Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Diary: People Watching, Part I

George William Lillies was an enthusiastic amateur naturalist who collected specimens he found along the west African coast when his Royal Navy ship was there in the mid-1840s. He even did his own taxidermy on the spot. It’s unlikely, however, that he was making original scientific discoveries; it appears to have been more a hobby than a serious vocation.

GWL’s 1846-47 journal also includes occasional observations about the geology and climatology of the region. But most intriguing are his commentaries on the indigenous cultures he encountered.

His attitudes towards Africans could, as we’ve seen, be regrettable. But GWL also shows flashes of a more disinterested, scientific perspective. It’s not clear in these entries whether he’s repeating what other Europeans have told him, or reporting direct observations and results of his own enquiries. In some cases, it’s definitely the latter. But again, there is no sense that he was doing serious or original research. He was just curious about and interested in everything he saw, and had a trained scientific mind.  

His first and most extensive excursion into ethnography comes five months into his tour, in November 1846. His ship, the HMS Styx, had anchored at Fernando Pò Island in the Gulf of Guinea, off present-day Cameroon. The island is part of Equatorial Guinea today, and officially named Bioko.

Gulf of Guinea showing Bioko (Fernando Pò Island) and mainland Equatorial Guinea
“The natives of the island,” GWL tells us, “are called Bushmen or Boobies - they live in the Bush in small villages consisting of huts – each Village has its chief - they subsist on what they procure by hunting which is their principal occupation - Their faces are disfigured by numberless scars the result of incisions made on them when young by their parents - The men wear Bracelets on their arms high up in which they carry a knife and pipe.”

19th century image of Bubi man with knife held in bracelet
GWL can’t resist concluding this little introduction with some Victorian moralizing. “Their dress,” he sniffs, “is anything but becoming or civilized[. M]ost of them wear hats with the feathers of some wild fowl in them.” Tsk, tsk.

The Bubi People (as they spell their name today) are a Bantu-speaking group indigenous to the island. The name was given them by pre-colonial (probably European) visitors, a corruption of the group’s own word for man. The Bubi have since adopted the name themselves.

Bioko scene (courtesy of A Pocketful of Wanderlust) 
The ancient Bubi kingdom by some accounts lasted 3,000 years. The monarchs, from colonial times, are well documented. GWL may not have realized they had a king at the time he wrote his first entry, but he did by the time he continued his account a few days later. In the next entry, he adds more detail about the Bubi way of life and culture.

“[T]hey have a kind of shed where they live during the day and where they cook etc. Close to this are built their huts which are more like dog kennels than anything else - they are very low so that one must creep into them and are just large enough to hold two or three persons – “

Bubi children today
“Polygamy is common among them - The man we saw had three wives - they curl their hair behind and smear it over with palm oil and red clay - their spears are made of wood, have no iron about them and irregularly notched towards the point - they are very civil and inoffensive creatures they pressed us to take some yams which we declined – “

And then he mentions the monarch. “Their King is called by some Glory, by others Cut-throat - he was formerly a troublesome character but now they say he is much improved.” According to the historical record, King Möadyabitá was on the throne in 1846.

Fernando Pò Island circa mid-1800s
The Styx appears to have been on an extended break during this period. Fernando Pò was a Spanish colony, but the British leased bases for its anti-slavery patrols at Port Clarence (Malabo today) and San Carlos. GWL’s journal entries, about the Bubis and other topics, tend to be longer during this time, and he is relaxed enough to wax comical on a couple of occasions. A few days after the King Cut-Throat entry, he adds more interesting, and gruesome, anthropological detail about the Bubi.

“Adultery is punished amongst the Boobies by cutting off the offenders hand for the first offence and scarifying him with a  long knife from the spot where he committed the act to his own hut - a second offence is punished by amputating the other hand – 

“In most of their villages they divide themselves into two parties or sects one of which spend their time in fishing, the other in cultivating yams [Hmm. What happened to hunting as their main occupation?] - Each is obliged to stick to his own employment and is not allowed to occupy his spare time in doing any work but what he has chosen as his trade.”

