A lovely reader, Ged Burnell, alerted me to another story about a small person, who was also exploited by one of the Georgian/Victorian unscrupulous showmen, who travelled the country showing off their ‘freaks’. Shows like this were immensely popular with the paying public, not to mention extremely lucrative for the showmen and obviously completely abhorrent in today’s society. This young gentleman was Joseph Lee, so let’s find out a little more about his life.
Joseph was born in November 1809 to parents Joshua Lee and his wife Ruth, nee Saynor who were married in 1794 at Cawood, not far from Selby,Yorkshire and had already had 7 children, Fanny, Joshua, Mary, Barbara, Thomas, Ruth and George by the time Joseph arrived into the world. He was followed by one further boy, Matthew in 1812, thus completing their large family.
They were working people, who lived in the small village near Monks Fryston, Yorkshire where most of the children were baptised at the parish church. Joshua worked as a labourer and Ruth managed their large brood of children and kept house. Most of the children survived into adulthood and there are no indications that any of them with the exception of Joseph, were anything other than average stature, but keep reading!
It would have been clear that the family survived on a very meagre income with lots of mouths to feed and when they were approached about their small son, Joseph and made an offer to take him on tour as part of the Natural Curiosity Tour, under the patronage of the royal family, they must have agreed with little hesitation. They were to be paid £60 per annum for this, which given that the average skilled worker, of which Joshua wasn’t, would only earn about £20, this must have been an amazing offer.
This offer came late 1819, which if you do the maths, would have made Joseph a mere 10 years of age. He was described as a native of Fairburn, near Ferrybridge and his first performance appears to have been at Chester where he starred with none other than the ‘Celebrated Giantess, Mrs Cook’ (no, I hadn’t heard of her either, but the newspapers tell us she was very popular), who stood at around seven feet tall, but of course these showmen knew how to promote their ‘freak shows’!
So, Joseph had completed his sixteenth year – not true, but great publicity though to describe a sixteen-year old boy as being a mere ‘thirty inches high, the smallest, the shortest and the most well proportioned man in the world’. It would definitely get the punters coming to see him for a fee of one shilling or just six pence, if you were a servant or child.
These ‘freak shows’ were great money spinners for the host, people knew nothing medically of conditions that could cause dwarfism at that time, and so many men and women were exploited in this way, along with other ‘curiosities, they and their families were offered, what appeared to be large sums of money to take their children and make them famous.
Around January 1820, the show travelled across the sea to Dublin when a curious entry appeared in the Freeman’s Journal – Thursday 27 January 1820:
So, it appears that our Joseph had acquired an unknown brother, Robert who was the polar opposite of Joseph, standing at a mighty seven feet two inches. It begs the question, who was this young man, because he certainly wasn’t any of the siblings that I have found! From a showman’s perspective it would look great, showing two brothers, the short and the tall, wouldn’t it? It was clearly a publicity stunt to drum up trade.
The Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 27 December 1820, not only mentions Joseph and the giantess, Mrs Cook, still touring together, but also the name of the man who was running the show – none other than a Mr Cook – presumably, the giantesses’ husband. They were performing at The Crown Tavern, High Street, from eleven in the morning until nine at night, every day except Sundays accompanied this time by a full military band and this time with the Irish celebrity, Mr Hamilton, the ‘Irish Giant’.
Mr Cook having spared neither pains not expense, in fitting up the above room in an elegant style, he trusts he will receive due encouragement from a liberal public.
The touring show moved on in September 1821 to Aberdeen, having acquired another performer en route, the world-famous American giant, James Henry Lambier, standing at eight feet tall, who left a brief account of his life in which he confirmed his tour of the UK.
Joseph had by this time, acquired the title of the ‘Yorkshire Little Man’ and was described as being thirty inches in height, but worryingly, his weight was described as a mere twenty-two pounds, which could surely not have been even close to the truth. He was now aged eighteen – in reality however, he was 12!
From Aberdeen they travelled on to Inverness, by which time was nineteen, or really just a mere thirteen. You can only begin to imagine what sort of life he led, away from his family, working long hours and probably received very little recompense for the hours worked.
In 1822 the troop travelled to Ayr, accompanied by Lambier, who bound himself to Mr Cook to the sum of £100, but he disappeared late one evening, ate, got very drunk and spent the rest of the night cavorted with local women until he fell asleep. In the morning, he was caught by Cook, who asked the local sheriff to arrest him for breach of contract. A struggle broke out, which bearing in mind his size was not easy, Lambier hit Cook with a poker, but was eventually overcome by several people and was dragged off to gaol. When released he left Ayr. Although the report didn’t specifically mention Joseph, it seems highly likely that he was amongst the entourage. By June of that year they had moved on to Inverness.
Quite what happened after this tour remains unknown at present. Joseph appears to have returned to his family, where he and his parents appeared on the 1841 census, living on Silver Street, Fairburn.
His parents must have died sometime between 1841 and 1851, as Joseph moved in with his sister and her family.
Joseph’s short life came to an on Friday 25th April 1851, aged 42, at his sister’s house on Fishergate, Ferrybridge. In an obituary about him, Joseph was described as:
A little Tom Thumb, about 3 feet high, in military dress, with top boots, and an enormous watch chain and gold seals, etc. He strutted his tiny legs, and held his head aloft, with not less importance than the proudest general officer could assume, upon his promotion to the rank of field marshal. His brother and sister, who lived in Ferrybridge, were both of typical height. After a few years, in which Joseph earned a large sum for his employer, he was returned to his parents on Silver Street Fairburn in a destitute state.
*** I AM NOW TAKING A SUMMER BREAK, BUT I’LL BE BACK ON WEDNESDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER. ENJOY YOUR SUMMER & STAY SAFE.***
Chester Courant 14 December 1819
Aberdeen Press and Journal – Wednesday 19 September 1821
Let me introduce to three brothers, who I am fairly certain you will never have come across before and neither had I until by chance I came across Joseph Longchamp and of course, I was curious to know more about him. The only reference I had about him was in connection with Sir John Lindsay when Joseph was briefly his valet accompanying him in 1769 to Bombay. The author of the book simply described this valet as ‘Longchamp, a German, who was to become a great man in Newmarket’.
Armed only with a possible name and Newmarket to go on, even then, I was unsure as to whether Longchamp was really his name or whether it was just a nickname given the horse racing connection in Newmarket.
Anyway, with a little digging, I came across his will and sure enough, Longchamp wasn’t a nickname, it was the surname of a Joseph Longchamp of Newmarket, who wrote his will in 1807, leaving everything to his wife, Anne nee Milton of nearby Bottisham, Cambridgeshire and a few other beneficiaries including his nieces and nephews.
Despite the reference to Longchamp saying that he was German with such a surname, I suspect perhaps he was actually of French descent, but I still have no proof either way.
The three brothers were Joseph, Xavery (which appears in a whole variety of different ways), and Ferdinand. They were born around the 1730-40s and lived in London. There are no clues as to whether they were born there or emigrated from France or Germany. They were from a working-class, labouring background, this fact being confirmed in a document pertaining to Axavery’s first wife, Jane, in which his occupation was given.
Joseph, who may well have been the eldest, learnt his trade as a cook working for the prestigious gentleman’s club, Whites, where he worked until 1765.
White’s was renowned for only employing the best cooks; therefore he would have been given a good grounding in his craft. Members paid a premium to ensure that this remained the case, this was set in their rules
That no-one be admitted but by ballot
That nobody be proposed but when twelve members are present
That there be twelve members present when the person is balloted for, which is to be the day seven nights after he is proposed, and one black ball is an exclusion for that time.
That any person that is balloted for before nine o’clock is not duly elected
That every member is to pay a guinea a year towards having a good cook
That no person be admitted to dinner or supper but what are members of the Club.
That every member that is in the room after ten o’clock is to pay his reckoning at supper
Joseph finally decided that it was a good idea to branch out on his own, and with that, he applied to the Westminster Sessions of the Peace for a victualler’s licence and set up his dining establishment, ‘The Pineapple’, at New Spring Gardens, near Five Fields, Ranelagh Gardens.
He placed adverts in the newspapers to attract clientele:
NEW SPRING GARDENS, situated between the Ranelagh Road and Chelsea Five fields, are decorated in an entire new taste, and will be opened on the 1st of May, for the reception of gentlemen and ladies, who may depend on finding the following articles in the greatest perfection, viz tea, coffee, wine of every sort, punch and spiritous liquors etc. It is hoped servants in livery, women in red cloaks and coloured aprons, will not be offended if refused admittance. All possible care will be taken, and the best attendance procured to accommodate, in the genteel manner, those ladies and gentlemen who confer the honour of their company on the public’s most humble servant, Joseph Longchamp, late cook at White’s.
N.B Any ladies and gentlemen who choose to have dinners provided, or suppers, coming from Ranelagh on sending in the morning, may depend on having their commands punctually and elegantly executed. There is a coach way from the Ranelagh Road.
Joseph obviously had a certain type of clientele in mind and ladies inappropriately dressed and servants in livery were not acceptable. I have tried to find out the significance of the dress code for ladies, but without any luck, but he was, politely, if firmly, clarifying what was not an acceptable dress code.
In further adverts in 1768, Joseph informed potential clients that he had added many more features to his premises –
lights to show off the waterworks, grotto work and painting more conspicuous’. He intended to ‘open them every evening between eight and nine o’clock, weather permitting and by the signal of a rocket, plus other improvements in the gardens. Tickets of admission 1 shilling each. A coach way from the Ranelagh turning up by the first houses from the fire engines’.
He was investing a great deal of money in establishing his premises as the ‘go-to’ venue for people who had visited Ranelagh.
Joseph continued to run the business for the next few years, but it was evidently not proving to be profitable as he would have hoped, as late 1768, he was declared bankrupt.
Presumably now virtually penniless and still a single man in his thirties, he took the post of valet to Sir John Lindsay and went off to Bombay with him. Quite how to two met remains unknown, perhaps their paths had crossed at Whites, but without access to White’s archives at present, it is impossible to verify whether Sir John was a member.
The trip with Sir John seems to have been quite a brief one for Joseph, in part as he will ill whilst in Bombay, so it seems quite likely that he returned to England and either bought or rented a property on Queen’s Row, London. There are no clues as to where he found the money for this property, having been declared bankrupt before going on his travels, therefore, must have either made his money whilst travelling or that he simply rented the property.
So, back in England, what was he going to do now? Well, his brother, Xavery was by this time married and working as a principal waiter at Brooks’s, another gentleman’s club. From 1783, Whites was the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, whilst Brooks’s, just along the road was home to members of the Whig party. Perhaps Axavery could find a job for his brother?
This was not to be the case, as Joseph packed his bags and travelled to Newmarket where he took up a job which he would retain for the remainder of his life – ‘Keeper of the New Room’, at the Jockey Club, Newmarket, working there with the likes of James Weatherby, who was Keeper of the MatchBook.
In 1778 he finally found himself a bride, Anne Milton and the couple were married at St Mary’s Church, Newmarket. Joseph remained at Newmarket for the rest of his days, which according to the Bury and Norwich Post was ‘upwards of forty years’.
The Jockey Club wasted no time in appointing the next Keeper of The New Rooms – Mr William Parrs to take Josephs’ place.
Axavery appears to have been fond of horse racing and even owned his own racehorses and, like his brother, was well known to the nobility and gentry. Quite what his position became at Brooks’s is still unclear, but it was he who took out the insurance for the club in 1785, described by this time as a gentleman, so like his brother, life had improved significantly from humble origins.
He owned at least two properties when he died in 1788, leaving his young second wife with eight children to support, the youngest being only 5 months old when he died. Axavery left his family well provided for with at least two houses, one on Great Carrington Street, London, the other on Old Bond Street, which he leased out, fully furnished to the Duke of St Albans.
In Axavery’s obituary notice there was one curious comment
About ten years ago he was put into Standon Hall, the property of Mr Plummer, to keep it as a hunting inn, but that plan was soon relinquished.
It would appear that the property was near Ware, Hertfordshire and owned by Thomas Plummer Esq and leased in 1766 to Axavery, but for some unknown reason, nothing became of this arrangement and as such the building was closed up and left unoccupied.
As for the third of the brothers, Ferdinand, apart from his marriage, death, and evidence that he was a gentleman who owned property on Princes Street, Cavendish Square, London, Ferdinand seems to have remained completely under the social radar until his death in 1804. He left no will, so right now clues as to his life will have to remain a mystery.
Travels, in various parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, during a series of thirty years and upwards. By John MacDonald, by MacDonald, John
The History of White’s. Published by the Honourable Algernon Bourke
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1467
LMA. Westminster Sessions of the Peace: Enrolment, Registration and Deposit including licensed victuallers. WR/LV/81/286.
LMA. Middlesex Session of the peace: Court in Session. MJ/SP/1769/04/28 Jane Longchamp, wife of Longchamp, a labourer of St George, Hanover Square. 19 April 1769
The Sportsman and breeder’s vade-mecum or, An historical account of all the races in Great Britain, 1793
Sporting magazine. v.30 1807
The progesses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth. Volume 2
Who was ‘Dirty Dick’ and how did he acquire such a sobriquet? His name was Nathaniel Bentley, the son of Nathaniel and Sarah née Sarah Pankeman, the couple having married in 1723 at All Hallows Church, London.
Nathaniel and his wife also had a daughter, Sarah who went on to marry a wealthy iron merchant, Charles Lindegren in 1751 and had one child, Andrew, born two years into their marriage.
It was in October of the same year Sarah married, that her father also married, for a second time, his new wife was Bethia Plomer, the wealthy widow of William Plomer, a linen draper of Leadenhall Street who died in 1741 and who owned a mansion in the then-rural area of Edmonton.
During this time Nathaniel senior acquired much wealth and in 1754 donated a bell to the nearby church of St Catherine’s Cree.
Young Nathaniel, however, was not so lucky in love. During his formative years, Nathaniel and his father did not have a good relationship, with his father being described as being something of a bully, quite how much truth there was in that story remains unknown to history. Either way, young Nathaniel was very much the man about town :
At this period, his favourite suit was blue and silver, with his hair dressed in the highest style of fashionable extravagance. He paid several visits to Paris and was present at the coronation of Louis XVI, to whom he was personally introduced, and was considered one of the most accomplished English gentlemen then at the French court. He spoke several languages, particularly French and Italian, with great fluency, and associated with characters of the highest respectability.
His father was clearly an astute businessman of the day and had acquired much wealth by his death, which was reportedly in 1760. However, if that was correct, it begs the question about why his will remained unproven for a further eight years, it was finally proved in September of 1768, some four years after the death of his wife, Bethia.
Nathaniel senior left virtually everything to his son, which included around fifteen properties, one which was lease out to a brewer, but he also made substantial provision for Sarah’s family, including and their young son, Andrew.
One of Nathaniel seniors’ businesses was a warehouse selling hardware, jewellery, and precious metals, at 46 Leadenhall Street, which it appears, his son took over upon his father’s death and this is where his life changed, and he became best remembered to history as ‘Dirty Dick’.
There have been suggestions that this was not quite true and that Nathaniel did not own ‘The Dirty Warehouse’, however, this seems contrary to the Land Tax records which show him there for most of his life until 1803 at which time both he and Mr William Goslin(g), his successor were named as owners with Gosling taking over from that time onwards. The suggestion being made was that Nathaniel simply used the address as a postal address. Quite which is true we may never know.
Something changed in Nathaniel’s life as he had always taken a good deal of pride himself in his appearance, but he was to let this go, still dressing well when going out, but when in the shop he became more and more unkempt with his personal hygiene leaving rather a lot to be desired. When challenged about washing his hands regularly, he simply replied:
It is of no use, Sir. If I wash my hands today they will be dirty again tomorrow.
He became increasingly more miserly and would no longer employ anyone to prepare meals for him but did employ someone to do some shopping for him. His chief diet including some vegetables. He rarely ate meat part from bacon which had to be lean as the fat was wasteful and drank a gallon of beer every three days.
His sister, Sarah was the complete opposite, described as accomplished, very neat, and elegant. Sarah lived at Durham Place, Chelsea after the death of her husband. Sarah visited her brother but never got out of her carriage because of how dirty the shop was.
At one time he injured his leg whilst rummaging around in the shop trying to find something in the chaos, so employed an old woman to supply him with poultices, but his leg got worse until eventually, he sought the service of a surgeon, who told him that if it were not correctly treated then he would lose his leg, leaving Nathaniel no choice but to pay to get it treated effectively.
The warehouse became dirtier and dirtier, with windows broken, he would not light a fire even when extremely cold, but instead, he would fill a box with straw and stand in it to keep his feet warm. His neighbours especially those on the opposite side of the street who had a full view of this ramshackle property even offered to help with having it repaired and painted, but he refused. He liked his property to be known as ‘The Dirty Warehouse’ people knew how to find it, so it was good for business – maybe he had a point there!
When some asked whether he kept a dog or cat to destroy any vermin in the house, he answered with a smile, ‘No sir, they only make more dirt and spoil more goods than their services are worth and as to rats and mice‘ he added, ‘how can they live in my house when I take care to leave them nothing to eat’.
Notwithstanding his curious behaviour, he was remarkably polite to his customers, and the ladies in particular highly praised the elegance of his manners.
Amid the mass of filth which a long series of years had accumulated in his habitation, it was said that at some time, Nathaniel had a young lady that he was engaged to and that prior to the ceremony –
he invited her and several of her relatives to partake of a sumptuous entertainment. Having prepared everything for their reception, he anxiously awaited in this apartment the arrival of his intended bride, when a messenger entered, bringing the melancholy intelligence of her sudden death.
According to The European Magazine of 1801, Nathaniel had offers from the neighbouring India Company to buy the business, but it seems nothing come of that.
The same year, Nathaniel clearly felt it was time to write his will in which he gave his address and occupation being that of ‘waresman’. In his will, he left a number of bequests, especially one to his ‘esteemed and valuable friend’ Mr M Delavant, of Bethnal Green who appears to have given Nathaniel a loan in connection with the warehouse. Also to a Mrs Mary Dunbar, of Houndsditch and her son Charles Stuart Dunbar.
Nathaniel’s lease expired at the end of 1802 and during the next year his successor, Mr Gosling took over and Nathaniel became his tenant for a year, during this time for a while at least he managed to keep Mr Gosling out of the premises, but eventually had to give way.
In February 1804, the lease on the property expired and he moved out handing it over to his successor, Mr Gosling. Mr Gosling obviously saw an immediate business opportunity and opened it up to the public to view Nathaniel’s living accommodation.
The ceiling in the hall exhibited traces of former elegance, and the staircase displayed much workmanship. The first room on the first floor had been a kitchen, where was seen a jack, spit, &c, the rusty condition of which demonstrated that it had not moved for many years. It had long been deprived of its chain, with which Bentley secured the tea-trays placed against the broken panes of his shop-windows. Here also was a clock, which was once handsome, and no doubt regulated the movements of his father’s family, but now so disguised with dirt as to be much better calculated to inform the spectator how many years’ filth it had accumulated, then to point out the fleeting hours and minutes. The kitchen range, once equally good and useful, had only been used to support a frying-pan without a handle, curiously mended with pegs. The furniture of this place consisted of a dirty round table, and a bottomless chair made useable by the cover of a packing box.
Next to the tin flour-vessel, the cleanest article in the house, stood a chemist’s pipkin supplied with soap for shaving, a brush of his own manufacture, and a piece of broken looking-glass curiously inlaid in wood. This was evidently the only dressing and sitting room, and here also its extraordinary inhabitant reposed, wrapping himself up in an old coat, and lying upon the floor, which from the accumulated dirt and rubbish must have been softer than the bare boards.
Next to the kitchen was a small study, apparently long inhabited by spiders. The closet was full of dirty bottles, from which it was conjectured that Bentley had formerly been engaged in chemical pursuits.
The ceiling of this room had been elegant, and the ground being bine, he gave it the name of the blue-room. The secretary and book-case contained some valuable works; the counter-part was his jewellery casket, from which he used to indulge his female customers with little ornaments as presents, which never failed to be very productive in his way of business.
The dining-room contained a large round mahogany table. The antiquated grate, once of highly polished steel, but for many years a prey to consuming rust, contained nothing combustible, but seemed to groan under an immense burden of mortar and rubbish blown down the chimney.
The carpet in this room was a curiosity, for except the corner was turned up, the visitor imagined that he was treading on dirty boards. One of the closets was full of pipkins and phials, of which Bentley charged his successor to be particularly careful as they contained poison enough to destroy half London.
The second floor was truly a repository of rubbish and filth. In one of the rooms was a heap of feathers, which had been the contents of a bed that had fallen to pieces on being moved, and adjoining to this was a small apartment, once his mother’s favourite dressing-room, but long converted into a workshop, and which contained the remains of a forge, workbench, tools for jewellery, smith’s work, japanning and other operations.
Nathaniel then took a house in Jewry Street, Aldgate, where he lived for three years, but the landlord, not willing that it should fall a sacrifice to his filth, declined the renewal of the lease, and Nathaniel moved again, to Leonard Street, Shoreditch, taking with him a stock of spoiled goods to the amount of £10,000, which he soon afterwards sold for a mere £1,000. With this added to £400, which he then had in the bank, he probably had enough money for the remainder of his life, except his was robbed of all his money and was forced to become a beggar.
Left with no choice, he set off on his travels around the country, ultimately ending up in Haddington, Scotland, penniless and ill and shortly after, he died toward the end of 1809 and would have been around 80 years of age. Nathaniel was buried at Haddington church. According to the account of his life, his will amounted to £400 and was administered soon after his death.
I have seen it stated that Nathaniel died near Haddington, Lincolnshire, so far there is no evidence in the parish registers to confirm this, so it is more likely that he died in Haddington, Scotland, although, to date, I have found no evidence to support this either. To have ended up in Scotland at that age must have taken its toll on him and I remain unconvinced of this.
Nathaniel’s will was proved 20 December 1810, so whilst it is unclear exactly when he died we now know it was prior to this date. His sister, Sarah lived until 1819.
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 942. The Will of Nathaniel Bentley, senior. Probate date 14 Sept 1768
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1517. The Will of Nathaniel Bentley junior. Probate date 20 Dec 1810.
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 726. The Will of William Plomer. Probate date 25 May 1743
Listed in The New Complete Guide to All Persons Who Have Any Trade or Concern With the City of London and Parts Adjacent. 13th edn., 1772.
Surrey archaeological collections by Surrey Archaeological Society. 1858
The European Magazine and London Review. v.39 1801 Jan-Jun
Not ‘Mrs Andrew Lindington’ but ‘Mrs Sarah Lindegren’ by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 – 1797) by Stephen Leach
Born December 1756 in the small village of Impington, about 3 miles from Cambridge, Elizabeth Williams married her first husband, John Sockling and shortly after this they started their family, culminating in at least five children from 1785 onwards.
However, John died whilst the children were still young, leaving Elizabeth in need of another husband to help her raise these children, and with that Daniel Woodcock, a local farmer stepped up to the mark and the couple were married in 1796, shortly after which, their son William was born.
It was when young William was only about two years of age, in 1799, that Elizabeth found herself making news.
On market day, 2 February 1799, Elizabeth rode off on her horse to the market in Cambridge, purchased the goods she needed and began to ride back home with her basket of goods. The weather, as would be expected for February, was very cold, but it began to deteriorate further.
It had been snowing when she had left home, but on her return journey the snow was coming down even harder, making her journey treacherous. Suddenly there was a flash of light in the sky, perhaps a meteor, she thought, whatever it was it startled her horse, ‘Tinker’.
She quickly dismounted and thought she should walk the horse back home rather than risk it being startled again, however, she accidentally let go of the reins and off the horse went. She tried to catch it but having a full basket of goods on her arm she simply could not catch it and had to let it go of both the horse and her basket. She finally managed to trudge through the snow until she caught up with the animal, but by this time she was cold and exhausted and had managed to lose a shoe during the chase. She sent the horse, off towards her home, in the hope that her husband would realise what had happened and come out to rescue her.
She sat down in the field, knowing exactly where she was, but too tired to go further and she could hear the church bell of neighbouring Chesterton, ring for eight o’clock, by which time she was unfortunately completely snowed in.
The snow was about six feet perpendicular and over her head between two and three feet, completely imprisoning her. She was unable to escape from this icy prison, minus one shoe and now with her clothes frozen with ice. She sat like this all night, calmly resigned to the situation. She remained here for a couple of days, trying to keep herself occupied, hoping, of course, that she would be found, but knowing that she was in quite a predicament as she was buried under the snow, how could anyone possibly find her?
She noticed a small part of the ‘igloo’ had a light covering of snow over it and she could just see daylight through it, so she managed to break through this using her handkerchief, but by the following day it had closed up, the next day though it stayed open. She found a small twig to which she tied her red handkerchief and pushed it through the hole, in the hope that someone would spot it.
Sure enough, people were passing close by, some gipsies, but they were busy talking to each other and didn’t hear her shouts or spot the handkerchief. She recalled watching the moon so that she could work out day and night to ascertain how long she had been there and consulted her almanack which she eventually managed to extricate from her frozen pocket. She also had access to snuff and some brandy which she had purchased just before setting off from Cambridge. But, as the cold began to numb her hands she took off her two rings and the little money she had and put them in a box, hoping that if she was going to die, it would be possible for someone to identify her quickly from these items.
Whilst trapped, her husband and others had been out frantically searching for her but without any success, he felt sure that she must have died. She, of course, had no food, having let go of her basket earlier, but managed to survive by melting the snow and drinking it.
She remained there long enough to have heard the church bells ring on two Sundays until eventually the snow began to thaw and the hole in the snowdrift got larger, she tried to free herself, but without having eaten and being trapped in such a confined space her legs simply would bear her weight. She knew that if help didn’t arrive soon, that she would surely die from cold and malnutrition.
It was on Sunday 10 February that a local farmer, Joseph Muncey was on his way back from Cambridge across the fields where Elizabeth was when he spotted her handkerchief. He peered into the hole and saw a woman sitting there, frail and breathing hard.
He immediately shouted to a nearby shepherd, John Sittle, who came over and asked if she was Elizabeth Woodcock. Elizabeth instantly recognised him and asked them to help her to get out of there. Muncey went to find her husband, who swiftly returned with his horse, cart and blankets and they returned home.
Sadly, she didn’t really recover fully from this ordeal and died later the same year. Elizabeth was buried at the parish church on 14 July 1799, followed by her husband, Daniel just over a year later, leaving the children orphaned.
According to a newspaper of 1939, alongside her burial entry in the parish register, was a note in different handwriting, stating:
She was in a state of intoxication when she was lost and her death was accelerated (to say the least) by spirituous liquors afterwards taken – procured by the donations of numerous visitors.
Elizabeth’ former home is still there, at no. 83, Station Road, Impington and it is just possible to see a plaque to the side of the door, which bears her name.
Today I have the honour to host a guest post about the famous 18th-century celebrity, Kitty Clive, by Dr Berta Joncus.
Berta is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Before joining Goldsmiths, she was at the University of Oxford: she took her doctorate there and was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at St Catherine’s (2004–7), then music lecturer at St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s (2007–9). As a scholar, she focuses on the intersection in eighteenth-century vocal music of creative practice and identity politics.
Historians have typically described Kitty Clive as a fat, vain comedienne. My book reveals another artist altogether.
From her 1728 debut until 1748, Clive was an awe-inspiring songster who changed Georgian playhouse history. She was the first playhouse performer to make music the basis of her stardom. She upended hierarchies of taste, dazzling equally with smart airs, operatic pyrotechnics and raw street ballads.
Was she a cheeky minx, a refined siren, a leering vulgarian, or all or none of these? Audiences flocked to the playhouse to find out. Handel, Thomas Arne, Henry Fielding, David Garrick and others supplied vehicles for personae Clive re-invented on the boards, defying male authority through her ability to, as she once wrote, “turn it & wind it & play it in a different manner to his intention.”
Facing systemic discrimination against women, Clive strategized brilliantly. She had some lucky breaks: in 1728, as she prepared for her debut, the collapse of London’s Italian opera company deprived audiences of high-style song, and The Beggar’s Opera whetted appetites for low-style song.
Composer and singing master Henry Carey had groomed Clive to excel in operatic and ballad singing, and Drury Lane manager Colley Cibber, desperate to rival other houses, hired the seventeen-year-old on first hearing. Carey was Clive’s friend and ally, fitting her earliest parts to her strengths, whether as a singing goddess (in masques), a witty shepherdess (in ballad opera), or a sentimental heroine (in sung comedy). Like Carey, the playwrights Charles Coffey, James Miller, and William Chetwood – this last Drury Lane’s prompter, and Clive’s first biographer – designed flattering stage characters around her gifts.
But often Drury Lane managers’ casting disadvantaged Clive, forcing her to create her own opportunities. Performing in The Devil to Pay, a 1731 ballad opera that extolled wife-beating, she used the songs Coffey had added to transform Nell, scripted as the drab victim of her cobbler husband, into a tender, courageous heroine. Overnight, she became Drury Lane’s star of ballad opera as well as of serious song.
In 1732 Cibber replaced Carey with Fielding as Drury Lane’s author of Clive vehicles, driving the indebted Carey to suicide and saddling Clive with Fielding’s unsavoury characterizations – in comedies, epilogues and air verses – through which she nonetheless shone.
With success came marketing. Illustrator John Smith claimed that an image he had engraved of a bare-breasted nymph from an old Dutch oil was a likeness of Clive igniting a years-long battle over whether she was plain or comely.
Theatrical wars were an occupational hazard throughout Clive’s career. In 1733 Colley Cibber’s son Theophilus, angered by not being made Drury Lane’s manager, led an actors’ revolt that Clive refused to follow.
While pamphleteers attacked her, she shored up her reputation by appearing to marry into the genteel Clive family of Shropshire. This ‘union’ was perhaps the most brilliant invention of the former Kitty Raftor: it bestowed on her the status of a Clive while allowing her to keep her earnings, and hid the same-sex desires that both she and George Clive harboured. Kitty’s reputation for propriety – one satire glossed her as ‘Miss Prudely Crotchet’ – became a critical means for garnering sympathy once Theophilus Cibber returned victorious as Drury Lane’s deputy manager.
In 1736 the younger Cibber tried to steal Clive’s parts for his new wife, Susannah. Rewriting the rules of playhouse power, Clive ran a newspaper campaign about her rectitude and her right to her parts; this battle Theophilus lost, despite having the more credible behind-the-scenes account.
Dissimulation was one of Clive’s arts, and her ability to shape-shift made her a Town favourite. She appealed to wit, not sensuality, and claimed to speak for the middling sorts. In her airs and parts of the 1730s and 1740s, Clive protested against effeminate fops, foreign entertainers, men’s authority, Spain’s perfidy, and first minister Robert Walpole’s corruption.
‘The Clive’ stood for native taste in music (she was given two parts in London’s favourite masque, Comus), in legitimate drama (her Portia in The Merchant of Venice became legendary), and in celebrity connections (Handel wrote Samson for her to lead, and an elegant air for her 1740 benefit). In propria persona ‘Kitty’ roles multiplied, not least from the pen of Garrick, so that she could effervesce in the playhouse, season after season.
Clive’s very success sowed the seeds her failure. When in 1743 Drury Lane manager Charles Fleetwood cheated company members of their salaries, she co-led a company rebellion, prompting Fleetwood to claim that the house had been bled dry by stars’ outrageous salary demands.
He published Clive’s earnings, which were indeed large, and the perennial eagerness of the celebrity industry to consume its own children did the rest. Critics charged her with being vain, greedy, jealous and ambitious; a story was faked that she had been involved in a back-stage scuffle with rival actress Peg Woffington. In December 1745 Susannah Cibber engineered another press row with Clive, but this time readers believed her, not Clive. By 1747, Clive had lost her following.
Needing to work to support herself, her brother, and their household, Clive colluded with new Drury Lane manager Garrick to regain public favour. He re-cast her as a blousy, arrogant has-been whose saving grace was how cruelly she mocked herself. To verify Garrick’s version of her, Clive wrote and led self-incriminating in propria persona afterpieces; in her first such work, The Rehearsal, or Bays in Petticoats (1750), she also staged her farewell to serious song. Clive would again succeed at Drury Lane, where she would dominate for another twenty years, but in farce rather than art song or drama. She retired early and wealthy, but her former reputation as a vocal artist of rare skill, and an exponent of British virtues, was in tatters.
Kitty Clive’s rich, complex story, both familiar and foreign to our own celebrity-obsessed era, has been buried under mis-information for centuries. In Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster, I invite readers to appreciate for the first time not only her achievements as a singer, actor, writer and self-manager, but also the obstacles she had to overcome and the compromises she had to make to reach, and regain, her leading position on the London stage.
For a signed author’s copy at £35.00 (or $45.00) posted free of charge, please email email@example.com.
To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.
I first became acquainted with this gentleman last week when a good friend on social media messaged me with ‘I think this story needs you‘. Say no more, I was off down that rabbit hole. What a fabulous painting by John Dempsey of an early 19th-century gentleman from Norwich, but with no name apart from ‘Black Charley’ and nothing more known about him.
Black Charley, Norwich, 1823
The newspapers and parish registers came to the rescue in identifying this very dapper-looking man in his very smart clothing, who appears to have made and sold fashionable boots and shoes from a shop in Norwich, but perhaps looks can be a little deceptive.
The National Portrait Gallery of Australia suggests that the gentleman may have been a child brought to England by Capt. (later Rear-Admiral) Frederick Paul Irby who had him baptised in 1813, as Charles Fortunatus Freeman, along with two other children and whilst this is feasible the dates don’t seem to tie up as you will soon find out.
Firstly, let’s give him the name by which he was known – may I introduce to you Mr Charles Willis Yearly of Norwich.
As yet nothing is known about where he was born, whether here in the UK or overseas, but from his burial, we now know that he was born around 1785 which arguably means that he was not the child baptised in 1813, as this would have made him around 28 at the time, so not a child. I still have no idea where the middle name ‘Willis’ came from.
On St Valentine’s Day 1820, Charles married Diana Norman of rural Stradbrooke, Suffolk, at the parish church of St Michael at Thorn, Norwich.
Despite his very dapper appearance, neither he nor Diana was able to sign the register and instead simply made their mark with an X, which leads me to think that perhaps these were more than likely second-hand clothes. The witnesses being Elisha Briggs, a farmer and landlord of The Two Necked Swan, Norwich and William H Houghton., who appears to be the second witness to all marriages around that date.
It was at the end of 1822, at the parish church of St Andrew’s, Norwich that the couple proudly presented their first son and heir, Charles Willis to be baptised. At the time Charles gave his occupation as being that of a ‘broker’, essentially a salesman, so not actually making the boots and shoes in the painting but selling them from his shop, these were second-hand boots and shoes.
The following year saw the arrival of a second child, again a son, Richard Willis, who died aged just two. The next birth was that of Jeremiah in 1825, followed by a daughter, Lydia in 1827.
At the end of 1828 things were not going well for Charles when he found himself in the House of Correction for assaulting a woman, this sentence being ‘three months on the treadwheel‘, which must have made life difficult for Diana as she was pregnant at the time with their final child who was born February 1829, a daughter, Mahalah.
It was then in 1829 that Charles was to die, aged just 44, and was buried on June 17 at St Andrew’s church. Given his sentence, it seems feasible that the time spent on the treadwheel may well have contributed to his demise (speculation of course).
His death was closely followed by that of his infant daughter, Mahalah, whose name appears on the same page of the burial register, but on the 31 December.
This left Diana to work out how to proceed as a widow with three children under 10 – Charles, Jeremiah and Lydia for comfort, but more importantly, to support if they were to avoid the workhouse.
The family business was taken over by a gentleman by the name of Mr Clarkson, who was described in the newspaper as
a dealer in old shoes, being the same colour and successor of a gentleman well known in Norwich by the title of Black Charley.
We meet up with Diana again on the 1841 census, the family had left their shop and moved to Black Horse Yard, Lower Westwick Street, in the St Lawrence district of Norwich.
Clearly, money was in short supply as Diana had become a washerwoman, but by now she had her three children all in their teens to assist with the household chores as well as being in employment. Her son, Charles was a labourer coachmaker, Jeremiah, a hawker, selling around the local area, the census doesn’t offer any clues as to what wares he was selling though. Lydia was just 13, so it would be safe to assume she was helping her mother until aged just 16, she was to die.
Quite what became of their son, Charles is a little unclear, but in 1842 he found himself in court a few times for theft.
In another newspaper report, Charles was described as ‘a mulatto son of Old Black Charley‘, thereby confirming that Charles and Diana’s marriage was a mixed-race marriage.
Young Charles Willis re-surfaced in Bristol when, in 1854 he described himself as a cook when he married a young widow, Catharine Harman. He named his father as Charles Willis, describing him as a cook – this is an occupation that doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else.
Being slightly suspicious, I do wonder whether he was being completely truthful when he married, especially as he also got his age wrong – he said he wasn’t born until 1826 when he was born 1822. Quite what happened with this marriage is lost to history right now, but curiously he appeared again in 1862, back in Norfolk where both he and his co-conspirator, John Harman were sentenced to a month in prison for larceny. Was John Harman connected to his wife Catherine, who knows, but it’s an unusual surname, so it seems likely. There is a burial for a Catherine Yearly in 1862 which in all likelihood was Charles’ wife.
Charles re-offended and found himself back in prison only a matter of weeks later, for a further six weeks.
Diana spent her remaining days living in Suffolk, with her son Jeremiah, his wife, Sarah, where at the age of 75, Diana was still working as a laundress.
In 1871, Jeremiah was a marine store dealer and by 1881 they had converted their home into a lodging house – 6, Mariners Street, Lowestoft where they remained until the end of their lives. Jeremiah was buried on 10 June 1886, aged 65, at Lowestoft, just two years after his wife Sarah Ann and as the couple had no children, with their death the Yearly name died out unless any proof appears that young Charles had any children, although that seems unlikely.
It would appear from the 1871 census that Diana was living at the House of Industry, Oulton, Suffolk, incorrectly named as Eliza Yearly, but with her age and place of birth being correct. She died there, aged 90 in 1879.
Today we have the final part of the story about General James Wolfe, so I’ll hand you over to Kim to complete this and take this opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to Kim, for all her hard work in writing this fascinating story.
If by any chance you missed any of the first 3 parts, click on the following links – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
Events moved quickly, and not only in Wolfe’s professional life.
Her name was Katherine Lowther, and she was his parents’ “pretty neighbour” at Bath, whose sleep he had apologised for disturbing by his clattering departure one winter morning two years before. Her pedigree was impeccable: her father had been a governor of Barbados; one of her grandfathers was a baronet, his wife the daughter of a viscount; her sister was the Countess of Darlington. It was not the coup de foudre which had shattered Wolfe’s life in 1749 and he said he had “no thought of matrimony”, but there was clearly commitment; and he took his final leave of his parents by letter, claiming that he disliked the emotional business of parting. Henrietta Wolfe remained jealous and suspicious, and Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe altered his will, leaving his considerable estate to his wife with no provision for his son.
Wolfe learned of this in Louisbourg in May, following a rough passage in H.M.S. Neptune to New York, and from there to a fogbound Halifax, the harbour of which was still choked with ice. Edward Wolfe’s death in March had not been unexpected, as “I left him in so weak a condition that it was not probable we should ever meet again”, but the financial blow was a heavy one, although he wrote to Henrietta from “the Banks of the St. Lawrence, 31st August 1759… I approve entirely of my father’s disposition of his affairs, though perhaps it may interfere a little matter with my plan of quitting the service, which I am determined to do at the first opportunity⸺ I mean so as not to be absolutely distressed in circumstance, nor burdensome to you or anyone else.”
He had made his will aboard Neptune, leaving to Katherine the miniature she had given him, “to be set in jewels to the amount of five hundred guineas, and returned to her.”
Perhaps the future would always be only this: an endless repetition of the past. A flirtation with life, the certainty of death, an evanescent dream.
He disposed, generously, of his other assets, and his aides witnessed his signature. There was nothing else, nothing more. The rest, even she, was an illusion.
He burned his personal journal for August, with its bitter catalogue of affront, resentment, suspicion, foreboding and depression, and its accounts of “a sad episode of dysentery”, not now uncommon in an army encamped in extreme heat and humidity, and increasingly severe bouts of renal colic. He had asked for something to ease the pain, fearing that events would slip beyond his control and that he would be unable to prosecute this final attack on a tenacious and unaccommodating enemy.
My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that I cannot get at him without spilling a torrent of blood, and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight him; but the wary old fellow avoids an action, doubtful of the behaviour of his army. People must be of the profession to understand the disadvantages and difficulties we labour under, arising from the uncommon natural strength of the country.
Rumours of his illness had disconcerted men already unnerved by a summer of skirmishes and scalpings and sniping by disaffected habitants bearing arms and grudges against the British.
The French did not attempt to interrupt our march. Some of the savages came down to murder such of the wounded as could not be brought off, and to scalp the dead, as their custom is… Scarce a night passes when they are not close upon our posts, watching an opportunity to surprise and murder. There is very little quarter given on either side.
It revolted him. His orders of the 24th of July read: “The General strictly forbids the inhuman practice of scalping, except when the enemies are Indians or Canadians dressed as Indians,” but a subsequent order posted a bounty of five guineas for an aboriginal scalp. The Canadians were offering a similar reward for a British scalp, and after a Captain Alexander Montgomery of the 43rd Foot found his brother’s body “cruelly mutilated by the savages” he had reciprocated in a manner they understood: he and his men had murdered and scalped a priest and twenty of his congregation when they had refused to disarm in St. Joachim on the 23rd of August.
In every man of every race the creed of the frontier, the inner savage, was asserting itself.
No churches, houses or buildings of any kind are to be burned or destroyed without orders. The persons that remain in their habitations, their women and children are to be treated with humanity. If any violence is offered to a woman, the offender shall be punished with death. If any persons are detected robbing the tents of officers or soldiers they will be, if convicted, certainly executed. The commanders of regiments are to be answerable that no rum, or spirits of any kind, be sold in or near the camp.
But it was the enemy within he hated: not Montcalm, not the Canadians, not the Iroquois Confederacy, but a confederacy of his own brigadiers, sworn to subvert, discredit and undermine his authority.
His right to choose his own staff officers had been a condition of his acceptance of command, and he had thought he knew them: his aides, Captains Hervey Smith and Thomas Bell, remained loyal and protective of him.
An Irish major named Isaac Barré was adjutant-general: he had not yet betrayed Wolfe’s trust. The others were his quartermaster-general Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Carleton, an Irish veteran of Flanders whose commission for Louisbourg the King had refused to sign because Carleton had insulted the Hanoverians: even Carleton, a friend, had offended Wolfe by his “abominable behaviour”; the Honourable Robert Monckton, brigadier-general commanding the first battalion, who had been lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia and had overseen operations in the Bay of Fundy after Louisbourg; and the Honourable James Murray, brigadier-general commanding the third battalion, a touchy Scot whose brother was a known Jacobite, and who had served in Flanders and at Rochefort and Louisbourg. He was increasingly influenced by Colonel the Honourable George Townshend, honorary brigadier-general in command of the second battalion. Townshend had been Pitt’s choice, not Wolfe’s. He had fought in Flanders and at Culloden, been aide-de-camp to Cumberland and then to George II, and was called by Horace Walpole “proud, sullen and contemptuous”. He was also a maliciously talented cartoonist and had satirized Cumberland to the detriment of his own career. He now found in Wolfe both subject and target and was circulating with impunity his caricatures of ‘Our General’, hinting that Wolfe’s judgment was clouded by opium and that his refusal to disclose his plan of attack was indecision or, at worst, paranoia.
Wolfe was, by his own admission, “so ill and so weak that I begged the General Officers to consult together for the public utility and advantage; and to consider of the best method of attacking the enemy.” He offered them what he called “a choice of difficulties”. They rejected all three options and mooted one of their own, Townshend claiming afterwards that Wolfe had never had any intention of forcing a pitched battle at Quebec.
For a man who was bluffing or indecisive, or too ill or too drugged to function, his mind remained exceptionally focused, detailing the siting and calibre of artillery, and designating specific ships, batteries, and signals; collating information from every source including deserters, whom he questioned himself; conducting solo reconnaissances on foot or by boat; noting the dispersal of Montcalm’s forces, the Duc de Lévis somewhere between Quebec and Montreal with an army of 4,000 chosen men, Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville at Cap-Rouge with another 3,000 regulars, militia and aboriginals; reading the reports of shortages and damages within the city; considering the logistics: the immutable, the inalienable, the impossible. He knew every officer and had trained and drilled personally many of the men: the combined forces were now a weapon poised to strike when the time and the tide and the peculiarities of the river and the phase of the moon dictated. He had seen the place in early July and had conferred with the navy’s navigators and cartographers, among them James Cook. The time was now.
Those commanders he trusted he briefed in full, including the navy, with which close co-operation was vital. He issued his final orders on the afternoon of September 12th, from aboard H.M.S. Sutherland.
The enemy’s force is now divided; great scarcity of provisions is in their camp and universal discontent among the Canadians. The second officer is gone to Montreal or St. John’s, which gives reason to think that General Amherst is advancing into the colony. A vigorous blow struck by the army at this juncture may determine the fate of Canada. Our troops below are in readiness to join us; all the light artillery and tools are embarked at Point Levi, and the troops will land where the French seem least to expect it.
The first body that gets onshore is to march directly to the enemy and drive them from any little post they may occupy. The officers must be careful that the succeeding bodies do not by any mistake fire upon those who go before them. The battalions must form on the upper ground with the expedition, and be ready to charge whatever presents itself. When the artillery and troops are landed, a corps will be left to secure the landing-place, while the rest march on, and endeavour to bring the French and Canadians to a battle. The officers and men will remember what their country expects from them, and what a determined body of soldiers, inured to war, is capable of doing against five weak French battalions mingled with disorderly peasantry. The soldiers must be attentive and obedient to their officers, and the officers resolute in the execution of their duty.
At 8:00 p.m., as the troops were climbing down into Sutherland’s boats, he received a letter signed by all three brigadiers demanding further clarification. Security was necessary, they conceded, but they had not been taken fully into the General’s confidence, and their orders were not specific.
He wrote to Monckton:
My reason for desiring the honour of your company with me to Gorham’s Post yesterday was to show you, as well as the distance, would permit, the situation of the enemy, and the place where I meant they should be attacked. The place is called the Foulon, distant upon two miles or two and a half from Quebec… as several Ships of War are to fall down with troops Mr Holmes will be able to station them properly after he has seen the place… The officers who are appointed to conduct the divisions of boats have been strictly enjoined to keep as much order and to act as silently as the nature of the service will admit of. It is not usual to point out in the public orders the direct spot of our attack, nor for any inferior officers not charged with a particular duty to ask instruction upon that point. I had the honour to inform you today that it is my duty to attack the French army. To the best of my knowledge and ability, I have fixed upon that spot where we can act with the most force and are the most likely to succeed. If I am mistaken, I am sorry and must be answerable to his Majesty and the public for the consequences.
To Townshend, controlling his dislike, he wrote:
Brigadier-General Monckton is charged with the first landing and attack at the Foulon, if he succeeds you will be pleased to give directions that the troops afloat be set on shore with the utmost expedition, as they are under your command, and when 3,600 men now in the fleet are landed I have no manner of doubt but that we are able to fight and beat the French army, in which I know you will give your best assistance.
To Murray, who was under Monckton’s command, he wrote nothing.
At 2:00 a.m., time and tide ebbing, Sutherland’s barge took the lead.
On the right of the line to the edge of the cliffs, with Wolfe in personal command, the 35th, the Louisbourg Grenadiers, the 28th, the 43rd. In the centre under Monckton, Lascelles’, the 47th: Scots who had fought Scots at Prestonpans and Culloden. On the left, Murray with the 78th, the Fraser Highlanders, born, perhaps, of a conversation one evening in Inverness between Wolfe and Simon Fraser, whose father, the Jacobite Lord Lovat, had been beheaded for treason in 1747. Fraser had been out with his clan for the Pretender in the ʼ45 and been pardoned in 1750. Wolfe had suggested he raise a regiment for the King, and the Frasers were here now, bristling with the weapons the Disarming Act of 1746 still forbade civilians to carry in Scotland. They were, he acknowledged, among the finest soldiers he had ever known. Beside them, Anstruther’s; and in the second line, where Townshend could do the least damage, the 15th and two battalions of the 60th. In reserve, Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Burton’s 48th in eight sub-divisions; and at the rear Colonel the Honourable William Howe, another friend of Wolfe’s, with the rangers and light infantry.
The French colours surrendered at Louisbourg had been paraded in London and put on display in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He did not want to see these six-foot standards, the King’s colours and these regiments’, so dishonoured in Paris.
Daybreak: just after 5 a.m. The rain fell. They waited, unmoving. The ‘plains’ were fairly level, but patched with cornfields and studded with undergrowth and coppices that afforded cover to native and Canadian marksmen. The French picquets, running, had reached Quebec with intelligence that the entire British army was established on the heights to the westward, on, Montcalm noted, “the weakest side of this miserable garrison,” and had, by their presence, thrown down a psychological gauntlet no soldier of honour could ignore.
By 7 a.m., in showery rain, the French were seen coming out, one eyewitness reported, “like bees from a hive”. Sniping by Canadian irregulars and their aboriginal allies intensified. The French opened fire with artillery, and the hailstorm of lead from the Canadians became “very galling”: rather than sacrifice men’s lives prematurely, Wolfe ordered the infantry to lie down briefly in their ranks. The French formed three columns, some 7,500 men, and at about 10 a.m. began to advance. The thin red lines waited.
Apprȇtez vos armes… En joue… Feu!
From his position on the right, on slightly rising ground, Wolfe observed. A soldier wrote later, “I shall never forget his look. He was surveying the enemy with a countenance radiant and joyful beyond description.”
A bullet tore the tendons of his right wrist. He tied it up with his handkerchief: it seemed to cause no pain. The fire was very hot now from the sharpshooters: he could handle a fusil as well as any sergeant and he tore the cartridge with his teeth and spat out the fragment, and waited; every musket in the line was double-shotted on his orders. Amongst the French, there were shouts: obscenities, jeers, encouragement, shouts of Vive le Roi! and Marquez bien les officiers! And marked they were, in the oblique fire from the Royal Roussillon, the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, the battalions of La Sarre, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne: Monckton shot in the chest, his left lung collapsing, Carleton sustaining head wounds, Barré’s nose and left cheekbone smashed by a musket ball, his left eye blinded.
They took it, standing impassively with shouldered arms. One hundred and forty yards: one hundred and twenty. The French had four or five field guns: they had hauled only two up the cliffs. A hundred. Hold your fire. Eighty. Sixty. Hold your fire, damn you. At forty yards, on the command, they opened fire: a single volley in unison, which had the effect of a cannonade. When the smoke cleared the plain was littered with greyish-white uniforms, stained scarlet: the dead, the dying, the mutilated. They fired another five volleys. It was 10:15 a.m. and the sun had come out, glinting on bayonets. From further along the line there was a hiss of drawn steel as the Highlanders unsheathed their broadswords.
A quarter-inch of metal, a bullet or shrapnel from an exploding shell, hit Wolfe in the groin: they were under heavy fire from the front and flank, and he was too conspicuous a target to ignore. He waved his hat, signalling that the whole line should advance; and then two bullets pierced his left breast, and he staggered and almost fell. He was caught, supported. “Hold me up,” he said, “don’t let my brave fellows see me fall.” He leaned on Captain Ralph Corry of the 28th, and then there were others: Lieutenant Henry Browne of the Louisbourg Grenadiers, a volunteer named James Henderson, another officer: blue uniform, red facings. Artillery. He tried to help them, but his strength and his vision were failing: he collapsed, and they carried him through the smoke another hundred yards to the rear. Henderson held him upright while Browne tore at his waistcoat, and saw that his shirt was soaked with blood. He attempted to dress the wound, but the haemorrhage could not be staunched. He asked if Wolfe wanted a surgeon.
“No need,” he said, “it’s all over with me.”
Someone else, a grenadier, was shouting.
“They run! See how they run!”
He stirred, rousing himself, they said afterwards, like a man from a heavy sleep. “Who run?” he said, and the grenadier, shocked by what he was witnessing, answered, “The enemy, sir. Egad, they give way everywhere.”
One more order, and then there would be peace. He said, “Take a message to Colonel Burton. Tell him to take Webb’s with all speed to Charles River, to cut them off before they reach the bridge.”
And then to Browne, whose arms were around him, “Lay me down. I am suffocating.” Browne, crying openly, laid him gently on the ground, and cradled him as he died.
He had been greatly loved, far more than he had known. Browne wrote to his father: “Even the soldiers dropped tears, who were in the minute before driving their bayonets through the French. I can’t compare it to anything better, than a family in tears and sorrow which had just lost their father, their friend, and their whole dependence.” Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Murray of the Louisbourg Grenadiers wrote to his wife, “His death has given me more affliction than anything I have met with, for I loved him with a sincere and friendly affection.”
His body was carried from the field wrapped, it was said, in a plaid offered by a wounded Highlander, and brought aboard the 28-gun frigate H.M.S. Lowestoft at 11 a.m. It was embalmed, and eventually placed in a stone sarcophagus taken from the convent of the Ursulines, which had been heavily damaged by bombardments from the batteries at Pointe aux Pères: Montcalm was buried there at 8 o’clock on the evening of the 14th in an enlarged shell hole in the floor. Quebec capitulated on September 18th. Montreal fell a year later.
News of the victory reached England on October 17th and the country went wild with bonfires and celebrations, although friends and neighbours in Blackheath refused to illuminate their houses out of respect for James’s memory, and his mother’s very real grief.
Wolfe’s body, brought home aboard the 84-gun H.M.S. Royal William, arrived at Spithead at 7 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, 17th November. The raucous port he had called “this infernal den” was hushed as Royal William’s barge, escorted by others and to the sound of tolling bells and muffled drums, conveyed the sarcophagus to Portsmouth Point. Now transferred to an oak coffin and accompanied by Captains Thomas Bell and William De Laune, it was placed in a hearse and driven to Blackheath. It had been discovered on opening the sarcophagus that the face had decomposed too much to allow a death mask to be made: the sculptor Joseph Wilton modelled his commemorative marble bust on a servant thought to resemble Wolfe. He was advised by Richard, second Baron Edgcumbe, a draughtsman and patron of the arts who had known Wolfe and was able to recreate the beaky, angular features to an almost forensic degree.
Wolfe’s coffin, covered with a pall of black velvet and heaped with laurels, lay in state at his mother’s house the night before a private funeral on November 20th at the church of St. Alfege in Greenwich. There were five mourners, all male. Henrietta Wolfe remained prostrate with grief and did not attend.
She petitioned the government unsuccessfully for Wolfe’s pay to be increased to parity with Amherst’s, and “for a pension to enable me to fulfil the generous and kind intentions of my dear lost son”, which she said she could not otherwise honour “without distressing myself to the highest degree.” She did, however, pay the jeweller Philip Hardle £525, and returned the miniature, set with diamonds, to Katherine Lowther as Wolfe had requested. Katherine wrote to her but dared not call on her.
Your displeasure at your noble son’s partiality to one who is only too conscious of her own unworthiness has cost her many a pang. But you cannot without cruelty still attribute to me any coldness in his parting, for, madam, I always felt and express’d for you both reverence and affection, and desir’d you were ever first to be considered.
They never met again.
Henrietta Wolfe died on September 26, 1764, and was interred between her son and her husband in the family vault in the church of St. Alfege. Katherine Lowther married Vice-Admiral Harry Powlett, later the sixth Duke of Bolton, on April 8, 1765. Wolfe’s letters to her and those she wrote to him at Quebec, which arrived too late and were returned to her unopened, have not survived. She died in 1809.
In England, he is all but forgotten. In Canada, the tides of political correctness alternately burnish and tarnish his reputation. The vast, untamed country of which he said “every man is a soldier” is now dedicated to peacekeeping; bears and beavers still roam the wilderness; and the snow, falling early and lingering long, still, in the true north, covers the ground for eight months of the year.
We do hope that you have enjoyed the story so far about General James Wolfe and today we can share with you the 3rd part, with the final part coming up this Thursday. If you’ve missed the first two parts then just follow these highlighted links – Part one and Part two.
There is a tide in the affairs of men/ which, taken at the flood/ leads on to fortune.
The tide turned.
He had written of zeal and ardour. His own had not gone unnoticed. Vice-Admiral Hawke had spoken of his exemplary behaviour at Rochefort to Admiral George Anson, who had mentioned it to the King; the Prince of Wales, summoning ‘Mister Wolfe’ to discuss the newly published Report of the General Officers appointed to Inquire into the causes of the Failure of the Late Expedition to the Coasts of France, opined that had his proposals been adopted the mission would have been a success, and complimented him on the ‘high spirit of service’ and discipline in the 20th, the regiment on which Wolfe had lavished so much care and attention. A second battalion had been authorized, to be designated the 67th Foot. Wolfe was offered a full colonelcy.
There was more…
By Christmas Day it was known in army circles that four colonels, all relatively young, had been chosen to launch a new North American offensive. Jeffrey Amherst, the aide-de-camp to the venerable Field-Marshal Lord Ligonier, commander-in-chief of the forces since the Duke of Cumberland’s disgrace, had been commissioned major-general and would be in overall command. The others were John Forbes, another protégé of Ligonier’s, George Augustus, third Viscount Howe, brother of Captain Richard Howe of H.M.S. Magnanime and a charismatic soldier already serving in America; and the youngest, James Wolfe, who would be temporarily commissioned brigadier-general in North America and serve as second-in-command to Amherst.
Their objective was Cape Breton, an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia held by the French since 1713, and its fortress, Louisbourg. It had been besieged in 1745 and had surrendered, and it had been returned to France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It protected the rich fisheries of the St. Lawrence and was a haven for the privateers who harassed the New England colonies.
Whoever held Louisbourg held the key to Canada. Whoever took Quebec and Montreal would hold North America.
Louisbourg surrendered on the 27th of July, 1758. Its fortifications had appeared impregnable, but it was vulnerable to sustained bombardment from the sea as well as fire from batteries overlooking the harbour, which had been hastily constructed and commanded by James Wolfe. He had been an integral part of the operation, seen everywhere, issuing orders and instructions in a display of physical courage and deeply personal leadership: instantly recognizable with his wings of auburn hair and shabby scarlet coat, without lace or insignia except for the aiguillette on his shoulder. The Highlanders, who had a particular fondness for him (or his Celtic hair, he thought), called him “the red corporal”, and passed the word when he was approaching. He learned to recognize the Gaelic and to appreciate the nickname. “Tall and straight as a rush,” one of them said, recalling him in 1828.
Oh, he was a noble fellow. And so kind and attentive to the men, that they would go through fire and water to serve him.
Lieutenant Thomas Bell, a marine, reported that he
built fresh batterys every day… and with his small corps came and took post within 200 yards of the town, while the engineers were still bouggering at 600 yards distance. He opened the trenches, called in the army, and pushed them within forty yards of the glacis and in short took the place without the assistance of anyone regular fumbler. He has been general, soldier, and engineer. He commanded, fought and built batterys and I need not add has acquired all the glory of our expedition.
He called them ‘brother soldiers’: they remembered him, sunburned and sweating, sitting amongst them, red hair tied back with a piece of cord, scribbling a message to Amherst
from the trenches at Daybreak, the 25th. We want platforms, artillery officers to take the direction, and ammunition. If these are sent early, we may batter in breach this afternoon… Holland has opened a new boyau, has carried on about 140 or 150 yards and is now within 50 or 60 yards of the glacis… You will be pleased to indulge me with six hours’ rest, that I may serve in the trenches at night.
They breached the bastions. Heated shot had already destroyed L’Entrepreneur. The Royal Navy commanded by Admiral the Honourable Edward Boscawen cut out the Bienfaisant in the harbour and burned the Prudent; and, confronted with the prospect of point-blank broadsides and an assault by the fourteen battalions under Amherst’s command, the governor, Augustin de Boschenry de Drucour capitulated and asked for terms. He and his garrison of 3,500 became prisoners of war and were transported to England. Amherst considered an attack on Quebec: Wolfe, never shy of speaking his mind, urged him forcefully to seize the moment.
Boscawen demurred, announcing on August 3rd that he would not support the idea: the fogs and storms of summer in Cape Breton would usher in the equinoctial gales, and the St. Lawrence would freeze in the winter. There was only time to destroy the enemy’s fisheries in the Gulf.
They were a legitimate target. Twenty-six local chaloupes had sailed the week before laden with tons of dried cod for Quebec, where, the crew of a captured French sloop had said, “there was a great scarcity of provisions and great distress.” And Wolfe was grieving for Howe, who had been among a thousand killed in an attack in the wilderness near Ticonderoga on July 6th by 3,000 French regulars and their native American allies under the command of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran. Many of the dead had been scalped. The war had had its moments of chivalry, in the graceful exchange between Amherst and Mme Drucour of pineapples for champagne and fresh butter, but it had become a thing of unique horror, and the men who waged it would be stained by it.
They burned nets, boats, buildings and 30,000 pounds of dried cod. Privately, Wolfe thought the inhabitants of the Gaspé would starve; but it was war, and Quebec would starve also.
He sailed for home with Boscawen at the end of September, missing by days a letter from the War Office ordering him to remain in Nova Scotia. He wrote to Rickson from London:
Our attempt to land where we did was rash and injudicious, our success was unexpected (by me) and undeserved. There was no prodigious measure of courage in the affair; an officer and thirty men would have made it impossible to get where we did. Our proceedings in other respects were as slow and tedious as this undertaking was ill-advised and desperate. We lost time at the siege, still more after the siege, and blundered from the beginning to the end of the campaign.
… I have this day signified to Mr Pitt that he may dispose of my slight carcase as he pleases. I am in a very bad condition both with the gravel and rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers. If I followed my own taste, it would lead me into Germany. However, it is not our part to choose, but to obey.
And to one of his captains: “It is my fortune to be cursed with American service.”
He was now a household name in Britain. The London Gazette, The London Magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, The Scots Magazine, were printing letters and eyewitness reports from men who had served at Louisbourg, extolling the extraordinary exploits of the young Brigadier James Wolfe.
In the middle of December, the Prime Minister summoned him. If the past was the prologue, James Wolfe’s entire life had been merely the prologue to Quebec.
Join us again, in a couple of days for the final part of this story.
Although preliminary peace talks between Britain and France had begun in the summer of 1746, the bloody and protracted War of the Austrian Succession ground to a halt only with the ratification of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in October of 1748. Its terms merely restored the status quo and sowed the seeds of another war.
By then Wolfe had spent several years in garrisons in Scotland, escaping the punishing climate and hostile inhabitants only briefly for a return to conventional soldiering in the Low Countries, and to London on leave in the winter of 1746. And there, hardened veteran of several campaigns, he surrendered his heart and fell “hopelessly in love”. Those who had thought him disinterested in women or only a brain fixated on promotion in a passionless body, or a repressed homosexual, although nothing in his letters or relationships suggested this, were stunned by its effect on him.
She was Elizabeth Lawson, maid of honour to the Princess of Wales and niece of Wolfe’s old mentor, Lieutenant-General Sir John Mordaunt. They were reunited when, now lieutenant-colonel of the 20th Regiment of Foot and gaunt from the scurvy and malnutrition of too many cold years in the Highlands, he was at last granted, not the foreign leave he had requested, hoping to repair what he saw as the deficiencies in his education by studying engineering and artillery tactics at the military academy in Metz, but six months in London.
He was still in the throes of what his mother called his “senseless passion” and in no mood for opposition, although his parents were, as he wrote to his close friend, Colonel William Rickson, “somewhat against it”. The pressure from his mother was unrelenting, he told Rickson: she thought he could do better than Elizabeth Lawson and her £12,000 and had her eye “upon one with £30,000.”
He arrived at his parents’ house in Old Burlington Street and immediately found himself embroiled in psychological warfare. Elizabeth, who obsessed him, had obviously cooled toward him and was entertaining other suitors; the Croydon heiress, his mother told him, was still available with her £30,000; and was James aware that Lady Lawson, Elizabeth’s mother, had been a loose woman before her marriage, and it was possible that her daughter was the same?
Henrietta Wolfe had gone too far. She had occasionally, in her letters, reproached her son for his temper: he had frequently apologised and attempted to control it. But something vital in James Wolfe snapped that day and he turned its full fury on her, and then stalked out of the house and took lodgings in a nearby street, where, to the fascination of the neighbours, he relieved his emotional and sexual frustrations in the longest and most uncharacteristic debauch of his life.
Rumour had it that he had arrived drunk at a ball and loudly proclaimed his love for Elizabeth Lawson, and threatened to horsewhip a rival: whatever indiscretions he committed, Elizabeth warmed no more to this new, rake hell incarnation than to the staid James Wolfe she knew. She ended the relationship. Shattered, he lost himself in alcohol, emerging briefly to listen from the public gallery to debates in the House of Commons on the future of British North America, until his outraged body rebelled and he became ill. His mother continued her campaign. He wrote to her in anguish,
How could you tell me you liked her, and at the same time say her illness prevents her wedding? I don’t think you believe she ever touched me at all, or you could never speak of her ill-health and marriage, the only things in relation to that lady that could give me the least uneasiness.
He wrote to his father with a certain battered dignity, “You called my situation ridiculous, and indeed it was,” and apologised for what he said had been done “out of passion and anger when I had the honour to be near you.” To his friend Rickson, he confessed:
In that time I committed more imprudent acts than in all my life before. I lived in the idlest, most dissolute, abandoned manner that could be conceived, and not out of vice, which is the most extraordinary part of it. I have escaped at length, and am once again master of my reason, and hereafter it shall rule my conduct, at least I hope so.
He never recovered. Four years later, her portrait in Sir John Mordaunt’s dining room still disconcerted him so much that he could barely eat, and any mention of her name affected him profoundly.
He took his wounded heart to Paris. The Croydon heiress unexpectedly bestowed her £30,000 on one of his best friends in February of 1751. Elizabeth Lawson died, unmarried, a few months before he sailed for Quebec.
For a few brief months, in this interlude of peace under the auspices of the Earl of Albemarle, His Britannic Majesty’s ambassador in Paris, James Wolfe knew luxury: warmth, cleanliness, leisure, and more than adequate nourishment, eating for breakfast every morning fresh grapes from a convent garden, “the same as the King eats, and a great curiosity.” His health improved: his energy seemed boundless.
Monsieur Fesian, the dancing-master, assures me that I make a surprising progress, but that my time will be too short to possess, as he calls it, the minuet to any great perfection; however, he pretends to say that I shall dance not to be laughed at. I am on horseback every morning at break of day and do presume that, with the advantage of long legs and thighs, I shall be able to sit a horse at a hand-gallop. Lastly, the fencing-master declares me to have a very quick wrist, and no inconsiderable lunge, for the reasons aforementioned… I wish I could send a piece of tapestry from the Gobelins, or a picture from the Palais Royal, instead of a letter.
He went to the theatre, became fluent in French, socialised, went sight-seeing, shopped, sending his mother two black velvet hoods and “a vestale for your neck, such as the Queen wears”, had his teeth filled, and observed the French: in the streets, in the salons, at the court of Versailles. On January 9th, 1753, he was presented to Louis XV, the Queen, the Dauphin, and, finally, the King’s mistress, the beautiful and fearless Jeanne Antoinette Poussin, Marquise de Pompadour. Philosopher, diplomat, political savant and patron of the arts, she had many enemies, but the intense young English soldier with whom she chatted in her boudoir, where she entertained visitors but offered a chair only to her royal lover, was not one of them. He recalled afterwards her intelligence, her wit and her courtesy, and that she was curling her hair during their conversation.
But despite the glitter and grace, life in Paris began to pall. He still hoped to be allowed to travel, perhaps to visit the French army in its summer encampment, but his request was denied and another officer was granted the privilege. And then, peremptorily, he was ordered back to his regiment. He returned to England, wretchedly seasick as usual, and rejoined the 20th in Glasgow.
He found it in dire straits.
Officers ruined, impoverished, desperate, and without hopes of preferment; the widow of our late Major and her daughter in tears; an ensign struck speechless with the palsy and another that falls down in the most violent convulsions. Some of our people spit blood, and others are begging to sell before they are quite undone, and my friend Ben will probably be in jail in a fortnight… The ladies are cold to everything but a bagpipe⸺ I wrong them. There is not one that does not melt at the sound of an estate. We march out of this dark and dismal country in August.
He was beginning to wish he had stayed in Paris.
But it was a soldier’s life and he was a soldier’s soldier, committed to service. Younger officers came and went on their own career trajectories: he guided them, advised them, trained them, disciplined them, and, conscious of an increasing abruptness and austerity in himself, encouraged them to mingle in society, and go to balls and assemblies.
It softens their manners and makes ʼem civil; and commonly I go along with them, to see how they conduct themselves. I am only afraid they shall fall in love and marry. Whenever I perceive the symptoms or anybody else makes the discovery, we fall upon the delinquent without mercy until he grows out of conceit with his new passion… My experience in these matters helps me to find out my neighbour’s weakness, and furnishes me with arms to oppose his folly.
Sometimes he reflected darkly on the future and was not reassured.
I am eight-and-twenty years old, a lieutenant-colonel of foot, and I cannot say I am master of fifty pounds.
His requests for promotion had been denied. He was too young for higher rank, they said, although he had seen other officers promoted, not on the basis of merit but out of political expediency. He felt old, jaded, bitter, forgotten.
He prayed for war, war came.
The amphibious assault on Rochefort on the Charente estuary in September of 1757 was a million-pound fiasco involving sixteen ships-of-the-line, frigates, fire-ships and bomb ketches, as well as ten-line regiments, fifty horse, and gunners, a total of about 10,000 men. Intelligence had suggested the town contained a large arsenal of arms and ammunition and was only lightly guarded, and it was thought an ideal diversion to aid Hanover and Prussia, where a French army of 150,000 was preparing to attack.
Only two officers emerged from the resulting debacle with their reputations intact: Captain the Honourable Richard Howe of the 74-gun former French prize H.M.S. Magnanime, who bombarded into submission the fortifications on the Île d’Aix that commanded the approaches to Rochefort and La Rochelle; and the army’s quartermaster-general, James Wolfe, who after reconnoitring the area by boat had recognised the strategic necessity and recommended the fort be destroyed.
Wolfe had been plucked from the obscurity of fly-fishing, shooting game birds without a licence, suppressing a riot by local weavers striking for higher pay, and other diversions of garrison life in Gloucestershire, on the recommendation of Sir John Mordaunt. General after general had declined the honour of leading the expedition, or had been vetoed by the King: the secretary of state, William Pitt, had eventually offered Mordaunt command. Wolfe was told nothing of the destination, nor were any other senior officers until they had been at sea for a week.
