Happy Birthday, Miss Fanny! A 19th-Century Toy Story

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Introduction

New Brunswick Museum, 2005

In neutral waters of the mid-Atlantic on November 8, 1861, the United States navy detained and boarded the British mailpacket Trent in search of two Confederate emissaries on their way to London. The unprecedented arrest and removal of the emissaries in defiance of international law caused outrage in Britain and British North America. The United States, immersed in its own civil conflict, refused to apologize for the incident and opened the door to war with Britain. Anticipating the impending hostilities, the British sent thousands of troops to North America.

The inadequacies of Britain's defence system in its North American colonies were closely scrutinized, with military officers in Canada making recommendations for its improvement. This ultimately led to Confederation, the union of four British colonies: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.

In the winter of 1862, while en route to Montreal from Halifax the Coldstream and Grenadier guards, led by Major-General Lord Frederic Paulet, were billeted in Saint John. While there, Paulet and his troops were given a banquet under the auspices of Mr. William Jack, Q.C. (Queen's Counsel)* and his wife, Emma. Her meeting with Major-General Lord Frederic Paulet inspired Emma to transform an ordinary doll, a gift for her daughter Fanny's eighth birthday, into Lady Blanche Paulet, the fictional niece of a titled member of the British gentry.

Lady Blanche, it seems, was created to provide a model by which Fanny Jack could learn the various forms of etiquette and decorum. In addition, the doll was given a credible individuality and romantic life history that no doubt increased the respect and admiration Fanny bestowed upon it. The survival of Lady Blanche and her wardrobe provides a rare opportunity to examine a section of mid-19th century culture, its customs and its costumes during a period of intense political and military drama.

* Queen's Counsel (postnominal Q.C.), or during the reign of a male sovereign King's Counsel (K.C.), are barristers appointed by patent to be one of "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law." They do not constitute a separate order or degree of lawyers. But while other barristers are called to the Bar by their inn of court, the Queen's Counsel are called by the Court within the Bar. They are thus more than merely a professional rank, as their status is conferred by the Crown and recognized by the courts. Queen's Counsel have the privilege of sitting within the Bar of court, and wear silk gowns of a special design (hence the informal title Silks).