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

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

In neutral waters of the mid-Atlantic, on November 8, 1861, the United States Navy detains the British mail packet Trent and removes two Confederate emissaries on their way to London. This defiance of international law by an unapologetic United States causes outrage in Britain and British North America and thousands of troops are sent to Canada. The death of Albert, the Prince Consort, in early December 1861, delays declarations of war and the demands of a mourning Britain become less emphatic.

Military officers remain in Canada to make recommendations for the improvement of inadequate defenses and journey from Halifax to Montreal via Saint John in the winter of 1862. As a gesture of thanks for making the military's sojourn in Saint John so successful, Major-General Lord Frederic Paulet, upon his arrival in Montreal, sends calling cards and a carte de visite photograph along with his kindest regards to the family of his host, Mr. William Jack. This gesture of courtesy inspires William Jack's wife, Emma, to transform an ordinary doll, a gift for their daughter Fanny's eighth birthday, into Lady Blanche Paulet, the fictional niece of a titled member of the British gentry. Imagine Fanny's excitement when she receives an actual letter from Lady Blanche stating that "I am going to throw myself upon your hospitality."

Lady Blanche's wardrobe contains some of the most representative styles of mid-19th century costume detail, exemplifying the fashions of the early 1860s with striking clarity. The tortoise-shell veneered calling card case and its contents, the shoes and slippers, the miniature cage crinoline, the day and ball dresses, are among the items that define the individuality of this doll.

Undoubtedly, Emma Jack judged her endeavour a complete success. The survival of Lady Blanche and her wardrobe provides a rare opportunity to examine a facet of mid-19th century culture, its customs and fine representations of its costumes. The collection transcends the particulars of its origin and speaks profoundly of the attitudes and mores of a sector of society during a fascinating time of international intrigue, civil war and nation building.