P is for Mary Ann Parker

They look pretty, don’t they? That’s what I thought when I made my bid for these reprints of famous Australian travel books. Alas, I still own most of the books I bought.

The 1991 reprint of Mary Ann Parker’s A Voyage Round the World was a collaboration between Hordern House Rare Books and the Australian National Martime Museum. It was printed on “Ivory Kilmory Text” (also known as paper) and “hand bound in half maroon Scottish calf with marbled papered sides” (it is the paper that is marbled, not the sides, but never mind) in an edition limited to 750 copies. Taking advantage of the fact that the original was dedicated to Caroline Princess of Wales, the publishers dedicated the reprint by permission to Diana Princess of Wales. All this purports to be loss leading but probably wasn’t. More valuable is an introductory commentary by Gavin Fry. Here is their facsimile of the original titlepage.

The first and most obvious thing to note is the absence of Mary Ann’s name from her own titlepage. She writes as Captain John Parker’s widow “for the advantage of a numerous family”. The numerous family consisted of one son, two daughters and her mother. Her preface begins, “It having been most unjustly and injuriously reported, that the Authoress is worth a considerable sum of money; she thinks it her duty to avow, that nothing but the greatest distress could ever have induced her to solicit beneficence in the manner she has done, for the advantage of her family.” The injurious reports were tittle tattle about the amount of prize money due to John Parker for captures in the West Indies before his death. The amount, Mary Ann assures us, amounted to less in total than the debts her husband had left behind him. The beneficence was from the list of two hundred and fifty eight subscribers prepared to buy her book to provide her with a capital sum. These included several of her neighbours in Sloane Street where she lived before her husband’s death, forty members of the Naval Pay Office who probably knew her circumstances better than most, and – rather oddly – most of the officers of the Royal Lancashire Militia, this last group providing a rare clue about Mary Ann’s origins. Two notable names on the list are Sir Joseph and Lady Banks, tribute to the care Mary Ann lavished on the sixty tubs of plants loaded aboard by the naturalist David Burton on the return voyage.

Further down the list of Bs come Mr and Mrs Budworth, neighbours of the Parkers in Sloane Street. Joseph Budworth had served at Gibraltar and may have first met John Parker during the siege of 1779-1783. He wrote an epic poem on The Siege of Gibraltar and describes himself on the titlepage as late Lieutenant in the 72nd or Royal Manchester Volunteers. More to the point, he was a frequent contributor to Gentleman’s Magazine, sometimes signing articles with his own name, more often using the pen name Rambler. It was almost certainly Budworth who found Mary Ann her publisher, John Nichols, and who then arranged for Nichols to write a laudatory review in the November 1795 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine.

The profits of her book and her widow’s pension of £37 17s 6d per annum weren’t sufficient to save Mary Ann from a slide into poverty. From Sloane Street she moved to 6 Little Chelsea and from there to 2 Holler Place. One has to imagine the trail of unpaid bills. She made four appeals for funds to the Literary Fund, the first as early as 1796, and was granted five guineas on each occasion.

The Literary Fund was founded in 1788 by the Welsh philosopher, David Williams, who was moved to act by the death in 1787 in a debtor’s prison of his friend, Floyer Sydenham. Initially a club of eight members was formed, each subscribing a guinea. They issued an advertisement on 10th May 1788 appealing for more members. On the second anniversary of the 1788 appeal “the friends of the Literary Fund” met for the first time at The Prince of Wales Coffee House in Conduit Street. From 1792 onwards an annual dinner became an important means for raising further funds. In 1796, when Mary got her first five guineas, Coleridge got ten. Already by 1800, when “314 male guests managed to drink 294 bottles of port, 69 bottles of sherry and unlimited quantities of strong beer, porter and punch,” the Fund had moved some distance from its dissenting origins. The transition to respectability was completed in 1806 when the Prince Regent set the Fund on a firm foundation by providing it with a house in Gerrard Street to serve as offices and two hundred guineas a year for maintenance. Late in life David Williams himself fell on hard times. He did rather better from the Fund than Mary Ann, being awarded a half yearly pension of fifty guineas. Most of what I’ve written above is lifted from an unpublished PhD thesis by Nigel Cross. You can read the whole thing at https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1317590/1/254288.pdf The Fund got its royal charter in 1818, Prince Albert becamer patron in 1842, and in 1845 it was renamed The Royal Literary Fund. It still exists and is enormously well heeled thanks largely to a bequest from A A Milne that enabled it in 2001 to sell the rights to Winnie the Pooh to Disney for $350,000,000.

Mary Ann Parker was one of eighty applicants to the Literary Fund in the first decade of its existence. (There were two hundred and forty in the next decade.) Her file number is 39. Her final letter of thanks in 1804 is dated from the debtors’ wing of Fleet Prison. Thereafter she sinks from sight. But one of her daughters married well – her son died young – and, as so often with women, Mary Ann emerges from obscurity only in 1848 when her death causes her to be remembered by her husband’s rank and station.

Even allowing for Mary Ann’s gender, it’s a small obit. John Parker, too, was forgotten. Not that he’d been that remarkable even in his own day and age. He was born in Sunderland in 1749, entered the Royal Navy in 1770 as a seaman, was promoted midshipman next year and lieutenant in 1783. He was made commander in 1790. This was a steady but unspectacular career. He didn’t blot his copybook while in command of HMS Gorgon, surviving a direct hit by lightning, the hazards of the already notorious approaches to Norfolk Island and the icebergs of the southern route home, but he wasn’t rewarded with the command of a bigger and better ship. Instead he was given command of Gorgon’s sister ship HMS Woolwich and joined Admiral Jervis’ fleet in the West Indies. He died of yellow fever off Martinique in 1794.

HMS Gorgon was a forty four gun fifth rate ship of the line of the Adventure Class. Normally she carried batteries on two decks, so technically speaking she wasn’t a frigate; however, in order to make space for stores, her lower gun deck was cleared of guns for the voyage to Australia. She was ordered to sail when the Admiralty heard of the wreck of the store ship Guardian; she went independently, but she is usually counted as part of the Third Fleet. She carried thirty one convicts, of whom thirty reached Australia; these were “farmers”, meaning people who knew something about agriculture, and had to be transported as quickly as possible in order to cultivate the agricultural land at Parramatta that Governor Phillip wanted to develop so that the colony might avoid starvation. HMS Gorgon’s stores were also anxiously awaited in New South Wales since the Second Fleet had brought with it more sick convicts than supplies.

The picture here is a chapter head from Captain Watkin Tench’s Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay. He travelled with the First Fleet and on The Charlotte which was one of the transports. So the picture is almolst completely irrelevant. But it’s pretty and I can’t find a picture of any of the ships of the Adventure Class. In my defence I’ll mention that Tench did travel back home aboard the Gorgon.

Nobody knows why Mary Ann Parker chose to leave her son and daughter in the care of her mother and travel with her husband on a dangerous voyage to the other side of the earth. Her “reasons for making the voyage” turn out to be the Admiralty’s. She was the first woman to go to Australia voluntarily. There were plenty of female convicts of course. And there were a few married women like Mary Ann’s friend Anna King who was newly married and on her way to Norfolk Island with her husband Philip Gidley King (whose Journal stops at 1790). But Mary Ann was unique in having no good reason for travelling. It is not altogether fanciful to suggest she was Australia’s first tourist.

Certainly Mary Ann’s interests – those of them she chose to write about – were touristic. You won’t find any mention in her pages of the thirty one convicts aboard The Gorgon. Even the eighty five men of the Royal Marines get only a bare mention on page 5. So far as Mary Ann is concerned the passengers were Captain Gidley King RN and his wife and family, Major Grose commanding the marines of the newly formed New South Wales Corps, Mr Baines its chaplain, Mr Burton a botanist, and Mr Grimes the newly appointed Surveyor General of New South Wales, together with their (unnamed) attendants. The ship was crowded; when Mary Ann wasn’t taking the air with her new friend Mrs King, she seems to have spent much of her time in her cabin. South of the Equator, they encountered rough weather, and as Mary Ann remarks, “The greatest inconvenience I suffered from these squalls was the necessity we were under of having in the dead lights, which are strong shutters wedged in to prevent a following sea from breaking into the ship. The noise made by the working of the vessel, and the swinging of the glass shades that held our lights, rendered the cabin very dismal.” By and large though the voyage was “somewhat tedious”.

What was far from tedious for Mary Ann were the ship’s stops along the way. First they put in at Teneriffe where the Governor was pleased to discover that Mary Ann spoke Spanish. She tells us in passing that she had formerly travelled in Spain. Later, when the ship was at Fort St Jago in Elmina, she reveals that she had been in Portugal, too, when she was young. She must have realised that her readers’ attention would be caught by these revelations, but she tells us no more. Is this womanly modesty or is it a brief unfurling of her claws? Captain Parker’s second in command, Lieutenant John Gardner, who liked her, kept a diary in which he detects “a little flash of satire in her composition. Tho’ not joined to the least ill nature….” The rest of the visits to these outposts of old Empires is all picnics and formal dinners and Mr Burton bravely climbing the peak.

Mary Ann has twenty five pages on the ship’s stop in South Africa. Since her husband was busy supervising the loading of supplies salvaged from HMS Guardian, not to mention numerous sheep, cattle, pigs, pigeons and rabbits, she travelled to Cape Town with the Kings in a carriage sent by Colonel Gordon who commanded the Dutch garrison. She also name drops Jacob van de Graaff, calling him Governor which he wasn’t any longer. Then she remarks that “neither hat nor bonnet is fashionable” in Cape Town. And then – taking this reader at least completely by surprise – she gives an excellent description of the town.

It is the same with the thirty pages giving her impressions of Australia. She waffles about dining with Governor Phillip and then gives the first civilian description of Paramatta like a conjuror producing a rabbit from a hat. She also writes about her developing interest in flora and fauna…

…which provides me with an excuse for using the picture above. It is plate 21 from the reprint of John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, an account of the voyage of the First Fleet by the Surgeon General of New South Wales. The Royal Society credits Frederick Polydor Nodder as the artist. The plant itself was named by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during Cook’s First Voyage. John White loathed Australia calling it “a country and place so forbidding and so hateful as only to merit execration and curses.” He returned to England in 1794 but not aboard HMS Gorgon.

Mary Ann’s account of the return voyage of HMS Gordon via New Zealand and Cape Horn takes up less than fifty pages. She starts copying the ship’s log so that many of her pages are dated and consist of little more than a series of weather reports. Without Mrs King for company, she has much less opportunity for socialising. Above all, she wants to maintain an appearance of respectability both on the voyage itself and in her writing about it afterwards. Amongst topics she avoids mentioning are those that interest the modern reader most, the convict escaper Mary Bryant (who gets a single sentence on page 133) and the surviving Bounty mutineers who joined the ship in South Africa.

In 1998 Deirdre Coleman published an annotated edition of Mary Ann Parker’s Voyage Round the World (1795) and Anna Maria Falconbridge’s Two Voyages to Sierra Leone (1794). Apart from both being written by women in the 1790s and both being about places newly colonised by the British, the two accounts have little in common. Mary Ann, I think, would have been horrified to be linked with the feisty Ms Falconbridge who starts as a committed abolitionist and ends as a no less strident defender of slavery and the colonists. Still a search on www.addall.com brings up 57 copies of Dr Coleman’s book, the cheapest at $2.01, so it won’t cost you a fortune to buy one. Neither incidentally was a maiden when voyaging. Anna Maria was already married to the abolitionist and married again within a month of his death. Mary Ann in a final twist reveals how she gave birth shortly after landing in England.

O is for James O’Malley

I wasn’t exactly spoiled for choice for Os. I chose O’Malley because his book gave me a chance to lament the regrettable transparency of the internet. As you can see his book was published in Canada. I’d guess his sales in the United Kingdom amounted to precisely none. Back in the old days, before the internet, if you lived over here and wanted a copy of O’Malley, you could whistle. There weren’t any to be had. You needed to go to a grand bookshop like Maggs that had contacts in Canada through the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. (And yes, you’ve guessed correctly: then and later, ILAB’s main aim was not to sell books cheaply.) Today if you go into the out of print part of www.addall.com you’ll find thirty eight copies. Some of these are duplicates, the result of a single bookseller listing the same copy on more than one site, but all the same there are at least twenty different copies of O’Malley’s book for sale. Here is a screen shot of the bottom of the list.

Numbers 34 and 38 appear to be copies of the original edition. 38 is probably fairly evil, but 34 sounds as though it would look all right on the shelf and is a good deal cheaper than mine. It’s numbers 33, 35 and 36 I want you to take a look at. Diamond geezers, Hanse Books, aren’t they? Fancy going to so much time and trouble to preserve “historical literature” for the future. Actually no: they’ve gone to very little trouble; they own a digital printing machine which uses laser imaging to transfer data direct from a source, usually a CD nowadays, to paper. A few years ago, an underpaid hack went through O’Malley page by page taking photos and transferring them to a CD. Once that had been done, the owners of the CD can print off copies whenever they get an order. It is called Print On Demand or POD for short. Wherein lies the catch? Simple. The technology reproduces exactly what is in front of it including library markings, marginalia and the like.

Having mentioned them, I can’t resist a comment about marginalia. I’ve already referred to Coleridge whose marginalia take up six volumes of his Collected Works. Unfortunately your POD copy is unlikely to have been annotated by Coleridge. Nor even by Joe Orton, who in 1962 was convicted with his lover, Ken Halliwell, for defacing library books belonging to Islington Library, an institution that now displays them proudly. Librarians themselves don’t always resist temptation: A N Wilson in Our Times gives examples of how Philip Larkin and Monica Jones enjoyed themselves amending Iris Murdoch’s Flight from the Enchanter. But any obscenity you encounter in a POD won’t have been penned by Larkin. More likely your POD will have meaningless underlinings and asterisks. What it won’t begin to match is the chapter on marginalia in Kevin Jackson’s Invisible Forms.

Kevin Jackson also has a chapter on dedications, another part of a book that the careless reader often overlooks. By way of example he dedicates Invisible Forms “To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” pointing out that while “Her Majesty only authorises dedications in exceptional circumstances….Her Majesty does not positively forbid such dedications.” Perhaps the same thing was true of Governor Generals because O’Malley dedicated his book to Lord Stanley, Governor General of Canada, and his publisher went a step further by using the royal arms on the front cover instead of the regimental badge.

This Gale and Polden postcard shows the badge of the 17th (The Leicestershire) Regiment in 1910. As with most regiments, the badge evolved. When he enlisted in 1852, O’Malley’s cap badge displayed a fiercer animal. Colonel E A H Webb, the regimental historian, records how on 25th June 1825, the king approved the regiment “bearing on its colours and appointments the figure of the ‘Royal Tiger’ with the word ‘Hindoostan’ superscribed, as a lasting testimony of the exemplary conduct of the corps during the period of its service in India, from 1804 to 1823.” Thus the regiment’s association with tigers antedates The Leicester Tigers Rugby Club by sixty years. In the years before the First World War the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment had a fifteen of its own called – unsurprisingly – The Tigers. The Tigers, captained by Clive Liddell, who was a founder member of the Army Rugby Union in 1906, won the army rugby cup in 1908, 1911 and 1912. They missed the first cup in 1907 because they were in India.

O’Malley remembers the sergeant who recruited him calling the regiment the ‘Royal Bengall Tigers’. The reason is obvious: the recruiting sergeant wanted to use the word ‘royal’, despite the fact that the 17th wasn’t a royal regiment, and didn’t in fact gain royal status until 1946, so he took advantage of its badge being a royal tiger. O’Malley on the cover of his book went a step further; he not only pulled the same Royal Bengall Tigers trick, but also used the royal arms. In these circumstances, I think Lord Stanley may have regretted allowing a “dedication by express permission to His Excellency, Lord Stanley K.C.B. Governor General of Canada, by his grateful servant, the author.” Anyway, the nickname Royal Bengall Tigers is rare. Bengal Tigers and Green Tigers were both in common use. O’Malley has the recruiting sergeant refer to “lilly white facings.” Lily Whites was another nickname used in O’Malley’s day and refers to the “greyish white” facings which were replaced by plain white in 1881. The facings of a dress uniform are its inside lining which is only visible at the cuffs in the Simkin drawing below.

This is the scarlet uniform the recruiting sergeant of the 17th will have worn when persuading O’Malley to take the queen’s shilling in Galway in 1851. In place of the helmet O’Malley describes how he wore a “neat jaunty little forage cap” from which “a bunch of gay coloured ribbons floated in the air….”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing I did when pulling the book from its shelf was to look up Balaclava. Having just written N is for Captain Nolan, I wondered what, if anything, O’Malley made of the charge. (I should have known that the 17th landed in the Crimea after Balaclava but didn’t.) Pages 133 to 145 are taken up by a first hand account of the battle supposedly delivered by “one of the Enniskilliners who was employed in despatch duty on General Pennyfeather’s staff, whose tent stood in convenient proximity to ours.” It is a farrago of nonsense. Nolan is described as an Enniskillin Dragoon who was allowed by Lord Cardigan to lead the Charge and “rushed through the enemy’s ranks backwards cutting them left and right before a bullet laid him low.” As you’ll know from N is for Nolan, Nolan was a light cavalryman and was killed by a Russian shell hundreds of yards before the Charge reached the Russian lines.

O’Malley’s chapter 6 (pages 69 to 76) contains an equally bad, supposedly firsthand account of the battle of Inkerman delivered by “Michael Kelly, a friend of mine from Galway, who was in the 88th regiment….” Likewise his chapter 2 (pages 14 to 28) is given over entirely to an account of the Battle of Waterloo supposedly delivered by the sergeant who recruited him. The speech is clearly cobbled together from a general account of the battle and has nothing specific either to the sergeant, who was “an active participant”, or to the 17th, which was in India at the time. The recruiting sergeant concludes with a rendition of The Soldier’s Dream by Campbell. But as T Ho demonstrates pretty conclusively in The Afterlife of Thomas Campbell and ‘The Soldier’s Dream’ in the Crimean War the poem was effectively rediscovered only in 1854. It had been out of print until 1853 when a collected edition of Campbell’s works was published. So it’s really not at all likely that a recruiting sergeant would have been spouting it in 1851. It’s possible O’Malley heard the poem in the Crimea but I’d bet he first read it in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury first published in 1861. Ho’s article, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds, is at https://19.bbk.ac.uk/article/id/1622/

The Soldier’s Dream is a good deal better than most of the poems used to further bulk out O’Malley’s narrative. Two of them are lifted straight from Thomas Faughnan’s Stirring Incidents in the Life of a British Soldier. Here is the beginning of Faughnan’s

Faughnan, who describes himself proudly on his titlepage as “late Colour Sergeant 2nd Battalion 6th Royal Fusiliers”, was a great deal more successful as an author than O’Malley. His book went into at least three editions. He had been in the 17th prior to 1860 and is described as “my dear old comrade” by O’Malley who acknowledges his “valuable assistance” in his preface.

What O’Malley doesn’t copy from Faughnan or any other author are several evocative descriptions of events in which he was personally involved. The six page description of his recruitment in the first chapter lacks life and was probably written at the last moment at the behest of his publisher. By contrast, his third and fourth chapters about garrison life in Dublin are vivid. They include information about the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852 and the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in London when O’Malley was one of the men selected from the 17th to accompany the cortege. The core of the book is his seventh, eighth and ninth chapters, from pages 76 to 133, about life in the trenches before Sebastopol from 2nd December 1854 to 8th September 1855 and the expedition to Kinburn in October 1855. Two high spots are an excellent description of collecting supplies by mule from the harbour at Balaclava and an account of the failed attack on the Great Redan. The rest of his service in Canada from 1856 to June 1862, when he took his discharge, occupies less than a page. That he was corporal in charge of the regimental police is a detail we owe to Colour Sergeant John Snasdell of the 17th whose letter of introduction precedes the preface. We know nothing about his life before or after he was in the army.

The photo above is from the regimental history, a book which follows the model of Cannon’s Historical Records series. Its account of the assault on the Great Redan is pedestrian. Captain Croker on the extreme right of the photo commanded the grenadier company and died in the assault. The action is described from page 29 onwards in The Leicestershire Historian number 42 (2006). Here you will find extracts from O’Malley’s account juxtaposed with those of several other soldiers who sent letters home that were subsequently printed in the Leicester Advertiser and other local papers. Robin Jenkins’ article, which has excellent pictures of the Russian defence works at Sebastopol, is at


One of the letter writers, John Dexter, was, like O’Malley, a grenadier in Captain Croker’s company. There are differences of detail between the two men, but none that aren’t explicable by O’Malley’s own caveat, “Nobody but those who have been in the battle, can form any opinion of how little any individual knows of what is going on around him, except just in his immediate vicinity, consequently if any one particular attack were described by say half a dozen men, each description would differ widely from the others as probably no two men would have the same experience even in the same battle, although they might be separated by only a few yards during the action.” O’Malley’s account of the Great Redan is as immediate as any of the others. You wouldn’t guess it was written more than thirty years later. Perhaps it wasn’t. When he enlisted in 1851 he will have been between eighteen and twenty five years of age. In his preface he writes that no man of less than forty “should undertake to be his own biographer” and that, since his career as a soldier has ended, he feels justified in offering his memoirs. This suggests to me very strongly that he may have written his three central pieces for a Canadian newspaper or magazine, shortly after he reached the age of forty, so sometime in the late 1860s or early 1870s.

O’Malley introduced his book with yet another of Thomas Faughnan’s poems. Risible stuff with none of the melancholy grandeur of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. Still we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. This is the way these two old soldiers chose to remember their war.

N is for Captain Nolan

From a paiinting now in the 15th/19th Hussars Regimental Museum

Louis Edward Nolan (1818-1854) is now notorious as the man who sent The Light Brigade to its doom at Balaclava. He was the son of Babington Nolan, an officer of the 70th Foot, and was born in Canada where the 70th was then serving, but lived in Italy from 1829 when his father found he couldn’t afford to live in Scotland on half pay. Babington Nolan shows every sign of having escaped from the pages of an Eric Ambler novel. You can find out more about him in the opening chapters of David Buttery’s biography of his son, Messenger of Death. Louis became a cadet in the Hungarian (10th Imperial) Hussars and later studied at the Engineer Corps School at Vienna where he was commended for his “great zeal and application”.

In 1838 Nolan took leave of absence from the Austro-Hungarian Army to attend the coronation in London. It seems he was overcome by the sheer pageantry of it all and determined to join the British Army. Mark Adkin in The Charge: The Real Reason the Light Brigade Was Lost suggests his success had to do with ingratiating letters sent by his father to the Military Secretary, Fitzroy Somerset, later 1st Baron Raglan. In fact there is no evidence Nolan had any official help gaining a place. In March 1839 Louis Nolan (or Lewis as he then spelt it) purchased an ensigncy in the British 4th Foot. He did this swiftly, not waiting for the Austro-Hungarian Army to accept his resignation. He then arranged a swap with an officer who wanted to stay in England, and transferred in April 1839 to the 15th Hussars, then about to move to India. This is a good example of the purchase system at work, demonstrating how a relatively poor man could wangle his way as an officer into a regiment as posh as the 15th Hussars. It’s highly likely (though obviously unproveable) that there was a cash kickback from John Cowell Bartley, the man who took Nolan’s place in the 4th Foot. The regulation purchase price for an ensigncy in the infantry was £450. The cost of an ensigncy in the cavalry was £840. But Bartley wanted to stay in England and is unlikely to have charged Nolan the difference. So it’s unlikely Nolan had to pay any more than his initial £450. and if Bartley was really keen to stay at home, Nolan may well have recouped some of his initial outlay.

15th Hussars 1845 – Orlando Norie

(Sorry about the quality of these illustrations; they are photographs of photographs taken by D P & G of Doncaster whose piracy extended far beyond ISBNs.) Nolan went to India with the 15th Hussars but was invalided home after a few months with sickness. This was a fortunate chance since it enabled him to attend the Cavalry Depot at Maidstone where he took the course in equitation. This was the basis for his later expertise in selecting and training remounts. It also enabled him to be appointed riding master of the 15th Hussars when he returned to India.

15th Hussars stable dress c.1850

Apart from his developing skills as a horseman, Nolan was a formidable linguist with Italian, French, German and Hungarian already under his belt. He proceeded to pick up several Indian languages. He was successively aide de camp to Lt General Sir George Berkeley, Commander in Chief of the Madras Army, and Sir Henry Pottinger, Governor of Madras. In 1841 he bought his lieutenancy and in 1850 his captaincy.

In 1851 Nolan returned to England on leave. He set to work immediately on his first book The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: a new system. It is sometimes suggested that he was unpopular in the 15th Hussars. The fulsome prefatory letter by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel G W Key, suggests otherwise. Of course, Key was a personal friend, and he and his wife had put Nolan up when he was in India; however, after Nolan’s death, many other officers from the regiment joined him in subscribing for Nolan’s memorial plaque at Maidstone.

The book’s frontispiece below conveys one of Nolan’s main ideas that foxhunting was ideal training and that an English style of riding should be encouraged. The style of riding depicted was so different from continental practice one foreign reviewer doubted that it was possible. People familiar with Surtees will recognise it without difficulty.

In the summer of 1852 Nolan and Key travelled through northern Europe to Russia, seeing how cavalry was trained in other countries. They were impressed by the saddles in use in Holland and brought one back to England which Nolan worked on after he was appointed to command of the regiment’s depot troop at Maidstone. In his second book Cavalry; its history and tactics Nolan unveiled the new saddle he had constructed with the assistance of Sergeant Robert Johnson, a saddler sergeant at Maidstone.

In April 1853 the Duke of Cambridge, then Inspector General of Cavalry, passed Nolan’s saddle as fit for service. Further improvements were made by Robert Gibson and Company but essentially the saddle remained Nolan’s work. It was tested in the Crimea and adopted by the army in 1856, replacing the saddles previously in use that had been copied in 1796 from those of the Prussian Ziethen Hussars.

Nolan’s main objection to the Ziethen saddle was that it was raised too high and lifted the rider’s thighs, thus reducing the grip of the knees. He also thought it had too much padding on the sideboards, which could only encourage saddle sore, and substituted a folded blanket. The holster incorporated ideas learned from his friend Captain William Morris of the 17th Light Dragoons who had been impressed by the Sikh light cavalry’s skirmishing tactics in the Aliwal campaign. Nolan’s other objections to the Ziethen saddle are too technical for me. The frontispiece of his second book shows how he thought a mounted light cavalryman ought to look.

Though nobody knew it the Nolan saddle was to be the only solid achievement of Nolan’s career. In the spring of 1854 as the British Army geared up for war with Russia, Nolan was appointed ADC to Brigadier General Airey. This was a prize posting since Airey, who commanded a brigade in the Light Division, was already tipped to become Quartermaster General of the army in the east. Nolan was sent ahead to Constantinople to secure remounts for the army. Not surprisingly Ottoman officials had already secured the best horses for the Turkish army so Nolan could obtain only draught animals in Turkey and Lebanon. He went on to the edges of Arabia returning with 292 cavalry horses bought from the Annizah. He returned to Beirut with this impressive train and was met by HMS Trent which took him and his horses to Devna in what is now Bulgaria where he joined the army. In August 1854 Nolan helped Airey plan the transfer of the British army to the Crimea. His star was riding high.

Nolan continued to do well in The Crimea. On 20th September 1854, as the British and French armies moved to besiege Sebastopol, the Russians blocked them, occupying a strong position on the heights above the river Alma. The Russians were defeated after a British frontal assault. Nolan, thanks to his excellent French, was employed as a galloper between the two allied armies. The battle was a success for the allies, but in Nolan’s view it could and should have been more. Had Raglan unleashed the light cavalry, the Russian retreat would have been converted into a rout. But Raglan held the cavalry back, aware as he was that the Russian cavalry, which heavily outnumbered his own, might well have rallied. Nolan was furious. That evening he raved about Raglan’s failings to William Howard Russell, The Times correspondent. From then on he became one of Russell’s principal sources.

The next setpiece battle, Balaclava, was a very different affair from the Battle of the Alma. The French and British armies had begun the siege of Sebastopol. The Russians had divided their forces with a static mainly naval force defending the city and a mobile army under General Menshikov outside. The British drew their supply from the small harbour of Balaclava to the south of the city. On 25th October 1854 Menshikov launched a raid hoping to disrupt the alllied lines of communication and possibly to reach the harbour at Balaclava and do what mischief he could there.

The map above is adapted by Rebel Redcoat from Trevor Royle’s Crimea: the great Crimean War. It shows the position when Raglan on the Sapoune Heights (top left) was dictating his fateful fourth order to Airey. Raglan had every reason to be satisfied with the progress of the battle. The twin Russian attacks had been stopped by the counter-attack of the Heavy Brigade and the stubborn defence of the 93rd Foot ‘the thin red line’. Reinforcements were on their way from the British siege lines. The only fly in the ointment was the loss of some Turkish guns in the redoubts along the top of the Causeway Heights between the North and South Valleys. Raglan had been trained by Wellington; like his mentor, the old gentleman abhorred the loss of guns – even Turkish ones. He was determined to prevent the Russians taking away the guns they had captured. He had already sent three orders down to the Earl of Lucan who commanded the Cavalry Division. The problem was that Lucan couldn’t see the guns on the Causeway Heights. What he could see were the increasing number of Russian guns being readied for action at the end of the North Valley.

Raglan was undoubtedly irritated by Lucan’s failure to act following his first three orders. He dictated a fourth order to Airey who entrusted it to Nolan who galloped down the hill with it. Various people have claimed that the order was hard to read. It isn’t. Neither is it ambiguous. A rapid advance is different from a charge. If Lucan really failed to understand what Raglan intended, Nolan was there to set him right.

Only Nolan didn’t. Lucan himself, Lord George Paget and several other officers are agreed on what followed. As Lucan later stated, he read the order “with much consideration – perhaps consternation would be the better word….” Then he asked Nolan for clarification.

Nolan said, “Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.”

‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

Nolan gestured towards the Russians with his arms. “There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!”

Lucan was left in no doubt that he was meant to attack the main body of Russians at the head of the North Valley. Nolan went off to join his friend Captain Morris of the 15th Lancers. Lucan went off to transmit Raglan’s orders to the Earl of Cardigan, brigade commander of the Light Brigade. The two men loathed each other. However, on this occasion, they were both agreed on what transpired. Lucan told Cardigan what he believed Lord Raglan’s orders had been. Cardigan then said, “Certainly, sir. But allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a battery in the valley in our front, and batteries and rifelemen in each flank.” To which Lucan could only reply, “I know it. But Lord Raglan will have it. We have no choice but to obey.

Now – very unwisely – I’m going to take a position and go along with William Howard Russell’s considered opinion in the 1877 edition of his British Expedition to the Crimea. There are plenty of other opinions about Nolan’s intentions. The Crimean War Research Society is a good place to investigate them. Its website can be found at http://cwrs.russianwar.co.uk/

What everybody is agreed about is that shortly after the Charge got under way, Nolan rode forward in front of the 17th Lancers and rode diagonally across the line of advance towards Lord Cardigan at the head of the Brigade. He was hit in the chest by red hot shrapnel before he reached Cardigan but not before the choleric Earl had noticed him. There are only two possibilities about his intentions.

The first is that Nolan realised Cardigan was heading down the wrong valley and was riding to alert him. Sergeant Major Nunnerley of the 17th Lancers wrote in his Short Sketch of the Life of Sergeant Major J I Nunnerley that, after receiving his death wound, Nolan gave “a kind of yell which sounded very much like ‘Three right’, and throwing his sword hand above his head, his horse wheeled to the right and he fell to the rear. As though obeying this death-like order, part of the Squadron wheeled ‘threes right.” Nunnerley, who had his work cut out getting the squadron back into line ‘front forward’, had every reason to remember Nolan’s order. Nunnerley is supported in his recollection by amongst others Sergeant Morley, also of the 17th Lancers, in his The Cause of the Charge of Balaclava.

The second possibility is that Nolan intended all along to direct the attack along the North Valley. The reason he was riding forward was to speed up the Charge. That was how William Howard Russell and Nolan’s friend Captain Morris interpreted his actions. Interestingly, Robert Henderson, Nolan’s helper at Maidstone Barracks, who wasn’t an eye-witness, remembers in his autobiography A Soldier of Three Queens how “Captain (then Lieutenant) Nolan drew with a piece of chalk on the wall of the Quartermaster’s store a rough sketch which as nearly as possible represented the relative positions of the Russian artillery and the British light cavalry at the battle of Balaclava….”

Take your pick. What is not often commented on is that the Charge of the Light Brigade was a dazzling success. The brigade over-ran the Russian guns. Had it been supported by a timely advance of infantry, the Russian guns would have stayed captured. Unforunately Raglan and the rest of them on the Sapoune Heights were too busy wringing their hands and saying things like, “c’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” Whether the capture of the Russian guns would have been worth the loss of 192 men and nearly twice that number of horses is a different matter. But the Charge of the Light Brigade remains a complete vindication of Nolan’s tactical ideas.

This is a photo of an obelisk in honour of William Morris of the 17th Lancers, subscribed for by the county after Morris’ death in India in 1858, and erected in 1860. The bronze relief at the base is by E B Stephens and shows the wounded Morris being carried off from the battlefield after the Charge. The three men carrying him are two dismounted men of the 17th Lancers (identified in a statement by Surgeon William Cattell as Sergeant Charles Wooden and Trooper George Mansell) and Surgeon James Mouat of the 6th Dragoons. Wooden and Mouat were awarded the Victoria Cross. The two plates on the iron gates bear the inscription “This frontage erected 1901 by Sir Robert White-Thomson of Broomfield Manor in memory of his brother John Henry Thomson lieutenant 17th Lancers who fell at Balaklava October 25, 1854 when the regiment was commanded by Captain afterwards Colonel Morris CB.” Next year White-Thomson’s widow delivered a lecture at Hatherleigh from a text written by her husband. The lecture was published as Lieutenant Colonel William Morris CB – a memoir. The obelisk was again restored in 1963 by the 17th/21st Lancers.

Bear with me – I’m getting there. The point of all this stuff about the obelisk is that I want to suggest that Morris more than anyone is likely to have known what was in Nolan’s mind. After delivering Raglan’s order, Nolan joined his friend Captain Morris at the front of the 17th Lancers and got his permission to accompany the regiment. The two men wrote and exchanged letters in case either of them died – Nolan wrote to his mother – and then talked together before the Charge got under way. Morris remained convinced until the end of his life that the Charge proceeded exactly as Nolan expected. He knew what Nolan was doing when he reproved him for riding forward. Apart from anything else, he will have read page 242 of his friend’s book where Nolan wrote, “The most advantageous moment to attack is when the guns are unlimbering or limbering up; a few moments gained being of the greatest importance to the attacking party, who must always dash in at their best speed as soon as the signal is given to charge.” Speed was the thing and Cardigan was proceeding at a trot. Morris himself was so seriously wounded that his wife, her sister and the sister’s husband Sir William Carew came out to Scutari to take him home. Peter Carew has written about their adventures in Combat and Comedy. There is more about Nolan in that book.

I’ve said nothing about Nolan’s softer side. There wasn’t one. Gossips like Fred Dallas speculated about his relationship with Fanny Duberly. It was limited to a shared expertise in horse riding. Such emotions as he had were bound up with Colonel and Mrs Key to whom he left his personal possessions. They were the parents he would like to have had.

I end with Nolan’s memorial plaque at Maidstone.

M is for Magic

There they were occupying a whole stall in the stables of a Norfolk country house, a collection of magic, five hundred books, a couple of boxes of DVDs and VHSs, several shelves of tricks and other paraphernalia. Ting a ling went the bell in my head. Management was less sure. “You don’t know the first thing about magic,” she said amongst other equally irrelevant objections. I had to make a list of the books and run them through http://www.addall.com at home before she could be persuaded that the books alone were worth (or listed for, which isn’t quite the same thing) upwards of £10,000. Eventually I was given her grudging permission to bid to £2,500.

Come the day of the sale, “Who’ll start me for £1500?” the auctioneer asks. I raise a hand. The room is unnervingly empty. No doubt there are telephone bidders. Silence. The auctioneer takes a bid off the wall. I keep my hand raised. We are at the giddy heights of £1700. And that’s where the bidding stops.

It was only long after the sale that I discovered quite how I bought this collection for so absurdly little. The owner had phoned up all the leading magic dealers before deciding to auction it. During her negotiations, in which she tried to set one against the other, she made it abundantly clear she thought they were thieves and liars. Astoundingly none of them were minded to enrich her on the day of the auction.

It was M for Marlo that made it obvious we were on to a very good thing indeed. Then (as now) I list my stock on http://www.biblio.com which is an excellent site but one that is strapped for cash and does little advertising. Expecting large numbers of new customers to discover books on Biblio is about as likely as expecting a cup of tea to warm up in the Arctic. Thus, in search of new customers, I listed stuff on Amazon (whose charges are extortionate) and on EBay (where buyers rarely pay very much because they’ve been burned too often). We put some originals of Marlo’s Magazine on EBay and had our hands taken off by a frenzy of bidding. Obviously, we could have got a great deal more than we did if we had listed Marlo’s Magazine somewhere sensible, but still we recouped more than a third of what we’d spent.

There’s an element of smugness about all this. Sorry about that. And you’ll be glad to hear I did come to (a little) grief when trying to repeat the trick. First I bought – sight unseen – a suitcase of magic that had belonged to a magician who must have been reduced to performing before very young, very gullible children. And later I travelled down to Essex to buy another large collection only to be annihilated in the bidding.

You may have been thinking that five hundred books on magic is a lot. You’re wrong. Stott’s Bibliography which stops at 1876 has 912 items. He was obliged to publish a second volume consisting mainly of omissions.

