Sir George Thomas Michael O’Brien K.C.M.G.
The Sewerby Irish Connection.
© Susan Parrott (member)
There is, in the graveyard at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Sewerby an unusual gravestone in the shape of an Irish shamrock.
The gravestone is dedicated to the memory of George Thomas Michael O’Brien, K.C.M.G 3rd son of James Thomas O’Brien, Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin born 5th November 1844 and died April 12th 1906.[i] This short article will discuss Sir George T M O’Brien’s link through marriage with the Lloyd Greame family who lived at Sewerby House near Bridlington, East Yorkshire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There will also be an account of his life and career and why he was buried in Sewerby churchyard.
At the time of Sir George O’Brien’s death in 1906 the landowner of Sewerby House and estate was Colonel Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame who had inherited sixteen years earlier the house and estate from his father the Reverend Yarburgh Gamaliel Lloyd Greame who died in 1890. Yarburgh George before inheriting the Sewerby estate had served in the army and had risen to the rank of Colonel in the Yorkshire Artillery.[ii] He married Dora Letitia O’Brien in 1867 the second daughter of Dr James Thomas O’Brien, Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. The Bishop was a well known evangelical theologian of the Church of Ireland -.thus through marriage the Lloyd Greame link to the Irish O’Brien family.[iii]
Dr James Thomas O’Brien was born in 1792 at New Ross, County Wexford. He was the son of Michael Burke O’Brien (died 1826) a corporation officer who was deputy sovereign of New Ross. His mother Dorothy was the daughter of Thomas Kough. Dr O’Brien’s father was Protestant and originated from Clare but belonged to a branch of the very large O’Brien family who were Roman Catholic. James was educated at an endowed school in New Ross before entry to Trinity College in Dublin where he graduated in 1813. He entered the church in 1820 and took holy orders and graduated in 1830. In the next twelve years the Reverend Dr James O’Brien made rapid progress in the church ministry which culminated in 1842 by the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel making him the Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. Whilst he was bishop he worked tirelessly against the disestablishment of the Irish Church. Later, when the inevitable break within the church occurred the bishop became a moderate force within the new Irish Church preventing the over zealous evangelicals from taking control with their doctrines.[iv]
In 1836 at the age of forty four years Bishop O’Brien married Ellen Pennefather aged twenty four, daughter of Edward Pennefather, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.[v] They had eight sons and five daughters. Their third son was George Thomas Michael O’Brien and brother to Dora and brother-in-law to Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame. The Bishop died at Thurloe Square, Brompton, London, on 12th December, 1874 aged eighty two years. His fixed place of residence was The Bishop’s Palace in the city of Kilkenny Ireland. He was later buried in the churchyard of St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.[vi] His widow died thirty two years later on 31st August 1906 aged ninety two years. Ellen O’Brien had been in ‘delicate health for many years’.[vii]
George Michael Thomas O’Brien K.C.M.G. (Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of St Michael and St George) was born in 1844 and was educated at Westminster and Trinity College Cambridge. At the age of twenty three in 1867 he joined the Colonial Branch of the Civil Service and was posted to Ceylon. Within nine years he had ‘succeeded to the first class of the service’.[viii] His appointments included a year at Harrispatter as Police Magistrate, 1869-1870, Assistant Government Agent at Colombo 1871, Assistant Colonial Secretary, 1874 to 1886, Treasurer of Ceylon, 1886 to 1890, Auditor and Accountant General and Controller of the Revenue in Ceylon in 1890-1. Sir George O’Brien later served as Colonial Secretary in Cyprus and Hong Kong before being made Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific from 1897-1901. He retired from the Colonial Service in 1901 due to ill health through a progressively worsening heart condition which prevented Sir George from serving in tropical climates of the Colonial service.[ix]
From documents that exist, they reveal that Sir George O’Brien was concerned and cared about the health and well being of the native population that he governed. In his obituary in the Bridlington Free Press on Friday 20th April 1906 it stated that, whilst he was Governor in Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, he ‘devoted himself to improving the condition of the native population by amending the sanitation of the houses and Villages, providing hospitals and bringing supplies of pure water through pipes from the hills’. He was affectionately known by the native population as ‘The Milk and Water Governor’ because of his efforts to obtain good supplies of water and milk for all the population. He even persuaded the Government to allow him to import goats to Fiji so that there was a good supply of goats’ milk for the native population. Sir George also sat on a Royal Commission to regulate and supply good milk and water supplies to the native populations throughout the Colonial service.[x]
Sir George O’Brien was highly regarded by the colonial staff with whom he served with in the colonies. An example of how he treated staff has survived in a letter of condolence from a William Allardyce to his brother-in-law Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame. William Allardyce thanked Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame for letting him know that Sir George had died. In the letter he discloses that he had worked in the Colonial Service for twenty one years and ‘I learnt more during the 4 years I was under Sir George than during the other twenty one years’. Allardyce also mentions that in the same post Lord Stanmore (‘my old chief and his’) wrote to him and gave a glowing account of Sir George, ‘I do not forget the days when he (O’Brien) was my most trusted fellow worker in Ceylon. He was the most cleverest and ablest men I ever knew’.[xi]
Allardyce also stated that Sir George had a compassionate and kindly nature and gave two examples of his kindness whilst he served with him. On one occasion his second child was taken very ill and Sir George arranged for a Coast Doctor stationed forty to fifty miles away to come and attend the child who made a good recovery through his kind offices. The second occasion was when Allardyce suffered a riding accident and broke a thigh bone. Sir George instructed that Allardyce should be sent to hospital and whilst there on no account work on government papers but rest and recover. He also stated that in 1907 he would be returning to England and would be visiting his friend’s grave in Sewerby churchyard.[xii]
Although the family of James and Ellen O’Brien was a large one (thirteen siblings) George was in close contact with at least four of his sisters. Over the years whilst Dora and Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame lived at Sewerby House George O’Brien was a frequent visitor to his sister and brother-in-law’s home. Another sister called Alice also lived at Sewerby House with Dora and Yarburgh George. George O’Brien was especially close to his two sisters Alice and Dora and remained a bachelor. For the last year of his life he lived in London in a rented house, 5 Sydney Place, Onslow Square, Kensington. The rent for the house was £252 a year paid in four quarterly sums of £63.[xiii]
Alice O’Brien was an author of three books: La Joconde (1895), Anthony Blake’s experience (1896) and The flaw in the marble (1898). The records show that George was instrumental in getting Alice’s third novel published. In 1895 he negotiated on behalf of his sister Alice, with the publishers Hutchinson & Co over the publication of Alice’s book The flaw in the marble. Alice chose to withhold her name when the novelette was published and be anonymous. A number of the cuttings from national newspapers of the critical reviews of the novelette in April and May 1896 still exist and the book received favourable and unfavourable reviews. The Daily Telegraph reviewer declared that The flaw in the marble was ‘one of the best short stories recently published’, and The Academy reviewer thought that ‘the nameless author has no cause to be ashamed of his work’ and judged a male author had written the work! Whereas the Manchester Guardian reviewer thought The flaw in the marble ‘is like a bad dream of a very prevalent kind of French novel, without the prevalent French novel’s art’, and concluded by commenting, ‘They do these things better in France’. But on the whole The flaw in the marble received pleasing reviews. The sale of the book showed ‘a good show on the railway bookstalls’ and appealed to the travelling public.[xiv]
