So far we have looked at Catherine Despard’s life and the demise of her husband, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, but of course there was a son, John Edward which today’s post will take a brief look at. If you have missed the three articles about Catherine this link here will take you back to the beginning of her story.
But what became their son, John Edward Despard?
If you watched Poldark, you would know that Edward and Catherine had a son, but he didn’t make his appearance into the world until about 1801, whereas in reality he was born in the late 1780’s and joined the army in England. However, there remains a great deal of confusion about his life and his military career.
His grandmother, Sarah confirmed in her will that he was serving as a lieutenant in his Majesty’s East London Regiment, but it’s impossible to make out his middle name. It would make sense for it to have been John, after his famous uncle, General John Despard and his father Edward, but the middle name in his grandmother’s will begins with B, which is of no help at all.
Trying to track down John Edward Despard however, has become somewhat problematic. His grandmother was very specific about his rank and regiment, which I thought would surely simplify things – but no!
In December 1799 a John Edward Despard joined army as an ensign in 62nd Regiment, without purchase, but wasn’t promoted to lieutenant until 1801 i.e., after Sarah’s death. This one listed in the army records, was aged 19 when he joined up, so born c1780.
Having chased this John Edward Despard’s life up hills and down dales, it appears that on 12 May of 1799 he had married a Mary Hilder and was then promoted to lieutenant in 1801. According to his military records, he remained with the same regiment throughout his career, until his death in 1836.
In the letter from Joseph Plymley, mentioned previously, Plymley made specific reference to Edward’s son, who he said, had arrived at Shrewsbury gaol and wishing to see his father. Plymley confirmed the boy had arrived from Ireland upon military duty and was in Shrewsbury to receive volunteers from the Glamorgan Militia, was then heading to South Wales.
Now, we know from John Edward’s military record below, that he sustained an eye injury whilst serving in Ireland. This document of 1828 confirms not only his marriage in 1799, but that they had no children, so I thought I had correct person. His address was given as 50 Britannia Terrace.
He stated that he had never been able to receive any augmentation on his half pay and that the injury he sustained in Ireland was the loss of his left eye. He received no grant or civil employment, so was utterly reliant upon just the half pension.
This John Edward died in 1836, leaving Mary to apply for a widows pension. Again, she confirmed everything exactly as above, about her husband, and here we have his burial, Friday 6 May 1836, Lieutenant John, otherwise John Edward Despard, aged 58 of Britannia Terrace, London. Mary also confirmed that her husband died from dropsy.
I was quite happy, with what I had discovered although unsure about his grandmothers account of his rank and regiment, until I found another John Edward Despard, in the army at the same time.
For this second one we know nothing of his early career i.e., when he joined or at what rank, but we do know that in 1813 this one was serving in the East London Militia and was promoted to Captain following death of a Captain Benwell.
On 11 September 1820, The British Press noted that
Captain John Edward Despard, late of the Royal East Regiment of London Militia, to be quartermaster.
This one had been a lieutenant and served in the East London Militia, so was this someone else with the same name, and was this Catherine and Edwards’ son? If so, who was the other Edward John Despard?
Several newspapers reported on 29 June 1828 that at the Court of King’s Bench amongst others a John Edward Despard was brought up for judgement, having been convicted for the illegal sale of a cadetship, in the East Indian Company’s service. Despard was sent to King’s Bench prison for six weeks. Now, as to which John Edward Despard that account related to, I really don’t have a clue.
On Sunday night last, about 12 o’clock, the London Courier and Evening Gazette, of 29 January 1830, reported that
As Captain J.E Despard, residing at No 50, Britannia Terrace, Hoxton Old-Town, was going from Pittfield Street, towards his residence, he was met by two ruffians …
the story continued, but either the newspaper got his rank wrong or John Edward had been promoted, which seems unlikely.
There were either two John Edward Despard’s about the same age, both in the military, both in London at the same time, but of different ranks or the whole thing has got into quite a tangle.
The final snippet of information about Edwards’ son appears in Mike Jay’s book and which apparently came from Edward’s older brother, General John Despard.
He was leaving a London theatre with another of his brothers when they heard a waiting carriage-driver calling the name ‘Despard’. They made their way towards the carriage, which has been ordered in their name, ‘and there appeared a flashy Creole and a flashy young lady on his arm, they both stepped into it’.
I really don’t know which was John and Catherine’s son, so if anyone can untangle this, I would love to hear from you. Maybe this mystery is one for someone with military knowledge.
All sources not included elsewhere in the articles about Catherine, Edward and their son:
Bannantine, James. Memories of Edward Marcus Despard.
Cloncurry, Valentine, Baron (1773-1853) Personal Recollections of the life and times, with extracts from the correspondence of Valentine, Lord Cloncurry.
Connor, Clifford C. Colonel Despard: the life and death of an English/Irish Jacobin. P137
Gurney, Joseph & Gurney, William. The trial of Edward Marcus Despard for high treason: at the Session House, Newington, Surry, on Monday the seventh of February 1803
Jay, Mike. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard: And the British Revolution that never happened
Linebaugh, Peter. The many-headed hydra: sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic
Trahey, Erin. Free Women and the Making of Colonial Jamaican Economy and Society (1760-1834) (PhD thesis, History Department, University of Cambridge, 2018). Will of Sarah Gordon, 19 May 1799, LOS66, fol 6. Register General, Twickenham Park, Jamaica
Oracle and the Daily Advertiser 22 February 1803
Letter from the Venerable Joseph Plymley, Archdeacon of Shropshire and Visiting Magistrate of Salop County Gaol. 12 June 1800. HO 42/50/81
Letter by Catherine Despard – HO 42/43/127. Folio 291-293.
Letter by Attorney General, Spencer Percival. HO 42/70. Folio 77-80.
Edward Despard’s Petition HO42/70. Folio 81-85
Letter from Lord Mayor to Lord Pelham HO42/70 Folio 181
Letter regarding Catherine HO 42/70. Folio 77-80 and 101-104
Letter regarding Despard’s request for Catherine to visit. HO 42/48. Folio 188-190
Today we are concluding the story of Catherine Despard, but if you missed the previous articles, part one can be found here and part two here.
In February 1799 the Whitehall Evening Post provided a transcript of events in Parliament including a speech by Mr Courtenay M.P, supporter of Edward and Catherine, which was stated to be Colonel Despard’s petition, in which Edward said he was aware of letters being written by Catherine which had been published in the newspaper and that he concurred with the contents of them. Edward stated that he had only been able to see Catherine through an iron grate and that his son, who had travelled a great distance had been denied permission to see him. He also confirmed that the Duke of Portland had refused to see Catherine.
The Courier, 22 August 1799, tell us that Edward was transferred over 100 miles away to Shrewsbury gaol, but there appears little by way of explanation as to why this should have occurred, it simply says:
At five in the morning, a King’s messenger and Bow Street officer took Edward out of the house of correction, Cold Bath Fields where he had been incarcerated for the past 17 months. They set off in a post-chaise for Shrewsbury gaol.
Catherine must have been aware of this where did that leave her, apart from being all alone in London without her beloved husband and fighting for his freedom?
On 2 October 1799, whilst Edward was still in gaol at Shrewsbury, a letter sent on his behalf, by the visiting magistrates, Reverend John Rocke and the Reverend Edmund Dana, asks:
In case Mrs Despard should come to Shrewsbury, in what manner and for what length of time will she be permitted to have access to him?
The original letter in Edward’s hand appears to be quite scribbled with crossing outs throughout it, but clearly, Edward was anxious that Catherine should visit him whilst there.
So, despite a notice in the Star and Evening Advertiser just a month earlier saying that
the orders strictly prohibit any communication either with persons without or prisoners in the gaol
it would appear from the letter that Edward was making representation to have Catherine visit him, so clearly, he wanted to see his wife and it’s probably safe to assume the feeling would have been mutual.
In his recent book, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, Linebaugh states that:
Catherine visited her husband in three prisons that we know of: Cold Bath Fields, the Tower and Horsemonger Lane Gaol. He was incarcerated between 1798 to 1799 in Cold Bath Fields, in the Tower in 1802 and in Horsemonger Lane for his trial and execution in 1803. In these years he was also imprisoned in Shrewsbury, in Tothill Fields, and in Newgate, though we do not have documentary evidence that Catherine visited him in those places.
Despite Lineburgh’s observation and the content of the piece in the Star and Evening Advertiser, saying that he was not to be permitted visitors, we do now have evidence that Catherine visited her husband whilst he was in Shrewsbury.
This comes courtesy of a letter written on 12 June 1800, to the Home Secretary, from Venerable Joseph Plymley, who was the Archdeacon of Shropshire and visiting magistrate of Shropshire County Gaol. He stated that Catherine was Edward’s only visitor at Shrewsbury, apart from the chaplain of the goal and quarterly visits by magistrates.
However, Plymley, also helpfully provided a snippet of information about their son being briefly in Shrewsbury:
Last night Colonel Despard’s son, an officer in His Majesty’s Service, arrived in this town from Ireland, upon military duty, viz to receive volunteers from the Glamorganshire Militia.
Edward’s son was then travelling on to South Wales and wished to see his father whilst he was in town, but the gaoler refused him admission. The gaoler immediately contacted Plymley who, in turn urgently wrote to the Home Secretary to find out if this would be acceptable. Plymley stressed that Edward was a model prisoner and only spent time with Catherine and suggested that any message for Edward from their son, could be conveyed by Catherine and therefore their son was not permitted to visit his father.
Given that we now know that Catherine visited him whilst in Shrewsbury, she must have travelled there by the regular coach service, or mail coach similar to the one below.
The journey from London to Shrewsbury was extremely long and arduous given the condition of the roads at that time. There was usually a ‘stop over’ enroute of a night, so the journey could well have taken at least two, very long days each way. A journey following the same route today, would take about four hours today by car, so we can only begin to imagine how hard this would have been for Catherine.
There was, however, a regular coach which travelled from London to Shrewsbury three times a week, via Henley on Thames, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon and finally arriving in Shrewsbury.
We can only assume that Catherine simply took lodgings and stayed in Shrewsbury for the duration of Edward’s time there, but it does appear from the letter, that she was a regular visitor.
The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 21 February 1801 reported that Edward had been held in gaol on charges of sedition from April 1798 until March 1801, but it doesn’t clarify exactly how much of that time was spent in Shrewsbury.
A report by James Ives, the keeper of the county gaol, Surrey, who wrote to the Northumberland, Durham Cumberland Gazette on 15 February 1803, wished to correct what he deemed misinformation about Edward’s accommodation in goal, he stated that:
Colonel Despard is confined in the attic story, in the same room as before his trial. It is a boarded floor, 80 feet square, with three large windows, framed and glazed, and a large fire constantly kept; his wife attends him daily.
Almost every report about Edward’s ‘domestic’ situation seems to make reference to Catherine being present, obviously they wanted to spend as much time together as possible. One account also mentioned that Edward made a lady, who accompanied Catherine, cut off some of his hair, which she was to distribute to some of his friends as a keepsake. A token which I sure must have been of some small comfort to Catherine too.
Baron Cloncurry noted that he didn’t see Edward between 1797 and spring 1801 and that he passed through London on his travels in 1802 at which time Edward called to see him. There was no mention of Catherine being present at this visit. He described Edward as:
So wan and worn, that he looked like a man risen from the grave. Of the unsound state of his mind, the following anecdote may convey some notion. In talking over the condition of Ireland, he told me that though he had not seen his country for thirty years, he never ceased thinking of it.
This would seem to confirm that since arriving from overseas that by 1802 Catherine must have remained in England and not have visited Edward’s relatives in Ireland as had been suggested elsewhere.
Baron Cloncurry, who was to become a good friend to the couple, described Catherine in about 1800, as:
A Spanish Creole, a remarkably fine woman, much younger than her husband, who then appeared to be about sixty years of age.
Edward was only 52 when he died, so he must have looked much older than his actual age, which provides no clues as to Catherine’s age, she may simply have looked younger than her age.
Edward and his reputed co-conspirators were arrested again on 16 November 1802 at the Oakley Arms public house for their part in Edward’s plot to assassinate King George III and were taken to Newgate prison.
Whilst back in gaol Catherine was still permitted to visit Edward, this may well have come about via the Attorney General, Spencer Percival, who wrote a letter on 15 February 1803, which confirmed that Catherine was being closely watched in case she smuggled papers out of the prison on Edward’s behalf and ultimately decided that whilst she could still visit, she should no longer be permitted to carry any papers for him. We don’t know how complicit Catherine was in doing Edwards’ bidding, so she must have either been very brave or completely unaware how closely she was being watched. Either way she must surely have feared for her own safety or perhaps so devoted that Edward that she wasn’t at all concerned.
