Following the trail of Annie Brassey

16/1/14- Bexhill.  Bexhill Museum SUS-141023-134638001
16/1/14- Bexhill. Bexhill Museum SUS-141023-134638001

Louise Kenward spoke to Bexhill Museum members about her 11-month travelling study following Annie Brassey’s journey to the Far East on the steam yacht Sunbeam.

Annie, born in 1839, was married to MP Thomas Brassey of Normanhurst in Catsfield. The Brasseys travelled with an entourage of five children, pets and staff - they were hugely wealthy from railway construction and the yacht was fitted out in luxury.

They boarded Sunbeam at Hastings, travelling first to Russia where Annie collected her first treasure, a spectacular emerald, in St Petersburg. But she was always a curator rather than a collector, hunting for meaning and connections in her acquisitions. She interacted with the people she met, for instance showing concern for Chinese girls subjected to the barbaric foot-binding procedure. Tiny felt shoes form part of her collection.

Louise undertook her adventure, documented in drawings and photographs, with letters and postcards sent en route to Annie in spirit whenever their paths crossed. She spent time at Bexhill Museum as Artist in Residence working with Annie’s objects brought back from places she and Annie visited.

From Guangzhou (Canton) came drawings and photographs of capes. From Borneo’s Madai caverns with bamboo ladders, otherwise inaccessible except to bats and birds, come the markings of bird’s nest soup from swiftlets. Annie records illness caused by the food - Louise was more circumspect in what she sampled.

Annie’s last destination was Darwin in Northern Australia. Never strong, she died of malaria in 1887 and was buried at sea. Louise continued in Australia, photographing giant anthills and sending her customary postcard to Annie. There is a comprehensive exhibition at Bexhill Museum covering Louise Kenward’s ambitious project, illustrated with her drawings, and artefacts from Annie Brassey’s collections.

The next lecture is Women Police in World War 1, by Derek Oakensen, on Wednesday November 4 at 2.30pm, at St Augustine’s Church Hall, St Augustine’s Close, off Cooden Drive (Near Collington Station if buses are still disrupted). Admission £4 [£3 members] includes refreshments.

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