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.

Drawing by Francis Tussaud. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

With minimal financial aid from his father, 17-year-old Francis set sail for England in 1817. Luck was not with Francis because when he reached Dover, he ran out of money. He was also mistaken for a military deserter and arrested. He might have spent a long time in prison if it had not been for his poor English-speaking skills that caused authorities to release him, and he returned to France. However, Francis did eventually find his mother and brother because he claims in his naturalization papers of 1846 that he joined them in England in 1821.

Francis, like Joseph, began to tour with his mother and help her with her exhibition. He had learned carving while working for the billiard table builder and that skill probably helped him with the wooden bodies needed for his mother’s wax figures. In addition, Francis was musically inclined and played the harp, which also allowed him to play with the orchestra that his mother used for her promenades.

While on the road and touring with the exhibit, Francis met his wife, Rebecca Smallpage. She was the third daughter of a draper, John Smallpage, and his wife Miriam Randall. Rebecca was born in 1806 in West Yorkshire. She and Francis married on 29 November 1826 in St Peters, Leeds, Yorkshire. Ultimately, Francis and Rebecca had eleven children with the oldest child born on 5 September 1830 and named Joseph Randall after Francis’s older brother. The fact that Francis named his son after his older brother is somewhat interesting as Francis once wrote his father and told him that his brother Joseph was always his mother’s favorite child.

Cover for Madame Tussaud’s Catalog from 1856. Public Domain.

Madame Tussaud’s husband had always relied on his wife for money and been somewhat of a dead beat. That was partially why she left him, and so, in 1841, when he approached her asking about her exhibition and hoping for money, she was livid. She had not spoken or written to him for years and was upset that he was attempting to contact her. Her sons had also become greatly involved in her business, which was now known as Madame Tussaud and Sons. Thus, Francis and Joseph intervened, wrote to their father, and told him he had lived off their mother long enough and that he was entitled to nothing more.

Francois’ unsettling contact also caused Madame Tussaud and her sons to become concerned about what might happen if she died first as she was older than her husband. In addition, Madame Tussaud was still a French citizen and therefore subject to France’s laws, which meant that her possessions could be awarded to her husband if she died first. She and her sons then saw a lawyer and had him draw up “Articles of Partnership,” so that everything would go to her sons if she died.

Fortunately, François died first in 1848. About two years later, on 15 April 1850, Madame Tussaud died with her sons at her besides. Joseph and Francis had been running Madame Tussaud’s wax business for several years before their mother’s death, and so it was easy for them to take over the business and continue to supply the same superb wax likenesses and adhere to the business plan their mother had taught them.

Francis had also grown into a skilled wax modeler, as the contributions he made to Madame Tussaud’s collection on Baker Street were classified as some of the best figures at the museum. These included, “Oliver Cromwell, George Washington, Mrs. Siddons (the tragedienne), and the beautiful but ill-fated Marie Antoinette.”[1] Moreover, one newspaper wrote that the world had “lost one of its most faithful votaries.”[2]

Theobald Mathew. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Francis is also said to have modeled one of the greatest of all the temperance reformers named Theobald Mathew but referred to as “Father Mathew” or “the Noble Priest of Cork.” He encouraged people to take a pledge of abstinence and supposedly induced some 60,000 people to become teetotalers. The sitting performed by Francis of Mathew happened in the early 1804s in one of the rooms at Hall’s Riding School while he was in London to give a series of lectures and during it:

“[Francis] was constantly interrupted … by people of all classes and creed coming into take the [temperance] pledge. Most of them insisted upon kneeling to receive Father Mathew’s blessings. … At the close of the sittings Father Mathew detached from his breast his temperance medal, which was attached to a ribbon round his neck, and handed it to the artist that it might be placed upon his model.”[3]

Joseph died in 1866 and then Francis became responsible for the business. After Francis began managing Madame Tussaud’s, newspaper articles continued to laud Madame Tussaud’s as demonstrated by the following newspaper article published in 1867:

“This historical exhibition [Madame Tussaud’s], which is very properly called ‘one of the sights of London,’ is visited daily by hundreds of persons, who go with an impression that they are simply to see an ordinary wax-work show, but who upon entering the elegant rooms are struck with amazement at their splendour and extent, and take their departure delighted with what they have seen, promising themselves a second visit and further inspection of the many curious objects of interest to be found nowhere else in the world.”[4]

Francis never had a robust constitution and his health began to fail in 1873. After a long, painful, and severe illness, he died on 31 August 1873 at his residence 105, Marylebone Road, London. Numerous papers reported on his death. One noted that he was known as a musician and composer and demonstrated great skill as a draftsman and modeller. Another newspaper summed up the loss of Francis stating:

“His loss in connexion with the world-renowned exhibition is deeply felt by all connected with the establishment, whose name is ‘familiar in our mouths as household words.'”[5]

Francis was buried on a Friday at St. Mary’s Catholic Chapel, in Kensal Green. As a mark of respect to his memory, Madame Tussaud’s museum on Baker Street was closed on that day. Francis’s son, Joseph Randall, took over after his death.

References:

  • [1] “Death of Francis Tussaud, Esq.,” in Chichester Express and West Sussex Journal, 16 September 1873, p. 3.
  • [2] “Death of Mr. Francis Tussaud,” in The Era, 07 September 1873, p. 13
  • [3] Tussaud, John Theodore, The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s, 1920, p. 143-144.
  • [4] Madame Tussaud’s, in London Evening Standard, 25 April 1867, p. 6.
  • [5] “Death of Francis Tussaud, Esq.,” in Chichester Express and West Sussex Journal, p. 3.

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