Promiscuous Bathing at Margate: Victorian Outrage Over Indecency at the Public Beach – Mimi Matthews

The Harbor, Margate, England, 1890-1900. (Library of Congress)

“Indecency among the Margate Bathers comes round as regularly as the season itself.” The Era, 23 July 1865. In Victorian England, it was generally believed that the sexes should be kept apart when …

Source: Promiscuous Bathing at Margate: Victorian Outrage Over Indecency at the Public Beach – Mimi Matthews

Overzealous Research Lands Cross-Dressing Victorian Writer in the Dock – Mimi Matthews

Just before midnight on June 25, 1891, a police detective encountered two women strolling arm-in-arm down Regent Street.  One of the women struck him as being rather odd in appearance.  He approach…

Source: Overzealous Research Lands Cross-Dressing Victorian Writer in the Dock – Mimi Matthews

When Australian women were accidentally given the vote. | In Times Gone By…

Australian suffragettes in London in 1911

In the nineteenth century, in the state of Victoria in Australia, the Electoral Act 1863 was passed. According to the act, “all persons” who ow…

Source: When Australian women were accidentally given the vote. | In Times Gone By…

English Historical Fiction Authors: A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Hair Care

Since biblical times, a woman’s hair has been known as her crowning glory.  This was never more true than in the Victorian era – a span of years during which thick, glossy hair was one of the primary measures of a lady’s beauty.  But how did our 19th century female forebears maintain long, luxurious hair without the aid of special shampoos, crème rinses, and styling treatments?  And how did they deal with hair-related complaints such as an oily scalp, dry, brittle tresses, or premature greyness?

To start with, shampoo as we know it today did not exist during the 19th century.  In fact, the word shampoo meant something quite different to the Victorians.  Derived from the Hindi word champo, it was an Indian technique of pressing or…

Source: English Historical Fiction Authors: A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Hair Care

How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion

The long, trailing skirts of the Victorian period eventually fell out of favor when they were thought to harbor tuberculosis microbes. (via Wikicommons)

The deadly disease—and later efforts to control it—influenced trends for decades…

Source: How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion

The 1884 Colchester Earthquake | In Times Gone By…

The back of the Ship at Launch pub in Wivenhoe. On the 22nd of April, 1884 an earthquake hit Colchester, England. The disaster occurred at 9:18am. The earthquake measured 4.6 on the Richter scale…

Source: The 1884 Colchester Earthquake | In Times Gone By…

The 1850s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade | Mimi Matthews

The 1850s ushered in a decade of bright colors, exotic fabrics, and womanly curves.  Gone were the restrictive Gothic gowns of the 1840s.  In their place were distinctively feminine frocks with flowing, pagoda-style sleeves and impossibly full skirts supported by the newly introduced wire cage crinoline.  This was a decade during which fashion was influenced by the Crimean War, the emergence of the modern sewing machine, and the increasing…

Source: The 1850s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade | Mimi Matthews

The Bibighar Massacre: The Darkest Days of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 | Mimi Matthews

Monument erected at Cawnpore at the Site of the Bibighar Well. (Image via Leiden University)

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began on May 10th with a small-scale mutiny of sepoys in the town of Meerut, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.  Sepoys were the native, Indian soldiers who served in the army of the British East India Company.  This initial rebellion against British rule sparked similar uprisings throughout India.  Amongst these, none had such horrifyingly tragic results as the June 1857 sepoy mutiny in the town of Cawnpore (now Kanpur), which culminated with the senseless, mass killing of hundreds of British women and children who had been confined inside a small house known as the Bibighar.

(*Warning: This article contains some graphic details of the 1857 Bibighar Massacre and aftermath.  If such details might disturb you, I encourage you to skip this post.)

Major General Sir Hugh Wheeler was the British commander at Cawnpore at the time of the mutiny.  When the Sepoys besieged the town, he expected…

Source: The Bibighar Massacre: The Darkest Days of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 | Mimi Matthews

Authentic Victorian Christmas Pudding | Mimi Matthews

“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.” A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843.

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball, etching by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843.

