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In the Spotlight

Spotlight highlights 2013-2014

Earlier issues of In the Spotlight are available below:


John Harrison and the invention of the chronometer

by Lianne Smith, Archives Services Manager (User Services) King's College London Archives

In July 1714, the British Government passed the Longitude Act, which saw the establishment of a prize of up to £20,000 offered to any individual who could invent a reliable and accurate method to determine the precise location of a ship’s longitude.

To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Act, this month’s Spotlight focuses on a notebook of measurements recorded in 1772 at the Royal Observatory, Kew, during a test of the accuracy of the H5 chronometer designed by the instrument maker John Harrison. This notebook, from the King George III museum collection  in the College Archives, is currently on loan to the National Maritime Museum where it features in their exhibition, Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude, open from 11 July 2014 until 4 January 2015.

Opening of 1772 notebook from George 3 museum showing tests on John Harrison H5 chronometerThe problem of determining longitude had proven troublesome for some time. As people made long voyages over oceans, they needed ways of determining where they were. Whereas determining latitude was comparatively easy and could be calculated by the positioning of the sun, determining longitude was far more difficult – methods available to early ocean navigators were inaccurate, particularly on long voyages when land could not be sighted for long periods. The results of this could be catastrophic – ships could be wrecked, or run out of supplies leading to the starvation of those on board.

In 1730 John Harrison, a self educated clockmaker and carpenter, designed a marine clock. Born in Foulby, Yorkshire, and raised in Barrow upon Humber, Lincolnshire, he travelled to London to seek funding, which he received from the eminent clockmaker George Graham, and by 1736 had constructed his first chronometer, known as H1. This was presented to the Board of Longitude, who considered the design worthy of a sea trial, after which they granted Harrison funding to further develop the design.

Detail of opening of 1772 notebook from George 3 museum showing signature of Stephen DemainbrayBy 1750, Harrison had developed the second and third versions of his chronometer, the H2 and H3, but had, by then, decided that a watch sized timekeeper would be both more accurate and more practical.

Harrison’s first ‘sea watch’, or the H4, was completed in 1761, and was tested on voyages to Jamaica and Barbados. Despite the watch performing better than required on both journeys, it was not passed by the Board of Longitude.

Photograph of H5 chronometer designed by John Harrison 1772 from Wikipedia CommonsHarrison, aggrieved by this, and having already started developing the H5, appealed to King George III, who agreed to the testing of the H5 at the Royal Observatory in Kew between May and July 1772. Daily observations noted by Stephen Demainbray, Superintendent of the King's Observatory, found Harrison’s H5 chronometer to be accurate to within one third of a second per day, but the Board of Longitude refused to recognise this trial.

The King advised Harrison to petition Parliament for the full prize, and threatened to intervene himself on Harrison’s behalf. Finally in 1773, following a further Act of Parliament the now 80 year old Harrison was awarded a final settlement of £8,750, which combined with the earlier sums paid to him came to a total of more than £20,000.

John Harrison died three years later, reputedly on his 83rd birthday, 24 March 1776, and was buried at St John’s Church, Hampstead. A blue plaque dedicated to Harrison can be found at the site of his home in Red Lion Square in London, and a memorial tablet to Harrison was unveiled in Westminster Abbey in 2006.

Further information:

Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 11 July 2014-4 January 2015

‘John Harrison’ by Andrew King, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

‘John Harrison and the Longitude Problem’, National Maritime Museum website:


Three perspectives of D-Day

by Lianne Smith, Archives Services Manager (User Services) King's College London Archives

June 6th marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the first day of the Allied invasion of France during the Second World War, which was a turning point in the conflict that led to the victory of the Allied forces a year later. This month's spotlight looks at three accounts from the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.

Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke

D-day extract from Alanbrooke diary 6 Jun 1944

As Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and Sir Winston Churchill's senior military advisor, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, later Lord Alanbrooke, was a key figure in the planning of the operation. Brooke's diary entry from the night before the operation reveals his anxiety:

“It is very hard to believe that in a few hours the cross Channel invasion starts! I am very uneasy about the whole operation. At the best it will fall so very very short of the expectation of the bulk of the people, namely all those who know nothing of its difficulties. At the worst it may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war. I wish to God it were safely over.”

The apprehension in Brooke’s tone did not abate over the coming weeks as he awaited news of the operation so long in planning.

Chester Wilmot

Broadcast transcript from D-day parachute plane by Chester WilmotBetween 1.30am and 3.30am on 6 June 1944 Australian war correspondent Chester Wilmot, who reported for the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during World War Two, recorded an account on a telediphone (an early sound recording system) from a glider bound for France. Extracts from the transcript of this recording can be read below:

“The first wave of the assaulting troops have already landed in France. They are the Paratroops... I watched the first of the Paratroops leave. And we watched them with considerable personal interest because on their seizing of the grounds behind enemy lines, we depend for the landing of these gliders which form the second wave of the assault forces... From where I am, standing between the two pilots of this glider, I can see the navigation lights of the tug in front of us... looking back down the glider there are seated... twenty six officers and men. All laden up with equipment so heavily that they can hardly walk. But they’ve got to carry with them the means by which they can fight the moment they land... The men who are sitting on the benches in the back of the glider are no doubt wondering whether the parachutists have succeeded in seizing the ground on which we’re going to land... What kind of a welcome we’ll get I don’t know. We can only wait and see.”

The next part of the recording follows in the transcript, but at the time was banned by the censor:

“...All around us from all over the coast, ack-ack fire is going up, away to the right and away off to the left... something very heavy burst just above us, well above us then and brilliantly lit the cockpit... It’s hard to tell whether the light we can see at the moment are the lights of the landing zone, or the light sent up by enemy... or even from ack-ack...”

The recording ended here because the glider had been hit by flak and had to make an emergency landing.

Wilmot survived this experience, and continued to report for the BBC for the rest of World War Two, even being present to report on the surrender of the German high command. After the war he wrote a well-received book about World War Two, The Struggle for Europe, published in 1952, shortly before his untimely death in a plane crash in January 1954.

Lance Corporal C Morris

D-day amphibious landing account manuscript by Lance Corporal C MorrisThe final account is from Lance Corporal C Morris, who served in WW2 with No 3 troop, 6 Commando and took part in the amphibious assault. He described his experiences of the day in his unpublished memoir. His detailed report is extremely evocative, giving a clear sense of what he lived through that day.

His entry for 6 June 1944 begins with a description of the conditions on his cross Channel passage:

“...a regular storm had broken out, our boat instead of just tossing and rolling about, was being lifted clean out of the water and landing back with a dull thud that shook every beam and threw all its occupants from one side to the other, making further sleep an impossibility.... We tried to have a peep over the hatch to see if we could spot anything but the air was thick with cordite and smoke...”

Morris described the scene as the men prepared to disembark from the vessel:

“...Everyone was now quiet and we kept looking at each other and making efforts to smile, but it was all very forced and tense though we all knew that we should be all right once we started to land and had something to occupy our minds; more than one sent up a few quick prayers to him above...”

He then describes what happened as they began their assault:

“...shells were making large splashes in the water as they fell around us... we then began to wade as hard as we could, the water was now chest high and it was very hard going with all this kit on, the water having filled our rucksacks... soon we began to reach shallower water and we felt more of a target and wished we were back in deep water again... All around us was a mass of figures bobbing up and down, also some who that didn’t bob, but just sagged and were tossed around by the waves, some had already paid the price...”

Morris survived D-Day, and indeed the rest of the Second World War. His account continues, describing the part he played right up to V E Day.


Diary of Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, 5 June 1944 [ref: Alanbrooke 5/1/9]

Transcript of Chester Wilmot’s report from a glider, June 1944 [ref: Liddell Hart 15/15/34]

Memoir, ‘United we conquered or the story of a commando soldier’ by Lance Corporal C Morris [ref: Mills-Roberts 3/18]

Please note, any incorrect spellings found in the original texts have been corrected in the extracts given above.


The war of the future

Title page of Bloch's La guerre.Jan Bloch. La guerre: traduction de l’ouvrage russe “La guerre future, aux points de vue technique, économique et politique.” Paris: Guillaumin, 1898 [Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives U102 B598]

Brandon High, Special Collections Cataloguer

This month’s 'In the spotlight' focuses on a prophetic work on future war which was extremely widely read before the First World War. This book featured in the 2014 Weston Room exhibition, 1914-18: the most stupendous struggle. It was the personal copy of the renowned military historian and thinker Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970). 

Jan Bloch: life and career 

The autodidact polymath Jan (or Ivan) Bloch (1836-1902), who was born to a poor Jewish family in Radom, Poland, made his fortune as a railway promoter in Tsarist Russia. He achieved an international prominence which, for a Jew in the Russian Empire in the age of  the pogroms, was remarkable. 

Turkish guards at sentry posts during Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8.

Although he had no military experience (except as a close observer of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8), his experience as an entrepreneur and engineer of railways led him to a fascination with warfare. This arose for two reasons. Railways had become crucial for military transportation and logistics by the middle of the 19th century. In Tsarist Russia, with its imperialist designs on the Caucasus and Central Asia, and with its unruly Polish and Baltic possessions, this was as true as anywhere else. Secondly, the task of constructing and managing railways, often to exacting military specifications, required military-like discipline and planning.

As Bloch busied himself with his prolific writings on political economy (he wrote volumes on Russian railways, and on credit and public finance), it must have occurred to him that, just as railways mimicked the military, so warfare was becoming profoundly affected by industrialisation, not just because new technologies of warfare were coming thick and fast, but also because acceleration in killing power would of necessity bring about the conscription of vast numbers, which would in turn entail the mobilisation of an entire society’s economic resources.

Jan Bloch’s military theory

Although Bloch’s ‘railway university’ had brought him to this realisation, when he investigated the existing literature on military science, he found that nobody else had had this insight. So, using his considerable knowledge as a self-educated economist and sociologist, he wrote what would now be called an ‘interdisciplinary’ study, which would embrace not only military tactics and strategy (in the details of which Bloch had, through reading, interviews and laboratory experiments become expert), but also an exhaustive audit of developed societies’ economic and social capacities to wage war. 

Naval officers on a ship firing the cannon-revolver Hotchkiss.The kernel of Bloch’s argument was that any future war would be irrational, because technological improvements (the greatly increased accuracy and efficiency of firepower; smokeless gunpowder; barbed wire, and much else) had made the battlefield unmanageable, and had made the offensive impossible, becausedefending armies would have so many means at their disposal to repel attacks. In addition, the casualties which could be inflicted on the attacking army would be so high as to compel the mobilisation of vast numbers, often of inferior quality. The consequent huge scale of the battlefield, together with the defending army’s ability to confuse the attacker, would make battlefield communications impossible, and lead to victory for neither side. 

Dimensions of a naval warship compared to those of houses in Broadway, New York.

But that was not the only problem. Total war would enforce such strains on public finance and credit, agriculture and industry, and crucially on supply and transportation, not to mention the reduced capacity for endurance and self-sacrifice of urban civilisation, that war would inevitably lead to social revolution (although, uncharacteristically, he was rather optimistic about Russia’s ability to avoid this outcome). Faced with the possibility of such imminent self-immolation, Europe’s ruling classes would draw back from the brink (so Bloch hoped), convinced by his barrage of statistics and graphs.

La guerre future: controversy and influence

The result was a six-volume work which was first published in Russian in 1898, quickly followed by translations in varying numbers of volumes in French, German, Polish and English. 

As the confidant of three Tsars (he has been credited with persuading Tsar Nicholas II to convene the abortive Hague Peace Conference in 1899), Bloch hardly lacked opportunities for publicity, and he enjoyed a wide readership. Intellectuals with an interest in these matters (such as HG Wells) read him, as did Lenin, who had a copy of Bloch’s book in his private library in the Kremlin. Soldiers also read him. They recognised the book’s qualities and the problems to which it pointed. It was, in the words of the military historian Sir Michael Howard, ‘the first work of modern operational analysis, and nothing written since has equalled it for its combination of rigour and scope.’ However, they did not agree with him. Soldiers pointed to Japanese tactics in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 as proof of the relevance of the offensive (although, generally, European commanders did not attempt to replicate Japanese tactics in the First World War, because they contradicted European doctrine). 

For this reason, the military high commands in Europe had all persuaded themselves, by the eve of the First World War, that a future war would not be prolonged. They also thought that the ‘moral fibre’ of soldiers would give the advantage to attacking armies, although, curiously enough, they agreed with Bloch about the unwillingness of urban civilian populations to fight and their lack of capacity for self-sacrifice. 

Naval cannon tied to the deck of a ship during a storm.When war happened, both Bloch and his military critics were proved partly wrong. Soldiers and civilians coped with varying degrees of privation for longer than anybody thought they could. Bloch’s greatest error may, as an economist, have been to underestimate the significance of non-economic motives in human behaviour, as well as modish ideas such as Social Darwinism, or more widespread adherence to nationalism, or fatalistic deference to authority, which made war acceptable, explicable and endurable to many.

Contemporary military historians such as Hew Strachan, John Keegan and Michael Howard have used Bloch’s framework of analysis to explain the difficulties of fighting the First World War. Regardless of whether commanders were incompetent, callous, self-deluded or not, they were very constrained by the extremely advanced nature of  firepower technologies, by the primitive nature of telephony and radio communications, and by the late arrival of the tank and aeroplane, to fight battles which they found almost impossible to manage. (In his short story, The land ironclads, first published in 1903, which refers explicitly to Bloch, HG Wells makes his futuristic fantasy of a tank the agent of breaking the deadlock of the battlefield which Bloch had predicted). In this sense, Bloch has become the posthumous obituarist of the birth-pangs of total war.     

Mobile bakery used by the German army during manoeuvres.


Correlli Barnett. Britain and her army, 1509-1970: a military, political and social survey. London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1970

IS [i.e. Jan] Bloch. Is war now impossible?: being an abridgement of the War of the Future in its technical, economic and political relations. Aldershot: Gregg Revivals in association with the Department of War Studies King’s College London, 1991

Brian Bond. War and society in Europe, 1870-1970. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998 [1984]

Roger Chickering, Dennis Showalter and Hans van de Ven. The Cambridge history of War. Vol. 4. War and the modern world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012

David French. British strategic and economic planning, 1905-15. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1982

Azar Gat. A history of military thought: from the Enlightenment to the Cold War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001

Michael Howard. The First World War: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

Michael Howard. War in European history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

Michael Howard. ‘Men against fire: the doctrine of the offensive in 1914’[essay on Jan Bloch] in his The lessons of history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991

Michael Howard. War and the liberal conscience. London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1978

James Joll. The origins of the First World War. London and New York: Longman, 1992 [1984]

John Keegan. The First World War. London: Hutchinson, 1998

Paul Kennedy (ed.) The war plans of the great powers. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979

Alan Kramer. Dynamic of destruction: culture and mass killing in the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007

Arno J Mayer. The persistence of the old regime: Europe to the Great War. London: Croom Helm, 1981

Gwyn Prins and Hylke Tromp (eds.) The future of war. The Hague, Boston and London: Kluwer Law international, 2000 [Includes essays on Jan Bloch by Peter van den Dungen, Andrzej Werner and Jutta Birmele]. 

Hew Strachan. The First World War: a new illustrated history. London: New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003  

Hew Strachan  (ed.) The Oxford illustrated history of the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998

Charles Townshend (ed.) The Oxford history of  modern war. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2000

THE Travers. ‘Technology, tactics and morale: Jean de Bloch, the Boer war, and British military theory’, Journal of Modern History, 51:2, (1879), 264-286

Barbara Tuchman. The proud tower: a portrait of the world before the war, 1890-1914. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966 [Includes chapter on Jan Bloch and the Hague Peace Conference of 1899]

Peter van den Dungen. A bibliography of the pacifist writings of Jean de Bloch. London: Housmans, 1977

HG Wells. ‘The land ironclads’, in: John Hammond (ed.) The complete short stories of HG Wells. London: JM Dent, 1998


Michael Faraday and Lord Kelvin: their contributions to submarine telegraphy

by Brandon High, Special Collections Cataloguer

Michael Faraday. On the physical character of the lines of magnetic force. London?: s.n., 1852 [Wheatstone Collection: Pamph. Box QC753 FAR]

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). A mathematical theory of magnetism. London: printed by Richard Taylor, 1851 [Wheatstone Collection: Pamph. Box QC753 THO]


This month’s ‘In the spotlight’ focuses on the contributions which were made by Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and William Thomson (1824-1907), better known as Lord Kelvin, to the science and technology of telegraphy. These pamphlets are included in the Scrambled messages project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, during which the pamphlets of the physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-75) in the Foyle Special Collections Library and his papers in Archives will be catalogued.

Faraday and Thomson built on the achievements of Wheatstone, who, with his business partner, William Fothergill Cooke, took out the first British patent for the electric telegraph in 1837. These two scientific papers from Wheatstone’s personal library, of which our copies bear the inscriptions of both Faraday and Thomson, pertain directly to the technical difficulties which had to be overcome in order to make submarine telegraphy possible. As Faraday, Wheatstone and Thomson were fellows of the Royal Society, they were aware of each other’s ongoing research.    

Detail from pamphlet by Michael Faraday showing inscription in ink from the author to Sir Charles Wheatstone.

Above: Detail from Faraday's pamphlet showing the author's inscription to Sir Charles Wheatstone.

Below: A detail from Thomson's pamphlet signed 'From the author.'

Detail from a pamphlet by William Thomson showing inscription in ink on cover: 'From the Author.'


The Victorians’ preoccupation with telegraphy 

For the Victorians, the telegraph, in addition to its many practical uses, epitomised humanity’s mastery not only of its visible physical environment but of nature itself, whose forces were being disclosed by scientists such as Faraday. For a society which was in love with the ever expanding possibilities of mobility and communication afforded by industrialisation, the telegraph offered all the advantages conferred by technological advance with (apparently) none of its customary environmental drawbacks. 

Photograph of Sir Charles Wheatstone (King's College London Archives K/PH2/2/49/8)

By the time of Wheatstone and Cooke’s patent Britain had already experienced its first industrial revolution and was at the height of its imperial power. The telegraph came at the right moment for a polity whose financial and shipping transactions extended globally, whose imperial reach needed reliable flows of information and commands, and whose often unruly populace, whose propensity to rioting was feared, needed (from the perspective of its ruling circles) surveillance and discipline.

Right: Photograph of Sir Charles Wheatstone [King’s College London Archives K/PH2/2/49/8] 

In 1837, Sir Charles Wheatstone reported to Cooke, ‘that Mr. [Edwin] Chadwick, the poor-law commissioner, who is also one of the commissioners for reporting on the establishment of a general police, is very much taken with the electrical telegraph, and intends in the forthcoming report to recommend its adoption by the government’ (there are two items in the Wheatstone Collection which bear Chadwick’s inscription). The British state reserved to itself the power to take over the telegraph network in a national ‘emergency’, which it did during the Chartist uprising of 1848, and after 1870 the telegraph network was owned by the Post Office. 

For a society which was in love with the spectacles afforded by exhibitions and demonstrations of new-fangled technologies and gadgets of all kinds, as the historians Richard Altick and Iwan Rhys Morus have shown, the telegraph was another exciting manifestation of the powers of electromagnetism (the manipulation of an electric current so that it creates a magnetic field). 

But the telegraph also held out the promise of something else: the radical alteration of humanity’s relationship with space and time. This was no utopian ideal, but regarded by practical people as not only practicable but essential. The expanding network of railways could not work without compatible timetables. 

Until 1850 Britain was divided into different time zones; the operations of railways and telegraphs demanded that they be standardised in one time zone. This problem was solved in 1850 by the advent of Greenwich Mean Time, the observatory at Greenwich using the telegraph network to send time signals. GMT became the global standard in 1884, when telegraphy was encompassing the globe.

If the telegraph was regarded as an invaluable tool in the standardisation and disciplining of human society, the metaphor which was often deployed by contemporaries to describe the telegraph network was that of electrical impulses sent through the central nervous system. As the historian of science, Patricia Fara, has written: 

Victorian imperialists enthused that the telegraphic network resembled a giant nervous system that connected the brain of London to remote regions like the sensitive tips of a starfish’s limbs feeling out sources of food.

This metaphor was not accidental. From approximately 1850, phrenology (a popular pseudoscientific theory which purported to relate mental development and faculties to the external configuration of the skull) became increasingly discredited among scientists.

At the same time, increasing knowledge of the workings of the nervous system led to an awareness of the necessity of mental commands being instantaneously transmitted by the nervous system so that the human organism could function properly, and that much of this happened without conscious human volition. Precisely the same process had to happen (so it occurred to contemporaries) for telegraphy to function without mishap. 

The transformation of physics in the 19th century

At the same time as society was becoming ever more aware of time and the necessity of not ‘wasting’ it , so natural philosophy (or physics, as it was coming to be called) drew attention to the necessity of not wasting energy. Victorians were used to this idea, as the dominant tradition of political economy, heavily influenced also by the mathematician Thomas Malthus, also emphasised the importance of scarcity. 

Prominent natural philosophers, such as James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) and Thomson himself, whose academic background was in the mathematics curriculum of Cambridge University, used their mathematical training to measure the precise units of energy which were needed to transmit messages through submarine cables. In so doing, they transformed physics into a mathematical discipline, so much so that Faraday complained to Thomson about the difficulty of comprehending Thomson’s papers. 

The term ‘scientist’ had been coined by Faraday's friend, the pioneering  historian and philosopher of science, William Whewell, in 1833 to denote the professionalisation of the natural sciences, to show that it was no longer the preserve of either the gentleman amateur or the aspiring instrument maker, and to recognise that its language was becoming increasingly specialised.

The transformation of physics in the 19th century reflects this wider change in the nature of science, and goes far beyond the absence of mathematical equations in Faraday’s paper and their ubiquity in Thomson’s. In so doing, physics may have become more ‘elitist’, but because it had become more exclusive and intellectually demanding, it was better able to assist society in practical ways, which would affect not only telegraphy, but also the development of more accurate navigational instruments.

As a result of this transformation, and the consequent connections with industrial development, the modern laboratory was invented: Lord Kelvin’s laboratory at Glasgow University was the prototype. 

The necessity of submarine telegraphy 

Pictorial green cloth binding from 'Submarine telegraphs' by Charles Bright, with text lettered in gold.British imperial administration increasingly depended, as the 19th century progressed, on submarine telegraphy. As the diplomatic historian Paul Kennedy has pointed out, imperial planners were preoccupied with constructing a dense network of telegraph routes which would not touch the territory of potential wartime enemies, and which, because of its very density and because of British naval mastery, would be extremely difficult for any enemy to disconnect. That they succeeded is demonstrated by the largely unimpeded operation of British submarine telegraphy during the First World War. 

Right: Pictorial cloth binding from Submarine telegraphs  by Charles Bright . London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1898 [FCO Historical Collection TK5605 BRI]   

The British state subsidised the imperial telegraph network heavily, and sometimes directly owned it. The British monopoly of the insulating material for submarine cables, gutta percha, which was derived from a species of tree in Malaya, also helped, at least until the supply was exhausted by the end of the 19th century. 

Overhead telegraphs were common on the Continent until the 1870s, so British engineers and scientists had to confront the problem of submarine telegraphy using their own solutions. Here the Victorian preoccupation with the promise of telegraphy and the mathematical turn in 19th century physics came together.

Wood engraving depicting two females winged figures on a seabed shaking hands and holding a branch of leaves, entitled 'Effect of the submarine telegraph; or, Peace and Good-will between England and France.'

Above: Wood engraving entitled 'Effects of the submarine telegraphy; or, Peace and good-will between England and France'. From Submarine telegraphs by Charles Bright . London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1898.

Faraday, Thomson and the solution to the problem of submarine telegraphy  

Faraday had helped to make telegraphy possible through his discoveries in electromagnetism in the 1820s and 1830s. During this work, he had made a number of observations concerning the conductivity of electric charges which were dismissed at the time but which were by the late 1850s found to be germane to the problems of submarine telegraphy. 

The specific problem, which had been observed on underground as well as undersea cables, was that of retardation of signals. If too many signals were sent out at too high a rate, the successive pulses became an illegible blur. According to Faraday, the conduction of a current was always preceded by the induction of a state of strain in the surrounding insulating dielectric (the gutta percha) and the resultant storage of a certain amount of charge. 

Title page of William Thomson's pamphlet 'A mathematical theory of magnetism.'

In the case of overhead telegraph lines, the process took place too rapidly for it to be noticed. With a long cable, an enormous amount of charge could be stored, because of a thin layer of insulation separating the copper conductor from the surrounding damp earth or seawater. Induction could happen only after a long time, which caused the retardation and smoothing out of the signals. Induction caused by the gutta percha was connected to the conduction in the copper. 

This was the genesis of what later became known as magnetic field theory, and was developed and refined in mathematically precise ways by Thomson and by Maxwell, as Thomson’s pamphlet shows.

Above right: Title page of William Thomson's pamphlet A mathematical theory of magnetism.

Thomson subjected the signal distortion along telegraph lines to precise mathematical calculations, and devised engineering solutions, which assisted greatly in the laying and successful use of the Atlantic cable in 1866. Thomson’s mirror galvanometer recorder, in which the movements of a magnetised needle were magnified by the action of a beam of light falling on to a mirror suspended in its supporting wire, could detect even very weak currents. Because the weight of this instrument’s moving parts was so light, it had unprecedented sensitivity and quickness of response. Physics and telegraphy engineering had engendered a virtuous circle of technological innovation and scientific discovery. 

Reproduction of a painting by Henry Clifford depicting a large steamship and rowing boats at night, entitled 'Recovery of 1865 Atlantic cable, by S.S. "Great Eastern."'

Right:  Reproduction of a painting by Henry Clifford entitled 'Recovery of 1865 Atlantic cable, by S.S. Great Eastern.' From Submarine telegraphs  by Charles Bright. London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1898.


  • Richard Altick. The shows of London. Cambridge, Mass : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978
  • KG Beauchamp. History of telegraphy. London: Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2001
  • Gillian Cookson. The cable: wire to the new world. Stroud: The History Press, 2012
  • Patricia Fara. Science: a four thousand year history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
  • Graeme Gooday, ‘Precision measurement and the genesis of physics teaching laboratories in Britain’, The British journal for the history of science, 23:1, (1990), 25-51
  • Bruce J Hunt. ‘Doing science in a global context: cable telegraphy and electrical physics in Victorian Britain,’ in: Bernard Lightman (ed.) Victorian science in context. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1997
  • Bruce J Hunt, ‘The ohm is where the art is: British telegraph engineers and the development of electrical standards’, Osiris,  2:9, (1994), 48-63
  • Bruce J Hunt, ‘Scientists, engineers and Wildman Whitehouse: measurement and credibility in early cable telegraphy’, British journal for the history of science, 29, (1996), 155-69  
  • Frank AJL James. Michael Faraday: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010
  • PM Kennedy, ‘Imperial cable communications and strategy, 1870-1914’, English historical review, 86:341, (1971), 728-752
  • Ben Marsden and Crosbie Smith. Engineering empires: a cultural history of technology in nineteenth century Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 
  • Iwan Rhys Morus. Michael Faraday and the electrical century. Duxford, Cambridge: Icon Books, 2004
  • Iwan Rhys Morus. When physics became king. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005
  • Iwan Rhys Morus, ‘The electric Ariel: telegraphy and commercial culture in early Victorian England’, Victorian studies, 39:3, (1996), 339-378
  • Iwan Rhys Morus, '“The nervous system of Britain”: space, time and the electric telegraph in the Victorian age’, The British journal for the history of science, 33:4, (2000), 455-475 
  • Colin A Russell. Science and social change, 1700-1900. London: Macmillan, 1983
  • Crosbie Smith and M Norton Wise. Energy and empire: a biographical study of Lord Kelvin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 
  • John Tully, ‘A Victorian ecological disaster: imperialism, the telegraph, and gutta-percha,’ Journal of world history, 20:4, (2009), 559-579
  • Roland Wenzlhuemer. Connecting the nineteenth century world: the telegraph and globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013
  • Robert M Young. Mind, brain and adaptation: cerebral localization and its biological context from Gall to Ferrier. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970


Trip to China, 1938

by Amina Abdillahi, SOCL2 Trainee, Archives and Special Collections

In 1938, four talented young individuals toured a significant part of the world as members of the League of Nations student delegation. This edition of ‘In the Spotlight’ focuses on Bernard Floud’s photograph album of their time in China, held at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (ref: Floud).


Group of student League of Nations delegates in China 1939

In addition to Bernard Floud, other delegates included Grant Lathe, James Klugmann and Molly Yard. All four delegates would grow to become prestigious characters in their own right. Floud was elected as Labour MP for Acton in 1964 and Grant Lathe became a prominent biochemist. James Klugmann was a Communist writer who became the official historian for the Communist party in Britain and Molly Yard is remembered as an important American Feminist activist who was once head of the National Organisation for Women (NOW).

Meeting Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

What is fascinating about the photographs is that they manage to successfully capture the mood of wartime China whilst also allowing us to see leaders such as Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong in a somewhat relaxed manner.

Photo of Chiang Kai-Shek and Madam Chiang with student League of National delegates 1938

This particular photo shows the delegates having tea with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife Soong May-Ling. One can see that Madame Chiang Kai-Shek is addressing Molly Yard whilst Floud and Klugmann listen intently to her.  US educated Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s connection with American elites made her and her husband quite the power couple. On 3 January 1938 they graced the cover of TIME magazine as “man and wife of the year”.

Meeting Mao Zedong and Second Sino-Japanese War

Student League of Nations delegates with Mao Zedong 1938The backdrop of the delegates meeting with Mao Zedong was much different from their introduction to Chiang Kai-Shek. The reality of 1938 was war against the Japanese.

Photo shows of League of Nations Delegates with Mao Zedong


Soldiers of Eighth Route army China 1938During this time, the Nationalists, Communists and regional warlords agreed to create a united front against the Japanese.

The Eight Route Army led by Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong and General Zhu De, engaged in a guerrilla war against the Japanese to assist the Nationalists and other allies.

Photo shows Eighth route army soldiers marching together


The war with the Japanese lasted until 1945 but the truce between the Nationalists and the Communists ended much earlier after the New Fourth Army incident of 1941.

Mao Zedong during second Sino-Japanese war 1938But by then, the delegates had left China. Floud, Lathe and Klugmann all joined the Army to assist in the Second World War. More of Bernard Floud’s album can be viewed on our ‘Serving Soldier’ page.


Photograph shows Mao Zedong during the Second Sino-Japanese War

Further information:
  • Dorn, Frank. The Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1941: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor. New York: Macmillan, 1974. New York: Macmillan, 1974


Hortus sanitatis (‘Garden of Health’)

Hortus sanitatis. Mainz: Jacob Meydenbach, 1491 [St Thomas’s Historical Collection FOL. RS79.H67]

In the spotlight this month we feature Hortus sanitatis (Garden of health), a popular herbal also containing sections on animals and minerals. Our hand-coloured copy is featured in our online exhibition From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration.

Photograph of the Hortus sanitatis on display in the exhibitionIntroduction

The Hortus sanitatis or the Ortus Sanitatis (Origin of health), as it is also known, is in the tradition of the medieval herbals. It is partly based on Der Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of health), which is sometimes attributed to Johann von Cube, and was originally printed by Peter Schoeffer at Mainz in 1485. However, it should be regarded as a separate work, as it covers nearly a hundred more medicinal plants than the Gart der Gesundheit and also includes extensive sections on animals, birds, fish and minerals, as well as a treatise on urine. The authorship of this lavishly illustrated herbal is unknown but it is generally believed to have been compiled by its printer, Jacob Meydenbach. It was first printed in 1491 in Mainz and is therefore the last major medical work to cover medicines from the Old World only.

Our two editions

Woodcut of the apothecary's shop from Hortus sanitatis (1497)

There are two copies of this work in the Foyle Special Collections Library. The first copy is part of the historical medical collection of St Thomas’s Hospital and is a hand-coloured copy of Meydenbach’s 1491 edition [St Thomas’s Historical Collection FOL. RS79.H67]. The second copy is from the library of Douglas Charles Harrod, 1910-94, a former senior lecturer in Pharmacy at King’s and is a copy of the Strasbourg edition printed by Johann Prüss in around 1497 [Rare Books Collection FOL. RS79 HOR].

(fig 1.) Apothecary’s Shop from Hortus sanitatis, Strasbourg edition printed by Johann Prüss c 1497. 

The illustrations

The text is a compilation of earlier sources, such as Galen, Albertus Magnus and Dioscorides and is lavishly illustrated. Most of the 1,066 chapters of Meydenbach’s first edition are headed by a woodcut and there were also several full page woodcuts (sadly missing from the King’s copy). Many of these woodcuts were based on illustrations from editions of Gart der Gesundheit. However, Meydenbach had to provide several hundred additional illustrations for plants not included in Gart der Gesundheit and also for the sections on animals, birds, fish and minerals. The woodcuts are in a style ideal for colouring, with thick outlines and limited detail, and in our copy all have been coloured using a simple palette of shades. Scientifically inaccurate, they served to break up the text and provide visual interest; now they are of historical value, documenting 15th century beliefs, costume and daily life. 

When the two editions in the possession of King’s are compared it is clear that many of the woodcuts in the edition of Prüss are based on those of the earlier Meydenbach edition, with some changes made to clothing to reflect local fashion. Prüss produced three editions of Hortus sanitatis, which were printed more economically than Meydenbach’s edition using a smaller typeface and 55 lines to the column.

The Tree of life woodcut from Hortus sanitatis (1491)

Although it purported to have a serious medical purpose and many of the flowers or roots included retain a use today, many of the entries are fantastical in nature. For example, we read that anyone who eats of the fruit of the ‘Tree of Paradise’ (see fig 2.) will never suffer sickness or tiredness again. Furthermore, while some of the illustrations of the plants are accurate, many others are unreliable and are of little practical use to a reader trying to identify a particular medicinal herb. 

(fig.2) The Tree of Life from Hortus sanitatis printed by Jacob Meydenbach at Mainz, 1491.

