The Story Behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland illustration

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not a children’s author.  Not an author at all.  He was a mathematician, and was more at home with numbers than words.  Dodgson was a bachelor living in the college town of Oxford, England.  In 1856, Christ Church, where he was a member, had a new dean appointed.  Henry Liddell, a classical scholar of some renown, and his wife and children moved into town.  Dodgson and the Liddells struck up a friendship, and was especially friendly with their children.  Although he had none of his own, Dodgson seemed to have a way with children and charmed them with his ability to tell whimsical stories.

One bright summer day in July 1862, the Liddell’s second daughter, Alice, and her two sisters were out on an adventure.  They went rowing with Dodgson and his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth and stopped for a picnic along the banks of the river.  To amuse them on the journey, Dodgson made up a story about a girl called Alice who followed a white rabbit down a rabbit hole.  He was so detailed about the adventures young Alice had there.  The real Alice Liddell enjoyed the stories so much, she asked Dodgson to write it down.  He complied both adding more story and some original illustrations.  Additional stories were added, and eventually he called it Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.  Dodgson created a manuscript which was gifted to Alice for Christmas 1864.  The dedication declared it, “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day”.  And with that simple boat trip, a literary classic was born.

This was the manuscript was shown to Dodgson’s friend, the Scottish author George Macdonald and his family.  The Macdonald children were likewise enchanted by the adventures of Alice, and Macdonald encouraged Dodgson to seek out a publisher.  After some searching and a name change, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published by Macmillan in 1865.  Dodgson published under a pseudonym- Lewis Carroll.  It was the translation into Latin of Dodgson’s first and middle name- Charles Lutwidge into Carolus Ludovicus.

Cover of the 1898 edition
Cover of the 1898 edition

However, being Alice in wonderland did not do much for Alice Liddell.  Something happened in 1863, which drove Dodgson and the Liddell family apart.  We don’t have much information about this as the relevant pages in Dodgson’s diary were removed later by a family member.  Robert Douglas-Fairhurst writes charitably, “unless he was merely the victim of an unchecked rumor rippling around Oxford, Carroll certainly seems to have said or done something to disturb the Liddells.”  Dodgson had an affinity for children, especially young girls. That coupled with photographs found later, which he took of young girls in the nude certainly adds fuel to the fire that something inappropriate went on.  Douglas-Fairhurst seems to draw the conclusion that Dodgson did not act on his desires, but that is also only speculation.  What we do know is the last photograph Dodgson took of Alice Liddell shows a young woman who looks deeply depressed.

Alice grew up to be a beautiful young woman, who attracted the attention of many suitors including Queen Victoria’s youngest son.  She eventually married Reginald Hargreaves and they lived together until Reginald’s death in 1926.  Alice fell upon hard times and sold the original manuscript she had received for Christmas 1864 at auction at Southeby’s.  She received the tidy sum of 15,400 pounds, which is 450,000 pounds in today’s money.  She also received an honorary degree from Columbia University in 1932, solely for being the inspiration for the book.

Sadly before she died in 1934, Alice remarked she was “tired of being Alice in Wonderland”.  Hopefully, she found some peace.

Mary Seacole

maryseacolepicBorn Mary Jane Grant in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Seacole became one of the most important nurses in the Crimean War.  She was the daughter of a free black Jamaican woman who was skilled in traditional medicine and a Scottish soldier.  Mary learned her mother’s traditional remedies and gained a reputation as a ‘skilful nurse and doctress’ working in a boarding house caring for invalid soldiers and their wives.  She married Edwin Horatio Seacole in 1836, and with her husband travelled to the Bahamas, Haiti and Cuba.  While there, she studied local medicines and treatments and added them to her repertoire.  Her husband died in 1844, and Mary was on her own.

In 1851, she joined her brother in Panama, where she opened a hotel.  It was there she cured her first cholera patient and began her studies of this disease.  She returned to Kingston in 1853 to aid in a yellow fever epidemic.  Mary traveled to London, and was there when reports of the lack of necessities and breakdown of nursing care for soldiers on the Crimean front arrived in England.  She immediately offered her services as a nurse and traditional healer.  Despite her extensive experience and skill, she was turned away by everyone, including an assistant of the famous Florence Nightingale.  Frustrated and in despair, Mary cried in the street, “[had] American prejudices against colour had taken root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?”  It is not clear if she was rejected because of her race.  At 50 years old, she was old for nursing and had no formal hospital experience per se.

Determined to do her bit, Mary set up the “Seacole and Day” company with a relative of her late husband.  They traveled to the battle zone in the Crimea and opened a general store and hotel near the British camp.  Mary carried with her a large stock of medicines and was considered a “sutler” or a person who follows the army and sells provisions to the troops.  She opened the “British Hotel” in the summer of 1855 near the besieged city of Sevastopol, and the soldiers under her care called her “Mother Seacole”.  The Hotel fed the boys about to go into action and was a recovery station from those coming back from the front.  Every morning, Mary would make vats of nutritious food , saddle up two mules and go to the front looking for the wounded.  She would bring food, medicine and hot tea, which is the British cure-all and comforting words.  As she would go along the lines, mortars and artillery fire would come close to her, while the soldiers cried “Mother!  Lie down!”  Mary said she would get down with “undignified and unladylike haste”.  Most of the army doctors considered her a quack, but some recognized her valor and skill.   Sir William Howard Russell, the first war correspondent, was the first to sing her praises.  He called her ‘a warm and successful physician, who doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings’.  She was the first woman to enter Sevastopol when it fell.

However, her war adventures had not left her in good financial health.  She was left with expensive and unsaleable stores at her hotel after the war ended, and returned to England a poor woman.  Back home in England, Lord Rokeby and Lord Paget organized a benefit festival at the Royal Surrey Gardens in Kensington to raise money for Mary.   She also published her autobiography in 1857.  Despite being awarded a Crimean medal and having a bust of her made by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, she was largely forgotten and died unknown on May 14, 1881.

There is revived interest in Mary Seacole and a statue was erected on June 30, 2016 outside St. Thomas’ hospital in central London.  Even for this remembrance there was controversy as St. Thomas was the place where Florence Nightingale established her first nursing school.  The statue to Mary is considered a PC sop, proving some people can complain about anything.  We should remember the words of Sir William Howard Russell wrote in her the introduction to her autobiography and which are engraved on her statue, “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”


Sources available on request

The Great Storm of 1854

‘The Gale off the Port of Balaklava. 14 Nov 1854’ by R Carrick, 1855. Photo Credit- National Army Museum Copyright

In 1853, Britain was embroiled with its allies in an invasion of the Crimean peninsula in order to destroy the naval base at Sevastopol.  It was four on one fight of Britain, France, the Otttoman Empire and Sardinia against Russia, which was making territory incursions into Modavia and Wallachia in the Balkans.  This war turned into a three year slog which was characterized as a “notoriously incompetent international butchery” by historian Alexis Troubetkoy.  By the fall of 1854, the supply situation for both sides were looking bleak.  The Allies had only prepared for a summer campaign, so winter supplies were badly needed.  A fleet, of both British and French ships, set out for Balaclava harbor.  What they did not realize was a storm was coming.

Weather reporting at that time was in its infancy.  If you wanted to know what the weather was like, you stuck your head out the window.  There were some advances in measuring barometric pressure, but there was nothing formal.  The navy certainly did not take any heed of it.  On November 14, 1854, the Allied supply fleet was in the Black Sea with all of the supplies for the winter campaign.  A fierce gale blew up and began battering the fleet. Many people referred to this as a hurricane, however, meteorologists reserve that turn for storms in the Atlantic.  At that time there was no definition of Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  The best they had at the time was the Beaufort Wind Scale, created in 1805.  The definition of the force numbers in the Beaufort Scale are as follows:

Force 8: Fresh Gale, 39-46 mph winds; small branches break off trees, walking is very difficult.

Force 9: Strong Gale, 47-54 mph winds; branches break, slight damage to buildings, shingles blown off.
Force 10: Whole Gale, 55-63 mph winds; some trees blown down, considerable damage to buildings.

Force 11: Storm, 64-74 mph; widespread damage to trees and buildings.

Force 12: Hurricane, 75+ mph; extreme destruction; severe and extensive damage.

British lithograph published March 1855, after a water-colour by William Simpson, shows winter military housing under construction with supplies borne on soldiers’ backs. A dead horse, partially buried in snow, lies by the roadside. Photo Credit- Library of Congress

Eye witness accounts of the storm from Henry Clifford’s Letters and Sketches from the Crimea report tents being collapsed, trees being damaged and taking shelter in a ruined house.  Along with this and other accounts, some experts theorize that this would have been a Gale Force of 9 or 10.  We have no way of being sure, however.  At any rate gale force winds assailed the ships, and in the end 30 ships were destroyed or damaged.  This included the French warship Henri IV and the British ship HMS Black Prince.  Also at the bottom of the Black Sea were the winter supplies, including warm uniforms, food, coal and shelter.  Just as the Russian winter was beginning to set in.  Cholera and typhus broke out in the camps and men froze to death in the trenches.  Dysentery swept through the camp.  Illness and cold killed more men than battle.

The British tried to cover all this up by sending pictures of happy soldiers back to the home front, but the letters from the soldiers told the tale.  An example was a letter to his aunt from Captain WP Richards from outside Sebastopol.  He writes:

Since I commenced this we have had a terrible storm of wind, rain, and snow, giving us a taste of what the winter will be. We have suffered great loss, in the first place, eight store ships, three of them steamers, were wrecked outside Balaklava, and 300 lives lost, not only this, they contained almost all the winter clothing sent for us, so God knows what we shall do, as it will take at least two months to get more from England.

It is calculated that property to the amount of three millions was lost, amongst which I will mention 9,000 gallons of rum and from four to six million rounds of mine and musket armaments, immense quantities of beef, pork, biscuit, hay, barley, sugar, and clothes for the troops, a large quantity of siege ammunition, which was much wanted, in addition to this the wind blew a perfect hurricane, levelled nearly every tent, mine amongst the number, the consequence was that everything got wet in our tents, and half our things spoilt, it was bitterly cold also.

I am afraid we are in for a bad business, as Lord Raglan has wasted time awfully, and they intend wintering out here, and hutting the troops, but they have made up their minds much too late. We ought to have been under cover now, instead of which, they have only just sent for the timber to make our huts. The horses also will never be able to stand the cold,
each battery loses two or three of a night from the cold and wind. The road to Balaklava is nearly impassable so that even if we get provisions sent regularly, I do not see how we are to bring them seven miles up, as we shall not have any horses fit to drag shortly.”

People at home were horrified.  Extras had been collected from civilians to help the troops, but those were either lost or poached by officers.  To add insult to injury, the Great Storm which had sunk the fleet had been tracked.  A report from the state-supported Paris Observatory indicated that barometric readings showed that the storm has passed across Europe in about four days.  A telegram from Vienna to the Crimea could have sent warnings to the fleet and saved both lives and materials.   A weather service was made a priority and was started in Great Britain literally the next week.


Sources available on request


Princess Louise-  The Rebel Princess

Queen Victoria painted a portrait of Princess Louise after an original by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Queen Victoria painted a portrait of Princess Louise after an original by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Born the sixth child and fourth daughter to the famously moral Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, Louisa Caroline Alberta had a lot to live up to.  She consistently bucked the traditions of the day and the feisty princess was popular with the public.  Her mother not so much.  Victoria wrote to her older daughter Vicky in 1864, “God bless the dear child – who is so affectionate and has so many difficulties to contend with, I hope and trust she will get over them… and still become a most useful member of the human family.”

