And What About Charles?

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

The 18th son Charles had an interesting story, he became medical Missionary and went to the West coast of Africa, was a great favourite of the Chiefs, and when he nearly died of malaria, was put on board a ship for England. The Captain would not take him without a nurse, so Adjouah the native girl who nursed him went too, Charles insisting upon marrying her first. He took her to his sister Eleanor Newsome who had no children, and lived with her husband at Leatherhead, Surrey. The story goes that the first day after her arrival she poured the hug of water in her bedroom over her head. They became very fond of Adjouah, she was sent to school for three years, and Charles returned to the Mission filed, where he died. Afterwards she became a Missionary and returned to work amongst her own people, the only relics we had of her were a high comb, made in fine basked work, and a long handled ivory had to scratch a troublesome back.

These few lines written by Lilly Bowen in 1835 for Angus Davidson, who was working on Edward Lear’s first full-length biography. I have already expressed my doubts on Ms Bowen’s reliability in the previous posts on the Lear family (Part 1, part 2, part 3). What she says is certainly reliable in this case though one would like to have some time frame in which to place the events. Most biographers of Edward assume that Charles disappeared soon after going back to Africa, probably in the 1840s.

However, a few years ago, Harlon V. Wells, a descendant of Frederick Lear, sent me an e-mail which might throw some  light on the events. In it he mentioned a letter

written on 2 July 1888, from Dublin, Erath Co., Texas, by Francis Frederick Lear, (son of Frederic Lear), to his wife, back home, in Blanket, Brown Co., Texas.  This being only two days since his father, Frederick, had died of cancer, there in Dublin, at the home owned by Frederick’s wife’s half sister, Frances “Fannie” Elizabeth Boyd.  He was explaining to his wife about the manner in which he thought the inheritance from his father was to be distributed.  Coincidentally, at about the same time, he was expecting an inheritance distribution from his grandmother Skerritt’s estate.  (This is curious because her will was proven on 20 January 1834, so why was it just being distributed in 1888??  I haven’t a clue!)  At this point, Frederick and Aunt “Fannie” were living together after the death of his wife, in 1880.  Here is an excerpt from my[Mr. Wells’s] transcription of that lengthy letter:

It has been a hard matter to make Aunt understand it but I believe it is all right – I think from what she says she will take a childs part ie – 1/4 part – so that when Pa’s share com [sic], and I don’t think it will be less than $4000 clear – it will be $1000 apiece – and when it is legally Settled that Uncle Charles is dead – His share will Come – It will not be less that [sic] $4000 unless they spend a good deal hunting for him. I am anxiously waiting to hear from England to Know what they have done and what they are going to do – I hear the train Come in, so I must go and see if there is any mail I must close for the present.
I Remain your affectionate Husband,
Fras F. Lear

It seems then that in 1888 not even the family knew what had happened to Charles; he was presumed dead, but this could not yet be legally asserted.

According to an article by R.M. Jarvis and M.F. Chaney (“‘The Living, the Dead, the Undecided’ – An Annotated Bibliography of Law Review Articles Dealing with the Law of Absentees and Returnees.” International Journal of Legal Information 44.2 (2016) 182):

In antiquity, the presumption of “continuing life” required proof that an absentee was dead. In the 17th century, the English Parliament by statute reversed this presumption with respect to missing spouses and, later, missing life tenants. As a result, such persons could be declared legally dead after being absent for seven years. In 1805, Lord Ellenborough relied on these statutes to hold that any person who had been missing for seven years could be declared legally dead.

We can imagine that no one tried to determine Charles’s status before at least 1881.

Notice that Aunt Fannie seems to accept a “child’s part,” i.e. a quarter, as Frederick had three children, here is a registry report for Frederick Lear provided by Mr. Harlon V. Wells:

Frederick5 Lear (Jeremiah4, Henry3, George2, George1), born 1 Mar 1805 in Pentonville, Middlesex, England; died 25 Jun 1888 in Dublin, Erath, Texas; buried in Live Oak Cem, Dublin, Erath, Texas. He married on 17 May 1830 in Shoreditch, Middlesex, England, Rosa Annie Smyth , born 1813 in , England; died 17 Jul 1880 in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri; buried 18 Jul 1880 in Bellefountaine C, St Louis, St Louis, Missouri.

Frederick Lear, the only one of Edward’s brothers for whom we have a photograph. Photo provided by Harlon V. Wells.

Notes for Frederick LEAR
Occupation: Mining Engineer, CSA Captain, & Plantation Owner?
Married in the Parish of St Leonard
Buried in The New Dublin Liveoak Cemetery

Frederick’s wife Rosa Anna Smyth. Photo supplied by Harlon V. Wells. Photo provided by Harlon V. Wells.

