Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent

FASHIONABLE ANECDOTE, at present only whispered in the POLITE CIRCLES.

Some years ago, the Lady of a noble Lord, who once held a high military post, and greatly distinguished himself in a former war, received a small basket by an unknown hand, which, on being opened, was found to contain a female child, with a letter addressed to the lady, written in a female hand, expressing the high opinion the writer entertained of her Ladyship’s liberality, and particularly from personal knowledge of her humanity. Appealing to it, for protection of the unknown infant, whose existence, with that of the mother’s, depended on her Ladyship.  A bank-note was inclosed for a considerable amount. The child was ordered to be taken all possible care of, and has been from that time attended and educated in no other manner than if she had been the daughter of the noble Lord and his Lady.

The young lady has been introduced at court, and is highly esteemed by all whom she is known to, and possesses, in the highest degree, the affections of her friends and protectress: she is now about eighteen years of age, and till within a few days, the history of her birth and parents were unknown to all but the parents themselves, and a confidential servant.

It however now appears, her father is a peer of Ireland, her mother the sister to a peer; they managed their tendresse with so much dexterity, that the circumstance of this beautiful gage de l’amour would ever have remained unknown; but the noble Lord her father, who was soon after married to another lady, and that lady being dead, his Lordship, perhaps, feeling remorse for his former unkind treatment of this young lady, who has remained unmarried; which event is about to take place. The have claimed their daughter from Lady ______, to whom the whole circumstance has been related, and whom, we hear, is nearly inconsolable for the loss she is about to sustain, in parting from her amiable and charming favourite.

[We insert this article with the greater confidence, as the first part of this story is a fact well known to have happened to Lady Am___st.]


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Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Amherst (1740-1830) (nee Elizabeth Cary) by Joshua Reynolds via Wikimedia

Lady Amherst, or Baroness Amherst of Holmesdale, formerly Miss Elizabeth Cary, was the second wife of Jeffrey Amherst, Baron Amherst, who was, at the time this article was written, Captain and Colonel of The Queen’s Troop of Horse Guards. She was born around 1740 to Lt-General the Honourable George Cary (son of the 6th Viscount Falkland) and his wife Isabella (nee Ingram).

The little foundling was given the name Fanny Williams and, as the Amherst’s had no children of their own, was brought up by them and treated in every way as their own daughter.  Fanny Burney recounted meeting the girl in 1791:

I was pleased in seeing Miss Fanny Williams, as she is called, the young person who was left an infant at the door of Lady Amherst, and who is reputed to be the daughter of every woman of rank whose character, at that date, was susceptible of suspicion. She looks a modest and pretty young creature, and Lady Amherst brings her up with great kindness and propriety.

NPG 150,Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,by Thomas Gainsborough
Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst by Thomas Gainsborough
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Jeffrey Amherst, a ruthless and cruel man, was behind the attempt to introduce smallpox amongst the native Indians in America with infected blankets during the Anglo-Indian war.

In two sources Jeffrey Amherst is noted as having a natural son, the ODNB saying he was given the same name as his father and rose to become a Major General in the army, born around 1752 and dying in 1815. Jane Dalison had married Baron Amherst in 1753 (a year or so after the birth of his illegitimate son) but reportedly went insane whilst her husband travelled overseas with the army. She died in 1765 and two years later he married Elizabeth Cary.

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William Amherst (1732-1791)

Young Jeffrey was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Thomas. There is, however, another Amherst floating around, William Kerrill Amherst, whose unusual second name ties him in to the same family as Jeffrey Amherst but for whom no parentage is given.

Kerrill was the maiden name of Jeffrey Amherst’s mother, Elizabeth, and, by her husband who was yet another Jeffrey, she had four surviving sons:

Sackville Amherst (1715-1763) – a lawyer who ran up debts and caused his relatives much consternation by his scandalous behaviour

Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797)

John Amherst (1718-1778) – Vice Admiral of the White

William Amherst (1732-1791)

William Kerrill Amherst (c.1761-1792) was sent out to Bengal in India as a writer for the East India Company in 1778. As if his middle name wasn’t clue enough to his ancestry, he wrote to the artist Ozias Humphry in 1785, when the latter arrived in India, saying he was anxious that they should correspond as they shared acquaintances in Sevenoaks, Kent (where Jeffrey Amherst had his estate, Montreal) and a love of the area. Certainly he was the son of one of the four brothers.

Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving
Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving

John and Sackville died without any legitimate heirs; William married Elizabeth Paterson and had three children, Elizabeth Frances, Harriet and William Pitt Amherst.  When both William and Elizabeth died young their children were taken into the household of Baron Amherst and brought up with young Fanny Williams, William Pitt Amherst becoming the heir to his uncle and the baronetcy.

Elizabeth Frances thought of Fanny as her sister, and indeed she may well have been.  It was known that the forename of the father could be bestowed on the child as a surname, in a similar way to that which Charlotte Williams, a subject of one of our former blogs, took the forename of her father William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, as her surname. Was Fanny then the natural daughter of William Amherst, brought up by her aunt Lady Amherst in much the same way that Baron Amherst’s natural son had been brought up by his own aunt, Elizabeth Thomas?

William Kerrill Amherst died on the 20th April, 1792, in India.

When Lord Amherst wrote his will in 1794 he did not omit to mention Fanny and left her a sizeable legacy; he provided for her by a thousand pounds in stock and asked his wife to supply proper mourning for her on his decease. No son, illegitimate or otherwise, was named in his will. He died three years later.

On the 23rd May, 1799, Fanny married Charles Pinfold, Esquire, at St. Marylebone Church, by licence, only to sadly die in childbirth just over a year and a half later (her son, Charles, did survive).

 

Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 19th May 1786

The rising country: the Hale-Amherst correspondence, 1799-1825, Champlain Society, 2002

Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett, vol. iii – 1788 to 1796

Royal Academy of Arts Collection, Letters of William K Amherst to Ozias Humphry

Header image: Montreal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, the seat of Lord Amherst of Holmsdale, McCord Museum

 

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