Putting a Face to a Name

May 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm (diaries, estates, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to *share* a *find* with Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers! With the amount of material I’ve unearthed over the past ten years, although bits and pieces turn up, a lot of my time lately is taken up with processing what I have. Photography of archival material means that I’ve a backlog of items awaiting transcription.

So a wonderful surprise to find a photograph of someone who plays a small role in the Smith & Gosling history.

Emma’s brother Sir Charles Joshua Smith had two wives. My second diarist (the other being Emma herself) is Mary Gosling, the second Lady Smith. Charles’ first wife (she died in childbirth) was Belinda Colebrooke. She and her younger sister Harriet Colebrooke were the focus of an intense Chancery battle – at one point it even came to blows, at gun-point, on the windswept heath as the sisters approached London in a carriage overtaken by their mother and two hired thugs.

Such actions gave the family pain and heartache, and (of course) made the papers – which is how the likes of historians can learn about so much that took place two hundred years ago.

It is rather a surprised, despite the wealth of the Colebrooke girls, that they were so accepted by “Society”. The crux of the Chancery case concerned which “side of the blanket” they were born on. Thus the odd ages that some materials list for the girls (rounded down to make them younger, and indisputably born after their parents’ marriage). The court case actually pitted family against family (as was so often the case – see for instance Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House): Belinda’s paternal uncles were on two different sides. Their father, George Colebrooke – son of Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (the half sister of the Smith’s maternal grandmother) – had died months before his father (both in 1809). The baronetcy went to a younger brother, therefore. Legitimate heirs, though, could inherit Mr. George Colebrooke’s fortune; and their mother could claim her share while her children were under-age.

The case went on, in one form or another, for decades. (Even after Charles’ death, in 1830.)

Harriet Colebrooke died in January 1822, after a lengthy illness (heart disease; perhaps consumption). She hadn’t even reached her twentieth birthday. Belinda was inconsolable; their uncle, Henry Colebrooke – who had been overseas, wasn’t even aware of Harriet’s death. He first heard when he landed back in Britain.

A few sentences in a few letters fleshes out Harriet’s life. At one point, she seems to have been attracted to Charles Smith! He seems to have been uninterested. Perhaps he already held out hopes for attracting Belinda – though in the period before her sister’s death, Belinda was already engaged, to a young man of whom the family did not approve. There was more fodder for the courts!


William Holme Sumner

It seems, however, that Harriet did have a young man wanting to marry her. A “deeply hidden” sentence in a letter made me take a look at ALL the occurrences (noted in Emma’s meticulously-kept early diaries) of visits by a certain young man named William Sumner.

A Most Frustrating Letter! The important passage, written in light red ink, is crossed against a dark black ink. AND: the paper bleeds through from the other side, giving three handwritings to choose between: strokes of black ink, the shadow of the backside, and the scrawl in red.

IF I read the passage correctly, the sticking point may have been the young man himself: Charles intimates that the “W. Sumner” needed “to make up his mind.” This in a letter, written during Charles’ grand tour, in 1820. William would have been about 22-years-old; Harriet only 16 or 17. Whether Harriet’s illness or the Sumner-heel-dragging intervened, the marriage never took place.

The Sumners – who had purchased (c1770) the estate HATCHLANDS from the widowed Frances Boscawen – were known to Emma’s family. The father, George Sumner, a Member of Parliament, turns up in Smith family letters, and even earlier in diaries of Mrs. Smith and her sister Mrs. Chute. So it was with a bit of _pleasure_ to realize the connection that was developing between the Colebrooke-Sumner children. As more items come to light, I hope to uncover more of their story.

But it’s the photograph of William Sumner (above) that I wanted to mention in this blog post.  Being photography, William would be at least forty years older than the young man who pursued Harriet Colebrooke during the waning years of the Regency.


