Picture of Selwyn Oxley

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 19 August 2016

This is Selwyn Oxley, whose historical collection is at our heart, looking out of a roof!  Compilation of statistics took my time from writing a blog today!

Oxley on roofPhotographer unknown, possibly Hallett, one of the south London deaf photographers who worked for him at one time or another… Circa 1920.


“Lamentable Death of a Medical Man” or how not to treat tinnitus – Joseph Toynbee

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 12 August 2016

Joseph Toynbee

Lincolnshire born Joseph Toynbee (1815-66) was a pioneer otologist.  He attended school in King’s Lynn, then was apprenticed to William Wade of the Westminster General Dispensary, and later on at St George’s and University College hospitals (Weir).  In 1842 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, surely one of the youngest fellows, for “his researches demonstrating that articular cartilage, the cornea, the crystalline lens, the vitreous humour, and the epidermal appendages contained no blood-vessels” (Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows).  He was early on an opponent of the ‘aurists’ like John Harrison Curtis, writing letters to The Lancet on the matter.  Curtis claimed that some deafness came “from a want of action of the ceruminous glands” – that is a lack of wax.

Toynbee belongs to the great set of scientists, like John Scott Haldane, who tried self-experimentation.  In the case of Toynbee this did not end well. The Leeds Mercury begins its story on Toynbee’s end as follows –

Lamentable Death of a Medical Man
Yesterday afternoon a very painful investigation took place before Mr. C.St. Clare Bedford and a select jury at the New Vestry-hall, St. James’s, Piccadilly […] which was caused by the inhalation of chloroform and cyanic acid while prosecuting experiments for the advancement of science. […]
He was continually in the habit of making experiments on himself for scientific purposes and for the relief of suffering mankind. (The Leeds Mercury)

His man-servant George Power described how he saw a patient in the afternoon for a few minutes. Shortly after another patient called & Power entered the room to find Toynbee lying with a piece of cotton wool over his nose and mouth. He thought he was asleep but removing the cotton wool realised that something was wrong then ran off down Savile Row trying to get another doctor to assist, to no avail. In the meantime Dr. Orlando Markham, a colleague from St. Mary’s hospital, had heard that Toynbee was in need of help, but arrived to find him dead. With another friend, Dr. Arthur Leared, they tried artificial respiration for half an hour.  It seems from papers and a watch on his chairs, that he was trying “The effect of inhalation of the vapour of chloroform for singing in the ears so as to be forced to the tynpanum, either by being taken in by the breath through a towel or a sponge, producing a beneficial sensation or warmth”,  and “The effect of chloroform combined with hydrocyanic acid”.  He died on the 7th of July 1866, either from the chloroform, or the combination (The Morning Post, Leeds Mercury).  

Toynbee 2We have a copy of Toynbee’s A Descriptive Catalogue of Preparations illustrative of the Diseases of the Ear in the Museum of Joseph Toynbee that must have been given by Toynbee as it is signed ‘from the author’, to Henry Hancock the surgeon, like Toynbee one of the original 300 fellows of the Royal College of SurgeonsHe was not an ENT specialist, so perhaps that is why he then donated the book to the Charing Cross Hospital with which he had a long association.  The Catalogue describes items in Toynbee’s collection, which ended up in the Hunterian but was lost during the war in an air raid.  A page here shows that foreign bodies in ears are not new!Toyb

In the introduction he writes,

When, in the year 1839, I entered upon a systematic study of the diseases of the ear, the conviction was soon forced upon me, that its pathology had been almost entirely neglected. This conviction induced me to commence a series of dissections of that organ, which have continued up to the present time, and now amount to 1,659.

Toynbee 3

Above is a page from his book  The diseases of the ear: their nature, diagnosis, and treatment (1868) which demonstrates use of a eustachian catheter.

Curtis J.H., Employment of creosote in deafness. Lancet 1838, 31 328-30

The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Thursday, July 12, 1866; Issue 8813. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, July 11, 1866; pg. 3; Issue 28886. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

Mudry A., The making of a career: Joseph Toynbee‘s first steps in otology. J Laryngol Otol. 2012 Jan;126(1):2-7. doi: 10.1017/S0022215111002465. Epub 2011 Sep 5.

