Cornish connections with 1790s radical and literary circles: Part 2

Categories Cornish Women's History

This is the second of two linked articles and focuses on the life and Cornish connections of the poet Ann Batten Cristall. You can find the previous article on Eliza Fenwick here.

Ann Batten Cristall’s mother Elizabeth was the daughter of the Penzance merchant John Batten and his wife Anne whose brother Christopher Nichols was a victualler. One of Elizabeth’s brothers Joseph Batten was a dissenting minister and poet who published an elegy on the death of Thomas Vigurs in 1774 which was printed by the Falmouth bookseller Matthew Allison. The possibly formative influence of these family relationships on Ann Batten Cristall’s development as a poet and one of her later places of residence are identified here for the first time. In March 1795 Ann Batten Cristall’s volume of Poetical sketches was published by Joseph Johnson.

The Batten and Cristall families

Ann’s father Alexander Cristall was a ship’s captain when he met Elizabeth Batten of Penzance. Alexander Cristall was born in Scotland in the early 1720s. Following the Jacobite uprising of the mid-1740s Cristall, who was a mariner, moved to London where in January 1754 he married Margaret Gordon in the ‘scotch church’ at Stepney. During the Seven Years’ War Cristall commanded the privateer British Queen. The action in which Cristall’s ship was eventually captured and taken to St Malo in May 1762 lasted for six hours, three of his ship’s crew were killed and five wounded; the British Queen had been returning to London from Guadaloupe. By the end of the war Cristall was a widower with a 6 year old son John. Cristall’s new ship the Hunter was initially sailed in the coastal trade between London and Penzance, and also called at Penzance when returning from the straits of Gibraltar.

In April 1767 Captain Alexander Cristall was described as of Aldgate in London when he married Elizabeth Batten at Penzance. After marrying the Cristalls lived in Alexander’s home on Swan Street at the Minories in Aldgate where they had three children in 1768-71. Elizabeth Cristall returned to Penzance in 1769 where Ann Batten Cristall was born; Elizabeth gave her first daughter her mother’s name after the elder Ann Batten died in that year. After the Hunter ran aground on the Kent coast in 1770 Alexander Cristall decided to change profession and established a mast, sail, and block-making business at Hanover Stairs in Rotherhithe in a riverside yard which became known as ‘Cristall’s wharf’ by the early 1800s; the Cristalls moved to live south of the Thames at Lewisham where their two younger sons were christened in 1774-6. Alexander’s son from his first marriage John Cristall followed in his father’s footsteps and was a mariner who captained East India Company ships. Alexander and Elizabeth’s younger sons Joseph and Alexander Cristall worked alongside their father and later continued to occupy commercial premises in Rotherhithe where Joseph Cristall and his sons had a ship breaking business which was still operating in the 1850s.

Aged 14 in 1782, Alexander and Elizabeth’s first child together, Joshua Cristall was apprenticed to the ‘chinaman’ William Hewson in Aldgate. From the mid-1780s it is likely that the Cristalls spent time with the family of Elizabeth’s brother Joseph Batten who was appointed minister of the Independent chapel in Back Street, Southwark in 1786. Reverend Joseph Batten was a widower with young children whose eldest child 8 year old Joseph Hallett Batten attended St Paul’s school. Elizabeth Cristall and her two teenage daughters Ann Batten and Elizabeth may have helped with the care and early education of Joseph’s children until he married for a second time to Elizabeth Ellis in 1790. Reverend Joseph Batten may have encouraged Ann Batten Cristall to read and write poetry. The elegy published by Joseph Batten in 1774 had been for the young man Thomas Vigurs whom he described as ‘my darling Friend’ while expressing spiritual acceptance of death. One of Ann Batten Cristall’s poems was an elegy for an unnamed imaginary young woman in which Cristall’s poetic voice was as a musician narrating a tragic myth which also ended with a spiritual acceptance of death.

It was during the late 1780s that Joshua and Ann Batten Cristall began to make friends and acquaintances in London’s radical and literary circles. By 1788 they had become acquainted with Mary Wollstonecraft, who returned to live in London to establish herself as a writer in 1787. At the end of Joshua Cristall’s apprenticeship he was offered the opportunity to go into business with William Hewson but chose instead to pursue his ambition to be an artist. Wollstonecraft compared Joshua’s circumstances to those of her brother Charles and urged Cristall to consider the impact that his decisions might have on Ann Batten Cristall:

Pursue your studies, practice as much as you can, but do not think of depending on painting for a subsistence before you know the first rudiments of the art – I know that you earnestly wish to be the friend and protector of your amiable sister and hope no inconsiderate act or thoughtless mode of conduct will add to her cares – for her comfort very much depends on you.

