Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ruminations and fancies on the 'noble connections' story surrounding Elizabeth Mashford.

Photo: Chanter's House, Ottery St Mary, home of the Coleridge family.

Having revisited the 'social status' of the Mashfords in recent weeks, it might be time to have another look at the family story, passed down through a number of ancestral lines, that Elizabeth Mashford was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, and, one presumes Mary Cann although that is not necessarily a given.

It was not uncommon in the times for homes to be found for such illegitimate children and for the wealthy family to pay the foster parents for their care, co-operation and often silence.

I will just clarify, that my musings and meandering are without substance and are merely an exercise in pondering various possibilities which might explain a family story but probably do not.

The story has it that Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of a man of noble rank and that his mother, Lady Elizabeth, paid for the family to emigrate to Australia. A survey of the Cann family in Devon reveals that being employed as a servant was common for many. There is more chance than not, that Mary Cann Mashford worked as a servant before she married. No doubt a trawl of census records prior to 1818 would clarify this.

The Mashfords lived in Coldridge, Devon and until 1900 the village was called Coleridge.  Now, the label of 'noble' could have been something which morphed over time from a father who was not necessarily an aristocrat, but a wealthy or upper-class individual. However, let us begin at the 'top' so to speak.

There is a Dukedom for Coleridge, and John Taylor Coleridge, 1790-1876.

John Mashford married Mary Cann in 1818 and given varying dates for Elizabeth on census, marriage and death certificates, she was born sometime between 1818 and 1822, but, with a baptism record for 1820, we can assume either late 1818 or sometime in 1819 or 1820 and without a birth date, it cannot be verified.

In 1818, John Coleridge was 28 and had been married for two years to Mary Buchanan. His parents were James Coleridge and Frances Duke Taylor.

His first son, John Duke was born in 1820, and his second, Henry James in 1822, so they are about the same age as Elizabeth Mashford.

The problem with this local noble is that there is no Lady Elizabeth, although, having said that, the 'Lady' may apply but the Elizabeth was added later, by default, when the original name was forgotten. And the Lady being his mother could just as easily be the Lady as his wife, given the variation on themes which accompanies such oral histories.

It also does not make sense that Elizabeth would be 'sent on her way' in her late twenties. Why wait so long? More likely if she was fostered out, or even Mary's natural illegitimate daughter, that the money paid by her noble father enabled the Mashfords to start a new life in Australia. Not that John, George or Mary Cann got to live much of it, dying within three years of arrival.

The ancestral family home for the Coleridges was The Chanter's House, Ottery St. Mary, some 50 miles from Coleridge (Coldridge) but Sir John Taylor did not inherit the house until 1838 although he and his family may well have been living there before.

In the way of the times, Mary Cann could have been employed as a servant so far from home, or, regular contact was likely between the family and the village which shared their name.

Photo: The library at Chanter's House is my dream. The house was sold privately so it may still exist.

The Coleridges were one of Devon's oldest families after John Coleridge, the gifted son of a Crediton weaver, became headmaster of the Kings School and settled there in 1760 with his four daughters and eight sons. The most famous of them all was the youngest son, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born in 1772.

Another possible link is between John Coleridge, headmaster and John Mashford, schoolteacher.

The links with The Chanter's House, at Ottery St Mary date from 1796 when Samuel's second-eldest brother, James, a successful career soldier who married a local heiress bought one of the  grandest houses in town. Built in the 1340's as a chantry, a private chapel, the house was part of a group of buildings around the great 1th century church of St. Mary.

After the Reformation, the house passed to the Duke family, and it was from there, in 1645, that Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell directed the New Model Army's Civil War operations in the West Country.

 Sir John Taylor Coleridge,a High Court judge, and his son, John Duke Coleridge together planned the first modest extension, adding a new service range, a coach house and stables, and rebuilding the drawing room. The original 30 acres of grounds were also extended and landscaped. 

 John Duke Coleridge decided to create a country seat by rebuilding the family home which he inherited in 1876. He commissioned the architect William Butterfield to create a Victorian country mansion around the kernel of the original chantry building. The 1840s service wing was replaced with extensive new stables and service quarters, the entrance moved to the east, and an extra storey added to the old south-facing main fa├žade. The entire west wing was taken up by a huge library 90ft long, 33ft wide and 40ft high built to accommodate Lord Coleridge's collection of 24,000 books, and said to be the largest such room of any house west of Salisbury.

