Sarah Otway 1756-1780

Born: 1756
Died: 1780
Father:Francis Otway
Mother:Sarah Hayes
Partner:Robert Mayne
Children:Otway Mayne
Updated: 07 Jan 2000


A Portrait of Sarah

Sarah Otway and her husband, despite family tragedy, founded a Scottish dynasty that for almost two centuries enlivened the history of the British in India.


Sarah Mayne nee Otway sat for this fine portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds soon after her marriage in 1775. The picture, which until recently has renamed hidden beneath layers of Victorian overpaint, now springs out at us with all the freshness of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Philip Mould, the founder of Historical Portraits, describes it as "one of the most spontaneous and successful of Reynolds' portrayals of society glamour". Yet behind the fine features, the eager thrust of the head and the firm expectant expression of this young girl of nearly twenty, there is a poignancy born of the tragedy that was soon to overwhelm her and her family.

Sarah Otway was the second of eight sisters. Her father had been dead a year and she was just 19 when she married Robert Mayne of Powis and Logic in Clackmannanshire. Robert, a widower nearly thirty years her senior, came from a large family whose land "lay in a favoured position on the southern slopes of the Ochil Hills overlooking the River Forth". An honorary Burgess of Stirling, he had nevertheless left home to join his elder briber William in London where they opened a banking partnership. William, who had spent his early years with the family business in Lisbon, soon found his feet in the City, becoming a director of one of only two insurance companies that were competing successfully with private firms operating out of Lloyd's coffee house.

The business continued to flourish and by 1775, the year of Robert's marriage to Sarah, the brothers were both in parliament and living handsomely on two neighbouring estates at Gatton in Surrey. Gatton was conveniently a "rotten borough" represented by two MPs of which Robert was one. A year later William, for his loyalty to Lord North's precarious administration, was raised to the peerage as Baron Newhaven, and the fortunes of the Scottish family that Sarah had joined looked to be riding high.

Sarah gave birth to four boys in the next five years; but sadly she herself died as a result of the last confinement and poor Robert was left desolated to mourn his young wife and comfort his sons. Further misfortune was to follow two years later when, despite William having obtained lucrative government contracts to victual British troops fighting in America, the family bank run by Robert went bankrupt. Robert, still grieving for Sarah and now faced with the anger of his many influential creditors, among whom was a hostile and revengeful Bishop, committed suicide.

Behind him he left four little orphaned boys aged two, three, four and six, together with the handsome portrait of Sarah for which he had been unable to pay his friend Joshua Reynolds. His sons were taken in and brought up by Sarah's mother and those other seven sisters still at home. As for the picture it remained in the artist's possession until his death ten years later after which it went into his studio sale described as a "sketch" and was bought for 31. Early in the next century the sketch was, so to speak, 'completed' by some heavy overpainting covering two thirds of the picture surface. It has been rescued by the removal of this embellishment during recent conservation revealing this pristinely preserved study which is currently valued at around 250,000.

Despite the inauspicious start, Sarah's four sons had successful careers. The eldest fought in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo and became a General, and of his brothers, one was a Rector for 34 years and the other two were sailors, the youngest becoming a Captain in the Maritime Service of the East India Company. Between them they fathered twenty-eight children, most of whom forsook the comforts of home to flock to India to be soldiers, sailors or administrators of the Raj. There for nearly two centuries Mayne son followed father, and nephew followed uncle, and the stories of their courage, achievements and sacrifice have greatly enlivened the history of the British in India(*).

The young Sarah Mayne looking down from her portrait would be proud of the Scottish dynasty that she and Robert founded. She can be seen among other highlights of British portrait painting, from Tudor times to the present day, in a new gallery opened by Historical Portraits at 31 Dover Street, London WIX 3RA (tel 0171-499-6818).

(*) Many of the elicits of this family in India are recorded in my article

"Death on the Pale Horse" at:- http:/


"The Maynes of Powis & Logie", a pamphlet by Alexander Morrison (A Learmouth & Son of Stirling 1927)

"The House of Maine" by Rev. Robert H Main (Published privately 1939)

"Gentlemen of Merstham and Gatton 1519-1979" by AB de M Hunter (1993)

Philip Mould of Historical Portraits, 31 Dover Street, London Wl

Family reminiscences of Rupert Mayne of Aldbourne, Wiltshire (3xgreat grandson of Sarah Otway/Mayne)

Illustrations (not enclosed):

1. Sarah Mayne nee Otway (1756-80). Portrait painted c. 1775 by Sir Joshua Reynolds and now on exhibition at Historical Portraits, 31 Dover Street, London Wl.

2. Robert Mayne MP (1728-82), of Powis and Logie, Honorary Burgess of Stirling (1744). He married Sarah Mayne in 1775 and went bankrupt seven years later. Engraving from a portrait by his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds.

3. William Mayne PC MP, Baron Newhaven (1725-94), the elder brother of Robert of Powis. He was in parliament during the momentous years when the American colonies were lost. The portrait is believed to be by Allan Ramsay.

ID: 2403   Generated by GedTree on 27 Aug 2002

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