The Sussex Giantess – Jane Cobden

In the 18th and 19th centuries people were fascinated with people who were different in some way to the ‘average person’ and people such as the Sussex Giantess were bought by often unscrupulous people, to be on show for the paying public. So let’s find out a little more about Jane Cobden and her family.

William Cobden and Millicent Amber were married in 1798 and together they had eleven children, five boys and six girls, including their famous second son, Richard Cobden, who was noted in history as being a politician.

 

William and Millicent. Manchester City Library
William and Millicent. Manchester City Library

Their children were – Frederick (1799); Emma (1800-1836); Millicent (1802); Richard (1804-1865); Jane (1806); Charles (1808); Priscilla (1809); Miles (1812); Henry Andrews (1813-1858); Mary (1815); and their youngest, Sarah (1817).

Richard was probably best known for his association with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-corn law league, and the Cobden Chevalier Treaty, which promoted closer interdependence between Britain and France. He was so well respected that he even has a memorial bust in the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

Fagnani, Giuseppe; Richard Cobden (1804-1865); Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service;

To give you a little background into the family, they were a long-standing Sussex family who could trace their ancestors back to the fourteenth century. They lived in the hamlet of Heyshott, near Chichester, Sussex in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford.

Dunford Farm Sussex National Library of Australia
Dunford Farm Sussex National Library of Australia

They were not a wealthy family and Richard’s father was described by Richard’s biographer, John Morley as

a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not the force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him.

Millicent, however, appears to have been the stronger character, described as being

endowed with native sense, shrewdness and force of mind.

She would have to have been a strong character, given the number of children she had to raise. It must have been difficult trying to raise such a large family with limited income, always trying to find ways to make ends meet. In 1809, the family had to be sold and the family moved to a smaller farm, Gilder’s Oak.

By 1813, the family hit hard time and had to move again, finally settling in West Meon, Hampshire.

By this time their third daughter, Jane was only seven years old, but was there anything unusual about Jane at that time? We will never know. The first sighting of a Jane Cobden was not until 1824, when her name appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle where she was described appearing as part of a travelling show of ‘curiosities’ at Mr Hubbard’s’ Great Room, Kings Head, upper side of the market. Sadly, the advert carries no further information as to quite where Mr Hubbard’s Great Room was, given that the notice appeared in a local newspaper, possibly Norfolk.

Jane was described as being

Only 18 years of age, stands near seven feet high. This young lady is allowed by all ranks of people, to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever exhibited to be British public.

She was appearing alongside Mr Thomson, the Scottish Giant, who stood at over seven feet tall and Mr Robertson who stood a mere twenty-six inches tall. Admittance being one shilling for ladies and gentlemen and just six pence for servants.

In July 1825, Jane’s mother, Millicent Cobden died at the age of 50, did Jane know as she was busy travelling around the country?

It was the festival at York in December 1825, that provided just  one more clue as to her identity when it specified that she was a native of Chichester and that:

This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.

The final sighting of Jane was in the Evening Mail, 9 June 1826, when she appeared at Ascot Races, accompanied by a ‘dwarf from the Low Countries’, a ‘Bohemian who balanced coach wheels on his chin’, a black sleight of hand player, several dogs and a lady who ‘took money’, all dwelling in a covered cart not twelve feet square, and all to be seen for just one penny.

Jane simply vanished after this, but it is reputed that she died in Hertfordshire in 1830, making her just 24 years of age. Whilst I cannot be absolutely certain that this young lady was the sister of Richard, she was the only Jane Cobden, born in Sussex whose year of birth matches or even comes close and there seems nothing to suggest that it wasn’t her – perhaps someone out there might be able to confirm one way or the other.

Sources:

The life of Richard Cobden by Morley, John, 1838-1923

Hurley and Skidmore Family History

Liverpool Mercury Friday 9 December 1825

Norfolk Chronicle Friday 24 December 1824

13 thoughts on “The Sussex Giantess – Jane Cobden

  1. An interesting read! I would be very surprised if this Jane was Richard the MP’s sister. He’s have been teased remorselessly in the Chamber and it would be noted but never say never. Good luck trying to nail this one 😉

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you as always. It’s publicly noted that Richard’s parents were William and Millicent. From the baptism register, Jane’s parents were also William and Millicent, living in the same place, so far I can only assume she was his sister, but as to whether he was teased about her, who know right now 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Could well be. He did not enter Parliament ’til 1841 so maybe managed to keep a lid on that old family scandal.
        I recall once having a real fix over three couples with the same first and surnames living in the same street and each having a child named after the father!

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  2. Fascinating. Thank you. What a remarkable story this is….worthy of further research, too. Richard Cobden was, in fact, remorselessly teased once eventually elected as the member for Stockport, though not, as far as I know, about his late sister.

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  3. Rita Corrigan

    Fascinating. At first sight such a déclassé involvement seems unlikely, but the names and geography are pretty strong indicators. As another reader points out, if Richard came to prominence later the connection may not have been generally known: no Google then!

    Liked by 1 person

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