No more dog biscuits: a new life for Ashurbanipal’s Library

Originally posted on British Museum blog:

Jonathan Taylor, Curator of cuneiform collections, British Museum

Visitors to Room 55, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 1500–539 BC will find a radically transformed display. Often the galleries struggle to match the impact of temporary exhibitions, but over the last year a team of curators, designers, interpretation officers, conservators, assistant collections managers and others have worked hard to breathe fresh life into the permanent displays. In the south-east corner of Room 55 sits case 8, otherwise known as ‘The Ashurbanipal Library Case’. It is a museum’s worst nightmare – a whole case full of small, brown lumps of mud (‘dog biscuits’ as a former Director was once heard to call them). Even worse – they are there because they’re covered with writing that no-one can read. In reality, they are one of the jewels of the British Museum collection, and among the most important archaeological discoveries ever made. These are clay…

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Cornelius Blewitt was a Gipsy: the end of his life in a Lincolnshire village in 1786

Originally posted on All Things Georgian:


In January 1786, in a small rural Lincolnshire village, an elderly gypsy died. Cornelius Blewitt was no ordinary gypsy though, he was a King of the Gypsies, and he was still remembered at the dawn of the 19th century. We think it is fitting that he is remembered once again now.

Cornelius was possibly born at Rochdale in Lancashire, baptized shortly afterwards at Davenham in Cheshire on the 26th February 1721, the son of Eliza Bluet, ‘a travailer‘ although at a baptism of one of his children he and his wife Phillis Boswell were described as being of Woolstone near Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. Wherever he started his days he ended them at Thurlby-by-Bourne in southern Lincolnshire, where he was buried on the 7th January 1786, the burial register stating his age as 66 years.


St Firmin’s Church, Thurlby-by-Bourne

Another gypsy also lies in the…

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Witness to Waterloo: A Soldier’s First-Hand Account of the Battle

Originally posted on John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog:

Sandra Cruise, one of our archive volunteers, writes:

The bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, fought on 18 June 1815, affords the ideal opportunity to promote one of our recent acquisitions: the manuscript journal of a cavalryman in the Scots Greys (now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards), who fought in the decisive battle which finally ended the dominance of Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe.

Scotland_Forever!Scotland Forever! Lady Elizabeth Butler’s dramatic (if implausible) depiction of the Scots Greys’ famous charge at Waterloo. Wikimedia image.

The journal is of great value to researchers, as it provides a detailed description of a soldier’s life during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, and includes a lengthy and graphic account of the battle and its aftermath. It covers the years from c.1799 until 1825, when the author finally left military service.

The anonymous autobiographical account is handwritten in a bound journal, compiled at an unspecified date. The soldier’s identity…

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The Life/Death-Writing of Mary Watts: a diary record of the demise of ‘England’s Michelangelo’

Originally posted on The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates:

Lucy Ella Rose has recently completed her PhD in English Literature – titled ‘Women in Nineteenth-Century Creative Partnerships: the “Significant Other”’ – at the University of Surrey. As part of her research, she worked on the Mary Watts archive and transcribed several of Mary’s diaries at Watts Gallery in Surrey. Watts Gallery is planning to publish a selection from the diaries in the near future (see

Hope Hope

Death is at once familiar as an inevitable event and universal condition of humankind, and yet unfamiliar as a largely unknowable experience; shrouded in mystery, it has always inspired artists and writers. Victorian literature, correspondence and diaries reveal an especially deep preoccupation with death due partly to a shorter life expectancy, high infant mortality rate and dominant Christian culture. The diaries of the pioneering professional Victorian woman artist and Liberty’s designer Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) are no exception. However, they are unique and…

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Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast…

Originally posted on The Printshop Window:


James Gillray, Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast, Published by S.W. Fores 29th May 1787

If the exit polls in today’s general election are anything to go by then the title of this print by James Gillray is likely to be a prophetic summary of the state of British politics in the week ahead. Of course the image itself was never intended as a satire on parliamentary coalitions; these were thoroughly commonplace affairs in the eighteenth-century, with all governments being coalitions of different factions held together by a combination of patronage (read: bribery), ideology, tradition, family connections and good old self-interest. The term coalition is used here to refer refer to the brief reconciliation between the King and Queen and the Prince of Wales which took place in the spring of 1787, after the Prince agreed to denounce his secret marriage to Maria Fitzherbert in exchange for a…

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Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie

Originally posted on All Things Georgian:

Roll Up! Roll Up! Today we invite our readers to visit Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change and also touring the country, so all can join in.  All manner of incredible and rare animals, some never seen before. And all for just one shilling.

Come on in, and prepare to be amazed . . .

Courtesy of the British Museum, 1799 Courtesy of the British Museum, 1799


Whatever deserves the Epithet of RARE, must certainly be worthy the Attention of the Curious.

JUST Arriv’d from the ISLAND of JAVA, in the East-Indies, and ALIVE, one of the greatest Rarities ever brought to Europe in the Age or Memory of Man,


It is described by the late Dr. Goldsmith as follows, viz. The Head inspires some Degree of Terror like a Warrior; it has the Eye of a Lion, the Defence of a Porcupine, and the Swiftness of a Courser; but…

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The ‘Petticoat Duellists’ of 1792

Originally posted on All Things Georgian:

The Petticoat Duellists

In 1792 the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration (shown above), of two female petticoat duellists. The two participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone.

The two ladies were taking tea when Mrs. Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”

Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”

Mrs. Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”

Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”

Mrs. Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He…

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