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Elizabeth Crisp nee Marsh 1735-1785

Born: at Portsmouth the 14 September, 1735, christened 3 October 1735 at St Thomas Church in Portsmouth and died of breast cancer in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, 30 April 1785, buried 1 May 1785.
Daughter of: Milbourne Marsh (1709-1779) and Elizabeth Evans (17??-1776) or Katharine (Catherine) Marsh (nee Soan) who died 18 December 1776 at Chatham.
Sister of:
1. Maj Francis Millbourne Marsh (1738-1782).
2. John Marsh (1746-1823) who married Lucy Gosling (Gostling) (1758?-1845).
Elizabeth married: James Crisp Esq (????-1779)., a lineal descendant of Sir Nicholas Crisp, named by Clarendon as a Baronet in the time of Charles I.
Elizabeth and James had issue:
1.  Burrish Crisp (1762-1811) born in London, 27th April 1764?, christened at Allhallows, Bread St, London 27 May 1762?.  Died at Calcutta.
2.  Elizabeth Maria Shee (nee Crisp, 1764-1838) who married Sir George Shee (1754-1825).

We know of Elizabeth from the following sources:

1. A handwritten manuscript, possibly by Eliza, now in the Special Collection of the University of California at Los Angeles (MS#170/604 YRL UCLA).  Another handwritten manuscript passed down in the family.
2. Her book "The Female Captive: a narrative of facts which happened in Barbary in the year 1756" published by Bathhurst, London in 1769.
3. Diary of her uncle George Marsh written in the late 1700s.
4. "History of the Ancient Family of Marsh" by Joseph J. Green, Archivist and Genealogist, 1903, revised to date by Wm. Ernest Marsh, of Marston, Bromley, Kent, 1912.
5. The book "The Oriental Tale in England" by Martha Pike, published London: Frank Cass & Co, 1966.  Mention on page 50-51 and 286.
6. The book "No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travellers" by Barbara Hodgson.  Published Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2002. The Crisp/Marsh reference is on pages 98-99.
7. The book "Captives: The Story of Britain's Pursuit of Empire and How its Soldiers and Civilians Were held Captive by the Dream of Global Supremacy, 1600-1850." by Linda Colley, published by Jonathan Cape, London, 2002.
8. Elizabeth's biography 'The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh' by Prof Linda Colley, 2007. This is an excellent book.
9. Entries copied from the Bible of Rev George Augustus Eliott Marsh.
10. Family letters from the Betty Harrison archive.
11. Captivity, Marriage and Influence: the entangled fortunes of the Marsh and Towry families, 1755-1808, by Roger Knight.


In 1756, while on a sea voyage, Elizabeth was captured by Moroccan corsairs off the coast of North Africa.  The crew and passengers were all taken as captive by a Sultan.  At the time she was unmarried and one of the Moroccan slaves who had befriended her, suggested that they pretend that she was married to a fellow passenger, James Crisp, whom she had known previously.  Her fellow captors felt that if the Moroccans realised that she was in fact unmarried, they would quickly sell her off to the highest bidder as a white bride.  Eventually she and many of her fellow captors were released and made it back to England.  She later married James Crisp (who was kinially descended from Sir Nicholas Crisp, mentioned by Clarendon as a Baronet in the reign of King Charles I).  Elizabeth and James had quite a good life style for a number of years but unfortunately James became bankrupt in 1767 and then went to India in 1769.  Elizabeth followed meeting up with him at Madras around March 1771.  James was involved in many unsuccessful money making activities. 

She wrote about her adventures in a book "The Female Captive: a narrative of facts which happened in Barbary in the year 1756" published by Bathhurst, London in 1769.  I only know of one copy which is in the British Library in London.  This book has some annotations by Sir W Musgrave who has added in some of the names that Elizabeth, presumably for reasons of discretion, had left out.

Elizabeth's son Burrish Crisp had a number of illigitimate children.  John Henry Crisp born 27 August 1789 and baptised July 1794.  A daughter Elizabeth Margaret Crisp who married John Fombelle (????-1849) in Calcutta 10 April 1809.  She is buried in the English Cemetery in Florence haveing died aged 73, 8 January 1865.  Burrish Crisp died 26 April 1811, in Calcutta.


The relevant extract from George Marsh's diary reads as follows:

. . . Elizabeth was contracted to Captain Towney of the Navy when at Minorca, before which Mr James Crisp, Captain of the Minorca Pacquet paid his addresses to her but he was not thought a suitable match for her, tho' a fine handsome man and rich. Soon after Captain Towney was ordered - to England, her father was ordered to go to Gibraltar to be Naval Officer there, and the French having landed at the east end of Minorca, she and her mother were sent to Barcelona, and thence to England, upon her arrival there her father received a letter from Captain Towrey Towney ? in London importing that his cousin Mr. Clevland then Secretary to the Admiralty insisted upon his marrying a lady, he had provided for him, which was a great disappointment and shock to her father and herself.

