A recent donation to the India Office Private Papers is an ensign’s commission granted to Anthony Merry who joined the East India Company as an army cadet in 1798.
Anthony Merry was baptised at Great Warley in Essex on 2 September 1783, the younger son of Anthony Merry and Margaret (née Hornby). When Anthony senior died in 1785, his will confirmed the marriage settlement made with Margaret together with a further £200. The settlement appears to have included the manor of Hayleys in Epping. Anthony did not mention his children. The bulk of the remaining estate went to his sister Elizabeth Pinnell and other relations.
Margaret Merry re-married twice. In 1786 she wed widower William Dowson of Chamberlain’s Wharf Southwark, and their son William was born the following year. Dowson died in 1791, leaving Margaret £100 and the use during her lifetime of Millfield House in Highgate.
In 1795 Margaret married another widower Henry Coxwell, a chemist and druggist in Fleet Street London. They had a son Charles in 1795 and a daughter Elizabeth in 1797. Coxwell was a member of the Committee of Chemistry at the Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and the inventor of concrete lemon.
Concrete lemon was crystallised lemon juice, “the pure acid part of the fruit in a solid and dry form, resembling in appearance white sugar candy”. Coxwell signed each package sold as a guarantee of its authenticity.
The crystals were said to be “convenient and elegant”, dissolving instantly in cold water, and cheaper than fresh lemons or lemon juice. They could be used to make punch, lemonade, or sauces. Ships of the Royal Navy and East India Company were supplied with Coxwell’s concrete lemon to help guard sailors against scurvy.
Henry Coxwell died at Millfield House in 1832, “deeply and deservedly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance”. His library was sold three years later. This included a collection of modern medical books together with others on a variety of subjects – travel, plant, insects, literature, philosophy, politics.
Anthony Merry died before his stepfather, in 1831. His career in the Madras Army had been very brief. In February 1801 Lieutenant Merry was stationed at Seringapatam with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment Native Infantry.
He wrote to his commanding officer, Major Thomas Riddell, expressing his wish to resign the Company’s service and to proceed to Europe at the first opportunity. Major General Brathwaite recommended that this request be granted, given Merry’s general character and conduct. Merry was permitted to resign and told to go immediately to Madras and be ready to embark for Europe.
After his return to England, Anthony Merry served as an officer in regiments of the Royal Militia. He married Elizabeth Strivens in 1805 and settled in Kentish Town in north London. It appears the couple had four children: Margaret, Robert, Eliza (died in infancy), and William Henry. Anthony’s East India Company commission was carefully preserved and passed down the family before being gifted to the British Library.
This article first appeared on British Library’s blog Untold Lives.