The auction had gotten a little out of hand, and most of the blame could be laid at the feet of George Lambton. Lambton (1860-1945) was a former officer in the British infantry, and a former amateur steeplechase jockey (a role in which he won the prestigious Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris in 1888). After a serious fall, he had turned to training racehorses, and was generally considered one of the finest trainers of his day. Today, however, Lambton was waging a bidding war on William Tatem, Baron Glanely. Lord Glanely was a hugely successful racehorse breeder between the World Wars. By the time the Yearling Sales were held at Doncaster in September of 1921, Lord Glanely had already won the Epsom Derby and was eager for new turf conquests.

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Left: “Lord Glanely, 1921.” Accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Right: The Hon. George Lambton, from the painting by Lynwood Palmer.” Frontispiece to Men and Horses I Have Known, J. A. Allen & Co., 1963, National Sporting Library & Museum.

Both men sought to purchase a beautiful chestnut filly of sound pedigree and attractive conformation named Teresina. Bidding had started at the hefty sum of 1,000 guineas and had risen quickly into staggering totals. 5,000 guineas. 6,000 guineas. 7,000 guineas! Lord Glaneley topped Lambton with a bid of 7,600 guineas, to be outbid immediately by Lambton at 7,700. It was at this price that the auctioneer, the esteemed Somerville Tattersall, would ultimately award the filly to Lambton.

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“Teresina,” by Lionel Edwards. From The Aga Khan’s Horses, by R. C. Lyle, 1938. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Edmund S. Twining, 1993.

Lambton wasn’t bidding for himself. Earlier in 1921, he had received a request to meet in London with Sultan Muhammed Shah, the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan (1877-1957) had been urged by his friend, Baron Wavertree, to enter the Thoroughbred horse breeding world back in 1904. The Aga Khan was of the opinion that if a horse breeding enterprise was to be founded, it should be done properly. He had waited, opting to focus on his political and religious responsibilities instead. But by 1921, he was ready to build his stable. He met with Lambton in London, attempting to woo him away from the Earl of Derby as a trainer. Unable to persuade Lambton to train his horses, the Aga Khan had engaged him as his agent to purchase the horses to begin his new racing stable.

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“Painting Teresina — The Foal Who Would Be In” by Lionel Edwards. From The Aga Khan’s Horses, by R. C. Lyle, 1938. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Edmund S. Twining, 1993.

The Aga Khan’s instructions were simple enough: focus on mares and fillies, only purchase colts when they showed significant promise. When the Yearling Sales arrived, Lambton was determined to find the very best bloodstock for the Aga Khan. A brown filly named Cos was purchased by Lambton for 5,000 guineas, and by the time Lambton left the sales he had purchased eight horses for a total of 24,520 guineas. The tally would make up about 14 percent of the total for the entire sale.

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Signature page from The Aga Khan’s Horses, by R. C. Lyle, 1938. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Edmund S. Twining, 1993. R. C. Lyle, Lionel Edwards, and the Aga Khan all signed the 140 copies in this book’s first edition.

It was a promising beginning for the Aga Khan’s stable. Teresina established herself as a horse with exemplary stamina, and after three years of racing and a victory at the Jockey Club Stakes, was retired from racing. In 1922, Lambton purchased Mumtaz Mahal, a dashing gray filly with blinding speed. She would go on to be one of the most successful two-year-olds in the history of flat racing. By 1924, the Aga Khan was the leading owner, with 11 winners and over 44,000 pounds won that year. The Aga Khan would go on to become one of the most decorated racehorse owners and breeders of the early 20th Century. He’s still the only owner to have won the Derby five times and would be named a British Champion Owner thirteen times.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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Those of you who have been on a tour of the Library’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room will be familiar with our collection of fore-edge books. We always include one of these on tours as the lovely paintings hidden on their edges, and visible only when the pages are fanned, never fail to impress. These paintings were added after the book was published and typically the artist is unknown. Very often we display a copy of the Bible, published in 1839, that shows a hawking scene when its pages are fanned.

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Bible (1839) with fore edge painting, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Recently I made a connection between this fore-edge painting and another item in the Library’s collection which reveals the artist’s inspiration if not their identity. Compare the image above with this one by Henry Alken…

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The National Sports of Britain, Hawking, Henry Alken (1821). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

While the fore-edge painting has been simplified, it is clearly the same image. Henry Alken’s version was published in The National Sports of Great Britain in 1821. The Bible with the corresponding fore-edge painting wasn’t published until 1839, and the fore-edge painting would have been added after that date. The artist must have been a fan of Alken’s work. They wouldn’t have been alone.

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Book plate in The National Sports of Great Britain, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Henry Alken (1785 – 1851) was a prolific painter and illustrator. The Library holds upwards of 60 volumes of his work. His subjects included all varieties of sporting topics as well as coaching scenes. He created numerous sets of etchings, often hand colored, depicting sporting scenes.

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Sporting Sketches, Henry Alken (1817). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

He also specialized in comical vignettes or satirical illustrations such as this image from Hunting or Six Hours Sport (1823), titled Breaking Covert.

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

One of the things I love the most about Alken’s work isn’t actually any part of his images but rather the publisher that he frequently partnered with to produce his books. Thomas McLean, a publisher based in London, used the added sobriquet, Repository of Wit and Humour. Now this is a person I would love to meet at a party! I really must come up with a similar tagline myself. Perhaps, Keeper of Curiosities and Wonders?

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In addition to extensive holdings of Alken’s published works, the Library has two items containing his original work. The first gives an interesting insight into Alken’s process.  It’s titled Cartoons and is a collection of preliminary stick figure sketches that would eventually be fleshed out into the finished images in his published works.

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Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Here’s a close up of two images, both of which were destined to be part of Alken’s comical works.

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“Keep Up Your Muzzle,” from Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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“Endeavouring to Stop.” Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The other volume of original works is a collection of drawings, paintings, and watercolors. It’s called Horses: Original Drawings. Here are two examples. The first is a watercolor.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The second is a drawing.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

If you would like to explore the Library’s holdings of Alken’s work, I would be happy to oblige. Nearly all of it is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room so please contact us to make an appointment before you visit.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

 

 

Thousands of spectators thronged the race meet at Knavesmire in York on August 25, 1804. The crowd was much larger than usual and curious onlookers strained for a view of the upcoming race. The reason for all the commotion was simple: a woman was challenging a man in a horse race. It was a staggering event, both derided as a pure novelty by some and lauded as step toward equality by others. For many of the day’s spectators, it meant drama and entertainment, and they turned out in droves to see it.

The race was a family affair. Mrs. Alicia Thornton (1782-18??) of Thornville Royal had challenged her neighbor and brother-in-law, Captain Flint to a race. Her husband, Colonel Thomas Thornton (1757–1823) was the original sporting gentleman of the 18th Century. He was an expert rider, went shooting, hawking and fishing, could leap his own height, and had a voracious appetite for gambling. Col. Thornton had placed a bet of 1,000 guineas on his wife in this contest, and both he and Flint were intent on victory.

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“Celebrated Race Between Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Flint at the York August Meeting, 1804.” Published October 1804 by J. Wheble, Warwick Square. The Sporting Magazine for September 1804, National Sporting Library & Museum.

Alicia rode on her husband’s horse Old Vingarillo. Flint rode his prized horse Thornville. Mrs. Thornton’s riding prowess was well-known as she regularly rode to hounds with her husband. In fact, it appears that her equestrian skills might have pressured Flint into some less-than-gallant behavior. He insisted on barring Alicia from being accompanied to the start of the race by an attendant. When she arrived at the start, Flint claimed the side of the course that helped him most. Since Alicia rode sidesaddle, she was prevented from using her usual whip hand without fear of interfering with her opponent.

To the racegoers, Alicia was the popular wager: betting began at 5 and 6 to 4 “on the petticoat,” and over the first three miles, betting ran to 7 to 4 then 2 to 1 on a Alicia’s victory. By all accounts, she was by far the superior rider during the race before disaster struck. In the final mile of the race, Old Vingarillo’s saddle-girths loosened and Alicia’s saddle slid sideways on the horse. She pulled up immediately to avoid a dangerous fall. Flint would later receive criticism for ignoring Alicia’s plight and riding hard the whole way to the finish to win by the maximum distance.

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Alicia Thornton by Mackenzie, after unknown artist stipple engraving, published 1805. NPG D8248 © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was the Thornton side’s turn for less-than-gallant behavior. Col. Thornton refused to pay his wager for the loss, claiming that the bet had been nothing more than a friendly joke. Following her loss, Mrs. Thornton wrote a scathing complaint against Flint in the newspaper and issued a challenge to repeat the race again the following year. Flint refused to race again, likely prompted in part by Col. Thornton’s failure to pay.

Alicia would go on to race again in the next two years, becoming the first woman to win a match race in 1805 against Frank Buckle (1766-1832). At that race, Flint confronted Col. Thornton in the grandstands for payment of the prior year’s bet. Upon Col. Thornton’s continued refusal, Flint beat Thornton with a horse whip and had to be restrained by the other racegoers. The incident led to arrests, lawsuits, and a deep bitterness between the Flints and the Thorntons, who before the race had been on very friendly terms.

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“The Gallant and Spirited Race at Knavesmire, in Yorkshire for 500gs. and 1000gs. bye — 4 miles — between The Late Col. Thornton’s Lady and Mr. Flint.” Pierce Egan’s Book Of Sports, No. IX. National Sporting Library & Museum.

As for Alicia, her relationship with Col. Thornton began to sour in 1806 as Thornton’s fortune dried up. In the end, he was obliged to sell his massive Thornville royal estate. By the end of 1806, she and her husband parted ways and she eventually remarried a naval officer before disappearing from the pages of history. She would be remembered as the first female jockey in England, and was the only woman victor listed by the Jockey Club until 1943.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Recently I spent some time working with a bestiary compiled in 1607 by Edward Topsell.  The short version of its title is The Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts, the the full title does an admirable job of summarizing the contents:  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes : Describing the true and lively figure of every beast, with a discourse of their severall names, conditions, kindes, vertues (both naturall and medicinall), countries of their breed, their love and hate to mankinde, and the wonderfull worke of God in their creation, preservation, and destruction : necessary for all divines and students, because the story of every beast is amplified with narrations out of scriptures, fathers, phylosophers, physitians, and poets : wherein are declared divers hyerogliphicks, emblems, epigrams, and other good histories, collected out of all the volumes of Conradus Gesner, and all other writers to this present day.

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The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes by Edward Topsell (1607).  The gift of Thomas E. Marston

Edward Topsell was an English cleric who authored several books.  Today he is best remembered for his zoological works.  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes was published in 1607, and he followed it up with The History of Serpents in 1608.  In 1658 the two works were published as a single volume, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents.  

Topsell was an archival researcher.  He didn’t venture out into the field and make first hand observations.  Rather, he mined historic accounts for information and compiled the results.  The list of authors consulted is several pages long.  He relied heavily on Conrad Gessner’s, Historiae Animalium (1551-1558), but we also see Aristotle and Pliny among his sources.  The result of all this research is a large collection of entries on a wide variety of animals.  Each entry includes a description of the animal and its behavior, where in the world it can be found, and how it relates to man.  Frequently these entries are accompanied by illustrations.

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Horse (p. 282-435)

Many of the animals covered would have been well known to Europeans.  In general, these entries contain reasonably accurate  images and data.  Some, such as that for the horse, are quite extensive, and indeed these sections about horses and other equines, hounds, and big game animals, such as various deer, are the reason this book is in the NSLM collection.

Occasionally his descriptions or the accompanying images seem a bit… off.  For example the abilities attributed to the squirrel strike me as a tad inflated.  He reports that the squirrel’s tail is used by the animal as a sunshade and umbrella, and that it also functions as a wing, noting the tremendous jumps it makes between trees without sinking, or from great height to the ground without injury.  Ok, I can perhaps understand that, but then the entry goes on to say… “The admirable witte of this beast appeareth in her swimming or passing over the waters… to pass over a river, shee seeketh out some rinde or smal barke of a tree which she setteth upon the water,  and then goeth into it, and holding uppe her taile like a saile, letteth the winde drive her to the other side…” (p. 658).  I’m certainly no expert on squirrel behavior but this seems highly unlikely to me.  And then there’s the accompanying illustration.  This is the fiercest squirrel I’ve ever seen!

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Squirrell (p. 657)

The hedgehog appears as expected in its portrait, however its fighting abilities are described in a surprisingly offensive light.

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Hedg-Hog (p. 277)

“The hedghog rowleth upon the serpent piercing his skin and flesh, (yea many times tearing the flesh from the bones) whereby he scapeth alive and killeth his adversary, carrying the flesh upon his speares, like an honorable banner won from his adversary in the field” (p. 279).