My little collection was of books about card magic. Many of these were written by people fond of word plays, some felicitous

others less so

though most of them made you think

It was a learning curve. There were disappointments along the way

but all of it was

that made you wonder if you weren’t perhaps

dabbling in a world of

But I’ve riffed for long enough. Any more and I’ll be

So I’ll be serious for a change. I got quite interested in Ed Marlo (1913-1991) who was born in Chicago as Edward Malkowski and published his early magazine articles and his first booklet Pasteboard Presto under that name. You will find all you need to know about his career in magic at https://www.magicana.com/news/blog/take-two-71-edward-marlo which includes a bibliography of his seventy books (and that excludes magazine articles and ‘manuscripts’ accompanying tricks). Career is just about justifiable as a term: he never worked for profit as a magician, but he did act as a demonstrator from time to time at Baer’s Treasure Chest. As a man, Marlo was curiously unambitious. He worked in a machinist’s shop where he invented any number of labour saving devices. Rather than patent any of these, he preferred to keep them secret and reduce his working day with their aid from eight hours to one. Marlo, too, was fond of word plays. In 1953 he invented a ghastly neologism that is still in use.

The whole business was an interesting example of how bookselling has become completely deskilled. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can buy a collection of books (as I did) and sell them at enormous profit by simply pricing them at less than anybody else. It happens to me all the time. Unlike magic, I do know about military books. And I’ve got used to being undercut by people who know nothing about the subject and care less.

You’ll be asking why I’ve given over the letter M to Magic when one of my rules is that I only talk about books that I have in stock. I sold what I thought were the last fifteen magic books on EBay (getting a predictably terrible price). But I’d mislaid one solitary survivor which is still available for sale on Amazon.

L is for Sergeant William Lawrence

There’s no reason to dispute the basic facts about William Lawrence’s life that can be found in his own autobiography. He was born in 1791 in the village of Bryant’s Piddle in Dorset (no bowdlerised Puddle for him), was apprenticed to Henry Bush, a Studland builder, didn’t care for life as an apprentice, walked to Taunton and enlisted in the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment in 1804. He served with the same regiment in South America, the Peninsula, North America, and at Waterloo before being discharged in 1819. He re-enlisted briefly in the 3rd Veteran Battalion, serving on excise duties in Ireland, before finally leaving the army in 1821. He returned to Studland and found employment which was necessary as his pension was nine pence a day, later increased to a shilling. At some unspecified date he and his wife opened a pub originally called The Wellington Arms but shown as The Waterloo Inn with Lawrence as landlord in a trade directory for 1855. Later still he gave up by the pub because he began “to feel unwell” and must have been employed in some capacity on the Kingston Lacy estate since Bankes describes in his preface him as “a servant”. He died in 1869.

Lawrence’s account of regimental life is echoed by the regimental history. This isn’t surprising; Captain Smythies used Lawrence’s autobiography as one of his main sources. In a footnote, Smythies remarks, “The old soldier’s memory must have been excellent, for the dates and names he gives correspond in a remarkable degree with those in the Regimental Record Book, and there seems every reason to accept as accurate the stories and anecdotes which he relates.” On one occasion Smythies corrects Lawrence noting that there was no officer called Elland in the assault on Badajos and subsituting Ayling, but in the main he is content to rely on Lawrence, quoting him verbatim for several pages in his account of Waterloo. Below is the uniform of the 40th in 1815 as depicted by P W Reynolds in Smythies’ History.

Since Smythies’ day, Lawrence has been cited hundreds of times. You’ll find him in the index of most books about the British army in the Peninsula. Edward J Cass in All for the King’s Shilling, a book that decries the notion of a universal soldier, uses Sergeant Lawrence and Sergeant Donaldson of the 94th to establish a stereotypical picture of redcoats as “uniquely British creatures of the early nineteenth century.” Yet clearly these two men have little in common. Donaldson was head clerk of the Glasgow Military District when he determined to become a surgeon. He wrote Recollections of a Military Life and two further books to finance his studies. Lawrence was an ex-publican who dictated his memoirs to a fellow servant because the Bankes family required him to do do. Both men are entirely unlike a third anonymous sergeant who saw the manifest hand of God in the most mundane events and published his recollections in Memoirs of a Sergeant late in the 43rd Light Infantry Regiment by way of spreading the gospel. (And, by the way, if you’re looking for a fourth sergeant, Gareth Glover has recently edited The Peninsular War Journal of Sergeant Samuel Harrison also of the 43rd.)

It is the element of compulsion that makes Lawrence’s book even less reliable than you would expect of an account dictated from memory to a probably not wholly enthusiastic scribe more than thirty years after the events concerned. Bankes in his preface says of Lawrence that he “never learned to write.” Hence the need for an amanuensis. Yet on page 241, on his first return home after the wars, Lawrence recounts how his “mother brought out every letter sent by me during my absence from the first to the last, and made me listen to them being read, which by the time night came on had almost sent me crazy.” Enough letters then to make one suspect that Lawrence’s later illiteracy was feigned, despite some writers making so much of it, since illiteracy, they seem to think, is an essential attribute of an authentic voice from the ranks.

Here is Lawrence as imagined by Dawn Waring. And in one way it’s fair enough as a representation because this is probably much as the Bankes family would have wanted him to appear. Some of the iconography – the patched uniform and the polished shako plate – speaks for itself. The cockerel is Tom who lived in Lawrence’s knapsack for a time and accompanied him by default into action at Busaco. Tom was fed tit-bits by everyone in Lawrence’s mess and had grown quite fat by the time he vanishes from the narrative. The fragile clay pipe is also unlikely to have survived for long. Lawrence was an occasional smoker, but on occasions such as the one when he met his brother William again, he has to order “beer and tobacco with pipes” from a local public house.

Corfe Castle

Time for a word or two about the Bankes family. In Lawrence’s day you could walk from Kingston Lacy to Swanage without leaving Bankes’ land. The family’s fortune originated with Sir John Bankes (1589-1644) one of King Charles I privy councilors. Famously his widow, Dame Mary, held the family home, Corfe Castle, for the king until well into 1646. The castle was slighted, but her courage was much admired and she was allowed to keep the keys which are still on view at Kingston Lacy, the grand house built by her son Ralph to replace Corfe.

At the beginning of the 19th Century Kingston Lacy was owned by William John Bankes, a noted antiquary and traveller, who was obliged to go into exile after an indiscretion with a guardsman. His brother George managed the estate in his absence and briefly inherited in 1855 before dying in 1856. George Nugent Bankes (1860-1935) who edited Lawrence was the grandson of this George Bankes. His father was Henry Hyde Nugent Bankes (1828-1883) a barrister and author of what sounds like a shocker; Melchior Gorles – a tale of modern mesmerism. George Nugent Bankes’ grandfather George never lived at Kingston Lacy, preferring a seaside villa in Studland when he wasn’t in London. My guess is that it was the older George who heard about the inn-keeper and veteran soldier, William Lawrence, during one of his visits to Studland, and that it was he who arranged for Lawrence’s stories to be written down. Nearly at the end of the book Lawrence says, “I am now living in a house that was bequeathed to me for as long as I live by my late master….”

George Nugent Bankes, Lawrence’s editor, was a prolific author. Apart from A Day of My Life at Eton, a topic which even an Etonian might think deserved less than a full length book, he wrote An Eton Boy’s Letters, A Cambridge Staircase and Across France in a Caravan, milestones in a biography if anyone could be bothered to write one. Leading Insurance Men of the British Empire, which he co-authored, is less promising. Bankes figures in volume 3 of Julie Coleman’s A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries where she finds space for the Etonian usage “staying out is what we do when we are ill, that is, we stay in doors.”

George Nugent Bankes makes much in his preface about having done no more than tidy up the punctuation of Lawrence’s amanuensis. It doesn’t appear to have occurred to him that the stories Lawrence told as an innkeeper were almost certainly embellished over time and most likely incorporated stories he was told by his customers. This confusion was doubled when Lawrence was obliged to set his stories in stone by having them written down. In this light, Bankes’ assertion “that to the mind of a man in Lawrence’s position the obtaining of a pair of boots was apparently quite as important an event as the storming of Badajoz” may tell us more about what Lawrence’s benefactors expected of a man like him rather than about his thinking processes.

The point is that Bankes then, like Cass now, is determined to present Lawrence as a typical British soldier of Wellington’s army. Bankes, no doubt, would have been outraged to be represented as a typical mid-Victorian scion of a landed family. Likewise Cass would bridle at being called a typical early 21st Century American academic. Stereotypes are fine for the lower orders but not for them.

And so to Waterloo and one of the most celebrated descriptions of being there.

“About four o’clock I was ordered to the colours. This, although I was as used to warfare as much as any, was a job I did not at all like; but still I went as boldly to work as I could. There had been before me that day fourteen sergeants already killed and wounded while in charge of those colours, with officers in proportion, and the staff and colours were almost cut to pieces. This job will never be blotted from my memory: although I am now an old man, I remember it as if it had been yesterday. I had not been there more than a quarter of an hour when a cannon-ball came and took the captain’s head clean off. This was again close to me, for my left side was touching the poor captain’s right, and I was spattered all over with his blood….”

Unfortunately this is almost completely spurious. The only captain of the 40th to die in the battle was Captain Fisher whose company was on the left flank. The shot that took his head off put twenty five men out of action. Major Stretton described it to Siborne as “the most destructive shot I ever witnessed.” It’s entirely possible that Lawrence was standing next to Fisher, but he wasn’t holding the colours if he was. There were fifty five sergeants present before the battle, and Lawrence certainly wasn’t fifteenth in order of seniority which he would have had to be if “ordered to the colours”. As a matter of fact, there were nineteen sergeants in total killed and wounded. The number of officers laid low while holding the colours can’t have been “in proportion” since only thirteen in total were killed or wounded including Major Heyland, the commanding officer. None of these facts are difficult to find. They are all in Smythies’ Historical Records as is Lawrence’s account which stands in contradiction to them.

None of this does anything to undermine Lawerence’s standing as a brave man who fully deserved his Waterloo medal. It is just a sad consequence of the old ex-publican having been required to substantiate his bar-room stories.

There are, of course, parts of Lawrence’s Autobiography that are likely to be accurate. As Sir Charles Oman remarks in Wellington’s Army, “The autobiographical record of a flogging is rather rare – the diarist in the ranks was generally a steady sort of fellow, who did not get into the worst trouble.” Lawrence wasn’t steady as a young man. He was sentenced to four hundred lashes, and endured nearly half of them which put him in hospital for three weeks. I can think of only one other soldier of Wellington’s Peninsular army who writes about being flogged, Charles O’Neill of the 83rd (later a Captain) whose Military Adventures escaped Oman’s notice. So far as the punishment goes, Lawrence and O’Neill’s accounts coincide; however, their misdemeanours were very different, Lawrence being charged with absence while on guard duty, while O’Neill was charged for refusing to attend an Anglican service when there was a Roman Catholic service being held in the neighbourhood.

And now, because life is really quite complicated and reluctant to fit into pigeon-holes, I’m going to mention an event recorded only by Lawrence and remembered by him only because it earned him a buckshee sixpence. The photo above is of the Peace Memorial erected at Chicksands Priory in 1815, while the regiment was still part of the Army of Occupation, by General Sir George Osborn, a veteran of the American War of Independence and Regimental Colonel of the 40th. At the same time Osborn sent to France a new set of Colours to replace the Colours shot to pieces at Waterloo. In March 1817 it was decided to reduce the size of the army of occupation and the 40th were redeployed to Glasgow. Sometime between then and his death on 29th June 1818, Sir George went up to Glasgow and formally re-presented the set of Colours he’d already sent to France. The ceremony is recorded by Lawrence and, so far as I know, by no-one else. And the reason Lawrence remembers is because the old General gave each man on parade sixpence to drink his health.

Chicksands Abbey, as it is now called, is today a Defence Intelligence and Security Centre. The original memorial read:

The Officers Non Commissioned Officers & Private Soldiers
of the Fortieth Regiment of foot
who gloriously fell in Contest
maintained by Great Britain against revolutionary France
commencing in the year 1793
and terminating in the year 1815
by the Battle of Waterloo and the Capture of Paris
This Pillar is erected
by General Sir George Osbourn Bart. their Colonel
In humble Gratitude to Divine Providence
for the Success of His Majesty’s Arms
and for the Restoration of the Blessings
Of Peace

It was restored and moved in 1856

This Pillar
Was restored and removed to its present site
By Sir George Robert Osbourn Baronet
In commemoration of a
Treaty of Paris
Signed at Paris
on the thirtieth day of March 1856
between the Allied Powers of
Great Britain, France, Sardinia and Turkey
and the one side, and
On the other, at the termination
Of the arduous, and memorable Campaign of the
Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann, Sebastopol

And yet again – this time at American expense – in 1976

This monument
was restored and removed in 1975/76 to this
its third location by members of
the United States Air Force stationed at
Royal Air Force Chicksands
in recognition of the lasting bonds of
friendship between the peoples of America
and to commemorate
25 years of operations here by the United States
Air Force security service, the bicentennial of
American independence and European
architectural heritage year.

I want to conclude with Lawrence’s wife Clotilde. He met her in 1816 when he was part of the army of occupation in Paris and she operated a movable stall selling tobacco, snuff and spirits as well as vegetables grown by her father in his market garden at St Germain en Laye. Lawrence learned French before they married, and it was still the language they spoke together when he first returned to Briant’s Piddle. She was as determined a pedestrian as him, walking with him from Glasgow to Dorset and back again on his first furlough. Later she learned English and held the license for The Wellington Arms jointly with her husband. (The Bankes Arms – despite claims on its website – has no links with the Lawrences. Their pub was on the other side of the road.) Clotilde died in 1853 and is buried in Studland. Lawrence was buried next to her in 1869.

K is for Lord Mark Kerr

Mark Ralph George Kerr (1817-1900) was born at Newbattle Abbey in Scotland. He was the tenth child and fourth son of William Kerr 6th Marquess of Lothian by his second wife Harriet Montagu-Scott, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Buccleugh. Lord Mark set his sights on a career in the army, and purchased an ensigncy in the 20th East Devonshire Regiment in 1835. The photo below is of his Journals which he had printed in small numbers in 1891.

As you can see he spared no expense. Having rubbished the books I have to sell in J for Jackson, I thought I’d blow my own trumpet for a change. This is an outstanding copy of an outstanding book. It is illustrated with zincographs

and was very definitely not available for sale. This copy was presented by Kerr to the depot of the Somerset Light Infantry, the regiment he commanded from 1854 to 1862 and of which he was appointed Regimental Colonel from 1880 until his death.

More about Blickling, Kerr’s house in the country, later.

Kerr purchased his way from ensign in 1835 to lieutenant colonel in 1853. In doing so he was using the purchase system as it was intended to be used. In return for accelerated promotion, he participated in several chains which enabled the holder of the commission at the top of each chain to sell out, obtaining what we would call a lump sum to fund his retirement. Theoretically, a commission had to be sold for the official price, and had to be offered first to the longest serving officer in the same regiment who held the rank beneath the commission being sold. Kerr seems to have observed this largely unwritten code of conduct. He became a lieutenant in 1838, a captain in 1840, a major in 1851 and a lieutenant colonel in 1853, serving in each rank long enough to obtain useful experience. Since Kerr remained in the 20th throughout, it’s reasonable to suppose he accomplished his climb without stepping on any toes.

Below is the War Office announcement of Kerr’s captaincy. Captain Vivian (who didn’t want to sell out) exchanged from the 20th into the 11th Light Dragoons (almost certainly because he didn’t fancy the idea of going to Jamaica with the 20th). That left a vacancy which was filled (on paper) by recalling Doyne (who did want to sell out) from half pay. Lieutenant Lord Kerr was then able to buy Doyne’s captaincy which left Kerr free to sell his lieutenancy to Masterton who in turn sold his ensigncy to Williams. All entirely according to the regulations.

By way of contrast, I’ll illustrate how the system could be abused. James Thomas Brudenell later 7th Earl of Cardigan (for whom see D for Duberly) purchased a lieutenancy in January 1825, a captaincy in June 1826, a majority in August 1830, and a lieutenant colonelcy in December 1830. As a lieutenant colonel, he was on half pay until 1832 when he purchased command of the 15th Hussars for £35,000. Cardigan achieved all this by rapid movements from regiment to regiment and the expenditure of colossal sums of money. The commander in chief, Lord Hill, was powerless to intervene despite thinking that Cardigan was “constitutionally unfit for command.”

Apart from purchase, promotion could be had by merit or by seniority. Promotion by merit (except in wartime) was rare. Promotion by seniority was slow since impecunious officers looking for high rank were always likely to be leapfrogged by richer officers.

Kerr in full dress with the Governor General
the Earl of Elgin, his wife and her sister

Kerr kept a journal whenever he was overseas. They mirror his career. As you’ll see he spent much of his leisure time pursuing military activities.

  • 1841-1846 Jamaica (with the 20th)
  • 1847-1849 Canada (with the 20th – photo thanks to Wiki Commons)
  • 1850 Mexico (a private trip)
  • 1853 Russian and Austrian Manoeuvres
  • 1854 French Manoeuvres
  • 1854-1856 The Crimea (as lieutenant colonel commanding 13th Light Infantry)
  • 1857 Grahamstown to India
  • 1857 to 1860 Indian Mutiny and home overland
  • 1861 to 1864 India (during which time he was promoted Brigadier General, a rank not open to purchase)
  • 1864 From Delhi to Baghdad
  • 1869 Channel Squadron (he was promoted Major General by seniority in 1868)
  • 1870 Travels in Europe
  • 1871 Paris
  • 1871 Delhi Manoeuvres
  • 1872 Autumn Manoeuvres
  • 1874 Carthage
  • 1874 Leaving England for Command at Poona (Poona Division, Indian Army)
  • 1879 From Bombay Home (he was promoted Lieutenant General in 1876 by seniority and General in 1878 when he retired from the army)
  • Unveiling a Regimental Memorial at Taunton (undated but 1888 when he was Regimental Colonel of the 13th)
Commemorating 143 men who lost their lives in the Third Burma War

Kerr had his foibles. As Lord Wolseley, who met him during the Indian Mutiny, remarks in The Story of a Soldier’s Life “He was eccentric by nature, and wished the world to remark upon his eccentricities. He was a very well read man, full of talent, and had his regiment in first-rate order, though he ruled it as an absolute monarch, and was consequently often in ‘hot water’ with the military authorities.” Major General Sir Henry Hallam-Parr was commissioned into the 13th as an ensign in 1865 right at the end of Kerr’s command. In his Recollections and Correspondence edited by Sir Charles Fortescue-Brickdale there is more about Kerr’s impatience with the regulations and “his open warfare with the authorities.” However, Hallam-Parr, like Wolseley, came to admire him. “He certainly took more interest in the men’s food and well-being generally than was common in those days, and in matters sanitary was much in advance of his time.”

By the time Hallam-Parr met Kerr he was a seasoned veteran. In the Crimean War, the 13th Light Infantry had arrived too late to take part in any of the major battles, instead enduring many months in the siegeworks round Sebastopol. However, despite his own best efforts, Kerr got his chance for active service in the Indian Mutiny, and did well. In his diary he admits to a degree of imprudence in his dealings with Colin Campbell who, he believed, was keeping the 13th out of action. “I see Sir Colin looking at me with a smile on his face, but I pass him without looking, and touch my cap to Lord Canning; he shakes hands. Sir Colin then comes up and begins to talk about Indian affairs, but I say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, most imprudent of me.” As to what followed, I can’t do better than give you the section headings for chapter 2 in the last volume of G R Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny:

  • Lord Canning, hearing of Milman’s disaster, sends Lord Mark Kerr to relieve him
  • Character and antecedents of Lord Mark Kerr
  • Lord Mark sets out with four hundred and forty four men
  • He encounters the enemy, four thousand strong, near Azumgarh
  • Desperate contest, and the resolute persistence of Lord Mark Kerr, who beats the rebels, and relieves Azumgarh
  • Great credit due on every ground to Lord Mark Kerr
  • His victory probably saved Banaras from the Clutches of Kunwar Singh
  • Fatal Error in Kunwar Singh’s tactics

They don’t write military history like that any more. Still, there’s no doubt Kerr broke through to relieve Azimgarh where he remained. And by doing so he distracted Kunwar Singh who was one of the best of the rebel leaders.

Vanity Fair February 1886

Hallam-Parr has a final recollection of meeting Lord Mark Kerr in Piccadilly after his retirement. “Feet out of the stirrups, Lord Mark was riding a young horse which had no shoes on (such was Lord Mark’s fancy riding in London), and on the greasy wood pavement the horse had as much as he could do to keep on his legs. Not that Lord Mark was paying much attention to this, as he was fully occupied in carrying on a lively altercation with a growler on one side and a bus on the other, both of whom he accused of closing in on him.”

On the face of it Kerr’s was a life of privilege that would be impossible to day. Certainly no junior officer would get away with the cavalier disregard Kerr routinely showed to higher authority. There aren’t any captains posted anywhere who could expect to meet a Governor General socially. Nor could even a full general expect to retire to Blickling Hall.

Then again, there were differences, then and now. Travel was less luxurious. Wealth was less ostentatious. But connections helped if you wanted to see the ruins of ancient Carthage. “Ancram appears, to my great joy and relief, come over from Syracuse in a gun-boat, having missed the Tunis boat which were to have gone by this morning! He left Syracuse that same night and walked to Catania, fifty-six miles, in his shirt-sleeves, and with his gun in his hand, and returned by train to Syracuse, when I believe he put his coat on, which he carried on his arm before, and he was offered a passage in this gunboat. We dine with the Admiral, Sir James Drummond.”

No need for a private yacht. Anyway the enormous yachts owned by Russian oligarchs and vulgarians like Sir Philip Green were quite unknown. Even Lord Cardigan’s cutter yacht Dryad, in which he slept most nights in The Crimea, was a mere 85 tons and would have been sneered at by the likes of Sir Philip.

It’s Blickling Hall I want to end with since the unmarried Lord Mark Kerr retired there. His father, the 6th Marquess of Lothian, married twice. His first wife, Harriet, was the older daughter of John Hobart 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. Harriet had displeased her father by divorcing and remarrying, and on his death without a male heir, he left his estates to his second daughter Caroline. Caroline lived on until 1850 by which time both the 6th Marquess of Lothian and his son the 7th Marquess, Lord Mark Kerr’s older brother, were dead. Thus Blickling passed into the hands of the 8th Marquess of Lothian, Lord Mark Kerr’s nephew, and from him in 1870 to the 9th Marquess, his brother Schomberg. Schomberg, known in his lifetime as Lothian, had no interest in Blickling. When he wasn’t at his London house, he lived in Scotland, sometimes at Newbattle Abbey, more frequently at Monteviot. He was probably pleased that his uncle, General Lord Mark Kerr KGCB, as he now was, chose to take up residence at Blickling.

Blickling is one of the grandest houses in the United Kingdom. It’s extraordinary that the Kerrs should have owned a second house comparable with it. I live in an enclave cut from the grounds of Mount Edgcumbe House when the army built Fort Picklecombe as a coastal battery to defend Plymouth. The Earls of Mount Edgcumbe, too, were spoiled for choice. Cotehele, which they also owned, ties only with Haddon Hall for beauty.

And yet the Edgcumbes chose to live at Mount Edgcumbe. The picture below is of the house as it was restored by the 6th Earl. The original house, bombed by the Germans in 1941, was bigger.


J is for Robert Jackson MD

artist unknown – Wikipedia

Robert Jackson (1750-1827) got his MD in Leyden in 1786. He had every right to be proud of his doctorate which he achieved at the age of thirty five after many vicissitudes. If you go the old Dictionary of National Biography you’ll read, “After a good schooling at Wandon and Crawford he was apprenticed for three years to a surgeon at Biggar, and in 1768 joined the medical classes at Edinburgh. Supporting himself by going twice on a whaling voyage as surgeon, he finished his studies without graduating, and went to Jamaica, where he acted as assistant to a doctor at Savanna-la-mer from 1774 to 1780.” All very circumstantial. It’s only when you look at the small print that you realise this is Jackson on Jackson. Almost all the information in Charles Creighton’s article for the DNB comes from a memoir added to the 1845 third edition of Jackson’s Systematic View of the Formation, Discipline, and Economy of Armies by its editor, Dr Borland, who based it on recollections of conversations with his old friend. Creighton’s other sources, for example an obituary by Dr Barnes in The Transactions of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association, are equally anecdotal.

Barnes says Jackson’s “parents were in poor circumstances” but that is not an adequate explanation for their failure to support him through university. The clue, I think, lies in his apprenticeship. Believe it or not, in those days, a career in medicine wasn’t the answer to parental dreams. Jackson’s departure for Jamaica was rapid, but not so rapid as to suggest a shot gun lay behind it. In Jamaica it’s possible he wrongly called himself a doctor, though it’s just as likely the term was used by other people as an honorific. None of this is sinister. Jackson said slightly different things to different people at different times. And there are no records to substantiate one or other version of events. Thus Barnes has him acting as “medical superintendent” to a detachment of the 1st Battalion of the 60th Foot (not mentioned in the regimental history though this is no surprise since the battalion was split up into penny packets all over the West Indies) and then going to New York in 1778, while Borden has him in Jamaica until 1780.

