Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lt Henry Jervis

Yesterday I was telling you about a pair of sketch books that came into the possession of the Old Bat and me almost by accident. Dating from 1826 to 1835, they were the work of one Lt Henry Jervis.

[Parenthetical note: Have you noticed that the American pronunciation of the word "lieutenant" (lootenant) is much closer to the original French than is the English (leftenant)?]

The ma-in-law had no idea how, when or why the books had first come into her possession but there was a clue! My late father-in-law had as a second Christian name "Jervis", this also being his mother's maiden name. Adding two and two to make five, we assumed that these books were family heirlooms and that Henry Jervis had been an ancestor or distant cousin of my wife's father. I determined to discover exactly what the relationship was.

In those days - and we are probably talking twenty years ago - there was no such thing as the internet and all research of this nature had to be conducted in libraries and similar establishments. I was then working in London and my office was not all that far from St Catherine's House where one could browse large ledgers listing all the recorded births, marriages and deaths from 1837 (when registration of these events became compulsory) up to about two years before the date of the search. (Later records had still to be amalgamated and printed in chronological alphabetical order.) Slightly nearer my office was Chancery Lane, where the Public Records Office was situated. It was here that one could study the filmed copies of the annual censuses taken every ten years from 1841, although no census would be released into the public domain until 100 years had passed, meaning that the 1891 census was the latest I could study. Further away, but still within striking distance, was the Army Museum with its library.

I quite quickly discovered that my father-in-law's maternal grandfather was Humphrey Jervis, a book-keeper born in Ireland who first appeared in the 1881 census in Liverpool - a poor part of Liverpool at that. That, of course, didn't actually mean that our gallant Lieutenant was no relation, but it did make it rather unlikely. It seemed even more unlikely when I discovered that he died in 1879. It appeared he had never married but he had left a will. Thinking this might give clues to other members of his family, I visited Somerset House and obtained a copy. That didn't really help much as he left a bequest to a servant and the rest of his estate to another man who had been his companion. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that my father-in-law must have found these sketch books on sale in a junk shop or similar and, spotting the name Jervis, thought they might have some familial connection and bought them. There was, it seemed, no connection other than coincidence. All the same, I determined to discover what more I could about Henry Jervis.

Having obtained a reader's ticket for the Army Museum library, I went there to study past copies of the Army List to throw some light on the life history of our artistic army officer. I tracked his career and various promotions right through to his retirement from the army with the rank of general - but this only gave rise to more questions. Our Henry proved something of an enigma.

The earlier of the two sketch books is inscribed inside the cover:

Now that quite plainly reads "Sketches from Nature by H Jervis 62nd Regt" and the book starts in 1826. But, according to official records, Henry was not then and never was in the 62nd Regiment. The Army List has him serving in the 61st Regiment in 1826 and on for several years.

Another puzzle concerns the second book of sketches which is inscribed "May 1833 H Jervis Lieut. 62nd Regt." As well as indicating the different regiment here, there is also a discrepancy over rank. By May 1833, the Army List insists that Henry Jervis was a major serving in the 61st Regiment.

What was going on? Why did the Army List show a different regiment from Henry's inscriptions in his sketch books? And why did Henry give himself the rank of lieutenant when he had been promoted to major? But more was to come.

Henry's sketch books include pictures drawn in India which he has dated 1831 to 1832, including this one which he has labelled "My bungalow or residence while I was quartered at Bangalore in the years of 1831 & 1832".

But according to the Army List, he was then in Africa and was even awarded a medal for gallantry during that time! But there is a note in the sketch book which reads:
"Many thanks. The whole of the India sketches are remarkably accurate, animated and well selected. I have suggested in the page opposite Bir Chukee a little work for you, & if you like to execute it, I will take 50 copies with much pleasure.
S R Lushington"

(The note he refers to was unfortunately written in pencil and is no longer legible.)
Stephen Rumbold Lushington was Governor of Madras from 1827 to 1835, which would add even more evidence to the fact that Henry was in India - even though the Army List insists he never was!

That's another of those mysteries that will never be solved - but I love looking at Henry Jervis's sketches.

It was this that got me started on researching my own family history where I very soon disproved the notion, told me by my mother, that her family was descended from one of Nelson's captains, albeit on the wrong side of the blanket. In fact, the truth is even more interesting than that. But that is, or might be, for another day.


Stephen Hayes said...

These watercolors are extremely interesting. They do a great job of poking a window into the past, and I'm a big history buff. Thanks for sharing them.

Buck said...

Could there be TWO Henry Jervises?

Brighton Pensioner said...

Buck: not as far as I can tell. By the way, I must have been dreaming when I wrote that the rmy List has him in the 61st Regiment. It is/was the 72nd.

alyscambray said...

Fascinating! Whilst researching my family tree I have just found a record in the Gentleman's Magazine Vol 168 of the marriage in 1840 (Atcham, Shropshire RD)of Emily, relict of H Jervis 62nd Regt to Revd George Edge Larden. Emily was a daughter of Revd Richard Corfield, one of my ancestors.

BrusselsGirl said...

Are you sure your Henry is not Humphrey? In my family history research I have Emily Elizabeth Corfield married Lt Humphrey Jervis 'of the 62nd Regt of Foot (now in India)' in Shropshire in 1834. They followed the Regiment to India where their daughter was born in Jan 1835. Humphrey died at Moulmein in Apr 1835. So he was in India at the right time for your sketch books. The refs for marriage and burial are just for Lt Humphrey Jervis but his baptism ref gives his name as Humphrey Jervis White Jervis and his father as Sir John Jervis White Jervis, baronet. This would be the Jervis-White-Jervis baronetcy of Bally Ellis, County Wexford, Ireland. First time I have seen a triple barrelled surname! You did mention ancestors from Ireland, name Humphrey and middle name of Jervis, so maybe you have some connection after all . . .

Brighton Pensioner said...

Thank you, BrusselsGirl, that's most interesting. I, too, had come across the Jervis-White-Jervis name. I suppose my H Jervis could be Humphrey - I'm no longer sure why I had assumed he was a Henry, or rather what evidence I had. But certainly it was General Henry Jervis who died in the 1870s in London.