Amelia Joule

Amelia Joule, née Grimes (1 Aug 1814 – 6 Sep 1854)

I wish I knew more about Amelia.

History only records that she was the daughter of the Liverpool Comptroller of Customs and, aged thirty-three, married James Prescott Joule.

He famously invited Lord Kelvin on his honeymoon in Chamonix. Together they measured the temperature at the top and bottom of waterfalls in the French alps.

Amelia died, aged forty, shortly after giving birth to their third child, who also perished.

Life was pretty rubbish for Victorian women and infants.

Extract from Phosphate Rocks

Ladies of Leith

They had learned not to bother with the Sulphur boats. Dutch officers sometimes brought their wives or friends but, even unencumbered, the Dutch sailors were cold and mean, preferring a walk in the Royal Botanic Garden, with its quirky sculpture collection, to a warm, fee-paying embrace.

The boats from Senegal had lonely international crews with little interest in modern art.

If he was on shift the morning after the boat came in, John would go and meet the captain. He would make as much noise as possible on the gangplank, clattering and coughing, before knocking and waiting outside the cabin in case the captain still had company. Sometimes he met Polly leaving as he arrived, and they would exchange cordial greetings.

Each had their job to do.

John treated the Ladies of Leith with respect. If he disapproved of their profession, he didn’t show it. He afforded them the same courtesy that he showed to any female. He was considerate, old-fashioned, broad-minded and a little intimidated.

If Polly had paid attention during school chemistry lessons, she might have remembered the importance of phosphate to our DNA. The other elements – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and to some extent (if you are leguminous) nitrogen – can be ingested from air and water, but phosphorus comes from the soil.

Seventy per cent of Polly’s bones were made up of hydroxyapatite; her body contained three kilograms of
calcium phosphate. When she remembered to eat, she ingested about a gram of phosphorus each day.
Polly understood that phosphate was essential to her life.

The money that she made on the boats allowed her to buy heroin.

Phosphate Rocks: A Death in Ten Objects is published by Sandstone Press £8.99 and is available in all good bookshops and online here.