No man is an island

William Duffin of York, M.D,

Blog posted 30th May 2021

Whitbread’s book “I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840” introduces the reader to William Duffin of York with whom Anne Lister became acquainted with whilst she attended the Manor School, York from c. 1805. Lister was most probably introduced to Mr. Duffin through her lover Eliza Raine who was, along with her sister Jane, in the care of Mr. Duffin as one of the English executors of their father William Raine’s will. The Duffins feature largely in Lister’s early diaries specifically as Anne navigated her way from the provincial society of Halifax to developing relationships with more cosmopolitan acquaintances in the bustling city of York.

From a genealogical perspective, the Lister diaries, so far as they have been transcribed, provide limited background information on William Duffin. This is most likely due to the fact that the diaries do not cover Lister’s schooling period in York at the time she would have first become acquainted with Mr. Duffin. However there are instances in previously published work, specifically in Whitbread (1988) and also through recently transcribed passages e.g: “1826-Wales and Dublin with Charles and Mariana Lawton” where familial data can be gleamed from, such as the names of Duffin’s nieces and with whom they are married.1

Using these various sources and my own genealogical research I have constructed a descendant tree for William Duffin which is attached below. Although William Duffin did not produce any children with both his wives, his family was not just the small unit of Mr. Duffin and his wife (and his future 2nd wife in tow!) with the occasional visit from his nieces. The Duffin family through William’s brother Charles Duffin expanded and continues to this day through numerous descendants although the Duffin name has somewhat faded mainly because of the propensity of surviving female descendants through the generations.

Charles Duffin (born 1747 Ireland) died on the 27th Jan 1817 at York at his brother’s house in York according to an obituary published in the Hull Packet 4th Feb 1817. It is my belief that Charles was the Inspector General of the Irish Linen Board from c. 1785 until resignation in 1810 due to allegations of fraud. Charles Duffin, Inspector General had submitted duplicate receipts for cost and expenses to the Linen Board. I suspect that the social mortification that this would have brought to the family led to Charles’ relocation from Dublin to his younger brother’s home at York where he spent his last few years suffering from gout. Charles had an extended family in Ireland and it is more conceivable that his daughters Maria Johnstone, Isabella Oxley, Jane Duffin and Ellen Johnston would have surely been the first option to reside with rather than his ageing brother and his ill wife in York. It is my opinion that the Duffin family, probably under the direction of William Duffin chose to remove Charles from polite society in Ireland in order to limit the damage caused to the family reputation by his criminal conviction and public announcement of same in Irish newspapers.

Notice of the death of Charles Duffin at his brother William’s house in Micklegate, York: The Hull Packet, 4th Feb 1817

Burial record for Charles Duffin, brother of William Duffin. This record provides William and Charles father’s name as the
Rev. Adam Duffin of Dungannon, Tyrone, Ireland. Rev. Adam Duffin was a Presbyterian minister at Aughnacloy, Dungannon until his decease in 1770 leaving “a widow and children”. William Duffin would have been in his twenties by then and most likely already in India with the East India Company at this time.

Will of Jane Duffin (born 1743) spinster, who died in Belfast on Jul 30 1837, sister of William and Charles Duffin. She bequeaths her estate to Jane Duffin and Maria Johnstone nee Duffin “daughters of my late brother Charles Duffin”. Maria and Jane feature in Lister’s diary.

Confirmation within Anne Lister’s diaries that William Duffin’s brother was Mr. Charles Duffin, subtly lies in a loose page in Lister’s coded crypt-hand and a single diary entry from 1817.

Mr D [Duffin] from Ireland is going to spend some time at Red House I suppose and Miss D [Duffin] says in her letter she hopes her uncle will be kind to him if so don’t you think you will be wanted out of the way consult though your own real judicious judgement” (West Yorkshire Archive Service, SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0018)

February 1st 1817: “A letter from Miss Marsh, Micklegate York in the morning – to say that Mr Duffin Senior was suddenly seized with a paralytic / she believes the 4th last Sunday week and continued in a state of total insensibility till last Monday when he expired and was interred on Thursday morning “in a vault in Trinity Church yard made of course on purpose for him and attended by Mr Duffin as chief mourner, Dr Lawson, Mr G Crompton, Mr Darvall and Mr Robert Swann” (WYAS, SH:7/ML/E/26/3/0019)

These diary entries coupled with various other primary and secondary sources were used to create the following descendant chart for Rev. Adam Duffin of Dungannon, Tyrone who was the father of William Duffin of York.

It is my opinion that Rev. Adam Duffin belonged to the Duffin family of Broughshane, in present day Northern Ireland (of whom Charles Duffin M.P for Belfast was descended) though this is still to be confirmed. Genealogical notes exist in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland for the Duffin’s of Broughshane and access to this has been applied for by the author. It is my hope in time provide an ancestral tree for Rev. Adam Duffin but for now I leave you with his descendants while I ponder if William Duffin retained his Tyrone accent after all his years in India and York!

1https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/fb4cc485a4ead3cbfa330003186f0eee/wales-and-dublin-with-charles-and-mariana-lawton-1826/index.html – transcribed by Susanne Piotrowski

New Bligh and Belcombe References in Anne Lister’s Diaries

Sourced from the West Yorkshire Archive Service’s newly published diaries of Anne Lister from Jan 1818 to Feb 1821 and previously published diaries from 26 Jan 1818 to 10 Apr 1819
1818 – Anne Lister visits the Priestleys at Haugh End – Gossip from Mary Priestley’s parents, the Page’s of Gosport about the Bligh family – both maternal cousins of Mrs. Belcombe

Blog posted 13/3/21

Anne Lister writes in her diary for Wednesday 8th July, 1818 the following:

“Spent a pleasant day at Mill-house – had tea at 5, and at 6 took my leave, and called at Haugh end – where I took another cup of tea at 7 , and stayed till 1/4 past 8 – Mary’s father and mother there – Mr and Mrs Page from Gosport – he a gentlemany old man – she little fat, and vulgar – She told me Mr Ricketts, of Madras, served his clerkship in an attorney’s office at Gosport – that he died last December, having out of an income of £12000 per annum arising from his situation under the company (prothonator of the court of justice), saved nothing for his family, and that his widow, Admiral Bligh’s daughter, arrived in England about a fortnight ago – speaking of Mrs Belcombe, Mrs P- [Page] told me, she never heard of her father having another estate in Hampshire. He was a Norfolk man, a captain in the navy – she never heard of Mrs B- [Belcombe] having more than two thousand pounds and thought she could not at any rate have had more than three – Mrs P- [Page] remembered Dr B- [Belcombe] when he used to walk the hospital at Hasler (Gosport, and that he was a very handsome young man – Mrs B- [Belcombe] was much liked and might have married several men of fortune.”  (WYAS, SH:7/ML/E/2/0044)

Mr. and Mrs. Page of Gosport were relations of Mrs. Belcombe through her mother Ann Page who married twice- first to Richard Blighe and secondly to Edward Mountford, “a Norfolk man, a captain in the Navy” as mentioned above in Lister’s diary entry. (See my previously published post on Edward Mountford and Ann Page here.

Henry Priestley had married Mary Page on the 18th July 1812 in Holy Trinity, Gosport, Hampshire. Mary was the daughter of William Page, Esq of Gosport who is the ‘gentlemany old man’ described by Lister above and Mrs. Sarah Page whom Lister notes as ‘she little fat and vulgar‘… Henry was the son of Joseph Priestley of White Windows, Sowerby and Lydia Lea, a daughter of John Lea and Mary Milne of Hough End. Joseph Priestley was brother to John Priestley who married Elizabeth Walker the daughter of William Walker of Crow’s Nest, thus linking the Priestley’s, Walkers, the Page family and ergo the Belcombes.

Admiral Bligh’s daughter” was the wife of Mr. Ricketts of Madras, whom Anne notes in her diary above had died the previous year (1817). Mrs. Ricketts was Harriet Worsley Ricketts nee Bligh the eldest daughter of Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh, Mariana’s uncle on her mothers side, thus making Harriet Ricketts a first cousin of Mariana Percy Belcombe and her siblings. Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh and Mrs. Belcombe (Mariana’s mother) were half siblings as they shared the same mother – Ann Page – of whom William and Sarah Page mentioned in Anne’s diary entry above were related to. A Belcombe pedigree is available here to give a visual aid to these kinships.

Harriet Worsley Bligh was born in June 1767 in Fareham, Hampshire and married Gilbert Ricketts of Basingstoke, Hampshire. The marriage took place in St. Mary’s Alverstoke, Hampshire in 1795 – the church where the majority of Mrs. Belcombe’s maternal relations were baptized, married and were buried.

Marriage register for Gilbert Ricketts and Harriot Worsley Bligh in St. Mary’s Alverstoke 23rd March 1795. Note Eliza Peard nee Bligh as a witness. She was Mariana Percy Belcombe’s godmother. More on Eliza here.

Gilbert Ricketts was the son of John Ricketts, a surgeon, and Harriot Roberts of Basingstoke and a brother to Robert Tristram Ricketts (1772–1842) a distinguished Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy who fought in the Napoleonic wars. Robert was created the 1st Baronet Ricketts of The Elms and Beaumont Leys in 1828.

Gilbert Ricketts as Anne Lister records was “prothonator of the court of justice” in Madras. His full title was the Registrar and Prothonotary of the Court of Recorder in the Court of Judicature, a role in which he had worked his way up to since arriving at the Presidency of Madras in September 1791. Gilbert was a public officer of the Crown and not the East India Company. Lister’s entry above informs us that Gilbert with a supposed income of ‘£12000 per annum arising from his situation under the company had ‘saved nothing for his family‘. Little did anyone at the Priestley’s that evening in 1818 or indeed it is possible Harriet Ricketts herself did not know at this time what had been occurring in Madras. It seems Gilbert had been abusing his position as the Court Prothonotary and Register and had defrauded the estates of members of the East India Company and of soldiers based in Madras accruing vast amount of monies. His position meant he was the administrator to Intestate Estates and thus was entrusted with the monetary wealth of those serving in Madras who died without leaving a will. Publications announcing and requesting claims to these estates were selectively published by Gilbert. It seems those intestate estates which were not published had monies taken from them by Gilbert as the actual money itself was entrusted to him and held in the Court where he worked. It is strange then that Gilbert died insolvent on the 4th December 1817, supposedly by ‘his own hand” as reported in the Asiatic Journal entitled “DEFALCATION IN THE REGISTRY AT MADRAS.” which you can read here.

It seemed Gibert Ricketts had swindled the amount of £45,000 and as implied by this newspaper article had been caught and died immediately afterwards.
Source:Evening Mail 22 May 1850

One wonders what he did with all the money, as it seems from Anne Lister’s above diary entry that his wife who was with him in Madras had no idea either, well, according to the Mr. and Mrs. Page!

Possibly an idea of what Gilbert Ricketts spent with the money, but surely these household does not amount to £45,000!
Source: Madras Courier 17 February 1818

The actions of Gilbert Ricketts led to an Act of Parliament being passed in the reign of William IV obliging the East India Company to make good the deficiency of monies that were due to the claimants of the intestate estates he has defrauded. As he had died insolvent, Harriet Worsley Ricketts would have had to rely once again on her father Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh for support as she had eight children from her marriage to Gilbert to support. Coupled with the dire financial circumstances her husband had left her in, Harriet and her family would, I believe, have had to face the social implications of her husbands actions, possibly being ‘cut off’ from friends and society.

It is maybe because of these dire financial circumstances then that a son of Harriet and Gilbert Ricketts, ended up being informally adopted as such by Isaac Wilkinson (1749-1831) a banker and investor who lived at Tapton House, Derbyshire. George Yeldham Ricketts born in Madras in 1810 became ward of Isaac Wilksonson and eventually inherited his estate, thus legally changing his name to George Yaldham Wilkinson on inheriting. (See. Foster’s Baronetage)  

Harriet Worsley Ricketts nee Bligh (first cousin of Mariana Percy Belcombe) died in July 1842 aged 75 and is buried in the Bligh vault in St. Mary’s, Alverstoke, Hampshire. Her address at burial was of Shirley, near Southampton. Her address on the extract of her will below gives an address at Bellevue, Southampton which was the home of her father Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh. Harriet’s financial situation did improve though and she was amply looked after by her father after his decease in April 1821. The amount of her estate at around £5000 on her death is evidence of this.

Burial Record for Harriet Worsley Ricketts from St. Mary’s parish records.

Will extract for Harriet Worsley Ricketts nee Bligh from the Bank of England Will Extracts. 1717-1845

1819 – A visit from George Bligh to his cousin Mariana Percy Lawton.

Blog posted: 12/3/2021

On Wednesday 17th November 1819, Anne Lister writes in her diary about the letter she has received from Mariana Lawton:

Let[ter] fr[om] M– Mariana say[in]g they sh[oul]d be th[e]re tomor[row] in good time and begg[in]g me to go – d[i]d n[o]t wr[ite] on acc[oun]t of fixing the day – hav[in]g been too ill w[i]th a sick headache to be able to wr[ite] last thurs[day] – they have had the George Blighs. L [Charles Lawton] was not in queue Mrs B [Bligh] was injudicious in turning the conversation wholly on family affairs and L [Charles Lawton] took sulk Mrs B [Bligh] will have many complaints to tell me some unjust for till the last week he could not have been more kind and attentive but Mrs B [Bligh] went prejudiced and if he was to change to an angel she would never like him all this π [Mariana] wants to tell me the fact is they have stayed too long –” (SH:7/ML/E/3, WYAS)

I believe this George Bligh whom has agitated Charles Bourne Lawton is in fact George Miller Bligh (1780–1834) the younger brother of Harriet Worsley Ricketts who I discussed in the previous blog post. He was seventeen years younger than his sister Harriet, born in 1780 and the only surviving son of his father Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh. He, like Harriet, was a first cousin of Mariana Percy Belcombe through her mother being a half-sister of the Admiral and from Anne Lister’s diary inscription above, had visited his cousin Mrs. Mariana Percy Lawton and her husband Charles Bourne Lawton at Lawton Hall in 1819.

George Miller Bligh had married Catherine Haynes on the 2nd Dec 1817 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Wotton, Surrey. Catherine was the daughter of the wealthy London wine merchant David Haynes of “Lonesome” estate in Dorking and his wife Catherine, heiress to the fortune of the Franco family. Catherine was sister to a David Franco Haynes and Richard Haynes. Interestingly David Franco Haynes had been married to Mary Shelley the sister of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, but she eloped and later became Mrs. Mary Trevor. For a further account of the divorce case see Shelley and his Circle, Vol. II, “Epilogue: Another Shelley Family Elopement“.

Marriage record for George Miller Bligh and Catherine Haynes on the 2 Dec 1817
Source: Parish register of St. John the Evangelist, Wotton, Surrey

George Miller Bligh joined the navy at a young age and was posted as a midshipman on his father’s (Admiral R.R. Bligh) ship the HMS Alexander. In 1794 the HMS Alexander and HMS Canada were attacked whilst returning to England in the Celtic Sea. The resulting naval battle was named the Action of 6 November 1794 was resulted in the capture of the HMS Alexander by the French. The French towed the battered ship Alexander back to Brest and the young George Miller Bligh was held captive with his father and the rest of the crew until terms were negotiated to release his father. The Gentleman’s Magazine, (Vol 157, 1835) reports that George Miller Bligh spent 6 months in captivity there before his escape. The naval historian Edward Pelham Brenton, quoted in his book The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 1 (1825) that “the populace insulted the prisoners as they marched to their place of confinement: officers and men shared the same lot; they were denied the commonest rations of provisions, and reduced to starvation. A wretched dog that crept into the cells was killed, and his head alone sold for a dollar, to satisfy the cravings of nature: a prisoner, in a state of delirium, threw himself in the well within the prison walls, and his dead body, after lying some time, was taken out, but no other water was allowed to the people to drink.” These certainly would have been extremely challenging conditions for the 14 year old midshipman George Miller Bligh if Brenton’s account is accurate.

Captain George Miller Bligh (1781-1834)
painted in 1812 by Mather Brown – The National Maritime Museum

On escaping from Brest and finding his way back to England George Miller Bligh continued his Naval career and quickly escalated his way up through the ranks. He served on the Brunswick (74) Agincourt (64) Quebec (32) and the Endymion (40) where he gained the rank of Lieutenant.

A letter to George Miller’s Bligh father Admiral Richard bligh from Lord Nelson commending the young George for promotion. Source: The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson
Volume 5 (1845)

The years 1804-1805 would see George Miller attached to HMS Victory and he found himself in the middle of the maelstrom during the Battle of Trafalgar. Towards the final part of the Battle of Trafalgar George Miller Bligh was shot through the breast with a musket ball and also had a head wound but luckily survived having been carried down to the cockpit and attended to by the surgeon William Beatty. Lord Nelson who was commander of the ship was mortally wounded during the fighting and George Miller Bligh was present in the cockpit during the last hours of Nelson’s life. The scene is immortalised in the Arthur William Devis painting The Death of Nelson, 21 October 1805

George Miller Bligh depicted in the far right looking left to Nelson from The Death of Nelson, 21 October 1805 by Arthur William Devis.

George Miller Bligh was promoted to the position of Post Captain in 1806 and took command of HMS Pylades and sailed to the Mediterranean. He continued in the Royal Navy undertaking sailings to the West Indies and was eventually paid off at the end of his Naval service in July 1816. Captain George Miller Bligh died in 1834 and I include his obituary from the Bell’s New Weekly Messenger of the 19th October 1834.

Obituary for George Miller Bligh from Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 19th October 1834

Some Musings on Anne Lister’s pedigree and diary entries.

Posted 7th March 2021


Stained Glass Window of A Pelican in her Piety
©  Maigheach-gheal (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Whilst working on the the less exalted maternal line of Anne Lister, I came across an interesting record which may explain a passage in Anne’s diaries that has intrigued me since I read Helena Whitbread’s transcription of this diary entry:

“To my surprise & great sorrow found, on taking my watch out of my pocket for my favourite seal (a pelican feeding her young with the blood from her breast), and which seal I have used constantly ever since I used a seal at all, that it had broken off from my seal-ring and was lost forever. My mother gave me this seal when I was a child. The carnelian was picked up in Prussia by Count de Obzendorf and cut in Paris. I am very sorry to have lost this seal. Looked all around the room for it in vain.” (Whitbread, 1992, p.324)

“15 January 1824 .On making the bed this morning, found my pelican seal.” (ibid.)

