When you begin to research a person’s life, especially one who has frequently been written about, you suddenly find that you’ve opened a real can of worms with more and more information toppling out every day. This has never more so than in the research into the life and extended family of Dido Elizabeth Belle with many new facts being found. The more time we’ve spent down this proverbial rabbit hole the more we have managed to piece together.
Her father, Sir John Lindsay is well-known to anyone who knows anything about Dido and if they didn’t know that Sir John had several illegitimate children, then they probably know about his high achieving naval career. Our interest in his career has merely been a sideline, we needed to know more about his career in order to validate elements of Dido’s life.
We know that Sir John was the younger son of Sir Alexander Lindsay, of Evelick and his wife Amelia Murray, the sister of Lord Mansfield who lived in what today is a ruined castle at Evelick, Perth, Scotland.
We know that they had also two daughters, one being Margaret, who married the famous artist Allan Ramsay.
We know that his elder brother Sir David Lindsay who was married to Susannah Long whose family lived in Jamaica where they owned plantations Sir David inherited the title from his father and her brother was Edward Long, the famous author of The History of Jamaica, his views on slavery were, even at that time considered extreme.
We know that Sir John’s other sister, Katherine, married Lord Henderland and that Sir Alexander’s children were nephews to Lord Mansfield.
Why are we telling you things you probably know? Well, we could argue that that is the whole point, it’s all pretty well documented, you can find all of this is in books and online in a matter of minutes if you wanted to, such being the power of the internet!
It wasn’t until we started trying to find exact dates for the baptisms of Sir Alexander’s children (with no luck whatsoever), that annoyingly, we realised that none of them appeared to have been baptised, which seems extremely unusual for that period in time. We don’t seem to have fathomed that one out. Nor, so far, does there appear to be any record of a marriage for Sir Alexander to Amelia although we’re sure they were legally married.
All references we have seen about Sir John Lindsay state that he was the younger son i.e. one of two sons. What does, however, seem to have been almost completely air-brushed out of the family history is Sir Alexander’s middle son – William Lindsay. We stumbled across his existence by chance and began to delve further and have only found two references to his existence in books, but why?
Well, in all likelihood, William who was born 18th December 1734, left Scotland when aged just 16 and set off for a role in the East India Company. Sir Alexander had an heir – David, so it fell to the second son to take a different path in life.
How do we know of his existence? Because it was his uncle, William Murray, later to become the 1st Lord Mansfield who confirmed it in a letter written in 1750. The letter was written from Lincoln’s Inn to the all-powerful East India Company (EIC) when William was being sent out to India to make his fortune and was as confirmation of his age and explaining that the EIC wouldn’t find a baptism for the boy, as none existed. The document also confirms that William had successfully undertaken a course in mathematics and book-keeping.
William appears to have been posted as a lieutenant to, what was then known as British Bencoolen in Sumatra (now Bengkula). We then came across the sad report of his death in the EIC records. He was suffering from mental health issues and was being returned home to Britain by ship when he died at sea around September 1779.
His death appears to have made even more tragic as he left 3 orphans when he died. So far we haven’t been able to trace these children nor find out what became of them. We know that a committee met to discuss their plight decide what was to be done with them, but they concluded that more information was required from Scotland before any decision could be reached.
Given that both Sir John and William were in the EIC we wondered whether the two brothers would ever have met up; of course, we have no idea but it would be good to believe that if they did and that they exchanged news about both families. We do wonder what, if anything Dido knew of her uncle or of her cousins.
For a complete list of articles written to date about Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family follow the highlighted link.
Jervise, Andrew. The history and traditions of the land of the Lindsays in Angus
British India Collection
Government House & Council House, Fort Marlborough, Benkulen, Sumatra, 1799 Yale Centre for British Art