Shadowbox: Who’s Who in 1832

Speculative fiction often uses real persons and events to build a story around. Real lives, used fictionally within the pages of my novel, SHADOWBOX, include these real people who happen to have had interests close to the foundation of the Cuckoo Club. See if you can spot the clues.

The usual caveats apply.

Roderick Murchison

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1st Baronet KCB FRS (19 February 1792 – 22 October 1871), was an influential British geologist.

He wrote his first scientific paper in 1825 on the geology of south-east England. Turning his attention to Continental geology, he explored the volcanic region of Auvergne, parts of southern France, northern Italy, Tyrol and Switzerland with Charles Lyell.

He later explored further east as far as Russia, and Scotland. [He founded] a chair of geology and mineralogy at the University of Edinburgh.

The Murchison crater on the Moon and at least fifteen geographical locations on Earth are named after him.

By the time of the events in SHADOWBOX, Murchison would have been forty years old.

Charles Lyell

From Wikipedia:

Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, Kt, FRS (14 November 1797 – 22 February 1875) was a lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day.

Born in Scotland, the eldest of ten children in a prosperous family, the young Lyell spent much of his childhood at the family’s other home in the New Forest, where his interest in the natural world was sparked. He studied at Oxford and after graduation took up law as a profession.

He traveled with Roderick Murchison to the Auvergne in southern France, and to Italy.

In 1832, Lyell married, and the couple spent their honeymoon in Switzerland and Italy on a geological tour.

This is the period where Lyell’s character makes a strong appearance in SHADOWBOX, as a travelling companion to Louis Beauregard in Paris, presenting a paper to a fictitious geological institute and planning his honeymoon’s rock-hunting.

The character in the novel is a few years younger, however, than Lyell was in real life in 1832, and his professional status takes a back foot to the role he pursues as Louis’s friend and (somewhat irritated) mentor.

In real life, Lyell’s interests ranged from volcanoes to prehistoric archaeology. He was also a strong influence on Charles Darwin.

Places named after Lyell include:

  • Mount Lyell (California)
  • Mount Lyell (Canada)
  • Mount Lyell (Tasmania, Australia)
  • Lyell Land (Greenland)

Adolphe d’Archiac

There’s a surprise d’Archiac in my short story, THE BROKER OF FAREWELLS, but Étienne Jules Adolphe Desmier de Saint-Simon, Vicomte d’Archiac (September 24, 1802 – December 24, 1868), was a French geologist and palaeontologist, a Parisian and a young man in 1832.

This is actually Auguste Michel Lévy, another eminent French geologist

He served as a cavalry officer until 1830, when he retired at the age of 28, and devoted his attention to geology. His earliest scientific works from 1835 describe the Tertiary and Cretaceous formations of France, Belgium and England, especially the distribution of fossils geographically and in sequence.

In 1853 the Geological Society of London awarded him the Wollaston Medal. In 1857 he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1861 he was appointed professor of paleontology in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

While suffering from severe depression he committed suicide by throwing himself into the River Seine on Christmas Eve , 1868.

There’s no record of his having such an enchanting marriage as I provide for him in SHADOWBOX, nor of any adventures with Louis Beauregard.


From Wikipedia:

Smirke was born in London on 1 October 1780, the second son of the portrait painter Robert Smirke; he was one of twelve children.

In 1801, accompanied by his elder brother Richard he embarked on a Grand Tour which would last until 1805.

[On his return to London] in 1805 Smirke became a member of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Smirke was a pioneer of using both concrete and cast iron… He used large cast iron beams to support the floors of the upper galleries at the British Museum.

He was knighted in 1832, and lived at 81 Charlotte Street, London.

During the events of the novel, Smirke is a visitor at Murchison’s house in the West End of London. I have no idea whether the pair ever actually met.

Gottfried WOLFRAM

This is the real-life person with whom I took most liberties within SHADOWBOX.

