Mystery of Miss Burton

October 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm (books, diaries, history, people, research) (, , , , , , )

The earliest diary for Mary Gosling concerns an 1814 trip to Oxford — Mary was visiting her brothers, in college!

She put her name in this one diary only! Without Mary Gosling’s act of possession, learning her identity would have been that much harder.

I’m writing this post in hopes of anyone with any information on its topic will contact me!

The morning after the arrival of the Goslings in Oxford, they are “greeted” by MISS BURTON. Here is what Mary says of her during the trip (the italics are mine):

  • we were visited by Miss Burton who invited us to come immediately after breakfast to her house in Christ Church [Mary’s brother Robert had rooms in the Peckwater Quad]
  • we dined with Dr and Miss Burton with a party of 17
  • invited by William to breakfast in his room [his college was Brasenose]… Dr and Miss Burton partook of it
  • in a four oared boat to Nuneham…Miss Burton’s butler steered us. Mama Dr. and Miss Burton were in the open carriage
  • after having breakfasted Dr and Miss Burton, Mama, Mrs Sandoz, my Sister and myself went in the open carriage to see Bleinheim
  • after dinner we walked to Dr Burton’s and having drank tea, returned home at 1/2 past 9
  • we dined again at Dr Burton’s with a party of ten.

Who was Miss Burton? Dr. Burton, I presume to have been Dr. James Burton, canon of Christ Church.

CK SharpeOne of the most thrilling finds is LETTERS FROM AND TO CHARLES KIRKPATRICK SHARPE – for it contains letters dating as early as 1804, from or to Sharpe while at Oxford!

But IS this a bit of a red herring??? I’m just not sure…

Let’s look at the fifteen mentions of BURTON in this book, for instance:

  • in a letter dated 31 August 1804 from K.M.K. Tarpley to Sharpe: “I am not at all surprised at the reception you met with from the fickle Rachel, but very much at your expression of fair daughter.”

The editor of this 1888 compilation, Alexander Allardyce, includes a footnote to RACHEL: “Miss Burton. See post, p. 214 note.”

  • Page 214 is another letter from Tarpley to Sharpe, dated Christ Church, Oxford, 20 October 1804. “College is very full this term, and there are many new-comers. Lygon was in Oxford last night on his way to town: he intends shortly taking up his abode here, for he and Miss Burton cannot long live without each other. The brown Jack has not yet enlivened the quadrangle with her shining countenance, but I hear that she and the little Doctor are coming soon. Lemon has succeeded to Lygon’s room…”

Lygon is ID’ed as William Beauchamp Lygon, 2nd Earl Beauchamp (1782-1823); died unmarried.

The two footnotes ID Miss Burton as “Miss Rachel Burton.” and the little Doctor as “Dr James Burton, chaplain in ordinary to the king, canon of Christ Church, &c., died June 30, 1825, leaving two daughters and an unmarried sister residing in Oxford, who is the Rachel Burton of the correspondence, and is sometimes denominated ‘Jack.’ ‘She was a great joke in Oxford.'” [no indication where this last quote is from.]

  • Page 242, draft letter from Sharpe to H. Wellesley, 1805: “Dear W. — Do not imagine this to be a billet-doux from Miss Burton, else your disappointment may defeat the purpose of my letter — far less believe me apt, like that engaging creature, to pester mine acquaintance with such trash. The truth is, I have a favour to ask of you…”
  • Page 247, in a burlesque petition draft by Sharpe (1805): “He had once a mind to be sprightly, and wrote an epistle in verse to one Rachel Burton, whom he calls his Chloe. He directed it to Kloe….”
  • Page 259, in a P.S. from William FitzGerald, (1806): “Have you read Lyttleton’s advertisement, and Lygon’s reply? I know not which to say — the insolence and grossness of the one, and the pusillanimity of the other — shock me. But I congratulate you and Miss Burton on Lygon’s success…”
  • Page 274, Earl Gower to Sharpe, 22 August 1806: “Have you heard of Lygon’s intended marriage with Miss Dashwood — at least so says Macdonald. Poor Jack!”
  • Page 87 (in volume 2), Impey to Sharpe, 23 August 1813: “My mother desires me to return you her best thanks for the portrait enclosed in your letter. She is much struck with the likeness, and ravie by the execution altogether, and intends to give it as distinguished a place among her cabinet of curiosities as Rachel Burton did the picture of Lygon, with Wrottesley’s poetry at the foot of it.”

The footnotes say the marriage with Miss Dashwood never took place, and ID’s Jack as “Miss Rachel Burton.”

  • Page 297, Wellesley to Sharpe, 14 December 1806: “I am much obliged to you for your poetical offering, and would have sent to you responsive strains of sorrow from Paul the younger, if the time had served my inclination. But sooner shall a Chinese mandarin confess himself inferior to a baron of England, sooner shall the lovely J. Burton possess the odour of a civet, than any inmate of Ch. Ch. shall dare to mount Pegasus when collections are in petto.”
  • Page 345, Earl Gower to Sharpe, 6 July 1808: “George Vernon has just given up a scheme… of paying a visit to Sicily this summer. He has what they call thought better of it. I believe he is now at Oxford, enjoying, I suppose, the society of your friend, Miss R. Burton, whom I saw in London this year in high beauty and good condition.”
  • Page 375, Earl Gower to Sharpe, 9 May 1809: “Is Miss Burton at Oxford? I suppose so, as I have not seen or heard anything of her in London.”
  • Page 387, Marquess of Worcester to Sharpe, October 1809: “Miss Burton is in full force canvassing everybody for L:d Grenville, and taking farther peregrinations than ever.—-“
  • Page 439, Earl Gower to Sharpe, 22 February 1811: “Have you gone to Scotland, or fallen in love with Miss Burton, or thrown yourself into the Thames or into the fire, or been kidnapped, or transported, or pressed, or what?”
  • Page 446, E.B. Impey to Sharpe, 18 March 1811: “As for the literary meteor who is now performing his perielion in your learned hemisphere, I have nothing to do but hide my diminished beams, and congratulate myself on being beyond the scope of his fiery tail, which he seems to whisk about with such wonderful volubility that I would have Miss Burton beware of the laws of gravitation, and vigilantly guard her center of attraction.”
  • Page 478, Sharpe to Lord Gower, end October 1811: “There certainly never was more villanous doggerel, excepting, perhaps, Lygon’s melodious epistle to Miss Burton, or Copplestone’s Ode for the late Oxford Installation.”
  • Page 525, Rev. J.J. Conybeare to Sharpe, January 1812: “News I have no time to detail at present, but if you be anxious for any, and will give me a line to say as much, you shall have all I can gather next week, either from London, where nobody goes to bed without a patent maul-proof nightcap and anti-cut-throat collar, or from this place, where Rachel Burton has just got a prize of £500 in the lottery.”

* * *

So, from this fairly authoritative source, comes the idea that Miss Rachel Burton, AKA “Jack”, was the sister of Dr Burton. For the longest time that was the supposition I worked with. Until I *finally* found a family pedigree. Dr. Burton, who indeed had two living daughters Rachel and Mary-Anne (evidently, the one was ‘Jack’ and the other ‘Tom’), but his three sisters were named Anne, Elizabeth-Felicia, Sibilla. Anne died in June 1803. And Mary-Anne married in November 1814. Elizabeth-Felicia was born in 1750; Sibilla in 1752 — so Mary’s “Miss Burton” if a sister would have been the elder. BUT: if a Burton daughter which was the elder, Rachel or Mary-Anne??

So I really felt back to square one – sister?? daughter?? Who was Mary’s ‘MISS BURTON’?

Now, I’m wondering if later writers/editors were mixing up two Miss Burtons. Even Sharpe’s ladies: while “Jack” may very well indicate Rachel Burton (presumably born in the 1780s), was there a designation that separated Miss R. Burton (Rachel) from Miss Burton (Elizabeth-Felicia)?? For instance, in the Sharpe mention on page 214 of Miss Burton: What if she was the AUNT of “brown Jack,” signifying both ladies and their relative (Dr. Burton) in two neighboring sentences!?!

A slight mis-attribution is making sense to me at the moment.

Anyone with some tales to tell about any of the Burtons are welcome to email me or leave a comment.


  1. Hilary Burton said,

    Are you still looking for information on Miss Burton? Please email me if you are.

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Hilary – I’ve emailed you. Yes! always “still looking” for all sorts of information!! Can’t wait to hear more….


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