The reader’s first reaction will undoubted be: Who was Lady Cunliffe?? There are actually several ladies who, at the end of the 18th century, went by this name. All were related; wives of several baronets who held the title, one after the other. The woman pictured at left (in a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds) is Mary, Lady Cunliffe; wife (widow) of Sir Ellis Cunliffe; daughter of Henry Bennett of Chester. Of the career and life of Sir Ellis I will have more to say later; he figures in the histories of both Liverpool and Annapolis, Maryland. Sir Ellis and Lady Cunliffe were Mary Gosling’s maternal grandparents.
Lady Cunliffe had only two children, unlucky for her husband’s title, neither of them a son. Her first daughter, Mary, married Drummond Smith – alas, she died before he received his baronetcy in 1806. This Drummond Smith (for he had a great-nephew of the same name) was Uncle to Eliza Chute of The Vyne, Maria Marchioness of Northampton, Augusta Smith of Suttons, and Emma Smith (again, not to be confused with her niece, Emma Austen-Leigh). He lived much of his life at his estate Tring Park in Hertfordshire.
Lady Cunliffe’s second daughter, Margaret Elizabeth, married William Gosling the banker. Her premature death in December 1803 is said to have hastened the death of her most beloved sister only two months later, in February 1804.
The book in which this portrait is reproduced – SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS: A COMPLETE CATALOGUE OF HIS PAINTINGS (Yale, 2000), by David Mannings, has this to say about the work: ‘Painted 1761, wearing a pink dress of ruched silk with lace ruffles; a miniature portrait of her husband on her left wrist. She sits in a green upholstered chair. There are appointments with Lady Cunliffe in June 1761… There is a cancelled appointment on 9 Nov. 1762. A first payment of 15 gns is recorded in the Ledger on 1 July  (Cormack 1970, 114); a second payment of the same amount was made between 6 July 1761 and 28 May 1762 (ibid. 115).’
Then comes this most interesting tidbit: ‘Lady Cunliffe’s name appears almost every year in Reynolds’ Pocket Books 1777-89, usually at eight or nine o’clock, apparently in the evening, on one occasion with a note: “Cards & supper.” Sometimes she arrives with Mrs Vesey, Mrs Shipley or Mrs Boscowen and it is clear that these are social calls.’
A side note: Sir Joshua is known to have painted a companion portrait of Sir Ellis (1717-1767) – but its whereabouts remains untraced; it was last known to have descended to Herbert Gosling of Botley’s. Herbert died in 1929; the estate was sold in 1930. The artist also painted several members of the Colebrooke family – relatives of Charles’ first wife, Belinda. The most famous of the Reynolds’ portraits belonging to this extended family is that of Mrs Drummond Smith, held in private collection at Castle Ashby (seat of the Marquess of Northampton; not open to the public).
A Surrey archive owns a late-nineteenth-century Gosling photo album. One page contains two interesting identifications: Mrs S. Smith and Mr S. Smith. Surely… Spencer Smith and his wife Frances (née Seymour). So, it was devastating to read the words “photo missing” after Spencer’s name! A photo that once was, but now is lost…
So who was Emma’s brother Spencer??
He was born in 1806, five years after Emma and was the second son born to Charles and Augusta Smith of Suttons. He was destined to outlive both his elder and his younger brothers… As Mamma Smith once lamented, ‘the three were so united’.
From letters and diaries, Spencer led the life of an eager sportsman. It was Spencer who put together a sledge and pushed the girls around when they spent some winter weeks at Suttons; he is usually mentioned among those who go out ‘skaiting’, and is described once as the ‘most agile of the party’. Letters document his worries over a misplaced gun (therefore, Spencer went out on shooting parties during the Autumn season) and his purchase of a hunter – which understandably worried Mamma: ‘Mr Cure fell out hunting & broke his arm … Spencer may perhaps be the next sufferer, for he has bought a Hunter at Oxford, which is just arrived.’ Many in the Smith household, Spencer included, enjoyed the game of Billiards (and they seem to have owned a table and had a Billiards Room). It is also obvious that he was an enthusiastic player of cricket or at least a knowledgeable critic. He passed something along to his sons, for three can be found on the rolls of players.
He attended Harrow and his comings and goings are documented in Emma’s diaries. As an older teen, Spencer seems to have followed the same schooling as his brother Charles: he is found in the company of a Mr Twissleton of Warwick; Mr Twissleton may have been a private tutor (though more information is required before identifying him), since Charles had resided with a Mr Boudier of Warwick.
