Sarah Catherine Martin

sarah catherine portrait


 My 4x great-grandaunt, Elizabeth Ann Parker (abt 1737 – 1808, daughter of Harding Parker and Catherine Neville of Passage West, County Cork, Ireland) and her husband, Sir Henry Martin, (Comptroller of the Navy and MP for Southampton, England) had a most surprising daughter. Her siblings were successful naval officers, appointed government employees and young ladies who married suitably or who remained quietly in the background as spinsters.

Sarah Catherine popped her head up above the crowd at the age of about 17, when the future King of England, Prince William Henry (later to be William IV), aged 20, fell in love with her and went so far as to apply to his parents for permission to marry her. Sarah would have met the prince through her father, when he was Commissioner of the Navy and resident at Portsmouth at a time when William was serving in the Navy. Sarah’s brother, Thomas Byam, would the following year begin his naval career as a captain’s servant aboard HMS Pegasus, which was captained by the prince.

Understandably, the idea of such a marriage horrified both William’s royal parents and Sarah’s humbler ones and Sarah was quickly removed from his orbit.

The reactions to the affair of both Henry Martin and the prince are revealed in a series of letters that Sarah’s brother, Thomas Byam, published in later life. These offer a fascinating glimpse into the aftermath of Prince William’s application to his parents, and inspire considerable sympathy in the reader for poor Henry Martin as he attempts to extricate himself and his daughter without offending.

 Henry Martin to Prince William Henry [Not dated] 1786

…With a heart devoted to you, I trust you will do me the justice to believe that I feel most sensibly the noble, the honourable part you have acted by me and my dear child: could I have foreseen the attachment you have been pleased to honour her with, I should certainly have removed her for a time from my house, that both your Royal Highness and she might have avoided the difficulties and distresses which must necessarily be the consequence of it. She is, thank God, tolerably well; but blessed, Sir, as she is with a superior understanding, she has with a becoming fortitude guarded against the too tender impression a declaration so unexpected, and so much superior to what she could ever presume to raise her thoughts [to], might otherwise have made, and which, had your Royal Highness’s station in life been more on a level with hers, she would naturally have felt, where every gratification of mind and person conspire to captivate the heart….

Prince William Henry to Henry Martin. Hebe, Jany. 31st, 1786.

…I must once more repeat –Dear Sarah! I feel for her more than I can express; she is an unfortunate and virtuous girl. God bless all your family, but I cannot help expressing my particular feeling for the best of womankind.

                                                I am

                                Your sincere and unfortunate friend,

(Letters and Papers of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thos Byam Martin, G.C.B., edited by Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton. London: Navy Records Society, 1898–1903).

Sarah Catherine did not ever marry, but she did make her mark once again in 1805 when her illustrated book of comic verse for children, The Comic Adventure of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog, was published. She had written this while living at Kitley House in Devonshire with her sister, Judith Anne, the second wife of the politician, John Pollexfen Bastard. Some sources suggest that Mother Hubbard was the housekeeper at Kitley, but more scholarly discussion sees it as an adaption of earlier similar tales. The book became an immediate best seller.

 Sarah died in 1826 and is buried beside her parents in St. Nicholas’s Churchyard, Loughton, Essex. In her simple holograph will, written on two slips of paper, she leaves everything to her unmarried sister, Lydia Maria, and her niece, Catherine Elizabeth, daughter of her brother, Henry William. It was one of Catherine’s descendants, Mary Emily May, who would lend the manuscript of Old Mother Hubbard to the Bodleian Library for an exhibit in the 1930s. It was later sold to a collector in the United States.

 An unusual life surely, for an eighteenth-century young lady and one that deserves to be remembered.

Kitley House today – a luxury hotel

Old Mother Hubbard (Wikipedia)


3 comments to Sarah Catherine Martin

  • Though not my ancestor, Sarah Catherine Martin is of my same lineage! Thank you so much for this page and image!

  • Linda Breaden

    Hi, I came to this entry during research about my ancestor Nathaniel McKail who was born in Antigua in 1772. He lived in England where his family were born. Interested in the Martin family who had plantations in Antigua because Nathaniels children had Martin included in there name so I suspect he has connections with the Martin family in his ancestry. I cannot find his parents etc or when he travelled from Antigua to England. As my DNA result from Ancestry has a trace of Senegal and another descendent has another African element it is possible there was a slave in our Ancestry? We are interested to find out more, any thoughts?

    • admin

      Sarah Catherine’s grandfather and great-grandfather did have strong links to the plantations in Antigua. The manuscript collection in the British Library has a substantial collection on this family, but I don’t recall seeing information there that would help in your search.

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