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by Paul Henderson

(Professor at UCL and Scientific Associate, NHM)


This passport dated 15 June 1820 is for James De Carle Sowerby (1787-1871) to go to Paris via Dieppe. He was accompanying his sister Charlotte who was to stay in Paris for some weeks to learn French and presumably to help establish relationships between some French natural historians and the Sowerbys. James had left Paris by 16 July 1820 to return home. Charlotte returned home in October.

After an initial stay in a hotel, it was arranged for Charlotte  to lodge with an old military man, Monsieur Barzentin. His home was very close to that of Monsieur Dufresne (naturaliste-en-chef au Muséum d’histoire naturelle) who, with his family, kept a friendly eye on matters. The cost was £5 per month. She would have her own room and “will board with the family with the liberty of choosing tea or coffee”.

Soon after their arrival, James wrote to his father (James Sowerby 1757-1822) on 25 June 1820 to say “Mdme Dufresne & her daughter will lend their assistance in supplying Charlotte with fashions and making purchases for her so that she may not be imposed upon by the tradesfolk of Paris who charge the English frequently double price.”

On 1 August 1820 he wrote (now from London) to Charlotte to tell her that their father was unhappy with the cost of her stay in Paris and refuses her money to buy a watch.




Dates: James De Carle Sowerby was the oldest son of James Sowerby and Anne De Carle – born 5 June 1787. Charlotte Ann was the eighth and penultimate child, born 26 April 1802. 



Prof Henderson is currently writing a biography on James Sowerby to be published next year. The piece of ephemera referred to here is one small example from the Sowerby Family manuscript collection that we hold here at the Library & Archives. The collection includes a significant amount of correspondence and family papers, documents relating to specific Sowerby publications, drawings, biographical materials and portraits.




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