Local history: Lady Byron's links with Exmouth

Portrait of Lady Byron

Portrait of Lady Byron - Credit: Exmouth Museum

Anna Isabella Noel Wentworth (nicknamed Annabella) Millibanke was born on 17 May 1792 to Sir Ralph Millibanke Bt and his wife The Hon Judith Noel, sister of Thomas Noel, Viscount Wentworth of Seaham Hall, County Durham. She was a gifted child and loved mathematics and her father called her 'Princess Parallellogram'. She grew up to be a stiff, religious woman with strict morals.

In March 1812 she first met the famous poet George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron. He at the time was having an affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb who coined the infamous phrase about Byron 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know'.  He eventually broke off their affair and he pursued several other women. He then pursued Lady Caroline’s cousin, Annabella  Millibanke and proposed to her some months later but she turned him down. In 1814 he proposed for the second time and in September 1814 they were married by special licence at her family home by her cousin, The Rev Thomas Noel. They went to live in Piccadilly, London.

Lord Byron had estates in Newstead Abbey and Rochdale which he was having trouble selling, and he was also refusing money for his poems which was by now causing him financial difficulties. He started drinking heavily and also abused his wife. Later, in 1815 he started an affair with Susan Boyce, an actress at Drury Lane Theatre where he was a director.

In March 1815 Annabella became pregnant and as she thought her husband was going mad she wrote to her half sister, Augusta Leigh, who arrived at their house to be greeted with disdain by Byron. On 10 December 1815 Annabella gave birth to their only child, Ada Augusta. By now his moods were getting worse and his financial situation equally so and he suggested they all move to her parents at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. She went and he said he would follow once he had tied up matters in London, but it would prove to be the last time she saw him. On arriving at her parents they sought legal advice and she formally requested a separation which Byron eventually agreed to, providing it was her decision alone and not that of her parents, which she confirmed in a letter to Augusta, and she and Byron separated  by private settlement on 28 March 1816. In April 1816 Byron left England and died of malaria in Greece in 1824 aged 36.

She and her daughter visited Exmouth in 1828 and spent the autumn at Chapmans Beacon Hotel, now number 19 The Beacon. Her daughter, who was eight when Byron died, was also gifted in mathematics and sciences and at the age of 18 went to work with Charles Babbage who invented the forerunner of the modern day computer. She is credited with writing the first modern day computer programme and the beginnings of computer language. In July 1835 she married William, Lord King and they had three children. He later also became Earl Lovelace and Viscount Ockham. Ada  was a descendant of the extinct Barons Lovelace  and became Countess Lovelace. She died on 27 November 1852 aged 36 and is buried next to her father in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Meanwhile, Lady Byron committed her life to social causes such as prison reform and the abolition of slavery, and was most proud that England was the first country to make illegal the slave trade in 1834. In 1840 she had attended The World Anti Slavery Convention. She lived in Ealing, London between 1822 and 1840 and established Ealing Grove School in 1833.
She died of breast cancer on 16 May 1860 aged 67 and is buried at Kensal Green, London.

If you would like to know more, visit the museum’s website at www.exmouthmuseum.com or you can email Mike at mike.menhenitt@btinternet.com