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John Brown with enslaved boy and girl: C.1012-1928

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Object information


John Brown with enslaved boy and girl


Unidentified factory (Production)


White earthenware figure moulded in three parts and pearlware glazed. Painted underglaze in cobalt blue and with blue and with black, brown, grey, green, red, pink and flesh-pink enamels, and gilt.

John Brown stands with two small, black children. His right hand holds the raised hand of the girl, and rests on his hip; his left rests on the boy's shoulders. John Brown wears a long blue coat jacket, white trousers, black shoes and a green-shaded waistcoat which has brown edging and buttons. His hair is grey, with a moulded combed pattern, and he wears a full beard. The children stand against rocks; they are barefoot and wear white smocks, striped with pink. Their hair is black, the girl's long and the boy's short. The oval base is inscribed 'JOHN BROWN' in raised and gilded capitals on a straight ribbon; there is a gilt line to the left of the title and a small incised 'o' between the words; the top is moulded to suggest rough ground. The underside is concave and glazed. The back is flat, with vertical scoring in the clay and painting to the heads and the shoulders of the main figure.


History note: Mr S. Fenton of Cranbourn Street, London. Bought in March 1909 for £1, by Dr Glaisher, Trinity College, Cambridge

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L.Glaisher Bequest

Measurements and weight

Depth: 8.5 cm
Depth: 3.25 in
Height: 34.5 cm
Height: 13.5 in
Width: 16 cm
Width: 6.25 in

Relative size of this object

16 cm13.5 cm8.5 cm What does this represent?

Relative size of this object is displayed using code inspired by Good Form and Spectacle's work on the British Museum's Waddeson Bequest website and their dimension drawer. They chose a tennis ball to represent a universally sized object, from which you could envisage the size of an object.

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


Mid 19th century
Production date: circa AD 1859


Although this figure celebrates the revolutionary abolitionist John Brown, the depiction of enslaved children as subservient to him is part of a problematic history of presenting people of colour as powerless.

John Brown (1880-1859) was a tanner and farmer who became a revolutionary abolitionist in the United States, campaigning through armed insurrection for the abolition of slavery. In 1859, following an unsuccessful attempt to seize the federal armoury at Harper’s Ferry, he was tried and executed for treason, murder and conspiracy by the state of Virginia. He is the John Brown of the song ‘John Brown’s Body lies a-mouldering in the grave’.

The source of this figure may have been an engraving in the popular press or a music cover. An image of John Brown at around the time of his trial shows him to have had plentiful grey hair and a full beard.

Woolliscroft (1976) lists this figure as attributed to Sampson Smith, at Longton, a factory listed in contemporary directories as a ‘manufacturer of figures in great variety’, which began around 1851 and continued to make figures in quantity into the early part of the twentieth century. Sampson Smith figures typically have a plain oval base, often with the title in raised capitals; they are made with a simple three part moulding, and sometimes the figures are supported by a low wall. So this figure group may have been made there. This concurs with Rackham’s listing (1935) of the group as of a type made chiefly by Sampson Smith.

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels ( black, brown, grey, green, red, pink and flesh-pink) underglaze cobalt-blue gold

Materials used in production

White earthenware Lead-glaze

Techniques used in production

Press-moulding : White earthenware moulded in three parts and pearlware glazed. Painted underglaze in cobalt blue and with black, brown, grey, green, red, pink and flesh-pink enamels, and gilt. The underside is concave and glazed. The back is flat, with vertical scoring in the clay and painting to the heads and the shoulders of the main figure.
Painting Lead-glazing Gilding

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.1012-1928
Primary reference Number: 71139
Old object number: 2933
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Thursday 25 November 2021 Last processed: Sunday 28 November 2021

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2022) "John Brown with enslaved boy and girl" Web page available at: Accessed: 2022-07-04 06:29:25

Citation for Wikipedia

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{{cite web|url= |title=John Brown with enslaved boy and girl |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2022-07-04 06:29:25|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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                        <figcaption class="figure-caption text-info">John Brown with enslaved boy and girl</figcaption>

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