Saturday, 16 March 2013

Putting the Jigsaw Pieces Together * Scottish Samplers in New Zealand

In summer of last year we posted an article about this sampler by Mary Meikle that is now in the collection of the Wyndham and District Historical Museum in New Zealand. Stitched in 1836, probably in Lanarkshire Scotland, it journeyed along with its family to the other end of the earth. Typically Scottish is marked with a singular version of Solomon's Temple at the base. And this is how blogging and sharing information across the world all begins to get a little bit exciting.
Quite by accident, I found that someone had picked up on this post and used it to illustrate a sampler in their own collection. By the way, while I am on the subject, I am not at all precious about our images being put to good use for research or educational purposes - that is the real purpose of the Needleprint blog. (The only occasion when I am not happy is when our images are taken and used for commercial gain in any way.) Back to our story! Another New Zealander, Donald, writes: I am indeed fortunate to have inherited a large 18 inch square embroidered sampler worked in 1833. His sampler which you can see above is in good condition for its age, being worked on a backing of typically coarse weave linen which has darkened slightly with age. Being framed behind thin glass in a very old polished wood frame will at least will have kept dust and grime to a minimum. For at least the last 90 years it has always been hung in dark hall-ways well away from direct sunlight. Ownership of this sampler has always been retained by family descendants. Recent research on the history and format of samplers now firmly points to it being worked by Miss Helen Dougal, then aged about 16 years, and residing at Marshill Farm, Draffan [Drafan] in Lesmahagow Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The names of her parents, Thomas Dougal and Mary Dykes, appear along the top of the sampler. Helen has also made a point of highlighting her own name in full but only the initials of her six siblings, all being born between 1817 and 1831. The initials of her Father and his own siblings born between 1781 and 1798 have also been included. Marrying Thomas Watson of 'Muirhead' Farm, Dalserf Parish in 1843, Helen Dougal died in May 1882 while in a state of "melancholia" after the death of her husband in October 1881. Both were interred in Dalserf Parish Churchyard. Unfortunately there is no known photo of Helen. The sampler was then brought out to New Zealand in 1886 by Helen's daughter, Miss Helen Watson. It has subsequently passed to me, being a Great Great Great Nephew of Helen Dougal. This sampler is primarily in a traditional two-tone green, white and gold colour scheme. A skillfully executed decorative border surrounds the work. Notably visible among the many motifs are the large Scotch thistle signifying Scottish ancestry, two doves perched on a heart over the words "Amor" signifying love, and a number of birds and animals. In the centre are the words of the almost obligatory 'moral verse', in this case : "Be virtuous while thou art young so shall thine age be honoured" This verse is attributed to Robert Dodsley in his 1750 work "The Economy of Human Life", being frequently reprinted in subsequent years including in "Elegant Extracts in Prose : Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons" published in 1816 which ran to at least 10 reprints. Rather than including the conventional elements of a sampler such as the alphabet and number sequences, this particular sampler has helpfully been designed as a genealogical family tree. But additionally, some interesting motifs also appear which have a recognised and deeper meaning. Intriguingly there is also the riddle of "Solomon's Temple". While many samplers include a typical representation of a school house or even of the family home, this sampler specifically includes the words "Solomons Temple" and an image of the 'temple'. This small architectural feature on a sampler is often referred to as "Solomon's Porch". Very similar images are found on samplers of the period and it is generally believed that this was a representation of part of Solomon's Temple which appeared in The King James version of the Bible published by John Field in 1660. Models of the Temple were even made and toured for display. But one factor seems to focus on the year of 1847, and that was the date predicted for the second coming of the Messiah. Therefore the Temple as a symbol of the Christian faith was topical and very much to the fore. We know that Helen Dougal was a Religious and pious woman, I hold three volumes of the sermons of the Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon which were in her possession. This leaves me wondering if both Mary Meikle, who worked this sampler in 1836 and Helen Dougal who worked her sampler in 1833, both lived in Lesmashagow Parish, possibly having the same needlework teacher, or if they worked from a similar pattern book. While still individual works they are quite alike. Even the temple, doves on a heart, flower and Scotch thistle are the same. Mary Meikle, like Helen, has also made a point of highlighting her name in full. I am not an expert on needlework but would welcome any comments on aspects I may have overlooked. Perhaps you have another piece of the jigsaw or additional information that can help?

1 comment:

  1. Surely they must have been stitched at the same school, they are nearly identical! What a wonderful family heirloom Donald has.