Saturday, 22 March 2014

Shades of the Great War are all around us (2): Major Reginald Elliott (1874-1914)

[Continued from ]

Reginald  Elliott as a Cheltenham College schoolboy in 1891  Photo credit: Cheltenham College Archives

Reginald Elliott, killed in action during World War I, was not from the Lower Otter Valley. I thought at first that his only connection with Budleigh Salterton was that his widow Mary Emelia Elliott, known to her family as May, and their young son Robert Allen Elliott  lived in our house on Exmouth Road from 1932 to 1945.

His name is not on Budleigh Salterton’s War Memorial. As I'd been told that he's also commemorated in Ireland, I wasn't expecting it to appear on any Devon war memorial. So I was a bit mystified when I found his name on Exmouth’s. Then I discovered that he seems to have been related indirectly by marriage to the local vicar’s daughter. Could that have been the reason?

Reginald is also listed on Cheltenham’s War Memorial.

Above: An early 20th century view of The Diamond,  central Malahide

But his family came originally from Malahide, a small coastal resort north of Dublin.  His grandfather, Captain Sir Thomas Ross (1797-1874) was a naval  officer who was knighted for a heroic sea rescue performed at Portmarnock in November 1838.


Reginald’s father, Nicholas Gosselin Elliott married Sir Thomas’ eldest daughter Anna in 1867, three years after the death of his first wife in 1864.  A son, Thomas Gosselin Elliott was born in 1870 and Reginald arrived four years later. Home was the splendid Johnstown House in County Carlow, shown above. It was an 18th century four-bay two-storey double-pile house  which had been renovated around 1840, with Tudor Revival fa├žade enrichments and set in 1,652 acres.

But the family’s time in Ireland would be short-lived. Four years after the death of Sir Thomas Ross in 1874 the estates of his children Allen Theophilus Ross, Thomas French Ross and his son-in-law John Innes Bathe, who had married Sir Thomas’ daughter Henrietta Catherine, were being advertised for sale prior to their move to England.


As for the Elliott family, soon after Reginald’s birth in 1874 they moved to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where they took up residence at  Number 16 in the elegant Regency Lansdown Terrace.  This would explain why Reginald’s name appears on the Gloucestershire town’s War Memorial.  


 In fact Reginald attended Cheltenham College as a day boy from September, 1887 to December, 1891. Here he showed talent both in the classroom and as a sportsman. A year after his arrival in the College he was awarded a scholarship and went on to win the Jax-Blake Prize for Geography in 1890 and in 1891. Ironically in his final year he won the Schacht Prize for German. He was also a member of the College Boat team as well as the Football XV.


Above: Alexandra Terrace, Exmouth. Morton Road runs adjacent to it

The Elliott family hit a financial crisis in the mid 1890s and Nicholas was declared bankrupt in 1895. Following that development he moved from Gloucestershire to Devon. By 1901 both he and his wife Anna were living at 33 Morton Road in Exmouth, Devon, together with his older sister, Mary Anne, a widow.   By 1911 Anna had passed on and Nicholas had moved to nearby 7 Alexandra Terrace. He died in 1916.

A strong Devon connection had been established.  By 1901 Henrietta Catherine was living with her husband John Innes Bathe at Glenmore in the village of Northam, near Bideford, and Allen Theophilus Ross was lodging at The Highlands in Fortescue Road, Ilfracombe. 


Holy Trinity Church, Exmouth

And on 10 December that year, Reginald’s brother Thomas Gosselin Elliott (1870-   ), who had established himself as a tea-planter at Delpotonoya in Ceylon, married Margaret Mary Vere Freeman (1879-   ) at Holy Trinity Church in Exmouth.  Born at Number 10, The Beacon, in Exmouth, she was the daughter of the Rev. Edward Vere Freeman, vicar of Littleham and Exmouth.

The couple appear to have settled in Ceylon where the baptism of their son, the future Lt Col Thomas Becher Elliott, is recorded at Holy Trinity Church in the town of Nuwara Eliya, an important centre of tea production.

Soon afterwards the remaining children of Sir Thomas, Elizabeth and Sidney Ross arrived and settled in Bideford.  

No doubt the Ross and Elliott families were still conscious of their Irish heritage. In 1888, when he would have been 18, Thomas Gosselin Elliott was listed as a member of the South Cork Light Infantry Militia, a regiment noted for drawing its officers from the ranks of wealthy land owning Protestants. 

However their future would lie on this side of the Irish Sea.  “It's interesting to see two Irish families with over a century of army and naval service cutting all ties with their homeland to cluster in Devon,” notes my helpful Irish correspondent Joseph Byrne.  “They were Anglicans and it's possible they found the rise of Catholic nationalism intolerable. Prior to moving to Cheltenham Nicholas Elliott was a land agent during a period of almost continuous land agitation and may have become 'non grata' if he had a hand in evictions.”

Two years later, on 6 January 1903,  the 29-year-old Reginald married Mary Emelia Swinton (1879-1969), daughter of Captain Robert Hepburne Swinton RN (1835-1900) and Alexa Hugh Munro Campbell (1838-1927).  Like his brother, Reginald had taken a wife who seems to have had Devon connections.  Although the wedding took place in Surrey at Christ Church, Woking, her birthplace is given as Barnstaple on a Swinton family website.

And the wedding was conducted by the Rev Edward Vere Freeman, still Vicar of Littleham with Exmouth.

My interest in Mrs Elliott had started when Joseph Byrne had emailed me during his research into the life of Reginald’s grandfather Captain Sir Thomas Ross.  It was a pleasure to help him by consulting our house deeds and confirming that Heather Cottage was indeed where Reginald’s widow and her son had lived.

The third and final instalment in Major Reginald Elliott’s story will be based on the events of 1914. You can read it  here

Visit ‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews include: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!!” 

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