Category Archives: 19th century

What the John Johnson Collection tells us about gender in early modern Britain

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, held at the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections, contains a multitude of images of early modern people who transgressed gender norms. Amongst these images, no two are the same. One image depicts two figures standing in a laundry room. It is captioned ‘Abigail Mary Allen, Pretended Wife of James Allen’ and ‘James Allen, The Female Husband’. Others depict people who, assigned female at birth, donned men’s clothing in order to serve in the military, particularly at sea. One such image is of ‘Mary Anne Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, Foot Boy, Drummer, Sailor, etc. etc. etc.’ Another, shows ‘Miss Theodora de Verdion. The walking Bookseller, and Teacher of Languages, dressed as a Man.’ We also come across Anne Jane Thornton, who donned a cabin boy’s dress in order to sail to New York in pursuit of a romantic interest, continuing life at sea as a man for around two years, though her story is contested. Some of the individuals found in the collection are well researched by historians of gender such as Jen Manion, who has written about ‘female husbands’ and sailors who ‘transed’ gender in order to take part in life at sea. About others, less is known. Nonetheless, these images offer a way in to examine the lives of such figures, the myriad gender expressions of people living at the time, and how gender was perceived in 18th and 19th century Britain.

Abigail Mary Allen, pretended wife of James Allen (1829), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (19)

We can start to understand how gender was perceived in the past when we look at the images in the context of the collection and how it is categorised. In the catalogue of the John Johnson Collection, these images can be found under the headings Entertainment>Humans>4. The categories Humans 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 contain hundreds of images of people that would today be considered to have a disability, whether physical, mental or developmental, a disfigurement, an unusual cognitive ability, or who were transgender. Each person within these headings seems to have been considered a ‘curiosity’ and their images were generally published for the amusement of the general public. Taking a closer look at the images themselves, we can see in the print below the image that the heading ‘Humans’ was once called ‘Human Freaks’. This is the language that was used as the collection was first assembled by John de Monins Johnson and reflects the language of Victorian ‘freak shows’. Since arriving at the Bodleian in 1968, these headings have been reviewed and amended to remove harmful language (see A Note on Language at the end of this blog post). Nonetheless, examining the original language used helps us to understand the context of the images, which were perhaps seen as a printed exhibition for the public to browse, ogle, and laugh at. In fact, many of these images were collected from Kirby’s Wonderful Museum, a nineteenth-century publication which claimed to display ‘remarkable characters, including all of the curiosities of nature and art … drawn from every authentic source.’ Its intention as a source of entertainment through the exoticisation of anything and everything, including human bodies, is described in no uncertain terms. Categorising people as ‘curiosities’ may not have seemed out of place at the time, and it tells us how strange the notion of experimenting with gender expression was to these peoples’ cisgender contemporaries.

In some cases, the fetishization of transgender bodies goes hand-in-hand with the way that they were treated in their lifetimes. For one such person, Mademoiselle de Beaumont, also known as the Chevalier(e) d’Éon, this was certainly the case. D’ Éon was a French diplomat, spy and soldier born in 1728 and assigned male at birth. She lived for many years as a man, before beginning to live as a woman in 1777, eventually moving to England and being legally recognised as a woman. A clipping found next to her portraits in the John Johnson Collection demonstrates a fascination with her ‘questionable gender’. Though the clipping reads as an obituary marking D’Éon’s recent death, most of the text discusses the question of her gender, ending with the conclusion that, following an examination by a physician after her death, her body was that of a ‘perfect male!’ (emphasis in original). Other clippings from the collection also show a similar obsession with her gender that is reflected in how she is portrayed in Kirby’s Wonderful Museum.

La Chevaliere D’Eon (1791), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (22b)

Continue reading

The persistence of tradition: the curious case of Henry Symeonis

Christmas is a time for tradition, and the University of Oxford is well known for diligently preserving its traditions for centuries. Many of these have long outlived the people who established them, and some are so old and mired in obscurity that even the University itself has no idea what they are or how they came to be. One such example of this is the strange case of Henry Symeonis.

In 1827 the University undertook a major review of its statutes. The statutes were, and still are, the written set of rules and regulations which governed everything that went on in the University. A product of many centuries, some of these were over already 500 years old by 1827. In going through the statutes as part of this review, the University found something rather odd in the section relating to Bachelors of Arts and the oaths they had to swear in order to become a Master of Arts.

As well as being required to swear that they would observe the University’s statutes, privileges, liberties and customs, as you might expect; and not to lecture elsewhere, or resume their bachelor studies after getting their MA, the Bachelors of Arts also had to swear that they would never agree to the reconciliation of Henry Symeonis (‘quod numquam consenties in reconciliationem Henrici Simeonis’).

Statutes VII section 1.5

The oaths required of those proceeding to MAs, from Corpus Statutorum (Statute Tit VII section 1. 5)

Nowhere in the statutes did it explain who this Henry Symeonis (or Simeonis) was, what he was supposed to have done or why those getting their MAs should never agree to be reconciled with him. Who was Henry Symeonis and why was he specifically named like this in the University’s governing regulations? What had he done to offend the University so much?

For much of the operational lifetime of the oath, no-one appears to have known. Brian Twyne, first Keeper of the Archives and renowned antiquary of the 17th century, claimed in his Antiquitatis Academiae Oxon Apologia of 1608 that Symeonis was a Regent in Arts at Oxford who fraudulently claimed he had a BA in order to obtain admission to a foreign monastery. Twyne gave no evidence or source for this so we don’t know where that might have come from.

Anthony Wood, in his published Life and Times writes about the University’s earlier review of its statutes in January 1651/2 when it was first proposed to abolish the statute concerning Henry Symeonis. He notes that the proposal to remove the oath was refused but gives no reason why. Even by that time, one suspects that the oath was of such antiquity that no-one knew anything about it and it was thought best to leave it be.

