Having previously taken a look at clothes washing in the 18th century in ‘Washday Blues‘, I thought it was worth taking a closer look at Edward Beetham, who invented a washing machine.
Washing machines have, in one form or another been around for some considerable time. The Salisbury and Hampshire Journal, 16 October 1752, carried the following advert for a machine capable of washing clothes:
JAMES MOULTON, Cooper and Turner
The corner of Church Row, without Aldgate, London
The most useful machine or Washing Engine of various sizes, made after the completest manner, both for dispatch and strength, ease in the operation, and safety to the finest linen, being adjudged by far superior to any former projections, by the repeated experience of thousands, who are pleased to given them that character, being capable of washing more linen in twenty minutes than can be done without in two hours, being determined to spare no expenses to maintain the character they have so justly acquired, which by some unskilful makers has been prejudiced in the use of so valuable a machine. Printed directions is given with all I sell how to use them, for the benefit of the public in general, and preventing imposition my name and place of abode, which is stamped as under the top.
Captains of ships may be supplied with any quantity on giving timely notice.
N.B. They are made from 14 shillings to 24.
The same year, The Gentleman’s Magazine also provided detailed information about the ‘Yorkshire Maiden‘ which was, presumably a similar machine, even though James Moulton, claimed his invention to be the best – well he would wouldn’t he, great marketing!
However, it was Edward Beetham’s invention that appears to have regarded as the first in Britain.
Edward was born Edward Beatham and baptised 29 March 1743 and from a very well to do Westmorland family, but apparently when he met his wife to be Isabella Robinson, from a Roman Catholic, Jacobite family, he made a minor change to his surname from Beatham to Beetham, to save both families from embarrassment. The couple were believed to have eloped and married at Trimdon near Durham on 13 June 1774.
Being financially ostracised from both families the couple set off for London. Edward wanted to work in the theatre and got work at the Haymarket and Sadler’s Wells theatres, but his creative talent lay in inventions.
Isabella, on the other hand, was a talented artist and studied under the miniature portraitist John Smart. Her forte lay in the creation of painted silhouettes to be framed or miniatures that were made for jewellery. Despite working long hours, the couple also had a large family of five children to raise and of course support financially. The couple lived at 27 Fleet Street, opposite St Dunstan’s Church, where Edward would, in due course be buried. For those of you familiar with my article you will know that I am extremely fond of trade cards, especially for women and look what I’ve found:
Beetham discovered that he was good at inventing things, but prior to his invention he had a variety of jobs including, according to the Hampshire Chronicle of October 1785, he was a bookseller.
Today though, we’ll look at his most famous invention – the washing machine, or, as it was known a washing mill. As you can imagine, having such a large family meant washing was plentiful.
The Northampton Mercury 7 July 1787 carried an account of a new machine for washing clothes, invented by a Mr Todd who had spent years creating a machine which could jointly wash and iron clothes much faster and better than could be one by hand. He had in fact patented the machine on 16 June 1787. The patent which can be found using this link provides the technical specification for the machine invented by Todd, but there is no sign of Beetham’s machine having been patented. Beetham’s name does however appear in the Catalogue of the Library of the Patent Office – Patent number 1744, dated 1791, so after Todd’s invention.
On 20 September 1787, the Derby Mercury advised us of Beetham’s new patented invention – the washing machine. His advert below tells us that he was in partnership with a Mr Thomas Todd, an organ builder, of St Peter’s Square, Leeds and that they had commissioned a Mr W Lomas a joiner, to manufacture the product on their behalf. It is not exactly clear from the advert though as to whether it was Beetham’s invention, joint or, given the earlier advert, actually the invention of Thomas Todd.
The machine could wash the finest and coarsest of items, it would reduce the workload by two thirds and reduce the amount of soap used by one third and could save the trouble of using boiling water.
It’s always interesting to know how much items cost at that time and Beetham very helpfully tells us:
One and a half feet in length £2, seven shillings
3 feet would cost £3, three shillings
3 and half feet, £3, thirteen shillings and six pence
4 feet at £4, four shillings
With a machine that was two feet in length you could wash eight shirts at once.
He even offered potential customers the facility of viewing an example of the working machine, at their convenience, of course, at the house of Mr Lomas.
In the same newspaper was an advert exactly the same as above, but viewable at Mr Saxtons house, also a joiner, in Alfreton, Derbyshire. The following week, an advert for a manufacturer in Leek, Staffordshire.
In October of the same year, he had expanded his suppliers to Mr William Lumby of Lincoln. The advert was ostensibly the same, but it was now also being recommended for use of board ships too. William and his partner were clearly ‘thinking outside the box’ for ways to expand their sales.
Tracing the adverts month by month, it would appear that by June 1791, Messrs Todd and Beetham had gone their separate ways. The advert in February 1791 appears to give us some clues, it seems that there were in fact two machines and Beetham challenged Todd:
Todd finds himself again publicly called up by Mr Beetham to accept a challenge to try the utility of each invention; he will therefore take upon himself to wash Mr Bentham with a single machine at any time, to satisfy the public that his machines are not only equal, but absolutely superior.
Beetham was now advertising his ‘Portable Washing Mills’ which he told potential byers could be viewed either at his warehouse on Fleet Street or at a whole host of outlets all around the east of England such as Colchester, Yarmouth, Diss and Ipswich.
As they had gone their separate ways Mr Todd was advertising his washing machine alone in Leeds, but with no mention of Beetham.
Beetham continued to trade until his death in January 1809. He left a will which was extremely short, simple and to the point:
1st part to his wife
2nd to daughter Jane
3rd to son William
4th daughter Harriett
5th to be invested
6th and 7th in trust for the three children aged under 21 – Charles Cecilia and Alfred.
Isabella continued with her creative work and outlived her husband and died at the age of 70, at the home of her son in law, on Great Smith Street, Chelsea in early August 1825.
To conclude this piece, I came across this image that I thought I’d share with you from Yale Center for British Art. This was the property of Dr Graham’s Cold Earth, and Warm Mud Bathing, and was next door to Edward and Isabella. I wonder whether they did his laundry!
Leeds Intelligencer 7 December 1790
Leeds Intelligencer 2 February 1791
Leeds Intelligencer 1 October 1792
DRAFT Advertisement for Edward Beetham’s Royal Patent Washing Mill. c.1790. British Museum
I am delighted to welcome my first guest of the year to All Things Georgian, Elizabeth Larby, who, apart from being the archivist at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, has also come across a fascinating diary which she is going to tell us more about today.
The diary is safely stored at Norfolk Records Office, but Elizabeth has also transcribed it and added additional information. I have added links at the end of this post if you’d like to find out more about this fascinating gentleman.
Intrepid Mr Marten set off with his wife Emma, daughter Sarah and servant from the Custom House steps in London aboard the ‘Hero’ steam packet on 7th September 1825 for a voyage to the depths of Norfolk of 24 days duration. The trip – intended for the ‘heath and pleasure’ of the family – took them initially by sea to Great Yarmouth, on to stays in Cromer and Norwich, and finally to a few days of Georgian country delights with friends.
Who was author of the 1825 diary?
Robert Humphrey Marten was born on 21st March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the period. His father Nathaniel was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended local Congregationalist (Independent) meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in the home.
After assuring himself of her ‘pious principle’ and sampling her sensible conversation, Robert married Mary Reeves in 1789 at Bethnal Green.
Sadly, their happiness was short-lived, and Mary was taken ill during the following year and died in June. By the end of the year, however, on the advice of his father, the young man was once again considering marriage.
Having renewed his acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Giles, Robert proposed and was accepted. He and Elizabeth were married on 12th July 1791 at Milton-next-Gravesend Church. Living on a small income, the couple had to practice economy in the home and no frivolous Sunday parties were allowed, instead they lived according the advice of their church, working and praying hard, remaining cheerful despite their straitened circumstances.
The first of Robert’s five children, Robert Giles, was born on 22nd June 1792. Improving finances allowed a move to No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London, a comfortable house with a small garden. By this time Robert had become a partner with the maritime insurance company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for the ambitious 30-year old. To the firm’s main business of insurance, Robert added the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By 1805 Elizabeth’s health was declining and a change of air recommended, encouraging a move to Broadway House in the village of Plaistow and a daily commute by two-wheeled chaise for Robert. A gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household.
As more dissenting families moved into the area the need for a suitable place of worship became more pressing and Robert was one of the founders of the meeting house in 1807. As well as being a leading light in the chapel, Robert was well known for his generosity and charity in the area and worked tirelessly in support of many causes.
On the death of his second wife Elizabeth in 1811 Robert wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children.
Another two years passed before a new bride was chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. Emma Martin, who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour, became his wife on 8th July 1813.
By 1825 the demands of business and philanthropy were taking their toll on Robert’s health in the form of headaches and nervous exhaustion, hence the need for a break at the seaside with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
The discovery of Robert’s journal and identify
In 1983 I was looking around for a new project, having completed ‘Poppyland in Pictures’, an illustrated guide to the history of tourism in Cromer whilst working as a volunteer at the local museum. My college history tutor suggested I might see if the Norfolk Record Office had any interesting texts that I could edit and bring to the public’s attention and the little calf-skin diary came into my life. I was immediately struck by the charm of Robert’s writing and the strong element of social history as he described the sights and sounds of Georgian England on his travels.
I soon became fascinated with the diarist and keen to find out more about him than the little he reveals in the diary pages. Robert was clearly a caring man, his benevolence well in evidence in the journal with small acts of kindness to local children and helping a distressed widow on board ship, as well as involvement in missionary work with Norwich worthies. Although a serious man, Robert clearly had a cheeky sense of humour, and there are several instances of his amusement at the canny Cromer locals and their efforts to profit from their visitors!
At this stage though I knew little more than his name so decided to try advertising in The Lady magazine in case he was known to one of their readers. As luck would have it, a family friend of Robert’s great great grandson John W. King just happened to be browsing its pages and came across my plea for information. John soon came up trumps with a family tree and autobiography of my diarist giving all the information I wished for and more.
Newly armed with material on Robert and his background, I set about researching the people and places mentioned on his travels in detail to help bring the tour to life and provide some context.
The diary’s charm and historical value
Robert’s diary is illustrated with contemporary engravings as well as his own careful pencil sketches and it was fascinating to compare the scenes he recorded in Cromer to that of today and find that some have actually changed very little. Cromer was just emerging as a holiday destination for discerning visitors and still retains its charm as a seaside resort – walking on the pier and cliffs enjoying the views, picking up shells & fossils on the beach, enjoying the bracing sea air and tasty seafood are common to the Marten family’s experience and that of today’s tourists.
Norwich still has plenty to interest the visitor, with its old buildings, cobbled streets, churches and markets, but we would perhaps not want to visit places on Robert’s itinerary such as the new prison buildings and factories, the evidence of a changing, industrial society. Yarmouth has probably changed the most with its mass tourism appeal, amusement arcades and funfairs, and is certainly less smelly than when the Martens visited when the town’s prosperity was based on its herring fisheries!
The later Georgian era was called the first great age of popular travel, when the activity was no longer restricted to business or necessity, and was starting to become a pleasure in itself and even associated with idea of an annual holiday. During the last quarter of the 18th century travel books were amongst the bestsellers, and, like the eagle-eyed antiquarian, Robert is always on the lookout for the picturesque view complete with crumbling ruins. The tour ends with a stay in a country house where the family enjoy some typical Georgian delights including shooting, a musical evening, riding, and some fine dining.
Robert Marten died of a coronary at his home in Plaistow, aged 76 on 11th December 1839. In many ways he mirrored the changing society in which he lived and recorded in the pages of his Norfolk journal, sharing common roots in 18th century England, but showing symptoms of the great transformation afoot in the 19th century.
With his sense of order and tradition and preference in all things for the ‘solemn grandeur’ he admired in Norwich Cathedral, he was typical of the 18th century gentleman. Yet, with his interest in the inventions and industrial expansion of the day, the diarist was also very much a man of the 19th century.
January is always associated with the making of New Year’s resolutions and one of these is often to go on a diet. With that in mind, in today’s post I’m taking a quick look through the Georgian newspapers in which I’ve come across a number of people who really wold have benefitted from dieting, after some serious cases of gross over-eating, so, here we go:
Caledonian Mercury, 20 November 1732
Joseph Barry mentioned in our last, besides the six pound weight of beef steaks, devoured a quarter loaf, drank two gallons of strong beer, and ate besides a pound of roast pork and two pounds of bread and cheese, between ten in the morning and one in the afternoon. Elate with this victory, he had accepted a challenge from the famous pudding eater at the Excise Office.
Northampton Mercury, 5 November 1785
Leeds Nov. 1 A few days ago one Mr Bull, a shoemaker, in Halifax, well known in the epicurean world, as well for the niceness of his taste as the keenness of his stomach, for a wager undertook to eat a nine pound goose, two penny oat cakes, and drink two quarts of ale, in the space of forty minutes. He performed this, to the astonishment of all present, in just thirty five and a half minutes, and afterwards spent the evening with the greatest cheerfulness, with those who were assembled to see this.
The Norfolk Chronicle, 28 November 1789 takes ‘eat all you can’ to a whole new level.
Francis Prigg, an underground collier, of Newton St. Loe, ate at a public house in the Bristol Road, a roasted shoulder of mutton weighing seven and half pounds, with half a peck of potatoes, half a pound of cheese, and four two-penny loaves, and drank six quarts of beer, all within the space of one hours. After which he murmured, because he had not (as he said) about four pounds of pudding with it.
The Dublin Evening Post, 14 July 1796 begins with the simple heading ‘Gluttony’. It then described
A disgraceful wretch who devoured 12 penny loaves stepped in six pints of ale, as a public house in Mosborough, near Sheffield, in about twenty-eight minutes, which it transpired was a whole two minutes under the time allowed for the challenge. In the afternoon he offered to perform the same worse than beastly exploit in half the time.
The report doesn’t tell us whether or not he did indeed repeat the exercise – hopefully not!
Next, we have a report in the Hampshire Chronicle, 7 January 1797
A man of Cuckfield, Lewes, a flax-dresser by profession, has undertaken, for a trifling wager, to eat a square foot of plumb pudding in a fortnight. A foot of plumb pudding contains no less than 1738 cubic inches, and will weigh, if properly baked, forty-two pounds. The man began on Thursday last.
I wondered whether or not he achieved this and found the answer in the newspaper of 21 January 1797.
The plumb pudding eater at Lewes, has lost his wager. On the eight day, the gormandizer’s jaws refused to stir any longer in the service, and he consequently declined all further perseverance in his task.
According to the Bury and Norwich Post, 18 September 1816 we another pudding eater.
The daily feats of pedestrianism we hear of, however astonishing, cannot be deemed more, or yet half so ridiculously extraordinary, as the following fact: A person, well known by the appellation of ‘The Russian,’ has undertaken, for a considerable wager, to eat 1,000 puddings in 1,000 successive hours, each pudding to weight half a pound. The time is not yet fixed when he is to commence his repast, but it is expected it will be in the neighbourhood of Carlisle.
As to whether any of these were accurate stories we may never know, but I do wonder whether any of these gentlemen felt the urge to diet after their over indulgence.
Just to let you know, I’m taking a seasonal break now until Wednesday 13 January 2021, and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone seasons greetings and my sincerest wish for you all, that 2021 will be an improvement on the rollercoaster ride that 2020 has been.
This year, apart from my own articles I have been delighted to welcome several guests to All Things Georgian, who have shared some fascinating stories with us. So, whilst you try to relax over the festive period you might enjoy re-reading some or catching up on ones you missed the first time around.
I am delighted to welcome guest author and blogger Jeremy Bell who is going to tell you more about a couple of hidden secrets , which he’s sure that many people will not have noticed before, within Hogarth’s painting.
Much has been written about the characters in William Hogarth’s painting The March of the Guards to Finchley (1751). However, there are two figures that the artist concealed within the painting, and this is the perfect year for them both to be exposed.
In this, the tricentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the prince and his nemesis, the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) have been discovered, along with details of their face-off at Culloden.
Take a look at the central detail in which a grenadier marches in step with his pregnant wife. They are assaulted by a Catholic woman, identified by her cross and priest-like robes. She attacks the couple with some verbal abuse and a Jacobite newspaper!
Another soldier seems to charge at her from behind and drive her back with his halberd. Although he is standing several yards behind the woman, Hogarth uses a trick of perspective to make it seem like he is running her through.
On closer inspection, this soldier’s swarthy face is similar to a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland which the protestant woman carries in her basket. It is covered by a copy of ‘God Save the King’, a reference to rumours of the Duke’s aspirations to rule.
Hogarth often employed such visual tricks (trompe l’oeil) to tell his stories. Notice how the artists darkened the place where the rolled-up newspaper seems to make contact with the soldier’s shoulder.
The publication’s full title – ‘The Remembrancer or weekly Slap in the Face of the Ministry’ had attacked the Duke in the year of the painting, by criticising his proposal for army discipline. The scene of rowdy soldiers begs for this necessary reform.
This Catholic woman represents the Jacobite forces which were camped just 100 miles away from London. Her charge being repelled by the pikeman is a premonition of the imminent conflict. The other end of the halberd axe appears to threaten the mother and child in the cart (positioned many yards behind him). I believe that this trompe l’oeil refers to the alleged atrocities that took place after the battle of Culloden.
Although these details are obvious once it is pointed out, I do not believe that anyone has written about this example of Hogarth’s storytelling. The artist also included a depiction of the leader of the Jacobite forces. How wonderful to discover several hints that identify Charles Edward Stuart in the year of his 300th birthday.
You don’t have to search long to find a miniature portrait of the Stuart prince – he is the only one looking to the North. A first account description describes him as a tall, slender, upright man. It was noted that his neck was ‘long, but not ungracefully so, …. with a slender stock buckled behind.’ This conforms to Hogarth’s tiny depiction of him.
Hogarth has imagined that Charles has disguised himself as a British officer. He has come down from his camp in Derby to spy on the enemy’s position. He is actually being pointed out by his accomplice who crouches behind him. This man’s red hair identifies him as a Scotsman. The bayonet that overlaps his head is another trompe that hints at the Jacobite inevitable slaughter.
Hogarth obfuscates the Scotsman’s finger-pointing by painting him in the act of stealing some alcohol from a barrel (that is a gimlet in his mouth). His finger-to-the-nose sign was always reported as ‘quiet don’t tell anyone.’ In this new context, he is actually telling us not to give the prince away.
Hogarth presents us with a whole line of thieves. One man steals milk from a maid, while another ‘steals’ a kiss. A third soldier points all this out to a pieman, and then steals from him in the process.
Hogarth was famous for including clever word games within his art. I wonder if he continued this line of thievery to the Scotsman (who is stealing from the barrel), and the prince who is ‘stealing away’. Commentators focus on the painter’s disrespect of the troops. However, Hogarth’s intention might have been to create this visual pun.
He who would be Charles III, is riding away from the Charles II tavern sign. In the distance we can see that Charles Edward is headed towards a barren tree – a symbol of the impending disaster that awaits the House of Stuart. It compares to a healthy tree on the other side.
While we, the viewer, can see this tree from our position, the branches lie just out of the prince’s sight. The symbol of his imminent defeat lies ‘just around the corner’. (My red arrow shows the prince’s sight line with the dead tree coloured in red). At this particular moment in time, Charles was still confident that he would win the day. However, the painter knows the full story. With a clever addition, Hogarth has given away the ending with a forewarning of the atrocities that will follow.
Ending on a less depressing note, I think it a wonderful coincidence that the Scottish spy who accompanies the Young Pretender looks like a character from Outlander – Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan). The series, based on the wildly popular books by Diane Gabaldon, concerns time travel to the Jacobite times – here is your proof in oil!
Jeremy Bell’s book William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot (2017) was written to coincide with the 300th anniversary of formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Over 300 illustrations show how Hogarth actually hid previously unnoticed portraits of himself within his work, along with the signs, passwords and ‘secret knocks’ of the Freemasons. It explains how Jacobite Freemasonry (which is the true original Scottish form), was used to infiltrate London gentry, and suggests that the Duke of Burlington built Chiswick Villa as a stage to welcome the return of a restored Stuart king. Indeed, the ‘failed’ waterfall at Chiswick was actually a cleverly constructed ‘carriage splash’ that would welcome ‘The King Over the Water’.
The book can be ordered via Jeremy’s website , he can also be contacted at Brotherhogarth@gmail.com
Today, we pick up where we left off last week with the story of Con’s life.
It was about 1737 that she became involved with a gentleman she simply referred in her ‘Apology’ as Mr Worthy, his identity eventually his name came into the public domain – he was Henry Nedham. She provided at least two clues in her Apology, which helped to identify him, firstly, she referred to him being the son of a wealthy plantation owner in Jamaica and the second clue, which confirmed it was that his cousin was named Hampson (Volume 3. Page 124).
With these two clues it became possible to trace the Nedham or Needham (there seems no explanation as to the slight surname change though), family tree back and with it the connection, between not only Henry and his cousin Hampson, but also to them both being related to Henrietta Crofts, daughter of Eleanor Nedham. So, was Con telling the truth about Henrietta being her godmother? It certainly seems much more feasible than originally thought, and that the handsome, Oxford educated, Henry appeared in her orbit via her godmother, by then the dowager, Duchess of Bolton, Henrietta (the 2nd Duke having died in 1722).
It was around 1739 that Henry had to return to Jamaica to sort out an issue on the plantation pertaining to his father, and Con was determined to follow him out there. After two failed attempts to get to Jamaica and then Boston where he had gone to, she gave up on the relationship and in 1740 returned to England.
This, she admitted, was an error, as she fell ill with a fever and by then was again in debt with creditors chasing her. On her return she stayed with a friend, an unnamed surgeon, but the following morning the bailiff appeared at the door for her, but somehow she managed to avoid him by climbing out of the kitchen window and making her escape, but the bailiff was wise to her plan and set up a watch outside the rear of the premises, but Con escaped by using a ladder to climb into next door’s garden, that being the home of the Duchess of Marlborough.
Con eventually gave herself up and paid off her debts. But life was not improving for her, as she met up with an old friend, Colonel Vassall, a merchant who she knew from Boston. He was ill and broke, so Con made him a loan to help him out, but he died before being able to pay her back.
She was now penniless and sometime between 1742 and 1744 she was arrested for debt. She made been living well beyond her means and also had debts mounting for the legal action against Muilman. With that she fled to France for several months. Eventually on her return to England she wrote her ‘Apology’, which was going to act as a tool for blackmail, a ‘name and shame if you don’t pay me’, type document. Quite who, if anyone actually paid up we will never know, but presumably very few and it was late 1750 that according to Read’s Weekly Journal, News from Jamaica
Mrs Con Phillips was arrived there from England
So Con had returned once again to Jamaica, perhaps hoping for a better life there.
The Ipswich Journal 13 April 1751, tells us a little about of Con’s fiery personality when she was obliged to appear before a magistrate to give security and keep the peace.
A complaint had been made by an unnamed gentleman, that Con arrived at his home and without saying a word, rushed up to his bedchamber where this poor man was lying in bed, unable to move as he was suffering from gout. When she realised that he was ill her demeanour changed and she calmed down toward him, however in a fit of jealous upon seeing his black handmaid in the room, Con took her by the ear and began to slap her. The maid retaliated but was cuffed again five or six times by Con at which time she became delirious.
Con was fined one hundred pounds for this seemingly unprovoked attack on the maid and fifty pounds surety.
The same day, Con place a notice in the newspaper that she was going to have to delay the opening of her Boarding School for the Education of Young Ladies, for which purpose she had taken a large house and white women to wait on the ladies. Presumably as she had to sort out the court action.
According to an anonymous article in the Gentleman’s Magazine(1766), she:
made three further, bigamous marriages, to ‘Mr M.’, an Irish land surveyor, then to ‘Mr S. C.’, a Scotsman and commissary for French prisoners of war in Jamaica, and finally to a Frenchman named Lanteniac.
Further research does confirm that there were in fact a further three husbands, but, as Con hadn’t obtained a divorce from husband number one, they would all be classed as bigamous.
Her first of these, i.e. husband number three, was a wealthy, Irish land surveyor, Hugh Montgomery. This marriage was reputed to have taken place towards the end of 1752, as, on 4 Jan 1753, the London Evening Post said:
‘Tis said a Letter from Spanish Town in Jamaica gives an Account, that the noted Con Phillips is married there, and keeps the most considerable Publick House in that Town. Spanish Town St Catherine’s parish.
Sadly, checking the record for 1752 and 1753 there seems to be no surviving record of exactly when it took place. However, Con wrote a letter in 1755 from Jamaica, to Mr Rose Fuller, MP who had recently left Jamaica, in which she titled herself Constance Montgomery and saying:
from an abandoned woman whose understanding deserved far more of a reasonable creature than ever her beauty did;… you and only you I have to curse for the cruel exile I suffer in this damned country, for which I will thank you in the 4 volume of my life which I have almost completed; adieu.
Quite what her fit of pique toward Fuller was all about we will never know and whether he responded to her letter is equally a mystery. The author Nick Hibbert Steele mentioned Con in his book about Hibbert House, Kingston saying that :
it was built in 1755 by Thomas Hibbert, as a result of a bet with 3 other merchants in Kingston, to see who could build the finest house. The prize was the hand in marriage of Teresia Constantia Phillips a notorious courtesan. Thomas Hibbert won the bet but declined to marry Con. Phillips recognising her as a gold-digger.
This seems a curious story if Con was already married to Montgomery by then, but perhaps all was not what it appeared to be in paradise.
In their early years together everything went well, but it was becoming clear that Hugh was unwell, his physicians were very concerned at his rapid weight loss and put it down to Cons carryings-on.
He eventually became so weak that he decided that he should write his will, which he duly did. As Hugh and his physicians felt that a trip to the country might be of benefit, fresher air and a chance to relax and recuperate, but, as Con was busy with her appointment as Mistress of Revels for the island and was too busy to accompany him, he would go alone. Con was appointed to this post by the Governor of Jamaica, Henry Moore (1713-1769).
It was only when it was time for him to leave that Con became emotional, fearing this would be the last time she saw him alive. She immediately asked him whether he had made a will and whether he had left her provided for. ‘Yes of course’, he replied – this was not quite the truth.
He had made a will, which unknown to him, Con had read and it was hidden in her her pocket, so she knew at this point that despite his words, she was not provided for. So before allowing him to leave she had him dragged back into the house, where he was made to re-write it, dictated by her and witnessed by three people, who she had on standby. No way was he leaving her without her ensuring that she was provided for.
Everything was left to her, his ‘his death and beloved wife’. The will was made on 14 January 1760. After sorting this, he was free to leave and Con watched him set off and sure enough she didn’t see him again. Hugh’s body was returned to Kingston and buried on 8 May 1760.
In 1760, Con, penned from her home in Jamaica, what appears to be her last piece of correspondence that has survived, perhaps reflecting on the imminent closure of her own life, to someone whom she regarded as a friend, The Right Honourable, the Earl of Chesterfield. This letter appears to be her reflecting on her life and how it turned out and was in the form of advice for young women on how not to live if they wished to be happy.
For my part, my life has been one continued scene of error, mistake, and unhappiness. I was by my ill fate, left mistress of myself, before the time I ought to have forsaken the nursery.
Within the letter she talked about her life and loves, her time in Jamaica and about her niece who was aged fifteen at the time and how she was teaching her how to live a better life than she had. Whilst it isn’t clear from the letter, Con appears to know her niece well, so it can only be assumed that she was living along with her mother, in Jamaica. The reason for writing to him was, that according to Con he had written a booklet entitled ‘The Whole Duty of a Man’.
However, Con was not in danger of imminent death, instead she was to walk up the aisle yet again, when she married yet again, husband number four. This marriage was to a young Scotsman, Samuel Callendar, Commissary for the French prisoners of war brought to the island. Quite where on the island they married is unknown, but it certainly wasn’t recorded in the records for Kingston.
He was said to have been from a good family, well respected and held a prominent position in the social life of Jamaica – until he married Con, that was.
Shortly after they married, he seemed to vanish from the social circle and was reputed to have only left his home three times during the two years of their marriage.
Before the end of their second year together, he too was dead. Although there’s no sign of their marriage, we know that it was short lived as Callendar was buried on 2 Jan 1762, again at Kingston.
Just 3 months later, on 24 April 1762, Kingston, Con married for what would be her fifth and final husband, as the widow Teresia Constantia Callendar.
Her final husband was Monsieur Adhamar de Lantagnac who had only recently arrived on the island as part of a batch of French prisoners over whom Con’s late husband had control over. This final husband was said to have grown up amongst the Canadian Indians whose customs he had adopted such as tattoos on his body, arms and legs. His appearance, if nothing else, caused him to be a great hit amongst Cons social circle.
The problem with this husband being that he enjoyed spending money, or to be more precise, Con’s money that she had accumulated from both previous husbands. Callendar had died without leaving a will, but Con took it upon herself as his wife, to take control of his assets including a cargo worth about £2,000 (about a quarter of a million in today’s money), which she had landed and promptly sold, netting Con a decent amount of money to live on for the rest of her life, or so she thought, but her new husband saw to it that this would not be the case. He ran through her money very rapidly on clothes, food and drink and with that Con told him to pack his bags and leave before she was completely destitute.
As was so often the case, money was in short supply again for her, her friends rallied round and help her out, but when this occurred for a second time friends were suddenly found to be in short supply.
As the curtain went down on her final show at the Kingston Theatre, Con saw her own life now coming to an end, with no husband for comfort and precious little money, she wondered how it had all gone so wrong.
As she lay on her death bed, she was terrified that her corpse might be arrested to pay off her debts on its way to the grave, as was the custom at that time.
Her wish was to die on a Saturday night so that being buried on a Sunday her body would be safe in the ground. She got her wish and was buried in Kingston graveyard on Sunday 20 January 1765, as Teresia Constantia, wife of Adhamar Delantagniac, with not even the apothecary to mourn her passing. In life, known as the Mistress of Revels and the Pride of England, her body went unnoticed to its nameless grave.
There was no-one present at her burial, not even her niece who lived on the island. For someone who knew everyone in Jamaica, and everyone knew her, she died very much alone, but the name Teresia Constantia would live on, as I noted several children baptised with those names in the Jamaican baptism registers.
The Real Duty of a Woman, in the Education of a Daughter: A Letter Humbly addressed to the Right Honourable, The Earl of Chesterfield. 1760
The Gentleman’s and London Magazine. Volume XXXI. 1766
Morris. John. The Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers Related by Themselves, Volume 1
Stone. Lawrence. Uncertain unions : marriage in England, 1660-1753
Teresia Constantia Phillips, courtesan, bigamist and author of her autobiography, first appeared on the radar whilst researching the duchesses of Bolton, for our upcoming book, The History of the Dukes of Bolton which is due to be published very shortly by Pen and Sword Books.
Teresia, better known as Con, claimed that the Duchess of Bolton was her godmother, in her ‘Apology for the Conduct of Mrs T C Phillips’, written in three parts, the first of which was published in 1748, from her home at Craig’s court, Charing Cross, near Whitehall.
This appeared to be quite a claim with little to substantiate it. Of course, it became necessary to know more about Con and to establish how much of her story was true, especially the connection with the Duchess of Bolton.
Certain sources claim that the reference was to the 4th Duke of Bolton’s wife, Catherine Parry, this could not be feasible – the dates simply didn’t work, Catherine didn’t become the Duchess until 1754, long after Con published her Apology, so it had to be have been Henrietta, the 2nd Duchess of Bolton, wife of Charles Powlett.
In order to establish whether the snippet of information Con provided about the Duchess of Bolton had any truth to it, it’s necessary to take a brief look at Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton’s ancestry, which will make sense later in the story.
Born Henrietta Crofts, she was the illegitimate daughter of Eleanor Needham or Nedham (the spelling seems to vary becoming Nedham when part of the family moved to Jamaica) and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685). Henrietta was given the surname Crofts as it was the name adopted by her father when he was in the care of the Crofts baronets.
Her maternal grandfather being Sir Robert Needham of Lambeth, one of the sons of Thomas Needham of Pool Park, Denbighshire and his wife Eleanor Bagenal and her aunt was Jane Myddleton nee Needham, one of the Petworth Beauties’.
Sir Robert married twice, Eleanor being his daughter by his first wife, Jane Cockayne. She had several siblings, but after the death of Jane, Sir Robert married a second time, his new wife being a Mary Hartopp, with whom he had at least a further two sons, Robert and George.
Of these two sons Colonel George, is the significant one in this story. Colonel George Nedham left England for the Caribbean in 1680 and married Mary Byam, the daughter of William Byam, Governor of Antigua and his wife Dorothy Knollys, from an extremely distinguished family.
George and Mary had several children, but it’s the eldest child, Robert (1672-1738) that we’re interested in right now.
Robert married Elizabeth Shirley and again had several children, but the one who is important in this story is Henry. Remember that name as it will crop up in Con’s story, but in the meantime, here is the family tree to help.
So, let’s return to the beginning of Teresia Constantia’s complicated life; a life which she recounted in her ‘Apology’ which we know ran to three volumes, although she claimed there was a fourth, which, if it existed, hasn’t been discovered.
According to her ‘Apology’ she was born January 2, 1708/9 at somewhere she referred to as West Chester, now this could have meant west of the city of Chester, or somewhere completely different, whichever it was there is no sign of her baptism, assuming she was ever baptised.
Con claimed that she was the daughter of Thomas Phillips, the younger brother of the Phillips of Picton Castle in Wales. Her paternal grandfather, she claimed, married an heiress of the Powlett family, if that were the case, evidence is sadly lacking.
Her maternal grandfather was said to have been the younger brother of Sir Henry Goodrick of Yorkshire and her maternal grandmother was of the Deans of Wiltshire. Her parents married 1707/8 when her father was Captain of Grenadiers in Lord Slane’s regiment, afterwards Lord Longford. Colonel Thomas Phillips possibly married Frances, niece of Sir Henry Goodricke, but that too remains speculation, so all very well connected.
It was around 1717 that her father, Thomas left the army and was in poor circumstances so took his wife and children to London.The family at this point was split up with the eldest son being sent to Barbados and Con’s godmother, the one she claimed was the Duchess of Bolton arranging for Con to attend Mrs Filler’s (Filer’s) prestigious boarding school in Prince’s Court Westminster. There she learnt the skills which she would later rely on as one of the most well-known courtesans of the day.
This arrangement didn’t last very long as about 1720 her mother died, and Con was promptly withdrawn from the school. According to Con, her father quickly remarried, his choice of bride being the family’s servant, someone that Con didn’t get along with very well.
It was when she was just thirteen, according to her Apology, that she was seduced and raped by someone she only ever referred to as Thomas Grimes, possibly because she never knew his name, although it has often been thought this to be Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, but this has now been revised and it is now believed to have been Thomas Lumley-Saunderson, 3rd Earl of Scarborough.
Irrespective of which one of them it was, Con found herself in desperate straits and by 1721 aged under thirteen, she was in need of money as she was facing arrest for debt. Desperate to rid herself of her debts and thus avoid prison, Con paid ten guineas to a Mr William Morrell of Durham Yard to procure a potential husband for her. The idea of this being that the man would marry her and that way her debts became his, allowing her to avoid debtors prison. At that time the legal age for marriage was 14 for the groom, but just 12 for the bride, this remained to situation until the Marriage Act 1753, which is part came about as a result of Con’s marriages.
With that thought in mind, a willing participant was found, to become husband number one, in the shape of a Francis Devall. Apparently, William Morrell got him drunk, presumably so that he couldn’t identify her later, and once somewhat inebriated, the sham marriage took place at Saint Benet Paul’s Wharf, to a Francis Devall (or Delafield), a man she had never seen before and with whom she had never exchanged a word. Clandestine marriages were often performed by needy chaplains without banns or a licence and on the day that Con married Francis Devall, a further three marriages took place which must have kept the chaplain busy.
After the ceremony Con suddenly became a respectable married woman, Mrs Devall and with it, came the freedom from debt, at which point, she rapidly packed her bags and left for Rouen, France, where she remained for a few months before returning to England. She offered no explanation for this sudden sojourn, but presumably it was somewhere to lay low until the dust settled with her debts all cleared, and to allow enough time so that Devall couldn’t identify her.
What of course Con perhaps didn’t know at that time, was that her new husband was already married and his wife, still very much alive. He had married Magdalen Youn of St Andrews, Holborn on 17 September 1718, using the name Francis Delafield, so as to which was his real name we will never know.
Very soon after this escapade Con found herself being courted by a wealthy Dutch merchant named Henry Muilman (c1700-1772), who quickly succumbed to her charms and whilst her expectations being that she would be his mistress, he wanted to make her his wife, so it appears that without divorcing her first husband, she married husband number two, Henry on 9 February, 1723.
But this marriage was a big mistake as they did not get along with each other and his family utterly disapproved of her. According to Con he was violent and abusive toward her and that having married her he was able to use her as he pleased – she was after all his wife, and behaviour like that was often regarded as acceptable at the time.
From her Apology, Volume 1, Con wrote of Henry
What! (he would say) not sleep with you? Are not you my wife! my dearest wife? Have I not made you so, at the price of my ruin? Yes, I will have you, and not all the powers in Heaven or in Earth shall keep you from me; and would sit sometimes on a chair whole nights by her bedside: at others, he would come to her, and half a dozen of these strange fellows with him, and beat, and abuse her in the most barbarous manner; and, if he found her in bed, strip the cloaths from off her, and expose her, to them, naked, as she lay; or drag her, by the hair of her head, out of bed.
Eventually, in order to escape from this marriage and to rid himself of her, according to the Daily Post, 3 March 1725, Henry obtained a ‘nullity of marriage with the daughter of Captain Thomas Phillips, on account of her prior marriage with an attorney’s clerk’. This annulment however, cost him a generous annuity of £200, but Muilman refused to pay up and a lengthy dispute between them began.
In 1728 Henry married for a second time, his new wife and mother to his two children being Ann Darnell, the daughter of Sir John Darnell, Sergeant at Law and Judge of the Palace Court.
Con had relationships with numerous men including the mysterious Mr B., whom she said she had known from childhood, but his identify still appears to be well hidden. Although never named, she said he was the son of a General, who would ultimately inherit a substantial fortune. The pair travelled around Europe, proclaiming to be married, living the high life and spending money like water. However, in 1728 they had a major argument and Con took herself off to a convent in Ghent where she remained for around 18 months, the couple eventually agreeing to go their separate ways.
When this relationship ended, she became moved on to have a relationship with to Sir Herbert Pakington, a wealthy baronet, who was married to Elizabeth Conyers at the time. This was to be yet another relationship which ended badly as he proved to be a jealous lover and became so jealous that he attempted to take his own life on at least two occasions, once by use of his sword at the dinner-table. On the second occasion, enough was enough for Con and she ended that relationship and disappeared to her convent in France.
However, Pakington didn’t give up easily and regularly wrote to her pleading for her to return, despite the newspapers apparently having accused her of attempted murder. The London Evening Post, 25 February 1731, however, noted that he was ‘in a fair way of recovery’. So clearly there not too much harm done.
Pakington travelled over to France to meet her but appeared to be jealous of anyone she spoke to and attempted to take his life again. That was the final straw and Con left him once back in England and placed herself under the care of Lord Falkland at his home in Hertfordshire.
However, on 16 Apr 1734, Lucius Charles Cary, 7th Viscount Falkland married the widow Jane Butler and made Con a payment for agreeing to release him from their arrangement, thereby making him free to marry some more suitable, an heiress.
Quite what became of Con for the next few years appears somewhat vague. During the time she spent with B she accumulated quite a bit of money, plus the money from Lord Falkland, so began spending it on litigation over her marriage to Muilman.
Whilst these relationships had be going on, she involved herself with someone simply named as ‘Tartuffe’ the French word for imposter or hypocrite. It has been widely acknowledged now that it was Philip Southcote, son of Sir Edward Southcote. With Tartuffe she had a child, which lived until it was aged just eleven, so until the early 1740’s, and which Tartuffe failed to support. She did not confirm the gender of this child, so it seems we will never know more about it apart from that Tartuffe only saw the child on less than a dozen occasions. There was a curious entry on 15 Jul 1740 in the General Evening Post:
By Letters from Jamaica we hear that the celebrated Con Phillips died there in April last, after a short illness
Given that we know Con hadn’t died, could this have misinterpreted and that it was her child who died, speculation of course.
The only other piece of information we know about Tartuffe being that he was married at the time. It was clearly a volatile relationship as Con spent most of the second volume of her ‘Apology’ telling readers how dreadfully he had behaved toward her.
Part 2 can be found by clicking the highlighted link here.
The portrait of Anne Birch is housed at the Phoenix Art Museum and is described by them as
George Romney’s depiction of Anne Birch reveals why his portraits were so in demand. Elegantly dressed, seated languidly on a bench in a dark glade that opens tantalizingly to a distant, sunlit view, Anne holds a flute in one hand while resting her head gently on the other.
But who was Anne Birch?
The portrait by George Romney came to my attention recently on social media and apart from her name, the artist and the approximate year it was painted, 1777, little if anything, seems to be known about the sitter, so it was time to do a spot of investigating to see what, if anything, I could find out. Given the instruments in the painting it would appear that she was perhaps a talented musician, but so far nothing has come to light to support this. Music would have been a subject that young ladies like her would have been instructed in, so maybe she excelled in this area.
The portrait is believed to be that of Anne Birch nee Clowes, the daughter and only child, therefore heir apparent, to William Clowes Esq, of Huntsbank, Manchester and his wife Elizabeth, nee Neild, who were married in 1738. Anne was baptised 18 October 1743 in Manchester, making her about 34 when the portrait was painted, although in my opinion the sitter looks much younger, which makes me question whether it could have been painted slightly later and be of her eldest daughter, also named Anne.
So far it hasn’t been possible to establish exactly who William Clowes was, but he was described as being ‘the fourth brother of the House of Clowes, who afterwards settled in Broughton‘. I have however, managed to establish is that William died 15 February 1772, aged 68 and was buried in Manchester Cathedral.
William was clearly affluent, as when his only daughter married on 18 October 1764 the newspapers reported the marriage:
So, we now not only have a family for Anne, but also a husband, John Peploe Birch, Esquire. According to this newspaper we know that Anne was not only beautiful, but also very wealthy, making her, at that time, an ideal candidate for marriage. It appears that the two families knew each other though, so could this have been the marriage of two houses possibly?
Anne’s father William, appears to have had some familial connection with the manor of Broughton Old Hall, Manchester, could this have been where his money came from, but what about her husband, who was he?
John Peploe Birch was born 1742 and was the son of Rev Samuel Peploe, Chancellor of Chester and Warden of Manchester and his first wife, Elizabeth Birch.
John was later to benefit from the demise of his uncle Samuel in 1752, at which time he inherited the estate of Garnstone, Weobley, Herefordshire, which was left in trust for him until he reached the age of twenty-one, to be granted to him if he adopted the surname Birch, which he duly did, retaining Peploe as a middle name.
John and Anne moved to Barnstone which was where they spent the rest of their lives, but whilst in London they also had another home on Curzon Street, Mayfair. During their marriage they had three known children, Anne (1765-1846), Mary (1769-1830) and Samuel (1774-1845).
In 1767 John was appointed High Sherriff of Herefordshire, but as to whether he had an occupation seems unclear or was he simply landed gentry spending his time managing his estate?
John lived until 1805, leaving his estate to his beloved wife Anne, who lived until the age of 76. Both John and Anne was buried at Weobley, Herefordshire.
Anne left a will in which she provided for her three children, Anne who was by that time married to a Daniel Webb, Mary who remained unmarried and Samuel who had married the daughter of Sir George Cornewall, but she described her legacy as being ‘what little I have’. What little she had amounted to about £6,000 (about £300,000 in today’s money), but this is probably far less than she had hope to leave.
Although still little remains known of their life together, this at least sheds a little more light on this beautiful portrait.
The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure … Volumes 12-13. Page 126
The Episcopal See of Manchester by Samuel Hibbert
Memorials of St. Ann’s church, Manchester, in the last century by Charles Wareing E. Bardsley
Manchester, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1573-1812 (Cathedral)
Welcome back to this, the concluding part of the rollercoaster which has been the story of Joseph Paul’s life. If you missed the first two parts here are the links for you – Part 1Part 2
To date we have had the deaths of three wives, at least two, being under suspicious circumstances, an attempted poisoning followed by the sudden death of his godmother, plus an assault and possible relationship with an underage girl.
Life really was proving complicated for Joseph and at the end of January 1845, his son Louis, a mere five-years-old died, following an adverse reaction to a vaccination, but, given the suspicious deaths of the others I simply had to double-check the death certificate, just in case!
Joseph finally left Norwich, but not the county as instructed and towards the end of 1845, at St Andrew’s church at Sprowston & Beeston Norfolk, Joseph, a widower, now married for the fourth time. Wife number four, being Sarah Ann Nickalls,[i] daughter of William and his wife, Mary who were silk weavers; with his daughter, Pauline Emma, standing witness to this union. Rather unusually and decidedly annoyingly, the space in the register where Joseph father was to be named the space was crossed through, leaving his origins still no clearer.
The following year, for a change, Joseph found himself in court yet again, this time it was at his instigation, he was suing a gentleman from Lakenham, a Mr Alfred Massey, over the payment for a horse, but the case was dismissed as there was insufficient evidence.
In 1847 Joseph and his fourth wife, still living in Norfolk, produced a son, John Louis (1847- 1904), who they later had baptised in 1855 in London where they had eventually returned to. Curiously, it was John Louis who went on to become a landscape artist and remained in London until the end of his life.
As to where Joseph and the family had disappeared to around the 1851 census, remains a mystery, they simply vanished from the radar. Around Christmas of 1851, Joseph’s eldest daughter, Eliza was married in Norwich, so she obviously remained there after her father and stepmother had moved back to London. His daughter, Pauline, had by 1853 married[ii] a military surgeon in Liverpool, having described her father on the marriage entry simply as an artist.
Joseph Meek Paul was living in Suffolk in 1851[iii] and the following year he sold all the furniture from a reasonably substantial property at Halesworth, Suffolk which he had inherited from Mr James Meek, who had, with his wife Elizabeth, raised him. In 1855 he was to join the army as a lieutenant, eventually married and went out to India, not returning until the late 1880s accompanied by his family. Caroline also married in Liverpool in 1856[iv] and again confirmed her father to be Joseph, an artist, so Joseph clearly worked as an artist his entire life.
Joseph then reappeared some ten years later on the 1861 census,[v] living a relatively quiet life, as an animal painter, in Rugby, Warwickshire, still with his fourth wife, Sarah Ann and their youngest son, John Louis.
They must have moved there sometime before 1859 as Messrs. Cooke & Son were advertising his animal paintings for sale in nearby Leamington Spa that year.[vi]
His son, Napoleon[vii] remained in Norfolk working as a plumber, glazier and ornamental painter, but he had suffered from a lung disease for several years which could well have been caused by working with lead, when he died in September 1861, aged just thirty.
There was no sign of Joseph for a further ten years until he appeared on the census return for 1871.[viii] By this time he had returned to London where he continued as an animal painter along with his youngest child, John Louis, now a landscape artist, who went on to marry three years later, confirming on the marriage entry that his father’s occupation as that of an artist.
The 1881 census[ix] confirmed that Joseph was still living at Ebury Street, London, with Sarah Ann, who said she was from Norwich and that he was from West Wickham, Hampshire, however, there appears to be no such place as West Wickham in Hampshire, so it begs the question as to whether he was trying to avoid detection or was simply mistaken.
Also on the 1881 census was Joseph’s son, John Louis[x] – but he was describing himself as a landscape artist, a term never used by Joseph to describe himself. Joseph’s other son, Charles, didn’t follow his father into the art world, but became a fishmonger and publican and died in Norwich in 1882.[xi]
In 1884, Joseph’s fourth wife of almost forty years, Sarah died,[xii] leaving a will with a small estate worth ninety pounds, which is about six thousand in today’s money, their son, John Louis was named executor and sole beneficiary but not until Joseph had died.
A year later, on 25 March 1885[xiii] a marriage entry appears in the parish register for Heigham, near Norwich for Joseph Paul, widowed, aged seventy-one, an artist, to a Miss Emma Cattermole, who was only twenty-five.
Joseph obviously returned to his native Norfolk to marry for a fifth and final time. Although, on this occasion, it has to be said, Joseph Paul was as economical about his true age as he had been about where he was born, he was in reality, much closer to eighty which seems slightly late in life to be contemplating yet another marriage, especially to such a young woman, begging the question, did he have something of a predilection for young women all along or did he marry her as someone to care for him in his old age?
This marriage was only to last a couple of years, as in May 1887 Joseph Paul died. The newspaper headlines described him as ‘An artist with five wives’.
An inquest was held at St Pancras regarding his death, aged eighty-three, lately residing at 53, William Street, St Pancras. Hannah Paul, a young woman of thirty-five, although she was really only twenty-seven, said that she had been married to the deceased for two years and was his fifth wife. The press got her first name wrong as it was actually Emma and she went on to marry again a few years later.[xiv]
‘He used to earn a great deal of money, but since she had been married to him, he was in rather reduced circumstances, but too independent to appeal to his children for help. They, however, occasionally, voluntarily assisted him. He had said that if he got much poorer, he should take some chloral and put an end to his life; but she did not think he had done so. He suffered from chronic gout. He expired suddenly in bed early one morning. Dr Maddison, who was called in, and who had since made a post-mortem examination, stated that death resulted from syncope when the deceased was suffering from enlargement and weakness of the heart. The jury returned a verdict accordingly’.
Joseph was described by his wife, Emma, as an animal painter and someone who was extremely fond of his art. The one thing that remained consistent throughout Joseph’s long life was that he painted both people and animals, but there is no indication of having ever painted landscapes which is the main subject matter that he had been known for and most of the artwork I have included in the article have been paintings of landscapes, attributed to him.