I was intrigued by the provenance of this carnelian intaglio seal which Anne professes in 1824 to be her favourite seal and one she regularly uses. It’s acquisition from Prussia via Paris from a foreign Count by her mother Rebecca Battle left me wondering how did a young Rebecca Battle come into the possession of this seal and how on earth did she meet a Count in the rural setting of the East Riding of Yorkshire in the 18th Century from whom she received this intimate gift!

I have a theory and I stress a theory, as it does question if the familial information recorded in Anne’s own entry above is accurately noted. It is Anne’s own recollection of the provenance of the carnelian seal which is the subject of my query.

The Pelican in her Piety

The seal itself is a carnelian intaglio with an image of a Pelican in her Piety carved onto it. This image is based on a medieval Christian motive of self-sacrifice, arising from a belief that a pelican would pierce it’s own breast and feed her chicks her own blood if they were in need of sustenance. It was a popular Christian motif and was introduced during the later medieval period into certain Heraldic arms. Although often mentioned for it’s reference to female Christian self-sacrifice, the Pelican in her Piety can be also viewed as a representation of the female sacrifice of motherhood.

Ellen J. Millington writes in her book Heraldry in history, poetry, and romance (1858) : “The pelican is always drawn with her wings ‘addorsed,’ ‘vulning,’ or wounding her breast with her beak. Frequently she is in her nest, feeding her young with her blood; she is then described as the ‘Pelican in her piety,’ and affords one of the highest lessons of heraldic symbolism; for whether she is regarded as feeding her young with her blood, or, according to Bossewell, restoring to them thereby the life which by their ingratitude they had forfeited, the symbolic allusion to our ever Blessed Saviour is equally perfect. Bossewell’s account is as follows: “”The pellicane feruently loueth her byrdes : yet when they ben haughtie, and beginne to waxe bolde, they smite her in the face and wounde her, and she smiteth them again and sleaeth them. And after three days, she mourneth for them, and then striking herself in the side till the bloude runne out, she sparpleth it upon their bodyes, and by vertue thereof they quicken againe.””As a symbol of our Lord, the ‘Pelican in her Piety’ is most appropriately introduced into the decoration of churches, and on funeral monuments. In Warbleton church, Sussex, a pelican is inscribed on the brass of William Prestwick, Dean of Hastings, with the motto, “Sic Christus dilexit nos. (*Thus hath Christ loved us.’) In Winchester Cathedral, too, it is seen in the Arms of the good Richard Fox, Bishop of Winton: ‘Ar. a pelican in her piety, or.;’ and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, of which he was founder, bears his Arms, in conjunction with those of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter. The Pelhams of Laughton, Sussex, bear three pelicans, without the nest.” (Millington, 1858, p.237)

Although we know that Anne Lister possessed a Pelican in her Piety carnelian seal, I believe it was carved as a Christian feminine self-sacrificial motif rather than a Heraldic seal. I believe Lister treasured this seal particularly as it possibly represented for her both her mother’s dedication to her children and aspects of Lister’s own Christian faith.

“Count de Obzendorf” and the Battle family.

Having previously searched through records looking for Count de Obzendorf, indeed any Obzendorf living or visiting Yorkshire from the 17th to the 19th century I came up with no records of that surname. There appeared to be no record that I could find of a Count de Obzendorf. Of course the possibility existed that Rebecca Battle had travelled abroad when young and met this Count de Obzendorf perhaps in Paris where the seal was cut. However, because of the dearth of records even in the European nobility of a Count de Obzendorf, I began to think that Anne had made a mistake in the spelling of the name as Anne had received the seal as a young girl and may not have even known the mysterious Count and maybe her mother may not have recalled correctly the name. I suspected that somewhere in the passing on of information, the name Obzendorf could have been altered through a phonetic error.

Some months later I was continuing my research on Anne’s maternal pedigree concentrating on her maternal grandfather’s life. As some of you may know he was William Battle, a farmer and grocer who held land in Yorkshire particularly in the area surrounding Market Weighton and Welton. William Battle was married to Anne Lister’s grandmother Rebecca Fearn who was descended from the notorious Fearn family of Leeds. William and Rebecca had a number of children one of whom was Rebecca Battle, wife of Jeremy Lister and mother to Anne, Marian, Samuel etc.

Rebecca Fearn (Anne Lister’s grandmother) was born in 1732 to Nehemiah Fearn, a clothier in Leeds and to Catharine Hobman. William had married Rebecca Fearn when she was 25 in 1757 at St. Helens, Stonegate, York. Rebecca Battle gave birth to a daughter her namesake Rebecca Battle in 1770 and I include all records for these events here:

Parish Register of St. John’s Church, Leeds recording the baptism of Rebecca Fearn (Anne Lister’s grandmother) on the 14th March 1732 the record is faded but reads : Rebecca, daughter of Nehemiah Fearn
Close up of the above record

Marriage Bann for William Battle and Rebecca Fearn from the 19th Dec 1757. Rebecca was 25.

Baptism record for Rebecca Battle (Anne Lister’s mother) from the Parish records of Welton 1770. Rebecca Battle (Senior) was 37 years of age when she gave birth to Rebecca Battle later Lister.

Rebecca Battle (senior) died in July 1774 at the age of 42 leaving her husband William a widow and with 4 year old Rebecca and her 11 year old sister Fanny to raise.

Burial record form the Parish records of Welton for the year 1774 recording the death of Rebecca Battle nee Fearn (Anne Lister’s maternal grandmother)

However, another marriage record emerged for William Battle of Welton, this time recorded as a widower. He had remarried a widow named Mary in 1775 whose previous married name had been Mary de Holzendorf. The similarity of the name Obsendorf from Anne Lister’s diary entry and this name struck me and I believe it is no coincidence and that these two names are in fact the same, rendered different by Anne Lister’s spelling in her diary entry above.