The identity of Henry Symeonis was only (re-)discovered in 1912 by the then Keeper of the University Archives, Reginald Lane Poole. In an article for the English Historical Review, he looked at the curious statute and tried to get to the bottom of the Henry Symeonis mystery.

Poole identified the man in question as Henry, son of Henry Symeonis. Henry Symeonis the elder was the son of a man named Simeon, hence the patronymic surname of Simeonis (or Symeonis) being passed down to his son and grandson. Henry Simeon, our Henry’s father, was a very wealthy townsman of Oxford; in the early 1200s, there were few richer. Our Henry was also wealthy, owning several properties in Oxford and both their names are found in many property deeds of the period.

For example, Henry is listed as a witness to a grant of c1243 of a boundary wall in Cat Street from William Burgess to Nicholas de Kingham. He is named as ‘Henry son of Henry son of Simeon’.

Grant of a boundary wall including Henry Symeonis as a witness, nd (c1243) (OUA/WPbeta/F/43)

But what was the reason for Henry’s condemnation by the University to five and a half centuries of infamy? It was a murder. In 1242 he and a number of other men of the town of Oxford were found guilty of murdering a student of the University. Henry and his accomplices were fined £80 by King Henry III in May 1242 and were made to leave Oxford as a result, forced to stay away (and allowed no closer than Northampton) at least until the King returned from abroad. The King returned in the autumn and by the spring of the following year, we know (from records of his property dealings) that our Henry, son of Henry Symeonis, was already back in Oxford.

What happened next is not easy to work out. There are few University records from that time and we have to rely on others’ accounts of what was happening to decipher the facts of the case. The chroniclers of those times notoriously disagree with each other, and the picture is muddy, to say the least. We know that over 20 years after the murder, on 12 March 1264, Henry III suspended the University and sent it away from Oxford, saying that he could not protect its masters and scholars in the city and that they would be safer elsewhere. The King was making Oxford the centre of his military operations and was unable to guarantee the safety of the students and masters. Many left, a large number moving to Northampton in spring that year where a thriving university was growing.

A fortnight after this, on 25 March 1264, the King issued letters patent saying that he’d pardoned Henry Symeonis for the murder which had taken place 22 years earlier. He ordered the University to allow Henry to return to Oxford to live there in peace provided he was ‘of good behaviour’ and demanded that the University didn’t leave Oxford in protest. The letters patent stated:

that the chancellor and university would be content that Henry son of Henry Simeonis, who withdrew for the death of a man, would return to Oxford and stay there, so that the university should not retire from the said town on account of his staying there; then they should permit him to return without impediment and have the king’s peace; the king, at the instance of Nicholas de Yatingden, of his further grace, has pardoned the said Henry the said death, on condition that he stand his trial if any will proceed against him, and has granted that he may return and dwell there so long as he be of good behaviour and that the university do not withdraw from the said town on account of his return and the death of the said Henry

The interpretation of this series of events is difficult. Poole, in his 1912 article, linked the University’s departure from Oxford in 1264 to its unhappiness at having Henry Symeonis pardoned and thrust back upon them from exile. He suggested that a serious eruption of town-gown violence broke out as a result of the pardon. This cannot be the case, however, as the King didn’t pardon Henry Symeonis until after the University had been told to leave Oxford. Besides, Henry had already been back in Oxford for many years and it would have been a bit late to act on that.

Town-gown relations were, at this time, pretty volatile, the problem being that Oxford wasn’t big enough for two bodies fighting for supremacy in a relatively small space. This had often led to violence, and apparently did again in February 1264 when the longstanding bad feeling between the two flared up. But it seems that this was not, despite some chroniclers attributing it to that, the cause of the University leaving Oxford. Henry Symeonis’s pardon by the King would, however, have only added fuel to the town’s fire that the University was always unjustly favoured by the monarch at the town’s expense.

We know that the Government was aware of the volatile relationship between town and gown and was concerned, in 1264, at the prospect of the University leaving Oxford in protest if Henry was allowed to return. This is presumably why it was made a condition of Henry’s return that the University had to promise not to leave.

We also know that both the town and University of Oxford were unhappy about the growth of a rival university in Northampton. Henry III had allowed a university to be established there in 1261 (on the request of the burgesses of the town), the third in England, behind Oxford and Cambridge. At the time, it was believed that it wouldn’t damage its older rivals but such a large number of masters and students from Oxford migrated there that Northampton was soon felt to be a threat to the two more ancient universities. The city of Oxford pressed the King to terminate this threat and on 1 February 1265 he formally closed down the university at Northampton and forbade the establishment of any future university there. All this was playing out against a backdrop of civil war and political unease, with Henry III engaged in a war with his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, and both Oxford and Northampton being heavily involved in the conflict.

Further research is needed to discover the exact details of what happened here but it seems that Henry Symeonis had bought the King’s pardon and his permission to return to Oxford. The King was willing to allow his return if the University agreed to it. But the University refused and chose to ignore the King’s order of 25 March 1264, resuming its hostility to Henry Symeonis. In fact, it felt so strongly about it, that it gave Henry Symeonis the unique honour of being named in its own statutes, making the University’s dislike of him official and perpetual.

The oath against Henry Symeonis continued in the University’s statutes for centuries after the events of 1264. Having survived earlier reviews of the University’s statutes, it was finally abolished five and a half centuries later. The records of the decision taken in 1827 are frustratingly brief and unenlightening. Convocation (the body of MAs of the University and its chief decision-maker at the time) took the decision to abolish the oath in February that year, but no background information nor reason for the decision is recorded. It is possible that’s because nobody knew exactly what they were abolishing.

