Anne Becher

Anne Becher, Richmond Thackeray & William Makepeace Thackeray

Anne Becher was born on the 13th October 1792 at Kilshenaghur, India to John Harman Becher of the East India Company and his wife Harriet Cowper. She is presumed to have spent her first few years in India, before travelling to England to be raised by her Paternal Grandmother Ann [Haysham] Becher in Fareham, along with her sisters Harriet & Maria. Her only brother John died some time between his birth in 1788 & the writing of John Harman Becher's will in 1799. Harriet Cowper travelled to England on the "Manship" on 1st Feb  1795 when she was pregnant with Maria  and it may be that the two little girls returned with her. Maria was, according the the register born on the 14th March 1795 on the High Seas, and baptised on the 18th October 1795 at Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk. No doubt Michael Thomas Becher was there, standing in for his absent brother.

Lady Ritchie [Annie Thackeray] later describes the Becher's house " stood in Fareham, High Street, with pretty old-fashioned airs and graces, and a high sloping roof and narrow porch. The low front windows looked across a flower garden into the village roadway, the back windows opened into a pleasant fruit garden sloping to the river....the little old house was as pleasant within as without: big blue China pots stood in the corners of the sitting rooms and of the carved staircase with its low steps. In the low-pitched front parlour hung the pictures (a Sir Joshua Reynolds among them) of earlier generations." She adds that the girls shared an upstairs room with white beds, ate plain bread during the week [butter apparently being an unsuitable luxury for children!] but were given cherry pie on Sundays.

When Anne was 15 she met 28 year old Lieutenant Henry Carmichael-Smyth in 1808 [He had arrived in England on 7th April 1808] at the Assembly Ball at Bath. They fell in love, but Anne's Grandmother apparently did not approve of the match, forbidding the couple to meet. Anne [not surprisingly for a teenager!] disobeyed & met with Henry at a river terrace at the bottom of the Becher's garden; Henry came by boat.  Discovered, Anne was locked in her room, but continued to write to the Officer with the aid of a helpful servant. Her Grandmother, upon discovering the deception informed Anne that Henry had suddenly taken ill & died from a sudden fever, sending messages of undying love from his death bed.  Henry was informed  that Anne had bestowed her affections elsewhere. Obviously, this deception would have been uncovered if the girls had stayed in England, but it was apparently decided to send them to India. The opposition to the match would seem to be shared by Anne's mother as it is she who accompanies her back to India.

Gordon N Ray says in his Biography of Thackeray that the girls [Anne apparently dressed in a long dark green velvet riding habit & a high hat swathed in veils!] departed England on the 25th April 1809 on the "Earl Howe", arriving in India on the 24th October. This seems an extremely long journey & their arrival in India is noted in The Bombay Courier of the 30th September in a list of Passengers for Bengal. From this it can be seen that Harriet and Anne have been accompanied by their mother Mrs Butler, Stepfather Captain E W Butler and  his daughter, Miss Caroline Butler. Contemporary accounts describe Anne as a great beauty with a dignified manner and she was to be very popular in India.

Anne [Becher] Thackeray, From Gordon N Ray's biography of Thackeray

The procuring of husbands did not take long, as Harriet Becher married Captain Allan Graham on the 16th February 1810 and Anne married Richmond Thackeray on the 13th October 1810, on her 18th birthday. Only one child was born to the couple, the future author, William Makepeace Thackeray who arrived on the 18th July 1811 after a long and difficult labour. The baby apparently had a large head & his birth caused Anne to have ongoing health problems. Richmond Thackeray already had a Eurasian daughter Sarah born to his Indian [or Eurasian]  mistress Charlotte Sophia Rudd in 1804. Richmond left them both an annuity in his will & when Sarah died in 1841, her share reverted to William.

Richmond, Anne & William Thackeray by George Chinnery from Gordon N Ray's biography of Thackeray [Now in the collection of Mrs Edward Norman-Butler]

In 1812 Thackeray records in his journal that he has met a most delightful Officer & invited him to his home for dinner. Unbelievably, the Officer is none other than Henry Carmichael-Smyth ! It must have been apparent to all present that Anne & Henry were stunned and amazed to see each other again, as they explain the deceptions of Anne's Grandmother. Anne later explains the story to her husband, who presumably no longer finds the Officer nearly so delightful!

Anne [Becher] Thackeray with son William, c1813 by Chinnery

Maria Becher came out to India in 1814 & may have lived with the Thackerays.

On the 13th October 1815 Richmond Thackeray died of a lingering fever in Calcutta aged only 34. Harriet [Becher] Graham's husband was to die soon after on the 7th June 1816 at Agra, aged only 33, leaving his widow with two small children. Anne sent her son home to England in December 1816, accompanied by a servant Lawrence Barlow and his cousin Richmond Shakespear on The Prince Regent to be raised by his grandmother at Fareham; he was to miss her terribly & she him. The ship put in a St Helena and Thackeray was taken on a walk by his servant to see Napoleon Bonaparte. Poor Thackeray was told that he ate three sheep a day and as many children as he could. He lived at Fareham, in the same house that his mother grew up in, describing his great-grandmother Becher as " A most lovely & picturesque old lady, with a long tortoise-shell cane, with a little puff or tour of snow white hair under her cap, with the prettiest little black velvet slippers and high heels you ever saw." He attended a number of schools which were later to appear in his novels [not favourably!]. One of the better ones was at Chiswick, run by his  mother's relative the Rev John Turner. His mother was kept updated of his progress by regular letters & she fondly recounts in 1820 his work in Latin, especially his successful efforts with the motto on the Becher arms "Bis vivit qui bene" [ He lives twice who lives well] Anne waited a discrete 18 months before finally marrying Henry Carmichael-Smyth on the 13th March 1817 in Cawnpore. They were to have over 44 years of happy marriage together. The Carmichael-Smyths returned to England in 1820 on what was intended to be furlough, but they never returned to India. Anne arrived home to sad news; her sister Harriet had died, leaving her surviving child Mary an orphan.

Yet another member of the family was to die in India; the youngest of the Becher sisters, 22 year old Maria married Colonel Alexander Knox on the 22nd November 1817 at Rewari. She died on the 28th May 1822 while pregnant with her first child.

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