Edward and his co-conspirators were tried on Monday 7 February 1803. From his Petition dated 16 February 1803, he stated that from September 1790 to September 1791 he was employed in London at the wish of government ministers, particularly furnishing details which had occupied many months of his helping to plan an attack on the Spanish Main.
For his work Edward was promised upwards of £2,000 and the first vacant consularship on the Barbary Coast, but that neither of these promises were kept. Overall, Edward stated that during his time in King’s Bench his debts amounted to some £3,000. There is no mention of Catherine, so how did she manage for money? It begs the question of who was financially supporting her at this time, friends and/or family? Someone was, for sure, perhaps her son.
On 20 February 1803, we have a letter from Sir Richard Ford, the chief magistrate at Bow Street, who referred to crowds gathering at the prison etc, but then made specific reference to Catherine, describing her as having been:
‘very troublesome, but at last has gone away’.
Catherine was piling on the pressure to have her husband released, she was utterly convinced of his innocence and willing to do as much as she could to persuade those in authority of her views, but to no avail. As her hopes of mercy vanished, Catherine, it is said, became almost delirious, her emotions, when the order for his execution arrived can hardly be imagined.
Morning Post 21 February 1803
Colonel Despard was strictly searched to discover whether he had any knife or meals of self-destruction concealed about him, and everything that it was though might enable him to put an end to his existence was conveyed out of his reach. There was no reason to suppose he had the slightest decision of committing suicide, but it was standard procedure.
Mrs Despard was greatly affected when he first heard that his fate was sealed, but yesterday, she recovered her fortitude. Accompanied by another lady, she had her last meeting with him on 20 February 1803. It is said that the other, unnamed woman wept bitterly. But first Mrs Despard, and then the colonel, reproached her with her weakness. Mr and Mrs Despard bore up with great firmness, even in parting. When Catherine got into the coach, as it drove off, she waved her handkerchief out of the window.
In the vivid newspaper accounts of the hangings that took place on 21 February 1803, there appears no mention of Catherine being present, although given her commitment to him during his life and her courage, it appears likely that she would have been there.
On a slight lighter but macabre note, the Gloucester Journal, (amongst others) of 28 February 1803 reported this reputed conversation (how very British, a conversation about the weather):
The following anecdote respecting Col. Despard immediately previous to the instant of his execution, is not generally known. When Macnamara was brought out, he said, upon seeing Despard, “I am afraid, Colonel, we have go into a bad situation”. The answer was very characteristic of the man, ‘There are many better, and some worse”. He was extremely anxious to assist the executioner in adjusting the rope about his neck and placed himself the noose under his left ear. When he was on the point of being launched into eternity he said to Francis, who stood next to him – “What an amazing crowd” and looking up, he observed, with the greatest indifference ‘Tis very cold, I think we shall have some rain”.
The sentence included disembowelment, but with the assistance of Lord Nelson, Catherine was able to have this part of the torture removed, instead he was hanged, and his head severed. An horrific sight whichever it was carried out, for Catherine to witness.
The day arrived for Catherine to say her final farewell to Edward and for his remains to be buried. About ten o’clock in on the morning of Tuesday 1 March 1803, just over a week after Edward’s death, several hundred people congregated near Lambeth asylum, at the property Catherine and Edward had lived in, but not where Catherine was living by that time of the funeral.
After fifteen minutes a hackney coach arrived, Catherine was inconsolable and almost fainted when the coach arrived and had to be supported by two female friends; sadly, no names were given for the female friends.
The Ipswich Journal, 5 March 1803, tells us that
An artist, it is said, took a cast of Mr Despard’s face, a few minutes before the lid of the coffin was screwed down.
This artist was Madame Tussaud.
Edward’s remains were taken away through the streets of London to be buried. Twelve of his friends arrived about eleven, with four gentlemen in each of the mourning coaches. Newspapers confirm that there were no women mourners. This was quite normal at that time for women not to attend funerals. Graveyards were not really places deemed safe or suitable for women.
It was reported that the procession initially headed for St Pancras for Edward’s final resting place, but this was a ruse, instead he was taken from where his body had been kept, near Lambeth, across the river, to St Faith’s Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Lord Mayor of London immediately wrote to Lord Pelham, in a polite, but clearly furious tone, asking why Edward’s place of burial had been changed and wanting to know why no-one had bothered to tell him! This change of burial appears to have been instigated by Catherine who felt that it was Edward’s hereditary right to be buried there.
Shortly after Edward’s death, the Morning Post stated:
It has been reported that Mrs Despard, since the execution of her husband, has been taken under the protection of Lady Nelson. We have authority to state that the circumstances is holly untrue, and we much fear that the rumour has been propagated by the enemies of the virtuous an amiable Viscountess.
However, the Dairies of James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury confirm that it was not Lady Nelson, rather Nelson’s lover, Lady Hamilton who visited Catherine, so it was she who took Catherine under her wing.
Monday Feb 21 – Lady Hamilton, whom Lady Malmesbury met in the evening of this day at Lady Abercorn’s, after singing etc said she had gone to see poor Mrs Despard in the morning – she did not know her, but she went to comfort her, and that she found her much better since the body had been brought back to her. This is the consequence of Lord Nelson having spoken to his character.
The Morning Post 21 February 1803 provided confirmation that a musical event was held at Marchioness of Abercorn’s that day, so that would tally with Harris’s diary entry.
Following the execution of Edward, Catherine was left virtually destitute and possibly heading for the workhouse, were it not for a pension being agreed for Catherine by Sir Francis Burdett and the kindness of 2nd Baron, Valentine Cloncurry, who offered her a safe haven at his estate in Dublin, Ireland, his father having died in 1799.
A year after this conversation, this poor madman made mad by official persecution, was executed for a plot to take the Tower. I was afterwards able to afford his wife an asylum from destitution. She lived in my family at Lyons for some years.
Lord Cloncurry doesn’t provide any clues as to how long ‘some years’ was, but we know that at some stage she returned to London, where she died. Catherine’s fight was over, and she died in 1815 in the Somerstown district.
She was buried at St Pancras parish chapel, Camden on 9 September 1815. Her address is almost impossible to read, but it looks like Elmore Street, so if anyone is able to decipher it, please do let me know.
Many newspapers nationally, noted Catherine’s death, all carrying the same few, simple words:
As to who notified the press we will never know, but someone certainly did, perhaps it was her son, I’d like to think so.
There remain a myriad of questions about Catherine’s life, but just maybe this has filled in a few of the gaps … for now. You can find out more about her mysterious son by following this link.
Following on from Part 1 of this story, which can be read here if you missed it, we now move on to
Catherine’s arrival in England
The Dictionary of Irish Biography states that Edward and Catherine married in 1786, Jamaica, but having contacted them, in order to check their source, they now plan to amend the entry to reflect the vagueness of that information. Their source being from Colonel Despard: the life and death of an English/Irish Jacobin, which suggests that it must have been between November 1785 and April 1786. None of the available Jamaican parish registers sadly show any marriage for them in any parish (believe me, I’ve read every single one of entry to check!), so it would appear more likely that if they actually married, that it took place in Honduras.
The Caledonian Mercury, 17 May 1790, tells us that Edward’s post as Superintendent of the settlement in the Bay of Honduras had been filled by a Colonel Hunter and that Edward and Catherine had returned to England, under something of a cloud, the authorities unhappy with Edward’s management style there, having apparently become something of an autocrat.
Arriving in England in 1790, must have been quite a culture shock for Catherine, sailing all that way to a new country, the sights, sounds, smells, climate, clothing, the list goes on and of course and probably one of the most important things being, the lack of people who looked like her, in the social society that Edward would have mixed, all of which must have been completely disorientating. There were of course, black people in London, but most of them would have been servants, working for affluent aristocrats.
Being a woman of colour living in London would not have been easy, especially given the trade in enslaved people, but Catherine seems to have risen above any preconceived notions about the colour of her skin, perhaps helped by her position as having married into Irish gentry. Catherine’s sole aim was to care for her husband, but she couldn’t possibly have imagined in 1790 how this new life in London would have panned out.
On arrival in England, Edward was merely expecting them to only remain there briefly, just long enough to sort out the financial issues pertaining to his time abroad, his plan being to return to Honduras, which makes it somewhat curious as to why Catherine and their son would have accompanied him on such a long voyage, but accompany him they certainly did.
This brief sojourn to England did not transpire the way Edward planned at all.
Edward, it seems, proved to be something of a thorn in the side of the government, he bombarded them with demands for compensation and vindication for what he viewed to be unfair dismissal from his post, no charges were brought against him, but no compensation either, leaving him with little more than his salary as a half pay colonel which wouldn’t amount to very much, probably insufficient to support Edward, let alone his Catherine and their son.
What was he going to do to rectify this matter? There was little he could do, he tried to seek employment, but nothing was forthcoming. This dispute between Edward and the government continued for two long years.
We can only imagine what Catherine must have made of this terrible situation that she had now found herself in, after all, she thought the visit to England was only going to be a short one, so there was nowhere she could now call home. There is no sign of them in rate books, so it has to be assumed that they were renting somewhere or living with friends. We know that Edward was a close acquaintance of Lord Nelson, having served together previously, so perhaps he helped them find lodgings.
On 28 November 1792 Edward was sentenced to two years in prison and the 1794 prison records for King’s Bench and Fleet prison discharge book, noted his release in 1794. With Edward incarcerated this would have left poor Catherine to fend for herself in this new country with presumably few, if any friends to assist her, this must have been immensely difficult for her.
We know that during Edward’s various court cases, Catherine was constantly referred to as his wife, which I do suspect was not done so as merely a courtesy title, but as I’ve said, proof of such a marriage is sadly lacking.
Besides being described as his wife, Catherine was described in a variety of ways by the press, some of which today we do, of course, deem derogatory, ‘a negress, a mulatto, a woman of the Caribbean and a woman of colour’. Her skin colour must have been an important fact for readers of the day, otherwise why would they feel the need to mention it? Mike Jay in ‘The Unfortunate Colonel Despard’ states that:
Family memoirs referred to Catherine as his “black housekeeper”, and “the poor woman who called herself his wife”. James was ascribed to a previous lover, both of whom were written out of the family tree.
It appears that parts of Edward’s family found it difficult to acknowledge Edward’s choice of wife given her colour, referring to her as his ‘black housekeeper’.
In July 1795, the True Briton, provided the first sighting of where Edward and Catherine were living in London, courtesy of the address ‘34 London Road, St George’s Fields’ an address provided by Edward in court, where he had been charged with allegedly being involved in the Charing Cross Riot.
Edward claimed that he was merely an onlooker and was on his way home. This was not believed, as he was apparently heard to say, ‘No King, No Pitt’. Edward was detained for further questioning.
When not in gaol, did Edward and Catherine appear to have spent their time trying to evade Edward’s recapture? At least, it would certainly appear that way, from this snippet, of 10 March 1798 in the Express and Evening Chronicle which reported that:
It was Colonel Despard, whom the King’s Messengers seized on Sunday in Meards Court, Dean Street, Soho. His house was entered by four Messengers, and several Bow Street Officers. The Colonel and Mrs Despard were both in bed when the former was arrested.
Dean Street was a location well known to Lord Nelson, as he stayed there the day before the Battle of Trafalgar, so perhaps Edward and Catherine were staying close by. Whilst this gives us an address for Catherine, the rates returns show that they must have been staying with someone living there. The residents around that time were George Campbell, Thomas Melhuish, Joel Clifford Mr Miles and John Dealtry, but none of them as far as I can tell, appear to have had any connection to Edward and Catherine.
Given the closeness of the date between the above report to this one from Lloyd’s Evening Post, 12 March 1798, it can only be assumed that the reference to Bath, was not the place, rather, Cold Bath Fields:
Yesterday, Mr Higgins, one of the King’s Messengers, arrived at the Duke of Portland’s office, having in charge Colonel Despard, whom he brought from Bath, after a search of two days.
Having caught Edward, he was brought before the Privy Council, underwent a short examination and was remanded into the custody of the Messengers.
It’s always lovely to come across letter written in the person’s own hand, especially by Catherine as we have little information about her life, but we see from this, that she was educated, fluent in English, articulate and confident in her own ability, assuming this was written in her hand rather than dictated by her. It was not in Edward’s hand; the style is completely different. It also demonstrates that Catherine didn’t remain at Meards Court, with the address, but moved very quickly to Upper Berkeley Street.
This letter, although undated, appears to have been written April – early May 1798, and the full letter tells us that Catherine was trying to establish whether there had been any response from the Duke of Portland regarding the payment of Edward’s pension.
