Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

12 December 2019

Emma Ewart Larkins' last letter from Cawnpore

On 9 June 1857, Emma Ewart Larkins, the wife of an artillery officer in Cawnpore, composed a letter to family and friends in England.  Along with about a thousand others, she, her husband George, their three youngest children, and Munna, their cherished family ayah, were sheltering from bombardment under appalling siege conditions, and behind hopelessly inadequate defences.

 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her AyahMSS Eur F732/1 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her Ayah


Addressing a sister-in-law in London, Emma began: ‘I write this dearest Henrietta in the belief that our time of departure is come’.  She explained: ‘the whole of the troops rose here & we took refuge in a Barrack We are so hemmed in by overpowering numbers that there seems no hope of escape’.  Emma was right: death was staring her in the face.  But Munna would take the dangerous decision to attempt to slip away, and she successfully carried the letter with her.

Portrait of Emma Ewart Larkins, India, 1840Emma Ewart Larkins by L. Power, India, 1840. © Rebecca Gowers.

Months later it somehow reached England.  Within it were individual messages for Henrietta and several others, including Emma and George’s four oldest children, sent ‘home’ for their education.  One of these, Alice Shaffalitzky Larkins, then aged 11, was my great-great-grandmother; and I was brought up knowing that my own life depended on the fact that she had avoided the Cawnpore Massacre.  Emma’s last letter was kept by the family in a double-sided picture frame so that it could be read front and back, though the crossed writing made it incredibly hard to decipher.  My grandmother showed it to me as a child.  But four years ago, when I found myself wondering about it again, I realised I no longer had any idea where it was.

Photograph of George and Alice Larkins 1851George Larkins, Artillery Commander, Cawnpore, 1857, here with his daughter Alice: daguerrotype, India, Christmas 1851. © Rebecca Gowers.

I looked idly online, and found the letter selectively quoted in a number of books on the Indian Mutiny.  The British Library held a rough transcript, but where was the original?  While I tried to solve this question, I stumbled on an outré, unproven theory: that another of the four children to survive, Henry Thomas Larkins, also addressed in Emma’s letter, just might be the same person as ‘Major Harry Larkyns’, a mysterious, louche character murdered in 1874 by the famous photographer of galloping horses, Eadweard Muybridge.  To my surprise, this was a theory I found myself able to verify almost at once.  And it has led to my writing a book about Harry’s genuinely extraordinary exploits.  Setting about this project, I badgered numerous relatives about boxes in their attics that might contain Larkins-family archive, with the particularly gratifying result that I ended up being given not only Emma’s final letter, but others that had preceded it too.  This reassembled correspondence forms a total of about a hundred letters whose terrific details I could only hint at in my book.

It was a great pleasure for me recently to donate the whole collection to the British Library, where I hope they will be of interest to other writers and historians.  Emma's last letter was in a frail state indeed, but it has now been conserved, and digitised as well, meaning that this pitiful survivor is now available for all to see.

Rebecca Gowers
Writer

Further reading:
MSS Eur F732 Papers of Emma Ewart Larkins (d. 1857), wife of Major George Larkins (1807-1857), Bengal Artillery
Rebecca Gowers The scoundrel Harry Larkyns and his pitiless killing by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (2019)

 

10 December 2019

Sarah Danby – JMW Turner’s lover

Sarah Danby was born Sarah Goose in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, probably in 1766, as she was christened, a Roman Catholic, in Baumber on 5 April in that year.  She was brought up in Lambeth and became a singer and actress.  On 4 April 1788, she married John Danby, a successful organist and glee composer, with whom she had five daughters and one son, two of whom died in infancy.  The Danbys first lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and were near neighbours of the Turners, who lived in Maiden Lane. 

John Danby's death May 1798 reported in True Briton John Danby's death reported in True Briton 19 May 1798 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers

John Danby suffered with poor health, probably rheumatoid arthritis, and died, aged 41, at home on 16 May 1798, sadly just at the close of the benefit concert organised by his friends at Willis’s Rooms that very evening.  At that time the Danbys were living at 46 Upper John Street and Sarah was two months pregnant with their fifth daughter, Theresa.  John Danby was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard but his grave was destroyed with the coming of the railway.  His name can be seen on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.

 
John Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial SundialJohn Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.  (author’s photo)

Sarah began a relationship with Turner and lived with him for short periods of time at various addresses but this was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.  Various reasons have been suggested and the truth may well be a combination of some or all of the following: 
Turner often made disparaging comments about matrimony, probably as a result of his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early failed relationship.
Sarah was a Catholic; Turner was not.
Sarah was dependant on a pension from the Royal Society of Musicians, which would stop if she lived permanently with Turner.

Life study of a female figure, possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooksLife study of a female figure c.1812-13 , possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooks -  Tate Britain  Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

They had two daughters together; Evelina (1801–74) and Georgiana (1811–43) but Turner saw little of them and he spent his latter years mostly in Chelsea, with Sophia Booth.  After Turner’s death in December 1851, Sarah lived in poverty in William Street, Marylebone, with her unmarried daughter by Thomas Danby, Marcella, a music teacher, and her granddaughter Louisa Symondson.  Turner left Sarah nothing in his will and she was forced to sell various drawings and sketches that he had given her, just to survive.  She applied for an increase in the pension she received from the Royal Society of Musicians but this was refused.

Crossing The Brook - painting by Turner'Crossing The Brook' by Turner.  The two girls are thought to be his daughters, Evelina and Georgiana - Tate Britain Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported))


Sarah later moved to George Street, near Euston Square, where she died on 16 February 1861.  The Registrar recorded that she was 100 (she was probably 95) and that she had eaten beefsteak for her dinner the day before she died.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Kensal Green.

Sarah’s death was quickly followed by law suits involving her family.  In April 1861 Marcella was taken to court by her niece, Caroline Frances Lamb, and Caroline’s husband, Edward Buckton Lamb, over the administration of Sarah’s personal estate, which was valued at under £200.  Marcella then countered with a case against the Lambs to recover letters and documents relating to Sarah’s accounts and private affairs.  She also recovered the large sum of £1621 9s 7d which was paid into court by the Lambs.  Yet when Marcella died in 1863, her estate was valued at less than £100.  A mystery which remains to be unraveled!

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Anthony Bailey, Standing in the sun (London, 2013)
Stephen J May, Voyage of the slave ship, J.M.W. Turner's masterpiece in historical context (Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014)
Dictionary of artists’ models, edited by Jill Berk Jimenez (London, 2001)
Article on John Danby by Selby Whittingham in New Dictionary of National Biography
The life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A.; founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow academicians, Walter Thornbury, 1897.
 

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham will reopen on Saturday 11 January 2020.
Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: self-guided visits.
Guided tours Wednesday to Sunday at 1.00, 2.00 and 3.00pm.  Last entry 3pm.

Turner's House logo

 

 

05 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 2

We left George Byworth in Tasmania working as a merchant officer on sealing voyages.

Back in London, his father Thomas died in 1837.  His will left everything to George’s mother Mary.  She carried on with the watch-making business in Lambeth with her son Thomas.

We know that George returned to England at some point, because on 24 October 1844 he married Amelia Webb in Camberwell.  He described himself as a master mariner of Old Kent Road.  Nineteen-year-old Amelia came from Binfield in Berkshire.

View of Singapore with ships at anchorView of Singapore with ships at anchor from Pieter Harme Witkamp, De Aardbol (Amsterdam, 1839) Shelfmark 10002.g.16-19. BL flickr Noc 

The couple were soon travelling.  Their son George Alfred was born in October 1845 and baptised in March 1847 in Singapore.  In June 1847 George was the master of the Antaris sailing from Singapore to Port Jackson with a general cargo.  His wife and son were passengers on the ship.  Sons Donald Campbell and William Wordsworth Russell, were born in Sydney in July 1847 and April 1849.  Four more children were born in Tasmania between 1851 and 1858: Mary Ann Louisa, Amelia Frances, Edith Constance Burnell, and Loughlin Alan.

George’s mother Mary died in 1853.  She left the business premises and equipment to her son Thomas.  Household goods and other personal effects were shared equally between her sons George, John and Thomas.  She named her friend Henry Vandyke of the Marine Society as her executor but he renounced probate in favour of Thomas. An intriguing link to the Marine Society!

In 1854 George changed careers and became licensee of the British Hotel in George Town, Tasmania.   He advertised in his local paper, the Cornwall Chronicle:
‘GEORGE BYWORTH (late Master Mariner) has great pleasure in making known to the public at large, and particularly to families who visit George Town for health and recreation, that he has obtained a license for the BRITISH FAMILY HOTEL, where will be found accommodation for families and parties, of the most agreeable nature, and at moderate remunerative charges. G. B. will devote himself to ensure the comfort of all persons who favour him with their patronage’.

George Town, TasmaniaGeorge Town, Tasmania from Francis Russell Nixon, The Cruise of the Beacon: a narrative of a visit to the Islands in Bass's Straits (London, 1857) Shelfmark 10498.aa.7. BL flickr Noc

However in September 1857 George Byworth, licensed victualler, was declared insolvent.  By July 1859 the Cornwall Chronicle was reporting the destitute state of the family.  George was desperate to find work and, even though he had ‘seen better days’, he was very willing to accept ‘humble employment’.  Local people raised money for the Byworths and donated clothing, flour, tea, sugar, wood and coal.  Amelia was given help to open a milliner’s shop. 

Launceston, TasmaniaLaunceston, Tasmania from Élisée Reclus, The Earth and its Inhabitants (London, 1878) Shelfmark 10005.ff. BL flickrNoc

The next blow was Amelia’s death from dropsy in October 1862.  George tried to earn a living by running evening classes in navigation, and then expanded this into a commercial and nautical school offering ‘an English education’.  But in 1869 the seven-roomed cottage in Launceston he had occupied was advertised for letting, and his household goods were put up for auction – ‘Piano, table, chairs, bedstead, cooking utensils, and quantity of sundries’.

Things weren’t going well for the Byworth family in London either.  In 1869 George’s brother Thomas was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour for receiving stolen goods.

In September 1870 George Byworth entered the Launceston Invalid Depôt, a government-run institution for the sick and poor.  He was unable to work but left in March 1872 at his own request.  George died in Launceston on 20 October 1876 at the age of 69 after a life full of incident.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Trove newspapers
British Newspaper Archive

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1