Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Parade of Potential Nursemaids, 1827

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Susan reporting,

I recently spotted this amusing illustration on the Instagram account of Patrick Baty, an expert on the history of paint and colors (and a good friend of this blog), and he has graciously permitted me to share it with you here. It hasn't appeared anywhere else, because it's from his family papers, a drawing done by one of his ancestors to amuse the rest of the family. As always, click on the image to enlarge it.

The illustration is entitled Preparations for the Grand Review December 1827. Patrick describes it as a "piece of family satire. Drawn as a result of a letter from my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Susanna Graham, from Hove to the housekeeper at their London house. 'Get as many nurses as you can collect against our coming up' [was the order.] As Madame la Générale, she orders: 'Fall back there - eyes right.'"

To explain a bit more: moving a large family from one house in the country to another in London must have been a considerable challenge for Mrs. Graham in 1827. Here she stands, sword in hand and a feathered turban on her head, reviewing the possible nurses that have been gathered. Another lady (whose name I can't make out, but who is wearing an equally formidable hat) beats the drum and says "Rub a dub, rub a dub, who'll enlist?"

The nurses are a mixed assortment of women, wearing equally assorted attire. The caption in the upper left gives them each a brief statement, ranging from "I have a sweet voice & good lungs" to "I speak grammatically." Most poignant is the statement of the elderly woman who's first in line: "I have lived 50 years in my last place."

Whichever of the nurses is finally hired (perhaps all!), it's clear that there will be certain strict standards to maintain. The family carriage is fast approaching in the background, filled with heads that likely belong to the children, and flying a standard that proclaims "Perfection or death." I feel sorry for those nurses. . . .

Many thanks to Patrick Baty. His new book, The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, will be published this July.


Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing this, and thank you Patrick for giving permission. Your Grandmother x3 sounds a lively woman with a good sense of humour. I should think that if her letters are all as amusing, if you have many, it would be a valuable and entertaining resource to publish. This lovely little sketch makes me want to know her better, and her redoubtable housekeeper, who must have shared her humour to be able to be so written to.

Donna Seger said...


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