Papers of Sir Charles (1795-1847) and Lady Mary Chichester (1801-1876)



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Charles Chichester was born 16 March 1795, the second son of Charles Joseph Chichester (1770-1837) of Calverleigh Court, Devon, and his wife Mary Honoria. He attended the catholic seminary, Stonyhurst, and was appointed ensign in the 14th Foot in 1811 and soon after became lieutenant. He served in the Mediterranean. From 1817 he served in India and, in 1821, he transferred, as lieutenant, to the 2nd light infantry battalion of the 60th regiment in America. He became captain in 1823 and major in 1826 (his 1821 passing out from Sandhurst and other commissions and promotions are at U DDCH/25-28, 104).

Papers relating to Charles Chichester begin in the 1820s. His letters 1818 to 1825 are at U DDCH/37 and include letters to and from his aunt (later also his mother-in-law) written mostly when he was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. U DDCH/70-74 comprise Charles Chichester's diaries from this period of army service and travel and they are especially valuable for descriptions of Canada and the United States (there is also a description of Nova Scotia in 1822 at U DDCH/122 and a book of poems and sketches from 1823 at U DDCH/136). He travelled not only with the army, but also while on leave, and on such a trip he visited Boston, Harvard, New York, Saratoga, West Point, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. He also made a point of seeing Niagara Falls and commented that 'the rays of the sun striking upon it [the haze of mist], produces the most beautiful rainbows which appear, vanish, and change their positions eternally...the roar is not so loud as I expected'. Charles Chichester was a man singularly free of the inbuilt racism of many of his contemporaries and his relation of American Indian culture is of interest. A 'good remedy amongst the Indians', he reported, was mint tea sweetened with maple juice. He drank this after a meal of moose meat and flour cakes.

In 1826 Charles Chichester married his cousin, Mary Barbara Constable, and the correspondence about the marriage settlement is at U DDCH/6. They were well-suited; they were both devout catholics and they shared a love of travelling.

Mary Barbara Constable (b. 29 October 1801) was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Hugh Clifford Constable of Tixall Hall, Staffordshire, and Burton Constable, Yorkshire, and his wife Mary McDonald. Mary McDonald and Charles Chichester's father were brother and sister. The earliest letters in the collection, dated 1794, were written by Thomas Constable to his wife from a tour of Wales (U DDCH/33). There are two more of his letters, one to his daughter, dated 1810, at U DDCH34-35. Mary's early letters are at U DDCH/36 and she began a diary in August 1822 (U DDCH/86). In this she chronicled her travels in Europe, especially France where she visited the Marquis de Montmorency at Beaumesnil and met mademoiselle Fouchet who had attended Marie Antoinette in prison. She also met Washington Irving and Miss Knight, who had been governess to Princess Charlotte of England. Mary's father, who was a botanist and topographer, died in 1823 in Ghent and Mary brought home a piece of the shrub growing at his graveside (U DDCH/147; there is a funeral discourse at U DDCH/160).

The marriage between Mary and Charles was arranged shortly after the death of her mother (1825); it took place on 13 April 1826. For the first few years of marriage, Charles and Mary Chichester lived at Calverleigh, but in 1835 Charles became Brigadier-General in the Spanish British Legion and left to fight in the Carlist war in support of Queen Isabella. Mary resided in Pau in the north of the Pyrenees and he wrote to her from San Sebastian (U DDCH/41).

Charles Chichester left a diary about his service in the Carlist war (U DDCH/75). He fought at Ernani, Bilbao, Mendigur and Azua and in the skirmishing near San Sebastian during 1835 and 1836. During the operations of March 1837 no less than three horses were killed from underneath him. In May he was forced to take full command because of the illness of General Evans and he led the attack and capture of Irun. He was wounded several times and decorated for bravery (orders and decorations are at U DDCH/114-116; see also U DDCH/105). He returned home, but quickly volunteered for the colonial army and he and Mary sailed for North America and the unrest of the rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada. U DDCH/42 is a letter from Colonel Wetherall to Charles Chichester dated 12 November 1838 and gives an account of operations. U DDCH/43 are copies of his letters to General Putnam of the United States army. His diaries from 1838 to the end of 1839 covering the tensions not only within Canada but between the British and Americans are at U DDCH/76 and 77.

In early 1840 the Chichesters returned on leave to England and on the way home their youngest son, Sebastian, died. This was an upsetting death, but the Chichesters were always sustained by their religion. The loss of children was to be a constant feature of their marriage; they had eleven children, but only five, three sons and two daughters, survived to adulthood.

By the end of the year the Chichesters were on the move again, this time to the West Indies. They first stayed near Port of Spain in Trinidad and they visited Caracas, Venezuela. Both their diaries provide fine detail about these places (U DDCH/79, 87). They made one visit with the regiment to Antigua in early 1842 and then returned to Trinidad where Charles was appointed acting governor in July 1842.

It is clear from the diaries that Mary and Charles Chichester shared an enormous enthusiasm for life. Mary's diaries contain detailed descriptions of people and experiences; of a pod of white porpoises rolling and jumping in the sea, of the meal she was served in Venezuela, 'a strange mess' of butter and bologna sausage (Helen Roberts, entry for the Dictionary of National Biography). On 2 August 1842 she discovered 'animal flowers' in rock pools by the sea: 'a woman touched the top which was under water and the whole of the points turned inside the a few moments they appear again' (U DDCH/87). She drew the shape of the anemone; these rough sketches appear in her diaries intermittently. The diaries of her husband exhibit the same appealing humanity and love of the West Indies: 'I took a walk up to the signal fort from where there is such a beautiful view' (U DDCH/80).

The diaries and correspondence of this period are also useful for accounts of the earthquake in the Antilles. On 15 February 1843 Mary noted in her diary that awful news had arrived of an earthquake that had killed 5000 people. 'Charles did not go out today', she remarked. He also did not write in his diary, leaving it till the next day to record the following: 'The packet came in yesterday and brought the news of a terrible calamity having befallen the islands to the northward'. The English base at Antigua had been destroyed and at least two couples of their acquaintaince had been buried in their houses. However, Antigua was the least affected: 'Dominica we are much alarmed about, but Guadeloupe seems to have suffered the most; the accounts I have seen from there are frightful'. 'It was felt here, but very slightly', he noted. It had spilt the servants' coffee while they sat at breakfast and given Mary a bit of a fright (DDCH/80, 87). A first hand account later came from Lady Mary Fitzroy from Government House in Antigua (U DDCH/39).

The 81st was posted back to Canada and Mary's diary from early June 1843 was clearly written in a rolling cabin. The cabin was not really big enough, but luckily she was not travelling with all her children. The eldest son, Charles Raleigh Chichester, was at Stonyhurst and their letters to him in this period at U DDCH/44 complete the picture of their time in the West Indies. The journey was rough, but Mary 'managed to come to dinner'. However, she was the only woman who did on that occasion 'and those who sat at the table had to hold on'. She recorded lying on her bunk ill for a day at a time (U DDCH/87).

The Chichesters were in Canada until 1847 with one term of leave between 1845 and May 1846. Charles Chichester's diaries of the period make useful research tools for the political upheavals in Canada and North America at the time (U DDCH/81-84). Lady Mary's diaries are at U DDCH/88-9 and they record her travels around the Great Lakes and a trip to Niagara Falls. The correspondence for the period is largely of a personal nature (letters home to their sons at Stonyhurst), though there are some records of Sir Charles's correspondence and some of his letter books (U DDCH/44-49, 52, 54).

On 6 April 1847 Mary Chichester took the unusual step of writing in her husband's journal rather than her own: 'May the most Holy Will of God be done! I am left alone to continue this journal' (U DDCH/85). The next few pages are a heart-rending account of the very sudden death of her husband, after four days of severe abdominal pain. She could not relate the final moment of his death, but was again comforted by her faith. She recorded a conversation they had once had in which she had told him that at the moment of her death she wished to see Sebastian. Her husband's death convinced her that they would all be reunited: 'I think it was Sebastian he saw, as he moved his fingers as you would to a child to come to you'. Charles Chichester's final diary entry also makes poignant reading: 'Dear Amy's birthday, 6 years old, may she see many of them and happy ones'. That was on 31 March; the day he fell ill. U DDCH/141 contains a small press-cutting about his untimely death as well as the handwritten post-mortem report; he died of a perforated ulcer and a large cyst was found on his liver. Letters of condolence can be found at U DDCH/55-56.

Mary Chichester returned to England, but was in Paris by the autumn of 1847. Charles Raleigh Chichester had completed his education at Stonyhurst in 1845 (U DDCH/113) and her two other sons were there, but she travelled with her two young daughters, Constance and Amy. When they grew up, Mary Chichester kept going, travelling on the continent until her death in 1876. Unfortunately, she stopped keeping full diaries soon after her husband's death. However, her letters home contain details of her travels. For example, the 1848 revolution in Paris gets good coverage in letters from her to her eldest son at U DDCH/61-62. 'This revolution has been most extraordinary', she told him, 'Nobody anticipated it or wished it to come to what it has and the people into whose hands the power was thrown are quite astonished at it' (U DDCH/61). She sent trunks of clothes ahead of her (that went astray), and escaped on 3 March. After her husband's death, Mary was based at Wood Hall in Yorkshire and a licence to reserve the sacrament there granted by Pius IX is at U DDCH/149.

Charles Raleigh Chichester is quite well-represented in the collection. His various commissions and promotions are at U DDCH/29-31. He also kept diaries and those of his early life at Stonyhurst and while finishing his education in Paris in 1845 are at U DDCH/93-4. Between 1846 and 1847 he followed in his father's footsteps, travelling to the West Indies as an ensign in the 48th regiment. The diaries do not have the descriptive qualities of his parents', but there are several covering the 1840s and 1850s and U DDCH/99-100 are diaries kept while on active service during the Crimean war. A ten year gap is followed by two diaries from 1866 and 1868 in Ireland. The Irish connection was through his wife, Mary Josephine Balfe, whom he had married in 1852. She was the eldest daughter and co-heir to the estates of James Balfe in County Roscommen. The details of the distribution of these estates in 1856 is at U DDCH/8 and accounts relating to the Irish estates in the 1860s are at U DDCH/5. Mary (Balfe) Chichester died in 1871 (letters concerning this are at U DDCH/68) and Charles Raleigh Chichester lived another 20 years and a letter about his death in 1891 is at U DDCH/69. Their eldest son, Walter George Raleigh Chichester, succeeded not only to the Irish estates but also that of Burton Constable, Yorkshire, in 1894 upon the death of Sir Frederick Augustus Talbot Clifford Constable (U DDCH/67). In 1895 he took the name Constable by royal licence.

The correspondence of Charles and Mary Chichester's younger sons and two daughters is at U DDCH/50-51, 53, 60, 65. The latter is a bundle of letters to and from Constance and Amy Chichester. One letter of 29 September 1857 describes the Indian mutiny. Amy died in 1917 and there is a letter about her death from Constance who comments on how difficult life will be without her because they had always lived together. The family papers finish with this generation. Walter George Raleigh Chichester-Constable had a younger brother called Charles Renfic Chichester, whose daughter, Benedicta, married William Lucien Bonaparte Wyse, the only son of Andrew Nicholas Bonaparte Wyse (great-grandson of Lucien Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon I). The family papers came into the hands of Benedicta Bonaparte Wyse, who placed them in the county record office.


The papers of most value are the letters and diaries. There is a small amount of correspondence pre-dating Charles and Mary Chichester's marriage in 1826. This is from Mary Chichester's side of the family, but contains some letters from Charles Chichester to his future mother-in-law. The bulk of the correspondence is that of Charles and Mary Chichester and their children and dates from 1826 to 1891. Charles and Mary Chichester kept extensive diaries and the practice was continued by their son Charles Raleigh Chichester. In total there are 52 diaries and four fragments. They record the military careers of Charles Chichester and his son, the former during the Carlist War in Spain in the 1830s and in the West Indies and Canada in the 1840s, and the latter during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Mary Chichester's diaries chronicle her extensive travels in Europe, Canada, America, the West Indies, South America and Ireland between the 1820s and 1876 when she died.

Miscellaneous papers include the manuscript account of the death of Major Donald McDonald who was executed on 15 October 1746 for his participation in the rise of the young pretender in Scotland in 1745. Donald McDonald was Mary (McDonald) Chichester's great grandfather. There is also a family history compiled for Charles Raleigh Chichester, containing details of his parents and siblings; some satirical poetry and political pamphlet literature on the Carlist War; some theatre material; a printed verbatim account of the 1685 trial of Titus Oates, the famous perjurer and creator of the 'popish plot' scare; and a letter about the death of Allan Napier McNab (1798-1862), who had fought in the 1837-8 rebellion in Canada and whose conversion to Catholicism at the very end of his life led to a boycott of his funeral by a number of his friends.