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.
As a 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 the present. Paterson Joseph was so taken by Sancho’s story of becoming independent and later being the first black man in England to cast a vote, that he wrote and performs in a one-man play that travelled from Britain to America.
My chapter reconsiders an ‘All Things Georgian’ favourite, Dido Elizabeth Belle, filling out more of her story but also looking at the ways it has been retold in television and film.
Ray Costello gives a longer history of race in Liverpool extending to the present day. And Vincent Carretta talks about the sometimes unpleasant aftermath to his discoveries about Olaudah Equiano.
It was a huge learning experience for me, but also tremendously rewarding to discover that all of these people, many of them unknown to each other, and others who knew of the others’ work but had never met them, are continuing to bring to light a past that is not past at all.
* Please be aware that right now Amazon appears to have sold out of copies and are not re-stocking at present due to the current COVID19 situation. However, copies of Gretchen’s book are available directly from her publisher Liverpool University Press. They are currently offering a 50% discount on all of of their ebooks as everything is becoming a little more digital at the moment. The discount code is EBOOKLUP
Today I have the honour to host a guest post about the famous 18th-century celebrity, Kitty Clive, by Dr Berta Joncus.
Berta is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Before joining Goldsmiths, she was at the University of Oxford: she took her doctorate there and was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at St Catherine’s (2004–7), then music lecturer at St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s (2007–9). As a scholar, she focuses on the intersection in eighteenth-century vocal music of creative practice and identity politics.
Historians have typically described Kitty Clive as a fat, vain comedienne. My book reveals another artist altogether.
From her 1728 debut until 1748, Clive was an awe-inspiring songster who changed Georgian playhouse history. She was the first playhouse performer to make music the basis of her stardom. She upended hierarchies of taste, dazzling equally with smart airs, operatic pyrotechnics and raw street ballads.
Was she a cheeky minx, a refined siren, a leering vulgarian, or all or none of these? Audiences flocked to the playhouse to find out. Handel, Thomas Arne, Henry Fielding, David Garrick and others supplied vehicles for personae Clive re-invented on the boards, defying male authority through her ability to, as she once wrote, “turn it & wind it & play it in a different manner to his intention.”
Facing systemic discrimination against women, Clive strategized brilliantly. She had some lucky breaks: in 1728, as she prepared for her debut, the collapse of London’s Italian opera company deprived audiences of high-style song, and The Beggar’s Opera whetted appetites for low-style song.
Composer and singing master Henry Carey had groomed Clive to excel in operatic and ballad singing, and Drury Lane manager Colley Cibber, desperate to rival other houses, hired the seventeen-year-old on first hearing. Carey was Clive’s friend and ally, fitting her earliest parts to her strengths, whether as a singing goddess (in masques), a witty shepherdess (in ballad opera), or a sentimental heroine (in sung comedy). Like Carey, the playwrights Charles Coffey, James Miller, and William Chetwood – this last Drury Lane’s prompter, and Clive’s first biographer – designed flattering stage characters around her gifts.
But often Drury Lane managers’ casting disadvantaged Clive, forcing her to create her own opportunities. Performing in The Devil to Pay, a 1731 ballad opera that extolled wife-beating, she used the songs Coffey had added to transform Nell, scripted as the drab victim of her cobbler husband, into a tender, courageous heroine. Overnight, she became Drury Lane’s star of ballad opera as well as of serious song.
In 1732 Cibber replaced Carey with Fielding as Drury Lane’s author of Clive vehicles, driving the indebted Carey to suicide and saddling Clive with Fielding’s unsavoury characterizations – in comedies, epilogues and air verses – through which she nonetheless shone.
With success came marketing. Illustrator John Smith claimed that an image he had engraved of a bare-breasted nymph from an old Dutch oil was a likeness of Clive igniting a years-long battle over whether she was plain or comely.
Theatrical wars were an occupational hazard throughout Clive’s career. In 1733 Colley Cibber’s son Theophilus, angered by not being made Drury Lane’s manager, led an actors’ revolt that Clive refused to follow.
While pamphleteers attacked her, she shored up her reputation by appearing to marry into the genteel Clive family of Shropshire. This ‘union’ was perhaps the most brilliant invention of the former Kitty Raftor: it bestowed on her the status of a Clive while allowing her to keep her earnings, and hid the same-sex desires that both she and George Clive harboured. Kitty’s reputation for propriety – one satire glossed her as ‘Miss Prudely Crotchet’ – became a critical means for garnering sympathy once Theophilus Cibber returned victorious as Drury Lane’s deputy manager.
In 1736 the younger Cibber tried to steal Clive’s parts for his new wife, Susannah. Rewriting the rules of playhouse power, Clive ran a newspaper campaign about her rectitude and her right to her parts; this battle Theophilus lost, despite having the more credible behind-the-scenes account.
Dissimulation was one of Clive’s arts, and her ability to shape-shift made her a Town favourite. She appealed to wit, not sensuality, and claimed to speak for the middling sorts. In her airs and parts of the 1730s and 1740s, Clive protested against effeminate fops, foreign entertainers, men’s authority, Spain’s perfidy, and first minister Robert Walpole’s corruption.
‘The Clive’ stood for native taste in music (she was given two parts in London’s favourite masque, Comus), in legitimate drama (her Portia in The Merchant of Venice became legendary), and in celebrity connections (Handel wrote Samson for her to lead, and an elegant air for her 1740 benefit). In propria persona ‘Kitty’ roles multiplied, not least from the pen of Garrick, so that she could effervesce in the playhouse, season after season.
Clive’s very success sowed the seeds her failure. When in 1743 Drury Lane manager Charles Fleetwood cheated company members of their salaries, she co-led a company rebellion, prompting Fleetwood to claim that the house had been bled dry by stars’ outrageous salary demands.
He published Clive’s earnings, which were indeed large, and the perennial eagerness of the celebrity industry to consume its own children did the rest. Critics charged her with being vain, greedy, jealous and ambitious; a story was faked that she had been involved in a back-stage scuffle with rival actress Peg Woffington. In December 1745 Susannah Cibber engineered another press row with Clive, but this time readers believed her, not Clive. By 1747, Clive had lost her following.
Needing to work to support herself, her brother, and their household, Clive colluded with new Drury Lane manager Garrick to regain public favour. He re-cast her as a blousy, arrogant has-been whose saving grace was how cruelly she mocked herself. To verify Garrick’s version of her, Clive wrote and led self-incriminating in propria persona afterpieces; in her first such work, The Rehearsal, or Bays in Petticoats (1750), she also staged her farewell to serious song. Clive would again succeed at Drury Lane, where she would dominate for another twenty years, but in farce rather than art song or drama. She retired early and wealthy, but her former reputation as a vocal artist of rare skill, and an exponent of British virtues, was in tatters.
Kitty Clive’s rich, complex story, both familiar and foreign to our own celebrity-obsessed era, has been buried under mis-information for centuries. In Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster, I invite readers to appreciate for the first time not only her achievements as a singer, actor, writer and self-manager, but also the obstacles she had to overcome and the compromises she had to make to reach, and regain, her leading position on the London stage.
For a signed author’s copy at £35.00 (or $45.00) posted free of charge, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.
Today, it is a pleasure to welcome another new guest to All Things Georgian, Peter Kennison, co-author of ‘Policing From Bow Street: Principal Officers, Runners and The Patroles’, who is going to tell us more about the early origins of policing, so I’ll hand over to him to tell more:
In 2014 Lucy Inglis was perceptive in her brilliant book Georgian London when she wrote that “Less has changed than you might think” something which is certainly true of Bow Street as the centre from which policing in the UK commenced.
Today the Bow Street Tavern exists at 37 Bow Street and if you are lucky enough to be invited down in the cellars you will see the dark damp cell where the Bow Street constables of the 1750s onwards lodged their prisoners. In their day the public house was called the Brown Bear and in 270 years only its name has changed. The Brown Bear was not only the prison for lodging prisoners by the court, but it was also the place where the so-called Bow Street runners took their refreshments. Situated Immediately opposite the public house was the Bow Street Public Office and courthouse at no. 4 Bow Street – originally established by the Trading Justice Sir Thomas De Veil.
The existing medieval system of watch and ward designed to police the masses was breaking down. Societal change and urban growth were destabilising the fabric of society. Weak, independent local Government added another layer of complexity and ineffectiveness. The playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding realised the ineffectiveness of the Parish Police Parochial Watch system that press-ganged traders and merchants into doing their civil duty for one year as Constables. Each Parish Watch operated independently within its own boundary, but since crime fails to respect boundaries many perpetrators escaped.
Crimes committed often went unreported and unrecorded for want of a real central police organisation. A further weakness in the law enforcement system inevitably bred public corruption and led to a deterioration in public morals. Unscrupulous and dishonest individuals found themselves in positions of power as Trading Justices, dispensing the law to a fee-paying public.
Public disorder became a problem; religious, political and social grievances expressed themselves in public scenes of dissatisfaction. Life on the Hogarthian margins was laid bare, with rampant prostitution, drunkenness, hooliganism, bawdy houses and civil disorder. Something had to be done.
The Runners were created by the playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding who in 6 short years created a plan of policing to combat the crime problems into principals we follow today. Fielding created his own constabulary of 6 trusted men taken from the 80 parish constables who had been elected in the City of Westminster for 1 year. This indicated that not many of those selected were up to the job. With the help of Sanders Welch the High Constable of Holborn they established rules in policing practice which every person who holds the office of constable today.
Later they were erroneously known as Runners was a title given to them by the newspapers in the 1780s at roughly the same time that the Bow Street Foot Patroles were introduced. The names and details of these six or so early policemen were deliberately kept secret by Fielding to avoid them being identified as constables nonetheless these were like-minded public-spirited individuals seeking the common good. But who were the men of Bow Street? Those intrepid constables who were the first Principal Officers of the court who from the start – learned the so-called “fundamentals of policing” or its perceptual blueprint. Henry Fielding became the first Stipendiary magistrate funded by the Government as he wished to distance himself from the corrupt practices he witnessed by the other Westminster Trading Justices in dispensing justice. He needed to build an honest reputation that would give confidence to victims and witnesses of crime to come forward and report what they knew. The Bow Street officers made good progress in ridding the streets and highways of dangerous Robbers and footpads.
Bow Street’s gradual success took on something akin to a mythical status. The myth attributed to the Runners was acquired in retrospect was of a group of active individuals who uncovered law-breaking and arrested felons. There was seemingly no hiding place for offenders and Bow Street always got their man, even though they were just a small group of no more than eight investigators.[i] What also added to this myth were numbers of other Bow Street constables because these were not just small numbers.
There were other patroles at Bow Street who supplemented the “Thief Takers”, and they sometimes numbered nearly 300. By the 1780s public signs of hostility over religious grievances caused public disorder resulting in military overreaction. A civil body was needed.
A Bow Street Foot patrole was created in 1782 numbering over 68 although a Bow Street Horse patrole had been experimented with in 1763 and whilst very successful only lasted a year when the Government withdrew funds. These mounted patroles, however, were resurrected in 1805 and later laid the basis of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch.
The Horse patrole consisted of 2 Inspectors, 4 deputy Inspectors and 54 constables. Then there were the 100 constables of the Dismounted Horse Patrole and by 1821 28 members of the uniformed day patrole so in the later stages of Bow Street they numbered 264 in total. The Runners built up a reputation based on their detective skills and investigated mainly property crime whilst the plain clothes heavily armed foot patroles went out onto the streets at dusk until midnight in groups of 5 operating out from Westminster to a distance of 4 miles. This was every day, 365 days a year and they became a familiar sight on the streets of Westminster Surrey, Kent, Essex and Middlesex becoming a familiar sight on London’s streets.
Fielding and Welch both instilled an esprit de corps that helped galvanise the group into an effective crime-fighting force. It was this spirit of comradery which contributed to the myth in what Critchley (1967) asserts:
This roisterous body of men some of whom made substantial fortunes out of shady business in trafficking in crime, undoubtedly… creating in their own lifetime the myth of the Bow Street Runners.
The success of Bow Street not only hinged on its mythical status, but the way Henry Fielding laid out his plan to combat crime was unique. This he termed as moving from “Madness to Method”. Once his constabulary was in place they went out onto the streets established informants for information on offenders who they paid them out of their own pockets and if successful they would pocket the state reward of up to £40 on successful conviction of a felony – a more serious crime.
He established Bow Street as the ‘Go to’ place to report their crimes where he had his men available to record these matters into Criminal Registers. These early Registers reported the time, place, method descriptions, value of property stolen, witnesses (+ their addresses) or either real or likely names (or pseudonyms) of suspects.
Prisoners were brought to his court on other matters where he had invited the general public to view proceedings and possibly identify likely perpetrators. Also invited were the newspapers who meticulously reported proceedings under the heading of Bow Street daily to a news-hungry public.
Fielding also established his own successful newspaper which he used to highlight particular crimes reported to Bow Street and these also included matters alerted to him at Bow Street from Magistrates in the shires surrounding London and sometimes beyond. On the report of a felony, a reserve of 2 Bow Street principal officers were waiting to take details, search the registers for descriptions before they ventured out at any time of the day or night on the fast response vehicle at the time – the horse. Fielding only selected those of his officers for the job if they were highly-skilled as good horsemen, often brave battle-hardened ex-cavalry soldiers who had served the army with credit. The men were well-trained, properly armed and good marksmen.
The constables appreciated the dangers of violence towards them under these circumstances and often went in sufficient numbers. His methods of sudden pursuit paid dividends since many highwaymen were swiftly caught and brought back to court to face examination. With an added confidence, soon more witnesses and victims of crime attended the court to make their reports, with each case being investigated and acted on quickly. Quick response has become a useful police strategy.
The Fieldings newspaper was the early forerunner to the Police Gazette still circulated to Police organisations today. Historians have viewed this part of police history at Bow Street Public Office as an irrelevance not to be taken seriously because little is known about the detail. The Whig historians claim that these later Runners were a corrupt group of men whose services could be bought or who would frame innocent people to gain the state (£40) reward. Whilst this was more true later at the turn of the century onwards the men of Bow Street were properly regulated, honest, public-spirited thief-takers.
These honest men were not to be confused with the common and disreputable thief-taker general, Jonathon Wild, whose corrupt gang fitted up unsuspecting people to claim the rewards. What seems to add fuel to this flame and probably a reason none of the runners were employed as Metropolitan Police detectives was that when for example, the most famous Bow Street Runner John Townsend died in 1832 he left investments totalling £25,000, getting on for £1,237,250 in today’s money and this was the same for other principal officers.
Peter’s book can be obtained from Mango Books by following the highlighted link, at £25 plus £3.55 postage for the hardcover cover. He also has a limited supply at £21 post free via PayPal at email@example.com on a first-come, first-served basis.
[i] Beattie, J. M. (2012) The First English Detectives. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 264.
I first became acquainted with this gentleman last week when a good friend on social media messaged me with ‘I think this story needs you‘. Say no more, I was off down that rabbit hole. What a fabulous painting by John Dempsey of an early 19th-century gentleman from Norwich, but with no name apart from ‘Black Charley’ and nothing more known about him.
Black Charley, Norwich, 1823
The newspapers and parish registers came to the rescue in identifying this very dapper-looking man in his very smart clothing, who appears to have made and sold fashionable boots and shoes from a shop in Norwich, but perhaps looks can be a little deceptive.
The National Portrait Gallery of Australia suggests that the gentleman may have been a child brought to England by Capt. (later Rear-Admiral) Frederick Paul Irby who had him baptised in 1813, as Charles Fortunatus Freeman, along with two other children and whilst this is feasible the dates don’t seem to tie up as you will soon find out.
Firstly, let’s give him the name by which he was known – may I introduce to you Mr Charles Willis Yearly of Norwich.
As yet nothing is known about where he was born, whether here in the UK or overseas, but from his burial, we now know that he was born around 1785 which arguably means that he was not the child baptised in 1813, as this would have made him around 28 at the time, so not a child. I still have no idea where the middle name ‘Willis’ came from.
On St Valentine’s Day 1820, Charles married Diana Norman of rural Stradbrooke, Suffolk, at the parish church of St Michael at Thorn, Norwich.
Despite his very dapper appearance, neither he nor Diana was able to sign the register and instead simply made their mark with an X, which leads me to think that perhaps these were more than likely second-hand clothes. The witnesses being Elisha Briggs, a farmer and landlord of The Two Necked Swan, Norwich and William H Houghton., who appears to be the second witness to all marriages around that date.
It was at the end of 1822, at the parish church of St Andrew’s, Norwich that the couple proudly presented their first son and heir, Charles Willis to be baptised. At the time Charles gave his occupation as being that of a ‘broker’, essentially a salesman, so not actually making the boots and shoes in the painting but selling them from his shop, these were second-hand boots and shoes.
The following year saw the arrival of a second child, again a son, Richard Willis, who died aged just two. The next birth was that of Jeremiah in 1825, followed by a daughter, Lydia in 1827.
At the end of 1828 things were not going well for Charles when he found himself in the House of Correction for assaulting a woman, this sentence being ‘three months on the treadwheel‘, which must have made life difficult for Diana as she was pregnant at the time with their final child who was born February 1829, a daughter, Mahalah.
It was then in 1829 that Charles was to die, aged just 44, and was buried on June 17 at St Andrew’s church. Given his sentence, it seems feasible that the time spent on the treadwheel may well have contributed to his demise (speculation of course).
His death was closely followed by that of his infant daughter, Mahalah, whose name appears on the same page of the burial register, but on the 31 December.
This left Diana to work out how to proceed as a widow with three children under 10 – Charles, Jeremiah and Lydia for comfort, but more importantly, to support if they were to avoid the workhouse.
The family business was taken over by a gentleman by the name of Mr Clarkson, who was described in the newspaper as
a dealer in old shoes, being the same colour and successor of a gentleman well known in Norwich by the title of Black Charley.
We meet up with Diana again on the 1841 census, the family had left their shop and moved to Black Horse Yard, Lower Westwick Street, in the St Lawrence district of Norwich.
Clearly, money was in short supply as Diana had become a washerwoman, but by now she had her three children all in their teens to assist with the household chores as well as being in employment. Her son, Charles was a labourer coachmaker, Jeremiah, a hawker, selling around the local area, the census doesn’t offer any clues as to what wares he was selling though. Lydia was just 13, so it would be safe to assume she was helping her mother until aged just 16, she was to die.
Quite what became of their son, Charles is a little unclear, but in 1842 he found himself in court a few times for theft.
In another newspaper report, Charles was described as ‘a mulatto son of Old Black Charley‘, thereby confirming that Charles and Diana’s marriage was a mixed-race marriage.
Young Charles Willis re-surfaced in Bristol when, in 1854 he described himself as a cook when he married a young widow, Catharine Harman. He named his father as Charles Willis, describing him as a cook – this is an occupation that doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else.
Being slightly suspicious, I do wonder whether he was being completely truthful when he married, especially as he also got his age wrong – he said he wasn’t born until 1826 when he was born 1822. Quite what happened with this marriage is lost to history right now, but curiously he appeared again in 1862, back in Norfolk where both he and his co-conspirator, John Harman were sentenced to a month in prison for larceny. Was John Harman connected to his wife Catherine, who knows, but it’s an unusual surname, so it seems likely. There is a burial for a Catherine Yearly in 1862 which in all likelihood was Charles’ wife.
Charles re-offended and found himself back in prison only a matter of weeks later, for a further six weeks.
Diana spent her remaining days living in Suffolk, with her son Jeremiah, his wife, Sarah, where at the age of 75, Diana was still working as a laundress.
In 1871, Jeremiah was a marine store dealer and by 1881 they had converted their home into a lodging house – 6, Mariners Street, Lowestoft where they remained until the end of their lives. Jeremiah was buried on 10 June 1886, aged 65, at Lowestoft, just two years after his wife Sarah Ann and as the couple had no children, with their death the Yearly name died out unless any proof appears that young Charles had any children, although that seems unlikely.
It would appear from the 1871 census that Diana was living at the House of Industry, Oulton, Suffolk, incorrectly named as Eliza Yearly, but with her age and place of birth being correct. She died there, aged 90 in 1879.
Today I thought we would take a look at some Georgian recipes for making perfume, most of them are still feasible to make at home today with some minor adjustments.
To perfume clothes
Take of oven-dried cloves, cedar and rhubarb wood, once ounce of each and beat them into a powder and sprinkle them in a box or chest where they will create a most beautiful scent and preserve the apparel against moths.
Perfumed bags for drawers
Cut, slice and mix well together into a rough powder the following ingredients
2oz. of yellow saunders, the same of coriander seeds, orris root, calamus aromatics (sweet flax), cloves, cinnamon bark, dried rose leaves, lavender, and 1lb. of oak shavings.
When properly mixed, stuff the above into small linen bags, which place in drawers, wardrobes, which are musty, or liable to become so.
Perfume for gloves
Take one drachm of ambergris and sieve; add quarter of an ounce of flour-butter and mix together well. Rub the gloves over gently with fine cotton wool and press the perfume into them.
Take half an ounce of damask or rose scent, a drachm of the spirit of cloves and mace, and a quarter of an ounce of frankincense,. Mix them together, and lay them in papers, and when hard, press the gloves; they will absorb the scent in 24 hours, and hardly ever lose it.
Pastils for perfuming sick rooms
Reduce the following to a powder separately on a marble slab and then mix –
1 lb. of gum benzoin, 8 oz. of gum storax (used to treat wounds, infections and coughs), 1 lb. of frankincense, and 2 lbs. of fine charcoal.
Add to this composition the following liquids:
6 oz. of tincture of benzoin, 2 oz. of essence of ambergris, 1 oz. of essence of musk, 2 oz. of almond oil, and 4 oz. of clear syrup.
Mix the whole into a stiff paste, and form into pastils, of a conical shape, which dry in the heat of the sun.
If more liquid should be required for the paste, add warm water.
Melt penny-weights of fine ambergris, in a brass mortar very gently then stir in quickly, 8 drops of green lemon juice, and the same of behn-nut oil (or almond oil). Add, ready powdered with fine loaf-sugar, 12 grains of musk, 12 grains of civet, and 24 grains of residuum from the making of spirit of ambergris.
Add one ounce of spirit of ambergris, mix and incorporate them well, and add 16 pounds of fine dry hair-powder.
Pass twice, through a fine hair sieve; then lay it open for three days, in a dry room, stir it often, until the spirit evaporates, Bottle and stop it close.
Take best dried and scraped orris roots which should be free from mould. Bruise or grind them, the latter is best, as, being very tough, they require great labour to pound. Sift the powder through a fine hair sieve, and put the remainder in the oven, to dry the mixture. A high temperature will turn the roots yellow. Once dry, grind again, and sift; and repeat the same until the whole has passed through the sieve. Mix nothing with it, as it would mould and spoil.
Drop twelve drops of genuine oil of rhodium on a lump of loaf-sugar; grind this well in a glass mortar and mix it thoroughly with three pounds of orris powder.
This will, in its perfume, have a resemblance to a well-flavoured violet. If you add more rhodium oil, a rose perfume, instead of a violet one will be produced; the orris powder is a most agreeable perfume, and only requiring to be raised by the addition of the above quantity of the oil. According to the author, it is better to make your own as what is sold at the druggist’s shops is generally adulterated.
Take two pecks of fresh, dry damask rose-leaves; strip them from their leaves and stalks; have ready 16 pounds of fine hair-powder. Strew a layer of rose-leaves, on sheets of paper, at the bottom of a box, cover them over with a layer of hair-powder; then strew alternately a layer of roses and powder, until the whole of each has been used.
Leave for twenty four hours, then sieve the powder out, and expose it to the air for a further twenty four hours, stirring regularly. Add fresh rose-leaves, twice, as before, and proceed in the same way; after this dry the powder well by a gentle heat and pass it through a fine sieve.
Lastly, pour ten drops of oil of rhodium, or three drops of otto of roses, on loaf-sugar, which triturate in a glass mortar, and stir well into the powder, which put into a box, or glass, for use. This hair-powder perfume will be excellent and will keep well.
Take sixteen pounds of hair powder, and forty drops of Roman oil of bergamot, and proceed in all respects as before, but do not leave the compound exposed to the air as the bergamot is so volatile that it will evaporate.