The sections on animals and fish are reminiscent of a medieval bestiary. There are images of harpies, centaurs, mermen, mermaids and unicorns. The qualities of each creature are given in vivid detail. We learn, for example, that the unicorn is easily captured, as at the sight of a virgin it would approach her and put its head in her lap (see fig. 3). 

Woodcut depicting a maiden holding a unicorn from Hortus sanitatis (1491)

(fig 3.) Maiden and Unicorn from Hortus sanitatis printed by Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491.

The qualities of stones and minerals are also described in detail. The lodestone could help bring back an errant spouse and could also help detect her infidelity. If placed under a pillow an errant wife would be given nightmares so severe that she would leap from her bed in terror, but a faithful wife would sleep well. Sailors should beware of the lodestone, however, as it was known to cause shipwrecks by drawing nails and other iron parts of a ship towards itself (see fig. 4 below). 

Further editions

Hortus sanitatis was a popular book and went through a number of editions during the late 15th century and the first half of the 16th century. It was translated, in its entirety or in part, into French, English, German and Dutch. A number of abridged versions were also produced. These often only contained the sections on animals and stones, as these were the most popular with the non-medical public. One notable abridgement is The noble lyfe and natures of man, translated by Lawrence Andrews from an earlier abridged Dutch version, and printed by him around 1521. Only two copies of this version survive. The last complete edition of the Hortus sanitatis was printed in Frankfurt by Herman Gulfferich in 1552. By this time a new more scientific approach to botany was arising throughout Europe, and time for works like Hortus sanitatis had past.

Woodcut depicting a shipwreck caused by loadstone from Hortus sanitatis (1491)

(fig 4.) Shipwreck caused by loadstone from Hortus Sanitatis printed by Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491.

Some other notable herbals in our collections include:

Elizabeth Blackwell. A curious herbal. London: printed for John Nourse, 1739. [Rare Books Collection FOL. QK98.2 BLA]

Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones. Argent [Strasbourg]: per Io. Schottum, 1530 [Rare Books Collection FOL. QK75 BRU]

John Gerard. The herball or generall historie of plantes. London: printed by Adam Islip, Joice Norton & Richard Whitakers, 1633 [Rare Books Collection FOL. QK75 GER]

John Parkinson. Theatrum botanicum: the theater of plants. London: printed by Thomas Cotes, 1640 [Rare Books Collection FOL. QK41 PAR] 

Further reading and books used in the compilation of this piece:

Noel Hudson (ed.) An early English version of Hortus Sanitatis. London: Quaritch, [1954]

F J Anderson. An illustrated history of the herbals. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977

Agnes Arber. Herbals.  3rd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986

E Shaffer. The garden of health: an account of two herbals, the Gart der Gesundheit and the Hortus sanitatis. [San Francisco]: Book Club of California, 1957


We would like to acknowledge our former colleague Hugh Cahill, whose original research and text form the basis of this article.


Jazz in the Mottram Collection

by Amina Abdillahi, SOCL2 Trainee, Archives and Special Collections

Metronome magazine, an eclectic yet focused jazz magazine that covered an array of topics including burlesque and politics is our feature for this month. The Eric Mottram collection held at the Archives includes 5 issues of Metronome from their final year of publishing, 1961.

Poem Pull My Daisy by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady from Metronome

Image shows the poem ‘Pull my daisy’ by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

First established in 1881, Metronome had undergone a few changes and by the 1940s the focus of the magazine had shifted towards jazz as well as art, social commentary and literature from its original position as a magazine for those interested in marching and dancing bands. Metronome is also credited as the first place in which prominent members of the Beat generation such as William S. Burroughs were published (Mottram 7/388/2).

Night People by Day

Photo of Duke Ellington breaking eggs from Night People by Day from Nov 1961 MetronomeMetronome covered not just the music and the artists but the lives they lived. ‘Night People by Day’ covers a rare and unexpected vacation taken by the Duke Ellington band (Mottram 7/388/3) who are seen enjoying the beaches of Cape Cod. With the change in environment came the inevitable ‘translation of night people into day people’. It is not often one learns that Duke Ellington enjoyed scrambling eggs in his spare time. 

Image shows photo of Duke Ellington from ‘Night People by Day’ from the November 1961 issue of Metronome.


Art of Relaxation

Thelonious Monk lying on a sofa interviewed by Lois Solomon from MetronomeAnother piece revolved around a discussion between jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and Lois Solomon on the ‘Art of Relaxation’ (Mottram 7/388/3).  Monk concluded that the key to relaxation is to ‘just lay down and throw everything out of your mind.’

Image shows a photograph from ‘The art of relaxation’ showing Thelonious Monk lying on a sofa and the interviewer Lois Solomon sitting on a chair near him making notes.

Controversy at Metronome

Cover of Metronome magazine July 1961 issue in dark pink with burlesque dancerThe editors at Metronome managed to successfully produce a magazine that balanced serious discussion on jazz artists, music, festivals with light-hearted photographic pieces that were often controversial. One such controversy was the front cover of the July 1961 issue which featured a photograph from a burlesque show on Coney Island.

Metronome had a well established subscription audience from its past as a magazine which focused on dancing bands. 

Image shows cover of Metronome July 1961 issue

Many subscribers included schools and public libraries who immediately cancelled their subscriptions upon receiving the July 1961 issue as the clear sexual overtones of burlesque were deemed wholly inappropriate. The response from the owners of Metronome to the huge number of cancellations was to dismiss the editor Dave Solomon. Dave Solomon is remembered as being a key figure in the inclusion of poetry and literature from the Beat writers in Metronome.  

Politics and Jazz.

The writers and editors of Metronome were committed to delivering a variety of material to their audience but as many of them had close relationships with various jazz artists, they were aware of the prejudices inflicted upon them.

Extract from article The Jazz Gap from MetronomeThis inspired pieces such as ‘The Jazz Gap’ (Mottram 7/388/2), ‘Jazz behind the iron curtain’ (Mottram 7/388/2) and the ‘State of Jazz’ (Mottram 7/388/1) in which Metronome journalists demonstrate the connection between issues such as segregation, racism and the effect of the Cold War on Jazz music and artists. Dave Solomon, in ‘The Jazz Gap’ launched a scathing critique of the way in which the US State Department has used jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong for their own political efforts abroad but are reluctant to integrate jazz in the same way domestically.


Image shows text from ‘The Jazz Gap’ by Dave Solomon.

Both the ‘State of Jazz’ and the ‘The Jazz Gap’ give the impression that with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1961 would herald a greater understanding of jazz and stability for jazz musicians. But this expectation fell flat when Dizzy Gillespie and Metronome received an immediate rejection from the White House when they offered to provide entertainment for the evening.  In 1964 Dizzy Gillespie put himself forward as an independent candidate for the U.S. Presidential election.

After lengthy career in print, Metronome disappeared following its final publication in December 1961 following a tumultuous final year marked by dismissals and financial instability.

