This is a transcription of correspondence and journals of Eugene Celadon Van Cooten contained within the archives of the Church Missionary Society.
Eugene Celadon Van Cooten was born in about 1820, the youngest son of John Van Cooten and Martha Smithers. The 1841 census of England for Wrentham, Suffolk, records his age as 20 (indicating that his age was 20-24), an occupation of Medical Assistant, and born in Foreign Parts. Eugene is living in the household of surgeon Thomas Primrose. Eugene seems to be a little unsure of his age, as in his application letter dated 18 August 1846 he says that he is “between I believe the age of twenty six & seven.”
Family letters suggest that he may have spent time in the West Indies as a child. Information about Eugene’s early life is scarce.
His father, John or Jan, was born in the Dutch Demerara colony of mixed race parentage. John was sent to England to be educated. This is documented in the letters of Theodore Barrell. John married Martha Smithers in Newport, Wales, in 1808, and their first three children seem to have been born in Bristol. By 1816 the family were living in St Malo, France, where twins were born. By 1839 John appears to have been living on Guernsey. Eugene may have been bon in France, England, or Guernsey. The 1841 census for Guernsey suggests that Martha is no longer living with the family.
In 1893 Elizabeth Gorsuch (Eugene’s niece) wrote of John:
He married a London merchant’s daughter (rather to the disgust of his father & his royal mother). She his wife was a “Miss Martha Keane Smithers”. Miss Smithers was considered a great beauty. I never saw my grandmother. She went out to the “West Indies” when Uncle Eugene was a baby and although she returned to England, she refused to return to her husband and children.
The Demerara Royal Gazette of 9 Apr 1838 mentions in the ‘Notice of intent to quit the Colony’ Mrs John Van Cooten and her minor daughter. The minor daughter could be Rosalie Virginia. It is not clear whether Eugene lived in Demerara as a child.
The “CMS Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy 1804-1904” says:
408. Van Cooten, Eugene C.—Age 30. Of Holland. Surgeon; in which capacity he visited Demerara. 1847, at C. M. College. 1850, Jan. 9, to Badagry, Yoruba Mission. 1851, March 13, died at Badagry. Service 1 1/4 years. m. Emily Primrose, who died at Badagry, May 14 1850.
In his application letter Eugene states a duty to support his mother and sisters. These would be Martha, his mother, Maria Anna, who never marries, and Rosalie Virginia, at this point not married and possibly living on Guernsey. His mother’s brother is Sydney Smithers, who in the 1841 census is recorded with his wife, Katherine, and children living in Ashford, Derbyshire, with the occupation of land agent, and Freebody’s Directory of 1852 for Buxton and Neighbourhood, Derbyshire, says that Sydney Smithers is agent for the Duke of Derbyshire, and also that he is superintending the renovation of the Baths at Buxton on behalf of the Duke of Devonshire.
Eugene’s application letter says that he remained with the Primroses until mid 1845, and then went to Demerara on behalf of Messrs Cornforth & Elmslie, 6 Copthall Court Throgmorton Street London to work in the absence of Mr. Richardson. I have not been able to discover anything more about Messrs Cornforth & Elmslie, nor can I find them in any business directories. Eugene presumably left Demerara in February 1847 as his letter anticipates, for training at the Central Mission college at Islington. He married Thomas Primrose’s daughter Emily Primrose on 11 October 1849, and on 9 January 1850 they leave for the Badagry, Yoruba mission in what is now Nigeria.
The archives of the Church Missionary Society are held by the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. A description of the library is contained in the catalog at https://www.calmview.bham.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=Catalog&id=XCMS.
The current transcriptions include:
- Eugene Van Cooten to CMS 1846-08-18
- Eugene Van Cooten to CMS 1846-09-18
- Eugene Van Cooten to CMS 1846-11-17
- William Fox and Wm B Pollard to CMS 1846-08-18
- Eugene Van Cooten to Major H. Straich 1850-05-17
- Eugene Van Cooten to Major H. Straich 1850-08-24
- Eugene Van Cooten Journal 1850-06-25
- Eugene Van Cooten Journal 1850-09-15
- Eugene Van Cooten Journal 1850-12-31
- Eugene Van Cooten Journal 1851-03-06
- Eugene Van Cooten Account of last journey March 1851