Smuggling Moonshine

Brandy, tea, salt – these products are famed-famous as objects of smuggling in the 18th century. Did you know that Scottish whisky was an object of the illegal trade, especially between 1780 – 1823? Whisky was called ‘moonshine’ then, as it was illicitly produced at night in small cottages in the Highlands, and secretly transported by smugglers to harbours for further distribution.

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Don’t Expect Napkins at an Inn – A Continental Explorer’s View on Georgian England

Portrait of Georg Forster

Georg Forster was a central figure of the Enlightenment in Germany. He travelled with Captain James Cook on the second voyage (1772-1775), and was a member of the Royal Society. He also became known as the founder of modern travel writing.
In 1790, the famous scientist chose England as his destination. Young Alexander von Humboldt accompanied him, at that time a budding scientific talent.
Forster turned the impression of the trip into a book titled “Views of the Lower Rhine, from Brabant, Flanders, Holland, England, and France in April, May and June 1790”. It was published from 1791–94.

Here are some observations on Georgian England meant to amuse readers on the Continent:

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Anna on stage at “StadtLesen” in Ottobrunn

I have been honoured to join the performing authors at a public reading event from October 24 – 27, 2019. My historical novel “Von tadellosem Ruf” (”Of impeccable reputation”) took the audience back in time to the England of Jane Austen. I read together with big names of the German book scene, as Dorothée Kreusch-Jacob, a noted author and song writer for children, Quint Buchholz, a leading illustrator, and novelist and journalist Ruth Eder.

Public reading at “StadtLesen” in Ottobrunn / Germany: Anna M. Thane, Dorothee Kreusch-Jacob, Quint Buchholz, Ruth Eder

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Becoming Alexander von Humboldt – A Budding Explorer in Georgian England

Alexander von Humboldt in 1784 (left)
and in 1806 (right).

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was the celebrated explorer of his generation. It is little known that he started his scientific career with a trip to England in 1790. He was 20 years old, and travelled with the famous Georg Forster, author of “A Voyage Round the World”, member of the Royal Society and of Captain James Cook’s crew on the second voyage (1772-1775).
The experienced explorer and the young men had met in 1789 in Mainz / Germany. Alexander was fascinated by the lively and powerful Forster, his impressive career and exiting plans. He dedicated his first scientific thesis about mineralogical observations on basalts to Forster.
It is no surprise that Alexander was delighted when Forster, recognizing the budding talent, asked the young man to join him on his next trip in 1790. Destination: England.
Find out how the journey to England influenced the life of Alexander von Humboldt.

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Travelling with Turner: Exploring the Swiss Alps in 1802

JMW Turner, © The Tate Gallery

Around the turn of the 19th century, Joseph Mallord William Turner was a young, restless painter, always on the lookout for inspiration for his art. After having toured many parts of Britain, he planned to visit the Continent. He was especially interested in the awe-inspiring, romantic Swiss Alps – considered by many a rocky, dangerous wasteland. Thus, aged about 27, and still being an unknown artist, he decided to follow his plans through. Let’s accompany him on his first ever trip abroad.

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Fashion for a Fashionable Item

Hand-held fans, previously reserved for royalty and aristocrats, become a must-have accessory for every lady in high society at the end of the 17th century. The trend to carry a fan spreads rapidly through society. With this, the decoration of the fan leave becomes light-hearted: The religious and classical motifs give way to pastoral scenes, al fresco parties, and themes of love-and-courtship. Interestingly, fashion itself also features on the fashionable accessories, serving as a fashion plate and fashion statement.

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Jane Austen, the Captain and the Smugglers of a Tiny Island

Captain Corbet James D’Auvergne could lay claim to knowing Jane Austen. The authoress mentions him in two letters to her sister Cassandra. Read more about Captain D’Auvergne connection to Jane Austen, and his achievements as Acting Governor of a tiny island in the North Sea called Heligoland.

After a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton in December 1808, Jane Austen – proficient as ever in summing up a gentleman’s potential as a spouse – noted that Corbet James D’Auvergne was both a captain in the Royal Navy and a ship owner. The remark might have been a joke about husband-hunting, but the Captain was indeed a good catch for a lady looking for hero-material in her husband. Besides, he was still single. Any lady furthering her acquaintance with him should know, however, that he had his hands in large-scale smuggling.
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Object of Interest: The Serinette

Music instruments of the 18th century – the harp and the piano for genteel young ladies come to mind, the violin for young Arthur Wellesley, flutes and pipes for rustic dances. But is that really all that was popular during that time? Well, I came across an interesting piece (see photo) at the section for musical instruments of Deutsches Museum / Munich. It is a type of mechanical musical instrument consisting of a small barrel organ and some pipes. But what exactly is it – a simple music box? There wasn’t a description added to the instrument, but having the year 1813 written on it, it naturally interested me. I did some research and found out more:

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Lord Stanhope and the Mysterious Death of Kasper Hauser

Lord Stanhope (left) and Kaspar Hauser (right)

On 14 December 1833 in Ansbach, a small town in Bavaria, a young man staggers home with a deep wound in his left breast. He states that he was lured to the Court Garden where a stranger stabbed him while giving him a small bag. The young man is known as Kasper Hauser, a local celebrity of his time, and also a mysterious youth of unknown origin.

A policeman searches the Court Garden. He finds a purse containing a note in mirror writing indicating in riddled form the attacker’s identity. He finds neither the weapon involved nor any other helpful evidence. Kasper Hauser dies of his wound three days later.

The death of Kasper Hauser in 1833 is a one of the most famed-famous unsolved cases of criminology. Until today, we don’t know for sure whether the young man was murdered or died by inflicting himself a wound with a knife that penetrated much deeper than he had intended. Until today, we don’t even know who Kasper Hauser was: an imposter, a hereditary prince, an innocent boy?

The story of Kaspar Hauser, a ‘feral child’, who claimed to have lived in isolation and captivity, has all ingredients of a novel of Mrs. Radcliffe: political intrigue, espionage, and conspiracy theories. But what has the English aristocrat, Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, 4. Earl Stanhope (1781-1855), to do with the young man, his secret and his death? Continue reading

Objects of Interest: Unusual Small Arms

For persons interested in small arms, the 18th century has much to offer. Small arms were common in the army, but also in the everyday life of the rich, be it for sports, hunting or self-defence. Thus, gun-makers produced fascinating pieces for their clients. Find here three unusual small arms with interesting features. Continue reading