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Mary English (née Ballard, later Greenup)

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Mary English (née Ballard, later Greenup)

by William Armfield Hobday
oil on canvas, 1818
29 7/8 in. x 24 3/4 in. (760 mm x 630 mm)
Given by members of the sitter's family in memory of Drusilla Scott, the sitter's great-great-granddaughter, 2013
Primary Collection
NPG 6964

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Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 49 Read entry

    The daughter of a Kentish dockworker, Mary English (1789-1846) was an adventurer and businesswoman. She first travelled to South America with her second husband, General James Towers English, who was fulfilling a contract with Simon Bolívar’s government to recruit and equip a British force of 1,000 men. Six months after reaching Venezuela, having arrived in April 1819, James died. Mary stayed on, as the representative of the bankers Barclay, Herring, Richardson & Co. As a politicised acquaintance of Bolívar’s, Mary was soon at the heart of Bogotá’s social scene. Highly sought after, her third marriage, in 1827, was to the trader William Greenup, with whom she bought a rural estate in Cúcuta, producing cacao for export. In a letter of 1829, written after William returned to England for ten years, she remarks: ‘I am now quite alone … To me this is indifferent as I am not fearful.’ Her letters home, intended for publication in the periodical press, portray her extraordinary life and character. Her papers include a poem in Bolívar’s hand, a signed letter from Bolívar and lock of his hair. In this portrait she is depicted wearing a female version of romantic ‘byronic’ costume, with an orientalising turban and Kashmiri shawl.

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  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 160

Events of 1818back to top

Current affairs

Death of Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, George III's Queen since 1761.
Official enquiry initiated into Queen Caroline's conduct abroad.

Art and science

Mary Shelley anonymously publishes her masterpiece Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus which reflects growing concern about the role of morality in science.
Lord Byron completes his romance Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage, whose gloomy, dissolute hero was probably based on the writer himself.

International

Stamford Raffles acquires authorisation to construct a fort at Singapore marking the beginning of its development as a centre of East-West trade.
Congress of European Alliance at Aix-La-Chapelle. Lord Castlereagh plays a central role in establishing a pan-Europe peace settlement to bring a chastened France back into the world of political respectability.

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