North Devon in 100 Objects: 32. A Yeomanry Table Napkin

An illustrated silk table napkin, depicting a scene, with the text 'Dispersing a mob' below.

The Royal Devon Yeomanry Regimental Collection includes a set of illustrated silk table napkins made by Thomas Marshall in 1850 for the Officers’ Mess.  The hand drawn images show the range of the Yeomanry’s activities at that time.

Thomas Mervyn Bouchier Marshall was the son of the banker John Marshall of Barnstaple, Devon. He started out articled to a local solicitor, but aspired to be an artist, and exhibited nine works at the Royal Academy between 1855 and 1858.  In 1852 he became a Lieutenant in the Yeomanry; in 1859 he died of tuberculosis at his father’s house in Barnstaple.

The technique of painting on silk, originally from France, was popularised in Devon by the D’Oyly ladies of Torquay.  Most of the napkins show various elements of yeomanry training, mostly humorous scenes including recognisable portraits of the Colonel, Sir Trevor Wheler, veteran of the Peninsula campaign and Joseph Stoker, Regimental Serjeant Major of the North Devon Yeomanry for twenty-seven years after completing twenty-two years’ service in the Second Life Guards.

Only two of the napkins show active duty by the Yeomanry. One depicts the scene after the wreck of a ship carrying sugar and rum.  A group of miserable Yeomen, with an equally miserable horse, are gathered round a fire; in the background are the wreck and the Braunton light.  The other shows the yeomanry “Dispersing a Mob”, a crowd of hungry, angry and unrepresented North Devon folk probably protesting for higher wages or against the price of food.

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