Monthly Archives: July 2015

But Not the Hippopotamus*

The Trimmer family ran a brickworks in Brentford (across the River Thames from Kew) for over a century. Digging for clay unearthed fossils and other interesting oddities.  Under the watchful eye of Joseph Banks, William Kirby Trimmer (1770—1811), built up a collection, or cabinet, of such finds.  His report on the stratigraphy of two fields and the fossils that had been discovered there was published posthumously in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1813. At the time, few such sources of fossils around London were known.

Here is his description of the first field:

The first field is about half a mile north of the Thames at Kew bridge; its surface is about twenty-five feet above the Thames at low water. The strata here are first, sandy loam from six to seven feet, the lowest two feet slightly calcareous. Second, sandy gravel a few inches only in thickness. Third, loam slightly calcareous from one to five feet; between this and the next stratum, peat frequently intervenes in small patches of only a few yards wide, and a few inches thick. Fourth, gravel containing water; this stratum varies from two to ten feet in thickness and is always the deepest in the places covered by peat; in these places the lower part of the stratum becomes an heterogeneous mass of clay, sand, and gravel, and frequently exhales a disagreeable muddy smell. Fifth, the main stratum of blue clay, which lies under this, extends under London and its vicinity, the average depth of this clay has been ascertained by wells that have been dug through it, to be about two hundred feet under the surface of the more level lands, and proportionably deeper under the hills, as appears from Lord Spencer’s well at Wimbledon, which is five hundred and sixty-seven feet deep…

In the fourth stratum were found teeth and bones of both the African and Asiatic elephant, teeth of the hippopotamus, bones, horns, and teeth of the ox. A tusk of an elephant measured, as it lay on the ground, nine feet three inches, but in attempting to remove it, it broke into small pieces.

He then gives the location and stratigraphy of the second field, and continues:

In the first stratum, as in the other field, no organic remains have been observed. In the second, but always within two feet of the third stratum, have been found the teeth and bones of the hippopotamus, the teeth and bones of the elephant, the horns, bones, and teeth of several species of deer, the horns, bones, and teeth of the ox, and the shells of river fish

The remains of hippopotami are so extremely abundant, that in turning over an area of one hundred and twenty yards in the present season, parts of six tusks have been found of this animal, besides a tooth and part of the horn of a deer, part of a tusk, and part of a grinder of an elephant, and the horns with a small part of the skull of an ox.

Who knew that hippopotami were once “so extremely abundant” on the Thames?

Hippo tooth

A hippo tooth

Apparently, hippos and elephants did roam around London during the delightfully-named Ipswichian interglacial period about 125000 years ago when the climate was more balmy. Maybe it’s time to bring them back: But Yes the Hippopotamus.

* With apologies to Sandra Boynton.

What became of Alexander Bayne’s children?

In the last post we left Alexander Bayne as a proud father extolling the virtues of his children, and especially the intellectual prowess of his eldest daughter. He died only a few years after writing that letter.  What became of the children?

The oldest of the five children was Anne. She married the famous artist Allan Ramsay.

Anne Bayne NGS       Allan_Ramsay,_Selbstportrait

Sadly, she died in childbirth in 1743, and none of their three children lived to adulthood.

The second daughter, Cecilia, married William Edmonstone, a doctor in Leith and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. They had at least two daughters who grew up and married.

The eldest son, also called Alexander, was another doctor, at Perth. He married Jean Moir and they had two children.

The middle boy, William, joined the Navy and never married.  He worked his way up through the ranks until he was Captain of a 74-gun ship of the line, Alfred. He was killed in battle with a French fleet in the Caribbean in 1782.  The French fleet was devastated in the engagement and the three British captains who died were commemorated by a 25-foot tall monument in Westminster Abbey sculpted by Joseph Nollekens.Monument to the "Three Captains", Blair, Bayne & Manners, north

The youngest son, John Bayne, was apprenticed to a merchant in Edinburgh, and may have been in London in the 1760s.  During the Seven Years’ War, William Bayne’s sloop, Spy, captured a French ship, and the agent appointed to distribute the bounty to the sailors who had been aboard at the time was a John Bayne. John later went out to India, where he amassed a substantial fortune. He returned to England in 1790, bought up a variety of properties in Kensington, and married off his (illegitimate) daughter Jane to William Kirby Trimmer, a grandson of Joshua Kirby.

