Geoffs Genealogy Update 31 August 2010

Tuesday August 31st, 2010 | Geoff

There I was, looking to do a bit of treeing on the August Bank Holiday Monday. When I attempted to log on to the internet there was nothing!

OK, I thought, it will probably repair itself in a while, but by the evening we still had no connection, and there was nothing obviously wrong at our end. I phoned my supplier, who attended to my call with great politeness, but the remedies they prescribed didn’t work, and thus I am now waiting for them to test the line. It is all very frustrating, and serves to remind us of how much we take the wonders of modern technology for granted.

In the meantime, I am preparing to write a long-overdue letter to Jim, my Collyer cousin in the USA. Jim has treated me to much information about his branch of the Collyer dynasty, and I really feel quite guilty that I have not really given him much in response. I’m therefore spending some time preparing what I hope will be a sizeable package of treeing goodies relevant to his interests. In these circumstances we often turn to our old friend Robert Hanham Collyer (1814- abt 1891) and this time is no exception.

I thought that before selecting the material to send to Jim I should update RHC’s record on my database, so I’ve been giving attention to dealing with that pile of paper that I’ve had on the shelf for about eighteen months. I’ve now almost completed that job, and thus can see laid out on screen the full extent of our knowledge about this man. This is by no means the whole picture, as every time I type his name into Google and carry out a search I find more references listed that there was the last time I did it. There is plenty more to dig into in future, assuming I have an internet connection!

I’ve written before about this absolutely remarkable individual – I use the word in its proper sense, as he truly was an INDIVIDUAL!

For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with RHC, I would just outline his career by saying that he was born on the channel Island of Jersey in 1814. From 1833 to 1835 he was a medical student at London University, before emigrating with his parents and siblings to the USA. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1836 on the vessel Kensington.

He then obtained his medical degree at Berkshire Medical Institution, Pittsfield, Massachussetts, and embarked on his career proper.

He was a leading advocate of mesmerism and phrenology, having studied under Elliotson and Spurzheim, and toured the US and Europe lecturing and giving demonstrations of these techniques. He also claimed to have discovered anaesthesia, and was annoyed that he had not been credited with this achievement. He claimed to have carried out surgical operations, including the dislocation of a hip, and the extraction of teeth, and actually incorporated tooth pulling into his lecturing performances!

It is evident that he was blessed with a very fertile mind, being responsible for a large number of scientific inventions, including a gold crushing machine (in 1854) and an ” Improved mode of preparing the residue of beet root, mangel-wurtzel & c., left after sugar-making and distillation, to be used as a material in making paper” (abt 1856). Quite a range there!

He wrote many published works, mainly on the subject of mesmerism and phrenology, but possibly his best known literary work was Lights and Shadows of American Life, published in 1838, a description of his initial tour of the the USA.

Although a naturalised American, Collyer spent a great deal of time outside his adopted country, and can often be spotted in the English records. In fact, he appears to have been based in London from about 1855 to about 1877.

His private life was a tangled one, to say the least. We know of at least five female partners or wives, although we have only traced two marriages, both of which took place in England. One of these marriages was to a sixteen year old girl. Collyer admitted to being 41 at the time, but in fact he was 50! The marriage produced two children before the then Mrs Collyer realised that her husband had a previous spouse who was still alive! She sued for an anullment of the marriage, which she was granted in London in 1873.

In 1838 he came to suspect that his then wife was having a liaison with Captain Marryat, the author of the book Children of the New Forest. He hid under the bed in his Louisville hotel, and when the couple arrived in the room, and started doing what people do in these situations, he emerged from under the bed and confonted them. Imagine the scene! Captain Marryat concocted a very thin alibi for his actions, and the newspapers had a fine time over the affair. However, in the event, the good Captain and Collyer resolved the matter without the need of a duel or a court case, and the affair died down.

There are many other aspects of Robert Hanham Collyer’s life that I have not mentioned, many of which you would certainly find most interesting. This man has continually surprised us for the past 15 years or so, and we are quite sure that there is still plenty more for us to discover. He was dismissed as a quack and a charlatan by many people, and one can see why. That said, he was obviously a very talented man.

Jim, you have a treat in store for you!

Oh, by the way, my internet connection has been repaired, so I can now upload this post!

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