The opening of the Great Exhibition by Henry Courtney Selous 1851-2

The Victorians very often commissioned paintings of major historical events, which were then produced as commemorative prints and sold in enormous numbers. One such example is the painting  above which illustrates the opening of the Great Exhibition on May 1st 1851.

Hee Sing

What the VV really likes about this depiction of an event steeped in royal pomp and ceremony is the ‘other story’ it contains. A story about just one of the 25,000 invited guests, and yet he was not a guest at all, despite being shown in the painting dressed in his ceremonial Chinese robes.

Hee Sing follows the Queen

His name, so it later transpired, was Hee Sing, and his presence that day was not questioned at all, even though there had been no official invitation to Chinese delegates. However, so the story goes, this noble-looking gentleman simply ‘happened’ upon the occasion, having recently arrived in a Chinese junk that had docked in London; a ship which was moored on the River Thames and could be visited by anyone who had a shilling to spare. During this time, when Hee Singh heard the news of the Exhibition, he decied to go and take a look while decked out in his very finest clothes - which then led other dignitaries there to assume him a man of importance. 

Hee Sing mingles with the guests

Lyon Playfair, a Scottish scientist and Liberal politician wrote –‘a Chinaman dressed in magnificent robes, suddenly emerged from the crowd and prostrated himself before the throne. Who he was nobody knew. He might possibly be the Emperor of China himself who had come secretly to the ceremony.’

Later Playfair observed Hee Sing standing between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Wellington and – ‘In this dignified position he marched through the building, to the delight and amazement of all beholders.’

That delight was also noted by the Illustrated London News. One of its reporters wrote –‘We must also remember the droll Chinese Mandarin amongst the Foreign Ambassadors and Ministers, who swayed along from side to side, those before and those behind him leaving a pretty full berth for his comical progress.’

However comical he looked, the VV would like to imagine that Hee Sing had the last laugh himself, not only visiting The Great Exhibition, but revered as one of the great and the good. What you might call gate-crashing a party in style.



The VV has recently been helping to sort through the home of an elderly relative who has sadly had to move into a residential nursing home. 

The house was full of books, some of which are very old indeed, including this children's story book ~ The Butterfly's At home.

Published by F. W. Warne, written by Mabel, and illustrated by George Lambert (some images appear to be varnished) the book has now lost its outer spine, and inside it lacks the literary charm or beauty of Beatrix Potter's work - which was also published by F. W. Warne. But it is very prettily reproduced as the following photographs will show ...

There is no year of publication printed in the book, but the dedication 'Violet, from Mim' is dated as Christmas 1881.

More Victorian treasures will follow ...



For many centuries Valentine's Day was celebrated as a time when tokens of love could be exchanged. But, the tradition became truly popular during the Victorian era when, due to improvements in printing techniques, and the introduction of a postal service, commercially printed cards were sent instead of hand-written sheets of verse. Some of these cards were very elaborate with paper embossed and cut like lace ~ with decorative items like mirrors and feathers ~ and sometimes even strands of the hair plucked from the head of the sender.

As well as being romantic, many cards had a humorous bent as well. Some could even be cruelly malicious, so much so that in the 1850's the New York Times was to publish the following editorial -

Our beaux and belles are satisfied with a few miserable lines, neatly written upon fine paper, or else they purchase a printed Valentine with verses ready made, some of which are costly, and many of which are cheap and indecent. In any case, whether decent or indecent, they only please the silly and give the vicious an opportunity to develop their propensities, and place them, anonymously, before the comparatively virtuous. The custom with us has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished the better.

Such words of advice were all in vain, as depicted by this 1900 film that the British Film Institute digitised: The Old Maid's Valentine ...

But, back in the 1850's, one particularly attractive young lady by the name of Catherine Worsley (the daughter of Sir William Worsley of Hovingham in England), was more than happy to receive billet doux from hopeful lovers.  

Catherine saved a great many tokens of love of which 22 illustrated letters, some poems, sonnets and stories, and sketches with scenes of marital bliss, are all still preserved to view today at the North Yorkshire County Records office.

One of her ardent admirers wrote: 'I'll gratify your slightest wish, whether t'were small or great, say the word at once you're heard, my pretty, pretty Kate.' 

Another said: 'I'm ugly I know, but I'll presently show, that I really am not to be sneezed at.' 

But the one who received Catherine's heart in return was her cousin, George Allanson Cayley, who married his love in 1859 after urging that she should, 'keep your kisses all for me.'

Catherine Worsley's valentines were unearthed by Katie Robinson, a Record Assistant at the North Yorkshire County Office who'd been carrying out some research for the BBC TV programme, Who Do You Think You Are?



This letter is held by the American Library of Congress - from 'An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera'.

Dating from the 1850's - whether the original was genuine or contrived - it is a most delightful find. Do read the explanation at the bottom of the transcription to fully understand the message that was being conveyed.


The great love and tenderness I have hitherto expressed for you 
is false, and I now feel that my indifference towards you 
increases proportionably every day, and the more I see you 
the more I appear ridiculous, and an object of contempt, and
the more I feel disposed, inclined, and finally determined, to 
hate you. Believe me I never had the least inclination to 
offer you my hand and heart. Our last conversation has 
I assure you, left a wretched insipidity, which has be no means
possessed me with the most exalted opinion of your character. 
Yes, madam, and you will much oblige me by avoiding me. 
And if ever we are united, I shall experience nothing but the 
fearful hatred of my parents, added to an everlasting dis
pleasure of living with you. Yes, madam, I think sincerely. 
You need not put yourself to the smallest trouble or send or 
write me an answer ------ Adieu. And believe that I am 
so averse to you that it is really impossible I should ever be,
                                 Your affectionate lover till death.
                                                                               W. GOFF


There are two ways of reading it; the father compelled his daughter to show him all letters sent to her - the unsuspecting father reads straight forward, but the daughter having the clue, reads the first, third and fifth lines, and so on. Then the contrast will be discovered. 


Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning 
by Thomas Read

The VV's early childhood was often spent in front of a television set watching old black-and-white classic films. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (MGM, 1934) told the romantic story of the invalid Elizabeth Barrett who was wooed by Robert Browning when he fell in love with her poetry.

Fredric March was Robert Browning. Norma Shearer played Elizabeth

Or could the VV's memories be confused with the English version made in 1957, when the glamorous young Jennifer Jones played the part of our fragile heroine ~ but with little concession to the fact that Elizabeth was forty years old at the time of her marriage to Mr Browning.

Nevertheless, much of the film was based on real facts ~ facts which provided a story full of Victorian melodrama, with Elizabeth's possessive father being utterly opposed to the thought of her ever leaving home. 

Eventually, she ran away and married Browning in secrecy. They lived in Italy for 15 years, and there Elizabeth had a son. However, her health was in decline and in 1861 - the same year as Queen Victoria was to lose her beloved Albert - she died while held in her husband's arms.

But, their passion lives on through their writing, for during a courtship of 20 months the couple wrote nearly 600 letters, in which Browning's passion was clear from the start ~ as you'll see in the fan letter below. Nothing short of a declaration of love ...

January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,--and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,--whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me--for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration--perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of herafter!--but nothing comes of it all--so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew... oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at bottom, and shut up and put away... and the book called a 'Flora', besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought--but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart-- and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "would you like to see Miss Barrett?"--then he went to announce me,--then he returned... you were too unwell -- and now it is years ago--and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels--as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel on crypt,... only a screen to push and I might have entered -- but there was some slight... so it now seems... slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!

Well, these Poems were to be--and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself. Yours ever faithfully Robert Browning

Elizabeth wasted little time in expressing her own affection for him. Below is her 43rd Sonnet, which was later published in a book entitled Sonnets from the Portuguese ...

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.




James Brooke ~ Portrait by Sir Francis Grant, The National Portrait Gallery.

James Brooke was a child of British colonialism. Born in Benares, India in 1803, his father was the chief of the East India Company’s provincial court. He spent his first 12 years in India, a pampered child in a country where an Englishman could live like a lord. When his parents, apparently finally noticing his lack of education, send him to school in England, it was a rude surprise. He ended up in boarding school at Norwich but ran away after two or three years and moved in with the family of Charles Keegan, a retired Indian civilian and friend of his family, who was living in Bath.

Eventually his father retired from India and he, too, returned to Bath. Reunited with his family, James eventually settled with them, but as soon as he was 16, he returned to India and commissioned into the East India Company's army. He was posted to the 6th Native Infantry and became a Sub-Assistant, Commissary-General. He was not, though, by nature a logistician. In fact he had always wanted to be a cavalry officer and when war broke out with Burma he overheard the general in command complaining they had no light cavalry to act as scouts. Lieutenant Brooke immediately offered to raise a troop and he was allowed to call for volunteers from among the infantry. He formed them into a reasonably efficient irregular cavalry, which operated ahead of the advancing column. It was typical of his character – and, indeed, normal for young officers in those days – that he led from the front and the result was that, early in the campaign, he was wounded and invalided back to Britain. His recovery was slow and it was not until 3½ years after the injury that he was able to leave England to rejoin his regiment. However, his ship was wrecked off the Isle of Wight and, though he survived, his health was again affected. He was forced to apply for six months further leave. By the time he was ready to re-embark, it was winter and bad weather delayed his departure until March 1830. The weather continued stormy or – in the days of sail just as bad – excessively calm and his voyage on the Castle Huntley was very slow. It was not until 18 July that he reach Madras. The maximum amount of leave that he could take was five years and that was up on the 30th. This gave him 12 days to get from Madras to Calcutta which was impossible. Although he looked for temporary employment in Madras so as not to break his contract, this was refused and he resigned from the Company's service.

It seems likely that Brooke was quite happy to leave the Army. Although he had proved an able soldier in action, his was not a personality well-suited to the tedium of administration when there was no actual fighting going on. It seems likely that he could have remained in the Company's service – his father was lobbying with every evidence of success for this to happen – but he probably didn't really want to. Instead, he chose to stay on with the Castle Huntly, exploring the waters of the Eastern Archipelago and calling at the British possessions of Penang, Malacca and Singapore before sailing on to Canton.

That mad-cap voyage, during which the still-young Brooke seems to have spent much of his time simply having fun and getting into scrapes with the local Chinese, proved to be a crucial influence on the way his life was to develop. Back in England he announced that it was his intention to buy a ship and to sail in search of adventure (and profit, of course) in the Far East.

Eventually he managed to persuade his father's put up money and let him buy the Findlay "a rakish slaver-brig, 290 tons burden". In May 1834, he set off to sail to the East and a new life as a merchant-adventurer.

It was a disaster. A brig needed a large crew to run and the venture could never be profitable. Eventually Brooke decided to give up the enterprise and return to England.

That should have been that. Brooke should have learned the lesson of his youthful escapades and settled down to responsible employment. But he seemed incapable of settling down to anything. His father's pension meant that there was no urgency in finding alternative employment and he remained in England doing nothing in particular. Not that long after his return, though, his father died, leaving him with enough money to relaunch his idea of voyaging in the Far East.

This time he bought a schooner, the Royalist, which was much better suited to the sort of business he had planned. After a proving voyage in the Mediterranean, he set off again in December 1838.

Brooke’s head was filled with romantic notions and trade was a secondary consideration for him. He had decided that the power of the Dutch was in decline and that now was the time to expand British influence in the area and that he was the man for the job. His goal was Borneo, which he considered ripe for improving trade with Britain. His initial plan was to start his adventures at Marudu Bay in the north of the island. When he arrived in Singapore, though, the political buzz was all about Muda Hassim, the Bendahara of Brunei. Essentially' a Bendahara runs the place, though he is nominally responsible to the Sultan. However, the legitimacy of the Sultan lies with the bendahara. If you think of Muda Hassim as the Sultan of Brunei, you will be hopelessly wrong in terms of the formalities of the Brunei court, but you’ll have a fair handle on the realities of the situation.

