29/07/2010

HMS INVESTIGATOR... A GHOST SHIP FROM THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE

An artist's impression of the ice-bound HMS Investigator
In 1853, when HMS Investigator settled on ice in the Arctic, her sixty-nine man crew were forced to abandon ship. The vessel was on its second mission to search for two other lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror which made up the ill-fated 1845-48 British Arctic Expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin.
Though Franklin’s abandoned ships have never yet been found, some remains of the crew were later discovered with evidence of deaths from exposure, cannibalism, disease; and even lead poisoning from tinned food.
An artist's impression of Franklin's crew abandoning HMS Erebus
When the Investigator was finally abandoned on Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea, most of the crew went on to survive for three winters, though in the most unimaginably desperate conditions. Yet only three sailors died of scurvy, and now their remains have also been found.
McClure
Eventually, with rations almost dwindled away and the threat of starvation iminent, McClure divided his men into three groups. Two were going to set out on foot, which would have been suicidal. One was to remain on board in the hope that the ice flows might melt in the spring, enabling them to sail away. However, by good fortune, another ship’s officer appeared with word of two other trapped ships nearby, and both of those in far healthier states. McClure then gave orders to abandon ship. All cabins were cleaned and whatever supplies remaining were unloaded and left in a cache on the land which has since been much depleted with items removed by scientists as well as the aboriginal people, later known as the 'Copper Inuit' because of the large amounts of copper they salvaged and then put to use.
Meanwhile, the Investigator’s crew spent a fourth winter aboard HMS Resolute, and in far more comfortable conditions – after which that ship was also abandoned and the entire crew set sail for England again, aboard HMS Northern Star.
Robert McClure, the Investigator’s captain, wrote an official account of how they completed the north-west Passage and although this is an ongoing matter of dispute, at the time of his return to England British MPs voted for McClure to be given the posted reward of £10,000, earlier promised for its discovery.


Now, thanks to a team of Parks Canada scientists, archeologists and surveyors, HMS Investigator has been  re-discovered. Her masts and riggings have been sheered off by ice, but the deck which lies about 8 metres below the surface still has much of its timber and iron work preserved by the water's cold temperature. There are no plans to raise the ship, but underwater cameras will be sent down to photograph all that remains  - a small example of which is shown on the left, above.


Addendum - The VV is posting this underwater footage, showing what the Parks Canada scientists found when they managed to take their cameras under the ocean surface.

This video, from an auction house organising its sale, describes a letter that was sent by Captain McClure to his wife

21/07/2010

HENRY HEATH'S TOP HATS - AN EXTRAVAGANT CONCOCTION...



Today, while walking along Oxford Street in London, you might chance to see an establishment that was founded in the reign of King George the Fourth, for which Fashion was a Speciality.



Henry Heath’s Hat Manufacturers provided the most brilliant silk plush – which ‘retains its glossy brilliancy in wear.’ The discerning buyer might chance to see the advertisement that asked, Why Wear an Ill-Fitting hat? They could then visit Henry Heath’s and subject their craniums to Heath’s successful system of Head Measurement that ensures the luxury of a well-fitting Hat adapted to the form of the wearer’s head.
EXTRA QUALITY, Silk Hats (Cash Price) 17/-
Other Qualities (Unequalled for Hard Wear) – 13/6 & 10/6
BEST FELT HATS 7/6  9/6  10/6
The Heath Hat Factory employed upwards of seventy persons, and refused to supply goods to any Co-Operative Stores. The hats were purchased direct, at cash price and customers could always rely on receiving business-like attention.
For an extra shilling, once that perfect hat had been purchased, the proud, and well-fitted owner could carry home THE NARROW HAT BRUSH which had hard bristles at one end and was perfect for keeping the brim of the hat free from dust and spots. By post one stamp extra.

