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

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.

Henrietta and Caroline Ambrose

It sometimes happens when researching that you innocently follow a possible lead and end up opening a can of worms. This article started out as one such can!

It started at the end of our research into the 18th-century actress Hannah Norsa who we wrote about earlier. One of the informants into her life was recorded as her god-daughter, a woman who was herself an actress, known by the various names of Miss Ambrose, Mrs Egerton and Mrs Kelfe. Thinking it might shed more light on Hannah we looked into this woman’s life, and here present all the collated information we can find on her, together with some new details.

Henrietta Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum
Henrietta Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

The two Ambrose sisters were well known on the London and Dublin stages from the 1760s and for the next twenty years. The Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 does not record their first names (many documents from that time do not do so and it is difficult therefore to trace them), the eldest, the one who became Mrs Egerton and Kelfe being simply Miss Ambrose and her younger sister Miss E. Ambrose. It also records a rather fanciful beginning for them; their father, a Portuguese Jewish gentleman, was attached to the British army in Gibraltar and was hung there as a spy in the early 1740s. The two Ambrose sisters, it states, were born in Gibraltar, the elder around the year 1739. The family seemed to favour the spelling Ambrosse for their surname away from the stage.

After the death of their father, Mrs Rachael Ambrosse returned to London with her two young daughters, settling in the Westminster area where she married a Mr Joseph Jona, a language master and prompter at the Opera.

Henrietta herself though, in a letter written during 1769 to the actor Charles Macklin, gives her birth as 1743 in St. Martin’s Street, Leicester Fields, Westminster. The truth is probably a little less adventurous then, and her father could be either a Mr Ambrosse or Mr Jona as she and the rest of her family use both surnames. Indeed, research from the Holst museum indicates that Rachael was born Rachel Therisa del Jijona, possibly a native of Bristol and also possibly spending her early years in Spain and, to somewhat corroborate this, at her burial Rachel is listed as the daughter of Joseph Jona, not his wife, although we must stress that the document we have viewed is a transcript and not an original. This source has her returning to England in 1758. We know, however, that she was certainly in England towards the end of 1756 and Joseph Jona was resident in London in 1755.

Rachel Therisa of Jijona, near Alicante, Spain by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Rachel Therisa of Jijona, near Alicante, Spain by Francis Wheatley. Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum

Mr Jona lived, with his family, in Little Warwick Street, Charing Cross, near to Charlton House and it was there that he died at the end of October 1756, his residence then being given in the newspaper announcements of his death as Warwick Lane.

23 Oct 1756 – London Evening Post
Lately died, at his House in Warwick-Lane, Mr. Jona, Master of Languages, and Prompter to the Opera.

These reports also tell us that Mr Jona died after a lingering illness. He was buried in the Novo or New Spanish and Portuguese Jewish burial ground in Mile End.

In the December of that year a benefit concert was given, starring Peg Woffington and Ned Shuter, for the ‘Widow Jona and her five children.’ So another three children had either been born to Mr and Mrs Jona unless they were his children from a previous relationship. We can name only three of these children, Henrietta (who became Mrs Kelfe and Mrs Egerton), her sister Caroline (who may or may not be the same as the actress known as Miss E. Ambrose) and a brother named Samuel, variously surnamed Ambrosse, Jona and Jona Ambrosse. Take your pick as to who was his father! Samuel, who seemed to prefer the surname Jona himself, was an apothecary and gentleman, living quietly in the Mile End Road, siring two sons named Joseph and Isaac and shunning the stage although both his sisters remembered him in their wills.

Margaret 'Peg' Woffington (1714?–1760) by Philippe Mercier; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Margaret ‘Peg’ Woffington (1714?–1760) by Philippe Mercier. National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

Two years later, in 1758, another benefit concert was given for the widowed Mrs Jona and her children and from this, we know that she had moved from Little Warwick Street to Cullum Street near Fenchurch Street, and she was still listed in that area in 1759.

In 1760 the two sisters took to the stage, first at Smock Alley in Dublin where they travelled with their mother and then at Winchester. On the 22nd May 1761 Henrietta, back in London, married James Calfe, a limner or engraver, by licence at St. Marylebone; she married as Henrietta Jona and the two witnesses were Thomas Stokes and Rachel Jona.

When Henrietta and Caroline made their first appearance on the London stage three weeks later, sharing the boards with Robert Baddeley and Tom Weston whom we have talked about before, they both used Ambrose as their surname. By the October of 1761 Henrietta was once again playing at Smock Alley in Dublin, appearing as Miss Ambrose, but when the same play was performed again a month later she was billed as Mrs Kelf.

One rumoured tale about the marriage has James Calfe or Kelfe as both an engraver and a bailiff who, when pursuing a debt that Rachel Ambrosse had incurred, offered to pay it himself if he could marry the daughter.  Certainly, Henrietta was attractive, a contemporary report being that she had a ‘pleasing face, added an elegant figure, with a pleasantry of conversation perfectly agreeable’.

Henrietta’s marriage to James Kelfe seems to have fallen apart quite quickly and both sisters were known to take lovers in Ireland, rumoured amongst whom are Sir Henry Echlin, an Irish Baronet who possessed a sizeable estate at Rush near to Dublin, the Marquis of Tavistock, George Finch Hatton, Major B_rch and Colonel Bertie. One source has Sir Henry Echlin persuading James Kelfe of ‘the strength of his passion so strongly, by the strength of his purse, that little more was necessary than common forms to make himself sole possessor of the object of his desires’. Always inconstant, the story goes that Echlin transferred his affections after a while to the younger sister, whom Mrs Ambrosse declared to be an adoptive daughter to counter slanders on him moving from one sister to another.  One wonders how she then countered the rumour that, after tiring of the daughter, he made a conquest of the mother, reputedly declaring that ‘could anyone woman fix his inclinations, it must be Mrs A___’ .

In 1789, after the death of Ann Catley, a contemporary of these Ambrose sisters on the stage in London and Ireland, a book was published by ‘Miss E. Ambross’ titled the ‘Life and Memoirs of the Late Miss Ann Catley’. Whether or not she really did write this is, however, uncertain; the only biographical information included about the Ambrose family was the triumvirate between mother, daughters and Sir Henry Echlin, certainly not one of their finest hours and one best not trumpeted to the world.  With no evidence, either way, we can only say that we have doubts about her stated authorship.

The pursuits of Sir Henry were not more reputable than those of his lady.  M__k__n [Charles Macklin] the actor had brought over to Dublin two theatrical pupils, the Am_____’s who were sisters and Jewesses. With these ladies Sir Henry formed a family connection. He took them and their mother into his house, lay in the same bed with the daughters, and the tongue of scandal went so far as to assert that the old gentlewoman did not pass unnoticed. His house exhibited a scene of continued revelling, debauchery and extravagance – mortgage followed mortgage – foreclosures produced sales, till at last the unhappy baronet was obliged to fly his country, and was so reduced in circumstance that he officiated in a tavern at Paris in the degrading situation of a waiter. Recently however he has emerged from that degenerate situation and has received a trifling pension for the performance of secret services.

Ann Catley as Euphrosyne in Milton's 'Comus', 1777. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Ann Catley as Euphrosyne in Milton’s ‘Comus’, 1777. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

The sisters lived with Major B_rch and Colonel Bertie in Drogheda in the summer of 1765, Major B_rch being Henrietta’s lover and Colonel Bertie falling to her younger sister, the two gentlemen both with the army and quartered in the area.   As their mother was not provided for, and as the gentlemen had taken a house between them for themselves and the two sisters, they decided to move her in as gouvernante.  On one occasion the two sisters quarrelled over who should take precedence at the dinner table and Mrs Ambrosse settled the matter by seating herself at the head of the table.  Of all these lovers George Finch Hatton and Colonel Bertie were at least fondly remembered by the family (Rachael Ambrosse/Jona left them both a small bequest in her will and Bertie’s surname was given as a middle name to one of Caroline’s grandchildren).

In Ireland, Caroline began an affair with an army officer, Lord John de Blaquiere, the son of a French merchant emigrant, and bore two illegitimate children to him, a daughter named Henrietta in 1766 and a son named John two years later.

Henrietta, meanwhile, was reputed to have taken up with a French lady, a Madame B___ who possessed ‘uncommon wit and sprightliness’ and removed herself to Paris around the year 1766.  The Drury Lane Memoirs assert that Madame B__ had taken a ‘particular penchant’ to Henrietta and described them as two ‘female lovers’.  Both sisters are absent from the stage at this time for some years and certainly, in May 1769 Henrietta was in Montpellier in France as she wrote to Charles Macklin from there on the 18th of the month. Signing herself  ‘H. Kelfe’ she asked Macklin to ‘immediately institute a suit in Doctor’s Commons against James Calfe, engraver, for giving out that he is [her] husband.‘  It is in this letter that she states she was born in 1743 in St. Martin’s Street and also gives exact details of her 1761 marriage to Calfe. Her distinct use of the two different variations of her surname implies that, by her use of Kelfe, she was distancing herself from James Calfe.

A month later she wrote again to Macklin, this time from Bordeaux, telling him that ‘she will never forget what he has done to liberate her from her troubles.’ It seems likely that the trouble he liberated her from was that of her husband. She also informed Macklin that she longed to hear some London gossip.  By the middle of October Henrietta was in Turin in Italy and again wrote to Macklin, reproaching him for not answering her previous two letters. She had seen Voltaire, had dined with ambassadors and been hunting with the King and the Duchess de Savoy.

It is not known who Henrietta was travelling with but by October 1770 she was back in London with yet another change of name and engaged with David Garrick to appear at Drury Lane. The Middlesex Journal reported that:

Last night Mrs Egerton, lately Mrs Kelf, formerly Miss Ambross, appeared for the first time at the Theatre Royal in Drury-lane, and was tolerably well received in that difficult character of Lady Townley.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775. Victoria & Albert Museum.

In 1773 Lord de Blaquiere resigned his commission in the army to concentrate on his political career and it was possibly this decision that influenced his decision to reform his private life too, his mistress and illegitimate children now surplus to requirements. He commanded his friends Sir Richard Croft and Lord Denman to take his daughter Henrietta away from her mother, Caroline Ambrosse; Henrietta was sent to his sister Susanna in Neuchatel in Switzerland where she lived with her husband, a Swiss official, Samuel de Meuron. He now, unfairly, had doubts about Caroline’s respectability.

Caroline’s other child, her son John Ambrosse, was to later recall that he lived often with his aunt Henrietta from the age of 7 or 8 (he doesn’t seem to have been in her company prior to this), scarcely knowing the difference between her and his own mother.  With Henrietta already back on the stage, as Mrs Egerton, the Marquess of Hertford petitioned Garrick on behalf of a friend of his who had an interest in Miss E. Ambrose to put her on the stage at Drury Lane but she was engaged at the Covent Garden theatre instead. Again, we wonder if Miss E. Ambrose is actually Caroline, despite the discrepancy with the initials of the forenames, for it would seem likely that, having been abandoned by Blaquiere, she would return to her profession.

From 1770 we find both Henrietta and her younger sister listed frequently in the playbills for the early 1770s (Henrietta’s address in April 1772 at a benefit performance was given as King Square Court, Dean Street, Soho), but only her sister appearing after November 1773.

Caroline Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Caroline Ambrose by Francis Wheatley. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

In January 1779 Henrietta Egerton and her mother Rachael (recorded under the surname of Ambrosse) were living in Newman Street in St. Anne’s Westminster, both ladies recorded as widows. Henrietta, returning home to this house from a masquerade, lost a gold slide belonging to a handkerchief, set with diamonds. It was found by one of her servants, a man named Robert Dare, who decided that the old rule of ‘finders keepers’ applied and pawned the trinket. It was all discovered and Dare was charged and found guilty of theft, sentenced to hang for his crime although he managed to escape the hangman’s noose and instead performed hard labour on the River Thames for the use of the Navigation for the term of three years.

Rachael Ambrosse is also listed in the Westminster Rate Book for Lisle Street in Soho between 1777 and 1782, being in arrears at the latter date.

Henrietta now took George Finch Hatton (1747-1823), grandson of the 7th Earl of Winchilsea, as a lover and, although not married, took his surname and became Mrs Hatton.  She was known by this sobriquet when she appeared in the ‘Characters of the present most celebrated courtezans’, published in 1780.

 In the July 1780 edition of the Town and Country Magazine, in an article titled ‘Histories of the Tete-a-Tete annexed: or, Memoirs of Colonel W___ and the Faithful Mistress’ she was also referred to as Mrs Hatton and mentioned as a previous amour of Colonel W___’s.

. . . did not pass unnoticed by the colonel . . . Neither did Mrs. H_tt_n, sister to Mrs. A_br_se, the actress, fail to attract a temporary regard from him. She was then in her prime, and having remarkable fine hair, expressive eyes, and captivating teeth, he yielded to the influence of her charms, and was for some weeks her constant adorer.

So, yet another lover to add to the list, possibly either he or Finch Hatton had taken her from the stage in 1773.

The ‘Characters of the present most celebrated courtezans’ described Finch Hatton as a ‘generous and passionate lover’, continuing that ‘if we may judge of happiness by appearance, neither of them regrets the commencement, nor is inclined to break off the continuation of their correspondence.’  It ends by saying this of Henrietta:

She is now we suppose not younger than 43 or 44: – her person is somewhat larger than it was fifteen years ago; but in other respects she is less altered, and as the phrase runs, “wears better” than is to be imagined.  Her eyes, teeth, and hair are remarkably fine; her conversation is both entertaining and well bred, and her language easy and fluent.  She must be allowed upon the whole to be an object rather of desire as a mistress; and in a very superior style as an agreeable companion.

According to the birth date she gave to Macklin back in 1769, Henrietta would be 37 years of age in 1780, not as old as the publication had suggested.

Miss Ambrosse, Henrietta’s younger sister, also has her own entry in the above-referenced publication, but whilst Henrietta’s is generally flattering, hers is not.  Her acting ability is praised above that of her older sister but her appearance comes in for a bit of a battering, and she is further noted as just being a bit dull.

Miss Am-r-se is of good height, perfectly free from every thing like deformity; and her frequent exhibitions in breeches, must have convinced most of my Readers that her figure is what is generally called well made . . . Her face, if it ever had any pretensions to beauty, has certainly none at present: her nose is preposterously large, and the extreme darkness of her complexion, joined to a very strongly marked set of features must ever militate against every thing even tending to the expression of either tenderness or femininity.

Henrietta, still providing financially for her nephew John Ambrosse, helped him to go to Oxford University, intending him to be destined for the church. John, when he enrolled at Oxford, claimed to be the son of John Ambrose of London, Gentleman, for the sake of respectability. At some point John also studied under the actor Charles Macklin, no doubt learning from him the skills needed for public speaking and oratory.  John’s sister, the younger Henrietta, had meanwhile returned from Switzerland and was employed as a governess.

 John Ambrosse took some time to obtain his BA at Oxford, not attaining it until January 1791 and his MA later that year. He had managed to find many distractions from his studies, not least amongst them a pretty girl, one of a family named Mahon who provided musical and vocal concerts in and around Oxford. On the 3rd April 1787, lying about his age, he married Mary Mahon at St James the Less, Thorndike, London, having obtained a marriage licence the day before.  The marriage was witnessed by Jos. Furton and Richard Stainsby (possibly the Reverend Richard Stainsby). Mary appeared in February 1788 as Mrs Ambrose singing in the masque of Comus at Covent Garden and in 1789 was one of the featured performers of the songs of Handel and Dr Arne at the oratorios there. The marriage produced five children, three of whom survived infancy.

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

 By 1792 John Ambrosse was a curate at Poulton in Gloucestershire where his son Samuel Bertie Ambrosse was baptized, his middle name obviously in honour of Colonel Bertie. Another son, John Ambrosse, later claimed to have been born at this place on the 18th July 1786, which is some months before his parent’s marriage.  The third child to survive infancy was another son Beresford Ambrosse and a fourth, who must have died young, was possibly named Joseph.

Henrietta was still Mrs Hatton at the beginning of 1790 when the World newspaper mentioned her and her sister on the 13th January:

The large Muffs sported by Mrs. HATTON and Miss AMBROSE, are not a new fashion: They have had them some time. Signora STORACE is equally in the Ton.

But after this and for reasons as yet unknown, Henrietta renewed her relationship with James Kelfe. They married again on the 29th June 1795 at St. George the Martyr in Southwark where James was resident, he described in the marriage register as a bachelor and she as Henrietta Egerton of St. Marylebone a spinster!  The marriage, again by licence, was witnessed by Jos. Wilson and Richard Hust. The Gentleman’s Magazine carried an announcement of the marriage:

 Mr J. Kelfe, limner, to Mrs Henrietta Egerton (formerly Ambrose), of Newman St.

The Morning Post newspaper was a little late to the party for they reported on the 29th April 1800, five years after this remarriage that:

MRS. EGERTON, once the celebrated Actress, has lately re-married her husband! between thirty and forty years ago she was the wife of a Hatter near Drury-lane; she left him, went on the Stage, and passed a life of love and dissipation for twenty or thirty years, while her husband was soberly following his business with success. Tired of such pleasures, she lately made overtures of reconciliation, which he accepted, and they were again married!  They now live in the north west skirts of the town; but delicacy forbids the mention of the place.

After the myriad of name changes, Ambrosse to Calfe, Calfe to Kelfe, Kelfe to Egerton, Egerton to Hatton, going from being a lady married to one man to a widow of another, then a mistress and finally back to a spinster, Henrietta now settled down to married life. In 1797 Rachael Ambrosse died, her will proven by her two daughters whom she named as joint executrixes and she was buried in the same location as her husband, Joseph Jona, and named as Rachel Jona.

Caroline Ambrosse, a spinster, was living at 12 Charles Street, Soho Square. With the two sisters slipping into a middle age of respectability and anonymity in the gossip columns it was now down to John Ambrosse, who had officiated at the funeral of his old tutor and family friend Charles Macklin in the July of 1797, to provide some scandal.

John Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
John Ambrose by Francis Wheatley. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

Henrietta had approached her old friend George Finch Hatton some years previously to ask that he provide her nephew with one of the livings he held. Henrietta’s mother had left Hatton a bequest of a mourning ring inscribed with her initials (R.A.) in her will, possibly in thanks for him helping her grandson and if John had spent time with his aunt Henrietta, then he may well have been living with Finch Hatton as almost a surrogate relative. In 1797 when the living of Blisworth in Northamptonshire became vacant, Hatton duly obliged his old friends and appointed the Revered John Ambrosse to the position.

 In return for this favour to her nephew, Henrietta had returned to Hatton a bond for £1200 which he had previously given to her and in return for her relinquishing this bond, Ambrosse was asked to execute a similar bond which gave an annuity to Henrietta and James Kelfe to be paid from his parsonage. Ambrosse considered this extortion and in April 1802 the matter was heard by the Court of the Kings Bench, Henrietta and James Kelfe being tried for perjury.

