The Twickenham Museum
People : Landowners and Gentry

Edward Harris Donnithorne
Soldier and Magistrate
1810 - 1885

Edward Donithorne as a boy (copyright Donnithorne Family)

Edward Harris Donnithorne was the son of James Donnithorne (1773-1852), East India Company Judge and Master of the Mint in the Bengal Civil Service, which he had joined as an indentured writer in 1792. James was of a Cornish family, born in London. He married Sarah Elizabeth Bampton in India in 1807. She died in the cholera outbreak in Calcutta in1832 together with two of their daughters, Penelope (b1814) & Maria (b1816), leaving Eliza Emily (1821-1886) and sons William (1807-1886) and Edward. Eliza Emily was born in Cape Town, her father, who worked for the East India Company being resident on an assignment there between 1821 and 1823.

Sarah was the daughter of Captain William Wright Bampton, RN, renowned for his important navigation and surveying expeditions to New Zealand and the surrounding area and, later in life for the introduction of sheep to New South Wales in Australia, thus helping to found the wealth of that country from the production of wool.

In 1838 James retired from service in the East India Company and went to live in Australia. He bought a house, Camperdown Lodge, in the hamlet of Newtown, outside Sydney.

Colne Lodge. An engraving from a drawing by John Spyers, c1786

Residence at Twickenham

James's sons William and Edward entered the army, Edward joining the 16th Lancers, then stationed in India. He married Elizabeth Jane Moore on 12 August 1834 at Topsham, Devon. Their first daughter, Isabella Charlotte was born nearby at Mount Ebford in 1835. By 1836 the family had moved to Ailsa Villas, St Margarets, Twickenham. By 1841 they had acquired Colne Lodge in the Hanworth Road (now Staines Road). Colne Lodge was a substantial house, built by 1765 possibly to a late design by Isaac Ware, standing in grounds which stretched up to the Crane River (then known as the Colne River). It had been occupied earlier by the poet Paul Whitehead. Some land across the Staines Road served as a kitchen garden. It seems that Edward bought the property from the estate of Lady Virginia Murray (1774-1841), daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunmore.

Their second daughter, Henrietta Maria, was baptised at St Mary's Church, Twickenham, on 14 September 1837 and another daughter, Mary Penelope, on 8 June 1839. Their first son, Edward George Moore was baptised on 19 July 1842, perhaps in the newly built Holy Trinity Church on Twickenham Green. There was a further son, Arthur Bampton Donnithorne, born in June 1844 and still at home, aged 26 in 1871. In the Census of 1881 Edward was noted as a member of the Stock Exchange, married and living in London.

Sadly, Elizabeth Jane died young: her funeral took place in St Mary's Church, Twickenham on 26 March 1847, and she was buried in the Oak Lane Cemetery. Some years later Edward married again, Georgina Stronge of Westerham in Kent. Curiously, in the 1851 Census return Edward is shown, not at Colne Lodge with his family. but as a visitor with his daughter Mary and son Edward, at Orchard Lodge, the house of the Rev Thomas Bevan (1807-51) in Pope's Grove. Bevan was the first incumbent of Holy Trinity Church, but there being no vicarage at that time, he apparently built the house for himself.

The Bevans and the Donnithornes were connected by marriage. In October 1830 Thomas Bevan had married Mary Moore at Topsham, Devon. She was a sister of Elizabeth Jane. He died, leaving nine surviving of ten children and was buried in the Oak Lane Cemetery in July 1851. In June 1863 a son, Charles Donnithorne Bevan was buried beside him.

At Twickenham Edward entered local affairs, becoming a Magistrate by 1851 and, in 1870, Chairman of the Local Board. In 1860 he joined the committee formulating proposals for a new parish in Whitton and the church of SS Philip and James was consecrated in 1862. According to a contemporary description by the Rev G S Masters, Vicar of Twickenham, there was, “in the organ chamber another memorial window……to the wife and daughter of E H Donnithorne, Esq; its subjects are 'the raising of Jairus' daughter', and 'Our Lord with Martha and Mary in their home at Bethany'”. The daughter was Isabella Charlotte who had died in October 1855, aged 20.

Edward spent the remainder of his life in Twickenham and when he died was buried in Twickenham Cemetery on 7 February 1885. On 11 June that year the bodies of Elizabeth Jane and Isabella were removed from the Oak Lane Cemetery and re-interred beside him in accordance with a Faculty obtained for the purpose.