If none of these appealed then of course you could buy perfume from a perfumery or chemist, such as Simmons and Kirkby in Canterbury, who would sell you musk, orange, bergamot and so on for just one shilling a bottle – perhaps an easier option.
The British perfumer: being a collection of choice receipts and observations by Charles Lillie
Today we have the final part of the story about General James Wolfe, so I’ll hand you over to Kim to complete this and take this opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to Kim, for all her hard work in writing this fascinating story.
If by any chance you missed any of the first 3 parts, click on the following links – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
Events moved quickly, and not only in Wolfe’s professional life.
Her name was Katherine Lowther, and she was his parents’ “pretty neighbour” at Bath, whose sleep he had apologised for disturbing by his clattering departure one winter morning two years before. Her pedigree was impeccable: her father had been a governor of Barbados; one of her grandfathers was a baronet, his wife the daughter of a viscount; her sister was the Countess of Darlington. It was not the coup de foudre which had shattered Wolfe’s life in 1749 and he said he had “no thought of matrimony”, but there was clearly commitment; and he took his final leave of his parents by letter, claiming that he disliked the emotional business of parting. Henrietta Wolfe remained jealous and suspicious, and Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe altered his will, leaving his considerable estate to his wife with no provision for his son.
Wolfe learned of this in Louisbourg in May, following a rough passage in H.M.S. Neptune to New York, and from there to a fogbound Halifax, the harbour of which was still choked with ice. Edward Wolfe’s death in March had not been unexpected, as “I left him in so weak a condition that it was not probable we should ever meet again”, but the financial blow was a heavy one, although he wrote to Henrietta from “the Banks of the St. Lawrence, 31st August 1759… I approve entirely of my father’s disposition of his affairs, though perhaps it may interfere a little matter with my plan of quitting the service, which I am determined to do at the first opportunity⸺ I mean so as not to be absolutely distressed in circumstance, nor burdensome to you or anyone else.”
He had made his will aboard Neptune, leaving to Katherine the miniature she had given him, “to be set in jewels to the amount of five hundred guineas, and returned to her.”
Perhaps the future would always be only this: an endless repetition of the past. A flirtation with life, the certainty of death, an evanescent dream.
He disposed, generously, of his other assets, and his aides witnessed his signature. There was nothing else, nothing more. The rest, even she, was an illusion.
He burned his personal journal for August, with its bitter catalogue of affront, resentment, suspicion, foreboding and depression, and its accounts of “a sad episode of dysentery”, not now uncommon in an army encamped in extreme heat and humidity, and increasingly severe bouts of renal colic. He had asked for something to ease the pain, fearing that events would slip beyond his control and that he would be unable to prosecute this final attack on a tenacious and unaccommodating enemy.
My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that I cannot get at him without spilling a torrent of blood, and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight him; but the wary old fellow avoids an action, doubtful of the behaviour of his army. People must be of the profession to understand the disadvantages and difficulties we labour under, arising from the uncommon natural strength of the country.
Rumours of his illness had disconcerted men already unnerved by a summer of skirmishes and scalpings and sniping by disaffected habitants bearing arms and grudges against the British.
The French did not attempt to interrupt our march. Some of the savages came down to murder such of the wounded as could not be brought off, and to scalp the dead, as their custom is… Scarce a night passes when they are not close upon our posts, watching an opportunity to surprise and murder. There is very little quarter given on either side.
It revolted him. His orders of the 24th of July read: “The General strictly forbids the inhuman practice of scalping, except when the enemies are Indians or Canadians dressed as Indians,” but a subsequent order posted a bounty of five guineas for an aboriginal scalp. The Canadians were offering a similar reward for a British scalp, and after a Captain Alexander Montgomery of the 43rd Foot found his brother’s body “cruelly mutilated by the savages” he had reciprocated in a manner they understood: he and his men had murdered and scalped a priest and twenty of his congregation when they had refused to disarm in St. Joachim on the 23rd of August.
In every man of every race the creed of the frontier, the inner savage, was asserting itself.
No churches, houses or buildings of any kind are to be burned or destroyed without orders. The persons that remain in their habitations, their women and children are to be treated with humanity. If any violence is offered to a woman, the offender shall be punished with death. If any persons are detected robbing the tents of officers or soldiers they will be, if convicted, certainly executed. The commanders of regiments are to be answerable that no rum, or spirits of any kind, be sold in or near the camp.
But it was the enemy within he hated: not Montcalm, not the Canadians, not the Iroquois Confederacy, but a confederacy of his own brigadiers, sworn to subvert, discredit and undermine his authority.
His right to choose his own staff officers had been a condition of his acceptance of command, and he had thought he knew them: his aides, Captains Hervey Smith and Thomas Bell, remained loyal and protective of him.
An Irish major named Isaac Barré was adjutant-general: he had not yet betrayed Wolfe’s trust. The others were his quartermaster-general Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Carleton, an Irish veteran of Flanders whose commission for Louisbourg the King had refused to sign because Carleton had insulted the Hanoverians: even Carleton, a friend, had offended Wolfe by his “abominable behaviour”; the Honourable Robert Monckton, brigadier-general commanding the first battalion, who had been lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia and had overseen operations in the Bay of Fundy after Louisbourg; and the Honourable James Murray, brigadier-general commanding the third battalion, a touchy Scot whose brother was a known Jacobite, and who had served in Flanders and at Rochefort and Louisbourg. He was increasingly influenced by Colonel the Honourable George Townshend, honorary brigadier-general in command of the second battalion. Townshend had been Pitt’s choice, not Wolfe’s. He had fought in Flanders and at Culloden, been aide-de-camp to Cumberland and then to George II, and was called by Horace Walpole “proud, sullen and contemptuous”. He was also a maliciously talented cartoonist and had satirized Cumberland to the detriment of his own career. He now found in Wolfe both subject and target and was circulating with impunity his caricatures of ‘Our General’, hinting that Wolfe’s judgment was clouded by opium and that his refusal to disclose his plan of attack was indecision or, at worst, paranoia.
Wolfe was, by his own admission, “so ill and so weak that I begged the General Officers to consult together for the public utility and advantage; and to consider of the best method of attacking the enemy.” He offered them what he called “a choice of difficulties”. They rejected all three options and mooted one of their own, Townshend claiming afterwards that Wolfe had never had any intention of forcing a pitched battle at Quebec.
For a man who was bluffing or indecisive, or too ill or too drugged to function, his mind remained exceptionally focused, detailing the siting and calibre of artillery, and designating specific ships, batteries, and signals; collating information from every source including deserters, whom he questioned himself; conducting solo reconnaissances on foot or by boat; noting the dispersal of Montcalm’s forces, the Duc de Lévis somewhere between Quebec and Montreal with an army of 4,000 chosen men, Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville at Cap-Rouge with another 3,000 regulars, militia and aboriginals; reading the reports of shortages and damages within the city; considering the logistics: the immutable, the inalienable, the impossible. He knew every officer and had trained and drilled personally many of the men: the combined forces were now a weapon poised to strike when the time and the tide and the peculiarities of the river and the phase of the moon dictated. He had seen the place in early July and had conferred with the navy’s navigators and cartographers, among them James Cook. The time was now.
Those commanders he trusted he briefed in full, including the navy, with which close co-operation was vital. He issued his final orders on the afternoon of September 12th, from aboard H.M.S. Sutherland.
The enemy’s force is now divided; great scarcity of provisions is in their camp and universal discontent among the Canadians. The second officer is gone to Montreal or St. John’s, which gives reason to think that General Amherst is advancing into the colony. A vigorous blow struck by the army at this juncture may determine the fate of Canada. Our troops below are in readiness to join us; all the light artillery and tools are embarked at Point Levi, and the troops will land where the French seem least to expect it.
The first body that gets onshore is to march directly to the enemy and drive them from any little post they may occupy. The officers must be careful that the succeeding bodies do not by any mistake fire upon those who go before them. The battalions must form on the upper ground with the expedition, and be ready to charge whatever presents itself. When the artillery and troops are landed, a corps will be left to secure the landing-place, while the rest march on, and endeavour to bring the French and Canadians to a battle. The officers and men will remember what their country expects from them, and what a determined body of soldiers, inured to war, is capable of doing against five weak French battalions mingled with disorderly peasantry. The soldiers must be attentive and obedient to their officers, and the officers resolute in the execution of their duty.
At 8:00 p.m., as the troops were climbing down into Sutherland’s boats, he received a letter signed by all three brigadiers demanding further clarification. Security was necessary, they conceded, but they had not been taken fully into the General’s confidence, and their orders were not specific.
He wrote to Monckton:
My reason for desiring the honour of your company with me to Gorham’s Post yesterday was to show you, as well as the distance, would permit, the situation of the enemy, and the place where I meant they should be attacked. The place is called the Foulon, distant upon two miles or two and a half from Quebec… as several Ships of War are to fall down with troops Mr Holmes will be able to station them properly after he has seen the place… The officers who are appointed to conduct the divisions of boats have been strictly enjoined to keep as much order and to act as silently as the nature of the service will admit of. It is not usual to point out in the public orders the direct spot of our attack, nor for any inferior officers not charged with a particular duty to ask instruction upon that point. I had the honour to inform you today that it is my duty to attack the French army. To the best of my knowledge and ability, I have fixed upon that spot where we can act with the most force and are the most likely to succeed. If I am mistaken, I am sorry and must be answerable to his Majesty and the public for the consequences.
To Townshend, controlling his dislike, he wrote:
Brigadier-General Monckton is charged with the first landing and attack at the Foulon, if he succeeds you will be pleased to give directions that the troops afloat be set on shore with the utmost expedition, as they are under your command, and when 3,600 men now in the fleet are landed I have no manner of doubt but that we are able to fight and beat the French army, in which I know you will give your best assistance.
To Murray, who was under Monckton’s command, he wrote nothing.
At 2:00 a.m., time and tide ebbing, Sutherland’s barge took the lead.
On the right of the line to the edge of the cliffs, with Wolfe in personal command, the 35th, the Louisbourg Grenadiers, the 28th, the 43rd. In the centre under Monckton, Lascelles’, the 47th: Scots who had fought Scots at Prestonpans and Culloden. On the left, Murray with the 78th, the Fraser Highlanders, born, perhaps, of a conversation one evening in Inverness between Wolfe and Simon Fraser, whose father, the Jacobite Lord Lovat, had been beheaded for treason in 1747. Fraser had been out with his clan for the Pretender in the ʼ45 and been pardoned in 1750. Wolfe had suggested he raise a regiment for the King, and the Frasers were here now, bristling with the weapons the Disarming Act of 1746 still forbade civilians to carry in Scotland. They were, he acknowledged, among the finest soldiers he had ever known. Beside them, Anstruther’s; and in the second line, where Townshend could do the least damage, the 15th and two battalions of the 60th. In reserve, Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Burton’s 48th in eight sub-divisions; and at the rear Colonel the Honourable William Howe, another friend of Wolfe’s, with the rangers and light infantry.
The French colours surrendered at Louisbourg had been paraded in London and put on display in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He did not want to see these six-foot standards, the King’s colours and these regiments’, so dishonoured in Paris.
Daybreak: just after 5 a.m. The rain fell. They waited, unmoving. The ‘plains’ were fairly level, but patched with cornfields and studded with undergrowth and coppices that afforded cover to native and Canadian marksmen. The French picquets, running, had reached Quebec with intelligence that the entire British army was established on the heights to the westward, on, Montcalm noted, “the weakest side of this miserable garrison,” and had, by their presence, thrown down a psychological gauntlet no soldier of honour could ignore.
By 7 a.m., in showery rain, the French were seen coming out, one eyewitness reported, “like bees from a hive”. Sniping by Canadian irregulars and their aboriginal allies intensified. The French opened fire with artillery, and the hailstorm of lead from the Canadians became “very galling”: rather than sacrifice men’s lives prematurely, Wolfe ordered the infantry to lie down briefly in their ranks. The French formed three columns, some 7,500 men, and at about 10 a.m. began to advance. The thin red lines waited.
Apprȇtez vos armes… En joue… Feu!
From his position on the right, on slightly rising ground, Wolfe observed. A soldier wrote later, “I shall never forget his look. He was surveying the enemy with a countenance radiant and joyful beyond description.”
A bullet tore the tendons of his right wrist. He tied it up with his handkerchief: it seemed to cause no pain. The fire was very hot now from the sharpshooters: he could handle a fusil as well as any sergeant and he tore the cartridge with his teeth and spat out the fragment, and waited; every musket in the line was double-shotted on his orders. Amongst the French, there were shouts: obscenities, jeers, encouragement, shouts of Vive le Roi! and Marquez bien les officiers! And marked they were, in the oblique fire from the Royal Roussillon, the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, the battalions of La Sarre, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne: Monckton shot in the chest, his left lung collapsing, Carleton sustaining head wounds, Barré’s nose and left cheekbone smashed by a musket ball, his left eye blinded.
They took it, standing impassively with shouldered arms. One hundred and forty yards: one hundred and twenty. The French had four or five field guns: they had hauled only two up the cliffs. A hundred. Hold your fire. Eighty. Sixty. Hold your fire, damn you. At forty yards, on the command, they opened fire: a single volley in unison, which had the effect of a cannonade. When the smoke cleared the plain was littered with greyish-white uniforms, stained scarlet: the dead, the dying, the mutilated. They fired another five volleys. It was 10:15 a.m. and the sun had come out, glinting on bayonets. From further along the line there was a hiss of drawn steel as the Highlanders unsheathed their broadswords.
A quarter-inch of metal, a bullet or shrapnel from an exploding shell, hit Wolfe in the groin: they were under heavy fire from the front and flank, and he was too conspicuous a target to ignore. He waved his hat, signalling that the whole line should advance; and then two bullets pierced his left breast, and he staggered and almost fell. He was caught, supported. “Hold me up,” he said, “don’t let my brave fellows see me fall.” He leaned on Captain Ralph Corry of the 28th, and then there were others: Lieutenant Henry Browne of the Louisbourg Grenadiers, a volunteer named James Henderson, another officer: blue uniform, red facings. Artillery. He tried to help them, but his strength and his vision were failing: he collapsed, and they carried him through the smoke another hundred yards to the rear. Henderson held him upright while Browne tore at his waistcoat, and saw that his shirt was soaked with blood. He attempted to dress the wound, but the haemorrhage could not be staunched. He asked if Wolfe wanted a surgeon.
“No need,” he said, “it’s all over with me.”
Someone else, a grenadier, was shouting.
“They run! See how they run!”
He stirred, rousing himself, they said afterwards, like a man from a heavy sleep. “Who run?” he said, and the grenadier, shocked by what he was witnessing, answered, “The enemy, sir. Egad, they give way everywhere.”
One more order, and then there would be peace. He said, “Take a message to Colonel Burton. Tell him to take Webb’s with all speed to Charles River, to cut them off before they reach the bridge.”
And then to Browne, whose arms were around him, “Lay me down. I am suffocating.” Browne, crying openly, laid him gently on the ground, and cradled him as he died.
He had been greatly loved, far more than he had known. Browne wrote to his father: “Even the soldiers dropped tears, who were in the minute before driving their bayonets through the French. I can’t compare it to anything better, than a family in tears and sorrow which had just lost their father, their friend, and their whole dependence.” Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Murray of the Louisbourg Grenadiers wrote to his wife, “His death has given me more affliction than anything I have met with, for I loved him with a sincere and friendly affection.”
His body was carried from the field wrapped, it was said, in a plaid offered by a wounded Highlander, and brought aboard the 28-gun frigate H.M.S. Lowestoft at 11 a.m. It was embalmed, and eventually placed in a stone sarcophagus taken from the convent of the Ursulines, which had been heavily damaged by bombardments from the batteries at Pointe aux Pères: Montcalm was buried there at 8 o’clock on the evening of the 14th in an enlarged shell hole in the floor. Quebec capitulated on September 18th. Montreal fell a year later.
News of the victory reached England on October 17th and the country went wild with bonfires and celebrations, although friends and neighbours in Blackheath refused to illuminate their houses out of respect for James’s memory, and his mother’s very real grief.
Wolfe’s body, brought home aboard the 84-gun H.M.S. Royal William, arrived at Spithead at 7 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, 17th November. The raucous port he had called “this infernal den” was hushed as Royal William’s barge, escorted by others and to the sound of tolling bells and muffled drums, conveyed the sarcophagus to Portsmouth Point. Now transferred to an oak coffin and accompanied by Captains Thomas Bell and William De Laune, it was placed in a hearse and driven to Blackheath. It had been discovered on opening the sarcophagus that the face had decomposed too much to allow a death mask to be made: the sculptor Joseph Wilton modelled his commemorative marble bust on a servant thought to resemble Wolfe. He was advised by Richard, second Baron Edgcumbe, a draughtsman and patron of the arts who had known Wolfe and was able to recreate the beaky, angular features to an almost forensic degree.
Wolfe’s coffin, covered with a pall of black velvet and heaped with laurels, lay in state at his mother’s house the night before a private funeral on November 20th at the church of St. Alfege in Greenwich. There were five mourners, all male. Henrietta Wolfe remained prostrate with grief and did not attend.
She petitioned the government unsuccessfully for Wolfe’s pay to be increased to parity with Amherst’s, and “for a pension to enable me to fulfil the generous and kind intentions of my dear lost son”, which she said she could not otherwise honour “without distressing myself to the highest degree.” She did, however, pay the jeweller Philip Hardle £525, and returned the miniature, set with diamonds, to Katherine Lowther as Wolfe had requested. Katherine wrote to her but dared not call on her.
Your displeasure at your noble son’s partiality to one who is only too conscious of her own unworthiness has cost her many a pang. But you cannot without cruelty still attribute to me any coldness in his parting, for, madam, I always felt and express’d for you both reverence and affection, and desir’d you were ever first to be considered.
They never met again.
Henrietta Wolfe died on September 26, 1764, and was interred between her son and her husband in the family vault in the church of St. Alfege. Katherine Lowther married Vice-Admiral Harry Powlett, later the sixth Duke of Bolton, on April 8, 1765. Wolfe’s letters to her and those she wrote to him at Quebec, which arrived too late and were returned to her unopened, have not survived. She died in 1809.
In England, he is all but forgotten. In Canada, the tides of political correctness alternately burnish and tarnish his reputation. The vast, untamed country of which he said “every man is a soldier” is now dedicated to peacekeeping; bears and beavers still roam the wilderness; and the snow, falling early and lingering long, still, in the true north, covers the ground for eight months of the year.
We do hope that you have enjoyed the story so far about General James Wolfe and today we can share with you the 3rd part, with the final part coming up this Thursday. If you’ve missed the first two parts then just follow these highlighted links – Part one and Part two.
There is a tide in the affairs of men/ which, taken at the flood/ leads on to fortune.
The tide turned.
He had written of zeal and ardour. His own had not gone unnoticed. Vice-Admiral Hawke had spoken of his exemplary behaviour at Rochefort to Admiral George Anson, who had mentioned it to the King; the Prince of Wales, summoning ‘Mister Wolfe’ to discuss the newly published Report of the General Officers appointed to Inquire into the causes of the Failure of the Late Expedition to the Coasts of France, opined that had his proposals been adopted the mission would have been a success, and complimented him on the ‘high spirit of service’ and discipline in the 20th, the regiment on which Wolfe had lavished so much care and attention. A second battalion had been authorized, to be designated the 67th Foot. Wolfe was offered a full colonelcy.
There was more…
By Christmas Day it was known in army circles that four colonels, all relatively young, had been chosen to launch a new North American offensive. Jeffrey Amherst, the aide-de-camp to the venerable Field-Marshal Lord Ligonier, commander-in-chief of the forces since the Duke of Cumberland’s disgrace, had been commissioned major-general and would be in overall command. The others were John Forbes, another protégé of Ligonier’s, George Augustus, third Viscount Howe, brother of Captain Richard Howe of H.M.S. Magnanime and a charismatic soldier already serving in America; and the youngest, James Wolfe, who would be temporarily commissioned brigadier-general in North America and serve as second-in-command to Amherst.
Their objective was Cape Breton, an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia held by the French since 1713, and its fortress, Louisbourg. It had been besieged in 1745 and had surrendered, and it had been returned to France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It protected the rich fisheries of the St. Lawrence and was a haven for the privateers who harassed the New England colonies.
Whoever held Louisbourg held the key to Canada. Whoever took Quebec and Montreal would hold North America.
Louisbourg surrendered on the 27th of July, 1758. Its fortifications had appeared impregnable, but it was vulnerable to sustained bombardment from the sea as well as fire from batteries overlooking the harbour, which had been hastily constructed and commanded by James Wolfe. He had been an integral part of the operation, seen everywhere, issuing orders and instructions in a display of physical courage and deeply personal leadership: instantly recognizable with his wings of auburn hair and shabby scarlet coat, without lace or insignia except for the aiguillette on his shoulder. The Highlanders, who had a particular fondness for him (or his Celtic hair, he thought), called him “the red corporal”, and passed the word when he was approaching. He learned to recognize the Gaelic and to appreciate the nickname. “Tall and straight as a rush,” one of them said, recalling him in 1828.
Oh, he was a noble fellow. And so kind and attentive to the men, that they would go through fire and water to serve him.
Lieutenant Thomas Bell, a marine, reported that he
built fresh batterys every day… and with his small corps came and took post within 200 yards of the town, while the engineers were still bouggering at 600 yards distance. He opened the trenches, called in the army, and pushed them within forty yards of the glacis and in short took the place without the assistance of anyone regular fumbler. He has been general, soldier, and engineer. He commanded, fought and built batterys and I need not add has acquired all the glory of our expedition.
He called them ‘brother soldiers’: they remembered him, sunburned and sweating, sitting amongst them, red hair tied back with a piece of cord, scribbling a message to Amherst
from the trenches at Daybreak, the 25th. We want platforms, artillery officers to take the direction, and ammunition. If these are sent early, we may batter in breach this afternoon… Holland has opened a new boyau, has carried on about 140 or 150 yards and is now within 50 or 60 yards of the glacis… You will be pleased to indulge me with six hours’ rest, that I may serve in the trenches at night.
They breached the bastions. Heated shot had already destroyed L’Entrepreneur. The Royal Navy commanded by Admiral the Honourable Edward Boscawen cut out the Bienfaisant in the harbour and burned the Prudent; and, confronted with the prospect of point-blank broadsides and an assault by the fourteen battalions under Amherst’s command, the governor, Augustin de Boschenry de Drucour capitulated and asked for terms. He and his garrison of 3,500 became prisoners of war and were transported to England. Amherst considered an attack on Quebec: Wolfe, never shy of speaking his mind, urged him forcefully to seize the moment.
Boscawen demurred, announcing on August 3rd that he would not support the idea: the fogs and storms of summer in Cape Breton would usher in the equinoctial gales, and the St. Lawrence would freeze in the winter. There was only time to destroy the enemy’s fisheries in the Gulf.
They were a legitimate target. Twenty-six local chaloupes had sailed the week before laden with tons of dried cod for Quebec, where, the crew of a captured French sloop had said, “there was a great scarcity of provisions and great distress.” And Wolfe was grieving for Howe, who had been among a thousand killed in an attack in the wilderness near Ticonderoga on July 6th by 3,000 French regulars and their native American allies under the command of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran. Many of the dead had been scalped. The war had had its moments of chivalry, in the graceful exchange between Amherst and Mme Drucour of pineapples for champagne and fresh butter, but it had become a thing of unique horror, and the men who waged it would be stained by it.
They burned nets, boats, buildings and 30,000 pounds of dried cod. Privately, Wolfe thought the inhabitants of the Gaspé would starve; but it was war, and Quebec would starve also.
He sailed for home with Boscawen at the end of September, missing by days a letter from the War Office ordering him to remain in Nova Scotia. He wrote to Rickson from London:
Our attempt to land where we did was rash and injudicious, our success was unexpected (by me) and undeserved. There was no prodigious measure of courage in the affair; an officer and thirty men would have made it impossible to get where we did. Our proceedings in other respects were as slow and tedious as this undertaking was ill-advised and desperate. We lost time at the siege, still more after the siege, and blundered from the beginning to the end of the campaign.
… I have this day signified to Mr Pitt that he may dispose of my slight carcase as he pleases. I am in a very bad condition both with the gravel and rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers. If I followed my own taste, it would lead me into Germany. However, it is not our part to choose, but to obey.
And to one of his captains: “It is my fortune to be cursed with American service.”
He was now a household name in Britain. The London Gazette, The London Magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, The Scots Magazine, were printing letters and eyewitness reports from men who had served at Louisbourg, extolling the extraordinary exploits of the young Brigadier James Wolfe.
In the middle of December, the Prime Minister summoned him. If the past was the prologue, James Wolfe’s entire life had been merely the prologue to Quebec.
Join us again, in a couple of days for the final part of this story.
Although preliminary peace talks between Britain and France had begun in the summer of 1746, the bloody and protracted War of the Austrian Succession ground to a halt only with the ratification of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in October of 1748. Its terms merely restored the status quo and sowed the seeds of another war.
By then Wolfe had spent several years in garrisons in Scotland, escaping the punishing climate and hostile inhabitants only briefly for a return to conventional soldiering in the Low Countries, and to London on leave in the winter of 1746. And there, hardened veteran of several campaigns, he surrendered his heart and fell “hopelessly in love”. Those who had thought him disinterested in women or only a brain fixated on promotion in a passionless body, or a repressed homosexual, although nothing in his letters or relationships suggested this, were stunned by its effect on him.
She was Elizabeth Lawson, maid of honour to the Princess of Wales and niece of Wolfe’s old mentor, Lieutenant-General Sir John Mordaunt. They were reunited when, now lieutenant-colonel of the 20th Regiment of Foot and gaunt from the scurvy and malnutrition of too many cold years in the Highlands, he was at last granted, not the foreign leave he had requested, hoping to repair what he saw as the deficiencies in his education by studying engineering and artillery tactics at the military academy in Metz, but six months in London.
He was still in the throes of what his mother called his “senseless passion” and in no mood for opposition, although his parents were, as he wrote to his close friend, Colonel William Rickson, “somewhat against it”. The pressure from his mother was unrelenting, he told Rickson: she thought he could do better than Elizabeth Lawson and her £12,000 and had her eye “upon one with £30,000.”
He arrived at his parents’ house in Old Burlington Street and immediately found himself embroiled in psychological warfare. Elizabeth, who obsessed him, had obviously cooled toward him and was entertaining other suitors; the Croydon heiress, his mother told him, was still available with her £30,000; and was James aware that Lady Lawson, Elizabeth’s mother, had been a loose woman before her marriage, and it was possible that her daughter was the same?
Henrietta Wolfe had gone too far. She had occasionally, in her letters, reproached her son for his temper: he had frequently apologised and attempted to control it. But something vital in James Wolfe snapped that day and he turned its full fury on her, and then stalked out of the house and took lodgings in a nearby street, where, to the fascination of the neighbours, he relieved his emotional and sexual frustrations in the longest and most uncharacteristic debauch of his life.
Rumour had it that he had arrived drunk at a ball and loudly proclaimed his love for Elizabeth Lawson, and threatened to horsewhip a rival: whatever indiscretions he committed, Elizabeth warmed no more to this new, rake hell incarnation than to the staid James Wolfe she knew. She ended the relationship. Shattered, he lost himself in alcohol, emerging briefly to listen from the public gallery to debates in the House of Commons on the future of British North America, until his outraged body rebelled and he became ill. His mother continued her campaign. He wrote to her in anguish,
How could you tell me you liked her, and at the same time say her illness prevents her wedding? I don’t think you believe she ever touched me at all, or you could never speak of her ill-health and marriage, the only things in relation to that lady that could give me the least uneasiness.
He wrote to his father with a certain battered dignity, “You called my situation ridiculous, and indeed it was,” and apologised for what he said had been done “out of passion and anger when I had the honour to be near you.” To his friend Rickson, he confessed:
In that time I committed more imprudent acts than in all my life before. I lived in the idlest, most dissolute, abandoned manner that could be conceived, and not out of vice, which is the most extraordinary part of it. I have escaped at length, and am once again master of my reason, and hereafter it shall rule my conduct, at least I hope so.
He never recovered. Four years later, her portrait in Sir John Mordaunt’s dining room still disconcerted him so much that he could barely eat, and any mention of her name affected him profoundly.
He took his wounded heart to Paris. The Croydon heiress unexpectedly bestowed her £30,000 on one of his best friends in February of 1751. Elizabeth Lawson died, unmarried, a few months before he sailed for Quebec.
For a few brief months, in this interlude of peace under the auspices of the Earl of Albemarle, His Britannic Majesty’s ambassador in Paris, James Wolfe knew luxury: warmth, cleanliness, leisure, and more than adequate nourishment, eating for breakfast every morning fresh grapes from a convent garden, “the same as the King eats, and a great curiosity.” His health improved: his energy seemed boundless.
Monsieur Fesian, the dancing-master, assures me that I make a surprising progress, but that my time will be too short to possess, as he calls it, the minuet to any great perfection; however, he pretends to say that I shall dance not to be laughed at. I am on horseback every morning at break of day and do presume that, with the advantage of long legs and thighs, I shall be able to sit a horse at a hand-gallop. Lastly, the fencing-master declares me to have a very quick wrist, and no inconsiderable lunge, for the reasons aforementioned… I wish I could send a piece of tapestry from the Gobelins, or a picture from the Palais Royal, instead of a letter.
He went to the theatre, became fluent in French, socialised, went sight-seeing, shopped, sending his mother two black velvet hoods and “a vestale for your neck, such as the Queen wears”, had his teeth filled, and observed the French: in the streets, in the salons, at the court of Versailles. On January 9th, 1753, he was presented to Louis XV, the Queen, the Dauphin, and, finally, the King’s mistress, the beautiful and fearless Jeanne Antoinette Poussin, Marquise de Pompadour. Philosopher, diplomat, political savant and patron of the arts, she had many enemies, but the intense young English soldier with whom she chatted in her boudoir, where she entertained visitors but offered a chair only to her royal lover, was not one of them. He recalled afterwards her intelligence, her wit and her courtesy, and that she was curling her hair during their conversation.
But despite the glitter and grace, life in Paris began to pall. He still hoped to be allowed to travel, perhaps to visit the French army in its summer encampment, but his request was denied and another officer was granted the privilege. And then, peremptorily, he was ordered back to his regiment. He returned to England, wretchedly seasick as usual, and rejoined the 20th in Glasgow.
He found it in dire straits.
Officers ruined, impoverished, desperate, and without hopes of preferment; the widow of our late Major and her daughter in tears; an ensign struck speechless with the palsy and another that falls down in the most violent convulsions. Some of our people spit blood, and others are begging to sell before they are quite undone, and my friend Ben will probably be in jail in a fortnight… The ladies are cold to everything but a bagpipe⸺ I wrong them. There is not one that does not melt at the sound of an estate. We march out of this dark and dismal country in August.
He was beginning to wish he had stayed in Paris.
But it was a soldier’s life and he was a soldier’s soldier, committed to service. Younger officers came and went on their own career trajectories: he guided them, advised them, trained them, disciplined them, and, conscious of an increasing abruptness and austerity in himself, encouraged them to mingle in society, and go to balls and assemblies.
It softens their manners and makes ʼem civil; and commonly I go along with them, to see how they conduct themselves. I am only afraid they shall fall in love and marry. Whenever I perceive the symptoms or anybody else makes the discovery, we fall upon the delinquent without mercy until he grows out of conceit with his new passion… My experience in these matters helps me to find out my neighbour’s weakness, and furnishes me with arms to oppose his folly.
Sometimes he reflected darkly on the future and was not reassured.
I am eight-and-twenty years old, a lieutenant-colonel of foot, and I cannot say I am master of fifty pounds.
His requests for promotion had been denied. He was too young for higher rank, they said, although he had seen other officers promoted, not on the basis of merit but out of political expediency. He felt old, jaded, bitter, forgotten.
He prayed for war, war came.
The amphibious assault on Rochefort on the Charente estuary in September of 1757 was a million-pound fiasco involving sixteen ships-of-the-line, frigates, fire-ships and bomb ketches, as well as ten-line regiments, fifty horse, and gunners, a total of about 10,000 men. Intelligence had suggested the town contained a large arsenal of arms and ammunition and was only lightly guarded, and it was thought an ideal diversion to aid Hanover and Prussia, where a French army of 150,000 was preparing to attack.
Only two officers emerged from the resulting debacle with their reputations intact: Captain the Honourable Richard Howe of the 74-gun former French prize H.M.S. Magnanime, who bombarded into submission the fortifications on the Île d’Aix that commanded the approaches to Rochefort and La Rochelle; and the army’s quartermaster-general, James Wolfe, who after reconnoitring the area by boat had recognised the strategic necessity and recommended the fort be destroyed.
Wolfe had been plucked from the obscurity of fly-fishing, shooting game birds without a licence, suppressing a riot by local weavers striking for higher pay, and other diversions of garrison life in Gloucestershire, on the recommendation of Sir John Mordaunt. General after general had declined the honour of leading the expedition, or had been vetoed by the King: the secretary of state, William Pitt, had eventually offered Mordaunt command. Wolfe was told nothing of the destination, nor were any other senior officers until they had been at sea for a week.
The troops had mustered on the Isle of Wight and waited for the transports. And waited. The weather turned against them and delayed embarkation. It was a bad beginning. Things got worse.
Mordaunt had been a brave and competent soldier, but he was sixty now, and ailing, and he had lost his nerve. He vacillated, unable to decide where or when or how to attack, issuing and countermanding orders, infuriating Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, who threatened to withdraw his ships if Mordaunt could not stop procrastinating; and, as Wolfe wrote to his father,
We lost the lucky moment in war, and were not able to recover it. It had been conducted so ill that I was ashamed to have been of the party. The public could not do better than dismiss six or eight of us from the service. No zeal, no ardour, no care or concern for the good and honour of the country.
After a court of inquiry in November, Mordaunt was brought before a court-martial on December 14th, charged with disobeying his orders. Given the fate of Vice-Admiral the Honourable John Byng, who had been executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Monarch in Portsmouth harbour in March for failing to defend Minorca, his acquittal was considered lenient. He was allowed to retire from the service.
Wolfe, who had given evidence at the court of inquiry and at Mordaunt’s court-martial, had refrained from any public condemnation of him, but he plunged into depression and decided to resign his commission as quartermaster-general for Ireland, an office he had held only in name, hiding at his parents’ new house in Blackheath and writing to his mother, who had gone to Bath:
I can’t part with my other employment because I have nothing else to trust to, nor do I think it consistent with honour to sneak off in the middle of a war.
To Rickson, he vented his shame and humiliation.
I own to you that there never was people collected together so unfit for the business… dilatory, ignorant, irresolute, and some grains of a very unmanly quality, and very unsoldierlike or unsailor-like.
And then, perhaps considering the repercussions if his comments as a prominent member of the expedition should become more widely known:
I have already been too imprudent; I have said too much. Therefore report nothing out of my letter, nor name my name as author of any one thing.
He was thirty years old, angry, frustrated, alone. The future was a void.
We look forward to you joining us for the final two episodes next Tuesdays and Thursday.
It’s always lovely to welcome back guests to All Things Georgian, and one such guest is the delightful, Kim Reeman, who has written two previous articles for us. Today she has quite a story to share about the life of General James Wolfe and as such it will appear in four parts, over the next couple of weeks – so please do keep an eye out for the future posts to find out more. With that I will hand over to Kim to tell you more:
Canada est un pays couvert de neiges et de glaces huit mois de l’année,
habité par des barbares, des ours et des castors…. Quelques arpents de neige.
VOLTAIRE (FRANÇOIS-MARIE AROUET), 1758
There was no snow on this September morning, only a vast, living silence under the stars: the concerted creak and dip of oars, the uneasy shuffle of boots on bottom boards, a muffled cough as men, packed closely together, gripped their weapons, stared into the blackness and listened, waiting for whatever would come. The night was calm, the current strong: the tide, in this river of seven hundred miles, ebbing rapidly. From the unseen shore, after the heat of the day, a cool wind brought the scent of the pines.
The quarter moon had risen at 10 p.m., laying a faint, camouflaging track on the water to confuse the eye, and the boats slipped through the shadows. They had begun to embark at about 9 p.m., the light infantry and the Royal Americans first, followed by other regiments in order of seniority, dropping away from the Sutherland at midnight at the hoisting of the signal: two lanterns, one above the other, in her maintopmast shrouds. At 1:35 a.m. the tide began to flow, and at 2 the signal to proceed was given. The commander-in-chief, in Sutherland’s barge, took the lead.
He sat on the thwart, his six-foot frame uncomfortably cramped, maintaining the silence he had ordered all men to observe in the boats, with a fusil slung across his back, a cartridge pouch with seventy rounds of ammunition suspended from his belt, and a bayonet at his left hip. Recent, debilitating illness had drained him, physically and spiritually, and he was haunted by the possibility of failure. He had seen the fates of generals and admirals arraigned for dereliction of duty: court-martial, professional oblivion, dishonour, or worse. He had held his first commission at the age of fourteen: he was now thirty-two, and half his life, spent in continuous service, had been merely the prelude to this rendezvous with destiny.
He focused his mind on a stanza of Gray’s Elegy, a copy of which his fiancée had given him before he had left Portsmouth, and which he had annotated the previous evening in his cabin aboard Sutherland.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
The barge nudged into the shallows, and, adrenaline coursing through his blood, he was up, into the water, splashing ashore. The inevitable hour had come.
Time had matched him with this hour: time and a crucible of war, which had taken an affectionate child in an ensign’s uniform writing letters to his “dearest Mamma” and by its alchemy produced a man, impetuous, hot-tempered, over-sensitive, disciplined, meticulous, and intolerant. Devoted to his family and friends, he had a capacity for love that would never be truly fulfilled, and an intense vulnerability: he never forgot a kindness, and very seldom forgave an injury. Trust once lost was never given by him again, a quality he recognized in himself, writing in a moment of excoriating self-analysis, “I have that cursed disposition of mind, that when once I know people have entertained a very ill opinion, I imagine they never change. From whence one passes easily to an indifference about them, and then to dislike… There lurks a hidden poison in the heart that is difficult to root out.”
Aware of his own military genius, he had felt for most of his life ignored, undervalued, denigrated, and often openly insulted by subordinates and superiors alike.
Initially shy with women, although he gained grace and confidence, he remained conscious of his singular physical characteristics: he was six feet three inches tall and very thin, with flame-red hair, long, nervous, restless fingers, pale skin that blushed furiously with any access of emotion, and his mother’s unfortunate profile, which would be so cruelly lampooned at Quebec and immortalized in a host of bad portraits and tasteless souvenirs at the apogee of his posthumous fame.
Only the painting attributed to Joseph Highmore was considered a good likeness by his family until George Townshend, one of Wolfe’s combative trio of brigadiers at Quebec, produced from life, without a trace of his signature malice, the iconic and endearing watercolour of his mercurial commander that captures the elusive qualities of his face: the piercing, heavily lidded blue eyes, the patient, somewhat quizzical expression, the dimpled chin, and an essential gentleness about the mouth, a gentleness for which, in life, Wolfe was known, and in death remembered.
Time. There had never been enough time: enough peace, enough warmth, enough comfort, enough nourishment, enough freedom from physical and mental stress. No time to study, to travel, to observe, to discover, as a shy and awkward lover, the mysteries and delicacies of lovemaking; no time to marry, to father the children he longed for, to walk, as he once wrote wistfully to his own father, in his garden and sample his own sun-warmed figs. There had only been war.
And now, at the foot of these cliffs, time stopped. Two hundred and fifty feet above, men were climbing, cursing, dislodging soil and stones, hauling weapons: those who had reached the top and dispatched the French sentries were silhouetted against the stars. The path, the metaphor for his life, awaited.
He drank briefly from an offered flask: water, not alcohol. He seldom drank spirits, although he had ordered an issue of rum for the men tonight, knowing it would hearten them. Chronic dehydration had led to infections of the bladder and urethra which had felled him repeatedly, with fever and bloody urine and excruciating pain, most recently in the previous week, and he was still desperately ill, despite his efforts to conceal it. He began to climb.
James Wolfe was born on January 2, 1727, at Westerham, Kent, the first surviving child of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Wolfe, a career soldier of Irish descent who had served with Marlborough, and his much younger wife Henrietta Thompson Wolfe, an imperious beauty who claimed descent thr