John Harman Becher

John Harman Becher

b. 24 March 1764 [according to his will] and baptised on the 24th May 1764 at St Augustine The Less, Bristol [with brother Michael Thomas]
d. Buried on the 6th October 1800 in Calcutta, India.
Married on the 25th Dec 1786 at St John's Calcutta to Miss Harriet Cowper. [see below]
Had issue;
     1. John Becher
    
b. 9 July 1788 at Bandel, India and baptised 26 September 1788 at Bandel
     d. before 1799 [not mentioned in father's will]
     2. Harriet Becher
    
b. 30 August 1790 at Burdiwan, baptised 24 March 1791
     d. 1820 in England
     Married on the 16th February 1810 at Bengal, India to Captain Allan Graham. He died on 7 June 1816 at Agra.
     Their surviving child  was Mary Elliott Graham who married Charles Carmichael-Smyth.
     3. Anne Becher
    
b. 13 October 1792 at Kilshenaghur, baptised on 12 July 1793 at Kilshenagur [from India Office records]
     d. 18 December 1864 at Palace Green, Kensington [from probate records] and buried on the 24th Dec 1864 at All Souls, Kensal Green, exactly a year since the death of her famous son..
     [1] Married 13th October 1810 in Calcutta, India to Richmond Thackeray. He died on 13 September 1815 of a lingering fever.
     They had one child,
           1. William Makepeace Thackeray born 18 July 1811 at Calcutta, India. He died 24 December 1863 and was buried at All Souls, Kensal Green. He is best remembered as the author of "Vanity Fair".
     [2] Married 13 March 1817 at Cawnpore, India to Henry William Carmichael-Smyth. he died on 9 September 1861.
     4. Maria "Polly" Becher
    
b. 14 March 1795 aboard the "Manship", on the high seas, baptised 18 October 1795 at St James, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk by her uncle Michael Thomas Becher..
     d. May 1822 in India from complications of her first pregnancy. She was buried in Calcutta on the 28th May 1822.
     Married 22 Nov 1817 at Rewari, India to Colonel Alexander Knox. He died 1 September 1834 at Barrackpore, India.


Portrait of John Harman Becher, possibly painted by Coates. Originally hung in the parlour at Fareham, it was inherited by his daughter Ann, who in turn left it to her son Thackeray & he to his daughter Annie Ritchie, where it hung in her parlour. In the 1950's the painting was still in the possession of the Ritchie family.

John Harman Becher enlisted on the Daphne on the 27th June 1776, aged only 14, sailing to America two days later. His ship arrives in New York in December, escorting a convoy to Florida and The Caribbean. Briefly on 1778 he is on the Nautilus with his father John Becher, before transferring briefly to the Roebuck on the 30th November 1778.  In 1779 he sails to India, being appointed to the East India Company as a writer on the 12th November 1779. According to Gordon N Ray, he was nominated by Richard Becher, one of the EIC Directors & a distant relative. A large bond would have been paid, probably 500, no doubt the reason that Commander John Becher wrote his will on the 6th Dec 1779, leaving John Harman only 200, rather than the 800 left to his brothers.
Fortunately, many Gazettes & Calendars survive from this period, so it is possible to trace much of his career. In July 1781 John was appointed Assistant to the Custom's Master. On Christmas day 1786 at St John's, Calcutta he is married to Miss Harriet Cowper. The marriage announcement is placed in many papers, but none unfortunately mention the name of the Bride's father; some even call her Cooper. Both names are to be found in members of the HEIC at this period. The next promotion I can find is in 1787 when he is made the Assistant at Houghly. On the 9th July 1788 his only son, John Becher is born at Bandel, and is baptised on the 26th September 1788. Nothing further is known of this baby & he presumably dies before 1799 as there is no mention of him in his father's will.

Promotions follow quickly now and John Harman Becher looks to be on course for a successful and lucrative career. In 1790 he is made the 2nd Assistant Collector of Burdiwan & continues in this position in 1791. The Bengal Kalendar for 1790 adds the information that he has been resident in India for 8 years, 11 months & 20 days since his appointment on 12th November 1779. It seems that he has spent some time on leave, perhaps even back in England. Many shipping records from this period no longer survive, so it is often only possible to find departures and arrivals in the surviving newspapers. Daughter Harriet is born at Burdiwan on the 30th August 1790.

On the 13th October 1792 Harriet gives birth to a daughter Anne at Kilshenaghur, so it is probable that John has another new position. In 1793 he is listed in the Calendar as the 2nd Assistant at Nuddea & again in 1794. The couples third daughter Maria would have been conceived in July 1794 & for some unknown reason, Harriet decides to go to England in January while about seven months pregnant. She may have been suffering from very poor health. A notice in the Madras Gazette on the 28th Jan 1795 lists Mrs Becher as one of the passengers. No mention is made of her little girls Harriet and Anne, but it was normal for children of 5 or so to be taken to England to be raised by relatives. They were raised in England by their Grandmother Ann [Haysham] Becher, so made the trip back home at some point.  Harriet had left her voyage too late, or perhaps the baby was born early, as the register at St James, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk records her birth as the 14th March 1795 upon the High Seas, when she was baptised there on the 18th October 1795. John Harman Becher in the meanwhile had been appointed to the coveted and lucrative position of Collector of the 24 Pergunnahs, gazetted in the Calendar of 1795.

Harriet Becher did return to India, although assuming she was present at Maria's baptism, could not have been until early 1796 or later. By then John was now, according to the East India Kalender for 1796, the Register for the Court of Appeal and Court of Circuit for the Division of Calcutta, although the 1797 edition lists him again as the Collector of the 24 Pergunnahs.

Around this time, something went very awry with the life and career of John Harman Becher. According to Sir William Wilson in his 1879 book "The Thackeray's in India" John Harman became ill in his 18th year of service & struggled against ill health for three more years before his death in 1800. By March 1798 he is listed in the Calenders, but no position is listed against his name. Papers listing senior merchants not employed for 1799 list 23 names, including that of John Harman, and for 1800, 20 names ditto. No reason is given for any of these men. By at least March 1798, he is living in bachelor quarters in the Writer's Building, Calcutta, apparently separated from his wife Harriet. She is now calling herself "Mrs Christie" and living with a Captain Christie. In his will he refers to her as Mrs Christie and leaves her a small inheritance on his death in 1805. There seems to be no record of her marriage to him, either before or after John Harman Becher's death in October 1800 in Calcutta. His will was written on the 26th of October 1799 and makes no mention of his wife at all, leaving his estate mainly to his three daughters. On the 18th of October 1806 Harriet married Lieut Colonel Edward William Butler. This would have been scandalous in England, but probably less unusual in India. It may be all or part of the reason that Anne Becher was later whisked away from a love match in England & bought out to India to marry. Gordon N Ray also adds in his Biography of Thackeray that Harriet Cowper may have been part Indian, again, not a great issue in India [where there were few white women to marry], but definitely in England.

It is not known how the Becher family felt about Harriet's split from John Harman Becher, but they must have accepted it because Harriet remained part of the family and was extremely involved with her daughters. It was she who escorted Anne & Harriet Becher back to India where they both married.

Harriet Butler wrote her will on the 3rd of November 1845, stating that she was a widow, now residing in London. She left her estate to her beloved daughter Anne, born Becher but now the wife of Henry William Carmichael-Smyth. The executor of the will was her grandson William Makepeace Thackeray. Her will was proved on the 27th July 1848. Various biographies of Thackeray state that Harriet died in 1847 but as yet I have been unable to establish the precise date.

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