Tag Archives: 1900s

Steampunk Hands Around the World! Steampunk Road Trip. Grasping February’s coattails on the way out.

(Art by Alex Xpike)

Steampunk Hands Around the World is a recurring event in the Steampunkverse. I’ve had the pleasure of being involved since its early beginnings, though my contributions in the past few years have been erratic at best! The project is something I will always champion, since what drives Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil’s initiative is global connection and friendship.

He believes there is a need to unify Steampunks everywhere. Whether they are writers, crafters, bands, event organisers, alcohol manufacturers, diversity warriors, costumiers or simply lovers of the genre who express their enjoyment by attending events and gatherings, his wish is to tie them all closer together and break any walls that stand between different articulations of the genre. It certainly helps towards the ‘More Steampunk Than Thou’ syndrome that can still prevail sometimes, though much less so than when I first became more active and vocal.

I love meeting people, I always have. Steampunk has facilitated some friendships I absolutely never would have had and they cross other interests of mine, too. I made friends with Steampunks who are also pagans, Steampunk who are also musicians, Steampunks who also write across other genres, Steampunks who are also filmmakers, the list goes on.

Some of these friendships could be laid down on a map as a digital road trip, as I have yet to meet some of them in person.

It is a real feature of the modern age that we can sustain a friendship and grow close without physical proximity.

I’ve had some real life-wrenching, air-punching, joy-affirming, sorrow-sharing Skype and Facetime conversations. I’ve exchanged heart secrets via WhatsApp. (Probably foolish, actually considering no data is safe.) But it is a sharing across boundries, visible and invisible that is reflected in the idea behind Steampunk Hands.

When you end up getting closer, it does become an urge to meet up in person, something I try to do whenever possible.

Last year, I finally had the thorough delight to meet up with Diana Pho and her newly wedded partner Ashley.

When I first launched Steampunk India in 2012, Diana was one of the first people to express her enthusiasm and support. She kindly signal boosted articles and posts on Beyond Victoriana to help bring SP India to a wider audience. An online friendship grew through a raft of other mutual interests across fiction, comics, theatre, movies and being vocal for inclusion in various pop culture/alternative communities and LGBTQ representation.

So there we finally were, at one of my favourite Edinburgh haunts – Treacle on Broughton Street, loved by me for their inventive cocktails and the TV screen near the door that plays Thundercats episodes on an endless silent loop. Tipples of choice in hand, we chatted nineteen to the dozen about all these things we were passionate about and our most recent and current projects. It was short but sweet, she and Ashley were taking full advantage of the fact they were in town during the Fringe and had a show to catch. But these moments where lives touch, in this case lives that mostly play out continents apart, is exactly what the joining of Steampunk Hands is about.

Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana (Right)

An armchair Steampunk road trip of sorts took place over the past two years or so. Josué Ramos and Paulo César Ramirez Villaseñor, as a direct result of connections made through Steampunk Hands, came up with the idea for a bilingual Steampunk anthology that would include writers from all over the world. It was homeless for a while until it found a publisher in Luna Press.

I covered this publishing journey in previous articles so I shan’t rattle on about it at length again. It deserves a mention as an example of a Steampunk collaboration that joined people together, who had become friends during past Steampunk Hands events and who, besides writing the fiction and creating the artwork, became mutually invested in the technical side of getting the book to see the light of day.

(Night train from Kolkata to Assam. ©️Suna Dasi)

At the beginning of this year, I was in India (which deserves a whole article in itself – if I manage to sit still for more than half an hour at some point) and could not let the opportunity slip for another joining of Steampunk Hands: Shreya Ila Anasuya is an award winning writer, academic and activist who currently lives in Mumbai. Those very worthy features are not the things that connected us at first, some five or six years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure the very first thing we did together was fangirl online at each other about the Steampunk/Lovecraftian joy that is Hopeless, Maine, which I enthused about on the SP India Facebook page when it came out as a serialised online comic. We ended up chatting in the comments thread and have been corresponding ever since.

