Over the last month I have being working on the Papers of Mary Hamilton adding to the existing items on the library’s online image collection: LUNA. Around 200 further items from the Mary Hamilton Papers have been digitised and cataloguing undertaken by Dr Lisa Crawley added to the images.
Hamilton was the granddaughter of Lord Archibald Hamilton, the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton and Lady Jane Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Abercon. In 1777 Hamilton became a member of George III ’s court, acting as assistant governess to the Princesses, a position she held until 1783. In 1785 she married John Dickenson, only son of John Dickenson of Birch Hall, near Manchester. A courtier and a diarist, she was a friend of many of the prominent Bas Bleu (the bluestocking circle) and counted Hannah More, Frances Burney, Mrs Delany and Mrs Garrick among her literary friends. She dined frequently at the houses of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole and met Dr Johnson on several occasions.
The archive was acquired by the University in 2007 and the letters and diaries of Mary Hamilton are being used by the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester to engage undergraduate and postgraduate students in enquiry-based learning methods. The papers are also of interest to researchers in the social, cultural and linguistic history of Georgian England. Hamilton’s correspondence provides unparalleled insights into the day-to-day life of the royal household and of the artistic and social elites during a period of rapid change in the nation’s political, economic and cultural life.
The items are a selection of letters and cover a time period where Mary Hamilton was the Queens consort to when she was married and in her later life. It includes correspondence from Queen Charlotte, John Dickenson to Mary Hamilton (both before and after marriage), the Dickenson family, relatives and from the Clarke sisters and Murray sisters and a selection of correspondence both to and from Margaret Gunning. They highlight many different subjects within the time period including court life, George III’s health, gossip, courtship, marriage, death, travel, health and medical cures of the day. One letter to Hamilton from John Dickenson contains advice from a doctor that Dickenson was travelling with detailing how to deal with their daughters rickets. The advice was that her legs should be bathed up to the knees and to rub them with ‘peats foot oil, the former every other night, the later every night – and give a little physich once a week’. (HAM/1/2/25).
Letters were kept by Hamilton’s descendants prior to being deposited to the library. Some items have script crossed through which is intriguing, but which is unable to be deciphered through spectral imaging as the same pen was used for writing and editing. There are some notes that have been tipped onto one sheet and others bundled together, and some items are missing but this constitutes a great resource for students and researchers alike.
One letter from Elizabeth Palombi, Hamilton’s sister-in-law who married and moved to Naples, talks about all four of her children contracting smallpox and the frustration that she has with the servants not seeming to be very helpful. In the first half of her letter she apologises profusely and the language and terms used are interesting in their structure.
A letter from Hamilton’s father-in-law just after Hamilton’s marriage to John Dickenson talks light-heartedly about her marriage and how he ‘detests’ his son and has transferred all the affections he once had for him onto her. The relationship that Hamilton had with her father-in-law must have been close to enable him to talk in this way to her.
The script varies through time and from person to person and will be an interesting resource for the students studying the linguistic codification of the English Language. Letters to and from Charlotte Margaret Gunning show a more informal discourse between herself and Mary Hamilton where code names are given and letters are passed with strict instructions not to pass them on. Gossip on courtiers, unwanted attention from would be suitors and members of the Royal Family are contained within this section. In one letter, Gunning tackles worries that she has heard Hamilton has that her friend is ignoring her
Some notes were written on the same day regarding visits and appointments due to take place that day which made me think that servants were employed to deliver letters as they were written, something we take for granted in the age of text messages.
Coinciding with my start on this project was a BBC programme In our Time about the Bluestocking group which helped provide a background to the time period and importance of this socially elite women of the time.