The painting above depicts Portsmouth Harbour, Hampshire on the south coast of England, a natural inlet which could be guarded at it’s narrow head from invasion especially from the French across the narrow English channel. It has been the most important Naval port in the British Empire and the maritime towns of Portsmouth and Gosport, which face each other across the head of the harbour, have been at the epicentre of both merchant shipping and British Naval activity for the last 300 years. It was within this naval society that Mrs. Mariana Belcombe was born as Mary Ann Mountford to Edward and Ann Mountford. Mary Ann was christened in Holy Trinity Church in Alverstock, Hampshire on the 6th February 1760. The map below shows the close vicinity of Gosport, Alverstoke and Portsmouth and these areas would have housed merchants, sailors and members of the Navy based out of Portsmouth Harbour. The maritime centred society of the area would come to play a pivotal roll in the world of young Mary Ann Mountford.
Edward Mountford and Ann Bligh (nee Page, formerly Mrs. Ann Bligh)- parents of Mary Ann Mountford (Mrs.Belcombe), grandparents of Mariana Percy Belcombe
Edward Mountford was born in Binham, Norfolk to John and Marian (also called Mary Ann) Mountford on September 14th, 1713. Binham is located in the fertile farming land east of the the Great Wash of Norfolk an area granted to Norman nobleman Peter of Valognes after the conquest of 1066. It is here that the Mountford family were landowners, possibly farming the land themselves. The ruins of the Benedictine Priory of Binham are still visible today and the Mountford family have a tablet headstone in the Priory that contains the parents of Edward Mountford: John (reads ‘He Departed This Life May 27 1748) and Mary Ann Mountford (reads ‘Departed This Life Sept 20 1766’).
Edward Mountford was not born the oldest son and therefore was not heir to the family lands in Binham. This privilege would fall to an elder brother John born in 1709. Edward, like many other younger sons or spare heirs, entered the Royal Navy to create a self-made respectable career for himself. Whether Edward entered the Navy as a young boy and climbed through the ranks over the years or whether his commission was paid for as his inheritance is unknown. Ongoing research with the Admiralty Records Office hopefully will clarify this. What we do know if that Edward Mountford passed his Lieutenant examinations on the 27th November 1740 (ADM 107/3) and was on active service as a Lieutenant by 2nd February 1741. In March 1744 he was amongst a large group of Naval officers summoned to appear before a House of Commons inquiry committee regarding the retreat and failure of the English fleet to defeat an inferior Spanish-Franco foe at the Battle of Toulon in February of that year. Mountford was a Lieutenant onboard HMS Buckingham (previously HMS Revenge), a 70-gun third rate ship of the line which was captained by John Towry.
The aftermath of this inquiry resulted in fines and decommissions for many of the officers involved in the Toulon retreat however it does not have seemed to have had a detrimental effect on Edward Mountford’s career. By 1758 we find him as Commander of the sloop-of-war bomb ship HMS Pelican. In fact, Edward Mountford remained as Captain of the Pelican for over four years from 27th September 1758 until the 21st February 1763. HMS Pelican under Edward Mountford sailed to North America on the 16th February 1759 to join a squadron of British Navy ships to seize the trading city of Quebec. Following the three month siege and the fierce fighting, the English proved victorious. As part of the Seven Years War, this Battle of Quebec was to prove a decisive point in the formation of Canada with the cede of French control in North America to the British in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris. The year 1759 would become known as Annus Mirabilis, the ‘Wonderful Year’, to the British as the country celebrated many glorious victories such as that at Quebec. Following the North American theatre of war the HMS Pelican was to return to England for refitting at Deptford naval yard in 1760 and Edward Mountford remained her captain until his retirement in February 1763.
Prior to Edward Mountford taking command of the Pelican he had married a local Gosport woman named Ann Bligh on the 7th May 1757 in St Mary’s church in Alverstoke, Hampshire. Their first and only child Mary Ann Mountford (Mrs. Mariana Belcombe) was born and baptised on the 6th February 1760 at Holy Trinity Church Gosport.
Edward Mountford retired in 1763 as his daughter Mary Ann would have turned three years old. There is no documentary evidence to shed light on this period of her childhood but in terms of society, we know she was the daughter of a retired Navy captain who would have had a naval pension to sustain a certain level of comfort for his family.
A tragedy was to occur in 1768 when Edward’s wife Ann died in September leaving Mary Ann motherless at young age of 8. This would have certainly affected Mary Ann with no aunts on her father’s side and the death of her paternal grandmother Mary Ann in 1766, it was to her mother’s family that her care was entrusted to.
In 1772 Edward Mountford died at the age of 59 leaving Mary Ann an orphan at the age of 12. Fortunately her father did not die intestate and his will provided ample monetary support for Mary Ann whilst also leaving her lands in Binham and Hindringham, all personal effects and annuties from investments which she would receive control over at the age of twenty one. The will reads like any other from the period except with the unusual codicil which Edward added after the will was composed. He specifically stated that his daughter Mary Ann Mountford was only to reside with John Bligh, Captain in the Royal Navy, of Gosport. She was not to reside with any other member of the Bligh family or anyone even bearing the Bligh name. If she did not strictly adhere to this she would forfeit everything she was to inherit from her father! In the case of this happening, all her father’s wealth would be given to an illegitimate daughter of his, named Mary Overman (half-sister of Mrs. Belcombe) who resided at Binham. The particular wording of this codicil and it pointed language gives the reader a sense of a father protecting his daughter from certain members of his dead wife’s family.
