THE LAST OF THE SYMMONS OF LLANSTINAN

By Roland Thorne

The last of many articles contributed by Francis Green to the West Wales Historical Records of which he was editor, was devoted, in 1929, to ‘The Symins of Martell and Llanstinan’. Despite the title, this seems to have been prompted chiefly by Green’s abiding interest in the Wogan family. Sir William Wogan of Llanstinan, a prosperous lawyer who died in 1710, left his estates to a young Symmons relative, his first cousin’s second son. The earlier evolution of the squires of Martell in Puncheston up to that point had presented Green with enough problems, and it was perhaps with some relief that he offered pride of place to a detailed terrier of Sir William’s estate in Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. The acquisition of these properties, with some others in Radnorshire and English counties, transformed the status of Wogan’s heir and his family to an extent to which the article barely does justice; and it culminates abruptly in the sale of the estates and the exile to London of their owner, John Symmons junior, whose later life is passed over.1

Fig. 1: Llanstinan as it appeared in a sale catalogue of 1856.

Fig. 1: Llanstinan as it appeared in a sale catalogue of 1856.

John Symmons, the fortunate heir to Llanstinan, born on 12 Sept. 1701, was the fourth but second surviving son of John Symmons of Martell and Martha, nee Harries, of Tregwynt, Granston. His elder brother, Thomas, who went to Pennsylvania as a young man, did not reside at Martell on his return, but leased the Wogan property of   Llwyndyrys,  Cardiganshire. John, or his father John who had served as sheriff of the county in 1713 as of Llanstinan and had been disappointed not to be the actual heir to Wogan ‘s estate, presented a silver chalice to Puncheston church in 1725 , engraved quarterly with the Symmons arms, per fesse argent and sable three trefoils countercharged, and crest, a lion’s head erased. On 11 April 1729 John Symmons was at the head of 14 Pembrokeshire landowners who as a grand jury petitioned the justices in Great Sessions against the recruitment of emigrants to Pennsylvania among labourers in the county to the detriment of farmers at harvest time when they had in consequence to pay more for labour, and charge more for corn. On Thomas’s death , unmarried, in 1741, John, whose father’s death in 1730 had left him sole master of Llanstinan, was able to add Martell to his estate and soon after­wards acquired an entire set of 48 engravings made by Nathaniel and Samuel Buck of Welsh castles. That year he unsuccessfully contested the county seat for Pembrokeshire against John Campbell of Stackpole , a supporter of Walpole’s ministry, thereby costing Campbell dear. The con­test was close, but Symmons’ petition against the return was withdrawn as part of a compromise, 3 February 1743. Symmons was the Tory candidate ; his father had voted for the Tory Barlow in the 1710 county election. In 1742 a Llanstinan mare was mated with a stallion belonging to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, the North Wales magnate, whose Toryism was supposed to be tinged with Jacobitism. When Symmons married it was to Maria , daughter of Charles Philipps of Sandyhaven, St lshmaels, Pembrokeshire, a fellow member of the Society of Sea Sergeants, the Tory association for south-west Wales, also allegedly Jacobite. Symmons was to act as co­ secretary at their Swansea meeting in 175 2. He was painted by Robert Taylor and placed in the Sergeants gallery in the hall of their erstwhile president at Taliaris, in a blue velvet coat, gold buttonhole and wig. Another portrait of him was in 1785 in the drawing room there, in fawn velvet, gold lace and white satin waistcoat, neckcloth and wig. There was also one of his brother George, who died unmarried in 1755.

John Symmons had entered parliament after a contest on a vacancy for Cardigan Boroughs, 20 March 1746. The seat was vacant on the death of Thomas Pryse of Gogerddan, whose heir was a child. It was supposed that Symmons, whose modest power base was the former Wogan property in Cardigan and district, might hold the seat until the heir John Pugh Pryse came of age, as long as he secured Gogerddan backing. He was accord­ingly returned unopposed in the 1747 and 1754 general elections, and in 1760 headed the list of Cardiganshire magistrates, but in 1761 Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle, who as a trustee of the estate had been his broker with Gogerddan, was powerless to prevent Herbert Lloyd of Peterwell from snatching the seat. Symmons had been a silent member of the Tory opposition in the Commons. Herbert Lloyd’s late brother John Lloyd had been the county member when, in 1748, he and Symmons became bene­factors of St Mary ‘s church, Cardigan, the recast bells of which pealed again at their expense, for the first time since 1705. 2

John Symmons senior was buried in Llanstinan on 5 Sept. 1764, nearly a year after his wife. His younger son Charles’s obituarist in 1826 described John senior as ‘an English gentleman of the old school’. As an MP he had a London residence, and when his heir John had matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford on 4 October 1762 aged 17, his address had been given as St James , Westminster. John junior claimed, on his deathbed, that St James was the parish of his birth, on 22 August 1744 . He later claimed Richard Philipps, the future Lord Milford, and John, heir to Sir Thomas Stepney, 7th Baronet of Llanelli, as two of his schoolfellows. The younger son Charles, born in 1749, was sent to Westminster School, Glasgow University and Lincolns Inn (1765). John graduated MA at Oxford on 30 May 1766. In 1802 he was to present a chased silver cup and cover weighing 128 ounces to Jesus College.3 He inherited an encumbered estate. His father had mortgaged Martell and Colston in Little Newcastle in 1745 to Thomas Tucker of Sealyham, in 1753 to Perrott Williams of Haverfordwest and London, and in 1763 to Peter Holford of London, the mortgage then standing at £2,500. John was due to enter on his estate on coming of age, and did so on 18 Feb. 1766 . He also inherited Longwood in Castlebythe with a moiety of Skyber, Letterston, which his father had purchased between 1757 and his death. When later he disposed of his estate, the moiety of Skyber was evidently sold to the cadet branch of the Symmons family associated with Colston, Little Newcastle. In December 1768, on the death of Pryse Campbell, MP for Cardigan Boroughs, Symmons, a mere voter in the Pembrokeshire county election that year, was interested in contesting the vacancy, but was discouraged by John Pugh Pryse of Gogerddan and Lord Lisburne, as not having sufficient support. By 1769 the mortgage charge had risen to £7,000. John seems a while before this to have been somewhat unhappy.

He had embarked on a visit to the Continent with John Stepney and Mr Lloyd of Cilgwyn, and was with them at Marseilles in February 1767. They planned to move on to Switzerland and thence to Florence. In view of Symmons’ low spirits, conveyed by letter to him in London, Maurice Morgann (originally Morris Morgan), a friend of the family, offered to fetch him home from France. Maurice’s elder brother William of Blaenbylan had been one of four trustees for the late John Symmons’ estate in a will of 9 July 1757 which never went to probate and had sojourned at Llanstinan when tormented by gout. Maurice Morgann conveyed the news of young John to Miss Martha Maria Lewes of Gelli­dywyll in Cenarth, whose turn it was to live at Llanstinan in the absence of her cousins the Symmons brothers. She was dismayed, but a subsequent letter from Morgann assured her that John had recovered his equilibrium and hoped to proceed to Florence. Miss ‘Molly’ Lewes died in 1782. When the brothers’ absence became permanent, the old house decayed steadily: John Stepney likewise abandoned Llanelli House. When John Symmons witnessed Morgann’s will in 1795, he was a Londoner like Morgano. ·In 1798 Morgann, who had been involved by Lord Shelburne sixteen years before in a mission to the rebellious colonies, presented his American papers to Symmons, who fortunately deposited them in the Royal Institution in 1804. It was as a friend of the late Morgano that William Cooke dedicated his didactic poem bearing the title ‘Conver­sations’ to John in 1807; and in 1815 he and his brother Charles were invited to provide proof, if they could, that Morgano had written poetry under the pseudonym of Malcolm MacGregor, and were asked, in 1816, whether Morgann had written the ‘heroic epistle to Sir William Chambers’, which Charles disclaimed. 4

Marriage to an heiress was an obvious solution for John Symmons. This took place at Bath Abbey on 27 March 1773, his bride being Ann, child­less widow of William Trevanion (1727-1767) of Caerhayes, Cornwall, Tory MP for Tregony, whom she had married in 1758. Ann was the only daughter and heir of George Barlow of Slebech (1717-1757), who had also been a Tory MP, suspected of Jacobitism. The marriage witnesses were Jane Gwynn and Maurice Morgann. It may be noted that from the time of Ann’s first marriage the manorial courts of Slebech, Minwear, Welsh Hook in St Lawrence and Skyber in Letterston were united, their court rolls being subsumed under Slebech. Caerhayes passed to her late husband’s sister, but she and John Symmons visited it in company with Maurice Morgann. Ann, whose birthday according to her mother fell on 8 June, was over seven years older than her second husband, having been baptised at St Mary’s Haverfordwest on 7 Nov. 1737 as Ann Blundell, daughter of Ann Blundell, ‘who affirms herself to be the wife of George Barlow of Slebech’. She died without issue before 18 April 1782, leaving John in command of Slebech. He had rather overreached himself by razing and rebuilding his wife’s home, which she had found irksomely uncom­fortable, on site. This was achieved in 1776 , the architect being Anthony Keck; not without some suggestions and drawings from Symmons. The castellated mansion had three storeys in front and four behind, and a new stable block. In 1779 John Calvert of Swansea , his site manager, won a court case against Symmons over expenses at Slebech Hall. In the same year his neighbour John Wogan of Wiston appointed Symmons one of the three trustees of his will, and later he was to be a trustee of Wogan’s daughter Susannah’s marriage to Thomas Stokes of Haverfordwest. Other­wise his role as squire of Slebech was somewhat inconspicuous. He had in 1774 been required to fence the churchyard. As lay patron of Llan­stinan, he had presented Rev. John Davies (1768), followed by Rev. William Williams to the rectory of Llanstinan. The latter he went on to appoint to Yerbeston and Minwear, and in 1781 to the perpetual curacy of Slebech. The year before, with John Bartlett Allen, he was a trustee for the sale of Sir John Stepney’s Pembrokeshire properties.5

The sale of his late wife’s, and his, local estates proceeded quite rapidly. The mortgage due to Peter Holford had risen to £13,000 by 1775, and in 1782 Symmons sold sufficient land in Cardiganshire to raise £14,452 to clear the mortgage. By June 1782 he sold Slebech for £70,000, and in 1783 Martell and Colston for £15,680, and soon afterwards Llanstinan, in each case to William Knox, until lately under secretary for the American colonies. Knox, who spent £90, 854 and five shillings in all, negotiated the sale of Slebech to Nathaniel Phillips in 1792. After Knox’s death in 1810 Llanstinan was bought by Sir John Owen of Orielton. In 1794 his mother­ in-law Ann Barlow appointed Symmons as her executor, entrusting to him her personalty, which included over £3,000 in cash and £1,100 in bond s. Since 1784 Symmons’s life had been based on London. He had written sagely and sardonically to his mother-in- law from Park Street on 1 May that year about the state of the Pembrokeshire county election; and from Grosvenor House on 14 November 1785 suggesting it was time that the fine Barlow family portraits, which had been exempted from the sale of Slebech, were moved to her house in Haverfordwest, else he was willing to take care of them. It seems that Mrs Barlow obtained them, as eleven of them are mentioned in her inventory at death. In 1788 he was still at Grosvenor House. Subsequently he seems to have looked out of town for a residence . In 1791 he acquired Richmond House, in King Street, Twicken­ham from the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice of Lleweni, but he sold it next year.6

Within a few years he acquired Paddington House, previously the property of Denis Chirac, south of Paddington Green. There he was a neighbour or Charles Francis Greville (1743-1809), who had lived there with his mistress Emma Hart before her marriage in 1791 to Greville’s uncle Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). The latter had obtained the Milford Haven estate through his previous childless marriage to Catherine Barlow of Colby in Wiston, and Greville was his chosen heir. Catherine had been first cousin once removed to John Symmons’ late wife Ann. Symmons appears to have sent to Greville in 1793 an itinerary or a journey he had recently made through southern England. Symmons’ new home had three storeys, three chimneys and nine windows at the front or each storey, one being set in the front door of the ground floor. It might pass for a suburban villa version of Slebech Hall. An engraving of about 1796 shows five ornamental vases distributed on the roof, and The Ambulator in 1811 adds that there were four very fine bronzed antique figures in front of the house. Inside, mention was made of a hospitable table, and a museum which included an ancient dagger. There was a side entrance to the right, and a gate to the grounds on the left. Like his neighbour Greville, he imported plants for his garden.

He became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1795, serving as a member of its council. In 1797 his nurseryman William Salisbury produced a cata­logue of the garden, published as Hortus Paddingtoniensis. Symmons had written the introduction to William Aiton’s Hortus Kewensis, an account of the royal gardens at Kew, in 1794, and acquired a property near Hampton later, but quickly disposed of it. While Greville went on to become a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804, Symmons’ plant col­lection, exotic and indigenous, and arranged according to the Linnean system, was by 1811 a memory, replaced by ‘common vegetation’. This lapse doubtless precluded this model garden from figuring in the later annals of gardening in this country. He appears in fact to have retreated from London life, taking a lease of Britwell House, Burnham, Bucking­hamshire in August 1797, and renewing it in July 1801. Britwell had for some time previously been associated with Roman Catholic families, and the lease was subsequently ceded to Lord Grenville, whose wife was a Catholic.7

It was with Britwell as her address that Martha Symmons, described as John’s daughter, married at Alcester, Warwickshire on 23 August 1800 Anthony Carlisle (1768-1840), a native of Stillington, county Durham, and from 1793 a distinguished surgeon, trained by John Hunter, at the Westminster hospital. Carlisle pioneered an effective amputating knife and was also interested in winged flying and a form of photography. With William Nicholson (1753-1815), he discovered electrolysis shortly before his marriage, decomposing water into hydrogen and oxygen by experi­menting with Alessandro Volta’s newly discovered chemical battery. This inspired Sir Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday in turn to further discoveries. Later knighted, Carlisle is said to have been the model for Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein; he was a friend of her father William Godwin, and had attended her mother Mary Wollstonecroft’s deathbed after giving birth to Mary. He and his wife lived in London where, after lecturing on anatomy in full court dress in his prime, he was latterly often observed near his Langham Place residence ‘with an old Welsh wig on that a hackney coachman would not wear’. A patron of artists, including Turner, he collected a gallery of paintings. His widow survived him, dying at Mitcham Green, Surrey, on 17 April 1842 aged 62. When his burial took place at Kensal Green, there were more friends than relatives: they appar­ently had no issue. 8

It seems that Symmons, having ‘a most ample fortune’, had foregone the joys of gardening for those of ‘a bibliomaniac and print collector’. On 11 Dec. 1795 he had bought by private contract, before their auction by Leigh and Sotheby, the most extensive collection of topographical drawings of England and Wales ever sold. On 23 April 1804 ten thousand of these prints were sold for him by King the auctioneer. In 1828, when it was sold, his library comprised 40,000 volumes ‘of very mixed character’. In 1814, already possessed of Hutchinson’s collection for Huntingdon­ shire, he purchased further heraldic items for the same county by Rev. Robert Smyth, and was reported to be seeking an editor for all these. Fail­ing to find one, he returned Hutchinson’s three volumes to their previous owner Lord Carysfort. His young librarian John Dillon was the author of a tragedy, ‘Retribution’, staged at Covent Garden Theatre on I January 1818. Another librarian of his earlier was a French emigre named Gauthier de Brecy. Spurred on perhaps by his brother, he had been one of a trio of patrons who put the Royal Literary Fund on a permanent basis in 1797. He was a patron of the Royal Institution to promote science, and readily subscribed to numerous new publications and to other charities. To Bishop Burgess of St David’s he presented illustrations from a French 16th century prayer book, now in Lampeter College Library. In 1805 he bought the lease of Chesterfield House, Blackheath, formerly the Earl of Chester­ field’s, but assigned it in 1807 to the Duchess of Brunswick.’)

There was to be a second Welsh interlude in Symmons’ life, this time in Carmarthenshire, not Pembrokeshire. In his ancestral county he had inherited an interest in industrial investment. His uncle Thomas Symmons had purchased the Llechryd iron forge in 1729, but his father went on to sell it in 1751 to Walter Lloyd of Coedmore. John himself joined Lord Milford and Henry Leach in partnership to work Llanfyrnach silver lead mine, let to them by his friend Maurice Morgann. In 1783 he sold his share to Lord Milford for £746 odd. On 26 May 1780 Symmons had let a slate quarry in Mynachlogddu to William Marsden for 11 years at six­ pence for every thousand slates. In Carmarthenshire he had purchased from Sir John Stepney, in the early 1790s, the property of Buwchllaeth­ wen in Llangennech, of which his father-in-law George Barlow had been tenant. He was the last of the gentry to live there, and according to his friend Fenton embellished the place. The block added has been attributed to William Jernegan ( 1750-1836, the London-born architect of Swansea. In 1804, as of Buwchllaethwen, Symmons served as highs heriff of Carmarthenshire. He also acquired with his residence collieries and tram­ works. By one account he had paid £30,000 or so for these and about eight years later sold for £70,000 to entrepreneurs, namely Charles Greville’s nephew the Earl of Warwick and John Vancouver, whom the Earl housed on site to superintend the mines Vancouver resided in what was now styled Llangennech Mansion, but the Earl had overspent and had to cede the estate back to Symmons in November 1 806 . A year later he resold the mines to Messrs Davenport, Morris and William Rees, the la t being Symmons’ agent, with an advance of money to spur the m o n. They failed in 1814, and Symmons resumed ownership. In 1 822, as lay patron, he presented Rev. John Thomas to the perpetual curacy of Llange nnech. This time he did not succeed in selling the works until 1 824 when Edward Rose Tunn o of London, with partners, worked the Spitty copperwork s started by the preceding trio. So ended the second Welsh phase of Symmons’ life. By   1823   his residence was Ewhurst Park, Hampshire.10

Fig. 2: Buwchllaethwen, Carmarthenshire (1789)

Fig. 2: Buwchllaethwen, Carmarthenshire (1789)

John Symmons gave the impre ssion that he had remarried at some point before 1804. His second wife, Elizabeth Mary, nee Session, if the spelling of her maiden surname in his Belgian death certificate is to be trusted, bore him two sons. Yet according to a marriage recorded in Edinburgh between John Symmons and Elizabeth Mary, her surname was Sessions, her father being named Richard Sessions. This marriage took place on 11 April 1811, long after their sons’ births. She died on 2 June 1813 ‘after a long and painful illness … an affectionate wife, a tender mother, and a sincere friend’. At a later stage he took a third wife, young enough to be his granddaughter. Her name was Charlotte, nee Evans. They had no children, and she survived him many years, dying of ‘natural decay certified’ at 16 Princess Terrace, Chalk Farm, London on 13 Jan. 1869 aged 77, described as ‘widow of John Symmons gentleman’. Her death was registered by Rebecca Linton of the same address six days later. There was apparently no will. Charlotte had been living at the Polygon, Somers Town, St. Pancras, at the time of her husband’s death on 20 August 1831. His death registration at Toumai, made on 22 August, which would have been his 87th birthday, stated that he died at IO p.m. at 48 Grande Place. This was attested by two of his neighbours in Grande Place, Philippe Depret and Pierre Vanwanbeke.

His will, dated 15 April 1828, in which he describes himself as ‘late of Paddington House’, had left all he had to his wife and younger son ‘George Symmons’. Possibly his library sale of 1828 had not raised enough to keep him in England. From Tournai, now situated in the new kingdom of Belgium where he had resided for ‘about a year’, he sent via Anthony Picquot, a friend travelling to England, an urgent memorandum to his attorney Robert Maugham of Chancery Lane about 27 July 1831 , when his death ‘might happen at any moment’ , desiring that his elder son, named as ‘Charles Symmons’, might be included in the partition of his estate. This, the sole evidence of Symmons’s wish to alter his will, was delivered to Maugham by Picquot on 30 July, but news of Symmons’ death arrived before Maugham could amend the will by adding the memorandum as a codicil or make a fresh will, options offered him by the deceased, to whom no confirmation could be sent before he died. An affidavit to this effect was dated 23 September, and sworn then by the widow and by another deponent, Richard Hodgson of Salisbury Street in the Strand, as also by Maugham on 29 September. They had all three confirmed that the memo­randum bore John Symmons’ usual handwriting and signature. It was the elder son who was granted administration of the will in London on 30 Sept. 1831, the widow and the other son renouncing probate. Symmons had died ‘suddenly without previous illness’.

His estate was valued at £450, a modest sum considering how much money had once passed through his hands. His simple will being confined to family members, there was no duty to pay on it. A curious and not entirely reliable account of his life was sketched from a conversation with Symmons’ banker and ‘very particular friend’ Chambers, brother-in-law to his brother Charles’s wife, in the Fleet Prison on 29 June 1837:

He married a very rich woman. He remembers he sold an estate in Wales which fetched £’120,000. At one time he was   worth £200,000. He died about 90 years of age in France, and could not command £100 at the time of his death. At the period of Mr Chambers’ bankruptcy Symmons owed him £27,000, for which he held security and the debt was paid off. He considers that Dr Charles Symmons received £100,000 from his brother, including interest, during a period of forty years. There was a regular allow­ ance of £700 a year which Mr Chambers contracted to pay to him on behalf of the brother, who nevertheless was always obtaining further sums from him, and borrowing from Mr Chambers what the brother was also obliged to pay. John had a library of 40,000 volumes. Jack, the son of Charles, was intended for the law but never practised. He died in Paris fully dependent on his uncle. John Symmons wrote on financial matters; in one of his brochures he referred to a friend who was Mr Chambers for information.

Regarding his generosity to Charles, a document found by Francis Green among the Colby muniments at Ffynone, Manordeifi indicates that John was born before his parents’ marriage. This discovery being made when he sold his Pembrokeshire estate, his brother Charles was induced to join with him in conveying properties to Thomas Knox, being his father’s legitimate heir. This document dated 30 Sept. 1804 was a case for counsel, submitted to Charles Butler, an eminent London barrister on behalf of a would be purchaser from Knox of the estate sold to him by the Symmons. This ‘case’ opened a can of worms. John had long promised Charles an estate in appreciation of his role in the sale, and in 1784 settled £200 a year on him and his wife, and provided £3,000 for their children. It also emerged that their father’s will could not be found, but that a deed of 2 March 1764 showed that their father was preparing to set aside his will of 1757 to set about disentailing and disposing of part of his Pembrokeshire property, in collusion with John Hensleigh of Panteg, Llanddewi Velfre and David Hughes of Harmeston, Steynton. Any prospective pur­chaser from Knox would need to use Charles again for the conveyance, and if Charles was given a full explanation of the reason for this, the two brothers might fall out. so the purchase was evidently suspended.

His two sons were:

Charles Augustus John Symmons, born 9 July 1804, and baptised at St James, Paddington on 6 August following. At the time of his charge of the inheritance in 1831 he lived at 22 Queen Street, Golden Square, London. He had married at St Pancras Old Church, 17 November 1825 Joanna Elliot of that parish. Of their three children, Ellen Mary Elizabeth was born 17 March 1826, and baptised on 28 April at Old St Pancras, and Herbert John George, sometimes known as George, was born in 1830 , also in London. In December 1839 this family arrived in Western Australia in the ‘Jean’. In March 1841 a second daughter Amy was born there, in Perth, where Ellen married an assistant surgeon to the 51st regiment named George Cunningham Meikleham on 8 August 1845 , and they lost an infant child in 1846. In 1855, aged 35, he was serving in the Crimean War. Meikleham subsequently transferred his services with the 70th regi­ment as surgeon, to Auckland, New Zealand, where he arrived from India in 1861. George Symmons, who played cricket for the gentlemen of Perth, died unmarried on 17 August 1857 aged 27, and was buried in East Perth cemetery. There his mother Joanna joined him after her death on 16 Sept. 1858 aged 58. Amy married on 10 November 1874 William Pearce Clifton (1816-1885), a pioneer settler and widower, and they had issue Edith Ellen, born 1878, Richard Symmons Clifton (1879-1942) and Brenda (1883-1963). Charles Symmons had been a civil servant for thirty years, starting as a Protector of Natives. He contributed to G. F. Moore’s dictionary of the Nyungar aborigines ‘ vocabulary in 1842, and wrote sym­pathetic annual reports on them. He was Immigration Agent in 1855; superintendent of police for a few months in 1858; and a resident magis­trate in 1866. He later became a J.P. in Fremantle and Vasse, and died in Bunbury on 18 Oct. 1887, He had spent three months in Engl

Fig. 3: Bookplates of Charles and John Symmons.

Fig. 3: Bookplates of Charles and John Symmons.

and in 1878, and had journeyed to Colombo the year before his death.

 

George Richard Edwardes Symmons was born in 1806. He matriculated from Queens College, Oxford, his third given name rendered ‘Edward ‘ , on 4 Dec. 1824 aged 18. He did not graduate. He died, apparently unmarried and intestate, at 28 Bidborough Street, off Grays Inn Lane, St Pancras, on 17 May 1850, aged 44. He was described as ‘ gentleman’, his third given name was then rendered ‘Edwards’ , and the cause of death was ‘consump­tion uncertain certified’. The registrar was informed by Maria Chapman, of the same address, three days later. 11

John Symmons’ brother Charles, a respectable clergyman and doctor of divinity well educated in the classics, withall a writer of poetry and bio­grapher of John Milton, had predeceased him, dying at Bath on 27 April 1826. Charles had five children with his wife Elizabeth, married in 1779, daughter of John Foley of Ridgeway, Pembrokeshire, and sister of Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (1757-1833), a favourite colleague of Lord Nelson’s. Elizabeth died at Penylan, Carmarthenshire, on 25 June 1830 aged 75, and was buried at Llangathen, the home parish of her mother Sarah, nee Herbert, of Court Henry. Only the two eldest children survived their father, John, who was to die without issue, and Fannia, wife since 1813 of Lt.­ Col. John William Mallett. The younger son Charles died at 21 and Caroline, a budding poet, aged 14. The youngest daughter Maria, Mrs Vernon of Hanbury, Worcestershire, left issue, inserting Foley, but not Symmons, into the Vernon nomenclature. Charles Symmons had befriended the future statesman William Windham of Felbrigg while at Glasgow University. In 1793 Windham, a former Foxite Whig, went over to Pitt’s government with the Portland Whigs, and accepted office. Charles’s avowed dissent from this conduct made it difficult for Windham to obtain Charles’s wish for the living of Lampeter Velfre to supplement that of Narberth, which he had held since 1778, but Windham succeeded in 1794. He was not so indulgent about further applications for patronage from Charles, who got John to write to Windham on his behalf, on 25 February 1798. John had put himself on a sounder footing with Windham by sending him on 14 Dec. 1797 a friend’s war funding plan. On 15 Sept. 1800 he further sent Windham a memorandum on the alarming shortage of provisions, which elicited an appreciative reply, and led to further correspondence between them that year, John enlarging on abuses arising from the current scarcity of bread.

Under the pseudonym of ‘an independent gentleman’, he published Thoughts on the present price of provisions as a pamphlet the same year. In the Register of National Archives index John Symmons, given the death date of 1832, is described as both horticulturalist and political reformer. He had been the former, but the latter needs qualification. He was in 1810 admittedly the author of ‘Reform without innovation or cursory thoughts on the only practicable reform of Parliament consistent with the existing laws, and the spirit of the constitution’, a 23-page pamphlet intended as a reproach to more radical reformers. Twelve years later he is credited with another effusion on the ’cause and cure of national distress addressed to all ranks of people’, under a pseudonym. This was no doubt the essay for which his banker Chambers provided information.

John Symmons’ other friendships for which written evidence survives suggest more interest in matters of general culture, scientific, artistic and antiquarian, than politics. Richard Fenton of Fishguard was a friend of his and his brother’s from their young days, and paid tribute to them in his published Tour through Pembrokeshire. The naturalist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) received several letters from him – in April 1788 he sent Banks an Egyptian mummy case, its hieroglyphic inscription then undecipher­able. Ten years later he sent a journal kept by one of his gardeners, John Haxton, while in China in the retinue of Lord Macartney’s mission to the Chien Lung emperor, and given by Haxton to Charles Greville, for Banks’s inspection. When Banks approved of the journal, Symmons invited him to visit him and discuss Chinese plants. In 1799 he sent Banks his future son­ in-law Anthony Carlisle’s paper on the arterial system of a ‘tardigrade animal’ and the animal itself for display purposes.

From a letter dated 4 May 1804, it emerges that Symmons, a fellow of the Royal Society since 10 July 1794, was anxious to promote the election of Richard Duppa (1770-1831) to it. This bid was unsuccessful, whereupon he tried to rally Banks to Duppa’s cause, offering to send Duppa’s book, presumably his memoir about Richard Glover, thought by Duppa to be the author of the anonymous political letters of Junius. Banks at once declined to discuss Duppa’s rejection, and disclaimed qualification to judge Duppa’s book. In 1814 Symmons resumed advocacy, on behalf of the Prince Regent’s oculist Sir William Adams (1783-1827), having seen him cure a blind person, as Adams wished to become a fellow of the Royal Society. Two letters to Banks received two rebuffs, the second doubting whether Adams stood at the head of his profession, the first having pointed out that the Society played no role in professional promotion. Another friend of Symmons, the artist Joseph Farington, reported the farmer’s chagrin at his failure to secure Duppa’s election in l 804. Previous references to Sym­mons in Farington’s diary show that he was an FSA in 1797 and a member of the Dilettanti Society in 1799. In 1810 he was successful, with Sir Henry Charles Englefield, 7th and last Baronet, in promoting the election of John Buckler (1770-1851), a topographical artist, as a member of the Society of Antiquaries, Buckler having twice previously been blackballed. Between 1799 and 1814 he corresponded occasionally with the literary ex-diplomat Caleb Whitefoord and his widow Mary, afterwards Mrs Lee.

An undated letter to Symmons from Thomas Johnes of Hafod, Cardigan­shire, also survives, but is of little interest compared with one that Johnes wrote to James Edward Smith (1759-1828) , founder of the Linnean Society in London, on 26 December 1801 to say that he had not heard nor seen anything of Symmons since his own return to Wales, and supposed he had returned to London on account of the wet weather, leaving building work incomplete. He added that Symmons would probably sell the improved building, being incapable of remaining long in one place. This may well refer to his Llangennech residence. In a further letter of 22 September 1803 to Smith, Johnes adds that he owes a Chancery suit in which he is engaged entirely to his ‘friend’ Symmons. 12

The last good word on John Symmons was published by his former protege John Taylor in 1833:

a more liberal, elegant, and hospitable character never existed. He is still alive [sic], at a very advanced age, and with a reverse of fortune, which all who knew him must deeply regret, as it was chiefly the result of the generosity, I may say, the magnificence of his mind, his confidence in false friends, and an incautious disposal of his property. He found it necessary to leave England, and I fear is involved in the unhappy events which now overwhelm the Netherlands to which country he has retired, and where he intended to pass the remainder of his life.

Acknowledgement

 The writer is indebted to two friends interested in the history of the Symmons family, Mr Richard Davies of Little Newcastle and Mrs Jean O’Driscoll of Llanelli, for their encouragement and for advice on several points. I am particularly in­ debted to Mrs O’Driscoll for her discovery of John Symmons’ will of 1831, notice of his daughter Martha and the recent published material relating to his Llan­gennech estate. Madame Chantal Fleurquin, archivist at Tournai, kindly provided the details from his death certificate, the source for the maiden names of his second and third wives. Mr Thomas Lloyd kindly supplied architectural and other information and illustrations.

