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George Eliel Sargent and Emma Hewlett

By Marion Sargent

George Eliel Sargent

George Eliel Sargent, born on 2 Jan 1809, was the sixth child of George Sargent (1774-1861), a draper, and his wife Ann Wood (1776-1857). He was born in the beautiful village of Battle in Sussex, but was educated at Rye and at Hunter's Academy, Brunswick Square, London.

He took up a business post in Oxford where he had an introduction to the Chapel which the Hewletts attended. Emma Mary Byles in her Family Notes says that:

George Eliel Sargent and Emma Hewlett (1814-1890) were married in the New Road Baptist Chapel, Oxford, on 12 September 1837.

The young couple lived in Oxford for the first few years of married life. Their first two children were born there; Daniel George in 1838 and Emma in 1840.  George Eliel preached in villages around Oxford, and one of his sermons was afterwards produced in the form of a tract called The Leprosy Cured. This was his first publication,and the beginnings of a literary career which spanned 40 years. In 1842 he gave up his business, which he detested, to devote himself to literature. The family moved to Eythorne in Kent where Emma's mother was living.

Emma's mother, Esther Beuzeville, married Rev. James Philip Hewlett at Henley-on-Thames on 15 April 1809. They had five children, of which Emma was the third, born on 3 January 1814. Her sister Esther Beuzeville Hewlett married George Eliel's brother Ebenezer Sargent. James Philip Hewlett died on 15 February 1820, leaving Esther with five young children to support, which she did by writing books. She married the minister of the Chapel she attended, William Copley, who proved to be far from satisfactory. He took a liking to strong drink, and poor Esther had a hard time trying to shield him from the consequences of his indulgences.

George Eliel Sargent was a deeply religious man with strong Calvinistic views. He was a prolific writer of books and tracts with a definite religious and moral flavour. Most of these were published by the Religious Tract Society (RTS). In September 1851 the Editor of the RTS, Mr W Haig Miller, wrote to George Eliel asking if he would supply material for a new periodical which the Society had in contemplation. The Leisure Hour first appeared in January 1852, and the first article in it was the "Accommodation Bill" by G E Sargent, though his name was not then published as its author. In May 1854 the new magazine Sunday at Home first appeared and many of its pages were enlivened by the pen of G E Sargent. His son Edward believed that the popularity of this magazine was in no small part due to the inclusion of The Story of a Pocket Bible in serial form.

George and Emma lived in 'Church Hill House' at Eythorne for 10 years. During this time they had six children: Ruth (1842); George Hewlett (1844); Edward George (1845); Mary Esther (1849); Sidney George (Feb-Mar 1851); and Sidney George Hewlett (1852). At the time of the 1851 census George Eliel was 42 years old and his occupation was listed as "Author: Educational, Religious and General Literature". His wife Emma was 37 and was most likely teaching the four middle children at home, while the eldest, Daniel, was at the private school run by his uncle Theophilus Hewlett in The Street, Upper Eythorne. Mary was only one year old, and Sidney George would have died by the time the census was conducted. Emma's mother Esther Copley was living at 'Church Hill House' at the time. She was 62, and her occupation was "Author: Literature for the young and working classes". There was also a general servant residing with them, 28 year old Ann Hawks.

In spite of his industry, writing was not a lucrative business and George Eliel's wife struggled to raise the children and manage the household. J. Gilbert Wiblin, in his paper A Quiet By-Lane of Huguenot Story: A paper on a refugee family named Roussel and their descendants, (1931) states that "... in Emma Hewlett he had a resourceful and heroic wife, in whom the cares of domesticity did not submerge her intellectual and cultural interests." The children also looked back "with a feeling akin to wonder as to how things were so well managed and certainly with gratitude to both parents for their gentle, loving, Christian training and example, and for the many sacrifices they must have made." (Edward Sargent, Memoir of Author published in a posthumous edition of The Story of a City Arab)

The last few years at Eythorne were tinged with sadness, as firstly one-month-old Sidney died in March 1851, followed by Esther Copley on 17 July 1851. Esther caught a chill when out helping a needy person one cold and damp night. The first-born, Daniel, who showed so much promise of a bright future, died aged 15 on 14 November 1853. All three were buried in the Baptist Churchyard at Eythorne.

I have in my possession, a book given to Daniel when he was five years old, John Bunyan's The Holy War, made by Shaddai upon Diabolus. (Heavy going for one so young!) The book is further inscribed "This book is now given, by his affectionate parents to G H Sargent, in remembrance of his dear brother - Daniel - who died Nov 14th 1853. Eythorne, January 1, 1854."

Later that year the Sargent family moved to Whitfield, Kent, where the youngest child, Frederick George, was born in February 1855. They remained here for 15 years; George Eliel continued with his writing, and preaching in the towns and villages for miles around. In a Memoir of Author written by his son Edward Sargent, George Eliel is described as follows: "The high character, consistent life, and Christian example were of much value to all with whom he came in contact. His counsel and advice were sought by many, and always gladly given, as well as help to those in need, so far as it was in his power to bestow it. His religion did not make him dull and gloomy." But his life in the country was soon to end, as other duties called.

In 1868 George Eliel Sargent and his family moved to London when he was appointed by the Committee of the Religious Tract Society to the post of Tract Editor. He commenced his new work with much energy and zeal and the "Tract Magazine" flourished under his management. He remained in this post until "the infirmitives of age [compelled] him to retire from it" in 1880. He remained active in the service of the Society reading manuscripts submitted for publication, and offering much useful criticism and counsel. George Eliel had been troubled by bronchial problems for some time, but when the end came it was rather sudden. On Sunday 22 July 1883 after spending some time writing in his study, he sat in his garden in Dalston contemplating and thinking. That evening alarming symptoms caused the family to telegraph absent members, and as his eldest surviving son George Hewlett read the 51st Psalm and prayed by his bedside, George Eliel Sargent quietly, peacefully and without much pain, slipped into eternal rest. He was 71.

His remains were interred in the quiet country burial ground which surrounds the Baptist Chapel at Eythorne, where over thirty years earlier his two sons and mother-in-law were laid to rest. His son Edward wrote "The voice now silent and the pen laid down, - has their work ceased? Or have they...left behind a fertilizing power, whose influence shall never be entirely lost." Now, over 125 years later his works are being read and re-published, and one may even be made into a feature film.

Emma Sargent lived for another seven years. She died on 13 March 1890 and joined her mother, husband and two sons in the Eythorne Baptist churchyard.

Perhaps the last word should come from Emma Mary Byles' memories of her grandfather, where something of the character of George Eliel Sargent can be gleaned:

And again:

The British Library has 68 items by George Eliel Sargent on its pre 1976 Reference Collections file. Unfortunately, many of these books were destroyed in the Second World War. George Eliel's first published work, in 1841, was The Leprosy Cured. His best known book is The Story of a Pocket Bible. Click here to see a list of his books.

The archives for the Religious Tract Society, which is now incorporated into the United Society for Christian Literature, are housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh St, Russell Square, London. I am grateful for having being granted access to the archives to further my research.

The children of George Eliel Sargent and Emma Hewlett:

    1.   Daniel George Sargent,  Born  8 July 1838,  Oxford
          Died 14 Nov 1853, Eythorne, Kent

    2.  Emma Sargent,  Born 29 Sept 1840,  Oxford
         Died 24 Jan 1926, Whitfield, Kent
         Married Feb 1879
         Thomas Davison

    3.  Ruth Sargent, Born 28 July 1842, Eythorne
         Died 21 Jan 1881, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
         Married 24 Sept 1863
         Pierre  Beuzeville  Byles,  Born  1830
         Died 7 Sept 1881, Henley-on-Thames

     4.  George Hewlett Sargent, Born 27 May 1844, Eythorne
          Died 22 Oct 1914, Launceston, buried Wynyard, Tasmania
          Brewer's  clerk,   Clerk at Cadbury's,  Orchardist,  Fruiterer, Grocer, Accountant
          Married 20 Dec 1873
          Elizabeth   (Bessie)   Dodd,    Born 19 Dec 1849,   Iver   Heath, Buckinghamshire
          Died 3 March 1924, Wynyard, Tasmania

     5.  Edward George Sargent, Born 9 Oct 1845, Eythorne
         Died 1934, Bristol
         Bank Manager in Bristol
         Married 19 July 1871
         Emily Grose, Born 5 April 1847, St Austell, Cornwall
         Died 1 Nov 1928, Bristol
     6.  Mary Esther Sargent, Born 7 June 1849, Eythorne
          Married 14 Sept 1876
          George Sutton Foyster

     7.  Sidney George Sargent, Born 8 Feb 1851, Eythorne
          Died 9 Mar 1851, Eythorne

    8.   Sidney George Hewlett Sargent, Born 11 Nov 1852, Eythorne
         Died 9 Nov 1928
         Vicar of Nonington, Kent
         Married 14 Jan 1891
         Beatrice Templar, Died c. 1931
   9.   Frederick George Sargent, Born 12 Feb 1855, Whitfield
         Died Dec 1915, Shepherdswell, Kent
         Employed  by Religious Tract Society until  1900,  Road surveyor for Dover Rural District Council
         Married 24 May 1890
         Florence Crundall, Born c.1868, Died 1960
Frederick and Florence Sargent were the parents of Alexander(Alec)  Sargent (1895-1989),  the  cousin  who  sparked  my interest in family history thirty years ago.

In the grounds of the Eythorne Baptist Church is this headstone:
In Memory of
Born July 1838 Died Nov 1853
And of
Born Feb and Died Mar 1851
Beloved sons of
and grandsons of
Early Blest
Also of the above named
Author of 'The Story of the Pocket Bible'
and many other works
who died July 23rd 1883 : Aged 71
and is interred in the adjoining grave
Daughter, Wife and Mother of the above
Born January 3rd 1814  Died March 13th 1890
Interred in adjoining grave

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