This post has been a long time coming – yet it is one of my favourite things I’ve ever researched, and one that I am inordinately proud of (probably second only to finding my husband’s [adopted] aunt’s birth family … or tracking down my paternal grandfather’s family). Some of it might be a bit squirrelly but bear with me …
The man pictured below is General Sir Trevor Chute, K.C.B. taken around 1865-1867. As can be surmised, he was a bit of a big shot. (His official rank at the time of the photo was actually Major General, to which he had been promoted on 9 April 1864 – he wouldn’t become a full General until 1877.)
Trevor was known as the Kerry Bull – partly because he was kind of short and stocky with a booming deep voice and a certain … attitude, and partly because he was from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. In fact, just outside Tralee is a place called Chute Hall. The Hall itself has now been demolished and all that remains is a gateway, but it was here that he was likely born.
He became a bit of a military bigshot in India and then New Zealand (despite getting his troops lost and starved enough that they had to eat a couple of their pack-horses). He also became Governor of New South Wales for a short time before being shipped back to England where he eventually retired to Binfield in Berkshire. But whilst he was in Australia he married Ellen Browning in 1868. She accompanied him back to England, and in 1871 they are living in the parish of St George Hanover Square, London (along with a ‘visitor’ Emily Chute). By 1881 they are living in Binfield, Berkshire.
Edward died there in March 1886. His obituaries (below, the first from Illustrated London News published on Saturday 27 March 1886, and the second from Army and Navy Gazette published on Saturday 20 March 1886) mention his wife, his military achievements … but no children.
So it might come as a bit of a surprise if I said that he had four of them.
The eldest was Sophia Frances, then came Mary Agnes, then Trevor Edward and finally Amelia Howard. I’m sure that there’s evidence to back all that up, right? Right.
Firstly, the below baptism for “Emilia” found in the National Library of Ireland’s archives for baptisms in the Diocese of Cloyne, Youghal, County Kerry. Dated to 3 July 1849, Emilia’s parents are Trevor Chute and “Anstice” Tonkinson, and her godparents/sponsors are Edward and Harriet Tonkinson.
Amelia goes on to marry twice. The first time in St Peter’s Catholic Chapel, Winchester in 1872, and the second time in London, in September 1883. On her second marriage certificate, her father is listed as Edward Trevor Chute (deceased), military officer. I mean, its possible that there could be two of them, right?
Her first marriage certificate in 1872, however, is a little more … exact:
“Sir Trevor Chute KCB, general half pay” is quite specific!
Her brother Trevor’s marriage certificate also backs this up:
It is interesting to speculate if Amelia is the same “Emily” as is ‘visiting’ Edward in 1871? She would be the right age with the right birthplace to be Amelia. Does that mean that Edward recognised some kind of paternal obligation? I admit that I haven’t purchased his will to find out if any provision for or mention of them is made (not that it was a large estate).
What of the mother of the children? I haven’t managed to find a marriage document for Edward to Anastasia Tonkinson (and I don’t believe that they ever did marry), although she is living in Landport, Portsea, Hampshire by 1861 (where I found that she was born in France) with her mother (Maria Tonkinson, nee Herlen) and her brother, Edward. She is listed as married and as an annuitant (meaning she received a regular amount of money from an investment or other annuity – was this connected to ‘paternity payments’?). Moving forward ten years, she is still in Landport, living with her children Trevor and Mary, her sister Sophia and a lodger, Her brother, Edward, is living next door with his wife and two children. Her answer as to ‘Rank, Profession or Occupation’ is another interesting one: Wife of Retired Captain, HM Army.
In 1891 she is listed as ‘sister-in-law’ in the Brooke household, still in Landport. However, a mistake has been made somewhere and it should read ‘mother-in-law’ as it was her daughter, Gertrude Theresa Herlen, who married John Mortimer Brooke. Anastasia is recorded as widowed and ‘Living on own means’. Anastasia is last recorded in the 1901 census, still living with John and Gertrude. This time she is recorded as Aunt. She died in 1906.
To go off-track a little to explain this … Gertrude was born in Portsea on 21 November 1857, but not baptised until 21 February 1872 in St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth. A father is listed, Adrian Herlen, but as this is the same name as Anastasia’s mother’s maiden name I have to take it with a pinch of salt. Her godmother is her maternal aunt, Sophia Clark. The “sub conditione” comment (literally translated as “under the condition”) implies that this was a conditional baptism. I imagine because of the large gap between birth and baptism (almost 14 years) the priest was unsure if she had been baptised elsewhere.
Gertrude married John in the same cathedral, 8 years later, again stating that her father was Adrian Herlen:
Either way, Gertrude wasn’t Edward’s, and Anastasia was her mother – certainly not her aunt!
Thanks to his service record, I can place Edward at the barracks in Youghal, which had been built by the British Army back in 1812, for several years at the beginning of his career. Of course, this connection being correct is helped by Sophia’s baptismal record of 25 September 1842:
That last column states “Barracks – Illegitimate”, confirming the military link and the fact that Anastasia and ‘Trevor’ weren’t married. I haven’t been able to locate baptisms for Mary Agnes or Trevor Edward junior, but I am certain that they are one and the same family unit.
Of course, I was only able to find these records by working backwards through the tree to Amelia and then sideways and down other avenues. I don’t know what sort of relationship he had with his offspring, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only 19th-century soldier to have illegitimate children, but having four with the same woman shows, in my opinion, at least some kind of connection with Anastasia at the least. Indeed, her choice (if it was a choice?) of residence – a military town like Portsea – gave her the ability to describe herself as an Army wife with an absent husband and perhaps avoid wagging tongues by having that veneer of respectability.
There is so much that is unknown and unknowable about the relationships the General had with Anastasia and the others, and census returns and marriage certificates only give tiny snapshots that can be interpreted in many different ways. However, the fact remains that they were not the legitimate children of the General and it wouldn’t be until the Legitimacy Act of 1926 that post factum legitimisation was possible (interestingly in medieval Wales before its subjugation by the British, any child acknowledged by its father had equal legal rights, whether born in wedlock or not).
Perhaps, despite not having recognition in his death, they received their father’s acknowledgement in life.