A few months before Brooke's arrival in Singapore a British brig called the Napoleon had been wrecked in Borneo. Muda Hassim had treated the crew with every courtesy, fed and clothed them at his own expense, and arranged for their safe return to Singapore.

Brooke was not a man to set out a plan and stick to it, but rather somebody always more than willing to take advantage of any change in his circumstances to strike out in a new direction. He decided to seize this opportunity to develop a relationship with Hassim. On 27 July 1839, the Royalist slipped quietly away from Singapore and headed to Borneo.

The politics of Borneo in the mid-19th century were Byzantine. Power was held by Malays. The indigenous people – the Dyaks – were relatively powerless. When Brooke arrived in Sarawak, Hassim was occupied in putting down a rising, of Dyaks, who were supported by a faction within the Malay community – the Siniawan Malays. In fact, they were almost certainly supported by elements within the Malay court who were trying to reduce Hassim’s power. By now the uprising had been going on for four years. Hassim had been in Sarawak for months and nothing seemed to have changed since he moved his court there.

Hassim saw Brooke’s arrival as providential. Although there were only 28 men on board the Royalist, Hassim looked at her six cannon and the White Ensign hanging at her mast and saw her as a symbol of British power. If he could get Brooke involved in the war, he thought he could finally bring things to a conclusion and return to the seat of power in Brunei.

For while, Brooke refused to be drawn in. In fact, he returned to Singapore and made various other short expeditions before coming back to Sarawak in August 1840. By now, the Dyaks had been defeated and mostly come over to Hassim. However, the Siniawan Malays were holding out. Hassim again asked Brooke for assistance. Here is Brooke’s own account of his attitude to intervening in what was, effectively, a civil war in Borneo.

I may here state my motives for being a spectator at all, or participator (as may turn out), in this scene. In the first place, I must confess that curiosity strongly prompted me; since to witness the Malays, Chinese [yes, there were Chinese too, immigrants who essentially monopolised trade], and Dayaks in warfare was so new, but the novelty alone might plead an excuse for this desire. But it was not the only motive; for my presence is a stimulus to our own party, and will probably depress the other in proportion. I look upon the cause of the Raja [Hassim] as most just and righteous; and the speedy close of the war will be rendering a service to humanity, especially if brought about by treaty.

Brooke was already clearly far from a mere spectator. He provided advice and encouragement to Hassim. He was there as Hassim’s forces pushed the rebels back to their main position at a town called Belidah. He encouraged Hassim to attack, but "my proposal to attack the adversary was immediately treated as an extreme of rashness amounting to insanity.” The Malays preferred an approach where a chain of fortified positions was constructed, moving closer and closer to Balidah without any open assault. Brooke's frustration grew he saw this "protracted" warfare as "extremely barbarous". Trade and agriculture were both disrupted and there seemed no prospect of peace. Finally, in October, he sent for two of his six-pounder guns and some of his men to be despatched from the Royalist to Balidah. By 31 October the guns were up and the rebel defences were breached. Still, though, the Malays refused to storm the place. On 3 November Brooke left them in despair. His diary tells what happened next:

I explained to [Hassim] how useless it was my remaining and intimated to him my intention of departing; but his deep regret was so visible, that even all the self-command of the native could not disguise it. He begged, he entreated me to stay, and offered me the country of Siniawan and Sarawak, and its government and trade, if I would only stop, and not desert him.

Brooke did not immediately accept this offer, but did continue to support Hassim’s efforts in the war, in which the men of the Royalist were soon to prove decisive.

With the end of the war, Brooke suggested that Hassim might like to follow through on his promise to give him the rule of Sarawak. The fighting over, though, Hassim was not so sure. On the one hand, he wanted to retain Brooke's support, possibly as offering some sort of protection against Dutch expansionism and certainly to bolster his own position in the intrigues between himself and other powerful Malay factions. On the other hand, he was concerned that he should not be seen as yielding territory that technically belonged to the Sultan, or as suggesting that traditional Malay laws could be set aside in favour of an Englishman. Negotiations extended for almost a year, during which factions in the Malay camp tried to poison Brooke. Eventually, though, Hassim agreed, drawing up and signing a document giving Brooke the government of Sarawak. On 24 November, 1841 he was ceremoniously declared Rajah.

Becoming the ruler of Sarawak turned out to be the easy part. To find out the challenges Brooke faced and how he overcame them, read the second part of this post HERE on Tom William's blog: The White Rajah.

Tom Williams has written several historical novels. The White Rajah is based on the exploits of James Brooke



The VV can only apologise for not posting as often as she should, but what with the publication of a new book at the end of 2016, and since then the excitement of Christmas ~ and the ensuing festive bout of flu ~ things have been a little busy.

One of her favourite Christmas gifts was a book that kept her occupied for many a wintery afternoon. It is called A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE SILENT SCREEN and was compiled and written by Daniel Blum, an American theatre director who was clearly in love with silent films, amassing a remarkable archive of photographic material.

We may think of  the silents as being screened in the 1920s, but moving films were being made from the late Victorian era on. At the forefront of this technology, at least in America (I have, and shall write more about the vibrant UK film business in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and for more on this at the present time please see the posts in my sister blog The Eclectic Edwardian), was the businessman, Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison

Edison was actually of the mind that the moving pictures industry was a flash in the pan that wouldn't last, but he still invested heavily in the production of Kinetoscopes ~ which were cabinets with a peephole that contained long looping reels of film. When a customer put a coin in a slot and turned a handle on the side, they saw - through a shining beam of light ~ the flicker of moving images.

The first kinetoscope was built in East Orange, New Jersey. Unveiled on February 1 1893, it  was called the Black Maria, and the interest shown in it was such that, by 1894, the machines were in commercial use in Kinetoscope Parlors in New York; and soon all across America.

The first film recorded for these machines showed a performer called Fred Ott in the process of having a jolly good sneeze. It's astonishing to see this now ~ with the film so short and seemingly of very little interest. But it marked the start of the film industry, and what a world of visual delights was soon to follow on. Films that showed contortionists, boxers, dancers, and carnival acts ~ and later the charismatic stars who appeared in dramatic narratives, to shimmer across the silver screen.



Victoria Woodhull 1838-1927

The VV has been musing on the life of Victoria Woodhull – who was (although few have heard of her now) the very first woman who made a bid to stand for the American presidency, as far back as 1872. 

Not that her attempt met with success. At that time women had no legal vote and, on the day of Grant’s re-election his female rival was safely imprisoned on charges of libel and pornography. But, what had preceded such ignominy?
Victoria's was a sensational life.  She was born in Ohio in 1838 and during her early years was part of the family's travelling medicine show. Always having a talent to draw a crowd, the little girl would preach and tell fortunes, even claiming the power to cure all ills while her father – the one-eyed Reuben ‘Buck’ Claflin – stood at the back of his wagon and sold bottles of his opium-based Life Elixir.

Buck Claflin in old age

At the age of fourteen Victoria fell ill, driven to the point of exhaustion after being deliberately starved by Buck as a means of enhancing  her spiritual ‘visions’. She later claimed that her father had sexually abused her when he was drunk, even trying to sell her as a whore. But then, during her convalescence, she was wooed by another shameless fraud: the apparently well-to-do doctor who was known as Canning Woodhull.
Canning, who was then twenty-eight, asked for Victoria’s hand in marriage, which offered the girl a means of escape from her father’s tyrannical grasping ways. But, once again she was misused. Her ‘Doc’ was no more than a worthless quack, an opium addict and womaniser. Unable to support his child bride, he was so drunk at the birth of their son that Victoria very nearly died, and blamed her husband evermore for the boy’s severe mental impairments.
When contemplating returning to Buck, Victoria came to realise that her place in the family ‘enterprise’ had been usurped by her sister, Tennessee. So, with husband and idiot son in tow she made her way to San Francisco ... where she hoped to realise a dream. 

As a small child, Victoria claimed to have had a vision in which the spirit of the Greek orator, Demosthenes, foretold of a glorious destiny in which she would grow up to lead the American people – a position that she was destined to hold in a city of water, and ships, and gold. 

San Francisco seemed to fit the bill, being the scene of the gold rush and also a sea port town. But dreams of success were soon to be crushed. While Canning spent every cent he owned in opium dens and on prostitutes Victoria was left with little choice but to support her family, working as a cigar girl in a bar, as an actress, and probably a whore.
Returning at last to Ohio, rather than joining Buck’s latest venture (running a dubious hospital from which he advertised himself as ‘America’s King of Cancers), along with her sister Tennessee, Victoria worked as a spiritual healer – though many have since come to suspect that the sisters also provided a somewhat more physical sustenance. 

Colonel James Harvey Blood 

While in such trade Victoria met a certain Colonel James Harvey Blood; a glamorous civil war hero who shared her belief in ‘other realms’ and who also supported her ‘destiny’ as a future ruler of America.  Leaving his respectable life behind, as well as his wife and daughters, he joined Victoria and Tennessee when they set out to make their mark in New York – another city of gold and ships.

At first, times were very hard and the sisters' spiritualist business was bolstered by the selling of contraceptive devices to the prostitutes. Meanwhile, Blood was often absent, spending time with his brother’s newspaper business and learning the tricks of that trade – with the publishing of pamphlets and magazines deemed to be a vital means of spreading the word of Victoria’s aims when she set her cap at the presidency.

Cornelius Vandervilt

Before that, the bad penny Buck Claflin turned up. Having heard that the widowed Cornelius Vanderbilt – then the richest man in America – was seeking the services of mediums, he contrived a means of introducing his daughters to the gentleman. Matters rapidly progressed. Victoria became Vanderbilt’s personal  medium with ’the ‘spirits’ offering financial tips which, in reality, were gleaned from gossiping bankers in brothels. Tennessee became Vanderbilt’s mistress – a natural progression of events after performing her ‘magnetic healing’ and curing the 'old goat's' niggling complaints.

A contemporary newspaper cartoon of Victoria and Tennie as Wall Street traders

Generously rewarded, the sisters caused a public sensation by going on to set themselves up as Wall Street’s very first female brokers - an enterprise that brought further wealth. 

With the aid of Colonel Blood, they then founded a spiritualist newspaper. Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly became their political voice – a voice that reached a great many ears, for the religion of Spiritualism was at that time one with a massive following, and it also offered a platform from which women could express their views. 

Victoria Woodhull addressing the House Judiciary Committee

Holding spectacular salons, Victoria was soon courted by the Women’s Movement who supported her bid for the presidency. She lectured to enormous crowds, usually under the popular banner of universal suffrage and equal rights. She even travelled to Washington where she was to petition the House at a Judiciary Committee in 1871.

It was all going rather well until the plans started to fall apart. With Buck’s criminal antics raked up by the press along with tales of her dubious past, ‘The Woodhull’ was soon being demonised as no less than ‘Mrs Satan’. A crippling series of court cases followed which led to her being sued and imprisoned time and time again. And her outspoken thoughts regarding 'free love' went on to cause yet more offence when it was revealed that she'd had an affair with the press man, Theodore Tilton.

Theodore Tilton

It was a complicated liaison. Tilton's wife had been sexually involved with a popular married clergyman whose name was Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher in turn had sworn to support Victoria's political campaign, but when the man had second thoughts Victoria then sought revenge by exposing his adultery, only to find herself immersed in the ‘Trial of the Century’.  

Beecher was to emerge unscathed, but the Tiltons were socially disgraced, and Victoria had been portrayed as a promiscuous pornographer. Her life and ambitions were ruined – politically, personally, and financially.

It was Vanderbilt who brought some salvation. When the old man died his heirs were keen to hush up the millionaire's immoral past. Victoria and Tennessee were given a generous settlement and with this they travelled to England, settling in London - another city of gold and ships in which they then reinvented themselves. Leaving their lovers and scandals behind, along with all dreams of the presidency, they still attained some degree of success. 

Victoria and John Biddulph Martin - happy and 'respectable' at last

Tenessee married a viscount and was afterwards known as Lady Cook. Victoria married John Biddulph Martin, a bachelor merchant banker and a man of considerable personal wealth. When widowed she was heartbroken, withdrawing to the Martin's country estate. But she  didn't  exactly give up on life! She became a passionate motorist, and founded an agricultural college dedicated to training women. She also funded a village school, and a famous country club – at which even Edward, the Prince of Wales, was said to be a visitor.

The VV wonders how Victoria felt when, at the age of eighty, universal suffrage was finally won – when the 'modern' world had all but forgotten the woman who'd caused a national sensation, after which she was known as the wife of the devil, and all but in exile when she died. 

For herself, she left these poignant words: ‘You cannot understand a man’s work by what he has accomplished, but by what he has overcome in accomplishing it.’

In her own way, and by her own means, Victoria Woodhull achieved a great deal. She was one of those brave Victorians who lived in a time when a woman was seen as no more than a man's possession. She paved the way for equality – though who knows if her ultimate hope will come true, when a woman will stand in the White House as the President of America.

For a related post: THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY

The VV has hardly scratched the surface of Victoria Woodhull's amazing life. Should any readers wish to investigate further there is a wealth of information on the web. As far as books are concerned, Other Powers by Barabara Goldsmith is an excellent resource which gives a full and well-researched view of  relevant historical events at the time. Mary Gabriel's Notorious Victoria is another fine investigation. And, for younger historians, Kathleen Krull's A Woman for President is a good starting point which has the added bonus of being brought to vibrant life by Jane Dyer's watercolour illustrations. 


The Vampire by  Philip Burne Jones

There are always rumours spread about that the Vampire genre has been done to death. But now and then a new writer emerges to inspire the readers yet again. Stephanie Myers created a frenzy with her series of teenage vampire books, before which Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles' provided far more adult tales. And we all know Stoker's 'Dracula' and - well ... what had preceded that?

Vlad the Impaler

The medieval myth of the vampire or 'upir' originated in eastern Europe having been personified in actual living characters such as Vlad the Impaler, or Countess Elizabeth Bathory - the infamous mass murderer who was said to have bathed in her victims' blood.

By 1484 the 'Malleus Maleficarium', or witch hunter's bible, described how to kill the vampire scourge. After that, as the centuries drew on there were frequent waves of hysteria, with corpses being exhumed from graves to be staked through the heart, with their heads cut off.

The cover of the Penny Dreadful, Varney the Vampire

The myths took root in Western Europe and became an increasingly popular theme in poetry, plays and opera. By 1847 - the year in which Bram Stoker was born - Varney the Vampire emerged, when the fictional exploits of Sir Francis Varney were serialised in Penny Dreadfuls, otherwise known as Penny Bloods; what we would describe as comics now.

The 'Feast of Blood', in which Varney starred proved to be such a great success that its stories continued for over 2 years, with 220 episodes. They only finally came to an end when Sir Francis concluded the torment himself, by travelling to Mount Vesuvius and hurling himself into its flames.

If that has fired your appetite, you can read the Varney stories here.

Sir Francis Varney terrorises a victim

Most Victorian authors would have been well aware of Varney. The VV was recently amused when reading a Philip Pullman novel entitled  'The Ruby in the Smoke', in which a young character called Jim devours all the Penny Dreadfuls that he can get his hands on, after which he confides his own idea for a sensational vampire plot to a gentleman called Bram Stocker.

The real Bram Stoker had already had a long and successful career managing The Lyceum theatre in London. But, in 1897 he became a published novelist when his lurid story, Dracula (originally titled The Undead) was told by the means of journals and letters.

Bram Stoker claimed to have been inspired after visiting St Michan's church in Dublin where the vaults have a peculiar atmosphere that encourages mummification. There, to this very day, the 650 year-old body of a Crusader remains almost entirely intact.

In addition to such vivid imagery, at the time of writing Dracula, Stoker must have been all too aware of his own irreversible state of health. Although the cause of his demise was cited as being 'exhaustion', this term was one of the euphemisms employed when a person died of syphilis: a disease now treated effectively by the use of antibiotics but which, in the Victorian age, often led to a cruel and lingering death.

Perhaps that is why his classic work is so oppressively moving in its unique descriptions of sex and death; with its central obsession being that of a vile corruption of the blood.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)



George Albert Smith 
January 4 1864 ~ May 17 1959

Before making his name in the world of film, GA Smith had already been involved in the visual entertainment trade. He performed as a stage hypnotist, a psychic, and a magic lantern lecturer. But his films are what he is remembered for best, particularly the technical expertise that led to him developing successful colourised moving films: a method that he called Kinemacolour.

Following the death of his father, George went to live in Brighton where his mother ran a boarding house. It was there ~ often in the Aquarium ~ that his stage illusionist act began. And perhaps his skill at deceiving the eye was what led Edmund Gurney, Honorary Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, to be entirely convinced that Smith was a genuine spiritualist and to employ him as his secretary. 

In 1892, Smith leased St Anne's Well Gardens in Hove. There, he then went on to develop the park as a popular seaside pleasure resort, gleefully described by the local press as: 'This delightful retreat ... presided over by the genial Mr G. Albert Smith, is now open ... In the hot weather the refreshing foliage of the wooded retreat is simply perfect, while one can enjoy a cup of Pekoe in the shade'.

The gardens were indeed elaborate, with hot air balloons, and parachute displays, a monkey house, a fortune teller, and a hermit living in a cave - not to mention the magic lantern shows which used clever scenery and lights to create dissolving picture shows, all of which were advertised at the time as being:"High Class Lecture Entertainments with Magnificent Lime-Light Scenery and Beautiful Dioramic Effects."

Many skills learned for this craft went on to be used in moving films - the interest that obsessed Smith after seeing the films of Robert Paul, after which he also joined forces with others in the local Brighton film industry; as well as securing a friendship with the French director, Georges Melies. 

By 1889, having acquired his first moving film camera from the Brighton-based engineer Alfred Darling, and with chemicals bought from James Williamson, a Hove chemist and fellow film pioneer, Smith erected a purpose-built glass house in the grounds of St Anne's Gardens, specifically for making films. Films such as The Kiss in the Tunnel, The Sick Kitten, The House that Jack Built, Grandma's Reading Glass, and As Seen Through a Telescope.

The Sick Kitten ~ click here to see this charming film

Many of his short comedy films (usually no more than a minute in length) starred the local comedian Tom Green, as well as Mr Smith himself, and his wife, Laura Bayley ~ with Laura being an actress who'd worked before in stage pantomimes and also in comic revue shows.

G A Smith and Laura Bayley starring together in A Kiss in the Tunnel
Click here to see the film

However, by 1904 Smith was to leave St Ann's Well Gardens and moved to Southwick in Sussex - the house he called Laboratory Lodge, which is where he was to concentrate on developing his colour film. Films that illustrated this are Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs, and A Visit to the Seaside - both created in 1908, resulting in Smith being awarded a Silver Medal by the Royal Society of Arts. 
More colour films were made until Smith and his long time partner/financier, Charles Urban were put out of business following a patent suit filed by William Friese-Green. This effectively ended Smith's career - after which he was sometimes said to be seen out on the Brighton seafront peering through his telescope - by then becoming a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A Visit to the Seaside - click here to view the film

However, he was not entirely forgotten in the world of moving film. In the late 1940's, and well before his death, G A Smith was given the honour of being made a fellow of the British Film Academy. And today you can learn more about his work by visiting the Hove Museum where there is a permanent display dedicated to his genius.