Thursday, 3 October 2019

The Story of my Tobacco Jar

This Majolica Palissyware Tobacco Jar is 150 years old - it was made in Mafra, Portugal, by Manuel Cipriano Gomes 1829 - 1905
Some people love this object others hate it,
but this is it's story.
Five members of the famous Darwin family are mentioned here so in order to differentiate between them I have used contrasting colours for their names.
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The tobacco jar, which is now in my possession, was inherited by my paternal grandmother from her childless aunt. Her aunt married a member of the Darwin family called Francis Darwin Huish. His grandfather was Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin, who was one of Erasmus Darwin's sons from his second marriage to Elizabeth Pole. Erasmus Darwin (Fellow of the Royal Society) was the eminent physician/all round scientist, poet, and a founding member of the Lunar Society. One of Erasmus Darwin's sons from his first marriage to Mary Howard was Robert, who was the father of Charles Darwin. Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin was therefore uncle to Charles Darwin.
From things that my grandmother said over the years, the jar became known as the Charles Darwin tobacco jar. However, I now question that supposition as without any firm evidence or proof what she said means nothing at all. I am of the opinion that the owner of the jar may have been Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin, Francis Darwin Huish's grandfather. I have no proof of this, but even so, his story is an interesting one.  
Francis Darwin Huish's grandfather - Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin 
Sir Francis was Erasmus Darwin and Elizabeth’s most unruly, wild child. He went to Emanuel College, Cambridge and became a doctor. After Cambridge, in 1808, he embarked on an adventurous two year journey via Spain to Greece and Turkey. He set off on his travels with four other companions, all of whom died on the journey. In his diary Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin tells his story as if it were quite normal to spend a small fortune on almost suicidal voyages and expeditions, interrupted by fatal and near fatal illnesses, in a war zone where every ship sighted was a threat from robbers and privateers. He loved adventure for its own sake, but was also a born naturalist. His pencil followed a keen eye, where rock and mineral, plant and beast were concerned as readily as when it portrayed an archaeological site or displayed the costumes he saw in Greece and Turkey. Arriving in Smyrna at the height of the Plague gave him the opportunity to watch the progress of the disorder in several English sailors who had been on shore. He visited the local Armenian and Greek hospitals, where numbers were dying daily. At a later date, Sir Francis, wanting more experience of the Plague took charge of several Smyrna hospitals.
When Sir Francis returned home he practised as a doctor in Lichfield where his father Erasmus had also been in practice. He married and had 10 children, and was knighted in 1820 by George lV. He loved country life so much that when he was 36 years old he decided to give up working as a doctor and went to live at Sydnope Hall situated in a remote area of north Derbyshire where he lived for 25 years. His home was full of animal oddities including tame snakes, and he kept what is known as a sounder of wild Boars in his wood. Before he died, he moved to Breadsall Priory, near Derby, which had been the home that had once belonged to his father, Erasmus Darwin.
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In the 19th century friendships were strong within the family. Cousin marriage was not uncommon in Britain at that time though why is debated: poorer communications, keeping wealth within the family.
Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin's early intrepid travels, his short time practising as a doctor, and then his retirement to Sydnope Hall surrounded by his menagerie of strange animals must surely have made him a 'Darwin family character', but I wonder what Charles Darwin thought of his uncle? I do, however, have two clues. The first was found in a letter written by Charles Darwin, which is held in the Cambridge University Darwin Correspondence Project. In the letter Charles Darwin writes to W.D. Fox who was his second cousin and also a fellow student at Cambridge regarding a visit that they had both made to Sir Francis’s home at Sydnope Hall in Derbyshire. 
Letter extract from Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox:-
"Secondly I have been struck with surprise in comparing my memoranda how often crossed animals are said to be very wild, even wilder than either parent: I have thought I would just put a foot-note to this effect, giving my cases: my memory, which I dare not trust, tells me that the cross from wild Boar and common pig at Sydnope Hall was wilder than the wild Boar: do you remember anything of this? I refer to our, very memorable visit to Sydnope Hall". 
The second clue was seen whilst visiting Charles Darwin's home, Down House in Kent, where we saw an oil painting of Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin hanging on his dining room wall alongside other celebrated Darwin family members.

39 comments:

  1. Both the tobacco jar itself, and the connection to the Darwin family (and your own descent of course) are more than a little interesting. This would be a fascinating article to take to the Antiques Road Show!

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    1. I would delighted if I could claim any descent from the Darwin family but our connection is only through the marriage of my grandmother's aunt.
      However, this Palissyware made by Manuel Cipriano Gomes is highly collectible.

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  2. Well anyway, it is a very nice tobacco jar.

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  3. Fascinating story and detective work! I can see why that tobacco jar is a prized family possession. Sir Francis really was quite a character!

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    1. I agree, he was an extraordinary character - one of his colleagues was murdered in Spain just a couple of weeks into their two year adventure.

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  4. I'm terrified of snakes so will have to class myself in the 'hate it' group. I love the history of that amazing Darwin family though!
    I bet Charles enjoyed relating stories about his rather unusual uncle. . . . . .and then of course Charles became so well known
    himself ! Rosemary - you tell the most interesting stories. I'n curious as to where you display this family heirloom in your home, also what are the dimensions?

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    1. All of these Darwin's stem from the amazing Erasmus Darwin who was such an important figure. He was one of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment during the mid 18th century, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor and poet.
      I am so pleased that you found the story interesting Mary. it took quite a lot of research, but I am now able to keep a copy of it in the jar, so that others will be able to read what I found. The internet is amazing - I have also discovered that I can buy a rare copy of Sir Francis's journal. He set off at the start of his two year adventure from Falmouth where he paid 20 guineas for his crossing to La Coruna. Somewhere that I have visited and I remember you too went there.
      At the moment I have the jar sitting on a low table amongst several of my other oddities. The jar is about the same size as the photograph on this post.

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  5. Dearest Rosemary,
    What an interesting heirloom of the Darwin family have you gotten passed on by your Paternal Grandmother's Aunt!
    Quite a story, wild as the animals themselves and full of adventure.
    Love the Tobacco Jar, it is an incredible piece of Majolica!
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - I am pleased that you like the tobacco jar, but I do know that it is not to everyone's taste. Sir Francis Sacheveral Darwin was a great adventurer, I think that an interesting film could be made about his early exploits often into the unknown.

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  6. A family keepsake well worth holding onto.

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    1. I have had it for a long, long, time, but it will be passed on to another member of the family one day.

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  7. If it didn't belong to Charles Darwin then it certainly should have done! If it had to belong to someone else then let it be Sir Francis; he has such an interesting story.

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed his story - he certainly appears to have been a very intriguing character.

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  8. So cool to put your research (amazing and true) inside the beautifully crafted jar!

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    1. Perhaps someone will enjoy reading it one day when they take off the lid.

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  9. This is fascinating and I like the idea of the doctor who retired to the country and kept a wide assortment of animals. I hope you keep that tobacco jar safe so it survives many more family generations.

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    1. He appears to have lead a fascinating life - of course he was obviously financially very well endowed in order to have been able to live as he did, but that in no way detracts from his intrepid, adventurous, spirit.

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  10. Hello Rosemary, I have been looking forward to the history of your majolica snake tobacco jar, since you mentioned it some time ago, and I must say that I am not disappointed. The Darwins were a remarkable family, and you can be proud of your connection to them. Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin is my kind of ideal person--he lived only according to his own rules, yet was a part of and an asset to society.

    The jar itself is very attractive, and puts my meager fake majolica snake trays to shame. A perfect example of a fascinating object with an attached fascinating provenance and history.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - when you say fake majolica are talking about modern copies?
      I have recently enjoyed discovering so much more about Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin by reading the journal that he wrote following his intrepid travels and adventures. It's a really great read and page turner.

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  11. WOW what an amazing story! I love Antiques Roadshow and I love the stories that accompany so many wonderful objects. I know most of them are just family stories and without provenance they can't be given credit, but I always think there must be some element of truth for them to last so long being passed down the family line. Best, Jane x

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    1. Everything in this story is factually correct, but even so it is impossible for me to be able to verify which Darwin member this tobacco jar actually belonged to. It could have belonged to Francis Darwin Huish the husband of my grandmother's aunt, or his mother Francis Darwin, a daughter of Sir Francis Sacheveral Darwin or to Sir Frances himself, but we assume that it came from someone in that line of the Darwin family.

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  12. Wow such an interesting family history and whoever the piece belonged to it is certainly not leaving one indifferent upon seeing it . In my case I think the jar is awesome .

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    1. Thanks Jane - this jar is a bit like marmite - you either love it or hate it!

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    1. There seem to be more people that like it than don't.

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  14. Wow.... connected to the Darwin family.

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  15. What an amazing story and amazing jar.

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    1. I think he was one of life's unique characters.

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  16. Lovely jar and a interesting story too!
    Titti

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  17. Your jar is a fascinating keepsake despite some people’s opinion of it. What and exciting and eccentric life Sir Francis lived.....I enjoyed every word of his many adventures.

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    1. Some of our early explorers and adventurers were unbelievable - it takes courage and a lot of spirit to travel off into the unknown especially when information and protection from disease was so limited at that time.

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  18. I love the majolica ceramic pieces, they are always so beautiful.
    Wonderful jar and a very interesting family history.
    Greetings
    Maria

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    1. Thank you Maria - this jar was of course, as you know, made in your country. There is something very similar that I saw in the museum in Lisbon.

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  19. What a lot of research required to prepare this post, Rosemary! A very interesting story and connection with this famous name.
    The jar is a special item to have in your family especially for it's history. It is attractive in it's detail.

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    1. There is so much information that you can find on the internet these days, which does greatly assist. I imagine that the fact that he was quite a character in a well known family helped too.

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