Nov 292014

Because 29th November is the anniversary of one of the most shameful episodes in our maritime and commercial history I make no apology for repeating a post I first made three years ago when I first started blogging.

Two hundred and thirty-three years ago in September, a heavily laden ship had edged its way out of harbour on the west African coast and headed for the Caribbean. The ship, originally known as Zorg but re-named the Zong after it was captured from the Dutch, was under the command of one Captain Luke Collingwood. The vessel belonged to a group of merchants from Liverpool headed by Messrs Gregson and Chase (both of them former mayors of that city). Over-laden and under-provisioned, the Zong sailed for two months. The Captain fell out with the First Mate and relieved him of his duties, but then fell ill and was unable to continue as Captain.The First Mate declined to have anything to do with the matter, since he had been sacked, and it was left to the ship’s sole commercial passenger to take over the navigation. He had no idea where he was or how to navigate properly. Conditions on board were not helped by the fact that the vessel was hopelessly off course and  the journey took considerably longer longer than planned. Sickness broke out and seven of the crew died of disease. But in time the Captain recovered, and he resumed command and eventually brought the ship to its intended destination.

But that is just half the picture, on account of what happened while the Zong was still at sea.  ‘The merchandise’ on board consisted of 442 slaves, manacled and wedged into appalling conditions. 60 of them had died, and of the remainder many were sick, malnourished and liable to die before they could be sold. In any case, they were in such a poor condition that they would not fetch a good price. So on 29 November 1781 the Captain called his crew together and explained that if they did nothing, and allowed ‘the merchandise’ to die on board, the owners would lose money. But if they simply jettisoned the sick they could claim compensation from the insurers at a rate of thirty pounds a head. The justification which the ship’s owners would give to the Insurers was that there was insufficient water and provisions on board to keep the slaves alive.

 Slave Ship Zong

And so it was that the crew seized 55 of the sick, and callously threw them overboard. The next day a further 42 were drowned. At this point the ship encountered rainy weather, which topped up the reserves of water, but that did not stop the Captain ordering a further 26 sick slaves to be thrown overboard on the first day of December. Another ten slaves broke free and deliberately jumped over the side of the Zong, preferring to take their own lives in an act of defiance rather than allow the crew to make that decision for them. In all 133 people were left to drown (in fact one managed to get back on board) in the name of commercial profit. It was indeed a shameful, horrendous episode, and one which scars our reputation for justice and the Rule of Law.

It is amazing to realize that in the eyes of the law, it was not murder, nor even wrong-doing. The Captain was never even tried for it – the court case which followed the massacre was based upon the claim made by the owners against the insurers, who argued that as the slaves had been killed deliberately, they should not have to pay up. The insurers lost and then appealed, pointing out that, far from running out of water, the Zong still had 420 gallons of water on board when she finally docked in Jamaica just before Christmas.

Unbelievably, when the case went before the Court of Exchequer Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice said: ‘The matter left to the jury was whether it was necessary that the slaves were thrown into the sea, for they had no doubt that the case of slaves was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard.”

The words of the Solicitor General are chilling: “What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew. To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.”

I have read and re-read those words, of one of the country’s most prominent lawyers of the day, and still find them astonishing. Not just because the slaves were denied all humanity, but because the man who sent them to their death could be held ‘in the highest regard’, not deserving censure of any kind. But then, it is not the first time that the Law appears to have been written to protect those with property, rather than to safeguard the rights of those who do not!

The case provoked an outrage, the starting point of a backlash against the slave trade which resulted, 24 years later, in Parliament banning the trade. It was known not as the’ Zong Massacre’, but as the ‘Zong Affair’, because the law simply did not see the killing as unlawful, merely the right of a captain to decide what he did with his cargo.


JMW Turner ‘Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon coming on.’ helped convey the horror of the massacre.

Fittingly, there is now an underwater memorial  off the coast of Grenada in the West Indies to all the  slaves drowned during the notorious Middle Passage:

a slave

Nov 202014

MikeRendell portrait June 2014It’s a red letter day for me – my new book entitled ” An Illustrated Introduction to the Georgians” has been published by those lovely people at Amberley, and it is already available both in paperback and on Kindle, via Amazon.

