James Lowe (1798 - 1866) and his daughter
Mrs Henrietta Vansittart (1833 - 1883)

Inventors of the Lowe-Vansittart patented screw propeller
and their connections to Ewell, Surrey


The Lowe Marine Propeller as manufactured at the time of his death.
The Lowe Marine Propeller as manufactured shortly after his death.
Image source Engineering 21 August 1868

This article is concerned with individuals who appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible via the Surrey Libraries website) and attempts to explain, inter alia, why James Lowe and his wife were brought for interment in St Mary's churchyard, Ewell, Surrey.

George Barnes married Maria, daughter of Robert Seaman of Dominica in the West Indies, about 1801. [Seaman was a slave owner in the parish of St John who had been a member of his Majesty's Council for Dominica in 1775.] George and Mariah (sic) subsequently brought offspring for baptism in Ewell parish church :-
George Thomas Barnes on 23 July 1802
Mary Barnes on 3 May 1804 and
Maria Sarah Barnes on 11 March 1807
but two years later their mother died as shown by the following memorial inscription on a slab over plot 190 [Exwood] in St Mary's churchyard: -
"Sacred To the Memory of Mrs Maria Barnes Second daughter of Robert Seaman Esqr of Dominica in the West Indies who departed this life 20 August 1809 aged 32 years.
Tho' low in earth her beautious form decayed
My faithful wife, my loved Maria's Laid,
In sti11 rememberance the afflicted raise,
No pompous tomb inscribed with venal praise.
To statesmen, warriors and to kings belong,
The trophied sculptor and poets song,
And these the proud expiring often claim,
Their wealth bequeathing to record their name,
But humble virtue stealing to the dust,
Heeds not our lays on Monumental Bust,
To name her virtues ill befits my grief,
What was my bliss can now give no relief ,.
A husband mourns, the rest let friendship tell,
Fame spread her worth, a husband knew it well.
also George Barnes Husband of the above who died August 6th 1868 aged 91 years"
The name of George Barnes appears in a number of places in the list of Ewell Copyholds - in particular, from 1805, in relation to plot 286 and a messuage, probably built by Henry Kitchen, senior, which later became known as Dorset House, Cheam Road. The house is shown on the following extract from the Enclosure Map surveyed in 1802.

Extract from the 1802 Enclosure Map
Extract from the 1802 Enclosure Map

Barnes also owned a house and land in South Street, Ewell, arable land in the South field, and other land awarded under the 1803 Enclosure Act as well as Clayton Cottage with farmland near the eastern entrance of Epsom. Described as 'Builder, dealer and chapman', he was declared bankrupt in 1814 and legal proceedings in this respect continued for at least another 15 years.

On 30 May 1825, Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr Barnes of Ewell married James Lowe (date of birth 13 May 1798, according to the Newcomen Society) who had returned in that year from whale fishery on the Amelia Wilson in the South Sea. Lowe's origins are obscure but he was born at Rotherhithe (according to the 1861 Census) and may be presumed the son of James and Elizabeth Lowe baptised at St Mary Rotherhithe on his birthday, 13 May 1798. He entered employment with Edward Shorter, mechanic, of New Crane,Wapping, as early as 1811 before becoming an apprentice there during 1813.

In the 1841 Census, the family appear at Market Place, St George the Martyr, Southwark, all born in the County of Surrey, listed as follows: -
James Lowe, 42, Mackintosh Mkr.,
Mary Lowe, 37 and children
James, 15,
Maria, 12,
Emma, 10,
Henrietta, 7,
Joseph, 5,
Elizabeth, 3,
Amelia, 5 months.
On 24 September 1838, James Lowe had taken out a patent (No. 7599) involving the use of curved blades for propelling - portions of an ordinary helix cut to shape.

The Curved Blades of The Lowe Propeller
The Curved Blades of The Lowe Propeller
Images taken from 'A treatise on the screw propeller' by John Bourne 1852

His propellers had been used experimentally in the Wizard and later on HMS Rattler (after the famous trial on 3 April 1845 when screw-driven Rattler and paddle-operated HMS Alecto struggled for mechanical advantage lashed stern to stern).

HMS Rattler vs HMS Alecto 03 April 1845
HMS Rattler vs HMS Alecto 03 April 1845
Unknown Artist, The original painting is in The National Maritime Museum

Further details of James' life may be found in the DNB article which suggests that he exhausted his wife's dowry and reduced the family to poverty by 1852, when they were living at 4 Charlotte Place, Grange Road, Bermondsey. In 1851, 'Mr Lowe's Petition' to the Queen in Council had been published in the Mechanics' Magazine, Vol. 55 and a full report of the Privy Council hearing over 2, 5, 19, 20, & 21 February 1852 appeared in Vol. 56 of that journal. A case for extension of the patent in question was not made out but he obtained a new patent (No. 14263) in 1852.

The Lowe's fourth child, Henrietta, was born around 1833 as shown above, but has wrongly# been suggested to have been delivered in Bermondsey. By 1838 the family resided at King Street, Old Kent Road, Surrey. Their 1840 address had been 38 late 27 Wellington Street, Blackfriars Road. Although in 1856 they had moved to East Greenwich, Kent, Henrietta had previously left home because during 1855 she married Lieutenant Frederick Vansittart of 14th (The King's) Regiment of Light Dragoons at the British Embassy in Paris.

