Swetenham family coat of arms

The Swetenham family

The Swetenham family comes from Cheshire and has recorded origins going back to the 13th century. See scanned pages from "East Cheshire" by the Rev J. P. Earwaker page 646, page 647 and page 648 (PNG format).

Swetenham of Somerford Booths

The family coat of arms is ancient. A grant of a crest was made to Laurence Swetenham in 1588. A copy of the illustrated vellum or parchment deed of grant is in the College of Arms in London, and another copy in the possession of the head of the family, Foster Swetenham.

Arms: Argent, on a bend Vert, three spades of the first, shod Sable points downwards.
Crest: A porcupine’s head Azure, erased Gules, gouttee Argent, collared, chained, tusked and penned Or, langued Gules.

The family motto is "ex sudore vultus" - a pun meaning roughly "from sweat or toil comes beauty".

The family lived at Somerford Booths Hall near Astbury until the house was sold in the 1930s. The family details which I have recorded here start with Roger Comberbach Swetenham, born in 1757, the most recent of my ancestors who both was born and died in England, and the common ancestor of the three extant branches of the family.

His eldest son Clement fought under Wellington in the Peninsula and at Waterloo as an officer in the 16th Dragoons. Foster Swetenham was the first British Officer killed in 1914, and his cousin Edmund the "young Squire" was also killed in action in December 1914.

Clement's living descendants are (John) Foster and Stephen and their families.

The Swetenhams of India

No fewer than seven of Roger's sons and daughters set out for India in early years of the 19th century.

My great-great-grandfather Edmund (photograph) was a cadet at Addiscombe, the Honourable East India Company's Army academy, and joined the Bengal Engineers. After retiring from the Army, he built a house called Cloud End (named after a hill in Cheshire) at Mussoorie, a hill station above Dehra Dun, which was where he died. Mussoorie in the hot weather and Dehra Dun in the cold weather were home to numbers of Swetenhams for the next century. Cloud End belonged to the family until after 1947 and is now a hotel.

Of his brothers and sisters, William, also a cadet, died at sea en route to India, Henry became a Bengal Civil Servant and judge and retired to England, Harriette married in India and died aged 22 giving birth to a son and daughter, Charlotte married in India and died aged 23 in Cawnpore. Maria also married in India and also died in Cawnpore although she survived 16 years after her marriage. James was an officer in the 10th Native Infantry and died aged 39 in Mussoorie.

In the second generation, Henry's son Henry Donnithorne died at the battle of Aliwal. There is a monument to him in Canterbury Cathedral. James' son Charles Worsley was one of the officers of the 10th Native Infantry (his father's regiment) which mutinied at Fategarh, and was killed in the boats trying to escape on the Ganges. My great-grandfather George, newly commissioned in the Royal Engineers, was wounded at the relief of Lucknow. William Raynor, whose daughter Adelaide married George's brother Edmund, won the Victoria Cross when the Powder magazine at Delhi was blown up by its garrison to save it from the mutineers.

Another brother of George, Henry Harvey, died of fever caught in the trenches in the 2nd Afghan war.

The Swettenhams

Although there is no documentary evidence of common descent of the Swetenham and Swettenham families, it appears probable. In former times, the spelling of the surnames was not rigidly adhered to. The village of Swettenham is less than three miles from Somerford Booths, and the coat of arms of the Swettenhams of Swettenham and Birtles bears a strong resemblance to those of the Swetenhams of Somerford Booths. It may even be that the family motto is the same.

The monumental brass of Matthew Swetenham, Esquire of the Body to King Henry VI who died in 1416, is in the parish church of Blabesley in Northamptonshire. Matthew does not appear in the family tree, and unfortunately although the monumental inscription is clear, the coat of arms is illegible.

The most famous Swettenham was Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946), Governor of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) 5 Nov 1901 - 16 Apr 1904 and Resident General and High Commissioner to the Federated Malay States. As Resident of Selangor, he chose Kuala Lumpur as his administrative centre and oversaw the rebirth of the city. It became the capital of the Federated Malay States and then of Malaysia. Port Swettenham was named after him (now Port Kelang).

His portrait by John Singer Sargent hangs in the National Museum in Singapore and was in the Sargent exhibitions in London and Washington.

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