Archive for category Mariana Starke

Mariana Starke: ‘Buy A Copy’: recently discovered letters of the 19th century travel guide writer Mariana Starke

Mariana - Buy a CopyLast year – 2015 – was such a ‘suffragette year’ that my various other interests were sadly overlooked. Now, at the very beginning of 2016, I would like to make amends and bring once more to the fore Mariana Starke, my favourite lady of the late-18th/early-19th centuries.

For at the very end of 2014 I had the great good fortune to meet Gerlof Janzen, who had just published a most interesting collection of letters written in the mid-1820s by Mariana to a Surrey gentleman, Edgell Wyatt Edgell. We know of Mariana as the ‘celebrated traveller’, the author of Letters from Italy, which over the years transformed itself into Travels on the Continent –the guidebook to Italy – and to Europe – but the newly-discovered letters to Edgell Wyatt Edgell reveal her in another light entirely – as a businesswoman.

Travels on the Continent was revered – and sometimes mocked – for the painstaking detail with which Mariana itemised the cost of travels – from washing petticoats in Venice to sending out for a meal in Rome. In the Edgell letters we see how such preoccupation with practical details was second-nature to her, although, in this instance, her concern was the business of acquiring copies of celebrated paintings, suitably modified in size and shape, to adorn the home of a Surrey gentleman. Thus we find her busy with measurements, with artists and framers, and with the cost and method of arranging for the safe carriage of the goods from Rome to England.

Among the paintings that she shipped to Edgell were copies of ‘Schidone’s Charity, Titian’s sacred & profame Love, & the Battle of Constantine; all of which will be properly stretched, varnished, packed, & sent by sea to Leghorn…'[p57]. She detailed how, to save money, she would be ‘packing the pictures myself, by the aid of the carpenter employed to make the packing-case & then consigning them to the care of Lowe – the Wine Merchant – to be, by him, conveyed to the Ripa Grande; thence to Leghorn; & thence to Messrs Calrow, London…’. She then accounted, in a most complicated fashion, for all the costs.

In addition to her labours on Edgell’s behalf a letter to him of 13 April 1825 recounts how, at the last minute, she had included in the shipment one other painting destined not for Edgell but for ‘Mrs Shelley’. This was ‘a small portrait of Mr Shelley, Lord Byron’s great Friend, who was drowned near Pisa…’ She explained that ‘the extreme anxiety expressed by Mrs Shelley to have this picture sent to England, has induced me to give you this trouble, instead of waiting to take it myself.’ This portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley was that painted in Rome in 1819 by Mariana’s friend, Amelia Curran. Mary Shelley was desperate to have this only likeness of her beloved husband – even though the artist herself was less than satisfied with it. This painting, the only one done in his lifetime, now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London and, when you stand and view, give a thought to Mariana Starke labouring with the carpenter to fit it into the packing case. What a subject for a student of ‘material culture’.

Edgell Wyatt Edgell was clearly a friend of Mariana’s; she had known his wife in Surrey in the early 1790s, before their marriage. So – was the service she provided in finding copies to decorate Edgell’s mansion peculiar to this friendship, or did she do so for others? I suspect that she did act as an informal agent general, capitalizing on her knowledge of the Roman art scene and on her reputation as a practical woman of the world. Just as the Edgell Wyatt Edgell letters eventually hove into public view, nearly 200 years after they were written, perhaps there is another cache of ‘Mariana’ letters yet waiting discovery which will throw further light on her activities.

Gerlof Janzen’s edition of these Mariana letters – published as Buy a Copy –  is wonderfully readable, bringing Mariana to life and, in his essays and notes, illuminating her world – Rome, Sorrento and Exmouth.

The book – with numerous illustrations – can be obtained from its publisher,

Robert Schreuder

Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 48

1017 DG Amserdam

The Netherlands



All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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Mariana Starke: Travels in Europe 1791-1794

At the end of my last ‘Mariana Starke’ post I left Mariana, her mother, father and her sister, Louisa, in the winter of 1791 journeying south through Europe. On 3 December Mrs Crespigny, Mariana’s friend and patron, noted in her diary that she had received letters from Lyons; from the context I presume these were from the Starke party.

We next glimpse the Starke family at Nice on 18 April 1792 – at Louisa’s deathbed. She was just 20 years old.

Mariana and her parents, presumably still accompanied by Mrs Crespigny’s servant, ‘Scott’, then  left Nice in May in order to travel north to Geneva. It is this journey that Mariana describes in ‘Letter 1’ of Letters from Italy, the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent,  the guide to European travel for which she became famous.

starketp_smMariana’s magnum opus has a complicated publishing history, each stage in its development reflecting the changing ability and inclination of the British (and, indeed, American) public to travel and consume culture during the period 1792-1838 as Europe swung between war and peace.

The first edition of the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent was published in December 1799 (with 1800 publication date on title page) by ‘R. Phillips of 71 St Paul’s Churchyard’ and was entitled:

Letters from Italy, between the years 1792 and 1798, containing a view of the revolutions in that country, from the capture of Nice by the French republic to the expulsion of Pius VI from the ecclesiastical state: Likewise pointing out the matchless works of art which still embellish Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples, Bologna, Venice etc. With instructions for the use of invalids and families who may not choose to incur the expence attendant upon travelling with a courier. It was printed by T. Gillet, Salisbury Square, Fleet Street, for R. Phillips, no 71, St Paul’s Church-yard, in 1800.

The two-volume work followed in the epistolary tradition well established by male – and a few female – travel writers but, as you will see from the lengthy, explanatory title, included not only comment on the current state of affairs but detailed information on all the art and antiquities that the author considered should be viewed by the tourist, together with exhaustive recommendations – and warnings – covering all practical details of routes, inns, shopping, laundering, eating etc in order to make the journey – particularly if taken for reasons of health – as comfortable and economical as possible.

Mariana’s publisher, ‘R. Phillips’, was Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840) considered by his contemporaries an eccentric and a radical and, even more preposterously, renowned as a vegetarian. Five years later Phillips published William Hayley’s Ballads, illustrated by William Blake. It may be that Phillips was already in Hayley’s circle in 1798/1799 when Mariana would have been looking for a publisher.  The firms of J. Walter and Debrett, with whom she had previously done business, had either not been approached or had rejected this new venture.

I have no idea if, when she set off with her family in the autumn of 1791, Mariana thought that she would publish, in any form, reports of her travels. With her mother, she was the sole survivor of the party and did not, I think, return to England until 1798.  However, at some point during those seven years the idea of turning her experience into a publication must have occurred to her, for in the ‘Advertisement’ to the second edition (1815) she notes that ‘The first Edition of this Work was written abroad, where the Author had so many domestic duties to fulfil, that she could only find leisure sufficient to draw up a hasty statement of facts…’. For during those sometimes harrowing years it was Mariana to whom responsibilities as both nurse and journey planner fell – but it’s clear that, nevertheless, she did keep notes that could be worked up into a book.

We can follow a variety of clues in order to spy on Mariana as she travelled. For instance, we know that, having journeyed north to Geneva in May 1792 the Starkes returned quickly to Nice, arriving on 22 September, when they learned of the impending war between Sardinia and France. By the 27th the French fleet was off Nice. In her Letters Mariana describes how ‘I immediately went to the quay, with an intention of hiring an English merchantman (our nation being at peace with France), and getting my family and friends embarked before the city was bombarded, a circumstance which we hourly expected to take place; but no English vessel could I find ready for sea…’ After a great deal of anxiety the Starkes were eventually able to escape by sea. Having been ‘advised to make as little parade as possible on our way to the port, my family went two and two by different paths, while I, being obliged to stay to the last, walked down, dressed as a servant, passing all the French posts without the smallest molestation…‘ With her love of theatricals, I can imagine that Mariana rather revelled in playing this part.

The Starkes reached Genoa on 14 October 1792, went from there by sea to Leghorn (Livorno) and then on to Pisa. There they encountered, among other English visitors, Lady Spencer (mother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire), to whom, in 1811, Mariana dedicated the first poem in her slim volume, The Beauties of Carlo-Maria Maggi Paraphrased.

In April and May 1793 the Starkes were in Rome, meeting there with the family of John Flaxman, the sculptor. If the Starkes had not previously been known to the Flaxmans – the latter having been in Italy since 1787 – during the course of the next couple of years a firm friendship was cemented.



The Starkes returned to Pisa where they spent the winter of 1793/4 and it was there that Richard Starke died, aged 74, on 5 March 1794. He was buried on 9 March at Livorno. [For a very interesting article about Richard Starke’s grave see here.]

We know that some days later, on 21 March, Mariana was visiting her friend Lady Bolingbroke who was also in Pisa. [I can’t at the moment check the reference but believe it comes from the Journal of Sarah Bentham, held in the Colchester Papers at the National Archives.]  Lady Bolingbroke was born Charlotte Collins, daughter of the Rev Thomas Collins, who had been tutor to Viscount Bolingbroke. A friend of the novelist Charlotte Smith, Lady Bolingbroke had translated some of Smith’s poems into Italian and presumably shared a similar literary friendship with Mariana. Poor Lady Bolingbroke certainly needed to think beautiful thoughts in order to take her mind off the scandal that had enveloped her marriage (for gossipy details see here). Previous sightings of Mariana and Lady Bolingbroke together had been made in Pisa by American-born Count Rumford in late 1793.

Mariana and her mother remained in Pisa before moving on to Florence, where we shall renew our acquaintance with them in the summer of 1794.


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Mariana Starke: Toxophilia – And Then To Italy, 1791

1791 was a most important year in the life of Mariana Starke. 

We last met her in January of that year when, with her friend and patron, Mrs Crespigny, she attended her play, The Widow of Malabar,  on the first night of its second season at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden.

Mrs Crespigny’s diary reveals that during the next few months she and Mariana met frequently – sometimes in Camberwell and sometimes in Epsom. Among their circle were the family of Henry Martin, who had become Comptroller of the Navy in 1790 and the news of whose baronetage Mrs Crespigny noted in her diary on 21 June 1791.

The Martins had at one time lived at Ashtead, a short distance down the Dorking Road from the Starkes’ Hylands House, but were probably now resident at Little Farm, near Tooting. ‘Miss Martin’ – presumably the eldest of his four daughters – was frequently included in parties to the theatre and opera and Mrs Crespigny mentions dining with Mrs Martin, together with Mariana, on 4 April, a day she described as ‘the first shooting day at Epsom’.