The other possible noble floating around the region, comes from John Mashford's parents, John Mashford and Mary Labbett who lived in Eggesford, Devon. Eggesford is a small parish, midway between Exmoor and Dartmoor. It was hardly even a village, more a collection of houses, whose inhabitants supported the 'big house,' Eggesford House, the residence of the Earls of Portsmouth.

However, the carryings on at Eggesford House, while making bastards likely, also made farming them out to faithful 'servants' unlikely, and the source of the 'bastards' in this case was not a nobleman, although those things also get mixed up, but the daughter of a lawyer, so middle class, married to a nobleman although none of the children were his, and the father of the bastards was another lawyer.

John Charles Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth (18 December 1767 – 14 July 1853), styled Viscount Lymington until 1797, was a British nobleman and recognised lunatic.
The Earl was known from an early age to have an unsound mind, and his estate was placed under the control of four trustees.  Portsmouth had periods of sanity but he indulged in bizarre and sadistic behaviour, whipping servants, beating horses and killing cattle with an axe. He was also obsessed with funerals and attended as many as he could, sometimes flogging the ringers with the bellrope afterwards.

In 1799 he married the Hon. Grace Norton, the sister of one of his trustees, William Norton, 2nd Baron Grantley. Portsmouth's younger brother, Hon. Newton Fellowes encouraged the marriage as Grace was 47 at the time and even though Portsmouth was only 31, an heir to displace him was unlikely.  Grace proved useful in managing the madman but by 1808 his manias were beyond even her control.

Grace died five years later and another trustee, John Hanson, saw an opportunity and put his daughter, Mary Anne forward. They married on March 7, 1814 with Lord Byron, another of Hanson's clients, giving the bride away.

Newton failed to have his brother declared insane and the new Countess quickly grew into her role by avoiding her husband and having an affair with William Alder, a lawyer, who fathered three children by her. So there is always the chance the children were fostered out.

A new commission de lunatico inquirendo took place in 1823, at the instigation of Portsmouth's nephew, Henry Wallop Fellowes, and it was revealed that the Earl had been badly mistreated by his new wife and her lover, who had spat on him and beaten him. He was adjudged to have been insane since 1809.

In 1828, his second marriage was annulled, and Mary Anne's children were declared bastards. A judgment for the £40,000 cost of the trial was issued against her, and she fled abroad. She later married Alder but there is no mention of the children. And since the children were declared bastards in 1828, one presumes, although it is not a given, that they were still with their mother.

Photo: Elizabeth Mashford Lewis Atkins.

Photo: William Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon.

The other possibility, remote as it may be, is the Earl of Devon. The family seat was Tiverton, some 22 miles from Coldridge, although there were no doubt various country estates and homes where the family could have lived which might have been even closer to Coldridge.
But dates do not fit for the 11th Earl, as he was born in 1807 and would have been either 11, 13, or 15 when Elizabeth Mashford was born, depending on which date is correct. His wife was a Lady Elizabeth but they did not marry until 1830 when Elizabeth was either 10, 12 or 7 and unlikely to be playing around with the Duke. And since his first son was born in 1832, not much chance there either and he died in 1853 so not likely any shenanigans given age differences with either Mary Cann Mashford or her daughter.

But, if we go back to the 10th Earl of Devon, William Courtenay, 1777-1859, we have him aged 41 in 1818, the earliest possible birth date for Elizabeth Not only was he an acceptable age, he also had a wife called, Elizabeth - Lady Elizabeth Ruth Scott. But she was his second wife, and they did not marry until 1849.

And, since the story said it was his mother, but it could well have been a wife, the other factor with this contender is that his mother was called Elizabeth, but she died in 1815 and was well out of the picture even before Elizabeth was born.

His first wife, Henrietta died in 1839 and he remarried ten years later, two years after the Mashfords had set sail for South Australia.

William Courtenay and Elizabeth Scott married on January 30, 1849 and given his age, 72,  there were no children. This is hardly surprising, despite the fact that Elizabeth Scott was only 35 years old, although since her birth date is not absolute, she may well have been closer to 40 and unable to have children even if the Earl had been up to it.

Elizabeth was from Ireland, the daughter of a Reverend and with aristocratic connections. Perhaps Courtenay had met her in Ireland where there were family estates. Why she married so late in life for someone of her rank and times is a question to which I have no answer. Elizabeth's birth is given circa. 1814 and she died 100 years later.

Perhaps Elizabeth had been his lover for some years and, on hearing of the bastard daughter, decided that she and her family were best removed. Or, perhaps Elizabeth was something of a puritan and that was why she had not previously married and, when she did, it was to a man with whom there was going to be no sexual relationship. The courtship may have lasted for years and one of her conditions might have been - remove your past and the stain of the bastard daughter.

It does not make a lot of sense given that she would have no heirs and the succession was assured anyway with three sons from Courtenay's first marriage. But, who knows and it is certainly possible, although, in the way of these things, probably highly unlikely.

The Debrett's entry:
DEVON, Earl of," His lordship's predecessor was his father, William, 10th Earl of Devon. He was b. June 19, 1777, and succeeded his cousin, May 26, 1835; was a Governor of the Charterhouse and High Steward of the University of Oxford :
m. 1st, Nov. 29, 1804, Lady Harriet (the Peerage source gives the name Henrietta which is no doubt correct) Leslie, daughter of Sir Lucas Pepys, Bart, and Eliza-beth, (in her own right) Countess of Rothes, (she d. 1839), having had issue four sons and one daughter; 2ndly, Jan. 30, 1849, Elizabeth Ruth, (laughter of the Rev. John Middleton Scott; and d. March 19, 1859, without having had any issue from 2nd marriage.
DEVON, Countess of, " ELIZABETH RUTH, daughter of the Rev. John Middleton Scott and of Lady Arabella BarbaraBrabazon, daughter of the 8th Earl of Meath; m. 1849, as his 2nd wife, the 10th Earl of Devon, who d. 1859.

 Mary Cann is shown on an 1841 census as aged, 48, which has her born in 1793, some 15 years younger than the Duke, and somewhere between 25 and 29 when Elizabeth was born. John and Mary married in 1818, which is the earliest possible birth date for Elizabeth, when Mary was 25.

I am inclined to think, given that we now know the Mashfords were literate, that Elizabeth Mashford Atkins and her family, knew what her age was and 1818 is likely to be the correct date as recorded on her death certificate.

Was it possible that Mary was working for the Courtenay family and fell pregnant by the Earl of Devon? Possibly.  It was certainly extremely common for the times. His wife, Henrietta had given birth to five children in nine years - 1807, 1809, 1811, 1813 and 1816, an average of two years between each pregnancy. And then no more.

Henrietta was 39 and while perhaps at the end of her child-bearing years, perhaps not, and it simply indicated the end of their sexual life. Their third son had died in 1814 at the age of eight months and perhaps a variety of factors were at play.

Bedding a housemaid was common even when sexual relations were maintained, and even more likely if they were not. And Mary was more than old enough to  make up her own mind about what she did and with whom.

Having said that, Mary Cann was connected with pubs through her family and later, as a publican, and may have been working in a local establishment where this nobleman or some other, stayed, while visiting the area. It may have been a one-night stand although that really puts paid to the Mashford's being paid to leave theory, or an occasional dalliance where there was a case for who the father might be. We shall never know, I am sure.

We do not have a birth record for Elizabeth but if she was born in 1818,  then, with a May 29, wedding date, it means Mary was pregnant before she married John Mashford or the birth was premature. Now, of course the most likely scenario was that if Mary was pregnant before marriage then the baby was John's. But that is not a given.

In addition, as the daughter of a Reverend, perhaps Lady Elizabeth wanted an end to the 'bastard story' and any rumours and did make funds available to have the entire family sent to the other side of the globe. If the wealth arrived in such a fashion it could explain why Elizabeth's education had been neglected and why her brothers, who would have handled the money, had the funds to set themselves up in South Australia. It might also explain why George was so solicitous of his older sister and stood in her defence.

