George Hayward – Echoes of the Great Game in Central Asia

The history of the Great Game, writes Tim Hannigan, offers a fine stock of ripping yarns.

At the start of the 19th century some 2,000 miles of turbulent Central Asian territory – deserts, mountains and unstable Muslim khanates – separated Britain’s Indian territories from the edge of the Russian Empire; a hundred years later these same frontiers were just a few miles apart.  The “Great Game” was the cold war of exploration and espionage, fought out in the ever-contracting space between.

Every foreigner who stepped into Central Asia during this period was playing the Great Game, whether he wanted to or not.  There was no such thing as an apolitical expedition, and men who went to survey mountains and map passes found that the charts they drew were handled like dynamite by politicians in Calcutta, London and St Petersburg.  There was derring-do, endurance, betrayal, triumph and tragedy.  This is the stuff that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s tales, Kim and The Man Who Would Be King

The players of the Great Game were a motley crew of spies, soldiers and charlatans, running the gamut from bristling imperial archetypes to unhinged Anglican missionaries, and over the subsequent decades many of their tales have been told in books by authors such as Fitzroy MacLean, John Keay and Peter Hopkirk.

But there was one Great Gamer who always seemed to stand a little apart from the crowd, a gaunt and ill-omened young man by the name of George Hayward. Continue reading

The Dawn of Forensics

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, “A Study in Scarlett,” published in 1887, Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson “I have found a reagent which is precipitated by haemoglobin and nothing else.”

And so, writes DE Meredith, began the brilliant stories of Sherlock Homes which, almost single-handedly, introduced the British public to the idea that science could be used to solve even the most heinous of crimes.

Forensic science is now common parlance and despite a number of technical flaws along the way and the occasional, terrible miscarriage of justice, on the whole we believe in this science and because of programmes like “CSI” and “Waking the Dead” we are also hugely entertained by it.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Death and all his hideous crew

Here is a description of a nineteenth century morgue by the composer Hector Berlioz:

When I entered that fearful human charnel-house, littered with fragments of limbs, and saw the ghastly faces and cloven heads, the bloody cesspool in which we stood, with its reeking atmosphere, the swarms of sparrows fighting for scraps, and the rats in the corners gnawing bleeding vertebrae, such a feeling of horror possessed me that I leapt out of the window, and fled home as though Death and all his hideous crew were at my heels. It was twenty-four hours before I recovered from the shock of this first impression, utterly refusing to hear that words anatomy, dissection, or medicine, and firmly resolved to die rather than enter the career which had been forced upon me.

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Mary Seacole – a summary

This is how the story goes… Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in 1805, in Kingston, Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish soldier: ‘I have good Scots blood coursing through my veins,’ as she wrote on page one of her memoir. Her mother, a freed black woman, kept a home, or a boarding house, for wounded soldiers (many of them British soldiers suffering from yellow fever) and installed in Mary a love of nursing and medicine.

Mary SeacoleA keen traveller, the young Mary journeyed widely with her parents, including two trips to Britain, expanding her medical knowledge.

In 1836, she married Edwin Horatio Seacole, a former guest at her mother’s boarding house. Edwin Seacole was believed, without substance, to have been either an illegitimate offspring of Lord Nelson and his mistress, Lady Hamilton, or Nelson’s godson. A sickly man, he died eight years later in 1844. Despite several offers, Mary never married again. As a couple, the Seacoles had maintained the boarding house established by Mary’s mother and, as a widow, Mary Seacole’s work intensified in 1850 when a cholera epidemic struck Jamaica, killing over 30,000 inhabitants.

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Death of Prince Albert

The light is subdued in the Blue Room. He lies in his bed, plumped up with pillows. His breath is slow and laboured, his skin terribly white, his hair stuck down by sweat. Kneeling on the floor beside his bed, trembling, his wife – the queen. Holding his limp hand, she knows he is dying. Beside her, five of her children, their faces pinched with fear. Standing awkwardly, nearby, various ladies in waiting, equerries, doctors, and a minister or two. But she has eyes only for her darling prince. The time is almost eleven in the evening. As he slips away, she mutters, ‘Oh, this is death, I know it.’ On his passing, the queen lets rip a scream that tears down the walls of Windsor.

Prince AlbertOn the 14 December 1861, Albert, the Prince Consort, died. He was only 42. His unexpected death plunged Queen Victoria into grief so overwhelming that it endured for the rest of her life. Her pain was shared by the nation in an outpouring of angst that would not be seen again until the death, 136 years later, of Princess Diana. But after a while, public and politicians alike began to ask whether the Queen’s period of mourning would ever end?

Prince Albert and Princess Victoria meet

The 16-year-old Princess was immediately smitten – on meeting Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha for the first time, she confided in her diary that her German cousin was ‘extremely good looking’. It was 18 May 1836. They would not meet again for another 3½ years by which time, October 1839, Victoria had become queen. This time, her praise went even further – ‘It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert – who is beautiful’. Albert had the teenage queen’s heart ‘quite going’.

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Alexander Burnes – hacked to death in Afghanistan

‘British diplomat hacked to death in Afghanistan’ – it would make a shocking headline. Yet on 2 November 1841, this is exactly what happened.

Britain was entrenched in Afghanistan, much as it is today, but the situation was seemingly stable. The British had just defeated the Afghans in the First Anglo-Afghan War, ousted a ruler they considered anti-British and replaced him with one more compliant to their needs. All was well. But on 2 November 1841, a mob of Afghans murdered the British political envoy living in Kabul, Sir Alexander Burnes. It was the start of an ignominious end to Britain’s foray in Afghanistan.

The Dandy Scot

Alexander Burnes, born in Montrose on 16 May 1805, was the epitome of a nineteenth century adventurer cum dandy – dashing, intelligent and courageous.

In 1831, the British government in Delhi ordered a survey of the Indus River, unchartered since the time of Alexander the Great. The man they entrusted this mission to was Alexander Burnes. A journey of over 1,000 miles, Burnes, a natural linguist, charmed the usually antagonistic tribal leaders he came upon, and eventually reached Lahore, his reputation greatly enhanced.

His next adventure took him to Afghanistan, dressed as a native having discarded, in his words, ‘the useless paraphernalia of civilization; we threw away all our European clothes, and adopted, without reserve, the costume of the Asiatic… groaning under ponderous turbans.’

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Netley: Queen Victoria’s Great Hospital

It was in 1856 that construction began on a purpose-built hospital for injured British soldiers. Opened on 11 March 1863, the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley, Southampton, was the largest of its kind in the world. Although the hospital was demolished in 1966, the chapel (pictured) – the only remaining build of the Netley site – stands as a reminder of Britain’s great military past and the enduring legacy of Queen Victoria.

Origins of Netley Hospital

The origins of Netley Hospital lay in the Crimean War (1854-1856), more specifically, the condition of the British military. When reports first hit the British press that nine in ten casualties were dying from disease, rather than wounds, a widespread feeling of outrage swept the nation. In a royal visit to Fort Pitt at Chatham, Queen Victoria witnessed first-hand the inadequate provisions made for her wounded soldiers. Furthermore, in a meeting with Florence Nightingale at Balmoral Castle in 1856, the Queen was deeply affected by stories of the hardships suffered by her soldiers in the Crimea. A brand new, purpose-built military hospital was, Queen Victoria stated, the only way to right this unacceptable wrong.

It was the Queen’s Surgeon, James Clark, who first suggested Netley as a possible site for the new hospital. Since the Middle Ages, Netley had been used as a mustering place, training ground and encampment for British troops so it already had a strong military association. A survey was then carried out by Captain Laffan of the War Department, and confirmed the site’s suitability. Five fields of the 109 acre site were purchased from Thomas Chamberlayne, the owner, for £15,000 in January, 1856, and, four months later, Victoria and Albert visited Netley to lay the foundation stone.

Although the foundations were now in place, a bitter conflict ensued over the design of the new hospital. When shown the plans for Netley by Lord Panmure, Secretary of State for War, Florence Nightingale (pictured) was outraged at what she saw. Small, cramped wards with few windows and quarter-mile-long corridors raised serious concerns about ventilation and the spread of infection. Nightingale immediately lobbied the Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, to halt building work until its design had been resolved. Successfully persuaded by Nightingale, Palmerston instructed Lord Panmure to down tools at Netley but his attempt was in vain and construction on the hospital continued unabated.

Netley Hospital Opens

By 1859 building at Netley was complete. This impressive site, costing £350,000, contained a reservoir, three wells, swimming pool, gasworks, stables, 138 wards and 1,000 beds. In addition, a chapel, school, married quarters, prison cells and a cemetery transformed Netley from a mere hospital to a community. In March 1859, the three existing general hospitals at Dublin, Cork and Woolwich were closed down while soldiers receiving treatment were transported to the new hospital.

Netley was more than just a treatment facility. Aside from numerous research labs for the study of tropical diseases, Netley was also home to the Army Medical School and the Army Nursing Service, and acted as a medical training centre for doctors. Queen Victoria’s visit to the hospital in 1863, her first public appearance since Albert’s death, emphasised both her attachment to Netley and its wider national importance. Victoria would make a further 22 visits to Netley throughout the remainder of her reign.

Netley and the World Wars

During World War One, Netley’s significance and importance grew. Aside from treating more than 50,000 sick and injured soldiers, the Red Cross built a series of hutted hospitals behind the main hospital, doubling its total capacity. (A dedicated train-line, built in 1900, enabled ambulance crews  to easily transport wounded soldiers from Southampton Docks to the doors of Netley hospital). In 1944, Netley was taken over by the United States and successfully treated 68,000 soldiers during the remainder of World War Two.

The End of Netley Hospital

In 1958 the government deemed Netley too expensive to maintain. When diggers and cranes moved in to demolish the site in 1966, workers retrieved a metal casket buried below the granite foundation block laid by Queen Victoria. This time capsule contained coins and a copy of The Times from Victoria’s reign, plans of the hospital and an early Victoria Cross. The items were then preserved and put on display at the Royal Army Medical Corps museum in Aldershot. Since 1980 the site has been opened up to public recreation by Hampshire County Council.

Sadly, the chapel is all that remains of Queen Victoria’s great military hospital but this beautiful building gives you an idea of what once was.

To find out more, visit the Royal Victoria Country Park website.

Kaye Jones

Kaye is author of three History In An Hour titles: 1066: History In An Hour, Dickens: History In An Hour and The Medieval Anarchy: History In An Hour 

The Cleverest General: the Life and Death of Sir George Pomeroy Colley

When I was a child my parents had on their bookshelves an old red-bound nineteenth century tome called The Life of Sir George Pomeroy Colley by one W.F.Butler, published 1899.

Sir George Pomeroy Colley was a Victorian general who met his death on 27 February 1881, whilst fighting the Boers in South Africa.

(The author of the book, William Francis Butler, was the husband to the famous military painter, Lady Elizabeth Butler).

The title fascinated me because here was a book about a man that shared my family name, and an important one at that (he had to be important to have had a book written about him). I always assumed we were related because we were both Colleys. And, to add to the excitement, he was a ‘Sir’. Perhaps some great-great-grandfather.

To this day I still don’t know. It might be just a coincidence of name but then why would my father have this book on his shelves rather than a more famous Victorian general?

Colley was an all-round clever man and well thought of. He passed through his military school with the highest ever recorded marks, was fluent in various languages and was a dab hand with the paint brush. But like many a British general of the time, he underestimated his enemy – and that proved his undoing.

The First Boer War

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A Necessary Evil? Attitudes towards prostitution in Victorian London

In December 1857 the London Chambers of the Society for the Suppression of Vice met to discuss “the increasing evil” of prostitution in the city. The meeting was attended by clergymen, churchwardens and vestries from many of London’s parishes.


The Society agreed that prostitution in London was carried out with a “shamelessness” and “publicity” unparalleled by any other capital city in Europe, (pictured, a depiction of a prostitute, circa 1880). At the heart of their meeting were several key ideas; firstly, that prostitution was a danger to public morality, secondly, that it negatively affected the character and reputation of a particular street or area, and, finally, that prostitution was a “great evil” in need of control and regulation.

It is no surprise that the church objected so strongly towards prostitution. Victorian clergymen fiercely condemned any type of extramarital or non-procreative sex. The dominant religious groups of the era, the Nonconformists and Evangelicals, were heavily involved in the debates surrounding prostitution. Their aim was reform society through the eradication of immoral vices. These did not just include prostitution but also lesser vices like gambling and drinking. Organisations like the Society for the Suppression of Vice (as mentioned above) and the Social Purity Alliance were at the forefront of the “holy war” against prostitution in the cities.

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