Beautiful Spotted Boy

I stumbled upon this child’s story in the accounts of London’s Bartholomew Fair, and his story deserves a fuller description.

It seems he was the first example seen in this country of what is now known as partial albinism, where the skin is white in patches and the hair is often dramatically white, but lacks the eye problems and skin thickening of full albinos.

The first known case was ‘The Variegated Damsel’, Mary Sabina, born in 1736 on a Jesuit plantation in Cartegena, Colombia. The girl was the daughter of two slaves and her appearance was attributed to the mother having had a pet spotted dog whilst pregnant.  She became famous locally, and the owners of the English Factory there sent her portrait to London and it now hangs in the Hall of the Royal College of Surgeons where the image of ‘Our Little Variegated Damsel’ was used to illlustrate lectures on the condition.

In 1808 a baby was born on St Vincent whose skin was said to be mottled all over in dark brown and white. Apparently his slave parents had the surname of Gratton, but it is unclear whether they were slaves or free.

The popularity of exotica and freak shows at fairs etc, led him to be sent to England, and arrived in Bristol at the age of 15 months, and widely praised, as was Mary Sabina for their great beauty. He was purchased by Samuel Richardson, one of the most famous showmen of the age, who allegedly paid 20,000 guineas for him.

Richardson had him baptised on 22 July 1810 George Alexander Gratton in Newington Church, then on the outskirts of London. Baptism had long been practiced as a means of protecting dark skinned people from becoming enslaved, so this may have been to protect him during the fair, but in this case, there was also a deep and  genuine fondness for the boy by Richardson.

He toured as ‘the Beautiful Spotted Boy’ or the ‘Spotted Negro of Renown’, but in 1813 he died of ‘a gathering about the jaw’ which may have been a facial tumour that his condition often causes. He was buried in Richardson’s own plot in the churchyard of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, with a beautiful headstone. When Richardson died his body was placed in the same grave, and his headstone added to the plot, both of which are now apparently badly eroded.

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