Kitty Lord’s Padded ‘Symmetricals’

This final post (see Parts One and Two) was inspired by a pair of pale pink knitted tights worn by the music hall singer Kitty Lord (1881-1972) in the early 1900s. Part of a collection of Lord’s costumes held at the Museum of London, these ‘symmetricals’ were carefully padded with wool to ensure that her thighs and calves looked suitably shapely and voluptuous [Figure 1]. As these padded symmetricals reveal, and this post will discuss, in late nineteenth century Burlesque

Read more

“A Shadow of a Magnitude”: Toru Dutt’s Writing and Nineteenth-Century Cross-Cultural Dialogue

This is an ode to one of those poets of the world literary tradition whose work captured and immortalized the everlasting magnanimity of the natural world, in the spirit of the Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, who strived for excellence in the literary arts, whose life was like a temporal spring that came to an end at the time when it was blossoming; like the nightingale’s voice of Keats’ poem, or the ‘golden autumn’ of Chatterton’s. Yet it was

Read more

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

Read more

‘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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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.

Read more