The Portrait of Frances Lee

 

Francis Cotes (English, 1726-1770), Portrait of Miss Frances Lee, 1769.

Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William D. Vogel M1964.5. Photo by Larry Sanders.

 

This beautiful portrait of Frances Lee was painted for her parents by the English artist Francis Cotes in 1769 and today hangs in the Milwaukee Art Museum. If she looks rather solemn perhaps it is because she had been sent away from her family to school in England and neither she nor they could know whether they would ever meet again.

Frances Lee was born in Spanish Town Jamaica on the 31st October 1758, the eldest child of Robert Cooper Lee and Priscilla Kelly, and was baptised in the St Catherine’s parish church Spanish Town on the 23rd of January 1759. The parish register entry for Frances reads:

“Frances Lee a Quadroon” and on the line below, John Venn the vicar who transcribed the registers wrote “I believe a white illegit. child “. Technically since Priscilla Kelly was a free quadroon, Frances was in fact an octoroon.

In late 1767 or early 1768, at the age of nine, Frances (known in the family as Fanny) was sent to school in England. It is not clear whether there were specific fears for her health, although she suffered health problems throughout her life and early mention is made in the family letters of a six month period away from her school in Streatham.

Then in May 1768 her uncle Joseph Lee made a trip from Jamaica to England, leaving in haste because of fears for his health. While in England he visited his niece at Mrs Endleigh’s school in Streatham. It is likely the school was recommended by the Fuller family who had a house there. At first Fanny did not recognise her uncle, perhaps because she had not seen him for so long or perhaps simply because she did not expect to see him in England.  Joseph however was able to report that she was ‘admirably improved’ and ‘in extreme good health’.

I have been at the school where every thing is in the utmost Order and Regularity…Mr Fuller and myself have been all over the School and seen the Beds and other accommodations which are all with the greatest neatness and elegance.

It was important for the family to verify that Frances was being well cared for since even expensive girls’ schools could be chill and unpleasant places. In an account of Camden House where his daughter was until her death in 1797, Arthur Young recalled that ‘The rules for health are detestable, no air but in measured formal walk, and all running and quick motion prohibited, preposterous! She slept with a girl who could only hear with one ear, and so ever laid on the one side, and my dear child could do no otherwise afterwards without pain, because the vile beds are so small they must both lie the same way…..She never had a bellyful at breakfast.  Detestable this at the expense of £80 a year’.[1]  Why he allowed his poor daughter to continue there is a mystery to me.

On his first visit to the school Joseph stayed an extra day in order to see his ‘pretty niece’ dance. While in England he spent some time on business trips, on sightseeing and on family visits out of town, but he saw Fanny in London when she was staying with friends and he reported in a letter to his brother having seen her again and said that he considered her to be ‘the Flower of the School’. Fanny had become a firm favourite with her Uncle Joe, and there were plans for a family celebration during the Christmas holidays with her Aunt Charlotte Morley, and her three Morley cousins.  Joseph confessed to Robert that he had taken the liberty of presenting Frances with a new silk dress for the winter – possibly even the one in the painting.

The portrait must already have been commissioned by the autumn of 1768 because Joseph promised his brother that he would see it finished during the Christmas holidays. In March 1769 Joseph wrote to his brother

I have had her Picture drawn by Cotes who is in great repute here and is considered as next to Reynolds in the Art and when it is completed it shall be sent to you by the first safe Opportunity – the Price will be a few Guineas beyond the sum you mentioned which I apprehend will not be disagreeable to you as it will always remain a handsome Picture even after she has outgrown the likeness.

There was a delay sending the picture ‘a very strong likeness of her’, so that it could be put into a ‘neat Italian fluted frame’ and it was not until October that year that it was finally despatched to her parents in Jamaica .  The cost was thirty Guineas ‘the usual sum for a picture of that size’, and the frame cost an additional six pounds eight shillings. You can see the shipping order that included the portrait here.

At school in Streatham, Frances received a letter written by her father in April and carried by Mr Moulton, a friend who presented her with a guinea from her mother.  A Christmas letter from Frances had reached her parents together with a purse and ‘swordknot’ (an ornamental tassel attached to the pommel of a sword) that she had made for her father.  The main news to reach her was that her young brother Robert was to sail for England. Joseph Lee remained in England long enough to meet his six year old nephew, who was sent to Harrow School in the autumn of 1769, and finally returned to Jamaica in 1770 where he died in 1772 at the age of thirty-six.

In 1771 Robert Cooper Lee brought his family back to England and like many who had made their fortune in Jamaica he never returned there. The portrait of course came with them. Frances, who suffered from health problems throughout her life, never married. She inherited substantial Jamaican interests from her father and from two friends and lived to a comfortable old age dying at her home in Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London on 7th December 1839. Her younger sister Favell married the banker David Bevan and according to Audrey Gamble (née Bevan) who wrote a history of the Bevan family[2], the family failed to buy the portrait of Frances Lee back at an auction in the early twentieth century and so it rests now, beautifully restored, in the care of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century,  Penguin, London 1966,  p.342

[2] Gamble, Audrey Nona, A History of the Bevan Family, Headley Brothers, London. 1923.

 

11 thoughts on “The Portrait of Frances Lee”

  1. JOHN W BROWN

    I am a member of the Local History Group of the Streatham Society to whom this site was referred by a local councillor who discovered this entry.

    I was fascinated to discover the reference to “Mrs Endleigh’s school in Streatham”. From my researches I assume the school referred to was that run by a Mrs Eveleigh who lived in the parish of Streatham between 1764 and 1776.

    This school was later run by Mrs Fry and Mrs Ray and was situated in Russell House, opposite St. Leonard’s parish church, and was known as Russell House School.

    It was to this school that Mrs Thrale of Streatham Park sent her daughters.

    JOHN W BROWN
    LOCAL HISTORY GROUP
    THE STREATHAM SOCIETY
    8th November 2011

  2. Anne Powers Post Author

    Hi John, many thanks for this. I believe Hester Thrale was a friend of the Fuller family so what you suggest makes sense in lots of ways. I have just had another look at the scan I have of the letters and I’m sure you are right that the name was Mrs Eveleigh, who apparently ran the school with her two sisters – could they have been Mrs Fry and Mrs Ray? There’s a small blot on the original which accounts for the mistake.
    “They are all women of a most amiable disposition” wrote Joseph Lee on the 3rd of July 1768. He visited the school with Thomas Fuller. I suspect a number of daughters of the Jamaican Plantocracy were probably sent to the school, although I don’t have any specifics.

  3. JOHN W BROWN

    Many thanks for the further advice Anne.

    Following additional research I am able to expand on my original comments.

    Streatham is fortunate in that it has a wealth of historic material relating to the town in the 18th century. Most of the parish records survive from 1722 in addition to which we have various letters, documents etc relating to the Thrales who lived at Streatham Park.

    On checking my archive I was therefore surprised to find no references to a school run by a Mrs Endleigh as the town was famed at that time for its academies and a ladies school of the quality which would have someone like Frances Lee as a pupil should have survived in the records.

    We know something of Mrs Eveleigh’s school at Streatham from the writings of a Mrs Papendick of Frankfurt in Germany who attended the school. Writing in 1773 she refers to the establishment as “This excellent school was kept by Miss Eveleigh, originally by three sisters, one of whom married Mr Kay (I assume this should have been Mr Ray), in the law, the other Mr Fry. Each had a boy and a girl and, both becoming widows, they rejoined the school, the young ladies of course being brought up in it, the young gentlemen going one to Eton and the other to Westminster. Mrs Fry dying soon after her return to her happy home Miss Fry clung to her aunt Eveleigh with an affection rarely met with. The two sisters were of surprising height, etc. etc. Among the young people that were at school with me I recollect the Miss Sainsburys. Miss Kay (sic RAY), superintended in one room, the music drawing, and geography, and Mrs Kay (sic Ray) conducted the domestic part.”

    Again Mrs Papendick writes in 1778, five years later, “Another event of a very different character now happened at our school. Miss Sainsbury, whom I have before mentioned, had been married for some time to Mr Langford of the firm of auctioneers in the Piazza Covent Garden. [Alderman Sainsbury’s young partner], and in October Mrs Langford called in her father’s carriage from Morden to take Miss Eveleigh, Mrs Kay (sic Ray) and her sister to town to see the King robed, as parliament was opened on that day. We wondered first at the elegance of the dresses, and still more when Mrs Kay (sic Ray) and Miss Sainsbury returned alone; but as for some time before this Miss Eveleigh had been but little with us, this did not excite any suspicion. Judge then our surprise when two days afterwards, Mr Sainsbury conducted her into our school room as his bride. Miss Eveleigh was forty-two years of age at the time she left her happy home, where everyone loved, respected and adored her. Mrs Sainsbury died in the thirds week of her confinement. Her baby was christened Maria.”

    Following the death of Rachel Eveleigh, Mr Sainsbury took as his third wife, Miss Fry, Eliza Maria, daughter of John Fry and his wife Elizabeth, of Newcourt House, Exeter. They had no children. The marriage took place at St. Leonard’s Church in Streatham on 19th August 1788. Elizabeth Ray was one of the witnesses to the marriage. Miss Fry was the niece of Miss Eveleigh. Alderman Thomas Sainsbury lived at Merton Place or Grove, the property being later purchased by Lord Nelson after Sainsbury died in 1795.