Ann Mountford (previously Mrs. Ann Bligh, nee Page) – mother of Mrs. Belcombe and The Bligh family of Gosport
It is now my belief that Ann Bligh mother of Mrs. Mariana Belcombe, was in fact Ann Page, making Mrs. Belcombe a half- sister of Commander John Bligh of Gosport and Admiral Sir Richard Rodney. Ann Page, their mother, had firstly married Lieut. Richard Bligh on 10 Feb 1734 at Alverstoke, Hampshire. After Richard Bligh died in 1749, Ann Page who was now known by her marriage name Ann Bligh, remarried to Captain Edward Mountford on 07 May 1757 in St Mary’s Alverstoke. According to the parish registrar who filled out the marriage bann, Ann Bligh was a “bachelor” obviously a mistake considering she was a widower by then and not a male! John Bligh was married to Elizabeth Titcher of Alverstoke on 20 July 1769. It is into the care of this family that Edward Mountford instructed his daughter Mary Ann to be placed after his death as per his will.
The Bligh family of Gosport were a branch of the Bligh family of Cornwall, of which Captain William Bligh of the Bounty was also descended. The split in the two families occurred 4 generations back from Mrs. Belcombe and her other half-siblings and by my estimations William Bligh would be 3rd cousins once removed from Mrs. Belcombe. I am continuing the research on this and through the work of M.Darby, the late naval historian, I hopefully will complete this Bligh link to the Belcombes of York through Mrs. Belcombe’s mother Ann Bligh.
The Blighs of Gosport are offspring of Lieutenant Richard Bligh, Royal Navy (1715-1749) and Ann Page (Mrs. Belcombe’s mother who later remarried Edward Mountford) (b.1710). Richard was the first of the Bligh family to settle in Gosport and he himself was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy on HMS Rainbow.
The children of Richard Bligh and Ann Page (her first marriage) were:
Susanna Bligh (b.1739)
Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh, R.N (1737-1821), godson of Admiral Rodney: see my William Belcombe post on his transfer to Admiral Rodney’s ship. Shows connections between the Bligh family and Dr. Belcombe starting to form. I believe it is through Richard Rodney Bligh and his godfather Admiral Rodney that William Belcombe then Bulcock was introduced to Mary Ann Mountford, who I believe was a half-sister of his.
Charles Bligh (b.1748), see my Dr. Belcombe blog post: Charles Bligh was posted to the Camel after William Belcombe was transferred. This is evidence that both would have known each other especially as both were surgeons.
Commander John Bligh R.N (1735-1794), guardian of his half-sister Mrs. Belcombe when their mother Ann Page died. Mariana was orphaned aged 12. She would have reached the age of 21 in 1781 and received her inheritance. I have found no legal records to show that Mary Ann broke the conditions of her father’s will and therefore I believe she received her full inheritance and William Belcombe’s marriage to Mary Ann Mountford would be beneficial to him. They were to marry three years later in 1784 and William and Mary Ann would be soon off to Gottingen where William was to begin his Thesis.
Ann Bligh later Stephens (1746-1807). I believe this is where the ‘Stephens’ part of Henry Stephens Belcombe’s name comes from. Ann married Francis Stephens, Commissioner of the Victualling Office and had no children. Francis was one of the witnesses at the marriage of William Belcombe and Mary Ann Mountford. Ann Stephens predeceased her husband and without no children to bequeath his estate to, he split it between his nieces, nephews brother-in-laws and sister-in-law. He bequeathed monies in the form of annuities to Mrs. Mary Ann Belcombe whom he called his ‘sister-in-law’ in his will and to her husband Dr. William Belcombe.
•UPDATE As of November 2020, this link between the Belcombe and the Bligh family has been confirmed. A recently transcription from Anne Lister’s diaries has confirmed the research presented here. The entry in Lister’s diary is from Wednesday 9th May 1821 (SH:7/ML/E/5/0027) and was transcribed by Mr. Brian Moseley. Anne Lister writes “Mariana and all her family in Petergate, in mourning for Admiral Sir Richard Bligh K.C.B. Her mother’s brother, 1/2 blood. Mrs Belcombe being by the same mother, but by a 2nd husband, Edward Mountford, Captain in the navy.”
An updated version of my Belcombe family tree is available at the bottom of this page reflecting slight changes to the maternal line of Mrs. Belcombe, the main change a generational alteration of Mrs. Belcombe’s mother Ann Bligh nee Page from grandmother to mother. The original inclusion of Ann Page as her grandmother was due to the inaccurate entry of the registrar who wrote the marriage bann who labelled Ann Bligh as a “bachelor” and not a widower giving the impression she had not been previously married. This was not the case as she had been married to Lieut. Richard Bligh of the Royal Navy who had died in 1749 and later remarried Captain Edward Mountford, who was Mrs. Belcombe father.
Original diary entry available through the West Yorkshire Archive Service catalogue at: