Computer Says No ... again (Part 42)

Martin & Mandy

Published Version

Following on from the last journal - I've just picked up Roger Hales journals which he has written at the First Mate of two different ships of the East India Company. The journals are relatively dry reading - almost like the shipping forecast - I'm sure they're hugely interesting to those that study the weather and tides to ensure safe passage of their sailors i.e. members of the East India company for whom they were written - but for me it's heavy going. There are hourly records while the ship is under sail and these are all, as you would expect, to do with the weather, their position and their progress.

Whilst he goes into much detail about the weather Roger is not too specific about the cargo - just saying that many 'bales' are taken on - but he does tell us that on the 15th December 1727 they anchored at 'Visagapatan' by the Dolphin's Nose. Now, either Roger couldn't spell the local names too well, or the name has developed over the centuries, as I can find the Dolphin's Nose but it's in 'Vishakhapatnam'. There is a lighthouse at the Dolphin's Nose now - I wonder if there was then? He also says that they received on board 3 men as prisoners who had left the Lethieullier, another ship of the East India Company. Those men being Richard Medcalf, Charles Price & James Butler - these three are to be 'delivered at Madrass', where presumably they will be tried and punished, but without requesting the journals of the Lethieullier we will never know for what, and so you see how this research lark can be addictive!

The second journal is for the Grantham, on which Roger Hale is the First Mate, and again it's relatively dry reading - although in this one Roger lists the entire crew and their titles or jobs - we have 1st Mates to 5th Mates, carpenters and caulkers, cooks, deckhands, a Doctor, gunners, sailmakers and just plain sailors, many different skills are needed to run this ship. The layout on this list is interesting - there's a column for the "Person's name", one for the "Quality" which lists their job, and one entitled "Dead or Run"! The Grantham must have been a good ship as I'm pleased to say there are no entries for runners in this column.

Three interesting things come up in this journal - on April 2nd 1732 they see an 'abundance of spawn of fish or a sort of blubber which looks at night like lights in the water' - on the 16th April 1732 they are in a queue as there are so many ships waiting to dock in Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope - and on the 17th April Edward Turpin fell from the main top masthead and broke both his thighs 'which are sett & in hopes of his doing well', and sadly on my birthday in 1732 "Thomas Blevin departed this life".

I decide that it would be good to get some copies done so I set off for the Copy service desk - misnamed in my view - 'service' was not what they intended to supply! If I thought registration was a tough gig – this one is going to be worse. The chap in front of me was already getting a good dressing down for whatever it was that he had done wrong, so I thought I'd start off by explaining that I had not been there before so would need some help but this plea for mercy fell on deaf ears. So, after a lot of huffing and sighing, and her telling me I'd done everything wrong, I paid my money and finally got my copies ordered. I was given a grudging apology by this lady for her grumpiness, but only after I'd had to adopt the tone that a few people at work know about - the one that says that unless you change your attitude I will explode like Krakatoa and the fall out will not be pretty. No mean feat to convey in a library where you're trying not to disturb anyone. The copies were eventually sent out to me - but they were not the ones I ordered! I distinctly remember choosing the page with Martin's birthday on it and that has not arrived. I didn't make sufficient notes as I thought I would have the copies so I can't remember what it was that was interesting on the pages I chose, so I can't pass it on, which is sad.. A lesson learnt and another visit to the library will have to be done.

The final document I have to pick up is the 'south-east view, in Indian ink, of the church or chapel of Buntingford' by Thomas Baskerfeild so I trot off to collect this - but to my surprise I am not handed a single page - but a rather large fat book. As I open it I feel it all looks rather familiar! Thomas has taken Chauncy's 'Historical Antiquites of Hertfordshire', dismantled it and used it as the basis of a kind of scrap book - he has enlarged the pages by sticking the originals onto a large background, written notes in the margins, and added his own pictures of the area. Some of these are pictures he's pilfered from other books, but some are drawings or watercolours he has done himself with some considerable skill. Sadly the page where I am expecting to find the drawing is blank, and the staff are unable to help me to find the missing document. In fact they were unable to find the book I was physically holding on the computer system that I'd requested it from… Another example of the 'Computer says No'! They do tell me that there is paper system to fall back on when the computer is being recalcitrant, and this results in me finding another reference to Layston church which hadn't appeared in any of my search lists. Another thing to add to my list for my next visit.

In telling you about the things I've found I haven't described even half of the nightmare I experienced with dealing with the staff at the British Library, Martin wanted me to title the article 'Computer says 'No'', as there was a lot of that, but there was also a definite attitude that people were in the way of their system and collection. The lady at the Information desk had bid me 'Welcome' when I told her that it was my first visit – but this was only one of two friendly encounters. Mostly you were treated with a range of indifference or impatience. By the end of the day I was exhausted and frazzled - not helped by the fact that I started travelling at 8am and finished in the library at 4.30pm during which time I'd only had a banana, a coffee and one drink of water - my fault not theirs! So, a word of advice if you intend to use the British Library - go prepared - order things in advance - take regular breaks to eat and drink - book a whole week off so you can order stuff each day and return the following day - and finally - make sure they've shown you all the things you've asked for - in looking back to write this article I discover that they didn't deliver half of the documents I requested, so I will need to go back again for more than just collecting my proper card!

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Published Version