    As to Thomas Fuller, who visited the school with Joseph Lee, a Thomas and Eleanor Fuller lived close to Russell House at Wood Lodge and the parish rate books show they were in residence there between at least 1770 and 1780.

    I would be fascinated to learn of any additional references to Streatham which may occur in the correspondence.

  4. Anne Powers Post Author

    This is fascinating stuff – thanks again John.

    I have found the marriage of Rachael Eveleigh and Henry Ray by Vicar General licence issued on 2 January, at Tooting Graveney on 4th January 1759. I think Mrs Papendick may have got the sisters first names mixed up.
    There is another Vicar General licence dated 1 December 1752 for Eveleigh and Fry, but I can’t immediately find the marriage.
    Miss Sainsbury and Mr Langford had a marriage licence issued on 21 May 1778, but again I haven’t found the marriage.
    I can’t find the unfortunate Miss Eveleigh who married Thomas Sainsbury at 42, and presumably died of post partum infection, nor the baptisms of the Eveleigh sisters.
    You may have better luck having direct access to the Streatham records, much of which are not yet available on line.

    As for the Fuller family, they hailed from Sussex, were gun founders and then sugar bakers and merchants, inheriting property in Jamaica through the Rose family (whose family tree is on this website and includes the Fullers). There is a hilarious description of the mannered speech of Rose Fuller junior in Fanny Burney’s diary – page 129 onwards in my Penguin Classics edition of 2001 – and brief mentions of other members of the Fuller family. Stephen Fuller who she mentions as a deaf old gentleman was for many years the Agent for Jamaica and the family were prominent in the West Indian lobby in London. I believe Eleanor Fuller died in Streatham in 1770.

    I’ll keep an eye out for any other Streatham references!

  5. Michael Kassler

    Rachael Ray’s will, written on 2 June 1796 when she was a widow, was proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 9 April 1814, following her death at Russell House, Streatham, on 18 January 1814. Her associate Eliza Maria Sainsbury née Fry was a witness to this will. Rachael Ray and Eliza Maria Fry together held a policy issued by the Sun Fire Office in 1779.

  6. JOHN W BROWN

    I have checked my transcripts of the St. Leonard’s parish Registers for Streatham and have discovered the marriage of Thomas Sainsbury, a widower from Merton with Eliza Maria Fry, spinster “of this parish” (Streatham) on 19th August 1788. The Wittnesses were Elizabeth and Robert Shay, Ro Rolly and Nich Lacy Fry who is also recorded in the parish burial register as a “Gent” and was buried on 18th March 1800.

    Sadly I can trace no marriage entries for Eveleigh and Fry on or after 1st December 1752 or Sainsbury and Langford on or after 21st May 1758 in the Streatrham Registers.

    Niether is there any entry in the parish burial register for Eleanor Fuller around 1770 and so she must have been interred elsewhere other than Streatham.

    I was interested to read about the marriage of Rachael Eveleigh and Henry Ray at Tooting Graveney (St. Nicholas Church). This is a neighbouring parish to Streatham. Indeed part of Streatham parish was the hamlet of Upper Tooting or Tooting Bec so named to differenciate it from Tooting Graveney or Lower Tooting.

    I have recently acquired a letter addressed to Miss Eveleigh of Streatham from Mrs L Stanford of Nottingham dated 22nd January 1772. It concerns the recent death of “Mr Fry the elder” at Deer Park who was buried on the 17th of that month. Stanford appears to have been a cousin to “young Harry Fry” whose case she is pressing in connection with the distributionof Fry’s estate and urges Eveleigh to consult a Mr Clark, an Attorney, concerning the matter.

  7. Anne Powers Post Author

    Thanks, John, fascinating stuff. My guess would be that Eleanor Fuller was buried at Waldron in Sussex, seat of the Fullers, but I don’t have anything on it.

  8. Annie Chesterton

    Dear Mr Brown,

    We have an ancestor called Robert RAY.
    Our Robert Ray, b. 1761, lawyer Lincolns Inn, prothonotary Court of Common Pleas 1798, Governor of Bridewell Hospital in 1791, a master of the library of the Temple, died 24.12.1838.
    I had been wondering if our Robert Ray might be one and the same :
    a) “the worthy and wise lawyer to Mrs Thrale/Piozzi who lived at Streatham Park” (see The Piozzi letters 1809
    etc), and/or
    b) the son of Henry Ray who had married one of the Endleigh sisters and who, as a child after his
    mother was widowed, on her return to the school, was educated alongside the other children.

    Yours sincerely,
    Annie Chesterton
    Mrs Piozzi says in 1809, “poor old Mrs Ray is 75 years old” and thinks she, Mrs P, should superannuate Mrs Ray like an admiral.

  9. Michael Kassler

    Yes, your ancestor is the same Robert Ray. He was the son of Henry and Rachael Ray and was baptised on 17 January 1762 at Tooting-Graveney.

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