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Cat (p. 103)

His description of the cat rings true.  “Once cattes were all wilde but afterward they retyred to houses wherefore there are plenty of them in all countries…  It is needelesse to spend any time about her loving nature to man, how she flattereth by rubbing her skinne against ones legges, how she whurleth with her voyce, having as many tunes as turnes, for she hath one voice to beg and to complain, another to testifie her delight & pleasure, another among hir own kind by flattring, by hissing, by puffing, by spitting, insomuch as some have thought that they have a peculiar intelligible language among themselves” (p. 105).  However, Topsell also recounts the legends that cats steal ones breath at night, and that they are often the familiars of witches.

Nearly all of the entries include recipes utilizing parts of the animal to create cures for a wide variety of diseases.  Everything from headaches and psoriasis, to epilepsy and the bloody flux might be vanquished.

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Asse (p. 20)

For example the ass can help us with tooth trouble and baldness.  “The poulder of an asses hoofe burned and beaten, laide in vineger and made in little bals, and one of them put into the mouth and there held, helpeth the loosnesse and paine in the teeth.  There is a collection of certaine hard matter about an asses legges, called Lichen, which if it be burned and beaten and put into old oyle, will cause haires to grow out of baldnes, and it is of such force, that if is be applyed to a womans cheek, it will produce the same effect…”(p. 27).

In addition to real animals, Topsell includes a number of mythic animals and monsters.  He tries to give us the same sort of information on these as he does for the other animals but largely ends up recounting physical descriptions, legends, and rumors about these beasts, their behavior, and methods of dispatching them.

Judging by the number of authors contributing to the unicorn entry, these magical equines were widespread at one time.  One thing they all agree on is that the unicorn may be subdued by a virgin.  Beyond that information differs.  Their horns can be used in a wide variety of medicinal tonics, and if one is made into a cup, it can either detect, or neutralize poison depending on the account one believes.

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Unicorne (p. 711)

The Mantichora is supposedly a variety of hyena.  “This beast or rather monster (as Ctesias writeth) is bred among the Indians, having a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatnesse, roughnesse, and feete are like a lyons, his face and eares like unto a mans, his eies gray and collour red, his taile like the taile of a scorpion of the earth, armed with a sting, casting forth sharp pointed quils, his voice like the voice of a small trumpet or pipe, being in course as swift as a hart; his wildnes such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man” (p. 442).

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Mantichora (p. 441)

“His body like the body of a lyon, being very apt both to leape and to run, so as no distance or space doth hinder him, and I take it to be the same beast which Auicen calleth Marion, and Maricomorion, with her taile she woundeth her hunters whether they come before her or behind her, and presently when the quils are cast forth, new ones grow up in their roome, wherewithal she overcommeth all the hunters: and although India be full of divers ravening beastes, yet none of them are stiled with the title of Andropophagi, that is to say, Men-eaters, except only this mantichora” (p. 442).

In the new world there resides a beast known as Su.  “There is a region in the new-found world, called Gigantes, and the inhabitants thereof are called Pantagones; now because their country is cold, being far in the south, they cloath themselves with the skins of a beast called in theyr owne toong Su… The true image therof as it was taken by Theuetus, I have heere inserted, for it is of a very deformed shape, and monstrous presence, a great ravener and an untamable wilde beast” (p. 660).

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Wilde Beast (p. 660)

“When the hunters that desire her skinne set upon her, she flyeth very swift, carrying her yong ones upon her back, and covering them with her broad taile:  Now forsomuch as no dogge or man dareth to approach neere unto her, (because such is the wrath therof, that in the pursuit she killeth all that commeth neare hir:) the hunters digge severall pittes or great holes in the earth, which they cover with boughes sticks, and earth, so weakly that if the beast chance at any time to come upon it, she and her young ones fall down into the pit and are taken.  This cruell, untamable, impatient, violent, ravening, and bloody beast, perceiving that her natural strength cannot deliver her from the wit and policy of men her hunters, (for being inclosed, shee can never get out againe), the hunters being at hande to watch her downfall, and worke her overthrow, first of all to save her young ones from taking & taming, she destroyeth them all with her owne teeth; for there was never any of them taken alive, and when she seeth the hunters come about her, she roareth, cryeth, howleth, brayeith, and uttereth such a fearfull noysome, and terrible clamor, that the men which watch to kill her, are not thereby a little amazed, but at last being animated, because there can be no resistance, they approch, and with their darts and spears wound her to death, and then take off her skin, and leave the carcasse in the earth.  And this is all that I finde recorded of this most savage beast” (p. 660).

