Jacob Ravesteyn
and the marriage of Earl St. Maur
[dit artikel is tevens beschikbaar in het Nederlands ]

On June 14th 1844 Jacob Ravestein was born in the village of Harmelen, in the province of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He was the son of the 19-year-old Annigje Ravestein, who was unmarried at the time. At a young age, Jacob left the Netherlands, only to return as a visitor occasionally. In many cases, familyresearchers searching for relatives who have left the country tread a dead path. My research concerning Jacob Ravestein had the opposite result. There is no 19th century relative I know more about than I now about him.

In the November 25th 1924 edition of the Dutch regional newspaper Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad, an advertisement was published by the London solicitor's office Church Rackham & Co. A reward of 50 Pounds would be paid for ‘witnesses or inquiries concerning the marriage of an English woman named ROSINA (or Rosa) ELISABETH SWAN’. The reason for publishing the advertisement in a Utrecht-newspaper was that 'one of the witnesses probably was a man named RAVESTEYN’. The Ravestein family in the village of Groenekan were immediately aware that the advertisement referred to cousin Jacob Ravestein (who used to spell his family surname Ravesteyn). The same day Dirk Ravestein Sr. let one of his sons write a letter to London. Throughout the following year, correspondence was carried on between London and Groenekan. The letters mainly dealt with Jacob Ravestein, not with the marriage of Ms. Swan. For the London-based solicitors, it was not fruitful correspondence. From the present-day perspective, the correspondence is, however, very interesting.

'After having had a number jobs, he [Jacob Ravestein] took up work as a waiter in an hotel on the Boompjes [a street] in Rotterdam. There he met an Englishman, who was very wealthy, in whose service he started to travel; after visiting several countries this man set him up with a position in an hotel in Torquay'. This is how Dirk Ravestein, in his second letter, summarizes the story of Cousin Jacob. 

Earl St. Maur
The very wealthy Englishman was Edward Adolphus Ferdinand Seymour, Earl St. Maur, also known as Ferdy. He was the eldest son of the 12th Duke of Somerset, a prominent English nobleman, who among other functions, was ‘First Lord of the Admiralty’. According to British law the eldest son inherits the title and much of his fathers property. Ferdy's problem was that he was not very willing to follow in his father's footsteps. He led a rather adventurous life, that was put on record in Sir John Colville's book Strange inheritance (1 ), which is about Ferdy's daughter Ruth St. Maur. In the years 1857-58, Ferdinand St. Maur served in the British army in India as a civilian volunteer. After that he joined Garibaldi's Army (the Esercito Meridionale - the Southern Army) in Italy under the assumed name of Capt. Richard Sarsfield. Back in England in 1866, he started an affair with a 17-year-old maid, Rosina Swan, who was half gipsy. As it was impossible for him to marry her, he decided to take her with him on his travels. After their daughter Ruth was born in a cottage, built by the Earl overlooking the Mediterranean in Tangier, the couple returned to England in 1868, where in (or near) Brighton in the Spring of 1869 a son was born - Richard Harold, usually known as Harold. Around this time, Ferdinand St. Maur informed the family about the situation. Later that year, on September 30th, he died, as a result of an emergency tracheotomy which went horribly wrong - performed under bad lighting conditions at his own bachelor flat in London's Mayfair - his condition probably being aggravated as a result of illnesses picked up during his travels overseas.

Although the correspondence with the London solicitors doesn't make clear who is looking for proof of a marriage between Earl St. Maur and Rosina Swan, other sources reveal that it was Ferdy's son Harold. His interest is evident: proof of a lawful marriage between his parents would make him the heir to his grandfather, the Duke of Somerset. Sir John Colville wrote in his book that Harold '... tried to eradicate by futile efforts to convince himself and others that Ferdy and Rosina had been secretly married somewhere in Devonshire ...' ( 2 ). One of the rumours is the marriage took place in Easton-in-Gardano, near Bristol. In The Complete Peerage ( 3 ) we read that Major Richard Harold St. Maur, in February 1925, petitioned the House of Lords '... stating that he had always believed that his mother and father were lawfully married prior to his birth ...'. The Times of March 26th 1925 ( 4 ) stated that proof of the marriage had still not been found. In a case in which two other relatives tried to claim the title to the Dukedom of Somerset, a solicitor said on behalf of Harold that he '... had good hope that he would be ultimately succesful in proving that his father and mother were legally married before his birth ...' The solicitor making this statement worked for Church, Rackham and Co., the company that placed the advertisement in the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad six months earlier. The proof was never found; until today the title of Duke of Somerset is held by another branch of the family. Harold died in 1927.

Jacob Ravestein probably met Earl St. Maur in 1866 in Rotterdam, when the young Earl and Rosina were heading for Germany. Jacob went to Rotterdam on January 23rd of that year from the city of Utrecht. He had lived in Utrecht since July 25th 1863; before that he had lived in Woerden. The 31-year-old Earl and the 22-year-old Jacob met in an hotel at the Boompjes, a street in Rotterdam where Jacob worked as a waiter; the hotel probably was the New Bath Hotel (5 ). It must have been there and then that St. Maur decided to hire him. The journey through 'several countries', that cousin Dirk was writing about led ultimately to Tangier. Where the journey exactly went, is difficult to determine. Colville writes they first went 'to Germany, and then by train across Europe to San Sebastian', going through Spain and Gibraltar and finally to Tangier. The printed letters of St. Maur learn that he arrived in San Sebastian on Saturday November 3rd 1866, after having left from London on Thursday, and taking a boat. No letters are available from the earlier parts of 1866. From San Sebastian they travelled to Burgos, Madrid, Cordoba, Cadiz, Gibraltar and finally to Tangiers. The couple settled down and in the Spring of 1867 they started building a cottage. The letters don't tell much about the servants working for St. Maur. It is however clear that if Jacob indeed worked for the Earl in Tangier, he had a number of colleagues. On March 1st 1867 Ferdy St. Maur wrote 'My cook has fallen ill, and remains absent, and both my other servants are by profession grooms, but the cookery has if anything improved.' On July 5th 1867 he wrote that he had 'two Germans working here'. He also employed a Moorish boy, who was later identified as Mohamed U'led Slimane. After Naturalisation in the UK, and a Catholic baptism and marriage in Tangier in 1878, he became William Weld Silmon. When Earl St. Maur and Rosina Swan returned to England in February of 1868, with their baby, Ruth, the boy joined them on the P&O steamship 'Aurora'. In England, he received the support of the Seymour family, and after the Earl's death, they secured his employment through family and friends, and paid him a yearly allowance for life. To help him to become a naturalised British citizen, the Duchess of Somerset in 1877 wrote a declaration of reference, stating that she had known him 'since he was a young boy in the service of her son, Earl St. Maur.' (6)  Leonora, the severely crippled baby daughter of Mohamed's wife, Sarah Monaghan Serrano, from her former marriage to an Italian sea-captain, Carlo Antonio Pasola, spent some years at Bulstrode, attended there by the Seymour family's Surgeons.

Probably Jacob also travelled over to England together with St. Maur. Possibly he also received the family's customary good care and financial support. It would be perfectly reasonable to assume that Jacob and Mohamed knew each other quite well. Jacob after some time settled down in Torquay, a coastal town in South West England. Dirk Ravestein wrote that Jacob was 'set up in an hotel in Torquay by this man [Earl St. Maur]'. As the Earl St. Maur died in 1869, this would mean that Jacob started to work at the hotel almost immediately after arriving in England in 1868. Official sources however, point in another direction.

Jacob in England
The earliest evidence of Jacob staying in England dates back to 1871 and from that moment his whereabouts can be reconstructed quite well. If Jacob ever consciously decided to stay in England is not clear. He did however become a naturalised British citizen, which was not necessary. In the 1891 and 1901 Census (7) Jacob is included as a 'Naturalized British Subject'. That was not the case in the 1871 Census, when he was living and working as a footman with the family of Unwin Heathcote at 10, Hesketh Crescent in Torquay. The seaside resort of Torquay has a pleasant climate and had been developing as a resort town during the decades before Jacob's arrival. Members of leading and wealthy families came to Torquay, especially in wintertime. Therefore, there was a demand for servants. We can assume that when hiring servants, references from former employers were important. Maybe the Seymours were acquainted with the Heathcotes. Any references to that, however, can not be found. A connection between the Seymour family and the Torquay region existed through their house Stover Lodge, ten miles northwest of Torquay. The old family castle of Berry Pomeroy, a ruin, was approximately seven miles southwest of Torquay.

On August 10th 1876 Jacob married the 26 year old Jane Risdon in the Congregational Church of Dawlish in the District Newton Abbott. For both the address in the marriage certificate is Villa Ditton in Torquay, where they apparently already lived before they got married. His profession is 'butler', as we may assume in the villa, which was at Lower Warberry Road. Possibly he then worked for mr. H.P. Ree, who lived in the villa, certainly at the end of 1876. For Jane there is no profession in the certificate, but probably she also worked in Villa Ditton. Certainly she lived far away from her parents' house, more than 40 miles to the northwest, near Black Torrington. Father Joseph Risdon is mentioned in the 1851 Census as a farmer with 150 acres of land and three employees. Remarkable is that the marriage certificate contains the name of a 'deceased clogmaker' William Ravesteyn as Jacob's father. Jacob's stepfather, Marinus Cornelis Lam, was a clogmaker, but he died in 1882 and was therefore still alive at the time of the marriage. Did Jacob try to disguise the real facts concerning his descent? Or did he know the name of his real father and is the first name William a reference to his identity?

We can assume Jacob and Jane met as colleagues in Villa Ditton. The reason for getting married is obvious: within four months their son William Andrew was born, apparently named after his officially unknown grandfather on father's side. William was born in Halwill, in the area where Jane was born. As Halwill is said to be the place of residence of the mother, it is possible the couple temporarily stayed at her parents. Between the marriage in 1876 and 1880, the family lived at 78, Union Street, where Jacob combined different activities. One could sleep and eat there. Jacob is being mentioned as Lodging House Keeper or, as in the birth certificate of his second son Herman Jacob, als Commercial Boarding House Keeper. According to an 1878 directory (8) there were also dining rooms and a restaurant at Jacob's address and he also was a tobacconist. In the Summer of 1880 Jacob took over the Union Hotel, a bit further down the road, at 70-71 Union Street. Upto that moment it was known as Mogridge's Union Hotel or Mogridge's Union Commercial Hotel. In July of 1880, Jacob was mentioned in the birthcertificate of his daughter as Licensed Victualler. The address then was 'Commercial Hotel Torquay'. Because the birth took place almost at the same time Jacob took over the Union Hotel, it is not clear if this refers to the old or to the new address.

Union Hotel Torquay
The Union Hotel was built in 1831, on the site where an old mill was demolished, the Fleete Mill. One of the millstones from this mill was for a long time on display in the bar of the hotel (9). The first owner was John Mogridge (10). For years the hotel was an important centre for entertainment in Torquay. The Union Hall, at the back of the hotel, was fitted up as a little theatre by theatre manager Doel, at the end of the 1840s.
Except for the ballroom of the Royal Hotel, upto 1852 this hall was the only public hall in Torquay. The Local Board was meeting there and it was used as an auction hall (11). The hotel was a favourite place for commercial travellers. Important visitors of Torquay stayed in the larger and more luxurious hotels, such as the Imperial. Nevertheless some of them preferred to stay in the Union Hotel. In 1856, the politcian and writer Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton stayed for some time in the Union Hotel (12).