Notes for Rosa Annie SMYTH:
Buried in Bellefountaine Cemetery N, 4947 W Flourissant, block 205, lot 01, grave 116, no gravestone

Children of Frederick LEAR and Rosa Annie SMYTH were as follows:
Francis Frederick6 Lear , born 28 May 1832 in , Jamaica, West Indies; died 1 Jul 1889 in Blanket, Brown, Texas; buried in Eureka Cemetery, Blanket, Brown, Texas.
Rosa Frances Ann6 Lear , born 1840 in , Cuba, West Indies; died 1910/19 in Fullerton, Orange, California.
Mary Ellen AnastasiaLear , born 1842 in Havana Harbor, Cuba, West Indies. Born aboard ship in Havana Harbor bound for United States.

Mary Ellen Anastasia Lear, Frederick’s daughter. Photo provided by Harlon V. Wells.

Mr. Wells has provided further information in this page, where he maintains that Charles died before 1859 and is buried in Sierra Leone. Following the links provides additional details on some of the other Lear siblings.

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“Twentieth of Twenty-one”: Edward Lear and his Siblings (3)

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Catherine Lear, by Unknown artist. Silhouette, circa 1830s. Given by Francis Adeney Allen, 1915. NPG 1759c.

The Lears were non-conformists and had their children baptized at the Meeting House at Haberdashers’ Hall by Pastor Joseph Brooksbank, and all the children who reached adulthood, except Charles, appear in the “Register of Births and Baptisms at the Haberdashers Independent Hall at Staining Lane in the City of London from 1785 to 1825” (RG4/4243), scans of which are available online at There are records for the baptism of:

Ann Lear (1791)
Sarah Lear (1792)
Sarah Lear (1795)
Mary Lear (1796)
Henry Lear (1798)
Eleanor Lear (1799)
Jane Lear (1801)
Harriet Lear (1802)
Cordelia Lear (1804)
Frederick Lear (1805)
Florence Lear (1807)
Edward Lear (1815)
Catherine Lear (1815)

Only Charles Lear (1808) is missing; however, he appears in the “Register of Births at Dr Williams’ Library in Red Cross Street, Cripplegate, London registered between 1820 to 1824” (RG4/4664) along with the other children: here Jane – as well as the non-surviving Sarahs – are missing while all the others are listed, nos. 2813-2823. RG4/4664 may be missing Jane and the non-surviving children either because the original parchment birth certificates which served as the basis for registration at Dr Williams’ Library were lost (these are also available at BMDregisters as RG5/095, “Protestant Dissenters’ Registry”), or more probably because only the children still alive in November 1822 were registered, and Jane died in February of that year.

The Lear children’s registration in three successive pages in the “Register of Births at Dr Williams’ Library in Red Cross Street, Cripplegate, London registered between 1820 to 1824” (RG4/4664).

The national Archives website provides a description of the procedure to be followed to register births here:

The Protestant Dissenters’ Registry at Dr Williams’ Library served the congregations of Baptists, Independents and Presbyterians in London and within a twelve-mile radius of the capital. However, parents from most parts of the British Isles and even abroad also used the registry. Almost 50,000 births were registered in it. The register was started in 1742, with retrospective entries going back to 1716, and continued to 1837. The certificates used to compile the registers also survive. Parents wishing to register a birth had to produce two parchment certificates signed by their minister and by the midwife and one or two other people present at the birth, giving the name and sex of the child, the name of the parents, the name of the mother’s father and the date and place (street, parish and county) of birth. After 1828, paper certificates were required instead, which had to be signed by the parents as well; this made them more acceptable as legal proof. On receipt of the two certificates, the registrar entered all the details, except the address of birth, in the register, filed one of the certificates and returned the other to the parents with his certificate of registration. (“General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857.” The National Archives website.)

Edward’s companion silhouette to the above one of Catherine. NPG 1759.

It is easy to see that all children who reached adulthood were baptized and registered at Haberdashers Hall, the exception being the 1792 Sarah Lear, who was registered even though she died in infancy (no registration is to be found for the second non-surviving Sarah of 1793 mentioned in the list); the Lears evidently decided to wait a bit longer before baptizing their children: in the cases of Edward and Catharine, they waited almost three years, both being baptized together on 5 January 1815. When they decided to register the children with Dr Williams’ Library, in November 1822, considering that a “small fee” was required, they evidently opted for only presenting the parchment certificates for the surviving children.

Edward and Catharine’s baptisms are registered on the same day, 5 January 1815, three and two years after they were born. RG4 4243 12-13.