A 19th century Christmas feast would not be complete without a Christmas pudding. Comprised of dried fruit, suet, egg, flour, and other basic ingredients, it was a popular holiday dish in both the Regency and Victorian eras.  Naturally, there are many historical recipes available for such an old favorite, but when looking for the simplest, and the best, you need search no further than…

Source: Authentic Victorian Christmas Pudding | Mimi Matthews

The 1820s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

There were many important, transitional years for women’s fashion during the 19thcentury.  For example, in a single decade sleeves might transform from slender and straight to enormous gigot or leg o’mutton style sleeves.  While skirts which began a decade flowing loose around the legs might end the decade standing several feet wide atop a crinoline.  In my previous post on the evolution of 19th century gowns (available HERE), I gave a brief, decade-by-decade visual overview of the ever-changing silhouettes of women’s silk dresses in the 1800s.  For the transitional years, however, a single image can never sum up an entire decade.  With that in mind, I bring you the first in a series of visual fashion guides to those decades of the 19th century during which women’s fashion underwent the most extreme change.

I begin with the 1820s, a decade which stood between the Regency era (1811-1820) and the Victorian era (1837-1901).  This decade is notable in fashion as providing a bridge between the classic, high-waisted Empire styles of the early 19th century and the large…

Source: The 1820s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

dick-turpin-penny-dreadful-1866-1868

Black Bess or The Knight of the Road, featuring Dick Turpin, 1866-1868.

The 1840s ushered in an era of luridly illustrated gothic tales which were marketed to a working-class Victorian audience.  These stories, told in installments and printed on inexpensive pulp paper, were originally only eight pages long and sold for just a penny – giving rise to the term “penny bloods” or “penny dreadfuls.”  With titles such as Varney the Vampire and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, these types of publications were wildly popular, especially with young male readers, and it was not long before the Victorian public began to make a connection between various juvenile crimes and misdemeanors and the consumption of this (allegedly) depraved material.

By the 1880s, concern over penny dreadfuls leading children into lives of crime and vice sparked what theLongman Companion to Victorian Fiction describes as a “middle-class moral panic.”  Many urged that the publication and consumption of penny dreadfuls be…

Source: Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

The Shocking Death of Victorian Servant Eliza Bollends

Mimi Matthews

A Scullery Maid at Work by Charles Joseph Grips, 1866.A Scullery Maid at Work by Charles Joseph Grips, 1866.

Many historical novels feature a serving girl who has gotten herself into “trouble.”  In fiction, the understanding mistress of the house is quick to intervene and, in short order, the serving girl’s future is secured to everyone’s satisfaction.  In reality, female servants of the 19th century were expected to preserve their reputations in order to maintain genteel employment.  The character of one’s servants was a reflection on the house as a whole.  To that end, no respectable Victorian lady wanted a light-skirt for a housemaid or a wanton for a cook, and many mistresses strictly forbade male callers or “hangers on.” 

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A Victorian Halloween Party

Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise, 1833.

Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise, 1833.

Despite their reputation for straight-laced sobriety, the Victorians celebrated Halloween with great enthusiasm – and often with outright abandon.  Victorian Halloween parties were filled with fun, games, and spooky rituals, some of which still feature at Halloween parties today.  Many of the games had origins in pagan religion or medieval superstition.  Others were merely a means of making merry with one’s friends.  Regardless, Halloween parties of the 19th century were an occasion for indulging in what author Hugh Miller describes in his 1876 book Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland as:

“….a multitude of wild mischievous games which were tolerated at no other season.”

For an example of a Victorian Halloween party, we need look no further than Queen Victoria herself.  In 1876, the queen, along with Princess Beatrice and the Marchioness of Ely, celebrated Halloween at…

Source: A Victorian Halloween Party

On this day: the Cataraqui sank in 1845

In Times Gone By...

Cataraqui_wreck.The 4th of August, 1845 was the date of the deadliest ship sinking in Australia’s history. The British barque Cataraqui

The Wreck

The 4th of August, 1845 was the date of the deadliest ship sinking in Australia’s history.

The British barque Cataraqui (also known as Cataraque) was cast onto jagged rocks and sank of the south-west coast of Bass Strait.

The ship had departed from Liverpool, England and was heading to Melbourne, Australia with 410 people (369 emigrants and 41 crew) on board. 400 people died in the sinking.

Before the sinking one crew member had already been lost overboard, five babies had been born and six others had died.

After the sinking, eight crew members survived by clinging to wreckage and one passenger, a man named Solomon Brown also survived.

The nine survivors were stranded on King Island for five weeks until being rescued.

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