A fascinating new lecture on travel to India in the 19th century, which focuses on how passengers traveled, the furniture they brought with them and the companies who supplied them, was recently given by Sean Clarke for the Stow and District Civic Society and is available here.
Sean and his brother, Simon Clarke, are the second generation to run Christopher Clarke Antiques, a shop founded in 1961 that specializes in military campaign furniture and travel items. Sean and Simon are considered leading historians and sellers of campaign furniture and were a great help to Christopher Schwarz when writing “Campaign Furniture.”
While the lecture is illustrated by pictures of campaign furniture, makers’ advertisements and passengers’ receipts, much of the lecture uses officers’ drawings and paintings as a guide to how campaign furniture was used in ships’ cabins.
When showing a series of sketches by Edward Hovell Thurlow, circa 1965, Clarke says, “Thurlow sketched throughout his career as many officers did. All were expected to have a degree in competency in drawing in the age before cameras but some also enjoyed it as a pastime in memory of their service.”
This brought to mind another, more personal illustration, made by my husband’s grandfather, Martin Uhl, a pilot who was captured and held prisoner at Stalag Luft III during WWII. I looked at his illustrated barracks again, this time paying close attention to the furniture in those sparse, cramped conditions – the bunk beds, the tables and benches, the shelving – pieces built for a particular use. And then I thought of Monroe Robinson’s upcoming book about Dick Proenneke, and the wealth of information Dick’s well-photographed cabin contains. Although these images are from different times and places entirely, thinking about them reiterated the importance of documentation, whether painted, illustrated or photographed, of the everyday.
The artwork featured in Clarke’s lecture illustrates the cleverness and ingenuity of multi-use campaign furniture designed for portability and the volatility of life at sea. A secretaire’s iron handles were used not only for easy carrying but also for tying down once aboard the ship. Also featured are small portable bookcases that fold into a box; a ship’s table with flaps that extend, removable legs and a hinged board that reveals a mirror and compartments for use as a washstand; a Gimballed Candlestick; mahogany swing trays that hung from the cabin’s ceiling; and folding chairs.
In one slide an image of 4th Officer G. Webb’s cabin onboard the Asia E.I.C. ship in 1797 shows a cannon in his room, with furniture both built and situated so that it could be moved quite quickly should the sudden need arise to point the cannon out the cabin’s window.
The lecture, which is fewer than 50 minutes, includes a wealth of images and information, and is a delightful way to spend an evening in.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl