Those of you who followed William Porden’s travels in France in 1816 will remember Miss Elizabeth Appleton, who was so very seasick on the channel crossing. This intrepid young woman, befriended by the Pordens, was journeying to the Continent alone, and appeared to be a seasoned traveller. The friendship continued after their return to Britain, and Mr Porden continues to mention Miss Appleton in his diaries, for example on 29 August 1820:
At Mr Flaxman’s in the Evening. [Present were] Mr Owen Pugh, Miss Appleton, Mr J Denman, Mr and Miss Flaxman, Maria Denman and selves.
So who was Miss Appleton? As to what she looked like, we have Mr Porden’s description of her in an entry of 13 Sept 1820 as ‘a tall, genteel figure, nearly 6 feet high’. She is clearly well educated and wealthy enough to travel abroad for pleasure. She is of independent means and also socialises with eminent people of the day. Well, with the wonders of the internet it’s proved possible to identify exactly who she was – here’s how and what I found.
I started with a search for her name in the British Newspaper Archive on www.findmypast.co.uk, which brought up a few Elizabeth Appletons. Bearing in mind what I already knew about her education and social status, this notice in the Morning Post on 28 January 1822 seemed likely to be the right Miss Appleton:
I also found this marriage notice on 4 February 1826:
This led me to the marriage in Southampton on 21 July 1825 of John Lachlan McLachlan and Elizabeth Appleton. Note the fact that the newspaper got John McLachlan’s name slightly wrong, a good reminder that the facts in newspaper articles should always be checked. In fact, her married surname continued to make it difficult to find her online. I eventually found she had her own Wikipedia entry under ‘Elizabeth Lachlan’ which then led me to an entry about her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, under Elizabeth Appleton (married name Lachlan). I should have just checked there in the first place!
From all this information I learned that when William and Eleanor Porden first met Elizabeth Appleton she was 25 or 26 years old and had apparently spent three years on the continent a few years before, following an argument with her mother. She had been a governess to aristocratic families and was making her name as an educationist, having just published her first book Private Education; or a practical plan for the studies of young ladies. The school that she subsequently opened in Upper Portland Place was so successful that by 1825 she was reputedly earning £4000 per year, an immense sum, equivalent to roughly £300,000 in today’s money. She was even reputed to have been asked to be governess to Princess Victoria (more on this in a future blog post).
It’s easy to see why Miss Appleton and the Pordens would have become friends. William Porden valued female education and his daughter Eleanor, who had recently published her first work of poetry, is considered a proto-feminist. Miss Appleton’s story as a successful, independent, professional woman came to a sad end, however. Her money became entangled with her uncle’s and when he went bankrupt, her money was lost at the same time. Eventually, her husband fled to France to escape his debts and she died in London of cholera in 1849.
Despite the sad ending, Elizabeth Appleton proves that in the Regency era, a single genteel women could have a well-paid job and move in intellectual circles. Although Elizabeth Appleton is not from Derbyshire, she is the kind of woman being celebrated in projects happening around the country for the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote in 1918. Derby-based Vox Feminarum’s Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Deeds not Words: towards Liberation’ project is researching 100+ years of women’s sociology-political activism in Derbyshire. Take a look at their website at http://www.deedsnotwordstowardsliberation.com for more about the often untold stories of Derbyshire women.