The sad story of Annie Robertson

Annie Robertson (1855 – 1889) was the second daughter of railway engineer Henry Robertson.  Her elder sister Elizabeth was four year older, then came Henrietta in 1858 and finally brother and heir Henry Beyer in 1862.

Annie was born in Shrewsbury, and in the 1861 census, when Annie was 6, the family were already living in some elegance. The household then consisted of the parents and three daughters, Mrs. Robertson’s mother, Ann  Dean and Mrs Robertson’s brothers Charles, also a civil engineer and Joshua, Secretary of a railway company, also 17 year old nephew John. They were supported by a Governess, Coachman, Cook, Nursery Maid and three housemaids.  Clearly a family on the up.

A Georgian house in St Mary’s Court, Shrewsbury, possibly the Robertsons’ home?

During the census of 1871 the Robertson family, parents and children were living at 13 Lancaster Gate, London, a home which they retained during the rest of Henry Robertson’s lifetime.  Henry, aged 55,  is by now described as Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant – presumably of Merionethshire, not London.  The Dean family no longer lived with them.  As well as Governess, Housekeeper, Cook and three Housemaids there were a Ladiesmaid, Butler and Under Butler.

Some time before this, Henry Robertson had acquired the Welsh estate of Crogen, and then bought the Palé estate and had Palé Hall built.  The family moved in on September 18th 1871, the carriage in which they arrived being pulled up from the Lodge to the Hall by the estate workmen. The 16 year old Annie must have been delighted by the splendid and luxurious house and its beautiful grounds.  The family maintained the ownership of Crogen, renting it out.  The Robertson family continue to live at Crogen.

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress from 1840. Victoria set the fashion for white wedding dresses

Only just over a year later, in December 1872, Annie Robertson married Alexander Sherriff. This was somewhat surprising, since her elder sister had not yet married, and there would have been an expectation that the eldest married first. Since Annie was only 18, it is likely that this was a love match. Alexander was 8 years older than Annie. He had been born in Leeds, but in 1871 had been living with his extended family at Prospect House, Sunbury. His father was M.P. for Leicester, other relatives were members of the Stock exchange, so it is likely that Annie met her future husband through her father’s network of city and political friends.

In May 1878 Annie, Mrs. Sherriff, was visiting Palé Hall with her sisters in law. A visit to see Thomas’ fossil collection led to several days’ expedition with Thomas, and including Henry Beyer Robertson when some enthusiastic fossil hunting took place and Mrs. Sherriff also did some water colour painting. This shows the degree of trust and respect existing between the Robertson family and their Head Gardener.

May 3rd Miss Robertson brought Miss Sherriff, and Miss Alice Sherriff to see my fossils and general collection; they were very much pleased. After seeing them we went together in the wagonette to Garnedd [SH896355]to see the Bala beds and to collect fossils. Mr. H.B. Robertson went with us. We got several nice fossils and walked back together.

May 18th I went with the Misses Sherriff & Mrs. Sherriff [nee Robertson]to Gelli Grin, to geologise. The first two worked uncommonly hard at stone-breaking. –I never saw more enthusiastic ladies fossil hunting. Mrs Sherrif was painting a sketch. They all enjoyed themselves very much and were very courteous.

May 21st. The above party went went with me to Cynwyd, where I first showed them Cynwyd falls. I next led them up to the fossil ground, but it was raining, so that it was not very encouraging, but the ladies were cheerful and willing to proceed. When we got up two miles, the rain suddenly ceased, and it turned quite a fine day. On looking back we could see the Arenig white with fresh-fallen snow. We got several interesting fossils at the first ground. After luncheon we went to work at the upper beds at Bwlch-y-Gaseg, where we were unusually successful. Miss Sherriff was continually calling out that she was getting fat ones–that is large shells. We got Trilobites, shells and corals. Mrs. Sherriff sat sketching the distant view. They were very free, courteous and kind, and we got home well pleased with our trip, although it was a hard day’s work.

Just over eight years after their marriage, which was childless, Alexander died on the 8th February 1880 at the Robertson London family home in Lancaster Gate, leaving Annie a widow at 26. It is difficult to know how Annie spent the few remaining years of her widowhood. From Thomas’ journal of 1887 we can see that she spent some time on the Continent at Nice, and that her regard for Thomas and memory of his collections remained in her mind:

Tuesday the 29th [March 1887] Mrs. Sheriff, who has been staying at Nice for a time, very kindly brought me a Roman tear bottle; it is a small glass vessel bulb shaped, with a longish neck. Mrs Sheriff saw it dug up in a Roman cemetery at the town of Ventimiglia, in the north of Italy, and in the ancient province of Liguria. Many other curious articles were found in the same place.

The next mention of Annie is in March 1889 when she falls ill:

March Monday 4thMrs Sherriff ill, was at church yesterday, and in the garden with me on Saturday, but seems to have caught a chill. 

Mrs. Sherriff very ill during the night, her old malady erysipelas has again got hold of her.

Sunday 10thMrs. Sherriff so very ill that I had to stop the turret clock. Everything done inside and outside the Hall to keep down noises. 

Wednesday 13 Mrs Sherriff has been very ill day and night, Dr Waters of Chester and Mr Williams of Bala with her all night.  Everybody about it very anxious about her, and great sympathy felt with Mr Robertson and all of them.

Wednesday, April 3  Mrs. Robertson told me that Mrs Sherriff was taken into Mr Robertson’s room, which is over entrance hall; she is now watched night and day by three nurses, who take it in turns. I am sorry to say that her mind seems to be unhinged.

Saturday the 20thMrs Sherriff taken to Eryl Aran near Bala I am sorry to say that she is no better; bodily she is, but mentally she is not. I put on the turret clock again after Mrs S. left here.

Sadly, in July Annie died at the private nursing home in Bala where she had been since her illness affected her mind:

Wednesday the 24th July Mrs Sherriff who has been unwell since her severe illness in March), died at Eryl Aran this morning at 3:30 o’clock.  Mrs Sherriff has been of late much better, but was taken very ill two days ago, and suffered severely yesterday and during the night from suffocation with sore throat. We all deeply sympathise with Mr Robertson and his sisters, for they have had a large share of trouble since Mr Robertson died. Mrs Sherriff has been very confidential with me about their troubles, and ready to assist me in any way possible since I had to reduce the men. Mrs Sherriff also was ever ready to lend me books, and it was very pleased with my success in Natural History, and was at all times interested in any additions to my collection. Very few ladies were so talented as Mrs Sherriff herself, she had splendid abilities, and worked hard; painting being her special study, and at this she was very successful. I fear that she overworked her brain, and thought herself to an untimely end.

Mourning angel, Cookham churchyard, Berkshire

So Annie was buried at Llandderfel, a few months after her 34th birthday, and only just over a year after the death of her father. Thus it was with these two family deaths still fresh, that the young Henry Beyer Robertson had to plan and take responsibility for entertaining the Queen and her extensive household just five weeks later.

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