Rescued by Wreckers: The Strange Tale of Attempted Mass Murder in the Bahamas in 1853

gill-hoffsWelcome today’s guest Gill Hoffs. She grew up in a fishing village on the Scottish coast and has always been fascinated by shipwrecks and the people involved. Her fascination has resulted in a number of books, and as she puts it, “As someone who gets terribly seasick (and now lives inland in Warrington, England) I can’t sail myself, so writing about maritime history is the next best thing.” With that in mind, here is her post: Continue reading

Pierre André Latreille: How a Beetle Saved an Imprisoned Entomologist From the Guillotine


Pierre André Latreille, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Pierre André Latreille. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Pierre André Latreille was a French zoologist who specialized in arthropods. However, he became known as the “foremost entomologist” of his time after he was imprisoned and discovered a rare beetle. His fascinating story begins when he was born on 29 November 1762 in the town of Brive. He was the illegitimate child of and unknown woman and Jean Joseph Sahuguet d’Amarzit, général baron d’Espagnac. A few years after his birth, he was orphaned, but luckily he was adopted by  famous mineralogist, Abbé Haüy.

Haüy insured he got a good education and his education began at the Collège du Cardinal Lemoine in Brive. It was later continued in Paris when he was taken there at the age of sixteen. In school, he became interested in natural history and received lessons about botany from René Just Haüy. He also met Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the French naturalist who was an early proponent of evolution. In addition, because of Latreille’s interest in natural history, he visited the Jardin du Roi often and began searching for insects wherever he went. Continue reading

Death By Peas and Other Foods

Death by Peas: ice cream
Ice Cream, Courtesy of

Food was not always safe in the 1800s, and all sorts of foods could cause death. For example, a 22-year-old woman decided to eat raw rice mixed with milk, and afterwards drank her hot tea. A few hours later she fell ill and complained of severe stomach pain, which was caused from the rice swelling. “Emetics were given with great relief,  a large quantity of rice being expelled from the stomach.” Yet, the emetics did not completely solve the problem.

The following morning, the young lady’s pain increased. Then she suddenly showed other symptoms. She had “cold extremities, a small feeble pulse, and great abdominal tenderness.” She died about twenty-four later from having eaten the raw rice. Although eating raw rice may have not been the smartest thing to do, other foods in the 1800s sometimes caused death. Among the foods from which people died were ice cream, chocolate creams, orange peels, watermelon seeds, and peas. Continue reading

Raising Turkeys for Market in the 1800s

raising turkeys
Bronze Gobbler, Author’s Collection

In the 1800s, turkeys were raised with the idea of the ultimate end: killing them and eating them. Turkeys were not exactly domesticated either. Apparently, when they were chicks they were nomads and when they gained locomotion they scurried away at the slightest provocation. They also had a habit of making beelines for distant haunts, which made them difficult to find when it came to selling them at market for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Continue reading

Drownings at Nantes: Noyades de Nantes

Jean-Baptiste Carrier, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France Drownings at Nantes
Jean-Baptiste Carrier. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

During the Reign of Terror, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal, was sent to Nantes to suppress a revolt by anti-revolutionaries. Later, in his capacity as the représentant en mission, Carrier set up what was called the “Legion of Marat.” The Legion of Marat was composed of soldiers who received “ten livres a day.” Their job was to watch the inhabitants of Nantes and give mandates of arrest against persons they suspected of being disloyal to the revolution. Moreover, the soldiers could search any suspect’s house and request doors be broken down if inhabitants did not willing open them.  Continue reading

Places Mentioned in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante” (Part 1)

Map of Locations in "Marie Antoinette's Confidante," Author's Collection
Map of Locations, Author’s Collection

The story and relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe is a fascinating one. As both women were well-to-do, they traveled much more extensively than an ordinary person of the 1700s. To write Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, I wanted to see the places frequented by Marie Antoinette and the Princesse and this took me to France. Among some of the interesting places that I traveled to are Passy, Versailles, Rambouillet, Fontainebleau, and Château de la Muette. To help you gain a better understanding of these sites mentioned, I have written a brief paragraph describing each. To give you an idea of the distance between the various locations, please note that from Rambouillet to Fontainebleau is approximately 80 kilometers or 50 miles. Continue reading

Hans and Marguerite: The Elephants of France

Hans and Marguerite
The Two Elephants Listed as Parkie and Hans, Public Domain

Two young elephants were captured in 1785 in Sri Lanka. They eventually ended up in the Netherlands with William V, Prince of Orange, and during the revolution, they were confiscated by France and sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The two elephants were male and female. Hans was the male and the female was called Parkie (or sometimes Peggy), but she was renamed Marguerite in France.

After two attempts to leave Sri Lanka with the elephants — one attempt in June of 1795 and the other in November 1795 — the elephants finally left for France on 25 September 1797.  To convey Hans and Marguerite to Paris, numerous crates were constructed. Hans and Marguerite were unhappy about the trip and the crates. They “made incredible efforts to break down the partition [between them]; but having found that their endeavors were vain, they became resigned and remained tranquil during the rest of the journey.” Continue reading

Festival of Reason

Festival of Reason
Fête de la Raison at Notre Dame, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Opposition to the Roman Catholic Church occurred because “the priests … had in preceding reigns been identified with the tyranny, the luxury, and the cruelty of the court and the noblesse.” This dislike for the church became one of the causes for the French Revolution, and dislike of the clergy resulted in the Cult of Reason (Culte de la Raison ).

The Cult of Reason was also the first state sponsored atheistic religion and it was created to replace Roman Catholicism. It first appeared around the time of Marie Antoinette’s trial and became much more popular after her execution. It was based on the principles of Enlightenment and anticlericalism, and its goal was the perfection of mankind through the attainment of Truth and Liberty. Its guiding principle was to exercise reason. Similar to traditional religion, the Cult of Reason also encouraged congregational worship and devotional displays based on reason. Continue reading

Art Theft of the Princesse de Lamballe Painting in the 1980s

Paintings of Princesse de Lamballe, Callet (left), Rioult (top right), and Le Brun (bottom left), Public Domain
Paintings of Princesse de Lamballe, Callet (left), Rioult (top right), and Le Brun (bottom left), Public Domain

Princesse de Lamballe, who was Marie Antoinette’s friend and her Superintendent of the Household, married the heir of the richest man in France. Because the princesse was royalty and because she was rich, many people were intrigued by her and many portraits were painted of her. One well-known painting that is currently displayed at Versailles was done by Antoine-François Callet in 1776. Another painting was painted by Louis-Édouard Rioult between 1780 and 1785 and appeared on a supplementary issue of Le Petit Journal in 1892. Another person who painted the princesse de Lamballe was one of Marie Antoinette’s favorite painters, Madame Le Brun. Yet, perhaps of all the paintings of the princesse, one particular painting bears mention because it was stolen in an art heist in the 1980s. Continue reading

Gambling, Cheats, and Voltaire’s Madame du Châtelet

Madame du Châtelet, Author’s Collection
Madame du Châtelet, Author’s Collection

The famous French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire had a long-time intimate relationship with a woman known as Madame du Châtelet. Madame du Châtelet was highly gifted, adept at learning languages, and fiercely passionate about studying mathematics. She also had a great weakness for cards and gambling. In fact, as a teenager, she used her mathematical skills to devise some successful strategies for gambling.

Her fondness for gambling was demonstrated in October of 1746. She and Voltaire traveled to the picturesque Palace of Fontainebleau for some relaxation. While there Madame du Châtelet was privileged enough to be invited to sit at the Queen’s table and unlucky enough to be cheated at cards. Continue reading