Monthly Archives: October 2016

“And Many a Frightful Face…”

For All Hallows Eve I am writing about Whitby for its connection with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This Gothic horror story was written in 1897, well outside my usual period, but the tale would have greatly appealed to readers of Gothic novels in the early part of the century and the ruins that inspired Stoker certainly had a spookily romantic effect on an earlier visitor.whitby-abbey-1813

Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau travelled extensively in England during his visits and left detailed diaries. In 1827 he found the little fishing town of Whitby picturesque, but dirty and “miserable”. He did admire the abbey “…now the property of some private individual…[whose] cattle feed among it mouldering walls” just as they do in William Daniell’s illustration (above) in his A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain…(1814).

von Puckler-Muskau visited the ruins of the abbey “ the light of the young moon, and was enchanted by the romantic effect – lofty columns, darting up into the air like the slender trunks of pines; long rows of windows in good preservation, and many finely executed ornaments about them, still as perfect as if the wind of the first autumn now played among their ample arches. Other parts were quite altered and decayed, and many a frightful face lay scattered about, grinning at me in the moonlight.”

Perhaps it was those “frightful faces” that played on Bram Stoker’s imagination when he visited the abbey. Certainly its ruins, high on the cliff, would have been the first thing that was visible when the doomed ship bearing Count Dracula in his coffin full of Transylvanian earth sailed towards the coast. When it crashed to the shore the crew was found to be missing or dead and a great dog leapt ashore to vanish into the darkness…

Even in broad daylight the sight is impressive from the sea as I found earlier this year when I sailed into Whitby!






Filed under Architecture, Books, Buildings

“On Waterloo’s Ensanguined Plain” – Walter Scott Goes Souvenir hunting


Walter Scott was one of the first tourists to visit the battlefield of Waterloo, arriving there in August, just weeks after the battle. He had the laudable idea of publishing an epic poem on the theme with the proceeds to go to a fund for the widows and orphans of British casualties. Scott was fortunate in being shown around the battlefield by senior officers who had fought there and later, in Paris, met Wellington himself.

This short extract gives a taste of the poem –

Ay, look again–that line, so black and trampled, marks the bivouac,

Yon deep-graved ruts the artillery’s track, so often lost and won;

And close beside, the hardened mud still shows where, fetlock-deep in blood,

The fierce dragoon, through battle’s flood, dashed the hot war-horse on.

These spots of excavation tell the ravage of the bursting shell –

And feel’st thou not the tainted steam, that reeks against the sultry beam,

From yonder trenched mound? The pestilential fumes declare

That Carnage has replenished there her garner-house profound…


Unfortunately it was badly received and critics panned it. One wit wrote:

On Waterloo’s ensanguined plain
Full many a gallant man was slain,
But none, by sabre or by shot,
Fell half so flat as Walter Scott.

scott-4 scott-5

When I recently visited Abbotsford, Scott’s home in the Borders, I discovered that he had taken more than impressions and notes away with him. In my book  To The Field of Waterloo: the First Battlefield Tourists I had written of the insatiable souvenir-hunting of the visitors and I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover that Scott had collected a very superior set of trophies for the vast and eclectic collection that decorates the walls of the house. Photographs of some of them illustrate this post, handsome examples of the arms and armour of Napoleon’s vast army.




Filed under Battle of Waterloo, Literature, Waterloo, Wellington

Nelson’s Triumph or Bonaparte in the Dumps!



I always enjoy finding links to British history when I’m abroad and the Mediterranean is a fruitful source of mid-late Georgian connections. My last holiday, in Sicily, produced connections to Nelson and the Battle of the Nile.

On  October 4th 1798 The Times carried as its most prominent advertisement:

Nelsons’ Triumph or Bonaparte in the Dumps

New fireworks analogous to the glorious Battle, off

the Mouth of the Nile, on the 1st of August last, between

the British and french fleets.

…consisting of Song, Dance and

Pantomime; a view of the Egyptian country and also a

view of the two Fleets in real action…

The country had been waiting for the news of this battle since April that year when Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson had been dispatched to Toulon to engage the French fleet which was at anchor there. However, the French slipped through and Nelson’s ships took a battering in a storm. In June more ships joined the British squadron and Nelson was given orders to track down the French.

There followed a game of blind man’s bluff with Nelson unable to pin down the enemy. When Bonaparte invaded Malta on June 10th criticism at home became acute, although The Times stoutly defended the Admiral. Nelson learned of the invasion almost two weeks later, along with the news that the French fleet was off Sicily. When he arrived he was given inaccurate information about the enemy who were only 50 miles distant, and sailed on to Alexandria, then Syria, missing the French who took Alexandria on July 1st. The army proceeded to march south to capture Cairo while Nelson, still with no news of the French, sailed into Syracuse on the south cost of Sicily for supplies on July 21st.


I was in Syracuse, one of my favourite Italian cities, last week and found traces of Nelson’s visit. The Great Harbour at Syracuse is magnificent and was in use as a great naval centre since the city – or, rather Ortygia, the original island – was founded in 733BC as a Greek colony. Two immensely significant sea battles took place in the harbour in 413BC when the Athenian fleet attempted to take the city with 73 triremes. Nelson would have been aware of this significant episode in the Peloponnese War, although whether he had time to think about it is another matter! Above – The masts of sailing ships are a ghost of Nelson’s fleet amongst the modern yachts in Syracuse’s Grand Harbour

He had his fleet’s water casks refilled at the beautiful Spring of Arethusa (below), a remarkable fresh water spring right on the shore of the Grand Harbour. It’s reliable flow was the reason for the initial settlement on the island and today it is the only place outside Egypt where papyrus grows wild – I wondered whether it was growing there in Nelson’s time and whether he could have seen it as an omen.


The magnificent Baroque palazzo where the Admiral stayed while the re-victualing was in progress can be seen in the cathedral square, close to the Spring. It is known as the Beneventano del Bosco Palace, home to Baron Guglielmo Benevento Maria del Bosco and is still in the family today. (Tallest building on the right below)


On July 25th Nelson led his fleet east in a desperate search for Bonaparte. On August 1st the Alexander and the Swiftsure saw the tricolour flying over Alexandria and that afternoon Nelson received signals that the French were lying in Aboukir Bay. He did not delay and at 5.30pm Nelson signalled to the fleet “form a battle line as most convenient” and engaged the enemy. At 10pm L’Orient, the French flagship exploded – Nelson had won the Battle of the Nile.

By August 11th rumours of a battle reached London, but via the Paris papers which were claiming a French victory. By Monday 13th The Times reported “it seems however to be generally believed that an action has taken place, of which we hourly expect to receive advice.” By the 17th the story was that Nelson had captured L’Orient with Napoleon on board but it was not until October 1st that The Times could write “The Government is yet without any official news from Admiral Nelson, but several reports were in circulation on Saturday which tend to corroborate the account of the victory.”

Nelson became an international celebrity as a result of this victory and was created Baron Nelson of the Nile. (By all accounts he was disgruntled by this and thought a viscountcy more appropriate!) The print at the top of this post is a Gilray cartoon “Extirpation of the Plagues of Egypt” showing Nelson clubbing tricolour crocodiles.






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Filed under Napoleon, Regency caricatures