The case of Henry Symeonis is a very strange example of the longevity of some University customs, long after they’ve lost relevance or meaning. The persistence of tradition in the University is famous, but this appears to have been an extreme example of using tradition to hold a very, very long grudge. By naming Henry Symeonis in its statutes as a figure of institutional hatred for centuries, it actually resulted in prolonging his celebrity, immortalising a man whom it had considered a villain.

For RL Poole’s 1912 article in the English Historical Review (vol 27, no 107, July 1912 pp515-517) see https://www.jstor.org/stable/550611#metadata_info_tab_contents

A pleasing coda to the story is that Henry III’s ban on a university at Northampton was finally ended in 2005 when a new university was established there, a mere 740 years after the suppression of its predecessor. See Drew Gray’s article on the ‘Ancient University of Northampton’ on the University of Northampton’s website at Microsoft Word – Ancient_University_of_Northampton[2].docx

The migration of Oxford students to Northampton is discussed in ‘The Alleged Migration of the University of Oxford to Northampton in 1264’ by FM Powicke in Oxoniensia (vol 8/9, 1943-4) at powicke.pdf (oxoniensia.org)

And for more information on Oxford and the Second Barons’ War see The University of Oxford and the Chronicle of the Barons’ Wars on JSTOR  in the English Historical Review (Jan 1980, vol 95, no 374, pp99-113).

 

 

The catalogue of the archive of the Butler family – available soon!

This archive comprises three generations of an Oxford academic family; Rohan Butler (1917-1996), his father Harold Butler (1883-1951), and grandfather Alfred J. Butler (1850-1936).

Rohan Butler was a historian and civil servant. He worked at both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information during World War II. From 1963 to 1982 he was Historical Advisor to the secretary of state for foreign affairs. He authored two books, The Roots of National Socialism (1941) and his magnus opus Choiseul: Father and Son, 1719-1754 (1980). He was elected a prize fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1938 and continued to be involved with the college throughout out his life.

Rohan Butler’s papers include his personal papers, literary work, time at All Souls College and work as a civil servant. The subseries relating to Choiseul includes extensive notes on the French military officer and diplomat, and on European history of the time, used by Butler to complete the work. There are also several volumes of unpublished poetry, a draft play and papers relating to an unpublished book titled ‘Redeemers of Democracy’.

Harold Butler was a civil servant and author. He worked in various government departments, including the Ministry of Labour and the Home Office. At the outbreak of World War II, he was appointed southern regional commissioner for civil defence. In 1942 he was appointed head of the British Information Service at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, where he remained until his retirement in 1946. His papers relate mainly to his civil service work, including his time in Washington which brought him into correspondence with Churchill, Eden, Ismay and Roosevelt. There are three diaries, covering 1917-1919 and 1940-1941, in which he talks about the war progress and the home situation. Olive Butler was a frequent correspondent to her son, Rohan, and her correspondence gives an insight into a diplomat’s life in Washington during World War II.

Alfred J. Butler was a historian specialising in Coptology. He was the author of several works including; The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Vol 1 and 2 (1884), The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion (1902) and Sport in Classic Times (1930). His papers relate to his work on ancient Coptic Churches and includes a draft manuscript for an unpublished work titled ‘Greater or Lesser Britain’.

This collection will be available soon.

Catalogue of the archive of the Butler family

‘On the roll’: a brief history of matriculation

It’s that time of year again when a new cohort of undergraduates arrives in Oxford to matriculate at the University. Matriculation is the formal admission of a student to membership of the University. Students, who have already been admitted to their colleges (which are legally and administratively separate from the central University), are then presented by that college to the University for matriculation. In celebration, the University Archives’ blog for October looks at matriculation through some of the records we hold of this longstanding Oxford tradition.

The history of matriculation is somewhat obscure for the University’s early years. Before the existence of colleges, students lived in private lodgings and were under the supervision of individual teaching masters. It’s generally understood that the University required every scholar to be on the roll or in the register (in rotulo or in matricula) of one of these masters. It appears, however, that this requirement was not enforced and there are, sadly, no surviving rolls or registers in the Archives documenting these early students. For the first few centuries of its existence, the University repeatedly tried, and seemingly failed, to get its students systematically recorded.

In 1420 a royal ordinance was issued which enacted that all scholars should reside in a college or hall, under the guardianship of a principal and that they, and their servants (more about them later), should swear an oath to observe the University’s statutes. The fact that this ordinance had to be revived in 1552, and the continued absence of any records of this process, suggests that it, also, was ignored. The 1552 ordinance is in fact the reason behind the creation of the earliest surviving list of persons residing in colleges and halls of the University. This list appears in a Chancellor’s register of the period, a register used for a wide range of University business.

Christ Church members 1552

Entry listing members of Christ Church in the Chancellor’s register, 1552 (OUA/Hyp/A/5, fol 68v)

The list is divided into sections for each college and each starts with the senior members of that college: masters (magistri in Latin) being denoted by the prefix ‘Mr’, and doctors, by ‘D’. It then goes on to list the junior members, ie students. There is no information about when a particular person entered the University or how long they’d been at the college. It isn’t, strictly-speaking, a record of matriculation at all, merely a list of names providing a simple snapshot in time.

In 1564 the University appointed a committee to look again into matriculation and draw up new regulations governing it. Their work culminated in the University’s first matriculation statute introduced in 1565. This required all scholars and privileged persons (more about them later, too) who, if 16 or over, should swear to observe the University’s statutes. The 1565 statute required students to be registered within seven days of their admission to a college or hall (or if living in the town under the supervision of a master), and to give the University certain personal information such as their age and place of residence.

