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Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

By Kirsty Stonell Walker @boccabaciata
As you will have read in a previous post of mine, sometimes the job of a biographer can be awfully tricky, especially in the case of women.  If that woman is a model, it becomes nigh on impossible because if we know anything of them it tends to be via the filter of the artist's biographers, and therefore prone to bias.  Nine times out of ten, they are of little consequence to biographers of the great and good and therefore slip from history. I find rather a lot of fun in seeing if I can fish them back into view.  Say hello to Emily Peacock...

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Emily Peacock (1871) Julia Margaret Cameron

 Miss Peacock and her sister appear in a large number of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs between 1871 and 1875, but very little is known of her because she was not local.  For models such as the Keowns and all the many Marys, finding them is easy as Freshwater is not a massive place in 1861 and so tracking them down and following them through birth, marriage, census and death records is fairly easy. Not only that but they crop up in local newspapers because in a small place, everything is news.  I love tracing people in small areas with a thriving local press, it's ever so much fun.  So, where does that leave us with the lovely Miss Peacock?

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

And Enid Sang (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

Books such as Tracing Echoes (2001) by Nicky Bird and Julia Margaret Cameron's Women (1998) by Sylvia Wolf made an effort to find out more about the various models, but poor Emily escaped them both. All that could be said was that she was probably a visitor to Freshwater between 1871 and 1875 as no Peacocks were resident in the 1871 census.  In order to trace her, you would have to find every Emily Peacock in the World and work out if they were likely to be in Freshwater on holiday in 1871.  Sounds like fun, eh?

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Emily Peacock (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron

You know me, I love a challenge (or rather my Aspergers manifests in my inexhaustible need to find out everything about everyone), so I could not let this one go.  After all, Miss Emily Peacock is a pretty important model for at least four years of Julia Margaret Cameron's career.  She deserves to be recognised as one of the faces of Cameron's work when it comes to some icon pictures such as Ophelia and And Enid Sang.  Where to start?

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Aurora (1871-5) Julia Margaret Cameron

Always start with what we know: we can be fairly sure her name is Emily Peacock as that is written against her images.  In the images of 1871-5 she looks around 20 years old, so we are looking for someone born in the early 1850s.  We also know her sister was called Mary...

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

The Sisters (Emily and Mary Peacock) (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron

Therefore we are looking for Emily and Mary Peacock, born in the early 1850s.  That narrows it down a bit because although there are loads of Emily Peacocks, there are only a handful that have a sister called Mary (or Maria or anything that could be shortened to Mary).  Marvellous.  We can thin out the field further by making a reasonable assumption.  If the Peacock family were not residents in Freshwater during the 1870s it is fair to say that they were on holiday at Freshwater when Mrs Cameron discovered the sisters.  As Emily appears in images over a few years, the family had to be rich enough to take an annual holiday over at least four years.  There is a sea of Agricultural Labourers (or Ag Labs, as they are often called), who cannot be expected to continually visit the Isle of Wight to pose for Mrs Cameron. Not only that, why did Emily stop? So who are we left with?  Well, my money is on Miss Emily Denman Peacock and here's why...

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

The Sisters (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron

First of all, I'll start with Mr Peacock, Emily and Mary's father.  He is mentioned in a couple of Cameron's biographies, but not particularly flatteringly.  Mr Peacock is described in Brian Hill's 1973 biography of Cameron as a 'neighbour' in Freshwater, but everywhere else as a 'visitor', so it can be guessed that he stayed in a house close to Dimbola for extended periods.  Anyway, to quote from Hill's book:
"His daughters were goodlooking enough to sit for Julia, but their father was an affected individual who was always stressing his devotion to 'the beautiful'. He was foolhardy enough to remark one day to Mrs Cameron that really it would be a good thing if all plain people were quietly eliminated. 'At which I said to the man, whom I hate, "Then what would become of you and me, Mr Pocock?"' She was quite aware, of course, of his proper name." (p.125-126)
He sounds smashing.  However, that does give you an idea of how Mr Peacock regarded himself and his place in the world. He doesn't sound much like an agricultural labourer to me.  Anyway, armed with that bit of delightful fascism, I went in search of a man of independent means (and over inflated ego).  Sadly, you can't search for 'cockwomble' in a census. 'Quietly eliminated', for heaven's sake.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Three King's Daughters Fair (Mary and Emily Peacock and Annie Chinery)
(1873) Julia Margaret Cameron

Out of all the Peacock families in England, I narrowed it down to just one likely lot, and actually I found them first in Brooklyn, New York.  Samuel Alexander Peacock appears in the 1855 American census, aged 25, living with his 30 year old wife Maria and his daughters Emily and little Maria, whom I would like to go out on a limb and say they probably called Mary to save her being mixed up with her mother.  Samuel worked as a 'Printer' (later 'Newspaper Proprietor' which would explain the ego) but had not been in America more than a year or so because Emily, aged 2, had been born in Herfordshire in January 1853.  Maria Jnr however, at only a couple of months old, had been born in Brooklyn.  Their brother Thomas was also born in Brooklyn three years later but no further siblings follow until the family is back in England in 1865.  Grace, Clarrisa and Charles Peacock complete the family by the end of the 1860s, and the family had settled back in Watford, where Emily had been born almost twenty years before.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