Alexander Bayne on his family

The previous letter by Alexander Bayne was written in 1713, when he had just been (re)introduced to Mary Carstairs. They were soon married and lived, if not happily ever after, at least until death did them part. Here he is, writing twenty years later (November 21, 1734) fondly about his family

…You may imagine therefore the account you give me of your family was most acceptable. And, in return, I am to tell you, that I am very happy in mine. The Sparkler, I am afraid, is not now so proper a name for Mrs. Bayne as it was when I wrote you that letter you mention: however, that part of the brilliant which she has lost, is lost only by communication, for she has brought me two girls, one of twenty and another of eighteen, who have caught it; and I have the satisfaction to think, it is the least part of their value that they are handsome. I have three boys, the eldest of seven years of age, who are all much handsomer than is needful for them, and the eldest promises something of a genius, which I am the apter to flatter myself with the hopes of, as his eldest sister has it; who, without being in the smallest degree prompted, has gone through more books that most men of twice her age usually do: and, which is best of all, she is not sensible of that superiority she has over most of her sex of like age with herself.

Later his health turned worse, and in 1737, he began a trip to Bath in hopes of recovery, but he died on the journey at Alnwick, Northumberland, where he was buried and his wife put up a memorial to him in Latin with the epitaph, “The Gods conceal from men, that they may endure to live, how pleasant it is to die.”

Bayne tablet small

Davison, in A descriptive and historical view of Alnwick … (1822) gives this colourful story of his end:

Dr. Alexander Bayne, in his way to Bath from Edinburgh, when he was much reduced, was in such high spirits that he got out of his carriage a little before he came into Alnwick, and walked and sung for some way. But making a slip upon the stairs of the Angel Inn as he went to bed, he instantly expired.

His widow Mary lived on to 1759.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

The Sparkler

Another letter of Alexander Bayne, written in 1713, is on a happier note:

You may remember, I had a cousin and friend, that, two years ago, came to see me, and stayed some time in Lincoln’s Inn. With this gentleman, you must know, I have had a very long, constant, and warm friendship; and, you’ll readily imagine, he was at Edinburgh to meet me upon my arrival there. The next morning we contrived to be together tête à tête, when he, who has devoted himself to a single life, took occasion to complain to me how much he suffered by my absence, and how joyless even his rural amusements, and one of the prettiest country-seats of his, were to him, while I had no share therein, wishing withal, as he had done two years ago, that I could think of leaving England, find out a proper mate for myself, and come and live with him. You cannot doubt but these warm solicitations of so dear a friend made a very deep impression on me. A few hours after, I chanced to go to pay my respects to this gentleman’s mother, whom I found at a tea-table with her three daughters: the Sparkler very soon caught my eye; for having known her when she was a girl, and then a great favorite of mine, I had an elegant satisfaction in observing that she was now what she then promised to be. In short, I soon found myself so much hers, and she being so nearly related to my friend, that I could not but think that Providence had contrived to make this proposal effectual.  I gave into it, and matters are as far advanced as decency could permit in so short a time.

Reader, she married him.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

On the Dangers of Sitting Too Much

Alexander Bayne (c. 1684—1737) was an amiable and cultured man, and the first professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University. Alas, his zeal for the position brought him physical ailments.  In a letter to a friend in March 1736, apologizing for not writing sooner, he says he has been ill, and continues:

This illness I had first brought upon myself by a life too sedentary, and too hard study. In the year 1721, a profession of the municipal law of Scotland, or what you would call its common law, was erected here; and upon the recommendation of our fifteen judges, the patrons of the university of Edinburgh did me the honour to put me in the chair. So high a recommendation occasioned my making it too much a point of honour to fill this chair with some reputation, especially being the first of my profession in this university. I was in great health and vigour, while I was employed in composing my system of lectures, I studied at the rate of fourteen hours a day for eight months successively, and in the first years of my profession wrote with my own hand above sixteen hundred sheets. I soon felt the bad effects of such intense application of the mind, which, however, I thought were more owing to a circumstance in my way and manner of sitting and writing at a low table, by which the bowels were long in a state of being compressed and put out of their natural situation, than to the constant application of thought; for I found very soon the seat of my distemper to be in the lower region.  By great attention to my diet, which I kept very low, never tasting any liquor, but the pure element, for five years, I recovered my former state of health, and preserved it till this last summer…

Up! And away from the keyboard.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

For an earlier letter of Alexander Baynes, see The Sparkler.