A bird of passage

As a break from the succession of miners and agricultural labourers who have a heavy presence in these blogs let’s look at the life of someone who appeared in the Victorian Lives database but whose connection with Cornwall was only fleeting. Moreover, although not quite Downton Abbey territory, it takes us into the world of the landed class.

Emily Frances Georgina Edgcumbe was an 11 year old living with her parents at Thankes House in Antony in 1861. Emily had been born in the Kingdom of Hanover in pre-unification Germany, where her father, George, was a diplomat. Although born in Surrey, George Edgcumbe was the youngest son of Richard, the second Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, in the1800s one of Cornwall’s leading families. The seven servants who were looking after the five family members indicate the family’s status.

Thankes House before its demolition in 1871

In 1871 the family had moved across the Tamar to Stonehall in East Stonehouse. Soon after the census of that year, Emily married George Edward Earle, a 28 year old lieutenant in an infantry regiment – the 14th Foot. George was soon promoted to be ‘horse captain’ in 1872 and Emily accompanied him around England. The birthplaces of their three children in the early 1870s show their travels. The first was born in Chester, the second, who died in infancy, at Farnborough and the third at Aldershot. At some point after 1875 George was sent or went to India, where he died in 1878, aged just 35.

Within a year, Emily had re-married. Her second husband was James Sinclair Thomson, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the same regiment as her first husband. James was 55, from Belfast and divorced. The couple took up residence in Derbyshire, living at Horsley in the spring of 1881 with the two surviving children from Emily’s first marriage and four servants. Soon after, another daughter – Dorothy – was born. In 1891 James, by now described as a retired major-general, Emily and their three children were living at Bowbridge House, Mackworth in Derbyshire, with a governess and six servants.

James Thomson died in 1893, leaving Emily £4,234 in his will (or over £ half a million in today’s money). Emily then moved south to Bournemouth, where she lived with Dorothy and a reduced establishment of two or three servants. Her death was registered in 1915, when she left £1,291 (£136,000 now) to her daughter. Clearly, it was not only miners who led peripatetic lives in the 1800s.

(Thanks to Barbara Schenck for researching the story of Emily Edgcumbe.)

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