Back on 25 March 2007, in an article entitled Half the local Aussie population is leaving! [display], I described the departure from the nearby village of Pont-en-Royans of an Australian expatriate friend named Sheridan Henty, who is a direct descendant of the celebrated Australian pioneers known as the Henty brothers. When I was in London last August, I went along to both Sotheby's and Bonhams to seek information concerning Sheridan's ceramic plaque with a portrait of the young Queen Victoria. Experts pointed out that my closeup photos of the object reveal that, for a miniature painting, it is rather crudely executed in certain places, as if the painter were not particularly skilled in this art form, or as if he had not in fact finished his painting job. This imperfect craftsmanship, combined with the fact that the portrait is unsigned, means that the commercial value of the plaque on the art market is next to nothing... which is a pity in the sense that it's a delightful portrait.
My attempts to discover the origins of this portrait caused me to look closely into the genealogy of Sheridan's Heath ancestors in England. One of her key ancestors was a wealthy shipping merchant, Miles Heath [1710-1777], who built a town house in the Strand, London, named Three Cocks Court. Sheridan has a plate bearing her ancestor's arms.
At the top, above a plate-armor helmet, a stubby round tower has erupted in flames. Inside the shield, there are three cocks. This ancient coat of arms originated in the context of a 16th-century Kentish ancestor named Henry Crow.
When carrying out genealogical research concerning a common name such as Heath, one encounters individuals who, at first sight, appear to lie outside the researcher's domain.
One such person was a baronet, Sir James Heath [1852-1942], of whom I know little. His bookplate [an image on paper, to be glued in books] appears to contain a few of the same elements as in the earlier coat of arms [except for the flames]. This makes me wonder whether James Heath might be a descendant, like Sheridan, of Miles Heath. In any case, this is a line of research I intend to pursue.
If such a link were to be established, this would make Sheridan a distant relative, through marriage, of a celebrated British dynasty that I've heard about ever since I was child: the Fitzroy family, whose chiefs have been for centuries the dukes of Grafton. Indeed, it was Sir Charles Fitzroy [1796-1858], governor of New South Wales, who in 1851 gave the name of his late grandfather, Augustus Henry Fitzroy [1735-1811], the 3rd Duke of Grafton and a former British prime minister, to the country town in New South Wales in which I would be born, nearly a century later.
In 1918, Hylda Madeleine Heath, the daughter of Sir James Heath, married Major Cecil Robert Bates [builder of the Cunard and White Star shipping lines], and their son, Sir Geoffrey Voltelin Bates, in 1957, married into the Fitzroy clan.
Whenever I phone up Sheridan to tell her such stuff, akin to family gossip, I get the impression that I bring a little sunshine into her life.