Mary Ann, the daughter of Thomas Drever MD and Mary Ann Dorrien, was born in the parish of St George’s, Hanover Square. Her father at the time of his marriage in 1821 was Physician Extraordinary to Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg. Her mother Mary Ann was the daughter of Thomas Dorrien of Haresfoot, Hertfordshire. The Drevers lived at Norcott Court so consequently Mary Ann spent a lot of time at Haresfoot. In fact, as her mother suffered from deteriorating health for some years, she spent an increasing amount of time there. At the time of the 1841 census she was at Haresfoot with her grandfather whilst her parents were at Norcott Court. The death of Mary Ann Drever was reported in the ‘Times’ of Friday 30th June 1843 as follows ‘At Clifton on 25th instant after years of extreme ill-health and very protracted suffering, terminating in disease of the heart Mary Ann the ever to be lamented and much beloved wife of Thomas Drever Esq. MD’. Mary Ann’s grandmother had died on 18th August 1829 when Mary Ann was only four years’ old. Because of her mother’s ill-health, she was largely brought up her mother’s older sister Aunt Isabella and her grandfather, Thomas Dorrien. It appears that her grandfather was a powerful influence in her life. He outlived his wife and all his children, living to the ripe old age of 92, dying on 1st January 1847.
Thomas lived long enough to see his granddaughter married on 9th February 1845 at St. Peter’s Church to Robert Algernon Smith, son of James Smith and Mary Isabella Pechell of Ashlyns Hall. On his marriage, Robert by royal licence acquired the name Dorrien and the Dorrien coat of arms, becoming Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien. Between 1846 and 1863 Mary Ann bore him fifteen children, six boys and nine girls. Only one boy died in infancy, all the other children surviving to adulthood, a remarkable achievement even if that were the end of the story, but it is not! Several of the boys went on to achieve fame in military and naval fields. Some of the unmarried daughters gave valuable service and support to the community during WWI and lived long lives, as did their mother.
Perhaps the best known of all the children was General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, the youngest of the six sons, who distinguished himself in the Second Boer War and held positions of senior command in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the First World War. He fought a vigorous and successful defensive action at Mons and at Le Cateau, contrary to the wishes of his Commander in Chief Sir John French, with whom there was a clash of personalities. Owing to continued disagreement, Smith-Dorrien was relieved of his post in 1915. He played no further role of prominence in the First World War. He was appointed Governor of Gibraltar from July 1918-May 1923 where he introduced an element of democracy. In his retirement he devoted much of his time to the welfare and support of WWI veterans. History has largely exonerated Smith-Dorrien for his actions.
The fifth son achieved distinction in the Navy. Rear-Admiral Arthur Hale Smith-Dorrien took part in operations of the Egyptian War 1889-1893. On his retirement in 1909 he returned to Berkhamsted and lived with his unmarried sister Beatrice at New Lodge. He took an active part in local affairs, especially during WWI, arranged garden parties to raise money for charity and defended the reputation of his brother General Sir Horace. He avidly supported the newly-formed British Legion.
Henry Theophilus also had a distinguished career in the Navy but, unlike his brothers and most of his sisters, did not remain in Berkhamsted and is therefore less well-known and did not play a prominent part in the local community.
Equally, the eldest son Thomas Algernon did not remain in Berkhamsted since he became Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly, where he cared for his island community much as his brothers and sisters did for the people of Berkhamsted. In doing this they were following their mother, who once she had passed child-bearing age, took an active part in local affairs. She had been a widow since 1879. We know that she subscribed to the Tring and Berkhamsted Ambulance Fund and that she served as a Governor on the Board of Governors for the Girls’ Grammar School, taking part in the opening ceremony and prize-giving at the new buildings in Kings Road in 1903.
Typically, the report of her death in the Times, Saturday July 31st 1909 mentions her sons and says less about her. ‘The death is announced of Mrs Smith Dorrien at Haresfoot, Berkhamsted, at an advanced age. She was the mother of Mr Dorrien Smith who holds the Scilly Isles by quasi-feudal tenure from the Duchy of Cornwall, of Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien in command at Aldershot and of Admiral Smith-Dorrien. For very many years Mrs Smith-Dorrien had been a familiar figure in the social life of West Herts, where she was popular and most respected.’
The memorial inscription in St Peter’s Church equally puts her in her place – sandwiched between her husband and her son. ‘Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien of Haresfoot, Captain 3rd Light Dragoons and 16th Lancers, Colonel Herts Militia, 4th son of eldest marriage. Born 2nd October 1814 died 8th October 1879. His Body rests in the cemetery.
MaryAnn Smith- Dorrien, his wife born 25th January 1825 died 28th July 1909
Thomas Algernon Smith Dorrien Smith, eldest son of the above, Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly. Born 7th February 1846 died 6th August 1918.
From the report of her funeral in the Bucks Herald we get a better idea of the esteem and indeed affection in which Mary Ann was held by the people of Berkhamsted. ‘The funeral of Mrs Smith-Dorrien of Haresfoot where she had resided first as a child and afterwards as mistress for just about 80 years took place at Berkhamsted Cemetery, after a service in the Parish Church, on Saturday. The remains were conveyed through the Park in a hearse, which with the mourners’ carriages was high with wreaths. At the foot of Chesham Road the coffin was removed to a hand bier, and the mourners followed on foot to the church, passing through a double line of the tenancy and estate labourers each holding a wreath.’ Of Mary Ann’s 14 surviving children all but one were present, together with spouses where applicable. In addition, almost every large estate or family seat for miles around was represented and many military and naval dignitaries and important members of the community were present.
Mary Ann is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery together with her husband and a few of her children but it is on the Smith-Dorrien Memorial in Castle Street that she is remembered, a memorial not to one of her illustrious sons but to a remarkable woman, Mary Ann, the founder of the Smith-Dorrien dynasty. The Luton Times and Advertiser of 31st May 1912 reports ‘A magnificent cross 25ft. in height, has been erected in Berkhamsted Churchyard in memory of the late Mrs Smith-Dorrien and was dedicated on Wednesday by the Rev W C E Newbolt, MA, Canon and Chancellor of St. Paul’s’.