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19th century miscellany; cakes, cats and rants

Velvet hat lady of certain age and less certain maturity.

Particularly though not exclusively interested in the nineteenth century; also prone to ranting about my job hunt.

Masquerading as Susanna Lunden because someone once said I looked like her, which delighted me and bless her, she isn't around to object. We share a taste for extravagant hats and velvet.

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Canada has determined the historic Franklin Expedition shipwreck discovered in the Arctic last month is in fact the HMS Erebus, the vessel on which Sir John Franklin sailed.

It’s another puzzle solved in the enthralling story of the famous British expedition that tried to traverse the Northwest Passage but ended in misery with all 129 crew members perishing.

The Erebus was the vessel that Franklin occupied as the commander of the expedition and was the base for the captain’s quarters.

Stephen Harper, whose government had backed annual searches for the lost Franklin expedition as a demonstration of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, announced the news of the ship’s identification Wednesday in the House of Commons. Read more.


Otto Dix served twice on the front lines of World War I. His art is a sober reminder, during the centennial celebrations of the war, of the 16 million men and countless non-combatants who died fightings that most pointless war.


Public and Private Spaces in Jane Austen 

Professor Kathryn Sutherland considers the depiction of public and private spaces in Jane Austen’s novels. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton (& uploaded by The British Library.) 


Why THE GRAVEYARD BOOK Is a Great Selection for Kids


It’s written by master storyteller neil-gaiman.


It’s creepy, spooky, (of course it is; it takes place in a graveyard) and yet still heartwarming.


It won a Newbery Medal and a Carnegie Medal—it’s the only novel to win both—which means it’s officially marked as awesome by book…

Love this book!

Birthplace of Orcadian explorer John Rae, the sadly derelict Hall of Clestrain.  One of those delightful Scottish Tardis mansions and I do hope it can be restored one day, or the rot at least stopped. 

Photograph by L Burgher


John Rae - Scientist of the Day

John Rae, a British explorer of the Arctic, was born Sep. 30, 1813. Rae was an Orcadian, hailing from the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, which meant he had a strong sense of independence and self-reliance, and he spent a decade of his life making solitary trips across what is now northern Canada, sponsored either by the Hudson’s Bay Company or the British Admiralty. On the last of his four expeditions, in 1854, Rae discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition, which had been missing for almost 9 years. He encountered Inuit who told of ships frozen in the ice, and of men trekking south; they also had buttons and silver which could only have come from the expedition. The Inuit also, disturbingly, had evidence of possible cannibalism. Rae brought the evidence and the tales back to England, where he was not well received by John Franklin’s widow, who would not have cannibalism associated with her husband or his men. Nevertheless, Rae was granted the £10,000 reward that had been offered for the discovery of Franklin’s fate.

Rae also produced some remarkably accurate maps of sections of the Arctic archipelago. We displayed one of these in our 2008 exhibition, Ice: A Victorian Romance. The entire map is reproduced above; at the exhibition website, you can see a detail of this map.

The portrait above was painted by Stephen Pearce, who painted nearly all of the great Arctic explorers of the Franklin era. Rae’s portrait hangs, as do all the Pearce portraits, in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Charles Dickens famously assisted with the slagging off of John Rae and of the Inuit from whom he learned the fate of the last surviving members of the Franklin Expedition.  Vilified and sidelined in his lifetime, Rae is finally getting some recognition for his achievements, which included the identification of the final link in the North West Passage. 

Happy 201st Birthday John Rae!


Guildhall Library has a new Pinterest board, this time on The Great Exhibition:

The Great Exhibition was organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole and opened on 1st May 1851. It was housed in an innovative glass and iron structure, designed by Joseph Paxton, and known as the ‘Crystal Palace’. It was situated in Hyde Park. At first, most visitors would have found the ticket price prohibitive (£2-3) but from 24th May they could visit the exhibition for one shilling. When the exhibition closed on 11th October it had attracted more than six million visitors.



Horatio Nelson is Born

29 September 1758

Horatio Nelson was born on this day in history, 29 September 1758. He was a British flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of decisive naval victories. He was wounded several times in combat, losing one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the sight in one eye in Corsica. Of his several victories, the best known and most notable was the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, during which he was shot and killed.



Once he’d graduated from the Sorbonne, Balzac took an internship at a Paris law firm. “An intern is to the Civil Service what a choirboy is to the Church, or what an army child is to his Regiment, or what rats and sidekicks are to Theatres: innocent, gullible, and blinded by illusions,” he wrote in 1841’s The Physiology of the Employee.

For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.


Detail from a larger illustration about Highgate Cemetery. Made for the London Transport Museum ‘London Places and Spaces’ brief.

Curious about the “Tonbridge Toys” referred to in Basil’s description of the Sherwins’ sitting room, I did a bit of googling.  I think they must be Tonbridge (or Tunbridge) ware - decorative inlaid boxes, brushes, baskets, snuff boxes etc. that were sold as souvenirs in Tunbridge Wells.  Although Tunbridge ware was around in the seventeenth century, its popularity peaked in the mid-nineteenth century, which ties in pretty well with the era of Basil and the Sherwins’ bran-new house north of Regents Park.  Some info on Tunbridge ware and lots of pictures here:

The eponymous Basil, having stalked a beautiful young stranger to her home, finally gains admission for an interview with her nouveau riche draper father.  He is not impressed with the decor:

"Everything was oppressively new.  The brilliantly-varnished door cracked with a report like a pistol when it was opened; the paper on the walls, with its gaudy pattern of birds, trellis-work, and flowers in gold, red, and green on a white ground, looked hardly dry yet; the showy window-curtains of white and sky-blue, and the still showier carpet of red and yellow, seemed as if they had come out of the shop yesterday; the round rosewood table was in a painfully high state of polish; the morocco-bound picture books that lay on it, looked as if they had never been moved or opened since they had been bought; not one leaf even of the music on the piano was dogs-eared or even worn.  Never was a richly furnished room more thoroughly comfortless than this - the eye ached at looking round it.  There was no repose anywhere.  The print of the Queen, hanging lonely on the wall, in its heavy gilt frame, with a large crown at the top, glared on you:  the paper, the curtains, the carpet glared on you:  the book, the wax-flowers in glass-cases, the chairs in flaring chintz-covers, the china plates on the door, the blue and pink glass vases and cups ranged on the chimney-piece, the over-ornamented chiffoniers with Tonbridge toys and long-necked smelling bottles on their upper shelves - all glared on you.  There was no look of shadow, shelter, secrecy or retirement in any one nook or corner of those four gaudy walls.  All surrounding objects seemed startlingly near to the eye; much nearer than they really were.  The room would have given a nervous man the headache, before he had been in it a quarter of an hour."


Day Out at the Gallows and Other Bygone Photographic Oddities | BBC

What else brightens a Sunday like a good Victorian goof?


It’s invisible corner week! These are the little piles, stacks, or collections of random things that have settled into odd spaces like the corner of a room, under a table, at the end of a counter, etc. that have become so much a part of the everyday landscape of our homes that we don’t even notice…