How many of us can honestly say that we don’t feel good when wearing a beautiful piece of jewellery. The Georgians were no different, the bolder the better in many cases. So we thought we would take a look at the ‘bling’ of the day.
There were certain items of jewellery that were designated for certain times of the day. Day wear would consist of a necklace, small understated rings and the most important item which arguably would still be useful today – the chatelaine or chain, known as ‘equipage’ until the 1830’s, as shown below which would be attached to the waist of the dress.
Today this item seems to have been replaced by the familiar ‘bottomless’ handbag. In the 18th century is would have worn about the waist and would have been used to hold everything you could have possibly needed for the day – scissors, a thimble case, needles, a small purse, seals, a watch, a small booklet to write notes on, a pencil, etc.
Eighteenth-century gents would display their status by wearing shoe buckles and buttons studded with gems such as these.
Evenings required a completely different type of jewellery – diamonds were the order of the day, the bigger and brighter the better, usually set in silver. Diamonds were often mounted in silver, rather than gold, with the aim being to enhance the stone’s colour and would have been an essential part of court life. To be at the height of fashion you would wear Girandole earrings. These featured a central bow from which hung three dangling jewels that resembled the chandeliers of the period. For those who chose not to have pierced ears, the Georgian era saw the advent of the clip-on earring.
During the French Revolution many women chose to wear a red ribbon as a choker in support of friends and family who had died during the revolution, or as a sign of their own close call with death. For those more affluent then rubies would have been the equivalent, both indicative of the blood shed at executions.
This item from the British Museum was too fascinating not to include. The description reads:
Heart shaped pendant locket with a lock of hair, traditionally said to be that of Marie Antoinette, set under glass or rock-crystal with an inscribed card and mounted in a gold filigree setting. A small gold padlock is suspended from the base with a key on a chain attached to the suspension loop. The filigree in the form of tight spiral discs forming ‘spectacles’ shapes, placed within the flat wire rim.
A lock of hair of MARIE ANTOINETTE, Queen of FRANCE given by her to Lady Abercorn by whom it was given to her sister Lady Julia Lockwood, whose daughter Lady Napier gave it to W.S. 1853
The inscription is wrongly transcribed in the catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift: Lady Abercorn is given as Lady Abercrombie.
For more information about this item use the highlighted link to the British Museum webpage.
Moving on to possibly the most macabre items of jewellery, we take a brief look at mourning rings. In many wills that we have read it seems commonplace for the deceased to leave enough money for some sort of mourning ring to be purchased as a keepsake, usually bearing the name and date of death of the person, and possibly an image of them, or a motto.
And finally we take a look at an item of jewellery that seems unlikely ever to return to fashion – Lover’s eye brooches or eye miniatures. It is reputed that they became popular in the late 1780’s when the Prince of Wales decided to send Maria Fitzherbert a token of his love for her. The idea that he should wish to do such a thing was frowned upon, so he commissioned Cosway simply to paint only the eye to preserve anonymity.
Our post would not be complete without including something light hearted from the Lewis Walpole Library, so if finances were running low due to gambling debts a lady could always sell her jewels!
Today’s blog is going to be a sad little tale of a family destroyed by opium in late Georgian England. It perhaps struck us so much because the family lived not in an inner city slum but instead in the flat and open agricultural landscape of the Lincolnshire Fens, a marshland close to the Wash, an estuary on the eastern coastline of England.
We’ll turn first to a newspaper report on the inquest of a child belonging to this family, poor little Rebecca Eason who was actually younger than mentioned; she had not yet reached her fifth birthday.
An inquest was held at Whaplode on the 21st inst., by Samuel Edwards, Gent. coroner, on view of the body of Rebecca Eason, a child aged 5 years, who had been diseased from its birth and was unable to walk or to articulate, and from its size did not appear to be more than a few weeks old:- The mother had been for many years in the habit of taking opium in very large quantities, (nearly a quarter of an ounce in the day), and it is supposed from that circumstance had entailed a disease on her child which caused its death:- it was reduced to a mere skeleton, and had been in that emaciated state nearly from its birth. – Verdict, “Died by the visitation of God, but that from the great quantity of opium taken by the mother during her pregnancy of the said child and of her suckling it, she had greatly injured its health.” – It appeared in evidence that the mother of the deceased had had five children – that she began to take opium after the birth and weaning of her first child, which was and is remarkably healthy – and that her four younger children have all lingered and died in the same emaciated state as the child which was the subject of this investigation. – The mother is under 30 years of age: she was severely censured by the coroner for indulging in so pernicious a practice.
Stamford Mercury, 30th September 1825
For reasons that will perhaps become clear, we’re not going to judge poor addicted Mary Eason. She was quite clearly continuing to take opium despite knowing the effect it was having on her children but we cannot, at this remove, know what induced her first to use the drug, and once addicted very little help would be available to her.
We were surprised to find that the consumption of opium in the Fenland was extremely high in comparison to other areas. Even now large areas of the Fenland appear quite isolated and in the early nineteenth-century there was limited medical assistance for the inhabitants who suffered badly from the ague (malarial fever, often leading to rheumatism), brought on by living in a marshy and largely unhealthy district. In 1867 Dr Hawkins of King’s Lynn informed the readers of the British Medical Journal that Lincolnshire and Norfolk consumed more than half of the opium which was imported into the country.[i]
The fact that these conditions had led to a noticeably high consumption of opium was commented on at the time. `There was not a labourer’s house… without its penny stick or pill of opium, and not a child that did not have it in some form.’ According to an analysis made in 1862, more opium was sold in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Manchester than in other parts of the country.’ As elsewhere, poppy-head tea had been used as a remedy long before other narcotics were commercially available. Charles Lucas, a Fenland physician, recalled the widespread use of the remedy. `A patch of white poppies was usually found in most of the Fen gardens. Poppy-head tea was in frequent use, and was taken as a remedy for ague… To the children during the teething period the poppy-head tea was often given. Poppies had been grown in the area for the London drug market, where they were used to produce syrup of white poppies; and there had even been attempts made in Norfolk to produce opium on a commercial scale.[ii]
Mary married young, very young given that she was stated (erroneously) to be under the age of thirty years in the September of 1825. Mary was, in fact, probably just on the other side of thirty as she married on the 9th September 1810 at the church of St Mary’s in Whaplode. Her maiden name was Egan and her husband, a labourer (given the location he’d be an agricultural labour), was named Thomas Eason. Mary made her mark on the register of her marriage and the two men who witnessed the ceremony were possibly two of the Church Wardens as they witnessed many marriages in the parish. Their names were Robert Collins and Robert Cook Collins.
So Mary was likely to have been little more than sixteen years of age and the marriage was a hasty one, possibly conducted with encouragement from the parish officials for Mary was heavily pregnant at the time of her wedding. Her child, a daughter named Ann, was born less than two months after she had walked up the aisle and was baptised in the same church on the 4th November 1810.
On the face of it, purely from the records available, things do not look too bad for the couple despite the unpromising start. They lived on Cobgate in Whaplode and, from the account given at the inquest, little Ann was a healthy baby and Mary initially a good mother. But the records belie the true facts. It was after Ann had been weaned that Mary Eason began to take opium.
We can’t know if her hastily made marriage was a happy one (for as the old saying goes, marry in haste and repent at leisure) nor if she was suffering from what would now be diagnosed as postnatal depression after the birth of her child. But begin to take opium she did which was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in the area in which she lived and where the drug was widely available. It was not unknown for working class women to dose their infant with poppy-head tea to keep them quiet or to soothe them. Sometimes their own addiction began because they ‘tasted’ the opiates which they gave to their children. Perhaps this is how Mary’s sad story of addiction began? However it came about, now the tragic procession of the baptisms and burials of her children begins to stalk the pages of the parish register.
First was William, baptized on the 15th April 1813 and buried just a few months later on the 30th September. He was followed by another girl, Susanna, baptized on the 2nd January 1815 and who lived to see only her first birthday. She was buried on the 13th May 1816. Then comes Sarah, baptized on the 1st November 1816 and possibly, contrary to the inquest, a further child who did survive Mary’s addiction for we have as yet found no corresponding burial for her.
Sarah’s birth was followed by another sister, Elisabeth who was baptized on the 6th December 1818 and buried just over a month later on the 10th January 1819. Then a son named Thomas, baptized on the 4th December 1819 and buried five days later. And next came poor Rebecca, baptized on the 29th December 1820, who somehow miraculously clung to life but failed to grow or develop. Finally the last child we have managed to trace, another son named John who was baptized on the 6th July 1823 and buried on Christmas Eve later that same year.
We’ll be honest here, when we first went hunting through the records for Mary Eason and her children we half expected to see a trail of illegitimate children. But no, Thomas Eason is named on all the baptisms and burials as the father, the address is always Cobgate and his profession does not change. For anyone reading through the Whaplode registers the household looks to be a completely stable one, albeit tinged with tragedy. As we have not judged Mary, neither will we judge Thomas Eason. Again, we have no way of knowing whether he was a kind or a cruel husband or even if he was an opium eater himself, but the mere fact that he had stuck by Mary and that their eldest child was reported, in 1825, to still be healthy, points to him trying his best to hold his troubled home together. Possibly he just got by and did what he could, not knowing what else to do or where to turn to for help?
At least five infant children belonging to Thomas and Mary Eason now lay in the churchyard at St Mary’s and it seems that they had passed as mere statistics of high infant mortality without the cause of death raising any suspicions, or at least no suspicions which reached the authorities. In the Fenland the rates of infant mortality were even higher than elsewhere, with the use of opium being one of the main causes. But Rebecca’s death in 1825 was different, because of her deformities, leading to the inquest.
After Rebecca’s burial on the 22nd September 1825 when she joined her five siblings in the churchyard Thomas and Mary Eason vanish from the pages of the parish register. We’ve looked for them in later records, hoping to put a happy ending to their lives, but we can find no trace of them or their daughter Ann (and Sarah if she did live). A sad ending for a sad tale of a Fenland family in the early nineteenth-century.
[i] Beccles and Bungay Weekly News, 1st October 1867
The recent trial for crim. con. upon an action brought by Mr. F[awkener] against the honourable John Townshend, for criminal conversation with the plaintiff’s wife, is, at present, the topic of conversation in all the polite circles; but great pains having been taken to suppress the publication of the trial, the incidents of this illicit amour are not generally known. We have, however, come at a knowledge of the whole transaction, and will lay it candidly and fairly before our readers.
So began the article entitled ‘Histories of the téte-à-téte annexed; or Memoirs of the PERSEVERING LOVER, and the FALSE WIFE’ in the July 1786 edition of The Town and Country Magazine.
William Augustus Fawkener was the brother of Mrs Bouverie about whom we have written before. His wife was formerly Georgiana Anne Poyntz, daughter of William Poyntz of Midgham House in Berkshire and cousin to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Beautiful and clever, but with no great fortune, at the age of only twenty years she had been persuaded into marriage by her family to Fawkener, a man she did not particularly like. The marriage, at St George’s in Hanover Square, was conducted by her uncle, the Reverend Charles Poyntz. Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie later wrote of her, saying that Georgiana Anne had been “in a manner educated in Devonshire House, and continued to live principally in that society of easy manners after her marriage”. After only a year of marriage, while staying at Lord Melbourne’s house, Brocket Hall, the young Mrs Fawkener fell head over heels in love with the handsome Honourable John Townshend, second son to Field Marshal George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend.
Jack Townshend was an intimate friend of Charles James Fox and known as a man of wit and pleasure with elegant tastes; he was also a wicked mimic and could pen excellent verses. He was a regular guest at Devonshire House and the Duchess said of him in 1777 that “Jack Townshend is really a very amiable young man. He has great parts, though not such brilliant ones as Charles Fox’s, and I dare say he will make a very good figure hereafter – he is just twenty now, though he has the appearance of being older”. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was later accused of covering up the intrigues developing between her young cousin and her friend, Jack Townshend. Everyone but Mr Fawkener could see that Mr Townshend was taking ‘liberties’ with the young wife, and when William was roused to action, Georgiana Anne stoutly and boldly denied any wrongdoing, but in doing so she evinced so much partiality to Townshend and contempt for her husband that the pair separated, and Georgiana left her marital home. She must have run to her lover, for her husband had her watched and then when satisfied as to how the thing stood, challenged his rival to a duel. Meeting in Hyde Park, Fawkener fired first and missed; Townshend, conscious of having done wrong, refused to return his rival’s fire, instead, he discharged his pistol into the air.
Monday a duel was fought in Hyde Park between the Hon. John Townshend and William Faulkener, Esq; Clerk to the Privy Council. The gentlemen had some dispute at Ranelagh on Friday night, and they met with their seconds on Monday morning. Faulkener fired first, and missed, the bullet passing only thro’ the hat of Mr. Townshend; the latter then discharged his pistol in the air, and the affair terminated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
Public Advertiser, 24th May 1786
Georgiana Anne had first run to Twickenham and then she stopped in St Alban’s at the house of her aunt, the Dowager Lady Spencer. John Townshend joined her there and they left Lady’s Spencer’s house to live, to all intents and purposes, as man and wife. The couple kept on the move, to an inn at Staines, then Godalming, Richmond and back to Staines, thence to Lymington before moving to Hampstead and then Chelsea before finally settling at Hereford. At the ensuing trial which began on the 12th July 1786 and at which the Duke of Devonshire was called as a witness by Mr Townshend, it was established that Mrs Fawkener often met with John Townshend when she rode out and the gentleman took ‘several liberties both in action and conversation, which a modest woman could only allow to her husband’; he had been seen leaving Georgiana Anne’s bedchamber in the morning after her separation from her husband. Fawkener was awarded £500 damages for the loss of his wife.
The Town and Country Magazine speculated that, should a full divorce be granted, John Townshend would make haste to marry his lady, and that is exactly what happened despite objections from his father who wrote:
I forgive your conduct towards the woman, I approve of your behaviour towards her husband in the field; but should you marry her, I can never more consider you as one of my family.
The couple married on the 10th April 1787 at Sunbury on Thames. Townshend, known as Lord John Townshend from 1787, stood as M.P. for Westminster and then for Knaresborough for many years. The couple had three children (their daughter Elizabeth married Captain Augustus Clifford, the illegitimate son of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s rival) and seem to have lived out their long lives happily enough together. Lord John died in 1833 aged 76, and Lady Georgiana Anne Townshend lived to the great age of 94 years, dying in 1851.
As for William Augustus Fawkener, he too remarried and had two daughters by his second wife.
In the December of 1785 the French port town of Marseilles was abuzz with gossip about the gallant and heroic Madame du Frenoy.
The lady had embarked along with her husband in a Tartane (a small ship used for fishing and coastal trading), bound for Genoa in Italy, and had scarcely lost sight of the port when a Barbary corsair ship was spied making its way towards them. The Tartane had no chance of outrunning the pirate vessel, and so prepared to receive it.
Monsieur du Frenoy tried desperately to persuade his wife to go below deck, but she flatly refused. Displaying a remarkable courage, she seized hold of a sabre and took her place at her husband’s side, declaring she would remain there and abide by her fate. Monsieur du Frenoy knew enough of his wife to realise it was impossible to change her mind, and so by his side she stayed. The Algerine vessel came closer and after firing a broadside they grappled the Tartane, and threw a large party on board her.
The crew and passengers of the Tartane received the pirates gallantly, but one of the bravest amongst them was Madame du Frenoy. She wielded her sabre, and shouted encouragement to the crew, cheering and animating them. Her husband fell, wounded by a pistol bullet in his thigh; his lady stood over him and levelled, with one stroke of her sabre, a young Turk who advanced to attack them. At last the pirates retreated to the safety of their own ship, cut the grappling that bound the two vessels together and made off. A smart action now commenced with their great guns.
Madame du Frenoy helped her husband below, to the surgeon, and then returned to the deck, encouraging the men on the Tartane until the corsair, tired of his reception, sheered off. Twenty dead pirates lay on the deck of the Tartane and of the crew of the Tartane, fourteen had died and thirty were wounded (the number of wounded pirates who made it back to the safety of the corsair was not recorded).
The Tartane limped back into Marseilles where the Magistrates were informed of the action and of the bravery of the lady. They waited on Madame du Frenoy and invited her, in their name, to the theatre where she was received with the loudest acclamations and a crown of laurel placed upon her head by the Marquis de St Christeau.
Madame du Frenoy continued to be rightly lauded for her bravery: Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, asked for a portrait to be taken of her and, in the June of 1786, the Grand Master of Malta, Fra’ Sir Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc (1725-1797) sent to her, as a present, a most rich and costly bracelet of rubies as a token of her extraordinary and gallant conduct.
We searched for Madame du Frenoy, but the only person we found was Adélaïde-Gillette Dufrénoy, née Billet. Born in 1765, this lady had married, at the age of only fifteen years, a rich prosecutor, Simon Petit-Dufrénoy. In 1787 she began to write and publish some poetic works and in 1788 put on a play at the theatre. Misfortune followed when her home was burnt to the ground during the French Revolutionary years and her husband became bankrupt: he was offered a badly paid job at Alexandria in Egypt and Adélaïde-Gillette accompanied him there, copying and writing his documents for him when he became blind, but also finding time to compose the elegies for which she is most remembered.
When Simon Petit-Dufrénoy retired the couple returned to France where Adélaïde-Gillette found favour with the Emperor Napoléon. She took to writing erotic poetry (and was very successful in doing so!) and in 1812 sang for the King of Rome. The King was a year old infant, Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, the son of Napoléon and his second wife Marie Louise of Austria whom he had married following his divorce from Joséphine de Beauharnais. The following year Adélaïde-Gillette formed one of the escort which travelled with Marie Louise of Austria to Cherbourg for the opening of the harbour on the 27th August 1813.
When the French Empire fell, Adélaïde-Gillette Dufrénoy managed to save her family from ruin by writing children’s books. She died in 1825, aged fifty-nine years. With a true instinct for survival, was Adélaïde-Gillette Dufrénoy the heroic wife who stood over her injured husband wielding her sabre to save his life?
The following story was found in the London Standard newspaper, dated the 3rd July 1829.
A friend of ours, who travels a good deal in the course of the year – visiting by the way many outlandish corners, where inns and milestones are alike scarce – has a mare that follows him like a pet dog, and fares very much as he does himself. Her name is Jess, and when a feed of corn is difficult to be got at, she has no objection to breakfast, dine, or sup on oat-cake, loaf-bread, or barley-meal scones, seasoned with a whang from the gudewife’s kebbuck. In the remotest parishes such viands are generally forthcoming and failing these, the animal is so little given to fastidiousness, that she will thrust, when invited, her nose into a cofgull of porridge or sowens, or even the kail-pot itself, where the content are thick and sufficiently cool.
Though her staple beverage is drawn from the pump-trough, the crystal well, or the running brook, she can tipple at times as well as her betters, particularly when the weather runs in extremes, and is either sultry and oppressively hot, or disagreeably raw, blashy, and cold. In warm days she prefers something cooling, and very lately we had the honour of treating her to a bottle of ale! A toll-keeper, when summoned, came to the door, with a bottle in the one hand and a screw in the other; but a clumsier butler we never saw, and, what with his fumbling, the mare got so impatient, that she seemed ready at one time to knock the lubber down. The liquor, when decanted, was approached in a moment, and swallowed without the intervention of a breath; and for some miles its effects were visible in the increased speed and spirits of the animal; and we were informed that the same thing takes pace, when the cordial is changed in winter to a gill of whiskey!
