Henry Coe Coape

Coape sm

1810 – 1890

author and Goldhanger resident

Henry Coe Coape was the son of the wealthy Maldon sugar refiner and property owner Charles Coe. His best known literary works include The Ringwoods of Ringwood (1873) and What Will Society Say? (1880). Fourteen works, covering novels, plays, operas and short stories, have been identified to date. He occasionally used the pseudonym Mervyn Merriton for his literary works. H C Coape seems to have had a tempestuous lifestyle, he was involved in a complex legal case to resolve a dispute about family Wills in 1837/8, he was prosecuted for deception and fraud in 1855 and was made a bankrupt. He was also “scandalously divorced” in 1861 for adultery. These incidents and the court cases were all widely reported in national newspapers at the time.

There are various deeds of the Coape family properties from the ninetieth century in the Essex Records Office (D/DU 627), including those of: Vaulty Manor, Follyfaunts, Cobbs Farm, Gardners Farm, Barrow mill Farm, Osea Island, the Heybridge salt office, yards and salt cote. These deeds indicate that his father Henry Coe passed all his properties and lands over to his eldest son Henry Coe Coape in 1841. White's Directory of 1848 records: George Nottidge, Esq., is lord of the manor, called Totham-with-Goldhanger, but a great part of the soil belongs to H.C. Coape Esq., the Rev. T. Leigh, Sir R.M. Rolfe, and several smaller owners. The Essex Standard of 20 August 1847 lists him as one of the  “resident or non-resident landowners of Goldhanger” who voted in the 1847 general election. The 1892 Kelly’s Directory lists his son Henry F J Coape-Arnold as the principle landowner of the Parish.

Although he also had property in London at York Place, Portman Square, he seemed to use a Goldhanger address for business purposes. Here is an example of one of the many newspaper advertisements associated with his involvement in railway company shares in the mid 1800s…

Railway Monitor

A detailed study of the history of Follyfaunts, produced by historian Peter Bushell in the 1970s does not identify any members of the Coape family having resided there, so it is likely that he spent his time between Vaulty Manor and his Portman Square residence.  Vaulty Manor is within the parish of Goldhanger on the Goldhanger Road between Heybridge and Goldhanger, and today is a wedding venue.

Vaulty Manor today

Vaulty Manor today

Henry Coe Coape’s son, James, who was born in Goldhanger, married Georgeane Arnold of Wolvey Hall, in Warwickshire, and the surname was changed to Coape-Arnold. That family owned many properties in Goldhanger until the 1920s and family members still reside at Wolvey Hall.

There is more about the family at... The Coe-Coape and Coape-Arnold families

Here is an extract from… “At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction”  by Dr. Troy J. Bassett, Indiana University-Purdue University…

Author: Henry Coe Coape (1810–1890),  Alternate Name(s): Mervyn Merriton (pseudonym)

Biography: Henry Coe Coape was born in 1810 in London, the eldest son of Henry Coape of York-place and Maldon, Essex, who had made a large fortune in the sugar-refining business (upwards of £300,000). Coape moved in the best of society and in 1835 married Sidney Jane King, the  daughter of Major-General Hon. Henry King and granddaughter of the 2nd Earl of Kingston. The marriage collapsed in the space of a few years due to Coape's adultery, cruelty, and desertion (chronicled in great detail in the divorce proceedings). The couple separated in 1847. Coape took up with Ann Maguire (died 1850), an actress, and wrote some plays. In 1854, he was insolvent and fled to the continent. His wife sued for divorce in 1861 and it was granted. In the 1870s, presumably for money, Coape turned to writing novels, including The Ringwoods of Ringwood (1873) and What Will Society Say?: A Story of Society and the Stage (1880). He remarried and died in 1890.

A list of known literary works

by Henry Coe Coape / Mervyn Merriton

The fairy Oak:  a romantic opera  by H C Coape,  music by Henry Forbes, 1845

A Conspirator in Spite of Himself: a drama in two acts, by Henry C Coape 1852

The queen of the market:  a grand drama in 3 acts and a prologue, Adelphi Theatre, by  H.C. Coape & B Webster 1852

Our new lady's maid: a comedietta in one act by Henry C Coape  1852

The Roman Question,  by Edmond About, translated into English by  H C Coape  1859

Clarinda, or, Love and friendship: a comic drama in two acts, Henry C Coape,  date not known

Samuel in Search of Himself:  play, a farce in one act by J. Stirling Coyne and H.C. Coape,  1860

The Ringwoods of Ringwood,  novel by Mervyn Merriton in 3 volumes, totalling 998 pages 1873

The Mistakes of a Day, a short story,  listed in Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals 1824-1900  Vol-2  1874

What Will Society Say?:  A Story of Society and the Stage, in 3 volumes.  1880

The Mountain Mill, a Pastor's Story,  H C Coape 1881

What's in a Name?  short story by H. C. Coape, published in the New Zealand Evening Post in 1885

In a Jesuit Net, A Story of the Time of Louis XIV,  H C Coape, 1888

From the Enemy's Hand,  or The Chateau De Louard… 

…a story of France at the period of the Evocation of the Edict of Nantes, H. C. Coape 1890



From the Enemy's hand    ringwoodsringwo00coapgoog_0007    Coape book plate    books


6737749-L   Our New Lady's Maid    image    In a Jesuit Net


Past reviews of Henry Coe Coape’s work

The opera The Fairy Oak  was reviewed in the ladies magazine New Monthly Belle Assemblée in 1845, this is an extract…

Amusements of the Month - Drury Lane: The principal event of the last month which has occurred at Drury-Lane, is the production of an opera, of which the libretto and the music are each from the pen of an English author and musician. The author is Henry Coe Coape, Esq., and the composer is Henry Forbes, Esq., for many years conductor of the Societa Armonica of this country. The opera—which went off well, though with no very brilliant success—is named The Fairy Oak, and in its performance the principal strength of the company was engaged. The scene is laid in Bohemia, in one of its so-very-convenient castles designated Lownenstein. As to the date of the opera it is difficult to determine, though we should be inclined to fix it somewhere in the reign of Francis the First. As usual the "eye-delighting" Mr. Bunn has produced this opera with scenery of the most incomparable beauty and splendour, and the audience expressed themselves not a little delighted by this super-abundance—this over-loading of an accessory run mad; a little more and it would have killed the performance, and the audience have been entertained with a gallery of moveable pictures in lieu of a musical entertainment. The music is, undoubtedly, weak and heavy….

Ringwoods of Ringwood  was reviewed by The Graphic in October 1873, here is an extract…

We have here the story of a lady who poisons her first husband, attempts to poison her second, and believes she has succeeded, and finally poisons her third, Mr. Ringwood, of Ringwood, after having induced him to disinherit his grandson Hugh, and leave his £15,000 a year to her…Then she becomes repentant and is eager to make restitution and do justice to Hugh's claims, … her second husband… is disposed to let her down gently, she retires from the scene with quite an odour of self sacrifice about her, and enjoys an ample income, and general respect daring the years of life that remain to her. … much of the story is lively and spirited; the attempts on the life of Rudolph Elsenfeldt, the second husband, and the way they are foiled by the skilful private detective, who has been engaged as butler for that very purpose, forming an especially interesting episode. The story would have gained by the omission of the love business…

Ringwoods of Ringwood  was also reviewed in The Spectator magazine In April 1874, this is an extract

A bold, vulgar, wicked woman, and an equally unscrupulous attorney, are not pleasant subjects for a picture…these, however, are the people whose machinations we are expected to follow in the three volumes before us. Mrs. Honey- glass, afterwards Elsenfeldt, afterwards Ringwood, marries, and poisons … three husbands successively, in the most deliberate and cold-blooded manner…. The second husband- does not, however, die, but makes. his escape to France, in consequence of which she is, unknown to herself, guilty of bigamy ; this doubtless would be regarded as a very venial offence by a woman who makes murder an every-day practice. In addition to this, she causes her last husband to disinherit an only grandson, and to leave the whole of his property to her absolutely. In some of these odious transactions, she is assisted by her attorney cousin, who is to share in the plunder.

We have the story of disinherited Hugh Ringwood, and some love- making between him and the daughter of a wealthy self-made man ; but these people, who in real flesh and blood would probably be pleasant and respectable members of 'society, are here vague and shadowy, or are mere lay figures… The author before us is not a great master. We are unable to say whether or not the plot is a possible one…

In a Jesuit Net was reviewed by The Spectator magazine in December 1888, here is an extract

Mr. Coape writes interesting stories, and his style is graphic and picturesque... No one who reads his book will fail to be interested in the perils and adventures of the two fair sisters of the Chateau de Soissy. Still, we cannot help feeling rather dissatisfied with his work. Mr. Coape is a little too bitter… The tale of Protestant persecution cannot, it is true, be well forgotten. It has been written in indelible letters... We would not for a moment have these tales of heroism and martyrdom avoided. What we would have is more moderation shown in dealing with the other side. Besides, can a Protestant afford so well to recall these stories of the past?  Were there no persecutions of the Roman Catholics?

A summary of What's in a Name published as a Christmas Supplement in the New Zealand Evening Post, 24 Dec 1885…

This short story is about an Australian originally from Liverpool, who takes temporary accommodation in lodgings in Torrington Square, Euston where a young actress is also in residence. The Australian becomes infatuated with her and secretly attends all her performances at the Pantechnic Theatre. He believes their friendship is developing, however the actress receives a telegram and suddenly departs for Liverpool. A month later the actress returns and plans a small party to which the Australian is invited. To his amazement she introduces him to her new husband who he immediately recognises as his long lost brother from Liverpool. In a further coincidence it transpires the actress’s brother is the man he has left in charges of his properties in Australian. The story ends with a conversation about the benefits of sheltering ones identity under an alias. There is possibly biographical content in this story, because as indicated above, the author “took up” with actress Ann Maguire for a several years after separating from his first wife.


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