The statute also established a scale of fees at matriculation whereby different amounts were charged depending on the matriculant’s social status. At the top of this list were the sons of princes, dukes and marquises (who paid 13 s 4d to matriculate). There then followed (in descending order) the sons of counts or viscounts; barons, bishops or baronets; esquires, deacons or archdeacons; knights and gentlemen. Until finally, at the bottom, the sons of plebeians (who paid only 4d). The ranks were peculiarly arranged – higher status individuals were separated into very small categories whilst the remaining 90% of the population were lumped together, effectively, as ‘plebs’.

The statute also made provision for a register or book of matriculations to be kept by the University. The very first matriculation register of the University was created that year. It is divided into sections, one for each college or hall. At first the entries are very much like the 1552 list of names, simply a snapshot roll-call for certain years, and not proper matriculation records. There are also long gaps in the register in which hardly any entries are recorded. Clearly the colleges were still not co-operating with the new matriculation statute. But the University persisted and in 1568 it set up yet another committee to look at the issue. The first proper matriculation entries in this register begin in c1571, presumably as a result of their efforts. In Christ Church’s entry (the first college listed in the register), for example, the first dated matriculation is in 1572. But there are still gaps in the register after that which suggest that matriculations were not being systematically recorded.

From 1581, a new restriction on matriculation came into force. From that date all matriculating students over the age of 16 were required to declare their assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer and the oath of Royal Supremacy. In order to demonstrate this assent, the matriculating student swore the oath of supremacy and signed his name on pages bound up in a register with a copy of the Thirty-Nine Articles. This effectively barred anyone who was not a member of the Church of England from entering the University; students who were Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or non-conformist protestants, for example, were now excluded.

The University appears to have tightened up its recording of matriculations after this and the entries in the register become fuller and more comprehensive. Each student was now required to provide the following information to the University: his age, the rank or status of his father, and his county of origin. Age was required by the University as it determined whether or not the student was required to take the oath of supremacy (if under 16, he was not required to do so). The father’s rank or status was still required in order to determine the matriculation fee. The county of origin was useful to colleges, as certain college fellowships and scholarships were limited to those born in specified counties, but it is not clear why the central University needed that information. From 1616, the registers begin to note whether the person matriculating was the eldest or second son, etc. Eldest sons of certain ranks were granted privileges relating to their studies, such as dispensations from particular University requirements. From 1622, the matriculation registers also contain the name of the student’s father and (it is not clear exactly which), either the parish in which the student was born, or the parish in which the father resided.

Christ Church matriculations 1570s

The first Christ Church matriculations, 1570s (OUA/SP 1, fol 20v)

What is also clear from the earliest matriculation entries, such as those of Christ Church, is that the ages of students matriculating ranged more widely, and, by and large, students were much younger than today. In the list pictured, Robert Sydney matriculated aged only 12; Edward Montague, aged 13. Putting aside the possibility of less-than-truthful entries, it is certainly the case that students matriculated at a younger age in centuries past. In the late 16th century, their ages ranged between 7 and 30, with one record found of a five-year old, Audley Mervin, matriculating in June 1618 (but it is suspected this might be a clerical error for ‘15’). The general trend has been for students to get older over the centuries until they reach the, more usual, age of 18+ as today.

Some students may have wanted to avoid having to assent to the beliefs of the Church of England and so deliberately came up to Oxford before they were 16 (at which age it became compulsory). Some may have been young boys sent to Oxford at the same time as an older brother. What other records held here show is that most of these very young matriculants rarely proceeded to a degree.

The information given by the matriculants was not checked or verified, as far as we know, and so was not necessarily entirely accurate. Like many records kept by archives, the information these registers contain has its limitations. It is what someone wanted the University to believe, not necessarily what was the case. Some students deliberately understated their social rank in order to pay smaller fees, for example; there’s evidence from college records that students sometimes assigned themselves a lower status to the University, and a much higher one to their college.

There’s also evidence that not every student at a college even matriculated. The University’s matriculation records contain errors and omissions when compared to college admission records. Students unwilling to subscribe, for example, might avoid matriculating entirely. It appears, however, that attendance at colleges without matriculation was rare by the end of the 17th century and had mostly ceased by the middle of the 18th.

A far greater range of people were admitted to membership of the University at this time than today. One large group of these were privileged persons. Privileged persons (personae privilegiatae) were, generally, of two types: servants or tradesmen. Servants (servientes) could be either personal servants or common servants. Any University member could bring his personal servant to Oxford with him and have him admitted to the status of privileged person. ‘Common servants’ included lower-ranked University officers such as bedels, or college servants such as manciples or cooks. The other type of privileged person were tradesmen and workmen of the town (privilegiati), people such as booksellers, brewers or carriers. Privileged status conferred on them the right to trade with the University and its members and gave them access to a large and wealthy customer base that the non-privileged tradesman did not have. Privileged persons appear in the matriculation registers until the late 18th century, often in a separate list at the back of the volumes.

In 1870 the University introduced a new system for recording student information at matriculation: the matriculation form. Completed by each matriculating student, in their own hand, this asked for personal information. For the first 20 or so years, the form was very small, requiring students to give much the same type of information as they had done for years past: ie name, age, whether the matriculant was the eldest or second child, place of birth, father’s name and ‘quality’, date of matriculation and college.

Oscar Wilde's matriculation form

Matriculation form of Oscar Wilde, 1874 (from OUA/UR 1/1/6)

Dates of birth, school and father’s present address were added to the form in 1894, a useful addition for both the University at the time and the genealogist of the future. But one has to wonder how practically useful some of the other information on the form now was. The University had asked for the same kind of information from its students for centuries, long after some of it was of any use at all. Would the fact that a student was a third son be of any relevance in 1890? One suspects not, as the privileges that status had once offered had long since disappeared.

The social ranks had also changed quite dramatically over time and the particular terms used had changed, or lost, their meaning so much that by the 19th century they’d become rather meaningless. Matriculating students were using, and misusing, outdated terminology established over 200 years earlier. In 1891 the confusion felt on all sides led the University to change the question from father’s rank or ‘quality’ to occupation.

A very significant change to matriculation took place in 1871. Subscription at matriculation remained obligatory until 1854 when it was abolished by the Oxford University Act. But religious tests for membership of the University were not finally abolished until 1871 when the Universities Tests Act enabled those of all faiths and none to matriculate. This began the opening up of matriculation to a greater number and range of people.

The University took a little longer to allow women to matriculate. Although women had been studying in Oxford, at the women’s colleges set up in the city from the 1870s onwards, they were still not allowed to matriculate. Women could sit and pass University examinations but until they could matriculate, under the University’s longstanding regulations, they were not allowed to graduate. This finally changed in 1920.

Isobel Matthew's matriculation form

Matriculation form of Isobel Millicent Matthew, 1920 (from OUA/UR 1/2/1)

The first woman to matriculate, Isobel Millicent Matthew, did so on 7 October 1920. As her matriculation form shows, the University had to change its standard male-centric matriculation form for its new women matriculants. But instead of taking the opportunity to review the forms and see whether the information they were asking for was relevant to the 20th century, the University decided to simply tweak them, change their colour, and replace all masculine vocabulary with feminised versions. As a result, the form now asked its female matriculants for some entirely irrelevant information: no-one in the University would ever need to know whether the matriculant was an eldest daughter. This had no bearing on any University procedure. The men’s forms were also restructured into this new, enlarged format, but the redundant information continued to be collected.

The matriculation registers continued to be maintained after the forms were introduced in 1870. These were completed, as they always had been, by University administrative staff and from the 1870s, they simply copied the information from the forms into the registers, effectively creating a second (often much more legible) copy of the information. By 1924, however, the time taken to maintain the parallel series of matriculation registers could no longer be justified and the University decided to stop keeping them. From then on, the forms themselves were to be the official record of matriculation. The last register entries were made in 1925.

The University continued using the matriculation forms all through the twentieth century. The occasional review added another piece of required information to the form (such as the type of school attended, nationality, or proposed subject of study) as demands grew on the University to report statistics of the nature of its student body. It therefore had to add to the forms the kind of information which it needed to answer the questions being asked of it by others (such as social origin, class, income and background). By and large, however, the content, and purpose, of the forms remained the same.

With the advent of computerised student systems in the 1980s, the University revised the matriculation form yet again, with a view to standardising data collection and speeding up the production of statistics. The inevitable progress of technology meant that the decision to stop creating paper matriculation forms at all was finally taken in 2005.

Much has been written about the University’s early matriculation records. A good discussion of the period between 1571 and 1622 can be found in Andrew Clark’s Register of the University of Oxford Vol II, Part I, (published by the Oxford Historical Society in 1887).

For further information about how to access the information in the matriculation records, please see the guidance on the University Archives’ website at https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/universityarchives/guides/past-members. The guidance includes links to published registers, available online, of those who matriculated before 1892. It also provides contact details for sources of information regarding students matriculating after 1892.

For a detailed look at the changing student body of the University over time, see Lawrence Stone’s chapter entitled ‘The Size and Composition of the Oxford student body 1580-1910’ in The University in Society, Vol I Oxford and Cambridge from the 14th to the Early 19th Centuries (Princeton, 1974).

The University recently commemorated the 150th anniversary of the 1871 Universities Tests Act with the creation of the ‘Opening Oxford 1871-2021’ website at  https://openingoxford1871.web.ox.ac.uk/

For information about matriculation today, see the University’s main website at https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/new/matriculation

The man with many faces

Is there anyone who doesn’t like to doodle? This is clearly not a modern trait. As ‘Doodle Day’ 2023 approaches in September, it seemed timely that we should come across some rather charming drawings by one of the examiners signing his name in two ‘Registers of Examinations’ held by the University Archives.

Frederick York Powell (1850-1904) was a law lecturer and examiner (he later became the Regius Professor of Modern History, 1894-1904) whose duties included lecturing and examining on political economy for the Pass School. The Pass School was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century for those students who did not seek honours and offered the opportunity to study a different combination of subjects (see this previous blog for more details on the The Pass School)

Powell was an examiner for Pass School Group B (which included political economy) from 1877 until at least 1888, but he did not examine every term or every year. It is through his records of examinations that we meet his doodles.

Whenever Powell was the one to write the list of names of successful candidates, he bracketed together the names of the three (or sometimes four) examiners, who signed their names underneath, and drew a face as part of that bracket. Powell had extremely neat and legible handwriting, which was not always the case of examiners at this time.

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

One of the fascinating things about Powell’s doodles is that whilst he consistently draws faces, they are all different. It’s tempting to wonder whether these drawings were actually caricatures of his fellow examiners or other academics in Oxford. The pictures are not always kind, sometimes showing exaggerated features:

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

It is important to remember that these registers were administrative records and were the official record kept by the University. As such, it’s all the more striking that Powell doodled so frequently – it wasn’t a momentary slip in an instance of absent-mindedness, but something he did consistently across several years. It is tempting to speculate as to whether his fellow examiners approved of such decorations or rather disapproved of his flamboyant style.

The second register featuring Powell’s doodles is the Register of Examinations for Modern History, 1872-1913, where he was an examiner from 1886 onwards. The examples in this volume are typical Powell style but the faces are different. The one below looks rather like Voldemort in Harry Potter!

