Sir Thomas Muir (1844–1934): Victorian Educationist and Mathematician

The purpose of this blog is to introduce the reader to the Victorian mathematician and educationist Thomas Muir, and to provide an entrée to his diaries, in which he wrote of his adventurous tours in the remote interior of the Cape Colony.[i] Muir’s origins and his teaching years in Scotland Muir was a Scottish ‘lad O’Pairts’: Victorian Scotland prided itself on giving opportunities to a talented child from a modest background. Muir’s rise from rural Scottish boy in Lanarkshire to

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‘A Vision of Animal Existences’: Popular Responses to Darwin

In the refreshment room of London’s Zoological Gardens, the protagonist of Edmund Saul Dixon’s short story, ‘A Vision of Animal Existences’ (1862), spots a woman reading a ‘thick volume’ that he recognizes. He pulls out reading material of his own—a newspaper—and, perusing its contents, finds a discussion appropriate to his surroundings: extinction, artificial selection, and species are amongst its topics. Prompted to refocus on the ‘volume’ of his nearby reader, however, he forges a further connection: ‘the blue-robed lady’s green-covered

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William Seymour: ‘The Female Cab Driver of Liverpool’

On 10 February 1875, William Seymour, a cab driver, was remanded in custody and charged with stealing ‘22 lbs of beef’ and ‘5 lbs of veal’ from Mr Henry Moorby who owned a butcher’s on Leece Street in Liverpool.[1] Although William categorically maintained his innocence, he was charged with theft and the Liverpool Mercury commented that ‘upon the arm and breast of [his] coat were traces of suet which proved incontestably that he was guilty of the crime’.[2] Although this

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Black Performers in the Nineteenth-Century Circus

The circus has always been, and still is, inclusive by nature. The ‘modern’ circus, founded by Philip Astley over 250 years ago, was underpinned by a wealth of talented black performers. Some became famous in their own right, and were very much in the public eye; their names became household words. Some had just a single named reference in an advertisement, and others were just mentioned by their ethnicity. What has to be remembered, applauded, and celebrated is that in

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The Tricycle and the Camera: New Technologies for Self-Determination

Starting in the late 1870s, the leisure opportunities of a growing body of affluent middle-class photographers were expanded by the development and mass production of new photography and transport technologies: the dry-plate camera and three- or four-wheeled self-propelled machines (tricycles or quadricycles). While the former had removed the need to attend to the glass-plate immediately before and after exposure, as was the case with the wet collodion process, the latter enabled a new experience of mobility as an alternative to

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Flora Shaw: The Times, imperial travels, and a woman in empire

Flora Shaw was a journalist and Colonial Editor of The Times, 1893-1900. She secured this position due to a widely praised series of ‘Letters’ from South Africa, penned during the first of a number of visits to South Africa, Australia, and Canada in the following decade. Shaw visited South Africa and Australia in 1892-3, Canada and the Klondike in 1898, and South Africa in 1900 and 1902. Shaw was an evangelising imperialist, as Dorothy O. Helly and Helen Callaway have

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North American Democracies in the Victorian Era: The Political Satire of Th. Ch. Haliburton

Throughout 2020, the world has been watching American democracy appearing to unravel as its Covid-19 pandemic spiralled out of control; the responsibility for public health measures devolved from the federal level to state level, then to county level, and ultimately down to individuals who pushed back in the name of freedom and challenged lockdowns in courts, and attempted to take over the US Capitol. Prudently, on March 31 Canada closed its southern border and is continuing to monitor the increasingly

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Panacea, poison and psychopharmacology: the lure of laudanum

In the first half of the nineteenth century, many opiate preparations were marketed towards females. In fact, many were branded using the names of women, for example: ‘Mrs Winslow’s soothing syrup’ and ‘Mrs Bailey’s quieting syrup.’ Hardly surprising then that opium, particularly laudanum, was a popular choice for women for most of the century. The mass production of opiates in this way shows how society gave credence to the idea that opium and laudanum were able to relieve most ailments.

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Wish You Were Here: Victorian women pioneers of travel photography

In September 1835, Constance Talbot wrote to her husband asking if he would be taking his small experimental “mousetrap” cameras on a visit to Wales. She remarked, “It would be charming for you to bring home some views.”[1] Four years later, William Henry Fox Talbot announced his invention of Photogenic Drawing at the Royal Society, London, and started the extraordinary creative phenomenon we know now as positive / negative photography. We all take photography for granted: it’s an indispensable, ubiquitous

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Sarojini Naidu, Cultural Exchange and Anti-Imperialism

Sarojini Naidu was a nineteenth century poet and political activist. Her upbringing was, in a sense, privileged because she was born into a middle-class family of well-educated Brahmins. Her father was a scientist and her mother a Bengali poet, so she also had strong literary ties. This gave her the space and opportunity to write and develop her English poetry and yet this was not the sum of her ambition. She used her connections, English education and social standing to

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