Category Archives: Collections

Plaque Unveiled to Edinburgh University’s First Nobel Prize Winner

Today, at the Hermitage of Braid, Principal Peter Mathieson will unveil a plaque commemorating Edinburgh University’s first Nobel Prize winner, physicist Charles Glover Barkla (1877–1944). Barkla is one of a dozen figures being honoured in this year’s round of Historic Environment Scotland’s Commemorative Plaque Scheme. The plaque will be mounted at Barkla’s former home of Braidwood, which is currently the Visitors Centre for the Hermitage of Braid Nature Reserve.

Born in Widnes, Lancashire, Barkla studied at University College Liverpool, and occupied a number of academic posts in Cambridge, London, and Liverpool, before being appointed to Edinburgh University’s Chair of Natural Philosophy (Physics) in 1913. He held the chair until his death in 1944, playing a prominent role in instituting honours degrees in pure science and developing the honours school of physics.

Barkla was awarded the 1917 Nobel Prize for Physics for his ground-breaking work with X-rays. Barkla conducted experiments that demonstrated that X-rays could be partially polarized, thereby proving that they were a form of transverse electromagnetic radiation with properties similar to light. With the First World War still raging, the announcement of the 1917 Nobel Prize was delayed until 12 November 1918. Barkla’s Nobel Banquet was held on 1 June 1920, and he gave his Nobel Lecture on 3 June 1920.

Edinburgh University Archives hold Barkla’s Nobel Prize citation (E96.23; see images below), together with a collection of congratulatory letters and telegrams from fellow scientists (E96.10). Our Barkla Papers (Coll-296) also contain lectures and lecture notes (E91.105).

Barkla’s Nobel citation

Barkla is also commemorated by a plaque on the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Geography building (formerly occupied by Natural Philosophy). See here for more information:

https://www.ed.ac.uk/about/people/plaques/barkla

Link

A more personal take on our archives…

As any archivist knows, you can sometimes stumble upon archives with an unexpected and personal connection: this was the case for me when I found out that in the Special Collections of the Library was an album containing 175 photographs and postcards showing my home city, Caen, before and during the Second World War (Coll-164)… It immediately reminded me of my own grandparents, who had lived through the occupation, the bombing and finally the liberation of this medium-sized Norman city. They would always tell me stories about life during the war, and describe the way Caen looked before it: indeed, about 80 percent of the city was destroyed, in particular during the controversial bombing raid that preceded the ‘Operation Charnwood’ in July 1944. 

Aerial view of Caen after the bombings in July 1944 (Coll-164/4)

As you can see in the picture, the city was ravaged. The central area around the castle, St Pierre Church, and the neighbourhood called îlot St Jean were particularly affected. Post-war Caen looks like a field of ruins, and I was moved when I browsed the album for the first time and saw the full extent of the devastation.  When it happened my grandmother, who was around 15 at the time, had taken shelter in a town a few kilometres away; but my grandfather was there and took part in the rescue effort to help searching the rubbles for survivors. He was only 18.

Looking through the album, I was able to recognise a few familiar buildings amid the destruction: churches, streets, houses, the castle… I knew exactly where these were and what they looked like now. I found the comparison really interesting, and this is why I decided to do a little before/after photo shoot when I went home for the Christmas holidays.

St Pierre Church and surrounding area (Coll-164/58)

I started my little project on a sunny winter afternoon. Walking past my old university, I remembered that one of the nearby avenues was called ‘Avenue d’Edimbourg‘; and I finally understood why! Edinburgh was one of the cities that sent help and supplies to Caen after the bombing raid. The album is testimony to this connection: it was donated by John Orr, Professor of French at the University of Edinburgh and founder of the Caen-Edinburgh Fellowship. The latter was set up after the war to help the inhabitants of Caen by sending food, clothes, and supplies to the devastated city. John Orr himself organised for books to be sent to the library of the University, which was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt from scratch, and for this he’s also had a street named after him.   

Street signs named after John Orr.

Call for donations to Caen from the papers of Professor John Orr held in the Special Collections (Coll-77).

I soon arrived in the city centre. The most noticeable building in Caen is its massive castle, founded in 1060 by William the Conqueror. It was used as barracks between 1789 and 1945, and occupied by German troops during the War, which explains why it was targeted by bombings. Some buildings and parts of walls were damaged, but most of it survived in decent condition. The same cannot be said for the houses build alongside its walls…And so, after the clearing of the ruins, the castle reappeared, and it was decided to restore and showcase this millennium-old building that overlooks the city. The words of my grandmother came back to me: ‘We didn’t even know we had a castle because there were so many houses around it! After the war it came a bit as a surprise…’  

Castle of Caen seen from St Pierre Church. The surrounding buildings which were hiding it for centuries were not rebuilt after the war. (Coll-164/61)

Maison des Quatrans. The buildings which were in-between the house and the castle have been destroyed. (Coll-164/71)

But not everything was completely destroyed in Caen! Our old town centre, the Quartier St-Pierre (‘St Pierre neighbourhood’), still has many original features. The Church, for starter – the tower was destroyed and then rebuilt, and is now being cleaned to restore its original white-yellowish colour, darkened by pollution. The buildings around it, however, went up in smoke. La Rue Montoire Poissonerie (Montoire Poissonerie Street), for example, has vanished.  

St Pierre Church from Rue Montoire Poissonerie (now an apartment building). (Coll-164/11)

On the other hand, the main street of the neighbourhood, la rue St Pierre, has been more or less spared, and the old stands alongside the new. In the picture below you can see the busy Place St Pierre, full of shoppers and tourists, with the church Notre-Dame-de-Froide-Rue in the background and a beautiful half-timbered house from the 15th century. They miraculously survived, and are now being restored to get their lively colours back!  

Place St Pierre and its 15th century half-timbered houses. (Coll-164/18)

Place St Pierre and Notre-Dame-de-Froide-Rue Church. (Coll-164/38)

As a medievalist, I still regret the loss of the Rue St Jean, a once beautiful street full of hôtels particuliers and ancient half-timbered houses just like the one in the picture above. One of the only original buildings still standing is the very curious Eglise Saint-Jean – which has the particularity of being completely wonky! Our very own modest Pisa Tower, which is leaning because Caen was built on unstable grounds. Everybody thought this fragile building would never last – little did they know it would be the only monument to survive the raid of St-Jean street.  

Eglise Saint-Jean, which is much sturdier than it looks…(Coll-164/72)

Sometimes, there was nothing to save but a section of wall, a half-collapsed doorway, the base of a pillar…left as a memory, a reminder of what the city had gone through: 

Saint-Gilles Church, now a small park. The only recognisable feature is an archway. (Coll-164/36)

Saint-Julien Church before, during and after the bombings. (Coll-164/45 and Coll-164/48)

Like many French towns and cities, old Caen was full of narrow, dark medieval streets that would add a lot of charm to a city nowadays. I remember lamenting about the destruction of these quaint quarters – some of the largest boulevards in Caen have actually been shaped by American bulldozers –, and my grandfather replying: ‘it was dark and dirty before, very cold and inconvenient. It’s nicer now. They did a good job rebuilding everything’. The inhabitants rebuilt their home with the very typical Caen stone, which has a light and warm yellow colour, and the new blends in with the old. The city may not be as beautiful as other French towns spared by the war, but it is a nice place to live, where history has left its mark.  

Our archivist doing some fieldwork…

Description of the album on ArchivesSpace: https://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/312

Aline Brodin, cataloguing archivist, 6 June 2018.

Earlier this year, our two interns Sarah and Devon spent a few months re-housing and listing the papers of the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), recently donated to the CRC. They share their experiences with us.

Sarah Hendriks:

When I was about eight years old my violin teacher gave me a new piece of music and said, ‘now you get to play a real piece’. It was Joachim’s Hungarian Dance No. 4 and I loved it. It’s remained one of my favourite pieces to play and its folksy, vibrant style inspired my later love of other composers like Bloch and Kreisler.

Despite loving his music, I knew relatively little about Joachim the man until I took on this internship at Special Collections. By going through the collection I discovered so much about Joachim, his family, his music, and his life. I also got to meet his relatives and talk about the collection and hear their recollections of the items. Matching the stories to the items I’d been reading and examining for the last two months reinforced the human aspect of the material I’d been working with: such a rare experience!

Over the last three months I’ve catalogued what feels like hundreds of newspaper clippings, notes, concert programmes, photographs, and music. I’ve had the chance to brush up my German whilst reading the mountain of obituaries and anecdotes about him, his violins and his performances. There were also notes about his life in Hungarian and a poem in French on the occasion of his death. Buried amongst the newspaper clippings was a handwritten account of a family holiday: I’d never read a more touching portrait of the man.

Postcard of Joseph Joachim in a fake car with the Mendelssohn brothers, 1890-1907 (Coll-1711/5/5)

The highlights for me, however, were the photographs. Joachim apparently loved a joke and you can see this in the picture of him in a fake car. The images also captured his pensive side, reading his letters in front of a fire or concentrating on some German verse. A particularly special picture for me is the one of Joachim with Nellie Melba, a fellow Australian whose alma mater I also attended. Apparently they were great friends with an equally adventurous sense of fun that often perplexed those around them. I like to think you can see a touch of this camaraderie in their portrait.

Working with archives is, for me, always exciting. You never quite know what you’re going to come across or discover and so often the material hasn’t been examined in a long time. The Joachim archive was so full of delights and surprises and it exceeded all my expectations. This internship has been a wonderful experience and one I would highly recommend. It would not have been possible without the generosity of the Joachim family and the support of the Special Collections Team and I’d like to thank them both for the opportunity. I’ve learnt so much about the practical side to archive management and processing, but also had an awful lot of fun learning about a hero in the process. I can’t wait for the next one!

Signed image mounted on card of Joseph Joachim and Nellie Melba, taken by Guigoni & Bossi, Milan, late 19th/early 20th c. (Coll-1711/5/7)

Devon Barnett: 

I wanted to be an Archive Intern so that I could learn first-hand the processes behind turning a collection of items into an organised and usable resource. As a Music graduate, it was an added benefit that the archive I would be working on centred around an important figure in classical music – Joseph Joachim. While working on the Joseph Joachim collection I have learned how to box list items, how to identify anything that may need to be sent to conservation, how to think about what items may be useful and beneficial to be digitised, and how to best categorise, arrange, and reference the items as well as a collection of books.

Image of Joseph Joachim playing cards outside a coffee shop, 1890-1907 (Coll-1711/5/12/5)

I have also learned a lot about Joseph Joachim, both his musical output and his personal life. Shockingly, I had never heard his name even once in my entire four years of studying a music degree and I did not know that he is owed at least in part for helping Johannes Brahms to find success and for helping Clara Schumann to care for Robert Schumann in his final years of critical mental illness. My favourite item of the collection by far was a letter written in 1907 by Donald Francis Tovey. It was written to an unspecified ‘Mrs Joachim’ and concerned the recent passing of Joseph Joachim. The letter is beautifully and poetically written, and really shows the loss felt by the music world. The letter is also important for its personal connection to Edinburgh. Tovey was a composer, musician, musicologist, and close friend of Joseph Joachim. Tovey became the Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music (from which I have just graduated), and at which there now exists the position of Tovey Professor and the award of the Sir Tovey Memorial Prize for outstanding promise shown in composition or performance. As the university is home to not only the Joseph Joachim collection but also a collection of Tovey’s large collection of books and music scores, this letter is significant and relevant to both, tying them nicely together to both each other and the university.

Letter to ‘Mrs Joachim’ from Donald Francis Tovey on the subject of Joseph Joachim’s death, 1907, p.1 (Coll-1711/1/2/5) (click here for a higher resolution image)

Letter to ‘Mrs Joachim’ from Donald Francis Tovey on the subject of Joseph Joachim’s death, 1907, p.2 (Coll-1711/1/2/5) (click here for a higher resolution image)

Their fantastic work has enabled us to create a great resource on our online discovery platform, ArchivesSpace. Click here to see the catalogue.

Sydney Goodsir Smith Stands for Rector

In 1951, students voting for a new Rector of Edinburgh University faced a choice between a quite extraordinary range of candidates. The election of actor Alistair Sym in 1948 had put an end to a long tradition of electing career politicians or military men. This time, in the wake of Sym’s success, nominees included Nobel-prize winning scientist Sir Alexander Fleming, novelist Evelyn Waugh, music hall entertainer Jimmy Logan, and politician and spiritual leader, Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III.

Also on the ballot was Lallans poet Sydney Goodsir Smith, who had come to prominence three years earlier through his collection Under the Eildon Tree, one of the major works of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. Edinburgh University Archives have recently purchased a copy of Smith’s campaign leaflet, adding to our major collection of Smith papers (Coll-497).

Smith was born in New Zealand but moved to Scotland in 1928 when his father Sir Sydney Alfred Smith (1883-1969) was appointed Professor of Forensic Medicine at Edinburgh University. Smith himself began a medical degree at Edinburgh University but soon abandoned it to study Modern History at Oxford. The ‘Message from the Candidate’ in the campaign leaflet alludes to his brief Edinburgh career:

During my short and somewhat hectic time as a medical student here, I must have been inoculated with the bug of not exactly ‘study’ so much as just ‘being a student’, for I seem to have remained a student, of one thing or another, ever since.

Smith thus presents himself as ‘a real student’s rector’, who, unlike his ageing and out-of-touch rivals, will provide an ‘effective student voice’ on the University Court. There is a second strand to his campaign, however, which voters may have struggled to reconcile with his stance as a spokesman for student interests.

The ‘Message from the Candidate’ also states that Smith’s nomination is:

single evidence of the increased regard held for Scottish literature – too long the Cinderella of Scottish life and thought – by the student body of what used to be Scotland’s capital in fact as well as name

The leaflet, in fact, foregrounds Smith’s literary credentials. The cover photo portrays Smith in his study, resplendent in a smoking gown, and surrounded by tottering piles of books. Beneath the caption ‘Sydney Goodsir Smith: Poet, Scholar, Artist, Wit’ are endorsements from major literary figures of the day, Edith Sitwell, Neil M. Gunn, Duncan Macrae, Sorley Maclean, and Hugh MacDiarmid.

Conspicuously, the least political endorsements are placed first. Sitwell claims that ‘it would honour poetry should [Smith] be elected’, Gunn declares that ‘to vote for a Scots poet of so rare a vintage as Sydney Goodsir Smith I should find irresistible’. For actor Duncan Macrae, Smith is alone among the candidates in possessing ‘the distinction of genius’. Maclean too credits Smith with ‘creative genius’ along with an ‘irresistible personality’ and a place among ‘the very finest critical intelligences’.

Only the final endorsement from Hugh MacDiarmid, himself a rectorial candidate in 1935 and 1935, gives a hint of Smith’s political position. Presenting Smith as ‘an outstanding figure in the Scottish Renaissance Movement’, MacDiarmid describes him as:

A scholar, a lover of all the arts, a great wit, a well-informed Scot with all his country’s best interests at heart and above all a passionate concern for freedom and hatred of every sort of cant or humbug, he typifies all that is best in the Scottish National Awakening now in progress and is contributing magnificently thereto.

The rest of the leaflet does not so much explain how a commitment to the Scottish Literary Renaissance will shape Smith’s rectorial work, as set the two strands of his campaign side-by-side, leaving the voter to trace a connection. For example, it gives the following ‘Four Reasons for Supporting Sydney Goodsir Smith’:

  1. His distinction is that of real creative genius.
  2. He would be sure to give a worthwhile and amusing address.
  3. He is a Scotsman who believes in his own country.
  4. He would be a real students’ rector.

In places, the leaflet is a little self-contradictory. Students are asked to vote for Smith because ‘a Scottish university should first of all honour the great men of its own country’. They should not vote for Fleming, however, because he may be ‘a great scientist and benefactor of mankind’ but the ‘rectorship is an office of spokesman for the student body, not an honour per se‘.

Perhaps, in fact, the strongest claim that emerges from the leaflet is the likelihood of Smith delivering a colourful rectorial address. His credentials as ‘wit and humorist’ are illustrated in a series of put-downs of rival candidates. Particularly acerbic barbs are directed at Jimmy Logan (‘information scanty but supposed to be a comedian’), politician Sir Andrew Murray (‘nicely groomed ex-provost … non-allergic to limelight’), Evelyn Waugh (‘hobby – writing blue books for naughty, naught Catholics’), and the Aga Khan (‘but who can’t?’).

Since acquiring the leaflet, we have discovered that another recent purchase, the archives of the Edinburgh student literary magazine The Jabberwock (Coll-1611), contains a draft version of Smith’s ‘Message from the Candidate’, together with the original manuscripts of the endorsements by Hugh MacDiarmid and Edith Sitwell. The Jabberwock’s editor Ian Holroyd evidently worked as Smith’s campaign manager, and the archive also contains a letter from veteran Scottish writer Compton Mackenzie, regretting that he cannot endorse Smith’s candidature, as he has been approached by two other candidates with equal claims on his support.

The draft of Smith’s ‘Message from the Candidate’ contains a substantial amount of text omitted from the published version. One deleted paragraph reads:

If this were a political election (which I am told it is not to be, this time), I think my sentiments would be well-known to some of you as those of a man who wished to restore the ancient dignity of Scotland – all-out, in fact, and only falling somewhat short of bombs in letter-boxes and Customs at the Border. However, as this is not to be political, and as we are unfortunately unlikely as yet to get the chance of reducing the tax on whisky, I come to you with no ‘policy’ at all. I have none, in the circumstances, for I believe it would not be proper (in the happy event of my election) or my place to represent any other body than the students of this University and to be their spokesman on the University Court.

Was it the hints of political extremism, the allusion to Smith’s drinking habits, or the cheery admission of having no policy, that most alarmed Smith’s campaign manager? Also deleted is the postscript ‘I am truly sorry Groucho refused – he’d have unstuffed a few more shirts’. Groucho Marx had, in fact, been asked to stand as a rectorial candidate, but sadly declined.

In the end, Sir Alexander Fleming, who enjoyed the near unanimous support of medical students, won a resounding victory. Smith’s backers may over-estimated the average Edinburgh student’s interest in literature. Canvassers for Evelyn Waugh commonly met with the response: ‘Who’s she?’

For more on the 1951 Rectorial campaign, see Donald Wintergill, The Rectors of the University of Edinburgh 1859-2000 (Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, 2005), pp. 127-35. Although Smith was never to stand again, his father Sir Sydney Smith won the next Rectorial election in 1954.

Paul Barnaby, Acquisition and Scottish Literary Collections Curator

Edinburgh University Students in Spain

It is 80 years since the Spanish Civil War broke out.  Unlike both World Wars, we have no record of University of Edinburgh students who fought (and died) in Spain and this is the start of a process of trying to identify who did.  This is very much work-in-progress and will be updated as we find additional information.

If you know of anyone missing from the list below, please contact the Deputy University Archivist, Grant Buttars


George Drever

George was born 31 March 1910 in Leith, the son of George Drever and Louisa (Balfour).  He spent 6 years at Leith Academy before enrolling to study Science at the University of Edinburgh, gaining a First Class Honours BSc in Pure Science in 1933.  Two years later he was awarded a PhD, his thesis being, Electrochemical studies in oxide formation on some metals.

First Matriculation: George Drever

First Matriculation: George Drever

Links


Frances Hughes Drew

Frances was born 12 May 1914 in Southampton.  She was educated at Falmouth High School then at Blackpool Girls’ Secondary, enrolling to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1932 and graduating MBChB in 1937.

First Matriculation: Frances Hughes Drew

First Matriculation: Frances Hughes Drew

She was a member of the International Students’ delegation and one of six students in the British delegation of the (strongly Communist) World Student Association who visited Spain in the 1936/7  Christmas vacation and campaigned for the Republicans on her return.


John Peter Cowan Dunlop

Born 2nd July 1915 in Winnipeg, Canada, John was an accountancy student (non-graduating).

First Matriculation: John Peter Cowan Dunlop

First Matriculation: John Peter Cowan Dunlop

John is listed on the International Brigades website:

Born: 2/7/1915, Winnipeg, Canada. Enlistment Address; 9 East Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh University Accountancy student. CPGB (1936) OTC in England. Single. Age 22. Arrived in Spain 19/5/1937. Enlisted in Battalion 22/5/1937. Joined the British Anti Tank-Gun Battery. Action’s participated in: Jarama, Brunete, Teruel, Belchite, Ebro. Wounded at Brunete in July 1937, (between the 6th and 12th) by shrapnel in the back. Recovered in hospital at Barcelona. Joined British Battalion on 10/11/1937. Wounded on 20/1/1938. In Hospital February-April 1938. Rifle  No; 98101. No. 4  Company, Section 2, platoon 2. Confirmed Corporal on 30/4/1938. Sergeant. Wounded during the Ebro Offensive on 31/7/1938. In hospital 3/10/1938? Invalided home in October 1938. Set up his own printing business in Edinburgh upon his return.

He later became accountant to the International Brigade Association.

Links


Hamish Fraser

Hamish was born 16 August 1913 in Inverness.  He was educated at Preston School, Duns, Duns Public School, Berwickshire High School and at the Royal High School, Edinburgh.  In 1931/2, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study Technical Chemistry. The fact that his record specifies the subject rather than, as was the norm, simply recording the Faculty, suggests he was not enrolled in a full degree programme.

First Matriculation: Hamish Fraser

First Matriculation: Hamish Fraser

 

He claimed to have joined the Young Communist League while at University; he was certainly Propaganda Secretary of the Central London Federation of the YCL by the time the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936,

Links

  • Biographical sketch at Apropos (a magazine of which he served as editor after his conversion to Roman Catholicism)

Margot (Marguerite Rosabelle) Gale (later Kettle)

Margot was born in 1916.  She was educated at King Arthur School, Musselburgh and St. Bride School, Edinburgh, enrolling at the Univerity of Edinburgh in 1934.  While at University, she served as President of the Women’s Union, 1937-38.  She graduated MA in 1938.  In August 1938, she joined the Young Communist League.

First Matriculation: Margot Gale

First Matriculation: Margot Gale

She was mother of Guardian journalist Martin Kettle.

Links

  • Her papers are held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (Manchester)

David Mackenzie

His full name was William David Beveridge Mackenzie and he was born 14 November 1916, the son of Rear Admiral W. B. Mackenzie, in Rock, Cornwall.  He was educated at Copthorne School, Sussex and at Marlborough College.  He enrolled as a summer term only medical student at the University of Edinburgh in 1935, having previously studied history at Oxford.

First Matriculation: David Mackenzie

First Matriculation: William David Beveridge Mackenzie

David is listed on the International Brigades website:

c/o 16 King Street, London. (CPGB HQ) Oxford University. (History & Law) Medical Student at Edinburgh University. YCL. CPGB. Age: 20. Spain, 09/10/1936. French Commune de Paris Battalion, (Dumont Battalion) 11th International Brigade. Reported killed in error (25/11/1936) at the University City, Madrid, in the Daily Worker dated 05/12/1936. Returned to UK on 05/01/1937. (V.11 37a PF 45600) Battalion No. 947.

Links


Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to a number of people who have provided various leads on this subject, particularly Mike Arnott and Fraser Raeburn and of the Scotland and the Spanish Civil War Facebook Group.

‘ANIARA: en revy om människan i tid och rum’ – 60 years since its publication by Bonniers, Stockholm – 1956-2016

III – IN THE HUGH MACDIARMID COLLECTION…: MS LETTERS AND OTHER MATERIAL RELATING TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION of ANIARA BY MACDIARMID AND ELSPETH HARLEY SCHUBERT, 1963

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13 October 2016 sees the 60th anniversary of the publication of Aniara by the Swedish Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson (1904-1978)… Sweden’s pioneer of the poetry of the atomic age. Published by Bonniers, Stockholm, in October 1956, the full title of Martinson’s work was Aniara: en revy om människan i tid och rum. An English translation, or adaptation rather, by Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978) and Elspeth Harley Schubert (1907-1999) was published in 1963 as Aniara, A Review of Man in Time and Space.

Front board of 'Aniara' by MacDiarmid and Schubert, 1963 (Shelfmark PT 9875.M35 Mar, but also available through Special Collections, CRC).

Front board of ‘Aniara’ translated from Swedish by MacDiarmid and Schubert, 1963 (Shelfmark PT 9875.M35 Mar, but also available through Special Collections, CRC).

With a libretto by Erik Lindegren (1910-1968) based on a shortened version of Martinson’s poem, an opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916-1968) – also called Aniara – was premiered in May 1959 at the Royal Opera (Kungliga Operan), Stockholm, and was also presented at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1959. In 2013, the work was again expressed in the Edinburgh Festival through a re-imagination by Opera de Lyon of Beethoven’s Fidelio melded with Aniara.

Title-page of 'Aniara' by MacDiarmid and Schubert, 1963.

Title-page of ‘Aniara’ translated from Swedish by MacDiarmid and Schubert, 1963.

The subject of the poem is a spaceship (or goldonda) called Aniara. This future spaceship is carrying 8,000 refugees or emigrants – ‘forced emigrants’ – from a radiation poisoned Earth (called Douris in the poem) which is to become quarantined.

‘…Earth must have a rest

for all her poisons, launch her refugees

out into space, and keep her quarantine…’

Originally bound for Mars and on one of its routine flights – ‘all in the day’s work as it seemed’ – the spaceship ‘was singled out to be unique and doomed’. Aniara is thrown off course by the asteroid Hondo, which ‘jerked us off route’, missing Mars and bypassing its orbit.

Graphic used to accompany the short 'Radio Times' resume of 'Aniara' broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in November 1962 (Ms. 2973).

Graphic used to accompany the short ‘Radio Times’ resume of ‘Aniara’ broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in November 1962 (Copy at Ms. 2973-2974).

Out of control and pulling away from the solar system towards outer space, Aniara is finally thrown onto a course pointing to the star system of Lyra, ‘and no change of direction could be thought of’. The 8,000 occupants realise that they are doomed to an endless journey to nowhere.

‘In the sixth year Aniara flew on

with unbroken speed towards the Lyra…’

(Canto 13)

Having lost all ties to their past and with no hope of a future, their fears, bitterness and nostalgia set the mood for the poem. It offers a prophetic foresight of what we all might expect from nuclear warfare and its aftermath. Through Mima – a deity assuming the role of group-conscience to the voyagers, a device merging artificial intelligence with galactic wifi – a kind of electronic brain (using the terminology of a 1962 article in the Radio Times), a brain which ‘shows it all’, the occupants of the goldonda witness the destruction of Dourisburg, ‘the mighty town which once was Dourisburg’.

The short 'Radio Times' resume of 'Aniara' broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in November 1962 (Ms. 2973).

The short ‘Radio Times’ resume of ‘Aniara’ broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in November 1962 (Copy at Ms. 2973-2974).

Martinson’s work written in 103 Cantos (or songs) carries yet more of its own vocabulary. Canto 2 refers to the spaceship’ s gyrospiner and how it tows her up to the ‘Zenith’s light where powerful magnetrines annul Earth’s pull’…. the gyrospiner being, according to MacDiarmid’s notes, ‘a kind of propeller, possibly something like a helicopter’, and the magnetrine a ‘machine of the future which annihilates the power of the gravitational fields’.

References to Mima, in Canto 32. Manuscript. Gen. 894.

References to Mima, in Canto 32. (Manuscript in Gen. 894).

In Canto 15 we are introduced to gammosan – a drug relating to gamma rays – used on one of the emigrants, ‘pale and scarred by radiation burns’, who ‘very nearly fluttered away but was hauled back each time’. In Canto 26 we meet the phototurb – or nuclear bomb – in which ‘total mass is transformed to light quanta’.

‘…souls were torn apart

and bodies hurled away

as six square miles of townland twisted

themselves inside out

as the Phototurb destroyed

the mighty town…’

(Canto 26)

Mima, as illustrated by Sven Erixson to accompany an article written by Alfred Alvarez printed in 'Dagens Nyheter', 6 May 1963. Ms. 2974.

Mima, as illustrated by Sven Erixson (1899-1970) to accompany an article written by Alfred Alvarez printed in ‘Dagens Nyheter’, 6 May 1963. Erixson had been involved in decor and costume sketches for ‘Aniara’, the opera, in 1959. (Copy of article at Ms. 2973-2974).

In October 1959, and only a few weeks after the staging of Aniara the opera at the Edinburgh Festival, MacDiarmid had been approached by the publisher Hutchinson with a view to ‘getting out an English version’ of the poem. The initial approach emphasised a smaller version of the poem… ‘the self-contained first twenty-nine cantos’ which had been published as Cikada (1953). MacDiarmid is asked if he would ‘consider taking on such a task’ in a rendering that ‘would have to be pretty free’ and ‘done by someone who is in his own right a poet of the first quality’. By November 1959, MacDiarmid had been informed that there was ‘in London happily a completely bilingual Scots-Swede who could collaborate’ with him in the task… Elspeth Harley Schubert.

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By February 1960, Hutchinson had concluded an agreement with Bonniers of Stockholm for a publication of Aniara in English, and that rather than working on ‘only the first twenty-nine cantos’ MacDiarmid and Schubert would be funded by the Council of Europe sharing French Francs 416,000 for a translation of ‘the whole poem’. MacDiarmid’s share was to be French Francs 208,000 (or £150 sterling). Correspondence in the MacDiarmid collections in CRC indicate that work had begun certainly by March 1960.

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By May 1960, the publisher was hoping that MacDiarmid might find the time to let them know ‘how things seem to be shaping’ albeit acknowledging the difficulties of ‘collaboration’ and the ‘technical problems which must be involved’. The imminent performance of Ariana, the opera, in London, in autumn 1960, was intimated too, and that while the translation ‘can’t possibly’ be completed, printed and published by then, it might be ‘wise to have it on the stocks as soon as possible’. In March 1961 however there was still no typescript in spite of promises from MacDiarmid in January to have it sent ‘very shortly’.

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In May 1961, Hutchinson acknowledged MacDiarmid ‘for the completion of Aniara‘ and expressed agreement with him ‘that there should be a brief introduction’ to the work. By August, Martinson had offered ‘some interim notes’ and Schubert and Martinson were ‘to incorporate their suggestions in the typescript’. For her part, Schubert writing from Sweden in October 1961 expressed to MacDiarmid that she found his treatment of her own original translation ‘very liberal and sensitive’. On the matter of an introduction, she suggested that a foreword be written by ‘a Swede who knows the whole background, and is also an expert on the terminology and on natural science’. She recommended Martinson’s biographer Dr. Tord Hall (1910-1987), mathematician, professor and author, of Uppsala University.