Signatures of examiners for Modern History, 1887 (from OUA/UR/3/24/1)

Of all the faces drawn by Powell, of which these are only a selection, my favourite is shown below. The face looks rather elegant and distinguished with quite a head of hair:

Signatures of examiners for Modern History, 1888 (from OUA/UR/3/1/24/1)

Details of face drawn by Powell as examiner for Modern History, 1888 (from OUA/UR/3/1/24/1)

There are no other examples of examiners doodling or drawing like Powell in these two registers. If Powell was hoping to inject a little light heartedness or fun into a serious administrative record and perhaps encourage others to do the same, it does not look like this happened. It would be interesting to discover whether Powell continued to doodle once he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History in 1894. I could find no further examples of doodles by Powell from this date onwards within any records held by the University Archives.

According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required), Powell seems to have been a rather original yet disorganised character, not necessarily renowned for his scholarship but for his generosity of his time and sense of fun. I rather suspect that Powell may have continued to doodle no matter what position he held.

For other examples of drawings and doodles on records in the University Archives see Notes in the margin | Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library (ox.ac.uk)
For further information on Frederick York Powell, see his Wikipedia entry.

Uncovering Histories of Humanitarianism: the Aborigines’ Protection Society 1837-1866

By Zoë Laidlaw, University of Melbourne.

This is the fifth in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

The Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS) and the Anti-Slavery Society merged in 1909, formalising a history of engagement and occasional rivalry stretching back to the 1830s. The APS had long argued that concern for the welfare of Indigenous peoples in Britain’s empire was a logical extension of anti-slavery activism. But, while key personnel moved between the two societies, public support for the APS remained much more muted. Not least, this was because the APS struggled to explain its remit. In 1847, a decade after starting work, the APS acknowledged that many still asked ‘Who are the Aborigines, and who is their Friend?’ but struggled to address these basic questions:

“Government documents and other publications have given a currency and acceptation to the word Aborigines, which, however, is not so general as to render explanation unnecessary … When the overflowing or restless population of a civilized country quit their homes, and seek a country where a wider space is open before them, they often find the land imperfectly occupied by a race of men greatly differing from themselves. These are the so-called Aborigines of the country; and the interests of both races are involved in the character of the intercourse which ensues between them.”

As this comparative and pejorative definition of ‘Aborigines’ suggests, the APS was both Eurocentric and paternalistic. Its leaders recognised that British colonialism led to Indigenous peoples’ dispossession and exploitation, but they argued for the radical reform of colonialism rather than its eradication. In the utopian future they envisaged, colonisers and colonised alike would be more civilised, Indigenous rights recognised and protected and Britain’s empire more economically productive.

Continue reading

Oxford University and Photography

In honour of World Photography Day, on 19 August, the University Archives blog looks at some of the photographs that we hold here and how the University used photography to record its people and its activities, and to present itself to the outside world.

Photographs are so commonplace today that it’s easy to forget that for many decades the taking of photographs was a much less frequent event. It often surprises users of the University Archives how few photographs we hold. But for many years, the University did not have its own photographic studio or photographers and so any photographs that were taken were done by outside firms at considerable expense. Photography was, as a result, used sparingly by the University, reserved for special occasions only, and did not form part of its day to day activities until the late 20th century.

The University took very few photographs of its students, for example. Where these were taken and where they have survived, they tend to be found in college archives rather than in the central University’s records. Colleges had a different, much closer, relationship with their students than the University, and their photographs span both formal teaching and informal social activities.

But despite the paucity of photographic material in the Archives, it is possible to identify trends and themes in the University’s relationship with photography. The examples below highlight just a few of these.

Photographs as gifts

Something of which we have a few examples of here is the commemorative album of photographs. From the late 1800s to the mid 20th century, there appears to have been a custom of presenting a very senior or long-standing member of staff on their retirement with an album of portrait photographs of their colleagues. It shows the precious and special nature of photographs in more distant decades.

One such case from a relatively early date is the gift given to Henry Stephens, University Marshal and Bellman, who retired in 1913, having been in post since 1888. In 1914, his colleagues (former and past) put together a beautifully-inscribed album comprising portrait photographs of every single one of the many University Proctors with whom he had worked over that period.

Title page from Henry Stephens' photo album

Title page of the commemorative album of photographs presented to Henry Stephens, Marshal and Bellman in 1914 (OUA/PR/1/25/1)

Stephens worked with fifty Proctors during his 25-year career. Each academic year saw the admission of two new Proctors (Senior and Junior) and each page of the album contains, in a variety of styles, their photographic portraits.

Page showing proctors for 1888-9

Photographs of the Proctors of 1888-89 from the album presented to Henry Stephens in 1914 (OUA/PR/1/25/1)

It must have been an expensive and time-consuming gift to create. At what point it was returned to the University by Henry Stephens or his family, we don’t know, but it made its way back to the Proctors’ Office and was transferred to the Archives along with their records over 50 years later.

Departmental posterity

Another developing use of photography, from the late nineteenth century onwards, was the custom adopted by certain University departments of taking photographs of their students: each year’s intake for example, or those attending summer schools or conferences.

One department which was very careful to record its activities in this way was the Department of Continuing Education, the adult education arm of the University. Its predecessor, the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching beyond the limits of the University (or Extension Delegacy for short), was a pioneer in the field of adult education from its origins in 1878 and it appears there was already an awareness, in its early days, of how ground-breaking its work was. It wasn’t long before it was photographing its activities for posterity, one very early example of which was the biennial Summer Meeting.

The Summer Meeting first took place at Balliol College, Oxford, in August 1888. It was a summer school open to all extension students of Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. Students stayed in lodgings in Oxford and attended a full programme of lectures and classes. A significant development in the availability of university-level education to adults, the Summer Meetings attracted students from all around the UK.

An album of photographs of the early Summer Meetings survives in the University Archives, including its earliest photograph which is identified as the very first Summer Meeting of 1888.

Photo of First Summer Meeting

The first Summer Meeting at Oxford, 1888 (from OUA/CE/5/1)

As the photograph shows, the majority of the students were women. The Extension Delegacy was one of the first University departments to offer a university-level education to women, long before they were allowed to matriculate as full students. The Summer Meeting was only one of a number of pioneering activities which the Delegacy undertook and it led to the formation of other important adult education movements such as the Workers Educational Association (WEA), launched at the Summer Meeting of 1903.

Letting the outside in

A key way in which the University began to use photography in the twentieth century was to present itself to the world outside Oxford. Most of the photographic prints which we have in the University Archives here were not taken by the University itself, but by the press. It appears that from the early 1950s onwards the University began to be asked more and more by the national and local press for its permission to photograph its activities and events.

Generally-speaking at this time, the University was reluctant to let the press in and many of the requests it received from photographers were refused. Although aware that the outside world was interested in what went on at Oxford, the University resisted the intrusion; self-promotion, in particular, was seen as anathema to many within it. On the rare occasions when it did agree to filming or photography by outside agencies, the University demanded a high level of editorial control over the images produced.

One significant example of this was a visit in the early 1950s from the Central Office of Information (COI). The COI was, from 1946 to 2011, the UK government’s marketing and communications agency. It produced public information materials (such as leaflets, posters and short films) on a range of public issues such as life in Britain, health and education, often for the promotion of Britain overseas. In April 1952, the COI’s Photographs Division wrote to the University asking to create a ‘picture set’ illustrating life at Oxford University intended for overseas distribution. The University agreed and the COI’s photographers visited in May that year.

The Archives contains a set of about 25 photographs taken by the COI with the working title ‘The University of Oxford – Life in Britain’s Oldest Seat of Learning’. They show a carefully-curated view of student life in Oxford including shots of the city, undergraduates in colleges, libraries and tutorials; a degree ceremony; the Proctors; punting and other sports; and a debate in the Union. These were sent to the University for its approval and each bears a descriptive text on the back written by the COI. Some of these have been heavily annotated and corrected by an unnamed University official.

Photo of the High Street by Central Office of Information

View of ‘The High’, taken by the Central Office of Information. Undated (1952) (from OUA/VC/3/5)

It appears that the project then led to an even more ‘intrusive’ request from the COI just four years later. The COI wrote again to the University in 1956 asking, this time, to create a short film about it. The Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office had asked the COI to produce a film for the Overseas Information Services about life in a British university and Oxford was chosen. The University agreed to co-operate officially, despite opposition from some senior. The COI’s appointed production company, Greenpark Productions, visited in 1957 to take more photographs and to film.

From the surviving correspondence about this, it appears that the COI’s request was the only one of several received at the time with which the University was prepared to co-operate. And it continued to demand a high level of control over the finished product. The COI was obliged to send the University a copy of the proposed voiceover script for the film which it edited enormously. The finished film, entitled ‘Oxford’, which ran for 15 minutes, was released in 1958 and shown in a special screening in the city at the Ritz Cinema.

More requests to photograph and film at Oxford followed and the University appears to have been rather less dismissive of these in the years after the COI film. As photographs began to give way to the filming of University events, the University started taking over from ad hoc visits from the outside press, recording its own events and managing its public face itself. The University not only became more aware of the financial advantages of doing this, it was also part of a realisation in the late 1960s that it needed to exercise more control over its brand and manage its relations with the outside world on its own terms, rather than through the lens of the external press.

Photography and filming of University activities and events is now run by the University’s Educational Media team (formerly the Media Production Unit). Not only do they produce content but they also provide advice and expertise to others creating their own University-related content.

The print archive of the Central Office of Information is held by the British Library at Central Office of Information Archive – The British Library (bl.uk)

Its business records are held by the UK National Archives and the films they produced are preserved and made available by the British Film Institute at BFI National Archive | BFI

Further information about the history of the Department for Continuing Education and its predecessors, including the Summer Meetings, can be found at The history of continuing education at Oxford | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

 

‘Probable Prospects’: Richard Hill and Black Activism in The Archive of the Anti-Slavery Society

By Olivia Carpenter, Department of English and Related Literature, University of York.

This is the fourth in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

Afro-British writer, politician, and activist Richard Hill was born in 1796. Hill was born in Jamaica but spent much of his youth in England, where some of his earliest efforts on behalf of Abolitionism and the rights of free Black people in the British Empire took place when he agreed to act as an agent of the London Anti-Slavery Society in 1830. A series of several letters exchanged between Hill and the Society’s President and Secretary are among the Bodleian’s collection of the Society’s papers. These letters, exchanged over a period of just over two years, allow us to trace Hill’s experience of traveling to Haiti on behalf of the Society. The Society sent Hill to ascertain the condition of this first and only new Republic created by formerly enslaved people who had fought and won a war to become a free, independent nation. Reading Hill’s correspondence with Thomas Pringle can help us gain a greater understanding of Black British anti-slavery activism in the early nineteenth century and what Haiti’s unique sociopolitical history meant for Black organizers like Hill, who hoped to establish Black freedom in the British Empire. The letters also give us unique insight into the day-to-day successes and struggles of a nineteenth-century Afro-British activist as Hill worked to earn a living in precarious circumstances while remaining committed to developing his career.