Neil Weir, ‘Toynbee, Joseph (1815–1866)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27647, accessed 12 Aug 2016] 

John Wallis – the Sermons, and his Letter to Robert Boyle “Teaching a person Dumb and Deaf to speak”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 August 2016

The Sermons (1791 edition) are not what I would call my literature of choice, but John Wallis was notable for us in his attempts to educate a deaf boy, Alexander Popham.  It was the cause of a huge row in the early Royal Society, as William Holder said that he had taught Popham, and this was not acknowledged by Wallis.Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device

A memoir of Wallis, with additional notes by the Rev. C.E. de Coetlogon, says,

About the year 1653 he published his “tractatus de Loquela Grammatici-Physicus,” since reprinted many times; wherein he gives a particular account of the physical or mechanical formation of sounds used in speech, or expressed by the letters of several languages: a design which is not known to have been (before him) undertaken by any person; in pursuance of which, he hath undertaken, with success, to teach some dumb persons to speak.  To which is added, a letter of the Doctor’s to Mr. Thomas Beverly, concerning his method of instruction, which he says he had taught Mr. Alexander Popham, born deaf, to speak distinctly, and to express his mind tolerably well by writing, and to understand what was written to him by others, as he had also done to Mr. Daniel Whaley. (p.lvii)

SheridaneOur copy came from the library of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the celebrated playright.  Quite why he was interested in Wallis I cannot say – perhaps he bought his books in bulk, perhaps Sheridan was just interested in the ideas and use of language.  Selwyn Oxley also bought a collection of Wallis’s essays on The Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, ex libris one John Bedford, and Number 61 of the Philosophical Transactions from 1670, which contains the letter of Wallis to Robert Boyle “concerning the said doctors Essay of Teaching a person Dumb and Deaf to speak, and to understand a Language” etc.  Wallis does tell us that Popham may have been able to speak previously, having lost his hearing ‘by accident’ aged about five, ‘but doth scarce remember it’ (p.1093).   I attach the complete short essay here – A Letter of Doctor John Wallis to Robert Boyle Esq.

This is the first page below, sadly covered with Oxley’s spidery hand!

Wallis 2An audio file of a Royal Society talk by David Cram on Wallis and his dispute with Holder is to be found here.  Unfortunately there is still no video for some reason – see comments below – https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2012/wallis-holder-dispute/

Also, if you read the comments you will note that David Cram and Jaap Maat are writing a book on the notebook of Popham.




James Kerr Love, Scottish Aurist, friend of Helen Keller, 1858-1942

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 22 July 2016

Kerr Love 2James Kerr Love was one of the leading British otologists of the early 20th century, but will be remembered more for his involvement with deaf children and his friendship with Helen Keller than for his surgical skills (BMJ, 1942).

It was this less spectacular work that lay nearest to his heart, and he spared himself nothing in its pursuit. […] In Dr. Kerr Love they had for many years a sympathetic and tireless champion, who wrote, lectured, and organized on their behalf with unflagging energy. (ibid)

He was born in Beith, Ayrshire, a ‘son of the manse’.  He was educated in Glasgow High School and the University of Glasgow, becoming an M.D. in 1888 writing his thesis, “The Limits of Hearing” (ibid, & BDM p.128).  He was a surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary for thirty years, and worked for the Glasgow Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.  It was with his colleague, Dr. Addison, head of that Institute, and later Missioner for the deaf in Salisbury diocese, that he wrote the book Deaf Mutism (1896).  His father-in-law was the Rev. Joseph Corbet or Corbett.  He died on the 30th/31st of May, 1942, at Sunnyside, West Kilbride, Ayrshire.

It is hard to briefly summarise Kerr Love’s views on education, and he does stress that it is a matter for teachers.  Let us look at a couple of passages with his own words.  At the end of his 1906 book, Diseases of the Ear, he says,

So far as State arrangements for the education of the deaf and dumb are concerned, it seems to the author that in every large community two schools for the deaf should exist :-

1. One containing all the semi-deaf, the totally deaf with much residual speech, and the ordinary deaf mute who makes good progress on the oral method.  Nothing but the oral method should be adopted in this institution.  Signs should be used as little as possible, and finger spelling should be prohibited.  All deaf children should pass their first year in this school.
2. A school min which the finger method or a combination ogf the oral and finger methods is taught.  It is the writer’s opinion that at least half of the deaf-mute children would ultimately find their way into this second school.(p.320)

He seems to have maintained this view that sign language was only good enough for those unable to learn spoken language, writing in 1936 (in The Deaf Child, p.109),

Some of the schools describe themselves as oral schools, some as combined schools.  But if it is difficult to define a combined method, it is more difficult to define a combined method school.

I am now speaking of the institutions and not of the day-schools, and I state that, apart from theose in Manchester and London, all the residential institutions I have visited are combined schools.  Only in these two cities do arrangements exist for the separation of the defective deaf, who should be taught manually, from the ordinary deaf child, who should ber taught orally. (p.109)

It is probably unfair to give a couple of quotes out of the full context of his thought, and his views seem more nuanced than these quotations might make him appear. His work is worthy of consideration in the history of deaf education in the period from 1890 to the 1930s, as he was well known and widely read, being involved in the foundation of the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf.  They published his monograph consisting of four essays, The Causes and Prevention of Deafness (1912).

We see him here with his friend, Helen Keller.  She was such a celebrity, perhaps one of the first modern celebrities, that everyone wanted to meet her or be seen with her, poets, politicians, doctors etc.  Selwyn Oxley contacted Kerr Love when she came to the UK in 1932, as he too wanted to meet her.  I love Kerr Love’s reply – “I cannot see what she can make of your library unless it be in Braille.”  These notes were later stuck into a copy of one of his books by Oxley.Kerr Love note 1

Kerr Love note 2Kerr LoveKerr Love, J. & W.H. Addison.  Deaf-mutism.  1904

Kerr Love, J. & W.H. Addison.  The education of the deaf and (so-called) dumb: two papers, by James Kerr Love and W.H.Addison. Glasgow: Philosophical Society of Glasgow, 1893.

Kerr Love, J. & W.H. Addison.  A statement on the subject of methods of education, by James Kerr Love, with remarks thereon by W.H.Addison. Glasgow: James Cameron, 1893.

Kerr Love, James (ed).  Helen Keller in Scotland, a personal record written by herself.  1933

Kerr Love, James. Deafness and Common Sense. 1936

Obituary: James Kerr Love, M.D., LL.D. The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 4250 (Jun. 20, 1942), p. 775

Deaf-mutism, by J. Kerr Love, & W.H. Addison, (review) The British Deaf-Mute p.126-8, Vol. 5 1895-6

A tragedy from 1906 with a modern resonance

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 15 July 2016

I came across a very short item in the British Deaf Times for October, 1906, p.225, which led me to discover more about a Lincolnshire family from over a century ago, and a tragic event.

Harriet Shaw was born in Grimsby in 1826/7, and christened on the 27th of February.  According to various census returns she was born deaf.  Her parents were Elizabeth, or ‘Betsey’, and William Shaw, who was a shipbuilder, neither being described as deaf on the census.  In 1848 she married a Hull man, Robert Matthews, a ship’s carpenter who later became a shipwright like his father-in-law.  They had at least six children, William Joseph, born in 1850, who became a boilermaker, Robert, a carpenter, born c. 1853, George, also trained as a carpenter, born c. 1856, Emma born c. 1860, Hannah born in c. 1864, and Elizabeth born in c. 1868.  William, Hannah and Elizabeth, were all, like their mother, born deaf, according to the census returns.  The 1861 census says that George was also deaf, but he is not described as deaf in the 1871 census.  Clearly census returns are not infallible, relying on the information of informants who may not have been thorough in their admissions to the enumerator, and enumerators were also mistaken or careless on occasions.  It is a great pity that we have few early reports from local deaf missions, and those we have for Hull, East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are rather patchy.  Local papers might tell us more, and there must have been an inquest.  It seems very likely (I would stress without firm evidence) that in a family like this where mother and many children were deaf, that they would have signed.

