Mary Symonds

Mary Ramsden (née Symonds) (1772 – 1854) was an an artist and letter-writer. She was born in 1772 in Hereford, England to Thomas and Esther Symonds. She was the youngest of their six children. In 1802, Mary accompanied her older sister, the bird artist Lady Elizabeth Gwillim, and Elizabeth’s husband, Sir Henry Gwillim, to Madras, India (now Chennai). Both Elizabeth and Mary often wrote home about their activities, offering vivid descriptions of daily life in India as well as commentary on Indian culture. Although she had a fairly unfavourable view of Madras society, Mary partook of the local British company far more than Elizabeth did.

I do all the gossiping, visiting and most of the housekeeping.

Mary Gwillim to her Sister, Hester “Hetty” Symonds James (no date or signature), 1802

Elizabeth may have been more preoccupied with her artistic and naturalist pursuits, but Mary also painted. She explored a variety of media and subject matters, such as miniature portraits, landscapes, figure studies, and illustrations of fish. Her depictions of fish were among the works donated by Casey A. Wood to the Blacker Wood Collection at McGill’s Rare Book Library.

Apogon cupreus, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University,
CA RBD Gwillim-2-8.

After her sister died in 1807, Mary and her brother-in-law, Henry, sailed back to England. In 1809, Mary married John Ramsden (1768–1841), the captain of the ship on which she had returned from India. Mary and John settled in London, and had two sons. Their first died in infancy, and their second, John George Ramsden, was born in 1815. In 1818, Mary and her family moved to Ivy Lodge, London Road, Twickenham. In 1841, Mary’s husband died. Following his death, Mary continued to live in Twickenham with her son and his wife. She died in 1854 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham.

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Mary Symonds’ Wikipedia page has been updated as of 2022.

Most information above courtesy of Hana Nikčević. Mary’s date of death found by Carleigh Nicholls.