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Amelia Heber

Heber, Amelia née Shipley, later Valsamachi, 1789—1870

Amelia Shipley Heber was born at Llannerch, Wales, on 15 November 1789. She was the daughter of William Davies Shipley (1745-1826; ODNB) and Penelope Shipley, née Yonge (d. 1789), the coheir of a substantial estate, who died giving birth to Amelia. In her childhood, William Shipley’s chief estate was near St Asaph in Shropshire, where he was Dean of St Asaph’s Cathedral.

Amelia Shipley’s paternal aunt, Anna Maria Shipley Jones (d. 1829), was the widow of Sir William Jones, the orientalist and linguist, and she earned renown as the editor of Jones’s posthumously collected works (1799; 2nd ed., 1807). Following in her aunt’s footstep in more ways than one, in 1809, Amelia Shipley married a man with a penchant for the East, the young poet and priest, Reginald Heber (1783-1826; ODNB), who had toured Scandinavia, Russia, the Crimea, and Eastern Europe from July 1805 to October 1806. With his appointment as Bishop of Calcutta still in the future, Heber settled to the task of establishing himself in the church, first as rector of Hodnet (from 1807), then as prebendary of St Asaph’s Cathedral through his father-in-law’s influence (from 1817), and latterly as preacher to Lincoln’s Inn (1822). In 1821, Amelia Heber gave birth to her eldest daughter, Emily; her second daughter, Harriet, was born in 1824.

In October 1823, the Hebers arrived in Calcutta where Reginald had been appointed Bishop. In the three years that followed, Amelia Heber sometimes accompanied her husband on his missions to Anglican communities around India and Ceylon, on which excursions she kept a journal, partly for his use, and committed her thoughts in letters to their friends, such as Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859; ODNB). The most extensive of these journeys was in 1824-25, across northern India, following the Ganges, the Kumoan mountains, and through the Rajputana deserts, returning to Calcutta via Ceylon. This tour forms the substance of Reginald Heber’s posthumous Narrative of a Journey (1828), edited by Amelia Heber, and to which she contributed the chapter on Ceylon from her own journal. In February 1826, Reginald Heber embarked for South India, this time without his wife, and died on 3 April in Trichinopoly.

Now widowed with two young daughters, Amelia Heber returned to England on 14 May 1827. Over the next three years she worked to preserve her husband’s memory through editing and publishing his literary works, including Hymns (1827), the Narrative of a Journey (1828), and Sermons (1829). In 1830 she published The Life of Reginald Heber in 2 volumes, including a reconstruction of Heber’s earlier Russian tour, unpublished letters, and other materials, earning, by some reports, upwards of £10,000 in profits. So successful had her efforts been in helping to establish her husband’s literary fame, that it came as a shock to her family and readers when they learned that the Bishop’s widow had remarried.

On 29 July 1830, Amelia Heber married Count Demetrius Valsamachi, a Greek nobleman from Cephalonia, at the Greek church in Venice, her two daughters, Emily and Harriet, in attendance, after which they all sailed for Corfu, where Demetrius worked for the Ionian government under the British protectorate. In 1831, Amelia Valsamachi gave birth to another daughter, Penelope Rubina Maria Valsamachi, and in the years that followed resided chiefly at Corfu and her husband’s estates in Cephalonia, with frequent visits to England, particularly after her daughters of her first marriage resettled there with husbands of their own. In 1849, her youngest daughter, Penelope, married Morton Sumner whom she met on holiday with her parents in Marseilles. The marriage proved unfortunate, and Amelia Valsamachi did her best to help extricate Penelope from it, the result being a highly publicized divorce proceedings (July 1855) in the House of Lords (by which time Penelope had secured divorce papers in the US and had remarried in her father’s house on Corfu, one Nicholas Kallegari, a physician).

Despite this scandal and lasting recriminations for her own remarriage, Amelia Valsamachi continued to visit her daughters and family in England, and attracted the notice of visitors to Corfu such as Walter Savage Landor and Edward Lear. Her husband, Count Demetrius Valsamachi died at Corfu on 13 January 1870, after a short illness. Amelia Heber Valsamachi died a few months later on 13 May at Hodnet Hall, Shropshire, aged 82.

Sources:

‘Deaths’. Jackson’s Oxford Journal, no. 6091 (Sat., 22 Jan. 1870).

‘Deaths’. Morning Post, no. 30090 (Tues., 17 May 1870): 8.

Dodd, Charles. The Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage, of Great Britain and Ireland, Including All the Titled Classes. London, 1846.

Heber, Amelia, and Reginald Heber. MS Letters. British Library. Eur F88 271, 274.

Lear, Edward. ‘Lear to Fortescue, Corfu, Dec. 1, 1861’. Letters of Edward Lear to Chichester Fortescue. London: T. Fisher, Unwin, 1908. 209.

‘Letters by Mrs. John T. Kirkland (1905)’. Massachusetts Historical Society (Dec. 1905): 484-85.

Ruoff, A. Lavonne. ‘Walter Savage Landor’s Letters to His Family, 1830-1832’, The John Rylands University Library. 467-507. Web.

‘Sumner’s Divorce’. Morning Post, no. 25436 (Wed., 11 July 1855): 7.

Valsamachi, Demetrius. ‘To the Editor’. Morning Chronicle, no. 22144 (Sat., 14 Nov. 1840).

Texts

Title Published
Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India 1828 (Editor)

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