Posts Tagged hylands house
1791 was a most important year in the life of Mariana Starke.
We last met her in January of that year when, with her friend and patron, Mrs Crespigny, she attended her play, The Widow of Malabar, on the first night of its second season at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden.
Mrs Crespigny’s diary reveals that during the next few months she and Mariana met frequently – sometimes in Camberwell and sometimes in Epsom. Among their circle were the family of Henry Martin, who had become Comptroller of the Navy in 1790 and the news of whose baronetage Mrs Crespigny noted in her diary on 21 June 1791.
The Martins had at one time lived at Ashtead, a short distance down the Dorking Road from the Starkes’ Hylands House, but were probably now resident at Little Farm, near Tooting. ‘Miss Martin’ – presumably the eldest of his four daughters – was frequently included in parties to the theatre and opera and Mrs Crespigny mentions dining with Mrs Martin, together with Mariana, on 4 April, a day she described as ‘the first shooting day at Epsom’.
Mrs Crespigny’s diary relates that she and Mariana next met in Camberwell on 2 May – when they were joined by ‘Thomas on his matrimonial business’. This ‘Thomas’, I am sure, refers to the Rev Joseph Thomas for, on 6 May, ‘Miss Parkhurst dined and slept here’. Mellicent Parkhurst, Mariana’s very close friend and co-author, was soon to marry the Rev Thomas. I cannot, though, explain why the Rev Thomas was discussing ‘matrimonial business’ – apparently in Mellicent’s absence – with the inhabitants of Grove House. On 7 May, after dinner, Mariana and Mellicent returned to Epsom.
Mariana was back at Grove House on 24 May and on the 25th Mrs Crespigny notes that she ‘gave my first archery party’. Mrs Crespigny was a keen archer – for excellent articles about this aspect of her life see A toxophilite – Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 – 1812) and, for another much older article, here.
Mariana was at Grove House to enjoy that first archery party and on Friday 27 May accompanied Mrs Crespigny to Blackheath. This day, the diary records, was ‘The great anniversary of the archers at Blackheath. We all went – in my uniform. Miss Starke went home afterwards.’ Anecdotes of Archery describes that ‘grand meeting’ on Blackheath, which was attended by a good number of ‘Societies of Archers’, including such groups as the Surrey Bowmen, the Kentish Bowmen and the Woodmen of Arden. The report also records that ‘Numbers of women were likewise dressed in the uniforms of the societies.’ I am sure Mariana would have very much enjoyed donning a uniform. Did she draw a bow?
On Monday 21 August Mrs Crespigny spent the night at Hylands House after a day of archery in the course of which she presented the Surrey Bowmen with a silver arrow as a prize for a competition.
On 19 September 1791 Mrs Crespigny met Mariana in town. Although she makes no entry in clear script, surely both she and Mariana were in attendance three days later at St Martin’s Church in Epsom when, on 22 September, Mellicent Parkhurst married the Rev Thomas? The Rev Jonathan Boucher conducted the ceremony and the witnesses were Mellicent’s father, John Parkhurst, and her half-sister, Susanna Altham. I note that in the entry in the parish register the Rev Joseph Thomas is described as ‘of Camberwell’ – which may explain why he was discussing wedding plans in Grove House a few months earlier. I mention that Mrs Crespigny made no entry in clear script because large sections of her diary are written in shorthand and I haven’t checked whether there is such any such passage for that date.
Mrs Crespigny saw Mariana on several occasions in October. On 17th she slept at Hylands House after attending an archery match at Epsom and on the 22nd Mrs Starke, Mariana and Louisa arrived at Grove House for a short visit.
However, the atmosphere over these few days seems to have been less than calm. On 23rd October Mariana and Mary Crespigny had words -though quite what it was about is difficult now to ascertain. The diary entry appears to read ‘Miss S was very unkind to me relative to the grog and the Bow – and said things that hurt me. I was very ill in consequence.’
The following day, Monday 24 October, Mrs Crespigny records that she ‘Had a sad day with the distress of Mr Browning & Miss Louisa’ This may, perhaps, be explained by the next-day’s entry – ‘Wednesday 25 October Mr & Mrs Starke & Misses Starke & Scott, who I parted with to oblige them, set off for Nice.
”Scott’ was a woman, a maid or nurse, who until now had been in Mrs Crespigny’s employ and to whom, on her departure with the Starkes, she gave a guinea. That the Starke family was setting out for the south of France late in the autumn and despite the state of turmoil in that country would indicate that the state of health of Louisa Starke certainly – and probably also both her mother and father – had become increasingly critical. All were suffering from tuberculosis.
As early as 1779/1780 Mrs Starke, discussing her ill-health in a letter to Mrs William Hayley, had commented that ‘an hour’s talking would produce a spitting of blood’. In an April 1781 letter to William Hayley Mariana mentioned that they had been staying at Brighthelmstone for the previous two months on account of her mother’s health. The sea air was, of course, considered efficacious for pulmonary complaints. In a letter of 1787 or 1788 Mrs Starke mentioned that she and Louisa had spent a few weeks at Brighthelmstone, leaving her husband and Mariana at Hylands House.
In the Introduction to the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy (which is the one I have to hand) Mariana writes that she hopes the work will be of use ‘to those of my compatriots who, in consequence of pulmonary complaints, are compelled to exchange their native soil for the renovating sun of Italy’ and mentions that her observations on health are ‘the result of seven years’ experience; during which period my time and thoughts were chiefly occupied by endeavours to mitigate the sufferings of those most dear to me.’ Alas, little of the time abroad was devoted to nursing her sister Louisa, who, aged just 20, died at Nice on 18 April 1792, barely six months after leaving England. Had Mrs Crespigny’s comment on 24 October 1791 about ‘the distress of Mr Browning and Miss Louisa’ been a comment on a romance thwarted by her illness?
Having buried Louisa in Nice the Starke party – which Mariana describes in Letters from Italy as four in number (comprising, presumably, herself, her mother and father and ‘Scott’)- set out for Italy. In Letter 1, dated Nice, September 1792, Mariana writes that they undertook the journey over the Alps to Turin at the end of May.
On 3 November 1791 Mrs de Crespigny had noted in her diary that Mr and Mrs Starke and party had arrived at Calais and on 3 December that she had received ‘letters from Lyons’. Were those from Mariana?
I wondered briefly if Mrs Crespigny could have been the recipient of the originals of the Letters on which Mariana eventually based her book? It is the kind of role a close friend and patroness might fulfil but I must swiftly state that I have seen no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this was so. Indeed, perhaps rather surprisingly, I have come across no mention of Mrs Crespigny in any of Mariana’s manuscript letters that I have read.
The dedication in the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy is to Mellicent Thomas ‘as a small testimony of gratitude for her great kindness in having corrected th epress, and aided, by her deep and extensive classical knowledge, the labours of The Author’. Mariana would surely have acknowledged any specific interest taken in her work by the woman to whom she had made such a fulsome dedication in The Poor Soldier.
However, it is Mrs Crespigny we must thank (or at least those of us who follow the life of Mariana Starke in intimate detail must thank) for alerting us to the exact date when the Starkes’ coach swept out of the gates of Hylands House, taking Mariana to Italy and her destiny.
Mariana Starke was christened at Epsom Parish Church on 23 October 1762. On 19 June, barely four months earlier, and three years into their marriage, her parents had buried their first-born child – a son, John – in the church’s graveyard. Mariana was to be an only child for six years – until the birth of her brother, Richard Isaac Starke, in 1768 – and to be an only daughter until the birth of her sister, Louisa, in 1772. Although there is no record of other children having been born in the years between the births of these living children, the gaps are significantly long, suggesting the possibility that Mary Starke may have suffered miscarriages. Certainly Richard’s father, John Starke, while leaving his eldest son only Hylands House in his rather punitive 1763 will, seems to have expected him to sire at least five children – to all of whom the grandfather was prepared to leave handsome legacies.
We know no firm details of Mariana’s early life as she grew up in Epsom. She may have had a governess, but more likely was taught by her mother, who from her letters appears a competent, amusing woman, interested in literature and the world. The only extant reference I have found to the hiring of a teacher occurs in one of Mrs Starke’s letters, in which she mentions that she is thinking of engaging a music master for her daughters.
This letter written, probably, in 1781, is to Mrs Hayley, wife of William Hayley, an influential man of letters and, in his life-time at least, a highly-regarded poet, patron of William Blake, friend of Cowper, of Romney and of Mariana Starke, who was to him his ‘dear poetical daughter’. The earliest letter in the extant correspondence between the Starkes and the Hayleys dates from 1779 and it is clear from the tone and language employed by the writers that the two families were on close and affectionate terms – and would appear to have been so for some time. There is no indication, however, of how or when the introduction between the families took place. Mariana’s earliest letter in the sequence, dated 22 December 1780, is to Mrs Hayley inviting the Hayleys to ‘a little Hop’to be held by her family early in the new year – on Monday 8 January – and to dinner the day before. At this time the Hayleys lived at Eartham in Sussex, about 45 miles south of Epsom. Hylands House was on their route into Town; in another letter Mrs Starke mentions that she could look out for their chaise as it passes along the Dorking Road. When she wrote this letter of invitation Mariana was 18 years old and entirely at ease in corresponding with the older woman.
From her mother’s letters we can catch glimpses of this youthful Mariana. In November 1780 (?) when Mrs Starke suffered a a bout of illness, during which exertion ‘produced a spitting of blood’, she was ‘an affectionate un-wearied attendant under Providence’ ‘her tenderness contributes materially to my recovery….I can read a little, and so my daughter ransacks the circulating library for my amusement and has brought me the life of Garrick, written by Davies, the materials supplied by Johnson and the whole regulated by him. Tis very entertaining; it contains a history of the Theatre for 36 years. I remember many of the persons mentioned. It likewise comprehends an account of the contemporary dramatic Writers. What an assemblage of opposite qualities met in ‘Dr Goldsmith’ without one particle of common sense to rectify the composition.’ Davies’ life of Garrick was first published in 1780, suggesting that the Epsom circulating library was quick to offer the latest published works and that Mariana had been prompt in her ‘ransacking’. From the list of books catalogued when the stock of the Epsom circulating library [as far as I can establish this was the only circulating library in Epsom during this period] was put up for auction in 1823 it is clear that there was no shortage of reading matter likely to appeal to both mother and daughter. For instance, quantities of novels and book of travels dating from the 1780s were still held in the stock of the library at the time of its sale – novels such as Aspasia, the wanderer (1786), Alfred and Cassandra (1788), Letters of an Italian Nun (1789) and Adeline the Orphan (1790).
By the 1780s Epsom’s heyday as a spa town had passed but, in a healthy position close to the Downs and close to London, it attracted well-to-do merchants quite prepared then – as now – to commute into town on business. Although he had no necessity to make this journey regularly, ‘Governor Starke’ – by which slightly inflated version of his former title Richard Starke is often named in contemporary accounts – still some had business with the East India Company. By virtue of his stock holding in the Company he was able to vote for candidates to the Directorate of the Company and probably made periodic visits to their headquarters in Mincing Lane – a stone’s throw from the house in which his grandfather, Thomas Starke, the slave trader, had lived 100 years before. It is interesting – if useless – to speculate as to whether a knowledge of the lives of his forebears was incorporated into his perception of the world. Did he know – as we shall never – that his father had turned to India because he did not wish to be involved in the trade in Africans of which Thomas was a pioneer? Or, what is more likely, did he know that John Starke had seen that the Virginia tobacco trade was taking a downward turn – and was tediously prone to litigation – and that India was the new Virginia? Whatever his thoughts as he walked along Mincing Lane Richard Starke would have been well aware of the importance in Starke family history of the church of St Dunstans in the East, just three minutes walk away, down towards the river. Besides his grandfather – and all the late-17th- c infant Starkes buried there, it was here that his own mother had been interred in 1730 and here, five years later, that his wife, the daughter of a merchant, had been christened. That, at least, should have inculcated a proprietorial feeling for this small area of the City in a man who had spent his working life in India and now lived a rather secluded life in Surrey. Again, idle to speculate, but surely, on occasion, Mariana would have been taken to the City. Would she not have been curious to see the streets where her forebears lived?
For Mariana, we know, was in her youth passionate about ‘antiquity’. In 1781 her mother, writing to Mrs Hayley, mentions that they had visited ‘Cowdry’ [Cowdray, a Tudor house in Sussex that in 1793 was reduced to ruins by a fire but whose magnificence was still intact when the Starkes visited], remarking that ‘The outside is striking, fine, venerable and claims respect, but within tis unequal and disappoints the expectation. Perhaps altogether no ill emblem its owner. Marian was pleased; I am not so rapturously fond of antiquity as she is. At her age I was, but my passion for gothic structures, and tragedy, expired at the same moment. When the gaiety of youth is fled, lively scenes become necessary.’ So, here is a glimpse of a Mariana swept up in the zeitgeist for the gothic – her ‘sensibility’ a counterpoint to her mother’s ‘sense’.
‘Sense’ was, I am sure, a virtue with which Mariana’s closest contemporary companion of her youth was liberally endowed. Millecent Parkhurst, who was a few months younger than Mariana, lived with her parents in Abele Grove on the other side of Dorking Road from Hylands – on the way into Epsom town. Then an elegant house, with coach house, stables and grounds of about 1 acre, Abele Grove is now, rather bizarrely, the Epsom Central branch of the Premier Inn chain, But it is there still – as is Hylands House – and you can still walk along the Dorking Road between the two- either on your own two feet or, thanks to Google Street View, on your computer.
Millecent’s elderly father, John Parkhurst, had inherited valuable estates around Epsom and, although a clergyman, of the high Anglican variety, felt neither the necessity nor inclination to seek preferment. His life was devoted to scholarship; amongst other writings he had published both Hebrew/English and Greek/English Lexicons (the latter to the New Testament). When, in 1798, after his death, a new edition of this work was called for, it was published with Millecent as editor. In the preface to the 5th edition, a later editor recorded that she was ,’reared under the immediate inspection of her learned and pious father, by an education of the very first order, [and] has acquired a degree of classical knowledge which is rarely met with in the female world’. In a 1787 letter (to be considered at greater length in a subsequent post) Mariana mentions ‘the almost paternal regard that [Mr Parkhurst] has for me.’ It would, I think, be safe to assume that Mariana spent a considerable time in that household, that she was at home in John Parkhurst’s library and, with Millecent, benefited from his teaching. See here to view portraits of John Parkhurst and his wife – held at Clare College, Cambridge. If the date (1804) attributed to the paintings is correct they were commissioned some time after the pair had died – John in 1797 and Millecent in 1800.
The Rev Parkhurst was not only Mariana’s advisor and critic but, with William Hayley, was responsible for inducting Mariana into the literary world. In 1781 she was among the subscribers to Ann Francis’ Poetical Translation of the Song of Solomon, from the original Hebrew, published by J. Dodsley. John Parkhurst subscribed six copies and it is to him that the book was dedicated, with a credit for supplying Notes. Among the female Epsom subscribers were Mrs Foreman, Mrs E. Foreman, Miss Foreman and Mrs Phipps. The latter ladies, who were presumably of a literary incline, were unlikely to have been those of whom Mariana wrote to William Hayley on 1 October 1781, ‘I spent an afternoon a short time since in company with Mrs Francis. She appears perfectly good-natured and unaffected – our Epsom Ladies were quite astonished that she should be in the least degree like other people – one observed that she really dressed her hair according to the present fashion, another, that she had a very tolerable cap, and a third that she certainly conversed in a common way, in short they spoke of her, as tho’ they had expected to have seen a wild beast instead of a rational creature, & I felt myself very happy that they were perfectly ignorant of my ever having made a Poem in my life.’ In her preface Ann Francis had felt it necessary to defend her translation of this particular text on two counts – in case it might ‘be thought an improper undertaking for a woman [since] the learned may imagine it a subject above the reach of my abilities; while the unlearned may incline to deem it a theme unfit for the exercise of a female pen.’
