The Unfortunate Sons of Margaret Hamilton

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The memorial plaque in St Leonard’s church to the husband and sons of Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Elizabeth Mary Hamilton nee Cragg was born in Stoke Damarel, Devon, the eldest of the five daughters of Rear-Admiral John Bettinson Cragg and his wife Margaret. They lived in Molesworth Terrace, a street of sturdy Victorian villas. She married Thomas Bramston Hamilton, an officer in the Royal Artillery in her home town on 2 June 1864 and as a married woman travelled with him as his military postings took him round the UK, to Ireland, Shorncliffe, Sheerness and finally to Bitterne in Hampshire. Here, Thomas bought Bitterne Grove, a house and estate of about thirty acres,  for £6,600 in 1877 and the last five of their eleven children were born there.

Bitterne Grove

Thomas, who by then had left the army, became president of the Church Missionary Society and of the Church of England Temperance Society and Honorary Secretary of the Bitterne Conservative Association before dying aged only forty-seven on 2 April 1884. It was the first of many losses for Margaret. Edith, her second daughter, died at Bitterne Grove in 1889, aged twenty-two, and five years later, Margaret’s sister, Fanny, died there during a visit.

Margaret moved to Hythe in about 1899. Why is unknown, but she was familiar with the area from her husband’s Shorncliffe posting in the 1870s, when she had had lived in Sandgate. Just before his death, her husband had arranged to buy a house in Hythe, though whether that was the Old Manor House, which the house she moved into, we do not know (1). It is a seventeenth century house just down the hill from St Leonard’s church, where she could manage with just four live-in servants instead of the small army needed to maintain the house and grounds at Bitterne Grove.

The Old Manor House, Hythe

Her third daughter, Hilda Blanche, who is buried with her, married Robert Miles C. Moss, of the Egyptian civil service, in the church in 1899 and the youngest daughter, Gladys, married there in 1903, to Captain (later Lt Col) Arthur Cyril Alington.

Between these two happy events, Margaret had lost three of her seven sons in South Africa.
Kenneth, who had presumably emigrated to Ceylon, joined the Ceylon Mounted Infantry when the Boer War broke out, as a private. Early in January 1900 the Legislative Council of Ceylon unanimously agreed to send a contingent of 125 to South Africa and the Company sailed on 2nd February. The Ceylon Mounted Infantry joined Lord Roberts while he was advancing on Bloemfontein, in time to be present at the engagement of Poplar Grove. On 6th March Lord Roberts wired to Ceylon: “I have just ridden out to meet Ceylon Mounted Infantry and welcome them to this force. They look most workmanlike, and are a valuable addition to Her Majesty the Queen’s Army in South Africa”. The squadron was one of those praised by Lord Roberts in the despatch of 31st March 1900 for good work on the way to Bloemfontein, but for Kenneth it was the end of the road. He died there of enteric fever on 15 May 1900.

His slightly younger brother Ernest, meanwhile, had emigrated to Natal, where he lived in Eshowe, a fairly new European settlement. When war broke out, he joined Bethune’s Mounted Infantry, an irregular corps of 356 British men, on 20 November 1899. Exactly six months later, he was dead, killed in action at Scheepers Nek.

Alastair, the second son, joined the British army on 15 November 1899, a month after the war broke out and served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The war ended in May 1902, and he resigned his commission in September that year and became a cattle farmer in Carolina in the Transvaal (now Mpumalanga). He was killed by lightning on his farm, Welteveden, on 5 December 1902. The farm was sold after his death for £566, but Alastair had only £12 in cash at the time of his death. The money went to his eldest brother, James.

Alastair and his brothers are commemorated on one memorial at Mpumalanga and there is another at the cemetery at Scheepers Nek which is a reproduction of one in the President Brand cemetery in Bloemfontein.

The memorial to the Hamilton brothers at Mpumalanga (which has been incorrectly assembled). 

The compound at Scheepers Nek where there is another memorial

Money, or the lack of it, played a part in the brothers’ decisions to try life in the colonies. Only James, the eldest son, could expect to inherit. The other six needed to fend for themselves, and emigration was becoming a popular route to a better life for young men of all classes and backgrounds. Two of the sons did follow in their father’s footsteps and join the regular army. James obtained a commission in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but resigned it in 1890. Patrick, the youngest son, born in 1882, attended Sandhurst and obtained a commission with the Worcester Regiment in 1901. He was sent to Jhami in India and was promoted to captain in 1908. In 1911, he took an extended leave from his regiment, returned to the UK and started flying lessons. This was, at the time, very much a high-risk occupation. His eldest sister, Ethel, later asked their mother why she had not tried to dissuade him. According to Ethel, she replied ‘no one’s personal feelings ought ever to interfere with any man’s career provided it was an upright and honourable one to follow’.[2]

Patrick Hamilton

Patrick then bought his own plane, a French 30 hp single-seater Deperdussin monoplane, constructed mostly of wood, canvas and wire and took it to the USA . His travelling companion was George Miller Dyott, another flier, who shipped his own Deperdussin, a two-seater. Together, they made an exhibition tour, stopping for a while in Nassau and in Mexico. A feature of the Nassau exhibition was a night flight in the two-seater, with Patrick as passenger, carrying a searchlight powered from the ground via cables.

Patrick at the controls of his plane. 

Their success was variable, and came to an end when in December 1911 Patrick’s plane flipped over in mid-air and crash landed. He was unhurt, but the plane was damaged beyond repair. He returned to England in the following February. He almost immediately joined the Royal Flying Corps. In summer, he achieved his Special Aviator’s Certificate and was promoted to Flight commander with a salary of £450 a year. At about the same time, in June 1912, he announced his engagement to twenty-year-old Derryle Elizabeth Law of Atlanta, Georgia, to whom he had been introduced by George Dyott in Long Island the previous year.