The troops had mustered on the Isle of Wight and waited for the transports. And waited. The weather turned against them and delayed embarkation. It was a bad beginning. Things got worse.
Mordaunt had been a brave and competent soldier, but he was sixty now, and ailing, and he had lost his nerve. He vacillated, unable to decide where or when or how to attack, issuing and countermanding orders, infuriating Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, who threatened to withdraw his ships if Mordaunt could not stop procrastinating; and, as Wolfe wrote to his father,
We lost the lucky moment in war, and were not able to recover it. It had been conducted so ill that I was ashamed to have been of the party. The public could not do better than dismiss six or eight of us from the service. No zeal, no ardour, no care or concern for the good and honour of the country.
After a court of inquiry in November, Mordaunt was brought before a court-martial on December 14th, charged with disobeying his orders. Given the fate of Vice-Admiral the Honourable John Byng, who had been executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Monarch in Portsmouth harbour in March for failing to defend Minorca, his acquittal was considered lenient. He was allowed to retire from the service.
Wolfe, who had given evidence at the court of inquiry and at Mordaunt’s court-martial, had refrained from any public condemnation of him, but he plunged into depression and decided to resign his commission as quartermaster-general for Ireland, an office he had held only in name, hiding at his parents’ new house in Blackheath and writing to his mother, who had gone to Bath:
I can’t part with my other employment because I have nothing else to trust to, nor do I think it consistent with honour to sneak off in the middle of a war.
To Rickson, he vented his shame and humiliation.
I own to you that there never was people collected together so unfit for the business… dilatory, ignorant, irresolute, and some grains of a very unmanly quality, and very unsoldierlike or unsailor-like.
And then, perhaps considering the repercussions if his comments as a prominent member of the expedition should become more widely known:
I have already been too imprudent; I have said too much. Therefore report nothing out of my letter, nor name my name as author of any one thing.
He was thirty years old, angry, frustrated, alone. The future was a void.
We look forward to you joining us for the final two episodes next Tuesdays and Thursday.
It’s always lovely to welcome back guests to All Things Georgian, and one such guest is the delightful, Kim Reeman, who has written two previous articles for us. Today she has quite a story to share about the life of General James Wolfe and as such it will appear in four parts, over the next couple of weeks – so please do keep an eye out for the future posts to find out more. With that I will hand over to Kim to tell you more:
Canada est un pays couvert de neiges et de glaces huit mois de l’année,
habité par des barbares, des ours et des castors…. Quelques arpents de neige.
VOLTAIRE (FRANÇOIS-MARIE AROUET), 1758
There was no snow on this September morning, only a vast, living silence under the stars: the concerted creak and dip of oars, the uneasy shuffle of boots on bottom boards, a muffled cough as men, packed closely together, gripped their weapons, stared into the blackness and listened, waiting for whatever would come. The night was calm, the current strong: the tide, in this river of seven hundred miles, ebbing rapidly. From the unseen shore, after the heat of the day, a cool wind brought the scent of the pines.
The quarter moon had risen at 10 p.m., laying a faint, camouflaging track on the water to confuse the eye, and the boats slipped through the shadows. They had begun to embark at about 9 p.m., the light infantry and the Royal Americans first, followed by other regiments in order of seniority, dropping away from the Sutherland at midnight at the hoisting of the signal: two lanterns, one above the other, in her maintopmast shrouds. At 1:35 a.m. the tide began to flow, and at 2 the signal to proceed was given. The commander-in-chief, in Sutherland’s barge, took the lead.
He sat on the thwart, his six-foot frame uncomfortably cramped, maintaining the silence he had ordered all men to observe in the boats, with a fusil slung across his back, a cartridge pouch with seventy rounds of ammunition suspended from his belt, and a bayonet at his left hip. Recent, debilitating illness had drained him, physically and spiritually, and he was haunted by the possibility of failure. He had seen the fates of generals and admirals arraigned for dereliction of duty: court-martial, professional oblivion, dishonour, or worse. He had held his first commission at the age of fourteen: he was now thirty-two, and half his life, spent in continuous service, had been merely the prelude to this rendezvous with destiny.
He focused his mind on a stanza of Gray’s Elegy, a copy of which his fiancée had given him before he had left Portsmouth, and which he had annotated the previous evening in his cabin aboard Sutherland.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
The barge nudged into the shallows, and, adrenaline coursing through his blood, he was up, into the water, splashing ashore. The inevitable hour had come.
Time had matched him with this hour: time and a crucible of war, which had taken an affectionate child in an ensign’s uniform writing letters to his “dearest Mamma” and by its alchemy produced a man, impetuous, hot-tempered, over-sensitive, disciplined, meticulous, and intolerant. Devoted to his family and friends, he had a capacity for love that would never be truly fulfilled, and an intense vulnerability: he never forgot a kindness, and very seldom forgave an injury. Trust once lost was never given by him again, a quality he recognized in himself, writing in a moment of excoriating self-analysis, “I have that cursed disposition of mind, that when once I know people have entertained a very ill opinion, I imagine they never change. From whence one passes easily to an indifference about them, and then to dislike… There lurks a hidden poison in the heart that is difficult to root out.”
Aware of his own military genius, he had felt for most of his life ignored, undervalued, denigrated, and often openly insulted by subordinates and superiors alike.
Initially shy with women, although he gained grace and confidence, he remained conscious of his singular physical characteristics: he was six feet three inches tall and very thin, with flame-red hair, long, nervous, restless fingers, pale skin that blushed furiously with any access of emotion, and his mother’s unfortunate profile, which would be so cruelly lampooned at Quebec and immortalized in a host of bad portraits and tasteless souvenirs at the apogee of his posthumous fame.
Only the painting attributed to Joseph Highmore was considered a good likeness by his family until George Townshend, one of Wolfe’s combative trio of brigadiers at Quebec, produced from life, without a trace of his signature malice, the iconic and endearing watercolour of his mercurial commander that captures the elusive qualities of his face: the piercing, heavily lidded blue eyes, the patient, somewhat quizzical expression, the dimpled chin, and an essential gentleness about the mouth, a gentleness for which, in life, Wolfe was known, and in death remembered.
Time. There had never been enough time: enough peace, enough warmth, enough comfort, enough nourishment, enough freedom from physical and mental stress. No time to study, to travel, to observe, to discover, as a shy and awkward lover, the mysteries and delicacies of lovemaking; no time to marry, to father the children he longed for, to walk, as he once wrote wistfully to his own father, in his garden and sample his own sun-warmed figs. There had only been war.
And now, at the foot of these cliffs, time stopped. Two hundred and fifty feet above, men were climbing, cursing, dislodging soil and stones, hauling weapons: those who had reached the top and dispatched the French sentries were silhouetted against the stars. The path, the metaphor for his life, awaited.
He drank briefly from an offered flask: water, not alcohol. He seldom drank spirits, although he had ordered an issue of rum for the men tonight, knowing it would hearten them. Chronic dehydration had led to infections of the bladder and urethra which had felled him repeatedly, with fever and bloody urine and excruciating pain, most recently in the previous week, and he was still desperately ill, despite his efforts to conceal it. He began to climb.
James Wolfe was born on January 2, 1727, at Westerham, Kent, the first surviving child of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Wolfe, a career soldier of Irish descent who had served with Marlborough, and his much younger wife Henrietta Thompson Wolfe, an imperious beauty who claimed descent through her Yorkshire family, the Tindals of Brotherton, from Edward III and Shakespeare’s ‘Hotspur’, Henry Percy.
Throughout his life, James’s relations with his English and Irish relatives, particularly his uncle Major Walter Wolfe, who had retired to Dublin, and his cousins, the Goldsmiths of Limerick, remained fond and close.
Almost exactly a year after James’s birth a paler, frailer sibling arrived and was christened Edward after his father. Where ‘Jemmy’ led, Ned would follow, even through waist-deep snow in the brutal winter of 1743 as a fifteen-year-old ensign in Colonel Scipio Duroure’s 12th Regiment of Foot, sharing a horse with the sixteen-year-old James, also an ensign but already discharging the duties of adjutant. After a particularly arduous march, James wrote to his father from Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt:
The men almost starved. They nor their officers had little more than bread and water to live on, and that very scarce. The King is in a little palace in such a town as I believe he never lived in before. It was ruined by the Hanoverians, and everything almost that was in it was carried off by them sometime before he came. They and our men now live by marauding… The French are burning all the villages on the other side of the Mayne, and we ravaging the country on this side.
And, as the army was as much a family as the Royal Navy, and friends and former brothers-in-arms kept in as close touch as was possible, he added:
Brigadier Huske inquires often if I have heard from you lately, and desires his compliments to you. He is extremely kind to me, and I am most obliged to him. He has desired his brigade-major Mr Blakeney, who is a very good man, to instruct me all he can. My brother intends writing very soon. We both join in love and duty to you and my mother.
Meanwhile, Ned was reporting busily: “They say there are many wolves and wild boars in the woods, but I never saw any yet, neither do I desire.”
There was something far more lethal in the woods, dogging the footsteps of the allied forces of Britain, Hanover and Austria under the personal command of George II: a French army of 70,000 commanded by the Duc de Noailles, one of the most formidable soldiers of his time. Inexplicably, Noailles ceded command of a large contingent of infantry, artillery and cavalry to his less capable nephew, the Duc de Grammont, who abandoned an unassailable position to attack the allies on open ground near the village of Dettingen, in what is now Bavaria, on June 27th, 1743.
The Wolfe boys, receiving this baptism of fire, saw the mathematical precision of drill disintegrate into the chaos of hand-to-hand fighting: Duroure’s, in the front line, suffered the highest casualties of any allied regiment engaged that day. The colonel’s horse was shot from under him, as was James Wolfe’s; the King was thrown, and led the Hanoverians on foot; his son William, Duke of Cumberland, who would figure prominently in James’s life, took a musket ball through the calf, and Wolfe wrote in a graphic dispatch to his father after being, with Ned, under artillery fire for nearly three hours and then in close action for more than two, “I sometimes thought I had lost poor Ned when I saw arms, legs, and heads beat off close by him. He is called ‘the Old Soldier’ now, and very deservedly.”
Dettingen, with 750 British, Hanoverians and Austrians killed and 1,600 wounded, and between 2,000 and 4,000 French dead, was considered a victory. A British cavalryman writing home of the “dead and mangled bodies, limbs, wounded men” and terribly injured horses he saw on the battlefield in the rain the following morning, revealed that “this sight shocked my very soul.”
The armies regrouped, reinforced, and did not engage again that year.
On June 3rd, 1744, James was promoted to captain in the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King’s Own, also known as Barrell’s after its nominal colonel, Lieutenant-General John Barrell: its lieutenant-colonel in the field was Robert Rich, who welcomed the newly blooded young captain and would become a friend and champion. Ned, now a lieutenant, remained with the 12th. The brothers saw each other occasionally and corresponded as regularly as circumstances permitted, but a letter from the 12th’s surgeon expressing concern over Ned’s health never reached James, and he was in winter quarters in Ghent and unaware of the gravity of the situation when Ned died in October, probably of tuberculosis. He wrote to his parents on the 29th of that month, overcome with grief and self-recrimination.
“It gives me many uneasy hours when I reflect on the possibility there was of my being with him sometime before he died. There was no part of his life that makes him dearer to me than that where you have often mentioned⸺ he pined after me… He lived and died as a son of you two should, which, I think, is saying all I can.”
In May of 1745, at Fontenoy, Ned’s old regiment engaged once more in bloody combat with the French. James, who was kept in reserve with the 4th and never ordered out of Ghent, wrote to his father after the allies’ ignominious defeat that Duroure’s “has suffered very much, 18 officers and 300 men killed and wounded. I believe this account will shock you not a little, but ʼtis surprising the number of officers of lower rank that are gone.”
Not for the first time, he contemplated the ephemerality of life and a future in which the only certainty was death. He was young but no longer youthful: his had become an older, darker soul, prone to depression, and driven by ambition and an awareness of the passing of time.
On June 22nd, 1745, general orders announced his appointment as “Brigade-Major to Pulteney’s Brigade.” He was eighteen years old.
The cliffs had been thought unscalable, except by Wolfe himself. The French had not, apparently, thought suspicious the spectacle of four senior British officers staring at the Anse au Foulon through telescopes from a vantage point on the opposite bank, when he had been explaining, yet again and more testily, what the other three seemed unwilling or unable to understand. After a summer of feints and manoeuvres and skirmishes and infuriatingly unsuccessful forays, perhaps Montcalm had dismissed the episode of the telescopes as merely another caprice on the part of the British. Deserters, in traffic that flowed both ways across the St. Lawrence, had reported his response.
We need not suppose the enemy has wings.
He had placed his trust in the river and the country, and what time would do to both. These impudent invaders would be forced to withdraw soon, or be locked in by the Canadian winter.
The heat was still intense in the afternoons, but the quality of the light had changed. Time, in the turning of a leaf, in the coolness before dawn… time in the flood of the river, the flood of years. Time was running out.
The stars were veiled with cloud now, and rain intensified the fragrance of the pines.
Culloden cast its long shadow over the rest of Wolfe’s life, although, as aide-de-camp to the foul-mouthed old cavalryman Lieutenant-General Henry ‘Hangman’ Hawley, he was not fighting with his regiment, Barrell’s, the King’s Own, on the morning of April 16th, 1746. He remained on the right of the line with Cobham’s Dragoons and Kingston’s Light Horse, which Hawley did not order into action until the entire right wing of the rebel army had thrown itself on Barrell’s.
He did not see, except at a distance and through the smoke, Barrell’s break under the impact of the charge by the Stewarts of Appin and Atholl and the Camerons under Lochiel, and throw it back with bent and bloodied bayonets; did not see his friend, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rich, fighting with inhuman courage beside the colours, receive six head wounds; did not see Rich’s left hand struck from his wrist and his right forearm almost severed by a Highland broadsword; did not see until afterwards Lord Robert Kerr, son of the Marquess of Lothian and captain of Barrell’s grenadiers, dead on the ground with his skull split from crown to collarbone. He did not, in all probability, feature in the apocryphal story that sometimes had the Duke of Cumberland, sometimes, more characteristically, Hawley, pointing to a wounded Jacobite, identified as Charles Fraser of Inverallochy, and saying, “Wolfe, shoot me that rebel dog,” whereupon the indignant young major retorted, “My commission is at Your Highness’s disposal, but I can never consent to become an executioner.” Wolfe loathed insubordination and would certainly not offer it to his commander-in-chief, and it is highly unlikely, despite his personal hatred of Hawley, that he would have behaved with insolence toward him. He remained on good terms with Cumberland and was more than once recommended for promotion by him until the Duke’s own spectacular fall from grace following his surrender of Hanover in 1757.
But for Wolfe, the dark memories remained, and an appreciation of the raw courage of the Scots. He had seen that ferocity unleashed. He could not know that within thirteen years, on a sun-swept plateau on a September morning, it would be his to command.
Part 2 of this story will be on Thursday.
General James Wolfe (1727–1759), When a Boy. Benjamin West (1738–1820). Government Art Collection
If, like me, you wonder who lived in some of London’s Georgian houses, then today’s post takes a look at one specific London street in the affluent area of Mayfair, or to be more specific, Hertford Street.
This is a street which Etienne Daly told me about in connection with Sir John Lindsay, the father of Dido Elizabeth Belle as he felt sure Sir John must have lived there at some time.
When Sir John wrote his will in 1783 (with codicils added later), he made specific reference to his house on this street and being ever curious, I wanted to know exactly where he lived, when he lived there and who else of interest may have also lived in this street.
Needless to say, the rates returns came to the rescue, if producing slightly confusing information in parts.
In some exhibition material of 2007, produced by Cathy Power, of English Heritage, she noted a payment made by Kenwood House to Sir John, for some £3,000 which Cathy felt was, in all likelihood for the purchase of a marital home especially as he had just married Mary Milner in 1768.
Judging by the rates returns for Hertford Street, this would definitely tie in with that assumption. The properties along this stretch of the road were designed and built in 1768-69 by Henry Holland (1746-1806), the son of a builder, and therefore Sir John would have bought the property from new.
We now, of course, know that Sir John was posted overseas around that time, so what a lovely new London residence for his bride to live in whilst her husband was away. As to whether Dido Elizabeth Belle ever visited Sir John and Lady Mary during their time there, we will probably never know, but it’s lovely to think that perhaps she did.
Sir John and Lady Mary remained there until around 1782, after which time it was occupied by the 4th Earl of Sandwich, but it was still owned by Sir John as indicated by his will. Sir John and Lady Mary moved elsewhere according to the land tax from 1783 which showed their new residence.
It is well known that the Earl of Sandwich had a long-term relationship with the singer, Martha Ray and that he established a home for her in Westminster. However, it’s unlikely to have been this one as Martha was murdered in 1779, so, prior to the Earl of Sandwich taking over occupancy.
Many of the houses on this street were designed by the architect Henry Holland, who, according to the 1769 return, still owned both properties, whether he was living in either of them remains unclear though. It was in 1773, once again at St George’s, Hanover Square that Henry Holland junior married Bridget Brown, the daughter of Capability Brown, the landscape architect.
Number 9 didn’t appear to have an occupant until 1780 when it was eventually purchased by Nathaniel Bayly, a plantation owner and M.P.
We know that number 10 was owned by General Burgoyne and now has a Blue Plaque outside it. Burgoyne commissioned his friend Robert Adam to design the interior.
General Burgoyne’s next-door neighbour at number 11, was Sir John Lindsay. It is well documented that Robert Adam also worked on Kenwood House, so it would seem quite feasible that Adam had some involvement in the interior design of Sir John’s home too.
Properties number 12 was occupied by Lady Harriett Conyers
Number 13, simply says it was occupied by a Mrs Grey. However, with a little research it would appears to have been the home of Charles, 1st Earl Grey and his wife Elizabeth. Their son being Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister, famed for his scandalous relationship with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, their relationship resulting in their illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtney(1792-1859). Although raised in Northumberland, it would be interesting to know whether Eliza ever visited her grandparents at their town house on Hertford Street. It is known that Georgiana met her daughter in secret in London, could these secret meetings have taken place here?
Number 14, was owned by George Pitt, Lord Rivers, a diplomat and politician, along with his wife, Lady Penelope where he remained for a good number of years after the couple separated in 1771, with Lady Penelope living mostly in France and Italy until her death on 1 January 1795 in Milan.
At number 15, was the fabulously named, Sir Gregory Page-Turner, MP for Thirsk, who was unmarried whilst living there (he married in 1785). As well as inheriting substantial properties from his uncle, he had this townhouse, which he retained until March 1780, when it was sold by Messrs Christie and Ansell. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser carried the following description of the property:
An Elegant Leasehold house with suitable offices etc, desirably situated on the south side of Hertford Street, Mayfair, late in the possession of Sir Gregory Page-Turner, Bart.
The premises contain two good rooms on each floor, a spacious hall and stone staircase, detached kitchen etc. are held on lease for upwards of eighty years unexpired.
At number 16 was John Hume, the relatively newly appointed Bishop of Salisbury
At number 17 we have Thomas Dundas Esq, Scottish-British politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1763 to 1794, after which he was raised to the peerage as Baron Dundas.
Dundas being another long-standing resident. His wife, who he married, again at St George, Hanover Square in 1764, being Charlotte Fitzwilliam. Given that the couple had some fourteen children it seems far more likely that this was their town house and that the children lived at the ancestral home, Aske Hall, North Yorkshire – it would have been an extremely cosy fit to have them all living in the Hertford Street house.
Number 18 was owned by the Honourable Topham Beauclerk, who was a close friend of Dr Johnson and the well-known man of letters, aka gossip, Horace Walpole.
His wife being Diana, née Spencer, often referred to as ‘Lady Di’, former Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. The couple were married in March 1768, at St George’s, Hanover Square, just a few months before Sir John and Lady Mary. Like Sir John and Lady Mary, could this have also been their townhouse when they first married? The couple married just two days after Diana was divorced. Whilst Topham retained the house, the couple did not appear to have lived there for long. Unlike Sir John’s marriage, theirs was not to be a happy one and according to the artist Joseph Farrington:
They slept in separate beds. Beauclerc was remarkably filthy in his person which generated vermin. He took laudanum regularly in vast quantities. He seldom rose before one or two o’clock.
At Number 19 Sir Francis Molineux, who was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in 1765 a post he held until his death in 1812.
And finally at Number 20 – The Earl of Morton. It remains unclear as to whether this was James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton who died 1768, or his son who occupied this property. However, from the following year, the occupants were Robert Darcy, 4th Earl of Holderness and his wife Mary, who features in our latest book for her misdemeanours, as she became known as ‘The Queen of Smugglers’.
Needless to say, occupancy was not static, but this post hopefully gives you a snapshot of some of the people living there from 1768. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some more ‘Blue plaques’ added to the street for some of these people?
One of our lovely readers asked for help in finding a document for some research he was doing. Having found the document I was fascinated by it and thought it was worth sharing with you.
The Morning Post, of 2nd October 1776 contained a ‘scoring sheet’ for twelve ladies of the ‘Bon Ton,’ Britain’s high society ladies of the day. The newspaper described it as ‘ Scale of Bon Ton’, with the ladies being marked out of twenty for each of nine virtues (there’s a copy at the end).
No explanation was offered as to who wrote it and more importantly who decided on the points awarded, but it reads a bit like the scores for a beauty pageant, so I’ll simply present them as per the newspaper and let you make your own decision about this!
The outright, clear winner was the Countess of Barrymore, who scored almost full marks in virtually all categories, but for whom there appears to be no portrait available, which is such a shame given her score.
In second place, we have joint runners-up, Lady Harriott Foley and Lady Anna Maria Stanhope, daughter of William Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Harrington who married Thomas Pelham-Clinton, 3rd Duke of Newcastle
Fourth place goes to Mrs Harriet Bouverie.
Somewhat surprisingly, given that she was always regarded as the most beautiful woman in England, the Duchess of Devonshire only achieved overall fifth place, scoring such a low mark for ‘expression’.
Sixth place, just one point behind was Mrs Damer (see image further on).
Seventh place went to the Countess of Sefton, formerly Lady Isabella Stanhope.
Eighth place to the Duchess of Gordon.
Ninth place went to Mrs Crewe, on the right, who score a zero for ‘grace’.
Tenth place, to Lady Melbourne, whose ‘figure’ scored her a zero.
In Eleventh place, we have the Countess of Derby whose scores were well below average, to say the least.
Last, scoring a mere 48 out of 180 was the Countess of Jersey.
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’.
It is always lovely to welcome back guests to the blog, and today we welcome back Kimberley Reeman for our first article of this new decade. Kim recently wrote an article for us, about the Life of Dr James Barry, which was very well received, so we’re sure you will enjoy this one equally as much.
“I was effectually cured of all inclination to that sin to which I was so strongly addicted, that I thought nothing but shooting me through the head could have cured me.” COLONEL JAMES GARDINER, 1688-1745
It was a hot night in Paris in July of 1719: a Sunday night, but the Sabbath signified nothing in the decadent life of Major James Gardiner, aide de camp to the Earl of Stair, a Scot like Gardiner and British ambassador to the court of France under the regent Philippe, Duc d’Orleans. It was a rare interlude of peace between the two countries, and Gardiner himself was no stranger to war.
Born at Carriden in Linlithgowshire on January 11, 1688, he was the son and nephew of soldiers killed on active service, and his older brother Robert had died at the bloody siege of Namur at the age of only sixteen.