Notes

  1.  F. Green, ‘Symmins of Martell and Llanstinan’ , West Wales Historical Records, xiv, 207-233, particularly from page 220 onwards.
  2. NLW I8097C, Green mss 220, 403; J. T. Evans, Church Plate of Pembs (1905), 81; F. Jones, ‘Disaffection and dissent in Pembrokeshire’, Cymmro­dorion Transactions (1946-7), 222; NLW, 1710 poll book, mistakenly dated 1714; History of Parliament: The Commons 1715– 1754 (ed.), R. Sedgwick (1970), I, 373; II, 460, and The Commons 17541790 (ed.), Sir L. Namier and J.Brooke (1964), I, 462; III, 175; West Wales Historical Records, iii, 160, 177; P. D. G.Thomas, in Cardiganshire County History (ed., G. H. Jenkins and I. G. Jones, 1998), III, 352-7; D.W. Howell, Patriarchs and Parasites (Cardiff, 1986), 103, 123, 126-7 , 133; Bethan Phillips, Peterwell (Llandysul, 1983), 76, 134; NLW ms 13661; Francis Jones, ‘The Society of Sea Serjeants’, Cymm. Trans. (1967), 57-91, and ‘Portraits and pictures in ‘Old Carmarthenshire houses’, Carmarthen Historian, ed. V. Jones, (1968), v. 43; Dictionary of Welsh Biography sub Symmons family of Llanstinan, mistakenly giving him a death date in 1771. That article confines itself to John senior, his younger son Charles, and the latter’s son John.
  3. Gentlemans Magazine, 96 (1826), ii, 566; Carmarthen R.O., Stepney mss f. 66, J. Symmons to A. Goodeve, 26 Nov. 1811. Alumni Oxon (ed.), J. Foste sub Symmons, John; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), sub Symmons, Charles; E. G. Hardy, Jesus College (1899), 220.
  4. Green, op.cit. ; NLW, Eaton Evan s and Williams mss 33 10 , 3 374, 40 2 1, 11068, 11071-2; 1768 poll book; P. D. G. Thoma s, op.cit. p.360; NLW MS 6104, M. Morgano to M. M. Lewes , 3 Fe b. 1767 and ensuing letters to her ; Francis Jones, ‘Gellidywyll’, Ceredigion, vol. 8 (1979) , 387 and ‘Blaenbylan’ , ibid ., vol. 7, (1975), 321, 326, 329; WWHR , iv, 192; A New classified Catlogue of the Library of the Royal Institution (1857), 592; Gent. Mag. , vol. 77 (1807), 643; vol. 85 ( J815), ii, 486 ; vol. 86 ( 1816), I, 34.
  5. ‘Registers of Bath Abbey 1569-1800’ , Harleian Society, 27 (1900), 289; Facult y Office Marriage Licences Index 17511775 (Society of Genealogists, 1999 ), 826; Jones in Journal of the Historical Society of the Church in Wales, xix (1969) , 14 – 16; NLW, Slebech mss, 731 -2 and NLW ms 6104, Mrs. A. Barlow to Sir John Barlow, 16 Oct. I 756 , and further letters cited by F. Jones in ‘Some Slebech Notes’ , National Library of Wales Journal, vii, no. 3 (summer 1952), 5 et seq; The Buildings of Wales ( Pevsner), Pembrokeshire (ed.), Thomas Lloyd, J. Orbach and R. Scourfield (2004), 452-3; WW HR , ii , 258-9, 303; iv, 203-4, 249; vi, 226 , 228 ; NLW, Church in Wales deeds, SDCh 47 and Eaton Evans and Williams mss.
  6. F. Green, op. cit. ; NLW, Slebech mss, 750 , 752 and NLW ms 6 104 , J. Symmons to Mrs A. Barlow , 7 June 1782 and 14 Nov. 1785; The Banks Letters (ed.), W. R. Dawson (London, 1958), 802.
  7. British Library Mss, 4270 I , ff. 271-4 ; Victoria County History: Middlesex (1989) , ix, 186 ; Notes and Queries (1 2 th se r.), v, 265 ; vi, 192 ; The Mirror of Literature, Amusernent and Instruction (1 833 ), 40; J. T ho rne, Handbook to the Environs of Lond n (1876), 634; Topographical History of Surrey (ed.), E.W. Brayley (1841), 341 ; Centre for Bucks. Studies, Britwell leases, D 39/37-41.
  8. Gent. Mag., 1800 , ii , 69 1, which incorrectly dated the marria ge 8 July 1800, also 1840, ii, 660 and 1842, i, 565 ; The Medical Times (1841), 79.
  9. Notes and Queries (12th ser.), v, 265 ; vi, 298; Mag., vol. 84 (1814), ii, 445; W. C. Macready, Reminscences (187 5 ), i, 159; The Modern Language Review ( 1905) , 18 ; The Royal Literary Fund (I 866) , 8; D. Lysons, The Environs of London (1811), iii, 525.
  10. Michael Evans, ‘ Coedmore Forge, Llechryd ‘ in Carmarthenshire Studies (ed.), T. Barnes and N. Yates (1974), 186-195; D. W. Howell, op. cit. , 103 , citing Coedmore deeds of 22 Dec. 1729 and 24 Dec. 1751 in Cards. Record Office; 106, citing leas es in Picton ms 4077 , NLW; and 107, citing Pembs. Record Office, D/RTP/SLE; Alun Richards , The Slate Quarries of Pembrokeshir 176 cites the sale of Fforest, Cilgerran by John Symmons to Thomas Lloyd of Coedmore for £3 ,000 in 1790 ; F rancis Jones, Historic Carmarthenshire Homes and their Families (Carmarthen, 1987) , 19 sub Bwlchllaethwen; NLW MS 2065E, Richard Fenton’s annotation sub Llangennech Park to Thomas Falconer’s mss Tour of Wales (with thanks to Mr Thomas Lloyd for this refer­ence); Robin S. Craig, R. Protheroe Jones and M. V. Symons, The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 to 2000, 31, 38, 75, 115, 560; Carmarthenshire Notes (ed., Arthur Mee, 1891), iii, 44. A Llangennech lease to which John Symmons is a signato ry, as of Paddingt on House, dated 21 Dec. 1826, is in the Clayton mss at Surrey History Centre; Joanna Baillie, A Collection of Poems (1823), subscribers’ list.
  11. Gent. Mag., vol. 83 (1813), i, 595; Family Records Centre, London, PROB 11/1788 , death cert. of Charlotte Symmons, 1869, and estate duty register, [R26/1273/82;   Archives   de   J’etat   Tournai,   death   registration;   Gent.   Mag., vol. 74 (1804), ii, 687 ; E. H. Barker, Literary Anecdotes and Contemporary Reminiscences (1852), 115-116 ; Haverfordwest County Library, F. Green mss, vol. 25, 360 (the much longer original is in NLW, Ffynone (Spence Colby) mss 2385, listing deeds otherwise available in   NLW, Eaton  Evans and Williams mss 33 05 , 3738 , 4220 , 4309; Latter Day Saints, IGI sub Charles Augustus John Symmons; Dictionary of Western Australians 1829- 1850 (ed.), P. S tatham, I, 328 , 1850 – 186 8, ed.   R. Erickson, ii.8 16 ; with additions from the Bicentenary edition of the same (ed.), R. Erickson; P. Conole, Wes tern Australian Police Commissioners, on line,  which shows a photograph   of  Charles Symmons; I. Gluckman, Touching on Death, a medical history of early Auckland , (2000), 277; Alumni Oxon s ub George R. E. Symmons and death cert. of the latter, 1850 , National Archives .
  12. Gent. Mag., vol. 75 (1805), i, 584 and 96 ( 182 6), i.565 -567 ; Elizabeth Symmons’ tablet in Llangathen church,  kindly  reported by Mr Thomas Lloyd; British Library, Add.   Mss,   3787 7, ff. 203, 272; 37879, ff. 223, 229, 235; 37880, f.9; British Library public catalogues sub Symmons, John FRS; Richard Fenton, Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire (l 8 10) , 342 , ( 1903 editio n), I 88-9; The Banks Letters, 802-3; Farington Diary (Yale, ed.), ii , 936; iv , 1195 ; vi, 2468; x, 3631; British Library, J. Symmons to Caleb Whitefoord and his widow Mary  in Add. Mss,   36593-6; Cambridge University   Library, Add. Mss,   8202/ 12 ; R. J. Moore-Colyer, A Land of Pure Delight (19 93), 159 and l77, citing Linn. Soc. (Smith),   16, ff.13 l, 146.
  13. J. Taylor, Records of My Life (l 833), 436.