A Victorian Gentleman And The Steam Age

Thomas Rickett's steam carriage, 1860 (1956).

Surplice Dingleberry was the third and youngest son of the twelfth Lord Dingleberry, the renowned inventor of the steam-driven top hat dispenser. As was the tradition at the time, young Surplice was destined for a life in the church. However, he was – like his father – fascinated by the wonders of Victorian engineering and the possibilities inherent in steam power.

By the age of eighteen, Surplice had also begun to notice – even in those strict Victorian times – that the family’s servants were – quite often – female. Consequently, as his normal young male urges sought an outlet, and his interest in steam power increased, Surplice invented the Steam-Powered Maidservant Disrober.

This device, although its steam engine would fill most young gentlemen’s drawing rooms, was an instant hit. Especially so amongst the young – and no so young – Victorian gentlemen who wished to have a housemaid or scullery maid disrobed for them. In the upper classes of the time, all men had valets and gentlemen’s gentlemen who would assist them to get dressed and undressed. Consequently, most upper-class gentlemen had little or no idea how clothes worked. Therefore, when faced with a scullery maid, or any other female servant they wished to ravish, not many of them knew which clothes needed removing or, indeed, how to remove them.

Consequently, young Surplice Dingleberry’s invention was a great boon to such men.

From this invention, Surplice made a great deal of money. Enough indeed that he could afford to buy most of Africa for his brother, Vestments Dingleberry, who wanted to be an explorer, but had trouble finding his way out of his own bedroom unassisted. Surplice was also able to employ some of the best native guides in Africa for his sibling. This enabled his brother to explore sometimes as far as the bottom of the street, where he lived in Johannesburg, without getting lost more than once a day.

Inevitably, Surplice became more famous and the number of female domestic staff removed from their clothing by his machine for the delectation of the Victorian gentry increased significantly. Soon, there were calls for the regulation of steam driven domestic devices, especially after the disaster that befell  Spadgecock’s Patented Wildfowl Distractor.

Eventually, a consortium of young men purporting to have an interest in musical theatre approached Surplice Dingleberry. They expressed a wish to have a machine similar to Dingleberry’s Steam-Powered Maidservant Disrober. However, they wanted one that would work with manservants as well as manual labourers. As well as, as one put it, ‘the kind of muscular young lad one meets down at the docks on a foggy night’. But what Dingleberry did not know was that this was a sting operation instigated by a group of Victorian moralists. They wanted to bring Dingleberry into disgrace, much as they’d engineered Oscar Wilde’s fall from grace a few years before.

Eventually, Dingleberry’s Steam-Powered Valet Disrober and Labourer Manhandler was ready to be demonstrated. It was shown first to an invited audience of the London Gentlemen’s Soft Furnishing Appreciation Society. However, the police raided the meeting just as a young manual labourer was having his shirt removed and folded by the device. The police arrested everyone there. They were all charged with public order offences and Consorting with the Lower Orders in an Intimate Manner.

Following the eventual trial and Scandal, Surplice Dingleberry had no choice but to flee the country. He ended his life at the young age of thirty-five in exile with his brother in South Africa.

Surplice Dingleberry’s untimely end came when his Steam -Powered Lion taming machine misfired. The resulting explosion blew parts of both Dingleberry brothers deep into the savannah where – it was rumoured – several packs of hyenas were saved from starvation by eating the remains of the two tragic brothers.

A sad end to what historians now regard as a significant Victorian life.


Published by David Hadley

A Bloke. Occasionally points at ducks.

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