Thursday, 15 September 2011


This weekend the Sydney Smith Association will hold their AGM in Sidmouth, choosing this 'little marine paradise' as Sydney called it because the great man brought his family to holiday here year after year from about 1830 to about 1845. This seems a good excuse to quote from his pro Reform Bill speech at Taunton in 1831 in which he remembered the great floods of 1824 that brought that stalwalt Sidmothian, Mrs Partington, to the nation's attention. He said:

"I do not mean to be disrespectful but the attempt of the Lords to stop the progress of reform reminds me very forcibly of the great storm of Sidmouth and of the conduct of the excellent Mrs Partington on that occasion.

"In the winter of 1824, there set in a great flood upon that town - the tide rose to an incredible height - the waves rushed in upon the houses, and everything was threatened with destruction. In the midst of this sublime and terrible storm, Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop, squeezing out the sea water and vigorously punching away the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was roused.

"Mrs Partington's spirit was up; but I need not tell you that the contest was unequal. The Atlantic Ocean beat Mrs Partington. She was excellent with a slop or a puddle , but she should not have meddled with a tempest."


  1. Very apt to the times, Wayland.


  2. The interesting thing is that the picture you have thumbnailed - from the Bodleian (here) - adds a layer of political satire; the face of Dame Partington is that of the Duke of Wellington (representing the old aristocratic club, entrenched in parliament, that the Reform Bill aimed to take down). Is there any contemporary evidence that "Dame Partington" actually existed?

  3. I checked this out further, and turned up some interesting stuff: Mrs Partington became a meme for futile resistance that lasted right into the 20th century. See Mrs Partington and her mop: Victorian meme.