THE DYERS

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


As with many 'middle or upper class' people who lived in Epsom or Ewell for a period during the Victorian era, the Dyers, of 6 Railway Terrace, Epsom (or 6 Stanley Villas, which was the same house), had major connections with the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) but, for a change, Captain John Dyer was a nautical man rather than a merchant, soldier, magistrate or civil servant. He was also the grandfather of Brigadier-General (temp.) Reginald Dyer, known as The Butcher of Amritsar.

1857 map of India
1857 map of India, showing the extent of the territories controlled by the British (coloured pink).
Image source Imperial Gazetteer of India, volume 26, Atlas, Oxford University Press, 1908 via Wikimedia

The HEIC ran much of India for a century, up until 1858: it started out as a trading company in the 17th century but eventually assumed the role of government via four presidencies - Bengal, Bombay, Madras and North-Western Provinces. At one time the private armies of the Company were twice the size of the regular British Army. Although the Company's soldiery had plenty to occupy itself, there was also a major problem with piracy at sea; people like John Dyer, who operated out of Bengal, patrolled the Company's shipping routes and dealt with seaborne raids on the coasts.

The_Island_of_Madeira
The Island of Madeira with the Brig Comet, Thomas Ormston Master, entering the Bay of Funchal.
Painting by William John Huggins, 1831 via Wikimedia

Note: The ship shown above has nothing to do with John Dyer and is used only to give an idea of the kind of vessel he was probably commanding around that time.

John Dyer was born in 1799 at Stoke Damerel, Devon, his father being in the Royal Navy. He married Julia Oxenham (born c.1804 Barnstaple, Devon) in Calcutta on 21 March 1827. She was a widow at the time, having wed Richard Dundon of the HEIC Marine just over a year previously. Unfortunately, Richard died a few months after the ceremony and one presumes that she knew John as a colleague of her first husband. As far as I can ascertain, John and Julia had the following children, all born in Bengal, apart from James, who saw the light of day in Greenwich.

NameDate(s)
Elizabeth Annborn and died 1828
John1829
Edward Abraham1831
Julia Ann1832
Thomas Parker1834-39
William Alfred1836
Maria1837
Elizabeth1838
James1840
Emily Jane1842
Susannah1843

I don't know when John retired from the HEIC, but he had certainly done so by 1861 when he and Julia were living at Stanley Villas with their two youngest daughters, Emily Jane and Susannah, aged 19 and 17 respectively. I have no evidence that any of the other children who reached adulthood were in Epsom at all so I will just have a canter through them for the record. The facts about some of them are a little hazy, as it seems everyone who writes anything about a Dyer has Amritsar Reginald as the subject, so the background information on the family is very sketchy (and some of it is wrong).

John Junior

Originally John was a civil engineer and surveyor. In 1868 in Mussoorie (a hill station at Dehradun, Utterakand, which is in the foothills of the Himalayas) he married Grace Conlan (born 1847 in either Mussoorie or Meerut). He was a widower at the time, having married Caroline Colley Bell in 1855 in Lahore, when he was an assistant in the Great Trigonometrical Survey. There were several children, but Caroline tragically drowned, along with others, in 1867, presumably in a weather-related accident. John and Grace seem to have spent virtually all their lives in India, except that in 1881 they were in Lambeth with some of their many children and John, then aged 51, was described as a student of law. It seems that he had returned to England and entered the Middle Temple, being called to the bar in 1882. He then went back to India and became an advocate in the supreme court of Allahabad (then the capital of the North-West Provinces and now in Uttar Pradesh). Grace died of cancer in Mussoorie in 1900, followed by John in 1903: he was buried in Dehradun Cemetery.

General view of Mussoorie and Landour 1860
General view of Mussoorie and Landour 1860.
By Samuel Bourne via Wikimedia

Edward Abraham

Anecdote has it that John Junior advised Edward to become a brewer and distiller, there being a large demand for alcohol by the British in India. Edward did just that, setting up the Kasauli distillery and brewery in Himachal Pradesh, which is in the very north of India. He later became General Manager of the Murree Brewery - still in existence today, but not on its original site. (There is a lot of incorrect information about Edward on the internet, including claims that he was a knighted Scotsman and set up the Kasauli brewery in the 1820s - an amazing feat considering that he wasn't born until 1831 … in Calcutta). Edward married Mary Passmore and their son, Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, was born in Murree, now in Pakistan, in 1864. Reginald is so notorious for his part in the Amritsar Massacre (otherwise known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre) on 13 April 1919 that I don't need to write about it - just put his name in your search engine for further details. It was one of the most shameful days in the history of the British in India, and there were plenty to choose from. Edward died in Simla in 1902 and Mary in 1912, so escaped the ignominy which was to follow.

Julia Ann

Julia married Scotsman Douglas Sandeman in 1863. Again the marriage was in Calcutta. Douglas too was a widower and worked in the Bengal Pilot Service, which guided ships along the Hooghly River between Calcutta and the Bay of Bengal. His first wife, Theophila, had died at Dublin in 1858. Douglas died in 1876, having already retired from the Pilot Service. Julia returned to England subsequently but, as seemed to happen so many times with the Dyer family, her daughters married in India. When you think about it, most of the people involved in this saga had spent so much time in India that they would only have known people in the HEIC/Raj set-up and few of them had any real ties with Britain. Quite probably, some had not even been to Britain, even though they were British by nationality. Julia died in 1907 at Loughton, Essex.

Note: The need for pilots on the Hooghly was because Calcutta was over 100 miles from the sea and for many years it was the main port in India for the HEIC, so there were not only big merchant ships sailing in and out but also smaller local boats weaving around. The photo below gives you an idea of the scale of 19th century shipping on the Hooghly.

Hooghly River, Calcutta
Hooghly River, Calcutta. Between 1850 and 1870s
By Francis Frith via Wikimedia

William Alfred

William was a civil engineer and seems to have been widowed at least twice. He was a senior man in the Public Works Department of Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar, but then a British colony); he had retired from that post by 1888. His last wife, Delphine, died in 1917, by which time William was already dead.

Maria

Maria married William Henry Lindquist in 1863. Like Douglas Sandeman, William was in the Bengal Pilot Service. Maria survived only until 1875, when she expired of kidney and heart disease, although William did not die until 1910. Maria was buried in the cemetery at Chowringee, Calcutta. Their sons, John Horatio (1871-1946) and Harry Dyer (1873-1950), were also in the Bengal Pilot Service; during the First World War Harry served in the Royal Indian Marine and as a Captain in the Royal Engineers.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth married merchant John James Lucas in 1865 and there were several children. I have seen a suggestion that the couple separated at some point, but in any event it seems that Elizabeth, described as a schoolmistress, with no marital status given, died of tetanus at Mussoorie in 1878.

James

James was the only one of the children born in England, presumably whilst the Dyers were on home leave. He became a Commander in the Bengal Marine (Pilot Service I believe) but had retired to Lymington, Hampshire by 1881, where he became a councillor and Mayor. His wife was Augusta Caroline Jull (married 1869 Calcutta). James died in 1929, followed by Augusta in 1933.

Emily Jane

It's taken a long time to reach Emily Jane, given that she was the second youngest Dyer child, but we do need all the India background to put her into context. We believe that the photo below is Emily, but the surname on the old wrapping label that accompanied the glass negative is extremely difficult to read, so we cannot be sure. The photo probably would have been taken around 1863.

Emily Jane Dyer
Emily Jane Dyer
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

To recap, Captain and Mrs Dyer had settled into retirement at Epsom and they appeared in Kelly's Directory 1859 at '6 The Terrace' (another version of Railway Terrace/Stanley Villas). In the 1861 census only the two youngest children, Emily Jane and Susannah, were with them and both girls were destined to return to India.

On 14 December 1867 at Dum Dum, Calcutta (birthplace of the eponymous bullet, by virtue of the Royal Artillery Arsenal being located there), Emily married Lieutenant John Frederic Trevanion of the 1st Bengal Native Infantry. John was from Yorkshire and it seems that the Directors of the HEIC had the right to make 'Nominations of the Season' whereby they presented candidates as being suitable for cadetships in the Bengal Infantry; John was recommended by one Russell Ellice, a man of considerable importance at the time.

Unfortunately, the marriage was very short, since John, then a Quartermaster, died of cholera on 4 June 1868 and was buried at Dum Dum.

Note: The British India Office Death and Burial Returns for Dum Dum in 1868 make shocking reading. People, mainly young children, were dying of fever, dysentery, diarrhoea, the whole gamut of respiratory diseases and many other things: they were buried almost immediately in the nearest cemetery, so that, when families moved around, as they often did, they were separated in death.

Emily, obviously in shock, felt unable to deal with her husband's Estate and the Army did it for her. By 1870 she had gravitated to Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) and on 17 March of that year she married Ensign Philip Herman Wallerstein, who then transferred to the Indian Staff Corps, rising to the rank of Major. Philip was some years younger than Emily but neither of them reached a great age. Emily died of smallpox, aged 52, on 21 March 1894 and was buried in Calcutta at the Lower Circular Road Cemetery; Philip, having retired, succumbed to heart disease on 23 September of that same year, aged just 45, and was buried at St Sepulchre Cemetery, Poona, a thousand miles from his wife.

Susannah (Susan)

Susannah probably returned to India before Emily, since she married accountant John Thomas Menzies at Calcutta on 6 October 1864. The witnesses were her brother John and brothers-in-law Douglas Sandeman and William Henry Lindquist so she did have family around her. Although the couple had several children born in Rawalpindi, they seem to have returned to the UK during the 1870s and settled in the Croydon area. For example, three of the children were at school in Beddington in the 1881 census, the youngest, Thomas, having been born in Croydon. Susannah and her husband ended up in a house they named Pindi at Peak Hill Lewisham/Sydenham; they died in 1905 and 1916 respectively.

Epilogue

Mrs Julia Dyer died in March 1867 and was buried in St Martin's Churchyard, Epsom.

Julia Dyer headstone in St Martin's Churchyard, Epsom
Julia Dyer headstone in St Martin's Churchyard, Epsom

John Dyer died on 21 November 1873 at 5 Sumner Road, Croydon, which, I surmise, was the home of his daughter, Mrs Susannah Menzies.

Linda Jackson 2018