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23 Jan 2024
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Sarah Sophia Whittle
(b 24 Aug 1833)

The narrative that follows is transcribed from Alexander (Sandy) Waddell's invaluable summary in his biographical documentation of the Little and Martin families.

Summary transcript

Born [1833], elder child of Thomas Waterman Whittle, a surveyor, and Sophia Emma Martin§. In December 1842 Sarah wrote to an aunt from Berry Villa, Silverton, Devon, where she was receiving education in the care of a Mrs Way, and referred to her brother Tommy who on 30th April had left for Christ's Church School, London, (Christ's Hospital?).

On completion of her education in England she rejoined her parents in Singapore where her mother had established a school for girls in North Bridge Road in 1843, Boarders $12 and Day Scholars $5 a month.

Sarah Sophia married Dr Robert Little in 1849 at Singapore and became mistress of Bonnygrass at 17 years of age. There were 6 children of the marriage: Sophie Little (b 1852), Jessie Little (b 1854), Mary Little (b 1856), William Maxwell Little (b 1857), Margaret Little (b 1858), and Robert McEwen Little (b 1860).

Two letters from Singapore April 23rd and August 20th to her daughter Jessie being educated in London are the sole insight to her life and character, Part 1 of her husband's thesis presented for his examination for MD at Edinburgh University in 1860 was in her handwriting.

She died young in Singapore, probably 1867, and would have been buried in Bukit Timah Road cemetery, which was opened in 1865 but was incorporated in Farmer Park with no gravestones remaining.

§ Sophia Emma was the daughter of Col George Martin, Indian Army, (d 17 Jan 1815). He was no relation of William Martin of Blackford.


Walter Henry Medhurst with Choo Tih Lang

I was recently (Feb 2014) contacted by John Holliday, who is currently finalising a biography of his ancestor, the missionary Walter Henry Medhurst 1,  2,  3 who in 1817 became the second husband of Sarah Sophia Whittle's aunt. Well, ahem, from our point of view is that perhaps a little off our beaten track? Indeed it may seem so, but from the brief extracts that John has shown me and from circumstantial evidence already available, a most extraordinary episode of family history emerges. Of course, for the full story you will have to get a copy of John's book when it's published next year.

The story begins in Madras, where in 1807 there erupted a bitter dispute between the Governor, Sir George Barlow, and the Commander in Chief of the Madras Army, Lt Gen Hay Macdowall. Things became so acrimonious that Macdowall resigned, set off back to England and was drowned when the ship sank en route. This sets a suitably sombre background to what followed.

Lt George Martin (as Sandy says in the Summary above, no relation to 'our' Martins) was deeply involved in defending the Army against charges of treason (punishable by death), when suddenly his wife died at their residence in Chitaldrug, four days journey from Madras. He arranged for his elder daughter Eliza (aged just 14) to marry a fellow officer, Lt George Braune, and to take charge of his younger daughter Sophia (aged 12 at most). But as Eliza reached 21, her younger son died, her husband died and her father died. Eliza and Sophia were now orphans. Within fifteen months, however, Eliza had met and married the missionary Walter Medhurst, and sailed off with him to Malacca in Malaya.

Happy ending? Well, not for Sophia who was left behind in a Madras orphanage, where she languished – without the support of any family or friends – for five long years. Without rushing to judgement, I find it almost incredible that she should have been abandoned so casually. However, some ten years later, after many adventures, she hopefully found happiness in marriage to Thomas Whittle in Singapore, and the birth of their daughter Sarah Sophia the next year.

But a year or so later she died – or did she? – cruelly misused by fortune to the bitter end. At the tender age of 15, Sarah married Dr Robert Little and bore him six children, including my great grandmother Margaret Little, before she too died in her mid thirties – or did she?

To see a more detailed account, and a most interesting progress report, by John Holliday in a recent issue of the magazine Madras Musings, click here.

# Individual Spouse / Partner Family
‑6 Col George Martin
(d 17 Jun 1815)
(d 1808)
Eliza(beth) Martin
(1794 – 1874)

Sophia Emma Martin
(ca 1797 –
1860 or later)
‑5 Eliza(beth) (Betty) Martin
(1794 –
Lt George Henry Braune
(ca 1781 – 26 Nov 1815)
(m 14 Oct 1808)
Son (b 1810)

Son (d 1815)
Walter Henry Medhurst
(29 Apr 1796 –
24 Jan 1857)
(m 19 May 1817)
Sarah Sophia Medhurst
(16 Nov 1819 –
9 Aug 1836)
= Lockwood
(m 17 Feb 1836)