On 6 September 1912, he and his observer took off in his Deperdussin monoplane from an airfield in Berkshire as part of a large military exercise. Shortly afterwards, the plane started to disintegrate in mid-air and both he and his observer were killed in the ensuing crash. An engine rod had sheared off and torn out a piece of the engine which hit one of the wing struts.

A service for Patrick and his observer was held in Hitchin, which Derryle attended and then their coffins were placed on a gun carriage and accompanied by a large military escort taken to the railway station. Patrick was to be buried in Hythe with full military honours. Derryle was not present at the ceremony, but sent flowers. Hythe Town Council expressed their sympathy to Margaret Hamilton, and so did the King, George V. In December, Patrick’s eldest sister, Ethel, published a memoir of his life,  A Tribute to a Soldier and Aviator.

Patrick’s funeral at St Leonard’s Church, Hythe

In his will Patrick left £1199. 9s 8d, with probate granted to his executors, his brother-in-law Arthur Alington and a solicitor. Perhaps his affairs were complicated, as they did not apply for probate until 1914. As soon as they did so, a bombshell fell. Derryle sued them for breach of contract, saying she was owed £600. She said Patrick had settled this amount on her but had not paid it. The case went to court.  She said that she and Patrick had become engaged in December 1911 and planned to marry in Washington DC in February 1912. Announcements had been made to family and friends. Then Patrick went off to Mexico, and while there wrote to his family in England about his plans. They replied that marrying would adversely affect his chances of Army promotion.

After the crash in Mexico, which cost him his plane and his career as a show pilot, Patrick returned to the States. He suggested to Derryle that she go back to England with him. He would re-join his regiment, and they would travel together to India, where they would be married. Derryle was having none of it: she wanted to be married with family and friends around her.

Derryle Law

Patrick then offered to give Derrlye £600 if she would agree to postponing the marriage. She accepted this and he signed a declaration before a notary in Philadelphia in February 1912. Two weeks before this he had received a telegram from his mother, who was in Cairo visiting her daughter Hilda. She wrote ‘I implore postponement. Money lost.’ Presumably she was to some extent reliant on Patrick’s income which would be lost to her if he married and she seemed to be in straitened financial circumstances. .


Patrick’s settlement of £600 

Patrick brought Derryle and her mother back to England with him. The engagement was announced in the Morning Post and Mrs Law and Derryle met Margaret Hamilton and her daughters. It was not a successful rendezvous. A little later, Patrick telephoned Derryle and told her he could not marry her because all they would have to live on would be ‘a bucketful of debts’. Mrs Law and Mrs Hamilton exchanged venomous letters, each blaming the other’s offspring for the breakdown of the relationship. In court, Derryle was clear that she blamed Margaret Hamilton and her daughters for bringing pressure to bear on Patrick.

Derryle won her case. Why did she bring it? For money, possibly, though she and her mother already had an income of £1200 a year from her late father’s estate. For revenge on the Hamiltons? It seems more likely.

Five years later, Margaret sold the Old Manor House and all its contents, furniture, china, linen, right down to decanters and fire irons, and went to live in Dene Cottage, just along the road. She died soon afterwards and was buried with Patrick.

Hilda, who is also commemorated on their grave, did not die until 1966. She had returned with her husband from Egypt and lived in ‘Marsh View’ in Hythe.

The grave of Patrick Hamilton, his mother Margaret and his sister Hilda. The cross has not fallen – it was placed at an angle on a stone slab – perhaps to resemble a plane. The inscriptions read: Patrick Hamilton, Capt Worcestershire Regt Royal Flying Corps killed on duty Sept 6th 1912
Also Margaret Elizabeth Mary/widow of Major Bramston Hamilton/entered into rest May 13th 1920/aged 73 years
Take thy rest in safety Job XI.18
In loving memory/of/Hilda Blanche/Moss/1871-1966

The other daughters, Ethel and Gladys died in 1939 and 1971 respectively. Of the surviving brothers, there is little trace. James and Ian disappear from the records, though Thomas was for a while a market gardener in Essex. None of them attended Patrick’s funeral or sent flowers and the plaque commemorating Margaret in St Leonard’s church is from her daughters only. Perhaps they, too, had emigrated.

The plaque to Margaret Hamilton, beneath that of her husband and sons,

Derryle went back to America and a few years later married Carey Brown, a professional soldier who later became a colonel. They had two sons, both of whom joined the US Air Force. In a terrible twist of fate, both were killed in air accidents during Derryle’s lifetime.

George Miller Dyott gave up flying for a living, went to Ecuador and became an explorer.

(1) Kent Archives: EK2008/2/105

[2] Ethel Hamilton: A Tribute to a Soldier and Aviator 1913

4 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Sons of Margaret Hamilton

  1. Hi Anne, great article, I came across it because I was doing genealogical research on Lt. Edward Little RN who died with the Franklin Expedition c. 1848. His sister was Margaret Cragg nee Little, the mother of Margaret Hamilton. If there are any living descendants of Margaret Hamilton out there, scientists in Canada are looking for DNA samples from descendants so they can be matched with archaeological remains.


      1. Thanks! Unfortunately there is a tricky rule which means only descent in the direct female line or male line are eligible. In this case it is the female line so I’m only looking for any daughters of the sisters here. Do you know if Ethel Hamilton ever married/had children?

        Liked by 1 person

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