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A Detour with the Durants

Posted by on May 25, 2014

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.

Tong Castle, Salop

Tong Castle, Salop

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.




5 Responses to A Detour with the Durants

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Oh what fun this all is to read Diana …… Can’t wait for next chapter

  2. Susie Gutch

    Great research, Diana. And we always thought how straight-laced they were in the 19th century.No wonder Victoria disapproved of those late Georgians – and that Catharine’s husband was not welcomed into the bosom of the family!
    Interesting that he was given the name May. I wonder where that came from? Maybe as he was the 14th child the parents had begun to run out of ideas? I have an ancestor called Mihill Loraine , my grandfather’s elder brother. I learned that Mihill is the Norhern Irish for Michael, and Loraine was his maternal grandfather’s name – Loraine Weaver – who was a surgeon. Perhaps Loraine was where he hailed from. Obviously more research needed!

  3. Margaret McAlpine

    Fantastic insight into some very private aspects of your ancestors’ lives – how did it all become accessible to you?

    • Diana Devlin

      How useful it is for our research when our ancestors sue each other – the stuff about the affairs of the second George Durant came from the court case where the wife sued for separation. The first George was well known enough to feature on a couple of websites, including the BBC, because he was the subject of a local radio broadcast.

  4. Jo Williams

    Dear Diana,
    I am currently writing a history of the village of Burbage, in Leicestershire. As you know, May Osmund Alonzo Durant lived there for a few years. I have quite a bit of information about him that I gleaned from local newspapers and which record his numerous court appearances in detail. He obviously struggled with the demons of drink and extravagance. Please contact me if you would like me to forward the information, it makes for colourful reading! I find him a fascinating man and I look forward to your future posts.
    Jo Williams

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