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.