Harold Nelson Burden: Saint or Speculator?


The language used in this post to describe learning disabled people is that of the early twentieth century and is unacceptable and offensive today. As it was used in legislation and in the naming of institutions, I have no option but to repeat it, with apologies. 

Continue reading Harold Nelson Burden: Saint or Speculator?

The Betrothed of Emmett: Sarah Curran

In spring 1808, a young married couple arrived in Hythe. The husband, Captain Henry Sturgeon, was joining his regiment, the Royal Staff Corps, after a posting to Sicily but it was his little Irish wife, Sarah, who attracted attention. She was clearly not long for this world – indeed she resembled a ghost already people said.  She also, it was whispered, had a tragic past: she had been the betrothed of Robert Emmett, Irish nationalist, failed revolutionary and eventually martyr to the cause.

Sarah was born in 1782, the youngest in a family of nine. Her father was John Philpot Curran, a barrister and later Master of the Rolls of Ireland, and her mother Sarah Creagh. The family home was The Priory at Rathfarnham near Dublin. Philpot was a hard, domineering father and parsimonious. He bestowed all his love and affection on another daughter, Gertrude, something of a musical prodigy, who died in 1792 aged twelve, after apparently falling from a window. She was buried in the grounds of the Priory.  His wife complained openly about the dullness of her life and eventually eloped with the vicar of a neighbouring parish, a Mr Sandys, when Sarah was twelve.

Sarah Curran’s childhood home

Sarah was sent to stay with friends of the family. She wrote how much happier she was there than bearing the ‘tyranny and injustice’ of her own ‘melancholy home’.(1)  The respite was not to last long, however and her miserable life at The Priory continued until in 1802, her brother Richard brought a friend to visit. He was Robert Emmett. 

Robert Emmett

Four years older than Sarah, Robert was the son of a Dublin physician.  He had studied at Trinity College Dublin but been expelled when his links to a nationalist group were discovered.  He and his brother Thomas continued to work for the group – the Society of United Irishmen – and by the time he met Sarah Curran he was involved in planning an uprising against British rule. 

The couple became close and Robert’s visits to the Priory more frequent until Sarah’s father made it clear that he was no longer welcome. Inevitably, clandestine trysts were arranged instead. 

Robert’s revolutionary plans included amassing and hiding arms in and around Dublin. When one of these makeshift depots was destroyed by an explosion, Robert brought his plans forward and called for revolt on 23 July 1803.  It was a fiasco. The Wicklow contingent never arrived and the Kildare men retired thinking the rising had been postponed. The men at Broadstairs waited in vain for the signal to march and the hoped-for French invasion did not materialise. Wearing a green and white uniform, Robert and a small band of co-conspirators marched to Dublin Castle. On the way they encountered the lord chief justice, Lord Kilwarden, and his nephew, pulled them from their carriage and murdered them with pikes.  Robert’s followers then rioted in the streets. Appalled by their behaviour and realizing the cause was lost, Robert escaped and hid in the Wicklow mountains. 

The uprising as imagined in the 20th century

However, his love for Sarah Curran  prevailed and he moved to a house in Harold’s Cross, near Rathfarnham, where he lived under an assumed name and where the couple could meet.  The interlude did not last long. Robert was betrayed and arrested on 25 August and in prison tricked into revealing Sarah’s name. He had been foolish enough to keep their correspondence, in which his plans for the revolt were made clear. The town major set off for the Priory and Robert wrote to Sarah: ‘My Dearest Love… I never felt so oppressed in my life at the cruel injury I have done you. I was seized and searched with a pistol over me before I could destroy your letters’.

Robert was tried and convicted of high treason on 19 September.  His speech from the dock has become famous, but it is impossible to establish which of the seventy-plus versions in existence is authentic.  Whichever it was, the Chief Justice, Lord Norbury, was not moved and  sentenced Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the prescribed penalty for high treason. The following day Robert was executed in Thomas Street by hanging and was then beheaded once dead.

No relatives claimed the body, which was temporarily put in an open grave. At nightfall  local artist  James Petrie (no relation) went  and removed the head to make a death mask. This done, he took the head back, but the body had gone, possibly collected clandestinely by family or friends. 

Robert’s death mask

Robert’s last letter to his brother asks him to treat Sarah as a sister ‘I did hope to have had her my companion for life’, he wrote. However, it was sent by Dublin Castle to Sarah’s father.   He was furious and disowned her. ‘Blotted, therefore, as she may be from my society, or the place she once held in my affections, she must not go adrift.’ He sent her to live with an acquaintance, Cooper Penrose. in his house near Cork.  Penrose, a successful Quaker businessman, had two unmarried daughters, Bessie and Anne, who befriended Sarah. She stayed with the family until 1805. 

Penrose Cooper

Then, in Glanmire church, near Cork, on 24 November 1805, Sarah Curran married Henry Sturgeon.  By now the legend of the Betrothed of Robert Emmett was starting to grow, and it was claimed that though she married Sturgeon, her heart really belonged to Robert. She could only give Sturgeon respect and affection and he agreed to those terms. Romantic heroines are not supposed to fall in love twice and certainly should never recover from the death of the beloved. 

The church of St Mary in Glanmire

Another story, told by an assistant to the artist James Petrie, was that a heavily-veiled woman visited the studio in summer 1806 to view the portrait Petrie had made of Robert from the death mask. After much sighing and weeping she left. The assistant presumed that it must have been Sarah.  

By October 1806, she and Sturgeon were en route to Sicily. Sarah wrote to Anne Penrose that ‘My dearest Henry behaves like an angel to me,’ which does not really suggest a marriage of convenience.  They reached their destination in December and Sarah loved  Messina with its amphitheatre and ‘high romantic hills’ They had a large comfortable villa where they entertained guests for whom Sarah played the harp and sang.  In July 1807 she told Anne Penrose she was pregnant.

