Susanna Elizabeth Phillips (Burney) 1755-1800

Susanna Elizabeth Phillips (Burney) 1755-1800

Like mentioned in the "About this exhibit" Susan Burney is a perfect example of what happens to women in history, how they vanish and are pushed to the side. When I began doing research on Susan Burney the first thing, I noticed was how difficult it was to find any kind of information on her. Being that she is someone from the past that did have a story, you would expect to find plenty of information, but that was not the case for Susan Burney it was the total opposite. It seems that her life was not one to keep alive and make sure she did not disappear in history but I'm here to be her voice and give you a taste of who Susan Burney was and all the many obstacles she faced in her life. 

About This Exhibit

In this exhibit you will have an opportunity to get an idea of who Susan Burney was. Susan Burney is a perfect example of what happens to women in history.


Melanie Figueroa

Susan Burney by Edward Francisco Burney 

Who is Susan Burney?

Susanna Elizabeth Phillips also known as Susan Burney before she was married was born on January 4,1755. "She was the third daughter and the fourth surviving child of the music teacher, composer, and organist Charles Burney, and his wife Esther, nee sleepe" (Olleson). Susan's mom Esther passed away in 1762 when Susan was still a little girl, seven years old. Susan and her siblings counted on each other's company. Susan valued the most company of her oldest sister the novelist Fanny Burney, they were very close.

Why would a woman that was Protestant want to write a letter to her sister about a riot that is going on with Catholics that have nothing to do with her or her religion? Makes you ask yourself, wasn't she afraid of someone attacking her?

Thursday Evening June 8th Ah my dear Fanny! How frighten’d & how miserable would you have been had you know what has been passing in St. Martin’s Street, & indeed in almost every Street in London since my last Paquet (p.168).

                                                The Gordon Riots of 1780

The Gordon Riots of 1780 was a horrifying time in London. Susan use to write letters to her beloved sister Fanny that at the time was away, in her letter she discusses everything that has been going on in London and her feelings about it. Susan was raised a Protestant and the riot was based on anti-Catholics. The Catholic Relief Act of 1778 caused Protestants to form a group to repeal this act. They did not want the Catholics to have equal rights. Protestants made it their mission to destroy Catholics any way possible such as, destroying their churches, burning their homes and attacking/ killing Catholics. Although, Susan should have no feelings about this riot since it is going against her religion, she sympathized with what the Catholics were experiencing, what they were going though. Susan was not the only one that felt this way many people wished they could have helped them but by defending the Catholics, these Protestants they were putting themselves and their family’s life and homes in danger. She was a women and Protestant she was not afraid or cared about what they may say about her she viewed things as a person should and not as she was expected to see it. She was her own person with her own voice. 

What makes Susan Burney interesting?

Susan is not someone from the 16th-17th century that comes from a wealthy family. She would say although, her family did not have all the money in the world her father tried to give them as much as possible. Susan growing up her father was not concerned with trying to get his daughters as perfect as possible to get someone to marry them. Her father sent her and her younger sister Hetty to Paris for a better education. Although, Susan did not come from a wealthy family her father did have connections to things like the Opera. Susan took after her father, she loved music. Not only because of family connections, her knowledge and perceptiveness for the Opera was so great that she was able to gain a position in a circle of Opera enthusiasts. Susan dedication was what got her known, not a marriage. 

Susan had a lot of complications with her health. One serious attack was at the end of 1768, when she was diagnosed with an inflammation of the breast, and the chances of survival was minimal, very low. But, being that she was strong she did not get discouraged, she recovered and a month later was convalescing in King's Lynn. 

Susan Burney can help other women see that you don't need to come from wealth to do what you love and that to be strong and have faith that there are many different obstacles that a person will face but that doesn't mean that that's it, miracles do happen. 

Opera by unknown (wikimedia)

  • Newgate Prison burned by the rioters in 1780 by Unknown
  • The Gordon Riots by John Seymour Lucas
  • The Gordon Riots by Charles Green

..../ public Buildings that have been destroy'd my heart ach to think of, as they must have proved the utter ruin of so many poor innocent People, who, because they are Catholics, can have no hope of redress, nor even venture to complain of the injuries they have received (p.174). 

What can we learn from her life?

