Three in One – Part 3b – Harry Welchman – Career Years

This is your life

On February 5th 1960 the TV presenter Eamonn Andrews surprised Harry Welchman in a taxi outside  the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London. This became Harry’s appearance later that week on the popular TV show of the time ‘This is Your Life’.  Unfortunately the recording of that show doesn’t exist any longer; it would have been interesting to see what, if anything, they had to say about Harry’s early family life and indeed some of the more tortuous parts of his own career.

Harry was mainly a stage performer but between 1915 and 1954 he made 19 films, some musical and others straight drama.

His obituary in The Stage in 1966 described him as:

“.… the most famous musical comedy hero of his time, with handsome stage presence and a fine voice, admirably suited to the melodious scores of the romantic shows of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties.”

His theatrical and film career is well-documented elsewhere and though I will mention in this section of the story various productions with which he was involved, I am more interested in exploring the social aspects of his life. Before starting though why not take a look at Harry Welchman in the flesh in this Youtube recording of Harry Welchman singing ‘A Bachelor Gay’ in the 1932 film ‘The Maid of the Mountains’.  Click here.

Harry Welchman 1907

At the end of the previous post we left Harry Welchman at the age of 15 living in Congresbury, Somerset, with Janet Coke and her two eldest daughters Janet Sarah and Edith.  He remained with them whilst he completed his schooling and then went straight onto the stage in 1904.  He joined a touring musical comedy company led by Ada Reeve (who also appeared in the ‘This is Your Life’ programme in 1960) and made his first appearance on stage at the Royal, Boscombe, in the chorus of Winnie Brooke, Widow.


In Princess Caprice

At the age of 20, whilst playing Dandini in Cinderella at the Marlborough, he was spotted by Robert Courtneidge, the theatrical manager-producer (also father of Cecily Courtneidge).  This led to him becoming a juvenile, and subsequently main, lead in such West End hit productions as Tom Jones (1907), The Arcadians (1909) and Princess Caprice (1912).  By this time he was living in London with his ‘foster-mother’ Janet Sarah and her sister Edith.

On 8th July 1913 Harry married his first wife, the actress Joan Challoner who was described by The Stage at the time as:

“.… a young acress who for the past eighteen months has been a member of Sir Herbert Tree’s company at His Majesty’s.  Miss Challoner became engaged to Mr Welchman during the run of ‘Drake’, in which piece she was understudy both to Miss Phyllis Neilson-Terry and Miss Amy Brandon Thomas.”

Her entry to the profession came through an interesting route, being a member of the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society which seemed to be a philanthropic organisation aiming to promote aspiring actors.

Harry Welchman and Joan Challoner

In 1915 Harry made his first film playing the lead role in Mr Lyndon at Liberty. Then the war intervened.  It’s not clear whether Harry actually saw active service but he was commissioned in September 1916 into a Special Reserve of Officers in the Royal Field Artillery.  Harry’s theatrical career was put on hold for a while but Joan Challoner continued hers through the war, including performances in the War Relief Matinees (her matinee was under the patronage of Queen Alexandra in aid of the Women’s Emergency Corps).

Their marriage was not to last though and in 1922 Joan initiated divorce proceedings against Harry.  It’s hard to determine how scandalous this would have been at the time but it seems to have been widely reported in the press of the time and the story suggests that it was quite acrimonious.

According to the Pall Mall Gazette of 19 January 1922:

“In the Divorce Division today before Mr Justice Hill, Mrs Joan Dorothea Welchman petitioned for a decree of restitution of conjugal rights against Mr Harry Welchman, an actor.”

The article described the breakdown of their marriage and the fact that Harry had walked out in April the year before.  However, by July 1922 more details had emerged pointing to an affair that Harry was having.  The Nottingham Journal of 20 July continues the story:


Lord Buckmaster, in the Divorce Court, yesterday heard the petition of Mrs Welchman …. for a dissolution of her marriage on the ground of the adultery and non-compliance with an order for restitution of conjugal rights of her husband Mr Harry Arthur Welchman, the musical comedy actor.

Petitioner gave evidence that …. she never stayed with him at any time during 1921 at the Burford Bridge Hotel …. Edith Oliver, chambermaid at the Burford Bridge Hotel, who identified respondent by means of a photograph, gave evidence that in October, 1921, he occupied a bedroom at Burford Bridge Hotel with a woman not the petitioner.  A decree nisi with costs was granted.”

Harry’s lover seems to have been protected from the press at the time but The People of 3rd August 1924, when announcing Harry’s engagement to Sylvia Forde, chose to reveal those details:

“Harry Welchman was previously married to Joan Challoner; and after she divorced him he was expected to marry Margaret Cooper.  The two were very much attached; but, unfortunately, poor Miss Cooper died.”

Margaret Cooper

There is a superb biography of Margaret Cooper on the Kilburn and Willesden history blog site and I have chosen a few extracts here to explain some of the tragedy surrounding Harry’s divorce.  Described as the ‘Lady in the Long Silk Gloves’:

Margaret Cooper was a very popular music hall entertainer at the piano in the early part of the 20th Century  …..  Margaret was a very talented musician and composer, playing the piano, violin and organ.  After attending the Royal Academy of Music, she worked as an accompanist and sang at concerts and dinners  ….  Her lucky break came when she was spotted playing at a charity concert by theatre manager Sir Alfred Butt  …..  At first rather dubious about appearing on the variety stage, she took the plunge in October 1906 – and never looked back, she was an instant and overwhelming success.  When she appeared later that month in Bristol, she was billed as ‘The Latest London Sensation, in her Inimitable Songs at the Piano.  Her largest fee was £100 for a single performance, which is equivalent to about £8,000 today  …..  she was also in great demand for private parties, where she sang before King George V and Queen Mary and visiting royal dignitaries.

….. The death of her husband Arthur in 1918 was a severe blow to Margaret and her appearances in the London variety theatres became less frequent.  She died four years later from heart failure on 27 December 1922.  Although she’d not been in the best of health after suffering breakdown a few months earlier Margaret’s death was unexpected..  ….. Several obituaries agreed her death evoked a ‘peculiar pathos’ as Margaret was planning a new life, having agreed to marry actor and singer Harry Welchman in February 1923.  But the related scandal that could have damaged Margaret’s image was something the papers chose to ignore, presumably out of respect for the lady.

In Lady of the Rose

….. At the time of Margaret’s death Harry was appearing to good reviews in ‘The Lady of the Rose. Up to then, their engagement hadn’t been made public and there was a good reason for this.  Margaret’s obituaries fail to mention the fact Harry was going through a divorce.  In July 1922 his actress wife Joan … had been granted a decree nisi, on the grounds of Harry’s ‘statutory desertion and adultery’.  This was made final in January 1923, a month after Margaret’s death.  Her role is open to speculation, as she is never named in the newspaper reports as the ‘other woman.’

So 1922-24 was evidently a very emotional and dramatic period in Harry’s life in a non-theatrical sense – an adulterous affair, a messy divorce from his first wife, the death of his lover and then only a year later his engagement to his future second wife, Sylvia Forde.  I have already covered that engagement in Part 2 of this tale dealing with Sylvia Forde but perhaps one last quotation is of interest from The People of 3rd August 1924:

“An Actor’s Romance.  When on the first night of ‘Head over Heels’ there was a new leading lady, Mary Ellis, it looks as though a new name had arrived definitely in the West End.  But no; the the poor young lady was replaced in a few weeks, and I have never heard of her again.  Put in the chorus that night was a young woman named Sylvia Forde, then unknown, who, last week, was announced to be engaged to Harry Welchman and who, therefore, in consequence, will, I have no doubt, be heard of again.”

Harry’s career continued full flight though as he made his first Broadway appearance in Princess Flavia in 1925 but was also performing then in London in Love’s Prisoner at the Adelphi which only had a brief run and was rated by The Times as an unsuccessful mixture of Gilbert and Sullivan, melodrama and musical comedy.

Perhaps one of his most famous theatrical roles came three years later as the Red Shadow in the stage version of the Desert Song which ran at Drury Lane for more than 400 performances.  He definitely set the standard for this role.  The Stage in May 1967 was still continuing the comparison:

“.…. when Harry Welchman captured the Town at Drury Lane forty years ago, with the enchanting Edith Day as the Margot of the story, the show had a spectacular production .   “

By 1929 Harry’s career was taking another dramatic shift but this time of the theatrical sort – he entered management, setting up a production company for The White Camellia at Daly’s Theatre.  Life as a manager was to have its challenges.  We’ve already seen in part 2 about Sylvia Forde that shortly before the opening night Harry lost one of his principal dancers and Sylvia was drafted in at very short notice.  However, the book Daly’s – A Biography of the Theatre describes the financial consequences of Harry’s change of direction:

“Harry Welchman had little luck in management at Daly’s. ‘It has cost me eight thousand pounds to learn that musical comedy of the old-fashioned sort has no chance today’ said Harry Welchman in a Press interview, discussing the losses he incurred in staging first ‘The White Camellia’ and secondly reviving ‘The Lady of the Rose’ at Daly’s Theatre.”

He went on to explain:

“.… one or two of the so-called musical comedy houses are no longer business propositions.  Rents are enormous, the seating is abominable, of comforts there are none.  My advice is ‘scrap the lot’ and build some new ones, or at least leave the shells of the present theatres and reconstruct the interiors.  My dream for the future is to have a theatre with seating capacity commensurate with the biggest cinema theatres.  This theatre will have all the amenities of a picture house.  There will be no charge for programmes and no charge at the cloakrooms.”

I wonder if it was this realisation that perhaps changed his focus towards films – he made more than a dozen in the thirties and early forties, including two 1943 films The Gentle Sex and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.  One performance in the thirties though is definitely worth mentioning since it was local.  As the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 6th August 1937 describes:

“BARNSTAPLE MAN’S DESERVED TRIUMPH.  Strong Supporting Bill of Talent.

Had Harry Welchman, the famous musical comedy star, who is a native of Barnstaple and heads the variety bill at the Theatre Royal, Exeter, this week, met the wishes of audiences he would have been a very very tired man.  At each performance he had to take several ‘curtains’, sing extra songs and even when he had smilingly taken his last ‘au revoir’, the applause continued.  It was not because he was ‘one of us’ that Devon audiences have been so enthusiastic, for to most of them it was news when he made the statement at the end of his turn.  It was simply a delighted mass appreciation of his singing, which included well-known numbers from such musical plays and comedies as ‘Desert Song’, ‘Maid of the Mountains’, ‘Southern Maid’, ‘Rose Marie’, etc.  With an excellent voice he combines a charm of manner and histrionic talent that makes his songs doubly enjoyable.  Each contribution is given the right atmosphere, and how audiences have enjoyed listening to them!  One of the most successful was ‘No More War’, with its telling and dramatic recitative.  To this audiences have listened in tense silence, their applause at the conclusion demonstrating their approval of the sentiments expressed.

The high standard set in his particular sphere by Harry Welchman is characteristic of the whole programme.”

He was definitely easing off by the end of the Second World War, though it’s probably a truism that actors never retire.  As we have already seen, he moved down to Cornwall with his family in 1947 where he bought a farm but soon became involved in amateur dramatics at the Penlee Park Theatre.  This had its origins in 1948 with a successful Cornwall Shakespeare .Festival in which Harry performed in Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The theatre stage in its first year was simply made from borrowed beer crates covered in imitation grass from the greengrocers but the following year the Penzance Town Council commissioned a proper earth and granite stage.

Here is a picture including Harry Welchman (centre) behind the scene in 1957 with the Penzance Playgoers Theatre Club.

In 1950 Harry was interviewed by the Nottingham Journal of 1st June, exploring his views on success of productions on the stage.  Harry explained:

“The play’s the thing ….. If you have not got a good play, then even the engagement of well-known people to sing in it will not help you or make any real difference if they have bad material to deal with.  The Student Prince has been a great success ever since its original production because it is based on a good play ‘Old Heidelberg’ – a most beautiful love story.  …..  To be a real success a musical play must have one or two numbers that people can get hold of.  The success lies in the music but the music is inspired by the book.  …..  The ‘Maid of the Mountains’ into which ‘A Bachelor Gay’ a song written by J W Tate was interpolated had nothing to do with the play but everyone came away whistling it.”

With these views it is strange that Harry, the non-retired actor, got involved in his final performance in 1959 – John Osborne’s play The World of Paul Slickey, a musical intended as a satire on high-society gossip columnists.  The play was apparently a complete disaster with the audience booing at the end.  Among the booing members of the audience were John Gielgud and Noël Coward, who later wrote in his diary of the play, “never in all my theatrical experience have I seen anything so appalling, appalling from every point of view“.  As the Birmingham Daily Post of 6th May commented:

“One felt sorry for the cast, especially for such veterans as Mary Lohr and Harry Welchman.”

