Ailing Priscilla

Because of continuing ill-health Priscilla moved to Ipswich in 1813 to live near her daughter Bell. But it appears she left alone and husband Edward was not included in the removal. Over time Edward Wakefield had become an increasingly shadowy figure whose presence seemed more of an irritant to Priscilla especially when he chose to ‘stay down’ (downstairs) when she wanted to write. Edward died in 1826, the same year his grandsons Edward Gibbon and William Wakefield would be tried and convicted for the abduction of a young woman in a failed elopement plan.

Priscilla spent the remaining 19 years of her life in Ipswich. Her health greatly deteriorated and was of such concern that she was not told immediately told of Catherine’s marriage in 1823 for fear of the excitement. (A Sort of a Conscience, p. 76) She died in September 1832 as the former convict Edward Gibbon Wakefield was reinventing himself as a colonial reformer.

In his publication A Letter from Sydney, published in 1829, a fictional character visits his Grandmother who is quite possibly modelled on Priscilla.

“Just before I embarked at Plymouth, I visited my grandmother, in order to take leave of her for ever. Poor old soul! She was already dead to the concerns of this life ; my departure could make but little difference in the time of our separation, and in regard to her affection for me, it could be of no importance to her which of us should quit the other. My resolution, however revived her for a day all her woman’s feelings. She shed an abundance of tears, and then became extremely curious to know every particular about the place I was going. I rubbed her spectacles whilst she wiped her eyes, and having places before her a common English chart of the world, pointed out the situation of New Holland.”

A digital copy of A Letter from Sydney can be found here



An amanuensis is ‘a literary assistant, especially one who writes from dictation’. The Ladies Museum Monthly (see below) states that Priscilla’s final three books were written by an amanuensis.

The last three of Priscilla’s books were An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insect, 1816, A Brief Memoir of the life of William Penn, 1816 and Traveller in Asia, 1817. However this may not reflect the actual time they were written.

But, reading Priscilla’s books chronologically it is clear that a change is taking place in the writing style.  The Traveller in Africa, 1814 possibly being a critical point in that transition. By the end of the book gone is the sparkle and freshness of The Juvenile Travellers and Excursions in North America.  One  telling aspect is the apparent careless abandonment of the character of Sancho who was separated from his friend Arthur in Africa and not referred to again. The critical question is who may have been the literary assistant and where was the line drawn between dictation and writing?  Was it daughter Bell or granddaughter Catherine or another family member?

Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 6:36 am  Comments (1)  


In the years following 1810 Priscilla’s physical health began to decline. She seems to have experienced problems with her legs that, according to Philip Temple in A Sort of Conscience, resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair. In 1813 with the assistance of Kitty (Catherine Wakefield) she left her home in Tottenham to live in Ipswich near her daughter Bell.

Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Edward’s children

 Priscilla’s son Edward Wakefield was married twice. First to Susannah Crush in 1791 and following is a list of their children. After Susan’s death he married Frances Davies in 1822.

Catherine Gurney (1793-1873)

Edward Gibbon (1796-1862)

Daniel Bell (1798-1858)

Arthur (1799-1843)

William Hayward (1801-1848)

John Howard (1803-1862)

Felix (1807-1875)

Priscilla (1809-1887)

Percy (1810-1832)

Un-named (1813)

 Source: A Sort of Conscience The Wakefields, Philip Temple, Auckland University Press, 2002.

Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 8:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Grandmother’s concerns

Priscilla spent long periods of time looking after the older children of her son Edward and daughter-in-law Susan. The eldest Catherine (sometimes called Kitty) seems to have been a relatively easy child unlike her brother Edward Gibbon who would cause Priscilla to write:

‘My dear little Edward still a disgrace. My heart years to forgive him: he has some fine qualities, but he is a character that requires delicate handling.’ Journal February 14 1807.

Latter that year;

‘Edward Gibbon left Tottenham, and my protection, for the dangers and temptations of Westminster School’. Journal 12 December 1807.

As Priscilla had predicted the education of Edward Gibbon would be a fraught and difficult affair.

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Catherine comes to stay

In 1799 Priscilla’s son Edward moved his growing family to Burnham and the next year 7 year old Kitty came to say. Priscilla would superintend her education.  But the commitment would lead her to write, ‘my literary efforts have been greatly suspended. “The Travellers” are still unpublished. I have written a few Dialogues for a new work, and one story for another: my reading has likewise been confined.’

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Catherine Gurney Wakefield

Catherine (1793-1873), (known as a young child as Kitty) was the first child of Edward and Susan and Priscilla’s first grandchild. She was born in London two years after her parents married and it would be three years before her brother Edward Gibbon was born followed by eight other siblings. When her mother’s health deteriorated Catherine and Edward Gibbon lived for long periods with Priscilla who took responsibility for their education.  The task of caring for small children put demands on Priscilla’s time, ‘my literary efforts have been greatly suspended. The Travellers are still unpublished. I have written a few Dialogues for a new work, and one story for another: my reading has likewise confined’.  A portrait of Catherine in 1800 was painted by a French woman refugee and is inserted in Irma O’Connor’s biography of Edward Gibbon. Catherine at seven has dark hair and eyes and a rather serious expression.

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment