Malcolm Billinge and Frances Billinge 2017

 Members of four higher-status families from East Devon moved into the parish of Bovey Tracey during Queen Victoria’s reign. The Divetts from Bystock, Withycombe Raleigh, the Bullers from Strete Raleigh, Whimple, the Hughes from Woodhayes, Whimple and the Fox-Strangways from Rewe. The Hughes and the Fox-Strangways members were closely related to the Buller family via female lines.

This is one of four companion articles which give details of each family’s connections with Bovey Tracey, and each narrative includes examples of social events attended by different members of these families. An article on the Divett family is available under the ‘People’ menu of this site.The reason for these families  coming to Bovey Tracey would appear to involve the Bovey Pottery and the Lignite Works and consequently each article will also make reference to details that tend to support this suggestion.

The Bullers were a prominent family in Victorian England. The main Devon branch of this family lived at Downes House, Crediton and it is the children of William Buller, brother of James Buller of Downes who are associated with Bovey Tracey.

Thomas, Elizabeth, Henrietta, Frances and James Buller were born in Maidwell, Northamptonshire, but William’s family had moved to Strete Raleigh, Whimple by the early 19th century and they are the  subject of this article.

Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller (1792-1852)
Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller RN married Anne Divett, the only daughter of the late Edward Divett MP of Bystock in 1827. Six years later John Divett married Thomas’ sister Henrietta Buller and in 1843 the two brothers-in-law went into partnership to acquire the ailing Folly Pottery at Bovey Tracey. Thomas was well acquainted with brick-works in East Devon and this connection will be explored in a future article. There was to be a Buller partner in the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company for the next forty years.

The Folly Pottery was put up for sale at the Union Inn, Bovey Tracey in 1836 with the advertisement describing that it included a dwelling house, twenty-eight acres of land, five cottages and many workshops.1  Seven years later it was  leased from the trustees of the Earl of Devon’s   by John Divett and Captain Wentworth Buller.2
Around this time John and Henrietta Divett set up home at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey whereas Thomas and Ann Buller moved between the family home at Strete Raleigh, Whimple and London.The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company featured in the Great Exhibition of 1851 with,  ‘No. 128 exhibited by T. W. Buller, Bovey Tracey, of the materials and produce of that neighbourhood, the most interesting of which are jugs and other articles of pottery, manufactured or fired by lignite found close to the Pottery.’4

In 1852 Thomas and Ann Buller’s daughter Cecie married at the family home in Whimple and among the guests were John, Henrietta and Mary Divett, Miss Lewin and Mr and Mrs Fox-Strangways, showing the social closeness of these families.5

Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller died the following year and a few years later he was still remembered as at Bovey Tracey’s 1859 Mayor’s Monday dinner when Jabez Mugford praised Captain Buller and John Divett for the prosperity of the town. Dr Haydon, a local doctor living on East Street, also praised Buller and referred to the ‘dreadful disease (that) took him.’6  Following Thomas’ death his widow Ann continued to live at Strete Raleigh with their children, and she died in 1880 aged seventy-six.

The Son, Wentworth William Buller (1834-83), inherits his father’s interest in the Pottery Company
Wentworth William Buller, son of Thomas and Ann was only seventeen when his father died making Wentworth the co-owner of the Bovey Pottery. The Pottery was flourishing and in 1854 we learn that, ‘The potteries are in full work. Extensive orders have been received for large quantities of earthenware. Buildings are being erected, and the ‘Roochian’ war does not seem to affect the trade in this branch.’7

At Wentworth William’s coming-of-age celebration at Strete Raleigh he was described in the press as, ‘The young lord’, Wentworth being lord of the manors of Whimple, Strete Raleigh and Cobdon.One commentator added this unknowingly ominous tribute, ‘If wishes will do it, the young lord will have a long life, and a merry one.’9

Two years later Wentworth qualified as a magistrate for Devon, and he was also promoted to lieutenant in the 1st Devon Regiment Yeomanry Cavalry.10 

Wentworth took an active interest in developing the Bovey Pottery. In 1861 he entered into a partnership with Jabez Mugford, mayor of Bovey Tracey and proprietor of the Union Hotel, setting up the ‘Spur Works’ at the Pottery and patenting new kiln furniture.11 Spurs and stilts were small, spikey ceramic pieces used to separate clay products during firing. (Fig.1.). He had already

Figure 1. Examples of Bovey Tracey Spurs and Stilts. Malcolm Billinge 2017.

established his own cockspur and stilt manufacturing business in Staffordshire as W. W. Buller & Co trading in Joiners Square, Hanley.12 By 1868 W. W. Buller & Co was exporting porcelain insulators to developing countries and at home the company was supplying telegraph insulators to electrical industries and the Metropolitan Railway, for London Tramways.13

Wentworth also contributed to local social and intellectual life. He took part in the South Devon Archery Club meeting at Powderham with his sister Gertrude, aunt Henrietta Divett and cousin Mary Divett.14 At the 1867 Horticultural and Industrial Show held in the grounds of Parke, Bovey Tracey a reporter considered that, ‘The most novel feature of the exhibition was the Industrial and Art Loan Department under the management of Mr Wentworth Buller … The Bovey Tracey Pottery Company exhibited some artistic illustrations of the art of pottery, from the raw materials to the finished ware.’ John Divett displayed a Swiss carving of ‘Grace at a peasant’s table.’15

Also in 1867 Wentworth’s widowed mother Ann Buller took part in a prestigious Charity Bazaar in Exeter along with his aunt Henrietta and cousin Mary Divett.16

 Wentworth had an enquiring mind. When the Exeter Naturalists’ Club visited Bovey Tracey to be shown around the coal pits and potteries by John Divett, Wentworth was a participant who later read the group a paper on the ‘Geographical Distribution of Plants’ while they enjoyed a ‘substantial luncheon at Mugford’s Union Hotel.’17 In 1868 his paper on meteorology was published in the Devonshire Association Transcations.18

 White’s Directory of 1878 records Wentworth as living at Chapple, a farmhouse on the outskirts of Bovey Tracey, not far from the Pottery.19 George Ross Divett was living there in 1892 once he had succeeded his uncle John Divett at the Pottery.20

There was a puzzling local press report about Wentworth in 1877 when he was fined for keeping a dog without a license. In his defence Wentworth’s counsel said that he been ill and went abroad and  was in, ‘such a prostrate condition that he could not attend to business of any kind.’21 That same year a meeting of the creditors of Wentworth’s estate was held at the Craven Hotel, Charing Cross, London.22 At an 1881 Exeter County Court hearing a Mr Harris applied to the court to sanction certain resolutions of the creditors by which the trustees were empowered to offer Mr Divett the potteries for £12,000 and also authorising them to deal with the sum of £100 per annum left by the debtor’s mother, Ann Buller, who had died in 1880. This meant Divett would then own all of the pottery company. The court hearing  was preliminary to the sale of the estate the proceeds of which were expected to pay Wentworth’s creditors 20s in the pound.23

Liquidation of the Buller/Divett Pottery partnership was confirmed in 1882 and further details of Wentworth’s financial difficulties are contained in mortgages and conveyances of 1871 and 1873, and 1882 all held locally.24

Wentworth William Buller died in Rome in 1883 aged forty-nine but the cause of his death remains elusive. His illness referred to in 1877 may have contributed to his business difficulties and also his early death. He is commemorated in stone 710 in the Cimitero Accatolico in Rome with the inscription stating he was of Strete Raleigh (Fig. 2) Nearby are the graves of Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. His executor was his nephew Henry Wentworth Hughes who was residing at Goonah in the East Indies, and Wentworth’s estate was valued at £1,610.25

Figure 2. Grave of William Wentworth Buller, Cimitero Acattolica di Roma www.cemeteryrome.it accessed 18 June 2017.


Dame Elizabeth Caroline Lewin (née Buller) (1801-90)
Elizabeth Buller was sister to Henrietta Divett (née Buller), Captain Thomas Wentworth, James and Frances. Her husband Sir Gregory Allnut Lewin joined the Royal Navy three years after Trafalgar and saw active service against the French.26 They had two sons and four daughters.

In 1861 Dame Elizabeth Caroline Lewin was living at, or nearby, Rowardennan now South Down House, on East Street Bovey Tracey.27 With her were three of her daughters, another sister Frances Buller, and three servants. Dame Lewin, was a widow, and her residence would suggest that her financial circumstances were really quite strained (Fig.3).

Figure 3. Rowardennon East Street Bovey Tracey. David Lewis Collection with his kind permission.

Sir Gregory Lewin, ex-Royal Navy and a well-published Queen’s Counsel became involved in financial irregularities which saw him die in debt in Exeter in 1845 aged fifty-one.28 His will was not proved until 1877 when the grant of probate was confirmed as under £200, a very small estate for knight of the realm and Queen’s Counsel.29

The family had been living in Tonbridge Wells in 1841 but following Gregory’s death Elizabeth and three of her daughters were in Lympstone by 1851. Her son Granville was probably in India in 1851 and her other son Reginald was a pupil at Charterhouse. Her daughter Augusta was living as a visitor at Highclere Castle, Hampshire (of Downton Abbey fame) in the company of the young Earl of Carnarvon and she was also there in 1861.30 We do not know exactly when the Lewins arrived in Bovey Tracey. It might have been as early as 1852 as a Miss Lewin, and Mary Divett of Bovey Tracey,  were bridesmaids at cousin Cecie Buller’s wedding in Whimple. Cecie was Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller’s daughter and Dame Lewin’s niece.31 Later that year there was also an impressive fair at Crediton at which one stall was manned by Mrs and Miss Buller (either of Downes House or Strete Raleigh), Misses Divett (probably Mary, and her cousin Julia who was born in 1839) and the Misses Lewin.32 Her son Reginald Lewin attended the Newton Abbot Christmas Ball in 1853 which indicates that the family might have moved to the area by then.33