A year later, in May 1962, MacDiarmid had been sent the ‘printers’ marked proofs of Aniara together with the manuscript’ for him to ‘go through immediately and make any corrections’. The English language translation was released in February 1963, though readings were aired by BBC Radio in 1962.

Article by Alfred Alvarez in 'Dagens Nyheter' which as critical of the MacDiarmid/Schubert translation. Ms.2974.

Article by Alfred Alvarez in ‘Dagens Nyheter’ which was critical of the MacDiarmid/Schubert translation. (Copy of article at Ms.2973-2974).

In the national Swedish daily – Dagens Nyheter – on 6 May 1963, the English poet and critic Alfred Alvarez (b. 1929) wrote a rather critical piece about the MacDiarmid and Schubert translation. Olof Lagercrantz (1911-2002) Swedish writer, critic, literary scholar and publicist provided a commentary to the Alvarez piece in the same paper. Alvarez writes that MacDiarmid, ‘the most talented Scottish poet after Burns, […] has achieved a kind of Harris Tweed version of the poem… simple, unpretentious and serviceable’. Alvarez is ‘under the impression that Martinson’s poem may have lost a lot in translation’. Following up on the Alvarez piece, Lagercrantz comments that, as far as Swedish readers of the translation are concerned, it is ‘perhaps especially remarkable to hear Martinson characterised as grimly devoid of humour. Such an astounding opinion has to have its roots in the translation’.

One thing Alvarez is certain about is that ‘the English translation that now exists will never be the huge audience success in the UK that it has been in Sweden’, adding that ‘a work reaching sales of 36,000 copies in the UK would in a Swedish context make the work a sure best-seller’.

The MacDiarmid correspondence reveals a letter from Schubert dated March [1963] in which she expresses a feeling of being ‘out in the cauld blast’ and that they should both be girded ‘for the fray’. She asks MacDiarmid if there is ‘no fellow poet who can take up the cudgels’. Cannot he himself ‘write to the Times Literary, defending the original’?

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The poem itself – this Harris Tweed, this simple, unpretentious and serviceable version of the poem – ends in the blackness of deep space, of space-night…:

‘…the Zodiac’s lonely night became our only home,

a gaping chasm in which no god could hear us […]

With unabated speed towards the Lyra

the goldonda droned for fifteen thousand years,

like a museum filled with bones and artefacts,

and dried herbs and roots, relics from Douris’ woods.

Entombed in our immense sarcophagus

we were borne on across the desolate waves

of space-night, so unlike the day we’d known,

unchallenged silence closing round our grave…’

(Cantos 102, 103)

Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives & Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections

In the construction of this blog post the following were used: (1) Clippings from the Radio Times, November 1962, contained in the MacDiarmid collections, Ms.2973-2974; (2) ‘Aniara på engelska’, av A. Alvarez, Dagens Nyheter, 6 Maj 1963, clipping in the MacDiarmid collections, Ms.2973-2974; (3) Hutchinson Group correspondence in the MacDiarmid collections, and correspondence with Elspeth Harley Schubert, Ms. 2094/5/2031-33, and Ms.2967; (4) Manuscript, some cantos of Aniara, in the MacDiarmid collections, Gen.894; and, (5) Aniara, A Review of Man in Time and Space, adapted from the Swedish by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert. Hutchinson: London, 1963.

If you have enjoyed this dip into the MacDiarmid material, have a look at earlier posts to the blog: I – Ms letter from Dylan Thomas; II – Ms letter from the Project Theatre, Glasgow; Recent acquisition – small archive relating to ‘The Jabberwock’; William Soutar’s caricatures of Hugh MacDiarmid, by Paul Barnaby; Hugh MacDiarmid and Mary Poppins: An unpublished letter in EU Archives, also by Paul Barnaby; and, Hugh MacDiarmid introduces Lewis Grassic Gibbon to publisher

 

Hugh MacDiarmid and Mary Poppins: An Unpublished Letter in EU Archives

An unpublished letter from Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers to Hugh MacDiarmid in Edinburgh University’s C. M. Grieve Archive casts further light on the surprising relationship between the two writers revealed in an article in today’s The National. Our letter shows that Travers was so taken by MacDiarmid’s writing that she urged her publisher to bring out an edition of his selected poems.

0078552cJennifer Morag Henderson‘s essay in The National (‘Poppins and MacDiarmid – Truly Whaur Extremes Meet’) reveals that MacDiarmid and Travers met in London in 1931 or 1932, probably under the aegis of Irish writer and mystic George William Russell (1853–1919) who wrote under the pseudonym ‘AE’. Russell was something of a spiritual and literary mentor to Travers, who was then working as a journalist and drama critic, but he also contributed an ‘Introductory Essay’ to MacDiarmid’s 1931 collection First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems.

As Henderson notes, the meeting is recorded in a published letter from MacDiarmid to another Irish writer Oliver St John Gogarty, dated 22 January 1932, where he writes: ‘The lady with the pheasant-coloured hair [Travers] is quite a figure in Bloomsbury circles. We have had some most amusing times together – and would have had more but for the horrible tangle of my own affairs (the divorce went through last Saturday).’ Henderson wonders whether the pair discussed their conflicting views on nationalism or their mutual interest in Soviet Russia (which Travers was to describe in her book Moscow Excursion). She concludes, however, that during MacDiarmid’s messy divorce from Peggy Skinner, Travers probably interested MacDiarmid ‘as a woman first and writer second’.

mdsmrThe letter from Travers in our Grieve Archive (Gen. 2094/5 f. 2325), apparently overlooked by editors of MacDiarmid’s correspondence, confirms Henderson’s conjectures as to mutual areas of interest but also suggests that their relationship had a strongly literary character. The letter is undated. A reference to MacDiarmid’s First Hymn to Lenin which Travers ‘would love to have … some day’ might place it in the 1931-32 time-frame discussed by Henderson. The fact, however, that Travers clearly already has a strong relationship with publisher Gerald Howe, who published the first Mary Poppins book in 1934, makes the mid-1930s a more probable date.