Joseph Paul was laid to rest at Camden cemetery on 12 May 1887.
His son, John Louis Paul remained in London where according to the 1891[xv] and 1901[xvi] census he was still an artist and sculptor, he died in 1905, leaving four grown-up children – Florence, William, Dora and Daisy.
So why is his life of importance? Well, if you thought Joseph Paul’s life was complicated, his art was even more so. The art world has attributed many pieces of art to him, and accused him of being a forger, with many of these paintings attributed to him being landscapes and overwhelmingly they were painted in Norfolk, with only a few exceptions.
It does rather beg the question as to whether the landscapes of Norfolk and London were genuinely painted by him? The London scenes attributed to him, are clearly copies of earlier works, some in a similar style to those by Canaletto and Samuel Scott. These are believed to be fakes by Joseph, who, it has been asserted, ran a fake art workshop in London, producing old masters.
Given the questions raised about his life and the questions raised about the deaths of those around him, it does seem feasible that there was something fairly questionable about his artwork too but was he really a forger? who can say. The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC has the following snippet of information about Joseph, quite how true, remains unknown, but given the somewhat complicated life he led, it’s not beyond the bounds of probability.
… he and his assistants turned out forgeries of Constable, Crome, and other East Anglian painters, and of Samuel Scott and other painters of old London views.
The Royal Photographic Society Journal, Volume 55 of 1915, wrote the following, which could arguably be a subtle reference to Joseph Paul, although he wasn’t actually named
He was a great actor, a great singer, a great gambler, a great rogue, and a great fool
This quote was perpetuated by Clifford and Clifford in their 1968 book ‘John Crome’ and again by John T Hayes.
Looking at all the available evidence though, landscape painting was the domain of his youngest son, John Louis Paul. So, were the landscape paintings attributed to Joseph Paul really painted by his youngest son, John Louis Paul, and was it his son and not the father who was the forger? The latter would make much more sense.
To add to the equation, of course, there was another artist around during that period, Sir John Dean Paul, who was reputed to have painted mainly scenes of rural Suffolk, including Willy Lott’s Cottage, famously painted by John Constable, plus one or two paintings of dogs and several scenes of central London.
Sir John Dean Paul, an affluent London banker, was regarded as a talented artist, but one who merely painted as a hobby, he much preferred collecting works of art and there appears to be nothing to place him in Norfolk or Suffolk, which possibly means that several paintings of animals and landscapes in Norfolk/Suffolk which have been attributed to Sir John Dean Paul, were actually by Joseph Paul or his son John Louis.
Many works were unsigned, a few simply signed J. Paul. These could have been Joseph Paul, or his son John Louis Paul or even Sir John Dean Paul. Far more work is required by an art expert to unravel this art mystery. As to whether some of the paintings could be regarded as forgeries or merely stylistic copies is another question entirely, but at least now we know more about his complex life.
[i]Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Reference: PD 211/11
[ii]Liverpool Record Office; Liverpool, England; Reference Number: 283 LUK/3/3
Welcome back to the second instalment of the story of Joseph Paul’s life. We left Joseph last week having been cleared of attempting to murder his first wife, but of course, her death did mean that he still had five young children to care for, so what was to be done?
Well, Joseph wasted absolutely no time at all, returning to London and a mere one month after his wife’s death and having decided that his children needed a replacement for their mother, he married wife number two, Harriott Amick, daughter of David and Elizabeth Amick, at All Soul’s Church, St Marylebone on 17 August 1835. Joseph described himself as a widower from near Norwich, so, was this his place of birth or simply somewhere he had been living? the former would appear the most likely answer to that one.
This marriage began badly, as only a few weeks after the happy couple had exchanged their vows, Joseph took out the following notice in the Hertford Mercury, 8 September 1835
Any person or persons who may trust or furnish my wife, Mrs Paul, late Harriet Amick, of 11 Nassau Street, Middlesex Hospital, with any goods or money, will do so at his, her, or their person as I will not hold myself liable in any respect to pay for, or repay the same, or be responsible for any engagement she may enter into with any person or person whatever. Also beware of receiving by, or through her hands, any draft, cheque, or note bearing my signature, and purporting to be issued by me, as if the same be not a forgery, yet payment thereof is stopped at my bankers.
Aug 31, 1835 J Paul
Whatever disagreement had occurred between them, they quickly put it behind them, left London and headed north, settling in north Suffolk, where they remained for a few years. They presented their two children for baptism at Blundeston and Flixton, Suffolk, only a few miles from Great Yarmouth – Charles Joseph (1836-1882) who became a fishmonger and Louis (1839-1845), who died in childhood.
On 28 May 1839, about four years into their marriage, Harriott suddenly died, aged just thirty and was buried in the parish church. Joseph took their son Louis to be baptised two weeks later, so it would be reasonable to assume she died in childbirth, but given the allegations surrounding the death of his first wife, combined with the notice in the newspaper, it does raise some unanswered questions.
Whatever was going on in his private life, which would have been quite a lot, given that he now had, not five, but seven children to raise alone, presumably with his eldest daughter to help, Joseph was still busy painting, sales of his work presumably bringing in enough to support this large family, and according to the Norfolk Chronicle, 1840, Joseph was, a successful animal artist:
Mr Paul, an artist residing in our town, has painted four bullocks in a very superior style and most excellent likenesses; having seen the animals alive, and since the pleasure of having seen one of the animals repeatedly when grazing… Mr Paul has done him justice.
Animal artist? How very strange, most paintings attributed to Joseph are of landscapes, hardly an animal in sight in any of them!
By the time the 1841 census[i] came around Joseph, describing himself simply as a painter, had taken wife number three, Mary, some fifteen years his junior, and was living on North Road, Great Yarmouth along with five of his now seven children – Eliza now aged fourteen, Napoleon, aged ten, Caroline, aged seven, Charles Joseph, aged four and the youngest, Louis, aged two. So far there is no sign of this third marriage, so whether they were legally married or co-habiting remains a mystery, but either way, they regarded themselves as married, as will become clear later on.
Pauline Emma was recorded simply as Emma[ii] and was living with Joseph’s godmother, Mrs Elizabeth Meek, widow of the late James Meek at St Mary in the Marsh, Norfolk, in 1841, aged ten. The census did not give any indication as to whether she was simply visiting Elizabeth on the day of the census or whether she was being raised by her, but with so many children to support it seems likely that Joseph’s godmother was helping out, Joseph’s eldest son seems to have been missed from the return altogether.
It was the same year that a Mr Paul painted ‘The Hopton Hunt’, a painting which has subsequently been attributed by Bonham’s auctioneers, to a John Paul (c1830-1890), now this couldn’t have been Joseph as he painted landscapes didn’t he? perhaps his son John Louis, no, that would have been impossible as the painting is clearly dated 1841, and his son wasn’t born until 1846. The only other artist who was painting at that time was Sir John Dean Paul (1775-1852), an amateur artist, but the style was completely different to his). If it was painted by Joseph Paul then it would fit with him consistently maintaining that he painted animals.
In October of 1843, Joseph’s third wife, legal or otherwise, Mary,[iii] aged a mere twenty-four, died and was buried at the parish church, Ludham, Norfolk.
Just when you would have thought that life couldn’t get much worse for Joseph following the death of three wives in relatively quick succession, on 19 April 1844, he found himself being accused of attempting to poison Elizabeth Meek, who, in court was said to be his mother, whereas in fact, she was his godmother, her maid, Elizabeth Webb, and William Mundy, her manservant.
In court, Elizabeth Webb stated that Joseph Paul, an artist, had arrived at his mother’s home, Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, about two o’clock and that he went into the parlour to see Elizabeth Meek, whilst she was eating dinner.
He went through the kitchen and into the backyard. Elizabeth Webb, her servant, said that she heard Joseph walk through the passage, go to the safe door, which was near the pantry. She heard the safe door open and then close and heard footsteps walking away, but from the kitchen window, she could not see who opened it.
She asserted that soon after this, Joseph returned to the kitchen and strangely asked her if she had ever had influenza, but didn’t wait for her to reply and simply left. Elizabeth Webb continued with her statement, saying that she went to the safe and saw some meat there which hadn’t been there earlier, she knew this as she had cleaned it out earlier that day and assumed that Joseph must have left it there. She noted that the meat looked strange, there was something white between the fat and the lean, slightly darker than the white of the fat.
She went on to say that later she saw Joseph walking in the garden with Mrs Meek and saw something on the side of his trouser pocket, like a white powder. She thought it best to mention it to Mr Mundy, who told her she should tell Mrs Meek, which she duly did. Her friend, a Mr Elmer arrived, and Mrs Meek said she should tell him what she had found. Mr Elmer took away some of the white powder, returning the following morning to take away the whole piece of meat for examination by Mr Phillipps, the local surgeon, who confirmed that the white powder was arsenic.
Needless to say, suspicion instantly fell upon Joseph and he was arrested. Curiously, upon his arrest, he was found to have two sheets of paper in his pocket upon which was written his defence, so he was obviously expecting to be arrested. His defence being that it was the servants’ word against his. After only ten minutes, somehow, inexplicably, the jury found him NOT GUILTY and he was acquitted.[iv]
His defence counsel also stated that in all likelihood, Joseph was the illegitimate son of Mrs Meek and as such was unable to benefit from her death, so there would have been nothing to be gained by killing her.
Despite being found not guilty, almost immediately after this, questions were being raised about the death of his third wife, Mary,[v] who had died October 1843, so much so that her body was exhumed in May 1844. Had he poisoned her too?
No, apparently not. The inquest concluded she had died of natural causes with specific reference being made to problems with her lungs, but as the saying goes, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
Bizarrely though, Elizabeth Meek[vi] died at her home on 29 August 1844, aged eighty-two, only four months after the alleged poisoning case. Needless to say, an inquest was held. The verdict was that she too had died by the ‘Visitation of God’, not due to any suspicious circumstances.
It seems a little more than simply coincidence that all women who came into Joseph’s orbit were to unexpectedly die, but of course, without any proof to the contrary, he remained a free man.
As if life hadn’t proved challenging enough, only a few weeks after being accused of these poisonings, Joseph found himself back in court. Joseph accused Mr Richard Webb, a butcher of Catton, near Norwich, of assaulting him with a stick on his left arm and right thigh. Webb was planning to plead guilty, but his attorney advised him to plead mitigating circumstances.
Joseph’s account of events being, that as he was walking along Pitt Street in Norwich minding his own business, Webb spotted him, jumped out of his cart and began calling him names and that he then struck him violently with a stick, one blow clearly aimed at his head. Joseph grabbed the stick and retaliated, beating Webb. Joseph claimed that his retaliation was all done in self-defence.
Mr Webb’s wife, Maria who was sitting in their cart, saw the whole thing and verbally abused Joseph. Joseph said he had never had a quarrel with Webb and didn’t know what it was all about. On being cross-examined Joseph explained that there was a young lady who lived with Mr Webb, ‘a pretty lass and an interesting girl certainly’ whom he was in the habit of speaking to, and whom he could not manage to avoid.
Joseph believed that Mr Webb had got an exceedingly ridiculous, absurd and unfounded notion into his head about this girl and had been working himself into a state about Joseph speaking to her.
Naturally, Joseph denied any improper intentions towards the girl. Her father, Mr Robert Puncher, had lately been over at Catton, and in Joseph’s view, had her father thought there was anything improper in Joseph speaking to the girl, that it was his duty, as her parent, to come and speak to him about it and he would have taken notice of a parent’s feelings.
The girls’ father was not present when Webb assaulted Joseph, nor was the girl herself, but Joseph had been speaking to her in the street earlier. The case continued with implications growing of improper conduct on Joseph’s part towards the girl and that was Webb’s sole reason for assaulting him.
When cross-examined, Joseph admitted that he had repeatedly been in the habit of talking to Miss Puncher, had lent her a book and had given her one note and offered her another. He said that he had been told she was only fourteen years old, but he believed her to be older. Mrs Webb had apparently, previously told Joseph not to speak to the girl, but for some unexplained reason, Joseph did not believe she was exactly the person to preach morality. Was Joseph actually on the hunt for another wife, one who would be young, healthy and able to care for his brood?
The defence for Mr Webb asked Joseph if he thought it was acceptable for him to be pursuing such a young girl, especially when he had children of his own who were older than her? Mr Puncher was then called to give evidence regarding the age of his daughter –
she would be fifteen years old on the 28th of this month.
The note which had been mentioned was then produced and read out in court
Dear Miss Puncher
Your kindness and friendship have afforded me too much happiness to be lightly parted with, and could I hope for its continuance no change of circumstances shall ever alter my respect for you.
Mrs Webb much wanted to have read me a stormy lecture, but I thought the least said on my part the better. I am not adept in falsity nor in concealing my real feelings, though I would suffer anything rather than you should have the least discomfort on my account. I trust that for your sake you will shift all the blame on me, as I am beyond the reach of any annoyance; and as to what the world may say I care not one iota.
I know full well that the majority of mankind have a malicious pleasure in destroying the happiness of others, and there are few things that I delight in more than to defeat them. There is much I could say but dare not till I have seen or heard from you. May I hope that you will reply to this! If but a line and say when and where I may meet you without fear on your own account. Believe me, neither time nor difficulty shall alter my feelings, on which, as I last week observed, there shall be no variableness nor shadow of turning. Difficulties may arise, but time must and will overcome all.
Yours ever faithfully
The magistrate, having heard the whole case said that he much regretted that Webb had not been able to beat Joseph more soundly and that he should leave Norwich and not return. They felt that there was little doubt that Joseph’s intention was the destruction of the child. Webb was fined one farthing for assault and Joseph was required to pay the costs. Joseph asked if he could explain the note, but the magistrate said he’d heard enough already, and that Joseph was a disgrace.
Although for anonymity, the newspapers merely recorded the child as Miss Puncher, however, the 1841 census confirmed that she must have been Miss Hannah Puncher[vii] who was living at the home of Richard and Maria Webb, she was recorded by the enumerator as being aged twelve at that time, so her father was telling the truth about her age when the incident occurred, and by 1851[viii] Hannah was back living with her father, aged 22, so again the age was consistent and her age also confirmed in the baptism register.
At this trial, the death of Mrs Meek was raised again. Apparently, before her death she had been at Joseph’s house at Catton but had died shortly after the visit. There were reports from her neighbours about the cause of her death, reporting that she had partially eaten a patty at Joseph’s house and the uneaten part she had thrown to her chickens, which died shortly after eating it.
Mrs Meek made a will, written in 1843[ix], in which she left the bulk of her estate including stocks and shares, in trust until aged twenty-one, to Joseph’s eldest son Joseph Meek Paul, who had lived with her and her second husband, James Meek[x] for many years. Joseph senior described as a portrait painter, and his first five children were also named as beneficiaries.
When James Meek had died back in 1835 he left the ‘portrait painter’, Joseph Paul, two hundred pounds and to Joseph’s son, Joseph Meek Paul, he left other parts of his estate at Cratfield, Norfolk, in trust until he came of age.
The most confusing part of the attempted poisoning case, apart from his acquittal, of course, was that Elizabeth Meek was not his mother, but his godmother as she confirmed in her will. There is no evidence of Elizabeth and James having had any children of their own, but clearly, there was a great fondness for Joseph Paul and his children, perhaps Elizabeth regarded him as a surrogate son and, despite what was said in court, Joseph Paul was to benefit from her death.
The reason for being so specific about references to the type of artist Joseph was being described as, being that many works of art today attributed to him are landscapes and yet there appears to be no indication of him having ever painted landscapes, in fact in December 1843, the Norfolk Chronicle, highly commended his style of animal painting:
The party was also highly pleased with a very faithful portrait of this handsome animal, painted by Mr Joseph Paul, of Catton, who promises to take a very high standing in the Landseer style of animal painting.
To summarise this chapter of his life:- wife number two died suddenly, as did wife number three, who was subsequently exhumed. He’d been accused of attempting to poison his godmother who also died suddenly following this an finally, he got thrown out of Norfolk for inappropriate conduct towards a young girl.
For the final part of this story click on this link.
[i] Class: HO107; Piece: 789; Book: 12; Civil Parish: St Mary in The Marsh; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 10; Folio: 6; Page: 4; Line: 20; GSU roll: 438870
1841 Census. Class: HO107; Piece: 789; Book: 12; Civil Parish: St Mary in The Marsh; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 10; Folio: 6; Page: 4; Line: 20; GSU roll: 438870[ii]
[iii] Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Norfolk Church of England Registers; Reference: BT ANF 1843_h-l
[iv] England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Norfolk Church of England Registers; Reference: BT ANF 1843_h-l[v]
[vi] Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Norfolk Church of England Registers; Reference: BT ANW 1844_n-p
Let me introduce you to the Norfolk artist, Joseph Paul, who I came across a while ago on a visit to Newark Town Hall and Museum, Nottinghamshire, who have several works paintings by him. They knew little about the artist, except that I was told that he had left his native Norfolk under something of ‘a cloud‘, which was something I couldn’t ignore and needed to know about the man and more importantly ‘the cloud‘.
I could not have imagined for one minute how this story would work out though, the more I delved into his life the murkier it became. His life was complex and his art even more so – the art remains a mystery for reasons which will become more obvious by the end of his story. Many of the works attributed to him, I’m sure were not painted by him. Over these next posts we will trace his life story, accompanied by some of his paintings, so be warned, we’re in for a bumpy ride!
Joseph worked in both London and his native Norfolk, painted mainly landscapes, was reputedly a forger of famous works of art, such as those by Constable, but was this correct? Oh, and he had five wives and was accused of murder on more than one occasion.
According to the art historian Norman L Goldberg, Joseph was reputed to be the son of an artist, Robert Paul, but somewhat frustratingly, Goldberg provided no explanation as to where this idea came from, so right now that is simply speculation.
With some research, it appears there was a London artist named Robert Paul, but like Joseph Paul, nothing seems to be known about him, apart from the fact that several of his works were exhibited at the Norwich Society in the early 1800s. The Norwich connection arguably makes this a feasible connection to Joseph, however, there remains no proof either way for this assumption. A Mr R. Paul appears to have been painting Georgian scenes of London, but as they are all unsigned it is mere speculation.
A Robert Paul was listed in the Westminster rates returns from the early 1780s to the end of the century and was living on Charles Street, St Margaret’s, Westminster. Was he the R. Paul? It’s not at all clear, but it would fit with him painting scenes of central London. All of this is speculation and so as to whether there was any connection between the artist R. Paul and Joseph Paul remains unknown. Whilst this all appears to be incredibly vague, that is because it is, and no excuse can be made for this, the information at present is simply not known, so the focus has to be upon what is known of Joseph Paul.
Joseph Paul was born in Norwich in 1804. Nothing is known of his education or artistic training. He exhibited at the Norwich Society of Artists in 1823, 1829 and 1832, on the last two occasions as a portrait painter. Sometime after 1832, Paul seems to have run up against the law and fled from Norfolk. He acquired a studio in or near London, where he and his assistants turned out forgeries of Constable, Crome and other East Anglian painters and of Samuel Scott and other painters of old London views. Pauls style, even in his occasional original work, which was lacking invention, is marked by coarse handling with thickly and broadly applied impasto, and harshness of tone. A Yarmouth friend described him thus: “he was a great actor, a great singer, a great gambler, a great rogue, and a great fool”. He is said to have been married five times.
The problem with this being, that the same information appears to have been repeated over the centuries and there is, however, no clear evidence to support it and no-one has, in their assertions, provided any sources, apart from repeating each other, thereby creating a mystery persona for Joseph which may, or may not be strictly accurate. The assumptions are correct in that nothing seems to be known of his childhood or for any degree of certainty who his parents were or exactly where he was born and that he married five times.
All that is known about Joseph’s early life is that he appears to have lived with or at least had a close relationship with his godmother, an elderly, affluent woman, one Mrs Elizabeth Meek of Norwich, who, for a guess, helped him financially to pursue his career as an artist.
By 1825, Joseph was living in London, although quite what led him there is unclear, but it would be a fairly safe guess that it was to pursue his career in art and seek his fortune or was he already trying to escape from his past?
It was in the October of that year when he was to meet and marry wife number one, Eliza Vining,[ii] who was nineteen and therefore under the legal age of twenty-one and as such would have needed her father’s consent, which was duly given. Joseph stated he was a Joseph Paul, Esquire from Dover, Kent on the marriage register, so was this true and if so, what was his connection to Norfolk and his godmother, had his parents perhaps died and he had been raised by her or was this to be a little white lie?
Joseph and Eliza soon produced five children, Eliza (1826-1910) who later married a local fishmonger named Thomas Bush; Joseph Meeke (1828-1891) who left England to become a tea planter in Upper Assam; Pauline Emma (1829-1908) who married an army officer, William Appleton; Napoleon (1831-1861) who became a plumber, but who also dabbled in art as an ornamental painter, but who died aged thirty, and last, but not least, Caroline (about 1835-1906) who married a draper, Richardson Taylor.
After the birth of their second child, Joseph and Eliza left London and travelled to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where their second daughter Pauline was born, followed by Napoleon.
The youngest of these children, Caroline, consistently stated she was born at Ware, Hertfordshire, as to what they were doing there is unclear unless they were on their way back to London, and although there is no trace of a birth or baptism for her anywhere, however, it does appear likely that she was telling the truth, because, in the parish register of nearby Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, there is a burial entry on 14 July 1835 for Joseph’s first wife, Eliza Paul, along with one for a baby, Josephina, aged one month.
Given these entries, it seems highly likely that Caroline was the surviving twin.
With the tragic death of Eliza, this would have left Joseph with five children, all under ten years old to raise alone, but this was not an end to the matter, questions were being raised about Eliza’s death and as such an inquest[iii] was held at nearby, Hoddesdon.
Joseph, described as a local portrait painter, was suspected of foul play, the allegation having been made by Eliza herself. Described as a very anxious and excitable person, she told a witness just before her death she thought Joseph was trying to poison her, surely this could not be true?
She was in her confinement at the time which would seem to correspond with the burial of Josephine and so she must have been one of the two children Eliza was carrying. After the inquest, it was concluded Joseph was innocent of any charges as there was no tangible proof of him having murdered her, but instead that she had died of natural causes. The surgeon believed, given her condition, that she had become confused and stated the cause of death was simply a ‘Visitation of God’ and on that note the case was closed, Joseph was a free man.
Do join me next week to find out more about his life and four more wives, more confusion about his artwork, oh, and some more suspicious deaths and even an exhumation!
Today I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Paul Martinovich. After a career spent planning museum exhibits in North America and Ireland, Paul retired to pursue a longstanding interest in the Napoleonic Wars.
He first came across Selina Cordelia St Charles whilst researching for his forthcoming biography of Pulteney Malcolm: The Sea is my Element: the eventful life of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, in which you can find out more about the liaison between Malcolm and Selina, and the fate of their son. The biography of Malcolm is the result of several years research in archives in Britain and North America.
With that introduction I’ll now hand over to Paul to tell you more about the illusive Selina Cordelia St Charles:
In April of 1796, a 13-year-old girl boarded the East Indiaman William Pitt in Portsmouth harbour. An observer might have noted that she was well-dressed and well-spoken—these facts (along with her elegant name) would have suggested she was from a good family. But what were her origins, why was she going to India alone (except for her maid), what would become of her when she got there? These questions are not easy to answer, but the research has revealed a strange and unexpected life, and the interesting woman who lived it.
Selina was not famous and is not well-documented in the historical record. In fact, her origins are shrouded in mystery, and are the least-understood part of her life. She was almost certainly illegitimate, and born in 1782 or 1783. She was said to have been born in Quebec, and named ‘Selina Cordelia St Charles’, ‘facts’ which it has not been possible to verify, and may well be a red herring to conceal her true parentage. Her father was almost certainly one of a clan of prosperous traders and professional men named Birch, possibly William Henry Birch, an officer in the British Army. Her mother’s identity remains unknown.
The infant Selina was brought up by her Birch grandparents, William and Sally Birch, in Pinner just outside London. Sally Birch was born a Holwell, a family that, like the Birches, had long-standing trading connections with India. She was the daughter of John Zephaniah Holwell, survivor and publicist of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’. In this famous outrage nearly a hundred-and-fifty British civilians, captured by an Indian ruler, were crammed overnight into a space the size of a good-sized bedroom. The next morning most of them were dead, but Holwell was among the living. After the British recaptured Calcutta, in order to perpetuate the memory of his dead companions he had a monument erected on the site and wrote a widely read book on the incident.
Selina would have learned of these events, and of her family’s Indian links from her grandparents. They also provided her with a good education judging by her letters, which are well-composed and written in an elegant hand.
In 1796, possibly as a result of the death of her father, it was decided to send Selina to India, even though she was only about 13 years old. There she would live with her Birch uncles, prominent businessmen with the East India Company, and would be expected eventually to find a husband. The dispatching of children to live with relatives in distant countries was not unknown in Georgian times, and the annual traffic in young women travelling to India to seek a husband was so common that it came to be nicknamed ‘the fishing fleet’.
So when Selina boarded the Indiaman she must have felt she was about to begin a great adventure. Another passenger was Major John Shee, a British Army officer going out to join his regiment (the 33rd) in Bengal.
Their shipboard acquaintance led the astonishingly young Selina (she was still playing with dolls) to marry the 26-year-old Shee when the ship stopped at Cape Town. Even though marriages to 16 or even 15-year old girls were not unheard of in the Georgian period, it is difficult to understand how under any circumstances a child of 13 could be allowed to marry a man of 26. Probably, Shee got around the legal prohibition on those under 21 from marrying without parental consent by having the banns read in three successive Sundays at a church in Cape Town. Shee’s regiment stayed at the Cape for a couple of months before embarking for India. Selina (now Mrs Shee) seems to have proceeded to Calcutta on a different ship to her husband, under the protection of a Captain Henry Churchill, who was probably her uncle. Perhaps this was because it was felt that such a young girl should not be exposed to the sights and sounds on the troopship in which Shee travelled.
The couple reunited in India and the marriage seems to have been briefly happy as Selina lived with John Shee at Fort William in Calcutta. However in 1798, he sent her back to England on the Indiaman Hawke. Later Selina claimed that this move was for her health, and that she expected Shee to soon join her. Another explanation for sending Selina to England might be to remove her from being caught up in a war with Tipu Sultan, which was clearly imminent. Whatever the reason, Shee not only sent his teenage wife home without making any provision for her support while she was in England, but then also failed to communicate with her in any way for more than two years.
In England Selina lived with her grandparents in Pinner. Naturally she was very short of money, so she wrote a series of polite letters to her husband’s relatives (which included Sir George Shee, a rich nabob with an important government post) asking for support, while proclaiming her continued affection for her delinquent spouse. Selina’s efforts to convince herself that her husband was not the callous spouse that he seemed to be are captured in this extract from a letter she wrote to Jane Jackson, Shee’s sister.
It is the appearance of neglect from him who is dearer to me than life which has stung me to the heart; how then can I help tenderly loving her [Jane Jackson] who assures me of the truth of that which I have always believed? that cruel accident [letters having gone missing] and not neglect is the cause of all my anxieties. I have had every proof of the goodness and Generosity of Col. Shee’s heart, not only in his behavior to me while in India (which was all tenderness and affection), but from his general Character. Is it likely then that his Wife alone should have just reason to doubt the Excellency of his heart?
Selina seems to have received little or no assistance from the Shees, so when the financial situation of her Birch relatives became more difficult, she resolved to return to her husband in India. Where the money came from to pay for her passage is not clear.
John Shee had meanwhile risen to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd, which happened to be the regiment of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. There is ample evidence that Wellesley despised Shee, considering him an incompetent officer, and ‘a species of assassin’, who practiced with a pistol in order to be able to kill his opponents in duels more efficiently.
Selina reached India in July 1801 but did not stay long, since Shee (apparently because of Wellesley’s enmity) decided to return to England and sell his army commission. She accompanied her husband on this journey, but the marriage was now breaking down, and it seems likely that Shee was physically abusing his wife.
The couple was offered a passage from Cape Town to England by a naval captain named Pulteney Malcolm, who was returning in his ship of the line after some years in Indian waters. A number of other passengers and about a hundred troops were also crammed aboard the ship, which was in poor condition and urgently needed repairs.
During the passage, Malcolm and Selina became lovers, despite the proximity of her husband, who on discovering the liaison quitted the ship to complete his journey on another vessel. On reaching England Shee sued Malcolm for Criminal Conversation, essentially an action for ‘damages’ to his ‘property’ i.e. his wife’s reputation. During the trial it became apparent that Shee had beaten Selina, and while the jury found for the plaintiff, it clearly did not feel he deserved any sympathy in the situation.
As was customary in such cases, Selina did not testify in the trial. In fact she was now pregnant with Malcolm’s child, and gave birth to a son a few months later.
Somewhat conveniently, John Shee died (possibly due to alcohol, since he was a heavy drinker) in March 1804.
Three weeks later Selina married one James Martin Holwell, a haberdasher aged 21. This was no sudden infatuation—James Martin was her cousin, another descendant of John Zephaniah Holwell, and she had surely known him from her childhood in Pinner.
At this point, Selina’s life settles into a more typical path. The couple moved to Devon, where Selina had two children with James Martin. His haberdashery business did not prosper and he went bankrupt, but was rescued by Captain Malcolm, who got him a job with the Navy. In the post-war slump, the Holwell family emigrated to Canada, and settled in Montreal. It is not clear if by this move Selina was returning to her roots in the New World: this is just another aspect of the mystery of her eventful life. Selina Cordelia Holwell died in Montreal, still only 42, in 1825.
Should anyone happen to know something about Selina’s origins—where and when she was born and who her parents were Paul would be grateful to learn the details. Such an extraordinary woman deserves a full accounting of her life.
East Indiaman Pitt in two positions by Whitcombe (Christies)
Today I once again welcome back Etienne Daly who has been using the ‘lockdown’ very productively continuing his research into Dido Elizabeth Belle and in particular his eye was drawn to the frigate HMS Dido. So, I’ll hand over to him tell you more about his findings:
The ‘lockdown’ and Covid-19 may have forced people to be at home, but for me it turned out to be advantageous because it allowed me time to read some books on admirals that I’d been meaning to do for a while now.
John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent. National Portrait Gallery
It was whilst I was reading a book on Earl St. Vincent, known, many years earlier to Sir John Lindsay, simply as John Jervis, that I discovered the frigate HMS Dido. I never knew such a ship existed so was keen to find out more.
I was already aware that both Lord and Lady Mansfield had ships named after them, with Lord Mansfield attending the launch of his, one of the largest of the East Indiamen ships, in 1777 at Rotherhithe and it was this which made me wonder whether HMS Dido could have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle and with that, the research began.
Sensing this could be linked to Dido Elizabeth Belle, the first thing I needed to establish was whether any ship been given this name in the past, if there was it meant this was not the case and merely a new ship named carrying an older name of Dido. There wasn’t any such ship named in the past and prior to checking this I noted that timeline as being perfect for the naming of the frigate, notably 1782, 1784, 1785 finally 1787 – all in the ‘catchment time zone’ that I will go on to explain shortly.
Before I do it’s best to explain first that in the 18th century to progress in life you needed one or all of these: patronage, privilege, grace and favours and if possible, a sprinkling of nepotism from an influential relative or three this was especially the case in the Royal Navy and the army (during his years of First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich kept a patronage book). Three lords had to sign an admiralty order(and/or request)to get things in motion and Sir John would have been well acquainted with all of them.
At the time of the new incoming government of April 1782, the Whig government, headed by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham all of these elements were in place, in fact Lord Rockingham was a relative of Lord and Lady Mansfield by marriage and this made him Dido’s uncle. To add to this the marquis was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House, Hampstead. He in turn would know Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay, very well.
The next influential person was the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Augustus Keppel, who knew Rockingham well and Sir John Lindsay even more so, both being in service during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), in the Caribbean, and to make things even more ‘pally’ was the fact that prior to 1782 they lived only ten minutes from each other in Mayfair. Keppel Keppel also left Sir John his sword, walking stick and a Richard Paton naval painting in his will.
Next you have to understand that if the admiralty was the right arm of the senior service, then the navy board was the left, and in there as surveyor and designer to the Royal Navy was Sir John Williams, who knew all mentioned quite well over the years, he designed the 28-un frigate that was going to be called HMS Dido. Not here, the ship was not named HMS Queen Dido nor HMS Dido, Queen of Carthage, but simply HMS Dido. This name would have been vague had it not been named that way because it was named after a living person, and not named after a mythical queen. This living person was Dido Elizabeth Belle who, when the ship was ordered on 5th June 1782 would turn 21 years old just over three weeks later.
It was said that, when Lord Sandwich was in office, he would flick through the pages of Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, looking for names to give ships. This was very much the sort of method used in the 18th century as names were plucked and agreed upon by arbitration, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a department was formed to name ships.
Prior to ordering the frigate relative paperwork, and by no means fully detailed as explained, would have landed on the desk of Admiral Keppel for his approval, perhaps cursory signature followed, but the naming of this frigate would have been fully agreed well in advance. Sir John would have known this.
For whilst Dido’s father was no longer on active service since April 1779, the same time as his close friend Keppel resigned his services, Sir John was since the August of the previous year, 1781, a ‘Colonel of Marines’ a sinecure given to those deemed worthy of such a role by their past naval service, this position was offered to him by the king himself, who I’ll mention, as a patron and influence to Sir John a little later.
For now, Keppel drew up a list of naval officers he wished to employ with immediate effect and on that list at the top for captains/commodores was the name of Sir John Lindsay KB and other names followed after. It hasn’t been fully discovered yet why Sir John didn’t take up this offer but the whole list was presented to the First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Rockingham, who would have seen this familiar name on the list – it’s safe to say that Lindsay could have had the job that April 1782 rather than a year later as a lord of the admiralty in 1783. Being a wealthy man perhaps Lindsay was content for the time being as Colonel of Marines, but Keppel and Sir John would definitely have been in regular contact in those early days of a new Whig government.
Lord Mansfield, whilst a Tory would have been contact with his relative the new premier, as mentioned Rockingham often dined at Caenwood House, ad certainly would have met his niece Dido there. When seeing the approval of the name HMS Dido for a small ship by Keppel with Sir John’s instigation, it would have been immediately sanctioned and passed. All parties involved would have agreed by arbitration leaving nobody else to challenge the decision save jeopardising their career and patronage.
Back now to the king, he was Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy and whilst not getting involved in everyday events at the admiralty he would certainly be aware of the naming of ships a well as promoting officers of the rank. The king was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House as Lord Mansfield was to the king at St. James’s Palace, the Queen’s House and at Kew Palace.
The king and queen would probably have met Dido on their visits to the Mansfield’s, so her name wouldn’t sound strange in 1782 when a frigate is passed and ordered by the admiralty lords called HMS Dido. It’s also worth noting that the king’s governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, was related to the Countess Mansfield by marriage, having married Lady Betty’s brother William.
Lady Charlotte was governess to the princes/princesses for 30 years, so she too would have visited the Mansfield’s with her husband, so you can see now where the patronage is coming from and why there would have been no obstacles in the way of naming a ship, in this case HMS Dido and on the month of her 21st birthday and no longer a minor.
The king and queen would, most likely have been aware of the ship’s naming and who requested it, this brings them to Sir John Lindsay whom the king himself knighted in 1764, made a Knight of the Bath in 1770 and commodore with full command of the East India Station and Gulf of Persia the previous year. If that wasn’t enough, he was also representing the king as ‘ambassador’ to India with his dealings with both the crown prince of Arcot and the Honourable East India Company. He was also given full command of all marines stationed at Madras. Now this should tell you of the patronage, privilege, grace and favours bestowed upon Sir John Lindsay by the king and the nepotism of his uncle the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. By now you should be able to see the people of influence involved of the initial influencer, Sir John and why all would agree upon the name choice.
Just the following year as the frigate was under construction in 1783, and through Admiral Keppel, Sir John accepted the role of commodore and commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, which greatly pleased the king. Was this in return for the king’s support in the naming of the vessel? We will never fully know, but we do know that the king often met with Sir John.
William Bentinck,3rd Duke of Portland, a Whig, became premier in April 1783 and was also a close friend of Sir John and had rented out his house in Mansfield Street to Sir John from June 1782 prior to him joining the administration in 1783 as an admiralty lord. As a close contact of Sir John he wouldn’t question his frigate request and would pass it unchallenged, leaving as mentioned no one else to question the final decision.
It’s also noting that Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Portland, William’s mother, was a very close friend of the Mansfield’s, especially Lady Betty, again showing influence in the right places. She would have most likely have met Dido often on her visits to Caenwood House.
Now to the timeline of events from that order in June 1782 for the frigate named HMS Dido. To start, by June 1782 peace overtures were in their early stages of ending the American War of Independence, but in the March, Dido’s aunt Margaret Ramsay died, starting off a cycle of deaths within the family. In July 1782, the Marquess of Rockingham died. Margaret’s husband Allan Ramsay, the renowned artist, being Dido’s uncle would have been aware of the naming of the frigate.
The year 1783 saw Sir John made both Lord of the Admiralty and a commodore who by October that year headed off as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. In the meantime, in the previous 12 months the keel went down for the ship at Sandgate, Kent and construction was on the way. 1784 saw the death of Countess Mansfield in the April and Allan Ramsay in the August, so both would have been aware of the forthcoming frigate’s launch later that year but never got to experience it. 1785 saw the ship completed in the main and it was sent up to Royal Deptford dockyard for final finishing and coppering. That year was also the last year Lord Mansfield was in full office, as the following year he began working part-time from home, with Dido’s assistance until a new chief justice was found. He resigned office in June 1788.
Whilst Sir John returned from his command in late October 1784, he would have heard of the launching of HMS Dido on 27th November 1784 and have been kept aware of that ship’s progress well into 1787 when the frigate was now based at Portsmouth. On 24th September 1787 HMS dido was commissioned by the Royal Navy for service, and note, the very day that Sir John was promoted by the king to Rear Admiral of the Red – the highest promotion for a rear admiral whilst suffering from severe gout, Sir John remained in service albeit on terra firma, until his death on 4th June 1788, when returning from Bath after taking the waters.
Based upon my findings it was no coincidence that both the commissioning and Sir John’s promotion took places on the same day – in my opinion, it was planned that way.
There were 27 Enterprise frigates designed and built over the years, in batches but note the last batch of 3 frigates covered the period 1782-1783, just the very years that the Whigs were in power in government and all known or related to Sir John, (later an admiralty lord himself) and his daughter Dido. All had an input in the naming, launching and the commissioning of the first ship ever named Dido in the Royal Navy to date.
It’s also worth noting that prior to the naming of the newly designed frigate by Sir John Williams, then to the request of naming, building, launching and commissioning was a certain recently retired first lord that knew all about it and knew it was patronage from start to finish was John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. During his career he was 3 times First Lord of the Admiralty and kept a personal ‘patronage book’ himself – I bet Sir John was in it, because he wrote to Lord Mansfield in November 1780 requesting Sir John rejoin the navy (after his resignation in 1779), as he was a naval officer of merit.
Oddly, Lord Sandwich came to live at Sir John’s house in Hertford Street after the North administration fell in March 1782 and stayed there till his death in 1792.
I doubt any paperwork exists that can fully confirm the order of the frigate and as names were plucked or discussed arbitrarily in the 18th century the latter was more the case. There are too many coincidences in my findings overall, and many influential persons to be found with close links to Sir John and his quest to name a ship after his daughter in her 21st year, a year when she was no longer a minor. It was also in 1782 that Dido was included in Lord Mansfield’s will, freeing her of any slavery in the future. So, Dido received two very good birthday presents for her 21st birthday.
Just one final items which demonstrates that Dido was not hidden away, but was known to Lord Mansfields family and friends comes in the form a newspaper report about the death of Sir John Lindsay, from 1788:
As a final point of interest, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was given her surname Bonetta by Captain James Forbes, who liberated her from slavery and who was the captain of HMS Bonetta.
We have now reached the final part of the story and just in case you missed any, the previous parts can be found by clicking these links – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In this final part we return again to George and his wife Mary. In 1817 and they went on to have a daughter, Julia in 1817, about whom nothing more is known, so it perhaps has to be assumed that she died in infancy, but two year later the couple had a second daughter, Felicia.
It appears though, that their marriage didn’t last very long, as Mary left England and went to Italy, taking Felicia with her. During this time Mary was said to have had an affair with the Marquis Busca, Visconti of Milan and a son was to follow from this liaison. In 1835 Mary died in suspicious circumstances, allegedly via poison, at which time the Marquis adopted the boy and raised him as his own. Upon the death of the Marquis the boy inherited the bulk of the estate.
After the death of his adopted father, the child was due to marry the Countessa Della Porta, but in 1851 this was still on hold until his father’s estate had been sorted and his claim verified.
Felicia, however, returned to England at some stage and lived briefly with her father, George, but this was short lived as their relationship was described as being a somewhat volatile one and in 1839 she married an Italian widower, Louis Philippe Baldersar Mazzara at St George, Hanover Square, after which they returned to Italy, where they had two sons, Felix Alexander, who we will return to later, and Nicholas Charles.
The final part of this story concerns, the end of George’s life. He all but disappeared from public view in England and it has been note that he travelled abroad for much of his later life, returning to England just prior to his death, at which time when he was living at 8 Victory Cottages, in Peckham, Surrey, but no-one seems to know how he was living or what he was doing. To date, there is no sign of him on ether the 1841 or 1851 census returns, so it’s feasible that he travelled abroad for quite some time or was simply missed from the census returns.
The property at which he died didn’t seem to exist on the 1851 census so it must have been a recent build when George lived there. George died on 29 February 1806, his death being witnessed by an Ann Chapman, who simply made her mark, so unable to write her name.
George was buried a few days later, at Kensal Green Cemetery and left a will in which his small remaining estate was bequeathed to his sister in law, Clara, nee Leech Leake.
Following George’s death Messrs. Puttick and Simpson, auctioneers sold some of his possessions including a Stradiuarious (now known as Stradivarius, the oldest were known by the former name) and an Amati, two of the finest and now rarest violins ever made.
So, who initially purchased these items, was George ever paid enough to purchase them himself, or were they courtesy of the Prince of Wales? Maybe the royal accounts could shed some light on this matter.
The complicated story of the family and its ancestors didn’t end at the end of George’s life, no, not at all.
The Newcastle Journal, 3 February 1868 noted that Frederick Joseph Bridgetower was making claims to the throne of Abyssinia. This Frederick Joseph was the grandson of George’s brother, Frederick, who was mentioned much earlier.
He claimed that he was descended on his father’s side from the original heir to this empire and that his great grandfather was an Abyssinian nobleman who had two sons born in England i.e. George and Frederick. He explained that his grandfather had married in 1808 and died in 1813, leaving a son and daughter, the former being the claimants’ son. The claimants’ father was born in 1812 and married Catherine Richardson in 1836 and died in 1859. He hoped to be recognised also as great nephew to the black prince, Sir George Bridgetower (of course, George was never knighted!).
He claimed that family misfortunes had deprived him the means of proving his antecedents until recently the claims of his second cousin, Felix Alexander, recognised as the descendant of King Solomon the son of David, had revealed the fact of his right in claiming the empire of his forefathers by paternity.
So, that was two claims to this throne being made by both sides of the family. This sounds very much like one of those stories that get passed down through the family, but one which is to this day completely unprovable.
The Liverpool Mercury of 2 May 1868 weighed in on the debate and suggested that if he believed he had a claim to such a throne then he had better go there and take it.
We are sure that the British Government will never be so foolish as to support his pretensions.
This claim of royal connections rumbled on for a few more years and the Isle of Wight Observer, 7 May 1870 had an interesting article:
Frederick Bridgetower appeared before the Southampton Bench, describing himself as ‘The Emperor of Abyssinia’. He was described as a printer of Simnel Street, Southampton, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in the High Street. On being placed in the dock and questioned as to his name and address, he said he was King Frederick Joseph and the rightful heir to the throne of Abyssinia. The previous evening the defendant was discovered making a great deal of noise and appeared to be going through a theatrical performance. He was very drunk and wearing a crown, making claims about the throne. He was found to be carrying a card, on which it was printed H.R.H Frederick Joseph S Bridgetower, Emperor of Ethiopia and Abyssinia. Mr Palk the magistrate, told him that he would be sentenced to prison for seven days and advised him not to drink once freed.
How much truth there has been in this we may never know, but some of it seems highly unlikely and something of a very tall tale, passed down through the generations with much credibility by all who were told of the story.
What happened to Joseph Frederick after these claims, well there was one final sighting of him, leaving England and heading to America, what became of him from there, maybe someone will be able to shed some light on what became of him.
Another of Joseph’s siblings, John Henry spent much of his life in the lunatic asylum from the age of fifteen until his death at the age of forty-six and one of their siblings, Catherine, named after her mother, died aged about one, following an accident caused by her sitting down on a smoothing iron and burning to death, the inquest partially blamed her mother for neglecting the child.
Given the number of descendants, it would seem highly likely that George and Frederick’s ancestors are still out there somewhere.
We begin the third part of George’s life in March 1794, but just in case you missed the earlier parts, click on the highlighted links to read part 1 and part two .
George had been busy studying and performing at the New Theatre Royal, still under the pupillage of Barthélemon. Over the subsequent weeks his name regularly appeared in the press, still working at the same theatre.
From the quarter ending October 1795 until 1809 George’s name appeared on the Royal Household payroll as a musician, along with a Mrs Bridgetower, could this possibly have been his mother, reputed to be Mary Ann nee Schmid, whose name appeared between 1802 and 1809, as a recipient of an annuity of seven pounds, ten shillings?
On 19 October 1796 Lloyd’s Evening Post confirmed that George was still employed by the royal family, by this time, George was about sixteen and continued to be mentioned regularly by the press until the end of the century.
The Princess of Wales has music three or four times a week; last night the party consisted of Mazzinghi, Atwood, Cole Bridgetower (the black boy) who generally plays concertos on the violin, and Schram. Her Royal Highness also plays on the pianoforte and sings with Lady Willoughby.
In 1802 George was granted leave to visit his mother and an unnamed brother, a cellist in Dresden. We know from earlier that there was a possible brother for George, Johannes, but could the cellist have been another sibling? We will find out later.
It was whilst in Dresden that young George gave at least two concerts and having gained success with these, he went on to Vienna. It was whilst there that he was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven who wrote for him Sonata No 9 in A Major Opus 47, which was originally named ‘Sonata Mulattica’, but was quickly renamed following an argument between Beethoven and Bridgetower over a woman becoming now known as ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Despite the renaming, the Rodolphe Kreutzer never actually played the sonata.
Towards the end of May 1805, according to the British Press, George advertised a forthcoming concert at the New Rooms, under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, where he would play the violin and his brother Frederick, the violincello, on 23 May. Tickets being sold at half a guinea each could be obtained from his lodgings at 4 Great Ryder Street, St James, London.
Rates returns for that period show that the property was owned by a Richard Davies, but there are no clues as to who he was, but it was clearly a property in an affluent area, as his next-door neighbour was The Honourable Mrs Keppel.
Was this the mysterious brother, Frederick, who had travelled with him back to England? It would certainly appear to be and so, we will look at what became of him later, but he was certainly in England with George by 1805 if not before.
In September 1805, George’s father made a re-appearance in the newspaper, things were clearly not going well for him. This time he was in Exeter, alongside a woman who had been found to be an imposter. The article went on to describe the imposter as:
Rev. John Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, otherwise Lieutenant General Mentor, lately serving under Touissaint L’Ouverture, otherwise the Black Prince. This person speaks fluently English, French, German, Italian and Polish languages.
Therefore, it would appear that George’s father was no longer in an asylum, but had instead, headed south for reasons unknown.
The last public sighting of George for some time was in the Morning Post, 30 March 1808, still performing at Hanover Square. He then vanished for a while once his payments from the Prince of Wales ceased in 1809, but where did he go? It is known that he attended Cambridge University, where he continued learning his craft and began composing music. From the National Register, 30 June 1811 we learn that:
His Royal Highness will attend at St Mary’s in the afternoon, when the sermon will be preached by the Rev Dr. Butler’ after which a musical exercise will be performed, composed by Mr Bridgetower, as an exercise for his Bachelor’s degree.
It is now known that his brother, Frederick had moved to Ireland, presumably from London, as that was stated at the time of his marriage in January 1808 to Elizabeth Guy, the daughter of John Guy.
Frederick continued to perform as a cellist and to develop his skills as a composer  and on 13 April 1808 made his debut performance in Dublin, as a cellist, at the Rotunda on Upper O’Connell Street in the city.
Not only was Frederick a performer, but he was also a composer and teacher.
According to The Hibernia Magazine and Dublin Monthly Panorama volume 3, 1811, Frederick performed some ‘charming instrumental music’ for the Beefsteak Club, at Morrison’s Hotel on Dawson Street.
It was around that time that Frederick composed ‘Six Pathetic Cantonets’ which were dedicated to the Italian Opera singer, Madame Catalani. Copies of his works, ‘A Pastoral Rondo for the pianoforte’, dedicated to a Miss Martha Collins, ‘Six Chromatic Waltzes’ and Multum in parvo’ are held by the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
Life however was not kind to Frederick and his wife as around the time of the birth of their one son, Frederick Joseph, Frederick senior died on 18 August 1813, leaving Elizabeth alone to raise her child. We know that Elizabeth and her son remained in Ireland as Frederick junior was to find himself in trouble with the law in 1833.
According to The Pilot, 12 April 1833 young Frederick found himself involved in the Newry riots, between Catholics and Protestants, also known as Orange Men, during which he fired a pistol which resulted in him being sentenced to sixteen months in prison with hard labour.
After serving his sentence he left Ireland for Liverpool, where in 1836 he married a Catherine Richardson and they had eight known children. Frederick’s career was somewhat confusing as he was noted as a journeyman shoemaker, so didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, however, on the marriage entry for one his daughters (Jane Guy), he was described as a professor of music, so quite which occupation he followed we may never know.
Frederick and Catherine’s eldest son, a Frederick Joseph, named after his father, born in 1840, we will return to later as his story is very relevant to George’s history.
We can only assume that Eliza remained in Ireland as her name appeared in the newspaper in the Newry Telegraph in 1849 when she developed cholera, whether she died from that remains unclear at present.
Returning back again to George, and in March 1816, at St George, Hanover Square he married Mary Leach Leake, the daughter of Edward Leech (rather than Leach) an affluent businessman (a cotton manufacturer according to his will) late of Kensington Square, London and a Mary Leake.
In the Times, 23 October 1832 there was a report of the death in 1807 of a woman who appears to have been George’s mother, so if that were the case, then money was being paid by the privy purse for some considerable time after her death:
Notice to Heirs and others – All persons who have any claim on or to Property, amounting to about 800 Saxon Dollars, left by the late Mary Ann Bridgetower, who died at Budissen on the 11th of September, 1807, are hereby directed to make known and prove the same by themselves, or their attornies, at the sittings of the magistrates of the said town, on or before the 12th of March, 1833, or they will forfeit all right and title to the said property – Dated at Budissen, in the kingdom of Saxony, 8th August, 1832. By order of the Sitting Magistrates.
At the time George married in 1816 a newspaper report came to light from the other side of the world, which raises some interesting questions about who exactly George’s father was.
This was a gentleman who went by the name of Augustus de Bundo who, on the face of it led an amazing life, but how much of his life story reported in the Royal Gazette, Jamaica, 26 October 1816 was true will forever remain questionable.
This elderly black man presented a petition before the Corporate Body of Jamaica requesting poor relief. In order to obtain this, he had to provide details of how he had come to find himself in such dire straits and with that, he set about providing them with a lengthy account of his ancestry, education and travel. He gave his full name as
Augustus Frederick Horatio, Prince de Bundo and stated that his mother was a Cherokee Indian Princess and his father was Almas Ali Achmet, a Turkish merchant, formerly of Mahometan and that his parents married in London.
He also claimed that his grandfather was the high priest of Bundo, Africa and it was through him that he claimed his title of Prince de Bundo. There appears no such place as Bundo, but there is a Bundu, so it is feasible that was where he meant.
He stated that he was born at Staines, Surrey and that at the age of seven was sent to Eton to be educated, where he remained until the age of sixteen; from there he travelled to Besançon, France where he studied for five years at the College of St Paul. Then went to Strasbourg where he entered St Bartholomew’s College to study theology, then on to Gottingen, Hanover.
In 1776/7 aged thirty-three, he returned to England, attended Oxford College, for four years, entered the university, and after a residence of sixteen months, took a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following this he was
Ordained a priest of the Church of England by the Bishop of Derry, who also promoted him to be a Deacon, that being a higher order in the church. He was then appointed as a Minister of a church in Pyrmont, Hanover and officiated there for four years until he was driven out by the French under General Junot in 1800. He travelled all over the continent and was well received at different courts.
Having carefully checked every fact in his account, the conclusion would have to be that, as fascinating a story as it is, it has more holes in it than a colander. His name does not appear in the registers of Eton, nor at Oxford, nor in the Church of England records, but that of course depends upon what name he would have been known by. Also, I can find no such college as St Paul, nor St Bartholomew’s. If he were ordained into the Church of England it would have been by Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, also titled Bishop of Derry.
His notion of being promoted to deacon could not be correct, as deacon was a lower position than a vicar/priest. It isn’t possible to provide any validity into his claim about General Jean-Andoche Junot, but date wise it doesn’t appear to make sense.
It does, however, appear that whoever he was, he was either someone who was extremely well-read or very well-travelled or both.
Now, here is the only part of his story which has some elements of familiarity, although again, it doesn’t quite add up. His testament continues –
He married a Polish Princess, the daughter of Prince Morowski and receive a dowry with her, in money, lands, castles etc which he enjoyed until the troubles in that country which obliged him to quit Poland. It was at Pyrmont where he first saw his wife, she went to a nunnery there for her education. After leaving Poland he returned to England and was well received by the Prince Regent, with whom he was on the most intimate and friendly footing, having received from him a general invitation to visit at all times, of which he availed himself, particularly at Brighton. The prince introduced him to the Queen and the rest of the Royal family, who were all kind and attentive to him.
In his testament he asserted that the Prince Regent had stood godfather for his son, who was the leader of the Princes private Chamber Music, his other son was also in royal service and that
The Prince Regent also asked that he be introduced at the British Court in the costume of a Mahometan on horseback.
This reference to him having a least two sons is extremely interesting and their connection with the Prince Regent, begins to make sense in terms of George and Frederick, in all likelihood is one of the few verifiable parts of his testament. How could this man have known the prince or have known about George and his brother?
He said that he frequently attended court balls, however, being a clergyman, he never danced. He was intimately acquainted with, and dined with, William Wilberforce.
He had a brig built, called The Isabella, which he jointly owned with his mother, which he registered at Lloyd’s, (having trawled through the Lloyd’s register from 1800 – 1815 there is no obvious sign of such a ship). He claimed to have loaded The Isabella, sailed to Barbados where he sold the cargo and took on another of sugar and rum for Cape Henry on the coast of Virginia.
Disaster befell him on 25 June 1816, when the ship was wrecked, and he lost everything. The crew were dispersed, and he went to Havana, from where he obtained passage in his Majesty’s ship The Tay. The Tay was being captained from 24 January 1816, by a Captain Samuel Roberts who sail from Portsmouth to Havana then on to Jamaica, having apparently taken on board Augustus at Havana. Augustus made specific reference to Captain Roberts in his testament, saying that the captain would testify to the accuracy of his claim. So, it seems feasible that perhaps one or two elements of his account may have had a grain of truth in them.
He also stated that his mother, who was nearly 80 years old was living in Antigua along with her sister, and that she had many possessions which she inherited from her ancestors and that he had some £12,000 in funds, he believed, in the Stock Exchange and his wife, a Polish princess lived in Staines, at a farm that they owned.
However, the following day, he was called back for a further interview, and clearly overnight he must have realised that his story sounded too far-fetched and so provided a much shorter revised account. He no longer made claims about being a Prince, but instead, said he was a Knight of the Thimble i.e. a tailor.
According to this revised testament, Augustus said that he was a native of Barbados, where he was born a slave, but being very intelligent he was sent to England as a servant to one of his master’s sons, where he learnt to read and write. His young master completed his own studies and was to return to Barbados, along with his servant, but Augustus had other ideas, decamped and passed himself off as a free man.
Now this does have more credibility, especially in light of a woman who lived in Barbados by the name of Rachel. Now, bear with this apparent digression from the story, but it may have some relevance.
She was born about the same time as Augustus and was the daughter of a William Lauder and a slave woman. She developed a friendship with a Thomas Pringle and changed her surname to his. Rachel opened an hotel in Bridgetown, where she provided entertainment for sailors and royalty after a long sea voyage. When her relationship with Pringle finished, she met a man called Mr Polgreen and took his name too becoming known as Rachel Pringle Polgreen. There was a plantation in Barbados connected to the Polgreen family, so that may have been who she had a relationship with.
Rachel died in 1791 leaving some considerable assets. Now, could there have been some connection between Rachel’s gentleman Mr Polgreen and George’s family, hence George taking that as a middle name, combined with a reputed family connection with Barbados? This may well remain pure speculation of course.
Returning to Augustus, this is the only documented part of his life story so far, but as you can imagine, the authorities were less than impressed and believed it to be pure fantasy. With that, he was dismissed with a caution to behave himself and in reply he said he would find the first opportunity to leave the country.
The testament took place in October 1816, and just four months later, an application was made to the court by Augustus, still sticking to his story that he was of princely origin, only this time he was requesting that the court procure for him a passage to England.
This was eventually agreed to and they gave him ten pounds to purchase provisions and a few days later he was sent packing on board the Queen transport ship, bound for Portsmouth. It would appear that the authorities were pleased to finally see the back of him and happy to send him on his way back to his alleged home – England.
Augustus returned to England and what became of him from then is still unknown. The only vague sighting of him was an entry in the Poor Records for St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1817. The entry simply references a man, named Frederick Bridgetower, aged 63 i.e. born c1754, seeking poor relief, which would make this gentleman about the right sort of age and given the unusual surname it does sound feasible that he did return to England, but penniless.
Could Augustus have been George’s father? We will probably never know, but if so, then it adds another dimension to his life. Do join me next week for the end of this tale.
Today we continue with the story of George’s life, but if you missed last weeks and would like to catch up, just click on this highlighted link.
We begin this part of George’s life with the assistant keeper of Queen Charlotte’s wardrobe was a Mrs Papendeik, who very helpfully kept a journal and clearly knew of George and his family and in her journal made the following notes of their meetings 
About this time an adventurer of the name of Bridgetower, a black, came to Windsor, with a view of introducing his son, a most prepossessing lad of ten or twelve years old, and a fine violin player. He was commanded by their Majesties to perform at the Lodge, when he played a concerto of Viotti’s and a quartet of Haydn’s, whose pupil he called himself.
Both father and son pleased greatly. The one for his talent and modest bearing, the other for his fascinating manner, elegance, expertness in all languages, beauty of person, and taste in dress. He seemed to win the good opinion of everyone and was courted by all and entreated to join in society; but he held back with the intention of giving a benefit concert at the Town Hall.
Mr. Jervois insisted upon the Bridgetowers coming to him after the boy had played at the Lodge, as he wished to hear him before he took tickets or interested himself in the business. Charles Griesbach and Neebour had promised to come to assist in the performance, but there was to be no audience beyond the regular set or squad — Papendieks, Stowes and Mingays. After supper, the music-room was ready, and then the father would not let his son play!
Also present at the gathering was the artist, Johan Zoffany who had recently returned from India. In her journal she continued to provide additional snippets of information about the Bridgetower’s, curiously naming George’s father as Ralph West Bridgetower, which is not a name that appears to have been noted anywhere else, was this another pseudonym or more likely a simple mistake on her part?
While I was playing the duet with Rodgers, he sat on the ground between us, after which that dear little soul kissed us and went off to bed. The duet, which we played without a fault, pleased greatly, and was followed by more singing, and Bridge tower’s two quartets and a symphony to finish made a long second act. Then we again had refreshments, and supper in the parlour for the performers. Over this meal we had a pleasant chat. Ralph West Bridgetower (as he was named) was most fascinating, young Lawrence elegant and handsome, and very attentive… Twenty- five guineas Mr. Papendiek put into Bridgetower’s hand, taking nothing from Mr. Jervois as he compelled him to come. The ladies being gone I went to bed, after making arrangements for Zoffany, but the gentlemen made a merry evening of it.
Abbott, Lemuel Francis; Sir William Herschel; National Portrait Gallery, London;
This circumstance occurred in the spring of this year, 1789. Madame de Lafitte educated the daughters, and many lent a helping hand. Indeed, through life did this family experience the same kind friendship on all sides. I now went to town for a few days to see my mother and brother, and finding that the Herschels were also going to London, I took a seat in the afternoon post coach, contrary to my usual custom of travelling in the morning, in order to accompany them. William HerschelI was much surprised, when taken up, to find Bridgetower in the coach. He said he was going to engage lodgings, preparatory to their settling in town for the winter. I knew the Herschels would not like being in his company, but it was a public coach, and nothing could be done, so we proceeded all together. At the White Horse Cellar, I urged the Herschels to take a hackney coach and see me safe to my mother’s; but no, they went on by the same conveyance to Paternoster Row, and I proceeded alone to St. James’s. In the dark passages in the Palace, that black, Bridgetower, suddenly presented himself, under the desire of being introduced to my father and mother. I told him that my parents from age and ailments did not allow these freedoms to their children, and I entreated him not to trouble me, as the door on the staircase where we stood led to the public apartments of the Palace, and, as I was generally known, I should not like to be so seen. He then said he wanted to borrow a little money. I took my purse out quickly and gave him all I had, a guinea and a half, and begged he would not attempt to call, as he would not be admitted. I watched him safely away, and then ran quickly to my home. I dared not tell my father, as he was angry enough about our exertions at the concert, observing that he knew from experience that no foreigner who asks anything from one, ever returns one’s aid either in gratitude or kind. … On my return, Bridgetower called, having previously sent the money, so he was straightforward enough in this instance, but I told him in Mr. Papendeik’s presence never again to ask us to lend money, for we had already done what we could. I added that he must not conclude that the whole of the 25/. put into his hands after the concert had been received for tickets. He, of course, was not over well pleased with this speech, but I began, as did many others, not to be altogether satisfied with his conduct. He shortly went to London with his son, and obtained an introduction to the Prince of Wales, who took a particular liking to the lad, and admired the father for his general elegance.
The Morning Post of 25 November 1789, under the heading ‘Bath’ reported that,
Amongst those added to the Sunday promenade was the African Prince in Turkish Attire. The son of this African Prince has been celebrated as a very accomplished musician.
The local newspapers in Bath were constantly singing the praises of both father and son. Before and after the performance George’s father strolled along the promenade with George dressed in Turkish attire, attracting a great deal of attention.
The Morning Post of December 8, 1789 noted:
The young African prince, whose musical talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Saturday morning than has ever been known in this place. There were upwards of five hundred and fifty persons, and they were gratified by such skill on the violin as created general astonishment, as well as pleasure. Rauzzini was enraptured and declared that he had never heard such execution before, even from his friend, La Motte, who was, he thought, much inferior to the wonderful boy. The father was in the gallery, and so affected by the applause bestowed on his son, that tears of pleasure and gratitude flowed in profusion. The profits were estimated at two hundred guineas, many persons having given five guineas for each ticket.
A further insight into George’s father was provided by The Derby Mercury 10 December 1789, but with no mention being made of his mother, was she with them? It would later appear that George was only accompanied by his father.
The father is quite black, about the age of 35, tall, well made and remarkably agile. The son is of a mixed colour, his mother being a European, and one of the Polish nobility. They both speak most of the modern languages (particularly English) very fluently.
Just two days later, the Morning Post 12 December 1789, noted George’s performance.
The favourite concertante of Pleyel, a concerto on the bassoon by Holmes, another on the pianoforte, by Mrs Miles (Late Miss Guest) and one on the violin by Master Bridgetower, the little mulatto, who is not eleven years old, and yet a wonderful performer, were the instrumental excellences.
One of the most famous black musicians at the time was the Chevalier de Saint Georges, who, it appears was a good friend to the family.
The accomplished negro and his boy Bridgetower was born in Jamaica, and generously emancipated by his owner, on the score of wonderful talents. He has since visited Russia, Italy, Germany and France. It was his good fortune at Paris to acquire the friendship of the Chevalier St. George. He married a Polish lady of quality, from whom this miraculous child descended. The boy has been tutored by Haydn, the consequence is eminently honourable to the musician and his disciple.
According to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (17 Dec 1789), George remained in Bath and on Christmas Eve entertained an audience with a violin concerto between the first and second Acts of Handel’s Messiah, at The Assembly Rooms.
The Oxford Journal 16 January 1790, excitedly reported that Oxford
Would have the pleasure of informing the public in general, and the cognoscenti in particular, they are likely soon to be gratified by hearing the wonderful abilities of Master Bridgetower on the violin, he being daily expected in this city.
It was rapidly becoming apparent from the media though, that George’s father was becoming more of a hindrance than a help in progressing his son’s career. Was he simply a ‘pushy father’ or was there something more concerning about his behaviour? That will become clear later.
Miss Cantelo’s benefit concert at Bath was not equal to her friends’ expectations, notwithstanding Harrison and young Bridgetower both exhibited.
The Black Prince, father of the violinist, by being too officious, has lost the countenance of most of his benefactors, as his concert showed last Saturday morning at the Lower Rooms, – not fifty attended.
However, on 12 February 1790, The Public Advertiser announced that the following week, George would make his first performance in London at Drury Lane, when he was again to play a concerto between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.
The day after the event, Woodfall’s Register, and The Public Advertiser provided their reviews of his performance and once again, this raises questions about George’s age, as in an earlier account he was said to be nearly eleven, this time, not yet ten!
Master Bridgetower, son of the African Prince, is a phaenomenon in the musical world. After the second part of the oratorio, he performed a concerto on the violin, which though not ten years of age, he executed with a degree of delicacy and skill that would have done credit to any professional man of the most established reputation.
By this time, George’s father was beginning to create major problems and appeared to be somewhat unstable, and there was an outburst in March 1790, which was alluded to in The Times, 15 March:
The Black Prince would do well, before he dare to disturb the peace of the English audiences – to study the old ballad – of “There’s a difference I sing, “Twix a Beggar and a King.”
Yet another snippet from Mrs Papendeik’s journal also appears to support this:
During this time, we were again annoyed by a visit from Bridgetower. He, one morning, going as he said to Salt Hill or somewhere in the neighbourhood, left his son with us, who took the opportunity to disclose to us his unhappy situation. He said that his mother was left in distress, and that the money he could earn by his music was wasted in crime even in his presence, and added that the brutal severity of his father must soon lead him to some desperate act. Mr. Papendiek could only pity and persuade the poor lad to be careful not to provoke or aggravate this man, now found out in his wickedness. When he returned, we had luncheon, and then they went off to London.
We heard in a short time that the son had taken refuge at Carlton House, and that the father had returned to Germany. Mr. Papendiek called to inquire into the business, when the Prince of Wales told him that one evening Bridgetower, having returned home with a companion, had desired his son to get under the sofa and to go to sleep. The first part of the command he obeyed, and, watching his opportunity, made his escape. He ran to Carlton House, where from having often been there to perform, he was well known and on supplicating protection, he was taken care of till the morning when the circumstance was related to the Prince.
His Royal Highness at once sent for the father and desired him to leave the kingdom immediately, saying that he would furnish him with a proper sum of money for the journey, and that hearing of his return to his wife and family, he would remit a trifle for present emergencies that he might have the opportunity of looking out for employment of a more honourable nature than he had pursued in this country. If he made arrangements for his immediate departure, the Prince said he would permit him to call for the money and to take leave of his son whom he and treated so cruelly. The prince from that time took the lad entirely under his protection and treated him from first to last with the utmost kindness.”
So, that was that, George’s father had disgraced himself in royal circles with his behaviour and treatment of his son and it appears that within a week, according to the Derby Mercury 8 April 1790, matters came to a head, with George’s father being placed in a lunatic asylum:
The father of the young performer on the violin, who styles himself the African Prince, is at present a resident in a receptacle for lunatics. The Prince of Wales, with his wonted goodness has humanely taken his son under his royal protection.
Just a few weeks later George was performing alongside another violinist, an Austrian, Franz Clement and performing at Hanover Square, under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales
For the benefit of Master Bridgetower, and Master Clement on Wednesday 2 June 1790, will be performed, a concert of vocal and instrumental music. The place of the performance will be advertised in a few days.
On 26 May 1790, tickets for the concert were available from either, 9 Piccadilly where Clement resided or 20 Eaton Street, where George lived.
It becomes clear from the rates returns for Eaton Street, that George was by this time in fact residing at the home of Thomas and Mary Attwood, with George’s name later appearing in A Musical Directory for 1794, showing that he remained with the Attwood family for a number of years.
So successful was George, that the Prince Regent took even more interest in the young man and appointed tutors for him, the likes of the French violinist, François Hippolyte Barthélemon, the leader of the Royal Opera, and Thomas Attwood who became the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, composer of the Chapel Royal and musical instructor to the Duchess of York, and then the Princess of Wales, so it is clear that George, despite still being a child, was mixing at the highest level of British society.
George was certainly now gainfully employed as a musician as in February 1792 he performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, according to the Public Advertiser. Then on 28 May he featured at Mr Barthélemon’s Concert at Hanover Square and later that year The Morning Post, confirmed that he played at The London Tavern, in a benefit concert, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
Over the next few weeks we are having a slight change to the usual weekly format in so much as I’m going to take a fairly detailed look at one person in particular and tell you a little about his life story and that of his family, so please do tune in each week for the next part of the story, be warned, we’re in for a long, complicated and very bumpy ride.
George’s early years
‘Genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin’ a quote from the Chester Chronicle, 1789 used when describing a certain child protégé. Who was this child, apart from being someone who was extremely talented?
The answer appears to be someone with a very complicated and confusing ancestry, which, over the centuries no-one has actually been able to completely fathom out. Despite the advances in technological access to archival material, which has given access to more nuggets of information, the same degree of uncertainty about some parts of his life remain today, even his surname seems to confuse, it was either Bridgetower, with the ‘e’ or Bridgtower without. The majority of people who have written about George favour the former, so I’ll go with that for now.
Over the next few weeks, I shall recount some of his life story, and, for a guess, by the end of it you will remain as stumped by it as I am about his genealogy.
For those who haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you to George Augustus Polgreen/Polegreen Bridgetower who was believed to have been born on 11 October 1778 in Biala, Poland according to an article in The Musical Times of 1981, although different sources offer different dates of birth for him, but this appears to be the most likely, as it on George’s application to join the Royal Society of Musicians.
The other date offered being 13 August 1778 and that he was baptised as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus. His father being Joanis Fredericus de Augustus and his mother being Maria Ursula de Augustus (née Schmid/Schmit/Sovinki) or possibly Mary Ann.
As you can imagine trying to track down a copy of George’s birth has proved elusive, to say the least.
The only nugget of information I have come across which might make sense of that entry, was the one below possibly for possibly son, Johannes Albertus Bridgetown, not Bridgetower, in Mainz, Germany some nine years after George was born, but of course this could be a red herring and to date there is no evidence of this child surviving to adulthood and his name is never mentioned in any biography about George.
The surname used by the family is unusual, which perhaps does indicate that Johannes was one of their children, but whether this child survived into adulthood, who knows. Hopefully one day it will be possible to see George’s baptism, just to set the record straight once and for all.
Just to confuse matters further, George’s father seems to have been referred to as either John Frederick Bridgetower or Friedrich de Bridgetower and worked in the household as a servant of Prince Nikolai Esterházy, where he gave several different stories about his origins (a favourite being that he was an African prince), but again there is no conclusive evidence.
The castle of Prince Nikolai contained an opera house and a puppet theatre where the composer Haydn was the Kapellmeister (musical director). If George had been spotted as a child prodigy, Haydn would have been the perfect person to help him develop his talent.
Sometime before 1789 the family left the court of Prince Nikolai and, according to The World newspaper of 2 January 1789, George made his performing debut as a violinist:
A young negro, named George Frederick Augustus Brigdetower, has made his entrée into the world as a musician. He played at a public concert on the 2d instant at Cleves, with very great applause, and promised to be one of the first players in Europe. His natural genius was first cultivated by the celebrated Hayden, and afterwards by the Sieur Schick He speaks many languages and appears distinguishingly from others of his cast and colour.
In April of that year in Paris, according to an article on the British Museum website, by Dr Mike Phillips,
The journal Le Mercure de France raved about his performance, concluding that “his talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and his colour of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts”.
George was obviously an exceptionally gifted young musician and his father, a great public relations machine for his son, trying to get his talent showcased at all the best venues – Paris, London and Bath, places that would have been popular with the elite.
In a plan to drum up interest in George, his father was telling all the right people that his son was the ‘son of the African Prince’ and, to ensure that the message got across loud and clear, he would wear exotic costumes and parade through the streets. His father was certainly no shrinking violet.
This report was noted in many of the regional newspapers of the day, from the Kentish Gazette, to Saunders Newsletter in Dublin to the Stamford Mercury. It appears that the whole country was taking an interest in this very talented young man and the Whitehall Evening Post decided to share a little background to the family.
The African Prince now at Brighthelmstone has a son of ten years old, possessed of amazing talents.
This extraordinary genius has been presented to the Prince of Wales, who intends to recommend him to the professional concert, as an acceptable novelty to the admirers and lovers of music. He plays with exquisite Mastership on the violin.
The grandfather of this extraordinary youth was committed to the care of a Dutch captain with diamonds to a great amount, and gold dust to be carried to Europe and educated.
After experiencing much barbarous treatment from the avaricious Hollander, the unfortunate prince was sold, as a slave, to a Jamaican planter.
The unhappy man met, however with a kind master to alleviate his misfortunes, and married an African woman, by whom he had the father of this boy.
At the grandfather’s demise, the father was still high in his master’s favour, at whose expense he was instructed in several languages. At the age of fifteen, he was permitted to make a voyage to Africa, with proper testimonials of his birth; but by a singular fatality was shipwrecked and lost his documents. Being conversant in several languages, he gained a subsistence by acting as interpreter to various foreign Potentates in Europe.
By 14 August 1789, it was the Chester Chronicle who were writing about George in the most glowing terms
The musical world is likely to be enriched by the greatest phenomenon ever heard – a youth of ten years old, pupil of the immortal Haydn – he performs the most difficult pieces on the violin, and goes through all the mazes of sound with wonderful spirit, execution and delicacy. His name is Bridgetower a sable plant of an African growth: Thus, do we find that genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin. He is now at Brighthelmstone, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
So, it would appear that young George’s career was definitely on the up and had come to the attention of the royal family as noted in The Morning Star, 3 October 1789 –
On Friday evening the son of the African Prince performed on the violin with exquisite skill, before their majesties and the princesses at Windsor Lodge. This musical phenomenon gave inexpressible delight to his royal auditory. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales was his recommendatory introducer to the access of his royal parents.
In the 18th and 19th centuries people were fascinated with people who were different in some way to the ‘average person’ and people such as the Sussex Giantess were bought by often unscrupulous people, to be on show for the paying public. So let’s find out a little more about Jane Cobden and her family.
William Cobden and Millicent Amber were married in 1798 and together they had eleven children, five boys and six girls, including their famous second son, Richard Cobden, who was noted in history as being a politician.
Their children were – Frederick (1799); Emma (1800-1836); Millicent (1802); Richard (1804-1865); Jane (1806); Charles (1808); Priscilla (1809); Miles (1812); Henry Andrews(1813-1858); Mary (1815); and their youngest, Sarah (1817).
Richard was probably best known for his association with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-corn law league, and the Cobden Chevalier Treaty, which promoted closer interdependence between Britain and France. He was so well respected that he even has a memorial bust in the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey.
To give you a little background into the family, they were a long-standing Sussex family who could trace their ancestors back to the fourteenth century. They lived in the hamlet of Heyshott, near Chichester, Sussex in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford.
They were not a wealthy family and Richard’s father was described by Richard’s biographer, John Morley as
a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not the force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him.
Millicent, however, appears to have been the stronger character, described as being
endowed with native sense, shrewdness and force of mind.
She would have to have been a strong character, given the number of children she had to raise. It must have been difficult trying to raise such a large family with limited income, always trying to find ways to make ends meet. In 1809, the family had to be sold and the family moved to a smaller farm, Gilder’s Oak.
By 1813, the family hit hard time and had to move again, finally settling in West Meon, Hampshire.
By this time their third daughter, Jane was only seven years old, but was there anything unusual about Jane at that time? We will never know. The first sighting of a Jane Cobden was not until 1824, when her name appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle where she was described appearing as part of a travelling show of ‘curiosities’ at Mr Hubbard’s’ Great Room, Kings Head, upper side of the market. Sadly, the advert carries no further information as to quite where Mr Hubbard’s Great Room was, given that the notice appeared in a local newspaper, possibly Norfolk.
Jane was described as being
Only 18 years of age, stands near seven feet high. This young lady is allowed by all ranks of people, to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever exhibitedto be British public.
She was appearing alongside Mr Thomson, the Scottish Giant, who stood at over seven feet tall and Mr Robertson who stood a mere twenty-six inches tall. Admittance being one shilling for ladies and gentlemen and just six pence for servants.
In July 1825, Jane’s mother, Millicent Cobden died at the age of 50, did Jane know as she was busy travelling around the country?
It was the festival at York in December 1825, that provided just one more clue as to her identity when it specified that she was a native of Chichester and that:
This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.
The final sighting of Jane was in the Evening Mail, 9 June 1826, when she appeared at Ascot Races, accompanied by a ‘dwarf from the Low Countries’, a ‘Bohemian who balanced coach wheels on his chin’, a black sleight of hand player, several dogs and a lady who ‘took money’, all dwelling in a covered cart not twelve feet square, and all to be seen for just one penny.
Jane simply vanished after this, but it is reputed that she died in Hertfordshire in 1830, making her just 24 years of age. Whilst I cannot be absolutely certain that this young lady was the sister of Richard, she was the only Jane Cobden, born in Sussex whose year of birth matches or even comes close and there seems nothing to suggest that it wasn’t her – perhaps someone out there might be able to confirm one way or the other.
I have now found a burial for Jane and the ages ties in nicely with it being Richard’s sister. She was buried at Chipping Barnet 31st May 1830, aged 24 years.
The life of Richard Cobden by Morley, John, 1838-1923
Many people will by now be aware of this painting, ‘Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom’ which was purchased earlier this year by the Art Gallery of Ontario, following its sale by Sotheby’s in New York, where the painting achieved a figure of $68,750, a not insignificant sum. Whilst I wouldn’t normally mention the price achieved for a portrait, it does have some significance in this post, so bear with me.
Since ‘lockdown’ it has not been possible for the public to see the portrait in person, however, curators have been busy behind the scenes ‘virtually’, discussing its significance and many of their interesting discussions can be heard if you follow this highlighted link.
Returning to this portrait though, from the style of her dress it appears to have been painted about 1760-1770 and I wonder whether the portrait was possibly commissioned to mark some special event, perhaps a milestone birthday or an upcoming wedding, pure speculation of course as no-one knows anything definitive about this painting as yet.
The artist has beautifully delicately captured the clothes, the exquisite pale blue silk dress and what appears to be very expensive jewellery – earrings, pearl necklace and bracelets. This is clearly the portrait of a young woman of some significance – but who she was remains a mystery at present.
Who was the artist? At present we have very few clues to go on, his/her name was noted by Ontario as being J. Shult, the remainder of the name remains unknown, so perhaps J. Shultz, which implies German/Austrian, or maybe even Dutch. To date there’s no name that seems to match amongst reasonably well-known artists of that period, but perhaps once the gallery have been able to do more research a name could come into view.
It has been suggested that it may be Johan Christoffel Schultz, a Dutch painter and printmaker who lived from 1749-1812 and below is another portrait attributed to this artist:
The portrait is of Miss Rebecca Steel, New Timber, Sussex, but there does appear to be a couple of problems with this attribution. Miss Steel’s birth was registered at Newtimber, Sussex, in 1722 and she is noted to have married in 1752, becoming Mrs Norton at that time. If the artist wasn’t born until 1749 then he can’t possibly have painted her. The portrait was sold in 2012 by a Boston auction house, Skinners and the reverse of the painting it simply says ‘J. Schultz Pinxit’ along with the sitters name. Given the discrepancy over dates it seems more likely that the painting of our young lady could be Johan’s uncle, Jeremias Schultz.
More importantly though the main reason the portrait ‘Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom’ caught my eye was because I have seen, what now, I would suggest could well be a companion piece by the same artist, so here we have a young man, again beautifully dressed in green silk, titled ‘Portrait of a young man wearing a green jacket holding a cane.’
The cane he is holding is really curious, as when you zoom in on the painting, which you can do by viewing it on this link, it appears to have a rounded top with gold braid around it. The use of a cane/stick was often used to signify importance status. So, like our young woman, this man too was someone of importance and like her, is currently unknown.
He looks to be about the same age as the girl which initially made me wonder whether, given that she is holding orange blossom, which, in all likelihood symbolises purity/chastity, that these two portraits were painted just prior to their marriage.
My other thought and possibly more likely, is that when you look more closely at the pair together that they could be siblings or maybe even twins – what do you think?
The portrait of the young man has a fascinating back story. It was sold by Christie’s, New York in 1996 by an anonymous seller, then again by them in 2011 for a mere $750.
Compare that to the price recently paid for the young lady – the portrait of her achieving a price of some additional $68,000. Clearly, when his portrait was sold in 2011, it was clearly regarded as unimportant, especially as again, the artists name, J. Schult (German, 18th Century) was only partially visible.
The 2011 sale was very curious, as the portrait was being sold as part of a larger collection on behalf of a man who had died suddenly in 2006 from a heart attack. The man in question had, as a young man, changed his name from Melvyn Kohn to what he decided would be a more suitable name and with his parents blessing he became William Milliken Vanderbilt Kingsland.
Kingsland/Kohn appears to have led a fascinating if curious life and you can find out more about him if you go to the sources heading below!
From 1986-1991 Kingsland worked at Vito Giallo Antiques, on Madison Avenue and was also known to the singer, Elton John and the artist Andy Warhol, who was said to have befriended him for a time.
Upon his death his massive artwork was found, much of which the FBI took a very keen interest in and some of it was eventually sold on behalf of his family by the New York County Administrator including that of the young man above.
This now makes we wonder if the two paintings we’re now looking at were, at one time, together either in a museum or in a private collection and have over time, become separated.
I’ve been working with Jo Langston of Christie’s who is trying to track down the portrait of the young man since its sale and we’ll keep you posted if we find out where it is as it would lovely to see the pair together for comparison. We’d like to think it’s either still with an art dealer or in a gallery, but we do suspect it’s become part of a private collection.
It will require much more work to confirm whether it could be a pair as right now it’s purely a theory, but an exciting one which I wanted to share with you. I hope you agree.
A lovely reader, Ged Burnell, alerted me to another story about a small person, who was also exploited by one of the Georgian/Victorian unscrupulous showmen, who travelled the country showing off their ‘freaks’. Shows like this were immensely popular with the paying public, not to mention extremely lucrative for the showmen and obviously completely abhorrent in today’s society. This young gentleman was Joseph Lee, so let’s find out a little more about his life.
Joseph was born in November 1809 to parents Joshua Lee and his wife Ruth, nee Saynor who were married in 1794 at Cawood, not far from Selby,Yorkshire and had already had 7 children, Fanny, Joshua, Mary, Barbara, Thomas, Ruth and George by the time Joseph arrived into the world. He was followed by one further boy, Matthew in 1812, thus completing their large family.
They were working people, who lived in the small village near Monks Fryston, Yorkshire where most of the children were baptised at the parish church. Joshua worked as a labourer and Ruth managed their large brood of children and kept house. Most of the children survived into adulthood and there are no indications that any of them with the exception of Joseph, were anything other than average stature, but keep reading!
It would have been clear that the family survived on a very meagre income with lots of mouths to feed and when they were approached about their small son, Joseph and made an offer to take him on tour as part of the Natural Curiosity Tour, under the patronage of the royal family, they must have agreed with little hesitation. They were to be paid £60 per annum for this, which given that the average skilled worker, of which Joshua wasn’t, would only earn about £20, this must have been an amazing offer.
This offer came late 1819, which if you do the maths, would have made Joseph a mere 10 years of age. He was described as a native of Fairburn, near Ferrybridge and his first performance appears to have been at Chester where he starred with none other than the ‘Celebrated Giantess, Mrs Cook’ (no, I hadn’t heard of her either, but the newspapers tell us she was very popular), who stood at around seven feet tall, but of course these showmen knew how to promote their ‘freak shows’!
So, Joseph had completed his sixteenth year – not true, but great publicity though to describe a sixteen-year old boy as being a mere ‘thirty inches high, the smallest, the shortest and the most well proportioned man in the world’. It would definitely get the punters coming to see him for a fee of one shilling or just six pence, if you were a servant or child.
These ‘freak shows’ were great money spinners for the host, people knew nothing medically of conditions that could cause dwarfism at that time, and so many men and women were exploited in this way, along with other ‘curiosities, they and their families were offered, what appeared to be large sums of money to take their children and make them famous.
Around January 1820, the show travelled across the sea to Dublin when a curious entry appeared in the Freeman’s Journal – Thursday 27 January 1820:
So, it appears that our Joseph had acquired an unknown brother, Robert who was the polar opposite of Joseph, standing at a mighty seven feet two inches. It begs the question, who was this young man, because he certainly wasn’t any of the siblings that I have found! From a showman’s perspective it would look great, showing two brothers, the short and the tall, wouldn’t it? It was clearly a publicity stunt to drum up trade.
The Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 27 December 1820, not only mentions Joseph and the giantess, Mrs Cook, still touring together, but also the name of the man who was running the show – none other than a Mr Cook – presumably, the giantesses’ husband. They were performing at The Crown Tavern, High Street, from eleven in the morning until nine at night, every day except Sundays accompanied this time by a full military band and this time with the Irish celebrity, Mr Hamilton, the ‘Irish Giant’.
Mr Cook having spared neither pains not expense, in fitting up the above room in an elegant style, he trusts he will receive due encouragement from a liberal public.
The touring show moved on in September 1821 to Aberdeen, having acquired another performer en route, the world-famous American giant, James Henry Lambier, standing at eight feet tall, who left a brief account of his life in which he confirmed his tour of the UK.
Joseph had by this time, acquired the title of the ‘Yorkshire Little Man’ and was described as being thirty inches in height, but worryingly, his weight was described as a mere twenty-two pounds, which could surely not have been even close to the truth. He was now aged eighteen – in reality however, he was 12!
From Aberdeen they travelled on to Inverness, by which time was nineteen, or really just a mere thirteen. You can only begin to imagine what sort of life he led, away from his family, working long hours and probably received very little recompense for the hours worked.
In 1822 the troop travelled to Ayr, accompanied by Lambier, who bound himself to Mr Cook to the sum of £100, but he disappeared late one evening, ate, got very drunk and spent the rest of the night cavorted with local women until he fell asleep. In the morning, he was caught by Cook, who asked the local sheriff to arrest him for breach of contract. A struggle broke out, which bearing in mind his size was not easy, Lambier hit Cook with a poker, but was eventually overcome by several people and was dragged off to gaol. When released he left Ayr. Although the report didn’t specifically mention Joseph, it seems highly likely that he was amongst the entourage. By June of that year they had moved on to Inverness.
Quite what happened after this tour remains unknown at present. Joseph appears to have returned to his family, where he and his parents appeared on the 1841 census, living on Silver Street, Fairburn.
His parents must have died sometime between 1841 and 1851, as Joseph moved in with his sister and her family.
Joseph’s short life came to an on Friday 25th April 1851, aged 42, at his sister’s house on Fishergate, Ferrybridge. In an obituary about him, Joseph was described as:
A little Tom Thumb, about 3 feet high, in military dress, with top boots, and an enormous watch chain and gold seals, etc. He strutted his tiny legs, and held his head aloft, with not less importance than the proudest general officer could assume, upon his promotion to the rank of field marshal. His brother and sister, who lived in Ferrybridge, were both of typical height. After a few years, in which Joseph earned a large sum for his employer, he was returned to his parents on Silver Street Fairburn in a destitute state.
*** I AM NOW TAKING A SUMMER BREAK, BUT I’LL BE BACK ON WEDNESDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER. ENJOY YOUR SUMMER & STAY SAFE.***
Chester Courant 14 December 1819
Aberdeen Press and Journal – Wednesday 19 September 1821
Let me introduce to three brothers, who I am fairly certain you will never have come across before and neither had I until by chance I came across Joseph Longchamp and of course, I was curious to know more about him. The only reference I had about him was in connection with Sir John Lindsay when Joseph was briefly his valet accompanying him in 1769 to Bombay. The author of the book simply described this valet as ‘Longchamp, a German, who was to become a great man in Newmarket’.
Armed only with a possible name and Newmarket to go on, even then, I was unsure as to whether Longchamp was really his name or whether it was just a nickname given the horse racing connection in Newmarket.
Anyway, with a little digging, I came across his will and sure enough, Longchamp wasn’t a nickname, it was the surname of a Joseph Longchamp of Newmarket, who wrote his will in 1807, leaving everything to his wife, Anne nee Milton of nearby Bottisham, Cambridgeshire and a few other beneficiaries including his nieces and nephews.
Despite the reference to Longchamp saying that he was German with such a surname, I suspect perhaps he was actually of French descent, but I still have no proof either way.
The three brothers were Joseph, Xavery (which appears in a whole variety of different ways), and Ferdinand. They were born around the 1730-40s and lived in London. There are no clues as to whether they were born there or emigrated from France or Germany. They were from a working-class, labouring background, this fact being confirmed in a document pertaining to Axavery’s first wife, Jane, in which his occupation was given.
Joseph, who may well have been the eldest, learnt his trade as a cook working for the prestigious gentleman’s club, Whites, where he worked until 1765.
White’s was renowned for only employing the best cooks; therefore he would have been given a good grounding in his craft. Members paid a premium to ensure that this remained the case, this was set in their rules
That no-one be admitted but by ballot
That nobody be proposed but when twelve members are present
That there be twelve members present when the person is balloted for, which is to be the day seven nights after he is proposed, and one black ball is an exclusion for that time.
That any person that is balloted for before nine o’clock is not duly elected
That every member is to pay a guinea a year towards having a good cook
That no person be admitted to dinner or supper but what are members of the Club.
That every member that is in the room after ten o’clock is to pay his reckoning at supper
Joseph finally decided that it was a good idea to branch out on his own, and with that, he applied to the Westminster Sessions of the Peace for a victualler’s licence and set up his dining establishment, ‘The Pineapple’, at New Spring Gardens, near Five Fields, Ranelagh Gardens.
He placed adverts in the newspapers to attract clientele:
NEW SPRING GARDENS, situated between the Ranelagh Road and Chelsea Five fields, are decorated in an entire new taste, and will be opened on the 1st of May, for the reception of gentlemen and ladies, who may depend on finding the following articles in the greatest perfection, viz tea, coffee, wine of every sort, punch and spiritous liquors etc. It is hoped servants in livery, women in red cloaks and coloured aprons, will not be offended if refused admittance. All possible care will be taken, and the best attendance procured to accommodate, in the genteel manner, those ladies and gentlemen who confer the honour of their company on the public’s most humble servant, Joseph Longchamp, late cook at White’s.
N.B Any ladies and gentlemen who choose to have dinners provided, or suppers, coming from Ranelagh on sending in the morning, may depend on having their commands punctually and elegantly executed. There is a coach way from the Ranelagh Road.
Joseph obviously had a certain type of clientele in mind and ladies inappropriately dressed and servants in livery were not acceptable. I have tried to find out the significance of the dress code for ladies, but without any luck, but he was, politely, if firmly, clarifying what was not an acceptable dress code.
In further adverts in 1768, Joseph informed potential clients that he had added many more features to his premises –
lights to show off the waterworks, grotto work and painting more conspicuous’. He intended to ‘open them every evening between eight and nine o’clock, weather permitting and by the signal of a rocket, plus other improvements in the gardens. Tickets of admission 1 shilling each. A coach way from the Ranelagh turning up by the first houses from the fire engines’.
He was investing a great deal of money in establishing his premises as the ‘go-to’ venue for people who had visited Ranelagh.
Joseph continued to run the business for the next few years, but it was evidently not proving to be profitable as he would have hoped, as late 1768, he was declared bankrupt.
Presumably now virtually penniless and still a single man in his thirties, he took the post of valet to Sir John Lindsay and went off to Bombay with him. Quite how to two met remains unknown, perhaps their paths had crossed at Whites, but without access to White’s archives at present, it is impossible to verify whether Sir John was a member.
The trip with Sir John seems to have been quite a brief one for Joseph, in part as he will ill whilst in Bombay, so it seems quite likely that he returned to England and either bought or rented a property on Queen’s Row, London. There are no clues as to where he found the money for this property, having been declared bankrupt before going on his travels, therefore, must have either made his money whilst travelling or that he simply rented the property.
So, back in England, what was he going to do now? Well, his brother, Xavery was by this time married and working as a principal waiter at Brooks’s, another gentleman’s club. From 1783, Whites was the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, whilst Brooks’s, just along the road was home to members of the Whig party. Perhaps Axavery could find a job for his brother?
This was not to be the case, as Joseph packed his bags and travelled to Newmarket where he took up a job which he would retain for the remainder of his life – ‘Keeper of the New Room’, at the Jockey Club, Newmarket, working there with the likes of James Weatherby, who was Keeper of the MatchBook.
In 1778 he finally found himself a bride, Anne Milton and the couple were married at St Mary’s Church, Newmarket. Joseph remained at Newmarket for the rest of his days, which according to the Bury and Norwich Post was ‘upwards of forty years’.
The Jockey Club wasted no time in appointing the next Keeper of The New Rooms – Mr William Parrs to take Josephs’ place.
Axavery appears to have been fond of horse racing and even owned his own racehorses and, like his brother, was well known to the nobility and gentry. Quite what his position became at Brooks’s is still unclear, but it was he who took out the insurance for the club in 1785, described by this time as a gentleman, so like his brother, life had improved significantly from humble origins.
He owned at least two properties when he died in 1788, leaving his young second wife with eight children to support, the youngest being only 5 months old when he died. Axavery left his family well provided for with at least two houses, one on Great Carrington Street, London, the other on Old Bond Street, which he leased out, fully furnished to the Duke of St Albans.
In Axavery’s obituary notice there was one curious comment
About ten years ago he was put into Standon Hall, the property of Mr Plummer, to keep it as a hunting inn, but that plan was soon relinquished.
It would appear that the property was near Ware, Hertfordshire and owned by Thomas Plummer Esq and leased in 1766 to Axavery, but for some unknown reason, nothing became of this arrangement and as such the building was closed up and left unoccupied.
As for the third of the brothers, Ferdinand, apart from his marriage, death, and evidence that he was a gentleman who owned property on Princes Street, Cavendish Square, London, Ferdinand seems to have remained completely under the social radar until his death in 1804. He left no will, so right now clues as to his life will have to remain a mystery.
Travels, in various parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, during a series of thirty years and upwards. By John MacDonald, by MacDonald, John
The History of White’s. Published by the Honourable Algernon Bourke
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1467
LMA. Westminster Sessions of the Peace: Enrolment, Registration and Deposit including licensed victuallers. WR/LV/81/286.
LMA. Middlesex Session of the peace: Court in Session. MJ/SP/1769/04/28 Jane Longchamp, wife of Longchamp, a labourer of St George, Hanover Square. 19 April 1769
The Sportsman and breeder’s vade-mecum or, An historical account of all the races in Great Britain, 1793
Sporting magazine. v.30 1807
The progesses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth. Volume 2
On April 18, 1797, George Morrey, from the village of Hankelow, near Nantwich, Cheshire married Edith Coomer, from the neighbouring village of Wybunbury. The couple went on to have six known children, the first, Elizabeth, born in 1798, followed by William, James, Mary (who only lived for a year), Edith and finally, George in 1810.
Clearly, despite George being a successful farmer, their marriage was not as happy as it ought to have been and as the saying goes ‘while the cat’s away …’ it was whilst George was away selling his wares, that Edith began an affair with a younger man, their former farmhand, John Lomas late 1811. It was in the Spring of 1812 that things came to a head when Edith found herself pregnant with John’s child. Things had to change and with that, John and Edith hatched a plan to murder Edith’s husband, George.
Between two and three o’clock in the morning of Sunday 12 April, the family servant, Hannah Evans, who slept with the children in the room adjoining the parlour heard a noise which sounded like several blows being delivered in her master’s room.
She quickly got up and could hear groans coming from the bedroom. She opened her chamber window to get through it, and, as she was putting her head out of the window she heard the door open, and turning her head saw her mistress come in with a lit candle, and caught hold of her, saying, she must not go out, as there was a murder in the house, and if she went through the window she was likely to be killed. After a few minutes, all went quiet, Edith sent Hannah to fetch John Lomas, their servant. Hannah then told him to wake the neighbours which, after some persuading, he agree to do.
Having gathered some neighbours and George’s brother they went upstairs to George’s bedroom, where they found him lying in dead on the floor, his throat having been cut through the windpipe, a left temple bone fractured. A large, blood-stained axe, covered in blood was found underneath his body. Claims of a break-in were made, but on checking there were no signs of any sort of break-in.
When daylight appeared, one of the neighbours noticed that Lomas had blood on his nose and on one of his wrists, creating suspicion of guilt. The room in which he slept was also found to have traces of blood on the floor and the stairs leading up to his bed. Also, his bed showed traces of blood and he was wearing a clean shirt. On finding the one he had worn the previous day, needless to say, other items of clothing were found with had blood on them too. This was hardly a well-thought-out crime as he had left evidence of his crime, everywhere.
Once the search was complete Lomas was taken away by the constables to await his fate. Whilst on the journey not only did Lomas confess to the crime but also implicated his mistress, Edith as his co-conspirator, saying that it was she who had administered alcohol to her husband to get him drunk and that she had urged Lomas to kill her husband so that once he was out of the way she would inherit the farm and the money they had and she would be free to be with Lomas.
When Edith was questioned the constable went to arrest her when she produced a razor and attempted to cut her own throat, but as a doctor was already present in the house examining George’s body, he was summoned and quickly sewed up the wound.
After the trial at which both pleaded not guilty, after just a few hours deliberation and, with a packed courtroom, the like of which had never been seen before, the death sentence was passed for the pair. Lomas immediately said ‘I, John Lomas, deserve my fate’. He was taken from the County to the city goal in Chester, and at midday ascended the drop and met his maker.
According to the Criminal Registers, John Lomas was executed on 31st August 1812 and that prior to his execution, it was agreed that both he and Edith should receive the sacrament together at which time the pair made a full confession of their guilt.
But what about his accomplice, Edith. She pleaded ‘the belly‘ i.e. that she was pregnant, a fact that was substantiated by a jury of matrons who confirmed that she was between four and five months pregnant and therefore permitted to live until the birth of her child, once born she would then suffer the same fate as Lomas.
On 23 April 1813 Edith was taken to the scaffold. She walked from the Castle to Glover’s Stone, having hold of Mr Hudson’s arm, with the utmost firmness, amidst an unusual pressure from the immense crowd assembled. She then got into the cart, and immediately laid herself down on one side, concealing her face with her handkerchief, which she has invariably done when in public, from her first appearance before the judges to her final dissolution, and we venture to affirm that no person obtained a view of her face out of the Castle since her commitment. She remained in prayer with the Rev. W Fish till one o’clock when she ascended the scaffold with a firm and undaunted step, with her face covered with a handkerchief and she immediately turned her back to the populace. When ready Edith dropped the handkerchief as a sign that she was ready to die.
By the time Edith died, her son Thomas was now aged four months, having been born on 21 December 1812.
But what became of this ‘love child’? He was raised by Edith’s brother, Thomas Coomer, but this child had his own story to tell. He was baptised in 1814, his baptism showing clearly that his parents were dead.
Life was not to be plain-sailing for this young man, who frequently found himself in trouble for thieving and according to the Chester Chronicle, 12 April 1833, yet again young Thomas found himself in trouble with the law –
A Jail Bird
At the present session, a youth named Thomas Morrey, only 20 years of age, appeared before the court for the third time, charged on this occasion, with stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, and some fowls, from his uncle, Thomas Coomes, of Basford, who had humanely taking him into his house, in the hope of snatching him from a career of crime which must end in bringing him to the gallows. This ill-starred boy is the son of Edith Morrey, who was convicted at the August assizes of 1812, of the murder of her husband and whose execution took place in April 1813, was stayed on account of her pregnancy until after the birth of this boy.
The court despaired of ever being able to reform young Thomas, so opted for having him transported to Tasmania, for a period of 7 years.
Following his sentence, he was removed to the prison hulk, Cumberland, moored at Chatham, Kent, where he remained until being transported the following year on board The Moffatt. On arrival in Tasmania, he was appointed to ‘public works’ and received a ticket of freedom in 1846.
As to what became of him after that is lost to history, so far, perhaps someone out there knows!
Leicester Journal 24 April 1812
Chester Courant 27 April 1813
Lancaster Gazette 20 April 1833
Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 1
England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892. Class: HO 27; Piece: 31; Page: 72
The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 82, Part 1; Volume 111
The full story of this family’s life has been told in a book, ‘Rope Dance’ by Maureen Nields.
Stanfield, Clarkson Frederick; Prison Hulks and Other Shipping; University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
I accidentally came across this trade card below, for a Matthias Otto of The Strand, London, and for those who are regular readers of All Things Georgian, you will no doubt be aware of my interest in trade cards, but something about this one specific jumped out at me on this one.
It was dated c1765 and referred to Matthias Otto as being a seller of amongst other things – ‘widow’s weeds‘.
Little seems to be known about Matthias, however, we do know that following his death, his son Matthias junior continued the business after his father as another trade card exists which depicts him selling the same items of clothing.
Now, I have to confess I thought the term ‘widow’s weeds’ was a term usually associated with the Victorian period rather than Georgian when women wore black for long periods of time and didn’t realise that it was in common usage prior to this.
The term ‘weeds’, according to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language:
originated from the word waed – a garment of clothing, habit, or dress. Now scarce in use, except in ‘widows weeds’, the mourning dress of a widow.
With that, I decided to what more I could find out and my first point of reference was the trusty, Ackermann’s Repository and in 1809 there was a little more information about widow’s weeds:
In every country on the earth some emblem of grief, or token of esteem, is worn by the surviving relatives of deceased persons; but the mode of expressing this affection varies according to the custom or fashion in different nations.
In Syria, Cappadocia and Armenia, sky-blue dress is worn on this occasion, because it is the colour of those regions which it is hoped their departed friends inhabit. In Egypt, a yellow dress is used on such occasions, being a symbol that death terminates our mortal expectations, as the leaves of the trees turn yellow when decayed. The Ethiopians wear grey, and Europeans black. Grey is emblematic of the earth to which the dead return and black, which is a privation of light, it is also typical of the absence of life, but for virgins, a white dress is worn, because it is an emblem of purity.
Another thing that I hadn’t really given any thought to was the process of dying fabric to produce the colour black which given the high mortality rate in Britain would have been something in great demand. Again Ackermann’s provided some answers.
A Mr Vitalis found an improved way of producing a good quality black fabric and thread to make mourning weeds. There had clearly been an issue with the dye, as it was not long-lasting and turned fabrics a rusty colour fairly quickly. For those unable to buy specific mourning clothes it was common practice to dye existing clothes black using iron filings and the bark of an elder tree. The use of iron filings would explain this rusty colour and then keeping such items to be passed down through the family.
General rules for behaving whilst in mourning were published, as someone decided that the correct etiquette was not being correctly observed and that people needed to be reminded about how to behave.
A wife losing her husband
She should not appear in public the first week, nor in private without a handkerchief.
The second Sunday at church, much affected with the sermon, the handkerchief not omitted.
She may go to a tragedy after the first month, and weep in character, either the play or the loss of her husband. The second month she may attend a comedy and smile, but not languishingly.
A husband losing his wife
Must weep or seem to weep at the funeral.
Should not appear at the chocolate house during the first week.
Should vent a proper sigh whenever to good wife or even matrimony is mentioned.
May take a mistress into keeping the third week, provided he had not had one before.
May appear with her in public at the end of the month, and as he, probably, may not choose to marry again, he may, at the close of the second month, be allowed a couple of mistresses, to solace him in his melancholy.
Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. Volume 4
The Town and Country Magazine, Or Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction, and Entertainment, Vol. 1. 1769
The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics by Ackermann, Rudolph, 1764-1834. 1809
Town and Country Magazine. Etiquette for mourning. 1769
Captain Tyringham Howe, the son of Millicent Philips and William Howe. Tyringham was one of five children. His siblings being – Millicent who married Thomas Wilkinson in 1796 at Harwich, Essex; William Howe, a naval captain, who remained unmarried until his death in 1760; Stephen, who was a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to the King, who died 1796; Captain Philip who lived with his wife Mary Anne Tongue (?-1826), prior to his death at Warblington, Hampshire in 1815 and finally Grace, about whom nothing appears to be known.
Back to Captain Tyringham Howe though, like his siblings he was a naval man through and through, serving from 1765 on a variety of ships, all over the world, becoming a captain on 11 May 1775. In December 1780, he was promoted to commander of HMS Thames, but just before that, the same year, he found the time to marry the widow, Elizabeth Stein at Ross, County Cork, Ireland. The couple had no children, nor it would seem did any of his siblings.
There has been much written about the story of Charlotte Howe, but so much of it remains annoyingly vague. Tyringham returned to England at some time during 1781 bringing with him a black slave girl, believed to be around 15 years old at the time, whom he had purchased whilst in America, to live with Tyringham and his wife at Thames Ditton.
Just a couple of years later Tyringham’s life was cut short, as he died in June 1783 and was buried in the parish church of St Nicholas in Thames Ditton, aged just 38, thus leaving his widow Elizabeth with the girl, along with another servant.
He clearly knew that his life was coming to an end having written his will he added a codicil to it, appointing a Mr Alington Hodges of Middle Temple to be joint executor, along with his ‘dear wife, Elizabeth’ who became the sole beneficiary, but he made with no mention of the girl who was living with them or in fact of any other servants who may have been resident in the household at the time.
On 17 December 1783, the girl was presented for baptism at the same parish church and from then on she was known to history, as Charlotte Howe.
It was perhaps about a year later that Elizabeth took a property on Sloane Street, Mayfair in the parish of St Luke, taking Charlotte with her, along with another servant; both of whom it appears were unpaid workers.
It appears that something occurred in 1784, causing Charlotte to leave the house, presumably with no money or belongings and no husband to support her, thereby making herself free and no longer a slave, but of course, this equally meant that she had no money or possessions.
It would appear that Charlotte must have somehow returned to Thames Ditton, where, with no money, she found it necessary to apply to Thames Ditton for poor relief. There seems no explanation as to why she would have returned there rather than remaining in London, which seems somewhat strange. What was the appeal of Thames Ditton? A question for which there appears no answer.
However, as she had been living in the parish of St Luke’s she was deemed ineligible to receive parish relief in Thames Ditton and as such, they returned her to St Luke’s where she was admitted to the parish workhouse on 25 October 1784, although Thames Ditton agreed to fund her relief for three months.
St Luke’s appealed against the decision to keep her there, as they didn’t want to fund her and eventually it took a court judgement to resolve the situation. The parishes played a game of ‘ping pong’ with poor Charlotte, with neither wishing to take responsibility for her.
This process went on from late summer 1784. St Luke’s won its appeal against Thames Ditton and Charlotte was returned from St Luke’s to Thames Ditton on 20 January 1785.
At the end of January however, the vestrymen sought the opinion of the King’s Bench regarding the costs and Charlotte’s case was put before the highest judge in the land, Lord Mansfield which is interesting given his familial connection with Dido Elizabeth Belle, who would no doubt have been aware of this situation and it would be fascinating to have known her view of this case, especially as the two women would have been the same sort of age and with Dido’s mother having been a slave.
The argument being that Charlotte had worked in the role of servant and according to the attorneys, she understood the nature of her obligation and that she never thought of leaving until after the death of her master and that before she could benefit from parish relief she would need to prove that she had worked for forty days within the parish, which of course she could not, as she had been living and working in St Luke’s parish for Elizabeth Howe, prior to returning to Thames Ditton. Lord Mansfield ruled that Charlotte neither qualified for relief in neither St Luke nor Thames Ditton as she was not receiving payment for the work carried out for Captain and Mrs Howe. She was therefore homeless and penniless.
There are several things which are unclear about this story, firstly whilst Elizabeth Howe appears on the rates return for 1786 i.e. just prior to her death and she also specifically gave her address as being ‘of Sloane Street‘, in her will, but there is no sign of her being there prior to that time and no explanation as to exactly where she was living nor why she was not involved in Charlotte’s court case to provide evidence.
Elizabeth died 29th December 1785, and as requested in her will she wished for her funeral to consist of a hearse and four horses, a mourning coach and four, and for her body to be buried with her late husband at Thames Ditton. In her will, she named various beneficiaries including a servant, but no mention was made of Charlotte. It was as if this girl had suddenly appeared, then just as quickly disappeared from any records.
Charlotte simply vanished from any records found to date, but it would seem likely that she remained around the Thames Ditton area, why else would she have returned there after leaving Elizabeth? Did she feel more comfortable living there, rather than in London, could that have been why she headed there when she left Elizabeth? So many unanswered questions.
I came across is a very curious entry, however, dated 22 August 1852 in the parish burial register of Hersham, a village just three miles away from Thames Ditton.
The Charlotte Howe named on the entry would have been born about 1763, which looks to have been about the right sort of age. Of course, there is no way of confirming this that this entry was for the same person or just purely coincidence, but it seems feasible that Charlotte remained close to Thames Ditton for the remainder of her exceptionally long life, but doing what, who knows.
I searched for a Charlotte Howe and variations of that name on the 1851 census and for nearby Walton on Thames, there was in fact, a Charlotte Howes, she was recorded as visiting a William Hobbs, a rail labourer and his wife Mary Ann. The surname is slightly different with the addition of an ‘s’, and she was recorded as being a widow from Hampshire, so on the face of it could it be the same person or simply a coincidence and she was also the person buried at Hersham? But given that Hersham is only two miles from Walton on Thames it seems tantalisingly likely and that she had made up a story about her origins.
I tried to find her on the 1841 census in Thames Ditton, Walton and Hersham but with no luck, especially as the census for Thames Ditton is no longer available.
Sadly it appears likely that we will never really know what became of her, but it would be good to think that she had a good life and that it was the Charlotte Howe buried at Hersham.
Thanks to a lovely reader, Bernadette, we have solved the mystery of the Charlotte buried at Hersham. Bernadette was able to confirm her as being the wife of Henry Howe, a gamekeeper. With this I managed to find a marriage entry for her in Hampshire, which is where she said she was from on the 1851 census and she was a Miss Charlotte Keene. Sadly, the hunt for the other Charlotte Howe will have to continue.
London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692-1932. Call Number: MR/PLT/4612
An Alphabetical List of the commissions of His Majesty’s fleet: with the dates of their first commissions.
The Will of Tyringham Howe, late commander of His Majesty’s ship, Thames of Thames Ditton, 9 July 1783. PROB 11/1106/110
The Will of Elizabeth Howe, Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1142
Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: 2568/1/4
Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: 2843/1/26
Who was ‘Dirty Dick’ and how did he acquire such a sobriquet? His name was Nathaniel Bentley, the son of Nathaniel and Sarah née Sarah Pankeman, the couple having married in 1723 at All Hallows Church, London.
Nathaniel and his wife also had a daughter, Sarah who went on to marry a wealthy iron merchant, Charles Lindegren in 1751 and had one child, Andrew, born two years into their marriage.
It was in October of the same year Sarah married, that her father also married, for a second time, his new wife was Bethia Plomer, the wealthy widow of William Plomer, a linen draper of Leadenhall Street who died in 1741 and who owned a mansion in the then-rural area of Edmonton.
During this time Nathaniel senior acquired much wealth and in 1754 donated a bell to the nearby church of St Catherine’s Cree.
Young Nathaniel, however, was not so lucky in love. During his formative years, Nathaniel and his father did not have a good relationship, with his father being described as being something of a bully, quite how much truth there was in that story remains unknown to history. Either way, young Nathaniel was very much the man about town :
At this period, his favourite suit was blue and silver, with his hair dressed in the highest style of fashionable extravagance. He paid several visits to Paris and was present at the coronation of Louis XVI, to whom he was personally introduced, and was considered one of the most accomplished English gentlemen then at the French court. He spoke several languages, particularly French and Italian, with great fluency, and associated with characters of the highest respectability.
His father was clearly an astute businessman of the day and had acquired much wealth by his death, which was reportedly in 1760. However, if that was correct, it begs the question about why his will remained unproven for a further eight years, it was finally proved in September of 1768, some four years after the death of his wife, Bethia.
Nathaniel senior left virtually everything to his son, which included around fifteen properties, one which was lease out to a brewer, but he also made substantial provision for Sarah’s family, including and their young son, Andrew.
One of Nathaniel seniors’ businesses was a warehouse selling hardware, jewellery, and precious metals, at 46 Leadenhall Street, which it appears, his son took over upon his father’s death and this is where his life changed, and he became best remembered to history as ‘Dirty Dick’.
There have been suggestions that this was not quite true and that Nathaniel did not own ‘The Dirty Warehouse’, however, this seems contrary to the Land Tax records which show him there for most of his life until 1803 at which time both he and Mr William Goslin(g), his successor were named as owners with Gosling taking over from that time onwards. The suggestion being made was that Nathaniel simply used the address as a postal address. Quite which is true we may never know.
Something changed in Nathaniel’s life as he had always taken a good deal of pride himself in his appearance, but he was to let this go, still dressing well when going out, but when in the shop he became more and more unkempt with his personal hygiene leaving rather a lot to be desired. When challenged about washing his hands regularly, he simply replied:
It is of no use, Sir. If I wash my hands today they will be dirty again tomorrow.
He became increasingly more miserly and would no longer employ anyone to prepare meals for him but did employ someone to do some shopping for him. His chief diet including some vegetables. He rarely ate meat part from bacon which had to be lean as the fat was wasteful and drank a gallon of beer every three days.
His sister, Sarah was the complete opposite, described as accomplished, very neat, and elegant. Sarah lived at Durham Place, Chelsea after the death of her husband. Sarah visited her brother but never got out of her carriage because of how dirty the shop was.
At one time he injured his leg whilst rummaging around in the shop trying to find something in the chaos, so employed an old woman to supply him with poultices, but his leg got worse until eventually, he sought the service of a surgeon, who told him that if it were not correctly treated then he would lose his leg, leaving Nathaniel no choice but to pay to get it treated effectively.
The warehouse became dirtier and dirtier, with windows broken, he would not light a fire even when extremely cold, but instead, he would fill a box with straw and stand in it to keep his feet warm. His neighbours especially those on the opposite side of the street who had a full view of this ramshackle property even offered to help with having it repaired and painted, but he refused. He liked his property to be known as ‘The Dirty Warehouse’ people knew how to find it, so it was good for business – maybe he had a point there!
When some asked whether he kept a dog or cat to destroy any vermin in the house, he answered with a smile, ‘No sir, they only make more dirt and spoil more goods than their services are worth and as to rats and mice‘ he added, ‘how can they live in my house when I take care to leave them nothing to eat’.
Notwithstanding his curious behaviour, he was remarkably polite to his customers, and the ladies in particular highly praised the elegance of his manners.
Amid the mass of filth which a long series of years had accumulated in his habitation, it was said that at some time, Nathaniel had a young lady that he was engaged to and that prior to the ceremony –
he invited her and several of her relatives to partake of a sumptuous entertainment. Having prepared everything for their reception, he anxiously awaited in this apartment the arrival of his intended bride, when a messenger entered, bringing the melancholy intelligence of her sudden death.
According to The European Magazine of 1801, Nathaniel had offers from the neighbouring India Company to buy the business, but it seems nothing come of that.
The same year, Nathaniel clearly felt it was time to write his will in which he gave his address and occupation being that of ‘waresman’. In his will, he left a number of bequests, especially one to his ‘esteemed and valuable friend’ Mr M Delavant, of Bethnal Green who appears to have given Nathaniel a loan in connection with the warehouse. Also to a Mrs Mary Dunbar, of Houndsditch and her son Charles Stuart Dunbar.
Nathaniel’s lease expired at the end of 1802 and during the next year his successor, Mr Gosling took over and Nathaniel became his tenant for a year, during this time for a while at least he managed to keep Mr Gosling out of the premises, but eventually had to give way.
In February 1804, the lease on the property expired and he moved out handing it over to his successor, Mr Gosling. Mr Gosling obviously saw an immediate business opportunity and opened it up to the public to view Nathaniel’s living accommodation.
The ceiling in the hall exhibited traces of former elegance, and the staircase displayed much workmanship. The first room on the first floor had been a kitchen, where was seen a jack, spit, &c, the rusty condition of which demonstrated that it had not moved for many years. It had long been deprived of its chain, with which Bentley secured the tea-trays placed against the broken panes of his shop-windows. Here also was a clock, which was once handsome, and no doubt regulated the movements of his father’s family, but now so disguised with dirt as to be much better calculated to inform the spectator how many years’ filth it had accumulated, then to point out the fleeting hours and minutes. The kitchen range, once equally good and useful, had only been used to support a frying-pan without a handle, curiously mended with pegs. The furniture of this place consisted of a dirty round table, and a bottomless chair made useable by the cover of a packing box.
Next to the tin flour-vessel, the cleanest article in the house, stood a chemist’s pipkin supplied with soap for shaving, a brush of his own manufacture, and a piece of broken looking-glass curiously inlaid in wood. This was evidently the only dressing and sitting room, and here also its extraordinary inhabitant reposed, wrapping himself up in an old coat, and lying upon the floor, which from the accumulated dirt and rubbish must have been softer than the bare boards.
Next to the kitchen was a small study, apparently long inhabited by spiders. The closet was full of dirty bottles, from which it was conjectured that Bentley had formerly been engaged in chemical pursuits.
The ceiling of this room had been elegant, and the ground being bine, he gave it the name of the blue-room. The secretary and book-case contained some valuable works; the counter-part was his jewellery casket, from which he used to indulge his female customers with little ornaments as presents, which never failed to be very productive in his way of business.
The dining-room contained a large round mahogany table. The antiquated grate, once of highly polished steel, but for many years a prey to consuming rust, contained nothing combustible, but seemed to groan under an immense burden of mortar and rubbish blown down the chimney.
The carpet in this room was a curiosity, for except the corner was turned up, the visitor imagined that he was treading on dirty boards. One of the closets was full of pipkins and phials, of which Bentley charged his successor to be particularly careful as they contained poison enough to destroy half London.
The second floor was truly a repository of rubbish and filth. In one of the rooms was a heap of feathers, which had been the contents of a bed that had fallen to pieces on being moved, and adjoining to this was a small apartment, once his mother’s favourite dressing-room, but long converted into a workshop, and which contained the remains of a forge, workbench, tools for jewellery, smith’s work, japanning and other operations.
Nathaniel then took a house in Jewry Street, Aldgate, where he lived for three years, but the landlord, not willing that it should fall a sacrifice to his filth, declined the renewal of the lease, and Nathaniel moved again, to Leonard Street, Shoreditch, taking with him a stock of spoiled goods to the amount of £10,000, which he soon afterwards sold for a mere £1,000. With this added to £400, which he then had in the bank, he probably had enough money for the remainder of his life, except his was robbed of all his money and was forced to become a beggar.
Left with no choice, he set off on his travels around the country, ultimately ending up in Haddington, Scotland, penniless and ill and shortly after, he died toward the end of 1809 and would have been around 80 years of age. Nathaniel was buried at Haddington church. According to the account of his life, his will amounted to £400 and was administered soon after his death.
I have seen it stated that Nathaniel died near Haddington, Lincolnshire, so far there is no evidence in the parish registers to confirm this, so it is more likely that he died in Haddington, Scotland, although, to date, I have found no evidence to support this either. To have ended up in Scotland at that age must have taken its toll on him and I remain unconvinced of this.
Nathaniel’s will was proved 20 December 1810, so whilst it is unclear exactly when he died we now know it was prior to this date. His sister, Sarah lived until 1819.
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 942. The Will of Nathaniel Bentley, senior. Probate date 14 Sept 1768
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1517. The Will of Nathaniel Bentley junior. Probate date 20 Dec 1810.
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 726. The Will of William Plomer. Probate date 25 May 1743
Listed in The New Complete Guide to All Persons Who Have Any Trade or Concern With the City of London and Parts Adjacent. 13th edn., 1772.
Surrey archaeological collections by Surrey Archaeological Society. 1858
The European Magazine and London Review. v.39 1801 Jan-Jun
Not ‘Mrs Andrew Lindington’ but ‘Mrs Sarah Lindegren’ by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 – 1797) by Stephen Leach
When a person writes their will, they focus on the end of their life whenever it may occur, and it is an opportunity to ensure that family and friends are provided for and to gift keepsakes. When researching family history, wills are often a really rich source of information, but many wills don’t really provide anything unexpected, except perhaps occasionally an unknown name, which is always a bonus. However, I came across these extracts from wills in ‘The (Kirby’s) Wonderful and scientific (eccentric) museum’ which seemed worthy of sharing as they give a slightly amusing insight into the persons’ thinking at the time of writing. As I wasn’t totally convinced they were genuine, I did take the trouble to check them out, just in case they were fictional.
We begin with the will of a Mr David Davis of Clapham, Surrey which was proved in 1788. David and his wife, Mary had only been married a few years when David died. Mary was a minor at the time of their wedding which took place on 3 May 1780. Their son, Charles Peter Davis was baptised 15 April 1781, so just under a year after their marriage. Clearly, David, despite having his name in the baptismal register, had doubts about the legitimacy of the son, so perhaps the honeymoon period was over somewhat abruptly!
I give and bequeath to Mary Davis, daughter of Peter Delaport, the sum of five shillings, which is sufficient to enable her to get drunk with, for the last time, at my expense, and I give the like sum of five shillings to Charles Peter, the son of the said Mary, whom I am reputed to be the father of, but never had, or ever shall have any reason to believe.
The next will is that of lighterman (a worker on light flat-bottomed boats), Stephen Church whose will was proved in November 1793. He and his wife, Diana had been married for 18 years at the time of Stephen’s death and he wanted to ensure that his wife and children were provided for. He was not a wealthy man but had sufficient funds to ensure that Diana would receive twenty-five pounds a year until her or, should she choose to marry again, then this money would transfer to their daughter, Elizabeth. Stephen also had children by his first wife, again whom he provided for in his will, but clearly, one child was not in favour:
I give and devise to my son, Daniel Church, only one shilling and that is for him to hire a porter to carry away the next badge and frame he steals.
William Darley, of Ash, Hertfordshire died in 1794 and clearly wrote his will with much resentment toward his wife Mary. William was clearly an affluent gentleman and in writing his will he left everything including properties, both leasehold and freehold, money, in fact, everything he owned to a Mr and Mrs Thomas Hill. As for his wife he simply stated:
I give unto my wife, Mary Darley, for picking my pocket of sixty guineas and taking up money in my name, of John Pugh, Esq. the sum of one shilling.
In the will of Stephen Swain, late of the parish of St. Olave, Southwark, proved February 1770, it noted that Stephen was a carpenter who provided, as you expect, for his wife, Sarah and family members, then added this bequest, with no further explanation. I would love to know what John and his wife had done to warrant this bequest.
I give to John Abbot, victualler, and Mary, his wife, the sum of sixpence each, to buy for each of them a halter, for fear the sheriffs should not be provided.
1719, saw the death of the Right Honourable Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Stafford, who wrote a very lengthy will and in it made a derogatory reference to his wife, Claude-Charlotte Gramont, and his in-laws, Philibert, Count de Gramont and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Hamilton. I find;t manage to spot the quote in his will, but I’ve no reason to assume it wasn’t there, hidden amongst all the other bequests.
I give to the worst of women, who is guilty of all ills, the daughter of Mr. Gramont, a Frenchman, who I have unfortunately married, five and forty brass halfpence, which will buy her a pullet for her supper, a greater sum than her father can often make her; for I have known when he had neither money or credit for such a purchase, he being the worst of men, and his wife the worst of women, in all debaucheries. Had I known their character, I had never married their daughter, nor made myself unhappy.
William Blackett, Esquire, late Governor of Plymouth, Devon, died in 1782 and wanted to be absolutely certain that he was dead when he was buried, so added this little gem into his will:
I desire that my body may be kept as long as it may not be offensive and that one or more of my toes or fingers may be cut off, to secure a certainty of my being dead.
I also make this further request to my dear wife, that as she has been troubled with an old fool, she will not think of marrying a second.
The final offering is courtesy of a Joseph Dalby, apothecary of the parish of St Marylebone, who died in 1784 and this extract from his will conjures up quite an image.
I give to my daughter Ann Spencer, a guinea for a ring, or any other bauble she may like better.
I give to the lout, her husband (William), one penny, to buy him a lark-whistle. I also give to her said husband, of redoubtable memory, my fart-hole, for a covering for his lark-whistle, to prevent the abrasion of his lips, and this legacy I give him as a mark of my approbation of his prowess and nice honour, in drawing his sword on me, (at my own table), naked and unarmed as I was, and he well-fortified with custard.
I give to my son, Joseph Dalby, of the Island of Jamaica, one guinea, and to balance accounts with him, I give him forgiveness and hope the Almighty will give him a better understanding.
The (Kirby’s) Wonderful and scientific (eccentric) museum, Volume 5
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers
Today, I have another guest post, by Etienne Daly about his research into the burial of Dido Elizabeth Belle‘s sons.
After establishing early on in my research that Dido Elizabeth Belle, Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat was buried at St George’s Fields Burial Ground, I next focussed my attention to her two sons – Charles and William Thomas (whose twin John, died in infancy) and was probably also buried at St George’s Fields.
I started my search back in February 2016. Finding Charles, William Thomas was no easy feat as I thought it would be. Having contacted most of the cemeteries in Greater London, starting with the Brompton Cemetery, where Lavinia Amelia Daviniere, late Wohlgemuth, was buried, then nearby Margravine Cemetery and on to Paddington Cemetery, all bearing no fruit. It was the same story for Highgate and others. I eventually fell upon Kensal Green Cemetery in north London as a possible because both Charles and William Thomas lived nearby. Charles in Notting Hill and William Thomas in Paddington, with both staying within those areas for much of their lives, they married, had children, lived and died in those boroughs, but they did also travel.
My first call to the cemetery bore fruit as they were able to locate the grave of William Thomas on their register and gave me those details over the phone, whilst asking for any findings on his brother Charles or any other family members. ‘No, I’m sorry we can’t find anyone else listed here’, I was told. Odd? Perplexed I thanked them for their help. I continued my search for Charles and his family. Looking everywhere I could think of, but no joy and getting a bit frustrated, when I came across by chance, on Billion Dollar Graves.com, an image of a grave with a marble cross above it and written below was Charles George Daviniere, buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Died 16th January 1899. I knew then that this was Dido’s grandson from her twin son, Charles. Eureka, I cried as I always felt that if William Thomas was buried there, his older brother Charles would be too. So, quickly I grabbed the telephone to call the cemetery with this find.
Even with this call, they could not find a listing straight away, I even mentioned the site that I had found the details on. They suggested I leave it with them, and they would email me with any findings and references they could muster. I was hanging onto a thread of hope.
A day later I was emailed the information I wanted and again, I reached for the phone to call Kensal Green Cemetery, but this time I had a contact name who was dealing with my enquiry. I explained that I was puzzled that there was no sign of Charles, Dido’s son and could they please check again, and still even after that they could not confirm that Charles Daviniere (who died 24th January 1873) was actually at the cemetery. I even gave his title as Lieutenant Colonel – still no joy.
At least I have 2 family members now, so the next thing was to visit I thought. Absolutely. I had a contact at the friends of Kensal Green Cemetery who was able to pinpoint the exact area for me from his experience of the site as a whole.
There are thousands of graves that are intertwined just in the area I was going to visit let alone the cemetery as a whole without this knowledge the find would have been a lot longer, believe me. Needle in a haystack!
The first grave I found was in the sections 66 and 67 and was that of William Thomas, Dido’s last child, who I was able to establish then and there, was born on the 17th of December 1800.
I thought at the time ‘what a lovely Christmas present Dido got that year and just a week before that big event, a baby’. The grave is a ledger, a flat stone that covers the burial site and this one is made of pink granite – very expensive for the time. It was deeply engraved (a difficult job in those days), where all the family members were inscribed, William Thomas Daviniere – died 10th September 1867; wife, Fanny (Frances) – died 19th January 1869; Emily Helen (daughter) died 2nd March 1870. And finally, another relative William Charles Graham, nephew of Fanny. He lived with them and oddly he died on the same day and month as his uncle but being 10 September, three years later in 1870. So, within 3 years of William Thomas’s death, all the family were gone, all buried there.
A tree behind the ledger is tall and could have been planted there at the time of the final burial. Worth noting is the condition of the ledger today, given that it’s been in situ what will be 153 years this September, you would think it’s only been there 10 years maximum, it has weathered very well and has a sheen to it, remarkable really. And all the lettering is legible not eroded.
Having visited this grave I made my way to find that of Charles George Daviniere, bearing in mind it was a blowy, early March day in 2016, so not the best of days to linger around, quite cold too, with parts of the cemetery waterlogged.
I knew what to look for which was a marble cross albeit a bit grubby in appearance from the weather and placed on 3 tiers. I was told this grave wasn’t too far from that of William Thomas, in fact, it was only a stone’s throw away, literally so. Upon finding it fairly quickly, thanks to my contact, I noticed the grave was in a bad state and not tended to for many years. I noticed some of the family names were there, but not all. First, to be buried was Charles George who died on 16 January 1899, then was his son Percy Angus, he died 10 June 1904 in his 25th year and which was next followed by the wife of Charles George, Helen Marion Daviniere. She died on 23rd July 1932, a long life considering she was born in 1849/ Finally their youngest son Charles Crawford, who died on 28 Jul 1937, only into his 51st year, being born in 1886.
Reflecting again on the condition of that grave I turned to my left and noticed just beside Charles George’s monument, and I mean literally beside it, was a granite obelisk-shaped headstone which was in better condition, very grubby through many years of exposure to the weather. Encrusted with dirt, grime and birds mess. Upon closer inspection and to my complete surprise I saw first, inscribed the words: Lt. Col. Charles Daviniere of the MADRAS ARMY. Died 24 January 1873. In his 78th year.
Jumping for joy I read the other now grimy looking names on the obelisk: Lavinia Hannah Steele, died 20 February 1876, aged 38 years. To the side was a child’s burial, a son of Charles George – Herbert Lionel Daviniere, who died 20 November in 1878 only 17 months old – that was sad.
Lastly, was Charles his wife Hannah who died on the 14th of November 1883, some 10 years plus after the death of her husband. All now found by me and by chance. I noticed Hannah had the longest life dying at 70 years that was a good life span for the Victorian era.
They were all ‘upper, middle class,’ worth noting that Charles, William Thomas, Fanny and Hannah (Nash) Daviniere were all born in the Georgian era, 1795, 1800, 1801 and 1813 respectively. Their offspring all born in the Victorian era. But not all of Charles George’s children were buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
I quickly advised the staff at the burial office of my find, which they noted, and all sites are now included fully in the register so that other visitors should not have the difficulty I had, finding the graves. Having found the graves, I decided, that given their condition, if it were possible to have them renovated and cleaned up so they could look bit more respectable, so I contacted the nearby undertakers, E.M. Lander who like many funeral directors handle restorations, as monumental stone Masons. I explained the task at hand to him and they took over from there liaising with the cemetery directly and with clearance from them, started work in February 2017.
You’ll be able to see from the images how good a job they did of the three graves and I, in turn, attempt to visit these graves at least bi-monthly in order to keep him clean tidy and free from any fallen debris. Such a shame other graves unlocked looked after. I noticed on a recent visit that a nearby grave that had looked very weathered, had been cleaned up and the marble now looks bleach wide and surrounding area tidied up.
Anyone wishing to visit the Daviniere’s graves will be able to see from the map and the grids shown here, how to get there without needing a compass. You will also find the staff at the main office entrance on Harrow Road, most helpful.
Finally, some helpful tips – good footwear, an umbrella, a good coat should you visit in the wintertime, tissues/wet wipes to clean your shoes and boots after leaving the cemetery.
Should you wish to know more of those buried at Kensal Green, such as Augustus Frederick, King George III’s son, contact Kensal Green Cemetery on 0208 9690152, Monday to Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Born December 1756 in the small village of Impington, about 3 miles from Cambridge, Elizabeth Williams married her first husband, John Sockling and shortly after this they started their family, culminating in at least five children from 1785 onwards.
However, John died whilst the children were still young, leaving Elizabeth in need of another husband to help her raise these children, and with that Daniel Woodcock, a local farmer stepped up to the mark and the couple were married in 1796, shortly after which, their son William was born.
It was when young William was only about two years of age, in 1799, that Elizabeth found herself making news.
On market day, 2 February 1799, Elizabeth rode off on her horse to the market in Cambridge, purchased the goods she needed and began to ride back home with her basket of goods. The weather, as would be expected for February, was very cold, but it began to deteriorate further.
It had been snowing when she had left home, but on her return journey the snow was coming down even harder, making her journey treacherous. Suddenly there was a flash of light in the sky, perhaps a meteor, she thought, whatever it was it startled her horse, ‘Tinker’.
She quickly dismounted and thought she should walk the horse back home rather than risk it being startled again, however, she accidentally let go of the reins and off the horse went. She tried to catch it but having a full basket of goods on her arm she simply could not catch it and had to let it go of both the horse and her basket. She finally managed to trudge through the snow until she caught up with the animal, but by this time she was cold and exhausted and had managed to lose a shoe during the chase. She sent the horse, off towards her home, in the hope that her husband would realise what had happened and come out to rescue her.
She sat down in the field, knowing exactly where she was, but too tired to go further and she could hear the church bell of neighbouring Chesterton, ring for eight o’clock, by which time she was unfortunately completely snowed in.
The snow was about six feet perpendicular and over her head between two and three feet, completely imprisoning her. She was unable to escape from this icy prison, minus one shoe and now with her clothes frozen with ice. She sat like this all night, calmly resigned to the situation. She remained here for a couple of days, trying to keep herself occupied, hoping, of course, that she would be found, but knowing that she was in quite a predicament as she was buried under the snow, how could anyone possibly find her?
She noticed a small part of the ‘igloo’ had a light covering of snow over it and she could just see daylight through it, so she managed to break through this using her handkerchief, but by the following day it had closed up, the next day though it stayed open. She found a small twig to which she tied her red handkerchief and pushed it through the hole, in the hope that someone would spot it.
Sure enough, people were passing close by, some gipsies, but they were busy talking to each other and didn’t hear her shouts or spot the handkerchief. She recalled watching the moon so that she could work out day and night to ascertain how long she had been there and consulted her almanack which she eventually managed to extricate from her frozen pocket. She also had access to snuff and some brandy which she had purchased just before setting off from Cambridge. But, as the cold began to numb her hands she took off her two rings and the little money she had and put them in a box, hoping that if she was going to die, it would be possible for someone to identify her quickly from these items.
Whilst trapped, her husband and others had been out frantically searching for her but without any success, he felt sure that she must have died. She, of course, had no food, having let go of her basket earlier, but managed to survive by melting the snow and drinking it.
She remained there long enough to have heard the church bells ring on two Sundays until eventually the snow began to thaw and the hole in the snowdrift got larger, she tried to free herself, but without having eaten and being trapped in such a confined space her legs simply would bear her weight. She knew that if help didn’t arrive soon, that she would surely die from cold and malnutrition.
It was on Sunday 10 February that a local farmer, Joseph Muncey was on his way back from Cambridge across the fields where Elizabeth was when he spotted her handkerchief. He peered into the hole and saw a woman sitting there, frail and breathing hard.
He immediately shouted to a nearby shepherd, John Sittle, who came over and asked if she was Elizabeth Woodcock. Elizabeth instantly recognised him and asked them to help her to get out of there. Muncey went to find her husband, who swiftly returned with his horse, cart and blankets and they returned home.
Sadly, she didn’t really recover fully from this ordeal and died later the same year. Elizabeth was buried at the parish church on 14 July 1799, followed by her husband, Daniel just over a year later, leaving the children orphaned.
According to a newspaper of 1939, alongside her burial entry in the parish register, was a note in different handwriting, stating:
She was in a state of intoxication when she was lost and her death was accelerated (to say the least) by spirituous liquors afterwards taken – procured by the donations of numerous visitors.
Elizabeth’ former home is still there, at no. 83, Station Road, Impington and it is just possible to see a plaque to the side of the door, which bears her name.
Today I welcome back Etienne Daly, with whom I’ve been working for a while now, researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, her life and her family. Today, Etienne is going to provide a quick Q&A session about Dido Elizabeth Belle, to set the record straight about some of the misinformation that still circulates in the public domain. Also, if you want to read more about her, you might like to try using the search option on All Things Georgian which will take you to all the current articles about Dido. I’ll now hand over to Etienne:
Over the past few years, there’s has been growing interest in Dido who is often referred to as Great Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat. This is partly true as her father, Sir John Lindsay K.B., was an aristocrat and she was raised from five years old in the ‘aristocratic’ environment of both Caenwood (Kenwood) House in Hampstead and Bloomsbury Square in London. Her great uncle and aunt were also part of the elite, with Lord Mansfield being the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
Dido received a special upbringing with the Mansfields, that which no person of colour in Western Europe of the time had. Even the Chevalier de St. Georges had to go to school whereas tutors came to the Mansfields to educate their great-nieces. Both cousins were educated equally and amongst their subjects, they were taught French – something that was to aid Dido very well in the future when she met John Louis Daviniere in the early 1790s. He was a Gentleman’s Steward.
Dido became an heiress in Lord Mansfield’s will of 1782 and whilst born in the era of slavery was never born as a slave herself, even though her mother Maria was. Maria was later freed from slavery by Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay. A lot more interest in Dido would follow but the media has given the impression that there is no more knowledge of her to be found. This is wrong!
Here are some of the answers to most common questions raised about Dido, although I am sure there’s plenty more.
1. Where is the real painting of Dido & Elizabeth?
The real painting of the cousins is at Scone Palace, Perth in Scotland
2. How did Dido die and at what age?
Dido is said to have died of natural causes at the aged of 43, in Pimlico, London
3. Was John Daviniere French or of French descent?
John Louis Daviniere was French, from Ducey in Normandy, France. He came to England in the mid-1780s.
4. What was John Daviniere’s occupation?
Daviniere’s was a Gentleman’s Steward, above head-butler, unlike his occupation in the film, Belle.
5. Was the film ‘Belle’ based on historic accuracy?
The film was based upon the book by Dr Paula Byrne and was very helpful in getting Dido known, but of course, being a film there was some creative licence and more information has emerged over time about her real life
6. Dido bore twins in 1795, one of the twins, John died in infancy – where is he buried?
Although no burial has been found so far, he was most likely buried at St George’s Field
7. What was the exact year and month Dido was born?
Dido was born on 29th June 1761 and in London. Confirmation that she was born in England was provided by Thomas Hutchinson.
8. Thomas Hutchinson remarked Dido’s hair didn’t match the larger curls now in fashion, did she ever try to relax her?
Most probably, as Hutchinson noted back in 1779 it was lengthened more than short curls. She most probably used pomade by the 1780s onwards to relax her hair finer still.
9. Was Dido really part of the Mansfield family and not a slave?
Dido was very much part of the family, fully educated by them and never raised or treated as a slave. This becomes clear when you read this newspaper article written in 1788 on the death of her father, Sir John Lindsay. It makes it clear how well respected Dido was by both family and visitors to the house.
10. Did Dido have any siblings?
No, but she did have several half-siblings. Sir John had 4 other children, all by different mothers and all born in Jamaica, one of whom died in infancy. The two who are best known to history were John and Elizabeth.
11. Where was Dido married and in what year?
Dido was married at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square – 5th December 1793, on the same day and at the same church as the 1st Duke of Sussex
12. As she was married by licence who paid for it?
As part of her inheritance, she had her licence paid for by her uncle, 2nd Earl Mansfield. The cost was £200.00. The cost of the licence would have bought you a 3-bedroom property with garden outside the city of London at that time.
13. It is said her grave was moved along with others to make way for a housing development, is this correct?
The main site was developed, but part of the 1st class plot was not excavated. There’s a blog showing my calculations
14. She is often referred to as black and sometimes mixed race, which one is she?
Dido was mixed race and not black. She had a white father, Sir John Lindsay and a black mother, Maria Bell
15. Was Dido financially secure after she left Caenwood House?
Dido was very secure financially when she left Caenwood House in early April 1793. In fact, she had her own bank account with one of London’s oldest and respected private banks
16. Where did she live after she got married? and for how long?
Dido went to live in Pimlico in a ‘new build’ Georgian house which would of have at least 3 bedrooms, a cook and housemaid. She lived there from 1794 until her death in 1804
17. Was Dido well educated like her cousin Elizabeth?
Yes. She was educated in all ladylike pursuits of the era including horse riding and had the same education as her cousin, Elizabeth
18. If Dido was found at St.George’s Fields Burial Ground how could you identify her for sure?
As per question 11, if found she could be identified firstly by DNA, and secondly, in 1791 there remains proof of her having dental work, she had two teeth removed from her lower jaw by a visiting dentist. She could also have been wearing a dress – more of which another time.
19. Was Dido’s father, Sir Lindsay, wealthy?
Yes, definitely. Apart from a naval salary, Sir John made good prize money with his captures in the Caribbean. Also, for example, we know from a newspaper of 1772 that when he returned from India he came back significantly more wealthy than when he left to the tune of around £100,000 (which in today’s money is in the region of 9 million pounds), of course, this may well be a slight exaggeration on the part of the media, but either way it was a significant sum.
20. What happened to Dido’s mother?
Maria Bell(e) remained in England until around 1774, Sir John purchased land for her in Pensacola where a house was built, No 6 Western Bayfront.
21. There was a ship launched in 1784, named HMS Dido, did it have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle?
Watch this space as more research into the possibility that it was named after her is in progress, especially as it tied in nicely with it being commissioned in 1782, around her 21st birthday and her father’s place in high society and his royal connections.
John Church Dempsey found his way on to my radar as we have previously looked at a couple of his paintings, ‘Black Charley‘ and ‘Jemmy, The Rockman‘ and so, I wanted to find out a little more about his life.
John was baptised in 1802 at the non-conformist chapel in Walcot, Bath, to parents Edward and his wife, Martha. Edward was possibly the master of St. Michael’s Poorhouse, in Bath, who died in 1826 from apoplexy, but further proof is needed to confirm this at present. According to baptism records, John appears to have been an only child and possibly born later in their marriage.
In 1819 at Bedminster, Somerset there is a curious marriage entry for a John Church Dempsey to a Hagar Maber. If this was his marriage and there’s no reason to doubt it, then he married at a mere 17 years old. There is no sign of his bride after their marriage, nor any evidence of her demise so far, so quite how long this marriage lasted remains unknown.
Two years after this marriage John was advertising his services as a portrait painter in the Bath Chronicle of 13 December 1821, the property still exists as you can see from above. Given that he was a mere 19-years-old, it seems highly unlikely that he had received any formal training as an artist, so perhaps just a natural talent for capturing likenesses.
And this one just a couple of days later.
Quite how much time John spent living in Bath seems unclear, as his paintings seem to show that during the 1820’s he travelled all around the country from north to south and east to west, over a period of just two years, during which time he painted at least 51 paintings of some fascinating characters, perhaps he thought he would achieve more by painting ‘ordinary people’ rather than the great and the good who lived Bath to take the waters and socialise.
He then seems to vanish for a number of years, reappearing in 1841 in the St James’s district of Bristol where he continued to work as an artist and was living with someone by the name of Sarah. It seems unclear as to who this Sarah was, but she was about 7 years his junior and not from the county. The 1841 census was a little vague on information so it was impossible to tell who this woman was at that stage.
However, three years later John married for a second time, interestingly his new wife was Sarah Neal Muirhead, the widow of Alexander Muirhead of Alverstoke near Fareham, Hampshire. John and Sarah married at nearby Portsea, so it seems feasible that his new wife was the one named on the 1841 census and perhaps it just took them a while to make their relationship legal.
Their marriage entry confirmed that John was also a widow and that his father, Edward, was a gentleman, as was John. John has been described as a semi-itinerant, quite how that description befits a gentleman I’m not quite sure.
In 1845, not only was John an artist but both he and Sarah were running a stationery shop and from there they were not only selling art-related material but also dealing in pictures, lamps and chandeliers.
This diversion from his art was perhaps due to lack of funds as the following year he was declared a bankrupt. The couple moved from their home to one on Barr’s Street, Bristol sometime after this where John was to continue working as an artist, but also interestingly, took on an additional role as a tin plate worker.
By the 1860s clearly, John was aware of the progression of the medium of photography and this fairly new technology was one that John was to embrace as he described himself as a ‘photograph artist’ on the 1861 census.
He obviously felt this new technology wasn’t for him and by 1871 he returned to being a landscape artist, so right back to where he began his career. John was to die on 9th February 1877 at his home, 32, Upper Arcade, Bristol. Sarah lived for a further 24 years, spending the remainder of her life living at Trinity Almshouse, Bristol.
There are still many of his paintings in the collection which need to have their stories told … maybe one day they’ll all be clearly identified.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 7 December 1826
Births, Marriages and Death registers
‘The Singing Minstrel’, Billy Button (b.c.1778–1838). John Church Dempsey (1802–1877) Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Today, I am delighted to welcome to All Things Georgian, Professor Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina whose new book, ‘Britain’s Black Past‘ (*see end) has just been published by Liverpool University Press and is also available from Amazon. Our paths crossed as a result of our shared interest in the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who features in the book.
Gretchen has been an Honorary Fellow at Exeter University, Eastman Professor at Oxford University, and professor of English at Brunel University. She is Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and amongst her numerous books, she has written ‘Black England: Life Before Emancipation’. With that introduction, I’ll now hand over to Gretchen to tell you more about how her latest book came to be written.
In 2015, I was contacted by a radio producer, Elizabeth Burke, proposing a ten-part series on early black Britain for the BBC. She had read my book Black England: Life Before Emancipation and thought that would like to put together a number of programmes we called “Britain’s Black Past,” exploring what to most Britons was the unfamiliar history. (You can also listen to the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 by clicking on this link).
My job, as an author with an extensive history of radio presenting, was to go with her to locations all over Britain to interview those who were making discoveries and bring their work to life in the studio. Together we climbed a hill in Wales, visited an enslaved boy’s grave in Morecombe Bay at low tide with Alan Rice, learned from academics led by Simon Newman in Glasgow who had put together a database of runaway enslaved people in Scotland.
In the studio, Elizabeth and I, with her colleagues, put it all together with further interviews, period music composed by the eighteenth-century shopkeeper and letter-writer Ignatius Sancho, whose letters were read aloud by the actor, Paterson Joseph.
The programmes were such a success when it aired in 2016, that it occurred to me that the finds of those who appeared on-air, and of those we were unable to include at the time, would make a terrific book.
Some of its contributors are academics, but others include independent researchers, a museum curator, an actor, a media specialist, and a lawyer turned biographer. In this book, you will meet an early black trumpeter who is the subject of blogs by Michael Ohajuru, and visit a Georgian house in Bristol where two very different enslaved people lived, explored in chapters by Madge Dresser and Christine Eickelmann.
Readers—even those familiar with some of the figures and history it explores—will find much to surprise them. Nathaniel Wells, the mixed-race son of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman on St Kitts, became his father’s heir. He was sent to England for education, and when he came into his contested inheritance built a grand house on his estate and pleasure gardens in Wales. He married twice to white Englishwomen, had numerous children, and became a magistrate and sheriff. His story is complicated by the fact that his money came from a slave plantation, and the only enslaved people he freed were related to him. His story results from the tireless research of Anne Rainsbury, Curator of the Chepstow Museum.
Francis Barber (the servant of Samuel Johnson), black sailors, and Soubise (the ne’er-do-well protégé of Ignatius Sancho) appear in chapters by Michael Bundock, Charles Foy, and Ashley Cohen. Sue Thomas gives a far more extensive context to the narrative of Mary Prince, whose narrative hugely influenced the British abolitionist movement.
Theresa Saxon follows the actor Ira Aldridge through his lesser-known performances in provincial theatres as well as in London, and the ways they were reported in the press.
Rafael Hoermann analyses the political speeches of the firebrand reformer Robert Wedderburn. Caroline Bressey moves forward into the Victorian period to examine how race made its way into literature and public discourse. And Kathleen Chater, whose important database of black people from Britain’s past has become a valuable resource for researchers, discusses the different ways that academics and genealogists contribute to our knowledge of the black past.
These stories may have taken place in the past, but they also live on in