For the 1861 Census the family may be found enumerated at 3 Claremont Place, [Lower Park Road] Camberwell, - James Lowe, 66, Mechanist, born Rotherhithe, Surrey, his wife, Mary, 53, born Ewell, and two daughters, Elizabeth, 22, Needlewoman & Rachel, 11, Scholar, both born in Southwark.

We are told that James Lowe was run over by a wagon and killed, in London, on 12 October 1866. He had been on his way home along Blackfriars Road and was standing on the kerb preparing to cross the street when horses drawing a heavily loaded dray approached at speed. Caught by the arm and swung into the roadway under the wheels of the cart his chest became crushed. The carman, William Scott, was charged with manslaughter and referred for trial at the Central Criminal Court.

Mr Lowe, aged 69,noted as from 'Southwark', was buried at St Mary's, Ewell on 29 October 1866. An explanation seems to be that by 1861 Henrietta Vansittart had taken up residence in Dorset House, Ewell, formerly occupied by her grandfather, George Barnes, and she probably remained there until Dr George Robinson Barnes' arrival in 1867. [There is no evidence that Henrietta and the latter were related.] Geographical separation from Frederick Vansittart, her husband, at this time would have coincided with the 10 years from 1859 she spent as mistress of Edward Bulwer Lytton.

The imposing Lowe memorial still stands in the oldest part of the churchyard. The main inscription, almost completely eroded, is recorded to have read:-
"Sacred to the memory of James Lowe, Esq., who was born May 13th 1798 and met his death from an accident the 12th October 1866. He was the Inventor of the Segment of the Screw Propeller in use since 1838 and his life though unobtrusive was not without great benefit to his country. He suffered many troubles but bore them lightly as his hope was not of this world but in our Saviour. Erected by his sorrowing Widow and his affectionate daughter, Henrietta Vansittart"
The Lowe Memorial in St Mary's Churchyard Ewell
The Lowe Memorial in St Mary's Churchyard Ewell
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2011

On the west side is an addition: -
"also to the Memory of Mary Lowe Wife of Mr James Lowe
who died the 22nd Feb 1871, in the 66th year of her age who was the Eldest daughter of
Robert Seaman Esq of Dominica in the West Indies
"
The concluding part highlighted is presumably a mistake by the transcriber (conflating some information from the Barnes' inscription detailed earlier) because her birth in 1805 would have been a generation too late to have been Seaman's child rather than his grandchild, Maria Barnes' daughter, as generally accepted. She has also been listed as interred in adjacent plot 182 [Exwood], in fact the burial place of Edward and Sarah Hudson. The monument is discussed by Maurice Exwood on pages 32 & 33 in Burials and their monuments in the old churchyard of Ewell: Henrietta Vansittart is reported to have mentioned the fact that 'Squire (George) Barnes of Ewell' was her maternal grandfather when writing in 1882.

As noted earlier, George Barnes' demise occurred on 6 August 1868 at the age of 91 [Reg. Kensington 9/1868]. He is thought to have entered a second marriage and to appear in the 1861 Census for St Mary Abbot, Kensington, aged 80, with his spouse Sarah, 60, born Oxon, living on income from Freehold property.

Before an announcement in the London Gazette, 8 October 1868, of Patent 2877 being granted to Henrietta Vansittart for the invention of "improvements in the construction of screw propellers", the lady had moved from Ewell to Richmond, Surrey. Her address there on 19 January 1869 was 4 Maid of Honour Row.

Henrietta's US Patent
Henrietta's US Patent No 89712 Dated 04 May 1869
Click image to enlarge
Image source Google Patents

Mary Lowe is indicated to have died on 22 February 1871 at Bromley by Bow [Reg. Poplar 3/1871], aged 67, and was brought to Ewell for burial, 1 March 1871.

For the 1871 Census Frederick Vansittart listed himself as a retired cavalry officer with his wife at 4 Maid of Honour Row, Richmond. Henrietta was distanced from Edward Bulwer Lytton about this time: he had become ill and retreated to Torquay before dying on 18 January 1873. The Vansittarts were, however, remembered with pecuniary legacies in Baron Lytton's will - £300 for Frederick and a rather more generous £1,200 to Henrietta.

Five years later, Henrietta continued to exhibit her patented device with the arcane description "Lowe-Vansittart Curved line or Three Pitched Wave Line, Non-vibrating, Full body, Economical Screw Propeller".

In the Census for 1881 the couple have moved to St Mary Priory, Twickenham, - apparently 3 Montpelier Row, later Grade II* listed as 'Seymour House'. Frederick Vansittart, 53, born White Waltham, appears as "Retired officer of Army, Patentee of the Lowe-Vansittart propeller" with Henrietta his wife aged 41, born Ewell#, Surrey.

Henrietta Vansittart attended the North East Coast Exhibition of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering which opened at Tynemouth on 6 September 1882. Subsequently, she was found wandering in a confused state of mind and was committed to Tyne City Lunatic Asylum at Coxlodge, Gosforth, where she passed away on 8 February 1883.

Captain Frederick Vansittart, late of 4 Cannon Place, Brighton, Sussex, died on 22 May 1902 at 162 Castle hill, Reading, Berks. [Reg. Reading 6/1902 aged 76].

Brian Bouchard © 2011


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