Plague, Death and the Transit of Venus: Talk 25th Nov.

Plague, Death and the Transit of Venus: Talk 25th Nov.

How Rye Museum’s archives contributed to a speaker’s PhD

(The  feature photo shows Rye Museum Association chairman Jo Kirkham with our speaker, Dr Donna Bilak.)

Dr Donna Bilak returned once again  to relay more of her fascinating research findings about leading Rye intellectuals of the 17th century to  a filled East Street Museum at an ‘extra’ talk on Monday, 25th November titled Plague, Death and the Transit of Rye.  Many of the documents Donna has used in her studies over the past years come from Rye Museum and the East Sussex  Record Office. This time she focussed on the letters from dissenter and widower John Allin to his friends Samuel Jeakes and Philip Frith in Rye after he had been sent from the town for his religious views and settled in London, leaving his three young children in this town.

John Allin's Seal with its skull and bones illustrates the preoccupation with death during the plague years.

John Allin’s Seal with its skull and bones illustrates the preoccupation with death during the plague years.

As a doctor, lawyer and alchemist as well as a minister he had much to say about the terrors of the 1665 epidemic which could kill within hours  but the correspondence also reveals much  about the life, times and beliefs of the period

It was surprising, for example, to learn that Harvard-educated Allin made three transatlantic crossings three and a half centuries ago, the last one in order to become a highly esteemed minister in New Jersey.

We also learned of the general belief that the end of the world was coming, of the intricate calculations involved in making astrological charts — the transit of Venus being one component, of the enormous machinery brought to Rye for an alchemy lab, of Mermaid Street houses — and much more, all conveyed with great enthusiasm and humour to a delighted audience.  Many thanks to Donna!

We are all hoping Donna will take up a post at the University of Sussex and continue to visit Rye to tell us more about a partcularly interesting phase of its history.

 

First posted in Notable People, Past Talks, Rye Town History on 27th November 2013
Last updated: 11th December 2013
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