Elizabeth Bligh of Gosport was the godmother of Mariana Percy Belcombe and the niece of Mrs. Mariana Belcombe through her half-brother Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh.
Below are attached the baptismal records of Mariana Percy Belcombe from the ancient Church of Saint-George in Vienne, Isere, France from 1788. This record was one of the key documents at the beginning of my research to prove the Mountford maiden name of Mrs. Mariana Belcombe. The godparents named in the document are Elizabeth Bligh and the Reverend Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson (named as second godfather after Mr. James Percy).
Elizabeth Bligh, godparent of Mariana Percy Belcombe, was the daughter of Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh (1737-1821) and his first wife Anne Worsley (1745-1797). Anne Worsley was a rich heiress descended from an aristocratic family. Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh received his knighthood very late on in life after remonstrating for years with the Admiralty as he was countlessly passed over for honours. Richard died at Bellevue House in Southampton in 1821, only enjoying his Order of Bath for a couple of years. Sir Richard R. Bligh and Anne Worsley had five daughters and one son:
1. Harriet Worsley Bligh married Gilbert Ricketts of the Royal Navy and had 4 children
2. Sophia Holmes Bligh who married Admiral Charles Carter R.N, they had one son Captain Alexander Rodney Bligh Carter R.N.
3. Ann Caroline married Colonel. Driffield of Frawley and R.N, had issue, Joseph Driffield R.N
4. Captain George Miller Bligh R.N married Catherine Haynes. Pallbearer at Nelson’s funeral.
5. Elizabeth Bligh was the third daughter of Admiral Richard R. Bligh. Born in September 1771 in Fareham near Southampton, Hampshire, she married in 1791 aged 20 to Shuldham Peard, later an Admiral in the Royal Navy. Elizabeth was under the age of 21 and considered a minor, so she had to receive consent from her father before marriage.
According to my research to date, Mrs. Mariana Belcombe is an aunt of Elizabeth Bligh, Mrs. Belcombe a daughter of Ann Bligh nee Page, (later Ann Mountford) of Alverstoke (see my Mrs. Belcombe and the Bligh family post)
Shuldham Peard, Elizabeth’s husband was a career Navy officer whose life at sea started when he was ten years old. He was born in 1761 into a Naval family and was therefore thirty years of age when he married Elizabeth, 10 years her senior. They had obviously met through the Naval networks of which both families were reknown. Shuldham was a surgeon who rose to the rank of Admiral after the American War of Independence and was often at sea away from his young wife after their marriage.
On the 7th February 1793 in Gosport, Hampshire, Elizabeth Peard nee Bligh gave birth to a son and he was named George Peard after his paternal grandfather. On the 7th July 1797, Elizabeth’s mother Anne Worsley Bligh died and two years later Elizabeth’s life was to be turned upside down.
On the 3rd April 1799, Shuldham Peard had a bill read in Parliament which petitioned for a Bill of Divorce against Elizabeth Bligh for the crime of ‘criminal conversation’ with William Henry Lys. Elizabeth had given birth to a girl in March 1798, when her husband had only returned to England 6 months previous to the birth. Peard argued that the child was born full size from a nine month pregnancy, proving he was not the father of the little girl and was thus seeking damages and a divorce.
This was scandal on a grand scale in society. For context, there had only been 9 cases of divorce granted in the whole of the United Kingdom for the year 1799, and mostly included men of high born rank such as the Marquess of Abercorn in these civil actions against their wives. A divorce could not be conducted privately and it is difficult in today’s society to fathom the mortification, duress and pain suffered by Elizabeth during this time. The case itself is recorded in the Journals of the House of Lords.
The couple had lived together for 18 months in a house near her father in Gosport, in which time their son George was born. In May 1793, Shuldham Peard was given orders to sail on HMS Britannia with the British Fleet to the Mediterranean. He was to remain there until his return in October 1797.
Peard’s Divorce Bill was heard in the House of Lords in April 1799. A copy of their official marriage registration was read out which was witnessed on their wedding day by Elizabeth’s father Richard Rodney Bligh and her sisters, Harriet and Sophia. The first witnesses were called and these included Francis Stephens Esquire, who was a Commissioner of Victualling in the Navy. He was the husband of Ann Stephens nee Bligh (who I spoke about in my last Bligh post). Stephens was questioned to his familial relationship with Shuldham Peard and following this he was asked ” Was this Lady (Elizabeth Bligh) in your house in March 1798? “Yes, she was” he answered. He was then asked ” Was she delivered of a Child?”, of which he answered: “Yes, she was the Mother of that Child”.
The next witness called after Mr. Keymer the ‘man-midwife’ is of interest to the Belcombe genealogy. A Dr. Sherson is called in to testify. He also concludes that the child is full term and cannot be a child born after only 5 months and 14 days gestation. This Dr. Sherson is the person I believe Dr. William Belcombe named his first born daughter Sarah Anne Sherson Bulcock after. He was the father of Reverend. Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson who is recorded on Mariana Percy Belcombe’s baptismal cert as a godparent. Dr. Sherson was a flamboyant character but a reknown apothecary and surgeon in London during Dr. Belcombe’s time there.
The Peard Divorce Bill finally concluded that Shuldham Peard was allowed to divorce his wife based on the evidence that was presented. He was an injured party accordingto the judgement of the House of Lords and he was awarded thousands of pounds as compensation by the Lords to be paid for by William Henry Lys, the father of the child, for ‘damages’.
I have found that the child who was born in Ann Stephen’s house to Elizabeth Bligh Peard in March 1797 and fathered by William Henry Lys was named Elinor Price, as per the will of her grandfather Admiral Bligh. It is my belief that Elizabeth Bligh, her mother, had later remarried to a man named Price or had her name changed. An obituary exists for a Mrs. Price from the York Herald – Saturday the 15th February 1845 – who died in Gillygate, York. As all of Admiral R.R. Bligh’s daughters are accounted for in my research, I believe this Mrs. Price is Elizabeth Bligh and that she remained in contact with her aunt Mrs. Belcombe and her godchild Mariana Percy Belcombe as both families lived in York in the 1820’s. In fact, Eleanor Price, the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Bligh maybe the Miss Price referred to in Anne Lister’s diaries. Further transcription may reveal this fascinating aspect of the Bligh and Belcombe family story.
* UPDATED October 2020. A transcription of Anne Lister’s diary for the 25th November 1824 by John Hall has provided further proof that the Bligh family remained in contact with the Belcombe’s as Elinor Price, daughter of Mariana Percy Belcombe’s godmother and Elizabeth Bligh (who has Mrs. Belcombe niece).
Anne Lister paid a visit there on the 25/11/ 1825. Lister writes: “…the Henry Belcombes had a dinner party so drove off to old Mrs Belcombe’s- and there from 8pm till 9.45 pm- had tea- Charlotte Norcliffe there – Fisher had died of old age rather suddenly yesterday quiet 80?- C(harlotte)N(orcliffe) appeared very cool – Mrs Milne rather so but not near so preceptively so as C(harlotte)N(orcliffe)- Mrs Belcombe as usual- nobody else there but Miss Elianor Price & a Miss Dannett”. (West Yorkshire Archive Service: SH:7/ML/E/17/0113)
Miss Dannett I believe is one of the daughters of Rev. Henry Dannett who married Dr. William Belcombe’s sister Mary, Miss Dannett therefore is a 1st cousin of Mariana Percy Belcombe (see Belcombe pedigree)
SJRiocain April 8th 2020