As promised in my last blog, I now reveal some of the history of this remarkable man.
He was born at Tong Castle, Shropshire, in May 1816, the youngest of 14 legitimate children. We know little about his childhood, except that by 1822 his mother left the family home for the last time. At the age of 21, he married 20-year-old Catharine Galley, much to the disapproval of her father, in Prestwich, Lancashire. He qualified as a surgeon, and by 1839 was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. His ambition was to follow his brother, Arthur Beaufoy Durant, into the East India Service. In future years he liked to claim that he had succeeded in this and that he had achieved the rank of Captain, but records from Crawford’s Roll of the Indian Medical Service indicate that although he applied for a post in Bengal he was not appointed and did not join.
Instead, he settled in Burbage, a village near Hinckley in Leicestershire, in a substantial house he named Tong Lodge, in honour of his pedigree. There were no children of the marriage and he clearly lived well above his means, for in 1847 he was forced to advertise an extensive sale of its contents: ‘All the Splendid, Modern, and Costly Household Furniture and Plate, Excellent Carriages, Superior Horses and Harness, Prime Hay, &c.&c.’ This did not stop him being declared bankrupt soon after. They remained in the neighbourhood for some time however, for in 1849 he appeared at the Petty Sessions in Hinckley as plaintiff, claiming that he had been assaulted. He did not win the case; it turned out the young man he was accusing had touched him in the street simply to remind him that he was supposed to report to the magistrate about an offence that he himself had committed. For May Osmund Alonzo, attack was the best form of defence. In 1851, he was practising in Ashton, Manchester. In 1856, he was in Sheffield, where, as well as offering his services as a surgeon, he claimed to be writing a refutation of a book called The Vestiges of Creation and also preparing a book on heraldry ‘illustrated by engravings of baronial remains in Shropshire, where my ancestors flourished’.
By 1859 he was living in Ramsgate, where he again appeared as plaintiff, accusing a young carter of damaging his 11 shilling hat, while his servant boy was driving him through the town. This time he won, but the magistrate remarked:
‘Captain Durant [sic] . . . allow me to say a few words about the rapid speed at which you drive through the town. . . It is but a short time since that I myself saw two ladies nearly knocked down by your servant, who was riding, and who apparently had not got his horse under control.’
The ‘Captain’ retorted: ‘I have driven through the most crowded places and never yet knocked anyone down.’
By 1861, he was living in Hornsey, Essex, but in September of that year his life ended abruptly for he was ‘found drowned in a dyke’ in the salt pans at Stonor, Kent. Was it drink, I wonder? And should we laugh at him, or throw up our hands in horror?
Catharine, undaunted, married his more respectable brother, who had retired from the East India Service. Better if she had done that in the first place.