Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

When Edward Lear taught art to Queen Victoria

Edward Lear Self Portrait

Edward Lear Self Portrait

Sometimes, as I am researching, I come across incidents that startle me with their absolute whimsy. Yesterday, I discovered that Edward Lear, the author of The Owl and the Pussycat, books of nonsense verse, and serious author and illustrator, was once Queen Victoria’s art master for several weeks in 1846. The Queen was only 27 and already the mother of five children, and Prince Albert actively  encouraged his pretty young wife to develop her artistic skills. (The more I discover about Prince Albert, the more I like him.) Edward Lear was 34 and at the height of his artistic career, as his first book of nonsense was published in this same year.

Queen Victoria in 1845, with Princess Victoria, her eldest child

Though Edward Lear is now remembered for his nonsense verse, he was an artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet.

His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred Tennyson’s poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets. He also composed and published twelve musical settings of Tennyson’s poetry. – Wikipedia

He was a talented gentleman, and it was his skills as an artist that gained him the gig as art tutor to a Queen. There is some mention of Lear in the Queen’s diary, and the visit with the royals is mention in some of Lear’s papers. Personally, I prefer to imagine what it must have been like in those tutorials. Every image of Edward Lear shows a man with humorous eyes and a quiet smile, a kind-looking gentleman with a magnificent beard. I imagine he wasn’t too hard a taskmaster, all of the Queen Victoria’s diary entries describes an encouraging tutor who praised her efforts.

In my Steampunk narrative, I may never have the opportunity to mention these art lessons. But just knowing about them is worthwhile.



Filed under Historical Personage, History

A Snapshot of a traditional Victorian Dessert: the Queen of Puddings


two cups of stale breadcrumbs (you can whizz them up in the blender from stale bread)

one tablespoon of castor sugar

two teaspoons of vanilla essence/or a vanilla bean

one tablespoon of grated lemon zest (usually from one large lemon or two small ones)

two and a half cups of full cream milk

three tablespoons of butter, do not substitute margarine (level, not heaped)

four medium-to-large eggs separated into yolks and whites

a quarter of a cup of rosella, blackcurrant or raspberry jam (or any jam you prefer; home-made is optional)

three quarters of a cup of caster sugar for the meringue topping

two teaspoons of crystal sugar and food colouring (pink is pretty), or you can buy ready-made coloured sugar.

Combine the breadcrumbs, the tablespoon of castor sugar, vanilla essence and lemon zest in large bowl. (Instead of the essence, you can stick a vanilla bean – cut open lengthways – into the caster sugar a day or so before cooking this recipe. Remember to take it out before using the sugar.)

Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan, but take care not to let the mixture boil. If it boils, it will develop a scum on the top. Some cooks preferred to mix the butter with the breadcrumbs and the lemon zest with the heated milk. This second method tends to make the milk curdle.

Stir the heated milk and butter into the dry ingredients and allow the mixture to stand for ten minutes, or until all the liquid has soaked into the breadcrumbs.

Stir the yolks into the bread mixture, or for an extra gooey base, you can add an extra unseparated egg. Pour this into an ovenproof pie dish.
Bake uncovered in moderate oven (180 to 200 degrees Celsius) for about 35 mins until this base is set to a point to where it doesn’t wobble. It often helps if this base is cooked with a pan of water at the bottom of the oven, or cooked in a bain-marie.

Meanwhile, heat the jam; it is perfectly okay to microwave it, but cover it as it will spit and be certain not to burn it. For the purists, heat the jam in a saucepan sitting inside another, larger saucepan filled with hot water. Don’t get any water in the jam, as it will spit and burn you. The double saucepan set-up prevents the jam from burning, in theory.

Carefully spread the top of set pudding with the warmed jam. Then let the pudding cool down – you could even refrigerate it at this point. However, don’t try to freeze it or it will go soggy.

Beat the four egg whites in a small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form, and then gradually add the extra castor sugar, beating the mixture until sugar is dissolved. This is a meringue topping, so it has to be perfectly smooth. (You can cheat and use a bought pavlova mix.)

Spread the meringue mixture over pudding, bake in moderate oven about ten minutes or until the soft peaks of the meringue turn a light brown (just like they have been stained with weak tea). The whole pudding should be warmed through.

If the pudding is for a special occasion, you can tint the crystal sugar, and sprinkle it over the hot pudding. This pudding is good on its own, or with non-traditional vanilla ice-cream or thickened cream. It doesn’t keep well, so invite friends and family to share the pudding while it is still hot. It should serve six to eight people.

This pudding  was a favourite of Queen Victoria, and hence, very fashionable in the Victorian era.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, History, Victorian Era

It’s all bout the Bass: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective of the Novelty Bustle

A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations was fitted with a musical box that played ‘God Save the Queen’ each time the wearer sat down.

