Sir, The Distant Thunder
column 'Ladies' Man
(on the supposedly 'private' life of Henry de la Beche) obscures much interesting scandal! The author of the manuscript poem, The Lymiad
, was Charlotte Jane Parslow (1785-1872), who married William North Skinner in 1803, and was immediately widowed. Her poem of 1818, mocking social life in Lyme Regis, was addressed to her first cousin, Maria Sarah Wallace (later Ogle) (1791-1844), then living in that other 'den of iniquity', Bath. Charlotte's father was John Parslow (1764-1798), captain in the 3rd, or King's Own, Regiment of Dragoons, who saw much service in Dorset. He had married a beautiful, and buxom, lass from Tyneside in 1785, who was soon seduced by a cad in the same regiment, Captain Francis William Sykes (1767-1804). Sykes was forced to pay Parslow £10,000 (around half a million today) in damages in 1789, in a scandal which rocked the nation, and filled pages of newsprint, and its libraries with seven different accounts of the trial.
It was this money which allowed Charlotte to holiday in Lyme (where her father had written his will), with a chaperone, in the autumn of 1818, where she met the still unmarried Henry, who later married Letitia Whyte, on 23 November 1818 in Clifton. Charlotte's later footnote comments on that marriage, and on the duck-billed platypus. This relates to the donation of two engravings of this extraordinary animal to our Society on 5 June 1818 (Transactions, 5, p. 639, 1821).
The Lymiad also records how cousin Maria "knew Madame Trois Maris’s last spouse well". This is Henry's equally scandalous, and beautiful, mother, born Elizabeth Smyth (c.1778-1833), who first became Mrs Thomas De la Beche, then Mrs Henry Metcalfe and finally Mrs William Huddle Aveline. Her second husband was a rich attorney, Henry Metcalfe (1758-1808) of Murton and Seatonville, Tynemouth, where he was born, and had first married, in 1790. But, after this wife’s death, he moved to live in both Bath and Clifton, where he died. He had married "Madame Trois Maris", for both their second marriage, at Clifton in June 1802. Since Maria's father and mother had also been born on Tyneside, these families would indeed have known each other well.
a) confirms Charlotte's authorship and
b) helps shed new light on the sexual, and scientific, goings-on at Lyme in 1818.
At least seven people (six of them female) feature in both The Lymiad, and in the previously rather closed circles which then surrounded Mary Anning junior (1799-1847).