Friday, 22 August 2014

Captain Cook Lands on Possession Island

We have met Captain James Cook on a couple of occasions in the past, sharing the landing at Botany Bay and witnessing his murder after a disastrous foray into Hawaii's Kealakekua Bay. Today marks another anniversary for Cook, that of the discovery of Possession Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia.


Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776
Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776

Following his discovery of Botany Bay, Cook sailed on and eventually discovered a group of islands in the Torres Straits. These islands were home to the Kaurareg people and Cook eventually made landfall on an island that its inhabitants knew as Bedanug or Bedhan Lag. 

However, the Captain came ashore and raised the flag as the sunset on 22nd August, 1770, claiming the eastern coast for Britain in the name of King George III and declaring it as New South Wales.

More than two centuries later, the Kaurareg people were successful in their petition to have the native title rights of Possession Island and its neighbours returned to them in perpetuity. Today the island is celebrated for its rich flora and fauna and Cook's landing is marked by a monument on the spot where he once raised his flag and claimed the land for the king.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Rumford's Soup

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford FRS (Woburn, America, 26th March 1753 – Paris, France, 21st August 1814)

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford
Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford

Today marks the anniversary of the death of physicist Benjamin Thompson, a much-decorated gentleman who lived a life that could never be called dull. He went from his birthplace of Massachussetts to England and then to Bavaria and Europe, all the time working on inventions as diverse as the drip coffeepot, the Rumford fireplace and even the occasional warship.

It is for a culinary achievement that Rumford has piqued my interest today thanks to a recipe developed by the Count in response to the poverty that he saw during his life in Bavaria. Shocked at the hunger and suffering he witnessed, Rumford prevailed upon the government to develop a system of workhouses where people might be able to eat a nourishing meal. To this end, he developed a recipe for a dish that became known as Rumford's Soup and consisted of the following ingredients:

1 part pearl barley
1 part dried (yellow) peas
4 parts potato
Salt according to need
Old, sour beer

The mixture was cooked slowly and though perhaps not delicious, provided a low cost, nutritious and simple meal.

The soup was served in the workhouses of Munich where the poor were employed to make military uniforms and though children were expected to work to earn their keep too, they were also educated and given time in which to play with their peers. At mealtime, the soup was served with rye bread and workers went back to their tasks with full bellies; in fact, the soup was adapted to serve as a basic military ration and with some amendments to recipe, remained in use by some militaries for two hundred years.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"I am going away": The Death of Charles Floyd

Charles Floyd (Kentucky, America, 1782 – Iowa, America, 20th August 1804) 
In May 1804, the famed Corps of Discovery Expedition set out to explore the uncharted west of America. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, the iconic Lewis and Clark expedition lasted for two years, four months, and ten days and today marks the anniversary of the death of the only fatality on that trip.

Charles Floyd was just 21 years old and served as the expedition's quartermaster. He kept a journal of his experiences and was well aware of the importance of the work, taking his own role extremely seriously. In late July 1804, Floyd confided in his diary that he was suffering from an unexplained illness. Although he appeared to recover, within days he was deathly ill, his condition deteriorating at a frightening speed.

The Obelisk

William Clark reported that the young man was suffering from bilious colic and bore his illness with stoicism and bravery. Clark was with him at the moment of his death, reporting his last words as, "I am going away. I want you to write me a letter."

Modern medical historians believe that Floyd died as the result of a ruptured appendix that led to peritonitis. Having suffered from both of these conditions, I cannot imagine how much Floyd must have suffered. There was certainly nothing that could be done to save him and the young quartermaster was buried atop a bluff beside the newly-named  Floyd River, a tributary of the Missouri River near what would one day become Sioux City, with full honours. A simple cedar post was driven into the ground to mark the spot of Floyd's Bluff and inscribed "Sergt. C. Floyd died here 20th of August 1804." 

In the years that followed the cedar post was whittled away by souvenir hunters and replaced on more than one occasion; eventually an obelisk was erected on the spot, a permanent memorial of Sergeant Charles Floyd.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Queen Charlotte's Diamonds

Today is the anniversary of my wedding to my colonial gentleman; it seemed right, then, to post something with a marital flavour and I settled on a rather fetching ring that was given by a King to his bride. I have a soft spot for such things as my own engagement ring met with a terrible fate that almost cost me a finger too, of which more anon.

Now on with the tale, which happily contains no gruesome accidents or jewellery disasters!

On 8th September 1761, George III married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace. The ceremony was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker and the marriage was a long and eventful one, ended only by Charlotte's death in 1818.


Queen Charlotte's Diamond Keeper Ring
Queen Charlotte's Diamond Keeper Ring

George presented Charlotte with a beautiful diamond ring to be worn alongside her wedding ring and inscribed within the band was Septr 8th 1761. The ring was a personal gift from the king and it was accompanied by bracelets, necklaces and earrings but it is the ring that appears most significant to Charlotte. From the day of her wedding to the day of her death, Charlotte never wore another ring on that finger, holding her wedding jewellery in such regard

Following Queen Charlotte's death, her jewels were divided amongst her daughters and many were sold on. The diamond ring, however, remained in the care of Charlotte, Princess Royal, and was later inherited by Queen Victoria. It remains in the Royal Collection, though I cannot help but wish it had stayed with Queen Charlotte at her death, but perhaps that's the romantic in me coming out.

I am pleased to relate that there was a happy ending to my own sorry story as the stones from my pulverised engagement ring went onto a new life as a beautiful necklace. Indeed, my gentleman was kind enough to present me with a new engagement ring too, which is now sitting happily alongside my wedding band on my happily recovered digit!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Fuddling Cups

It is a rare day of writing indeed when there is not a cup of tea at my elbow and today is no different. Being a traditional sort, I favour a cup and saucer but nothing quite like the unusual item that has caught my eye today. It is a fuddling cup and believe me, when the fuddling cup appears, merriment is never far away!

Fuddling Cups


These 1766 fuddling cups at first glance appear to be individual vessels but in fact, the cups are connected one another and are used in the commission of a drinking game. The challenge in using the cups is to drink from each without spilling your refreshment of choice and to be victorious, the canny drinker must use each cup in a specific order. Get the pattern wrong and you can be sure that your shirt will be ruined by ale!

Such games can lead to riotous nights for even the most reserved of chaps; my birthday is due very soon, perhaps we will get the fuddling cups out to celebrate...

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Post-Death Travels of Frederick the Great

Frederick II (aka Frederick the Great; Berlin, Prussia, 24th January 1712 – Potsdam, Prussia, 17th August 1786)

Frederick the Great by Anton Graff, 1781

On this day in 1786, Frederick II's reign of more than four decades finally came to an end. Better known as Frederick the Great, he is remembered now for his military victories and a monarchy that placed Prussia in the vanguard of European nations.

On 17th August, the 74 year old king retired to his study in the palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam. Here he settled in an armchair and passed quietly away. He left no children to take his place and was succeeded as King of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg by his nephew, Frederick William II.

However, if in life Frederick had been a man used to getting his own way, in death things were to change. He had always expressed a wish to be laid to rest beside his adored Italian greyhounds on the terrace at Sanssouci. However, Frederick William II decided that a more appropriate resting place would be a formal tomb within the Potsdam Garrison Church. Here Frederick was destined to lay until World War II, when his remains were spirited away to a hidden location; discovered at the close of the war, they were reburied in Marburg. However, Frederick's travels were far from over and in 1953 he moved again, this time to Hohenzollern Castle, where he was interred until 1991.

Finally, two hundred and five years after Frederick's death, his mortal remains were returned to Sanssoucci where they were placed in state with a full guard of honour. That evening his casket was taken out to the vineyard terrace and Frederick the Great was laid to rest in the plot of his own choosing, his wishes finally fulfilled.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A Tube for Leeches

Regular readers of my medical posts will know that I am occasionally visited here in the salon by a certain fictional gentleman of my acquaintance by the name of Doctor James Dillingham. 

A most dependable Edinburgh sort, Doctor Dillingham can always be relied on for a little nugget of something from the history of medicine and today it is a tool of the medical trade that has caught my eye. I have always had a fancy for blue glass and this was just unusual enough to appeal, so I thought I would set down a little something on the subject of leech tubes.


A leech tube
A leech tube

The rather snazzy object depicted here is a Dutch leech tube fashioned from turquoise glass. With leeches a standard bit of kit in the physician's arsenal, a tube of this type could be used to transport the leech safely on visits to patients. There are two openings in the tube, one wide and one narrow, and a cork in the larger open end kept the leech safely held in place, whilst the narrow aperture at the other end allowed the creature to breath.

Upon reaching the patient, the cork would be removed and the wide opening pressed to the skin so that the leech might attach to the skin and go about its medical business. Although leeches are less common in medicine now than once they were, they are still employed in some cases but sadly these wonderful devices have passed out of everyday use.