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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Balzoni

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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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The Mutiny on the Bounty

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd

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The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the “idyllic” life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh’s allegedly harsh treatment of them.

Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him. To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned the Bounty off Pitcairn.

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd

In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,710 km). He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from the Bounty came on board soon after its arrival, and ten more were arrested within a few weeks. These fourteen were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England, tried in a naval court with three hanged, four acquitted and three pardoned. Continue reading The Mutiny on the Bounty

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18th Century Umbrellas

Umbrellas often appear in Austen's novels as a chivalrous response to a lady's need. From left to right, Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.

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When first we came, all the umbrellas were up, but now the pavements are getting very white again.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Bath, May 17, 1799

Umbrellas often appear in Austen's novels as a chivalrous response to a lady's need. From left to right, Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.
Umbrellas often appear in Austen’s novels as a chivalrous response to a lady’s need. L-R Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.

During the 17th century, ladies used parasols for protection from the sun. A century later they were using oiled umbrellas as protection from the rain as well. By the early 19th century, the design of the umbrella had improved and its use had become widespread. After Maria’s marriage, Fanny Price was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage and sought shelter under an oak. When the Grants spotted her, they sent out a servant, but Fanny was reluctant to come in:

A civil servant she had withstood but when Dr Grant himself went out with an umbrella there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed and to get into the house as fast as possible; and to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plans of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty four hours, the sound of a little bustle at the front door and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule was delightful. – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

 

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The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

A cross-section of Fulton's 1806 submarine design.

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Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
-Persuasion

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

450px-FultonNautilus1
Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

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Jane Austen’s Heroes

Share this: I’d like to take up the question of why we like some Austen heroes better than others. I don’t think it’s just a matter of having nothing to forgive them for, because some things are easier to forgive than others, and when we decide what we find easier to forgive, we are telling more about our own morality vis-à-vis Austen’s than Austen’s own. Still, I’ll bite. Type 1- Ashley Wilkes The heroes who are often not liked, not favorites, are those who are deeply moral; let us call them the Ashley Wilkes (of Gone with the Wind) types: sensitive, kind, loyal, impeccably behaved from the standpoint of true tact, gentility, and altruism, and very conventional in their sense of what a gentleman is; Austen of course plays tricks on us, and adds to this weak soup characteristics like reserve, manly hauteur in order to protect the self (how I see some of George Knightley’s behavior to Emma), and being more than a little gauche, very bad at gay repartée — for which many of Austen’s readers cannot forgive Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, and George Knightley. As Rhett Butler says, they’re gentlemen caught in a world which worships handsomeness, suavity, the man who can master others. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are weak in that battle of domination between people that is perhaps the essence of life, as in “life is a war of nerves”, “a battle”. These types are “dolts”, “dull”, “prigs”, “starchy”, common epithets thrown (more…)
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Jane Austen: Criticisms and Interpretatations

Share this: Notwithstanding a certain reticence and self control which seems to belong to their age, and with all their quaint dresses, and ceremonies, and manners, the ladies and gentlemen in Pride and Prejudice and its companion novels seem like living people out of our own acquaintance transported bodily into a bygone age, represented in the half-dozen books that contain Jane Austen’s works. Dear books! bright, sparkling with wit and animation, in which the homely heroines charm, the dull hours fly, and the very bores are enchanting…. She has a gift of telling a story in a way that has never been surpassed. She rules her places, times, characters, and marshals them with unerring precision. Her machinery is simple but complete; events group themselves so vividly and naturally in her mind that, in describing imaginary scenes, we seem not only to read them but to live them, to see the people coming and going—the gentlemen courteous and in top-boots, the ladies demure and piquant; we can almost hear them talking to one another. No retrospects; no abrupt flights, as in real life: days and events follow one another. Last Tuesday does not suddenly start into existence all out of place; nor does 1790 appear upon the scene when we are well on in ’21. Countries and continents do not fly from hero to hero, nor do long and divergent adventures happen to unimportant members of the company. With Miss Austen, days, hours, minutes, succeed each other like clockwork; one central figure (more…)
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The Shipwright: Building the Fleet

Share this: We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews [George and Edward Knight] went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home. Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra Monday, 24 October 1808 A Ship has been defined, a timber building, consisting of various parts and pieces, nailed and pinned together with iron and wood, in such form as to be fit to float, and to be conducted by wind and sails from sea to sea. The word ship is a general name for all large vessels with sails, adapted for navigation on the sea: but by sailors the term is more particularly applied to a vessel furnished with three masts, each of which is composed of a lower-mast, a top-mast, and a top-gallant-mast. A shipwright is one who is employed in building or repairing such vessels. Ship-building is to this country one of the most important arts; it is studied as a science by the learned, who denominate it naval architecture: for the promotion of this science, a very respectable body of ingenious men have for the last fifteen years associated. In ship-building three things are necessary to be considered: First, to give the vessel such a form as shall be best adapted for sailing, and for the service for which she is designed: secondly, to unite the several parts into a compact frame; and thirdly, to provide suitable accommodations for the officers and crew, as (more…)
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The Mariner

Share this: Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.   -Persuasion A Mariner is in common language the same as sailor or seaman. Mariners are sometimes employed on board merchant ships, and sometimes in men of war. In merchants’ employ, the mariners are accountable to the master, the masters to the owners of the vessel, and the owners to the merchant, for any damages that may happen. If a vessel is lost by tempest, the mariners lose their wages, and the owners their freight: this is intended to make them use their utmost endeavors to preserve the ship committed to their care. Mariners on board the king’s ships are subject to strict regulations, which, however, depend on certain fixed laws passed at different times by parliament. Mariners who are not in His Majesty’s service are liable during the time of war to be impressed, unless they enter voluntarily, to which they are encouraged by bounties and high wages: and every foreign seaman, who, during war shall serve two years in any man of war, merchantman, or priviteer, becomes (more…)