John Dee is regarded as one of the period’s leading scholars, who cast horoscopes for Queen Mary and her Spanish husband, Philip, and suggested the most auspicious date for the coronation of Elizabeth I.
But he was also said to use crystal balls to communicate with angels and collaborated with a conman who assured him the angels had suggested a spot of wife-swapping.
A group of international scholars gathered in Cambridge has tried to restore his reputation, four centuries on.
Jenny Rampling, organised the two-day conference at Dee’s old college, St John’s, where he became an undergraduate aged 15 – to celebrate him as the forgotten hero of English intellectual life.
It was at college where he suffered the first of many accusations of sorcery after a spectacularly successful stage effect for a production of Aristophanes’s Pax, according to The Guardian.
“There was never a single blockbuster discovery with Dee as with Galileo or Newton, because his interests spread so wide,” she told the paper.
“So if you’re looking for a founding father of modern science, he’s probably not the man.
“But if you’re looking for one of the most original thinkers of his day, in touch with all the major intellectuals of Europe, consulted by princes, right at the cutting edge of mathematical theory, author of the preface of the first English edition of Euclid, owner of the greatest private library in England and one of the best in Europe, that’s Dee.”
She added: “But even by the 17th century that part of his reputation was overshadowed by the stories of sorcery and conjuring.”
He is credited with coining the phrase “the British empire” and advising on some of the great Tudor voyages of exploration, including the search for the North-west Passage through the Arctic and is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest, and Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.
He also proposed the reform of the Julian calendar to bring it into line with the astronomical year two centuries before it was implemented in England while he also presented Mary with a detailed plan for the first national library.
In February, 1891, the first few advertisements started appearing in papers: “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board,” boomed a Pittsburgh toy and novelty shop, describing a magical device that answered questions “about the past, present and future with marvellous accuracy” and promised “never-failing amusement and recreation for all the classes,” a link “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial.”
Another advertisement in a New York newspaper declared it “interesting and mysterious” and testified, “as Proven at Patent Office before it was allowed. Price, $1.50.”
This mysterious talking board was basically what’s sold in board game aisles today: A flat board with the letters of the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9; the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners, “goodbye” at the bottom; accompanied by a “planchette,” a teardrop-shaped device, usually with a small window in the body, used to maneuver about the board.
The idea was that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette, pose a question, and watch, dumbfounded, as the planchette moved from letter to letter, spelling out the answers seemingly of its own accord.
The biggest difference is in the materials; the board is now usually cardboard, rather than wood, and the planchette is plastic.
Though truth in advertising is hard to come by, especially in products from the 19th century, the Ouija board was “interesting and mysterious”; it actually had been “proven” to work at the Patent Office before its patent was allowed to proceed; and today, even psychologists believe that it may offer a link between the known and the unknown.
The real history of the Ouija board is just about as mysterious as how the “game” works.
Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching the story of the board since 1992; when he started his research, he says, no one really knew anything about its origins, which struck him as odd: “For such an iconic thing that strikes both fear and wonder in American culture, how can no one know where it came from?”
The Ouija board, in fact, came straight out of the American 19th century obsession with spiritualism, the belief that the dead are able to communicate with the living.
Spiritualism, which had been around for years in Europe, hit America hard in 1848 with the sudden prominence of the Fox sisters of upstate New York; the Foxes claimed to receive messages from spirits who rapped on the walls in answer to questions, recreating this feat of channelling in parlours across the state.
Aided by the stories about the celebrity sisters and other spiritualists in the new national press, spiritualism reached millions of adherents at its peak in the second half of the 19th century.
The Disastrous Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860.
Robert O’Hara Burke was born in Ireland in 1821.
First he joined the army and later the police force. Because of the Victorian gold rush, there was a shortage of police and so he joined the Victorian police force.
More police were needed to control the problems caused by the goldrush
William John Wills was born in England in 1834 and had come to Australia when he was eighteen.
He was a surveyor, meteorologist and astronomer. Wills was studying to become a doctor. However, when he was eighteen, he gave up his study and sailed to Australia.
Wills would have made a much better leader than Burke, although he too, had no experience as an explorer.
Although the colony had grown, much of Australia was still undiscovered.
Also, a route for an overland telegraph line was needed and the Victorian government offered a prize for the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north.
Although Burke had no experience as an explorer or a bushman, he was chosen to lead the expedition together with a man called George Landells.
However, it was not long before Burke had an argument with Landells and replaced him with Wills. Their well-equipped expedition set off 1860.
Burke was afraid that he would be beaten by John Stuart to be the first to explore inland Australia, and so he set off on camel with his expedition.
Meanwhile, unknown to Burke, John Stuart had turned back and so there was no need now for Burke to hurry or take risks. Because of Burke’s impatience, he made many bad decisions.
Burke was very impatient and would not let the expedition slow down for any reason. In addition, he set off without his medical officer and 2 other important members of the expedition.
Unfortunately, there was no one in the group who was a good bushman. Burke was so impatient to reach the Gulf, that he left some of his party behind with supplies at Menindee and set off with a party of 9 men.
Burke then decided to push on towards the Gulf, even though it meant travelling in the heat of a northern summer.
He took with him, Wills, King and Grey. He left the rest of the party at the Cooper’s creek camp with orders that the party was to return to Menindee in three months if they explorers hadn’t returned by then.
After nearly two months the party reached the Gulf of Carpentaria, but were unable to see the waters of the Gulf because of the mangrove swamps.
Burke would not wait to rest, and after only one day of rest, set off on the return journey which was made worse by fierce storms which turned the ground to mud. There was also a lack of food.
Grey became ill and probably half mad when he stole food from their supplies. Burke was in a rage and gave him a thrashing from which he never recovered. Grey became ill and died of scurvy a week later.
In addition the party who were supposed to be waiting at Cooper’s Creek for Burke to return, had left that morning and the depot was deserted. Brahe had waited 4 months instead of 3 as Burke ordered him, and only left then because his men were getting sick from scurvy.
Wills wanted to stay at Cooper’s Creek, feeling sure that help would arrive. Burke ignored his advice and decided to set off for a police station at Mt. Hopeless. As leader of the expedition, he ordered that they all go on.
Unfortunately, he did not leave a message at Cooper’s Creek, and when Brahe returned, he did not know that the party had been there. The camels were dying, there was no food and the water was all gone.
Both Burke and Wills were too weak by then to travel.
First Wills, and then Burke died.
For three months, friendly aboriginals cared for John King, who was the only survivor, until help arrived. He was rescued by a search party from Melbourne.
Although Burke and Wills died, they had proved that there was no inland sea and were the first to cross Australia from south to north, providing more valuable information on inland Australia.
via Burke & Wills