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Diary, 1860 July 17-August 11

 Item — Box: Vol. 8
Call Number: MSS 28

Scope and Contents

Holograph journal describing Ellen Fenton’s family vacation at Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1860. Includes eleven pages of watercolor drawings of local people, scenery and landscapes to accompany journal descriptions. On page eleven, Fenton also includes a sketch of the Colonnade ballroom floor plan. This volume contains letters from Fanny Crawford and Officer Crawford (of the 15th Bombay Regiment), clippings of “The Pope’s Irish recruits” from 27 July 1860 and “To Englishmen Settling in Boulogne” and a playbill for Le Songe.

Fenton does not hesitate to announce the presence of Geraldine Ibotson at Boulogne. The majority of Fenton’s journal entries are devoted to her young female friend, who accompanies the family on their annual holiday. Fenton appears to have endless admiration for Geraldine’s beauty and grace: “how noble she looked! Never could the stately Duchess of Sutherland, in her grandest youth, have looked such a Duchess!” (4). Geraldine usurps Clara’s usual position as the object of admiration, and Fenton amuses herself with conjectures about the many beaux who take interest in the new arrival. Fenton delights in describing the dandyish Monsieur Horeau, whom they nickname “Henrietta,” and his pursuit of Geraldine. A bouquet and a book about love letters in French arrives at the Fenton’s residence “and a marked passage about a declaration of love! We all suspected Henrietta” (70). Geraldine cannot seem to do any wrong in the eyes of her loyal chaperone, and she believes that none but the most sophisticated of men would comprehend “the rich contradictions of her character, so great and yet so childish, religious yet gay, earnest and yet so willing for nonsense. None but a poet, and one of versatile talent and very close observation, would understand her” (70). When she pays a visit to Mrs Russell, a wealthy Australian who resides at the Chateau Neuf, Fenton is taken aback by the governess’s attacks on Geraldine’s character. The governess claims she saw Geraldine “on Saturday, flirting with a gentleman, and she had felt ashamed of her countrywoman for her conduct, which was such that everyone was staring, and more, laughing, at her, that she was a disgrace” (86). Fenton counters by describing Mrs. Ibotson’s model education of her daughters, and slips in “that one of her girls was ‘the present Belle of Boulogne’” (87).

Although she rushes to Geraldine’s defense, Fenton has no trouble describing the faults of others. She is irked by the governess’s claims that Mademoiselle Dion was “unsurpassed” in beauty. This mademoiselle is believed to be the Marchioness Déhon, whom Fenton sketches (between pages 24 and 25). Fenton takes pleasure in describing the noblewoman’s haughty and poor conduct, conceding that Dion is “pretty – a porcelain sort of look, reminding one of those old fashioned figures on Dresden China” (38). She is disgusted by the young woman’s demands to be attended first at restaurants. When standing at a newspaper table at a ball, Fenton overhears some English gossip about Dion’s faults in earshot of the marchioness. Fenton then delights in describing the young woman flee in a rage, banging doors behind her. “Dick ran to the door, and banged it again – which she seemed to return, by an explosion of another door… thus, when she [Dion] sat at our table, Geraldine aloud asked me, if I had heard the strange banging of doors, at the other end of the room… I said, I supposed it could only be servants” (43).

This trip to Boulogne is also distinguished by the presence of Mrs. Watson, an elderly charwoman whom Fenton brings along as a second servant. As Fenton’s husband does not consent to Mrs. Watson’s presence on the trip, nor is the woman cognizant of Fenton’s designs for her in Boulogne, the departure from London is described as a “smuggling affair” (1). For fear that Mrs. Watson would escape, Fenton sends her by train to St. Paul's, where the family would pass by coach on the way to London Bridge wharf. Fenton is very amused by Mrs. Watson’s first experience of foreign travel, noting how she kept awake for the entire steamship journey, and tried to trick the other servant, Charlotte, into admitting that the steamship was bound for New York. Geraldine and Fenton nickname the elderly woman “Mrs. Lacelles Jerningham-Birmingham” and Fenton admits “crying with laughter” at the woman’s unusual queries: “did the vessel move, for it seemed for a long time, just in the same place… did the sea boil, it was like water in a kettle, bubbling and frothing[?]” (5). When at Boulogne, Fenton enjoys taking Mrs. Watson to St. Nicolas to observe her wonderment at Catholic ritual. When the Fenton family visit the dungeons, Mrs. Watson is unnerved by the excursion. At the citadel, the family comes across a company of soldiers from the 83rd regiment “looking as if they were a rank to fire on us” (56). When Mrs. Watson declares she can go no further, Fenton notes that she was “obliged to go with us, when I shewed her, she could not stay ‘to be shot at,’ which speech evidently went quite home” (57). As they descend into the “dismal chamber of horrors,” Mrs. Watson again complains that she cannot go on, and Fenton confesses “I am quite ashamed to own, I felt not one particle of sympathy, but told her, if she went back or stood still, she must get lost, or shut up for life” (57). Fenton is herself unnerved, however, when the family is followed by a gaunt man of whom she includes a sketch and description: “I turned, and closely examined him – such a tremendous face! Long, flat, wrinkled, and with a look half stolid, half animal” (57-58).

Another victim of Fenton and Geraldine’s fun-making is the eccentric and pestering Dr. Adolphus, who is represented in a few of Fenton’s drawings in this volume. Fenton describes the family’s several attempts of avoiding him, especially at balls. “We flew whenever we saw him,” jests Fenton, noting that they “had the fun to see him vainly hunting for us all” (30). She and Geraldine play more than a few pranks on the unsuspecting doctor, inventing a “Miss Perrot” for him to pursue. When the doctor asks if Fenton’s young friend, Miss Gattey was this Miss Perrot, Fenton says “yes, for the fun of it, and trusting to the chapter of accidents” (36). When Fanny Emmett, the Gattey family, and a Mr. Whitsed come over for tea, Dr. Adolphus arrives, acting “so absurd, that the idea of making him the general butt, was quite irresistible to us all” (52). The group plays “Mother Crump,” a game that involves a chair in the middle of the room that the captain of the game was to sit upon. Fenton sketches the doctor “shaking one finger and one foot, on his uneasy seat, rolling about on what he intended for graceful attitudes.” (see page 52-53). This game goes on until two in the morning, when a neighbor threatens to call the police.

In addition to humorous social foibles, Fenton’s journal draws attention to political events that effect the family’s experience of Boulogne in 1860. Growing tensions between the English and French are precipitated by Lord Palmerston’s speech to parliament, “so remarkable against the entente cordiale” (74). On the 23rd of July, Palmerston announced that England was now threatened by their ally’s growing economic and military supremacy, warning that it might have to defend itself against the power. Wondering “if some explosion is at hand,” this new distrust registers in the ballrooms of Boulogne, says Fenton, where a French Colonel whom Fenton tries to match with a partner angrily prevents her party from so much as sitting nearby (74).

The latter part of Fenton’s trip is colored by her interaction with a group of Irish prisoners bound for Dublin. A clipping, pasted in her journal (between pages 56-57) explains that 116 Irishmen were led to believe by a Mr. Sullivan, of The Nation, that they would be paid handsomely to join the Pope’s army. The article reports that they were sent to Rome on an arduous journey, and once there, made to live in wretched conditions with little food to survive. Fenton speaks to these men, now en route back to Ireland after refusing to sign the work contracts, and finds them “dreadfully exhausted… They had been confined ten days in Cells, down deep in a prison” (92). Fenton takes the opportunity to rail against Catholicism: “I said, I hoped they would give up their false religion, now they had experienced the gross deception it all was, to them, and which Protestants, in vain, warned them of.” Yet she also seems pleased by the men’s reaction to her perceived Irish roots. Fenton resolves to take food and brandy to the groups of Irish prisoners as they pass through Boulogne.


  • 1860 July 17-August 11


Language of Materials

From the Collection: The diaries are in English, with some French.

Physical Description

1 volume (134 pages); 11 pages of watercolor drawings; 3 letters; 1 playbill; 1 programme; 2 clippings

; c. 32.5 x 20.5 cm.

Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection: The materials are open for research.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

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