Some time ago I blogged about the last will and testament of one of my ancestors. He had stipulated that if the husband of his married daughter Catharine so much as crossed the threshold of the family home, she would lose her inheritance. I was not particularly interested in following up this daughter, as the real subject of my research is her younger sister Fanny. However, a week or so back, I had reached the point in my writing when the said Fanny eloped to Gretna Green in the year 1840. Wanting to put this event into a fuller context, I thought I would find out a little more about Catharine – who, like Fanny, married under age – and about her husband, whose first name I could not quite decipher in the will. This search has turned out to be a fascinating detour.
For some time I laboured under the misapprehension that Catharine’s husband had been in the army, for he was listed as Maj. O A Durant in a couple of censuses. However, this turned out to be a misreading. After various searches I discovered that he was actually ‘May Osmund Alonzo Durant’, son of George Durant, and his birthplace was Tong Castle in Shropshire. I was surprised that Catharine’s father, who from other evidence I take to be a bit of a snob, was not impressed at this background, which sounded rather grand. As is the way with family history research, I could not resist probing a little more.
The first George Durant (1731-1780), grandfather of my chap, was the second son of a Worcestershire rector. As a young man he had a scandalous affair with Lady Lytton, wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Both families were vastly relieved when he was sent as deputy paymaster to the British forces in Guadaloupe during the Seven Years War. He made a second trip, returning to England in 1764 with an enormous fortune, gained through a mixture of dubious financial transactions and participation in the slave trade. He then bought Tong, a village near Shrewsbury, then owned by the Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, and proceeded to tear down its Tudor castle and build a huge gothic splendour, alas no longer standing, which he filled with treasures from the West Indies. I look forward to visiting his monument on my way to Wales this summer.
His son George Durant (1776-1844) was notorious for different reasons. He married a local girl, Mariann Eld, and proceeded to father fourteen children, of whom the youngest was the exotically named ‘May Osmund Alonzo’ born 1816. But this was not enough, for in 1822 Mariann sued for separation on the grounds of adultery. He had had three children by one of the nursery maids, and another child by a second nursery maid. He had also had affairs with a dairy maid and with two different labourers’ wives.
Perhaps it was not so surprising that Catharine’s father disapproved of the connection with the Durant family. Tune into my next blog for what I have gleaned about May Osmund Alonzo himself.