She also wrote that Edward had been moved within Cold Bath Fields prison, from a comfortable, upper floor, to a lower room. Catherine described how awful Edward’s room was, no table, no chair nor a fire to warm himself. She continued to say that he was only allowed to see her briefly and described his care being more akin to that of a vagabond rather the gentleman he was.
We know from this letter written by Catherine that she was living in lodgings at 41 Upper Berkeley Street, where by 1801, the property itself appears to have been empty, but living a few doors away was Henry Austen Esq. at 24, the brother of the author Jane Austen, perhaps indicating that at least, that at that time, Catherine was living in a pleasant area of London, so, once again who was funding this?
This link will take you to the final part of Catherine’s story.
As there is so much to tell in this story, during the next few days I will be taking a look at the life of Catherine Despard and that of her son, so do keep an eye out for the following parts.
Firstly though, I would like to give a massive ‘Thank you’ to the kindness and generosity of Mike Jay, author of The Unfortunate Colonel Despard, who kindly shared with me Sarah Gordon’s will, which helped to open some doors. To Mish Holman, who, despite being busy with her own research, found time to check out some documents at the National Archives for me and to Professor Gretchen Gerzina for telling me to ‘go for it’ when I initially thought everything known about Catherine had already been written.
For fans of the programme, Poldark, you may well have seen the episode about Edward (Ned) Marcus Despard and his wife, Catherine and her valiant, but unsuccessful, attempt to save her husband’s life.
Whilst Poldark is fiction, the lives of Edward (Ned) and Catherine were real. The programme, as you might expect, used quite a bit of creative licence in the telling of their story, especially as neither character appeared in the books by Winston Graham.
Much has been written about the life and more dramatically, the death of Edward, who, for those who don’t know, was found guilty of high treason and met his end courtesy of the hangman’s noose, closely followed by the removal of his head, which was placed on a spike as a warning to others.
Edward allegedly plotted along with his co-conspirators, to kill George III whilst on his way to Parliament on 23 November 1802, then to seize the Tower, and the Bank of England. Whether he was guilty or not is another story, as he refused to admit to anything, perhaps to avoid implicating his co-accused. I’ll leave you to read more about the trial for yourselves, as the focus in tis post is really upon his wife, Catherine.
Fewer than a handful of writers have attempted to record in any detail Catherine’s life, and so, always being one for a challenge, it was suggested that I try to see if I could piece together a little more about the life of the woman who stood beside Edward every step of the way, until he mounted those final steps on 21 February 1803.
Not only did Catherine seem to be a dutiful and loving wife, but she also acted as a courier and campaigner, visiting her husband, writing letters on his behalf and fighting as hard as she could to gain his freedom.
Who was Mrs Catherine Despard?
Accounts vary but, she is often described ‘a former black slave‘, from somewhere in the Caribbean, but we do know a little more about her than just those few words.
Catherine’s early life
To begin with though, we don’t know exactly when, or for sure where Catherine was born, but it now seems fairly safe to assume she was born around 1760, give or take a few years, in Jamaica.
Having trawled through the baptism parish registers for Jamaica, there are a few possible matches for Catherine, as below, from the parish register of St Catherine’s Jamaica, but there is nothing conclusive. This entry provides no parents being named but describes her ‘a mulatto child’ meaning one white parent, one black which could possibly be hers.
It is now known that Catherine’s mother was Sarah Gordon of St Andrew’s, Jamaica, who was buried on 25 July 1799 at Long Mountain, St Andrews, as can be seen here.
The parish register of St Andrew’s clearly states any person of colour or black and as you can see the entry directly above Sarah Gordon’s, states that Martha was ‘a free black woman’, the next but one entries after Sarah’s name, tells us of two women who were buried as ‘a woman of colour’ and yet there is nothing against Sarah’s name, which is unusual in light of the other burials recorded at St Andrews, but this could simply have been an omission. The burial entry also tells us she was not buried in the church graveyard, but at Long Mountain.
Sarah left a will, of which I was extremely kindly sent a copy, by Mike Jay (see bibliography at end of the whole article). The handwriting not the easiest to decipher and is quite faint, but it does tell us that Sarah was a ‘free black woman’.
I have read that Catherine’s father was a church minister, but I haven’t as yet been able to confirm the source. Mike Jay also said that ‘There was a claim in the London pamphlets of 1802 that her father was a Jamaican preacher and her mother a Spanish creole’ but he had no luck confirming this either.
When writing her will, Sarah was ‘sickly state of health, but sound of mind.’ She was a land owner of the parish of St Andrews, and sadly no mention of a husband, it simply describes her as being a relic i.e., widow.
Although very difficult to read, the will tells us that at some stage in the past Sarah had borrowed money from a friend or possibly a relative, Hannah Williams, a ‘free sambo woman’. Sarah part purchased three pieces of land in Kingston, half of the money for the three plots was funded by her, the remainder of the money borrowed from Hannah, which Sarah wished to be paid to Hannah upon her death. She also names Hannah’s two children, Eleanor and Benjamin Pierce, who, in the event of Hannah’s death, would take over ownership of the land, assuming they were aged 21 or over.
Both children named in the will were born in St Andrews, Jamaica, Eleanor in 1783 followed by Benjamin, 1791, but what is confusing is that both children shared the same father, a Benjamin Pierce, but the mother of Eleanor was named as Johanna Williams, whilst Benjamin’s mother was a Hannah Pierce. It’s interesting to note in the parish register, just below Sarah’s burial was that of a Joanna Williams, was this Eleanor’s mother? once again, we may never know.
The children were baptised on the same day in January 1799, a fact that Sarah would, in all likelihood have been aware of. Whilst that is a slight aside, Sarah also names her sister, Catherine Pierce (surname illegible), so quite who her middle name, Pierce was in honour of, I don’t know, but what does seems highly probable is that Sarah named her daughter, Catherine, in honour of her sister.
Sarah also left a legacy for her daughter, Catherine:
to my dear daughter, Catherine Gordon Despard, now in London … four negroes, who had been in my possession, a negro man named Jack and a negro woman, named Maria and a little boy, her child, named December and a negro woman, named Louisa.
It has not been possible to find out anything more about the enslaved people or what became of them, unless Catherine bought them over to England, which seems rather unlikely. Sarah also described Catherine as
my beloved daughter and best of friends, Catherine Gordon Despard of the city of London‘
It would seem clear from Sarah’s will, that Catherine was very much loved, but perhaps more importantly that her mother knew about her husband, Edward, where they were living and also that Catherine and Edward had a son, Sarah’s grandson, John (illegible) Despard.
Sarah knew that her grandson was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s East London Regiment, so despite Catherine having left Jamaica almost 10 years previously she was aware of her grandson’s military rank prior to her death, which must mean that they retained communications after Catherine left the island, so presumably Catherine wrote to her mother with news from England.
This link will take you to Part 2 and Catherine’s arrival in England and this one to part 3.
As many of you will be aware, research into the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family has been ongoing for quite some time now and today, at the suggestion of Etienne Daly, who has been researching the life of Dido for a number of years, we will take a look at some of Dido and John’s neighbours, in order to gain a glimpse into what living on Ranelagh Street would have been like for this newlywed couple.
When Dido Elizabeth Belle married John Daviniere in 1793, the couple set up home at 14 Ranelagh Street in Pimlico. It’s difficult to determine in which social circles Dido and John mixed after their wedding, or exactly where Dido lived immediately following the death of Lord Mansfield, earlier in 1793.
Her direct family, i.e., her father and Lord Mansfield had both died prior to her marriage, but her step mother, Lady Mary Lindsay was alive until 1799, but there is no surviving evidence to confirm that she and Dido had any contact at all.
Upon Lady Lindsay’s death, Dido’s half siblings, John (1767-1821) and Elizabeth Lindsay, later Hill (1766-1842) were named her will, but curiously, Dido was not.
Perhaps Lady Lindsay simply assumed her step daughter had been sufficiently provided for by both Lord Mansfield and her husband during their lives.
It’s very clear that Dido’s half siblings, John and Elizabeth were in contact with each other as noted in John’s will, left when he died in India.
Curiously, John had named his half sister, Elizabeth who was by that time Mrs Peter Hill, but no mention was made of his other half sister, Dido.
We know for certain that Elizabeth was Sir John’s illegitimate daughter from her marriage entry above, (Scottish records being more detailed than English ones,) sadly, no such tangible documentary evidence exists from Dido’s marriage.
Her cousin, Lady Elizabeth with whom she shared the famous portrait, had married George Finch-Hatton some eight year previously, and although they were obviously close whilst at Kenwood House, although there appears to be nothing left to history to confirm that they ever kept in touch after Lady Elizabeth married, but then their lives took very different paths, with Lady Elizabeth marrying into an aristocratic family and Dido marrying John Daviniere, who was a servant at the time of their marriage.
Sadly, there is also nothing tangible to confirm that Dido had any contact with her half siblings, but as Elizabeth was in Scotland and John, out in Indian with their respective families, so perhaps this is not really surprising given the geography. This would have left Dido with few known contracts, despite her previous social standing as the great niece of one of the most affluent and influential men in the country and living in the grand, Kenwood House.
With a lack of information about her possible acquaintances after her marriage, especially any contact with family and at present there is no knowledge of her having many, if any, friends, the only things left to go by, are her neighbours in Pimlico.
Their new home on Ranelagh Street, Pimlico would have been similar to this one, advertised in the Morning Post, August 1800.
The search began with the rates book from 1794 when they moved there, up to around 1807, by which time it is known that John and their two sons had moved out after Dido’s death.
The first interesting piece of information I found, was that when John Daviniere left 14 Ranelagh Street North, Pimlico, the new occupants were a Martha and James White, a gardener. Martha had married James in November 1794 at the same church that Dido and John had married at just a year previously.
Why is this relevant? Well, in the marriage register for Dido, the marriage was witnessed by a Martha Darnell, and it transpires that it was this Martha, who went on to marry James White, so it would certainly appear from this, that Dido and John remained in contact with Martha when she married her first husband and also through to her second marriage, with Martha and James moving into Dido and John’s property after John and the boys moved out.
After the death of James, Martha and her second husband, William Parkes remained in the property for a few years, until they completely vanished from the radar. It seems feasible that Dido knew Martha from Kenwood House, where it’s possible Martha was a dairymaid or a ladies’ maid, and that maybe her first husband was one of the gardeners at Kenwood House too – pure speculation at this stage, but hopefully at some point tangible proof will come to light.
Another neighbour who lived next door to Dido and John was a John Mann, who was initially described as a perfumer, but by 1808 he had become a hairdresser and barber. He was clearly not operating his business from home as it’s known that he was renting out part of him home by this time, perhaps business wasn’t going so well.
It was in December 1808 that Mann’s life came to something of an abrupt end as we will now discover. The Hull Packet newspaper of 10 January 1809, amongst others carried reports of his demise.
A melancholy event occurred a few days since, at Pimlico, near London, accompanied with very extraordinary circumstance. Mr Mann, a hairdresser, who resided in Ranelagh Street, had, in consequence of a domestic misfortune, suffered mental derangement; but being, by medical aid, recovered, he had again resumed his occupation. A few morning since, he attended, as usual, to dress and shave several gentlemen in his neighbourhood, by whom he was much esteemed. He had, in all, dressed and shaved nine of his customers, the last of whom was Mr Palmer, of Drury Lane Theatre. Immediately upon his leaving Mr Palmer, he returned home, without attending to any of his other employers, and cut his own throat with one of his razors. The wound was so deep and extensive that he died in a few moments.
The gentlemen with whom he had been, all observed something very singular in his conduct: and there is no doubt that, during the whole of the morning, he was labouring under the terrible malady which induced him to put a period to his existence. Each of the nine has reason, therefore, to be thankful, that the razor was not applied to his neck, before the unfortunate maniac raised it against his own.
It’s not clear what the ‘domestic misfortune’ was, but it could have been connected to the death of his wife, Ann, who had died the previous year. Both John and Ann were buried at St George’s in the Fields, the same graveyard that Dido had been buried in a few years previously, in 1804.
Another of Dido and John’s neighbours was Anthony Fabiani, who, research shows, was one of the Treasury messengers, working directly for the 3rd Duke of Portland. Ranelagh Street was close to the Queen’s house, so arguably, it was a convenient place for him to live. Bentinck was a close friend of Sir John in his lifetime and therefore may well have been aware of Dido living in Ranelagh Street through Fabiani or government spies, and that she had a French husband.
Fabiani’s role was to be responsible for seeking out felons and taking them to prison, along with carrying documents the length and breadth of the country and travelling on behalf of the King and ministers all over Europe. I first spotted his name in the Hampshire Chronicle, 28 July 1798, which noted that:
Tuesday morning a Captain Coppinger, of Ireland, brought a few days since from Guernsey, where he had been arrested on suspicion of being one of the leading men in the rebellion in that Kingdom found means to effect his escape from the house of Mr Fabiani, at Pimlico, one of the Treasury Messengers, where he was in custody. The charges against him are said to be of a most serious nature.
