What did Susannah do all Day?: Part II – EDUCATION – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

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“Portrait of Theophila Palmer ” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1771, private collection

On Thursday January 4th 1776 Susanna wrote:

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(c) M Nairne 2017

“We worked at our muffs, drew and did the same as when Mama is at home”.

Beyond making muffs and drawing, Susannah doesn’t list the activities that comprise what they do “when Mama is at home” but Mama (her Stepmother) presumably oversaw Susannah and Lucy’s education taking on teaching the girls what they needed to know. And what they needed to know was how to write, how to read in order to study the Bible and other suitably improving books, plus some arithmetic so that, as they got older, they would be able to record their own as well as the household expenses.

Girls of her social level would also be taught other accomplishments such as needlework, music, drawing and dancing. Apart from these, fresh air and exercise were part of their daily activity and, luckily for them, there seem to have been a number of games to be played and entertainments to be enjoyed as well (all covered in next post). It may also be that what they did when Mama was at home was part of a daily morning routine (like going to school – why bother to mention it?) and the exciting part of the day was later on: visiting and taking tea with friends and cousins.

Writing:

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(c) M Nairne 2017

Susannah’s diary entries show that their father valued their education as by the age of 14, she had been taught how to read, how to write and how to do maths. Susannah’s handwriting is generally wonderfully neat although there are weeks when her writing gets messier – I suspect that she sometimes wrote the diary the following week so was trying to remember what had happened – causing some crossings out and smudges!   Her spelling is excellent – though she sometimes struggled with surnames as there are various spellings for the same people e.g. Mr Hage and Mr Hauge who presumably is in fact Mr Hague.

Reading:

Susannah noted that on Sundays when they didn’t go to church, they read sermons instead, or Mama read a sermon to them. On Sunday January 28th 1776 she wrote,

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(c) M Nairne 2017

“We keep Church at home. Read a sermon in the morning. The text was “The History of Jacob Consider’d”. I wrote what I understood by it. We read another sermon in the evening. The text was “The Rich Man and Lazarus”.  

There seems to be a slightly laboured tone in I wrote what I understood about it which is hardly surprising as, having noticed that her references to sermons seemed to be very specific, I searched online for the sermon they read on Sunday January 7th 1776 which she calls “Felix’s behaviour towards Paul explained”, and quickly found that they were reading from a volume of Laurence Sterne’sSermons of Mr Yorick”.  On other Sundays, as well as going to church, they cover Sterne’s sermons on The Prodigal Son, The Rich Man and Lazarus, Pride, Humility and The Advantages of Christianity to the World and again Susannah wrote on a couple of Sundays, I wrote what I understood of it.

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Laurence Sterne, now more famous as the author of the novels Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey was very well-known at the time for his sermons. Having myself read “Felix’s behaviour towards Paul explained”, I can state with some authority that it is not a light or easy read!

The Huguenot’s Protestant faith would have followed the tenets of John Calvin, believing in salvation through individual faith without the need for the intercession of a church hierarchy (unlike the Roman Catholic church) and on the belief in each person’s right to interpret scriptures for themselves, and this would have been in tune with Laurence Sterne’s Latitudinarian theology (see link for definition). By Susannah’s day, she and her family attended the local Anglican parish churches although her parents and grandparents were baptised, married and buried at the French churches in London, established following the Huguenot influx of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  For example, her father was baptised at the French Artillery Church in Spitalfields in 1726 and returned to his Huguenot refugee roots to be buried in 1808 in Christchurch, Spitalfields.

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Susannah wrote down the titles of two other books: firstly, she noted twice that Mama read to them from a book she calls “Cyrus”.  Cyrus, I have deduced, refers to a hugely popular French novel published in 10 volumes at the end of the 17th century as Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus written by Mademoiselle de Scudéry.

The book is considered the original Roman à Clef and is loosely based on classical figures and classical tales. The 10 volumes amounted to around 1,954,300 words but presumably they just dipped into it!