Guildhall, Court of the King's Bench, from The Microcosm of London, 1809
Guildhall, Court of the King’s Bench, from The Microcosm of London, 1809

The reports of this trial confirm Ambrosse as a natural son of Lord de Blaquiere and that he had been abandoned by his father. One report claims that Blaquiere supported Ambrosse’s three surviving children, another that it was Henrietta who had supported all five and still supported the surviving ones. It is mentioned that he had deserted his wife, the former Mary Mahon, and as her name is crossed through in Rachael Ambrosse’s will this desertion must have taken place before Rachael’s death in 1797.

Ambrosse remonstrated that he had never expected to have to repay all his aunt’s kindnesses to him, she responded that she had expended more than £1900 on her nephew and it was for this reason that she wanted the annuity. The court touched on the fact that Ambrosse had lied about his age when he married in 1787, hence throwing doubt on his honesty and also implied he had a fondness for gaming houses. Henrietta was defended by Garrow and was found not guilty. After this verdict, Ambrosse’s case against James Kelfe was similarly dismissed.

Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library
Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held at the Harvard Law Library

John Ambrosse, known to his friends as Parson Ambrose, was indeed fond of gaming and was a well-known figure at prize fights, keeping company with Lords Althorp and Byron. Living as a peers son but without any of the advantages of family and fortune, he soon found himself spiralling into debt.

Did John Ambrosse divorce or just merely desert his wife?  No record of a divorce has yet been found, but on the 7th November 1798 Mary, as a spinster and using her maiden surname of Mahon, married the Reverend John Portis at Salisbury, all the newspapers, however, reporting her as Mrs Mary Ambrosse in their announcements of the marriage.  She possibly had a further child, a daughter named Elizabeth by Portis, and it was John Portis who helped his ‘son in law John Ambrosse to attain a cadetship in the East India Company.  Portis also mentioned Samuel Bertie Ambrosse some years later in his will, describing him in that document as the only surviving son of his late wife.

James Kelfe or Calfe died in December 1804 at the house he shared with Henrietta in Great Newport Street and was buried two days before Christmas at St. Martin in the Fields. In 1806 Henrietta and the Bank of England were defendants in a case brought by her nephew Joseph Jona, son of her brother Samuel and his wife.

Ambrosse’s three sons from his marriage to Mary Mahon, Beresford, John and Samuel Bertie Ambrosse were sent to India to serve in the army, possibly someone feeling that they needed to be away from their father and given a chance to make their own fortunes. Henrietta Ambrosse, Caroline’s other child, had married David Whatley, a gentleman she knew through his first wife whom she had been governess to and settled at Cirencester where her widowed aunt Henrietta Kelfe had also relocated to. Through her marriage to David Whatley, this Henrietta was the ancestor of Gustav Holst.

 With the rest of the family now settled, Parson Ambrose was still the one remaining loose cannon. He absented himself from his parish and by December 1813 was in the Fleet prison for debt. His mother, Caroline Ambrosse, died in March 1816 and any inheritance Ambrosse received from her was soon squandered. His adventures after this are worthy of their own entry and so we shall save the rest of his story for our next article.

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

Henrietta Kelfe died in August 1825 at Cirencester aged 86, almost forgotten.

And, you might ask, what of our initial query, that of Henrietta Ambrosse being the god-daughter of Hannah Norsa?  As so often happens, despite all the myriad information we have found on this lady and her family, we have found nothing that leads us to any proof of this except the mention of Henrietta’s father being a Jewish gentleman. Hannah Norsa’s will names only one god-daughter and this is hard to read, being crossed through. This god-daughter, from what we can read, is a Catherine, the wife of Thomas Coleman with three sons, John, William and Thomas Coleman. Catherine’s maiden name is given and her mother Sarah’s surname and whilst they could be Jona they could equally be Jones. None of the Ambrosse family wills we have found mention anybody by the surname of Coleman nor a Catherine or Sarah Jona. Catherine was deceased at the time of Hannah making a codicil to her will. Henrietta’s mother and reputed stepfather are buried in the same Spanish and Portuguese Jewish burial ground as Hannah Norsa’s parents, however. So, we can only conclude by saying the jury is out on this one at present . . .