Lady Mary St John

Lady Mary Kerr married Frederick St John in December 1788. She had just celebrated her 21st birthday and he was soon to turn 25.

Mary was a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family seat was the medieval Newbattle Abbey at Dalkeith. Mary was the 4th child and 3rd daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.


Elizabeth Fortescue – Lady Mary’s mother

Frederick St John was the younger of two sons born to the warring Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer whose marriage ended spectacularly  in divorce in 1768.

Frederick Jnr joined the army in 1779 aged 14 as an ensign in the 85th Regiment of Foot and went on to become the second most senior general in the British Army. But in 1788 he had marriage on his mind and the young Lady Mary Kerr fitted the bill nicely.

Frederick St John

Frederick St John

Mary didn’t become pregnant immediately after the wedding, perhaps Frederick’s military duties took him away from home, but by February 1791 she was due to give birth to the couples’ first child. A son, Robert William, was born on February 5; the following day Mary died. She was 23 years old.

At first it seemed that this was about all the information I would be able to garner about Mary. Her death warranted a brief mention in the Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1791 – Lady Mary St John, lady of the honourable major Frederick St John. In The Gentleman’s Magazine the entry is equally brief 6 [February] at her house in Park Lane, Lady Mary St John, lady of Major St J. and daughter of the Marquis of Lothian.

Horace Walpole, Whig politician and friend of Frederick’s mother Lady Di, mentioned Mary’s death in a letter to Miss Berry, and that seemed to be that.

And then a visit to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre revealed a most fascinating document filed among the household bills of Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke.

Frederick had close family ties to the Pembroke family. Henry Herbert, the 10th Earl, was married to Lady Elizabeth Spencer, the sister of Frederick’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Their son and Frederick’s cousin, George Augustus Herbert, who became the 11th Earl of Pembroke, married Elizabeth Beauclerk, Frederick’s sister by his mother’s second marriage to Topham Beauclerk.

However, I certainly didn’t expect to find the following in a box of Pembroke family papers:

2057/A6/18 Account for the funeral of Lady Mary St John at Lydiard Tregoze; to be paid by Lord Herbert.


A view of the South Door at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

In fascinating detail this document recounts the cost of Lady Mary’s funeral, from the arrangements at her London home, the long journey to Wiltshire and the short one from the Hall in Lydiard House to the church at St Mary’s just footsteps away.

According to this document Lady Mary’s body was collected from her home in North Audley Street and she was buried on February 12 in the family vault at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire by the order of the Hon. Lord Herbert.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

The first items to appear on the long list are:

Superfine Crape Shroud, headress & pillow neatly pink’d £2 2s

Large Superfine Crape Sheet to wrap the Body in £1 5s

An Elm Coffin lined with Superfine Crape, Quilted lining & a thick Mattress for the Bottom of the Coffin £1 11s 6d

Other expensive items include the outer lead coffin, inscription plate and brass handles, but it is the details of the journey which are especially interesting.

Feathers [ostrich] placed on the Corps in Audley Street & carried before the Funeral to the Stonesend, placed on the Corps at the Inn on the Road & place of Interment.

Travelling costs were expensive – Two men on Horseback as Porters to attend the Funeral to the place of Interment 6 days each cost £7 4s; a Hearse & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s and a coach & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s.

Rooms at the Inns on the Road for the Corps cost 17s 6d with a further 17s 6d for two men sitting up with the Corps.

As the funeral cortege neared Lydiard Tregoze a bell was tolled at Marlborough – 6s 8d and again at Swindon 5s.

At Lydiard Tregoze 8 Bearers were employed to carry the Corps from the Hall to the place of Interment by Mr Crooks appointment £2 2s.

The last item on the funeral account is the charge of Turnpikes £1 18s 6d.

The final bill came to £98 18s 8d.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

Sadly so little is known about the life of Lady Mary St John, but a great deal is known about her after her death.






Jane Eyre

Frederick St John’s wife may have had a novel name and like that other Jane Eyre she too stood by her man through good times and bad.

The Bronte sisters

The Bronte sisters

Jane Margaret Eyre married Frederick Charles St John, a Lieutenant in the 30th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry on June 17, 1860 at Ramandroog near Bellary, Madras.  Jane, the daughter of Edmund Walter Eyre, Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in the Madras Army, was born on October 6, 1832 in Secunderbad and so was no stranger to India.

The couple’s first child was born in Bellary the month before their first wedding anniversary. It seems likely Jane spent most of the following eight years in India with her husband, where five of a further six children were born.

Frederick was the great grandson of racehorse loving Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke who ended his days ‘out of his mind’ at Lydiard Park.  His great grandmother was the artist Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

Frederick Charles St John spent a long career in the Indian Army, gaining the rank of Colonel in the Indian Staff Corps. In July 1879 he wrote a letter to his friend John Hancock from his mud hut in Camp Vitakei during the middle of the Second Anglo Afghan War.

His long letter provides many details of the campaign and the area in which he was camped.  He describes Beloochistan, a region located in the Iranian Plateau between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as ‘a wild wretched country perfectly bare not a tree to be seen in some of the plains a little scrub and grass. the hills as bare as can be rocks and stones – Afganistan is the same.’



As the son of naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St John is is not surprising he makes a reference to the wildlife he sees around him. ‘ – birds are few as you may suppose.  Partridge, the grand black, which is a splendid bird, the chookoor a beautiful bird, the little see see here and the common grey – sand grouse I’ve come across, of another kind to what we have in south.  The English Mallard is up here and in the Punjab Teal and ducks as usual.’  Although sometimes it seems Frederick was more interested in bagging a few with his gun than simply admiring their plumage.

He writes about the wolves that creep into the camp after dark and of fishing in a nearby stream catching up to 10 lbs of fish with just a stick, string and hook.

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

But like his great grandfather and so many other St Johns, Frederick struggles to live within his means. He writes: ‘.. my folly of getting into debt as I did, god knows it has been a fearful lesson to me, as here I am as much in debt as ever, as all I can pay off will not keep the interest down even, as the money lenders charge so much – but I must not go off on this subject, as it only upsets me and can be of no interest to others, but oh to be clear of debt, what a relief. I don’t know how I bear it, and much dread what will happen on my return to when they can get hold of me.’

During this period Jane is back in England living at 13 Kensington Place, Bath.  Frederick was busy making plans for her and he adds ‘I want to have my poor wife and 3 of the girls out in Octr it will save so much exchange and she has had to lead a hard life 7 children in lodgings and no servant and not enough to live on.’  

Sadly there is no record of how Jane coped with her difficult life in Bath but by 1881 she had returned to India where her eldest daughter Anne married John North in Trichinopoly. And on Feb 4, 1885 second daughter Emily married Hugh Thornton, also in Trichinopoly.


The market place at Trichinopoly pictured c1800

The couple eventually came home to England where Jane died in 1899 and Frederick the following year.