Why an introduction? Well, I am sure there are people out there who perhaps slept through most of their History lectures at school, especially when they were all about some loony German kings, all called George and none of them with a sense of humour. Now they may have moved on, to appreciate the finer things in life such as the novels of Jane Austen, and may be interested in finding out more about what happened,when it happened, and who made it happen etc. It is, as they say, ‘lavishly illustrated’ which is another way of saying I had to lay my hands on the best part of a hundred pictures, for which I am eternally grateful to people like the staff at the Lewis Walpole Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale Center for British Art.

What do I like about it? Well, it is not too heavy (I can’t stand a book which I cannot read in a single session, which means that War and Peace is a definite no-no. The trouble is I often read in the bath, which means that I get wrinkles on my wrinkles if the book is too long!). So this one fits the bill exactly. Oh, and it has quite a few Gillray and Rowlandson cartoons, as you would expect, and the text has been broken up with boxed-out sections every so often so that I can give a bit more detail about things which take my fancy. It makes it easy to read if, like me, you have the attention span of a gnat.

I would have loved to have done it without mentioning a single King called George, but it proved impossible and anyway, they do kind of help it all hang together. So do I recommend it as a Christmas present? You bet, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? But at under a tenner it is excellent value, and if nothing else will come in very handy as a means of adjusting a wobbly table leg, swatting flies, or generally just finding out a bit about those amazing Georgians. Did I manage to cram in  the entire history in a hundred pages? Of course not. Did I include every one of the giants who strode across the stage in the Eighteenth Century? No, but then it wouldn’t have been an introduction. I hope you will find it fun, and readable fun at that, and if you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, you should be in for a good Christmas!

The link to the UK arm of Amazon is here. Checking the site gives details of the book here but it suggests that the book is not yet available for sale, but where the UK leads, America and the rest of the world is sure to follow very soon!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:The GEORGIANS

Nov 162014

As the founder of The Times died 202 years ago today I thought I would repeat a post I originally did a couple of years back:


John Walter was  born in London in 1739. At the age of sixteen he became a coal merchant and then decided to dabble in marine insurance as an underwriter at Lloyds of London. In 1799 he was to claim ‘I was twelve years an underwriter in Lloyds Coffee House, and subscribed my name to six millions of property; but was weighed down, in common with above half those who were engaged in the protection of property, by the host of foes this nation had to combat in the American war’

Another story has it that the final straw was when a hurricane hit Jamaica in 1785. It was certainly a bad time to be in the insurance business – he lost a packet and filed for bankruptcy. He was looking around for a new venture when he remembered a contact called Henry Johnson who had patented a new form of type-setting called logography. Johnson claimed that it was  faster and more accurate than conventional typesetting because it allowed more than one letter – sometimes whole words and short phrases – to be set at a time. John Walter purchased Johnson’s patent and decided to start a printing company. He purchased premises in Printing House Square – formerly the site of a Black Friars Monastery – which had been empty since 1770. On 17th May 1784 Walter issued an advertisement which ran as follows: ‘Logographic Office, Blackfriars. Mr. Walter begs leave to inform the public that he has purchased the printing-house formerly occupied by Mr. Basket, near Apothecaries’ Hall, which will be opened the first day of next month for printing by words entire, under his Majesty’s patent’

To begin with, Walter printed books – some forty different titles including a version of Robinson Crusoe –  but he figured that logography would be well suited to printing newspapers and came up with the idea of a daily advertising sheet, which he called the Daily Universal Register. It hit the streets of London on 1st January 1785 . He was primarily concerned with advertising revenue: “The Register, in its politics, will be of no party. Due attention should be paid to the interests of trade, which are so greatly promoted by advertisements.”

He was up against eight other dailies in the capital and like them he included parliamentary reports, and news from abroad. He soon realized that logography was not the answer –  it was not necessarily faster than other methods but it showed Walter that there was money to be made out of newspapers, not least when he agreed an under-the-table payment of £300 p.a. from the Government of the day in return for running pro-Government stories. He decided on a re-launch, and on 1st January 1788 ‘The Times’ rolled off the press. Hardly a propitious background to a newspaper which was later to lay claim to editorial independence, with the nick-name ‘the Thunderer’!

Under John Walter’s control The Times developed an increasing emphasis on scandal and gossip about well-known Society figures. Profits were helped by back-handers made by politicians and the like, all keen to keep their scandals out of his paper and willing to pay for the suppression of the truth. These profits in turn enabled the paper to make large payments to its news-gatherer and writers, leading to increasingly scandalous revelations.

One such story concerned the Prince of Wales. Walter was prosecuted for libel (then a criminal offence) and fined £50 and sentenced to two years in Newgate Prison. The libel appears to have consisted in the statement that the prince and two of his brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Cumberland, were ‘insincere’ in their expressions of joy at the King George III’s recovery. Walters served sixteen months in prison but managed to continue editing the paper despite being incarcerated. When Walter emerged from prison the paper grew increasingly popular and influential as it developed its network of news-gathering throughout the continent of Europe. 




                                                                                                                                   The front page of The Times  of 4th December 1788

In 1803, John Walter handed over the business to his son (of the same name). John Walter II inherited a tradition of accepting handouts from Government ministers but quickly scrapped this in favour of his own news-gathering service. The Times took an independent, pro-reform line. Technology was seen as being of vital  importance and in 1817 Walter installed a steam powered printing machine able to produce 7000 copies a day. In the same year Thomas Barnes was appointed editor. Barnes campaigned constantly for political reform and although the price (originally two and a half pence but with tax this rose to seven pence) meant that it was beyond the reach of many, The Times quickly established a large readership based on its popularity in lending libraries and public reading rooms.

On 7th March, 1832 Sir Robert Peel argued before parliament that  The Times  was the “principal and most powerful advocate of Reform” in Britain. That year saw the passing of the Reform Act , an event which The Times called  the “greatest event of modern history.” The paper also campaigned in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, arguing that the six farm workers from Tolpuddle in Dorset should never have been charged for ‘administering illegal oaths’ and, when they were found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation, launched a campaign to reprieve the six.

All in all a strange background: born as a scandal-sheet, funded as a government mouthpiece, shamed by illegal payments, and dominated by left-wing pro-trade-unionist leanings – it nevertheless emerged with a reputation for supporting the Establishment.

John Walter senior was  adept at sailing close to the wind, shady dealings, dishonest reporting and the like (Mr Murdoch would surely have found him a most  engaging character). He died in Teddington Middlesex on 16th November 1812. He appears to have married in May 1759. His wife, Frances, was to die on 30th January 1798 having had at least six children, two of whom followed John into the business.

So there we have it: a newspaper launched as The Times 226 years ago, and now part of News International. Some might argue that not much has changed in 226 years…. a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même  choseto quote Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr….

Nov 152014

The artist George Romney died on the  fifteenth day of November 1802. In his lifetime he became one of the most fashionable portrait painters of the Georgian era, so I thought I would repeat a post I did three years ago:

Romney is perhaps best remembered for painting more than fifty portraits of Nelson’s mistress Emma Hamilton. He first met her as Emma Hart in around 1781. He became pre-occupied with her, painting her over and over again, often from memory, and often in heroic or historical guises such as Joan of Arc. He referred to her as his ‘divine Emma’

File:Emma, Lady Hamilton by George Romney.jpg                             File:George Romney - Emma Hart in a Straw Hat.jpg
A provocative little minx, to be sure, but I rather prefer Romney as the master of the ‘Lady in a Flamboyant Hat’ style of painting – to my mind, a fine hat makes for a fine portrait and you cannot get much better than some of these:

Mrs Musters                     

George Romney’s portrait of   Mrs Musters  (L)                           and Miss Constable (R).


Lady Edward Bentinck (born Elizabeth Cumberland).   a bentinck

Lady Milnes, painted in 1788    George Romney | Lady Milnes | 1788

He occasionally painted his sitters without a hat, sometimes making do with a tiara, as here with his 1770 portrait of Mary White.

But I prefer ‘Mrs Tickell at Ascott’ – this is what I call a hat! 
Personally I find his endless fascination with Emma somewhat cloying and unrealistic. If only he had stuck at what he was really good at – millinery. Here are a couple more:
Mrs Robert Trotter of Bush, 1788-9, courtesy of Tate Modern

Mrs Robert Trotter of Bush, 1788-9, courtesy of Tate Modern

Portrait of a lady - and a hat!

Portrait of a lady – and a hat!

Romney had a somewhat unusual family life – he lived apart from his wife for nearly forty years, maintaining her financially in the Lake District while he was based in London, but returning to her for the last two  years of his life when his health started to fail. He steadfastly refused to have anything at all to do with the Royal Academy, despite being asked to exhibit there on many occasions, possibly because of his aversion to anything at all which was connected to Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom he loathed. For that alone, he deserves to be celebrated.
                        File:George Romney - Portrait de l'artiste.jpg A self-portrait.
Farewell, George Romney, you faithfully recorded the Age in which you lived. Especially the hats. We remember you with fondness on the anniversary of your death.
Nov 112014

A Master of Ceremonies Bath lwlpr08640 Rowlandson 1795Coming across this Thomas Rowlandson sketch on the Lewis Walpole site reminded me of the important role played by the Master of Ceremonies at venues such as Bath. If you went to a ball you couldn’t just go and chat up a bird you fancied – you had to be introduced. And that was one of the functions of the Master of Ceremonies – to vet the attendees, decide who they were appropriate to be introduced to, and later, to effect those introductions so that the evening would be a success. I imagine it was sometimes a case of “mix and match” – a title needed money, and vice versa, while on other occasions it was mixing “like with like”.

I am indebted to the Austenonly site here for the explanation of the MoC role, given by Joseph Moser in 1807. It was their function to:

“… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions.  He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands:  but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.”  (See  The Sports of Ancient LondonThe Sporting Magazine. )

The print dates from 1795 and shows Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies, effecting an introduction of a gentleman who is clearly no longer in the first flush of youth, to a pair of ladies who definitely should only be seen by dim candlelight!

1Richard Tyson had been MoC of the New Rooms at Bath for a number of years. Since 1771 there were two separate rooms – in time, the New (upper) Rooms had a separate MoC from the (original) Lower Rooms – a far cry from when there was but one “King” of Bath, in the form of Beau Nash, who was in sole charge of proceedings  from  1704 until  around 1760.

According to Wikipedia “He  (Nash) would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers).”  Not bad for a days work!

It does seem a bit hard therefore, that when he died the long-serving, long suffering Beau Nash ended up in an unmarked paupers grave. He had been a prodigious gambler, with enormous debts. Because of those debts he was forced to move in to the home of  his mistress Juliana Popjoy. The poor girl was so distraught when he died in 1761 that she apparently went to live in a large hollowed out tree. Which is entirely proper for the 18th Century, because of course that is what one did when  feeling bereft and lonely!

Meanwhile, my thanks to Master Rowlandson for a rather lovely piece of observation of the manners, etiquette and style of Bath in its Georgian grandeur. Nice one!

The Celebrated Miss Murray, c British Museum

The Celebrated Miss Murray, shown courtesy of the  British Museum



Post script: when I started this blog I was unaware that Beau Nash figured so prominently in the early years of the illustrious harlot Fanny Murray. Orphaned as a 12 year old, selling flowers and nosegays on the streets of Bath, she had been seduced by  John Spencer. He was a notorious rake – and the grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. He left the poor girl as soon as he had had his wicked way with her, leaving her with little alternative but to make her living as a street-walker. Enter the 66 year-old Beau Nash, who took a fancy to the scrap of a girl (she was just 14) and invited her to come and live with him as his mistress. Which she did, for a couple of years before moving on to greater things in London. She became one of the most famous courtesans of the Eighteenth Century, a fashion icon who rose from the depths of  being a ‘dress lodger’ (working as a prostitute to pay the exorbitant charges imposed by a bawd for the  use of clothing) to being the  mistress of  John Montagu, 4th Earl Sandwich. It was Sandwich who introduced her to the notorious Hellfire Club …

In time she achieved married respectability, but not before being an inspiration for the character of Fanny Hill in John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, published in 1748. Her reputation was also to feature in the trial of John Wilkes for obscenity – he was charged with having published An Essay on Woman ( a parody of Pope’s Essay on Man). It was  dedicated to Fanny, and opened with the immortal words “Awake, my Fanny…”

Which brings me to when I first came to hear of Fanny Murray, because both Fanny and the John Wilkes trial will feature in my next book “Sex, Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians”. Now all I have to do is write it……

Nov 072014

travel 3Richard Hall kept meticulous details of his travels around the country. He recorded the mileage, he recorded the length of journey and whether he had a meal, he recorded the route and the turnpike tolls, and he recorded the weather on the trip! And at the end of the journey he generally wrote in his diary that “through Journey’s Mercies” he had been spared to reach his destination!

The point is: travel was still something of an ordeal in the 1780’s. It would take him two days to get from the Cotswolds, where he lived, to central London, where he had his business. Two days of rattling, bone-shaking discomfort, sitting cheek-by-jowl with people he probably would have preferred not to have been sitting next to!

Here is his separate note-book of distances, includ1 travel 001ing the 13 mile trip from Bath to Bristol, and  the 85 mile trip from Bourton-on-the-Water to London. On another page he recorded that the  journey back from London cost him £5/2/00 ( the equivalent of some £400). Why? Because he came back by private chaise. The hire of the chaises came to £4/3/08; he paid eleven shillings to the drivers; six shillings and fourpence for turnpike tolls; and a not very generous one shilling to the “hostler” (ie the ostler – the man who looked after the horses).

He would have followed his route on one of the splendid linear maps printed by Bowles and Co – this is one showing the journey between Banbury and Bristol.

travel 1Unfortunately I do not have the diary recording Richard’s trip to Paris with his new bride, from thirty years earlier. A shame – I have his guide book dated 1750 which gives fascinating detail of which  vessels to charter for  your crossing to Calais, how to hire a coach in France, and so on. It includes the warning that you should always have with you “a small collation of Cold Meat, and two or three Bottles of Wine to serve you in the passage” ie across the Channel. You should especially take care to ensure that the plumbing on your trunk (ie the lead seal affixed by the Customs Officer) should not be broken. It was best to hire a French guide – but he would be too proud to carry any of your luggage (“nothing larger than a small hand-basket”) so you would have to pay ten pence per item (“one livre”) to a surly French porter.

8The  guide advises you that the French will try and rip you off at every turn, and is particularly scathing about French horses (“one, sometimes two, of the three horses are not  much bigger or stronger than a large Greyhound”). Making sure that the trunks are tied down properly was vital – so that they did not go walkies when you stopped. The guide warns “a good deal of strong cordage will be wanted to fasten your Trunks behind the Chaise… for you’ll else be made to pay a price for it there and then which will make you amazed, perhaps five or six livres for what will cord on a Couple of middling trunks.”

The guide sets out some vital information. For instance, the Bulls Head at Abbe Ville had good champagne, and even better, the stop at Luzarche involved “Good things – and a handsome Landlady.” Stay at Amiens and you could get both the good champagne AND a merry Landlady – though no mention of whether she was handsome. Well, even in those days, perhaps you couldn’t have everything….

Mind you, it was important to avoid being robbed  while passing through France. As Horace Walpole wrote to the Honourable  Henry Seymour Conway on 28 September 1774:
” Let me give you one other caution …. Take care of your papers at Paris, and have a very strong lock to your porte-feuille. In the h`otels garnis they have double keys to every lock, and examine every drawer and paper of the English they can get at. They will pilfer, too, whatever they can. I was robbed of half my clothes there the first time, and they wanted to hang poor Louis to save the people of the house who had stolen the things.”   Tut-tut, such bigotry! But then,  the French were as bad about us: they generally opined that you could not walk down any street in London without having your pocket picked and your watch stolen…

More about  travel, and what Richard  packed, and the perils of eating French food, can be found in “The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman”.