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Edinburgh’s Mysterious Miniature Coffins

In 1836, three Scottish boys discovered a strange cache of miniature coffins concealed on a hillside above Edinburgh. Who put them there—and why?

smithsonian.com
April 15, 2013
arthurs-coffins-two-600

It may have been Charles Fort, in one of his more memorable passages, who described the strange discovery best:

London Times, July 20, 1836:

That, early in July, 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits’ burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur’s Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.

Little cave.

Seventeen tiny coffins.

Three or four inches long.

In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third one begun, with one coffin.

The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:

That the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years. In the first tier, the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had moldered away. In the second tier,  the effects of age had not advanced so far. And the top coffin was quite recent looking.

Fort’s short account is accurate, so far as it goes—and for more than a century not much more was known about the origin or purpose of the strange miniature coffins. Fewer than half of them survived; the Scotsman, in the first known published account, explained that “a number were destroyed by the boys pelting them at each other as unmeaning and contemptible trifles.” Those that were brought down from the hillside eventually found their way into the collection of Robert Frazier, a South Andrews Street jeweler, who put them on display in his private museum. When, after Frazier’s retirement in 1845, the collection was auctioned off, this lot, described in the sale catalogue as “the celebrated Lilliputian coffins found on Arthur’s Seat, 1836,” sold for just over £4. The coffins thus passed into unknown private hands, and remained there until 1901, when a set of eight, together with their contents, were donated to the National Museum of Scotland by their then-owner, Christina Couper of Dumfriesshire.

Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that these coffins were the same group as the one Frazier obtained in 1836, but few more details are available. The first newspaper reports appeared some three weeks after the initial discovery, and none named any of the boys. One much later account, which is unreferenced and which appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News as late as 1956—but which is so detailed that it may have been based on some otherwise unknown contemporary source—adds that the find was made on June 25, 1836, and notes that the niche, which was “about a foot in height and about 18 inches wide,” was opened up with trowels: tools it seems reasonable to suppose a group of boys out rabbiting might have had about their persons.

Another intriguing detail in the same account states that the surviving coffins were retrieved the “next day” by the boys’ schoolmaster, one Mr. Ferguson, who was a member of a local archaeological society. The coffins were still unopened at this point, the reporter Robert Chapman added, but “Mr. Ferguson took them home in a bag and that evening he settled down in his kitchen and began to prise the lids up with a knife…. Mr. Ferguson took them to the next meeting of his society and his colleagues were equally amazed.” Where Chapman got this information remains unknown, but a search of the contemporary street directories shows that two schoolmasters named Ferguson were working in Edinburgh in 1836–George Ferguson as a classics master at Edinburgh Academy, and Findlay Ferguson as a teacher of English and math at Easter Duddingston.

The Chapman account at least explains how the surviving coffins found their way from the boy discoverers into the hands of the city’s learned gentlemen. In these murky circumstances, it is unsurprising that the precise spot where the find was made is only vaguely known. The Scotsman reported that the boys who unearthed the coffins had been “searching for rabbit burrows on the north-east range of Arthur’s seat” when one spotted “a small opening in the rocks, the peculiar appearance of which attracted their attention.” Another account, which appears to have circulated orally in Edinburgh at this time, and which was put in writing by a correspondent to Notes & Queries under the headline, “A Fairy’s Burial Place,” puts it a good deal more dramatically:

While I was a resident at Edinburgh, either in the year 1836 or 1837, I forget which, a curious discovery took place, which formed the subject of a nine days’ wonder, and a few newspaper paragraphs. Some children were at play at the foot of Salisbury Craigs, when one of them, more venturesome than the others, attempted to ascend the escarpment of the cliff. His foot slipped, and to save himself from a dangerous fall, he caught at a projecting piece of rock, which appeared to be attached to the other portions of the cliff. It gave way, however, beneath the pressure of his hand, and although it broke his fall, both he and it came to the bottom of the craig. Nothing daunted, the hardy boy got up, shook himself, and began the attempt a second time. When he reached the point from whence the treacherous rock had projected, he found that it had merely masked the entrance to a large hole, which had been dug into the face of the cliff.

Salisbury+Crags+and+Aurthur's+Seat

The mouth of this little cave was closed by three thin pieces of slate-stone, rudely cut at the upper ends into a conical form, and so placed as to protect the interior from the effects of the weather.The Scotsman‘s account is, I think, to be preferred here—Notes & Queries adds various other details which are known to be untrue, such as the statement that the coffins had “little handles, and all the other embellishments which the undertakers consider necessary to respectability” —but it is actually broadly in line with N&Q‘s with regard to location. Conversely, another Edinburgh paper, the Caledonian Mercury, describes the spot as lying “at the back of Arthur’s Seat”–that is, on the south side of the hill. Given the relative accessibility of the northern face, and the length of time that appears to have separated the burials from their discovery, it is perhaps marginally more likely that the exact site of the find was neither Salisbury Crags nor the north range of Arthur’s Seat, but a spot to the south, in a relatively remote location on the far side of the Seat from Edinburgh itself. This ties in rather intriguingly with the notion that Findlay Ferguson of Easter Duddingston may have been the schoolmaster associated with the find, since Duddingston lies directly beneath the southern face of Arthur’s Seat. Whatever the facts, it seems clear from the contemporary sources that the coffins were found not in a substantial “cave” on the hillside, as is sometimes supposed, but in a small gap in the rocks. The Scotsman, again, has the clearest description:

According to one later account, in a record in the so-called “Continuation Catalogue” of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, at least one of these slates was “rudely shaped like the headstone of a grave.” As for what the boys found when the slates had been removed, it was “an aperture about twelve inches square in which were lodged seventeen Lilliputian coffins, forming two tiers of eight each, and one on a third, just begun!” Each of the coffins, the Scotsman added,

contained a miniature figure of the human form cut out in wood, the faces in particular being pretty well executed. They were dressed from head to foot in cotton clothes, and decently laid out with a mimic representation of all the funereal trappings which usually form the last habiliments of the dead. The coffins are about three or four inches in length, regularly shaped, and cut out from a single piece of wood, with the exception of the lids, which are nailed down with wire sprigs or common brass pins. The lid and sides of each are profusely studded with ornaments, formed with small pieces of tin, and inserted in the wood with great care and regularity.

So much for the circumstances of the discovery. The greater mystery, as the Scotsman was swift to point out, was what exactly the coffins were, who had placed them in their hiding place, and when. Several potential explanations were advanced, the most popular being that the burials were part of some spellwork, or that they represented mimic burials, perhaps for sailors lost at sea. Most of these solutions, however, assumed that the newspapers of the day were correct to state that the burials had been made over a considerable period of time. According to the Edinburgh Evening Post, for instance,

in the under row the shrouds were considerably decayed and the wood rotten, while the last bore evident marks of being a very recent deposit.

This assumption is, however, hard to prove. The discovery was made not by some trained archaeologist, who made a painstaking examination before moving a single piece of wood, but by a group of boys who appear to have thoroughly mixed up the coffins by hurling them at each other, and who never gave any first-person account of their find. The best that can be said is that several of the surviving coffins display considerably more decay than the others—the most obvious sign being the rotten state (or complete absence) of the figurines’ grave clothes—but whether the decay was the product of time or simply weathering is not now possible to say. It may be that the decayed coffins were simply those that occupied the lower tier in the burial nook, and so were most exposed to water damage. If that’s the case, there is no need to assume that the burials stretched over many years.

This matters, because the only comprehensive study yet made of the “fairy coffins” strongly indicates that all postdate 1800, and that the odds favor a deposit or deposits made after about 1830—within about five years, in other words, of the discovery of the cache. The work in question was carried out by Allen Simpson, a former president of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts and currently a member of the faculty of History and Classics at Edinburgh University, and Samuel Menefee, senior associate of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, and it was published, regrettably obscurely, in the journal of the city’s local history society: The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club.

Simpson and Menefee began their work by describing the eight surviving artifacts (which can still be seen today, on display in the National Museum of Scotland). Two, they note, were originally painted pink or red; the interior of one is lined with paper, made with rag fiber and datable to the period after 1780. As for the details of the construction:

Each coffin contains an ‘occupant’ and has been hollowed from a solid piece of wood. Each also has a lid which has been held in place by pins of various sizes, driven down through the sides and ends of the coffin base. In many instances the pin shafts are still in place, though some are bent over; when the lids were prised off the coffins most of the hand-wound pin heads became detached…. Although the type of wood has not previously been commented on, it has now been identified as Scots pine. Coffin dimensions vary…those now accessible for study are 3.7 to 4.1 inches long, 0.7 to 1.2 inches wide, and 0.8 to 1.0 inches deep with their lids in place….

Judging by the longitudinal scoring on the base of the recess, a sharp knife—probably a hooked knife—has been used. The fact that the surfaces at the ends of the recess are so cleanly cut indicates that the knife has been very sharp; but the user has apparently not been a woodworker by trade because he has not had access to an edged tool such as a chisel to cut out the base of the recess, and has had difficulty in controlling the depth of the cuts (which have even penetrated the base of coffin No.5).

