Marian Bird was born on 7 May 1814 and baptized at Fort St George in Madras on 20 June 1814. She was the only child of Shearman Bird the younger and Louisa Cotes Bird (nee Blenkinsop), married at Dacca [Dhaka] on 10 June 1809. Louisa was baptized at St Mary the Virgin, Stanwell, Middlesex on 30 July 1789, daughter of Henry and Sarah Blenkinsop. She was related by marriage to Diana Cotes, the widow of William Cotes of Calcutta, who later married Sir John Hadley D’Oyly, 6th baronet (1754-1818), the East India Company resident at the court of the nawab of Bengal. Their eldest son Charles (1781-1845), who succeeded as 7th baronet, became a painter of note and is the subject of an entry in the Oxford dictionary of national biography. He was Marian’s godfather. Marian’s father was appointed a writer [clerk] in the East India Company in 1801 and later became a senior merchant [the highest civil grade in the Company] on the Company’s Bengal Establishment at Bhangulpore [Bhagalpur], on the southern bank of the Ganges in the present-day state of Bihar. He was a magistrate and one of the judges of appeal at Dacca. Marian’s grandfather, Shearman Bird the elder, was appointed a writer on the Bengal Establishment of the East India Company in 1766 and for 52 years was in the civil service of the Company, the last 24 years as presiding judge of the Provincial Court of Appeal and Circuit for the Division of Dacca (Salisbury Journal, 5 July 1819; Asiatic Mirror, December 1818).

Shearman Bird the elder and members of his family (including Marian?) left Calcutta for England, on the Warren Hastings, at the end of 1818. They took residence in Southampton at 11 Above Bar. A widowed aunt of Marian, Eliza Matilda Irwin (baptized Eliza Matilda Bird at Calcutta on 20 February 1781), married the banker Martin Maddison at All Saints Church on 29 July 1820. Another aunt, Lady Henrietta Louisa Newbolt, lived at Portswood Lodge between c.1821 and c.1830. She was the wife of Sir John Henry Newbolt, recorder of Winchester 1796-1810, MP for Bramber (Sussex) 1800-2, a judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Madras 1810-15, chief justice of Madras 1815-20 and, after his return to Hampshire in 1821, chairman of the county quarter sessions until his death, aged 53 years, in January 1823. Marian’s grandfather died, aged 74 years, in April 1824 and was interred, on 10 April, in catacomb no. 48 in All Saints Church. His will, proved 24 April 1824, left £6,000 to his only legitimate son, Shearman, £100 to Elizabeth Madison and £2,00 to Caroline Gowon(?) –his only legitimate children - and £2,00 to his natural son John, then in Bengal, and £1,000 to his other natural son Thomas, then living near Bath, with £500 each to Thomas’s six children. His widow, Susannah Bird, died five years later, aged 80 years, and was buried in All Saints churchyard on 3 November 1829.

Marian’s father, Shearman Bird, died in 1825, still in the employ of the East India Company. His will was dated 3 November 1823 and was proved at Calcutta on 27 May 1825 and at London on 19 June 1826. One third of his property was devised on Marian and two thirds on his wife (then in England). Marian was to be her principal heir if she did not marry again. Perhaps of equal significance was the disposition of the property of Shearman’s late uncle, Joseph Bird. He left his money (£3,000 or thereabouts) and all his landed and personal property to his nephew with the exception of the landed property in Essex which was curtailed to any of Shearman’s heirs male or female. This left Marian the sole owner of the Harold’s Park estate near Waltham Abbey in Essex and a very wealthy woman in her own right. Marian’s mother Louisa Shearman Bird died – having not remarried – at her daughter and son-in-law’s house at Midanbury on 10 July 1832, aged 42 years (Salisbury Journal, 6 July 1832). She was buried in All Saints churchyard on 16 July 1832.

Marian Bird was married on 10 September 1831, at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, Westminster to James Barlow Hoy: James’s youngest brother, the Reverend Robert Joseph Barlow, was the officiating minister. Marian was 17 years old, her husband nearly 40 (James’s date of birth is unknown: the Hampshire Advertiser, 26 December 1829 gave his age as 35). Born James Barlow, he took the surname Hoy by royal licence on 26 January 1829 following the death on 26 June 1828 of a distant and unmarried cousin – the Russian merchant Michael Hoy – from whom he inherited estates and personalty amounting to almost £90,000, including estates at Midanbury and Thornhill near Southampton and The Hermitage near Ventnor in the Isle of Wight.

Their only child, Louisa, was baptized at the British Chaplaincy in Naples on 21 June 1838. James and Marian also had an adopted daughter: Eleanor Maria Pera, her forenames Anglicized to Ellen Mary. Marian laid the first stone of the new district church of St James, West End (architect J W Wild) on 18 April 1836; the land had been given by her husband. She was by now commonly referred to as Marian D’Oyley Hoy. James and Marian spent much of their time after 1837 on the continent, ostensibly for the sake of Marian’s health but probably also because of James’s mounting debts. He died on 13 August 1843 at the Hospice de Vielle in the French Pyrenees. He had left England about a month earlier with an old friend, Captain Richard Meredith RN, to collect rare bird specimens but suffered a fatal accident when his gun burst as he was crossing a ravine. He was buried by his widow – come out from England on news of her husband’s accident – in the Protestant cemetery at Toulouse. James was posthumously declared insolvent, with mortgage debts of £58,000.

Marian married for a second time at Leamington on 2 September 1844. Her new husband was Captain Richard Meredith, the shooting partner of her late husband and who had applied a tourniquet to James’s arm in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. William R O’Byrne (A naval biographical dictionary, volume 2, 1849) first records him in 1799 on the books of HMS Polyphemus, making him about twenty five years Marian’s senior. He had a distinguished naval career, seeing action at Trafalgar and in the blockade of Cadiz and, post-war, serving as part of the African squadron set up to supress the slave trade. “Exclusive of the time at Cadiz, where he was almost constantly under fire, Capt. Meredith during the war [French Revolutionary/Napoleonic] was not less than 35 times in actual combat with the enemy, including ship actions, attacks upon batteries, and boat affairs" (William R O’Byrne, op cit, p 756).

Captain Meredith was godfather to Louisa Barlow Hoy and was appointed a trustee of James’s will (dated 18 May 1843, just before he set out for France) in November 1843 when one of the original trustees – Henry Percy Gordon – declined to act. Meredith, aided by Marian’s uncle Martin Madison, began a Chancery action in March 1845 in order to try to expedite the winding up of James’s estate. Richard Meredith died on 13 July 1850. Marian was one of the executors of his will (in which he is described of The Grange in the parish of Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire) and was his chief beneficiary.

Marian married for a third time in late 1850/early 1851. Her new husband was Richard Beste of Botleigh Grange in Hampshire and Abbotsham Court in north Devon, himself recently widowed (his wife died on 26 October 1848 in childbirth) and with ten children, the eldest born in April 1831. He was, like Marian’s second husband, an old friend of her first husband, their Hampshire properties lying close together, with shared interests in horse racing, farming and politics. Marian and Richard’s first wife, Harriet, had often met socially and had cooperated in good works: both, for example, were lady patronesses of the South Hants Infirmary benefit in 1842. Richard was also an ‘English’ Catholic, making it necessary for Marian to convert to the Catholic faith before the marriage.

They lived at Botleigh Grange for only a few months after their marriage. In May 1851 the new extended family – Richard, Marion, nine of Richard’s children (the eldest son joined them later) and Marian’s two daughters - left England for the United States of America, following the pioneer’s trial from New York through Albany, Buffalo, past the Niagara Falls, to Indianapolis and across the prairies of Illinois to the banks of the Mississippi until the journey ended at Terre Haute on the banks of the Wabash River in Indiana with the death of one of Richard’s children. An account of the journey – The Wabash; or, adventures of an English gentleman’s family in the interior of America was published in 1855. It incorporated extracts from a journal kept by Louisa.

The American adventure was followed by an extended tour incorporating Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Algeria in 1856-8. The following four years were spent at Abbotsham Court, but in 1862 Richard, Marian and the younger children moved to Torro dell’ Olmo in Tuscany, where Richard had bought “a good many hundred acres of land … in order that I might have something to carry out my old country habits and amusements”. The house, dating from the time of the Florentine Republic, overlooked Florence. Marian d’Oyley Beste died on 30 March 1885 – a few months before her husband – at their Florence residence, 2 Piazza della Vicchia. She left a personal estate of £15,382.4s.1d, much greater than that of Richard. Her will was proved by the Reverend John Virtue, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth. She had established a charity school for poor children at the villa and built a chapel there, paying for a residential priest. Money for his upkeep was in her will. The money was to be applied to the nearest Catholic church to Harold’s Park should the Tuscan chapel cease to exist. She was survived by her two children. Their life experiences after they left the family could scarcely have been more dissimilar.

Louisa Beste married the Marquis Guadagno Guadagni in 1861; his estate at Masseto lay only one and a half miles from Olmo. He was the only male representative of his generation of a wealthy and long-established Tuscan family, and had a past that was far from ordinary: page to the King of Bavaria as a young man and later attached to the service of Queen Mary of Bavaria; an artillery lieutenant in the Bavarian army (1851), a British officer in the Crimean War; a general in the Tuscan detachment of the Northern Army in the war of independence against the Austrians (1859; and a cavalry officer in Garibaldi’s army in the war of independence against the Bourbons, in command of the Matese Legion at the battle of Volturno (1860). He was half English. His mother, Lady Luisa Lee, was the daughter of Sir Francis Geary Gardner Lee, a lieutenant colonel of Marines and latterly in the Spanish service. She had married Donato Guadagni in 1828 and Guadagno, her only son, was born in 1833. She died at Florence in February 1865. The Tuscan villa at Olmo was left to Louisa’s son Guitto in Marian’s will. Further details of the Guadagni family can be found at

Ellen Mary Best entered the Convent of Mercy in Chelsea in the early 1850s. A novitiate for three years, she was declared unfit to join the community on the last day of her training. To her step-father, Richard Beste, this amounted to a fraud, almost to kidnapping, a stratagem to exact the full amount of her pension whilst in the full knowledge that she would never become a full member of the order. Richard appealed to the police and courts for protection, but these were fruitless. His only course of revenge was an exposé of the order in the semi-autobiographical Nowadays; or courts, courtiers, churchmen, Garibaldians, lawyers and brigands, at home and abroad published in two volumes in 1870. Ellen Mary married Robert Claude Evans, an insurance agent, in 1868.

The Reverend Robert Joseph Barlow published his own semi-autobiographical work – Remarkable, but still true - two years later. It was published under the pseudonym Walter Fitzallen. He was for 47 years vicar of Hutton Radby in Yorkshire. The untoward death and virtual insolvency of his eldest brother James in 1843 had deprived both him and his sisters of the allowances they received while he was alive and of the annuities they had expected on his death. His anger was turned on Marian, whose personal fortune remained intact whatever the financial circumstances of her husbands. Chapter 26 of Remarkable, but still true depicts Marian and her mother – scarcely disguised under the surname Hawk – as scheming harpies who played on the hapless James.

See also

External links:

Alice Barrigan has written extensively about the family. Posts include:


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