Monday, March 8, 2010


The dangerous and rather melancholy aspect of making careful historical inquiries about pioneering ancestors is that you eventually discover their secrets.

Our great-great-grandfather, the Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C. (1818–1893) spent fifteen years from September 1841 clearing and taking possession of an enormous pastoral run of what eventually amounted to 17,274 acres at the confluence of the Thomson and La Trobe Rivers, stretching much of the fifteen miles between Rosedale and Sale in East Gippsland; it was the largest freehold property in Victoria. He named it Kilmany Park, after the parish in Fifeshire where he was born. In the same period he joined the sinister conspiracy of Scots settlers led by Angus McMillan to rid the entire region of its Aboriginal population, the blameless Kurnai people. In 1849 William was tried in Melbourne before Judge à Beckett; defended by Redmond Barry, but unfortunately found guilty by a jury of his peers of horsewhipping a Catholic neighbor, Mr. Desailly, after an altercation during a race meeting in which both men rode rather fiercely and for high stakes at Green Wattle Hill. Having thus asserted his presence locally, in about 1857 William Pearson sailed back to England to find himself a bride.
According to the entry for “Pearson of Kippenross” in Sir Bernard Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, the young woman he selected was Eliza Laura (1837–1896), the daughter of Henry Thomas Travers, late of the Hon. East India Company’s Bengal Civil Service. Laura, as she was known, and her sister Henrietta came to East Gippsland and were both married soon afterwards: Laura to William at Grassdale, near Sale, on August 4, 1859 (just before her twenty-second birthday; he was forty-one), and Henrietta to William’s Gippsland crony Lemuel Bolden of Strathfieldsaye on January 26, 1860. The latter ceremony took place at Kilmany Park.
Henry Thomas Travers was the son of Peter Travers, physician to the English forces in Portugal and eventually also to the Court of Dom Pedro III at Lisbon. Peter Travers was in turn the son of a Devon watchmaker, and the grandson of a Huguenot refugee who like so many others settled in England after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). Peter Travers married Mary (1741–1815), the daughter of Peter Paré of Plymouth, another Huguenot gentleman. Peter and Mary Travers had at least five sons and two daughters, all of whom were baptized at the Embassy in Lisbon, including our four times great-grandfather Henry Thomas Travers (June 15, 1779).
Peter Travers’s younger brother John Travers (who died an extremely wealthy man in 1809) was an elder brother of Trinity House, and formerly a captain in the Hon. East India Company’s Navy. In 1786 (the year before Warren Hastings’s impeachment), in 1791, 1796, 1801, and again in 1806, John Travers was elected to the powerful H.E.I.C. Court of Directors. Through his uncle’s influence (actually no other mechanism existed), Henry Thomas Travers and three of his brothers, Peter Paré, John Benward, and George Francis, entered the East India Company’s Civil Service as cadets: Peter and John in 1791, and George and Henry in 1794. Henry was fifteen. By 1800 all four young men were en poste in India: Peter in Bombay; John and George at Fort St. George (Madras), and Henry in Calcutta.
On November 25 of that year, aged twenty-one, Henry married Miss Eliza Finch. That union was noted in the following year’s Asiatic Annual Register. Young Mrs. Travers produced a daughter (1803) and at least two sons, of whom the elder died in infancy at Calcutta, and was buried in the South Park Street Burial Ground—“Here lies the infant son of H. T. Travers, Esq. / Obit. 21st February 1805”—but John George (born 1807) survived. Mrs. Travers did not. She died the usual colonial death of dysentery or fever in about 1812.
After an appropriate period of restrained mourning, Mr. Travers married for the second time, at Kishnaghur on June 2, 1814, this time to Amelia Martha (née Grimes), the widow of the Rev. Dr. Henry Peter Stacy, D.D. For her first husband Mrs. Stacy produced two sons and two daughters, but for Henry Thomas Travers she produced a further son and two daughters (at least). For a while the second Mrs. Travers proved more robust than the first, nevertheless she too expired, on December 10, 1826, at Banjetty near Moorshedabad, from something virulent or exotic, probably both.
In 1804 Mr. Travers first appeared in the East-India Register and Directory as Resident Assistant Surgeon at Hurriaul, Bengal, with apparently minimal training. The following year he doubled as the local Commercial Resident, and remained there until at least 1806. From 1810 Mr. Travers was Collector of Midnapore, and in 1816 moved to the more lucrative mercantile position of Collector of Moorshedabad (Murshidabad on the banks of the River Bhagirathi, a tributory of the Ganges in West Bengal). He occupied that post without interruption from 1816 until his retirement in 1832, and lived with his family and a small army of servants in a large, pretty house and garden in Durrumtollah Street, Calcutta.
Mr. Travers’s brother Peter began his career as First Assistant to the Treasurers at Bombay (1802), to which responsibilities were in 1804 added an assistantship to the Custom Master. This apprenticeship led him in due course to take over as Custom Master and Reporter-General of External Commerce (1808). The following year he was made a Justice of the Peace. Eventually he retired to Fairfield Lodge, Exeter (1825).
George started off as Collector of Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli) (1810), but soon assumed the position of Judge and Magistrate of Ganjam (until 1816), evidently knowing as little about the law as Henry ever knew about medicine. Nevertheless, life on the bench must have suited George, because he soon rose to the third Judgeship of the Provincial Court of Appeal and Circuit for the northern division (1816 to 1820). He, too, retired comparatively early, in 1821.
Meanwhile, having begun as Collector of Ongole and Nellore (1808 to 1809), John Benward Travers joined his brother George as second Judge on the same Court of Appeal (1814 to 1820), an arrangement that seems to have been as harmonious as it was cosy. In upholding the awesome majesty of the law, their Lordships relied in part upon the administrative and military support of a rapidly multiplying tribe of John Travers’s other relations: sons, brothers, nephews, and cousins in every branch of the Company’s civil service and various regiments of the Indian Army, in which several of our Borthwick ancestors were by then also serving with distinction.
On May 1, 1832, aged fifty-three, presumably mindful of the needs of his young family, and satisfied that by then his eldest surviving son John George was safely ensconced in the Company’s service (after a stint at the East India Company College, i.e. Haileybury), Henry Thomas Travers retired on the Civil Fund annuity of £400 per annum; cashed in his Indian investments; sailed back to England via the Cape on board the Northumberland, and settled in St. Peter’s Terrace, Hammersmith, where, according to the 1841 census, his household consisted of at least one daughter, Sarah Campbell Travers, aged 20; Mary Grimes, aged 25, presumably a relation of the second Mrs. Travers, and Elizabeth Savage, aged 20, none of whom were born in England.
On June 12 of that same year, 1841, at St. Peter’s Church, Hammersmith, Sarah Campbell Travers married a chemist, Anthony Michael, the son of Michael Anthony Reboul, physician. Mr. Travers, Miss Grimes, and Miss Savage were all witnesses. Other members of this slightly unconventional household were Mary Whate, aged 20 (apparently not a Travers relation), and a number of servants, including a Scottish couple, Alexander and Elizabeth Macdonald, both aged 25, who, together with his housekeeper Mary Gregg, Mr. Travers remembered in his will with considerable generosity.
By 1844 Henry, his brother George, and an unmarried sister who lived with George, each owned not less than £1,000 pounds in East-India stock. This entitled them to three votes at the Company’s general election of that year; from Christ Church College, Oxford, the young John Ruskin controlled only two. Mr. Travers’s death on February 22, 1848, aged 68, at 26 Notting Hill Terrace, Kensington, was noted in The Gentleman’s Magazine and Allen’s Indian Mail and Register of Intelligence.