Sir George O’Brien’s last Will and Codicil survives. He made his Will on 11th February 1905 at Sewerby House. He left most of his estate, house, bonds, shares and chattels to his sister Alice for her ‘absolute enjoyment and disposition’ throughout her life time. Amongst the bequests Sir George left two hundred pounds each to his executors Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame and J.A. Swettenham K.C.M.G Governor of Jamaica. To his brother Francis Alexander O’Brien he left a copy of his father’s works and five hundred pounds. To his sister Dora he left instructions to ‘whichever she selects of my two Ceylon Work silver blotting cases’. To his nieces Eileen and Clare O’Brien daughters of his brother Francis he left fifty pounds each. He left to his other sisters Mary (Mrs de Montmorency) and Katharine O’Brien, and his sister-in-law Mrs O’Brien (wife of Francis O’Brien) ‘such of my chattels not exceeding ten pounds in value for each person.’[xv]
On the death of his sister Alice Sir George’s Will instructed that the residue of his estate should be divided between his sisters Dora Lloyd Greame and Mary Montmorency and his sister-in-law Mrs O’Brien, wife of Reverend Frances O’Brien, for ‘as long as they lived’. His sister Dora should receive one eighth because she was ‘already comfortably provided for’ the other two beneficiaries should receive seven sixteenths. When the two sisters and sister-in-law died the estate should be shared equally between his two nieces, Eileen and Clare O’Brien for the rest of their lives. On their deaths Sir George’s estate would be shared out as follows: one thousand pounds to a hospital that treated cancer, the remaining balance should be shared equally between the Protestant Cathedral of St Canice, Kilkeeny ‘to beautifying and maintaining the fabric of the church’, and the school of St Peter Westminster, where Sir George was educated, to use the money ‘on purposes to promote the physical recreation and bodily well being of the boys’ at the school.[xvi]
The Will was amended and a Codicil was added just two days before Sir George’s death at York House, London on 10th April 1906. In the Codicil he made further bequests. He left his sister Dora five hundred pounds and the sum of fifty pounds each to Miss Georgiana Walpole and Dr Seymour Taylor (who may have been his doctor).[xvii] Sir George aged sixty one years was laid to rest in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Sewerby on Wednesday 18th April 1906. The deceased had ‘expressed a desire to be buried in Sewerby churchyard’ near to Sewerby House where he ‘had been a frequent visitor’. The funeral was very well attended by family and friends and ‘the whole of the villagers turned out to pay a tribute of respect to his memory’ as Sir George had been a popular visitor to the village.[xviii]
In conclusion Sir George Thomas Michael O’Brien K.C.M.C. of Irish descent had spent his working life in the Colonial Branch of the British Civil Service and had been highly regarded by his superiors and fellow civil servants. His services to the crown were rewarded when he received the K.C.M.C. and later on for his services as 6th Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. Sir George must have felt very disappointed that ill health cut short his period in high office at the peak of his Colonial career. It is also noted that Sir George was ahead of his time and treated the native population where he was Governor with kindness, respect and compassion. Sir George came from a very large Irish family and he was particularly close to his sisters Mary, Dora and Alice and his brother Francis and brother-in-law Yarburgh George Lloyd Greame. Therefore it seems fitting and appropriate that he should be buried in Sewerby churchyard nearest to the members of the family he loved and the village he visited when he returned on furlough after periods abroad serving in the Colonial Service.
[i] East Yorkshire Family History Society, Sewerby Monumental Inscriptions, 2001, p 11 number 109
[ii] J T Ward, East Yorkshire Local History Society, ‘East Yorkshire Landed Estates in the Nineteenth Century’, 1967, p48
[iii] G C Boase, revised by Kenneth Milne, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20458
[vii] Hull History Centre, DDLG/52/76, Mrs Ellen O’Brien’s Will
[viii] Annals of Bridlington Vol. 23, 1906, Obituary of Sir George Michael Thomas O’Brien, p 99
[xi] DDLG/46/23, O’Brien Obituary Letter from a William Allardyce.
E.A McLeod, Australian Dictionary of Biography ‘Allardyce, Sir William Lamond (1861-1930)’ http://adb.ana.edu.au/biography/allardyce-sir-william-lamond-5000 In later years Sir William Allardyce served as Governor of the Falkland Islands for ten years from 1904-1914, then Governor of the Bahamas 1914-1920 for six years, a short stay of two years as Governor of Tasmania 1920-1922, and lastly the Governor of Newfoundland from 1922 until 1928 when he retired from the Colonial Service. He died in 1930 and was remembered as the most competent administrator of his time.
[xiv] DDLG/46/19 and DDLG/51/65
[xv] DDLG 52/76, Will and Codicil of Sir George Thomas Michael O’Brien K.C.M.G. deceased.
[xviii] Op cit., Annals of Bridlington 1906