Thames Ditton. A strange name isn’t it? It was my latest port of call in the continuing quest for links with the history of Athy. I arrived in Thames Ditton after a long and somewhat bewildering drive through the spaghetti-like streets which criss-crossed London’s suburbia before exiting into the countryside around Hampton Court Palace. This one time home to Wolsey and King Henry VIII is but a few miles from Thames Ditton to where I travelled to locate the grave of Pamela, wife of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
Every Irish schoolboy has heard of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. There is almost a Che Cuevara quality to the aristocrat who turned his back on privilege and status to align himself with the revolutionaries of 1798. Lord Edward represented the borough of Athy as a Member of Parliament on the nomination of his brother William the 2nd Duke of Leinster in 1783. Incidentally William Duke of Leinster is the man whose name is recalled in the principal street names of our town which are named William Street, Duke Street and Leinster Street in his honour. Lord Edward who was a younger brother of the Duke was himself well known in the town of Athy having succeeded to a family estate at Kilrush. He also stayed on a few occasions at Leinster Lodge on the outskirts of the town. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was and remains to this day not only an important name in Irish history but also important and relevant in the history of Athy.
In 1792 he married the 19 year old Pamela who is believed to have been the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Orleans by Madam de Genlies, a French Countess. Lord Edward and Pamela had three children, a son called Edward and two daughters, Pamela and Lucy. They lived for a time in France and in the years immediately prior to the 1798 Rebellion at Kildare Lodge, Kildare town and also for different periods at Leinster House, Dublin, Castletown and Carton. In April 1798 Lord Edward was appointed Lieutenant General and Commander and Chief of the United Irishmen. This followed the arrest of most of the Leinster Directory of the United Irishmen in Oliver Bond’s house in Dublin the previous month. Lord Edward went into hiding using a number of different houses including that of James Moore, a merchant of 119 Thomas Street, Dublin. Moore’s wife was a native of Athy and their house was used for at least one meeting between Lord Edward and a number of United Irishmen from the town of Athy shortly before the planned uprising. Lord Edward escaped arrest while passing from Thomas Street to Usher’s Quay with his body guards on the night of 17th May but within two days his fate was decided. He had earlier moved from Moore’s house to 153 Thomas Street and was in bed after dinner when Major Sirr accompanied by a number of soldiers entered his bedroom. In the ensuing struggle Fitzgerald was wounded and he was to die of his wounds while in prison on 4th June.
Lady Pamela Fitzgerald and her three children were forced to flee the country and following the attainder of the Fitzgerald estates by the Crown his family was effectively pauperised. Now commenced an unsettling and unhappy period for Lady Pamela which would last for most of her remaining life. She arrived at Thames Ditton where Lord Edward’s brother, Lord Henry Fitzgerald and his sister Lady Sophia Fitzgerald were living. Lady Pamela’s third child Lucy was but one month old at the time. Suspected of involvement with the United Irishmen Pamela was not allowed to stay in England and she left for Hamburg leaving her youngest child with Lady Sophie Fitzgerald and her only son with the Duchess of Leinster. With her on the journey to Hamburg she took her second child and namesake Pamela. Within two years Lady Pamela married John Pitcairn, the American Counsel in Hamburg. The marriage was an unhappy one and while she had another son and daughter her husband refused to pay for the education of Lord Edward’s eldest daughter Pamela, claiming that it was the responsibility of the Fitzgerald family. Disillusioned Lady Pamela and her young daughter left for France where she hoped to petition Napoleon for a pension but her husband on hearing of this refused to allow her to return to Hamburg.
After spending some time in Vienna Lady Pamela Fitzgerald returned to France where she would spend the rest of her life. Following the banishment of Napoleon to Elba in 1814 Louis XIV, brother of the guillotined King of France was crowned King and the Duke of Orleans arranged for a pension to be paid to Lord Edward’s widow. Her last years were more comfortable than those which had gone before but she suffered the loss of her youngest daughter Lucy who died in 1826. Lady Pamela herself died in 1834 aged 58 years while staying at the Hotel de Danube in Paris.
In November 1857 Richard Madden, author of “United Irishmen Their Lives and Times” visited Montmatre Cemetery in Paris to trace the last resting place of Lady Pamela Fitzgerald. After a long search her headstone was found. It consisted of a slab of white marble with an inscription, inserted into a headstone which had sunk below the level of the adjoining graves. Madden arranged for it to be raised to its original height, the inscription re-cut and the headstone otherwise repaired. In 1880 J.P. Leonard, an Irishman living in Paris contacted Pamela Fitzgerald’s grandson who was living in Thames Ditton to alert him to a proposal to build a road through the Montmatre Cemetery. The remains of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s widow were exhumed and transferred to England where they were re-interred in the Churchyard of Thames Ditton Parish Church. A marble slab inset into the headstone at Thames Ditton reads “Lady Edward Fitzgerald’s remains were removed from Paris by J.P. Leonard Esq. and interred here the 21st of August, 1880 by her grandchildren. The above stone was on her tomb at Montmatre Cemetery and was broken by the bursting of a shell during the siege of 1870.”
Before visiting Lady Pamela’s grave I was lead to believe that a local lady tended the grave with red, white and blue flowers, the colour of the French tricolour. On the warm sunny day I stood at her graveside there was no evidence of any flowers. The grave, like its neighbours, was devoid of any floral decoration but was otherwise neat and tidy.
Lady Fitzgerald’s daughter Pamela who was married to Sir Guy Campbell and lived in Thames Ditton until her death in 1869 is buried beside her mother. Her other daughter Lucy who married Captain George Lyon and who also lived in Thames Ditton where she died in 1826 is buried in the same cemetery. Lucy was remembered for her charitable works among the poor in Thames Ditton and for founding a local school in which she taught for a time.
The tombstone over Lady Pamela Fitzgerald’s grave at Thames Ditton incorporating part of the damaged tombstone which stood over her first resting place in Montmatre Cemetery Parish is the only visible reminder of the woman who shared her life with the aristocratic and revolutionary Member of Parliament for Athy, Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
In last weeks article I gave details of the web page for the CBS Class Reunion in September. Unfortunately the information given was incorrect. The correct web page is www.rawlinsons.com.au/reunion.