You are perhaps beginning to see into the dark heart of the problem. The young sisters whom great-great grandfather William Pearson recruited in London in about 1857/58 were born at Mr. Travers’s residence at 26 Notting Hill Terrace on March 27, 1835 (Henrietta) and on September 25, 1837 ([Eliza] Laura, our great-great grandmother), but in those years Mr. Travers was a wealthy widower, belonging to the once raffish but now increasingly quaint H.E.I.C. circle of retired Regency nabobs. He never re-married.
Under the terms of the will Mr. Travers drafted in 1846 (National Archives, Kew), inter alia generous legacies were distributed among Mr. Travers’s surviving siblings, his adult children, nieces and nephews, and his servants, but the bulk of that enormously long document concerns the provisions of a trust, administered by his sister Elizabeth Susannah, Mrs. Henry Butts Owen; his brother George, and two other executors who are difficult to place, for the benefit of two “natural” daughters: Henrietta and [Eliza] Laura “Fossey otherwise Travers,” and the gentlemen who it was fervently hoped would in due course marry them and assume legal control of their legacies. Much of the small print deals with what would happen to the money if one or either of the girls did not reach the age of twenty-one, or if both died before marrying, or if either one or both never married at all.
According to the baptismal register at Christ Church, St. Marylebone, the girls’ mother was one Lucy Fossey, and that is the sum total of everything that we know about her. Beyond the comparatively generous provisions in his will, in both cases the ruttish Henry Thomas Travers had the decency at least to record his name as the girls’ father (occupation: “Gent.”), which almost certainly means that Lucy was unmarried. She was probably a servant girl, but in 1841 she was no longer living in Henry Thomas Travers’s household in St. Peter’s Terrace, Hammersmith, and nor were Henrietta and Laura.
One possibility is that Mr. Travers maintained not one household, nor two, but at least three, all in London. This practice was not uncommon, and is further suggested by the fact that in 1844 Mr. Travers supplied to the East India Company Register an address different again from St. Peter’s Terrace, Hammersmith (where he is documented in 1841), and 26 Notting Hill Terrace, Kensington (where he is likewise documented in 1835, 1837, 1846, 1848, i.e. at the time of his death), namely “Connaught-terrace, Edgeware-road.” It may be that his third family of Fossey lived in either one of these last two houses.
However, the 1841 census records “Henrieta Travers [aged 6]” and “Laura D[itt]o [aged 4]” in a forlornly large cluster of young girls then residing with a handful of pathetically young schoolmistresses, governesses, and an unmarried clergyman at Albion House, a boarding school in St. Peter’s Square, not too far away from Mr. Travers’s residence in Hammersmith. That ad hoc educational establishment was set up in 1813 by a Mr. Maxwell in what one nearly contemporary source pluckily described as a spacious mansion, built in that style of architecture which prevailed at the commencement of the reign of James I.” No doubt it was creaking, cold, dark and damp—ghastly.
We do not know how William Pearson found the nineteen- or twenty-year-old Laura Travers in London and successfully paid court, but it seems likely that it was through one of her trustees. A doughty self-made colonist such as William provided not only an ideal solution to the problem of “Fossey otherwise Travers,” but the added bonus of permanently erasing it from an Early Victorian London in which such residual peccadilloes were increasingly regarded as inconvenient, embarrassing, or actually harmful in the prospective marriage stakes of otherwise untainted half-siblings and their progeny.
Nor do we know if, from the point of view of Kilmany Park near Sale in East Gippsland, Gran’s father ever learned his mother’s secret à la Magwitch. In the 1870s and 1880s innocent questions may have been asked about his (at best) shadowy English maternal grandmother. They were either unsatisfactorily evaded, or else handled with that chilly, firm, pursed-lip, shutter-clattering bluntness that Gran and our late mother ultimately inherited also: a vital component, it seems, of our mitochondrial DNA.
