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James Lind: Medical Pioneer

James Lind  (4 October 1716 – 13 July 1794) was a Scottish physician who may be credited with improving if not actually saving the lives of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers, Francis and Charles. The advancements he made in  the treatement and prevention of Scurvy and Typhus were breakthroughs for their time and continue to be implemented today.

James_Lind_by_Chalmers
James Lind (1716-1794) by Sir George Chalmers, c 1720-1791

Lind is known for conducting the first ever clinical trial after he developed the theory that citrus fruits cured scurvy. He argued for the health benefits of better ventilation aboard naval ships, the improved cleanliness of sailors’ bodies, clothing and bedding, and below-deck fumigation with sulphur and arsenic. He also proposed that fresh water could be obtained by distilling sea water. His work advanced the practice of preventive medicine and improved nutrition.

Lind was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1716 into a family of merchants. He had an elder sister. In 1731 he began his medical studies as an apprentice of George Langlands, a fellow of the Incorporation of Surgeons which preceded the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. In 1739, he entered the Navy as a surgeon’s mate, serving in the Mediterranean, off the coast of West Africa and in the West Indies. By 1747 he had become surgeon of HMS Salisbury in the Channel Fleet, and conducted his experiment on scurvy while that ship was patrolling the Bay of Biscay. Just after that patrol he left the Navy, wrote his MD thesis on venereal diseases and earned his MD from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, and was granted a license to practice in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Scurvy is a disease now known to be caused by a Vitamin C deficiency, but in Lind’s day, the concept of vitamins was unknown. Vitamin C is necessary for the maintenance of healthy connective tissue. In 1740 the catastrophic result of Anson’s circumnavigation attracted much attention in Europe; out of 1900 men, 1400 had died, most of them allegedly from having contracted scurvy. According to Lind, scurvy caused more deaths in the British fleets than French and Spanish arms. Continue reading James Lind: Medical Pioneer

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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

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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Arthur Phillip: Founder of Sydney, Resident of Bath

1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley (National Portrait Gallery, London)
1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement which became Sydney.

After much experience at sea, including command of a ship that was saved in a storm by convicts, Phillip sailed with the First Fleet, as Governor-designate of the proposed British penal colony of New South Wales. In February 1788, he selected its location to be Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour).

Phillip was a far-sighted governor, who soon saw that New South Wales would need a civil administration and a system for emancipating the convicts. But his plan to bring skilled tradesmen on the voyage had been rejected, and he faced immense problems of labour, discipline and supply. Also his friendly attitude towards the aborigines was sorely tested when they killed his gamekeeper, and he was not able to assert a clear policy about them.

The arrival of the Second and Third Fleets placed new pressures on the scarce local resources, but by the time Phillip sailed home in December 1792, the colony was taking shape, with official land-grants and systematic farming and water-supply.

Phillip retired in 1805, but continued to correspond with his friends in New South Wales and to promote the colony’s interests.

Early life and naval career
Arthur Phillip was born 11 October 1738 in London England, the son of Jacob Phillip, a Frankfurt-born language teacher, and his English wife, Elizabeth Breach. His father died a year after he was born. His mother Elizabeth was originally married to a sailor named Herbert who died at sea of yellow fever. Phillip’s mother claimed him as the father of her son so he could be enrolled in the Greenwich Hospital School, part of Greenwich Hospital,a free school for the orphans of men lost at sea supported by Queen Mary. The treatment of the students was spartan but educational. Phillip learned how to navigate, draw (a skill necessary for making navigation charts) .At the age of 13 was apprenticed to the merchant navy. He spoke a number of languages in addition to English, including French, German and Portuguese.

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Pierre Dupont de l’Étang: Regency Duellist

dupontPierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l’Étang (4 July 1765 – 9 March 1840) was a French general of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as a political figure of the Bourbon Restoration. His exploits, encountered during a 19 year long conflict with brother officer François Fournier-Sarlovèze, are the stuff of legends.

Born in Chabanais, Charente, Pierre first saw active service during the French Revolutionary Wars, as a member of Maillebois legion in the Netherlands, and in 1791 was on the staff of the Army of the North under General Theobald Dillon. He distinguished himself in the Battle of Valmy, and in the fighting around Menen in the campaign of 1793 he forced an Austrian regiment to surrender. Promoted Brigadier General for this accomplishment, he soon received further advancement from Lazare Carnot, who recognized his abilities. In 1797 he became Général de Division.

The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he supported in the 18 Brumaire Coup (November 1799), brought him further opportunities under the Consulate and Empire. In the campaign of 1800 he was chief of staff to Louis Alexandre Berthier, the nominal commander of the Army of Peierve of the Ains which won the Battle of Marengo. After the battle he sustained a successful combat, against greatly superior forces, at Pozzolo.