William, the oldest child, never married.  The tragedy is that, on the 6th of September 1906, his sister, probably the youngest sister Elizabeth who was still living at home with her brother, found him hanged in a workshop.  One can only imagine what desperation, despair and disillusionment, led him to this, but the truth is that Deaf people are more vulnerable to isolation and mental health issues.  A Mad Act

Sheffield 1914In 1882 Emma Matthews married a Deaf man from Sheffield, Thomas Gilley Bentley, an engraver, and they had at least one Deaf child, Victoria Maud Bentley, born in 1887.  That is the third generation from Harriet Shaw.  The 1911 census shows that the Bentleys had ten children, six surviving at that time.  Victoria married Albert B Clarke in 1918.  Albert, born c. 1889, was also Deaf from childhood.  From the above annual report for Sheffield, we can see that Thomas Bentley was involved with the Sheffield Association in Aid if the Deaf and Dumb.  Perhaps we have the sort of idea of ‘deaf ethnicity’ here in the Matthews/Shaw/Bentley/Clarke families – see Lane et. al for a discussion of this.

At that time George Stephenson was still working with the Association, which leads me to suggest that anyone interested in the history of Deaf people in the late 19th and early 20th century, may be interested to read Nick Waite’s new book, Alone in a Silent World, which covers this period and the long association of the Stephensons with the Sheffield Deaf community.


I have heard of a recent case which resonates with the story of William Matthews, although of course we know very little other than the outline of William’s story.

This open access article from 2007 is a review of the literature on Deaf people and Suicide up to that point – Suicide in deaf populations: a literature review.  That article has been widely cited.  This links to PubMed article abstracts using the search terms mental health and deaf.  The British Society for Mental Health and Deafness (BSMHD) “focuses entirely on the promotion of the positive mental health of deaf people.”  Additionally the Samaritans have an email contact jo@samaritans.org

Lane, H., Pillard, R.C. & Hedberg, U. The People of the Eye : Deaf Ethnicity and Ancestry.  2011

1851 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 2113; Folio: 202; Page: 13; GSU roll: 87742

1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 2389; Folio: 55; Page: 15; GSU roll: 542964

1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 3414; Folio: 63; Page: 22; GSU roll: 839406

1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 3270; Folio: 36; Page: 24; GSU roll: 1341780

Hannah and Emma in the 1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 3815; Folio: 133; Page: 8; GSU roll: 6098925

William in the 1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 3089; Folio: 62; Page: 36

Albert in the 1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 4375; Folio: 57; Page: 26

An ordinary (deaf) man – Thomas Henry Jones, Tailor (ca. 1837-1921)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 July 2016

To disappoint you, the person who features today had no exciting adventures, and was probably not significant to anyone outside his friends and family.  He was an ordinary person.  He probably led an ordinary life, but honestly, while we usually have some additional source to the online genealogical information, such as a short obituary or a story in a paper, I have nothing for Thomas except this rather nice photograph of him with his pinking shears. On the back it says “80 years old” in pencil, then in ink, but not Selwyn Oxley’s hand, “Thomas Henry Jones died Dec. 26 aged 86 at Ashford Mddx Tailor”.   Printed below in very small type – the photo is on a postcard backing as are most of our collection – is “Freeman, Photo, Ashford, Staines.”  The photo probably dates from circa 1915 (he was 84 when he died rather than 86 – see below).

Born in Deptford in 1837, Thomas Henry Jones was baptised on the 23rd of July that year, the son of John and Mary Ann Thomas.  His father was a shoemaker, and the family lived then in Grove Lane according to the baptismal records (lodged at the London Metropolitan Archives and also on line).  He attended the Old Kent Road Asylum, and was there in the 1851 census when he was 13.

In the 1861 census he was living with his married sister and her family in Deptford.  That census tells us he was deaf from birth.  Towards the end of that year he married a deaf lady called Susannah or Susan Anderson, daughter of Irish immigrants and, according to the 1861 census, deaf from birth.  She was born in Chelsea, circa 1834, and worked as a dressmaker.  In 1861 she was living in Carteret Street by St. James’s Park supporting her mother, and with a lodger nineteen year old Hannah Rowe, a deaf shirtmaker from Tiverton.  I wonder if they met through being a dressmaker and a tailor, or through the deaf community?  They had at least four children, Alfred, Walter, Caroline and Albert, born in Deptford, Rotherhithe and then Deptford, which suggests that the family did not move too far away from where Thomas grew up.  Susannah must have died a little after the 1881 census, as Thomas married again, to Eleanor Thompson (b.1851), in Bethnal Green in 1882 (see Free BMD).  She too was profoundly deaf, but I have not certainly identified her in the 1861 or 1871 censuses, although there is a Thompson family who might fit in the Hackney workhouse in 1871.

