Tuesday, 2 August 2022

The Lost Andean Mummy of The Royal College of Surgeons

The Hunterian's Peruvian mummy as depicted in Pettigrew's History of Egyptian Mummies (1834)
 

Don’t ask me why but I am fascinated by the lost mummies of the Hunterian Museum. Before the second world war the Royal College of Surgeons had an outstanding collection of preserved corpses including the mysterious Miss Johnson who died at the Locke Hospital in the early 1770’s but was preserved by the surgeon John Sheldon and then kept naked in his bedroom in a specially designed cabinet. Also dating from the 1770’s were the remnants of Maria Van Butchell embalmed by her eccentric dentist husband Martin and John Hunter himself. Along with these relatively recent, and unusual, experiments in human preservation the museum had a small selection of Egyptian mummies, both human and animal and as well as sundry other preserved remains acquired at one time or another by John Hunter or his successors.  A recent anonymous comment on my post about the mummified boy found in a bricked-up vault at St Botolph’s Without Aldgate in 1742 alerted me to an entry in C.J.S. Thompson’s 1929 Guide to the surgical instruments and objects in the Hunterian, which included the St Botolph’s mummy. I had not been aware that this object had found its way into the Hunterian – I had thought it had simply been lost. It was in my efforts to trace when the Hunterian acquired the mummy that I came across an article on the museum from 1860 by Andrew Wynter in the long defunct Once a Week magazine.  The article mentions not only the St. Botolph’s but yet another lost mummy, this one from Peru. It even carries an illustration of it although it is only mentioned in passing in the text. The Peruvian mummy however is not mentioned in the 1929 guide and must not have been on display at the time so there is a possibility it survived the incendiary bombs. 


Note from Sir Everard Home


The Peruvian mummy was donated to the Hunterian on 27 May 1823 by King George IV; a hastily scrawled note from Sir Everard Home, John Hunter’s son-in-law, in the archives of the RCS says “Gentleman, I have the King’s command to authorise the transfer of the mummy of the Inca to the Royal College of Surgeons”. Entry 742 on page 53 of Part IV of the 1831 catalogue of the Hunterian, printed for the RCS by Richard Taylor of Red Lion Court, not only explains how it came to in the museum but gives a very detailed description. This striking passage is quoted in full in Thomas Pettigrew’s History of Egyptian Mummies (1834) alongside a line drawing of the mummy;

The body of a Peruvian, which was found in one of the native sepulchres, or guacas in some calcareous hills in the district of Caxamarca in Peru. Tradition, preserved among the inhabitants of the country, stated the spot in which the body was found buried, to have been the site of a voluntary sacrifice of the life of a Curaca, one of an order of nobles immediately following in dignity the members of the blood-royal. Colonel Tomas Heres, at that time (1821) Governor of the province of Caxamarca, hearing of this tradition, and knowing it to have been the custom of the ancient Peruvians to bury with their dead whatever household goods or implements they had, during life, been possessed of, ordered these guacas to be opened. As he expected, he found therein various objects of interest, which he remitted to the Museum of Lima. He also found, at about ten or twelve feet below the surface, three human bodies viz the above specimen which is a male, another of a female, which crumbled to dust when exposed to the air, and a third, of a young child about a year old, which latter was presented by Colonel Heres to General Don Juan Gregorio las Heras, and is preserved in the Museum of Buenos Ayres.

Tradition also places the period of interment a very short time previous to the arrival of Pizarro at Rimac, or Lima, somewhere between 1530 and 1540. The only weapon found with the bodies was an axe, or bludgeon of green jade stone very similar in shape to those brought from New Holland. Under the arm of the child was a ball, of two or three inches diameter, of very fine thread or worsted of Vicugna wool. The bodies were merely placed in an excavation in the earth of about ten feet deep. The soil is calcareous, and perhaps, to this circumstance, as well as the dryness of the air, is to be attributed the preservation of the bodies in an undecomposed state. Indeed throughout the highlands of Peru the desiccating process goes on so fast, as to arrest the putrefactive process very much; animal substances will be completely dried up by mere exposure to the air. The bodies are not found wrapped up in linen, as amongst the Egyptians, but they are sometimes covered with the skin of the Vicugna or Peruvian camel, bound closely to the body with ligatures. The poorer classes were generally buried on the eastern aspect of mountains, while the richer were entombed in their own dwellings; the bodies being clothed in their accustomed garments and the weapons, utensils &c. they had used during life, were buried with them; the house was then forsaken by the rest of the family, and the interior of its walls filled up with earth so as to become quite solid. The bodies are generally found extended and lying on the back.

The native Peruvians are now Catholics, and bury their dead according to the rites of that church, although they introduce some of their Pagan customs with the prescribed ceremonies. The above specimen was brought to England by the late General Paroissien, Deputy from the government of Peru, as a present from General San Martin to his late majesty King George the Fourth, by whom it was presented to the Museum in 1823.

General James (Diego) Parossien

General James Paroissien is an interesting character. Despite the French name he was born in Barking in 1784, to a Huguenot family.  At the age of 22, recently qualified as a doctor and fired with the spirit of freedom and liberation that was sweeping Europe at the time, he took ship to South America and joined the army fighting to free Chile and Peru from the yoke of Spanish rule. He became surgeon-general to the army of the Andes and a trusted confidant of José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru. In 1822 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Europe to raise funds for recently liberated Peru. He was in London when he heard the news that San Martin had resigned and waited here until the exiled General arrived, arranging temporary lodgings for him until he moved to Brussels. To aid Paroissien’s diplomatic mission he had been sent with gifts for King George IV, including the Peruvian mummy. The mission was brought to England by H.M.S Conway, commanded by Captain Basil Hall. There is an original letter in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York from Captain Hall to General Paroissien dated March 13 1823. Hall writes about the arrangements that will be needed to get “the old Inca” through customs and recommends the commissioning of a glass case to protect from the damp English climate before it is presented to the British Museum. Hall also wrote about the mummy in his diary which was published in 1823 as Extracts from a Journal Written on the Coasts of Chile, Peru and Mexico;   

