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Esther Copley – A culturally important author

There were three authors of note in Eythorne in the 1800s, namely Esther Copley, George Eliel Sargent and Lizzie Selina Eden.
Esther Beuzeville was born in London on May 10, 1786, the youngest daughter of Peter and Mary Beuzeville (nee Meredith). In 1809 she married James Philip Hewlett. James was an Anglican, having been educated in the Choir School of New College, Oxford. Esther was nonconformist having been a member of the Henley dissenters. The couple had five children, three sons and two daughters. Esther was a woman of strong will as is evidenced in her continued adherence to non-conformity and she worshipped at the Baptist Chapel in Oxford. In 1829, ten years after her marriage, James Philip Hewlett died prematurely of a lingering illness, leaving Esther with five children under 10 to provide for.

Its not certain when Esther started writing in earnest but during her marriage she wrote several books with little commercial success. However, in 1816 James Hewlett banked some notes, received by Esther in payment for the copyright of one of her early works “Victims of Pleasure”. She states that the payment “made my dear Mr. Hewlett very happy when he took the notes and got them cashed at Walker’s bank”. When she sold the copyright of another book “The Young Reviewers” in 1819, Esther expressed her relief because that money “furnished many comforts for my dear Mr. H. in his last months”.

On August 16, 1827 Esther married Rev. William Copley who was the minister of the Oxford Baptist Church. It seems that Esther refused him several times until he threatened to drown himself unless she married him. She relented. She told her two daughters that the primary reason for her remarriage was her desire to have more children. However, in the event, Esther had no further children.

After the wedding, the couple spent some time at St. Helier’s, Isle of Jersey, then in 1839 Rev. Copley accepted a call to the Eythorne Baptist Church. His induction service took place on April 3, 1839 and he was employed at a salary of thirty pounds per quarter. At Eythorne, the couple lived at Copley House, an impressive early 19th Century Georgian residence, opposite and just below the Crown Inn on The Street . Its unlikely, however, that Copley House was its original name and the Copley’s only occupied it for a relatively short period of time (possibly only for the period 1839 to 1844). They did not own the house or the land and the Tithe Award Map of 1840 shows it belonging to the heirs of James Lambert, who was the son of Mr Lambert, the park keeper of the Earl of Guilford.

Rev. William Copley was an alcoholic and Esther protected him from the consequences of his alcoholism as best she could. She is reputed to have written his sermons for him, roused him on Sunday mornings, and ensured that he was presentable when he arrived at the chapel to preach. Church records of 1842 reveal that Rev. Copley offended the church gravely and he was suspended from the “Ordinance of the Lord’s Table” and in August 1842 he left. An amicable separation was arranged between the couple, with Esther remaining in Eythorne, and William Copley going to a church in the Midlands near to his childhood home.

Esther was a prolific writer publishing more than forty books in her lifetime. These include tracts (a short treatise in pamphlet form on a religious subject), works on domestic economy, children’s stories, text books, sacred history and biography and most ran to many editions. “Cottage Comforts”, for example, first published in 1825, reached its twenty-fourth edition in 1864 and its thirty-seventh in 1969. It is a household management manual, addressed to the “labouring classes”, and includes chapters on moral character, treatment of illnesses, hygiene, animal husbandry, the care and education of children, renting and furnishing a cottage, brewing and cookery. She is forthright with her, well reasoned, opinions and the advice is practical.

This is part of Esther’s advice from Chapter 2 in “Cottage Comforts” on choosing a cottage; “There are three things to be principally considered – health, convenience, and capability of improvement. It is evident that a very small house in a dark confined situation, and that has no outlet, cannot be favourable to either (partner); and should therefore, if possible, be avoided. “This dark confined situation, up a dirty alley, will never do for me” says a prudent young woman; “I should always be ailing, for want of pure air, and have to burn candles half the day in winter; besides, here is no convenience for washing – and I should be glad, while my hands are free, to earn a shilling that way, or to turn one by putting a few tapes, threads and cakes in my window – but nobody would think of coming here to buy.”
“As some or all of these evils mostly belong to cottages in large towns, a dwelling out of town is generally to be preferred, as there is usually more room afforded at a lower rent. But this must be regulated by the nature and situation of the man’s employment. If his business is in the town, too long a walk morning and evening, and at the hour of dinner, will occasion inconvenience and loss of time. The woman must also calculate her time, which will occasionally be occupied in going to shop or market. Evils and advantages must be fairly balanced against each other; that chosen which appears best on the whole; and then made the best of.”
“A damp marshy situation is to be avoided; one that is liable to be flooded in the winter season or one that is surrounded by thick woods. Agues, rheumatisms, and fevers are often occasioned thereby.”
“Water is a most essential accommodation. In some country places, great inconvenience and loss of time are occasioned by having to fetch water from a great distance; and much disease is produced by using that which is stagnant and impure. I don’t know of any thing more essential to be looked to, in the choice of a dwelling, than plenty of good pure water near at hand. A pump is far preferable to a well, both for ease and safety. If yours is a well, pray see that it is securely guarded”.

