12 Small Yet Historically Accurate Details In 'Sanditon'

Based on Jane Austen's final albeit unfinished manuscript, Sanditon on PBS explores the activities of Charlotte Heywood, Sidney Parker, their families, and their friends in the titular seaside village. While what exists of Sanditon in book form is a potentially unrealized masterpiece, the show of the same name introduces aspects of plot, setting, and character development that bring 19th-century Sussex to life. 

Sanditon also integrates historical details that Austen herself would have considered commonplace, but modern observers of the show may not recognize as historically accurate. What Sanditon does to give credence to aspects of Georgian England (1714 to c. 1837) and the overlapping Regency era (1811-1820) provides a fascinating - and truthful - look into people, places, and phenomena from centuries ago. 


  • Pineapples Were All The Rage In Georgian England

    Pineapples Were All The Rage In Georgian England
    Photo: ITV

    During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans who ventured to new lands found unfamiliar flora and fauna, including pineapples. Called "The West Indian delicious Pines" by royal botanist John Parkinson in 1640, pineapples were deceptively enticing:

    Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme... being so sweete in smell... tasting... as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. 

    The cultivation of pineapples in Europe began in the Netherlands and jumped to England during the early 18th century, but most of the pineapples were imported. As a result, the presence of pineapples outside of the West Indies amounted to a tacit approval of slavery and the labor it took to produce the fruit, but the exotic nature of the pineapple made it appealing.

    To have a pineapple meant you were affluent enough to afford - or at least procure - it. Pineapples were included in portraits - including a painting of King Charles II from 1675. They were displayed as decorations and ornaments, as well.

    In Sanditon, Georgiana Lambe gives great insight into the view of pineapples in Regency England after she receives an invitation to Lady Denham's luncheon. She finds it to be offensive, fearing she will be used as a prop.

    At that luncheon, there is, in fact, a pineapple - one that gets sliced open only to reveal it's maggot-ridden and rotten.

  • Seaside Resorts Sold Air And Sun As A Form Of Medical Tourism

    Seaside Resorts Sold Air And Sun As A Form Of Medical Tourism
    Photo: ITV

    Jane Austen mentioned numerous seaside resorts in her works, notably Brighton in Pride and Prejudice and Lyme Regis in Persuasion. The small village and resort community of Sanditon is fictional, but thought to be inspired by Austen's own experiences in yet another place - Worthing.

    Austen visited Worthing in Sussex in 1805, some 12 years before her passing. Worthing was a location frequented by wealthy visitors like Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George III. Amelia was in Worthing for several months during the late 1790s to restore her health.

    Worthing, specifically, was developed by a man named Edward Ogle, a man who bears a resemblance to Sanditon's Tom Parker. In a letter Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, the author attests to meeting Ogle:

    Sweet Mr. Ogle! I dare say he sees all the panoramas for nothing, has free admittance everywhere; he is so delightful! 

    Worthing - and Sanditon - offered ocean air and sea bathing, which were both thought to have medicinal benefits. For a time, Princess Amelia seemed to benefit from these features at Worthing. Amelia later visited Weymouth, another resort community, but her health continued to deteriorate. Amelia passed in 1910.

  • Biracial Aristocrats Were Present In 18th- And 19th-Century England - And It Was Complicated 

    Biracial Aristocrats Were Present In 18th- And 19th-Century England - And It Was Complicated 
    Photo: ITV

    As a person of color in the show Sanditon, Georgiana Lambe represents the only Black character in any of Jane Austen's works. Described as "a young lady... [with] an immense fortune, richer than all the rest," Austen also indicates Lambe is "a young West Indian... in delicate health."

    To have a wealthy person of color in early 19th-century England was not unheard of. However, according to author David Livesay, by the end of the 1700s, "mixed-race elites inheriting massive fortunes came to symbolize the breakdown of stability in British family finances" and were seen as a potential threat to overall social stability. 

    Livesay's assessment attests to the large number of Black people who lived and worked in urban and rural settings before the end of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 (slavery would not be abolished until 1833). Most were domestic servants, but they often had access to books, clothing, and the like as they functioned as part of a household. Cities like London provided opportunities for athletes like boxers Tom Molineaux and Bill Richmond to rise to prominence. Actor Ira Aldridge and poet Phillis Wheatley saw similar social and economic gains. 

    It's difficult to ascertain Lambe's exact circumstances and what her future may have held in Austen's vision. Regency-era England held opportunities for the likes of Lambe, but access to the same social events and education was fairly limited, especially for a woman. For literary critics like Sarah Shalih, Lambe represents "shifts taking place in English moral and financial economies." This corresponds with how Lambe is presented on the show - the daughter of a sugar plantation owner and enslaved woman who arrives from Antigua and is the "richest person in every room... Miss Lambe is not tragic. Although tragedy surrounds her, she has pulled herself out of it." 

  • Cricket Was Extremely Popular And Matches Were Social Events

    Cricket Was Extremely Popular And Matches Were Social Events
    Photo: ITV

    The origins of cricket aren't entirely clear, but the game was played in England with increased frequency during the 1700s. Perhaps derived from a Saxon or Norman game, cricket became part of village and county culture during the 17th century, with professional cricket soon taking shape.

    During the 18th century, cricket became the most popular game in London and southeastern England. Cricket also became a tool of imperialism throughout the British Empire, including North America. William Byrd, a plantation owner in Virginia, wrote in his diary around 1710:

    About 10 o'clock Dr. Blair, and Major and Captain Harrison came to see us. After I had given them a glass of sack we played cricket. I ate boiled beef for my dinner. Then we played at shooting with arrows... and went to cricket again till dark.

    An outing to a cricket match was as much a testament to "Englishness" as anything else. "An Englishman will appreciate and understand the game of cricket," and everyone involved in a match was expected to behave. This was true for players and spectators alike, however idealized.

    newspaper report from 1787 described one London match: 

    Upwards of 2,000 persons were within the ground, who conducted themselves with the utmost decorum; the utility of the batten fence was evident, as it kept out all improper spectators.

    In contrast to this version of events, riots and violence were recorded at numerous cricket matches throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries. This is another way Sanditon gets the complexities of cricket as a sport and a social event right. Proper behavior at the formal outing was accompanied by the tension between the two teams playing - the gentry (upper class) and the working class. Through it all, however, propriety wins.

  • The Sons Of Africa Were Tireless In Their Efforts To Abolish Slavery

    The Sons Of Africa Were Tireless In Their Efforts To Abolish Slavery
    Photo: ITV

    When discussing the whereabouts of Otis Molyneux, Georgiana Lambe's secret boyfriend, on Sanditon, Sidney Parker suggests that he may be at a meeting of the Sons of Africa. Now free, Otis, who'd been born in Africa before being sold into servitude, despises slavery and is an active member of the group. True to form, Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker find him speaking to the group.

    The Sons of Africa was an organization of former slaves in Britain that worked to eliminate the slave trade and the institution of slavery alike. As the first Black political association in Britain, the Sons of Africa included individuals like Olaudah Equiano (d. 1797).

    Equiano published his autobiographyThe Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African in 1789. His work detailed how he'd been taken from his native Africa, placed on a ship, and sent to the Caribbean. From there, Equiano went to Virginia, where he was purchased by Lieutenant Michael Pascal of the Royal Navy. While with Pascal, Equiano learned to read and write before being sold to merchant Robert King.

    Equiano was able to make money of his own during his time with King, eventually buying his freedom. He became active in the abolition movement in England, including the Sons of Africa. The Sons of Africa worked with the Quaker-led Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, exercised political influence in England, and initiated education campaigns for the Black residents of London.

  • Romantic Relationships Between Family Members Were Okay, Depending On The Circumstances

    Romantic Relationships Between Family Members Were Okay, Depending On The Circumstances
    Photo: ITV

    When Esther and Edward Denham exchange a kiss, the stepsiblings appear to have given in to romantic urges. Esther and Edward aren't related by blood, but the fact that they're related through marriage may raise an eyebrow or two.

    Romances between stepbrothers and stepsisters were out of the ordinary in the 18th and 19th centuries, just as they are now. That said, historically speaking, this kind of connection between siblings wasn't always as taboo as it would later become. Members of royal houses often married each other to keep bloodlines pure (not without consequences for families like the Habsburgs), and the aristocracy was known to do the same. It was common for cousins to court each other during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well.

    While the kiss between Esther and Edward isn't in Austen's Sanditon manuscript, the author did include comparable relationships in her other works. Mansfield Park features two cousins falling in love, while Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley - also related by marriage - end up together in Emma. 

    When asked why he included the kiss between Esther and Edward in Sanditon, creator Andrew Davies explained:

    [It came] partly from reading other kinds of books in the period, you know, more gothic kinds of novels, but also just meditating on the characters and their situation... Edward and Esther are characters - brother and sister - who have been brought up together. They spent an awful lot of time together. They’re isolated, so they’d obviously have a very, very close relationship, whether one of affection or hatred or whatever.