28 April 2011

Charles and Benigna Weiss

I've written before about my great great grandfather Frederick Weiss, and some of his relatives, including his sister Caroline. I've mentioned that Frederick and his siblings were orphaned while the family was in India, but haven't really explained that yet. There isn't a whole lot of information available on Frederick's parents, Charles and Benigna Weiss, but the following is what I do know:

Charles Nicholas Weiss was believed to have been born in Prussia, in an area which is now in Poland, in about 1795. Nothing is known of his parents. At some stage he made his way to England, and there we have the first concrete evidence of him - marrying Benigna Catharina Von Holst at St Pancras Church, London, on 9th September 1928. They were both of that parish, neither had been previously married, and the witnesses were either members of the Von Holst family or not Weiss'. If Charles had come to England with members of his family certainly none of them were official witnesses at his wedding.

Exactly a year after they were married Charles and Benigna's first child was born - Adelaide Catherine Gustavia Martha Weiss. She was baptised at St Pancras Church on 1st October 1929, and Charles' occupation was listed as Professor of Music. After this five more children were born, but so far no baptism records have come to light for three of them: Benigna, Caroline or Derby.

According to family information, Charles enlisted in the British Army on 22nd October 1840 as a Private (Band flautist) in the 17th Foot Regiment (also known as the Leicestershire Regiment), and was promoted to Sergeant the very next day. The 17th Foot Regiment was posted in India and Charles is believed to have arrived in Bombay from England to join the regiment on 30th November 1840. The Regiment was then later stationed at Poona, and later moved to the British colony of Aden (now part of Yemen).

At some stage the family joined Charles where he was stationed, some time after the 1841 England Census taken on 6th June 1841, as most of the family were recorded on that day living at 4 Acre Place, St Pancras, London. During the time he was stationed in Aden, Charles and Benigna's youngest boys, Egmont and Frederick, were baptised by the Assistant Chaplain Reverend G. Morison. The parish baptism records list Charles as Band Master for the 17th Regiment.

No further information has come to light about Charles, until his death. He died from unknown causes on 14th June 1845, aged 50 years. Charles' funeral was held in St Thomas' Cathedral Bombay (Mumbai) and he was buried in Back Bay cemetery by William Dinan on 15th June 1845. Back Bay cemetery has since been cleared and made into a park.

Benigna Catharina Weiss (nee Von Holst) was born about 1801, somewhere in Europe, to Matthias and Katharina Holst (nee Rogge). The 1841 England Census has her birthplace as "Foreign Parts" so she certainly wasn't born in England. Her father had fled from Riga because of unpopular political views, and according to the biography of the composer Gustav Holst, who was Benigna's great nephew, "by the beginning of the nineteenth century he had to escape from Riga with his Russian wife and small son Gustavus Valentine". Perhaps Benigna was born along the way, before they reached England. Benigna's next-born sibling, Constantia, was born in England.

Benigna is listed in the 1841 England Census with four of her six children - Adelaide, Derby, Egmont and "Fritz" (Frederick). Her daughter Caroline was still alive so must have been elsewhere on the night of the Census (though I cannot find any reference), and I believe Benigna, Charles and Benigna's second child, may have died in childhood. In the Census Benigna (the mother) is listed as of "Independent Means". What this means I cannot be sure - perhaps it means she was living off Charles' army income, or perhaps she had income from her own family, the Von Holsts, who seemed to portray themselves as reasonably well-off.

As mentioned earlier, Benigna and the children followed Charles to India sometime after June 1841, and the children were orphaned after Benigna died. She died just a few months after her husband, in Bombay, of a fever on 26th October 1845. She was buried in the cemetery at Colaba, Bombay, on 28th October by Chaplain George Pigott. The burial register for Colabah (sic) lists her age as 40 years, but this is likely to be incorrect - see year of birth discussion above. Her "Quality, Trade or Profession" is listed as "Widow of the Late Band Master Weiss H.M. 17th Regt". Colaba cemetery is long since gone.


  1. Hello, I think i am a descendent of Benigna Von Holst who was the great grandmother of Walter Weiss i believe who is my great great Grandfather. Chiara Vicary

    1. Hi Chiara,

      From my research, I would agree with you, you are quite likely to be a descendant of Benigna and Charles Weiss. So, hello cousin! I was talking to another descendant of Walter Weiss yesterday and she mentioned the surname "Vicary". : )