The 12th edition was printed in 1834, with a dedication, by permission, to Queen Adelaide, the wife of King William IV (see attached). Up to the 6th edition, in around 1829, she had made £300 (net) from this work, including all the costs of self-publishing it. It seems as if she did manage to support herself, and her five children, with her writing. The book can be read online. Another of her books, “Cottage Cookery” can be downloaded from: –

There were thirteen editions of this book, from 1849-1872, and the recipes are primarily concerned with providing nourishing and economical food and as such make interesting reading. There is even a recipe for “Flint Soup” in Chapter 1, “Introductory Observations”.
In all of her works, Esther demonstrates her genuine concern for the welfare of the working classes, and in her own way endeavours to help them have a better and more meaningful existence.

Her most important work is considered to be “A History of Slavery and its Abolition” (1836) which makes the statement, founded on Esther’s Baptist Christian beliefs, that the source of slavery is in human depravity. It traces the history of slavery from biblical times to her own day. The book, apparently written for children, includes graphic descriptions of the suffering of black slaves in the West Indies, and references the evolution of the anti-slavery movement. This work, which is nearly 500 pages long, has been identified by scholars as “being culturally important and…part of the knowledge base of civilisation as we know it”

As an example of Esther’s writing style, in Section V, “The Sources Of Slavery”, Esther writes; “If liberty is the birth right of every human being, in what manner have persons become slaves? This is a very natural question. We should think liberty so dear a blessing, that every one would most strenuously maintain and defend it, and watch against every thing that might endanger it. Fellow feeling, we should think, would also prompt every man to defend this sacred right of his neighbour against encroachment; and that, if an attempt should be made to enslave one man, the whole neighbourhood would rise to defend or rescue him; and that thus slavery must be of very rare occurrence, and its extensive prevalence absolutely impossible. This, however, is very far from being the true state of the case. Among the causes of slavery may be mentioned : –
Crime; on account of their crimes, some persons have been condemned to labour in a state of slavery for a limited time, or for the remainder of life.
Captives taken in war have been either detained and employed as slaves in public works, or sold to individuals, or appropriated by the captors for their own private use, as any other part of the booty taken in war. Persons thus becoming slaves, have often been redeemed from captivity by a ransom paid by their friends; or exchanged for other captives, restored to their own country, and set at liberty.
Debtors have sometimes sold themselves to their creditors, either for a limited time, or for life.
A vast proportion of slaves have been made so by the treachery of man. They have been enticed by stratagem, or seized by violence, and sold into captivity. Even parents have sold their children in this manner.
Children born of parents in a state of slavery, being destitute of the means of claiming the native liberty of man, have inherited the slavery of their parents, and become the property of their possessor; and thus slavery, when once incurred, has been perpetuated from generation to generation.”

Esther’s elder daughter, Emma, married George Eliel Sargent (also an author) and they also moved to Eythorne, sometime around 1844/5, as did her son Ebenezer Beuzeville Hewlett and his wife Mary.

On Friday April 5, 1844, it is recorded that Esther had withdrawn her membership from the Eythorne Church “contrary to the rules of the church and much to be deplored”. Esther’s son Ebenezer also withdrew his membership from the Church soon after his Mother resigned. The reasons for these resignations are unknown.

George and Emma lived in “Church Hill House” at Eythorne for 10 years. During this time they had six children: Ruth (1842); George Hewlett (1844); Edward George (1845); Mary Esther (1849); Sidney George (February-March 1851); and Sidney George Hewlett (1852). At the time of the 1851 census George Eliel Sargent was 42 years old and his occupation was listed as “Author: Educational, Religious and General Literature”. His wife Emma was 37 and was most likely teaching the four middle children at home, while the eldest, Daniel, was at the private school run by his uncle Theophilus Hewlett in The Street, Upper Eythorne. Mary was only one year old and Sidney George would have died by the time the census was conducted. Emma’s mother, Esther Copley was also living by now at ‘Church Hill House’. She may well have been living there since the arrival of George and Emma in the village. She was now 62, and her occupation was “Author: Literature for the young and working classes”.

Although was no longer a member of the Baptist church at the time of her death, on July 17th 1851, Esther was still held in high esteem by members and adherents of the Church. Her death was caused by tuberculosis, and it seems that her illness was exacerbated by a chill contracted when she was providing help for a needy family. Esther is buried in the Eythorne Baptist churchyard. Nearby are the graves of her son Ebenezer, her daughter Emma and husband George Eliel Sargent.
Attached is a pictures of Esther as a young woman and later in life.

Vince Croud

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