Thomas Jones died 1921In 1901 the family was living in Staines, with their three surviving children of six in total, and with a deaf boarder, William Lake (b.ca 1881 in New Brompton, Kent).  The youngest daughter, Beatrice, was born when Eleanor was 44. Beatrice Eleanor (b. 1895) married a George Matthews in 1915 and only died in 1974.

By 1911 they were living at 5 Vine Cottages, Ashford, Middlesex.  Thomas died at his home in London Road, Stanwell, on the 26th of December 1921, and was buried on the 31st, aged 84.

Thomas –

1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 6755; Schedule Number: 220 

1901 Census Class: RG13; Piece: 1175; Folio: 37; Page: 24

1881 Census Class: RG11; Piece: 701; Folio: 17; Page: 28; GSU roll: 1341164

1871 Census Class: RG10; Piece: 743; Folio: 84; Page: 24; GSU roll: 824719

1861 Census Class: RG 9; Piece: 397; Folio: 127; Page: 1; GSU roll: 542630

1841 Census Class: HO107; Piece: 484; Book: 9; Civil Parish: Lewisham; County: Kent; Enumeration District: 5 6; Folio: 9; Page: 11; Line: 2; GSU roll: 306876

Susannah –

1861 Census Class: RG 9; Piece: 53; Folio: 73; Page: 15; GSU roll: 542564

1851 Census Class: HO107; Piece: 1480; Folio: 353; Page: 46; GSU roll: 87804-87805

London Metropolitan Archives, Deptford St Paul, Register of Baptism, p75/pau, Item 007

London Metropolitan Archives, Death records Call Number: dro/022/a/01/020

Deaf Polish Jewish Artist, Maurycy Minkowski (1881-1930)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 24 June 2016

Maurycy Minkowski (1881-1930), sometime known as Maurice Minkowski or Minkovski, was a Polish Jewish artist, born in Warsaw.  He seems to an early 20th century artist who has been largely forgotten.

When one of his works, “After the Pogrom” appeared in a 2002 exhibition in The Jewish Museum (New York), it was bracketed with several other paintings by the critic as putting “a specifically Jewish spin on the worst excesses of 19th-century sentimentality” (Prose, 2002).  That seems a little harsh, but Richard Cohen says he was one of the Jewish artists who “remained deeply anchored to the cataclysmic events of the day”, namely the terrible pogroms that broke out in Eastern Europe and European Russia at the turn of the century (Jewish Icons, 1998).  If you search for his paintings on line you will get a flavour of the types of image – women, children, old men, the victims of dislocation and hatred.

It is hard to find solid details about his life, at least in English.  His family were it seems middle class, and according to Cohen were ‘acculturated’ (1998, p.245).  He had either an accident or an illness when he was 5, which entailed hospitalisation and left him deaf.  Aged 12 he was talented enough to be asked to paint a portrait of the Governor of Warsaw (Jewish Chronicle obituary).  From 1900 to 1904 he trained at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under Jozef Mehoffer, Jan Stanisławski, and Leon Wyczółkowski (ibid and his Polish Wikipedia entry).  Cohen tells us that they awarded him with a gold medal at his graduation (ibid p.245).  He is called ‘deaf and dumb’ which suggests that he had no spoken language, but as I have found no proper interviews and only one contemporary account of him, it is impossible to say whether he signed in Polish sign language or had to use lip-reading or other forms of communication.  His Polish Wikipedia entry says that he attended the Institute for the Deaf, as well as having private tuition in drawing, but it cites no sources for that.  He had a brother, Feliks, and at some point married Rachel Marshak (Baker, p.108).  His obituary in the Jewish Chronicle, despite calling him ‘well-known’, runs to a mere 16 lines.

The pivotal period of his life that influenced his art seems to have been the events of the Polish Revolution in 1905.  There were attacks on Jews, and a pogrom at Bialystock where Cohen says (p.245) the “plight of the children left the artist shaken.”