Mary de Holzendorf was born in Wakefield as Mary Webster and had married a Frederick Williams Holzendorff in May 1763. I include a record of this marriage from the Leeds Parish register:

Marriage of Mary Webster and Frederick de Holzendorff May 19th 1763.

However, the marriage did not last long and Frederick Williams de Holzendorff passed away the next year in 1774 leaving Mary de Holzendorff a widow. Frederick de Holzendorff’s obituary appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer on the 1st March 1774:

Short obituary for Frederick de Holzendorff of Sunny-Bank, near Leeds town. Source: the Leeds Intelligencer on the 1st March 1774

The similarity of the name Obzendorf to de Holzendorff, the fact Frederick de Holzendorff was a native of Prussia where Anne’s carnelian fob was purchased, the remarriage of his widow with William Battle when Anne’s mother was only four years of age, and the lack of any Obzendorffs in the British and European records of the time are reasons enough for me to believe that the carnelian seal of a Pelican in her Piety which Anne Lister received from her mother as a small child was more than likely gifted to Anne’s mother from her stepmother Mary, the widow of Frederick Williams de Holsendorff AKA the Count de Obzendorf.

Of course, this is just a theory and a newly transcribed journal entry could pour cold water on all this. Or not!

I attached a simplified maternal pedigree for Anne Lister here to demonstrate the familial connections discussed in this post. Please feel free to contact me with any theories supporting or contradictory!

York, Geneva, the Enlightenment and the Belcombes

Posted 6th March 2021

Early references to the Belcombe family of York compiled from the published letters and diaries of Marc-Auguste Pictet and Joseph Frank.
A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is Put in Place of the Sun (1766), by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797), Wikimedia Commons.


Marc-Auguste Pictet visits the Belcombe family in York

This translated excerpt of a letter from “Voyage de trois mois en Angleterre, en Ecosse, et en Irlande pendant l’été de l’an IX (1801 v. st.)”  by Marc-Auguste Pictet, the esteemed Professor of Medicine in Geneva whom Dr. William Belcombe had befriended and collaborated with whilst in Switzerland (see my post on William Belcombe’s time in Geneva here). William Belcombe was entrusted to translate Pictet’s “Essay on Fire” from French to English in 1791 whilst living in Geneva. Pictet’s visit ten years later to York in 1801 demonstrates, in my opinion, a lasting friendship existed between William Belcombe and Marc-Auguste Pictet.

Title Page of William Belcombe’s 1791 English translation of Pictet’s “Essai sur le feu”. Viewable in the Medical Society of London Collection in the Wellcome Library. Deposited 1954.
Marc-Auguste Pictet
Professor of physic in Geneva.
Correspondant de l’Institut de France, Membre de plusieurs Sociétés savante

This is a very entertaining description from 1801 of the Belcombe family participating in a homemade experiment with a nitrogen oxide gas during the visit to their home in York from Marc-Auguste Pictet!

 “At eleven o’clock the next day, we are in York, and I embrace my good friend Dr. Belcombe, who was waiting for us at the inn to take us to his house. We haven’t seen each other for ten years. Those who have experienced what one feels in such a meeting, do not need me to describe it to them, the others do not understand me; I won’t say a word about it. We have family dinner. Dr. Belcombe spent two years in Geneva; two of his children were born there. He has six. We did not have the charming spectacle of this whole family reunited until the next day at the tea table. Madame Belcombe seemed glorious, and with reason. His three eldest daughters, (who already count) have the solidity that includes the best English education, and all the pleasant talents that one cultivates in France with so much success. Drawing, music, dance, duets, even trios-ballets, we had it all, and always with family.

With all our old friends in Geneva going one by one; the memory of friendship is the surest of all, and we had a long time to respond to questions of which they were the object […] Physics had had its turn during the day. In the evening we attended a class that Mr. Stanscliffe is currently teaching at York, and where I met ,with satisfaction, several ladies. We had talked about our experiments on the inspiration of the gaseous nitrogen oxide, and we also agreed to repeat them the next day with the family. Mr. Stancliffe promised to prepare everything we needed. Let’s move on to the next day. Madame Belcombe tried the first, with great curiosity and courage. To our great surprise, she felt no sensation other than that of marked heat in the chest. Double, triple the dose without having more effect. Miss F [****?] a young person of 18 years old, then tried the experience, without much emotion beforehand. At the fifth or sixth inspiration she took a rather strong bout of nerves, which lasted a quarter of an hour. We do not know the part fear could have had on this effect. When she was recovered, there was weakness in her legs and a readiness to sleep. We were not satisfied; and Mr. Stanscliffe was kind enough to give in at the invitation of Dr. Belcombe to come into his home that evening, to try a few more. The result was quite remarkable. Madame Belcombe experienced nothing more than the first time. Her second daughter was curious to try this, but not without a mixture of fear. We wanted to try what would be the influence of the imagination. The word was given to Mr. Stanscliffe, who filled the breathing container with common air. Miss Belcombe had not made three or four breaths that she fell unconscious, an accident that had never happened to her. The effect was so prompt, and so pleasing to those in the dark, that we laughed despite ourselves to the outbursts, while giving it the necessary care, which soon had their effect, and it was very quickly delivered. We didn’t say a word. We engaged, after many requests, Miss F ***, to repeat the test, letting her ignore that she was going to breathe common air. She had an access of nerves quite similar to the previous one, but shorter and weaker. Returning to her, she tells us that she had found this gas much weaker than the other, and we are not surprised! We had on hand a young man of 13 to 14 years old, the son of one of my friends from Geneva, of robust health and a very lively character. He wanted to try it; we gave him first at his […] the atmospheric air, which he breathed with all his heart. After a few moments, he left the container with a sort of indignation. I don’t feel anything, he said, it’s a catch! No; the dose is not strong enough, and the way of breathing is inconvenient. Mr. Stanscliffe please have him take it in the bladder which is still filled with it. (It was real). The young man begins to breathe with a kind of greed, and it does not take long to enter the climax that I have described to you several times. He wanted to walk, without being able to do so, he was struggling; it had to be contained; all the muscles of his face were in great work. This state ceases almost suddenly. I’m fine, he tells us, suddenly, and with an air of perfect satisfaction. He began to walk in the room, and seemed to keep for some time more activity than usual. My traveling companion, Mr. Chenevix, repeated the essay on himself. He found the same ecstatic sensations he had previously experienced, and which he still describes with a kind of enthusiasm. I conclude from all these facts, that the action of this gas on certain individuals is indisputable, that it is modified according to their particular temperament; and that in some cases the power of the imagination is quite great.so that the common air produces similar effects. We were still in the experiences when we were told that the mail-coach had arrived and that we had a place. We embraced as if we had to meet again the next day. At midnight we were on our way to Edinburgh where we arrived in thirty hours.” *Translated by SRiocain, Jan 2020


Professor Joseph Frank and the Belcombe Family in York

This early reference to the Belcombe family of York is from 1805. Written by Joseph Frank, a German physician, to whom the aforementioned Genevan scientist Marc-Auguste Pictet gave a letter of recommendation to present to Dr. William Belcombe of York during Frank’s visit to England and Scotland in the early years of the 19th century.

Dr. Joseph Frank (1771-1842) was the son of a prominent Viennese physician Johann Peter Frank (1745—1821). Joseph became Head of Pathology and Anatomy at the University of Vilnius, Lithuania where he established one of Europe’s first vaccination institutes in Europe (1808).

Frank published his account on his journey through France, England and Scotland in 1805 in “Reise nach Paris, London und einem grossen Theile des übrigen Englands und Schottlands in Beziehung auf Spitaeler, Versorgungshäuser, übrige Armen-Institute, Medizinische Lehranstalten, und Gefängnisse” and I include my translation here:


York is an old, badly built city that has no trade or large factories. It also has no scientific institutions. Regardless of this, this place is of great interest to me. My friends, Messrs. Pictet and Dr. Marcet, had sent me letters of recommendation to Dr. Belcombe, one of York’s most distinguished doctors. They had informed me in advance that I would get to know a very pleasant man and that I would be very well received by his lovely family. Nonetheless, the way I was received at Dr. Belcombe’s, was beyond all my expectations. The tone that exists there shines, all the good things that are usually found in English, French and German individually, are put together here. Dr. Belcombe, with his amiable wife, has spent several years in both France and Germany. He spent time in Leipzig himself. In particular, he had chosen the most interesting place to stay, in Geneva. From there he went on a trip to Italy and made the acquaintance of my father in Pavia. After Dr. Belcombe had returned to his homeland, he entered into a practical career in York. It is very lucky for travellers if they fall into the hands of people who have also traveled. The guidance that those receive in this way with regard to the objects to be seen already grants indescribable time-saving. I was particularly happy about this in York. Dr. Belcombe said: Five items deserve my special attention here, namely: the hospital, the asylum for the mad, the trainee for Quakers who have gotten into a mental confusion, the poor school and the prison. We went into that first.


This hospital is intended for the entire alms of the County of York. It was founded in 1740 through voluntary contributions. You can see no luxury in the design of the same. In it, everything is available to serve the sick which might be required. The building has three floors. The staff live on the first floor, while on the second there are two halls, one of which is intended for female and the other for male patients. Each of these halls has sixteen beds and a small room to the side for the guards. The bedsteads are made of iron. The third floor also consists of two sickrooms with nine beds in each. One also notices an expedient amphitheater, in which chemistry and the surgical operations are carried out. From the beginning the hospital’s income did not allow it to be opened entirely; the halls listed were therefore only gradually, as the income increased, dedicated to health services. I deliberately cite this circumstance to show how little you have to be put off by such activities if they cannot be driven straight from the start. On the contrary, I wanted to guess that all pious foundations should be started as small as possible, and only be careful to put them on in such a way that they could subsequently be enlarged. The expectation of the public in most cities has been deceived so often when it comes to setting up mild foundations that one cannot be blamed if it is suspicious of new ones. Therefore there is no other means than to temporarily prove to the latter the feasibility and usefulness of the established plan through the deed itself. If this happens in an obvious and convincing way, no audience will fail to help it’s ability to provide. Then the institution undertaken grows with each year, and with it the conviction of its real use, which conviction I see for the most powerful spur of well-functioning people.

Asylum for the Mad

The name of this hospital deserves our attention. It doesn’t sound that good making the relation bigger than you might imagine. Choosing a gentle word therefore helps to alleviate human suffering. The Asylum for the Insane in York has existed since 1777, where it was built through a general subscription. At that time it’s only purpose was to pick up poor insane people. However, since this institution had not set up a fund and the subscription process did not really succeed, one has fallen for the new sensible idea of doing such oneself. One behaved here in the following way: It was announced that the Asylum of York would take insane madmen for a reasonable contribution of money. The good reputation that the institution had previously had soon made many well-to-do and wealthy people come forward to hand over their insane relatives to them. Now that everyone had made every effort to pay for this opportunity, after all the disputed costs: one poor man went crazy and was still used it every day. In this way, every ill patient feeds one or more of his poor companions. This facility would be excellent in every way if it wasn’t every now and then, given the very relative terms poor, mediocre and rich, could give rise to some indulgences and demands that are not always equally well received by the whole audience. Given the current situation, it is hardly possible that the wealthier should not believe that they are being taken too hard and even declare the poor to be poor. There is also another circumstance. Under the statutes of the asylum there is a law that reads as follows: “Since it would be unreasonable to require the doctor to treat wealthy people (who would have become private patients in another place) free of charge, so it is the same allowed a moderate of the relatives of such cases?, reward for his medical efforts. ”As fair as this disposition is, it still gives rise to complaints which (I don’t know whether with or without reason) make the saga: the asylum in York is more of a speculation problem as a charity institution. The number of insane people there usually exceeds a hundred. They are divided into three classes. The first class, in which there must never be more than 25 sick people, is intended for people who pay a substantial sum (whose average concern is 100 pounds sterling per year). This sum is truly mediocre for England, even if the ancillary expenses should rise again so high. The second class includes those sick who pay 8 shillings a week for their food and medicine. In general, every sick person in the institution can stand in that class. In the third class are all the meagre delusions that are included for free and be fed; with the exception of those among them who are among the poor parishioners of York. – They are counted for reasons of second-class sickness. -From the 1st of January 1777 to the 1st of August 1800, 1347 madmen have been admitted to the asylum. Of these, 655 were cured, 307 received relief, 153 were withdrawn as incurable from their friends, 120 died, and 112 remained in the institution. Among these were 67 men and 45 women. Because of his [Doctor Hunter] happiness in the treatment of mental confusion, and as he was a doctor of the Asylum, he gave himself up regardless of the trouble of his old age and his weak health to accompany me there. The way to the asylum leads through a large garden, which however does not belong to the same. The design of the asylum has nothing to notice; but is completely like that of any other private house. Dr. Hunter believes this measure is very important when setting up a facility of this kind. “There are so many inevitable objects, he said, that shake the poor maniac or his relatives when they approach a place of this kind that should really be a sacred duty, all the adverse impressions that we have in our power to remove. Certainly belongs to an unordinary or dissuasive design of the madhouses. “How true! The location of the asylum is very advantageous. Every patient has his own room. Several payers even have two. In addition, different rooms are designed so that the patients can get together and talk. Most of the sick also eat together. They are given knives and forks. Expressed my surprise at this. Said Dr. Hunter “It was not a misfortune for him yet, and he had still seen that the stricter the security and coercive measures that were used, the more insane and insidious the more the insane became.” Dr. Hunter rarely even uses the forced camisole. One can imagine that there is no question of chains, iron gangs and similar things. A nice garden borders on the rear side of the asylum. When I asked Dr. Hunter about the effects of various medicines in the madness, he clarified to me: he was not a friend of all the specific, praised against this disease, and with funds, he looks more at the improvement of the whole constitution through general remedies. He added that his main focus was on the abdomen and especially on the liver. In order to keep his body open, he used the rhubarb, now the aloe, and even the emetic stone. If the liver is blocked, the use of soap has served him very well. England, which casually consists of 50,000? individuals, sends all of its madmen to this madhouse that they built. The wealthy sick pay according to their circumstances, the others are catered for at the expense of the community. The sums required here come through the subscription route or through voluntary contributions. The number of insane Quakers is 50, including 33 women and 17 men. This sum is very large in relation to the number of Quakers in general. This should be all the more awe-inspiring, since the Quakers usually live very orderly, and are masters of their passions, if one could not assume that their strict religious laws would be quite suitable to exalt and confuse the human spirit. – The retreat for insane Quakers is an English mile from York on a hill from which you can enjoy a beautiful view. Dr. Belcombe, who is a doctor at this institute, accompanied me there. The interior of the room is similar to that of the St. Lucas Hospital in London. However, I saw an arrangement with regard to the windows that I had never seen before. Every window maintains something has been taken into account in this institution which, it seems, is not thought of elsewhere. It is well known that the noise that some madmen make is not only uncomfortable for their neighbours, even though they are separated, but also diminishes the calm that is so necessary for their production. In order to avoid these evils, a large hole has been made above the fireplace in the rooms, which are intended for the frenzied insane, with the intention that the sound may be lost through it. Although I doubt that the acoustics have been consulted on this decision, and although there is no agreement on the success of the same, is I believe, that the idea of remedying such great inconvenience deserves praise and further reflection. – Wherever I still see it, the forced camisole is tied on the back in such a way that the arms are folded across one another, because it is feared that the crosswise position of the arms would be difficult for the patient to lengthen. Instead of the usual compulsory camisole, a leather belt has simply been attached around the body, which has two bands at the front, which cross and close the patient’s hands. This means of coercion may be less uncomfortable for patients; but the sick man can release his hands by force if he wants to do damage. Dr. Belcombe agrees in most respects with that of Dr. Pinel’s in Paris. 

Charity school

Several women from York have opened a subscription to build a school for poor girls. Not only do they let them teach reading and writing in all the necessary women’s jobs, as in religion and morality, but they also provide them with food and clothing. Since the clothes the girls wear gray, this school is called: Graycoats School. As soon as they have reached the appropriate age, they are employed as servants. I met 42 Girls in this institute. A loving old woman, who is in charge of the supervision, seems to be in office to act with great zeal. A few years ago the ladies who run the institute honoured her with a silver cup with a very flattering inscription.

The Prison. 

In his letters about England, Mr. Pictet explains that if he had to choose a prison, he would give it preference. The local prison is really one of the most beautiful in England. It’s location is hotter and healthier. You can get to the door of the same without punishing where it allows the entrance. After one has knocked on the same (as is the case in England in all private houses), the door is rattled without any lock chains and opened by a man who has nothing less than the reputation of a jailer. The courtyard, in which one immediately steps, presents a large square. This not only allows all prisoners to move around, but also to go for a walk. I saw at least one prisoner who was driving around in a convertible? for half an hour. A building is provided that serves the debtors prisons. It consists of two floors, each with 11 rooms that are 16 feet wide and 12 feet high. Opposite this building is a second, much more magnificent one, which is called the Court of Justice. In a third, the chapel is the building that faces the gate and is between the two listed. Close to it and a little deeper you can see the dungeons for wrongdoers. These people have their own, smaller, well-kept courtyards, separated from the large courtyard. Every wrongdoer has chains and ties around his feet. At night they are locked individually, sometimes several together in dark dungeons. When I saw this part of the prison, it was evening, and consequently the time when the prisoners had to be locked in the cells that were assigned to them. At the inspection of their ironworks before this operation; the prisoners and the dungeon masters in the most friendly tone, say a good night, after which those were locked up until tomorrow. Although this whole scene was played very calmly; it shook my mind in an unusual way. I recognised soon and found the causes of this unexpected shuddering feeling. For most of the day I was an eyewitness to the most perfect domestic happiness in the midst of the lovable family of Dr. BelcombeImbued with the emotions I received, I went among the prisoners without thinking about the scenes of misfortune that awaited me. The contrast of such opposing positions, on one side the reward of virtue by itself, on the other the punishment of the vice by just laws, all of these explained to me the feelings that had plunged me into a terrible and unhappy dream. When I was with Dr. Belcombe ,accompanying me after trying to convey my feelings, we came back to the gates of the prison without realising it. As soon as we had left there, my companion’s family came to meet us as if they had foreseen the benevolence they had shown us. We went for a walk along the banks of the Ouse River on the promenade called New Walk. It was already 1 o’clock in the afternoon and it was still day. When I escorted Dr. Belcombe and his family home; and had spent the rest of the evening with them, it came the hour when I had to start my journey to Newcastle. Although just an acquaintance of no more than four days it was just as difficult and the memory of them will remain pleasant forever. Translated by SRiocain, Jan 2020


Louis Odier and the Belcombe family

Dr. Louis Odier was a Swiss physician-philospher who was renown during the Age of Enlightenment for his research and promotion of vaccination against smallpox. He was a well known contributor to scientific journals and published numerous European medical texts into English. Odier was a close friend of William Belcombe whom assisted in the publication of these texts and more notably on Odier’s treatise on Bismuth as a successful treatment against tapeworms (see Notice de la vie et des écrits de Louis Odier etc, – Pierre Prevost)

Dr. Belcombe’s translation of Odier’s Bismuth research completed and published in Gottingen, 1791.

Anne Lister writes in her diary on Saturday 2nd November, 1816: “Letter from M- [Mariana] / Lawton/ C- [Charles] quite better – Eli arrived in England with Mrs Copley” (SH:7/ML/E/26/2/0008 WYAS, Calderdale, West Yorkshire)

I believe this was the return of Eliza Belcombe from Switzerland where she had been visiting Dr. Belcombe’s old Genevan friend Dr. Louis Odier. Anne Lister had previously wrote on Saturday 28th September, 1816: “Letter from M – [Mariana] – enclosing 1 from Eli – Dr Odier – My uncle Joseph still very poorly”(SH:7/ML/E/26/2/0008). Lister’s noting of Dr. Odier in this diary entry indicates a possibility in my opinion that Eliza (“Eli’) was present in Geneva with Dr. Odier in 1816.

A letter from Pictet to William Belcombe from August 24th, 1804  interestingly contains an invitation for Dr. Belcombe to send one of his ‘young people’ to Odier. – I believe that Eliza Belcombe was chosen to go and stay with Dr. Odier. A summary of this letter invitation is available to download here:

Another source which I believe corroborates Eliza Belcombe was in Geneva in 1816 is a newspaper article published in the Journal de Geneve in 1950 which was a short retrospective account of the extraordinary activities of Marc-Auguste Pictet. A paragraph towards the end of the article describes an evening spent by Pictet (who was editor of the “Bibliothèque universelle) in the company of the Odiers (Dr. Louis and his wife), Andrew Bell the educationalist, the Favres, Miss BelcombeCharles Victor de Bonstetten and Madame Candolle (possibly the wife of Augustin Pyramus de Candolle.

I include a translation of the majority of this Journal de Geneve article as it demonstrates not only the societal standing of Marc-Auguste Pictet within Genevan Society but also his wider relationships especially with Odier and others within the context of the European Enlightenment of which Dr. Belcombe was considered by Pictet a part of:

The excursion from Elvire to Salève” form Journal de Geneve (21st Nov 1950)

“By 1816, the “Bibliothèque britannique” had become the “Bibliothèque universelle“. The borders having reopened after the long wars of the Empire, this Geneva review now reflected the cosmopolitanism of its editors. Marc-Auguste Pictet, who was it’s soul at the time, attracted a whole thinking Europe. Browsing through the unpublished manuscript journal of this man of letters who brought about so many improvements in the Arts, physics, schools, home economics and philanthropic establishments, the reader remains amazed at the prodigious radiance which emanates from this man. His activity among the elite of several nations seems to reach its peak during the summer following the restoration. On June 23th, 1816, M.A Pictet went to Cologny with Dr. Odier to see Lord Byron at Diodati. The poet had unfortunately been detained on the lake by a contrary wind; but on the 27th Pictet attended a large reception with music and ice cream at Mme Revilliod’s in honour of the French ambassador Talleyrand, on the 29th he spent a wonderful evening at Jean-Gabriel Eynard and found there the nephew of the philhellene, Charles Lullin the Englishman, so named because he had spent several years in the offices of the Foreign Office in London. On July 30th, Marc-Auguste noted in his notebook: “Arrival of Madame Charles, with Marigraé …” The latter had been a colleague of Pictet as inspector general of the University; he accompanied the young Mrs. Charles, wife of the President of the Institute de France, shortly after immortalised by Lamartine under the name of Elvira. He stopped in Geneva before going to take the waters in Aix and came to give Pictet the news of M. Charles that the Genevois had often seen in Paris during his stay of 1802 in the French capital. Elvira gave him news of LaplaceCuvierBerthollet, whom the professor at our University had known in person. For his part, he reminded the young woman of the impression then produced on him by the megaloscope invented by Mr. Charles. A portrait on enamel placed as an object in this apparatus puts on a frosted glass serving as a screen a charming image seen by transparency. In the days that followed, Marc-Auguste Pictet resumed his prodigious activity. On July 3rd, he took part in a familiar meeting of the Société des Arts during which Guillaume-Henri Dufour read his story from Corfu. On the 5th, he received Wickham and Douglass for lunch at the same time as Mme. Bulow and Schmidt. William Wickham, long serving Envoy of the English crown to the Swiss canons, had studied law in Geneva under Professor Perdriau and married Eléonore-Madeleine Bertrand, the daughter of the mathematics professor. The same evening, Pictet dined in Coppet at Mme de Stael with Schlegel and Montgelas, this grandson of a president in the Senate of Chambery born in Munich, and who became Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bavaria. Schlegel gave him a a short literary composition on antiquities for the Bibliothèque universelle. Mme de Stael’s son-in-law, Duke Victor de Broglie, accompanied him the following Saturday to Lancaster school which he was pleased with. This is undoubtedly the establishment of finance education in Lancy by the brother of Marc-Auguste, the diplomat Charles Pictet de Rochemont, and organised according to the Lancaster-Bell system. Andrew Bell himself, inventor of the mutual school, the first of which he had created in Madras, was in Switzerland in 1816, where he examined the institutions of Father Girard in Friborg and of Pestalozzi in Yverdon. Bell spent the evening of July 20 at the editor of the “Bibliothèque universelle” with the Odiers, Miss Belcombe, the Favres, Mme de Candolle, a Hamburger returning from Athens, and Charles V. de Bonstetten.” Translated by SRiocain 2020