria and experimented with the use of magic lanterns in his shows.
In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta in 1815 where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the project was not approved by the pasha. Belzoni, now without a job, was resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called “the Young Memnon”.
Continue reading Giovanni Battista Belzoni
Jonas Hanway (August 12, 1712 – September 5, 1786), English traveller and philanthropist, was born at Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.
While he was still a child his father, a victualler, died, and the family moved to London. In 1729 Jonas was apprenticed to a merchant in Lisbon. In 1743, after he had been some time in business for himself in London, he became a partner with Mr Dingley, a merchant in St Petersburg, and in this way was led to travel in Russia and Persia. Leaving St Petersburg on 10 September 1743, and passing south by Moscow, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, he embarked on the Caspian Sea on 22 November and arrived at Astrabad on 18 December. Here his goods were seized by Mohammed Hassan Beg, and it was only after great privations that he reached the camp of Nadir Shah, under whose protection he recovered most (85%) of his property.
His return journey was embarrassed by sickness (at Resht), by attacks from pirates, and by six weeks’ quarantine; and he only reappeared at St Petersburg on 1 January 1745. He again left the Russian capital on 9 July 1750 and travelled through Germany and the Netherlands to England (28 October). The rest of his life was mostly spent in London, where the narrative of his travels (published in 1753) soon made him a man of note, and where he devoted himself to philanthropy and good citizenship.
In 1756, Hanway founded The Marine Society, to keep up the supply of British seamen; in 1758, he became a governor of the Foundling Hospital, a position which was upgraded to vice president in 1772; he was instrumental in establishing the Magdalen Hospital; in 1761 he procured a better system of parochial birth registration in London; and in 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the navy (10 July); this office he held till October 1783. He died, unmarried, on 5 September 1786 and is now buried in the crypt at St. Mary’s Church, Hanwell.
Continue reading Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, FRS (6 July 1781 – 5 July 1826) was a British statesman, best known for his founding of the city of Singapore (now the city-state of the Republic of Singapore) and the London Zoo.
Raffles is often described as the “Father of Singapore” and the “Father of the London Zoo“. He was also heavily involved in the conquest of the Indonesian island of Java from Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the expansion of the British Empire. He was also an amateur writer and wrote a book titled History of Java (1817).
Raffles was born on the ship Ann off the coast of Port Morant, Jamaica, to Captain Benjamin Raffles (d. June 1797) and Anne Raffles (née Lyde). His father was a Yorkshireman who had a burgeoning family and little luck in the West Indies trade during the American Revolution, sending the family into debt. The little money the family had went into schooling Raffles. He attended a boarding school. In 1795, at the age of 14, Raffles started working as a clerk in London for the British East India Company, the trading company that shaped many of Britain’s overseas conquests. In 1805 he was sent to what is now Penang in the country of Malaysia, then called the Prince of Wales Island, starting his long association with Southeast Asia. He started with a post under the Honourable Philip Dundas, the Governor of Penang. He was appointed assistant secretary to the new Governor of Penang in 1805 and married Olivia Mariamne Fancourt, a widow who was formerly married to Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt, an assistant surgeon in Madras who had died in 1800. At this time he also made the acquaintance of Thomas Otho Travers, who would accompany him for the next twenty years.
Dido Elizabeth Belle
Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), was an illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman known as Maria Belle. Dido was sent to live in the household of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who was Lindsay’s uncle and thus Dido’s great-uncle. Remarkably, she was brought up as a free young gentlewoman at Kenwood House at the same time as her great-uncle, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice, was called on to rule on cases affecting the legitimacy of the slave trade.
Born around 1761, she was baptised in 1766 at St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury. Her baptism record shows that she was born while her father, John Lindsay, was in the West Indies and that her mother’s name was Maria Belle. It has been suggested that her mother was an African slave captured from a Spanish ship during the capture of Havana from the Spanish in 1762.Lindsay was at the time a Royal Navy captain on HMS Trent, a warship based in the West Indies that took part in the battle. This is uncertain, however, as there is no reason why any of the Spanish ships (which were immobilised in the inner harbour) would have had women on board when they were delivered up on the formal surrender of the fortress.
Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.
He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with this book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest.
Walpole was born in London, the youngest son of British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and his wife Catherine. Like his father, he received early education in Bexley he was also educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.
Walpole’s first friends were probably his cousins Francis and Henry Conway, to whom Walpole became strongly attached, especially Henry. At Eton he formed with Charles Lyttelton and George Montagu the “Triumvirate”, a schoolboy confederacy. More important were another group of friends dubbed the “Quadruple Alliance”: Walpole, Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton.