FIR HILL

1765 – 1850

Rev Thomas Penny White

Fir Hill was rented  from 1826 until 1838 by the Rev Thomas Penny White (1778-1845), according to testimony in a letter written in 1934 that relates a conversation with his grand-daughter, Miss Williams, then living in Winchester, who was the daughter of Laura White, born in 1817.

 

Rev White was the eldest of the four children of Thomas White (1749-1804) and his wife Ann née Stannard (1757-1832). His parents were married at the church of St George the Martyr in Southwark, London, on 7 August 1777 and he was born in Marylebone, London the following year. The White family home was in Colchester, Essex, where his father was the proprietor and headteacher of a small but successful private school that also took boarders called The Colchester Academy from 1785 until his death in 1804.

 

Rev White graduated from Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1802 as “Senior Wrangler”, the highest scoring mathematics graduate; perhaps unsurprisingly as his father seems to have been a distinguished mathematician, publishing a ready calculator for the pricing of corn. Rev White took his MA from there in 1805 and became a fellow of the College. Towards the end of his life, in 1841, he founded a prize granting £30 p.a. (£2,320 / £43,200 / £100,000) for a scholarship to a commencing Bachelor of the Arts.

 

He was evidently a man of substance as his portrait was painted by Pickersgill, a Royal Academician and famous portraitist of the day who painted Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth, Jeremy Bentham, Elizabeth Barratt Browning, George Stephenson, James Silk Buckhingham and his wife Elizabeth, Michael Faraday, and George Crabbe, as well as many members of the English aristocracy.

 

In 1812 he married Charlotte Eliza née Channing (1791-1861) at St Mary’s Church, Marylebone, London. This was quite a financial coup, since his wife became entitled to the income earned on a capital sum of £63,800 (£3.8m / £70.9m / £244.3m) under various marriage settlements created by her parents. Capital typically earned 3% per annum at that time so that would have given an income of £1,860 (£110,600 / £2,069,000 / £7,121,000). From wording that appears in his will many years later it seems that his wife's trustees granted him a large sum on their marriage on condition that if he predeceased he would leave it to her in his will. 

 

Charlotte Eliza’s father, John Channing (1731-1792), was born in Soberton, a village near Droxford, but by the 1750s he was living in America where he owned slave plantations in Georgia and South Carolina. In 1755 he married the recently widowed Joanna Izard in South Carolina. Her late husband, John Izard, came from one of the oldest and richest families in South Carolina, with their wealth coming from slave plantations.

 

Joanna had one daughter from her first marriage, Elizabeth (Betsy), who was considered one of the most beautiful as well as one of the richest heiresses in South Carolina. In 1774 Betsy married Alexander Wright, the son of the British Governor of Georgia, Sir James Wright, and brought a dowry of £30,000 (£3.4m / £67.3m / £346.9m) with her.

 

From 1769 onwards John and Joanna Channing spent time both in London where he owned a house in Gower Street, Bedford Square, and in South Carolina. He sold his plantation in Georgia but continued to run two plantations in South Carolina. A letter survives in which John Channing tells his plantation manager that he wishes his slaves to “be treated as reasonable creatures, that is with humanity and kindness”.  

In 1776 the American war of independence disrupted all their lives, with the Izards fighting against the Crown and the Wrights and the Channings, supporters of the Crown, having to flee to London. They were able to return to their plantations in South Carolina in 1781.

 

Johanna Channing died in London in 1788 and was buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Since this was a privilege reserved to a very few, we can only speculate as to why she was so honoured. Perhaps it was due to her great wealth or to the fact that she had supported the Crown during the recent war.

 

The following year, 1789, John Channing then married Charlotte Eliza Perkins (1761-1796) at St Mary’s Church, Marylebone, London and their elder daughter, Charlotte Eliza, was born in 1791.

 

John Channing died in 1792 and was buried next to his first wife in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. His will details his very considerable wealth including his two plantations in South Carolina, which were sold after his second wife's death for £23,880 (£2.1m / £28.1m / £36.4m) and £10,000 (£1.1m / £18m / £78.2m) in government bonds. At the time of her husband’s death, Charlotte Channing was pregnant with their second daughter, Harriet Eliza, but the baby only lived a few days and was buried next to her father.

 

Charlotte Channing died in 1796 and was buried next to her husband in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. Charlotte Eliza Channing was thus at the age of five left not only an orphan but also an heiress to a very considerable fortune that would become hers at age 21 – she left a net estate of almost £35,000 (£2.9m / £34.5m / 76.4m) at her death in 1861.

 

At age 16 she became a Maid of Honour in the Court of Queen Charlotte. Maids of honour were junior to ladies-in–waiting and the process has been described as a form of finishing school for upper class girls in the years before they married.

 

Rev White was ordained as a deacon without salary of Buckden Church near Cambridge on 26 February 1804 and as a priest without salary of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, Queen Victoria Street, London on 7 April 1805. After his marriage he became the curate of Soberton in 1813, at a salary of £90 (£5,245 / £94,130 / £319,300) a year, a post which he held until 1826. We assume that he accepted this position because of the Soberton connection to his wife’s father and perhaps because there were Channing relatives still living nearby. Soberton at the time was  a local centre for smuggling activity.

 

Initially he and his wife lived in Winchester and their first child, Arthur David (1815-1899), was baptized in St Thomas’s church in that city, but by 1817 they were living in Soberton House, next to the church. Whilst living in Soberton they had numerous further children: Laura Agnes (1817-1902), Alfred Channing (1818-1838), Cyril Augustus (1819-1877), Augusta Philippa (1820-1910) and her twin, Olivia Sophia,  (1820-1856), Horace Philips (1822-1877), Emily Hester (1824-1842), and Julia Lucy (1825-1911). Then in 1826 Rev White became curate of Droxford, at a salary of £100 a year plus fees, a post he held until 1838. He and his wife then had one further child, Adelaide Frances Anne (1827-1909).

 

Apart from his tenancy of Fir Hill from 1826 until 1838 we know little about his time in Droxford, although one account mentions that he owned “the best horses and the worst carriages in Hampshire”. However, we feel that the Whites must have been very happy here since, years later, they were buried in Droxford. It seems that Rev White's widowed mother, Ann White, may have come to live with them in Droxford since she was buried there in 1832.

 

In 1837, Rev White purchased Staker's Farm between Yapton and Barnham in Sussex. This comprised 200 acres and a substantial farmhouse. It is not clear why he bought it; maybe it was simply an investment.

 

In 1838 the Whites left Droxford and moved to Winchester, Rev White having accepted a post the previous year as the first Chaplain since the Reformation of the chapel of St John the Baptist, serving the St John's almshouses in Winchester, where he stayed until 1844. The chapel and the almshouses were a very old foundation, but the chapel was closed and stripped of its furnishings by Henry VIII in 1546. The chapel was then used for a number of different purposes including as a prison for prisoners of war until it was partially restored and reconsecrated in 1836. 

 

The decision to move may have been influenced by the death in that year of their son, Alfred, who is buried in Droxford. The 1841 census finds the Whites living in 141 Jewry Street, Winchester, together with two of their children, Augusta and Emily (who died young in 1842 and who is also buried in Droxford ), as well as six house servants.

 

Rev White died in Winchester in 1845 and is buried, together with his wife, who died 16 years later in Notting Hill, London, in a rather impressive tomb in the churchyard of St Mary and all Saints, Droxford, next to the Hamilton family tomb. On his side of the tomb there is an interesting inscription:

 

IT MAY BE ADDED THAT PREFERMENT IN THE DIOCESE WAS THREE TIMES OFFERED TO ME, WHITE, BUT WAS DECLINED

 

After his dazzling early academic career and his brilliant marriage to such a wealthy heiress with royal connections  it seems that Rev White wanted people to know that his later rather modest career was entirely his own choice and presumably that of his wife.

 

In his will Rev White left £6,000 (£530,000 / £8,381,000 / £19,280,000) in government bonds in his will as well as Staker's Farm to his widow for life and then to his eldest son, Arthur. Although Mrs White had provided generously for the other children during her lifetime she also left the bulk of her estate to Arthur. Arthur became a surgeon on ships to Australia and never married.

Rev. Thomas Penny White by Henry William Pickersgill RA (1782–1875).

Owned by Queen's College, Cambridge sourced via snipview.com

Charlotte Eliza Channing as a child

Private collection with thanks to Mrs Christine Hand.

Charlotte Eliza, aged 65

Private collection with thanks to Mrs Christine Hand.

The Seat of James Fraser, Esq, Goose Creek, South Carolina by Charles Fraser c. 1796

Source: americangardenhistory.blogspot.co.uk

The Seat of Joseph Winthrop, Esq, on Goose Creek, South Carolina by Charles Fraser c. 1796

Source: The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina

Source: americangardenhistory.blogspot.co.uk

The seat of Mr Gabriel Manigault at Goose Creek, South Carolina by Charles Fraser c. 1802

Source: The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina

Source: americangardenhistory.blogspot.co.uk

Mulberry Plantation, South Carolina, built in 1714 by Thomas Broughton, who became the Royal Governor of South Carolina, and one of the earliest plantation homes.

Souce: wikipedia

St John The Baptist's Chapel

Souce: stjohnswinchester.co.uk

Tomb of Rev. Thomas Penny White and his wife, Charlotte Eliza, showing the inscription for Charlotte Eliza. Churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, Droxford.

Inscription for Rev Thomas Penny White on his and his wife, Charlotte Eliza’s, tomb in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, Droxford.

Research, words and web design by Matthew & Georgy.

 

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