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Saturday 8 March 2014


This is a sad, small story. My 3x great aunt Maria Gurney was born on 14th August 1823, while her father William Brodie Gurney was otherwise engaged. He was the official shorthand writer to the Houses of Parliament, and at the time of the birth of Maria, the last of his eleven children, he was reporting on the sittings of a royal Commission in Dublin (then still part of the United Kingdom). He didn’t get to see the new baby until December.

Fathers were much more hands-off then of course. Gurney was by the standards of his day very much a family man, as his grandson (my great grandfather) recalled in describing one of the great jovial Victorian family Christmasses which Gurney used to host. Following his wife’s death in 1828, in a time before photography, Gurney commissioned a popular watercolourist of the day called Clack to paint portraits of all eight of his surviving children.

Amelia Gurney (1820-1893) and Maria Gurney (1823-1858)
painted by Clack in around 1830
Of those eight children five were girls; and of those five, three married reverend gentlemen. Gurney was as active in the nation’s religious life as in its political one. He was a devout Baptist and office bearer in many of the principal Baptist institutions of the day including the board of Stepney College, which trained at least two of his sons-in-law for the cloth.

Maria, as if to make up for being the youngest, married not one but two ministers. In Brixton on 11th Oct 1848 she tied the knot with the Rev Henry Campbell Grey, the vicar of St John’s, Trent Vale near Stoke on Trent. Grey was a learned man, with an MA from Corpus Christi, who had begun his ecclesiastical career as a deacon in Durham Cathedral, serving later the northeastern parishes of Wooler in Northumberland and Jarrow in Co Durham.

St John the Evangelist, Trent Vale, consecrated in 1844,
the year before Rev Henry Campbell Grey became its vicar

Grey was not a Baptist but what Baptists called a Churchman, a member of the Church of England. Nevertheless he found favour with Gurney as a son in law through his father’s reputation. Henry Grey senior was a prominent Scottish Presbyterian minister, a staunch Protestant who had joined the Free Church of Scotland after the schism of 1843. At that time Grey resigned from his charge of the beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh’s new Town, and built a new church elsewhere in the parish for worship according to the Free Church doctrine. Gurney approved of him because he was a man of principle, particularly in his support for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, a campaign very close to Gurney hearts.

Maria and Henry junior settled into vicarage life in Trent Vale, where their daughter Alice was born in 1851. But a year later, Maria lost her second baby, a son Henry; and a year after that her husband died suddenly in St Leonard’s on Sea, Sussex having recently taken up a post as vicar of Watling, perhaps to escape the unhappy memories of the death of his son. Both his parents outlived him.

Rev Henry Grey the elder (1778-1859)
who outlived his son Rev Henry Campbell Grey (1814-1854)
Following the death of her son and her husband, Maria’s father William Brodie Gurney died only a year later in 1855 – her mother had died when she was five. In 1856 on the Isle of Wight Maria remarried, becoming the wife of another Church of England vicar, the Rev Thomas Luck Kingsbury.

Luck was his mother’s maiden name. He served a succession of parishes in Wiltshire, and their daughter Helen Mary Kingsbury was born in Savernake Forest in that county in 1858. But during Helen’s birth, poor Maria died. Luck was not hers: in the space of five years she lost a son, a husband, a father and her own life.

Maria Gurney sketched in 1847, a year before her first marriage

Kingsbury never remarried, and died in 1899 (by coincidence in the same Sussex town as Maria’s first husband). Helen survived her birth and accepted the fate of so many spinster daughters of widowed fathers, staying at home to care for him until his death. She died unmarried in 1929. Alice Maria Grey, Maria’s first daughter, lived until 1938. She too never married, and hers is perhaps the saddest story of all, living till nearly ninety but orphaned before her eighth Christmas. But in 1896 she made the pages of the Daily Mail, in a story which you can read in another post, here.

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