Travers writes that ‘I have been to see Howe and with every sweet and noble adjective at my command put your suggestion of the 50-100 of your very finest selected’. Howe was ‘definitely interested’ but ‘would not commit himself’. He invites MacDiarmid to submit a selection of verse, either directly or through Travers, but on the understanding that Howe is not ‘bound in any way’. Travers confides that Howe ‘knows nothing in the world about poetry’ and depends entirely on advice from an unnamed writer who, fortunately, is a good personal friend of Travers and whom she believes she can influence in MacDiarmid’s favour.

Travers repeatedly stresses her personal enthusiasm for the project (‘Personally I think the idea such a good one!’) and mentions that Howe had particularly liked the suggestion that W. B. Yeats might write an introduction to the MacDiarmid volume.

In the rest of the letter, Travers mentions that ‘AE’ has dined with her the previous night, and that they had talked about MacDiarmid. She also mentions an article that she is writing on ‘Nationalism and Internationalism’, hinting at the political differences between the pair mentioned in Henderson’s article. While MacDiarmid, of course, combined revolutionary socialism with Scottish nationalism, the Australian-born Travers considered herself a citizen of the British Empire. Here she remarks that the concepts of nationalism and internationalism surely ‘don’t exist on other stars’.

The anthology of MacDiarmid’s selected poems never appeared. Travers mentions Gerald Howe’s fears that, as a poet, MacDiarmid might be tied to his original publisher Victor Gollancz ‘the “cutest” drafter of an agreement in London’, and perhaps that effectively stymied the project. The letter is nonetheless a record of what was clearly a warm literary friendship between figures from what one might have thought were very different worlds.

Signature of P.L. [Pamela] Travers

Paul Barnaby

 

Textiles and threads – samples and catalogue

ANOTHER SPLASH OF COLOUR FOR THE COLLECTIONS – FROM EUROPE, CHINA AND JAPAN

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Towards the end of the 2015-2016 financial period, CRC acquired a small number of items relating to textiles and the textile trade, bringing another small splash of colour to the collections.

Threads from Kwangtung (Guangdong), China, in Coll-1766.

Threads from Kwangtung (Guangdong), China, in Coll-1766.

The items reflect both English and French textile production and the textile production of the Far East (Japan and China). The items in question are samples of textiles and threads.

Wrapper from a sample of threads from Guangdong, China, in Coll-1766.

Wrapper from a sample of threads from Guangdong, China, in Coll-1766.

We acquired a collection of silk thread samples from Kwangtung (Guangdong), China, a city in which which silk production is an important sector of the economy, and which began the export of silk during the Han dynasty.

Catalogue of silk samples from Kyoto, Japan, in Coll-1762.

Catalogue of silk samples from Kyoto, Japan, in Coll-1762.

The collection of 15 wrappers offers silk threads in various colours, all housed in paper with ties. The name of the producers are on the upper covers, which state that the silk is produced by natural colours and washed in clear water. They were produced by Shun Shing Ho and Tian Da Lao Dien.

From the catalogue of silk samples from Kyoto, Japan, in Coll-1762.

From the catalogue of silk samples from Kyoto, Japan, in Coll-1762.

We also acquired a catalogue of a silk manufacturer or kimono maker based in Kyoto, which in the 1900s was the centre of the Japanese textile trade. The catalogue has board covers in purple soft fabric with Japanese script which may once have been gilded.

'Cocksey' trademark on bookplate in album of textile samples, in Coll-1769.

‘Cocksey’ trademark on bookplate in album of textile samples, in Coll-1769.

The album contains 198 mounted and different silk samples in various colours or shades.

Textile sample from album, Coll-1769.

Textile sample from album, Coll-1769.

Finally, we now have the remains from two albums which contained mounted textile samples… English (possibly Lancashire) and French. These are mainly printed cottons pasted on stiff paper with numbers and annotations in ink.

Textile samples from album, Coll-1769.

Textile samples from album, Coll-1769.

Some have annotations in French and are dated 1862. Some have the book-plate ‘Cocksey’, a registered trademark.

Wrapper from a sample of threads from Guangdong, China, in Coll-1766.

Wrapper from a sample of threads from Guangdong, China, in Coll-1766.

On our archives and manuscripts catalogue these collections are known as: Coll-1762 Catalogue presenting 198 different mounted fabric silk samples, Kyoto, Japan; Coll-1766 Collection of samples of Chinese silk threads for embroidery, Kwangtung; and, Coll-1769 Collection of British / French textile samples and designs on printed cotton.

Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives & Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections

Cinema at the whaling-stations, South Georgia…: another brief look into the Salvesen Archive

‘…Each man takes a turn to keep the building in a proper state of cleanliness…’

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This look at cinema and film offered to the personnel of the whaling stations in South Georgia is another of our occasional forays into the Salvesen Archive.

Papers in the Christian Salvesen Archive show that cinema was an important leisure-time activity in the life of the personnel working at the whaling-stations of South Georgia. Films could be enjoyed at the ‘World’s Most Southerly Cinema…’.

Collection of season programmes for films at Grytviken Kino, South Georgia, 1960s. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

Collection of season programmes for films at Grytviken Kino, South Georgia, 1960s, a cinema claiming probably correctly to be the ‘World’s most southerly cinema beyond the cinema at Ushuaia’, Argentina. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

The earliest reference to ‘cinema’ in South Georgia so far found in the Salvesen Archive is a letter from the 1920s. A copy-letter (unsigned typescript) to Edward B. Binney, Magistrate, South Georgia, dated 28 November 1925 – and presumably from the Leith Harbour station – is in effect an application ‘for permission to give Cinematograph Exhibitions’. The letter states that the ‘Cinematograph is the property of all the employees’ of the station, and that a subscription of 15 kroner is ‘being made by each man to cover cost of Machine and Films’, and also the cost of ‘books for a Library’.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1954. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1956. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

The letter goes on to state that the ‘Company provides the Buildings and electric Current free of charge and every precaution has been taken against the outbreak of fire’, not least through the locating of the building ‘away from the factory’. Finally, the letter tells us that: ‘Each man takes a turn to keep the building in a proper state of cleanliness’.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1956. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1956. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

Indeed, at Leith Harbour, wrote Sir Gerald Elliot in his work A whaling enterprise (1998), the main recreations ‘came from the cinema, the library and the football ground’. The cinema, the library, and football field were ‘the normal amenities of civilisation’ agreed Wray Vamplew in his work Salvesen of Leith (1975). The cinema, Elliot went on, ‘got a new supply of films every season which were exchanged with the floating factories as opportunity arose’. By the mid-1950s: ‘There was a large new cinema about to be built’.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1956. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

Proposed layout for the new Cinema, 1956. In the Salvesen Archive, C5. Box 2.

Examples of the variety of films acquired for the stations have been found in the Salvesen Archive. A copy-note [Norwegian] from Oslo dated 24 January 1955, and relating to 10 films sent to South Georgia in Winter 1955 via shipping agents Messrs. Ruys & Co., Netherlands, and the Fred Olsen Transport Co. A/S, lists the titles Asphalt Jungle (Asfaltjungelen, 1950), No No Nanette (Nei, Nei Nanette), Operation Pacific (1951), and Rocky Mountain (1950) among others. The films were destined for Grytviken Kino, South Georgia.

List of films sent south to South Georgia from Oslo in January 1955. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

List of films sent south to South Georgia from Oslo in January 1955. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

Another letter [Norwegian] from Europafilm A/S, Oslo, to L. Klaveness A/S, Sandefjord, dated 18 January 1957, refers to the delivery of 10 films for Grytviken, 1957 Winter Season. The films were to be sent south from Oslo on 29 January 1957 on the vessel Kronprins Olav.

Europafilm A/S, Oslo, supplied 10 films to Grytviken Kino in January 1957. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

Europafilm A/S, Oslo, supplied 10 films to Grytviken Kino in January 1957. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

The films sent south in 1957 included Bird of Paradise (hopefully the 1951 re-make rather than the much earlier 1932 one), Botany Bay (1952), David and Bathsheba (1951), Desert Fox: the story of Rommel (1951), Roman Holiday (Prinsesse paa vift, 1954), and Star of India (1954) among others.

List of films sent south to South Georgia from Oslo in January 1957. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

List of films sent south to South Georgia from Oslo in January 1957. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

It wasn’t only the crews of the floating factories that enjoyed the exchange of films with the shore-based stations… films were exchanged between the various shore stations themselves. In the Archive there is a note [Norwegian] from Grytviken Kino to Husvik station cinema, dated 20 February 1960, indicating that a number of films were on the way to Husvik. The same note asks Husvik ‘to please send [back] remaining films of previous lists’.

Grytviken Cinema membership card. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

Grytviken Cinema membership card. In the Salvesen Archive, B2, Box 4, h.

Another note [Norwegian] from Grytviken Kino to Husvik, dated 7 November 1961, indicates that ‘more new movies will be sent tomorrow’, and that these should be sent on to Leith Harbour as well. The note also asks that films already watched be returned to Grytviken. In addition, the note states that the ‘film company in Oslo has asked us that care be taken of all the large coloured cinema posters inside the film cans and to make sure they don’t get lost, otherwise they will have to be paid for’.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

With the ending of commercial whaling and the closure of the South Georgia stations, infrastructure there has been open to the elements. A 2011 report on the state of the whaling-stations shows that the cinema buildings have not faired well at all, succumbing like the other flimsy structures to the storms and weather conditions of the Southern Ocean.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

The cinema venue at Grytviken (a whaling station of Compañia Argentina) has gone – or is at least not referred to in a list of surviving buildings – and at Husvik (established by the Tønsbergs Hvalfangeri) the cinema and library were ‘in a state of collapse either partial or complete’.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

Interior of a South Georgia cinema. In the Salvesen Archive, C1, Envelope 30.

At Stromness (first established by the Sandefjord Whaling Company) the cinema is listed as one of the buildings that ‘have collapsed completely’ , and at Leith Harbour too (the Christian Salvesen station) the cinema is among those buildings ‘in a ruinous state’. At Prince Olav Harbour (Southern Whaling & Sealing Company) the cinema has ‘disappeared completely’.

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Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives & Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections (CRC)

The following were used in the construction of this blog-post:

Salvesen of Leith, Wray Vamplew, p.213, published by Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh & London, 1975.

A whaling enterprise. Salvesen in the Antarctic, Sir Gerald Elliot, p.66, p112, published by Michael Russell, Norwich, 1998.

Inspection of the disused shore-based whaling-stations for the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, by Purcell Miller Tritton, Norwich, July 2011.

If you have enjoyed this glimpse of the Salvesen Archive, have a look at these earlier ones too: June 2014 Whale hunting: new documentary for broadcast on BBC 4; July 1914 Pipe bombs, hurt sternframes, peas, penguins, stowaways and cookery books: the Salvesen Archive; March 2015 ‘Empire Kingsley’ – 70th anniversary of sinking on 22 March 1945; November 2015 Talk given to Members of the South Georgia Association – on the Salvesen Archive; May 2016 Exploring the explorer – Traces of Ernest Shackleton in our collections – 10 May 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the safe arrival of the small boat ‘James Caird’ on South Georgia

James Miranda Steuart Barry and the Crimean War

We recently became aware of a single letter from James Miranda Barry, written just before (s)he was due to depart for Sebastopol shortly after its capture by the ‘allies’ in 1855. We acquired in in 1977.

Margaret Bulkley was born in Ireland: a bright, precocious child, she moved to London, with her mother in 1805 and there had access to General Francisco de Miranda’s library with ‘treatises such as might be considered to form a tolerably complete Medical Library for a private gentleman’. As her father had been declared bankrupt, she had no hope of a good marriage so it was decided she should go to university but this was not an option for a female.

Thus she took the name of James Barry (after her uncle) and went to study medicine, at Edinburgh University, one of the most demanding and rigorous courses in Britain. Barry graduated with a MD thesis dedicated to her patrons, General Francisco de Miranda and David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan (1742-1829). Then, even more extraordinary, after further training, Barry joined the army and travelled throughout the British Empire. There is no definitive version of her adopted name.

Read more about Barry on Our History

We knew about Barry’s matriculation and graduation records and MD thesis.  This letter, while recorded in our sheaf index to manuscripts, had not yet made its way into our online catalogue and was stumbled upon while looking for something else.  It makes interesting reading.