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Canning, Countess Charlotte

Born Charlotte Stuart, Lady Canning  (1817 -1861) was the daughter of Sir Charles Stuart de Rothesay, who served as British Ambassador in Paris, where Charlotte and her sister Louisa lived from 1817–30. Charlotte married Charles Canning in 1835 (son of the former British Prime Minister and the 1st Viscountess Canning). 

They had no children. Charlotte became lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and accompanied the Queen on many public and private tours and recorded the places that they visited in a series of accomplished watercolours, particularly of Scotland and Osborne on the Isle of Wight. It is known that Charlotte visited the Isle of Arran, privately, in September 1846, making sketches which she later used for a series of watercolours painted in 1847, now owned by Queen Elizabeth II, in the care of the Royal Collection Trust. 

Charlotte again visited Arran in 1851 and 1852. With her husband, Charlotte also travelled around Europe until, in 1856, Charles was appointed the new Governor-General of India, to the surprise of many, including Queen Victoria. He became Viceroy of India in 1858 and Charlotte became India's first vicereine when the country fell under control of the British Crown.

Charlotte was described in the Indian press, as ‘a beauty, an artist and an eminent botanist‘. The Cannings took up residence in Government House, Calcutta, but while her husband worked long hours, Charlotte found herself ‘isolated to a degree I could never have imagined’.

She kept a journal and wrote frequently to Queen Victoria, at one point describing strange and terrible outbreaks of violence which were the start of the Indian Mutiny in 1857. In 1859 Charles Canning was raised in the peerage as Earl Canning and Charlotte became Countess Canning.

Charlotte painted continually throughout her extensive travels across India. She embarked upon many personal treks into the Himalayas where she recorded flora and fauna, spectacular mountain scenery and jungle views. Volumes of Charlotte’s watercolours were sent home to her mother in England who was ‘enchanted by their variety, industry, taste and science’. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin thought Charlotte’s depictions of Indian foliage were the ‘greatest representation of flowers he had ever seen’. The two watercolour portfolios in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London contain some three hundred and fifty watercolours by Charlotte, the result of four major tours in India.

Returning to Calcutta from her final expedition in November 1861, Charlotte died of malaria, on the eve of their return to Britain. Charlotte was buried in the grounds of Barrackpore, West Bengal. As he wrote to tell the Queen of his loss, she wrote to express her devastation at the loss of Prince Albert (December 1861). A memorial to Charlotte can be found within the church complex of St John’s, Kolkata.

Her portrait – a stipple engraving on paper (1839) - by William Henry Egleton, is held in the Print Room of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.


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