The play closed after six weeks, rather a sad end to Harry Welchman’s career.

Harry Welchman, 24 February 1886 – 3 January 1966.

Information Sources:

Kilburn & Willesden History Blog – Margaret Cooper

Daly’s – The Biography of a Theatre – Management

All Music – Biographical

Penlee Park Theatre – time in Penzance

Big Red Book – This is your life

Wikipedia – biographical


The Curious Case of the Shifting Shrub

Something slightly light-hearted for Xmas Eve …..

Tales from the Grave so far have focussed on stories surrounding those who are buried in the Cemetery.  But the Cemetery itself has its own tales to tell such as this one from the Western Morning News of Friday 5th March 1880 – a tale of apparent mystery, intrigue and skulduggery which prompted rumours to be spread throughout the town.  I have left the story verbatim as reported in the paper to give it the appropriate ‘period’ feel of a Victorian melodrama but I have broken the single paragraph item up into several for ease of reading.

Curious Proceedings in Teignmouth Cemetery

“At the monthly meeting of the Teignmouth Burial Board yesterday, Mr C H Stooke presiding, Messrs J Tothill and N Hudson also being present, a letter was read by the clerk (Mr Jordan) from Mr G A Hole, gardener, of Fore Street, in which the writer complained that he had found on visiting the cemetery, that a shrub had been taken from his mother’s grave, and on enquiry where the shrub was he discovered that it had been planted on another grave.

The lodge-keeper (Mills) said he knew nothing about it.

The Chairman proposed that, taking all the facts of the case into consideration, the monthly visitor (Mr G Jarvis) be written to, requesting him to have Mills replace the shrub at once.  He (the chairman) heard Mr Jarvis give Mills particular orders not to touch any shrub belonging to any private individual, and Mills should have obeyed those orders.

Mr Tothill thought it possible that Mills might not have been present at all when the shrub was transplanted.  The Chairman thought Mills must have been there the whole of the time.  Mr Hudson inquired whether anyone could plant shrubs on the graves of their relatives.  The Clerk said they could with a “pass” which Mr Hole evidently had.

The Chairman said it appeared that a rumour had gone through the town about this particular shrub, altogether a false rumour, which was got up for a purpose; there was no doubt about that.  He had heard Mills suggest, in Mr Jarvis’s presence, that some of the shrubs in the cemetery should be transplanted, as they were too thick, and were injuring each other, and Mr Jarvis told Mills he must do nothing of the kind with the shrubs planted by private individuals.

Mr Tothill said that might be all very well, but the shrub was removed from a private grave, and placed upon his (Mr Jarvis’s) father’s grave.  It was a thing which he (Mr Tothill) would not have allowed to be done.  Mr Hudson thought it would have been far more satisfactory if both the visitor and the lodgekeeper had been present.  Mr Hudson did not believe that Mills would have allowed the shrub to be removed without Mr Jarvis’s sanction.

It was resolved to order the restoration of the shrub, and to further investigate the matter.

Was Jarvis, the appointed ‘visitor’, the mastermind villain behind this heinous act? Was Mills, the trusted lodgekeeper, the fall-guy?  What was the nefarious purpose of the “false rumour”?  Did Stooke, the Chairman, have a hidden vested interest and was he attempting to pervert the course of cemeterial justice?  Was the further investigation a cover-up, perhaps in the national interest?

We may never know the answers to these important questions – I can find no further report.  The statute of limitations may have passed but this Victorian whodunnit remains a mystery.


PC Harold Ricketts ….. Bravery and a Twist in the Tale

Postman’s Park

Watercolour by John Crowther (1837-1902)

A short distance north of St Paul’s Cathedral is a small area of land which once formed part of the site of the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church.

Following the Burial Acts of 1851 and onwards it was decided to convert this land into a public park which subsequently opened in 1880.  Being adjacent to the new headquarters of the GPO it became popular with the workers there who would use it on their breaks and, hence, it became known as “Postman’s Park”.


Memorial Wall

In 1900 though the park took on a different and important significance.  It became the location for George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a commemoration of ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten.

This took the form of a loggia and long wall housing ceramic memorial tablets.  Only four of the planned 120 memorial tablets were in place at the time of its opening, with a further nine tablets added by the time of Watt’s death in 1904.

His wife, Mary, took over the management of the project and oversaw the installation of further memorial tablets together with a small monument to Watts.  Following her death in 1938, and with both George and Mary Watts increasingly out of fashion, the memorial was abandoned half-finished, with only 52 of the intended 120 spaces filled.

One of those memorial tablets is the subject of this story – that of PC Harold Ricketts.

The memorial is simple:

“PC Harold Frank Ricketts, Metropolitan Police, Drowned at Teignmouth whilst trying to rescue a boy bathing and seen to be in difficulty. 11 Sept 1916”.

The story, however, is more complex and reflects the bravery of local fishermen as well.  There is an on-line summary of the story at the London Walking Tours site .

There is also a book “Heroes of Postman’s Park” by John Price. However, I have gone back to the original accounts posted in the local papers of the time – the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, the Western Times, the Western Morning News, the Western Gazette.

PC Harold Ricketts

Harold Ricketts was not from Teignmouth but had married a young Teignmouth woman, Kate Gilpin, in London only three weeks before his death.  They had returned to Teignmouth for their honeymoon.

Harold actually came from Wimborne, Dorset and was described as “well-known and esteemed in Wimborne by a large circle of friends” and was a member of Wimborne Football Club “rendering excellent service as right-back”.

Harold was the son of Police Superintendent Ambrose Ricketts who himself had died just over a year previously.  He had three brothers one of whom, Ambrose, was his twin, and three sisters the eldest of whom, Charlotte, who described as the head-mistress of Wimborne Minster Girls’ School.  He attended Wimborne Grammar School and then, with his twin brother, served an apprenticeship as a turner at the famous Eclipse Works.

However, that was not to be his career.  Both he and his twin brother decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and in 1913 they both joined the police force.  For some reason though they did not enrol in Wimborne but chose to join the London Metropolitan Police, the Met.  Maybe they didn’t want to be in the shadow of their father or maybe there were simply more vacancies in the Met where pay and conditions (e.g. police housing) were better.