Sarah playing the harp

In Autumn, Henry was ordered back to England and told to report to Hythe, where the Royal Staff Corps now had its permanent base and where the building of anti-invasion fortifications was in full swing.  He and Sarah arrived back in Portsmouth in December, where, aboard ship on Boxing Day, Sarah gave birth to a son, Johnny. 

The child died aged only two weeks and Sarah became ill. She had suffered intermittently from a cough in Sicily, but the cold and damp of an English winter, the stress of the sea voyage while pregnant and the grief of losing her child must have contributed to her worsening condition.  She was not long in Hythe. 

In March 1808, Major Charles James  Napier wrote from the town: 

‘I rode here, dear Mother, to see poor Sturgeon, who has lost his little wife, the betrothed of Emmett… Young Cyraan [her brother John] is here. His sister was gone before he arrived. They are going to take the body to Ireland. Mrs Sturgeon was past hope when she first came: she seemed a perfect ghost and could not speak without stopping to  get a breath at every word’. 

Sarah died on 3 March 1808. She had asked to be buried next to her sister Gertrude at Rathfarnham, but her father, in a final act of paternal malice, refused. She was buried instead at  Newmarket, County Cork. Henry survived her by only five years, being killed during he Peninsular Ward in 1813. 

Sarah’s grave. The marker is recent as the original gravestone was delivered to the wrong graveyard

But the story of the Betrothed of Robert Emmett lived on, helped along by prose (Washington Irvine’s The Broken Heart in 1819) and by poetry. Thomas Moore was inspired to write three poems about Sarah, the most famous of which, She is Far From the Land’, has been set to music and may be heard here:

She Is Far From The Land – YouTube

With thanks to Andy Curran

Details of Sarah’s life & quotes from her letters are from The Voice of Sarah Curran: Unpublished Letters Together With the Full Story of her Life, H.T. Macmullen, Dublin 1955

The Palmers of Hythe part four – the Linguist

The founder of the ‘Hythe Reporter’, Edward Palmer (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist)  had one son, Harold Edward Palmer. His was perhaps the most remarkable of the Palmer family stories.

He was born on 6 March 1877 in London.  In the early 1880s his father moved the family back to his home town of Hythe in Kent where he worked in the stationary shop opened by his own father and in 1890 launched his newspaper. 

Harold Palmer’s education began at local elementary schools, but he was withdrawn at the age of ten and tutored at home for three years. He spent two further years at a small private school run by the Winnifrith family in Prospect House, Hythe, before leaving for good in 1892 at the age of fifteen. Before this, he had made a few tentative steps into journalism, having a sketch of Hythe’s lifeboat published by the Daily Graphic and as a teenager contributing humorous pieces to the Hythe Reporter  under he name ‘Jobbins Z. Jobbins. He also spent six months on an exchange visit with a family in Boulogne before taking on the paper’s editorship for two years but then left Hythe to pursue a teaching career abroad.

One of Harold’s light-hearted pieces

By February 1902 Harold was teaching English in a language school in Verviers, Belgium. The following year he established his own school, later known as the Institut Palmer, which flourished and in time came to occupy two separate sites in the town. On 19 November 1904 he married a local woman, Elisabeth Purnode, and a daughter, Dorotheé, was born on 28 April 1905.

During his time in Verviers, Harold set out on a course of self-education. He became a member of the local société polyglotte and started writing language teaching materials. His first book, Méthode Palmer, an English course for French speakers, appeared in 1906. He joined the International Phonetic Association and in 1910 had the first of many contributions accepted by its journal Le Maître Phonétique.

This caught the attention of Britain’s leading twentieth-century phonetician, Daniel Jones of University College, London and the two met by chance on a cross-channel ferry in 1912. Two years later, the German army invaded Belgium and Harold found himself to be an enemy alien. After what he later described as ‘six weeks of nightmare’ he and his family crossed the border into Holland  and thence to England. After an attempt to start a school in Folkestone, Harold took up a post teaching French in a London grammar school. He contacted Daniel Jones, who invited him to deliver a series of extra-mural lectures at University College on methods of language teaching. The success of these led to a post in the University, teaching spoken English and organizing a year-long course in language teaching methodology, the first of its kind at university level in Britain. He stayed until 1921, publishing three academic works on language teaching. 

Daniel Jones

At the end of his time in London and after a gap of sixteen years, Harold and Elisabeth had another child, a son named Tristram

Harold at work

Having established himself at home, Harold moved on. He accepted a post as linguistic adviser to the Japanese ministry of education and in February 1922 left for Tokyo, where an Institute for Research in English Teaching was set up with Harold as its director. He taught, researched and continued to write, producing five more works, including one in conjunction with his daughter Dorothee.  He was also, for a year, English tutor to the Emperor’s second son, Prince Chichibu, who wanted to study in England and he experienced the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. 

 Harold and Elisabeth in Japan

Prince Chichibu, who studied at Magdalen College, Oxford

The family made a trip home in 1926, travelling overland through China, Siberia and Russia, a journey which provided plenty of anecdotes for the speaking tour which followed.  Early the next year, at St Andrew’s church in Tokyo, Dorothee was married to Basil Stanley Anderson. 

By 1936, now approaching sixty and with the international situation deteriorating, Harold decided to return to England and he left Japan with a DLitt from Tokyo Imperial University, a considerable achievement for a man whose formal education had finished at fifteen.  On their return the Palmers settled at Felbridge, on the Surrey–Sussex border, where Harold continued writing English language teaching materials, including The New Method Grammar (1938) for young learners, which used railways as a metaphor for grammar  – he even constructed a working model in his garden.

In July 1942 Tristram, the Palmers’ twenty-one-year-old son, a promising musician, was killed in action over the Netherlands while on a bombing mission.

The CWGC grave of Tristram Edward Leonard Palmer

Harold Palmer never fully recovered from the loss, falling victim to depression and ill health. He died at his home, Coopers Wood, Felbridge, from acute heart failure on 16 November 1949, and was buried at Folkestone cemetery. His work, however, lives on and Warwick University holds a unique archive of his publications. 

Harold is buried in the same grave as his father, Edward. (http://www.findagrave.com)

The Palmers of Hythe part three – the Emigrants.

Edward Palmer, the founder of the Hythe Reporter (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist), had four brothers, John, Frederick, Robert and Percy.

Robert, born on 6 April 1851 in Hythe, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher, but that was where the resemblance ended. Robert did not spend the next fifty years in National Schools, but instead joined the British Army as a schoolmaster. He joined up two months before his twentieth birthday and was sent at first to Aldershot.  At twenty three, he married Jeanie (or Jane)  Henderson and the following year their son, impressively named Robert  Percy Chetwynd Hohnhorst Palmer, was born.  They sailed for India soon afterwards, but after the birth of another son, Claude, Jeanie died there and in 1882 at Meerut, Robert married Mary Ellen Fountaine. Their daughter, another Jeanie, was born the same year. Perhaps the two wives had been good friends.

The family returned to England in 1884 and were posted to Shorncliffe, near Hythe. Here Robert could re-acquaint himself with his family and his brother Edward stood as godfather for one of the three children born to Robert and Mary Ellen there. They returned to India in 1891, leaving Robert junior with his mother’s family.  At about this time, Robert senior, whose second given name was Chetwynd, began to use the surname Chetwynd-Palmer, a common enough practice at the time.

Shorncliffe in the second half of the 19th century

Robert served his twenty-one years in the army, but on taking his pension stayed in India and further children were born there during the 1890s. The family never returned to England, their names names popping up all over the British Empire in Australia or India, South Africa, Kenya or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Robert’s youngest brother Percy, meanwhile, seemed to be living a less adventurous life. Born on 20 July 1861 in Hythe, his first recorded occupation was ‘furnisher’s clerk’, though his daughter later claimed he was a journalist. Possibly he did some work for the Hythe Reporter. He had married Agnes Mary Foard and produced a family of two boys and two girls by the end of the century.

Then, at nearly forty, when the first Boer War broke out, he joined up, serving as a private with the Maidstone Volunteers at No. 17 Stationary Hospital in Middelburg, South Africa with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was there from 1900 to 1902 and survived enteric fever. On his return, another daughter was born and he seemed to have settled down again, working now as an agent for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. His elder son, Cyril, however, changed everything. After attending the North Council school in Folkestone (now the Mundela School), Cyril worked as an assistant in a boot and shoe shop in Tontine Street, but decided he wanted to be a farmer and managed to find a place as a trainee.

In 1911, he took his ambitions a stage further and emigrated to Australia, where the farming opportunities were greater. Two years later, his father joined him and in February 1914, Agnes and her three daughters made the journey half way round the world (Percy, the other son, remained in England).

Many years later, the middle daughter, Kathleen, wrote a memoir of her early years in Tenindewa in  Western Australia. (1)

Kathleen Palmer at about the time the family emigrated

They arrived in the Australian summer, the girls wearing warm winter clothes – navy serge dresses, long woollen stockings and high lace-up boots. They had been told that Cyril and their father had built a house and Kathleen imagined a square, redbrick edifice with high, flat windows – the typical Kent farmhouse.  What she found was a hessian ‘humpy’ with a corrugated iron roof, beaten earth floors,  two rooms and no kitchen. Water was carried up by horse and cart from the nearby creek & stored in a 2000 gallon can and after a few days tasted foul. They got bread once a week from a baker but it was stale after a couple of days and  they did not know how to make their own.

Gradually, things improved. A separate kitchen was built and connected to the humpy by a shed. A school opened in 1915 and also provided a venue for dances.

Percy, Agnes and their family in Tenindewa. Percy (seated) had been suffering from ‘sandy blight’

Then Percy was on the move again. He decided to join the ANZAC forces rather than letting Cyril go to war, as his son was of more use on the land (and in any case was rejected for military service because he had flat feet).  Percy pointed out that he was already an experienced ambulance driver.  According to his obituary, he joined the Australian Medical Corps and spent most of his war with the Desert Mounted Corps in Egypt and Palestine, being wounded and invalided home just before the armistice.(2)

Percy, looking a lot healthier, in AMC uniform

He was now fifty-six years old, but still energetic enough to build, finally,  a brick house for his family in 1920. Percy died on 18 January 1927, after a long illness, having lived to see his children settled in their new homeland and starting families of their own – Kathleen, the family biographer, married, had two daughters and ten grandchildren.

Kathleen Palmer on her wedding day, with husband Alec Rumble

  1.  Memoirs of a Migrant by Kathleen Rumble at Tenindewa.com
  2.  trove.nla.au/newspaper/article/255640575

The Palmers of Hythe part two- the Journalist

Edward Palmer was the fifth child of another Edward Palmer, the founder of Hythe’s National School and its first head master (see The Palmers of Hythe part one – the School Teacher). He was born in Hythe in 1853 .  Edward senior encouraged all his children to follow in his profession and most did, including, for a while, Edward junior.   He qualified, obtaining a diploma in French, and for a few years taught in London.  In 1876 in Kensington, he married Minnie Frostick and they settled down in Kensington.  A son, Harold Edward, was born the next year.

The little family moved to Islington in 1882, where Edward earned extra by providing French classes for adults.  However, he seems to have decided that teaching was not his true vocation, and in 1883, the family moved back to Hythe. When Edward senior had retired from teaching in 1875, he had set up a stationer’s and bookseller’s business on the corner of High Street and Great Conduit Street, and his son joined him there.  In 1886 young Edward became the Hythe agent for the Folkestone News  handling correspondence, reports and advertisements, and he was soon established as a reporter.

The High Street premises of the Palmers’ stationery shop & HQ of the Hythe Reporter

That first issue consisted of four pages:  as was then the practice, the front page comprised advertisements only. In his introductory column, the editor promised full and fair reporting of all Hythe events.  On municipal affairs, he said, the paper   would advocate ‘economy with efficiency’:  appropriately, this was the policy of the Hythe Ratepayers’ Association, whose supporters had elected him to the Town Council the previous year.

It was perhaps odd that he agreed to represent the group at the Town Hall, as he apparently disliked public appearances. A rival newspaper reported of him: ‘Mr. Palmer’s forte is not speaking, and as pale and trembling, with faltering speech, he addressed the noisy meeting, he must have passed through moments of intense agony.’ Perhaps this is why he abandoned teaching.

Edward & some of the Hythe Reporter’s staff

Without the backing of the family business, the Hythe Reporter could not have survived those early years.    In 1892 it was enlarged; four years later it doubled its size – and its price.  By the end of the decade it had taken over the Hythe and Sandgate Echo.  Harold joined the paper as a journalist, but eventually decided that his future lay in teaching English as a foreign language and moved to Belgium.

Outside journalism, Edward’s family doubled in size when a daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1889. A couple of years later, he helped make news himself, when in November 1891 a severe storm  wrecked the cargo ship Benvenue off Sandgate, and the Hythe lifeboat,  Mayer de Rothschild, going to her rescue,  overturned two hundred yards off shore, flinging its crew into the sea. Edward was there to report on the event and with other townsmen he waded into the surging sea and helped drag ashore two of the lifeboatmen; he had caught hold of a third when a heavy wave knocked him off his feet, and he went under water with the lifeboatman on top of him.  He experienced a few moments of sheer terror before someone seized the two of them and pulled them to safety.   Eventually, twenty-seven of the Benvenue’s crew of thirty-two were saved; one Hythe lifeboatman was drowned.  Among the onlookers was Edward’s son, Harold, aged fourteen.  His sketch of the launching of the Mayer de Rothschild was published next day in the Daily Graphic.

An artist’s impression of the wreck of the Benvenue

The following year, a suggestion made by Edward at a public meeting led to the first Venetian Fete on the Royal Military Canal at Hythe. Although it got off to a rocky start because of lack of funding, it eventually became a biennial event , comprising floating tableaux and, after dark, illuminations and fireworks.  It continues to this day (though currently, Covid-19 has put it on hold).


A twenty-first century Venetian Fete float

In 1916, Edward conceived the second event which still survives.  Canadian soldiers were a common sight in Hythe during the First World War. On arrival in the UK they were accommodated at one of the many camps which ringed Hythe until they were shipped to France. Many came back injured and many of these did not recover. They were buried a Shorncliffe cemetery, just outside the Hythe boundary. Each grave had its uniform wooden cross bearing name and regiment, Edward wrote in the Hythe Reporter but the men’s relations thousands of miles away were denied the consolation of visiting these graves.  He would like to see a day set apart for the placing of flowers on each grave, ‘and who is more fitted to this than the children who wave flags and salute the flag on Empire Day? So Canadian Flower Day was born.

In the early evening of Wednesday, 13th July, 1,500 schoolchildren assembled on the sloping ground of the cemetery.  Nearly all had walked there.  To the music of the Band of the Canadian Artillery, they and the adult visitors sang ‘The Maple Leaf’ and the National Anthem.  Then the children walked quietly among the graves with their bouquets and posies, until every grave was a mass of flowers.  Many Canadian soldiers were present, and it was noted that afterwards a number picked a few flowers to send to relations in Canada. This became, until 1939, and annual event and was reinstated in 1952.

The first Canadian Flower Day

During the war, Edward also volunteered for the Hythe Volunteer Fencibles, a sort of proto- Home Guard.

Edward in uniform

After the war, Edward interested himself in maintaining and developing the entente cordiale with France, organising cultural, sporting and educational exchanges. In 1924, he was awarded the Palmes Academique for services to the Republic of France.  By now, he and his wife had moved to Folkestone, where they lived in Audley Road.

Edward died on 7 October 1927, having been ill since the beginning of the year, though he had continued during his time to submit historical articles to his newspaper.  One obituary said of him that he had three great beliefs – in Hythe, in international friendship and in decency.

And the Hythe Reporter was published until the paper shortages of World War Two led to its demise.

To be continued

Betrayed: Sarah Mannering

On a bitterly cold February day in 1786, a carter drove into Hythe with a passenger, a ‘near perished’ young woman, heavily pregnant, whom, he said, he had found in a miserable state on the road from Dymchurch.

He took her to the home of the mayor, Henry Mercer.  She had only a few shillings on her and knew no-one in the town. Shocked, he called in the Overseers of the Poor, who arranged accommodation at the Duke’s Head inn for the woman, who gave her name as Sarah Mannering.  It would be weeks before she could tell them anything else, as she soon became ill with a fever which lasted twelve weeks, during which time her child was delivered stillborn.

The Duke’s Head, Hythe, closed now for some years

Finally, on 31 May, she told her story. She had been born Sarah Monk, in Essex. On 4 July 1784, in Romford, she married William Mannering. At that time, she was living in Purleigh and he in Upminster.

On 21 January 1786 he left her ‘to shift for herself’.  She kept the letter he sent soon afterwards, to show to the Overseers of the Poor. It reads:

To Sarah Mannering, Romford, Essex- Loving wife and child I write you this to let you know that I am Determined to go to the East Indies Immediately so I would have you Never think to see me no more. I would have you go to the Overseer and make him Carry you home. I am tired of my life in England and Therefore By God I will go to the East Indies Directly. I shall [en]list in the morning. May God attend you which shall be the Constant Prayer of your Disturbed husband which is ruined Forever. If I shall live to return again I will come to see you. Pray God Bless you and my Child forever.

From yours, William Mannering.

Presumably, since he was going to enlist and go to the ‘East Indies’, he was intending to join the army of the East India Company, which effectively governed the sub-continent. Whether he did or not, or just went away and changed his name, we cannot know, or why he considered himself to be ‘ruined’.

William seems confident that the Overseers will take Sarah ‘home’ – perhaps to Purleigh – but he was ignorant in this respect of the Poor Law. When Sarah married him, his place of settlement became hers, too, even if she had never set foot there.

The 1662 Act of Settlement had established the tenet that everyone had a place of settlement where you could legally obtain Poor Law relief.  Further legislation in the 1690s said that you could gain a settlement through, birth, marriage, apprenticeship, regular employment for a period of a year, renting a house worth £10 per annum, paying parochial taxes, or serving as a parish office.  William had told Sarah that his place of settlement was Lydd on the Romney Marsh, though she did not know why.  Records do not show that he was born there, so presumably he must have have claimed to have been apprenticed there or worked there for a year. It is an unusual place for an Essex man to be sttled. 

Sarah evidently could not shift for herself, and two weeks later she was arrested while begging and taken before a magistrate. She told them that her husband’s place was at Lydd. The magistrate, a man called Bynion, issued a vagrant pass and she was sent to Lydd, some eighty miles distant and a three- or four-day journey, depending on the state of the roads in early February.  The Romford authorities arranged her transport to Rainham in Kent and then found a man called Arnold at a public house there to take her on the second leg of the journey in his cart.

The Ship Inn, Lydd

Lydd is now a small town and was then even smaller, most of its population officially engaged in fishing and unofficially in smuggling. On arrival, Arnold headed for the Ship inn, where he made enquiries and was told he should speak to Mr Gilbert, the Deputy Overseer of the Poor.  Gilbert made his own enquiries and told Sarah the next day that her husband did not have settlement in Lydd and that she could not stay. He gave her another vagrant pass and ten shillings and sixpence and told her to leave the town.  Since she is described as being visibly pregnant, ‘big with child,’ knew no-one locally and the weather was then freezing, this seems incredibly callous.  

Gilbert sent a passing small boy with Sarah to show her the road to Romney.  She walked to Romney and then on to Dymchurch, a distance of about eight miles. There she spent a night at the Ship inn and the next day she tried to walk on to Hythe, but was found on the road by a Good Samaritan in ‘a pitiable state’. The man got her into his cart and took her to Hythe.


The Ship Inn, Dymchurch, still open in the 21st century

Sarah was by then in Hythe poorhouse where she remained until she persuaded the Hythe overseers in 1787 to give her four shillings to help her go to Purleigh.  She had been betrayed by her husband, by the Poor Law system and by most of the men who administered it. Now she wanted to go home. Whether or not she reached her destination, we don’t know.  A short detour along the way would have taken her into London, a magnet for the poor and dispossessed. Whatever the case, Sarah disappears from history. We can only wish her well.  

The Hutchinsons of Hythe Part 1: Practical Men

The father of the Hythe Hutchinsons was Scrope Hutchinson, born in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1782, the son of Nicholas and Elisabeth Hutchinson. His birthplace was a house built by his father which later became the Sacrista Prebendal, one of the homes of the prebends of Southwell minster. He studied medicine at the University of Halle in Germany and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. He married, in May 1806 at Tonbridge, Anne Hammond.  At this time, her residence was given as Deal, Kent, and his as Southwell.

The birthplace of Scrope Hutchinson

The couple moved to Hythe shortly afterwards and six children followed, all born in the town, though one, a daughter, died as an infant.  Scrope practised medicine and was appointed senior medical officer for the 52nd Light Infantry, Sir John Moore’s regiment based at nearby Shorncliffe. In 1839, he moved to Dover and later to London, to live with his eldest son. He died there on 25 November 1847. In his will he left about ten thousand pounds and an extensive library of medical and other books.

The first child of Scrope and Anne Hutchinson was a daughter, also called Anne, born in 1807. She died aged only eighteen in 1826 and was buried in a new vault finished in time for her funeral in St Leonard’s church.

The stone marking the vault where Anne Hutchinson was buried

The eldest son, William Barclay Hutchinson, born in Hythe in about 1809, became a physician and like many Victorians with mundane surnames, added his second given name to it to make him Dr Barclay Hutchinson. After studying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and in Paris, he practised in Guilford Street, Bloomsbury, and was Medical Officer attending the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital in London

He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1829 and a Fellow in 1842.  As eldest son, the care of the family’s womenfolk fell to him after his father’s death and in 1851, he can be found in Guilford Street with his mother, his aunt and both his surviving sisters, Mary(1811-1856) and Isabel (1821-1908).

William Barclay Hutchinson

William remained unmarried and retired to 12 Onslow Gardens, Brompton  where he died in on 17 July 1869. 

The next son was George Rowan Hutchinson, baptised in St Leonard’s church Hythe in February 1815, though the curate noted in the register that he was born on 1 January 1813. He was by the age of eighteen a lieutenant in the  Royal Engineers and quickly became an explosives expert, especially skilled at creating simultaneous explosions. His talents were called upon when in 1842, the South Eastern Railway was obliged to blow up the Round Hill cliff between Folkestone and Dover in order to run the railway between the two towns and connect the port of Dover to the rest of the country.

On the morning of 26 January 1843, a small group of dignitaries and a huge crowd of Dover citizens  (probably including George’s father) gathered to watch the event.  A small tunnel had been pierced through the cliff. From this three shafts had been sunk from which galleries had been excavated. At the end of each gallery was gunpowder, brought from the Faversham Gunpowder Works.  George checked all was correct and then the galleries were sealed with tightly rammed chalk and sand.  At 2.15pm a dull, muffled boom could just be heard by the audience and at the same time there was a heavy jolting movement of the earth. The bottom of the cliff, according to one bystander, ‘seemed to dissolve.’ Then the face of the cliff slowly sank giving way to clouds of chalk.  The directors of the SER gave George a handsome piece of silver plate in gratitude.

