Monday, 11 December 2017

Darwin and Darwinism in Victorian Cartoon and Caricature

The publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) provided plentiful material for the cartoonists and caricaturists. One of my favorites is this one, published in Punch in the year of Darwin's death, 1882. It plays on the fact that Darwin had also written the definitive work on earthworms. A worm emerging from CHAOS is evolving into a variety of questionable primate forms before emerging as a proper Victorian gentleman tipping his hat to Darwin, portrayed as a Greek philosopher. Scientific it isn't, but it is a worthy tribute to the great scientist.    

Many of the caricatures of Darwin highlighted the then frightening notion that man was descended from an ape or monkey, although Darwin stressed that humans were not descended from any existing primate species but from earlier, extinct forms. 

Punch published the two below in 1861, one of an ape arriving for a Victorian formal affair, the other of an ape asking about his relationship to homo sapiens. 

Intentionally or not, "Monkeyana" had definite racist overtones. In the 1780's Darwin's grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, had produced a medallion for anti-slavery organizations in England in which an enslaved African in chains asked the same question. 

Darwin himself was sometimes presented as an ape-like man, or apes were portrayed as resembling him. The four below are from the 1870's, after the publication of the Descent of Man.

The last of these four, from Punch, was inspired by Darwin's book on climbing plants, reissued in 1875.

But Darwin was not the only famous person to be associated with apes, as this 20th century poster shows.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

London Walks: A Curious Walk along the Thames: Rotherhithe, Deptford, and Greenwich

On yet another beautiful day, I resumed my walk on the Thames Path, along the South Bank of the river. I started where I had ended the previous walk, at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, just past the Mayflower Pub. I soon came to the curious statue below, at Cumberland Wharf. From here, the ship Mayflower left for the New World in 1620. The statue, put up in the 1990s, is of a Pilgrim and a young Londoner of the 1930s reading a popular boy's magazine called the Sunbeam Weekly. But the sculptor, Peter Maclean, has spelled it "Weakly." A joke or just a mistake? Other curiosities: the Pilgrim has a lobster claw in his pocket, a crucifix, and a London A-Z Street guide dated 1620! The dog, by the way, is a Staffordshire Terrier, a popular breed in this area.

Leaving the statue in my wake, I soon found myself opposite the Isle of Dogs, once home to the vast East India Docks. The docks here operated from 1802 until 1980, when the triumph of mammoth container ships rendered them and most other London docks obsolete. Today, the area is home to the financial center known as Canary Wharf.    

Resuming my trek on the South Bank, I passed the Docklands Hilton and arrived at the Surrey Docks Farm, a charming oasis of green, complete with farm animals, including pigs and goats. One can buy produce and enjoy a snack or meal in the farm's Cafe.

Just beyond the farm I came to the huge Greenland Dock, now a marina for boats of all shapes and sizes, mainly pleasure craft, canal boats, and houseboats.

Greenland Dock is in the part of London known as Deptford. It is here that Elizabeth I knighted Francis Drake upon his return from circumnavigating the globe in his ship The Golden Hinde. A replica of the ship can be visited upriver in Bankside, at St Mary Overie Dock (see previous post).  

Things got curiouser and curiouser. After Greenland Dock, I had to take a short detour away from the riverfront. The detour took me through Sayes Court Park, where I encountered an ancient fenced mulberry tree with signs around it informing me that it was Evelyn's Mulberry, that it was entered in the contest for the UK's tree of the Year, and that I should vote for it.

Legend has it that Tsar Peter the Great of Russia planted the tree during a visit to England in 1698. He planted it, so the story goes, to placate his landlord, the famous diarist John Evelyn, after doing some damage to the gardens during a drunken escapade. Other tales argue that the tree is older, perhaps planted during the reign of James I (1603-1624). Whatever the tree's origins, calling it Evelyn's Mulberry is justified. Evelyn owned the land it sits upon and he wrote one of the first books on trees in 1664. 

