Released on 26th May
Antarctica to Greater Birmingham, via Merthyr and Milwaukee
New lives added to the
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
103 lives are added to the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography today, Thursday 26 May 2011. www.oxforddnb.com
The new people were active between the eleventh and the late-twentieth century and their activities range from Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition to the creation, in May 1911 of ‘Greater Birmingham’ as Britain’s second city. There is a special focus on people who shaped the history of modern Wales, and on nineteenth and twentieth-century genre painters whose works, often depicting scenes from everyday life, have enjoyed renewed popularity in galleries around the British Isles.
- Centenaries are recognized in three new entries. Captain Scott’s British Antarctic expedition disembarked at Cape Evans in January 1911, with the dual aims of conquering the geographical South Pole for the British empire, and conducting scientific research in Antarctica. Among the party was a Royal Navy stoker William Lashly (1867-1940) who marked his forty-fourth birthday (Christmas day 1911) by falling into a crevasse. Lashly was expected to be part of Scott’s team for the final push to the Pole, but surprisingly was not chosen. However, Lashly’s own return to base camp was heroic, saving the life of Lieutenant Evans for which he was awarded the Albert Medal; and it was Lashly who discovered the bodies of Scott and his fellow explorers in November 1912 after news of their deaths had reached base camp. Bill Lashly was perceived by his contemporaries as an archetype—the utterly dependable, uncomplaining, ever ready ‘other rank’, upon whom Scott built two Antarctic expeditions.
- in May 1911 the ‘Greater Birmingham Act’, was passed by the British parliament. The act
extended the city's boundaries to include Erdington, Aston Manor, King's Norton, Northfield, Yardley, and Handsworth. Now with an area three times the size of Glasgow, and twice that of Manchester, Liverpool, or Belfast, Greater Birmingham became, in area and population, Britain’s ‘Second City’. The act was largely the achievement of the Birmingham town planner, John Sutton Nettlefold (1866-1930) whose housing schemes used undeveloped land around the city for new low density suburbs to replace inner-city slums. For Nettlefold the new ‘Greater Birmingham’ was to be ‘a better Birmingham’.
- Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ also in 1911 four young women were completing their university studies, with the hope of entering the legal profession. At this time women were not permitted to become solicitors and in 1913, the four came together to challenge the Law Society’s refusal to admit women to its examinations to qualify as solicitors. They pursued a landmark legal action in the name of one of them, Gwyneth Marjory Bebb (1889-1921) as ‘Bebb vs. the Law Society’. Although the action was unsuccessful, the ban on women was lifted in 1919. However, Bebb (by then married) died in August 1921 following childbirth, before she was able to complete her studies for the bar. Of the four women who brought the original action, Maud Crofts (1889-1965), became the first woman to be articled to a solicitor in 1919 and the first to obtain a certificate to practise in 1923.
- Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ on the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the American civil war, the new edition of the Oxford DNB also includes Evan Rowland Jones (1840-1920) who left his family farm at Tregaron, Cardiganshire, to seek his fortune in Milwaukee, USA, and enlisted in the federal army in the first month of fighting, May 1861. He saw action in some of the best-known campaigns, including the battle of Gettysburg, and witnessed the final surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April 1865. On his return to Britain, he was appointed US consul at Newcastle upon Tyne by President Ulysses S. Grant, later serving as consul for south Wales and as MP for Carmarthen.
Shapers of modern Wales
Evan Jones features in a selection of lives reflecting the culture and politics of Wales over the past two centuries. Highlights include:
- choral conductor Dan Davies (1859-1930)—nicknamed the ‘Wellington of choral music’—who led the Merthyr and Dowlais choirs in tremendous battles of the choirs (which drew crowds of 15,000 in the 1890s) in the X Factor contests of their day.
- two early ‘world champions’ in the sport of cycling from Aberaman, Arthur Linton (1868-1896) and Jimmy Michael (1875-1904). Linton started work aged twelve as a door boy in the local colliery. Having saved to buy a bicycle, he was by 1890 known as a crack racing cyclist, his stamina and speed ascribed to the hilly roads where he trained. During the cycle craze of the 1890s he raced on Paris tracks, competing against the best European riders, and became a hero in Wales. Jimmy Michael developed stamina riding a heavy bicycle on his errands as a butcher’s boy. By 1893 he was one of the best racing cyclists in south Wales, and the trainer ‘Choppy’ Warburton also took him to Paris, where his track-racing exploits, combined with his diminutive stature and nonchalant riding style–he balanced a toothpick in his mouth even during the most furiously paced race–made him a celebrity. Like Linton he died in circumstances that created suspicions that performance-enhancing drugs were involved.
- the Welsh Nationalist Party’s first ever parliamentary candidate Lewis Edward Valentine (1893-1986), who gained 609 votes (the ‘glorious 600’) when he stood for Caernarvonshire in 1929. In a celebrated incident at Porth Neigwl in September 1936 Valentine and other members of the party set fire to workmen’s huts on the site of an RAF pilot training base. He was imprisoned for nine months in Wormwood Scrubs.
- Merthyr-born boxer Howard Winstone (1939-2000) who, in 1968, became Britain’s first world featherweight boxing champion. His early enthusiasm for Merthyr’s rich pugilistic tradition had been encouraged by his father, and he won three Welsh schools titles on his way to the world title. His right hand was injured in an industrial accident when he was seventeen, but his fine technique, speed, and skill compensated for limited hitting power. His life is the subject of the film biopic, Risen, released in 2010.
- Pembrokeshire pioneer of nature conservation Ronald Mathias Lockley (1903-2000) whose studies of rabbit behaviour were set out in his Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), a book that proved a source of reference on rabbit behaviour to Richard Adams when writing Watership Down (1972). Lockley concluded: ‘Rabbits are so human. Or is it the other way round—humans are so rabbit?’
- artist Sydney Curnow Vosper (1866-1942), whose best-known work, Salem (1908), depicted the interior of Salem chapel at Cefn Cymerau in Merioneth. Reproductions featured prominently in Welsh homes, and the work came to be regarded as a national emblem.
Painters of everyday life
Sydney Vosper is one of 25 new biographies of Victorian artists who specialized in snapshots of Victorian life. Many were unfortunate to live at a time when their form of genre painting was becoming unfashionable with art critics; subsequently these artists were often side-lined and their achievements forgotten. However, their depictions of daily life proved more popular with collectors, with many works now exhibited in public galleries across the UK, often newly-refurbished for twenty-first century audiences.
- like Vosper’s Salem, The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish kirk (1891), by John Henry Lorimer (1856-1936), was quickly embraced, and much reproduced, as an emblem of Scotland. Now in the National Gallery of Scotland, it has been described as one of the most national pictures ever painted.
- William Maw Egley (1826-1916) is best-known for his Omnibus Life in London (1859), now in the Tate Collection. Egley’s depiction of the passengers crowded inside an omnibus at Westbourne Grove, London, used friends and relatives as models for the passengers. It was based on a reconstruction of an omnibus in a builder’s yard, and a wooden model in his garden.
- Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935), whose paintings of sheep in snowy landscapes became popular (and still reproduced) images for Christmas cards. A wooden hut on wheels enabled Farquharson to paint in all seasons and in the severest weather, earning him the nickname Frozen Mutton Farquharson.
- Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, twelfth baronet (1853-1943), was known as ‘the barefoot baronet’, because he avoided footwear except on social occasions. He made his name as an artist with group scenes of public events in late-Victorian Britain—among them Australia v England, now at Lord’s cricket ground.
- resident in England for eleven years, the French-born artist Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) was hugely in demand for his vibrant depictions of young women in high society settings and rich fashions. Tissot’s canvases sold as rapidly as he could paint them, but this earned him the hostility of the London art establishment. He never became a naturalized British subject, and left for Paris immediately after the funeral of his model and partner Kathleen Newton, with whom he had lived in St John’s Wood.
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The Oxford DNB online is extended with new biographies every January, May, and September. The next update will be published on 22 September 2011.
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Notes for Editors
Notes to Editors – www.oxforddnb.com
1. Following the May 2011 update of 103 new biographies, the Oxford DNB includes 52,777 articles in which are told the life stories of 57,768 people. 10,820 biographies include a portrait image of the subject; the Dictionary has been written by 13,506 authors.
2. Biographies in the online edition of the Oxford DNB now include people who died in or before the year 2007. No living person is included.
3. Since 2006 the complete Oxford DNB has been available to 48 million residents in England and to all residents of Northern Ireland via their public libraries. Since 2008 the Oxford DNB has been available via nearly all Welsh and Scottish public libraries. Remote log-ins allow library readers to consult the online Oxford DNB from home, or from anywhere, at any time.
4. The Oxford DNB is also published in print (63 million words in 60 volumes) and online www.oxforddnb.com. The online Oxford DNB is updated in January, May, and October each year. The Dictionary is a research project of the University of Oxford, published and funded by Oxford University Press.
5. The Oxford DNB is funded by the British Academy (1992–2004) and Oxford University Press. The British Academy provided £3.7m over 13 years towards the total project costs of more than £25m. Oxford University Press initiated and funded the Oxford DNB because of its national and scholarly significance, and with no commercial return.
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