A Bright Boy

Farmer  John Would PARKER looks a rather gloomy character in the photographs I posted of him just over a week ago. He possibly made a habit of hiding his light under a bushel.

courtesy The Morrice Collection

This is the “envelope” containing a letter John wrote  to his mother, on or about his fifteenth birthday.

Here are a few lines of its contents –

The cost of a postage stamp for your thoughts Mrs Parker, regarding your son’s penmanship. The execution is not perfect – there are three blemishes at least – but I would be surprised if any teen today could match the elegance of this hand, even if they had a mind to try.

Here is a full transcription of the letter, with the above passage highlighted.

Louth, May 6th 1845

Dear Mother,

Although this is the third letter that I have written to you, I think I have not told you how I am going on with my studies. I have got as far as Decimals in accounts, and in a very few days we shall commence Mensuration. I am learning poetry for practice in parsing and English Grammar. In Geography, I have learnt England and Wales; and I am now learning Scotland. In dictation exercises, I am writing a course of lessons on Natural Science, and I find them very interesting and full of useful information. We have begun surveying, and we are now taking a survey in Stewton Parish, and a very pretty plan it will be, when it is finished.

What a miserable Fair day it was! We had a half holiday and I went to my sister’s to dine, where I enjoyed myself very much.

About the time of the Fair, we went one evening to see an exhibition of Mechanical views, with which we were much entertained, especially with the last, which was the representation of a storm at sea. Shortly afterwards, we had another treat in an exhibition at the Mansion-house, consisting partly of beautiful dissolving views, of cities, ruins, remarkable buildings, etc. and partly of objects, wonderfully magnified by a powerful microscope with an oxy-hydrogen light. By this means we saw the animalculæ in the water, and insects of the size of a flea magnified to the size of a sheep.

P.S. Mr & Mrs Rogers desire their kind regards to you all.

The sister he mentions was probably Sarah Elizabeth, aged 22 in 1845.

With the letter, Peter sent a photograph of John’s widow, Jane Maria née CORTIS, in the sunlit garden of her home in Manly, New South Wales. She was sixty-five years old when she died in 1911 and may not have been long for this earth when the picture was taken.

Found Object 44 · Beach Leaf

wind-blown and sandblasted

Jane Maria

She was the first child of Dr William Smithson CORTIS and Mary Jane née GREEN, baptised on the 5th of January 1846 in St Oswald’s Church, Filey. Her mother died when she was twelve and the household at census in 1861 shows signs of an extended family pulling together. Jane’s aunt Isabella Maria BOWES (her mother’s sister) was in residence with her second son Richard Taylor Bowes. The old salt, Richard Cortis, hale and hearty at 74, was visiting from Hull. Jane’s younger sister Alice Weddell Cortis was away on census night but her brothers were home – William Richard, 14, who became an MP in the Australian Parliament and would be tried for murder, and Herbert Liddell, 4, whose destiny was to cycle twenty miles in an hour before anyone else did. Three servants, all Lincolnshire born, completed the household in John Street.

It was in Lincolnshire that Jane found a husband. John Would PARKER was a farmer of 600 acres, employing 18 labourers and 6 boys in 1871. He was fifteen years older than Jane, in his mid forties when they married in St Mary’s Church, Newington (London) in 1876. They settled on the farm in Ludborough but were not blessed with children. They had dogs instead.

courtesy H F Morrice Collection

This photograph isn’t dated but was taken at Ludborough, I guess around 1890.

The enumerator in 1891 found the couple at “Lindens, Turnpike” near Louth. John was still farming, but possibly not 600 acres. He died  towards the end of 1893, aged 63. John’s spinster sister, Sarah Elizabeth, had lived with the couple for many years but she died a few months later. With all her surviving birth family scattered to the ends of the earth, Jane set off for Australia. Her father died in Manly on 15 September 1906 and she breathed her last in that place, 19 May 1911.

courtesy H F Morrice Collection

It isn’t certain that this is Jane Maria but the photographer was Willey of Louth, a town only six or seven miles from Ludborough. The wee dog could be significant.

Photographer C J Tear, 12 Clapham Road, London, no date, courtesy H F Morrice Collection

This is Jane and she seems to have an engagement ring and wedding band, so maybe the photo was taken in 1876, after her marriage and before she returned to Lincolnshire with her husband.

Photographer Rogers of St Leonards-on-Sea, no date, courtesy H F Morrice Collection

Jane seems to have filled out somewhat but John still looks youthful, though his mutton chops are greying. The photograph may have been taken while on their honeymoon (and Jane’s extra pounds are merely a fashion accessory).

The uncertainty about the identity of Jane in the second photograph seems justified if close attention is paid to the eyes, ears and nose of the lady with a whip. The features are noticeably different, though the overall shape of the face is similar.

What does it matter? I just hope that John and Jane’s seventeen years of marriage brought them much happiness. She was a widow for a year longer than that, and most of that time was spent in a foreign land. I wonder what her life was like in Australia.

Water 31 · Paddling Pool