Edward’s Wife

Arthur GROTE formed a close friendship with Edward BLYTH in Bengal. I don’t know if they journeyed back to England together but they took lodgings close to each other in London and must have kept in touch. A couple of years after Edward died, Arthur wrote  a memoir of his friend that was published originally in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol.xiv  (August 1875) and reprinted in Loren Eiseley’s Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X in 1979.

Arthur gives us some useful detail about ‘the Father of Indian Ornithology’ but is somewhat vague with regard to Arthur’s marriage.

In 1854 Blyth was married to Mrs. Hodges, a young widow whom he had known as Miss Sutton, and who had lately come out to join some relatives in India.

Elizabeth Mary Turner SUTTON was 13 years younger than Arthur. She was born in London and would have been seventeen when Arthur left England for the sub-continent. It is a bit of a stretch to say that Elizabeth was lately arrived in India because she married John Charles HODGES in Calcutta in December 1846. He was 26 years-old and the register says he was commander of the Brig Amity. He had been captain of the ship for at least two years.

(This was not the Amity that transported European settlers to Australia.)

In the fifth year of marriage, Elizabeth was widowed. John died on the west coast at Colaba near Bombay on 19 April 1851. Though the date is precise, I haven’t found the cause of his death at age 31. (Some sources give his birth two years earlier than the marriage register implies.)

After fourteen years, Edward’s salary at the Asia Society’s museum was barely adequate to keep his own body and soul together, but Elizabeth married him anyway. In 1855 he asked for an increase in salary and a pension “after a certain number of years’ service”. The Society pleaded poverty.

In December 1857, Blyth had the misfortune to lose his wife. His short married life had been of the happiest, and the blow fell heavily on him. His letters to his sister for the early months of 1858 are painful to read. The shock proved too much for him, and brought on a serious attack of illness; it threatened paralysis of the heart, and he seems to have been subject to partial returns of similar attacks for the rest of his life. His health too suffered much from the isolation imposed on him by his straitened means, and from want of proper exercise.

Arthur doesn’t name the sister with whom Edward corresponded but it was almost ccertainly the middle one of three, Sarah Clara.

Ten years after returning to England, Edward went to Antwerp “for a change” and on his return called on Arthur.

…[he was] feeling better, though claiming of great prostration. He seemed full of what he had seen in the Antwerp Zoological Garden, where he thought he had found another new species of Rhinoceros. This was our last interview. Though nursed by a tenderly attached sister, his weakness increased, and he died of heart disease on the 27th of December, within a day or two of his sixty-third birthday.

In 1871, Edward was living alone in rooms in Cecil Street, St Clement Danes, in a property that would be demolished with others to make space for a hotel and much later the Shell-Mex building. Arthur was a mile away in more salubrious Pall Mall lodgings. And Sarah Clara may have already settled at Regent’s Park Terrace, three miles from Cecil Street but only a few hundred yards from London Zoo.

Sarah’s home for at least ten years before her death in 1891 is partially hidden by the tree. I’d like to think she brought her brother here for his last days, and that he could hear the roars, bellowings and trumpetings of the larger mammals from his sick room window. (If you wanted to buy her house nowadays the mortgage payment would be around  £13,000 a month.)

Find Edward on the FamilySearch Shared Tree.

Tree 40 · Martin’s Ravine

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