The aqua, of course, is diluted in water, several per cents below the proper strength of seamen’s grog; and her master is of opinion that a little spirits, timeously applied, is as useful a preservative against cold in the case of a horse as of a human being. Our friend’s system is certainly peculiar, but his mare thrives well under it; and we will be bold to say that a roadster more sleek, safe, and docile, is not to be found in the whole country. – Dumfries Courier.
Header image: Mare and Foal; William Malbon; Museums Sheffield
Following our blog about Anne Mee which you seemed to have enjoyed we thought we would take a look at another female artist who specialized in painting miniatures.
According to quite a few sources, Penelope was born around 1730, so just to confirm we will start this post with details of her baptism. She was baptized on 29thApril 1729 at Withington, Hereford, her parents being John and Ann, nee Bullock, of Preston Wynne, Herefordshire.
Her siblings included Anne (Frier), Mary (Wilson), Priscilla (Warricker and Crichton, who died in 1776), Rebecca (Probert) and Henrietta (Pugh). She also had a brother Thomas, a clergyman, but who was also a miniature portrait painter and who married a Miss Anne Holgate in Essex.
Until her marriage, somewhat later in life than was the norm at that time, Penelope pursued the genteel pastime of miniature painting which was viewed as a suitable way for women to earn a respectable living, a necessity given that her father had managed to be reckless with the family money, she was a pupil of the artist Ozias Humphry.
The diarist, James Boswell, noted in March 1763 that Alexander 10th Earl of Eglinton was sitting for his miniature to ‘Mrs Carwardine’, who he described as ‘a very good-looking, agreeable woman, unmarried but I imagine virtuous’. Given the date of her marriage, this must have taken place just prior to it. Penelope was described as being a close friend of Joshua Reynolds and his sister Frances.
It is reputed that Penelope exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761, 1762, 1771, and 1772, however, on checking The Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791; the Free Society of Artists, 1761-1783; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from the foundation of the societies to 1791, the earlier entries refer to Mrs Thomas (Ann) Carwardine, this seems more likely to actually relate to Penelope’s mother Ann despite the reference to Thomas.
Penelope married James Butler, a church organist at Ranelagh and St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Westminster. The couple were married at St James, Piccadilly, St James the Less, Thorndike Street, 26thMay 1763. Until now there have always been two possible dates for her marriage, many sources saying that she married around 1772, gave up her work at that time and that no miniatures by her after this date are known. The majority of her works are said to have been produced between 1750 and 1765.
Her husband James also taught organ and harpsichord at Mr Dubdat’s on Berwick Street, Soho until his death in 1774. Fortunately for us, James left a will in which he named not only Penelope but also his 4 children from his previous marriage – Elizabeth (1751), Harriott (1755), Thomas Hamley (1756) and Anthony (1757). He also made provision for Charles Mellish of Blyth, a relative of Mrs Gooch who we have written about previously.
Sources also give the date of Penelope’s demise as being 14thOctober 1805 at Preston Wynne, Herefordshire (the place of her mother’s birth). However, when checking her last will and testament this cannot be correct as her will was written on the 15thJanuary 1804 and then proven on the 30thOctober 1804. Penelope was, at the time of writing her will living in the village of East Colne, Essex.
However, her death did take place in Herefordshire according to theMonthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2and theBath Chroniclereported her death on the 18th Oct 1804. With the kind help of the Hereford Archives we have managed to establish there was a burial on the 16th October 1804 for a Priscilla Butler, rather than a Penelope, but that her gravestone does record her correctly, so possibly a simple mistake on the part of the vicar who got the sisters mixed up, presumably, let’s hope he named her correctly during the funeral service!
To be certain that we had found the correct persons will we have noted some of the beneficiaries:-
Her sister Mary Wilson was left a long India shawl, agate snuff box and £10 for mourning. Her cousin Martha Allan – £10 for mourning and £10 annual annuity between Martha and Mary, also her clothes to be divided between them.
Her sister Henrietta Pugh – received £100 with Rebecca Probert getting £10 for mourning. Lucy Crichton received the portrait of her father the late William Crichton Esq. Her sister-in-law, wife of her brother Thomas Carwardine, a gold repeating watch in trust for her daughter Ann Carwardine and £200 in the 4 percents, hoop diamond ring, ring connected with her brother and the long shawl given to her by Claude Benset Esq. To her niece Ann Carwardine she bequeathed diamond earrings. To the poor of the village of Preston Wynne in Withington, Hereford, £5 and her brother Thomas Carwardine received the residue of her estate.
Anne Gilchrist, her life and writings. edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, with a prefatory notice by William Michael Rossetti
On Friday 4th January 1771 a press gang was busily impressing men at Newington Butts (now a borough in Southwark).
The men who had been impressed had no recourse, and one woman was distraught to see her husband being taken away from her and their children. She followed the sailors with loud lamentations and protestations which roused many other women to sally forth from their houses to add their voices to that of the wife’s. One of these women was the famous Hannah Snell who was at that time the landlady of the Three Tuns public house.
Years earlier Hannah had disguised herself as a man, taken the name of her brother-in-law James Gray, and joined the British army in search of her errant husband, a Dutchman named James Summs whom she said she had married in 1744 in the Fleet (he had left her with a young daughter who had died as an infant).[i] Successfully hiding the fact that she was a woman, even though she was reputedly twice given the lash and suffered many wounds, she served both on land with the army and at sea with the marines until she returned to London and came clean. She petitioned the Duke of Cumberland for a stipend, and then trod the boards on the London stage for a time.
By the time she chased the press gang, Hannah had found out her first husband had died (she was told a fanciful tale that he had been executed for murder in Genoa by being put into a barrel and thrown into the sea) and had remarried (and probably again been widowed) to a Berkshire carpenter named Richard Eyles with whom she had two children.[ii]
The newspapers reported that Hannah accosted the Lieutenant in charge of the sailors, and demanded the captive be released; he refused and ‘bad words’ ensuing, she grabbed hold of him and shook him. Two sailors stepped forward to rescue the officer, but Hannah quickly saw them off, and then challenged the rest of the gang to a fight with fists, sticks or quarter-staffs. Her only proviso was that she be permitted to pull off her stays, gown and petticoats and to put on a pair of breeches. Loudly she declared that she had sailed more Leagues than any of them, and if they were Seamen, they ought to be on board, and not sneaking about as Kidnappers, saying:
. . . but if you are afraid of the Sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulders, and march through Germany as I have done: Ye Dogs, I have more Wounds about me than you have Fingers. This is no false Attack; I will have my Man.
And with that the sailors backed down and allowed her to take the poor man from their ranks: Hannah restored him to his hearth and home, and his grateful wife.
Shortly after her successful sally on the press gang she married for a third time, to a man named Richard Habgood.
On the 12th November 1772 the couple applied for marriage bond in the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Salisbury, covering Wiltshire and Berkshire. The bond gave the information that Richard Habgood was of Welford and Hannah Eyles was of Speen, both in Berkshire. The bondsman was James Owen of Welford. They then married on the 16th November 1772 at St Gregory’s, the parish church covering the villages of Welford and Wickham, by banns.
The celebrated Hannah Snell died in Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital in 1792.
Hannah’s life as a ‘female soldier’ was told in print in 1750, and can be read here.
[i] They had a daughter, Susannah, baptised on the 3rd October 1746 at St George in the East and Hannah’s address in the baptism register was given as Silver Street.
[ii] Her son George Spence Eyles was baptised on the 17th January 1765 at St Luke’s in Chelsea.