A monumental source of eye-witness information on the Victorian age

Where did Charles Dickens go when he needed first hand information on London street merchants? Of course, he went out with detectives as they made their rounds but what if he needed to know about the street people who worked out of  Covent Garden, or the teachers who taught for little or no wages in the so-called “ragged schools” which often consisted of a large, unheated room and rowdy children of all ages? Dickens probably turned to the source that thousands have used: Henry Mayhew’s monumental work of oral history, London Labour and the London Poor.

During the 1840s and 1850s, Mayhew interviewed hundreds of London’s poorest people. He talked to flower girls, who, having nothing, sold little bouquets of violets that they tied up out of broken flowers they found on the pavement. He spoke with costermongers who sold bruised fruit and vegetables at prices the poor could afford. He described in detail their brightly painted carts pulled by small donkeys in fancy reins and saddles, and even talked about the special bond between the costers and  their animals. He described the “medicines” sold by “mountebanks” and the fake posters that purported to be the “last words and confessions” of executed murderers (very popular items). There were vendors of printed cards detailing “the professor’s system” for improving memory and learning languages.

The “casual” dock workers who gathered at the “cage” at the end of Nightingale Lane and were later a force in the politics of the metropolis were subjects of Mayhews’ pen. London “jarveys” or cab drivers are described, how they slept in their cabs while their horses slept standing up. What they wore, how they spoke, a host of eyewitness details that we could never  know if not for Mayhew. As Thackery wrote, Mayhew provides us  with “a picture of human life so wonderful, so awful, so piteous and pathetic, so exciting and terrible, that readers of romances own they never read anything like it.” Readers will think they have picked up a Dore illustration from a Dickens novel, drawn even more vividly than the master illustrator.

This magnificent work of social oral history is available in many editions. It used to be only Dover who printed it. But no more! It is truly a masterpiece that is not  to be missed.

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Who was Jack the Ripper?


According to Dr. Thomas E.A. Stowell, he was a member of the Royal family, Dr. Stowell claimed he had seen evidence that Jack the Ripper was Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Of course, others have mentioned the artist, Walter Sickert. The true crime writer Patricia Cornwell tore apart one of his paintings to prove it, but couldn’t. But for me the most conclusive statement ever made was that of the lead detective on the case, Frederick Abberline. He was not only an excellent and thorough investigator but he told Ike Godley, the man who took over from him, that Ike “had finally got Jack the Ripper.”

So who was he talking about?

The year was 1893, and at Wandsworth Prison a man had just been hung for murdering his wife when Detective Abberline made his remark. The executed man was named Stanislaw Kosloski and was also known as George Chapman. He had been trained in Poland as a surgeon, and therefore had the skill necessary to have performed the grotesque murders attributed to the Ripper. He also lived in the area where the Ripper murders took place.

Kosloski had actually been questioned during the investigation but was released. And if Abberline’s remark doesn’t impress you, take a look at Mr. Kosloski.


Stanislaw Kosloski

To me, he looks like a killer. What do you think? To learn about other Ripper “solutions” click the link to my website: http://www.hudsonhousemysteries.com/south.php

Posted in 19th Century London, Jack the Ripper, Josephine Butler, spiritualism, Spiritualism & Psychics, Uncategorized, victorian London | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria

The Queen’s Official Jubilee Portrait

In Her usual thorough and efficient way, Queen Elizabeth II, has given  her subjects all the information about Royal Diamond Jubilees that anyone could desire. She has taken Queen Victoria’s own journals and posted them on the internet. I don’t know how long they will be up, so don’t miss it. As the present Queen explains:

“These diaries cover the period from Queen Victoria’s childhood days to her Accession to the Throne, marriage to Prince Albert, and later, her Golden and Diamond Jubilees.

Thirteen volumes in Victoria’s own hand survive, and the majority of the remaining volumes were transcribed after Queen Victoria’s death by her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, on her mother’s instructions.”


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A hero, novelist and an Englishman who was beloved by the Indian people whose lives he improved

Philip Meadows Taylor

Few people today know the name, Philip Meadows Taylor. He came out to India when he was barely fifteen. Like many who came to the subcontinent, he had few resources in England. He did not attend Haileybury, the training school for the elite members of the  British civil service in India. He lived hand to mouth for several years before  he was employed by the Nizam of Hyderabad, largest of the princely states of India.

The Nizam was ruler of a vast region encompassing  the largest of the princely states, which included parts of present-day Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra states. Its ruler, the Nizam Osman Ali Khan was a Muslim, although over 80% of its people were Hindu. Today, the Nizam of Hyderabad, is Fifth on Forbes ‘All Time Wealthiest’ list of 2008 with Net Worth: 210.8 Billion USD. Bill Gates is twentieth, Net Worth: 101.0 Billion USD.

So how did a very young  man with no patrons or “connections” find a post with the Nizam? First, Meadows Taylor was  one of the first people to pursue the Thuggee, the cult of killers who haunted the back roads of India for centuries. If General W.H. Sleeman hadn’t rounded them up, Meadows Taylor would have.

Taylor was sent out to India to become a clerk to a Bombay merchant. On his arrival the house was in financial difficulties, and he was glad to accept in 1824 a commission in the service of his highness the Nizam, to which service he remained devotedly attached throughout his long career. He was speedily transferred from military duty to a civil appointment, and in this capacity he acquired a knowledge of the languages and the people of Southern India which has seldom been equaled. He studied the laws, the geology, the antiquities of the country; he was alternately judge, engineer, artist and man of letters, for on his return to England in 1840 on furlough he published the first of his Indian novels, Confessions of a Thug,

As a result of his experience with the Thuggee, subject of another post in upcoming months, Meadows Taylor wrote a book, Confessions of a Thug, which became a best seller in England.

Taylor worked for the Nizam for decades and when he grew old and tired and was about to leave India and go “home,” to England, thousands of the Nizam’s subjects followed him for days, sang to him and prayed, to show how highly they valued him. He was the exceptional Englishman who gave his all for India and the Indians. He built roads, reservoirs and looked for any way he could to improve the lives of the Nizam’s subjects, and they knew it.

As you can see from the image of Meadows Taylor I have posted, he was a big, powerful man with more than the ordinary share of bravery and love for his fellow man. To learn more, read Meadows Taylor’s own, Story of My Life,

Posted in 19th century India, A hero, novelist and an Englishman who was beloved by the Indian people whose lives he improved, A hero, novelist and an Englishman who was beloved by the Indian people whose lives he improved, Nizam of Hyderabad, The princely states of India | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Azimullah Khan: behind the scenes leader of the 1857 rebellion


This is a portrait, believed to be drawn from life by Richard Doyle,

uncle of Arthur Conan Doyle, of the man who stood behind the scenes

and pushed India into war: Azi mullah Khan

Much is  known about this shrewd and careful man. How, as a boy from a British charity school, he had to wait on British officers at table,  how he harboured his resentment against the British and how he spent every waking minute thinking how he could chase them out of his country. He is also dis credited with getting Tatya Tope, field commander of the rebellion, to give the order for the butchering of over 100 British women and children, an act which made the titular leader of the rebellion, Nana Sahib, totally committed to a break with the British and an act of open warfare.

Nana and Tatya Tope were the official leaders, but the shrewd, ruthless and secretive Azimullah Khan is believed by many to have been the real  leader of the rebellion. He visited London in order to try to get a pension for Nana Sahib before the rebellion broke out. He made friends, even feminine conquests, but all the while he was watching for ways he could destroy the British. On his way back to India, he stopped to observe the Crimean war and was delighted to see the British beaten so badly by their Russian foes. The British were starving, wounded and nearly destroyed. An education in their vulnerabilities for the former charity school boy.

He returned to India vowing to destroy his enemies with Nana Sahib as his cats paw.

Once the rebellion started in May 1857, Azimullah Khan disappears from the pages of history. Was he killed? Or, did he flee India with an English woman named, Clayton, as some witnesses were reputed to say?

The riddle of Azimullah Khan is one that has always fascinated me. After researching my book on Lucknow and the British Raj and based on what I’ve learned, there are a few tantalizing possibilities. He may have eluded British troops in the Terai wetlands, he may even have left the country with a woman named, Clayton. I explore these possible scenarios in my book Lucknow Shadows of Empire.

If you want to find out more

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The Music of Lucknow After the 1857 Rebellion



In the mid-nineteenth century, Lucknow, Patna and Banaras remained the centres of the lively Purab bᾱj style of sitᾱr music, while the slower and more elaborate Delhi or Masitkhani style retained prominence in the areas of Delhi and Jaipur. Calcutta would soon emerge as the melting pot of 19th century instrumental music. By the end of the century, the movement of musicians all over North India would bring both styles into the repertoire of all professional sitᾱr players. Compositions in both styles attributed to artists of the last half of the 19th century still make up much of the prized repertoire of traditional instrumentalists.

With the British takeover of Avadh (or Oudh), the departure of Wajid Ali Shah for Calcutta with a large number of musicians, and one year later the fighting and aftermath of the rebellion, Lucknow’s musical activities were more or less suspended. Karam Imam says that a musician who returned after the British takeover saw that “the connoisseurs of Lucknnow  had ceased to hold musical concerts because of fear of the new regime” (Vidyarthi 1959:26. In popular history, little is heard of Luckknow in this period. Lucknow books on music such as the “Ghunchah-i rᾱg” (Khan, N.M.A. 1879) and the “Ma’dan al-mûsiqi” (Khan, M.K.I.).*

So, once again, we can see how the British occupiers of India tried to disrupt traditional culture and reduce the glorious arts of Lucknow to a shadow of itself. Also, the art of dance and poetry would also be affected by a curtailment of music. The fact that in the twenty-first century an exhibition of Lucknow art was held in Paris and Los Angeles, shows how truly great art cannot be destroyed.

*I am indebted to Allyn Miner’s Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries for these concise and masterful comments which end with the asterisk.

To learn more about the unique courtesans of Lucknow and the splendours of the city and court.

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The Lucknow Courtesans: Indian Queens of a Golden Age


They were perhaps the least talked about women in colonial India. Yet, they were the standard bearers of a unique and exquisitely refined culture rooted in the fabled city of the Nawabs, Lucknow. Universally known as the loveliest entertainers in Asia, the Lucknow courtesans of the highest kind, known as the deradwar tuwaif, were as different from the other prostitutes of the old  city  as emeralds from mud. The nobles of the Nawabs’ court hired these women to teach their sons courtly etiquette, poetry and music. The women were trained for years, learning multiple languages, musical composition, poetic composition and the art of dance.

The greatest of the courtesans lived on the grounds of the Nawabs palaces, often given a pension for life.

The grandees of Lucknow vied with each other in  building the most beautiful (or fantastic) structures possible.

William Howard Russell of The Times, the widely traveled war correspondent,  described Lucknow while covering the 1857 Uprising: “Not Rome, not Athens, not Constantinople, not any city I have ever seen appears to me so striking and beautiful as this; and the more I gaze the more its beauties seem to grow upon me.”

The walled gardens, the golden minarets and oddly shaped buildings cast a spell on many who ventured there. Artists of all kinds from all over Asia and Europe flocked to Lucknow to tap the apparently limitless wealth of the Nawabs.

The Nawabs ( a word meaning “governor”) were Shias from Persia. They were fabulously wealthy, free spending patrons of all the arts. Architecture, music, dance and poetry all reached a high point of cultivation in Lucknow.

Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that the dredwar tuwaif, who were the most accomplished of all the city’s entertainers also became opponents of the British occupation. They were  powerful people whose power was often hidden, and as an occupying force, the British did not like this.

Recently, the beauty of the Nawabi  civilization resurfaced in an epoch making exhibition entitled: India’s fabled city: The  Art of  Courtly Lucknow. Held in both Paris and Los Angeles, this exhibition put on view many treasures created for the Nawabs.

To learn more about the unique courtesans of Lucknow and the splendours of the city and court.

With the renewed interest there have been a major exhibit launched both in North American and Europe in 2011. Everything old is new again.

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Before Superman, Batman and Wolverine was…Dick Turpin and Black Bess

We usually think of comic books as products of the twentieth century. There’s certainly nothing Victorian about them, or is there?

Actually, the modern comic book was first incarnated as a type of publication known in the Victorian era as “the Penny Dreadful.” They were cheaply printed but almost always had some kind of exciting graphic cover. This lone graphic seems pretty thin on visual  content today, but in  Victoria’s England, the lurid images were drawn and reproduced to capture the interest of working class children, usually boys, who could not afford more than a penny. Usually the stories were in serial form so that once someone started reading he or she would buy the “next number” to see what happened as the story developed.

This was also the kind of literature that Charles Dickens read as a boy. And he applied many of the lessons he learned from Roderick Random, Dick Turpin and other “dreadful heroes” to his own books. He used the serialization technique to keep people reading and buying his works. And who is more Victorian than Dickens?

“The dreadfuls” ended up in direct competition to the more expensive, larger and ambitious publication that Dickens edited, Household Words, which included fiction (usually a Dickens novel in serial form) or by one of his friends such as Wilkie Collins. The most melodramatic examples of this kind of fiction were called sensation novels because they tried to make the reader feel sensations, such as “icy fingers on the back of the neck.” This is actually how Collins described the effect he tried to create in his masterpiece, The Woman in White.

As printing got cheaper and it was possible to insert more illustrations, the “dreadfuls” reincarnated again as the great illustrated “children’s books” during the Victorian golden age of book illustration. Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson was illustrated by Howard Pyle. Arthur Rackham, one of the greatest Victorian illustrators who produced book after book of magnificent illustrations. Sadly, this type of illustrated story died out during the early 20th century but was reborn yet again in the comic book, which was often depreciated by educators and parents as “unwholesome.”

Like the Victorian illustrators, great comic book artists were highly skilled and imaginative artists who were able to draw the most difficult poses, perspectives and compositions from their own knowledge and imagination, without resorting to live models or physical props. I have fond memories of going to the office with my father and watching these talented men produce a multitude of fanciful worlds from their pencils.

So if you think the comic book or graphic novel is something new, think again. See and read some of the masterpieces of this fiction idiom,  which had its roots in the Victorian era.

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The most prominent victim of the Titanic disaster

W.T. Stead was one of the most controversial people of the Victorian age. He was a leading participant in the history of nineteenth century England. He knew George Bernard Shaw, was an outspoken Spiritualist and was a supporter of women’s rights. He used the power of his newspaper, the Pall Mall Gazette, to right what he considered to be the chief injustices of the day. When the Titanic went down, 1517 died and W.T. Stead was one of them. You could also say he was the originator  of Liza Doolittle, who later became the lead character in My Fair Lady.

You could say that Liza was born in Stead’s most outrageous series of stories: The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon: The £5 Virgin. Stead built his story around the fact that he was able to “purchase” a virgin for £5 and  have her shipped to the continent. He did this, he said, to prove that it could be done by countless traffickers in young girls who sold kidnapped girls to brothels on the continent, mostly in Brussels. The young girl, Liza Armstrong by name was supposed to be a demonstration. But many of Stead’s detractors thought otherwise and he was prosecuted in the Bow Street Police Court and the Central Criminal Court. The trial also involved a leading voice for women’s rights, Stead’s co-defendant, Josephine Butler, who had campaigned tirelessly against any laws that curtailed the rights of women. After the trial, the devout Mrs. Butler told Catherine Booth, wife of the founder of the Salvation Army, “Vengeance, horror and hatred devoured my soul. God seemed blotted out. What I knew and saw, shook  my hold on  Him.”

One of the things Mrs. Butler saw at the trial was the leading brothel keeper of London, Mrs. Jeffries who brought rotten eggs to court to throw at the defendants while she  mocked Stead and Mrs. Butler. Mrs. Jeffries also sent circulars to her clients on the floor of the House of Commons to sell her “latest imports” from other continents. No wonder the high minded Mrs. Butler was horrified. But once the trial started she was legally bound to Stead, though she was finally acquitted while Stead did jail time for his part in the “demonstration.”

So whether W.T. Stead is remembered as a crusader or a sensational reporter who manipulated public opinion is up to you. In any case, he was certainly the most prominent victim of the Titanic disaster.

Posted in 19th century child prostitution, The Titanic Disaster, victorian women's rights, women's rights,, women's rights, suffragettes, 19th century industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Opium and fabulous gems: India’s importance to the British Empire


Lithograph by Emily Eden showing one of the favourite horses of Maharaja
Ranjit Singh with the head officer of his stables and his collection of fabulous j
ewels including the Kohinoor diamond marked as number 1


India has been called, “the jewel in the crown,” but actually, this expression doesn’t go far enough. The wealth of Victoria’s England rested to a great extent on the opium, gems and other goods that India provided.

One example: England’s balance of trade with China in the 19th century was horribly out balance until the  British began cultivating and exporting opium on a massive scale. England owed China huge sums for tea. Opium redressed the imbalance. England disavowed its responsibility  for the trade by privatizing the actual transport and sale to British merchants who bought opium from the Crown in Calcutta. This way, it was not England who was responsible for the thousands of new Chinese addicts every year. It was the unknown, private merchants. Once the goods left the auction in Calcutta, the Crown didn’t know where it went. Actually nearly all of the big opium buyers were British. Their wealth formed the basis for major corporations who are some of the largest companies in Southeast Asia, today! Not that they are selling opium now. But their foundations are laid on the thousands of chests of opium they took to China from India and the government run opium factories at Patna and other places on the subcontinent. In India, opium was a government monopoly by law. No one but the Crown was allowed to cultivate and sell opium.

So, in a very real sense, much of the luxury (including countless cups of tea) that was enjoyed by the English during the 19th century was based on the government traffic in opium. Afghanistan was too wild and unstable a source of the drug in the 19th century. It had to wait for the 20th century to become the major supplier that it is today.

But there were other sources of wealth to be taken from India: spices were the original reason that the British came to India, and their value lasted right through the Victorian era. Tea came largely from China, as already mentioned but, the English began to grow their own in places like Darjeeling and other high elevations where growing conditions were right. India was a great source of precious stone. It is claimed that the nearly mythic Kohinoor diamond came, originally, from India, though it passed through the hands of Shah Shuja in Afghanistan on its way to becoming the literal jewel in the British Crown. There were also fabulous textiles and a host of precious goods the English claimed while ruling India.

The one great gift the British gave in return was a single language that allowed a diverse and scattered people to talk to each other throughout the subcontinent. There were also some very great British heroes who truly served India, such as Philip Meadows Taylor, who served the Nizam of Hyderabad for many years and helped improve the lives of the people who lived under the Nizam’s rule.

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