In the campaign on the Danube in 1805, as the leader of one of Michel Ney’s divisions, he earned further distinction, especially in the Battle of Haslach-Jungingen (Albeck), in which he prevented the escape of the Austrians from Ulm, and so contributed most effectively to the isolation and subsequent capture of Freiherr Mack von Leiberich and his whole army. He also distinguished himself in the Battle of Friedland. Continue reading Pierre Dupont de l’Étang: Regency Duellist

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William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers

blighVice Admiral William Bligh,  (9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. His naval career was contemporary with that of Jane Austen’s brothers and the Austen family no doubt followed the details of his unusual history through the London papers.

A historic mutiny occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty’s launch by the mutineers. Fifteen years after the Bounty mutiny, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia, with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the New South Wales Corps, resulting in the so-called Rum Rebellion.

Bligh was born in Tinten Manor in St Tudy near Bodmin, Cornwall, to Francis Bligh and his wife Jane. He was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, it being common to sign on a “young gentleman” simply to gain experience at sea required for promotion. In 1770, at age 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term used because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year. In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to the Crescent and remained in the ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook for the position of sailing master of the Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook’s third and fatal voyage to the Pacific. Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to give details of Cook’s last voyage.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of a Customs Collector (stationed in Douglas, Isle of Man), on 4 February 1781. The wedding took place at nearby Onchan. A few days later, he was appointed to serve in HMS Belle Poule as Master (senior warrant officer responsible for navigation). Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker. For the next 18 months, he was a lieutenant in various ships. He also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782. Continue reading William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers

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Philip Astley: Father of the modern circus

Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of. Edward has heard from Henry this morning. He has not been at the races at all, unless his driving Miss Pearson over to Rowling one day can be so called. We shall find him there on Thursday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 1796

Philip Astley (8 January 1742 – 27 January 1814) was an English equestrian, circus owner, and inventor, regarded as being the “father of the modern circus”. The circus industry, as a presenter of an integrated entertainment experience that includes music, domesticated animals, acrobats, and clowns, traces its heritage to Astley’s Amphitheatre, a riding school that Astley founded in London following the success of his invention of the circus ring in 1768.

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Eugène François Vidocq: Misérables Inspiration

Eugène François Vidocq

Eugène François Vidocq

“The book the reader has now before his eyes – from one end to the other; in its whole and in its details, whatever the omissions, the exceptions, or the faults – is the march from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from the false to the true, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from brutality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from nothingness to God. Starting point: matter; goal: the soul. Hydra at the beginning, angel at the end.”
-Les Misérables

No list of the greatest novels ever written would be complete without Pride and Prejudice, if not all of Jane Austen’s novels. However, one other novel that often joins Jane at the top of such lists, is Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Set in France during the tumultuous years 1813-1840, the novel examines the complex themes of sin, grace and redemption.

It will, no doubt, come as a surprise to many that the two main characters of this novel, Jean Valjean (a convicted thief) and Inspector Javert (the officer dedicated to making him pay for his crimes) were inspired by the same person. Eugène François Vidocq, a direct contemporary of Jane Austen, was an ex-convict who became a successful businessman widely noted for his social engagement and philanthropy.  In 1828, Vidocq, already pardoned, saved one of the workers in his paper factory by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders as Valjean does in the novel. Vidcoq, a personal friend of Victor Hugo, eventually became the head of the Sûreté Nationale, the first recorded private detective, and possibly even the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Eugène François VidocqEugène François Vidocq ( July 24, 1775 – May 11, 1857) was a French criminal and criminalist whose life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac. A former crook who subsequently became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency, Vidocq is considered to be the father of modern criminology  and of the French police department.He is also regarded as the first private detective.
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Horatio Nelson

Horatio Nelson “And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry. Mr Shepherd answered for his being of a gentleman’s family, and mentioned a place; and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added –“He is a rear admiral of the white.He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he was stationed there, I believe, several years.” Persuasion Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England to the Reverend Edmund Nelson and Catherine Nelson. (His mother was a grandniece of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford.) His mother died when Nelson was nine. He learnt to sail on Barton Broad on the Norfolk Broads, and by the time he was twelve, he had enrolled in the Royal Navy. His naval career began on January 1, 1771, when he reported to the warship Raissonable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain. The vessel was commanded by Nelson’s maternal uncle and, shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training. In 1777 he was a lieutenant, assigned to the West Indies, during which time he saw action on the British side of the American Revolutionary War. By the time he was 20, in June 1779, he made captain; the frigate Hitchenbroke was his first command. In 1781 he was involved in an action against the Spanish fortress of San Juan in Nicaragua. A success, the efforts involved still damaged Nelson’s health to the extent that he returned to England for (more…)