Melvill Family Case Study: The Second Generation

The Second Generation

Second generation table edit 1

007 jcm fatherJames Cosmo Melvill (1792-1861) (‘JCM I’)

JCM I was born in Guernsey, the third son of Philip I and Elizabeth, but the first to survive to adulthood. In 1811, through family connection with the Anstruthers (Philip’s cousin Sir John Anstruther (1753-1811) had been Chief Justice of Bengal from 1797-1808[1]) his father secured him a position at the EIC office in London.[2] He rose steadily through the organisation, becoming auditor of the Indian accounts in 1824, Financial Secretary in 1834 and Chief Secretary in 1836, a post he held until his retirement on 3 September 1858 at the time of the EIC’s closure.[3]

JCM spent the whole of his working life at East India House in Leadenhall Street, the London headquarters of the EIC since 1648. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, however, the existing buildings were inadequate.[4] Between 1794 and 1797 the EIC purchased parcels of land around its existing site and, based on a design by its surveyor, Richard Jupp, a new 200 foot long and 60 foot high classical-style façade was built and the existing building extended. It included a residence for the Secretary at the west end of the façade and, later, a library and a museum. One of the highlights of the museum was the mechanical tiger which had belonged to Tipu Sultan (now in the V&A). In 1858 the property was used briefly by the India Office but the new department wanted to be near the Foreign Office so in 1860 moved to Westminster. In 1861 the building was demolished and replaced by new, multi-purpose offices.[5] It is now occupied by the Lloyd’s Building, built in 1986.  

011 tea caddy

Figure 8. East India Company House as featured on an East India Company tea caddy. Image courtesy of David Williams.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, East India House was the location for one of the largest non-government or non-military organisations in London. Large numbers of clerks serviced the continuous correspondence between London and the Indies. It was a prestigious place to work and clerkships were sought after. They were filled by the nomination of directors, to provide for a relative, a friend or a political supporter but there was no evidence of nominations being sold (an 1809 investigation by a Committee of the House of Commons found no ill-practice).[6] Working hours were not onerous, starting with breakfast at 10:00am, time for lunch, and finishing by 4:00pm. John Stuart Mill, of whom more later, found time for his philosophical writings during office hours and often used EIC headed stationery for his non-business correspondence.[7] Pensions for retired employees were generous.

As Chief Secretary JCM’s post was the most important home servant, because of the relationship with the Court of Directors and the way in which he could determine and control the agenda of court meetings. While in office JCM appeared before several Parliamentary committees and was regarded as ‘one of the shrewdest and most sagacious men whom I have ever met’ by a biographer of Indian officers.[8] In 1830, he appeared before a Select Committee when William Huskisson MP was attacking the perceived privileges of the EIC and accusing them of violating their charter.[9] Huskisson’s plan ‘at a stroke was defeated by the clear and convincing statements’ of JCM.[10] In another appearance in 1832 he was described as ‘an able advocate’.[11]

JCM was a traditionalist, believing that economies such as the cutting back of military expenditure were short-sighted (this despite his financial background) and opposing the EIC’s territorial acquisitions of the 1840s and 1850s.[12] He was keen to preserve the independence and prestige of India’s remaining princes and also observed the simmering resentment among the EIC’s Indian troops because of expenditure cut-backs. He corresponded with EIC’s employees in India and with critics and supporters at home. He was often required to deflect opposition to some of the EIC’s difficult decisions.

In the period up to the closure of the EIC, JCM and John Stuart Mill, who had risen to be the Examiner of Indian Correspondence – a role which was almost equal in influence to that of the Chief Secretary and possibly had greater responsibilities – were pivotal in the defence of the EIC against Palmerston’s attack on its privileges. While their efforts were ultimately in vain, Earl Grey pronounced Mill’s petition to parliament as one of the ablest state papers he had read. In his autobiography, Mill spoke of ‘the folly and mischief of this ill-considered change’.[13] JCM had become a member of The Royal Society in 1841, and Commissioner of Lieutenancy of the City of London in 1847. He was awarded a KCB in September 1853.[14]

012 jcm eddis

Figure 9. Sir James Cosmo Melvill by Eton Upton Ellis, c.1853. (C) British Library Board.

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Figure 10. Lady Hester Melvill by John James Napier, c. 1858. (C) British Library Board.

