Annie Sophia Chevalier
Back in 2008 I wrote a piece about one of the most beautiful remaining gravestones in the old Seamen’s cemetary by Devonport house, that of 17 year-old Annie Sophia Chevalier. I knew nothing about her but the gravestone was so striking a million romantic tales danced around my head.
I still know very little about young Annie herself, but I’ve been contacted by Denise, her 3x great-niece, and since I had a little more detail, I thought that on this suitably gothic-gloomy Tuesday I’d revisit Annie’s grave.
And it is 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. Something George Sand would have been proud to dream up, it fills me with a delicious melancholy just to gaze upon it. If you want to see it for yourself, it’s inside the railings surrounding Admiral Hardy’s tomb (hence my rather rubbish pictures; it’s impossible to get a good angle). The inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of a beloved child
Born on the 5th April 1840, Entered in her rest the 13th day of August 1857
The interesting thing to note about the year of Annie Sophia Chevalier’s interment is that it’s the very year all the regular Greenwich pensioners’ bodies were moved to East Greenwich Pleasuance. Most bodies in this graveyard were being dug up or just about to be dug up. Hers was being buried…
I assumed that since her grave was inside the railings, near Hardy’s tomb, that it was not only too important to be shifted with the mass graves but was allowed to be buried behind the railings (always assuming that Hardy’s tomb had railings then – whatever; she’s still in an area with names we recognise.)
I won’t bore you with the details of my efforts to find out about Annie’s parents, however entertaining the candidates I found, because I now know, thanks to Denise, that she was born in Pembroke, Wales, where her father Richard Chevallier (1794-1827) was a a civil servant who worked for the navy.
Denise holds records of Richard Chevalier at Pembroke Dock and Plymouth and she tells me that he was the brother of Temple Chevallier the astronomer (a fantastic name – no one calls their children ‘Temple’ any more, which I think is a shame) and one of the Aspall Chevalliers who claim Lord Kitchener as one of their own – and if the name Aspall sounds familiar, just think cider.
Richard Edgcumbe Chevallier died on 2nd March 1853. His widow Jane married a John Whitmarsh in 1856, who was the the dispenser at the Royal Hospital Greenwich, and who seems to have originally served as a surgeon on the convict ships. Denise thinks that this probably explains why Annie was buried in Greenwich.
So. Thanks to Denise, we know a tiny bit more of this young woman’s ancestry, but to me Annie Sophia Chevalier herself remains one of the mysteries of Greenwich, a little lost tragedy. When did she move here? What was her life like? She lost her father at fourteen – was she dragged to Greenwich so her mother could remarry? Who were her friends? Would she have worshipped at St Alfeges or the Naval Chapel? Would she have visited the market? Would she have walked in the park? And why did she die so young?
My spectral mind races with gothic-novel style possiblities this morning. Tales of unsuitable elopements-gone-wrong, consumptive nights missing her father, wastings-away as a teenage mind yearned for the wild Welsh waves…
That’s enough Gothic nonsense. Ed.
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