The Circus

The Circus

Pp. 182-185

18th C

Gainsborough appears to have had an ambivalent attitude to the young Fischer. He did not consider him to be a suitable husband for his daughter but clearly enjoyed making music with him, so much so that his wife swore that the two men were so carried away with their playing that a gang of thieves might have crept in, stolen everything portable and set fire to the house before either man would have noticed.

Fischer received an important appointment in 1781 when he was appointed to Queen Charlotte's Band, receiving a generous salary of £200 a year to play in concerts at Court. Gainsborough's doubts about the marraige were well-founded and the couple were soon in trouble. Apparently Fischer had lied about his finances. He was in desperately in need of money following the wedding and before he received the royal appointment. A few months after their marriage Gainsborough discovered that Mary was acting illegally by buying goods at one shop and trying to make money by selling them at another, a serious felony carrying the dire threat of transportation to the American colonies or to the West Indies if caught. (Australia did not become a British penal settlement until 1788).

Her father was furious, blaming the whole epsiode on Fischer, believing that Mary had acted, and would always act, to serve her husband, even to the point of going to the gallows for him if necessary.

Describing the incident to his sister, Mrs Gibbon, Gainsborough admitted that Margaret had begged him to cover up the whole embarrassing story, asking him not to discuss it with anyone. He wrote in secret to his sister, admitting that he preferred to tell her the truth. He had managed to stop the transaction before anyone was hurt and now begged his sister to approach Fischer (not his daughter) to discover if he had initiated the plan, and then to give Mary a good ticking off for any part she might have played in the scheme.

Mary suffered from a mental illness which became apparent when she was quite young, at just thirteen, and again in 1771. The condition worsened with age and might have had some bearing on her behaviour on this occasion. Whatever the reasons for his initial doubts about the marriage, Gainsborough's instincts had been right and the couple soon separated.

Mary returned home to live with her parents and her sister and her father became extremely worried about her mental health. In his will he made specific arrangements for her future maintenance, ensuring that Fischer had no chance whatsoever of taking control of Mary's money received from her father. His wife Margaret, however, as we have seen, remained on good terms with her son-in-law but she, too, made provision for the care of Mary should she outlive her sister Margaret, as indeed she did.

FOOTNOTE: Margaret never married. She became rather eccentric as she grew older but was not affected by mental illness. She died in Acton, Middlesex in 1820. Mary declined into madness several years before her death and was deranged by the time her sister died. Sophia Lane, Gainsborough's niece, took care of Mary until she died in London in 1826. The sisters were buried in a tomb at Hanwell in Middlesex. Fischer died in 1800 . [Ref. D. Tyler: Gainsborough's House Review 1992-93, pp 42-46]