There are two types of external shape. Five of the coffins (Nos 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8) have been carved with square-cut corners and edges, although most have slightly bowed sides so that the coffin has a taper at each end. However, the remaining three (Nos 3, 5 and 7) have a pronounced rounding of the edges and ends of the coffin; this suggests a different manual approach…and may indicate that the coffins could have been carved by two different individuals.

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/Soldier+sideview.jpg

Arthur's Seat coffins - fiogurine side view

A side view of one of the figurines found on Arthur’s Seat, showing how one arm has been removed to allow it to fit inside its coffin. Photo: National Museum of Scotland.

As to who did the carving, Simpson and Menefee point out that “the most striking visual feature of the coffins is the use of applied pieces of tinned iron as decoration.” Analysis of this metal suggests that it is very similar to the sort of tin used in contemporary shoe buckles, and this in turn opens the possibility that the coffins were the work of shoemakers or leatherworkers, who would have had the manual skills to make the coffins but would have lacked the specialist carpentry tools needed to make a neater job of it.

The figurines found within the coffins were also studied. Each of the eight is neatly carved from close-grained white wood, and they share almost identical proportions, varying in height by no more than 5 millimeters—about a fifth of an inch. Some have arms, but several dolls have had them removed, apparently to allow the figure to fit neatly into its coffin. This suggests that the figures were not carved specifically for the purpose of burial, but have been adapted from an existing set; Simpson and Menefee—noting their “rigidly erect bearing,” indications that they originally wore hats, and their carefully carved lower bodies “formed to indicate tight knee breeches and hose, below which the feet are blackened to indicate ankle boots”—believe they are the remnants of a group of toy soldiers, and note that each is made to stand upright with the addition of a slight weight on its front, which might have been supplied by the addition of a model musket. (There would have been no need to ensure carvings intended simply as corpses would stand upright.) The features are very similar, and “it seems unlikely that the figures were ever intended to represent particular individuals.” Moreover, “the open eyes of the figures suggest that they were not carved to represent corpses.”

Based on their appearance, the authors tentatively date the group to the 1790s; no dendrochronological analysis or carbon dating, however, has been done on the collection. Several of the surviving figurines are still clad in well-preserved “grave clothes.” As Simpson and Menefee point out, “single-piece suits, made from fragments of cloth, have been moulded round the figures and sewn in place. With some figures there is evidence of adhesive under the cloth. The style of dress does not relate to period grave clothes, and if it is intended to be representational at all then it is more in keeping with everyday wear…. The fact that the arms of figure No.8 were already missing when the figure was clothed suggests that the fabric was merely intended to cover the figures decently and not to represent garments.” All the fabrics are cheap, made of plain woven cotton, though one of the figures is clad in checks and three “seem to have commercially inked patterns applied to the cloth.”

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/Stitching.jpg

Arthur's Seat coffins - figurine clothing and stitching

Two more figurines, showing details of the stitching and clothing, crucial clues to their likely origin. Photo: National Museum of Scotland.

The evidence of the figurines makes dating the burials much easier. According to Naomi Tarrant, curator of European textiles at the National Museum of Scotland, the good condition of the surviving vestments suggests they were buried in the 1830s. More revealingly, one of the figures has been sewn into its grave clothes with a three-ply thread. Cotton thread replaced linen in Scotland from about 1800; “almost certainly,” Simpson and Menefee assert, “such thread would have been manufactured in the thread mills of Paisley, where tradition has it that cotton thread was not made before 1812.” Three-ply thread, according to Philip Sykas of Manchester Art Galleries–the leading expert on that topic – came into use in about 1830. Sykas believes that the mixture of one-, two- and three-ply threads found on the Arthur’s Seat figures “indicates a date in the 1830s.”

Now, none of this proves all the burials took place at so late a date as 1830; it is possible that the decayed surviving figurines represent interments that took place earlier than this, and also that the figurines sewn with one- or two-ply thread predate 1830. Nonetheless, it does seem possible to suggest that all the burials took place, at the outside, between about 1800 and 1830, and it is entirely likely that Simpson and Menefee are correct to state that all took place during the 1830s. This in turn suggests it is possible that all 17 figurines were interred at the same time, and the fact that the coffins seem to have been carved by at most two people and that the figurines apparently originally formed part of a single set implies that the burial(s) were carried out by the same person, or small group of people “over a comparatively short period.”

If this is true, write Simpson and Menefee, “the significant feature of the burial is that there were seventeen coffins,” and “it is arguable…”

that the problem with the various theories is their concentration on motivation, rather than on the event or events that caused the interments. The former will always be open to argument, but if the burials were event-driven—by, say the loss of a ship with seventeen fatalities during the period in question—the speculation would at least be built on demonstrable fact. Stated another way, what we seek is an Edinburgh-related event or events, involving seventeen deaths, which occurred close to 1830 and certainly before 1836. One obvious answer springs to mind—the West Port Murders by William Burke and William Hare in 1827 and 1828.

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/William+Burke.jpg

William Burke

William Burke, one half of the infamous pair of “resurrection men” responsible for 17 murders in the Scottish capital during the late 1820s.

Simpson’s and Menefee’s solution to the mystery is certainly dramatic— so much so it seems that nobody has actually asked whether the pair searched for news of any Scottish shipwreck from the early 1830s, as they suggest it might be wise to do. (It would appear that they did not.) The West Port murders, after all, were and remain notorious: They were committed in Edinburgh by two Irish laborers, Burke and Hare, to profit by supplying corpses to Edinburgh’s medical school, where they were in great demand for dissection. The pair’s victims, mostly indigents who, they supposed, would not be missed, numbered 17, of whom one expired of natural causes while the rest were murdered. The killers’ trial, in which Hare turned King’s evidence and Burke was convicted and later hanged, was one of the sensations of the age. Crucially, in the authors’ view, the fact that all of the 17 victims were dissected, and consequently had no decent burial, may have inspired a “mimic burial” on Arthur’s Seat:

Considering beliefs such as the alleged mimic burial given to Scottish sailors lost at sea, it would not be unreasonable for some person or person, in the absence of the seventeen dissected bodies, to wish to propitiate these dead, the majority of whom were murdered in atrocious circumstances, by a form of burial to set their spirits at rest. While it is always possible that other disasters could have resulted in an identical casualty list, the West Port murders would appear to be a logical motivating force.

Since Simpson and Menefee first reported their findings in 1994, their thesis has been elaborated. The Edinburgh Evening News reported in 2005 that George Dalgliesh, principal curator of Scottish history at the National Museum of Scotland, believes “the most credible theory is that were made by someone who knew Burke and Hare,” and so had a strong motive to make amends for their crimes. Attempts to suggest that Burke himself may have manufactured and buried the pieces in an agony of contrition seem to fail on the problem that the murderers were arrested almost immediately after committing their 17th killing, leaving little or no time for any burial to be made; a DNA sample for Burke has been obtained from the murderer’s skeleton, which is preserved at Edinburgh University, but no traces of DNA could be recovered from the buried figurines.

There is, moreover, one potentially fatal objection to the theory that the Arthur’s Seat coffins are connected to the West Port murders: no fewer than 12 of Burke and Hare’s victims were female, yet the clothed bodies found in the coffins were uniformly dressed in male attire.

Without knowing more about burial customs in early 19th-century Scotland it is hard to know how worrying this objection is, but certainly it would appear no more difficult to clothe a figurine in a miniature dress than it would be to stitch on trousers. In the absence of firm evidence of any connection to the activities of Burke and Hare, I would suggest the first step in any future investigation should be to examine Scottish newspapers published between, say, 1820 and 1836, for evidence of any other disasters involving the deaths of 17 people—ideally, none of them women. Two titles, the Scotsman and the Caledonian Mercury, have now been digitized, and could be searched by a determined researcher. We await further developments.

Sources

Caledonian Mercury, August 5, 1836; Charles Fort. Complete Books. New York: Dover, 1975; Edinburgh Evening News, October 16, 1956 and December 2, 2005; Edinburgh Evening Post, August 20, 1836; Samuel Pyeatt Menefee and Allen Simpson, ‘The West Port murders and the miniature coffins from Arthur’s Seat,’ The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, new series vol.3 (1994); Notes & Queries, 3S. III, April 4, 1863; Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 36 (1901-02); The Scotsman, July 16, 1836.

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Largest trove of gold coins in Israel unearthed from ancient harbor

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 (Israel Antiquities Authority)

A group of divers in Israel has stumbled upon the largest hoard of gold coins ever discovered in the country. The divers reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and nearly 2,000 coins dating back to the Fatimid period, or the eleventh century, were salvaged by the authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit. The find was unearthed from the seabed of the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, according to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the release. “There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected.”

Sharvit suggested that the treasure trove of coins might have been intended to pay the members of the Fatimid military garrison stationed at Caesarea, Israel. There are also other theories as the origins of the coins. Sharvit said that the coins could have belonged to a sunken merchant ship.

“The coins are in excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention,” said Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist – someone who studies currency – with the antiquities authority.

The five divers have been called “model citizens” by the antiquities organization. Had the divers removed the objects from their location or tried to sell them, they could have faced a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The oldest of the coins is a quarter dinar that was minted in Palermo, Sicily during the second half of the ninth century. The majority of the coins can be traced back to the Faimid caliphs, Al-Ḥākim and his son Al-Ẓāhir who were alive in during the eleventh century. These coins were minted in Egypt and North Africa.