Mrs Crespigny’s diary relates that she and Mariana next met in Camberwell on 2 May – when they were joined by ‘Thomas on his matrimonial business’. This ‘Thomas’, I am sure, refers to the Rev Joseph Thomas for, on 6 May, ‘Miss Parkhurst dined and slept here’. Mellicent Parkhurst, Mariana’s very close friend and co-author, was soon to marry the Rev Thomas. I cannot, though, explain why the Rev Thomas was discussing ‘matrimonial business’ – apparently in Mellicent’s absence – with the inhabitants of Grove House. On 7 May, after dinner, Mariana and Mellicent returned to Epsom.

Mariana was back at Grove House on 24 May and on the 25th Mrs Crespigny notes that she ‘gave my first archery party’. Mrs Crespigny was a keen archer – for excellent articles about this aspect of her life see  A toxophilite – Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 – 1812) and, for another much older article, here.


After John Emes & Robert Smirke To His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales This Plate representing a Meeting of The Society of Royal British Archers in Gwersyllt Park, Denbighshire, aquatint by Cornelis Apostool, [Siltzer p.335], 1794, John Emes. The scene illustrates the popularity of the Royal British Archers, or Royal Toxophilite Society, amongst women (albeit only of a high social standing) as one of the few sports in which they compete at all, let alone on equal terms. The original painting is in the British Museum, the landscape being the work of Robert Emes, who also published the print, while the figures were painted by Robert Smirke. Retrieved from Image and caption courtesy of A toxophilite - Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 - 1812) see

After John Emes & Robert Smirke To His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales This Plate representing a Meeting of The Society of Royal British Archers in Gwersyllt Park, Denbighshire, aquatint by Cornelis Apostool, [Siltzer p.335], 1794, John Emes. The scene illustrates the popularity of the Royal British Archers, or Royal Toxophilite Society, amongst women (albeit only of a high social standing) as one of the few sports in which they compete at all, let alone on equal terms. The original painting is in the British Museum, the landscape being the work of Robert Emes, who also published the print, while the figures were painted by Robert Smirke. Retrieved from Image and caption courtesy of A toxophilite – Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 – 1812) see

Mariana was at Grove House to enjoy that first archery party and on Friday 27 May accompanied Mrs Crespigny to Blackheath.  This day, the diary records, was ‘The great anniversary of the archers at Blackheath. We all went  – in my uniform. Miss Starke went home afterwards.’ Anecdotes of Archery describes that ‘grand meeting’ on Blackheath, which was attended by a good number of ‘Societies of Archers’, including such groups as the Surrey Bowmen, the Kentish Bowmen and the Woodmen of Arden. The report also records that ‘Numbers of women were likewise dressed in the uniforms of the societies.’ I am sure Mariana would have very much enjoyed donning a uniform. Did she draw a bow?

On Monday 21 August Mrs Crespigny spent the night at Hylands House after a day of archery in the course of which she presented the Surrey Bowmen with a silver arrow as a prize for a competition.

St Martin's Church 1807 Drawn by J Nixon, Engraved by S Rawle Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre. Image courtesy Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website

St Martin’s Church 1807
Drawn by J Nixon, Engraved by S Rawle
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre. Image courtesy Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website

On  19 September 1791 Mrs Crespigny met Mariana in town. Although she makes no entry in clear script, surely both she and Mariana were in attendance three days later at St Martin’s Church in Epsom when, on 22 September, Mellicent Parkhurst married the Rev Thomas? The Rev Jonathan Boucher conducted the ceremony and the witnesses were Mellicent’s father, John Parkhurst, and her half-sister, Susanna Altham. I note that in the entry in the parish register the Rev Joseph Thomas is described as ‘of Camberwell’ – which may explain why he was discussing wedding plans in Grove House a few months earlier. I mention that Mrs Crespigny made no entry in clear script because large sections of her diary are written in shorthand and I haven’t checked whether there is such any such passage for that date.

Mrs Crespigny saw Mariana on several occasions in October. On 17th she slept at Hylands House after attending an archery match at Epsom and on the 22nd Mrs Starke, Mariana and Louisa arrived at Grove House for a short visit.

However, the atmosphere over these few days seems to have been less than calm. On  23rd October Mariana and Mary Crespigny had words -though quite what it was about is difficult now to ascertain. The diary entry appears to read ‘Miss S was very unkind to me relative to the grog and the Bow  – and said things that hurt me. I was very ill in consequence.’

The following day, Monday 24 October, Mrs Crespigny records that she ‘Had a sad day with the distress of Mr Browning  & Miss Louisa’ This may, perhaps, be explained by the next-day’s entry – Wednesday 25 October Mr & Mrs Starke & Misses Starke  & Scott, who I parted with to oblige them, set off for Nice.

”Scott’ was a woman, a maid or nurse, who until now had been in Mrs Crespigny’s employ and to whom, on her departure with the Starkes, she gave a guinea. That the Starke family was setting out for the south of France late in the autumn and despite the state of turmoil in that country would indicate that the state of health of Louisa Starke certainly – and probably also both her mother and father – had become increasingly critical. All were suffering from tuberculosis.

As early as 1779/1780 Mrs Starke, discussing her ill-health in a letter to Mrs William Hayley, had commented that ‘an hour’s talking would produce a spitting of blood’. In an April 1781 letter to William Hayley Mariana mentioned that they had been staying at Brighthelmstone for the previous two months on account of her mother’s health. The sea air was, of course, considered efficacious for pulmonary complaints. In a letter of 1787 or 1788 Mrs Starke mentioned that she and Louisa had spent a few weeks at Brighthelmstone, leaving her husband and Mariana at Hylands House.

In the Introduction to the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy (which is the one I have to hand) Mariana writes that she hopes the work will be of use ‘to those of my compatriots who, in consequence of pulmonary complaints, are compelled to exchange their native soil for the renovating sun of Italy’ and mentions that her observations on health are ‘the result of seven years’ experience; during which period my time and thoughts were chiefly occupied by endeavours to mitigate the sufferings of those most dear to me.’ Alas, little of the time abroad was devoted to nursing her sister Louisa, who, aged just 20, died at Nice on 18 April 1792, barely six months after leaving England. Had Mrs Crespigny’s comment on 24 October 1791 about ‘the distress of Mr Browning and Miss Louisa’ been a comment on a romance thwarted by her illness?

Having buried Louisa in Nice the Starke party – which Mariana describes in Letters from Italy as four in number (comprising, presumably, herself, her mother and father and ‘Scott’)- set out for Italy. In Letter 1, dated Nice, September 1792, Mariana writes that they undertook the journey over the Alps to Turin at the end of May.

On 3 November 1791 Mrs de Crespigny had noted in her diary that Mr and Mrs Starke and party had arrived at Calais and on 3 December that she had received ‘letters from Lyons’. Were those from Mariana?

I wondered briefly if Mrs Crespigny could have been the recipient of the originals of the Letters on which Mariana eventually based her book? It is the kind of role a close friend and patroness might fulfil but I must swiftly state that I have seen no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this was so. Indeed, perhaps rather surprisingly, I have come across no mention of Mrs Crespigny in any of Mariana’s manuscript letters that I have read.

The dedication in the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy is to Mellicent Thomas ‘as a small testimony of gratitude for her great kindness in having corrected th epress, and aided, by her deep and extensive classical knowledge, the labours of The Author’. Mariana would surely have acknowledged any specific interest taken in her work by the woman to whom she had made such a fulsome dedication in The Poor Soldier.

However, it is Mrs Crespigny we must thank (or at least those of us who follow the life of Mariana Starke in intimate detail must thank) for alerting us to the exact date when the Starkes’ coach swept out of the gates of Hylands House, taking Mariana to Italy and her destiny.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Mariana Starke: With Thanks To Mrs Crespigny From ‘The Poor Soldier’, ‘The British Orphan’ And ‘The Widow of Malabar’

The period 1789-91 was a busy and important time for Mariana Starke, who was still only in her mid-twenties. For her very public success she owed everything to the patronage of Mrs Crespigny, for more about whom see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary.

Mrs Crespigny, courtesy of Kelmarsh Hall and the Public Catalogue Foundation

Mrs Crespigny, courtesy of Kelmarsh Hall and the Public Catalogue Foundation

In March 1789 Mariana’s long poem, The Poor Soldier, An American Tale was published by J. Walter (who in 1787 had published her first work, A Theatre of Education). The work was advertised as ‘founded on a recent fact and inscribed to Mrs Crespigny’. The poem tells how Mrs Crespigny,  travelling in her coach across Westminster Bridge, stopped to give alms  to a beggar. He turned out to be an American Loyalist, Charles Short, who had lost his home, wife, children and leg during the American Revolution. Remaining loyal to the Crown, he had resisted the call to join the Congress forces and had ‘left his happy Cot, his fair domains/ To war for thee on Carolina’s Plains’.

The poem tells how Mrs Crespigny intervened to grant him his heart’s desire, a place, as a veteran soldier, in the Chelsea Hospital. Alas, though, the offer came too late for the Poor Soldier, who died before he could take up his place. Although Mariana was herself a true-blood Royalist/Loyalist, and those in America fighting to free themselves from Britain were of the planter class, I wonder if her knowledge of her great-grandfather’s involvement with Virginia – as the owner of tobacco plantations, added to her interest in this story. The poem proved sufficiently popular for the publisher to issue a second edition in July 1789.

A couple of weeks after the first publication of The Poor Soldier,  The Times reported on 7 April that ‘At Mrs Crespigny’s temporary theatre at her house at Camberwell Miss Starke and Mr Starke  took part in The Tragedy of Douglas.’ The performance had, in fact, taken place on 4 April with a cast that included Mrs Crespigny, her son, William, Mariana Starke, her brother, Richard, and a Mr Bayley. The play had been written by John Home in the 1750s but for this production Mrs Crespigny had given it a new, happy, ending. On 30 April the Public Advertiser reprinted her new Prologue, in which she warned that ”If in our play some alter’d scenes you find/They owe their merit to a female mind’.

Two months later, in July (as described in a previous post), ‘The Sword of Peace’,  was back on stage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and the text was published by J. Debrett..

In its issue dated 29 December 1789 The World mentioned that Mrs Crespigny was planning another theatrical and tried to dispel the rumour that the new play was ‘by a lady’. The report also mentioned that Mr Starke was’exerting his pencil’ and Miss C. Fanshaw had adorned the theatre with a Tragic and a Comic Muse ‘painted in a novel and very superior stile’. ‘Mr Starke’ was surely Mariana’s brother Richard and ‘Miss C. Fanshaw’  Catherine Fanshawe (1765-1834),who is now better known as a poet than a scenic designer, but see here for an example of her art . The Starkes had been very friendly for many years with the Fanshawes, who were Surrey neighbours.