He travelled around western Europe in the following years, and the Polish Wikipedia article says he settled in Paris in 1908, though he continued to travel.  Another source says that it was in 1924 that he moved permanently to Paris, where he exhibited (Stevens, 1925).  Interviewed by Kelly Stevens, it seems that, as he knew no French they communicated with gesture and ‘signs’.  He left Paris for Argentina in August 1930, taking 200 of his works with him.  One work, that seems to me to be very fine, a portrait of Mosheh Oved, is in the Ben Uri collection in London.  When crossing a street near his house in Buenos Aires on Saturday the 22nd of November 1930, Minkowski was struck by a taxi that he failed to hear because of his deafness, and died almost instantly (Baker p.109).  His funeral was attended by thousands of people.  About ten years after his death, some of his art was sold to cover the debts of his heirs.  Much was bought by a Jewish cultural association in Buenos Aires, the IWO (Baker, p.117).  The collection narrowly escaped total destruction when there was a terrorist attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in 1994, that killed 84 people.  You can read more about that in Zachary Baker’s article.

The short obituary cited above, quotes the Jewish Chronicle’s art critic from an earlier exhibition review –

In the work of Maurice Minkowski…. We see a splendid example of the East European Type of Jewish genius…. We find the penetrating grasp of character and the absorbed interest in human emotion which is to be expected in a Polish Jew: it is the high intensity with which these are developed which is remarkable.

MinkowskiCohen says,

The reception of Minkowski’s work in the pre-World War I period remains enigmatic. Hardly any Jewish newspaper that popularized Jewish artists singled him out, and he is referred to only fleetingly until the appearance of the Hungarian Jewish journal Múlt és Jövő in 1911. This journal gave his work extensive coverage, publishing many of his paintings. After World War I, Minkowski staged several large exhibitions in the west, which were introduced by the French cultural figure, Anatole de Monzie (Cohen p.250-1).

The photograph of the artist, from our collection made by Selwyn Oxley, is the only image of him that I have seen, and is what set me off trying to find out a little about him.  It comes from The Silent Worker article.  His seems a fascinating story, and probably requires the research skills of an art lover who can read Polish, French, and Spanish.  Please add any interesting information you can contribute in the comment space below.

UPDATE 1/7/2016: I put the wrong birth date in the heading and first paragraph from an early version – it was 1881 NOT 1888 as one or two sources suggested. I have also expanded a few bits and added a couple of links & a quote from Cohen.

Baker, Zachary M.  Art Patronage and Philistinism in Argentina: Maurycy Minkowski in Buenos Aires, 1930. Shofar Vol. 19, No. 3, Special Issue: The Jewish Diaspora of Latin America (SPRING 2001), pp. 107-119

Cohen, Richard I., Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe. University of California Press, 1998. p.245-51

Prose, Francine, The Gallery: Nostalgia and Daring in Jewish Art Wall Street Journal, Eastern edition, 2002

The Jewish Chronicle, November 28th 1930 p. 14

The Jewish Chronicle, December 5th 1930 p. 5

Stevens, Kelly, Minkowski, Polish Painter. The Silent Worker, Vol.38 (1), p.6-8

MUSEO MAURICE MINKOWSKI Calle Pasteur 633 , Buenos Aires , 1028 , Argentina

De’Via and Deaf Jewish Art


A Deaf Cuban Revolutionary in London – Captain Juan Fernandez

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 June 2016

Unlike most of the South American countries, Cuba was one of the last to break away from Spain, and not without a bitter struggle.  One of the heroes of the struggle was Captain Juan Fernandez.  Juan Fernandez (born circa 1868) was U.S. born  to Cuban parents, and had been educated at both the University of California and at a college in Barcelona (Ephphatha).   For three years he served under General Antonio Maceo Grajales, second-in-command in the Cuban Army of Independence, as aide-de-campe.  It was in the course of this stuggle that he was deafened by an explosion near Bahia Hondo, when a mine that was being laid to disrupt the movement of Spanish troops on the railway there, exploded early, killing several insurgents.  It forced him to leave the army.

In 1896 he travelled to Europe to represent the army of liberation.  While in London, Fernandez spoke to meetings of deaf people on several occasions (Ephphatha).

In 1899, when Fernandez was in Paris,

while he was smoking in front of the Hotel Terminus, he was approached by three Germans, who knew his name and all about him, and began to rave about the selfishness of the United States Government in its relation to Cuba.  In the course of their talk one of them showed Fernandez a photograph of a German officer, whom Fernandez recognized as the man speaking to him.  The German went on to say that through Fernandez he could get the Cubans 250,000 francs at once and plenty more when required, with all the arms and ammunition necessary for a prolonged rebellion against the United States Government, if Fernandez would work in Germany’s interest.  At this Fernandez replied: “Gentlemen, I am a Cuban by blood, but I am a citizen of the United States, and will see you and Germany in — before I would raise a finger against the land of my birth.  I shall make this public, if it costs me my head.  Good day.”

Exit three Germans in great haste and confusion.

In addition to talking about the revolution, Fernandez also pronounced on other subjects regarding Cuba, for example the beauty of the Cuban ladies.  He was careful to distance the revolutionaries, who he described as being a mixture of all Cubans as well as being supported by Europeans, from anarchists, who were widely active at that time.  He condemned the assassination of the Spanish Prime Minister Cánovas del Castillo whose repressive policies helped foster political instability in Spain.

I was about to say that have not been able to find out much more about Juan Fernandez, then discovered an article in The Illustrated Police News, that says he married in St. Mary’s Islington one Maud Ashton, a deaf lady. That would have been in July 1898.  In actual fact, the records show he married Julia Ayshford (June Quarter 1898) –

AYSHFORD  Julia Georgiana    Islington  1b 535
Fernandez  Juan    Islington  1b 535

The article also says that the ceremony was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Kibley, Chaplain of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum.  The marriage certificate, were you to obtain a copy, would show that the newspaper made another mistake and that the ceremony was conducted by our old friend, the Rev. Gilby, chaplain to the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb.   The extraordinary thing is, when I started writing this I had no idea that there was a deeper connection.  I just discovered this, in Ephphatha, for July 1898. p.115 –

London notesJulia Ayshford, previously Julia Franklin, was deaf from an accident aged 15 (see 1911 census).  She married the St. Saviour’s church stalwart and friend of Gilby’s, H.G.G. Ayshford, who died in 1893.  They had a daughter, also called Julia, who Juan adopted.  In 1901 they were living in Eastbourne.  Julia Fernandez died in Edmonton in 1933, aged 73.

In 1898 he held a commission in the U.S. Army – but perhaps that was related to the Spanish-U.S.A. War.  If that is the case, I would expect that there are U.S. Army records that would be worth checking.  From the record of his marriage online, I see that his father was a Presbytarian minister, also called Juan Fernandez, and that he was a widower.  If his father trained formally as a minister there may well be a record of that at some college.

Any Spanish speaking readers out there who would care to find out more about him and fill in some more details, please leave a comment below.  It would make an interesting addition to the history of Deaf people.  If you can tell us when or where he died that would also be of interest – he was certainly dead by the 1911 census when Julia was a widow working as a servant.
Juan FernandezTHE STRUGGLE IN CUBA . Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 297. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

Daily News (London, England), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 15821. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Friday, December 18, 1896; pg. 4; Issue 13178. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, August 14, 1897; pg. 5; Issue 39060. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

The Illustrated Police News etc (London, England), Saturday, July 2, 1898; Issue 1794. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

Ephphatha Vol 3 1898 p.37, p.62, and p.115

1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 2294

1901 Census Class: RG13; Piece: 880; Folio: 107; Page: 8

NB One of the witnesses at their wedding was Frank Hodgkins.


George Frankland, Deaf Journalist (1866-1936) “brilliant scholar, deep thinker and one of the finest writers of prose”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 10 June 2016

George Frankland  was born to middle class parents in Liverpool on the 9th of September, 1866 (British Deaf Mute p.290, from which much of this is taken).  The article goes on,

It is not quite clear whether George’s deafness was congenital ; his mother considers it due to falls and shocks to head in infancy.  This, by the way, accounts for his poetic tendencies.  The deafness, however, was only partial.  Consequently, George was treated in most respects as a hearing child – to his sorrow often enough.  He was sent to the ordinary hearing schools, but owing to his infirmity, and the conventional methods of education, learned comparatively little. (ibid)

However he did learn to read at an early age, which led him to writing.

