Esther Beuzeville was born in London on May 10, 1786. She was the youngest daughter of Peter and Mary Beuzeville (nee Meredith). Her father was a silk manufacturer at Spitalfields and the family lived at Hackney. In 1789, when Esther was about three years old, the family moved to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. Peter continued his business of silk manufacturing at Spitalfields and lived, with Bridget as his housekeeper, in a town house in Hackney. In 1793 the family returned to Hackney. It may be assumed that Esther then attended the school at Mile End where her two sisters had been scholars. At that time the school was conducted by Miss Lepine whose brother, in 1796, married Bridget, and the couple settled in Henley-on-Thames.
In 1797 Peter and Mary Beuzeville, and their daughters Marianne and Esther, then eleven years old, moved to Henley-on-Thames. Nothing is known of Esther’s life experiences from that time until her marriage to James Philip Hewlett in 1809. The couple had five children, three sons and two daughters. They set up house in Oxford in St. Aldate’s Street near Brewer’s Street and quite close to Folly Bridge. The house was owned by the warden and scholars of New College and is clearly marked on New College archive 2411.
The nature of that relationship invites speculation. James was an Anglican, having been educated in the Choir School of New College, Oxford. He later became curate of St. Aldates, and Chaplain to both New College and Magdalen College. Esther was nonconformist having been a member of the Henley dissenters.
That she was a woman of strong will is evidenced in her continued adherence to non-conformity and she worshipped at the Baptist Chapel in Oxford. Emma Mary Byles in her unpublished ‘Family Notes’ regards Esther as being self-willed in this regard, and believes that her behaviour was possibly a stumbling block to her husband’s profession. She also believes that had James Philip Hewlett not died prematurely of a lingering illness the relationship may have become untenable. I tend to disagree with this, and taking into account Esther’s comments about James Philip in a letter to her second husband.
In 1816 James Philip banked some notes, received by Esther in payment for the copyright of one of her early works Victims of Pleasure. She states that the payment “made my dear Mr. Hewlett very happy when he took the notes and got them cashed at Walker’s bank”. On being asked at the bank about the source of the notes he said “these notes are in payment for works written by my wife”. And later in the same letter to her second husband Esther expresses her relief when she sold the copyright of her book The Young Reviewers in 1919 because that money “furnished many comforts for my dear Mr. H. in his last months and I believe cheered his mind with the thought that a resource was mercifully pointed out for the supply of those most dear to him.
Esther was a prolific writer publishing more than forty books in her lifetime. These include tracts, works of domestic economy, stories for children, text books, sacred history and biography.
Read a letter written by Esther to William Copley listing many of her publications and the history of each
It is of interest to note that Cottage Comforts, first published in 1825, reached its twenty-fourth edition in 1864. It is a household management manual addressed to the labouring classes embracing the spirit of both Mrs. Beeton and Dr. Spock. It includes chapters on childbirth, treatment of illnesses, hygiene, animal husbandry, the care and education of children, renting and furnishing a cottage, brewing and cookery. She is forthright with her opinions and practical advice.
Read an extract from her book ‘Cottage Comforts’ in which Esther outlines her method of artificial resuscitation.
In all of her works Esther demonstrated her genuine concern for the welfare of the working classes, and in her own way endeavoured to help those who struggled to have a more meaningful existence. Other titles in the same genre include The Housekeepers Guide,, The Lads of the Factory, and Mother’s First Lesson Book which was designed to facilitate the teaching of basic literacy and numeracy skills to young children by their mothers, Female Excellence, a treatise for young women, and a Comprehensive Knitting Book.
Esther also used fiction to promote ethical and religious values. Titles include The Poplar Grove, Early Friendships (1859), The Old Man’s Head (1823) and William Barlow (1822).
Esther wrote an overview of the Bible titled Scripture History for Youth, a discourse on Covetousness: its Prevalence, Evils and Cure. One of her last works was published in 1851 Papal Errors: their Rise and Progress is well researched and the arguments are presented cogently. This reflects Esther’s Huguenot heritage. It includes a chapter on the persecution of heretics by the Catholic church and condemnation of the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre of 1572 in France and illustrations of a medal struck to celebrate the occasion.
Her most important work is considered to be A History of Slavery and its Abolition (1836) which locates the source of slavery in human depravity. It traces the history of slavery from biblical times to her own day. She argues that there is a parallel between slavery and the apprenticeship system existing at the time. The book includes graphic images of the suffering of black slaves in the West Indies, and reference to the evolution of the anti-slavery movement. In concluding this work Esther parallels slavery with the British apprenticeship system. Her arguments against the conditions of apprentices are forthright and scathing. It is of interest to note that this work was republished in the 1960s in Detroit (US) by the Negro History Press.
Two of Esther’s books were among the first published by J. Unwin, Bookbinder, 5 St. Peter’s Alley, Oxford.
The New Update of National Biography (Oxford University Press) includes an article about Esther, thus placing her with those who have made significant and worthwhile contributions to British society over many generations.
On August 16, 1827 Esther married Rev. William Copley who was the minister of the Oxford Baptist Church. Emma Mary Byles describes Rev. Copley as “very determined suitor”. It seems that Esther refused him several times until he threatened to drown himself unless she married him. She relented. She told her two daughters that the primary reason for her remarriage was her desire to have more children. That did not eventuate. Rev. William Copley was an alcoholic and Esther spent years protecting him from the shame and consequences of his indulgence. She is reputed to have written his sermons for him, roused him on Sunday mornings, and ensured that he was presentable when he arrived at the chapel to preach.
The couple spent some time at St. Helier’s, Isle of Jersey, prior to 1839 when Rev. Copley accepted a call to the Eythorne Baptist church in Kent. His induction service took place on April 3, 1839 and he was employed at a salary of thirty pounds per quarter. At Eythorne the couple lived at Copley House, an impressive Georgian residence in the centre of the village.
Church records reveal that Rev. Copley offended the church gravely and in August 1842 resigned. Just what the offence was we do not know. However, church records reveal that messengers who were sent to Mr. Copley to confront him with the “the charges laid against him” were not satisfied with his confession. Thus, William Copley was suspended from the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. Church records reveal that after William Copley left the ministry at Eythorne “the church had to pass through severe trials and much confusion”. An amicable separation was arranged, Esther remaining in Eythorne, and William Copley going to a church in the Midlands near to his childhood home.
Esther’s elder daughter, Emma, married to George Eliel Sargent also moved to Eythorne, and did her son Ebenezer Beuzeville Hewlett and wife Mary. On Friday April 5, 1844 it is recorded that Esther had withdrawn her membership from the Eythorne church “contrary to the rules of the church and much to be deplored”. However, Esther was held in high esteem by members and adherents of the church until her death, in Eythorne, on July 17, 1851.
It is of interest to note that Esther’s son Ebenezer withdrew his membership from the Eythorne Baptist church soon after his Mother resigned. In her latter days Esther lived with her daughter Emma and George Sargent in Eythorne. Her death was caused by tuberculosis, and it seems that her illness was exacerbated by a chill contracted when she was providing help for a needy family. Esther is buried in the Eythorne Baptist churchyard. Nearby are the graves of her son Ebenezer, her daughter Emma and husband George Eliel Sargent.
An Excerpt from “Visits to European Celebrities” (1855) by William B. Sprague, D.D. Boston: Gould and Lincoln.
“I was glad of an opportunity of paying my respects to Mrs. Copley, the well-known authoress. She was the wife of a Baptist minister, who was at that time settled in Oxford, though, I think, he has since had a charge in some other part of England. She seemed a highly respectable lady – was modest and retiring, and yet easy and communicative. She had written several very popular books for youth then, and has since added several to the number. I heard her spoken of by different parties at Oxford, in a manner that showed that her talents, intelligence, and virtues were held in high estimation.”