This play, The British Orphan, opened at Mrs Crespigny’s Camberwell theatre on 7 April 1790.The Public Advertiser of 10 April reported that ‘The author of The British Orphan was not announced but he is certainly of the modern school. The principal incident of the piece is founded on the idea of suspended animation..”The dresses were extremely splendid and the scenery was characteristic and painted with great spirit’. For all the attempts to dissemble and pass the author off as a man, it was Mariana who was this author ‘of the modern school’; the play, alas, was never published and no text survives. The cast included Mrs Crespigny, Richard Starke, Mr Thomas (who may have been the Mr Thomas who was soon to marry Millecent Parkhurst), and a Mr Fitz-Gerald, who wrote the Prologue. The accompanying music was composed by R.J.S. Stevens, who mentions the experience in his Recollections. His work was a setting of a poem by Mariana, Saints and Angels hear our strains, hear our strains from purging fire. Interestingly, he appears to have been vehemently opposed to private theatricals ‘a species of entertainment very injurious to young minds; destructive of their innocence and modesty; and equally endangering their piece and happiness.’

Mrs Larpent, wife of the inspector of plays in the Lord Chamberlain’s office, was in the audience for the first night of The British Orphan, writing in her diary on 7 April ‘ Camberwell to Mrs Crespigny’s to see Miss Starke and others, act The British Orphan, a tragedy written by Miss Starke. Mrs Crespigny acted the heroine, and Roxana, in The Sultan, which was the Afterpiece. The Scenery was very pretty, the dresses very elegant. The Acting outrée. And the whole absurd. I was shocked – I disapprove the whole. Acting revolts in Women against Feminine delicacy – in Men against Manly decorum – My spirits were hurt with contemplating so much folly, I could not be amused. I was sorry to see Miss Starke thus traverstie – and as she was – as I should grieve to see a worthy man I esteemed, intoxicated’. Mariana had, as author, presumably written for herself a part that required her, for some of her scenes, to  dress as a man – and thereby outrage Mrs Larpent’s sensitivities.   She was, in fact, the heroine, Eliza, who arises out of her coffin after a period of  suspended animation. Mrs Crespigny played her sister, Isabella.

Barely a month later, on 5 May, Mariana’s new play, The Widow of Malabar, was given its first public performance at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Embellished with the rituals of Indian sati – a burning funeral pyre – and with specially composed music, it was something of a spectacle. Mrs Larpent was again in the audience – ‘We went to the Play, saw The Widow of Malabar, a free translation from the French, by Miss Starke on the fate of an Indian widow, who burns herself. I was ennuiée. I will not criticise. Dramatic Interest is wanting, it is a showy performance’. If by  ‘showy performance’ she meant to single out one actress, she may have been referring to ‘Miss Brunton’, who The World reported on 6 May, had received the play as a present from Miss Starke, that is, this first night was a ‘Benefit’ performance for her. ‘Miss Brunton’ was likely to be Ann Brunton, the elder of a family of actress sisters.

Ann Brunton (as Cordelia in 'King Lear', 1785)..This engraving by T. Cook and William Brent, courtesy of Women in Theatre Collection, Univeristy of Illinois Library

Ann Brunton (as Cordelia in ‘King Lear’, 1785)..This engraving by T. Cook and William Brent, courtesy of Women in Theatre Collection, Univeristy of Illinois Library

Fortunately other critics, such as that writing for the Whitehall Evening Post (6 May), were kinder to The Widow of Malabar than was Mrs Larpent and on 27 May it was announced that ‘Miss Starke’s Widow has been accepted by Mr Harris for the next season’. Thus the play was back at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden for more performances in January 1791.

Thanks to the newly discovered diary in the Bodleian Library we know that Mrs Crespigny was in the theatre on that second, as it were, first night – 12 January – ‘Miss Starke’s play The Widow of Malabar came on and it went off extremely well  – but Lady Salisbury took my Box which caused great confusion’. She was back a week later on Wednesday 19 January forThird night of The Widow. Miss Starke had a very full house. I sent [?] vast numbers – filled 10 rows of pit & nearly all the Boxes – & numbers [?] into the Gallery.’

The play was a considerable success, often staged in succeeding years. Although derived from La Veuve du Malabar,  a play by Lemierre, Mrs Larpent was incorrect in referring to it as a translation, it was, rather, a free interpretation. In Mariana’s version the widow is saved from the funeral pyre by an Englishman. In the edition of Mariana’s play, published by William Lane in 1791, her dedication, dated 24 January,  is, unsurprisingly, to Mrs Crespigny, who had given such active support, not least of all by packing the theatre with her friends during the previous fortnight.

See D. O’Quinn, ‘Battling Hindu Superstition on the London Stage’ in M. Franklin (ed), Romantic Representations of British India, Routledge, 2006, for an interesting discussion of the text of Mariana Starke’s The Widow of Malabar.


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Mariana Starke: ‘The Sword Of Peace’, 1788

On 9 August 1788  Mariana Starke’s play, The Sword of Peace; or, a Voyage of Love, received the first of six public performances that season at London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket.  

sword of peace

This was certainly not the first play that Mariana had written,  but was the first to be professionally staged. See Mariana Starke: First Productions for mention of Ethelinda, which, possibly in 1787, Mariana had sent to George Colman, the manager of the Theatre Royal. He had been encouraging, but in the end had rejected it. He would, therefore, have been an obvious choice to receive her next dramatic work and in the Preface to the published edition of The Sword of Peace she thanks him most warmly. To Mariana’s play Colman added a Prologue and his son an Epilogue.

In her introduction to the online edition of The Sword of Peace Jeanne Moskal has suggested that prior to its short run at the Theatre Royal, the play may already have been produced in the private theatre of her friend and patron Mary Crespigny [see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary]. This is possible, but if such a production was staged it is surprising that papers such as ”The World and Fashionable Advertiser’ and ”The Public Advertiser’ make no mention of it, while carrying information of other theatricals at Camberwell Grove that  involved Mariana and her brother, Richard. Mrs Crespigny’s activities were good ‘copy’for these papers and it seems unlikely they would have overlooked such an interesting item.

As the reader can so easily consult the online text of The Sword of Peace, together with the associated apparatus of notes which includes a summary of the play, I will not repeat it here, but would like to make one observation.

The Starkes' home, Hylands House, Epsom

Hylands House, Epsom, 0ne-time home of Governor Starke and his family’  (the two brick bays being a rather unfortunate later addition). A house, in the late 18th-century, replete with memories of and talk about life in India

This is an idea that occurred to me as to what Mariana might mean in her Preface when she observes that ‘the character of David Northcote is a real one. To Indians this is needless: the sketch, however, is not too faint, I hope, for others: it was dictated by a heart glowing with gratitude and admiration of his noble and unbounded goodness!’

It has been suggested, by Jeanne Moskal among others, that ‘David Northcote’ is based on Lord Cornwallis, who succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India. This assumption is quite probably correct. Hastings had been arrested in 1787, at a time when Mariana would probably have been writing the play; his trial was underway in Westminster Hall when The Sword of Peace played at the Theatre Royal. As ‘David Northcote’ was created as an exemplar of a good man in the midst of venality it may well be that Mariana was commending Cornwallis .

However, with the Hastings trial figuring so prominently in the news it seems just a little odd for the author to hope, even with the falsest of modesty, that ‘the sketch is not too faint’. Actually at the time it must have seemed blindingly obvious.  It occurred to me, however, that she may actually have had in mind a model for ‘David Northcote’ found rather closer to home, but more distant in time – one about which there might more justifiably be  a fear that the ‘sketch’ might be too  ‘faint’ .

Could ‘David Northcote’ have been modelled on Mariana’s father, Richard Starke, who, even at this time, 30 years after he had been forced from office, was always known as ‘Governor Starke’?

The name of the character does have resonances close to Mariana’s own circle. ‘David’ could be a nod to Fort St David, from which her father was ousted in 1756 by ambitious Robert Clive.

Mariana would have discussed the making of her play with her great friend, Millecent Parkhurst, whose father, John Parkhurst, was giving her advice on the construction of her dramas. John Parkhurst’s wife was born Millecent Northey, whose  family lived at Woodcote House, Epsom. When Mariana was pondering a surname for the hero of The Sword of Peace could she have created it out of this local association? For an essay on the Northeys and Woodcote House see here.

Among the final lines of the play, when Mr Northcote is created ‘Resident’, one of the characters describes how

‘They [the local inhabitants] do nothing but call him father—they keep blessing him and his children; and King George and his children; and their great prophet and his children’.

Would – could – that mention of ‘blessing him and his children’ have been a knowing authorial wink. The emphasising italics are in the original and there does not seem any reason for an allusion to Northcote’s children in terms of the play. Indeed, there is no mention of his being married, or having children. So was that a little joke -Mariana calling blessings on herself and her siblings, as well as her father -that the audience might have shared?

In terms of the plot of The Sword of Peace, a slight parallel between the careers of ‘David Northcote’ and Richard Starke occurred in 1752 when Governor Floyer of Fort St David was dismissed – accused of allowing a ‘Spirit of Gaming’  and ‘general neglect and want of order’ to prevail, as well as running up ‘Extravagant Expences’. Among the men entrusted to reinstate order was Richard Starke.

On 1 May 1787 ‘Governor Starke and family’ and ‘other names to India not unknown’ were present in the Playhouse, Covent Garden, for the performance of a new farce, Bonds Without Judgment, or, the Loves of Bengal, performed as a benefit for the actress, Mrs Wells. The plot concerns the fate of two young women who are sent to India in search of husbands…There is no mention in the World and Fashionable Advertiser’ report of 2 May 1787 of the author of the piece, but I understand it was one Edward Topham. The piece was acted for four nights in May 1787 but was never printed.

Could this play have motivated Mariana  to write her own? It is worth mentioning that the Prologue to ‘Bonds Without Judgment’ was written by ‘Mr Berkley’, surely her friend and collaborator, George Monck Berkeley (for whom see Mariana Starke: First Productions). In fact Oulton, The History of the Theatres of London suggests that Berkeley rather than Topham may have been the author of the entire piece. Incidentally, Mrs Crespigny took a very numerous party to Bonds Without Judgment.

The Sword of Peace was published in 1789, in London by J. Debrett and in Dublin by H. Chamberlaine, and returned to the Theatre Royal that year, on 30 July, for a further four perfomances.


Source: H.D. Love, Vestiges of Old Madras

P.S. UPDATE I knew that Mariana was not Richard and Mary Starke’s first born; a son, John, had died shortly before she was born and was buried at Epsom. I have now just found the gory details in a news report  in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels. Horrific.


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Mariana Starke: First Productions

In 1787 J. Walter, a London publisher/bookseller operating from premises close to Charing Cross, issued – as Theatre of Education – a new English translation of Le Théâtre á l’usage des jeunes personnes, a collection of comedies by Mme de Genlis, the first woman to be appointed tutor to princes of France.

Madame de Genlis

This innovative method of providing a moral education for children through the use of short plays had proved immensely popular on both sides of the Channel. First published in France in July 1779, an English translation, under the imprint of T. Cadell and P. Elmsly ; T. Durham, appeared in 4 octavo volumes in 1781, with a new edition, in 3 volumes, under the same imprint, following in 1783. [See for the online edition of the 1781 4-volume edition]. Nowhere is the name of the translator of this edition stated, although it is thought that he was male. As far as I know he has never been identified – although this really is not my field and I would welcome correction.

Nor, indeed, is there any indication on the title page of the J. Walter edition of the names of the translator(s) of his edition. It was not until 1831, when an obituary of Mrs Millecent Thomas (the former Millecent Parkhurst -see Mariana Starke: An Epsom Education) appeared, that the truth was revealed.

As the Annual Register and The Gentleman’s Magazine  reported, Mrs Thomas ‘assisted her friend Miss Starke in translating Mme de Genlis’ Theatre of Education’. Over 150 years later,  in Notes and Queries (45:1; March 1998), Edward W. Pitcher identified the edition translated by Mariana and Millecent as that published by J. Walter. The Annual Register had cited the translation as being issued between 1783 and 1788 in three duodecimo volumes, although a consultation of COPAC reveals no J. Walter edition pre-dating 1787. It does, however, seem to have been issued in a variety of formats. The 3-volume British Library set appears to be inscribed, if I have deciphered the handwriting correctly, ‘Miss M.B. Woollery, the gift of her friend Mrs Thomas’. Millicent Parkhurst married the Rev Joseph Thomas in 1791, the gift, if it really was from her, presumably post-dating her marriage. The only advertisement for the J. Walter  edition that I have found appears in The Times, 28 July 1790, and refers to a set of four-volumes, at the not inconsiderable price of 10 shillings. J. Walter was the publisher of, among a wide variety of productions, Mrs Chapone’s works – including Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, a seminal conduct book for young women of the period. He had presumably thought it worth backing a translation of Theatre of Education to rival that issued by Cadell et al, although doubtless he had paid little to the youthful translators. It does not appear to have merited either a reissue or a second edition.

So we find that the two young women, still in their mid-20s, living in Epsom, across the road from each other, had embarked on a new translation of a much-fêted work which they had then succeeded in getting published. Not that this, when we know their circumstances, is particularly surprising. For, by the 1780s, Millecent Parkhurst and Mariana Starke were well-educated young women, with influential literary contacts. We have noted that John Parkhurst, Millecent’s father, and William Hayley, to whom Mariana was a ‘poetic daughter’, both gave encouragement.

Mariana Starke was also on intimate authorly terms with George Monck Berkeley (1763-93), a precocious literary talent. In a letter written to him at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 22 August 1787, Mariana reveals ‘that I am now much better qualified to write a Tragedy than when I composed the first three Acts of Ethelinda, as I have lately studied dramatic composition with great diligence.’  She is referring to a play, Ethelinda, which she and Monck were writing together. It is tempting to conclude that her reference to recent dramatic composition might not be unrelated to the work involved in producing the translation of Mme de Genlis’ plays. A few sentences later she tells Monck that ‘After I had finished Ethelinda to the best of my abilities, I carried it to my excellent Friend, Mr Parkhurst, whose almost paternal regard for me prompted him to consider it with great attention: he has corrected all the errors which happened to strike him; and advises me to let every material thing stand as it is now, saying, he thinks the Play very dramatic, and very likely to be well received: As he has condescended to take infinite pains with the Piece, I am sure you must agree with me in thinking it would be extremely indelicate to put any Critic over him, especially as Mr Parkhurst (from the soundness of his judgment and the depth and universality of his knowledge), is perhaps of all men in this Kingdom, best qualified for the office of a Critic. I have, in conformity to your advice, shortened my own acts and lengthened yours; and I have studied to insert the many excellent speeches, with which your acts abound; but sorry am I to say, that there is one sweet speech on fame, which I know not how to introduce according to the present plan of the Play. Your speech on murder, which is, by the by, the finest thing I ever read, I have put into the beginning of the Play, where it shows to great advantage; and many more of your lines I have occasionally introduced among my own, by way of giving a strength to my composition, which it seemed to want. I find, from Joinville, that the Crusaders always crowned their Heroes with palm, therefore I have substituted that for laurel. I am told by a Gentleman who is deeply read in the records, that even Kings, in the time of Richard the 1st, did not espouse what we now call the regal style; therefore I should think Ethel had better not do it – and I have taken the liberty to alter the two last lines of Bertram’s [?] dying speech, because (if Homer may be credited) no man, who dies of a wound in the breast, can see objects immediately before his death. I have applied to a Friend for Mrs Siddons’s interest but am not certain how I shall succeed – if I was more intimate with Mrs Soane [?] I would certainly write to her; but slight as our acquaintance is, it would be too presumptuous – from you, perhaps, she might receive an application graciously. Another Friend of mine, who is acquainted with Linley and King, has undertaken to introduce Ethelinda and me to both of them, and I almost daily expect a summons to appear before those mighty Rulers of the Theatre. So, if you have any interest, work it now, let me entreat you. Linley, at present, is at Bath, but he will speedily return to London.’

Thus, it is clear that by 1787 Mariana Starke was working her apprenticeship as a playwright and knew how to network the theatrical scene. (Mrs Siddons was the most famous tragic actress of her day; Thomas Linley and Thomas King were both involved with the management of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.) It is virtually certain (although I have not yet found any pre-1788 evidence) that Mariana was already well acquainted with Mrs Mary Crespigny (see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary), who organized dramatic performances at a private theatre erected in the grounds of her Camberwell home. The success of The Theatre of Education was predicated on the willingness of families, such as the Crespignys, to stage short plays for amusement – and instruction. For an interesting article on the relationship at this time between private theatricals and public theatre see here.

Although the translators of the J. Walter edition are not named, the ‘Advertisement’ that prefaces the text at least makes clear that they were women. ‘The fame acquired by Madame de Genlis is so deservedly great, and the Theatre d’Education so universally considered as her chef-d’oeuvre, that it naturally becomes the study and admiration of her sex; some of whom, in order to amuse their minds, and at the same time amend their hearts, by imprinting on the memory such exalted precepts as those contained in the Theatre d’Education, undertook to translate it into English, and have now, to the best of their abilities, finished this Work, which they presume to place before the eyes of an indulgent Publick….[so that].people of all ages and all ranks may derive from the Original of Madame de Genlis, the most useful and persuasive lessons, couched in the most eloquent and characteristic language.

I have only compared the two editions in the most superficial way, but, even so, could immediately detect distinct differences in the language used. It was presumably because they felt something wanting in the 1781 translation of Mme de Genlis’ work that the two young women felt encouraged to embark on their own. However, The Critical Review, while conceding that there were faults in the 1781 edition, could not bring itself to praise the J. Walter edition.

The translators make clear in the Preface to the J. Walter edition that they had sought Mme de Genlis’ permission to publish their translation of her work: ‘Permit us, Madam, thus publickly to return our most thankful acknowledgements for the honour you confer upon us, by allowing the following translation to be inscribed to your name; an honour which demands our gratitude in an especial manner, as we do not enjoy the happiness of your personal acquaintance’. There had, presumably, been an exchange of letters between Epsom and France. Unfortunately there is no correspondence (or, at least, none that I have found) that throws any more light on either the production of the translation of the Theatre of Education or its afterlife as it related to the life of Mariana Starke. I have come across no reference at all to the work in any subsequent correspondence. This is perhaps just a little surprising.

We do know, however, the fate of the other work mentioned with which Mariana was involved – for, on 30 October 1788 [at least, I think it was 1788, but it may have been 1787 – the dating of the letters is uncertain], her mother, Mary Starke, wrote from Epsom to George Monck Berkeley a letter in which she she mentions that Mariana is awaiting ‘something decisive respecting the fate of the rash, yet beauteous Ethelinda.. You long ago were informed that this heroic Damsel was presented to, and rejected, by the respective Managers of Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Her next application was to Mr Colman [of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket] who paused a long while upon the question, her merit making a deeper impression upon his mind, than upon either of the other Gentlemen. Yesterday, and not before, his determination reached Epsom – ‘That he thinks the piece distinguished by many touches of Poetry, tho’ on the whole too romantick ..for the Theatre. ‘…The dear Authoress has laid aside her pen, and taken up her distaff, in other words, her time now is chiefly occupied in inquiring as to the practicability and possibility [?] of establishing Sunday Schools & Schools of Industry in this neighbourhood. How much more becoming in a Female [?] is this than dabbling in ink. However I have derived so large a portion of amusement, not to say instruction, from some female Writers of the present age that I cannot subscribe implicitly to this opinion, worthless perhaps it does not seem proper and may so claim an exception from this lordly privilege on behalf of my own daughter. Therefore she, as I told you before, is resuming the primitive employment of the distaff. Let her rejoice at the success attendant upon the fair Heloise….’

The latter remark may refer to Monck Berkeley’s Heloise: or the Siege of Rhodes, published in 1788. Ethelinda, clearly a play set at the time of the Crusades, does not alas, appear ever to have been staged. However we know that Mariana Starke certainly did not take up the distaff and devote herself to ‘Sunday Schools & Schools of Industry’ but, if the dating of her mother’s letter is correct, had already, on 8 August 1788, seen another of her plays – The Sword of Peace – given its first public performance at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. George Colman had, as we shall discover in the next Mariana Starke post, proved most supportive.

Sources: Berkeley mss, British Library


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Mariana Starke: The Mystery Of The Bodleian Diary

Duke Humfrey’s Library

It was over a year ago that I became aware that the Bodleian Library in Oxford had recently acquired a manuscript pocket diary that was catalogued as:

‘Diary of Mrs Starke, relative of the playwright and travel writer, Mariana Starke, 1791. This Ladies Pocket Journal; or Toilet Assistant: For the Year 1791 had been published in London by S. Bladon and comprised 84 leaves in a binding of gilt-stamped roan, with flap, clasp missing, marbled endpapers. The catalogue description went on to explain that ‘From internal evidence it appears that the author was the wife of ‘Starke’, an officer in the army, and a relative of the playwright Mariana Starke. They were married 16 Feb. 1764 (see fol. 18v). There are brief entries each day describing her social engagements and her husband’s movements. They often visited Mariana Starke’s family at Epsom and were frequently in the audience at her new play, ‘The Widow of Malabar’. The entries include weekly accounts. Many are supplemented by notes in shorthand.’

I was intrigued.  Having, as I thought, researched Mariana Starke’s family fairly comprehensively from her great-grandfather’s merchant life in the late 17th century, through the overseas adventures of her grandfather and father I was interested in discovering who this ‘new’ Starke relation was. For I could not place any ‘army’ Starke – married in 1764 – in the family tree. Nor, using all the wonderful internet genealogical sites that we now have at our disposal, could I discover a suitable 1764 Starke marriage.  I was, however, quite prepared to believe that the marriage had taken place abroad – perhaps in India – or that there were collateral branches of the family of which I knew nothing. And it was certainly interesting to know of anyone who had had such close contact with Mariana – as this diarist apparently had

So, I eventually got round to planning a visit to Oxford and amassing the various forms that would allow me access to the Bodleian Special Collections. It was some years since I had been there – and then it had been to research the 19th-century suffrage movement. That had not necessitated sitting amidst the splendour of the Duke Humfrey Library; what a pleasure it was to do so now.

I devoted about four hours to reading this little diary. The shorthand was impenetrable, the conventional handwriting crisp and legible, but at the end of my visit I was no clearer as to the identity of the diarist than I was at the beginning. One thing was incontrovertible – she did refer to her husband as ‘Starke’ or ‘S’ throughout – and there was no mention of any other family name. There were, however, various clues as to identity – of which I took careful note. There was the date of her wedding – on 16 February 1791 she had been married 27 years and there was mention in March of the birth – abroad – of a third son to her own son. Further reading showed that her son’s name was William; there was no mention of any other children, so perhaps, I thought, William was her only son. It also appeared that William’s wife was ‘Lady Sarah’, a daughter of Lord Plymouth. Moreover after her son’s family returned from abroad they were all staying with the diarist when the new grandson was christened ‘Augustus James’, in July, from her house.

On my return home I used this information to search the online websites for a likely Augustus Starke, a William Starke, a Lady Sarah Starke – all to no avail. I then made a wider search – using just the names ‘Augustus James’ and a date of birth ‘1791’. And immediately came up with the answer to the conundrum.

Champion Lodge, Camberwell, a watercolour painted in 1823 by which time Mrs Crespigny’s son, WIlliam, had inherited the estate. Courtesy of Surrey History Centre.

The diarist’s family name is not ‘Starke’ but ‘Crespigny’. She is Mrs Mary Crespigny of Champion Lodge, Camberwell, patron and friend of Mariana Starke. Mary Clark (1748-1812) (see her portrait here) was married at St Giles, Camberwell, to Claude Champion Crespigny (1734-1818) on 16 February 1764 (see here for his portrait, painted 10 years before the marriage). Their only child – a son – William (1765-1829) was baptized at St Giles Camberwell (Jan 1765). William Crespigny married Lady Sarah Windsor, daughter of the Earl of Plymouth, in 1786. William Crespigny’s third son, Augustus James Crespigny, was born on 9 March 1791 in Nice and baptized at St Giles, Camberwell, in July 1791.  The military group to which the diary often refers – her husband is on duty etc – is likely to have been the Camberwell Volunteers (which may have had a slightly different name in 1791), to whom Lady de Crespigny (Claude Crespigny was created a baronet in 1805) later presented colours.

I – and the Bodleian – would be most interested in hearing from anybody who might be able to shed light on why Mrs Crespigny referred to her husband – Claude Champion de Crespigny were all the names he seems to have possessed – as ‘Starke’. There is not, as far as I know, any connection between the families by either blood or marriage. There was, however, certainly a connection between Mary Crespigny and Mariana Starke –  sympathy – and the theatre. Their preoccupation with drama – as writer, actor and patron – will become clear in a subsequent post.  But for the time being let me mention that Mrs Crespingy noted on 12 January in this 1791 diary that:

‘Miss Starke’s play The Widow of Malabar came on and it went off extremely well  – but Lady Salisbury took my Box which caused great confusion’. A week later, on Wednesday 19 January, Mrs Crespigny attended ‘Third night of the Widow. Miss Starke had a very full house. I sent [?] vast numbers – filled 10 rows of pit & nearly all the Boxes – & numbers [?] into the Gallery.

As I say, Mrs Crespigny’s handwriting is really very clear and these lacunae could have been filled in – or puzzled out – had more time been available.

With the identity of the diarist known, the names she mentions can begin to shape themselves into a circle of acquaintances – families that lived within riding distance of Camberwell or whom she saw on her frequent visits to Town. Epsom was a favourite haunt – not only to visit  – or even stay with – the Starkes at Hylands House, but to go hunting (Mr Crespigny) or for archery (Mrs Crespigny). For Mary Crespigny, I now discover, was an early female toxophilite,  the diary describing competitions held at Epsom and Box Hill. In fact, with the diary identified as recording a year in the life of Mrs Crespigny, it now has a considerably greater significance than if it had indeed belonged to a shadowy ‘Mrs Starke’. It only now requires a cryptographer to set to work to decode the sections that she wished to keep safe from prying eyes.

I shall certainly have to return to Duke Humfrey’s Library and re-engage with Mrs Crespigny’s diary. One piece of information that it contained pleased me greatly: she notes the exact day on which the Starkes embarked on their travels on the continent and, before the year’s end, records letters from Calais and Lyons. These letters were undoubtedly penned by Mariana who, despite the difference in their ages, was, the diary makes clear, Mrs Crespigny’s especial Starke friend.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.



Mariana Starke: An Epsom Education

Mariana Starke was christened at Epsom Parish Church on 23 October 1762. On 19 June, barely four months earlier, and three years into their marriage, her parents had buried their first-born child –  a son, John – in the church’s graveyard. Mariana was to be an only child for six years – until the birth of her brother, Richard Isaac Starke, in 1768 – and to be an only daughter until the birth of her sister, Louisa, in 1772. Although there is no record of other children having been born in the years between the births of these living children, the gaps are significantly long, suggesting the possibility that Mary Starke may have suffered miscarriages. Certainly Richard’s father, John Starke, while leaving his eldest son only Hylands House in his rather punitive 1763 will, seems to have expected him to sire at least five children – to all of whom the grandfather was prepared to leave handsome legacies.

We know no firm details of Mariana’s early life as she grew up in Epsom. She may have had a governess, but more likely was taught by her mother, who from her letters appears a competent, amusing woman, interested in literature and the world. The only extant reference I have found to the hiring of a teacher occurs in one of Mrs Starke’s letters, in which she mentions that she is thinking of engaging a music master for her daughters.

This letter written, probably, in 1781, is to Mrs Hayley, wife of William Hayley, an influential man of letters and, in his life-time at least, a highly-regarded poet, patron of William Blake, friend of Cowper, of Romney and of Mariana Starke, who was to him his ‘dear poetical daughter’. The earliest letter in the extant correspondence between the Starkes and the Hayleys dates from 1779 and it is clear from the tone and language employed by the writers that the two families were on close and affectionate terms – and would appear to have been so for some time. There is no indication, however, of how or when the introduction between the families took place. Mariana’s earliest letter in the sequence, dated 22 December 1780, is to Mrs Hayley inviting the Hayleys to ‘a little Hop’to be held by her family early in the new year – on Monday 8 January – and to dinner the day before. At this time the Hayleys lived at Eartham in Sussex, about 45 miles south of Epsom. Hylands House was on their route into Town; in another letter Mrs Starke mentions that she could look out for their chaise as it passes along the Dorking Road. When she wrote this letter of invitation Mariana was 18 years old and entirely at ease in corresponding with the older woman.

From her mother’s letters we can catch glimpses of this youthful Mariana. In November 1780 (?) when Mrs Starke suffered a a bout of illness, during which exertion ‘produced a spitting of blood’,  she was ‘an affectionate un-wearied attendant under Providence’  ‘her tenderness contributes materially to my recovery….I can read a little, and so my daughter ransacks the circulating library for my amusement and has brought me the life of Garrick, written by Davies, the materials supplied by Johnson and the whole regulated by him. Tis very entertaining; it contains a history of the Theatre for 36 years. I remember many of the persons mentioned. It likewise comprehends an account of the contemporary dramatic Writers. What an assemblage of opposite qualities met in ‘Dr Goldsmith’ without one particle of common sense to rectify the composition.’ Davies’ life of Garrick was first published in 1780, suggesting that the Epsom circulating library was quick to offer the latest published works and that Mariana had been prompt in her ‘ransacking’. From the list of books catalogued when the stock of the Epsom circulating library [as far as I can establish this was the only circulating library in Epsom during this period] was put up for auction in 1823 it is clear that there was no shortage of reading matter likely to appeal to both mother and daughter. For instance, quantities of novels and book of travels dating from the 1780s were still held in the stock of the library at the time of its sale – novels such as Aspasia, the wanderer (1786), Alfred and Cassandra (1788), Letters of an Italian Nun (1789) and Adeline the Orphan (1790).

By the 1780s Epsom’s heyday as a spa town had passed but, in a healthy position close to the Downs and close to London, it attracted well-to-do merchants quite prepared then – as now – to commute into town on business. Although he had no necessity to make this journey regularly,  ‘Governor Starke’ – by which slightly inflated version of his former title Richard Starke is often named in contemporary accounts  – still some had business with the East India Company. By virtue of his stock holding in the Company he was able to vote for candidates to the Directorate of the Company and probably made periodic visits to their headquarters in Mincing Lane – a stone’s throw from the house in which his grandfather, Thomas Starke, the slave trader, had lived 100 years before. It is interesting – if useless – to speculate as to whether a knowledge of the lives of his forebears was incorporated into his perception of the world. Did he know – as we shall never – that his father had turned to India because he did not wish to be involved in the trade in Africans of which Thomas was a pioneer? Or, what is more likely, did he know that John Starke had seen that the Virginia tobacco trade was taking a downward turn – and was tediously prone to litigation – and that India was the new Virginia?  Whatever his thoughts as he walked along Mincing Lane Richard Starke would have been well aware of the importance in Starke family history of the church of St Dunstans in the East, just three minutes walk away, down towards the river. Besides his grandfather – and all the late-17th- c infant Starkes buried there, it was here that his own mother had been interred in 1730 and here, five years later, that his wife, the daughter of a merchant, had been christened. That, at least, should have inculcated a proprietorial feeling for this small area of the City in a man who had spent his working life in India and now lived a rather secluded life in Surrey. Again, idle to speculate, but surely, on occasion, Mariana would have been taken to the City. Would she not have been curious to see the streets where her forebears lived?

Cowdray Park, late 18th century, courtesy of Christies

For Mariana, we know, was in her youth passionate about ‘antiquity’. In 1781 her mother, writing to Mrs Hayley, mentions that they had visited ‘Cowdry’ [Cowdray, a Tudor house in Sussex that in 1793 was reduced to ruins by a fire but whose magnificence was still intact when the Starkes visited], remarking that ‘The outside is striking, fine, venerable and claims respect, but within tis unequal and disappoints the expectation. Perhaps altogether no ill emblem its owner. Marian was pleased; I am not so rapturously fond of antiquity as she is. At her age I was, but my passion for gothic structures, and tragedy, expired at the same moment. When the gaiety of youth is fled, lively scenes become necessary.’ So, here is a glimpse of a Mariana swept up in the zeitgeist for the gothic – her ‘sensibility’ a counterpoint to her mother’s ‘sense’.

‘Sense’ was, I am sure, a virtue with which Mariana’s closest contemporary companion of her youth was liberally endowed. Millecent Parkhurst, who was a few months younger than Mariana, lived with her parents in Abele Grove on the other side of Dorking Road from Hylands – on the way into Epsom town. Then an elegant house, with coach house, stables and grounds of about 1 acre, Abele Grove is now, rather bizarrely, the Epsom Central branch of the Premier Inn chain, But it is there still – as is Hylands House – and you can still walk along the Dorking Road between the two-  either on your own two feet or, thanks to Google Street View, on your computer.

Millecent’s elderly father, John Parkhurst, had inherited valuable estates around Epsom and, although a clergyman, of the high Anglican variety, felt neither the necessity nor inclination to seek preferment. His life was devoted to scholarship; amongst other writings he had published both Hebrew/English and Greek/English Lexicons (the latter to the New Testament). When, in 1798, after his death, a new edition of this work was called for, it was published with Millecent as editor. In the preface to the 5th edition, a later editor recorded that she was ,’reared under the immediate inspection of her learned and pious father, by an education of the very first order, [and] has acquired a degree of classical knowledge which is rarely met with in the female world’. In a 1787 letter (to be considered at greater length in a subsequent post) Mariana mentions ‘the almost paternal regard that [Mr Parkhurst] has for me.’ It would, I think, be safe to assume that Mariana spent a considerable time in that household, that she was at home in John Parkhurst’s library and, with Millecent, benefited from his teaching. See here to view portraits of John Parkhurst and his wife – held at Clare College, Cambridge. If the date (1804) attributed to the paintings is correct they were commissioned some time after the pair had died – John in 1797 and Millecent in 1800.

The Rev Parkhurst was not only Mariana’s advisor and critic but, with William Hayley, was responsible for inducting Mariana into the literary world. In 1781 she was among the subscribers to Ann Francis’ Poetical Translation of the Song of Solomon, from the original Hebrew, published by J. Dodsley. John Parkhurst subscribed six copies and it is to him that the book was dedicated, with a credit for supplying Notes. Among the female Epsom subscribers were Mrs Foreman, Mrs E. Foreman, Miss Foreman and Mrs Phipps. The latter ladies, who were presumably of a literary incline, were unlikely to have been those of whom Mariana wrote to William Hayley on 1 October 1781, ‘I spent an afternoon a short time since in company with Mrs Francis. She appears perfectly good-natured and unaffected – our Epsom Ladies  were quite astonished that she should be in the least degree like other people – one observed that she really dressed her hair according to the present fashion, another, that she had a very tolerable cap, and a third that she certainly conversed in a common way, in short they spoke of her, as tho’ they had expected to have seen a wild beast instead of a rational creature, & I felt myself very happy that they were perfectly ignorant of my ever having made a Poem in my life.’ In her preface Ann Francis had felt it necessary to defend her translation of this particular text on two counts  – in case it might ‘be thought an improper undertaking for a woman [since] the learned may imagine it a subject above the reach of my abilities; while the unlearned may incline to deem it a theme unfit for the exercise of a female pen.’

Besides John Parkhurst, the other male Epsom subscriber to The Song of Solomon was the Rev Martin Madan, who the previous year had raised considerable controversy with his publication of Thelyphthora; or a treatise on female ruin. In this Madan argued the social benefit of polygamy as a means of countering the evils of prostitution. He had been chaplain at the Hyde Park Corner Lock Hospital – a hospital for those afflicted with venereal disease – and may be considered to know of what he spoke. His treatise immediately attracted a series of ripostes. It was clearly a book – and, therefore, a subject much debated at this time and in the same 1 October 1781 letter to Hayley Mariana writes. Have you met with a book entitled ‘Whisper in the ear of the Author of Thelypthora’? The author Mr Greene did me the honor of sending it to me, and was it small enough to be enclosed in a frank, I would sent it to Earthham; tho I do not imagine it is a Book that would amuse either you, or Mrs Hayley much.’ Why, one wonders, did 40-year-old Edward Burnaby Greene send his work on this subject to 19-year-old Mariana Starke?

Greene was a translator and poet – though even in his lifetime not held in much regard – and at some time point his social or literary life must have intersected with that of Mariana to occasion this ‘honor’ .  For, while the Ladies of Epsom may have been ignorant of the fact that they harboured a young Poet in their midst, her literary mentors were not – Mariana was in the custom of enclosing poems in her letters to Hayley. And to Hayley she made clear her feelings about Epsom society, writing at the end of a 7 January 1782 letter, ‘Pardon this hasty and stupid scrawl, as I am going to dress for an Epsom Party, the very thought of which, has benumbed my faculties.’ Both Mariana and her mother doubtless felt more stimulated at gatherings at which literature and ideas took precedence over discussions of hairdressing and caps. Not only did they utilise the circulating libraries but when in Town they made a point of visiting booksellers. In a letter to Mrs Hayley, dated 2 August 1781, Mrs Starke wrote,  ‘Marian and I were at Dodsley’s the other day. The counter was covered by Mr Hayley’s poems, nothing sells so well. Dodsley did himself great credit with us, by his manner of speaking of Mr Hayley, second to none, now living, or that ever did live!’

Dodsley – whose shop was in Pall Mall –  had recently published Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper, a didactic work illustrating the usefulness of a good temper to a young woman in search of a husband. See here for a Dulwich Picture Gallery page setting Romney’s portrait of Hayley alongside one of his illustrations from Triumph of Temper

The literary Epsom ladies maintained their interest in furthering the publication of  interesting new works by women, subscribing to two important works of the period. In 1785 Millecent Parkhurst (‘Miss Parkhurst, Epsom’) and ‘Mrs Starke, Epsom’ were subscribers to  Poems by Ann Yearsley, the Bristol milkwoman and protegee of Hannah More and in 1786 Mariana, her mother and Mrs Parkhurst were all subscribers to Helen Maria Williams’ Poems. The women may well have supported other publications, their connection not yet brought to light by the digital scanner.  We can, however, be certain that these were two works that, along with The Song of Solomon, Hayley’s poems and that oddity, Whisper in the ear of the author of Thelypthora’?,  were definitely on the shelves in Hyland House in the late 1780s. It was not to be long before Mariana, together with Millecent Parkhurst,- put her own pen into public action.

Sources: William Hayley Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


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Mariana Starke: Grandfather Spurns Virginia for India

In ‘What Mariana Starke was Not’ I explain that she was not – as has so often been cited – born in India. ‘India’ was, however, a formative presence in her worldview, a continent with which generations of her forebears had been associated.  For, c 1710/11, it was to India that the young man who was to be her grandfather, John Starke (1685-1765), set sail. Having dealt with the many law suits he had inherited from his father, Thomas Starke, merchant and slave trader, John turned his back on the Virginia plantations and joined the East India ship, Averilla, heading for Madras.

Why did he forsake America for India? Doubtless the reasons were of the economic variety –  he saw better prospects in the East. The fact that 25 years later the grandson of Micajah Perry, one of Thomas Starke’s most successful associates, was forced to sell his home, Hylands House in Epsom, and that the buyer was John Starke, would appear to vindicate the decision.

John Starke settled down to life in India, marrying, in 1713 at Fort St George, Martha Empson, whose father, now dead, had been an English merchant there. John Starke, described as a ‘seafaring man in the Madras service’, was not an employee of the East India Company but certainly travelled on their ships as supra cargo (or supercargo) – that is with responsibility for the management of the cargo and its trading.

It is possible still to catch glimpses of John Starke’s life as a free merchant at Fort St George. For instance in February 1724 an East India Company ship, the Lynn, travelling out to ‘the coast of Coromandel’, carried on it for his use 6 rheams of paper £12; 2 fowling pieces [guns] £5; 2 hatts and 2 wiggs £12. John and Martha Starke had a son, Richard, born in Madras in 1719 and a daughter, Martha. The family returned to England in early 1727, sailing on the ship Lyell. This may have been for the sake of the health of John’s wife, for she died in England, buried on 24 November 1730 at St Dunstan in the East, the churchyard that had in the previous half century received so many Starke bodies.

John  travelling back east in 1731 and in 1732 was appointed supra cargo for a ship sailing to China.He was now, for a short time, associated with the developing China trade but by the end of 1734 had returned to England, buying and settling into Hylands House, Epsom, which comprised ‘a messuage, forecourt, coachouse, stables and other outhouses and garden, ¾ acre’.

His son, Richard, was not, however, able to enjoy the pleasures of Epsom for in 1735 he began his career with the East India Company. He still had family – the Empsons – in Fort St George. In 1736 John Starke had sent there to Matthew Empson (either his brother in law or his nephew)  ‘a box of books and apparel’ Empsons continued through several generations to live in Madras and Mariana may have been aware of these Indian relations – although they are never mentioned in any extant correspondence.

Comfortably settled in Epsom, John Starke maintained his interest in travel, in 1745 subscribing to A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels in Europe, Asia, Africa etc by John Green. At some point (I have, as yet, been unable to trace the date) he remarried – taking as his second wife Honor, daughter of Sir Thomas Rawlinson and sister of Mary Rawlinson, devoted friend of his sister, Martha. Starke clearly was the uxorious type, losing no time, after Honor’s death in February 1751, in marrying in October, at Temple Church, Ann Clotterbooke. He died 14 years later and was buried at St Mary, Ewell, on 11 April 1765.

In John Starke’s will, among the usual bequests, was one leaving £2000 [2012 = £229,000] to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, specifying that part of the money was to be applied ‘by the Society towards such charitable purposes as they shall judge most efficacious towards converting the savage Indians in our American colonies and late Acquisition’ [ie territory gained up to the Mississippi following victory over the French in 1763].He stresses the need to extend the Gospel ‘in all the remote and uncivilised parts of our settlement where providence has been graciously pleased to open a fair field to us (and probably for that purpose). It seems as though John Starke felt the necessity of making amends – one takes it that conversion to Christianity was intended as a gift – to at least one group affected by his family’s business dealings in North America – while blustering, even in his will, that English men were also the gift of providence.

On her death, also in 1765, his former sister-in-law, Mary Rawlinson left to John’s daughter, Martha, ‘my dressing table and the dressing stand in my own bedchamber, the bureau in the maid’s room and the black and gold Japan corner cabinet in my bed chamber, the Japan tea table in the parlour, the little mahogany table in ditto and likewise my tea board and writer and all my china ware except 6 blue and white cups and saucer… I give likewise to Miss Starke a pair of glass salts and the turkey carpet in my bed chamber.’ Martha Starke never married and I have wondered if any of these delightful pieces were eventually subsumed into the Hylands House furnishings, to be appreciated by Mariana Starke.

Source: The East India Company papers in the British Library provide a wealth of easily accessible details of life about individual ‘British in India’.


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Mariana Starke: Great-grandfather’s house


House similar to that lived in by Thomas Starke and his family in the late-17th century

In the late-17th century Thomas Starke, the slave trader, lived and, I think, carried on his business in Mincing Lane in a house rebuilt in the 1670s – after the Great Fire of London. Starke’s house – and all the others in that street- have long since disappeared – now replaced by a Gotham City simulacrum, politely described as a ‘post-modern gothic complex’. However a few London houses built by Mincing Lane’s post-Fire-of London developer, Nicholas Barbon, do remain, including – pictured here – 5-6 Crane’s Court, just off Fleet Street – giving a rough idea of the manner of house in which Starke and his family lived.

Fortunately for us, when Starke – a freeman of the city of London – died in early 1706 several of his children were not yet 21 years old. This meant that the London Court of Orphans was required to draw up an itemized list of his household goods, assets and debts in order to supervise the division of the estate. This inventory provides a marvellous picture of the furnishing of the Mincing Lane house – at least some of which were purchased with the profits from Starke’s slave-trading activity, as well as an insight into Starke’s complicated finances. Moreover, the inventory, made on 18 April 1706, is held in the London Metropolitan Archives, very close to my home, a short walk collapsing the centuries.

Although the inventory does not reveal who was living in the house in 1706, a 1695 tax assessment showed that besides Starke, his wife, and two daughters, the household then comprised two apprentices (both of whom were to figure in later Starke litigation) and three servants – two of them women, one a boy.

The 1706 inventory begins at the top of the house – in the fore garrett – [perhaps a bedroom for the apprentices?] which contained:

One corded bedstead and rods, printed stuff curtains and valance, and flock bed and feather bolster and pillow,  2 blankets and 2 rugs, a table,  2 chests of drawers, a pallet bedstead, 2 chairs, one box – value £2 2s

I assume that ‘corded bedstead’ meant a bed with cords to support the mattress and that  ‘rods’ are curtain-type rods from which hung the printed stuff curtains that surrounded the bed to exclude draughts.

The back garrett  [perhaps a bedroom for 2 servants?] contained::2 chests, a horse for clothes, a few candles, 2 little bedsteads, a feather bed, 2 flock bolsters, two blankets, two rugs, a quilt, some lumber – value £2 1s

In the room 2 pairs of stairs forwards [perhaps Stark’s daughters’ room]: One sacking bedstead and rods, camblett curtains and valance lined with silk. Feather bed, a bolster, 2 pillows, 2 blankets, a rug, one counterpane. Corded bedstead and rods, curtains, 1 feather bed, bolster, 6 pillows, 4 blankets, a rug, 7 chairs, 1 chest of drawers, a table, 2 looking glasses, 5 window curtains, 3 rods, 2 pairs of dogs [ ie for the fireplace], a fender shovel, and tongs, a pair of bellows, 4 hangings of the room – value £15 7s.

Apart from the value, we can tell that this room was used by more important members of the household than the two garrets because of the use of ‘camblett’ to make the curtains, ‘camblett’ being a fine dress fabric of silk and camel-hair, or wool and goat’s hair, which was a lighter material, replacing broadcloth and serge and quite newly fashionable.. Similarly the lining of the valance with silk was a newish and fashionable furnishing style.

Back room: 1 corded bedstead, printed stuff curtains and valance, feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, 1 blanket, a rug, 1 chest of drawers, 1 table, 2 matted chairs, grate, fender, shovel and tongs, a warming pan, a pair of bellow, 1 boll printed stuff. Hangings of the room, 3 chairs – value £5 2s

Middle room: 1 corded bedstead and rods, a pair of old curtains and valance, 1 feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, a blanket and rug – value £1 15

In the room 1 pair of stairs backwards:  [perhaps Starke’s bedroom – to be used for entertaining as well as sleeping.] 1 sacking bedstead, silk and damask curtains and valance lined with silk, a quilt and feather bed bolster, some calico curtains, 1 table, a looking glass, 6 chairs and cushions, a slow grate, shovel, tongs and poker, a brass hearth shovel and tongs, 3 pairs of tapestry hangings – value £36 6s [Peter Earle in The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London 1660-1730 (1989) gives the average value of the furnishings of a merchant’s bedroom as £23.3, positioning Starke’s as rather above average.]

The silk and damask curtains and the valance lined with silk were smart and fashionable, while the presence of the tapestry hangings suggest a room intended for comfort in a slightly old-fashioned style..

On the staircase: 3 pictures, clock and case, 2 sconces – value £5

In the Dining room [Earle denotes the dining room as the ‘best’ living room in a house of this type, giving the average value of the contents of such a room as £12 2s – making Starke’s furnishings a little above the average in value.]: Gilded leather hangings, 2 tables, a looking glass, 1 side table, 11 cane chairs, 12 cushions, a pallet case, 2 glass sconces, a pair of tables, brass hearth dogs, shovel and tongs – value £13 12s.

The gilded leather hangings were, by the early 18th-century, perhaps a little old fashioned, but the possession of cane chairs marked the Starkes out as a family who were prepared to buy new and fashionable styles. Cane chairs had been new in aristocratic homes in the 1660s, and were taken up by ‘middling men ’ from the 1680s. It would seem that the Starkes’ cane-bottomed chairs required cushions to make them acceptably comfortable.

In the parlour [the ‘second best’ living room]: Cane chairs, 2 cushions, a boll – value £2 10s.

In the Kitchen: An iron back grate, fender, 2 spit racks, an iron crane, 3 hooks, 2 shovells, tongs and poker, 1 gridiron, 2 iron dripping pans, 2 dish rings, 1 shredding knife, 2 frying pans, 2 box irons and heaters, jack chain and weight and pulley,. 4 spits, a beef fork, a brass mortar and pestle, 7 candlesticks, a pair of snuffers, a ladle and scummer, 2 iron bottles, 4 brass pots and covers, 1 bottle, 2 sauce pans, 1 copper stew pan, 3 chairs, 2 folding boards, 1 pair of bellows and napkin press, a table, a lanthorn, 196lbs of pewter, some tin wooden and earthenware – value £19 12s 10d .

Earle mentions that the average value of kitchen goods in this period was between £10-£20, putting the Starkes’ batterie de cuisine at the top end of the scale.

In the cellar and yard: A few coals, a beer stilling, 2 brass corks, some fire wood, a leaden cistern, 1 boll, 2 doz glass bottles – value £7 1s.

The inventory goes on to give the value of Starke’s wearing apparel (£5), household linen, and plate (292 oz, value £74 –presumably including the silver salver and caudle cup that Starke specifically mentioned in his will) – before moving on to monies owed to him and his own debts.

All in all, this is a house of a middling London merchant, one who, with his family, wished to be comfortable but was not desperate to adopt the very newest fashions. I do not think it would have been as elegant as the parlour room set, dating from 1695, that one can see at the Geffrye Museum. Here you can see the Starkes’ cane chairs, but Thomas Starke presumably preferred the older-fashioned tapestries and gilded leather hangings. which many of his fellow merchants – as in the Geffrye Museum re-creation -would have been taking down and replacing with pictures. In fact only three pictures are listed in the Starke inventory, all hanging on the stair case, alongside the household’s only clock. Similarly, the Starkes were, presumably, still eating off pewter and had not been tempted by the more newly fashionable china.

I did find two omissions interesting. The first is that no room is specifically denoted as a counting-house, although at the time of Starke’s death the sum of £245 19s 13/4 [=£32,000 purchasing power in today’s terms] was held in cash in the house. So, perhaps I was incorrect in assuming that, as he was living in Mincing Lane, in the very heart of the trading district, his business would have been done on the premises. And, secondly, I suppose I might have expected a merchant’s possessions to have included at the very least a quantity of ledgers – and, perhaps, some books and a globe.

Sometime after Thomas’ death, his widow and her daughters – Sarah, Martha, Frances and Elizabeth moved out of the City. There no longer being any necessity to live close to business, they chose Chelsea as their new home– more rural, more fashionable. It is possible that they were the first occupants of a newly-built house in Upper Cheyne Row, close to their great friend Lady Mary Rawlinson, widow of a a close associate of Thomas Starke and a former Lord Mayor of the City of London. The Survey of London suggests that this house and its immediate neighbours were built c 1716 and Lady Mary and her daughter, also Mary, lived at 16 Upper Cheyne Row between 1717 and her death in 1725.  Between 1748 and 1757 Thomas Starke’s daughter, Martha, and the younger Mary Rawlinson lived together at 12 Upper Cheyne Row. They were evidently very close; in her will Martha, who died in 1758, left everything to Mary and asked to be buried with her in the same grave in Ewell parish churchyard. However, Mary Rawlinson lived on to 1765 and in a codicil to her will, made in 1764, changed her preferred place of burial  from Ewell to the Rawlinson family vault in St Dionis Church Backhurch in the City (demolished 1868)..

I imagine that Thomas Starke’s tapestries and gilded leather hangings did not make the move from Mincing Lane to Chelsea and that his widow and daughters took the opportunity to furnish the new – airier and lighter – house with new china and new materials to complement the modern fireplaces and panelling. As we shall discover, in the early 18th-century the Starke family began a close association with India and goods – gifts – from the East would have travelled back to decorate these Chelsea rooms, perhaps, eventually coming into the possession of Mariana Starke.


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Mariana Starke: Great-grandfather’s will

I am interested in trying to build up a picture of the physical reality of the lives of Mariana Starke and her forefathers.

Now a picturesque ruin, St Dunstans, where so many Starkes were christened and buried

Although it is well nigh impossible to know what memory, if any, of Thomas Starke, slave trader, descended to his daughter, Mariana Starke – she, the ‘celebrated tourist’, was born a little under 60 years after his death – I wondered if links might be discerned through a tracing of worldy goods as they descended through the family. I made a start with Thomas Starke’s will. Through this, at the very least, we become acquainted, more closely than in any baptism register, with his surviving children and with the friends – fellow merchants – to whom he entrusted the will’s execution.