I See a Hand You Cannot See (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

In the 1871 census, Samuel Peacock is described as a 'Master Printer' and employed four men and two boys.  He was incredibly nouveau riche which possibly explains why he would say something so naff in order to impress people he felt intimidated by. Anyway, as part of 1871, the family traveled to Freshwater to stay and there Julia Margaret Cameron discovered Emily and Mary Peacock...

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

The Angel in the House (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron

It seems that either Emily was more willing and available to pose, or Cameron found her more inspiring because during the four years the girls were on the island, Cameron used Emily on her own as well as occasionally with Mary.  She also took portraits of Emily that had no other title other than her name.  Emily posed for The Angel in the House, from a poem by Coventry Patmore of the same name, personifying the ideal of docile, middle-class womanhood.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Ophelia (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron


Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Ophelia (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

 Most famous of Cameron's images of Emily has to be her Ophelia photographs, the top one especially.  The fragility and concern of her expression and the smattering of foliage underplays her madness beautifully, so you are left with a believable, worrying young woman.  The fact you can see the grasp of her fingers in her hair in the first picture, and the furrowing of her brow, is very moving and make these some of the most artistically striking of Shakespeare's doomed heroine.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' (1875)


Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

New Year's Eve (1875)

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' (1875)Julia Margaret Cameron

I wonder if part of the Peacock family's attempt at middle class-ness in their stay in Freshwater was also to meet Tennyson.  Although Mr Peacock sounds a bit of a pretentious and slightly fascist ninny, I can imagine him being impressed by the presence of the poet laureate in the village, maybe even the reason the family stayed there.  Imagine how chuffed he must have been when his daughter not only posed for images inspired by the great poet's work, but also posed with the great poet's son!  'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' from 1875 is from Tennyson's 'The May Queen', and Emily is posed with Lionel Tennyson, young son of the poet, portraying the young May Queen and her erstwhile beau Robin.  The middle image, Cameron ascribed to 'New Year's Eve' a different poem, but possibly she intended it to be part of the Robin and May Queen story as well.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

'For I'm to be the Queen of the May, Mother' (1875)


Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

'So now I think my time is near' (1875)
Julia Margaret Cameron

'The May Queen' was a poem that Cameron returned to repeatedly for inspiration, and Mary Ryan had already been the unlucky girl, expiring on a bed of flowers in photos from 1864.  The two images of Emily as the May Queen from a decade later, taken on 1st May 1875, show a rather more 'Ophelia' figure, saintly in her martyrdom.  I like the fake halo from the straw boater. The dress in the second photograph looks rather like the Ophelia dress too. Despite the difficulties in posing and the whole process, the photographs are clear and beautiful images the convey the emotion and pathos of the poem beautifully.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Egeria (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

Then Emily disappears from Cameron's art.  So what became of her?  Did her family just stop holidaying on the Isle of Wight?  Did they too object to the scandalously high ferry charges? Did Cameron finally kill Mr Peacock for being an annoying wierdo?  Well, if my Emily Peacock is the right Emily Peacock there is a really good reason for why her last appearance is in 1875.  Don't worry, she didn't die.  She got married.  In Australia.  That'll do it.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Enid (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

Miss Emily Denman Peacock, daughter of Samuel and Maria, of Herfordshire, married Professor Charles Henry Herbert Cook from Kentish Town, Middlesex on 2nd December 1876 in St Peter's, Victoria, Australia.  Charles was a graduate of Cambridge who had just been employed as Professor of Mathematics at Canterbury College, Christchurch, New Zealand.  His parents had emigrated to Australia where he had gone to school, returning to England for his degree and meeting Miss Peacock whom he whisked away to Oz.

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Charles Henry Herbert Cook

There is a lovely biography of Charles here and it seems he and Emily had a pretty decent life together.  One of their five children, Charles Frederick Denman Cook died in 1918, during the First World War, of spinal meningitis.  Other son Henry studied mathematics like his father and one of their three daughters was called Mary, after Emily's sister.  

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

Charles and Emily's grave

Emily died in September 1925 and is buried beside her husband (who had passed in 1910) at the cemetery in Wanganui, Rangitikei in New Zealand.
Is this our Emily Peacock?  Well, as she had children who married and had children of their own, hopefully somewhere out there (possibly in New Zealand) might be an image of Emily that could be compared to Cameron's photographs.  Possibly on a wall in Christchurch hangs a Julia Margaret Cameron print, who knows?  I'm really hoping so...

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