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

Victorian Magistrate Orders Child Horse Thieves to be “Well Birched”

A Girl and a Boy Riding Ponies in Wales, 1885 .(National Library of Wales)
A Girl and a Boy Riding Ponies in Wales, 1885 .
(National Library of Wales)

Stealing a horse during the 19th century was a serious crime.  Those convicted could be heavily fined, sent to prison, sentenced to hard labor, or even executed.  But what if the horse thief in question was only a child?  Unsurprisingly, there were many incidents of child horse thieves in Victorian England.  Not all were hardened street criminals.  Some were simply immature youths tempted by the opportunity of an open stable door and the chance to make an easy few pounds.  An 1886 issue of the Dundee Evening Telegraph reports just such a story.  The fiendish criminal in question?  A ten-year-old boy from South Yorkshire.[…]Continue Reading

From Duels to Suicide: The Perils of Consorting with Cyprians

Lady Hamilton as Bacchante by George Romney, 1784.
Lady Hamilton as Bacchante by George Romney, 1784.

Often referred to as “Fair Cyprians” or “Dashing Cyprians” by Regency era newspapers, a Cyprian was, quite simply, a high-class prostitute.  The truly celebrated amongst them could take their pick of protectors – gentlemen of means who could provide the discerning Cyprian with a fine house, expensive jewels, and a carriage of her own.  Once established with such a gentleman, a Cyprian might be kept by him for a number of years.  But what happened when a Cyprian grew old or lost her beauty and allure?  And what happened to those gentlemen foolish enough to lose their hearts to these high-class prostitutes?  Or the gentlemen who ran out of money with which to afford them?  Below are a few 19th century reports which illustrate the hazards of being a Cyprian – and the perils of consorting with them.[…]Continue Reading

The 1830s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum and V&A Museum.
Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum and V&A Museum.

The 1830s was another transformative decade in 19th century fashion.  Like the 1820s, it was a span of years which stood between the Regency era (1811-1820) and the Victorian era (1837-1901), providing a bridge from the often extreme, gigot-sleeved confections of the 1820s to the tight-sleeved, form-fitting bodices of the 1840s.  The 1830s was also the decade in which the pendulum of fashion swung from large, ornate sleeves to large skirts embellished with various pleats and trimmings.  Or, as fashion historian C. Willett Cunnington describes it, the decade in which women’s gowns moved from the “exuberantly romantic” to the “droopingly sentimental.”[…]Continue Reading

Mrs. Ellis's Pumpkin Pie: A 19th Century Thanksgiving Recipe

Home To Thanksgiving, published by Currier and Ives, 1867.
Home To Thanksgiving, published by Currier and Ives, 1867.

Thursday November 26th is Thanksgiving here in the United States.  Originally a commemoration of the First Thanksgiving (a 17th century feast between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans), it is now one of the major holidays and, for many of us, the official start of the Christmas season.  There was no Black Friday or Cyber Monday during the 19th century.  Instead, the Thanksgiving holidays were a time for family to gather together from near and far and share a holiday meal.  This usually involved the women of the family cooking a Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey and all the fixings.  Amongst these fixings was one of the most traditional Thanksgiving desserts: pumpkin pie.[…]Continue Reading

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