Thursday, February 11, 2016

Three Weddings

It’s February, which means that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether or not you’re into the candy hearts and overpriced roses, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a look at the matrimonial adventures of Kate and Thomas Cochrane. These kids got married not once, not twice, but three times – and yes, to each other every time.

The River Annan near the village of Annan, Scotland.


#1: The Scottish Marriage, 1812

What can be more romantic than an elopement? Thomas is 37-year-old a war hero, Kate is about 18, adventurous, beautiful, and charming (but penniless). The couple heads off to Annan, Scotland by coach for a private ceremony, so secret that it was concealed from Thomas’ family for months.

But the ceremony is far from romantic! After marrying his young bride, Thomas flies off to London – alone! – leaving Kate to trail behind. Back in the city, Kate returns to her aunt’s house, and the couple do not share a home for many more months. When news of the marriage breaks, Thomas’ rich uncle, incensed that his nephew did not marry the wealthy heiress his family had intended for him, cuts Thomas off from a sizable inheritance.

#2: Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent, 1818

St. Mary the Virgin, Kent.
Unlike the first ceremony, which had no priest or church, Kate and Thomas’ second marriage took place with a traditional ritual according to the Church of England. The ceremony was held in the small parish church of St. Mary the Virgin on a Monday morning in June. Thomas paid an extra fee for a license for the ceremony. By this time, Kate and Thomas had two young children, although he signs the register as a “bachelor” and she as a “spinster,” the common term for an unmarried woman.

Interestingly, one other couple was married in the church that same day. The bride, a Sarah Morris, made a mark in the register in lieu of signing her name. 

Sadly, the church that Kate and Thomas were married in no longer stands, The parish, however, is still active and the present church building was erected in the late 1800s on the basis of a previous medieval design.  

#3: Again in Scotland, 1825

The third and final marriage was held according to the rites of the Church of Scotland. It is believed that this ceremony took place so that Thomas could receive an inheritance from one of his relations!

Kate and Thomas traveled to Scotland during the summer and autumn of 1825, retracing part of their earlier elopement route, visiting the villages of Fife, and spending time in Edinburgh. While in Edinburgh, Kate caught the attention of Sir Walter Scott, who promptly dashed off six verses of poetry in admiration!

Sources:

Information on the first and third marriages drawn from Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander by David Cordingly. 

Information and documents related to the second marriage acquired through the kind assistance of staff at the Kent County Archives.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hello, Scotland

View of Edinburgh from the gunports on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. Google "Mons Meg" - you''ll be amazed!

When I stepped out of the train at Edinburgh Waverly station, a misty rain pattering the cobbles as I heaved my suitcase through the late afternoon crowds along North Bridge Street, I found that my eyes could go only in one direction – up.

Edinburgh is hilly. As a Pennsylvania native, I spent a stint living in Pittsburgh and that taught me all about cities built on hills – or so I thought. But Edinburgh is another species altogether. I moved in a perpetual uphill trajectory from the time I stepped off the train until, half a mile later, I reached the courtyard of my rented flat. From the courtyard it was two flights of stairs up to the building’s doorway. I tugged my suitcase and laptop along, keyed in my door code, and tumbled into the corridor.

The journey didn’t end there. The flat waited four flights above. Stiff upper lip, I thought, and hauled my gear along.

What I found was worth it – a snug living room, a tiny but well-appointed kitchen, a bathroom with stacks of fresh towels, and a bedroom furnished with neat furniture of a recognizably Ikean stamp. I was now four stories above the streets of Edinburgh. Across the courtyard, I caught sight of a turreted building marked with a plaque reading “Edinburgh Writers’ Museum.” A sign if there ever was one.

The grey spires of Old Town rose above me as I made my way through the streets for groceries, and later, as I made daily pilgrimages over the bridge to the National Records of Scotland to pore over Katherine Cochrane’s correspondence.

It was easy to be in Edinburgh. The National Records building practically cajoles passerby to pop in with a welcoming sign – imagine finding that kind of invitation at the British Library! – and on my second day, I must have looked native enough, because a Brit stopped and asked me for directions. Even being assaulted with bagpipe music (both real and recorded) incessantly throughout the Royal Mile became an amusement rather than a nuisance. I learned to ignore the Braveheart posters everywhere; everyone else did.  

By days, I read Kate’s letters. By night, I explored for Thai food, availed myself to the flat’s extensive DVD collection, and even, in a fit of creative fury, hauled self, boots, bag, laptop, and notes to one of the loveliest Starbucks in the English-speaking world for a pumpkin spice latte and a session hashing out the next stage of Kate’s adventures.

There are places where the creative spark flows, and where it withers. In Edinburgh, I found only sparks.

Quotes from Scottish writers line the street leading to the Scottish Parliament Building. I got snapshot happy! 




Thursday, January 28, 2016

History in the Streets: London



I hate London and I wish I were out of it.”

So wrote Lady Katherine Cochrane in one of her letters to her husband – she was apparently living in lodgings while her husband, Lord Thomas Cochrane, headed up the Greek navy in the nation’s bid for independence. When the bother of town became too much, her ladyship habitually took to the quiet of the Kent countryside. 

