Ann Walker’s Return to Shibden
By Steve Crabtree, March 2020
Following the death of Anne Lister on 22nd September, 1840, Ann Walker had the arduous and unenviable job of returning to England, bereft of her wife’s confidence, experience, and support. She also had a choice to make – was Anne Lister of Shibden Hall to be buried in a foreign land, or was her body to be repatriated to England, to join her kindred in the Lister vault at Halifax Minster? The decision is well known, and was taken almost immediately after Anne’s passing. An article in the Halifax Guardian carrying news of Anne Lister’s death also states that Miss Walker would return Anne Lister’s remains to England by way of Constantinople.
What has been more difficult has been piecing that return journey back together.
For a long time it was assumed that Ann and her late wife travelled back to England together by way of Moscow, then possibly on to Constantinople and back to England. A letter survives in the Calderdale Archives in which Ann Walker writes to David Booth, her steward at Shibden, asking him to make certain arrangements and famously encouraging him to “Go on, fearlessly do your duty”. This message was transmitted from Moscow on December 17th, 1841. While Ann Walker was definitely in Russia, Moscow is several hundred miles from Kouatis (modern-day Kutaisi), where Anne Lister passed away several months earlier, and it is a long way in the wrong direction to return a body “by way of Constantinople”.
The narrative jumps to the 19th of February, 1841. A letter arrives at Parker & Adam’s law firm from a Reverend James Gratrix, mentioning that Ann Walker is “recently returned” and Gratrix would like to purchase some land from her at Northgate. From this, we can ascertain that Walker has already arrived back in England sometime prior to the 19th of February. Anne’s body, however, would not be buried until the 29th April. Explaining what caused the delay between Walker’s return and Anne’s internment is a chance letter from York Solicitor William Gray jnr, executor of Anne’s will and co-trustee of the Shibden Estate. In his letter to Ann, dated the 5th of March, 1841, Gray expresses his concern over the lack of news regarding a certain ship – the Levant Packet. He has entrusted London lawyer and Gray family friend, Mr. Brodick, with keeping an eye out for the ship and to Gray’s growing unease, Brodrick has heard nothing.
So why would Gray be writing to Walker regarding the loss of a ship? Why would either of these two landlocked Yorkshire folk be looking out for Levant Packet? The answer is, most likely, in the shared thing that they had in common – Anne Lister. We can speculate that at this time Lister’s body had remained in Georgia or the vicinity of northern Turkey, and was currently in transit back to England via Constantinople. To confirm this theory, one must look at the National Archives box “Walker v Gray”, which details several accounts and expenses, including one to Mr Brodrick, who is paid £57.16.9 for “Freight of the body of deceased to England from Trezibond”. Ann Walker had travelled back to England via Moscow, and upon her return, finalised the arrangements for Anne Lister to be taken a much shorter trip overland to Trebizond (modern day Trabzon), on the shores of the Black Sea. The body then could make its way by ship through the Bosporus, passed Constantinople, and through the Mediterranean.
Tracking the Levant Packet is slightly more difficult. Not only do several ships appear under that name at the same time, but it is unclear as to whether Gray is referring to ‘The’ Levant Packet – a ship sailing under that name, or if he is referring to a Levant Packet, that is – a packet ship sailing from the Levant (Turkey). A ship bearing the name Levant Packet makes shore at Gravesend, London, on or around the 9th April. This is likely the ship which returned Anne to England. Following the arrival of this Levant Packet, the Anne Lister’s will is proved on 17th April in London, her coffin arrives in Halifax on 24th April, and she is finally laid to rest on the 29th. Ann Walker, as outlined in the will, would receive a life interest in Shibden Hall, essentially becoming responsible for two large and prosperous estates.
Original article posted 28/12/19 via Facebook.
With grateful thanks to Diane Halford for the all National Archives information and informed conversation, and also to West Yorkshire Archives Service for access and assistance.
WYAS: CN:103/2 – Letter from William Gray to Ann Walker
National Archives: C 14/619/W106 – Account for Mr Brodrick, letter from Rev James Gratrix researched by Diane Halford