A rogues' gallery of mountebanks, charlatans and scoundrels
Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Stormy Weather and a Great British Invention
A tribute this week to the genius of Dr George Merryweather and his Tempest Prognosticator, as featured in the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Having observed that animal behaviour could be used to predict changes in the weather, the good doctor devised a mechanism whereby twelve glass jars of water, each containing a leech, were arranged in a circle. In stormy weather, he reasoned, the leeches would become restless and dislodge whalebone stoppers attached to a central bell to give audible warning of the forthcoming storm.
Showing a concern for animal welfare somewhat ahead of his time, Dr Merryweather explained that the twelve bottles were placed in a circle in order that his ‘little comrades’ might see one another and ‘not endure the affliction of solitary confinement.’ He predicted that his ‘Atmospheric Electromagnetic Telegraph, conducted by Animal Instinct’ (mercifully later shortened to ‘Tempest Prognosticator’) would be distributed all over the world.
Alas, it was not to be. Mercury barometers, though less decorative, proved far more practical and not a single Prognosticator was sold, although devotees can see reconstructions in museums in Whitby and Okehampton and read more at http://www.victorianweb.org/technology/packer/merryweather.html.
Dr Merryweather, the world of Steampunk salutes you!
Macheath, the notorious highwayman, has retired from a life of crime and can now be found behind the bar of Peachum's Tavern, favourite haunt of the rakes, rogues and vagabonds of 18th century Newgate and setting of 'The Beggars' Opera'. Visitors are always welcome; help yourself to a virtual tankard of ale and read on...