Sir Archibald Campbell by Romney

Jackson’s career from 1780 is well authenticated. He enlisted into the 71st Regiment. This was the second regiment in the British Army to be called Fraser’s Highlanders. The earlier Fraser’s Highlanders was numbered 78 and disbanded in 1763. The second Fraser’s Highlanders was disbanded in 1786. Neither is related to the 71st (later Highland Light Infantry) which was numbered 73 in the American War of Independence. Jackson caught the eye of the colonel of the 71st, Lt Colonel Sir Archibald Campbell, shown above in a painting by George Romney now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Campbell granted Jackson an ensigncy. Then – to the great good fortune of British Army medicine – Jackson took up a vacancy as surgeon’s mate in the regiment. He was captured with the rest of the regiment at Yorktown, paroled and returned to England where he had only the half pay of an ensign to sustain him.

In a 1972 lecture – which you can read in full at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003591577206501233 – Lieutenant General Sir Neil Cantlie states “his penurious circumstances were solved when he married an accomplished Edinburgh lady of considerable fortune and he at once went to Paris and thence to Brussels and Leyden where he took the degree of Doctor of Medicine by examination.” Cantlie, by the way, was a man whose standing in the army owed much to Jackson’s insistence that those responsible for the army’s health “should be so constituted as to maintain and honourable and respectable rank in the military fabric.” But I digress. Cantlie’s explanation, while tidy, begs the questions, how Jackson met the lady and why he left immediately for Leyden. Once again – no scandal. The lady was the niece of a brother officer and he appears to have met her father, Dr Stephenson, while walking in Scotland. She went off with him overseas. The Jacksons returned to England in 1787 where he settled down into general practice in Stockton. In 1791 he published the first of many really important books, this one based on his experiences in Jamaica.

This is a dog of a copy of the first American edition which is very much more common than the 1791 London edition. In a brief digression I’m going to show you all the things that are wrong with it. First (see above) wrong edition.

Second (also see above) the titlepage is soiled (left in a barn for a decade or two).

Third (see above) it has new endpapers (the new violently clashing with the old).

Fourth (see above) it has been rebound (by an amateur who hasn’t heard of title labels).

Fifth (see above) the text is browned (or more than a little foxed).

Sixth (see above) some of its gatherings are working loose (the book is broken in two).

No matter its defects. This is a snip at £25. And, as a bookseller who shall remain nameless, once told me on the phone, “I hope I look that good when I’m 225.”

Back to Jackson and his Treatise on the Fevers of Jamaica. Apart from beginning a taxonomy on the various diseases of the West Indies, the book contains useful remarks on military hygiene and sensible suggestions about how clothing and equipment could be varied in hot and cold climates. This sounds blindingly obvious now. It was very far from that at the end of the 18th Century.

Jackson’s book should have been a best seller as Britain geared up for war with France. The obvious way for Britain with a small army to fight France on land was to invade her empire overseas. But everybody knew that British soldiers dropped like flies when serving in the West Indies. And so it proved. Roger N Buckley in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research Number 226 – he’s written a full length book since then – while discussing “the steady and relentless destruction of the British army in the West Indies” calculates that British military casualties there between 1793 and 1815 amounted to 424,000 of whom 75,000 died. By way of comparison Dumas and Vedel-Petersen in Losses of Life Caused by War give a grand total of 35,600 deaths in the British Army in the whole of the Peninsular War between 1808 and 1814.

In America, where ‘Carolina fever’ was a concern, Jackson sold better. His 1791 London edition is really quite hard to find, his 1795 Philadelphia edition is commonplace.

In 1793 Jackson went back to the army. There is no need to assume he found general practice in Stockport to be insufficiently remunerative or that there was any other ulterior reason for his going. Simply, as an ensign on half pay, he was called to the colours. As an MD with seven years general practice behind him, he expected to be appointed an army physician. A problem arose: having never belonged to The Royal College of Physicians, he was technically ineligible, and the Physician General, Sir Lucas Pepys, refused to bend the rules. Jackson had to accept a lower position and was duly gazetted “Mr Robert Jackson from half pay of Ensign 71st Foot to be surgeon to the Buffs.” This was the beginning of a long feud between Jackson and the Royal College.

In Holland Jackson established a regimental hospital that had dramatically fewer deaths per admission than any other medical establishment in the army. Jackson’s startling success attracted the attention of the Commander in Chief, HRH the Duke of York, who appointed him Physician by his own authority.

After the conclusion of the Holland campaign, Jackson went with The Buffs (3rd Foot) to the West Indies. His experiences there led to An Outline of the History and Cure of Fever, Epidemic and Contagious published in Edinburgh in 1798. This book, which was a milestone in the identification and treatment of yellow fever, is still cited today. It must have gratified Jackson when it earned – albeit rather late – a respectful 31 page review in The Medical and Physical Journal.

Jackson went on to write many more books. The most famous is A Systematic View of the Formation, Discipline, and Economy of Armies first published in 1804 and recently described by Neil Ramsey in Command at a Distance as “the first fully scientific treatment of a modern disciplinary regime.”

Jackson’s second stay in the West Indies gave him an insight into the scale of corruption commonplace in the administration of the army overseas. His pamphlets exposing maladminstration in the Army Medical Department revived his feud with the College of Physicians. As the old DNB records “in the course of the contest he wrote seven pamphlets (from 1803 to 1809), was obliged to retire from active service, and committed an assault on Keate, the surgeon-general (by striking him across the shoulders with his gold-headed cane), for which he suffered six months’ imprisonment.” Here is an account of the ‘assault’:

Most likely Keate wanted an apology which Jackson wouldn’t give. Thomas Keate, who was then Surgeon General, had plenty of reasons to be peeved with Jackson, who had been one of the principal whistle blowers when The Commissioners of Military Enquiry, in their fifth report, took a look at the Army Medical Board. Below is Keate’s outraged response. Jackson’s name is mentioned many times in the index:

Keate survived his paper war with Jackson largely because the Commissioners of Military Enquiry had bigger fish to fry. Their ninth report on the ‘….more effectual examination of accounts for His Majesty’s forces in the West Indies’ exposed an astonishing story of corruption by which Valentine Jones, when Commissary General in the West Indies, entered into an agreement with a contractor, Matthew Higgins, allowing Higgins to supply vessels and equipment at his own price in return for a share of the excess profit. Jones’ share of the proceeds between April 1796 and May 1797 amounted to over £87,000. By these standards the malfeasance of the Army Medical Department was negligible.

Keate and the Army Medical Board met their Waterloo with the Walcheren Enquiry. The best book on the medical aspects of the campaign is Martin R Howard’s Walcheren 1809 which is subtitled the scandalous destruction of a British Army. It wasn’t the French who destroyed the British army at Walcheren, it was disease. This Rowlandson cartoon expresses the public outrage about the actions or rather inactions of the Army Medical Board and the physicians who comprised it.

The two men pilloried are Thomas Keates and Lucas Pepys. Robert Jackson sits on the jackass below. All around are the stores on one side and emoluments “for home consumption” on the other. The “champaign chest” is a reference to Keates’ reputation as a toper. This is grotesquely unfair because whatever else Keates was, he was a brilliant surgeon with a notably steady hand, who was the first man to tie a subclavian artery. But that’s satire.

In 1811 Jackson was recalled from retirement and made Medical Director in the West Indies. This represented a conclusive defeat for the College of Physicians. He wrote several other well regarded books. He retired from his final post as Inspector General of Hospitals in 1819 and immediately set out to investigate an outbreak of fever in Spain. I conclude with the conclusion of Jackson’s obituary in Gentleman’s Magazine for 1827.

And – before you ask – I have tried to find the names of Jackson’s two wives and the date of death of the first. Without success. It’s not that women are air-brushed out of history, it’s that most of them never had a place in history in the first place.

To receive other blogs in this series go to the top of this page and press ‘BLOG’. On the new page go to the bottom right and press ‘follow’.

I is for International Standard Book Numbers

The photograph below is of the verso of the titlepage of a reprint of the Indian Army Department’s 1911 Instructions for Armourers. Don’t worry – that is the first and last you are going to hear about this excruciatingly unexciting book. The original was published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office. The publishers, D.P. & G. of Doncaster, want you to think they had permission to publish a reprint. How better than to show an ISBN?

If you enter this ISBN in a search engine it will return the message “Your search – isbn 1903972639 – did not match any documents.” How can this be? Are your fingers fatter than you think they are? The answer, dear reader, is that the ISBN is a fake. Perhaps the publishers didn’t write to the Controller of HMSO for permission to reprint. Perhaps they were too mean to send copies of the book to the four UK copyright libraries.

Other enemies of the ISBN are search engines like Amazon. Look for a book on Amazon – say one of Carman’s Indian Army Uniforms – and you will find two different books

Note the publication dates and other variations. One of these is wrong. But I wouldn’t waste your time getting in touch with Amazon to suggest a change to their catalogue. They are famously unresponsive. The problem is they copy other people’s errors. Thus, it’s not too difficult to invent the details for four exciting new books entitled Total Bollocks, Total bollocks, total bollocks, and TOTAL BOLLOCKS. You can’t any longer enter them on to the Amazon website, but you could in the past.

You could also give them fake ISBNs. Things really get interesting when a fake ISBN clashes with a real one. By mischance someone inventing an ISBN used a real one. Or someone intending to enter a real ISBN mistyped it. Either way the slot is now taken. The real ISBN can no longer be used. And if you are one of Amazon’s lawyers, I suggest you read some of the threads about this on the Amazon website which you can most easily get to by feeding ‘wrong isbn on book listing’ into Google.

The ISBN properly used is an invaluable computerised system matching the details of a book with a unique numerical identifier. The final digit of a ten or thirteen digit ISBN is a check digit enabling you to check whether as ISBN is true or false. Simply:

  1. Take the first 12 digits of the 13-digit ISBN
  2. Multiply each number in turn, from left to right by a number. The first digit is multiplied by 1, the second by 3, the third by 1 again, the fourth by 3 again, and so on to the eleventh which is multiplied by 1 and the twelfth by 3.
  3. Add all of the 12 answers.
  4. Do a modulo 10 division on the result from step 2. (Don’t know what a modulo 10 division is? It’s easy. It’s just the remainder from a whole number division by 10. I bet you learned to do that in junior school, before you even learned about decimal fractions.)
  5. Take that remainder result from step 4. If it’s a zero, then the check digit is zero. If the remainder isn’t zero then subtract the remainder from 10. The answer to that is your check digit.

Seriously – you and I can’t do all that; Amazon can. It’s a pity they don’t clean up their site by doing so for existing entries. The six steps shown above are lifted from https://isbn-information.com which is filled with interesting information.

And so to book notation which is a posh term for a set of symbols representing the classes into which you sort your books. On the domestic front most of us use letters to form simple words that we keep in our heads. Thus in my case I separate ‘history’ from ‘geography’ and have separate shelves for separate periods or regions. You could call it a notation system if I went to the trouble of writing the separate classifications on little bits of paper that I then stuck to the shelves. There are problems with (for example) my sister-in-law who, as a demographer, writes books that are neither fish nor fowl. But the system works well enough on a small scale like mine. Fiction (including poetry, lit crit and what used to be called belles-lettres) is arranged alphabetically.

Management shortly before noticing my camera

The villain of the decision to put our fiction into alphabetical order, hereinafter referred to as Management, is depicted above. She decided to rearrrange our fiction shelves at about 2 am twenty odd years ago. I remember it well. Biography – arranged alphabetically by subject (so you need to know what you’re looking for) lives in her study. Her cookery books in the kitchen are in no order at all.

The case for the prosecution rests. Myself, within the confines of the notational system outlined above, I tend to arrange books by size, big ones at either end of the shelves, smaller ones towards the middle. I’ve known people who arrange books by colour and some even who use Dewey numbers (which we’ll be coming to in a while).

We have about 3500 books in our flat. So it should be easy to find any one of them especially since we have a classification system of sorts. Management currently wants to look at the Observer Book of British Mammals. Can the working classes find it? Can they hell. It might be under British Topography. Then again it might be under Science. Worst of all it might be hidden away in Miscellaneous.

Ashurbanipal’s lion hunt – Wiki Commons

Ashurbanipal’s scribes had the same problem back in 627 BCE. The King of Assyria had just conquered Babylon and come away with a fine haul of clay tablets. By the time the Babylonian loot had been incorporated in it, Ashurbanipal’s library had about 10,000 works on 30,000 tablets. I’ve never tried browsing tablets, but I’d guess it’s none too easy. The one below, now in the British Museum, gives the recipe for making blue and purple dyes for wool. It’s in remarkably good nick because Ashurbanipal’s library was burnt only a few years later, and most of the tablets in it were baked.

