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William Herschel and the Bath Museum of Astronomy

William and Caroline Herschel polishing a telescope lens, 1896 Lithograph.

Sir Frederick William Herschel, KH, FRS  (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) was a German-born British astronomer, composer, and brother of Caroline Herschel. Born in the Electorate of Hanover, Herschel followed his father into the Military Band of Hanover, before migrating to Great Britain at the age of nineteen.

Replica in the William Herschel Museum, Bath, of a telescope similar to that with which Herschel discovered Uranus
Replica in the William Herschel Museum, Bath, of a telescope similar to that with which Herschel discovered Uranus

Herschel became interested in astronomy in 1773, and after constructing his first large telescope in Bath, in 1774, he spent nine years carrying out thorough sky surveys, where his purpose was the investigation of double stars. The resolving power of the Herschel telescopes revealed that the nebulae in the Messier catalogue were clusters of stars: catalogues of nebulae were published in 1802 (2,500 objects) and 1820 (5,000 objects). In the course of an observation on 13 March 1781 he realized that one celestial body he had observed was not a star, but a planet, Uranus. This was the first planet to be discovered since antiquity and Herschel became famous overnight. As a result of this discovery George III appointed him ‘Court Astronomer’. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and grants were provided for the construction of new (more…)

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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Balzoni
Giovanni Balzoni
Giovanni Battista Belzoni

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”.
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Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan

Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.

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.

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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.
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Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Founder of the City of Singapore, Father of the London Zoo

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thomasSir 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. He 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.

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Jane Austen Waxwork

Jane Austen Waxwork

We had a great time unveiling our new Jane Austen waxwork to the assembled media folk on Wednesday 9th of July.

L to R. Andrea Galer, Mark Richards, David Baldock, Jane Austen and Melissa Dring
L to R. Andrea Galer, Mark Richards, David Baldock, Jane Austen and Melissa Dring

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive when the curtains were parted. The waxwork is now on public display. Developed from a forensic portrait of the author by Melissa Dring, the waxwork has been over 2 years in the making. Members of the team behind her creation, especially brought together for the project, were in attendance at the event, – the internationally-renowned sculptor, an FBI-trained forensic artist and a Bafta and Emmy award-winning costume designer. (See their biographies below) The novels of Jane Austen are known throughout the world, her heroes and heroines have been brought to life in many adaptations, and the industry which has built up around her name is significant. So whilst people happily associate Jane Austen’s characters with the actors who portray them, perhaps most famously Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, there remains a real desire to possess a likeness of the writer herself.

Uncovering the Real Jane Austen (taster) from Grace Productions on Vimeo.

The only verifiable image of Jane Austen is a (more…)

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Dido Elizabeth Belle

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MM03264Dido 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.

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Horace Walpole: Regency Author, Historian, Antiquarian and Politician

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756
Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756
Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756

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.

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Parson Woodforde: Country Diarist

James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.
James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.
James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.

James Woodforde (1740–1803) was an English clergyman who was nearly an exact contemporary of Jane Austen’s father, George Austen (1731–1805). Best known as the author of The Diary of a Country Parson, his personal recollections of life as clergyman in the Georgian countryside give a valuable glimpse into what the Austen household might have been like.

James Woodforde was born at the Parsonage, Ansford, Somerset, England on 27 June 1740. In adulthood he led an uneventful, unambitious life as a clergyman of the Church of England: a life unremarkable but for one thing — for nearly 45 years he kept a diary recording an existence the very ordinariness of which provides a unique insight into the everyday routines and concerns of 18th century rural England.

The sixth child of the Reverend Samuel Woodforde, rector of Ansford and vicar of Castle Cary, and his wife Jane Collins, James was one of four brothers (one of whom died in infancy) and the only one to attend public school — Winchester College, and university — Oxford. He was admitted to Winchester as a scholar in 1752 and enrolled at Oriel College, Oxford in 1758, migrating to New College in the following year. His diary begins with the entry for 21 May 1759: “Made a Scholar of New College”.

Woodforde was ordained and graduated BA in 1763, became MA in 1767 and BD in 1775. He appears to have been a competent but uninspired student and the portrait he provides of Oxford during his two periods of residence as scholar and fellow (from 1758–1763 and from 1773–1776) only confirm Edward Gibbon’s famously damning opinion that it was a place where the dons’ “dull and deep potations excuse the brisk intemperance of youth”. The diary is a rich source of information on university life in eighteenth-century Oxford.

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