Mary Roxburgh

Mary Roxburgh, born in Calcutta, was the daughter of a famous Edinburgh botanist, married into a venerable London banking house, and is the great-great-great-grandmother of the actress Helena Bonham Carter: quite a set of connections for someone whose died at only 30 years old.

c.1784 - 30 January 1814
William Roxburgh (1751-1815). Originally from Ayrshire, he studied botany at Edinburgh. In 1766 he became surgeon's mate on an East India Company ship. In 1776 he was appointed assistant surgeon in Madras, with the opportunity to research the botany of the area. In 1781 he was stationed 200 miles north at Samulcotta, where he experimented with commercial pepper and coffee growing. By 1789 he had 40,000 to 50,000 pepper plants, but they failed to fruit. He also grew coffee, sugar cane, mulberry and breadfruit. In October 1789 he had two Indian artists drawing plants he had collected. He was appointed to the official post of naturalist in 1790. In that year he set the first of several consignments of drawings and descriptions to Sir Joseph Banks. By 1794 he had 500 drawings and Plants of the Coast of Coromandel in five folio parts appeared between 1795 and 1820, with 300 engravings, taxonomic descriptions, and information on native uses. During his superintendence, the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta became Inda's main centre for acclimatising plants from abroad. His 'Flora Indica' was published posthumously in 1820. He died at Park Place, Edinburgh, on 18 February 1815 and was buried in the family tomb of his third wife, in Greyfriars. (4)
Miss Bonté, possibly the daughter of the governor of Penang. She was Roxburgh's first wife, and Mary was her only child; he subsequently married a German, Miss Huttenmann, and finally Mary Boswell. Mary had 11 younger half-brothers and sisters as well as illegitimate ones. (4)
She returned to Edinburgh in 1813 and lived with Mrs Boswell
Religious Views
On hearing of her death, a friend in India reported,
our poor friend Stone bears his heavy, & irreparable loss as well as can be expected -- there is however unspeakable comfort contained in her almost dying words, the firm and confident reliance which she had in our Saviour -- May we all possess equal reliance on the same blessed Redeemer, whenever it may please God to call us home (11)
Chapel connection
1814, funeral. She is buried in Greyfriars Churchyard with her father, in her stepmother's family grave.
January 1803, at the Botanical Garden, Calcutta. (3)
Henry Stone, b.1777. He worked in the Bengal Civil Service, and later was a partner in his family bank, Martin, Stone and Martin, which had traded at 68 Lombard Street since at least 1702 (7) In the 1820s he lived at Harrow-on-the-Hill (8).
Her father's will refers to 'all the children of my deceased daughter Mary, late the wife of said Henry Stone' (5) She had a daughter October 1808 and a son October 1810 in Bengal (6). Her eldest daughter Mary married 16 August 1827 Captain William Marjoribanks, brother of Agnes and Janet Marjoribanks. Her daughter Sibella married George Warde Norman, on 12 Oct 1830 at St George, Hanover Square. Their daughter Sibella Charlotte Norman was the great-grandmother of the actress Helena Bonham-Carter.
Mary visited the family of Alexander Tod when she was young. When she was to be sent to India in 1798 his wife Charlotte wrote to her mother,
I cannot express how much I felt at hearing she was at so early a period of life to leave her friends here, I was quite afflicted the first accounts I got, but since I hear she is to travel to London under your parental care I am more reconciled to it, as I hope you will be able by taking her to London to put her into to [sic] proper hands for the voyage. If you take this road to London (which I sincerely hope you may) it would be conferring a very particular favor on us if you & your party will take a dinner with us, or stop the first night with us, we will treat you with as little ceremony as you please, your giving us an opportunity of taking a personal farewell of Maria will be very gratifying to both me, & my daughter, who was so struck when she heard that Maria was going to leave this that she never opened her mouth the whole evening after getting the intelligence. It must likewise be very distressing to your young ladies and yourself Madam to think of parting with your son and Maria at the same time, I hope they will all be fortunate in all their undertaking, & meet with many friends where they are going, & in due time have the happiness of returning to the friends they leave here. (9)
Mary did return, in 1813, but she was gravely ill. Mary wrote.
Captain and Mrs Tod look old and all the girls are grown quite out of my recollection, they are most kind to me and my young folks are often there. Mrs Tod is just the same kind friend I left her. (10)
News of her death first reached India in a letter from the newly-married 'Mrs Cadell (Miss Tod)' (11)

William Roxburgh


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Asiatic Annual Register (1803)
  4. Ray Desmond, 'William Roxburgh, 1751-1815' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  5. William Roxburgh's Will, National Archives of Scotland
  6. British Library India Office family history search Online accessed 24 November 2011
  7. London Gazette, 23 November 1702
  8. List of jury members in The Standard, 24 December 1829
  9. Charlotte Tod to Mrs William Roxburgh, Hampshire Archives c1790s 94M72/F747
  10. Letters from Mary Stone to her husband Henry, May 1812-Nov 1813, Hampshire Archives 94M72/F748
  11. Letter and memoranda relating to the death of Mary Stone, 1814, Hampshire Archives 94M72/F749

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