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Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe

Jeremy Masters ©2016-2023

Below is a biography of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe. For further details and citations, see Jeremy Masters, ‘Mr Ayliffe, Surgeon’ and ‘This Ingenious Lady’: Uncovering the Origins of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe and Elizabeth, the Countess of Egremont (2015). 1398083439_pdf See also Sheila Haines, Leigh Lawson and Alison McCann, Elizabeth Ilive, Egremont’s Countess (2017).

Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe

Miniature portrait of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe (in the possession of Elinor Gallant). A handwritten note on the reverse of the portrait states: ‘The portrait of Mr. Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe Surgeon the Father of Frances Ayliffe afterwards Mrs. de Courtenay Fouchécourt. Painted by Sir Robert Peat’. The portrait was in fact painted by the miniaturist Thomas Peat, whose signature appears towards the bottom left of the portrait. Thank you to Ms Gallant for providing this image.

Parentage and childhood

Over the last two centuries, the parentage of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe and his sister, Elizabeth, the Countess of Egremont, has been the subject of numerous theories. Their origins have been obscured by various inaccurate accounts of the family’s history, including partly fanciful accounts written by one of Thomas’s grandchildren, and have only recently been uncovered.

Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe was born in about 1773 or 1774.

The parents of Thomas and Elizabeth were Abraham and Cecilia Ilive.


Court Minutes Book of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, 2 October 1792: ‘Thos. Ilive Son of Abrahm. Ilive late of Oxford was Bound to Jno. Gabb Consideratn £100’.


Extract from William Radclyffe, The Genealogy of the Most Ancient and Noble Family of Wyndham (1821) (in the possession of Lord Egremont), showing the parentage of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe’s sister, Elizabeth, the Countess of Egremont. Thank you to Lord Egremont and Alison McCann for providing this image.

Abraham Ilive worked as a printer in London and Southwark in the 1730s and 1740s. He was in Ireland by 1752, when he filed a complaint in the Irish Court of Exchequer. In 1762, Abraham and Cecilia’s son, John, was baptised at St Andrew’s church (a Catholic church) in Dublin.

Baptism of John Ilive, 15 November 1762

Register of St Andrew’s church in Dublin, 15 November 1762: ‘15 Do. [Ditto] Joans. [Johannes (John)] Ilive Abrahami Cecilie [by Abraham and Cecilia] SS. [Sponsores (godparents)] Thos. [Thomas] Tracy Anne [Nourthon?]’.

Abraham died in destitute circumstances in Oxford in January 1777. A few days before Abraham’s death, a newspaper notice was published in which he appealed for financial assistance and stated that he had a wife and four children. It is apparent from other sources (referred to above and below) that those children were Frances who was aged about 17 or 18 (born in about 1758 or 1759), Maria who was about 11 or 12 (born in about 1764 or 1765), Elizabeth who was about seven (born in about 1769), and Thomas who was about two or three. Thomas would later become known as Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe (he was known as Thomas Ilive before 1807). Frances would marry Lieutenant James O’Shanly and, following O’Shanly’s death, Augustine (or Augustus) Meade (later Lieutenant-Colonel Meade).  Elizabeth would later marry the third Earl of Egremont and thereupon become the Countess of Egremont.


Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 25 January 1777, p 3.

Around 16 months after Abraham’s death, his daughter Frances swore an oath in which she stated that her mother was in the workhouse of the parish of St Botolph without Aldersgate in London. This was the parish in which Abraham had been baptised. Abraham’s parents, also printers, had lived in Aldersgate Street in that parish. On the day that Frances swore the oath, Maria was removed pursuant to settlement laws from the parish of St Clement Danes in Westminster to the parish of St Botolph without Aldersgate.


St Clement Danes, Examinations Book, 1776–1779, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms B1184, p 189.

It appears that Cecilia was discharged from the workhouse in 1791. She is recorded as having received a pension from the Worshipful Company of Stationers, of which Abraham had been a member, from 1777 to 1800.


‘The Company of Stationers Quarterly Gift to the Poor of their Company’, 24 June 1777, in ‘Pension List, 1763–1811’ in Robin Myers (ed), Records of the Worshipful Company of Stationers 1554–1920 (1985) reel 72 (microfilm).


In about January 1789, Thomas commenced an apprenticeship for a term of seven years with the apothecary John Gabb of 23 Red Lion Street in Holborn, Middlesex. At that time, Thomas was aged about 14 or 15. The apothecary business of James Nelson & Co, which was owned by Gabb’s father-in-law James Nelson, operated from 23 Red Lion Street during most of Thomas’s apprenticeship. Gabb and Nelson both worked as apothecaries from that address. Nelson died in 1794. Gabb and Nelson were, like Thomas, Catholic. Gabb had himself been bound as an apprentice to a Catholic apothecary in London, Francis Bredall.


Peter Jackson (ed), John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838-1840 (1969) p 94 (Part 29), which shows a street view of the building that stood at 23 Red Lion Street in around 1838. It is possible that this was the building in which Thomas undertook his apprenticeship.


On 5 April 1796, after the term of his apprenticeship had ended, Thomas married Hester Jinks at St Andrew, Holborn. It appears that Hester was a daughter of Richard Jinks, a blacksmith, and Hannah Jinks of Kings Cliffe in Northamptonshire. The Jinks were also Catholic. Thomas’s son, Henry, would later live with his uncle Richard Jinks, who was a window blind maker in Upper King Street (subsequently named Southampton Row) in Bloomsbury, whilst studying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. This was following the family’s emigration to Australia.


Register of St Andrew, Holborn, 5 April 1796: ‘Thomas Ilive of the Parish of Saint Andrew Holborn in the County of Middlesex Bachelor and Hester Jinks of the same Parish Spinster, were married in this Church by Licence on the Fifth Day of April in the Year One thousand seven Hundred and Ninety six by me J. Price curate this marriage was solemnized between us Thomas Ilive Hester Jinks’.

University and admission to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

Thomas was admitted as a pensioner of St John’s College, the University of Cambridge in May 1796. He matriculated in the Michaelmas Term of 1797 and was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts in January 1800.

In entries made in May 1796 in the Admissions Register and the Residents’ Register of St John’s College, Thomas is recorded as ‘Thomas Ayliffe’. In columns headed ‘County’, he is noted as being from Ireland. This is the first known use of the name Ayliffe by Thomas or by any other member of his family. Less than one month before, he had signed his name ‘Thomas Ilive’ in the marriage register of St Andrew, Holborn. Although Thomas’s parents had lived in Ireland, it appears that his family had been in England at least since the time of his father’s death in January 1777. Further, Thomas had been apprenticed in London since 1789.

St John's Admissions Register 1

St John's Admissions Register 2

 Admissions Book of St John’s College, The University of Cambridge.

Thomas became a member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1801. Following his admission, he practised as an apothecary and surgeon near London and in Devonshire and South Australia.


Thomas and Hester had the following children, who were all baptised in the Catholic church: Frances who was born on 28 March 1797, Elizabeth Harting who was born on 24 March 1800, Hester Maria who was born on 24 July 1806, Cecilia Maria who was born in April 1808, George Frederick who was born on 10 September 1810, Charles Joseph who was born on 23 December 1811, Thomas Paul Hamilton who was born on 14 January 1814, and Henry who was born on 25 October 1815. Frances and George were also baptised in the Church of England. As an adult, Cecilia was also baptised at an independent Protestant church. Elizabeth Harting, Hester Maria and Charles Joseph did not survive infancy.

Thomas and Hester were members of London’s Catholic community. As referred to above, Thomas’s older brother John (who appears to have died by 1777) was baptised at a Catholic church in Dublin in 1762. Hester’s family, the Jinks, were Catholics from Northamptonshire. Thomas’s master, the apothecary John Gabb, was Catholic, and had himself been bound to a Catholic apothecary. The Reverend Thomas Gabb, who was a chaplain of the Sardinian Embassy Chapel, was John’s brother (see Joseph Gillow, A Literary and Biographical History, or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics (1885) vol II, 347-9; Johanna H Harting, History of the Sardinian Chapel Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1905) 30-1). John Gabb’s father-in-law, James Nelson, who owned an apothecary business in which he and Gabb worked, was also Catholic. In 1802, Thomas lived in Portsmouth Street, about 50 metres from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel, which was at that time the principal Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Westminster. Thomas and Hester’s children Elizabeth Harting, Hester Maria, George Frederick and Charles Joseph were all baptised at the Sardinian Embassy Chapel. The record of baptism of Elizabeth Harting Ayliffe states that her godparents were James Harting and Elizabeth Harting. James Harting was later the agent of the Duke of Norfolk.


Register of St Patrick’s Catholic Chapel, 7 June 1808: ‘Die 7a. Junij 1808 baptisata fuit Cæcilia Maria filia Thomæ Ayliff et Estheris Jinks conjugum Nata fuit die 4ta. Aprilis præcedentis. Patrini fuêre Josephus Le Jeune at Francisca Mead. Danm. [Danielem] Gaffey’. (Translation: ‘On the 7th day of June 1808 was baptised Cecilia Maria, daughter of Thomas Ayliff and Esther Jinks, a married couple. She was born on the 4th day of the preceding April. The godparents were Joseph Le Jeune and Frances Mead. [Signed by] Daniel Gaffey.’)

Apothecary and surgeon in England

Thomas appears to have been living in Somers Town, Middlesex at the time of his daughter Elizabeth’s burial in 1801. He was living in Portsmouth Street in 1802, at 250 or 251 High Holborn in 1804, and at 3 Hunter Street in 1805. At the time of his daughter Hester’s burial in 1807, he was living in Francis Street (now Torrington Place). He also appears to have been living at or near that address at the time of his daughter Cecilia’s birth in 1808.

In 1810, Thomas was living in Bernard Street. A record of 1811 gives his address as 51 Bernard Street. His former master, John Gabb, was at that time living across the street at 15 Bernard Street.



Holden’s Annual London and Country Directory (1811) vol 3, pp 76–7, which shows entries for Thomas, in Bernard Street, and Thomas’s former master John Gabb, also in Bernard Street.

Thomas’s name appears in land tax records in respect of land in Ayliffe Street, which was a newly created street in Newington, Surrey, in 1811 and 1812. The baptism record for Thomas’s son Thomas in 1814 states that Thomas and Hester were living at No 4 Ayliffes Buildings. It appears that those buildings were a terrace of 12 houses situated in Ayliffe Street, and that Ayliffe Street and Ayliffes Buildings were named after Thomas. Thomas was still living at Ayliffes Buildings in 1816.


Richard Horwood, A Plan of the Cities of London & Westminster, with the Borough of Southwark Including Their Adjacent Suburbs (3rd ed, 1813), which shows ‘Ayliffes Buildings’ written across Ayliffe Street. 1 Ayliffe Street is marked as the southernmost house in the terrace of 12 houses.

In 1819 and 1820, Thomas was living in Queen Street, Brompton. In November 1820, his eldest daughter, Frances, married François de Courtenay (who was a son of the Comte de Fouchécour, a French noble émigré) at St Mary Abbots in Kensington. It was reported at the time that the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Élie Decazes, the first Duke of Decazes, signed the marriage contract.

In 1821 and 1822, Thomas and his family were living at the residence of Thomas’s sister, Elizabeth, the Countess of Egremont, at 4 Waterloo Place in St James’s. Thomas’s daughter Frances gave birth to a son at that address in September 1821. The child died at the same address aged fourteen weeks. Frances gave birth to a daughter at 4 Waterloo Place on 29 December 1822, which was the day before Elizabeth died, also at that address.


Peter Jackson (ed), John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838-1840 (1969) p 70 (Part 17), which shows a street view of the building that stood at 4 Waterloo Place in around 1838. It is possible that this was the building in which Elizabeth and Thomas lived and where Elizabeth died.

Thomas lived at 18 New Ormond Street (now 4 Great Ormond Street) in 1823 and 1824.

In 1825, Thomas was an insolvent debtor living in Compton, Devonshire. By 1833, he was living in Bovey Tracey, Devonshire, where he remained until the family emigrated to South Australia in 1838. He was also in financial difficulty at the time of the emigration.

Emigration to South Australia

Correspondence between Thomas, his son George and Colonel Charles James Napier in 1834 (British Library, Sir C J Napier Papers, Add MS 54543, ff 104–7) records that Thomas had proposed to his brother-in-law, George O’Brien Wyndham, the third Earl of Egremont, that the Ayliffe family emigrate to Australia. Napier had recently been approached to become the first Governor of South Australia. He would later decline the appointment. The correspondence also records that Napier had met Thomas’s son George in Caen, Normandy, where Napier was at that time living.


Letter from George Ayliffe to Colonel Charles James Napier dated 15 November 1834, reproducing the text of a letter from George O’Brien Wyndham, the third Earl of Egremont, to Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe: British Library, Sir C J Napier Papers, Add MS 54543, f 107. The letter from Lord Egremont refers to a proposal that had been put by Thomas that the family emigrate to Australia.

Following Lord Egremont’s death in 1837, Colonel George Wyndham, who was the eldest son of Lord Egremont and Elizabeth, inherited the family estate at Petworth, Sussex. Because Colonel Wyndham was illegitimate, he did not inherit the Earldom of Egremont. Lord Egremont and Elizabeth had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They married at Petworth in 1801, after seven of the children had been born. They separated two years later.

In early 1838, Colonel Wyndham corresponded with his former tutor, the Reverend Thomas Sockett, about assisting Thomas’s three sons (his first cousins), George, Thomas and Henry, with ‘their endeavours to establish themselves in the World’. Colonel Wyndham proposed to the Reverend Sockett that the brothers should emigrate. After agreeing to the Reverend Sockett’s suggestion that he propose their emigration to Australia, and after conveying that proposal to them, he wrote to the Reverend Sockett: ‘I think the old Man & Woman [Thomas and Hester] had better go with their Children.’ However, as referred to above, the idea of the Ayliffes emigrating to Australia had been conceived of by 1834, when Thomas wrote to Lord Egremont proposing the family’s emigration.

Colonel Wyndham partly financed the emigration of the family to South Australia. He continued to provide financial assistance to the Ayliffes until the 1860s. It appears that Thomas’s daughter, Frances de Courtenay, received financial assistance from the Wyndham family as late as 1880.

Thomas and his family emigrated to South Australia on board the Pestonjee Bomanjee, which arrived at Holdfast Bay, South Australia on 12 October 1838. At that time, the Province of South Australia was less than two years old. They boarded at Plymouth, after the ship’s departure from London. The party comprised Thomas, his wife Hester, their three sons George, Thomas and Henry, George’s wife Elizabeth, George and Elizabeth’s children Thomas and Elizabeth, a servant Margaret (Peggy) McCabe, Colonel Wyndham’s agent Frederick Mitchell, and Mitchell’s wife and children. Another daughter, Cecilia, was born to George and Elizabeth during the voyage. Elizabeth’s father, John Sanders, who was a plasterer and a widower of Exeter, Devonshire, and a number of her siblings also travelled on the ship. It appears that the children of John and Elizabeth Sanders who emigrated to South Australia included Elizabeth, Esther, Henry (and his wife Sarah), Mary and Susan. George Ayliffe referred to Susan Sanders as ‘my apprentice’ in a letter sent shortly before the ship’s departure from Plymouth. Henry Ayliffe married Esther Sanders in Adelaide in 1844.


South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, 13 October 1838, p 3.

Accompanying the Ayliffes on board the Pestonjee Bomanjee were a stallion, a Hereford bull, a cow, about 40 sheep and a number of pigs, together with a large amount of farming equipment. They also brought with them prefabricated wooden huts. Colonel Wyndham had paid for livestock, equipment, clothing and other materials taken by the Ayliffes on the voyage. Colonel Wyndham’s instructions to Mitchell in 1838 stated that immediately upon arrival he should take measures to erect the houses, with a house of the larger size for George and his family, the other of those for Mitchell, one of the smaller houses for Thomas (senior) and the other of those for Thomas (junior) and Henry. The instructions suggested that Mitchell secure about two sections of 160 acres in total, with 40 acres to each of Thomas (senior), George, Thomas (junior) together with Henry, and Mitchell.

Colonel Wyndham owned a racehorse named Pestonjee Bomanjee, presumably named after the ship, which won the Craven Stakes at Epsom in 1840 (see The Sporting Review (1840) vol IV, p 69). Colonel Wyndham’s father, Lord Egremont, had been a very successful owner of racehorses, having won the Derby on five occasions.

Thomas’s two daughters, Frances de Courtenay and Cecilia Marten, did not travel to South Australia, but remained in England. Cecilia had married a drawing master, John Marten, who had died in 1836. She died in Brighton, Sussex in 1845. Frances died in 1883 and was buried in Hackington, Kent.

Settlement in South Australia

After arriving in South Australia, the Ayliffe family settled on two 80 acre sections of land south of Adelaide (sections 12 and 13 of District B), which had been purchased by Colonel Wyndham. The land was named Wyndham Farm. Colonel Wyndham also purchased 10 sections of 80 acres each near the Hutt River in the Clare Valley. Mitchell settled on section 14, which was immediately to the south of section 13. Mitchell had chosen sections 12, 13 and 14. In correspondence to Colonel Wyndham in January 1839, George Ayliffe described the two sections settled on by the Ayliffes as ‘very bad land’, but suggested that the section selected by Mitchell for himself was ‘infinitely worse’. Colonel Wyndham dismissed Mitchell as his agent in 1841.


Copy of John Arrowsmith, The District of Adelaide, South Australia; As Divided into Country Sections. from the Trigonometrical Surveys of Colonel Light late Survr. Genl. (1839) (Petworth House Archives, PHA 3492), which shows the location of sections 12 and 13 marked with the words ‘Col W [Wyndham]’.

A despatch from the Governor of South Australia, George Grey, to the head of the Colonial Office, Lord John Russell, dated 7 October 1841 (see Papers Relative to South Australia (1843), p 80) contained official statistical returns in relation to the Province of South Australia at the end of 1840 (see also The South Australian Register, 3 July 1841, p 4). According to the despatch, Wyndham Farm was located on sections 12 and 13 and contained three dwellings and a stock yard. The farm was supplied with water from section 14. Eight of the 160 acres were enclosed with a fence. Five acres had been sown with wheat in June, one acre with oats in July, one acre with barley, and half an acre with potatoes.





Despatch from Governor George Grey to Lord John Russell, 7 October 1841, in Papers Relative to South Australia (1843), pp 79–80.

In 1841, Thomas was recorded as a surgeon of Wyndham Farm, his son George as a surgeon of Wyndham Farm, and his son Henry as a stockholder of Wyndham Farm. In the same year, Thomas was recorded elsewhere as a surgeon of Wyndham Farm, and George as a surgeon of Belle Vue Cottage. The Ayliffes were farming 394 head of sheep in 1841 (The Southern Australian, 24 August 1841, p 2). According to an entry for Wyndham Farm, under Mitchell’s name, in The South Australian Almanack and General Directory for 1841 (at p 2), the farm comprised 1,000 head of sheep, 25 cattle and five horses. In 1841, ‘Messrs Ayliffe, surgeons’ (presumably Thomas and George) were also working as surgeons in Wright Street, Adelaide.

It appears that by 1841 Thomas’s son Thomas had left South Australia. It was recorded in his obituary that Thomas (junior) left South Australia some time after the family’s arrival and ‘for a number of years followed the sea as a ship’s carpenter in a vessel trading principally between New Zealand and Tasmania’. In 1860, he wrote to Colonel Wyndham: ‘When I arrived in this Colony, young, strong, and healthy, I felt I had no right to be a recipient of your Lordship’s Bounty’. It appears that Thomas (junior) returned to South Australia in 1843. He married Jane Bell in Adelaide in 1845.

An entry for Wyndham Farm, under the Ayliffes’ name, in The South Australian Almanack and General Directory for 1842 (at p 120) recorded that the farm comprised 600 head of sheep, eight acres of wheat, three acres of maize, one acre of oats and one acre of potatoes. Thomas (senior) and George worked as surgeons from the Adelaide Medical and Surgical Dispensary in Currie Street, Adelaide in 1842. George’s wife Elizabeth was recorded as being of Currie Street when she gave birth to a son in the same year (The Southern Australian, 10 June 1842, p 2). Thomas (senior) and George were working as surgeons from the Adelaide Dispensary in Hindley Street, Adelaide in 1843.


The Southern Australian, 14 March 1843, p 3.

According to The South Australian Almanack and General Directory for 1844 (at p 200), Wyndham Farm had 800 head of sheep, 21 cattle, one horse and six pigs, together with 12 acres of wheat and one and a half acres of garden. By 1844, Henry had joined Thomas and George’s medical practice in Hindley Street. George was recorded as being of Gilles Arcade, Adelaide in October 1844 when his wife Elizabeth gave birth to another son (The Southern Australian, 15 October 1844, p 2). George died four days after the child’s birth, also in Gilles Arcade (The South Australian Register, 16 October 1844, p 2).


The Adelaide Observer, 21 December 1844, p 1. The advertisement followed the death of George Ayliffe two months earlier.

As referred to above, in 1841 George had been recorded as a surgeon of Belle Vue Cottage, which was located on Wyndham Farm, whereas Thomas had been recorded as a surgeon of Wyndham Farm. An obituary for George’s widow Elizabeth stated that her family established a home at Belle Vue, and that she continued to live at Belle Vue until her death there in 1894. Having regard to this information, Colonel Wyndham’s instructions to Mitchell and the fact that there were three dwellings on Wyndham Farm in 1840, it appears likely that Belle Vue was the residence of George and Elizabeth and their family, and that Thomas and Hester lived in another of the three dwellings on Wyndham Farm.

In 1845, Henry was recorded as a surgeon of Grote Street, Adelaide (The Royal South Australian Almanack and General Directory for 1845, p 195). By 1846, he was a surgeon in Kensington, east of Adelaide (The Royal South Australian Almanack and General Directory for 1846, p 163).

In 1846, the address of Thomas’s son Thomas was given as Wyndham Farm (The South Australian, 6 October 1846, pp 5 and 7). At that time, Thomas (junior) was married with a baby son. In 1847, Thomas (senior) and Thomas (junior) were listed as proprietors of section 12, whereas Henry was listed as the proprietor of land in Kensington (The South Australian Almanack and Town and Country Directory for 1847). The second child of Thomas (junior) was born at Black Forest, north of Wyndham Farm, in 1848, which suggests that by that time Thomas (junior) may have left Wyndham Farm.

In 1850, Thomas (senior) was listed as the proprietor of 80 acres of land (one section), and ‘Mrs Ayliffe’ (presumably George’s widow Elizabeth) was listed as the proprietor of another 80 acres (another section).

The Ayliffes were the proprietors of a quarry, called Ayliffe’s quarry, which was located on their land. Stone from the quarry was used to construct the present building of St Mary’s Church, opened in 1847, and also in the construction of South Road.

Hester died in South Australia on 10 June 1850. The death certificate records that she was aged 79 years and that the cause of her death was dysentery. Hester was buried in the Catholic section of West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide on 11 June 1850.

Thomas died on 28 May 1852 ‘at his residence near the Sturt River’ (presumably Wyndham Farm). The death certificate records that he was aged 78 and that the cause of his death was ‘General Debility’. He was buried in the Catholic section of West Terrace Cemetery on 1 June 1852.


The Adelaide Observer, 5 June 1852, p 4.