So, what happened? How did the idea that the Lear siblings were 21 come to be? I would suggest that the main culprit is Edward himself with his statement in the letter to Fortescue; Lilly Bowen mentions the Lear correspondence that appeared at the beginning of the XX century several times in her letters to Angus Davidson and perhaps she was the one who tried to adjust the documents she had at her disposal so that they coincided with Edward’s statements: all the documents with 21 names which have come down to us passed through her hands.

On Dr. Williams’s Library: A Short Account of the Charity & Library Established under the Will of the Late Rev. Daniel Williams, D.D. London, 1917. (

On Haberdashers’ Hall: Walter Wilson, The History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses in London, Westminster, and Southwark. London: privately printed, 181o, vol. 3, pp. 148-183. (

On the Rev. Joseph Brooksbank: John Morison, The Fathers and Founders of the London Missionary Society. London: Fisher, Son, & Co., pp. 495-498. (

On the Lear family and religion: Sara Lodge, “Edward Lear and Dissent.” James Williams and matthew Bevis (eds.), Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University press, 2016, pp. 70-88.

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“Twentieth of Twenty-one”: Edward Lear and his Siblings (2)

[Part 1] [Part 3]

Ann Lear (Edward’s favourite sister) by Unknown artist. Watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, circa 1830s. Given by Francis Adeney Allen, 1915. NPG 1759a.

A second group of family documents is located at the National Art Library in London, “Papers of Ellen Newsom (Née Lear) and her family, 1795-1884,” (Manuscript MSL/1985/3) which includes several items relating to the family, among them four different lists of the Lear siblings, all agreeing on the fact that there were seventeen rather than twenty-one. The first document (item 36) is a list written in black ink with marriage and death dates added at a later date in {red ink} and still later annotations in {{black ink}}, apparently written at different times; it reads:

Photograph of a much-older Ann. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

Jeremiah Lear. born 6th May 1767 [should be 1757]
Ann. Clarke Skerrett. (his Wife.) born 5th of August. 1769. was married at Wansted Church. Essex. 24 Aug.t 1788 & had Issue as [illegible]
Ann       born    17 Jany            1791
Sarah    ――    11 May           1792    {died 26 Sept. 1792}
Sarah    ――    28 Augt          1793    {Died 12 Sept. 1793}
Sarah    ――    21 Dec.r          1794    {Married to [C. Street] 25 Jany 1822}
Mary     ――    1 May             1796    {Married R. Boswell 13 Dec. 1821}
Henry   ――    26 June           1797    {Died 9 July 1797}
Henry               25 Aug.t         1798
Eleanor 29 Nov.r         1799    {Married Wm. Newsom 16 Dec. 1823}
Jane       ――    10 June           1801    {Died 5 Feb.ry 1822}
Harriott.           13        1802
Cordelia           21 Nov.r         1803    {{Died 2 April 1834}}
Frederick         1          1805
Florance [sic]  3 June             1806    {{died 21 March 1838}}
Charles             30        1808
Catherine―     17 Octo.r        1810    {Died 11 mar. 1811}
Edward            13 May           1812
Catherine         24 Nov.r         1813    {{Died 24 January 1837}}

The verso contains dates for Sarah Street’s two sons.

Sarah Street, née Lear. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

MS L. 3/37-1985 is Florence Lear’s death certificate confirming the date given above; Florence, a “spinster,” died of “consumption.”

Item 38 contains a dateless family tree starting with “Alice Brignall of Durham” which simply confirms the order and names of Jeremiah and Ann’s children; “Catherine” is here spelt “Catharine.” Item 39, entitled “Family Tree of Brignall of Durham” is very similar to the one bound with the Ann letters, and states:

Ann Clarke (Skerritt)
Jeremiah Lear
of Holloway Middlesex Esqr.
and had 17 Children [Notice that here no “said to be 21” appears.]
of whom

Then only the children who got married are listed with their issue.

Eleanor “Ellen” Newsom, née Lear.

The back of the picture above, with a note by Lillie Bowen identifying the person as Ellen rather than Ann

Item 40 is a list in formal handwriting, presumably a fair copy summarizing the data in the other documents; here is a full transcript:

Jeremiah Lear Born May 6th 1757
Ann Clarke Skerrett Born Augt 5th 1769
The above were married at Wansted Church in Essex August 24th 1788.
Had children as follows ―

Ann ― born Janry 17 ― 1791. Registered at Haberdashers Hall, Meeting House and at the Library Red Cross Street.

Sarah ― born May 11 ― 1792 Registered as above. Died Sept 26th 1792.

Sarah born August 28th Registered as above, 1793. Died Sept 12th 1793.

