The Mystery of Oscar Wilde’s Maternal Grandfather

PBCover

On the 13th August last, at Bangalore, in the East Indies, Charles Elgee, Esq., eldest son of the late venerable Archdeacon Elgee, of Wexford.

The last known record of Charles Elgee, maternal grandfather of Oscar Wilde, is an obituary that was published in the Freeman’s Journal on 4 February 1825. Charles had left the family home sometime earlier, a departure that obliged his wife Sarah (nee Kingsbury) to raise their three surviving children, Emily, John and Oscar’s mother Jane, alone. It was she who oversaw their education.

Charles and Sarah Elgee’s marriage was a turbulent affair and the early years, during which three of their four children were born (the third, Frances, died in infancy in 1815), were characterised by regular changes of address. Jane was born in 1821, towards the end of this unstable marriage, and evidence suggests that the family was living in County Wexford at the time. Certainly, this is stated as a fact in her obituary in The Guardian on Wednesday 12 February 1896, and The Times on 7 February 1886, and is often mentioned in local histories of the county.

Financial troubles may have contributed to the couple’s estrangement; a deed registered on 11 November 1814, granting Charles £130 from his wife’s inheritance to discharge his debts, contained an ominous clause in which he agreed not to touch his wife’s assets should they decide to separate. This was necessary, since, until the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, English law defined a wife as subordinate to her husband and stripped her of her legal identity.

It is not known why Charles travelled to India, although an obituary for his grandson and namesake, Charles Le Doux Elgee, son of John Kingsbury Elgee, which is included in the Report of the Secretary, Class of 1856, Harvard, suggests that he may have had ‘some connection with the East-India Company’.

Nothing further is known, by me anyway. Everything I have discovered is documented in chapter two of Wilde’s Women. Perhaps one of you can shed some light on this intriguing mystery?

 

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