Fortunately, centuries earlier, Assyrian scribes had devised the world’s first known library classification system. Probably they improved a Babylonian system which derived originally from the Sumerians. We don’t know how they stored literature. Everything else, according to Thomas M Dousa in The Encyclopedia of Knowledge Organization, was “often listed in the following order — Astrological omens, Haruspical omens, Terrestrial omens, Teratological omens, Exorcists’ lore, Medical recipes, and Dream omens — though this sequence was by no means obligatory….” So heavy on science. You can find the rest of the article at https://www.isko.org/cyclo/library_classification

As you can read for yourself in Thomas M Dousa, there’s more to library classification than you might have thought. Still – and this is the point – the basic idea hasn’t changed. Confront an Assyrian scribe with the latest version of the Dewey System and he’d understand it fast. Of course, looking at classes 000 to 006 he wouldn’t begin to understand what “computer science” was let alone what any of the tens of thousand of books classified thereunder were about. But he would understand the system.

Time passed. Life became more complex. Literature proliferated. The Great Library at Alexandria was a hundred times the size of Ashurbanipal’s. It probably contained the best part of half a million texts. There was nothing comparable to it outside China. Almost all its texts were written on papyrus scrolls. There are limits to how many scrolls you can stuff into a pigeon-hole. Above is a picture of the old Mount Pleasant sorting office from learningroyalmail which used to be a wordpress blog. It illustrates just how much space pigeon holes take up. There are fewer than three hundred on view in this picture. With tens of thousand of scrolls in each of their main classes you can see why the librarians needed to invent sub-classifications and indeed sub-sub-classifications.

Callimachus wrote a detailed guide to the Great Library at the beginning of the Fourth Century CE. His guide is lost but is cited often enough by other writers for Encyclopaedia Britannica to assert that it contained the “following divisions: rhetoric, law, epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, history, medicine, mathematics, natural science, and miscellaneous.” Callimachus’ guide is called Pinakes which is the plural of the word pinax meaning tablet. Presumably when that grizzled old Macedonian general Ptolemy Soter first conceived the idea of copying some of the texts Alexander the Great had looted from Persia, he brought some Persian scribes to look after them. And they used the notation system with which they were familiar, putting clay tablets with classification marks on top of each set of pigeon-holes. Below is an image of Ptolemy’s son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the man who most people think founded the Great Library, from a bronze found in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, and now in the Naples Archaeological Museum where it was photographed by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

There are many modern libraries bigger than the Great Library but they are of the same order of complexity. The problem modern librarians have is the same as the one that confronted Callimachus and his friends – how do you find an individual book within a given sub-sub-classification?

Almost certainly the full text of Callimachus’ Pinakes would have provided an answer. Unfortunately mediaeval monks, whose monasteries had libraries numbering in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands, had little interest in the parts of his book where the question is discussed and so didn’t preserve them by copying them. Nor, for reasons that are more complicated to explain, did the Arabs. In our dark ages the Arabs had libraries approaching the size of the Great Library. The library at Cordoba is reckoned to have had 400,000 books and a 44 volume catalogue.

We do know a bit about how private libraries were arranged at various times during the time of the Roman Empire. Augustine of Hippo had a vast library which is mentioned frequently both in his own writings and in the writings of his biographer Possidius. Cicero is another famous Roman who amassed scrolls. Here is the statue of the great orator outside the Palace of Justice in modern day Rome.

But actually the man whose statue I should be showing you is Tiro, Cicero’s trusted slave, later freed. Tiro, Wikipedia will tell you, is the inventor of shorthand. But –

πρῶτός τε κολυμβήθραν θερμοῦ ὕδατος ἐν τῇ πόλει κατεσκεύασε, καὶ πρῶτος σημεῖά τινα γραμμάτων πρὸς τάχος ἐξεῦρε, καὶ αὐτὰ διὰ Ἀκύλου ἀπελευθέρου συχνοὺς ἐξεδίδαξε

Sorry about that – I couldn’t resist it – and yes, you’re right, I can’t read Greek either. I lifted the quote from http://en.antiquitatem.com/tironian-notes-shorthand-ampersand/ where Antonio Marco Martinez discusses Cicero. Martinez, who can read Greek, took it from Dio Cassius, who is telling us here that Cicero wasn’t the inventor of shorthand at all, and that really it was invented by Aquila, a freedman of Maecenas.

No matter whether he invented it or not, Tiro was highly proficient in shorthand. He used it to note down Senate proceedings, to record Cicero’s speeches in court and to copy the personal letters he dicated. Then he wrote the whole lot up on parchment scrolls which he pigeon-holed. And – what is material to my argument – he could locate any one of these hundreds of scrolls whenever Cicero wanted to check a fact. We can’t be sure how he did it. But I’m going to follow Robert Harris’ lead and suggest he arranged them in date order according to who were the two consuls in the relevant year. Any educated Roman knew the list of consuls. And if you don’t know Robert Harris’ trilogy, you ought to. Unlike me, Harris is exciting, well researched and coherent.

About the above – Management has instructed me to point out that the reason I was able to find these books and photograph them was because they were arranged alphabetically. Sorting alphabetically by title within sub-classifications was done in the Sorbonne in the 13th Century but grouping book in any sort of alphabetical order wasn’t at all common until the 18th Century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge didn’t like it and who is Management to argue with him? (Collected Works – Marginalia: Part 6. Valckenaer to Zwick – find the reference yourself; life is too short.)

To continue – Cicero was hugely influential. Already, by the time Vesuvius erupted in 79CE, miserable school children were writing graffiti such as ‘like Cicero or be whipped’. As Shrikant Yelegaonkar notes in Western Thinkers in Political Science, St Augustine credits his conversion to Christianity to reading Cicero’s Hortensius while St Jerome had a nightmare “in which he was accused of being ‘follower of Cicero and not of Christ’ before the judgement seat.” When the printing press was invented, Cicero’s De Officiis was second only to The Gutenberg Bible to be set in type.

Little wonder then that Cicero’s (or rather Tiro’s) ideas about arranging libraries were equally pervasive. Listing titles in order of accession became the norm. The substitution of books for scrolls made little difference. Instead of sets of pigeon holes with notations indicating the sub-classes that were contained in them, there were book cases with similar notations. Richard of Fournival who died 1260 amassed 162 manuscripts, one of which is depicted below. In his Biblionomia he classified them into three main classes – Philosophy, Lucrative Sciences and Theology. Within Philosophy were nine sub-classes – Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry and Arithmetic, Music and Astronomy, Physics and Metaphysics, Metaphysics and Morals, Melanges of Philosophy, and Poetry. The lucrative sciences were medicine, civil law and canon law. There is more about Bibionomia at http://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=253

Wikipedia – don’t knock it

And so to Umberto Eco and The Name of the Rose. The maze-like library on the top floor of the Aedificium in the fictional unnamed abbey he invented is very much larger than any real library of the time. But it is organised in a way that any mediaeval librarian would find easy to comprehend. William of Baskerville, investigating the death of an illuminator, has to deduce that “the books are arranged according to the country of their origin” but the librarian, Malachi of Hildesheim, has been taught how to navigate the maze and thus understands the notations in the catalogue. There are several main classifications by region. You’d expect to find books by the Anglo-Saxon Bede somewhere in the area called Anglia. Other books in Anglia are less obviously placed. An earlier librarian, Jorge de Burgos, whose name – not at all coincidentally – resembles that of Jorge Luis Borges, has also placed in Anglia books by authors he thinks should have been born in Anglia. Tricky. But entirely typical of librarians who enjoy nothing more than telling you why the book you can’t find isn’t where you expected it to be.

Eco’s classification by region is a little more complicated than I’ve said, but I don’t want to say any more in case you haven’t read his book. It works pretty well. It is what is technically called hospitable meaning that each classification can be expanded by the addition of extra sub-classifications. Nuclear physics, thanks to Rutherford, would probably have a room of its own in Anglia. The discovery of America might have posed bigger problems. But I’m joking. Eco’s system works.

Within the weird classifications the library is arranged exactly as a mediaeval librarian would expect. Different rooms in Anglia represent different sub-classifications. Different bookcases – most rooms have four, and unusually for the period, they are placed against walls – contain different sub-sub classifications. The bookcases have separate shelves. Presumably the books are kept flat but we are not actually told.

The difficulty then is not knowing where a book is. The catalogue will give you that information, though you may be discouraged from looking there. Let’s suppose you’ve been given permission to do so. A book in Anglia may be referenced A ii b iii in the catalogue. Hey presto – you know exactly where it is. Reading backwards it is on the third shelf (iii) of the second bookcase (b) of the second room (ii) of the region known as Anglia. The difficulty lies in finding the room. Therein lies the skill of the librarian.

We’ll leave Umberto Eco’s library with a view of the portal to the abbatial church. This is actually the Romanesque portal of Moissac on which Eco based his fictional portal.

Clearly the primary function of Umberto Eco’s library wasn’t the dissemination of knowledge. Forty years earlier, Jorge Luis Borges had invented his Library of Babel where, practically speaking, it is impossible to find a book at all. Borges’ library consists of an infinite number of interlinked hexagonal rooms which between them contain all possible 410 page books using the same characters and the same format. His maths was slightly awry since this library wouldn’t formally speaking be infinite, but this is a pedantic objection since it would be considerably larger than the known universe.

I have neither the time nor the patience to explore all the nuances of Borges’ library. (If you are interested in this sort of thing go to https://libraryofbabel.info/ and press random.) But I do want to introduce you to one of its denizens. This is the searcher, who knows that somewhere amidst the meaningless drivel there has to be a perfect catalogue which will enable the finder to navigate the library. Alas, there are also any number of imperfect catalogues.

Which brings me to The Dewey System. Melvil Dewey (1851-1931) was the most influential person in American librarianship in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He had many other interests, including spelling reform, hence Melvil rather than Melville as he was christened. His interest in librarianship was already apparent while he was an undergraduate at Amherst when he founded The Library Bureau to furnish “libraries with equipment and supplies of unvarying correctness and reliability.” The dimensions of the index cards sold by the Library Bureau are still standard. He also founded a less successful American Metric Bureau.

Amherst was sufficiently impressed by Dewey to ask him to undertake the reorganisation of its library. He devised a new classification scheme by freely adapting the taxonomy Sir Francis Bacon had proposed in 1605 in The Advancement of Learning and forcing it into the procrustean bed of a rigid decimal structure. Dewey copyrighted his system in 1876 and later expanded and improved it. He never denied his debt to Francis Bacon who is thanked in all the early editions of the System. Equally he never mentioned his debt to William Torrey Harris, Superintendent of the St Louis Public Schools, who had proposed a similar classification system based on Bacon and published it in the 1870 Journal of Speculative Philosophy.

Dewey’s USP was his decimal classification. He was obsessed with 10s. As you can read at https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/03/24/melvil-dewey-compulsive-innovator/

“At the Lake Placid Club, the cooperative resort in the Adirondacks that he established in 1895, the number 10 ruled. He charged members a $10 annual fee. (Lifetime memberships were $1,000, or $103.) He also required that guests turn off their lights at exactly 10 p.m.—the same time that the overnight train from the club left for Manhattan. This was a man who was addicted to writing 10-page letters and even preferred to “sleep decimally”—that is, 10 hours each night.”

All knowledge, Dewey decided, could be squashed into ten main classes. Each of the classes could be divided into ten sub-classes (divisions) and each of those could be divided into sub-sub-classes (sections). Here is the titlepage of his second edition

And by-the-by we have Dewey to thank for the horrid American spelling of catalogue. The main Dewey classifications now are:

  • 000-099 Computer Science and General Knowledge
  • 100-199 Philosophy and Psychology
  • 200-299 Religion
  • 300-399 Social Science
  • 400-499 Languages
  • 500-599 Science
  • 600-699 Technology
  • 700-799 Arts and Recreation
  • 800-899 Literature
  • 900-999 History and Geography

All well and good. The trouble is Dewey was a racist – later in life he founded the Lake Placid Club which banned any “member or guest against whom there is physical, moral, social or race objection….” He was also anti-semitic, profoundly anglo-centric, and a serial sexual harrasser of women who should have been outed long before 2019. These charmless attitudes show in his sub-classifications (divisions).

Take religion. Sub-sub-classifications (sections) 200 to 219 concern religion in general and the philosophy and theory of religion. Sub-sub-classifications 220 to 289 concern Christianity. Sub-sub-classifications 290 to 299 concern other religions. You have to go to 297 before you find a single slot for Islam, Babism and Bahai faith. Defenders of the Dewey System will say that the system is hospitable and accommodates many more sub-divisions within 297 by the use of a decimal point. Thus the Koran appears with other textual sources under 297.1. So the Koran occupies part of sub-slot 297.1 while the Bible occupies all the slots between 220 and 229. A problem there, I think.

