Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dyce-Sombre, David Ochterlony

DYCE-SOMBRE, DAVID OCHTERLONY (1808–1851), an eccentric character, was born at Sirdhana, Bengal, in 1808. His great-grandfather, Walter Reinhard, a native of Strasburg, a carpenter by trade, went to India in 1754, where he became a soldier in the service of several of the native princes, and acquired from the sombre cast of his countenance the nickname of Sombre. In 1777 the emperor of Delhi gave him the principality of Sirdhana, which on his death at Agra, 4 May 1778, passed to his widow Zerbonissa, a dancing girl, who became begum of Sirdhana. By a concubine Reinhard left a son, Aloysius Reinhard, otherwise known as Zuffer Yah Khan. This son died, leaving a daughter Juliana, who married George Alexander Dyce, commandant of the begum's forces. A son by this marriage was D. O. Dyce. He was brought up in the house of the Begum Sombre, and educated by Mr. Fisher, the church of England chaplain at Meerut, but on attaining manhood joined the church of Rome. On 27 Jan. 1836 the begum died, and DYCE inherited from her upwards of half a million sterling, which was paid over to him from the Anglo-Indian exchequer, where it had been deposited, and he then took the additional surname of Sombre. Previously to this he had been created by the pope a chevalier of the order of Christ, in consideration of some very large gifts which the begum had made to his holiness. In October 1836 he left Sirdhana, to which he never returned. In 1837 he went to China, coming back to Calcutta in February 1838. He then embarked for England, and landed at Bristol in August of that year. His arrival attracted much notice, as he brought with him a reputation of vast wealth and of being thoroughly oriental in education, customs of life, and manners of thought, and he soon became the most celebrated personage of the season. On 26 Sept. 1840 he married the Hon. Mary Anne Jervis, third daughter of Edward Jervis, second viscount St. Vincent. He was elected in the liberal interest member for Sudbury 29 June 1841, but after sitting until 14 April 1842 was unseated for ‘gross, systematic, and extensive bribery,’ and the borough was soon after disfranchised, mainly in consequence of the proceedings at the 1841 election (Barron and Austin's Cases of Controverted Elections, 1844, pp. 237–52). He lived with his wife until March 1843, when a separation took place in consequence of his being put under restraint as a lunatic at the Clarendon Hotel, 169 New Bond Street, London; thence he was removed under the care of a keeper to Hanover Lodge, Regent's Park. On 31 July 1843 a commission de lunatico inquirendo was held at Hanover Lodge before Francis Barlow and a special jury, when a verdict ‘of unsound mind from 27 Oct. 1842’ was returned. However, in September 1843 he was allowed to travel under the care of Dr. Grant for the benefit of his health, but escaping from his attendant at Liverpool, he left England and arrived in Paris on 22 Sept. Mr. Frere, who was ‘the solicitor of the committees of the person,’ followed him to Paris, but an application that Dyce-Sombre should be delivered up to him to be sent back to England was refused by the French government. During the succeeding seven years the unfortunate man was several times in England (with safe-conduct passes from the lord chancellor). Many inquiries were made as to the state of his mind, with varying results, and he lived on the surplus income of his property allowed him by the lord chancellor after deducting an annuity of 4,000l. for the support of his wife. In August 1849 he published in Paris ‘Mr. Dyce-Sombre's Refutation of the Charges of Lunacy brought against him in the Court of Chancery: published by Mr. Dyce-Sombre, 1849.’ This is a large and well-written work of 592 pages, in the compilation of which he is said to have been assisted by a Mr. Montucci. He also wrote another work called ‘The Memoir,’ brought out in English, French, and Italian, in which he grossly abused his brother-in-law, Baron Solaroli. In the summer of 1851 he came to England to petition against the decisions of the court of chancery and with the hope of obtaining a supersedeas, but died at his lodgings, Davies Street, Berkeley Square, London, on 1 July 1851, and was buried in the catacombs at Kensal Green cemetery on 8 July. His will, dated 25 June 1849, which was disputed by his widow and by his two sisters, Ann Mary Dyce, wife of Captain John Troup, and Georgiana Dyce, wife of Baron Peter Solaroli, was before the law courts for more than five years. At last, on 26 Jan. 1856, after the case had been argued nineteen days, Sir John Dodson gave judgment against the will, which judgment on appeal was confirmed by the judicial committee of the privy council on 1 July (Deane and Swabey's Cases in Ecclesiastical Courts, 1858, pp. 22–120). His widow married, 8 Nov. 1862, the Right Hon. George Cecil Weld Forester, who in 1874 became third Baron Forester.

[Gent. Mag. August 1851, p. 201; Illustrated London News, 12 July 1851, p. 42; Sleeman's Rambles of an Indian Official (1844), ii. 377–99; Malleson's Recreations of an Indian Official (1872), pp. 438–59; The Heirs of Mr. Dyce-Sombre v. The Indian Government, 1865, p. 18; Macnaghten and Gordon's Reports of Cases in Chancery (1850), i. 101–2, 116–37; Law Mag. and Law Rev. August 1856, pp. 356–68, and November, p. 182.]

G. C. B.