Did the Victorians have pubic hair?

The short answer is, of course they did, but if you were to go on the evidence of paintings alone you might be forgiven for thinking that Victorian women did not have pubic hair.

This clearly was not the case.

Not only do we have the story of Ruskin fleeing into the night when he discovered that his wife, Effie Gray, had pubes, there’s more than enough evidence in the form of nineteenth century pornography to show that women did indeed have pubic hair.

Hardly surprising

What’s more interesting is the question of when and why did women start removing their body hair.

People have always done things to change their appearance to enhance their attractiveness according to the cultural norms of the time, such as plucking their eyebrows, wearing eyeliner and lipstick etc, etc.

In the nineteenth century women didn’t wear makeup or, if they did, it was very discreet. It’s interesting that Louise Bryant, in her early days as a schoolteacher in the pacific north west of America was thought to be of dubious character because she wore powder and perfume.

And, of course, until the nineteen-twenties most female clothing covered the armpits and legs which meant there was no reason to remove body hair.

With the adoption of shorter dresses and styles that revealed the armpits safety razor manufacturers sought to expand the market selling the idea of hairlessness as somehow more feminine, and of course the safety razor made it a relatively safe thing to do, and something that could easily be done in the privacy of one’s boudoir

Although not everyone got the memo

Even though women had started shaving their armpit and leg hair by the late 1920’s, pubic hair remained untouched. Art studio photographs from the 1930’s (and there’s a whole industry out there providing high quality nude images scanned from the portfolios of 1930’s photographers – you too can have some tasteful 1930’s nudes on your apartment wall) show that basically people still had pubic hair and it was relatively ungardened.

As indeed can be seen in the art from the time

In fact pubic hair seems to have remained as nature intended until the nineteen eighties when high cut swim wears and underwear started to require a bit of trimming ….

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Sort of an Indiana Jones moment

I was on a beach a few days ago, birdwatching, when I noticed a small corroded metal disk stuck in a crack.

“Wow, a coin!” I thought, and did what anyone else would and picked it up.

Well the face was completely illegible, and I thought I could just about discern a Queen Victoria young head

Face of the coin

But to be honest it could have been the King of Thailand, it was so corroded. It didn’t appear to have any reeding or milling on the edges so my first guess was a nineteenth century half penny.

However, it wasn’t my lucky day. When I flipped it over all was revealed

coin reverse

it was simply a very corroded standard 10 cent coin.

Now we all know that more often or not what turns up is not that interesting, but it’s the finding and tracing that’s fun …

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Why Victorian cemeteries all look the same (almost)

First snow: Camp Hill pic.twitter.com/89UxYb3KfC

Embedded video

— Dead In Halifax (@deadinHalifax) November 24, 2021

I was idly surfing twitter this morning and almost proved that I was as much of a gonk as J says that I am.

I’d seen the above tweet and assumed that the cemetery shown was in Halifax in England and not Nova Scotia. (J’s cousin lives near Halifax – the Yorkshire one – and I was going to show her the tweet and say something like “Oh look, Alison’s got snow already”.)

Fortunately, before I could make a gonk of myself, the cats yowled to be let in out of the rain, but that did lead me to the question of why do a lot of nineteenth century cemeteries all look the same?

The Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton, the sprawling (and at the time I used to ride past on my bike on the way to the Uni, spookily overgrown) Hull General Cemetery, or even the absurdly photogenic Waverley cemetery overlooking the water in Sydney all share the same general layout of graves clustered together and over the top funeral monuments.

File:Waverley Cemetery, Bronte, New South Wales 34.jpg
Waverley Cemetery (Wikimedia Commons)

And of course, the answer, as with so much else, lies with the Victorians.

Prior to the Victorian period, most people in England were buried in churchyards associated with their local parish. Before religious toleration, everyone was nominally Anglican, so even if you were a Catholic or worse, a Methodist, you usually ended up in the local Anglican graveyard.

Sometimes the burial records recorded the faith of these nominal Anglicans as a comment but mostly they didn’t. It’s also important to remember that burial fees were an important component of an Anglican priest’s income, especially if they were someone like Patrick Bronte who had no inherited wealth of his own, only a determination to succeed.

