A history of Honiton's Hembury Fort

A sketch of Hembury Fort by Mrs Simcoe

A sketch of Hembury Fort by Mrs Simcoe - Credit: Honiton Museum

Margaret Lewis, curator of Honiton Museum, writes for the Herald.

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh 25-16TI 2287. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Samuel Graves, Admiral of His Majesties Red Squadron has been credited with introducing lifeboats onto Naval ships.

One of his Godsons was John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Wolford Lodge Dunkeswell.

After the American War of Independence Simcoe convalesced at Samuel and his second wife Margaret’s home at Hembury Fort.

It was there that he met and later married Margaret’s orphaned niece Elizabeth Gwilliam.

Samuel owned estates in Northampton, North America, and Nova Scotia and when he died at Hembury Fort in 1787, he left that estate to his nephew Richard Graves who was a Rear Admiral.

There were a lot of Admirals in the Graves family. Richard’s brother Thomas was second in command to Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen, and his other brothers, Samuel and John became admirals as did his cousin David.

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In the year that he received his legacy, Richard married Louisa Caroline Colleton in London.

The couple’s two sons and eight daughters were born at Hembury Fort over the next eighteen years.

Richard retired in 1804 after a dispute with the Navy and had the Hembury Fort mansion house completely rebuilt in brick.

The house and parkland of 104 acres were put up for sale in 1814.

A year later, the entire contents of the estate were put up for auction, including paintings by De Vinci, Reubens and Gainsborough.

By 1823 Richard’s wife and seven of their children had died. His daughter Septima Sexta married her cousin, Lieutenant Colonel Sir James Colleton and she died in New York in 1831.

Richard went to live in Brussels with his daughter Louisa and her husband, Lieutenant-Colonel Baron Louis Van Der Smissen, then he went to live in Paris where he died in 1836.

In October 1841 Louisa’s husband was accused of conspiracy, attempting to overthrow the government of Belgium, and planning to kidnap King Leopold.

Van Der Smissen was sentenced to death. Louisa went to visit him in prison, and he escaped disguised in her clothes. They took refuge in Prussia.

Daughter Sophia married Maximilian Augustus Baron Von Ketelholdt. He was the magistrate and was brutally murdered with sixteen others during an uprising in Morant Bay Jamaica on 11th October 1865.

His fingers were cut off and the rebels kept them as souvenirs.