Thomas Grimstead (26 March 1803 - 24 January 1884)

Amateur cricketer, and deceived young man? Another extraordinary case!

Thomas was born in Leatherhead on 26 March 1803 a son of Joseph Valentine Grimstead and Charlotte Sarah Jane, nee Walsh.

He became involved with an Irish thespian, Eliza or Lavinia Edwards, known professionally as Miss Walstein.

Correspondence which passed between them has been recorded as follows: -
"5, Hartford Place, Westminster Road.

My dear Sir.
With a heart overflowing with gratitude I now address you, but had I the masterly style of Dryden it would prove inadequate to express my feelings. There is something in your looks and manners that assures me of your forgiveness of the faults I have committed. After seeing you yesterday, I was taken violently ill; I am still very weak; my heart burns and my hand trembles, knowing that I am addressing the father of the lord of my life and soul. Oh, do have mercy upon me and Mr. Thomas, whom I should like to see this day. What is done cannot be undone, my sufferings are coming on daily and hourly. When Mr. Grimsted first took me under his protection, it was from the purest motives of friendship, which ripened into love. I have been subject to so many misfortunes, that it seems as if I was surrounded with a magic chain, which it is impossible to escape. It was my misfortunes and ill health that first induced him to take me under his protection, until I was sufficiently recovered to return to my profession on the stage; then he would have said, While I was fretting my hour on the stage, this is my adopted - her have I saved from impending ruin and an early grave; but every thing has gone wrong. Heaven knows how much I have suffered since I saw him. My piano, my jewels, my stage dresses, my very walking dress, have I parted with since I left Leatherhead; but, poor fellow, he could not help it. My father was a lieutenant-colonel in the East India Company's service, and died when I was quite an infant, and I was placed under the protection of my uncle at Paris. As I grew up I had a particular fancy for the stage, and I eloped from him at the age of 14, in December 1823. I first appeared before the public [* part of a tissue of lies - Walstein was on the stage from 1800] at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, in the character of Isabella, in the Fatal Marriage, and I soon became a great favourite as an actress. But I soon met with the most bitter misfortunes, which followed in rapid succession. Had I been aware of them I would have consulted the Book of Fate. Whenever I go, I still meet with friends, but the evil genius which pursues me, prevents me profiting by them. I trust I shall not be long without seein him. Hoping to obtain your and your lady's entire forgiveness, I remain your humble broken-hearted wandering actress,

LAVINIA WANSTEAD (sic)."
- - - - -

"21, Portman-street, Portman-square, - March 5, 1830. -

My dear Lavinia Edwards,
I have scarcely time to say it is impossible for me to be with you before to-morrow. I have been much disappointed, and still feel my wants will not be relieved in the way in which my expectations have led me to hope for, but I will explain when we meet; till then I hope that you and your young protege will make yourselves happy. I have enclosed 2, trusting that you will not require more until to-morrow or Sunday. . Have you enquired about rooms yet, or has your health been too bad to take walks? I hope you are already much restored in your health and spirits. Wishing you every comfort and happiness, believe me, with best love, my dearest Lavinia, ever sincerely,

'TOM'."
- - - - -

"Ashstead, March 23, 1830.

My dearest Lavinia.
I hope you did not expect me at the cottage last night, as it would not do. My aim in sending this is that you may make use of my servant, (his name is Leman)-he has been to the dressmakers, therefore he can satisfy you on that point, or he can call again if you wish it. I am just going out hunting, and shall not be at home till late; if possible we will meet in the evening. Good bye, Heaven bless you, and preserve you for future greatness.
My dearest Lavinia, yours sincerely attached,

'TOM'."
- - - - -

"Ashstead, May 9, 1830.

My dearest Lavinia.
With degrading humility I have obtained 6. which you had better give to Old Constable, and tell him it is inconvenient for you to settle all the rent at present, as you did not think of doing so until you gave up the cottage, and say he shall have the remainder of his money in a few days. Attend to your health; keep up your spirits and give no room to blue devils.
With best love, believe me, my dearest Lavinia, your sincere and poor friend, 'TOM'.
P.S. If old Constable should ask if he will have the remainder of his money by Wednesday, you had better tell him it will not suit you so soon.

To Miss Edwards, Linden Cottage."
- - - - -

"Ashstead, May 9, 1830.

Madam,
You will excuse me for stating, that if you have any regard for the welfare of Mr. Thomas Grimstead, you will not annoy him with any more letters. It is my orders to him not to have any further intercourse with you in any way whatever. lf l know he has, he forfeits my favor for ever. I have the honour to be, Madam, your most obedient servant, and his father,

T. GRIMSTEAD."
- - - - -

[The full Ashtead address was probably Merry Hall, Agates Lane. Although purporting to have been written by Thomas' father it seems likely the last letter 'warning off' Miss Ewards had been penned by Tom himself. By that date, Joseph Valentine Grimstead could already have been incarcerated in the Fleet Prison.]

In 1831, the Sporting Magazine reported Thomas Grinstead's participation in an Epsom Cricket Club team which played Clarence Club, 23 May, on Epsom Downs. He was also in a Marylebone side against Norwich Club, catching out Mr Spinks beautifully.

A pamphlet, The Extraordinary Investigation of the Jury - Eliza or Lavinia Edwards, which recorded the above correspondence further explained: -
"On Wednesday evening January 23, 1833, an inquisition was held before Mr. Higgs, at the Coach and Horses, Flood-street, Dean's yard, Westminster on the body of a person who has been known for years by the name of Eliza Edwards, about 24 years of age, who died under the following extraordinary circumstances :
The inquiry was instituted by order of Lord Melbourne, the Secretary of State, who was of opinion that there were circumstances in the case which required a public investigation. The deceased and a sister resided in Union-court, Orchard street, Wesminster, and both were supposed to be kept women. Last week the deceased died, and there being no claimants for the body, it was taken to Guy's Hospital for dissection, when it was at once discovered, to the surprise of every one, that the deceased was a perfect man. The case excited the greatest interest in the neighbourhood, and the the jury-room was crowded to excess. After the jury were sworn, they proceeded to view the body of the deceased, which lay in St. Margaret's workhouse. It was of very effeminate appearance; no appearance of a beard beyond that of a boy of seventeen, and the whiskers seemed as if they had been plucked out with a pair of tweezers. The hair of the head was light brown, and upwards of two feet long behind, of a soft glossy texture, and the whole appearance of the countenance was that of a female. Dr. Clutterbuck, of New Bridge-street, Blackfriars, stated that he had examined the body of the deceased in St. Margaret's workhouse, at the request of Dr. Somerville, who was desirous that he should identify the body as the person whom he had attended a few weeks before under the name of Lavinia Edwards, at her lodgings near the Coburg Theatre. He had attended the deceased for a dangerous inflammation on the lungs. He had no idea that the deceased was not a woman. He had attended her previously at the request of a gentleman named Thomas Smith, under whose protection the deceased lived, and who paid him several fees for attendance. The deceased had always a very effeminate appearance, and a kind of cracked voice, not unlike a female. Juror - 'In what situation was the deceased three years ago ?' Witness - 'Much better off than she was latterly.' Juror - 'Who is this Mr. Smith, who kept the deceased ?' Witness - I believe he has gone abroad, in the service of the Canada Company.' Juror - 'Did Mr. Sinith desert the deceased ?' Witness - 'I understand that he did'. Maria Edwards, who passed as the deceased's sister, was next examined. She stated that she was born in Dublin, and was 17 years old. She had lived with the deceased constantly for the last ten years. The deceased was a performer on the stage, and travelled about the country, and play'd female characters. Coroner - 'How long have you been in London ?' Witness - 'We have been about three years.' Coroner - 'How was the deceased supported during this time ?' Witness - 'By different gentlemen.' Coroner - 'Where did you reside prior to coming to London ?' Witness - 'At Leatherhead, about six months.' Juror - 'How do you know that the deceased was your sister ?' Witness - 'My mother told me so, and we lived together.' Juror - 'Do you know any of the gentlemen who visited the deceased ?' Witness - 'I remember a gentleman named Smith coming to see her, when we lived in the Westminster-road.' Juror - 'Any person else?' Witness - 'Yes, a Mr. Grimstead, who is gone to Italy. He formerly lived at Leatherhead.'"

Eliza Edwards aka Lavinia Walstein
Eliza Edwards aka Lavinia Walstein, c1786 - 1833, revealed.
Image courtesy of © The Trustees of the British Museum 1933,1014.560

Said to have been the child of Dublin gunsmith, Mister Edwards had been an actor who generally passed for a woman. 'Miss Walstein' *appeared at the Dublin Theatre, 13 June 1800, and is named as a performer in the Caledonian Gazette of 8 December 1800 also, between October 1803 and 1810, frequently on playbills for the Kilkenny Theatre.

According to Bentley's Miscellany, Volume 18, 1845, in the Crow Street Theatre Company, Dublin : -
"Miss Walstein led in comedy. She reminded me of Mrs. Davidson. Probably both had adopted the same model. Though somewhat passee, Miss Walstein still looked the matronly heroine of genteel comedy, and played the Rosalinds and the Letititia Hardys so well, that her personal deficiencies were forgotten. In tragedy she was above mediocrity. I never saw any actress play Lady Anne better. She subsequently came out at Drury Lane, as a counter-attraction to Miss O'Neill-a most injudicious step. She should have made her debut ten years earlier, or not at all".
The Honourable Douglas James William Kinnaird became, with Lord Byron,and others, a member of the sub-committee for directing the affairs of the Drury Lane Theatre. Douglas Kinnaird remarked to Byron in a letter from Pall Mall dated 2 October 1814: -
'In the interim our sapient managers, in consequence of Miss O'Neill's success, have sent for a Miss Walstein from Ireland, who is old, ugly, & thin - & is a mere ranter in ye Kemble school …'

Miss Walstein as Rosalind
Miss Walstein as Rosalind [in Shakespeare's As you like it]
Image courtesy of The Folger Shakespeare Library 28321

'She' is reported to have played at Drury Lane for the single season 1814/1815 but to have been highly regarded for singing. Thereafter, however, appearances were confined to Dublin and various provincial theatres. By the late 1820's she was 'walking the streets' in London around Jermyn Street, eventually gravitating to an area near the Royal Cobourg Theatre at the end of Waterloo Road (now the site of the 'Old Vic']. There, in wine vaults for a drink, she would recite 'passages from Shakespeare and other dramatic authors with considerable talent'. Evidence which had been suppressed at the Inquest came to be published in A Manual of Medical Jurisprudence and State Medicine, by Michael Ryan, 1836 : it was concluded that the deceased had offered his services as a male prostitute for at least nine years previously.

Edwards as he lay in his coffin
Edwards as he lay in his coffin

No doubt the publication of his correspondence would have been a source of embarrassment for Thomas Grimstead but he was relieved from fear of further solicitation of funds.

Joseph Valentine Grimstead died towards the end of December 1834. Subsequently Thomas Grimstead led a comfortable and seemingly uneventful life. For the 1841 Census he was enumerated at Church Street, Epsom, as a bachelor living with his unmarried sister Frances. By 1851 they were in Redbourn, Hertfordshire, apparently at The Priory on the High Street. He described himself simply as a 'Landowner'. His death was registered in 1884 at St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Brian Bouchard © September, 2017