John Jesse 1748 - 1777(?)

Honourable East India Company Service on the establishment at Fort Marlborough, Sumatra - slave owner in Sumatra and Brunei. And his natural daughter Emilia Harrison / Jesse resident in Epsom during the 18th century

Squire Bartell's House
Squire Bartell's House.
Artist and photographer not known.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

John Jesse, senior, succeeded his own father of the same name in the General Post Office, during 1729, as Assistant Comptroller of the Inland Office. Four years later he came into an inheritance of £10, 000 from his aunt Miss Grace Jesse. In 1734 he was promoted to the rank of first clerk to the Postmaster General and under secretary to the Post Office. Becoming Deputy Cashier in 1737, he subsequently advanced to the post of Cashier.

On 29 September 1744, at St Anne & St Agnes, Gresham Street, London, John married Esther Wood, daughter of Christopher Wood of Norton, Staffordshire. The couple then set up home in some style at Craven Hill, Bayswater, before their son another John Jesse was born on 17 June 1748 and baptised in St James, Paddington, 16 July 1748. The elder John is reported to have fallen ill during March 1753, was buried at St James, Paddington, 27 May 1753, and his Will proved the following 13th June.

In 1752, the elder John, his wife Esther and their four year old son had instituted legal proceedings against Samuel Hill of Shenstone Park, Staffordshire. This and other actions were pursued by the widowed Esther Jesse with her son through to 1755 - one in her capacity as Executrix of Sir John de Lange, Kt., of St Ann, Blackfriars.

Before 1764, Esther took up with Lieut Col James Money (1724-1785) of Pitsford, Northamptonshire and in that year, described as 'widow of Westminster', was granted an annuity by him. Reputedly, she had become his mistress.

Her son the younger John Jesse entered service with the Honourable East India Company and around 1770 fathered a daughter out of wedlock called Emilia Harrison. He was a friend of Anthony Chamier and this connection probably explains the eventual presence in Epsom of the daughter who became commonly known as Emilia Harrison Jesse.

Fort Marlborough, Bengkulu
Fort Marlborough, Bengkulu, showing the Government House and Council House.
Coloured aquatint with etching; drawn by Andrews, ca.1794-98;
engraved by Joseph Stadler; published by William Marsden, 1799.
Source: British Library, P 329.

John Jesse appears to have been assigned by HEIC as a second-secretary in Fort Marlborough, Bencoolen/ Bengkulu, Sumatra, taking his young daughter there with him. Mrs Hannah Moore, wife of James Moore (appointed Third in Council, Fort Marlboro, 1770), took the child under her wing at least from the time Jesse became involved in the ill-starred Balambangan venture.

The East India Company had taken possession of uninhabited Balambangan island,at the extreme south-eastern tip of Java, during 1773, and formed a settlement there from 12th December with a view of making it an emporium of trade for Eastern commodities.

Captain Herbert, a commander of one of the East India Company's ships was very active in Balambangan and parts of the areas under the control of the Sultan of Sulu: he also had to deal with Brunei. In June 1774, he sent a letter addressed to the King of Borneo Proper (Brunei) informing the King that he had arrived at Balambangan, and one of his wishes was to enter into an alliance with him. The King replied by sending an ambassador, who expressed the King's great desire, that the English might settle in his territories. John Jesse, a secretary at Balambangan from 1773, was then appointed a deputy agent at Borneo Proper. Jesse went to Brunei and succeeded in concluding a treaty which offered great benefits for the company. Captain Herbert in turn undertook to grant the Borneans assistance by the company should they be attacked. In return, he also received the exclusive right in the pepper trade. John Jesse was considered as the first Englishman to set foot on that part of Borneo Proper.

John Jesse wrote a long letter giving 'An Account of Borneo' to the Court of Directors on 2 July 1775 - which was published in The Asiatic Annual Register for 1803 [ LINK ]

After destruction of the Balambangan station by people of Sulu in February 1775, Jesse's trading post had been set up on the island of Labuan at the mouth of the Borneo River. That profitable establishment is reported to have been closed in turn by November 1775 although Jesse remained on location into the following year.

In A Voyage to New Guinea, and the Moluccas, from Balambangan by the navigator Thomas Forrest, published 1779, the author observed: -
'[7 February 1776] Sailed on for the island Labuan on our way to Borneo, for provisions. Labuan is the island, to which the English retired from Balambangan: it lies opposite the mouth of the river of Borneo Proper....

[10 February 1776] Rowed a good deal: at midnight got up the river, and anchored abreast of the resident's house. I found here the Luconia Scow, Captain Rossin, belonging to the honourable Company. On the 11th [February 1776], at sun-rise, saluted the factory with five guns, and had the same number returned. At seven o'clock went ashore, and waited on the resident, Mr Jesse who by the kindness of his manner, made my short stay very agreeable...

[18 February 1776] At four, found the vessel made more water than usual: she had sprung a leak on the starboard side, three streaks from the keel... ran back to Borneo; and at eight in the morning came to, abreast of Mr Jesse's house....

On Tuesday the 27th [February 1776], I had got every thing ready for sea. In the afternoon, Mr Jesse and Captain Rossin came on board; also Mr. Kirton, Captain Rossin's chief officer, a very ingenious young gentleman, who had. sailed round the world with Captain Carteret, and had commanded several country ships. We then weighed, and ran down the river. At sunset, they left us, and I saluted them with three guns. I followed my friends to the town; at eleven, took leave of them and returned on board.'
Subsequently John Jesse was recalled to Bencoolen, Sumatra, which continued to be the HEIC Presidency of Fort Marlborough until 1802. In A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Marsden, Written by himself, 1838, however, the author remarked :
'In the month of November, 1773, I was appointed (over the heads of others) to the post of sub-secretary, in the room of Mr. John Jesse, who proceeded on the unfortunate expedition to Balambangan, in the return from whence he died at Borneo'.
This could imply that Jesse had expired as early as 1777 since no reference to any activities by him after that period have been found.

The Will of John Jesse, 'In the service of the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies belonging to their Establishment of Fort Marlborough of Borneo , East Indies' had been drawn up, 7 January 1776, 'on board the scow Luconia in harbour at Labuan, Saboni (Sabah), near Borneo proper'. He was then living with a Filipino woman called Maria from an island called Capis (Capiz?) near Manila, rescued from the hands of Captain Dunton Campbell, for whom he made provision including Spanish $1,000. He also bequeathed a number of named slaves to various individuals. The bulk of his personal estate was, however, intended to benefit the 'illegitimate daughter commonly called Emilia Harrison Jesse' placed under the guardianship of Anthony Chamier and John Harrison, who were also nominated to become his Executors in England. Administration of his affairs in 'this part of the world' was entrusted to James Moore and Captain Edward Smith, commander of the packet ship HCS Antelope.

After John Jesse's death, the orphaned Emilia Harrison Jesse seems to have been brought back to England presumably to join the household of Anthony Chamier, appointed one of her guardians, at The Elms (now Clock House), Dorking Road, Epsom. Mr Chamier died on 12 October 1780 but his widow, Dorothy, nee Wilson, survived until 1799.

The Lady's Magazine Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex for 1792 announced the marriage of 'Capt. Trevillian of the 11th Regiment of Dragoons to Miss Jesse of Epsom'. Emilia Harrison Jesse had in fact been joined in matrimony to William Ceely Trevillian at Bromley on 9 June 1792. The choice of venue seems likely to have been influenced by the proximity of the residence of John Harrison, Emilia' s second Guardian. [See supplementary notes appended below*]

A son Ceely William Harrison Trevillian came to be born 19 May 1793 and baptised in Epsom 20 Jun 1793 but he may have died during infancy because the couple's next child is mentioned eventually as their only son. The children who survived seem to have been: -
  • Maurice Ceely Trevillian born 21 October 1796, c. Leatherhead, Surrey, 27 November 1796;
  • Mary Ceely Trevillian born 10 October 1797, c. Romford, Essex, 18 October 1797;
  • Emily Jesse Trevillian c. Woodford, Devon, 1 September 1804
  • Harriet Hope Trevilian c Woodford, Devon, 12 May 1806.
Mary, the eldest daughter of William Ceely Trevillian of Middleney, Somerset, married John Charles Maude, Clerk in holy orders, on 19 December 1815.

Mrs Emilia Trevillian. wife of W C Trevillian of Exeter, died on 13 December 1831 at Chanter Hill, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, the home of her son in law the Hon. & Rev. J C Maude, Rector of Enniskillen.

Brian Bouchard, August 2016

* Supplementary Notes - John Harrison the second Guardian of Emilia Harrison Jesse, and UK Executor of John Jesse William Harrison had married Hannah Andrews in 1721 and they lived at Widmore, Bromley, Kent, where their two sons were born - Andrews on 14 December 1726, and John on 15 January 1729. Two other children were William and Susan, who may have died in childhood. William Harrison, senior, of Old Broad Street in the City of London, died on 3 January 1745 and in his will expressed a wish to be buried in the Andrews family vault in the non-conformist burial ground at Bunhill Fields.

Andrews and John Harrison succeeded their father in partnership at Broad Street, London, as Ironmasters and remained unmarried. John is reported to have commissioned the construction of Shawfield Lodge, at Widmore near Bromley, for his own occupation in retirement about 1785. Andrews Harrison came to reside in an adjoining mansion with Mrs Susan Jukes, widow of Thomas Jukes.

Probate of the Will of John Jesse, 'In the service of the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies belonging to their Establishment of Fort Marlborough of Borneo, East Indies' was not obtained until 19 June1801. Administration of the deceased's estates and effects in England, but not elsewhere, was granted to John Harrison - PROB 11/1359/224. This late filing may have been necessary, at least in part, to access unclaimed funds with the Bank of England lodged in joint names including Esther Jesse of Pitsford, Northamptonshire, Widow, Anthony Chamier of Epsom and John Harrison of Broad Street.

John Harrison's burial is recorded to have taken place at Bromley on 29 November 1813. His Will included a relatively small bequest of £250 to Amelia (sic) Harrison Trevillian, wife of William Ceely Trevillian of Woodbury, Devon.

Andrews Harrison followed his brother to the grave at Bromley, 13 February 1816. His Will, dated 18 June 1808 with later codicils, left some annuities to Mrs Emilia Harrison Trevillian, wife of Willam Ceely Trevillian, Woodbury, Devon. Codicil G, 31 August 1812, bequeathed books and pictures in Shawfield Lodge, after the death of the survivor of self or brother to William Ceely Trevillian. The disputed effect of the codicils became subject to litigation as Kinleside v. Harrison [ LINK ] : in the judgement it was mentioned that the books and pictures had been received from a relation of Mr Trevillian's wife and consequently the testator felt under an obligation to pass them on to him. Evidently there was a family connection between the two brothers and Emilia Harrison but not one which was close and so the identity of her mother remains a mystery.

Amongst Andrews Harrison's valuable collection of paintings was one of The Labourers or Bricklayers, loading bricks into a Cart, commissioned by 4th Lord Viscount Torrington from George Stubbs (1724-1806) during 1767. Harrison had acquired it before 1790 when colour-printed mezzotints by Birche were published in London,dedicated to Andrews Harrison Esq. This work is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Laborers Loading A Brick Cart
Laborers Loading A Brick Cart
Painting by George Stubbs Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art