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

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