In 1790 Joshua Cristall accepted a position painting china at Thomas Turner’s porcelain factory in Shropshire. Joshua Cristall travelled and sketched to develop designs for Thomas Turner and visited Cornwall in the early 1790s where he painted St Michael’s Mount. During this time Wollstonecraft did not seek the company of Ann Batten Cristall whom she perceived as highly strung, writing to Joshua Cristall that

I have seldom seen your Sister since you left town I fear her situation is still very uncomfortable I wish she could obtain a little more strength of mind I am afraid she gives way to her feelings more than she ought to do.

Joshua Cristall’s employment in Shropshire coincided with Reverend Joseph Batten’s second marriage which may have had an impact on Ann Batten Cristall.

When the merchant John Batten died at Penzance in 1792 his will made a bequest to his daughter Elizabeth Cristall and then to her children which he stipulated should not be subject to the control of her husband. At the same time the death of his father may have been one of the factors which led Reverend Joseph Batten and his family to return to live in Cornwall where his eldest son Joseph Hallett Batten attended Truro Grammar School before going to Cambridge University. Reverend Joseph Batten of Penzance and his eldest son were later listed as subscribers to Ann Batten Cristall’s Poetical sketches. In 1815 Joseph Batten wrote a 78 line poetic ‘sketch’ of Penzance which was published anonymously by a later Thomas Vigurs who was a bookseller and printer in Penzance, and the brother of John Vigurs who had befriended Eliza Fenwick. This poem reveals Joseph Batten as someone who accepted the science of geology which had emerged in his lifetime as well as the education of girls including in science.

Joshua, Ann, and Elizabeth Cristall all developed their talents with the aspiration of earning their living in creative industries. Joshua Cristall returned to London where he studied part time at the Royal Academy schools from 1792, Ann wrote poetry, and Elizabeth developed skills as an engraver. Some women exhibited at the Royal Academy from its inception in the 1760s but women’s access to training at the schools was in practice restricted by cultural barriers and only Joshua Cristall trained there. The Cristalls had friends who were Jacobins and supporters of the revolution in France from 1789. These included George Dyer, the politically radical Cambridge educated son of a London shipwright, who was a Baptist minister and published poet who earned his living partly by teaching. Elizabeth Cristall’s engravings included a portrait of George Dyer drawn by Joshua Cristall which is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

It may have been George Dyer who introduced Ann Batten Cristall to the publisher Joseph Johnson who held regular dinner parties for his authors. Cristall’s Poetical sketches was published by Joseph Johnson in March 1795. The volume shared the same title as William Blake’s first book of poems; in her preface Cristall revealed her admiration for the ‘poetic energy’ of Robert Burns and the ‘simple elegance’ of some of George Dyer’s poems. The final poem of Ann Batten Cristall’s Poetical sketches was addressed directly to Dyer. Cristall’s poems were mostly not political but the ‘Ode on truth’ acknowledged Dyer’s calls for ‘Pity, Liberty, and Peace’ as well as his ambition.

The 1795 book included a frontispiece engraving by Joshua Cristall. The volume was a substantial collection of 24 poems some of which contained several parts or songs. The book appeared with a list of culturally influential subscribers including John Aikin who shortly afterwards became the first editor of the Monthly magazine; the writer Amelia Alderson who married the Cornish painter John Opie in May 1798; the poet and slave trade abolitionist Anna Barbauld; George Dyer; the writer Mary Hays; the writer and political reformer Ann Jebb; the poet Samuel Rogers; Dr John Wolcot who had fostered and promoted John Opie as an artist in Cornwall and London; and Mary Wollstonecraft and her sister Everina who was a close friend of Ann Batten Cristall. The Cristalls remained on friendly terms with William Hewson and his wife who also both subscribed to the Poetical sketches.

The publication and distribution of Cristall’s Poetical sketches was advertised in newspapers; it received attention and was reviewed in England and America. Three of Cristall’s poems were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in April and October 1795. Other magazines republished one of the poems with their reviews which initially welcomed a new poetic voice perceived as having ‘genius, and warmth of imagination’ or ‘genius, sentiment, and pathos’ alongside critical concerns about the occasional irregularities of form which made Cristall’s poetry more directly expressive of feeling. Cristall animated, personnified, and emoted elements of the natural world leading a later critic in the Monthly reviewto prosaically itemise several instances of unnaturalistic descriptions or mixed metaphor. Periodical reviews were generally anonymous and Cristall may not have found it easy to cope with the critical comments knowing that such reviews were written by many of her literary acquaintances.

In 1796 when Mary Wollstonecraft was in London after her relationship with Gilbert Imlay ended she once again socialised with Ann Batten Cristall. In June 1796 the radical political philosopher William Godwin had tea at Mary Wollstonecraft’s with Ann Batten Cristall. On another occasion, as Wollstonecraft’s relationship with Godwin developed, she sent a note saying her sister Everina was spending the day with Ann Batten Cristall and she would dine with him ‘If you please’.

Following publication of the Poetical sketches, Mary Hays and George Dyer provided further introductions for Joshua and Ann Batten Cristall. In April 1796 Mary Hays held a tea party attended by William Blake and Joshua Cristall amongst others. George Dyer considered Ann Batten Cristall had ‘a very fine talent for poetry’ which merited cultivation and urged Mary Hays to collaborate with Cristall in writing ‘an excellent poetical novel’. The suggestion that Ann Batten Cristall might have a talent for storytelling in verse was understandable since, as the Annual Register’s reviewer noted, many of Cristal’s poems blended ‘the narrative and the descriptive’. The poetic narratives ranged from a conversation in which a father eventually forgave his unmarried daughter for allowing herself to be seduced to tales of invented mythological characters.

In March 1797 George Dyer introduced Ann Batten Cristall and Mary Hays to Robert Southey who then made his friend the Bristol bookseller Joseph Cottle aware of Cristall’s poetry:

But Miss Christall have you seen her poems? – a fine, artless, sensible girl, now Cottle that word sensible must not be construed in its dictionary acceptation. ask a Frenchman what it means and he will understand it tho perhaps no circumlocution explain its French meaning. her heart is alive. she loves Poetry – she loves retirement – she loves the country. her verses are very incorrect & the Literary Circle say she has no genius. but she has Genius, Joseph Cottle! or there is no truth in physiognomy.

Two years later George Dyer promised Southey that both Amelia Opie and Ann Batten Cristall would write for Southey’s Annual Anthology but only Amelia Opie did so.

Reading between the lines of the comments made by Wollstonecraft and Southey as well as Ann Batten Cristall’s poems it is possible that Cristall had an unhappy love affair or unrequited attachment. In the late 1790s Cristall would have been aware of the mixed reception of Mary Hays’ novel the Memoirs of Emma Courtney in which Hays described her unreciprocated attraction to William Frend, and the fact that Hays’ conduct was then satirised by Charles Lloyd in his novel Edmund Oliver (1798) and by Elizabeth Hamilton in her novel The modern philosophers (1800). In 1796 Hamilton had ended her friendship with Mary Hays because of the way in which Hays had reviewed Hamilton’s fictional Translations of the letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796). George Dyer withheld some of his poems from publication in 1802 so that ‘Every thing of personal encomium is here suppressed, except of persons now no more. No name of individuals now living is made free with …’. In this literary environment it is possible that if Ann Batten Cristall wrote for publication after 1795 she chose to do so anonymously and was careful in her choice of editors or publishers.

Joshua Cristall succeeded in pursuing a career as an artist. He lived at 28 Surrey Street with his sister Elizabeth and was one of the artists helped by the London physician Dr Thomas Monro who provided open house materials and meals for aspiring artists in exchange for gifts of paintings. Joshua Cristall received a legacy after his parents died in January and February 1802, and travelled in Wales where he completed landscape paintings. From 1803 Joshua Cristall exhibited at the Royal Society; he was one of the founding members of the Watercolour Society in the same year. Joshua Cristall was unwell in the mid-1800s but enjoyed success with the large paintings he completed while recuperating on the Sussex coast. Joshua Cristall’s financial circumstances improved after he married Elizabeth Cossins, who had an independent income, in 1812. Elizabeth Cossins had operated a girls’ school in the Manor House on Paddington Green. Cristall renewed the lease of the Manor House where they lived for the first ten years of their marriage, and later moved to live in the Wye valley in 1722-39. After Joshua Cristall was widowed he initially continued to live at Goodrich where he was listed in the 1841 census but later returned to live in London where he died in 1847.