On Thursday 2nd February, Susannah says “Lucy read Les Journes Amusant” and I picture Lucy reading it out loud to her sister.

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Serena Reading, by George Romney, c.1782, Dulwich Picture Gallery.

This will be Madame de Gomez’s Les Journées Amusantes (the amusing days) which was another huge European bestseller in the early 18th Century. An English version by Eliza Haywood was available soon after the volumes were published, but as Susannah writes the title in French, I think they must have been reading this and Cyrus in the original French. As they travelled to France later in the year and Susannah then wrote her entries in French, 90 years on from her Great Grandfather’s arrival in London, their French heritage must still have been of great importance to this Huguenot family.

Arithmetic:

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(c) M. Nairne 2017

 

 

At the end of The Ladies Annual Journal or Complete Pocket Book for the year 1776 there are Tables of numbers for help in accounting which seem quite complicated to me in our age of the calculator! Also, on each diary page the right hand side is devoted to “Account of monies” with columns for noting L S D (Pounds, Shillings and Pence, the LSD standing for Libra, Solidus and Denarius) and money “Received” or money “Paid or Lent”. Susannah was probably encouraged to keep an account of any money that she had and she does occasionally make entries in the right hand side accounts section: 

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(c) M.Nairne 2017

Susannah has £2.80 cash in hand in January.  If you put this into an inflation calculator today, this apparently gives her approximately £300 spending power compared to today – I wonder if that can really be true.  She does spend some of her money: she writes down when she has given “To a poor woman” several times and she buys presents, such as a doll for Harriet, her little sister.

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Christopher Anstey with his daughter by William Hoare,
oil on canvas, circa 1775 (c) NPG, London

and, I am sorry to say, she spends money (both winning and losing) gambling in card games (Piquet and Quadrille) in May and June! 

I imagine that Susannah’s father encouraged her to write in her diary each day and to start keeping her accounts where she could.  He will have been aware that the year 1776 was going to be an eventful one for all of them with moving house, a new baby and a long trip abroad.  But, in the longer term, he would also have been keen to ensure that both his two eldest children were educated and accomplished enough to find themselves husbands when the time came and there is no doubt that both Susannah and her sister were very privileged to have such a caring and nurturing father.

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(c) M.Nairne 2017
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(c) M.Nairne 2017

What did Susannah do all day?: PART I – Tea and Sustenance

In François de La Rochefoucauld’s travel memoir, Mélanges sur l’Angleterre, originally written in 1784, de La Rochefoucauld says that

“The drinking of tea is general throughout England…It gives the rich an opportunity to show off their fine possessions: cups, tea-pots, etc., all made to the most elegant designs, all copies of the Etruscan and the antique. It is also the custom for the youngest daughter or the lady of the house to make the tea.”  (The Boydell Press. Translated by Norman Scarfe. 1988)

Here, then, is Susannah, the younger daughter, on 1st January, 1776, writing:

(c) M. Nairne

“Mama & Lucy drank tea at Mrs Martin’s. I stayed at home to make tea for Papa and Cousin James”.

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Susannah’s diary tells us that her family ate Breakfast, Dinner and Supper plus they followed a daily ritual of drinking tea. Susannah never once refers to anything that they ate. At her age and in her social situation, the provision of food was clearly organised by someone else or she might have mentioned it, but it also leads me to think that perhaps their food was repetitive and un-noteworthy. Or might it have been bad manners to mention food? However, Susannah’s constant mention of dinner and tea, and the reliable rhythm created by these, must have leant stability to her daily life.

A Regency family at breakfast

Breakfast: is mentioned twice as a specific meal first thing in the morning. The contents of breakfast seems to have varied between town and country but would probably have consisted of bread and butter and perhaps jams and marmalade. Eggs and cold meat are another common theme for breakfast.

