A letter sent during the Indian Mutiny

Henry Cayley (1834-1904 – see A Banker’s Family) rose to be Deputy Surgeon-General in the British Army in India; after his retirement volunteered to serve in the Second Boer War; and became Honorary Surgeon to King Edward VII. Early in his military career the Indian Mutiny took place. My aunt inherited one letter he wrote during this time to my great-grandfather Arthur Cayley, who was one of his brothers. It is dated 3 November, with no year, but was probably written in 1857 as it refers to the Siege of Cawnpore. It ends by describing an incident in which the British Commander-in-Chief was nearly captured.

The letter is now held in the British Library: Add MS 79532 C.

My dear Arthur

I sent a letter to Willy [another brother, Dr William Cayley, 1836-1916] last mail & will try to send one to you by the post which goes out to day if the Mosquitos will let me but they are swarming to such an extent & biting so fiercely that I am almost driven mad, my hands legs & neck are all covered with lumps from their bites which itch horribly. I suppose you are now a student of K.C.L. & consequently a great man wearing stickups [shirt collars which stick up] & tail coats when in company. I hope you will like London but you must find it rather dull especially at first. I hope you will write to give an account of yr visit to Switzerland in the Summer wh.[ich] must have been very jolly. Tell Willy that Layton[?] came up [to?] Benares a few days ago & will probably remain for some time. Just before he left Calcutta he happened to go to Colvin & Co my agents & appoint him as his agent also & there he found a letter from Willy which for some wild reason or another he had directed there, it was the merest chance that Layton ever got it. I am still attached to a Queens Regiment (the 37th) & shall probably be with them for some time. My detachment has had no fighting tho we are surrounded by mutineers but they never came very near this fort wh. has just been made at Raj Ghat, so that there is no excitement of any sort & it is rather dull, there are no birds to shoot. I can’t get a horse to ride & the whole country round is nothing but ploughed fields. We had an old & oar[?] boat on the river a short time ago but she is now out of the water being mended & painted & I am afraid she will be some time getting ready again. The Ganges is a splendid river for rowing on I have bathed in it once or twice but there are so many dead bodies floating down that it is not very pleasant. The fighting is going on in many places as hard as ever especially at Lucknow where General Havelock after marching there & relieving the garrison is now himself surrounded & fighting every day & he can’t get back again but a large force has gone to his rescue from Cawnpore & will probably be at Lucknow by this. Tell Willy that Darby[?] when the mutiny broke out escaped to Lucknow & a few weeks ago was safe but there is still a good deal of danger, his wife & child were certainly killed at Cawnpore. Sir Colin Campbell [Commander-in-Chief of the British army in India] was very nearly nabbed by the enemy coming up here the other day from Calcutta, he was travelling in a carriage, & altogether his party consisted of 12 or 15 in different carriages, they were very nearly surrounded by 500 cavalry but as soon as he saw them he ordered the carriages to gallop back as hard as they could wh. they did for 10 miles when they met a party of English soldiers & escaped what a thing it would have been if the commander in chief had been taken prisoner. I have been interrupted so often that I have not had time to write a long letter. I remain, yr very affect.[ionate] Brother

Henry Cayley


A typical private letter of the aeronautical baronet

J Hunter was a close friend, and regular correspondent, of Sir George Cayley, the aeronautical baronet, and they often accepted invitations to each others’ houses when they were both in London. This letter of, I think, 8 May 1848, though the year is not quite certain, gives a typical example of his epistolary style, with its slightly cumbersome humour, flirtatiousness towards females, and slightly careless attention to grammar and punctuation:

My dear Sir,

Permit me to make good a great deficiency I was guilty of, inadvertently at the time, by most ungallantly requesting your Daughters [sic] acceptance of two baubles without their being in a condition to be worn. I have written to a jeweller to call & take the measure of their fingers that these things may properly set [sic] for them: & write to apprise you of the circumstances fearing the young Ladies might be alarmed by some uncouth looking mortal coming to demand measure of their fingers – a formidable matter in some cases to the Ladies! As I am in my 75th year, I think the Ladies will excuse my taking these liberties & you must aid me if they chide.

I had an opportunity a few days ago to send the coin I named which is now at N[umber]12 North Audley St with your address on it.

I am, my dear Sir,

Yours sincerely

Geo Cayley

Source: British Library, ADD 24867 f.64



Coming-of-age letter from a Victorian paterfamilias

My great-grandfather Arthur Cayley (1840-1905) – see A Banker’s Family – came of age on 16 April 1861, when he was studying at King’s College, London. Two days before his 21st birthday, his 78-year-old father Edward Cayley (1782-1868, a banker of Stamford, Lincolnshire) sent him this letter, written with all the sententious formality of a middle-class Victorian paterfamilias.

My Dear Arthur

Tomorrow will be the last day of your minority & I cannot allow it to pass without a line of congratulation on its being the eve of a most important period of your life, the day when you become your own Master & must judge & act for yourself. I do not doubt in the eye of God & Man you will always act rightly. You will commence your career of manhood & independence under very favourable circumstances. You possess good health, good character & a good understanding which when united to industry & perseverance are almost sure to secure for you at least a competence. The favour of the Almighty is of course understood but this I am sure you will not in your daily prayers fail to ask for.

I am not, at my age, likely to see your effort crowned with the success which would be so gratifying to me but I shall always derive the greatest pleasure from hearing they are such as give promise of a happy result. If you do your duty fearlessly to God & Man you need never be ashamed to lift up your head in any society & will be certain to obtain the esteem of all whose good opinion is worth having. You will not always be able to avoid the company of persons lax in morals & manners but I trust, you will never permit an intimacy with them.

Had you been in Stamford I might have called together a few friends & relatives to celebrate your coming of age, but as this cannot be, I shall have no objections to your giving a dinner at my expense to your brothers & two or three other parties whom you may wish to invite. I do not think this a bad opportunity of showing a civility to you.


Dads don’t write letters like this nowadays!

Charles Digby Cayley RN

One of the sons of 19th-century MP Edward Stillingfleet Cayley was Charles Digby Cayley (1827-1844). His life was a short one. After being educated at Eton, he joined the Royal Navy, and saw action on the Levant coast on HMS Rodney in 1840 in what is known as the ‘Oriental Crisis’. He was awarded a medal for his part  In May 1844 he was serving as a midshipman on a surveying steamer, HMS Shearwater. On 17 May it was stationed off Largs in the Firth of Clyde.

That day Charles Digby Cayley and a fellow midshipman William Jewell went out in a sailing boat. A sudden squall caused the boat to capsize as it was rounding the North end of the island of Cumbrae, and both of them were drowned. Another steamer, HMS Vulcan, rushed to the rescue but found only the two men’s caps.

On Cumbrae is a monument to them, with the inscription, “To the memory of Mr Charles D Cayley, aged 17 years and Mr William N Jewall, aged 19 years, Midshipmen of HMS Shearwater. Promising young officers, drowned in the upsetting of their boat near this place, 17 May, 1844. This monument is erected in token of their worth by: Captain Robinson and Officers of the above named vessel.”

The Oriental Crisis of 1840 was not something with which I was familiar, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Muhammad Ali, who had taken control of Egypt from the Ottomans and had ambitions to seize much of the Ottoman Empire, had demanded parts of Syria in return for giving the Ottomans help against the Greeks in the Greek War of Independence. When, after that war ended, the Ottomans failed to hand over Syrian territory, he seized large parts of Syria. In 1839 the Ottomans tried unsuccessfully to recover the territory. In the summer of 1840 the whole Ottoman navy went over to Muhammad Ali. A few weeks later the major European powers offered Muhammad Ali Egypt, Sudan and the area round Acre provided he withdrew from the other areas he had occupied and agreed that his lands would nominally remain part of the Ottoman Empire.

When diplomacy failed to persuade Muhammad Ali to accept these terms, the French at first sided with him, but quickly changed their minds and supported the other European powers. In September 1840 Britain and Austria embarked on military action, blockading the Nile delta, shelling Sidon and Beirut, and capturing Acre. After this Muhammad Ali made peace, and agreed to reduce his army and navy, and handed back the main Ottoman fleet, with the agreement that he and his heirs would be hereditary rulers of Egypt and Sudan.

It was in naval actions of late summer 1840 that Charles Digby Cayley was involved. It all happened while Palmerston, known for gunboat diplomacy, was British Foreign Secretary.

To see how Charles Digby Cayley fits into the family tree, go to Low Hall Cayleys.


Who was this Cornelius Cayley, privateer?

