Thomas Wyatt

Thomas, the seventh child and the youngest son of Charles and Charlotte Wyatt, was born in Bengal on 29 September, 1797 and baptised in Calcutta some time later, on 21 August, 1799. Thomas, like his father before him, joined the East India Company. From 1817–1819 he attended Haileybury College, the training establishment for the company at Hailey, Hertfordshire, which had been founded in 1806 to provide general and vocational education for young men who were nominated by its directors to writerships (clerkships) in the overseas civil service. The records for the College show that he was a successful student, especially in the subjects of Hindustani, Persian and drawing.[1]

On 30 April, 1818 he officially entered the EIC with the rank of writer and by 1820 was Assistant to the Secretary of the Board of Trade and Acting Collector (in charge of revenue collection and administration) of Midnapore. His career, from deputy collector to collector in various areas in India and then to magistrate and civil and session judge, can be followed in the various editions of the East India Register and Directory. He seems to have ended his working life as a civil and session judge in Rungpore, in eastern Bengal, in 1853, as that is his last posting listed. And the following account of a letter received by Allen’s Indian Mail was published the following year. The Haileybury College listings have his resignation as 10 June, 1854.

Mr Thomas Wyatt—A correspondent writing from Rungpore, under date of the 14th instant, says that Mr. Thomas Wyatt, late civil and session judge of that district, finding that all his endeavours to obtain employment are fruitless, has at length determined to send in his application for permission to retire from the service. Mr. Wyatt acts prudently we think in retiring from the service. Rs. 400 per menseen [sic] in India, and nothing to do, is not so bad a state of things as might be; but if there really be no hope of getting employment; 1,000l in England is so considerably better, that no wise men would hesitate, between the bundles of hay, which to choose. (Allen’s Indian Mail, vol. XII, 1854, p. 33)

But it was not his civil service career that would make his life so interesting, but rather, like his sister, Charlotte, the story of his marriage and its ending.

In 1817, before he left for India, Thomas had married Elizabeth Grey Coxwell at St. Mary’s Church, Southampton. She is described as the only daughter of Henry Coxwell, Esq., of Millfield House, near Highgate.[2] From the documentation accompanying her subsequent divorce,[3] it is clear that Eliza accompanied Thomas to India. While there, she gave birth to a son, Henry Herbert, who was baptised 20 October, 1821 in Dacca, Bengal. As a result of ill health that threatened her life, she and her son returned to England in 1825 with her sister-in-law, Charlotte. On her return, she lived, at least at first, with her parents.

In 1841, a court case began as Thomas had instituted divorce proceedings against Elizabeth, as a result of her living with another man, Colonel William Henry Rochfort, in Calais. He had already won an action against Rochfort for criminal conversation (that is, adultery) and been awarded £230. Proceedings had also been launched in 1838 for the return of Thomas and Elizabeth’s son, Henry Herbert, from Calais, which Rochfort ignored. As a result, he was arrested in France and returned to England; [4] Henry must have been returned to England shortly thereafter as he was enrolled in Queen’s College at Oxford by November, 1840.[5]

Evidence was given that Elizabeth had been living in Calais from 1833 to 1836 with Rochfort as his wife and had given birth to his son there on 10 October, 1835.[6] He was subsequently baptised on 24 November, 1835 with the highly unusual name of Rajphoot Runjheet Rochfort.[7]

William Henry Rochfort was a larger than life character, still known today from the widely-circulated memoirs of one of England’s most notorious courtesans, Harriette Wilson. He was a member of an old-established Irish family from Westmeath with a melodramatic history. Through accidents of inheritance, Rochfort grew up poor, when he felt he should have been rich—as a result borrowing extensively to keep up an unsustainable life style and falling deeper and deeper into debt. Harriette’s biographer describes him in extensive detail:

[He was] alluring, unfaithful, a player of masquerades, vengeful, energetic and a spinner of yarns… an extravagant fantasist, he loved clothes and adventure and courted the company of fashionable people… People like Rochfort: his looks were attractive to women while men admired his vitality and energy…[8]

Harriette had met him in 1822 when he was on daily parole from the Fleet Prison in London, where he had been imprisoned for debt. They became lovers and in 1823 announced that they had married—although Harriette’s biographer maintains there is no evidence for or against this marriage. They certainly rarely lived in the same house, or even in the same country.[9]

But in December, 1831, Rochfort fell in love with Elizabeth Wyatt.

Mrs Wyatt was ‘destitute’ following the demise of her marriage and she and Rochfort were penniless. The following year, he at last found a vocation: Dom Pedro of Brazil was trying to oust his brother, Dom Miguel, from the throne of Portugal, and Rochfort went out as commander of an artillery brigade to Dom Pedro’s cause. When he returned to London, having now attained the colonelcy it had been presumed for the last ten years he already had, it was Mrs Wyatt’s arms and not Harriette’s into which Rochfort fell.[10]

Thomas was granted his divorce, although whether he ever received his £230 damages from the always-in-debt Rochfort is unknown.

In 1852 Rochfort died, leaving Elizabeth and her son poverty stricken. Two years later, Rochfort’s mother died and he might finally have received some of the inheritance he felt he was due. Elizabeth and Rochfort’s son received nothing from the estate.

However, the divorce proceedings showed another side of Thomas. His solicitor of many years, a Mr. Joseph Spencer, when asked about Thomas’s salary and financial situation while In India, gave the following evidence:

He had a very valuable Situation; his salary was either 28,000 or 30,000 Rupees a Year; but he was so very much in Debt that it was scarcely more than sufficient to pay the Interest of his Debts. He was dreadfully involved.[11]

When asked the question: “Do you know whether in 1832 or 1833 he could have come to England on account of his Debts?” he answered:

I am certain that he could not; I know that he was prevented by Alexander and Company and Mackintosh and Company, who were very large creditors of his, from going to the Cape [of Good Hope] for a considerable Time after he got Leave to do so, and he went to the Cape instead of coming to England, because by going there he did not forfeit the whole of his Salary and Allowance.[12]

It is clear too in a letter from Elizabeth’s father to Thomas in India explaining that his daughter’s ill health prevented her from returning to him in that country, that his father-in-law knew of his financial difficulties.[13] It really was an impossible situation for everyone—Elizabeth too ill to return to her husband and Thomas unable to return to England because of his creditors in India and his need to stay there for employment.

Elizabeth did not marry again and retained the name of Rochfort for the rest of her life, living quietly in St. Peter’s Place in Canterbury in Kent, dying there on 19 March, 1886.[14]

Thomas may have died in Calcutta on 23 May, 1857, although the birth date recorded on the burial of this Thomas Wyatt was 1803. But the description of his occupation as being in the Bengal Civil Service matches.[15] There is no will for this Thomas Wyatt, just an administration registered, also in 1857.[16]

And what of the two children featured here: Henry Herbert Wyatt and Rajphoot Runjheet Rochfort. As we have seen, Henry studied at Oxford, graduating with a B.A. in 1844 and an M.A. in 1847. He entered the church in 1845 and from 1852 to 1856 was secretary for the Society for Promoting the Gospel in Foreign Parts; perpetual curate at Holy Trinity Chapel, Brighton from 1856 to 1866; Principal of the Brighton Training College from 1863 to 1886; vicar of Bolney, Sussex from 1872 to 1886 and in 1886 became rector of Conington, Huntingdonshire.[17] He was known as a collector of hymns and psalms and published a number of books in the field.

On 23 October, 1850, at Long Newton, Wiltshire, he married Elizabeth, almost certainly related to him, the daughter of Alfred and Hannah Wyatt. There were three children of the marriage: Edgar Herbert (1853–1933) who married Clara Harriet Fisher and left many descendants in New Zealand where he spent most of his life; Grace Elizabeth (1855–1940), who died unmarried and Harold Frazer (1858–1925), an author of books on maritime history and policy, who also died unmarried.

By 1891, Elizabeth was dead and Henry himself died on 13 March, 1902 in Conington.

His half brother, Rajphoot Runjheet, had a much shorter life, but this didn’t stop it being complicated. At the age of 19, he can be found marrying at Prittlewell in Essex, another 19-year-old, Mary Ann, or Marian Jemson. On the marriage licence, he describes himself as a “gentleman.”[18] However, in the only English census he can be found in, that for 1861, he is living in Deal in Kent and described as married to 23-year-old Annie, who was born in Demerara, in South America. Rajphoot described himself as a “Military Gentleman.” Living with them was their five-month-old son, Henry, born in Ostend, Belgium. On his New Zealand death certificate, Henry’s full name is given as Henry Belvidere Heyland Rochfort. Research done by other genealogists indicates that this “wife,” Annie, was Annie Kyffin Heyland.

Marian Jemson Rochfort, meanwhile, can be found in the same census living with her brother-in-law, Frank Hutchinson and his family in Islington in London, along with her mother,Elizabeth Jemson. She, too, is listed as married.

Another child was born to Rajphoot and Annie, a daughter, Fanny or Annie Gertrude. She was registered in 1863 as Fanny Gertrude Rochfort Heyland and later baptised as Annie Gertrude Rochfort at St. Matthews in Bayswater in London on 7 June, 1863. By then her father was dead. He had died at his mother’s home in Canterbury on 6 March, 1863. Rajphoot’s entry in the National Probate Index describes him as formerly of France.

Annie and her two children soon emigrated to New Zealand. Henry died there unmarried on 29 March, 1877 and Annie survived until 26 January, 1921, leaving descendants.


[1] Danvers, Frederick Charles. Memorials of Old Haileybury College. London: Constable, 1904, p. 357.

[2] The Morning Post, 5 August, 1817. The marriage entry in the parish register is also reproduced in the divorce proceedings.

[3] “Minutes of Evidence Taken Upon the Second Reading of the Bill Intituled An Act to Dissolve the Marriage of Thomas Wyatt Esquire…” In The Sessional Papers Printed By Order of the House of Lords… Vol. XX, 1841, p. 5. Available: books.google.com.

[4] “Ex Parte Wyatt.” Reports of Cases Argues and Determined in the Court of King’s Bench… London: Butterworth, 1839, pp. 76–78.

[5] Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxiensis, 1500–1714. Oxford: University Press, 1891.

[6] “Minutes of Evidence…,” op. cit., p. 12.

[7] Rajphoot Runjheet Rochfort baptism. General Register Office: Foreign Registers and Returns. TNA: Class: RG 33; Piece: 50.

[8] Wilson, Frances. The Courtesan’s Revenge: Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King. London: Faber and Faber, 2003, pp. 183–184.

[9] Ibid, p. 184.

[10] Ibid, p. 299.

[11] “Minutes of Evidence…,” op. cit., p. 12.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, p. 20.

[14] Various English censuses and the National Probate Index.

[15] Parish Register Transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, 1713-1948.FHL mfm 498995.

[16] Index to Administrations 1774–1909. 1857, pt. 2.

[17] Alumni Oxiensis, op. cit.; “Henry Herbert Wyatt.” Hymnary.org. Available: hymnary.org.

[18] “On 19th August, 1852, at St. Mary’s Church, Prittlewell, by licence, Mary Ann Jemson, 19, spinster, married Mahrajh Rungjhul Henry Rochfort, 19, bachelor, a gentleman.” Note attached to record of their marriage on FreeBMD Index. Available: www.freebmd.org.uk.

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