Selwyn, Elizabeth, 1767—1852
by Benjamin Colbert
Elizabeth Selwyn was born on 26 October 1767, the daughter of William Selwyn, KC (1732-1817) and Frances Elizabeth Selwyn, née Dod (1733-1800). She was one of seven children, only four of whom survived their childhoods, and of these her brother the Reverend George Selwyn (1766-1800) died at 34. Like her younger sister Francis Elizabeth Selwyn (1770-1840), Elizabeth Selwyn never married. The sisters appear to have been close as adults and probably as children. Francis Elizabeth S. was in fact Elizabeth S.’s travelling companion during the excursions from 1824-29 recorded in the Continuation of Journals (1830), and it is likely that they enjoyed a similar arrangement in the period from 1819-23 covered in the earlier Journal of Excursions (1824).
The two travel journals – the first outward facing but unnoticed by reviewers, the second privately printed for family – together give a detailed profile of one decade in Elizabeth Selwyn’s long life. During these years her principal residence appears to have been Earl’s Terrace, Kensington, though she frequently mentions staying with cousins at Woodford (present-day North London). The first journal concerns meandering summer excursions (usually June to November) through Wales (1819), the Midlands (1820), the South West and Cornwall (1821), Scotland (1822), and the South West again (1823). The second journal picks up in 1824 with an excursion to the Eastern coast of England, followed by accounts of excursions along the South coast to Worcestershire, Wales, and back (1826), from Kensington to Bristol, Peterborough and back (1828), and to Cambridge, the Midlands, the Peak District, and Nottinghamshire (1829).
From the pages of the journals, Elizabeth Selwyn appears not surprisingly as one with deep affection for her surviving siblings and for her extended family, the children of her brother William Selwyn QC (1775-1855), and cousins, nieces, and nephews, not least her cousin once removed, the Reverend Townshend Selwyn (1782-1853), whose house at Kilmington, Somerset, appears as a destination several times. As both journals make clear, visiting relations was one of the motivating factors in the sisters’ eccentric itineraries. They also had a wide network of friends, many among the clergy, and the interest in church architecture evinced often comes in tandem with visits to clergymen and their families and precis of sermons heard on the way, all bespeaking a piety that very much characterises Elizabeth Selwyn’s vision of herself as a traveller (each excursion ends with thanks ‘to our Almighty Protector, who preserved us from accident and harm throughout so long a journey’ [Journal 256]).
Very few details outside the purview of the journals have been unearthed. Elizabeth Selwyn died at the age of 85 at Woodford.
A Genealogy of the Selwyn Family. Web. 9 Nov. 2017.
|Journal of Excursions through the Most Interesting Parts of England, Wales and Scotland||1824|
|Continuation of Journals in the Years 1824, 25, 27, 28, and 29||1830|