A Grand Tour Amongst the Icebergs: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Arctic Adventure

Whaleship Hope of Peterhead

On November 13th (6.30-8pm) I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Liverpool about Arthur Conan Doyle and his 1880 voyage to the Arctic on the Peterhead whale ship, the S.S. Hope. Doyle’s journal of his voyage, during which he acted as ship’s surgeon, was published by the British Library in 2012. He would later draw on his experiences in the Arctic in stories and in a factual article in Strand magazine in 1897. Doyle was one of many young doctors who had visited the Arctic on whale ships over the previous century or so, but at a time when Arctic tourism was growing in popularity, his voyage can also be seen as an alternative grand tour for adventurous young men who preferred frozen seas to the Mediterranean.

You can book a place though the university’s online shop here.

Continuing Education Courses 2014-2015

Continuing Education 6

The new academic year is beginning, and that means a new set of Continuing Education courses is beginning at the University of Liverpool. Quite a few courses are brought together under “themes” this year. We’ve linked up with the Liverpool Gothic Festival to offer a series of courses called Other Worlds: Gothic and the Supernatural, there’s a series on The Grand Tour (I’m giving a talk on Arthur Conan Doyle’s journey to the Arctic on November 13th) and on Liverpool: Ideas and Culture.

Registration has already opened, but I wanted to highlight a few of the literature courses coming up soon. From October 1st Dr. Katharine Easterby is running a 10 week course on Burning Books and Dr. Diana Powell has one on Jail Birds, covering prisoners in literature in the early nineteenth century. From October 2nd there is a course on Reading Kate Atkinson, with Dr. Shirley Jones, and Read the Shortlist, covering the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist, with Dr. Hana Leaper. Booking information is here.

New this year to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day on October 14th at the Victoria Gallery and Museum, is a collaboration between History and English. This includes lectures on women in science by Dr. Claire Jones and on Lovelace’s father, the poet Lord Byron, by Dr. James Bainbridge, as well as lunch, and a visit to the special exhibition The World in a Particle. To book a place on Ada Lovelace Day, go here.

Full details of these and many more courses and events can be found on the University of Liverpool Continuing Education website.

Sir John Franklin and the Hull Whalers

I don’t usually respond to news reports here, but I have to note that today the Canadian government announced the discovery of one of the two ships Sir John Franklin took to the Arctic in 1845, and which has been lost ever since. The discovery confirms Inuit oral histories of ships in the same area and marks the end of 160 years of searching. Both ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, had seen service in Antarctic exploration under the command of James Clark Ross and were used in surveying the newly-discovered Ross Ice Shelf. Mount Erebus was named after Ross’s flagship. The Antarctic expedition, which lasted several years, had spent the southern winters in Tasmania and at the Falkland Islands. The Franklin expedition of 1845 was more challenging, however, because it involved overwintering amongst the ice. Erebus and Terror had been clad in iron and fitted with steam engines to improve their chances of survival.

By the Autumn of 1847 it was already clear that something was wrong. Besides government bounties that eventually reached £20,000 Lady Franklin said she would give up her whole fortune of £10,000 in searching for her husband, and in 1848 she put forward £2000 as an incentive for whalers in Baffin Bay to look for the explorers. It was not enough to persuade them, but by February 1849 several expeditions were ready to go looking for her husband, including a second private attempt by Sir James Ross. Realising that Arctic whalers knew the region best, Lady Franklin travelled to Hull with William Scoresby Jr, where she met with whale ship owners and captains. On February 16th the Times reported this visit, during which Lady Franklin offered the whalers even more money, and concludes that “We shall be joined, we are sure, by all, in wishing success to these affectionate and earnest efforts, of Lady Franklin on behalf of her husband and her imperilled companions.”

CBC has released footage of the wreck, which could be Erebus or Terror:

Incidentally, Sinead O’Connor’s recording of “Lady Franklin’s Lament” a folk song about the Franklin expedition, is worth a listen:

World War I Era Photography

Over at Mottershead and Hayes, my photo blog, I’ve been writing about taking pictures with cameras from the early twentieth century. Here’s the link.

