When there is a will – there is a way – but not always a good way
On the 3rd of January 1887, Elizabeth Bennison died aged 81. A childless widow, she left behind a large extended family of nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews to mourn her passing, as well as an estate valued at £7340 19s 10d. In her will she left this healthy estate through a number of bequests, to nineteen different people, some of whom were servants, but most who were the children and grandchildren of two of her brothers.
Despite the dizzying number of beneficiaries and the fact that the estate was connected to that of her previously deceased husband William, the two page will is straightforward and generally simple to understand. Before explaining the distribution of this wealth, I will first sketch out the cast of characters.
Elizabeth Cutler was born in 1806 in Sherborne, Dorset, the youngest child and only surviving daughter of the Rev John Cutler and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Guise. At the time of her birth, her father was the headmaster of Sherborne School. The family was quite large, with ten children born to them between 1787 and 1806. The range shows the large gap in age between the eldest child and the youngest. Four of her siblings had died in infancy.
Family Chart 1:
Rev John Cutler (1756-1833) & Sarah Elizabeth Guise (1762-1833)
George Annesley Cutler (1787-1798)
Henry Cutler (1788-1839)
William Cutler (1791-1791)
Charlotte Ann Cutler (1792-1793)
John Cutler (1794-1843)
Rev Richard Cutler (1794-1873)
Edward Cutler (1798-1874)
Frederick Cutler (1799-1858)
Elizabeth Cutler (1806-1887)
Without any diaries or other personal documents from Elizabeth and her siblings, it is difficult to judge what her relationship was with her family. Her position as youngest and only surviving daughter was no doubt significant to how she was raised, and likely a factor that influenced the fact that she married William Bennison after the death of both of her parents. I will leave my speculations on birth order there.
In leaving the bulk of her estate to the descendants of only two of her brothers, it is clear that she was picking favourites. So who were they? The first brother was John Cutler, who was born in 1794. John first worked as a clerk in the Royal Ordnance Office at the Tower of London, and then took over the Windsor and Eton Waterworks after the death of his uncle William Henry Cutler in 1833. John acted as a witness to her marriage to William in 1835. In John’s will (dated 1841 and probated in 1843) Elizabeth and her husband William were given guardianship of his three oldest children, despite the fact that his wife survived him. In fact John’s will was explicit in its desire to sever the tie between mother and child, stating that his oldest children, Elizabeth, Louisa and William Henry [from here called WH 1] had to steer clear of their mother, not to visit or live nearby, in order to inherit his estate. He lets his youngest daughter Mary stay with her mother Louisa Freak Cutler. Elizabeth Bennison was the only sibling or family member outside his wife and children whom he mentions in his will. It is clear that he held her in high regard.
Family Tree 2:
John Cutler (1794-1843) & Louisa Freak (1806-1874)
Elizabeth Cutler Churchill Longman (1828-1915)
Fanny [Louisa] Cutler (1834-c1850)
William Henry Cutler (1835-1895) [WH1]
Mary Cutler (1836-1921)
The second brother was Henry Cutler, who was born in 1788. He married Catherine Cole and together they had two children: William Henry [from here called WH 2] born in 1818 and Catherine born in 1819. Henry’s wife died shortly after their daughter’s birth, so it possible that Elizabeth might have played some role in their upbringing. WH 2 became a solicitor and practised in London. He had a large family of ten children with his wife Emmeline O’Callaghan. Catherine married Sprott Boyd, a Scottish doctor, and emigrated to New South Wales in 1857. They had three children John (b.1846) Robert Mitchell Boyd (b.1849) and Frances Isabella Fitzgerald (b.1848).
Family Tree 3:
Henry Cutler (1788- ) & Catherine Cole (1793-1819)
William Cutler [WH2] & Emmeline O’Callaghan Sprott Boyd (1814- ) & Catherine Cutler (1819-1894)
Catherine (1854-1949) John Archibald (1846-1926)
Julia Ada (1855- ) Robert Mitchell (1849- )
Constance Emmeline (1857- ) Frances Isabelle (1848- )
William Windham Guise (1858-1934)
Edith Georgina (1858-1863)
Herbert Lygon (1862- )
Beatrice Erica (1867-1872)
Lilian Mona (1869- )
Gerald Waring (1875-1935)
In writing her will, Elizabeth appointed two men as her executor, men she must have trusted them to see that her estate was protected and her last wishes honoured. Her first executor was Sprott Boyd. Sprott and Catherine had returned from Australia in the 1880s with their widowed daughter, Frances and her daughter Elizabeth. Their sons had stayed behind. By all appearances the family was living a comfortable retirement at a fashionable address in London’s Pimlico. In the 1881 census they had a housemaid, parlour maid, lady’s maid and a cook.
The second executor was Herbert Lygon Cutler, the son of Elizabeth’s nephew WH 2, and Sprott’s nephew. Herbert was a solicitor like his father, and had been practising in London. Elizabeth then, had chosen two close relatives who were well educated and respectable to guide her estate.
The stage is set, and the characters introduced, and it is time to relate how the estate was settled out. According to the will the money was to be distributed as follows:
|Sprott Boyd||Administration: Niece’s husband||½ of Mary Spencer’s trust if she dies and £100 in stock|
|Herbert Lygon Cutler||Administration: Great-Nephew||½ of Mary Spencer’s trust if she dies and £200 in stock|
|Mary Ann Spencer||Husband’s niece||£500 in trust|
|Elizabeth Churchill Longman||Niece||3% Annuities, £600|
|William Henry Cutler ||Nephew||£500|
|Beatrice Swinley Cutler||Great-niece [daughter of WH 1]||£100|
|Lilian Cutler||Great-niece [daughter of WH 2]||£300|
|Julia Cutler||Great-niece [daughter of WH 2]||£300|
|Constance Cutler||Great-niece [daughter of WH 2]||£300|
|Windham Cutler||Great-nephew [son of WH 2]||£200|
|Edward Samuel Carpenter||Windham Clock|
|Elizabeth Susan Lawrence||Servant||Suit of mourning and £80|
|Bertha Russell||Servant||Suit of mourning and £40|
|Hubert Bennison Churchill Longman||Great-nephew (son of Elizabeth Churchill Longman)||Inheriting her husband’s estate, and if he dies it goes to his uncle WH 1|
|John Archibald Boyd||Great-nephew (son of Sprott Boyd)||Residue of estate in equal shares with siblings|
|Robert Mitchell Boyd||Great-nephew (son of Sprott Boyd)||Residue of estate in equal shares with siblings|
|Frances Isabelle Fitzgerald||Great-niece (daughter of Sprott Boyd)||Residue of estate in equal shares with siblings|
In March 1889 WH 1 acting on behalf of his sister Elizabeth Churchill Longman filed a suit in the courts against Sprott Boyd and Herbert Lygon Cutler for the recovery of the amounts due to them from the estate of Elizabeth Bennison. It appears from newspaper coverage of the case, that Herbert Cutler was responsible for the managing of the financial portion of the estate. After selling the 3% consolidated bank annuities, Herbert had his Uncle Sprott co-sign cheques made out to WH1, his daughter Beatrice, and his sister Elizabeth, and rather than delivering them to the beneficiaries, he endorsed them with forged signatures and disappeared. His departure was not before he destroyed all the estate’s paperwork. And he disappeared totally, as I have been unable to find any trace of him in the genealogical record.
WH1 and Elizabeth Longman sued their cousin’s husband for their money, stating that they did not consent to the sale of the 3% stock, and that as executor, he was responsible for the sums due to them. While the court felt that the sale of the stock was within the rights of the trustees of the stock, they agreed on the second point. While they were sympathetic to the defendant’s position and the hardship the judgment would cause, they stated that an executor had the responsibility to distribute the sums stated in the will if the estate could cover the. Sprott was ordered to pay £618 to Elizabeth Longman, £515 to WH1, and £103 to Beatrice Cutler.
And so it ended. There is no indication that Sprott failed to reimburse his wife’s cousins. The newspaper coverage concentrated on the most spectacular nature of the theft – after all it was a lot of money, and he had been in a position of trust, there is a far more spectacular story of a family in turmoil. In knowing the relationship between the executors and legatees, plaintiffs and defendants, it speaks to a far deeper wound to the family. Herbert stole money from the estate of his great-aunt, he deprived his cousins of their inheritance, and left his uncle holding the bag. And then he disappeared, destroying the estate papers before he left, which no doubt had an effect the dispersal of the rest of the estate, which impacted more cousins and siblings. Cousin sued cousin, and in the end it was more than just money.
- National Archives, Probate 11/1979
- Western Daily Press, 20 March 1889, page 3
- Bristol Mercury, 30 March 1889, page 8
- The Law Times Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords, the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal, the Chancery Division, the Queen’s Bench, the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, and the Court for the Consideration of Crown cases Reserved, Vol LX from March to August 1889, London, Horace Cox, page 859.
- The Admission Registers of St Paul’s School from 1748 to 1846, edited with Biographical Notices and Notes on the Earlier Masters and Scholars of the School from the Time of its Foundation, Rev Robert Barlow Gardiner, London, George Bell and Sons, 1884, page 359.
- 1881 Census, St Giles in the Fields, London
- 1891 Census, Bath, Somerset
- 1881 Census, Westminster
- Will of Elizabeth Bennison, Principal Registry, 1885
- Burke’s Distinguished Families of America, London, Burke’s Peerage Ltd, page 2573-4
- England-Wales National Probate Calendar, 1887.