Pencil Portrait of

Frances Dickinson (née de Brissac) 1760 - 1854

Date of portrait probably 1817.
Artist unknown


Sometime in the 1970's my Aunt Frances (Frances Ann Roper née Hubbard 1899-1985) gave me a small pencil portrait. This picture has been given to Aunt Frances by her first cousin twice removed, Jane de Brissac Frederica Phelps (1842 - 1926.) Behind the back cover, is a lock of Frances Dickinson’s (née de Brissac) hair.

I treasure this little portrait; it has more sentimental value than most things I own.

In 1986 my then husband and I moved house from Highfield, Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire to Longden in Shropshire.
For the move, lots of smaller items went in the car (as the portrait nearly did) for safe keeping. However under the instructions of insurance cover, things packed by the removal men were fully insured and against my better judgement, I put it with the other pictures, thinking it would be safe.
Soon after we had reached our new home, we signed the removals papers to say everything was safely delivered etc. It was a week later that the boxes containing pictures were unpacked. The first thing I looked for was the pencil sketch. It wasn't there! I rummaged through paper and looked everywhere. It had gone. I contacted the removals firm but of course they didn't know anything.

It had been stolen.  (So I thought)

I regretted this very much and for twenty six years I always kept an eye open for it in antique shops and sales, hoping it might just make an appearance..... like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. My worst fears were, that it was hanging up somewhere, no-one knowing or caring about its history.

Then one day in 2011, doing some family research on a well-known genealogy site I stumbled across a copy of the picture on a distant cousin’s (Malcolm Davidson’s) site.  I would recognise the picture anywhere

Malcolm lives in Spain but this didn’t stop us from having a lively exchange of emails and phone calls, swapping family history items. However Malcolm was a bit hazy about where he had obtained the picture – he thought it might be at his sister’s in Essex. I duly wrote to the sister in Essex but perhaps being in her late eighties, I never got an answer. I was on the verge of rewriting to the sister when I received a short message from Anthony Prior via the same genealogy site.

Subject: Missing Picture of Frances de Brissac Dickinson
Hello,            Please contact me - I may have some news regarding the missing picture of Frances.   Kind Regards    Anthony Prior  

Anthony and I then entered into a lively email and telephone conversation. 

The story seems to be this ……

At Longden, the removals’ men unpacked the boxes containing the glassware and breakables and we signed them off saying all was in order. What we didn’t realise was that the portrait, which is only 17cm square was still wrapped and sitting in one of the cartons; being flat, probably at the bottom, it wasn’t noticed by the men who took the cartons away. There would have also been scrunched up paper etc. in the box and everywhere.

The boxes were then used by a Debbie Matthews, moving house. She it was who discovered the picture and tried to find me. The removals firm couldn’t help as they didn’t know where the picture might have come from; the boxes themselves are not recorded as to where they have been. After a while Debbie gave up trying to find me, but kept the picture safe.  Time went by.  Debbie’s circumstances changed and by 2004/5 she made plans to emigrate to Australia. She didn’t want to take an item that wasn’t hers and thankfully she didn’t take it to a second hand shop or antique dealer. She made one more attempt at returning it to its rightful owner.

She found Anthony via his de Brissac family webpage.   At first Anthony thought it might be a scam – someone wanting to fraudulently sell a picture for gain etc. So he was cautious but said he would try to return the picture to the family – time passed and he heard no more from Debbie.  Then, months later, Anthony received an urgent phone call from Debbie asking if he was still willing to take the picture.  Anthony offered to collect it but Debbie said she would mail it as she was leaving for Australia the following morning.  Two days later a small parcel arrived at his home.

Anthony photographed the picture, together with the items in the back of the frame – the lock of hair from 1817 when Frances was 57 years of age, which probably dates the picture.

These pictures were then sent to all his de Brissac contacts. He even showed the picture to Charles-Henri de Cossé-Brissac the current Duc de Brissac while he stayed at the Chateau de Brissac in France, 2005, all to no avail. The years passed and rather than confine the picture of Frances to the de Brissac archives, Anthony reframed it and hung the picture at his home keeping the original frame just in case it was needed.  And there she remained for the next 7 years. 

On my retirement I started working much more on my family history. Having seen the picture on Malcolm’s tree, I of course copied it onto mine and said somewhere in my notes, to the effect that this picture had gone astray. 
During the wet summer of 2012 Anthony himself was also working on his tree on line and saw the picture and my comments. That is when he got in touch with me. He very quickly returned the original picture to its frame and posted it, together with the lock of hair and the note by my Aunt Frances by registered post.
After twenty six long years my great x3 grandmother has come home to me. This history will be attached to the back of the frame before she thinks of setting off ever again!
In the process I have also discovered two new cousins!   All thanks to the internet


Judith Frances Hubbard

4 September 2012


Note Frances de Brissac came from a distinguished family of Huguenots, who fled France via Utrecht and came to live in England in the late 1600s/early 1700’s.