What happened to Parson John Ambrose and his family?

In our last article we recorded part of the life of ‘Parson Ambrose’, the Reverend John Ambrosse, the natural son of Lord Blaquiere, an Irish peer, and Caroline Ambrosse, sister of Henrietta Ambrosse who achieved fame in the latter half of the 18th century as an actress, known professionally by the names of Miss Ambrose, Mrs Kelfe and Mrs Egerton.

John Ambrose by Francis Wheatley. (c) Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We left him, in December 1813, in the Fleet prison, held for debt.  By the winter of 1816, he had regained his freedom and was in Paris attending the Sunday Soirees of the Duchess of Orleans. Rees Howell Gronow, the biographer of Lord Byron, recalled a meeting with him at this time.

 There were many English present also.  Among the most remarkable was a gentleman known by the appellation of “Parson Ambrose,” a natural son of Lord de Blaquiere’s. He was good-looking and dressed like a gentleman of the old regime. He wore black silk breeches, with buckles both to his knees and shoes, and the frills to his shirt were of the finest Malines lace. Sir Charles Stewart, upon entering the saloon, beckoned to the parson, who said, “Well, Sir Charles, I am in a bad state.” “What is the matter with you?” “I have a complaint in the chest, your Excellency.” “What Doctor have you consulted?” “Lafitte,” replied the parson. “I have never heard of him except as a banker. Well, what has he done for you?” “Nothing.” Sir Charles, now discovering the meaning of the ‘chest complaint,’ said, in his good-natured way, “Come to the Embassy to-morrow morning, and I will see what can be done to cure your complaint.” The parson accordingly went and found the ambassador at breakfast with the Duke of Wellington. After talking over olden times, when the Duke was merely Captain Wellesley, and lived on intimate terms with the parson in Dublin, his Grace kindly presented Ambrose with a hundred guineas, to take him back to England for change of air; which, he trusted, would contribute to the restoration of his health.

Ambrosse’s first marriage in 1787 had been to Mary Mahon, a lady born of a musical family who appeared herself on the London stage as a soprano. By 1798 five children had been born to the couple, only three of whom were still surviving and Ambrosse had deserted his wife.  Two of these children died as infants but the surviving three, all sons,  Samuel Bertie Ambrosse, Beresford Ambrosse and John Ambrosse, were enlisted to the East India Company’s army.

Beresford Ambrosse died in 1824 in India, a Captain in the 8th Regiment of the Bombay Native Infantry. His feckless father was in Nantes in France a year later, beset by debts and on the run from his creditors when he had another child, a daughter named Juliana. This baby’s mother was Juliana Catherine Colyear, herself the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Portmore. There was quite an age difference between the couple, Ambrosse being aged 57 years in 1825 and Juliana around 20 or 21 years old. The couple weren’t married, and it is possible concerns about his first marriage prevented this as May was still alive and we have yet to discover a divorce for the couple. A further daughter was born, named Emma, on the 18th July 1833, the family still residing in Nantes. Finally, on the 15th July 1834, his first wife having died in 1830, John Ambrosse took his mistress to the house of the French Ambassador in Paris and made her his wife, although he did claim to be a bachelor on the marriage register!

Nantes by William Wyle (1806-1889). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.
Nantes by William Wyle (1806-1889). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

 Juliana Catherine Colyear’s background and ancestry deserves to be examined and we make no apologies for going off at a tangent here and recording the story of her ancestors. Her mother was Harriet Bishopp, daughter of Colonel Henry (Harry) and Mrs Mary Bishopp of Sussex with illustrious family connections. Colonel Harry was the youngest son of Sir Cecil Bishopp and Harry’s sister Frances was the wife of Sir George Warren. In the September of 1791, at the age of 22, Harriet had married one Henry Jackson, reportedly an ’eminent solicitor’ and the two had settled down to married life. In 1793 Henry Jackson suffered a paralytic stroke and Harriet added the role of nurse to that of devoted wife up until July 1799 when she met Viscount Milsington at a ball thrown by Lady Charles Somerset. Milsington, or Thomas Charles Colyear, was the eldest son of the 3rd Earl of Portmore, his mother being a daughter of the Earl of Rothes and he had been married to Lady Mary Elizabeth Bertie, only child of Brownlow Bertie, the 5th Duke of Ancaster and heir to a fortune. One child had been born of that union, a son named Brownlow Charles Colyear in 1796 and Lady Mary Elizabeth had died the following year.

William Colyear, 3rd Earl of Portmore (father of Thomas Charles Colyear, Viscount Milsington) by Allan Ramsay (National Trust, Penrhyn Castle)
William Colyear, 3rd Earl of Portmore (father of Thomas Charles Colyear, Viscount Milsington) by Allan Ramsay (National Trust, Penrhyn Castle)

The acquaintance between Harriet Jackson and Lord Milsington was renewed the following summer at Ascot Races and Harriet passed Milsington off to her husband and his relations as the suitor of one of her unmarried sisters, a ruse that was totally believed by all concerned. Henry Jackson positively encouraged Milsington to spend time with his extended family, even inviting him to stay at his own house, keen to have a sister in law married to an heir to an Earldom, never thinking he was being cuckolded. Months passed and by the summer of 1801 Jackson was beginning to suspect that something was amiss, the expected marriage proposal to Miss Bishopp not having materialized and he ordered his wife to break off the friendship and not to allow him to visit again. He left it to his wife to decide how to break this news to Milsington. Faced with the prospect of having to break off contact with her lover, Harriet was distraught and there was an added complication. She had a child, one that although recognized as the legitimate child of her husband, had been born since she had begun her relationship with Lord Milsington (she had fallen pregnant before this but it had resulted in a miscarriage). Milsington expressed his wish to look after her and her child and on the 4th August 1801 she ran away from her husband’s house and eloped with her lover. It is not known whether she took the child with her.

Henry Jackson instituted a criminal conversation or ‘crim. con.’ trial against Lord Milsington and this was heard on the 9th January 1802. The Miss Bishopp whom Milsington had supposedly been paying his attentions to did not appear, through reasons of delicacy, and various witnesses were examined. They all expressed surprise at the elopement, having no idea of the attachment and no evidence was produced against Milsington apart from a letter to his ‘beloved’ and ‘adored’ Harriet which was found in a drawer of her desk.

I hope most earnestly very soon to see that my beloved Harriet was not the worse for the expedition of yesterday. I wished very much to have called this morning, to have inquired after her, but thought if I did, I should not have the pleasure of passing the evening with the only woman in the world that I have the smallest attachment to, an attachment so strong and fixed, that nothing in the world can alter. I never can be happy till we live together, with that dear little angel that so resembles the figure of its dearest mother; it makes me quite miserable, the thoughts of leaving town; I cannot bear to be separated from you, my love; I hope it will not be the case; I am sure we could be happy together, and my only study the happiness of you, my adored Harriet, and the welfare of your children. Pray, my love, let me see you to-morrow if it is in your power. I wish very, very much, that we may meet to fix when we shall meet not to part again. Perhaps you will not have an opportunity of reading this before I am obliged to leave you, therefore I will be in Hart-street, at the usual place, at twelve o’clock to-morrow; pray come as soon after as you can; and believe me most sincerely, affectionately, and faithfully, yours ever, M.

Henry Jackson won the case, being awarded £2,000 damages for the loss of his wife’s affections and society, with Milsington having to pay the costs of the case too.

The Portsmouth Telegraph or Mottley’s Naval and Military Journal reported on the 18th January 1802, shortly after the close of the trial that:

Parmesan and prunelloes seem to be exploded in crim.con. fashions.  It appeared on a late trial, that Lord Milsington made his way to the heart of Mrs. Jackson by the means of Sandwiches at Ascot Races. The favourite food of the frail fair has changed much since the original apple.

Seven children were born to Lord Milsington and Harriet Jackson, all out of wedlock. Sod’s Law decrees that the only two for whom we can find no record of their birth or baptism includes Juliana Catherine, the one we are most interested in, but we can record her siblings here.

Mary Ann Colyear, born 6th June 1802 (died a spinster)

Thomas David Colyear, born 15th May 1805 (died 8th August 1875 at Dekani near Simlar, Lt Col of the 7th Bengal Light Infantry)

Charles Frederick Colyear, born 12th June 1806 (married Matilda Frances Winsor at St. Marylebone in 1828)

Martin Thomas Colyear, born 26th May 1807 (sent out a cadet in the East India Co. army c.1822 and died at Dum Dum, Bengal, on the 13th February 1827)

Elinor Mary Colyear, born 8th July 1808 (married Jerome Francis Edouard Roger in 1829, possibly died 1878)

Harriet Frances Colyear (married André Libert Romain Viollet, a professor of languages, died January 1888)

It is worth noting that Juliana Catherine stated that she was 27 years old in 1833 at the birth registration of her daughter Emma in Nantes, putting her birth around 1806. It is more likely that she was actually born 1803-1804 and was knocking a couple of years off her age.

There is also an interesting baptism on the 8th September 1814 at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster, for a Catherine Marianne Colyear, daughter of Thomas Charles Colyear and Elizabeth Penny, possibly another child by a different mother.

At the time of Milsington’s marriage with his first wife, the heiress of the 5th Duke of Ancaster, a sum of £38,000 had been settled on the couple jointly. Milsington, often to be found at the races in esteemed company, including the Prince of Wales and Sir John Lade, quickly found himself in embarrassed circumstances and had borrowed £10,000 from an army agent, Mr Bruce, signing over to him his interest in various annuities and rent charges.

The Duke of Ancaster duly died in 1809 and left his property (but not his estate or titles) to his only grandson, Brownlow Charles Colyear, the terms of the will stating that Brownlow should receive some of the money when he came of age and the remainder when he reached 25 years. Upon coming into some of his inheritance on his twenty-first birthday, Brownlow agreed to pay some off his father’s debts and obtained a decree against Mr Bruce ordering a reassignment of the interest. Obviously fond of his half-brothers and sisters even though he had grown up at the Bertie estate of Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, he agreed that £20,000 out of the £38,000 should be put aside for portions for these sisters.

The North Front of Grimsthorpe as rebuilt by Vanbrugh as drawn in 1819. Vanbrugh's Stone Hall occupies the space between the columns on both floors. (Wikimedia)
The North Front of Grimsthorpe as rebuilt by Vanbrugh as drawn in 1819. Vanbrugh’s Stone Hall occupies the space between the columns on both floors. (Wikimedia)

Brownlow never reached his twenty-fifth birthday. He undertook the ‘Grand Tour’ in 1802 and at Gensano whilst on the road to Rome from Naples, armed banditti rushed out from the cover of a nearby wood and ambushed his carriage, murdering his servants and wounding Brownlow by slashing his arm with a sabre whilst they stole a ring from his finger. Leaving the dead behind they took Brownlow into the mountains, intending to hold him to ransom, but he died of his wounds and of shock three days later aged only 22 years. The other occupants of the carriage arrived, destitute of everything they owned, at Rome some days later, claiming that a post of troops on the road, there to ensure the safety of travellers, had refused to help them. Brownlow’s body was taken to Naples and thence on to England where he was buried, at Weybridge, on the 28th July 1819.

Brownlow Charles Colyear had left his father his entire property but he had died before the executory agreements on the settlement for his half-sisters had been carried into effect and this proved disastrous for those half-sisters. The money from the settlement had been invested in funds which were sold and Milsington, by now the Earl of Portmore had allowed his solicitor, Mr Sermon, to receive the proceeds and to pay Mr Bruce what he was owed. Of the £20,000 which had been promised, £19,000 remained in Mr Sermon’s hands and the seven natural Colyear children, of which Juliana was one, claimed their inheritance but the Countess of Mulgrave, the widow of the surviving trustee of the settlement, blocked this.

Juliana’s unmarried sister, Mary Ann Colyear, began a law suit in 1820 on behalf of her and her three sisters to recover this money. Their father, the Earl of Portmore, died in January 1835, after having made a second marriage in 1828 to Frances, daughter of William Murrells, and the legal case was still rumbling on. The Earl seemed to have changed his mind about the provision for his daughters; perhaps it had been a condition of his second marriage for his wife to have a settlement upon her but he now wanted to money to be used for her benefit. His sons were provided for, two having joined the East India Company’s army and Charles Frederick joining the regular army.

To return to our subject, the Reverend John Ambrosse referred to this suit in his own hearing for debt in 1836 when he said he had expectations of an inheritance through his wife of a quarter share of the £20,000. This expectation was never to be realized, the children’s illegitimacy barring them from effecting their claim.

Parson Ambrosse returned to his living at Blisworth, Northamptonshire in 1836, his wife and two daughters in tow. On Christmas Eve in 1837, he buried his eldest daughter, Juliana aged 12 years, the burial register recording her abode as Stony Stratford, some ten miles away from Blisworth.

A son was born in January 1838, named John David Long Ambrosse, but less than a month later Parson Ambrosse was again in court for debt, reeling off his past addresses, ‘formerly of Dean St Soho, then of Paris France, afterwards of Pall Mall Middx, since of Nantes in France, then of Blisworth Northants and lately staying at the Cathedral Coffee House, St. Paul’s Churchyard.‘  By the end of March 1838, he was able to add another address to the list, that of the Fleet Prison in London where he was once again a prisoner.

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 After baptizing his son at Greenwich in Kent on 29th March 1839, recorded as being of Skinners Buildings, Parson Ambrosse died just weeks later and was buried in his churchyard at Blisworth alongside his young daughter Juliana, on 6th June, his age 71 years. His wife appeared at Richmond in Surrey three years later when her son John David Long Ambrosse was recorded as having been received into the church there. Although John left a will anything he owned was taken to repay his creditors.

 In a codicil to her will written in 1841, the Dowager Countess of Portmore, second wife of the 4th Earl, left £3,000 to Thomas David Colyear of the 7 Bengal Light Cavalry; he was the only one of her husband’s brood of illegitimate children to be mentioned in that document.  Juliana Ambrosse didn’t receive a penny.

 Samuel Bertie Ambrosse Esquire died at Carlton Hill, St. John’s Wood in 1854 aged 65, most often recorded simply as Bertie Ambrosse. He clearly followed in the family footsteps with more than a passing interest in the arts, writing various poems including the much acclaimed Opoleyta, a poem in four cantos.

His half-sister Emma Ambrosse was educated at first at Vineyard Lodge in Richmond (1841 census) and then at Raby House School on Finchley Road in Hampstead where she was listed as a 17-year-old pupil in 1851, a governess to the children of Lady Rous at Henham in Suffolk in 1871 and by 1891 was lodging in Eaton Terrace, Hanover Square, a retired governess.

John’s second wife Juliana was still alive in 1881 where she appeared on the census return for that year, as an inmate of  Bethnal Green workhouse “Licensed House For Reception of Insane” and was recorded as being a lunatic. She died a few years later in 1887, aged 80.

3 thoughts on “What happened to Parson John Ambrose and his family?

  1. brisgirl

    I was wondering why Mary Mahon later married John Portis as a spinster. Now, thanks to your articles, I have the whole story. Many thanks 🙂


  2. Pingback: Charles Macklin | All Things Georgian

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