Gentlemen in Tricorne hats

In the Victorian era, most gentlemen wore a hat, whether for occupational use or as a fashion accessory. Top hats went by several names, including Toppers, Chimney pots, and Stove Pipes, first coming into fashionable use when they replaced the tricorne hat at the end of the eighteenth century.
In 1797, when a certain Mr Hetherington, wore a top hat on the streets of London it was said that a large crowd gathered around, inducing such chaos that the gentleman was arrested and accused of disturbing the public order, and the officer who dealt with the problem went on to testify that, “Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark. One child broke his arm among all the jostling.”
In reply, The Times was to write: "Hetherington's hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear. We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here"

Coppers in Toppers

Indeed, they had. Initially made from felted beaver or rabbit fur, The top hat was set to become quite the fashionable thing. and,  rather ironically, it was incorporated  as part of the uniforms worn by both policemen and postmen.
For a brief period during the 1820’s and 30’s a version with concave sides was produced – and this was called The Wellington. But straight sides were to win out and as the century went on crowns became higher and brims narrower, with the Stovepipe being popularised by the American president, Abraham Lincoln – who was said to keep his letters inside.
Abraham Lincolnin his top hat

Back in England, Prince Albert also liked the style and as others followed the trend the American trade in beaver skins was very greatly harmed, with a general desire for silk plush instead.


The black silk top hat was made from cheesecloth, linen, flannel and shellac – onto which was attached a silk weave with a long defined nap, and the brim of the hat always had a ribbed band of varying proportions.
A folding version was produced for the opera – where internal springs allowed the hat to be compressed and stored away under the seat.
But,  even with such innovations, as time went by the common working man chose to wear bowler hats instead, and the topper became more widely connected with the aristocracy, bankers and politicians, and those who attended public schools, such as Eton – though top hats have not been worn at that establishment since the 1940’s.



ADDENDUM: The picture below is courtesy of  'Colourman' , otherwise know as Patrick Baty, a follower of this blog who recently wore his great grandfather's silk top hat - which must be at least one hundred years old - to the Garter Ceremony at Windsor Castle. It looks as good as new!

16/07/2010

THE TATE GALLERY AT MILLBANK...

Tate Britain at Millbank in London
The sugar refiner Henry Tate left the nation a lasting legacy. Being a very generous man, he donated much to hospitals, libraries and colleges. But, he also offered his art to the nation, a collection which largely consisted of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including Ophelia by Millais, and The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes - the story of which can be found within this link. 
The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes

Henry had proposed supplying a gallery in which to locate his ‘Tate Collection’ alongside other valued British art to be displayed in one united space. The National Gallery refused to house it, on the grounds that it did not have the room but the government worked with an anonymous donor (later discovered to be Tate himself) who offered £80,000 towards a new building’s construction.  A site was provided by demolishing the Millbank Penitentiary and the government also agreed to support all costs of subsequent administration. Sidney R J Smith’s design was approved and the new building opened in 1897 with 245 pictures on show, but the development continued to expand with a further nine galleries added by 1899.
Smith's early design for the gallery
Early floorplans
An illustration of crowds at the National Gallery of British Art as seen in the Daily Graphic

It was officially named The National Gallery of British Art – the popular ‘Tate Gallery’ not being formally recognised until 1932. It employed 25 members of staff – a keeper, a clerk, 5 attendants, 4 porters, 1 messenger, 6 housemaids, 6 policemen and 1 sergeant.
For his services to art and the nation Henry Tate was made a baronet though sadly he died the following year in the December of 1899. But his legacy endures and the galleries continue to thrive and expand with Tate Britain in Millbank, Tate Modern in Bankside, Tate Liverpool, and Tate Saint Ives.
For further information, see the Tate Britain official site.

15/07/2010

OUT OF THE STRONG CAME FORTH SWEETNESS...

