'An extraordinary spotted boy'


St Bartholomew's Fair, held in London each year over a two week period in August and September, was a focus for the fascination in the 18th and 19th centuries with ’prodigies of nature’, such as bearded women, living skeletons, ‘seal boys’, fairy children, and the like. One of these ‘curiosities’, who may have been exhibited at the fair, was George Alexander Gratton - ‘an extraordinary spotted boy’ from the Caribbean - whose likeness is shown here.

Gratton had been brought to Britain by John Richardson to be an exhibit in one of his shows. Richardson had paid 1,000 guineas for him, a huge amount of money for the day, and must have been confident of making a profit from his ’attraction.’ This engraving, published in 1809, may be similar to the kind of advertising that Richardson used. Gratton - who was compared to a Dalmation dog - may have suffered from vitiligo, a skin disorder affecting pigmentation. His spots could well have been exaggerated by the artist.

Gratton died in 1813 and is buried at All Saints Church in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

National Portrait Gallery D8254 (1809)
By courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

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