Boston: 1842-1851

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes.
    At the end of the last installment, we learned that Ball Hughes won the competition for the Equestrian Statue of George Washington in the Fall of 1840 (according to newspaper accounts at the time). The Panic of 1837 had caused a depression that led to bank failures and the loss of funding for the monument in 1841. According to Eliza, Ball Hughes had given up hope of completing the Washington Monument and moved his family to Dorchester, MA, near Boston, where several orders awaited him.

Text of handwritten pages 15-23 with original punctuation:


… There seem’d so little prospect of his getting any large work that after remaining till 1842 he decided to go to Boston where several orders awaited him.  Carrying with him a letter of introduction to the Reverend G. W. Blagden from the Revd G. W. Bethune Mr. Hughes was most kindly received and so well pleased with all whom he met . that he felt glad he had decided to make it his home, still


hoping the time would come for him to make for them the Washington Monument – in Philadelphia where we had many dear friends .

Meanwhile Mr. Hughes found plenty to do . in Boston . he made some fine Medallions for the Rodman and Rotch families, and amused himself making a statue of Oliver Twist.  It was exhibited, and greatly admired and received a gold medal from the great fair held in Boston in 1850.

It afterwards was sent to the World’s fair in England, and was immediately bought by the Duke of Devonshire for his gallery at Chatsworth.  The Duke had been a good friend to the young sculptor, before he came to America.  Soon after this he produced a beautiful statue of “little Nell” . now in the Athenaeum.

Mr. Hughes had secured a fine studio in Bromfield Street.  The Hall in front of the church – Here was made a very find model of the “Dead Christ” afterwards purchased for the Catholic church in 


in [sic] South Boston.  It was grand, and received great praise from all who saw it.

The late D. G W. Blagden, D. Vinton of St. Paul’s church . The Revd. Mr. Rogers of the Central church wrote Mr. Hughes a complimentary letter, stating that such works of art, so impressive so [grand?] were aids to religion.  Mr. Hughes’ studio was a large lofty hall just the place to inspire grand ideas!

Now began to dawn upon him the probability of his being called upon to execute if not the long hoped for Washington Monument, a bronze statue to the memory of that great man, whose works have done so much for navigation, Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch.  This work had been talked about sometime and Mr. Hughes had made a satisfactory Bust, the family were much pleased, and after some delay, a Committee waited on him, and gave him an order for a Bronze statue _   Mr. Hughes was much pleased, and at once commenced the Large model. Many of the distinguished men of that day used to come to Mr. Hughes’s studio


among them R. C. Winthrop, the late Josiah Quincy . Amos Lawrence M. Brimmer I P. Davis, the late Dr. Bigelow – Dr. Blagden_ Dr. Ezra Garnett, and others of that distinguished set whose courteous manners delighted the sculptor, who was himself

“So [sic] sweet, and gracious even in common speech
In that fine sense, which men call courtesy,
Wholesome as air, and genial as light
Welcome in every clime as breath of flowers,
He gives its owner passport round the world.”

(The late George Hillard particularly dwelt on this when speaking of the sculptor.) to whom it was natural, and exercised in his own family, and to all with whom he came in contact.  If however any one address’d him with brusquerie, or rudeness.  His manner was changed into Frozen Politeness.  But he was always a gentleman.


I must here be allow’d to express the pleasure I have had in reading Mr. Freeman Clark’s book on “Every day religion”  He therein expresses all I would say about the late Josiah Quincy.  Who many years ago, whenever a meeting of the committee on the Bowditch Statue was called, would come early, and endorse Mr. Hughes’ requests – because they were just reasonable and manly [?], and he knew under what difficulties he had undertaken the order, and how many obstacles might retard its progress and completion.  I often think with what pleasure Mr. Hughes would have looked upon the excellent statue erected to his memory—we are told . that there are but three classes of men .  The retrograde!  The stationary and the progressive__ _  In such men as Mr. Quincy I should much prefer the stationary.  Mr. Quincy’s nature was grand, noble and sympathetic, and so courteous.


On receiving the commission for the Bronze statue Mr. Hughes had immediately written to Mr. E. Hodges Bailey, the gentleman in whose studio he had passed his seven years of study life.  He enquired of him, if there was anything new, and recent improvement in metal casting – and received from him a charming letter and every particular necessary for the preservation of the original model (which is now in the Atheneum [sic] in Boston. The process of piece moulding [sic] and preparing for the metal took longer than was expected, It was to have been cast at Mr. Alger’s foundry – but owing to a large government order, and its not being quite ready, it was proposed that it would be cast at the lamp factory of Messrs. Gooding and Gavett.  Mr. Hughes and one assistant preparing the whole ready for the pit. Mr. Hughes’ directions were follow’d, and the result is the beautiful Bronze statue now in Mt. Auburn.  The sum for which it was done was 3500 __ and as usual


the expences [sic] much more than was anticipated – But Messrs. Gooding and Gavett were paid, and Mr. Hughes added much to his fame, if nothing to his Bank book . on looking over Mrs. Hughes’ scrap book, I read from a Boston Newspaper of the day.

“The Statue of the late Dr. Bowditch, is the first full length cast metal figure ever accomplished in this country.  It is the work of Ball Hughes who first formed his chef d’oeuvre in clay.  It is hard to understand, that after he had formed the almost living form in clay, it is hard to conceive in what manner in what manner [sic] the limbs could have been cast in sand, to be reproduced, and tair [?] from the mould [sic] in perfect form and shape. But it is done! and beautifully and faultlessly done, as could be by human ingenuity.”  This was one of the many kind notices at the time.  The expences [sic] of metal and casting, had been much more than was expected.  But there was sufficient left to pay Messrs. Gooding and 


Gavett, and where this was done, there remained that for which Mr. Hughes had work’d Fame !!!  He had had the honor of putting up the first Marble Statue carved in America, And now the first Bronze one.  There had been much to try him Mentally, and Physically!

On one side of the large Gold Medal of the Royal Academy which he obtained in 1823. 
There is a figure of Britannia [sic] with a youth beside her: and on a rocky rugged Hill stands the Temple of Fame to which she is pointing up and explaining the difficulties of reaching to it.

Mr. Hughes had scaled them all _  But he was weary, and his family entreated him, to give up his studio and city life, and seek at once in the country the quiet, and rest, he so much needed.  A pleasant house should be sought, not far from the city – and there he could model and do what he wanted – and come to the city without fatigue.


Schlagel [sic] says “Interior Freedom, and exterior necessity, are the two poles of this tragic world!  It may be so, for fine and delicate are the issues of life which surround us!  “he who walks through life, with an even temper, and a gentle patience, patient with himself and with others, patient with difficulties, and with crosses:  he has an everyday greatness, beyond that, which is won in battles, or chanted in Cathedrals.  Mr. Hughes had this greatness, and he was idolized by his wife and children.  And it was doubtless these graces of character, which so embellished, all his works, and gave to them such an indescribable charm of Purity and Beauty.  In urging him to give up a too active city life, his friends showed how great was their affection for him; he understood all this, and was soon persuaded that it would be best for himself and family…


    This is a longer installment than usual, covering about 9 of the 49 pages of Eliza’s journal. Looking back to the second installment, we learned that Ball Hughes had a letter (probably of introduction) from the Duke of Sussex for the British Minister to the United States when he arrived in New York from England. In this latest installment, we see that he had a letter of recommendation to a Boston pastor from a Philadelphia pastor, both of whom were named after George Washington. How appropriate! Ball Hughes was warmly received by American religious leaders in his new and final home city of Boston.

    Ball Hughes got right to work in Boston and made medallions and busts in the 1840's. He had many influential visitors at his studio in Bromfield Hall in the City of Boston. Eliza details his highly-acclaimed statutes of Oliver Twist, Little Nell, and The Dead Christ. The 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, bought the Oliver Twist statue for his gallery at Chatsworth after it was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park.  The Duke was an early patron of Ball Hughes and a friend of Charles Dickens, the author of Oliver Twist.

    Ball Hughes had previously created religious themes including The Wisdom of Solomon (1816), Group of nine Figures, representing the Descent from the Cross (1828), and the Monument to Rev. Hobart (1832). He would later create a Mary Magdalen statuette and several Poker sketches of The Monk.

    After the Committee for Equestrian Statue of George Washington failed to fund the contract, Ball Hughes was hoping for another large work. He obtained a large contract for the life size Bronze Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch after carving a bust of the famous Navigator.

    Eliza states that her husband encountered many difficulties with the Bowditch Statue including having to change metal-casting foundries. Josiah Quincy (1772-1864) came to his aid and was possibly his benefactor after the contract was cancelled due to years of delays. Ball Hughes persisted and with only one assistant, personally prepared the mold for the “pit.” The statue was finally completed in 1847.