“Loosy”, as she was called by relatives, was born on March 18, 1848, a year marked with revolution.  Her mother often remarked that was probably why the young princess was so tempestuous.  Her education was overseen by her father, Prince Albert, and his friend and confidant, Baron Stockmar.  It was acknowledged from an early age that Louise was artistically talented.  Even though an artistic career was considered out of the question, she was allowed to attend the National Art Training School and excelled at sculpture.  Then the world turned upside down.

In December 1861, her father, Prince Albert, died after an illness.  Her mother, Queen Victoria, went into deep mourning.  This prolonged mourning was irksome to the lively princess, and she held a debutante ball for her seventeenth birthday in 1865, which scandalized her mother.  As the oldest unmarried daughter, she became her mother’s unofficial secretary.  As such, Louise was responsible for her mother’s correspondence, minor secretarial tasks, such as writing letters on the Queen’s behalf; and providing the Queen with company.  Despite performing her duties well, Louise was bored out of her mind.

She became close with her brother, Leopold’s, tutor, William Stirling.  A leading biography by Lucinda Hawksley maintains that the two had a sexual affair, and an illegitimate child was born to Louise sometime in 1866 or 1867.  The child supposedly named Henry, adopted by Queen Victoria’s doctor and bore an uncanny resemblance to the Royal Family.  However, this is conjecture.  Also, in the realm of conjecture is that Louise had an affair with Arthur Bigge, the Queen’s assistant physician, as well as sculptor, Joseph Boem .  Louise was at his studio the night of his death and rumors flew that he had a heart attack while the two were in flagrante delicto.  She has also been romantically linked to Colonel William Probert and Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens.

Princess Louise on her wedding day 1871
Princess Louise on her wedding day 1871

What is known is Louise rejected the European suitors suggested for her hand, and ended up marrying John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, in 1871.  Queen Victoria was thrilled as she felt this brought “new blood” to the royal family.  The Duke was not exactly a catch.  He was described as washing rarely.  His clothes were eccentric, he was convinced he had second sight, and he refused to let his wife use his billiard table.  Lucinda Hawksley suggests in her biography that the marriage was one of convenience as the Duke was a homosexual.  She tells a story that the Duke went on nightly prowls to the red light district and Louise attempted to stop by bricking up the windows of her home.  If she had affairs, hardly anyone could blame her.

The two moved to Canada when the Duke was made the Governor General.  The province of Alberta is named after her as well as Lake Louise.  She also popularized tourism to Bermuda, as Louise traveled there to escape the Canadian winters.  While in Canada, Louise was severely injured in a sleighing accident, but it was hushed up to spare the feelings of her anxious mother.

The couple returned to England in 1883 and took up residence in Kensington Palace.  The marriage between the Duke and Louise was strained, and the two often went their separate ways.  Louise was a supporter of the suffragette movement, and was a patient of Elizabeth Garrett, the first female doctor in England.  Queen Victoria was abhorred at the of females in the medical profession.  She ran with a fashionable crowd of Rossetti, Millais, Whistler and, more controversially, George Eliot.  Louise did not give up her art, making a sculpture of her mother for her Golden Jubilee, which stands outside Kensington Palace.

After nursing her husband through his final illness in 1914, Louise’s own health began to deteriorate despite her boast  “Never mind, I’ll outlive you all.” when sneered at for her obsession with physical fitness.  She had a nervous breakdown from loneliness after her husband’s death despite their separate lives.  Her last public appearance was in 1937, at the Home Arts and Industries Exhibition.  Louise died at Kensington Palace on December 3, 1939 at the age of 91 years, 8 months and 15 days, the same age to the day as her younger brother Prince Arthur.  Her ashes are at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.


