Category Archives: Oddments

Casualties of War

The Battle of Waterloo left 40000 men and 10000 horses dead on the field. Between cavalry, dragoons, officer’s mounts, and draft animals, the armies of the day were heavily dependent on horses, and so the horses also became casualties.  Among those present at the battle was Captain Alexander Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery. His company of guns and horses were in the thick of battle all day and took many losses.  In his memoir, Journal of the Waterloo Campaign (1870), he writes movingly of one of these casualties.

A distressing circumstance connected with this (shall I confess it?) made even more impression on my spirits than the misfortune of Gunner Hunt.  Bolton’s people had not been long engaged when we saw the men of the gun next to us unharness one of the horses and chase it away, wounded, I supposed; yet the beast stood and moved with firmness, going from one carriage to the other, whence I noticed he was always eagerly driven away. At last two or three gunners drove him before them to a considerable distance, and then returned to their guns. I took little notice of this at the time, and was surprised by an exclamation of horror from some of my people in the rear. A sickening sensation came over me, mixed with a deep feeling of pity, when within a few paces of me stood the poor horse in question, side by side with the leaders of one of our ammunition wagons, against which he pressed his panting sides, as though eager to identify himself as of their society—the driver, with horror depicted on every feature, endeavouring by words and gestures (for the kind-hearted lad could not strike) to drive from him so hideous a spectacle. A cannon-shot had completely carried away the lower part of the animal’s head, immediately below the eyes. Still he lived, and seemed fully conscious of all around, whilst his full, clear eye seemed to implore us not to chase him from his companions. I ordered the farrier (Price) to put him out of his misery, which, in a few minutes, he reported having accomplished, by running his sabre into the animal’s heart.  Even he evinced feeling on this occasion.  (vol I, pp. 304—305)

The incident clearly made a deep impression on Mercer and was vivid when he wrote his Journal decades later.  And indeed, it still stands as a poignant reminder of the pain, suffering, and death inflicted by battle.

The Tale of Ismail Khairi Bey

In the mid-nineteenth century, Syria (which then included much of modern Lebanon) was under Ottoman rule, and it was a troublesome province with a restless population that did not always embrace Turkish dominance and taxes. The hinterlands of Ansyria were crucial for trade routes and the prosperity of coastal cities such as Tripoli, and so the region attracted the attention of the European powers as well as the Turkish overlords. Along with political and economic discontent, there was also a combustible mix of religions including substantial populations of Druze, Christians, and Muslims. There had been rebellions before and there would be massacres later.  Our tale takes place in late 1858, not long after the end of the Crimean War.

Khairi Bey was a local chieftain in the Ansyrian mountains, ruler of Safita. He had annoyed the Turkish authorities by insufficient tribute and they stirred up the local Muslim population against him, while invading his territory from two directions.  This minor footnote in history is partially illuminated by some British diplomatic correspondence. We begin with a letter from Cavalié Alexander Mercer, British Vice-Consul in Tripoli to his superior, Consul-General Moore in Beirut.

October 26, 1858.
I have the honour to inclose a communication which I have just received from Ismael Khairi bey, and shall await your decision before I venture to return any answer… He is in a scrape certainly; the Turkish troops are preparing to attack him from all sides, and all the Moslem population is against him. The Christians speak well of him, and he appears to have governed his district comparatively well, and always paid the miri, &c. He wishes for support at this juncture, to insure his meeting with justice from the Government, and offers to proceed to Beyrout [Beirut] and abide the issue of his trial, if his enemies will do the same.  He has great influence over the whole Ansyrié population. As the troops are soon about to invade his territory, and time is precious, I am anxious for your orders as soon as possible, to know what to say or do.

Khairi Bey was in trouble, and he turned to the British to use their influence to guarantee him a safe passage, and a fair trial. Moore took the request to the local Turkish rule, Khorsheed Pasha, who “promised that Khairi Bey should have a fair trial if he surrendered himself to the Turkish military authorities”. The following day, Moore wrote back to Mercer with the news and told Mercer to impress upon Khairi Bey that a) the British had intervened diplomatically on his behalf, and b) they were offering no guarantees:

You will give Khairi Bey to understand that this is the result of the representations made by me on his behalf. At the same time he must be made to understand that no guarantee is given either on my part, or on that of any other British officer, in regard to the fulfillment of the Pasha’s promises.  It would be right that you should impress on Khairi Bey the risk he runs either in defying the Turkish authorities or in countenancing others of his countrymen in doing so.

Perhaps Khairi Bey found these assurances inadequate, or needed more time, or hadn’t reckoned on the intransigence of Tahir Pasha. At any rate, he sought safety with family. On November 22, 1858, Mercer again wrote to Moore:

Sir, I have the honour to inform you that Ismail Khair Bey, of Safita, was murdered last week at Karm-el-Aiounh, the residence of Aly Shallal, his uncle, with whom he had taken refuge on the approach of the troops under the command of Tahir Pasha. Aly Shallal was outlawed by the Ottoman Government and agreed to put Ismael Bey to death for a free pardon and the possession of the treasure this last had accumulated. When this agreement took place Aly Shallal’s house was surrounded by the Turkish soldiers, who feared to attack it as the position is very strong. Ismael Bey was informed by his uncle that his brother was dead; while under the influence of this intelligence Aly Shallal shot him in the side, and one of his men dispatched him, blowing his brains out. Hi sons (quite children) were being led off to Tahir Pasha as prisoners, when Aly Shallal, remembering that if they grew up there would be a blood feud between them, had them recalled and also put to death.  The heads of Ismael Bey and his brother have been sent, I hear, to Damascus, while their wives have been shared between Aly Shallal and others of his gang.


The Bricklayers Labours

In 1734 and 1735, Robert Tatersal of Kingston-upon-Thames, spurred on by the success of Stephen Duck, produced two slim volumes of poetry, titled The Bricklayer’s Miscellany. The poems are on diverse subjects, but in “The Bricklayers Labours” he spoke uniquely of the daily life of the artisan.

At length the soft Nocturnal Minutes fly,
And crimson Blushes paint the orient Sky;
When by a kind of drowsy Stretch and Yawn,
I ope my Eyes, and view the Scarlet Dawn;
But stealing Sleep my Vitals still surprise,
And with a slumb’ring Softness seal my Eyes,
Till open Light corroborates the Day,
And through the Casement darts his signal Ray;
When up I start, and view the eastern Sky,
And by my Mark find Six o’Clock is nigh:
Then hanging on my Thread-Bare Coat and Hose,
My Hat, my Cap, my Breeches, and my Shoes;
With Sheep-skin Apron girt about my Waste,
Down Stairs I go to visit my Repast;
Which rarely doth consist of more than these,
A Quartern Loaf, and half a Pound of Cheese;
Then in a Linnen Bag, on purpose made,
My Day’s allowance o’re my Shoulder’s laid:
And first, to keep the Fog from coming in,
I whet my Whistle with a Dram of Gin;
So thus equip’d, my Trowel in my Hand,
I haste to Work, and join the ragged Band:
And now each one his different Post assign’d,
And three to three in Ranks completely join’d;
When Bricks and Mortar eccho’s from on high,
Mortar and Bricks, the common, constant Cry;
Each sturdy Slave their different Labours share,
Some Brickmen call’d, and some for Mortar are:
With sultry Sweat and blow without Allay,
Travel the Standard up and down all Day;
And now the Sun with more exalted Ray,
With glowing Beams distributes riper Day,
When amidst Dust and Smoke, and Sweat and Noise,
A Line, a Line, the Foreman crys, my Boys;
When Tuck and Pat with Flemish bound they run,
Till the whole Course is struck, compleat, and done:
Then on again, while two exalts the Quoin,
And draws the midmost Men another Line.
The Course laid out, when thro’ the fleeting Air,
A solemn Sound salutes the willing Ear;
When universal Yo-ho’s echo strait,
Our constant Signal to the Hour of Eight.
And now precipitant away we steer,
To eat our Viands, and to get some Beer;
Where midst the Clamour, Noise and smoky Din
of Dust, Tobacco, Chaws, and drinking gin,
The short Half-hour we merrily do spin.
When for Desert some with their Sun-burnt Fists,
Cram in a Chaw of Half an Ounce at least,
And then to sweep the Passage clean within,
Wash down their Throats a Quartern full of Gin.
And now again the Signal greets our Ear,
We’re called to Book, must at the Bar appear:
When the grim Host examines what we’ve done,
And scores sometimes devoutly two for one;
And now refresh’d again we mount on high,
While on calls Mortar, others Bricks do cry;
And then a Line, a Line’s the constant Sound,
By Line and Rule our daily Labour’s crown’d.
While to divert the sult’ry Hours along,
One tells a Tale, another sings a Song:
And now the Sun with full Meridian Ray,
With scorching Beams confirms the perfect Day.
Full Twelve a Clock the Labourers cry Yo-ho,
When some to Sleep, and some to Dinner go:
Some that have Victuals eat; others who’ve none,
Supply the Place with Drink and Gin alone.
Mod’rate in Food, but in good Beer profuse,
Which for the Heat we modestly excuse.
And now the gliding Minutes almost gone,
And a loud Noise proclaims the Hour of One;
Again we re-assume the dusty Stage,
The Mortar chas’d again we do engage.
This the most tedious Part of all the Day,
Full five Hours Space to toil without Allay:
Now parch’d with Hear, and almost chok’d with Dust,
We join our Pence to satiate our Thirst:
At length the Western Breezes gently play,
And Sol declining moderates his Ray;
Now the approaching welcome Hour draws near,
And now again the Signal glads our Ear;
The happy Hour we waited for all Day,
At length arrives our Labours to repay.
And now the Tools reposited with Care,
Until the morning Rays again appear;
Some homewards bend, some to the Alehouse steer,
Others more sober feast on better Cheer.
But when the Days contract an dwint’ry Hours rise,
And sable Clouds and Fogs invest the Skies,
When Frost and Cold congeals the Atmosphere,
And Trees disrob’d and hoary Fields appear;
When all the Earth in Ice and Snow is bound,
And nought but Desolation all around,
Then haples me! I wander up and down,
With half an Apron, wond’rous greasy grown!
With anxious Looks my Countenance is clad,
And all my Thoughts are like the Winter, sad!
This scene of Life corrodes y troubled Mind,
I seek for Work; but none, alas! can find;
Sometimes, by Chance, I have a Grate to set,
To hang a Copper, or a Hole repleat;
A Day or two to exercise my Skill,
But seldom more reluctant to my Will:
And this I pass the tedious Winter on,
Sometimes Repast I have, and sometimes none;
Till cheerful Phoebus with a grateful Ray,
Thro’ vernal Airs explores his will Way;
Dispells all Cares, and gladdens every Vein,
And all the joyous Scene revolves again.

His poems do not seem to have been successful.

Campbell on Bricklayers

In his London Tradesman, Campbell works through the building trades in Chapter 31, beginning with the architect and the stone mason, continuing:

The Bricklayer comes next under our Consideration. He differs from the Stone-Mason as much as his Materials; his Skill consists, considering him as a mere Bricklayer, only in ranging his Brick even upon the Top of one another, and giving them their proper Beds of Cements; for it is suppos’d, the Architect directs him in every thing related to Dimensions. But a Master-Bricklayer thinks himself capable to raise a Brick-House without the Tuition of an Architect: And in Town they generally know the just Proportion of Doors and Windows, the Manner of carrying up Vents, and the other common Articles in a City-House, where the Carpenter, by the Strength of Wood, contributes more to the standing of the House than all the Bricklayer’s Labour. He works by the Yard; that is, is paid by the Employer so much for every Yard of Brick-Work, either with or without the Materials, and is a very profitable Business; especially if they confine themselves to work for others, and do not launch out into Building-Projects of their own, which frequently ruin them: It is no new Thing in London, for those Master-Builders to build themselves out of their own Houses, and fix themselves in Jail with their own Materials. A Journeyman-Bricklayer has commonly Half a Crown a Day, and the Foreman of the Work may have Three Shillings, or perhaps a Guinea a week: But they are out of Business for five, if not six Months in the Year; and, in and about London, drink more than one third of the other Six.

Campbell is not wrong to warn of the dangers of speculation. During the rapid expansion of London and Westminster in the eighteenth century, a successful bricklayer may set himself up as a builder and build a row of houses speculatively.  Such projects did not always end well.

Mortimer, in the Universal Director, while not warning of bankruptcy, does illustrate the recent (in 1763) changes in funding house construction:

But of late years the capital Masters of the two branches of House and Ship Carpentry, have assumed the name of Builders, and Ship-Builders; for this reason, because they make an estimate of the total expence of a House or a Ship, and contract for the execution of the whole for the amount of their estimate; so that they take upon themselves the providing of all materials, and employ their own Masons, Plumbers, Smiths, &c. whereas formerly it was the custom form gentlemen and merchants to apply to the several masters in each branch, and employ them in executing their plans: this indeed is sometimes the case at present, but very rarely, particularly with regard to Houses, whole streets having lately been erected by Builders.

Related Posts:

Thomas Howlett, Bricklayer

Campbell on Painting

Campbell on Education

Campbell on Mathematical Instrument Makers

Pigs ‘N Beer

April 15, 1778: We breakfasted, dined, supped and slept again at home.  Brewed a vessel of strong Beer today. My two large Piggs, by drinking some Beer grounds taking out of one of my Barrels today, got so amazingly drunk by it, that they were not able to stand and appeared like dead things almost, and so remained all night from dinner time today. I never saw Piggs so drunk in my life, I slit their ears for them without feeling.

April 16: We breakfasted, dined, supped and slept again at home.  My 2 Piggs are still unable to walk yet, but they are better than they were yesterday.  They tumble about the yard and can by no means stand at all steady yet. In the afternoon my 2 Piggs were tolerably sober.


The diary of James Woodforde (1740—1803), an otherwise unremarkable country parson, is justly celebrated for its detailed picture of rural life in the late 18th century. The first extracts were published in the 1920s, edited by John Beresford, and a complete edition (in 17 volumes) was published by the Parson Woodforde Society. This quote is taken from the first volume of the Beresford edition.

Categories of Argument

John Tillotson (1630—1694) was an interesting person.  Born in Yorkshire in 1630, son of a Puritan clothier, he went up to Cambridge in 1647, graduating BA in 1650, MA in 1654, and becoming a fellow of Clare College.  Tillotson married the stepdaughter of John Wilkins (incidentally, Oliver Cromwell’s niece) and Wilkins and Tillotson became very close.  Wilkins got Tillotson elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and Tillotson was appointed Wilkins’ literary executor after Wilkins’ death in 1672. Meanwhile, Tillotson was marching up the ranks of the Church of England collecting plum positions and ending up as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tillotson published a number of his sermons during has lifetime and after his death, both previously published and unpublished sermons were collected, edited, and published in numerous editions, typically running around 12 or 14 volumes. They were extremely popular among both clergy and lay-people and circulated widely for over a century. In the first sermon in the collected editions (this quote is from the 1748 Edinburgh edition), he lays out a four-fold system of argument, breaking knowledge into mathematical, natural philosophical, and moral realms, as well as matters of fact, in which I think he gives a very clear exposition of epistemology in the late 17th century (he disclaims originality in the classification, but gives a good exposition).

Mathematical things, being of an abstracted nature, are capable of the clearest and strictest demonstration: but conclusions in natural philosophy, are capable of proof by an induction of experiments; things of a moral nature, by moral arguments; and matters of fact, by credible testimony. And though none of these be capable of that strict kind of demonstration which mathematical matters are; yet have we an undoubted assurance of them, when they are proved by the best arguments that things of that kind will bear. No man can demonstrate to me, unless we will call every argument that is fit to convince a wise man a demonstration, that there is such an island in America as Jamaica: yet, upon the testimony of credible persons who have seen it, and authors who have written of it, I am as free from all doubt concerning it, as I am from doubting of the clearest mathematical demonstration. So that this is to be entertained as a form principle, by all those who pretend to be certain of any thing at all, That when any thing, in any of these kinds, is proved by as good arguments as a thing of that kind is capable of, and we have as great assurance that it is, as we could possibly have supposing it were, we ought not in reason to make any doubt of the existence of that thing.

There’s more. In fact there are 254 more sermons, and this one alone runs 55 pages. Enjoy.

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.