Take literature. The 810s belong to American literature in English, the 820s to English, the 830s to German, the 840s to French, the 850s to Italian, the 860s to the Iberian languages, the 870s to Latin, the 880s to Greek. The literature of the whole of the rest of the world is squashed into the 890s. Chinese literature appears under 895.1. You can see all 8509 works listed there by going to https://www.librarything.com/mds/895

Until his death Dewey retained control of revisions to his system, personally until the sixth edition published in 1919, thereafter through the Lake Placid Club Educational Foundation. In 1988 the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) of Ohio acquired the trademark and associatted copyrights when it acquired Forrest Press. The last physical edition was the twenty third edition of 2017. Now DDC is only available as WebDewey.

It’s lucky the geeks at OCLC have control. Nothing has given the Dewey System more problems than the attempt to incorporate computing. In particular, Section 006 is in the middle of a schizophrenic episode, since it covers both artificial intelligence and natural computing. Thus 006.3824 is captioned ‘swarm intelligence’ while 006.3825 is captioned ‘artificial immune systems’.

Dewey really won’t do. It needs replacing. Or does it?

Do we really need a notation system as Byzantine as OCLC? The only books that need to be kept in classified order are books that are physically browsed or retrieved. Since the invention of the International Standard Book Number every new book already has a unique annotation, its ISBN number. The ISBN lists books in groups published by individual publishers. That’s not much help, but so what: you can attach any extra information you like to an ISBN. So you can use imperfect classification systems such as the Library Classification for Medium and Small Libraries or the Book Classification of Chinese Libraries or even the one invented by Brother Jorge of Burgos. These aren’t catch-all as OCLC still hopes to be, but it doesn’t matter; ISBN will come to the rescue when a book falls between the cracks.

And to end here is a nightmare for all librarians. Newmarket Library took advantage of Coronavirus to have their library deep-cleaned. The diligent cleaner rearranged their books into size order.

Thanks (I think) to the BBC for this photo. You can read the full story at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-52412655

Breaking news – my son Thomas, who has Aspergers, has just blogged a cognominal cricket team. In it he explains why Marcus Tullius Cicero was called Cicero. Read all about it at https://aspi.blog/2020/04/28/all-time-xis-the-cognominal-clash/

To receive other blogs in this series go to the top of this page and press ‘BLOG’. On the new page go to the bottom right and press ‘follow’.

H is for Sven Hedin

Sven Anders Hedin (1865-1952) was a Swedish geographer and travel writer who led four major expeditions into Central Asia. He was an excellent draughtsman and a more than competent photographer who illustrated his own books. The Sven Hedin Foundation says of him personally that he “still evokes many different memories and feelings” meaning you can find as many people who like him as loathe him. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Germany in the Second World War, and used his contacts with leading Nazis to rescue many of his friends from concentration camps. Over to you.

photo of Hedin c.1910 by R Duhrkoop

Why would an English bookseller who reads not a word of Swedish buy nineteen Swedish language Sven Hedin first editions from a Fakenham auction? The answer is indeed obvious. I made a staggering profit and haven’t lost all of it by going back there in the misguided hope that lightning might strike twice in the same place. They were also very attractive and books do furnish a room. Here is Hedin’s most famous book.

And below by way of balance is the titlepage of what is arguably his most offensive book (though there is a wide range of choice). Sweden’s good fortune, you might think, was to have stayed out of the First World War. But not if you’re Sven Hedin. In his view, Sweden’s Woe, which is how the title translates, was to have failed to secure its racial future by fighting at Germany’s side. “Our front is directed against Russia,” he writes – for 734 pages. See Sarah Danielsson’s Explorers Road Map to National-Socialism.

Which is about all I want to say about this brilliant but decidedly unpleasant man. What I want on to focus on next is a Russian explorer, then little known in western Europe, who was introduced – to a Swedish audience at least – by Sven Hedin.

Beautiful, isn’t it? Mercifully the binder chose to retain the original paper cover and use it as an additional frontispiece. The book was published in 1891 before Hedin was known outside Sweden. Later his books were published in Germany. Later still they were published in London and New York. But his book on Nikolai Przhevalsky (the usual spelling – though don’t murder me if you’re Ukrainian) was published in Sweden only.

The Russian general, here depicted in the actual frontispiece of Hedin’s book, was born in Smolensk in 1839 and died in 1888. He undertook four major expeditions across the Gobi and towards Tibet, finding the source of the Yellow River, but never quite reaching Lhasa. He identified vast quantities of flora and fauna including the famous horse that bears his name and a Bactrian camel that also bears his name.

Przhevalsky is a man well worth studying though he deserves a more serious context than this one. Here I’m going to conclude with an urban myth that gained a deal of traction in the Soviet era – that Stalin was Przhevalsky’s illegitimate son. Look at the picture Hedin used as a frontispiece. Then look below. There is a likeness, isn’t there?

Edward Radzinski in Stalin in The Washington Post quotes a correspondent writing to him, “Even in his lifetime, when people vanished for a single wrong word about him, he was openly spoken of as the illegitimate son of the great Przhevalsky. These stories could go unpunished only because they had approval from on high. It wasn’t just his hatred for his drunken father, but a matter of political importance. The point is that he had, by then, become Tsar of all Russia. So instead of the illiterate Georgian drunkard, he wanted an eminent Russian for his daddy.”

There is an element of truth in this. Stalin was none too keen on detailed study of the early life of Iosif Dzhugashvili (as he was born) or the activities of Koba (as he was known by other revolutionaries before 1912). Iosif was altogether too Christian and middle class while Koba had a complex relationship with the Tsarist secret police. Young Stalin definitely attended a seminary and many people think he was an informer.

But a famous father could do him no harm and might enhance his standing. So Stalin did nothing to dispel the rumours. Przhevalsky was portrayed on a Soviet era postage stamp and in many encyclopaedias. The artists emphasised his likeness to Stalin.

Satire was a different matter. Enter Vladimir Voinovich, anti-social element and writer of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin. Chonkin talks about Stalin’s origins while satirising the idiocies of the Stalinist regime. The book was published in West Germany in 1969 and circulated in Russia as a samizdat. An English language edition is still in print. In 1974, with the Politburo taking a tougher line on dissent, Voinovich was thrown out of The Soviet Writers’ Union. In 1979 he was exiled.

So pervasive is the myth Voinovich created that you can find it on Trip Advisor – “Someone in our group commented that during their visit to Stalin’s birthplace in Georgia, this rumor that Stalin was Przhevalsky’s father was also mentioned. Then someone else in our group pulled up images from Google comparing a young J. Stalin to a young N. Przhevalsky. There is a slight resemblance. These descriptions made the monument more meaningful to me. Otherwise, if I had visited on my own, it would have been just another monument, as there are no English signage anywhere. Nikolai Przhevalsky’s tomb is behind the monument.” Sic transit gloria mundi. Poor Przhevalsky to be remembered for nothing more than a faint resemblance to Stalin. Below is Przhevalsky’s monument in St Petersburg. Go to Trip Advisor for photos of his tomb.

To receive other blogs in this series go to the top of this page and press ‘BLOG’. On the new page go to the bottom right and press ‘follow’.

G is for George Gleig

The Right Reverend George Robert Gleig (1796-1888) was the son of George Gleig who became Bishop of Brechin in 1808. Against the Bishop’s wishes he took up an ensigncy in 3rd Garrison Battalion rather than a scholarship to Baliol. In January 1813 he was appointed lieutenant in the 85th King’s Light Infantry. The portrait below comes from Barrett’s History of the 85th which includes lengthy excerpts from Gleig’s journal.

Gleig’s first book, published in 1821, was The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814 and 1815. On the plus side we burned the White House. On the minus side we suffered a hideous disaster when the Americans under Andrew Jackson repulsed a frontal attack by Sir Edward Pakenham. Below (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) is a heroic image of Andrew Jackson who has recently been displaced from his position as worst American President ever by Donald Trump.

30% of the British force were killed or wounded. Fortunately for Gleig, the 85th wasn’t involved in the main attack but successfully stormed a redoubt on the right side of The Mississippi. It is interesting to compare Gleig’s journal in Barrett’s History of the 85th with his book. Gleig’s better known book, The Subaltern, concerns the last months of the Peninsular War. It was first published in instalments in Blackwoods Magazine and then as a book in 1825. It purports to be fiction but is clearly autobiographical.

In 1816 Gleig bowed to his father’s wishes and went on half pay. He took up his scholarship at Oxford, graduated and took holy orders in 1820. So far, so conventional. Gleig’s second book was far from conventional. The Stranger’s Grave (1823) is an account of an incestuous affair whose anti-hero says, “There is not a crime of which man or devil can be guilty, that I have not committed.” Wikipedia claims that “Gleig’s authorship of this work was proved beyond doubt by research into Longman’s archives” but give no clues about where or when this research was published. Patrick Bridgwater attributes it to Thomas de Quincey in De Quincey’s Gothic Masquerade. You can also find it listed on line with Henry Villiers given as the author. Such are the perils of anonymity.

From 1822 Gleig was Rector of Ivy Church, a living worth £250 a year, rather more than most clergymen enjoyed, so presumably his immense output of books wasn’t spawned by financial need. He published far too many books for me to list. There were three major works of theology as well as two volumes of sermons. There was fiction such as The Country Curate and The Chronicles of Waltham. There were histories. There were immense tombstone biographies of men like Sir Thomas Munro and Warren Hastings.

This last was described by Lord Macaulay as “three big, bad volumes, full of undigested correspondence and undiscerning panegyric,” an opinion I don’t find it necessary to include when cataloguing the book.

More interesting were two books “edited” by Gleig. These are The Only Daughter (1839) and Katherine Randolph (1842), both by Harriette Campbell, both anonymous.

The Wikipedia article on Gleig says “of the author Harriette Campbell, we know very little as Gleig refuses to tell.” Actually we know a great deal about the author. There is a long obituary of her on page 544 of Gentleman’s Magazine for May 1841 which can be found on line. Also on page vii of his preface to Katherine Randolph Gleig names “his dear departed friend” who had died of influenza in Switzerland. There are any number of reasons why a delicate 21 year old (as she was when her first book was published) might follow Jane Austen’s lead and write anonymously. So sorry – no conspiracy.

Gleig was that rare thing, an agreeable human being. Given that, it’s slightly surprising he contrived to be a good friend of the Duke of Wellington.

Wellington painted by George Hayter in 1839

Gleig met Wellington in 1829 presumably while researching his Lives of the Most Eminent Military Commanders published in 1831. The Duke was however an admirer of The Subaltern long before that. Most unusually he wrote to Gleig suggesting he dedicate the 1826 second edition to him. After Wellington’s death, Gleig translated Brialmont’s biography of the great man and also wrote a biography himself. In the 1830s Gleig was a frequent guest at Walmer Castle, the duke’s residence as Warden of the Cinque Ports, and accompanied him to church at St Mary’s where the Duke would “fall asleep snoring loudly” whenever the sermon failed to command his attention. The two men were agreed on most issues, including opposition to the Reform Act. They parted company over army education which Gleig favoured. The Duke fulminated about school masters and mutiny but the friendship survived.

It was thanks to the Duke that Gleig was appointed chaplain of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The appointment was confirmed by the new Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, a Whig. Grudgingly, Frasers’ Magazine commented in September 1834:

There is every sign that Gleig was popular amongst the Chelsea Pensioners. He gave sermons beneath the flag of the 1st Harford Light Dragoons captured at Bladensburg, a battle in which he himself had been wounded in the thigh. Today you’ll find it frequently stated that the flag was captured by the 85th and that Gleig was wounded in the process. No such claim is made in Barrett’s History which gives a detailed account of the battle based mainly on Gleig’s journal. Can it be that the excited whisperings of Chelsea Pensioners have turned into historical fact?

Gleig expended much time and effort listening to old soldiers and writing up their memories. Two full length books that he published are The Light Dragoon and The Hussar, autobiographies respectively of George Farmer and Norbert Landsheit. In his ‘advertisement’ to the second, Gleig describes his method, “our practice was that my friend Landsheit came to me every morning, and told his tale until one or two o’clock in the day; after which I wrote – being sometimes unable to keep pace with him, even though I repeatedly encroached upon the short hours of the night.” Truly a workaholic. There are more old soldiers’ memories to be found in his Chelsea Hospital and its Traditions, a three volume work published in 1838.

Gleig went on to become Inspector General of Military Schools and Chaplain General of the Forces. He was happily married and had hordes of children. He went on churning out books well into the 1870s.

To receive other blogs in this series go to the top of this page and press ‘BLOG’. On the new page go to the bottom right and press ‘follow’.