Southport Pier

European Beer Bloggers’ Conference 2014

Beer Bloggers Bucket This past weekend I attended the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference in Dublin. It’s the third year I’ve been to the event and as usual it offered a good mix of regular conference sessions with beer tasting, brewers’ receptions and social gatherings. The major sponsors Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and Molson Coors (represented by Franciscan Well) might not be approved of in some quarters, but their generous help meant the conference could take place. The evening at the Guinness Storehouse was refreshingly free of corporate pushiness and the brewer I spoke to was genuinely enthusiastic about his job. The impressive Smithwick’s Night Porter, winner of an internal competition between brewers, of which only 120 bottles were brewed, showed just how much talent they have despite the ubiquity of the beers they brew every day. Pilsner Urquell Apart from tasting their beers in near perfect condition (the Guinness served at St. James’s Gate had better be as intended, right?) it meant that we could be introduced to small Irish brewers like Mountain Man, the Carlow Brewing Company, Galway Bay Brewery, Trouble Brewing, Black Donkey, Rascal’s, N17 and others (who have I missed?). N17’s small batch of Oatmeal Stout was a highlight for me. Rascal's Taps Galway Hooker Every Last Drop N17 It’s a sign of how quickly brewing in Ireland is changing that these last two have been brewing for only a matter of months, in contrast to Guinness, whose shiny new and vast €160 million Brewhouse No. 4 we visited on Friday night. How vast? One of the company’s representatives told me at full capacity it is capable of brewing 180,000 pints per brew and nine brews per day. It’s a truly impressive place, although it did come at the expense of closing two other breweries, at Dundalk and Kilkenny. Quite a few of us learned how to pour a pint of Guinness that night, but the barman refused to show me how to put a shamrock on top. Guinness Pouring It wasn’t all beer and food, though there was an awful lot of both. Derek Springer, representing WordPress, gave a fascinating talk on how to get the most from WordPress and other blogging platforms, and handed out sunglasses that seem to have inspired the formation of a completely silent and beer-related tribute band: CraftWerker. CraftWerk I switched from WordPress.org to WordPress.com several years ago after being hacked a couple of times, but Derek’s talk has left me wondering whether Jetpack and Vaultpress might just give me the confidence I need to switch back. As in past years, what made the conference for me was the people and I spent a lot of my time wandering around with my camera and a dodgy old lens. Here’s a carousel gallery of images from the various receptions, parties and conference sessions over the weekend. And the frightening offspring of the unholy union between a gnome and a leprechaun.


John Clavell, Dandy Highwayman

For part of this week I’ve been writing a short biographical piece about John Clavell, an English poet and dramatist, who was born in Dorset in 1601. Clavell didn’t write very much before he moved on to other careers as a lawyer and a doctor (neither of which he seems to have been qualified for in any way), but what he did write is fascinating. Clavell was born into a well-to-do Dorset family, with an estate at Wootton Glanville, and he arrived at Brasenose College, Oxford as a likely lad of eighteen in 1619. But despite his family background, including a rich uncle, Sir William Clavell, our man seems to have wanted more. In 1621, before competing his degree, Clavell stole some of the silver and gold plate belonging to the college. He was soon apprehended and thrown in prison, only to be given a pardon following the intervention of his uncle. After that Clavell went off to London and fell in with a bad crowd. Thinking he was going to inherit a fortune from his father he started borrowing money, but when his father died in 1623 and most of the family estate turned out to be mortgaged, he found he couldn’t pay off the nice men who had lined up to fund his lifestyle and now wanted their money back. Clavell did the best thing he could think to do in his position: he became a highwayman. Highway robbery was a capital crime in 1624, but Clavell clearly thought the possible returns were worth it. Unfortunately he was arrested in late 1625, after less than a year terrorising the roads around London. Along with several others he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

If the hangman had his way we might have been deprived of Clavell’s obscure, but fascinating account of highway robbery. Fortunately for him and us the coronation of Charles I in February 1626 brought with it a general amnesty and for the second time Clavell managed to secure himself a pardon. It was another two years before Clavell was released, but in the mean time he wrote a penitent poem explaining why he went on the road and describing the life of a highway robber. His A Recantation of an Ill Led Life was published in 1628 and became immediately popular. Here was a first-hand account of the life of one of the most feared categories of criminal, a group who made long-distance travel a hazardous undertaking, whose acts could leave their victims penniless, or even dead. But not only was Clavell’s confessional a revelatory tract about a mysterious and much feared profession, it also offered advice on how to avoid being robbed, and on how to recognise highwaymen among your fellow travellers and companions. Notably, despite the fact that he was released from prison, Clavell warns others against taking up the profession. One swallow, he says, does not make a summer. Despite its lurid subject matter, the Recantation is low-key and unembellished. Clavell is keen to be accepted as a reformed character–he even begs the king for some kind of employment–and portrays the highwayman as generally more fearful than fearsome. Even so he begins with a striking statement:

Stand and deliver to your observation,
Right serious thoughts, that you by my relation
May benefit, for otherwise in vaine
I write, you reade, unlesse from hence you gaine
The happinesse I meane you; blest is he
That will make use of others jeopardie.
Be warn’d by me, so may you purchace hence
At a cheape rate my deare experience.