Edward Donnithorne in later years (copyright Donnithorne Family)

Edward George Moore Donnithorne

Edward's son, Edward George Moore, entered the army, becoming a Lt Colonel in the Royal Scots Greys. He saw action in the Maori wars, and later served in Ireland. There he met and married, on 8 July 1875, Harriette Lucia Alexander. There were six children of the union, the first three, Harold, Lilian and Loveday, born in Ireland. In 1885 he inherited Colne Lodge from his father and came to live there, where three more children were born: Vyvyan (1886) and Edith (1890) and lastly a son in 1895 who died at birth. Of his five surviving children two sons and two daughters married into the same Ingram family.

The inventor of razor wire, he also invested in the development of a high-powered automatic machine gun. This was imprudent and financial difficulties obliged him to vacate Colne Lodge in 1897. He moved to a modest establishment, Briar House, nearby. As a result of financial mis-management and addiction to opium he was declared bankrupt. His wife was forced to take in laundry at Briar House. This grew into a successful business that was still running in 1937.

Colne Lodge was sold for redevelopment in 1900 and demolished but Briar House stands today in Colne Road, facing the end of Briar Road.

When he died in 1906 Edward was buried beside his parents and Isabella in Twickenham Cemetery.

The Colne Lodge Estate in 1900

Eliza Emily Donnithorne

When James Donnithorne lost his wife Sarah and two of his daughters in the cholera epidemic of 1832 he requested and was granted special leave from the East India Company. It is likely that he and his daughter Eliza returned to England for a while, where he left Eliza in the care of her older brother Edward. Eliza may have been very useful to the family, helping her sister-in-law Elizabeth Jane care for her growing family and at the same time gaining some additional education for herself. She must also have been introduced to a social scene that would have been denied to her in India or Australia. The 1841 Census shows her living at Colne Lodge.

When, in 1838 her father moved to Australia he started a number of lucrative businesses both in the Melbourne (Port Philip) area and Sydney.

On 26 April 1845 Eliza's uncle William Wright Bamption jr, her mother's elder brother (who had retired from his post as an army major due to an injury he had sustained in 1833) committed suicide at Colne Lodge by shooting himself through the head with his own pistol. He was buried in the Oak Lane Cemetery, Twickenham. The death was hushed up by the family, his suicide remaining a mystery. Eliza was the main beneficiary of his will and became financially independent of both her brother and father.

In 1846 she left England, joining her father in Australia in June. Here she met and is held to have fallen in love with a very eligible man by the name of Stuart Donaldson who was an aspiring politician in Sydney. It is not known if Eliza or her father were aware that Donaldson was also maintaining a mistress with whom he had fathered a son in the Sydney area at this time. Engagement, leading to marriage was suggested in a gossip column published in a Sydney newspaper in April 1848. The legend was thus created: that the wedding would have taken place that year had the groom appeared on the day. He did not and, jilted, Eliza retreated into a form of seclusion at Camperdown Lodge for the remaining 38 years of her life.

Her father, died in 1852 and she, unusually for the time, inherited the bulk of his estate. She devoted herself to its administration, seldom leaving the house. Thr legend continued with the story that the wedding feast remained untouched for all this time in the dining room, though not borne out by the testaments of the two devoted servants who looked after her for the remainder of her life.

The story of Eliza the jilted bride, a recluse in poor health who lived out her days in a darkened house is legendary in Newtown, and it may have come to the notice of Charles Dickens who perhaps used her as the inspiration for Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations”. There is much circumstantial evidence for this although there are a number of other claimants.

Briar House in Colne Road, Twickenham

The Dickens connection

Dickens first visited Twickenham in 1838, staying at Ailsa Villas. He probably met the Donnithornes, his neighbours, between that time and 1846 when Eliza returned to Australia. Later, as a visitor to Twickenham he might have heard about the life which she was living in Newtown, Sydney, in 1848. Great Expectations first appeared as a three volume novel in July 1861, having been serialised from the previous December in a monthly magazine.

Dying on 20 May 1886, Eliza's will showed that she had bequeathed her father's organ to her brother Edward. However, he had died in February 1885 and it may never have been sent to Colne Lodge. She was buried in Newtown cemetery where, in 2004 her headstone was vandalised. Restored by 2008 it was visited by a delegation from the Dickens Society, who had contributed to the repair.

The story has not died: in 1974 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies composed “Miss Donnithorne's Maggot”, a set of eight songs for mezzo-soprano and ensemble with text by Randolph Stow. It was first performed that year at the Adelaide Festival in the Town Hall, Maxwell Davies conducting. It is a caricature which does not please everybody and the title is less than amiable despite its traditional meaning, “whimsical fancy”, rather than larvae, for maggot.

Camperdown Lodge in later years

Further reading

Evelyn Juers, The Recluse, The Giramondo Publishing Company (, Australia, 2012

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