Eliza’s Cabin

Home Comforts Abroad: Inside Eliza’s Cabin onboard the Earl of Chatham

On the 7th April 1767 Eliza Draper left England on the maiden voyage of the Earl of Chatham, destined to re-join her husband Daniel Draper in India. As the wife of a prominent secretary in the Bombay government, it seems probable that Eliza would have traveled in some comfort. We already know of the gifts that Sterne himself bestowed upon her for her travels, gifts as lavish and eccentric as a Zumpé square piano and (to quote Sterne himself) ‘ten handsome brass screws to hang [her] necessaries upon’; however little else is directly known regarding the luggage that Eliza took with her.

Thankfully Eliza was not the only lady of elegance and repute to travel extensively during the eighteenth-century and many of her contemporaries did leave us clues as to the sorts of items a lady of Eliza’s standing would have required for independent travel. We also know much about the pastimes common amongst the leisured-classes of the period. By bringing these various sources of information together we can begin to imagine the kind of items, accessories and necessaries that Eliza may have chosen to take with her on her long voyage east.


Seven months is a long time for anyone to bear aboard a merchant vessel and it is easy to imagine that staving off boredom and ennui would have been difficult on such a voyage, yet thankfully Eliza did not travel alone. The young lady and her companion, Hester Light, would have been able to keep one another entertained during the long days at sea.

Cards – Playing cards provided a popular (if occasionally frowned upon) pastime amongst eighteenth-century women. Games prominently played since the early half of the century included Faro, Whist, Quadrille (a trick-taking card game) and Ombre. Though undoubtedly an entertaining and sociable way to while away the hours, card games were often portrayed as a frivolous waste of a woman’s time. In Alexander Pope’s mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock (1714) the game of ombre is depicted as an absurd and trivializing parody of masculine combat:

‘Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,

Burns to encounter two adventurous knights,

At ombre singly to decide their doom;

And swells her breast with conquests yet to come.’

(Canto II lines 25-28)

The mid-century female novelist Charlotte Lennox echoed Pope’s concerns. In The Female Quixote (1752) the heroine Arabella encounters a young lady at church who, ‘having spent most of her Time between her Toilet and Quadrille’, (Lennox, 2001, p. 67) is left utterly dumbstruck and ignorant of social convention when addressed by one her superiors. In both of these literary examples trivial card games are portrayed as having encroached upon time that should have been spent in the domestic education and contemplation appropriate to a lady.

Music – As mentioned above, one of Sterne’s more extravagant presents to Eliza was a square piano manufactured by Johannes Zumpé.  Extremely fashionable and novel in the period, it is highly likely that Eliza would have packed some music to play upon it.

At the more light-hearted and accessible end of the music market, sing-along folk-ballads were popular throughout the eighteenth-century. Often originally printed on broadsides, these ballads were later brought together and reprinted in easily accessible miscellanies alongside well-known poems. From 1698 to 1720 a series of these folk-ballad miscellanies appeared under the curious title of Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy, a title that would later be pirated, modified and applied to numerous unrelated ballad collections.  Upbeat, jovial and well-suited to sociable sing-alongs, these ballad collections would have been ideal travelling accessories for the two young companions.

Drawing upon the aforementioned folk-ballad tradition, John Gay’s lightly satiric Beggar’s Opera had been the talk of the town in the 1720s and remained immensely popular throughout Eliza’s lifetime. Having enjoyed a run of 62 consecutive nights in 1728 (an overwhelming success by the standards of the day), the opera was reprinted in numerous editions throughout the eighteenth-century, many featuring a musical score ‘prefix’d’ to the lyrics. One such edition, also including an illustrative engraving, was printed for J and R Tonson in 1765, only two years before Eliza set sail.

Though we don’t know exactly what Sterne himself thought of Gay’s magnum opus, we do know that he was an admirer of the Scriblerius club (of which Gay was a member) and many of their works. There is every likelihood that his enthusiasm may have rubbed off on the young Eliza.

Reading and Writing – One pastime Eliza certainly took pleasure in during her voyage was letter-writing. We know that Eliza wrote letters onboard the ship addressed to her cousin Sclater and, unsurprisingly, to Sterne himself, though these letters are now unfortunately lost. Eliza would have taken the standard letter-writing equipment of the time with her, comprising of quills, ink, inkwell, paper, wax and seals.

For information on Eliza’s reading please see ‘Imagining Eliza’s Bookshelf’.


Clothing – Eliza’s travel-wear is unlikely to have differed tremendously from the clothes that she wore in England. Her undergarments would have been made up of a shift, stays and stockings, which she would have taken with her and worn at all times. Indeed, the Turkish embassy letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu suggest that English ladies of repute would have stoically continued to wear this intricate setup in even the hottest and sweatiest of conditions. In a letter back to England dated April 1717 we learn that, contrary to local custom, Lady Mary insists upon remaining bound up in her stays even when surrounded by naked female bathers in a Turkish bath. The other bathers, struck by her modesty, believed her to have been ‘locked up in [a] machine’ (Wortley Montague, 1994, p. 60) beyond her power to open.

Over these undergarments Eliza’s main dress would be formed from a gown that would open at the front to reveal a petticoat. This petticoat, usually of a contrasting yet complimentary colour, would be held together across the torso by a stomacher. A neckerchief, often made of lace, was considered essential to cover the exposed neckline. We cannot be sure whether Eliza had any kind of specially designed travelling dress made for her voyage, though we do know that such items of clothing existed, Lady Wortley Montagu being in possession of a ‘travelling habit’ or ‘riding dress’ (Wortley Montagu, 1994, p. 58) during her time in Turkey. Quilted satin travelling jackets and skirts were also available (see Dolan, 2001) if still rather cumbersome.

Cloaks or jackets came in different designs for different purposes. These included the Caraco, an informal jacket to be worn inside the house for some activities, and the Brunswick, a hooded item similar to a jacket and thought of as an informal or travelling gown. Women could also wear a cape, a semi-circular piece of material tied around the neck. It is likely that Eliza would have carried a variety of fashionable jackets and outer garments to protect her gowns.

Though this multi-layered form of dress may not seem particularly well suited to the burning heat of the Indian sun, not everyone saw having to cover-up as a disadvantage. Mrs Kindersley, writing from India in 1765, states her belief that English ladies are much less likely to die from violent fevers as men, the reason being, in her view, that ladies ‘expose [themselves] less in the heat of the day’ (Robinson, 2001, p. 242)

In order to complete her outfits Eliza would probably have taken a number of hats, bonnets and caps with her. In the eighteenth-century it was uncommon for a lady to leave the house without a hat or bonnet upon her head. Should the lady choose a hat, a cap would be required to be worn beneath. A cap is a piece of material which protected the wearer’s hair from the dirt of the outdoors and also provided a surface upon which to attach the hat. These were, quite understandably, frequently washed. Hats were often made of straw and sometimes covered entirely by material. They were elaborately decorated with ribbons and flowers and could be considered as the statement piece to the whole dress.

Smaller accessories that ladies would have taken with them on their travels include miniature sermon books, items of jewelry, parasols, fans and headdresses, some of which were defended to the death, as is evinced by another of the Turkish embassy letters dated 31st October 1718. In this letter Lady Wortley Montagu recounts how a fellow passenger, fearing that the vessel on which they were travelling would be shipwrecked in a violent storm, begged her to safeguard her headdress above all else, even should everyone around her perish. Lady Mary herself was not adverse to accessorizing and is often portrayed as having gone just a tiny bit “native” during her time in Turkey, choosing to don a local turban upon her head as opposed to the traditional cap and hat.


Medicine cabinets and other miscellaneous objects –

The fact that Eliza travelled to India accompanied by a square piano suggests that she was not adverse to a little self-indulgence and the eighteenth-century was certainly a time when the desire for luxury could be provided for.  Following the advice of their predecessors, ladies who partook of the grand tour through France and Italy were known to take everything but the kitchen sink with them.  Writing of her European travels in 1792, Mariana Stark lists a sofa-bed, sugar tongs, a silver-plated teapot, and a rhubarb grater amongst her inventory of items no lady should leave England without (Dolan, 2001, pp. 129-130).  One wonders what would count as luxuries on a seven month voyage to India when these items are listed as the necessities of a jaunt to Europe.

Health was of prime concern to travelers of both genders and portable medicine chests were available that could be stocked up against almost every predicament. Starke recommends the prospective traveler to equip such a chest with paraphernalia including a scale and weights, a marble pestle and mortar, a knife for spreading blisters, and a set of instruments for cleaning and filing teeth. Eliza’s trip to India would more than likely have required her to be similarly prepared for all eventualities.

By Alexander Hardie-Forsyth and Anna Walter

Sources/Further information:

Cyrus L. Day, ‘Pills to Purge Melancholy’ in The Review of English Studies , Vol. 8, No. 30 (Apr., 1932), pp. 177-184

Brian Dolan, Ladies of the Grand Tour (London: Flamingo, 2001)

Alexander Pope and Pat Rogers (ed.), Alexander Pope: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)

Jane Robinson (ed.), Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Lady Mary Wortley Montague, The Turkish Embassy Letters (London: Virago, 1994)

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation  http://www.history.org/history/clothing/women/index.cfm