Doctrinal issues aside, as the population grew, especially in the large industrial cities of the Midlands and the North, the traditional graveyards began to overflow. There simply wasn’t enough space in the existing burial grounds, and no way of expanding them, as urban graveyards were usually hemmed in by houses and factories.

The ever practical Victorians of course had an answer – buy a tract of land outside of an adjacent city and use that as a graveyard. And being practical people, the Victorians came up with plans to carefully segregate the Anglicans from the Catholics, the Methodists from the Presbyterians and so on in their own zones within the cemetery.

This is why you see groups of larger and more demonstrative grave monuments clustered together, simply because, in Australia at least, the Catholics and the Anglican preferred showier monuments to those preferred by the Presbyterians and Methodists.

Of course, population growth being what it was, and the general expansion of cities, many of these cemeteries originally on the edge of town are now well and truly in the city itself, if not exactly in the centre.

As such, they provide a valuable resource for local residents as somewhere to walk, a haven for wildlife, and a place for calm and contemplation, and we should celebrate them. After all the Victorians wouldn’t have minded, a good middle class day out was a tour of the cemetery and an inspection of the graves of the great and the good…

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The shillings of 1814 …

A few days ago I posted the following to twitter:

Now really this is an exercise in geekery.

As far as I can work out (and I may be wrong here) there were no shilling coins issued in 1814 and those that might have been in circulation would have had the Roman emperor style head like this

George iii shilling 1787

And the reason was that after the Napoleonic wars the currency was in a shocking state. Silver was needed to pay subsidies to Britain’s allies, copper (as in copper bottomed) was needed by the navy, with the result there was a shortage of coins.

Various towns and merchants issued tokens, some of which look very much like real coins, to provide small change, and even the Bank of England issued tokens to help with paying out cheques.

Most of the high end coins would have been replaced with paper money, sometimes of doubtful validity as banks did fail suddenly and drastically in the Georgian era.

And of course sometimes foreign, often Spanish, silver coins circulated, sometimes overstruck with King George’s head.

Basically the money was a mess.

And in Tasmania, probably even more so.

There was a chronic shortage of coins, anything and everything circulated, be it coins brought by American whalers and silver rupees from the East India company, and even British coins brought in the pockets of the soldiers. In 1813 Governor Macquarie of NSW even imported Spanish dollars to be restruck as Holey Dollars.

Tasmania didn’t become a separate colony until 1825 meaning that Holey Dollars from NSW also circulated in Tasmania and were still legal tender as late as 1849.

So, while there may have been some early British silver coins in circulation in Tasmania there wouldn’t have been many.

In 1816, to bring some sense to this chaos, the British organised a recoinage, where they pulled all the old silver out of circulation and struck a whole lot of new shillings, sixpences and half crowns. And importantly they stayed in circulation well into the Victorian period, basically until they were too worn, along with the coins issued under George IV and William IV, so that in 1840 say, you would expect a mixture of coins from these four monarchs, including George III, principally because they struck so many – which is exactly what you see if you look at the image on the ABC site.

Given that Tasmania was very remote, that is of course why it was used as a prison colony, coins probably stayed in circulation until they were very worn, which is again what you see with the Queen Victoria ones being relatively unworn, while the earlier ones, with the exception of one 1819 George III coin and one George IV coin, are quite badly worn.

So, waving hands, I’d guess that the coin stash was put together in the 1840’s or 1850’s. While transportation ended in 1853, Port Arthur was still in use until the 1870’s. The fact the latest coin is said to date from 1844 suggests a date in the late 1840’s at the earliest.

The queen Victoria coins are not a lot of help to date the collection.

William Wyon’s ‘Young Victoria‘ head was used on most silver coins until the 1880’s, despite the head on the copper coins changing to a more mature head when they replaced the old copper pennies with bronze in the 1860’s. Consequently, the head style is not much use as a guide to when the stash was put together, as all the Queen Victoria shillings in circulation before the prison closed would have had the ‘Young Victoria‘ head …

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Steam bakeries

A long time ago, nearly forty years ago now, I lived for a time in a village called Newbridge on Wye almost slap bang in the centre of Wales.

At the time, further up the hill from where I lived, there was a corner store with a big painted ghost sign proclaiming ‘Steam Bakery’.

When I lived there it was no longer a bakery, but rather a basic corner store with fresh bread (sometimes) run by two old ladies who would occasionally try and slip you an Irish or Isle of Man 10p in your change.

The store now is long gone, as is the sign, and the building, still the same, is an outdoor adventure store. I’m sure I once had a photograph of the sign, but a lot of my photographs and negatives disappeared in one of my moves, so unless it’s in one of my very old boxes of undigitised 35mm slides, I almost certainly no longer have a picture.

I did look on StreetView to see if the sign was still there, but no, and an image search doesn’t turn up anything in the way of matches, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to trust me on this.

Time moves on and I moved on to other jobs, but I’ve always wondered what a steam bakery is.

So yesterday when it was wet I tried a little research.

My first discovery was that the Skewen – Skewen is a village in South Wales near Neath – Historical Society has some information about the old steam bakery in the town on its Facebook page, which looked promising.

So, based on one Facebook post, I’ll hazarded a guess that steam bakeries were a late Victorian thing. How common and how widespread wasn’t clear at first but a search through Welsh Newspapers online turned up quite a few late Victorian adverts for steam bakeries, suggesting that they were pretty widespread including in rural towns as well as the cities

advert for steam bakery

I did discover that the Newbridge on Wye bakery was called the Cambrian Steam bakery, but other than that it doesn’t seem to have left much of a trail behind it.

So what exactly was a steam bakery?

Well, steam baking was a technique popularized by the rather wonderfully named August Zang who introduced the technique to France in the 1830’s. Basically the bread is baked in an oven which has steam in it – originally from wet hay in the base of the oven, but later from a boiler, a technique that produced a better crust and was marketed as a better quality product.

I’ll hazard a guess that in late Victorian times having bread from a steam bakery was a step up from the ordinary, and something that advertised itself as a steam bakery was thought to be something special.

But obviously not that special to have one in a small farming village in rural Wales, so saying you were a steam bakery was to do with marketing as much as anything, just as some bakeries advertised themselves as ‘Hygenic Bakeries’ or even ‘Hygenic Steam Bakeries‘.

What I find interesting about this story is how the whole steam bakery thing has disappeared from memory …

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So who was John Drummond ?

IMG_0423 (2)

Piecing together the outline of his life was absurdly easy, in part because the UK National Archives hold the UK army records from the period, the activities of local history societies and the deep interest of military historians in the Peninsular war.

Basically his life looks like this

  • Born 1791 in Crieff in Perthshire Scotland
  • Enlisted in 1807 at age 15 – although apparently he lied and said he was 18
  • Served in the Peninsular war between 1808 and 1814
  • Recorded as being wounded in the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro in 1811
  • Married Jean Currie in Falkirk in Scotland in March 1822
  • Discharged from the army in 1828 – his age was given as 40 – his original lie about his true age had followed him through the army
  • Migrated to Australia in 1831 and initially worked around Goulburn
  • Sometime in the 1850’s he moved to Beechworth
  • Died 1865 at the age of 73, finally admitting his true age

I havn’t been able to find out what sort of work he did around Goulburn or exactly when he migrated to Beechworth – Beechworth was a pastoral settlement prior to the discovery of gold in 1853 so it’s possible he came here for farm work, or perhaps to try his luck during the gold rush.

The other interesting thing is that the gravestone isn’t really a gravestone – he was buried in an unmarked grave and the record of exactly where he was buried was lost in a fire in 1867.

The actual memorial dates to 1995 when it was erected by a local historical society – which explains a) why it differs stylistically from other markers of the period, and b) relatively little wear due to weather and lichen …

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A walk to the cemetery

Today was clock change day, when the clocks went forward for summer. Typically it was a damp day, threatening rain, so we went for a walk up to the town cemetery.

IMG_0427 (2)

As Beechworth’s an old town, the cemetery’s pretty old as well, dating from 1856.