  1. chasbaz said,

    Ah – connection. If you happen to have a copy of ‘Prinny’s Taylor’ you will find that George Holme Sumner sold the lordship of the manor of Great Bookham to Louis Bazalgette, of Eastwick Park..
    “In 1811-12 James Lawrell and his wife jointly conveyed the manor to the solicitor John Harrison Loveridge, who was acting for George Holme Sumner, who then became lord of the manor and who offered it for sale at auction in 1822-3. Louis then decided to buy it, and had set aside ₤14,000 for the purpose, but because of a dispute over forestry rights he refused to complete the sale. Sumner then sued him but the case was not resolved until 1828, when Louis finally became lord of the manor.”
    And: “…. Sophia, the surviving daughter of George Holme Sumner, M.P. Sumner’s sister Catherine had married James Lawrell the elder so there was a close connection between the two families. “

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Charles – Eastwick is definitely on my radar; again, from a single comment or two in a letter or two. The Smith sisters of the elder generation (Lady Northampton, Mrs. Chute, Mrs. Smith, Emma Smith) seemed to have lived their in their youth. Mrs. Chute had very fond memories of it. This had to have been prior to Joshua Smith building Erle Stoke Park (Wiltshire). Early diaries mention the Sumners and Lawrells. As you say (and already knew!) “connection” is amazing in ALL its little ties.

      Thanks for writing, k

      • chasbaz said,

        I know something of the history of Eastwick of course but I didn’t know that. Do you know at what time the Smith sisters lived there?

      • Janeite Kelly said,

        It’s a deduction, from a couple of sentences in a couple of later letters. I have to go back and look. When they were young, and before Erle Stoke Park (which was building mid-1780s onwards). k

  2. chasbaz said,

    Then it was probably during the tenure of Richard Howard, last Earl of Effingham. Were the Smith’s part of his household perhaps?

  3. Janeite Kelly said,

    I’ve been tardy looking up those letters, haven’t I!?!

    Joshua Smith was a Member of Parliament (from 1788 until soon before his death in 1819); before that a timber merchant – some letters in the Admiralty archive @ TNA. It is rather *amazing* that people “rented” property to the extent that they did. Currently reading “Admiral’s Wife” – letters of Frances Boscawen – and she talks about being on the lookout for an estate (as well, she and her husband are REALLY interested in Hatchlands – which they ultimately DO purchase!).

    I’ll look into Richard Howard – and those few mentions that make me think at some point (maybe even _during_ the reconstruction of Earl Stoke Park). But at least one sister waxed nostalgic about the place and the county. k

  4. Eastwick Park, Surrey | Two Teens in the Time of Austen said,

    […] is in answer to the comments of “Chaz” on the post “Putting a Face to a Name“; the tidbits seemed just too long for inclusion in a […]

  5. Phil Marsh said,

    Hi. I am doing research into the old lands of Stepney and it was eventually owned by Belinda Colebrooke.

    I assume much was sold by Joshua during the 1820’s for the terraced houses and streets …home to Jack the Ripper

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Phil — While I do believe you have come across Belinda Colebrooke, later “Lady Smith”, do be advised that her mother was also Belinda Colebrooke (though generally known, after George Colebrooke’s death, as Mrs. Taaffe). Much will depend on the date(s) you are finding.

      Belinda/Lady Smith was married to Charles Joshua Smith – (Joshua Smith was his grandfather).

      There several pieces of documents out there, relating to their marriage settlement. You’ve quite probably found the London Metropolitan Archives. I once found a VERY long (many photographs) court roll – which I’ve never actually read – that may give you more information about Stepney. I’ll email you, once I refresh my memory about the website.

      MUST mention: the Colebrookes’ legal status complicated so much. Harriet (the younger sister) and Belinda were fought over, and Belinda (as the only surviving child of the relationship) died without issue. Charles was in court even BEYOND his death. The Colebrooke uncles were also at opposite sides of the table (so to speak) in declaring Belinda a legal heir to George Colebrooke.

      I have not yet done much research into the “riches” of the Colebrookes, so I would be interested in hearing more, as your research comes together. Happy to answer any questions that I can, as well. Will email you (probably not today: it’s Thanksgiving here in the States) about the digitzed court roll.

      THANKS for writing! k

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