The Ulster Unionist Tour of Canada, 1886

1000px-flag_of_canada_28pantone29-svgCanada’s 150th birthday is coming up in a few days! As part of my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh, I looked at visits across the Atlantic by Ulster unionists who aimed to publicize their cause and to counter Irish nationalism during the Home Rule era. One of the more interesting stories involving Canadian history that I came across involved two of these Ulster unionists, who toured North America in 1886.

1200px-flag_of_ulster-svgReverend Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane and barrister George Hill Smith were commissioned by the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union shortly after the defeat of the first Home Rule Bill to present the unionist cause to the North American public which they believed were blinded by a pro-nationalist press.

Kane was a fairly notorious figure within Belfast society as the rector of Christ Church, the Grand Master of Belfast’s Orange Order, and a prominent unionist speaker; he was accused of inciting the Belfast riots in 1886.  Smith was a barrister from Armagh who spoke throughout England and Scotland on behalf of the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union and other Irish unionist organizations.

Kane and Smith’s tour first took them to Canada and then to the United States.  Speaking at gatherings of Irish immigrants and their descendants, and to Orangemen, they promoted the cause of Irish unionism and attempted to discredit Irish nationalists. But there was one particularly remarkable incident that stood out both to me and to Smith, who considered it one of the most extraordinary things to happen in his long speaking career. Continue reading


Summer Book Club: Seeley’s The Expansion of England

You are asked to think over English history as a whole and consider if you cannot find some meaning, some method in it, if you cannot state some conclusion to which it leads.  Hitherto perhaps you have learned names and dates, lists of kings, lists of battles and wars.  The time comes now when you are to ask yourselves, To what end?  For what practical purpose are these facts collected and committed to memory?  If they lead to no great truths having at the same time scientific generality and momentous practical bearings, then history is but an amusement and will scarcely hold its own in the conflict of studies…. No one can long study history without being haunted by the idea of development, of progress.

J.R. Seeley wrote these words as part of a series of lectures he gave at the University of Cambridge in 1881 and 1882, published as The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures in 1883.  Seeley was a professor of modern history at Cambridge from 1869 to 1895.

NPG Ax17824; Sir John Robert Seeley by Philip Crellin Jr

John Robert Seeley – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Seeley examined modern British history with the goal of answering the question of what direction the world was headed.  His answer? Toward liberty, democracy, and the advancement of “greater” Britain. Continue reading

More Maps: John Speed’s Depictions of Ireland

Today we’re taking a look at John Speed’s depictions of Ireland in his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/1612.  Speed (1552-1629), the best-known mapmaker of his era, included an overview of Ireland and maps of each province in his atlas.  As I described in a previous post, Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his atlas, but made the maps and other elements himself.

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland - photo credit: British Library

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland – photo credit: British Library

R. Dudley Edwards and Mary O’Dowd noted the importance of Speed’s maps in their Sources for Early Modern Irish History, 1534-1641, writing:

Among the most ambitious projects commissioned by a London bookseller in the early seventeenth century was John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, which appeared in 1611.  Speed devoted special attention to Ireland for which he provided a general map of the country and separate provincial maps.  This gives him, in the opinion of J.H. Andrews, the claim to be, in the eyes of contemporaries, the author of the definitive map as known till the mid seventeenth century in Britain and abroad.  Speed’s work was based on some of the ‘regional surveys, especially in the north, as well as Mercator’s general map of 1595, and, less, happily, Boazio.’  His work included the first printed plans for the towns of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.  As Dr. Nuala Burke pointed out, Speed’s work was not necessarily up to date.  She considers, however, that Speed can be regarded as giving a ‘reasonably correct general impression of the actual early seventeenth century topography,’ though there can be errors in matters of detail.

While this was considered the definitive map of Ireland and its provinces for its time, there are biases and agendas at work in Speed’s depictions.  Continue reading

An Introduction to Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 1

An Introduction to Slavery and the Arts, Pt. 1

Over the summer I was asked to take part in Glasgow’s Black History Month programme of events and started putting together a talk on ‘Slavery in the Arts in the Era of [British] Abolition’. I had previously looked at the importance of artwork, literature, and drama to the anti-abolitionists in establishing and demonstrating the existence of a culture of proslavery for both my PhD thesis and my book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). I also wanted to share some of my thoughts here on some of the uses of artistic depictions of slavery during abolition.


William Holland (publisher), ‘The Blind Enthusiast’, 1792  — Image credit: The British Museum

Works of art are vital sources of information. In theory, many types of artistic works could be seen, heard, and understood by a wider range of individuals than written works such as a periodical, newspaper, or pamphlet. They contain visual details that might not otherwise of have been captured by an author’s printed words. Information about Africans and people of African descent in the colonies was shared with a wide swath of the British public and British politicians by Britain’s anti-slavery societies and their opposition. Many of these artistic works could certainly have been created with the intention of swaying public opinion, but their form, being pieces of art, meant that they could also be passed off as a simply pieces of art.

