William Wynne Ryland was born November 1733 and baptized 2nd December of that year at St Martin, Ludgate, London, the son of Edward Ryland and his wife Mary. Like his father William learnt his trade as an engraver and copper plate printer. He was assisted by his godfather, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, to visit France and Italy. He stayed in Paris for around five years, studying drawing under François Boucher, and engraving under Jacques Philippe Le Bas.
In 1757 he gained a medal for a study from the life at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, and while abroad he engraved several plates after the old masters and from the compositions of Boucher.
On returning to England William lived in London and married Mary Brown on the 15th August 1758 at St Mary’s, Lambeth. By this time he excelled at this trade and was earning a handsome income of around £3,000 a year from the sale of his engravings. He was also left shares, by a friend in the Liverpool waterworks, valued at £10,000.
On his return to England, soon after the accession of George III, he was commissioned to engrave Allan Ramsay’s full-length portraits of the king and of the Earl of Bute, which had been declined by Sir Robert Strange, and afterwards that of Queen Charlotte with the infant princess royal, after Francis Cotes, R.A. He thus secured the patronage and friendship of George III, and received the appointment of engraver to the king, with an annual salary of £200.
With his new found wealth Ryland enjoyed the good life of a gentleman, but soon tired of it. He decided to open a print shop in Cornhill with a business partner, but by December 1771 he was in debt and declared bankrupt. After a while he resumed business as a print-seller in the Strand, but before long he retired to a private residence at Knightsbridge, from which he was to disappear on the 1st of April 1783.
The Whitehall Evening Post of the 1st April 1783 recorded that a reward of £300 (approx. £20,000 in today’s money) would be made to whoever apprehended him. He was described as being about 50 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches tall and wore a wig, he had a black complexion, thin face with strong lines, his common countenance very grave, but whilst he speaks he appears to smile and shows his teeth and has great, great affability in his manner.
It took police a whole two weeks and numerous newspaper advertisements before he was apprehended. Police were given a ‘tip off’ by a shoe maker at the Brown Bear tavern, in Bow Street informing the constable that Ryland was at a house in Stepney. According to the General Evening Post, 15th April 1783 –
‘On arriving officers found him sitting at a table ‘in a serious posture with a book in his hand and upon turning his head and seeing them he seized a razor which lay before him and cut his throat. The wound was sewn up and the unhappy man put to bed. In the meantime an express was sent to Bow Street in consequence of which Sir Sampson Wright and ___ Gilbert Esq. immediately set off for Stepney where they found the prisoner in a very improper state for examination and the danger the wound he had given himself Ryland remained at Stepney, his hands being confined and being watched by six men lest he should tear open the wound in his throat or by some other means put an end to his life.
Yesterday, Ryland was carried by post-chaise and four from his lodgings at Stepney-green to Bow Street for private examination, and afterwards committed to Tothill fields, Bridewell.’
The Daily Advertiser, 28th April 1783 contained Ryland’s name, being late of Knightsbridge as he was declared bankrupt. Friday 6th June 1783 he was found guilty of forgery and imprisoned. The Morning Herald, 10th July 1783 reported that whilst in prison Ryland finished a very fine engraving of ‘King John delivering the Magna Charta to the Barons on which he has employed himself during his confinement’.
On Saturday 26th July, Ryland was convicted of ‘uttering and publishing as true, knowing it to be forged, a certain bill of exchange, bearing date in India October 15, 1780 and purporting to be drawn upon the Directors of the East India Company for the payment of £210 with a forged acceptance thereon with intent to defraud Mss. Ransom and co’.
On Friday 29th August 1783 William Wynne Ryland was hanged at Tyburn leaving behind a wife and six children, his execution being delayed some time by a violent thunderstorm. He was buried on the 3rd September 1783 at St Dunstan’s Church, Feltham, Middlesex where his parents were also buried.
Mary, finding herself without her husband and with several children set up a print shop in Oxford Road. His daughter became a teacher of drawing, and instructed the Princess Elizabeth and others of the royal family.
Header image: The Mansion House, Lombard Street and Cornhill, London; City of London Corporation