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My dear friend, Jane Odiwe of Jane Austen Sequels fame, is asking for our help in trying to locate a picture which may have intriguing Austen family associations.
She has recently been publishing some very interesting posts on Ozias Humphrey and his paintings,( go here and here to see) and in the course of writing these pieces Jane has become intrigued by the tantalising possibilities that this painting, below, offers:
It is thought by Robin Roberts, the brother of Mrs Henry Rice( the owner of the famous Rice portrait) that this painting may be a conversation piece depicting the Austen family , executed circa 1780. He is of the opinion that it was commissioned to commemorate their son Edward Austen’s good fortune of being adopted by his rich and kind relatives, the Knights. It was once in the collection at Godmersham House but since the dispersal sale held there in 1983, its whereabouts have been unknown.
This is what Jane Odiwe has to say about the history of the painting:
Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Robin Roberts discovered a very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! …The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.
If you go here to Jane’s site, you can read all Mr Robert’s speculations on the various allegorical meanings of the painting. He is of the opinion that it may have been commissioned at the same time as the famous silhouette, below, which depicts Edward Austen being presented by the Austens to his new adoptive parents:
My main concern (and remember I am no art historian!)with the painting is the exclusion of the other Austen children: only two boys are depicted. If the family were celebrating their good luck, surely the other brothers would be included in such an important commemorative piece, or only Edward as in the silhouette? And portraiture is not like photography: it does not require that all the people to be depicted to be present at one time and place…But what do I know about it ;)
If anyone is aware of the whereabouts of this panting which was sold from Godmersham during the Christie’s sale of June 1983, then perhaps they would be kind enough to contact either Jane Odiwe via her website, or the Jane Austen House Museum, here. It would be wonderful if it could be found and further investigations carried out to see if there was any Austen family link to it, don’t you think?
In our last post we discussed the life of Susannah Sackree, the nurse to Edward Knight’s children at his Godmersham home. We ought properly take this opportunity to consider what her role in the Knight household most probably entailed….so let’s take a look at the role of the Children’s Nurse in the early 19th century home.
The type of household that could expect to employ a children’s nurse, as opposed to the lesser incarnation of the Nursery-Maid, was one that had an income of at least £2-3000 per annum according to the Hints to the Formation of an Household given in The Complete Servant (1825) by Samuel and Sarah Adams.
The establishment would consist of at least:
Eight Female and eight Men–Servants; viz.- A Cook, Lady’s-Maid, two House-Maids, Nurse, Nursery-Maid, Kitchen-Maid, and Laundry –Maid; with a Butler, Valet, Coachman, Two Grooms A Footman and Two Gardeners.
According to the same source, a Children’s Nurse could expect to be paid between £10-25 per annum. And also had the right to expect to receive perquisites at the christenings of the children in her charge.
The Head Nurse should be expected to be, according to the same book, which was written by two experienced ex-servants,
…of a lively and cheerful disposition, perfectly good tempered, and clean and neat in her habits and person. She ought also to have been accustomed to the care and management of young children as all the junior branches of the family are entrusted to her care and superintendence, confiding in her skill, experience and attention. She usually takes the sole charge of the infant from it’s birth, when the parent suckles it; to assist her in the management of this and the other children in the nursery, she has under nurses assigned to her who are entirely under her control.
The Adams’ give detailed instructions for the day-to-day running of the nursery:
The youngest nurse , or nursery–maid, usually rises about six o’clock to light the fire, and so the household work of the nursery before the children are up, perhaps about seven o’clock, at which time the head nurse is dressed, and ready to bathe and wash them all over with a sponge and warm water; after which they are rubbed quite dry and dressed. This process, when there are several children usually occupies the nurse an hour and a half, when their breakfast is got ready and the children are placed at their meal in the most peaceful and orderly manner. After breakfast, if the weather be favourable, the children are taken out by the assistant nurse or nursery maid for air and exercise, and hour perhaps two, but not so long as to fatigue either of them. On their return, their hands and feet are washed, if damp or dirty, after which they attend to their lessons till dinner time. After dinner if it be fine weather, the children are again taken aboard for air and exercise and on their return again, after having their hands and feet washed, if necessary, they are in due time ,about eight o’clock, dressed and put to bed. The Head Nurse finds ample employment during the whole day in paying due attention to her infant charge in giving directions and in seeing that the whole business of the nursery is properly executed.
The Under-Nurse would attend to the older children in the family, whereas the Head Nurse was always expected to care for the babies:
The Under-Nurse is chiefly engaged in attending to the senior children,and is entirely under the control of the head nurse.She assists in getting them up in the morning, washing and dressing them; attends them at their meals and takes them out for air and exercise, and performs or assists in the performance of all the duties of the nursery, while the head nurse is chiefly engaged with the infant child.
Mrs Taylor, one of my favourite dispensers of advice, in her book, Practical Hints to Young Females on the Duties of a Wife, A Mother and a Mistress of a Family (1816)
give this advice regarding the ordering of the nursery, which would hold good today:
It is an error very prevalent but much to be deplored, that the nursery of all places should be destitute of neatness. Order, cleanliness and regularity have the happiest influence on the human mind and contribute more to keep the temper placid and the head clear, than many people are aware of. “Let every thing be done decently and in order” is a precept that should be extended from our religious concerns to all the affairs of life; and where this invaluable principle is associated with the habits of childhood, it may reasonably be expected to pervade the subsequent conduct, and contribute largely to individual and domestic happiness. Children who are always accustomed to replace their toys when done with; to make no unnecessary dirt of litter; to be punctual in their observance of time and place; will even from the force of habit, practise the same regularity in the more important concerns, on which the prosperity of future families may depend…
Interestingly, Mrs Taylor has this to say about the behaviour of employers to their good and faithful servants:
…let those who are possessed of such a treasure as a good servant, duly estimate their privilege, and be neither too rigid in their requirements, nor too sparing in their rewards. It is poor encouragement to a servant, if she is invariably blamed for what is wrong and never praised for what is right; and some respect should be paid to the feelings of human nature, which will not endure continual chiding, however deserving of it: both praises and rewards should be suitably dispensed; and if, when there is occasion to complain, appeals to reason were more frequent than they generally are, such reproof might have a gradual tendency to improve the character. The old domestic attached to a family, whose best days have been spent in faithful services is a lovely character, and entitled to every indulgence; and when an honest and tractable disposition is observed in the young, self-interest alone would dictate an endeavour to rear a servant of this description, by care and kindness by mingling patience and forbearance with instruction or reproof.
