Catherine Jemmat, daughter of Admiral John Yeo

Jemmat, Catherine [aka Catherine Yeo]

As with many women writers of this period, very little is known about Catherine Jemmat, and most of what we do know comes from her Memoirs. She was born in Exeter, the daughter of Captain John Yeo and his wife, who died when the poet was only five. When her father remarried, the girl was sent to boarding school. She grew up headstrong and had many admirers. She married a silk mercer named Jemmat in spite of her father's disapproval. Her husband, a violent man with a serious drinking problem, went bankrupt in 1756; and her father, a rear-admiral on half pay, died soon after. Probably to raise money, she began circulating proposals for her Memoirs in 1760 and received subscriptions from many aristocrats and military people. In addition to this work, she published Miscellanies in Prose and Verse which included "The Rural Lass" which had appeared earlier in the Gentleman's Magazine (1754) and "Question on the Art of Writing" which had been in Dodsley's Collection vi (1758). She was probably dependent on the support of aristocratic patrons. In November, 1766, the London Magazine reported what seems to be her death notice, yet her Memoirs were reprinted by subscription with new subscribers in 1771. Some sources list her death date as 1766. Condensed from a biography written by Sarah Forney.

Catherine Jemmat's memoirs give us an incite into life in the 1700's and also enabled me to work out where her father, Admiral John Yeo fitted into the Yeo Tree. She was the great grandaughter of the Reverend William Yeo of Wolborough, Newton Abbot who would probably of thoroughly disapproved her way of life, just as her father did. I cannot include all her memoirs but have extracted pieces of them to share with you. She was certainly a girl with imaginative views and quite a seducer.....The memoirs are really worth reading in their complete form.

She begins with :-

At the time of my birth my father, the late Admiral Yeo, was a captain in his Majesty's Navy and resided at Exeter in Devonshire, where I was born. My parents when I was yet an infant removed to Plymouth, a principal sea-port and very compatible with his maritime employment., where he raised to the rank of half pay admiral.

He was a finish'd tar in his own house, a baashar whose single nod of disapprobation struck terror in the whole family. Between five and six years of age I unhappily lost a tender mother, my father was then at sea and arrived the very night her funeral rites had been performed. The night of my mother's interrment and of my father's arrival from a long voyage was the first time to my remembrance I had ever seen him. My mother left in his care besides myself, a brother and sister who were yet younger. My father to apolgise for his coming to England without the knowledge or permission of the Lords of the Admiralty pleaded his extreme fondness and passionate regard to his wife. However he was severely reprimanded for it by their hardships and had not as I have been informed, a ship to command for nine years after.

He was so enthusiastically fond of her as to insist on having her corpse taken up from the grave to bid a last adieu to the inanimate lifeless body buried in the clay. However, with much difficulty was eventually persuaded from doing so. However, such was his grief, that nine weeks later he married a giggling girl of nineteen. She had five children, four of whom it has pleased providence to call to a better state and had the worthy captain, my half brother completed the number of the deceased, the world and myself might well have borne the loss with christyn patience and resignation.

To complete the dismal scene that was opening to us, new characters in the great drama of life, my grandfather, a pious, plain, upright man who boarded with us, was snatched away by death. Had heaven pleased to have lent us his life a little longer, he would have at least have seen us properly instructed in the principles of religion and morality.

The complete book can be read here thanks to Google Books


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