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Personal Papers of Jane Catherine Gamble, 1783 - 1884

Reference Code: GBR/0271/GCPP Gamble

Scope and Contents

The papers comprise Jane Gamble's own writings, including her literary compositions; her business papers and related correspondence and also a collection of letters, mementoes and artefacts preserved by her.


  • Creation: 1783 - 1884


Biographical / Historical

Jane Gamble came from a Virginian family but was born in England on 17 December 1808, the daughter of John Grattan Gamble and Charlotte Smith Gamble (née Duncan). She was baptised at St Luke's, Chelsea, London on 31 July 1809. The family soon began the voyage back to the USA, but Charlotte Gamble died on that journey, and the infant Jane returned to Virginia with her father alone. At some point after John Gamble’s re-marriage in 1813, Jane (aged between 5 and 10) was sent back to England where she joined the London household of her maternal aunt, Nancy Dunlop, and her husband James Dunlop. The Dunlops had one son, an invalid, and Jane became a companion for her cousin, and a cherished member of the household. She received a good education, and soon developed an appetite for reading, and for writing plays and poetry. James Dunlop (1769–1841), is often recorded in secondary sources as a wealthy tobacco trader. Born in Scotland, we know he had returned to Britain from America in the early 1800s, and set up home in London. James was a generous artistic patron and host, and Jane benefited from this hospitable and lively milieu. Her literary talents, her personal grievance at being exiled from her first home by a stepmother, and her contact with artistic and literary circles, combined to shape her character and views on life. She saw herself as a tragic figure, crossed by fate – the epitome of the heroines of her own compositions. With the help of a relative she published one play in 1846, and towards the end of her life a further eighteen, during the years 1880–1884. In the British Library catalogue these plays appear under a nom de plume ‘Miss D Nutt’. There is no indication why this name was chosen, though there may be a connection with Caroline Jane Nutt, who was JCG’s companion from 1875 to 1885; it is possible that Miss Nutt had contacts with publishers or may even have been related to the London bookseller, David Nutt. At the least, she would have encouraged and assisted JCG with proof-reading.
By 1851 JCG's uncle, aunt and cousin had all died, leaving her free to travel to Italy, for which she had always longed. Italy was the setting for a very difficult episode which may have confirmed Jane’s feminist leanings, and led to her endowment to Girton. Now an heiress, she was courted by Henry Wikoff, an American who had first met her in London in 1835, and who re-appeared in her life a few days after the death of her cousin and pursued her across Europe. The affair ended with Wikoff being convicted of JCG’s false imprisonment in a Genoese hotel room. He was sentenced to 18 months in gaol. On his release, Wikoff published his own account of this adventure. No mention of these events is to be found in JCG’s own journal, however.
JCG died in 1885 in Florence and is buried at Kensal Green, London. Jane Catherine Gamble had not been a student at Girton and had no official connection with the College. Nevertheless, when her will was made public in 1885, it was revealed that she had bequeathed Girton her residuary estate. This amounted to about £19,000 and meant that JCG became Girton‘s largest benefactor to that date. This bequest enabled the purchase of additional land and a large expansion of the College buildings. Girton also acquired sculptures, other artefacts, and books as part of JCG’s legacy. The Gamble Essay Prize was founded in her memory in 1888.
Research undertaken by the College between 2020 and 2023 has revealed complex and significant links between JCG and plantations worked by enslaved individuals in Virginia and Florida, USA. In particular, JCG appears to have inherited her personal wealth from her uncle and aunt, James and Nancy Dunlop. Nancy was the daughter of a plantation owner and James Dunlop seems to have derived a considerable part of his fortune from enslaved production and from trade in goods produced by an enslaved workforce. For more on this topic see the article on the College’s 'Girton Reflects: Legacies of Enslavement' webpages.


7 archive box(es) (7 boxes) : Paper

Language of Materials






The original order found in the trunk has been maintained and arranged into three series which reflect the major activities of the creator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In 1935 her bankers, Coutts of London, discovered that they held two boxes in Jane Gamble’s name, containing old documents and manuscripts. These were forwarded to the College, and contained her personal papers. They were stored in a trunk in the Library and a complete list made by Susan Bain in 2000.

Related Materials

There is information about Jane Catherine Gamble's bequest to College in the Executive Committee Minutes, volume 9 at GCGB 2/1/9. Photographs of the Dunlop family mausoleum at Kensal Green are at GCPH 13/86.


Biographical details can be found in: Barbara Stephen, 'Girton College' (Cambridge: CUP, 1933); The Girton Review (December 1885) and Susan Bain, 'Memoirs and mementoes' Girton Annual Review (2002). Details of the courtship by Henry Wikoff can be found in: Henry Wikoff, 'My Courtship and its Consequences' (New York: J C Derby, 1855) and Duncan Crow, 'Henry Wikoff, the American Chevalier' (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1963), also Caleb Crain, 'The courtship of Henry Wikoff; or, a spinster's apprehensions' American Literary History 18 (4), Winter 2006.


Gamble, Jane Catherine, 1810-1885, writer

Finding aid date

2003-08-08 13:09:47+00:00

Repository Details

Part of the Girton College Archive Repository

The Archivist
Girton College Archive
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