Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wife of His Youth: Elizabeth Beddoes

Old Map of St. Mary's Parish, Islington

Very little is known about Thomas Sutherland’s first wife, Elizabeth Beddoes, who seems to have been eclipsed by the younger and—in all probability—more refined Grace Hogg. We do have the report of her death in The Scotsman: “Elizabeth Beddoes, wife of Mr. Thomas Sutherland, Tailor, died in the 64th year of her age, at Edinburgh on 22nd August 1824.” Also surviving are the Canongate Burial guides, which record that August 23, 1824, Elizabeth Beddoes wife of Thomas Sutherland, Tailor, of Hill Place, died of bowel complaint.

But beyond the details of her death, she is a mystery. This is in all probability due in part to the fact that she did not participate in what would become the definitive act of the family, namely, relocating to Upper Canada. But it may also be due to the destruction of her eldest son’s papers, where she was most likely to be remembered. Alternately, Beddoes herself may not have corresponded with how the family wanted to preserve itself—not up to snuff, as the expression goes. Ultimately, we are left with conjecture.

We do know Beddoes was older than Thomas Sutherland by about a dozen years, and possibly a Quaker. While it may have been a love match, generally when a young man of the era married an older woman, it was because he was ambitious and she was settled (meaning beyond the flightiness of youth), and perhaps in possession of some financial security. Given that their first known child was born in March 1797, it has generally been assumed that they married in 1796. However, a September 25th, 1794 marriage record for a Thomas Sutherland, “batchelor,” and Elizabeth Beddowes, spinster, both of the parish of Saint Mary (in London), has survived. Sutherland’s signature does appear to match that preserved on another document, while Beddoes notably signs her name without the W inserted into the official record. Her signature seems labored, as if she was not a practiced writer, unsurprising for the time. No further information is provided about them, excepting that they were married by license, and the event witnessed by James Sutherland and John Powells (the latter appears to be someone habitually pulled in when a witness was required).

Soon after, they must have relocated to Edinburgh, as their son, Thomas Sutherland, Jr., reported in at least two different censuses that he was born there. What did Beddoes think of this? What was involved in a 34-year-old woman agreeing to marry a 22-year-old sailor-tailor and move countries? Perhaps she had a desire for adventure; perhaps the young TS “cut a dashing figure.” But when we come right down to it, I’m inclined to believe she was a highly pragmatic woman. For one thing, TS himself valued such qualities. But more to the point, at the time the options for a single woman of little means were exceptionally limited, and they would diminish as she aged. Marriage was—literally—a lifeline for many.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Old Edina

High Street, Edinburgh, 1874

It is gratifying to have one’s research validated. While family histories suggested that Thomas Sutherland, Jr. was a professor at Edinburgh University, no record of such could be found. Instead I found an advertisement which suggested he had attempted to establish himself as, among other things, a tobacconist, residing at his father’s home address in Edinburgh. Recently a fragment of a December, 1879 letter he wrote appeared in my mailbox. Writes Jr., “Many thanks for the Graphic of the 12th, giving views of Edinburgh. I have traced my old snuff shop of fifty years ago—first west of the outside stair and near Allan Ramsey’s book-stand, and both opposite Niddry Street. Sublime and beautiful Edina.” Sutherland, Jr. loved the nickname “Edina,” frequently using it in poems. On the other hand, he also loved A/B/A/B rhyme schemes and simple rhythmic structures, and “Edinburgh” is conducive to neither.

We know from directories at the time that this was 155 High Street, and the reference to Niddry is invaluable, as High Street is very long (as part of The Royal Mile), and street numbers have been known to change. Niddry Street, however, has not moved; it was and still is about halfway between the North Gate and the South Gate. From what I can tell this was not exactly a nice neighbourhood in 1827/28, when we know Jr. was there. Today, however, it has redeemed itself, as the Niddry Street vaults, abandoned late eighteenth-century warehouse space, taken over in the nineteenth century by the industrial poor and criminal elements, have been rediscovered, cleaned up, and are a well-known tourist attraction. But at the time Sutherland, Jr. operated his shop, he would have been inevitably familiar with some of these elements, including the masses of poor who were overcrowded belowground, and all the stresses they placed on the neighbourhood’s infrastructure (sewage and waste disposal, being the most visceral).

Winning Pendergast wondered why a man so congenitally unsuited to farming as Jr. was would come to the new world to do just that. She writes “His farming was a scandal to a thrifty neighbourhood and must have been a trial to his father,” also noting “He seems to have been known in the community for his eccentricities, and his inability to do the simplest manual task in the usual way. Everybody in the family and the neighborhood had a fantastic tale to tell about him, how he stood in a soap kettle when chopping wood to avoid cutting his feet, how he ripped up the corner of a carpet to rub his shoes with it – many others.” Yet, given his seemingly limited opportunities in Edinburgh, as well as his high aesthetic standards, it is possible that Upper Canada at the very least offered him a more bucolic landscape in which to concentrate on his poetic efforts. Perhaps it was the distance from the city—both geographic and temporal—that allowed him to romanticize it so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Loving cup

Random silver loving cup

It’s funny, but I have no desire to own any of the items associated with Thomas Sutherland; it is simply a matter of researcher’s curiosity to know more. And of all the items heard of, but not traced, a silver loving cup and an invitation stand out as the most compelling missing objects. The cup was a gift Sutherland received in Scotland, apparently in appreciation of having settled a strike between masters and apprentices. A metal case containing an invitation to Thomas Sutherland and his sons to attend a farewell dinner in their honour was also preserved. (As of the 1940s these were in the possession of the Munro and Williams families. I have no idea of their present whereabouts. Of course, I could always—once again—track the descendants….)

While the Geikie letter exchange suggests Sutherland was lacking in generosity—something contradicted by all other reports encountered—Sutherland was clearly a man of some importance and judgment if his peers depended on him to settle such contentious matters. I have read and re-read The Scotsman for references to Sutherland (and found them) but have located no notice of a dinner for him (though those for others were mentioned), nor a trade dispute. I do not even know what guild the dispute concerned—something the cup, if found, might resolve, allowing us to better understand his position in the community, and just what it was he gave up in coming to Upper Canada.

Burning down the house

I’ll admit to being surprised by what has survived of the Sutherlands, versus what hasn’t. Thomas Sutherland seemed determined to pass on his legacy. His son and namesake appears to have also possessed a certain sense of self-importance. Which is why I was curious as to why so few family papers have shown up in my searches of archives and repositories—at the very least I would have expected to find some of Thomas Sutherland, Jr.’s notebooks, correspondence, etc., had been preserved. His published writings suggest he was a devoted record keeper, able to give the exact date he first visited a place thirty or more years before. My curiosity was finally satisfied when I encountered this comment by Sutherland, Jr: “We were ‘scattered and peeled’ by the cremation of our abode on the 24th of October” [1877]. Apparently his wife was alone at their Moore home at the time, and all was lost.

Thus it makes sense that the kinds of things we might expect Thomas Sutherland, Jr. to have inherited—including papers relating to business and the like—has not turned up. This is not to say Sutherland did not have other sons, but Thomas was his namesake. Moreover, his son Alexander predeceased him, and it is doubtful anything went to George, who lived some distance from the others, and whose house was described as a “wild and lawless” place.

Correspondingly, in addition to the paintings, what has survived are the items traditionally inherited by daughters, such as china, a sewing basket, a few decorative items, and the like. And every time something else turns up, I get excited for what it might contribute to any understanding of this settler. For instance, that Thomas Sutherland economized when purchasing the communion set for his church tells us he was not unnecessarily extravagant. This, in turn, gives us a basis for evaluating the kinds of items he did buy, which then helps us determine us how he wanted to be seen by those he entertained in his home—not to mention how much he was willing to spend to create that impression. It’s all too much fun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Butler's Daughter: Grace Hogg

Mary Ellis was kind enough to send me the above photo of china which Grace Hogg (abt. 1777-1853), Thomas Sutherland’s second wife, brought with her when the family emigrated to Canada in 1833. There’s something about the peonies and delicate gold details that made me think about Grace’s upbringing in a house of significant wealth—even if it wasn’t hers.

There have been conflicting reports about Grace’s origins. Known historical documents are limited to those from Canada, and the report of her marriage in Edinburgh Parish, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland. Winning Pendergast’s version of her antecedents is the one most frequently cited. As Pendergast writes:

“Upon the death of his first wife, he married the Honourable Grace Hogg, daughter of an English Admiral whose home, near Edinburgh was called “Lasswade.” Grace (Hogg) Sutherland had two brothers, Charles and Adam Hogg. The latter became General Adam Hogg of the Army in India. General Hogg married Agnes Dinwiddie, niece of Sir Robert Dinwiddie, one of the last Royal Governors of the colony of Virginia.”

While certain parts of the above can be documented, other elements reflect the inaccuracies that often sneak into family stories as they are orally transmitted through generations. Notably, if Grace’s father was an Admiral, she would not have been granted the title “Honorable.” And, given the conventions of the time, if her father was in the navy, it makes no sense that her brother entered the army. Additionally, there is no Admiral who fits the bill. But, most tellingly, if Grace’s brother was Adam Hogg—as it appears he was—then her father was definitely not a military man.

In a letter to his sister Grace, dated October 26, 1797, Adam Hogg writes: “I have this day passed the Court of Directors of the East India Company and am now a cadet. Please inform our mother of the circumstances.” Adam and his sister appear to have been close: a miniature of him, with his correct birth and date of death, was passed down in the family. Also passed down was Agnes Dinwiddie’s sewing basket, though its current whereabouts are unknown (it was last in the possession of Marjory Doble Bryson. As always, suggestions welcome).

There is an excellent Hogg family researcher, Eleanor Donaldson, who has documented Adam Hogg’s family. It is because of her work that we know Adam was the son of George and Isabel Hogg, George being the butler of Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville. I have consulted all available published works on Dundas for even a passing reference to his butler, but to no avail. I prefer to believe that this is because George Hogg was so efficient as to never merit notice: this is, after all, the hallmark of a successful butler. Certainly, he would have had ample opportunity to showcase his talents. According to one historian of Dundas, “His social qualities, his generous hospitality, and the excellence of his wine cellar, made him a splendid host, and his parties were frequent and large.” This, of course, all translates into more work for the staff.

Being the daughter of a butler would have certain advantages: generally such girls were educated, sometimes with the children of the family, if they were of an age. According to one story, Grace Hogg was familiar, even friendly, with the Dundas children, though she was at least five years younger. The proximity of the Hoggs to the Dundases would have also instilled in them a knowledge of the manners and customs of upper class families, which they might themselves adopt. It was thus not unusual for such the butler’s daughter to be perceived of as a lady in her carriage and demeanor. And yet, as one Edwardian commentator noted, the butler’s daughter suffered her own plight, namely an “exceptional endowment [which] has made distasteful the suitors of her own walk of life.” This author noted that she was unlikely to marry.

Still, others noted that the butler’s daughter had her own resources: for example, Thackeray, in Vanity Fair, suggests that propinquity breeds opportunity, in representing Miss Horrocks as mistress to the master. More kindly, he was said to have remarked (in relation to the tendency of the peerage to intermarry) that they would have been bred to extinction if every so often someone in the line of succession had not eloped with the butler's daughter.

If the parish record of May 15, 1825 is correct, Grace Hogg was certainly older than the average first-time bride. But taking into consideration her education and knowledge, she would have still been a catch for an ambitious man, and Sutherland appears to have wasted no time in pursuing her, given his first wife’s death not quite nine months before.

There is much more work to be done on Grace and the Hoggs. But if you are interested in learning more about the dynamics of the staff in a large house, as well as the role of the butler, I would highly recommend the BBC series, The Edwardian Country House (in the U.S. it aired as Manor House). I recognize that it is Edwardian, and thus in some ways anachronistic as a framework for Grace’s upbringing. And yet, the series makes the argument that not much changed: that was the whole point.