There seems to have been four central uses of artwork, drama, song, literature, etc.  that depict images of the enslaved in Britain in the later 18th and early 19th centuries:

  • Art as a Leisure Pursuit
  • Art as Information
  • Art as Propaganda
  • Art as a Commercial Endeavour

The divisions between the categories can be quite blurred, as you’ll see, depending on the author’s intention, the date of creation/publication, and the display or distribution of the item.

‘Reading’, analysing, and understanding artistic sources requires a range of techniques that are drawn from the fields of history, drama, art history, and language studies. Items need to be studied within a wider context:

  • Where and when was it created?
  • Who was the creator/artist/author?
  • Who might have seen the work?
  • Why might it have been made?
  • How does the piece compare to other similar contemporary works?
  • Are there any contemporary records that mention it? If so, where are the records from and what do they say about it?

Art is also an interpretation of its subject, so any analysis of a piece of artwork would be an interpretation of an interpretation.

This was a period of growth in the middling classes. People were encouraged to go out, visit newly opened galleries, expanded theatres, and circulating libraries in cities across Britain, share ideas in cafes with likeminded, politically-aware individuals, and develop ‘taste’ and an appreciation for the arts. The upper middling and upper classes also had the money and time to support the arts, read widely and build up a small home library, attend the theatre, collect some favourite political prints or caricatures, and have portraits painted to display within their homes.

People bought or borrowed books and tended to read aloud, allowing for others to share in the experience. Women will still discouraged from attending the theatre (due to the threat of being ‘corrupted’ by the experience); this demonstrates a heightened awareness of the theatre as political and influential, as well as the true mix of crowds in the stalls. Literacy rates were growing among men and women. Novels, known more in the 18th century as histories, romances, etc., became more popular and more common as literacy rates grew.

Portraiture was the most popular genre of art in 18th century Britain. Political prints, however, were a key part of making a politician or other individual recognisable to the wider public. Meanwhile, hundred of poems about slavery and the colonies were also published. Most of these were anti-slavery in nature, but a few supported the institution of slavery or the colonies in general.

A few key things have shaped how slavery would be depicted in the arts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. First, by defining or classifying Africans and people of African descent as ‘black’ and Britons/Europeans as ‘white’, this automatically places the two in direct opposition with one another. This opposition can be magnified through an artist’s paint choice or pen strokes. In a pen and ink political print, for example, a ‘white’ subject might not have any colour or shading added to their skin, whereas a ‘black’ might be completely coloured in.

Second, as the century went on, we see that for the first time African or black subjects are being depicted as ‘familiar’ rather than ‘foreign’ subjects in some forms of art. This suggests a growing awareness or even a sense of familiarity of slavery or the role of Africans in the British colonies and in Britain. Abolitionists were striving to make the plight of African slaves on slave ships and in the colonies a familiar subject to the British public. They wanted to convince Britons that they could and should help induce Parliament to make a change and vote for abolition. Perhaps this shift in the role of blacks in British art is a sign of their efforts and denoted their later success.

I hope this has served as an informative, interesting introduction to art in the era of British abolition. Next week I’ll look at some specific pieces to show how art (and slaves) were used across the genres of artwork, song, literature, and drama.

Suggested Reading:

Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal, eds., Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Jan Marsh, ed., Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900 (Aldershot: Manchester Art Galleries, 2006).

Marcia Pointon, Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993).

Hazel Waters, Racism on the Victorian Stage: Representations of Slavery and the Black Character (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Karina Williamson, ed., Contrary Voices: Representations of West Indian Slavery, 1657-1834  (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2008).

Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representation of Slavery in England and America 1780-1865 (New York: Routledge, 2000).

Gibraltar and Brexit

When I switched on the tv to watch the returns for the EU referendum on the evening of 23 June, the first voting area to report its result was Gibraltar.  The numbers were read off: 19,322 votes for Remain, 823 votes for Leave, with a turnout of 83.5%.

With 95.9% of the vote, Gibraltar was the top area of support for Remain.

United Kingdom EU referendum 2016 area results.svg

Map Credit: wikimedia commons

While the end result of the overall vote certainly captured my attention that day and subsequently, my interest was still piqued for what the Brexit result would mean for Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is one of fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories, under British control since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.  Early on, it was conquered successively by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Visigoths, who each valued its strategic location on the Mediterranean Sea.  Islamic forces conquered Gibraltar as part of the conquest of Iberia, in 711; Spain retook control in 1462.