In addition, the fact that Mary Cann Mashford, as recorded in the Montefiore court case, said she had also been looking for a job as a servant, suggests that she had previous experience, and one could surmise, with highly respectable former employers.

We have, therefore, a potential noble father, a time-frame which works, a Lady Elizabeth in the picture who could more plausibly have been involved at packing off the Mashfords at so late a date, and a possible scenario, and we have Lady Elizabeth as mother even though she had departed the scene long before Elizabeth was born. But such is the stuff of family stories and oral recounting.

So, while all of this is pure conjecture and no more than a bit of interesting history, here is where we are at with research and questions raised about the Mashfords and the possibility that there is some truth in Elizabeth's story:

1. The Mashfords had the money to get the immediate family and possibly others, some fourteen in all, to South Australia. Even with assisted passage it means they were not poor. Did that money come from tailoring and being a publican?

2. George and John Mashford had connections to upper class individuals both in South Australia and in England, which indicates they had a modicum of social standing. There was more flexibility in the colonies but it is clear the relationships predated this time.

3. George Mashford took a large sum of money to SA and by the time he died three years later had a considerable estate to hand on to his family. The tenant living on his property was Lavington Glyde, who was from Devon and the upper rungs of the social ladder.

4. Elizabeth's sister, Jane, married the son of an Irish nobleman, which was certainly possible for the times, more so in the colonies,  but more likely indicates a moderate level of social standing and certainly education. Mary Ann married a William Mollison Strachan, from Scotland, who sounds as if he was above servant status.

5. Elizabeth's siblings all seem to have been reasonably if not highly literate but there remain questions as to whether Elizabeth was literate to any substantial degree. Why would this be so? As the oldest child and eldest daughter she should have been as literate as her siblings.

6. Elizabeth agreed to work as a servant for a noted South Australian, the Montefiore's while en route to Adelaide. This suggests that she was a fairly respectable person even though still a servant.

7. Elizabeth took work as a servant in SA and married  servant while her brother George set himself up as some sort of professional and brother John, had premises as  tailor. Her two sisters had the funds to travel to Melbourne and to make a number of trips back and forth to Adelaide. Why was Elizabeth working as a menial servant when the rest of her family were doing much better? Although supposedly her mother also planned to take work as a servant which raises new questions.

8. Elizabeth left Adelaide after her brothers and her mother had died and either she had left her husband, Peter Lewis or he had left her. Why did she not move to be with her sisters?

It is the discrepancies in the fortunes of the siblings which makes one wonder if there was something 'different' about Elizabeth, i.e. less respectable.

Fellow researcher, Luke Atkins Harris offers his thoughts on the mystery:




As to Elizabeth Mashford and the story of her illegitimacy. I do not think the story will ever be resolved and I do not think she was an illegitimate daughter to a wealthy nobleman in England. However, I do believe there is something behind the story.
I agree with you that the Mashford did have more money than one expected. Where they got that money from I really do not know. Unless Mary Cann’s husband, John Mashford, because he was the oldest son, inherited land from his father. Upon his death Mary Cann got the land and she sold it to Josiah Mashford. It is just a thought and I do not know if this happened where to find the evidence.
It seems to me that if Elizabeth Mashford was illegitimate and she was an embarrassment to one “Lady Elizabeth” why wait until she was an adult to move her out of Devon. Unless, as you suggested, she started to make waves.
There is no birth certificate for Elizabeth Mashford because compulsory registration of English births, marriages and deaths did not occur in England until I think c1836. As Elizabeth was born in c1820 there would be no civil birth certificate for her. As to her age yes it is confusing because there are different records, but the best one to go by would be her baptism record because the date was written by the local priest who would have known the date when she was baptised.

NB: We need to check if there are birth certificates for the other children and if Elizabeth's is missing that raises questions.
It makes no sense to me that if somebody wanted to get rid of Elizabeth Mashford from Devon why send the whole family out to South Australia. There must have been thousands of illegitimate babies in England at this time.
Furthermore, in the two newspaper story in TROVE about her court battle with Joseph Barrow Montefiore one of the story speaks about an Aunty (I have never found who this Aunty was) but the story also stated there were 14 other people on board the same ship who were connected to the Mashford family.
Thus the Mashford family did have an extended family in South Australia. If some wealthy nobleman wanted to get rid of the Mashford family why send out about 20 odd people to South Australia? The story does not make any sense to me.
However, as stated, I do believe there is something to the story and I am thinking it goes back to c1856 when George Mashford will was settled. It never made any sense to me as why all of a sudden Elizabeth Lewis (Mashford) just took off with her two sons and moved to Rocky River. Why Rocky River? Why not stay in Adelaide where she could find employment, why not move to Victoria where her sister were living for extra family support? But why go all the way to Rocky River?
Was Elizabeth Mashford involved in some sort of social scandal with a notable person in Adelaide around 1856? Peter Lewis had deserted her so in her mind she was a free woman. It is clear that George May Mashford knew both George Aldridge and especially Lavington Glyde. Lavington Glyde would have known many notable people in Adelaide.
When Elizabeth Lewis returned to Adelaide from Melbourne, after Peter Lewis deserted her, did she end up living with her brother in his house acting as a servant and she knew Lavington Glyde on a personal level?
I find it interesting that after Elizabeth Lewis left Adelaide in 1856. Lavington Glyde entered political life in 1857 by representing East Torrens in the House of Assembly.  Was this purely coincidental? If there were rumours about Elizabeth Lewis, due to a real or a false accusation, did she seek the help of Lavington Glyde? Or conversely, did Lavington Glyde agree to help her on the proviso she left Adelaide with a letter of introduction and a reference to Herbert Bristow Hughes of Rocky River?
Both Lavington Glyde and Herbert Bristow Hughes may have known one another. Lavington Glyde knew John Bristow Hughes (Herbert’s brother) as both Lavington Glyde and John Bristow Hughes were Members of the Electoral District of East Torrens.  Both men served as Treasurer. John Bristow Hughes in the Torrens Ministry in 1857 and Lavington Glyde was Treasurer under the Premiership of Francis Dutton.  Both Lavington Glyde and Herbert Bristow Hughes were wealthy and well known men in South Australia.

Lavington Glyde would have known people such as George Fife Angas, Henry Ayers, George Goyder, Robert Barr Smith and Thomas Elder all notable South Australia. Thus did Elizabeth Mashford embark upon an affair with some famous South Australian or was she accused of having an affair with some famous South Australian?
This could be the reason why Elizabeth Lewis moved to Rocky River. There was some sort of scandal with her and a famous South Australian. She had to be moved from Adelaide to stop embarrassment. She was given a letter of introduction and a reference to Herbert Bristow Hughes of Rocky River?  There was a position of employment awaiting her and hence the reason why she did not move to Victoria to be with her sisters, or anywhere else, because there was no job to go to and she could not stay in Adelaide.
Thus it was not Elizabeth Mashford who was an illegitimate child, but it was either:-
·        Her who had an illegitimate child in South Australia and the family oral history has become disordered over time?
·        Or she was accused of having an illegitimate child?
·        Or she was just attacked with rumours that she was an illegitimate child and was convinced to leave Adelaide because it was causing embarrassment for some well-known South Australia?
Thus it just could be the case that Elizabeth Mashford told her children that she was accused of being an illegitimate child in England and she was forced to leave. In turn, her children would say to their children “that mum told us that she was an illegitimate child” and over time what was once an accusation due to some rumour or scandal that really happened in Adelaide has become an historical family history fact that Elizabeth Mashford was an illegitimate child and was forced to leave Devon?
To my mind, all scenarios are plausible although experience so far has taught me that details are usually general right although often about the wrong person.

I don't think there is any doubt that there was an issue of illegitimacy involving Elizabeth, whether for herself or a child although I still think it is the former.

Elizabeth as Mary Cann's illegitimate child to someone notable and wealthy, or Elizabeth as an illegitimate child of someone notable and wealthy who was fostered, could explain how the Mashfords had more money than one would expect and better connections than one would expect for a humble Devon family.

It would also explain the discrepancies between Elizabeth's expectations, fortunes and education.
We are unlikely to ever know but the conjecture remains an interesting exercise.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.