The Thomas Lyle Affair
Hello Everyone, I recently asked for help in tracing Thomas Lyle who emigrated to Australia from the Kent FHS, UK; AUSTRALIA-L and GENANTZ-L. Within 24 hours I had learned he was a carpenter, his children and grandchildren, a little about the gold rush in Melbourne and much else besides. I was asked if I would make a transcript available to the Museum in Victoria, Australia and also to the AUS/GENANTZ maillists. Correspondents who have also given me much help at Kent also want to see it.
I was also asked how the find was actually made and for permission to use the story in a Family History Magazine. I have no objection to anything I have written or transcribed being given to any Museum or being reproduced in any Family History Magazine. You will understand I would have to object if it were used in any other capacity. [NB permission has been granted to Genealogy - the armchair hobby? to place this on their site] Below is the story of how this find occurred. There's a bit of a preamble because the account isn't otherwise understandable. Suffice, without computer technology, Thomas's memoire would never have come to light.
My grandfather Edward Holton Coumbe (EHC) 1865-1942 was a keen genealogist. He had many other attributes amongst which was a dedication to serial philandering. He had one legitimate and five illegitimate families but was prepared to pay for his pleasures and they all enjoyed a very affluent lifestyle during his lifetime. Some knew nothing about the others, and some had a vague suspicion but whatever their minimal contact it ended during wartime with his death. You will know how many problems this delicate type of situation can cause in researching family history. This was doubly the case because EHC was a mayor of two London Boroughs at different times, a founder of the Greater London Council, held three academic degrees and lectured in law and history here and in the United States besides being a society barrister. Have to admit we've all often wondered how he found the time. Amazingly no one in his public life ever knew any details of his private and even less about the circumstances of his various children's birth's whom he openly acknowledged at various Society gatherings. After his death, the fact of illegitimacy was enough for all the male children to retire from a "Society" which regarded legitimacy as a guarantee of integrity, probity and morality. All have lived quiet lives and some have become almost total reclusives.
A few years ago through researching family history we found a cousin from looking in a guest book at an obscure church. We spoke by telephone, pooled information but only met in the summer of this year. Matt brought with him an Infodisc and we looked up the name of one of the illegitimate families. There was only one shown in the whole of the UK. We elected my brother Clive who is the most diplomatic and tactful of us and he wrote to AF who replied quickly evincing no interest but wishing us luck. We thought this was the end of the matter but three weeks later a JW wrote asking our relationship to EHC. He was known to us only as a secondary beneficiary in EHC's Will. The correspondence was passed to me as the current family archivist and there was an exchange of several letters. Now I realise as the very experienced, astute, legal man he is JW was sounding me out to determine whether I was the "right" person. He is distant relative through my great grandmother and a Godson of EHC.
Last Saturday, the 20th. November my brother Clive, husband and I visited JW for lunch at his invitation and within 15 minutes he had produced the documents and photographs which included Thomas Lyle's memoire. He then told us how he came to have them.
At the funeral of EHC, given the circumstances, the mourners were very unusual. There were probably more unknowing relatives at such an affair, before or since. JW had leave from his army unit (he was a paratrooper, one of the first on the beaches on D-Day as we learned quietly from his wife) to attend. He was unsure who was at the funeral himself, but as a friend and to an extent in a legal capacity he had perhaps more idea than most. JW had worked for EHC's solicitors who had drawn up EHC's Will. When EHC had become too ill to keep up his barrister's chambers in Essex Court, The Temple, JW took on the duty of visiting him at his home in Stoke Newington on a fairly regular basis until he enlisted. He knew that towards the end, what with the war and other family circumstances it was likely there would be no-one to look after any personal effects which EHC had valued and they would almost certainly be destroyed as a result. With the exception of a few bequests, EHC had put all into the hands of the Public Trustees to be sold to finance two Trusts.
Immediately after the funeral, JW went to the house at Stoke Newington, took a horrified look at the stacks of papers and books & decided to concentrate purely on the contents of the desk. He removed several large packets of documents and photographs and a portrait, returned to his own home and put all with the exception of the portrait which he later passed to AF's family, into a tin trunk. This with the contents of his family home went into storage at Battersea throughout the war & JW returned to his army unit. The war ended and he resumed his career, still preserving the tin trunk and unable to pass on any of it's contents since all contact was lost with the Coumbe family with the exception of AF's who had no interest. For 56 years the trunk travelled alongside JW & his wife wherever they lived, it's contents undisturbed. Then we made contact.
No one had looked at the contents of these packets until they were sorted into a loose kind of filing system by EHC. Whilst my brother & I were stunned just browsing, JW was pretty surprised himself because there were documents relating to himself and his own family with them which he hadn't known existed. JW said for years he'd wondered what to do about the tin trunk and had finally decided to hold on to it in the hope that one day someone from the Coumbe family would appear to whom he could relinquish his custodianship. In his eyes he was simply returning property to its rightful owners. I doubt he ever dreamed it would take 56 years. He said he had taken the action he did because EHC did a lot for him as a young man, had been responsible for introducing him to Emmets where he began his legal career and had always been a good friend to him. It was his way of saying thank you to someone he valued. He even arranged and paid for the memorial to EHC and his wife which we saw in the Devon churchyard, knowing this was what his friend and mentor wanted. We still simply can't believe the stroke of luck which brought an honourable man like JW onto the scene at just the right moment to conserve these records & the subsequent chain of events which have put them into our hands.
And the portrait. I've had photocopies of a photograph of this portrait for some years which is of a forebear we know as Thomas Coumbe III, the Smuggler Squire 1620 - Abt. 1690. He's portrayed in a wig and wearing the eye patch necessary after he lost an eye fighting a duel. It's an original oil painting and AF and his brothers want me to have it.
Sorry this is so long, hope this hasn't been a bore for anyone, but to get on with the story of the Thomas Lyle Affair.
REF: email to GENANZ@rootsweb by Dione Dover, Kent, England on 26 November 1998