This blog is part of our #RealStoriesOfCare series. It tells the story of Mercy, who was a pupil at the Foundling Hospital, England’s first dedicated children’s charity, in the 18th century.
Mercy Draper was taken into the Foundling Hospital, during the period known as the General Reception, and was one of 13 children admitted on the same day. Her original name was Elizabeth Chambers and she was born in October 1756.
Mercy’s musical talent
At an early age, Mercy Draper lost her eyesight, and in 1773, the Foundling Governors offered to provide training to her in singing, as she had a particularly good voice. Generally the Governors thought it ‘highly improper that the time of Charity Children should be employed in learning Musick or Singing’, but made exceptions for blind children who they thought had some musical talent.
The hospital records also show that the Governors thought that music instruction ‘might not only be advantageous to this Hospital, but an Act of Justice to the Girl’. An instructor, Mr Stanley, was appointed.
Under Stanley’s tuition, Mercy Draper became an accomplished singer and performed for several years in concerts held in the Hospital Chapel, at private parties and in churches across London. Every year she performed during Lent in a series of oratorios composed by her teacher.
She left the hospital at the age of 21 and embarked on a singing career, under the management of her former teacher.
Return to the Foundling Hospital
This arrangement came to abrupt end in 1783, when Mercy Draper refused to sing any longer in the Stanley oratorios and wanted to return to the Foundling Hospital. The Governors took her back and employed her as a singer in the Hospital Chapel.
Within a year, her mental health deteriorated. The Governors used her earnings and a contribution from her former teacher, to send her to a private asylum run by Dr Perfect in Malling, Kent.
When her funds ran out, the Governors considered committing her to the Bethlem Hospital as ‘poor and mad’.
Records show that George Whatley, a Foundling Hospital Treasurer and a vice-president, and Jonas Hanway, another vice president, left her legacies in their wills. It is not clear, but these may have been the reason she remained at Dr Perfect’s asylum until her death in 1818.