Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John








EXACT science, as we understand the term, hardly existed. Sir Isaac Newton was just lighting the spark which has been fanned by succeeding generations into such a mighty flame. The Royal Society was an absolute laughing-stock, and men called virtuosi pottered about, looking (and doubtless thinking they were) mighty wise.

Any man who investigated nature after his lights, and with the imperfect materials which were at his command, was looked upon as a fool.

'The Will of a VIRTUOSO. [1] 

'I Nicholas Gimcrack being in sound health of mind, but in great weakness of body, do by this my last Will and Testament bestow my worldly Goods and Chattels in manner following.

'Imprimis. To my dear wife, One box of butterflies, One drawer of Shells, A female Skeleton, A dried Cockatrice.

' Item. To my Daughter Elizabeth. My Receipt for preserving dead Caterpillars. Also my preparations of winter May dew, and Embryo-Pickle.

'Item. To my little daughter Fanny, Three Crocodile's Eggs. And upon the birth of her first Child, if she marries with her mother's consent, the Nest of a Humming Bird.

'Item. To my eldest Brother, as an acknowledgment for the Lands he has vested in my Son Charles, I bequeath my last Year's Collection of Grasshoppers.



'Item. To his Daughter Susanna, being his only Child, I bequeath my English Weeds pasted on Royal paper, with my large Folio of Indian Cabbage.

'Having fully provided for my nephew Isaac by making over to him, some years since, a Horned Scaraboeus, the Skin of a Rattle snake, and the Mummy of an Egyptian King, I make no further Provision for him in this my Will.

'My eldest Son john having spoke disrespectfully of his little Sister, whom I keep by me in Spirits of Wine, and in many other instances behaved himself undutifully towards me, I do disinherit, and wholly Cut off from any part of this my personal estate, by giving him a single Cockle shell.

' To my second son Charles, I give and bequeath all my Flowers, Plants, Minerals, Mosses, Shells, Pebbles, Fossils, Beetles, Butterflies, Caterpillars, Grasshoppers, and Vermin, not above specified; as also my Monsters, both wet and dry; making the said Charles whole and sole Executor of this my last Will and Testament; He paying or causing to be paid, the aforesaid Legacies within the space of six Months after my Decease. And I do hereby revoke all other Wills whatsoever by me formerly made.'

Clarinda. A Sot, that has spent 2000£ in Microscopes, to find out

the Nature of Eals in Vinegar, Mites in a Cheese, and the blue of Plums

which he has subtilly found out to be living Creatures.

Miranda. One who has broken his brains about the nature of Magots,

who has studied these twenty years to find out the several sorts of Spiders,

and never cares for understanding Mankind. The Virtuoso, by Shadwell.

It is needless to say that Gresham College, then the home of the Royal Society, affords a wealth of merriment to Ward. It is ' Wise Acres Hall,' or ' Maggot Mongers' Hall'; but his description,[3]  although whimsical, is truthful, and shows the puerility (as we might term it) of science in those days. 'My Friend conducted me up a pair of Stairs, to the Elaboratory-Keeper's Apartment and desir'd him to oblige us with a Sight of his Rarities; who very curteously granted us the Liberty; opening his Warehouse of Egyptian Mummies, old musty Skeletons, and other antiquated Trumpery: The first thing he thought most worthy of our Notice, was


the Magnet, with which he show'd some notable Experiments, it made a Paper of Steel Filings Prick up themselves one upon the back of another, that they stood pointing like the Bristles of a Hedge hog; and gave such Life and Merriment to a parcel of Needles, they danced the Hay, by the motion of the Stone, as if the Devil were in 'em; the next things he presented to our view, were a parcel of Shell Flies almost as big as Lobsters, arm'd with Beaks as big as Jack-Daws: then he commended to our observation that Wonderful Curiosity, the Unicorn's Horn; made, I suppose, by an Ingenious Turner, of the Tusks of an Elephant; it is of an excellent Virtue; and, by report of those that know nothing of the matter, will expel Poison beyond the Mountebank's Orvieton; Then he carry'd us to another part of the Room, where there was an Aviary of Dead Birds, Collected from the extream parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America; amongst which were an East India Owl, a West India Bat, and a Bird of Paradise, the last being Beautified with variety of Colours, having no discernable Body, but all Feathers, Feeding, when alive, upon nothing but Air, and tho' 'tis as big as a Parrot, 'tis as light as a Cobweb. Then he usher'd us among sundry sorts of Serpents, as the Noy, Pelongy, Rattle Snake, Aligator, Crocodile &c. That looking round me, I thought myself hem'd in amongst a legion of Devils; When we had taken a survey of these pin-cushion Monsters, we turn'd towards the Skeletons of Men, Women, and Monkeys, Birds, Beasts and Fishes; Abortives put up in Pickle, and abundance of other Memorandums of Mortality; that they look'd as Ghostly as the Picture of Michael Angelo's Resurrection; as if they had Collected their Scatter'd Bones into their Original Order, and were about to March in search after the rest of the Appurtenances.'

That this account is not exaggerated is shown by an extract or two of Dr. Green's catalogue of these curiosities.

'Tortoises, when turned on their backs, will sometimes fetch deep sighs and shed abundance of tears.

' A bone, said to be taken out of a Mermaid's head.

'A stag-beetle, whose horns, worn in a ring, are good against Cramp, &c.'


to demonstrate the Constituent Parts of each Medicine, their Virtues and Doses; to which will be added many useful Observations applicable to the Practice of Physick.'

The higher branches of mathematics were also publicly taught in : 'On Tuesday next being the 2nd Day of October, at the Marine Coffee house in Birchin Lane, Mr. Harris will go on with the Public Mathematic Lecture; beginning them with Geometry anew; and he will explain largely the Uses of all the Propositions, as he goes along: with a particular regard to the principles of true Mechanick Philosophy.' This latter was highly necessary, for mechanics were in an exceedingly elementary state: even such a common thing as a wind dial was new, and wonderful, in . 'The WIND DIAL, lately set up at Grigsby's Coffee and Chocolate House, behind the Royal Exchange, being the first and only one in any publick House in England, and having given great Satisfaction to all that have seen it, and being of Constant use to those that are in any wise Concerned in Navigation: We think it may not be improper to describe it to the Publick, viz. The Dial Board is fixed to the Ceiling of the Publick Ground room, upon which are all the points of the Compass in Gold Letters, and a Hand Points to each of them, continually as the Wind varies. The Hand is directed by an Iron work, which is turned by a Fan placed 90 foot high, to prevent the effects of Eddy Winds.'

Condensing sea water, in order to make it potable, is, if an old invention, quite a modern practice; yet we see it in use in . 'Mr. Walcot's Engines for making Sea Water Fresh and Wholesome, are sold by him at his Warehouse in Woolpack Alley in Houndsditch at reasonable rates being of great use and advantage for all Ships, especially such as go long voyages.'

Perhaps the best method of gauging the mechanical genius of the age is to examine the patents granted, and, as they are very few in this reign, a short list of them will fulfil this condition, and yet not be wearisome.

Jan. I, . A grant to George Sorocold, gent., of a new invention by him contrived and found out, for cutting and sawing all kinds of boards, timber, and stone, and


twisting all kinds of ropes, cords, and cables, by the strength of horses or water.

April 8, . A grant to Benjamin Jackson, gent., of the sole use and exercise of a new invention for ordinary coaches, calashes, shazes, waggons, and other carriages and machines of that nature, that though the wheels or carriages may be overset, yet the bodies of them shall remain upright.

May I, . A grant to Nicholas Fain, gent., Peter Defaubre, and Jacob Defaubre, watchmakers, for making use of precious or more common stones, crystal or glass, as an internal and useful part of watches and other engines.

July 29, . A grant unto Richard Cole, gent., of his invention of forming glasses into conical figures, and lamps for the better dispersing and casting of light.

April 12, . A grant unto Henry Mill, gent., of his new invention of a mathematical instrument, consisting of several new sorts of springs for the ease of persons riding in coaches, chariots, calashes, and chaises.

June 6, . A grant unto Robert Aldersey of his new invention in contriving a floating dam to carry lighters and other vessels over the greatest flats and shallows in any navigable river.

. A grant unto Thomas Savery, Esq., of his new invention for making double hand-bellows, which by the power of springs and screws will produce a continual blast.

July 26, . A grant unto Jeremiah Wieschamer of his new invention of a mill or engine for the more easy grinding or pressing of sugar-canes with a less number of oxen, horses, or cattle than by those mills formerly used.

April 3, . A grant unto Israel Pownoll of his new invented engine or machine for taking up ballast, sullage, sand, etc., of very great use in cleansing rivers, harbours, etc.