In Susannah Sackree , the Knights had a faithful and well-loved servant who gave service over a period of nearly 60 years. From the affectionate way in which she was written about by members of the family, she was truly, in the words of Mrs Taylor and Lady Catherine, a treasure.
The silhouette, showing Susannah Sackree most probably in the process of knitting socks for one of her many infant charges, if I rightly make out the presence of three knitting needles in her hands, is currently for sale at Hallidays Antiques for the quite modest sum,I suppose as Austen related items go, of £3750
The provenance is impeccable:
This silhouette came into the Rice Family on the marriage of Elizabeth Austen (1800-1884) the second daughter of Edward Austen (later Edward Knight) of Godmersham Park, Kent to Edward Rice of Dane Court, Dover, Kent in 1818 and has remained in the Rice family’s possession ever since.
This is a portrait of Susannah Sackree that currently hangs in the Jane Austen House Museum. Sackree was the much loved nursemaid to the children of Edward Knight and his wife, Elizabeth. She was engaged by them for the birth of their first child, Fanny, in 1793. She stayed in the family’s employ at Godmersham in Kent until she died in 1851. She had completed nearly 60 years faithful service by this time.
Lord Brabourne, Fanny Knight’s son and the first editor of Jane Austen’s letters, wrote about Sackree in The Letters of Jane Austen, because she is frequently mentioned by Jane Austen in letters sent to and from Godmersham, and generally , this is done in an affectionate manner:
The “Sackree” of whom such frequent mention is made in the letters from Godmersham was the old nurse of my grandfather’s children, an excellent woman and a great favourite. I remember some of her stories to this day, especially one of a country girl who, on being engaged by the housekeeper of a certain family, inquired if she might “sleep round.” “Sleep round?” was the reply. “Yes, of course; you may sleep round or square, whichever you please, for what I care!” However, after the lapse of a few days, the girl having been kept up for some work or other till ten o’clock, did not appear in the morning. After some delay, the housekeeper, fancying she must be ill, went up to her room about nine o’clock, and finding her fast asleep and snoring soundly, promptly woke her up, and began to scold her for an idle baggage. On this, the girl with an injured air, began to remonstrate, “Why ma’am, you told me yourself I might sleep round, and as I wasn’t in bed till ten o’clock last night, I a’nt a coming down till ten this morning.” Mrs. Sackree went by the familiar name of “Caky,” the origin of which I have been unable to trace, but which was perhaps given to her in the Godmersham nursery by the little ones, who were doing their best to pronounce her real name. She lived on at Godmersham, saw and played with many of the children of her nurslings, and died in March, 1851, in her ninetieth year. Mrs. Sayce was her niece, and my mother’s lady’s-maid, of whom I know no more than that she occupied that honourable position for twelve years, married a German in 1822, and died at Stuttgard in 1844. Sackree succeeded her as housekeeper when she left Godmersham.
Sackree once even managed to visit St James Palace, the scene of Sir William Lucas’s rise to the heady rank of Knight, as Jane Austen somewhat ruefully related to Cassandra Austen:
I told Sackree that you desired to be remembered to her, which pleased her; and she sends her duty, and wishes you to know that she has been into the great world. She went on to town after taking William to Eltham, and, as well as myself, saw the ladies go to Court on the 4th. She had the advantage indeed of me in being in the Palace.
(Letter to Cassandra Austen written from Godmersham, dated Wednesday June 15, 1808.)
Professor R .W. Chapman in his edition of Jane Austen’s letters speculates that Sackree may have gained entrance into St James Palace due to the influence of Mrs Charles Fielding,who was W0man of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte and had apartments in St James Palace.Mrs Fielding was related by marriage to Elizabeth Knight’s family, the Bridges of Goodnestone, also in Kent.
A devout Christian, when she died Sackree was interred in the graveyard of the Godmersham estate’s parish church, the Church of St Lawrence the Martyr,and hee headstone was carved with passages that she requested:
“Flee from evil,and do the thing that is good
For the Lord loves the thing that is good”
“Keep Innocency and take heed the thing that is right; for that shall bring a man peace at the last”
“My dearest Friends I leave behind
Who were to me so good and kind
The Lord I hope will all them bless
And my poor soul will be at rest”
Here is a photograph of her prayer-book, which is also on show at the Jane Austen House Museum.
The Knight family had a tablet in remembrance of Sackree installed on the north buttress of the Chancel in St Lawrence’s,and it reads:
the faithful servant and friend
for nearly 60 years
of Edward Knight Esquire of Godmersham Park
and the beloved nurse of all his children
She died deeply lamented on the 2nd March
in the ninetieth year of her age.
Those readers of Jane Austen who still persist in thinking that she and her class failed to make mention of their servants, due perhaps to some form of snobbish neglect, might care to reconsider that after reading all the affectionate mentions of this obviously much-loved family servant.