Prinsep, Elizabeth Acworth née Ommanney, later Beachcroft, 1804—1885
by Benjamin Colbert
Elizabeth Acworth Ommanney Prinsep Beachcroft, writer and artist, was born 5 March 1804, the second daughter of Sir Francis Molyneux Ommanney (1774-1840) and Georgiana Frances Ommanney, née Hawkes (1776-1854).
At the age of 23, she travelled to India as companion to her cousin, Marianne Jane (Reeves) James, whose husband, the Reverend John Thomas James (1786-1828; ODNB), had been appointed Lord Bishop of Calcutta, replacing Reginald Heber after the latter’s death in 1826. Departing on 14 July 1827, the party voyaged for six months, including a recuperative eleven-day visit to Cape Town from 15-26 October. They arrived at East India Company factory port of Kedgeree [Kijri] on 17 January 1828, being met there by ecclesiastical dignitaries and private friends, including Augustus Prinsep (1803-1830), all of whom accompanied the party up river by steamboat to Calcutta the next day.
Augustus Prinsep and other members of his family, already well-established in the East India Company civil service, soon became indispensable. Early signs of the Bishop’s fatal weakness led to an extended visit in April to Augustus’s brother Charles Prinsep’s villa at Ishera near Barrackpur, though the change of air did not help, and Elizabeth Ommanney, too, became ill (‘though her illness’, remarked her cousin, ‘was clearly traced to her having staid out sketching till near seven o’clock in the morning’ [Brief Memoirs 78]). On 6 June, the Bishop had recovered enough to officiate at Elizabeth Ommanney’s marriage to Augustus Prinsep, held at Calcutta cathedral, and in the evening the party were entertained by a musician and ‘extraordinary Italian traveller’, one Count de Vidoa (113-14). Later in June, the Prinseps accompanied the Bishop and his family at the outset of a planned tour of the Upper Provinces, away from the heat in which the Bishop’s health was deteriorating; the party planned Christmas at Sherghati, where Augustus Prinsep had been appointed zillah judge. Along the way they read Bishop Heber’s Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India (1828), edited by his widow Amelia Heber, a book that charted the course of both cousins who were soon to become the keepers of the memories of their spouses.
By the time that Bishop James died in August 1828, the Prinseps were installed in Sherghati, where Augustus contracted tuberculosis and began his own decline. Persuaded by his physicians to undertake a recuperative sea voyage, he embarked on a year-long voyage to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from March 1829. According to one biography, Elizabeth Prinsep travelled separately, joining her husband on at Singapore (‘Elizabeth Acworth Prinsep’), by then having given birth to their first child, Georgiana, who did not survive. They arrived in Hobart Town on 22 September, where they remained until March 1830, the entire voyage giving rise to Augustus’s posthumous Journal of a Voyage (1833) edited by Elizabeth and partly illustrated by her drawings.
Despite its literary and artistic produce, the voyage did not have its desired effect, and Augustus’s failing health necessitated a second voyage, this time including a period of leave to return to England. On 18 October 1830, Elizabeth gave birth to their second daughter, Augusta Emily Becher Prinsep (1830-1909), at sea off of Cape Town, where, too, her husband died only a week previously, on 10 October. In addition to her edition of Journal of a Voyage, she also published with Smith, Elder, and Co. an edition containing her late husband’s fiction, The Baboo, and Other Tales Descriptive of Society in India (2 vols., 1834), the title novella containing scenes based upon their journey up-river in the company of the Jameses.
Little is known of Elizabeth Prinsep’s life after that period, beside the fact that on 16 July 1840, she married the architect Samuel Beachcroft (c. 1801-1861), in Surrey, where they continued to live. With Beachcroft, she had two daughters and three sons in the 1840s. She survived her second husband (d. 1861) by over twenty years and died on 18 March 1885.
Allbrook, Malcolm. Henry Prinsep’s Empire: Framing a Distant Colony. Canberra: ANU Press, 2014. Print.
Brief Memoirs of the Late Right Reverend John Thomas James, D.D. Lord Bishop of Calcutta; Particularly during His Residence in India; Gathered from His Letters and Papers, by Edward James. London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1830. Print.
‘Elizabeth Acworth Prinsep’. Design and Art, Australia Online: Database and E-Research Tool for Art and Design Researchers. Web. 29 Aug. 2017.
|The Journal of a Voyage from Calcutta to Van Diemen`s Land||1833||Editor|