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A Remarkable Woman (Esther Hewlett)

Esther Beuzeville was born in 1786. She was descended from Huguenots who had escaped from France in the late 17th century, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. She married the Reverend James Hewlett in 1809, and they had five children, the fourth of whom I am descended from.

He died 10 years after they got married, in 1820, leaving her with five children under 10. During their marriage, she had written a few books, with little commercial success. In 1817, she wrote a book called The Radical Reformists, the experience of which she described later (as part of a letter to her new husband so that he would have all the details of her work in the case of her death): Written at the suggestion of a friend who offered it at Seely’s and Hutchards where it was rejected with scorn and laid aside as useless. Afterwards in 1819 brought forth and made to fit to the time of the Manchester Riots. It was then published by Simpkin and Marshall at their risk, but to give me half the profits – a large number was very quickly sold – not a few in and about Oxford. This humble attempt being seasonable, got into considerable notice in the University and proved the means of exciting great interest on my behalf – which produced several more acceptable presents during my dear husband’s illness, and wrought favourably for the children when he was no more.

Dr. Routh, President of Magdalen was so much pleased with it and showed it to a friend who felt the same, that he wrote a letter expressive of his appreciation enclosing 10 pounds. This letter was delivered on the day that 1 was gone to Newbury to fetch Dr Hemsted to my dear Mr H. My journey cost 1p.12s.0d, Mr Hemsted’s fee 8p.8s.0d. – they unexpectedly and mercifully provided for. This is one instance among many – “He is kind to the evil and unthankful”~ Had not this little tract (which was laid aside as worthless and then brought out just at the moment when the interest of the great was of any value to me) given a favourable impression of me, I have little doubt but the circumstance of my being a dissenter would have operated greatly to my disadvantage in seeking education for my children.

For the next few years she did reasonably well writing religious tracts and “The Sunday Scholar’s magazine”. Then she struck it rich with a book called Cottage Comforts, with hints for promoting them, gleaned from experience, in 1825. The 12th edition, which I have linked to, was printed in 1834, with a dedication, by permission, to Queen Adelaide. Up to the 6th edition, in around 1829, she had made 300 pounds (net) from this work, including all the costs of self-publishing it. From her letter, it seems as if she did manage to support herself, and her five children, with her writing.

She remarried another minister, William Copley, in 1827. According to a book of women writing, Let Her Speak for Herself, by Marion Ann Taylor and Heather Weir, her new husband later became an alcoholic, so she wrote his sermons for him, and ran the congregation for him, until he left her in 1843. At the same time she continued her successful writing career. The book I was reading this week was The Comprehensive Knitting Book, which she had written in 1848. A search for her on Google Books shows how prolific she was – I counted sixteen different books, which is probably not all of them. They are a combination of themes – a number of other books following in the footsteps of Cottage Comforts in being advice for women running a small household by themselves, but she also continued her campaigning spirit, writing A History of Slavery and its Abolition, for children, in 1836, and also wrote improving religious tracts and collections of sermons.

She died in Kent, in 1851.

Her son, The Reverend Theophilus Peter Norris Hewlett, baptised my grandmother, his great-granddaughter, in 1895 in New Zealand (where he had emigrated in 1858) – which makes Esther Copley seem closer to me than the one hundred and sixteen years between her death and my birth. At this distance, we are unlikely to share many genes, but I’d like to think that there are a few lurking in my DNA – a practical woman, a gifted writer, who was passionate about human rights, and managed to turn that to her advantage in supporting her family.

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