Friday, September 26, 2014

Afflicted Widow and Mother

Returning to my interest in shadowy wives of the British Empire, on a recent visit to Bath Abbey, several memorial plaques on its walls spiked my curiosity and this one in particular “erected by [an] afflicted widow and mother” brought tears to my eyes. *



IN MEMORY OF BREVET LT. COLONEL JOSEPH MAYCOCK,
CAPTN. IN H.M. 53RD SHROPSHIRE REGT. OF FOOT,
WHO DIED AT SIMON’S TOWN, CAPE OF GOOD HOPE,
AUGUST 8TH 1860, AGED 41 YEARS,
FROM THE EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE DURING THE INDIAN MUTINY,
OF 1857, WHILE SERVING ON THE STAFF OF SIR HENRY HAVELOCK,
THOUGH HE SLAY ME, YET WILL I TRUST IN HIM.” JOB III.15.
AND IN MEMORY OF HIS CHILDREN,
FRANCIS WILLIAM MELLOWES, WHO DIED AT KURRACHEE, SCINDE,
FEBY 19TH 1849, AGED 1 YEAR,
MABEL ROSS, WHO DIED AT SEA, MAY 17TH 1860, AGED 15 MONTHS,
MAUD MARY, WHO DIED AT SEA,
JUNE 14TH 1860, AGED 5 YEARS AND 4 MONTHS,
MABEL MAUD, WHO DIED AT MERTHER, CORNWALL,
NOVEMBER 30TH 1860, AGED 4 MONTHS,
“MINE OWN WILL I BRING AGAIN AS I DID SOMETIME FROM THE DEEP OF THE SEA.”  PSALM LXVIII.22.
THIS TABLET IS ERECTED BY THE AFFLICTED WIDOW AND MOTHER.

Surviving officers of the 53rd Shropshire Regt on return to England in 1861 after the Mutiny
Shropshire Regimental Museum

I was staggered at the thought that this woman had not only lost her husband, but four children as well – three of them in the same year with two whose only grave is the sea. Plus, she had obviously been an army officer's wife in India at the time of the Mutiny and exposed to all the extra dangers and traumas that would have entailed. She suffered tragedy piled upon tragedy.

So who was the unamed wife of Joseph Maycock? Did she have any other surviving children? However did she cope afterwards?

Clearly, to afford a marble plaque in such a prestigious setting as Bath Abbey, she must have had financial means or others close to her, e.g. wealthy in-laws, helped to pay for it. A search of  various ancestral and genealogical websites reveals some of her story.

Elizabeth Mary Selina Brown was born on 15 November 1823 and christened on 17 July 1824 in Secunderabad, India.  Her father was Robert Brown, her mother, Ann. An elder sister, Selma, born the year before did not survive beyond the age of two. It is possible her father was associated with the army but having a common name he is not easy to trace.

On 14 January 1847 at Hingoli, aged 22, Elizabeth married Lt. Joseph Maycock, aged 27, of H.M. 22nd Regiment.  On the marriage register, Joseph’s father is shown as James Dobbin Dottin Maycock ^

From then on, Elizabeth seems to have moved frequently and been pregnant every second year.  Apart from the four children listed on the plaque, she had another two boys who did survive - Francis Mellowes Maycock, her second son born in Karachi in September, 1849 (just nine months after his elder brother died) and Stewart MacMurdo Maycock, born in Dagshai in 1851. Both men went on to serve in the army as well, both retiring in England as full Colonels.  Francis, too, suffered the loss of a child to India, with his only son, Gerald, dying there at the age of 3. Although married, Stewart does not appear to have left descendants.

Elizabeth received a widow's pension and it is likely that Captain Joseph Maycock's promotion to Brevet Lt. Colonel may have helped to secure a higher rate for her, but it is difficult to know how much income she would have had. In 1861, the Probate Registry shows that the Captain had effects of "less than £20" in England, with Elizabeth being resident at Westbury-upon-Trym, Gloucestershire, at the time.

In 1870, Elizabeth Maycock of Eldon Villa, Redland, Bristol, is shown as the beneficiary under letters of administration for Mabel Maud Maycock, Spinster, who died ten years before. Elizabeth received less than £300 from this estate. It does seem odd that a four month old baby should warrant letters of administration, but it was obviously some sort of inheritance that Elizabeth had to claim. 

The Census Returns indicate a peripatetic life for Elizabeth. In 1861, she was in Scotland as a "visitor" at Fingask House in Aberdeenshire.  In 1871, aged 46, she lives alone as a "lodger" at 320 Elton Road, Clevedon, North Somerset, and is described as an officer's widow on a pension. Strangely, there is no other individual listed at that address, not even a servant, so one has to wonder if she was perhaps just a temporary minder of the house for somebody else.  Elizabeth can't be traced in the UK 1881 Census and perhaps she was abroad somewhere, but in 1891 she is a "boarder" in a boarding house with other single women in their sixties, at 10 Leinster Square, Paddington.

Visitor/lodger/boarder all seem to indicate a rather lonely wandering existence. Was she estranged from her sons, or did their army service (Stewart MacMurdo spent several years in Canada) mean that she rarely saw them?

We can only speculate as to the state of her mental health after all she had endured. One hopes she had support mechanisms - possibly religion - in that age when a stiff upper lip was mandatory. It also serves to remind those of us who live in modern western societies that we should be eternally grateful for the medical advances that led to inoculations and antibiotics that have almost guaranteed that no mother has to bury child after child or lose a husband at a relatively young age.

One irony is that 70 years after Elizabeth Maycock lived in Elton Road, Clevedon, Somerset, that same road was home to the Naval Laboratories where penicillin was developed.

Elizabeth died in 1892 in Reigate, Surrey, and where she is buried.

There is no image of Elizabeth to be found online, but this painting entitled "The Widow's Prayer" by Frederic Leighton seems to capture something of the all-encompassing grief she must have endured in her younger years.


Cecil French Bequest

 It has also been recorded on the Gravestone Project website here

^ Who also has a plaque in Bath Abbey detailing his achievements in Barbados. See here

2 comments:

Eric Heaton said...

Captain Francis Mellowes Maycock, born 1849 married Edith Helen Heaton 27th January 1883 at St John's Church, Preston. Captain Mellowes Maycock was 34 and Edith Helen Heaton daughter of the late James Heaton was 21. The witness's were John E Garner and Annie E Garner. In the 1911 census Colonel Mellowes Maycock and Edith Helen are listed as lodgers at a property.

Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks, Eric. I hope they had happier lives!