Sighting: Miss Sarah Ashley, 1851

August 9, 2020 at 10:27 am (history, news, people, research) (, , , )

2020 is, of course, a census year in the United States. In the spring, the government bombarded with postcards and letters: Get online, Count in the 2020 Census! All _I_ wanted was the FORM. When it *finally* arrived in the mail, it was so short, that it was back in the post next day. Now a plethora of TV commercials… The deadline extended into October.

Censuses for historical research are a useful component. Though I remember looking for Mary (Lady Smith, née Mary Gosling) in the 1841 census – I _KNEW_ her birth date (1800); could NOT find her. Thank GOODNESS she had a diary for 1841 still in existence. The surprise was on me: She was at the Cavendish Square address of the Curries (her brother-in-law). Emma’s younger sister, Charlotte Currie, had died the year previous, so in the household was her widower Arthur Currie and their children. Took a LONG time for me to find the correct census that covered Cavendish Square, I can tell you! She wasn’t “searching” properly because her birth date was “rounded” down. So, a case where KNOWING the information was NOT a help. (After all, I’m searching for a woman called MARY SMITH; the one point in my favor, having “1800” as her absolute birth year.)

1803 fashion plate

At the same time, WHAT can a census tell me? I know more about the Smiths and Goslings, from letters, from diaries, than any census could tell. I certainly know where they lived – if not quite where they were on census night… I know their age, their birthday, their family members. But: I don’t always know all of their staff. So it’s very useful for that. Nor do I always know who was visiting.

But what I found for 1851 – not involving Mary (who died in July 1842), but her younger half-sister Charlotte Gosling – has me scratching my head. A visitor? A (paid) companion?

The 1851 census mentions Eliza Ann Ashley – this young woman was a couple years younger than Emma (born c1803), and yet she came to the Smith household in 1824 as the governess to Emma’s younger sisters; she staid until Maria (the youngest of all the nine Smith siblings) turned 18. Maria would have been just ten-years-old at the time of Miss Ashley’s arrival.

I believe her sister, Sarah Edmonstone Ashley, was a couple of years younger (born c1805); the 1851 census lists her as _13_ years younger (“35” to Miss Ashley’s “48”) [this could be a transcription error; I need to find the original].

Eliza is listed, in 1851’s census, as a “visitor” to Suttons, “Charles C. Smith,” the Landed Proprietor. This is the son of Sir Charles Joshua Smith and Mary, Lady Smith = Sir Charles Cunliffe Smith. He was only four-years-old when his father died, and he inherited the baronetcy. Born in 1827, by 1851 he was “of age” and has moved into Suttons (it had been let for a time); his two younger sisters Mary Charlotte Smith and Augusta Elizabeth Smith with him. The younger, Augusta, was born in July 1830 – so too old to _now_ be in need of a governess; BUT: Miss Ashley had acted as their governess after Mary’s death. Therefore, she was a visitor, but one who knew Suttons and the family very well.

Miss Ashley’s sister, Sarah, hovers around the fringes of diaries and letters. She crops up as a visitor, or, I should say, a person visited. So my extreme surprise was to see her in the 1851 census — as a “visitor” not to anyone in the extended Smith family, but in the household of Charlotte Gosling.

Charlotte Gosling, of an age with Charlotte Smith (Mrs. Arthur Currie), would have been in her 40s in 1851. Charlotte Gosling incurred a fall, inside the house at No. 5 Portland Place, London, in early 1828. The fall injured her in such a way, perhaps exacerbated by a bout of whooping cough, that she never walked again. She had been the glittering Mrs. Gosling’s social companion. How much Charlotte’s social life was curtailed by her inability to walk is only rarely touched upon. Except for mentions of Charlotte’s extreme grief over her mother’s death in the late 1830s (Mr. Gosling had died weeks after his eldest son William Ellis Gosling, in 1834), so little mention is made of Charlotte – especially after Mary’s death (when, let’s face it, my source of information dries up).

So my surprise last night: Sarah Edmonstone Ashley was evidently in the household of Charlotte Gosling on census night, 1851! And a wholly *new* address to me, for Charlotte is listed as living at: 10 Clarence Street, Cavendish Square.

Of course No. 5 Portland Place (renumbered to No. 15 Portland Place) still remained in the Goslings’ hands, but it now housed the family of Mary and Charlotte’s brother, Robert Gosling and his wife Georgina Vere Gosling (née Sullivan) and many children and MANY servants. For CHARLOTTE to be down as the householder she could not have been living with her young brother, Thomas George Gosling (another sibling that gets only a few mentions). Both of her parents certainly had money, so if Charlotte’s mother had left her enough, it would be no surprise that she lived on her own, rather than with her unmarried brother.

But that begs the question: WAS Miss Sarah Ashley truly a visitor? Or, had she become a (paid) companion to Miss Gosling? Or: Was Miss Sarah Ashley “sleeping out” – this is where a person “living” at another address, is given a bed in another household (even in the household of a merchant; so not just with family “friends”) – and just happened to be with Charlotte Gosling on census night?

It’s possible that one Miss Ashley came into the household on Portland Place by 1855 (remember, Robert and Georgina had a LOT of children), for there is a subscription list that gives the names, one after the other, of MISS GOSLING and MISS ASHLEY – but by that time the eldest Gosling girl would certainly have been called “MISS” Gosling. Robert and Georgina had married nearly the same time as Mary and Charles – in mid-1825. Their first children were all daughters.

But the 1851 sighting of Sarah Ashley with Charlotte Gosling is a given…

New, if slim, information. But: Useful information.

  • see also, “Dido Belle” – a post that discusses Dorothy Thomas, the “Queen of Demerara,” who evidently was grandmother (?) to the Misses Ashley. I know the Ashley sisters were _cousins_ to Henrietta Simon, Mrs. Sala, the singer, and mother of writer George Augustus Sala. But I do not know who the Ashleys’ parents were. [information always gratefully accepted!]

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