With a little more searching I discovered several arrest warrants issued by the 3rd Duke of Portland, which bore Fabiani’s name, as the messenger sent to apprehend them; most being wanted for High Treason. Interestingly on the subsequent page of warrants was a name that jumped out at me – Edward Marcus Despard.
Despard was famously arrested in 1798, not by Fabiani, but one of his colleagues, George Higgins. Despard was hanged for treason in 1803, despite pleas from his wife, Catherine, who, like Dido was a woman of colour. It would be interesting to know whether Dido was familiar with Despard’s case and of Catherine, but it does seem quite likely that she would have read about it in the newspaper. Etienne has suggested that Dido’s husband, could possibly have been a spy, but of course, as you can imagine, there’s no tangible evidence yet to support this but it’s an avenue he is pursuing.
Fabiani lived at No. 3 Ranelagh Street until just after the turn of the century when he moved to Silver Street, Golden Square, where he died in 1810 and again, like Dido, he too was buried at St George in the Fields on 3 November 1810.
At No. 19, lived a music seller, dealer and chapman, Louis Von Esch, who was declared bankrupt in 1796, but presumably life began to dramatically improve, as by the turn of the century his musical talent was recognised.
Whilst it’s not conclusive, I’m fairly certain that this article in the Morning Chronicle of 1802, relates to Louis rather than his brother, Dominique, also a musician, and it would appear that he has become responsible for the musical education of Prince George’s daughter, Princess Charlotte:
It was around this time that he moved from Ranelagh Street and had moved to Edward Street. The same year, Louis had joined the Freemasons at the Lodge De L’Esperance, an Ancient French Lodge, giving his occupation as composer of music, along with his brother, Dominique, a music master, the brothers being aged 37 and 33, respectively. Fellow members of the lodge included the artist, Domenico Pellegrini.
It would appear that Louis’s music was extremely popular at the time. He socialised in the upper echelons of society and would eventually travel to Milan and the Palace of Visconti, which was where his life reached its conclusion in 1829.
Another long term resident of Ranelagh Street, living at no. 22, so just a few door away from Dido and John, was the watch and clock maker, George Philip Strigel. The couple would, more than likely, have known him in passing at least, as the elderly gentleman who made clocks and Watchmaker to Queen Charlotte.
According to the Royal Collection Trust, Strigel was described as the ‘blunt, high-dried, honest German’ who ‘had the care of his majesty’s clocks’. He was apparently, once interrupted by the George III whilst attending to a clock dial at Buckingham House, ‘standing upon a stool, placed upon a table, his hands extended above his head’ as he adjusted a clock dial in Buckingham House.
He was made an honorary freeman of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1771 – conferred on those who the Company believed could help to advance its interests – socially and influentially.
Maybe John and Dido even purchased a clock from him for their new home, who knows. Strigel died in 1798, and like other residents, was buried on 23 December 1798 at St George in the Fields.
In addition to these, Paula Byrne noted in her book, ‘Belle’, that other neighbours included the miniature painter and engraver, Charles Wilkins, an architect, George Shakespeare and probably the most interesting characters of all, was the herbalist, Mrs Ringenberig, who examined morning urine from which she could provide cures for female complaints – I wonder if Dido ever used her services?
Hopefully, this post will provide a glimpse into the lives of some of the people that Dido and John would have rubbed shoulders with whilst living in Pimlico and it would appear that several residents were employed by the royal family with others employed in a whole variety of roles. Needless to say, apart from her friend, Martha, no women are named, that is because none are known of as yet, but it would be difficult to believe that she had no female acquaintances.
Etienne Daly has found out that Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Portland was a close friend to Lord and Lady Mansfield, and that she was also a good friend to the ‘blue stocking’, Mary Delany and that both women visited Kenwood House whilst Dido was living there, so would most likely have met her, or at least been aware of her presence within the household. The Dowager’s son, 3rd Duke of Portland was mentioned earlier, so would possibly have known that Dido lived in Pimlico, but there is no conclusive proof of this.
To find out more about the lives of Dido Elizabeth Belle, her family and descendants, click in this link.
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.
Just a point of interest worth mentioning, in August 1779, there was a ship launched named HMS Montagu during the tenure of Lord Sandwich, which, being the first lord of the admiralty was almost certainly named in his honour.
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 on 26th December 1780 from Blackheath, requesting Sir John rejoin the navy (after his resignation in 1779), as he was a naval officer of merit.
Oddly, Lord Sandwich came to live at Sir John’s house in Hertford Street after the North administration fell in March 1782 and stayed there till his death in 1792.
I doubt any paperwork exists that can fully confirm the order of the frigate and as names were plucked or discussed arbitrarily in the 18th century the latter was more the case. There are too many coincidences in my findings overall, and many influential persons to be found with close links to Sir John and his quest to name a ship after his daughter in her 21st year, a year when she was no longer a minor. It was also in 1782 that Dido was included in Lord Mansfield’s will, freeing her of any slavery in the future. So, Dido received two very good birthday presents for her 21st birthday.
Just one final items which demonstrates that Dido was not hidden away, but was known to Lord Mansfields family and friends comes in the form a newspaper report about the death of Sir John Lindsay, from 1788:
As a final point of interest, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was given her surname Bonetta by Captain James Forbes, who liberated her from slavery and who was the captain of HMS Bonetta.
Etienne has recently found out from Richard at the website More Than Nelson that there was sloop named Stormont, which Etienne believe would have been named after Viscount Stormont. The Stormont of 14 Guns commanded by Nicholas Charrington, was taken at the capture of St. Eustatius in February 1781. It was then captured by the French on 3 February 1782 at Demerara.
The second Stormont of 16 guns was previously the American privateer Scourge and which was taken on 14 February 1782 by the Protee 64, Captain Charles Buckner, in the Leeward Islands. It is feasible that Admiral Rodney had probably learned of the loss of the first Stormont by the time he appointed Cobb to command the captured Scourge on 13 March 1782, but Richard has said that he doesn’t know whether he would have renamed the Scourge ‘Stormont’ or whether instructions were issued from the Admiralty to do so some months later.
It is Etienne’s opinion that Lord Sandwich would have authorised the naming of both sloops (14&16guns) HMS Stormont, and as Stormont related to Viscount Stormont, Lord Mansfield’s nephew, it would have been named after him. Finally worth noting is the first captured sloop named HMS Stormont 14, was renamed Le Stormond by the French as mostly probably because Lord Stormont was ambassador to France from 1772 till 1778 when hostilities broke out between Great Britain and France. Lord Stormont up to this time was very close to the French Royal Family even attending the new king’s wedding to Marie Antoinette in May 1774—in fact his uncle Lord Mansfield joined him too on this special occasion.
Although there was never a ship named in honour of Sir John Lindsay, there were four ships with likely connections to the family – HMS Dido, as above; one owned by the East India Company – Earl of Mansfield, 1777, commanded by a Sir William Fraser, and according to Oxford Journal, 26 May 1781 there was also a brig named Lady Mansfield and now, a sloop, The Stormont.
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.
Many people will by now be aware of this painting, ‘Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom’ which was purchased in 2020, 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.
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
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.
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.
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
I first became acquainted with this gentleman 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 (to whom the portrait was on loan to from Tasmanian Museum and Gallery), 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 am delighted to welcome an authority on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Etienne Daly, whose name you have probably seen in previous articles about Dido. As part of his research into her life he has been taking a closer look at her death, more specifically where she was buried and with that I’ll hand you over to Etienne to tell you more.
On a dull, grey, bitterly cold, 6 January 1969, just after 8.00am rolled off the trucks in Albion Street, bulldozers and diggers. The residents nearby were made fully aware that big changes were coming through a plot of land formerly known as St George’s Fields Burial Ground, the noise of the machinery being offloaded would have awoken even the deepest of sleepers, but the residents had been expecting this.
Over the previous 6 months as notice of development into a housing association was made known to them all, that is not the case of course for the incumbents buried there, some for over 200 years!
Now things were going to change on the five acre site. Following the machinery would be wooden boxes to pile all the bones, skulls and skeletons intact, with lime powder to be scattered on them ready to be taken to the crematorium in South London for incineration and final disposal.
Local residents expected an efficient job to be done with respect and sensitivity for the dead, but it didn’t work that way according to the local paper of the time, The Paddington Mercury which ran the story on Friday 24 January 1969, saying that digging and drilling went on till 8.00pm, even on Sundays and vibrations were felt in certain properties causing consternation.
But bones were also found in the street which had to be picked up and boxed by the many labourers given the task of clearing the site. The weather being atrocious from January to the end of March meant the workers would have been as speedy as possible, allowing corners to be cut to get the task done. In fact it was took the best part of 1969 before most of the site was cleared and with it went the history of Saint George’s Fields.
So from the time the land was sold off and boarded up just the previous month, December 1968 until a year later trucks were coming and going, loading up the bones of the deceased and off to one of these crematoriums: the Lambeth crematorium, Streatham or West Norwood Crematoriums.
All history of this site was to go with it, a site which had opened in 1765 as an over-spill burial ground for the parish of St George’s Hanover square – the very church in which Dido married in December 1793.
And of some important people worth noting like Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), Paul Sandby (1721-1809), Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) and General Thomas Picton, of Waterloo fame, who were buried in the vault at the graveyard and many others.
But there were also body snatchers around which is why the boundary had two walls built and vaults were made underground for the wealthier, these faced the then Uxbridge Rd (now Bayswater Road) in the first class plot.
The others were middle class plots and paupers plots and were located to the rear of the site which often became waterlogged.
This, however, did not deter the body snatchers who had some success in removing corpses to sell on to the medical profession for dissection!
The ground was eventually closed in 1858, but unofficial burials took place up until the mid-1860s. By 1885 the ground was mainly cleared, leaving headstones lined up on the perimeter wall with the area becoming a park for people to walk through, that is till after the Second World War during which the Chapel of Ascension was hit by a doodlebug in 1944 putting an end to that.
With land prices raised since the 1950s it had by the end of the 1960s become a prime target for building speculators.
Full circle on after three years of development, the housing association consisting of 300 flats was accommodated by June 1973. It became a private block when the residents bought the freehold in the early 1980s. However, since that time bones have been recovered at certain parts of the development when new works have taken place such as light laying cables etc.
I discovered that the vaults haven’t been fully examined because of access ability i.e. power cables are nearby.
My research took me to Saint George’s Fields as I knew that Dido was buried there late July 1804 and took an interest in layout and plans of that side both historic and pre/post development. I made grids of the site based on the first second and third class plots, and the first phase of development as the foundations went in. Without boring you with all the calculations, suffice it to say that an area of the site looked as if it was not developed and based upon all findings matched up, so with this plan I made of the area I approached an expert of the site and development who was able to say that area was not touched, in fact it was outside of the buildings footprint. But area I discovered was in the first class plot (best ground) facing the now, Bayswater Road.
Once armed with this knowledge I did further work and discovered in fact two probable burial plots where Dido may have been buried. Two you think? Well, you have to know that burial sites were also a business, and the best plots made the most money, so after many years graves were moved as spaces filled up. This, my experts agreed on as being common practice in the 18th and 19th century.
The image of the site is from a photo taken around 1949 which shows the two marked areas in pink, the top one was the original burial plot and the other is further back, but both were ‘path side’ in the first class plot.
Now, I know Dido was not placed in the vaults and was buried above ground in the first class plot, and there’s a chance that the plot was brick lined for added preservation and would have been quite deep around 12 feet to 14 feet deep in order to deter grave robbers, it was also a favoured method of the upper classes.
I noted that Dido’s death was number 56 of 73 deaths that month of July for the parish of Saint George’s and a high rate of child mortality that month as many months in the 18th and 19th century.
There’s also a possibility that Dido’s twin son John, who was born in May 1795 with the other twin Charles, who died in infancy was buried there around 1796-8. There’s no exact record of when John died or was buried, but most likely it was at the burial ground and Saint George’s. Only a deep scan of the designated areas would prove conclusive and if we could find they are buried together and I would very much welcome such a scan to prove or disprove my theory, as I think is seems highly likely that Dido, is still be buried there, only time will tell.
It is also feasible that when Dido died, the family used the undertakers, or upholders as they were then known, France and Beckwith, who were responsible for organising all royal burials including those of King George III, King George IV, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg and more. William France trained as an upholsterer initially and undertook work at Kenwood House, where he supplied table legs, frames and mouldings which were described as being ‘Gilded with Burnish’d Gold in the most perfect manner’.
Thanks must also go to Colin Fenn, who assisted Etienne with research into the burial ground. As well as researching Saint George’s Field he is also a trustee of the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, where Dido’s two sons are buried. Colin’s website can be found by clicking this link
You may not be familiar with the name George John Scipio Africanus, neither was I until I recently saw his name on a Blue Plaque in Nottingham and wanted to find out more about his life and family.
George arrived in England from Sierra Leone, aged about three and was raised by the affluent Molineux family. Baptised in Wolverhampton, George was given to one of the family as ‘a gift’.
31 Mar 1766
George John Scipio-a negro boy of Benjamin Molineux’s
He was well liked by the family who arranged for him to be educated and then sent to complete an apprenticeship in the family town of Wolverhampton.
After completing his apprenticeship, John moved to Nottingham, a county where the Molineux family had connections. There he met a Nottingham girl, Esther Shaw, who, according to the marriage certificate, unlike George, was unable to write, simply signing her name with the usual mark X.
Despite the obvious issues of Esther being unable to write and George being non-white, at a time before slavery had been abolished, the couple settled down to produce seven children – Elizabeth, Samuel, Sarah, Hannah, Ann, Samuel and George. Tragically, only one child was to survive into adulthood – Hannah.
In spite of the tragedy in their lives, George and Esther were hard workers, Esther ran a milliners and then together they ran an employment agency, employing servants for the wealthy which they set up early 1793. George had been a servant in the Molineux household, so understood what an employer would be looking for from potential employees. The couple remained in Nottingham for the remainder of their lives, continually expanding their business.
In 1834 George died, leaving Esther to continue the family business until her death in 1853, which was quite something for a woman to do alone at that time.
Esther was clearly not someone to be trifled with as we’ll shortly discover; on 7th April 1838, she was convicted and fined two shillings and six pence, plus twelve shillings and sixpence, for assaulting George Smith, a sweep, aged 9, with a brush.
Their daughter, Hannah, it would appear married unwisely, and clearly not really with her father’s blessing. Her husband was a watch and clock maker from Boston, Lincolnshire, one Samuel Cropper. They went on to have three children, Sarah who died in 1842 and was described as ‘sickly and infirm‘. George Africanus, named in honour of Hannah’s father, who died at just one year, and Esther Africanus Cropper who was born 1840.
George, having become something of an entrepreneur and businessman was to leave a will, in which he left his wife Esther well provided for and also a bequest to his daughter Hannah – for her use only, under no circumstances was her husband to have any control of it. To say he didn’t approve of her choice would be putting it mildly. There could be absolutely no misunderstanding of his views in his will whatsoever.
A couple of years or so after George died, Esther, being a canny business woman took Hannah’s husband to court requiring back payment of maintenance for her daughter and her children. Apparently, Samuel had left the family home around 1825, when their youngest eldest child, Sarah was around three months old. Sarah required nurses to care for her, which presumably Esther funded. When Samuel eventually returned, he said he’d been working in France, Austria and Switzerland during that time. Esther decided it was payback time, and sued him for ten shilling per week for the time he had been away, which amounted to around £290 over the 10 years!
Samuel and Esther met again in the courtroom, this time due to Samuel becoming insolvent.
I would have thought it highly likely that George would have been impressed by his wife for her actions. Samuel’s behaviour clearly explains George’s will and George, it appears was ‘spot on’ with making sure his daughter benefited from his will to the exclusion of Samuel.
Whether Samuel sorted his debts remains unanswered, but for some reason Hannah and Samuel were reunited and produced their second and third children in fairly quick succession.
We now step very much out of our usual era but having disappeared down this proverbial rabbit hole, I wanted to know what became of George’s one and only granddaughter Esther Africanus Cropper, named after her grandmother, and whether any of George’s descendants are still alive today, so the hunt continued.
Esther and her husband to be, Charles Edward Turnbull, the son of a pianoforte maker from London, had their marriage banns read over the three weekends commencing 27th August 1865 at St Paul’s, St Pancras, London. The couple didn’t marry in London, but instead returned to Nottingham and married the following year, choosing however, to settle in London, where Charles was a toy merchant and ran a very successful business, founding Charterhouse Toys in 1872 (probably best known for their doll houses and miniature furnishings and toys).
On his death in 1929, he left Esther extremely well provided for with around £32,000 (just over £2 million in today’s money). The couple had two boys, who worked in the family firm, but who never married, and a daughter, Margaret Hannah (George’s great granddaughter).
Margaret married in 1899, in Surbiton, Surrey and the couple had one son, Charles John Stuart Allen, who emigrated to Canada in the 1920’s, where he married Mary Georgina Stewart Williams in 1925. They had at least two children who, it seems feasible are either still alive today or who may have living descendants.
Charles died in 1960 in New York. It would be fascinating to know if this is the case and whether they know how important their ancestor George John Scipio Africanus was in both Nottingham and British history.
There is a black and white image of a portrait of George in existence, but it would be lovely to know where the original is, but I’ve had no luck as yet, tracking it down.
To find out more about George and to see some of the original documents visit MyLearning
To find out more about Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s brother who had connections with slavery and Sierra Leone click on this link
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties 30 May 1834
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties 17 March 1837
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties17 November 1837
Nottingham Journal 13 April 1838
Wolverhampton St Peter’s Parish Registers Index, baptisms (1538-1875)
Nottingham Market Place. William Goodacre. Nottingham Castle Museum and At Gallery. c1827.
I thought long and hard about whether to publish this on the blog, but decided that, despite being almost unbearable to read, it was merely one short extract which doesn’t even come close describing the horrors that slaves endured during the Georgian Era on a very regular basis but decided it needed to be shared. I do however, warn you from the outset, this does not make for easy reading.
This extract comes from a newspaper article published in September 1806, but it is also available to read in Volume 3 of the work written by Dr George Pinckard. His 3 volumes are available to read online (see below).
This work, which would be interesting at any time, derives a peculiar interest at the present moment, from the light which is thrown on that great question, respecting the African Slave Trade, and the system of slavery which it feeds in our West-Indian colonies, now passing under the review of the legislature of this country. The facts recorded by Dr Pinckard, are the result of his own personal observation, serve strikingly to develop the real nature of colonial bondage and are therefore entitled to particular attention from the public. The following extract will furnish a specimen of the kind of information which is to be derived from these interesting volumes, while it will afford fresh proof of West Indian humanity. The circumstances detailed in it are stated to have occurred on the estate of an English planter at Demerara, where Dr Pinckard himself was stationed at the time, and are as follows:
Two unhappy negroes, a man and woman, having been driven by cruel treatment to abscond from the plantation at Lancaster, were taken a few days since, and brought back to the estate, when the manager, whose inhuman severity had caused them to fly from his tyrannical government, dealt out to them his avenging despotism with more than savage brutality. Taking with him two of the strongest drivers, armed with the heaviest whips, he led out these trembling and wretched Africans early in the morning, to a remote part of the estate, too distant for the officers to hear their cries; and there, tying down first the man, he stood by, and made the drivers flog him with many hundred lashes, until, on releasing him from the ground, it was discovered that he was nearly exhausted; and in this state the inhuman monster struck him with the but-end of a large whip, he fell to the ground; when the poor negro, escaping at once from his slavery and his sufferings expired at the murderers feet. But not satiated with blood, this savage tyrant next tied down the naked woman, on the spot by the dead body of her husband, and with the whips, already deep in gore, compelled the drivers to inflict a punishment of several hundred lashes, which had nearly released her also from a life of toil and torture.
Hearing of these acts of cruelty, on my return from the hospital, and scarcely believing it possible they could have been committed I went immediately to the sick house to satisfy myself by ocular testimony; when alas! I discovered that all I had heard was too fatally true: for, shocking to relate I found the wretched and almost murdered woman lying stark naked on her belly, without any coverings to the horrid wounds which had been cut by the whips, and with the still warm and bloody corpse of the man extended at her side, upon the neck of which was an iron collar, and a long heavy chain, which the now murdered negro had been made to wear from the time of his return to the estate.
The flesh of the woman was so torn, as to exhibit one extensive sore from the loins almost to her hams; not had humanity administered even a drop of oil to soften her wounds. The only relief she knew was that of extending her feeble arm in order to beat off the tormenting flies with a small green bough, which had been put into her hand for that purpose by the sympathizing kindness of a fellow slave. A more shocking and stressing spectacle can scarcely be conceived. The dead man and the almost expiring woman had been brought home from the place of punishment, and thrown into the negro hospital, amidst the crowd of sick, with cruel unconcern. Lying on the opposite side of the corpse was a fellow sufferer in similar condition to the poor woman. His buttocks, thighs and part of his back, had been flogged into one large sore, which was still raw although he had been punished a fortnight before.
The owner was challenged about the severity of his manager’s action and said that the slaves only got what they deserved. The law of the colonies restricted slave owners to lashings of up to a maximum of 39, but the fine being so small for excessive use meant that 100 lashes were very commonplace.
Following on from a blog about Dido Elizabeth Belle, one of our lovely readers made us aware of this unusual painting titled, Young Woman with Servant which is on display at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Why unusual? It is odd on so many levels. For starters the subject matter, it is titled ‘young woman with servant’ so which is the young woman and which the servant? Whilst looking at it, we found ourselves almost playing a game of ‘spot the difference’.
Let’s look at each woman in turn. The seated woman is wearing no jewels apart from very plain earrings and a jewel on her apron. The artist has made her face appear somewhat one-dimensional and she’s staring into the distance. Would she really have been the one holding the fruit? The hat with flowers is such, a typical wide-brimmed day hat.
The servant: she is dressed in all her finery, notice the detailed lace around the neckline and the arms of the dress, much more elaborate than the lace which the other woman is wearing. She wears no hat, instead, a form of headdress with a fashionable feather in it and a jewel. And those jewels! She is much more adorned than her seated companion, wearing an elaborate necklace and earrings too. Her hand resting on the naked skin of the other woman – would a servant ever be allowed to do that? A symbol of intimacy, surely not acceptable at that time? She is also looking directly at the artist (and viewer) and appears much more three-dimensional. The dress may also be riding habit, if you look closely you can see the ‘frog fasteners’ typically used on outdoor wear.
The setting itself looks to be a hothouse or possibly an artificial grotto. There is fruit in the seated woman’s apron and the orange just about to be picked and added to it. Notice the chair that the ‘mistress’ is sitting on.
We have tried to find a similar example of that period, but without success, although there are reproductions of virtually the same chair dating from the late 1800s which describe it as Rococo (1725-1755), possibly French or Italian, playful, ornate and curvaceous, with a shell-shaped back and serpent arms.
So, it does rather beg the question, is the young woman standing really a servant or an equal? It has also been given the title, Two Society Women.
The painting appeared in a Sotheby’s catalogue of sales dated 19th November 1986, which gave it a yet another, Ladies Gathering Fruit, c.1750, so we contacted Sotheby’s hoping for some more information on its provenance, but unfortunately, they were unable to provide responses to individual questions, so we were no further forward. We also approached Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and are still hopeful of a more positive response from them.
We then decided to research the artist himself, Stephen Slaughter for more clues.
Stephen was born in London in January 1697, one of five surviving children of Stephen and Judith Slaughter. Their other children were Edward, Catherine, Mary and Judith.
Very little seems to be known about his life and as such he warrants very few mentions in books, only half a dozen entries in the newspapers of the day, a brief resume in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies and a short entry on Wikipedia.
Slaughter studied under the famous Godfrey Kneller, then travelled abroad to France and Flanders, returning to England around 1732. He then moved to Dublin for a number of years, returning to London in the 1740s.
In 1745 he was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Pictures (George II), with a salary of £200 per annum (around £24,000 in today’s money). From 1748 until his death in 1765, Slaughter spent time on picture restoration. He was buried on 2nd April 1765 at Kensington.
Just to set the record straight here, only one of his female siblings married and that was his sister, Judith.
There has been much debate as to whether she married the artist John Lewis, but we can confirm that she didn’t – she married a Paul Lewis, when she was aged just 16, as confirmed by the marriage allegation dated 4th January 1726, St Giles in the Field.
Judith was widowed by the time her brother Edward wrote his will in April 1770. We can confirm, however, that the artist, John Lewis’s wife was Mary as named in his will, proven 1781.
Each of the siblings left their estate to the next in line with Catherine being the last to die in 1786.
Suggestions have been made that this is a portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle with Lady Mary Milner. This seems extremely unlikely as the two women look to be of similar age and Lady Mary was considerably older than Dido.
If we accept that it was painted by Stephen Slaughter then he died when Dido was a mere toddler so it couldn’t possibly be her in the painting. So either way, as much as we would like it to be a portrait of both women, the theory falls flat on its face.
The portrait raises far more questions than it answers, so if anyone knows anything more about this painting, we would love to hear from you.