Life became more difficult when his father died in 1881.  George worked for a time for his older brother, as an office boy,  but found the work too little to kindle any interest.  He went to Liverpool School of Art, but “did not distinguish himself”, although he there came into contact with another deaf person for the first time, Mr. J.R. Brown, one of the masters.  John Rowland Brown (1850-1923) had trained under T.M. Lindsay c 1864-67, and later moved to Liverpool where he was an assistant master at the college for 30 years. “Returned to Ght [Graham’s Town] on retirement c. 1902 where he held a one-man exhibition in 1916.”  (p.129, Pictorial Africana by A Gordon-Brown, via Google Books)

In 1884 George came in contact with James Wilson Mackenzie (1865-95), a gifted young deaf artist, some of whose paintings are still to be seen in the Wirral.  He and his brother introduced George to the Liverpool Deaf community.

With money short and his father’s estate tied up in the court of Chancery for may years, and failing to make his way in the world of art, George pursued a literature, learning shorthand, playing the piano to some degree, was supposedly “a genius at the organ” (Fry, 1936), and becoming enthusiastic about chess.  He stayed with his brother, trying to follow his trade as a shoemaker, but again felt he was wasting his time with too little he could do.  When his sister moved to London to study the piano, George studied typewriting “at Miss Day’s, and, through Mr. J.R.K. Toms, whom he met there, came into contact with the London deaf.” (British Deaf Mute, p.291)

He bought a typewriter but did not have the speed for office work.  Poor George seems to have really struggled to find his niche, but he continued to write, and had a safety net of a small income from his father’s property when the estate was settled.  In London he attended St. Saviour’s church, and helped organise the Cricket Club.  Gilby says that in 1894, “It was during this year that our first real Cricket Club secured a ground at Neasden, and George Frankland became its first Secretary.  It ran for several years at Bishop’s Avenue, Finchley.  Many happy afternoons did we spend there while the ladies with my assistance got tea ready and made huge out of it which went towards the rent of the pitch.” (Memoir, p.132-3)

He became a full time reporter for British Deaf Mute and The Church Messenger/Ephphatha from 1893.  In his obituary, M.S. Fry recounts that Frankland was much the quietest of the small group of journalists who worked for Joseph Hepworth on the British Deaf Monthly and The British Deaf Times.  “A brilliant scholar, deep thinker and one of the finest writers of prose, and a most lovable man” (Fry, 1936).

FranklandBritish Deaf Mute, 1896, 5:290-1 (with picture)

Fry, Maxwell S., Obituary: the late Mr George Frankland, British Deaf Times, 1936 vol.33 p.104

Picture, British Deaf Monthly 1896 vol 6, p.36

Please note, I have followed the original article in the B.D.M. fairly closely.  Please chip in with any additional information.

The Adventures of Stumpy

By Alex P Stagg, on 3 June 2016

Although the vast majority of our books are about audiology, deaf history or deaf culture, we have a few anomalies which seem at first glance to have fallen into our collection by happenstance. The Comenius book we blogged about a couple of weeks ago, for example, has little to do with our core remit. Another book which does not immediately seem to have anything to do with deafness is The AdvenStumpy1tures of Stumpy (1938), purportedly by one Stubby. The connection, perhaps rather tangential, is that Stumpy has a preface by Selwyn Oxley, Organising Secretary and Librarian for the Guild of St John of Beverley for the Deaf, and the source of many of the books and photographs in our collection*.


Stubby tells Stumpy’s story from his infancy to middle age, observing his progress with a sardonic eye and wit: which is no surprise from a published Feline Author (Stubby’s previous books include Stubby – Story of a Cat and More About Stubby).

As you’d expect from the author of two volumes of autobiography, Stubby is a very self-centred narrator: when Stumpy is struck down by a particularly nasty illness, Stubby declares ‘it was only then that I realised I was not the only one [his owner] loved’. Stumpy wasn’t the luckiest cat: apart from a clot on the brain, for which there’s an X-ray in the book, he also broke a leg, scorched himself walking into a fire, lost his whiskers, and lost his sense of smell (this last though fortunately regained). The book describes the first ten years of Stumpy’s life, and I hope I don’t spoil anyone’s appetite for the book when I reveal he’s alive at the conclusion of the narrative albeit with rather fewer than nine lives left.


This is a charming book, for cat lovers: and seems to descend from Hoffman’s (fictional) Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr.

You will find The Adventures of Stumpy in our biography section, under ‘S’ for Stubby.

*Selwyn Oxley’s wife Kate, who was herself deaf, was the compiler.