Maria Kinnaird (1810–1891) was born on St. Vincent, but was orphaned by a volcanic eruption and she was adopted by the politician “Conversation Sharp.” (See my March 29 post on Sharp.) Sharp was once considered possibly to be the most popular man in London of his time, and she inherited through him not only a considerable fortune but a wide network of influential friends and contacts, particularly among Whig circles. She became a prominent socialite and leading hostess in London during the mid-Victorian period, being described as an accomplished, attractive, and intelligent woman. In 1835 she married Thomas Drummond, who developed the use of Drummond Light in surveying, and it is said gave him important support during his final years when he was held in high regard as Under-Secretary for Ireland (1835–40).
Maria Kinnaird was the adopted child of the politician Richard Sharp. Sharp never married, but in about 1812 Maria was orphaned following a catastrophic volcano eruption on the West Indian island of St Vincent where her parents are said to have been planters. The circumstances are unclear, but it became the joint decision of Richard, his brother William, and William’s wife, Anna, that they should bring Maria to their Park Lane home and legally adopt her. By this time, Richard “Conversation” Sharp was a distinguished and wealthy London character, and Maria was given every advantage, educationally, socially and culturally to take her place in society. Sharp moved in the highest Whig circles, and Maria came to know many of the best artists, musicians, politicians and socialites of the time. When her adoptive father died, she moved into a house in Hyde Park Gardens while maintaining the family retreat, Fredley, in Mickleham, Surrey.
As a teenager Maria became very friendly with Dora Wordsworth, a friendship that lasted until Dora’s death and some of their correspondence still exists. Maria is said to have possessed an exceptional singing voice, of which William Wordsworth was particularly enamoured. Among her many friends were Sydney Smith, the artist J.M.W. Turner, John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Professor Wheatstone, George Meredith, Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday, Austen Henry Layard, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne, Henry Hart Milman, Richard Westmacott, Sir George Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, Sir Charles Barry, Archbishop Richard Whately, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton and Farrer Herschell, 1st Baron Herschell. All of these distinguished men, and many others, were entertained by Mrs Drummond at Hyde Park Gardens and at Fredley between the years 1843 and 1891. For further references to her social circle see ‘Lord Byron and his Times.’ and ‘The Letters of Matthew Arnold.’
At one time there were rumours that Maria would marry the historian Thomas Macaulay, and the son of Samuel Romilly was also thought to have been infatuated with her, but in the end she married Thomas Drummond at Weston House the impressive home of Sir George Philips, 1st Baronet. She became her husband’s mainstay during a particularly stressful period – leading to his death – when he successfully acted as under-Secretary for Ireland (1835-1840).
Maria and Thomas had three daughters, Fanny, Mary (who became the wife of Joseph Kay) and Emily. In her declining years, it is said that Robert Browning frequently visited Maria at Fredley to read her some of his and his wife’s poetry.
Maria Drummond died in 1891, and she is buried in Mickleham churchyard. She left an important self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds to her daughter, Emily Drummond, who eventually gave it to the National Gallery in London. The painting had originally been purchased by her adoptive father, Richard Sharp, from Hester Thrale for just over £128 in 1816.
Her fascinating biography, Maria Drummond – A Sketch was written by the author/publisher, Charles Kegan Paul at the request of two of her daughters.