UPDATE 9th March 2019 – A Painting Within a Painting
Well, we did ask people to get in touch if they knew any more about the painting and we were contacted by Sheila Graham-Smith who is presently researching it, which sent us disappearing down another rabbit hole.
To cut a long story short, we knew from the Sotheby’s sale catalogue that there was a familial connection between the Manvers family of Thoresby Hall and the Butterfield family at Cliffe Castle, so arguably the painting could be of someone from either side of the family, or simply a painting purchased by someone in the family for its aesthetic value.
Purely by chance, we came across this painting by Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont (1889-1984), of Thoresby Hall, which is a painting of her daughter, at Thoresby.
To the back of the painting you will clearly see that she had painted in Slaughter’s painting, ‘Ladies Gathering Fruit‘ (alternatively titled, Young Woman with Servant). The location of the painting whilst at Thoresby was clearly not taking pride of place, merely hung at the end of a corridor.
I contacted Thoresby who were able to confirm that, whilst not presently on display, they do hold the painting by Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont, a prolific artist and that the location depicted was Thoresby Hall and not Cliffe Castle as queried by ArtUK, but that they don’t know anything more about the original.
We have now reached another dead-end with research in terms of identifying either of the sitters, but hopefully, we’ll get there eventually.
FURTHER UPDATE 30 JUNE 2020
I have recently been been sent yet another version of the painting, but note the differences. I now have no idea which would have been the original painting.
Ancestry.com. London and Surrey, England, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597-1921[database on-line]
As many of our readers are aware, over the past few months we have been researching the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family in addition to our usual eclectic mix of posts. Some information about her life has now been in the public domain for a number of years, including the film made about her life, ‘Belle’, but since we began we have uncovered some new pieces of information about her life, that of her siblings and her husband and of course, there’s been renewed interest in her since the BBC programme about the painting itself.
Today we want to share some more information that we have received from one of our lovely readers, Chris Goddard, about John Davinière.*
In one of our earlier posts we gave the witness to Dido’s marriage as being John Coventry, Chris however, has suggested that it might have been a John Courtoy, a peruke-maker and one of the wealthiest men in London at that time. Both men’s signatures being extremely similar. If this is the case, quite what Courtoy’s connection to Davinière was we’re really not sure as yet, apart from them both being French. That mystery is still ‘work in progress’.
With the help of Chris, we have also pieced together a little more of what became of the Davinière family when they returned to France, after the death of Dido.
We know that John, his second wife Jane Holland and their son Edward returned to John’s place of birth, Ducey, France and that Edward returned to England for a brief spell to witness his brother’s marriage in London.
The newspapers in France confirm that their son, Edward was involved in an incident. It was reported that Edward Henry Davinière, aged 30, described as a medical student at the time, was forcibly committed to an asylum in Dinan, as he had threated to ‘blow out the brain’ of the mayor of Ducey and that he made threats against the mayor’s wife and her servant, following arguments with his father. Was Edward Henry unstable, was that possibly their reason for leaving England in the first place? This new piece of information brings with it its own questions for which more research is still required.
It would appear that perhaps in light of this incident, John felt it was time for a move, so advertised his beautiful house for sale.
Beautiful property for sale presently. It consists of a superb mansion, with kitchen, dining room, living room, three bedrooms, three closets and an attic; it is freshly parqueted, panelled, painted and carpeted – a laundry, cellars, shed, stable, wine press, vault and latrine; a garden, fruit and vegetable garden and an orchard; in total about eighty acres, is closed by beautiful hedges of bleached thorns, and is located near the village of Ducey, a very small distance from the departmental road of Alençon to St Malo. The house is furnished with a rich new furniture, that will be sold with the house if the purchaser wishes. To visit this property and discuss the price, contact Davinière who occupies it.
We know that John died in 1847 (his 9 page inventory is still a work in progress), leaving his widow Jane, a landowner/annuitant (le rentière) and their son Edward in France and that their daughter Lavinia Amelia was living with her husband family in London, but until now we didn’t know for certain whether mother and son remained in France. It appears that they did, as we have found Jane in January 1851, listed on a type of ‘census’ for Avranches, just a few miles from Ducey, no further information provided, just her name as the widow of Davinière.
Jane (or Jeanne-Marie Holland), as she was referred to, died at her home on Rue Ormont, Avranches, France in March 1851 at which time all her household belongings were sold off. The death notice gave her age as 53, this can’t possibly have been correct given the ages of her children though, Lavinia being 39 and Edward, 41. Perhaps a lady never tells her true age would be a wise assumption in this case and that 63 would appear much closer to the truth.
On 21st April 1851, the late Jeanne-Marie Holland, widow of Louis Jean Charles Davinière’s house and possessions were sold off. After his mother’s death, Edward was placed in the asylum in Pontorson during which time there was a guardianship case involving his sister who lived in England.
Edward Henry died at Pontorson on 29th May 1867.
At this stage, with the continued interest in the life of Dido, we thought it might be a good idea to provide links to all the individual articles under one roof. This will no doubt be added to as more information comes to light, so please do feel free to check back from time to time.
Minney, Sarah. Inside Out: Abolition of the British Slave Trade special
Stringfield, Margo. Real Story of ‘Belle’ has Pensacola Connections
There are also numerous blogs and books in addition to ours that have told part of Dido’s story which we’re sure you will find with by a quick online search.
If you have any questions or any additional information about Dido we would love to hear from you. New snippets of information seem to be appearing almost daily, which is great news and they are enabling us to piece together unknown bits of her life.
* We should also like to acknowledge Judy Jerkins who started the ball rolling with her research into the life of Courtoy and David Godson who has written an account of Courtoy’s life.
We were busy researching something completely different about Jamaica and stumbled across this story. Whilst we’re unable to add anything much to it we thought it was worth sharing with you – a bit gruesome, but we do write about All Things Georgian, after all.
This story begins on 16th March 1773 in Spanish Town, Jamaica with the hanging of a Lewis Hutchinson, aka, Mad Master; but what warranted such a sentence?
Accounts of what led up to his hanging vary, and quite who he was, we’re unable to ascertain. Reports say he was from Scotland, but there’s no trace of a Lewis Hutchinson being born or having lived there, so far as we can tell. One newspaper report initially referred to him as James Hutchinson but then part way through changed his name to Lewis – so we’re none the wiser.
During the 1770s there were plenty of Scottish men who established sugar plantations in Jamaica, aiming to make their fortunes with the use of slaves to work the plantations. Hutchinson was no different. He owned the Edinburgh Castle plantation in the St Ann district of Jamaica and had around 24 slaves. (The Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project notes that after the time of Hutchinson, Edinburgh Castle had just under 100 slaves).
Hutchinson, it would seem had a penchant for shooting any white man who came anywhere close to his land. Now, Dr Jonathan Hutton, an English doctor owned the close by Bonne Ville plantation with around 60 slaves, 30 male and 30 females and spent his time between Jamaica and his home in Lincolnshire.
The story goes that Hutchinson had a dispute with Dr Hutton over land boundaries, as Hutchinson felt that Hutton had encroached onto his land and this angered him greatly; so one evening when Dr Hutton was riding home accompanied by one of his slaves who was carrying his sabre when Hutchinson took the sabre from the slave and told the slave to pass on his compliments to Dr Hutton and to tell him that he had taken his sabre. Hutton either ignored or didn’t realise what had taken place.
Sometime later, Hutton and his young daughter, Mary, aged about 8 years were out riding when they encountered Hutchinson who, without provocation, struck the doctor with the sabre which had previously taken.
Dr Hutton was severely injured and was carried back to the estate to recover, but his recovery was poor. He managed to travel to Kingston to make a formal complaint about Hutchinson, but nothing appeared to have been done about it, and as he was so ill, he gave up and decided to make the long journey back to England for treatment. Once there he had an operation for trepanning. He eventually returned to Jamaica a year or so later and sought to have Hutchinson arrested.
A soldier by the name of Callender and some other men were sent to Edinburgh Castle to arrest him, but Hutchinson realised what was about to happen; he fired a shot at Callender and killed him. He was eventually overpowered and arrested and taken to Spanish Town gaol. His castle was searched, where some 43 watches were found, along with a large quantity of clothing and other objects which proved that, as people had suspected, he had committed other murders.
If his slaves were to be believed, he murdered many people and threw their dead bodies down an extremely deep sink hole near the property. There were also rumours that he drank his victims’ blood and then dismembered them, true or just folklore?
Another story that circulated was that he had befriended a young white man who was taken ill. Rumours were that Hutchinson had aided the young man’s recovery and when recovered Hutchinson sent him on his way.
It seems that as the young man left the castle, Hutchinson waited, made his way to the rooftop of the castle, took aim and fired a shot which killed the young man. How true that story is no-one can confirm.
Hutchinson was, however, only tried for the one crime and as such was hanged only for that. Over time people have investigated the claims of the dead bodies being thrown down the sinkhole but after much searching, there seems to be no substantive evidence to support this claim, so arguably yet more folklore.
Young Mary Hutton, aged only eight at the time of her father’s attack, returned to London at some stage with her mother Christiana and on the 8th September 1778, although still a minor, was married at St Catherine Coleman church, London to a John Pottinger. The couple returned to Jamaica where Mary and her husband continued to run her father’s plantation, Bonne Ville; they had 45 enslaved people there in 1792 and after the abolition of slavery, Mary made two claims totalling £1,000.
A picturesque tour of the island of Jamaica
Caledonian Mercury 26 June 1773
Historic Jamaica by Frank Cundell
Legacies of British Slave owner database
View of Port Royal, Jamaica Richard Paton (1717–1791) National Maritime Museum
For those of us who watched BBC’s Fake or Fortune which took a look at the stunning painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth, we were delighted that the team were finally been able to put a name to the artist which has been unknown for so long, and confirmed – as we suggested – that it was not painted by Zoffany.
In our previous blog about the painting we did speculate that it may have been by David Martin but also offered ours and Etienne Daly (an expert in all things Dido)’s opinion that it was more likely to have been by Allan Ramsay given his familial connections. Well, we now have an answer – or do we?
As we’ve been asked whether our opinion has changed after viewing the programme, we decided to look at the evidence provided. This is quite a long post, so bear with us.
Our answer to the posed question is, in short, not totally, although we’re not and never have professed to be art experts. For us, there are still some questions which have remained unanswered.
If we’re trying to give Dido back her rightful place in society we need to start at the beginning of the programme and correct the first statement made about Dido.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was NOT born into slavery. Whilst her mother had been a slave who was brought to England by Sir John Lindsay, Dido was born in England and not as a slave, but the natural daughter of an aristocrat. We know this from the snippet of information written by Thomas Hutchinson in his diary. Why would he fabricate this fact? He had nothing to gain and was merely repeating what he been told on previous occasions by Lord Mansfield.
I knew her history before, but my Lord mentioned it again. Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England, where she was delivered of this girl.
Next, Dido’s freedom was technically given by Lord Mansfield on 17th April 1782 when he wrote his will and not upon his death in 1793; she would have been just coming up to her 21st birthday, so perfect timing.
Along with confirming her freedom, Lord Mansfield gave her £100 per year, after the death of his wife, which took place in April 1784, to which he subsequently added a further payment of £200 ‘to set out with‘, plus £300 in a later codicil, making an overall total of some £900. That seems a strange comment for him to have made, but, it could be argued that if he thought he was to die shortly, that Dido would need to be self-sufficient as she may no longer have been able to live at Kenwood after his death.
Although Dido had never been a slave, this document was important as it would legally have affirmed her social status so that there could be no possible misunderstanding after his death, whenever that should come, and to ensure that there was no possibility of her ever being regarded as a slave. After Lord Mansfield’s death, she became a free woman with status, an heiress in her own right, which showed a good deal of foresight on Lord Mansfield’s part and ensured that she was financially secure.
Now, moving on to the portrait itself, based upon the scientific findings of Philip Mould and his team it would certainly appear likely that the portrait above, in the family’s private collection, was painted by the same person who painted the portrait of Lady Marjory. However, the programme left us to accept that (a) it was a painting of Lady Marjory and (b) that it was painted by David Martin and (c) some ten years previously, without explaining how they knew these facts. From our perspective and for clarity, it might have been helpful if those explanations of the provenance were offered.
Assuming it was Lady Marjory (- 19th April 1799), niece to Lord Mansfield, the similarities in style between the paintings was clear to see – the face shape, the lips, the fingers on the cheek. We know that Lady Marjory and Dido were close as Dido was a beneficiary in Lady Marjory’s will, so perhaps the pose was Dido’s attempt to emulate Lady Marjory’s portrait, although Lady Marjory’s attitude looks pensive, whereas Dido’s is slightly mischievous.
Whilst the technology has confirmed that the portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido were painted using the same paint, for us, it doesn’t confirm that they were by the same artist. Surely it’s feasible that two artists could have used the same paint – after all Martin was Ramsay’s protégé, so perhaps both used the same supplier? Theoretical, of course.
The expert, at the end of the programme, was also able to confirm, based on the evidence, that it was by Martin, but equally, he acknowledged that Martin had been Ramsay’s protégé. So, again, although Martin was a respected artist by that time in his own right, couldn’t either he, Ramsay or both have worked on the painting of Dido as a favour to the family, especially as Allan Ramsay was her uncle? We still hold the opinion that, given the playful nature of the portrait, it was definitely painted by someone with whom the girls felt relaxed and comfortable with. Arguably, either artist would fit the bill.
It was very interesting to note that the portrait was unframed, according to the 1796 inventory. Had it been a commission you would have expected it to be presented in a frame or framed by the family shortly after and given her status within the family it seems desperately sad that so soon after her marriage it had been stored away along with broken furniture etc. We also wondered why it hadn’t been retained by Dido as a keepsake if the family no longer had it on display.
As suggested by that record in the accounts book, if the payment to David Martin was for the portrait of Dido, then at best, Dido would have only been 15 years old; she does not look like a girl of 15, she looks to be late teens in our humble opinion.
The date of the painting has long been regarded as 1779 when it was attributed to Zoffany. We don’t think it is likely to have been painted much before that given that Dido was born in 1761; if dated to 1779 she would be about 18 at the time of it originally being painted. We do know that in 1779 her father, Sir John Lindsay was in England, so maybe he was aware of the painting and rather than being a commissioned piece is struck us that it was more likely to have been a keepsake or memento which, it could be argued would explain why there was no obvious payment for it.
Also, it was on the 19th October 1776 that Lord Mansfield was raised from Baron to Earl, following which several copies of an earlier portrait by David Martin were produced, showing his elevated status.
The original portrait at Kenwood is of Lord Mansfield prior to becoming an earl and dated 1775 (on Art UK) – note the difference between that and the one held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, dated 1777 (below) and painted after his elevation.
Was the 1776 payment for completion of the earlier portrait, or for the copies made subsequently rather than for the portrait featuring Dido?
Following the programme, Philip Mould has now added some exciting news which didn’t make it into the programme; the portrait we see today is not the original, as such, but rather it was added to at a later date by a different artist. The change to the portrait really does make a huge difference to the perception of Dido and her position within the painting and society in general.
And finally, Etienne Daly has visited Kenwood House frequently and has been trying to work out whereabouts the painting was done within the ground.
Could this be the very spot where the portrait was painted (the bare patch in the foreground)?
We are still trying to piece together the life of David Martin, but this is proving tricky. If we’re able together to do so, we will write another post in due course.
To find out more about what became about Dido Belle follow the links below.
For our regular readers, you will by now have probably gathered that as well as all the other research we usually do, we have also been investigating the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido, her life and family have become something of an obsession for us of late and we have been busy piecing it together and trying to rectify some of the misinformation that currently exists.
We have recently shared with you new information about Dido’s siblings who were born in Jamaica, but in today’s post we are taking a look at what happened to the real Dido Belle, who, at the end of the film Belle ‘walked off into the sunset’ with her man, the lawyer, John Davinière.
*SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE FILM BELLE*
John was not, the son of the local Reverend in Hampstead, nor was he a lawyer and as such would have had absolutely no involvement in the Zong massacre case. A little creative licence used with that one!
John Davinière as he was known in England, was born Jean Louis Charles Davinière in the town of Ducey in the Normandy region of France and was one of several children born to Charles Davinière and his wife Madeleine Le Sellier. He was baptised on 16th November 1768, and so was several years Dido’s junior.
He left his native France for England towards the end of the 1780s, so, just prior to the French Revolution; the date of his departure from France is not quite clear as it appears in a couple of places later in his life at which time he gave differing years for his arrival into England. However, on coming to the country, he found work as a steward or valet, again the terminology of his occupation varies slightly.
No-one knows how he would have met Dido, but it seems likely that the Murray or Ramsay family would have been involved in some way. We do know that Allan Ramsay had painted a portrait of the 6th Earl of Coventry in the 1760s and Dido’s marriage entry provided us with a snippet of information in the shape of one of the witnesses – John Coventry, who was the third son of the 6th Earl of Coventry who owned a townhouse on Piccadilly so it seems quite likely that this would have been who John initially worked for as a steward. The other witness was Dido’s close friend, Martha Darnell.
According to the Westminster rates books, not long after their marriage on 5th December 1793, at St George’s, Hanover Square, the couple moved into a newly built house, 14, Ranelagh Street North, near St George’s Hanover Square. It’s interesting to note that the happy couple married on the same day, at the same church and by the same vicar as the first Duke of Sussex and his bride Lady Augusta Murray.
They appear to have lived a happy life and with it, the arrival of 3 sons, of which two, Charles (1795-1873) and William Thomas (1800-1867) survived into adulthood, John, who we now know survived until at least 1804, then seems to have completely vanished. They wouldn’t exactly have been destitute as Dido received not only an inheritance from Lord Mansfield who died in 1793, but also, in 1799 upon the death of Lady Margery Murray, she received a further legacy of £100, as ‘a token of her regard for Dido’.
In July 1804, Dido was sadly to die, leaving John to raise the boys alone. We now know that Lady Anne Murray who died in 1817, wrote her will after Dido died in 1804, in which she acknowledged that she knew Dido had left, but still left money to all 3 of her boys.
The actual date of her burial remains unknown as there were many burials at St George’s Fields that month and most unhelpfully there were not dated. Dido’s was number 56 out of 73, so it was probably towards the end of that month.
The entry in the burial register for Dido July 1804. It is believed that her remains were removed during the development of that site, but no conclusive evidence exists to substantiate this. The whole site was not redeveloped, so it is quite feasible that her remains may still be there, potentially buried some 10+ feet down as deep burials were thought to prevent grave robbers. Part of the redevelopment of that area now consists of dwellings.
Shortly after Dido’s death John left Ranelagh Street and moved to live at 40 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, then nothing until we came across him being mentioned in the will of his employer, John Craufurd*, of Errol, Perth and Kinross who described John as his valet, leaving him a couple of bequests upon his death. Craufurd also provided a reference for Davinière’s son, Charles when he joined the Madras Army, so he clearly thought quite highly of the family.
The boys were clearly educated, as confirmed by a letter written by Charles’ tutor, as Mr James Carver, who had a private school, in Pimlico. They would have been taught, English, Greek, Latin and French, along with subjects such as accounts, land surveying, mathematics and drawing. Basically, all skills they would need to get a job in the military, finance or to go to university.
It appears that John didn’t remain single for very long, as he met and ultimately married his second wife, Jane Holland. The marriage took place in 1819 at St Martin in the Fields, but not until some years after they had produced a couple of children, Lavinia (1809-1888), who was born whilst they lived at 40 Mount Street and Edward Henry (born 1812). This time the marriage was simply witnessed by two ‘serial marriage witnesses’, so no aristocracy present on this occasion.
It was to be shortly after the birth of Edward Henry that the couple moved again, this time to 31 Edgware Road where it appears they remained for several years, moving on to Portman Place around 1822. Rates returns indicated that he and his wife left there in 1828, returning to France.
Their daughter, Lavinia was to marry Louis Henri Wohlegmuth, a naturalised Frenchmanin 1843 and confirmed her father’s name on the marriage register, but neither John nor Jane were present at the marriage as the newspaper confirmed that they had in fact returned to John’s native town of Ducey, France, where John was to remain until his death on 31st March 1847.
Upon his death, he left his possessions to his wife Jane and named all four children – Charles, Guillame (William), Lavinia Amelia and Edward.
The lives of the Charles and Lavinia and to a lesser extent, William Thomas, are reasonably well documented. Certainly the boys were well-educated as a document dated 8th February 1811, relating to Charles confirms, but we know very little about Edward, except that he travelled between Le Havre and England on 24th August 1837 which was quite possibly in order to be a witness at his half-brother, William Thomas’s marriage to Fanny Graham, which took place in September of that year and was clearly still alive when his father died. I have read online that Fanny Graham was a widow, so let’s just correct another mistake, as you can see here, she was a spinster.
As there is no sign of either John’s widow, Jane or Edward the most obvious conclusion is that they remained in France. The trail has, for now, gone cold on that front, but at least we are briefly able to add a little new information to the story of Dido Belle and John Davinière. (UPDATE – we have now found out some more about their life, so if you’d like to read our latest findings follow this link ).
To find out more about the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle that first sparked our interest in her follow the highlighted link.
If you’d like to listen to a podcast about Dido recorded for English Heritage click the highlighted link.
If you’d like to know more about Dido Elizabeth Belle follow these links:
One of guides at Kenwood House, Ian Trackman, has very generously made available online, details of Lord Mansfield’s Household Accounts 1785-1793, which is freely available to download. The accounts do make for fascinating reading.
Ian has carried out some amazing work in transcribing Lord Mansfield’s extremely detailed will too, along with its 19 codicils. Again, this is freely available to download, by click in the highlighted link above.
* History of Parliament Online (See John Craufurd)
Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Turnpike, from Ackermann’s Repository, 1810
We’re very excited to be able to bring you some new information about Dido Elizabeth Belle.
Dido was the natural daughter of a former African slave woman and Sir John Lindsay; she was brought up alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray at their great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield’s estate, Kenwood House in Hampstead, London. You may have seen the film about Dido’s life, Belle (2013).
Well, today you are going to be the first to know a little bit more about Dido’s family.
Her father, John Lindsay, from a well-connected Scottish family, was a career naval officer who, in the summer of 1764, was knighted and eventually became an admiral.
It is well-known that he fathered Dido; less well-known are his other illegitimate children. In his will, written in 1783, Lindsay left a sum of money for the benefit of his two ‘reputed’ children, John and Elizabeth. It has until now, been assumed that the Elizabeth referred to in Lord Mansfield’s will was Dido, but we now know this to be incorrect. Sir John didn’t mention Dido in this document as she was provided for by the Earl of Mansfield and his family.
Speculation has long been rife as to the birthplace and true identity of John and Elizabeth (if there actually was an Elizabeth) … well, we can shed some light on this, and share some information about two further children as well.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was the eldest of Lindsay’s brood of illegitimate offspring, and she was born in June 1761 (her year of birth worked out from a notation against her baptism). Lindsay had arrived in Jamaica in the summer of 1760 aboard HMS Trent (1757), a Royal Naval 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate of which he was captain. He had been appointed to the ship since its launch and had already seen action off Cape Finisterre, Spain in 1759 and at the Siege of Quebec (Battle of the Plains of Abraham) in the same year. During the September of 1760 (Dido, if she was born in June 1761, must have been conceived around this time), the Trent was patrolling off the coast of Senegal, returning back to Jamaica at the end of the year.
On 4th January 1761, the Trent, captained by John Lindsay, captured the richly laden French merchant frigate Bien Aimè off Cape Tiburon after a forty-five-minute duel, arriving back in Port Royal, Jamaica with his prize later that month.
At Dido Elizabeth Belle’s baptism, which took place in England some five years after her birth, her mother was named as Maria Bell. Reputedly, Maria was a slave being transported in a Spanish galleon which Lindsay had captured.
Thomas Hutchinson, the former governor of Massachusetts met Dido and recounted something of her background in his diary. He claimed that Maria Bell was brought to London on board the slave ship, heavily pregnant. However, it was not a slave ship but the captured Bien Aimè carrying sugar (which had been destined for France), which was the Trent’s prize and which sailed into the Downs under convoy in May 1761.
And, far from travelling home to England himself, Lindsay appears to be fully occupied elsewhere. In the early summer of 1761, the Trent captured a French slave ship off the coast of Guinea-Bissau and brought her into Bunce Island, off Sierra Leone.
On 31st October, he brought two prizes into port at Kingston, Jamaica, a Dutch schooner and a sloop richly laden with indigo, which he took near Haiti. And, there is one further pressing reason why John Lindsay must have been present on the island of Jamaica around May 1761.
Between March and July 1762, John Lindsay participated in the Siege of Havana under Vice-Admiral Sir George Pocock. Just before he had sailed from Jamaica, however, he had welcomed the arrival of a second child, a son named John Edward Lindsay who had been born on 19th February 1762. This child was not baptised until 6th November that year, in the church at Port Royal; the record in the baptism register described him as John Edward, son of John Lindsay and Mary Vellet, ‘a mulatto’.
Unfortunately, little John Edward was destined to die just over a month later. He was buried on 16th December 1762 at the Palisadoes Cemetery at Port Royal, aged almost ten months.
Captain Lindsay returned to England where, on 10th February 1764, he was knighted. Subsequently, he served during 1764 and 1765 at Pensacola in Florida as the senior officer.
It is not known whether he took Dido and her mother with him, but a Scotsman named George Gauld did make the journey. Working as a surveyor, Gauld made a sketch of the harbour at Pensacola, so we are able to see the scene which would have greeted Sir John Lindsay as he arrived there.
The last two months of 1766 saw three events which had an impact on Lindsay’s life, although he may not have immediately been aware of all of them; while we cannot be sure of Lindsay’s whereabouts, Dido was certainly in London at the time.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was finally baptised on 20th November 1766 at 5-years of age; the ceremony took place at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury. Her father, now Sir John Lindsay, was not present nor did he bestow his surname upon Dido.
However, five days earlier, on 15th November 1766, another daughter had been born to Lindsay. The girl was named Ann and her mother was ‘Sarah Gandwell, a free negro’. It appears that Lindsay must have been in Jamaica in the first months of that year and that, nine months later, Ann was born on the island.
On 8th December 1766, yet another daughter was born, Elizabeth whose mother was simply named as Martha G. Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Lindsay was baptised a month later, on 10th January 1767, at Port Royal. This is the Elizabeth named in Sir John Lindsay’s will.
Where was Sir John Lindsay at this time? Had he travelled back to Jamaica after Dido’s baptism, in time to be present to bestow his name on his third daughter at her own baptism ceremony?
If so, then he soon crisscrossed back across the ocean for, during 1767 and 1768, Sir John served as MP for Aberdeen and Montrose. A very big clue that he had indeed been present in Jamaica during the January and February of 1767 can be found in the birth of yet another child.
John Lindsay, son of Sir John Lindsay and Francis [sic] Edwards, a ‘free mulatto woman’ was born on 28th November 1767. Both he and Elizabeth are the two youngsters Lindsay referred to as his ‘reputed children’ in his 1783 will. It had previously been thought – erroneously – that Elizabeth and John had been born in Scotland.
Frances Edwards was around 18-years of age and had been baptised herself in the church at Kingston just two years earlier.
At Kingston, on 2nd March 1768, we find John’s baptism recorded in the church registers; Ann was not baptised until 10th July 1768 at Port Royal, when she was 20 months of age. As she was not acknowledged in Lindsay’s will at all, possibly she died young although we have not found a burial for her on Jamaica.
After years of ‘sowing his wild oats’, Sir John Lindsay married Mary Milner (1739-1799) on 17th September 1768. The couple had no children of their own and we have to assume that Lindsay was a faithful husband as we have found no further records of illegitimate children belonging to him. But, with Dido settled at Kenwood with her great-uncle, the Earl of Mansfield and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, Lindsay did not neglect his former lover, Maria Bell, Dido’s mother.
In 1773 Lindsay began a process to transfer a piece of property he owned in Pensacola, Florida to Maria Bell(e), with the requirement that she build a house there. At the time, Maria Bell(e) was living in London but a year later, when the deal was finalised, she had travelled to America. In the document, she was referred to as ‘a Negro woman of Pensacola, formerly of Pensacola, and then residing in London’.
The house that Maria lived in was on the corner of Lindsay and Mansfield streets (now Reus and Zaragoza streets), in what was then a high-class area owned by the British.
But, during the War of Independence, the Spanish gained control after the 1781 Battle of Pensacola; they compiled a list of property owners which included a Mrs Bell, widow. This is probably Dido’s mother and, if so, is the last known sighting of her.
Elizabeth (born 1766) ended up in Edinburgh in the 1780s where, for reasons as yet unknown, she used the surname Palmer. On the 3rd May 1783, she married.
Peter Hill, merchant, New Kirk Parish & Elizabeth Palmer (same parish) alias Lindsay, daughter of Sir John Lindsay.
Peter Hill (1754-1837) was an Edinburgh bookseller and a great friend of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Elizabeth died at Dalmarnock, Glasgow on 26th January 1842, at the age of 76, of ‘decline’, and was buried by the side of her husband in the Canongate, Edinburgh.
John Lindsay (born 1767), retained the Lindsay name and joined the East India Company’s army on the Madras Establishment in 1788. In 1803, he wrote his will, naming his sister Eliza Hill, her husband Peter and his ‘girl and child’, as he referred to his young daughter and her Indian parent.
Lindsay’s own mother, Frances Edwards was still alive and named in his will; she was residing on Rum Lane in Kingston, Jamaica, a thoroughfare leading to the harbour, so he clearly never forgot his Jamaican roots.
It would be a further 18 years before Lindsay died; by that time he had risen from a captain to a brevet colonel. He met his end either at Chitradurga (or Chittledroog as Lindsay knew it) in Karnataka or at Kannur (Cannanore), India (sources disagree on the exact place) on 30th January 1821; he was buried the next day at Kannur. Lindsay’s statement of accounts shows that he died a wealthy man owning two properties, ensuring that ‘his girl and child‘ would have been well-provided for.
At Cannanore, while commanding the Provinces of Malabar and Canara, Col. John Lindsay, of the 7th regt. N.I.
To a mild, amiable and benevolent disposition, he added gallantry, firmness and manly conduct, which rendered him as valuable to society and his friends as he was to his profession.
To recap, we are now able to give the following children for Sir John Lindsay, all, with the possible exception of Dido, we believe to have been born on the island of Jamaica.
Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761 – 1804) (married John Davinière, 1793), mother: Maria Bell
John Edward Lindsay (1762 – 1762), mother: Mary Vellet
Ann Lindsay (1766 – unknown), mother: Sarah Gandwell
Elizabeth Lindsay or Palmer (1766 – 1842) (married Peter Hill, 1783), mother: Martha G
John Lindsay (1767 – 1821), mother: Francis [Frances] Edwards
N.B. In the List of Inscriptions on Tombs and Monuments in Madras, vol. 2, by Julian James Cotton (Madras, 1946), under the entry for John Lindsay’s burial in 1821, it is asserted that he married a Miss Diana Bunbury in Madras on 15th January 1816; this is incorrect. The John Lindsay who married Diana Bunbury was John Francis Vesey Lindsay (1783-1830).
THERE ARE SEVERAL MORE ARTICLES AND NEW INFORMATION ABOUT DIDO ELIZABETH BELLE AND HER FAMILY, PLEASE CLICK here TO READ THEM AND PERHAPS CONSIDER SUBSCRIBING TO ALL THINGS GEORGIAN TO RECEIVE FURTHER UPDATES.
More Than Nelson (www.morethannelson.com)
Real Story of ‘Belle’ Has Pensacola Connections by Sandra Averhart, 23rd May 2014
National Archives: PROB 11/1665/109, Will of John Lindsay, Colonel by Brevet in the service of the Honorable East India Company on their Madras Establishment of Madras, East Indies, 9th January 1823
British India Office deaths, burials and ecclesiastical returns
The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies, volume XII, July to December 1821
Dido Elizabeth Belle: a black girl at Kenwood, Gene Adams, Camden History Review 12, 1984, p.10-14
Sussex Advertiser, 11th May 1761
Aberdeen Press and Journal, 17th August 1761
Caledonian Mercury, 11th January 176
N.B. Mary Milner, Sir John Lindsay’s wife, was born on the 11th February 1739 in London
In our previous blog about the turban that Dido Elizabeth Belle was wearing in the portrait of her with her cousin, the Honourable Lady Elizabeth Murray, we mentioned that the portrait was reputed to have been painted by Johann Zoffany and we promised to give you an update with some new information.
We now know more about the turban, courtesy of one of our lovely readers, Etienne Daly, who has been diligently researching Dido for some considerable years now and believes that the turban that Dido was wearing was not merely a fashion statement but was a gift to her from her father, Sir John Lindsay, so it was not part of a portrait ‘costume’ as had been assumed.
Sir John was invested as a Knight of the Bath in an extravagant ceremony in India on 11th March 1771.
At that time he was presented with ‘a very rich dress of gold brocade, made after the European manner with the star upon the left breast,’ a ring with several titles engraved on it in Persian and a turban, all given by Nawab Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah.
We think it seems a lovely gesture that she would wear it as a ‘nod’ to her father, in the only known portrait of her.
If you look closely at the turban you will notice that it sparkles; it seems highly likely that it would have been studded with gold and diamonds. You will also note the presence of a black ostrich feather at the back of the turban. Now, this was a fashion statement! It is also worth mentioning that the fashion of the day was to wear rouge and Dido was no exception to this.
Ostrich feathers were all the rage in the mid-1770s and Dido’s uncle, Viscount Stormont bought some back from Paris in 1774. Perhaps he gave one to Dido and following the fashion, she added it to the turban?
Viscount Stormont also presented one to the Duchess of Devonshire on his return, and being the fashion doyenne of the day, she sent the fashion world into a spin by adding it to her hat. This sparked the caricaturists into a frenzy, creating the most elaborate caricatures with the largest of plumes, as you can see above.
It has to be said that the Duchess of Devonshire was mocked mercilessly and according to the British Museum:
Lady Louisa Stuart wrote in her old age of “the outrageous zeal manifested against the first introduction of ostrich feathers as a headdress. This fashion was not attacked as fantastic or unbecoming or inconvenient or expensive, but as seriously wrong or immoral. The unfortunate feathers were insulted mobbed burned almost pelted…”.
When Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts, dined with Lord Mansfield in 1779 he met Dido and recorded the following in his diary:
A black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies, and after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other. She had a very high cap and her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel – pert enough.
We now move on to look at the artist of the portrait. It has long been reputed to have been painted by Johann (John) Zoffany, but this is now disputed, and to this day it remains ‘artist unknown’.
It is acknowledged that Zoffany went to Europe for several years, finally returning to England at some stage in 1779 the very year that the portrait was reputed to have been painted.
From the account of his life, John Zoffany, R.A. his life and works: 1735-1810, it tells us that he remained in Coblenz well into the summer of 1779. Although not impossible, it certainly would have given him little time to have painted Dido on his return. So, if we discount Zoffany that leaves only a few other possible artists, two of whom we think were feasible. One would be Allan Ramsay’s protégé, David Martin (1737-1797), who was known to the family as he painted the stunning portrait of Lord Mansfield.
The slight difficulty we have with the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray being painted by Martin is that again there is a question as to whether he was still living in England in 1779 or if he had returned to his native Scotland (although he retained his property in Dartford until 1782). Certainly, we know that in 1780 Martin was in Scotland when he was admitted to the Royal Company of Archers. Again, the dates are tight!
If it was definitively painted in 1779, then it is feasible that he could have at least had some input into the work, especially as Ramsay had severely injured his hand a few years previously which stopped him taking on any major projects.
The other difficulty we have with Martin is that Etienne has checked Lord Mansfield’s accounts. These proved inconclusive.
So, that leaves only the principal painter to the King (George III), Allan Ramsay, and although we don’t have the expertise to validate this, with the research we have done it would appear far more likely that it was painted by him. Why? Well, there are several reasons to suppose this.
Firstly, we understand that the portrait was commissioned by Lord Mansfield, but there is no record in his accounts of him paying for any such portraiture.
Secondly, given the socially precarious position Dido held in Georgian society, then why not ‘keep it in the family’? Especially when you have an extremely distinguished portrait artist as an uncle to call upon, in the guise of none other than the Scottish portrait painter, Allan Ramsay who was married to Margaret Lindsay, the sister of Sir John Lindsay.
Thirdly, despite an earlier family ‘falling out’ over Ramsay being not regarded as a suitable match for Sir John’s sister, Margaret, we know that the family had been reconciled and Ramsay was, at this time, close to Dido’s extended family. Amongst his paintings, there was one, if not two portraits of Sir John Lindsay himself, so again, it would seem natural for him to paint his illegitimate daughter. Ramsay also named Lord Mansfield and Sir John Lindsay in his will, another sign of the close familial ties.
Finally, the posing of the subjects in the painting appears very relaxed and informal as if being painted by someone the girls knew well and were comfortable with.
Hopefully one day someone will be able to validate the artist and settle that unanswered question once and for all, perhaps one for the BBC’s Fake or Fortune to investigate!
To see the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth in situ, it would be well worth a visit to Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland or to the home, where she spent many of her years, Kenwood House (Caenwood as it was formerly known as), Hampstead.
During our research into the life of Dido, we have also discovered NEW information about Sir John Lindsay’s other illegitimate children and NEW information about what became of Dido and her husband John Davinière. To find out more follow the highlighted links.
Following the BBC’s programme Fake or Fortune, you might be interested to read our thoughts on the findings.
The History of the Royal Company of Archers: The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland by Sir James Balfour Paul
General Evening Post, September 14, 1771 – September 17, 1771
English Common Law in the Age of Mansfield, by James Oldham