Friday, November 25, 2011

The World's Most Famous Cow
by Guest Blogger Laurie Alice Eakes

Since we are discussing the Regency era, the long one often employed for the purposes of novels, you know I do not refer to the infamous cow who allegedly kicked over the lantern and started the Great Chicago fire of 1871. I refer to Blossom, a dairy cow and her dairymaid Sarah Nelmes.

The story began a century before the Regency. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu brought the practice of variolazation from the Ottoman Empire, to England. Variolazation is the practice of taking live smallpox infection from a sick person and introducing  the infection to a healthy person in a small dose. Usually the person suffered a light case of smallpox that protected him from contracting the disease in its too often lethal form (between 20 and 33% of adults died from smallpox, as much as 80% of babies, and those who survived were usually scarred and/or blinded).

The practice continued throughout the eighteenth century with enough success that people risked their health and potentially their looks, to having the variegation performed upon them. But folklore claimed that dairymaids did not contract smallpox, as a rule even when exposed to it. Physicians ignored this as country folk nonsense.

Then Edward Jenner came along.

He was a vicar’s son from Berkeley, Gloucestershire, who began his apprenticeship to be a surgeon at the age of thirteen—1772. His studies carried him to the home of someone with smallpox. He had gone through variolazation, so did not fear the disease. And neither did a dairymaid, who offered to nurse the sick person because she had had the cowpox. Despite the master surgeon’s scoffing of the notion, Jenner’s interest was piqued.

In 1796, Jenner took pus from sores on the hands of Sarah Nelmes, who had contracted cowpox from Blossom, and scratched the infected matter into the skin of an eight-year-old boy. Jenner later deliberately infected the boy with smallpox. He did not contract the disease. Jenner tried again. Again, the boy did not contract the disease.

Gentle reader, let me say that we are a bit horrified that he would do this to an eight-year-old child who had likely given no say in whether or not he was used as an experiment. But we owe this child a great deal, as smallpox, according to the World Health Organization, has been eradicated for nearly forty years.

But back to our tale.

Jenner tried to get the Royal Society to sponsor him. He failed. Most surgeons and physicians thought him a little mad. It did not discourage him. He continued his research and experiments—yes, with real human subjects. I am hopeful that these were adults who consented.
The Cow Pock by Gillray--Vaccination causing cows to happen!

By the Regency, Jenner’s ideas were growing in acceptance. Medical societies were formed around immunization research, and by 1840, Great Britain outlawed the use of variolazation to immunize against smallpox. To this day, we refer to those nasty shots against disease as vaccinations from the Latin vaca, which means cow.

You can find more about Edward Jenner and Blossom, including pictures of her horns, at

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes wanted to be a writer since knowing what one was. Her first book won the National Readers Choice Award in 2007, and her third book was a Carol Award finalist in 2010. Having her first book with Baker/Revell, Lady in the Mist, picked up by Crossings Book Club, and six of her books; have been chosen for large print editions by Thorndike Press. She has been a public speaker for as long as she can remember; thus, only suffers enough stage fright to keep her sharp. In 2002, while in graduate school for writing fiction, she began to teach fiction in person and online. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two dogs, and probably too many cats.

Visit Laurie at her website

Friday, November 18, 2011

Princess Mary, 'the family beauty'

Princess Mary, aged 6
Princess Mary, eleventh of the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte, and the fourth daughter, was born in 1776. The children of George III lived restricted lives, and his daughters' lives were particularly proscribed. Marriage was discouraged, and the younger ones had to wait until their elder sisters were wed, which was problematic for Augusta, 1768-1840, never did marry.

Mary, accredited as the family beauty, made her debut in 1792. She fell in love with a Dutch prince, Frederik, sometime around 1796 but was not permitted to marry him, as Augusta and Elizabeth were still spinsters. He died in 1799, and Mary's life took on the bleak aspect that she was to share with sisters Augusta and Elizabeth, until she married in 1816.

Mary was twenty when her niece Charlotte was born to George Prince of Wales and his detested wife Caroline. George III was delighted by the grandchild. Mary commented in a letter "Papa...loves little girls best." Mary's life was of necessity closely entwined with that of her niece. Mary, Augusta, Elizabeth and later Sophia and Amelia lived in their mother's thrall in a household they secretly called the 'Nunnery'. Charlotte spent a great deal of time with them during her childhood.

Princess Mary about 1815
Princess Amelia died in 1810 and George III slipped into insanity, and George Prince of Wales slipped into the Regency. Princess Charlotte, his daughter, feted by the public as heir to the throne, with the fickleness of youth, alternately loved and hated her aunts. In 1813, to Charlotte's great annoyance, Mary opened the dancing at a ball specifically given for Charlotte.

Oddly enough, Princess Mary and her niece (who shared a marked family resemblance) became mild rivals over two of the few eligible gentlemen permitted their acquaintance.

At thirty-seven, Mary was quite enamoured of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg despite that he was thirteen years her junior. At the time, Charlotte was contemplating marriage with the Prince of Orange--Slender Billy--whom she later jilted  In her boredom and resentment, she began to flirt with her second cousin William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester. He was thirty-eight! In the end, Charlotte wed Leopold, and Mary was married to Gloucester.

It was Mary's wedding dress that first piqued my interest in her. A description of the dress appeared in the Repository of Arts in the August 1816 issue:

The dress is composed of silver tissue, superbly trimmed with two flounces of scolloped lama, worked in pineapple pattern, each flounce headed with three weltings of lama-work. The body and sleeves, which are worked to correspond, are trimmed, in a style perfectly novel, with beautiful Brussels point lace. The robe of silver tissue is lined with white satin, and trimmed round with a most superb border of lama-work, which corresponds with the dress; it fastens at the waist by a superb diamond clasp. Her Royal Highness's diamonds were peculiarly fine; her head-dress in particular, which consisted of a superb wreath of diamonds, was much admired; and the general effects of her dress was strikingly beautiful.
The strategies which Mary used to effect her marriage are not now known. Her father was incapable of objection; her mother was within two years of her death. The Prince Regent was inclined to permit his sisters more freedom. All of these things may have combined to allow Mary to escape the stifling world of the 'Nunnery'. She was not marrying for love. Apparently the Duke of Gloucester was without personal charm. He was nicknamed "The Cheese, a stolid, unimaginative soul, but much taken with his Princess. She appeared unenthusiastic on their wedding day, but was prepared to do what she must to gain the freedom of marriage. Later, Charlotte wrote: "I cannot say she looks the picture of happiness or as if she was much delighted with him."

Princess Charlotte of Wales died in November, 1817, a year before her aunt Elizabeth married and her grandmother Queen Charlotte died. The Princess Victoria, Charlotte's cousin was born in 1819 and, with her, a new world quivered into being.

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester had no children, but became the future queen's favourite aunt. The Duke of Gloucester died in 1834, but Mary lived another twenty-two more years. She died in April 1857, aged 81. She was the only one of George III's fifteen children to have been photographed.
Princess Mary far right 1856 aged 80

Her companions are Queen Victoria, the future Edward VII, and little Princess Alice. I find that link from Regency times to Victorian fascinating.

Next week, Regency author Laurie Alice Eakes will be visiting. More details to come!

'Til next time,


Friday, November 11, 2011

The Sea and the Sky--Artist Robert Salmon

I know little of the ocean. I am a prairie person born and bred. Though I have seen both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, I have not lived near either. I cannot know the profound effect that the sea, and the nautical life it engenders, can have on a society or on an individual. It is a great drawback for a writer of books set in England, where the ocean has informed all the country's history.

East Indiaman 'Warley' by Robert Salmon 1804
I am aided in my understanding of the sea by marine artists. And I just discovered Robert Salmon 1775-1845. He was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1775 of Scottish descent. His name originally was Salomon; he changed the spelling around 1800. He is an enigmatic figure--nothing is known of his artistic training, little is documented of his personal life. Even his date of death is uncertain.
View of Liverpool from Cheshire

Salmon displayed occasionally at the Royal Academy in London from 1802 on. He settled in Liverpool in 1806 and lived there until 1811. A body of work from that period survives and is in the National Maritime Museum, London.
The first Mail Packet from Liverpool to Glasgow 1805

Old Bidston Lighthouse near Liverpool
In 1812 Salmon removed to Scotland and lived in Greenock until 1822. A great number of paintings survive from those years. I am particularly drawn to the skies in his work--I think they show him influenced by Turner, though his style is thought to be guided by 17th century Dutch marine painters. Look at the skies in these paintings:
Curious Rocks on the Coast of Scotland
Moonlight Coastal Scene
View of Greenock 1816
Salmon returned to Liverpool in 1822 where he worked until 1825.
An armed merchant vessel passing the Custom House, Greenock on the Clyde
Neward Castle with a distant View of Port Glasgow
In 1828, Robert Salmon emigrated to America.
Land's End, Cornwall
He became one of the greatest marine artists in that country. Salmon influenced a whole new generation of artists in America, and produced an immense body of work. I have not ventured to even sample it here. He is considered 'the father of American luminism' and painted 300-400 paintings of Boston Harbour alone, working in a studio--some called it a hut--right on the wharves.

Robert Salmon left America in 1842 for Europe. A few works of Italian scenes have been discovered, but it is unknown if he returned to England. The date of his last known work is 1845. His death is thought to have occurred shortly after, but where and when is not clear. He was a solitary man to the end, but he left a great legacy. And I am grateful to have his work to educate me about the sea and its ways.

'Til next time,


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Adult Orphan Institution

In my reading recently, I came across mention of the Adult Orphan Institution, also known as the Adult Orphan Asylum. I could not imagine what was meant by this title, and so, research was called for!

The Adult Orphan Institution was established in 1818 in Someries House, a building designed free of charge by John Nash in association with his redevelopment of the area surrounding Regent's Park. It was located on the north of St. Andrew's Place, near Park Square.

A map of 1833 with the location of the Adult Orphan Asylum in red.
The location was salubrious with the greenery of the Park, and opportunities for fresh air and exercise close by. The entire area was one large building site but, it must have been interesting for the inmates of the Asylum, though no doubt noisy and somewhat dirty. Nash's great terraces were rising to the north, Cambridge, Chester and Cumberland, in all their neoclassical glory.

The Adult Orphan Asylum was
"founded for the relief and education of the friendless and orphan daughters of clergymen of the established church, and of military and naval officers..."
It accepted young women aged 14 to 17 to be educated as governesses, "the instructions being of a superior description". The institution was entirely privately funded by donation. Early information is sketchy but in 1831, it was under the patronage of the King and the Princess Augusta. By 1842, the patron was Queen Victoria.

I have recounted the world of the Regency governess in another post. It was not an easy life. The Adult Orphan Institution educated governesses throughout the Victorian era, some 330 by 1861. A writer of the 1860's remarks on the life of the governess:
" is usually one of much monotony,--of wearisome exertion, but rarely violent affliction,--with many mortifications..."
This painting of 1844 by Richard Redgrave illustrates the dreary life with the governess sitting in shadow and solitude while the young ladies of the household celebrate the joys of summer together.

Graduates of the Asylum were assured, at least in public literature, of being "provided with situations as governesses in families of the highest respectability". It is to be hoped that the Adult Orphan Institution held to its advertised tenets. The market for governesses, in the mid-19th century, was dominated by 'governess agencies' who were neither as honest nor as reliable as they might have been. One publication says
"...these spurious agencies abound in the central and fashionable parts of London; they are mostly kept by women...mostly governesses who have themselves failed in their profession...but that fact cannot be accepted as an excuse for their dishonesty and greed. Their poverty does not give them a right to take money on false pretences from struggling creatures, who equally poor, or perhaps poorer than themselves, are yet striving to be honest."

A governess, circa 1845 by De Mersseman

I hope that the young women educated by the Adult Orphan Institution found comfortable, safe employment.

Institutions are always open to misuse and venality. Looking back from a great distance at an establishment we know little of, we can only hope that the girls who were forced by circumstance to seek out the Asylum were well-treated, and benefited from the promises of the charity.

'Til next time,