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Yesterday we talked about coats of arms, heraldic colours and how important they were for determining the colours of liveries. Today, let’s look at the practical application of all we learnt. We know that the colours on a family’s coat of arms (or, more simply, Arms) were to be used as the colours of their livery uniforms, for…
A gentleman may wear garments of any colour his fancy may dictate but he is not permitted such license with regard to the uniforms of his servants: the colours of these depend entirely upon the tinctures upon his Escutcheon.
(J. Cussans, The Handbook of Heraldry (1869) page 314.)
But how did this work? Cussans tell us…
In both ( the Escutcheon and the livery-jfw) the dominant colour should be the same: the subsidiary colour of the livery ( or as a tailor would call it, the trimmings – that is, the collar, cuffs, lining and buttons) should be the colour of the principal charge.
So, Cussans now gives us some examples:
For example, a gentleman bears arms Azure( Blue-jfw) a Fess Or ( Gold-jfw); in this case the coats of the servants should be blue faced with yellow. But, supposing the tinctures were reversed and that the Field were “or” and the Fess “azure”, how then? Would the coat be yellow and the facings blue? No, custom has decided that we must not dress our servants in golden coats. Instead of yellow we should employ drab.
So, in George Austen’s case, had he ever possessed the resources to dress a footman in livery, we can see, from the Austen family coat of arms below,
his livery would have taken the form of a drab coat with red facings. This is because,,on his coat of arms the field( the principal part) is coloured Or (gold) and as we must not dress our servants in golden coats, the coat would be made in a coat of drab coloured cloth. Note that Drab was not just a single color, but rather a range of colors in the grey-brown family. It is originally thought to refer to the natural color of linen cloth. The Chevron on the arms is gules(red) and so the facings of the Austen livery coat- the collar, cuffs etc would be red, for that is not the dominant but the secondary colour.
Cussans give us some more examples:
Argent ; a Lion rampant azure. Coat light drab; Facings, blue.
Gules; an Eagle displayed or, within a Bourdure argent Coat, claret or chocolate; Facings, yellow; buttons and Hat-band, silver.
Or; a Fess cheque argent and azure, bewteen a Mullet in chief gules, and a Crescent of the the third in base. Coat, dark drab; Facings, blue; Buttons and Hat -band, silver; and to represent the Mullet, the edges of the coat might be bound with red, or the rim of the hat looped up with red cord.
(Cussans, as above, page 315)
To get back to one of Jane Austen’s characters, we know that Sir Walter Elliot has orange cuffs on his livery:
”Then I take it for granted,” observed Sir Walter, “that his face is about as orange as the cuffs and capes of my livery.”
Persuasion, Chapter 3
Therefore, applying the rules we now know, this would indicate that the stain ( colour), Tenné ,which is similar to the untutored eye to the colour orange, was included in a secondary way on the Elliot coat of arms. Patric Baty tell us here that this Heraldic colour or tincture had a specific attribute; ambition. I suppose this is very fitting for the socially ambitious Sir Walter, as evidenced by his desperate attempts to be received by Lady Dalrymple in Bath. I’m sure Jane Austen would be aware of what she was insinuating when she gave his livery orange cuffs and capes.
The details of the livery were also decided by heraldic rules.
Buttons should always be of the dominant metal in the Arms and charged with the master’s Badge- not his crest. The latter belongs exclusively to the bearers of the Arms; servants have no right whatever to them.
(Cussans, as above, page 316)
Therefore, George Austen’s servants would wear gold coloured buttons and not silver. Here are some examples of Livery Buttons, from the early to mid 19th century:
It might interest you to note that there were special rules for widow’s servants liveries:
The uniform Livery of widows is white with black facings.
(Cussans, as above, page 315)
Im sure that Lady Russell’s liveried servants at Kellynch lodge would have worn this livery.
There are also special rules regarding the wearing of cockades by servants in their hats:
It is usually held that the privilege ( of a wearing cockades-jfw) is confined to the servants of officers in the Soverign’s service, or those who by courtesy may be regarded as such; the theory being that the servant is a private soldier, who, when not wearing his uniform retains this badge as a mark of his profession. Doctors’ servants, though frequently to be seen wearing Cockades, have no right to them whatsoever, unless their master’s names are to be found in the Army or Navy List.