Walter Henry Medhurst jr
(1822 –

Eliza Mary Medhurst
(Jul 1828 –
20 Feb 1886)
= Charles Batter Hillier
= Charles Marshall Hole

Martha Medhurst
(Jan 1831 –
ca 1890)
= Saul

Augusta Liberta Medhurst
(1 Aug 1840 –
Mar 1926)
= Bates
‑5 Sophia Emma Martin
(ca 1797 –
1860 or later)
Thomas Wat(t)erman Whittle
(d 26 Oct 1834)
(m 23 Nov 1832)

Sarah Sophia Whittle
(b 24 Aug 1833)

Thomas (Tommy) Wat(t)erman Whittle (Jr)
(8 Dec 1834
Q1, London, vol 2, p161)

I was initially led to believe that Sophia had died in 1834. In fact it now seems certain that it was her husband Thomas Watterman Whittle Sr who succumbed at that time. She herself certainly survived until at least 1860. I'm applying for the death certificate of her young son Tommy.

In a document passed on to me by Simon Potter, there is an intriguing (though rather mangled entry) relating to Sarah's marriage to Robert Little in 1849 (the year after her father died). We see amongst the list of witnesses the name of her mother Sophia Whittle ...

Transcribed and donated in manuscript by B Fitzgerald-Moore, "The Cathedral Church of Singapore St Andrews Registry of Baptisms 1823-1870 Marriages 1826-1871 Burials 1820-1875" (Typed by N Chaston 1977). Marriages page 65. Cit.

Date: 14 March 1849.
Text From Source: LITTLE Robert, of Singapore, Surgeon, Bachelor, of Full Age, son of William [LITTLE, and] Sarah Sophia, of Singapore, Spinster and a Minor, daugher of Thomas W.


I very much trust that this is for real, and that she did indeed live on to see her daughter happily hitched to such a pillar of local society. Hopefully this will be confirmed in due course when John Holliday's book emerges from the press.


Reproduced from 'Descent of Walter Waddell from Robert the Bruce' family tree generously provided by Simon Potter

We are left to ponder the words of Sydney Smith, the wittiest, wisest, and most humane of clergymen of that era, "We talk of human life as a journey, but how variously is that journey performed! There are some that come forth girt, and shod, and mantled, to walk on velvet lawns and smooth terraces, where every gale is arrested, and every beam is tempered. There are others who walk on the Alpine paths of life, against driving misery, and through stormy sorrows, over sharp afflictions; walk with bare feet, and naked breast, jaded, mangled, and chilled."

Such was Sophia's life. But she had, unwittingly of course, handed on the baton of her own existence to her daughter Sarah, without whom the Little and Waddell families would have been unrecognisably different, and for that all of us should be deeply grateful.

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The letter that follows was written by Sarah Sophia Whittle at the age of 9 to an unspecified Aunt:

  • possibly a sister of her father Thomas Waterman Whittle
  • alternatively Aunt Eliza(beth) Medhurst née Martin, sister to her mother Sophia Emma Whittle née Martin

Note that Sarah evidently prefers her second name Sophia, but to avoid confusion with her mother she eventually settled for Sophie.

Note also that she evidently has a younger brother Thomas (Tommy), named after their father, and it sounds as though he moved on to prep school in London earlier that year. It also appears that she has a younger sister, at that time staying with the Aunt to whom the letter is addressed.

It does all seem to additionally refute the idea that Sophia Emma Whittle died in 1834, especially as the said Mamma had evidently written to Sarah from Singapore just four months previously!

Berry Villa
Dec 1842

My dear Aunt,

I received your kind letter yesterday morning. I was very glad to have it, not having heard from you before. I received a letter from Mamma dated Aug 2nd about a month ago. It gave me great pleasure, not having heard from her for a long time.

Tommy is at Christ Church School in London. He left here with Mrs Way, 30th April last, He didn't appear to take any notice of being parted from us but I think he feels rather lonely, Mrs Way has kindly asked a friend to see him sometimes, He did so last week. Tommy was very glad to see him because he knew Mrs Way.

I am very much obliged for the sovereign you so kindly sent me but I do not need a new dress at present as Mrs Way kindly provides all I want. I learn Music, French, Drawing, dancing and the use of the Globes. I hope I shall improve in them all to the satisfaction of you and my dear Mamma.

That verse in Dr Watt's hymn, which you repeated to me in your letter, I heard Mrs Way explain to a child in the school, and the precepts which you so kindly named in your letter, have often been impressed on me! I hope, by God's blessing, to profit by them.

Please tell my dear sister that I expect a letter from her.

With love to my sister and cousin
I remain, my dear Aunt,
Your affectionate niece

Sophia Whittle

PS I had forgotten, dear Aunt, to tell you that I am in good health – a blessing which I hope you enjoy and all my dear friends enjoy.

Copy received from Mrs. Moira Stilling. Ref: SARASOPH,002
Photographs were taken 16 Mar 1987.

Footnotes added by Sandy

  1. There is no record of Sarah's sister, nor aunts and cousins. Her mother Sophia Emma Martin was married to Thomas Waterman Whittle and kept a school in North Bridge Road, Singapore.
  2. Sarah was born 1833 and so is writing at the age of 9 yrs. On 14 Mar 1849, aged 15/16 she was married to Dr Robert Little, then aged 29.
  3. Sophia Emma Martin was no relation to Sarah's future mother-in-law Anne Little née Martin.
  4. Silverton lies one mile to the east of the A396, halfway between Exeter and Tiverton, Devon. The Berry is a corruption of the Bury or Burg. There are no signs of the previous occupation evident, the church has long been standing on part of the small plateau, on which several Lime trees stand, planted to celebrate the accession of Charles II.
  5. Berry Villa is the southernmost of a row of dwellings, and is now designated 2 Berry Cottages, It was occupied by a Miss Platt in 1987. At some time in the later 1800's the properties were allowed to revert to farm buildings. The present occupation relates to title deeds of 1904. The gracious masonry gate posts and wrought gate are sufficient evidence that it was the Villa, as also that the foot path and approach to the front door are set in granite slivers as those of the Churchyard.

Mrs Way seems to have been the proprietress of a small residential private school for the education of youngsters whose parents were out East running the Empire. She was evidently a kind and conscientious person, and young Sophia seems to be happy enough (but do we detect an adult influence in the phraseology at one or two places in the letter?).

Boys of course would move on to prep school at the age of 8 and thence to public school at 13, but for girls the prospects were very limited. It didn't do to enjoy education for its own sake – marriage was virtually their only career path, and what husband would want to play second fiddle to an intellectual wife? Kingsley's exhortation to "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever" was no idle threat!

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The letter that follows was written by (Sarah) Sophia Whittle at the age of 28 to her daughter Jessie (aged 8:01) in England. Notice the reference to the Biblical Flood – though The Origin of Species had been published three years earlier, the family was staunchly Presbyterian and theologically conventional.

As per the previous letter, Sophia's children are being educated back in England at small private establishments run by educated gentlewomen as entrepreneurial facets of the imperial system. Even so, there was clearly some kind of hierarchy, as Jessie was about to move up from Miss Eyre's establishment to join her elder sister Sophie at Mrs Mack's.

I really don't know who Tom and Harriet might have been – possibly fellow-pupils?

Apr 23 1862

My dearest Jessie,

I suppose you will tomorrow be removing to Mrs Mack's. I think the 24th was mentioned for your departure from Miss Eyre's.

I an afraid you will miss Tom and Harriet very much, they have been so kind to you. Margaret and little Robert are well. I hope to send you his likeness soon, there is a photographer expected from Edin shortly. I wish Robert could see his dear sisters. How much you would love him.

We are making such a pretty garden. Mr James and Papa and I all work on it. There is a long shady walk beside a high fence covered with convolvulus of different colours, and other creeping plants. At intervals in the walk there is a kind of bower or "bosquet'"as the French call it, and there we place our orchids, some of which are flourishing beautifully. At the end of the walk we are making a Rockery and a small fish

We are going to put on the top of the Rockery a petrified Turtle which was found in the Malay Peninsula, and Papa says it must have lived before the Deluge. We will get some coral and shells to put there also.

The other day we went to a picnic to Changee on the other side of this Island, and after supper we went in the little steamer Singaporean round (obscure) where we get all our granite. We were quite close to (......) but it is all dense jungle as far as we could see. There are fine mountains in the distance, and nearer there was Jahore Hill and (......) (Gunong means mountains) and Pangerang. All covered with trees to the top. There is a long range of mountains all up this Peninsula, said to join the Himalayas, it is a very lovely country little Jessie, "And man alone is vile" as the Hymn so truly says.

Baby has given me a kiss for you and Mary sends some too. Give my love to Sophie and yourself.

I am ever your affectionate Mama.

I forgot the Dolly you wish to send to Margaret. If you ask Mr Beyson the watchmaker, he knows a Mr Thompson who might bring it. Tell him you are Dr Little's little girl.

Original in possession of Mrs Moira Stilling.
Ref SARASOPH 000, Copied 3 Jun 1987.

Footnotes added by Sandy

At the time of writing the children's ages (years:months) and locations were

  1. Sophie and Jessie are in London in the care of a Mrs Mack at 19 Rutland Gardens, though writing from that address 26th June 1863 Sophie refers to her as Mrs Meek.
  2. No mention is made of Max (William Maxwell) who came between Mary and Margaret.
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The letter that follows was written by (Sarah) Sophia Whittle at the age of 28 to her daughter Jessie (aged 8:06) in England, some four months after its precursor.

Not a lot has changed, really, although the letter itself is quite informative.

As before, Jessie is being privately educated back in England and has by now moved up from Miss Eyre's establishment to join her elder sister Sophie at Mrs Mack's.

Also, she and her elder sister Sophie have evidently been to visit their Aunt Mary and young cousins – not to mention Grandmama. And have they seen Uncle William and cousin Jane recently? I really can't yet account for any of these good people, and further information about Thomas Whittle's family background is very hard to find.

Aug 20 1862

My darling Jessie,

By the time you receive this you will be back at school again. I am so glad to hear you like your school now and enjoy your maths so much.

How did you like your sea bathing at Redcar, it must have been such a nice change for you.

I do not know if Mary is to join you or not, we shall hear soon for certain. I hope you were very kind to her and also to Aunt Mary's little boys and that you and Sophie were Auntie's 'little maids' while you were with her. I hope you are being kind to Grandmama too. You cannot please us more in any way than by being very attentive to her. Do you keep her supplied with kettle holders still? Have you seen Uncle William and cousin Jane, have you seen her lately?

We are at Rosemouth, the house which Uncle John built in Papa's plantation and we like being here very much. Cousin John helps Papa to look after the Coolies who work on the plantation.

Margarita and Clarke walk down to the sea beach every morning and so does Baba Robert and his Ayah and Ak Kwee his China boy. Yesterday they went to the village with Auntie, and when little Robert saw the Malay boys he ran after them with a stick and they all ran away but I do not think they were really very frightened, they did it to please him. We brought all the pets here, Tommy Black and Tommy Brown and Kitty.

Will you tell Mrs Mack that the postage is now 1/- by Southampton, as your letters are always insufficiently paid. It used to be 6d but was raised some time ago.

Margaret and Robert send you kisses, give my compliments to Mrs Mack and with best love to Sophie and yourself.

I am your affectionate Mama.

Did you get the two Jahore notes and Siam coins I sent you by Capt Lyall?

Original in possession of Mrs Moira Stilling.

I'm intrigued by the domestic staff that are mentioned. I'd guess that Clarke was a British-born nanny for young Margaret (here referred to as Margarita – in later life she was known as Rita within the family before morphing imperceptibly into Old Grannie).

Baba Robert's Ayah was his nursemaid in Indian terminology, though in Chinese terminology she would be called his Amah, both very respectable titles. For once, Wikipedia isn't terribly helpful. An ayah wasn't necessarily a native woman – Rudyard Kipling's ayah, for example, was a Portuguese Roman Catholic, presumably from Goa. In his earliest recollections of childhood in Bombay, recounted in Something of Myself, he tells us "Our ayah was a Portuguese Roman Catholic who would pray – I beside her – at a wayside Cross. Meeta, my Hindu bearer, would sometimes go into little Hindu temples where, being below the age of caste, I held his hand and looked at the dimly-seen, friendly Gods."

Baba Robert's 'China Boy' came as a complete surprise, however, but now I think I understand. Unless already equipped with a wife, it was almost essential that a European should engage a 'China boy' immediately upon arrival in the Far East. A 'boy' was a virtually indispensible valet, servant, launderer, provisioner, cook, waiter at table, interpreter, amanuensis and factotum. He would make any necessary travel arrangements, buy the tickets, pack or unpack the trunks, get them to or from the railway station or quayside. He would also organise all the household or mess finances and engage or dismiss junior staff as circumstances required. Indeed, as readers of the Wooster and Lord Emsworth stories will immediately recognise, the 'China Boy' was an inscrutable combination of Jeeves and The Efficient Baxter. Click here for a very readable account of this system by an old China Hand at the turn of the last century.

The Auntie with whom the children walked down to the village might quite possibly have been a family relative, of course, but would surely have been dignified by her Christian name. However, it was the custom in Colonial times for non-European servants (or, in the USA, slaves) who had been with the family for a long time, and who had cared for several generations of the younger children, to be referred to affectionately and respectfully as Uncle (think Uncle Tom, or Uncle Remus), Aunt or Auntie (indeed, again in the Southern USA, as Mammy). Click here for the rather toe-curlingly pious antebellum memoir Sketches of Old Virginia Family Servants – double-click to turn the pages.

One can't help being amused by Baba Robert's pugnacity with the stick – it clearly presages his fearless self-reliance in adult life as a famously tough district commissioner in British North Borneo, of which we read in his profile.