A card of the hotel, dating from the 1890s, states as the full name 'The Union Commercial and Family Hotel' . It promotes the hotel as being 'the most central in the town', having 'spacious coffee rooms' and a 'good billiard room'. It also includes the name of 'J. Ravesteyn' as the prorietor and it tells extra rooms had been added to the hotel. That happened in 1889, when the hotel was 'considerably extended' (13). The 1881 and 1891 Census  show the hotel employs six to eight people living in the hotel: barmaids, chambermaids, a porter and a cook, but also a billiard marker, apparently taking care of the billiard room. In December 1897, Ravesteyn left the hotel, after which for some time mr. and mrs. Gilley were running the hotel (14). Already in August 1898 they were succeeded by mr. W.R. Harding and after him James and Rosina Sweet were in charge, at least between 1901 and 1911. In 1939, the hotel was run by Carr & Quick Ltd. The rapid changes in the management suggest Jacob Ravesteyn didn't sell the hotel, but that he was leasing it to others. Proof for that can be found in an advertisement from 1946, announcing the hotel would be offered for sale by public auction (15). Jacob's eldest son William Andrew has given the order for the auction, so it was owned by the family all the time. In 1946 the hotel had three bars, a lounge, a dining room, two sitting rooms, 30 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a cellar and stockrooms. There was also garage accomodation for 15 cars. In 1954, the hotel was sold again, by Herbert Clifford to Arthur Henry Mogford (16). In February 1963 the history of the hotel ended after 132 years. The hotel was demolished and on the site a shop was built.

The Ravesteyn family
On December 17th 1881 Jacob's wife Jane died. One year later he remarried at Camden Town, Pancras, Middlesex to Sarah Ann Thomas, born in Dartmouth, Devon. In this marriage certificate the name of his father was 'James Ravesteyn, Capt. in of Batavian Regiment'.
According to the letters Jacob was still in contact with his Dutch relatives, also after his second marriage. 'Jacob Ravestein and his wife visited Holland several times, most of the time his wife stayed in The Hague, while he visited relatives. With his second wife he visited Bussum ...', wrote Dirk Ravestein. There is also a photograph he sent to Dutch relatives, on which Jacob had written ‘Castle Mount’ as his address. It was the name of a house not very far from the hotel, at Castle Road, presently known as Highbury House. According to Margareth Tapping, living in the house from 1968 until approximately 2000, it originally was 'a 3/4 bedroomed Victorian Villa', built in about 1870. At the time of the 1891 Census a retired couple named Thomas lived in the house, being the parents of Jacob's second wife. Until the late 80s of the 20th century, Castle Mount was an hotel, like many houses in Torquay. Maybe Jacob Ravesteyn and his wife for some time lived there with her mother, perhaps between the moment he left the Union Hotel in 1897 and 1899. 
Daughter Emily died in 1899 at the age of 19, according to her death certificate as the result of 'exhaustion'. At the time, the family was living at Marlborough House, 4, The Birklands, Torquay, today being 519, Babbacombe Road (17). Jacob then was a retired hotelkeeper. At the time of the 1901 Census, Jacob
and his second wife lived in a boarding house named Tralee at St. Michaels Road in Bournemouth, with William Mattock as the boarding house keeper. Jacob's occupation then was 'retired hotel proprietor'. Because the photograph on which Jacob wrote Castle Mount as his address was made in Bournemouth, it is also possible that mr. and mrs. Ravesteyn lived with mother Thomas in Torquay part of the year.

In Dirk Ravestein's letters we are able to read that one of the sons died in the Boer War in the Transvaal and that the other son also died young. At the cemetery in Torquay the headstone at his mother's grave states Herman Jacob died in Cradock, South Africa on August 9th 1906, a few years after the end of the war. Herman's grave is in the Municipal Cemetery on Deary Road in Cradock, South Africa. Herman Jacob maybe lived in London in 1901. In the Census records there is a 24 year old Harry Ravesteyn, born in Ashburton Devon, not far from Torquay, living in St. James, Westminster. Herman Jacob was only 22 years old in 1901, but Census records are not always correct.

Jacob Ravesteyn died in Bournemouth, on March 28th 1910. He then still lived at St. Michaels Road, although his death registration also ads 'Beechwood' to this address, making it unclear if he still lived in boarding house Tralee. Jacob was buried at Wimborne Road Cemetery in Bournemouth. Notwithstanding the letters,
William Andrew (also known as Bill) survived his father. According to the 1901 Census records he then lived with his uncle Joseph Risdon in Exeter. Like his brother, he served for some time in South Africa. He however returned home alive, along with a number of decorations. Two years after his brother died, he emigrated to Canada in 1908, where for more than ten years he served as a paramedic in the Canadian Armed Forces, as a medical sergeant and as first aid instructor. On the application form he filled out for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in 1918, he declared he had no relatives, although his stepmother was still alive at the time (18). He married a few years after the war, in 1922 and had at least one daughter. After ending his military carreer, Bill worked for Jeffrey Drug Store in Calgary and for the Alberta National Drug Company. Also, for more than fifty years he was a volunteer for St. John Ambulance. He died in 1953, his wife in 1956 (19).

The influence of the St. Maurs?
The question however remains, how Jacob being a waiter became the proprietor of a hotel. Dirk Ravestein's version of the story is that he was 'put in a hotel' by Earl St. Maur, without clarifying the exact meaning of these words. Within the St. Maur family another story was told, written down by Brian Masters in his 1975 book 'The Dukes' (20). Lord Henry Thynne, married to one of St. Maur's sisters, is said to have given Jacob hush money. Masters made a connection between this story and Harold St. Maur's search for evidence for his parents marriage. 'Harold St. Maur came of age and began to wonder about his parents. Could they have been married? He spent much of his fortune and a good deal of time trying to track down a marriage cerificate. Years passed without success, until one day a man turned up who said, yes, the Earl St. Maur and Rosa Swann had been married, and he had moreover been a wittness. Henry Thynne was alarmed. It would not serve his interest that Harold St. Maur should be proved the rightful Duke of Somerset. The mysterious gentleman was hustled away, and later that year opened a shop in Torquay with money he did not have; it was all very suspect. Word got about that Thynne had seen to it the marriage certificate should be destroyed.' Although in Masters' book the name is not mentioned, it is clear that the mysterious gentleman can be no other than Jacob Ravesteyn. Although the story may contain some elements of truth, the period Masters is referring to is evidently incorrect. When Jacob in 1876 became a boarding house keeper or shopkeeper in Torquay, Harold St. Maur was only seven years old.

But there is another explanation possible, related to Jacob's first marriage, with Jane Risdon. The 1891 Census records for Torquay include two hotelkeepers with the name of Risdon. Joseph Risdon was an Inn Keeper at the Exeter Hotel in Union Street, the street where also the Union and Commercial Hotel is. He was Jane's brother and for a while lived with his sister at the Union Hotel, where he probably learnt how to run a hotel. A younger sister, Ann Risdon, was Hotel Keeper of Hesketh Arms at Meadfoot Lane. Also her sister Charlotte Risdon was living there. So possibly it was not the St. Maur family but the Risdon family who helped Jacob starting the hotel.

Jacob Ravesteyn probably never knew he could have played such an important role in an inheritance case. In 1924, he was already dead for more than ten years. His second wife, however, was still alive then. The London solicitors were in contact with her, but she was unable to help them. In one of their letters to Dirk Ravestein the solicitors write: ‘Mr. Ravestein [...] repeatedly stated to his second wife (who is still living) that he was present at the marriage. Mrs. Ravestein cannot remember where it took place.’ I'm very happy she couldn't remember. Otherwise the advertisment would never have been printed in the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad.

E.M. Habben Jansen


1. John Colville, Strange Inheritance , Salisbury (Michael Russell) 1983. More information on the life of Ferdy can be found in his printed letters: Letters of Lord St. Maur and Lord Edward St. Maur 1846 to 1869, London (Printed for private circulation) 1888. Also the way Ferdy died is put to record in a report: Charles J.B. Williams, M.D. F.R.S, Authentic Narrative of the case of the late Earl St. Maur , London (Longmans, Green, and Co) 1870.
2. John Colville, Strange Inheritance, p. 88.
3. Geoffrey H. White (ed.), The Complete Peerage or a history of the house of Lords and all its members from the earliest times , Vol. XII, part I - Skelmersdale to Towton, London (The St. Catherine Press) 1953, p. 87 .
4. 'House of Lords. Committee for privileges. The Dukedom of Somerset', in: The TimesMarch 26th 1925 .
The book Dwalen over de Boompjes en omgeving (Wandering along the Boompjes and vicinity) by Herman Romer (Rotterdam 2001) states there were several hotels at the Boompjes in the 19th century. The New Bath Hotel and the Grand Hôtel des Pays-Bas according to the writer were by far the most renowned of these hotels. 'Dignitaries frequently stayed there, including royalty', writes Romer. Pays-Bas was closed down in 1858. The hotel were Earl St. Maur stayed and where Jacob worked therefore probably was the New Bath Hotel. The official municipal address book from that period, the Naamlijst volgens de wijken der stad Rotterdam 1866-67 (List of names in the districts of the city of Rotterdam 1866-67) seems to confirm this: the only hotel at the Boompjes that is listed, is the New Bath Hotel, at Boompjes 57.

6. Documents on the naturalization: Public Record Office, HO45/9443/67001. John Colville writes on the boy: 'He also brought to England a Moorish boy, whom he continued to employ as a servant in England'. This and other information was provided by J.A.A. Silmon-Monerri, a grandson of Mohamed. He also wrote a book on the Earl, published in 2010: 'The Secret Life of the Earl St. Maur'.
7. In the 1901 Census Jacob can be found as Jacob Raresteyn. The information can be found on the internet .
8. William White, History, gazetteer and directory of the county of Devon, Sheffield/London 1878-9, p. 814.
9. Mike Holgate, Images of England: Torquay, pocket edition 2005, p. 14.
Arthur Charles Ellis, An historical survey of Torquay, from the earliest times, as illustrated by finds in Kent's Cavern, down to the present time, Torquay no date (app. 1930), p. 316-317. Mogridge's first name (John) can be found in William White's publication, mentioned above.
11. Ibidem and William Winget, 'Reminiscences of an octogenarian. Early scenes, happenings, and amusements. A boyish recollection of Tor Abbey', in: Torquay Directory and South Devon Journal, 14 February 1923. Also see: John R. Pike, Torbay's heritage: Torquay, Torquay 1994, p. 44.
Arthur Charles Ellis, An historical survey of Torquay, p. 317.
13. Ibidem.
14. Torquay Directory, 1897.
15. Torquay Times, 5 July 1946.
16. Torquay Times, 20 August 1954.
17. In the death certificate the address is '4, The Birklands'. According to the records kept at Torquay Cemetery Emily died at 'Marlborough House'. A list of housenames kept by the Local Studies Centre in Torquay states a house at 2, The Birklands later had the address 523 Babbacombe Road. The Torquay Directory, for instance on 29 December 1897, includes Marlborough House on the address 4, The Birklands, at Babbacombe Road. In combination this information leads to the conclusion the present address is 519 Babbacombe Road. It is the house at the righthand corner of a block of four houses, apparently once known under the name The Birklands.
18. This registration form can be found online through the Library and Archives Canada.
19. A short biography of William Andrew Ravesteyn can be found in:  Lavonne Browarny, A friend in need. St. John Ambulance in Calgary, Calgary 1975, p.  57-59.

 20. Brian Masters, The Dukes. The Origins, Ennoblement and History of Twenty-six Families, London (Pimlico) 2001 (revised edition, first edition 1975).


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