Continue reading

Oxford and Japan – 150th anniversary of the admission of the first Japanese student at Oxford

2023 is a significant year for anniversaries in the University’s progress towards the diversification of its student body. The year 1873, 150 years ago, saw not only the admission of the University’s first known black student, Christian Cole of Sierra Leone, it is also believed to be  when the first Japanese student attended Oxford: Tats (aka Tomotsune) Iwakura.

Iwakura was admitted to the University (‘matriculated’) on 29 May 1873. The information he gave the University on his matriculation form, written in his own hand, stated that he was born in Miako, Japan. Aged 19, he was the third son of the Prime Minister of Japan, Tomomi Iwakura.

Tats Iwakura matriculation form

Matriculation form of Tats Iwakura, 1873 (from OUA/UR 1/1/5)

Iwakura came to Oxford during a time of great change at the University, and his arrival reflects a number of movements by the University in later nineteenth century towards opening itself up to a greater range of students.

Under ‘college’, Iwakura has written ‘Unattached’. This refers to the Delegacy for Unattached Students (later known as Non-Collegiate Students). This was a University body set up in 1868 in order to allow students from a wider social range to attend the University by reducing the cost of their time here. Membership of a college or hall was expensive and it was this which put an Oxford education out of the financial reach of many. Membership of the Delegacy for Unattached Students, this new alternative means of being a student, was cheaper, and therefore became a possibility for people who had been hitherto excluded.

At about the same time, another major change took place at the University. Until 1854, every person matriculating at the University had to declare their agreement (by subscribing) to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This effectively barred from the University all those of any other faith, or none. The Oxford University Act of 1854 had abolished subscription at matriculation and at graduation as BA, but it wasn’t until 1871 that the Universities Tests Act abolished subscription for all degrees and for all offices (except, somewhat understandably, degrees and professorships in theology). Catholics, Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths, or none, were now able to become senior members of the University.

A result of both the Unattached Students scheme and the 1871 Universities Test Act was that the student body at Oxford slowly began to become more diverse. And it’s into this new climate at the University that Iwakura arrived.

Tomotsune, or Tats, Iwakura (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iwakura_Tomotsune.jpg)

It’s clear, however, that a student from Iwakura’s background did not need the financial assistance which came from being an Unattached Student. So why did he come to Oxford in this way, and not as a member of a regular college? A clue may be the fact that once he was here, the archives are silent on what Iwakura did, apart from recording his migration (ie transfer between colleges) to Balliol College in January 1874. It was not uncommon for Unattached Students to transfer to a regular college after they had arrived at the University. In these records, Iwakura is now known as Tomotsne, no longer Tats.

There is also no record in the Archives here of Iwakura passing any examinations or of receiving a degree. This suggests that he was not here to study as a traditional undergraduate, working his way to a BA. In fact it appears that, despite the aim of the Unattached Students scheme being to attract students from poorer social backgrounds, it actually also enabled wealthy mature students to come to study in a private capacity. Unattached Students were often, like Iwakura, older than regular undergraduates, from overseas, and already graduates of other universities. What isn’t recorded on Iwakura’s form is that he had already spent time studying at Rutgers College in the United States alongside his brother Asahi in 1870.

Generally speaking, it is very difficult for the University Archives to identify the first person from a particular country to matriculate. The reason that we are able to do this, albeit tentatively, in the case of Iwakura, is that he and number of students from other parts of Asia and the Middle East are listed separately in Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, a published register of all those admitted to the University between 1715 and 1886.

The Alumni Oxonienses (and, to some extent, the University itself at that time) had difficulty dealing with personal names that were not of Western European origin. As a result, in the back of the Alumni are separately listed all those students whose names fell into that category, under the heading “Indians, etc”. Although it is a highly disrespectful categorisation, it does enable us to more easily identify those students coming from countries such as Japan, India and Thailand. Many, it’s interesting to note, are the sons of high-status individuals such as princes and government officials.

There is no record here of how Iwakura found being a Japanese student in 1870s Oxford. He appears not to have suffered the cruelty of racist caricaturisation in the popular press that Christian Cole had to endure, but as his student experience is unrecorded in the University Archives, we don’t know what life would have been like for him here.

Iwakura’s matriculation marked the beginning of a long association of the University with Japan. It has an international office in Tokyo and over 1500 alumni currently in Japan. More about the University’s links with Japan can be found on its website at https://www.ox.ac.uk/about/international-oxford/asia-east/japan

For more on Iwakura’s time at Rutgers, see the interesting article on the College’s ‘Rutgers Meets Japan: early encounters’ website at https://sites.rutgers.edu/rutgers-meets-japan/iwakura-brothers/

Further information about Christian Cole, the first known black student at Oxford, can be found at https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/archivesandmanuscripts/2021/10/18/the-first-black-student-at-oxford-university/

 

Zachary Macaulay and the ‘Anti-Slavery Reporter’

By Iain Whyte

This is the third in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

In the various commemorative items produced in 2008 to mark the bi-centenary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade, the names and portraits of Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Buxton appeared frequently and less so those of the formerly enslaved such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho.  But one name almost universally absent was that of Zachary Macaulay. Better known as the father of Lord Thomas Macaulay, the historian and politician, Zachary played an invaluable role both in the Parliamentary campaign against the trade, and later plantation slavery in the British Empire, and in galvanising public opinion through local committees. A shy and in many ways inhibited man, he never made a speech, but his first hand experience in Jamaica and along the Sierra Leone river enabled those in Parliament to speak with authority, and above all the research and writing he did in the 1820s to expose the reality of slavery, provided ammunition against the powerful attempts to shore up the profitable system. This was most marked in his founding in 1825, and editorship throughout the vital campaigning years, of the Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter, a magazine that survives to this day under the auspices of the charity and campaigning group Anti-Slavery International.

Continue reading