William Maunsell Reeves


William Maunsell Reeves was born on 6 October 1843 in Vostersburg, County Cork, Ireland, the youngest child and son of William Maunsell Reeves (1788-1857) and Rose Dobbs (1802-1863). His father was a barrister-at-law and Justice of the Peace for County Clare as well as the legal adviser and agent to the Smyth Barry estates. His mother, Rose, was the eldest daughter of Reverend Robert Conway Dobbs and his wife Wilhelmina Josepha.

William's father was aged 40 when he married 25-year-old Rose, on 20 September 1828. William's eldest sibling was born nine months later on 28 June 1829 and named after her maternal grandmother Wilhelmina Josepha. Five more siblings were born over the next few years; Mary Winthrop on 22 June 1831, Charity on 26 October 1832, Rose Emily on 23 October 1834, Robert William Cary Reeves on 14 March 1837 and Conway Richard Dobbs Reeves on 29 December 1840.

William was only aged 14 when his father died; his father was buried on 18 July 1857 in the Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin, Ireland.

The children of William Maunsell and Rose Reeves
Name Born Married Died
Wilhelmina Josepha 28 June 1829 - 30 September 1904
Mary Winthrop 22 June 1831 - 26 September 1904
Charity 26 October 1832 - 1909
Rose Emily 23 October 1834 Herbert Glendinning Bainbridge 1922
Robert William Cary 14 March 1837 Grace Dorothea Vandeleuron 13 June 1901
Conway Richard Dobbs 29 December 1840 - 1859
William Maunsell 6 October 1843 Letitia Drought 21 February 1907

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, William's eldest brother Robert followed their father's career and also became a successful barrister-at-law, Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff in County Clare, Ireland. He married Grace Dorothea Vandeleuron on 19 July 1866 and died on 13 June 1901 in Dublin, Ireland.

William's second elder brother Conway was an Ensign with the 58th Regiment of Foot and died aged 19 in 1859 at Vostersburg, County Cork, Ireland.

It is not known exactly when young William came to England but in the 1861 census he appeared as a 17 year old pupil attending a school run by Reverend Thomas W.J. Blake and his wife in Hillmorton Road, Rugby, Warwickshire. With four unmarried daughters to find husbands for it would also seem that, by 1861, William's mother had sent his sisters Mary and Rose to live in England. Eventually his mother Rose and sisters Wilhelmina and Charity also settled in England.

In the 1861 census Mary was recorded as being a visitor staying in Ashley Park Mansion, Hersham Road, Walton-on-Thames, the home of Justice of the Peace, and Common Brewer, Anthony Fothergill Bainbridge and his wife Lily; they were to be the future parents-in-law of her sister Rose. Rose meanwhile appeared on the census as visiting the Burnett family in Bramley, Surrey. The following year, on 4 February 1862, Rose married Herbert Glendinning Bainbridge, an East India tea planter, in St Mary's church Putney, Surrey and went on to raise at least eight children. When Herbert died on 29 August 1888, his brother-in-law William Maunsell Reeves was named as being one of his executors along with Rose his widow. Rose herself died in 1922.

Their mother Rose died in 'The Cedars', Putney the following year on Sunday, 4 October 1863. Her body was returned home to Ireland and buried four days later in the Mount Jerome Cemetery.

By 1871 William was aged 27 and, according to the census, working as a 'China Merchant'. He was still unmarried and visiting a 23 year old retired actress named Caroline Carnell in Oakley Street, Chelsea, London. Six months later, on 13 September, William had docked in New York on the S.S. Scotia on his way to China.

At some point over the next five years William met his future wife, Letitia Drought, the daughter of General Thomas Armstrong Drought and his wife Mabel Isabel. Letitia had been born in 1852 at Fort Columbo, Ceylon. Her family had moved back to Hampshire after the 1861 census had been taken. The couple were married on 20 January 1876 by the Reverend Gordon Crowdy in St. Cross church in Winchester.

The children of William Maunsell and Letitia Reeves
Name Born Married Died
Robert William Drought 15 October 1876 Laura Fladgate Between 1915 and 1950
John Maunsell 14 October 1878 Hilda Margaret Smith 7 August 1948
Letitia Alice 21 December 1879 - 23 September 1918
Rose Mary 14 April 1883 Claude Bertram Collier 30 April 1965
Shela (sic) 10 January 1885 Arthur Patrick Saunders 5 March 1956

Nine months later on 15 October 1876, their son Robert William Drought Reeves was born in Foo Chow, South China. He was baptised there on 15 January 1877. The following year, on 14 October 1878, their second son, John Maunsell Reeves, was born in 'Hill House', Hampshire, England, and was baptised on 26 November in Winchester.

William and Letitia had moved their family to Epsom, Surrey when their next child, Letitia Alice, was born on 21 December 1879; she was baptised on 2 February 1880.

When the 1881 census was taken, William, Letitia and their three children were living in Laburnum Road, Epsom, Surrey. William employed three servants to help run his household; Mary A. Hewson was a nurse, Sarah Foulger from Epsom was their cook and Emily Readon was their nursery maid. William's occupation was now described as 'Merchant China'.

