Cedric Dover —-George Orwell’s ‘very dishonest‘ entomologist and writer on race

When the editor of The Complete Self-Educator (c1939) recruited the thirty-five year old Cedric Dover to write the section on biology for his multi-author book, he knew what he was going to get. Dover (1904 – 61), an Anglo-Indian entomologist, born in Calcutta, who had signalled his passion for insects by publishing The Common Butterflies of India at the tender age of seventeen, had gone on, despite the lack of a degree, to write learned papers on entomology for various journals, but soon afterwards changed his focus to race issues, bringing out such books as Half-Caste, Know this of Race and Brown Phoenix.

Dover’s new interest in race was undoubtedly engendered by his status as a mixed-race person in a land dominated by white people. On arriving in London in 1934  from India, where he had abandoned his wife and three children, he soon became involved with V. K. Krishna Menon’s India League. He later corresponded for a number of years with George Orwell, usually on the subjects of politics and race, and in a letter of 1940 Orwell reprimanded him for spelling the word negro with a capital ‘n’. As a supporter of Stalin at this time, principally because he believed that the Soviet leader stood for racial equality, Dover would have antagonised the author of Animal Farm, and indeed Orwell included Dover on his notorious list of persons not to be considered as potential writers of anti-communist propaganda, where he was described as ‘ a very dishonest  and  venal  person whose main emphasis was  anti-white ( especially anti-USA ), and reliably pro-Russian on all major issues’.

Some indication of Dover’s obsession with combating racism can be founded in his chapter on blood and blood groups in The Complete Self-Educator. After discussing the genetics of blood, he concluded that

‘ while blood groups are determined by inheritance, the blood has no further hereditary significance. There is no ‘blood relationship ‘, and mothers do not hand on their blood to their children as is often supposed. There is no social or hereditary advantage in relationships with people of the same blood group…

        And in these days, when ancient blood myths are being used for disgraceful political purposes, it is important to know what we are talking about when we talk about blood. No one is someone else’s flesh and blood. No one can keep his blood pure, except by keeping it clean and healthy. These superstitions not only clutter up our language and our thinking. They help to play us into the hands of the enemies of human decency.’

On the subject of races, Dover was equally emphatic: 

‘…human groups ( they can hardly be called races) have been broken down and built up by migration and crossing followed by periods of isolation, and their characteristics are now being shuffled by further crossing. All human ‘ races ‘ are mixed races.’

On the issue of biology and society Dover argued that Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest was a natural process that occurred over time.

‘It is a question of space, food and numbers. It is therefore a distortion of the truth to apply it justifies war and the inequalities of capitalist society. We do not need war to eliminate the unfit, especially as it first eliminates the fittest. We do not need exploitation masquerading as ‘ free competition’ for ensuring the survival of the fittest  and the improvement of mankind. There is room and food for all, and those who spread such travesties of biological thinking already have more than they need. And they are by no means the fittest…’

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‘ Look at this Mr Gutenberg’—C. Lester Walker on an invention which may have rivalled the photocopier.

Chester Carlson (thanks Xerox)

‘ Who invented the photocopier ?’ is a question that sometimes comes up in pub quizzes. The answer, of course, is Chester Carlson, an American inventor whose persistence over decades made him a multimillionaire. This is not the place to survey Carlson’s brilliant idea, which transformed businesses all over the world. Instead, let’s  examine a possible rival to xerography, as Carlson’s invention came to be called. This was ‘ electronographic ‘ or ‘ ghost printing, whose origins go back further than xerography.

We at Jot HQ must confess that electronography is a new term for us. But let the American journalist C. Lester Walker, who tried to explain the process in an article for Harper’s Magazine in July 1948, an extract from which we found typed up in our archives. Up to now, Walker begins, printing has been the dominant method of creating multiple copies of a text. But printing involves the application of pressure. With electronography:

…There will be no contact between the printing surface and the paper. Instead, a stream of electrons will supply the force needed to make the ‘ impression’.

