Saturday, 15 January 2011

"Victorian blogger" in Sidmouth

I just posted to the Devon History Society blog a news item Peter Orlando Hutchinson: "Victorian 'blogger" arising from Friday's Western Morning News piece about the cultural and historical landscape project In the Footsteps of Peter Orlando Hutchinson.

This Winchester-born polymath spent most of his adult life in Sidmouth, and meticulously documented the neighbouring landscape, as in the diary entry here with its nice sketch of the Ladram Bay coastline from High Peak on 31 December 1877. As a great fan of the East Devon coast, I look forward to seeing one of the projects planned end results, a fully searchable electronic document of the diaries.

A Sidmouth Herald article last year - Sidmouth antiquary’s diaries explored - quotes from Catherine Linehan's biography Peter Orlando Hutchinson of Sidmouth, Devon 1810-1897 describing what sounds an enviable if geeky lifestyle financed, as mentioned in the paper Peter Orlando Hutchinson (1810-1897) and the Geology of Sidmouth, by "a modest private income":

Among his many activities, Peter spent whole days on foot or by carriage in exploring the neighbourhood. A frequent companion was Mr N S Heineken 1, a retired Unitarian Minister. With a pocketful of sandwiches, or a hamper of provisions and tools, they visited, measured, sketched and mapped the hillforts, earthworks, tumuli, churches and ancient monuments within a 20 mile radius.

This Branscombe Project biographical play - Orlando Hutchinson in Branscombe - gives an informal run-down of his life and interests.

Some of Hutchinson's works are available online: The Geology of Sidmouth and of South-eastern Devon (1843); Chronicles of Gretna Green (1844: vol 1, vol 2) - the best bit of this completist parish history is the pi final chapter, Advice to young ladies, warning against elopement; and The diary and letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson : captain-general and governor-in-chief of his late Majesty's province of Massachusetts Bay in North America (1883) - this Thomas Hutchinson, his great-grandfather; along with various papers such as his Dissertation on the site of Moridunum (The Gentleman's Magazine, February 1849).

He also wrote some fiction, as in these rather laboured 1845 Metropolitan magazine pieces about imagined dialogues between statues:  No. I ("The Statue of Charles the First, at Charing Cross, to a large block of marble in Wyatt's Yard, at Paddington"), No. II ("Shakspere's Statue in Poet's Corner to Thorwaldsen's Statue of Lord Byron in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge"), No. III ("Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Exchange, to James the First at Temple Bar"); No. IV ("Dr. Johnson's Statue by Bacon, in St. Paul's Cathedral, to Sir Walter Scott's Bust by Chantry"); and No. V ("George the Third's Statue in Cockspur Street, by Wyatt, to George Washington's Statue in the State House, Boston, Massachusetts, by Chantry").

According to the above bio-play, he self-published a novel, Branscombe Cliffs, which would be interesting to see (I fear the worst: given POH's style and interests, I suspect it could be like Brief Encounter written by a trainspotter).

1. Google Books finds him to be a Unitarian minister into astronomy, photography and mechanics.

- Ray

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