The Sharpins: ‘Surgeons and Physicians of Bedford’.

The Sharpins: ‘Surgeons and Physicians of Bedford’.

Six members of the Sharpin family are buried in Foster Hill Road (FHR) Cemetery, and many other members of the family had close links with Bedford. Henry Wilson Sharpin and his wife, Edith Esther, their son Edward Colby Sharpin and his wife Rose Louisa Weller, grandson George Colby Sharpin and wife Edith Ellen are all buried at FHR. The family tree at the end of the article traces the relationships of those mentioned in the text. The family had strong associations with the Church, with the Armed Forces and with India. Henry Wilson Sharpin began new links with the medical profession, followed by his elder son Edward Colby Sharpin, his younger son, Archdale Lloyd Sharpin and his nephew, Walter Archdale Sharpin, all surgeons and physicians in Bedford.

Church Origins of family of Henry Wilson Sharpin
The grandfather of Henry Wilson Sharpin was the Reverend Edward Sharpin, born in Norfolk in 1746 and christened on 26 July in the parish church in Reymerston, a village between Wymondham and Dereham, and about 15 miles from Swaffham. Having taken Holy Orders he lived with his wife Anne in Norfolk all his life, dying in October 1813. He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham on 29 October. Among his children was a son, Henry who served in the army.

Military Origins of family of Henry Wilson Sharpin
The Reverend Edward’s son and the father of Henry Wilson Sharpin was Lieutenant Henry Sharpin of the 4th Light Dragoons in the British Army. The 4th Light Dragoons were originally raised as part of the response to Monmouth’s rebellion against James II in 1685. They saw service in European wars in the nineteenth century, including against Napoleon, and in the 1st Anglo-Afghan War in 1839. They also served in the Battles of Alma and Balaclava in 1854 in the Crimean War.

Lieutenant Henry Sharpin, Henry Wilson’s father, was born in 1796 in Swaffham, Norfolk to the Reverend Edward and his wife Anne. He gained a commission in the British Army and married his wife, Mary Davies, in Abergwili, Carmarthenshire, Wales in February 1828. The marriage was reported in the Bristol Mirror as Mary came from a well-known Welsh family. He and Mary spent time serving in India, in Kirkee (now Khadki) near Poona (Pune) a plateau above Bombay where the government of Bombay resided during the rains. A permanent British military encampment was established there after the British East India Company’s forces won the Battle against the Marathas in 1817. Henry and Mary’s 2 eldest children were born in Kirkee: Henry Wilson Sharpin was born on 31st October 1828, and his sister Anne Mary Sharpin was born in 1830.The family were back in England at Blofield, Norfolk in the 1841 census and living in Bedford by the 1851 census.

Henry Wilson Sharpin’s early life.
Having been born, the eldest child, to Henry and Mary in India, Kirkee, (Khadki) near Poona (Pune) he left India with his parents and baby sister in the early 1830s and moved with the family between Wales and Norfolk where they had relatives. In the 1841 census Henry was away at school in Suffolk, aged 12 while the rest of the family including 4 siblings were living in Norfolk. By the time of his marriage in 1856 his parents and 6 siblings were settled in Bedford. In 1856 he married Edith Esther Nicolle at St Paul’s Church, Bedford. His wife was the granddaughter of a vice-admiral and thus emphasized the Sharpin links with the armed forces. She was also the daughter of a member of the old-established and successful Nicolle family in Jersey.

His wife Edith Esther Nicolle’s background.
Her mother was Edith Elizabeth Noble, born in Devon in December 1811, the daughter of Vice-Admiral James Noble, who was himself the son of Major Isaac Noble, who died in the American War of Independence in 1778. The family came from Devon, where Edith Elizabeth was born. James entered the navy in 1787 and served on several ships in the French Revolutionary War. From 1795-97 he served with Horatio Nelson on the Agamemnon and the Minerve, and was twice wounded, first struck in the throat by a musket ball and secondly was feared ‘mortally wounded’ according to Nelson’s report. He did in fact recover and gradually rose through the ranks becoming Vice-Admiral in 1841. He died in 1851.

Marriage of Edith Elizabeth Noble into the Nicolle family of Jersey.
Edith Elizabeth Noble was married in St Helier, Jersey, to John (Jean) Nicolle whose family’s roots went back to the 14th Century. The Nicolles at that time were part of the flourishing fishing and shipping trade that was developing rapidly around St Helier in the late eighteenth/early 19th centuries. Philippe Nicolle, John’s grandfather, was the owner of over 55 ships and the family built a prestigious house at 9 Pier Road in St Helier. John was born in 1804, the second son of Philippe (Jnr) and his wife Esther Winter. 2 children were born of the marriage of John and Edith Elizabeth: Sydney James, born in 1834 and Edith Esther born in 1837. John Nicolle died in October 1838 and is buried in the parish churchyard in St Helier. His daughter, Edith Esther, (later a Sharpin) was only 1 year old. The 1841 Jersey census records Edith Nicolle aged 29 living with Sydney Nicolle, aged 7 and Edith Nicolle aged 4 at Victoria Place, St Helier.

Second Marriage of Edith Elizabeth Noble.
Edith Elizabeth Nicolle is recorded under her maiden name of Noble as marrying the Reverend William Wollaston Pym in St Helier on 25th July 1843 . The Reverend Pym was a widower, having lost his wife Sophia Rose Gambler in 1841. Sophia was the daughter of Admiral Samuel Gambler of Hampstead, hence both of the Reverend Pym’s wives had close links at a high level with the navy.

Background of Reverend William Wollaston Pym
William was born in Sandy, Bedfordshire in 1792; his younger brother John born in 1795 died at Waterloo in 1815. William studied at St John’s College, Cambridge and was ordained at Lincoln Cathedral in 1815. He became the rector of Willian church, Hertfordshire in 1816 and remained there until his death in 1852.

Back in England William Pym and Edith (now Pym) returned with Edith’s daughter, Edith Esther Nicolle, leaving her son Sydney James with relatives in St Helier, as he was destined eventually to join the Nicolle family firm. They lived in the rectory in Willian. In the 1851 census William and Edith are recorded in Willian with more children, but Edith Esther Nicolle was away at school in Streatham, London, aged 13. In 1852 Reverend William Pym died, leaving Edith a widow once more. At the time of her daughter’s marriage in 1856, she was living in Bedford with 2 daughters and a son all born in Willian who in the 1861 census were all at school in Bedford. By 1871 she had moved to London and the household included her only son from her first marriage in Jersey, Sydney James Nicolle, Edith Esther Sharpin’s brother. The Nicolle family business, so prosperous in the early 19th Century, had collapsed in the 1860s, in large part due to the American Civil War (1861-5) and the loss of their American markets in the southern states. Sydney Nicolle became a bank clerk and moved between Jersey and England, attending family funerals including his mother’s, (Edith Pym, 1875) and his sister’s (Edith Sharpin,1894) in England and finally settling in London by 1901. He died in 1917.

The Marriage of Edith Esther Nicolle to Henry Wilson Sharpin took place on 1 January 1856 at St Paul’s Church, Bedford, the bride leaving from her mother’s house on Bedford Terrace, Harpur Street. Henry was 27 and Edith was 19. They lived at 1 St Paul’s Square, (now a listed building and recently restored) the house that Henry had rented in the winter of 1854/5 from Thomas Barnard of Barnard and Co. Bank (Bedford Bank) and former coal merchants. They are recorded there in the 1861 census with a daughter Evelyn Edith aged 3 and a son Edward Colby aged 2. An interesting insight into the attitude to women at the times: Henry’s son Edward’s birth was reported in the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph on 17 January 1859 as a birth to the wife of Henry Wilson Sharpin (no name of his wife) even though Henry’s wife and Edward’s mother were born in Jersey to the prominent Nicolle family there. Also, 2 years earlier in 1857 Henry and his wife had a daughter, Evelyn, but there is no mention of this in the Jersey newspapers.

Henry Wilson Sharpin’s medical career
On leaving school Henry became a pupil at Bedford Infirmary. He then trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital as Medical and Surgical Scholar, winning prizes. He gained the qualifications of L.S.A. (Licentiate for the Society of Apothecaries) and M.R.C.S. (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons) in 1850. In December 1862 he passed the examination for the F.R.C.S. qualification (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons). He worked in Bedford after applying for the position of House Surgeon at Bedford Infirmary (Bedfordshire Times, 7 December 1850). The 1851 census records him as ‘surgeon’ at the Infirmary aged 22, with the Matron Sarah Musselwhite aged 36. She was appointed Matron in December 1849 and died in 1874, after 25 years’ service; the Governors of the Infirmary paid for a gravestone erected in her memory. Grave Ref: F4 57

Henry became Apothecary to the General Infirmary and Fever Hospital, followed by Junior Surgeon in 1863, and Consulting Surgeon. He was ‘Honorary Consulting Surgeon’ for Bedford at the time of his death. In 1873 he was appointed Medical Visitor of any house licensed for the receipt of Lunatics in Bedfordshire. He also became Consulting Surgeon of the Bedford Central Provident Dispensary. Such dispensaries were developing in the nineteenth century funded by voluntary subscriptions, and services were generally offered free of charge to those of little means recommended for treatment. The Bedford branch started on 1 May 1887 and the first annual meeting in February 1888 revealed 3 Sharpins involved, doctors Henry and Colby, and Henry’s brother Archdeacon Sharpin. Based in Prebend Street and open 7 hours on weekdays and 8 hours on Saturdays it was already meeting a great demand among the poor and the ‘artisan class’, especially those living south of the river where no medical officer was living. Henry was also a Fellow of the Obstetrical Society of London and a member of the British Medical Association. He contributed to articles on Ovarian dropsy (tumours) in medical journals such as the Lancet and Medical Times.

Henry’s personal life
Henry and his wife Edith are recorded in the 1871 census with 4 more children, 3 daughters and another son, Archdale Lloyd. The sizable household at 1 St Paul’s Square consisted also of a groom and stable boy as well as a cook, housemaid and under nurse. By 1891 there were just 2 unmarried daughters living with them at St Paul’s Square. Tragedy struck in August 1894 when Edith died, aged 57. The Bedford Mercury of 25 August 1894 reported that she had suffered from asthma and several serious illnesses for many years. The funeral took place on 24 August at Bedford Cemetery (now Foster Hill Road Cemetery). It was attended by Henry her husband, her sons Edward and Archdale, her brother Sydney James Nicolle, and brother-in-law Reverend George Sharpin. There were no ladies among the principal mourners, another sign of the times.
Grave reference: F4 186 There is a combined gravestone for her and Henry (see later)

Move to Sussex, remarriage and death
Following his wife’s death Henry retired in 1897 and moved to Brighton, Sussex where he is recorded in the 1901 census as living at 34 Sillwood Road with his married daughter Eleanor and granddaughter Dorothy. On 10 January, aged 74 he married Jane Haxby, a farmer’s unmarried daughter aged 43 in East Sheen, London. On 14 April 1908, Good Friday, he died suddenly from a heart attack aged 79. He left behind 2 sons and 4 daughters. His funeral took place at Bedford Cemetery officiated by the vicar of St Paul’s, Reverend Canon Woodward and Reverend F. C. Marshall, a relative by marriage. The Bedford Mercury of 24 April reporting on the funeral mentions only the male mourners, an insight into the times. He is buried in the plot next to his wife and they share a gravestone.

Grave reference: F4 197 (The combined gravestone originally was headed with a stone cross which has now fallen off).Inscription: ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive’.

Henry’s 2 surviving sons, Colby and Archdale, both became surgeons and physicians.

Edward Colby Sharpin, Henry’s elder son, known as Colby.
He was born in Bedford on 14 January 1859, and was baptised at St Paul’s Church on 4 February. He was the second child of Henry and Edith and the elder of the 2 sons. Educated at Bedford (Grammar) School from 1866-77 he followed his father Henry into the medical profession.

Medical Career
Like Henry he started at Bedford Infirmary then trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital,
London, where he is recorded in the 1881 census as a medical student. In 1882 he gained his M.R.C.S. and in 1883 L.R.C.P. (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians) and L.M. (Licentiate in Medicine) His early career began at Lincoln County Hospital where he was House Surgeon, before moving back to Bedford. He then held a number of positions which his father Henry had held, including Consulting Surgeon at Bedford County Hospital. (The old Bedford Infirmary’s name). One of his more interesting cases as House Surgeon in Bedford Infirmary was that of ‘the Railway Mystery’ in 1891 in which an unknown woman was found shot in unknown circumstances on a London bound train at Bedford station. She eventually died in Bedford Infirmary.

Colby was also a Medical Referee under the Workmen’s Compensation Act which had been introduced in 1897 for employees injured at work to be covered for medical treatment by their employer. No National Health system existed then and medical care was often too expensive for a worker. He worked in partnership with his cousin Walter Archdale Sharpin, the son of Henry’s brother, Frederick Lloyd, at 28 Bromham Road.

Personal Life- marriage and son
He married Rose Louisa Weller on 29 April 1886 in Woodford Wells, Essex. She came from a military family.  Her father was Colonel Joseph Alexander Weller of the Royal Engineers (Bengal) who served in the 14th Bengal Regiment in India. After retiring and returning to England he and his family lived at The Crescent, Bedford, where he died in June 1881. He was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard on Bromham Road where his funeral had taken place. Her older brother, Alexander Thomas Weller, was born in India and served as a Major in the Indian Army. Rose was born on 15 September 1856 in York, the home of her mother’s family and is recorded at the family home in The Crescent, aged 14, in the 1871 census. After their marriage Colby and Rose lived in Bedford and were recorded at 17-19 Bromham Road in the 1891 census. By then a son had been born, George Colby, in 1889. He too attended Bedford School from 1899-1905 after starting his schooling at the Kindergarten in The Crescent. In 1901 the family were still living on Bromham Road but by 1911 they had moved to Castle Close, where Rose’s brother, Alexander Weller, was living with them. George was recorded as ‘Brewer’ aged 22 and there were no other children.

Other interests: Colby was a keen gardener and especially indulged this interest when he moved to Castle Close. He won the Royal Botanic Society’s silver medal for carnations and exhibited widely in England. He hunted with the Oakley Hunt and Mr. Carpenter’s Harriers. He was a good shot and fisherman and presented the Colby Cup for the annual half mile swimming race from the Town Bridge to the Suspension Bridge.

WW1 Rose was the Hon Secretary for the organization of War Supplies in Bedford. A working party of up to 80 ladies made, often with materials acquired at their own expense, essential items for the wounded. These included dressings, bandages, swabs and splints as well as nightshirts, socks and blankets. They worked in the large Committee Room of the Town Hall and the items would then be collated at the War Hospital Supply Depot in Bedford and dispatched to the Front.

Lieutenant George Colby Sharpin, Colby and Rose’s only son, served with distinction with 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. He joined his battalion in September 1916 as Second Lieutenant after the regiment had been involved in tough fighting around Longueval and Guillemont in the Battle of the Somme. In 1917 they were active in the area around Arras. He was awarded the Military Cross in the New Year’s Honours of 1919. The announcement was made in the London Gazette in January 1919 and the medal was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 31 May 1919. George was 1 of 7 officers who marched in the triumphant procession in April 1919 from the Keep in Kempston to Bedford Town Centre for a service in St Paul’s and an address by the Mayor outside the Corn Exchange.

Death of Colby
He died on 4 August 1927 at his home at 11 Lansdowne Road, Bedford, and his funeral took place on 8 August at Holy Trinity Church, Bromham Road. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent reports a ‘large gathering’ of his family, his servants, representatives of his many medical associations, local dignitaries and friends. He was buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery next to his father’s and mother’s graves and shares a gravestone with his wife.

Death of Rose
She continued to live at 11 Lansdowne Road with her son George after the death of her husband in 1939.  The 1939 register records them along with George’s future wife, Edith. Rose died there on 28 November 1940, aged 84 and her funeral took place on 30 November. She is buried with her husband in Foster Hill Road Cemetery and they share a gravestone.

Grave reference of Colby and Rose: F4 175

Inscription: ‘Until the Day Dawn
And The Shadows Flee Away’

The joint gravestone of Edward Colby and Rose Louisa Sharpin

Marriage and Death of George and wife Edith
George had continued to live at 11 Lansdowne Road after the death of his mother.  In 1943 he married, aged 54, Edith Ellen Merriman. She was born in 1888 in a village near Midhurst, Sussex, and had trained and worked at Southwark Infirmary in London as a Registered Nurse before her marriage in Bedford. She is recorded in the 1939 Register living with George and Rose at 11 Lansdowne Road as ‘Professional Nurse’. George died in December 1945. His funeral took place at Holy Trinity Church, Bromham Road, and he is buried at FHR.

Edith died in Manor House Nursing Home, Bedford, in 1974. She and George are buried together at FHR next to the other Sharpin graves. Sadly there is no gravestone.
Grave Ref: F4 208

Archdale Lloyd Sharpin, Henry’s younger son.
The 5th child of Henry and Edith, born in 1865 he was baptized at St Paul’s Church on 21 November. He was educated at Bedford School from 1875-86 then followed his father and brother in medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. His first post was as House Surgeon at Salisbury Infirmary. He then returned to Bedford and in 1889 he passed the examination for M.R.C.S. He married Hannah Jane Powell Oldrey in 1895, and worked at 23 Kimbolton Road as a surgeon and physician. He also held a number of other medical positions in Bedford. By the 1911 census he had moved to Kent, although he still owned property in Bedford. During World War 1 he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps reaching the rank of Major. He died in a nursing home in Herne Bay on 24 October 1940 and was buried in Herne Bay Cemetery on 29 October.

Evelyn Edith Sharpin, Henry’s eldest child, and the mother of Henry’s grandson Apsley
Evelyn Edith was born in 1857 and baptized on 5 May at St Paul’s Church. On 29 January 1885 while living at the family home at 1 St Paul’s Square she married Major-General Apsley Cherry. He was the Commanding Officer at the Barracks in Kempston and had seen service in the Indian Mutiny and the Zulu wars. The marriage took place at St Paul’s Church. Their only son, born in Bedford on 2 January 1886, was Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard, the family having changed their name to Cherry-Garrard after having inherited estates in Berkshire and Hertfordshire.

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard and Scott’s Antarctic Expedition
Apsley inherited his father’s estates in 1907 aged 21 and used some of his inheritance for world travel. While in Australia he heard of Captain Robert Scott’s second Antarctic expedition and his attempt to be the first man at the South Pole. He was able to secure a place on the expedition as assistant zoologist by giving a substantial donation to the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition. The group arrived in Antarctica in January 1911. In July 1911 Apsley joined Dr Edward Wilson, Scott’s associate, and Henry Blowers to Cape Crozier to collect eggs of Emperor Penguins. They succeeded but it proved extremely tough and the 3 men only just survived.

The house where Apsley was born, with its blue plaque.

Expedition to the South Pole.
In October 1911 15 men including Cherry set off for the South Pole. The going was even tougher than the previous expedition and on 22 December Cherry, due to his youth, and two others were sent back to base. For the next weeks they were hoping to meet up with Scott’s Polar party but by April 1912 they accepted that they must have died. Only in October were they able to head south again to search for them and on 12 October they discovered the frozen bodies of Scott, Wilson and Blowers.

Apsley’s life afterwards
The loss of the three men haunted him for the rest of his life. He served in World War 1 but had to be invalided out in 1916 and from then on suffered a number of health problems. He wrote a well-received book about his experiences in the Antarctic ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ apparently encouraged by his friend George Bernard Shaw, which provided some catharsis. He was forced to sell his family house in Hertfordshire after World War 2, living in a flat in London until he died.

Apsley died on 18 May 1959 and is buried in St Helen’s Churchyard, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, in an area which was part of the family estate. A bronze statue in the church commemorates his life.

The bronze statue of Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard in St Helen’s Church, Wheathampstead

The tablet under the statue

Henry Wilson Sharpin’s two surviving brothers, Frederick Lloyd and William George Sharpin were brought up in Bedford, and were also linked with the Church and India:-

Reverend Frederick Lloyd Sharpin, known as Lloyd, born in 1838, was educated at Bedford School and Oxford. He was ordained in 1862, and after serving as Curate in Northill, Bedfordshire, he moved to India. He became Acting Archdeacon then Archdeacon of Bombay (Mumbai). In 1888 he returned to England and served as Vicar of Millbrook, Bedfordshire for 21 years and Dean of Ampthill for 11 years. He served on a number of associations in Bedford, including the Provident Dispensary. He died in Bexhill-on-Sea, Kent on 2 June 1921 and his funeral took place in his church in Millbrook.

Lloyd’s youngest son and Henry Wilson Sharpin’s nephew, Frank Lloyd Sharpin, born in Bombay India in 1883 and educated at Bedford School, served with the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) in 1914-5 and was wounded and invalided home in 1915. He was then commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant with 9thBatallion, Bedfordshire Regiment, training in Ampthill Park. In action on the Somme on October 12th 1916 he was shot in the abdomen and died of his wounds 2 days later, aged 33. He is buried in France, in Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, south of Albert.

Walter Archdale Sharpin, Lloyd’s elder son, and Henry Wilson’s nephew, was also born in Bombay and educated at Bedford School. He was the 4th Sharpin to follow a medical career. He trained at St George’s Hospital, winning the Acland prize for medicine in 1894. He qualified in 1895,  took up the post of House Surgeon at the Royal United Hospital, Bath and then Senior House Surgeon at the Royal Hants Hospital, Winchester. In 1899 he passed the examination for the Fellowoship of the Royal College of Surgeons. After a period in South Africa he returned to Bedford and worked for many years with his cousin Edward Colby on Bromham Road in Bedford as a surgeon and physician. In 1904 he joined Henry and Colby as a Medical Officer for Bedford Provident Dispensary. In the Great War he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.) with the rank of Lieutenant. He lived for many years at 45 St Peter’s Street in Bedford. He died in a nursing home in Carlton, Bedfordshire in October 1961.

Reverend William George Sharpin, Henry Wilson’s youngest brother, known as George, was born in 1842 and educated at Bedford School and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1866 and from 1866-71 he was Chaplain in Bombay. He then returned to England and was Vicar of Chipperfield, Hertfordshire for 20 years. He died aged 90 at Chipperfield in January 1933.

Censuses UK 1841-1911
Census Channel Islands 1841
Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph
Naval Biographical Dictionary
Family Search
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Bedfordshire Times and Independent
Bedford Mercury
Scott Polar Research Institute Archives, University of Cambridge
Berkshire History by David Nash Ford
Medical Directories B.M.J.
Bedford School Registers
1st Bedfordshire Regiment- Steven Fuller
Sharpin Family Tree- Jim Godbolt