Sarah born Decr 21st 1794. Baptized and Regis. by the Revd J. Brooksbank. Married to Chas Street of Arundel, June 25th 1822. Died at Dunedin. New Scotland Decr 10th 1873.

Mary born May 1st 1796. Regisd and Baptized by th eRevd J. Brooksbank. Married to Richd Shuters Boswell, Decr 13th 1821. Died at Sea ― on her passage from N. Zealand April 25th 1861.

Henry, born June 26th 1797 Died July 9th 1797. Buried at Pentonville.

Henry Born Augt 25th 1798 Registered and Baptised by the Revd J. Brooksbank Haberdasher’s Meeting House, and and Library Red Cross Street.

Eleanor Born Novr 29th 1799. Regisd and Baptised by the Revd J. Brooksbank. Married to Willm Newsom Decr 16th 1823.

Jane, Born June 16th 1801 Registered and Baptised by Revd J. Brooksbank. Died Febry 5th 1822. Buried at Westham Church.

Harriet [Or “Harriot,” the e/o having been corrected, but I can’t decide which way.] Born Sepr 13. 1802. Registered and Baptised as above. Died at Perth. Scotland. Augt 1859.

Cordelia ― born Novr 21. 1803. Registered and Baptised by Revd J. Brooksbank. Died April 2nd 1834. Buried at Milton, Gravesend.

Frederick ― Born March 1st 1805. Registered and Baptised as above. Married May 17th 1830 to Rosa Smith of Stepney.

Florence. Born June 3rd 1806. Registered and Baptised by Revd J. Brooksbank, and at the Library Red Cross Street.

Charles Born Novr 30th 1808 Registered and Baptised as above.

Catherine born Novr Octr 17. 1810. Died March 11th 1811. Buried at Pentonville.

Edward. Born May 13th 1812. Baptised and Registered by the Revd J. Brooksbank.

Catherine Born Novr 24th 1813 Regisd and Baptised as above. Died 1837. Florence died ^[March] 1838 ― Both were buried at Milton, Gravesend.

Jeremiah Lear died Augt 30th 1833.
Ann Clarke Lear died               1844 and was buried at Dover. The former was buried at Gravesend.
Ann Lear died March 11th 1861. Buried at Highgate Cemetery.

Mary Boswell (née Lear), by Unknown artist. Watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, circa 1830s. Given by Francis Adeney Allen, 1915. NPG 1759b.

Again, seventeen children are listed, most with exact dates of birth, marriage and death; this was clearly written out after Sarah’s death in 1873, but does not include the deaths of Edward or Eleanor (“Ellen,” probably the one who compiled the list) and the two “American” brothers. However, item 41 preserves a note on Henry’s fate dated 18 October 1877:

Henry Lear, died March 31st, 1877 in the 79th year of his life. Leaving one daughter & 2 sons

Ann Clarke Titus.
George Edward Lear.
Washington Usher Lear.

Mr John Titus and family living at

170 Union Avenue
Brooklyn ED
New York

This is as far as documents in the family take us, but further information can be obtained from documentation in institutional archives, which will be presented in part 3.

An older Mary. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

[Part 1] [Part 3]

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“Twentieth of Twenty-one”: Edward Lear and his Siblings (1)

“Twentieth of twenty-one children” must be the most-often-repeated phrase in discussions of Edward Lear’s early life: no biographical sketch omits the snippet; but, did Jeremiah and Ann Lear really have so many children? Families of such size were not uncommon at the time, and Lear himself was responsible for spreading this idea; in a letter to Chichester Fortescue of 18 July 1859 announcing the death of his sister Harriett he wrote:

There are only now 7 of us left living out of all the 21. ― My eldest sister is staying in Sussex, & we are anxious about the effect this sudden news will have on her (Letters of Edward Lear 144).

This was not always the version Lear used, however; according to Edward Lear on My Shelves (p. 17), which relies on a letter of 28 March 1880, he was “the last born of a family of twenty-one.” A few years later, however, the number changed as E.C. Selwyn, who first met him in Mendrisio in 1882 (Later Letters of Edward Lear 242), was told that he “was the youngest of a family of nineteen children, of Danish parents, and he owed what education he had to the loving care of one of his sisters. His name was originally spelt Lör.” (E.C. Selwyn, “Later Letters of Edward Lear.” The Cornhill Magazine, n.s. 28.3, March 1910, 389-398. 396. Posted here in full.)

Ann Clarke Skerrett Lear, Edward Lear’s mother.

Back of the above photograph.