This is the last GWL mentions the Bubi. In January 1847, with the Styx now in Sierra Leone, he turns his attention to the “kroomen.” Kroomen were recruited locally to serve on West Africa Squadron ships, and the ships of other navies in the region. According to GWL, “a certain number of their men are allowed to the British Cruisers on the Coast -  they are very useful as they do all the hard work and when in harbour all the shore work which would otherwise prove highly prejudicial to the health of our men[.]”

Kroomen, some in uniform, on USS Sacramento, an American ship, 1867 (Surgeon H.P. Babcock, USN)
I had assumed, not unreasonably, that the kroomen were so-called because they were “crew men.” Not so. As GWL’s entry makes clear, and Wikipedia among other sources confirms, they are a separate ethnic group. “The Kroomen were experienced fishermen from the Kroo or Kru tribe in Sotta Krou, in what is now Liberia in West Africa,” Wikipedia tells us. “Because of their knowledge of the west African coast they were sometimes employed as pilots.”

GWL referred to them early in his journal as “extraordinary looking Animals,” adding that “some of them are exceedingly fine men.” In the January entry, he expands on this.
Mid-19th century print
“Kroomen,” he writes, “are tattooed - a broad bluish line passes from the roots of his hair over the forehead terminating at the tip of the nose - At the outer angle of each eye there are occasionally a few crescentic lines concave and having a dart pointing towards the eye  - The body is covered with all sorts of figures, comprehending human heads, fish, ships, arrows and Palm Trees - an Ivory wristlet and Leopards tooth or a piece of fish skin are especial articles of Gree Gree, their God of medicine – ”

It’s worth noting that none of the 19th century pictures of kroomen that turn up in Google searches come close to living up to GWL’s outlandish-sounding description. But perhaps by later in the century when these images were made, the kroomen had already begun to be Europeanized – or “civilized,” as GWL would likely put it.

He goes on to talk about language, culture and working methods, but as in other passages, can’t resist moral judgements.

“They are very superstitious and are generally found faithful in a strange country although they cannot be trusted in their own… Their language is principally a combination of vowels and from the peculiar nasal pronunciation can rarely be acquired by Europeans - A different language is spoken amongst them at every 10 or 12 miles, but these different languages are generally understood by the natives all along the coast…”

The kroomen apparently practised a form of employment contracting that bears similarities to modern temp agency practices and, as GWL notes, traditional European apprenticeships.

“The Kroomen have a singular custom peculiar to themselves which is a system of apprenticeship,” he writes. “A number of young men will attach themselves for a certain period to a Headman - This Headman has made one or more voyages to leeward to the Oil Rivers [delta of the Niger River in modern Nigeria], before he can obtain a name or be allowed to build a house or trade, and it is the duty of this Headman to ship the boys off for the Oil Rivers on board of any vessel he can, and for this service the Headman is entitled to the one month's advance always paid by the ship - He is also entitled to a certain portion of the Boy's Wages, when he returns - When the boy has made two or three voyages and can speak English fluently he becomes a Headman himself – ”

Next post: the Fishmen, a visit to a dance and comical interludes with Sir Humph.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dear Diary: The Science Nerd

Our great great grandfather George William Lillies was a medical doctor by training, but also a naturalist of wide ranging interests. All through the journal that he wrote during his time as a Royal Navy ship’s surgeon in West Africa, he makes observations about the flora, fauna, geology, ethnography and climatology of the region, and reports on his efforts to collect and preserve specimens.

It starts early with observations of the exotic flora of the Cape Verde Islands which his ship visited en route to its posting in Sierra Leone. “The island is very fertile,” he writes, “but very unhealthy. On it grow Cocoa Nut trees, Tamarinds - Pine Apples - Oranges -Lemons - Limes - Bananas and a curious kind of fruit called t[h]e Mammy Apple.” It’s not always easy to figure out what it is GWL actually saw. Mammy Apple? This is almost certainly Mammea americana, a fruit native to tropical South America that was introduced to other tropical regions, including west Africa, after the Spanish Conquest.