Dinner: the main meal of the day – was eaten sometime between 3 and 5pm. The meal might consist of 3 courses, the first chiefly meat, the second a combination of meats and puddings, followed by fruit and sweetmeats. In 1781, James Woodforde in his Diary of a Country Parson gave a dinner which, although he lived in the country, may give an idea of what the Dalbiac family ate, consisting of:

“A Couple of  Chicken boiled and a Tongue, a Leg of Mutton boiled and Capers and Batter Pudding for the first Course, Second, a couple of Ducks roasted and green Peas, some Artichokes, Tarts and Blancmange. After dinner, Almonds and Raisins, Oranges and Strawberries, Mountain and Port Wines.”

Susannah refers to “Dinner” or where they or someone else “Din’d” 57 times but only once refers to the actual time when on 9th March she noted

 Papa and Mama came home to dinner at 5 o’clock”

Perhaps this was rather late in the day for dinner and therefore noteworthy.

Tea: came after Dinner : see below

Supper: which was much smaller and eaten later in the evening.

TEA

Unknown 18th-Century British Artist, A Tea Party

Susannah mentions “tea” 77 times in the days between 1st January and 6th July and the drinking of tea was obviously a key moment on every day of the week.

Here is a week when she mentioned tea every day:

(c) M. Nairne

 

Tea at home:

Writing her diary at the age of 14, there is an implied significance to the fact that Susannah has stayed behind specifically to make the tea for her father and cousin.

Still Life, Tea Set by Jean Etienne Leotard. lido.getty.edu-gm-obj854

A certain amount of equipment had to be acquired for the proper taking of tea including a tea table, a tea kettle, a tea caddy, a tea pot, a tea strainer, tea cups, a slops bowl and probably a milk jug and sugar bowl, and I feel sure that Susannah must have enjoyed the responsibility of presiding over the tea table.

Jonathan Tyers and his family by Francis Hayman, 1740 National Portrait Gallery UK Accession Number NPG5588
Jonathan Tyers and his family by Francis Hayman, 1740 National Portrait Gallery UK Accession Number NPG5588

By the 1770s they would mostly likely have been drinking black tea (such as Bohea, Congou, Pekoe or Souchong), all imported from China by the British East India Company, who by the 1760s, along with the Dutch East India Company, were importing 720 tonnes into Europe each year. Tea was still an expensive commodity but the diary leaves you in no doubt as to its social and domestic importance for Susannah’s family and friends. Was it the best time of the day for Susannah and Lucy? After the formality of Dinner, was it a chance for them to sit round chatting with their cousins without any obligation to read difficult sermons or do their sewing? I am a great tea drinker and I wonder if they were all a bit dependent on the caffeine too!

Susannah noted either who she or her parents were with and/or where she or her parents were – often different places with different people – but she notes it anyway, thereby giving some emphasis to the occasion each day. For her father, tea time may have been either an important part of his business day or a chance to socialise with friends. He has tea with a whole list of different people and I don’t know how typical this was, but Susannah’s father often appears to socialise with his business partners. He was in business as a “Silk Weaver” with his brother James Dalbiac, referred to by Susannah as “Uncle Dalbiac”, as well as a Mr Barbut and Mr Jourdan, as referenced in Bailey’s Northern Directory, published in 1781, both of whom he takes tea with (and on other occasions even stays the night with).

Out for tea:

On Tuesday 28th May, Susannah wrote:

In the Evening Uncle, Aunt CK, CM, Papa, Mama, Lucy & Me went to see Luxborough House. Drank Tea there.

Luxborough House, Chigwell, Essex. Inscribed: ”J.Prattent delt. et Sculp”. Essex Record Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Luxborough House was the seat of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and was a local stately home at Chigwell, very close to Wanstead. As in Pride and Prejudice, on Elizabeth Bennett’s Derbyshire tour when she visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, visiting stately homes was a popular pastime for the wealthier classes who expected to be allowed to tour the grounds and, if the owner was away, to be shown round the house by the housekeeper. Susannah makes a note of the fact that they “Drank tea there”, perhaps as they were well-to-do local residents, they were invited for more than just a tour of the house that day, or perhaps Admiral Sir Edward was at home, and he and Susannah’s father found a mutual acquaintance in Admiral Sir Francis Geary from Polesden Lacey.

The Boston Tea Party:

Boston Tea Party re-enactment. Boston, March 2017 (c) M. Nairne

I happen to have visited Boston earlier this year and was fascinated to read about the colonialists and some of the history of the colonies in the 18th century. Only 3 years earlier than Susannah’s diary, in 1773, the “Sons of Liberty” in Boston, under cover of darkness and disguised as native americans, got on to three ships in Boston harbour and destroyed and threw overboard 340 chests of tea. The harbour apparently smelt for weeks. An estimate suggests that this was the equivalent of approximately 18,523,000 cups of tea and a loss to the British East India Company of $1,700,000 in today’s money. The colonialists were protesting against taxes imposed by Britain and the destruction of the tea was both a symbolic act and the cause of great financial damage, and was a key instigator of the beginning of the American War of Independence.

Having researched tea-drinking in the mid-late 18th century and got a feeling for both its social and political significance, my conclusion about Susannah’s obsession with tea is, that although I wish Susannah had made even the smallest reference to food, it would have been much more surprising if she had never mentioned the word “tea”.

Susannah and her sister’s tea times are highly sociable: on most days they meet up with their extended family but also often with friends. The Dalbiacs were originally city dwellers but even in their suburban homes in Surrey and Essex, they had friends and family living close by and the daily time for drinking tea allowed them to fulfil their other obligations earlier in the day (which I will look at in a further Post) whilst entertaining themselves, their families and friends, and leading amazingly busy and active lives.

Child’s miniature tea set

 

Jane Austen – her part in my story…

…or where was Susannah living in 1776?

The answer to this question is by no means immediately clear. Susannah noted no addresses and she only occasionally refers to places. However, after a deal of pondering and detective work, I have deduced that her little entry on Tuesday 23rd January may tell us what we need to know.

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(c) M.Nairne

On Tuesday 23rd January, 1776, Susannah wrote: “We left Bookham after breakfast. Was in Town by 3 o’clock. We went to Wansted after Dinner.”

In early January 1776 Susannah was at Bookham Grove, Great Bookham, in Surrey.  In London, her extended family owned at least two houses in Spital Square which they visit and, from late January to July 1776, the family appear to have lived in Wanstead, north-east London, perhaps renting a house, very near their cousins, the Lamottes.

Although the family were still intimately connected to other Huguenot families – the evidence being the number of French names mentioned in the diary – and were still connected to Huguenot establishments in London such as the French Hospital, the Dalbiacs had presumably long lost the desire to go back to France. In 1745, Charles’s father offered 80 men to fight for the Crown in defence against the Young Pretender – the largest number noted as offered by individuals from the weaving fraternity – proof of the Dalbiac’s wish to be part of the English establishment (against Roman Catholic France) and also proof of their wealth.

By the 1760s, Charles Dalbiac’s accumulated wealth would have enabled him to move out of the centre of London, taking advantage of road improvements in the mid-late 18th century, not for a daily commute from Surrey, but certainly able to make the 3-4 hour journey to London and back every 3 days or so.

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From “A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and the Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain 1776”

In 1764, when Susannah would have been 2, her father, Charles, bought a property at Durdans, just outside Epsom in Surrey.

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Durdans by John Hassell 1816. Image from Surrey Libraries held in the Epsom & Ewell Local and Family History Centre Collection

Durdans was originally a large house said to be on a par with Nonsuch Palace.   Having had a number of aristocratic owners, a Mr Belchier bought the property in 1747, demolished the house as he thought it was ‘melancholy’ and built a new mansion in its place. But his luck ran out when it burned down just before completion of the building in 1755. Mr Belchier, perhaps cast down by his ill-luck at Durdans, abandoned the site and built another house nearby and a few years later, in 1764, he sold the Durdans property to Charles Dalbiac. Charles employed a young London architect, William Newton (clerk of works and architect at the Chapel Royal, Greenwich), to design a new house in the modern style. This house was then apparently sold by 1777 – a year after the diary. It is therefore possible that Susannah and her sister spent some of their childhood living at Durdans.

GREAT BOOKHAM: However, Susannah specifically refers to Bookham, another village nearby in Surrey, and it transpires that a Mr Dalbiac also bought Bookham Grove in Great Bookham, Surrey.

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See reference to Mr Dalbiac, last line bottom left, from “A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and the Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain 1776“.

This house is also noted as having been sold by Mr Dalbiac in 1775. Charles’s property purchases and his building of smart new houses show an enthusiasm to move into the world of the English country gentry, but also, subsequent to riots in Spitalfields around this time – the result of a slump in the weaving industry – the area around Spitalfields may have seemed unsuitable for bringing up a young family.  I also wonder if Durdans was the house he lived in with his first wife, Susanne, and their two little girls, Lucy and Susannah, and then after she died and he married again, he and Anne, his new wife, may have wanted to start a new household, which is why they moved to Bookham Grove.

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Bookham Grove today  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If Bookham Grove was sold in 1775, it seems quite possible that they actually moved out in early 1776.  Susannah gives just a few clues to the possibility that they are leaving the house and the area. For example, in the first week of January she refers to the man coming to “take down the organ” and then, two days later, that “the man finished packing up the organ”. Initially I was rather puzzled by this but it transpires that chamber organs were popular in the 18th century (often going into use in churches in the 19th century) and I imagine this was therefore a domestic instrument being carefully dismantled and packed up to be moved to another house.  A little later on, on Thursday 5th February, Susannah wrote, “The piano came down”. Perhaps this refers to the same instrument arriving at their new home!

Two examples of chamber organs from the late 18th century. 

In the weeks before they move there were visits to be made: on 10th January, her stepmother paid a morning visit to Mrs Sumner at Hatchlands Park, and on Saturday 20th January, Susannah wrote, “Papa took a ride in the morning to Admiral Geary’s”. Mrs Sumner lived at Hatchlands and Admiral Geary lived at Polesden Lacey – both now National Trust houses – so Susannah’s parents were clearly on easy visiting terms with their grand neighbours.

But the reference I like the most is to Mr and Mrs Cooke. On Monday 15th January “Mr Cook call’d in the morning”, then on Monday 22nd January,  the day before they leave there is a further clue to them moving away as Susannah wrote “Mama went to take leave of Mrs Cook” (Susannah’s spelling is not always reliable and she often spells names according to how she feels on the day).

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(c) M.Nairne

Bookham was a very small place and given that Susannah mentions going to church – or reading and studying a Bible passage if they fail to get there – every Sunday, it is highly likely that they would have been on close terms with the local vicar.

New Rectory, Great Bookham

The local vicar of St Nicolas’s Church, Great Bookham, was one Samuel Cooke who was married to a Cassandra Leigh. Cassandra was a 1st cousin of Jane Austen’s mother, and her husband, the Reverend Samuel Cooke, was Jane Austen’s Godfather. Jane Austen was born in December 1775 in Hampshire so would have been a new-born at this date, but her large extended family were close and in regular touch by letter. Jane herself stayed with her cousins in Great Bookham in around 1799 and again in 1814 and is said to have modelled Highbury from Emma on Great Bookham

Fanny Burney, the novelist, also later lived in Great Bookham and mentions the Cookes in her letters as follows:  December 1797: “We quitted Bookham with one single regret – that of leaving our excellent neighbours, the Cookes…. The father is so worthy, & the mother so good, so deserving, so liberal & so infinitely kind, that the world certainly does not abound with people to compare with them..”

St Nicholas’s Church, Great Bookham

If this is the same Mr and Mrs Cooke, in 1776 they would have been in their early 30s, the same age as Anne, Susannah’s stepmother.  As Anne was pregnant, at this potentially stressful moment in her life (being a stepmother, looking after a toddler, expecting another baby, moving house) she would have surely enjoyed the friendship of a woman said to be so “infinitely kind”. And that is my rather brilliant connection to Jane Austen!

Susannah and her sister Lucy, and little half-sister Harriet, along with their father and step-mother, appear to live in Wanstead for the remainder of the diary that is written up to July 1776. Perhaps Charles and Anne thought it would be better for the expectant Anne to be nearer central London where Charles worked, and to be neighbours to so many cousins living in Wanstead who could help look after the girls. But if Susannah and Lucy had already lived in various houses and also lost their mother, apart from the benefit of constant loving attention from aunts and cousins, complete stability was illusive as in July they set off on a journey abroad.

By 1777 Charles Dalbiac had sold both Bookham Grove and Durdans. Next for him was demolishing an old Elizabethan house at Hungerford, Berkshire, and building another brand new mansion in the modern style ….     [not an SPAB member then. Ed] Continue reading

“Portrait of a family”

“Portrait of a family all standing in a garden” 1730s, attributed to Charles Phillips.

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My aunt passed on this black and white copy of a family portrait painting along with the names of those depicted. Unfortunately she does not know where she first got it from and, up until recently, I had no idea if the original painting still existed and, if so, where it might be.

In what seemed likely to be a fool’s errand of an attempt to track the painting down, a couple of months ago I posted the black and white picture on Instagram. Thanks to the quick attentions of a friend who understood better than me a trick of the internet, a “Google Images” search instantly produced a coloured version of the painting! Suddenly Susannah’s father’s family were brought to life in front of me – with their lively pet spaniel – Amazing! Along with the colour picture came the information that it was sold by Sothebys in New York in 2004 as “Portrait of a family all standing in a garden”.

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This slightly naïve portrait depicts my 6 X Great Grandparents and their children – dating from the early-1730s – all looking a little stiff, formal and pointy, standing in front of quite a grand landscape. Susannah’s grandfather, James (originally Jaques – see signature below), who came over in the hamper, is on the right and his wife, Louise de la Porte, is sitting down with a protective arm round her youngest daughter, Martha.  Susannah’s father is the smaller boy standing in the middle.

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Rather beautiful signature of James [Jaques] Dalbiac Senior, Susannah’s Grandfather who was smuggled to England in a hamper.
James Dalbiac Senior and his two sons became highly successful silk weavers and silk and velvet merchants. They are all wearing wonderful early 18th century clothes and, if the Dalbiacs specialised in silks and velvets, here they all are wearing gorgeous examples.

Charles Phillips, the painter to whom it is attributed, painted a number of family portraits (see here: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:philips-charles-17081747/page/2), placing the families in landscapes attached to their properties. Although at around this time the Dalbiacs were living in 7 and then 20 Spital Square, London, it is possible that they owned a house in the country at this time which I have yet to track down. It is a large painting and it is easy to imagine it hung over the fireplace in a panelled drawing room in their Spital Square house. The National Portrait Gallery website says that Charles Phillips was “a successful portrait painter who was popular with the nobility” and their employment of Phillips is therefore symbolic of the Dalbiac’s climb to success and social integration in the English capital.

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2o Spital Square, London. Demolished c.1964.

It did feel amazing to have tracked the painting down to this century – but also a bit strange to think that someone has this painting and has no idea who all the people are.

If you don’t know who the picture shows, you cannot know what lay ahead for them. James and Louise had at least 28 grandchildren, but to us the number who died can only seem shocking as many of them did not survive to adulthood. For example, Susannah’s uncle James, the taller boy, had at least 9 children; 5 were boys, but out of these 5 sons, only one seems to have had children and they were all girls.

