A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST
A change of heart can lead to a change of direction and a change of scene. In 1795 Peg did just that and decided to give up whoring.
She tells us that on her return from her Killarney jaunt she discovered that Miss Gore and Miss Philips, the two 'boarders' she left in charge of Pitt Street, had run amok throwing loud, wild parties, disturbing the neighbours and selling her furniture to fund the revelries. She felt tired at the thought of sorting out this mess. Prostitution is a young woman's game. Peg would have been in her 50s at this stage - perfectly positioned for a change of life.
In a dramatic about-face Peg turned her back on vice, embraced shame, contrition and self-abasement and attempted suicide. She drank four ounces of thebaic tincture but
found myself extremely weak; grew sick in my stomach and threw up a deal of stuff, after which I lay in a state of stupefaction, without taking the least nourishment for upwards of eight and forty hours, when in a languid state I arose, utterly detesting my own existence, and regreting that the opium did not take the desired effect, and bring me to my eternal rest.
Diarmaid Ó Gráda, author of 'Georgian Dublin', discusses the culture of moral reform that prevailed in late eighteenth-century Dublin. There was a rise in institutions with fabulous names such as The House of Industry (for vagrants who were 'disgusting to all'), the House of Correction (for criminals), the House of Recovery (for those with fevers), the Hospital for Incurables (for those 'doomed to endure life-long disease') and the Lock Hospital which originally catered for lepers, and now accepted patients with syphilis.
One leader of the reforming pack was Lady Arabella Denny. In 1759 she overhauled the Foundling Hospital and in 1766 she turned her attention to prostitutes. Her idea was to open a home for fallen women where they would be "lodged, boarded and clothed in a decent, becoming and comfortable manner, carefully and conscientiously instructed in the principles of true religion, and powerfully assisted in their virtuous resolutions." Her first home opened in Leeson Street and was called the Magdalen Asylum.
While Peg was wailing and lamenting and pulling out her hair she exclaimed:
Had lady Arabella Denny lived, that paragon of charity, piety and humanity, I would have given all I possessed to the Magdalen asylum, and retired into it myself.
It is hard to imagine Peg repentinent and humble. Perhaps Peg found it hard to imagine also, for instead of entering the all-female, punitive establishment, she moved to fashionable Blackrock.
Blackrock was a small coastal village which had become popular as the gentry left the crowded, smog-ridden Dublin and embraced sea air. The Leinsters settled at Frescati; the Cloncurrys at Maretimo, the Lees at Blackrock House; the Lanesboroughs at Sans Souci; the Dee family at Willow Park; the The La Touche's, the Herberts and the Fitzwilliams were kicking around also.
Peg built herself a villa on the Blackrock Road. The house cost her £500 to build (about €90,000 today) and she spent another £100 (about €18,000 today) fitting it out. She moved in with Miss Betsy Edmonds who was act as her companion and "with one little girl to attend to us".
Peg was owed money from past clients. She says "I certainly had in bonds, promissory notes, and I O's, [IOUs] upwards of two thousand pounds [about €360,000 today] due to me." Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had trouble calling these loans in. She hit upon the idea of writing her memoirs and alerted the men of Dublin of her plans. In an effort to avoid public exposure many of them sent her money. In this way she was able to raise 600 hundred guineas. Publication of the first two volumes of her memoirs raised another £500 ( netting her around €200,000 in today's money)
The past few posts have all been about Peg and her work and I have neglected to write about my own labours. I have now finished all nine images. I have used colour to show the progression of Peg's story: moving from light-hearted innocent yellows through to in-your-face feisty pinks. As we enter a more sombre time in Peg's life the illustrations begin to darken. I have two more stages of her story to share in the coming weeks. One would have wished that her retirement was long and care-free, but sadly this was not the case. For now, we shall leave her happy, in her home by the sea, writing of her life.