Document of the Month, August 2015: mystery baptisms

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

This month’s document is a typical parish register (ref. D/P 183/1/37) from St Mary’s Church, Prittlewell, the mother church of Southend.  As well as marriages and burials, it covers baptisms from 1727-1807 and might record the baptism in secret of two illegitimate children of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in 1803.

Emma Hamilton as a young woman c. 1782, by George Romney

I was reminded of the local story about Emma Hamilton’s supposed secret confinement somewhere in Southend, which I had read about in Karen Bowman’s book Essex Girls,[1] when I collected some records and memorabilia of Eton House School last month.  The school used to occupy the house called Southchurch Lawn on the road from Thorpe Bay to Great Wakering, which is where it is claimed Emma’s confinement took place.  Apparently, a ship’s surgeon called Seacole was in attendance, and he was persuaded to act as the father at the christening.  Also in attendance, it was said, was a gentleman ‘with an eye patch and an empty sleeve to his jacket’.

Baptisms of Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole and Elizabeth Caroline Lind Seacole

Extract from the Prittlewell baptism register, including entries (at the bottom) for Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole and Elizabeth Caroline Lind Seacole, September 18th 1803 (D/P 183/1/37)

Looking at the register to verify the entry myself, I found a baptism that took place on 18th September 1803 for two children, a boy christened Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole followed by a girl christened Elizabeth Caroline Lind Seacole, the son and daughter of a Thomas and Anne Seacole.  If these were the secret children of Emma Hamilton, and the name of the boy obviously suggests that they might have been, it looks as though she might have had twins.

At the time, Emma would most likely have been staying at the Royal Terrace at Southend, which was in the parish of Prittlewell, as she did on occasion apparently to facilitate liaison with Nelson whenever his ship was moored at The Nore.  In 1805, Emma gave a ball in Nelson’s honour at the assembly room, Southend, which was reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday August 2nd.  Of course, at the same time, possibly in 1803 or 1804, Caroline the Princess of Wales stayed at the ‘Royal Terrace’ which was named after her, and two years before, her daughter Princess Charlotte stayed for three months at Southchurch Lawn in 1801 for health reasons.

The boy, however, is even more interesting for his connection to another remarkable woman.  Later, he went to Jamaica and married a Jamaican woman of mixed race, Mary Jane Grant, who was to become the celebrated ‘black nurse’ of the Crimean War, Mary Seacole, voted the ‘greatest black Briton’ in a poll in 2004 as reported by BBC News.[2]  ‘Mother Seacole’, as she was affectionately known to many soldiers at the time, ran the ‘British Hotel’ at Spring Hill near Balaclava, which she established in March 1855 to provide what she herself described in her autobiography[3] as ‘a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers’.  She also helped wounded soldiers on the battlefield and witnessed the fall of Sevastopol.

The only known photograph of Mary Seacole, taken for a carte de visite by Maull & Company in London (c. 1873)

Later, in her will, she claimed that her husband was Nelson’s ‘godson’ who gave him a diamond ring which Mary kept until the end of her life, even though she fell on hard times after the Crimea, and bequeathed to one of her supporters, Count Gleichen.[4]  In which case, one wonders whether Nelson also attended the christening at St Mary’s himself.

At the time, Mary Seacole’s celebrity rivalled Florence Nightingale’s but she soon fell into obscurity, that is, until recently.  Although many have pointed out that she was never a ‘nurse’ in the sense that Florence Nightingale undoubtedly was, members from The Royal College of Nursing attended the dedication in July 2014 of the site in front of St Thomas’s Hospital where a memorial statue is to be erected to her, due for completion this summer (2015).

The register will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout August.

[1] Bowman, Karen (2010). Essex girls. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

[3] The wonderful adventures of Mrs Seacole in many lands, which has since become a Penguin Classic.

[4] Sara Salih, the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of Mary Seacole’s autobiography, as well as citing the will in her introduction, also refers to surviving records for her marriage to Edwin Seacole in Jamaica and the entry for Edwin Seacole’s baptism in the this register.

Your favourite documents: an unexpected find

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we recently asked you, our users, to nominate your favourite ERO documents. Thank you very much to those of you who have sent in nominations so far – today we bring you the next in a series of your favourites.

Today’s nomination comes from Paul Mardon, a member of the Essex Place Names Project, and is a map of part of Prittlewell dating to 1825 (Q/RHi 4/49). It is a good example of finding information in unexpected places:

I began working as a Recorder on the Essex Place names project in 2008. My first parish was Prittlewell, the historic centre of Southend. The Tithe Map proved to be disappointing in terms of place name information , so I began to research other maps hopefully to find more data.

This record consists of a map & accompanying order approved by Justices of the Peace at a special session in Rochford in December 1825. They record an agreement to stop up a footpath (1092 ft long by 4 ft wide) running through three fields on the south side of East St, Prittlewell. What appeals to me about this record is the exquisitely & precisely drawn coloured map which accompanies the decision. Why was so much care taken with this when a simple sketch map would seem to have been adequate? Even more surprising is that this little map has survived to the present day in such excellent condition. The colours have faded slightly but what would you expect after nearly 200 years. I think this record also illustrates that the treasures we are so fortunate to have at the ERO are not just of the great & the good but on so many occasions give us an insight into everyday lives of ordinary people.

G/RHi 4/49

G/RHi 4/49 (click for a larger version)

One of the documents accompanying the map tells us that the path was being stopped up because it was ‘useless and unnecessary’, and also gives us the professions of the three landowners named on the map: Thomas Lindsell was a wheelwright, and William Carr and William Cockerton were farmers – another good example of finding information about individuals in unexpected places, especially in pre-census years. Each signed their names to agree to the order stopping up the path.

G/RHi 4/49 

If you would like to nominate your own favourite ERO document, we would love to hear from you. Simply download this form, and return it to the Searchroom desk or by e-mail to hannahjane.salisbury[at] There are also paper copies available at the Searchroom desk. Nominated documents may be featured on this blog or in displays at our open day on Saturday 14 September 2013.