Thursday, 26 November 2015

Black Victorians - Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole is quite famous - she volunteered as a nurse during the Crimean War, got turned down, and decided to go anyway. She paid for her nursing by opening a "British Hotel" which provided food and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent British soliders.
She was born Mary Jane Grant, in Jamaica, the daughter of a black woman and a Scottish soldier - her mother kept a boarding house in Kingston, and was also known as a "doctress" - she had a good knowledge of herbal medicine.
She married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole in 1836 - he was supposed to have some connection with Lord Nelson, either being a secret illegitimate son or a godson - but he had a weak constitution and was dead by 1844. Sadly, by this time Mary's mother had also died, and Mary took over the running of the boarding house.
She gained experience of nursing cholera victims in an epidemic in Jamaica in 1850 and later at her half-brother's hotel in Cruces, in Panama. She charged the rich patients, and nursed the poor for free. Later returning to Jamaica, she nursed patients of a yellow fever epidemic. When news of the Crimean War reached her - she was now back in Panama - she decided to volunteer her services as a nurse.
Her services were refused, but she had ample experience of both nursing and setting up hotels and restaurants, so that's what she did. On the way, she met a doctor returning from the Crimea, who gave her a letter of introduction to Florence Nightingale. Their first meeting was friendly, but in later years they didn't get on at all well.
She built her British Hotel from locally found scrap materials, and as well as providing meals, with a staff of two black cooks, she had a shop that sold "anything from an anchor to a needle". She also provided outside catering, including to spectators who gathered to watch the battles from a short distance away. Having a picnic while watching men kill each other (from a safe distance) was quite common in wars of the period.
At the end of the war, she was forced to sell off her stock and possessions at a low price, as the armies left the area, and she then came to England. Though popular, she was in severe financial difficulty and became bankrupt. When this became public, a fund was set up for her, and she was discharged from bankrupcy. She also wrote a book, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, which was the first autobiography of a black woman in Britain.
In 1872, she was back in London from Jamaica, and became the personal masseuse of the Princess of Wales, who suffered from rheumatism and "white leg" which starts with deep vein thrombosis.
She died in 1881, and was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetary at Kensal Green.
She has a blue plaque at the house where she lived in Soho Square, and her story is part of the National Curriculum in schools.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Women Warriors - Lakshmi Bai

Lakshmi Bai was the Rani of Jhansi in India under the British Raj. When her husband the Maharajah died, he had no male heir. A boy had been adopted shortly before the maharajah's death, but the British would not accept him as the new maharajah, and annexed Jhansi, sending an official of the East India Company to deal with administrative matters. The Rani was only twenty two years old, but she refused to cede Jhansi to the British.
This was in 1854, and by 1857 the British had more to worry about than one small Indian state, as the Indian Mutiny had begun (with a rumour that the rounds of ammunition issued to the Indian troops were greased with beef and pig fat). Lakshmi Bai was proclaimed Regent of Jhansi, and asked the British official there for permission to raise troops for a bodyguard. Shortly after that, local Indian troops massacred their European officers - and Lakshmi Bai got written permission to manage the District for the British until a Superintendant arrived. Other forces which were rebelling against the British invaded Jhansi, but when she appealed to the British for help she got no reply, as by this time the British believed that she had been responsible for the massacre of the European officers.
So she set up a cannon foundry and prepared to defend the city herself.
When the British finally turned up, they found the city well defended, and the Rani refused to surrender to them.
After two weeks of fighting, the British took the city, but the Rani escaped and joined other rebel forces.
She remained with the rebel forces, though the campaign was by this time going badly for them. She died at Gwalior, in battle, dressed as a cavalry officer.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Trowelblazers - Edith Guest

There's not a lot on the web about Edith Guest.

She was a student and friend of Margaret Murray, and went with Margaret Murray and Gertrude Caton Thompson to Malta, where they excavated the Bronze Age megalithic monuments of Santa Sfia, Santa Maria tal Bakkari, Għar Dalam, and Borġ in-Nadur, all of which were threatened by the construction of a new aerodrome.

As a result of the excavations in Malta, Margaret Murray was invited to dig in Minorca, and Edith Guest went with her. Together, they excavated the megalithic sites of Trapucó and Sa Torrera, resulting in the publication of Cambridge Excavations in Minorca.

Later, Edith Guest dug in Cyprus - she is the co-author of Excavations at Erimi 1933 - 35, with Porphyrios Dikaios and V Seton-Williams. The Italian Archaeological Mission was digging the same site in 2012. It's a large Bronze Age settlement.
And that's about it.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Black Victorians - Samuel Coleridge Taylor

Not the poet who wrote Kubla Khan, but a composer, named after the poet.

He was born in London in 1876. His mother Alice Hare Martin was white, and English. His father was from Sierra Leone, Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, but they weren't married, and Dr Taylor went back to Sierra Leone without knowing Alice was pregnant. She named her baby after the poet.
Alice's brother was a professional musician, and Samuel studied the violin at the Royal College of Music. He later taught at the Crystal Palace School of Music and conducted the Croyden Conservatoire. He married a fellow student at the Royal College of Music, Jessie Walmisley, though her parents objected because he was of mixed race. Together they had a son called Hiawatha, after the famous poem, and a daughter called Gwendolyn who became a conductor/composer in her own right.
One of his great successes as a composer was the music Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, hence the name of his son. However, he got no royalties from the music, as he had sold it outright for 15 guineas. Musicians concerned about his young family after his death used this example as one of the cases that led to the formation of the Performing Rights Society.
He was helped by Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival, and also made three tours of the United States. He was even invited to visit Theodore Roosevelt at the White House in 1904.
He wanted to do for traditional African music what Brahms did for Hungarian music and Dvorak did for Bohemian music. It seemed the future was bright for him, but sadly he collapsed at Croyden railway station and died just a few days later, of pneumonia, aged only 37.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Trowelblazer and Woman Warrior - Dorothy Garrod

Here's Dorothy Garrod in Palestine in 1931, with Theodore McCown and Francis Turville-Petre.

She studied anthropology at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, where her father was Regius Professor of Medicine, though she got her first degree in Cambridge. There she was inspired to become an archaeologist, and studied with Abbe Breuil, which led to her excavating on Gibraltar in the 1920s, where she found a Neanderthal skull.
She was in Palestine, though, to excavate at Mount Carmel, where she worked closely with another woman archaeologist, Dorothea Bate. Her work on the site convinced the authorities not to use it as a quarry, and she continued to investigate three caves there. Her work was a major contribution to the understanding of the prehistoric sequence in the region. In those days, the bulk of the labour was usually done by local people, with the archaeologists supervising, and Dorothy Garrod hired mostly women from the surrounding villages.
From 1939 to 1952 she was Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge, though during the Second World War she served in the Women's Auxilary Air Force, at RAF Medmenham, where she was a section officer in a photographic interpretation unit - which makes her a Woman Warrior as well as a Trowelblazer. She was, in fact, the first female professor at Cambridge. It was not until 1947 that women students gained the same rights as male students at Cambridge.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Deborah J. Ross: Guest blog: Chaz Brenchley Steampunks Mars (With A...

I suppose it had to happen - and it is an absolutely brilliant idea!  The Chalet School on a Steampunk version of Mars....

Deborah J. Ross: Guest blog: Chaz Brenchley Steampunks Mars (With A...: Chaz Brenchley is an amazing writer -- I've been an unabashed fan ever since I read Bridge of Dreams , which led me to write to him, b...

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Secret of Saynshand

First draft completed - 28,000 words roughly.
Now to go back and fill in all the plot holes and write extra scenes (like explaining how an American comes to be working for the British Secret Service)!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Jedi Librarian

My Young Man knows a lot more about Star Wars than I do, so I was surprised when he told me that Jedi Librarians are a real thing in the extended universe. He even found this picture for me:

I love this idea, so this is what I'm going to try to put together as my hall costume for EasterCon next year.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Wudang Kung Fu Fan by Shifu Pan Kedi

This is beautiful, and the sort of thing I had in mind for Li Bic, one of the main characters in the story I'm writing at the moment.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


When my Young Man came to stay last week, one of the important things we did was to book for Mancunicon, next year's EasterCon. We had so much fun at this year's EasterCon, at Heathrow, that we wanted to see what it would be like next year. Also, I can't go to Lincoln Asylum, which is now held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, because of work commitments, and EasterCon is something I can get to more easily.
It is, unsurprisingly given the name, in Manchester, at the Hilton on Deansgate, which is apparently the eleventh tallest tower in Britain, so we should be able to find it fairly easily!
A couple of years ago, we went to the CAMRA Winter Beer Festival in Manchester, just a short bus ride out from Picadilly, though we made the mistake of walking out to it, not realising just how far it was. We got the bus back!
We stayed, that weekend, at the Ibis hotel near Picadilly. It's a budget hotel, and it had everything we needed, so we'll be staying there again and walking across town to the main hotel each day. We might even get to ride on the new (new to me, anyway) Manchester trams! The centre of Manchester has changed quite a bit since I lived there, but Picadilly and Deansgate are still in the same places, so I don't think I'm going to get lost.
The guests of honour at Mancunicon include Aliette de Bodard - I haven't read any of her novels yet, but I have seen all the publicity about her new book The House of Shattered Wings, and I also came across an extract of another story set in the same world - which starts in a library, so that caught my interest straight away!
The Mancunicon website can be found at and they also have a Facebook page.