Captain Basil Hall of H.M.S. Conway

13th of Dec.—I went this morning to breakfast with the Protector, and to see a curious mummy, or preserved figure, which had been brought the day before from a Peruvian village to the northward of Lima. The figure was that of a man seated on the ground with the knees almost touching his chin, the elbows pressed to his side, and the hands clasping his cheek bones, the mouth was half open, exposing a double row of fine teeth. The body, though shrivelled up in a remarkable manner, had all the appearance of a man, the skin being entire except on one shoulder. In the countenance there was an expression of agony very distinctly marked. The tradition with respect to this and other similar bodies, is, that at the time of the conquest many of the Incas and their families were persecuted to such a degree that they really allowed themselves to be buried alive, rather than submit to the fate with which the Spaniards threatened them. They have generally been found in the posture above described, or pits dug more than twelve feet deep in the sand, whereas the bodies of persons known to have died a natural death are invariably discovered in the regular burying places of the Indians, stretched out at full length — There was seated near the same spot a female figure, with a child in her arms. The female had crumbled into dust on exposure to the air, but the child, which was shown to us, was entire. It was wrapped in a cotton cloth, woven very neatly, and composed of a variety of brilliant colours, and all quite fresh. Parts of the cloths also, of which the female figures had worn, were equally perfect, and the fibre quite strong. These bodies were dug up in a part of the country were rain never falls, and where the soil consequently is so perfectly dry, as to cause an absorption of moisture so great, that putrefaction does not take place. The male figure was sent to England in the convoy, and is now in the British Museum.

As already mentioned, the Peruvian mummy did not feature in the 1929 Guide to the Hunterian. Did the Royal College of Surgeons give it away? If they did, I can’t trace it to any other location. If it wasn’t on display in 1929 was is it in storage safely somewhere else? Did it survive the 1941 bomb? There are no answers to any of these mysteries that I can find and so I have contacted the Royal College of Surgeons and asked them if they can shed any light on the fate of the mummy from Cajamarca.  

The mummy as illustrated in Once A Week magazine in 1860

Friday, 22 July 2022

The Corn Cutter of Broadway; Dr. Issachar Zacharie (1826-1900) Highgate East Cemetery


It isn’t the most spectacular of monuments but amongst the plain grey headstones the polished pink granite memorial with its masonic symbols does stand out and snag the attention long enough for you to read the inscription:

In Loving Memory Of Issachar Zacharie M.D. First Grand Supreme Ruler Of The Masonic Order Of The Secret Monitor Within The British Empire Who Died On September 18th 1900 Aged 73 Years – Sempre Fidelis.   This memorial Of Their Lasting Esteem & Regard Was Erected By The Members Of The Order

Issachar Zacharie was a bit of a con man and quite a successful one. For a start he was not entitled to use the appellation of MD, he was not a doctor and although in his later life newspapers often described him as an Orthopaedist, he was nothing more than a humble chiropodist, a cutter of corns and trimmer of toes according to the less polite American newspapers. His most famous client was Abraham Lincoln and the two men struck up something of a rapport. In early 1863 Lincoln told the Canadian Christian mystic and Zionist Henry Wentworth Monk that “…I myself have a regard for the Jews, My chiropodist is a Jew, and he has so many times “put me upon my feet” that I would have no objection to giving his countrymen a “leg up”…” The esteem in which Lincoln held Zacharie ruffled feathers in Washington; US newspapers were particularly scathing, as reported here by The Belfast News-Letter on 13 October 1864:  

Then we have had a more sanguinary scandal in New York city. The other day one Doctor Issachar Zacharie, a corn cutter in Broadway, quarrelled with his partner and brother chiropodist, Mr. Samuel Barnett. Barnett drew a revolver, and shot Zacharie through the jaw. The wounded man is out of danger; the assailant is out on bail; and the affair will be probably arranged, and never heard of in a criminal court; but the opportunity was too rich a one to be neglected by the World. It found out that Doctor Issachar Zacharie was the confidential friend and bosom companion of his Excellency Abraham Lincoln; that he was the ami de la maison at the White House, and that by means of his influence over the President he had carried on a regular trade in pardons and releases, notably in the enlargement of one Mr. Mordecai, who was sitting for his sins, not, as he should have done, in the gate, but in the inner hold of a military prison. "Many a time," thundered the World, "has the President of the United States left a Cabinet Council to indulge in an hour's sweet converse in the parlour with this contemptible toe-nail trimmer." It seems beyond a doubt that this Dr. Issachar Zacharie was at one period a person of some note at the Republican Court, for he was appointed by special edict ‘Chiropodist-in-chief to the army,’ and was permitted to strut about in an absurd military uniform! You will pardon this note of exclamation, for this is certainly the first time that I, or probably anybody else, heard of an army in the field having bunions. What a treasure Dr. Issachar Zacharie would have been to the rebels in their corn-cutting expedition in the Shenandoah last July.

A carte de visite produced for Zacharie by Turner and Killick of 17 Upper Street, Islington

Zacharie was born in Chatham in 1846, the son of Jewish immigrants from Prussia. By the age of 10 his father had apprenticed him to a physician but a few later, in the mid 1840’s the whole family upped sticks and moved on again, this time to the United States.  By 1846 he was treating toes and pulling teeth in Baltimore but was soon setting on professional tours to other major cities across the US. He gulled his clients with fraudulent endorsements from more famous medical men including one from Sir Astley Paston Cooper which claimed that Zacharie had studied chiropody under him and that the famous surgeon considered “him to be fully competent to perform the duty of a Chiropodist upon all who may favor him with their patronage”. Sir Astley had supposedly dated the endorsement 27 June 1837 which would made have made Zacharie astonishingly precocious as he would only have been 10 at the time.  In 1860 he published “Surgical and Practical Observations on the Diseases of the Human Foot”, the composition of which gave him little trouble as he simply plagiarised the entire tome from an identically titled book by John Eisenberg (and from whom he had also filched the idea of fake celebrity endorsements). When the American Civil War broke out Zacharie wrote to the US Secretary of War suggesting the creation of an elite corp of chiropodists would help keep the Unionist Army on its feet. Stanton rejected the idea but as he needed his own corns cutting summoned Zacharie to the war office. He was so pleased with the results of the consultation that he introduced Zacharie to a fellow martyr to bunions, the President. The rest, as they say, is history. Zacharie somehow charmed his way into Lincoln’s good books and into a position of power and influence way beyond that merited by even the most expert use of nippers and clippers, files, probes and rasps. He was sent on sensitive diplomatic and spying missions deep in Confederate territory in New Orleans and Virginia. He backed Zacharie to be the Chiropodist General to the US Army even though the army had neither before nor since felt the need  for this particular role within its ranks. In 1865 Zacharies stellar American career came to an end when John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the head at the Ford’s Theater.    


An endorsement for Zacharie, this time a real one, written by Abe Lincoln himself

By the early 1870’s Zacharie had apparently forgotten that the post of Chiropodist General to the US Army did not exist and billed Congress $45,000 for his services in the non-existent role in which he claimed to have treated 15,000 soldiers. The claim was rejected and he returned to England in umbrage in 1874. He took premises at 80 Brook Street near Grosvenor Square and placed adverts in the major newspapers claiming to be a foot surgeon and late chiropodist general to the United States Army and inviting anyone suffering from corns, bunions, enlarged joints and nails penetrating the flesh to come and be cured. He also set up The Secret Monitor, a branch of the Free Masons, through which he again appears to have achieved some measure of power and influence, according to the Daily Telegraph & Courier of 22 June 1899:

Although the title of the Order of the Secret Monitor sounds very cabalistic and recondite, it nevertheless simply means a modem off-shoot of Freemasonry. It only dates back to 1887, but already it has several well-known members the craft, and its present Grand Supreme Ruler is ! the Earl of Warwick. It hold its annual convocation of Grand Council last evening in the Hotel Cecil, at which his lordship presided, and at this particular meeting the custom elect, instal, and proclaim the Grand Supreme Ruler for the year, the rand Treasurer, and appoint and invest the now Grand Officers. The result of this convoca- tion, far regards officers, was that the Earl of Warwick again became Supreme Ruler, and that next in rank him was Dr. Issachar Zacharie. Judge Philbrick, Q.C., the Earl of Halsbury, Dr. Muglistoa, Mr. C. E. Keyser (High Sheriff of Berks), Deputy-Inspector General Dr. Belgrave Ninnis, Mr. Frederick West, Judge James Copley Moyle, Mr. George Richards (Transvaal), and many others received Grand Office.” Benevolence, the groat principle of Freemasonry, is not forgotten in this degree, and mot ion was on the business paper to support the Secret Monitor Benevolent Fund Festival in the autumn, at which the presence of ladies is to be invited.


Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper of 03 October 1880 describes a domestic incident which must have taken Zacharie right back to the days of the Civil War: 

SLAPPING THE FOOTMAN. At the Marlborough- street police-court, on Friday, Catherine Keats, cook, was brought before Mr. Mansfield on a warrant charged with assaulting Henry Smith, a lad of colour, footman, both in the service of Dr, Issachar Zacharie, orthopedist, 80, Brook-street, Hanover- square. Complainant stated that as he was going to lock the area gate, it being his master's orders that it should be fastened at night, the prisoner said she was the mistress of the house, and would not have it locked. On complainant telling her that he would not acknowledge her as the mistress, she struck him several times, and took up a knife and said she would rip him up. The housemaid got between them, and the matter ended. One of the blows the prisoner gave him caused his ear to bleed, and he had been a little deaf ever since. Some further evidence having been given by the housemaid, the prisoner said the footman accused her of being drunk, and she slapped him, but did not use a knife. Mr. Mansfield fined the prisoner 20s.

Friday, 15 July 2022

Master Masons and Rear Admirals, Indian Chiefs and Housebreakers, Armed Robbers and Odd Fellows, All Welcome at St John's Burial Ground, Horseferry Road, SW1

ST. JOHN'S BURYING GROUND, Westminster, is very spacious and overcrowded; the churchwardens have been obliged to give up a part of the ground, for the interment of the poor, which had formerly been set apart, for the more fortunate. The soil here is very damp, and, at a shallow depth, the water flows in abundantly; the depth of the graves varies from four to eight feet.

George A. Walker Gatherings from Graveyards (1839)

So populous was the parish of St Margaret in Westminster that it was divided in 1727 by the creation of the new parish of St John the Evangelist. The church has an unusual design of four towers and is known as Queen Anne’s footstool as legend has it that when the architect Thomas Archer asked her majesty how she would like the church to look, the petulant queen, keen no doubt to get rid of the tiresome old architect and get back to romping with Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, kicked over the stool she was resting her heels on and told him “Like that…” It didn’t appeal to Dickens; in Our Mutual Friend, he describes it as "appearing to be some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic on its back with its legs in the air", which makes it sound more Gothic than Baroque. Roque’s map of 1746 shows that the church had quite an extensive churchyard, Mrs Basil Holmes in London’s Burial Grounds (1896) says that it “used to extend, at the beginning of the century, for some distance on the south side of the church, but was thrown into the road. Now all that remains is a very small bare enclosure, not ¼ acre in size, railed in round the church.” Even at its most extensive the churchyard was not big enough to provide enough burial spaces for the teeming parish it served. The vestry acquired additional land for a burial ground on what was then Market Street but is now the lower end of Horseferry Road. The new ground was consecrated by Dr Joseph Wilcocks, Dean of Westminster, on 29 July 1731 but soon had its own capacity issues.  One ten-year period saw 5,126 graves dug and the parish was soon reduced to desperate remedies to try and create more space for interments including adding additional earth on no less than three occasions and raising burial fees to prevent "low fees attracting interments from other parishes." Despite being extended in 1823 it was closed in 1853 by the Government on the grounds of having become a great public nuisance. 

In 1880 a committee of local ratepayers was appointed to look at converting the disused burial ground into a public garden in order to bring an end a row with the vestry about a proposal to build a mortuary on the site. When Horseferry Road was widened the strip across the front was surrendered without protest but a public mortuary was too much for the ratepayers. Luckily the Duke of Westminster stepped in and “most liberally offered the parish the freehold of a site in a retired position more suitable for the purpose, at the back of the Penitentiary, and within a short distance of the burial ground.” The vestry accepted the site ofered by the Duke at the back of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison and allowed the burial garden to be repurposed as a garden. The headstones and chest tombs were cleared away, lawns and flower beds were laid and in 1885 the new garden was opened by the Duke. A decade later Mrs Basil Holmes commented approvingly “it is neatly kept by the vestry, and much frequented.” It still is. The lay out is pretty much as it was back in the 1880’s, a shelter in the centre has been replaced by a fountain but otherwise it is neat and well kept by the council. When I was there small children raced around the fountain on bicycles and a boy in his early teens languidly pushed himself around the boringly flat terrain on a skateboard. Dog walkers exercised their canine companions whilst smokers sat on benches puffing away contentedly. It was the early evening so they all looked like local residents; there wasn’t an office worker in sight (they were all around the corner packing out the Marquis of Granby on Romney Street). It is not obvious that the garden was once a burial ground and that there must be 20 or 30,000 people mouldering away beneath the manicured lawns and the paving slabs. The paving looks suspiciously like chopped up old headstones; at the sides of the park there definitely are old headstones being used as paving slabs, the inscription on one reads “In memory of Benjamin, John and Sally the infant children of William and Mary Ginger of this parish, Also of Mary their daughter wife of the Revd. William Hughes who died 6th April 1799 aged 33 years.”  Ledger stones are set up against the walls of the neighbouring buildings. “I think the best way of disposing of tombstones is by putting them against the walls,” wrote Mrs Basil Holmes, “in St. John’s Garden, Horseferry Road, they are cemented into an even row against the wall, and look as if they would last for ever.” Personally, I wish they had just left them where they stood. Thank God only half of Bunhill Fields was cleared to create a large lawn and the rest was left to let us see what these tiny crowded grave yards looked like. When I think of the destruction wrought by the Midland Rail Company, Baroness Burdett Coutts and the vestry of St Pancras on Old St Pancras and St Giles burial grounds I could weep.  Apart from the ledger stones cemented into the walls and the headstones being utilised as paving there are just two tombs left in St John’s, an anonymous chest tomb surrounded by black metal railings and the grade II listed memorial to Christopher Cass. 


J.E. Smith in St John the Evangelist, Westminster: parochial memorials (1892) says “On the east side of the ground stands an unsightly monument in granite, clumsily inscribed in huge letters to the memory of “Chr"- Cass, Master Mason to His Maj.'s Ordnance.  Died Apl.  21, 1734.  Aged 58."  He was employed on the construction of St.  John’s Church, and on several of the other churches built by Queen Anne’s Commission. He was also one of the original vestrymen appointed by the Commission.” The Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851 has further details of Christopher Cass and says that he was a “conspicuously successful master mason whose team worked in London, Cambridge and at a number of large country houses.” They add;

He died in London and was buried in the cemetery of St John, Westminster, under a heavy granite monument inscribed ‘Chr. Cass, master-mason to his Maj. Ordnance. Dy’d Ap. 21, 1734’. In a report to the RIBA ‘On the Mechanical Processes of Sculpture’ Charles Harriott Smith suggested that this monument was one of the earliest works in England to be executed in granite, and that ‘its mouldings, though such as would now be considered rude in form and execution, were highly esteemed in his (Mr. Smith’s) boyhood’ (Builder,1851, 215). In his will Cass originally expressed a wish to be buried in a vault beneath the portico of St Martin-in-the-Fields, but he substituted St John’s burial-ground in a codicil. To Edward Strong II, ‘my friend and benefactor’, he left £50, declaring that he owed him what ‘I and my family, under the good providence of God, have’. He named Andrews Jelfe his executor, and bequeathed him 100 guineas. Thomas Gayfere received £20 and ‘all his wearing apparel, linen and woollen of all kind’.

Cass’s widow survived him and died in 1742. Andrews Jelfe, writing in that year to William Dixon, tells him that ‘Mrs. Cass was buried last week. She had left all her part to Mr. Bright, a young lawyer, who married her daughter’.

The gardens with the Cass Memorial from Mrs Basil Holmes London's Burial Grounds (1896)

There is a large damaged and weathered ledger stone cemented to the north wall which carries the name of Admiral Ommanney and his wife Martha. A visitor to the gardens on 30 June 1923 reported the full inscription to Notes and QueriesHere lieth the Remains of Rear Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney who died the 26th day of March 1801 aetat 65. Also the Remains of Martha Ommanney his widow who died on this 18th day of March March 1813 aetat 65. Likewise Edmund Woods Ommanney their grandson, son of Henry Manaton and Ann died 19th May, 1813, aged 2 years... On 27 March 1937 another correspondent noted that “one of the most interesting of the memorials was badly broken in moving it, involving the loss of part of the inscription to Rear-Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney (died 1801). Fortunately this inscription had already been placed on record in ' N. and Q.' of June 30, 1923.”  Rear-Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney was born in 1736 in Portsea, Hampshire. He was commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Navy on 22 August 1758 and promoted to commander in 1765. He commanded the HMS Zephyr, Otter, Panther and the Tartyr and saw active service in Newfoundland and in New York in 1776 participating in the campaign to recapture the city from the rebels. He became a superannuated rear-admiral in 1794 and died on 26 March 1801, ‘sincerely lamented by all his acquaintance’.


Both Holmes and Smith mention that the burial ground supposedly contains the remains of an Indian Chief. This story turns out to be true. The burial took place just two years after the grounds were opened. I found the following in the Newcastle Courant of Saturday 10 August 1734:

On Friday last dy'd of the Small-Pox, at his Apartments in the Little Ambrey, Westminster, one of the Indian Chiefs, Brother to the Queen, who was lately brought over by James Oglethorpe, Esq; The particular Manner of burying him in the Burial Ground of St. John the Evangelist in the Horseferry Road, according to the Custom of the Kings and Inhabitants of the Karakee Creeks, was as follows, viz. the Deceased being sewed up in two Blankets with one Deal Board under and another over him, and tied down with a Cord, was placed upon a Bier, and carried to the Place of Interment, and laid in the Earth without any Ceremony, his Cloaths, a Quantity of Glass Beads, and some Pieces of Silver, were thrown into the Grave, it being the Indian Custom to bury all their Effects with 'em.

James Oglethorpe was a soldier, a Member of Parliament and the founder of the colony of Georgia. He paid a visit to England in 1734/35 brining with him a delegation of Creek Indians and their chief Tomochichi, who had been invited by the Georgia trustees to be present during the formal ratification of their treaty with Oglethorpe's.   An oil painting by William Verelst and now in the Winterthur Museum in Delaware shows Oglethorpe presenting the Yamacraw Indians to the Georgia Trustees on July 3, 1734. Perhaps the man who was buried in St John’s was amongst the group depicted in the painting. If so he was dead and buried just five weeks later.


Other interesting funerals which took place at the burial ground included Charles Cartwright who had been executed at Hertford for a robbery (in which no one died – punishments were harsh in the early nineteenth century). It was reported in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser of 18 August 1824: 

Monday, Cartwright, who had been executed at Hertford, for the robbery at Mr. Gordon’s, was buried in St. John’s Burial Ground, Westminster, with “Gypsy Nan," for the Chief Mourner. The deceased was not much above 19 years of age; who the Chief Mourner was may be imagined. An immense crowd followed the corpse, consisting of an appalling assemblage of those who are not held in too much esteem by the world’s law; however, the Queens Square Police Officers, &c were on the ground, and all went off very orderly.

