|Administrative / biographical background:
This collection relates to the Ernst family and to their estate at Westcombe in Batcombe. Offered for sale in 1817, the Westcombe estate was purchased c.1818-19 by Thomas Henry Ernst (1774-1855), late of the Bengal civil service, the vendor evidently being George Chalmer, Esq. (Q\RE1 40/2). The estate, originally only 50a. in extent, had grown to 500a. by 1842 (D\D\Rt 409), to 750a. by 1873 (Return of Owners of Land), and to 821a. by 1927 (DD\SWD/9 below). It produced an estimated annual income of £1,200 in 1848 and of £2,430 in 1873. To these few facts, the collection adds very little, since surviving deeds relate entirely to minor elements of the estate. Nor does the collection contain any of the family settlements which are known to have existed, and it must be assumed that the primary deeds of the estate were dispersed at the time of its sale and dismemberment in 1927.
In compensation, the collection, though small, is notably rich in family papers. Tours made in Great Britain and Europe are recorded in 13 travel journals, 1813-46, most of them kept by Thomas Henry Ernst or by his wife Elizabeth (d.1875) whom he married in 1819 with a settlement of £20,000. She was the daughter of the Ven. John Strachey, Archdeacon of Suffolk, and cousin of Ernst's closest friend (Sir) Henry Strachey of Sutton Court, both men having gone out to Bengal in 1792 where Ernst was to remain for 20 years. The birth of a daughter Harriet Ann (Harty) was followed by that of an only son Henry (Harry/Jacky) (1827-96), and letters written by or to him survive from 1833 to 1854. They record with unusual fullness his career at Eton and Sandhurst, and his army service in Ireland, the West Indies, and finally in the Crimea. His diaries survive from 1860 to 1894, and those of his wife Annie, née Waring (d.1925), from 1886 to 1907. He was appointed High Sheriff in 1893.
The younger daughter of Henry and Annie, Cheridah Annie, became in 1911 the second woman in England to obtain a pilot's licence, and was a noted aviator.
The elder daughter, Bessie May Ernst, was married in 1906 to Henry Cambronne Dennistoun Sword, and in 1927 sold the greater part of the Westcombe Estate. It was intended to be offered at auction, but instead was sold by private treaty, the purchaser immediately auctioning it in lots (Western Gazette, 23 Sept. 1927). Westcombe House itself remained in the family until sold in about 1967.