A simple mathematical calculation confirms that, in theory, it would be possible to have 20 children in the 275 months between January 1791 (when Ann, the eldest, was born) and November 1813 (when the second Catherine, and last recorded child, was born); however, after examining several relevant documents, I feel that the total number of children in the Lear household should perhaps be considered one of the unsupported statements Edward liked to repeat, like the one about the family’s Danish origins. He probably believed it after hearing it from someone else in the family, but this does not make it historically accurate. Biographers have found the meme irresistible; of course, writing that poor Ann Clarke Skerrett is to be excused for giving little attention to her twentieth child in 22 years, especially with another one in the making and when financial ruin was on the point of crushing the family (if not a myth, another event that seems to have been greatly exaggerated by Edward) provides a good way to start the story of the life of a highly idiosyncratic individual.

A later portrait of Ann Skerrett Lear, executed 7 months before she died. I have posted a portrait of Jeremiah Lear here.

The documentation passed down in the family does not support Edward’s statement, at least until the early twentieth century; none of the surviving documents can be dated with precision, but one of the earliest must have been a “List of Birth days,” now in the possession of the New Zealand branch of the family; it opens:

In the year 1830
Mr Lear will be {born 1757} 73 years old May 6
Mrs Lear {born 1769} 61 August 5

The list contains the names of the siblings still alive in 1830 with their ages and dates of birth. On the left are numbers running from 1 to 21, clearly corrected in several places, with initials presumably referring to children who died in infancy; only two of the names are written in full, Jane ― who died in 1822 ― and a Catherine; the person who inserted the numbering was evidently not sure where to place the dead infants and appears to have tried ― unsuccessfully ― to fit the numbers wherever there was a free year with the aim of obtaining a total of 21. This is the only document assigning a non-surviving Henry (“HY”) between Sarah (“Mrs. Street”) and Mary (“Mrs. Boswell”), probably because there was a full year (though actually only 16 months and 10 days, hardly enough for two full-term pregnancies) without children.

The second source listing 21 children is bound in the collection of typescripts of Edward’s letters to Ann, also from the New Zealand branch of the family; the manuscript ― headed “Family tree of Brignall Esq of Durham” ― is either an “improved” copy of MS L. 3/39-1985 discussed below, or its original. It states:

Ann Clarke
[J]eremiah Lear Esq
of Holloway Middx
& had 17 children (said to be 21.
of whom

and then comes the list of 21 names in the same order as the previous document; here however the mysterious “O” appearing twice in the 1830 list (positions 11 and 17) is spelt in full as “Olivier” (between Jane and Harriott).

This Olivier Lear ― who should in any case be placed before Jane, in 1800 ― is a mystery in the mystery: if he existed, he was so despised by the family that they never mentioned him ― as far as I know, this is the only place where the name appears. However, both Susan Chitty (p. 10) and more authoritatively Vivien Noakes (p. 6) accept his existence; according to the former he was twelve when Edward was born, which confirms 1800 as a possible year of birth ― but consider that Chitty also sets Henry’s age at sixteen in the same year even though he was only fourteen.

Chitty’s treatment of the Lear brothers deserves to be considered, apart from the obvious fact that her statement that Edward never mentioned any of his brothers is false:

… strangely enough, Lear never mentioned a single one of his four brothers, Henry, Olivier, Frederick and Charles were ignored as if they had never been. Henry and Olivier admittedly left home young, shamed by their father’s bankruptcy. Henry attempted to make money the quick way, while Olivier joined the army. When the one was accused of forgery and the other deserted, both left the country. Fat Frederick, however, seems to have been a jolly enough figure. He used to chase Ann around the room for calling him a “Norfolk Biffin,” because, like the apple, he suffered “constant increase in circumference.” Charles and Frederick both eventually emigrated, but under respectable circumstances. Frederick went to colonize America and Charles to convert Africa (p. 15).

The idea of two of the brothers having problems with the law comes from Edward’s Diary, 27 April 1881, where he tells of meeting a lady (Mrs. Hansaw),

who was a Miss Burnèll, & met me 30 years or 40 at Mrs. Jourdains in Holloway. In one respect this woman was agreable, inasmuch as she took a real interest in the drawings &c. – & admired the little picture of Mt. Hermon above all. Bur her memory being wonderful, & her gossipry odious, she was more or less particularly disagreable. “Your Father lived in a large Square House called Bowman’s Lodge” – (& no doubt she equally well remembered that he was imprisoned for fraud & debt, & that 2 of my Brothers suffered for deserting the Army, & for Forgery. Then she fell on “deformed Betsey Nevill…

We know from the Diary, 8 October 1860, that the brother who deserted was Henry:

H. enlisted & was 7 or 8 years as a foot private: ― then he deserted, to a Cavalry regt. ― whereon, being sent into a Condemned regt., he wrote to his Father: ― & the D. of Yk, then Commander in chief, ― allowed him to be bought out, on account of his not having wished to desert H.M. service, but only to change his position in it.
At that time he was at Carisbrook, & then our father & mother went to see him, & brought him back. ― What a bargain!! ― This I never knew till last night, (I am writing on the 9th) when, on our looking over Sarah’s letter from the Isle of Wight, Ann & Ellen spoke of it.
I must then have been 7 or 8 years old: anyhow the following Easter Monday came on the 8th of April ― i.e. that following after H.J. returned.
(According to this entry there might be a connection between Henry and what Frederick Harding did to Lear on 8 April 1822; see Levi, Peter. Edward Lear: A Biography. New York and London: Scribner, 1995. 180.)

Chitty’s statements seem to be derived from Lilly Bowen’s “Edward Lear Notes” of June 1935 for Angus Davidson, in which she states:

The 4 eldest sons who before the crash, had lived gay lives, and never worked at all, were so crushed that they declared they could not remain in England where they were so well known, and leaving their Mother and sisters to help the father, they departed (Henry and Frederick) to America. Charles to West Africa, Uncle Edward never forgave them for this, but Ann wrote to them always…

Notice that she starts with “4 eldest sons” but actually lists what happened to only three of them. On the other hand, she had written that of the 21 children only five were boys, which, counting the Henry who died in infancy, is correct and leaves no room for an Olivier. Later in the memoir she writes that “of the 4 sons who lived, 2 went to America, … The 18th son Charles had an interesting story …” The fourth is presumably Edward.

The general impression one gets from the memoir is that the ultimate source of Lilly’s information was Edward’s sister Eleanor, who “corresponded regularly with my mother Emily Gillies (née Street).” Emily then reported orally to Lilly; it is not difficult to imagine the latter, and all the documents discussed here passed through her hands, trying to reconcile Edward’s statements in the published letters she knew with a few documents and a lot of probably half-remembered oral narratives.

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Edward Lear, Quakers, and the Old Man of Jamaica

Karen Sands-O’Connor. Children’s Publishing and Black Britain, 1965-2015. New York: Springer, 2017, p. 11:

As I have suggested elsewhere (Sands-O’Connor, 2008:38-39), Edward Lear, in 1846, included a Jamaican in his Book of Nonsnse (Jamaica being handily rhymed with Quaker); his poem looks at the abolitionists (many of whom were Quakers) and suggest comically that perhaps they were not quite ready for the real-life consequances of their intellectual commitmaent to freedom and equality.

Karen Sands-O’Connor. Soon Come Home to This Island: West Indians in British Children’s Literature. New York-London: Routledge, 2013, pp. 38-39:

… but the Quakers and their role in the abolitionist movement were not forgotten. More than a decade after the abolition of slavery, Edward Lear, produced his Book of Nonsnse (1846). In this book of near-limericks [?],  he mentions both Quakers and the West Indies in a way that suggests the prevailing sentiment concerning radical religion:

There was an Old man of Jamaica,
Who suddenly married a Quaker:
But she cried out, “Oh, lack! I have married a black!”
Which distressed that Old Man of Jamaica.

One of the frequent arguments against the freeing of slaves (and their eventual inevitable equality within society) was the notion that it would lead to mixed-race marriages. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, who notes the common practice of servants’ marrying across racial lines in England, at the same time points out the fear among the middle and upper classes that blurred racial lines might extend upward. “The worry about white employment,” she writes, “covered a thinly disguised fear of miscegenation” (Gerzina 1995, 180). Lear’s limerick suggests that the Quakers, as well-meaning as they might have been, were not prepared to deal with the consequences of all their abolitionary efforts. Lear’s nonsense, John Rieder writes, “is a playground. It separates itself from the ‘real’ world, letting loose a number of possibilities, including dangerous and violent ones, and at the same time disconnecting those possibilities from the real world” (49). But Lear’s suggestive word choice — his Old Jamaican did not, for instance, marry a baker — argues otherwise. The master of the nonsense world was in fact very aware of the danger and violence of the real world’s playground, and the distress that the well-meaning European brought to it.

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New to Read

Harvard University, Houghton Library, pga typdr 805 L513 63i METS.