It is certainly tempting to see this matter as ample justification for the large investment our pioneering great-great grandfather made in the pedigree that was painstakingly assembled by a team of Edinburgh genealogists for inclusion in Burke’s Colonial Gentry (1891), which incidentally awarded him the slightly bombastic title of “head” pro tempore of “the old Scottish family of PERSON of LOCHLANDS, PIERSON of the barony of BALMADIES, Forfarshire, and PEARSON of the barony of KIPPENROSS, Dunblane, Perthshire,”which remains slightly shrill in its unremitting claims to distinction and respectability. Certainly, at nine pages with fifteen footnotes, it is by far the longest pedigree of any Victorian colonist listed in Burke’s Colonial Gentry, and connoisseurs of that neglected work have learned to treat the such elaborate entries with much circumspection, if not caution.
It is not clear what if any of her father’s inheritance Laura “Travers” brought with her to East Gippsland. However, in the fourteen years between 1860 and 1874 she also produced for William five sons and two daughters. Henry Travers Pearson (1861–1880) and John Benward Pearson (1866–1925) were named after her father and his elder brother respectively, so to that extent the recollection of her nabob legacy was at the very least appreciated, if only gingerly. Certainly William Pearson’s own mother Helen put up the cash to buy the initial freehold of Kilmany Park. In about 1860 she sailed from Scotland and took up residence there. Thenceforth to Laura fell the burden not merely of caring for four infants under five, but looking after an elderly mother-in-law whom she had never met before. Certainly by 1879, Laura Pearson owned the freehold of 8,132 acres contiguous with Kilmany, and in 1896 when probate was granted she left estate valued at £8,319, more than ten times larger than any other estate listed in the Argus, not just on that day (November 13) but all through the month. When she died Laura Pearson was by any measure a wealthy widow.
Through the 1860s and 1870s Laura’s sister Henrietta produced at least eight children for Lemuel Bolden of Strathfieldsaye. Neither sister ever saw their mother again (even if they ever knew her at all), or indeed any of their father’s wealthy London relations. Indeed, at first the only people they knew upon arriving in colonial East Gippsland were Laura’s bridegroom, William Pearson, and the family of Peck, with whom the sisters apparently sailed aboard the Florine in May, June, and July 1858, and resided temporarily in Sale until Laura’s wedding day. It must have been wholly terrifying, but I suppose no worse than being packed off to a boarding school for motherless young women in St. Peter’s Square, Hammersmith, aged three or four.

1 comment:

  1. Henry Thomas Travers is my wife's 4th great-uncle.His sister,Elizabeth Susanna Travers, was the mother of the well-known author/translator Octavius Freire Owen, my wife's 2nd.gtgrandfather,1816 - 73, who married Emily Montague, the novelist.
    As a highly popular authoress, of at least five novels, some of which are boisterously feminist (e.g., "The Heroines of History" eulogizes among others Judith of the Apocalypse - illustrated holding the severed head of Holofernes), it is rather strange that Edith's genealogical origins are obscure. Although married to an author, her books never give her maiden name, but carry instead the name "Mrs Octavius Freire Owen". Resulting in her works being mis-attributed by many to her husband. The surname of her mother, Stevens, is surmised only from Octavius' coat of arms. And connection to her father, William Montague of the eminent Beaulieu Montagues, is practically untraceable. This at a period when readers expected to know something about authors they admired and were customarily given a resume in the preface.
    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that several matters have been deliberately suppressed in this respect. As also in regard to:
    1. Elizabeth Susanna Travers' (mother of Octavius) selection as administrator of the will of her brother Henry Thomas Travers regarding provisions for his two 'natural' daughters Laura and Henrietta mothered by the unmarried Lucy Fossey.
    2. National Archives document: Item reference C 16/223/O2
    Cause number: 1864 O2. Short title: In the matter of Mary Edith Montague Owen and Ethel Rose Marie Josephine Owen infants by Octavius Freire Owen their father and next friend. ...
    Both Mary Edith Owen and Laura Travers for some reason acquired titled husbands somewhat above what might be their expectations, and singularly without such publicity as would normally be considered appropriate (Mary Edith married Henry Hugh Askew).

    John Barton