They nevertheless thought it adviseable for her to proceed to England to me, and accordingly agreed with a Master of a merchant ship who he could depend upon for her passage. They had not sailed from Gibraltar above four days before they were attacked and taken by a Saffee Rover the 8th May 1756 and carried into that port the 14th of the same month and when all the crew and passengers were ordered upon deck she was exceedingly surprised to see Mr Crisp, her former admirer amongst them, who was who was coming to England to settle in London as a Spanish merchant:- The Moors took her only out of the ship into their own, which was so nasty and full of bugs that she could not sit down or hardly breath, they did not however behave amiss, except pointing and laughing at her:- Soon after she and the other passengers and ships crew were put in a prison and an express sent to the Emperor of Morocco of the event. In the interim her father sent an express of it from Gibraltar to Lord Anson, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and an express was immediately sent out to Gibraltar to Sir Edward Hawke, then Commander in Chief there to demand her and the other prisoners, but before that got there the Emperor had ordered her and the other prisoners to be carried to him at Morocco, in which three weeks journey she suffered much in going over the hideous barren mountains, where their tents were frequently pitched to rest themselves, which were strictly guarded by the Moors, as the wily boars came continually running towards them, and had they not made a light by burning a parcel of straw upon these occasions, which frightened and drove them away, otherwise they would have been demolished by them. When they came near the city the officers of the Moors ordered them to halt and examine their baggage, and made her put on the finest clothes she had which were trimmed with silver, and as Mr Crisp was the only gentleman passenger they made him showeyest cloths he had, and not finding any laced boots, but very rich laced waistcoats, they obliged him to put them on, and over the other, then put them upon asses and made them ride through the city to the Court, and the rest of the passengers and crew of the ship following together close after them amidst innumerable bodies of the natives following and rejoicing. When Mr Crisp had an opportunity to speak to Miss Marsh in the prison after they were landed he intimated that unless she would consent to call him her husband, he was certain the Emperor would detain her in his Seraglio, to which previous to their journey she consented to do, and he called her his wife, and in order to corroborate this, he got a plain ring from one of his fellow prisoners and wrapped it up very carefully in a certificate he got written of their marriage which he as carefully placed at the bottom of one of her trunks: so that on her being carried into the Emperor's Court, he acted the part of a madman, crying out for his wife and wanted to follow her, but was prevented by the guards; and she on her part cryed terribly after her husband, and the certificate and ring being found it was really thought they were married.

The Emperor behaved civil to her and observed to his courtiers that tho' she was married, she was very pretty and would be remarkably so, when she grew fatter, he being very fond of fat women, indeed she was rather too much inclined to be fat. He told her if she would stay with him she should never want for the finest clothes and the most curious gold and silver muslin were there upon brought to show her, and he even desired and insisted that she should go into and see his Sergalio, for which purpose one of the women of it conducted her through. In which she said there were a vast number, and so fat that they could hardly walk, and all finely dressed in rich muslins and sashes around them ornamented with gold and silver who all seemed wonderfully surprised at her dress, particularly her stays.

During the time she was there she cried very much for her husband, and one of the women whispered in her ear that the Emperor was a tender hearted man and she was sure he would not (as she was married) detain her against her will. 

She was soon after ordered to be conveyed to a room in a prison where all the other prisoners were but she was frequently brought to the court and was tempted with great promises to stay and live with the Emperor, at length the express arrived from Sir Edward Hawke in the Kings name demanding her and the other prisoners, and as he could not prevail with her to continue with him, he consented to permit her and them to have their liberty after a confinement of three months observing that had it not been for the insolence as he termed it, of Ambassador Parker, in coming to his Court with dirty boots on, he never should have detained any of the King of England's subjects.

This was Captain Sir Hyde Parker, senior, whose head he said he would have had for it, if he had not got immediately afterwards out of his country. He then put on her wrists a pair of what he called 'Bracelets' which were of silver and more like horse shoes than anything else and wished her safe to England. Whilst he was doing this she saw a young European slave running full speed across a large court, and a Moor after him with a drawn sabre, with which he cut off his head at one stroke, which she afterwards heard was for striking a Moor. A Minorcan who was a great favourite with the Emperor and constantly attended him knowing and having heard something of her father, when Naval Officer at Minorca was particularly attentive and kind to her, so that when the Emperor had given her and the other prisoners their liberty, he had provided the quickest conveyance to carry them to the Port of Safee, off which His Majesty's Ship Portland, Captain Jarvis Maplesdon, was waiting for them, and sent boats on shore for the like purpose, which they all hastily and with the utmost joy got into and proceeded to the ship. In a few days after she left Morocco the Emperor changed his mind with regard to her, and sent a party of Moors with orders to use the utmost speed after them, and to bring her back, but she was fortunately got on board the Portland before they reached the sea coast. On their arrival at Gibraltar Mr Crisp applied to her father for his consent to marry her, to which she was willing to give her's and upon his reflecting on his great care of his daughter and of this extraordinary event, he wisely approved thereof, and they were accordingly married at Gibraltar.

After which they came to England and he settled in London as a Spanish merchant and with his wife's and his own fortune began with a very considerable capital, and continued many years very successfully as such; but as he and his wife were both too much inclined to ape the fashion and expenses of people of very great fortune in all kinds of entertainments and ruinous follies he became in about fourteen years a bankrupt and he appeared to have no good principles for he never could obtain a certificate.  He had been a play fellow with Sir Eyre Cooke and they renewed their acquaintance at Minorca, when  Sir Eyre was a Subaltern Officer there, and he was Captain of the Packet, upon Mr Crisp's getting out to the East Indies Sir Eyre was therefore disposed to a great friend to him insomuch that from his recommendation he flourished in trade there very fast, and sent to England for his wife who accordingly proceeded there in one of His Majesty's ships commanded by Captain Dent; leaving two infants, a son and a daughter, and when the son was about four years of age, they sent for him, and his grandfather agreed with Sir - Hutchinson, a Captain of an Indiaman then residing at Eltham to take care of the child and carry him to Calcutta to his parents for the sum of eighty guineas, and desired he might be conveyed to Gravesend when the ship was there and put on board under his charge, if he should not be there himself, of whoever might be the commanding officer, to whom he requested he would pay this sum. He did so accordingly to Mr Raymond Snow, the chief mate, and made handsome presents to the Captain's Steward for his particular care and attention to the child who was a manly beautiful boy.

Two days afterwards Mr Snow was a bankrupt and as the Captain said he only gave verbal directions for the payment of the money, he could not be forced to keep to his agreement, nor could he afford to lose so much money; at length he said if his grandfather would give him fifty pounds more he would carry the child which he was therefore obliged to comply with, but when he delivered him to his parents instead of taking proper care of, he suffered him to be the utmost destroyed with vermin and filth. In about a year after his arrival a Persian merchant who had concerns with his father was so struck with the boy that he begged he might go with him to Persia and learn that language which he agreed would be the means of making a fortune upon his return to Calcutta.

With much persuasion his parents permitted it, where he resided a considerable time, and when returned to Calcutta he became very successful, and was appointed a writer upon the Bengal Establishment, and is now a senior merchant there.

Some time after Mrs Crisp came to England to see her father who was in a very declining state of health, with whom her daughter resided, and was well educated and accomplished, very handsome and uncommonly sensible. And as his death happened in a few months after her arrival in England, she returned with her daughter to India in a Kings Storeship commanded by Lieutenant Bechino, and on arrival she found her husband had extended his trade so much as to ruin himself and others who were concerned with him, which destroyed his spirits and health, and occasioned his death about two months before her arrival. Her son had, however, prepared a house for her and his sister, who lived very happily together. Her daughter married to George Shee Esq. Judge of the Court of Ind--- at Dacca, a very honorable worthy opulent man. Soon after this Mrs Crisp had a violent cancer in her breast which she had revolution enough to have cut off, taking care that her son and daughter should not be on the spot when the operation was performed. In it she suffered excruciating pain, and when it was taken off it weighed upwards of five pounds. She lived a few months after and died the 30th April 1785 when she was about forty six years of age. Her daughter, Mrs Shee, and her husband about three years after returned to London, where they now reside, since which he bought an estate and lived in Ireland and was created a Baron and was appointed Surveyor of the Ordinance at Dublin. Mrs Crisp was a handsome and very engaging woman with great abilities. She wrote and published a book with an account of her being taken and carried to Morocco entitled the Female Captive:-

End of the section from George Marsh's diary.

Elizabeth was buried in the old English Cemetary in Calcutta (Kolkata) India in 1785.  A tomb was built over her grave and her son Burrish was buried next to her in 1811.  The tomb for Burrish is still standing and is the tomb in the center of the above image.  The tomb for Elizabeth is no longer present presumably demolished for building materials by some of the squatters who lived in the cemetary in the 1960s and 1970s.  In the above photo the warden is pointing to where Elizabeth is buried and where her tomb would have once stood.


If you have any further information please do contact me.