Walker then goes on to tell us how this radical new process was discovered. It was all down to a boffin in the printing industry, William C. Huebner, who in 1924 discovered the process by ‘accident’.

He was called in by a printing house, which was doing a big-sheet label job, to help them stop what the printers called ‘ off-setting’…This day solid reds were offsetting badly, and Huebner was inspecting the stacked sheets by ‘ lift fanning’ the corners, when suddenly he saw something his eyes refused to believe. When he lift fanned  (i.e.) ruffled the corners, the off-setting increased. That is, the red on the back of a sheet strengthened and deepened.

Huebner said to a pressman, ‘ You, look. Am I seeing things? The pressman said no—he thought he saw it too. Wondering if the offsetting could possibly be due to static electricity, Huebner arranged for a ‘ grounding’ of the press. The offsetting was checked. Then the static was pulling ink off one sheet ad depositing it on another ?

Huebner’s inventor’s mind started whirring. Before the end of that day, he had said, he had proved to himself that statically charged surfaces would make printing jump a gap as much as an inch wide. Nowadays he demonstrates this phenomenon to sceptics by rubbing by rubbing a sheet of celluloid with a handkerchief, laying a sheet of yellow copy paper over the celluloid, and then moving an ink-wetted artist’s paint brush around above. Ink flies from the brush to the paper two or three inches through space…

Walker goes on to explain how the process actually ‘ prints ‘:

There is an inking cylinder, a cylinder on which is the curved plate of type and a cylinder around the paper travels. The first cylinder touches the second  and inks the type. But as the type cylinder and the paper cylinder rotate, they never touch. Between then  stands permanently a narrow gap—usually from one to three thousands of an inch. Inside the paper-carrying cylinder is a gadget with electrodes, which runs the cylinder’s length and lies directly opposite the type cylinder outside. When current is turned on , this gadget produces a stream of electrons which pull the ink off the type cylinder and onto the paper. Another electrical circuit has already ionized and charged the ink negatively and charged the paper surface positively. When the machine is in operation, it has been observed, the ink on the type cylinder actually bulges towards the paper surface , and the paper surface moves towards the inked type cylinder. But turn off the ionizing current  and keep the press running and mo print occurs, because no pressure content is present anywhere.

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Farming advice in 1947

Jot 101 Farmer's friend cover 001

When the Director of the Cambridge Farm, W. S. Mansfield, brought out his Farmer’s Friend in 1947, he did so in one of the coldest winters on record, when farming wisdom may not have had much effect. Speculating on why most of the old farming precepts he listed made sense, Mansfield turns to modern farming theories and simple entomological and botanical knowledge for some answers. However, there are still questions to be asked of a few of these pieces of ancient wisdom. Your Jotter’s comments are in italics.


On a farm where there are geese, the farmer’s wife wears the breeches


Traditionally, the poultry on a farm are the perquisites of the farmer’s wife. This is perhaps one of the reasons why on so many farms they receive such scant attention from the farmer. Certain it is that no class of poultry is popular with the majority of farmers, and geese are the least popular of all, so much so that in ordinary times few farmers will tolerate their presence. For this they have reason, as geese eat an incredible amount of grass, and compete directly with both sheep and cattle. It has been estimated that seven geese eat as much grass as a cow, and those who have had most experience with geese are the least likely to quarrel with this figure. Moreover, it is not only the amount of grass that geese eat that makes them unpopular but the amount they foul.


Mansfield neglects to mention the usefulness of geese to warn the farmer or farmer’s wife of unwelcome visitors, whether man or beast. A flock can create more noise than two dogs and many can be more aggressive. Plus, unlike dogs, they are good to eat and produce eggs. Geese one. Dogs nil.


If the moon is full at Christmas no black fly will be seen on the beans


The attacks of black aphis, which often do serious damage to the bean crop, are far worse in some years than in others, but there is of course no connection between the severity of the attack and the phase of the moon at Christmas.

A very good indication, however, of the severity of the attack to be expected the following summer may be obtained by examining spindle trees during the winter. The black fly lays its eggs on these trees at the end of the summer, and it is the eggs which form the over wintering stage of this pest. A close examination of shoot and buds of spindle trees during the winter may reveal a large number of black aphis eggs, which are black shining objects, rather smaller in size than a pin’s head. By making counts of the numbers of eggs present on spindle trees entomologists can now predict fairly accurately whether there is likely to be a severe attack of bean aphis in any one district. Continue reading

Drug-induced mysticism

In a pile of magazines here in our archive at Jot HQ we found a copy dated Summer 1964 of the Tomorrow magazine cover 001magazine Tomorrow, which was devoted to ‘parapsychology, cosmology and traditional studies’. In it a review of Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, which had originally appeared in Asia ten years before, reopens the dispute as to whether an artificially induced state of transcendence is equivalent in quality to a similar state achieved through a religious experience.


The author, Whittall N. Perry, an authority on Eastern mysticism, argued that Huxley’s claim that the consumption of mescaline had enabled him to  change his ordinary mode of consciousness and so know ‘ what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about ‘was  an example of the sort of ‘specious logic’ that has persisted among Westerners over the years. Huxley claimed to have attained some sort of Platonic state, whereas Perry argues that he had broken  with Platonic teaching on the issue of Being and Becoming by elevating the senses over reason and intelligence through the operation of a drug.


The error comes from confusing the Archetypal and principle realm of Platonic Ideas with the ‘mathematical abstractions’ of modern philosophy, and is what Rene Guenoncalls “ a complete inversion of the relationship between Principal and manifestation” Continue reading

C.P.Snow’s Two Cultures & the Scientific Revolution revisited

Finding a copy of the June 1959 issue of Encounter Encounter June 1959 cover 001among a pile of papers at Jot HQ your Jotter  alighted on the first part of the Rede Lecture which novelist and government scientist C. P. Snow had delivered in Cambridge two weeks earlier. Entitled ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’, it was to unleash the most momentous cultural debate of the early sixties when F. R. Leavis delivered his riposte in the form of the Richmond Lecture in 1962.

Snow’s thesis in 1959—that the ‘two cultures’ of science on one hand and the ‘traditional’ culture of the humanities (though Snow doesn’t actually use this term) on the other don’t engage with one another seems a reasonable theory based on demonstrable facts. Snow’s famous example of this schism —that a literary critic  would not be able to define the Second Law of Thermodynamics—is surely just as true in 2018 as it was in 1959—while his contention that  a scientist would possibly have read Shakespeare or Dickens, or know the significance of Eliot and Yeats—is surely also true today. Snow’s main point– that though a scientist would be optimistic about the future based on their knowledge of the physical world, a spokesman for the traditional culture would not share this optimism, simply because they knew nothing of science and indeed were wary or even frightened of its destructive potential must also be equally true in 2018. Snow scores well by showing that non-scientists (he cites poets) often show this ignorance by their misuse of scientific terms in their work. This cultural divide is still  more pronounced in England (Snow doesn’t use the terms Britain or UK as we tend to do nowadays), where early specialisation is encouraged in students, than in it is in the USA or Europe, where a much broader curriculum is taught.

How could any reasonable commentator deny that all of this is true? But of course we are not dealing with a reasonable person. We are talking about F. R. Leavis—a man almost totally ignorant of science and technology , whose mission was to elevate the study of English Literature, and particularly a narrow group of ‘ life-enhancing ‘ writers, above all the other established disciplines in the humanities. Was Leavis one of those ‘ intellectuals ‘ described by Snow who gave

‘…a pitying chuckle at the news of scientists who have never read a major work of English literature ….’ Continue reading

What has the Future in Store for You ?

