Sophia Henrietta Duff, my fourth great grandmother, was born about 1790, probably in Canada, to Major William Duff of the 26th Foot and Dorothy Duff nee Skelly.

William Duff and Dorothy Skelly were married on 9 April 1787 at Redmarshall, Durham. William was an illegitimate son of James, second Earl of Fife. Dorothy was the great granddaughter of Alexander, second Duke of Gordon.

Shortly after their marriage William’s regiment was posted to Canada and Dorothy accompanied him there. William retired from the army in March 1793 and the family returned to Yorkshire.

Major William Duff died aged 41 on 5 July 1795 at Fulford, near York. He was survived by his widow and only child. His inscription in the Duff family mausoleum (at Duff House, Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) stated:

Sacred to the memory of William Duff of the 26th Regiment, a meritorious officer, a most sincere friend, an affectionate husband, an indulgent parent. He lived esteemed and respected. He died regretted and lamented in the 41st year of his age in the year of the Lord 1795.

Cramond, William (editor). The Annals of Banff. New Spalding Club, 1893, Issue 10, page 369. Retrieved through Google Books 

Dorothy and Sophia stayed in touch with William’s family. A letter written by Dorothy to her father-in-law in London mentions a visit to William’s sister, and that Sophia was visited at school by her paternal grandfather.

Dorothy Duff (William’s widow) to Earl Fife
Richmond, Yorkshire Dec’r 23rd, 1801.
My Lord,— I have to thank you for a letter which yu were so good as inclose me fr Lady Duff before you left Duff House, and after being so long without hearing fr your Lordship, was glad to have so good an account of you which was confirmed to me by ye Miss Whartons who wrote me after ye Ball you gave them and that they seemed to have much enjoyed. I have to thank you, my Lord, likewise for your visit to Sophia at Doncaster, where, she tells me, you were so kind as to call upon her notwithstanding a very bad day on which you walked up to ye School, and by which she was much flattered. I had ye pleasure of receiving her a few days ago in perfect health when I returned home after being near three months with my friends at Redmoss Hall. Sophie is wonderfully grown, and is now nearly as tall as I am. When she was with me in Summer I had her at Scarborough two months for ye sea bathing, which gave us an opportunity also of being wt Miss Duff who we had not seen for a very long time. She is by this time gone to Ly Norcliffe. I hope ye much wished for Peace will be ye means of bringing Sir James and Ly Duff soon to England. Your Lordship may perhaps have heard that my Brother is married. It took place here a week ago, before I came home, and he has entirely left ye army — in which he has relinquished very flattering prospects.
Your Lordship would be sorry for ye death of poor Ld Adam Gordon — in whom I lose an affectionate relation and friend. I was deeply hurt at ye event- Sophia and I were to have spent this coming Christmas wt him at ye Burn. It was so settled when he was so kind as visit me here in ye summer, but our plans formed so long have proved vain. Sophia sends her duty to your Lordship.— Wh my respectful good wishes I remain, My Lord, your much obliged, etc., etc.,
D. Duff.
The Earl of Fife, Fife House, London. 

from Alistair Tayler & Tayler, Helen Agnes Henrietta, 1869-1951, joint author (1914). The book of the Duffs. Edinburgh W. Brown. Volume 2 page 523 retrieved through

The letter mentions :

  • Sophia, who was about 11
  • William’s sister, Jean Duff,
  • William’s brother, Sir James Duff and his wife Basilia, Lady Duff nee Dawes
  • Dorothy’s brother, Gordon Skelly, who on 15 December 1801 married Elizabeth Newsome
  • Dorothy’s great uncle, Lord Adam Gordon, the brother of Dorothy’s paternal grandmother. He died on 13 August 1801.

Sophia’s school at Doncaster was probably the school of Mrs Ann Haugh on Hall Cross Hill, which opened in February 1797, accepting 12 young ladies. Mrs Haugh was the wife of the painter George Haugh, who taught his wife’s pupils.

1 Hall Cross Hill, the location of Mrs Haugh’s school in 1801; image retrieved from

Dorothy Duff nee Skelly, widow of Richmond, Yorkshire, remarried to Captain George Tobin of the Royal Navy on 13 June 1804 at St George, Bloomsbury, England. Her daughter Sophia was then about 14 years old.

Two children were born to Captain Tobin and Dorothy: George in 1807 and Eliza in 1810.

Sophia met her future husband Rowland Mainwaring at a picnic at Devonport on 11 July 1808. In his book “The First Five Years of My Married Life” he described their meeting as `love at first sight‘. They became engaged two years later in November 1810 and were married on 31 December.

from pages 21 – 22 The First Five Years of My Married Life by Rowland Mainwaring
A portrait of Sophia painted in 1841, many years after her death in 1824; the portrait is now hanging at Whitmore Hall.


Related posts: