Catherine Elliston, Lady Eliot (1735 - 1804)
Catherine was the first child and only daughter of Edward Elliston and Catherine Gibbon, known to her family and friends as Kitty.
Kitty was born at her parents' house in Charterhouse Yard, Holburn, London, on 04 August 1735. Her baptism took place shortly thereafter, on the 15th day of September, at St. Sepulchre in the same place. Kitty's father was a wealthy Captain in the service of the East India Company. Her mother was the daughter of Edward Gibbon, the very wealthy and oh-so-dishonest director of the South Sea Company. Kitty had one younger brother, whose death as an infant left his sister sole heir to the family's substantial net fortune of more than £60,000.
Few glimpses remain of Kitty's childhood. Just after her brother's birth in 1740, a subscription was recorded in the second edition of Thomas Boreman's book, "Curiosities in the Tower of London": Miss Kitty Elliston, for herself and brother, Master Johnny, both of Basinghall-street, 2 Sets. Sadly, Master Johnny was buried in a tiny grave just as the book was released in 1741. Two years later, Kitty and her father subscribed to a book of "Twenty-four Sermons" by Leonard Twells.
When young Kitty was only eight years old, her mother died. When her father passed away, just three years later, he left his minor daughter under the guardianship of his brother-in-law, Reverend Thomas Chapman, and Mr. Robert Vincent. Until Kitty married or reached the age of eighteen years (whichever came first), these men acted as trustees over her inheritance.
Kitty's education was entrusted to David Mallet (the renowned poet and playwright) and his wife, Lucy, close friends of her maternal uncle, Edward Gibbon, Sr. When she was fifteen years old, Mallet composed and published a poem entitled "The Wedding Day", containing several most-entertaining verses dedicated specifically to Kitty Elliston:
Last comes a virgin – pray admire her!
Cupid himself attends to squire her.
A welcome guest! we much had mist her;
For 'tis our Kitty, or his sister.
But, Cupid, let no knave or fool
Snap up this lamb, to shear her wool;
No teague of that unblushing band,
Just landed, or about to land;
Thieves from the womb, and train'd at nurse
To steal an heiress or a purse.
No scraping, saving, sawcy Cit,
Sworn foe of breeding, worth, and wit.
No half-form'd insect of a peer
With neither land nor conscience clear:
Who, if he can, 'tis all he can do
Just spell the motto on his landau.
From all, from each of these defend her!
But thou, and Hymen, both befriend her
With truth, taste, honour in a mate,
And much good sense, and some estate.
Kitty's cousin, the well-known historian Edward Gibbon, later referenced these verses when he wrote, "By all these monsters was the heiress successively assailed; she escaped, however, from their pursuit, and was saved from herself by the coldness of Sir William Peere Williams, afterwards killed at Belleisle – an high-spirited Youth, whose talents might have been the glory, but whose passions would have proved the curse, of her life."
In 1753, Kitty's uncle, Edward Gibbon, Sr., decided to do a little matchmaking of his own. His bachelor friend, Edward Eliot of Port Eliot (M.P. for St. Germans), was a young man of honour, possessed of "much good sense, and some estate". Gibbon urged Eliot to wed the eighteen-year-old, and financially independent, Miss Elliston. Kitty's tutor (David Mallet) had, in fact, tutored Eliot's cousin, so it is quite probable that the pair were already acquainted with each other. It took three years, but Edward Eliot did finally marry Kitty Elliston, at St. James' Church in Westminster, on the twenty-second day of September in 1756. The pair were blessed by God with four sons, three of whom survived to adulthood.
Catherine and Edward were "lovely and pleasant" together for 47 years, dying within six days of each other (of the same "inflammation of the chest"). They were given a double funeral on the first day of March 1804, the first to be laid to rest in the new family vault. A deteriorating stone plaque on the vault marks their final resting place, but a nice brass memorial in the North Transept of St. German's Church reads as follows:
In Memory of Edward Craggs, First Lord Eliot,
Who Died on the Eighteenth [sic] Day of February
In the Year of Our Lord 1804. Aged 76 Years: And of
Catherine His Wife, Who Died on the Twenty-Third
Day of the Same Month, Aged 68 Years.
They were Lovely and Pleasant in Their Lives,
and in Their Death They Were Not Divided.
Very little has survived to keep the memory of Lady Catherine Eliot "fresh and green". In fact, not one letter written in her own hand survived in the Port Eliot collection or has been cataloged in any library or archives. She did leave a will, but it was never probated. She is mentioned in family letters written during her lifetime, but brief references to her, or greetings to "Mrs. Eliot", were usually just tacked on at the end of the letters. A 1759 portrait of Catherine shows her holding a lute, and her husband did add a Music Room to Port Eliot, so it seems probable that she was gifted musically. One oral story about Catherine survives, as written down by her great-great grandson, Montague Eliot, 8th Earl of St. Germans, which reads as follows:
"1923. Mrs. Lampard (Quarry Street), aet. 80, informs me that her Aunt Jenny Wills, who died aged 99 years and 9 months, told her when a young girl that she was engaged to hoe turnips at Port Eliot but was employed for months and months carrying baskets of bones and carting headstones from the ground outside the Church (presumably the North Side) to the new Churchyard. ‘Lady Catherine' used to superintend the work. One day, she fell through a grating, whereby she was lamed for life. The villagers, who much resented the removal of the bones and memorials, regarded the accident as a ‘judgment' on Lady Catherine."
It is not known how many portraits were painted of Catherine Eliot during her life. Two identified pictures of her hang at Port Eliot, one as a very young child, and a larger portrait of Catherine and Edward Eliot painted in 1759 by Richard Wilson. There is also an unmarked portrait presumed to be Catherine around the time of her marriage in 1756. An oval-framed silhouette of Catherine (part of a set featuring her husband and two older sons) hangs as part of the collection at Eastnor Castle. The 1889 and 1906 editions of "The Dictionary of National Biography" list a kit-cat portrait of Lady Eliot, painted in January 1786. This was mistaken for a portrait of Lady Elliot, wife of Sir Gilbert Elliot, Earl of Minto, and the reference does not appear in subsequent editions.