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Pictures in Letters

Why would "Sarah Jane Layard 1850" be inscribed on the first leaf of a sketchbook where the drawings and watercolors are signed with the initials "L. J. M." and span the years 1843 to 1868? The answer to that question explains the compilation of an album of images depicting monuments, a nine-month old baby, botanicals, and landscapes of foreign countries. Further investigation into the biography of Sarah (1792-1885) shows that she had a daughter, Louisa Jane, whose initials appear on the sketches. Louisa married Major-General Henry Joshua Margary (1811-1876), who served in her Majesty's Royal Engineers and was commissioned to India. Louisa Jane Margary (1824-1913) sent her mother, Sarah, pictures from her married life in Aden,Yemen as well as in Poona and Bombay, India. Births and deaths of some the Margarys' sixteen children have been recorded. One ink drawing pasted in the album, entitled "Graves of the little exiles," remembers the sight in Poona where two sons died, Edward Brownlow in 1848 and Cecil Layard in 1855. Louisa also provides a rendering of "Daisy Cottage," one of the Margarys' homes in Belgaum, India in 1844.

A curious watercolor refers to the couple's third-born son, Augustus Raymond Margary (1846-1875). Augustus Raymond was educated in England and became a British diplomat in China. While surveying Asian trade routes from Shanghai to Burma, Augustus was murdered in 1875; his death caused an international incident know as the "Margary Affair." On the watercolor in the album is written in pencil: "Dear Augustus' residence the Fort of Bowah his original sketch from which this was drawn . . . ." The note on the image suggests that Louisa Jane Margary copied her son's drawing and sent it to her mother Sarah.

This album tells two tales: it records the travels and children of a devoted daughter, but it also reflects the care and concern of a mother who has carefully retained and assembled the images drawn by her daughter. On one pencil drawing of a Bombay landscape, Louisa Jane writes: "cut out of sketch book, for dearest, 1853." Some ink drawings, such as the one labeled "Temple at Mundasoor" and dated 1850, are executed on the pale blue tissue-like air-mail paper, the image becoming part of a letter sent to Sarah Jane from her daughter, then carefully cut out and pasted in the book.

For more of the Louisa Jane Margary sketchbook, request Ms. Coll. 875 in the reading room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

"THE Graves of the little EXILES," Poona, India

"Temple at Mundasoor a few miles from Neemuch," 17 July 1850


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