June 17, . A grant unto Nicholas Lewis Mandell, Esq., and John Grey, carpenters, of their two new invented engines; the one of a small size for the weighing and raising up any weight far beyond what can be performed by any crane or capstone; and the other for raising water in a new and surprising manner, of great use in extinguishing fire.

April 2, . A grant unto John Wilks of his new


invented engine or mill for grinding all sorts of wood dry for the use of dying.

May 27, . A grant unto John Coster, gent., and John invented engine for drawing water out of deep mines. These are all the mechanical patents worthy of notice during Anne's reign. Hydraulic machinery was particularly useful, and attention was specially paid to its perfection. Here is the record[4]  of a draining feat happily completed: 'The Lands in Havering and Dagenham Levels in Essex, having lain these 6 Years under Water, were, after a great deal of Industry and Expence happily recovered on the 29th Day of October past, being the same Day 6 years that that Breach happened. The Gentlemen concerned in that Undertaking have given to the Artificers and Labourers an Ox and a Sheep to be Roasted whole, and a Hog to be barbicui'd, with large Puddings in their Bellies, on the 13th of this present Instant, on the said Works.' But few people remember that the steam engine was a living and working fact, and a commercial commodity, in Queen Anne's time, and this owed its being to the general utility of hydraulic machinery. Salamon de Caus and the Marquis of Worcester are rivals as to the invention of a working steam engine, and Papin came very near to being successful, even going so far as to propel a ship with revolving


oars or paddles, which could in speed beat the king's barge manned by sixteen rowers. But it was reserved to Savery to make it commercially valuable. In he took out a patent. 'A grant to Thomas Savery gentl, of the sole exercise of a new invention by him invented, for raising of water, and occasioning motion to all sorts of Mill Works, by the impellent force of fire, which will be of great use for draining mines, serving towns with water, and for the working of all sorts of Mills where they have not the benefit of water nor Constant winds, to hold for 14 years; with usual clauses. Testibus apud Westm. 25° die Julij anno supradeo.'

He could not have wasted much time in perfecting his invention and putting it on a sound commercial basis, for we find an advertisement in the Postman, March 28/31, : ' Captain Savery's Engines which raise Water by the force of Fire in any reasonable quantities and to any height, being now brought to perfection, and ready for publick use; These are to give notice to all Proprietors of Mines and Collieries which are encumbered with Water, that they may be furnished with Engines to drain the same, at his Work house in Salisbury Court, London, against the Old Play house, where it may be seen working on Wednesdays and Saturdays in every week from 3 to 6 in the afternoon; where they may be satisfied of the performance thereof, with less expence than any other force of Horse or Hands, and less subject to repair.'

He must, even then, have had some at work, for he says in the preface to his little work, [5]  dated Sept. 22, : 'That the attending and working the Engine is so far from being so, [6]  that it is familiar and easie to be learned by those of the meanest Capacity, in a very little time; insomuch, that I have Boys of 13 or 14 years of Age, who now attend and work it to perfection, and were taught to do it in a few days; and I have known some learn to work the Engine in half-an-hour.'

He had visions of its future power, and knew somewhat of its vast capabilities: 'Whereas this Engine may be made


large enough to do the work required in employing eight, ten, fifteen, or twenty horses to be constantly maintained and kept for doing such a work; it will be improper to stint or confine its Uses and Operation in respect of Water Mills.' He then suggests that it would pump water to the top of a house, for domestic supply, for fountains, and in case of fire-or supply towns with water, draining fens, mines, and coal pits, nay, he even suggests their use, through the furnace and shaft, as ventilators. More than all, he says, 'I believe it may be made very useful to Ships, but I dare not meddle with that matter; and leave it to the Judgment of those who are the best Judges of Maritain Affairs.'

His engine was as ingenious as it was simple. Two boilers with furnaces supplied the steam. This was admitted alternately, by means of a handle worked by a man or boy, into one of two elliptical receivers, where it condensed, formed a vacuum, and the water rushed in and filled its place-the same principle which is the foundation of that invaluable feed-pump, Giffard's injector. When full, the application of steam ejected it from the receiver, and forced it up the pipe, and so de novo. His idea was to utilise the water thus raised to turn a water-wheel, and thus get effective power for working machinery in mills.


[1] Tatler, No. 216.

[3] London Spy.

[4] Daily Courant, Nov. 11, 1713.

[5] The Miner's Friend, or, an Engine to raise Water by Fire described, &c., by Thomas Savery, Gent. London. 1702.

[6] I.e. intricate and difficult to work.