Sometimes, GWL’s interest in local flora and fauna isn’t purely scientific. In the same passage about Cape Verde, he adds, “Plenty of Turkeys and fowls can be got here and at a very cheap rate - The Inhabitants are very fond of exchanging provisions for old clothes - I got this morning as fine a Turkey as ever I saw with Pine Apples, a cocoa nut and a dozen eggs for an old rusty pair of trousers, not worth I should think at most two shillings.” He often segues abruptly in this way from the disinterestedly scientific to the down-to-earth and practical.

Most of the time, GWL is simply observing and cataloguing, and sometimes his interest seems as much aesthetic as scientific. On a visit to Prince’s Island (part of the Portuguese-speaking Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe today), he describes walking through a plantation with “a beautiful avenue formed by Guava Trees Coffee Shrubs Palms and a species of Creeper bearing seeds that resembled chestnuts.” GWL, like most first-time visitors to tropical and semi-tropical climes, is attracted to the picturesque hanging vines. “The creepers are exceedingly beautiful,” he writes. “[T]hey climb to the tops of the tallest trees and then hang down in graceful festoons.”

Modern tile mosaic depicting São Tomé and Príncipe coconut plantation
He is perhaps most interested in birds, mentioning “Palm Birds,” in particular, on several occasions. GWL describes them as “beautiful plumaged birds [so] called…from their building on the Palm tree and forming their nests of strips of its leaves - Their nests hang from the stems under the leaves and resemble in shape a wren's nest - The cock bird has a beautiful plumage bright yellow and black with scarlet eyes and black pupils - they live on insects principally and are called by the natives Snowdies - The Hen bird in plumage resembles much the yellow hammer.”

Allied Hornbill
It took some digging to figure out which bird he was talking about. The term palm bird has apparently fallen out of general English usage. But I found it in a couple of specialist lexicons of Liberian English, in one case rendered phonetically as “palm boid.” Both define it as a hornbill, of which two subspecies are common in Liberia, and presumably in nearby Sierra Leone where our man reports seeing them: the Allied and the Yellow-Casqued. But neither hornbill exactly matches GWL's description (see illustrations).

Yellow-Casqued Hornbill
He is not always content merely observing, in fact appears to have been a compulsive collector. About the time of those first palm bird sightings, he reports, without further elaboration, “skinned my birds in the evening.” (Of course, they may have just been dinner!) On another occasion he mentions stuffing a rook specimen in the evening. “Stuffed a Kingfisher in the evening,” he tells us another day. Taxidermy evidently was an evening occupation. I can imagine him working away by the light of an oil lamp in his cramped cabin. 

GWL wasn’t satisfied with observing the “beautiful plumaged” Palm Bird either. He casually mentions going for a walk and “[getting] some nests of the Palm bird.” On another occasion he “killed some Palm Birds,” adding with relish, “frightened an old woman out of her wits - she did everything but swear at us.” (Stamped her feet?) So much for the modern-day naturalist’s mantra of “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”

West African Seahorse

It seems that news of his interest in local flora and fauna spread because people started giving him specimens. A Spaniard, he reports, “gave me a wild cat and a Hippocampus.” Hippocampus? Latin scholars and marine biologists will already know it’s a seahorse, of which there is a distinctive subspecies found in the waters off Sierra Leone. “Wild cat” seems a frustratingly vague descriptor on a continent with so many wild cats, but in fact there is one called a Wildcat that is found in west Africa, and Europe and Eurasia. It looks like a large house cat.

You begin to see why GWL was so busy with taxidermy. His quarters would have stunk to high heaven if he hadn’t stuffed the dead critters he collected.

I was stumped initially by his mention of the “Physalia pelagica” that someone gave him. Turns out it’s the scientific term, or one of them, for a Portuguese man o' war. One blogger I read claims the term came into English as an implied insult to the once mighty but by then weak Portuguese navy. When washed up on the beach, the animals supposedly looked like capsized Portuguese war ships. 

