MARRIAGE FERDINAND RICHARD HOLMES MERRICK/MEYRICK
SOUTHSEA, BASINGSTOKE, BRIGHTON 1899-1918
On December 12 1899 Ferdinand Richard Holmes Meyrick married Kate Evelyn Nason, heiress and high society girl, at St. John’s Church, Monkstown, by licence. He was 30 years old, so she can’t really have been his one and only love. She was 24, which although young in today’s terms, probably wasn’t then. Of course, he had only been a qualified doctor for a very short time, so, as Kate intimated before, he had not really been in a position to marry before. Nevertheless it does seem to have been an impulsive choice and one which meant that Kate missed out on a far more ‘suitable’ marriage to a man who was worth a lot of money.
The dates of the marriage and of Ferdinand’s first two medical appointments, don’t quite gell with Kate’s assertion that they left Ireland within six weeks of getting married. Maybe the 1900 Medical Directory actually referred to positions held in the previous year, which would also account for the 1899 entry having him living at home (really in 1898). In view of the fact that she was pregnant though, it is highly likely that they did indeed leave the country with precipitate haste.
They first settled in Southsea - the seaside part of Portsmouth, where, it seems Ferdinand had a job at the Eastney Royal Marine Barracks. “We had very little money and few friends in England. We had each other, however, and nothing else seemed to matter”, says Kate, going on to say that Ferdinand worked in the barracks at the end of what she calls the South African War, but which is more widely known as the Boer War. Maybe he was treating post-traumatic stress syndrome, though of course it was not known as that then. Maybe he was just working as a doctor, although Kate says that when they moved, he sold his practice, so he must have been working as a private practitioner rather than as an employee.
Southsea is not a terrifically exciting place - shingle beach and somewhat tired looking in the days of my youth (my grandmother lived in Portsmouth and I went there often), but it does have one of those wedding cake piers, and no doubt was gracious enough in its day. Portsmouth is a navy town and there would have been all the bonuses and problems that came with that.
There, their first child, Mary (known as May) - the love child and the only one her mother talks about in her memoirs, was born “and our happiness seemed complete”. They lived in Festing Grove, in a house with the grand name of Colaba, just a couple of streets away from the beach. But they didn’t stay there long. By 1903 they had moved to Basingstoke, further north, where Ferdinand bought a larger practice.
Here at Winton House, Kate says they “spent the next ten years of life in dull and dreary respectability.” It seems to have been a kind of private practice for mental patients - “Here we began receiving mental and nerve patients - a class of case with with he had had a wide experience - and from the very outset we met with wonderful success.” There are two things to note here - the emphasis on ‘we’ - Kate goes on to describe the fairly active part she seems to have played in looking after their patients, even without any training - which would surely not be allowed these days. And secondly she mentions Ferdinand’s ‘wide experience’. Well we are talking 1901 here - Ferdinand had qualified a mere three years before, so I think this is a slight exaggeration. But I do not think that he was alone in running the place as she later says that he sold the practice to his partner. At the beginning I think this partner was his brother - one Robert Warren Merrick - I’m pretty certain he is his brother (an entry in one Medical Directory gives the same address of 3 Palmerston Rd., and in 1901 he is living nearby in Bournemouth with their mother). And he was definitely his partner, because in February 1907 the partnership is dissolved ‘by mutual consent’ and a notice placed in The London Gazette to this effect. I suppose one should also note Kate’s later comment that “My husband was frequently called away from home, leaving me to look after my children and the patients as well.” This is interesting, because if they had live-in patients, where was he called away to? Maybe he worked as a consultant in the local mental hospitals as well.
The spelling of the family surname was changed to Meyrick sometime between 1902 and 1903, as demonstrated in birth certificates, and the partnership dissolution notice. By 1909, the family had grown to five children. Kate says they lived in Basingstoke for ten years, but there must have been trips back home to Ireland, because their second child, Dorothy Evelyn, was born there. Why they would have returned I do not know. Kate’s parents were long dead. Maybe Ferdinand’s father was ill? This is the last mention of Ireland though, in the records, and the last time that the surname is recorded as Merrick.
Then in 1910 Kate filed for divorce - “my married life was now becoming very strained.” I do not have the record itself, just the index reference, and she never followed through but she did leave him, even after a move to a grand house called ‘Thornton’ near Stanmore when Ferdinand sold his Basingstoke practice to his then partner. She never tells us why she left him, she is, as usual vague, but cruelty is mentioned in one of her later court cases, whatever that means. Did he beat her up, call her names, taunt her in some way - or was at least part of it due to her dissatisfaction with the “dull and dreary respectability” of life as a doctor’s wife - she was, after all, a bit of a party animal as her night-club career shows.
However, apparently at the urging of friends and family, a reconciliation was attempted in 1914, with a move to another grand house - ‘Sylvan Hall’ this time in Brighton. So whatever the state of their marriage it would seem that Ferdinand’s career was not in any trouble at all. He did not enlist in WW1, but then he was probably too old, but they did play their part in the war, by throwing parties (what else?), sometimes for soldiers and sometimes to raise money for the war effort. Their last three children were born between 1910 and 1914, so the first two of these might have been born when the marriage was teetering, with Irene, the last, being the fruit of the reunion perhaps. The previous two were both born in different parts of London, and not in Basingstoke, where, theoretically they resided at the time. Indeed in the 1911 census the family were in Ealing, so my guess is that the Basingstoke practice was sold around 1910/1911 and there was a brief period moving around from place to place, before settling in Brighton.
Kate was restless though, and launched into her first night-club venture, ‘Dalton’s’. This must have been around 1918. For whatever reason, she left again, and Ferdinand found that his marriage was over. In 1920 Kate filed for divorce for the second time, but Ferdinand counterfiled in 1921 citing one Harry Dalton (or Samson) as co-respondent. As with the previous filing for divorce, I do not have the actual records as yet, but in any case, neither seem to have been followed through - or else they were unsuccessful.
Superficially it looks as if contact with Ferdinand was broken - he was said to have contributed a mere 15s (£37, AUD$87) per week to the upkeep of the children or so Kate said in her book. So from being married with a large family of eight children, all at posh private schools by now, he goes back to the single life and does not appear to have had any contact with his wife and children again. Certainly he was never spoken of by any of the children to their children. Well this is what I thought, but apparently not quite so. There is even talk of financial assistance here and there.
The young Merrick family in happier times
Monkstown Church and a 1900 vintage print of a bride and groom
Notice of dissolution of partnership in London Gazette
Sylvan Hall prior to its demolition in 1976.