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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Portrait of a remarkable woman

A reader, Emily Smith, has posted a fascinating comment on my post about Jane Gomeldon

When researching the short but interesting life of Sydney Parkinson, draftsman on board Cook's Endeavour, I discovered to my amazement that he had a much loved cousin, Jane Gomeldon, who was not just a (kind of) poet, but a flamboyant feminist, too.

To repeat the nitty-gritty:

Born Middleton, Jane was a Quaker, born in Newcastle to a family of Quaker glassmakers, and because of this background was unusually well educated for a woman of that time. Unfortunately, however, she fell in love with a cad at a very young age, and had the bad judgment to marry him. This was Francis Gomeldon, an officer in a Regiment of Foot.

Quickly realizing her blunder, she fled to France, where she had many adventures in the guise of a man, including paying court to a pretty young nun, who was silly enough to elope with her. In 1740 her estranged husband placed an advertisement in the Newcastle Journal, announcing that she had left him. Jane responded with her own advertisement, describing his cruelty, and accusing him of ransacking the fortune her mother had left her, despite the legal requirement written into it reserving it for her own use. In 1742 she brought a suit against him, on the grounds of cruelty.

Eight years later, her husband died, but -- surprise, surprise -- left nothing to her in his Will. Luckily, it seems, she was still solvent, because after cousin Sydney was hired by Joseph Banks to travel with him, she hatched a plan to voyage on the Endeavour, too. It came to naught, unfortunately. While she would not have been the first woman to go around the world dressed as a man, she certainly would have written a very good book, revealing who knows what ...

Emily pointed me to the British Museum, which holds a portrait of Jane, and also a mezzotint of the portrait.  The mezzo is reprinted above -- next to the famous self-portrait of Sydney.

The family resemblance is truly remarkable.

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