Sources available on request

Dr. John Snow-  The father of modern epidemiology

John Snow memorial and public house on Broadwick Street, Soho Photo Credit- CC BY-SA 2.0
John Snow memorial and public house on Broadwick Street, Soho Photo Credit- CC BY-SA 2.0

Clean water is essential for life.  Without it, we die quickly of horrible diseases.  As modern life progressed, our cities got dirtier and dirtier.  Cities realized quickly they needed to do something to get the streets cleaner.  In 1858, the city of Chicago even had all of its buildings lifted four feet to make room for a sewer.  Other cities followed suit, which was good.  One problem.  Most of the sewers emptied into water sources.  The water in Chicago, for example, was so bad that dead fish would show up in bath water.  Residents nicknamed their water “chowder”.  The introduction of the flush toilet made the water supply worse.  It could be called a catastrophic success, as the rapid adoption overloaded the sewer system with waste.

Things were not much better across the Atlantic in England.  Cholera was running rampant.  No one knew where the disease came from.  In fact, most people thought it came from bad air.  Into this epidemic, enter John Snow.  Not the guy from Game of Thrones, but Dr. John Snow of York, England.  Growing up in a poor neighborhood in York, at 14 he became apprenticed to a surgeon in Newcastle on Tyne.  A cholera outbreak swept into Newcastle from Sunderland, and Snow worked with the miners as they fell sick.  Despite being in the same fetid environment, Snow did not get sick.  This planted an idea in his mind, but it did not take root until later.

Snow moved onto work at Westminster hospital in London in 1837, and completed his studies at the University of London in 1844.  In 1854, an outbreak of cholera in Soho.  Most people ran in terror, but Dr. Snow risked his life to try and understand the cause of the disease.  He theorized that the cause of cholera must be not from air, but from water.  Clean water was a premium in London as most water was pumped from shallow wells and carried into individual homes.  There were water lines for upper class houses that brought water directly from the Thames.  However, cross contamination from the hodge podge of sewers was easy and happened often.  Snow set out to get the data to prove his theory.

During the outbreak, Snow stayed in the neighborhood and mapped the data.  He created a map of the thirteen public pumps in the neighborhood and then recorded the cases of cholera house by house.  A pattern of deaths emerged around one pump at the corner of Broad and Cambridge Streets.  He recorded, “In some of the instances, where the deaths are scattered a little further from the rest on the map, the malady was probably contracted at a nearer point to the pump.”   He found that one lady traveled several blocks because she liked the taste of the water of that particular pump.  She was dead in two days.  Another pattern he noticed was there were no deaths among the workers at the brewery located one block from the Broad Street pump.  The process of making beer includes boiling water and fermentation, which kills bacteria.  The brewery workers were allowed to drink all the beer they wanted, and therefore missed being infected.  And who said beer wasn’t good for you?

Snow's map of the Broad Street outbreak Photo Credit-
Snow’s map of the Broad Street outbreak Photo Credit-

Snow drew water from the suspicious pump and examined it under a microscope.  There was some bacteria in that water that was not in the water samples from other pumps.  Snow had all the evidence he needed.  Despite skepticism from neighborhood authorities, Snow removed the handle from the Broad Street pump.  The outbreaks drew to a close.  Snow observed, “There is no doubt that the mortality was much diminished, as I said before, by the flight of the population, which commenced soon after the outbreak; but the attacks had so far diminished before the use of the water was stopped, that it is impossible to decide whether the well still contained the cholera poison in an active state, or whether, from some cause, the water had become free from it.”  Further analysis found that the well at the Broad Street pump had been contaminated from a diaper from a sick baby that was thrown into a nearby cesspit.

Snow published his map, which was more than just a map but was a detailed statistical analysis.  There were still naysayers to the water born disease theory and the pump handle of the well was soon replaced.  To symbolize this, members of the John Snow Society now remove and replace a pump handle to symbolize the continuing challenges for advances in public health at the Annual Pumphandle Lecture in England.


Sources available on request