Ties of Blood and Marriage
By Patrick Darby
Francis Lynn of The Manor House, Dulwich, who played an important role as Secretary of the Royal Africa Company in the preceding article, reappears in a different role in this account. Quite a feat for a seventeenth century Dulwich resident!
[Saturday] 11 Nov. 1713: William Lowndes [Chief Secretary to the Treasury] to Samuel Hunter, Esq.: “My Lord Treasurer has appointed Mr. Roope and Mr. Layton as Commissioners in the new Commission for disbanding the Marine Regiments. They are to set forward immediately for Exeter to reduce Col. [Charles] Churchill's Regiment there. You and Mr. Fra[ncis] Lynn are to meet the said Commissioners at Exeter on Saturday next to concert proper measures for the reducement of said Regiment and of Col. Goring's at Plymouth.” [Treasury Books, vol. 27, Warrant Books November 1713, 1-15, Out Letters (General) XXI, p. 71.]
There is no evidence that, prior to travelling together by stage-coach (as one supposes they did) from London to Exeter, in mid-November 1713 - which, weather permitting, would have taken four days - Samuel Hunter and Francis Lynn had more than a nodding acquaintance, if that. Perhaps it was during this journey that they discovered the extraordinary connection between them, and established the unlikely friendship that was to last for the rest of their lives.
To explain how this came about, we need to go back to the 1660s, when the lessee of the imposing mansion Hall Place in west Dulwich (demolished c.1882) was a London merchant, Nicholas Thurman. When Thurman died in 1671 he left other properties to Mary, his only child (born in 1659), but the bulk of his estate, including his lease of Hall Place, to his wife Elizabeth, Mary’s mother.
Elizabeth Thurman soon re-married, to Robert Thompson, who on the accession of Charles II in 1660 had been appointed as one of his Grooms of the Privy Chamber, a post he was to hold until 1694. Thompson, his wife Elizabeth, his eldest son Robert, Elizabeth’s daughter Mary, and his or their sons Levit and Thomas and daughter Elizabeth (until her marriage), all lived at Hall Place. Thompson procured a position as an Assistant Groom of the Privy Chamber for his son Robert in 1663, but either from choice or necessity Robert junior soon exchanged his royal livery for naval uniform, and by 1673 was a Lieutenant, stationed at the new naval dockyard at Sheerness in Kent.
Meanwhile Samuel Hunter, born in Durham in 1651, had moved south and worked his way to Queenborough on the river Medway, less than a mile from Sheerness (where he was ‘Clerk of the Cheque’), as a ‘Waiter and Searcher’ reporting to the Customs Commissioners on the quantities (and liability to taxation) of cargoes landed thereabouts. At Sheerness his path must have crossed that of Lieut. Robert Thompson, who by now was married with a baby daughter (another Mary), and who no doubt introduced Hunter to his young step-sister, Mary Thurman. Romance blossomed, and on 10 May 1676 “Sammuel” Hunter and Mary “Thurnman” were married at Rainham, not far from Queenborough where Hunter’s job required him to live. He was 25; she was 17.
From moving references to his late wife in his Will, written nearly fifty years later, Hunter obviously held her in deep affection. His less-than-warm feelings for her older step-brother may be gauged from the fact that on 11 June 1678 Samuel Hunter and Lt. Robert Thompson fought a duel at Sheerness, in which Thompson was wounded. After lingering for several hours, he died. In the meantime Hunter had fled, and only days later Robert Thompson
senior, using his privileged access, successfully applied to king Charles II for his son-in-law Samuel Hunter’s property, worth about £56 a year, to be forfeited to himself.
What prompted the duel is not known. It may have been the behaviour of one party to the other, or to the other’s wife. Whatever it was, it must have been considered to be ‘a matter of honour’ for Samuel Hunter to have escaped prosecution for the killing, as apparently he did. The authorities were often more lenient in such cases than perhaps they should have been.
After a period of lying low, Hunter resumed his career with the Admiralty, and continued to progress. Mrs Elizabeth Thompson evidently looked on him more favourably than her husband did, and in 1684 she obtained from Dulwich College a further lease of Hall Place for her “son” (actually son-in-law) Samuel Hunter. Once the Thompson family had moved out, he took up occupation and remained there (when he was not staying in rented Admiralty property in London, for which he received a generous housing allowance) for the rest of his life.
Robert Thompson senior continued living at Hall Place until his death late in 1697. His Will, made earlier that year, gave legacies to a named granddaughter and to the named children of his surviving sons, as well as to Levit and Thomas themselves, with the residue going equally between his widow Elizabeth (who survived him, but died two years later) and his daughter Mrs Elizabeth Banks.
By November 1713 Samuel Hunter, now 62, had risen within what we would now call the Civil Service, and was one of eleven Commissioners for Victualling the Navy. The similar career of Francis Lynn, some years Hunter’s junior, had also progressed well, and in addition to being Secretary to the Commissioners for Sick and Hurt Seamen, personally disbursing very large sums of money, he was responsible for provisioning the garrison at Annapolis Royal (in Nova Scotia). Britain’s part in the War of the Spanish Succession had effectively ended, and the Marines were now considered surplus to requirements. Their regiments were to be disbanded or converted to Regiments of Foot, and Hunter and Lynn were engaged to assist in that process.
What did Hunter and Lynn talk about on the long journey? They had business to discuss, of course, but one imagines that Samuel Hunter may have hinted at his deep religious faith - again, evident from his Will - and disclosed some details of his past life. Any mention of Hall Place would have startled Lynn if he had not known of Hunter’s connection with it, for his own wife’s family, if not she herself, had lived in that very house. On 12 April 1697, less than two weeks before her grandfather Robert Thompson signed his last Will, Mary Thompson had married Francis Lynn. She was the fatherless granddaughter named in the Will as Mary Lyn.
So, the respected public servant with whom Francis Lynn was sharing a stage-coach or chaise on that journey to Exeter was in fact the killer of the father-in-law he had never met.
Whether Lynn already knew the story, and whether Hunter knew that the Mary Thompson for whom his late wife had been godmother was now Lynn’s wife, before each stepped into the coach, must be matters for speculation. What we do know is that when Samuel Hunter, who had no children, died in June 1725, he left his lease of Hall Place to “my friend and relation Francis Lynn Esqr. … to the intent he may make the better provision for my Wifes God-daughter Mary”. Perhaps he felt that before he met his Maker it was time, after nearly fifty years, to make atonement.