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!

WSumner

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.

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