Gottfried Wolfram was a Danish amber craftsman. His name appears in connection with the Amber Room of Peter the Great, as one of the designers and one of the three craftsmen who built the original chamber for the Prussian king Friedrich I.

General online searches only throw up titbits.

In 1701, Friedrich IV, the king of Denmark, recommended the Prussian king Friedrich I that his court carver and amber polisher Gottfried Wolfram should make an amber room. –


Gottfried Wolfram was a master craftsman who had been employed by the Danish court to fashion exquisite and ornate miniatures from ivory and other precious materials and had made chess sets, jewel caskets and even some small items of furniture from amber. – The Regency Redingote

While Gottfried Wolfram doesn’t appear in person, his fictional grandson is one of the main characters. I have no idea whether the real-life amber carver had any family, what they were called, or whether any of them arrived in London prior to 1832.

They did in SHADOWBOX.

Amber carver of Leningrad

Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: First Light On Paris.

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Shadowbox: In Byron’s Shadow

“There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off. In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”John William Waterhouse - a mermaid

SHADOWBOX begins in 1832. The young Louis Beauregard flees London to escape a crime he cannot forget and seeks to drown his memory in debauchery and revels.

He wouldn’t be the first man to do so.

Lord George Gordon Byron, accompanied by his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori, Mary Shelley and a few hangers-on, set the tone for many adventurers of the upper class when they escaped public outrage and landed on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Others followed.

A peculiar fashion arose in the salons of London. Borne out of the tragic loss of the Colonies in North America to independence, the wealthy of London sought adventure elsewhere.

France and Italy, the twin states ruled by Bourbon kings, were at peace with the rest of Europe, for a little while at least. Internal strife might cause problems, but tourists were hardly impacted. And following on from the lack of ability to travel to north America, the wealthy of Britain – England – spread their adventuring to Europe on the Grand Tour.

The nation’s public schools (actually fee-paying and not at all like public education, especially public education of the time) emphasised Greek and Latin scholarship.

There was also a lack of reading material. Back in the early 19th century there was no publishing business to speak of.
Many homes had no access to a book. Many more had access only to a single Bible, and while the religious reformers taught in English, a grounding in Latin was seen as the basis for understanding the great poetry and literature of the time.

Who’s to say that Greek epic poetry isn’t worth keeping? And so the schools taught Greek, the stories of Homer and Troy, of Penelope and Odysseus and Helen. Still stirring today.

But the wealthy of the 19th century took advantage of the political peace across Bourbon regions and headed off to see Rome for themselves. The more adventurous disregarded the rebellion and the bandits in Greece and set off to find Athens, Sparta, Corinth, all happily trundling along with much the same sort of lifestyle they imagined had been borne by the ancients.

Except they plundered the places they visited.

Lord Elgin stole the marble statues from the plinth of the Parthenon, ostensibly to save them from the Turkish troops taking potshots or from the gunpowder stored inside blowing them up.

When he returned to London with them, Robert Smirke was commissioned to build the first hall of the British Museum to house them, along with all the Egyptian antiquities we’d hoarded since Giovanni Belzoni began bewitching women with stories of dead princes and painted tombs.

Napoleon Bonaparte stole treasures from Egypt while his army occupied the country.

Britons followed, continuing a fascination which had begun centuries earlier and continues to this day.

Germany, too, although not yet a nation state, sent its archaeologists to acquire antiquities.Ottoman Empire

Uprisings against the Ottoman Empire tinged these adventures with a smidgeon of danger, always a thrill to recount back in the comfortable drawing-rooms and parlours of one’s home nation.

Into this foment of passion, exploration, revolution and liberty, I pitched the young Louis Beauregard with a price on his head and a past he cannot escape.

In the shadow of Byron he set off for Greece and the wild hills of Olympus. But he stopped off in Paris on the way, and there the story really catches up with him.
Next in the SHADOWBOX series: Rogues Gallery.
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