Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

HENRY CHRISTOPHE (1767 – 1820) King of Haiti

In Biography, Black Leaders, French History, History, People Who Committed Suicide on January 28, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Henry Christophe (from the New York Public Library)

Henry Christophe learned everything he knew from experience.  A Negro born into a slave family on the island of Grenada, he never went to school and was illiterate his whole life.  His life’s purpose was to eradicate slavery and build Haiti into a strong country, and the slave boy who would be king took seriously the power and perks that came with the job.

Christophe was a rambunctious kid.  At age seven the plantation owner turned his unchanneled energy into profit when he sold the boy to a Negro mason as an apprentice.  Christophe ran away from his master and stowed away on a boat bound for the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti).  At age twelve, Christophe ended up the servant of a French naval officer, hired to oil his boots and serve his meals.  This job took him north to America where Christophe fought with the French in the Siege of Savannah before returning to Haiti where he was again sold to a free Negro who owned a hotel.  The ambitious young man moved up from stable boy to cook, waiter and billiard marker.  He saved enough money to buy his freedom.

When Christophe was 26 years old he married the boss’s daughter, Marie Louise, who was only 15.  They had two sons and two daughters.

FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM             The Spanish, French and English all had interests in the island, and the slaves were rebelling for their freedom.  Black General Toussaint Louverture led the army to claim their emancipation.  Christophe volunteered to fight with Toussaint and showed early leadership skills.  Seven years later, Toussaint, had driven the Spanish back to their side of the island and defeated the British.  He designated himself the Governor-General and appointed a trio of successors: Christophe as general and military governor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines as a provincial governor, and Alexandre Sabès Pétion (a mulatto), who ended up in the south.  Toussaint, seeing an opportunity for independence, set up a government without asking permission of Napoleon Bonaparte, which prompted Napoleon to send an expedition to the island to reestablish French dominion.

The captain of the French expedition was Charles LeClerc, and he insisted on negotiating directly with Toussaint.  While LeClerc waited on the ship, his emissary went ashore and was insulted when he was met by the second in command, Christophe.  Thinking a black, former slave could be easily persuaded, LeClerc offered Christophe many honors if he would turn over the town of Cap François before Toussaint arrived.  Christophe was insulted by the insinuation that he would betray his commander.  And, there was the underlying fear that one objective of the French mission was to reinstate slavery.

The messenger delivered Christophe’s message to his boss, and Christophe vowed to his commander and his countrymen that if LeClerc came ashore, there would not be any town for him to claim because Christophe would personally see to it that it would be burned.  LeClerc sent Christophe a letter warning that 15,000 soldiers would disembark at dawn if Christophe did not capitulate.  Christophe’s response reiterated his loyalty to the chain of command.  Since he was illiterate, the content of his letter was dictated, but Christophe was able to sign his name.

After one more written attempt to resolve the situation, LeClerc made good on his threat, and Christophe made good on his promise.  Despite the pleas of the townspeople of Cap François not to destroy their homes, while the French soldiers stormed the shore, Christophe torched the city, starting with his own house.

Now Haiti was at war with France, and eventually the Haitians were overwhelmed by the French.  Christophe, on behalf of Toussaint, was willing to negotiate.  The sticking point was slavery, and LeClerc, speaking for Napoleon, agreed to let every person be free.  Finally an agreement was reached with the stipulation that Toussaint retire to his plantation.  He did so, but LeClerc had reason to believe that he was planning another uprising, so Toussaint was arrested and exiled to France with his family.

When LeClerc died of yellow fever, the black and mulatto leaders agreed to submit to the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines who led them to freedom.  On January 1, 1804 they declared independence and Saint Domingue officially became Haiti.

The mulattos in the south did not accept being ruled by blacks.  They rebelled and assassinated Dessalines.  A national assembly was quickly organized to elect the next leader, and it was between Christophe and Pétion.  In a gesture of reconciliation, Christophe, age 40, was elected, if somewhat grudgingly, as President of Haiti for four years, residing in the north.

A RULER WITH LOTS OF RULES            Christophe took his authority seriously and declared Catholicism as the official religion, although other beliefs would be tolerated.  He made divorce illegal, and parents were not allowed to disinherit their children.  He understood the importance of trade, and he courted the United States and Britain as trading partners, giving foreign businesses absolute protection.

Haiti had no currency, so Christophe created one.  Gourds were used for bowls, utensils and bottles, making them indispensible to daily life, but they wore out.  The new president confiscated all the gourd plants.  When the farmers brought dried coffee berries to the capital, Christophe would buy them, paying in gourds.  Then he sold the coffee to other countries for gold, giving Haiti a growing, stable currency.  Even today, the term for Haiti’s money is the gourde.

Pétion didn’t accept Christophe as President, and he set up his own government in Port-au-Prince, instigating a civil war.  Both men stubbornly held on to their respective territories, and it seemed inevitable to tacitly accept that unifying Haiti would not be possible.  In February 1807, Christophe was elected the President of the State of Haiti, giving him jurisdiction over the north and making him the generalissimo of the forces on land and sea for life.  His capital was Cap François.  One month later, Pétion was elected the President of the Republic of Haiti for four years with his capital at Port-au-Prince in the south.  He was later elected to a second four-year term.

Christophe was more ambitious than Pétion, and his efforts built up his infrastructure and defense, and his reputation overseas.  He accumulated a fleet of ships and started a navy which controlled the local waters.  For all his success, the threat of a French invasion never diminished.  Christophe’s advisors thought that having a ruler of equal rank to the emperor Napoleon would be more effective in staving off any aggression.  They respectfully suggested that Christophe be declared king, and it didn’t take much convincing to get him to go along with the idea.  He became Henry I, preferring the English spelling, and changed the name of the capital to Cap Henry.  The coronation was on June 2, 1811 in a cathedral that was built for the occasion in about two months.  He was officially crowned “Henry, by the Grace of God and the Constitutional Law of the State, King of Haiti, Sovereign of Tortuga, Gonave and other adjacent Islands, Destroyer of Tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haitian Nation, Creator of her Moral, Political and Martial Institutions, First Crowned Monarch of the New World, Defender of the Faith, Founder of the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Henry,” just in case there was any doubt about his authority.

The new king created a hereditary nobility and spiritual hierarchy with a Catholic archbishop in the capital and bishops in other cities.  He instituted a strict dress code for the nobility and an Order of Chivalry whose members wore a large cross embedded with jewels.

Under Christophe’s leadership, his colony began to thrive.  He introduced Code Henry mandating that every adult was obligated to work in the fields.  Monday through Friday they were required to work from daylight until 8:00am when they took a break for breakfast.  Then they worked from 9:00 until 12:00 when they got a two hour rest.  They resumed working at 2:00 until dusk.  Saturday was a day off from the fields to allow the workers to tend to their own land and take their goods to market.  Sunday was reserved for rest and going to church.  The plantation owners had to give one quarter of their gross profits to their workers and provide room and board and medical treatment.  An owner could not transfer a worker from one activity to another without the worker’s permission.  The military police oversaw the plantation owners to insure compliance.

The king availed himself every Thursday for a public audience when he would listen to petitions.  In the morning he received the commoners, and in the evening he received the aristocracy, who were required to wear their military uniform or formal court dress.  An answer was always given the following Thursday.

Christophe had his hands in everything.  He monopolized the meat supply and all the cattle crazed on state land.  He built seven palaces and 15 chateaux, all surrounded by fertile land which produced, among other things, two-thirds of the kingdom’s sugar export.  He sold everything for gold, incresing his personal wealth and the national treasury.  

Even though he hated the French, he knew the country needed the expertise and knowledge of white men.  He offered full citizenship to any white man who married a Haitian woman and lived in Haiti for one year.  Any white man who married a black woman anywhere in the world would be welcomed to settle in Haiti, and the government would set them up. 

The future of the kingdom was very important to the king, and Christophe created five national schools for boys modeled after Joseph Lancaster’s British and Foreign School Society.  Teachers were quickly trained for two thousand students.  English was required, and advanced students could learn Spanish.  The curriculum also included French, reading, writing, arithmetic and grammar.  During the summer, classes met from 6:00am to 11:00am and then again from 2:00 to 6:00.  The winter hours were shorter, from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00.  Thursday and Sunday were days off with the exception of attending morning prayers and a lecture.  In addition, every boy at least ten years old had to learn a trade.

Upon the recommendation of the monarch’s personal physician, Dr. Duncan Stewart, a Scottish surgeon who visited many of the commoners working on the king’s farms, it was necessary to educate girls in order to prevent voodoo from creeping back into public practice.  In 1818 Christophe issued an edict opening up education for girls but stipulating that they must be taught in schools separate from boys.  Christophe also founded a royal college for secondary education where students studied English, French, Latin, history, geography and math.

Public health was also an issue the king focused on.  He appointed Dr. Stewart as director of the hospital with responsibility for the accommodations for the sick.  In addition to food and clothing, this included a pair of stocks installed at the foot of each bed for the legs of the patient if he was disobedient or didn’t take his medication.

The British didn’t fully recognize Christophe’s authority, but that did not inhibit him from imposing it absolutely on his citizens.  Every marriage had to be a civil contract, and as the king moved around the kingdom, if he even suspected that a couple was living in sin, he forced them to marry on the spot.  The penalty for stealing was death, and those guilty of a misdemeanor were punished by flogging.  Christophe carried a silver-topped cane and used it to beat people he saw on his daily walks who he deemed were being lazy.  No one was immune from the king’s judgment.  One time he went to mass and the priest was not immediately there.  Christophe ordered soldiers to arrest him and take him directly to jail.

THE FALL FROM POWER             Being a dictatorial monarch took its toll on Christophe.  On August 15, 1820 during the mid-day break he went to mass, which was not a part of his normal routine.  Just before he was given communion, Christophe suffered a stroke which left him permanently paralyzed.  His mind was still clear and he tried to carry on business as usual, but his government was threatened by factions who hated his tyrannical ways.  In October the king tried to stand up to the rebels, but he realized he did not have the support he needed.

One Sunday evening, Christophe called his wife and children into his room to discuss the state of the state and sthen ent them off to bed.  After they left he raised a pistol to his chest and shot himself.  As word of the king’s death got out, looters started ransacking the palace.  Two men were able to get the body out of the residence, but they couldn’t find tools to dig a grave, so they buried Christophe in a pile of lime.  In 1847, 27 years after his death, the monarch who did great things for his country, if perhaps not in great ways, was given a proper burial in a concrete tomb at the place d’Armes at the Citadel on the peak of La Ferrière.

QUESTION:  What makes someone a good leader?

©2011 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Cole, Hubert, Christophe King of Haiti.  New York: Viking Press, 1967.

Vandercook, John W., Black Majesty, The Life of Christophe King of Haiti.  New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1928.


GERTRUDE BELL (1868 – 1926) Explorer, Instrumental in Founding Iraq

In adventure, Biography, Explorers, Feminists, People from England, Victorian Women on January 12, 2011 at 10:27 AM

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell followed where her curiosity led in ways no woman had before.  She broke the ultimate glass ceiling by becoming a friend and confidant to numerous sheiks in Mesopotamia, with enough influence to be considered one of the founders of the country of Iraq.  The literal heights she scaled and emotional low she felt bookmarked her remarkable professional life as someone who intimately understood that home is where your heart is.

Bell had an upper class upbringing near Newcastle, England.  Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, inherited a fortune from the Bell Brothers Ironworks, but education was a priority, and he studied in Edinburgh, at the Sorbonne and in Germany.  He married Mary Shield, but she died three weeks after Bell’s younger brother, Maurice, was born.  Sir Hugh was devoted to his children, but he was lonely and knew the children needed a mother.  He married Florence Olliffe who was easily integrated into the family.

Bell’s commanding, adventuresome spirit manifested itself early on, and she took it out on her little brother.  One time when she led the terrified boy along the edge of the greenhouse roof, she crossed handily but he slipped and fell, and it was his turn to break through the glass ceiling.

Formal elementary education was traditionally reserved for boys, so while her brother was at boarding school, Bell spent lonely days devouring books from the family library.  When she was 16, she was sent to Queen’s College in London and excelled in every class except scripture, declaring herself an atheist because she did not believe a word of the Bible.  Ironically, as an adult she would carve out a life for herself in the cradle of the world’s three most important religions.

She matriculated at Oxford University, and Bell’s confidence and intellect had prepared her for the rigors of such a demanding education.  During her oral final exam, when the professor, a distinguished historian, asked a question about Charles I, Bell had the audacity to say that she held a different opinion of the monarch.  Then, when another professor asked about a German town that was on the left bank of the Rhine, Bell casually contradicted him before answering, saying that she was positive town was on the right bank because she had been there.  Her assertiveness did not blight her evaluation, and she set her first record as a woman by becoming the first female student to receive the highest grade possible in Modern History.

Bell came out as a debutante in London and was presented to Queen Victoria.  But if the goal of the formal debut was to find a husband, no one suitable presented himself.  Without romantic prospects or many career options, she jumped at the opportunity to go with her aunt and uncle to Persia.  Sir Frank Lascelles was the British ambassador to Tehran.  Six months before leaving, Bell started learning Persian and was able to understand the locals when she arrived in June 1892.

This was the beginning of two great love affairs.  First, she was totally captivated by the people and culture of Persia, her introduction to the Middle East.  Second, she was smitten by the British legation secretary, Hon. Henry Cadogan.  Finally she had found someone to give her heart to and who returned her affections, and they got engaged.  When her parents heard of the impending nuptials, they didn’t approve because Cadogan didn’t earn enough money in foreign service to support their daughter well enough, and he was a gambler.  Bell was heartbroken, but she obeyed her parents and returned to England.  One year later Cadogan died of pneumonia.

During the ensuing years, Bell studied Persian and Arabic.  Ultimately she would become fluent in both languages as well as German, French and Italian.  She continued to travel, following her personal philosophy of the pursuit of personal happiness coupled with the moral responsibility for the welfare of others.  She became proficient in horseback riding, hunting, dancing, shooting, fishing, gardening and mountain climbing.

AIMING FOR THE TOP      In 1899 Bell made her first major ascent, climbing to the top of the Meije in the French Alps, over 13,000 feet.  There were no proper clothes for female climbers then, so Bell took off her skirt when she and her guides roped up together and continued in her underclothes until they descended back to the glacier.  After more hair-raising, confidence-building ascents, Bell decided to be the first person to climb all the peaks of the Engelhörnerrange in the Swiss Alps.  She accomplished her goal during two weeks in 1901 wearing a blue climbing suit with pants, although she always changed back into her skirt at base camp.  Of the nine peaks, she was the first person to summit seven of them.  One mountain top was named after her, Gertrudspitze.

After her record-breaking mountain climbing adventures in Europe, Bell headed east to a warmer clime.  When she was 31 years old she went to Jerusalem at the invitation of friends.  Her days were filled with language lessons (Arabic, Hebrew and Turkish), horseback riding and socializing.  Bell rode “astride” the horse for the first time, and the sisters at the local convent stitched a long, split skirt so she could still be ladylike.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY      From Jerusalem, Bell took extensive journeys into the desert on horseback accompanied only by cooks, muleteers and her guide, all local men.  During her first expedition she painfully learned the need to protect herself from the severe desert environment.  From then on, she wore the traditional keffiyeh (scarf) over her hat and around her face and a lightweight veil with eye holes.  She covered her feet with cloth so the sun wouldn’t scorch them through her boots, and she made a muslin sleeping bag to protect against sand fleas while camping at night.  To help pass the time while crossing the vast landscape, Bell learned how to read and nap on horseback.

Gertrude Bell in Iraq, age 41 (photo: University of Newcastle)

In addition to learning survival techniques for traversing the desert, Bell had to learn the protocol of presenting herself to the sheiks of the tribes as she passed through their territories.  Her knowledge of history and languages and the fact that she was a woman traveling alone impressed and endeared her to most of the sheiks.  Because of the style in which Bell traveled, her small entourage became a substantial caravan.   She earned the respect of the local rulers, and they referred to her as Queen.  In camp she always had two tents for herself, one that was erected immediately with a writing table and comfortable chair.  The other had her convertible bed and a bath, which was prepared for her as soon as a fire was built and hot water was available.  In her trunks she packed clothes for every occasion.  When she was in a city she had evening dresses and fur coats.  She carried linen skirts, sweaters, scarves, boots, hats veils, parasols, lavender soap, hair brushes, Egyptian cigarettes in a silver case, insect powder, maps, books, and blankets.  For dining she had a Wedgewood dinner service, crystal glasses, linen tablecloths and silver candlesticks.  She had binoculars and guns to give as gifts to the important sheiks, and she carried her own weapons, cameras and film hidden under her petticoats.

Bell’s curiosity about the Middle East went way beyond tourism.  She took courses in archaeology and cartography, and she was an accomplished photographer.  It became her mission to document ancient ruins and the current landscape, and she published numerous books of her work and experiences which, in many cases, became the definitive reference for the region and influenced policy decisions.

LOVE AND LOSS        Despite a deep affinity for the people and places of the Middle East, Bell’s heart and mind were distracted by the growing affections for an Englishman, Major Charles (“Dick”) Doughty-Wylie, a decorated war hero.  Unfortunately, Dick was married.  The pair shared a common view of the world and enjoyed each other’s company, but the time they could spend together had many limitations.  The couple’s correspondence from various foreign lands evolved from conversational to include the passion and angst of distant love.

Bell wanted to serve her country in World War I, so in November 1914, she went to France to work for the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department.  She took the initiative to create a workable system to keep accurate records of the wounded soldiers.  Surprisingly, despite her apparent restlessness, she found she loved the desk work.

With his wife in Europe, Doughty-Wylie sent word to Bell that he would be in London for a few days before being deployed to the front lines.  Bell jumped at the opportunity to be alone with him.  They spent four days together, and this time, there was only one limitation that imposed itself.  Bell’s Victorian morals would not allow her to consummate the relationship since Doughty-Wylie would never get a divorce.

Bell returned to France, and Doughty-Wylie was deployed to Gallipoli.  He was killed heroically in a battle with Turkish troops.  Bell had been called back to London to set up a new office for Wounded and Missing.  She found out her lover’s fate when, at a party, someone casually mentioned what happened in Gallipoli.  For the second time in her 47 years she was devastated by losing the love of her life.

A NEW HOME       Since Bell had spent almost two years in the Arabian Desert as an explorer, cartographer, photographer and archaeologist and was an expert in the policies and personalities of the region, she was summoned to Cairo, Egypt with the rank of Major.  She was the first woman officer in the history of British military intelligence.  The British agenda included fighting the Turks to retain access to oil and preventing India from annexing Mesopotamia.  Bell’s desire was for a unified Arab nation, but she acknowledged that that would be impossible and worked to establish independent Arab states.

Bell moved to Basra and was given the title of Oriental Secretary with status as an Assistant Political Officer.  She was instrumental in establishing order in the Basra vilayet (province).  In April 1917, Bell was 49 years old, and she moved to Baghdad to continue her work.  This would be her permanent home for the rest of her life.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION          In Baghdad, Bell became active in nation building.  The British occupied Iraq, fighting the Turks for rights to the oil, but mistakes were made, and the occupation was becoming very expensive for Britain.

In 1918, the incoming Judicial Officer, Sir Edgar Bonham-Carter, after conferencing with Bell, took the first steps toward creating an independent nation by setting Arabic as the official legal language of Iraq and establishing a new court system for civil and Sharia law in an effort to appease Sunnis and Shia.  Five new schools for girls were opened with female faculty.

Eventually boundaries were agreed upon to divide Mesopotamia into individual countries, and Bell and her colleagues lobbied to have Faisal ibn Hussain, a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Sharif Hussain ibn Ali, installed as the first ruler of the self-governed new Iraq.  Faisal officially became king in 1921, and Bell’s dreams of Arab independence were realized.

Bell knew Faisal personally, and he enjoyed her company and relied on her as a confidant in political matters.  He commissioned her to help design the first flag and his personal standard.  Because of Bell’s extensive archaeological expertise, Faisal appointed her Director of Antiquities.  Her first duty was to write antiquities laws that would balance the rights of the host nation and excavators.  Bell established the Baghdad Museum, maintaining that Iraq had the right to own its past.*  The principal wing of the museum was named after her.  Bell continued to go on many archaeological digs, and she won a coin toss for a Semitic statuette from 2800 BC.

LEAVING GRACEFULLY        When Bell was 55 years old, she had a third love interest, but this relationship never matured beyond a friendship.  For all her physical activities, she was sick a lot during her life.  She was a chain smoker, and she suffered from malaria twice, jaundice and bronchitis.  In 1925 Bell went to London for a visit.  Her family had lost their fortune and was forced to give up their mansion, which was demolished.  Bell’s doctor advised her not to return to the oppressive climate of the Iraqi summer, but Baghdad was her home, and she could not stay away.  When she returned she contracted pleurisy.

With her ill health, financial troubles, no husband and reduced political responsibility, Bell became depressed.  On July 11, 1926 she came home exhausted from the heat after a swimming party.  She told her maid to wake her up at six am and went to bed early.  Her maid dutifully checked in on Bell after a couple of hours and found a suspicious bottle of pills on the bed stand.  Bell died in the early hours of July 12 of an overdose, two days before her 58th birthday.

The British government duly honored Bell for her work.  In October 1917 Bell was made a Commander of the new Order of the British Empire, and five months later she received the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.  When she died, King George V sent his personal condolences to Bell’s parents.

*  This is the same as the National Museum of Iraq that was looted during the war in 2003.

QUESTION:  Do you agree with the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”  Why?

©2011 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Howell, Georgina, Gertrude Bell Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Wallach, Janet, Desert Queen The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia.  New York: Nan A. Talese, 1996.

Winstone, H.V.F., Gertrude Bell.  New York: Quartet Books Inc., 1978.

SIR HENRY COLE (1808 – 1882) Commissioned the First Commercial Christmas Card

In Biography, Holidays, People from England, Traditions on December 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM

Sir Henry Cole

Professionally, Henry Cole was a busy and influential man.  Maybe that’s why there is a lot more known about his professional life than his private life.  With all the demands on his time, he did try to keep up with the social graces, but one year around the holidays, time just got away from him, and he had to solicit help in sending greetings to his friends.

Cole started working when he was 15 years old.  He was born in Bath, England, the son of an army officer, but he moved to London for the opportunities.  One of his first jobs as a civil servant was the Assistant Keeper of Public Records.  He fancied himself a writer and began his publishing career with pamphlets about reforming the public record system.  His efforts led to the establishment of the General Record Office.

Flush with success, Cole, along with two partners, edited and published the Guide newspaper, the Historical Register and the Journal of Design.  In addition to writing, design was a field that he was passionate about.  It’s unknown whether he was educated in design and the decorative arts or if his passions and instincts fueled his achievements, but his influence spanned administrative duties as well as his own creative projects.

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS                  Much of Cole’s personal work was done under the name of Felix Summerly.  As this alter ego he wrote children’s books, handbooks of the National Gallery, Hampton Court and other art exhibitions, and many articles of various subjects.  He also designed the Felix Summerly Tea Service which was made by the Herbert Minton ceramic factory.  This became so popular that Cole, perhaps a bit of a snob, opened Felix Summerly’s Art-Manufactures with the goal of commissioning work from artists that would raise the level of industrial design and the overall taste of the general public.

In 1840 Cole was credited with being instrumental in revamping the postal system and creating the first self-adhesive postage stamp: the Penny Black.  A profile of Queen Victoria was on the stamp, and Cole provided the sketch of her that was used based on a medal done by William Wyon.

As a member of the Royal Society of the Arts, Cole met Prince Albert and accepted his commission to organize the Great Exhibition of 1851.  This merging of art, industry and manufacturing was so successful that there followed similar exhibitions in London and Paris, and it was instrumental in reforming the patent laws a year later.

Cole’s influence extended into education when he was asked, on behalf of the government, to reorganize the Schools of Design.  He became head of the Science and Art Department, a job that lasted 21 years.

At the end of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Parliament authorized £5,000 to purchase the most striking objects that were on display to be part of a permanent collection along with the best drawings from art schools from around the country.  Cole founded The South Kensington Museum to exhibit these works.  Queen Victoria was on hand for the official opening, and in 1899 it became the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Cole retired in 1873 after 50 years in public service, but that didn’t seem to slow him down.  He continued to channel his experience and expertise toward education and established the National Training School for Music and the National Training School for Cookery within two years.  In 1875 he was rewarded for his service by receiving the Order of the Bath.  It was Queen Victoria herself that recommended he be knighted.

STARTING A TRADITION      With all of this resume building, it’s easy to imagine that in 1843 Cole was just too busy to write Christmas cards.  The custom at the time was to hand write each one individually, but that just wasn’t going to happen.  Cole hired London artist John Calcott Horsley to design a card for him to send to all his friends.  It was a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels depicting the charitable essence of Christmas: feeding the poor and clothing the homeless.  In the center was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year To You” under a colorful drawing of a family celebrating, their wine glasses raised in a toast.  Horsley made 1,000 lithographic copies of his greeting card measuring 5 1/8 inches by 3 and 1/4 inches, and he hand colored each one himself.  The cards that Cole did not send were sold in the Felix Summerly art shop on Bond Street in London for six cents each.  Since it is estimated that there are only about a dozen still in existence, they have become quite collectible.  In December 2008 one sold for £8,500 (over $13,000 today).

Horsley Designed Christmas Card

Cole never slowed down even as he aged.  He had a known heart condition, but at the end of 1881, with the help of his daughter, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service.  On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler.  That night his condition worsened, and he died the following evening.

QUESTION: What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes all Rights Reserved