On 14 April 1883 Letitia gave birth to their fourth child; Rose Mary was baptised the next month on 21 May in Christ Church, Epsom. Less than two years later, on 10 January 1885, Letitia gave birth to their last child Shela, who was baptised the next month on 18 February in Christ Church. The baptismal records for both daughters' gives their address as being just 'Westlands, Epsom'. This is a large Victorian house that still stands on the junction of Dorking Road and Westlands Court but has recently (c1997) been sub-divided into flats.

The family had moved to 'Ebbisham House' in Church Street, Epsom by 1891. Letitia was not at home when the census was taken but was visiting her married sister Isabelle Kate Tangueray, brother-in-law Charles and their son Charles in Sandridge, Hertfordshire. William and their three younger daughters were being taken care of by the family servants: Eliza Jones, a nurse, Jane Barber the cook, Elizabeth Wickens the parlour maid, Alice Richardson the children's maid and Emily Anscomb the housemaid. Also staying with the family was Letita's 62 year old aunt, Frances Lock. William was recorded then as being a 'Secretary to Public Company'. What the name of this actual company is not known but William's name appears several times in the London Gazette from this date until 1904, as a liquidator of companies trading from the address of 2, Tokenhouse Buildings in the City of London. Their 14 year old son Robert was away being educated at Haileybury College in Great Amwell, Hertfordshire. Robert's brother John also attended Haileybury between 1892 and 1896.

The London Gazette 2 February 1892
The London Gazette 2 February 1892

The Reeves family were still living in 'Ebbisham House' in 1901, and William aged 58 was still described as a 'Secretary to Public Company', while his son Robert was now working as a Stock Broker. Their daughter Shela was named as 'Kate' in this census. Also in 1901, William's brother Robert, along with Robert's wife Grace, were visiting their three unmarried sisters, Wilhelmina, Mary, Charity at 13, Matlock Lane, Ealing, Middlesex. Robert died in Dublin a couple of months later on 13 June 1901.

William and Letitia's son John joined the South African Constabulary in 1901 and eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant. He fought in the second Boer War (1890 - 1902) as a Corporal and received the D.S.O. when he "Rescued comrade under heavy fire in February 1902 at Van Jonders Hoek". He was also Mentioned in Dispatches and recommended for a Victoria Cross.

Robert, William and Letitia's eldest son, married Laura Fladgate on 1 November 1902 at St. Andrews church in Westminster, London. They had two daughters; Laurie Joan Letitia (known as Mollie) born on 7 August 1903, baptised Christ Church Epsom on 17 October 1903 and Violet Sonia born on 23 October 1907. Robert's family were living at 22, Earls Court Square, London by 1932.

William's three sisters, Wilhelmina, Mary and Charity, were all living at 9, Churchfield Road, Ealing, Middlesex when Wilhelmina and Mary died within four days of each other; Mary died on 26 September 1904 and Wilhelmina on 30 September 1904. They were buried on 29 September and 3 October respectively in St. George's Cemetery Hanwell, Middlesex. Charity died in 1909.

William and Letitia's daughter Rose Mary was aged 23 when she married Claude Bertram Collier, a merchant, on 7 June 1906 in Christ Church, Epsom. The couple moved to Falmouth, Cornwall where they raised their family. Rose died there aged 81 on 30 April 1965.

William was aged 63 when his own life ended suddenly in the early hours of 21 February 1907. The previous evening, at 10 p.m., he had set sail from Harwich, Essex aboard the S.S. Berlin, a steel ship with the capacity to carry 338 passengers which was owned by the Great Eastern Railway. The ship had been built for their ferry service between Harwich, Essex and Hook of Holland. The ship soon ran into a north-westerly gale but, despite extremely turbulent waters, still made good progress towards the Hook of Holland. The Hook lighthouse keeper later recalled that at 5 a.m. he had seen the S.S. Berlin navigating through the channel when a huge wave struck her port quarter causing her to veer north off course. Captain John Precious and Pilot Bronders managed to get her back on course but she was hit again by another huge wave which put her in the direct direction of the granite breakwater of the New Waterway. Within seconds S.S. Berlin was impaled on the tip of it and by 6 a.m. had broken in two. Both Captain John Precious and Pilot Bronders were among the people swept overboard by the relentless waves which also prevented the Dutch steam life-boat President van Heel from reaching the stricken passengers and crew. Even though this disaster happened so close to the shore, it was not until the following day at 1.30 p.m. that rescuers could reach the ship and save the eleven people still on board.

SS Berlin
SS Berlin
Image source Wikipedia

On Saturday 23 February 1907 the Liverpool Mercury newspaper reported the following and listed William's name among the dead.
TERRIBLE WRECK ON THE HOOK OF HOLLAND
168 LIVES LOST

A Rotterdam telegram Thursday, reports that the Great Eastern Railway Co's steamer BERLIN, from Harwich for the Hook of Holland had stranded at the North Pier and broken up. There were 91 passengers and 50 crew on the stranded steamer, which stranded close to shore. There was every hope that all on board would be taken off, but the heavy seas soon caused the vessel to break up and with a few exceptions all on board were drowned.
The agents of the Harwich, Hook of Holland Line at Rotterdam state that the BERLIN had on board 120 passengers and 60 crew. At 11am, 25 bodies had been washed ashore, 2 men had been saved, one an English man described as 2nd steersman. He was carried in an unconscious state to the Hook of Holland, Hotel.
Lifeboats tried in vain to reach the shipwrecked vessel. A few persons could be seen clinging to what was left of the steamer. The stranding happened at 5.30am.
The passenger list supplied by the Great Eastern Company for whom accommodation had been reserved, not an official list that all were on board as Mr LETTENDING who had a passage was safe in London.
Mr and Mrs SERABSKI of Liverpool, Miss SHARROCKS, Miss HERTZ, Mr W. FISHER-LANINGER, Mr W. M. REEVES, 2 Tokenhouse Buildings, London, Mr F. FRANKENBERG of Salford, Manchester, Mr Arthur HERBERT, 22 Portland St, Portland Square, London, Master Aug HIRSCH, Mr A. LAMOTTE, 61 Crueked Friars, Mr H. LAMOTTE same address, Miss THORNTON travelling from London, Mr CHEMANS, Mr BOCHLANDER, Mr HELFENSTEIN, 20 East Cheap, London, Vander MEULAN, Mr SPIKER, Mr JENNINGS, Mr WATSON, Mr HALSWORTH two Messers ANDERSON, Mr DAVIDSON, 19 members of the German Opera Company, Mr MURSE, Mr RAISMANN and son, Mr DEGROOT.
The broken butt-end of the Berlin  - click image to enlarge
The broken butt-end of the "Berlin" - click image to enlarge
Image source the Illustrated London News 2 March 1907

Pictures of the disaster and the aftermath can be viewed by going to -

Out of the now known 144 persons on board, 128 died including around 40 of the crew. William's body was recovered from the sea and returned to Epsom for burial on 26 February in grave D190A in Epsom Cemetery.

William Maunsell Reeves and his daughter Letitia Alice grave
William Maunsell Reeves and his daughter Letitia Alice grave
William Maunsell Reeves and his daughter Letitia Alice grave
Images courtesy of Hazel Ballan © 2013

A memorial to him was placed by his family in their place of worship, St. Martins of Tours parish church, Epsom, Surrey.

William Maunsell Reeves memorial
William Maunsell Reeves memorial
Image courtesy of Hazel Ballan © 2013

Probate was given to his son Robert, with William's effects being valued at £6552 7s 3d. Using the website www.measuringworth.com calculations, the 2012 value of that would be around £541,000 (using the retail price index) or £2,190,000 (using average earnings).

William and Letitia's son John Maunsell Reeves married Hilda Margaret Smith in Epsom in 1909. This was the same year that John became an officer of the military constabulary in British North Borneo, Malaysia.

William's widow Letitia and her unmarried daughters Letitia and Shela, had left Epsom by 1911 and were living in 7, Campden House Road, Kensington, Middlesex, with three servants to look after them. They had moved to 'Chilcombe Lodge' in Winchester, Hampshire when Shela's engagement to Lieutenant Arthur Patrick Saunders was announced in The Times newspaper on 27 August 1914.

Forthcoming Marriages
LIEUTENANT SAUNDERS, R.N., AND MISS REEVES
The engagement is announced between Lieutenant Arthur Patrick Saunders, Royal Navy, second son of Dr. and Mrs. Edward Argent Saunders, of Pembroke Dock, Wales, and Shela, youngest daughter of the late Mr. William Maunsell Reeves, of Ebbisham House, Epsom, and Mrs. William Maunsell Reeves, Chilcomb Lodge, Winchester, and granddaughter of the late General Drought, of Winchester.
The couple however did not marry in Winchester until 1917 and had one daughter, Shela Letitia, born in 1920. Shela (senior) died aged 71 on 5 March 1956 in The Pembroke County War Memorial Hospital, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.

Letitia Alice, William and Letitia's daughter, never married and died when she was aged 37 on 23 September 1918 in 'Chilcombe Lodge', Winchester, Hampshire. Her body was returned to Epsom Cemetery for burial in the same grave, D190A, as her father.

William's widow Letitia had been living in 'The Hermitage' in St. Helens on the Isle of Wight before she died on 25 June 1936 in 'Moorlands', St Helens, the home of her son John. Probate of her effects valued at £314 17s. 11d., was given to her son John Maunsell Reeves, a retired major in H.M. army, and her nephew Florance Anthony Bainbridge, solicitor, son of Rose and Herbert Glendinning Bainbridge. John Maunsell Reeves died in his home on 7 August 1948 and his wife Hilda on 4 August 1955. Probate of her effects was left to Sheila Marjorie Maunsell Wheble, widow.

Hazel Ballan
January 2013


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