Believed to be Kate Gilpin (from family tree)

At the time of his death Harold was living in Kensington and had been acting for several months as an assistant clerk at one of the divisional offices of the Met.  I am curious to know how he and his wife-to-be, Kate Gilpin, met.  There is no reference to Harold having been to Teignmouth before, nor to any family connections so was Kate living and working in London as well at the same time?

From the 1911 census records it appears that Kate was living in a solicitor’s house in Limpsfield, Surrey.  There is no occupation shown for her but perhaps we can assume that she was in service and that a move to London in a similar role would have been likely.  When they married she was shown as living in Warwick Gardens and had no occupation.  At the time of Harold’s death she gave her address as Irene House, Belgrave road, Shepherds Bush.

However it happened they met, married at St Barnabas Church, Kensington, and came down to Teignmouth for the fateful honeymoon.  Harold was only 23 at the time, whilst Kate was the older woman, aged 28.  They stayed with Kate’s mother, Elizabeth Gilpin who lived in Teign View Terrace.

The Boat Trip 

It was about six o’clock on the evening of Monday 11th September 1916 that the family decided to take a boat trip on the river.

There were six people in the boat on that evening – Kate and Harold, her mother, one of her sisters, Florence (Florrie) Westlake, and two children – Florrie’s four-year old daughter Beatrice and another six-year old girl Alice Hannaford (or Hooper?).  Florrie lived in Bishopsteignton and the family had decided that they would take her upriver by boat as as far as Shaldon bridge from where she would then walk home. Florrie was actually doing the rowing – “she was quite used to this work, having been rowing all her life”.  Her mother sat in the stern whilst Harold and Kate were on either side with the two children between them.

The boat had belonged to Kate’s father, William Henry Gilpin, who had been a Trinity pilot on the river.  He had died two years before so the ownership and licence for the boat had passed to her mother.  It was a ‘stiff-built’ boat 11ft long and 4½ft in beam, large enough to carry five persons.  These were both factors explored at the inquest (see later).

The Incident

Starting from Teign View beach they had rowed up past the second quay as far as the acetylene stores by Polly steps when they heard cries of “Help” and Kate Ricketts saw a young lad in difficulty in the water.  The place used to be a favourite bathing spot for youngsters but with the spring tide running high at the time the boy, Stanley Drew, had obviously got into trouble and was hanging on to a chain attached to the Custom House boat moored in the river.

Kate apparently called out to the boy asking him if he could get back to the shore.  He replied “No” so Florrie turned their boat and rowed back towards him.  When they reached him the boy let go of the chain, Harold got hold of him and managed to pull him half-way into the boat.  The boy though unexpectedly threw his arms around Harold’s neck and both of them fell back into the water.

The jerk made the boat heel over and half-fill with water causing everyone else to  fall into the river as well.  What had started as a well-intentioned rescue of a young lad had now turned into a major incident with seven people struggling in the fast-running tide.

The Rescue

Fortunately the screams of people in the water were heard and the capsizing had also been seen so help soon arrived from various directions.

The three people key to the rescue were:

  • John Fraser, a seaman on board the schooner Rhoda Mary which was lying at buoys.  He was in the ship’s boat heading for the schooner when he heard cries of “Come back, come back” and he “proceeded with all haste” to rescue two women and one of the children
  • Frank Loosemore who was going out mackerel fishing had seen the incident from the New Quay. He ran round to the Old Quay and brought in the third woman and a child.
  • Thomas Hitchcock, a young fisherman of Brunswick Street, Teignmouth.  He was at New Quay with Frank Loosemore and ran round to the scene with him.  He was the one who saved Stanley Drew, the original boy who had been in difficulty.

Rescue was too late for Harold Ricketts though.  He was unable to swim and, according to Kate, when he went over he struggled in the water, went down, re-surfaced but then disappeared.  A fisherman, William Henry Hitchcock, found his body later at about 10pm in six feet of water about 25 yards away.

Tom Hitchcock

When Thomas and Frank arrived on the scene it appeared that people were being rescued apart from the boy, Stanley Drew, who seemed to be drifting down river.  They saw the boy going down and Thomas immediately dived in to rescue him.  He brought him up and swam back to the quay with him.  A passing Belgian (an interesting detail in the story!) leant over with his walking stick for the boy to grab and be pulled up.  However, according to the evidence, the Belgian let him go and the boy went down again.  Thomas dived down for him again and eventually the boy was brought back to land.

Whilst this was going on Florrie, who was able to swim a little, was managing to keep her mother and the two children afloat until John Fraser arrived in his boat saving first the younger girl (Florrie’s daughter) then Florrie.  She and John Fraser between them were then able to pull her mother from the water. According to Florrie he arrived just in time because “her mother and the two children had been down twice.”  By this time Frank Loosemore had also arrived, having jumped from the quay and swum across to save the other little girl who he handed to John Fraser in the boat.  It was just in time to save the girl’s life.  The girl was given artificial respiration and recovered within about five minutes.

Before reaching the little girl Frank Loosemore had swum to Kate Ricketts who was hanging on to a chain.  In Frank’s words though she shouted to him “For God’s sake, save the child!”.  Kate could swim and managed to reach a life-buoy which was being held by a soldier over the side of the quay.  After Frank had rescued the little girl he returned for Kate Ricketts.  John Fraser had no oars in his boat so Frank had to tow it into position close to Kate.  He then swam behind her and pushed her legs up to get her into the boat.

Everyone was brought to shore where by this time Dr G H Johnson had arrived at the scene together with Sgt G A Bilton and Pte Fursdon of the St John’s Ambulance Association.  Stanley Drew apparently had suffered no ill-effects but the two younger children were taken to the hospital.  The adults were taken back to Elizabeth Gilpin’s house in Teign View Terrace.

The Inquest

An inquest on Harold Ricketts’ death was held quite quickly – only two days later. It was presided over by the County Coroner Mr Sidney Hacker with Mr G Pedrick as foreman of the jury.  They took statements from all the parties and those, as reported in the various local papers of the time, form the basis of the above story.  However, the inquest was concerned with more than just Harold’s death itself; it identified what may have been contributory factors in the chain of events that led to his death.

Polly Steps

Frank Loosemore was asked whether the place (I.e. Polly Steps) was dangerous for boys bathing and he confirmed that that was the case.  He said there was a strong current, especially at spring tides, and that “boys were swept off their legs before they knew where they were”.  One of the jurymen, Mr W Shapter, also referred to the danger of boys bathing at the place but, although several other jurymen agreed, no recommendation was made.