The demolition of Round Hill cliff

In 1845 George married Margaret Ellen Bevan, the daughter of  William Hibbs Beavan in Crickhowell. She accompanied him to his posting in Gibraltar where their children were born and where George was promoted Captain.  Returning to the UK, he was sent to Anglesey for more explosives work and on 25 February1851 died there ‘from hurts received while supervising blasting of a rock’.

The youngest Hutchinson offspring, Charles Scrope, born on 8 August 1826 in Hythe, followed George into the Royal Engineers after an education at University College School. He rose from Gentleman Cadet in 1843 to Colonel in 1876. He, too, was posted to Gibraltar and married there Christina, daughter of William Ross on 6 January 1852 . Four daughters and two sons followed.

On their return to England, Charles was posted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he taught, eventually being appointed Professor of Fortifications. In 1867, however, he was seconded to be  an Inspector of Railways, a post he held until 1897, combining it for the first eight years with his military obligations. He was responsible, among other things, for holding enquiries into railways accidents and inspecting works. During his career he held over a thousand enquiries  and made six thousand five hundred inspections, including over seven years, quarterly inspections of the building of the Forth Bridge.


The opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890

Unfortunately, he also inspected, and recommended for opening, the newly-built Tay Bridge in 1878.  The next year, during a violent storm, it collapsed, killing an estimated seventy five people. At the subsequent enquiry, it was found that the cross bracing of the piers and its fastenings were too weak to resist heavy gales. The designer, Sir Robert Bouch, was blamed, but Charles escaped the mob fury that Bouch suffered.

The Tay Bridge after its partial collapse

He retired from the army in 1877 with the honorary rank of major-general and was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1890. A colleague wrote of him:

‘He never spared himself and often after a comfortless night journey in cross-country trains, he would snatch a hurried breakfast at some dreary railway buffet and begin a long day’s work of inspection at 8 o’clock in the morning, much to the surprise and not always to the joy of the railway officers, who wondered how in the world he got there.'(1)

Charles died at Blackheath on 29 February 1912 and a memorial plaque was erected in St James’ Church, Kidbrooke.

To be continued…

  1. Stanley Hall, ‘Railway Detectives: 150 Years of the Railway Inspectorate’, London: Ian Allen Ltd, 1990, p.30

Details of the demolition of the Round Hill Cliff are taken from http://www.doverhistorian.com

With thanks to Brin Hughes


Back to Armenia – more Finnis stories

To understand the next chapter in the story of the Finnis descendants, we must go back to the wife of Henry Blosse Lynch, Rosa. She had a sister, Khatoon.

Khatoon’s marriage was rather less controversial than that of her sister. She married  a merchant called Yusuf Constantine and had a son, Lazar and a daughter, Miriam. The family lived in Baghdad and when Khatoon’s husband died, she and her children moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, Robert Taylor,  in the same city. Shortly afterwards she was introduced to John Vesey Parnell (later 2nd Lord Congleton) who was on a largely unsuccessful missionary trip from England on behalf of the Plymouth Brethren. He did, however, manage to convert Khatoon and their marriage followed shortly afterwards, on 21 May 1833.  They were both widowed (Parnell’s wife had died on the journey out), so it seems that the niceties of an extended courtship were dispensed with.

They travelled back to England with the ten-year-old Lazar and his four-year-old sister Miriam

Parnell succeeded as Lord Congleton in 1842 when his father hanged himself. He and Khatoon, who lived in Great Cumberland Place in London, had no children of their own. Lord Congelton was frequently away from home, preaching and baptising adult believers all over England. Khatoon died in 1865.

At this point, we return to Hythe. Lazar, who became a civil engineer,  married Elizabeth Ann Finnis of Hythe grand-daughter of Robert Finnis, upholsterer, in 1861.  They must have met in London through Elizabeth’s half-Armenian cousins. The  bride was given away by her uncle, Thomas Quested Finnis, who gave a splendid wedding breakfast and ball for the couple at his home in Wanstead. The couple lived with Lazar’s mother for a while, but later in Cambridge Terrace, just around the corner.  It was a short marriage as he died only five years later on 8 April 1866.  He had made his will only weeks earlier, leaving a thousand pounds to his step-father who was the sole executor (perhaps in repayment of a loan) and the rest to his wife. Elizabeth Ann, a childless widow, moved back to Hythe to live with her maiden aunt Sarah Finnis and after her death rented a house in Arthur Villas in Stade Street. AHe lived there with a paid companion, Charlotte Lane, dying in 1913, still a widow and was buried in the Finnis family vault at St Leonard’s church, its last occupant. She had only stocks and shares left to bequeath and these went to a niece she had never met, daughter of her half-brother John Elphicke Castle, who had emigrated to Canada in the 1850s.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Ann’s cousin, Thomas Kerr Lynch, had married Harriet Taylor, the daughter of Robert Taylor and Rosa.  Their son, Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (HFB, to distinguish him from all the other Henrys) continued the exploration of the Middle East started by his father and uncles.

Born on 18 April 1862, HFB was educated at Eton, the University of Heidelberg and Trinity College, Cambridge. As a child, he was surrounded by Armenian relatives: his grandmother, Rosa and her sister Khatoon, who lived nearby; Khatoon’s son, Lazar and his sister Miriam; his uncle Stephen’s wife, Hosanna.  His father and uncles travelled to and from across continents, to Armenia, Persia and Mesopotamia. His uncle Henry, together with his wife Caroline, HFB’s aunt, visited from Paris.

After Cambridge, he studied law and was called to the Bar in 1887, but seems never to have practised as a barrister, instead joining the family firm of Lynch Brothers, becoming company’s chairman in 1896. He had been admitted as a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Bowyers of the City of London in 1888 – evidently the name of Finnis still had some influence there.

HFB Lynch

Business took him to the Middle East, but he was still attracted by Armenia and in 1893-4 and again in 1898 made extended visits to the country where he travelled extensively, sometimes in the company of a Blosse Lynch cousin, yet another Henry. Together they climbed Mount Ararat. The result of his travels was a two-volume book, Armenia: Travel and Studies. illustrated with his own photographs and published in 1901.

Mount Ararat, 

HFB then turned his attention to politics . In 1906-1910 he was the Liberal MP for Ripon in Yorkshire but lost the seat to Edward Wood, later Lord Halifax.  He then contested the constituency of Gloucester but lost to the Conservative candidate by three votes and apparently decided to retire from politics. He lived latterly in Wardington House near Banbury, but died, ‘suddenly’ on 24 November 1913 at Calais. He is buried at Kensal Green.

Wardington House, now a nursing home

His only sibling, Eva, meanwhile, had married twice, the first time disastrously. At only twenty, she had accepted the proposal of John Charlton Kinchant, a captain in the 11th Hussars, who told her and her father that his only debt was £100 owed to his tailor. During the honeymoon in Paris, he admitted that in fact he had gambling debts amounting to over £12,000, which his new father-in-law paid off to avert disgrace. Kinchant was also obsessively jealous and often beat his wife, who understandably petitioned for a judicial separation after seven years of misery.

She was granted a divorce at the end of 1889 and in 1913 married the French Naval Attache to London, Commander (later Comte)  Rothiacob. They eventually retired to St Raphael on the French Riviera, where Eva died  on 19 December 1943 and where she is buried.


Globetrotters: The Tiffen Family of Hythe

A grave in St Leonard’s churchyard, Hythe:

In memory of/William Tiffen/died Oct 15th 1855 aged 71.

Also Charlotte/wife of the above/died May 8th 1876 aged 84.

Also Charlotte Davenport, eldest daughter of the above/died Septr 21st 1862 aged 47,

And Theodore Alfred Davenport, her husband/died Jany 28th 1868 aged 63.

And George Ernest Augustus,/their infant son died 1862 aged 4

It is almost impossible, when researching Hythe history, to find any early nineteenth century printed document, directory  or advertising poster that was not printed by William Tiffen. He was born in Bocking, Essex, on 10 January 1785, the son of a miller. At the age of twelve, he was apprenticed to a printer, John Shearcroft in his home town but had moved to Kent by 1809 when he married Sarah Stevenson in Folkestone. He then set up shop as a printer in Hythe catering mostly for the military, but as they started to leave the area he moved to new premises in 1813 and diversified. In a shop with living accommodation on the corner of Mount Street and the High Street ‘nearly facing the Guildhall’ (it was later gutted by fire and demolished) he became ‘bookseller, stationer, printer and bookbinder’  Then he set up a lending library and a Reading Society, of which he was president, a smart business move.

He and Sarah had a son, William Stevenson Tiffen, but Sarah died while he was a infant. William then married Charlotte, the Hythe-born daughter of Henry and Mary Stokes, on 19 December 1813. Together, they had eight children.  William had probably been born into a non-conformist family. His son by Sarah was baptised in a non-conformist chapel, but when his eldest son by his new wife was baptised in St Leonard’s church, William took the opportunity to be baptised into the Church of England himself, on the same day. Thus officially an Anglican, he became an overseer of the poor and churchwarden.

All seemed to be going well, though there was sadness when, in 1837, his eldest son, William Stevenson Tiffen died and was buried in Folkestone. William continued to expand his business and in 1845 opened a library and reading room overlooking Folkestone Harbour. This was another smart business move as the railway had reached the town which was now easily accessible to cross-channel travellers and holiday-makers.

Then William himself died in 1855 and it became apparent that he had overstretched himself. He had certainly taken out a mortgage on his Hythe premises and there must have been other debts. The house and shop were cleared and everything sold – printing machinery, stock in trade, carpets, pictures, ornaments, bedsteads and bedsheets. The premises were sold and Charlotte moved into two rented rooms in Folkestone and was later taken to court for failing to pay her rent. The children left the town and, most of them, the country.

In fact, the eldest had already gone. Charlotte (born in Hythe on 5 January 1815) married Theodore Alfred Davenport on 17 March 1843, and moved with him to Boulogne, where he taught. She and her husband had six daughters and two sons, though the younger died aged four. Charlotte and Theodore both died in Boulogne, she in 1862, he in 1869.

The next was Henry Stokes Tiffin, born on 12 July 1816. As a young man he qualified as a surveyor and moved to Sussex to work, lodging in Hastings with the White family, who had two daughters. On 27 September 1841, he signed a contract with the New Zealand Company to work as an assistant surveyor; three days later he married the younger White daughter, sixteen-year-old Caroline and three days after that the newly-weds sailed on board the Brougham to New Zealand. They arrived in February 1842. Caroline had become pregnant during the voyage and died in October that year, giving birth to a stillborn son. Her brother William heard the news when he arrived in New Zealand in November.

Eventually four more of William’s siblings and assorted other family members would make the same journey half way round the world.

Henry was set to work surveying the Wairarapa, on the North Island.

The Wairarapa as it is today

An early NZ surveyor’s bivouac

Liking what he saw, he rented eight thousand acres at a cost of twelve pounds a year and now needed sheep to graze there. He acquired several hundred and drove them from Wellington with the assistance of his sixteen-year-old brother who had also arrived in the country. Frederick John Tiffen had been born in Hythe on 27 July  1828 but would never return.  He managed Henry’s flocks until 1852, when he went to Australia but found that he disliked the climate and worked his passage back to New Zealand after six months.   From then on, for a few years they were sheep farmers, but in 1855, Henry left the station in Frederick’s hands and returned to England. There he married the older White sister, Louisa Anne, now twenty-eight.  On their return to New Zealand the next year, they were accompanied by another Tiffen brother, the youngest, Louis Ansell (but known just as Ansell), born in 1829 in Hythe and now in his mid-twenties, together with his older sister, Mary Elizabeth, born in 1824.

Henry returned to surveying and found time to take an active part in local politics and to continue acquiring land, but his private passion was horticulture and his garden in Hawke’s Bay was renowned.

Henry Tiffen’s house & gardens

Now a wealthy man, and childless, he planned to travel to seek out European plants which might thrive there, but Louisa’s death in 1875 meant he would travel alone.  He was away for a year. Then in 1880 he travelled to Japan where he was much taken by the persimmon plants, several of which he brought home.

Henry then acquired a new travelling companion, his niece Amelia Mary, the daughter of his late sister Charlotte.  A multi-lingual and cultured woman, she had married Joseph Randall who died in Ghana in 1869 and left her destitute until Henry invited her to become his housekeeper in 1876.  In 1881, they travelled to California where he was much impressed by the vineyards and oranges but thought that the wool was ‘rubbish’.

Henry Stokes Tiffen in his fifties

Back home, he tried growing tea and tobacco in his garden and planted his own vineyard of twenty-seven acres, the largest in New Zealand and produced his own wine. That same year he sailed again to England for surgery to remove cataracts.

Henry died on 21 February 1896 and is buried in Old Napier cemetery.

Henry’s grave marker…

…and the grave of his two wives, sisters Louisa & Caroline

Henry’s brother Frederick John had married, in 1859, Lucy Eleanor Monteith and they went on to have six children. After his marriage he acquired his own land for grazing and a house, Elmshill.

Frederick John Tiffen as a young man

He also acted as a government inspector of sheep and as returning officer in local elections. If Henry was the enterprising brother, Frederick was the diligent one. He kept records of every business and financial record and a daily journal recording his travels (which were extensive) and those of his family and their arrivals and departures. He died in 1911.

Frederick John Tiffen in later life.

The other brother, Ansell, worked as Henry’s manager for many years, dying unmarried in 1916. In 1881 he visited England, returning home with his brother-in-law Edmund Wiginton (see below) and niece, Milly.

Amelia Mary Randall, Henry’s niece and housekeeper, inherited half of his estate, making her wealthy in her own right. She moved from Henry’s house in Napier to another in the middle of his (now her) fruit farm, which produced  apricots, apples, peaches, persimmons, figs, plums and pears. Her younger sister Henrietta Charlotte Davenport, who had worked as a governess, sailed from England to join her. They continued to develop the farm, called Greenmeadows, until it was the largest on the North Island.  Amelia died on 17 October 1930, leaving £50,000, all left to various charities and to the Baptist church.  Henrietta had died in 1918. Henry’s beloved garden in Napier eventually became Tiffen Park.

Henry’s sister Mary Elizabeth, who sailed to New Zealand in 1856 with Louis Ansell, married on arrival the captain of the ship which had carried her there, the Westminster. She and John Westgarth were  wed on 3 May 1856 at St Paul’s church in Wellington and honeymooned in Taitai. They then sailed on the Westminster to Shanghai, where Mary Elizabeth died on 14 September 1856 and where she is buried in Shantung Road cemetery.

And there was another Tiffen offspring in New Zealand, too – Belinda. The youngest child of William and Charlotte Tiffen, she was born Belinda Alice Ansell Tiffen  in Hythe on  30 September 1831. She married in Folkestone 1860 Charles John Allen Haselden and they emigrated that year. Charles became under-secretary of the NZ Department of Justice and the couple had six children.  Belinda died in Auckland on 28 October 1923.

Belinda’s gravestone

Her brother, Charles Hart Tiffen, born in Hythe in1826, did not get as far as New Zealand, but spent much of his adult life on the continent. His wife, Esther Carmelina, was  born in Italy; their three daughters and a son,  came into the world in Nice.  Charles operated for a time as a wine merchant in Brighton, where one daughter died, but the family were in Folkestone from about 1889, where they lived in Guildhall Street.  One daughter, Esther (or Mlle. Esther Tiffen as she advertised herself), gave lessons in French and Italian; the other, Helen, taught violin, viola, organ and pianoforte. At their father’s funeral, they were joined by their brother, William Henry Tiffen, who had also been born in France but decided to stay there. He ran a successful removals company in Paris  in partnership with James Arthur, a company which still exists today.


William Henry Tiffen & his business partner John Arthur

Charles Hart Tiffen died in 1899, leaving only £158 and some real estate in New Zealand.

The emigration of seven of the Tiffen children left only one in England – Amelia, born in Hythe in 1818. She married Edmund Wiginton, another stationer and book-seller, on 17 June 1859. Amelia had taken over her father’s library in Folkestone and her new husband joined her in the business. They extended the range of goods they offered to include glassware, costume jewellery and scent bottles which they bought in Paris (perhaps when visiting their Tiffen relatives).  Their first child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1860, but another, Amelia (again! but known as Milly) born in 1862, survived. There would be no more children.  Some time in the 1870s, the family moved to Cornwall. Amelia’s mother, Charlotte died in 1876 and it may be that freed from this responsibility, she and Edmund felt able to spread their wings, too. However, Amelia died in 1880. Edmund and Milly then perhaps surprisingly, emigrated to New Zealand, travelling in 1881 with Henry and Ansell Tiffen who had been home on a visit. It was not a permanent move, however. By 1889 they were back  in Saltash. Edmund remarried that year and Milly embarked on a nursing career which eventually saw her appointed matron of the Johnson Hospital in Spalding.

Much of the detail of the life of Henry Stokes Tiffen is taken from his biography by Ian St George and with thanks to Laurie Tiffen for additional information