We do know that Dame Lewin was living on Mary Street, Bovey Tracey in 1856 and 1857.34 However she was not reported as having been present at a prestigious wedding in Ilsington in 1856.35 Her son Reginald Lewin, described as ‘of Oxford’ took part in a Powderham Archery contest in 1857.36 He graduated from Pembroke College, Oxford in 1858.37

Lady and the Misses Lewin, the Bullers and Divetts were socialising together in Bovey Tracey as they attended a celebratory tea for the Bovey Pottery workers, organised by Wentworth William Buller in 1857.38 In 1860 one the Miss Lewins attended a ball at the Globe, Newton Abbott along with Miss Mary Divett.39

The 1861 census records Dame Elizabeth aged sixty with her daughters Georgiana thirty-five, Adelaide thirty-three, and Caroline eighteen living on East Street, Bovey Tracey. Her younger sister Frances Buller was living with them as were four servants. This move to Bovey Tracey brought the four surviving children of William and Caroline Buller of Strete Raleigh, Whimple close together. Sister Henrietta Divett was just down the road at Bridge House, and James was living in Newton Abbot but shortly to move to Dunley House in the parish of Bovey Tracey, certainly in time for the 1871 census. In 1862 her daughter Adelaide aged thirty-five died in Bovey Tracey. Three years later Augusta Elizabeth died at Norfolk-square, Middlesex, aged thirty-six, and Dame Lewin was also to lose both her son Granville, and daughter-in-law, Gertrude, in India in 1867.40 In the same year Dame Elizabeth also lost her sister Frances Buller who died in Exmouth aged fifty-seven.

Dame Lewin had moved to Abingdon St Helen, Berkshire with her two surviving daughters Georgina and Caroline by 1871 and they were still there in 1881. Dame Lewin died in 1890 aged eighty-nine and was buried at Whimple, Georgiana died in Exeter in 1917 aged ninety-two and Caroline died in 1923 aged eighty with her funeral taking place in Exeter.

Granville Frederick John Lewin (1830-67)
Dame Elizabeth and Sir Gregory’s elder son Granville joined the Madras Infantry of the East India Company on the recommendation of his uncle Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller.41 In 1861 he was socialising in South West England as  he attende, a ball in Bath, then married  Gertrude Catherine Pellew grand-daughter of the Viscount of Exmouth of Canonteign, he then atteneded a cricket match in Teignbridge, and together they were at a cricket match in Cornwall.42 Major Lewin of the Madras Staff Corps died aged thirty-seven in 1867 at Sukkur in the Presidency of Bombay and he was described as, ‘formerly of Bovey Tracey.’43 Granville died a widower as Gertrude had also died that year at the age of twenty-six, at Amritsar which is approximately 500 miles to the north-east of Sukkur, in today’s Pakistan. Cholera epidemics were prevalent in that part of India at the time, although we do not know if that was the cause of both husband and wife dying in the same year.44 

Reginald Wynfold Elphinstone Lewin (1835-1906)
As already noted Reginald would appear to have been in the area in 1853 and 1857 while undertaking his education first at Charterhouse and then at Balliol College, Oxford. His career is uncertain but in 1865 he had an interview with the Rt. Hon. Edward Cardwell at the Colonial Office which was reported in the press.45

The 1880 census showed Reginald, aged forty-five, was a book agent living in New York City.46 By 1883 his arrival at the Regent Hotel Leamington was announced in the press with his address given as Springfield, Abingdon, just over forty miles from his mother and two sisters.47 In 1901 Reginald was boarding with a police constable’s family in Hanover Square and he was described as a print compositor.48 He died a bachelor in 1906 near Weston-super-Mare aged seventy.49

James Buller (1813-82) – A Man Who Knew ‘How The Milk Got into the Coconut’
James Buller was the younger brother of Captain Thomas Wentworth, Elizabeth, Frances and Henrietta (later Divett). Thomas and Frances had died and Elizabeth had left Bovey Tracey by the time James was known to be living at Dunley House in 1871, but Henrietta was still living at Bridge House with her husband, John Divett.

In 1851 James, as a forty-one year old bachelor, was still living with his parents at Strete Raleigh, Whimple but in 1856 he married Louisa, the widow of Charles Seale-Hayne of Kingswear Castle who was forty-five. Their 1861 census return has yet to be located, but come the mid-1860s James was living at ‘Hillside’ in Newton Abbot and frequent mentions in the local press give an insight into his politics and strength of character.

In 1865 James had taken the chair at a public meeting held at the Union Inn, Bovey Tracey following disquiet about the Inclosure Commissioners actions re Heath Field.50 We are not sure where he was living then but by 1871 he was residing at Dunley House on the outskirts of Bovey Tracey as a married landowner with four servants (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Dunley House. Frances Billinge 2015.

1866 was a year in which some form of plague lead to the death/slaughter of 100,000 head of cattle across the country. Vaccination was being trialled in Cheshire but the government were described as slow in extending this and a newspaper report stated that, ‘Our respected correspondent, Mr James Buller recommended a trial of vaccination.’ The paper printed a second letter from James which in part read, ‘Sir, I would not ask to encumber your column with another letter had I not a good object in view.’ and, complaining about the inaction of government officers ‘These gentlemen differ as much from men whose wits are actively at work, as a mill pond does from that turbid and mighty sea in which the hapless ship – London – disappeared for ever.’ James also liked to intersperse his invective with Latin quotes, thus displaying a sound education as well as a considerable strength of opinion.51

In 1867 James launched an attack on William Hole of Parke, Bovey Tracey, because the latter had apparently failed to pass on James’ critical letter addressed to the Highway Board. James openly questioned, ‘the conduct of ex-officio members of Boards – honourable and straightforward management?’ and he accused William Hole in particular as, ‘a man so notoriously destitute of all tact and gentlemanly feeling, not to mention dignity,’ and, ‘Mr William Hole being by an accident entrusted with a Commission of the Peace had need to take care how he acts in public.’  ‘If you could act dishonestly as the Chairman of a public Board, you would not scruple to act with equal dishonesty on the Bench, to the utter prostitution of all justice.’ 51 James went on to reveal his liberal tendency by claiming that, ‘It will be an unlucky day for England when the conduct of our magistrates, and indeed of all men who feel themselves competent to take part in public business, is not open to free comment, and (if necessary) to censure.’ William Hole instructed his solicitors to demand an apology for the libel but this was swept aside by James who replied, ‘I beg to decline your obliging invitation, that I should make Mr William Hole ample amends for insinuating that he is a rough diamond, or something of that sort.’52

As we will see James’ forthright speaking was admired by some. The election of Guardians for the parish of Wolborough became contested when Mr John Ball Pinsent proposed James, a liberal, in order to break up a longstanding group of men who had been monopolizing various other offices in the parish. With respect to James’ character and suitability for the office, Pinsent said that, ‘nothing will frighten him from a conscientious discharge of duty in anything he knows to be right,’ and, ‘nor all the threatenings of a Park Hole, or worse still, a lawyer’s letter.’53

Later in 1867 the Devon and Cornwall Chamber of Agriculture met to debate the need for new County Financial Boards to oversee expenditure. James supported the motion but warned of the need to be careful as to whom they elected as he considered ex officios ‘the greatest curse of the country’ and he accused bishops on Ecclesiastical Commissions of ‘jobbery’ and suggested that magistrates in ex officio positions ‘as a rule, didn’t attend or look after the public interests, but turned up in a heap when some job had to be done, or some election made (applause and laughter).’54

James continued to write questioning letters to the Authorities with one in 1875 concerning alleged errors in the statement of accounts placed before the previous Court of Quarter Sessions. James considered that the errors were ‘of a grave character’ and he argued in favour of the appointment of a paid auditor and the establishment of County Financial Boards. He had written to many Boards and some were sympathetic to his argument but the clerk of the Tiverton Board replied that his letter was libellous.55

James also wrote an openly critical letter about Oxbridge professors who, ‘for the most part (are) utter shams and utterly unprolific of good,’ stating that, ‘the public should be made aware how many of these professors (44 at Oxford and 36 at Cambridge) hold sinecures or mere honorary offices and how many take an active part in education.’56

Despite, or perhaps because, of his tenacity James was elected member of the Devon Chamber of Agriculture.57

And then James came to the subject of dogs. He was concerned about the dangers of rabies, more-so since the dog duty had been reduced. He suggested that all dogs should wear collars with owners’ names and stray dogs be destroyed. ‘All knight-errant dogs should, as a matter of course, be dealt with by lynch law.’58

In 1878 James wrote to the Newton Abbot Petty Sessions applying for a summons against the way-wardens of Bovey Tracey because of untrimmed hedges and soiled roads.59 In 1879 he summoned the Newton Highway Board and the way-wardens of Hennock and Bovey Tracey for neglecting to repair roads in their respective parishes.60 James wasn’t satisfied with the response so he wrote a critical open letter to the press and finally the County Surveyor  inspected the local roads.61 This was the first time under the Highway Act of 1878 that the County Authority had been called upon to pass judgement upon the management of a District Authority.62 An 1881 article about Highway Boards stated that, ‘Mr James Buller of Bovey Tracey seems to have been the unquiet spirit who gave this wrinkle to South Devon of how to deal with the Boards.’ It then described his complaint and action saying, ‘The Highway Board heeded not his complaint and so he took this to the Quarter Sessions who overrode both local beaks and Highway Board … and that was how the milk got into the cocoa nut.’63

Around the same time James continued to admonish bishops. In Christmas Week 1878 it was reported that, ‘Mr James Buller has addressed a characteristic Epistle to Bishop Temple on the ‘Roman doings’ at Bovey Tracey,’ and this referred to the continuing disquiet over ‘Tractarianism’ and Bovey Tracey’s second, ‘high’ church, St John The Evangelist.64

James found time for other interests and in 1879 he bought some livestock from Poltimore House, Exeter.65 1879 was also the year his wife Louisa died aged sixty-seven. One executor was her son Charles Seale-Hayne who would become liberal MP for Mid-Devon from 1885 to 1903.66 A year later James was on a very long list of invitees to the coming of age celebrations at Poltimore House for Coplestone Richard George Warwick Bampflyde, son and heir of Lord Poltimore of Poltimore Park.67

In 1881 James was described on the census return as a widower and retired civil servant living with four servants at Dunley House. He died one year later in 1882 aged sixty-nine, but not before writing a letter warning of the danger of traction engines on roads.68 James was uncle to his brother Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller’s daughter Katherine who had married William Templer Hughes, and following James’ death, William Templer Hughes inherited Dunley House.

James does not appear to have attended the same social functions as his Bovey Tracey relatives and he mainly features in the local press through his interest in local government administration and the writing of challenging letters. James is also without obvious connection to the Bovey Pottery and/or Lignite Works.

This article began with Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller and John Divett buying the Bovey Pottery, and has introduced his brother and three sisters, and in particular his son Wentworth William. Thomas  had four daughters – Cecie who married into the prestigious Bere family, Edith who lived in Exeter and Newton Abbot remained unmarried and was praised for her philanthropic work, Katherine who married into the Hughes-Buller family and will feature in a separate article, and Gertrude.

Gertrude married William Francis Phillpotts whose mother was Louisa Buller of Downes House, Crediton. This was the Phillpotts family of later Eden Philpotts Dartmoor novelist fame.69 They had a son, Raleigh Buller Phillpotts who came to live at Bridge House, his great-aunt Harriett Divett’s house, sometime after her death in 1914.70

As the Pottery was such an important aspect of Bovey Tracey life in the 19th century it is perhaps fitting to end by noting that in 1922 there was a fire on marshy land immediately behind the Pottery and this land was owned by Captain R. Philpotts of Rora.71


  1. The Western Times 16 April 1836, p.1.
  2. Devon Heritage Centre 3861M/174 Counterpart Lease 1843.
  3. The Western Times 24 October 1846, p.2, Divett of Bovey Tracey; The National Archives 1851 Census ancestry.co.uk accessed 17 June 2017, Buller in London.
  4. The Era 8 June 1851, p. 9.
  5. The Western Times 14 August 1852, p. 5.
  6. The Western Times 14 May 1859, p. 6.
  7. Ibid. 1 July 1854, p. 5.
  8. Exeter Flying Post 10 May 1855, p.5). bid. 5 May, p. 5.
  9. Exeter Flying Post 10 May 1855, p. 5.
  10. Royal Cornwall Gazette 25 September 1857, p. 8, magistrate; North Devon Journal 26 February 1857, p. 2, lieutenant.
  11. Devon Heritage Centre 4622M/T/18 Deed of Co-partnership 1861.
  12. Post Office Directory of Staffordshire 1860 (London, Kelly and Company) 560.
  13. alliedinsulators.com accessed 17 June 2017.
  14. The Western Times 13 July 1861, p. 6.
  15. Ibid. 6 September 1867, p. 7.
  16. Ibid. 10 December 1867, p. 8.
  17. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 September 1866, p. 6.
  18. Buller, Wentworth W., 1868. On Predictive Meteorology in Trans Dev. Ass. Advmt Sci., 2 Pt 2, 368-371.
  19. White, William, History Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Devon (London) 168.
  20. Western Morning News 24 February 1892, p. 1.
  21. The Western Times 25 May 1877, p. 7.
  22. Ibid. 3 April 1877, p. 3.
  23. Ibid. 12 November 1881, p. 1.
  24. Ibid. 6 June 1882, p. 3; 1871 November 2, Indenture mortgage between William John Watts and John Whidborne[1] and Wentworth William Buller [2] private deeds; 1873 June 28,  Indenture conveyance and assignment  Charles Aldenburgh Bentinck [1] John Divett[2] John Ross Divett[3] private deeds; 1873 July 3, Indenture Mortgage  Wentworth William Buller [1] William John Watts and John Whidborne[2] private deeds; 1882 May 6 , Indenture Conveyance and Assignment John Hellyer Tozer and Thomas Andrew[1] Eustace Barham, John Drew and Mark Rowe[2]  William John Watts and John Whidborne [3]  John Hellyer Tozer[4] Montague Bere Q.C and William Templer Hughes C.C. and William Francis Phillpots [5]  Wentworth William Buller [6] John Divett [7]  Mary Elizabeth Divett[8] private deeds.
  25. National Probate Calendar, Wentworth William Buller 20 November 1883 ancestry.co.uk accessed 17 June 2017.
  26. O’Byrne, William R., 1849. A Naval Biographical Dictionary (London, John Murray) 654, ancestry.co.uk accessed 18 June 2017.
  27. 1861 Census, see note 3.
  28. Sir Gregory’s lack of financial integrity is shown in various press articles such as -The Evening Chronicle 19 February 1847, p. 4, Court of Queen’s Bench Jackson v. Bevan describes his dealings with other’s money; The Era 15 February 1852 , p. 14, Court Case regarding Sir Gregory  ‘the defendant  …..  swore that they had every reason to believe that Sir Gregory Lewin was a substantial man at the time of the loan …’.The bank on which he had raised money failed; London Daily News 11 February 1852, p.6, Sir  Gregory inherited well from his father-in-law, and an uncle who left him £10,000, but although, ‘He lived in a substantial house in Harley Street, and kept a carriage and servants … he had lived in a manner calculated to deceive people.’ Sir Gregory’s life had been insured for £13,000 but this policy was void as he had borrowed money on it. He had also borrowed Railway Shares and pretended these were his in order to borrow more money.
  29. National Probate Calendar Sir Gregory Allnut Lewin Kt. 27 March 1877 ancestry.co.uk accessed 17 June 2017.
  30. The National Archives Census 1851,1861ancestry.co.uk accessed 18 June 2017.
  31. The Western Times 14 August 1852, p. 5.
  32. 21 August 1852, p. 5.
  33. 1 January 1853, p. 7.
  34. Kelly and Co., 1856. Post Office Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall (High Holborn, Kelly and Co.) 40; Billing. M., 1857. Directory and Gazetteer of the County of Devon (Birmingham, M.Billing) 312.
  35. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 17 May 1856, p. 8.
  36. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 8 August 1857, p. 5.
  37. The Norfolk Chronicle 29 May 1858, p. 4.
  38. Exeter Flying Post 3 December 1857, p. 5.
  39. The Western Times 13 October 1860, 3.
  40. Deaths on freebmd.co.uk accessed 17 June 2017; India office Wills findmypast.co.uk accessed 18 June 2017; National Probate Calendar Granville Frederick John Lewin 1870 , and Gertrude Catherine Lewin 1870 www.ancestry.co.uk accessed 18 June 2017.
  41. East India Company Cadet Papers 16 September 1846 Granville Lewin findmypast.co.uk accessed 18 June 2017.
  42. Bath Chronicle and Wedding Gazetteer 4 April 1861, p. 8, ball in Bath; Homeward Mail from Indio China and The East 13 May 1861, p. 21, wedding; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 12 July 1861, p. 7, Teignbridge match; Western Morning News 2 August 1861, p. 3, Cornwall match.
  43. National Probate Calendar 3 September 1890 Granville Lewin ancestry.co.uk accessed 19 June 2017.
  44. Bellew, Henry Walter, 1884. Cholera in India 1862-1881 (Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press) 21-23.
  45. London Evening Standard 17 July 1865, p. 6.
  46. 1880 Census New York www.findmypast.co.uk accessed 19 June 2107.
  47. Leamington Spa Courier 22 December 1883, p. 10.
  48. The National Archives 1901 Census ancestry.co.uk accessed 19 June 2017.
  49. Morning Post 16 January 1906, p. 1.
  50. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3 November 1865, p.6.
  51. The Western Times 6 February 1866, p. 3.
  52. 5 February 1867, p. 3.
  53. The Western Times 5 April 1867, p. 7.
  54. 20 December 1867, p. 6.
  55. The Western Times 20 November 1875, p. 3.
  56. The Western Times 27 October 1876, p. 8.
  57. The Western Times 3 March 1877, p. 3.
  58. The Western Times 7 November 1877, p. 3.
  59. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 9 January 1878, p.3.
  60. The Western Times 22 August 1879, p. 7.
  61. The Western Times 21 November 1879, p. 6.
  62. The Western Times 20 December 1879, p. 2.
  63. The Western Times 1 July 1881, p. 5.
  64. The Western Times 24 December 1878, p. 5.
  65. The Western Times 9 October 1879, p. 2.
  66. National Probate Calendar 1879 Louisa Buller ancestry.co.uk accessed 19 June 2017.
  67. The Western Times 10 December 1880, p. 8.
  68. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 11 August 1882, p. 6.
  69. Phillpotts, Eden, 1912. The Forest on the Hill (New York, John Lane Company) as an example.
  70. Kelly and Co.,1919. History Gazeteer and Directory of the County of Devon (London, Kelly and Co.) 86.
  71. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1 June 1922, p. 4.

8 August  2017


Malcolm Billinge 2020


The Buller family of Downes near Crediton is well known through General Sir Redvers Buller and his leadership in the Second Boer War, for which he received the Victoria Cross. A branch of the family lived in Dunley in Bovey Tracey. Ralph Buller Hughes Buller, a cousin of Sir Redvers Buller, inherited Dunley and he too had an exceptional career.

Ralph was the last of five children born to Catherine née Buller, the first wife of General Sir William Templer Hughes of Dunley, Bovey Tracey. Ralph was recorded as living at Dunley on the 1891 census. Like his father, Ralph led a fulsome life in India, but unlike his father he was as a civil servant rather than a military officer. Ralph returned to the England during WW1 and led the recruitment of soldiers in the South-West as well as fulfilling several other civic responsibilities (Bonnie J. White, 2009. Volunteerism and Early Recruitment Efforts in Devonshire August 1914-December 1915 in Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, The Historical Journal 52,3, pp.641-666, p. 643).

EARLY YEARS 1871 to 1883                   

Ralph Buller Hughes was born in Whimple at Strete Raleigh, the family home of his maternal grandmother Ann Buller. His father was then a Major General in the Indian Army. His mother Catherine died the following year and his father then married Georgiana Phillpotts who was also a close Buller relative.

Ralph assumed the surname Hughes-Buller after he and his brother inherited Dunley when his uncle James Buller died in 1882 (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 December 1949, p. 5). Ralph became sole heir in 1884 on the premature death of his brother Henry in India (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Dunley House. Frances Billinge 2015

Ralph was a boarder at Pencarwick preparatory school in Exmouth while his parents returned to India where his father continued his military service (1881 Census).


Ralph was educated at Marlborough and then Balliol College, Oxford. At nineteen he was selected as a candidate for the Indian Civil Service in Bengal (Balliol College Oxford; I.C.S. 1892-1917 ; Marlborough College Register, 1843-1933, p. 309; England, Oxford Men and their Colleges, 1880-1892).

His links with Bovey Tracey at this time included attending a Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball at the Dolphin Hotel in 1887. He was there with most of his family- his step-mother Lady Hughes and his siblings Edith and Edward, and his half-siblings Gertrude, Janet, Louis and Guy. Also there were members of his extended family including Miss Wentworth Buller, Miss Divett, Mr & Mrs W. F. Phillpotts, Mr Ralegh Buller Phillpotts and Miss Dorothea Phillpotts (EPG 29 December 1887, p. 6).

We know from the 1891 census that Ralph, aged twenty-one, was living at Dunley with his now retired father General Sir William Templer Hughes, step-mother Lady Georgiana Hughes and several siblings/half-siblings. He was described on the census return as an Indian Civil Service probationer. That year he was in trouble for gambling at Oxford. He appeared at the Oxford City magistrates court where Arthur Wallace was charged with ‘occupying rooms for the purpose of betting’ (Hull Daily Mail 8 June 1891, p. 3). ‘Ralph Buller Hughes, undergraduate at Balliol, said he knew [the] prisoner and had had betting transactions with him on two occasions’ (Oxfordshire Weekly News 10 June 1891, p. 6).

Ralph attended other local social functions with his family such as Ladies Day at Teignbridge (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 August 1891, p. 7) and the Exeter Annual County Ball at the Rougement Hotel Exeter (The Western Times 16 October 1891, p. 8).


1892 to 1905 in Baluchistan

Ralph entered the Indian Civil Service in 1892. Five years later his father William died, leaving Ralph a substantial inheritance, ‘He [William] devises Woodhayes (the family home) and other lands and premises at Whimple to his son Ralph’. ‘The residue of his real and personal estate he leaves to his children, Edith, Margaret and Ralph’ (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 5 July 1897, p. 3). William left £38,924 the equivalent of £3 million today (National Probate Calendar).

In 1898 Ralph married Elizabeth Isabella MacLeod the daughter of the late Rev. Norman Macleod D.D. of the Barony Parish, Glasgow and Chaplain to Queen Victoria. The marriage took place in Calcutta (Morning Post 17 January 1898, p. 1; Chaplain to Queen Victoria, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). In December their first child Catherine Ann was born at Hyderabad, Deccan, India (Dundee Evening Telegraph 22 December 1898, p. 3). From 1899 to 1900 he acted as assistant to the Governor-General’s agent in Baluchistan in modern-day Pakistan. Ralph had special duties in connection with the Census and he was also the joint compiler of the Baluchistan District Gazetteer as well as being a police agent.

The summer months saw Ralph playing cricket at Simla (Homeward Mail from India China and the East 28 May 1900, p. 3) and in August 1900 he became first assistant agent to the Governor-General at Quetta (Op.cit. 27 August 1900, p. 9). This posting on the North-West Frontier was in the wild tribal lands between Afghanistan and the Punjab. In 1901when Ralph returned on furlough the, ‘household furniture and outdoor effects the property of R. Hughes Buller Esq’ were sold by auction (The Western Times 19 July 1901, p. 1).

