Miss Sarah Ponsonby


The year is 1795. . . and we have two pencil portraits by Anna Seward


Sarah Ponsonby
(age: about 40)

Miss Ponsonby, somewhat taller than her friend, is neither slender nor otherwise, but very graceful.  Easy, elegant, yet pensive, is her address and manner . . . A face rather long than round, a complexion clear, but without bloom, and with a countenance which, from its soft melancholy, has peculiar interest.  If her features are not beautiful, they are very sweet and feminine.  Though the pensive spirit within permits not her lovely dimples to give mirth to her smile, they increase its sweetness, and, consequently, her power of engaging the affections.  We see, through their veil of shading reserve, that all the talents and accomplishments which enrich the mind of Lady Eleanor, exist, with equal powers, in this her charming friend.

Family Statistics

born: 1755

parents: Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby († c1762)
                     Louisa Lyons († c1758)

lived at: Woodstock

siblings: 2 older half-sisters, 1 younger half-sister and 1 younger half-brother


Family Connections

“The Ponsonbys, like most of the Ascendancy, were comparative newcomers to Ireland.  Originally Cumberland squires they fought for Cromwell and had been rewarded for their services of confiscated lands….” [Mavor bio, p. 3]
Lady Elizabeth Fownes, who cared for Sarah after the death of her step-mother (Sarah’s father was Lady Betty’s cousin), had two sisters-in-law who were daughters of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire: Lady Caroline Cavendish, the duke’s eldest daughter, married Lady Betty’s brother William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough; another daughter, Elizabeth, married their brother, the Rt. Hon. John Ponsonby.  It is through these Cavendish relatives, that Sarah and Eleanor were distantly related.  [Cavendish genealogy: website]



Annual Register, 1829


8. At Plasnewedd, Llangollen, aged 76, Miss Sarah Ponsonby, the friend of the late lady Eleanor Butler, with whom she resided in that romantic retreat more than fifty years.  She was the daughter of Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, esq., son of major-general the hon. Henry Ponsonby, who was killed at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745.


Gentleman’s Magazine, 1829

 “Miss Ponsonby.

            Dec. 8. At Plasnewedd, Llangollen, co. of Denbigh, aged 76, Miss Sarah Ponsonby, the friend and companion of the late Lady Eleanor Butler.
            They resided together in that beautiful retreat for more than fifty years, beloved and respected. Their separation was short: Lady Eleanor died June 2, 1829. On that occasion (in vol. XCIV. ii. 175) we related the singular circumstances of their seclusion. The only companion of their flight was a maid named Mary, somewhat older than themselves, but who lived to an advanced age, and died not many years ago. The ladies erected over a vault a three-sided pyramid, on one side of which was placed an epitaph to Mary, when it was seen by our informant a few years since.
            Miss Ponsonby’s father was Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, esq. son of Major-General the Hon. Henry Ponsonby, who was slain at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, and was great-uncle to the present Earl of Besborough. Mr. Ponsonby was thrice married, and had one surviving daughter by each wife, and by his last a posthumous son, the present Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby Barker, esq. Miss Sarah Ponsonby was the daughter of his second wife, Louisa, daughter of John Lyons, of Mount, co. of Westmeath, esq. Clerk of the Council in Ireland, and deputy Mustermaster-general.”


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. milenanik3
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 15:01:27

    Very interesting blog.Amazing..I longed so much to read about them two.Thank You for sharing with us.Keep writing and I will read each word here.
    With regards,
    Milena Nikolić


    • Janeite Kelly
      Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:41:15

      Dear Milena — so glad you found the Ladies! Aren’t they fascinating? I highly recommend Elizabeth Mavor’s biography (there should be used copies out there, but it is newly reprinted, by Moon Rise Press). There is more to come — and I’d love to post anything you come across about them as well.



  2. milenanik3
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 13:18:29

    Dear Janeite,
    I nominated Your blog to get The Versatile Blogger award .


  3. anne egan
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 21:11:26

    Fascinating story,so want to visit their house in wales


  4. Janeite Kelly
    Aug 12, 2012 @ 11:03:54

    Hi, Anne — I had written a long reply; no idea why it did not post.

    In short, you should definitely visit Llangollen (a delightful place), AND stop by Plas Newydd. Tour the house, walk the grounds. You will be glad you stopped in!


  5. Vespina Fortuna
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 02:27:33

    Sono una scrittrice di Roma, Italia e qualche anno fa ho visitato la casa delle due ladies di Llangollen. Ancora oggi, in quelle stanze, si percepisce l’atmosfera dolce e sobria in cui Sara ed Eleanor vivevano. Mi sono lasciata guidare dalla fantasia e sono “entrata” in punta di piedi nella loro vita. Adesso ho deciso di romanzare questa storia, prendendo in prestito il loro coraggio e la loro determinazione. Credo che la ambienterò in un contesto diverso, ma mi piacerebbe conoscere meglio il loro carattere, puoi aiutarmi?


  6. Vespina Fortuna
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 03:25:36

    Ciao Janeite, thank you to answer me. I’ll like to know if is possible to write a story about the ladies. Are they covered by copyright? I invented the story, I’m writer of fantasy book, but I shall like to speak about this fantastic love about the ladies.
    If you know, mI’d like to know if Eleanor was shy or bold, strong or weak, bold or timid. Can you help me? thanks.


    • Janeite Kelly
      Dec 14, 2012 @ 13:02:33

      Ciao to you Vespina!

      As you will have guessed, with films like Becoming Jane, the lives of people long dead are really “up for grabs”. I would heartily recommend two books to you: The Hamwood Papers is based on the diaries of Eleanor Butler (with some editorial commentary); this presents, in her own voice, Eleanor. The Mavor biogaphy on the Ladies of Llangollen (there is a new reprint version by MoonRise Press (moonrisepress.co.uk), if you have trouble locating earlier editions), presents a balanced picture (I think) of the two ladies.

      There is one visitor who was turned away in his request to enter Plas Newydd – and in thinking of Eleanor as the petitioned, I’d certainly call her bold and strong. Do read the comments by Seward (who knew them well), which I’ve placed as a page under each woman’s name.

      Check out, also, the BIBLIOGRAPHY – at least one title comes to mind (I have not read the book) of a fictional story, and there’s a even a play or two! If it interests you to see what others have “done” with the Ladies’ story.



  7. Liam Merrins
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 01:59:05

    Hi Janeite,
    Been researching the Butler history and stumbled on this interesting story. At what age for both did they first elope, also what caused Mary Carryl to leave Ireland.?


    • Janeite Kelly
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 12:37:44

      Hi, Liam — sorry for the delay in answering; trying to figure the age of the two ladies is down to the idea of when they might have been born Sarah is fairly firmly 1755; Eleanor is a guess at c1739.
      As to Mary Carryl – I have to assume she knew what what going on, and, being a valued servant, felt it her duty to go.
      Mavor’s biography of the Ladies of Llangollen will be of use to you.



    • Liz
      Nov 30, 2015 @ 17:39:11

      You know, regarding your question, Liam, of what caused Mary Carryl to leave Ireland – I have to wonder if she did not have some sort of premonition about the state of things to come at Woodstock once Sarah would be gone? We know that within two month’s of Sarah and Eleanor’s departure, her cousins the Fownes, the married inhabitants of Woodstock would both be deceased, dying within three weeks of each other. I wonder, in the days that Sarah and Eleanor prepared for their final departure to Wales from within Sarah’s room at Woodstock, if Mary was afforded some insight that Sir William’s health was at risk? We know that Lady Betty’s health was already in decline at that time and I just have to wonder if maybe Mary did the math and thought to herself, “If these two are going to go down hill soon, what will become of me?” Or perhaps the climate at Woodstock was such that she could not now imagine continuing on there without Sarah’s joyful presence?

      One other option – we know, based on a letter that Sarah’s Lady Betty, wrote to Sir William possibly in 1778, where she details her final wishes regarding her impending death, that she sees herself as failing – what if, knowing that Sarah would soon be leaving Woodstock, it was Lady Betty herself who encouraged Mary to go with them? Or perhaps as Kelly suggests, she went simply out of duty. She left a lot behind, a mother, a brother, perhaps a lot of family.

      Some resources say that Mary left on the same voyage, with Sarah, Eleanor and the pup. Others say that she came alone later. I certainly wish I could get my hands on the ship’s manifest to see who was actually with them when they sailed away from Waterford to Milford Haven on that spring day in 1778, never to return to their homeland again…


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