Another Ellen Sharples update

Having continued our research we have just come across quite an insightful little article written in Western Daily Press Wednesday 11th January 1899.

Mrs Sharples was much struck, as she witnessed the dreadful reverse of fortune consequent upon the French Revolution, by the desirability that every woman should have, if possible, the means of earning her livelihood, if necessary, or to use her own words:-

“I had frequently thought that all well-educated females, particularly those who had only small fortunes should at least have the power, if they did not exercise it, by the cultivation of some available talent, of obtaining the conveniences and some of the elegancies of life, and to be enabled always to preserve that respectable position in society to which had been accustomed.

I decided, soon after our arrival in Philadelphia, where Congress then assembled, to make any drawing, which had been learnt and practised as an ornamental art for amusement, available to a useful purpose.  Mr Sharples was usually engaged drawing in crayon the portraits of the most distinguished Americans, foreign Ministers and other distinguished visitants from Europe. Copies were frequently required; these I undertook, and was, so far successful also have as many commissions as I could execute;  they were thought equal to the originals, price the same; we lived in good style associating in the first society.

On our return to Bath Mr Sharples again engaged in mechanical studies, I was particular interested in copying pictures in miniature, and applied with great attention and perseverance, most anxious to attain excellent in the art. I was too nervous to practice drawing original portraits, being always exceedingly agitated when I attempted them, although the few I executed obtained the greatest praise. Rolinda had not this failing, she conversed with a person sitting for a portrait with as much ease as if unemployed, and made her sitters equally at their ease”.

 The article ends by confirming her last addresses in England following her return with her son James and her daughter Rolinda – Sion Spring House, Clifton, Bristol; afterwards No. 2 Lower Harley Place, finally removing as a tenant to No. 3 St Vincent’s Parade, where she died.


Update – Ellen Sharples mother of Rolinda Sharples

As promised a brief update on the death of Ellen Sharples. One of the first rules you learn when researching anyone is to always check information and seek validation whenever possible. Regarding Rolinda’s mother, Ellen – lesson learnt, we naively assumed that the location of Ellen’s burial was Wybunbury, Cheshire as that seems to have been cited on several websites.

We did think it looked strange given that we knew Ellen had remained in Bristol, but of course we couldn’t trace the source of this supposition. Armed with only a year of death we checked the National Burial Index and nothing except for a curious entry for the burial of an Ellen Sharples at St Chad, Wybunbury.  At first we thought it must be her until we checked the date only to find that this Ellen was buried some two hundred years previously. This led us to check the Births, Marriage and Death records which confirmed that an Ellen Sharples had died early 1849 in Bristol – this must be the right one. So next we checked the Bristol newspaper for that year and bingo, we found her funeral details – quite a funeral it was too. It just goes to prove that you shouldn’t always believe what you read on the web and that you must check it out for yourself!

Bristol Mercury – Saturday 24 March 1849

The late Mrs Sharples:-  The funeral of this lady whose death is recorded in this day’s obituary, and whose memory deserves to be cherished by every lover of the fine arts in this city as long as Bristol endures, took place on Wednesday last, at Clifton church. Many of our readers will recollect that some five years since Mrs. Sharples presented to the trustees of the Bristol Fine Arts Academy the sum of £2000, for the purpose of founding and supporting that institution; and it now appears from the deceased lady’s will that, after deducting certain bequests and legacies, the residue of her property is bequeathed to the academy.  We may, therefore, reasonably hope that ere long we shall witness in our city the erection of a building exclusively devoted to art, which shall be an enduring monument of the munificence of the deceased, and one of the architectural glories of Bristol.  The funeral procession left St Vincent’s parade, the late Mrs Sharples residence, about 11 o’clock in the forenoon, in the following order:-

Chariot containing the officiating minister, the Rev. J Hensman,





Mourning coach, in which were J.S Hardford Esq, President;

P.W.S Miles Esq., 

The High- Sheriff, and G.H Ames, Esq., the Treasurer of the Fine Arts Academy;

The Hon. Secretary, Jere Hill, Esq., and Robert Bright, Esq one of the trustees of the academy, followed on foot, together with the members of the committee, and nearly all the resident artists of Bristol, in deep mourning

The private carriages of the High-Sheriff, of P.W.S Miles, J.S Harford and G.H Ames Esqrs, closed the procession.


We hope in our next to be enabled to give a few particulars of the history of the deceased, and of her talented daughter, who died some years since, and many of whose paintings have now become  property of the Bristol Academy

 There have been numerous newspaper reports since Ellen’s death relating to the Academy, but one that stood out was in the Bristol Mercury, Saturday 20th May 1882 which confirmed that Ellen left a legacy of £4,500 to the Academy along with 97 pictures. The article went on to criticize Bristol for its lack of interest in the arts, demonstrated by the lack of donations made and worries about the future of the Academy.  A previous article dated  19th February 1853 gave the amount of her bequest as being £6,000; the article also said that the Academy should be for the sole use of artists and no-one else which caused problems as others felt that such a building should be made available for everyone to use; it’s not clear what the outcome of this debate was.

We will of course continue with our research and provide updates as and when we find out anything more about the family.

A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Women’s Journals During the French Revolution

When you think of prisoners during the Revolution you are inclined to think of possibly the two most famous women who were arrested and sentenced to death – Marie Antoinette and Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat, but there were many other women who wrote journals about their lives during the French Revolution, some written from prison, others were purely about how their lives changed during this period.

In 1803 Napoleon sent out an edict to detain every British citizen living in France at that time; all British persons were to be arrested, imprisoned and interrogated, with some also being sentenced to death.

We know however, that many lesser known women were also detained. From her letters and journal we have found out that our heroine spent from the early 1790s to the mid 1820s travelling between England and France, with part of her life being spent in a variety of French prisons.  We also know that Helen Maria Williams, whom we have written about before, spent time in The Luxembourg prison, Paris, from where she continued to work on translations.

Apart from Le Bastille, the main prison used to house British detainees was La Conciergerie, a former royal palace in Paris; between 2nd April 1793 and 31st May 1795 over 2,500 prisoners were sent to the guillotine from La Conciergerie.

Marie Antoinette's cell in the Conciergerie.
Marie Antoinette’s cell in the Conciergerie.

During this period in history many women, whether in prison or just trying to continue with their day to day lives, wrote letters and journals which have survived, giving us an insight into their lives at this time.

For those interested in reading about life during the Revolution there are quite a few online journals that make fascinating reading, such as the one by the Duchesse De Duras.

A well known Scottish courtesan Grace Elliott nee Dalrymple was also purported to have been held as a prisoner during the Revolution, however the jury has always remained out as to whether or not this was in fact true, and just how much truth is in her Journal of my Life during the French Revolution (we reveal the true facts in our book on Grace).

Grace is another lady who we have been closely researching, but more of this at a later date.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Another interesting journal was written by Henriette-Lucie Dillon born 25th February 1770 at Saint-Sulpice, Paris. She was the daughter of General Arthur Dillon, who married his second cousin Therese-Lucy de Rothe – Journal of a Woman of Fifty Years. We stumbled across this journal we researching our heroine who was a friend of one of Arthur Dillon’s relatives.

The Great French Revolution is narrated in the letters of Madame J which were edited by her grandson Edouard Lockroy. Madame J had never anticipated her letter being published as they were not written for the public to read, but none the less they give a fascinating account of her life.

All of these journals give the reader a real insight into life in France before, during and after the French Revolution and we feel they are definitely worth a read!

Armed with snippets of information from these journals we set about trying to research French records in the hope of finding the people we were interested in listed in at least one of the prisons we had read about where many of the English women were held during the revolution.

During our research we have came across a wonderfully helpful website set up by Anne Morddel which gives links to the various French Departments.

Anne very kindly sent us a list of women that were listed as foreign British prisoners in Napoleonic France. Sadly, our lady was not on the list, but many others were. If you think that one of your relatives might have been on the list it is worth emailing Anne to obtain a copy.