In 1903 Ralph was appointed special assistant to Mr Barnes, the foreign secretary at the Delhi Durbar, to arrange the celebration for King Edward VII’s coronation despite the King not attending in person (Homeward Mail from India China and the East 25 August 1902, p. 5). He continued to compile the regular Beloochistan (sic) Gazetteer showing his considerable administrative skills and knowledge of the area and in 1905 was posted to the newly partitioned Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam (Op.cit. 2 December 1905, p. 5).

1906 to 1916 in Bengal

In 1906 Ralph was in Bengal as Assistant Magistrate and Collector and Assistant Settlement Officer (Op. cit. 27 January 1906, p. 14). This was to be during a time of considerable religious and nationalistic unrest in the area and Ralph was in the midst of it as reported by The Times of India on 17 May 1907,

‘Nowhere in Eastern Bengal have I found the tension between the Hindoos and Mahomedans so acute as in this district. This is probably due to the fact that Barisal town (east of Calcutta), which has been the centre of disaffection during the past two years, possesses a Bengal population of a character and not numerically inferior to the Mahomedans. The local National Volunteer corps is possibly the strongest in the province, and is certainly the most active.’ The report described an uprising of this corps shouting “Vande Mataram” and wielding lathis and possibly swordsticks. ‘Mr Hughes Buller, the collector, Mr Hart, the district superintendent of police, and some others hastened to the scene. It turned out, however, that the alarm was a false one, and presently the Volunteers dispersed without doing any damage.’ (Homeward Mail from India China and the East, 3 June 1907, p. 8).

Later on in 1907 Ralph was amongst the welcoming party for Sir Lancelot Hare, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor who was on a tour of the region (Op.cit. 9 September 1907, p. 9). Ralph continued to rise in the civil service and from 1908 was the Judicial Secretary to Government for Eastern Bengal and Assam and made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.) in recognition of his service in the British Raj (India Office List 1933 Transcription). By 1914 he was Magistrate and Collector, Bakarganj near Patna (Thom’s Official Directory of Great Britain and Ireland 1914 p. 578).

It was not all work as Ralph found time for amateur dramatics in Shillong where he staged Trial by Jury and was highly praised for his part as the judge (Homeward Mail from India China and the East, 27 November 1909, p. 11).

In 1910 Ralph became the Inspector-General of Police for Eastern Bengal and Assam and Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department for Simla at the age of only thirty-nine (Op. cit. 21 January 1911, p. 3). In 1912 another of his posts was as Captain in the Assam Light Horse (Indian Army Quarterly List for 1 January 1912 pp. 546-565). As head of the police service at the outbreak of WWI Ralph had to deal with the revolutionary movement and a threatened mutiny in Calcutta. In recognition of his long service he was awarded His Majesty the King’s Police Medal (Manchester Courier 30 June 1914, p. 12).

RETURN TO ENGLAND 1916 to 1949

Ralph finally left India in 1916 and returned to England to live with his family at Woodhayes, the Hughes family home in Whimple (Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall 1914, London, High Holborn, p. 828).

After such a career it is not surprising that a man of his skills and experience was asked to fulfill several important duties for the county and his country. Between 1916 and 1917 Ralph was attached to the Metropolitan Police. He then became Director of National Service for the South-West Region when recruiting was handed over from military to civilian authorities (White, 2009, op.cit. p.243). The noteworthy military tradition of his Buller family was used to exhort Devonians to sign up (Men of Devon 3 October 1914, DRO, CRC 1037M/L941 pp. 1-7). To Ralph’s credit his region was first with its quota to replace the heavy losses during the ‘push’ from March to June 1918.

Ralph was a man who gave thought to the reasons for civil unrest and referred to his experiences in India when he addressed the Rotary Club of Bristol (Western Daily Press 24 September 1918, p. 2).

In 1920 Ralph was awarded a C.B.E. which complemented the C.I.E. he had already gained in India (The Western Times 1 April 1920, p. 7). His civic responsibilities are shown by the many posts he held as described in his obituary (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 December 1949, P.5)

Director of National Service, South-Western Region
Vice President National Institute for the Blind
Hon. Tres. Devon County Scout Council.
Chairman of Exeter and District Local Employment Committee in 1920.
Work on behalf of ex-serviceman and help to erect the Victory Hall at Whimple.
Chairman Local Employment Committee of Exeter and District 1920.

By the 1930s Ralph and his wife were living in Kensington (Electoral Register www.findmypast.co.uk accessed 10 May 2020) and in the 1940s they lived in Lewes, Sussex (Sussex Agricultural Express 26 February 1943, p. 1; op. cit. 23 February 1945, p. 1). Ralph died suddenly at his home Southdown Lodge in Lewes in 1949 at the age of seventy-eight (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 December 1949, p.5). His estate was valued at £36,173 (Probate Calendars for England & Wales 1858-1959).

There is no memorial to Ralph in Bovey Tracey, but a brass plaque in St Mary’s Church, Whimple records him as having lived at Woodhayes (Fig. 2)..

Figure 2. Plaque to Ralph in St Mary’s Church, Whimple. Malcolm Billinge 2019