After leaving Sayes Court Park, I quickly returned to the riverside and ran into Peter the Great again, memorialized in another curious statue. Peter had come to London mainly because he wanted to study British shipbuilding. He wanted to establish a western style navy in Russia. The statue itself is quite recent, a gift from Russia to commemorate Peter's visit. The little man to Peter's right is said to be one of his dwarf court jesters. Peter himself was extremely tall, 6'6" (2.03m).

From the vantage point of Peter's statue I had a good view of my final destination for the day, Greenwich, dominated by the masts of the clipper Cutty Sark and the cupolas of the Old Royal Naval College. Both are now museums, in a place full of museums. There are also the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, where one can stand on the Prime Meridian.

I had visited all these attractions on other occasions. The day was getting late, and I was getting thirsty, thus I wisely limited my time in Greenwich to a stop at the Trafalgar Tavern, guarded by yet another statue, this one of Britain's greatest admiral, Horatio Nelson. Compared to the Mayflower and Peter the Great statues, that of Nelson seemed rather prosaic!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Great Old London Bridges That Are Not Falling Down, Yet.

1. Albert Bridge. Connects Chelsea and Battersea. Opened 1873. Architects: Joseph Bazalgette and Rowland Mason Ordish. Length: 216 meters. Named for Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, who died in 1861. 

Ordish designed it as a cable stayed bridge, but it proved structurally unsound. To strengthen it, Bazalgette added some design elements of a suspension bridge. In 1973 the Greater London Council added two concrete piers, which transformed the central span into a simple beam bridge.

Beautiful but not designed for modern motor traffic, the Albert Bridge was (somewhat oddly) nicknamed the "Trembling Lady" because it tended to vibrate noticeably when large numbers of people crossed it. That is the reason for the notice on the toll booth below. 

As the booths indicate, the Albert Bridge originally charged tolls for crossing, but it proved unprofitable and soon passed into public ownership. It still carries some motor vehicles, with severe restrictions.,_London

2. Hammersmith Bridge. Connects Hammersmith and Fulham on the North side of the Thames to Barnes on the South side. Current bridge opened 1887, replacing another opened in 1827. Architect: Joseph Bazalgette. Suspension bridge. Length: 210 meters. 

Like the Albert Bridge, Hammersmith Bridge suffered from the advent of heavy modern vehicular traffic, which it was not designed to support. It has been closed to traffic for lengthy periods for repairs and strengthening, and now has 7.5 ton weight limit. 

3. Richmond Bridge. Connects Richmond Upon Thames and Twickenham. Opened 1777. Stone arch bridge designed by James Paine and Kenton Couse. length: 91 meters.  

It is the oldest surviving Thames bridge in London. It was widened and reinforced during the 20th century and continues to carry vehicular traffic.,_London

Sunday, 10 September 2017

London Walks: From the Globe to the Mayflower: Bankside, Bermondsey, and Rotherhithe

Recently, I took a walk along the South Bank of the Thames, on the Thames Path. Starting my walk at Blackfriars Station, I quickly passed along Bankside, past the Tate Modern, and soon arrived at the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The original Globe was not located here, but somewhere near here. I did not come to see the Globe, however, but a house next to it. 

I had recently read The House by the Thames and the People Who Lived There by Gillian Tindall, a fascinating account of Bankside and its people since medieval times. I have passed the house in question many times before but never took any notice of it. It isn’t a palace, or even a mansion, but a modest residence that has been here since the early 18th century. After reading Tindall’s book, however, I just had to have a look.

What I was most interested in was this plaque on the front of the house:

None of this was true, as Tindall explains in her book. Wren did live for a time in a house nearby that no longer exists. As for Catherine of Aragon, no evidence exists that she slept here, with or without Henry. The house did not exist in 1502. An inn, perhaps, but as Tindall points out, 16th century princesses didn't stay in common inns. 

The claims about Wren and Catherine were fabricated by a mid-twentieth owner of the house, Ludwig Malcolm Munthe. He put up the plaque, perhaps to attract tourists or just to make himself feel important. Despite Tindall’s exposure, the plaque remains to mislead those who bother to read it. Munthe’s fabrication may have had a good result, however. Tindall argues that its faux history may have helped save the house from demolition in the late 1940s, the fate of many nearby old buildings.

Moving on, I passed The Clink, a museum named for the Bishop of Winchester’s prison that existed here from the 12th century to 1781. The Bishop’s Palace was next door, but only part of its foundations remain. A little further on is the Golden Hind, a replica of the ship that Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in/on 1577-1580.

Resisting tours, I plowed on past London bridge and the HMS Belfast, a WWII light cruiser, one of only three surviving ships that formed part of the bombardment fleet on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

One of these days I plan to tour it, but not on this occasion. I soon came to City Hall, which looked like it was about to take off into hyperspace, in stark contrast to the extremely earthbound Tower of London across the river.

Just past these monuments to the past, I arrived at iconic Tower Bridge, which looks medieval, but dates from the 1890s, when neo-gothic was the rage.

I recalled the story that the developers of Lake Havasu City, AZ, who bought the previous London Bridge in the 1970s, actually thought Tower Bridge was London Bridge, and were disappointed to learn they had bought a rather dull neoclassical construction. Maybe the story is apocryphal, but many tourists no doubt think of Tower Bridge as London Bridge. Souvenir shops are full of models of the former, but not the latter.

Passing under Tower Bridge, I entered Bermondsey and the Pool of London. The Docklands proper begin here, and for centuries until the 1960s this area would have been chock full of ships coming and going from all points of the globe. The advent of giant container ships ended that world. Just past the Bridge one comes to Butler’s Wharf, a huge Victorian warehouse that has been converted into upscale apartments and restaurants.

At the end of Butler’s Wharf I came to a muddy inlet of warehouses: St. Savior’s Dock, New Concordia Wharf, and Jacob’s Island Pier. 

Readers of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist may recall that it is at Jacob's Island that the villainous Bill Sykes meets his well-deserved end, falling from a roof into the mud, which is still very evident at low tide. Dickens called this area “the filthiest, strangest, and most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London.”

After crossing the inlet on a metal pedestrian bridge, I went through and under a building on the waterfront. For a few blocks here, the Thames Path meanders along Bermondsey Wall West. Here, warehouses that have been converted into luxury apartments, generally obscure the river from view. I passed by the location of a huge new sewer tunnel project, which also obscures the river from view, but which we will be thankful for.

The path soon rejoins the river again at Bermondsey Wall East, near the Angel Pub. I was sorely tempted to enter for a pint, but I resisted and sat for a while on a bench, looking across to Wapping and Execution Dock, where the notorious alleged pirate Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701. A short distance past the Angel I walked through a narrow passage between warehouses (now apartments) linked by overhead bridges (now bedecked with flowering plants). 

Just past these warehouses I entered the historic heart of Rotherhithe and arrived at the quaint Mayflower Pub.

The pub, which dates in part from the 17th century, was later renamed for the famous ship that carried the Pilgrim Fathers (and Mothers/Kids) to Massachusetts in 1620. The ship was from here in Rotherhithe, and several of its owners are buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard across the street. Among them is Christopher Jones, who captained the Mayflower on its voyage to “discover the New World.” At least this is what the plaque on the pub’s front claims.

The plaque reminded me of Munthe’s plaque on the House by the Thames at Bankside. Jones may have voyaged to the “New World” but lots of others had “discovered” it before him. I went inside and discovered the Mayflower pub, enjoying an ale and a delicious lunch scallops and black pudding on avocado. The part about the ales is certainly true.

Leaving the Mayflower while I could still walk, I soon arrived at the Brunel Museum.

The building was originally an engine house designed by Marc Isambard Brunel, the engineer who designed the Thames Tunnel. Completed in 1843, it was the first tunnel ever built under a navigable river. It connects Rotherhithe with Wapping on the north bank of the river and is @1300 feet (396m) in length. The engine house contained pumps to pump water from the tunnel during construction. 