  1. Rum-dispensing contraption hidden in a bustle and belt.

Novelty bustles have been around a long time. But I think both writers and cosplayers would find it a boon to think inside the cage (of a bustle) to warped creative mind. You could hide just about anything in there: an arsenal, a bomb, a mini lab, or a drinks cabinet (like the Steampunk Gin Bustle pictured below).

The Steampunk Gin Bustle

Of course, this isn’t a new concept, just an underutilized one. Most of these novelty bustles were humorous, but it isn’t too hard to see a serious application for these secret compartments in bustles. What a safe place to hide documents or maps.

Novelty Bustles

I’d like to see a few lady adventures with stealth bustles. I am most certainly writing a stealth bustle into my current Steampunk work-in-progress. And I would like to see more cosplayers with contraptions in their booties.

Punch, publication, 1874


Filed under Analogy, Fashion, History, Metaphors, Steampunk Cosplay, writing

The Black and White (and Gray) Truth of Victorian Teeth: a Steampunk Perspective

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth,

And spotted the dangers beneath

All the toffees I chewed,

And the sweet sticky food.

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth. – Pam Ayres


I started researching this blog post when I saw an online article about how the Victorians liked to have blackened and rotting teeth as a sign of a high status. I’ve searched and searched, but I can’t find a definitive historical source referring to this practice, but I have found a whole lot of information about teeth and dentistry in the Victorian era. As always, the truth is much more complex than I first suspected.

It is hard to know where to begin, but let’s first look at original source, since it inspired this post: In the Victorian Era, it was fashionable to have rotting dentistry. Having black teeth displayed your affluence and ability to afford sugar products and confectionaries. Some upper-class citizens used to paint their teeth black to emphasise the effect.

Firstly, there is some evidence that might support this. There was a heavy tax on sugar as a commodity, and the tax wasn’t repealed until 1874. So being able to indulge in sweet and sticky foods was probably linked to high status before 1874. And where there is toffy, there is tooth decay.

The modern habit of using all foods sloppy or artificially prepared has much to answer for in the way of dirty teeth. Notice the difference between such a simple thing as whole-meal bread and white bread! The former is much less likely to stick between the teeth, and the flakes in it have a scrubbing action on the enamel, which white flour bread has not. The black bread of the peasants of other lands, and of England in bygone times, not only from its chemical constituents, but from its mechanical action, did much for the preserving of the teeth, and as a result the best teeth are not to be found among the higher classes who take the most artificial care of them, but among those peasant races that live on the hardiest teeth-cleaning foods. Quite an unsuspected cause of dental decay is the use of flesh foods and soft starch foods. The fibres of the flesh get between the teeth, and there rapidly decay. This constitutes the great difference between the fibres of meat and the fibres of the liquorice root. The latter cleanse and do not decay, the former decay and do not cleanse. The best thing to do is to see that the daily food contains something or other which will give teeth work of a cleansing character. A thick piece of wholemeal bread is fairly good; but the chewing of liquorice root, or sugar cane, or some other fibrous substance (like tough celery) is still better. If using a toothpick, use a quill or a bamboo splint, or a thorn from a hawthorn bush. Don’t use pins or needles, or metal or any sort. – Mothers and Daughters, 1890

Secondly, the Victorian era saw a sudden increase in scientific methods applied to the act of dentistry, like powered drills and tooth keys for extractions; this implies that there was a dire need for dentistry. Dentistry evolved from being a trade into a highly respected profession, and so the British government began to regulate it by the end of the 19th century, with the Dentist Act was passed in 1878 and the British Dental Association formed in 1879. This increased respectability implies that the upper classes were eager to go to the dentist – well, eager to have the pain of rotting teeth alleviated.

Then there was the Victorian practice of not smiling for a camera. At the start of the art of photography, the sitters had to remain still for some time and trying to maintain a smile was difficult. Even when photography improved to the point that it only took a few seconds to capture an image, people tended not to smile … and it is assumed this is because they were hiding their bad teeth. But doesn’t that go against the idea that bad teeth were a symbol of high status?

Queen Victoria is about as high status as you can get, and it is rumoured that she was mostly photographed with a closed mouth because of her poor teeth. Not so. She did have trouble with her teeth, but when she was a girl a small mouth was considered quite as lovely as lush, large lips are fashionable now. I’m guessing a lot of those prunes & prism mouths in photographs are due to ladies trying to maintain a fashionably small mouth. And there are photos of her smiling and her smile looks just fine.

Off topic, Queen Victoria had a brooch given to her by Prince Albert, made with the milk tooth of their daughter, Princess Victoria. This unusual and tiny brooch was made in the form of a thistle has, with the first milk tooth lost by their firstborn as the flower. An inscription on the reverse states the tooth was pulled by Prince Albert at Ardverikie (Loch Laggan), on September 13, 1847. I think this is a pretty way of having a keepsake of one’s child.

Back on topic! The British still have a reputation for bad teeth, but it wasn’t because they neglect them and ruin them with sweets and refined food. This reputation has lingered on into modern times.


TEETH by Spike Milligan


English Teeth, English Teeth!

Shining in the sun

A part of British heritage

Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!

Always having fun

Clamping down on bits of fish

And sausages half done.

English Teeth! HEROES’ Teeth!

Hear them click! and clack!

Let’s sing a song of praise to them –

Three Cheers for the Brown, Grey, and Black.

It isn’t just the British upper classes who took to the practice of blackening teeth. Ohaguro is the historical Japanese custom of dyeing one’s teeth black. It was a popular practice in Japan until the Meiji era, when it was outlawed in 1870 – so it was still around in the Victorian era. Tooth painting was and is also known and practiced in the Southeast parts of China, the Pacific Islands and in Southeast Asia. Teeth dyeing was mainly for fashion or for special occasions, even though the practice was actually beneficial as it prevented tooth decay, in a similar fashion to modern dental sealants.

From a writer’s viewpoint, all this information is pure gold, and not just the dental kind. Nothing improves characterization or a setting like a little local colour (pun intended). Rotting teeth could signify a character rotten to the core.



Filed under Characterization, Historical Personage, History, Setting, Steampunk

Lucky finds at the Markets


As my mum says “You never know your luck in a big city.” Today, while doing the grocery shop at the Rocklea Markets here in Brisbane, I found a secondhand book stall. I can never resist looking at books.

I’m am very glad I did! I found these two lovelies; historical fiction based on real people and events. It is finds like this that can really help in giving you a grip of the setting and zeitgeist of an era. I haven’t read these yet, but I have high hopes for these books. They might be reference books, as such, but they should add a wealth of detail to the topics of the suffragettes and Queen Victoria.

Of course, I can’t trust everything to be historically accurate. But checking my facts has become second nature. I’ve already discovered that the main factions in the British suffragette movement were the peaceful suffragists and the more militant suffragettes. Just the sort of detail that I treasure!

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Personage, History, Personal experience, Research, Steampunk, Suffragettes

Pregnancy in the Victorian Era: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Confinement - a Maternity Corset

Confinement – a Maternity Corset

The biggest ‘problem’ with being pregnant in the Victorian era was the obvious implication that the woman had engaged in sex. So being pregnant wasn’t something you announced, and certainly wasn’t something discussed in mixed company. This was the era of the euphemism, so that a pregnant woman was ‘in an interesting condition’, ‘in a delicate condition’, ‘expecting’, ‘with child’,  ‘in the family way’, and ‘in the pudding club’ (considered crude). How different to today, when a pregnant woman often dresses to celebrate her impeding motherhood. I know I did!

At a certain point in a pregnancy, usually once the baby started showing, the mother-to-be went into ‘confinement’ and didn’t go out in public until after the child was born. To me, the word ‘confinement’ has overtones of imprisonment against one’s will; such as a soldier will be confined to quarters for a misdemeanour. And there is secondary meaning to Victorian-era ‘confinement’ … there was a whole range of corsets to ‘disguise’ the pregnancy for as long as could be managed. Imagine trying to cope with morning sickness AND a corset.

This was also the era when midwives were phased out and male doctors took over the delivery of children; giving the male doctors more income. Now, this may sound like a good thing, that formal education was triumphing over the ignorant, but it wasn’t. Midwives were knowledgeable, experienced women and certainly most knew about the importance of cleanliness during childbirth (boiling water and clean sheets). Male doctors turned pregnancy into an ‘illness’, made women in labour lie on their backs so they could oversee the birth (most women prefer to walk around or squat for the early stages of labour, and most certainly do NOT want to lie on their backs) and used unclean hands that directly led to an increase in the number of women dying from post-partum fevers. As part of the prudery of the era, the woman’s modesty was preserved by maintaining eye contact so the male doctor wasn’t looking at her genitals and the doctor worked by touch alone; I wonder how many women and children suffered and died because the doctor was too polite to actually see what was going on. Medicine wasn’t so much a science as an art in the early part of the Victorian era.

There was a great deal of controversy about the introduction of anaesthetic as a pain relief for women in labour, because childbirth was woman’s punishment for Eve giving Adam the apple. Thank goodness, Queen Victoria was a fan of anaesthetic, and used it for birth of Prince Leopold. She was so thrilled that she gave James Simpson a baronetcy. From a personal point of view, the man should have a sainthood.

Maternity dress

When writing in the Steampunk literary genre, there is no need to be as prudish as the Victorians. Pregnancy can be used as a metaphor or analogy, particularly in relation to the creative process or the construction of an invention. Pregnancy had a negative connation in the Victorian era, but it need not be in a Steampunk narrative. In fact, I would encourage fellow writers to see it as a positive and natural process, to be celebrated and not ‘confined’.


Filed under Analogy, Historical Personage, History, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist