Life story retold by Mary Chambers
Edward Purvis fought with the King’s Own (4th) Regiment of Foot in the Peninsular War (the war in the Iberian Peninsula against the invasion of Napoleonic forces). He had a narrow escape at the Battle of Corunna (1809) when a French bullet passed through his hat and narrowly missed killing him. He received both the Salamanca and the Coruna clasps.
Military General Service Medal awarded to Lieutenant Edward Purvis, with two clasps for Salamanca, and Corunna (from Ulric of England- Fine Militaria).
After his retirement from the regular army, he became an Adjutant in the Berkshire Militia. He and his family lived in Whitley, and later moved to Watlington House.
Purvis was a well-known sight training his troops on the Orts Meadow (where Orts Road now stands). He was also a magistrate, a justice of the peace, and a churchwarden at St John’s Church, just across the road from Watlington House.
Edward Purvis married Lettice Elizabeth Mulso (1788–1875), daughter of the Rev John Mulso and niece of Hester Chapone (a bluestocking, essayist and campaigner for women’s education). They had seven children: Caroline Elizabeth (b.1818), Jane Lauretta (b.1820), Eleanor Sophia (b.1822), Amelia (b.1824), Marcella (b.1825), Edward Mulso (b.1827), Mary (b.1828).
Their third daughter, Eleanor Sophia Purvis (1822–1866), married a curate of St John’s Church, Septimus Lloyd Chase, the youngest son of Samuel Chase. Chase had gone out to Australia at the end of 1849 to become the incumbent of the pro-cathedral of St James, in Melbourne. He returned in 1851 in order to get married, bringing with him the Australian Aboriginal boy, Willie Wimmera, whom he hoped to educate. During Willie’s time in Reading he was invited to dine at Captain Purvis’ home with the rest of the Chase family. He is said to have behaved very well, “far better than many a gentleman’s son would have done”, and the family seem to have made him welcome.
Eleanor married Lloyd Chase at St Giles, Reading, on 8th January 1852. Willie’s memoir notes that the Chase family were “prevented being much with him for some weeks” around this time. It’s not recorded whether or not he attended their wedding. Willie died a couple of months later. The couple sailed for Melbourne in July and the first of their seven children was born in October. Eleanor died in 1866 when the youngest child was two years old; her husband remained in Australia and continued to be involved in Aboriginal matters for the rest of his life.
Both Captain Purvis and his wife lived well into their 80s. He seems to have been an active and engaged citizen, also taking an interest in the management of the Thames Navigation (arguing that the Thames should be locally managed rather than being overseen by the London-based Thames Conservancy Board). The inscription on his grave reads “Blessed are the peacemakers” – a surprising inscription for a military man. His ghost is said to haunt Watlington House; it’s claimed he can be seen sitting at an upstairs window in his red military jacket, smoking his pipe, just as he sat when he was alive. I’ve never come across any reason that might have provoked him to become a restless spirit. Perhaps he just enjoyed watching the world go by?
Buried in Section 69, Row O, Number 13