Irma follows Indian trail of ancestor

PUBLISHED: 18:06 27 July 2009 | UPDATED: 09:46 18 June 2010

Irma Kennaway with her book about her ancestor Sir John Kennaway

Irma Kennaway with her book about her ancestor Sir John Kennaway

Copyright Archant Ltd

THE great, great, great granddaughter of the first Sir John Kennaway, travelled to India to trace his history for a sketchbook account of his life. Artist and textile designer Irma Kennaway, who lived at Escot House, Ottery St Mary, until she was eight,

THE great, great, great granddaughter of the first Sir John Kennaway, travelled to India to trace his history for a sketchbook account of his life.

Artist and textile designer Irma Kennaway, who lived at Escot House, Ottery St Mary, until she was eight, now lives at Lake Como, Italy.

She returned to Devon to launch her book at the official opening of Kennaway House, named after another ancestor who was Sidmouth's first MP.

"There were pictures of my great, great, great grandfather on the wall at Escot in a red jacket and of his brother Richard," said Irma, remembering her early years at Ottery.

"You ask yourself who are all these people? I saw pictures of elephants and men in turbans looking very exotic.

"I fell totally in love with India when I went. He spent 23 years there, I spent a few months, but now I go back every year. It has become a huge inspiration for my art and I have a studio in Goa."

A passionate traveller, Irma's book: My Indian Adventure Sketchbook on the Kennaway Trail, is a colourful account of her ancestor's life, with her photographs and distinctive paintings giving it a sketchbook feel.

"I didn't want it to be boring, it is a travel diary as much as retracing the footsteps of the first Sir John," she said.

"I want people to capture my excitement when waiting for a train or bus."

Born in 1758, John sailed for India with Richard in 1772, having been presented with a cadetship by Sir Robert Palk.

He distinguished himself in wars there against Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, and in negotiating an alliance between the East India Company and the Nizam in 1790, after being sent there as an aide-de-camp in 1788 by Marquis Cornwallis, governor general.

He was created a baronet the year before being involved in the treaty of peace between the allied powers and Tipu, in 1792.

Illness forced him to return to Escot and he died there in 1836.

"He was a hero figure in India and my research made me dig into Indian history," said Irma.

"It was a very long process producing the book but it is very much a labour of love and patience."

My Indian Adventure Sketchbook on the Kennaway Trail is available from Kennaway House and Paragon Books, Sidmouth, priced £20.

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