If you’d like to check out Topsell’s information on your favorite animal or to take a look at some of the other monster entries just contact me and let me know.  I would be happy to get the book out of the rare book room for you.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

“By means of a good telescope, a very distinct view may be obtained of the moon,” reads one of many short pieces that made up the 1882 edition of The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack. The Almanack had been in print for decades by 1882, tracing back into the 1850s as a dispensary of moral admonition and humorous stories. “With the highest power, however, yet employed, no trace of any inhabitants has been discovered,” the article continued. “Though any large towns must have been seen, did such exist on [the moon’s] visible side.”

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J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Despite the inevitable disappointment that the lack of habitations on the moon must have caused readers, almanacs were a staple of American popular literature in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Almanacs have been produced for centuries, dating back into the Middle Ages, with working theories on the earliest almanacs connecting them to Babylonian astronomers. Modern almanacs are known for conjecture on the weather, and for extensive handy reference charts. In the information age, the almanac is no longer a primary reference text, but the genre has continued on as a traditional publication. Poor Richard’s Almanack, produced by Benjamin Franklin, is a legendary title in the genre, and today’s most popular iteration is the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been faithfully produced since 1792.

The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack was decorated by engravings that were recycled every year. The engravings depicted farm life throughout the year:

In the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room we have several copies of minor almanacs (including The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack from the 1850s to the mid-1880s and Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina from the 1860s) that give detailed insight into daily life for the era. The heart of the annual almanac was the provision of ready details and charts for the year. Generally, these charts covered the weather, important dates, phases of the moon and tides, or lists of government representatives. The other articles maintained the interest of the reader, and were usually humorous stories or practical advice:

A Fast Frigate.
Dave Constable says there is one advantage about old-fashioned frigates. They drag so much dead water behind, that if a man falls overboard on Monday, you need not stop till Friday, to pick him up again.

The Hagerston Town and Country Almanack, 1856

The Library’s copies of Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina offer a very different tone. These copies were printed during the Civil War, and list facts and information on the government and daily life in the Confederacy, such as postage rates:

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Rates of Postage, Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina, 1864.

The 1864 edition contains no humorous articles and reflects in its offerings the somber trials in war-torn Virginia. Articles include instructions for how to prevent flies from wounds, how to make three dishes from a single beet plant, advice for crafting makeshift lamps from common animal grease, and directions for making shoes from squirrel skins tacked to plain boards. By the 1875 edition, Richardson’s Almanac had reintroduced humorous stories to begin the publication, and the recipes that hinted at the war’s impact had disappeared from from the publication.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Gamekeepers are employed by land owners to ensure there is enough game or fish for the owner’s sport. People in this occupation use an intense knowledge of the land and of wildlife to create habitats best suited to the game they hope to cultivate.

The Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell (Wikimedia Commons)

Activities include, building coverts, planting food sources, breeding birds, and eliminating predators.  Although the focus of such efforts is game and game birds, other wildlife in the area often benefits was well.

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Training setters.  Victorian and Edwardian Field Sports from Old Photographs, by J.N.P. Watson (1978). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Mrs. Jacqueline B. Mars.

Gamekeepers also organize the hunts. Not only do they guide hunters and stalkers to the best spots and provide game law information, they are also involved with the tools of the hunt. They rear and train hunting dogs, flush game, and collect and document the bag of the hunt.

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Keepers bring in some of the bag.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is an old profession, probably it’s been around ever since individual people owned large swaths of land.  In Medieval times gamekeepers were royal appointments and tended to focus mostly on protecting deer and wild boar as these were favorite royal game animals. Traditionally gamekeeping is a male occupation, however in his book, The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, Jonathan Garnier Ruffer describes the exploits of at least one early female gamekeeper.

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Female gamekeeper.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In the 1820s Polly Fishbourne was the gamekeeper at Holkham estate. She had a reputation for ferocity and so was fortunate to find herself in a profession that offered a ready target for her aggression – she was the bane of the local poachers. Women also make appearances as gamekeepers during World War I, often filling in for their husbands.

The Library’s resources on gamekeeping are focused on Great Britain from the very late 18th century through the 20th century.  Some books are essentially gamekeeping text books such as, The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910). This book gives a detailed description of the keeper’s daily activities over the course of the year.