Found in a box of pamphlets is this promotional booklet published on behalf of Mother Seigel’s Syrup, which was marketed c 1911 by the London-based A. J. White as a cure for indigestion, constipation and biliousness. It would seem that the Syrup had originally begun as a tonic concocted by the Shaker community in the States, and that later A. J. White took over its manufacture both in New York City and in London.

Essentially the booklet entices readers to learn about the health-giving properties of their product by inserting these claims between the pages of an astrologically-based calendar which tells, among other things, those born in certain months what kind of people they were and what were the lucky days in their months. By so doing it cynically exploits the gullible by juxtaposing possible solutions to their hopes and fears for the future with ‘cures‘ for their digestive problems. In other words, it creates a climate of fear (What has the Future in Store for you?) and then offers possible remedies.

It also appeals to the readers’ imagination and discrimination. Like anyone who has grown rich through catering to the fears of disease through poor nutrition, it promotes the Syrup in the same way that the manufacturers of Coca Cola, Worcester Sauce and indeed, Benedictine and Chartreuse, promoted their products. It is produced using a secret recipe based on ‘natural’ herbs and spices. Continue reading

G.B. Shaw—-playwright & enthusiast for alternative energy sources

Shaw 1949Found in a copy of Evelyn August’s entertaining Black-Out Book (1939) is a slightly damaged clipping from the Letters page of the Times newspaper published sometime between 1947 and Shaw’s death in 1950.

In it Shaw voices incredulity at the failure by Government to exploit the energy from waves:-

‘ It is now many years since I arrived at the northern edge of Scotland and looked across the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys, estimating the sea journey at about half an hour. When I embarked on the hardy little steamboat with my car I found out what the Pentland tide rush meant. We were swirled away like corks in a millrace to John O’Groats House and back again through Scapa Flow in three hours and a half; and I was told that it would be a fortnight before my car could be taken back to the mainland.

   When I at last got back I explored the coast along to the west and found there several flumes like the Kyle of Tongue, ready-made by Nature , through which the tide rushed twice a day carrying thousands of tons of sheer power both ways. Continue reading

A Guide to Zeta Energy

img_2531Found – A Plain Man’s Guide to Zeta by John Maddox (Manchester Guardian, 1958). It was in a collection of pamphlets from the library of the late political cartoonist David Low which surfaced in Cambridge. The cover and a few illustrations in its 14 pages are by him. Zeta was a British thermo-nuclear machine, proclaimed here as a ‘sun on earth.’  It was a project from Metropolitan Vickers at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment that ultimately failed because they could not achieve fusion. There is much on it at Wikipedia, ZETA stood for ‘Zero Energy Thermo-Nuclear Assembly.’ Deuterium from the ocean was a key element according to the pamphlet:

The oceans contain some 330 million cubic miles of water. If we were to extract all the deuterium from this mass of water, and then to burn it as a thermo-nuclear fuel, the energy we should win would be equivalent to 500000000000000000000000 tons of coal. This would last the wold, at its present rate of consumption of all fuels, for about a hundred million million years. This interval of time, it will be noticed, is about thirty thousand times as great as the estimated age of the solar system. Clearly, there is no conceivable way in which we could use up deuterium in a thermo-nuclear furnace in such a way that we could make a perceptible difference to the world’s stock of it.

These facts point to the main significance of deuterium as a fuel. It is so abundant that we cannot conceivably have to worry about supplies of it. 

A.M.Low: the professor who wasn’t a professor

a-m-lowDiscovered in a July 1930 issue of Armchair Science, an article by the magazine’s ‘technical advisor’ A. M. Low entitled ‘Little Things and Big Minds’. In it Professor Low argues that we shouldn’t be impressed by large things—whether they are exaggerated claims for some patent medicine, or some mechanical apparatus, such as a typewriter. Machines are made from small parts, just as matter is composed of atoms and molecules; and big phenomena, such as broadcasting is powered by electricity, which is a flow of electrons. Small is beautiful, in other words.

This homily is a preface to the contents of the rest of the magazine, which is mainly devoted to broadcasting, the electron and diatoms. In addition, however, there are fascinating features on the newly invented saccharine, the proto-helicopter known as the autogyro, and tinned food. There is also a double-page spread entitled ‘On My Travels’ by Low, who looks about thirty (he was 42). Continue reading

A note on Brunsdon Yapp

img_2508Found in The Biology of Space Travel (London, 1961)— a typed note on the biologist Brunsdon Yapp. It was dated 2005 and initially refers to Yapp’s bookplate. There is a short entry for him at Wikipedia but this fills out the existing info on this excellent human being.

Brunsdon Yapp’s father came from Hereford to Bristol for the sake of his family’s education, and his two daughters went to Bristol University. William Brunsdon Yapp went to Bristol Grammar School before going to Downing. Christened William and known at home as Billy, he preferred as an undergraduate to be called Brunsdon, inviting friends to call him Brunny. Brunsdon was his mother’s maiden name, but I think his choice was dictated more by a desire to be different than by any desire to give particular credit to his mother. He read Natural Sciences, taking biological options. He went on to teach at Haileybury and Manchester Grammar before being appointed secretary to Oxford Local Examination Boards. Then he became a lecturer, subsequently a senior lecturer at Birmingham University. Service on the National Parks Commission won him the OBE. He was a member of both the Athenaeum and the RAC, the London club that is, not just the roadside motoring organisation.

‘An Introduction of Animal Physiology’ was, I fancy, the book that won him his appointment at Birmingham, and he prepared a series of revisions of Borradaile’s Manual of Elementary Zoology, a more advanced work than its title suggests. Published after his retirement, his ‘Birds in Mediaeval Manuscripts’ was a significant contribution to antiquarian studies. In 1962 Yapp’s ‘Birds and Woodlands’ was published by Oxford University Press. He regarded it his most important scientific work. The frontispiece is C. E. Tunnicliffe’s picture of ‘Cock Pied Flycatchers in Sessile Oak’, which I understand was specially commissioned. It was also used, on a green background, on the dust jacket, and Yapp later adopted it as his bookplate. I have not seen it in publications about Tunnicliffe, though I have not looked very hard. Continue reading

Twelve Miles from a Lemon

img_1366-624x380Found in a bound volume of The Idler Magazine (Chatto & Windus, 1892. Volume 1, February to July. pp 231 – 232) this piece by regular contributor Robert Barr. The Idler was edited by Barr with  Jerome K Jerome. It ran from 1892-1911. This piece was found in the always interesting section ‘The Idler’s Club’, fairly heavy on the whimsy but never unamusing– see an earlier jot  where, among other things, Barry Pain proposed that ‘..amateur dramatics would be much improved if performed in total darkness and thus they would also be able to avoid paying a licence fee…’ This piece by Robert Barr has a curiously modern feel about it (if you substitute the internet for the telegram) and the idea of being 12 miles from a lemon echoes the current city dweller’s fear of being more than ‘four miles from a latte..’

Some years ago, somebody* wrote a book entitled ‘Twelve Miles from a Lemon’. I never read the the volume, and so do not know whether the writer had to tramp  twelve miles to get the seductive lemon toddy, which cheers and afterwards inebriates, or the harmless lemon squash, which neither cheers nor inebriates. I think there are times when most people would like to get twelve miles away from everything – including themselves. I tried to put a number of miles between me and a telegraph instrument, and flattered myself for a time that I had succeeded. I dived into the depths of the New Forest. The New Forest is popular in summer, deserted in winter, and beautiful at any season. I found a secluded spot in the woods, and thought I was out of reach of a telegram. I wish now I had not got so far away from the instrument. The boy came on horseback with the message. It was brief, coming well within the sixpenny range, and it stated tersely that the printer was waiting for these paragraphs. The boy said calmly that there would be fifteen shillings and sixpence to pay for the delivery of that yellow slip of paper. Continue reading

Gramophone inventor Emile Berliner on ‘Immortality’

Found- a copy of Conclusions by Emile Berliner published in Philadelphia, img_2160by the Levytype Co., in 1899. Berliner was the inventor of the gramophone and the gramophone record and exceedingly wealthy. This book presents his philosophy and may have been a vanity project, this copy is marked complimentary and limited to 500. He appears to have been something of an agnostic and his views, especially his faith in science,
are somewhat ahead of his time:

On the Doctrine of Immortality

The confident belief of mankind in a personal immortality is a positive drawback to human progress.

The possibilities of earthly happiness are so vast, the dread of early death so natural and pronounced, that if mankind would but rationally divorce itself from its over-confidence in a life hereafter, it would work out its earthly Salvation in a very short time.

The time will undoubtedly come when most people will live to a hale old age, when they will be free from the hypocrisy, the intolerance, and the morbidness of our so-called civilisation, when food will be pure, when sound sanitary science by universally recognised, when life will be simple and free from sham, when love, in all its phases, will be less restrained, and when all parents will know that their children are and will be the incarnation of their combined thoughts and impressions.

Then, having tasted life from an overflowing cup, and having drunk the last drop at a ripe old age, man will gradually have become wearied and tired, and will be glad to lie down, expecting nothing, and leaving the future in serene resignation to take care of itself.


The futility of prayer was never better emphasised than at the time of Garfield’s sickness and death, when some hundred millions of people earnestly and sincerely prayed for his recovery. What an absence of mercy!

But had Garfield been shot twenty years later Science would probably have saved him, prayers or no prayers.emile_berliner

Mullard sees into the Future

Lilliput looks into future pic 001Discovered in an April 1946 copy of Lilliput magazine is this full page advert for Mullard, the big name in ‘Radio Valves and other Electron Tubes’. In a peep into its future Mullard envisages a time when Mr Futura and his son Johnny will be able to see the news via an  ELECTRONIC TELEPRINTER NEWS RECEIVER attached like a watch to Mr Futura’s wrist.

This is a prescient advert. Six months after the end of WW2 Mullard, as Britain’s chief manufacturer of electronic valves, was doubtless looking forward to cashing in on the forthcoming restoration of TV broadcasting following a hiatus of over 7 years. By suggesting that such a ‘far-fetched’ idea as a watch-sized teleprinter might be feasible in the future Mullard put itself forward as the electronics company most likely to develop high quality valves for TV receivers when the broadcasting service was resumed.

The truth is, of course, that the only possible way in which Johnny Futura and his Dad might receive news through a watch-sized device would be if the unwieldy Mullard valves were replaced by transistors and some sort of miniature ariel was incorporated into the device. However, until Dr William Shockley and two colleagues at Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947, and then went on to perfect it for general use, there was no chance of this happening for a decade or so.

However, the advert is equally interesting inasmuch as it anticipates the IT technology that produced the smart phone and the Apple Smart Watch. Is it possible that as early as 1946 the boffins at Mullard were somehow aware of what Dr Turing and other pioneers of IT were helping to develop and that a future dominated by miniaturised computers might not be too ‘far fetched ‘ ? [R.M.Healey]


Harry Grindell Matthews—inventor extraordinaire

Matthews operating the Death Ray

If ever a man was the epitome of the ‘mad inventor‘ it was Harry Grindell Matthews, though his many supporters would perhaps bridle at the word ‘ mad’. But if he wasn’t dotty, he was certainly controversial and decidedly eccentric. For it was the habit of this electrical engineer, born in Winterbourne, now a northern suburb of Bristol, in 1881, to claim a startlingly interesting innovation while refusing to cooperate with interested parties, including government agencies. In 1911 he claimed to have invented a radio-telephone, which if developed might have been a prototype of our modern mobile; he also boasted that he had created the world’s first talking movie in 1921, but this too was never financed. He is best known today ( if he is known at all) for inventing an invisible Death Ray which he claimed would stop electrical machinery at a distance, thus immobilising enemy threats, such as aircraft and bombs. However, when an eager government stipulated that to convince the scientists he would be required to stop a petrol-driven motorcycle engine remotely, Matthews refused the challenge. In this press photo dated 1930 from the London based Sports and General agency, which found its way into the marvellous El Mundo archive, Matthews is shown on the right, cigarette in hand, while a group of engineers eagerly examine what appears to be the motorcycle engine which he was asked to stop. In another photo we see Matthews operating the Death Ray itself. Needless to say, the inventor’s refusal to cooperate in a controlled experiment spelt the end of this promising piece of technology.

Grindell matthews inventor082

Undeterred, Matthews continued to offer new inventions. The most exciting was a Sky Projector, which he demonstrated with some success. Had this got off the ground we may have had laser-type shows in the 1930s. When at last he did manage to tempt serious investors to part with their money, he used much of it to build a state of the art laboratory and a private airfield overlooking the Swansea Valley at Clydach. His financial state received another boost in 1938 when he married an opera singer called Ganna Walska whose five former husbands had left her with a fortune of around $125m. Unfortunately, he did not live long to enjoy his good fortune. Matthews died in Swansea in 1941 at just 60.

Gloucestershire has produced at least another brilliant electrical engineer. Joe Meek, the equally eccentric electronic music pioneer who produced the cult favourite ‘Telstar’ in 1962, worked on radios as a teenage prodigy. His shed can still be seen at the rear of his father’s old shop (blue plaque) off the Market Place in Newent. [R.M.Healey]

A Norfolk Dr Frankenstein ?

Cruso auction 001

Discovered on a stall in Portobello Road is this fascinating auction poster of 1815 announcing the forthcoming sale of household furniture and effects that once belonged to a bankrupt called T. Hunter. Research in Norfolk County Record Office produced nothing about Mr Hunter, although I was luckier with Robert Cruso, who was a prominent King’s Lynn auctioneer at this time. Indeed his name is preserved in the present firm of valuers and surveyors, Cruso and Wilkin of King’s Lynn, which was established in 1756 and now claims to be one of the oldest auction houses in the UK.

However, the auctioneer and his unusual name aren’t the only features that stand out in this poster. Some of items listed for sale are unusual, to say the least. Among the usual mirrors, chests of drawers and pictures can be found a ‘compound universal microscope in mahogany case complete’, a ‘full size double barrel Air Pump’, and most intriguing of all, an ‘Electrifying Machine’. These items prompt the questions; who exactly was T. Hunter, and what was he was doing with these scientific instruments?

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How to be larned, like what I am


Chambers Cyclopaedia 1786

The following advertisement appeared in a provincial newspaper and was sent as a curiosity by someone living in Newport, Shropshire to a reader of The New London Magazine in Wolverhampton. He in turn forwarded it to the editors, who published it in the issue for October 1786.

‘Larning has always been desired and esteemed, and it has always been a matter of dispute , and is yet amongst the abellist philosophers, wheather the earth or the sun moves, and how far distant the sun is from the earth , and how big the sun is , and also the moon and stares; and thousands of the greatyest schollors of every age, who have travelled into farin nations, and spent large sumes to get larning, and have taught and wrote the greatyest part of their life of artes and sciences , yet known of them all ever found out , or left any rule behind them, which infalabley proved, wheather the earth or the sun moved, nor how big the sun is, nor how far distant the sun is from the earth, nor the moon nor stares, yet all of them desired to know them—Therefore I, James Bagnall, of Newport , does hereby most respectfully informe the Ladyes and Gentlemen of Newport and it’s environs , and those that love the knolledge of artes and sciences, that he has from good phelosophey geometry invented sume curious geometrickal tables of the earth, and sun, moon and stares which point out and visabley shew, and infallabley prove, wheather the earth or the sun moves, and far distant the sun his from the earth; and with sume curious observations of the sun , taking the earth as such a size , with the power of figures in the mathematicks, proves the exact bigness of the sun, and moon and stares ; he also from good philosophy, gives a more perfect account of the earth, sea, rivers , wind and the different sorts of aire , and of the moon, stares and their properties, thunder and lightning, than any heretofore given. He also from good phelosophy and astrology, proves that the stares do not predestinate or influence the will of man, to make him luckey or unluckey, good or evil, and that he cannot avoid it; and therefore for their instructions and edifycations, and that those who choose it, may have the honour to see the performance of these very great and desirable and noble artes and sciences, the first time they ever wheare taught or made publick in any part of the world, by the person himself, who found out the understanding of them; therefore he has taken the market hall of Newport for five nights only, where he will go through the whole of them; and the weakest capacity, who comes the five nights to be instructed by him, will in so short a time larn more true knolledge of these great and desirable and truly eddefying artes and scinces then all the great phelosophers of the world, all put together, ever got of them, till now, with all their expence and pains’ and by these rules found out or done almost everything that can be done by figuers.

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A Visit to Mars (concluded)

This, the third and last part of this strange account, is a follow up to an earlier jot.

January 15th. For the sake of those who, in spite of my gloomy experience on the whole, wish to make this voyage too, I should like to make the following observations on the equipment required for the expedition. A large quantity of provisions, as for an Arctic or Antarctic expedition for many years is a first requirement. It is quite easy to keep the provisions here owing to the permanently low temperature in the ground. If economically used, sufficient water can be obtained by melting hoar-frost.

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A Visit to Mars (part 2)

Map of Mars (1894)

More from  the Dutch astronomer, Professor G. Van den Bergh  ‘A Visit to Mars ‘ a chapter in his The Universe in Space and Time (1935). In this account, which has weird parallels with the adventures of the Matt Damon character in the recent movie The Martian ‘a man, an inhabitant of the earth, succeeded in reaching Mars by rocket. He remained there a few years and evidently managed to keep alive, thanks to his good equipment and a large stock of provisions’. After a while this man returned to Earth, but was killed when his rocket crashed. It transpired that the man had kept a diary, but only a few pages could be rescued from the crash site, some of which were reproduced in the chapter. This continues an earlier jot.

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‘There will be no beautiful women on Mars’–and that’s official


Speculation on whether there is life on Mars and what form it might take has been going on since the planet began to be seriously studied. Writers of fiction have let their imaginations run riot, with ludicrous results, but even scientists have been guilty of groundless speculation. Two items from the Peter Haining archive —an incomplete clipping dated 1924 from the Daily Express and a chapter from The Universe in Space and Time of 1935 throw interesting light on the subject.

Back in 1924 the Daily Express published a report by a certain Monsieur Camille Flammarion, ‘the famous French astronomer’, that ‘ the people of the earth will be both shocked and disillusioned if ever they become acquainted with the Martians’. “First of all”, he states, “there will be no beautiful women there. They may be beautiful according to Martian standards, but to us they will probably look frightfully hideous.” It’s all to with the ‘rarer’ atmosphere of the planet, apparently.

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The Princess Alice paddle steamer disaster of 1878—-why was the death toll so high?

The late Peter Haining was one of many writers fascinated by the terrible events of the evening of 3rd September 1878, when the paddle steamer ‘Princess Alice’, laden with over 800 day trippers returning from an excursion to Margate, was rammed by the collier Bywell Castle close to North Woolwich. Over 630 men, women and children perished in the disaster, which remains the worst in the history of river navigation—not just in the UK, but in the world.

Hoping to publish a book on the subject, Peter Haining kept clippings both from the centenary coverage of the disaster in 1978 and from August 1989,when a much smaller vessel, the ‘Marchioness’, sank further upstream in the Thames. He also researched a similar Victorian sinking in 1875, when the’ Deutschland’ went down off the Kentish coast, carrying among its passengers,   five German  nuns--- a disaster which  prompted Gerard Manly Hopkins to compose his famous poem The Wreck of the Deutschland.

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