The Guinness Book of Record claims that Lyle’s Golden Syrup is the oldest brand still in existence today, the design of the tins having been unchanged since 1885.
The image still depicts a dead lion surrounded by a swarm of bees. There is also a quote from the Bible where in the Book of Judges, Chapter 14, Verse 14, the strong man Samson was said to have killed a lion and then returned to the scene to find that some bees had formed a comb of honey within the creature’s rotting corpse. The sight of this resulted in Samson’s comment: “...out of the strong came forth sweetness”; the very same words that are quoted on every Syrup tin - and it all began in 1865 when Abram Lyle set up his Glebe Sugar Company in Greenock, in Scotland. 
Lyle's factory in Greenock 

Golden Syrup was the result of waste produced in the refining process. The deliciously sweet, sticky syrup went on to sell in great quantities which eventually  resulted in Abram Lyle (see left) moving his company south, basing it in Plaistow on the outer edges of East London where he was able to concentrate solely on the syrup's manufacture. 


And Lyle's  East End refinery on the Thames was in very close proximity to another belonging to Henry Tate.

Henry Tate was the son of a Unitarian minister who  started his professional life as a Lancashire grocer but he also entered a business partnership with John Wright, a sugar refiner from Liverpool.
Henry Tate
Although that partnership came to an end, Henry continued to be involved in the sugar business, setting up his refinery on the Thames and developing the popular sugar cube – an enduring product that even went on to have a cartoon character built around it with the creation of Mr Cube in 1949.
But, long before that, at around the same time that Abram Lyle was attaining success with his Syrup, Henry Tate was using his own great wealth to fund the Tate Gallery in London, to which he donated his own impressive collection of art.
With  foundations built in the Victorian age the two companies did not actually merge until 1921, by which time they were refining half of the country’s sugar. And now, just like Cadbury’s before, the brand has been sold to an American firm – with American Sugar Refining recently acquiring the historic business for £211 million.
I wonder if Mr Tate or Mr Lyle would find that news to be so sweet, or whether it would leave a somewhat sour taste in their mouths?

02/07/2010

THE VICTORIANS DID LOVE A GOOD FREAK SHOW...



The trade in human disability has been around for centuries, with physical curiosities often displayed in circuses or travelling fairs. But, in the nineteenth century, such exhibits were so popular that permanent venues were set up, such as those at London's Egyptian Hall, or P T Barnum's American Museum in New York. 

The Victorians did love a freak show, and although today we view such things as sordid and exploitative, some performers were more than happy to be involved in the industry. The protection of the ‘stage’ enabled them to live in peace, when the outside world could often be a far more hostile environment. 

Acts could make good money too. In the late 1890’s some of the most successful could earn £20 a week – the equivalent of over £1000 today.





Any production would depend on the skill of the showman whose job it was to pull in the crowds to see the show, who would probably have the gift of the gab, thus raising expectations with titillating introductions. Such exciting anticipation also ensured the audience were keen to pay the entrance fee. Printed advertisements often played their part in the process as well, though more often than not any curious souls would be faced with an anti-climax.



The poster of a  mermaid, 'half beautiful woman, half fish', might simply be a creation produced by the taxidermist's art. The ugly stuffed head of a monkey fixed to the body of a fish led to the craze in Feejee Mermaids, more of which you can read about in a precious VV post ~ and also in the VV's novel called Elijah's Mermaid.



But there were some acts so famous they needed little promotion. Chang and Eng were the Siamese twins linked at the chest by a thick band of skin and, unlike some other more severe cases of twins being co-joined, the VV wonders if today they could have been surgically parted with little danger of loss of life.



Midgets were always a draw, sometimes appearing in groups or ‘troops’, when they would dance and sing, or perhaps perform as acrobats. One of the most famed of the little men was the American General Tom Thumb who travelled with P T Barnum’s show and was so very popular that he was even invited to meet with Queen Victoria.




Barnum and Tom Thumb



Miss Rosina was a great favourite too, appearing all over Europe and also often welcomed into aristocratic and royal homes. Despite having no hands or fingers, she managed to crotchet by using her feet and produced some very fine paintings indeed by holding a brush between her lips.




Below are more posters for freak shows which form part of a collection now held at the British Library.