Tuesday, 7 January 2014

In honour of Auntie Miriam

Auntie Miriam (1901-1987)
As Sepia Saturday adepts undoubtedly know the second Saturday of January has been proclaimed Auntie Miriam Saturday. For those unaware of this memorable day, it is in the Sepia Saturday Rule Book, the gospel for all Sepians. Now, there is a slight problem. I like to dedicate this post to her but I never belonged to her inner circle. So what can I write? I know she was related to Alan, I know she was fond of visiting the North Sea beach probably near Great Yarmouth and that she had a boarding house there. But that's about all. Obviously I can allow myself to be carried away on the waves of my fantasy. Subjects such as the quality of bathing suit fabrics or exhibitionism come to mind. But I feel that would not do her justice. 
Therefore, I decided to concentrate on a different lady who is also unknown to me. It is a lady who lived in The Hague near the seaside resort Scheveningen. If you look at the map, Scheveningen is on the eastern side of the North Sea wheres Great Yarmouth is directly opposite, on the western side of that same sea. So you see, there is a connection between the two ladies. But that is not the only tie.

Let me first tell you how I "met" this lady from The Hague.
While wandering over the internet, I ran into the Flickr account of one James Morley. Judging by the pictures he is showing I guess he is a countryman of Alan. He does have an interest in old pictures and he a.o. buys those in Amsterdam. Being interested in genealogy my curiosity was aroused. 
James provided his readers with the following information.

"I bought this [photograph] on a recent trip to Amsterdam. The antiques street by the newly reopened Rijks Museum was staggeringly over-priced. The indoor antiques market at De Looier is great, but there was not a huge wealth of quality images and still quite pricey. So it was a real surprise to find this - just about the only image for sale at the bookseller's market in De Pijp.

The seller told me that the image came from an estate linked with the Ritter family. The white sticker is apparently from the family and reads "Vermoedelijk Mevrouw Gowthorpe geb. Boer" which translates as "Presumably Mrs Gowthorpe nee Boer" (thanks to Stereomania for the first word - [...]). The pencil writing underneath is apparently from the dealer's own research, making connections to the Ritter family and what appears to be the names Godard Gowthorpe 1833-1879 and Maria Cornelia [?] Johanna Boer 1836-1865 and I think it suggests they were married in 1855.

Update Nov '13: I couldn't seem to find anything that matches this on Ancestry, but if you look at further information added to the image of the reverse (see thumbnail and link below) you'll see that I am increasingly confident that this is Maria Cornelia Johanna Boer who married Godert Alexander Francois Gowthorpe, whilst another member of the Gowthorpe family married a Ritter. 
It's an ambrotype ca 1850, the external dimensions are 130mm x 110mm with the internal oval measuring 78mm x 60mm. It's in need of a little restoration but this and the scan don't really do it justice - it's a lovely image with some delicate gilding."

James Morley's description relates to the images below.
Maria Cornelia Johanna Boer
Maria Cornelia Johanna Boer

Vermoedelijk Mevrouw Gowthorpe geb. Boer
Arch PH Ritter Godard Gowthorpe 1833-1879
+ + 1836 Maria Cornelia Johanna
Boer 1855 gehuwd 

After having read the above close to 2 months ago I had a look in Dutch genealogy database WieWasWie. There I found that when Godert Alexander Francois Gowthorpe died in Utrecht on 12-11-1879 he was 45 years old. At the time he was married to Alida Anna Maria Masteling. However, in that record it says he was the widower of Maria Cornelia Johanna Boer.
Obituary of Maria Cornelia Johanna Boer
published in the Opregte Haarlemse Courant
on August 21, 1865
Another member of the Gowthorpe family, Isaline Jeanne Francoise Marie Alexine Gowthorpe, was married to a P(ierre) H(enri) Ritter (born in approx. 1851). His father was also a P(eter) H(einrich) Ritter.
Just as a matter of interest I mentioned that Godert's father, Jean Francois Casimir Gowthorpe, was the steward of HRH Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands (1820-1879).

When I started writing this post I did some further investigation. That revealed that the a.m. Isaline was not just "another member of the Gowthorpe family" but the only daughter of Godert and Maria.

An internet source suggests that the Gowthorpe name is of Scottish origin. Whether that is true or not, many Gowthorpes lived in England*. In any case it certainly is not a surname with Dutch roots. The same internet source reveals that Godert and Maria got married on March 28, 1855. Isaline was born in The Hague on August 3, 1856.
Like his father, also Godert was serving the Dutch royals. He was under intendant to Queen Regent Emma.

Based on the fact that Godert's son from his second marriage (also named Godert) was a Roman Catholic priest, I assume that also his father was of that belief. I do not know whether that supports the suggestion that the Gowthorpes were of Scottish origin.

Daughter Isaline married one Pierre Henri Ritter. Mr. Ritter was providing extra lessons to children from wealthy families. And Isaline was one of his pupils. Much to the dislike of her father and uncle Dirk a relationship developed between the two. Eventually the couple eloped and got married on December 9, 1880. 
The reason to mention this marriage is a personal one. When I was a small boy living in the house of my grandparents during the 50's, every Sunday we had lunch together. Usually my grandfather around that time was listening to the radio. At 1 pm it was time for the news broadcast and we all better be silent. Following the news there always was the weekly book review by ... Dr. P.H. Ritter jr. I still remember his very typical tone of voice. And now I find out that he is the eldest son of Pierre and Isaline. It's a small world.

In conclusion I like to share a thought with you, be it that it is a thought without much foundation.
After the death of her mother Maria Isaline lived in the house of her uncle Dirk Boer and aunt Anna Maria Duncan. When Isaline celebrated her 15th birthday she wrote a letter to her father, saying that she received two medallions, one from him and one from her grandparents. Apparently that was one too many. So with the permission of her grandparents she exchanged theirs for a brooch. Now, if we have a closer look at the ladies neckline in the picture, we see something there. Is it a brooch? Or a medallion?
Mother Maria or daughter Isaline?
So can it be that we see here the picture of daughter Isaline rather than mother Maria?
In an effort to prove my case I have to say I am also not so sure whether the writing on the rear has been put there during Maria's life i.c. before 1865. It looks very much like the type of writing that was taught in the years after WW1 at the earliest. Certainly the writing on the decal would qualify for an even later period. The word Arch possibly means Archief (Dutch for Archive). And that suggests it has been written there by someone dealing with the archive of P.H. Ritter. Usually that is done after someone's death. So I agree with the assumption made by James Morley, that this writing possibly has been put there by the dealer where he bought this photograph. So all I want to say is that there is no definite proof of who is portrayed here.
The thing that is difficult for me to judge is whether this is an ambrotype yes or no. I am not much of an expert in these matters. Could it also be a (later) tintype? Also I don't know how the brooch, the neck lace and the earrings came to be gilded. Was that an already existing method of decoration during the ambrotype period (1855-1865)?

As you can see there are still many questions to be answered. I am hopeful that knowledgeable readers will be able to come up with further clues. In the meantime I will try to answer the question of the likelihood of these two ladies having seen each other on their respective North Sea beaches through the mists of time.

The presence of Auntie Miriam there has been documented, please see the first picture of this post. 
Visiting the beach was not uncommon for the middle classes in Holland during the 19th century. In Scheveningen this pass time started already in 1818 when the first bathhouse was set up. Later bathing machines on wheels moved their precious cargo into the sea. And hopefully out of it as well. The lower classes were banished to other beaches so their lustful looks would not embarrass the ladies. Peeping Toms ran the risk of being punished with three days in prison. In 1884 the municipal bathhouse was transformed into the still existing Kurhaus. 
The Kurhaus in the early 1930's

In view of the above mentioned developments I regard it more than likely that both Maria and/or her daughter Isaline visited the Scheveningen part of the North Sea beach. 

But there is yet another connection among these three ladies. 
At one time Auntie Miriam lived in Bradford, Yorkshire. If you drive from there to the east for less than 50 miles on the A647/A64, you are still in Yorkshire, in a hamlet called ... Gowthorpe! 
With three similarities between Auntie Miriam and the two Dutch ladies being determined, I think it is fair to say that highlighting Maria and her daughter is in fact a tribute to Auntie Miriam. Therefore, on this second Saturday in January I like to express my gratitude to her for the source of inspiration she still is. 
Thank you, Auntie Miriam!

In the genealogical chart below I have mentioned all Dutch people playing a part in the above story. Also those relevant to mother Maria and daughter Isaline have been shown. In the red lined rectangle is the P.H. Ritter Jr. whose voice I remember so well.

Update July 3, 2016:
Recently I stumbled upon the pictures of a.m. Pierre Henri Ritter Jr. and his wife Cornélie M. Landré. Here they are:


For more Sepia Saturday contributions from around the world please click here.

Photo credits
Bathing machine: Wikipedia
Kurhaus: Wikipedia, attribution: Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo via Nationaal Archief
Pierre Henri Ritter Jr.: CC Wikipedia
Cornélie M. Landré: Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht 

This website shows many Gowthorpes living in England during the 19th century. However, no known first names such as Godert. 