Today, the museum highlights the careers and engineering projects of Marc Brunel and his more famous son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who completed the tunnel after his father’s death. The Thames Tunnel is used today by London Overground trains.

The Brunel Museum is a charitable project, and I would have liked to visit it, but I was running out of time. I made my way to the nearby Rotherhithe Overground Station and so to home. I plan to come back and see more of the fascinating Docklands area.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

How the Gardenia Got its Name

The gardenia is a familiar, fragrant flowering plant with whitish flowers. Obviously, it derived its Latin name from the word “garden,” but it was not named for a place full of plants, but a physician and naturalist who lived in Charleston, South Carolina during the eighteenth century.

Alexander Garden was born in Birse, Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1730. He studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities, receiving an MD from the latter school. He served as a surgeon in the British navy for several years, but resigned, he said, because he could not overcome sea sickness. A lung complaint, probably tuberculosis, may also have played a part in his decision. 

He emigrated to South Carolina in 1752 in hopes of improving his health and income. In the latter goal, at least, he succeeded. South Carolina was not only the wealthiest British North American colony, it was also the unhealthiest. Garden married a wealthy local heiress, Elizabeth Peronneau, and soon had a flourishing practice in the provincial capital, Charlestown). (Image: Charlestown harbor, 1760s)

By the time of the American Revolution Garden had become the richest physician in the colony, and had bought a plantation in nearby Goose Creek, which he named Otranto.

His passion, however was natural history, initially botany, but later zoology. In South Carolina, Garden collected specimens of many new species and sent them to European naturalists, especially John Ellis of London. As a reward, Ellis urged the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus to name a new genus or species after Garden. 

Linnaeus had invented the modern system of biological classification, and currently had the final say on naming. Garden and Linnaeus also opened a correspondence that lasted for several years. (Image: Linnaeus)

In 1757, Ellis failed to convince Linnaeus to name a South Carolina plant after Garden, the Calycanthus floridus (Sweet Shrub, below). 

The next year, Ellis first set eyes on an attractive, fragrant plant that a ship had recently brought from South Africa. He soon began a campaign to get Linnaeus to name it after Garden. Linnaeus initially refused, saying he preferred to give the name to a plant discovered by Garden himself, or another species. In 1760, Linnaeus reluctantly agreed to the name gardenia, giving Garden what Ellis called a “Species of Eternity.” 

The honor impressed many of Garden’s acquaintances in Charlestown, but one medical colleague was apparently jealous. Dr. Louis Mottet is alleged to have scoffed that he had discovered a very beautiful local plant, and named it “Lucia” after his cook, Lucy.

In the following years, Garden continued to make contributions to natural history, including the discovery of new species of amphibians and fish. (Image: Siren lacertina)

In 1773, Garden was elected to membership of the Royal Society of London, Britain’s most prestigious scientific organization. Among those who nominated him were Ellis and Benjamin Franklin. During these years Garden became a close friend of many leading figures of South Carolina, among them Henry Laurens, later president of the Continental Congress. Garden mentored and adored Laurens’ son John Laurens, who served as a a Patriot officer during the American Revolution, and was killed in one of its last engagements (Aug. 1782).

The War for Independence proved disastrous for Garden. He tried, unsuccessfully, to remain neutral. His family divided. During the British occupation of Charleston (1780-82), his daughter Harriette married a British officer. His son Alex joined the Continental Army, rising to the rank of major.

In 1782, the South Carolina State Assembly banished Garden as a Loyalist for having signed a memorial congratulating Lord Cornwallis on his victory at the Battle of Camden. The government of South Carolina confiscated most of his property, although Alex was allowed to keep Otranto. (Image: Battle of Camden)

When the British evacuated Charleston in December 1782, Garden, his wife, and younger daughter Juliette went into exile in London. He died there in 1791, most likely of tuberculosis. During his time in London, he was an active member of the Royal Society, and was elected vice-president.

Further reading:

Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969)

James Edward Smith, A Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus and Other Naturalists (2 vols., London, 1821)