Harriette Wilson (1786-1845), courtesan, and her siblings

For anyone not familiar with Harriette Dubochet who used the assumed surname of Wilson whilst alive, (although when buried her baptismal name was given) we would definitely recommend both volumes of her memoirs published in 1825, as they make fascinating reading and are online via Internet Archive.

Harriette lived life to the full and was virtually penniless at the end. Her death certificate gives cause of death as ‘old age’, although in all likelihood a cause of alcohol related disease might have been more accurate. As well as finding religion toward the end of her life, she also found the bottle. She was apparently extremely fond of brandy, to the point of dependency and was reported to have been having a tipple or several just 24 hours prior to her death.

We came across this extract from Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge and wanted to check out what became of Harriette’s siblings and possibly find Harriette’s burial.

Harriette’s place of burial has always been something of a mystery, but we can now reveal that she was buried at Brompton Cemetery and the location of her grave is still visible.

Brompton Cemetery 11th March 1845
Search Brompton Cemetery for Harriett Du Bochet to see where her grave is located within the grounds. Click on image to enlarge

The newspapers were not at all kind to her in life as can be observed in this article about her in 1826.

The present appearance of this unfortunate woman makes it difficult to conceive that she could ever have been attractive, either as to person or manner: her features are now ugly and coarse, her person bad and her manners vulgar, with a harsh discordant voice.

A correspondent informs us that the notorious ‘Harriette Wilson’ resides at Chelsea and has become a convert to Popery,  and is a very active promoter of the objects of the virtuous priesthood! What next? Is she a candidate for the office of  a Lady Abbess, or Principal of a Nunnery?

And even more derogatory about her death:

We have now done with this woman, and we hope no stone will be erected to commemorate her memory and disgrace the place of her burial.

Satirical print depicting the courtesan, Harriette Wilson.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Back to her memoirs, she thought nothing of naming and shaming the gentlemen in whose company she and three of her sisters, Amy,  Frances, better known as Fanny  and Sophia spent much of their youth.

Harriette Wilson receives Wellington in a room hung with pictures of those who figure in her Memoirs. Print by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1825.
Harriette Wilson receives Wellington in a room hung with pictures of those who figure in her Memoirs. Print by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1825. © The Trustees of the British Museum

When Harriette wrote to the Duke of Wellington advising him she was about to publish her memoirs and that to keep his name out she wanted money from him, his famous response was reputed to have been ‘publish and be damned‘, so with that she went ahead and published (the famous phrase is probably not strictly accurate).

The courtesan, Harriette Wilson.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

We’re not planning to revisit the memoirs in this article as there’s already more information about Harriette and her memoirs online than you can shake a stick at. We will, however, say that in a letter we came across, Harriette was described as being ‘the worst and wickedest bitch in the world’.

Harriette Wilson's last letter-or a new method of raising the wind!!
Print by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1825. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Harriette was one of 15 children (11 girls and 4 boys, not all of whom survived childhood), born to Amelia Gadsden, not Cook as previously named elsewhere, Amelia was raised by John Cook and his wife, which is probably where the error has come from and John James Dubochet, a Swiss coal merchant.

1784 Electoral Register. Carrington Street, Coal Merchant
1784 Electoral Register. Carrington Street, Coal Merchant

We have noticed that John seems to have had several occupations including that of a stocking cleaner, a mathematician and watch maker, but we have found no evidence to support this, on the children’s baptism and in his will, proven in 1826, he continued to give coal merchant as his occupation.

Little is known of several of Harriette’s siblings in particular that of the boys. The family seems to have been of mixed repute.

Rose (1799 – ?)

After her baptism there appears to be no proof that she survived into adulthood.

Jane (1779-1857)

Known in Harriette’s memoirs as Diana, remained single and taught the piano from her home 34 Chapel Street, in the St Marylebone area of London.

Mary (1784 – ?)

Mary was referred to as Paragon, in Harriette’s memoirs. She married an Irish gentleman, Richard Borough(s), in 1812 in Dublin, and the couple went on to have four children, Mary, John, Henry and Augusta Sophia. At least one child was baptised in France so it looks likely that they remained  there at least until Richard died at Calais in 1847.

Charlotte (1801 – 1873)

Charlotte, born 1801, married  a surgeon and apothecary, William Jones Percival in 1825. The couple moved  about with William’s business, from Poplar to Soham, Suffolk and finally to Birmingham  to raise their family, where William ultimately took on the post of surgeon at the Kings Norton and Union Workhouse. After his death Charlotte moved to Aberystwyth to live with one of her three daughters, Mary Sophia and her husband the renowned Dr Charles Rice Williams and it was there that she died in 1873.

Julia Elizabeth (1814-1883)

Like her sister Jane, Julia also remained single and spent her later life living with her, by then, widowed sister and former courtesan, Sophia, Lady Berwick (1794-1875), at 7 Clarendon Crescent, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. After the death of her sister, Julia moved to The Mansion, Richmond (now home to Richmond Golf Club).

Miniature of Sophia Dubochet, Lady Berwick by Richard Cosway, c.1812.
Miniature of Sophia Dubochet, Lady Berwick by Richard Cosway, c.1812. Attingham Park © National Trust

Frances (Fanny) (1782-1815)

Also a courtesan who, according to Harriette, produced three children with her lover, then upon his death, moved on to have a relationship with a Colonel Parker, who in all likelihood was John Boteler Parker, the son of Sir Hyde Parker. She took his name as if they were married although they were not.  Frances was buried in 1815, at Kensington as Frances Parker, her assumed surname.

Amelia, aka Amy (1781-1838)

Amelia, like her sisters, was a courtesan who had a relationship with George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, with whom, according to Harriette she had a son around 1810, although there’s appear no proof of this and no baptism that we have found so far.

She did however marry the musician Nicholas Robert Charles Bochsa, in 1818 despite him still being married to the Marquis Ducrest’s daughter who was, apparently still alive. Bochsa was both famous and infamous throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras!

He was believed to have been born around 1789 in France, where he studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. Regarded as a child protégé he could play both the flute and piano competently, by the age of just seven. In 1813, he apparently became harpist to the Imperial Court, however, by 1817 he allegedly became involved in counterfeiting, fraud and forgery and fled to London to avoid being prosecuted.  In his absence he was sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 Francs, so clearly, he was unlikely ever to return to his place of birth.

By 1821, the couple were the height of respectability, with Bochsa, in 1822, becoming one of the founders of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London together with John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland.

Nicholas Bochsa
Nicholas Bochsa

He was however, required to sever his ties with the Academy when news of his previous misdemeanours were discovered and two years later he was bankrupt, but became the musical director of the King’s Theatre, London. Newspapers began reporting that he not only committed the crimes of forgery and fraud, but also that he was a bigamist. We can find no proof of the final accusation, but there was probably some truth in his dubious reputation, as he found himself with a five-pound fine, this time for assault.

On 27th December 1837 Amelia died at her home, 2 Orchard Street, St Marylebone from an inflammation of  the intestines and was subsequently buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Bochsa eloped with Mrs Anna Bishop, the wife of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Frances Wilson, in her book, queried whether Bochsa had eloped with Anna Bishop prior to Amy’s death; the jury’s out on that one, but clearly he wasn’t with her on the day she died as her death was not witnessed by him, but by a John Knight, a collector, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, eight children and their servants.

Bochsa and Bishop left England and reappeared eventually on the other side of the world, having spent the subsequent years touring Europe, America, Mexico and then Australia, where Anna appeared on stage as his protégé. They continued to perform on the stage until his death in 1856, in Sydney.

Harriette’s male siblings were Charles Frederick (1791 -?), Henry Cook , John Emmanuel and George Edward. Very little is known about the first three boys and in all likelihood Charles died during childhood, although there is no evidence of a burial for him.

John Emmanuel (1790-1821)

Apart from his birth and death, the only snippet of information about John comes from the marriage entry for his sister, Sophia, where he was present as a witness.

Henry Cook (1804-1855-9)

After his baptism, there is little known of  Henry, apart from one mention of a brother to Lady Berwick in Naples, Italy in 1848. We eventually discovered his death dated simply as being sometime between 1855 and 1859, in Naples (British Armed Forces and Overseas deaths and burials records).

George Edward (1796-1847)

George married Christiana Hadden in 1816 and the couple had 4 children. At the baptism of their youngest child, George was a piano maker, then, by the time his youngest daughter married he had died, but had been ‘of the Treasury‘.

The Cyprian's Ball at the Argyle Rooms
Harriett Wilson and her publisher, Stockdale, in front of the harp. Lewis Walpole Library

We also wrote a guest post a while ago about Harriette. In case you missed it why not hop over to Mike Rendell’s blog to find out more.

Sources used

The London Gazette 1839

Berkshire Chronicle, 14 March 1829

John Bull 10 May 1840

Bell’s New Weekly Messenger  06 April 1845

Croome Collection at Worcestershire Archives.

The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1708

Monmouthshire Merlin 16 September 1848

Travels of Anna Bishop in Mexico, 1849

Wilson, Frances. The Courtesan’s Revenge

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2 thoughts on “Harriette Wilson (1786-1845), courtesan, and her siblings

  1. pennyhampson2

    It always annoys me that women like Harriet were villified in the press, yet nothing was ever said about their clients – who were usually from the ‘great and the good’. Double standards that we still see today, unfortunately! A great article.

    Like

    1. Sarah Murden

      Definitely a case of double standards, although from what I’ve read I don’t get the impression that she was necessarily the easiest of people to get along with and clearly upset people throughout life, which that begs the question ‘what made her behave that way?’, possibly the school of hard knocks!

      Liked by 1 person

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