Category Archives: 1800s

The man who earned the first Victoria Cross

It was on Wednesday 21st June 1854 that 20 year old Charles Davis Lucas won the first Victoria Cross. He came from County Monaghan in Ireland and had joined the Royal Navy when he was thirteen. Now twenty, he was a Mate on HMS Hecla as part of an Anglo-French fleet at the eastern end of the Baltic bombarding the Russian fortress of Bomarsund.  The fortress mounted some eighty massive guns and, as HMS Hecla drew closer to Bomarsund, a live shell landed on the Hecla’s deck and lay there, smoking evilly and obviously about to go off, to murderous effect.

Charles Lucas coolly picked the shell up, carried it to the ship’s side and dropped it into the sea, where it exploded with a huge bang and a giant fountain of spray. Lucas was promoted to lieutenant from that day and his was the first act of heroism to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The medal was not actually instituted until 1856, but it was made retroactive to cover the Crimean War. Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the decoration which bore her name and it was she who suggested the words ‘For Valour’ beneath the medal’s bronze Maltese cross – rather than ‘For the Brave’, which she pointed out could be taken to imply that other people were not.

Charles Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are now displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They are not the original medals though – they were left on a train and never recovered!  Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.

The crosses were actually made of metal from Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol. It was a crucial innovation that the medal was awarded completely regardless of rank and on no consideration other than a single act of valour or devotion in the presence of the enemy.

Many years later the writer C.S.Forester used this incident to good effect in one of his Hornblower stories.

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The steamship Great Eastern’s first voyage.

The steamship Great Eastern was built to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refueling.  However – for its first long distance journey it had been arranged that it would leave Southampton about 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, 16th June 1860 to cross the Atlantic to New York.  There were large crowds at Southampton to watch – but when 4 o’clock arrived nothing happened!  At 7 o’clock the steam began and everyone got ready to cheer.  Nothing happened!  There were stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!  It was not until 8 o’clock on this Sunday morning 17th June 1860, after a night at it’s moorings, that the Great Eastern finally slipped her moorings in Southampton waters and started on her first voyage to America.  The newspapers of the day note that she had just 35 paying passengers on board – 2 or 3 of who were ladies!   There were also eight company non-paying passengers, and a crew of 418. Among the passengers were two journalists; two engineers – Zerah Colburn and Alexander Lyman Holley –- and three directors of the Great Ship Company.

Although the weather was described as ‘thick and stormy’ it was recorded that she ‘threaded the narrow and tortuous channel down the Solent, and through the Needles, in safety, under the pilot-age of Mr Bowyer’.

Various telegrams give us a deeper understanding of the delays and departure.  One says ‘The weather was far too thick and stormy to render it prudent for her to have got away last night’.  Perhaps it is as well she didn’t, as on passing Hurst Castle a ‘large troop ship could be plainly distinguished stuck fast among the rocks near the Needles.’

There are, though, also stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!

On the water for the first time – Oxford vs Cambridge and a Boat Race

It was on Wednesday 10th June 1829 that the first Oxford University vs Cambridge University boat race took place.  It was rowed over a two and a quarter mile course from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge.  The Morning Post of 12th June 1829 reported:

THE GRAND ROWING MATCH BETWEEN OXONIANS AND THE CANTABS: This match, between the Students of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge took place on Wednesday afternoon in Henley Reach. The interest excited was very great, and the contest was remarkably severe. Both parties exerted themselves to the utmost. For some time the issue was very doubtful; but Victory ultimately decided in favour of the Oxonians.

We now [2018] have had 164 races completed – one was a dead-heat; 80 have been won by Oxford and 83 by Cambridge.

Just in passing – I’m a Cambridge man but I’ve never rowed a boat.  I have watch many of the races though – sitting in front of the television!

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

From The Weekly Telegraph 1905

I must admit that I do not know the actual source of the following but it is from a very reliable friend of mine who ‘published’ it in our Family History magazine quite some time ago.

Issue no. 2272 – Estab. 1862      Saturday 28th October 1905     Postage One Penny

                                                               Deceased Wife’s Sister
He: “I can’t understand why an Englishman always wants to marry his deceased wife’s sister”

She:  “Why? I should have thought anyone could see.  It saves him the bother of breaking in a new mother-in-law.”

The gunfights I had as a child – but don’t worry too much about the heading

Yesterday – 26th October 1881 – was the day of the gunfight at the OK Corral; the most famous – or was it infamous – shoot out in the Wild West.  It took place in Tombstone, Arizona when the Earp family [Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan] had a shoot-out with the Clantons [Ike, Phineas and Billy] and the McLaurys [Tom and Frank].

The sight of this gunfight is now a tourist attraction with life-size replicas of the combatants and a daily re-enactment of the 30-second exchange of bullets that have resounded through history and captured the imagination of cowboy enthusiasts the world over.

I was one of those ‘cowboys’ here in England back in the 1940s and, maybe, into the early 1950s.  My children – and grandchildren – just look blankly at me when I tell them of the ‘battles’ I had when I was their age.

Do you have any situations like this? I’d love to hear about them if you have.

I can but hope!

In 1948 the Grey Walls Press in London published a book, edited by S. L. Locker, called ‘The Nature Diaries and Notebooks of Richard Jefferies’.

For Saturday 16th October 1878 Richard is in Surbiton, Surrey and records a fascinating scene: ‘Wasp and very large blue-fly struggling, wrestling on leaf.  In a few seconds the wasp got the mastery, brought his tail round, and stung once or thrice; then bit off the fly’s proboscis, then the legs, then bit behind the head, then snipped off the wings, then fell off her leaf, but flew with burden to the next, rolled the fly around, and literally devoured its intestines.  Dropped off the leaf in its eager haste, got on third leaf, and continued ‘till nothing was left but a small part of the body – the head had been snipped off before.

This was one of those black flies – a little blue underneath – not like meat flies, but bigger and squarer, that got to the ivy.  Ivy in bloom close by, where, doubtless, the robber found his prey and seized it.

Now, I spend a reasonable amount of time in my garden, and watch all kinds of birds and insects, but have never seen anything like this.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m watching and writing in 2017.  The book was published in 1948 and this recorded event took place in 1878.  Do you think that if I watch in my garden in 2018 I may see something similar?

What does the morning bring forth for Queen Victoria & Albert?

Yesterday evening we left Queen Victoria, her husband Albert and their ‘team’ settling down to sleep after far from exciting food yesterday.  So what did Wednesday, 9th October 1861 bring forth for the Royal couple?  Queen Victoria tells us that…

It was a bright morning which was charming.  Albert found, on getting up, that Cluny MacPherson, with his piper and two ladies, had arrived quite early in the morning; and, while we were dressing, we heard a drum and fife – and discovered that the newly-formed volunteers had arrived – all indicating that we were discovered.  However, there was scarcely any population, and it did not signify.  The fat old landlady had put on a black satin dress, with white ribbons and orange flowers!

We had breakfast at a quarter to nine o’clock; at half-past nine we started.  Cluny was at the door with his wife and daughters with nosegays, and volunteers were drawn up in front of the inn.  They had all assembled since Saturday afternoon.

We drove as we did yesterday.  There was fine and very wild scenery, high wild hills, and no habitations.

We’ll leave the pair now as they enjoy the Scottish landscape,

A Queen and her husband don’t quite get what they expected.

It was Tuesday 8th October 1861 and Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Albert her husband, are in Inverness-shire, Scotland and heading for their evening abode. She writes in her diary:

It became cold and windy with occasional rain. At length, and not till a quarter to nine, did we reach the inn of Dalwhinnie – 29 miles from where we had left our ponies – which stands by itself, away from any village.

Here, again (as yesterday), there were a few people assembled, and I thought they knew us; but it seems they did not, and it was only when we arrived that one of the maids recognised me.

She had seen me at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  We went upstairs: the inn was much larger than at Fettercairn, but not nearly so nice and cheerful; there was a drawing-room and a dining-room; and we had a good-sized bed-room.

Albert had a dressing-room of equal size.  Mary Andrews [a wardrobe-maid] who was very useful and efficient and Lady Churchill’s maid had a room together, every one being in the house; but unfortunately there was hardly anything to eat, and two miserable starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes!  No pudding, and no fun; no little maid [the two there not wishing to come in], nor our two people – who were wet and drying our, and their, things – to wait on us!  It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet.  As it was late we soon retired to rest.

Mary and Maxted [Lady Churchill’s maid] had been dining below with Grant, Brown, and Stewart [who came, the same as last time, with the maids] in the ‘commercial room’ at the foot of the stairs.  They had only the remains of our two starved chickens!

I wonder what the morrow will bring. 

Dorothy Wordsworth walking and talking in England’s Lake District,

It is Tuesday 2nd October 1849 and Dorothy Wordsworth is in Grasmere in England’s Lake District. It would appear to be a semi-planned time as she writes into her diary:

‘A very rainy morning.  We walked after dinner to observe the torrents.  I followed William to Rydale, he afterwards went to Butterlip How.  I came home to receive the Lloyds.  They walked with us to see Churnmilk force and the Black quarter.  The black quarter looked marshy, and the general prospect was cold, but the Force was very grand.

We also find an interesting conversation regarding the manners of the rich of the country.  These are described as avaricious and greedy for gain while having the effeminacy, unnaturalness and the unworthiness of their kind.

I don’t think Dorothy liked the upper-crust of Britain’s rich!