Some of the advice he gives to travellers is surprisingly modern. Don’t make it generally known you are going away, or why:

… you little thinke
There’s any harme in this, yet I have knowne
A Father thus betray’d by his owne Sonne,
A Brother by a Brother, and a friend
Most deare in outward shew, to condescend.

Trust nobody along the way:

Oft in your Clothiers and your Grasiers Inne,
You shall have Chamberlaines, that there have bin
Plac’d purposely by theeves, or else consenting
By their large bribes, and by their often tempting,
That marke your purses drawne, and give a gesse

But some of it seems at first glance rather odd: don’t travel by day “with any sum you are afraid to lose” and don’t travel on a Sunday. The first of these becomes clear when Clavell explains that darkness makes the victim and his pistols more difficult to see, but also that highwaymen “… must / Keepe lawfull howers, for feare they through mistrust / Be apprehended …” Not travelling on a Sunday also makes sense: only people with important business would be prepared to travel unlawfully on the sabbath, making picking out a victim much easier.

Clavell also gives good advice to inn-keepers on how to spot highwaymen and thieves. Ostlers in the stables might notice horses that must have special food, or careful treatment–above all else a highwayman depends on his horse. And highwaymen, it seems, travel light; their horses have empty cloak bags on the saddle, there for show, and to receive the swag. Inn-keepers, according to Clavell, should make sure to spy on their guests, listen to their conversations, and arrange for someone to knock loudly on the door, to see how they react. Sometimes criminal guests arrive in groups, pretending not to know each other, and they always go to the best inns, where they are less likely to be suspected:

The fairest Innes they usually frequent,
Out of a wary-politicke intent,
Presuming, for disparaging the man
They will not search his howse, and there they can
Rest unmolested, but since this you know
Let not the subtile theefe, escape you so.

Clavell went on to write a play about a young man who borrows money expecting to inherit a fortune and is then cheated out of his inheritance by unscrupulous moneylenders. He then went to Ireland to be a lawyer and physician. It is very unlikely he ever had any formal training as a lawyer, but nevertheless he also practised law in London in the late 1630s. He died, nobody knows where, aged 42, in 1643.

Gillian Spraggs’s site about highwaymen has part of Clavell’s Recantation available. I was unable to find the whole poem available for free on the open internet, but if you have a university subscription to Athens or similar you can read it at Early English Books Online. Otherwise, there is much more about him (and the poem) in John Pafford’s John Clavell 1601–1643. Highwayman, Author, Lawyer, Doctor, (Oxford, Leopard’s Head Press, 1993).

As a side-effect of all this, I’ve had the inevitable Adam and the Ants earworm for a couple of days:


Caitlin and the Hens

Another quick post to say there’s a new poem and photo over at The Jupiter Project, my collaboration with poet Rebecca Goss. This one is called Caitlin and the Hens and although it has a comfortable, domestic setting, as with childhood itself there is a double-edged payoff.

The Jupiter Project


My photography/poetry collaboration with Rebecca Goss has come out of hibernation with a poem about caravans. Here it is at The Jupiter Project. Now to bring this blog out of hibernation as well.

Francis Coventry and Pompey the Little

PompeytheLittleI’ve just finished writing a short biographical piece about Francis Coventry, a writer and clergyman from the eighteenth century I had never come across before. Coventry was born in 1725, but between leaving Cambridge in 1749, and his death from smallpox in 1754, he produced a little-known novel that I found very amusing. Pompey the Little is a picaresque tale of eighteenth-century London society very much in the vein of Henry Fielding, the twist being that the ‘hero’ is a lap-dog. It was published anonymously, probably because many of the characters in it would have been recognisable to anyone reading it, and as a result there was much speculation about who the author might be. Fielding was one suspect. Coventry’s novel is funny, lively, and often coarse: a “modish” marriage descends into mutual violence because the wife goes to the theatre to see Hamlet; Pompey pisses on his master’s breeches and “performed a much more disreputable action on a rich Turkey carpet” before being rewarded with a large breakfast.

In his dedication to Fielding in the second edition, Coventry laments the low status of the novel, which was then still a novel literary form:

Scholars and men of learning have a reason to give; their application to severe studies may have destroyed their relish for works of a lighter cast, and consequently it cannot be expected that they should approve what they do not understand. … People whose most earnest business is to dress and play at cards, are not so importantly employed, but that they find leisure now and then to read a novel.

Pompey the Little can be had for nothing from Google Books. It’s well worth a read.