Besides John Parkhurst, the other male Epsom subscriber to The Song of Solomon was the Rev Martin Madan, who the previous year had raised considerable controversy with his publication of Thelyphthora; or a treatise on female ruin. In this Madan argued the social benefit of polygamy as a means of countering the evils of prostitution. He had been chaplain at the Hyde Park Corner Lock Hospital – a hospital for those afflicted with venereal disease – and may be considered to know of what he spoke. His treatise immediately attracted a series of ripostes. It was clearly a book – and, therefore, a subject much debated at this time and in the same 1 October 1781 letter to Hayley Mariana writes. Have you met with a book entitled ‘Whisper in the ear of the Author of Thelypthora’? The author Mr Greene did me the honor of sending it to me, and was it small enough to be enclosed in a frank, I would sent it to Earthham; tho I do not imagine it is a Book that would amuse either you, or Mrs Hayley much.’ Why, one wonders, did 40-year-old Edward Burnaby Greene send his work on this subject to 19-year-old Mariana Starke?
Greene was a translator and poet – though even in his lifetime not held in much regard – and at some time point his social or literary life must have intersected with that of Mariana to occasion this ‘honor’ . For, while the Ladies of Epsom may have been ignorant of the fact that they harboured a young Poet in their midst, her literary mentors were not – Mariana was in the custom of enclosing poems in her letters to Hayley. And to Hayley she made clear her feelings about Epsom society, writing at the end of a 7 January 1782 letter, ‘Pardon this hasty and stupid scrawl, as I am going to dress for an Epsom Party, the very thought of which, has benumbed my faculties.’ Both Mariana and her mother doubtless felt more stimulated at gatherings at which literature and ideas took precedence over discussions of hairdressing and caps. Not only did they utilise the circulating libraries but when in Town they made a point of visiting booksellers. In a letter to Mrs Hayley, dated 2 August 1781, Mrs Starke wrote, ‘Marian and I were at Dodsley’s the other day. The counter was covered by Mr Hayley’s poems, nothing sells so well. Dodsley did himself great credit with us, by his manner of speaking of Mr Hayley, second to none, now living, or that ever did live!’
Dodsley – whose shop was in Pall Mall – had recently published Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper, a didactic work illustrating the usefulness of a good temper to a young woman in search of a husband. See here for a Dulwich Picture Gallery page setting Romney’s portrait of Hayley alongside one of his illustrations from Triumph of Temper
The literary Epsom ladies maintained their interest in furthering the publication of interesting new works by women, subscribing to two important works of the period. In 1785 Millecent Parkhurst (‘Miss Parkhurst, Epsom’) and ‘Mrs Starke, Epsom’ were subscribers to Poems by Ann Yearsley, the Bristol milkwoman and protegee of Hannah More and in 1786 Mariana, her mother and Mrs Parkhurst were all subscribers to Helen Maria Williams’ Poems. The women may well have supported other publications, their connection not yet brought to light by the digital scanner. We can, however, be certain that these were two works that, along with The Song of Solomon, Hayley’s poems and that oddity, Whisper in the ear of the author of Thelypthora’?, were definitely on the shelves in Hyland House in the late 1780s. It was not to be long before Mariana, together with Millecent Parkhurst,- put her own pen into public action.
Sources: William Hayley Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Although Mariana Starke’s grandfather, John Starke, was never an employee of the East India Company, both his sons, Richard and John, were. Richard Starke (1719 – 93) – yet to be the father of Mariana – sailed from London in 1734 as a passenger in the Onslow to Fort St George, taking with him wine, a chest of apparel and an escritoire. In Fort St George he could have resumed contact with his mother’s family, the Empsons.
On 29 December 1735 Richard Starke entered ‘the service of the Honourable Co on the coast of Coromandel as ‘Writer Entertained’. A 1736 note made clear that it was ‘out of regard for his father’ that he was ‘taken into our service’, a 10 May 1737 dispatch confirming that ‘Mr Richard Starke is so usefull a hand in the Secretary’s Office’. During the following years his father sent out to him several boxes ‘of apparel’ and in 1746 ‘two boxes of books’, in 1747 one box of books and a hat, in 1750 one box of pamphlets and pens, in 1752 a box of books and in 1753 a pair of scales, a lanthorn and books. In April 1747 Richard was joined as a writer in the EIC by his younger brother, John Starke (aged 22), who sailed out on the Houghton with one chest, one escritoire, and a bundle of bedding
A dispatch from Fort St George to England, dated 22 February 1749, stated that Richard Starke, who had been ‘upper searcher at Madras – now appointed to that position at Cuddalore [i.e. Fort St David]. By 2 November 1749 he had been appointed ‘second’ at Fort St George – that is ‘under deputy governor’ and in February 1752 he succeeded Mr Prince as deputy governor of Fort St David, formally taking office on 31 July 1752.
Fort St David, about a mile from Cuddalore, was a small fortified town, near to the sea and, by all accounts, a very comfortable billet. In The Life of Lord Clive Sir George Forrest quotes the following description of the area: ‘The country within the boundaries is very pleasant, and the air fine, having seldom any fogs. In the district are many neat houses with gardens; the latter were laid out with much good taste by the gentlemen, who either had been, or were in the company’s service. These gardens produce fruits of different sorts, such as pine-apples, oranges, limes, pomegranates, plantaines, bananoes, mangoes, guavas, (red and white,) bedams (a sort of almond), pimple-nose, called in the West Indies, chadocks, a very fine large fruit of the citron-kind, but of four or five times it’s size, and many others. At the end of each gentleman’s garden there is generally a shady grove of cocoanut trees.’
Clearly it was all too comfortable to last. First we hear that John Starke, who was also working at Fort St David, under the Paymaster, received a peremptory dismissal for which no reason was given; a dispatch from London to Madras, 31 Jan 1755 merely noted: ‘The services of John Starke are dispensed with.’.’ Having no further occasion for the service of Mr John Starke he is upon receipt of this to be accordingly discharged from the Company’s service’.
A year later Richard Starke was compelled to write the following letter, dated 19 August 1756:
‘Honourable Sir and Sirs [to the President and Governors of Fort St George] I am to acquaint you that agreeable to your orders of the [lacuna] June I have delivered over the charge of the settlement of Fort St David to Col Robert Clive and as I imagine by the Company’s having been pleased to supersede me, by the appointment of that Gentleman so much my junior in their service, my conduct cannot have been so agreeable to them as I can assure Your Honour etc I have endeavoured to make it, I am to desire permission to resign their employ and return to Europe. Richard Starke.’
To the letter was subsequently appended a brief note: ‘In which the Board acquiesce’.
A dispatch of 21 November 1756 gave further information. ‘Starke handed over charge to Clive, returned to Madras in August, and requested leave to resign the service as he had been superseded by Clive.’ A further dispatch, 20 October 1757, gave a list of the passengers sailing to England on the Norfolk, among whom were Richard and John Starke.
Thus ended, rather ignominiously, Richard Starke’s Indian career, ousted by the very much more wily and ambitious Robert Clive. I am sure that a reading might be made of The Sword of Peace in the light of Mariana’s close knowledge of these events.
In 1759 Richard Starke married Mary Hughes, the 23-year-old daughter of Isaac Hughes, a merchant of Crutched Friars in the City of London, and Yewlands House, Banstead. Mariana, born in the last week of September 1762, was their first surviving child; I think a first son had died soon after birth. UPDATE (6 April 2014) I’ve just found a news report in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels.
Richard’s father, John Starke, died in a year later, in October, 1763. His will reveals some family dissension. Richard and his sister, Martha, appear to have been involved in a lawsuit, presumably involving John, the result being that, although John Starke left Hylands House at Epsom to Richard, the main part of his wealth was to bypass Richard, to be settled on Richard’s children. Thus, by the time she was a year old, Mariana Starke was living in a large, pleasant house in Epsom, where her father, who never again took up employment, could maintain a position in society on account of his Indian EIC service and, while probably not overburdened with great wealth, could live with a certain nabob style.
In ‘What Mariana Starke was Not’ I explain that she was not – as has so often been cited – born in India. ‘India’ was, however, a formative presence in her worldview, a continent with which generations of her forebears had been associated. For, c 1710/11, it was to India that the young man who was to be her grandfather, John Starke (1685-1765), set sail. Having dealt with the many law suits he had inherited from his father, Thomas Starke, merchant and slave trader, John turned his back on the Virginia plantations and joined the East India ship, Averilla, heading for Madras.