And then there was James Lawns, a burglar, reported in the Morning Post of 02 August 1832:

DEATH OF A NOTORIOUS HOUSEBREAKER - On Saturday last, at an early hour in the morning, James Lawns, a noted "cracksman" in Westminster, well known to the police, was attacked with the cholera in the streets. He was taken home to his lodgings in Union-court, Orchard-street, and was attended by several medical gentlemen but without success. Lawn has frequently been in custody, and, for the last few years, is supposed to have been concerned either directly, or indirectly, in the greater part of the burglaries which have been committed in the metropolis. On his death being made known, his companions in crime raised a subscription to bury him, and on Monday afternoon the funeral took place. A fellow named Ned Nix, was the chief mourner; and the corpse was followed to St. John's burial ground, Westminster, for interment, by upwards of 500 of the most notorious thieves and vagabonds in the metropolis, many of whom shed tears.


On 23 September 1823 the Morning Advertiser reported the funeral of Henry Davy, Odd Fellow (who lived in a Pineapple but not under the sea):

Funeral of an Odd Fellow. —On Sunday afternoon a crowd of parsons assembled in Pine Apple-court, and Castle-lane, Westminster, to witness the funeral procession of Henry Davy, an Odd Fellow. About four o’clock the avenues leading to the spot where the corpse lay were blocked up with spectators, and considerable curiosity was excited in the neighbourhood by the novel appearance of those belonging to the St. Luke’s, St. Peter’s, and St. James’s, arriving, wearing their several orders, insignias of office, and carrying the banners of the respective Lodges; in the former the deceased was a brother, six whom supported the pall. The procession moved slowly through the principal streets, towards St. John’s Church, a band of music playing at intervals sacred tunes with the drum muffled. On arrival of the corpse at St. John’s New Burial Ground, Horseferry Road, the coffin was lowered into the grave, and the funeral service read, after which the band stood forward and played the Evening Hymn; on its conclusion the earth was thrown in, and the remains covered. A vast concourse of persons collected, and the novelty of the sight was much noticed. The procession returned in the same order, and soon after dispersed.

And finally George Edmonds, military bandsman, the best performer on the French horn in Europe, reported in the Perthshire Courier of 19 September 1823;

On Thursday afternoon, at four o’clock, was interred in St John's burial ground, Westminster, the mortal remains George Edmonds, one the band the Coldstream, or Second Regiment of Foot Guards, with grand military honours, far surpassing anything of the kind witnessed in Westminster for several years. The deceased was considered to be the best performer the French horn or bugle in Europe, had the honour of being privately introduced, and having played for the King, all the Royal Family, and most of the distinguished Nobility and Gentry, and had frequently attended private parties, till his fame had spread all over the kingdom.


Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Let me clip your dirty wings; William Henry Harding (1843-1878), Brompton Cemetery

Don't let him out of the cage! A parrot's bid for freedom leads to death for his erstwhile rescuer

A parrot on Sunday escaped from a house in Dean's- yard, Westminster, and flew as far as St. John's burial ground, where it alighted on one of the trees. A reward being offered, William Harding, a mason's labourer, of Horseferry-road, procured a ladder, and placing it against the tree on which the parrot was perched ascended it. He left the ladder and held on one of the branches which broke, and he fell head foremost on the edge of a tombstone with such violence that death was instantaneous.

Globe - Monday 01 July 1878

I am embarrassed to admit it but my initial reaction on reading of William Harding’s death was to laugh. The laconic version of the dead workman sketch in the Globe bears too close a resemblance to one of Wile E. Coyotes looney tune misadventures with Roadrunner not to raise a snigger; the breaking branch, the falling ladder, William’s stunned stare meeting impassive psittacine gaze whilst suspended mid-air for the split-second it always seems to take for gravity to start operating in Warner Brother cartoons.  And then the irony of braining yourself on a tombstone whilst in pursuit of a parrot. It is one of those ridiculous Victorian deaths, one to rival Henry Taylor getting himself killed by a coffin in Kensal Green or the poor Hickman’s managing to accidentally poison the entire family at Sunday lunch with arsenic stored in a flour bag.  A less frantic version of the same events in the York Herald of 3rd July, whilst still steeped in bathos, manages to at least sound like a misfortune;

SHOCKING OCCURRENCE IN WESTMINSTER. Yesterday morning the particulars of a shocking accident were forwarded to Mr Bedford, the coroner. During Sunday a valuable parrot effected its escape from a house in Deans-yard, West- minster, and flew as far as St. John's burial ground, which is situated between Horseferry-road and Page-street, where it alighted on one of the trees. A reward was offered for the capture of the bird, and many ineffectual attempts were made to regain it. The parrot still remaining at the spot, a man named William Harding, a mason's labourer, of 52, Horseferry-road, about eleven o'clock on Sunday night procured a ladder, and placing it against the tree on which the parrot was perched, ascended it. In order to get within reach of the bird, he left the ladder and held on by one of the branches, which broke with his weight, and he fell headforemost on the edge of a tombstone, with such violence that death was instantaneous. His body presented a most sickening appearance, the head being completely battered in. Deceased, who was about forty years of age, leaves a widow and five children.

William's burial record at Brompton Cemetery

William Henry Harding died on Sunday 30th June and was buried the following Saturday, the 6th July, in a common grave in Brompton Cemetery. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. Nathaniel Liberty, chaplain to the cemetery and to the Brompton Cancer Hospital (3 years later he buried George Borrow). The burial records confirms William’s address as 52 Horseferry Road but gives his age as 35 rather than the 40 reported in the newspapers. With a full name, an address, an accurate year of birth and a household containing a wife and five children I thought it would be relatively easy to track down records relating to the family.  There were more William Hardings than I imagined living in Westminster and just across the river in North Lambeth, but none of them lived at 52 Horseferry Lane or had 5 children living with them in the 1871 census. It transpired that William had a complicated, rather tragic, family life which took me some time and effort to unravel.

On census returns William Henry Harding gives 1843 as the year of his birth and says that he was born in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. His father Henry was a coachman but I wasn’t able to trace a baptism record for him or find out the name of his mother. In his early twenties he began a relationship with Sophia Ann Mary Cutler. Sophia was the same age as William and like him from Westminster, she was the second of five daughters born to Samuel and Fanny Cutler who lived in Clarks Cottages in Causton Street, just off of the Vauxhall Bridge Road. Sophia’s father was originally from Birmingham, a maker of military ornaments, but her mother was another Westminster native. William and Sophia evidently got on well, in February 1865 the pair were planning to get married as they had the banns read by the vicar at St. John the Evangelist in Smith Square. Perhaps the couple quarrelled because the wedding did not go ahead. But they then must have made up as the banns were read again in September the same year. The argumentative pair must have fallen out again because once more the actual wedding did not take place. Whatever the cause of the disagreement it did not keep them apart for too long; by January 1869 they were living together in Little Chapel Street Soho and proudly having their two daughters, Frances and Elizabeth (named after Sophia’s sister and her aunt) baptised at Christ Church on Broadway (destroyed in the blitz and now the site of Christ Church Gardens on Victoria Street). The following year another daughter, Jane Mary, was baptised at St Margaret’s, the church that stands in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. By the time of the 1871 census William and Sophia had moved out of London and were living in Trowbridge in Wiltshire with 5-year-old Elizabeth and 11-month-old Jane. Frances has disappeared, and has, as was all too common in the 19th century, most likely died. And then, very unexpectedly, the following year Sophia is admitted to Westminster workhouse taking with her not two but five children. There are no children’s names recorded in the workhouse records but her next of kin is given as her mother Frances Cutler of 19 Tufton Street. There had clearly been another break up with William but where had the additional three children come from? We simply don’t know. As always the rift between the couple was temporary and in 1873 theyr were back together again and this time finally going through with the wedding. They were married on 30 November 1873 at St Mary at Lambeth, the church next door to Lambeth Palace which is now the Garden Museum. Both were living at Mill Street in Lambeth. Almost exactly nine months to the day after the wedding Sophia and William celebrated a double first, the birth of their first legitimate child and first son, who was, of course, named William Henry after his father. The family were living at 77 Berwick Street and William père was listed as a Masons labourer. They had another son in 1877, Alfred Samuel, who seems not to have been baptised.  The family now had the 5 children mentioned in the newspaper reports of William’s death. With 5 children and a wife to support it is no surprise that William was prepared to scale ladders in a dark burial ground to try and rescue a parrot with a price on its head.

William and Sophia's marriage record at St Mary at Lambeth

William’s death was a disaster for the family; in straitened economic circumstances she was unable to support the five children and keep the family together. On December 21st 1879 she baptised another child at St John the Evangelist giving her address as 23 Romney Street and declaring William to the father despite him having died almost 18 months earlier. She told the vicar that her son, Leonard Joseph, was born on the 21st January which, if true, would have made it possible for William to be the posthumous father. As she did not go on to either have any other children or to remarry or live with another man, it seems likely that she was telling the truth and that at the time of William’s death she was three months pregnant. The records of the Westminster workhouse tell a sad story of increasing poverty and desperation on the part of Sophia. In October 1878 she had been admitted to the workhouse with just her two youngest children, two-year-old Alfred and the still unbaptised baby Leonard. The following month Alfred and Leonard were both left separately, and alone, at the workhouse. Whatever hardship and deprivation the family were going through proved too much for Leonard, he died in March 1881 and like his father was buried at Brompton Cemetery. In that year’s census Sophia was living at 19 Tufton Street, her mothers address, with Alfred. The only trace we have of the other children at this point is Elizabeth who is listed in the census as an inmate at the Sudbury Hall Home for Girls, on Harrow Road.  In 1887 Sophia is admitted to Westminster workhouse again this time in the company of 13-year-old William; Alfred has disappeared. They gave their address as 10 Wood Street.  In the 1891 census when William was 15 and Sophia 48, they were living at Lion Buildings in Tufton Street. He was working as errand boy, and his mother as a seamstress.  By June that year Sophia was back in the workhouse, this time ominously admitted as a lunatic. William ended up as an inmate at a boy’s home at 164 Shaftesbury Avenue. We glimpse him again in 1894 when he admits himself to the workhouse and we see 58-year-old Sophia on the 1901 census living at New Compton Street and still giving her occupation as seamstress. Alfred, although apparently given up by his mother before he was 10, was still alive in in 1902 when he married Eliza Thelner at St John the Baptist in Great Marlborough Street but after this, we lose sight of both him and his mother. 

The ordnance surveyof 1890 shows how small the area was in which William and Sophia spent their lives, St John's Gardens is the burial ground where William died and the map shows Horseferry Road, Tufton Street and Romney Sreet, all places where they had lived. 

The 30-year-old William Henry, William and Sophia’s first son, was married on August 7 1904 to 36-year-old widow Annie Sophia Murray, living in Cleveland Street Fitzrovia.  By the time of the 1911 census the couple were living at 62 Welbourne Road in Tottenham. They had no children and William was an out of work carman. During the first world war William joined the Army Service Corp. His records show that he was still with Annie and the couple had a daughter named after her grandmother, Sophia. William died in October 1916, his death registered at Edmonton. Did little Sophia ever know that her grandfather had died trying to save a parrot?

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

"Firmly in the second division"; Wimbledon Cemetery, Gap Road SW19

 

Gap Road Cemetery, say Meller and Parsons haughtily, “must be placed firmly in the second division.” The use of the word ‘firmly’ is interesting, as though poor Wimbledon might be guilty of getting ideas above its station and needs to be sternly reminded that it is not a cemetery worth anyone going out of their way to see. It was originally opened as a 20-acre site in 1877; “Two Gothic Chapels, each with a small broach spare, were by Sir Banister Fletcher and the ground ‘laid out’ for £6,000, but it is not a very distinguished complex and rather spoiled by a glass roof mortuary placed squarely in the middle,” they say in ‘London Cemeteries’. They go on to complain that the best memorial, the Cooke mausoleum has attracted vandalism and is now “in a sorry state” and that the prime grave plots near the paths “have all been cornered by local dignitaries, mayors and local councillors of the Borough”. I was there a couple of years ago on a bright, sunny October day with the temperature in the low 20’s – it didn’t seem so bad to me. There are a lot of angels and unusually, an Ankh memorial for local doctor James Milward who died in 1917. There are few persons of note buried here though somewhere in its extended 28 acres is the grave of poet Eliza Cook which I have been promising myself to try and find. 


Complaints about the cemetery apparently started early. A disgruntled ratepayer from Wimbledon wrote to the Surrey Comet on 10 April 1877, complaining bitterly about cemetery mud;

Sir,—l was glad to find that the suggestion in your columns that planks should be laid from the pathways to the open graves in this cemetery had been attended to by the authorities. I would submit, however, that on very damp days (it is doubtful if we have had many days of any other kind since the opening of the cemetery) that there should be a little more liberal supply of boards at the grave. The boards on the day I saw them held about 10 people. If one of the mourners had stepped off the mound, he or would have been ankle deep in slough. Something has certainly been done in the right direction but a little more is needed for the comfort of those whose sorrow, not pleasure, induces their attendance. The Burial Board, I feel confident, have but one desire, and that is to minister to the convenience and comfort of the parishioners. I hope therefore when next I stand by the side of a grave it will not be in the sticky mud, but, if a damp day, upon a parish board, the expense of which the vestry assuredly will never grudge. I am, &c. RATEPAYER Wimbledon April 10. P.S. —How will gravestones when erected retain their perpendicular in the present state of the soil?


