Book of the Month: January – the census

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker: The story of Britain through its census since 1801
Roger Hutchinson

This was a book which a friend on LJ had read and reviewed, and which sounded interesting, the census having definitely Georgian roots.

Although there had been censuses at many times and in many places (in the bible, in the Roman empire, the Norman census known as the Domesday book), mainly of taxpayers and potential soldiers, the modern British census is essentially a creation of the Napoleonic Wars, when two problems became important – the size of the population compared to the population of France, and the need to know how many people had to be fed, in order to know how much food was needed for them, in an age of wildly fluctuating grain prices.

The book is particularly good on these early censuses, overseen by John Rickman, and still figuring out exactly what is to be done. The first census, in 1801, is a count of households and of people, of births, deaths and marriages and of those employed in various categories of work, but it is not the record of individuals that it later becomes. The 1821 census is the first to record at least rough ages, as well as the first to cover Ireland, and it is 1841 before the census records individual names.

The second half of the book is more thematic, looking at changing occupations, population movement within Britain, the speakers of various languages, immigration and emigration, including those who came and left, or went and came back, and attempts to survey the population of various other parts of the empire.

In a way, a book which was more focused on the early days might have been even better, particularly for me, but it was still a very interesting books covering a wide variety of topics.


Collingwood Society: Lt William Landless

This month’s talk to the Collingwood Society was given by Tony Barrow, who has managed to give up being secretary of the society, but has not been allowed to give up doing talks. He was speaking about William Landless, who came from Northumberland and was a lieutenant in several of Collingwood’s ships, following him about in the years before Trafalgar.

The talk started with a quote from NAM Rodger:

The Navy was the only profession for a gentleman which did not require – indeed did not admit – the application of money or influence.

‘Did not require’ might be true, and money could not be as directly applied as in e.g. the purchase of an army commission, but influence, particularly from senior naval figures, was still very important, and Tony wanted to look at four different aspects which might lead to a sucessful naval career – influence, timing, skill and temperament, and plain luck.

The Landless family – some of whom were spelt Landles – had appeared in Northumberland in the late 17th century, and were rumoured to have been formerly MacGregors (now landless after proscription!), but there doesn’t seem to be any certain evidence of this.

William Landless was born at Easington near Belford in 1762, and in 1777 became an apprentice in the coal trade, before joining the navy at Leith, where George Younghusband, part of a neighbouring Northumberland family, was the impress officer. He was then sent to Chatham, where Roddam was port admiral, becoming straight away part of a Northumbrian network, and was sent to North America on the frigate Richmond where he was present as a prisoner at the fall of Yorktown. After being exchanged and sent home he was sent to the West indies in Royal Oak, where he took part in the battle of the Saintes.

Landless passed for lieutenant in 1786, but with little chance of promotion in peacetime he then joined the East India company, where he spent the next 10 years, rising to Chief Mate, with a brief return to the Royal Navy on Roddam’s flagship around the time of the Nootka Sound crisis in 1790.

In 1796 Landless returned to the navy for good, probably because he did not have the money required to purchase an East India Company captaincy, but possibly also because the country was again at war. He was at the Nore at the time of the mutiny, and was one of the officers appointed to replace unpopular officers who had been removed, and then spent time in the North Sea, where he met and dined with Nelson.

During the Peace of Amiens he was at home in Northumberland, helping to sort out his father’s tangled affairs, and then joined Collingwood’s flagship Venerable, before moving with him to Dreadnought. He then declined a transfer to Royal Sovereign which would have made him second lieutenant, ‘pretending a complaint in his eyes’, according to Collingwood, because he believed that Dreadnought, which was badly in need of a refit, was about to be sent home – but instead she stayed, and so Landless fought on Dreadnought at Trafalgar.

This failure to move probably got in the way of his later promotion, despite Roddam’s strong interest in it, and although he was given command of an armed merchant ship in early 1806, letters from Collingwood to the Admiralty urging his promotion (and grumbling generally about lack of promotion for his protégès) came to nothing until that August when Lord Barham was replaced as First Lord of the Admiralty by Lord Howick, another Northumbrian.

At that point Landless was promoted to commander and appointed to the sloop Morgiana, where he took a prize with a valuable cargo. Combined with the money he had made in the East India Company, which allowed private trade, this made him well enough off that when he was offered another commission in 1808 he refused, preferring to stay and build up his estate at Easington, which he had now bought.

So all four influences were at work in Landless’s career – the personal patronage of Roddam and later Collingwood, the timing issues which meant he had little chance of promotion in the peacetime navy and the skill which saw him rise through first the EIC and then the navy in spite of this, and finally the plain luck which saw him take a valuable prize.

Age of Sail in Everything – Kendal


I’ve said before that you can find a Georgian story, and usually even a Napoleonic war story, everywhere if you look for it – it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. In Kendal, I wanted to go and have a look at a monument a bit outside the town – one which I’ve described elsewhere as a slightly comedy monument, as it was erected to celebrate Napoleon’s confinement on Elba, but before the plaque could be added he had escaped and was off again!

Elba monument

Sadly you can’t get right up to it to read the plaque which was finally added a hundred years later, but there’s a picture of it in the link above – apparently the original inscription was to have been:

In honour of William Pitt, the pilot that weathered the storm Elba

Elba monument closeup

The Elba monument was apparently a response to an earlier Whig monument on Castle Howe in the middle of the town, erected in 1788 to celebrate the centenary of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ – if they can have an obelisk why can’t we style – so I thought I better go and have a look at it as well.

Castle Howe obelisk
Obelisk inscription

Castle Howe itself is the motte – or mound – of the first castle in Kendal, so much older than the monument, and is just up behind the main street, on the other side of the river from the later castle whose ruins are still visible.

Castle Howe

Collingwood Society 2018

The full programme for this year wasn’t ready by the AGM, but has now been published. So we have:

  • William Landless, a Northumbrian lieutenant, in January
  • a lecture which turns out not to be about the Merchant Navy after all in March
  • nautical pub names in April
  • Northumberland archives in May
  • The logistics of supplying a fleet in June
  • ‘Why Naval Battles don’t Matter’ in September
  • the various Trafalgar events in October
  • the AGM and a ‘Pickle Night’ in November
  • Small boats, as already announced, in December

But it doesn’t seem to be online yet, so I can’t link to it!