Home‎ > ‎

Mrs. Eliza Ball Hughes

Mary Eliza Wright was born to Phoebe Hannah (Lovell) Wright (1785-1872) and David Wright (-1848) on Dec. 30, 1807 in London, England.  She married Robert Ball Hughes on Nov. 2, 1828.

    According to Peter F. Stevens in Dorchester's First Couple of the Arts in the 19th Century from the Dorchester Reporter, October 1, 2001, Eliza Wright was "a cultured socialite born near London and given an outstanding education, especially in music and art.  To the surprise of London bluebloods, the couple left for the United States within days of their marriage."
    From a copy of the marriage record for Robert & Eliza we find that they were married on (Sunday) November 2, 1828 at All Souls Church, in the Parish of St. Marylebone, in the County of Middlesex, near London (now in the City of Westminster, a borough of Greater London).  Eliza was a minor since she was not quite 21 years old and needed the consent of her father, David Wright.  Robert was from Saint Martin in the Fields in the same county of Middlesex. This record was obtained by a descendent of Robert Ball Hughes in 1891 and was passed down to Frederick R. Brown III.
    From the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, pp. 3 & 4, we read that “… shortly after his marriage to Miss Wright – the daughter of David Wright of Oxford St. London they started November 12th 1828 for New York in the ship Robert Edwards, one of the regular line of Packets, and after severe storms landed in New York on the 19th of January 1829.” 
    The Ball Hughes had two daughters, Georgina, born in 1829, and Augusta born in 1832, both in New York.   Eliza died on Jan. 9, 1892 in Cambridge, MA, about 24 years after her husband.  She had lived in Cambridge, about 6 miles from her old home, "Sunnyside", with her married daughter, Augusta Ball (Hughes) Brown, and her son-in-law, Benjamin Franklin Brown, for about 10 years before her death.  Eliza and her husband Robert are buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery across the street from their first home on Adams St.
    William Dana Orcutt records in Good Old Dorchester. Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, UP, 1893, pp. 386-389: 
A sketch of Ball Hughes would be incomplete without making mention of his beloved wife, to whose assistance and inspiration was due in no small degree the success of the artist's creations. Mrs. Hughes was born near London in the early part of the century, and was fortunate in receiving an excellent education, including music and art. At the time of the Battle of Waterloo (1815) her father, who held a position under the British Government, lived in Brussels, eight miles from the scene of battle. Mrs. Hughes was fond of relating that she remembered, during the excitement of those times, having kegs of bullion brought into her father's cellar for safe keeping, and of her mother's sense of responsibility in feeling that so great a treasure was intrusted [sic] to her care.
Two [sic] days after the marriage of the young girl to Mr. Hughes they set sail for America on a packet, which required ten weeks' time to make the passage. Artists were not numerous in this country in 1830; and Mr. and Mrs. Hughes were the recipients of much attention. Washington Irving sat for his bust, which proved to be the most satisfactory likeness he had taken; but he wrote to Mr. Hughes that he did "not think there ought to be a marble bust for only a transient popularity." Success seemed destined to reward Mr. Hughes' exertions; but his aspirations were made futile by the failure of the committee on the Washington statue to carry out their contract. The disappointment was bitter, and both the artist and his wife felt it keenly. This ill-fortune in Philadelphia caused them to come to Boston.
Mrs. Hughes now turned her artistic abilities to account by taking pupils. "No weather in which horses could travel from Adams Street, Dorchester, to Boston," says a friend, "however chilling those long omnibus rides might be, could deter her from meeting her scholars, many of whom became her lifelong friends. They learned from her more than the technique of the pencil and the brush; they learned thoroughness, exactitude, and unity." For several years after the death of her husband, Mrs. Hughes resided in the School Street house. For some ten years previous to her decease, in 1892, however, she lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Brown.
    Regarding the "long omnibus rides" describes above in Orcutt's book, they could have been "long rides" on the omnibus, or more likely, rides on "long omnibuses" as they were called.  According to the Guide Through Mount Auburn, A Hand-Book for Passengers over the Cambridge Railroad, 5th Ed., 1864, pp. 6-7, the "long omnibus" was a coach drawn by four horses.  Regular service from Cambridge to Boston began in 1834 and continued until being replaced in 1856 by the "Horse Railroad" owned by the Cambridge Railroad Company.  The omnibuses saved a long walk across the bridge over the Charles River between the two communities.
    Side Note: An article entitled An Interesting Hobby in the magazine Cape Cod and All the Pilgrim Land, Hyannis, Mass: Cape Cod Publishing Co., June 1921, pp. 17-23, that gives an account of Ball Hughes Grandson, Frederick Walter Brown, and his collection of memorabilia.  One item in his collection was a large cut-glass wine goblet used by Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson (1758-1805) on his flag-ship "Victory."  It was given to Mrs. Ball Hughes father, David Wright, an (apparently high-ranking) English army officer at the time, as a souvenir and passed down through the family to Frederick Walter Brown.  The current location is unknown.
    Note that the Duke of Wellington commanded the Allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo.  Ball Hughes executed a bust of the Duke several years later.  Eliza may have seen the Duke during the war when she lived in Brussels with her parents.  She would have been about 7 years old.
    Eliza apparently enjoyed the social life wherever the Ball Hughes lived. Philip Hone recorded the following account of the Bachelors Grand Fancy Ball at City Hall in New York on Friday March 18, 1831 in The Diary of Philip Hone 1821-1851 on page 29. Guests dressed in costume as characters. She was 23 years old at the time.
Mrs. Hughes, as a flower girl, was very naïve and lively, and distributed to each of her friends an appropriate flower, with a pretty card describing its attributes, and conveying her good wishes to those whom she selected as the recipients of her favours.
    Note that the Ball Hughes were referred to as Mr. or Mrs. “Hughes” in many accounts.  Robert signed his name as "Ball Hughes" and Eliza signed her name as “Mrs. Ball Hughes,” “E. Ball Hughes,” "E. B. Hughes," or "Eliza B. Hughes." Some later records hyphenated Ball-Hughes.
    From "Women Artists in All Ages & Countries" by Elizabeth F. Ellet (1859) on p. 287, "Mrs. Ball Hughes, of Boston, the wife of the sculptor, supported her family by painting and by giving lessons in art." This comment shows that it must have been common knowledge in the 1850's that Eliza was supporting the Ball Hughes family financially.
    See A Ball Hughes Correspondence and Letter to Mr. Casey for more about Eliza's involvement in the family's fianances. We also know from the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, that Robert's health was failing in the 1860's. Eliza supported her husband even after his death. In a letter to E. D. Adams, she wrote:
"... I have loved to talk of him hence all this detail, and I wish you to remember him as a sculptor of great talent indeed a man of genius – which show’d itself in whatever he touch’d."
The letter was signed "E. Ball Hughes."  See the First Pokerism for the full text of that letter.
    Eliza apparently enjoyed gardening as she exhibited cut flowers at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in August 1848.
    Eliza's mother, Phoebe Hannah (Lovell) Wright, apparently came from London to live with her sometime after her husband, David Wright, died in 1848.  The family genealogy records that Mrs. Wright died in Boston in 1872 and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Boston.

Artwork by Eliza Ball Hughes

See The English Gypsies watercolor by Eliza Ball Hughes.
See a sketch of Ball Hughes home, Sunnyside, that is attributed to Mrs. Ball Hughes.

Note to a Friend

    I came across an interesting article about Mrs. Ball Hughes entitled E. Ball Hughes & Perspective by John H. Lienhard of the University of Houston's College of Engineering. The author thought he was writing about a book that Robert Ball Hughes inscribed a note to a friend inside the cover. It was actually Eliza who signed the note with her initials, "E.B.H." in 1881 after her husbands death in 1868. Keep this in mind as you read the article. Also note that Eliza was a painter and not a sculptor like her husband as far as we know. The book was "Easy Lessons in Perspective."
    One thing the author may be correct about is that the handwritten notes on perspective on the back flyleaf may actually be by Robert Ball Hughes. Eliza ends her note with the words "On? it (the book) you have some teaching? by Mr. Hughes," probably speaking of the handwritten notes and example sketches on perspective that are on the back flyleaf. The end of her note is written sideways in the margin of the note that's pasted inside the cover and is hard to read. The notes on perspective on the rear flyleaf appear to be different handwriting than Eliza's note.

See also:

Portrait of Elizabeth Ball Hughes for portrait by John Trumbull.
Descendants for information about the Brown family.
last update 5/20/2011
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2011
visitors on myspace