‘The Registers of Aliens’ held by the Edinburgh City Archives provide a fascinating glimpse into the nature of 18th and 19th century travel, international relations and the exchange of ideas between cultures and within communities. Ladies, professors, teachers, valets, barometer salesman, medical students, flower makers, artists, and merchants all travelled to Edinburgh from various places throughout Europe and North America. Their reasons for coming to Edinburgh ranged from the entrepreneurial to the political.
The registers are curious and cosmopolitan ‘visitor’s books’ borne out of anxieties surrounding the entrance of potentially troublesome radicals to Great Britain. They begin in 1794, at the tail end of the French Revolution, and continue throughout the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1825. The registers themselves form two distinct series. The first is a handwritten volume of declarations supplied by foreigners to the Magistrates concerning their origins, occupation, length of time in the country and the intended duration of their stay in Edinburgh. The second series of registers date from 1798-1825 and contain pro-formas of questions to be asked and answered before Magistrates regarding the name, origins, port of entrance, status, occupation, age, current address, and intentions of foreign visitors.
Peppered with the names of artists, scientists and ‘infamous’ characters, the registers hint at a city that attracted and hosted bustling commerce, innovation, and a thriving artistic community. A quick trawl through the registers reveals that some intriguing ‘aliens’ lived and worked in Edinburgh during this period. The notable American chemist Benjamin Silliman was listed in the register when he came to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1805. Silliman is known for developing a distillation process for petroleum and for his anti-slavery activism in the United States. He also undertook the first known scientific analysis of an American meteorite, and gave his name to a mineral, sillimanite.
The register also lists members of the musical Corri [Corrie] family. Domenico [John] Corri was a renowned singing teacher, composer and conductor who moved from Italy to Edinburgh in the 1780s. Domenico was also the father and tutor of the talented singer, composer, harpist and pianist Sophia Dussek. Domenico Corri taught music in various locations around Edinburgh and conducted the concerts of the Musical Society, managed the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh and tried to set up his own opera company in the Capital. Domenico’s brother Natale followed him to Edinburgh in the mid 1780s and set up his own music shop and library at the top of Leith Walk.
If you’re interested in looking at some of the entries in the register, view the gallery below. If you’re interested in looking at an index of all of the names listed in the registers, click here.