While I could appreciate Kate’s sentiments, I could not share them as I strolled the streets of London one quiet morning in October. I had dashed by bus, Tube, and foot from the edge of Hampstead Heath to make a pilgrimage to Regent’s Park. This had, after all, been Kate’s neighborhood.

Hanover Lodge, Regent's Park, London, 1827. Villa designed by architect John Nash.

She lived in the London of mad King George, and Beau Brummel, and Lord Byron and Caroline Lamb. This was the London of the fictitious Dashwood sisters, and where the unfortunate Lydia Bennett presumably lost her virtue to George Wickham. 

Though no such figures lurked about that Saturday morning, I could easily enough imagine them. London has the charm of being able to keep the past visible alongside the present. Regent’s Park itself was a product of that very era, named for the bon vivant Prince Regent, George Augustus Frederick, and originally envisioned an aristocratic enclave, with a palace for the prince and several villas for his friends.

No palace materialized from these grand schemes, but some of the villas did – Hanover Lodge among them. Here Kate and Thomas settled in 1833 with their two youngest children, several servants, and eventually, a pony. 

Regent's Park Canal. Regent's Park, London.

It is a magnificent setting. The waters of the Canal are quiet. A few plucky blackberries cling to briars along the pathway. The trees still have their leaves, and the air is warm enough that I loosen my jacket. London seems to have forgotten this corner of its boroughs, for I pass only a handful of joggers. It is as close to solitude as one may get in a city of millions.

I follow the path as far as I dare, though it is not the worry of walking too far alone in a foreign city that pulls me back, but the consciousness that a train that will take me to my next destination, Edinburgh, will be leaving King’s Cross station in a few hours, and I must be on it. I reluctantly leave the Park, and my window into the past, behind.

P.S. After returning to the States, I learned that Hanover Lodge is once again a private residence – this time, purchased by a shadowy Russian billionaire.

Notes:
Letter held at the National Records of Scotland, GD233/13/6/1/3/8 (2). Cochrane, Katherine Barnes. 2 May, n.d.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sifting the Historical Record


In my previous post, I introduced Katherine (aka Kate) Barnes Cochrane, intrepid traveler and mother of five, whose remarkable adventures are, in my humble opinion, enough to make her a candidate for inclusion on Badass of the Week. But tracking Kate across the pages of history requires luck, patience, and a good bit of metaphorical digging.  To my knowledge, no biography has ever been written about her. To get to know this woman – to unearth the “facts” of her life, to discover her voice – I turned to her paper trail.

Historical research isn’t just finding the right records – it’s knowing where to look. Google searches often turned up dead ends, or offered leads that didn’t seem entirely credible. One site, and even her headstone, suggest that Kate was born in 1796, making her just 16 years old when she married Thomas!

I was willing to bet that she was young, but not that young. 1794 seems a likelier year. She would then be about 18 when she wed Thomas in the summer of 1812. As for the month and date of her birthday, a letter from her husband offers a tantalizing hint. He writes, in a letter dated 12 October 1816, “Many happy returns to the day to my lovely Kate.” The greeting is often used for birthdays, and offers the best clue I’ve come across for Kate’s actual birth date.

According to Burke’s Peerage, Kate’s father, Thomas Barnes, lived in Romford, Essex. It seems likely that Kate spent her childhood in that town, connected to London via good coach roads and home to many thriving industries, including brewing and weaving. After her father died, Kate lived in the care of her aunt, a Mrs. Jackson. 

Portman Square, London, 1813.


While in her late teens, Kate resided in London with her aunt near the posh Portman Square neighborhood. A letter written during Kate’s adulthood suggests that her education was not all that she would have wished: How much more happy should I have been had I been brought up under the eye of a fond Mother, rather than by relations who only felt for me in the moment of childhood and left me to battle in ignorance and poverty my growing years.

It was in London that she met Thomas, and after several refusals, finally accepted his offer of marriage. Less than two years after their marriage, Thomas was convicted in a criminal case and sent to the King’s Bench prison. Kate remained in London with their infant son, visiting Thomas whenever she could and writing frequent letters.

Upon Thomas’ release and commission with the Chilean navy, Kate traveled with her husband throughout South America. Later, she also lived in several locations in Europe. Eventually, at some time during the 1830s, the couple separated. Kate moved to France, where she resided for a time in Paris (on the Champs Elysees!), and also in the seaside town of Boulogne.

Katherine Cochrane – by now Countess of Dundonald - died in France in 1865. Upon further investigation, I found that her body was brought back to England and buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, in Kent. (Her husband is interred at Westminster Abbey.)

Headstone of Katherine Cochrane, Countess of Dundonald. St. Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent.

Kent happens to be the location of my graduate studies at the University of Kent, but ironically, I did not learn of Kate’s story until I was on the wrong side of the pond. But I had been close, and like many good mysteries, it was only a matter of time until the clues unfolded.

Notes:
First letter held at the National Records of Scotland, GD233/13/6/1/1/3. Cochrane, Thomas. 12 October 1816.

Second letter held at the National Records of Scotland, GD233/13/6/1/3/8 (2).  Cochrane, Katherine Barnes. 1828.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Enter Kate Cochrane

A secret elopement. Intrigues in South America. A knife fight with a would-be assassin. Crawls across rope bridges in the Andes. A four-month sea voyage with a teething infant.

Such adventures, one might think, would make a woman famous, especially if she undertook them all 200 years ago, when a woman’s chances of attempting even one such feat were considerably more circumscribed.

Kate Cochrane did them all.

I came across her accidentally – and I confess, through reading about her husband. (If you’ve ever seen the film Master and Commander, you’ve met one of Lord Thomas Cochrane’s literary counterparts in the figure of Jack Aubrey.) Kate is mentioned in one article as “a beautiful orphan, nearly twenty years his junior.” Reading further, I discovered that the couple had six children over the course of their marriage, and that Kate routinely crossed the Atlantic to accompany her husband on his naval campaigns.

Hot damn, I thought. Who is this woman? And why haven’t I heard about her until now?

Portrait of Katherine Cochrane, Countess of Dundonald, and her daughter Elizabeth.

Part of the reason, I think, is that historical records on Kate have serious gaps. For example, we don’t know what year she was born, or who her mother was (leading to speculation among some Cochrane biographers that she was illegitimate.) Her father died while Kate was young, and she spent her later childhood and teen years in the care of relatives.

Furthermore, with a larger-than-life figure like Thomas Cochrane for a husband – radical MP, eventual Earl of Dundonald, and author of multiple books, including two autobiographies – it is understandable, though unfortunate, that Kate’s story had been subsumed within her husband’s colorful career.

Toni Morrison once said this: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

So I started writing. And researching. And writing some more. I traveled to England and Scotland, retracing some of Kate’s time there. I walked the London neighborhood where she and Thomas eventually settled. I read some of Kate’s surviving letters, miraculously preserved in Scottish archives, and took a bus through Fife to see the Cochrane family home that Thomas and Kate visited in the autumn of 1825.

I’m still writing – still journeying, for writing is a journey – and finding the voice to tell of Kate’s adventures. Kate, like all of us, is more than the sum of her parts. More to come. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thunder Road


There's a great saying from the film Back to the Future, in which Dr. Emmett Brown says to a baffled Marty McFly, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

I traveled a lot of roads in the summer of 2010: more than 6,000 miles worth. Without Dr. Brown's time travel capabilities, I did need the roads to take me where I wanted to go. 

But I'm convinced I did catch a few moments where the lines between the past and the present blurred: standing on the summit of the Cahokia Mounds in the heat of the late afternoon sunshine; reading letters exchanged over a century ago between two Texas lovers; walking through the long grass that covers the hills of the Little Bighorn battlefield; catching Al Swearengen's name in documents held at the South Dakota state archives.

In the years since, I've covered ground in other ways - gotten married, changed "day jobs," moved homes, and continued to write.

I never expected this blog to last more than a few weeks, let alone four years. If this is your first visit here, I encourage you to visit the entries from 2010, starting with the oldest ones first, to get a taste of the original trip. If you like those, the 2011 posts chronicle my experiences on a cattle drive in Nevada. But now, in my final post, I've decided its time to close shop here, and move into other projects.

I've had ideas germinating that haven't had the chance to develop further, and I need to take some time to see where those paths take me.

Thanks for dropping in! It's been a good ride.



Monday, March 3, 2014

How to Shovel Snow







Yes, snowfall can be gorgeous. If you like to ski, snowboard, or snowshoe, fresh snow also means winter fun. But for those of us without a snowblower and with a driveway, the winter of 2013/2014 has been epic in terms of the amount of snow shoveling many of us have had to do. I am gearing up for a second round of shoveling this afternoon, and before I head out, am taking a brief break to write a post on

How to Shovel Snow


  1. Dress warmly! Layers are preferable, so you can take off a layer if you get to warm. Shoveling is exercise, and you may find yourself heating up. Be sure to wear a warm hat, gloves, and a face covering if temperatures are extremely cold. You want to protect your exposed skin from possible frostbite.
  2. Go slowly and take breaks. Shoveling is not a race. Work at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Make sure you stay properly hydrating by drinking water periodically. In the cold, you may not feel thirsty but your body is working hard and water is essential.
  3. Invest in a snow shovel. 
  4. Don't overload your shovel! Wet snow is heavy, and can be unwieldy. Only scoop as much snow onto your shovel as you can comfortably throw or knock off.
  5. Use your legs to help you lift the shovel. Make sure you aren't over-extending your lower back by leaning over too far, or trying to lift all of the weight with your arms. Again, breaks are important.  
  6. Chances are, it may be windy while you are shoveling. It is easiest if you shovel with the wind at your back. When you toss the snow off of your shovel, the wind will blow it away from you instead of back into your face.
  7. Make sure you warm up afterwards, and drink plenty of liquids.
Weather.com, Popular Mechanics, and Web MD have even more tips and advice.