Laura Bell Courtesan and Preacher

Laura Bell Courtesan and Preacher
Laura Bell by Wallace Ernest-Joseph-Angelon Girard (1813 – 1898) c. 1850. Courtesy of The Wallace Collection.

Laura Eliza Jane Seymour Bell was born in 1829 in Glenavy in Northern Ireland to Captain R. H. Bell, who managed Hertford’s Antrim estates, and to the illegitimate daughter of Lord Hertford. Laura who supposedly had an unsupervised childhood, eventually moved to Belfast. There she worked as a shop assistant but was alleged to have earned extra money by occasionally working as a prostitute, although she denied it. She next moved to Dublin and was frequently spotted riding around in her own carriage in the tree-lined avenues of Phoenix Park. It was also while she lived in Dublin that she reportedly had a relationship with Dr. William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde.

In 1849, she moved to London where she became a well-known courtesan referred to as The Queen of London Whoredom because of her wealthy clientele of noblemen and dukes. Part of her success as a courtesan was that she was strikingly beautiful, so much so that on “one occasion at the opera the entire house rose simultaneously to look at her as she was leaving.”[1] In addition, as she had done in Dublin, she was often seen riding in her carriage, but this time it was in Hyde Park in a gilt one drawn by two magnificent white horses. Continue reading

Napoleon’s 13-year-old Friend Betsy Balcombe on St. Helena

Napoleon looking out to sea on St. Helena. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon’s voyage into exile ended on 15 October 1815 at half past ten when the Northumberland anchored at St. Helena. That night he slept aboard the ship and on the morning of the 17th, he traveled to Longwood House, the residence of the lieutenant-governor that was designated as Napoleon’s future residence. He seemed satisfied with Longwood but because it needed to be repaired, refurbished, and enlarged, he needed to stay somewhere else temporarily.

It was decided he would stay at the Briar’s homestead with William Balcombe, an English merchant and superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company. William was married to Jane Cranston and they had two daughters and two sons: Jane (1779), Lucia Elizabeth “Betsy”(1803), Thomas Tyrwhitte (1810), and Alexander Beatson (1811). Jane and Betsy had been educated in England and taught the French language. Continue reading

Van Hare the Ultimate Showman of the 1800s

G. Van Hare. Public domain.

G. Van Hare was the ultimate showman of the 1800s and traveled to nearly every European country during his fifty-year career. In his travels he experienced an endless string of odd adventures and unusual experiences that included interesting incidences with not only people but also dogs, lions, and a gorilla.

One interesting story about Van Hare is after he purchased a nearly 1-year-old Newfoundland pup in 1857 It became known as Napoleon the Wizard Dog and eventually ended up in his show. Napoleon was said to be as smart as he was handsome, and the Illustrated Sporting Times and Theatrical and Music-Hall Review wrote an article about him on 20 September 1862 stating: Continue reading

George Cruikshank the Caricature Artist and Humorist

George Cruickshank. Courtesy of Royal Academy.

George Cruikshank, the caricature artist and humorist, was born in London on a Thursday on 27 September. His mother was Mary Macnaughten and his father, Isaac Cruikshank, a leading caricaturist of the late 1790s. Mary and Isaac had five children: two died in infancy and then there was artist Isaac Robert born in 1789, George born in 1792, and Margaret Eliza, a promising artist born in 1808 who died of tuberculosis at the age of eighteen.

George had a limited education with his most valuable education being taught to him by his father when he served as his apprentice. When George was twelve, he received his first paid job and produced an etching of a child’s lottery picture. He also drew Horatio Nelson’s funeral car after the inspirational hero was shot and killed during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. George’s earliest signed work was dated about two years later when he created the “demagogue Cobbet on his way to St. James’s.”[1] Continue reading

Francis Tussaud: Madame Tussaud’s Son

Francis Tussaud, from his great-grandson’s book of 1920, “The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s.”

Francis (François in French) Tussaud was Madame Tussaud‘s son. He was born to her and her husband François on a Saturday, 2 August 1800. Two years later, Madame Tussaud decided to promote her waxworks in England, and she left her son Francis behind in the care of her husband, mother, and aunt, and took her 4-year-old son, Joseph, with her. Madame Tussaud eventually broke it off with her husband but continued to write to Francis, her mother, and her aunt from England.

Francis grew into a young man who had a strong desire to be an architect. However, his father must have thought otherwise because he obtained an apprenticeship for him with a grocer. The apprenticeship proved costly, and once François discovered this, he then found an apprenticeship for his son with a billiard table builder. For a time, Francis unhappily pursued that career, and, perhaps, that is why he finally joined his mother and brother in England. Continue reading

What Did Jane Austen Look Like?

Watercolor portrait of Jane Austen by Cassander in 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are few images of Jane Austen drawn when she was alive, and because she never sat for a professional portrait, people often wonder what did Jane Austen look like? To answer this question, there are some published descriptions by those who knew her best.

One description of Jane comes from a relative of Anne Lefroy, better known as Madame Lefroy. She was Jane’s closest neighbor, and despite being twenty-six years older than her, Madame Lefroy respected young Jane’s intelligence and encouraged her. However, it was not Madame Lefroy who left a description of her but rather her brother. He was an English bibliographer and genealogist named Sir Egerton Brydges, and years after Jane had grown, Brydges stated: Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Novel Persuasion

Jane Austen. Public domain.

The first draft of Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion,” a romantic novel that examines human foibles and flaws, was completed on 18 July 1816. Apparently, however, according to her nephew and biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh, she was unhappy:

“[H]er performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better. This weighed upon her mind, the more so probably on account of the weak state of her health; so that one night she retired to rest in very low spirits.”[1]

Her low spirits encouraged her to revise it and she finished it on 6 August 1816 (two chapters of her manuscript that were cancelled can be viewed by clicking here). However, according to Jocelyn Harris, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand, Jane continued to tinker with it and probably didn’t actually finalize it until 27 January 1817. After it was completed, Jane made a cryptic mention of “Persuasion” in a letter she wrote to her niece, Fanny Knight that was dated 13 March 1817: Continue reading

Silhouette Artist and Prosopographus Inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II

Likenesses created from the prosopographus. Courtesy of Bonhams.

The silhouette artist and prosopographus inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II (hereafter referred to as Hervé) was christened on 28 February 1785 at the All Hallows London Wall. His father was a British-born French Huguenot merchant named Peter Daniel Hervé and his mother Margaret Russel. They had several sons Peter (born 1779), Henry (born 1783), Francis (born 1787) and Hervé, who was the youngest. Continue reading

5 Things Horace Walpole Disliked

Horace Walpole by John Giles Eccardt in 1755. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Horace Walpole was an English historian, man of letters, politician, and writer. He had plenty of things that he liked, such as his extraordinary Strawberry Hill House. It was a Gothic Revival villa in Twickenham, London, that he began building in 1749. However, as much as Walpole may have liked Strawberry Hill, there were five things Walpole did not like (or in some cases detested). They included the city of Bath, cricket, gout, princes and princesses, and the French Revolution.

While many people reveled in the spa city of Bath and described it as charming and relaxing, Walpole was not among them. On 2 October of 1766, he traveled there and wrote to the British Field Marshall and statesman who was his cousin, Henry Seymour Conway, about his distaste for the place: Continue reading

A Regency Era Female Husband – James Allen

James Allen, Public Domain
James Allen, Public Domain

The idea that a woman would pretend to be a male was considered shocking in the Regency Era. One woman who perpetrated such a hoax was commonly known as James Allen. Allen’s situation came to light when Allen, who was 42 years old and a sawyer, was fatally struck in the head by a piece of timber while in a saw pit. Allen had been married for twenty-one years and the marriage had been solemnized at Camberwell Church on 13 December 1808. According to Allen’s wife, Abigail Mary (whose maiden name was Naylor), she had no idea Allen was female until the astonishing fact was discovered at St. Thomas’s Hospital when doctors undressed Allen.

According to Abigail Mary, more commonly known as Mary, their courtship began while they were in the service of a Mr. Ward of Camberwell Terrace and Mary was working as a housemaid and Allen as a groom. Allen, who was a native of Yarmouth and described as “reserved, sober, and industrious,” began to pay attention to Mary near the end of his service with Ward. The attention paid off and they married. It was then reported after “the matrimonial alliance took place … they retired together to the Bull, in Grey-in-lane.”[1] Continue reading