A Deadly Colour

Matilda  Scheurer and Frances Rollo were killed by emerald green.

History only remembers  what is noteworthy at the time, and usually for a reason.   We know the last few days of Matilda  Scheurer and Frances Rollo, but will never know what these young ladies looked like or what they imagined  for their future.

We do know that Frances was married, and was a mother to a four month old baby.  They were sisters, and both worked in the flower making industry. Their mother,  Louisa Scheurer was a widow, that had at least one more living daughter.

Emerald green was a vibrant mint-colour, and was created in Schweinfurt, Germany in 1814. It was developed in the attempt to improve the permanence of  Scheele’s green that was made by a Swedish chemist Carl Scheele in 1775. Both colours were susceptible to blackening  with exposure to sulphur and light.  This proved a challenge for artists when blending other sulphuric colours such as cadmium yellow or vermilion.  More important to Matilda and Frances is the deadly ingredient,  arsenic, that makes up both of these greens.  Their stories  are just two of thousands that make up the tragic history of this brilliant colour.

The creation, and desire for this colour is in part, a response to the industrial age.  People saw the factories outside their windows, and the diminishing  green landscape around  their cities, and wanted to capture the ideal of nature in their  homes; verdant domesticity.

Image result for edvard munch the sick childVisual artists used emerald green  on their canvas. Cezanne, for example,  used this colour in many of his scenic watercolour paintings.  Some researchers claim this contributed to his diabetes. Others claim that the use of emerald green contributed to Monet’s blindness.  Georg Friedrich Kersting and his paintings entitled the Embroidery Woman series, are a tribute to Scheele’s green: the walls, the chair on which the woman sits, and the thread that she is embroidering all glow in adoration of this colour.   Edvard Munch also used it in his art.  He painted  a heartbreaking  picture entitled, The Sick Child, that is believed to be of his sister Johanne Sophie, on her deathbed.  Seeing the emerald green on this canvas, and connecting it to the thousands of untimely deaths due to this poison is a poignant testament.

Not all artists liked it; it would darken when exposed to  sulphur or high temperatures.  Artists who liked the colour had the choice to  isolate pigments between varnish, which allowed for the vibrant colour and saved the patron from the toxic particles.

File:Jacques-Louis David - The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries - Google Art Project 2.jpgRooms were decorated in wallpaper made with emerald green.  Every room in the house could  be adorned with this toxic beauty: from the  front parlour to the children’s room.  Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been in exile at St. Helena since his final defeat, loved  the colour green.  It was said to adorn the walls of his personal chambers, as well as his bathroom.  A scrap that was collected  by a visitor in 1820, and then was tested in the early 1990s revealed that the paper contained arsenic.  Diaries that belonged to his  valet, Louis Marchand, described Napoleon suffering from many symptoms associated with arsenic poisoning. In 2008, Italian scientists tested Napoleon’s hair, that of his son and of Josephine, and the results show that their hair has roughly 7 to 38 times  more arsenic than normal.  It is possible that this famous general suffered the same fate as Matilda and Francis.

To be continued…

Posted in Art, Art history, children, Education, England, historical, Medical history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salisbury Plain

Colonel Bedell on Salisbury Plain- another found family photo..


Posted in 1900-1914, England, historical, Medical history, Uncategorized, World War One | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kitty Jay

Image result for kitty jaysI have visited the grave at least once before on Dartmoor.  You could easily miss it; save for a flash of colour at the side of the road and the elevated earth and stone that marks the resting place.  The sense of crossroads is blurred, as two directions look like private laneways now.

Local lore says that the grave is the burial place of a girl who took her own life named Kitty Jay; possibly three hundred years ago.  Those who committed suicide were denied burial in the consecrated ground of a churchyard.  Loved ones were known to bury their tragic family relations at a crossroads.  If the dead were not given a proper Christian burial, it was believed that they would wander the earth. Family members were afraid of such supernatural haunting, even if the deceased were beloved while alive.  The crossroads would offer direction for the soul to wander, and everyone hoped that it would be the road out of town.

Kitty Jay is remembered through oral and written tradition in Dartmoor.  The oldest accounts of her story were written down from interviews with the local residents in the mid nineteenth century.  The catalyst for exploration of the story was the discovery of her bones.  One resident claimed she lived three generations back at the time, which would make her story possibly a hundred years earlier.

Image result for kitty jaysAs many locals as there were to interview, there were just as many versions of her story.  One account claims that she was an orphan, a vulnerable young girl, who was possibly working for a family.  She committed suicide in a nearby barn.  One strand of her tale is that she had a relationship with a local lad, either willing or possibly not.   The result might have been pregnancy, a condition that would have meant immediate isolation from society.  Some stories tell of her being fired because she was discovered in the ‘family way,’ and they didn’t want her terrible reputation tarnishing their good name.

No matter the story, the theme is the same: a young disadvantaged girl who suffers and takes her own life.

The fact that we still know the story of Kitty Jay speaks of a connection; a spark of compassion that ignites when we hear her story. Cut flowers have always strewn her grave, from the earliest knowledge of her resting place.  Her story is a universal tale of struggle of the individual, society and self.  It also illuminates the challenges women face in society.  Many of us can see how we too might have become a tragic figure like Kitty Jay, and honouring her memory is honouring the outlier; understanding that the laws and traditions in our society that sustain us, can also act as a barrier for personal wellbeing and health.


Posted in Devon, England, historical, history and literature, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Red Barn Murder

Image result for red barn murdersThey had tried to run away together at least twice before May.  This time it was going to happen.  She fumbled with the unaccustomed buttons of William’s shirt.  She was going to dress as a young man so that no one from town could recognize her.  William had taken her belongings, including the familiar dress, to the barn his family owned.  There they would meet, and travel to Ipswich to be married.

He was a rough man and was known for his shady dealings, but he came from a good family and prosperous farm. She loved fine dresses, and didn’t want to end up with a poor man like her father.

It was only six weeks since she had returned to her father’s crowded cottage.  She had been staying with a family member after she had become pregnant with William’s child.  She stayed long enough to go through the last visible stages of pregnancy, and have the child. Image result for red barn murders

William held it in his arms; he had called it theirs. Only two weeks after she came home, the child had died. They would have more.

William had taken their dead baby, wrapped in the blanket she had sewn.  Sudbury was far enough away to avoid suspicious eyes; she was unmarried, and there were laws against having a child out of wedlock.  William would have the child buried there, to avoid questions in their own parish.  She wasn’t even able to see the child buried.  She would ask William to show her the child’s tombstone when they were married.

She already had a child from another prosperous gentleman, who she had dreamed would marry her.  He didn’t, but he had done right by her by providing an allowance to care for the child.  Her step-mother Anne, was good enough to mind the boy for the last few months.  In fact, her step-mother, Anne was only a few years older than she, and had a son just a bit older than her boy. She caught her son calling Anne ‘mother’.  It was just as well; her father and Anne would probably care for the boy until she and William were settled.

Maria looked at her cloudy reflection in the mirror, careful not to smile.  The face that looked back at her was resigned, not joyful.  William’s green handkerchief tied around her neck brought out the green in her eyes.  Her brown hair was tied back with three combs.  The soft glint of gold on either ear was a gift from William; when they were first courting.

They had to run away now.  William had heard that the constable was bringing her a letter; charging her with having a bastard child.  She was going to be forced to go to the parish council and tell them who the father of her now dead- child was.  They might see it as suspicious that she had the child buried in another parish.  It was best to leave now, marry William, avoid these awkward questions.  A woman was both made, and destroyed by am man.

She heard William’s voice downstairs, and quietly said her farewell to the room she had shared with her brothers and sisters, all of her life.  In the kitchen she gave Anne a big hug, and asked if she would tell her son she would send for him shortly, and tell her father goodbye.  As agreed she and William left by two different doors, if anyone from town was watching.   They both were heading to the same place; the beautiful red barn owned by William’s family, and the location of their secret affair.


It was a few months of silence before Maria’s family became suspicious.  William came back alone to his family farm.  He was the only remaining son, and he had to help with the harvest.  He told Maria’s family that she was on the Isle of Wight, or in the care of an acquaintance and joyfully had become his wife.   She had hurt her hand; that was why she had not responded to their letters.  They were married, and she would soon visit.

It was when Anne became haunted by nightmares that the tragedy of 1826, in the Red Barn, was uncovered.

To be continued.





Posted in historical, history and literature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Light & Shadow

My beloved;
Elusive one.
Scent of
Feral honey and
Satin cloaked in
My heart
When you
Words dance around you:

Why, if, may I, when?

Colours blend;
In the gloaming.
Mars and Venus
Your kiss;
Out of chaos.

View original post

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment