Researched and written by Julia Sharp
Page added 29th November 2013
Southernhay House is a three-storey detached villa in Southernhay East nearly opposite the entrance to Cathedral Close, next to a modern office block, Trinity Court, which replaced a Methodist Church in the 1970s. The House was built around the turn of the 19th century, possibly by David Phillips, a local builder, who appears to have leased it to its earliest tenants. Much of the area was already being developed on a speculative basis by builders Nosworthy and Hooper. It is the only detached property in the area and is built on a grand scale with two two-storey wings, and a hipped roof, slated with oversailing bracketed eaves. The front is three windows wide with arched windows and doorcase to the ground floor under a Roman Doric portico, which has a central pediment. The actual date of construction is not known but there is evidence that a property answering to the description was offered for rent in 1800.
In 1805, Captain Kirkpatrick bought the property. He had spent his life in India as an Officer in the East India Company, and one of the first things he did was to add a verandah to the back reminding him of his Indian home. Having been brought up in India he had followed his father Maj. General James ‘The Handsome’ Kirkpatrick Commander of Horse, the Madras Army, into colonial service and was joined in this by his younger brothers George Kirkpatrick, and Lt. Col. James Achilles Kirkpatrick. Why he chose Exeter for his retirement is not known, but he had met Sir John Kennaway, who was British Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and stayed with him in Exeter, whilst on leave from India.
William and James had met both Arthur Wellesley later Duke of Wellington, and his brother Richard Wellesley, future Governor General of India at school at Eton. William had the Wellesley brothers’ approval but James, by then Resident in Hyderabad, incurred the wrath of the Governor General for his open marriage with a Muslim Noblewoman, Khair-un-nissa. They had two children, and when James died in 1805 ‘on transit from Hyderabad to Calcutta by boat’, the children were sent back to England, into the custody of their Grandfather James ‘the Handsome’. They were quickly baptised and renamed William and Katherine. William died at the age of 27. Kitty was at one time the love interest of Thomas Carlyle but eventually married and had seven children, dying in Torquay in 1889.
In India, William Kirkpatrick had been Aide-de-Camp to a former Governor Sir John Shore, and was sent to Nepal to mediate with the Nepalese, Tibetans and Chinese. In 1795 he was asked by Richard Wellesley to find out as much as he could about Tipu Sultan, known as the Tiger of Mysore. It was necessary for Wellesley to have this information to plan the strategy needed to defeat Tipu Sultan, who had won important victories against the English in the Second Anglo-Mysore War, and in negotiating the 1784 Treaty of Mangalore.
Tipu Sultan had proved one of the more effective Indian rulers, who had forged an alliance with the French, in his struggle with the British. In addition to his role as ruler, he was a scholar, soldier, and poet. He had killed a tiger that sprung on him, with only a small dagger. He was a devout Muslim, but most of his subjects were Hindus. He was proficient in many languages, and was always looking for ways to rally opposition to British Rule. His army was French trained, but this did not stop his defeat in the Third Anglo-Mysore War, or his death during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at Seringapatam in 1799.
After Nelson had won the Battle of the Nile in 1799, the British brought together three armies, one from Bombay and two British, in one of which Arthur Wellesley future Duke of Wellington served, and those armies marched on Mysore and besieged the capital Seringapatam. The troops numbered more than 26,000, of which 4,000 were British. The Nizam of Hyderabad sent 16,000 cavalry and the Marathas added many soldiers: a total of over 50,000, while Tipu’s army was only 30,000 strong. After a period of heavy fighting, the British led armies finally broke through the city walls and Tipu was killed at the Hoally Gateway of the Fort.
Tipu will be remembered in many ways; for the way he mistreated prisoners; his improvement to the Mysorean rockets used in war; and for Tipu’s tiger which was a mechanical tiger he had made by French craftsmen. It is a life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostate European in the costume of the 1790s. It is said to show the hatred Tipu had for the Men of the East India Company. It was found in his Summer Palace after his death and brought to London, where it can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tipu’s sword was also in the V & A but was sold to Vijay Mallya in 2004 and returned to India.
When William Kirkpatrick returned to England and Exeter he found that his love of entertaining was often curtailed by severe rheumatic gout, which he self medicated with massive doses of laudanum. He then spent many years working on the translation of over 400 of Tipu’s letters which in 1811 he published as ‘Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan’. These received critical acclaim in 1812. As well as his letters, William Kirkpatrick had become slightly obsessed with the brilliant, half mystic, half pragmatic Tipu. He became convinced that through his Sofic leanings and astrological delving Tipu had determined the date and hour of his own death.
William was also obsessed with the timing of his own death, so in May 1812 there appeared in the Exeter Flying Post ‘a Notice of Sale for an auction on Tuesday 12 May next, and the following day, on the premises, the NEW and MODERN furniture of Major General Kirkpatrick, at his late dwellinghouse situated at the upper end of Southernhay’……In August 1812 he died ‘near London’.
After Kirkpatrick disposed of the property, other occupants included a Major Dowell, who had also been in the Hon. East India Company’s Service and General Meyrick. In 1858 the then owner Miss Lee put the fee simple of the property up for sale. The auction details described the property thus:
The house stands detached and is approached by a carriage drive. It comprises on the upper floor twelve capital bedrooms, dressing rooms and water closets; on the ground floor are a library, drawing and dining rooms, with servants hall, kitchen, brewhouse, and other domestic offices, which are well arranged, having an ample supply of spring and reservoir water. The grounds are about 1½ acres with coachhouse and stable.
The freehold of the property continued to be owned by Miss Lee and on her death in 1873 passed to her surviving Executor, Augustus William Henry Meyrick. This may have been the second time Mr. Meyrick had received a substantial estate from a distant relative or in unusual circumstances. In 1848 he had acquired the estate of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick which included Goodrich Court in Herefordshire and his large collection of armour and other antiquities. The collection was later sold and split up with many of the objects now in the British Museum, the Wallace Collection, and at Hertford House Manchester Square London.
Being close to the Devon and Exeter Hospital, Southernhay House was often used by physicians and Doctors, either as a home or consulting rooms or both. In 1871, the Exeter Pocket Directory showed Southernhay House as being occupied by Arthur Kempe. He was a well known surgeon and gynaecologist, when that was a new specialism. He joined the staff of the Hospital in 1858, and in 1868 had paid for a Chapel on the premises. He was known locally because he performed the first operation to remove an ovarian cyst in about 1870, way ahead of his time. Arthur Kempe retired in 1871, and died later that year. He was so well thought of that in 1879 the ladies of the Exeter RSPCA and others erected the Shell Monument at the end of Blackboys Road in his honour. This was known as The Fountain but was a drinking trough originally placed in front of the gates of St. Anne’s Almshouses for the horses on the Sidwell Street cab-rank. It has had a chequered history, having been replaced in 1930 when a bus smashed into it in fog, and then moved again in 1963 when the roundabout at the junction was constructed.
The next known change for Southernhay House took place in 1888 when Dr. Drake sold the property ‘on leaving Exeter’. It appears that he had worked at the Hospital until 1873, and had been the father of 10 children, some of whom were long lived. In May 1950 there is the report that one of his daughters, Miss Lydia Drake of 28 Southernhay East had celebrated here 101st birthday by giving a tea party to a few friends.
The probable purchaser was Dr. Henry Davy, who, in 1892, advertised for builders to tender for the erection of new stable buildings and the alteration of the coach houses. Dr. Davy later Sir Henry Davy was born in 1855 and worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital from 1880 to 1921 as a physician. He rose to be the senior physician, became Sheriff of Exeter in 1887 and President of the British Medical Association in 1907 when the Annual Meeting was held in Exeter.
In 1908 there was set up a scheme of territorial hospitals and Henry was appointed
Lt. Colonel of 4th Southern Territorial General Hospital with headquarters in Plymouth. During the First World War he took his duties very seriously and his distinguished war service resulted in his receiving a C.B in 1917 and K.B.E in 1919. His greatest regret was that his only son was killed early in the war. However his daughter did much strenuous work with Dame Georgina Buller in organising and equipping the Devon Group of War Hospitals. After the War she was called to the bar and, in 1923, was the first lady barrister to appear at the Devon Assizes in Exeter.
The next family to live at Southernhay House, were three generations who had been physicians at the hospital. Charles H. Roper worked at the Hospital from 1861- 1881 and became a leading Surgeon. He also served as Sheriff of Exeter. Arthur Charles Roper, his son, followed his father in becoming a leading Surgeon and Ophthalmologist at the Hospital where he worked from 1895 to 1921. He was elected Mayor of Exeter in 1920. He lived and practised at Southernhay House where he was joined by his son Frank Arthur Roper. Frank worked at the Hospital from 1928 to 1947, and practised from his home, Southernhay House. While the Roper's were there, in 1933, fire broke out in a room at Southernhay House containing violet-ray apparatus. The Fire Brigade decided that an electric radiator coming into contact with a curtain was the cause of the fire which was quickly subdued.
Frank remained at the House until he retired in 1947 when he went to Cornwall where he built an astronomical observatory. With his departure the connection between the house and the Medical Profession ceased.
After Frank Roper left, Southernhay House became the premises of the Exeter and County Club in 1948, which it remained for some time until the first firm of Chartered Accountants took over. The building remained as offices for professional partnerships until it was taken over and restored as the boutique Southernhay House Hotel which opened in 2011.
While researching this piece online, I found an article about Mary Jane Nation that indicated she had resided at Southernhay House. I was aware this was at odds with the information I had found. I noted Mary’s residence was said to be ‘35’ whereas Southernhay House is ‘36’.
I researched the position at Westcountry Studies Library, before it moved to the Devon Heritage Centre. In the 1857 Billings Directory of Devon, William Nation (husband of Mary Nation) Deputy Lieutenant and Magistrate for the County is living at 35 and 36 Southernhay with Miss A. Lee living at Southernhay House.
The Exeter Pocket Directory for 1860 shows an entry for William Nation living at 35 Southernhay Place but nothing for Southernhay House (this may be due to the sale advertised in 1858). The Exeter Pocket Directory for 1871 shows Mrs. Nation living at 35 Southernhay Place and Arthur Kempe living at Southernhay House.
Sources: Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital 1741-2006, articles on line including extracts from Western Times, Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, Western Morning News, Obituaries and articles on Goodrich Court, the Kirkpatrick family, Tipu Sultan and others.
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