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The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910).

Other books give a more general overview of the lifestyle and tasks of the gamekeeper.  For example, The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879) not only talks about the gamekeeper’s techniques and work, but also describes his living conditions, and the likely occupations of his wife.

For me, the most interesting books by far are the autobiographies written by the gamekeepers themselves. These colorful accounts of how the authors came to be gamekeepers and of the adventures they had during their careers are quite entertaining.

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Gamekeeper, John Wilkins.  The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

A good example is this excerpt from The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892), in which he describes tricking a known poacher into stealing a clutch of rotten eggs, and the encounter that follows…

“”Good morning, John,” says Harry, as soon as he sees me.  “Good morning, Harry,” says I, politely. “I was just remarking,” says Harry, “What a pity it is to cut down such nice, young oak timber, just growing into money.” Whereat his two companions burst out laughing, thinking, no doubt, how nicely he was smoothing me over. “You seem amused, my dear,” he went on, pleasantly, addressing the maid, who had a nest full of eggs in her hands. “She is so fond of bird’s eggs, John.”  This to me, of course. They all laughed again at this, and I, nothing loth, joined in. When I thought that they had laughed enough, at my expense, I stepped up to Harry, who was still on the grin, and said: — “Yes, and so are you fond of bird’s eggs, aren’t you?”  In a moment his countenance changed, and the grin grew ghastly, as he angrily asked what I meant. “I mean,” said I, “That pocketful of pheasant’s eggs you took from that clump of briars up yonder.” And before he knew what I was up to, I struck his pockets with the flat of my hand, and smash went the rotten egg!

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The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

At this he began cursing and swearing, but I merely remarked: — “Good morning, Harry.” Then, turning to the other two, I observed :– “you won’t be so fast to laugh at John Wilkins another time, perhaps.” Thereupon I left them, I indulging in a little mirth on my own account, but you should have seen the change that came over their countenances!”  (Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, p. 112-113)

Interestingly, in addition to the books on gamekeeping, the Library has quite a few about poachers and poaching.

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A selection of books about poachers and poaching.

They tend to fall into categories similar to those on gamekeeping. Topics include the various tools and techniques of the poacher, specific guides for capturing various types of animals, general woodcraft advice, and techniques for avoiding gamekeepers and the law. The personal accounts of poachers are even more colorful than those of the their opponents, the gamekeepers.

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The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879, this edition 1973) National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The fascinating thing about the tales of ‘gamekeeper vs. poacher’ is how they’re told with a sense of nostalgia by gamekeepers and poachers alike. Despite the injuries sustained on both sides in these conflicts, and the often stiff penalties incurred by the poachers, including fines, prison, and transportation, the participants describe these events with pride.

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The Poacher’s Companion by E. G. Walsh (1982). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The stories I read were all by retired old men. Perhaps, the distance of time smooths off the rough bits and they are just reliving the glories of youth. They put me in mind of the old Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons.

Gamekeeping continues today. While the job has evolved over time, many techniques remain the same. Today there are formal training programs at colleges, and professional  gamekeeping organizations. To see what is involved check out The Scottish Gamekeepers or National Gamekeepers.

To learn more about gamekeepers, poachers, wildlife conservation, shooting, and hunting, come see me in the Main Reading Room and I’ll be happy to get you started.


 

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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

Last month, we cracked open an ambitious project in the Library: the complete reprocessing and recataloging of everything stored in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. The project will likely last a year and is very challenging as we will be fully describing every object in our rare book collections, many of them in archaic languages.

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Like our Main Reading Room, many objects in the Rare Book Room are not cataloged, and most need to be stored to make more efficient use of space.
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As each collection is cataloged and reprocessed, acid-free index cards with barcodes and call numbers are inserted. Everything will now be findable in the NSLM’s library catalog, and to researchers using the OCLC’s WorldCat system.
Rare Book Room 3
We started with the most challenging materials, building a dedicated section for “folio” items: those which are too large to be shelved with the regular “oversized” books.
Rare Book Room 4
Shelving was cleared and removed for repairs and re-anchoring of wall units. It was a great opportunity for our facilities staff to perform stabilization and repairs.

 

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With repairs and maintenance complete, the entire room was painted for an updated look.

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We’ll be updating our members as we continue work on this exciting project. We’re already cataloging quite a few treasures from our rare collections that will now be easier to find and access.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail