My GG grandmother, Julia Le Mesurier, was one of 15 children born to the Rev Thomas Le Mesurier and his wife, Margaret Bandinel. The first ten were born in Newton Longville, Buckinghamshire and the last five in Haughton-le-Skerne, Co. Durham. One died in infancy but the fourteen survivors were left orphans when their father’s death, at the age of 66 in July 1822, was followed less than 12 months later when, Margaret, despite being 20 years younger, died in May 1823.
Research gradually uncovered a series of tragic events as five of the seven boys died before the age of 25, one died at 31 and only one, Henry, lived to a reasonable old age and left any descendants. Thomas, the eldest died at sea in 1826, returning from Mexico where he had been accompanying diplomat James Morier in his role of Private Secretary. His fate is described on the chancel plaque that he himself had ordered to commemorate his parents. His brother, John James was also immortalised on the same plaque. He too died whilst a Secretary to His Majesty’s Commission but this time on dry land – he succumbed to yellow fever whilst in Panama at the tender age of 19, also in 1826. The third son, confusingly called John (but not John James!) was Private Secretary to Lord Redcliffe, Ambassador to Madrid and he reportedly died at Sea in 1834. Bulkeley George, a Royal Navy Lieutenant serving on HMS Talbot was the only British fatality in the siege of St Jean d’Acre in November 1840 and was buried in Malta. Frederick was next to go dying in Falmouth, Jamaica whilst serving with the Royal Corps of Engineers. Richard Arthur, the 7th son born the month following his father’s demise, attended King Edward VI School in Birmingham, was a graduate of Corpus Christi, Oxford University and became an Examiner of Schools in the Privy Council Office. Surely a safe choice? But no he died, unmarried, at the age of 31. Henry, the 2nd son, had followed in his father’s footsteps and having graduated from New College, Oxford took holy orders and then as the Rev Le Mesurier became Master at Bedford School a position he held for 30 years until his death at the ripe old age of 68. He was the only one of the seven sons to marry and together with his wife, Elizabeth, fathered at least 10 children.
So how did the sisters fare? Somewhat better! The eldest, Mary Anne, seemed to have moved about from one relative to the next if the census is to be believed and died a spinster, aged 61, in the rectory at Elmley, Yorkshire the home of her youngest, sister, Julia, who had married their maternal cousin, Rev James Bandinel. Julia and James are my GGgrandparents and Julia lived into the 20th century dying in 1901. Second sister, Margaret, also married; Augustus Frederick Dobree from Guernsey and they had at least 3 children, Clara, Alice and Peter between 1831 and 1845 before tragedy struck. Firstly Augustus died in Worcester in May 1845 to be closely followed by Margaret in early 1846 leaving the 3 orphans. Daughter no. 7 Anne Elizabeth was the only child of the family to have died in infancy but her name lived on in daughter no. 8. who was born in 1814 the year following her sibling’s demise. This second Anne married the wonderfully named Horatio Nelson Goddard in 1840 but their happiness was relatively short-lived because she died aged just 34 having had three children, two of whom died in childhood.
The remaining three sisters Martha, Henrietta and Charlotte (Daughters No. 3, 4 & 5) seem to have fared well and successive censuses show them moving around the shires either all together or in pairs and it appears from the entries in the occupation column that they are living independently on private means. Martha died aged 65 in 1873, Charlotte aged 85 in 1895 and Henrietta outlives all her other siblings dying at the grand old age of 92 on 24th November 1901 some 7 months after my GGgrandmother Julia.
As this somewhat tragic tale unfolded through my research I couldn’t help but contemplate the short lives of most of my GGgranduncles who had died in far-flung reaches of the expanding British Empire. So when it came to researching the girls and finding that on the whole they fared better than the boys and that the unmarried sisters fared significantly better than those who married (with the exception of Julia), I vividly remember thinking that their lives of spinsterish gentility had naturally contributed to their longevity. I pictured them taking tea and doing embroidery most of the day with a little time set aside for quiet prayer and maybe an occasional bit of charitable work – these were the daughters of a very devout man of the cloth after all.
And there I left it for a while and moved on to other avenues of research – until my sister turned up with a box of photos and other family papers. An old, fragile newscutting forced me to totally re-evaluate my opinion of the Le Mesurier girls…… (see next blog!)