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Tuesday 2nd January, 1776: “Papa & Cousin James Dalbiac went to Town before Dinner”. Cousin James, one of the 5 boys mentioned above, married Maria Barnard in 1779 and they had at least 9 children.

Susannah’s Aunt Louise, on the far left of the picture, who was married to Jean Lagier Lamotte for 57 years (!) and lived in Wanstead, north east London, had 12 children, 5 of whom died and only two of whom produced families. And, of course, Susannah’s father’s first child, Pierre, died as a baby and his first wife, Susannah’s mother, died at the age 35, quite possibly in childbirth, when Susannah was 6.

What lives they led and what griefs they bore.

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For what it’s worth, I have been in touch with Sothebys in New York to see if they can contact the purchasers of the painting in case they are interested in having further information about the portrait and the people it portrays.

Refugees

Who was Mrs Martin?  I don’t think we will ever know – but we will come on to Mama, Papa, Lucy and Cousin James at the end of this entry. 

“Refugee”:

A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.  Late 17th century: from French réfugié ‘gone in search of refuge’

In October 1685, Louise XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which from 1598 had allowed the French Calvinist Protestants to practice their religion in France without persecution. Leading up to this the King had authorised the Dragonnades whereby Dragoons or soldiers were billeted in Huguenot households to harass and persecute them in an attempt to force them to convert to Catholicism.

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After the revocation, Protestant priests were given two weeks to leave the country but ordinary Huguenots were forbidden from going anywhere. There was horrific persecution as Huguenots were further forced to give up their beliefs or flee. New laws meant that sea captains could be fined huge amounts for helping to smuggle Huguenots out and by 1686, they could potentially be sentenced to death for helping.  At the same time, any Huguenot men caught trying to leave France were sent to work as galley-slaves and any Huguenot women were incarcerated in a religious order – these things happened. However, escape routes could be found, no doubt with bribes smoothing the road, and around 200,000 Huguenots successfully got away from France and approximately 50,000 of them found boats to take them safely across the English Channel into the arms of what they hoped would be a welcoming Protestant country.

Perhaps each of the 18th century refugee Huguenot families had a legend recounting how they escaped the terrible persecution in France, and Susannah’s family did not get away lightly. In my great aunt Helen’s folder is a document (perhaps copied from somewhere else) which says that after the Revocation:

The D’Albiacs of Nismes were almost exterminated by the fury of the Roman Catholics; the father, mother, four sons & three daughters were murdered. Two sons were saved, one of whom abjured Protestantism to retain the family estate. The other sent his two sons to England, concealing them in hampers. They arrived safely, founded two families who wrote their name “Dalbiac”.

Account of the Dalbiac family fleeing Huguenot oppression in France in the 1780s, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Photo: M Nairne

The Dalbiacs must have thought hard about whether to give in and become Roman Catholics or, instead, abandon centuries old homes and livelihoods, and make new lives alongside other Huguenots abroad.  Susannah’s Great Grandfather, Scipion (my 7 x Great Grandfather) had suffered the murder of his father and mother, his three sisters and four of his five brothers. In a desperate situation, with his only remaining brother feeling he had no choice but to abjure, it was perhaps these horrific murders that finally propelled Scipion and his wife to throw in their lot with those fleeing the country. They may have sent their two little boys, aged around four and five at the time, on ahead of them. Perhaps they hid the boys in hampers in order to travel quickly to the coast, to smuggle them secretly on to a boat and get them out of the country as fast as possible – from a port such as Bordeaux or La Rochelle on the west coast of France – risking their lives as they sailed north and round to England.

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant families in November 1661, Jan Luiken (1649–1712). 

My research leads me to believe that Scipion and his wife also came to London. Knowing they would be unlikely ever to return, they would have packed whatever they could manage, and their main import when they arrived and then settled in Spitalfields in London would have been their knowledge of silk-weaving.

1st Jan 1776

Scipion’s family survived and then thrived in Spitalfields, and his Great Granddaughter, Susannah, wrote her first diary entry 91 years later.

Papa = Charles Dalbiac, the grandson of Scipion and the son of Jaques Dalbiac, one of the boys in the hamper;

Mama = Anne Le Bas, in fact Susannah’s stepmother, as her own mother had died in 1768, perhaps in childbirth, when Susannah was 6;

Cousin James = was 26 in 1776 and could claim the same grandfather smuggled out of France as a small boy in a hamper.

And Lucy? = Lucy was her beloved sister, Louise, only one year older than her, her constant companion in the diary and with whom she lived for the rest of her life.

Papa (Susannah’s father, Charles James Dalbiac, born 1st March 1726) appears in the old portrait painting illustrated on the About page. When I first saw the picture, in black and white, via email, I knew nothing about it at all… But I have been hot on its case and am hoping to write an update on it soon!

 

Who was this girl?

The surname Dalbiac seemed to be the link…

Surely every young girl’s diary starts with her writing her name, address and probably age on the front page?  Tantalisingly, not this one!

Each entry is very short and I started by typing out all the little diary entries so that I could get more of a feel for the life it portrayed. Also, another aunt has written three books about family history on this side of the family so I had these by my side. I sifted through my aunt’s writing and family trees, trying to find the name of the girl. The surname Dalbiac seemed to be the link, as my aunt’s middle name is Dalbiac and this name appears in the diary. Of course, I was also soon diving around on the internet, following this or that tangent. Louisa Dalbiac seemed to be my girl – she was my Gt Gt Gt Gt grandmother and had married a Peter Luard – Auntie Helen, who gave me the diary, was a Luard – this had to be my girl!

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I found Louisa online on various ancestry sites. But I soon learnt that history can be mis-written and re-written with surprising ease, especially inaccuracies and omissions in family trees. My diary-writing girl never married (or had children) and her name is therefore left off a number of online family trees – a side-track grumble on women’s place in history to be researched there!

But, eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I pinned her down: she was my Gt Gt Gt Gt Aunt, SUSANNAH DALBIAC, born 14th May 1762, died in 1842, and aged 14 in 1776.

Her very first entry mentions 5 people and I wondered who they all were: who was Mrs Martin? And, much more to the point, who were Mama, Papa, Lucy and Cousin James?

The Diary

1776  Monday January 1st 

 “Mama & Lucy drank tea at Mrs Martin’s. I stayed at home to make tea for Papa and Cousin James.”

1980 Thursday August 7th:    204 years later my mother and I drove from our home in Surrey to the little village of Childrey, near Wantage, in Oxfordshire, to visit my elderly great aunt in her beamed and thatched cottage.

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Cress Cottage, Childrey. Watercolour by Patrick Nairne. 1966

I wrote a diary all through my teens and early twenties and my entry about the trip refers to our conversations with my great aunt and records that my mother was “so good at getting her on to family history” and that at some point during the day Great Aunt Helen sent us into her sitting room to find a photo album at the bottom of the china cabinet. I record that, “This we found but whilst sniffing about among the dusty books, we also came across a small leather-bound diary, dating from the year 1776!” Great Aunt Helen did not know much about the diary but she let me take it away.

I must have tried to read it straight through when I got home as I go on to write a paragraph or two about the contents of the diary, concluding that the girl who wrote it must have lived tantalisingly close to us in Surrey and also that her “life seems to consist of one long drink of tea”. Great Aunt Helen died aged 98 and I inherited a few other family items from her. I never forgot that I had the diary, but I didn’t take it out to look at again for 34 years, when my dear mother was dying.  The little diary is very fragile, and I started gently looking over the pages again and this time I was determined to find out:

Who was the girl who wrote the diary?

What was her name and how was I connected to her?