Susan Burney at the age of 24 was still leaving at home in the family house in London. Susan started to worry and was not sure what her future was going to be since she still was home. Then, her eldest brother a year later returned from the Captain Cook's ill-fated third and last expedition and returned with his good friend Molesworth Phillips, he was a young Marines Lieutenant. Susan and Molesworth hit it off quick. Susan fell in love and a year later was engaged and wanted to marry immediately. Burney's family especially her father did not think it was a good idea that they marry so fast. Especially, after finding out that Philips was not an honest man and he is not making a year what they believed he was making he was making so much less. 

That didn't bother Susan or make her feel any less about Phillips she was a house keeper and knew how to live economically, she knew she would be okay and still wanted to marry Phillips and a few later does marry him. She was happy and soon after, was pregnant. She moved a few times with her husband and child, she went from Boulogne, to Mickleham, Survey. Susan and Phillips had three children Frances Raper, nee Phillips October 5, 1782, Charles Norbury Phillips in 1785 and John William James Phillips in 1791. 

But things are not always what they appear to be. Things to last forever. In 1787 her marriage had begun to fall apart. Phillips was a gambler and loved being with different women and treated Susan terrible. Phillips in 1795 received inheritances from his uncle’s death and decided that he would leave Susan behind with her two younger kids and take only the eldest son with him to Belcotton. As a woman she had no say as to what her husband did when he took their son with him. Susan was left figure it out and work even harder for herself and her children. Phillips decided to return in August 1796, demanding Susan to drop her life in London and leave with him to Ireland. What do you think a mother would do? Susan wanted to see her son so badly and more importantly, missed him so much that she decided to leave with her because if not she would never see him again. But, at the end she was the one who even by obeying and leaving with her husband nothing changed. Phillips yet again abandoned Susan and was having an affair with his second cousin. 


How can Susan Burney have an impact on a person's life?

As mentioned earlier in the exhibit, Susan has had complications with her health all her life. From having so many health problems to marriage problems Susan was a woman that never gave up. Every obstacle she encountered in her life was a learning experience for her and she always found a way to focus on the good things in life. The last three years of her life were the saddest time for Susan. She got very sick and her husband did not want to allow her to go back to England to better her health. After a lot of pushing in December 1799, her finally was able to convince her husband to let her go back to England to get her the help she deserved. She made it back to England in December 30,1799 but unfortunately, it was too late and by January 6,1800 a few days after her birthday Susan passed away. Susan can show and help others see that sometimes you must know when enough is enough and you don't want the same thing to happen to you that happened to Susan. She did not have control over her decisions the man did and because of that she couldn't fight to get better! "She is buried at the parish church of St. Mary & St. Helen, Neston, Wirral, Chester" (

  • St Mary and St Helen Church, Neston, from the North (wikimedia)
  • St Mary and St Helen (Neston) by TimPrevett

From exploring through the exhibit and getting a taste of who Susan Burney was, it should make you ask yourself why isn't she valued more in history. We should know more about her, when we browse through the web there should be tons on her and all she have gone through. Why wouldn't we want to know all about a women that was not perfect but stuck through to the very end. 


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Lord George Gordon.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Oct. 2018,

I did not use this site much in my expedition, just used information on the reason why the Gordon Riot occurred. 


Burney, Edward Francisco. “Susanna Elizabeth Phillips (Née Burney) (1755-1800).” McGill Library, 6 Jan. 2018,

This website was used to gather more information on certain parts of Susan Burney's life.  Also, I used the image so that everyone can know what Susan Burney looked like. 


Green, Charles. “Gordon Riots.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2018,

I used this image to show what it looked like at the time of the riot.


Lucas, John Seymour. “Gordon Riots.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2018,

Another image used to show the Gordon Riots.


Olleson, Philip. The Journals and Letters of Susan Burney Music and Society in Late Eighteenth-Century England. Taylor and Francis, 2016.

This book was extremely helpful in discussing Susan Burney Early life in much details. 


“Paris Opera.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Dec. 2018,

This image represents Susan's love for the Opera.


Prevett, Tim. “St Mary and St Helen (Neston).” The Megalithic Portal,

This image shows the church where Susan Burney is buried. Giving the audience a visual of where exactly she is located.


“St Mary's and St Helen's Church, Neston.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 June 2018,,_Neston#/media/File:St_Mary%27s_and_St_Helen%27s_Church,_Neston_2018-3.jpg.

This image shows the church but from a different angle. 


“The Gordon Riots of 1780.” Pen and Pension, 24 Nov. 2015,

This photo was the perfect image giving the audience a better visual of when the Protestants were burning the prison down.