REV. JOHN HUTCHINS – The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset 

1698 – 1773

John Hutchins was born 21 st September 1698, at Bradford Pevril, the son of Rev. Richard Hutchins the rector of All Saints church, Dorchester. John’s mother died when he was only eight years old.

Hutchins was educated at Dorchester Grammar School before going on to Oxford where he gained a BA in 1722. His first clerical position was as Curate at Milton Abbas. He became Rector of Sywre and then moved to Melcombe Horsey where be married Anne Stephens whose father was also a Rector. His parish was Pimperne. John and Anne Hutchins had one child a daughter Anne Martha. In 1744 Hutchins moved to Wareham Rectory where he was installed as the Rector of Holy Trinity with St. Martin’s and St. Mary’s until his death in 1773.

As a parson, Hutchins was, according to the author of his brief biography, “a sound divine rather than an eminent preacher”. Few details are given of his parochial activities before he went to Wareham, but there he seems to have been a conscientious parish priest who had some difficulties, especially with Nonconformists who were strong in the town, and with a curate who was eventually confined to a madhouse. In 1762 he suffered a great personal loss when his rectory was badly damaged and most of his possessions destroyed in the disastrous fire, which swept through Wareham in July. The Rectory was one of 133 houses destroyed by fire. Ann, wife of the Rev. John Hutchins risked her life to save her husband’s notes and manuscripts as fire swept through much of Wareham. Hutchins was miles away at the time, performing clerical duties at Swyre, unaware that his life’s work was under threat. As the fire gathered momentum, Anne repeatedly waded into the Parsonage to rescue armfuls of irreplaceable papers. They included transcripts of records relating to Dorset but housed in the Tower of London. Not all the documents were saved but enough to enable Hutchins to continue with his life’s work. Hutchins seems first to have become seriously interested in local history when he was at Milton Abbas where in the mid 1730’s he engaged in some enquiries for the lord of the manor, Mr Jacob Bancks, concerning his mother’s family, the Tregonwells, and began to examine collections of Dorset material. Bancks encouraged him to embark on the writing of the county history and was responsible for his preferment to Swyre and Melcombe Horsey. Brown Willis, the well-known antiquary and historian, himself a native of Blandford St. Mary, visited Dorset in 1736 and further persuaded Hutchins to undertake the task. In 1739 Willis drew up and had printed at his own expense a sheet of six queries, with an appeal for help, which was circulated throughout the County. Hutchins was engaged in gathering materials for, and writing, his History for the rest of his life, aided throughout by various helpers, and in 1761 by a generous subscription, which enabled him to search repositories in Oxford and London. He had little time or energy for other writing. The later stages of his work were hampered by pain and paralysis following a stroke. Finally he penned the dedication, which signified that his work was done, and he died three weeks later on 21 June 1773, some months before the book finally appeared in 1774. It was seen through the press by the topographers and antiquarian, Richard Gough, and Dr William Cuming of Dorchester. Hutchins was buried in King Edward’s Chapel in the church of Lady St Mary at Wareham, where his floor-slab can still be seen, together with a mural monument erected to his memory in 1792 by his son-in-law. Anne survived her husband by 20 years.

After his death, in 1774, his manuscripts were published in two volumes. The man really responsible for this was Hutchins’s son-in-law, John Bellasis. Born in 1744, he became a soldier in the East India Company’s Service and married Anne Martha Hutchins in Bombay in 1776. Bellasis was determined both to perpetuate his father-in-law’s work and memory and to provide financially for his widowed mother-in-law. On leave in England from 1791 to 1793, he arranged for Richard Gough to undertake the new edition, with William Morton Pitt, M.P., of Encombe and Thomas Bartlett, junior, Town Clerk of Wareham, as his chief Dorset representatives and helpers. He, Bellasis, would meet all the expenses.

Little has been discovered about Anne Martha’s activities until the final years of her father’s life when she clearly helped him and often wrote letters for him. How she met and was courted by her future husband who, at the age of fifteen, travelled south from his home at Monk Sherborne Vicarage in Hampshire, is not known But her journey to Indian (after considerable discussion of its advisability so soon after her father’s death), her marriage and her married life are well attested. Following Hutchin’s death, Gough and Cuming were very concerned, as they had been making the arrangements for the publication of the History, for the welfare of the widow and daughter. Anne Martha’s passage to India, when she took with her a large chest of drawers and a dressing table of Wareham oak with Monk Sherborne triangular looking glass, was paid for out of income from the History, and all the arrangements were supervised by Gough. She sailed in the Talbot in March 1775 and arrived in India in October . John Bellasis had begun his military service with the East India Company in 1769. By the time of his fiancée’s arrival, he had seen service in the field and had risen from the rank of Ensign of Artillery to Lieutenant. His advancement continued and by the time of his death he was Major-General and Commander-in-Chief, Bombay, with the wealth, dignity and position that such an appointment implied. The marriage of Lieut. John Bellasis and Anne Martha Hutchins took place in what is now Bombay Cathedral in June 1776. Their first child, Helen Hutchins Bellasis, was born the next year, to be followed by five other children who survived infancy, all boys. Apart from a long leave in England in the early 1790’s Bellasis and Anne stayed in India until their deaths. Randall Lodge, just outside Bombay, a fine garden- house, was their residence where they were extremely happy together until Anne’s sudden death on May 14 TH 1797. In 1808, Bellasis died suddenly whilst presiding over a meeting of the Military Board.