There is a tantalising reference in Bermudan Archives to a Cornelius Cayley who was captain of the British privateer the Cholmley in the early 1790s. Twice he and his ship called at Bermuda with French refugees. In May 1793, he “put into Bermuda from Liverpool Tuesday night to repair after which the hurricane cut away her main and mizzen masts, drove her from her anchors on to the rocks and on Thursday morning sank.”

Privateers were privately owned ships – and their owners/captains – officially authorised by their governments to attack shipping of designated foreign countries. They were a common feature of naval warfare from the 17th century, and Bermuda was the British colony most involved in privateering in the 1790s.

Who was this Cornelius Cayley? He is unlikely to have been the Cornelius Cayley (1772-1836) who was one of the Cayley Russia merchants and was the son of the John Cayley who became British consul in St Petersburg in 1787. (See Russia Merchant line.) Was he the Cornelius Cayley (c.1764-1798) who was a son of Edward Cayley (1733-1805) and his first wife Anne Simpson? (See Cornelius Cayley line.) We know that the family of Edward Cayley’s second wife, Mary Brown, had plantation interests in the West Indies and that two of his sons by that marriage spent time there.

If anyone can cast light on this, I would welcome information!

[Source: Bermuda Historical Quarterly, vol.XVI no.4, 1959]

George John Cayley and lawn tennis

George John Cayley 1826-78 frontispiece to Las Alforjas or The Bridle Paths of Spain
George John Cayley 1826-78 Frontispiece to “Las Alforjas or The Bridle Paths of Spain”

George John Cayley (1826-78), son of the MP Edward Stillingfleet Cayley, was an eccentric with the most splendiferous beard I have yet to find on a Cayley. Besides dabbling in poetry and writing a light-hearted book on travels in Spain, he was a gifted artist (he illustrated some of his own books) and a craftsman known for his metalwork. In 1862 he and the painter George Frederick Watts worked together to design the challenge shield for a shooting championship at Wimbledon. He was also one of the more left-wing Cayleys of the 19th century – and a keen tennis player.

In 1870 he went to live in Algiers to try and improve his health. There he played tennis as long as his health permitted — “longer, it might be said” according to recollections of him in a 1909 edition of his Spanish travel book. This was shortly before lawn tennis as we know it became established. During spells in England he worked with a carpenter and cabinet-maker, William Button Maslen from near Swansea, to develop new types of tennis racket. In January 1875 the Edinburgh Review, which is still in existence, published his article Lusio Pilaris and Lawn Tennis, which was, I believe, the first ever article on lawn tennis. “Lusio pilaris” is Latin for the game of tennis. (The following year someone else, who acknowledged and commended George John Cayley’s article, published an article in the USA.)

In general, Cayleys descended from the first Cayley baronet are not known for their sporting activity. (Sometime soon I may write another post on the variable cricketing achievements of one of the Digby Cayleys.) I discovered George John Cayley’s role in tennis history when a tennis historian contacted me some years back to seek biographical information about him.



Another 18th century Cayley left out of the Peerages

I posted recently about Cayleys left out of Burke’s Peerage and Debrett. There is at least one other 18th-century member of the family who should surely have been included in them. This is Captain Tyrwhitt Cayley. He was a son of Cornelius Cayley (one of the first baronet’s children) and Ann Tyrwhitt, from whom he took his first name. As with other prominent 18th-century Cayleys left out of the Peerages, it took me some years to prove how he fitted into the family of the Cayley baronets.

He was born in Brompton-by-Sawdon on 20 October 1683, and baptised there the next day. He entered the Royal Navy, his first recorded command, in 1711, being of the small 14-gunner the Hazard. The next year he was given command of the Rose (24 guns). In 1723 he became captain of the Dover (40 guns); in 1735 of the Lenox (70 guns); and finally in 1738 of the Lancaster (80 guns). Much of his time on active service was spent patrolling the British fishery off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and protecting it against the French. For a period he was Commodore of the naval convoy which escorted the British fishing fleet. Papers of the Commissioners for Trade and Plantation include reports by him, and evidence he gave in oral hearings on the North American fishery. In 1740 he took part in the War of Jenkin’s Ear against the Spanish, which evolved into the War of Austrian Succession. A 1740 letter to Admiral Haddock, written from Minorca, refers to his having had eyesight problems from which he was recovering. His final post, to which he was appointed in December 1747, was as a Commissioner for Victualling of the Royal Navy. His Will and probate record show him as living in Ryde on the Isle of Wight in his final years – his work as a Commissioner probably was largely in Portsmouth, just across the Solent.