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The D'Oyly Carte/Gilbert & Sullivan/ Keith Prowse & Co./ Paul Revere/ Prowse Farm CONNECTION

One chapter in my latest family history book — "First Do No Harm " - about all of our Prowse medical men and women deviates from those inspiring stories and sprang from a comment made by one of our Canadian ancestors, Albert Samuel Whitchurch Prowse (1856-1950), who emigrated to British Columbia in 1909, regarding his having attended the first performances of many of the D 'Oyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan performances at the old Savoy Theatre in London. Being a huge fan of the G&S operettas in my early life in the UK before I emigrated to Canada and then on to the USA, I was intrigued to discover several connections of our family to the D'Oyly Carte family, the Keith Prowse & Company family, as well as the connection between William Jeffery Prowse (1836-1870), our own family poet and humorist W.S. Gilbert and an even more intriguing connection between our family and none less than Paul Revere and a building known as Prowse Farm in Canton, Massachusetts, and its owner, one Montague Prowse (1891-1954) and their link to a famous document which was the basis of the American Declaration of Independence!


It all started when I read a scribbled note by Mary Prowse at the bottom of a page of one of my grandfather's (Arthur Bancks Prowse (1856-1925)) manuscript books. Such are the innocuous snippets of information that can unleash vast earthquakes of new knowledge about our family's history! The note related to the Long Wittenham branch of the Prowse family, one of whom emigrated to South Africa in 1876. Following that note was a copy of a letter written by a Montague Prowse from Port Said on September 20, 1918, while he was serving in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (having joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1914). It turned out that Montague & his younger brother, Gerald Prowse (who was killed in action in France in 1917, while serving with the Royal Sussex Regt.) were connected to the Prowse family of "Keith Prowse & Co.", the company that started out with the partnership in 1858 of William Prowse (1801-1881), musical instrument maker and music publisher, and Robert William Keith (1767-1846) and became the world renowned theatre ticket agency.


This William Prowse's youngest daughter, Blanche Julia Prowse (1853- 1885) married Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1870. He was 26 and she was 17! She had participated in amateur theatricals with Carte. Richard established the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company & built the Savoy Theatre to host the Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Blanche Julia died of pneumonia in 1885 at age 32, and Richard remarried his assistant, Helen Lenoir.


Another gifted Prowse, the humorist William Jeffery Prowse (1839-1870), who died so young of consumption, often used to visit with W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame at Gilbert's chambers in London. Here, young writers, critics, dramatists and journalists met every Saturday and soon challenged 'Punch' magazine with their own 'Fun' magazine.


Montague & Gerald Prowse were the great-nephews of William Prowse of Keith Prowse & Co. fame and this is where things become even more interesting! Montague meets an American lady, Martha Peabody, daughter of General Francis Peabody of Canton, Massachusetts, USA, and marries her in 1923 in Massachusetts. Martha's father gives them — as a wedding present — one of his farm properties, comprising of several hundred acres, which becomes known as "Prowse Farm". This farm lies on land of historical importance and becomes the center of a huge controversy upon Martha's death in 1975, Montague having preceded her in death in 1954, while a passenger on the ocean liner, "Queen Mary", 'approaching Southampton'. The farm has some historical buildings on it, including the Doty Tavern, where the "Suffolk Resolves" which form the basis of the American "Declaration of Independence" were drafted by the Colonial Patriots and were carried on horseback to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia by none other than Paul Revere (known for another mad dash on horseback to warn the citizens of Boston that "The British Are Coming!"


Since Martha and Montague had no children, a huge industrial corporation (Motorola) bought the site of the Prowse Farm after Martha's death and wanted to develop the land industrially. For 7 years, a legal battle raged between the Industry' together with the local Town Council leaders against the citizens of the town joined by nationwide & Canadian conservationists headed up by such well-known Americans as Dave Cowens, the professional basketball star, the film actor, Robert Redford, and the famous golfer, Arnold Palmer. Unfortunately, on October 18, 1980, during the early hours of the morning, the corporation, in defiance of a promise to the Town of Canton, bulldozed 13 of those 18 historic buildings on the site, including the Doty Tavern. Today, the Prowse Farm (named after Montague & Martha Peabody Prowse) is owned by a non-profit organization and is open to the public as a historic site and museum. Believe it or not, Prowse Farm in Canton is about 10 miles from Needham, Massachusetts, where we lived when we first came to the USA in 1969 and where both our children (Nick, 1971 & Alex, 1974) were born, but I was quite unaware of our family's links to this place at that time!


Sue Prowse-Tako 2020


Note: Information in this post reflects the research and knowledge of the author.

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