But the Martins occupied her thoughts a good deal; she had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. Emma encouraged her talkativeness — amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow, indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow…
Emma, Chapter 4.
Poor easily led Harriet…about to be persuaded by Emma, that what were probably the happiest two months of her life are to be tossed aside, along with the Martins themselves.
I must admit the picture Harriet paints of the life the Martins have at Abbey Mill Farm is not at all as graceless as Emma would have her (and us) believe. And of course it revolves around some animals: they were farmers after all.
But it does not necessarily mean that their home dairy was not conducted without a certain style.
Do allow me to explain….
Channel Island breeds of cows were (and still are ) famed for the richness of their milk. The Channel Islands –the main islands are Jersey, Guernsey Alderney Sark and Herm- are a group of islands not far from the French coast and are British Dependencies, and strictly are part of the Duchy of Normandy. As such they are part of the British territories for the ruling monarch holds the title and lands of the Duke of Normandy (a title they have held since 1066 and William I).
These types of cattle were most probably collectively known as ‘Alderneys’ because all Channel Island cattle, whether originally from Jersey, Guernsey, or Alderney were transported for sale from the individual islands but arrived in England from the last port of call – Alderney – via the “Alderney Boat”.
In fact it is calculated that no more than 4% of all the cattle known as ‘Alderneys’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were actually from that particular Channel Island.
Having an Alderney to provide milk for ones dairy was an extremely fashionable thing to do in the late 18th /early 19th century.
This was something Jane Austen knew from first hand experience, for her mother, the redoubtable Mrs Austen, kept Alderneys at Steventon to provide beautiful rich creamy milk for the household.
Here is an extract from a letter she wrote on 26th August 1770:
What Luck we shall have with those sort of Cows I can’t say. My little Alderney one turns out tolerably well, and makes more Butter than we can use, and I have just brought another of the same sort, but as her calf is but just gone, can not say what she will be good for yet…
(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, Deirdre Le Faye, Page 23)
Alderneys were also sometimes kept for decorative purposes in the early 19th century:
A few breeds of cattle were imported into the British Isles at this time. They had little effect on the development of native breeds and were treated more like fashionable curiosities. The Kerry and its miniature version , the Dexter, came from Ireland and the Alderney was the collective name given to Channel Island Cattle.
Exotic species also arrived from India and the Far East.
These cattle were kept primarily by noblemen to decorate their country parks. Willliam Youett comments that …” it is thought fashionable that the view from the breakfast or drawing-room of the house should present an Alderney Cow or two grazing at a little distance”.
He further explained that the animals were popular partly for the richness of their milk but more for their diminutive size.
It was only later in the 19th century that Alderney or Jersey or Guernsey cattle, often crossed with native breeds, became properly established as dairy herds in the gentle climate of the South West of England.
(see pp 198-200: Farm Animal Portraits by Elpseth Moncrieff).
I have a suspicion that while the Martins no doubt had a dairy for milk on their farm to provide milk butter and cream for the household, and an Alderney cow would have provided them with the richest milk that could have been had at the time, they were also not averse to the cows around that dairy and in the pastures surrounding their house looking very decorative too: which indicates that they were not exactly the uneducated, subsistence, farming bumpkins that Emma would have us, and poor Harriet, believe ;-)
And just to show that all this interest in cattle was not confined to the Yeomanry, as Emma would have it, here is a picture of the Countess of Chesterfield and her daughters inspecting, from the comfort of their fashionable pony phaeton, one of the Earl’s prize milk Alderneys in 1810
The Earl of Chesterfield was an agricultural improver like Mr Knightley and was sufficiently proud of his livestock to pay the famed Shropshire–born animal artist, Thomas Weaver, the artist of this painting, £147 for this portrait.
(Self portrait of Thomas Weaver, circa 1816)
The Earl also, in the same year commissioned this painting , designed to hang with the one above, depicting him with his son, Lord Stanhope, his steward Mr Blaikie, a cowman and a prize heifer in the Earl’s immaculate farmyard at Bretby Park.
So as you can clearly see, keeping an Alderney was not quite as despicable and detestable an act as Emma would have us believe;-)