It turns out that there had been previous incidents of boys getting into difficulty off Polly Steps.  The Teignmouth Old Quay Company who had built the slip had applied in 1901 for powers to make bye-laws controlling the quay, including preventing bathing at the slipway at Polly Steps.

The Boat

The inquest explored the licence for the boat in which Harold Ricketts made that fateful trip.  The boat had been owned by Elizabeth Gilpin’s husband the Trinity pilot William Gilpin.  It appears though that on his death the licence to carry up to five people had lapsed and had not been renewed. A Mrs Back, one of Mrs Gilpin’s other daughters, had been instructed by the coroner to find the licence but had come back with the explanation that the licence had not been renewed because the boat had not been let out on hire since her father’s death and was for private use only.

As to the number of people in the boat William Hitchcock testified that the boat was big enough to carry five people ‘provided they sat still’.  Kate Ricketts testified that everyone did sit still even during the attempt to rescue Stanley Drew and denied that anyone had “jumped up”.  Florence Westlake explained that though there had been six in the boat they thought it was all right because “the two children were no more than one grown-up”.  The other curious fact that was brought to the attention of the jury was that the mother, Mrs Gilpin, who was sitting in the stern weighed 12 stone!

The Outcome

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death by drowning.

The coroner and the jury offered their sincerest condolences to Harold’s mother, who had only a year before lost her own husband, and to the other family members.  In turn they were thanked by Kate’s brother, Frank Gilpin, who was a naval seaman.

The jury commended those who took part in saving lives and the foreman was asked to bring their gallant conduct to the attention of the local agent of the Royal Humane Society.  One of the jurymen, Mr E Bennett, remarked that Frank Loosemore had saved other lives in the past – more of this to come in a separate story.  The coroner expressed to Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock the jury’s appreciation of their successful efforts.

The Aftermath

The funeral of Harold Ricketts took place in Teignmouth Cemetery on the afternoon of Thursday 14th September. The vicar of East Teignmouth, Rev J Veysey, officiated.  The mourners were listed as: his mother, Mrs F Ricketts; his eldest sister, Miss C Ricketts; three of his brothers – H, B and A Ricketts; Kate’s sisters – Mrs J Back, Mrs F Waldron, Mrs H Westlake and Miss E Gilpin; Kate’s brother, Mr Frank Gilpin; Mr & Mrs Greenslade (brother-in-law and sister-in-law) and a Mr C Pedrick (foreman of the jury?).  Policemen of the Teignmouth District, under Sergeant Partridge acted as bearers and amongst the floral tributes was a trophy from the officers and men of F Division of the Metropolitan Police.

It is unclear what happened to Kate afterwards.  From the records, it doesn’t appear that she had children or even remarried.  She may be buried in Melbury Abbas having died in 1953 in Shaftesbury.

Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock did receive the fitting recognition for their bravery as recommended by the inquest jury.  On Wednesday 26th January 1917, at the Teignmouth Petty Sessions Court held at the Customs House, Mr Hamilton Young asked the chairman, Mr M L Brown, to present the Royal Humane Society’s medal to Frank Loosemore and the Society’s vellum to Thomas Hitchcock.  The Chairman congratulated Frank and said “You are what I call an Englishman”.  He remarked to Thomas Hitchcock “You keep this up, it gives me great pleasure to present it to you.”

It was not until 1930 though that Harold Ricketts’ part in the event was recognised.  The Metropolitan Police had applied to the ‘Heroic Self-Service Memorial Committee’ for the addition of three new tablets on the memorial wall in Postman’s Park.  This was agreed and the unveiling ceremony took place on October 15th 1930.  The Bishop of London delivered an address on ‘courage’ and specifically mentioned the three police constables, each of whom had given his own life while attempting to save another:

“.… the excellent way in which they carried out their arduous duties and the courage and heroism subsequently displayed which so frequently passed by without any acknowledgment  ….. they did not commemorate enough or think enough of those who gave their lives in the service of their country in civil life”

Approximate location of unmarked grave

Strangely, Harold had been interred in an unmarked grave.  Over time, with the gradual deterioration of the cemetery, this became overgrown. Through the dedication of volunteers of the Friends of Teignmouth Cemetery it has been rediscovered and is being cleared to make it a more fitting memorial to a young man who died in the attempt to save the boy, Stanley Drew.


A Twist in the Tale

Nine years later on Saturday 14th February 1925 another inquest took place, this time in Newton Abbot.  A Great Western Railway pensioner, William Henry Davies, jumped from the bridge near Ball’s garage into the canal.  The incident was spotted by a young lad who raced to the scene and dived into the canal to rescue the man.  He brought the man back to shore and other passers-by gave artificial respiration but to no avail.  The coroner complimented the “conspicuous gallantry” of the 16 year old lad and he too received a vellum from the Royal Humane Society a month later.

The name of that lad was Stanley Drew.  It would be nice to think that he was the same Stanley Drew who was rescued himself as a young boy nine years earlier.  There is no proof of that though, but even so what a coincidence!

Some Biographical Notes

Whilst researching this story I put out a call on Facebook for any relatives of the three fishermen John Fraser, Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock.  This is the reply I received from Angela Healy:

First of all, it seems to be a tradition in the Hitchcock family not to use the given name. This makes tracing them through records very confusing. Some of my information has come from family, local people who knew them years ago and from my own memories.

The younger Hitchcock, Tom, was my great uncle and was officially William Thomas Hitchcock (1896-1974). He was a fisherman by trade.  At the time of the rescue, he was living in Brunswick Street.  His father, Thomas Gilly Hitchcock, was a member of the lifeboat crew, Bowman during the rescue of the Russian schooner Tehyva in 1907 and, at the time of his death in 1938, Cox. The name Gilly was my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name and was given to my great-grandfather as a middle name. I believe this was common practice. He was known only as Tom.

In March 1908, young Tom was summoned along with two other boys for stealing a book. The newspaper report states that “the offenders were dealt with under the First Offenders Act but the father of Hitchcock asked that his son should be birched.” The birching seems to have worked and young Tom later joined the lifeboat crew and worked as a lifeguard, rowing a boat along the front beach. I’m told that he saved many lives there because he knew the places where bathers were likely to get into trouble and was able to warn them of the danger. Tom married Edna Clements and had four children, three daughters and one son.  They lived in Hounslow (if I remember correctly) and later moved to Plymouth, where he died.

The older Hitchcock, William Henry, was generally known as Peter. He lived in Teign View Terrace, along from the young widow’s family. (“Teign View Terrace” has been renamed “Teign View Place” for some reason, just as “Salty” has become “The Salty” in recent years).  He was the brother of Thomas Gilly Hitchcock and young Tom’s uncle. I believe he lost a son through drowning but I don’t know when that happened nor the full details. I must do some more research.

And here is a reply from Sharon Williams in Canada:

I was back in the UK last month, (I live in Canada) and Angela and I visited the old cemetery looking for family graves, to no avail.  Thomas Hitchcock is our Great Grandfather, but his first wife Ellen, is Angela’s Great Grandmother, his second, Susan, is mine.  Ellen has her own grave, but Thomas and Susan are buried together. I found it very sad to see how neglected the cemetery has become over the years, my paternal Gran and I tended her parents grave regularly over the years and it was always so well kept.  I wish the FOTC all the best in the restoration.

Teignmouth Fishermen 1938 – William Henry Hitchcock (aka Peter) is shown on the left.  Thomas Hitchcock (Tom) is on the left of the main group.

The Keats Connection

Keats by Joseph Severn

This year has seen the 200th anniversary of the period that Keats stayed in Teignmouth.  He was here for only two months, arriving on 6th March 1818 after an horrendous journey from London through torrential storms.  He had come to look after his brother Tom who had been staying in Teignmouth as part of the ‘treatment’ of his TB, from which he died later in the year.

Whilst he was here John Keats completed the fourth book of Endymion, wrote another epic poem ‘Isabella’, a number of smaller pieces which he described as doggerel or ‘bitcherel’ and, from an important historical point of view, he wrote letters back to his friends which revealed his thought, emotions, worries.

So what’s the connection between Keats and the Cemetery?

Cresswell’s incorrect view of Keats House

In 1901 a notable local historical author, Beatrix Cresswell, wrote a book about Teignmouth – “Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings”.  In it she refers to Keats and makes the first written mention of where Keats stayed in Teignmouth:

A year or two ago, Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman, C.B. (the latter then busy in searching for memorials of Keats), were at some pains to ascertain, if possible, the house in which he stayed.  By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand) at the corner of Queen Street, a turning toward the river.”

Nine years later this was disputed in a letter to a local paper:

“John Keats lived here and at Teignmouth finished his masterpiece ‘Endymion’ dating the introduction to the poem Teignmouth, October 1818.  The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place (adjoining the King William Inn, facing Queen Street) and is not , as Miss Cresswell in her guide states, No. 35 Northumberland Place at the corner of Queen Street nearly opposite.  For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB who although neither of them are patriarchal enough to have been the contemporary of Keats each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet”

The author of that letter was Frederick C Frost.

The debate on where Keats actually stayed rumbled on and even resurfaced in another newspaper article in 2005 (Herald Express, Viv Wilson MBE), even though an official plaque had been assigned in 1931:

“The connection between John Keats and Teignmouth has not diminished with time, and many people still seek out the place where he stayed in 1818.  The red granite plaque on Keats House in Northumberland Place satisfies the majority but there is another contender for the title.  A school of thought supports the idea that Old Place, just opposite, with the canon protecting its corner wall, was the place where he stayed.”

The decision on where to place the official plaque was ultimately based on the earlier work of three men:  Dr William C Lake, Frederick C Frost and William Risdon Hall Jordan.  The latter two are buried in Teignmouth Old Cemetery, whilst Dr Lake would have been had his family not already secured a family vault at St James’ Church.

Frederick C Frost (1855-1914)

Photo by Dave Tovey

He married in Newton Abbot in 1886 and was an antiquarian who ran the local family business of auctioneers, established by his father.  The family lived at 5 Regent Street and Fred would have known Dr Lake well since they were both members of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303.  He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and also a member of the Devonshire Association, making contributions to that organisation and to the “Antiquary” and “Notes & Queries, a Medium of Intercommunication, for Literary men, General Readers etc” on subjects as diverse as the Devon dialect, medieval religious orders and heraldry.  He used the initials FSI after his name which could mean he was a Fellow (full member) of the Surveyors Institution, awarded a royal charter in 1881 and the forerunner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (although ‘FSA’ is actually inscribed on his headstone as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries’)..

His contribution to the Keats debate

Judging by the letter he wrote, as reported in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 16 April 1910, he was vociferous in championing the cause of Teignmouth celebrating various historic figures associated with the town by putting up commemorative plaques throughout the town.  My guess is that he was raising awareness and doing some local campaigning because two years later in the Western Daily Mercury of 12 March 1912 the following appeared:

“Teignmouth boasts some interesting literary memories, but the associations of Keats with the town are the most notable.  Keats came to Teignmouth for his health’s sake in 1818, and there he finished his ‘Endymion’ and wrote its remarkable preface.  Hitherto the house on the Strand, where the poet lodged, has never borne any name or indication that Keats spent any time there.  Now the house has passed to another tenant, and he, acting on the suggestion of a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, resident in the locality, has decided to christen the residence “Keats’s House”.  There was a dispute as to the exact house where the poet stayed but the present tenant, before deciding on the title, sought the advice of several old Teignmouthians who well remember the ’bonnet shop’.”

Keats House 1912 – Francis Gribble

Shortly after this a popular author of the time, Francis Gribble, wrote a book “The Romance of the Men of Devon” in which he included a section on Keats together with a photograph of Keats’ House with its name newly inscribed on the front door.  The house was subsequently officially recorded as “Keats’s House” in the title deeds of 1925.

William Risdon Hall Jordan (1821-1911)

The Jordan family in Teignmouth goes back to at least the 17th century and the most complete description of William R H Jordan’s life that I have found is in his obituary published in the Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 44 of 1912).  I have simply transcribed this below, with any notes of my own in italics:

Photo by Dave Tovey

William Risdon Hall Jordan was born at Teignmouth, his family having settled there as far back as 1650.  His grandfather (Robert Jordan), in the early part of the last century, founded, with the late Mr Langmead, the South Devon Bank, which was subsequently merged into that of Messrs. Watts, Whidborne and Co., and later in the Capital and Counties Banking Company. (Note that Robert Jordan was also a key driver behind the scheme to infill the old marshy areas of Teignmouth along the river Tame, which flowed into the Teign, creating the land that is the centre of Teignmouth as we know it today).