There had been cemeteries before, in Loch Street and Albert Road, but the bodies there were disinterred and moved to the new cemetery,

In Australia, the whole church and churchyard thing didn’t really happen, except for a few very early churches round Sydney.

Mostly cemeteries were public facilities on the outside of town, and divided into sections for the various denominations – Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, a section for people who belonged to odd sects, and unusually a Chinese section for the 2000 or so Chinese miners who died here

DSCF0300 (2)

I havn’t checked closely, but I don’t think there are any Orthodox, Jewish, or Moslem graves, but again, they might be put among  the independents.

Unlike in England, where quite often country churchyards are unkempt, especially where the church has fallen out of use, and provide a refuge for wildlife and plants, the cemetery is mowed, but interestingly some of the older graves which are surrounded by metal fencing providing a refuge for native grasses


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although in some, the native plants have been outcompeted by lillies that have taken root.

But it’s not all botany and wildlife – there are some interesting graves as well, including this one

IMG_0423 (2)

The 71st regiment of Foot is well attested to, having fought in various colonial wars and the Peninsular war in Spain.

I know nothing of John Drummond, or where he served, but it is fascinating to think that someone who was at Waterloo ended up as one of the early settlers in Beechworth …

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Yesterday, when I was working dow in Dow’s I found an old bottle of a patent medicine called Phosferrin in a cupboard


and from the label you can see that it was a complete cure all. As well as the bottle I found a scruffy little cardboard box of Phosferrin pills


remarkably the paper seal on the packet was still intact so I’m presuming the the remains of pills are still inside.

Even though the packages say Forbes Phosferrin, both the bottle and packet were produced by Martin and Pleasance who are still with us as a supplier of homeopathic medicines.

Around the time of the first world war Phosferrin was touted mainly as a nerve tonic to steady the nerves, with various endorsements from men serving at the front as to how it helped them cope with the stress of being in the trenches, but before and after the first world war it was advertised as a stress reliever, with now forgotten silent movie actresses such as Malvina Longfellow endorsing it as a way to cope with the stress of filming.

Sometimes spelt Phosferrin, other times Phosferrine, it was manufactured and sold by various patent medicine manufacturers. 

In 1911 the BMJ published a study which suggested that it was pasically a mixture of water, phosphoric acid and alcohol, with a touch of quinine and a dash of sulphuric acid for added zing.

Probably harmless unless consumed to excess, it would have been totally useless as something to aid depression or relieve stress, except as a placebo.

Phosferrin seems to have dropped out of use in the mid 1920’s, and I originally thought it to be an early twentieth century phenomenon.

Not a bit of it – while researching this post I found this advert from 1878

phosferrin evening times 1878

from the Evening Times in Wellington NZ.

Interesting – and also interesting that homeopathic medicines were being promoted so early in New Zealand.

In fact, using querypic to search for phosferrine we can see it was mentioned in Australian newspapers until the 1950’s, phosferrin was really popular in New Zealand in the in early 1880’s

chart (11)

Why the interest?

Well it looks as if Phosferrin was promoted as refreshing drink as well

Screenshot 2021-09-24 151902

Which is not quite as weird as it sounds – after all Coca Cola started out was a patent medicine …

[update 24/09/2021]

Just for fun, I did a search for Phosferin on Welsh Papers online as a proxy for advertising in newspapers in the UK.

Their corpus only goes as far as 1919 and I expected to find examples of advertising similar to that which I’d found in Australia and New Zealand.

Initially I drew a blank, but searching for the string Phosfer* brought up plenty of examples, mostly the same as those used in Australia and New Zealand, including endorsements from troops on the Western Front.

(I’m guessing that Welsh Papers Online’s OCR isn’t quite as robust either Trove’s or Papers Past NZ’s and hence struggled with recognising Phosferrin.)

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Stepney and the Moncurs

Back in 2019, I came across the intriguing story that a James Moncur had been a master mariner working out of Sydney in the 1840’s and had has a Maori wife, and two daughters who had both European and Maori names.

At the time I wasn’t able to tie it into my own family history, but recently I’ve got a little closer.

