19th Century Fortune-Telling: From the Drawing Room to the Court Room

“…every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects…shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond.”
(Excerpt from The Vagrancy Act of 1824.)

Question to the Cards by Édouard Bisson, 1889.

Crystal gazing, palmistry, and other forms of fortune-telling were quite popular during the 19th century.  Husband divination games were heavily featured at Christmas and Halloween parties in the rural countryside.  While professional practitioners of the occult laid the cards for tonnish ladies and gentlemen in some of the finest drawing rooms in London.  In general, such games were viewed as nothing more than thrilling entertainment.  However, there were plenty of individuals – from the highly intelligent to the ridiculously gullible – who truly believed in the supernatural.  Their desire to learn the future or to contact the dead gave rise to a seemingly endless parade of fraudsters, charlatans, and outright villains.[…]Continue Reading

Alternative Courtship: Matrimonial Advertisements in the 19th Century

The Lovers by William Powell Frith, 1855.

For many single ladies and gentlemen of the 19th century, placing a matrimonial advertisement in a local newspaper was considered a viable alternative to traditional courtship.  It was especially popular with those who were new to an area or those who had no family or social groups through which they might otherwise obtain an introduction to a suitable partner.  Naturally, there were those traditionalists who frowned upon this method of acquiring a spouse.  It was viewed as undignified, indelicate, and dangerous.  Even so, matrimonial advertisements were utilized by men and women of every age and every class throughout the Regency and Victorian eras. […]Continue Reading

Authentic Victorian Christmas Pudding

“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843.

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball Hand colored etching by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843.
Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball, etching by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843.

A 19th century Christmas feast would not be complete without a Christmas pudding. Comprised of dried fruit, suet, egg, flour, and other basic ingredients, it was a popular holiday dish in both the Regency and Victorian eras.  Naturally, there are many historical recipes available for such an old favorite, but when looking for the simplest, and the best, you need search no further than Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management.  Below is what Mrs. Beeton refers to as “A Plain Christmas Pudding for Children.”  It is the most basic historical Christmas pudding recipe I could find and perfect for those of us whose only experience with cooking a Christmas pudding comes from reading about Mrs. Cratchit fretting over the copper in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.[…]Continue Reading

A Bizarre Tale of Electric Streetcars and 19th Century Cats

A Horsecar and an Electric Streetcar, New York.
A Horsecar and an Electric Streetcar, New York.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a time when electric streetcars shared the road with mounted riders, horse-drawn carriages, and streetcars pulled by teams of horses.  Many interesting animal stories have come out of this brief period of crossover between horsepower and the rise of the modern machine.  Naturally, the bulk of these stories feature horses, but one of the most bizarre accounts I have found involves not equines, but felines.  According to the September 6, 1893 edition of the Edinburgh Evening News, 19th century cats in the city of San Francisco had “grown so big and so numerous as to constitute a nuisance and a menace.”  The cause of their enormous size?  The introduction of electric streetcars![…]Continue Reading

The Bibighar Massacre: The Darkest Days of the Indian Rebellion of 1857

Monument erected at Cawnpore at the Site of the Bibighar Well.
(Image via Leiden University)

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began on May 10th with a small-scale mutiny of sepoys in the town of Meerut, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.  Sepoys were the native, Indian soldiers who served in the army of the British East India Company.  This initial rebellion against British rule sparked similar uprisings throughout India.  Amongst these, none had such horrifyingly tragic results as the June 1857 sepoy mutiny in the town of Cawnpore (now Kanpur), which culminated with the senseless, mass killing of hundreds of British women and children who had been confined inside a small house known as the Bibighar.

(*Warning: This article contains some graphic details of the 1857 Bibighar Massacre and aftermath.  If such details might disturb you, I encourage you to skip this post.)[…]Continue Reading

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience and to analyze site traffic to improve site performance. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy