This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

A Guernsey Seigneur's family letter of 1798

This letter is written at the time Jane Austen was writing her novels, and the style of language in this letter is surprisingly similar. It is written by Catherine de Sausmarez from Malling in Kent, to her sister-in-law, and is the first one I have ever seen written to the Channel Islands before 1800. It was dated 18 January 1798 and addressed to :

Mrs De Sausmarez,
Thomas De Sausmarez Esqr.,
Smith Street

with a note at the bottom "Via Weymouth".

An interesting point here is that in 1798 the British were still at war with France and the Royal Navy was patrolling the English Channel, against French Privateers, so that a journey to Guernsey from Weymouth could well have been dangerous.

Letter coverThere are three postal markings beginning with an excellent strike of the London evening duty Bishop mark type in black showing JA at the top, 18 in the centre and 98 at the bottom, with the identifying letter C at the left of the stamp. This was in use from 1795 to 31st Jan 1798, and was applied at the London Chief office, as the letter had to go from Maidstone, Kent to London, and then from London out to Weymouth.

The other two marks are manuscript charge marks, where a '5' has been struck out and replaced with '10'. This was to cover the inland cost of 8d for a distance of above 150 miles during the period 1795-1801. From Maidstone to London was 34 miles; from London to Weymouth was 127 miles, making a total of 161 miles. There was an additional cost cost of 2d for the sea portion of the journey from Weymouth to Guernsey. There is a filing note written in pencil and in a different handwriting, but I cannot tell when that was written. It says, 'Nov 08 from Catherine de Sausmarez sister of T. de S to Catherine de Sausmarez (nee de Havilland) wife of the same T. de S'.

In Edmund Vale's book, there is the Time Bill for the Weymouth Coach from 1797, so that is right on time for this letter, but the interesting thing to me is this statement:

This Coach is only for the Season His Majesty is at Weymouth. Does not do duty but carry His Majesty's dispatches and the Weymouth Bag. ... Not a breakdown or overturn for two Years. The worst accident that has happened has been a broken pole.

This letter is dated January, and that would certainly not be the swimming season being mid-winter — so what happened to the Weymouth Bag when His Majesty was not at Weymouth? Looking at the Time Bills the nearest would be the London to Exeter via Salisbury and Dorchester route and then a local delivery from Dorchester. The Royal link with Weymouth was King George III — the longest-reigning English monarch — (*) who believed in the benefits of sea bathing. As early as 1735 bathing machines, dragged by horses into the water, were in use at some seaside resorts. These resorts gradually replaced the inland spas as fashionable holiday retreats.

(*) NOTE : This is not the case now. See note at end of letter.

The Royal family embraced them with gusto, the King favouring Weymouth, where, according to D'arblay, no sooner had he 'popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up God save great George our King'. His son the Prince of Wales preferred Brighton; his daughter Princess Charlotte was taken to Southend and Bognor; his great-granddaughter Princess Victoria, later spent childhood holidays at Ramsgate and Broadstairs. Of course, the common people could not visit them until cheap transport made the travelling possible.

So now to the letter which has "Malling, Wednesday" as the heading and although there is East Malling and West Malling near Maidstone, this is likely to have been West Malling, which was originally known as Town Malling. The letter is long and chatty, and includes occasional French phrases, abbreviations and capital letters where we would not put them nowadays.

Wednesday, Malling, January ye 18th 1798

You do me but justice my Dear Sister in saying you do not attribute my silence to wont of affection, but I will tell you sincerely as the weakness in your Eyes did not admit your writing & that you were in my debt of a Letter (having wrote to you previous to our departure for London) had I wrote again you wd have thought yourself obliged to have answered it tho ever so disagreeable, & that in hearing from us by Lt. Tebure wd be equally as pleasing - I hope your Eyes are now better & that you did not feel any bad effects from your writing, permettez moi de vous faire mon compliments, sur votre charmante Lettre, [allow me to offer you my compliments on your charming letter] I wish sincerely it was in my power to write as well, un pareil griffonage [a similar scribble], as you style it, will always believe me, amuse & entertain - I beg you will be so kind as to give my affecte Love to the Dear Children, & tell my little Patt it was my intention to answer her letter last Week, but Mr Rowleys writing to my Brothers prevented me, but will certainly have that pleasure very soon.

I was favored with one from Betsy sometime since dated from Mrs Dumaresq's, it was a pretty well written letter, I am very impatient to see her, we flatter ourselves my Brother & yourself will accompany her, we wish much for that happy meeting, Soyez sage [be wise] & don't let any thing prevent you crossing the water, Rachel tells me my little namesake is a beautiful Child. I am very happy to hear you are in so pleasing an intimacy with Lady Dalrymple as I always thought her a charming Woman. I lamented much you cd not have your party to Dinner, particularly as you were prevented by so melancholy an occasion. I feel for poor Mrs Reserson, she has had her trials in this Life - I shall be happy to hear Major Smith & his Lady are in the Island, pray present my Compts to them, & congratulations on the happy event, it is no doubt a pity you have not a Room to offer them.

Yesterday Harriot & self drank Tea & spent the Evening at Colonel Downman's, they are a very genteel Family, we met there a very pleasant agreeable party, of the number three or four Officers who are quartered at Maidstone, one of them a Mr. Hayes a very handsome Man (who Rachel may recollect having met at Sir Henry Hanley's) told me had been in our Island on board Sir Edward Pellin, but had made a very short stay, that he had been only at General Marshall's but that he had heard a great deal in favor of the Island from the officers of the 92d Regt.

Note: The Regiment at Maidstone was likely to have been the 50th —The West Kent— Regiment of Foot, re-named on 31 August 1782. In 1794 the Regiment was part of the expedition serving under Nelson, which drove the French from the island of Corsica.

I am sorry to say poor Mr. Rowley cd not accompany us, as he is still confined with the Gout, & a bad cough, he had two or three Gentlemen to keep him Company, he joins me & Harriot, in Affecte Love to you, my Brothers,& sisters, & Compts to all Friends, don't forget me to your Aunts & Mrs Nicholas Le Mesurier, I am happy to hear she has so fine a Boy, her attention to me has always been such that I feel particularly interested for her welfare, Oh! How many happy hours we have spent together."

The writer then turned the letter over and continued onto the 'wings' of the paper.

I am happy you liked yr Bonnet, I thought it wd be more acceptable than a Cap, as you might wear it dresst, or undresst, & that I was in doubt if you went to the Rooms - When in London Capt Durell & Mr. Ellis inquired much after my Brother, all our Friends paid us the greatest attention.

Pray with my kind love to Rachel mention I shall answer her entertaining Letter soon. You will excuse all blunders I have committed, I scarcely slept last night, it was two Oclock before we returned Home, & unfortunately of late I have been so much confined that I feel the effects of staying out in the Evening - Adieu my Dear Sister, that you may enjoy & all our Dear Friends, many happy returns of this Season is the sincere wish of your Affte C.D.S.

I contacted the present Seigneur, Peter de Sausmarez through his website, and he very kindly sent me a leaflet about the history of the manor. Peter noted that the addressee Mrs. De Sausmarez was the second wife of Thomas de Sausmarez, who was the Seigneur of the manor at this time: he fathered 28 children with his two wives. Peter de Sausmarez gave me scanned images of the portraits of Thomas and Catherine,

Thomas Sausmarez Catherine Sausmarez
Thomas Sausmarez

Catherine Sausmarez

He also provided more very interesting information about this family. For instance:

Thomas' uncle, Philip, sailed around the world on HMS Centurion finishing as second in command, to Commodore Anson, whose descendant Patrick, the Earl of Lichfield died on 11 November 2005. They captured the world's richest treasure ship on the voyage of 1740-45. Captain Cook would probably not have been so well equipped with maps and information had it not been for them, as they were the first Royal Naval Venture into the Pacific since Elizabethan times. Also the first Harrison's Chronometer, so essential for serious navigation, had been tested on the HMS Centurion in 1739, though they were not allowed to use it on this voyage with the consequent enormous loss of life. They started with 1,945 men and 8 ships and returned in one ship and just over 100 men.

Sausmarez manor Sausmarez Manor

He also told me that he was interested that this letter had come to light as one of his predecessors had sold a lot of the archives for the stamp value, which was understandable as the cost of upkeep has been hit by the damage caused by floods and then the hurricane in 1987. Thanks to Guernsey Island enthusiasts a Charitable Trust was formed to raise funds, and after 11 years the unique and rare tapestries have been restored and the roofs, the windows, the timbers and the wiring have been restored or replaced. Funds are being raised by opening the Manor and grounds to the public, and by letting out parts of it as holiday units. More information can be found by visiting the website.

The letter appeals to me, as it gives such a picture of life more than 200 years ago, showing that although the style of letter writing has changed, the basic subjects of family, clothes and the social life are just as relevant today.

(*) Note: Regarding King George III being the longest-reigning monarch of Great Britain. Although this was true at the time this letter was written, he has since been over taken by two of the succeeding Queens. This was the current situation from 9th September 2015.

1 Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom 6 February 1952 to the Present 23,514 64 years, 138 days

2 Victoria of the United Kingdom 20 June 1837 22 January 1901 23,226 63 years, 216 days

3 George III of the United Kingdom 25 October 1760 29 January 1820 21,644 59 years, 96 days

This information was on Wikipedia, part of a complete list up to an including the shortest reign of King Edward VIII - 20 January 1936 11 December 1936 326 days.

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Last modified 4 February, 2009