Why did he forsake America for India? Doubtless the reasons were of the economic variety – he saw better prospects in the East. The fact that 25 years later the grandson of Micajah Perry, one of Thomas Starke’s most successful associates, was forced to sell his home, Hylands House in Epsom, and that the buyer was John Starke, would appear to vindicate the decision.
John Starke settled down to life in India, marrying, in 1713 at Fort St George, Martha Empson, whose father, now dead, had been an English merchant there. John Starke, described as a ‘seafaring man in the Madras service’, was not an employee of the East India Company but certainly travelled on their ships as supra cargo (or supercargo) – that is with responsibility for the management of the cargo and its trading.
It is possible still to catch glimpses of John Starke’s life as a free merchant at Fort St George. For instance in February 1724 an East India Company ship, the Lynn, travelling out to ‘the coast of Coromandel’, carried on it for his use 6 rheams of paper £12; 2 fowling pieces [guns] £5; 2 hatts and 2 wiggs £12. John and Martha Starke had a son, Richard, born in Madras in 1719 and a daughter, Martha. The family returned to England in early 1727, sailing on the ship Lyell. This may have been for the sake of the health of John’s wife, for she died in England, buried on 24 November 1730 at St Dunstan in the East, the churchyard that had in the previous half century received so many Starke bodies.
John travelling back east in 1731 and in 1732 was appointed supra cargo for a ship sailing to China.He was now, for a short time, associated with the developing China trade but by the end of 1734 had returned to England, buying and settling into Hylands House, Epsom, which comprised ‘a messuage, forecourt, coachouse, stables and other outhouses and garden, ¾ acre’.
His son, Richard, was not, however, able to enjoy the pleasures of Epsom for in 1735 he began his career with the East India Company. He still had family – the Empsons – in Fort St George. In 1736 John Starke had sent there to Matthew Empson (either his brother in law or his nephew) ‘a box of books and apparel’ Empsons continued through several generations to live in Madras and Mariana may have been aware of these Indian relations – although they are never mentioned in any extant correspondence.
Comfortably settled in Epsom, John Starke maintained his interest in travel, in 1745 subscribing to A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels in Europe, Asia, Africa etc by John Green. At some point (I have, as yet, been unable to trace the date) he remarried – taking as his second wife Honor, daughter of Sir Thomas Rawlinson and sister of Mary Rawlinson, devoted friend of his sister, Martha. Starke clearly was the uxorious type, losing no time, after Honor’s death in February 1751, in marrying in October, at Temple Church, Ann Clotterbooke. He died 14 years later and was buried at St Mary, Ewell, on 11 April 1765.
In John Starke’s will, among the usual bequests, was one leaving £2000 [2012 = £229,000] to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, specifying that part of the money was to be applied ‘by the Society towards such charitable purposes as they shall judge most efficacious towards converting the savage Indians in our American colonies and late Acquisition’ [ie territory gained up to the Mississippi following victory over the French in 1763].He stresses the need to extend the Gospel ‘in all the remote and uncivilised parts of our settlement where providence has been graciously pleased to open a fair field to us (and probably for that purpose). It seems as though John Starke felt the necessity of making amends – one takes it that conversion to Christianity was intended as a gift – to at least one group affected by his family’s business dealings in North America – while blustering, even in his will, that English men were also the gift of providence.
On her death, also in 1765, his former sister-in-law, Mary Rawlinson left to John’s daughter, Martha, ‘my dressing table and the dressing stand in my own bedchamber, the bureau in the maid’s room and the black and gold Japan corner cabinet in my bed chamber, the Japan tea table in the parlour, the little mahogany table in ditto and likewise my tea board and writer and all my china ware except 6 blue and white cups and saucer… I give likewise to Miss Starke a pair of glass salts and the turkey carpet in my bed chamber.’ Martha Starke never married and I have wondered if any of these delightful pieces were eventually subsumed into the Hylands House furnishings, to be appreciated by Mariana Starke.
Source: The East India Company papers in the British Library provide a wealth of easily accessible details of life about individual ‘British in India’.