Spencer attended Oxford (Balliol College), matriculating in 1823 (BA 1827; MA 1833). About this time Emma was touring Europe – along with Mamma, brother Charles, and her three eldest sisters. The Smiths had journeyed through the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland and then wintered in Italy; ultimately, they remained abroad an entire year! The ‘little children’ (Spencer, Drummond, Charlotte and Maria) who remained at home were slowly told the plans as they unfolded… which did not make for happy children. Emma, writing home, pictures the brother she has not seen in about ten months: ‘Spencer I suppose will be considerably aged, grown tall, with a hoarse voice, & perhaps a beard’; she had already recognized that ‘we hear so much of the growth of [Spencer] perhaps he will out top us all, before we come home’.
Like Jane Austen, he must have enjoyed dancing, for in 1829 Mamma mentions ‘Spencer is a little animated about the Ball [the Smiths were hosting a ball of their own]; they are getting up Waltzing, & Le Gallop, which is rather new. He thinks we shall have quite Beaux enough, & wishes to refuse farther introductions.’ She closes this letter with, ‘At this moment Spencer is practicing the Waltz with his Sisters & Madame Lennox, the Mistress.’ He may have sometimes joined his sisters in providing entertainment, as he is once noted as ‘playing a little on the flute’.
Spencer evidently inherited property from an uncle of his mother, for he travels to Jamaica in 1831. Unfortunately, he left on 1 January; his brother Charles died a couple weeks later. It is probable that the family encouraged him to continue with his plans; they may have realized that Charles’ prognosis was not very promising, although his death came as quite the shock to Mary (Lady Smith). Spencer sailed from Bristol in a ship captained by ‘Cap’n Trip He had no fellow passenger’. He arrived back (landing at Falmouth) by the 20th of July, after a ‘prosperous journey of 40 days’. Emma’s diary for the 21st says, ‘Dearest Spencer arrived well thank God – he looks rather thinner’.
Eliza Chute, aunt to Emma Smith, notes in her diaries her little losses and gains at cards whenever an evening ends in such a manner – which is usually the case, cards being a prime source of entertainment. One particular game, which stands out for its unusual name, has long puzzled me; but no more thanks to the published diary (Harvard University Press, 1972) of Samuel Curwen. Curwen was an American who spent much time in England, hence the title of the book as edited by Andrew Oliver: The Journal of Samuel Curwen, Loyalist.
Here is Eliza’s description of one evening, taking place about a month after her marriage (in 1793) to William Chute:
Nov 13 W[ednesday] The Vine, much rain in the night sunny high wind. Visited Miss Biggs, Mr & Mrs Lafroy [sic] out Mr Mrs & Miss Austins dined & supped at Mr Bramston’s; met Mr & Mrs Birch there played at snip-snap staid till 11. [from Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family]
Snip-Snap?? Yet what does Curwen write in his own diary – a very detailed description of this very game! And (unlike Snap, which many kids know) while Snip-Snap may not be a high stakes card game (like Commerce, for instance), it does entail some risk of loss… As Eliza sometimes found out. So here is Curwen:
13. [January 1778] Mild, cloudy, at times drisly. Passed Eve at Mr. Hornsey’s, Company Parson Tozier… Passed time in playing a game with cards called Snip, Snap, Snorum — Method of play — To each is delivered 6 or more Counters valued ad libitum, each keeps his Counters till forfeited; in the midst stands a pool, containing as many in it as all the stakes amount to. To each is dealt 6 Cards. The person on the Dealers left hand puts down a card face up, the next if he can match it for instance Ace to an Ace &c. the former forfeits a stake and puts into the pool. The person who matched it crying Snip. If the 2d be matched he cries out Snap, and the person is again matched, puts in 2 stakes to the pool, this more rarely happens. But if these cards be again matched, which is very rare, the 3d person whose card is matched puts in three stakes the former crying out Snorum, and in this manner the Cards are dealt and played till all the stakes are drawn out of each players hand, which if they or he looses [sic] his interest in the pool and ceases playing, till one person who keeps the remaining stake in hand takes the whole pool. The parson made one of the party Cards being his favourite amusement… Broke up at 12 o’clock. Returned in soaking rain.
– The Journal of Samuel Curwen, Loyalist (vol 1), p. 425