Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

10 February 2016

The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

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On this day 176 years ago Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace.

Victoria & Albert G70085-94

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from Lady Waterpark's photograph album Add. 60751, f.1 Images OnlineNoc


News of Her Majesty’s marriage arrived in India via overland mail in April 1840, where her faithful subjects celebrated the joyous news and planned ways to mark the occasion. The Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, instructed that a royal salute be fired from the ramparts of Fort William at 6am the following morning and that a feu de joie would be fired by the Troops of the garrison in honour of the happy event.

Lord Auckland also decided that, as well as the military display of joy, there would be a display of illumination and fireworks in front of Government House in June 1840 to mark the occasion instead of the more traditional ball and supper. His intention in marking the occasion in this way was that it could be appreciated by a larger number of people and was ‘particularly agreeably to Indian tastes’.  He also hoped it would bring together the ‘high and low, rich and poor of this city [Calcutta] and its neighbourhood’. 


Government House Calcutta

Photo 29(8) Government House Calcutta, South Front, 1860s Noc

The inhabitants of Bombay chose a different sort of celebration, preparing a congratulatory address to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen and her illustrious consort on the occasion of her marriage. The content of these addresses was presented by the Chief Justice, Sir John Wither Awdry, and the Lord Bishop of Bombay, the Reverend Thomas Carr, at a meeting of the Bombay Council on 21 April 1840.

The address to Queen Victoria sends her loyal subjects' 'heartfelt congratulations on your Majesty’s auspicious union’ while the address to Prince Albert congratulates him ‘on the happy event of his marriage with our August Sovereign’.

Queen Victoria’s address includes the people of Bombay’s hopes of 'the continuance of that illustrious line, whose dominion over the British Empire has, by the divine blessing, been instrumental to the greatest amount of Civil and Religious liberty, of Intellectual Advancement, and (notwithstanding some serious Calamities) of Prosperity, public and private, ever enjoyed for so long a continuous period, by so large a portion of mankind'.

Prince Albert’s address tends more towards marital advice, including '...above all, being the object of the uncontrolled choice of Her, with whom you are to share the holiest domestic duties' and 'Your Highness offers the fairest outward hopes of those blessings to yourselves and to a loyal people for the actual attainment of which, we can rely only on that Divine Providence, which has hitherto, so conspicuously favoured the Empire under her Majesty’s Royal House'.

The address was subsequently engrossed on parchment and laid for signature at the Town Hall until the evening of 28 April before being transmitted to England on 29 April 1840.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
IOR/F/4/1902/81001 Address sent by the inhabitants of Bombay to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the occasion of their marriage, Apr 1840
IOR/F/4/1932/83331 Expenditure by the Government of India of the sum of 7645 Rupees on a display of illumination and fireworks to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Apr-Sep 1840.

09 February 2016

Concerts, sports days and vegetable shows

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PhD students are invited to apply for a new placement which focuses on the British Library’s collections of First World War printed ephemera. This is an opportunity to examine an alternative perspective on what went on behind the lines on the Western Front.

The Printed Heritage and Collections team are looking for a postgraduate student to help them promote a hitherto largely hidden collection of First World War ephemera. This 3-month (or P/T equivalent) PhD placement, is one of seventeen projects currently on offer at the British Library.

British soldiers in France

British soldiers at play France (Photo 24-320) H.D. Girdwood collection (1915). British Library, Wikimedia Commons. Noc


The background for this project is the Library’s wider collection of printed items published during the First World War, located within Western Heritage Collections, and including monographs, periodicals, pamphlets, leaflets and other ephemera.

In the context of the First World War Centenary, this project offers an exciting opportunity to research one of the British Library’s collections of ephemera, discover more about the context of its creation and promote it to a wider audience. The body of material, which has not been digitised, includes programmes for sports contests, vegetable shows and musical productions. The placement holder will be responsible for producing a descriptive record of the items, including details of the creating organisation (unit etc), place of publication and date. This record will be made visible through the British Library’s public catalogue, and there will be further potential opportunities to disseminate any findings via the Library’s World War One website, the Untold Lives blog, and/or through a resource guide or outreach event. 