“There is no doubt that the discovery of the impressive treasure highlights the uniqueness of Caesarea as an ancient port city with rich history and cultural heritage,” stated the Caesarea Development Company and Nature and Parks Authority in the release. “After 2,000 years it is still capable of captivating its many visitors … when other parts of its mysterious past are revealed in the ground and in the sea.”

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Blackbeard’s Booty: Pirate ship yields medical supplies

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File photo – A one-ton cannon which was recovered from the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site, is pulled from the water near Beaufort, North Carolina, Oct. 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Karen Browning/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)

Archaeologists are excavating the vessel that served as the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, and the medical equipment they have recovered from the shipwreck suggests the notorious buccaneer had to toil to keep his crew healthy.

Blackbeard is the most famous pirate who ever lived. His real name was Edward Teach (or possibly Thatch), and his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was formerly a French slave vessel named La Concorde de Nantes that Blackbeard captured in November 1717. Blackbeard was able to capture this ship easily because much of its crew was either sick or dead due to disease.

A few months into 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar at Topsail Inlet in North Carolina. Blackbeard abandoned much of his crew at that point, leaving the site with a select group of men and most of the plunder. He was killed in battle later that year.

The wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge was rediscovered in 1996 and has been under excavation by the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project. Archaeologists have recovered many artifacts, including a number of medical instruments. These artifacts, combined with historical records, paint a picture of a pirate captain who tried to keep his crew in fighting shape.

“Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” Linda Carnes-McNaughton, an archaeologist and curator with the Department of Defense who volunteers her time on the excavation project, wrote in a paper she presented recently at the Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting. [Photos: The Medical Instruments Found on Blackbeard’s Ship]

The people on a ship like Blackbeard’s would have had to contend with many conditions, including “chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies,” Carnes-McNaughton said.

Blackbeard’s surgeons

In fact, maintaining the crew’s health was so important that when Blackbeard turned the Queen Anne’s Revenge into his flagship, he released most of the French crew members he had captured, but he forced the ship’s three surgeons to stay, along with a few other specialized workers like carpenters and the cook, Carnes-McNaughton said.

She noted, however, that “The Sea-Man’s Vade Mecum” of 1707,which contained the rules that seafarers were supposed to follow, had a provision stating that surgeons could not leave their ship until its voyage was complete.

Carnes-McNaughton investigated both the La Concorde de Nantes’ crew muster, which is the document that lists crew members’ names and salaries, as well as court records to learn more about the surgeons Blackbeard captured.

The ship’s muster indicates that La Concorde de Nantes’ surgeon major was a man named Jean Dubou (or Dubois), from St. Etienne. Before he was captured by Blackbeard, Dubou was being paid 50 livres for his work on the ship’s voyage. The second surgeon was Marc Bourgneuf of La Rochelle, who was paid 30 livres for the voyage.

The third surgeon was Claude Deshayes, who was listed as a gunsmith on the muster and paid 22 livres for his work. The muster also names a surgeon’s aide,  Nicholas Gautrain, who was paid 12 livres. Although he is named on the muster, Gautrain is not mentioned in court records.

Medical equipment

When archaeologists excavated the Queen Anne’s Revenge they found a number of medical instruments, some with marks that indicate they were manufactured in France. Carnes-McNaughton said that Dubou and his aides were required to supply their own medical equipment, and Blackbeard likely captured this equipment when he captured the surgeons. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Among the finds was a urethral syringe that chemical analysis indicates originally contained mercury. Carnes-McNaughton told Live Science that this would have been used to treat syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. “Eventually the mercury kills you,” she said, explaining that the patient could suffer mercury poisoning.

Archaeologists also found the remains of two pump clysters. These would have been used to pump fluid into the rectum, allowing it to be absorbed quickly, Carnes-McNaughton said. It’s not clear exactly why this would have been done, but there are plans to analyze the clysters to find out what material they contained before the ship was wrecked.

An instrument called a porringer was also found, which may have been used in bloodletting treatments, Carnes-McNaughton said. People in the early 18thcentury believed that bloodletting could cure some conditions and a modern-day form of the treatment is still used for a few conditions.

Archaeologists also found a cast brass mortar and pestle and two sets of nesting weights, devices that would have been used in preparing medicine. The remains of galley pots were also found that would have been used to store balms, salves and other potions.

Some items were found that could have been used medically or non-medically, Carnes-McNaughton said, including a silver needle and the remains of scissors, which could have been handy during surgeries. Two pairs of brass set screws were also found that may have been used in a tourniquet, a device that limits bleeding during amputations.

Carnes-McNaughton said she is going to compare the medical equipment from Queen Anne’s Revenge to those found on other wrecks.

Getting medicine

But although the captured surgeons had medical equipment, Blackbeard would have still needed a supply of medicine to treat his crew. He got some in 1718, after he spent a week blockading the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Blackbeard captured ships that tried to get past him, holding their crew and passengers hostage.

When it came time to parley with the governor of South Carolina, a chest of medicine was demanded. Blackbeard threatened that he “would murder all their prisoners, send up their heads to the governor, and set the ships they had taken on fire,” if the governor didn’t deliver the medicine chest, writes Capt. Charles Johnson, who published an account of Blackbeard in 1724. The governor promptly complied and the prisoners were released.

In the end, Blackbeard’s efforts to keep up his crew’s health didn’t change the pirate’s own fate when he was hunted down in November 1718 by the Royal Navy.

Blackbeard was in good enough shape that he is said to have put up a terrific final fight while trying to board an enemy ship. “He stood his ground and fought with great fury, till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot,” Johnson wrote. “At length, as he was cocking another pistol, having fired several before, [when] he fell down dead.”

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American Cities at the Turn of the 19th Century

Photos of American cities from Civil War era to 1912…

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1890: Smokiana

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Amphibious ships, cycling on water and cities with ceilings: Vintage postcards reveal how Victorians predicted future of travel

  • Predictions of trips to the North Pole and ‘moving walkways’ fit with the modern day
  • However moveable brick houses and roofed cities are not what we have today
  • The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company 

While most of the ideas remain totally unachievable in the modern world, some of the concepts are not dissimilar to the lives we lead today.

The moving pavement is one that we can credit the Victorians for – just about every airport now has travelators, and even a break to the North Pole isn’t too far from reality, as more and more people begin to venture further afield for a more adventurous holiday.

It may not quite be mainstream yet, but trips to the North Pole are taken on my some explorers as we seek to broaden our knowledge

It may not quite be mainstream yet, but trips to the North Pole are taken on my some explorers as we seek to broaden our knowledge

Ships that can go out to sea and then transform into a wheeled vehicle to carry on land are yet to make an appearance 

Ships that can go out to sea and then transform into a wheeled vehicle to carry on land are yet to make an appearance

Travel on boats with glass lookouts that go underwater - the nearest we have is submarines

The 12 drawings are based on predictions made in 1900 as to how the world would look 100 years on, and they leave little to the imagination.

Among the warped ideas are moveable houses, undersea ships and even a roofed city, each illustrated with a suitably unrealistic picture of how the idea would play out.

However, a good weather machine remains as much of a pipe dream as it did a century ago, and people seem happier to travel by commercial aeroplane rather than an individual flying machine.

Moveable brick/stone houses and buildings might not be quite right, but we do have mobile homes 

Hot air balloon rides to travel the world have been somewhat superseded by aeroplanes and trains

Hot air balloon rides to travel the world have been somewhat superseded by aeroplanes and trains

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son - a German chocolate company - pictured here is a weather machine 

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company – pictured here is a weather machine

A walled city, as predicted by the Victorians, might not work in this days and age with pollution from fumes being the biggest worry

A walled city, as predicted by the Victorians, might not work in this days and age with pollution from fumes being the biggest worry

But, in an era that invented the telephone, the light bulb and even the first ceramic toilet, the Victorians appear to have had a fairly good insight into what the future had to offer.

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company who decided to get in on the future-telling business with a crafty marketing campaign.

For a short time, they slipped the colourful cards depicting theoretical life in the year 2000 into boxes of their sweets, predicting how a range of activities would be upgraded for the 21st Century.

This scene is not too dissimilar to us using paragliders and handgliders to get around and explore the landscape

This scene is not too dissimilar to us using paragliders and handgliders to get around and explore the landscape

Individual water travel was predicted by the Victorians, but this hasn't exactly taken off

Individual water travel was predicted by the Victorians, but this hasn’t exactly taken off

Moving walkways to get around were predicted by the Victorians, and these are seen today in many of our airports

Moving walkways to get around were predicted by the Victorians, and these are seen today in many of our airports

The Victorians looked ahead to how our states would be policed as well as how we would travel the world

The Victorians looked ahead to how our states would be policed as well as how we would travel the world

The postcards predicted what life would be like in the year 2000 

The postcards predicted what life would be like in the year 2000

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2848663/Vintage-postcards-reveal-Victorians-predicted-future-travel.html#ixzz3KuWJ4rTV
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TOP 10 TOILETS THROUGH TIME

Posted By:
Amy Commander
Reconstruction of the toilets at Housesteads Roman Fort by Philip Corke

It’s not glamorous, but everybody needs to do it. From Romans gossiping on the loo to medieval royal bottom-wiping, to the invention of our modern flushing toilet, here are 2,000 years of toilet history!

1. Housesteads Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall: All together now…

The best preserved Roman loos in Britain are at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. At its height, the fort was garrisoned by 800 men, who would use the loo block you can still see today. There weren’t any cubicles, so men sat side by side, free to gossip on the events of the day. They didn’t have loo roll either, so many used a sponge on a stick, washed and shared by many people – lovely!

Visit Housesteads Roman Fort

Roman toilets at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall

2. Old Sarum, Wiltshire: Luxury facilities, until you have to clean them…

These deep cesspits sat beneath the Norman castle at Old Sarum, probably underneath rooms reached from the main range, like private bathrooms. In the medieval period luxury castles were built with indoor toilets known as ‘garderobes’, and the waste dropped into a pit below. It was the job of the ‘Gongfarmer’ to remove it – one of the smelliest jobs in history? At Old Sarum the Gongfarmer was dangled from a rope tied around his waist, while he emptied the two 5m pits.

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The garderobe pits at Old Sarum

3. Dover Castle, Kent: The royal wee

Henry II made sure that Dover Castle was well provided with garderobes. He had his own en-suite facilities off the principal bed-chamber. As with many castles of the era, chutes beneath the garderobes were built so that the waste fell into a pit which could be emptied from outside the building.

Medieval nobility would likely have a ‘groom of the stool’ – an important servant within the household responsible for making the experience comfortable for his employer, and bottom wiping!

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Henry II's bedchamber at Dover Castle

4. Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire: The toilet tower

At Goodrich Castle there’s a whole tower dedicated to doing your business. The garderobe tower was built in the later Middle Ages to replace a small single latrine, and the survival of such as large example is extremely rare in England in Wales. The loos could be accessed from the courtyard from one of three doors, leading to the ‘cubicles’. There might have been more than one seat in each chamber.

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Garderobe Tower at Goodrich Castle - the middle tower

5. Orford Castle, Suffolk: A Norman urinal

Garderobes are quite common in medieval castles, but urinals are a little more unusual. Henry II’s Orford Castlewas built as a show of royal power, and to guard the busy port of Orford. The constable – a senior royal official in charge of the castle – had his own private room, which has a urinal built into the thick castle wall.

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Norman urinal at Orford Castle

6. Muchelney Abbey, Somerset: Thatched loo for monks

Many medieval abbey ruins across the country include the remains of the latrines, or ‘reredorter’ (meaning literally ‘at the back of the dormitory’), including Muchelney Abbey, Castle Acre Priory and Battle Abbey. At Muchelney the building survives with a thatched roof, making it the only one of its kind in Britain. The monks would enter the loo block via their dormitory and take their place in a cubicle – you can still see the fixings for the bench and partitions between each seat.

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The thatched monks' latrines at Muchelney Abbey

7. Jewel Tower, London: The Privy Palace

A precious survival from the medieval Palace of Westminster, Jewel Tower was part of the ‘Privy Palace’, the residence of the medieval kings and their families from 11th to 16th century. It was well supplied with garderobes, with one on each of the three floors. As the tower housed the royal treasure, while sitting on the loo you might have enjoyed the richest view in the kingdom!

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Door at Jewel Tower

8. Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire: ‘A new discourse of a stale subject’

The forerunner to our modern flushing toilet was invented at Old Wardour Castle. The inventor Sir John Harington met with five others at the castle to discuss his idea for the first time in 1592. Sir John might have been influenced by the plumbing situation at Old Wardour – in the 14th century the castle was built with luxurious ‘en-suites’ for many of the important chambers, but by the end of the century it was more likely to just cause a big stink as both shafts and drains frequently blocked up.

Visit Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle

9. Audley End House, Essex: Feeling flush

Along with many other technological advancements, Audley End was one of the first country houses in England to have flushing toilets. The first of Joseph Bramah’s new hinged-value water closets was purchased in 1775, and a further 4 were bought in 1785 at a cost equivalent to the wages of two servants for a whole year! Although none of the Bramah toilets survive, there are two other early loos from the 1870s, one next to the chapel and another in the Coal Gallery.

Visit Audley End

Toilet at Audley End (structure on right)

10. Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire: Thunderboxes

Inside the elegant Victorian country house of Brodsworth Hall almost everything has been left exactly as it was when it was still a family home. So as well as the grand furniture, there’s also everything from the commodes of the 1840s to a modern pink bathroom from the 1960s/70s. A highlight has to be the flush thunderboxes – essentially mahogany boxes with a hole, and a brass handle for flushing – part of the original sanitary arrangements in the 1860s.

