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A July birthday - Sarah Anne Drake

Admirers of nineteenth century botanical illustrations all know the name “Miss Drake”. Between 1831 and 1847 she produced the most exquisite illustrations of plants and flowers, particularly orchids, for John Lindley, 1799-1865. He is sometimes called the “Saviour of Kew Gardens”. Her illustrations are always signed “Miss Drake”, so no helpful first name! She appeared on the 1841 Census in John Lindley’s household in Acton Green. This census showed hers as Sarah Drake, an artist, aged 35, but no county of birth as she was born outside of Middlesex. She has been impossible to trace as the names Sarah and Drake are far too common.

For more than a hundred years she has remained unknown apart from her paintings – there were no answers as to her date and place of birth, why she left John Lindley and what happened to her thereafter.

She remained an elusive enigma. 

Yet her paintings stand testimony to her existence and her talent. Indeed John Lindley thought sufficiently highly of her to name a genus of Australian orchid after her – Orchid Drakaea – the Hammer orchid. (See photo above on left - from Wikimedia Commons). Sadly, it is now highly endangered

In the latter part of the twentieth century a historian working in Canada unearthed a bundle of letters which belonged to descendants of John Lindley. These letters made it obvious that Miss Drake was governess and/or companion to Lindley’s children and that they had nick-named her “Ducky”! One important letter mentioned the good news that Ducky was about to marry a wealthy Norfolk farmer by the name of Hastings. Thankfully the historian recognised the importance of this information and the details of Miss Drake’s life were soon uncovered.

On 23rd November 1852 Sarah Anne Drake married John Sutton Hastings, 1790-1869, in the parish church at Fritton in Norfolk. (See photo of marriage certificate below.)

John Sutton Hasting was a widower and had had six children by his first wife. Sarah Anne Drake was born on 24 July 1793 in Skeyton in Norfolk and died on 9 July 1857 in Longham. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as diabetes; but, it may be, that she was slowly poisoned by the toxins in the paints she used.

After Sarah’s death John Sutton Hastings went on to marry Anne Lindley, the sister of John Lindley; and he was a witness at the wedding. She out-lived John Sutton Hastings by a number of years, dying on 23 June 1887 at Longham Hall, the Hastings family home.

John Sutton Hastings and his three wives are buried alongside each other at the parish church of Longham in Norfolk. In the year 2000 friends of Sarah Anne Drake raised a memorial to her inside the church. It states :-

“Sarah Anne Drake

Second wife of John Sutton Hastings

Born at Skeyton July 24th 1803

Died at Longham July 9th 1857

Friend and botanical illustrator to the

Orchidologist & Saviour of the Botanical Gardens

Kew Dr John Lindley who named the Orchid

Genus Drakaea after her. This memorial was

Erected by admirers of her work in 2000”

John Sutton Hastings was my great-great-great-grandfather and I feel very honoured and privileged to have his second wife, Sarah Anne Drake, the botanical illustrator, as part of my family.

Curiosity makes me wonder if she continued painting after leaving the employment of John Lindley, and, if so, have any of these painting survived amongst the many descendants of John Sutton Hastings. If anyone knows of any such paintings, I would love to hear from them.

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