Further reading:

    • Alyn Shipton, A new history of Jazz, New York: Continuum, 2007.
    • Dan Morgenstern, Living with Jazz: A reader edited by Sheldon Meyer, New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.
    • Dan Morgenstern’s interview transcript with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program

Copyright note:

Every effort was made to contact the copyright holder for Metronome magazine. If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material in this article, for which you have not given permission, or is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us in writing at

'That's how it was', Maureen Duffy, Lucifer, July 1955

King’s alumna and fellow Maureen Duffy’s first novel, That’s How It Was, was a commercial and critical success upon its release in 1962.

The coming-of-age novel was semi-autobiographical, based loosely on her own life up to the point of her mother’s death. What came to be the fifth chapter of this novel had first been published as a short story in King’s College London’s student magazine Lucifer in July 1955 (ref: K/SER1/63).

‘That’s How It Was’ by Maureen Duffy, published in King’s student magazine, Lucifer, July 1955 (ref: K/SER1/63 Jul 1955)

As an English student at King’s, Duffy was a regular contributor to Lucifer, and acted as sub-editor from 1955-1956. The magazine featured articles by and for students, often of a literary nature, and included poetry, short stories and art work.

Cover of Lucifer, Easter 1963, designed by Derek Jarman (ref: K/SER1/63 Easter 1963)Many contributors went on to pursue distinguished careers as writers, artists and film makers, including B S Johnson, Susan Hill, Alan Marshfield, Helen Cresswell and Derek Jarman.

Duffy was also, in 1953, a poetry prize winner for the prestigious ADAM International Review, a literary journal published in association with King’s College London.

Upon graduating in 1956, Duffy taught in a series of London schools where she penned a number of poems and plays, before publishing That’s How It Was, which marked the beginning of her career as a professional writer.

A Single Eye (1964), The Microcosm (1966) and The Love Child (1971), all further explored her understanding of what it means to be a lesbian woman in modern Britain. London life remains a potent and recurring theme throughout her works, including Capital (1975), and Londoners: an Elegy (1983), the former set in a fictional London university and loosely modelled on her experiences at King’s. 

Portrait photo of Maureen Duffy, author as a King's student 1953Maureen Duffy’s work spans more than 50 years - her most recent novel, In Times Like These, was released in September 2013. Her diverse oeuvre covers multiple genres including nonfiction, notably biography and history. Her work has been produced for radio, television and stage. Recurrent themes include the power of myth, the environment and animal rights, sexual politics and the lesbian experience.

She has also played a distinguished role as an advocate for writers in numerous public capacities, including as chair of the Authors Lending and Copyright Society, 1982-1994, the British Copyright Council from 1989 and the Presidency of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 1985-1988.

Further information

Maureen Duffy’s personal papers have been deposited at King’s College London Archives and are available for consultation in the Archives Reading Room.

Maureen Duffy’s official website:

The pre-history of the Channel Tunnel

Atlas containing the plates and sections of the submarine tunnel between England and France, reduced from those shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1867, to accompany the account of the new project of M. A Thomé de Gamond, CE

by Brandon High, Special Collections Cataloguer.

Our October 2013 In the spotlight features a book which is included in the online exhibition Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century. This exhibition concentrates on the technological and engineering achievements of the Victorians, with a particular focus on the relationship of Britain with its colonies. The Channel Tunnel, like the Cape to Cairo railway (also featured in the exhibition) did not come to fruition in this period. Unlike the Cape to Cairo railway, its connection to imperial history is not obvious, but rivalry between empires was the underlying cause of its failure.

Detail from cross-section of geological formations under the Straits of Dover. The Channel Tunnel in the 19th century: dreams and visions

The 19th century was more auspicious for a plan of this nature than any other period had been. One reason was that the advent of railways and their increasing geographical spread from the late 1830s forced engineers to contemplate and achieve technological feats. The Channel Tunnel projectors were inspired by the St. Gothard Tunnel under the Alps and by the Rotherhithe Tunnel under the Thames. Although some of the plans for a link across the Straits of Dover (such as proposals for bridges) appear to us impractical, to the Victorians almost anything seemed possible.

Why was the Tunnel not built?

British interest in the Tunnel was at its height when France was weak, in the decade after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and had been growing ever since 1815, when the rivalry for imperial supremacy seemed to have been resolved in Britain’s favour. During the 1870s all the conditions seemed to be propitious for finishing the project. A compressed air boring machine, which would have avoided the use of explosives, had been invented during that decade and would have made construction easier. Exhaustive geological investigations had established that the layer of impervious grey chalk underneath the Straits of Dover would have stopped the ingress of water into the Tunnel. 

 The Tunnel had obvious commercial advantages, which were very attractive to most Victorians, for whom free trade was an unofficial religion. However, in 1882, just at the time when a considerable length of tunnel had been built on both shores, the project ceased. 

Although the project had considerable political and business support, both the army and navy objected strongly to it. They feared that the Tunnel would increase the likelihood of an invasion. This would, they thought, compel Britain to have a large standing army on the Continental model, and would fundamentally alter British society and the way in which Britain projected its power overseas. These anxieties were decisive because, from the early 1880s onwards, relations between Britain and France had begun to deteriorate. Britain had tightened its political and economic grip over the Suez Canal and Egypt from the mid-1870s: this was a only a prelude to years of imperial rivalry in Africa.

Although by the time of the entente cordiale in 1904 Germany had replaced France as Britain’s likely military opponent, the fears of invasion remained. Lurking behind these were more lurid fantasies of Britain becoming overwhelmed by anarchism, prostitution and general Continental decadence, dealing a fatal blow to the Anglo-Saxon ‘race’, but these anxieties were confined to military officers’ private musings. Although the Tunnel was seriously debated at various times over the next sixty years, political instability on the Continent until 1945 ensured that the idea never proceeded beyond discussion, and that the fear of invasion remained potent.

The extraordinary engineer 

Joseph Aimé Thomé de Gamond (1807-75) was a French polymath who had obtained degrees in medicine and law and was a military engineer and geologist. He was educated to a standard which far exceeded the autodidacticism of most British engineers of this period, who were often despised by scientists. Unlike the other Channel Tunnel schemers, de Gamond was the first engineer to undertake detailed geological investigations and to hazard precise forecasts of economic benefits. He was able to ascertain that the Tunnel was indeed practicable. When the abortive project started, it used the plans of experienced railway engineers such as Sir John Hawkshaw, but Gamond’s plans paved the way. 

Cross-section of geological formations under the Straits of Dover. De Gamond’s dedication to the project is shown by the lengths to which he went in order to collect geological samples. He dived to a depth of 100 feet without any apparatus apart from wearing ten pigs’ bladders for buoyancy and having 160 pounds of stones for ballast tied round his waist. He was able to expel air without water being forced into his lungs by filling his mouth with olive oil. The result of his painstaking geological research is shown here.   

De Gamond’s plans

Transverse section of tunnel and approach cuttings.

Although the plan went through several incarnations, the final version was published in 1857, with modifications for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. That plan is shown in the illustrations here. 

The envisaged route ran from Eastwear Bay, east of Folkestone, to Cap Grisnez, a distance of approximately 21 miles. The plan included a proposal to make thirteen islands in the Channel, and to begin the Tunnel at these points by sinking shafts in them. 

The Tunnel, as shown in the illustration of the transverse section of the Tunnel and approach cuttings (right), would be stone-vaulted, and would measure internally seven metres high and nine metres wide. The lower part would carry a double railway track, with narrow footways on either side. A drainage duct would run underneath the tracks. There would be three ventilation shafts, one at either end of the Tunnel and one on the Varne Bank. De Gamond envisaged the Varne Bank to be a major entrepot for freight transferring from trains to ships and vice versa, thereby countering maritime objections to the Tunnel.

The illustration below is of the international harbour at Varne Bank, showing rail tracks spiralling up from the Tunnel. He planned a huge shaft, measuring 300 metres across and descending to the level of the Tunnel, 45 metres under the sea. He tried to deal with military objections by planning to install valves which would flood the Tunnel in case of invasion. 

Plan showing international harbour and maritime / rail interchange at Varne Bank.


Terry Gourvish. The official history of Britain and the Channel Tunnel.  London; New York: Routledge, 2006  

Donald Hunt. The Tunnel: the story of the Channel Tunnel 1802-1994. Upton-upon-Severn: Images Publishing (Malvern), 1994

PA Keen, ‘The Channel Tunnel Project’, Journal of Transport History, 3:3 (1958), 132-144.

Daniel Pick. War machine: the rationalisation of slaughter in the modern age. Chapter 10: ‘Tunnel Visions.’ New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1993 

LTC Rolt. Victorian engineering. London: Allen Lane; The Penguin Press, 1970

Robert Tombs and Isabelle Tombs. That sweet enemy: the French and the British from the Sun King to the present. London: William Heinemann, 2006

Humphrey Slater and Correlli Barnett. The Channel Tunnel. London:  Allan Wingate, 1957

Thomas Whiteside. The Tunnel under the Channel. London : Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962

Keith Wilson. Channel Tunnel visions, 1850-1945: dreams and nightmares. London; Rio Grande, Ohio: The Hambledon Press, 1994


Hobhouse’s Journey through Albania

'A Greek lady in her walking dress' from Hobhouse's 'Journey through Albania ...' (London, 1813)

John Cam Hobhouse. A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809 and 1810. London: James Cawthorn, 1813 [Rare books Collection DR425 HOB]

This work by John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869) features in our online exhibition, Byron and politics: ‘born for opposition’.

The politican John Cam Hobhouse was a close friend of the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). They met as students at Trinity College, Cambridge in the summer of 1807. Two years later Hobhouse accompanied Byron on a grand tour which brought them through the Iberian Peninsula and then on to Malta, Greece and Albania. In October 1809 they resided for a number of days at the court at Tepelene of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, the Ottoman Albanian ruler. Shortly afterwards Byron began writing the first canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. From Albania, Hobhouse and Byron travelled to Greece, and then on to Constantinople, where they attended an audience with Sultan Mahmoud II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire. While Byron continued his travels in Athens and the Morea, Hobhouse returned to England in July 1810. 

'View of Tophana or the artillery arsenal at Constantinople' from Hobhouse's 'Journey through Albania ...' (London, 1813)An account of eastern travels

Hobhouse kept a diary and recorded detailed notes during their eastern travels from which he published A journey through Albania, and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809 and 1810 (London, 1813). He provides detailed accounts of the customs and habits of the people and of Ali Pasha’s court and comprehensive topographical descriptions. The work was published by James Cawthorn in 1813 and the first edition was quickly followed by a second edition the same year. It earned Hobhouse a fellowship of the Royal Society on 9 May 1814.

The plates

'View of the Valley of the Plistus, with part of the Gulph of Salama' from Hobhouse's 'Journey through Albania ...' (London, 1813)The attractive hand-coloured aquatints depict numerous sites, including the remains of the Stadium at Delphi, the Valley of the Plistus, various views of Athens, the Acropolis and Parthenon, Marathon with a distant view of the Plain, a view of Tophana or the Artillery Arsenal at Constantinople, the First Gate of the Seraglio, and the barracks of the Bombardiers and Miners. The costume plates depict a dancing girl, an Albanian, a Greek Lady in her walking dress, a Turkish female slave, a Turkish woman, a Sultana and a Colonel of the Janissaries. Further plates include folding maps, facsimiles and engraved music. 

'The west front of the Acropolis from the summit of the Propylaea' from Hobhouse's 'Journey through Albania' (London, 1813)

The views of Athens are particularly striking but unfortunately their artist or artists are not recorded. In the bibliography Greece and the Levant: the catalogue of the Henry Myron Blackmer collection of books and manuscripts (London, 1989), the compiler Leonora Navari suggests two possible artists (see Blackmer 821), looking to Byron’s correspondence for clues. In a letter to Francis Hodgson (1781-1852) of 20 January 1811, Byron mentions a landscape artist ‘Lynch’ under his commission, referring to the German painter and archaeologist Jacob Linckh (1787-1841) who worked on the excavations at Aegina in 1811 in the same circle as Charles Robert Cockerell, John Foster, Carl Haller von Hallerstein and Otto Magnus von Stackelberg. In a letter to Hobhouse of 15 July 1811 Byron notes ‘Drawings I have none, ready, but have an excellent Painter in pay in the Levant. - I have brought you one (from Cockerell) of Athens …’. Taking further clues from segments of Hobhouse’s correspondence with the poet, Navari draws to a conclusion that either Linckh or the architect Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) or both may be responsible for the Athens plates. Hobhouse, unfortunately, does not attribute the plates within the work itself.

‘Ruins of Hadrian’s Temple, with a view of the south-east angle of the Acropolis and Parthenon.’ In John Cam Hobhouse’s Journey through Albania … (London, 1813). King’s College London, Foyle Special Collections Library.A picturesque fold-out plate from volume 1, ‘Ruins of Hadrian’s Temple, with a view of the south-east angle of the Acropolis and Parthenon’, was displayed in our exhibition. The plate depicts a site Byron and Hobhouse first visited together on the afternoon of 28 December 1809.

Bibliography and further reading

Peter Cochran. ‘Hobhouse, John Cam, Baron Broughton (1786-1869)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 23 July 2013]

Peter Cochran’s website 

Peter W Graham (ed). Byron’s Bulldog: The Letters of John Cam Hobhouse to Lord Byron. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1984

Jerome McGann. ‘Byron, George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron (1788-1824)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [, accessed 23 July 2013]

Leslie A Marchand (ed). Byron’s Letters and Journals. London: John Murray, 1974. Vol. 2

Leonora Navari. Greece and the Levant: the catalogue of the Henry Myron Blackmer collection of books and manuscripts. London: Maggs Bros., 1989.

Leonora Navari. The Ottoman world: the Șefık E. Atabey Collection, books, manuscripts and maps. London: Shapero, 1998

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