West African Pelagic on the prowl
Other puzzling references include “shore plums” and “a variety of the beaver,” both observed in the Cape Mount area of Liberia. Beavers in Africa? Really? I could find no information about beavers in west Africa, but the cane rat (genus thryonomys), a vaguely beaver-like water-dwelling rodent, is found everywhere in Africa south of the Sahara. And is raised for eating in some.

West African Cane Rat - GWL's "beaver?"
The shore plum is a stumper. The “beach plum” grows on a bush, as GWL describes, but it’s native to the eastern seaboard of the United States. There are some other bush-growing fruits or large berries in west Africa, but I’m wondering if freed slaves, who settled Liberia starting in 1820, might have brought the beach plum back with them from North America.

You get the idea. GWL was fascinated with the biology of the lands through which he travelled. He was interested in much more besides, commenting less frequently, but just as earnestly, on the geology and climate of the region, and most interestingly, the ethnography – which I’ll turn to in my next post.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dear Diary: I Digress

Before I go on with my gloss of great great grandfather George William Lillies’ 1840s journal, allow me to digress on weighty matters somewhat related to the subject of my last post. I wrote about the Royal Navy’s mission to stop slaving along the west African coast in the first half of the 19th century, and our ancestor's brief part in it. 

Who cares about such ancient history, some might ask? Well, here’s my answer.

Like others, I went last year to see 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen’s brilliant film adaptation of an 1850s memoir about a free black man shanghaied and sold into slavery in Louisiana. The movie made a strong impression. It presents no new information about or insight into slavery that I’m aware. The book on which it’s based was written over 100 years ago. But film is a powerful medium and sometimes forces us to feel and to empathize in ways we simply don’t in the course of our everyday lives. 

So, my great epiphany from 12 Years A Slave? No wonder race is still such a potent issue in America today. How could it not be given the extreme, systematic, sustained cruelty of slavery? The trauma, if that’s the right word – physical, psychological, spiritual in the case of enslaved Africans and their descendants, moral in the case of the Europeans who somehow (how?) persuaded themselves that enslaving Africans was appropriate and justifiable – will take generations to heal.

In case you thought the scenes of cruelty in 12 Years A Slave were exaggerated: contemporary photo of slave showing wounds from whipping
And then today, I read an essay by the Irish journalist Ed Maloney in The Globe & Mail explaining the background to and possibly dire consequences of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams’ recent arrest in connection with a murder committed 42 years ago during Ireland’s Troubles. (Interesting parallel: another period of extreme and systematic cruelty.) Follow the link if you want the full context; it's a good read. But here’s how Maloney ends the piece, the lesson he takes from these latest events in Ireland. 

“History,” he writes. “matters; if not addressed, it poisons the present and pollutes the future.” Amen. No, of course it’s not a new idea. But it’s one too often forgotten; and it bears constant repeating. 

To come full circle then, yes, what our ancestor was doing in Africa in 1846 – whether it was for entirely altruistic reasons on the part of the British government that sent him, whether it was done by him fully mindful of its significance is still relevant today. 

Here endeth the lesson. Back to GWL next post, promise.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Diary: Chasing Slavers

I’ve been writing about the journal our great great grandfather, George William Lillies, kept during his time as a Royal Navy ship’s surgeon in the mid-1840s. His ship, HMS Styx, was attached during this period to the West Africa Squadron, which was tasked with enforcing laws passed in 1807 prohibiting trade and transportation of slaves anywhere in the British Empire, and in 1833, outlawing slave holding as well. By this time, the government had negotiated treaties with other anti-slaving nations so the navy had authority to enforce the ban on non-British slavers too.

West Africa Squadron ships routinely intercepted suspicious vessels off the coast of what is now Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo. They took slave ships as ‘prizes,’ meaning they were sold and the proceeds divvied up among the crews of the ships involved in their capture. (Most of the loot went to officers apparently.)

