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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Dido Belle

September 22, 2019 at 11:06 am (books, diaries, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

Dido Belle

Click on the picture to see the Wikipedia entry on the painting and its two sitters, Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (Finch-Hatton).

Although aired in 2018, I just watched last night the FAKE or FORTUNE? episode that identified the portrait’s painter (once thought to be Zoffany) as David Martin. The Mansfield archives even has a ledger, with payment to him – though, of course, NO mention of the work, just his name.

It was while looking at the close-up (above) that I was struck with the thought: Dido Belle must, in many ways, gives clues to the appearance of the last governess of the Smiths, Miss Ashley. There were two west Indian sisters, Sarah and Eliza Ashley. Interestingly, there are book chapters of the grandmother of these girls, known as The Queen of Demerara.

One book is Enterprising Women: Gender, Race, and Power in the Revolutionary Atlantic (by Kit Candlin and Cassandra Pybus); very well-written and quite informative. I came across it because of the chapters on Dorothy Thomas and Mrs. Sala, a performer and music teacher, who, when in London, Emma writes about in her diaries.

The Smith family in general have left a fair amount of letters and diaries.

It is quite obvious that the Smith family’s governess Miss Ashley is Eliza Ann Ashley (cousin George Augustus Sala names her Elise – I have located one letter; the signature almost looks Elize). Her sister, when named, is Miss S. Ashley or in later years just “Sarah”. Her full name being Sarah Edmonstone Ashley. The family, (seemingly anyway), make it easy to differentiate the sisters.

Emma Smith was actually older (by about two years) than Miss Ashley.

(Emma was the third child, of nine; born in 1801.)

Miss Ashley came to the Smiths in May 1824. It is *exciting* to wonder if she traveled from Demerara in company with Dorothy Thomas, her grandmother. How she came to be employed by the Smiths, I do not know. Emma’s diary for 1824 exists, but she merely states,  “Miss Ashley the children’s new governess came.” Her mother, Mrs. Smith (Augusta Smith, senior; the widowed Mrs. Charles Smith of Suttons and 6 Portland Place) has left some diaries. Again, 1824 merely mentions Elise Ashley’s arrival, nothing about how or through whom Mrs. Smith learned of her (a very active grapevine often obtained applicants for jobs, and also found jobs for needy applicants). I’ve not (yet) tracked down anything in letters from 1824 that more fully explains Miss Ashley’s arrival.

That these sisters are related to Sala I have no doubt. There is enough in the diaries that reference Mrs. Sala, Mr. Sala’s fatal illness, an unnamed aunt’s death, etc. to confirm they are the women George Augustus Sala wrote about.

What I do not know is whose children they were; whether there were more siblings; and how they were related to Sala – he calls them cousins, which leads me to presume, like Mrs. Sala, they were daughters of a daughter of Dorothy Thomas. But which daughter (and from which relationship)?

Miss Ashley’s tenure with the Smiths was twofold.

She ceased working for the Smiths when the youngest daughter, Maria, “aged out” of needing a governess (late 1830s). There is enough in the letters to put her in the employ of the Duchess-Countess of Sutherland. But by the 1840s she is back. She appears in the diaries of Mary Gosling (Lady Smith), giving music and drawing lessons. After Mary’s death in 1842, Miss Ashley was clearly hired by Mrs. Smith to be the governess with her two now-orphaned granddaughters (children of Sir Charles and Lady Smith). The names of Miss Ashley or her sister occasionally appear in letters over the next three decades, including news of Miss Ashley’s death (1874).

I’ve found Eliza Ann in two census reports. I’ve also located a SILHOUETTE clearly identified as ‘Miss Ashley.’ Emma’s eldest sister, Augusta Smith junior, was well-known for her “heads”; she probably created this group of family silhouettes.

As you might imagine, governesses in general are an important topic to pursue when looking at the history of a wealthy London-based family in the 19th century; it is intriguing, though, to contemplate not only their love for Miss Ashley, but also her influence upon the family, coming from a background so far removed from their own.

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Dearest Aunt…

January 11, 2011 at 11:26 am (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Emma, writing to Aunt (Mrs Judith Smith, sister to Emma’s deceased father Charles), 10 Oct 1831:

“Our party here is very tiny only four; five I ought to say for Miss Corbaux is still with us – She has made a most charming water colored drawing of Mamma for me which is (Aunt Northampton says) amazingly like. She is seated on a Sofa in a black velvet gown with her hands crossed and her head rather on one side in a reflecting mood & so much like the attitude of the head in yr picture that it must be characteristic of her – The maids think it so much like [Missis?] sitting at Prayers. Then Miss Corbaux has taken a drawing of Miss Ashley for Charlotte which is very nearly as like as Mamma’s – I am going to indulge myself with having a likeness of Edward taken as the one by Mrs. Carpenter is not satisfactory – The children we do not mean to have taken considering it too great an extravagance…”

Can’t you just SEE Mamma: her dress, her demeanor, her attitude and look: oh, what’s happened to this drawing?!

I will post later some information on the artist.

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