Gardiner, also commissioned absurdly young, had fought at the Battle of Ramillies on May 23, 1706, where he had been shot in the mouth. The musket ball had exited through his neck, narrowly missing the vertebrae and without damaging his tongue or teeth: he had lain in the darkness exploring the wound with his fingers, clearing his mouth of the congealing blood that was threatening to choke him and clenching his fist, cemented with blood, around the gold coins he had unwisely carried into battle. In the night he was discovered, as he had known he would be, by French soldiers intent on plunder: but strangely, as a blade pressed into his breastbone, some one said, “Do not kill that poor child,” and his body had been loaded onto a barrow and trundled, eventually, to a convent, where the Abbess had called him mon fils, and his wound, now infected, had been treated. Here he had remained, cared for by the nuns, for three months until he had been exchanged with other British prisoners and returned to his regiment.
Other battles, other commissions, other promotions followed, and when the peace was signed James Gardiner came to Paris, to the court of Versailles: a court, in this licentious age, which had the reputation of being the most debauched in Europe. Major James Gardiner, now thirty-one and having abandoned the last constraints of morality, became a connoisseur of its vices.
He had already been out with friends that Sunday evening, but the party had broken up before 11 p.m., and he had an hour to kill before his midnight assignation with a married woman. So he returned to his lodgings and prowled and drank and contemplated the prospect of further sexual gratification with the craving of the addict he had become: a powerful man, more than six feet tall, with dark hair and dark grey eyes and a long nose and high forehead, and a right cheek scarred not at Ramillies but in the course of the first duel he had fought, when he had been little more than a child. He was said, fittingly for a dragoon officer, to be “one of the most competent horsemen that had ever been known”, although a few weeks before this fateful evening he had been thrown violently by a mettlesome horse on a steep, cobbled street. It is possible that he suffered concussion, and certainly the atheists among his acquaintance attributed to that accident the epiphany that now overtook James Gardiner.
Bored, he glanced at his watch, and then at the title of a book lying forgotten on the table⸺ not his usual pornography but something called The Christian Soldier, or Heaven Taken By Storm. He assumed it had been slipped into his baggage by his mother during his last leave in Scotland, in yet another vain attempt to salvage what remained of his soul. He laughed, and, thinking its dogma might entertain him for half an hour, sat in the armchair and began to read.
His close friend and biographer, Philip Doddridge, D.D., describes what happened, as Gardiner reported it to him.
There is a possibility that while he was sitting in this solitude, and reading in this careless and profane manner, he might suddenly fall asleep, and only dream of what he apprehended he saw. But nothing can be more certain than that he judged himself to have been as broad awake during that whole time as he ever was in any part of his life; and he mentioned it to me several times afterwards as what undoubtedly passed, not only in his imagination but before his eyes.
To another friend Gardiner described it as “so lively and striking, that he could not tell whether it was to his bodily eyes, or those of his mind. Yet it is evident he looked upon this as a vision, whether it were before the eyes or in the mind, and not as a dream.”
Doddridge picks up the story.
He thought he saw an unusual blaze fall on the book while he was reading, which he at first imagined might happen by some accident in the candle. But lifting up his eyes, he apprehended, to his extreme amazement, that there was before him, as it were suspended in the air, a representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross, surrounded on all sides with a glory; and was impressed, as if a voice, or something equivalent to a voice, had come to him (for he was not confident of the very words), ‘O sinner, did I suffer this for thee?’…. Struck with so amazing a Phaenomenon as this, there remained hardly any life left in him, so that he sunk down in the arm-chair in which he sat, and continued, he knew not exactly how long, insensible….
Nor did he throughout all the remainder of the night, once recollect that criminal and detestable assignation, which had before engrossed all his thoughts. He rose in a tumult of passion not to be conceived; and walked to and fro in his chamber, till he was ready to drop down, in unutterable astonishment and agony of heart; appearing to himself the vilest monster in the creation of God.
It was a fierce awakening, and Gardiner’s soul, cleansed of its “most horrid sins” by that divine fire at midnight, did not leap in exultation: he passed, instead, several days and nights in anguish, shattered, sleepless, and convinced of his own imminent damnation. And then, gradually, from this exhaustion of mind and body, came a curious peace. He emerged from his tormented contemplations of hell and resumed the business of living; but the James Gardiner who returned to the physical world was irrevocably changed. He had abjured the brothels, the gambling hells, the substance abuse, the fluent profanity, the obsessive promiscuity: it was time to explain himself to his friends.
He dreaded it. He wrote to his mother, who had been overjoyed at the news of his conversion: “I would much rather be marched up to a battery of the enemy’s cannon than have been obliged to continually face such artillery as this.”
They mocked him, of course. Some mentioned his accident; some thought he had suffered a breakdown; some were openly calling him insane on both sides of the Channel. When Gardiner was transferred back to England he asked a distinguished friend to invite the doubters to dinner, so that he could confront them in a civilised manner.
It was a raucous meal, “with much raillery”, during which the major remained uncharacteristically sober and quiet, “but when the cloth was taken away and the servants retired, he begged their patience for a few minutes.” What his friends thought when this new, ascetic James Gardiner began to speak of vice and virtue and the fact that throughout his wild, dissolute years he had “never tasted anything that deserved to be called happiness”, we cannot know. He did not discuss “the extraordinary manner in which he had been awakened”, out of a desire to preserve its sanctity and a deep sense that, in this company, it was neither appropriate nor necessary; but he had misjudged his companions, as they had misjudged him. Once it was apparent that he was still, if less obscenely, the James Gardiner they had always known, “he found himself more esteemed and regarded by many”, and the cynics left him alone.
He was not the only ‘Christian soldier’ in the British army: there were other high-ranking evangelists who were considered equally eccentric, but they were in the minority. How they reconciled their consciences with thou shalt not kill remains unclear; but for James Gardiner, who had in the course of his tumultuous life broken most of the commandments, there came at last a time of grace. He loved and was loved, physically and spiritually, and there was no doubt that theirs was a passionate union: he had married Lady Frances Erskine, daughter of the 9th Earl of Buchan, on the 11th
of July, 1726, and she, he told Doddridge, “valued and loved him much more than he deserved.” Of their thirteen children, to whom he was devoted, only five survived, and Gardiner’s faith was sorely tested when “it pleased God to visit his little family with smallpox.” Gardiner, now a lieutenant-colonel commanding a regiment of dragoons quartered in Herefordshire, received news from Scotland that his five year old son, who had seemed to be recovering, was dead. He wrote to Frances, alone with the children at home in East Lothian, “He to be sure is happy; and we shall go to him, although he shall not return to us. And therefore it is our wisdom, as well as our duty, to leave all with a gracious God.”
But he was human: his faith faltered: he who had once experienced religious ecstasies in the west of Scotland while riding alone, listening to the singing of larks, fell into black depression, mourned his lost children, felt the weight of his absence from Frances, bowed again to the will of God in October of 1733 when his second son, “the darling of all who knew him” and perhaps the child closest to Gardiner’s heart, died after less than a day’s illness. He wrote to Doddridge, “God is all-wise, and everything is done by him for the best. Shall I hold back anything that is his when he requires it?”
It was perhaps inevitable that Gardiner, so much the absentee father, and living, as required by his rank, a peripatetic life with the regiment in Hamilton, Ayr, Carlisle, Hereford, Maidenhead, Leicester, Warwick, Coventry, Marlborough and Northampton, should take a deeply paternal interest in his men.
He was known to walk the cobbled streets and stop suddenly at their billets, inquiring into their welfare, inspecting their horses and the conditions in which they were stabled, exercising and reviewing them personally, and encouraging even the most hardened reprobates to accompany him to church, where he ensured they were seated quietly before the arrival of the congregation. He wore his religion lightly but he fined his officers for swearing in his presence, and banked the proceeds to “lay out in providing the men with proper help and accommodation in their distress” and visited them when they fell ill. He did not coddle: he commanded, awarding punishment when necessary, upholding discipline. The result was “one of the most regular and orderly regiments in the public service, with men of sober and obliging conduct.”
It was this regiment he led throughout the Low Countries with the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession, in appalling weather, at one point “toward Frankfort”, he wrote to the long-suffering Frances, “to the great surprise of the army…. Neither can any of us comprehend what we are to do there, for there is no enemy in that country, the French army being marched into Bavaria, where I am sure we cannot follow.”
Neglecting his health but never his dragoons or their horses, he may not have mentioned to Frances the illness, pneumonia or pleurisy, that nearly took his life, and from which he never fully recovered. He wrote, longing for home and a respite from the bloodbath of Flanders, “To live with Christ, which is infinitely better than anything we can propose here! Where no mountains shall separate between God and our souls: and I hope it will be some addition to our happiness, that you and I shall be separated no more.”
He wanted to come home, but release from Flanders for a serving lieutenant-colonel would come only with transfer or promotion, and Gardiner had little hope of acquiring the full colonelcy of a regiment, for which competition was stiff. He remained optimistic, scribbling from Aix la Chappelle on the 21st of April 1743, “People here imagine I must be sadly troubled that I have not got a regiment, for six out of seven vacant are now disposed of, but they are strangely mistaken, for it has given me no sort of trouble: my heavenly Father knows what is best for me… and has given me an entire resignation to his will.”
Two days before this letter was written the colonelcy of Bland’s Horse, a dragoon regiment quartered almost on Gardiner’s doorstep in Linlithgow, fell vacant, and was offered to Gardiner by George II. He accepted, believing that “by this remarkable event Providence had called him home.” He left the regiment he had loved and commanded for so many years, and the men in whose welfare he had taken such a personal interest, and returned to Britain, relapsing en route into feverish illness at
Ghent and arriving in London in June looking, his friend Doddridge noted with concern, “ten years older, and so sadly altered.”
His duties as colonel of what was now known as Gardiner’s Horse were not onerous: the day to day affairs of the regiment were the business of his lieutenant-colonel, Shugborough Whitney, and Gardiner spent much of his time at his estate, Bankton, in East Lothian, weakened in body but engaged as always in lively, gossipy correspondence with relations and friends and intellectual debate with prominent clergymen. He was also acutely aware, as a soldier and a Scot, of the undercurrents in Scottish politics, and the very evident resurgence of Jacobitism, particularly in Edinburgh. The Jacobites were not a new phenomenon: the Earl of Stair had been thwarting plots to restore the Old Pretender in Paris in 1714. But this time the threat was palpable, and Gardiner wrote of it with prescience and foreboding, knowing the rawness of his own men and the inexperience of the few regiments quartered in Britain. With an invasion by France, he observed, “a few thousand might have a fair chance for marching from Edinburgh to London uncontrolled, and then throw the whole kingdom into an astonishment.”
He remained unwell but indefatigable: writing, praying, studying, at leisure, finally, to be with Frances and his eldest daughter, and to enjoy the quietness of his home, his garden and his orchard. He allowed himself to be persuaded to go to Scarborough for a summer of sea bathing “to regain his health”, and he considered travelling to London afterwards; but in his absence the flame of rebellion, which had been smouldering so long, burst into violent life, and he was recalled with his regiment to Stirling. Frances and his daughter accompanied him, and it was there in the castle that James Gardiner took his last leave of them. Frances wept uncontrollably. He comforted her with gentleness and serenity, saying, “We have an eternity to spend together.”
He left her and rode to Falkirk with his men, so exhausting himself in the process that he was forced to ask a local minister to write to his superiors on his behalf, requesting reinforcements “which might put it in his power to make a stand, which he was very desirous to do.” The rebels were close, and Gardiner’s untried dragoons eager to fight; but reinforcements were not forthcoming, and their fighting spirit evaporated when they were ordered to Dunbar, and left them entirely when they heard that Edinburgh had surrendered to the Young Pretender without resistance. Gardiner himself doubted their courage, saying to another senior officer that he would not “in case of the flight of those under his command, retreat with them,” and, to a visitor from Edinburgh, “I cannot influence the conduct of those as I could wish, but I have one life to sacrifice to my country’s safety, and I shall not spare it.”
Friday, September 20th, 1745, was one of the last golden days, with vast, deep blue skies and great expanses of pale stubble in fields where barley had been reaped, the ricks steeping in the warm sunlight as an army of three thousand under Sir John Cope deployed near Prestonpans. Cope changed his position several times before sunset, disliking the ground and the twelve-foot stone walls of Preston House estate to the north and those of James Gardiner’s own estate, Bankton, to the south, between which the army was confined. Gardiner, knowing the neighbourhood intimately, attempted, with another high-ranking officer, to persuade Cope to launch a surprise attack on the Jacobites before nightfall, and was overruled: he was seen later “walking in a very pensive state.”
Whatever foreboding he had felt was compounded when he saw the disposition of Cope’s heavy artillery, “which he would have planted in the centre of our small army,” Doddridge wrote, “rather than just before his regiment, which was in the right wing: where he was apprehensive that the horses which had not been in any engagement before, might be thrown into some disorder by the discharge so very near them.”
No one listened to him.
He passed the night, which after the golden warmth of the day was cold and misty, armed and wrapped in his military cloak, under a rick of barley in the company of four of his own domestic servants. About three in the morning, he sent all but one of them home. Throughout the night Cope had posted pickets and sentries and lighted bonfires along his front line, which, before sunset, he had repositioned yet again to face the benevolently misnamed Tranent Meadows, a boggy quagmire through which he did not expect the Jacobites to attack. The barking of dogs in the nearby village of Tranent around 9 p.m. should have warned him that the enemy, too, was on the move, but by 10:30 p.m. an uneasy silence had fallen, and it was not until after 4 o’clock on Saturday, September 21st that a column of Jacobites, guided by the son of the minor laird who owned the Meadows, took a wildfowler’s path through the marsh to close on Cope’s army before daylight. By 5 a.m. Cope’s sentries had seen enough to be aware of the imminence of attack, and Cope, an accomplished and underrated general, immediately wheeled his forces ninety degrees to the north to face the enemy, with his only two dragoon regiments on either flank. Time did not allow the most effective deployment of these inexperienced troops, and even Gardiner’s own 13th was split awkwardly into three squadrons, with Gardiner himself as close to the artillery as he had feared.
The rebels attacked at dawn, and, as Gardiner had predicted, neither untried men nor horses deafened and terrified by the artillery behind which they were positioned withstood the Highland charge. The unseated dragoons fled: those horses not slashed or shot by the enemy galloped in panic from the field. Gardiner, shot in the left breast, flinched at the impact, insisting it was only a flesh wound, and took another bullet in the right thigh. Deserted by all but a dozen or so of his dragoons, and defended ferociously by his lieutenant-colonel, Shugborough Whitney, whose left arm had been shattered by a musket ball, and by a young lieutenant named West, Gardiner was targeted and surrounded by clansmen. Hacking his way free, he spurred to command a small, desperate knot of infantry fighting for their lives: soldiers of Lascelles’ regiment, which he had been ordered to support. Bleeding heavily and shuddering in the saddle, he shouted at them to stand, his strong Scots voice carrying above the screams. “Fire on, my lads, and fear nothing!”
They were Scots: although their colonel was English, Lascelles’ was a Scottish regiment, and until the outbreak of rebellion they had been repairing roads in the Highlands. Perhaps it gave them heart, in the last seconds of their lives, to hear Gardiner’s Scottish voice, and to witness his courage: but time, for James Gardiner, had run its course. His sword arm was almost severed by the blade of a scythe wielded by a clansman, and as the weapon fell from his hand he was dragged from the saddle. From a distance his servant saw him sustain several wounds from broadswords and crumple to the ground; and then Gardiner raised his left hand and waved his fallen hat, and shouted, “Take care of yourself.” A Lochaber axe struck the back of his head, and he collapsed.
The servant did not linger to see him stripped of his coat, shirt, boots, watch and valuables, nor see his grey gelding led away by a jubilant clansman who, it was said, presented it to the Young Pretender. He crept back hours later, as the Highlanders were ransacking Gardiner’s house, leaving it littered with torn papers and human faeces. Gardiner, half naked on the bloody ground, was still breathing: he opened his eyes when he was touched but was unable to speak. The servant managed to haul his mangled body onto a cart and to the house of the minister at Tranent, where they laid him in bed. He lingered, in great pain, throughout the night, and died of his many wounds at about eleven the following morning.
What had they seen as they killed him, these Scots? An ageing, ailing man, faithful unto death to his country and his God? A fellow Scot, had they even been able to understand the English he spoke with so indubitably Scottish an accent? A man of staggering courage in the face of certain death, or only a hated enemy?
Those who killed him remain anonymous, their names forgotten, if they were ever known. But James Gardiner is remembered still in Tranent, where a handsome obelisque was erected to his memory in 1853 in the grounds of Bankton House, and where he lies in the mossy peace of the churchyard.
The inscription on his gravestone reads, I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, and the 1611 King James Version with which Gardiner would have been familiar continues, Hencefoorth there is layde up for me a crowne of righteousnesse, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day.
He bought his crown with blood and faith and valour.
Boxing matches or pugilism were very popular spectator sports, not to mention very lucrative with many men willing to fight for prize money. Here we take a brief look at a fight which lasted 58 and a half minutes, with 43 well-contested rounds between two renown pugilists of the day Samuel Elias (1775- 1814), known as ‘Dutch Sam’ and Ben Medley.
The fight took place on May 31st, 1810 on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton in the presence of spectators numbering around 10,000, from all walks of life; it must have been quite a spectacle to behold.
The prize for this match was 2,000 guineas with the odds in favour of Sam starting at two to one, notwithstanding his inferiority of strength compared with his opponent who was some twenty pounds heavier and more muscular.
Sam stripped in the ring to fight his twelfth battle, after having vanquished eleven others. Medley had been about to fight Sam for the past two years, but it took until this date for it to come about. Medley was a respectable master tradesman who fought Sam for his own stake money.
At one o’clock the champions entered the ring and the contest began.
Round 1. Some sparring. Sam made a left-handed hit which Medley stopped, they closed and disengaged. Medley stopped again, then threw a punch at Sam.
Round 2. Medley made play, but without any luck, Sam commenced a rally and struck his adversary a violent blow on the temple, but Medley rallied.
Round 3. Medley made two or three short hits but laboured under a temporary derangement from the violent blow, but Sam stopped, then knocked him off his legs.
Round 4. A rally was again commenced by Medley and Sam knocked him down with a body blow.
Round 5. Sam blocked a good right-handed hit and flew right and left at his opponent’s head and body, both blows hit home.
Round 6. Medley took a hit to his face which was heard around the ring, his eye by this time injured with blood flowing. The fight was briefly stopped.
Round 7. Sam had the upper hand at the beginning of this round and hit Medley with all his force.
Round 8. In this round Medley took over and knocked Sam to the ground and laughed at him, but his features were badly damaged from the previous battering he had taken.
Round 9. Sam regained his composure and began his retaliation and ultimately knocked Medley to the ground again.
Round 10. Medley was knocked down.
Round 11. This was a round which consisted of real and disguised fighting, and it was the longest of the battle. Medley grew weak at least, after having made a hit on Sam’s nose, and he was knocked down.
Round 12. It would be difficult at this time to represent the situation of Medley; his face was shockingly disfigured, the torrents of blood which flew from Sam’s hits in the last round created a shocking scene. Medley, fell from weakness.
The battle continued in similar vein with a very much injured Medley, until they reached the 43rd round when Medley’s brother stepped and declared that Ben was well and truly beaten.
After this contest, Sam announced his retirement from the sport, but made a ‘come back’ in 1814, in which he was easily defeated.
Ben Medley was chosen as one of the pugilistic pages at the coronation of George IV.
Boxing match for 200 guineas between Dutch Sam and Medley fought 31 May 1810, on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton. British Museum
March 1806 began well for the Duchess of Devonshire as she held a ball for the social elite. The whole suite of magnificent apartments was thrown open at ten in the evening and about eleven ‘the fashionables’ arrived, including The Prince of Wales, Duke of Sussex plus a whole host of lords, earls, counts and their respective spouses. There were supper tables consisting of every delicacy of the season and as you would expect, plenty of dancing and of course, with Georgiana’s love of gambling, there were card tables. It was said that Georgiana never appeared in better health, with the whole party dancing the night away, until five in the morning.
A week or so later, Georgiana was to hold a supper party and according to the ‘Fashionable Arrangements for the Week’, all was well, or so it would appear. It wasn’t until March 21st that the media first reported Georgiana as being dangerously ill. No further details of the cause were given, but it was reported a few days later that she was making a good recovery from her recent indisposition.
By March 28th however, her health was in serious decline, she was suffering from a fever and did not appear to be showing any signs of making a speedy recovery. So well thought of was Georgiana that there was a constant stream of well-wishers arriving at her London home, Devonshire House, with none more anxious than the Countess of Uxbridge who was with her constantly as was Lady Melbourne, his Grace and all members of her family since the fever began. At 3.30am on the 30th March 1806, Georgiana’s life came to an end.
The cause of death was believed to be due to an abscess on her liver, but a post mortem was carried out to confirm this. Her body was opened up at seven in the morning in the presence of five physicians who had attended her whilst she was alive. A consultation was held afterwards, and the gentleman were much divided in their opinion on the cause of death, they felt it was either gallstones or an abscess on the liver, but it was ultimately agreed that the abscess was the cause.
It would appear that the whole of her social circle was shocked by her untimely death, aged only 48, and so upset were they by this news that many retired to their country home, it was not a time to be socialising, even the Prince of Wales left for Brighton. The Duke of Devonshire and family remained at Devonshire House until after the funeral, then left London to visit the Prince of Wales at Brighton.
The Morning Advertiser of 2nd April 1806 reported that Georgiana was to be buried at Chatsworth as it was a place she loved and was loved by all on the estate; however this was suddenly changed and she was buried at All Saints Church, Derby.
Needless to say, the newspapers all paid tribute to her; they loved Georgiana, despite some mockery of her involvement in politics and her some of her more unique tastes in fashion. The Bath Chronicle described her being:
A woman more exalted in every accomplishment of rapturous beauty, of elevated genius and of angelic temper, has not adorned the present age.
Georgiana’s funeral took place on April 9th. At five o’clock in the morning, the procession left Devonshire House in the following order –
Eight mutes on horseback, an attendant on horseback carrying the coronet and cushion, the hearse drawn by eight horses, the deceased’s private coach and two morning coaches, containing the principal family and Mr Wilson of The Strand, the undertaker.
The coffin, which is very elegant, is six feet two inches in length by twenty three inches. It is covered with a very rich crimson velvet and ornamented with uncommonly rich and beautiful chased ornaments. At the head are placed a variety of appropriate devices, and at the foot a highly chased weeping figure, admirably executed. The inscription plate contains the arms of the two great families, namely Cavendish and Spencer Underneath is written – The Most Noble Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, died the 30th March 1806, in the 48th year of her age. The coffin had eight gilt handles on each appeared her initials G.D.
ON THE DEATH OF THE DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE
Faint are the numbers, and unskill’d the Muse,
Who vainly shall attempt to paint her worth;
Afflictions tear, what heart, or eye refuse,
To her whose virtues grac’d her rank and birth.
Well might our Gracious Prince then sorrowing say,
We have written about Samuel Oliver on a several previous occasions and as I keep saying, ‘he just keeps on giving’. Following on from how popular his comments were in the last article regarding the burial of his parishioners, here we go again with some more notes I have just found that were filling the empty pages of the baptism, marriage and burial registers for the parish of Whaplode, in rural Lincolnshire. If you wish to read the images more clearly, just click on them.
Quite a risky thing to do, but we begin with his justification for keeping notes about his parishioners – he thought they would be helpful to future incumbents of his post! I wonder if they were, of whether they were more a reflection on his personality.
He clearly didn’t approve of the school teacher’s morals, describing him as an infidel, so much so that Samuel felt the need to take over the running of the school himself.