    Eliza stated that although Ball Hughes made no money on the Bowditch Statue, he had worked fame! She compares her husbands’ struggles to the motto on the Gold Medal he received from the Royal Academy. The reverse side of the Gold Medal was engraved with an image of Minerva (and not Britannia as Eliza stated), goddess of wisdom, directing a youth up the rugged and steep path towards the Temple of Excellence. The inscription HAVD FACILEM ESSE VIAM VOLVIT translates “She did not desire the way to be easy.” Britannia is on the front of the medal. Eliza said of her husband: "He had had the honor of putting up the first Marble Statue carved in America, And now the first Bronze one."

    Eliza continued and spoke of the toll that the monumental statue took on her husband, mentally and physically. His family and friends persuaded him to give up city life and move to a quiet home in the country for rest where he could model and still visit the city. This was the beginning of his decline in health that we will see in the 1850’s.

Notes (by journal page number):

P. 15
Ball Hughes carried a letter of recommendation to Rev. G. W. Blagden from the Rev. G. W. Bethune. Rev. George Washington Blagden (1802-1884) was pastor of the Old South Church in Boston at Washington and Milk Sts. from 1836-1872. The church was in the historic Old South Meeting House that played a role in the formation of the Boston Tea Party that led to the American Revolution. Rev. George Washington Bethune (1805-1862) was Pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church in Philadelphia during the time that the Ball Hugheses lived there. Note that both pastors were named after George Washington!

P. 16
Note that even after the move to Boston, Ball Hughes was still hoping the time would come for him to make the Washington Monument. Ball Hughes was known for making medallions for wealthy and influential people including Elizabeth (Rotch) Rodman, William Rotch Sr., William Rotch Jr., and Mary Jane (Miller) Quincy (link), wife of Josiah Quincy III (1772-1864), Mayor of Boston (1823–1828) and President of Harvard University.

Eliza states that Ball Hughes “amused” himself by making the statue of Oliver Twist (1842) that was exhibited in Boston in 1850 and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. It was also exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum from 1842-1847. Ball Hughes' first Boston studio was in Bromfield Hall. The Dead Christ received great praise from religious leaders and the public.

P. 17
Ball Hughes made a bust of the late Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838) for his family. Afterward, he was hired to make a life-size Bronze Statue of the famous Navigator for a memorial at his grave in Boston’s Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The Smithsonian Institution's SIRIS database lists numerous busts of Bowditch by Ball Hughes from 1837 to 1850.

P. 18
According to Eliza, many distinguished men came to visit Ball Hughes at his studio in Bromfield Hall including:

R. C. Winthrop, (Robert Charles Winthrop (1809-1894)), American orator and statesman

Josiah Quincy III (1772-1864), Mayor of Boston (1823–1828) and President of Harvard University.

Amos Lawrence (1786-1852), merchant prince of New England or more likely his son, Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886) philanthropist and the merchant of Boston

M. Brimmer (Martin Brimmer (1793-1847)), Mayor of Boston (1843-1844) and President of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, sold land for the cemetery Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

I. P. Davis (Isaac P. Davis), owned large amounts of Boston and Cambridge real estate.

Dr. Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879)), a member of one of the founding families of Massachusetts, Jacob was involved with Horticultural Society and founding of Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Dr. G. W. Blagden (1802-1884), was pastor of the Old South Church in Boston.

(Rev.) Dr. Ezra Garnett [sp?], Ezra Stiles Gannett (1801-1871) was a Unitarian minister in Boston.

Brimmer and Bigelow were involved with establishment of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in 1831 and Bigelow was President of the Corporation in 1860 when he wrote A History of the Cemetery of Mount Auburn.

From this list we see that Ball Hughes continued to be sought out by influential Americans like he was at Holkham, New York, and Philadelphia.

The poem that Eliza quoted is by J. T. Fields and was recorded in Social and Political Morality by William Lovett, London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1853, p. 54:

"How sweet and gracious, even in common speech,
Is that fine sense which men call Courtesy!
Wholesome as air and genial as the light,
Welcome in every clime as breath of flowers, —
It transmutes aliens into trusting friends,
And gives its owner passport round the globe."

Eliza changed the first word in the poem above from "how" to "so."

George Hillard was a Boston lawyer and author.

P. 19
Eliza refers to the book, Every-day Religion (1886) by American theologian and author James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888). Note that this quote from a book written in 1886 dates the writing of The Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes to between 1886 and Eliza’s death in 1892. She said that the book expresses all she would say about Josiah Quincy. His nature was grand, noble and sympathetic, and courteous. Quincy came to Ball Hughes’s aid when Ball Hughes was encountering problems while working on the Bowditch statue.

P. 20-21
The process of casting the Bowditch statue in 1847 and the cost overrun were detailed by Eliza. Ball Hughes wrote to his former employer and mentor, Edward Hodges Bailey in London for advise on the latest bronze casting method and how to preserve the plaster model which is now in the Boston Athenaeum.

A History of the Cemetery of Mt. Auburn, by Jacob Bigelow, Boston and Cambridge: James Munroe and Company, 1860, p. 52-53:

"At a meeting of the Trustees, January 31st, 
1848, the following vote was passed: — "Whereas 
the Trustees of the subscribers to the statue of the 
late Dr. Bowditch have paid the customary price 
for the land on which the statue now stands, 
therefore, voted, that all the land included within 
the exterior side of the fence around said statue 
be, and the same is hereby appropriated and dedi- 
cated forever to the use and purpose of sustaining 
and protecting the said statue.

This statue had been erected under difficulties 
from the proceeds of a subscription raised soon 
after the death of Dr. Bowditch, in 1838. The 
Committee having charge of the work had con- 
tracted with Mr. Ball Hughes for a bronze statue 
to be delivered within a certain time. Mr. Hughes 
completed the model, but failed to produce the 
bronze casting. The Committee, after waiting a 
number of years and repeatedly extending the 
time of the contract, at length broke off their 
negotiation with Mr. Hughes, and declared the 
contract void. Mr. Hughes, however, persevered, 
and with the assistance of a benevolent friend, at 
length completed an imperfect casting, which the 
subscribers thought proper to accept. Of its 
present condition, an opinion may be formed from 
the following vote of the Trustees, May 10th, 
1853: — "Voted, that a Committee of one be 
appointed to cause the statue of Dr. Bowditch to 
be repaired by stopping the holes and painting the 
whole of a bronze color." It is to be hoped that 
this memorial to the memory of a distinguished 
philosopher and citizen, of which the design is 
better than the execution, may be restored, as it 
can only be, by a new casting to be sought from 
those who venerate his memory."

The digitized copy of the book that was donated to Harvard University by the author can be seen on Google Books.

Eliza stated that the cost of the Bowditch statue was $3500. According to the Relative Value Calculator on, $3,500 in 1847 is equivalent to about $96,000 in 2010 using the CPI.

P. 22
Eliza states again that there was only enough money left to pay the foundry, Ball Hughes received Fame for the “honor of putting up the first Marble Statue carved in America, and now the first Bronze one.” The work took its toll on Ball Hughes mentally and physically. Eliza describes the symbolism of the Gold Medal that her husband received from the Royal Academy in 1823. He had faced difficulties and was weary.

The family entreated Ball Hughes to give up his studio in the city and move to the “country” for quiet and rest. The perfect house would allow him to model at home and travel to the city without fatigue.

P. 23
Eliza quotes the German Romantic philosopher, Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829): “Interior freedom and exterior necessity, these are the two poles of the Tragic World.” The text of his lectures on Greek poetry and irony given in 1817 were translated from German and published in Theatre of the Greeks, or the History, Literature, and Criticism of the Grecian Drama, Third Ed., 1830: Cambridge, p. 272.

Eliza's 2nd quote on p. 23 was by Dr. Orville Dewey (1794-1882) who in 1858 again settled in Boston as pastor of the New South Church but retired after four years of service. It can be found in The Two Great Commandments. Sermons by the Rev. Orville Dewey, New York: James Miller, 1876, p. 140:

"... he who walks through life with an even temper and a gentle patience, patient with himself, patient with others, patient with difficulties and crosses, thoughtful, not of showy appearances, but of inmost realities, thoughtful of virtue and of God; he has an every-day greatness, beyond that which is won in battle, or chanted in cathedrals, or heralded with the shout and pageantry of a triumphal procession."

Eliza describes her husband's greatness and his character and how his family and friends adored him. They persuaded him that it would be best for him and his family to move away from the city.

    In the next installment we will learn about the happy years at Sunnyside from 1851 until Ball Hughes's death in 1868.

last update 8/10/2012
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012