Ada Lovelace 
December 10th 1815 - November 27th 1852

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron. However, she never knew the father who left his wife and child when Ada was still a baby, and who died when she was nine.


As a child Ada was sickly following a bout of measles. Meanwhile, her domineering mother kept Ada in isolation while attempting to allay any trace of ‘immorality’ or 'poetic tendencies' she might have inherited from her father. Instead, she insisted  Ada was tutored in music and mathematics (Lady Byron was herself a clever mathematician who Byron had once called his 'Princess of Parallelograms') and was no doubt relieved when Ada showed great promise in these areas.

Charles Babbage 1791-1871

Ada’s talents came to fruition at the age of seventeen when she met with Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. In such a role, Babbage had already begun his work on mechanical computers, though his machines were never made, with parliament refusing to sponsor the plans he submitted for the ‘Difference’ and ‘Analytical’ Engines. 

Ada Lovelace

Babbage found more interest abroad, and was aided by the Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea. When he then returned to England again, Ada ~ his little Enchantress of Numbers ~ who had since gone on to marry, continued to help him with translating Menabrea’s notes. From these she formed an algorithm: a code to enable the processing of the machines her mentor had in mind. For this work she is now viewed as being the first computer programmer. There is also some evidence that Ada designed or suggested punch cards for use with the machine, even exploring its scope for aiding the composition of music.

Ockham Park, near East Horsley in Surrey

After her marriage to William King-Noel, who became the Earl of Lovelace, Ada was able to part from her domineering mother and resided at Ockham Park in Surrey. There she produced three children before a premature death from uterine cancer at the age of  36 ~ the same age as her father had been when he died in Greece, suffering from a fever and an excess of medicinal blood-letting. 

Image taken from Barber's Byron and Where He is Buried

As befitting her final wish, Ada was then buried at Lord Byron's side in the crypt of Hucknall Torkard church, at last to be reunited with the man never known in life.

If you like the idea of ‘steampunk’ Victorian fiction why not try reading The Difference Machine, an alternate historical novel featuring Ada Lovelace by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In their story the Analytical Engine has actually been built, changing the balance of world power. Babbage gains great political influence, while the Prime Minister is the scandalous Lord Byron (still alive and in England, rather than dying in Greece). Byron heads the Industrial Radical Party, in which Ada is a prominent figure. Meanwhile, her computer ‘punch cards’ have been developed to enable a gambling ‘modus’.
The VV would like to end this post by sharing something seen on the Datamancer website ~ a wonderful hybrid laptop encased in a Victorian music box, and perhaps something that Ada Lovelace would have loved to own herself.



In my novel, The Fascination, one of the settings is an anatomy museum and shop in Oxford Street - with many of the details based on one that did exist. My own museum proprietor is known as Doctor Summerwell, although his personality is not in any way related to the real Doctor Kahn ...

In the Victorian era Dr Joseph Kahn's Anatomical and Pathological Museum was a great tourist destination. It ran for 22 years despite several court cases arising from anti-vice and medical campaigners who attempted to close it down.  But, in 1851, when the establishment was opened, despite it being named as a gloomy sepulchre of pathological horror, there was enormous interest in response to advertisements, such as this from the Daily News on April 2nd, 1851 ~

 DR. KAHN'S GRAND ANATOMICAL MUSEUM, 315 Oxford Street, is now OPEN from 10 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock at night. Popular Lectures, explanatory of the Structure and Functions of the Human Body, and illustrated by models, will be delivered daily by an English medical gentleman, at the following hours, viz., 11,1,3,5,7, and 9 o'clock - Admission 2s. 

Visitors would be both horrified and titillated by the explicit displays showing various defilements of the 'sacred body beautiful' from the ravages of venereal disease. Some may have also gone there to learn more of the facts of life, or else to have been lectured on the dangers caused by smoking. There were sensible rejections of widely-held beliefs that foetal abnormalities were often caused by pregnant mothers having overactive imaginations. (This concept of 'maternal impression' was given as the reason for Joseph Merrick's deformities, when extensive tumours growing on his body led to him being known as The Elephant Man - with his family telling the story that his mother had been knocked down by a fairground elephant when she was carrying her son.) 

Such a museum was nothing new. John Hunter's famed collection, established in the 18th century, was purchased by the government in 1799 for the Royal College of Surgeons. Those exhibits were not opened up to the general public who still found their entertainment by gathering in great numbers to view anatomical wax models at Simmons's Waxworks in High Holborn. There, an anatomical Samson with his torso opened up to reveal internal organs was a source of lurid wonder. Similarly, Signor Sarti's exhibition in Margaret Street had a wax Venus and Adonis. 

Anatomical Venus from The Wellcome Collection

Joseph Kahn followed this theme for his own museum. Having claimed to be a qualified medical physician, he opened a shop and Museum in Oxford Street. Here he displayed anatomical, surgical, and embryological collections with an emphasis on science, recommended for the enlightenment of families and schools. The more morbid effects of venereal disease were kept in private rooms, supposedly only for eyes of trainee medical men. But, in reality, any adult who could pay the entrance fee could go along and see them. Eventually The Lancet expressed concern at female visitors observing such depravities. But Dr Khan then insisted they were there in a professional capacity for midwives or nurses. This left the editor satisfied, even  recommending the venue as a source of valid learning. 

The museum was threatened again when a competitor (Reimers's Museum) encouraged a young boy to formally complain that Kahn had interfered with him. Once again the Lancet came to Kahn's defence, although the editor, Thomas Wakely, was severely disappointed when Kahn began promoting and selling quack medicines. 

The Jordan family, operating as Perry & Co, became involved in the business, providing cures for venereal disease. There were also appliances for treating young men suffering the condition of 'spermatorrhoea' or 'states of nervous exhaustion' brought on by masturbation. In other words, they were treating a natural bodily function as if it were an illness. 

The trade was lucrative. Kahn was soon able to rent a lavish home in Harley Street and to ride about the town in his own private carriage. The museum was moved to a new location in Piccadilly which was altogether grander. However, this proved too much for the more upstanding members of the medical profession. Kahn was charged and taken to court where it was found he had no right to call himself a doctor, or to offer medical advice. Representatives of the Lancet also claimed the museum's displays were sordid and immoral, and the owner sold what bordered on pornographic books and pamphlets - leading to Kahn being prosecuted on the grounds of obscenity. 

The Heteradelph

During this upheaval Kahn continued selling his guides on diet, hygiene and sexual health. He also gave lectures on human curiosities - such a tribe born with tails that had been found in Africa, or the mummified remains of a child born with several legs which he called The Heteradelph. 

However, by 1864, the General Medical Council struck again and accused him of working illegally in an unlicensed practice - at which point Kahn disappeared, perhaps returning to Germany.  

The museum carried on, supported by the Jordans who still sold quack goods and medicines. Kahn's name was even used to promote a museum in New York. Books with his name on the cover were still being published as late as 1917. 

In London the museum was permanently closed. The Society for the Suppression of Vice had been also involved and, following another court case when the magistrate demanded that all the stock and exhibitions be immediately destroyed. Somewhat dramatically, the solicitor representing the Society was then personally allowed to take a hammer to the models, breaking up what The Times described as items of 'the most elaborate character, many of which were worth a considerable sum of money.' 

Thanks to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Wellcome Collection for valuable information, and also to Lee Jackson of www.victorianlondon.com for the museum advertisement.



To celebrate my new Victorian gothic novel entering the Sunday Times Best Seller List at number 10, I'd like to post a very short reading from the first pages of The Fascination. But first of all, here is a brief description of what the novel is about...

Victorian England. 

A world of rural fairgrounds and glamorous London theatres. 

A world of dark secrets and deadly obsessions…

Twin sisters, Keziah and Tilly Lovell, are identical in every way, except that Tilly hasn't grown a single inch since she was five. Coerced into promoting their father's quack elixir as they tour the country fairgrounds, at the age of fifteen the girls are sold to a mysterious Italian known as ‘Captain’.

Theo is an orphan, raised by his grandfather, Lord Seabrook, a man with a dark interest in anatomical freaks and other curiosities. Resenting his grandson for his mother’s death in childbirth, when Seabrook remarries and a new heir is produced Theo leaves his home without a penny to his name, finding employment in a London Museum of Anatomy where, by chance, he meets with Captain – and in turn with a theatrical ‘family’ of performers, freaks, and outcasts. But it is Theo’s fascination with Tilly and Keziah that will lead all of them into a web of deceits, where the darkest of secrets threaten everything they know…

Exploring universal themes of grief, loss and love, the power of redemption, and what it means to be unique, 
The Fascination is a bewitching gothic novel that brings alive Victorian London – and all the darkness and deception beneath the glitter of the surface.

I hope this has tempted you to read the book. I'll be posting some of the 'fascinating' Victorian research behind this novel's history very soon.



My new Victorian gothic novel is called The Fascination. It was published on June 22nd and became an instant Sunday Times Best Seller. 

It's a book that became very important to me - being about finding acceptance in a world where anyone different is at risk of scorn or abuse, or used for entertainment purposes. The story has settings in the Victorian rural fairgrounds, the glamour of the London theatres, and an anatomy museum in a shop in Oxford Street, based on one that did exist, which you can read about here. The plot surrounds twin sisters, Tilly and Keziah Lovell, identical in every way except that one of them stopped growing at the age of only five ... and in due course her size and beauty draws a lot of attention; not all of it desirable. 

I've written a few posts already that detail some of my research. One of them was about Princess Lottie, a tiny midget of a woman who found fame in touring 'freak shows', drew the attention of Karen Coles when I posted it on Twitter. Karen wrote to me with photos from an album in her family - one that was presented to her great great grandmother back in the Victorian era. 

Barnum and General Tom Thumb

When I saw the photographs I noticed something familiar - recognising Charles Stratton who performed as General Tom Thumb in P T Barnum's touring circus, and who I've written about previously on the Virtual Victorian. How and why Karen's relation came to be in possession of the photographs is something of a mystery, but what a historical treasure. And a dedication from Stratton himself!

The Fascination is published on June 22 by Orenda Books. Pre-order from the publisher, via Amazon, or through your local bookshop. There are really beautiful special signed copies for the independent bookshops, and the novel will be featured as the book of the month for the Goldsboro Books June Premier edition. The audio book will be narrated by Lucy Scott.




This letter is held by the American Library of Congress. It dates from the 1850's, and whether the original version was genuine or contrived, it is a most delightful find. Do read the explanation at the bottom of this transcription to fully understand the true intention of the message.


The great love and tenderness I have hitherto expressed for you 
is false, and I now feel that my indifference towards you 
increases proportionably every day, and the more I see you 
the more I appear ridiculous, and an object of contempt, and
the more I feel disposed, inclined, and finally determined, to 
hate you. Believe me I never had the least inclination to 
offer you my hand and heart. Our last conversation has 
I assure you, left a wretched insipidity, which has be no means
possessed me with the most exalted opinion of your character. 
Yes, madam, and you will much oblige me by avoiding me. 
And if ever we are united, I shall experience nothing but the 
fearful hatred of my parents, added to an everlasting dis
pleasure of living with you. Yes, madam, I think sincerely. 
You need not put yourself to the smallest trouble or send or 
write me an answer ------ Adieu. And believe that I am 
so averse to you that it is really impossible I should ever be,
                                 Your affectionate lover till death.
                                                                               W. GOFF


There are two ways of reading it; the father compelled his daughter to show him all letters sent to her - the unsuspecting father reads straight forward, but the daughter having the clue, reads the first, third and fifth lines, and so on. Then the contrast will be discovered. 



Little Nap
Chimpanzee circus performer dressed as Napoleon, early twentieth century.

I found this photograph of a chimp dressed as Napoleon when I was writing my first novel, The Somnambulist. At the time I'd been searching for the image of a monkey wearing a monocle and cravat, and holding a copy of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. I felt sure I'd once seen something fitting that exact description. Perhaps I'd dreamed it. I'm not sure. But, I subsequently used it in a scene of the novel.
In other novels, I've imagined a stuffed mermaid, and a dog preserved in death so as to sit inside a Brighton shop. But in my latest Victorian gothic, which is called The Fascination there is yet another monkey in an anatomy museum ...

    Eugene glances warily towards the small capuchin monkey sitting on a nearby shelf. ‘He was my mother’s. Did I tell you? I’ve never had the heart to sell him, although in truth the blasted creature was a perfect misery. Jealous of me! Can you believe? Always biting or delighting in tearing out my hair. If not that, then he’d be busy with the oiling of his whistle. I really should have had him stuffed in the act of masturbation. That might have made him happier.’ 
    The hairless, all too human-looking face of the monkey does appear to hold a sneer of special malice for the doctor ...

Not a very pleasant monkey, but a delight when compared to other hybrid creations that appear in the novel. 

As for real-life experiences, I often recall an East End restaurant which has now closed to the public. Les Trois Garcons was a baroque experience; very exotic and unique. ... as you can see from the photographs I took during one visit. And yes, that is another monkey, and a stuffed dog in fairy wings.

Stuffed tiger and monkey on display in Les Trois Garcons

Stuffed dog with wings attached, as seen at Les Trois Garcons

Thinking of dogs, you might enjoy the true story of Owney...

Owney, a type of terrier, was a stray first discovered in 1888 sleeping among the mail bags at New York's Albany post office. Quite a career lay ahead for the scruffy little dog. Soon, he was riding on the trains that ferried mail across the states, and by 1895 he'd also sailed on postal steamships, as far Asia and Europe. Owney became a kind of mascot, always thought to bring good luck. No train or boat he travelled on had ever crashed or been lost. For each successful trip, a lucky charm was then attached to a collar he wore, although in time there were so many the postmaster commissioned a special jacket to be made.
Sadly, Owney was doomed to a rather tragic end. In old age, he grew bad-tempered and when a newspaper reporter was seriously bitten, Owney was put down. Afterwards the mourning mailmen raised the funds to have him stuffed, and today he's on display in the Smithsonian Institute.

Picture taken from the Smithsonian Institutes website.

In England we have Station Jim and London Jack.

Station Jim - on display on Platform 5 at Sough railway station

From 1894-1896  Station Jim collected funds that went towards the charities formed for needy railway workers, or the orphans of employees killed while working on the lines. Based at Slough Station in Berkshire, Jim can be found on Platform 5. His glass case even still has a collection slot attached. 

This noble chap is London Jack who worked at Paddington Station from 1894-1900. During his lifetime, Jack raised £450 for charities. But, much like Jim in Slough, he carried on collecting more when he was stuffed after death. 

Jack can be seen today at the National History Museum in Tring along with many more examples of nineteenth century taxidermy.



William Jackson Crawford was a paranormal investigator who the author A. J. West has brought to life in his novel, The Spirit Engineer ~ the winning title in the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, 2022.

In many ways William's life is a mystery, his story all but forgotten ~ until A. J. West began his own investigations.

He discovered that William, who'd been born in New Zealand, travelled to Glasgow in his youth and gained the qualifications to become a science teacher before he moved to Belfast.

William Jackson Crawford 1880-1920

Having found employment with the Belfast Municipal Technical Institute, William married Elizabeth Bullock Jolly. It was Elizabeth's own interest in the occult and afterlife that then led William to meet with Katherine Goligher. Along with other members of the Goligher family, Katherine was said to have a rare and natural talent for summoning the dead.

Although sceptical at first, between 1914 and 1920 William conducted several scientific investigations in an attempt to prove the fact that 'other worlds' did exist. His work appeared to be impressive and it came to the attention of the magician, Houdini, as well Arthur Conan Doyle. 

However, William began to lose his faith in the Golighers, and there are rumours that he'd suffered from a serious mental breakdown resulting in his suicide. He was reported as missing, and his body was discovered on some rocks beside the sea. There was foam around his mouth to indicate the likelihood of having taken poison. (Working at the Institute, he would have had easy access to potassium cyanide, with the powder being used for the developing of early photographic plates.)

William's corpse was found with a parcel and letter addressed to his wife. Whatever they contained was then supposedly destroyed by the policeman who first found them. But it is strongly assumed that he'd alluded to the fact that Kathleen Goligher had deviously tricked him. She had been the real fraud.

Whatever the truth, The Spirit Engineer offers a fascinating glimpse into the supernatural world of Edwardian spirit mediums, with many detailed accounts of the seances performed. 

The novel, with its stunning artwork, is a book to be cherished.

If you are already itching to learn more about this fascinating subject, I suggest you make a visit to A. J. West's own author website,  There you'll find more details of his research and Youtube films he has recorded in the process ~ including this book trailer. Watch on full screen. It's fabulous!

A. J. West ~ Author of The Spirit Engineer



Photograph by Sarah Whittingham, from a display at Sambourne House, in London


Recently, I was reminded by my friend and fellow writer, Sarah Whittingham, of the perfume I refer to in my debut novel, The Somnambulist. 

When I was writing this Victorian gothic, I wanted to introduce a perfume that would have been in production during the mid-nineteenth century, and also one that my character Nathaniel Samuels might actually have worn. The heady and glamorous concoction of Penhaligan's Hammam Bouquet fitted that need to perfection.

First created by William Penhaligon in 1872, this fragrance is still manufactured today, and is described as being ‘...animalic and golden... warm and mature, redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms. At its heart is the dusky Turkish rose, with jasmine, woods, musk, and powdery orris.  

Hammam Bouquet soon became a great favourite with respectable Victorian gentlemen. It owed its provenance to the odours that were found in the Jermyn Street Baths, a place often frequented by homosexuals. Considering this, and the era's repression of freedom of sexual expression, it is somewhat ironic that the seductive musky fragrance that intoxicates the senses should have been so popular. Or perhaps that's exactly why!

The Harrogate Turkish Baths

With their connotations of harems and boudoirs, the concept of Turkish baths became very popular in later nineteenth century England. The practice was said to be introduced here by a man called David Urquhart, a foreign diplomat and sometime Member of Parliament who'd travelled extensively throughout Morocco and Spain.

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath

However, the idea of communal bathing stems back to the customs of ancient Roman. It consisted of first sitting in a ‘warm room’ which was heated by dry air to encourage perspiration. A spell in a second hotter room and the bather would be splashed and cooled in colder water. After this the bather would enjoy an entire body wash, a massage, then relaxation. 

An advertisement for the Southampton Turkish Bath

The Jermyn Street Baths in London also employed a resident tattooist well known for his skill in producing artistic dragon designs, and ~ if the rumours can be believed ~ some of Queen Victoria’s sons were decorated in this manner after visiting the establishment.

Cooling room of the Jermyn Street Bath in London.
From the Wellcome Collection

What would their mother have thought of that? Perhaps she would have encouraged them to keep away from the Turkish baths and install a 'Quaker Cabinet' for their private use instead. 

With thanks to Malcolm Shifrin and information gleaned from his website: Victorian Turkish Baths: Their Origin, Development, And Gradual Decline.



Vincent Van Gogh 30 March 1853-29 July 1890 - self portrait: As an Artist

In 2010 the RA in London exhibited the work of Vincent Van Gogh, with the artwork being complemented by some of the countless letters he wrote during his adult life. Many of those letters showed quite a different side to the character captured in history - that of a tortured depressive who pickled himself in absinthe, cut off his ear in a spate of passion after an argument with Gaugin, and finally shot himself in the chest in a badly bungled suicide, after which he took two days to die. 

Theo Van Gogh

Most of the letters were addressed to his brother, Theo, who worked as an art dealer. But, their existence, along with  the 65 paintings and 30 connected drawings displayed in the show, are still in existence today mainly because of Theo's wife.

Photograph of the graves of Theo and Vincent Van Gogh ©Suzette Raymond

Widowed only six months after Vincent's death, when her husband succumbed to the complications of syphillis (the two brothers are buried side by side in graves in Auvers-sur-Oise), Johanna Van Gogh took care to preserve every one of her brother-in-law's letters. And, rather than disposing of what had been Vincent's unsaleable paintings, all of which Theo had collected and stored, she devoted the rest of her life to promoting his talent and work.

Johanna Van Gogh

Many  of the letters are now in such a fragile state it is highly unlikely they'll ever be exhibited publicly again. Several of them contained sketches of paintings that Vincent was planning to make in the future, and although final pieces we know today are often composed using heavy and vibrantly coloured strokes of paint, these smaller preparatory works were very precisely executed, with fine straight lines and an element of realism. Entirely different to the Impressionist style of the larger canvasses. 

The letter found in Vincent's pocket after he shot himself is splattered with either paint, or blood, and the words that Vincent wrote there were: “I risk my life for my own work and my reason has half foundered in it  -”

But many of the artist's earlier letters are less tragic, and are made up of thoughtful and eloquent prose. In them we 'see' a cultivated man who is clearly well-read and whose words convey poetic imagery. He describes the light shimmering on the sea -“like a mackerel ... always changing — you don’t always know if it’s green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue...”

Of his paintings of Cypress trees, he said: "The cypresses still preoccupy me, I’d like to do something with them like the canvases of the sunflowers, because it astonishes me that no one has yet done them as I see them. [The cypress is] beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk. And the green has such a distinguished quality. It’s the dark patch in a sun-drenched landscape, but it’s one of the most interesting dark notes... they must be seen here against the blue, in the blue, rather."

Imagine talking to the man whose thoughts were so inspired!

Vincent Van Gogh as a child

Sadly, the darker moments obliterated the joyful. Even as a youth, Vincent possessed a brooding, troubled look. 

As a young man he found employment was with a firm of art dealers; his profession taking him to England and Paris. But a series of disappointing love affairs, along with an increasing dissatisfaction with the unscrupulous art world led him to contemplate life as a preacher - the same profession as his father. 

That ambition was doomed to failure when Vincent failed to pass the necessary exams, though he did work as a missionary in Belgium, and it was there he produced The Potato Eaters - his first major painting. Like many of the earlier works, this was not a blazing of light, but suffused in dark and earthy tones to echo the paintings of Rembrandt. 

Vincent was also influenced by prints reproduced in English magazines that showed the toil of the working man. He purchased a ten-year run of the popular magazine The Graphic so as to study such gritty scenes which he then attempted to emulate.

 The Potato Eaters 1885-6

It was when Vincent travelled to the south of France that his obsession with colour began. Inspired by the French Impressionists he had hopes of founding a community of artists, but his sense of inadequacy and increasingly violent mood swings were far from conducive to such harmonious living arrangements. Even so, despite his 'sounds and strange voices...that cannot but frighten you beyond measure' the time he then went on to spend in an asylum did offer some security. Vincent said the close proximity of other people similarly afflicted was somehow reassuring. It soon became his daily routine to set up his easel and paint - either in the hospital gardens or the surrounding countryside, producing swirling images of corn fields and olive groves.


In the few years before his death, Vincent moved to Arles where he rented 'the Yellow House' - another subject of his paintings, and about which he was to write: "That's a really difficult subject! But I want to conquer it for that very reason. Because it's tremendous, these yellow houses in the sunlight and then the incomparable freshness of the blue." 

Well, however hard the task, there can be no doubt that Vincent succeeded in his ambition. And, how poignant it is that the artwork unappreciated during the course of his lifetime is now considered to be among the world's most sought-after.

The Real Van Gogh exhibition was curated by Ann Dumas. In this short BBC film you can hear her thoughts and view some more of the works on display.

If you have more interest in the letters of Van Gogh, Thames and Hudson have published them in a six-volume edition of books. They can also be viewed online at http://www.vangoghletters.org/.

Soon to be published in January 2023, the novel Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi tells the story of Joanna Van Gogh, and her relationship with the Parisian art world and the two brothers who became so central to her life.