Christiana Atcherley in her own words – Part 3

< Back to Part 2.

“Since the receipt of your letter yesterday, My dear Sir, I have been in a state not to be described, I was so completely shocked every way at its contents …”. So began a letter written by Christiana Atcherley, on 10 December 1811, to Charles Cox Esquire at Bartlet’s Building in Holborn, London. Christiana was shocked not by anything that Mr Cox had done, but by the failure of the plans that had been put in place for her to obtain a proportion of her husband’s salary.

Christiana Atcherley [] was, in 1811, still residing at Stonehouse, Plymouth, her home since her marriage to James Atcherley [] of the Royal Marines in 1802. She shared that home with her two children, Emma and William Atcherley – but not with their father. Captain James Atcherley was living in Southwark, Surrey, with another woman, Sarah Perkins, with whom he had fathered his third child.

James, it seems, was reluctant to provide financial support for Christiana and the children born of his marriage to her. Christiana however was determined that James should pay towards the maintenance of herself and their offspring. Her letter to Charles Cox of 20 November 1811, a full transcript of which follows, provides us with a fairly detailed picture of the scheme she had devised to make James pay what was due:

Atcherley, Christiana - letter 1811 header

My Dear Sir
You may easily conceive the satisfaction & pleasure your letter of yesterday afforded me & I am sure I can never half express, the obligations I am under to you, for undertaking to receive his Pay, otherwise I am well convinced I should never have a farthing; I am of opinion it would be advisable for you, never to advance any before hand, & I will take care on my part, never to draw, untill I think you have recieved it; it would certainly be better if I could leave it for even two or three months, on account of the expence of Stamps, which I am afraid it will not be in my power to do, particularly at present, as I shall be very glad of my proportion of the months Pay which will become due in a few days; the next, I can draw at the same time with my dividend to save the stamp, & after that, I trust I shall be able to wait a couple of months at least; after the reciept of your letter before the last, on finding that Capt A– would not agree to your kind proposal (which now however thank God has taken place) I knew not what to do, at last it occur’d to me, I would write to this Mr Bull; I began by supposing he was ignorant that Capt A– had a Wife & Family to support, or he could not wish to appropriate so lame a share of his Income, to liquidate a debt I was informed had been contracted, I then stated your proposal, & concluded by saying if it was not complied with, I should have my case stated to the Admiralty in order to have half the Pay stop’d, according to a written Agreement – altho I felt sensible this application would be of no use, still, as a last resource, I was determined to try what a little threatening would do, and it really had the desired effect, for I got a letter three days ago from Capt A– in answer, that Mr Bull would accede; he was very angry however at my writing to him, tho evidently alarmed at what I said I meant to do, for he added that the moment my memorial was presented, his Resignation would immediately follow, & so forth —
the debt due to this man, I conclude to be for Provisions during the time his Pay was stop’d, & I will flatter myself that perhaps after the ten months when this is liquidated, I may yet be able to get the half as was promised, & in the mean time, the present arrangement will keep me & my Children above want, & that is a great point gained —
with ten thousand thanks to you & Mr Charles for your kindness, & the trouble you have taken, which I hope God will reward you for, I will conclude, by begging my most affectionate Remembrance to dear Mrs. Cox & Mrs. Van: Atcherley, Christiana - letter 1811 footer

As we have seen, “satisfaction & pleasure” very soon changed to shock. Not doubting that Mr Cox had received the agreed proportion of James Atcherley’s pay, Christiana had drawn on Mr Cox’s account for the sum of £4 10s. But something had gone wrong and Charles Cox Esquire did not receive the money which was expected. Christiana could only speculate as to the reasons why.