‘To my dear & loving wife Sarah one full third part of all my personal estate ..if estate does not amount to sum of £2000 [2012: £ 261,000] leaves to Sarah all my estate in co of Suffolk lying in the hundreds during her natural life and after to my son John Starke and his heirs forever. But if one third part shall amount to £2000 then my will and mind is that the said estate shall immediately go to said son. I likewise give to my wife all her jewels ? of gold and her gold watch and a large silver salver and caudle cup and cover. I give unto my son John Starke and to his heirs for ever all my reall  estate in Virginia consisting of 5 plantations. I give to my said son the sum of £500 and the diamond ring I wear. I give unto my loving daughter Mary Sherman the sum of £200 and likewise forgive her all such sums of money as she stands indebted to me for. I give to my said son John Starke a full one fifth of my personal estate after my just debts are paid and my wife’s one third part deducted. I give to my loving daughter Sarah Starke the sum of £300 and also one fifth part of all my  personal estate [etc] provided that said one fifth part shall not exceed the sum of £1500 [2005: £209,000] and what shall appear to be more than that sum I give unto my said son. I give to my said daughter Sarah all her jewels and my gold watch and 2 brooch [?] pieces of gold which were my Aunt Dennis’s. I give to my loving daughter Martha Starke the full one fifth part of my personal estate [etc]. I give unto my loving daughters Frances and Elizabeth unto both of them the full fifth part of my personal estate [etc]. I give unto my daughter Sarah a large gilt spoon. to Martha one ?? of gold that was my Aunts and I give to Frances one old Nobb (?) spoon. I give to Francis Lee and William Downer the sum of £10 apiece to buy them mourning and a ring of 20s value and I desire them to be aiding and assisting my wife and son. And my will is that my daughters’ legacy shall be paid them as they shall arrive to the age of 21. And make my wife and son jointly my executors and appoint my said loving friends Francis Lee and William Downer to be the overseers of my will.

30th Jan 4th yr of Ann (1706)

Witnessed by Ann Stephens, W. Ford, John Hodgkin, Jeffery Bass (?) Probate 4 March 1706.

So, even from this cursory transcription of the will, we can visualise Thomas Starke’s most prized – or most expensive – possessions – the jewellery, gold and silver – the salver and the caudle cup – and know that he still held five Virginia plantations. In the next ‘Mariana  Starke’ post I will be able to reveal vastly more of the possessions with which Thomas Starke was surrounded as he lay on his death bed in the house in Mincing Lane.


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What Mariana Starke’s Great-Grandfather Was

 Mariana Starke’s great-grandfather was a Virginia landowner and slave trader.

 A slave shackle recovered from Thomas Starke’s ship.

In the last ‘Mariana Starke’ post I gutted the red herring that had Mariana born in India. This, if a red herring could be said to be put to such a use, had been a hook on which some scholars had hung critiques of her two Indian-set plays. While I am certain that an interest in Anglo-Indian affairs permeated Hyland House, which had been purchased with the proceeds of her grandfather’s engagement with India, I am wondering if the shade of Thomas Starke, her great-grandfather, did not also, perhaps, linger?  If so, that may well give an added spice to the abolitionist sub-plot of The Sword of Peace (1788) and to two of Mariana’s creations in it, the slaves Caesar and (offstage) Pompey.

Thomas Starke (c 1649-1704), was probably born in Suffolk and in the early 1670s spent some time in Kings and Queens County, Virginia, where he (and perhaps another member of his family) owned land  – land devoted to tobacco production. On his return to England he married Sarah Newson, possibly in 1676 at Pettistree in Suffolk. Those facts are interesting – if a little hazy – but what is definite is that by 1678 the family was living in London, in the parish of St Dunstan in the East, where a son was christened. Their surviving children – several died in infancy – included Mariana’s grandfather, John (1685-1765) and several daughters, some who were to make alliances with fellow merchant families.

The Starkes lived in Mincing Lane, in a house built after the recent Great Fire. The premises also served as Thomas’ counting house; I will relate more of this interesting establishment in a subsequent post.

The counting house was the hub of Starke’s business empire; he is first recorded as importing tobacco (24,252lb) from Virginia in 1677. Many of the records regarding his business may be found here. The ships plying the Atlantic to pick up the tobacco did not, of course, travel empty, but carried over a wide variety of goods to tempt the settlers. On 10 October 1677, one of Starke’s ships – the  Merchant’s Consentset sail for Virginia carrying, amongst other consignments, 2 cwt nails; 10 lbs Norwich stuffs; 5 doz Irish hose; 35 lbs wrought brass; 1 cwt hops; 1 small saddle; 3 castor, 2 felt hats; 3/4cwt haberdashery wares (to a value of  4s 6 1/2d) . On another occasion Starke’s consignment included ‘Indian cargo’ – that is tomahawks to sell to Indians – plus clothing, hardware, flints and gunpowder.

By 1679 Starke was sufficiently prosperous to be admitted as a freeman of the Haberdashers’ Company and by 1686 was the third largest importer of tobacco in London. As the owner of tobacco plantations he would have been well aware of the problem of finding labour to tend the crop; the number of indentured white servants was declining and the importation of slaves from Africa had been interrupted by the 1689 war with the French. In 1692 he found a solution, heading a group of London merchants that petitioned for the right to send a ship (the Concord) to the Guinea coast to transport slaves back to work on their plantations in Chesapeake.  After that, Starke’s ships  – such the Endeavour, African Galley and Two Brothers -regularly plied the triangular route between London, Africa and Virginia. Fortunately for us such ventures frequently did not go to plan and resulted in litigation, because it is in the case reports that details of Starke’s business are laid bare.  For instance in 1698, with others, he charted the African Galley, for a voyage first to Guinea, travelling on to Maryland or Jamaica. However, the ship’s master was very slow in fitting out the vessel and, to compound his disobedience, called in at St Thomas, off the Guinea coast, delaying arrival in Virginia until July 1699, where he then stayed, rather than going directly to Maryland to deliver the Guinea cargo. The case was brought to recover the monies lost because many of the ‘negroes’ died as a result of the delays and because much of the cargo was carried off the ship by the crew and sold for their own benefit. Similarly, in 1700 Starke charted the Two Brothers  for a voyage to Guinea and Virginia, putting on board in London a cargo sufficient to purchase 400 ‘negroes’, There was some dispute and the ship’s master refused to leave until three weeks after ship was ready to sail. As a result, by the time they got to Guinea, they were forced to pay very high prices for the ‘negroes, since many vessels had arrived before them and got the best of the trade. They obtained only 75 slaves, 16 of which [sic not ‘whom’] the master maintained were for his own account’. Starke brought the case because he doubted that he would ever see some of the money earned from the sale of the ‘negroes’. It is now a truism, but the ledgers in that Mincing Lane counting house noted only the financial, not the human, cost.

As luck would have it, it is one of Thomas Starke’s ships, the Henrietta Marie  that has, more than any other project, been responsible for exposing the intimate horrors of the late-17th-century slave trade. The ship left London in September 1699, travelling to the Bight of Biafra, buying there about 235 slaves, of whom 190 survived to disembark at Jamaica on 18 May 1700. The Henrietta Marie was then shipwrecked off Key West, Florida, lying forgotten on the sea bed until 1972, archaeological research finally beginning in 1983.  It is the earliest shipwrecked slave ship to be identified by name and it is this fact that has allowed for extensive archival research – in addition to the study of the recovered artifacts.

Among these many objects are a large number of shackles – which require little explanation – and thousands of glass beads, which perhaps might. Beads were the currency in which slaves were bought.  Thomas Starke had consigned a quantity of these beads to the Henrietta Marie and the bartering had presumably been so effective that the beads brought up the from the sea bed 300 years later were those that were surplus to requirements. Analysis by shape and colour has helped unravel another mystery of the slave trade. Thus, in the ledger in that Mincing Lane counting house, the entry for so many ‘Venetian glass beads’ would have its contra,  ‘negroes’.

Thomas Starke died in 1705, leaving a number of law suits unresolved with which his widow and son were forced to grapple. That son, John, Mariana’s grandfather, may have paid one visit, in 1707, to the 920 acres his father had held in Virginia at the time of his death, but then, c 1710, rejected the West for the East, sailing to India as purser on an East Indian merchantman, Averilla. The motivation is unexplained, but it is salutary to note that in his will, dated 1763, John Starke left £2000 [2012 = £229,000] to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, specifying that part of the money was to be applied ‘by the Society towards such charitable purposes as they shall judge most efficacious towards converting the savage Indians in our American colonies and late Acquisition’ [ie territory gained up to the Mississippi following victory over the French in 1763]. It seems as though John Starke felt the necessity of making amends – one takes it that conversion to Christianity was intended as a gift – to at least one group affected by his family’s business dealings in North America.

It is hardly worth mentioning that in 2012 we surely know far more about Thomas Starke’s trade and the contents of his ships than his great-grandaughter ever did. But something of his acumen and derring-do – and, I imagine, his irascibility and ruthlessness – may have passed into family legend.

For further reading on the 17th-century slave trade, in which glimpses may be caught of Thomas Starke, see here, here and here.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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What Mariana Starke was not

Mariana Starke was not born in India

Since its first edition the printed edition of the DNB has stated that Mariana Starke was born in India, where her father, Richard Starke, was governor of Fort St George and that she spent her early years there. Furthermore ,the latest edition – when issued – went on to say that this early observation of Anglo-Indian life bore fruit in two of her plays, The Sword of Peace (1788) and The Widow of Malabar (1791). This information has been accepted without investigation by the increasing number of scholars who have become interested in Mariana Starke but it is incorrect. My researches – and those of one or two others who independently reached the truth – have led to an amendment to Mariana’s entry in the online edition of the ODNB.  Mariana Starke, although eventually earning for herself the soubriquet ‘The Celebrated Tourist’ was born in Surrey – in late-September 1762 at Hylands House in Epsom.

Nor did Mariana, although well-travelled, ever live in or visit India. However her family did have a long association with the continent, dating back to c 1711 – and India and the East India Company would have been a topic much discussed in the Starke household.

In a similar fashion there may have been family reminisces about the success in business of Mariana’s great-grandfather, Thomas Starke, who in the late-17th century, was a Virginia landowner and one of the first – and leading – London slave traders. One of Mariana’s plays, The Poor Soldier (1789), recounts the story of Charles Short, American Loyalist of South Carolina. I do not know that any scholar has yet made the connection between America and her family’s history – and it is not one I would want to labour. I am, however, very interested in Thomas Starke’s life and work and will recount something of it in the next ‘Mariana Starke’ post.


Information about the reality of Mariana’s early life was passed to the ODNB and her entry duly altered.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.