Annie Sophia Chevalier

I hope you’ve all been taking advantage of no longer having to sneak around the back way if you want to view the graves and memorials in the grounds of Devonport House. I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, looking at the few monuments left, wondering about the people that remain (who weren’t literally carted off to East Greenwich Pleasaunce) and why they were allowed to stay.

I’m gradually working my way through the cemetary, (see my not-guaranteed-accurate account of the strange broken pillar here ) and today I’ve got to what has to be the prettiest (and one of the most intriguing memorials in the place.

It’s fabulously Victorian-gothic – a crumbling moss-covered stone, embellished with a grieving woman draped across a vault in what looks like a stalagtite-studded cave. Even on a bright, sunny Autumn afternoon, it fills one with a delicious melancholy just to gaze upon it. It’s inside the railings surrounding Admiral Hardy’s tomb (hence my rather rubbish pictures) so here’s the inscription:

Sacred to the memory of a beloved child

Annie Sophia Chevalier,

Daughter of Richard Edgcumbe and Jane Elizabeth Chevalier.
Born on the 5th April 1840, Entered in her rest the 13th day of August 1857
So who was this tragic seventeen year-old? I’ve been trying to piece something of her story together, though frankly it’s not been easy – and most of this is sketchy at best.
I assumed that since the grave was inside the railings, that it was not only too important to be shifted with the mass graves but was allowed to be buried behind the railings, despite her death being the very year all the regular pensioners’ bodies were moved. Most bodies were being dug up. Hers was being buried…
So I started with the name Chevalier.
Not much – but there is a Henry Lewis Chevalier, who, according the snippet I found, followed two days after Nelson onto HMS Victory on May 20 1803 and was entered into the muster roll as “Retinue” of the Admiral. That would have made him Maritime Royalty. Even today, these guys are revered – check out the 1805 Club who exist to look after the graves and memorials associated with Nelson – more about them on another day.
Was little Annie his granddaughter? He was certainly a Greenwich Pensioner – apparently there is a photo of him in full pensioner uniform, including his Trafalgar medal, that was taken at Greenwich Hospital by a Dr Fisher two years after Annie’s death, on 15th April 1859.
I could find neither anything else about the Trafalgar veteran nor the photo, so I turned to Richard Edgcumbe.
The only one I could find that was about the same time (or indeed, at all) turned out to be an Earl – Richard Edgcumbe, 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (1764-1839) who’s not quite a perfect fit. That would not only make him bloomin’ old when Annie was born, but, ahem, dead. I guess it’s possible that she was born soon after his death. He is listed as a politician, but I also find it rather charming that he wrote a book about all the operas he’d seen in the 1820s – Musical Reminiscences of the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, which doesn’t appear to have been a bestseller. I can’t find it at all.
Annie is not listed in the peerage – perhaps it was because she never reached her majority, and his wife is not listed as being Jane, but Sophia (Annie’s second name.)
So what have I got? Not much, frankly. The death of a young girl, with connections – maybe. A little mystery of Greenwich, a little lost tragedy. Did she grow up around here? Would she have worshipped at St Alfeges or the Naval Chapel? Would she have visited the market? Would she have played in the park? And why did she die so young?
When you visit Devonport House, guys, take a moment to look at Annie’s grave and muse upon who she was – and why she’s here.

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