(Hopeless, Maine. ©️Tom & Nimue Brown)

A lovely addendum is that Tom and Nimue Brown, the creator couple who draw and write the comic together, also became friends in more than one way, though we have so far not met face to face. I occasionally exchange ideas and thoughts on various strands of witchcraft and paganism with Nimue, which is always fascinating as we both come from extremely different schools of thought and practice. Tom happily boosts all music projects I’m involved in and literally cheers from the sidelines when I sell a new piece of writing. They’re both just lovely and part of a minute group of people whom I would meet without hesitation after having known them previously online. Fingers crossed that will happen in the near future. But I digress down a sidetrack on this road trip…

Back to Mumbai; sweltering, blistering Mumbai, even in January. Shreya meets my travel companions and I in Versova Social, a bar that so utterly exudes the same wonderful vibe as De Kroon in Amsterdam that it’s uncanny.

And there we finally were, at Versova, now forever loved by me for it’s great ambiance, inventive cocktails and perfect lounge music. Tipples of choice in hand, we chatted nineteen to the dozen about all the things we were passionate about: poetry, books, queer activism and representation in Indian society, people we admired, writing projects we were involved in.

The best thing about this meeting was that there was more time; as all of our conversations ended up being unfinished business by the end of the night, we met up again the next evening and simply continued. There is even a joint fiction project in the works for the near future!

Shreya Ila Anasuya (Left)

India itself was a true road trip, too, and very often Victoriana and the modern clung chaotically together like a messy, jungly, Victorian/Blade Runner mashup.

(Kolkata, ©️Suna Dasi)

One of the things that struck me is the fact that it isn’t merely a small effort to imagine yourself back in the days of the Raj, but that your surroundings will accommodate you with ease.

(Yep, that’s me! ©️Suna Dasi)

Everywhere, traces of the colonial empire persist, in the architecture and infrastructure on first glance, in the culture when probing further and deeper under the skin of Indians and Indian-ness. It’s not so much what Indian culture has lost (which is much, if you consider for example that it was the Victorians who introduced a form of prudery and lack of acceptance regarding sex and sexuality that was hitherto not part of the Hindu mindset – also food for an individual article later down the line), but what it has retained. Indians are obsessed with giving out cards, for instance. It is a leftover from leaving calling cards when going visiting and it is seen as a mark of sophistication to have your own cards.

(Victorian lamppost, Juhu Beach, Mumba. ©️Suna Dasi)

This impromptu article was cobbled together in haste, to be able to contribute to Steampunk Hands Around the World before February 2018 turns into a pumpkin at midnight. I have neither expressed myself as well as I’d like, nor included everything relevant to the concept of a Steampunk Roadtrip. The main thrust however, is this:

Journeys are made more meaningful by the people and places you connect with. The more people and places you connect with, the richer your experience of the world and the more likely we are to have a greater understanding of it. The Steampunk Hands initiative insists that boundaries are there to be crossed, cultural walls to be scaled and continental distances to be covered, in order to make those connections.

So if you find yourself with an opportunity of meeting someone you might otherwise not be able to, for reasons of distance, circumstance or what have you, do it. Enjoy the chance of sitting in a favourite haunt, tipple of choice in hand, chatting nineteen to the dozen, sharing the things that drive you and stir your passions. Keep travelling.


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In Pictures: Indian Women through the Ages’

An extremely evocative cross section of Delhi’s photography exhibition ‘Indian Women through the Ages’, taken between the 1850s and 1950s, is available on the BBC website .

The image below shows a Muslim dancing girl, taken in 1900. I can only wish the full range of pictures are available online or at least in a book of the exhibition.

So many Victorian writings and imagery from the Raj focus on the men of the culture. It was partly because of selective and biased writing, though there was a plethora of intrepid British women travellers who broke with convention by going into the Deep Interior by themselves and writing about their experiences. It was also common for Western photographers to not be allowed entrance in women’s quarters, daily affairs or sections of a household.

Fred Bremner, another famous Victorian photographer from Scotland, captured hundreds of people and daily Indian situations. Some of these were on display in a Scottish National Portrait Gallery exhibition ‘From Lucknow to Lahore’ in 2012-2013. They were fascinating, but it was his wife who let into several courts and zenannas to take images of the women and there was only one photograph taken by her in the exhibit. My keenest wish is for all of Mrs. Bremner’s photographs to become available one day!

 The Begum of Bhopal, photographed by Bremner’s wife, as featured on the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition poster.
From the ‘Picturing India with Bremner’ article on the Traveller’s India website: “Fred Bremner married around 1902, and his wife — he does not disclose her name — ‘gifted with good taste, was greatly interested in the art of photography and gave every attention to reception room duties as well as applying her hand to use of the camera on the occasion of photographing a Purdah [i.e. ‘behind-the-veil’ lady whose face… men are not allowed to look upon’. She even assisted Bremner in photographing noblewomen. ‘The Begum of Bhopal was visiting Simla and Her Highness expressed a wish to Mrs. Bremner that she would like some photographs of herself to be taken at Bhopal. All arrangements were made and during the summer… we found our way to Bhopal, which was a long and somewhat weary journey from Simla. However, all went well, resulting in my wife securing some photographs of Her Highness in State dress which gave her every satisfaction’. Bremner also noted that ‘on several other occasions Mrs. Bremner had the pleasure of photographing Indian ladies of the Harem’. “

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For Steampunk Hands 2015: Ships, Clocks and Stars, A Steampunked celebration of Longitude History

Welcome to the Steampunk Hands Around the World 2015 event, which will reach out across the globe all through February, to connect as many countries, cultures and people through Steampunk.
My first contribution will be a recap of an historical anniversary effectively wedded to the genre:


In 2014, Maritime institutions all over the world celebrated the 300th birthday of the passing of the Longitude Act. The Royal Museums at Greenwich, London organised year-round events, talks and exhibitions. T0 fire up the public’s imagination, the organisers would recreate what it might have been like to be a scientist, vying for the fortune and glory of the Longitude Prize. The medium: Steampunk.
Before diving into the delightful shenanigans that ensued, let’s look at the
-extremely potted – history of Longitude*:

Parliament in the United Kingdom passed the Longitude Act in July 1714, under Queen Anne’s rule. The Board of Longitude was established and announced the following:
“The Discovery of the Longitude is of such Consequence to Great Britain for the safety of the Navy and Merchant Ships as well as for the improvement of Trade that for want thereof many Ships have been retarded in their voyages, and many lost…” (and there will be a Longitude Prize) “for such person or persons as shall discover the Longitude.” – Board of Longitude, 1714.

To win the Prize, one was required to discover and, most importantly, demonstrate, a practical method for determining the longitude of a ship at sea. The more accurate the method, the more substantial the Prize money, which today would equate several millions of pounds. Unsurprisingly this generated a fever to be the first to discover the best and most accurate method.
Many years had already been spent on this very problem and had produced folk who harboured some rather bizarre notions.
One of the main issues with calculating Longitude was knowing the exact time while at sea, as clocks notoriously went off kilter due to a lack of consistent equilibrium. The problem, ultimately, was how to determine the time at a distant reference point while on a ship.
Kenelm Digby’s proposal involved the use of The Powder of Sympathy. This originated from theories put forth in 1608 by German physician Rudolf Goclenius,Jr.

The recipe for the Powder ran thus: “Take Roman vitriol (copper sulphate) six or eight ounces, beat it very small in a mortar, shift it through a fine sieve when the sun enters Leo; keep it in the heat of the sun and dry by night.”
The Powder was then applied, not to the wound but to the weapon that inflicted it and so thought to increase the rapidity of the wound closing and healing. Digby proposed that ships brought a wounded dog on each sea voyage. An appointed person on shore would soak a bandage from the dog’s wound in a solution from the Powder, every hour, on the hour. Wherever the ship might roam on the vasty ocean, the dog on shipboard would howl in pain exactly at the moment. Thus the ship’s navigator could note the precise hour and thus, calculate Longitude. Nowhere does it state whether dogs were to be especially hurt for the purpose or whether one was to scour the streets for poor wretched mutts already sporting some kind of injury…

Two others attempting to address the issue of telling the precise time at sea were mathematicians William Whiston and Humphry Ditton. They surmised that generating a loud noise from land could be a viable means of calculation: If ships were anchored at 600 mile intervals along the coast and fire cannon, the ship’s navigators would be able to make a note of the times and intervals and so determine longitude. At no point did Whiston and Ditton seem to have considered how to work this wonderful sonic solution miles out on open sea.

However, the other side of the coin was that in the manic search for a solution (and snaffling the Prize, which to this day has actually never been given out) many scientists ended up adding to the knowledge of astronomy and physics in general.**
This aspect of the race to be the first, to invent and demonstrate a new and solid method once and for all, is what The Royal Museums pulled to the forefront in 2014 for their interactive project:

The Museums issued an invitation to create works inspired by the technical inventions that were presented to the Board of Longitude between 1714 and 1828. Three main guidelines were given:
Aesthetics: objects that best demonstrate the aesthetics of 18th century invention.
Craftsmanship: objects that demonstrate the highest standards of craft and ability.
Spirit of Steampunk: objects that best demonstrate the spirit of steampunk as applied to the 18th century.
The works would be exhibited among the Museum’s genuine artefacts and shown as part of the original presentations of hopeful scientists, looking to garner a place among the scientific elite.
The beauty of this idea was that the whimsy of Steampunk and the slightly bonkers contraptions that are such a staple of the genre blended almost seamlessly with the more outlandish contributions of the scientists in the 1700s and earlier theories, such as Galileo Galilei’s Celatone: a device which would not look amiss on a Steampunk mad scientist now:


And indeed, the winning Longitude Punk’d design was by Matthew Dockery, who was inspired to recreate a more modern version of this very contraption, based on a design by Samuel Parlour from 1824:


Dr. Geof Banyard, who also created the Steampunk Tea Museum on board the Cutty Sark, took it upon himself to write accompanying explanations underneath the museum’s existing artifacts and paintings, giving an invaluable deeper insight into the historical period. Like so:


Emilly Ladybird designed an Orrery Dress, so that the wearer would always carry the means of calculating Longitude on their person and would never be unable to pinpoint their exact location:


Wynn Griffiths and Yomi Ayeni (who was also instrumental in the museum’s event organisation) contributed a dazzling find: A Dislocator Globe, which turned out to be the only piece of wreckage from a Time Travel vehicle by the name of Prime Landing. How it crashed or whence it came will probably always be a mystery.


Lady Elsie presented the museum with the Pocket Watch Dress. Says she: “Each watch is set at an hour, so it shows 24 hours around the globe. The silver ribbon down the front (not visible in photo, ed.) is the time line which runs through Greenwich.” So carrying both the local time and the Greenwich timeline on their person, someone could always exactly work out their position. Cunning!


Herr Doktor (Ian Crichton), an eminent inventor of wondrous strange contraptions, attacked the problem with his usual zeal and produced no less than a Precise Longitude Beacon. When asked about the exact workings of this impressive piece, his explanation was of such convoluted academic heights that it may confuse a layman. At any rate, It appears that the copper conductor domes on the land construction reach across the entire globe. This enables ships carrying a receptor device to pinpoint their location, that they may ne’er be lost again…


The other exhibitions and interactive events including musical performances, science talks and crafting sessions, like the Steampunk Summer Fete and Clocking off Late, covered a wider aspect of maritime history and also delved into the impact of the British East India Trading Company. (This has been amply covered in previous Steampunk India articles due to an active role in these events. See blog for articles.)

The endeavour has been a perfect example of the innovation, love for creating awareness through history and sense of fun that form such an important part of the Steampunk genre. Through making, fiction and celebrations it becomes indeed our Workshop, Our Classroom and Our Playground…

* For more background on the History of Longitude:

– Longitude by Dava Sobel, 1995,
Publisher: Harper Perennial; 10th Anniversary Ed., 2005.
ISBN-10: 0007214227

– Finding Longitude: How ships, clocks and stars helped solve the longitude problem by Rebeka Higgitt and Richard Dunn for the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
Publisher: Collins, 2014. ISBN-10: 0007525869

– The Quest for Longitude by William J.H. Andrews,
Publisher: Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments,U.S., 1996. ISBN-10: 0964432900

** List of contributors to science in the Quest for Longitude as featured on Wikipedia:

Galileo – detailed studies of Jupiter’s moons, which proved Ptolemy’s assertion that not all celestial objects orbit the Earth
Robert Hooke – determination of the relationship between forces and displacements in springs, laying the foundations for the theory of elasticity.
Christiaan Huygens – invention of pendulum clock and a spring balance for pocket watch.
Jacob Bernoulli, with refinements by Leonhard Euler – invention of the calculus of variations for Bernoulli’s solution of the brachistochrone problem (finding the shape of the path of a pendulum with a period that does not vary with degree of lateral displacement). This refinement created greater accuracy in pendulum clocks.
John Flamsteed and many others – formalization of observational astronomy by means of astronomical observatory facilities, further advancing modern astronomy as a science.
John Harrison – invention of the gridiron pendulum and bimetallic strip along with further studies in the thermal behavior of materials. This contributed to the evolving science of Solid mechanics. Invention of caged roller bearings contributed to refinements in mechanical engineering designs.


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