1879: Stuff That Wouldn’t Fit: London People
The 1879 London Sourcebook was restricted to 256 pages, which meant we had to leave out a lot of people who would have made interesting NPCs. Let’s talk about a few of them here.
Sara Forbes Bonetta
Born in Africa, an Omoba (“child of the monarch”) of the Egba subgroup of the Yoruba, Sara was orphaned at the age of eight in inter-tribal warfare, kidnapped by slavers, and taken to Dahomey to be a sacrifice. There, Capt. Forbes of the Royal Navy convinced the King of Dahomey to give the child to the Queen of England, “a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites”as Forbes wrote. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she’d lost her family and her homeland, the girl lost her name, Forbes renaming her Sara Forbes Bonetta to put his stamp on her, and then was treated as a slave and given as a gift. Thankfully, when she got to England, Victoria, God bless her, adopted her as a goddaughter and had her raised in the middle class, so while her birth culture and name were gone, she at least had a semi-comfortable existence.
Sara developed a persistent cough, possibly chronic bronchitis, possibly the early onset of consumption, in 1851, from the foul air in London, and was sent back to Africa for her health. She completed her schooling there and returned to England at the age of 20, where the Crown arranged a marriage for her to Captain James Davies, a prominent businessman of Yoruba origin. Arranged marriages were a thing in that day and age, especially for those of high birth, and as an Omoba she probably would have married whoever her parents designated for political advantage. The fact that a black man of African origin was considered suitable as a match for the goddaughter of the Queen is worth noting. She bore a daughter with Captain Davies, and they moved back to Africa. Sadly, she died at the age of 37 of tuberculosis, in 1880. Her daughter, Victoria, became a goddaughter of the Queen, continuing her line’s prominence, and her descendants remain wealthy minor aristocrats. Thus, in London and in western Africa, it’s quite possible to meet up with a prosperous Yoruba merchant named Bonetta-Davies, who speaks excellent British English and has connections to the Crown.
Sir Anthony Panizzi
Sir Anthony was principal librarian of the British Museum from 1856 to 1866. He died in 1879 at the age of 82, which of course means that player characters will only interact with him as a spirit, but his impact on the game world is considerable. Sir Anthony became an Assistant Librarian in 1831, was promoted to Keeper of Printed Books in 1837, and reached the top post of Principal Librarian in 1856. He was knighted in 1869 for his service to the Museum and to the Empire.
As Keeper of Printed Books, he increased the holdings of the British Museum, effectively the national library of the British Empire, from 235,000 to 540,000 volumes, making it the largest library in the world at the time. The Reading Room, noted for its architecture, opened in 1857, designed and built from Sir Anthony’s original sketches. He introduced the 91 Rules of cataloguing, which served as the foundation for all cataloguing systems in the English-speaking world into the 20th century, giving rise to ISBD and Dublin Core. More importantly, Sir Anthony was an important supporter of the Copyright Act of 1842, which resulted in a copy of every book printed in Britain being sent to the British Museum.
Sir Anthony received numerous honours from the British Empire beyond his knighthood, as well as the Légion d’Honneur from France and multiple honours from his native Italy. His remains are interred at Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery. His spirit may be encountered there, or at the British Museum, or at the London Library, as he never forgave Thomas Carlyle for an academic slight in a published article on the history of the French revolution.
“Lord” George Sanger
One of London’s more well known showmen, George Sanger and his brother John bought Astley’s Amphitheatre on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth in 1871, renamed it Sanger’s Amphitheatre, and have been running a successful and entertaining circus there ever since. George runs the front of the house, ever the consummate showman, while John works in the back of the house. Rumour has it the brothers have grown somewhat estranged over the years. They’ve been in the business for decades now, having started out in Stepney with their older brother William in 1848. When they took the show on the road in 1850, William dropped out, but George took on a new partner – his wife Ellen nee Chapman, better known as the lion tamer Madame Pauline de Vere.
Most recently, Sanger has become active in politics, defending the rights of showmen, and taken office as president of the Van Dwellers Protection Association, exerting his privilege for the protection of the traveling people. Rumour has it he’s looking at a property on the corner of High Street and George Street in Ramsgate with an eye toward building a new amphitheatre. His title is in quotes as it’s a nickname, given him for his grandiloquent personal style, rather than having any basis in landholding or social status.
Isabelle Émilie de Tessier, born 1847 in Paris, took the stage name Marie Duval at the age of 17, and appeared in a number of stage productions in London and the south of England. In 1874, while performing as the escape artist and criminal Jack Sheppard, she fell and badly injured her leg, putting an end to her acting career. Duval had married Charles H. Ross, managing editor of Judy, a cheaper rival to Punch, in 1869, and took on the role of contributing artist as a new career path. She revived Ross’s old character of Ally Sloper, giving the comic and the character a new look and style.
Duval’s loose, theatrically influenced style created a tonal shift from the stiff caricatures and one-panel cartoons of the 19th Century, spawning the look that cartoons and comics would carry forward into the 20th Century. Her work was infused with slapstick comedy, lowbrow humour, and the sort of broadly expressive characters one would see on the cheap stage. In 1877, the character of Ally Sloper was commercialized, and can now be found on snuffboxes, on stage, and even on doorstops. Duval herself has gone on to illustrate children’s books and become the principal artist for Judy. The popularity of her work has led to her becoming a celebrated figure in London. Not bad for an actress from Paris with no formal art training.
Tune in next time, for more Stuff That Wouldn’t Fit!