Margaret Greentree

Margaret was born probably in the early 1740s (the exact date has not been yet been found as these early records are available only in the Archives on St. Helena), but her parentage is well established by her father’s will dated May 10, 1773.[1] In 1764, a 39-year-old Englishman, John Skottowe, a retired army officer, was appointed Governor of the island, by the East India Company who governed there. Two years later, the East India Company council records record: “Governor Skottowe married Margt Greentree on 30th Sept. 1766.”[2] We know from the above-mentioned will that a forty pound marriage portion was paid to her at this time and she (and her sister, Elizabeth) were subsequently only left the sum of twenty five pounds – a smaller bequest that those to their siblings.

John Skottowe served as Governor of the island for 18 years, until 1782, and Margaret’s seven children were all born there.

  • Anne, born October 12, 1767. Died 1808 in London
  • Margaret, born August 10, 1769. Died 1776 in Fareham, England
  • Elizabeth, born February 15, 1771. Died  August 2, 1771 on St. Helena
  • John, born February 28, 1774. Died 7 September 1820 in London
  • Thomas, baptized 1775. Died July 18, 1804 on island of Dominica
  • Margaret, born about 1777. Died March 22, 1851, Cork City, Ireland
  • Richard, baptized 1779. Died about 1814 at Cape Coast Castle, West Africa

Life on the island for the Governor and his family may not have seemed so different from life in England as the London Courant and Westminster Chronicle reports on August 9, 1781 that “The present Governor of St. Helena is John Skottowe, Esq; who lives in a very elegant style.”  Nor did residence on a remote island in the South Atlantic mean complete exile from England as there are various records of the Skottowes (and other Greentrees) making the difficult journey back and forth.

One such voyage must have been made in 1776, as their daughter, Margaret, is recorded as having been buried on October 7th of that year in St. Peter & Paul’s Church in Fareham, England. Although she would have been six or seven years old, she is described as an infant. “Margaret Skottowe, an Infant, from St. Helena was buried.”[3] The Skottowes would have been visiting Margaret’s sister, Elizabeth, who had made her home there with her husband, Sir Digby Dent.

We get a glimpse of Margaret’s personality during Captain James Cook’s second visit to St. Helena in 1775. Cook would have been acquainted with John Skottowe, as Cook’s father had been employed by Skottowe’s father, Thomas, as a hind on his Yorkshire farm.

“Cook soon found that the inhabitants of St. Helena Island were not altogether happy with him. Trouble came with the Hawkesworth edition of the Endeavour voyage, which had arrived first. It seems that acquiring knowledge by reading books was not neglected in the South Atlantic. Naturally the section on St. Helena was perused first and with a good deal of interest, and what was learned was not to anyone’s approval. So wanting in ingenuity were the inhabitants, wrote Hawkesworth, that they did not even have wheelbarrows, and he charged them with wanton cruelty to their slaves.

The English ladies lost no time in pointing out that they really knew the wheel. Cook was mortified. His hostesses were good-natured, but all the same an ocean storm was easier to face than their badinage. George Forster, aged twenty-one, enjoyed his captain’s discomfiture. The sprightly Mrs. John Skottowe, wife of the Governor, displayed her talents at pleasant raillery from which the sea captain had no escape except to blame the “absent philosophers” who had not consulted him. Although his explanation was sufficient and the hospitality cordial, on many a morning, George was amused to notice, Cook would find a wheelbarrow parked outside his lodgings on shore.”[4]

Margaret died in London on April 30, 1782 and was buried in St. Marylebone Church on May 6th. Her place of rest is not commemorated in any way as the headstones for this church have long since been removed. A number of English newspapers reported her death:

On Monday died, at her house in Holles-street, Cavendish-square, Mrs. Skottowe, lady of John Skottowe, Esq; Governor of St. Helena.[5]

In July 25 of that year, the Council Records record: “Gov. Skottowe allowed to retire on same pension as predecessor.”[6] He survived Margaret by only four years, dying in Bath on February 12, 1786.

There is a memorial to John to the right of the chancel in St, Mary’s Church, Chesham in Buckinghamshire – a village with intimate connections to the Skottowe family.

John Skottowe / who served the country in five campaigns / under the Duke of Cumberland / was afterward many years Governor of St. Helena / He died February 12th, 1786, aged 61 years / and left five children

john skottowe portrait

Portrait of John Skottowe (by David Martin) later in life. Note the St. Helena landscape in the background

 

[1] East India Company Office (St. Helena). Council Consultations, 1678–1836. Microfilm no. 1259068, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Church of England. St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church (Fareham, Hampshire), Parish Registers, 1588–1871.  Microfilm no. 918893, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[4] Captain Cook Society Web Site. http://www.captaincooksociety.com/ : 2013.

[5] Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London) May 3, 1782.

[6] East India Company Office (St. Helena). Council Consultations, 1678–1836.

4 comments to Margaret Greentree

  • Clive O'Sullivan

    With regards to John Skottowe. In recent times I recorded the tombs in St Mary’s Chesham to come across a large railed tomb now much over grown. The inscription notes a John Skottowe who died in 1786. However my research turned to the parish record of 1786 which records: John Skottowe Esq brother and heir of the late Coulsdon Skottowe Esq of Chesham parsonage.
    Formerly an officer for 20 years,Governor of St Helena in Africa. He was laid in a new vault made for eight persons-between the north ayle of the church and garden wall. He died Feb 12th aged 61 years.

    Hope this is helpful. Clive O’Sullivan

    • marian

      Clive: I visited Chesham and visited the church about 20 years ago. I saw the plaque, but no-one was able to tell me whether John Skottowe had actually been buried there. So thanks very much for this information.

      Marian

  • Sylvia Wright

    Re Margaret Greentree

    Did Margaret Greentree who married John Skottowe in 1766 have a daughter Elizabeth Skottowe and did she in turn marry Nathaniel Bogle French in abt 1780 in Yorkshire?

    Re St Helena history, my great great grandfather’s brother in law was Sir George Ridout Bingham and I think my great great grandfather John Mansel was there too while Napoleon was a guest of His Majesty!

    Many thanks,

    Sylvia

    • marian

      Nathaniel Bogle French’s wife, Elizabeth Skottowe, was the daughter of Augustine Skottowe and Ann Gill – Augustine was John Skottowe’s brother. So she was a niece of John Skottowe and Margaret Greentree.

      I have lots of information on this Elizabeth and the Frenches. Let me know if you are interested in receiving any of it.

      Marian

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