The mire in the cemetery was not the only bone of contention amongst the ratepayers of Wimbledon. The annual Easter vestry meeting held on the evening of the 3rd April 1877 in the church hall had been unusually well attended and noisy almost to the point of rowdiness. The meeting started with the vicar, the Rev. Haygarth, taking the chair and having one of his churchwardens, Mr Stride, explain that the annual accounts were not quite ready to be audited and suggesting that another meeting be held in 3 weeks’ time to examine them. The vicar then announced the appointment of a new churchwarden. So far, so good. But when Mr Stride moved, and Colonel Cole seconded that Mr Arthur Harmer be appointed sexton, all hell broke loose. Mr Scott, backed by Mr Paxton, said that as the churchyard was about to be closed there was no necessity for a sexton. Someone suggested a compromise, make the cemetery superintended the Sexton. This proposal was howled down as being completely inappropriate. Colonel Cole, having proposed Mr Harmer for Sexton then began to argue that the post was purely for the churchyard and that the burial board, responsible for the cemetery, could not interfere in the freehold of the churchyard which belonged to the vicar. “Would you allow the burial board to dig in your garden?” he asked “It is your freehold for the time being – at least I hope it is!”  The proposal to appoint a sexton was voted down by 40 votes to 33. The unstated issue, as was often the case in these sorts of disputes, was the church’s right to charge a burial fee in the cemetery. Despite the vote of the Vestry the Vicar went on to appoint Mr Harmer as Sexton and also authorised him to collect burial fees. Two years after the vestry meeting the burial board felt obliged to put a notice in the Surry Comet (19 April 1879) warning parishioners not to pay fees to the parish Sexton:

WIMBLEDON LOCAL BOARD. WIMBLEDON CEMETERY. SEXTONS FEES. IT having come to the knowledge of the Wimbledon Burial Board, that the Pariah Clerk (Mr. Arthur Harmer), has demanded, and in many cases, received Fees as Sexton, when Burials have taken place in this Cemetery. Notice is hereby given, that the Board has never authorised Mr. Harmer to receive such Fees, nor has or any other person, been appointed Sexton. It is therefore particularly requested that, if demanded, no such Fees be paid. By order W. H. WHITFIELD, Clerk. Wimbledon Burial Board Office 2nd April 1879

How the matter was finally resolved I don’t know but financial conflicts over fees between the parish and the management of the new cemeteries was not uncommon in 19th century London.  


The Glasgow Herald of 12 November 1900 gave more prominence to the Queen’s representative at a funeral in the cemetery than it did to the actual deceased, a table decker at the palace, a flunky whose job for almost 30 years was to set the table for Royal meals;

Mr Brook Taylor, one of the Queen's Gentlemen Ushers. represented Her Majesty at the funeral of the late Mr Kirby, which took place at Wimbledon Cemetery yesterday. Mr Kirby was in the Queen's service 56 years, and for the last 29 years was Her Majesty's principal table decker.


In the days when being alive at 100 was a very rare event indeed, the newspapers always loved a centenarian. Mrs Coke, the Leinster Reporter noted on 9 April 1904, came from a family of long-lived individuals;

Mrs Coke, of Hartfield-road, Wimbledon, died last week at the age of 101, and was buried in Wimbledon Cemetery on Saturday. She had lived in the reigns of five monarchs.  Up to April last she was able to do light household work and to sew, knit, and read Mr Bible. Her father died at the age of 101, and her mother was within three months of that age at her death. Mrs Coke leaves a son who is seventy-two, and a daughter-in-law who is seventy-four.

A couple of years later the Cheltenham Chronicle (14 April 1916) were reported the death of ‘the oldest farmers widow in England’;

DEATH OF A CENTENARIAN. The funeral of Mrs. Cordeaux, who was the oldest farmer's widow in England, took place at Wimbledon Cemetery on Tuesday. Mrs. Cordeaux died on the 4th inst. at her residence, Trevose, Worcester Park, and she was 103 years old. Deceased was possessed of wonderful faculties up till the last, and took great interest in Parliamentary matters, the doings of the Royal Family, and also local politics. Her memory was exceptionally keen, and she vividly remembered and related incidents of the Napoleonic wars and reminiscences of the time when there were taxes upon windows and saddle horses. The deceased and her husband, James Cordeaux, who was a well-known farmer, and died at Raynes Park in 1890, spent most of their lives at Lutterworth, Warwickshire, where they celebrated their diamond jubilee.


And finally, from the Sporting Gazette of Saturday 21 January 1882, the premature demise of an apparently well known coach guard;

COACHING NOTES. On Saturday morning last, Robert Rear. who has for many years been the well-known guard of the Windsor Summer and Ramsgate and Canterbury Autumn coaches, dropped down dead as he was going Into the yard by the side of his coach, at 7, Edgware-road; it may truly be said that he died In harness. A subscription has been started to defray the expenses of his funeral, and to give a helping hand to his widow and six little children, the eldest of whom is but thirteen years, and the youngest fourteen months. All coaching men knew him, and many thousands of passengers who have heard his stories and the sound of his horn will no doubt come forward to assist the widow and orphans in their dire distress. Major Dixon has opened a list at the Badminton Club and at the White Horse Cellars, where Mr Banks will receive any subscriptions, and we need only say that we shall gladly do the same, and all subscriptions sent to " The COUNTY GENTLEMAN" will be acknowledged in these columns. The funeral takes place to-day at Wimbledon Cemetery, at 12.30, when the Oatland Park Coach (Mr. Bonverie's) will not run its regular route, but wiII take down any coachmen and guards who wish to attend to pay a last tribute to one who was always civil and obliging to his passengers, and ready to give a helping hand to everyone.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Roving Eyes & Sticky Fingers; Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), Chelsea Old Church



There was nothing too small, too big, too fast or too odd for Hans Sloane not to want to put it under glass and attach a label. Setting out to collect the world in the late 17th century, Sloane packed his cabinets with gnats’ blood, Inuit sun visors, a stick to put down your throat to make yourself sick, a cyclops pig, a silver penis protector and a bit of coral that looked just like someone’s hand. Out of this jumble of natural and manmade scraps he fashioned a legacy for the nation. In 1759 the British Museum was opened for the purpose of letting plebeians, patricians and everyone in between gawp at the world as refracted through one man’s roving eye and sticky fingers.