  1. I enjoyed this post very much. I wish that everyone could have an Auntie Miriam.
    Mine was Aunt Hannah a true inspiration for all things fun and full of life.

  2. An excellent tribute for Auntie Miriam Day, Peter! It is a very interesting portrait and I can understand how the young lady inspired your research. It has some qualities of a Vermeer portrait too.

    As you may know, the ambrotype is a positive on glass; the earlier Daguerreotype is a positive on silver plated copper; while the later tintype is made on a sheet of iron, which allows a magnet to make an easy test. This has the appearance of an early ambrotype from 1855-1860. Her clothing and hair style also seem 1850s too. I bet she was pleased with the result.

  3. @luvlinens
    If you want to read more about Auntie Miriam's character, please click on the word Alan in my blog.
    Thanks for dropping in!

    Thanks for your opinion about the ambrotype. I think I agree with your conclusion but I wasn't sure.
    And as far as research is concerned, if anyone knows how much fun that is, it is you!
    Thanks for visiting.

  4. Hi Peter, thanks for featuring my image and sharing your thoughts. I can confirm that it is most certainly an ambrotype, and the dating clues place it firmly in the 1850s (although being an ambrotype the earliest it could be is about 1855). Gilding was definitely practised at that time (I have a late 1840s Claudet daguerreotype for example).

    The dealer himself told me that the writing on the white sticker was his. I share your thoughts that the other writing is not contemporary with the image, but some time in the 20th Century.

    All of this to my mind adds to the evidence that this is most likely to be Maria.

    The part I find most fascinating is your account of the medallions. I wonder if this could be the one that her father had given to Isaline, after her mother's death? It would be fascinating to learn if it is still in the family!

    So just to throw another rather speculative theory out there - I wonder if this could have been taken at the time of Maria's wedding? But I'm still looking at this and wondering if the girl depicted is as old as 19 ...

  5. I hope Auntie Miriam appreciates all the work you put into this post.

  6. Interesting and entertaining story! I'm not an expert but my guess would be ambrotype, and I hope it shows the daughter (Isaline), otherwise I would feel sad knowing she (Maria) died at the age of 29.

  7. Great research, and some very interesting connectios!

  8. @James
    First of all, thanks for responding so soon. I think we both share the same fascination for this photograph.
    I'll see whether it is possible to find descendants of the Ritters. You never know which stories can be unearthed...
    When I showed this image to my wife she estimated her to be approx 18. And it is not my habit to contradict her :)
    If I find out anything worth telling you I'll do that here but also on your Flickr site.
    Thanks again for visiting.

    I'm sure she does. But she'll probably turn around in her grave...

    I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. I'm inclined to believe this is an ambrotype, a technique no longer in use when Isaline was say 18 years old in 1874.
    Thanks for visiting and travelling here all the way from Amersfoort :)

  9. With all this research a descendant might find your blog and solve the mystery about this beautiful woman and her jewelry.

  10. Welcome back Peter! This is such an interesting post, and how clever of you to make those links with Aunty Miriam.

  11. Gowthorpe is an old name. The hamlet in Yorkshire is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, Intriguing post, Peter.

  12. What a delightful post...and your amble takes you directly from point a to b to c...the family tree helps my visualizing of connections. Thanks!

  13. @Jo Featherston
    Thanks for reading my story!

    I would hope so but it won't stop me from continuing my search here.

    @Little Nell
    Thank you but don't count on me each and every week. :)

    Here the Gowthorpes are extinct but there must still be many around in England.

    @B. Rogers
    I'm glad you liked the structure of the story.

    This renegade Sepian thanks you all for visiting!

  14. You certainly have presented a breadth of information and thoughts winding back to her...interesting reading.

  15. Oh my goodness, Peter, you put so much work into this post! It was so nice to be remembering Auntie Miriam and to use her to tie into the family that you researched. I loved the photos and stories.

    Kathy M.

  16. Peter is great to see you here again! I can bet Auntie Miriam is smiling down upon us all right now! This was certainly an interesting journey.

  17. On some heavenly beach, Auntie Miriam will be beaming with joy at being celebrated with such a fine post as this. It is good to have you back Peter, we all have missed your wit and wisdom.

  18. @Patricia
    Thank you, and the search goes on...

    @Kathy M
    Well, there is only one second Saturday of January and this was it!

    @Karen S
    Thank you, Karen and Auntie's smile is my reward...

    Let's hope the sun will always be shining on that heavenly beach. And it always feels good to mingle among the Sepians!

    Thank you all for paying a visit to my blog.

  19. Fascinating research, and a great tribute to the delightful Auntie Miriam.


All comments will be moderated before being published...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...