Visit Brodsworth Hall

Thunderbox at Brodsworth Hall

Uncover More Stories

If you fancy flushing out more toilet tales at historic sites around the country, choose from hundreds of castles, abbeys and ruins here. Don’t forget that English Heritage membership offers free access to over 400 historic sites, free or reduced price entry to hundreds of events and loads of other benefits.

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Image found of Confederate White House housekeeper

Confederate Housekeeper660.jpg

Mary OMelia is seen in an undated photo provided by the American Civil War Museum. OMelia served at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va.,as housekeeper for Jefferson Davis and his first lady, Varina Davis, and was a confidante of the first lady.The American Civil War Museum

Mary O’Melia left Ireland for America as a young widow with three children before she was hired as housekeeper at the White House of the Confederacy. An intimate witness to history, she also has been much of a mystery.

That was until this year, when a woman with a distinctive Irish lilt to her voice called The American Civil War Museum. The housekeeper, the woman said, was related to her late husband, and she had in her possession a necklace that Confederate first lady Varina Davis gave O’Melia.

But there was more.

“What really took my breath away is she said she had a photograph of Mary,” said Cathy Wright, curator at the Civil War Museum, formerly the Museum of the Confederacy.

“Considering that it’s been almost 150 years since she left the White House that anyone has been able to look at her face is just remarkable,” Wright said in an interview.

The tintype adds a human dimension to what is a tantalizing but frustrating portrait of a woman who left her children in Baltimore to oversee the White House in the capital of the Confederacy during the duration of the Civil War but publicly revealed little of the experience.

O’Melia was among a staff of 20, was a confidante to the first lady, and may have been in the mansion in April 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln visited after Confederate defenders left the city smoldering. Historical records are unclear on that point.

The discovery is important nonetheless because the museum, which is next door to the White House, has strived to piece together the often untold lives of the African-American slaves, free people of color and European immigrants who worked as domestics for the Davis family.

“One of the more elusive figures was Mary O’Melia,” Wright said.

O’Melia was a central character in this Southern version of “Downton Abbey” and she remains a bit of an enigma. Even her name is a mystery. It’s been spelled various ways through the years — O’Melia, O’Malley and O’Malla.

This much is known: she was born Mary Larkin on April 7, 1822, in Galway, in western Ireland. She was educated in a convent, and apparently the fine needlework the religious order of nuns taught her may have influenced her hiring by Varina Davis.

She married a ship captain, Matthias O’Melia, but was widowed at age 25 when he was lost at sea.

While the circumstances of her journey to America are not known, Mary O’Melia settled in Baltimore in about 1850. In 1861, she left her children with relatives and headed to visit friends in Richmond, where she was marooned when Virginia left the Union.

Told by friends Varina Davis could help her return north, she appealed to the Roman Catholic bishop to intercede on her behalf.

Ultimately, Davis prevailed upon O’Melia to take the position as housekeeper and companion to the first lady despite O’Melia’s separation from her children.

O’Melia would eventually remain at the Confederate White House until Richmond’s fall in 1865.

Despite her perch within the Confederate seat of power, O’Melia left little written accounts of her years in Richmond. She left it to others to speculate on her employment, including a reporter who wrote after her death of all the “exciting conferences” she would have witnessed.

When the first family left Richmond in April 1865, O’Melia remained to oversee the mansion.

Writing from Danville days after his departure, President Jefferson Davis wrote to his wife: “Mrs. Omelia behaved just as you described her, but seemed anxious to serve and promised to take care of everything which may mean some things.”

Perhaps a more telling gesture of O’Melia’s connection to the first family of the Confederacy was her correspondence with the Davis family after they parted and a wedding she and Varina Davis attended in 1867. They were the only white people in attendance at the wedding of Ellen Barnes, who had served in the White House.

When Jefferson Davis died in 1889, O’Melia attended a memorial in Baltimore. A reporter said she “attracted considerable attention” and was described as “a well-preserved old lady.”

Wright said O’Melia’s story resonates particularly with her because she calls herself the “modern housekeeper of the White House of the Confederacy.

“I’m supposed to be over there keeping it clean and maintaining it so I’ve always felt a personal affinity for her,” she said.

After her service at the White House, O’Melia returned to Baltimore where she operated boarding houses until her death in 1907.

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1857: The Victoria Inflated Skirt

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1868 – Horse Drawn Airplane

“A sea captain, Jean Marie Le Bris (1817-1872) observed the flight of the Albatross. He caught some of the birds and analysed the interaction of their wings with air. Le Bris built a glider, inspired by the shape of the Albatross and named L’Albatros artificiel. During 1856 he flew briefly on a beach, the aircraft being placed on a cart towed by a horse. He flew reportedly to a height of 100 m for a distance of 200 m.Wikipedia

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