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


The traveller’s final letter

In The Traveller in Asia these are the final words of our traveller Arthur Middleton in a letter to his siblings in England.

‘No one whose excursions have been confined to a watering-place or a summer’s jaunt, in their native country, can imagine the comfort afforded by the prospect of a peaceful home, anticipated by a weary traveller, who has wandered into distant quarters of the globe, encountering the variety of climate in both extremes, and mixed with men of every form of society. It is like the view of land to the ship-wrecked mariner this tranquillity I hope soon to enjoy, as a fleet will sail in a few weeks for England, in which I intend to take my passage, which will render any further communication unnecessary, from your affectionate brother’.  ARTHUR MIDDLETON

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 8:39 am  Leave a Comment  


Priscilla’s final book The Traveller in Asia was published in 1817.  She wrote on the preface: ‘The travels through Europe, Africa and America, that I have already presented to the public, having meet with a favourable reception, I am induced to complete the series by the addition of a visit to Asia ; believing it to be a portion of the globe that contains many objects of peculiar interest, especially British India, where the dearest connexions of such numbers of our countrymen reside.’

In the book Arthur Middleton travels around India and visits China with his impressions and experiences recorded in a journal format. He makes an acquaintance with a Mr Melville who accompanies him on part of the journey and asks Arthur to take charge of his nephew Charles Melville who is fourteen. Arthur and his new companion Charles continue the journey and Priscilla begins to include into the text letters from Charles to his sister Adele. The visit to China at the end of the book is brief in comparison to the volume of information about India. At the end of the book Arthur returns Charles to his uncle and plans his return to England.

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Arthur Middleton’s love life

In the beginning of Priscilla’s last book The Traveller in Asia the reader learns the reason why the character of Arthur Middleton continues his global travels.

‘When Arthur Middleton set out on his travels in Africa, his affections were fixed upon a young lady, who have given him every reason to believe that she felt an equal regard for him ; and although the family reasons prevented her from giving him her hand at the time, she had made a solemn promise to do so at his return. How great then was his surprise and disappointment to find she had become the bride of another, a few months before his arrival in England! The shock unmanned him at first, but a little reflection convinced him, that a woman who was capable of acting in such a faithless manner was not worthy his respect… he therefore gave up all thoughts of marriage, and determined to devote the remainder of his life to his favourite pursuit of exploring foreign countries’.  p.[1]-2.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment  

William Penn

William Penn, Quaker and founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, featured in Priscilla’s first book and was the subject of her penultimate publication. In the first volume of Leisure Hours or Entertaining Dialogues published in 1794 there is a story called the ‘Petition of Gayashuta’. It reproduces the speech the Seneca leader Kayahsotaà made to the descendents of Penn. Penn was held in high regard by the indigenous people because, according to Priscilla, of his religious beliefs and personal qualities of fairness and respect.

A visit to Philadelphia by Arthur Middleton and Henry Franklin was included in the book Excursions in North America published in 1806. Penn is described as a man of ‘wisdom, moderation, justice and humanity’ and that the respect for this memory was so firmly rooted with the Indian people that ‘they are never perfectly satisfied with any treaty, unless some Quakers are present at the conference; for, say they, the descendents of William Penn will never suffer us to be deceived’. (p.15)

In 1816 Priscilla published A Brief Memoir of the Life of William Penn. Compiled for the use of Young Persons. It is an adapted version of the biography by Thomas Clarkson. She describes him above all as ‘a pious Christian’. Priscilla’s biography is followed by a number of Penn’s works.

 A Brief Memoir of the Life of William Penn

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 6:53 am  Leave a Comment  

An Introduction to Natural History

The book, An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insects, in a series of letters with engravings was published in 1816 and is a companion volume to the 1811 Instinct Displayed, in a Collection of Well-Authenticated facts, Exemplifying the Extraordinary Sagacity of Various Species of the Animal Creation. Priscilla returns the sisters Felicia and Constance to their letter-writing activities in their study of insects. This delightful book is illustrated with plates of coloured illustrations.

In the preface she writes:

‘Amongst the beneficial improvements of modern times, few deserve higher estimation, than the increased attention to the education of children of all ranks ; which is generally facilitated by the number and variety of judicious books that have been written for their instruction and amusement. Nonsense has given way to reason ; and useful knowledge, under an agreeable form, has usurped the place of the Histories of Tom Thumb, and Woglog the Giant. No branch of science seems better adapted to this important purpose, than natural history … The success of my “Familiar Introduction to Botany,” has induced me to attempt one on a similar plan, on the pleasing science of Entomology. Believing insects to be quite as interesting as flowers … my acknowledgements are due to Dr Shaw and Mr Barbut, as the principal sources from which I have collected my materials.’

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Moving on

In The Traveller in Africa, published in 1814, Priscilla moves the story of the Middleton family through time to age her characters. At the beginning of the book we are told that Mrs Middleton had died, Catherine was married and Louisa lived with her and that Edwin was studying law. Arthur had attended Cambridge for three years but the changes in his family, especially the death of his mother, had left him alone but also free to pursue his desire for travel.

Although the title suggests a single traveller the character of  Sancho is included in Arthur’s journey to Africa.The circumstances of  Sancho’s life had also changed with the death of his wife.

The progression in the life story of the Middleton family is interesting in itself and reinforces the idea that Priscilla may have been based some of the characters on the Wakefield grandchildren

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Sisters & friends

Some of Priscilla’s books feature a set of characters who are sisters or close friends. Three of the following books are entirely made up of letters. In the two natural history books Felicia is the main correspondent and in Instinct Displayed there is an exchange between the two characters.

1796 Sisters Felicia and Constance in An Introduction to Botany

 1805 Sisters Emily and Lucy in Domestic Recreation

1811 Friends Caroline and Emily in Instinct Displayed

1816 Sisters Felicia and Constance in An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insects

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 10:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

London in detail

Of all Priscilla’s travel books Perambulations in London is the one area of the world that she had personal knowledge having lived there for many years.  But unfortunately Perambulations is almost weighed down with an enormous amount of detailed description of places, streets, houses, buildings, monuments and famous people.  Not unexpectedly, Priscilla’s characters also visit prisons, workhouses, churches, hospitals and laying-in charities. This detail is communicated to the reader in thirty-three letters in five hundred pages. The first letters are from Charles de Vitry to ‘his dear boys’ followed by a series from Eugenius and Philip to school friends Roland and Frederic Spencer. The final thirteen letters are all from Edwin Middleton to Philip and Eugenius. There is only one letter from a female character: Catherine Middleton to her cousin Emma. The enclosed map is titled ‘London, Westminster, Southwark and the New Docks Eastward 1809 Engraved for P. Wakefield’s Perambulations’.

Published in: on July 3, 2010 at 5:01 am  Leave a Comment  


The book Perambulations in London and its Environs; Comprehending an Historical Sketch of the Ancient State, and Progress, of the British Metropolis, a Concise Description of its Present State, Notices of Eminent Persons, and a Short Account of the Surrounding Villages. In Letters, Designed for Young Persons was first published in 1809.

In this book Mrs Middleton fulfils her plan of taking the family on a tour of London. In the scenario the plan had been delayed a number of times because of Arthurs numerous absences. On this occasion he as in Scotland with his friend Henry Franklin and Mrs Middleton decides to proceed without him.

This is an interesting choice. The Middleton family first appear in A Family Tour published in 1804. Arthur Middleton goes on his Excursions in North America in 1806. In Perambulations Arthur is omitted from the family tour of London but will become Priscilla’s main adventurer in two further books.

Priscilla includes a new group of characters, Monsieur Charles de Vitry and his nephews Eugenius and Philip.  Monsieur de Vitry was a Swiss gentleman who had escaped that country and settled in Richmond near the Middleton’s.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm  Leave a Comment