Mr Jordan was educated at Dr. Edwards’ School, at Teignmouth, and served his articles with his father.  He was admitted a Solicitor in 1844, and for some years acted successively as managing clerk to Messrs. Tozer and Whidborne, of Teignmouth.  In 1848 Mr. Jordan practised on his own account, and on the retirement of the late Mr. John Chapell Tozer from the clerkship to the Teignmouth Improvement Commissioners in 1852, he became Clerk to that body.

Mr. Jordan subsequently held the appointment of Clerk to the Teignmouth Local Board, under the Local Government Act of 1856, and the Public Health Act of 1875, and was the first Clerk to the Teignmouth Urban District Council.  This post he resigned in 1900 (when he was only 79!!), but he retained the position of Clerk to the Burial Board, which he had held since the inauguration of that body in 1853 (so he was also one of the founding members of the Board that ran Teignmouth Old Cemetery when it was opened).

Mr Jordan also took a great interest in educational work, and acted as Clerk to the Teignmouth School Board from its inception in 1875.  He in later years continued as correspondent to the school managers, from which post he retired in 1910, being succeeded by his son, Mr. W F C Jordan.  To the Bread and Coal Society and the Soup Kitchen in Teignmouth he acted as Hon. Secretary.

He became a member of the Association (I.e. the Devonshire Association) in 1871, serving on the Council for many years, and contributed the following papers to its Transactions: Notes on the Natural History of Teignmouth and its Vicinity (1874); Migration of Insects (1885); Teignmouth Gleanings (1904).  Mr. Jordan was also a member of the Teign Naturalists’ Field Club.

In his earlier days his recreations were shooting and rowing, and he had a great predilection for Natural History. He died at Teignmouth on 17 August, 1911, aged ninety years.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Fred C Frost had quoted William Risdon Hall Jordan in his letter to the local paper but the actual connection with the Keats story is via his father, William Rufus Jordan.  He is recorded as living in 1822 at No 11 Northumberland Place, in other words just up the road from where Keats would have stayed.

It appears that William Rufus Jordan had told his son that he had known Keats well and that he had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place; his son, William Risdon Hall Jordan, had passed that information on probably shortly before he died.

Dr William Charles Lake (1825-1920)

Photo by John Silverman

Dr William Charles Lake is the third of the local men involved in this jigsaw.  He is actually interred in the family vault in the grounds of St James Church but I am including him here to complete the picture.

His role was international communications!  But first, something about his life and contribution in Teignmouth; again I shall take it direct from his obituary in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 52, 1920), with my own notes in italics:

Dr Lake was born at Teignmouth on July 9th, 1825, being the eldest son of Anthony Proctor Lake, surgeon, R.N., and of Elizabeth Kirsopp, both of Northumberland. (Note: his father registered for naval service in 1806, arrived in Teignmouth in 1817 and is registered in 1822 as a surgeon living at 16 Northumberland Place, just up the road from Keats House and close to William Rufus Jordan).  He was educated at Exeter Grammar School under Dr. Mills, and could number amongst his schoolfellows Mr J. H. Tozer, Mr R. W. Templer, and Dr. Robert C. R. Jordan, uncle of Mr W. F. C. Jordan (and brother of William Risdon Hall Jordan).

Dr. Lake followed his father’s profession, and for a time was his father’s pupil, and subsequently of the late Dr. Cartwright, of Brimley House.  He completed his professional education at King’s College, London, and at the University of St. Andrews, where he took his degree of M.D.  He practised in Teignmouth as a physician and surgeon for forty-two years, being Medical Officer of Health for fourteen years.  He was one of the pioneers of the old Dispensary in Bitton Street and later joined the staff of the Teignmouth Infirmary and Dispensary.  On the death of Capt. A. G. Paul, Dr. Lake was appointed Chairman of the Hospital Management Committee, and at the time of his death was consulting physician to the Institution.

During the cholera epidemic of 1867 Dr. Lake undertook the work in connection with the outbreak, and in many cases he actually laid out the dead bodies.  He was presented with a clock and purse by the townspeople for his devoted and unselfish work.

Dr. Lake became a member of the Devonshire Association in 1871, and contributed, besides many papers on meteorology, a “Sketch of the History of Teignmouth”; on the “Frosts of 1855 and 1895 as observed at Teignmouth,” and “Notes on the Origin of Teignmouth Streets and their Nomenclature”.  He was also a member of the Royal Meteorological Society and supplied meteorological observations for close on fifty years.

He was for many years a sidesman at St. James’s Church, and had written articles on the Books of the Bible for the Parish Magazine.  He was chairman and one of the original trustees of the Risdon Charity which is distributed annually in the vestry of St. James’s Church.  In politics he was an enthusiastic Conservative and frequently presided at meetings of the party in the town. (He was also, as mentioned previously, together with Fred C Frost, a member of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303).

In the sixties Dr. Lake was a member of the now defunct Local Board, and the newspapers of those times bear witness of his keen interest in sanitary matters.  He retired from practice in 1891 and was then the recipient of a public presentation.

Having been born in the middle of the reign of George IV – thus having lived under five sovereigns – his reminisces of the past were most interesting.  When at Exeter he often saw the mail coach pass over Cowley Bridge for London.  He had travelled in Brunel’s atmospheric railway, some of the towers of which yet remain.  He remembered when the Tame Brook, which runs through the town, was an open stream with bridges for crossing opposite the Royal Library and at the bottom of Orchard Gardens, and when the site of the railway station was an old farm, and when living in the house in which he was born in the Strand he had an uninterrupted view from his residence of the Den and the sea, and remembered the then Duchess of Clarence riding round the Den.  He was one of the oldest and most esteemed and respected residents of Teignmouth.  His affable and kind manner won a place in the hearts of rich and poor alike.  A sincere Christian he was in every sense much beloved, and his loss will be greatly felt.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Dr Lake photo of Keats House

Much of the historical memorabilia of Keats is now held in collections in American universities. One of the foremost collectors was an illustrator, art editor, and print dealer in Boston, Massachusetts, called Louis A Holman.  His collection now forms part of the Houghton Library at Harvard University.  In 1913 he contacted Dr Lake who responded with two letters which now form part of that collection.

In those letters Dr Lake confirmed that Keats had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place and sent Louis Holman a couple of photographs of the house.  That information found its way into the literature in 1958 when Prof Hyder Edward Rollins, professor of English at Harvard University, published his definitive up-to-date collection of the “Letters of John Keats”.