Some of the letters in the Melvill papers in the BL are correspondence between JCM, the College of Arms and various relations of JCM which appear to be an attempt to obtain a grant of arms for the Melvill family.[15] On the cessation of the EIC, JCM was appointed Government General of the Indian Railways but turned down the offer of high office in the new Indian administration because of his advancing years and failing health.[16] His abilities were obviously known at the highest level because when the appointments to the new Indian Office, which took over responsibility for the administration of India from the EIC, were put before Queen Victoria in 1858 she asked how it was that JCM’s name was not included.[17]

In 1815 JCM married Hester Jean Frances Sellon (1789-1854) at St Andrews, Holborn. She was the daughter of William Marmaduke Sellon (1757-1824), who owned a number of properties including several public houses in and around Clerkenwell and was ‘for many years a hardworking and exemplary magistrate’.[18] His father was the Rev William Sellon (1729-1790) who, when he was perpetual curate at St James, Clerkenwell, earned the nickname ‘silver-tongued Sellon’ because of his ability to obtain generous donations to the church, especially from ladies.[19] The family were wealthy and could trace their lineage back to the Plantagenets. The marriage settlement is an extremely long and complicated document which was written to ensure that Frances retained her own fortune and it did not pass to JCM.[20]

The Sellon family had another link to India. Hester’s nephew Edward Sellon (1818-66) joined the Madras Infantry of the EIC army in 1834 and served in India for ten years. He subsequently had a turbulent personal life and was most notorious for being a writer of erotic fiction, based upon his early experiences in India, although he did write some more scholarly works on India as well as a novel based there.[21] Described by a cousin as ‘a hot headed, uncontrollable man’,[22] he eventually he shot himself at the age of 48.[23]

014 Cannon Hall Mary Hill c1900

Figure 11. Cannon Hall by Mary Hill, c.1900. (Hampstead Heath 2014 http://www.hampsteadheath.net).

By the time of the 1841 census return JCM was living at Cannon Hall in Hampstead with his wife, six daughters, two sons and four servants. The house took its name from the cannons used as bollards outside the house which are said to have been put there by JCM.[24] It was later occupied by Daphne du Maurier’s family. The Melvills lived at Cannon Hall until they moved to Tandridge Court near Godstone in Surrey in the 1850s which they leased from the Earls of Cottenham and where JCM died in July 1861.[25]

The church at Tandridge has a pew with JCM’s name carved into it and he, his wife and three daughters are commemorated in one of the larger graves in the churchyard which has a prominent stone cross.[26] At All Saints church in Hutton, Essex, there is a window dedicated to JCM and his wife, put there by their daughter, Fanny, who had married the then rector who was instrumental in a major rebuilding of the church in 1873. The Melvill family contributed to the restoration fund.[27]

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Figure 12. Tandridge Court. Image courtesy of David Williams.

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Figure 13. Melvill memorial at the church in Tandridge. Image courtesy of David Williams.

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Figure 14. The memorial window at Hutton Church. Images courtesy of David Williams.

008 philip melvill (son)Philip Melvill (1796-1882) (‘Philip II’)

The second of Philip I and Elizabeth’s sons to reach adulthood, Philip II, followed a similar career path to his elder brother, JCM I. He joined the EIC in London in June 1815 on the military side and rose to be Military Secretary by 1837.  He retired in 1857, as the EIC was being wound up. In 1826 he had married Eliza Sandys in St Keverne Cornwall. They had two sons and nine daughters; two of the daughters died in infancy. Their eldest son, Philip Sandys joined the Bengal civil service (see page 20) and their other son, Teignmouth, having gone to Harrow, Cheltenham College and Trinity College, Cambridge, joined the army and was killed at Isandhlwana, South Africa, during the Zulu War of 1879. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross ‘on account of the gallant effort made by him to save the Queen’s Colour of his regiment after the disaster of Isandhlwana’.[28] Unlike their brothers only one of their daughters, Mary Augusta (1833-1917), made an Indian connection, marrying the future Major-General Sweedland Mainwaring (1819-1883) of the Indian Army in 1856.

Philip and Eliza retired to her old county of Cornwall and lived at Ethy House, St Winnow, with as many as eleven servants (on the 1871 census return). It is alleged to be where Kenneth Graham wrote The Wind in the Willows and that Toad Hall is based on Ethy. It is now a grade II listed Georgian country house with an 18 acre garden and an indoor Greek temple swimming pool. Philip and Eliza spent twenty-five years in retirement in Cornwall and he died there in 1892, when his estate was valued at almost £44,000 (well over £2m today).[29]

009 rev henry melvillHenry Melvill (1798-1871) (‘Henry I’)

Henry I was the third of Philip I and Elizabeth’s sons to reach adulthood. He had an impressive academic record and moved in the highest of social circles. He went up to St John’s, Cambridge, in 1817 and graduated in 1821 with some distinction.[30] He was awarded an MA in 1824 and from 1822 to 1829 worked as a fellow and tutor at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In 1836 he became a Doctor of Divinity. He then held various clerical posts before being appointed as principal of the EIC College, Haileybury, in 1843, a post he held until the college was closed down on 31 January 1858.[31] He was appointed chaplain of the Tower of London by the Duke of Wellington in 1840, and was Golden Lecturer at St Margaret’s, Lothbury, from 1850 to 1856. From 1853 he was chaplain to Queen Victoria; from 1856 Canon Residentiary of St Paul’s; and from 1863 rector of Barnes in Surrey. He was still holding these three posts when he died in 1871.

Henry had the reputation of being the most popular preacher in London and one of the greatest rhetoricians of his time.[32] First at Camden Chapel, then at St. Margaret’s, and later on at St. Paul’s, large crowds of people attended his ministrations. His sermons generally occupied three-quarters of an hour, but such was the rapidity of his utterance that he spoke as much in that time as an ordinary preacher would have done in an hour. His delivery was earnest and animated without distinctive gesticulation; his voice was clear and flexible; while his emphatic pronunciation and his hurried manner of speaking impressed the hearers with a conviction of his sincerity. But his sermons lacked simplicity and directness of style, and his ornate phraseology, his happy analogies, smoothly balanced sentences, appealed more directly to the literary than to the spiritual sense. His views were evangelical.

He had many distinguished admirers. John Ruskin described him thus: ‘Henry Melvill, afterwards Principal of Haileybury, was the only preacher I ever knew whose sermons were at once sincere, orthodox and oratorical on Ciceronian principles.  He wrote them from end to end with polished art, and read them admirably, in his own manner; by which, though the congregation affectionately expected it, they were always deeply impressed…I owe to him all sorts of good help in close analysis, but especially my habit of always looking, in every quotation from the Bible, what goes before it and after’.[33] Similarly C.E. Buckland’s Dictionary of Indian Biography records that ‘His tenure of the Principalship of Haileybury is estimated to have been successful: of his success as a preacher there can be no doubt: he was noted for his eloquence, earnestness and skilful management of his voice: published numerous sermons and lectures’.[34]

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Figure 17. Haileybury College, designed by William Wilkins, unknown artist, c.1855. (c) British Library Board, WD541.

In 1830 he married Margaret Jennings (1805-1878) whose own family may have benefitted from her husband’s EIC connections. Margaret Jennings’ brother, Midgley John Jennings (1806-1857), was a Cambridge graduate who was ordained in 1830. He was an EIC chaplain in India from 1832. On 11 May 1857 he and his family were massacred at Delhi, with other members of the Mission, at the outbreak of the Mutiny. A memorial was erected at Cawnpore, on which he is described as ‘Priest, Chaplain, and Founder of the S.P.G. Mission to Delhi’.[35] Henry I and Margaret had nine children, four boys and nine girls. The four boys all had careers with the EIC in India and later participated in the British governance of India (see pages 20 to 22). Of their daughters, the eldest, Clara (1831-1900) married Stewart St John Gordon (1829-1866) of the Bengal Civil Service.  Henry I died in 1871 and Margaret in 1878. She left the considerable sum of between £60-70,000 (over £3m today).[36]

010 peter melvill melvill drawingPeter Melvill Melvill (1803-95)

The youngest son of Philip I and Elizabeth, Peter entered the EIC military service in Bombay in 1819 and rose through the administration side, being Adjutant of Bombay and ADC to Governor and working in Cutch and Sind before becoming Secretary to the Government of Bombay from 1840-59. In 1860 he was knighted for his services, retiring with the rank of Major-General.  He was still active in retirement after the demise of the EIC, sitting on Lord Hobhouse’s committee on the amalgamation of the Indian and British armies in 1860 and on the Royal Commission to report on memorials of the Indian officers in 1863.[37]

He married Mary Robinson (1814-1881) in Bombay in 1836 and they had three daughters in India. Two of them married Bombay-based civil servants, Elizabeth (1836-89) marrying Charles Gonne (1832-95) and Catherine (1840-72), Arthur de Hochepied-Larpent, the eighth Baron, (1832-87) in 1859. The youngest Rosina died in infancy.

Mary died in early 1881, by which time she and Peter had returned to England. In the 1881 and 1891 census returns, Peter was living at 27 Palmeira Square, Hove in Sussex, one of the most prestigious addresses in the town; in both returns a number of grandchildren, governesses and several servants are registered presumably because the parents were still in India. When he died at the age of 92 in 1895 he left an estate of nearly £60,000 (about £3m today).

Other children of Philip I and Elizabeth Melvill

Their eldest son, John Fall, was born in 1789. His father obtained him a commission as a cadet at the military academy at Woolwich.[38] He was a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery when he was drowned in a boating accident in Madeira on 11 July 1808. Apparently he had been the first to run up the British flag there when Madeira had been occupied by the British in that year.[39] Their second son, Peter Bonamy was born in 1790 but died in 1803. He was described as ‘a boy of great promise, and of the most amiable disposition’ but was ‘seized with a decline, which in four months brought him to his grave’.[40]

Two of their daughters, Jean (1794-1861) and Elizabeth (1807-1857) never married and were living together in Camberwell in the 1851 census return. The third daughter, Rachel (1800-1885), married Henry Kemble, MP for East Surrey (d 1857). This couple do not appear to have had any children and when she died, Rachel left over £400,000 pounds,[41] an enormous sum by any account and well over £20m in today’s terms.

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Note on tables: Each section begins with a simplified tree of that generation. All surnames are MELVILL unless otherwise stated. Names in bold are connected to the EIC and names in italics have India connections through career or marriage. C, D, E and F are links to the next generation table.


[1] ODNB entry for Sir John Anstruther, fourth baronet, J. S. Cotton, rev. T. H. Bowyer.

[2] Memoirs of the Late Philip Melvill, p. 123; however, according to his entry in the ODNB he started with the EIC in 1808.

[3] de la Ferté, The Melvill Family, p. 9.

[4] William Foster, The East India House: its history and associations (London, 1924), p. 137-44.

[5] Ibid., pp. 153-4.

[6] Much of the information about the workings of East India House comes from Foster, The East India House.

[7]John M Robson, Martin Moir and Zawahir Moir (eds), John Stuart Mill, Writings on India (London, 1990) vol 33, p. xx.

[8] John William Kaye, Lives of Indian Officers (London, 1867) vol i, p. 434.

[10] Edward Thornton, The History of the British Empire in India (London, 1843) vol. v, p.285-6.

[11]Ibid., p. 304.

[12] These and the following observations are in JMC I’s entry in the ODNB, E. I. Carlyle, rev. Katherine Prior.

[13]Robson, Moir and Moir (eds), John Stuart Mill, p. xxvi.

[14] ODNB entry for James Cosmo Melvill.

[15] BL Melvill papers, pp. 60-61. This was later followed up in the 1920s by Lt Col P.J. Melvill in correspondence with E.J. Joubert de la Ferté. BL Melvill papers, pp. 62-5.

[16] de la Ferté, The Melvill Family, p. 9.

[17]Arthur Christopher Benson and Viscount Reginald Baliol Brett Esher (eds), The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol III 1854-61 (London, 1908), p. 229.

[18] Gentleman’s Magazine (1824), p. 572.

[19] Baker William Smith, Memoirs of the Rev William Sellon… (London, 1852), p. 35.

[20] London Metropolitan Archives, ACC/1709/001 (1815).

[21] Phil Hine, Lecture Notes: On Edward Sellon, http://enfolding.org/lecture-notes-on-edward-sellon-i/, accessed 3 December 2013. Annotation to the Sacred Writings of the Hindus (1865) was his most recognised scholarly work. The novel was Herbert Breakspear (1848) about the Mahratta War.

[22] Marmaduke Hornidge, at Sellon’s inquest.

[25] Gerald Walkden, Tandridge Parish News, February 2010.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Mary Kenyon, A History of All Saints Church Hutton (Essex County Council, 1999), pages not numbered.

[28] Cambridge Alumni, ibid; London Gazette, 15 March 1879.

[29] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) for 1882, p. 184.

[30] Cambridge Alumni, ibid; 1st Smith’s prize and 2nd Wrangler.

[31] Imogen Thomas, Haileybury 1805-1987 (Hertford, 1987) p. 24.

[32] Much of the information about Henry Melvill comes from his entry in the ODNB, G. C. Boase, rev. H. C. G. Matthew.

[33] E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (eds), Works of John Ruskin (London, 1908) vol 35, p. 386.

[34] C.E. Buckland, Dictionary of Indian Biography (London, 1906), p. 285.

[35] Cambridge Alumni, ibid.

[36] Probate Calendar, 1878, p. 183.

[37] Buckland, Indian Biography, p. 285.

[38] Memoirs of the Late Philip Melvill, pp. 80-1.

[39] Ibid, pp. 110-1.

[40] Ibid, p. 80.

[41] Probate Calendar, 1885, p. 26.

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