Alexander Cristall’s will in 1802 left half his estate to his two daughters and half to his four sons. The will did not include Alexander’s reasons. Men sometimes sought to provide a sufficient income for daughters whom they considered might remain single or to improve their daughters’ future marriage prospects by ensuring they had assets. Alexander may have wanted to ensure ‘Nancy’ and Elizabeth’s independence from their brothers given his executor John was married with children and sailed long-distance routes, Joshua was pursuing an uncertain career as an artist, Joseph was already married with children, and Alexander may have intended to marry as he did in the year following his father’s death.

The later locations of Ann Batten Cristall

Ann Batten Cristall was noted in Godwin’s diary, and the letters of Mary Wollstonecraft and of George Dyer as present at social gatherings in London up to and including 1797; and she was described by Dyer as possibly writing for publication in 1799. Ann Batten Cristall may have left London in the late 1790s or early 1800s. Ann Batten Cristall’s probate described her as formerly of Maidenhead Thicket in Berkshire; then of Haileybury in Hertfordshire; and lastly of Lewisham Hill, Blackheath where her parental family had lived from the 1770s. Maidenhead Thicket on the Bath road from London was notorious for its highway robbers and atmospheric ancient woodlands. After Ann Batten Cristall received her parental inheritance if she had wanted tranquility and solitude to write in the countryside near one of the coach roads to London a cottage at Maidenhead Thicket might have met her requirements.

Aged 30 in 1799 Ann Batten Cristall may not have been confident of earning her future income as a writer and she may have taken a position as a family governess or schoolmistress. By 1810 Cary’s new itinerary identified the main properties in Maidenhead Thicket as

near the entrance of the Thicket on l. Miss Lowndes; and at a distance from the Road is Heywood Lodge, – Sawyer, Esq.; and at Maidenhead Thicket, on l. see the Spire of Shottesbrook Church, near to which is a Seat of Arthur Vansittart, Esq. Near the End of the Thicket on l. Pinke Lee, Esq.; and Woolley Hall, Rev. Mr. Palmer; and opposite Stubbins, Lord Dorchester.

Among the subscribers to Ann Batten Cristall’s Poetical sketcheswas the Hackney independent minister Samuel Palmer, a Mr J. Palmer of America, a Mrs Palmer, and a Miss Palmer of Bedford which was Samuel Palmer’s home town; from 1780 Samuel Palmer kept a boarding school in London and one of his sons is known to have been a schoolmaster at Chigwell in Essex. It is not impossible that there might have been a connection between one or more of Cristall’s subscribers named Palmer and the ordained occupant in 1810 of the mansion house Woolley Hall near Maidenhead Thicket; Woolley Hall was advertised as available to let in 1815. By the time of the 1841 census if not before a private school was located at Maidenhead Thicket.

As time went on members of Ann Batten Cristall’s family obtained influential positions in education. In 1819 Ann Batten Cristall witnessed the Rotherhithe wedding of her niece Mary Cristall to John Charles Tarver who later taught French at Eton College. Reverend Joseph Batten’s two sons were ordained. In 1820 Reverend Samuel Ellis Batten married Caroline Venn whose father Reverend John Venn was an influential member of the evangelical Clapham Sect and abolitionist. Reverend Joseph Hallett Batten was employed for over thirty years at Haileybury College, initially as a professor of classics in 1806-15 and then as principal in 1815-37.

Haileybury

Many future senior officials of Britain’s expanding empire were trained at the East India Company College in Haileybury which opened in 1806; the College stood in open countryside and landscaped grounds designed by Humphry Repton.

Thomas Medland; The south front of the College at Haileybury, Herts, 1810. © British Library board K Top volume 15, number 74.

Haileybury College was an intellectual and cultural community organised like an Oxford or Cambridge college. Before being appointed as a professor at Haileybury College, Batten had been elected as a Cambridge fellow. During his time at Haileybury College Joseph Hallett Batten was made a Doctor of Divinity by royal mandate and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. The professors at Haileybury College were specialists in their subjects which included non-European languages, classics, history and political economy, and some arts. There were generally 30 students aged 17 plus completing two years’ study at the College; the teaching day finished at 2pm. Some professors combined teaching there with substantial intellectual or creative output. The drawing tutor Thomas Medland was an engraver and watercolourist who produced the print above and exhibited at the Royal Academy where he would have been known to Joshua Cristall. All of the students, teaching, and administrative staff of the College were men; only their family households and the College’s domestic staff included women.

By the 1830s the teaching staff at Haileybury included individuals with an interest in the potential of descriptive economic and social sciences and their application to policy and administration. The population theorist Thomas Malthus taught there; he invited Harriet Martineau to visit Haileybury College where she found the prolific contributor to and later editor of the Edinburgh Review William Empson, was also a professor. Aged in her early thirties Harriet Martineau found the College congenial and her visit to Thomas Malthus and his wife was the first of several she made there. Recalling her first stay at Haileybury College in her autobiography written over forty years later Martineau described an institutional environment which in August combined the rural recreations, ‘summer evening parties’, and domestic services of a country house with tranquil time to work and study:

the families of the other professors made up a very pleasant society … every facility was indeed afforded for my work. My room was a large and airy one with a bay window and a charming view; and the window side of the room was fitted up with all completeness with desk, books, and everything I could possibly want … Almost daily we went forth when work was done – a pleasant riding party of five or six.

Joseph Hallett Batten and his family initially occupied half of the ‘old manor house’ at Haileybury and then lived in the Principal’s house. Batten was married to Catherine Maxwell who had been born in Quebec to parents who were Scots; the Battens had five sons and five daughters. Their sons were educated at boarding schools and went to university; four later entered the employment of the East India Company. After Joseph Hallett Batten died in 1837 his widow and some of his children, daughters in law, and grandchildren lived in Paddington in London, and in several cases remained in London while their fathers were working overseas in postings for the East India Company.

At Haileybury Ann Batten and Elizabeth Cristall probably lived with their cousin’s family and may have done so for almost three decades. The Cristall sisters would have been adult female companions for Catherine Batten as well as at College social gatherings, and may have assisted with the education at home of the Battens’ children the youngest of whom was aged 10 when his father died in 1837. Ann Batten Cristall may have found the opportunities, social milieu, and ethos of Haileybury conducive to writing; if she continued to write for publication she did so anonymously or using a pseudonym.

Lewisham Hill, Blackheath

Leland Lewis Duncan; A short history of Colfe’s grammar school Lewisham (London- printed by Charles North, the Blackheath Press).

After leaving Haileybury Ann Batten Cristall lived on Lewisham Hill with her sister Elizabeth to whom Ann bequeathed her estate a decade later. Elizabeth Cristall had not developed a career as an engraver although some of her engravings are extant. In the 1841 census both sisters were described as of ‘independent’ means. The sisters’ home was listed between ‘White Cottage’ occupied by the schoolmistresses Christiana and Mary Burn and boarding schoolchildren, and Reverend Joseph Prendergast the headmaster of Colfe’s School in Lewisham in 1831-57.

Colfe’s school was illustrated in the print above c.1830; it is possible that ‘White Cottage’ was the white painted timber boarded property adjoining the headmaster’s house and that Ann and Elizabeth Cristall’s home was part of, or near to, the same group of buildings. Elizabeth Cristall was listed as occupying a separate household next to Reverend Joseph Prendergast’s residence which was identified as ‘Lewisham Hill Grammar School’ in the 1851 census; neither census listed any pupils or domestic servants as resident in the Cristalls’ household. In 1853 Elizabeth Cristall’s estate included savings of over £600 which was not inconsiderable at the time.

 

Author’s note. With thanks to the Morrab Library, Penzance for copy of Penzance; – a sketch (Penzance: T. Vigurs, 1815); the British Library; and the National Archives. Mary Wollstonecraft’s correspondence is published in Janet Todd (ed), The collected letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Allen Lane, 2003). Searchable transcriptions of the diaries of William Godwin, the letters of Robert Southey, and the correspondence of Mary Hays are published online.

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Charlotte MacKenzie lives in Cornwall where she is a freelance historical researcher and writer. Her current research is on women and eighteenth century Cornwall. Charlotte won the 2016 Cardew Rendle prize awarded by the Royal Cornwall Museum and published an article in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall online journal Troze in December 2016. She was previously a senior lecturer in history at Bath Spa University.

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