John-Charles & Charley

Sketch by John Constable called Drive in the Nursery - John Charles & Maria Louisa Constable 1821-2

A Drive in the Nursery by John Constable 1821-2

John Constable’s first & third children were boys born in 1817 (John Charles) and 1821 (Charles Golding – Charley). In between them their sister Maria-Louisa (Minna) was born in 1819  who may be younger child above 

Painting by John Constable of his son, John Charles Constable - Britten Pears Foundation

John Charles Constable by John Constable - Britten-Pears Foundation

John Charles 1817-1841

John Charles was the eldest child –  a gentle character, his father describing him as having 

winning ways…… he never gives offence to a living creature. And that “in this sweet youth I see all that gentleness – affection – fine intellect and indeed all those endearing qualities which rendered his departed mother so dear to me”

 (Memoirs and Life of John Constable by CR Leslie, 1845

John was interested in science particularly in anatomy, geology, minerals and fossils. John and his younger brother Charley were tutored by Charles Bonner but that amounted to a mere two hours a day. So their father decided to send his younger (an ebullient) son to boarding school in Folkestone. He was so pleased with the arrangement that he unfortunately decided to send his frail, older son there too. Sadly, John injured himself sleepwalking and afterwards contracted rheumatic fever, from which he nearly died.

On recovering from rheumatic fever he started preparing for university, studying chemistry, anatomy and medicine in the day time with extra Latin lessons in the evening. In 1835 he was entered as a student at Corpus Christi College Cambridge although at this time he had not decided whether he wanted to be a clergyman or a doctor.

At his father's death

John was staying at John Constable’s studio in Charlotte Street, when his father suddenly collapsed and died in 1837. Asleep in an adjoining room, he heard his father call out in pain and suggested he call a doctor, but his father refused. John said his father gasped several times and then stopped breathing.

John was so traumatised by his experience of his father’s death that he could not attend the funeral.

Charles Golding (Charley) - 1821-1879

Charles Golding Constable - 2nd son 1835

Charley Constable by John Constable - Britten-Pears Foundation

Charles Golding (Charley) was John Constable’s second son and third child. He was a rumbustious boy with good health and a short attention span and deep interest in insects and a driving ambition was to go to sea. By the age of twelve, Charley was too disruptive a pupil for the home tutor Charles Boner, so reluctantly Constable sent him to a boarding school, chosen deliberately because it was by the sea in Folkestone.

  • He has never been treated with severity” Constable told the headmaster. Constable hated boarding schools due to the cruelty he experienced at the hands of the usher at Lavenham Grammar School.

John Constable was horrified at the prospect of his son working on merchant ships but, rather like his own father before him, found himself paying to support his fourteen year old son’s single-minded ambition. In 1835 and at the age of only fourteen Charley prepared for his first voyage and Constable gently complained:

“ There is no end to his wants … the towsers, jackets,etc, by dozens, blue and white shirts by scores and a supply of rattlin for his hammock as he expects to be often cut down. Poor dear boy I try to joke about him but my heart is broken with parting with him” (Memoirs and Life of John Constable by CR Leslie, 1845)  As the day of Charley’s departure grew closer his father’s heart grew heavier and he wrote:I wish Charley well at sea – for his own sake. He is an extraordinary boy and if his genius does not destroy him it will be the making of him – but my fear is more than my hope!”

Captain Constable

John could not bear to wave his son (aged 14) off on that first voyage – on which Charley travelled to the East Indies and then to China.

  • He eventually became a captain with the Indian Marine
  • He conducted the first survey of the Persian Gulf
  • He was made a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society
Sketch of Captain Charles Golding Constable

Sketch by John Constable - Memorial Museum, Exeter

When his father died, Charley argued with his sisters because they had kept some of his father’s seascapes which he felt were meant for him. He also denounced a number of genuine Constables as fakes.

Marriage & Children

Charley was the only one of Constable’s children to marry. In 1861 he married Caroline Susan Helder from Maida Vale. His aunt, Isabel Constable was a witness and he is listed in the marriage register as Commander in the Indian Navy.

  • The couple’s son, Charles William, was born on 10 May 1862 but he and Caroline did not survive the experience and they both died on that same day.
  • Charley’s second wife was Anna Maria Louisa Blundell. One of the witnesses was his sister Maria Louisa Constable and Charley was listed in the marriage register as a Captain in Her Majesty’s Indian Navy. Maria was 20 years Charley’s junior and bore him six children (Anna Maria, Clifford, Ella Nefeesh, Hugh Golding, Cyril Benson, Charles Eustace, Sybil Amina. All but Sybil survived childhood and were John Constable’s only grandchildren.
  • Hugh Golding Constable became a painter and fathered two children Arrahenua Ella and John.

Retirement & Death

Charley retired from the navy in 1863 with the honorary rank of captain. He died in 1879 at the age of fifty eight.

The sketches and paintings of John Charles and Charley on this page are by their father John Constable.

  • The ownership and whereabouts of the heading sketch is not known. 
  • The oil paintings of John and Charley are both owned by the Britten-Pears Foundation.
  • The sketch of Charley as a captain is owned by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.