Unknown - portrait of General van Renen

Although not always great art works or by famous artists, identified sitters are the most interesting of all miniatures, especially when some detective work is needed to track them down!

An interesting purchase at auction was this miniature portrait, acquired for a modest price of £205. Although the artist is unknown, it seems probable the portrait was was painted in India around 1820. It was described by the seller as;
"A portrait miniature of an officer dating to about 1820. Painted in watercolour on the usual medium. No cracks, chips, warping, paint loss or restoration. In fact the colours are very strong with an appealing cloudy sky background. Housed in a gilt metal pendant frame, glazed both front and back with convex glass to reveal some biographical information identifying the sitter as General Vanderwal. There is some more info. about his daughter, Mrs Goaby (through marriage.) The frame is is pinned together, so you won't easily be able to get inside without the help of a jeweller. An attractive period piece and nice to be able to identify the sitter."

The tracking down of his identity is interesting. No reference to General Vanderwal could be found on Google, but a little detective work before the auction hammer fell managed to identify him as Brigadier-General Jacob Van Renen (20 Feb 1762-1828). The key was the reference to Mrs Godby, (not Goaby) and Eliza Louisa Godby.

The mother of Eliza Louisa Godby (14 Oct 1828-?) was found to be Frances Barbara van Renen (1800-1886), who married Christopher Godby (1790-1867) and hence her father was General van Renen, not Vanderwal. A Google search for General van Renen then revealed him as a rare example of a Cape Town, South Africa born man who joined the East India Company army as a cadet in 1780 and served in India for forty years, rising to the rank of Brigadier-General in 1822. Van Renen had been well researched by Ross Dix-Peet who has shown full details of his career. It is well worth reading at this link;
Brigadier-general jacob van renen ...

Ross Dix-Peet has also kindly advised that this portrait is actually illustrated in a book titled; "A Notable Record: Some Account of the Many Families Descended in the Male and Female Lines from Daniel Van Renen..." by Eliza Jane Melvill Joubert de la Ferté; and there's also another book pertaining to the family titled, "Van Reenen, Van Renen, vanrenen Family, 1722-1994" by J.D. Van Renen

Eliza Louisa Godby was born on 14 Oct 1828 in West Bengal, India. Her father Christopher Godby was an army officer, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-General with the Bengal infantry and being awarded a CB. He lived at South Bank, Batheaston and there is a memorial window to him in the Church, at Batheaston, Somerset. Eliza herself married Charles S Weston an army officer.

The family was strong militarily, as another daughter of Frances and Christopher Godby, Grace Charlotte Godby (1836-1904), married Ven. Joshua Ingham Brooke and their son was Brigadier-General Christopher Robert Ingham Brooke (1869-1948), born in Yorkshire, but who died in Cape Province, South Africa. Thus completing a journey back to where his great-great-grandfather Jacob van Renen had been born over 180 years previously.

Although she was absent, the reference to Mrs C S Weston on the miniature, via her husband Charles Samuel Weston (1821-1909), enabled location of the extended family at the time of the 1881 census, when various members were living at Calvados, Millbrook, Hampshire, together with many servants;
Frances B. GODLY (sic s/be Godby) Head W Female 80 East Indies Annuitant
Louisa C. FURGASON Dau M Female 60 East Indies
H.D.H. FURGASON Son In Law M Male 63 Scotland Bengal Civil Service Ret
Charles S. WESTON Son In Law M Male 59 East Indies Major In The Army Ret
Edward C. VANSENER Nephew U Male 40 Cape Of Good Hope Capt in the Army
William J. BROOKE Grandson Male 18 Retford, Northampton, Undergrad Oxford
Ann GULLIVER Servant U Female 44 Stockbridge, Hampshire, Cook Dom
Elizabeth PADLEY Servant U Female 25 Linwood, Lincoln, England Ladys Maid
Matilda STEVENS Servant W Female 51 Market Lavington, Wiltshire, Housemaid
Elizabeth FORD Servant U Female 37 Batheaston, Somerset, Tablemaid
Hellen NORRIS Servant U Female 15 Feltham, Middlesex, Kitchen Maid
Emily HEWETT Servant U Female 30 Scotland Ladys Maid

After the 1857 Indian Mutiny, the East India Company Army was disbanded. It seems that Major Charles Weston had retired at that stage aged 35, as he wrote a book;
'Private Memoranda of the Second Punjab War of 1848 and of the Mutiny in India, 1857' by Major C.S. Weston 36th NI. Published privately with photographs, maps, 10 drawings and manuscript notes. The book includes, facing title page;
Baby in an open coffin. Below, half length portrait of a seated woman.
Inscribed: ‘E.L. Weston. CSW’.
Being portraits of Eliza Weston and their infant son Henry Gould Weston, born 24 Jan 1848 and died 12 June the same year. There are references to Mrs. Weston throughout the book as Lily or Betsy.

In 1859 the Duke of Sutherland accepted the services of the enrolled company of the Sutherland Rifle Volunteers, called the " Golspie Company," and appointed Major Charles Samuel Weston (late of the Indian army) and then living at Golspie in Sutherland, as Captain of the company. The company numbered 107 men, but was restricted to 100 "effectives". Golspie is about 90 miles north of Inverness.

Weston must have been visiting Hampshire from Scotland at the time of the 1881 census as soon afterwards;
In 1881 the greatest event in the history of the Scottish volunteers took place. On the 25th August, Her Majesty the Queen reviewed over 40,000 Scottish and North of England volunteers at Edinburgh. Thanks again to the munificence of the Duke of Sutherland, the Sutherland men were able to attend this great review with but trifling cost to their company funds. The Duke himself took command on this occasion, Major Weston, the Adjutant, being the only other mounted officer with the corps. The total strength of the battalion at the review was 18 officers and 457 non-commissioned officers and men (including a detachment of the Thurso Company), divided into six companies, and anyone who had the privilege of seeing the battalion marching past, will not readily forget the grand physique of the leading company under the command of the Marquis of Stafford. To give an idea of the size of the men composing this company, it is only necessary to say that the height of the centre man was 5 feet 10 inches, while the flank men stood each 6 feet 3 inches.
Major Weston then retired from the volunteers in 1882.

Weston was a tenant of the Duke and wrote to another tenant who left had left the estate; From Major Weston, Another Old Tenant.
Morvich, Rogart, June 22, 1888.
My Dear Brereton :
I am sincerely sorry at the change matters have taken in the
management of the Sutherland estate, as I think you were the right
man to bring things round into a satisfactory state. Your suave and
conciliative manner, your kind sympathy and great benevolence of
heart, strong common sense, added to your intelligent grasp of your
work, and varied experience of human nature, would soon have made
you a very popular man and one in whom all men have confidence,
provided always the management of the estate had been left to you
alone without any outside interference. Selfishly speaking, I am very
sorry to lose you as a neighbor and friend in these parts. Your
experience in India must have taught you that the great secret of
the ability of our men there, viz: to place men in responsible posi-
tions and leave the management of affairs very much to their own
judgment, but it is all very well to have theories these may all be
false conclusions of mine there is, however, the sad and too patent
fact left, viz: you are going away, and we are all very sorry for it.
Yours very truly,

Thus, the ability to identify a sitter in a miniature portrait can increase its historical and social interest, out of all proportion to its intrinsic or artistic merit. 1395

1 comment:

elaine Griffiths-Roberts said...

found the story very informative always love looking at old pictures of ancestors.