Putting a Face to a Name

May 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm (diaries, estates, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to *share* a *find* with Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers! With the amount of material I’ve unearthed over the past ten years, although bits and pieces turn up, a lot of my time lately is taken up with processing what I have. Photography of archival material means that I’ve a backlog of items awaiting transcription.

So a wonderful surprise to find a photograph of someone who plays a small role in the Smith & Gosling history.

Emma’s brother Sir Charles Joshua Smith had two wives. My second diarist (the other being Emma herself) is Mary Gosling, the second Lady Smith. Charles’ first wife (she died in childbirth) was Belinda Colebrooke. She and her younger sister Harriet Colebrooke were the focus of an intense Chancery battle – at one point it even came to blows, at gun-point, on the windswept heath as the sisters approached London in a carriage overtaken by their mother and two hired thugs.

Such actions gave the family pain and heartache, and (of course) made the papers – which is how the likes of historians can learn about so much that took place two hundred years ago.

It is rather a surprised, despite the wealth of the Colebrooke girls, that they were so accepted by “Society”. The crux of the Chancery case concerned which “side of the blanket” they were born on. Thus the odd ages that some materials list for the girls (rounded down to make them younger, and indisputably born after their parents’ marriage). The court case actually pitted family against family (as was so often the case – see for instance Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House): Belinda’s paternal uncles were on two different sides. Their father, George Colebrooke – son of Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (the half sister of the Smith’s maternal grandmother) – had died months before his father (both in 1809). The baronetcy went to a younger brother, therefore. Legitimate heirs, though, could inherit Mr. George Colebrooke’s fortune; and their mother could claim her share while her children were under-age.

The case went on, in one form or another, for decades. (Even after Charles’ death, in 1830.)

Harriet Colebrooke died in January 1822, after a lengthy illness (heart disease; perhaps consumption). She hadn’t even reached her twentieth birthday. Belinda was inconsolable; their uncle, Henry Colebrooke – who had been overseas, wasn’t even aware of Harriet’s death. He first heard when he landed back in Britain.

A few sentences in a few letters fleshes out Harriet’s life. At one point, she seems to have been attracted to Charles Smith! He seems to have been uninterested. Perhaps he already held out hopes for attracting Belinda – though in the period before her sister’s death, Belinda was already engaged, to a young man of whom the family did not approve. There was more fodder for the courts!


William Holme Sumner

It seems, however, that Harriet did have a young man wanting to marry her. A “deeply hidden” sentence in a letter made me take a look at ALL the occurrences (noted in Emma’s meticulously-kept early diaries) of visits by a certain young man named William Sumner.

A Most Frustrating Letter! The important passage, written in light red ink, is crossed against a dark black ink. AND: the paper bleeds through from the other side, giving three handwritings to choose between: strokes of black ink, the shadow of the backside, and the scrawl in red.

IF I read the passage correctly, the sticking point may have been the young man himself: Charles intimates that the “W. Sumner” needed “to make up his mind.” This in a letter, written during Charles’ grand tour, in 1820. William would have been about 22-years-old; Harriet only 16 or 17. Whether Harriet’s illness or the Sumner-heel-dragging intervened, the marriage never took place.

The Sumners – who had purchased (c1770) the estate HATCHLANDS from the widowed Frances Boscawen – were known to Emma’s family. The father, George Sumner, a Member of Parliament, turns up in Smith family letters, and even earlier in diaries of Mrs. Smith and her sister Mrs. Chute. So it was with a bit of _pleasure_ to realize the connection that was developing between the Colebrooke-Sumner children. As more items come to light, I hope to uncover more of their story.

But it’s the photograph of William Sumner (above) that I wanted to mention in this blog post.  Being photography, William would be at least forty years older than the young man who pursued Harriet Colebrooke during the waning years of the Regency.

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Bright Star

October 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm (people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A few weeks ago I rented the film Bright Star. Must admit to knowing  very little about the life of John Keats – and even less about his poetry. I was, however, interested in young Fanny Brawne. And what grabbed me from the beginning of the film was its “setting”: 1818, Hampstead! Which is the area (and era) in which Belinda and Harriet Colebrooke lived. Could the three ladies have met?? What intriguing ideas come out of such a thought!

I will agree with my friend Hope, in admiring the costumes — though are we really to believe that three years go by and Keats as well as his friend Brown are still wearing the same clothes? That got rather tedious, I must admit.

So, in wanting to find out more than this film offered about Fanny, I went to the library to pick up the old biography (the only biography), which I’m about half-way through: Joanna Richardson’s Fanny Brawne: A Biography (1952). It’s a slim volume, but has some source material no one will ever duplicate: the author spoke with Brawne’s grand-daughter.

Gale Flament, in a master’s degree thesis (2007), examines the MATERIAL goods Fanny has left behind: her fashion plates and (more importantly) samples of her needlework. The biographical material might have benefited from a good editing, but as evidence of some wonderful investigation among such thankfully-preserved materials from this time period, I recommend Flament’s writing, which is available online via pdf.

One thing that struck me: Fanny paying for the letter the mail carrier delivers to her door! People forget that before the advent of stamps it was the recipient who paid for letters – dependent upon weight (number of pages) and distance. The film did a pretty good job at making a letter look like a letter of that era – though I am wondering about that single postmark…. Postal History enthusiasts can fill us in on that, if they’ve a desire to help out!

In coming months I’ll be paying a bit more attention to post marks, as I prepare an upcoming article. So any books on the subject, or reliable websites — do let me know.

Anyone with some other interesting bits on Fanny Brawne — or anything that ties her to my Colebrooke sisters, do drop me a line. Kind of fun to envision them all at the same little dances and dinners! Sometimes, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.

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The Baillie Connection

March 23, 2009 at 9:48 pm (people) (, , , , , )

My dear Miss Colebrooke

I write to you in place of my Sister who is not well to day. She received your note on Sunday forenoon, and sent a person to Grosvenor St: early on monday morning to catch Dr Baillie before he should be gone out, and received an immediate answer.—- In this he desires her to inform you, that he will make an early arrangement to see Mrs Lee, after he is informed of her return from Brighton, in order to give his opinion of her case….

My sister & I were very sorry on reading your note to find Mrs Lee has been & continues so much an Invalid. I hope it will please God to restore her again to perfect health after all her suffering. I called this morning at Branch Lodge & learnt that you are expected home today….

With All kind wishes to your Invalid & to you & your Sister & the Miss Lees, in which my Sister joins me heartily,

I remain, my dear Miss Colebrooke

most truly yours

J Baillie

Red Lion hill
tuesday morning

colebrookeImagine my surprise finding this undated letter among those in the 2-volume set of The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie! That it was sent to Miss Belinda Colebrooke I have no doubt. According to Emma Smith, the Colebrookes were residing in Hampstead at a place Emma calls Branch Hill Lodge; Miss Baillie addresses her letter, thusly:

Miss Colbrook
Branch Lodge

Mrs Lee, with whom the Colebrooke girls lived after their grandmother Lady Colebrooke died, and herein referred to as the ‘Invalid,’ is the topic of Emma’s February 4th 1820 diary entry:

Belinda & Rosina Lee came to see us for a minute in their way to Hampstead where they were going from Brighton in order to prepare the house for Mrs Lee whose sad state of health made them very unhappy

Rosina, along with Eleanor and Jemima, was the daughter of Mrs Lee. I’m still tracking down information on the Lees, who seem to have hailed from Scotland (probably Edinburgh).

I have long known the Smiths knew Joanna Baillie (Emma and Belinda visit her and her sister Agnes the following March); this is the first indication of a letter to Belinda.

A book, on the Colebrookes, that may be of use is

Sola bona quae honesta: The Colebrooke Family, 1650-1950
By Malcolm Sutherland
Edition: illustrated
Published by Sawd, 1998
ISBN 1872489206, 9781872489209
72 pages

If anyone can tell me about its contents concerning Harriet and Belinda, please contact me.

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