The Keats commemorative plaque was eventually placed on the house at 20 Northumberland Place in 1931 based on a recommendation from the curator of the Keats museum in London.  That decision itself was largely based on the previous work done by those three men of Teignmouth:

– Frederick C Frost,
– William Risdon Hall Jordan,  and
– Dr William Charles Lake

all of whom shared an interest in history and contributing to life in Teignmouth.

The above is just a small part of the story of where Keats lived when he stayed in Teignmouth.  If you are interested in the full story there is a complete set of blog-posts on the “Teignmouth in Verse” web-site under the title ‘The Hunt for Keats House‘.  (Note: this link takes you to the first of the series of blog-posts; at the end of that post scroll down slightly and you can then navigate through to the next in the series, and so on)



Thomas Bidwill … continued

Don, the plate, the grave

A few days ago we had a visit from Don Cockman who lives in Torquay and who first contacted us about 18 months ago.  Don owns a decorated terracotta plate painted by “T. Bidwill” who, he believed, was buried in Teignmouth Cemetery.  So we did some research and with the help of the Teignbridge Cemetery Office managed to locate the grave of Thomas Bidwill.

I had promised Don that if he were able to come over to the cemetery I would show him the grave and the clearance work that we were undertaking.  So that’s what happened last week when Don arrived, bringing with him the plate and we were able to capture the moment of Don, the plate and Thomas Bidwill’s grave.

Thomas Bidwill, epitaph

Thomas Bidwill, headstone

Still life decorated plate, Thomas Bidwill

Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring

What an incredible story we have unearthed today!

On 6 January 1842, 16,000 members of the British Kabul force, the `Army of the Indus’, fled from Kabul under a “shameful capitulation and the illusion of safe-conduct” promised by the eastern Afghan tribes. One week later, on 13 January, Surgeon William Brydon rode alone into Jellalabad, apparently the only British survivor. It has been described as the worst British military disaster until the fall of Singapore a century later and upto that time the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the British by an Asian enemy.

Grave of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring

On 15th August 2017 Geoff Wood, a member of the Friends of Teignmouth Cemetery, discovered the overgrown grave of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring. She was the wife of Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring of the Bengal Army. On her headstone she is decribed as “the last of the lady hostages …. Cabul disaster, Jan 1842”.

The Military Connection

Georgiana had a long association with the military.

She was the youngest daughter of colonel Johan Frederick Meiselbach, born in the Netherlands in 1775 but who subsequently moved to India as a colonel in the Bengal Horse Artillery in the service of the Rajah Mimamet Bahadur of Bundelkhand.

As noted in the Calcutta Magazine and monthly register of 1832 she married Lieut. George Byron of the 48th Regt N.I. (Native Infantry) in Calcutta on November 16th 1831. He died on 23rd May 1834, aged 28. They had one son, George Rochfort Byron, born 9th November 1832.

Georgiana remarried in 1838; as noted in the Calcutta Monthly Journal of September that year:

“At Saint John’s Church, Delhi, by the Reverend R Everest, M.A. Edward Rowland Mainwaring Esq., 16th regiment N.I. to Georgiana Caroline, widow, of the late Lieutenant George Byron”

When they married he was a captain but gained his next promotion four years later as announced in the London Gazette of Tuesday 4th October 1842:

“To be Majors in the Army in the East Indies only.  Captain Edward Rowland Mainwaring, of the 16th Bengal Native Infantry”

He was eventually promoted to Major-General on 28th March 1865 but died in Madras three years later in 1868. As noted in the Times of Thursday May 14th 1868:

On 9th April at the house of his younger brother, Madras, on his way to the Neilghberries for the benefit of his health, after 44yrs service during which he had received five medals, two clasps and a bronze star; Maj Gen Edward Rowland MAINWARING aged 60yrs of the Bengal Army, e/s of the late Thomas Mainwaring Esq, Bengal Civil Service.”

The following obituary appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1868:

MAJOR-GENERAL E.R. MAINWARING Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring, who died at Madras, on April 8, was the eldest son of the late Thomas Mainwaring, Esq., of the Bengal Civil Service, by Sophia Walker, his wife, and was nephew of the late distinguished Admiral Rowland Mainwaring, of Whitmore Hall, in the county of Stafford, the representative of the very ancient and honourable family of Mainwaring, which traces back to the time of the Conquest. He was born Nov. 20, 1807, and entered the Bengal Army when only sixteen years of age. He served throughout the whole of the Affghan campaign from 1839 to 1842, including the assault and capture of Ghurnee. He was engaged at the night attack at Babookoorgch, and the destruction of Khoodawah. He was one of the garrison of Jellalabad; and, in the general action and defeat of Akbar Khan, and the subsequent operations leading to the reoccupation of Cabul, he was attached to the left wing of the army of Gwalior, and was present on the staff at the battle of Punniar. He was with the army on the Sutlej, including the battle of Sobraon, and was engaged with the army of the Punjaub and at the actions of Ramnugger, Sadoolpore, Chillianwallab, and Goojerat. His decorations were five medals, two clasps, and a bronze star. The General married Georgiana, widow of the late George Byron, Esq., and leaves two sons and a daughter. He was interred with military honours, at Madras, April 9, last.”

The military life continued through their children. Their elder son, Edward Philipson Mainwaring born 1841, appeared to have had a distinguished career in the Bengal Infantry, retiring as a colonel in 1893. Interestingly his medals were auctioned in 2004 as part of the Brian Ritchie collection.

His younger brother Francis George Lawrence Mainwaring, born in 1851, also joined the army, retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel at the end of 1899.

Finally, Georgiana and Edward also had a daughter, Emily Sophia Isabella born in 1844, who in 1862 married Major Osmond Barnes of the Bombay Staff Corps. As the tallest man in the Indian Army at the time he was selected to proclaim Queen Victoria the Empress of India.

So we have a picture of Georgiana steeped in military tradition, but what of her involvement in the Kabul disaster?

The Kabul Debacle

So much has been written about the Afghan wars, the Kabul disaster and the subsequent recapture of Kabul that it’s impossible here to go into detail. Here’s an attempt at a summary and the link with Georgiana Mainwaring.

The 1842 Kabul Retreat took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War and was also known as the “Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army”. Following an uprising in Kabul, Major-General Sir William Elphinstone, apparently an ineffectual commander, negotiated an agreement with Wazir Akbar Khan, one of the sons of the Afghan Emir Dost Mohammad Barakzai Continue reading