Sunday November 8th, 1818
In the afternoon of this day, during the time of divine service, Joseph Blacksmith (Farmer of the great Tythes) and William Heeley (acting overseer of the poor); grossly insulted me, whilst officiating afterwards, Heeley annoyed some of the congregation. But on Wednesday Mr Blacksmith came to me with much apparent contrition and gave me five pounds as a commutation for punishment, which I sent immediately to the Society for promoting Christian knowledge. Heeley also came the same day, but without any appearance of penitence, and gave me seven pounds, which I have appropriated, wholly, to the Poor of this Parish. Dec 2nd, 1818.
The saga didn’t end there though:
On Sunday, December 20th, 1818, Jane Blacksmith, the mother and Staveley Blacksmith, the brother of the above named Joseph Blacksmith; grossly insulted me, the moment I came out of the church, without any provocation or shadow of reason. This I reported to the Arch Deacon, who sent a severe monition to the Church Wardens, which threw the whole parish into consternation; and at two Vestry meetings, after Staveley Blacksmith, Thomas Allen and John Burton, had affirmed the grossest falsehoods, which Blacksmith ad Burton acknowledged themselves to swear in court. After bringing a Holbeach attorney into the vestry to intimidate me, they all to a man promised to protect me from all insult in future. Staveley Blacksmith declared he never thought of insulting me in his life!!! This was the consequence of truth and resolution on my part. Sam’l Oliver, Curate.
or even here:
Thursday October 7th, 1819
This day the aforesaid Joseph Blacksmith came to my house and with much fulsome compliment and pretended penitence for his improper conduct on the 8th November last, he sat and drank some ale; also about half a bottle of wine. When, upon going away, finding no person in the kitchen, he deliberately set fire to some linen which was upon the clothes horse, before the kitchen fire and then endeavouring to run off! But the kitchen door (going into the porch) being difficult for him to get open, and the servant maid coming suddenly upon him; he could not escape, without detection and his diabolical purpose of involving the premises in flames, proved abortive! – Thus was my family miraculously preserved. Sam’l Oliver, Curate.
Thursday July 20th, 1820
This day at the funeral of the widow Delia Rose, the aforesaid Joseph Blacksmith came into the church, walked in a becoming manner up the middle aisle, he passed the pulpit, entered his pew and sat down., but whilst I was reading the lesson he bawled out, in a hoarse voice, ‘aren’t I to speak‘, and shortly after, before the lesson was ended, he said something else, which I could not correctly understand, but he said it in a manner which evidently conveyed an idea of intentional insult. He then followed me to the grave of the said Delia Rose, where he twice attempted to push me down whilst performing the ceremony, by throwing himself with violence against the portable shed under which I stood, made an inarticulate noise to burlesque the service, placing himself before me with a horsewhip in his hand, which he has been in the habit of using upon other people very dexterously and therefore I felt myself extremely apprehensive of experiencing its effects upon my own shoulders, before I could finish the service and make my escape.
I will leave you read in his own hand, Samuel Oliver’ final thoughts on his parish!!!
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.
Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days, and established it as a resort of fashion. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny just to be granted admission to the balls and card parties and even the highest in the land had to do as he said.
When Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, one of the era’s fashion icons, appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt (which was against the rules), Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the back benches, where the ladies attendants sat, acidly remarking that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess good-humouredly played the game and laughing, begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.
Even after his death in 1761, Beau Nash’s rules continued to be the basis for the Rules of Bath. The list below is from 1771, as published by Nash’s successor, William Wade and printed in The new Bath guide; or, useful pocket companion (1771).
Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.
It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:
That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.
It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.
That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.
That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.
The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the tank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.
That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.
Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.
Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.
The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.
That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.
That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.
The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.
Amelia Maria Frances Elwes, known as Emily, was the only daughter – and heiress – of George Elwes of Marcham Park in Oxfordshire and Portman Square in London. The newspapers were probably over-egging the pudding a bit when they reported that she stood to inherit more than one million pounds, but she clearly stood in line to become an extremely wealthy woman. Of course, with those kind of prospects, Emily wasn’t short of suitors, but her heart was already given, to a man named Thomas Duffield.
Two years earlier, George Elwes had allowed Thomas to ‘pay his addresses’ to his daughter, but ‘some changes in the opinions of the governing part of the family had arisen, and other suitors were strongly recommended to the young lady’. Emily had other ideas, though.
George Elwes owed his immense fortune to the miserliness of his own father, John Elwes.
Known as both an eccentric and a miser, John Elwes was born John Meggot, the son of a successful Southwark brewer. Given a classical education at Westminster School, John then embarked on the Grand Tour, becoming known as one of the best horsemen in Europe and introduced to Voltaire. He not only inherited his father’s substantial fortune, but also that of his uncle, Sir Henry Elwes, 2nd Baronet (John took his uncle’s surname too). Sir Henry was also a miser, and probably it was his influence which steered John on the path which would come to define his life: penny pinching to the extreme. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to John Elwes’ life. He was said to wear rags and wear a wig that a beggar had thrown away, let his fine Georgian mansion, Marcham Park become so dilapidated that water poured through the ceilings in heavy rain and famously, when travelling, always carried with him, in his pocket, a hardboiled egg to eat. Apart from that, he would rather starve than buy food during his journey. It’s thought that John Elwes was Charles Dickens’ inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. Although he never married, John had two illegitimate sons who inherited some of his fortune, if not his miserly inclinations. One of those two sons was George Elwes, Emily’s father, who gained Marcham Park.
And what of Emily’s suitor? Thomas Duffield was born in 1782, the son of Michael Duffield of Syston near Grantham in Lincolnshire. He had gained his B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford in 1804 and then studied for his M.A. at Merton College. Following that, from 1807 (until 1811) Thomas was a fellow at Merton. Perhaps the Elwes family thought that Thomas’ income was insufficient, and that he was planning to live off Emily’s fortune?
With Thomas barred from the Elwes house, a plan was hatched with his friends and, it seems, with the lovestruck Emily’s knowledge and consent. Emily’s mother had a female friend staying with her, and one of Thomas’ co-conspirators contrived to be a guest in the Elwes family home in the first weeks of 1810 where he passed in the guise of this unnamed lady’s lover and future husband. One morning – just a few days before Valentine’s Day – he persuaded Mrs Elwes and her friend to go shopping together and once they had departed a chaise and four drew up to the house. George Elwes inconveniently met his daughter and his (un)gentlemanly house guest in the hallway as they walked to the front door; in answer to her father’s questioning, Emily said she was just ‘going to her mamma, who was waiting for her’. It appeared all too innocent; Emily, wearing neither a hat nor bonnet, was clearly not dressed for an outing but just popping out to her mother’s carriage on a quick errand before hurrying back inside.
The lack of headwear notwithstanding, Emily was handed in to the waiting chaise, where Thomas Duffield sat ready to spirit her away. His job completed, Thomas’s friend nonchalantly walked back in to the hallway. When George asked about his daughter’s whereabouts he was told that she had been delivered ‘to the man destined to make her happy; and that she was off to Gretna Green’.
Servants were sent after Mrs Elwes and she returned in a panic. Emily’s parents raced northwards, but having reached St Alban’s with no sight or sound of their daughter they gave up their search and returned home. While Thomas and Emily headed for the Scottish border, the newspapers picked up the story.
An elopement has taken place, which will make a very considerable noise.
The couple got safely to Gretna Green where they were married by the hale and hearty ‘old Parson Joseph’ (aka Joseph Paisley) who ‘drinks nothing but brandy, and has neither been sick nor sober these forty years’. Reputedly, Thomas Duffield paid Parson Joseph 50l. sterling to perform the ceremony.
With the deed done, George Elwes decided to make the best of things. He insisted that his daughter and new son-in-law go through a second marriage ceremony, just to be sure things were legal and above board, and this took place at Marylebone church a month later. In time, he was completely reconciled with his daughter, and grew to be fond of Thomas.
The story didn’t end there, however. Several years before Emily’s elopement and subsequent marriage, George Elwes had made a settlement (in October 1802).
George Elwes conveyed real estates upon trust for the benefit of his daughter; but he declared that, if she married under age, and without his consent, the trustees should hold the estates in trust for him and his heirs.
Emily had been a minor when she married (she was born c.1792 and so was 10 years younger than Thomas), and she certainly did so without her father’s consent. But, Thomas had been accepted as part of the family since then, and had been given possession of the Elwes’ mansion house. Upon George Elwes’ death, he left a tangled legal muddle behind him, as he never revoked the earlier settlement despite the fact that he had verbally made it clear that he wanted Emily and Thomas Duffield to inherit his estates. Emily’s mother, who had remarried to a gentleman named William Hicks, contested her first husband’s will in a protracted and complicated legal case, to the potential detriment of her son-in-law and grandchildren, but the Duffields managed to retain their rights to the Marcham Park estate and Emily and her mother clearly put any disagreements behind them. (Amelia’s will, written in 1824 during Emily’s lifetime, left her daughter and her Duffield grandchildren many personal bequests.)
After bearing nine children (three sons and six daughters) Emily Duffield died at the age of 43, and was buried 18 August 1835 at All Saints in Marcham. Thomas, who was an MP for Abingdon between 1832 and 1844, married for a second time, to Augusta Rushbrooke by whom he had four further children. He died in 1854 by which time he was living at The Priory in Wallingford while his son by Emily, Charles Philip Duffield, inhabited Marcham Park.
N.B.: County boundaries have changed over the years; Marcham Park in now in Oxfordshire, but was then in Berkshire.
Bury and Norwich Post, 14 February 1810
Leeds Mercury, 17 February 1810
New Reports of Cases Heard in the House of Lords: On Appeals and Writs of Error; and decided during the session 1827-8 by Richard Bligh, volume 1, 1829
Will of Thomas Duffield of The Priory, Wallingford, Berkshire: PROB 11/2189/352
Will of Amelia Maria Hicks of Marylebone, Middlesex: PROB 11/2102/386
We looked at Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet of Market Bosworth in an earlier blog, and we promised we’d return to him in due course, to take a closer look at the man and his family.
Sir Wolstan was a pugnacious and pig-headed bully, and legend suggests he committed an awful crime.
We mentioned in our previous blog that Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall for a time, while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’. At times, it’s difficult to know what is true and what is a tall tale when it comes to Sir Wolstan: he’s reputed to have made his butler the headmaster of the grammar school, purely because he could do so and no-one could nay say him. But, we reckon we can debunk that last one as a myth; we’ll say why at the end of this blog.
Sir Wolstan Dixie also fell out with his neighbours, particularly with Wrightson Mundy of Osbaston Hall and Markeaton. Dixie attacked one of Mundy’s waggoners when he caught the man driving across his park so Mundy disguised himself as a waggoner and repeated the offence. When Dixie tried to pull the waggoner down he got the surprise of his life when the man revealed himself to by Mundy, who then proceeded to deliver one almighty beating to the bemused Sir Wolstan Dixie. Possibly Mundy was the same squire with whom Sir Wolstan came to blows after the latter had closed off a footpath which gave access across some of his land. Shortly afterwards, Sir Wolstan appeared at court and was presented to George II and the king, when he heard that Sir Wolstan’s estate was Bosworth Park, recalled the ancient battle fought in 1485 and asked, “Bosworth! Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?” With the memory of his recent fight fresh in his mind, Sir Wolstan stupefied the king when he replied, “Yes, Sire. But, I thrashed him!”
In May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, he married Anna Frere, a young, beautiful and – most importantly for Sir Wolstan – an extremely wealthy heiress. Anna had been born on the island of Barbados in 1711, the daughter of John Frere who, just before his death in 1721, was the acting governor of Barbados. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, and her young family (there were four daughters, of whom Anna was the eldest, and two sons) returned to London and took a house on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. Elizabeth Frere died in March 1735 and just two months later, Sir Wolstan snared his young bride… and her fortune which amounted to over 20,000l.
In our earlier blog we recounted how Sir Wolstan kept Anna a virtual prisoner at his Leicestershire estate, Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth, while she was pregnant later that year, having given his coachmen instructions that Lady Dixie was not to be driven further than three or four miles distant from her home. He also had Anna’s old family servant arrested and thrown into Newgate on a trumped up charge of theft when she displeased him.
The couple’s first child, born in 1736, was a daughter who was named Rebecca. There followed a son, Wolstan in 1737 and another daughter, Anna born in July 1739. Lady Dixie died giving birth to Anna; she was buried at Market Bosworth on 5 July 1739.
After just over a year’s mourning, Sir Wolstan married again. His second bride was Theodosia, daughter of Henry Wright of Mobberly Cheshire, and the wedding took place on 26 December 1740, at the bride’s parish church. With Theodosia, Sir Wolstan had six more children, one son, Willoughby, born 1742 and then five daughters, Purefoy (born 1743), Theodosia (born 1744), Eleanor Frances (born 1746), Rosamond (born 1747) and Juliana (born 1749).
Theodosia died in 1751. The painting below, of Sir Wolstan Dixie and his family, is dated four years after her death, and shows Sir Wolstan’s nine children. From left to right, they are probably Juliana, Eleanor Frances, Willoughby, Rebecca, Purefoy, Theodosia, Anna, Wolstan and Rosamond, with Sir Wolstan Dixie seated far right.
At Scarborough, in September 1758, Sir Wolstan married for a third and final time, to another wealthy heiress, Margaret daughter of William Cross, a ‘young lady with a handsome fortune’. Two of his children had, however, died since that family portrait had been painted. Purefoy Dixie was buried on 22 July 1757 at Market Bosworth and her sister Theodosia is also said to have died the same year.
Anna Dixie, the younger of the two daughters from Sir Wolstan’s first marriage to Anna Frere also died, and was buried 13 February 1758, aged around 19-years. It is Anna’s death which has given rise to a terrible legend. We can find no corroboration of it in contemporary sources, so give it here merely as hearsay.
It came to Sir Wolstan’s attention that Anna was surreptitiously meeting a young man in Bosworth Park (some sources say he was the gardener). In a cruel plan, Dixie set man-traps, intending to catch his daughter’s beau in one, but it was Anna herself who stepped into the device. Her screams led to her rescue from the jaws of the trap and she was carried back to the hall, bleeding heavily. There she died, and it’s said that her ghost haunts the hall to this day.
We have absolutely no idea how much of that tale is true, if any at all. What we can say, however, is that the portrait below, merely labelled as Miss Dixie and by Henry Pickering, dated to c.1750-1755, must be either Rebecca or Anna Dixie. (We have seen it erroneously called a portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie, but this is impossible as she is too young to be the lady in this portrait.)
Rebecca Dixie died, unmarried, in 1762 and was buried 19 April at Market Bosworth while Juliana, the youngest of the Dixie children died in the December of the same year. Only the two sons, Wolstan and Willoughby, and two of the girls, Eleanor Frances and Rosamond survived their father, who died in 1767.
Two years later, Sir Wolstan’s eldest son, also Wolstan and, since his father’s death, the 5th Baronet, was declared a lunatic. Willoughby Dixie, the second son, took over the management of the estate, and of the grammar school. It was Willoughby who appointed Joseph Moxon, a waiter at a local pub, to the position of headmaster. This is clearly the origin of the story that Willoughby’s father appointed his butler to the job. Unless, of course, it was a case of like father, like son?
N.B.: The chapel of the Fleet Prison in London was notorious for clandestine marriages. On 19 May 1734, one Wolstan Dixie married a woman named Mary Guest. It’s an unusual name; there certainly weren’t many Wolstan Dixies around of marriageable age in 1734. We’re just throwing it in there, as a possible first marriage to Sir Wolstan… and if it was him, then either Mary Guest died within a year of her marriage or Sir Wolstan added the charge of bigamy to his many offences.
Relevant parish registers
The Baronetage of England, Thomas Wotton, Richard A Johnson and Edward Kimber, 1771
Cases in Chancery: The Attorney-General v. Dixie. Bosworth School, ex parte. 1807
On August 6th, 1724 at St Ann’s Soho, Captain Francis Blake Delaval of Seaton Delaval Hall, near Newcastle Upon Tyne, married Rhoda Apreece, the heiress of Doddington Hall, which is somewhere we have previously written about.
The couple had eleven children and today we’re going to take a look at their eldest, the prankster, money loving son, named Francis Blake after his father. Francis was born in 1727 and as you would expect, was educated, as most young men of his social standing, at Oxford.
In 1749, aged just 21, he married a woman over twice his age, Isabella née Tufton, an exceptionally wealthy heiress and daughter of Thomas Tufton, 6th Earl of Thanet and Catherine Cavendish. Isabella was the widow of Nassau Powlett, a younger son of the 2nd Duke of Bolton (who had died in 1741).
We thought we would share with you the story of their meeting as it was by no means coincidental, but was totally conceived by Francis. He wanted a wife with money and concocted a cunning plan to hook this extremely wealthy widow. Looks he said weren’t important, which was perhaps just as well, as Isabella was described as extremely plain. Money was his motivator and she had plenty of it.
It was his closest friend and a man of great concern to the family, the actor, Samuel Foote that helped him to hatch this plan. It was common knowledge that Isabella wanted to marry again, and it was also known that she was fascinated by gipsies and consulted with the famous Norwood gipsy. So, armed with this information, Francis surreptitiously arranged for her to see a gipsy who would tell her that she would shortly meet the man of her dreams. She was told to walk in the park the following Thursday where she would meet a tall, fair gentleman, remarkably handsome, dressed in blue and silver and that it was irrevocably fixed by fate that this man would become her husband.
Of course, when the day arrived, Isabella took a walk in the park and surprise, surprise, she met Francis exactly as the gipsy had foretold.
Three days later on March 8th, 1749, the couple were married at St Georges Hanover Square in a clandestine marriage and with that he immediately acquired her large fortune reputed to have been between £90,000 and £150,000 (around 17.5 million in today’s money). It is said that for helping to arrange this, Francis settled an annuity upon Foote which relieved his debts.
In 1751, Francis was elected as M.P. for Hindon in Wiltshire, then in 1754 became M.P for Andover, Hampshire – the latter being assured by Francis courtesy of the firing of a canon which dispensed 500 guineas worth of money to ‘help’ voters make the correct choice of candidate, he even hired the services of a celebrated fire eater to win over one obstinate voter.
At the age of just 25, Francis succeeded to his father’s estates. He inherited Seaton Delaval Hall, with his brother John inheriting Doddington upon the death of their mother, but long after his death young Francis was remembered at Doddington Hall for his frequent visits to the local pubs of Harby in Lincolnshire and the drinking and dancing parties that ensued, but mostly he has been remembered for his pranks, both at Seaton and Doddington.
Whilst at Seaton Delaval he became noted not only for the variety of entertainments given there, but for the practical jokes which he played on guests. Not just schoolboy pranks such as making apple-pie beds and the placing of ducks and chickens in peoples beds but also a system of pulleys which he had constructed so that when visitors retired to their bed they were suddenly let down through a trap door into a cold bath.
On one occasion a gentleman apparently was kept in bed for three whole days as Francis somehow managed to convince him it wasn’t morning yet. On another occasion he created a ‘set’ by using curtains which partitioned the rooms and whilst the people in each room were getting undressed he would suddenly let the dividing curtain fall, exposing them to each other. This was a trick which apparently took place in the Long Gallery at Doddington Hall.
Yet another prank was played upon a young man; Francis managed to persuade the rest of the gathering to go along with. He told everyone that someone known to them had just died. After supper the supposed dead man appeared in the room, dressed in a shroud, his face powdered. A young man of the party saw him, but everyone else declared that they had seen nothing. It gave the young man such a fright that he fell down in a fit and didn’t recover for quite a while. After this, apparently no more such tricks were played.
Returning to his marriage, it was to be short lived as the couple didn’t get on at all well, in fact during one particularly ferocious argument Francis actually told Isabella about his plot to marry her.
Eventually, having had enough of his affair with an actress, Miss Elizabeth Roach or La Roche (as she was also known) who, according to rates returns, lived in Poland Street, Westminster, Isabella filed for a divorce in 1755, but in order for it to happen she had to admit to being unfaithful to Francis.
The couple had no children, but Isabella had a daughter from her marriage to Nassau and it was her daughter who inherited her estate when she died in 1763.
Despite the fortune Francis had inherited from his father and the monies from his marriage, he was a spendthrift and all money went through his hands like water, so much so that in 1755 an Act of Parliament was obtained to either sell Seaton or to mortgage it to pay off his debts.
Despite his behaviour, somehow in 1761 Francis was installed a Knight Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
Francis also retained a property in London, No 11 Downing Street, which is slightly ironic given his obvious inability to manage money that it should now be used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Francis died suddenly in 1771. His body was taken for burial at Seaton with a grand funeral where it was laid in state for all to see. Apparently, so keen were people to have a glimpse of the proceedings, that in the rush, one girl had her leg broken, a gentleman lost his watch and many people had their pockets picked.
The newspapers of the day said that Francis died leaving some £36,000 of which £10,000 was to be paid to his two illegitimate children by Miss La Roche however, his actual will read very differently and shows the benefit of hindsight, so we thought we’d share it with you in full
Foote was said to be distraught at his friends death and retired to his room for three days. Finally, Foote was advised that it would be a few days before the funeral as doctors were to dissect Francis’s head to which Foote replied:
and what in the world will they get there? I am sure I have known poor Frank these five and twenty years, and I never could find anything in it.
The Dublin Penny Journal, Volumes 3-4
Sympson, Edward. Memorials of Old Lincolnshire
Cole R.E.G. History of the manor and township of Doddington : otherwise Doddington-Pigot, in the county of Lincoln, and its successive owners, with pedigrees
Today, we’re taking you back in time to a public breakfast given by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire at the end of June 1802, at her villa, Chiswick House. Public it might have been, but entry was only for those ‘of note’ in the fashionable world. You’ll be mingling with around 700 members of London’s high society so, in order to look the part you’ll need to dress in the latest fashions. Gentlemen should wear boots for practicality as the event is mainly outdoors. For ladies, we’d recommend a simple white muslin dress with an understated headdress (maybe one with just a few feathers as decoration). You’ll have to manage in a pair of dainty slippers, but we’re sure the suited and booted gentlemen will be on hand to offer assistance.
The breakfast rounded off the ‘fashionable arrangements’ for that particular week, which had started with a grand dinner given by the Prince of Wales on Monday 21st June and continued with a variety of musical evenings, routs and balls on every evening. By the time the weekend dawned, on Saturday 26th June, the haute ton were faced with the choice of attending two public breakfasts, one given by Mr Angerstein at his mansion, the Woodlands at Blackheath, or the Duchess of Devonshire’s gathering. No contest, we’re going to the latter!
Her Grace’s villa has long been deservedly the theme of public panegyric; but if it were always inhabited by as many beautiful women as appeared there on Saturday last, it would be a perfect Elysium.
Breakfast it might have been, but this was polite society and they kept fashionably late hours. The guests did not start arriving until the early afternoon, and they were the crème de la crème of society, headed by no less a person than the duchess’s friend, George, Prince of Wales who arrived dressed in green.
We’ll pick you a handful of others from the list of noted attendees. The Duke of Orléans was present (Philippe Égalité’s son) and the Countess Conyngham who would become the Prince of Wales’ mistress some years hence. From a banking family, the countess was a beauty but snootily regarded as somewhat vulgar, due to her ancestry. The Prince’s current mistress, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey is not mentioned as being in attendance… but a Mrs Fitzherbert is, and she is more than likely Maria Fitzherbert, the prince’s on-again, off-again one true love.
Some of the people present were those we know well; they are present within the pages of the books we have written. The Earl and Countess (later Marquess and Marchioness) of Cholmondeley were there; the earl was, for several years, the lover of our ‘infamous courtesan’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and he brought up her daughter, Georgiana Seymour, even though the girl’s father was not the earl but the Prince of Wales. Georgiana would have been almost 20 years of age and although she is not specifically mentioned as attending, it’s totally possible that she was there. If so, then she would have seen the man who, six years later, she would marry: Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger son of the 3rd Duke of Portland.
It was a perfect summer’s day and the guests strolled on the lawns and in the grounds. The Serpentine River provided rowing for any gentlemen who wanted a bit of exercise (aren’t you glad you wore your boots now?), and swings and a see-saw had been set up to provide a bit of fun (the latter reportedly ‘afforded much diversion’ and on the former, the ‘ladies assisted one another in swinging’).
Amongst this elevated and merry company strolled the Duchess of Devonshire, arm-in-arm with her eldest daughter, fondly known as Little G, Georgiana, Viscountess Morpeth. Just 20 years of age, Lady Morpeth had married a year earlier, to the 5th Earl of Carlisle’s eldest son. Little G had recently become a mother; her son, the future 7th Earl of Carlisle, had been born on the 18th April 1802, so a little over two months before this breakfast. In a sea of white dresses, the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughter managed to be the centre of attention. They both ‘looked remarkably well [and] wore a new sort of bonnet, with a large lace veil over it, serving as both cloak and bonnet. This was one of the handsomest promenade dresses we saw’.
The day was hot, so the veil which doubled as a cloak must have provided a little protection from the sun while not being too heavy. We wonder if it resembled the fashion plate below, which dates to the same period?
Around 4 o’clock, the company sat down to their breakfast. The tables, set with bouquets of fresh flowers and piled with refreshments, were scattered over the estate.
In the house covers were laid for 200, viz. in the two salons, the dining and green-rooms, and the dressing-room. In the Temple, &c. 100 were accommodated, and in the two Grand Marquees, and the other tents, about 200 more. Tables were likewise placed under the trees at the entrance of the lawn; the effect was cool and refreshing, the situation being impervious to the rays of the sun… the desert of fruit was very fine, cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, pines, in abundance.
By 7 o’clock the guests started to drift away and an hour later most had departed, leaving the clearing up operation by the duchess’ servants to begin.
It had been a great success, but we have to note that two very important names did not appear on the list of guests. Neither the Duke of Devonshire nor his mistress Lady Bess Foster who lived with the couple in a form of ménage à trois, appear to have been present.
NB: The images used of Chiswick House are of an earlier date when the house was owned by the Duke of Devonshire’s ancestor, the Earl of Burlington, but give a good idea of how the house and grounds would have looked.
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Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Baronet of Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was many things, and chief among them was the fact that he was a bully. For a few short months, Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’.
On 1 May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, Dixie married 24-year-old Anna Frere, the wealthy eldest daughter of John Frere of Barbados (Anna had been born on the island in 1711 and was also one of the heiresses of her grandfather, Tobias Frere). Anna’s mother had died just weeks before. It’s tempting to speculate that Dixie saw his chance and pursued solely Anna for her money (she had ‘upwards of 20,000l.), and probably that’s pretty close to the mark. Along with his bride, Sir Wolstan also took on the employment of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barker, who had worked as housekeeper and head servant for Anna’s mother, Elizabeth, for twelve years until Madam Frere’s death in March 1735, and then for Anna until her marriage. The Frere’s London house was in Bloomsbury, on Great Russell Street; John Frere had been acting Governor of Barbados just before his death on the island in 1721, after which his widow and children had returned to England. Betty Barker had worked for the family since that time.
Betty was utterly trustworthy. When, straight after the wedding, she was ordered to quickly pack up all the household belongings, close up the London house and head to the Dixie’s Leicestershire mansion, Bosworth Hall, she followed the instructions implicitly. There just wasn’t enough time, however, to pack properly and Betty ended up opening drawers and throwing armfuls of the contents into packing trunks which she left with trusted friends. She was honest about their contents, saying to her friends as she deposited the trunks with them that she knew some of the Freres’ belongings had got mixed up with her own, and that she would sort them out and return everything to its rightful owner when she was next in London. It was to prove a disastrous mistake, one compounded by the fact that Betty had been gifted so many of the Freres’ cast-offs. (The Frere family quite obviously viewed Betty with great affection; she had cared for them during all their time in London and they held her in high regard.) Betty had also pretty much worked for nothing except the gifts that the family had bestowed on her; by the end of 1735, Betty was owed five years wages. It’s clear that she viewed the cast-offs she’d received from the family as a form of recompense for her labour.
Reading between the lines of what happened next, it looks like Sir Wolstan had been snooping on his wife’s letters in the interim. He had intercepted one from Betty to Anna, Lady Dixie, in which Betty ‘mentioned the names of Capt ___ and a Baronet; and told [Anna] it was unfortunate she married so soon, for she might have had such, or such a Gentleman’. Betty, it seems, already had the measure of Sir Wolstan. He saw his chance in the Frere and Dixie belongings found in poor Betty’s possession, dismissed her and, after Betty had returned to London, had her charged with theft. Declaring he would have Betty hanged before Christmas, if it cost him a thousand pounds, he saw his wife’s servant incarcerated in Newgate prison.
It must have been an horrendous ordeal for Betty who caught gaol fever and nearly died before she even got to court to be tried for theft, on 10 December 1735.
Prisoner: I lived twelve Years with my Old Lady Madam Freer. I kept all the Keys, and was entrusted with every thing that was of Value in the House. After my Old Lady dyed, my Young Lady Married to Sir Wolstan Dixie. In a little time we left off House-keeping in Town, and the Goods were all pack’d up in great haste, to go to Sir Wolstan’s Country-Seat in Leicester shire. And its very likely that I might, when we were in such a hurry and Confusion, put some of my old Lady’s things among my own. The Night before we went away, I would have settled with Madam Freer (my old Lady’s Sister and Executrix) but she said she had not leisure then, and she would settle with me when the Family came to Town again – Sir Wolstan turn’d me away suddenly, and I return’d to London in August last, but Mrs. Freer has never yet called in to settle the Account, and the Five Year Wages and other Money is yet due to mes.
Mrs. Freer: Tis true the Account is not-yet settled and I believe there is five Years Wages due to her
Witness after witness took the stand to testify to Betty’s honesty, and the fact that the numerous items she was supposed to have stolen had been either freely gifted to her, or had been among the ones thrown into the packing cases to be sorted out at a later date.
Mrs. Bainton: I knew her twelve Years when she lived with Old Madam Freer, and, she always behaved in the best Manner and so much to her Mistress’s satisfaction that she left her a Legacy of Ten Pound. Madam Freer dyed the 13th of March and on the first of May her Daughter was married to Sir Wolstan Dixy and they went directly to Lewisham. Sir Wolstan and his Lady came to Town again on Friday the rest of the Familiy came on Saturday. And on Sunday the Goods were pack’d up in a great hurry and Confusion, in order to set out the next Morning for Bosworth in Leicester-shire. The Room was strewed all over with Goods, and the Prisoner was putting them up in Trunks and Boxes, she said she scarce knew where to put things, and believed that by mistake she had put up some of her Lady’s Goods with her own.
Mrs. Collins: I have known her eleven or twelve Years, she was House-keeper and Head-servant , and had the best of Characters from the Family.
When I heard she was in Newgate, I was amazed, and should as soon have thought of hearing the King was there – I live at the Colour Shop. in King’s Gate Street.
Cornelius Maddox, Porter: I assisted her in cording up the Boxes, and Trunks. I said, Here is a great many Things, what must I do with them. Aye, says she, Here is a great many things of my Ladies, as well as mine, I think I will send them to Lewisham. But Mrs. Bingham, and Mrs. Smith, told her she might leave them at their Houses, and accordingly, the Boxes were carried to their Houses publickly.
Mrs. Wright: The Day Sir Wolstan went out of Town, the Prisoner said to Mrs. Freer, Mam, there is a great many things put up, but if in this hurry there should be any thing of my Lady’s intermixt with mine, here are my Boxes, we shall not stay for ever in the Country, and when we return we will put all to rights.
Also among the witnesses were Elizabeth and Rebecca Frere, Lady Dixie’s sister and aunt respectively. Mrs Smith, the Freres’ dressmaker, was also called and asked about a scarlet silk night gown, which was held up in the court.
Mrs. Smith. I believe I made this for my Lady; I have made her three, four, or five such in a Winter.
Prisoner. Would not you have bought that Gown of me when I was going into Mourning for my old Lady?
Smith. She offered to sell me a scarlet Gown before they went into mourning, which was about eight Months ago; and she said, her Lady gave it her – This may be the same for ought I know.
Next, a yellow silk gown and petticoat was held up for the jury to see.
Smith: I made such a Coat and Gown for my Lady.
Question: How many new Gowns might you make the Lady in a Year?
Smith: A great many – I believe a Dozen in a Year.
Question: And what could she do with so many, if she did not give some of them to her Maids?
Smith: The Lady used to give the Prisoner a great many Clothes, and she never denied or concealed them, but wore them in publick – She told me when her Lady married, she had given her all her Clothes.
Question: Is it not usual for single Ladies of great Fortunes to give away their Maiden Clothes when they marry?
Smith: Yes, it is usual – And all these Clothes in Court were made before my Lady married, for when she married she was in Mourning.
Finally, the bombastic Sir Wolstan Dixie took to the stand. He stuck to his story that the goods had been stolen, and also that his wife had become ‘sick of the Prisoner’. Lady Dixie had been called to appear at the trial, but wasn’t present.
Sir Wolstan: She is at my Country Seat in Leicestershire – She is with Child, and in her Condition, and the badness of the Roads, it might endanger her Life to come up.
Council: Have you not said that you had prevented her coming to Town?
Sir Wolstan: No.
Council: Have you not commanded that your Coach should not go above four Miles from home?
Sir Wolstan: I am not to answer all Questions.
Unfortunately for Sir Wolstan, all his endeavours to lock his wife away at Bosworth Hall proved fruitless, as two men took the stand who had talked with Lady Dixie in the meantime.
Thomas Weaver: This Subpoena I served Lady Dixy at Market Bosworth, on Day last. I told her I came from Mr. Nelson, who desired she would come to Town to clear her Servant. She said, she was nevermore surprized; that she believed the Maid was very innocent; and that she would come with all her heart, but that Sir Wolstan had sent her down a Letter, and threatened it should cost her her Life if she came – she said she had been served with one Subpoena before by Mr. Street – I set out on Saturday Night last at half an Hour past eight. I took post at Littleworth, and rid a-cross the Country with the Post-boy.
Robert Nelson: The Prisoner sent for me to Newgate, and I knowing how she had been trusted, and what Character she bore, I took Horse this [Satur] day was a Fort-night, and arrived at Bosworth on Sunday. I told Lady Dixy, that Sir Wolstan had sent her Maid to Newgate. She said I am surprised that Sir Wolstan should offer such a thing, I believe she is as innocent as the Child unborn. He must know that she had a great many things of mine which I gave her. I told her among other Things, that she was charged with stealing a Locket and some China. She answered I gave her the China, and as for the Locket it was but a paultry Thing, that Sir Wolstan gave me, and I bid her lay it by among her other odd Things till I came to Town, and then I would settle with her, for I owe her a hundred Pound, I told her, when I came to London I would send her a Subpoena. She cryed, and said she would come with all her Heart, and would pack up her Things to be ready against next Friday
We said at the beginning that Sir Wolstan was a bully; he had told his wife that if she went to London for the trial he would ‘throw her off, and she shall never live with me again’. Lady Dixie was, effectively, a prisoner in her own home.
It took the jury no time at all to find Betty Barker not guilty on all the charges.
…after a long trial, she was acquitted, with the greatest honour that ever woman was, the jury not going out of Court about the verdict; after he acquittal, her Counsel mov’d for a Copy of her Indictment; which was directly order’d her by the Court, without any Debate.
There was one more prisoner at the Old Bailey that day, and Betty Barker acted as a witness for him. Richard Paine had been Sir Wolstan’s butler, and he too had been committed to Newgate on a charge of stealing two shirts and a bob-wig belonging to Dixie.
Prisoner: I lived with Sir Wolstan from May the first, to June the twenty second. And when I went into his service, I agreed to have his old Cloaths. One day as I was puting on his Shirt, he asked me why I gave him a torn Shirt, Sir, says I, they are all so bad the Maids can’t mend them. Well, says he, I have got some new Cloth, and I’ll have Caps made of the best of these, and do you see that the Maids do not make Aprons of the rest. I told him I would take care of that for my own sake; but Sir, says I. you have got several old mouldy Wigs, what shall I do with them? He bid me take ’em, and do what I would with them.
Sir Wolstan: I never said so.
Elizabeth Barker, (the last Person that was try’d.): He was my Fellow-servant, at Sr. Wolstan’s, where he behaved in a very civil honest manner – Two Weeks before he was discharged, I heard him say publickly, that Sir Wolstan had given him two old Shirts, and an old Wig.
Richard Paine was also acquitted. For the gutsy Betty though, the story didn’t end quite there. She brought a civil action against Sir Wolstan Dixie for false imprisonment and for a malicious prosecution, seeking damages of 2,000l. and, while she won, she was only awarded damages of five shillings. Sir Wolstan was better prepared for this fight; he turned up with his wife (and no doubt she had little option but to reinforce her husband’s words) and managed to persuade the jury that Betty Barker didn’t quite merit the good character she’d been given at her trial. (It’s worth remembering here that not one person other than Sir Wolstan said anything to Betty’s detriment during her trial at the Old Bailey, and their were numerous witnesses.) Betty was outraged and did try to take things further and bring about another action, but Sir Wolstan had taken enough and pulled his weight to halt the proceedings.
Thereafter, Betty Barker fades from sight; we know she was living on Great Winchester Street in the City of London during 1736. Unfortunately, there were many women with the same name in London and it’s nigh on impossible to track her further.
Watch out for a further blog when we’ll delve a little further into the life, and family, of Sir Wolstan Dixie.
Old Bailey Online
National Archives, C 11/321/32
Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975
London Evening Post, 29 April-1 May 1735
Daily Journal, 11 June 1736
Old Whig, or The Consistent Protestant, 8 July 1736
In our latest book, which is based on our blog and titled All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, one of the 25 true tales within tells of the life of the red-headed actress, Elizabeth Hartley. Elizabeth was a beauty, but not particularly vain; she disparagingly said of herself ‘Nay, my face may be well enough for shape, but sure ‘tis freckled as a toad’s belly’.
Born Elizabeth White, and from Berrow in Somerset, Elizabeth had a sister, Mary, who also had strikingly red hair. Mary made a good marriage to the Reverend, later Sir Henry Bate Dudley, minister, playwright and newspaper editor, a ‘witty and profligate man’ who glorified in the nickname, the Fighting Parson.
While researching Elizabeth Hartley we came across a Thomas Gainsborough portrait held by the Ascott Estate (National Trust), painted in the late 1780s and depicting a woman with red hair. The identity of the subject is disputed: it is labelled as either Lady Mary Bruce, Duchess of Richmond or Elizabeth Hartley.
This is the painting.
We contacted the estate who gave us some information from their guidebook relating to the portrait.
John Hayes has called this ‘one of the most ravishing of Gainsborough’s late romantic portraits. . . . The enigmatic smile and slightly distant expression heighten the poetic mood of the canvas.’ The supposed sitter was the daughter and co-heir of Charles, 4th Earl of Elgin and 3rd Earl of Aylesbury by his third marriage, in 1739, to Caroline, daughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll. She married in 1757 Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox. There were no children of the marriage and the title devolved upon a nephew.
The picture has been called a ‘late London work’ by Waterhouse, and ascribed more precisely by Hayes to 1786–7, when Lady Mary would have been more than 45 years old. In an endeavour to resolve the discrepancy between the sitter’s apparent age and the evident date of the picture, it has been suggested that she is the wife, Lady Louisa Gordon Lennox, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Richmond, and not the sister-in-law of Thomas Conolly, to whom this picture is said to have belonged, but neither the dark-haired Hugh Douglas Hamilton pastel of her at Springhill, Co. Londonderry, nor the Romney of her at Goodwood, Sussex, bear this out. Yet nor can one detect any resemblance with the equally dark-haired sitter in the Chardinesque Reynolds of Mary, Duchess of Richmond, sewing that is likewise at Goodwood.
Two of the images mentioned of Mary, Duchess of Richmond are shown below and we think you’ll agree that they look nothing like the redhead in the Gainsborough held by the Ascott Estate.
There appears to be no record as to why it is suggested that it may be a portrait of Elizabeth Hartley, other than the obvious red hair, but if it is not Elizabeth, we have another suggestion for the identity of the sitter in the Ascott portrait. We believe that she might be Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, Lady Bate Dudley. The Fighting Parson was a patron of Gainsborough, and a good friend to the artist. Thomas Gainsborough painted Henry Bate Dudley in 1780.
And, in 1787, he painted a glorious full-length portrait of Mary, Lady Bate Dudley. Did he also paint a second portrait around the same time? We think that the lady in the Ascott portrait bears a marked resemblance to Lady Bate Dudley. The two images below are from the known 1787 portrait of Mary, both unfortunately losing some of the impact of the true colour of the original which was recently exhibited at the Tate. The gallery label at the time said that:
Mary Bate-Dudley was married to Gainsborough’s friend and champion, Henry Bate-Dudley. She’s shown here in a romantic woodland setting, leaning on a classical pedestal and an urn. Her pose is languid yet statuesque and the gesture of her left hand suggests a refined sensibility. Unusually in Gainsborough’s art, Lady Bate-Dudley’s head is shown in profile. This is a dramatic ploy intended to elevate the painting beyond the everyday world of conventional portraiture to the realm of High Art.
Gallery label, February 2016
As an aside to this, Henry Bate Dudley did have a connection to Lady Mary Bruce, Duchess of Richmond as, in 1780, the Fighting Parson was sentenced to a year in prison for libelling her husband. And, you can read more about him and his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, in the pages of All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, available now in the UK in hardback and illustrated with over 100 colour images.
For anyone not familiar with Harriette Dubochet who used the assumed surname of Wilson whilst alive, (although when buried her baptismal name was given) we would definitely recommend both volumes of her memoirs published in 1825, as they make fascinating reading and are online via Internet Archive.
Harriette lived life to the full and was virtually penniless at the end. Her death certificate gives cause of death as ‘old age’, although in all likelihood a cause of alcohol related disease might have been more accurate. As well as finding religion toward the end of her life, she also found the bottle. She was apparently extremely fond of brandy, to the point of dependency and was reported to have been having a tipple or several just 24 hours prior to her death.
We came across this extract from Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge and wanted to check out what became of Harriette’s siblings and possibly find Harriette’s burial.
Harriette’s place of burial has always been something of a mystery, but we can now reveal that she was buried at Brompton Cemetery and the location of her grave is still visible.
The newspapers were not at all kind to her in life as can be observed in this article about her in 1826.
The present appearance of this unfortunate woman makes it difficult to conceive that she could ever have been attractive, either as to person or manner: her features are now ugly and coarse, her person bad and her manners vulgar, with a harsh discordant voice.
A correspondent informs us that the notorious ‘Harriette Wilson’ resides at Chelsea and has become a convert to Popery, and is a very active promoter of the objects of the virtuous priesthood! What next? Is she a candidate for the office of a Lady Abbess, or Principal of a Nunnery?
And even more derogatory about her death:
We have now done with this woman, and we hope no stone will be erected to commemorate her memory and disgrace the place of her burial.
Back to her memoirs, she thought nothing of naming and shaming the gentlemen in whose company she and three of her sisters, Amy, Frances, better known as Fanny and Sophia spent much of their youth.
When Harriette wrote to the Duke of Wellington advising him she was about to publish her memoirs and that to keep his name out she wanted money from him, his famous response was reputed to have been ‘publish and be damned‘, so with that she went ahead and published (the famous phrase is probably not strictly accurate).
We’re not planning to revisit the memoirs in this article as there’s already more information about Harriette and her memoirs online than you can shake a stick at. We will, however, say that in a letter we came across, Harriette was described as being ‘the worst and wickedest bitch in the world’.
Harriette was one of 15 children (11 girls and 4 boys, not all of whom survived childhood), born to Amelia Gadsden, not Cook as previously named elsewhere, Amelia was raised by John Cook and his wife, which is probably where the error has come from and John James Dubochet, a Swiss coal merchant.
We have noticed that John seems to have had several occupations including that of a stocking cleaner, a mathematician and watch maker, but we have found no evidence to support this, on the children’s baptism and in his will, proven in 1826, he continued to give coal merchant as his occupation.
Little is known of several of Harriette’s siblings in particular that of the boys. The family seems to have been of mixed repute.
Rose (1799 – ?)
After her baptism there appears to be no proof that she survived into adulthood.
Known in Harriette’s memoirs as Diana, remained single and taught the piano from her home 34 Chapel Street, in the St Marylebone area of London.
Mary (1784 – ?)
Mary was referred to as Paragon, in Harriette’s memoirs. She married an Irish gentleman, Richard Borough(s), in 1812 in Dublin, and the couple went on to have four children, Mary, John, Henry and Augusta Sophia. At least one child was baptised in France so it looks likely that they remained there at least until Richard died at Calais in 1847.
Charlotte (1801 – 1873)
Charlotte, born 1801, married a surgeon and apothecary, William Jones Percival in 1825. The couple moved about with William’s business, from Poplar to Soham, Suffolk and finally to Birmingham to raise their family, where William ultimately took on the post of surgeon at the Kings Norton and Union Workhouse. After his death Charlotte moved to Aberystwyth to live with one of her three daughters, Mary Sophia and her husband the renowned Dr Charles Rice Williams and it was there that she died in 1873.
Julia Elizabeth (1814-1883)
Like her sister Jane, Julia also remained single and spent her later life living with her, by then, widowed sister and former courtesan, Sophia, Lady Berwick (1794-1875), at 7 Clarendon Crescent, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. After the death of her sister, Julia moved to The Mansion, Richmond (now home to Richmond Golf Club).
Frances (Fanny) (1782-1815)
Also a courtesan who, according to Harriette, produced three children with her lover, then upon his death, moved on to have a relationship with a Colonel Parker, who in all likelihood was John Boteler Parker, the son of Sir Hyde Parker. She took his name as if they were married although they were not. Frances was buried in 1815, at Kensington as Frances Parker, her assumed surname.
Amelia, aka Amy (1781-1838)
Amelia, like her sisters, was a courtesan who had a relationship with George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, with whom, according to Harriette she had a son around 1810, although there’s appear no proof of this and no baptism that we have found so far.
She did however marry the musician Nicholas Robert Charles Bochsa, in 1818 despite him still being married to the Marquis Ducrest’s daughter who was, apparently still alive. Bochsa was both famous and infamous throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras!
He was believed to have been born around 1789 in France, where he studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. Regarded as a child protégé he could play both the flute and piano competently, by the age of just seven. In 1813, he apparently became harpist to the Imperial Court, however, by 1817 he allegedly became involved in counterfeiting, fraud and forgery and fled to London to avoid being prosecuted. In his absence he was sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 Francs, so clearly, he was unlikely ever to return to his place of birth.
By 1821, the couple were the height of respectability, with Bochsa, in 1822, becoming one of the founders of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London together with John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland.
He was however, required to sever his ties with the Academy when news of his previous misdemeanours were discovered and two years later he was bankrupt, but became the musical director of the King’s Theatre, London. Newspapers began reporting that he not only committed the crimes of forgery and fraud, but also that he was a bigamist. We can find no proof of the final accusation, but there was probably some truth in his dubious reputation, as he found himself with a five-pound fine, this time for assault.
On 27th December 1837 Amelia died at her home, 2 Orchard Street, St Marylebone from an inflammation of the intestines and was subsequently buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Bochsa eloped with Mrs Anna Bishop, the wife of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Frances Wilson, in her book, queried whether Bochsa had eloped with Anna Bishop prior to Amy’s death; the jury’s out on that one, but clearly he wasn’t with her on the day she died as her death was not witnessed by him, but by a John Knight, a collector, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, eight children and their servants.
Bochsa and Bishop left England and reappeared eventually on the other side of the world, having spent the subsequent years touring Europe, America, Mexico and then Australia, where Anna appeared on stage as his protégé. They continued to perform on the stage until his death in 1856, in Sydney.
Harriette’s male siblings were Charles Frederick (1791 -?), Henry Cook , John Emmanuel and George Edward. Very little is known about the first three boys and in all likelihood Charles died during childhood, although there is no evidence of a burial for him.
John Emmanuel (1790-1821)
Apart from his birth and death, the only snippet of information about John comes from the marriage entry for his sister, Sophia, where he was present as a witness.
Henry Cook (1804-1855-9)
After his baptism, there is little known of Henry, apart from one mention of a brother to Lady Berwick in Naples, Italy in 1848. We eventually discovered his death dated simply as being sometime between 1855 and 1859, in Naples (British Armed Forces and Overseas deaths and burials records).
George married Christiana Hadden in 1816 and the couple had 4 children. At the baptism of their youngest child, George was a piano maker, then, by the time his youngest daughter married he had died, but had been ‘of the Treasury‘.
We also wrote a guest post a while ago about Harriette. In case you missed it why not hop over to Mike Rendell’s blog to find out more.
The London Gazette 1839
Berkshire Chronicle, 14 March 1829
John Bull 10 May 1840
Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 06 April 1845
Croome Collection at Worcestershire Archives.
The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1708
In an earlier blog, we looked at the life of Charlotte Williams, illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire; Charlotte was brought up in the duke’s household by his beleaguered wife, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It has proved to be one of our most popular blogs, so we thought it was worth trying to shed a little more light on Charlotte’s mother, a milliner named Charlotte Spencer.
If you’ve watched the film, The Duchess, you will no doubt remember the scene early on when Georgiana, pregnant with her first child, is introduced to her husband’s young daughter, who is brought to Devonshire House in London following the death of her mother. Using artistic licence, the timings are, however, slightly out in the film.
On 7 June 1774, at Wimbledon, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, married Georgiana Spencer, d/o John, Earl Spencer and his wife Georgiana (née Poyntz). The groom’s parish was stated to be St George, Hanover Square, that of the bride Westminster St James. Charlotte Williams was known to be born a few months before this grand union; just weeks earlier, on 20 March, a little girl named Charlotte had been christened at St George, Hanover Square, her parents named as William and Charlotte Cavendish (and her birthdate given as 22 February).
All we really know of the mother, Charlotte Spencer, comes from one of the Town and Country Magazine’s gossipy tête-à-tête articles which appeared in the spring of 1777; Memoirs of the D___ of D___ and Miss Charlotte S____r. If Georgiana had been in the dark about her husband’s mistress, she would certainly have known all about it when this magazine hit the streets.
Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, William Cavendish had succeeded to his title, on the death of his father. Left an orphan, he was raised by three bachelor uncles who sent him abroad on the aristocratic ‘gap year’, the Grand Tour. The tête-à-tête article claimed that while in Paris, Cavendish captured the heart of Louis XV’s maîtresse-en-titre, Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry, some five years older than the duke but much more worldly wise. The duke’s uncles got wind of things, and rushed him home.
Finding she [Madame du Barry] had built too much upon her charms, influence, and attractions; and, at the same time, that her heart was too far engaged in the conflict, she became the dupe to her own artifice; and the young English nobleman had his vanity so far gratified as to be the rival of the grand monarque.
Returning to London, the duke made the acquaintance of a pretty milliner who had ‘the finest eyes he had ever beheld’. He became a customer, and then her lover. Charlotte Spencer was the daughter of a country curate whose situation had allowed of nothing more than a ‘tolerable education’ for his daughter. After his death, Charlotte travelled to London where she fell into the clutches of ‘a veteran procuress, who, under the veil of religion, prevailed upon Charlotte to be a lodger in her house, that she might take care of her salvation’. It is suggested that Charlotte had at least one pregnancy (and possibly a termination) while lodged in this brothel before leaving, only to fall into the hands of ‘an old debauchee, who pretended to adore her mental, as well as her personal attractions’. This old rake gave Charlotte a handsome allowance and set her up in an elegant house, but she hated the life; after a few months her ‘keeper’ died and left her mistress of a fortune enough for her to set up a milliner’s shop. Where, soon afterwards, the 5th Duke of Devonshire found her…
The duke and Miss Spencer seem to have lived happily together for some years; she left the milliner’s shop behind and the duke provided for her. He set her up in a discreet rented villa.
We may now suppose our hero in full possession of all Charlotte’s charms, and that she was happy in an alliance with a young nobleman every way amiable. Yet a paradox still remains to be solved; which is, that after some years intercourse with Miss S___r, who was now rather approaching the decline of beauty, our hero should marry a nobleman’s daughter, a universal toast, still in her teens, with every personal accomplishment, who gives the Ton wherever she goes, and that he should still be fond of his antiquated (by comparison) Charlotte?
The truth is that the duke needed a male heir, and while he was clearly fond of Charlotte Spencer, the teenaged, wealthy and well-connected Miss Georgiana Spencer (it is an ironic coincidence that the two ladies bore the same surname) was the more suitable bride and prospective mother for a son and heir. Poor Charlotte had only given him a daughter.
Georgiana married her duke in May 1774, and this little scandal broke in the press almost three years later. Popular gossip said that the duke continued to see Charlotte regularly during the first years of his marriage.
There is a caprice in mankind, it is true, that cannot be accounted for – whim prevails more than reason – but that the blooming, the blythe, and beautiful D___ should be neglected for Charlotte S___r is really astonishing!
The duke’s affair with Charlotte Spencer fizzled out after 1778, and all available evidence suggests that she had died by May 1780 when the six-year-old Charlotte Williams was brought, with her nurse, Mrs Gardner, into the Cavendish household.
Despite her unhappy marriage, the Duchess of Devonshire was the toast of the town. Extravagant, vivacious and addicted to gambling, Georgiana was also compassionate and caring; when the young and motherless Charlotte Williams was presented to her, Georgiana took the girl to her heart and brought her up as her own daughter. In time, Georgiana had three children of her own by the duke, Georgiana (Little G) born 1783, Harriet (Harry-O) in 1785 and William (known as Hart, as his courtesy title was Marquess of Hartington) who was born in 1790. (Georgiana suffered many miscarriages during her marriage.)
A couple of years or so after Charlotte Spencer’s death, Georgiana met Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster at Bath; Bess quickly became an indispensable member of the Cavendish household, given a role as Charlotte Williams governess and replacing Charlotte Spencer in the duke’s affections. Something of a ménage à trois developed. Georgiana retaliated with an affair of her own, falling in love with the future prime minister, Charles Grey; in 1792 and in exile from her husband and children, Georgiana gave birth to Grey’s daughter. Known as Eliza Courtney, this girl was brought up by Grey’s family although Georgiana did manage to make secret visits to her. Bess Foster accompanied Georgiana during these years of exile before the two returned to the duke in 1793. Bess, after Georgiana’s death, would become the duke’s next wife.
Town and Country Magazine, March 1777
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1999)
For a woman who was noted as such a beauty, it has always frustrated us that there are not more surviving portraits and drawings of our ‘infamous mistress’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. There is a miniature by Cosway, painted around the time of her marriage with Dr (later Sir) John Eliot, and the two well-known portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, plus a disputed chalk drawing by John Hoppner which may or may not depict Grace.
Imagine our surprise and delight then, to come across the drawing below by the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson which purports to depict ‘Lady Elliott, otherwise Dally the Tall’. The inscription contains one glaring error; Grace was never Lady Eliot, her husband had divorced her well before he became a baronet but, nevertheless, this could indeed be Grace (her nickname was Dally the Tall, a play upon her surname and height), probably drawn sometime around 1782-1786 and wearing a chemise à la reine. We know that she was famous for bringing the dress into fashion here in the UK.
After her divorce, Grace had been the Earl of Cholmondeley’s mistress, before leaving his arms for the protection of Philippe d’Orléans, then the duc de Chartres (later duc d’Orléans and, during the Revoution, Philippe Égalité). Grace then snared British royalty when, for just a few short weeks, she enjoyed a relationship with the young Prince of Wales (later King George IV). During the summer of 1782, Grace gave birth to the prince’s daughter.
In February 1783, Grace appeared at a masquerade ball held at the Pantheon arm-in-arm with Charles Wyndam, 3rd son of the 2nd Earl of Egremont. Also present were Perdita (Mary Robinson), Grace’s one-time rival for the Prince of Wales, but now with her new lover, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Lady Grosvenor and Mary (Moll) Benwell with Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.
A few of the Cyprian Corps in elevated life were present – Mrs Elliott’s dress, the chemise de la reine, and Miss Sheppard’s were the most elegant of the whole group. The Perdita and the T__le__n paired off very early. Mrs B__nw__ll, and Col. F___tz__ck were in close Teˆte-a`-Teˆte all the evening, also Mr W___nd__m and Mrs Elliot, Lady Gr__v__r likewise perambulated the circle for a considerable time.
The company were very sociable, and the dances continued till past seven in the morning.
The chemise à la reine, was the height of fashion. A diaphanous white muslin gown with a coloured sash ribbon tied high on the waist, the wearer appeared fashionably déshabillé or undressed; the chemise had, until this time, been used as an undergarment but now it was worn as a dress in its own right with no corset underneath. It was popularized in France during the early 1780s by Queen Marie Antoinette who was painted wearing such a dress by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (to the outrage of her subjects who were scandalized to see their queen dressed in such a simple and romantic way).
Marie Antoinette had sent a few of these chemises to her aristocratic friends in England, in particular to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The duchess and Mary Robinson are usually credited with introducing the fashion to England but Grace was also an early devotee of the style. She had spent time at the French court as the mistress of the duc de Chartres; had she too been sent a chemise à la reine from friends in France?
With the Prince of Wales no longer interested in Grace, and the Earl of Cholmondeley having also moved on, Grace found herself in Paris… and with a new rival: the beautiful and ‘celebrated’ Moll Benwell, a courtesan at least a decade younger than Grace. If Grace wanted to renew her relationship with the duc de Chartres she was out of luck, for Moll Benwell stole her thunder. There began a tit-for-tat game between the two women, played out in London and Paris.
If we may credit our intelligence from France, English beauties are not less admired in Paris, than in their native kingdom – the reigning toasts there at present are, the Benwell, and the Elliot; the former is allowed to be by far the most elegant woman that has appeared there these many years, they term her the Kitty Fisher of her time, from her likeness to that beautiful woman. The Duc de Chartres has made himself extremely ridiculous on her account, following her to all public places; to the contempt with which she treats him and his promises (which that nobleman is but too apt to make) she may attribute his constant attendance on her.
The fortunes of the handsome Colonel Richard FitzPatrick (second son of the Earl of Upper Ossory) fluctuated wildly. He was a close and loyal friend of Charles James Fox (the two men had known each other since their schooldays) and one of the intimate group that included the Earl of Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales and Charles Wyndham. An ofﬁcer with the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, the dashing colonel was also an inveterate gambler, a solo balloonist, bon viveur and wit.
As beﬁtted such a great friend of Charles James Fox, FitzPatrick had stood as a Member of Parliament, holding the borough of Tavistock from 1774, but gave as little time as he could to matters of business, preferring to devote himself to pleasure instead. He lived on his credit and tradesmen were always denied access to his house when they called to press their bills. Because of her own debts, Moll had left the colonel in the spring of 1783; she couldn’t pay them and neither could he, and so she journeyed to Paris at the same time as Grace.
With an improvement in FitzPatrick’s ability to procure credit, Moll returned to London; Grace must have been pleased to see the back of her and the way to the duc de Chartres left clear once more.
The winter of 1783 found the tables turned and Grace in London with Mary Benwell back in Paris; King George III was on the verge of dismissing the government and so FitzPatrick’s credit would once more be on hold. With her rival once more stealing her thunder in Paris, Grace, in London, exacted her tit-for-tat revenge and found herself a new protector, snaring for herself the Honourable Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.
During the 1784 election, Grace was by FitzPatrick’s side campaigning for the Whigs and Charles James Fox on the streets of Westminster (as, famously, did Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire). The supporters of Charles James Fox took to wearing ‘true blue’ colours and favours on the streets, denoting their support of American Independents and their hostility to Pitt and his ministers, and Grace was no exception.
Miss Dalrymple is so azurized, that nothing under the blue sky can exceed her; she wears a blue hat; her eyes are blue, her breast-bows and ribbons are the same colour; her carriage is also blue; and she is called by way of distinction the ‘Blue Belle of Scotland, &c. &c’.
Was the Rowlandson caricature drawn around this time?
In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, you can discover Grace, and her equally fascinating relations. It is available at all good bookshops worldwide, including Amazon, in hardback and as an eBook.
Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines: Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W
At the time of writing, you can download An Infamous Mistress as either a Kindle or ePub from our publisher, Pen & Sword Books, for just £4.99.
The Nottingham born artist, Paul Sandby, painted and drew many scenes in and around Windsor and also informal portraits of some of the inhabitants. One of his drawings, held in the Royal Collection, caught our eye: the Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, c.1770-1780. Isherwood is an uncommon surname, and with the father’s occupation, surely it would be possible to track down the forenames of these two young women and complete the attribution?
The father of these two young women was Henry Isherwood who owned an ale brewery which traded from premises on Datchet Lane/Lower Thames Street in Windsor (around where St George’s School now stands on Datchet Road). From the brewhouse yard, you had an excellent view of Windsor Castle.
Henry Isherwood was reputed to be ‘a poor lad’ from Yorkshire who had made his way to Eton in Berkshire where he found work at the Christopher Inn. He married well, to Sarah Kendal (on 5 May 1737 at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire) whose money helped her husband establish his brewery at Windsor (the town had a thriving brewing industry).
The couple had three known children, a son, Henry (baptized 9 February 1739) and two daughters, the two young ladies in the drawing above, Sarah (born c.1743) and Christiana Maria (born c.1745). The family prospered and grew wealthy on their business’s profits.
Also in the Royal Collection is a drawing by Sandby which features another of the Isherwood family, although the name of the man depicted seems to have got muddled over time. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, the man stood on the far left was just denoted as ‘Isherwood the brewer’, a later mount now attached to the picture claims the man to be J. Isherwood and the notes on the RCT website mark the man out as Henry Isherwood senior. However, this drawing dates to 1760 and the man depicted looks to be very young; we believe that it is more likely the man shown is Henry Isherwood junior, who would have been around 21 years of age in 1760.
The four men are standing on Windsor Terrace; in the middle is Davis, Windsor Castle’s smith and to the right a man identified as Captain Archibald Campbell (the RCT notes suggest that he is possibly the same man who married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the painter Allan Ramsay, but as Amelia Ramsay’s future husband saw action in the Seven Years’ War, we’re not totally sure about this).
Then tragedy struck the family. Henry Isherwood senior died suddenly in 1773… and it was hinted that he had been poisoned.
Henry Isherwood’s will left his family well provided for. His son took over the running of the brewery and also later – for just a short time – became New Windsor’s MP. Henry junior’s death, on 22 January 1797, cut short his parliamentary career. Sarah and Christiana Isherwood were both left financially secure by their father, each receiving 10,000l. They never married. Around 1790, the Isherwood family built a substantial mansion-house, situated in large grounds, at Bushey in Hertfordshire and named Laurel Lodge. There Sarah and Christiana lived in their old age, often visited by their brother’s children. (Laurel Lodge was remodelled in the late 1800s and has now been converted into flats known as Herne Mansions (formerly Sparrows Herne House); it stands in Bushey Heath down Fuller Close, a short distance from the junction of Little Bushey Lane and Elstree Road.) Sarah died in 1820 aged 77 and Christiana in 1827, aged 81. Both women are buried in the churchyard at New Windsor.
We’ve already mentioned Henry Isherwood senior’s melancholy end. We’ll relate the events leading up to his death and leave you to decide if he was indeed poisoned.
Henry was a member of the Colnbrook Turnpike Commission and on 29 March 1773, he and the other members dined at an inn named The Castle, at Salt Hill outside Slough. The men present were the Hon Mr O’Brien, the Hon Captain Thomas Needham (aged 33 and the eldest son of ‘Jack’, 10th Viscount Kilmorey), Edward Mason Esq, Major Mayne, Mr Cheshire, Walpole Eyre Esq (aged 38 and whose godfather was Sir Robert Walpole, hence his name), Captain Salter, Henry Isherwood, Mr Joseph Benwell, a draper from Eton who was the Commission’s treasure, Mr Pote senior (on business) and Mr Burcombe, the Commission’s surveyor. Over the course of the next two weeks, all but one of the gentlemen were taken seriously ill. At first, the wine was suspected to be the cause; Captain Salter had preferred to drink punch instead, and Mr Cheshire had drunk very little. Both men were only mildly ill. It was initially believed that Mrs Partridge, the landlady, had added a little arsenic to the wine, to ‘refine’ it.
The dinner was turtle soup, followed by fish, jack, perch and eel, spatchcock fowls, bacon and greens, veal cutlets, a ragout of pigs ears, a chine of mutton and salad, a course of lamb and cucumbers, crayfish and, as if you needed more after that feast, pastry and jellies. All was described as:
…plain and innocent, nothing high-seasoned, or that could give cause of suspicion of any bad consequence; the wine, Madeira and Port, of the best sorts. In both articles of meat and drink, the company were moderate, and no excess appeared.
After their dinner, some people were brought in to be examined before the members of the commission, among them a poor man, in a ‘distressed, miserable condition’. He seems to have been in ill-health. Mr Pote, perhaps wisely it seems, had gone out to the gardens of the inn to stretch his legs; he was there on other business relating to the commission but had no need to be present during the examinations. Mr Pote was the only one of the company not to suffer any ill effects, all the others fell ill to varying degrees. Four of the men died: Captain Needham, Joseph Benwell, Walpole Eyre and Henry Isherwood.
Mrs Partridge was horrified and willingly allowed her kitchen and cellar to be fully inspected. Major Mayne’s doctor, Dr James, was of the opinion that his patient’s illness was due to an infection; if it had been poison, he assured the public, the men would have fallen ill within hours, not days. There were reports that a Clerk of the Justices, a Mr Mason who had dined on beefsteaks in a private room in the inn (confusingly, an Edward Mason Esq was said to be present at the commission’s dinner too), was also dangerously ill; the Justices had examined a poor man, brought before them in a ‘dying condition’ from Taplow to be passed to his own parish. This man later died, as did the farmer at whose house he lodged on his journey. Local gossip also claimed that several prisoners had travelled from Reading gaol on their way to London, to be transported for their crimes, and stopped at the inn. Gaol fever could have been the cause.
In short, it appears from the newspapers of the day that there was certainly an outbreak of a contagious fever in the area, but nevertheless, with all the talk of poison, trade at the Castle Inn dropped dramatically and Mrs Partridge struggled for a good twelve months afterwards. And, rumours abounded years later. Years later, Queen Charlotte’s Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe, Charlotte Papendick, in her memoirs recounted the tale and claimed that Mrs Partridge, on her deathbed, confessed.
…she considered it right to disclose the secret of the poisoning now it could no longer hurt any individual, and was at the time purely accidental, she would confess that it arose from the turtle having been left in the stewpans cold, and then heated afresh for the dinner. The cook, renowned for the dressing of this favorite luxury, came down from London late the evening before, expressly for this purpose. He said that as the turtle was better for long stewing, he should do it through the night, during which time he would be preparing various other dainties. He didn’t keep to his word. He slept, let the fire out, and heated the turtle soup up again without removing it from the pan… From the acids used in dressing the turtle, the pan was covered with verdigris. When she showed it to the cook he said he wasn’t aware of harm…
In fairness, Mrs Papendick’s account contains many errors, so we’re not at all sure of her accuracy. Another account also blames the soup, however, again attributing the poisoning to an accidental cause. The soup had been allowed to stand in a copper vessel, and the gentlemen died of mineral poisoning. So, arsenic in the wine, mineral poisoning, a bad batch of turtle soup or an infectious pauper? Sadly, we’ll never know the true cause, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sources not mentioned above:
The Bath Road: History, Fashion & Frivolity on an Old Highway by Charles G. Harper, 1899
Royal Academy: 1934 – Exhibition of British Art c.1000-1860, 6 January 1934 to 17 March 1934
Northampton Mercury, 26 April 1773
Reading Mercury, 26 April 1773
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 5 February 1820
The Scots Magazine, vol 35, 1773
Collectanea topographica et genealogica, 1837
Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte; Being the Journals of Mrs Papendick, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and Reader to Her Majesty, 1887
This is the third in a series of blogs in which we have taken a closer look at some of the staff and servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. Today we’re taking a look at the 6th duke’s trips to Russia and concentrating on just one man, a larger than life Russian coachman. He certainly merits his own blog.
In 1817, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (known as Hart due to his former title, the Marquess of Hartington) travelled to St Petersburg in Russia with a whole host of attendants for the wedding of his friend, the Grand Duke Nicholas Pavolvich of Russia (later Czar Nicholas I and Catherine the Great’s grandson). The bride was Charlotte of Prussia (subsequently known as Alexandra Feodorovna); Hart loved St Petersburg and thought it ‘more beautiful than Paris’.
His Grace the Duke of Devonshire is about to sail for the Continent, in company with the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. His Grace has seceded to an invitation from the Grand Duke, to make a tour in Russia, and other parts of the Continent, which will occupy the whole of the ensuing summer.
During the trip, one of the duke’s attendants was his courier, Xavier Faldyer. He was ‘not agreeable, a sort of obstinate old Don Quixote, in an eternal wrangle with the Doctor, who had undertaken to regulate the expences and never ceased to exclaim, “terrible! terrible!”’ From the Chatsworth archives relating to the family’s servants, we can glean further information. Edwin Jones was the clearly long-suffering doctor who accompanied the duke.
Michael Lemm went along as a footman but didn’t think much of Russia, observing that ‘he would rather be hung in England than die in Russia’. Mr Worrall was the coachman.
Another expedition to Russia took place in 1826 when the 6th Duke of Devonshire travelled there to attend the coronation of Nicolas I. George Spencer Ridgway, the duke’s valet and ‘foster brother’ was by his side; George’s mother, Mrs Ridgway had been the duke’s wetnurse and George’s middle name, Spencer, indicates a close relationship with the family. He started at Devonshire House as a footman in 1802 and, when appointed the duke’s valet, Ridgway was his most trusted servant, acting as personal secretary, agent and steward too until 1858.
In Russia, the duke and George were given a Russian coach by the emperor, known as a droshky. They also acquired a coachman who they brought back to Chatsworth along with the droshky. Peter Wisternoff (also Westerney, Wisternou and Ustinowica and born c.1796) was known as Peter the Russian or just the Russian Coachman; his helper was a man named Thomas Hawkins (who seems to have ended up the Porter at Devonshire House). Wisternoff stayed at Chatsworth until the early 1840s, a brilliantly eccentric character, tall and with a fine, intelligent countenance who wore his traditional Russian clothes rather than livery and sported the biggest and bushiest of beards.
He is habited in the costume of his country, which consists of a large coat, generally green, which is gathered in folds round the waist, crimson sash, with an ample flow of black beard.
The Russian Coachman is one of the subjects in Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time by Sir Edwin Landseer, the original of which hangs in Chatsworth. The image below is a very good copy of the painting in tapestry; there are three men with beards but Peter the Russian is the one in the foreground, kneeling with the stag.
In 1832, Princess Victoria visited Chatsworth.
[Saturday 20th October, 1832] … we went to the stables where we saw some pretty ponies and a Russian coachman in his full dress, and the only Russian horse which remained reared at command; there were 3 other horses, English ones, but trained like the other.