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Jean appeals for help to find long-lost family painting

By This is Devon  |  Posted: November 12, 2010

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A BRIXHAM woman who feels a 'deep connection' with a relative she never knew is seeking help in finding a long-lost family picture.

Jean Austin is searching for a painting of her great grandfather Sergeant Major Edward Tomney, who founded the original Torquay United Football Club in 1899.

Jean, of Castor Close, knows the image, which may either be a painting or a photograph, was auctioned in Brixham in the early 1970s, along with her great grandfather's military medals.

She believes it was bought by the former Brixham-based Robertson Owen Solicitors and hung in their office for some years.

But Jean has no idea where the painting is now.

She said: "The picture or painting is of my great grandfather, Sergeant Major Edward Stephen Tomney, in the uniform of the 2nd Life Guards seated with a small child, who could be his daughter Alice Maud, on his knee.

"It's very distinct because the child is reflected in his sliver breastplate.

"The picture always hung above the door in the house of my grandparents, Lionel and Kate Tomney, in Church Street, but on their death was sold at auction in Brixham along with Edward's medals and other things."

Jean found out by accident, after trawling the internet looking for clues about her great grandfather, that the medals he won during his 34-year military career were up for auction.

Among them were the 1882 Khedive's Star, the Egypt Medal 1882-1889, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Imperial Yeomanry Medal.

"Edward was born in Cork, Ireland, and enlisted as a boy aged 14 into the 14th The Kings Hussars on January 15, 1863," she said.

"He was transferred to the 2nd Life Guards in 1875 and served with them as Corporal of Horse in the Egyptian campaign of 1882, including the infamous moonlight charge of the Household cavalry at Kassassin, the battle of Tel-el-Kebir where he had his horse shot under him and at the capture of Cairo.

"In 1883 he transferred to the permanent staff of the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry and was appointed Trumpet Major of that unit upon his discharge from the Life Guards in September 1895.

"He was appointed to Yeomen of the Guard to Queen Victoria in 1899. He was the Yeoman Bed Hanger and involved with the ritual of the sovereign's sleeping arrangements. He was bed hanger to three monarchs' — Victoria, Edward VII and George V.

"They carried on with their normal day to day lives at that time and were sent to do their duty to the sovereign when needed.

"He lived in Avenue Road, Torquay, and was a gym instructor in his own gym which I think was in Bronshill Road.

"In 1899 he founded Torquay United Football Club with a detachment of school leavers.

"A solid silver inkstand was presented to Edward by Torquay Town Hall in 1910, presumably for this service."

Jean could not afford to buy Sergeant Major Tomney's military memorabilia but she is keen to have a copy of the long-lost picture which once hung in her grandparents home.

"I've researched all the family but this particular one I feel a really deep connection with," Jean said.

"I don't know why. I sold my mother's house and the gentleman that bought it found Edward's cane in the loft, covered with black grime.

"He handed it to me and the moment I touched the cane I knew it was his.

"When I cleaned it there was the inscription 'presented to Sergeant Major Edward Tomney'.

"I think I've pretty much exhausted everything about him, it's just this picture I can't get out of my mind.

"I would love to know where it is and maybe get a copy of it."

Anyone who knows where the picture of Jean's great grandfather may be can phone her on 01803 882213.

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