James was born in Stepney in London. No surprises there, that was a major shipping and dockside area. (interesting, Ann Salmond, my distant relation and Thomas Allen’s mistress was born  a few years earlier in Hackney perhaps hinting at a family migration.

His father, also James, married in Marylebone in London but was born and christened in Dundee,

At this point the records start to run out.

His father is given as George Moncur who is said to have been born sometime around 1745 in Dundee.

However a search of Scotland’s People turns up only one George Moncur in the decade between 1740 and 1750, and he was born on March 29 in 1748 in Kirriemuir


Screenshot 2021-08-27 160343

with his father being either Joseph or John Moncur.

Kirriemuir is of course roughly in the area that my family came from, and while circumstantial this hints at a possible link to the New Zealand connection.

Of course, 1745 was a time of disruption with Bonnie Prince Charlie and all, and while Dundee was not subject to any serious damage it could be that the various Kirk session minute books from around that time were lost (or less romantically, that the rats got to them), but for the moment Kirriemuir it is.

Screenshot 2021-08-27 163337

The location, Burnmouth of Kintyrie, as seen in this 1860’s Ordnance Survey map, still exists, and is not that far from Cortachy castle, which I remember various elderly relatives talking about, so possibly there was some oral memory, now lost, of a connection to the Cortachy area.

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Paddle steamers …

About a year ago I blogged about Mary Shelley and her trip by sea to Dundee.

At the time I made the point that before railways, travel by sea was considerably more comfortable that overland travel by coach.

In much the same way, during that window between around 1815 and the development of the railway network – say 1850 – river borne paddle steamers offered a viable alternative mode of travel between major cities in both England and Scotland.

So I was particularly interested when reports on a major archaeological dig in Hull reveled the graves of victims of an 1837 paddle steamer explosion in Hull.

When I lived in Hull at the end of the seventies, it was a moribund, woebegone place. The fishing industry had collapsed, and the city was very isolated geographically – the Humber Bridge was still being built, rail services were poor, often involving a change at Selby (who else remembers coming back from London and freezing on the platform on a winter’s evening waiting for the porter to shout ‘Ull train’ for the invariably late connecting service ?) and road links were not the best.

In contrast, in the early nineteenth century it was a bustling port with shipping services, including passenger services to London and the port cities of Scotland, to the Netherlands and northern Germany, and a network of paddle steamer services up the navigable tributaries of the Humber.

Paddle steamers demanded little in terms of infrastructure – they did not need particularly deep water to operate in, and could utilize existing wharves used for riverborne traffic – making them quick to establish, for example Edward Baines’ 1823 Yorkshire Gazetteer lists numerous steam packet services from Hull to Gainsborough, York, Selby, Thorne, and also connecting stagecoach services to the larger industrial cities of Yorkshire.

In contrast railways were capital intensive due to the costs of construction, and of course took significant time to build requiring bridges, viaducts, cuttings and stations to be built.

But of course the paddle steamers could only go where the navigable rivers went, and of course were often too wide to manage the canal locks, which is why their routes often terminated at unlikely seeming places such as Gainsborough in Lincolnshire and Thorne in West Yorkshire – Thorne being the nearest paddle steamers could get to Doncaster and Sheffield, and Gainsborough to the Trent valley.

The railways won out because they offered direct connections without the need to change services.

But of course it was not just in Britain that paddle steamers offered valuable low infrastructure links.

In Sibera some forty years later, Harry de Windt had a mad dash from Khiatka to catch a paddle steamer to take him on to Irkutsk, and Anton Chekhov again made use of paddle steamers on Amur on his 1889 journey to the Russian far east, the trans-Siberian and trans-Mongolian railways not having been in service until another fifteen years or so in the future.

At the same time, here in Australia, paddle steamers played a crucial role on the Murray allowing wool to be shipped to ports such as Morgan in South Australia from whence it could be shipped on the railway down to Adelaide for export – when we visited Morgan on a chilly winter’s day in 2012 it seemed chilly and forlorn – both the railway and the paddle steamers are long gone.

Paddle steamers, because they need little in terms of infrastructure, have left little behind them – an abandoned wharf there, a rusting hulk here, but it’s important to remember that once they provided an important service before road and rail won out …

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