Untold lives blog

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24 March 2023

A scandalous elopement

Sir Edmond Stanley (1760-1843) was a lawyer and politician who had served as an MP for two separate constituencies in Ireland and was also Serjeant to the Parliament of Ireland.  In 1807 he was appointed as the first Recorder to the newly established Supreme Court of Penang, a post he would hold until 1815 when he was appointed as Puisne Justice, and later Chief Justice to the Supreme Court of Madras.  Stanley married Jane Talbot in 1786 and the couple had one daughter Mary Anne, born in Ireland in 1801.

Stanley had courted scandal for a number of years owing to his ever mounting financial debts, which had forced him to resign his position in the Parliament of Ireland.  He managed to avoid bankruptcy by selling off a number of prominent family estates in Ireland, and moving the family to London.

It was however his daughter Mary Anne who featured in a notable scandal.

Gretna Wedding'Gretna Wedding' from Peter Orlando Hutchinson, Chronicles of Gretna Green (London, 1844) BL flickr

On 21 May 1815, at the age of just thirteen, Mary Anne eloped to Gretna Green to be married.  Her husband-to-be was Captain Edward Trant Bontein, a 29-year-old widower, eldest son of Sir James Bontein.  Relatives of the bride attempted to chase the eloping couple and prevent them from reaching Gretna Green.  However they were unsuccessful and the couple were married there on 23 May 1815.

Newspaper report of the elopement to  Gretna Green in 1815Report of the elopement Public Cause 14 June 1815 British Newspaper Archive

The newspapers of the time reported the story, some such as Public Cause simply reported the facts of the scandal, whereas others such as the Northampton Mercury were much more sensationalist:
‘An elopement (if it will bear that term), of a very singular nature has recently taken place, which is likely to undergo a severe legal investigation.  It is that of a female child of only thirteen years of age, being induced by some means yet unaccounted for, to be carried away by a captain of dragoons, (a widower), from a barrack near town, where this child was left a visitant to the officer’s mother’.

Despite the scandal brought on the family, Mary Anne’s relationship with her father clearly remained close.  Her eldest son was named Edmond Stanley after him and the family settled in Madras with her father.  Captain Bontein had obtained permission from the East India Company to travel to Madras in 1817 as a free merchant, and Mary Anne followed him in 1818 with their son who had been born earlier that year.  The couple had a second child James Talbot born in 1819, but tragically Edward died one month later on 10 November 1819 in Madras, leaving Mary Anne a widow at just eighteen years old.

Mary Anne never remarried, and returned to living with her parents.  In 1835, at her father’s request, she had applied to have the family’s surname changed by law from Bontein to Stanley.  When her father died in 1843, she and her sons Edmond and James were named as the heirs to his estates.

Mary Anne Bontein moved to Brussels in later life and died there in 1881 at the age of 71.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Cause 14 June 1815 British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast


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