‘This is all that Australia has left of my people’: The Trailblazing Aboriginal Activist of 1920s London by Ruby van Leer

‘Against the solid stone of Australia House stands … a black man, hatless and with a grey beard, a mere handful of a man, with the fine bones of an Australian Aborigine. [On his] great coat is pinned from top to bottom … scores of those little white penny skeletons that the street vendors sell to children….Good Lord- the man is a walking graveyard! Yet his eyes are on fire. He points to the penny skeletons and shouts as the people pass: ‘This is all that Australia has left of my people.’

So Dharug man Anthony Martin Fernando is said to have cried out to passers-by during his visceral ‘penny skeleton’ protest, intended to draw attention to the lethal implications of British settlement on Aboriginal Australians. Such a protest would not appear out of place in Australian popular historical and geographical memory, side-by-side with Charles Perkins’ Freedom Rides of 1965 through northern New South Wales, or the pitching of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra in 1972. However, the location is London, the corner of the Strand and Aldwych, outside the Edwardian façade of Australia House; and the year is 1928. While more than 120,000 Australians live in the UK today, Fernando blazed the expatriate trail at a time when few from his nation would have been traversing the globe, particularly Indigenous Australians, who were increasingly confined to reserves and missions on the Australian mainland and were hence largely absent historically and politically. Fernando’s extraordinary story of global travel and solitary protest is therefore an important statement of survival and resistance that confronts imperial imaginings of movement and activism in the early twentieth century; ideas that have very much (mis)shaped our understanding of the scope and geography of Aboriginal activism to the present day.

Indigenous Rights Activist Bob Maza addresses the Crowd, Canberra, 1972.

Much of Fernando’s life can only be reconstructed from fragmentary evidence; three small notebooks, some surviving letters and government petitions, an interview with a Swiss newspaper, court reports from his brushes with the law, and the recollections of people such as Indigenous rights activist Mary Bennett, who witnessed his London protests. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining why his story, while remarkable, has remained relatively unknown. According to his own account, he was born in 1864 in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, to an Aboriginal woman named Sarah. He recalled his “bitter education in white brutality” through separation from his mother at a young age, an unfortunately common experience for Indigenous children well into the twentieth century. Letters reveal he spent some time in Western Australia, observing the profound cruelties of the mission system, before leaving for Europe in the late nineteenth century. He attributed his departure to being refused the right to give evidence against a white man accused of murdering several Aboriginal people, due to his own indigeneity.

Australia House, The Strand, London, c. 1920 (London Metropolitan Archives)

Fernando was already blazing a trail of activism long before he arrived in England. After a period living in Austria, where he was interned as an enemy ‘alien’ during the First World War, he moved to Geneva, where he hoped to petition the newly formed League of Nations’ General Assembly to assist in the establishment of an autonomous Indigenous state in the north of Australia. Although barred from speaking at the assembly, Fernando did secure an interview with Swiss newspaper Der Bund, in which he countered popular assumptions that indigenous populations were ‘primitive’ or ‘less than human’, emphasised the intelligence and intellect of Aboriginal Australians and further promoted his request for the League of Nations to intervene in securing an autonomous state for Indigenous Australians. He next emerged in Italy, where he attempted to petition the Pope to support his cause, but was turned away. Indeed, he was arrested in Italy in 1923 for handing out pamphlets accusing the British of the extermination of Indigenous Australians, and was subsequently deported to Britain, where his most memorable form of protest was to begin.

Fernando was in his sixties by the time he began picketing at Australia House, a pertinent location as the London headquarters of the Australian government. European perceptions of Indigenous people at this time had been largely formed from the collection and display of Indigenous bodies as exhibits, either living or dead, on the peripheral stage of the museum. Notably, the population of London in the inter-war years was also overwhelmingly white. Yet here Fernando stood as a ‘living ghost’ of colonial enterprise at the precise location in the capital where metropolis met the colonial frontier. At this point he had taken up one of his previous occupations as a toy-maker, and was selling the toy skeletons that he attached to his coat as part of his ghostly protest. On a bleak London street in mid-winter, Fernando must have cut a haunting and striking figure as he implored would-be customers, gesturing to the skeletons, “this is all that Australia has left of my people”.

Imagined portrait of Anthony Martin Fernando by Raj Nagi (ABC News Australia).

Fernando’s death scene protest shrank the distance between the suffering of Aboriginal Australians and the heart of the empire, forcing accusations of genocidal activity to the forefront of imperial consciousness. He garnered enough attention for the embarrassed employees of Australia House to have him arrested on multiple occasions, and even to attempt to have him certified insane, a common tactic of political silencing. Doctors refused, however, stating his views were a sign “not of insanity but of an unusually strong mind”. His diaries describe the racial abuse he received daily as a street vendor selling his toys, which led to successive court appearances from 1929 to 1939 as he fought back, once pulling a handgun on a fellow street vendor who taunted the colour of his skin. During this time, a burgeoning Aboriginal rights movement in Australia, headed by activists such as Jack Patten, William Ferguson, William Cooper and Pearl Gibbs, began conducting protests including the first Day of Mourning in 1938. Indeed, Pearl Gibbs even saved newspaper clippings of Fernando’s court testimonies reported in the Australian press. However Fernando was never to return home to join their ranks; he remained in England, and by 1948 he had been admitted to Claybury hospital, suffering from senile dementia. It was here that he passed away in 1949, aged 84.

Startling in its trailblazing and audacious nature, Fernando’s remarkable story predates by several decades, and extends by half the globe, our commonly held understandings of Aboriginal activism. He challenges images of passivity and victimhood that tend to arise from this period; just as the Aboriginal Land Rights movement coined the phrase “always was, always will be Aboriginal land”, Fernando reminds us that there always have been defiant acts of Indigenous self-representation and activism, even in the most unlikely of settings. Sadly, his activism is no less relevant today than it was in 1928, as Aboriginal Australians continue to advocate for adequate cultural and historical recognition of the violence and displacement that accompanied British invasion and settlement, not least by being formally acknowledged in Australia’s Constitution; a victory that is still yet to come.

Further Reading

Browning, Daniel, ‘Fernando’s Ghost’, Awaye!, ABC Radio National, May 2010

Paisley, Fiona, ‘Death Scene Protester: An Aboriginal Rights Activist in 1920s London’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 110.4 (2011), 867–83

Ruby van Leer is a student on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London 

‘The Shadow of What Was About to Come’: Watching YouTube and Building Historical Context by Sheridan Sylvester

Old-fashioned film footage. Shaky. Poor lighting. Silent. The person behind the camera starts inside, then moves outdoors. Suddenly, an unknown boy pops his head into the frame, clearly excited about the camera. As the camera captures footage of a town’s buildings and streets, it records unknown people chatting and smiling children attempting to stay in its view. Most of the adults, completely unaccustomed to being filmed, just stare at the camera.

Someone watching this film footage, not knowing anything about where or when it was created, would likely be intrigued by the clothing, so different from our current trends, or how the people in the film interact, which seems much more familiar, but they could not learn much more from the video alone. When considered in context, however, the film offers much very real and meaningful insights.

Short film about Marcy Rosen’s recognition of her grandfather in the original Kurtz footage
(US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

This briefly described footage was captured in 1938 by a couple from New York named David and Liza Kurtz who were spending their summer traveling through Europe with a few friends. They brought a camera along to film their trip, including a stop in Nasielsk, a small Polish town where David was born and the setting of this video. A year later Poland would be invaded by the German forces, marking the outbreak of the Second World War, and over the next six years, the Holocaust would change Nasielsk forever.

Seventy-one years after David and Liza visited Poland, Glenn Kurtz, the couple’s grandson, rediscovered this home movie in a closet in their house in Florida, and realized the historical significance of this glimpse into everyday life in pre-war Poland. Thus began a journey for Kurtz—a journey very different from the one taken by his grandparents in 1938. He spent the next few years learning as much as he could about Nasielsk in the years before and during the Holocaust, and he published his discoveries and story in his book, Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film.

When Kurtz started studying the film, he asked his family what they knew and concluded that the town in the video was Berezne, where his grandmother was born. Kurtz showed the video to a distant relative and Holocaust survivor from that town, who insisted that the town shown in the film was not Berezne. Kurtz then concluded that the town must be Nasielsk, his grandfather’s birthplace, which was confirmed as he did more research. He learned that before the war, Nasielsk had about 3,000 Jewish residents, nearly half of the town’s population. The German army entered Nasielsk shortly after the invasion of Poland in September 1939. In December, the Jewish residents were forced into cattle cars and sent to two ghettos, which were emptied in 1942 when Nazi soldiers sent the residents to a concentration camp. By the end of the war, only eighty Jews from Nasielsk were still alive.

Civilians Taken Prisoner during the Nazi Invasion of Poland, September 1939 (Library of Congress)

Kurtz was able to learn some information about Nasielsk and its residents, but was not able to identify any of the people in the film, as he had hoped. That changed, however, in 2011. After finding the video, Kurtz had donated the footage to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who later posted it on their website. In 2011, a family saw the video on the museum’s site and immediately recognized their grandfather, Maurice Chandler, as one of the boys whose face briefly appears in the film. Kurtz was able to meet with Chandler, who shed more light on the town, the film, and his own experiences during the war.

The stories Kurtz learned about Nasielsk and its people cannot be fully outlined here; however, the brief information shared above starts to give more context to the film. With more detail, the film becomes part of a story, and asking questions can lead to more learning. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides a lesson plan based on the Kurtz family film, in which it lists questions to help viewers engage more critically with the video. For example, the museum asks viewers to consider why the film was created and what is not shown in the footage.

Context, questions, and critical thinking are important whenever we watch historical film footage, whether we watch the footage on a museum’s website or stumble across it on YouTube. However, many videos offer no explanation. Without context, we may enjoy the video and feel a sense of connection with the past, which are both positive outcomes, but we might not actually learn anything about history.

Glenn Kurtz in 2015 (Vera de Kok)

A person can spend hours on YouTube watching random historical footage from around the world. They can watch footage of everyday life in England in 1901, Amsterdam in the 1920s, or early, twentieth-century Beijing. My personal favourite is a minute-long clip of a French snowball fight in the 1890s—it’s thrilling! Many of these videos have been colorized, which is not necessarily accurate, but can help the past feel more real and immediate, and certainly feels authentic. Reading the video comments, it is clear that many viewers have a romanticized view of the past and the random footage on YouTube can help confirm that view, even if it is inaccurate. So how do we counter this?

To learn something meaningful about the past and really connect with history, we have to follow Kurtz’s example: learn the context and ask some questions. What was happening in Amsterdam in the early 1920s? Who is represented in this footage? Who and what is left out? Why was it created? How is it similar to or different from today?

It is also important to remember L. P. Harley’s maxim that the past is a foreign country. We can view overwhelming amounts of materials that have survived through history—film, photographs, writings, artwork, and objects. All quickly accessible on our devices. Despite this unprecedented access, we can still never truly know the past nor understand how it really was. Our knowledge of history is limited to surviving sources and shaped by popular memory and present-day understandings.

We may not be able to identify anyone in a given film, or learn as much as Kurtz did, or gain a perfect knowledge of history, but by doing a bit of research, asking questions, and actively engaging with the footage, rather than passively watching, we can gain a slightly clearer understanding of the past. This step from passive consumption to critical thinking and active learning can give more meaning to the videos we watch and, ultimately, help us feel more connected with the past.

Further Reading

Kurtz, Glenn, Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014).

Sheridan Sylvester is a student on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The Maligned Queen: The Life and Legacy of Katherine Howard by Grace Beattie

It was a cold, clear February morning on which a queen came to die. The king’s privy council and other dignitaries had assembled in the shadow of the White Tower to bear witness. The wind stirred, rustling the cloaks of the waiting crowd. In the doorway of the queen’s apartment, a slight figure appeared. The pale, frightened girl who had become Queen of England only sixteen months earlier stepped into the sunlight. Assisted slowly up the steps towards the scaffold, the young queen looked out to the crowd. She gave a short customary speech, acknowledging her sins and praising the goodness of the king. The girl who had won the heart of an aging king then took one last look at the dazzling winter sky before kneeling. With shaking hands, the young girl laid her head upon the block. One swift stroke of the axe and the deed was done. Katherine Howard, Queen of England and fifth wife of King Henry VIII, breathed her last.

Miniature portrait of a Lady, believed to be Catherine Howard,
Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1540.

Born between 1519 and 1525, Katherine was the daughter of Edmund Howard and Jocasta Culpepper. After her mother passed away, the adolescent Katherine went to live with her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The duchess provided lodging and education for countless noble girls. The teaching these women were offered was sparse, however, and with little supervision and teenage hormones at their peak, sexual exploration became commonplace.

In 1540, Katherine’s uncle secured her a position as Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Anne of Cleves. Katherine’s appearance at the time she arrived at court is a matter of some debate among historians. No portrait depicting the young queen has ever been verified, but it is believed that she was petite and had light auburn hair. It wasn’t long before the young teenager began attracting the attention of the aging king. Time had not been kind to Henry VIII. When he ascended the throne in 1509, everyone praised him for his vigour, intelligence, and attractiveness. Yet now, nearing 50, the king was incredibly obese and had an ulcerous leg. Not the ideal suitor for a vivacious teenager.

Within six months, Henry’s marriage to Anne was annulled and he married Katherine in August 1540. We can never know what Katherine felt as she walked down the aisle to her obesely towering, middle-aged bridegroom. Today, the image is uncomfortable, to say the least; a dazzling beauty sacrificed to the whims of a monstrous king. Yet, Henry was infatuated with Katherine and it was reported that he “caresses her more than he did the others”[i]

‘Death of Catherine Howard’ engraving, 1864.

Katherine’s first months as queen were highly successful. She fit the standards of the time for a queen and her kindness and generosity were widely discussed by her contemporaries. Katherine would intercede on behalf of prisoners (a trademark act by queens at the time) and sent clothes to prisoners in the Tower of London. Most importantly for Henry, she was obedient and agreeable, taking on the motto “No other will but his” after their marriage. Her early success as queen tends to be overshadowed, however, by her dramatic downfall.

Katherine’s downfall came as rapidly as her rise. A single rumour from a single source proved to be her undoing. On 1 November 1541, Henry VIII found a letter in his privy chapel claiming that before their marriage, his young wife had sexual encounters with two men. Katherine’s music teacher, Henry Manox, had boasted about seeing a secret mark on her body. A nobleman, Francis Dereham, was accused of having consummated his relationship with Katherine. Henry, horrified, quickly left Hampton Court, and Katherine would never see him again.

After intense torture, Dereham confessed to having carnal knowledge of the Queen, while also naming another of Katherine’s supposed lovers, Thomas Culpepper. More damning, the liaison with Culpepper occurred during her marriage to the king. Culpepper and Katherine denied consummating their affair, but their fates were sealed. They had dared to cuckold a king, and they had to pay. Dereham and Culpepper were executed December 10th, 1541. Two months later, Katherine followed them to the scaffold. She may not have even been 21.

Katherine Howard is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood of Henry VIII’s six wives. Since the Victorian era, there has been a predominantly unsympathetic view of Henry’s youngest wife. She has been labeled by historians such as Alison Weir, David Starkey, and Alison Plowden, among others, as a “frivolous, empty-headed young girl”, “a good-time girl” and “a natural-born tart”. In the era of the #MeToo Movement, she tends to be represented as a victim of sexual violence. Both perspectives – whether whore or victim – reduce the young queen to nothing more than a sexual object. In reality, she was an altogether more complex young woman.

Most of what we know about Katherine Howard comes from court documents compiled during her downfall. During that time, men told her story with every reason to paint her as the creator of her demise. Henry’s other wives have had their reputations rehabilitated in recent years, while Katherine’s has remained essentially unchanged. Anne Boleyn is praised as a feminist icon, a woman who knew her own mind and developed her own sexual ethic. Yet Katherine is condemned for the same. And while the innocence of Anne Boleyn is persistently discussed and debated, the condemnation of Katherine seems unworthy of discussion.

Tamzin Merchant as Catherine Howard in The Tudors TV series (Showtime)

In her fictional portrayals, Katherine is either relegated to the characterization of dim-witted tart warranting judgment or a naive victim deserving of pity. In neither case is she given agency or sympathy for her real-life choices. One of the most recent and best-known portrayals of Katherine Howard was in the successful TV series The Tudors (2007-2010) in which she was depicted as an over-sexualized, frivolous, uneducated, foolish girl. While only appearing in six episodes, Katherine appears naked on screen more than any other character. In the series, her affair with Culpepper begins out of boredom and lack of sexual satisfaction from Henry, leaving viewers with little sympathy for her downfall. Her depiction in this widely watched series is just the latest in a long line of fictional portrayals that reinforce her stereotype as a sexual deviant who brings about her own destruction.

Most of Henry VIII’s wives have been constantly reinvented. But not Katherine Howard. The legend and the myth often outweigh the actual woman’s story—a multifaceted woman who was both a victim and an agent of her own fate. She was a real teenage girl living in the moment, tragically unaware of the significant consequences lurking in the shadows. Katherine deserves a new analysis in an age in which a woman’s sexual choices are no longer held against her – one that acknowledges her imperfections but does not condemn her for them.

Grace Beattie is a student on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Further Readings:

Fraser, Antonia, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Oxford, England: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002).

Russell, Gareth, Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII (London, England: William Collins, 2018).

Schutte, Valerie, “The Fictional Queen Katherine Howard,” Early Modern Women, 12.2 (2018), 146–50

[i] (Correspondance Politique, ed. Kaulek, p. 218).

The Eternal Fascination of the Slightly Morbid: H&M, that Tweet, and the Victorian Mourning Dress by Dilara Scholz

When it comes to popular history, the past two years have shown that there are two things that grab people’s attention just that bit more than other topics: fashion history (see, for example, the near-hysteria over the costuming in Bridgerton) and the morbid and slightly obscure. An interesting case that seemed to combine the two recently washed up on my timeline in the form a simple tweet that happened to be directly related to my research. The photo in question showed a rack of black, frilly and lacy dresses from H&M’s autumn 2020 collection, with the caption ‘seems like H&M is expecting a rush on Victorian funerals’.

This was surprising in two ways. Firstly, as a researcher of Victorian mourning culture, I would not have expected this rather niche topic to be so present in the public mind that a display at a popular fashion store would evoke it so readily. And the tweet, with its tongue-in-cheek reference to Victorian mourning, really did seem to resonate with the public in Britain and beyond. Indeed, as of 31 August, the original post had garnered an incredible 22,400 retweets and 297,800 likes, and it can only be assumed that the majority of people who liked this post are not necessarily enthusiasts for this relatively obscure topic. As with any specialist subject, sudden popularity invariably leads to demands for comment from hobbyists and hobby historians, many of whom shared their views on the post by judging not only the quality of the dresses but also by attempting to clear up popular misconceptions about Victorian mourning dress and what this actually entailed. Other ‘onlookers’ expressed their fascination with the topic as something they had either not seen or heard of, while also expressing the desire to learn more.

A surprising encounter with the culture of the past

Aside from the general fascination with Victorian fashion or the slight morbidity of the topic of funeral dress, the season we’re about to enter also have played a role here. Some Twitter comments mentioned “coven” and other witchy themes which would match the end of summer and the beginning of “Pumpkin Spice Latte” season and the coming of Halloween. Every year, Halloween-season seems to re-invigorate people’s interest in magic and everything mystical and witchy, even in Britain, where this originally Irish and now strongly American ‘feast of the dead’ has no long-standing tradition; our popular visions of historic funerary culture seems to be closely tied to this, and in line with All Hallows Day, where the veil between the world of the living and the non-living is said to be lifted. Victorian mourning culture would certainly fit in into this theme, as it is high-season for all things gothic and time for this subculture to stand centre-stage rather than in the periphery of fashion culture, within subcultures such as Gothic, Lolita and Steampunk. Another factor that might explain this apparently sudden fascination with Victorian mourning dress may also be that society currently finds itself in a state of collective grief as a result of the pandemic, which may make some of us more conscious of death and customs linked to death and bereavement.

John Everett Millais ‘A Widow’s Mite’ (1870) [Birmingham Museum & Gallery)

It is also important to note our 21st century alienation with mourning rituals and grief. In a departure from centuries of tradition, for example, black is less and less often the choice of colour at funerals and is also no longer directly associated with mourning and death. In fact, even before the pandemic, mourning and death had become much less visible in everyday life, at least in most Western societies, than they had been for our ancestors. A certain fascination with something that is the material expression of a phenomenon that is much less visible to us these days is not surprising.

Having observed popular fashion history for a while now, I had always regarded Victorian ‘mourning dress’ inspired garments as being on the periphery of the ever-popular corset top and Bridgerton-inspired empire dresses that have become popular since the launch of the show in the lockdown winter of 2020. This has shown how fashion history provides an unusual case of a historical theme in which academics and fans come together as one, vividly exchanging opinions and ideas and learning from one another. Suddenly, a topic comes alive through entertainment, encouraging the interest of more and more people, as revealed by popular Youtube channels such as those run by Mina Le and Karolina Zebrowska, who are both followed by academics and fashion enthusiasts alike. As fashion historian Lou Taylor, author of the most exhaustive monograph on mourning dress to date, writes ‘The study of dress (…) is a key which opens the door to a deeper understanding of the developments that take place in society and its social ambitions and aspirations’. This should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to dress connected to rituals of the past, as material culture can help us to understand the emotional language of the past, reflected in fabric, colour and design, and shaped by a number of other factors, including intricate gender dynamics at play.

Victorian Mourning Culture

Mourning and half-mourning dresses as depicted in Myras’s Journal of Fashion and Dress, December 1875 (D. Scholz)

It is no coincidence that the creator of the original tweet nailed the period when writing ‘Victorian funerals’ without (presumably) being a historian. Victorian mourning culture in general and the Victorian funeral in particular have become somewhat ‘iconic’ among writers and others interested in such things, and are often referred viewed as a ‘celebration of mourning’ because grief was anything but muted. Over the course of the second half of the 19th century, there were major changes not only in rituals of mourning but also in burials and the design and function of cemeteries, cremation became ‘a thing’ for the first time, and the cultural impact of all this was enormous. No other period in British history is known for its funeral culture in quite the same way as the Victorian era. The Victorian funeral was all about material ‘expression’, but this certainly does not mean that it was a superficial business. A number of historians, as well as some those who witnessed these funerals, would argue that all of the ritualistic pageantry was ‘show’, but having done extensive research on the topic so far, I have noticed patterns and certain rituals not only seem to have been highly practical, but may also have served as a comfort to the mourner, with mourning dress working as a signifier to let society know that this person needed a different type of attention.

The emergence of this more demonstrative culture makes sense, as, due to industrialisation, mass production of goods (even ephemeral ones) was finally possible, partly enabling the rise of the so called mourning craze. Suddenly, all goods were available to purchase with a black border and all types of clothing (even children’s clothes and underwear) were available with a black ribbon. James Stevens Curl has emphasised that, these mourning accessories were naturally not only signifiers of grief but also of social position and status, and the rapidly expanding middle class was interested in doing what the gentry did; displaying prosperity and gentility in life as well as in death. Of course, the extent to which mourning was ‘performed’ also somewhat represented how much the person was loved, so mourners tried to outdo each other in the funeral, burial, and memorial arrangements they organised for their departed loved ones.

Mourning Dress

The actual description used here, the “funeral dress”, is incorrect as the dresses shown and brought up in the context and aftermath of the post were not.

As rightly said, not every black dress seen in the context of Victorian fashion was a mourning dress, as the ‘mourning craze’ and peak of the materialisation of mourning culture almost coincided with an increase in popularity of the black dress as such around the 1880s. This was due to developments in the qualities of dyes and while black dyes were still expensive, the quality of synthetic dyes had much improved but was still not perfect. Some black dyes also tended to go ‘rusty’ which is why we can often find ‘brown’ mourning dresses that were not of course meant to be brown.

The amount of mourning garments and related-items (dresses, jewellery, stationery) that have survived is also curious. Curl notes that this is simply due to the vast amount of mourning items that were produced, so this ‘survivor’s bias’ certainly shapes our perception of what we think is “Victorian”, and the iconic Victorian funeral culture, which was majorly influenced by Queen Victoria – the Widow of Windsor – has shaped our idea of what the Victorians were about. This especially makes sense if we look at how much fashion and music subcultures such as Goth are inspired by ‘Victorian’ style items. While fashion and style were rather diverse and differed from decade to decade in the nineteenth century, mourning dress was special, and the ‘mourning craze’ even led to the establishment of specialized stores – mourning warehouses – that sold “all things mourning” in the different shades of grief.

Queen Victoria in ‘widow’s weeds’ by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1870)

Importantly, mourning for the Victorians was more than mere sentiment and had to be carefully performed in stages – starting off with ‘first mourning’, then moving on to ‘half-‘ or ‘second mourning’. This progress through the different stages was reflected in the colours as well as the cuts and fabrics that were permitted. A female mourner would go from the deepest black to lighter shades of purple and ultimately reaching a stage at which she could dispense with mourning dress, thereby declaring her full re-entrance into society. Wearing mourning dress was not really a matter of choice but more part of the prevailing social etiquette, with most fabrics and cuts being restrictive and therefore attempting to reflect how the mourner felt. Mourning for men was more minimalist, often just expressed through a dark suit and hat- or armband. While it was never really en vogue to keep mourning short, mourners had the option to decide to stay in mourning indefinitely – just like Queen Victoria did, as a signal to society that the process had not yet been concluded.

While this is just a snapshot of the complex culture of Victorian mourning, it may help to put our own ways of dealing with grief into perspective. And that amusing tweet, initially shared for entertainment, has certainly led to a rich discussion about separation, loss, and bereavement, at a time when these things are very much in the public mind. 

Further Reading:

Pat Jalland: Death in the Victorian Family (1996)

Lou Taylor: Mourning Dress – A Costume and Social History (1983)

James Stevens Curl: The Victorian Celebration of Death (2000)

John Morley: Death, Heaven and the Victorians (1971)

Dilara Scholz is a public historian and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her doctoral project focuses on gender, emotion and mourning in 19th century England.

The Evolution of a Banksy and Graffiti as Public History by Catriona Cooper

In May 2020, mid-pandemic, Street Artist Banksy paid a visit to Southampton General Hospital and installed a new artwork. The piece, entitled ‘Game Changer’, was auctioned off in March to raise money for NHS charities, and sold for a record £14.4m. But this was not the first Banksy to appear in Southampton. In 2010, I was a student in this vibrant coastal city and the news went round that a Banksy had been spotted near a local nightclub. As students, we thought this was the height of cool and many of us went to view the piece. However, within 24 hours it had been scrubbed over. Returning to the city ten years later, I was walking the dog past the same nightclub and I noticed the graffiti had been repainted and altered to reflect the ongoing pandemic.

Original Banksy ‘No Future’ piece, Mount Pleasant Rd., Southampton, 2010 (Metro)

Banksy’s distinctive graffiti has become a well-recognised form of social commentary and aesthetic protest, from paintings on the side of sexual health clinics to images of war. And while his work may divide opinion, it’s become an important part of urban material history. Access to these very public pieces of art is not restricted, meaning that they can be amended over time, as in the case of the piece I saw as a student in Southampton. It’s a transitory art form; there are communities of practice that develop street art, and the areas where it is produced regularly change. This piece is one that has been adapted over the eleven years it has been in place to reflect changing social feeling. Indeed, a look through historic Google Street View imagery shows how the social commentary the artist is offering has changed as the area around it has changed.

Updated Banksy piece, Southampton, 2020 (Southern Daily Echo)

It is placed on a wall behind a nightclub in an area of Southampton in which the gentrified student zone borders one of the poorest districts of the city. The image is of a child sat on a pavement holding a balloon with the words ‘No Future’ in red letters above. The text was thought to be a statement about environmental issues, but could equally be a commentary on poverty within the city. If we move forwards in time, we see butterflies being added to the piece as the child is scrubbed out, more tags are added along with other statements, such as ‘Expand your horizons’. The child can still be seen, but she is increasingly overshadowed by other motifs and images.

Banksy piece updated with coronavirus germ, March, 2021

In 2020, we can see that the wall appears to have been repainted white; the same image of the child is added but instead of a balloon forming the ‘o’ in ‘No Future’, the string leads to a balloon with the words ‘Our Future’ above. The logo of the environmentalist protest group Extinction Rebellion sits within the O, suggesting this is another comment on the climate crisis. As with the previous piece, within months it had been adulterated with a virus being added at the end of the balloon string, the words ‘Our Future’ being painted over and a speech bubble claiming ‘Fuck Banksy’ added.

Etching of a ship on wall of St. Thomas the Martyr Church, Winchelsea, East Sussex

While Banksy’s pieces are largely celebrated, they sit within a modern form of graffiti that has often been condemned as vandalism. However, we shouldn’t separate the study and consumption of Banksy’s work from generally less-admired piece of historic graffiti. Both the mostly overlooked art form of modern tagging and culturally celebrated street art are still the results of people from a variety of walks of life making a comment about the world around them. And people have been marking their environments in this way for much longer than we tend to assume. Historic sites of incarceration are often adorned with inscriptions from the smallest initial to much more detailed engravings that tell stories of the lives of the imprisoned. The brickwork of Southampton likewise became a drawing board for soldiers awaiting deployment as part of the D-Day landings, and their initials are now being studied for clues about who they were. The study of medieval graffiti has also become the subject of significant research over the last decade (with Champion, Cohen and Wright leading the field). In almost every conceivable historic space, we find people etching little parts of their lives into their built environment. An inscription of a ship in a church might be a sailor praying for safe passage, or an outline of a shoe (Figure 5) giving a nod to the ritual practice of concealing shoes within walls. In these and other intriguing examples, we see the lived experiences of past peoples playing out through their inscriptions, or as Wright puts it “capturing their hopes and fears” using a visual language.

Engraved shoe, Wressle Castle, East Yorkshire

Historians, archaeologists and others increasingly view graffiti as pieces of our collective past and efforts are made to record and study them. However, they have often gone through a process of change and removal. Indeed, medieval graffiti usually has to be studied with the help of raking light sources and close observation. The ship and shoe etchings were originally carved into painted walls, making them stand out, but during the reformation the iconoclastic destruction of religious art in British churches saw the removal of paintwork, and etchings went from being highly visible to faint lines in the stonework.  

I find the ‘girl with the balloon’ piece originally produced by Banksy fascinating as the quick adulterations to both the original and the new piece reflect local discontent and highlight fraught social issues within this area of Southampton. While the original might have been a statement on what in 2010 were termed ‘environmental issues’, I feel the choice of location is important. The siting of the piece, between the student run of bars on Bevois Valley and the deprived area of Northam, has meant that we are seeing social tensions play out in the form of addition and removal of layers of paint to a wall. In the same way, we see the city of Southampton gentrifying and residents being pushed out from areas close to both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University. Are we seeing here the same inscribing of fears from the artist drawing attention to the climate crisis or the residents of the area being forced to relocate to other districts of the city? Is the quickly changing nature of this piece of street art being subject to political iconoclasm presenting changing values of the local population and a social commentary on an area of change within a city bidding to become the UK’s City of Culture 2025?

Catriona Cooper is Senior Fellow in History, Heritage and Media in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

From Enslaved Princess to Royal Protégée: Queen Victoria’s Forgotten Black Goddaughter by Emily Murrell

Anyone who visited Osbourne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home, in October 2020 wouldn’t have been able to miss Hannah Uzor’s elegant portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the Queen’s forgotten goddaughter.  The painting, based on the portrait above by Camille Silvy, was commissioned by English Heritage to commemorate Black History Month and is the first instalment of their developing scheme to reintroduce historical Black figures into their heritage sites.

Starting their campaign with Bonetta is no coincidence considering the remarkable life she led as a Black woman in Britain. Within a matter of a few months, her life as an orphaned slave was completely transformed as she became goddaughter and protégée to the most powerful ruler in the world. Her life was full of both tragedy and affluence, but, more significantly, she became a symbol for race culture in the Victorian era and should be offered the greater recognition within Victorian history today. 

Drawing of a very young Sarah Forbes Bonetta in F.E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomens, 1851.

Bonetta is believed to have been born in the Yoruba Empire – now Nigeria and the adjacent territories – in around 1843. Her misfortunes began at the age of five as she became an orphan during the Okeadon War and was taken as a slave by King Ghezo of Dahomey. Inter-tribal warfare was rife between West African kingdoms, fighting for land and a monopoly over the Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade was an indication of power and the source of wealth for many rulers in the region, particularly Ghezo, who claimed that he would do anything for the British aside from giving up his trading networks.

After being held as a slave for two years, her life in Britain began in irony as a ‘diplomatic gift’ to the Queen of a country that had recently abolished slavery. In 1850, Queen Victoria ordered Captain Frederick E. Forbes to travel to Dahomey and negotiate a deal with King Ghezo that would stop his involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. The details of Forbes’ journey to Africa and these unsuccessful negotiations are outlined in his published journals, Dahomey and the Dahomens. It is here, listed among other gifts of ‘rum’ and ‘cloth’, that we first learn of the ‘captive girl’ that would be returning to Britain with him as a gift for the crown. Forbes later notes that she quickly became a favourite among the crew and emphasises his moral efforts to ‘save’ her from a worse fate in the hands of the Yoruban King. The speculation regarding her ‘noble’ origins also started in Forbes’ writings as he suggested that she must have been of ‘good’ blood to justify keeping her as a slave to the King. Before her journey to Britain, the girl was taken to be baptised under a new name, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, after the Captain and his ship, the HMS Bonetta.

Upon arriving in Britain, Forbes arranged an audience with the Queen who quickly took a liking to Bonetta and, as the captain had expected, offered to support her education and middle-class upbringing. In her diary, Queen Victoria describes her as ‘an intelligent little thing’, an opinion expressed with a surprise that many shared due to the common belief that Black people were incapable of being educated to a high standard. Bonetta’s life thus became something of a social experiment to either prove or disprove the scientists who created these misconceptions. Bonetta became a hot topic in phrenology circles, the members of which had long used skull measurements as evidence for intellectual inferiority in Black people. The Brighton Herald even noted her skull formation as ‘almost Caucasian in its regularity’ when discussing her life on the eve of her wedding, reflecting long-standing racial biases and the inability to move past stereotypical assumptions.

Portrait photograph of Sarah Forbes Bonetta by William Bambridge, 1856 (Royal Collection Trust)

Much of her early education took place at an all-girls missionary school run by the Church Mission Society in Sierra Leone. She was moved there after it was suggested that the British climate was damaging her health, yet another common racial stereotype. Sierra Leone already had an established history for Black British populations after the ‘Province of Freedom’ mission sought to resettle London’s ‘Black Poor’ there in 1787. This scheme was introduced to eliminate the new financial burdens that emerged after they became liberated from their slave positions. This first colony was doomed by disease, but the subsequent colony founded Freetown, where Bonetta would later be sent. As a missionary, her education became a tool for the British to exaggerate their new moral mission in liberating Black populations. Without choice Sarah would become the model for the ideal Black Victorian woman and the image of radical change the British wanted to display. After returning to England, Bonetta lived with a Christian family in Kent, who spoke fondly of her ‘lively disposition’, and she later moved to Brighton to live with Miss Sophia Welsh who oversaw her final introductions into society.

Now a ‘civilised’ member of British society, Sarah easily made a name for herself in Brighton’s social circles with her lively character and musical talents. Her popularity drew the attention of James Davies who requested to meet her with a view to making a proposal of marriage. As her guardian, it was Queen Victoria’s final task to find her a suitable husband, and the 33-year-old wealthy merchant from Lagos fitted perfectly. The wedding took place in August 1862 and was seen as one of the most diverse events of its time. The Brighton Guardian reported the wedding in a short article which was subsequently reprinted nationwide. Most notably, the report dedicated a chunk of its short account to comment on the ‘absence of that abruptness’ in Sarah’s features. The attention to her appearance continued as she was described to lack the characteristic ‘ferocity’ of the stereotypical African Victorian women. These sentences reveal the media’s efforts to seek a justification for Bonetta’s status by using racial stereotypes to highlight her separation from white society, but also to portray her an unusual within the black community. Defined as a ‘pleasant confusion’, the way she was present and perceived by British society was an indication of the deeply ingrained racism that continued to thrive during her lifetime. In signing the marriage certificate, Sarah wrote her full name to be ‘Ina Sarah Forbes Bonetta’, the Yoruban name being a nod to her African heritage and the culture she had lost along her journey to status in England. After the wedding, renowned photographer Camille Silvy captured several portraits of Bonetta and her new husband, permanently confirming her status in Britain and placing her as a symbol against the racial stereotypes at the time.

