Elizabeth Gurney

Elizabeth Gurney (1770-1840) was a close friend of Eliza Gould Flower (1770-1810), wife of the radical newspaper publisher, Benjamin Flower (1755-1829), and appears often in their correspondence (see below for some excerpts from that correspondence). Elizabeth Gurney’s friendship with Eliza Gould Flower began in the early 1790s. Though originally a Baptist from Bampton, Devon, by the early 1790s Gould leaned more toward Arianism and the Unitarians, although she continued to worship among the Particular Baptists, both in Cambridge and in Harlow, until her death in 1810. In 1797 she returned to London for a time and lived with the Gurneys in Keene’s Row (it appears she had lied with then at a previous time). She remained with the until the fall of 1798, worshiping with them at Maze Pond until she took a position as a governess for the Squire family in Kempston, near Bedford.  She spent the next ten months teaching the Squire’s six children, establishing the Kempston Sunday school, and performing benevolent work for the poor of Kempston. During this time she attended the Bunyan Meeting in Bedford. Eliza’s experience at Kempston House was anything but pleasant, and her poor living conditions in the servant’s quarters most likely led to the tuberculosis which would take her life in 1810. 

At the end of summer term 1799, the Gurneys invited Eliza to live with them once again, providing her a temporary relief from her hardships and the possibility of living permanently with the Gurneys. That August the Gurneys took her to Newgate Prison to meet their friend Benjamin Flower, who had corresponded with Gould in the early 1790s and who was then serving a six-month sentence for libelling the Bishop of Llandaff. During their four-month courtship, Eliza and Benjamin corresponded nearly seventy times, their letters reading much like an epistolary novel. They wrote about their past history, current and former acquaintances, the contemporary political scene, religious controversies, and before long, their deep affection for each other.  Just prior to Flower’s release from Newgate in October 1799, Eliza left London for an extended visit with family and friends in Devon; this was partly on her doctor’s advice that country air would be beneficial to her lungs. Numerous references to Elizabeth Gurney appear in these letters and throughout the surviving correspondence between Eliza and Benjamin Flower. The letters below are the only known surviving epistolary artifacts relating to Elizabeth Gurney that have survived.