I have added a number of items to the bibliographies:

Zirker, Angelika. “Don’t Play with Your Food? – Edward Lear’s Nonsense Cookery and Limericks.” The Pleasures and Horrors of Eating: The Cultural History of Eating in Anglophone Literature. Eds. Gymnich, Marion and Norbert Lennartz. Göttingen: Bonn University Press, 2010. 237-53. (here)

Boyce, Charlotte. “Onions and Honey, Roast Spiders and Chutney: Unusual Appetites and Disorderly Consumption in Edward Lear’s Nonsense Verse.” Food, Drink, and the Written Word in Britain, 1820–1945. Eds. Addyman, Mary, Laura Wood and Christopher Yiannitsaros. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. 38-64. (Google Books)

Ponterotto, Diane. “Rule-Breaking and Meaning-Making in Edward Lear.” Revista Alicanta de Estudios Ingleses 6 (1993): 153-61. (here)

Morini, Massimiliano. “‘How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear!’: Edward Lear and the Sympathetic Reader.” Rivista di Studi Vittoriani 4.8 (1999): 93-109.

Finlay, Nancy. “A Gift of Nonsense: An Edward Lear Manuscript.” Biblion: the Bulletin of the New York Public Library 7.1 (1998): 5– 19.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. “‘The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck’: Poétique du nonsense.” Études anglaises 57.1 (2004): 92-102. (here)

Weiss Adamson, Melitta. “The Games Cooks Play: Non-Sense Recipes and Practical Jokes in Medieval Literature.” Food in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays. Ed. Weiss Adamson, Melitta. New York and London: Garland, 1995. 177-95.

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Edward Lear’s Canadian Cousins

[The following is from Steve Uglow’s research on Edward Lear’s family: I posted the first part, on Frederick Harding, a couple of months ago as part of  a discussion of some family portraits.]

The references to cousin Caroline Jones in Canada and to Henry ‘Chesner’ need some digging into Lear’s father’s background.

Jeremiah was the son of Henry Lear [1709-1763] who married Margaret Lester [1710-1795] on 6th May 1744 at All Hallows London Wall. Little is known of Jeremiah’s siblings but there is the will of Margaret who died in 1795. She was living in Hoxton in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch and had clearly taken on the sugar business of husband Henry after his death. Is this Margaret Jeremiah’s mother?  The will is proved on 27th January 1795 by the sole executrix, daughter Catherine but only after Catherine and Jeremiah Lear, both of Pentonville, had sworn an oath that this was their mother’s handwriting and their mother’s true will.

The children mentioned in the will includes:

  1. Catherine – she is unmarried at the time of her mother’s death in 1795. Her mother made her the sole executrix which suggests that she is the eldest and close to her mother.
  2. Mary – she is unmarried at the time of her mother’s death in 1795. She is a witness at her sister, Sarah’s, marriage in 1773. This suggests that she was at least 21 and thus born between 1744 and 1752.  There is a record of Mary Lear buried on 6th November 1797 at St Dunstans, Stepney.
  3. John – he is a witness at Sarah’s marriage in 1773. This suggests that he was at least 21 and thus born between 1744 and 1752.
  4. Sarah – she was baptised 9th January 1755 in Liverpool, the daughter of Henry, a sugar boiler, living in Castle St, Liverpool.
  5. Jeremiah (1757-1833)
  6. Henry

Margaret bequeaths  £5 to Mary and John and to Sarah’s children, Thomas and Charles. Henry gets her watch. The real wealth is in the sugarhouse and dwelling house in Wentworth St, Whitechapel and she directs that these be sold. Catherine received half the proceeds as well as her clothes and furniture while the other half was divided between Sarah, Henry and Jeremiah.

In her will, Margaret refers to daughter, Sarah, as Sarah Chesmer (although this is not conclusively legible) and here is the link to the Canadian cousins. On 18th May 1773 a Vicar General Marriage Licence is issued for Chesmer/Lear and on the following day, 19th May, at St Mary’s, Whitechapel, Thomas Chesmer of Whitechapel, bachelor, and Sarah Lear of Whitechapel, spinster and minor, were married. The witnesses are John Lear and Mary Lear, presumably Sarah’s siblings.

Who the Chesmers were is uncertain – one branch of Chesmers/ Chasmers were to be found south of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst in Kent Weald in villages such as  Rolvenden, Benenden. Whether Thomas came from that stock is moot.

By 1795, Sarah and Thomas have at least two children – Thomas and Charles – but Lear refers to cousin Henry ‘Chesner’ and presumably there must be a third son, Henry.  Possibly he is born around 1785 – in May 1821 Henry Chismer, aged 35, sailed on the SS Martha from Liverpool to New York. Described as a merchant, his destination was Canada. [There is a 25/5/1785 baptism on 25th May 1785 in Benenden, Kent, for Henry son of Charles and Elizabeth Chasmar  but this is unlikely to be our Henry as the record has “poor’ for his parents and there is the death of Henry Chasmar, engineer aged 54 in New York in 1839]

By 1809, Henry is an active merchant: the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 26th  January,  advertises the fact that four or five hundred tons of goods may be conveyed to Liverpool on moderate terms if ready for immediate shipment – those interested should  apply to Smith and Chesmer, 3 Copthall  Chambers.

But Henry is either an unlucky, incompetent or downright dishonest businessman – in 1810 a man called Tupper was in business in Valencia and in touch with Horatio Smith, Henry Chesmer and John Down were merchants in London. In April 1810, Chesmer was in Valencia agreeing to buy Spanish wool with Tupper, ship it to England, sell it and divide the proceeds 50/50. Tupper bought £30,000 of wool and shipped it to Bristol. Chesmer arranged for Haythorne and Co in Bristol to sell the wool, not indicating that Tupper had interest in the sale.  In January 1811, Chesmer’s company received advance of £5000 from Haythorne. On 28th February 1811, the company was declared bankrupt [1811: London Gazette,  28th February, the Bankruptcy Commissioners announced a meeting to make a dividend of the estate and effects of bankrupts Horatio Smith, Henry Chesmer and John Down of Great Winchester St.] The impact of this bankruptcy rumbled on throughout the decade – Tupper sued Haythorne in 1815, dividends were announced against Smith, Chesmer and Down, Great Winchester St, merchants [Birmingham Chronicle 14 December 1820] and in 1822, the case of Fisher v Miller [Times 12/11/1822] referred to Chesmer, a bankrupt, who has assigned his property to the plaintiff, Fisher.

His private life also seemed tempestuous – in 1814, in  Rogers v Chesmer [Sheriff’s Court, Bedford Row] Chesmer is sued for assault by a neighbour and for pouring urine over his child. Both live in Sloane St., Knightsbridge [Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – 2nd June 1814].  Later that year on 27th July, Emily Indiana Chesmer was born and baptised on 1st September at St Lukes, Old St. She was the daughter of Henry and Sarah. The baptismal record said that the couple lived in City Rd and that Henry was a merchant. Emily Chesmer was probably buried at Holy Trinity, Brompton on 4th December 1851.

We have to assume that wife, Sarah, dies  and that his business dealings in England were such as to make the colonies a more attractive place. On 2nd November 1818 in Sorel, Montreal, Canada, Henry Chesmer Esq of Essex in England and Miss Caroline Jones, daughter of Major Robert Jones, of Sorel, were married. The record is signed by contracting parties, father of bride and Maria, sister of bride.

They relocate to the West Indies where Frances Catherine Caroline Chesmer was born on 28th August 1819 in Kingston, Jamaica – the father was recorded as Henry, the mother as Caroline Jones.

But Henry clearly came back and forth to England – in 1820, he was bankrupted again, this time as Henry Chesmer, late of Broad St Buildings but now of Brompton, merchant, trading under the name of Henry Chesmer and Co: Birmingham Chronicle, 9th  March 1820.

In 1820, Henry and Caroline have another child, Jessy, daughter of Henry and Caroline of Brompton Crescent born on 30th September and baptised on 9th March 1821 at St Mary Abbots Church, Kensington.  Two months later, Henry was on the SS Martha from Liverpool to New York

Henry died in 1826 and was buried on 2nd August in Sorel, Montreal, Canada. He was described as a native of England but last from the West Indies and at the time of his death at father in law’s house, Lieutenant-Colonel Jones of the Militia. Two years later, Caroline Jones, daughter of John Jones, widow of Henry Chesmer, merchant of London, married again, to Robert Jones of Stanbridge, gentleman and Quebec politician.

Lear stayed in touch with the Jones family, although they were not related – George Archibald, son of honourable Colonel Jones of Stanbridge and Caroline Chesmer, his wife was baptised in Philipsburg on 1st September  1838. George Archibald, Archie, is not on the Quebec censuses in 1851 or 1861 but accompanies Lear in Egypt in 1867.

Henry’s daughter, Jessy, is a cousin of Lear. She marries Edward Foy. He is a major in the 71st Foot when they marry – on 12th December 1847, The London Gazette reported that  Brevet Major Edward Foy was to be major by purchase, vice Sir Hew Dalrymple. But by 1851, Edward had left the army and was lodging with a silk printer at Woodbine Cottage, Bexley – he was described as a fundholder.

The census was 30th March 1851 – on 21st July, Edward Foy  and Jessie Chesmer married in Iberville, Quebec. They returned to England and by 1871 and were living at Park Gate, Leckhampton. Edward Foy died in 1878 with Jessy as sole executrix of an estate under £60,000. Jessy herself stayed in Leckhampton and died in 1895, leaving £57,772 6s and probate, tantilisingly, to Henry Chesmer Boomer Esq .

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