Quote … in what manner to account for it, I am at a loss, or why he should give you the Power of Attorney at all, & then do this strange thing, after asking for so small a sum too – & perhaps he thought you would not go for his Pay, till the two months were up, as usual, & so thought he would get one in the mean time, or whether the person he had appointed his Agent, was determined to try once more before he was superseded; at any rate your Power of Attorney is the last, let me implore you to endeavour to make it useful next time, by sending as soon as the doors are open & by that means if possible remunerate yourself for the sum I have drawn for, if alas that is impracticable (by his having already revoked your Power), I must pay you by degrees which in the present miserable state of my finances, is all I can promise to do … Unquote

Christiana went on to discuss what might be done next. One possibility was that she could write to James, but was this a good idea? “I cannot tell whether I ought to write or not, for if I do, my feelings are so completely hurt, that I may make matters worse, by saying what may exasperate him, & make him cancel your Power, if he has not already done it …”. Another option was one which, I suspect, would have exasperated James even more:

Quote … very likely if I was to write to this Mr Bull again, it might be attended with a good effect, to inform him of what had recently transpired, & what Capt A– said about sending in his Resignation, & at the same time shew my indifference to that step, by pretending a Memorial was now ready to be presented; … Unquote

There is a reference in Christiana’s letter to receiving a third of James Atcherley’s pay, and this is mentioned again in the final, rather desperate passage of her communication to Charles Cox:

Quote … my health is so much impaired, I am not equal to fatigue, the oppression of my mind is more than I can bear, & reflecting on the hardships I must undergo this winter, almost presses me on the verge of the grave, unless you can manage to get this Third of the Pay for me, (I do not mean the next months, for that you must keep) but to have it go on regularly if possible – I know not what to cling to for comfort – my heart is too full to permit me to say more, than to beg my kindest love to dear Mrs Cox, & ten thousand thanks to you & Mr Charles – Unquote

I think it unlikely that Christiana received any proportion of James’s pay. That being so, her financial situation remained rather dire. From her letter of 1819 to Gilbert Innes of the Royal Bank of Scotland we know she left Plymouth about 1813 “as the place got so very expensive”. North Devon was recommended.

Devon - Barnstaple St PeterBarnstaple St Peter.

Quote … accordingly I came to Barnstaple, & found it much more reasonable, but I fear it is not a healthy place it lays so low, at least I have reason to say so having lost my amiable, & before healthy daughter & companion at the age of 15, after a long illness of 5 months, the deprivations I have undergone for her sake are not to be told, that she might have what was necessary, I had two medical men at last to attend her, for my all seemed at stake, but it has pleased God to add this heavy calamity (no doubt for wise reasons) to what I have already suffr’d … Unquote

Emma Eustatia Atcherley [] was buried, at Barnstaple St Peter, on 7 July 1819. The fact that poor Emma had gone to the grave unbaptised seems to have prompted Christiana to make sure the same would not happen to her son. The baptism of William Langton Shairp Atcherley [] took place at Barnstaple on 3 November 1819, the record of this event showing that he and Christiana had their home in the town’s High Street. No date of birth was recorded, but an age for William can be found in his mother’s letter, written three months before this ceremony:

Quote … I must endeavour to be resigned , & bear up as well as I can, for the sake of my dear son, now turned of 10 years old, who demands every care & attention; dear Lady Rothes has constantly been sending us little Presents, besides wine &c which has supported us thro the last sad scenes, but I have no right to expect it of her, for her Ladyship has a large and expensive family of her own, & a Fortune not adequate to her rank in life, but she is one of the best women in the world, & noted for doing good … Unquote

Lady Rothes, otherwise known as the Countess Dowager of Rothes or Lady Mary Langton, may well have sent her last gift to Christiana by the time the above words were written. Her gravestone, at Exeter, shows that she died there on 11 January 1820. However, Christiana still possessed her late aunt’s property near Edinburgh, Gardner’s Hall. She told Gilbert Innes:

Quote … Mr Bell informs me, that unless my Little Property is sold this summer, it will not bring in so much rent even as it has done, & the idea of this adds greatly to my distress; there has lately been a Canal cut, from Glasgow to Edinburgh, which runs close by the door of Gardners Hall, we are therefore in great hopes that this will make it sell to advantage, & what I have to beg of you my good sir is, as the greatest favor, that you would have the goodness to look at it, & mention it among your Friends; as a person of your Influence & consequence interesting yourself about it, might be of the greatest use; I so dread my little Income being decreased that it makes me quite ill, especially now my boy requires to be educated … Unquote

Christiana’s letter concluded: “I have ever retained the greatest affection for my dear native land, but Fate has thrown me far from it.”

Whether Christiana’s countryman Mr Innes helped her in any way I do not know, but it does not appear that any attempts to sell the property were made in 1819, or the following year. However The Royal Edinburgh Club noted that: “In 1821 Gardeners’ Hall was again on the market, and was acquired by William Gardner”. Hopefully Christiana received a reasonable sum from the sale. It may have been at this time that she and William left Barnstaple and went back to Stonehouse. It seems unlikely that she ever returned to her beloved Scotland.

Christiana’s contribution to the story of her life ended with the closing lines of her letter of 1819: I have found no further letters after that date. Other records tell the conclusion of her story. On “Sixth of October 1838 ½ after 11 pm” Christiana Atcherley died at East Stonehouse, from natural causes. Her age was recorded as 69, although a notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine stated simply that she died “at an advanced age”. She was buried at East Stonehouse four days after her death, and administration of her estate was granted to her son William on 15 June 1840 (Christiana had not left a will).

Atcherley, Christiana - Admiralty paymentIt is, I hope, not overly optimistic of me to believe that in her later years, Christiana’s life was rather easier that it was during the period when she was struggling to raise her children. Her son, William Shairp Langton Atcherley, followed his father into service with the Royal Marines, obtaining a Commission as Second Lieutenant on 29 October 1828. I am sure Christiana welcomed the proportion of his salary that I am absolutely certain William passed on to her.

It was also in her later years that Christiana finally received money from her husband, Captain James Atcherley. James died in 1834, and as a widow of a Royal Marine Officer Christiana was then paid by the Admiralty, for the last few years of her life, £50 per annum.


My grateful thanks to Barbara Lang for providing copies of Christiana Atcherley’s letters of 1811, and transcriptions of those letters.

Picture credits. Extracts from Christiana Atcherley’s letter of 30 Nov 1811: Images extracted from a copy of the letter supplied by Barbara Lang. Barnstaple St Peter: public domain image from page 170 of The North Devon Coast (published 1908) at Internet Archive. Extract from Accounts and Papers, 1837: Composite image made from public domain copy of the publication at Google Books.

References (See also the references for Parts 1 and 2 of this story)

[1] Letter from Christiana Atcherley to Charles Cox Esq., dated 10 Dec 1811. Copy supplied by Barbara Lang.
[2] Barnstaple St Peter, Devon, burial register covering 1819, entry dated 7 Jul for Emma Eustatia Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[3] Barnstaple St Peter, Devon, baptism register covering 1819, entry dated 3 Nov for William Shairp Langton Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Baptisms.
[4] Lady Mary Langton. At: Find A Grave (website, accessed 6 Apr 2016).
[5] Death of Christiana Atcherley registered at E Stonehouse, December quarter 1838; volume 9, volume 215. Copy of entry in GRO register of deaths held.
[6] The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1838, page 563. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[7] East Stonehouse, Devon, burial register covering 1838, entry dated 12 Oct for Christiana Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[8] The National Archives, Kew, item IR27/49 (Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903). Copy viewed at Findmypast – Index to Death Duty Registers.
[9] The National Archives, Kew, item PROB 6/216 (Administration act book, 1840), entry for Christiana Atcherley. Transcript supplied by Barbara Lang.
[10] The National Archives, Kew, item ADM 196/58/200 (Admiralty: Officers’ Service Records (Series III)), Atcherley, William Shairp Langton. Copy downloaded from TNA Discovery website.
[11] Anon (1837), Manner the sums voted in Navy estimates of 1836 and 1837, for widows of officers slain, &c., were applied. In: Accounts and Papers, volume XL. Estimates; Army; Navy; Ordnance, &c. Session 31 January—17 July 1837. Copy viewed at Google Books.