The Cockade worn by the servants of military officers is composed of black leather, arranged in the form of a corrugated cone and surmounted by a cresting like a fan half opened ( fig 327, above). The servants of naval officers, deputy-lieutenants and gentlemen holding distinct offices under the Soverign bear a plain Cockade as at fig.328. In both cases the ribbon in the centre may be either black or of the Livery colours.
Epaulettes could also be part of the livery uniform: but they were only worn by servants of gentlemen who were entitled to have their servants wear Cockades.
The male servant in the double portrait above, one Daniel Taylor, wears a livery coat of blue with yellow facings, silver buttons and epaulettes of gold. That would indicate that his master was a gentleman, in military service, whose arms had the dominant colour of Azure,(blue) with a secondary colour or Or ( gold) and with some use of Argent ( silver),and this would accord with the fact that his master was John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (24 March 1745–19 July 1799), a rather dissolute character, but who never the less served teh Crown as an ambassador and was as Lord Lieutenant of Kent.
This is a fascinating portrait for it shows Daniel and another female servant, Elinor Low. She does not wear a specific uniform, note. It was painted in 1783 by Arnold Almond and is included in John Styles book, The Dress of the People.
Next, in this series, why servants dressed in liveries were seriously expensive status symbols ;)
Next week, on the 18th January, Bonhams the auctioneers are holding an interesting sale at their London salerooms. The Gentleman’s Library Sale is offering some very eclectic items but some are of interest to us. There are four piece of Nelson Memorabilia, and I thought you might like to see them, especially as we know that Frank Austen, Jane Austen’s brother was very highly thought of by the Admiral.
The first is a snuff-box thought to have been owned by Nelson and which was given by him to his secretary, George Unwin.
The box, made of tortoiseshell composition, is decorated with a view of the incomparable Amalfi coast, contains a note written by George Unwin’s son:
My Father had either lost his own snuff box on going ashore or in some shop in Palermo and upon mentioning the circumstances at Lady Hamilton’s table where Lord Nelson was one of the party his Lordship handed over to him this identical box and desired him to keep it until he could get a better one.
Next is another of those glass paintings, similar in style to the ones we saw commemorating the death of Princess Charlotte earlier in the week.
This one commemorates Nelson’s funeral. To be strictly accurate the glass painting shows Nelson’s coffin lying in state at Greenwich, prior to the funeral. The inscription on the painting is as follows:
Representation of the BODY of the Late Illustrious ADMIRAL LORD NELSON laying in STATE in the Painted Hall in Greenwich Hospital
The next item is one I covet: a small pearlware commemorative bowl, circa 1805:
It is inscribed with Nelson’s famous message to the fleet, given just before the Battle of Trafalgar: England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty
And finally, a very special mourning ring:
This is reputed to have been given to Surgeon Beattie, the man who attended Nelson when he was dying on HMS Victory. The sale catalogue tell us that:
Beattie, a native of Eskdale was buried in Canonbie Churchyard in Dumfries. Acquired by Dr Carlyle of Langholm, Dumfries, from a patient and thence from him to Mr Alex Scott of Arkinholm and then by descent.
The catalogue also remarks that:
Some 58 original recipients are listed for these mourning rings, although slight differences in the style of examples surviving, suggest that more may have been made. Two similar examples are in the National Maritime Museum collection.
The sale estimate is between £8,000 and £12,000. Last March a similar ring sold at Bonhams for £14,400.
We celebrated Trafalgar Day only a few weeks ago, and a few days ago a Nile medal, shown below, was sold at Peter Wilson auctioneers, of Cheshire, for £9,000. I thought you might like to know some more about this medal and the association with the battle of the Nile, which took place in the summer of 1798, for the battle has connections with Frank Austen, Jane Austen’s brother.
The medal that was auctioned was a sliver medal, one of the kind awarded to officers. This particular example was awarded to Thomas Atkinson. Mr Atkinson was the Master of H.M.S.Victory at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. He also served in the Battle of the Nile and this made him eligible to be one of the recipients of the Nile Medal. The auctioneers website gives his history, and I will quote a little from it:
The Nile medal was given to Thomas Atkinson, Master of Nelson’s flagship the Victory. Atkinson joined the Navy at the age of 20 in 1787 and rapidly promoted to Ships Master. In 1797 Atkinson became Master of the Theseus and served under Nelson during a failed assault on Santa Cruz, where Atkinson by family legend is said to have supported Nelson whilst his arm was amputated. The Theseus acted in the Battle of the Nile 1798 where she was fourth ship to round the French van and attack them from an inshore position. In 1799 Atkinson distinguished himself when he helped prevent an onboard fire caused by an accidental explosion at Acre in Egypt which killed the ship’s Captain. In 1801 Atkinson was Master of the St George which performed in the Battle of Copenhagen. Here Atkinson earned written praise from Nelson recommending him as ‘one of the best Masters I have seen in the Royal Navy’.
Before the Battle of Trafalgar Nelson wrote to Atkinson requesting he be Master of the Victory. During the Battle a shot destroyed the wheel of the Victory rendering her without steering, Atkinson went below deck and with the help of John Quilliam steered the ship from the gun room throughout the battle, rigging up ropes so the tiller could be used again from the deck. Before the battle of Trafalgar Nelson promised Atkinson promotion, however this promised couldn’t be fulfilled due to the untimely death of Nelson. Atkinson brought back Nelson’s body from Trafalgar and wrote the full account of his death in the ship’s logbook which was sold by the Atkinson family at Sotheby’s in 1911. In 1809 Atkinson was appointed King’s Harbour Master of Portsmouth, a post he held until his death in 1836. Atkinson is represented (top right beside the signal flag) in the painting ‘The Death of Nelson’ by Benjamin West, 1806, (Walker Art Gallery Liverpool)
Here is a link to that portrait, and here is the Key to it. The Master of the Victory is marked as being figure number 51 ( do click on this to enlarge it: I am having difficulty locating the figure of Mr Atkinson but the key does assure us that he is there!)
The medal was not awarded by a grateful government. No, its design and distribution was the brainchild of Alexander Davison, below. He was a friend of Nelson and his family. He was also the man who was appointed by Nelson as sole prize agent after the battle of the Nile in 1798, after which he made a considerable amount of money . According to the account in the fascinating book, Nelson Purse by Martyn Downer, his impulse to create and award a “thanksgiving medal ” was not wholly philanthropic:
Davison who was eager to cement his relationship with Nelson and to bathe publicly in his friends glory,launched into a truly spectacular round of present- giving. First he arranged for prints to be made after his portrait of Nelson by Lemuel Abbott. Copies were presented to the king, the royal princes, Nelson’s “gallant” captains and the heads of all official departments:” to show them the sense I have of your friendship towards me”. Cheaper versions sold like hot cakes on the Strand.
Davison then proposed a far grander scheme, one which appealed in equal measure to his patriotism, his philanthropy and his self-interest. He approached the government with an offer to pay for medals to be struck for every man- all six thousand of them-who fought in the battle alongside Nelson.This novel and eye-catching idea was attractive to a government keen to make political capital out of Nelson’s victory without setting an expensive precedent for future actions; so Davison’s offer was accepted, on condition that the government was involved in the design of the medal….On the face of it this arrangement seemed to consign Davison to the role of mere paymaster.But it gave the medals valuable official standing while enhancing Davison’s own reputation by publicly binding him closer to government,the fount of his wealth. He hoped too that so extravagant a gesture might purchase loyalty intern fleet the next time a large agency was awarded.
The medals were tone struck by Matthew Boulton
at his famed Soho manufactory in Birmingham
Davison’s original design was full of Masonic imagery. He was a freemason and wanted to included as many references to Freemasonry in the medal as possible, possibly as a means of providing some helpful propaganda for the movement. His original designed was
Obverse: Hope crowned with Oak and Laurel with the Olive Branch in her right hand and the medallion of Lord Nelson supported by her left, as it appears in the design, and her forefinger pointing to his bust.The anchor should appear exactly also as it is sketched; the foot of the figure in a sandal, should also be seen and the drapery to fall in the most graceful manner.Hope should also appear to be standing on a rugged shore…
Davison wanted the reverse of the coin to show the French fleet at anchor on the Bay of Bequeire and the British fleet under sail, advancing to the attack.
Matthew Boulton gave the task of improving on Davison’s sketch to Robert Clevely who was a marine artist in London. It’s interesting to note that there is much dispute about the correctness of the naval scene that was actually engraved. The die of the medal was cut by Boulton’s best engraver, Conrad Kuchler. Here is a gold version of the final medal:
Davison wanted the medal to be produced in five different medals: one for each of the four classes of officers and one for the ordinary seamen. His original order to Boulton confirmed this:
Of 7,000 medals, 25 would be in gold, 150 in silver, 300 in copper gilt, 525 in copper and 6,000 in “bronze” meaning copper applied with Boulton’s special purple-brown “bronzed” finish.
It is interesting to note that as he needed only 15 gold medals for the captions involved in the battle, the other ten were for Davison’s personal use. Eventually the scheme was simplified and after many, many quarrels with Davison about the design Matthew Boulton insisted on a very simple wording on the medal, for, as he tartly observed to his client:
A man may be a Johnson a Pope or a Dryden and yet he many not be a critic in the language of medals.
The wording eventually greed upon was as follows On the Obverse:
EUROPE’S HOPE AND BRITAIN’S GLORY. Above: REAR-ADMIRAL LORD NELSON OF THE NILE.
On the Reverse:
ALMIGHTY GOD HAS BLESSED HIS MAJESTY’S ARMS. In exergue: VICTORY OF THE NILE/AUGUST.1.1798.
Around the edge was inscribed:
FROM ALEXr. DAVISON ESQr. St. JAMES’S SQUARE- A TRIBUTE OF REGARD.
This is all very well, I hear you say in your accustomed manner…but what of Frank Austen? The Battle of the Nile was important for him because his first command, The Canopus, was one of the ships captured from the French in that battle. As we are told in Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J.H and Edith C Hubback:
For a little over a year Francis Austen was Flag-Captain in the Canopus. This ship, which had been captured from the French at the Battle of the Nile, had originally been called Le Franklin, and was one of the best built vessels in the Navy of that day, carrying eighty guns.
This is the order of sailing, written by Nelson, in 1805 for the British Fleet,who were engaged in chasing Admiral Villeneuve across the Atlantic before the Battle of Trafalgar. You can clearly see The Canopus under the command of Frank. This is also taken from my copy of the Hubback’s book
We celebrated Trafalgar day just over two weeks ago, and Simon Chorley auctioneers of Gloucestershire are offering for sale a rather intriguing etui with a possible Nelson connection, so I thought you might like to read about it. An etui was, of course, a case or box used to contain articles of personal use. These cases were compact and portable; many were made in luxurious materials during the 18th and 19th centuries. This one appears to have a direct connection to Lord Nelson and his mistress, Emma Hamilton.
It dates from 1801 and it was therefore made during the reign of George III. As you can see, the etui is in the famous “cutlery box ” shape and is covered in shagreen. Shagreen was usually the name given to the skin of a shark or ray that had been filed down and dyed to give it its distinctive mottled appearance.
The hasp of the case is inscribed with the initials H.N to E.H. and is dated 1801:
Inside the etui there are a pair of scissors and, as you can see from the photographs, below, the scissor handles are inscribed Horatio Nelson
and Lady Hamilton.
The etui also contains two glass scent bottles with porcelain stoppers in the shape of birds, possibly originating from the Chelsea or more probably, in my humble opinion, the Derby factory given its date. There are also some needles, a spoon, an ivory aide memoir and a penknife.
I think we can assume that, given Jane Austen’s attitude to taking mistresses, she would not have approved of the gift, giver or recipient. But it is an interesting item and I wonder how much it will fetch at auction when it is offered for sale on the 10th November? Its estimate is £1,800-2,200 which, given its possible history, seems cheap enough to me ( not that I’m going to be bidding!)
Today, the 21st October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. This decisive sea battle between the French (and their allies the Spanish) and English fleets took place in 1805. Jane Austen lived through this perilous period, and makes one direct reference to this battle in Persuasion. It is in Chapter 3 when Anne Elliot, while helping Mr Shepherd explain who is destined to be Sir Walter Elliot’s tenant, also reveals to us her keen interest in the fortunes of all the members of her beloved Frederick Wentworth’s family:
“And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry.
Mr. Shepherd answered for his being of a gentleman’s family, and mentioned a place; and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added —
“He is rear admiral of the white. He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he has been stationed there, I believe, several years.”
Jane Austen, of course, was vitally interested in the fortunes of Nelson’s navy, not only as a patriotic Englishwoman, but because her brothers Frank and Charles were naval officers. Frank, below, served directly under Nelson as one of his captains. Indeed, Nelson wrote admiringly of him:
I hope to see [Captain Austen] alongside a French 80-gun ship, and he cannot be better placed than in the ‘Canopus’, which was once a French Admiral’s ship, and stuck to me. Captain Austen I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man.
(quoted in Jane Austen: A Family Record by DeirdreLe Faye, page 151)
For most of 1805 Frank was involved in chasing the French fleet and its commander, Admiral Villeneuve, across the Atlantic to the West Indies and then back again to the entrance of the Mediterranean near the Straits of Gibraltar. Below is a scan of my copy of Kelly’s map of Spain and Portugal dating from 1816, which you can enlarge to see the detail:
This is a section of it showing the position of Cadiz and the Straits of Gibraltar:
Villeneuve and his fleet were kept blockaded in Cadiz by the British during the whole month of September. Nelson arrived on The Victory on September 28th and then Frank was ordered to Gibraltar to “complete supplies”, and then on to Cartagena to help protect a convoy which was en route to Malta, further into the Mediterranean to the east. As a result, he missed the action at Trafalgar, a circumstance he had feared might occur, as is revealed in this later to the woman who was his fiancée and future wife , Mary Gibson. Note this letter was actually written on the day of the battle:
Our situation is peculiarly unpleasant and distressing, for if they escape Lord Nelson’s vigilance and get into the Mediterranean, which is not very likely, we shall be obliged, with our small force, to keep out of their way; and on the other hand, should an action take place, it must be decided long before we could possibly get down even were the wind fair, which at present it is not. As I have no doubt but the event would be highly honourable to our arms, and be at the same time productive of some good prizes, I shall have to lament our absence on such an occasion on a double account, the loss of pecuniary advantage as well as of professional credit. And after having been so many months in a state of constant and unremitting fag, to be at last cut out by a parcel of folk just come from their homes, where some of them were sitting at their ease the greater part of last war, and the whole of this, till just now, is particularly hard and annoying.
“You, perhaps, may not feel this so forcibly as I do, and in your satisfaction at my having avoided the danger of battle may not much regret my losing the credit of having contributed to gain a victory; not so myself!
“I do not profess to like fighting for its own sake, but if there have been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious one of my life.
And so it was: Frank missed the action, the decisive sea battle victory over the French, and regretted it bitterly, as he told Mary in his next letter to her , dated 27th October, a letter which was first published in Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J.H. and E .C. Hubback:
Alas! my dearest Mary, all my fears are but too fully justified. The fleets have met, and, after a very severe contest, a most decisive victory has been gained by the English twenty-seven over the enemy’s thirty-three. Seventeen of the ships are taken and one is burnt; but I am truly sorry to add that this splendid affair has cost us many lives, and amongst them the most invaluable one to the nation, that of our gallant, and ever-to-be-regreted, Commander-in-Chief, Lord Nelson, who was mortally wounded by a musket shot, and only lived long enough to know his fleet successful.
And that was the rub, the bitter in so much sweet. Nelson died as a result of injuries sustained in the battle. Frank Austen paid tribute to him in the same letter:
In a public point of view, I consider his loss as the greatest which could have occurred; nor do I hesitate to say there is not an Admiral on the list so eminently calculated for the command of a fleet as he was. I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a man. To the soundest judgment he united prompt decision and speedy execution of his plans; and he possessed in a superior degree the happy talent of making every class of persons pleased with their situation and eager to exert themselves in forwarding the public service. As a national benefit I cannot but rejoice that our arms have been once again successful, but at the same time I cannot help feeling how very unfortunate we have been to be away at such a moment, and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though unavoidable events, to lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience; but, as I cannot write upon that subject without complaining, I will drop it for the present, till time and reflection reconcile me a little more to what I know is now inevitable.
Nelson’s body was returned to England, and lay in state at Greenwich. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, with all the pomp of a state funeral. This is a picture of his tomb in the crypt :
Today in Britain, Trafalgar Day is not celebrated as a public holiday as it was during the mid 19th century, though recently politicians have tried to revive the idea that the Monday nearest the date be reinstated as a bank holiday. But the Sea Cadets do celebrate it on theSunday nearest the 21st October. Members of the Sea Cadets all over the country parade in towns to celebrate the great sea victory still .In London 500 sea cadets parade in Trafalgar Square under the beady eye of Nelson’s statue on his column in the square. This square, and its commemorative column did not, of course, exist in Jane Austen’s day. But I daresay her sentiments regarding the battle, especially knowing that Frank escaped injury, may have been similar to how she expressed her feelings on hearing of deaths in battles in the Peninsular War
How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 31st May 1811)
Sophie Croft in Persuasion is one of my favourite of all Jane Austen’s characters. Intelligent, kind, humorous, a woman of sense, in love with her husband the Admiral, she is widely travelled and has an admirably positive attitude to life:
“And I do assure you, ma’am,” pursued Mrs. Croft, “that nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man-of-war; I speak, you know, of the higher rates. When you come to a frigate, of course, you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing to be feared. Thank God! I have always been blessed with excellent health, and no climate disagrees with me. A little disordered always the first twenty-four hours of going to sea, but never knew what sickness was afterwards. The only time that I ever really suffered in body or mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience.”
Did women like Sophie Croft really exist? Well, yes, they did….
Elizabeth “Besty“ Fremantle nee Wynne (pictured above) was a real life Mrs Croft. For some years now, I have been advocating that people read her diaries to understand what life was like for an elite woman, married to an officer, on board a ship of Nelson’s navy while on active service.
Though now out of print, above is the frontispiece of the 1935 edition of Betsey’s diaries- which combined extracts from Betsey’s diaries with those written by Betsey’s sister Eugenia, shown below- edited by Anne Fremantle, are a fascinating read and you can still find secondhand copies easily enough.
( Source: Andy Boddington at dukesofbuckingham.org.uk on 17.9.10)
The daughter of a Lincolnshire squire, Richard Wynne of Folkingham,( see below for a picture of the parish church)
Betsey began her diary writing habit at the age of 11 ,and continued until her death in 1857. A Catholic family, the Wynnes lived mostly in Europe, visiting England only briefly partially due to pressing money troubles- Betsey’s father sold his Lincolnshire estate in 1786. Betsey was born in Venice, brought up mainly on the continent, and her family moved in courtly circles. She vividly describes her life amongst the glitterati of the Naples court and her diaries are full if very detailed information. Which makes them a delight to read.
(Source: Andy Boddington at dukesofbuckingham.org.uk on 17.9.10)
She met her husband, Captain Thomas Fremantle, shown above, when she was evacuated from Naples in 1796. Her marriage ceremony was arranged with the help of Emma Hamilton and she began life as an officer’s wife on board HMS Inconstant in 1797. Here are some extracts from her diaries (complete with her idiosyncratic spelling) to give you an idea of what she experienced:
Monday January 15th 1797 ( the day after her marriage to Captain Fremantle-jfw):
We sailed last night , had fair weather and pretty good wind all day. I find it quite odd to be alone here. I dare not think on those I left at Naples for it makes my heart swell with anguish , however I can make no complaints for I am as happy in my situation as it is possible to be. Freemantle is all attention and kindness.I have got a comfortable little cabin where I can do what I like.The Vice Roy and Colonel drinkwater are pleasant society for us.
Sunday 22nd January 1797:
We had a long and tedious passage. Very blowing weather …it did not affect me, it increased my appetite and I laughed at everybody else. We only came to anchor this morning at three o’ clock. I begin to get accustomed to the life I lead and find myself comfortable and happy….I spent the evening alone and amused myself very well with my Harpsichord and books.
Friday 27th January 1797:
I was quite miserable all the morning as the three Mariners were punished and flogged along side of every ship, some men flogged likewise on board.
Tuesday March 21st 1797:
We took a prize in the night a small Spanish ship with 9000 dollars who was going to Cicely (Sicily-jfw) for corn.
Eventually, Betsey’s life on board became rather more serious: she had to nurse both her husband and Nelson who had both been wounded in the disastrous Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Nelson had his arm partially amputated, and caring for him and her husband while returning to England on HMS Seahorse- Captain Fremantle appears from her entries in the diary , in my opinion, to have been suffering from what we would now term shell shock- could not have been an easy task for the newly pregnant Betsey. Her characteristically frank entry in her diary for 24th August 1797 indicates her feelings:
A foul wind which make the Admiral fret. He is a very bad patient
They returned to England where eventually Fremantle recovered. Betsey ran their estate while he was at sea-he served at Trafalgar and produced a family of children. Keeping her diary all the time.
And now to some very interesting news. Dr Elaine Chalus of Bath Spa University has recently been awarded a grant of £100,000 to write Betsey’s biography. She has,as I understand it, been granted access to Betsey’s papers by her descendants. I simply can’t wait . The original diary is wonderful to have and to hold but was crying out for more detailed annotation and furthermore, rather frustratingly ends in 1820. Betsey’s life as wife, on board ship and on land, as a mother, capably managing the family estate, and then after the wars as a well-connected elite woman of the early 19th century is fascinating and deserves to be explained and brought to a wider audience. I’m so pleased that Dr Chalus-whose interest in Betsey was sparked when she found a second-hand paperback copy of her diaries at a village fair- has the funding needed to provide us with a full and detailed biography of one of my favourite diarists of this era.
I shall keep an eye on publication dates etc and will of course review the book here when it is available. But in the meantime, do try and get hold of a copy of the out of print diaries: fans of Persuasion and Mrs Croft will not regret it.
You may have realised by now that I like to know the teeny-tiny details of social history…How exactly did people make a whipp’t syllabub ? What exactly did having a putrid throat mean? How was it treated? The list is endless…Hence this blog.
But I confess that until I read Dr Helen Doe’s fascinating book Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century, I had not really given a second thought to how the ships on which Captains Benwick, Wentworth and Harville ( not to mention Admiral Croft) sailed to war were actually created. And not for one moment did I consider that among the shipyard owners would be some amazing women who were not only owning the yards but were hands-on running some of the ship yards that created the British naval fleet of the early 19th century, managing complex business scenarios, and importantly, ordering labouring and professional men.
Dr Doe’s book is a tour de force. A very readable and detailed overview of the ship making process, the communities that surrounded the shipyards, the law relating to women- most of the female owner of ship yards inherited them from their husbands, ancillary maritime trades and the women who were involved in them.
The book does cover the whole of the 19th century and therefore a lot of the content, while of great interest, does not specifically have much relevance to Jane Austen’s era. But the chapters on warship builders and the detailed studies of shipyard owners such as Mrs Frances Barnard of Deptford are engrossing.
(Remember you can click on the picture above- not included in the book,sadly-and all the illustrations in this post to enlarge them.)
The story of Mrs Mary Ross of Rochester, Kent (below) is, to me, a revelation.
The most prominent business in a maritime community was the shipyard. It was physically large, noisy and used a large amount of labour and on its output rested may other businesses such as sailmakers, ropemakers and blockmakers. The largest yards were major industrial concerns in their time directly employing hundreds of men…The building of warships was high value and high risk to the shipbuilder and the peak time for navy contracts with merchant yards was during the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars.
Frances Barnard inherited her shipyard form her husband in 1760,and it was one of the foremost yards on the Thames at Southwark. She eventually retired from the business in 1803. Mary Ross inherited her ship yard from her husband in 1808. Mary took control of the yard, showing amazing business acumen and skill. Dealing with the rather slippery Navy Board could be difficult: she managed it with aplomb.
This book will alter your perceptions of genteel women in our era. Once widowed they resolved not to live the life of a poor dependant widow ,but with practical sense and intelligence ran shipyards- for profit. Rational creatures indeed.
Admittedly, this is a very expensive book, but I have to say as someone who is not that keen on reading about matters maritime ( low be it spoken), I found it fascinating. The depth of detail is so just so satisfying to read. Dr Doe, a Fellow of the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies at the University of Exeter, leaves virtually no stone unturned in her attempt to convey to us that, in our era, the term a woman in business did not automatically mean that this woman was a milliner or a manuta maker.