The successful candidate will be granted considerable autonomy in deciding their research approach, and the most appropriate way of promoting the material. They can expect to work closely with specialist curators in the Printed Heritage Collections and develop valuable research skills. In addition to an induction to the British Library, training in the use of spreadsheets, and an introduction to a range of online subscription databases, all placement students will be allocated their own desk and/or workspace, and will be fully integrated into the working environment of their team/department.

Full details of the scheme and profiles of the 17 projects that are being offered can be seen here. All applications must be supported by the applicant’s PhD supervisor and their department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent). The application deadline, for all of the 2016/2017 PhD placements, is 19 February 2016.

Jane Shepard
Research Support Intern Cc-by


08 February 2016

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Today is Chinese New Year (the Year of the Monkey) and to celebrate we thought we would share with you some of the amazing images we have of China made by the artist William Alexander (1767-1816) who was appointed draughtsman on the first formal British diplomatic mission to China between 1792 and 1794. Born at Maidstone in Kent, Alexander attended Maidstone grammar school before moving to London in 1782 and enrolling as a student at the Royal Academy Schools two years later. It was whilst in London that the quality of his draughtsmanship was recognised, possibly by the artist Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817), and he was recommended to accompany Lord George Macartney's embassy to China as an illustrator.

View of Eastern Side of Imperial Park Gehol Add MS 35300

'View of Eastern Side of Imperial Park Gehol' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

Tasked with promoting British trading interests with China the Macartney Embassy landed at Tianjin in northern China in August 1793 and travelled overland via Beijing to Jehol near present day Chengde where the emperor Qianlong was residing beyond the Great Wall near Inner Mongolia to escape the summer heat. After much ceremony and discussion about how the embassy would be presented to the Emperor (particularly whether Macartney would kowtow to Qianlong) the mission failed to achieve any of its primary objectives and the embassy was dismissed by the Chinese on 3 October 1793.

Chinese Man Add MS 35300

'Chinese Man' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

 Yet despite this, the mission could be considered a partial success in that it exposed China to men like William Alexander who was able to make detailed observations of the great Chinese empire which he brought back and disseminated before an excited British public. During their long journey to meet the Emperor, the Macartney Embassy was treated with great hospitality by their Chinese hosts who allowed them guarded access to Chinese culture and customs. These encounters provided a rich source of inspiration for Alexander who made copious images of the Chinese landscapes and its people throughout his visit.    

Chinese Figures from Nature Add MS 35300

'Chinese Figures from Nature' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

Alexander’s experiences of China made a lasting impression on him and long after his return he continued drafting, publishing and exhibiting images of the country inspired by the mission. His drawings illustrative of the expedition were engraved for the official record in George Staunton’s An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797) and his own Views of the headlands, islands, etc., taken during a voyage …along the eastern coast of China (1798). All these images were immensely popular amongst the British public, coinciding as it did with the fashion for chinoiserie that so influenced the decorative arts in eighteenth-century Britain and which helped foster a strong commercial interest for the British in the Far East.

Though William Alexander is best remembered for his work on China he also has a close connection to us at The British Library. Some years after his tour of China, on 11 June 1808, Alexander was appointed assistant librarian and first keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum. In 1810, he began the first inventory of the museum's collection of prints and drawings and so we owe him a great debt of gratitude that we are able to locate his, and many other, images in our collections today.

William Alexander

Self-portait by William Alexander, 1792-4, watercolour over pencil, British Museum 1897,0813.2. This drawing was given to the British Museum at the same time as Alexander's Journal which is now in the British Library at Add MS 35714  NPGCC

Like the Macartney Embassy, The British Library continues to seek to strengthen Sino-British relations and has recently announced that, for the first time in its history, it is to display some of Britain’s most iconic literary treasures in China. In all, ten items will star in pop-up exhibitions across the country between 2016 and 2019. They are expected to include handwritten manuscripts and early editions by some of the greatest British authors of all time, from Shakespeare and Dickens to the Brontë sisters and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Dr Alexander Lock, Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts and Archives, 1851-1950