Contemporary print of Freetown, Sierra Leone where the navy took freed slaves
Any slaves on board were freed. The navy landed many at Freetown, Sierra Leone, a semi-autonomous protectorate the British had set up after the American Revolution to settle slaves freed during that war. (Others settled in Canada, including in Nova Scotia. And the freed-slave settlers left for Sierra Leone from Nova Scotia, in 1792. Canadian novelist Lawrence Hill wrote about this episode in his best-selling The Book of Negroes.)

Freed slaves arriving in Sierra Leone
GWL describes one episode in October 1846 that shows the human side of the navy’s mission. The Styx, along with HMS Albatross, had intercepted and captured a Brazilian slaver, the Isabel, just setting out for South America with 349 slaves aboard. 

“The poor slaves on being liberated were delighted,” GWL reports – probably an understatement, “and gave this vessel three cheers when she returned this morning.” He goes on to add a sad postscript. “One poor woman on board was only delivered [gave birth] a few days before she was shipped [put aboard for transportation] when she had her child dragged from her breast and had its throat cut - so much for slavery -This prize is a beautiful vessel.” (The juxtaposition of obvious disgust with the brutality of the slavers and relish for the prize taken is perhaps telling.)

The slave traders, including non-British nationals, were taken for “adjudication” by the  the Court of Vice Admiralty, a Royal Navy court, in Sierra Leone.

19th century illustration of inhumanly cramped quarters on slave ships
The navy didn’t have to catch traffickers in the act. If there was evidence they were slaving, they were fair game. On October 2, for example, the Styx approached a suspicious ship becalmed off the coast near Badagry, Nigeria. “[W]hen we came up to her she hoisted Brazilian colours and on being examined she was found to be completely fitted for slaves - she was taken and then towed back to [HMS] Albatross…” On December 1, the Styx intercepted another Brazilian ship, the Espiga. It “was taken just before dark,” GWL writes. “[N]ine shots were fired before she hove to – She was empty…” But there was enough evidence it was a slave ship that they impounded it and sent the crew for prosecution.

It was a cat and mouse game the navy played with slavers. GWL records many more episodes in which the Styx chased but lost suspected slave ships. On one occasion, he describes how a ship almost blundered into the Styx in the dark, where it was anchored for the night. When the Styx lit its running lights to avoid a collision, the other vessel turned and ran. The Styx gave chase, assuming by its behaviour that the other ship was a slaver, but lost it in the dark.

The navy had no jurisdiction to stop the taking of slaves or other activities of slavers on land. And neither did the British government outside its own colonies, which at this period were not extensive. In autonomous native-ruled areas, where the trade was aided and abetted by locals, if not organized by them, the British tried bribery to stop it – with little success. “The Chiefs of the Cameroons have continually presents sent to them by the British Government with the hopes of preventing them from continuing in the Slave Trade,” GWL writes in November 1846. “[B]ut either from their own villainy or not having sufficient interest to prevent their subjects from such traffic the attempts to stop it in this manner seem always worse than useless.”  

African slave trader selling "merchandise" to European slaver
The West Africa Squadron was often provisioned from settlements along the coast that also harboured slavers. On a couple of occasions, GWL mentions in passing as he’s describing a place the ship has visited that a known slaver lives or operates there. On a visit to Gallinas, Sierra Leone, for example, he mentions that the slaver Pedro Blanco’s house is there. Blanco (1795-1854) was a notorious Spanish-Cuban trader. By the time GWL arrived in west Africa, Blanco had gone back to Cuba, but his trafficking operations continued until the business collapsed a few years later.

As exciting and dangerous as blockading the slavers sometimes was, it’s remarkable how little time – judging by GWL’s journal – the Styx was actually actively involved in chasing and capturing. Clearly part of its function was just to be there, to be seen up and down the coast, to be a deterrent. And it may well have had that effect, even when it was anchored, and officers like GWL were off larking about on land, sightseeing, going for swims on the beaches, haggling for provisions, foraging for booze, tramping through the jungle – as we saw last time – or riding about on hired horses to visit other Europeans.

The routines of the Styx also allowed GWL time and opportunity to indulge his interests in natural science. If you know the excellent movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, you’re already familiar with the figure of the naval surgeon-naturalist. The movie is set a half-century earlier, but GWL appears to have been a lot like the character Stephen Maturin, played by Paul Bettany – if not, perhaps, quite as sensitive and discerning. I’ll look at GWL’s scientific pursuits in the next post. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dear Diary: A Walk In The Woods

Before continuing with my reading of George William Lillies’ 1840s journal of a Royal Navy surgeon in the West Africa Squadron, I want to modify slightly comments I made about GWL’s racism in my first post on the subject.

There is no question he expresses abhorrent ideas about Africans, ideas that seem antithetical to the goals of the naval mission in which he was involved. But the fact that the official British government policy of the time was to eradicate the slave trade does not mean Britons in general or naval officers in particular were free of racism, or even that official government policy was. British policy towards Africa and India and much of the rest of its empire was based on the fundamentally racist view that white people and white civilization – and specifically British civilization – were innately superior to others. So it’s hardly surprising that GWL held racist views. Most of his contemporaries did too.

It’s also worth pointing out that he was very young, just 21, and that the most obnoxious comments about Africans occur early in the journal. I want to believe that, like at least some fair-minded, educated Britons of the period, he came to view Africans differently as he got to know them, and as the shock of the unfamiliar wore off. There is some evidence for this. On November 10, 1846, he visits a native school in a town in present-day Cameroon, and after hearing the children sing and answer questions, remarks, “they seemed to be very intelligent and really the sight was very gratifying.” Patronizing? Of course, but a marked improvement on his earlier comparison of Africans to orangutans.

1827 map showing the regions in which HMS Styx was patrolling in 1846
Last time out, I also quoted a modern expert on the lot of West Africa Squadron personnel, in particular the high risk of disease and violent encounters they faced. As a surgeon with an apparently wide brief to treat not just British personnel but also allies and even private citizens he came in contact with, GWL had a first-hand understanding of those risks. In one of the longest passages early in the journal, he describes an ill-fated jungle walk by some HMS Styx officers to a nearby town – and his  fears about contracting malaria or Coast Fever as a result. Fear of disease is a theme that runs through the journal.

The walking party lands on a beach, hires a local guide and tramps through the jungle for hours, finally arriving at a down-at-heels town where little or no refreshment can be found. Disgusted, they start back almost immediately, with a different guide this time who takes them on a “short cut” that turns out to be even more treacherous and exhausting than the route out. The whole episode has a whiff of comedy about it: arrogant white men led on a wild goose chase by uncomprehending natives. One suspects that even GWL, grumpy as he is about it, could see the comic side. At one point he describes the final stages of the journey:

“John Wise now began to growl most pitiously sometimes swearing at the guide sometimes coaxing him in order to find out how far we were exactly from our destination - Every now and then expressions such as "Damn it all my poor shins"   "Oh there I am once more on my latter end"   "My shoes are full of mud and water" would escape from him and on looking round you would see poor John sprawling on his back amid the mud and briars.”

But GWL also realizes that the men have put themselves at serious risk of contracting malaria – even if his medical reasoning on the subject sounds questionable from the vantage point of 2014:

“If the air was tainted with miasmata surely we must have imbibed them as our condition both as regarded body and mind was just such as morbid effluvia would be likely to act on -  We passed through much swamp where all the material were present to constitute malaria both vegetable matter and no doubt animal (for where luxuriant vegitation [sic] exists there in nine cases out of ten you will find thousands of live Insects or their exsivir [eggs, larvae?]) with water were present there, the sun had acted powerfully during the day - we were in the Jungle some time after sunset - we were for most of the time under trees which are known to attract the poison - still not one of the party felt at all the worst for it - All they complained of was lassitude - in fact what they would have felt if they had taken a twenty mile walk in England - If malaria produces such dire effects as have been attributed to it's influence we may consider ourselves most fortunate at escaping so easily.”

Still, in the days following, during what he calls his "probation," GWL keeps a careful eye out for symptoms in himself and his shipmates. He protests at one point, “I never feared disease yet and never shall,” – but it’s clear he does. He then goes on to express a seemingly strange perspective for a doctor and man of science, even in 1846: “My views on the subject are these - I know man's life is in the hands of the Almighty Creator - if it please him to afflict man with disease no human art or power in my opinion can avert or remedy the evil.”

Fanciful, possibly satiric,19th century print illustrating the miasma theory of disease

Medical scientists from the 17th century until the 19th believed many diseases, including cholera and malaria, were caused by breathing bad air from decomposing organic matter such as swamps. The word malaria is derived from the Italian, mala aria, bad air. They were wrong, of course. Malaria is borne by infected mosquitoes, cholera by contaminated water. Given his mention of insects, it's not clear if GWL understands this or not. Use of the word miasma (hence GWL's "miasmata," presumably the particles of miasma) entered the language in the mid-17th century, according to the Oxford Dictionaries online. It's derived from the Greek miainein, meaning  defilement or pollution.

In the days following the jungle trek, GWL treats a passenger on a Genoese (Italian) ship, who eventually succumbs to the fever, then the captain of an American ship, one of whose men has already died of malaria. He later describes many other such episodes.

Next time: chasing slavers.

In the meantime, if you want to delve into the journal yourself, I've saved it as an ePub e-book in DropBox, here. Follow the link and you should be able to download it to your computer or mobile. If you just want a PDF of the journal, it's here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Kay Albums

It must be confusing, the way I jump back and forth from one side of my family to the other. Neither side, of course, could care less about the other. Today, it’s briefly back to the Smiths, my mother’s family. I’ll continue with great great grandfather George William Lillies’ 1840s journal soon.

Kathleen Maureen Smith, circa 1934?
I began this blog last June, writing about an ancient photo album of my mother, Betty Smith’s, from the 1930s. I had scanned, and posted it, as a kind of e-book, here at Flickr. I didn’t realize at the time that Betty’s sister Kathleen (Kay) had purchased or been given an almost identical book – faux leather cover, black construction paper pages, all held together with decorative string – at about the same time in the mid-1930s, and had created her own album. Her daughter, cousin Toby Yull, kindly lent it to me, along with a second album of her mother’s.

Kay and Betty, circa 1936
It’s tempting to draw conclusions about the characters of the two sisters based on the differences in their albums. There are marginally more pictures of friends in Kay’s, for example, especially groups of friends. Kay labeled her pictures more informatively – and in neater printing – and took a little more care arranging them on the pages. One generally gets a sense of greater confidence and joie de la vie in Kay’s album.

Kay, circa mid-1930s
But really, they’re very similar. Kay and Betty were close as sisters. The whole family was close – as many of the pictures make clear.

Grandmother Edith (Gladman) Smith, 1912
The two sisters evidently divvied up the stock of old family photos. There are some real gems in both albums. I’ve included some of my favourites from Kay’s here.

Great grandmother Kate (Langdale) Smith with baby Jack, 1915
I’ve also scanned every page, at 200% of original size and posted them in order at Flickr. Kay’s Album, No. 1, is here. I used some simple tools in Photoshop to improve the pictures, mostly correcting problems with tone resulting from fading (and poorly taken pictures). And because I scanned them in greyscale, they appear more like the black and white photos they originally were. Most had become sepia-toned over the years, as old pictures will. (The slight sepia tone that remains in the pictures I've included here is something that Blogger does to them, annoyingly.)

You could consider this album, Kay Before Ralph. The motorbike-mad grocer’s son doesn’t even make an appearance in this one. In the other album Toby lent me – next up for scanning – it’s all about Ralph. Stay tuned Yulls and Yull fans.