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Catherine Eliot (1743 - 1798)

Catherine was the ninth child and sixth daughter of Richard Eliot and Harriot Craggs, known to her family as "Kitty".

Catherine Eliot was the youngest of nine children. In the family Bible, Kitty's mother carefully recorded her birth at Port Eliot, on 29 Oct 1743, at four o'clock in the morning, and her baptism which took place later the same day. Kitty's father died shortly after her fifth birthday; one year later, her mother married Captain John Hamilton, a longtime family friend. According to his letters, he seems to have been very fond of Kitty, and there is nothing to suggest that she did not have a very sweet life with her stepfather. Sadly, he drowned in December 1755, when she was just twelve years old.

The only hints about Catherine's life were found in quick mentions in family letters. She survived an early Smallpox inoculation* and visited close relations (her grandmother in London and her Aunt and Uncle at Gosfield in Essex). She spent most of her quiet life at Port Eliot, though there are hints that she travelled to visit at least two of her sisters (Harriot and Elizabeth). She never married, making her the first "maiden aunt" in the Port Eliot family. After her parents' deaths, she lived on at Port Eliot with her older brother and his wife.

Only one known letter actually written by her survives, but lines written on a more lasting surface than paper survived to hint at one long-forgotten event in her life. Mr. Joseph Lugger, a Royal Navy man living at Plymouth Dock, carved a cave into a cliff on Whitesand Bay at Trengantle. On the walls and ceiling of this cave (commonly called Sharrow Grot), he carved lines of poetry written by himself and a local poet, Mrs. Ann Thomas. Special lines were carved on the back wall, directly opposite the entrance, written by Lugger himself and dedicated to "Miss Eliot of Port Eliot". Catherine Eliot was 39 years old at this time, and it is not known whether she knew of Lugger's admiration or ever saw the verse carved there in her honor.

Click here to read about Joseph Lugger & Sharrow Grot

At the age of 44, Catherine had "the misfortune to lose the use of her eyesight", so she dictated her Last Will & Testament to her nephew, John Eliot. It was completed and signed on 21 Sep 1787, and Catherine continued to live at Port Eliot until her death on 28 Jul 1798. She had spent so many happy years at Port Eliot that she wished to be buried in the grounds of the estate, rather than in the "new" family vault down the road. In compliance with this wish, her family buried her – with her Mother – in a small, unmarked brick vault below the east chancel window of the church, just yards from the house. (It seems quite probable that her father was buried there, too.) During some excavating of the grounds in the 1920s, the coffin of Catherine Eliot came to light, and the Earl of St. Germans kept a small silver screw from the coffin. The screw is in a small box, with a note about Catherine's wishes to be buried in the grounds, as well as the location of the vault. Without this note, Catherine's final resting place would be a mystery to this day.

Known Likenesses of Catherine Eliot

*April of 1748 found Edward, the eldest Eliot son, away on his continental tour and the rest of the family in their London home on Jermyn Street. In a letter to Edward, Richard conveys the news that four of the children had recently been inoculated with a live smallpox vaccine. "Your Momma received last night your kind epistles, just as she sat down to play a rubber at whist with Mr. Hamilton, Nancy, and Harriot, for the first time after their recovery of the smallpox." He went on to explain that Jack and Kitty had also been inoculated, in what a favorable manner they'd had the distemper, how it turned on the seventh day, and how their beauties remained.