Kathryn Hughes - The Guardian

Sir Hans Sloane has become something of an embarrassment to the beneficiaries of his many legacies. Dr Hartwig Fischer who, since 2016, had been the first foreign director of the British Museum, was left in a difficult position after the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. On 05 June the Museum website carried a special message from him;

The British Museum stands in solidarity with the British Black community, with the African American community, with the Black community throughout the world. We are aligned with the spirit and soul of Black Lives Matter everywhere.

Inevitably the question was asked – “does this mean the museum is going to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria?” (Or the Elgin Marbles to Greece, the Maqdala collection to Ethiopia, the Moai to Rapa Nui, the Rosetta stone to Egypt etc). The answer to that question was, of course, no. What the Museum would do would be to put “inclusion and diversity… at the heart of our values” by working “to diversify our own staff” and broadening “the diversity of voices present in the interpretation of objects in the collection” and, last but not least, by continuing “to research, acknowledge and address the colonial history of Britain and its impact on our institution…” And of course, that means having to acknowledge that your founding collection was donated by a slave owner…

In August 2020 a dusty bust of Sir Hans, to which no one previously had paid much attention, was removed from the pedestal in the museum it had occupied for longer than anyone remembered and placed inside a glass case along with a number of other objects and information boards which explained his role in the foundation of the museum and his connection to West Indian slavery.  This simple act meant that Sir Hans Sloane had, as far as some people were concerned, been 'cancelled'.  Dr Fischer somewhat undermined the reasonable course of action the museum had taken by excitedly telling the Daily Telegraph that “we have pushed him off the pedestal. We must not hide anything. Healing is knowledge,” before going on to defend the Museum’s stance on accepting corporate sponsorship from BP. The tabloids remained resolutely uninterested in the kerfuffle; the fuss wasn’t about Winston Churchill and no one had been pushed into a dock, so who cares? Charles Moore rushed to Soanes defence in the Spectator arguing that Dr Fischer had reacted “unprofessionally, in panic clothed as principle — and with base ingratitude” to the museum's founding father. David Olusoga responded to the article in the Guardian pointing out that “Britain is gradually coming to the end of a very different and highly effective process of historical erasure that has endured for centuries. What bothers critics of the museum is that the new display makes plain the fact that much of the wealth Sloane used to purchase his vast collection was derived from slavery.” The Belfast Telegraph wasn’t having any of that, Sir Hans a slave owner!; “Hans Sloane never owned a slave,” claimed Elizabeth Crilley, the CEO and founder of the Sir Hans Sloane Centre in Sir Hans’ birthplace Killyleagh, County Down, “a man of the church sent him a slave but Hans Sloane educated him and put him on a boat to France to get him on his feet." Ms Crilley acknowledged that some of Sir Hans’ money may have originated in slavery but that was not, she claimed, his fault; "Yes, he did get money, but how did he get his money? He fell in love with a woman. It was her father who was a slave trader. Are the sins of the father to be passed on to the children?" (Perhaps only if the money is!)

In his Spectator article Charles Moore gives a concise account, the Pro Sloane version, of Sir Han’s life;

'Dedication to truthfulness when it comes to history is absolutely crucial,’ says Dr Fischer. In that spirit of truthfulness, it might be worth pausing to consider the life of Hans Sloane. Born in Northern Ireland in 1660, he studied chemistry and its medical applications, with particular interest in botany’s relation to physic. He became a doctor, and a great collector. When serving the governor of Jamaica, he systematically explored the topography of the island and recorded and collected its flora, bringing 800 specimens home to England. His published catalogue of the plants of Jamaica was probably the most truly scientific of his era in the genre, paving the way for Linnaeus. He was for 68 years a fellow of the Royal Society, taking charge of the publication of its transactions and serving as secretary. He succeeded Isaac Newton as its president. Sloane was also physician in charge of Christ’s Hospital in London, returning his salary to the place and supporting the cost-price dispensary of the Royal College of Physicians. As doctor to Queen Anne, he is credited with prolonging her life, thus securing the Hanoverian succession. He was a pioneer supporter of inoculation, popularised quinine and promoted the mixing of chocolate with milk in the cause both of profit and temperance. Sloane was noted for his learning, his consistent benevolence, his modesty and being very ‘attentive to Matters of Fact’. He conveyed the Chelsea Physick Garden, which he owned, to the care of the Society of Apothecaries. It flourishes beautifully to this day. The grateful society commissioned a statue and a bust of Sloane by Rysbrack. Sloane’s daughters presented these works to the British Museum. It is Rysbrack’s bust which Dr Fischer has now gleefully ‘pushed off its pedestal’, inviting visitors, as from this week, to disapprove of its subject.

'Chelsea with Part of the Old Church & Sir Hans Sloane’s Tomb' William Parrott 1840

In the Guardian David Olusoga placed a different emphasis on the facts of Sir Han’s life;

Every contrivance has been deployed to distance Sloane from slavery. As the wealth he accumulated from plantations in Jamaica came to him through marriage, it has been suggested that his involvement was merely tangential. Yet upon Sloane’s marriage to Elizabeth Langley Rose, one-third of the income from her plantations and her human property became his. In one of his letters, Sloane proudly talked of himself as a planter, the 18th-century euphemism for slave owner.

Those who have felt the sudden need to write hagiographies of Sloane have attempted to portray him as an almost accidental beneficiary of slavery, yet he not only grew rich from the sugar shipped from his wife’s Jamaican plantations, he actively invested in the slave trading South Sea Company. No matter how much we are asked to look only at his talents as a physician and his passion for botany and collecting, the fact remains that much of the money Sloane used to purchase the objects that today lie within our national museum came from the murderous exploitation of African men, women and children.

Sloane’s achievements remain undimmed, but while he stood on a pedestal the significance of slavery to his life and to his collection was rendered invisible. Acknowledging this unpleasant reality is all the museum has sought to do.

Sir Hans Sloane's Tomb, Chelsea - James Peller Malcolm c1800

Sir Hans’ memorial in Chelsea Old Churchyard is rather splendid. It is in such a good state of preservation that I couldn’t help wondering if it is built of Coade stone. It isn’t according to the official Historic England listing: “Monument to Sir Hans Sloane, deceased 1753. Portland stone square pedestal with inscription and swags, surmounted by square, vaulted canopy, sheltering marble urn.” The inscription reads:

In memory of Sir Hans Sloane, Bart, President of the Royal Society and of the Collage of Physicians, who died in the year of our Lord 1753, the ninety-second year of his age, without least pain of body, and with a conscious serenity of mind eniled [sic] a virtuous and beneficent life. This monument was erected by his two daughters, Elizabeth Cadogan and Sarah Stanley