Bonetta with her husband, James Davies, 1862 by Camille Silvy (National Portrait Gallery)

Over the next decade, Sarah and James had four children. Their firstborn was named Victoria after the Queen, who also became goddaughter to her namesake. The final decades of Bonetta’s short life were much less remarkable than her early ones. Her husband came into frequent financial difficulties, ultimately losing much of their business and estate to bankruptcy. Despite moving to Madeira with her three youngest children to escape the stress, the burden continued to chase her. This, combined with her incurable tuberculosis, eventually drove her to her death bed in 1880.

Like many historical Black figures, Bonetta’s history has been overshadowed by her white counterparts, and even as we reintroduce her to the narrative we remain unaware of her private thoughts. What seems most striking is that as a member of the Victorian middle-class, her education and upbringing were not unique at all. The position she assumed in Victorian high society as a Black woman is therefore pivotal in understanding how race relations were changing in the Victorian era. In Black and British: A Forgotten History, David Olusoga describes the ‘great Victorian moral mission’ that came from the inflation of the British ego on the eve of the abolition of slavery. Her life therefore developed as something of a social experiment to see if the British were capable of acting as world moral leaders and she accordingly became the poster child for this changing racial conversation in Britain.

At the cost of her past and her cultural identity, Sarah Forbes Bonetta became a token representative of the Victorian efforts to lead the change in social and racial liberalism, though the reality of her treatment was far from enlightened. She’s an important figure representing the historic diversity of British culture and heritage, yet her story, along with those of many other Black men and women, has been largely ignored. The inclusion of her portrait as part of English Heritage’s Black History Month tributes is a step toward filling this void, but we must also be aware of its temporary nature and continue to work for more permanent incorporations of Black history within British history.

Emily Murrell is a student on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Further Reading:

  • Caroline Bressey, ‘Of Africa’s Brightest Ornaments: A Short Biography of Sarah Forbes Bonetta’ Social & Cultural Geography, 6:2 (2005) 253-266.
  • Joan Anim-Addo, ‘Bonetta [married name Davies], (Ina) Sarah Forbes [Sally]’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (17 September 2015).
  • Sarah Young, ‘English Heritage Unveils portrait of Queen Victoria’s African Goddaughter to mark Black History Month’, The Independent, October 7th 2020.

From Vanity to Insanity? The perilous battle for female beauty in Georgian Britain by Iona Bentley

“The woman to whom nature has denied beauty, in vain endeavours to make it by art”

The World , 2 January, 1755

Stepping through the doors of time, and into the shoes of the Georgian lady, one may expect to be adorned with elegant dresses, glittering jewels, and striking accoutrements. The walls of the National Portrait Gallery and the cabinets of the V&A show us exactly that. For the Beau Monde – a particularly fashionable faction of eighteenth-century elite society – this was their reality. But, if by chance you did happen to find yourself fastened into the buckled straps of the eighteenth-century silk heel, you would most likely also find yourself smeared in grease, painted with poison, and coated in a crust of perfumed powders. Your eyes may itch. Your skin may burn. Your teeth may ache from rot. Ultimately, the battle for beauty in Georgian Britain was fraught with danger, sacrifice, and pain.

‘Six Stages of Mending a Face’, Thomas Rowlandson, 1792 [British Museum]

The women of the rarefied British elite during this period had access to a variety of cosmetics from across the globe. Cosmetics for personal hygiene were, however, used by both men and women, of the upper and middling ranks alike. Requiring time, resources, and an absence of physical labour unattainable to the lower sorts, cleanliness became a sign of social distinction. During the eighteenth century, cosmetics were often used in lieu of regular bathing, as hot water was believed to disturb the humours and foster disease within the body. Instead, Georgians applied substances such as oil of turpentine (now used in industrial solvents), beeswax, and bear fat to clean themselves. Powders were then required to soak up the excess residue produced both by the natural body and the cosmetic products. It is not hard to imagine (and yet difficult to bring yourself to imagine) how cloying the thick layers of oily product and scented powders would feel against the skin. Heavily perfumed products were necessary to conceal unpleasant odours – which would undoubtedly be present in abundance with such a poor hygiene regime. For the Georgians, however, this was particularly crucial, as bad air (miasma) was believed to cause disease. There were some practices of cleanliness that would be very recognisable in our own time, including tooth scraping, ear syringing, nail trimming, and plucking, although these were performed alongside other cosmetic techniques that would unlikely appear in the twenty-first century salon, such as bloodletting – popularly used to detoxify the blood in both cosmetic and medical procedures.

After cleansing the body, the second half of the Georgian lady’s cosmetic regime would be to paint her face. The early modern obsession with the white English self – as a representation of civility, virtue, and purity – heavily influenced notions of beauty and practices of cosmetics. Throughout the eighteenth century, these ideals of whiteness endured, whilst tanned skin and freckles continued to be negatively associated with the ‘lower’, labouring ranks. As a complete antithesis of the white English self, there was a common notion that those with skin coloured by the sun could only belong to the unrefined, uneducated, and unfortunate because they could only support themselves by toiling outside. To possess porcelain white skin was to exude social and ethnic superiority. The most popular means of whitening the skin was the highly toxic ceruse. Commonly associated with the sixteenth-century monarch, Elizabeth I, the white lead and vinegar paste not only acted as a whitening ‘foundation’, but also helped conceal smallpox scars, acne, and freckles. It was the perfect solution to achieving a smooth, porcelain white complexion; or at least perfect enough when overlooking the severe medical ramifications of coating oneself in lead. Rouge was then added to the cheeks and lips to accentuate the whitened face. Made of cochineal (crushed beetles), fucus (seaweed), and red mercury, the rouge was just as poisonous as the ceruse. Final cosmetic embellishments included: darkening eyebrows and lashes with lead shavings; inserting porcelain veneers over rotting teeth; stuffing balls of cork into the mouth to plump up sagging cheeks; and covering scars with beauty spots made of silk or velvet. Ranging from mildly uncomfortable, to categorically dangerous, these beautifying techniques no doubt had a daily impact on the lives of the women who used them. Peering into the portraits of eighteenth-century women, it is hard to deny their striking beauty. And yet we can only imagine the anguish and pain that this beauty must have caused them, lying just beneath their painted façade of serenity.

Matthew Darly, ‘The City Rout’, 1776 [British Museum]
Satire of two aged, unattractive women as ‘mutton dressed lamb’.

Surprisingly, the dangers of lead and mercury were recognised even before the eighteenth century. As early as 1598 Doctor Fierovant claimed that women who applied these poisonous cosmetics “to grow more beautiful, become disfigured, hastening olde age before the time” with “black teeth … an offensive breath, with a face half scorched, and an uncleane complexion”. The horrific realities of lead and mercury poisoning are now ever clearer to modern medicine: neurological failure, blindness, breathing difficulties, mood disorders, miscarriages and hallucinations, to name but a few. Georgian women were permanently disfigured, or ultimately perished, in their battle for beauty. Kitty Fisher, a courtesan widely celebrated for her beauty, is one of many who reportedly died as a result of the toxic cosmetics she often donned. Yet, despite the notorious dangers, elite women continued to be drawn in by the addictive allure of cosmetics. Horace Walpole, like many of his contemporaries, feared the woman’s deadly fascination with “white lead, of which nothing could break her”. Only death. Many also proclaimed the immoral implications of artificial beauty. Face painting was linked to sexual promiscuity, self-indulgence, vanity, and deceit. In turn, ridiculing satires of ‘mutton dressed lamb’, ‘the world turn’d upside down’, and the absurdities of cosmetics lined the pages of periodicals and plastered the windows of print shops.

Kitty Fisher, oil on canvas, Nathaniel Hone, 1765
[National Portrait Gallery, London]

So, what drove elite Georgian women to ignore the social admonishments and lethal perils of cosmetics, and ultimately sacrifice their health and life for beauty? Despite the common misconception (or possibly even blatant condescension) of eighteenth-century critics and modern historians alike, this endeavour for beauty was clearly not attempted in vain – or in fact, solely for vanity’s sake. Appearance defined one’s identity: communicating wealth, rank, morality, marital status (or sexual availability), and temperament. As an “invisible standard” of pedigree and civility, to don the correct exterior was to ultimately claim and maintain social status. For elite women, beauty and power became inextricable. In a world of political patriarchy, physical beauty became a formidable weapon, and cosmetics acted as its ammunition. For Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, beauty was instrumental in her political authority. For Kitty Fisher and Maria Gunning (later Countess of Coventry), beauty brought them wealth, fame, and the independence that followed – but it also brought them death. Historians suggest that the fatal illnesses of both Kitty Fisher and Maria Gunning share a striking resemblance to the symptoms of lead poisoning, and when considering the prominent use of lead-based ceruse within their respective roles as courtesan and actress, it is highly likely that these toxic cosmetics were the cause of their deaths. Women sought beauty not only for beauty’s sake, but for the social inclusion and influence it afforded them. Yet, just as surely as beauty brought popularity, prestige, and power, pain, sickness, and disfigurement invariably followed. This was evidently a sacrifice many eighteenth-century ladies were willing to make. Ultimately, to argue that insanity or simple vanity drove women to such lethal ends of beauty, would be to entirely disregard the agency, admiration, and clout they fought so hard to attain. So, if you did happen to find yourself in the shoes of the Georgian lady, would that be a sacrifice you’d be willing to make?

Iona Bentley is a student on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Further Reading:

Marcereau DeGalan, Aimée, ‘Lead White or Dead White? Dangerous Beauty Practices of Eighteenth-Century England’, Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, vol. 76, no. 1/2 (2002) pp. 38-49.

Phillippy, Patricia, Painting Women: cosmetics, canvases, and early modern culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

Schoel, Josie, ‘Cosmetics, Whiteness, and Fashioning Early Modern Englishness’, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 60 no. 1 (2020) pp. 1-23.

What Do We Do with the Inglorious Dead? Remembrance and the British Dead of the Irish War of Independence by Edward Madigan

This month sees the centenary of the interment of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, which took place on the second-ever Armistice Day, and was, by all accounts, one of the great public spectacles in modern British history. Vast crowds of people, numbering in their hundreds of thousands, lined the route and stood in silence as the gun carriage carrying the unidentified serviceman wound its way through the ancient London streets. Many of those watching the procession had lost loved ones during the Great War and for them, and millions of others across Britain and the wider empire, the Warrior represented lost sons, brothers, husbands and comrades. Shortly before arriving at the Abbey, the cortège paused in Whitehall so that George V could unveil the newly permanent Cenotaph, a simple but towering memorial to the absent dead designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The laying to rest of one of the fallen among kings and princes in the great parish church of the empire seemed to confer profound meaning on the war. It also supported the consoling idea that the dead had given their lives in defence of honour, freedom and civilisation. For the millions still in mourning across the United Kingdom, it was reassuring to believe that the war had been worth fighting and worth winning and that their lost loved ones had not died in vain. This point was very clearly reinforced by the blunt, three-word inscription on the side of the Cenotaph, ‘The Glorious Dead’. The dead had been honourable, self-sacrificing and chivalrous, while their main battlefield adversaries – the Germans – had been ruthless, malevolent and wantonly destructive.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey, 2017

Popular attitudes regarding the meaning of the conflict have shifted a great deal since the 1920s, but our perception of those who died hasn’t really changed much at all and remains quite simplistic. In common with a lot of historians of the Great War, I had hoped that the recent centenaries might lead to a popular re-imagining and re-appraisal of the conflict, but I don’t think in Britain we arrived at any particularly fresh critical understanding. One key reason for this was the persistent focus on the dead at the expense of other groups who were affected by the terrible violence of the war. Servicemen who survived combat but were psychologically traumatised or physically disabled, or both, received very little attention in commemorative ceremonies, centenary-related projects, or media representations of the war. Perhaps most glaringly, the bereaved themselves, with some notable exceptions, were written out of the commemorative narrative during the centenaries. On a more positive note, there was a good deal of new focus on the racial, ethnic and religious diversity of the men who served in the British forces during the war. David Olusoga’s fascinating book, The World’s War, published just as the centenaries began in August 2014, highlighted the degree to which the engine of war drew in millions of people from across Africa and Asia. South Asian soldiers received particular attention, with no fewer than four books on the Indian experience of the war published in 2018 alone. And just last year, Labour MP David Lammy presented a moving Channel Four documentary that exposed the way in which black soldiers and auxiliaries who died while serving with the British forces in Africa were consciously treated differently to their white ‘comrades’. These projects have introduced new characters to the public story of the ‘war to end all wars’ and greatly enriched our understanding of this devastating clash of empires. And yet these formerly forgotten groups of soldiers are now remembered and represented in much the same way as the servicemen of the Great War have always been remembered: either as victims to be pitied or heroes to be admired for their endurance and self-sacrifice. This rather two-dimensional ‘heroic victim’ view of the dead is complicated by the stories of the British veterans of the Great War who fought and died in Ireland in 1920 and 1921. These men continue to be almost entirely overlooked in British popular memory, but their experiences challenge the conventional narrative of the war dead and shed light on the human complexity of those honoured in Britain each November.

The cycle of violence known as the Irish War of Independence began on 21 January 1919 when Sinn Féin’s secessionist parliament met in Dublin for the first time and republican volunteers killed two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Tipperary. The conflict escalated into a full-scale guerrilla war in the spring of the following year when paramilitary forces were deployed from Britain to reinforce the now seriously demoralised RIC and respond to the Irish Republican Army’s increasingly aggressive military campaign. These irregulars initially wore a mix of dark green Irish constabulary and khaki army uniforms and became known as the Black and Tans. About 10,000 of them were recruited between January of 1920 and the end of the war the following summer. A further escalation occurred in July 1920 with the deployment of a force known as the Auxiliary Division, which ultimately numbered some 5,000 men. The Auxiliaries were exclusively composed of ex-officers who operated in highly-mobile and heavily-armed units and wore distinctive Tam O’Shanter caps in the style of Scottish regiments of the British Army. In addition to these two paramilitary groups, the British campaign drew on units of the regular army, which were increasingly used in operations (and targeted by the IRA) in the last year of the conflict. The violence of the war intensified after the introduction of the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act in August 1920; by the beginning of the following month, dozens of combatants and civilians were being killed each week as both the IRA and Crown forces stepped up their operations across the island.

Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and Chief Secretary, Thomas Hamar Greenwood, inspect temporary cadets of the Auxiliary Division in the grounds of the Foreign Office, London, 5 November 1920 (Irish Times)

Although there were Irishmen in both the Black and Tans and the Auxiliary Division, the great majority of those who served in these paramilitary formations were British, hailing mostly from England and Scotland. Importantly, in the context of British commemorative culture, virtually all of them were veterans of the Great War and many had served with distinction on the Western Front and elsewhere. Most of the regular army personnel stationed in Ireland during the war were also British, often serving in distinctively English or Scottish regiments, and many of these regulars had seen extensive active service between 1914 and 1918. Just under 200 British army officers and other ranks were killed by the IRA in 1920 and 1921. A further 180 British-born members of the paramilitary police forces were killed by republicans during the same period. Virtually all of the latter were veterans of the world war and they often had distinguished records of service. The men who served in the Auxiliary Division alone had received over 633 awards for gallantry during the Great War, including three Victoria Crosses. Many of them, then, would have easily conformed to the popular vision of the war hero by the standards of the time, and indeed by the standards of our own time.

The men killed in a particularly violent episode that took place a century ago this month highlight the direct connection between the Great War and post-war paramilitary violence in Ireland. On the morning of Sunday 21 November 1920, IRA gunmen shot dead 14 officers and ex-officers, and one civilian landlord, in boarding houses and hotels in different parts of central Dublin. Most of the dead men had been serving in some capacity with the Crown forces, but although they had been targeted as spies, only about half were working for British intelligence. All but one of the thirteen former or serving officers killed on the day had been deployed overseas during the world war and several bore obvious scars or disabilities sustained while on active service. One of them, Capt. Leonard Price, the London-born son of a stockbroker, was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry under fire while serving on the Western Front before being posted to Dublin for intelligence work in June 1920. In response to the killings of Price and his comrades, members of the Auxiliary Division and the RIC descended on a Gaelic football match being played at Croke Park in north Dublin that afternoon. They began firing on the crowd, ultimately shooting about sixty unarmed civilians, fourteen of whom were killed or mortally wounded, including Mick Hogan, a Tipperary player after whom the Hogan Stand is named. At some stage later in the day, two senior IRA officers and a civilian were summarily executed while in custody at Dublin Castle. The killings at Croke Park naturally evoked outrage among the nationalist population in Ireland while the assassinations of serving officers, some of whom were still wearing their pyjamas when they were shot, caused an outcry across the water in Britain. On 26 November, just two weeks after the Unknown Warrior had been solemnly laid to rest, there was another major military funeral procession in London for nine of the officers shot in Dublin. Six of the dead were carried to Westminster Abbey, while the other three, being Catholic, were taken a short distance further to Westminster Cathedral. Price and his dead comrades were lauded in the press for their gallantry and distinguished service while their killers in the IRA were denounced as the ‘Murder Gang’.

Tribute to officers killed on Bloody Sunday in the Illustrated London News (ILN Archive)

And yet although the killings of the officers on the morning of Bloody Sunday aroused widespread sympathy, much of the British commentary on the conduct of the forces of the Crown from the autumn of 1920 onward was deeply critical. A good deal of this criticism, which was mostly aired in the press and in the course of parliamentary debates, focused on the Crown Forces’ now open policy of ‘reprisals’ for IRA operations. Two months before Bloody Sunday, on the night of 21 September 1920, for example, a group of Auxiliaries and Black and Tans killed two unarmed civilians, set fire to numerous homes and wrecked a local creamery and hosiery factory at Balbriggan in north county Dublin. The ‘sack of Balbriggan’ was by no means the first or the worst incident of British paramilitaries killing unarmed civilians during the war, but it evoked a particularly negative popular reaction in Britain. Prominent journalists, clergymen and politicians, representing a curiously diverse variety of political opinion, condemned the events at Balbriggan and the men who had committed them in the strongest terms, and condemnation of British military policy continued over the following months. Importantly, both The Times and The Manchester Guardian made direct comparisons between the actions of the Crown forces in Ireland and those of German soldiers in Belgium and France in 1914. Former prime minister and Liberal MP Herbert Asquith echoed this view in the Commons, as did the Labour MP and former party leader, Arthur Henderson. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, a pillar of the British establishment and a major figure in the House of Lords, was also notably outspoken in his condemnation of the policy of reprisals.

Mixed group of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries outside the London and North Western Hotel in Dublin after an unsuccessful IRA attack, April 1921 (National Library of Ireland)

The Dead of the Irish Revolution, a ground-breaking new book by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin, provides details on over 2,800 combatant and civilian deaths related to the struggle for independence in Ireland between the Easter Rising in April 1916 and the truce that ended hostilities in July 1921. The painstaking research the authors have carried out sheds new and often sobering light on the nature and extent of the violence that took place in Ireland both during and after the world war. Importantly, it highlights not only the intensity of republican violence, about which a great deal is already known, but also the sheer extent of the killing and destruction of property perpetrated by the forces of the British state. It seems clear, as O’Halpin observes in the introduction, that from early 1920 ‘the British government embarked on a policy of indiscriminate brutalisation of nationalist Ireland’. That process of brutalisation was spear-headed by British veterans of the Great War who had often served gallantly on the Western Front and elsewhere.

That such violence and intimidation – unleashed within the United Kingdom and in the name of the Crown – caused alarm in Britain should not surprise us. The criticism of the conduct of the Crown forces voiced by British commentators in 1920 and 1921 was directly informed by the strong sense that the recently-ended world war had been a righteous conflict in which the British had engaged in a moral crusade against the German enemy. The killing of thousands of unarmed civilians by invading German soldiers in Belgium and northern-France in 1914 greatly enhanced the British case for war in the minds of popular commentators and ordinary civilians. When British civilians fell victim to German military aggression in the U-boat campaigns and airship raids that began in 1915 and continued for the rest of the war, this crusading fervour was further reinforced. Ultimately, over three-quarters of a million British and Irish servicemen lost their lives in the conflict, but the bereaved found comfort in the notion that these extraordinary sacrifices had been redeemed by victory in a just war. The violence wreaked on the civilian population by British paramilitaries and regulars in Ireland in the years after the Armistice caused such discomfort in Britain partly because it undermined that consoling narrative. In an impassioned intervention during a debate on reprisals in the Commons in October 1920, Joseph Kenworthy, naval officer, war veteran and Liberal MP had the following to say:

In Germany the excesses in Belgium were excused in the Reichstag by stories of the Belgians firing from their houses on the brave German troops … The same defence is being made by the Government today for this system of burnings in Ireland. If we do not condemn it, we shall be as guilty as the German people, and worse. This House may not condemn it, but I hope the people outside will. If not, then Germany will have won the War. The Prussian spirit will have entered into us. The Prussian spirit at last will be triumphant, and the 800,000, the flower of our race, who lie buried in a score of battle-fronts will really have died in vain … and Germany has won and we have lost. That is the tragic, wicked part of it.

Hansard, Commons Debates, 20 October 1920, col. 962.

Those who fell in the Ypres Salient, the Somme valley and the other hallowed battlegrounds of the Great War are revered in British culture. Their stories are still told, their graves still visited, and the conflict in which they were killed remains the focus of intense popular interest. The Irish War of Independence, by contrast, has no place in British popular culture and its dead are not remembered. In a sense, this is perfectly understandable; the vast multitude who died between 1914 and 1918 are certainly more sympathetic than the few hundred who were later killed in a sordid fight to suppress a popular independence movement. Yet these men’s experiences in Ireland and the campaign they conducted there remind us of the valuable truths that our ancestors were rarely two-dimensional heroes or villains and that soldiers are invariably both perpetrators as well as victims of violence. Traditional commemorative culture doesn’t allow us to acknowledge such complexities but considering them may help us better understand the generation of the First World War.

Edward Madigan is Senior Lecturer in Public History at Royal Holloway University of London and co-editor of Historians for History.

‘Black Lives’ under the Raj by Sarah Ansari

The 2020 Black Lives Matter movement is rightly reinforcing the urgency of acknowledging in concrete and accurate ways the historical voices and experiences of Black people. That it is taking place against the backdrop of an effervescence in identity politics more generally also underlines the complex ways in which people see and label themselves in contemporary Britain. One of the current criticisms of the umbrella terms ‘BAME’/’BME’, for instance, is that these do not convey sufficiently clearly the spectrum of ethnic and other identities supposedly encompassed by them. What follows here, therefore, is not intended to suggest that people of African and South Asian heritage have had 100% identical past experiences, but simply to remind ourselves that, in the days of the British Raj, Indians could often be marginalised and oppressed as ‘black’. On the one hand, as historians, awareness of diversity is always important; on the other hand, so is the need to challenge ‘divide and rule’ narratives.

The whole business of ‘divide and rule’ (following hot on the heels of its close relation ‘divide and conquer’) is, of course, closely associated with the British Empire, and methods deployed there to limit and deflect the resistance of people subjected to imperial control. Such divisive tactics can be blamed for generating political responses that led – in due course, though never inevitably – to the creation of a separate state for Indian Muslims when South Asia secured its freedom in 1947. By officially sanctioning what were packaged as the ‘separate’ needs of Indian Muslims, British policy directly encouraged political separatism. In this case, the divisions nurtured and exacerbated by imperial policy-making were premised on religious difference, and they eventually helped produce Partition in August 1947: an event marked by enormous human suffering, around a million deaths, and something like 14-16 million displaced people moving between the two new states of India and Pakistan.

A tea party in Calcutta, 1890
Colonists and servants at a tea party in Calcutta, 1890 (British Library)

But back to ‘blackness’ under the Raj. Racial identity (albeit infused with the added complication of class) was always a sticky issue for imperialists, with ‘whiteness’ intimately associated with the ‘running of empire’. Contact between the rulers and the ruled was kept as minimal as possible: for instance, clubs – the social hubs of empire – with few exceptions held Indians at bay for as long as they could. Anyone who has ever read a nostalgic book or watched a nostalgia-tinged film about the Raj, for instance, is likely to have come across the institution of the ‘cantonment’. Originally associated first and foremost with the military, these garrisons often mutated into the ‘separate’ locality within a town or city where the British resided, worked and played, usually with as much physical and psychological distance as possible put between themselves and Indians (other than the legions of local servants they employed). This was not just about creating hypothetical ‘safe cultural spaces’ for themselves. In British-controlled South Asia skin colour was always highly politicised, with the ‘blackness’ of local people contrasted against the ‘whiteness’ of the British and their world.

Map of Madras c. 1710
Map of Madras c. 1710, featuring ‘White Town’ and ‘Black Town’

Look at Presidency port-cities such as Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata), two of the earliest commercial bridgeheads through which British interests established themselves in the subcontinent from the seventeenth century onwards. Both for many years contained so-called ‘black towns’, areas in which local people lived and worked, and where British people rarely lingered for long. In the case of Madras, as a British Library webpage tells us:

‘Black Town was originally the old native quarter and grew up outside the
walls of Fort St George to the north on the seafront. … As Madras grew,
Black Town became the commercial centre of the city and developed a very
high population density. … Its name was officially changed to George Town
after a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1906.’

Calcutta, too, in its early colonial heyday was divided into two main districts – White Town, which was where the British resided and conducted their business, and Black Town, where local Bengalis were to be found. Kolkata today offers a ‘Blacktown walk’, which takes visitors on a guided tour of the old-world ‘heritage’ dwellings that make up this historic part of the city. In a similar fashion, Karachi, with its increasingly cosmopolitan population, came in the second half of the nineteenth century to be ‘demarcated’ along colour lines too, with Saddar Bazaar and Empress Market frequented by the ‘white’ population, and the Serai Quarter serving the needs of the ‘black’ town.

‘Blackness’ was thus intrinsic to how the British and other Europeans viewed Indians, but it was also part and parcel of the derogatory ways in which they frequently described ‘the natives’. People with a mixed European-Indian ancestry (nowadays called ‘Anglo-Indians’) were also troubling, since their very existence embodied ‘racial’ mixing, and, as in the United States and South Africa, those among them who could pass as ‘white’ frequently did their best to do so.

More controversial still for us today was the use of the ‘N-word’ to describe Indians under the Raj. As Sam Fortescue has highlighted, in his exploration of material written by British men and women during or soon after the so-called Mutiny of 1857-8, this deeply racist term was bandied about by contemporaries. Take William Russell, the London Times special correspondent, who was sent out to India in early 1858 to report on the Uprising, and who provided many vignettes of the British whom he encountered, satirical no doubt but all the same indicative of perceived realities:

”By Jove! sir,” exclaims the Major, who has by this time got to the walnut
stage of the argument, to which he has arrived by gradations of sherry,
port, ale, and Madeira, – “By Jove,” he exclaims, thickly and fiercely, with
every vein in his forehead swol’n like whipcord, “these n*****s are such a
confounded sensual lazy set, cramming themselves with ghee and sweetmeats,
and smoking their cursed chillumjees all day and all night, that you might
as well think to train pigs. Ho, you! Punkah chordo, or I’ll knock –
Suppose we go up and have a cigar!”

Moreover, as Fortescue goes on to explain:

Atkinson’s famous satire of ‘Our Station’ hinted at a more serious, endemic
double standard in the British. Take, for instance, his sketch of ‘Our
Judge’: ‘There you see him in his court – n*****s – ten thousand pardons!
no, not n*****s, I mean natives – sons of the soil – Orientals – Asiatics,
are his source of happiness.’ The implication is, that in spite of British
evangelism and Utilitarian rhetoric, and notwithstanding Government’s heavy
reliance on servants, native soldiery and pundits, officials tended to feel
that at heart, they ruled a land of ‘n*****s.’

Bengali Babu 2British rule in South Asia, as elsewhere in the world, thus always hinged on the deployment of crude stereotypes, ethnic or otherwise, from the ‘salt-of-the-earth’ ‘martial races’ associated with the plains and mountains of the North-west, to the ‘too-clever-by-half’, inherently untrustworthy Bengali ‘baboo’. Indeed, according to 1890s Daily Mail journalist G. W. Steevens, whereas an Englishman possessed a straight leg, the Bengali’s was unquestionably that of a slave: “Except by grace of his natural masters”, Steevens duly asserted, “a slave he has always been and always must be”.

So whether Indians were “half-naked fakirs” (Winston Churchill’s insulting description of MK Gandhi in 1931) or loyal soldiers volunteering in enormous numbers on behalf of British interests in both world wars, the fact remains that – under the Raj – Indians could very often end up being labelled as ‘black’, with all the exceedingly negative connotations that such categorisations implied at that time.


Sarah Ansari is Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has published widely on the history of South Asia and is currently writing a history of Pakistan for Cambridge University Press.

Facing Abe Lincoln: On Black History and Public History by Daisha Brabham

When I was about 10 or 11, I was fascinated with the American Civil War. Indeed, I once begged my mother to buy me a fifteen-hour documentary about the battles and generals. She was convinced that I would not watch the entire thing but nonetheless relented. And I did. History had been a passion of mine from an early age, but I can attribute this indelible fascination with the Civil War to my history teacher, Mr. T. He performed in military re-enactments and had even at one time re-enacted the Battle of Gettysburg. The battles were a consistent theme in the classroom as we examined the various uniforms, the generals, and political leaders. I particularly liked learning about Abraham Lincoln to the point that I memorized the ‘Gettysburg Address’ and watched countless documentaries on him. The Great Emancipator who had defied the odds and saved the nation represented a thread between myself and my country. In a childlike fashion, I liked Lincoln, because he would have ‘liked me’, which made him stand out among the figures we studied. In Lincoln’s eyes, I was an American; the war he had led to free my ancestors proved that for me. So, in his eyes, I was whole.

My love for Abraham Lincoln resurfaced as I happened upon some of my old DVDs at 22. I began to research the Lincoln I had met in my seventh-grade classroom using the skills that I had since acquired as a historian To my horror, though, I discovered the real Lincoln; the Lincoln who believed in separatism; the Lincoln who would have preferred that my ancestors return to Africa, leaving the county to mend in our absence. Ultimately, Lincoln began to resemble the rest of the characters in the story of the Civil War. In the words of Fredrick Douglass, ‘In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man’. It was only then that I began to revisit my childhood memories and realize a terrifying fact. The one aspect missing from Mr. T’s and my own vision of the American past: slaves. I still cannot remember a single lesson on slavery. It seems we both ignored that part, but for distinct reasons. I had overlooked this distortion of the past in the same way I had I ignored the fact that Mr. T had once told me ‘I was one of the good ones’ compared to my black and brown classmates. It was easier to disregard those moments than to confront them. I simply cannot describe the gut-wrenching feeling I felt as that childlike thread that had once sewn me securely to the fabric of my country was severed. I cried like a child for the loss of belonging that had grounded me.

Douglass-Lincoln Mural (1943)
Mural on Recorder of Deeds Building, Washington DC, depicting Frederick Douglass meeting Abraham Lincoln, painted by William Edouard Scott, 1943

My first reaction to this revelation was to shed all materiality of an American heritage to which I was no longer tethered. I began to identify as an African, abandoning that hyphen that never truly fit. I at once felt whole embracing a new, more authentic history. I turned my focus to the Black Diaspora and its unique past and wrote and produced an entire play to immerse myself and others in the stories that I had never learned about in school. In many ways, my experience of dealing with the past mirrors the major shifts now occurring in America and across the Western world. The resurfacing debate about race has resulted in commercial brands, sports teams, and even States trying to distance themselves from their sordid history. While some have dubbed these shifts corporate activism, the sentiment is a common reaction to dealing with a problematic history. We believe that if we can all at once shed the physical ties of the history in which our narrative has been unsettled, we can rectify a past that has left so many broken. This process of unlearning or confronting a wretched past is by no means unique to the United States, as European countries try to burn some of the uncomfortable iconography of their own histories. As statues across the West are defaced and hurled into the sea, there seems to be a widespread desire to divest ourselves from what were once considered the good old days.

This process of severance worked for me until I arrived in the UK in 2019 to pursue an MA in public history. In this new world, I was American, and my history was a valued asset in discussing race. During my time in England, I was struck by how much African American history was referenced. Our history was discussed in my courses through the slave narratives and the role of slavery in shaping American culture. Our figures were highlighted in the curriculum for secondary school students. About mid-way through my time in England, I began recognising a similar method of elision to the one to which I had been exposed at school, and I realised that outside of America, our history has often been used to discuss race from a comfortable distance. It is far easier to discuss the KKK South or the white backlash against the African American Civil Rights movement than to address the financial investments of the slave traders or the ribbon-tied racism that is still prevalent in the Europe. My narrative supplies a comfortable distance to discuss race without confronting the pervasive structures that continue to marginalize the black community in the UK. In conversations with my black and brown British friends and through my work with the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, the results of this method of dealing with the past seem very similar to those I had experienced. For the first time in over five years, my closest friend Alex and I had a conversation about how dominant my African American narrative had been for him as a London boy, a dominance that meant he could never truly feel whole and a part of his country. His narrative could never be properly explored if ‘Black history’ was so inextricably linked to ‘African American history’. His past was in a sense erased by mine. History has a cost.

Daisha Brabham at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

But what does this journey through various approaches to the past provide in the way of instruction for the public historian? Can we genuinely help in the current process of dealing with the past? Or are we solely fire starters who cause havoc and leave our public to grapple with flames? If the traditional approaches to uncomfortable pasts that I and others encountered at school have no substance, then what innovative approaches should we employ? To these questions, I can supply no concrete answers concerning the way forward. Many of the issues I am raising are not new or even unique to the profession. It often seems, however, that many of my colleagues feel no particular duty to contemplate them. What I do know is that none of us are free from or above the debate. There is no history that has no power. There is no aspect of our field that should remain untouched by this conversation.

So, where do we go from here? In the words Edward Baptist, the first place to start will be in asking the right questions and imagining a new way of doing and telling history. It is my belief that much of this work should focus on the classroom, an area often neglected by historians. If Mr. T had been armed with the proper educational tools, would we have covered slavery and not just the uniforms? If Alex could have learned about OWAAD in his secondary school, would he feel whole? Decolonisation must be a verb. It is a process of tearing down, but also a process of repositioning what we once thought was fixed and settled.

The murder of George Floyd was familiar. I opened the video reluctantly because I had seen it before. I had seen it when Tamir Rice was gunned down for having a toy gun. I had seen it when Freddy Gray was killed. I had felt it when 7-year-old Aiyanna Jones was shot for sleeping on her grandmother’s couch. I needed no reminders of what it means to be black in America, especially amid a pandemic in which my demographic had been disproportionately affected. I needed no rendition of the cost of my skin. But I still cried. I still thought of the reality of what it feels like. This was the America from which Mr. T, and I were running; the result of a tumultuous past, that left victims in its wake.

DB & Lincoln
Daisha Brabham contemplates the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

When I think about my revelation about Lincoln, it was at that moment that I had finally reached adulthood, at least in a historical sense. I had finally faced the reality of my past. Against the backdrop of a nation on fire, it is still unclear if my country has, less to act on that revelation. But this work is inevitable, whether it is carried out peacefully or in turmoil. A couple of months after my discovery of the real Lincoln, I went down to Washington DC to take in the new African American History Museum constructed to remind the public of the impact of the African American past. The museum is massive, with over four centuries worth of history and culture within its walls. A visit can easily last a day, if not more. It stands as a physical reminder that African Americans have always been tethered to the fabric of the country. We have always been present. It is the legacy my ancestors fought for. But it is also offers method through which we can refocus our lens to see a different narrative. A different America. The retelling of the past.

After touring through the galleries, I made my way down to the Lincoln Memorial. I stood under the great statue of the man, rather than the myth of my childhood. I stared at him for a long while, taking in the weight of his existence and the hundreds of people who had come to visit him that day. The Great Emancipator. Eventually, I smiled and whispered, “It is great to finally meet you Mr. Lincoln.”


Daisha Brabham is a former teacher from New Haven, Connecticut, currently enrolled on the MA in Public History programme at Royal Holloway, University of London.