Kearsley, Catharine, c.1741—1809
by Benjamin Colbert
In her will dated 1790, Catherine Kearsley appears as the widow of George Kearsley (c. 1739-1790; ODNB), bookseller and publisher, with two surviving sons, George and Thomas, a daughter Catharine (married in 1799 to Thomas Davison, the Fleet-Street printer), and a daughter-in-law, Eleanor. She also mentions a half-sister, Rebecca[?] Sibthorpe, and several friends. These clues, however, have not yet yielded clear information about her family background, and there is virtually no record of her day to day life and concerns.
We do know that her husband’s business at no. 46 Fleet Street passed into her hands after his death, the imprint ‘G. Kearsley’ becoming ‘G. and C. Kearsley’ and sometimes ‘C. Kearsley’. Around 1796, she passed the business on, in turn, to her son, George. During the interim period, she published Kearsleys’ Stranger’s Guide, or Companion through London and Westminster, and the Country Round (1791), a guidebook generally attributed to her, but for which she may have acted as a compiler as was the custom for proprietorial guidebooks when not farmed out to other anonymous writers.
In addition to publishing, Catherine Kearsley acted as the sole producer and distributor of a popular proprietorial medicine known as Welch’s Female Pills, ‘so well known for their efficacy in removing Obstructions to which unmarried Ladies at a certain period are subject, also what is commonly called Green Sickness’, as a 1795 advertisement put it. The genuine articles bore her signature as the numerous ads proclaimed. The profits must have been considerable as the first page of her Will is devoted to the division of shares in the product among her heirs. In 1798 she swore an affidavit before the mayor at Mansion House certifying that the recipe had been purchased by her husband from ‘the Widow Welch, in the year 1787 […] with the view of making the medicine for public sale’ (‘Widow’). Widow Welch's Pills continued to be sold by C&G Kearsley Ltd into the 1960s.
Catharine Kearsley died on 8 December 1809 at the age of 68. Her will requested that she be buried next to her husband at Islington cemetery, Middlesex.
Oracle and Daily Advertiser, no. 21882 (Wed., 16 Jan. 1799). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 29 Nov. 2017.
Ross, Trevor. 'Kearsley, George (c. 1739–1790), bookseller'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Oxford University Press. Web. 29 Nov. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/47159
‘Welch’s Female Pills’. Sun, no. 824 (Tues., 19 May 1795). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 29 Nov. 2017.
‘Widow Welch’s Pills. Kearsley’s Original’. The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions 8.96 (June 1867). Print.
Will of Catharine Kearsley, Widow of Fleet Street, City of London. 23 Dec. 1809. PROB 11/1506/394. Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Natl. Archives, Kew.
|Kearsleys' Stranger's Guide, or Companion through London and Westminster||1791|