Archive for September, 2010

Personal Notes of a Famous Ancestor

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on 29th August 1809 and died 7th October 1894. He was an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author. Regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, he was an author of valuable medical work as well as famous essays, journals and novels. such as the “Breakfast-Table” series. He was also one of the founding editors of the journal Atlantic Monthly.

The Society’s extensive document collection contains a handwritten book of notes by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in which he lists every book he read from 1881 – 1935 which includes law and medical books as well as famous novels such as ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë.

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Female Servants Pay 1700’s

The life of a female domestic servant in 1700’s England was extremely difficult. There were no labour laws at this time, so girls worked seven days a week and were paid a pittance, if they received any money at all. In return they were provided with a place to sleep, food and clothes.

Some homeowners gave the girl’s wages directly to their father’s. The job duties of a domestic servant were wide and varied such as maid, dairy maid, cook etc. Some held higher ranking positions such as ladies’ maid, while a maid-of-all-work did whatever needed to be done around the home.

There were not many employment options for peasant women so those who failed to get or keep a domestic servant position might of had no choice but to consider prostitution and or theft, the first of which was extremely dangerous and the second punishable by hanging.

This is an account of female servants pay from 1714-1728 in Sir John Noel Bart’s household in Kirkby Co. Leicester. Sarah Sherwin started working in the household as a maid on 22nd June 1717 and was paid £4 per year which she ‘desired to leave in the hands of her master’ for three years. She also had savings of £5.14.3 (probably from a previous employer) and £2.05.9 from her father, both amounts were given to her master for safe keeping. By 1721 she had savings of £20 which would have been worth approximately £1,695 in today’s money.

These documents, along with many other 18th century material can be found in the Mundy Special Collection.

My Ancestor Was in Service’ publication by Pamela Horn is available at £8.50 from our bookshop. Click here to buy online.

Attend our  lecture ‘The Oldest Profession’ by John Hurley on Wednesday 8th December at 2pm to learn more about the ‘other’ profession peasant woman sometimes had to consider.

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Regulations for issuing UK passports were not formulated until 1846. In fact, before the First World War it was not compulsory for a British person travelling abroad to have a passport. Passports issued to British-born subjects could be used for a single journey and any subsequent journey only if countersigned afresh by the ministers or consuls of the countries which the holder intended to visit. Possession of a passport, however, was confined largely to merchants and diplomats, and the vast majority of those travelling overseas had no formal document. That was until 30 November 1915 when an Order in Council was issued to amend the Defence of the Realm and insisted that ‘A person coming from or intending to proceed to any place out of the United Kingdom as a passenger shall not, without the special permission of a Secretary of State, land or embark at any port in the United Kingdom unless he has in his possession a valid passport issued to him not more than two years previously, by or on behalf of the Government of the country of which he is a subject or a citizen …’.

The National Archives has an extensive but incomplete collection of passport applications, licences to pass beyond the seas and entry books of passes issued by the Secretaries of State.

Below is the 1853 passport of Reverend John Cholmeley from our Special Collections which includes details and stamps from thirteen trips all over Europe, including France, Italy and Austria.

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Royal Navy Officer Admiral John Byng was born on 29th October 1704 and was controversially executed by gun fire on 14th March 1757 on the quarterdeck of his former flagship, ‘Monarch’  for failing to "do his utmost" to prevent Minorca falling to the French following the Battle of Minorca.

Admiral Byng’s harsh sentence was opposed by many, including Admiral Forbes who refused to sign his death warrant. 

The Society is pleased to have a written explanation by Admiral Forbes explaining his reasons for not signing the death warrant of Admiral Byng. This document can be found in the ‘Herbert’ Special Collection.

Professional genealogists Geoff Swinfield has kindly transcribed this 253 year old document for ease of understanding.

alisa3 thumb Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant.


Adml Forbes’s reasons for not signing Adml Byng’s

Dead Warrant.

It may be thought great presumption

in me to differ from so great Authority as that of the

Twelve Judges but when a man is call’d upon to sign

his name to an act, which is to give Authority for the

shedding of blood, He ought to be guided by his Conscience,

& not by the Opinion of other men.

In the Case before us, it

is not The merit of Adml Byng that I consider whether

he deserves Death or not, is not a Question for me to decide; but whether, or not, his Life can be taken away by the Sentence pronounc’d upon him by the Court Martial, and

after having so clearly explain’d their motives for pronouncing such a Sentence, is the point alone has imploy’d my most serious attention.

The 12th Art. of War, upon

wch Adml Byng’s Sentence is grounded, Says ___ According to

my understanding of its meaning, “That every person who

shall in time of action withdraw, or keep back, or not

come into fight, or who shall not do his utmost &

through Motive’s of Cowardice, Negligence, or Disaffection,
shall suffer Death. The Court Martial does, in Express

Words, acquit Adml Byng of Cowardice & Disaffection, & does

not name the word negligence. ____ Adml Byng does not, as I

conceive, fall under the letter, or description of the 12th Art of

War _____ It my be said, that negligence is implied, the(n)

word is not nam’d, otherwise the Ct Martial wou’d not

have brought his offence under the 12th Art of War, having

acquitted him of Cowardice, & Disaffection.

But it must be acknowledg’d,

that the negligence imply’d cannot be wilfull negligence;

for wilfull negligence in Adml Byng’s situation must proceed

either from Cowardice, or Disaffection, & he is expressly acquited

of both these crimes, besides crimes wch are imply’d only

& are not nam’d may indeed justify suspicion, &

private opinion, but cannot satisfy the Conscience in a case

of Blood.

Adml Byng’s fate was reffer’d to a Court Martial

his Life & Death was left to their opinions; The Ct Martial

condemn him to Death, because as they expressly say they

were under a necessity of doing so by reason of the letter of the

law; the severity of wch they complain of, because it

admits of no mitigation. ________ The Ct Marl expressly say,

that the prisoner, they do, in the most earnest manner, recommend

him to his Majts mercy; it is then evident, that in the

opinion, and Consciences of the Judges, he was not deserving of


The Question then is, shall the opinion, or necessities

of the Ct Marl determine Adml Byng’s fate. If it shou’d be

the latter, he will be Executed contrary to the intentions, & the

meaning of the Judges; who, to do justice, do most earnestly

recommend him for mercy; and if it shou’d be the former, his Life

is not forfeited. His Judges declare he is not deserving of Death;

but mistaking either the meaning of the Law, or the nature of

his offence, they bring him under an Article of War, which

according to their own description of his offence he does not

I conceive fall under; and then they condemn him to death,

because, as they say, the law admits of no mitigation. Can

a Man’s life be taken away by such a Sentence. I wou’d not

willingly be understood, & have it believ’d, that I Judge of

Adml Byng’s deserts; that was the business of the Ct Marl; & it is

my Duty only to Act according to my conscience; which,

after deliberate consideration, & assisted by the best lights that

a poor understanding is capable of attaining, it remains

still in doubt; and therefore I cannot consent to Sign a

warrant, Whereby the Sentence of the Ct Marl may be carried

into execution; for I cannot help thinking, that however

criminal Adml Byng may be, his life is not forfeited

by that Sentence. I don’t mean to find fault in the

least with the Opinion of other men; all I endeavour

at, is to give reasons for my own; and all I desire, or

wish is, that my meaning may not be misunderstood.

I do not pretend to Judge of Adml Byng’s desert nor to

give my opinion of the propriety of the Act.

John Byng1 thumb Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant. 503px John Forbes portrait Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant.

Admiral Byng                                          Admiral Forbes

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