Over the last few weeks I’ve been very busy working away from the Royal Society on an exciting project – an audit of the Society’s extensive ‘modern records’. There’re roughly another 6 weeks of work left on the audit, and not long after completion a swathe of the Society’s twentieth century papers and records should become available to researchers. More news of this audit will follow in future blog posts.
I managed to tear myself away from the records for a few days last week, however, and headed up to Edinburgh where I’d been invited to a book launch by Sara Sheridan, a successful Scottish writer and one of our many and varied researchers. Sara is a writer of historical fiction and her latest book, ‘The Secret of the Sands’, is centred on the life and work of Lieutenant James Raymond Wellsted FRS, specifically his time spent in Arabia during the 1830s, where he surveyed the coastline for the Bombay Marine (which later became part of the Royal Navy). Although Wellsted’s work for the Bombay Marine and his travels are relatively well-documented, comparatively little is known of the man himself – something which suits Sara perfectly as it gives her licence to ‘imagine’ his life and character, and weave events and interactions around the existent records about Wellsted and his work which have survived. However, although Sara likes to base her work on enigmatic individuals who have left us with only a few glimpses of their life and personality, she is an avid user of archives and records when researching her books, and recognises their value and importance in terms of embedding her novels in their time and place, as this short essay, written by Sara for the Archive and Records Association’s ‘ARC’ magazine (August 2010) deftly illustrates.
‘The Secret of the Sands’ is currently on order and will soon form part of the Centre for History of Science’s eclectic and ever-growing ‘Fellows in Fiction’ section – more information about which can be found in a previous blog by Rupert Baker, ‘A Novel Approach to our Fellows’ – and will be available to borrow by our registered Reader ID card holders. And if you fancy reading Wellsted’s own account of his travels in Arabia – succinctly, if not imaginatively, titled ‘Travels in Arabia’ – you can find a copy of this in the Centre for History of Science, where it forms part of our fascinating ‘Travel’ collection. With chapter headings which include ‘Author in danger of being lost – miraculous escape’, ‘Curious method of discovering buried treasure’, ‘Escape from shipwreck’ and – my personal favourite – ‘Hints for navigating a steam vessel in the voyage from India’ – Wellsted’s own account sounds full of adventure, and well worth a browse.
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Click on the following link to watch footage of Sara’s book launch for ‘Secret of the Sands’, http://goo.gl/2TAYU.