During the War of Spanish Succession, Gibraltar was captured from the Spanish and ceded to the British, who faced down subsequent sieges by Spain and consolidated their control by 1784.

Spain has continually disputed the status of Gibraltar as a British territory, making this the crucial element of how Brexit will impact the territory.

Even before the referendum, José Manuel García-Margallo (Spain’s acting Foreign Minister) remarked that it was “perfectly possible” for Spain to close the border with Gibraltar if the UK left the European Union, although he also stated that this was not something the Spanish government had specifically considered.  The border with Spain had previously been closed between 1969 and 1985, only fully reopening when Spain joined the European Community.  García-Margallo also told Spanish National Radio that if Britain were to leave the EU, “we would be talking about Gibraltar the very next day.”

In 2002, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal to share sovereignty with Spain.  Now, many in Gibraltar see the EU as a force that aids in keeping a positive relationship with the Spanish.  With Spain in control of its only land border, freedom of movement could be at stake, as about 10,000 people cross the border with Spain for work each day.  And the question of sovereignty also will continue to surface.  After the Brexit vote, García-Margallo stated, “The Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before.”

Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, dismissed the idea of a change in sovereignty but has pursued a separate deal to keep Gibraltar in the EU.

What will it mean for this part of Britain on the European mainland to no longer be part of the European Union?  How open will the border with Spain remain when it is no longer an EU border?  And how will this impact the lives and identity of the people of Gibraltar in the long run?

Ireland and India: Source Round-Up

One area that I’ve seen come up more and more in the study of Irish history is the linking of Ireland to India.  This is an extremely rich realm of study, encompassing everything from the presence of the Irish in the Indian civil service to links between nationalist groups to literary and intellectual connections.

The Irish played an outsized role as soldiers and civil servants in India, serving the British Empire in the army, as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and administrators.  The Catholic and Presbyterian churches also sent missionaries from Ireland to India.  The Anglo-Irish in particular acted as part of the British elite in India, contributing to the ranks of viceroys and governors general – including Lord Canning, Lord Mayo, Lord Dufferin, and Lord Lansdowne.  Lord Macartney was the Governor of Madras; the Lawrence brothers were known for their prominent roles in the Punjab; Lord Cornwallis, Sir Charles Trevelyan, and Sir Antony MacDonnell each served in both Ireland and India.

India and Ireland engaged with each other through their respective nationalist movements, with Ireland acting as a successful example.  Daniel O’Connell helped to form the British India Society in 1839; Home Rule MP Frank Hugh O’Donnell promoted the cause of India; links were forged between Éamon de Valera, Sean T. O’Kelly, and Frank Aiken on the Irish side with Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Vithalbhai Patel from India.  The desire for cooperation amongst nationalists led to the formation of the Indian-Irish Independence League in 1932.

India and Ireland are linked through literary history (such as the work of Kipling, Yeats, and MacNeice), political activism on nationalism and suffrage (as evidenced by James and Margaret Cousins, and Margaret Noble), and anti-imperial activity.  Comparative history has also been a fruitful realm of research – everything from examining the British role in both countries, law and governance, the role of the press, political movements, communism, gender roles, mythmaking, and construction of national identity.

I’ve listed below some of the sources for this productive area of study – it is by no means exhaustive but definitely gives you an idea of all of the great scholarly work on Ireland and India.

  • Sikata Banerjee, Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004 (New York: New York University Press, 2012).
  • Purnima Bose, Organizing Empire: Individualism, Collective Agency, and India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).
  • B. Cook, Imperial Affinities: Nineteenth Century Analogies and Exchanges between India and Ireland (New Delhi: Sage, 1993).
  • Ganesh Devi, “India and Ireland: Literary Relations,” in The Internationalism of Irish Literature and Drama, ed. Joseph McMinn (Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble, 1992).
  • Tadhg Foley and Maureen O’Connor, eds., Ireland and India: Colonies, Culture and Empire (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006).
  • G. Fraser, “Ireland and India,” in ‘An Irish Empire’? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire, ed. Keith Jeffery (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).
  • Denis Holmes and Michael Holmes, eds., Ireland and India: Connections, Comparisons, Contrasts (Dublin: Folens, 1997).
  • Glenn Hooper and Colin Graham, eds. Irish and Postcolonial Writing: History, Theory, Practice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
  • Joseph Lennon, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004).
  • Mansoor, The Story of Irish Orientalism (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, 1944).
  • Kaori Nagai, Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 2006).
  • Kate O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919-1964 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008).
  • Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre, Cosmopolitan Nationalism in the Victorian Empire: Ireland, India and the Politics of Alfred Webb (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
  • Michael Silvestri, Ireland and India: Nationalism, Empire and Memory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
  • Julia M. Wright, Ireland, India, and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).