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Having established a clear link between the City of Aberdeen and a London bookseller, sometime hosier and dealer in articles of natural history last year, the life of Alexander Shaw has continued to cause me to itch.
And so while in Scotland recently I was delighted to come face-to-face with records relating to Alexander Shaw's business dealings, his estate and the Alexander Shaw Hospital.
When Alexander Shaw died in Aberdeen at the age of 58, he still had quite a bit of stock on hand at Wellspring House. According to the sederunt or minute book, the 15 Trustees of Alexander Shaw all met to open and read his will at the Athenaeum immediately after attending the funeral at St Nicholas' Kirk graveyard on 26 July 1807. At a subsequent meeting on 10 August, the Trustees noted that "several manuscripts, and a variety of prints, coins, minerals & natural curiosities" had been found in Shaw's locked residence and they resolved that his collection should be removed to rooms at Marischal College "as a very considerable space of time would inevitably be consumed in making... an inventory" (AET/SH/1/ - Records of Shaw's Hospital, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives).
The books and prints were to be arranged and described by Professor Stuart (presumably John Stuart of Inchbreck, Professor of Greek, c1785-1827) in preparation for sale, and Professors Ogilvie (William Ogilvie of Pittensear, Professor of Humanity, 1736-1819) and Beattie (James Beattie, Regius Professor of Civil and Natural History, died 1810) were to examine and advise on the natural history material. Items of lesser value were to be sold in Aberdeen, with the larger ticket items possibly sent to London.
Sale records offer us a rich resource in terms of provenance research and in this case, the 'Roup list of books, prints, coins, minerals and other curiosities which belonged to the late Mr Alexander Shaw' (AET/SH/4/7- Records of Shaw's Hospital, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives) was a quietly thrilling late afternoon find.
This record of the sale of Alexander Shaw's personal effects was prepared by the auctioneer’s clerk John Sim, and runs to 11 pages, with the roup account totting up to a tidy £111.9.8 in early February 1808. The document includes maps, charts, prints, furniture, shells mounted in silver, drawers and cabinets of curios, timepieces, cutlery, other furniture and household goods. What it would be to find a copy of a printed, descriptive sale catalogue produced for the Aberdeen auctioneer, Robert Balmanno.
Within the manuscript document, we have the details of who paid what for all the lots — Hary Shaw as well as Aberdonian Professors Stuart, Copland and Glennie and a good number of booksellers, stationers, merchants and lawyers seem to have been shopping from Alexander's final inventory.
Of particular interest to me, was to see that Alexander's set of John Hawkesworth’s voyages (lot no. 11, sold for £0.1.8), Cook’s voyages (lot 33, £0.7.10), Cook’s voyages to the Southern Hemisphere (lot 34, £0.1.8) and 26 volumes of “specimens of Otaheiti cloth” (lots 170-172, sold for £0.6.4, £0.5.7 and £0.5.1) all ended up with his brother and business partner of 30 years. Hary bought a good amount of what would appear likely to be stock he intended to support his on-going business interests (ie natural history specimens, prints, coins, maps, books, sale catalogues, receipts and magazines), but also household goods including a clock, furniture, kitchenware, soft furnishings and the model of a guillotine (?!).
Through some quirk of history, some of the records relating to Shaw's estate found their way into the Robert Gordon’s College archive and were passed on to the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives over the course of the last year. These records of Shaw's Hospital were recently catalogued along with records of the Aberdeen Endowments Trust and predecessor charities, and include two letters to Alexander from James Haig of Edinburgh, dating from 1803 and 1807. These indicate that Alexander was keeping an eye on the rising market for natural history specimens although Haig was himself, more a man for petrifications. In his letter of 24 January 1807 to Alexander, Haig notes Shaw's continued "taste for natural history" despite his distressing illness.
Of course, none of this explains how the Shaw brothers came across the extra specimens of cloth but knowing that Alexander had them on hand in July 1807 is an indication that he might have had something or someone in mind. The May-June 1806 sale of Ashton Lever’s collection included “several hundred curiosities from the Sandwich Isles and South Seas brought home by Capt. Cook and his officers” and it seems a feasible source given Shaw's interest in and successes at the 1786, Duchess of Portland sale but sadly there is no trace of the successful bidder's names in the National Library of Australia's copy of the Leverian Museum sale catalogue (NK765).
The 1803-6 watermarks found within the pages of known copies of Shaw’s Catalogue of specimens of cloth ... are one thing but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to vouch that Hary, who was surely impecunious as a consequence of having to stall his own London business dealings to get back to Aberdeen to care for his brother, put more copies onto the market sometime after the end of 1808 (ie between 1809 and his retirement in 1812). Whilst the specimens bound in what seems to be Hary Shaw's second issue of the volume do not directly marry with those described in Alexander Shaw's original 1787 issue, they are surely eye-catching and satisfied the early 19th Century thirst for exotic natural history curios.
The fact that the extra specimens of cloth included in the roup list (Hawaiian it would seem, although billed as Tahitian) are as three lots—of 12 volumes, 8 volumes and 6 volumes—may also give us some extra clue as to their earlier provenance?
With all of this in mind, the coincidental presence of James Whatman's 1809 (Balston) watermarks on the papers within a bound collection of 'Specimens of Native Cloth from the South Sea Islands' - "From the Friendly Islands presented to Mr King" sold by Thomson Roddick Scottish Auctions in Edinburgh in May this year, set my mind racing further. That copy bears the bookplate of Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy, 1786-1851 as described in a bookseller’s description pasted inside the National Library of Australia' SRq COOK 14 copy of Shaw. Astronomer William Bayly accompanied William Wales on the Resolution for Cook's 2nd voyage and served again on the Discovery with Lieutenant James King on Cook's 3rd fatal voyage. One of Bayly's students, and executor to his estate, was the astronomer Colonel Mark Beaufoy and it was from the estate of his son, H.B.H. Beaufoy that this copy was consigned to Christie’s (London) in 1909. Did Hary's re-issue of the Catalogue ... a hundred years before stimulate renowned collector, H.B.H. Beaufoy to have Riviere bind his copy of the orginal issue (now in the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand, copy no. 1 in Donald Kerr's census) and King's specimen collection?
Alex and Hary’s social and business networks continue to intrigue me and they certainly mixed with a variety of Scottish merchants, booksellers, stationers, printers, lapidaries and auctioneers in London, Edinburgh and Aberdeenshire.
So many, as yet, unanswered questions.
Alexander's elder brother petitioned the Trustees of his late brother's estate with his request upheld and agreed to in August 1807 as "rightly proper and expedient, and fully justified". He lived on and received a 17 year legacy from the estate.
He attended a meeting of the Trustees on 19 December 1816 to appeal again:
"I would have been very loathe to troble [sic] you if absolute necessity did not compel me to lay before you this statement — when my Brother died things was not above half the price they are now. I am certain that if things had been then what they are now he would have left me sixty in place of thirty pounds besides I was able then to go about and sale [sic] things but now I am not, besides the small thing that I traded with is done these four years past that I have not been able to travel ...
When my Brother & I lived in London together he was always in a bad state of health. I did everything for him that had toil & travel such as bringing home his things when bought & carr[y]ing them away when sold. I was always in good health. I kept the house in all necessarys when any money was wanted he said get it from Hary he had no change. I always payed for I never thought that any one could deprave the longest liver as he was best at selling for he could get twise [sic] as much for anything as I could get for which reason I never minded my own affairs as much as I did his ...
But if the gentlemen would be pleased to allow me ten pounds a year to what they have already allowed me for we cannot expect that things will be cheaper but rather dearer. I am now near seventy and cannot be without some person to be with me and a comfortable diet which I have been always used to and it is impossible to think that to forty pounds will maintain her & me at the rate that things are at & pay her wages...
I am certain that my Brother never meant that I should be in want."
Hary's death in 1824 is confirmed by the Trustees of Alexander Shaw in Aberdeen. He was buried at the Snow Kirk graveyard on the 12th of May. In such a small graveyard, you have to wonder if the Roman Catholic Rev. John Shaw, 1833-1900 — of the Shaws of Inchrory — who is prominently buried there might have been a relative of the late Alexander & Hary Shaw. The Shaws of Inchrory are afterall, said to have a connection with Messrs Cadell & Co., Booksellers of Edinburgh and bookselling in Jamaica.
My thanks go to some wonderful Scottish librarians and archivists, especially Barry Robertson, Katy Johnson, Jan Pirie and Penny Hartley in Aberdeen for all their assistance along the way.